Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thank you, 2012

Oh, 2012, you were a year of self discovery. It followed the trend of my life-each year gets even better than the last. I spent this entire past year living and working in Taipei, and although it sounds pretty mundane, it was anything but. Here are some highlights:

Team Max: My first team sport happened to be dragon boat rowing. Very, VERY competitively-and my girl's team won FIRST PLACE! Definitely one of the happiest moments of my life because we worked HARD. Like, getting up at 5:30 am every weekday to work out like crazy, and then going to work smelling like lifejackets and river water. Also, I met very cool people, some of which are my best friends here in Taiwan now!

SHIDA: I love going to Chinese school. I took a second term at National Taiwan Normal University this Spring, and almost finished Book 3! It's amazing being able to read out sentences and whole stories and understand it all. Plus, my classmates were a wild bunch and made the whole term unforgettable. It's never too late to learn a new language!

Lu Dao Island: That was also unforgettable. This trip showed the power of true friendship to prevail against all weather. Mariel, Joanna and I went to Lu Dao, an island off the east coast of Taiwan, to spend Joanna's birthday weekend. I was absolutely miserable but ironically I also had one of the best weekends ever. We were cycling around the island, most of which was uphill, during a typhoon that lasted all trip, and I refused to wear a poncho. Good times.

BEING SINGLE: Yes, that was one of my highlights this year. I enjoyed the heck out of it too! I went hiking with friends, I partied, I went on causal dates, bought a guitar, I went on all-day cycling trips, went to concerts, jumped off rocks, ate everything I wanted, and soaked in my summer of freedom. I was insanely happy, in great shape and barely had to work. I was proud of myself for standing tall and being able to laugh at my future with confidence.

Taipei 101 Run: One of the coolest things I can tell people when I'm old!!! I ran up the stairs of Taipei 101, from the bottom ALL the way to the top. Taipei 101 is one of the tallest buildings in the world! (2nd? It keeps on changing! Stop it, Dubai.)

Bali: Sun, sun, sun. Beautiful beaches, streets full of colorful shops, Bitang beer, perfect.

My Students: Over the summer K2 graduated, did a spectacular job on their graduation performance, and now I am their K3 teacher as well! I know every parent brags about their kids, but this class is really talented. I know each one well by now-I know what they want to be when they grow up, I know what they are allergic to, I know which ones have lost which teeth, I even know how many rooms their apartments have (cause they tell me everything). I taught them Gangnam style and they picked it up in an hour. I can teach them any song, in English, and they'll singing and making up dance moves for it by the end of the week. I adore them, and they adore me.

Gaelic Football-the Celts: After Team Max, there was the Celts. Gaelic football is a cross between rugby and Australian football. You catch with your hands, kick, or pass it over the goal. It was the most confusing game to learn, but it was good fun. This is how I was covered in dirt every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday over the summer into the fall. And I almost picked up an Irish accent too. Well, at least I picked up an Irish boyfriend...

Love: Most definitely always a highlight! Sometimes the most unexpected things turn out to be more wonderful than you could ever have imagined. (I'm pretty sure that's been quoted by someone, somewhere.) No room for the whole love story here, but we met on Team Max, went river tracing w a group of friends, ran into each other at a few more parties, I joined the Irish sport, and BAM now we're taking on the world togetherrrrrrrr.

So, here's to 2012-may the next year continue to bring in good health, strong friendships, new adventures, and true love.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A VISA TRIP- Day Three

We woke up early on Day Three, because we had planned to see the Giant Buddha before heading off to Macau! It was another dismal, rainy day, and we ended up having breakfast at Starbucks again. Next time I go to Hong Kong I will do a very thorough search for cafes that serve breakfast if our hotel doesn't!! Boyfriend and I both love, love, LOVE breakfast. I've never met anyone who loved breakfast as much as me, and (sorry we are obviously in the 'in love' stage of our relationship) having breakfast with him in the mornings, whenever we can cram in time, is one of my favorite things that we do together! Sorry. Okay so we didn't have a great breakfast but we had decent coffee!
We took the MTR to Tung Chung, cause from there cable cars take you up to the foggy mountains where there famous tourist attraction sits. The line was long, but it was to be expected for a Saturday morning. I don't particularly love or hate cable cars, I think they are a cool alternative to other modes of transportation and sometimes you can take cool pictures! Ironically, as soon as our cabin went over the first mountain, all we could see was grey. It was like floating in a cloud all the way to the buddha! I'm pretty sure the reason why I had never heard of this attraction is because my family are conservative Christians and my mother would have lost her mind if she knew I wanted to go see a BUDDHA. So as a disclaimer in case she sees this, mom I have not converted, I just wanted to see a big statue on a pretty mountain :)

