Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

So this is Christmas...

Merry Christmas from the Far East!


Christmas here in Taiwan has been very different than any Christmas we've ever celebrated. Though some stores decorate and have holiday sales, the majority of the Christmas celebration is limited to that of the English schools; which is little more than an opportunity for students to show their parents their English skills. Due to the lack of festivities and my Scrooge attitude, my wonderful husband created a Christmas tree to display our gifts under...

(yes, you're seeing it correctly! That's a poncho on a broken coat rack with tea bags hung on it!)

Though we had to work on Christmas, we were surrounded by holiday cheer from one another and fellow co-workers. We spend Christmas eve with a group of ex-pats (mostly American and Canadian) enjoying cheese and wine. Then finished the night together opening gifts and calling home. Christmas day we went to our usual Friday morning breakfast and received another gift - free breakfast from the owner! It was a pleasant surprise that cheered me up! In the afternoon I found that classes had been canceled and was able to enjoy some relaxation with Dan before we put on our costumes and became "Mr. & Mrs. Clause!"

Saturday morning I had to work, but we had already planned on heading out of town for the weekend so when I was off, we hopped on the next bus and went downtown to catch the train. We had a beautiful weekend in Tainan and enjoyed relaxing together.

All in all, it was a great Christmas weekend despite not being with family - we miss you all so much!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winner!!

Here in Taiwan, when you buy something, anything, the receipt has a lottery number on it. It's part of the Taiwanese governments attempt to get companies to keep better records. Every two months the lottery numbers are drawn and everyone sifts through their literally HUNDREDS of receipts. The winnings vary depending on the amount of numbers that match. When speaking to locals, they tell us that it's apparently very difficult to win very much from the lottery; but Dan was confident that we'd win. So we saved every receipt and it paid off!!!


There are two sets of numbers drawn each time; the regular lottery, where you match the last three or more digits, and the grand prize lottery, where you must get all numbers correct. This website explains all about it and even posts the winning numbers each time. We ended up with three winning tickets. Two tickets were worth $200NT (having three matching numbers) and one worth $1000NT (which had four matching numbers).


In order to claim your prize you have to bring your winning receipts to the post office, or a participating bank. There you have to fill out some information about yourself (you must have a valid visa in order to claim a prize). If your winnings are over $1000NT you have to pay a small tax...our tax was only $4NT for out $1400NT winnings.


We decided to use our winnings to join the recently opened Costco. We've been a few times with friends and co-workers, but decided that the convenience of having our own membership was totally worth it.

Bring on the cheese, crackers, orange juice and chocolate!!! As well as many other indulgences I'm sure we'll enjoy over the course of the year!

For those of you living in Taiwan, keep saving those receipts (or send them our way!)...you never know when you might be a winner.

Cai Guo-Qiang

This weekend, Daniel and I visited the Taipei Fine Arts Museum which featured, almost solely, the works of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang (pronounced Tsai Guo-Chiang). We learned about the exhibit from our friends Suzannah and Aaron who checked it out a few weeks ago. Having already planned to visit Taipei on Sunday, we decided to stop by.


Known most recently as the mastermind behind the Footprints fireworks at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, his art has been drawing a bigger crowd everywhere he goes, as he often creates a new piece in front of a live audience at the featuring venue.


His exhibit at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum includes installation art as well, gun powder paintings, and a visual biography of his life and achievements. All of his works have some sort of political or social commentary, which makes the whole experience that much more interesting.

Check out this video of one of his gun powder paintings.

Also, those friends located in the Philadelphia area, he has a solo exhibit that just opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Fabric Workshop Museum. Definitely recommend checking it out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

VOTE FOR US!

Take a minute and vote for our blog as one of Taiwan's Best Blogs of 2009. Check out this site and search for "Ankney." Click on our listing then click the plus button next to our name. You can do this every 24 hours between now and December 20th!

謝謝 !

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Anniversary in Kenting.

To celebrate our first anniversary, Dan and I headed down to Kenting, a small town in southern Taiwan. We had plans to visit Hualien on the East Coast, but the forecast was calling for rain and cold weather so we decided to head south to warmer, sunnier weather.

We woke up early Friday morning and headed to the High Speed Train. The first train left around 6:30am. We boarded and slept for the nearly 1.5 hour trip to Kaohsiung. Then in Kaohsiung we hopped on a bus for another 2 hours headed to the southern most tip of Taiwan. Upon arrival, we found some lunch (it was around 11 when we arrived) and a hotel to dump out things. When getting a room at this hotel, we were given the choice of the Snoopy room or the Hello Kitty room…we chose the Hello Kitty room! (complete with a Hello Kitty painted on the wall in glow-in-the-dark paint!
After dumping our things, we wondered around the town, checked out the beach and the scenery around the town. The beach was nearly deserted and allowed for a number of beautiful shots of the beach and the coral along the coast.

