Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Taipei, Taiwan, Part 2: Good-bye, Asia!

My last day in Taiwan marked the end of the most incredible, (low-cost), beautiful, (low-cost), and greatest Asia trip ever.  I had to head back home for a couple weeks for wedding season, so this was the final hurrah.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Upon our arrival back from Hualien back to Taipei, we checked into our hotel and went to the night market.  
The baller pool at the W. I'm leaving my slum life behind.
  • There are a ton of night markets in Taipei; the one we went to used to be one of the largest and craziest - called Shilin Night Market.  When I went to camp in Taipei during my high school summer, we basically lived at this market - there are cheap eats, ridiculous things to buy, and it used to be such a scene. We used to go nuts for these really ridic-looking socks with adorable Asian things printed on them that were 6 for 100NT (which is $3, basically making each pair 50 cents).  
You know what, Asia? I love you too
The vending machines in Taiwan all have personal helpers that basically give you advice on exactly what to do every time. And I mean that for serious; I wasn't just referring to my mom and Sherm.
  • One of my mom's cousins (I still can't figure out what to call him) is the manager of a golf course, and given Sherm's obsession with golf, he took him out for a game early the next morning.  My mom, Irene and I joined them later for lunch at the club.
And we got a tour of the club by golf cart!  I love golf carts. I will definitely have a golf cart one day to zoom around my giant mansion grounds
The golf caddies are always ladies, and they wear all khaki jumpsuits and powder-blue head visors 
And the course was beautiful
And they let stray (beautiful) dogs run around too!
Do you have food? 
  • Sherm also mentioned the golf snacks were a little different - they had buns and green bean soup instead of hot dogs and cokes.
Do Taiwanese golf courses look like regular golf courses?  I have no idea, because I don't play golf
  • We had a relaxing afternoon of more Taiwanese pampering (seriously, I would never do my own hair if I lived here because I would just get it done every day for $6. That's like half the price of the cab I used to take to work when I wanted to sleep in 5 minutes and would miss the train. Mind. Blowing).  Then headed to Taipei 101, that super-tall, super-expensive building I was telling you about in a previous post. 
Taipei 101 is giant. It has very informational info inside about how it stays earthquake-proof
  • But really our mission for going to Taipei 101 was to eat at the world's most delicious soup dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung. These things are ridiculous and money. SOUP DUMPLINGS NOM.  There's a couple locations and always a wait, but it wasn't too bad for a late Wednesday night. 
Soup dumpling assembly line
They even have a photo spot where you should stand to take a photo with the assembly line. So efficient.

Mom and I in the midst of devouring trays of soup dumplings
Another one of my favorite parts of Asia? They have mascots for EVERYTHING and they are usually adorable. This is the Din Tai Fung dumpling man <3
  • As a last stopover for the night, my mom and I stopped by my grandma's house and her old neighborhood to say good-bye to my grandma and wander around for a bit. I have such fond memories of my grandma's house - which isn't what you would normally think of as a "grandma's house", because it's the 2nd/3rd floor of a busy downtown building.  The first floor used to be a photo store, but has changed a bunch over the years. I have the best memories of visiting and living in this house all the times I would visit Taiwan as a kid. And to be honest, I never would have recognized it if my mom hadn't pointed it out.
My grandma's house is the 2nd/3rd floor of the middle grayish building. This is where my mom grew up!
  • And then I capped off my Taiwan trip by visiting a bunch of stores and buying the cutesiest/useless things ever. Nobody does cute like Taiwan.
  • The next morning, I got on a flight to San Francisco - back to the States for a bit!  

Funnest fact is, I have no idea where I'm going next - I am currently evaluating options on the cheapest one-way flights, so I don't even know what continent I'll be on next. But stay tuned - it will be an adventure for all!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Taitung, Taiwan: Who Knew Taiwan Could Be So Pretty!?

