Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cookies anyone?

One of the most frustrating things about living in Taiwan is the lack of a kitchen. For someone who is cheap and enjoys cooking, this has led to many frustrating days where I'd rather stay home and cook a meal, but must head out to a restaurant, where I get little choice as to what's in my meal. The reality of it is that it's cheaper and more convenient to go to the restaurant!

This lack of a kitchen has also added to a lack of sweets - cookies, cakes, pies, etc... So this morning, I decided to see if there were any recipes for 1. toaster oven cookies, & 2. few ingredient recipes. Not only are the kitchens lacking proper equipment, but the grocery therefore doesn't carry baking items - or so I thought!

I found a recipe for peanut butter cookies and decided to give it a try:

Welcome to my kitchen & cooking space.

You have to be a little creative with the lack of baking supplies. These are foil trays used for grilling meat - they're double layered to cover up the holes!

Also, my toaster oven doesn't allow me to control the temperature, only the time. So I spent much of my time watching the cookies to make sure they didn't burn... you can see, I wasn't very successful at that! Regardless, we'll be enjoying some wonderful treats for the next few days - if they last that long!!

EASY Peanut Butter Cookies
  • 1 cup Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 egg
Mix all ingredients. Roll small spoonfuls into a ball and smash with a fork. (I added a sprinkle of flour to cut down on the stickiness.)

Winter Vacation...or not!

Winter break, or winter 'vacation' as they call it here, doesn't happen until the last few weeks of January. Students are given about a month off of school - the last week being Chinese/Lunar New Year. However, most students really only have the week of Lunar New Year as a true vacation because they attend a cram school from 8-5 each day during the week.

This past week was finals week at school, so they went to their Chinese school Monday Wednesday for finals, then had Thursday and Friday all day at our cram school. This meant that we were to create some sort of end of the year fun activity to do with our students for 3 hours each day!!

Not really understanding what we were to do, I suggested making a piñata - which apparently was the most creative idea they had ever heard and insisted that I do this with my students! Unfortunately, my particular group of students consisted of 18 teenagers, who would rather play cards and chat with their friends than acknowledge my presence, let alone be interested in this thing they've never heard of.

After about an hour of getting them excited to do paper mache, we began to set up the room for three different groups - this ended in complete chaos, as flour paste was being flung everywhere and students were covered! After one layer of paper mache, we headed outside to blow off some steam, and played games the remainder of the day.

I added a few layers to the balloons overnight so that we'd have good piñatas to decorate on day 2, which turned out to be a much better day than the first. Check out some of their creations....
Mr. Snowman
Mr. Happy

Some of the students showing off their piñata!

Unfortunately, the piñata did not want to break, so after each student took a swing, I threw it on the ground for them all to enjoy!

Monday, January 18, 2010

We're still here...

It's been a while since our last post and I felt it was time for an update.

The past few weekends we have hung around Hsinchu, mostly relaxing and being with friends, but we have visited a few interesting places.

First, we've found a wonderful eatery near our place that has become our regular Saturday lunch. Mr. Toast offers a wide array of delicious grilled cheese - these aren't your regular grilled cheese, but made with luxurious cheeses that are quite difficult to locate here in Taiwan. They also offer delicious salads that I can't get enough of - who would have thought I'd miss my veggies so much!?

With the nice weather, we've been spending much of our weekend outside, visiting various parks in the area and walking around town. We also have been attending a Writing Club, run by another expat living in Hsinchu. We've met many people though this and continue to build relationships.

This past Sunday we decided to grab a bagel from next door and scoot to a local reservoir. Without a map, we were unable to locate the reservoir via street signs so followed another set of signs to a lake we had never heard of. What a surprise, when we crested a hill to see the lake down below surrounded by a village we were unaware of a beautiful mountains in the background. We walked around the lake, admiring the many gardens farmers had so diligently built. We sat and read a while enjoying the sun and the tranquility of the quiet surroundings.