Saturday we awoke early and rented a scooter. We spent our morning at the most southern tip of the island at Kenting National Park, where there are walking paths along the sea and a lighthouse overlooking the Taiwan Strait and the Pacific Ocean.

In the afternoon we scootered to the north side of Kenting and visited another section of Kenting National Park where we were able to do some hiking (okay more like walking as it’s a fairly built up area to accommodate for the number of visitors each year). We wandered around this park, seeing a number of amazing trees, plants, insects, and even some wildlife. We spent the evening watching the sunset and wondering the street market.



On Sunday we were up early for the sunrise and found our way back to Kaohsiung before lunch. There we spent some time exploring the area near the train station before heading back. We had decided to take the Express Train back instead of the High Speed. Unfortunately, this particular train issued tickets with seat assignments and others without seat assignments. We have always been lucky enough to have seats on our tickets, but this time we did not. When we boarded the train, there are seats available, so we sat…but at the first stop, that changed. Dan ended up standing for the nearly 3.5 hour trip while I off and on had a seat.




Friday, November 27, 2009

Quick catch up!

Okay, so I know I'm a little behind. It's been a rough week and we're heading into a much needed relaxing weekend, so hopefully I'll get caught up on the blog.

Two weeks ago, we went into Taipei for the day and got a new camera, it's a Pentax K-X for those of you who are into camera - we're loving the higher quality photos and have two lenses to catch some even better images.

Last weekend we celebrated our First Anniversary with a trip to the southern most tip of Taiwan - Kenting. It was a beautiful trip...we spent the weekend on the beach, in the mountains, and relaxing! (more to come, I promise)

This week, after a major migraine, we decided to find a chiropractor for my neck. After talking with some co-workers, it was suggested that I see a traditional Chinese doctor. This lead to my first acupuncture experience! I met with a doctor and explained where my pain was, then he had me sit on a bed while he stuck 6 needles into my neck, back and hands. I didn't feel a thing!! I was supposed to set with these in for 15 minutes, but after about 4 minutes I began to faint. So they quickly removed the needles and laid me down. Once I was relaxed, I headed to a different part of the office for a massage. The visit ended with a medicine patch to help ease the muscles that were just massaged and was told to come back the next morning for another treatment.

The next morning, I went back, but had a very different experience. The acupuncture was done a little differently, with me lying on my stomach. I even lasted the entire 15 minutes this time! After the massage, they used guasha - which is a form of scraping that is used to surface the heat in the muscles. Finally the visit ended with cupping which is the use of glass cups to create a vacuum and pull the "bad blood" out of the muscle. This massage, guasha, and cupping was much more painful that the first day. And I left looking like this...


Don't worry, it looks much worse that it feels. By the end of the day I was pretty exhausted and tired, but this morning despite the look of it, felt pretty good. From what I have been reading, the bruises will go away quickly and are what they call "good bruises" because they are no longer deep in the muscle! I have one more treatment...so we'll see how this works!

Check back after the weekend for more updates on our life here in Taiwan.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Taiwanese Experience

Over the past few weeks, we have had the opportunity to spend some time outside of the classroom with a few of our students.

Near the end of my first adult course, the students asked if they could take me out for “hot pot.” Hot pot, though not traditionally Taiwanese, is a modern traditional fall and winter meal. Families gather around a boiling pot of broth and dip a number of meats, vegetables, tofu, and some other interesting things into the pot. These items are left to cook for a bit – while you talk and enjoy the company – then when finished, are dipped out and eaten.

(the "hot pot")

We enjoyed some great fellowship and an interesting learning experience at a local hot pot restaurant called 小發牛 ("pronounced "Shao Fae Neo”) or “Little Fat Cow.” We were joined by three Taiwanese (2 of my students and one boy friend) and for our first hot pot experience had a split pot of both a spicy broth and a normal (not spicy) broth. During the meal prune juice is served as it helps to cool your mouth after eating the very spicy hot pot (spicy hot pot is actually a Mongolian thing).

(because it's a shared meal, there are special chopsticks and spoons used to retrieve your foods from the both)

(the meat is cut quite thin - like deli meat - an
d cooks very fast in the boiling broth)

We spent nearly three hours eating a variety of beef, pork, mutton, different fish pasts (you scoop out some and throw it in the broth and it turns into a meat ball), meatballs, cabbage, mushrooms (okay, I didn’t, but Dan did!), sponge (yes, it’s a vegetable) and many others. Over all it was a fabulous evening and a great experience.