And it was pretty indeed! There was a little street full of touristy shops leading up to the stairs of the mountain, and the whole place was really foggy. I felt like I was in China! (And as far as I'm concerned, Taiwan is not China, it is an island next to China and since they are not land connected then I say Taiwan it it's own country) Boyfriend and I marveled at the view from buddha's throne, snapped a few shots and came back down. We wrote wishes on a wooden tag and hung them on a wishing wall. I wrote something tacky and Boyfriend called me out on it, but I thought his was corny too!

Anyway, after a relaxing lunch we eventually made it back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, and boarding the ferry to Macau! Going to Macau from Hong Kong is fairly simple. The ferry docks are down Canton Street, but on the opposite end of the normal ferries that take you to Central. I forgot how long the float was, about an hour? But they check your passport and go through immigration like at the airport! I had never been to Macau before, and neither of us knew anything about it. It was kinda funny, at the docks we were asking ourselves and other people what language was spoken there, what currency they use, what country they were?!?! It was funny and exciting, two things I always embrace on trips.
When we got out, it was dark and I could see sharp lights standing out from the darkness. We got to our shuttle and I was glued to the window as we zoomed past grandly lit European styled buildings, glitzy Vegas styled buildings, flashy fountains and just classy lights galore. I think living in Taiwan,  I just don't associate 'lots of colored lights' to be beautiful anymore, but these in Macau were way more elegantly done. They say Macau is the Vegas of China, but I didn't realize that they actually made replica buildings such as the Venetian...only Macau's casino revenues surpassed Vegas years ago! After we checked in our hotel (I can't remember the name now but it was nice! Had a wedding and 80th birthday going on we were tempted to crash) Boyfriend and I head out to Old Town for dinner before hitting the casinos.
Using travel brochures, maps and information desk people for a crash course of Macau 101, I learned that Macau was the first and last European colony in China. They were ruled by the Portuguese, so they have a heavy influence from them with their food and cultures. They were handed back to China in 1999, and right now as far as country stuff goes they are kinda special on their own but not, like Hong Kong. The official language is Portuguese but the people I heard and spoke to, used Cantonese the same Chinese dialogue spoken in Hong Kong (and my family-me not so much).
We walked around til we found this delightful, authentic-looking corner restaurant called Galo. This is not a food blog, but if anyone wants a recommendation for good Portuguese food I would strongly recommend this place! We were so lucky to get in half an hour before the kitchen closed, I didn't know what to order so we went based off recommendations and the whole place smelled amazing. I felt like I was sitting in someone's kitchen, and the menus were just laminated photos of the dishes, but the food was wonderful! 

We ate quickly and happily. Honestly I could be eating chicken slabs off a concrete ground in a tent and be happy with him, which we have done before, during of which I WAS still happy. That was a whole different trip adventure in Hualien, too far back to blog about but maybe someday will come out in my book ;). Then, we explored the Chinese Vegas!

Okay, I am not a gambling type of person and I actually borderline disapprove of it. I wanted to go to Macau to check out the buildings and go be in another country, not gamble. But we were there, and the buildings were breath-taking so it was fine. We wandered through Galaxy and ended up at the Venetian, exchanged some money and sat down at some tables, won some money and lost some money, had a drink at the bar and went to sleep!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


In the morning, we slept in. We never, EVER get to sleep in and getting to do so was absolute bliss. My first class starts at 9:30 every weekday, and since rowing season ended I've gone from jumping out of bed at 5:30, to dragging myself out at 8:25. Of course Boyfriend is superman and goes for work outs or mountain runs or chinese classes or cycles to work before I get out of bed. Every Saturday and Sunday since March I've had either rowing practice or football practice before 10am. So when I realized it was 10-something am and the rain was still drizzling with grey skies outside and we were still in wrapped up in warm, fluffy sheets-I was a happy gal.

