Keelung

Taipei is great on its own, but I’ve been in Taiwan for nearly 2 months now, and I feel like I haven’t even explored to the full extent what Taiwan has to offer…which is why we decided to plan a day trip out to Keelung, a seaside district just 30 minutes out from Taipei. It was really the perfect day for a little excursion—bright and sunny, hot, no rain in sight.

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Keelung Harbor

Keelung Harbor on a sunny, blue-bird day is absolutely stunning…

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always leaving me behind 😥

We walked over to Miaokou Night Market area for lunch first (only about a 15-20 min walk from the harbor). On the way, we stopped by a well-known street-side Ba-wan (glutinous meat ball) place and shared a couple bowls. As a fan of mochi, I liked the chewy glutinous texture of the dough wrapping a lot. Each dumpling was generously stuffed with a meaty mixture of pork, bamboo, and mushrooms, deep fried briefly, then bathed with a sweet/savory red sauce.

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Upon arriving at the Miaokou Night Market area, I was happily engrossed by its unique offerings, quite different from the night markets I’d been to in Taipei.

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Pao pao bing (blended shaved ice)

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Fresh squid ready for the grill

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Fruits…a little spot of healthiness in the midst of chaos

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Pork feet and fish thick soup

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Fish thick soup

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Crushed sticky rice steamed dumplings

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Bite-sized sausage 😉

After a very satisfying 2 hours of pigging out, we went down the street to a shaved ice dessert place—half for dessert and half for their blasting A/C. We ordered a grass jelly ice with taro balls, sweet potato balls, boba, and grass jelly toppings. I liked the taro/sweet potato balls the most…very “QQ” (Taiwanese for chewy, bouncy texture) 😀

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The rest of our group met up with us there, and we all headed out to our next destination via taxi. Our drivers recommended going to Zhongzheng Temple Park, which is free admission, and provides great views of the city.

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My first impression upon arrival was that there were a lot of kids. Like everywhere.

Kids running around. Kids making window art. Kids driving around in bumper cars. Kids playing various street stand games like kiddie beer pong (without the beer).

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The atmosphere was fantastic though. The Zhongzheng Temple with its gigantic golden-plated statues and various religious figures provided a backdrop rich in Taiwanese culture, while the small area was teeming with energy from the masses of small children and families having fun there.

We spent the afternoon taking lots of pictures of the view:

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Jenny and Elliott decided to try kiddie beer pong, but it proved to be so hard that a charming little fellow sitting close by decided to help them out.

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It turned out that the giant statue in the center of the park was open to visitors! It was really hot and stuffy inside, and the 4 flights of stairs were perilously steep, but it was pretty worth it to now be able to say that I’ve been inside the Zhongzheng statue. Also Elliott shot an arrow out of the window at the top and probably hit some kid.

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The perilous stairs

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Big statue!

The rest of the group then decided to go to the Miaokou Night Market afterwards (it expands greatly when it actually hits nighttime), but I had to head back to Taipei to tutor and earn some pocket moolah.

If you haven’t yet seen the video version of our trip to Keelung you can check it out below!

Until next time!

Shrimp Fishing in Shilin

Taiwan does not have the greatest weather…it rains A LOT here and when it rains, it actually legitimately rains unlike in CA where “rain” = 10 minutes of weak sprinkling.  Taiwanese people have acclimated to this weather, and there are a multitude of activities one can engage in even when it’s raining and unsuitable for the great outdoors.

Shrimping is one such activity.

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Shrimping Farm

Basically the idea is that you rent a fishing pole w/net and bait, get to sit around a very murky pool of shrimp, and grill and eat on-site whatever you catch. There are a bunch of these shrimp farms in the Shilin district, a 10 minute cab ride from the Shilin MRT. Shrimp fishing runs at about $300 NT ($10 USD) per hour, which can be a good deal if you manage to catch a lot of shrimp!

