Friday, August 30, 2013

Wrap up time!

That will come another day..."You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place, like you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll also miss the person you are now at this time and place, because you'll never be this way ever again."

Strangs, that's all I feel. No sadness or excitement, not scared to leave but not happy to leave everyting behind. I know I can always come back to Taipei, but from experience I know it will not be the same if I do. I don't know what's in store for the future- I don't know where I will be living in four months and I'm not too worried about it. I think 25 is an awesome age. I can do whatever I want, and I do and it's wonderful.

I have been blessed with three wonderful years in Taipei. If I try to make a movie of the past three years, and then fast-forward through the whole clip it would just be a blurb of sunshine, my laughing students, packing my backpack for the weekends, afternoons in cafes, nights in sports bars and clubs, running to MRT's, hiking, friends, friends, more friends, you get the idea. 

I've played all over the island as well.

-I've run a half marathon through Taroko Gorge
-climbed the stairs up to the top of Taipei 101
-dragon boat competed for the Dragonboat Festival twice 
-loved up a weekend at Sun Moon Lake
-seen the sunset in Danshui
-set off sky lanterns with friends in Pingxi
-danced with aboriginals in Hualien
-biked around all of Ludao
-snorkeled in Penghu
-hiked over Yangmingshan and dined at the top 
-gorged at Keelung Night Market
-conquered Mt. Jade (the tallest mountain in SE Asia)
-cycled to Taidong
-picked strawberries in Maoli
-scootered around Kenting
-soaked in hot springs in Beitou 
-sipped tea in the mountains of Jiufen 
-explored forts in Kaohsiung
-ate squid balls in Taichung
-surfed in Yilan
-river traced in Jiaoxi and Nanao 

Its' like I've colonized Taiwan with my Kalong-ness and now it's time for me to take over somewhere new. Still, it's weird how the farewell lunches/ get togethers have begun alrealdy. Like Winnie the Pool once said, "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."

Here are some good memories I've had, all these are pictures that I've been tagged in by friends I've met in Taiwan-where a part of my heart will always be!!! Thank for you everything xx

Of course, I'm going to save my hardest post for Taipei as my last. The one for the students of K3, my precious short friends of whom I have had the privilege of teaching during my stay in Taipei. That will come another day...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How I managed to cycle 160+km without dying.

Last weekend, I did something very out of character. Not only did I get on a bicycle, I cycled for two sweltering hot days along the east coast of Taiwan on it. There was only one reason for my irrational behavior-I couldn't resist another adventure with my best friend. And you know what? It will forever be   one of our fondest memories together.
The bike route down Eastern Taiwan is boasted to have the most beautiful views of sea and mountains in Taiwan. From Hualien to Taidong, there are two popular routes: Highway 11 and Highway 9. On most blogs I read, cyclists took three days to make the trip, but all commented that it was quite possible to do in two if we were fit enough. Highway 11 hugs the border between the coast and mountains, passes by fishing villages and beaches and goes through tunnels and bridges. Highway 9 goes through the valleys and along the railroad tracks, with majestic views of mountains looming over. Boyfriend and I chose to do Highway 11, in two days. We left Taipei on Friday night to Hualien, where our journey started.
We rented our bikes from the Giant Store there the following morning. (**I had made reservations a week beforehand, recommended) They have a great program where you can rent a bike from one location and drop it off at another Giant store. This is SO convenient, and it only costs 1,200NT to have for 3 days, and you can drop it off anywhere there is a Giant store (which is most cities in Taiwan). They prep you with all the tools you need: helmet, repair kit, spare tires, lights, and the best part-bags for your stuff! We emptied out our bags and easily fit our stuff into the provided saddle bags that hooked on to the back of the bikes. The helpful guy pointed us the way to Highway 11 and by 9am we were on our way! I won't go over every detail of our route, we just stayed on Highway 11 the whole way through! For a good description of roads and stuff we passed, here's a blog of a guy who did a similar trip.

On Day One, we went from Hualien to Chenggong, which was over 100 km and about 10 hours of biking. The first few hours were expectedly hilly, and my enthusiasm drained quickly. As soon as the sun started beating down and pedaling got hard, I got pretty grumpy as well and wondered why I had decided to punish myself this way. But we kept on going. 

 At least the views didn't disappoint. 
 While I cursed and fought my way up hills, the boyfriend effortlessly rolled up the hills and took selfies as he patiently waited for me to catch up. Lovely. 
 I had never sweated so much for so long. If it weren't for all the water I kept on drinking, I would have just dried up like a raisin. 
 I used to be terrified of big vehicles passing by while I'm biking. Now I know it's even scarier when you're both in a tunnel!! WTH! Esp when the tunnels never end!
The going got easier after lunch time, and we cycled along in peace after I allowed boyfriend to teach me how to use my gears properly. This made SUCH a huge difference. He went ahead sometimes, but always came back to make sure I was alive and didn't hitchhike my way back. I got better and better at going up hills. But by dusk, our bums were we found a hotel off the road to stay in Chenggong, ate, giggled at our tan lines and crashed for the night. The worst was over, and we were so proud of each other for biking longer and harder than either of us ever had before! 