Unfortunately when we did get up, there was no where for breakfast and we needed wifi. Finally, we gave into Starbucks for food and I settled for their Toffee Nut Latte. Did I completely miss Pumpkin Spice season?! I rarely get Starbucks in Taiwan, actually I've kinda outgrown it since high school. At Oregon State, Corvallis there was Dutch Bros between the two blocks from my flat to campus and they were all I ever wanted. In Taiwan there is a franchise called Cama Cafe springing up everywhere that I never pass up. If I can't reach one in time for a mandatory coffee fix, I drop in to a City Cafe aka 7-11. We'll get into the 7-11 thing in Taiwan some other time. All this just to say, I am never excited to see a Starbucks unless I just want to feel like I'm in America.
We took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, to cross it off our list. MTR trains go under the river and may be faster or more convenient for people needing to get to the other side for work or to pick up their VISA (like me), but the ferry is more scenic. It was chilly and wet, but luckily the ferry docks were only a few minutes walk from our hotel. Pictures taken from a Hong Kong ferry are my favorite.

When we landed, Boyfriend and I split again-him for work and me to pick up my VISA. I loitered about with his camera hanging around my neck for a while, taking pictures of crosswalks and random 'everything' stores and down escalators and of other tourists. I find the MTR system a piece of cake to navigate, but the DISTANCE that I have to walk to get from exit to platform is scandalous! I suspect that the time it takes to get to a platform might be longer than the actual riding time. I know it.
Oh, I stumbled upon a Forever 21. It was big and just, stood there. I got really excited at first to see a familiar clothing store and then I remembered I was just in one last month in Kuala Lumpur.
Our plan was to meet up around 4-5 and go up to Victoria's Peak to watch the sunset, but that fell through cause I showed up to our meeting spot late and the line to ride the Tram up was a couple hours long. We made it by taxi though, in time to see the Hong Kong skylines light up-this time from the other side of the river at night. There are two mall-like buildings with lookout points and I was bit confused on where to go, but after wandering up and down escalators and elevators we found some places outside and had dinner at a nice restaurant.

It was really nice, in fact Boyfriend and I speculated that some couples probably get engaged there. He's hopeless really-it will be pretty impossible for him to impress me if he takes me out to restaurants that fancy just to grab food while I'm wearing a Northface raincoat.

After dinner I insisted on taking a double decker bus down the mountain cause I thought it would be fun and it was on my checklist, so we did and I fell asleep and stayed asleep all the way back. THEN, we freshened up and headed out to the infamous Lan Kwai Fong district.
I think Lan Kwai Fong is where all the expats go to loosen up on the weekends and where tourists go to get action. We didn't bring a camera...I've had too many bad experiences getting too crazy on a night out and losing cameras haha. It's an area by Central, up on a hill where there are happenin' bars and a few clubs packed up next to each other on a few crowded blocks. They put up road blocks at night so no traffic goes by, and the streets get swarmed with rowdy foreigners fueled by beer and 80's music.

Oh I forgot to mention, during this whole trip I had been ill, and on this particular night I was particularly ill. Congested, hacking cough, and a pounding headache. Boyfriend soaked Lan Kwai Fong in, that foreigner, and totally enjoyed belting out some songs whilst I tried to not think about bed. In the end we had a couple beers and good time before calling it a relatively early night by 1am.