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Sitting around murky water

Bait: raw liver (not sure what kind) and small dried shrimp. Cutting the bloody, gooey liver with my bare hands was pretty gross, but for me it worked better as bait since it didn’t fall off the hook as easily. They also supply one (just one!) wet tissue per person.

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Bait w/ knife and wet tissue

Some of the guys got shrimp within the first 15 minutes, but I didn’t get a solid bite until about 45 minutes in. It was pretty obvious our group was made up of foreigners since we were the only ones yelling obnoxiously in excitement with each new catch.

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Shrimp!

Waiting aimlessly can be quite disheartening, but the real challenge comes once you successfully pull in a shrimp. You see, these shrimp have large claws, so in order to prevent them from escaping from your net, you actually have to pull them off with your bare hands as soon as you catch them.

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My first catch!

I’ll admit I screamed every time the shrimp twitched with the first one I caught, but after a while you kind of just settle into a steady grind. Wait, catch, pull off claws, pull out hook, rinse and repeat. By the end of 2 hours I had a total of 4 shrimp (lame I know) while the others had as much as 9…

Step 2: Preparing and Grilling your Catch

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A little too excited…

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Grilling station

On the opposite side of the shrimp farm there was a station with sinks and grills for cleaning and cooking your catch. Washing them was easy—just a quick rinse—but after that, you have to skewer them live. Eep. I tried not to think about it too much as I forced the skewers into the very alive, wriggling shrimp one by one…

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Ouch

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Not mine

The rest was simple and straight forward. Smother them with salt and grill them until they’re red and slightly charred.

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Salt bath

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Toasting

The end result was surprisingly really delicious! Dipped in soy sauce, each shrimp was juicy and meaty and of course, tasted very fresh.

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Absolutely perf

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Please go shrimp fishing if you’re ever in Taiwan.

Mooi Trouve: Part 1 on being Hipster in Taipei

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Some of the more interesting optional large classes have finally started this week! So in preparation for my nice 2 hour gap in-between classes, I looked up study cafes nearby Shida online, and found Mooi Trouve a mere 5 minutes walk away from campus. The main draw for me was that it was apparently once a Japanese-style residential building that has since been renovated into a cafe that is part antiques shop and part coffee house. Quite the intrigue.

Mooi Trouve is tucked unassumingly into a quiet, residential neighborhood; I would not have noticed the cafe if I didn’t know what to look for.  Luckily I had spent some time looking up pictures through various blogs the night before, so I recognized its quaint tile roofing, and ventured inside.

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I spent some time looking around the small L-shaped antiques shop section before sitting down. They had a small piano, among other small housewares and trinkets that all seemed quite pricey (hipster price).

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Although I am Taiwanese by blood, and I do understand Chinese pretty fluently, I find that there are many times I still feel like a foreigner. I stared at the Chinese menu for 15 minutes before giving up and asking for the English menu, which was fortunately available. Maybe it’s just me but I really hate asking for the English menu, which is like obnoxiously holding up a sign that I am not native, and the waiters start motioning and pointing at things as if I don’t understand Chinese at all -_______-.

Anyway, I ordered a chicken pasta salad as it was one of the only things that wasn’t a sandwich, and a toffee latte. The cold salad was just ok since I’m not really a cold pasta type of person, but the latte was quite good.

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In conclusion I was really digging the vibe at Mooi Trouve—very hipster, quiet, and study-friendly with outlets available along the walls. However, I would go elsewhere for a meal.

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Taipei Nights: Pub 45 and Hideout

I’ve been living with my Taiwanese relatives…which means there is very little leeway for the ratchet lifestyle here. My grams ain’t too keen on me staying out any later than about 10 pm, which is typically the beginning of the night for a young adult of legal age.

So yeah, life’s been hard.

Haha JK it’s been great living with the relatives ❤ Free food, free laundry, free transportation, insider tips on where the best eats are….the perks are endless. They’ve all been so considerate and accomodating even though I’m basically mooching off them for the next couple months. However…the fact remains that I do not enjoy the same level of freedom here as I had in college.

