My Photo Faves from Taiwan

I’ve wanted a digital camera forever, and Santa came knocking early and surprised me with one before my Taiwan trip.  I was so excited to snap away left and right and document my trip.  It rained most of the days we were there with clouds casting a grey glow over everything, but even in this, I tried to capture the beauty.  Here are my faves from the trip.

sun moon lake

By far, the best pix of the trip….mid-morning at Sun Moon Lake as the sun is trying to break through the clouds. So peaceful and calm.

taiwan night market

The entrance to the Raohe St Night Market bursting with Las Vegas style lights & energy.

taiwan soldiers

Taiwanese soldiers doing their hourly march at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

fire lantern

Mom snapped a pix of me as I’m letting my fire lantern go in the middle of a street.  So safe!

taroko's gorge

Another one from Taroko…

buddhist temple

Buddha in a temple buried deep in Taroko’s Gorge.  Mosquito infested hike to get there.

jeremy lin

Of course they love Jeremy Lin…he’s Taiwanese!

taiwanese dessert

One of the most interesting things I dared to try…rice flour wrapper with peanut shavings, cilantro, and ice cream.  Surprisingly delish!

monarch butterfly

Close-up of a monarch butterfly.

taiwan flag

The Taiwanese flag blowing in the wind.

Wendy’s Top Eats of Taiwan

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a food lover.  I don’t discriminate between high end or street food.  If it tastes good, it tastes good.  And let me just say…..the food taste really f’in good in Taiwan.   Yes, I ate myself silly from morning to night….smiling with every bite, stuffing my lil’ tummy until it was bulging over my jeans.  It was totally worth it!  I was mostly in a food coma while there, but here’s what I remember as my top food picks of Formosa (aka Taiwan, aka mecca of deliciousness).

Tried & True

  • Dirt cheap $1 boba (or less!) on every street corner.  Had one pretty much every day.
  • Traditional Taiwanese breakfast- turnip cake, fresh soymilk, scallion pancake, sesame pastry stuffed with doughnut.

taiwanese breakfast

  • Beef noodle soup- Nothing fancy, just tender beef cooked in a broth with noodles.  You can pretty much get this on any street corner or night market.  I have so many fond childhood memories of my Mom making this for us on a cold, winter day.

beef noodle soup

  • Fried milk-  It’s not really want you think it is.  It’s really more like fried custard/ pudding ball on a stick.  Another night market find.
  • Pineapple cakes-  If you’re looking for souvenirs, look no further.  It’s always a crowd favorite and most come in cute individual packages.  We snagged a few in the free hotel minibar and then bought a few boxes as presents.  Buttery outer layer with pineapple filling on the inside.  It’s not oozy like a jelly doughnut filling, but more like a paste.

Drooling yet?  Read on to drool more…

Once in a lifetime

  • Mountain greens-  My mom is uber healthy, so I’ve eaten a lot of Taiwanese greens in my life; however, I’d never laid eyes on these greens until this trip.  They’re grown in the mountains and have a very distinct curly cue at the end.  Typically sautéed with black beans for a tasty side dish.  I’m usually not one to rave about veggies, but these ones are unique, cute to look at, and flavorful.

taiwanese mountain greens

  • Gakuden Boulangerie in Taipei-  I stumbled across this bakery on accident and it was kismet.  If I were stranded on a desert island, the one thing I could not live without is bread, carbs, baked goods.  What’s even more amazing is that bakeries in Taiwan are typically open late (like think wee hours of the morning).  I wish I had photo evidence of these goodies, but I devoured them too quickly.  Sorry!  You’ll just have to trust me that the chocolate mini soufflé muffin was to die for…that the loaf bread with cubed cheese, cranberries, and nuts had the perfect texture and sweetness.  Really, everything we had was amazing.
  • Din Tai Fung restaurant- If you read any guidebook, than you know that you MUST go to Din Tai Fung.  Sure, it’s totally hyped up, but it lives up to its name. It’s known for handmade dumplings and Xiao Long Bao (dumplings that burst out with soup when you bite into ‘em).  We had pork chop fried rice, Dan Dan noodles, and a bunch of a dumplings and stuff.  YUMMY!

ding tai fung

pork chop fried rice

ding tai fung kitchen

Most interesting and unique

  • Rice flour wraps stuffed with peanut shavings, cilantro, and ice cream…  Interesting combo, right?  Sounds weird and gross, but somehow it works really well together.  It’s refreshingly sweet and kinda makes you wonder what other combos that you’ve overlooked in life that could be absolutely wonderful together.

taiwanese dessert

taiwanese dessert

  • Other odds and ends that were interesting, but not really for me:  pig knuckles, duck’s blood in hot pot, oyster omelet..and these slimy guys below.  I’m adventurous, but something about the looks of these pouches made me want to cringe.  Sorry, maybe next time!

taiwanese street food

Until the next food adventure…

Wendy’s Top 10 of Taiwan

After 2 months of winter hibernation, travel, and eating myself silly…I’m back and fat and happy as ever.  In case you were wondering where I was, I took a short trip to Taiwan for Thanksgiving, pounded work hard in between, and then took on some R&R in Florida for the holidays.  Since it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, I thought I’d start from where I left off…my trip to Taiwan.