Because we haven't been traveling as much on the weekends, we've been doing a lot of reading, and studying Chinese. It's been a nice few weeks and we're looking forward to Spring and the warm, sunny weather of our upcoming trip to the Philippines.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Years Hualien Expedition.

As a New Years getaway, we decided to head to Hualien. This was our first trip to the east coast of the island and it was quite a trip - taking us nearly 5 hours to get there. Though the trip was long, we made it a relaxing trip as we slept in after the new year and took our time getting there...we ended up taking a local train due to no seats left on the express trains. We were lucky enough to get a seat on the local train which took about 4 hours from Taipei.

The trip to Hualien is chocked full of beautiful scenery...that is when you're not spending long stretches of time inside tunnels as the train tends to go through the mountain rather than over or around. Upon arrival, we were amazed at the beauty right there in Hualien. We ventured around town the first night, stumbling upon an aboriginal tribal dance and a night market on the beach. We didn't stay out late as we wanted to get an early start the next morning at Taroko Gorge.

The next morning we were up early and boarded a bus headed for Taroko Gorge. The trip takes about an hour from Hualien, mostly due to the winding through town to pick up at other bus stops. Once we arrived at the entrance, we, along with other passengers, realized that we wanted to head further into the park. The bus driver was nice enough to drop us off half way to the next town...where we could catch the return bus.

Our first stop was Nine Turns Tunnel where we were properly outfitted with hard hats.

**side note** 15 km off the coast of Hualien is where the majority of Taiwan's earthquakes are centered. One little shake and these beauitful cliffs and caves could begin to crumble!

The park consists of a number of trails along the road. Unfortunately, there is no real sidewalk or path for pedestrians, so we were left to walk along the side of the road, stopping often to let cars and buses pass. Notice in the pictures, that often the road is not wide enough for two cars (sometimes without warning!) and traffic could be backed up for a mile or so while buses took turns using the one lane road.

The day turned out to be absolutely wonderful, we couldnt' have asked for better weather. At first we were in our fleeces, hats and gloves, but by the end we were in t-shirts and warm!

Upon arrival in Tienshiang we enjoyed a light meal and some relaxing in this mountain town. We spent some time getting to know some other travelers before we headed back to Hualien for the night.

We had dinner with some of our new friends at what is apparently the most popular dumpling place in town. The line went nearly all the way around the block. Unfortunately, while they were good dumplings, we weren't overly impressed and couldn't understand why these dumplings drew such a crowd?!

Our night ended with a visit to a local bar, which actually turned out to be a Karaoke Bar and enjoyed a few beers with some locals and learned a new drinking game - quite a good experience as they apparently don't have many foreign guests and all the other bar-goers kept joining our table and trying to talk to us!

With Sunday came rain, so we decided to do a bit of exploring. We took the train to a small town called Rueisui where we could find a hot spring. Upon arrival, we wondered around following signs that continued to change..."2km to Rueisui Hot Spring"...(500 meters later)...".83km to Rueisui Hot Spring"...this continued for about 2km until the signs disappeared all together and we were left at a bike path. We decided to follow the path for a bit and just take in the scenery - which included a flat farming area with mountains in the background.

Ten to twenty minutes of following this path, we saw another sign to a different hot spring. We decided to follow it and while we walked noticed that there was heat coming from the water in the ditch lining the road. We eventually ended up at a hot spring resort that charges a flat fee - NT$200 for an entire day. (Most hot springs charge by the amount of time!) The resort offered a variety of pools ranging in temperature from 35.5 to 43.5 degrees as well as an outdoor swimming pool if you wanted to cold option! It was a nice day to spend a cool, rainy day!

Once back in Hualien, we enjoyed a light meal and hot tea at a cafe and read our books until we were too tired - a hot spring sure can wear you out! Monday meant back to Hsinchu and back to reality. Though it wasn't long, it was a wonderful trip, we'll definitely be back to Hualien before we leave!