(the end. We used nearly two pots full of broth by then end of the meal - the waitress comes by with a large teapot filled with broth to refill the pot periodically)

Then, this past weekend one of Dan’s students invited us over for dinner at his new apartment. He and his girlfriend (who will be married this winter) live in Jhubei which is over the river from where we live. We met at Costco and they drove us to their apartment. For dinner Alice made 5 different dishes and a soup that were eaten over rice. The dishes were delicious and ranged from tofu, chicken, pork, and two leafy vegetables cooked with garlic. The soup, a basic broth with mushrooms and chicken was also delicious. We shared a bottle of wine and ended the evening with a cup of coffee made special by Tom. His coffee skills are quite amazing and he makes a rather sour coffee that Dan enjoyed! (unfortunately, no pictures from this experience)

We’ve been lucky to enjoy some more leisure time getting to know some of the local people. Recently we’ve started new classes that require a taxi ride to the company and I’ve been able to get to know some other teachers (both Taiwanese but studied in America and now teach English). Both of which have offered to take Dan and I out or even take us to Costco to get some CHEESE!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tea Fragrance Resort.


A few weekends ago Dan and I had the opportunity to visit a tea farm in Nantou County. Nantou County is the only land-locked county in the country and is home to some awesome mountains, lakes, and jungle-like scenery.

In order to get to the tea farm, Tea Fragrance Resort, we had to take a for about 2 hours. Then after calling the resort, they picked us up and brought us to the farm. The call to the resort was a bit difficult as we experience first hand the frustration of not only cell phones dropping calls, but the language barrier. Next thing we knew, we were in a car on our way up to the farm. The farm is situated on a 400 meter plateau which we needed to climb…by car…kind of reminded us of driving in the mountains in PA– my ears even popped!

Upon arrival, we were shown our room – beautiful 4 person room with a private bathroom and balcony. When we had our friend call to make the reservation, we were told that the economy (cheaper) rooms were all filled and that they would give us their best room at a discounted rate (1/2 the original cost). We decided to take it, as we really wanted to visit this farm, however, learned while we were there that those rooms were not filled – still not sure if it was some thing that was “lost in translation.”
We enjoyed prune juice and dried kumquat soaked in oolong tea while we waited on our beef noodle soup for lunch. All were delicious. The prune juice is a little weird, kind of sour, kind of sweet, and the kumquat have a kind of cooling effect. Both are used to help cool the spice of the beef noodle soup.

Next we had the opportunity to go for a bike ride around the area. We saw fields and fields of tea, pineapple, and ginger. 70% of all tea, pineapple, and ginger are made in this county! The scenery was so beautiful – and the ride relaxing (except that we were on old, unreliable bicycles).


When we returned to the resort, one of the owners (it’s a family who run the farm) showed us cha dao – the proper way to do tea! We were even lucky enough to be taught in ENGLISH!

The next morning the staff at the resort drove us to the bottom of the plateau where there was a hiking trail. Unfortunately, the trail was a bit crowded and lined with vendors selling everything from smoked squid or sausages to pomelos and fresh corn. Lining the trail are also warning signs asking that you not feed the monkeys – we did in fact see one!

We were able to take a side trail and get away from the crowds and enjoy the jungle/rain forest like scenery. Toward the end of the trail, it turns to stairs, sometimes only wide enough for one person. These took a while to complete, but the view from the top was well worth it…too bad it was so humid and hazy! The temple too was a great site. Upon leaving the temple gates, we walked through town where we visited many tea shops and ended up buying a traditional Chinese teapot and all the necessary items to do cha dao with our friends back home.
Parades happen often here, and we were able to see one while in this small town…however, this parade included something we can’t quite explain.

After another delicious meal and some more tea, we headed back to Hsinchu where we enjoyed the remainder of our Sunday evening listening to some music downtown and relaxing at home.

(more photos in photo section)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Neiwan.

A few weekends ago, we decided to take a day trip out to Neiwan - a small village in the mountains. It's best known for its natural hot springs and beautiful scenery.

Getting there was a little more difficult than we had anticipated. When we arrived at the train station we found that we couldn't take a train there (this was established after much frustration with the language barrier as the English window was closed). So we wondered out to the bus station nearby. While attempting to read the schedule and the buses, a man said "going to Neiwan?" - he must have read our minds! We had to wait about 15 minutes but then boarded a bus and purchased a ticket to Neiwan. Once arriving at the first stop, Jhudong, everyone got off the bus. So we followed. We had heard another couple say they wanted to go to Neiwan, so we decided to follow them. They went into the train station and purchased a train ticket (hadn't we already paid our full fare?) Apparently from here we needed to take the train to Neiwan. We had to wait nearly an hour because we had just missed the every hour train.