chiang kai shek memorial hall

It’s been over a decade since I’ve been to Taiwan (my homeland) and boy has it changed….for the better.  The streets are cleaner because of the subway, the people are as nice as can be, and the fashion has moved beyond the fobby misspelled English words.  Hooray!  It could also be that my trip was cheery overall because I was with 2 of my favorite people in the world- my mom and my fiancé.   (Yes, I just said cheery.  I’ve been watching too many episodes of Downton Abbey, so occasionally I break out in British banter.)  My fiancé had never been to Taiwan, so seeing it fresh through the eyes of a virgin tourist made it all the more special.  In any event, it was a great mix of decadence and natural beauty.  Man bags are way “in” and people have taken a liking to fluffy little dogs and carry them everywhere.  On the flip, there are untapped parts of the island that are pristine, mountainous terrains filled with natural beauty and grace.  Want more?  Then, check out my Top 10 of Taiwan below.

 Wendy’s Top 10 of Taiwan

 10.  Restrooms are EVERYWHERE…

So you don’t have to ever worry about peeing in your pants.  Sure, they are squatters, but the good news is that are you building up leg muscle while you squat…a twofer!

9.  Cute Mascots

If there’s one thing that the Taiwanese are good at, it’s creating really freakin cute mascots.  Look at this fella from the Ding Tai Fung restaurant.  Adorbes!

ding tai fung mascot

8.  Night Markets

You can’t NOT go to a night market if you’re in Taiwan….it’s a staple.  However, personally I feel like they’ve gone a bit downhill.  I think they’ve started cracking down on fakes, so there aren’t as many knock offs anymore- disappointing!  Street food is good, but mostly fried, so get your Tums ready.

taiwan night market

7.  Free Minibar at the Hotel

In the US, hotels charge you $8 bucks minimum for any drink you consume from the minibar.  Not in Taiwan!  Every hotel I stayed at had a FREE minibar.  Can you believe it?  I had pineapple cakes and like a gallon of water at the Hotel Tango in Taipei.  Fruit at the Hotel del Lago at Sun Moon Lake.  The list goes on and on.  Enjoy it while you’re here ‘cause not many other places have it.

6.  Jiu Fen

Translated, the name of this town is called “nine portions.”  It’s somewhat hard to get to and if you can manage to survive the hours of car-sickening back and forth switchbacks, then it’s worth the trip.  The main artery of town is a seemingly never ending staircase, but to the side of the staircase are cute shops and restaurants that you can browse.  Great day trip from Taiwan!

5.  Chung Tai Chan Monastery

This monastery is modern and breathtaking.  You could get lost in here looking at the statues of laughing Buddha, the 4 headed soldiers that are as tall as the building, the decorated Buddhist shrines…It’s in Puli, Nantou Country, in central Taiwan, so if you happen to be near Sun Moon Lake or Taichung, then hop on over.

DSC00316  laughing buddha

 4.  National Palace Museum

This place is epic…like the Louvre of Taiwan…and boasts the largest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts and artwork in the world.  Check out the famous jade cabbage if you are lucky enough to go.  It’s kind of like the Mona Lisa of the museum.  I bought a beer magnet of it as a reminder.  🙂

3.  The Natural Beauty

I’ve never really seen the natural beauty of Taiwan until this trip.  Let’s just say that my last trip was during my 20’s for the infamous “Love Boat” summer camp, so I saw more of the inside of clubs and bars than anything else.  Must see places?  Taroko’s Gorge in Hualien and Sun Moon Lake.  I’ve heard Alishan is cool, too…but we didn’t make it there because we were short on time.  In case you’re wondering what Taroko’s Gorge is, it’s basically a huge passage formed by the river cutting through the mountains (pix below).  It’s crazy the number of butterflies that live here and just flitter and float around.  I’d recommend the Cave of Waterfall Curtain hike here.  There’s a nice surprise at the end, which I won’t ruin for ya.  And Sun Moon Lake is a lake in case you didn’t know!  🙂  It was a bummer that the weather was overcasty and rainy, but we had a few good hours where the sun came out and played.

taroko's gorge

taroko's gorge taiwan

pagoda at taroko's gorge

2.  Nice People

The people are so freakin nice here and polite.  Hospitality is amazing- both family and strangers a like, everybody from our taxi drivers to the people on the streets.  There’s no crowding on sidewalks and people respect your personal space, unlike some other places I’ve traveled too.  And our relatives there were so hospitable.  Every meal was another relative treating us to some amazing food- a local hot spot, the hottest seafood restaurant, you name it!  If we said we craved something, they got it for us right away.  Thank you family for treating us so well.  Yes, it’s expected, but you went above and beyond!