So when my friend from the states, A, hit me up for Taipei’s nightlife I was quite excited to get out of the house 🙂

45 PUB

Address: Taipei City, Da’an District, Section 1, Heping E Rd, 45號2樓

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45 Pub bar area

We met up at the Guting MRT station and walked to 45 Pub, which was very close! Only about a 5 minute walk away from the exit 5. As with many businesses in Taipei, the pub was located on the second floor up a perilously steep set of stairs squeezed between two buildings.

It was really early when we arrived (maybe 6:30 pm) since I needed to get back home before by grandma curfew of 10 pm, so the pub was really empty. They do have a minimalist food menu consisting of mainly sandwhiches and small snacks. Their drinks menu included both creatively named cocktails and an extensive beer selection. We ordered a round of drinks from the middle-aged lao ban niang (boss lady) and a “Piquant Beef Rice” dish for me since I hadn’t eaten yet.

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Piquant Beef Rice

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Dranks

My Long Island Iced Tea (round 1) was pretty good…strong, but sweet enough to mask its potency. The beef dish had good flavor, but the beef chunks were kind of chewy and difficult to eat.

A side note: the bathroom is very small and literally shady. The whole room was painted oil-slick black and there was an umbrella blocking the non-existent ceiling above…(yeah um wtf?)

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But I guess the bathroom does add an odd quirkiness to the place. Overall, I do recommend 45 Pub! Apparently it’s a popular spot, especially for foreigners. By the time we left around 8ish the pub was getting quite busy.

Hide Out

和平東路一段280號
Da’an District, Taipei, 台北市 106
Taiwan

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Art

It was raining again when we left the pub, so we took a taxi to our next stop, the Hide Out bar/hookah lounge. Unlike Pub 45, this bar is located on a corner on the street level, and has a fantastically lecherous piece of wallart on its side, which makes the location very easy to spot. The place was completely empty, so we took some window seats right next to the bar area and got down to business.

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AMF

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The forbidden (o.O)

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Lady’s Yogurt

The jiu dan (drink menu) was short and sweet and did not include the selection of hookah flavors, so we had to ask for them. The very nice bartender rattled off a list of fruity flavors, and we decided on guava, a flavor I haven’t seen offered in CA. For round 2 I ordered my go-to drink, the AMF, which came vividly, promisingly blue. Later on, inhibitions lowered and happily giddy, I ventured out of my comfort zone and ordered a Lady’s Yogurt, which was a beautiful, cotton candy pink. It came in a delicately tall, wide-rimmed glass and tasted like strong, frothy peach yogurt soju. It was absolutely delicious and I would 10/10 order it again.

Side note: I have not been carded once yet in Taiwan. I have narrowed down this phenomenon to 3 possibilities: 1) Asians tend to look younger than reality so I am merely blending in with my people 2) A is a menacing looking dude and they don’t want to mess 3) Taiwanese people just don’t give any shits about legal drinking age. Or maybe all 3??

When nature called, I was pointed downstairs to the basement, and discovered that in addition to nice bathrooms there is a very cozy-looking basement lounge complete with plush leather couches and dim mood lighting.

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Basement lounge

I would DEFINITELY recommend sitting in the basement instead of street level just because Hideout’s windows are HUGE and COMPLETELY UNTINTED (how does a bar not have tinted windows?!), which means that literally every Taiwanese passerby blatantly stared at us through the windows as they walked by and even now I can still feel the unadulterated judgment in their eyes. Apparently going to bars/hookah/nightclubs and drinking is highly TABOO here in Taiwan, even more so than in the states. Only the real bad kids go to places like this o.O But I am foreigner so I will do as I please 🙂

The weak-sauce I am was a little delirious by then, but I made it back home safe and sound by curfew.