While we waited, we wondered around the town a bit and stumbled upon a park. Or so we thought it was a park - it actually turned out to be a museum (a very small museum) of the logging history in this county. We spent the better part of our time waiting for the train in the museum then headed back to catch our ride.

The ride was beautiful, thought the mountains, over rivers, and into tunnels. When we arrived we wandered through the market - a wonderful array of sights and smells. Here we tried some wonderful fresh made cranberry juice (after purchasing a rather expensive bottle of it, we've come think that it's actually a concentrate that needs watered down and a little sugar). Next we bought some Jhongzi (rice dumplings steamed inside bamboo leaves) and found a small park to sit and enjoy.
After eating, we continued to wander around town. We found the suspension bridge which is one of the most known tourist attractions and followed it over a riverbed lined with beautiful gardens. We couldn't help but wonder if these gardens were washed away each year by flooding.


On the other side, we began to explore this side of town only to stumble upon a hiking trail. We followed this train for about an hour and a half. The trail was made mostly of wooden walkways and stairs, some parts worse off than others. We happened upon a beautiful swimming hole with a number of waterfalls leading into it. It was so beautiful, we could have spent our entire day here. Unfortunately, having plans for dinner with some friends, we headed back to town and grabbed some sausages to snack on. Apparently Neiwan is known for it's wine filled sausages - I'm a bit skeptical as I did not taste wine at all and these sausages are more fat than meat!

The ride back to Jhudong was a bit more crowded but we were able to sit at the front of the two car train and see the view as the conductor sees.


Go to our photo page (click photos at the top of the blog) to see more pictures from our visit to Neiwan.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Halloween!

"It's Halloween, It's Halloween!
The moon is full and bright,
and we shall see what can't be seen
on any other night!"

Halloween in Taiwan, is very different than in the US. It is only celebrated through American influence, therefore English schools and a few "Americanized" restaurants, bars, and communities recognize this holiday. Our school participates in an annual Halloween Party, where each class comes up with a Halloween Chant, then we play games and have scavenger hunt throughout the building. The younger students got to go trick-or-treating in the afternoon on Friday. Few students actually dress up for Halloween, some have masks, but the school brings out face paint to liven up the event.

Here are a few of the best costumes...

Tom the Owl

Psychedelic Alien

Drama Queen

Felix the Vampire

Arg...Richard the pirate!

Fairy Wizard?!

Wonderwoman : a.k.a Ivy

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!

Jerry and his swan!

It's all about the creativity....I wasn't able to get a good photo, but the best costume was a little girl wearing the clear plastic back that her new pillow came in over her head- no holes - and saying that she was a ghost!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween....
Superman Dan and

little miss pumpkin!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We Made It...

This past weekend, we set out for our first scooter adventure. We had read about a tea museum not far from out city and wanted to check it out. If you haven't already learned, tea is a huge part of the Taiwanese (and many other Asian countries) culture. There are particular ways in which tea is to be prepared, and different teas are drunk for different reasons. With all of this in mind, we downloaded a map and set out.


Our first snag was in locating Baoshin Road, or Baoxan Road, or Baosin Road....see how we could be a bit confused?!? We took the wrong turn nearly 3 times before we backtracked and happened to find the street after Baoshin which was Shuangyuan (again seeing a variety of spelling along the way). This lead us through the beautiful countryside where we saw numerous gardens, rice fields, and a variety of temples and homes. The road eventually spat us out on what we beleived to be the next road in the directions. We began to follow it into town in search of the address of the museum. When we reached the end of the town, we realized that we were actually in the wrong town (Toufen instead of Jhunan). So we wandered around a bit until we saw a sign that said "Central Jhunan ->." Aha, we were finally headed in the right direction, or so we thought.

By this time in was nearing 1pm and our stomachs were telling us to stop and eat. We found a roadside stand and ordered some new eats. Enjoyed them on the steps of a bank along with some tea from 7-11 (I've never shopped so much at a convenience store!). At this point, we decided to just begin the trek back home leisurly, so as to not be out past dark.


Mix and match your choice of ingredients, then the cook throws it all in flour, and deepfrys it! Yummy!
The finished product.

We re-traced our route only to miss our turn out of Toufen and continue on...little did we know that 100ft beyond out turn would be the museum. That's right, we found it...after many miles of traveling out of our way, we indeed were able to visit this museum. It happens to be on the grounds of the Ten Ren Tea factory and there are a number of buildings for tourists to visit. They have 2 restraunts, a tea house/gift shop, a tea stand, and ofcourse the museum. Thankfully much of the museum was in English as well as Chinese.

We spent a few hours wandering around, enjoying some tea in the cool autumn weather. Then we headed home as we were nearing dusk. All in all, we had a wonderful day. We were so very thankful to finally find our destination, but the adventure leading up to it was also wonderful.