For my grandma's birthday, the fam decided to take a trip to the coast to celebrate - which was super exciting for me, given I've never been anywhere in Taiwan other than Taipei.  My dad didn't join us as he was heading back to the States, but my mom, sister, bro-in-law, and I made the trip. We had our own tour guide and bus who escorted our huge clan of relatives for the entire time - and there was enough driving that we managed to finish 2.5 movies over the next two days. #efficient  And it was so gorgeous!

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Took a 2.5 hour train out to Taitung - on the east coast of Taiwan. 
Madre and me on the train
  • We had a family tour bus, who picked us up from the station and trucked us to the first stop, which was an indigenous village where native Taiwan people resided (most of Taiwan is populated from Han Chinese immigrants originally from China, so this indigenous village was the original originals - a la Native Americans).  
The guy in the water is from the indigenous village - he was showing us how they used to fish
In these villages, they used to heat up special rocks over the fire and put the rocks in their soup to make the soup boil. You can see the soup dish is made out of a tree leaf as well
And then they let us make mochi, which was super hard work
  • Next stop on the bus was this very pretty lake (I can't remember names of any of these places). You could wander around the lake or take a super fast speedboat around the edge of the lake, which six of us opted for - mind you, my entire extended family was there so there were about 15-16 of us in total.
The pretty, nameless lake

On the speedboat - brother in law, sister, mother, mom's cousin, and aunt
Me, mom and sister
  • Last stop of the day was this super-pretty neighborhood called Yun Shan Shuei (literally translated, it means: clouds, mountains, water) - people had constructed this neighb in the middle of nowhere. The neighborhood has gorgeous lakes and homes and scenery views.
Pretty, yet random, neighborhood
We love Totoro!
A horrendously large grasshopper
Our tour guide is on the back right
  • That night, we drove out to our resort, called the Butterfly Valley Resort - we stayed in the cutest bungalows in the resort, and the entire place had hiking trails, nature forests, a butterfly, hot springs, etc. etc.  Truly a retreat.
    Ahhh, huge rooms. Love the perks of traveling with the fam
Irene, Sherm and I tried out the hot springs pools after dinner. By "Irene, Sherm, and I", I mean "me."  There were a ton of pools of different temperatures, and they all had different buttons you could push that would turn on different jets and water flows and taps.  It was the coolest. Oh, and they made me wear a shower cap.
I tried out all the buttons and taps
  • The next morning, my mom, sister and I got up super early to go hiking and explore the resort before we had to meet the tour guide.  
Hiking mom and sister
The gorgeous river that ran along the path
Mini waterfalls everywhere
The river is a gorgeous blue due to phosporous. Scenery was so pretty
X-jumping on the suspension bridge
Then we made it to a waterfall
  • You know what happens when you get up super early to hike?  You do a ton of stuff and by the time you're finished, it's only like, 9AM.  Amazing.  We reconvened with the group and our gigantor bus, which trucked us off to the oceanside.  Ahhh the ocean is SO. PRETTY.  It was surprisingly, surprisingly pretty.
Ocean view from the bus. The entire coastline was like this
The amount of photos I took out the bus window was unreal
One part of the coast we stopped by had tons of concrete shape-y things and small wooden goats everywhere. Asia is the best.
And then we stopped at this crazy pretty island with a famous bridge that has 8 bumps.
The other side of the coastline
I don't know what Sherman is doing
For lunch, we went to a place with indigenous cuisine - and a sushi boat!!
And of course, fish with their heads still on
Next to lunch was the prettiest beach with black sand

I think I forget sometimes that Taiwan is a beautiful island, and I loved getting to see stuff out of the city.  I also really loved getting to spend time with my extended family (who are spread out over Taiwan and California - with the exception of my parents) - it's super rare that we all get to get together, so that was a treat also.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Taipei, Taiwan: Family Time in My Favorite City

Just in case anyone noticed that there hasn't been a post in a couple days, I apologize. For anyone who didn't notice, business as usual.

I arrived into Taipei from Siem Reap late evening, where TA-DAAAA, my mom was waiting for me in the airport!  She had arrived about an hour earlier from the States, and we'd coordinated to meet at the airport.  It was the greatest.  My dad had already been in Taiwan a couple weeks at that point, and my sister and brother-in-law were arriving the next day.  My grandma (on my mom's side) lives in Taipei, and it was her 90th birthday this weekend - hence the entire family convening from all corners of the world.  

