Thursday, July 25, 2019

Drains of Taipei

My last drains diary in Taiwan was back in 2012, and I looked forward to updating it with a couple new finds:

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Photo Diary: a day in Pingxi

Pingxi is a small town in the mountains about a two-hour train ride outside of Taipei. Often overlooked by tourists for it's more popular neighbors Jiufen and Shifen.

When I visited on a weekday afternoon, almost all the shops and restaurants were closed. It reminded of me a ghost town. But I vastly preferred Pingxi over it's crowded and cheesy neighbors. It had a quiet calm and a derelict loneliness about it that made me instantly fall in love. I tried to capture those feelings with a few photos taken in the afternoon sun of autumn.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The breakfasts of Zhong Hua road

My absolute favorite thing to eat in all of Taiwan (and maybe the world) is breakfast, specifically the salty soy milk soup. This is a breakfast dish that you will find in many places throughout Taipei, and some are better than others. Places that serve salty soy milk also serve the accompanying foods, like sweet soy milk, fried dough, taro pastry, and bing.

On this trip I decided to catalog all of the breakfast restaurants I tried near our home on Zhong Hua road.

Many of them are traditional soy milk shops, and a few others are western-style breakfast, which sell sandwiches and burgers. These few shops are only a small sampling of the dozen or so breakfast places within 5 blocks on this one street.

If that  gives  you a sense of the sheer amount of restaurants in Taipei….

We tried this shop on the first morning in Taiwan because the one closest to the house was very busy. It was alright, but I ended up finding another place I liked more so this was my one and only visit. 

the entrance to the shop

taro cake and salty soy milk

salty soy milk with fried dough

This was my favorite place to eat salty soy milk, and it also happened to be the one closest to my house. Once I discovered this place, I only had the motivation to try two more on the same street, before I made a commitment here and returned every morning. 

the best salty soy milk

a great jian bing

This is another breakfast place that intrigued me. It specializes in America-style sandwiches, which sounds boring, but when you order one with ham and egg, you find out it's pretty different from an American sandwich. I also ordered sweet soy milk as a drink and a jian bing.

My American ham-and-egg sandwich

sweet soy milk drink

jian bing

This restaurant is on the corner by the elementary school and is super popular in the early morning.  Again, they specialize in sandwiches, but instead I ordered soymilk, jian bing, and a taro cake. 

my sweet soy milk drink

jian bing, very simple version

taro cake

Friday, July 5, 2019

Babymoon in Taroko Gorge

A babymoon is a vacation you take with your partner while you’re pregnant. Many people treat this like the last vacation you will ever have together for the next twenty years. There’s something both depressing and inspiring about it.

I would have never thought of such a thing, but after seeing all my friends’ babymoon photos on instagram from Greece and the Bahamas, I felt the desire to go somewhere exotic and photograph my pregnant body too.

Most of the babymoon photos out there are moms in bikinis, sporting cute bumps and tiny limbs. This was not me. For one, I'm no beach person. I also had a sick and sluggish pregnancy, and no desire to be in the sun at all. And despite having no stretch marks, I have a gnarly surgery scar that turns enough heads at bathhouses – I have no desire to be seen in a bikini.

Also, I discovered I hate flying while pregnant. Living in the cold Pacific Northwest, that really limits my options. So I was exciting when a Taiwanese friend recommend we visit Taroko gorge while on our trip to Taipei. It was only a 3 hour train ride from Taipei, so no airplanes or layovers. And it was beautiful nature. Not quick fit for a bikini, but still a chance for me and my partner to get away from my in-laws and have alone time.
Also, we only needed to spend one night and make it a 2-full day trip. Seemed like the perfect respite from Taipei.

My friend had arranged every detail of our trip, from train tickets, hotel reservations, and even our meals. The train tickets, she said, were the hardest to get. The train from Taipei to Hualien is frequently full and tickets sell out right away. Thankfully she was able to get us some tickets during our desired times. So we left around 8:00am and arrived by 10:30.
Because  I had such a bad experience on the Portuguese train with motion sickness and morning sickness, I was a bit afraid of the train in Taiwan. Thankfully I didn’t get sick at all and was even able to enjoy some morning snacks on the train.

Our guide began the tour by taking us to some cultural sights along the coast. We visited an elementary school that was for native children of the Taroko tribe. It reminded me so much of the school I had taught at in Shimane, Japan years before.

We then visited a Christian church with a strange monument that was first erected by the Japanese to honor the soldiers who died during the Taroko uprising again the Japanese military during colonization. However, it was remodeled with a statue of the Virgin Mary, and replaced to honor the Taroko people who died in that same uprising.

We then headed to the beach to get a glimpse at a few lookout points and come up close to the water. Hualien is on Taiwan’s east coast, and the Pacific roared with the strength of a Typhoon in the distance. It was very windy and the waves were high.

By 12:45pm it was lunch time. We stopped at a traditional restaurant that serves native dishes and ate what was a feast of meats, rices, and vegetables. It was one of the most delicious meals I had on my trip to Taiwan.

After lunch we headed into Taroko gorge. Being popular tourist attraction and a national park, the area is well mapped and the roads are all paved and well-maintained. In fact there was a quiet a lot of construction going on when we were there to build to repair roads.

Our first stop was the Eternal Spring Temple, which is a monument to the workers who died building the train tracks through the gorge.

The second stop was the Swallow’s Grotto. Having to wear a hard hat through the grotto makes one think there is an element of danger, but it was completely safe and easy walk.
Had I not been 6 months pregnant we might have gone on a hike – Taroko is famous for some beautiful trails and our guide knew the area very well – but my body was not in shape for that kind of physical exercise, so we stuck to talking on flat paved surfaces which was perfect for me.

In the evening we were dropped off at our hotel – Taroko Village Inn, nested in a valley with a mountain range to all sides. 

We relaxed in the room until it was time for dinner, another offering of traditional native food, and the evening performance by hotel staff. 

We also were lead on a short night walk around the property to check out some of the nocturnal animals (snakes, spiders, frogs, etc) that roam the premises

At night we slept peacefully and in the morning awoken to this view:

We ate breakfast at the hotel again, and spent a leisurely morning reading from the veranda of our room. As the sun rose, it became hotter and hotter, and by noon it was time to ride back to Hualien station to catch the train to Taipei.

Though I don’t have any photos of my bare belly on a beach or other stereotypical babymoon photos, I felt like our short babymoon trip to Taroko Gorge was perfect for us.  

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...