1.  The Food

It’s no surprise that the food was the best part about Taiwan.  What I love about my people is that they eat throughout the day…my kinda people.  They’re always noshing on something.  Bakeries are open all day (not just for half the day) and they are by far the best bakeries EVER.  You can get an entire Taiwanese breakfast for 4 for the same price as 2 cups of Starbucks coffee.  Street food is tasty and cheap.  Boba is $1.  I could go on and on, but I don’t want to ruin my next blog post, which is my top eats of Taiwan.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, drool below.

xiao long bao

steak

taiwanese breakfast

taiwanese street food

Happy New Year! Cheers to 2013.

margarita

Happy New Year’s!  Hope everybody had a slammin time ringing in the New Year.  Mine began with fresh margaritas and pasta…and ended with Anderson Cooper’s giggles and Kathy Griffin’s raunchy references to taffy and Christmas presents on CNN.  As I look ahead to this coming year, I’m excited to do more things that make me happy and smile.  I figured if I shared my resolutions with you, it would hold me accountable for making them come true!  Wish me luck.

Wendy’s 2013 Resolutions

  • Stay sane while planning a wedding
  • Work hard to look “wedding ready” (aka rock hard abs and hollow cheeks)
  • Listen to more music and dance silly like I’m a teenager.  I forget how much I miss music and how happy it makes me.  Thanks, BF…for adding me to your family plan on Rdio!
  • Take an art/photography class, tennis class, or BOTH.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

day of the dead

BF and I decided to get off our lazy arses last Friday and actually go out and do something.  Friday nights usually involve vegging out on the couch to unwind from the work week.  Him- occupied with video games.  Me- Zoning out with a marathon of House Hunters or whatever else is on.  Earlier in the day, he sent me a link for the Dia de la Muertos procession in the Mish…and I thought, why not!  Sounds interesting and creepy.  Let’s have a go at it.  We arrive at the meeting point and immediately are surrounded by flocks of people with scary painted skeleton faces dressed in bohemian garb…high neck collars lined with lace, long velvet skirts, black on black.  We were dressed “normally,” so felt totally out of place.  There were lots of children hanging out, too…which totally surprised me because if I were a kid, I’d  freak out and start crying.  (Kids are too cool for school these days.)  Anyway, the procession begins, as well as the singing and dancing.  Behind us, I think I heard an Irish band with bagpipes, which I thought was odd and out of place, but hey- to each their own.  People can mourn their loved ones whichever and whatever way they want.  I have to admit, it was really cool.   Sure, there were crowds, but they were orderly.  Sure, there were moments where the darkness left me stumbling to catch my steps, but good thing I was wearing my comfy shoes.  The culmination of the event was the arrival at Garfield Park, where the Festival of Altars were displayed.  I imagined it to be eerie and weird.  It was, but also serene, peaceful, and reflective at the same time.  There were altars honoring soldiers.  A huge clothesline where you could write a note to a loved one who had passed. I wish you could have been there to see the scene.  Here’s a little glimpse at what it was like…

day of the dead

dia de los muertos

skeleton

Be the author of your own life

I’m not one for inspirational quotes, but every now and then I hear one that makes me go “Damn, that was so deep and so true.”  Like this one…Be the author of your own life.   I think this one really hit home because I’ve been in a funk lately.  We all have those times in our life where you just go through the motions.  It feels like you’re at sea floating back and forth at the whim of natural forces.  You’re not unhappy, but not happy…you’re just there.  For me, I had a wakeup call and a realization that I needed to take more charge of my life and destiny and turn things around.  Part of the awakening was starting this blog.  It’s forced me to notice things around me in technicolor and really pay attention.  It’s made me appreciate all the amazing things I have in my life and the experiences along the way.  OK, that’s it for me from my zen self.  I have to go write my own life now….

stack of books

Walking by Art

The other day, I’m walking down a busy street near Civic Center in SF and randomly stumble upon this Randy Colosky exhibit at the Air & Space Museum.  It’s random in the sense that I’m surrounded by offices, tall buildings, restaurants…and in the middle of this, I peer into a window expecting to find more of the same.  Instead, I see a foil air duct type of contraption with lights shining down on a bed of greens.  Strange, but awesome at the same time.  I snapped a pix and had fun playing around with them.  See below.

SF air and space museum

air and space museum

SF air and space museum

Birthday Bowling

I went to a birthday party this past weekend at Lucky Strike Bowling and it was so much fun! It took me back to my days as a kid where sleepovers, getting my ears pierced, and boy crushes consumed my life. I’ve recently noticed a trend in birthday parties. I think you hit your late 20’s, early 30’s and you start to yearn for a simpler time…so thus, birthday parties themed around activities of your past time….kickball, piñatas in the park, go-kart racing. All taken up a notch or 2 with adult beverages, of course. 🙂

X marks the spot

Hipster night out

I’m not a hipster, but I do have hipster tendencies.  Like the other night, we decided to hit up a local bar called Phone Booth, a total hipster bar.  Think red lights, smoke filled room, Barbie chandelier hanging from the ceiling (see eery red pix below), and a jukebox jiving in the corner.  The happy ending?  A late night burrito filled with guacamole and carnitas. 🙂