Day One-Novemeber 22nd 2012 (Thanksgiving day) 
I found myself staring at a map of Hong Kong’s MTR routes, not sure of where I was or where I needed to go. It was 9:30am and my boyfriend had just split for the office as soon as we arrived in the city; luckily he could work from the Hong Kong office-his only justification for accompanying me. I don’t worry about getting lost or finding my way-because whenever I’m at a new place I ALWAYS get lost and I’ve ALWAYS found my way. But this was Hong Kong, my birthplace. So I headed to the information booth and asked for Queensway Plaza (on the address of the Taiwan Embassy-Zippo Centre) and was pointed to the Admiralty MTR stop. I was really distraught that my master plan of using WhatsApp to get a hold of my relatives and to keep in touch with Cormac all fell through, leaving me completely dependent on people saying they will be at a certain place at a certain time, granted that I am able to find the places myself. It’s exciting in ways, and kind of not.
I don’t know as much about Hong Kong as I should as a ‘permanent resident’. Honestly I think it’s a bit deceitful for me to hold a citizen’s card-I can barely speak Cantonese, know very little about the culture and customs, and only know of well-visited tourist places to hang out. But when I find myself walking around, I can’t help but stare at all the locals and wondering what my life would have been like if I wasn’t an American. I envy their sharp movements and cold humor, their ‘I don’t give a crap about anyone but myself’ attitudes, and their non-existent awe over foreigners. That’s how you know you’re in Hong Kong and not Taiwan J
After a ton of stress and hassle I successfully completed my VISA application by 1pm. Luckily I found computer stations inside their MTR stations and managed to contact one of my girl cousins for lunch. It was a simple Cantonese lunch with meat and noodles, we ate in her office as she updated me on my relatives (“no news is good news”) and her love life (“how can you find a boyfriend so fast?! I’ve been single for so so so so long and still no one!”) and her plans next year to do a working holiday in Australia! Good on her. After we parted I headed to the Kowloon Hotel to drop stuff off before going to check out Canton Road.  ***Note to everyone who visits Hong Kong, Kowloon Hotel is not where you want to stay. Extremely small rooms, no pool, no gym, NOT EVEN BREAKFAST, and overpriced. The only good thing I can say about our hotel is the location-it was not bad. This was my first time ever staying at hotel (in Hong Kong!) and now I know for next time that they really do matter. ***
I was delighted to find Canton Road was only a few minutes down the street and under some tunnels! It’s the famous road with Chanel, LV, Dior, etc etc leading to Heritage 1881, this beautiful Dome-like building with a fountain where tourists take pictures.
I got back to the hotel around 5pm, and was relieved to see Chinese beer on the menu at their cafĂ©. Feeling festive, I tried a TsingTao beer but wasn’t amazed. It tastes like Taiwan Beer, ha! After refreshing ourselves, boyfriend and I walked out to the pier to see the Symphony of Lights. I had done most touristy things before, and he had not, but we were both excited to experience them together either way. We met a French bunch that helped us take pictures with the skyline in the background, and boyfriend’s camera made everything look magical despite all the clouds that night! Afterwards we walked down the pier-which turns into the famous Avenue of Stars, and took pictures with Jet Li’s star, Jackie Chan’s star, and Bruce Lee’s statue. I love being in spots where everywhere you step, you’re blocking someone’s picture. And there are always random Asian people in the background of all the our photos too…I really mean it when I say I find it endearing because pictures like that just seem more REAL.
I had almost forgot that Thursday was Thanksgiving Day! But boyfriend, my darling Irish man who is not an American man who does not even celebrate Thanksgiving, remembered and had arranged a dinner at an American Restaurant. Dan Ryans had such a huge menu full of amazingly hearty stuff I almost disregarded their Thanksgiving Meal special-but in the end we both made the right choice. It was a perfect meal with my perfect boyfriend! And in case any of my USA cousins are reading this (and not throwing up yet)-I gave tribute to our Circle of Thanks even with just the two of us J

There is so much to be thankful for in our lives, any day, any year. I have been ridiculously blessed with a life that continues to grow fuller and richer with every year that passes. When I graduated high school, I thought they were the best years of my life and my years of fun and partying were over. When I graduated university, I thought THEY were the best years of my life and my years of gaining knowledge and being inspired were over. But I’m on my third year after graduation, and it wasn’t until this year that I discovered dragon boating, traveling around Asia, river tracing, tribe dancing, Gaelic football, and hot yoga.  I’ve also said goodbye to good friends leaving Taiwan, and hello to many, many more new friendships with teammates, classmates, and strangers. I am thankful for everyone in my life that have carried me during low times and celebrated the high times! And above all, I give thanks to God for bringing all you people into my life. <3