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 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

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

Perks of Being a Wallflower Book Review: Depressing, but Good

When I saw the preview for this movie, I thought to myself…yeah, another teen flick!  I’m totally into those movies where there’s a misunderstood, angsty teenager just trying to make it through high school.  Think Can’t Hardly Wait, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club.  I didn’t actually see the movie, but that was my understanding of the plot before reading the book.  This book is WAY more depressing than that.  At a high level, it’s about a high school freshman that is taken under the wing of 2 seniors who welcome him into the real world.  Surprise, surprise…Charlie is a wallflower, shy, unpopular…and living life in his head and not reality.  There’s a somewhat poetic irony in that he is both innocence, oblivious about life’s ugliness, yet enlightened and perceptive at the same time.  I’m not going to give anything away, but just know that this might not be the best book to ready during the holidays if you’re down.  However, it’s a quick read and written really well.  One of my favorite quotes from the book:  “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”  I’ll just leave you with that to marinate on.

(A special thanks to Cinderella in Rubber Shoes for the pix of the book.)

Sick Day: Mini PB chocolate cups and Season 1 Homeland

I’ve been sick as a dog lately….sore throat, dry cough, sinus headache, runny nose, itchy eyes.  I seriously don’t know how my nose has not fallen off yet ‘cause I’ve been blowing snot out of it every other second.  Sorry for the grossness!  I wanted you to get the full visual.  What makes matters worse is this past weekend, the city was full of fun activities- Hardly Strictly Blue Grass festival, Blue Angels, Castro Street Fair, etc.  So while everybody else was smiling in the sun having a dandy time cruising the city, I was stuck indoors nursing a cold.  Boo.  The only good thing about it was I got to keep company with a few pretty awesome distractions.

Distraction #1: Mini PB chocolate cups from Trader Joes

Somehow these lil’ nubs make you feel less guilty about consuming chocolate because  they are about 1/10th of the size of a Reese’s Cup.  My only caution is that they are like potato chips…you can’t just have one.  Not sure why but when I’m sick, I give myself permission to eat more generously to make myself feel better.  I rationalize that my body needs more nutrients.  That’s how I talked myself into feeling OK about eating half the tub!  DANGEROUS.

trader joes chocolate

Distraction #2: Homeland, Season 1

If you watched the Emmy’s, then you know that this show is the new darling of the industry…and for good reason.  It’s amazing and addictive.  Every time I finish watching an episode, I say “whoa.”  Acting is fantastic and I especially love the way all the characters say the F bomb with such gusto and emphasis on the F.   Here’s the synopsis from the official Showtime site:

Hero or traitor? M.I.A. in Afghanistan for eight years and subjected to unthinkable torture at the hands of al-Qaeda, Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is finally coming home. CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Emmy® winner Claire Danes) believes he has been turned and become part of a plot to be carried out on American soil. But the volatile Carrie has some demons of her own. Nothing is as it seems in HOMELAND, an edge-of-your-seat thriller that also stars Emmy® winner Mandy Patinkin.

Watch it and thank me later.

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

Sound of Music Sing-a-long. Jealous?

Don’t be jealous, but this weekend I was at the Hollywood Bowl at the Sound of Music Sing-a-long!  My mom is obsessed with Julie Andrews, so growing up my sis and I spent countless hours watching VHS taped versions of Mary Poppins…and of course Sound of Music.  2 hours and 45 minutes of belting out tunes and reliving the magic of the von Trapp family.  From the hills are alive with the sound of music…..how do you solve a problem like Maria…to I am 16 going on 17…to Edelweiss…So long, farewell.  Mom was singing at the top of her lungs, while I was preserving an already hoarse voice by compensating with my amazing chair dancing skillz.  Even old pops managed to squeak out a few notes.  Fun times!

Tried out the new iPhone panorama setting.  Not bad for a night shot!

Diane Nyad, You go girl

I don’t know if you’ve been following the Diane Nyad story, but I’ve been hooked.  In case you’ve been living underneath a rock…Diane is a 63 year old endurance swimmer who’s attempting (for the 4th time) a swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.  In an unfortunate twist today, she had to stop her 4th go at it because she kept getting stung multiple times by jelly fish.  Despite this, I still think she’s truly inspirational.  We live in a culture that rewards winning, but in this case, it’s the fight (and not the win) that’s admirable.  For her spirit, her courage, her drive….for all of this, I say “you go, girl.”  Kind of reminds me of this street artist that I see in my hood on occasion.  I can’t say that I’ve never seen him sell a painting…and quite frankly, his art is not really my thing…but he’s out there, every Tuesday joyfully showing his work to the world.  He does it because he believes in it.  For me, that’s what blogging is.  Not sure if it’ll ever amount to anything, but it’s my ‘swim,’ my ‘street art,’ my creative outlet.  Sure, I get made fun of by some of my friends and family who think it’s a total waste of time…I mean, even the taxi drivers in SF have food blogs (no joke!).  But I trudge on and just type away. One clickety clank at a time.