On Day Two, we dragged each other out of bed early to get on the road before it got too hot. When we left at 8am, it was already seething hot. We only had about 60 km (4-5 hours) of biking to get to Taidong, so we planned to go at a more leisurely pace and stop more along the way. My butt could not have possibly hurt more. We moaned and groaned but stopped at the sight of San Xia Tai. It was just as marvelous as I had seen in pictures before. Just arches of bridges, but to me it looked like a Chinese dragon! I just loved how it spread over the ocean, not just another river. 
 On top of the bridge, breath taking.
 My handsome boyfriend conquering rocks!
 We passed by fields that reminded me of Bali, so many rows of green and mountains in the back! 

By lunchtime we reached Dulan, a place I've always wanted to check out. It's known for their expat artist scene and parties at this old sugar refinery factory. Unfortunately we had missed out on the celebrations from the night before so the grounds were empty, and just a few cafes were open where we stopped for lunch. Further down the road, we found a beach behind a half-finished hotel resort. It was pretty, and we finally got to change into our swimsuits to cool off. I left Dulan feeling like it was a bit overrated and deserted, but oh well. 
The Old Dulan Sugar Factory
Feeling refreshed after a mango smoothie and ice coffee at the cafe in their parking lot! 
Shanyuan beach front 

When we got back on Highway 11, we decided not to stop anymore til Taidong. There wasn't too much left to go away, about 30 km. We were both very sun burnt, and ready to go straight home. I had been to Taidong before, and if we had more energy I would have suggested exploring but, seriously. Not at that point. Thankfully the way to the train station in Taidong was paved out for us on a nice bike path lined with trees. The Giant Store is practically attached to the train station on the left, and we dropped off our bikes and changed out of our sweaty outfits in relief by 3pm on Sunday afternoon. 

So, about 16 hours of cycling broken down between two days, 160+ km traveled and still alive. In case you haven't caught on by now, I despise cycling. I don't even OWN a bike! So this was huge for me, and it was more challenging then all the sports I've engaged in before simply because cycling requires ENDURANCE, something I am not familiar with on such an extreme level. I probably won't ever go on a long bike ride again. Ever. But I am so glad we did it! 
I would never have made it without the encouragement and support of my boyfriend, my inspiration and hero. Thank you for not letting me give up, so that now we can reminisce on this one time we biked down half of Taiwan together x

Watching the sunset in the train, on our way home back to Taipei. YAY! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don't go chasing the summer time in Taiwan.

Despite the heat, summer time is one of my favorite seasons in Taipei because friends come back to play! Last week my friends Joanna & Spencer from Hawaii, Poy, Julie and Chin from London, Max from Germany, Hiro from Japan, Curtis from Portland and Cormac from Ireland and I went on a waterfall hike on the outskirts of town, starting from a little train station village called Sandaoling. I love having so many friends from different parts of the world! I love awkwardly introducing them before going on a random hikes even more. I had read about how awesome this hike was from various blogs like this one, so we went in our swimsuit-all so excited to jump into the water!! 
We got there and started walking down these railroad tracks til we reached a cluster of buildings where the entrance of the hike was. After unsuccessfully finding a place to grab lunch from, we settled down on this local older woman's front porch after she offered to make us ramen if we paid her. It was SO. RANDOM. 

The hiking trail was exciting and scenic, with suspension ladders, ropes, and wobbly stones. We were meant to pass by four waterfalls, and everyone was anticipating a refreshing dip in the river. When we finally got to one, there was just a little drip. No waterfall. Same with the next one, and the one after that! Of course, I was disappointed and felt really bad. Everyone moaned and groaned, but there was nothing we could do...but admire the rocks where there WOULD have been waterfalls! 

According to the blogs, we were meant to keep on hiking til we got to Shifen. The trail we were on ended on a pavement road, so we hesitantly walked along for about an hour or so til we realized I had no idea where we were going HAHA. We asked villagers and after getting pointed to different directions and sweating our asses off, we found another paved road to follow. After a ton of cabs passed us with tourists, we reached Shifen. Half my troops were staggering along cause we had hiked/walked over 5 hours by then! 

Shifen is a mining town where Taiwanese and locals alike come to light off sky lanterns. It's one of my favorite sights in the world-the way those lights just float up into the air with everyone wishes written on them. We let ours off, and then jumped on the train to go back to the city for FOOD. 

Moral of the story is: adventures like these, although considered a fail, make the most memorable and fondest memories. I'll never forget the waterfall hike with dried up waterfalls, and all the old and new friends that were made along the way!