It feels like yesterday, but I hadn't been to Taiwan in seven years.  Which means I hadn't seen my grandma, or any of the family that lives in Taiwan (a couple aunts/uncles/cousins) in seven years. #grandchildfail

What It's All About:
Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan - as a brief history, Taiwan is where all the Nationalists from China fled to after the Communist Party took over in the late 1940's. This is how both sets of my grandparents ended up in Taiwan, and why both my parents were born there.  It's officially called Taiwan ROC, or the Republic of China - China thinks Taiwan belongs to them, and Taiwan thinks they're independent.  It's basically been a sovereign state, however - and is incredibly developed with an advanced economy, though there's been a history of shaky relations with China.

Taipei 101 - a huge tower full of businesses and restaurants that was the tallest and most expensive building in the entire world when it was built around 2004
I've probably been to Taiwan 6-7 times in my entire life, and have had the best memories. Not only is a bunch of my family there, but Taipei is incredible - it has the best night markets, street food, shopping, and bustling ambience. I went to summer camp in Taipei for 6 weeks when I was 15 years old - and to this day, it remains one of my favorite memories of all time. 

Also, while I really really loved being in Southeast Asia, it was nice being in a large, developed Asian city where there wasn't constant garbage everywhere and chickens weren't running rampant in the streets.

Cliffnotes of the Trip:
  • Celebrated my grandma's 90th birthday with a ridiculous 10-course fancy lunch (who eats 10-course lunches?? Winners, that's who) - it was amazing because I saw all my relatives from Taiwan that I haven't seen in forever.  There were tons of relatives I'd never even met before, either (namely, my mom's cousins and such - what are they called? Great uncles? Second cousins?  Great cousins?).  
Giant family lunch! Also titled, "Which one of these is not like the other?"   
My grandmother got six birthday cakes because she is a baller
Sisters and cousins. And Sherman, who I'm sure had a thrilling time with a roomful of 30 people speaking Chinese
  • We then went and had another huge fancy celebratory dinner for my grandma at a different restaurant that same night. It was the most gluttonous day in all of history. 
  • Next day, my immediate family went on our own personal walking tour of Taipei, aided by my dad. Please note that neither of my parents have lived in Taipei for over 30 years; therefore it was a little like the blind leading the blind. When my dad took the reins on leading the tour, everywhere we went strangely had a similar history of "This building involved a lot of political corruption...."   I guess he reads a lot of news stories on political corruption?
First up, the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, who was the first president and founder of the Republic of China. They had a very interesting guard-changing ceremony where the guards stomped around a lot
Family and the Taipei Dome, aka big egg building - it's not finished yet but will be a sporting arena and shopping center. Oh, and something to do with political corruption? 
And then I made my family pose with a giant Taipei sign. Color-coordination unintentional 
Sisters and a mom arm

  •  While walking, we found a Hello Kitty food store. WHY does Asia have the cutest things ever.

Ordering a drink from the giant plastic Hello Kitty
And they have Hello Kitty-branded rice!

  • To continue on our trail of gluttony, we went to dinner at an all-you-can-eat sukiyaki place. Basically, one of those restaurants where they give you a pot and then you can have unlimited meat and veggies (and by "meat and veggies" I am basically only referring to "meat") and cook them in your own delicious broth.  Interactive dinners are my favorite. 

All-you-can-eat sukiyaki
The aftermath.  Not to gross any veggie-lovers out there, but we had so much meat that all the water cooked out and our pot basically ended up as a huge vat of oil

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Irene and I went to go get our hair washed - it's a thing Irene used to do when she was in Taiwan that she remembers fondly. You basically can go into any hair salon, and they will wash and condition your hair, give you a head & neck massage, treat your hair, then dry and style it for you for ~$6. It's the best and I would never wash my hair by myself ever again if I lived in Taipei.
  • Taiwan invented boba tea (aka bubble tea). It's true.