Okay, maybe I kinda got lost in the MRT station on the way…shhh…

Yangmingshan Part 2

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Yangmingshan vegetable paddies

It’s Friday, and that means Aunt 1 wants to go up to her weekend house in Yangmingshan again. Today, instead of heading straight to the house, we actually went up for lunch first. At first I didn’t even know where we were headed…just knew that we were heading quite deep into the mountain. Eventually we branched off from the main road, the passing cars became scarcer and scarcer, and the buildings became more squat and rustic. Suddenly we broke out from the tree canopy into a scene that looked like something straight out of a Chinese kung fu movie. We were in a plateau cradled in the midst of the Yangmingshan mountains—a flat expanse of plant terraces lush with calla lilies and vibrant vegetables as far as the eye can see.

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We walked down a winding path that went straight through the plant terraces, and right in the middle of the field of greens, there was a quaint little restaurant run by a friend of my aunt’s. It was completely empty inside, so we had privacy to chat as we liked.

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Long, winding path through the veggies

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The “restaurant” hut

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While we waited for the dishes to come out I explored around the immediate area…

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Huge (~3’ long) winter gourds in the back…

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Veggie paddies forever…

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The dishes were served up super hot and fresh, and many of the vegetables were home-grown.  Crisp bamboo stir-fry with mild chili and sesame oil pork:

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Left: stir-fried bamboo; right: sesame pork

Delicately soft steamed fish:

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Special preserved winter gourd to flavor white rice.  Strong fermented flavor and very salty. (It came in one small block but my grandma split it up before I could get a good picture).

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After the very satisfying meal, we dropped into a garden store on the street.

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It was filled with lots of random cute odds and ends for the garden.

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Sunlight-activated bouncy dolls.

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Lots of Asian-sized plants.

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Plant-able beans with words like “happiness,” “good luck,” etc…

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A pond lily with way too many bugs in it:

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We then went to the house and I took a few nice pictures of the view:

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The living room (and grandma):

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Some bedrooms:

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There was no wifi yet since the house is very new, so I edited some video footage offline with the great view as the backdrop.

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Watch the Yangmingshan Pt. 2 vlog!:

I’ve finally put up a few videos so you can go check it out at the Youtube link at the top of the page will take you directly to my channel.  Feel free to let me know if there’s anything I can improve on or if there’s something you want to see in future posts. Until next time!

Week 1 Recap: NTNU, public transportation, Shilin, Taiwanese dentistry

As mentioned in the first post I basically couldn’t use my DSLR at all for the majority of my time here so far, and I’m a noob at trying to vlog, so I don’t have too many pictures and videos for the first few days.  In this post I’m just going to summarize what I did my first week in Taipei, which was mostly just settling in and learning how to live the city life.

Here’s a quick video of the first couple days here…my very first video so do not have high expectations LOL:

Monday 8/24: Registration at NTNU

The main reason I am living in Taiwan for such a lengthy amount of time is because I will be learning Chinese at the Mandarin Training Center of the National Taiwan Normal University (Shida).  It’s a fairly well-known program, and people from various different backgrounds and nationalities come to Shida to learn the Chinese language. This was the first day for registration, and there were way more people than I’d expected. The whole thing took a whopping 3 hours to complete, and was literally 90% just waiting in line and doing nothing. Basically registration was a 3 step process: 1) verify passport information, 2) pay tuition, 3) skills evaluation quiz, 4) apply for and receive student ID card. Waiting to pay for tuition took so long though…I literally waited an hour and a half for step 2.

Since it took so long, I had the chance to get to know two girls who were in line next to me. Both spoke very good English, and seemed to have pretty decent Chinese as well. From what I’ve seen of the people at Registration, many already have a fair grasp of the language; very few can be considered pure beginners.

The skills evaluation consisted of an oral segment—basically just conversing with a counselor to help determine which class you would fit in best— and an optional writing portion, which I opted out of since I don’t even know my Bopomofo (like Chinese alphabet).  After that, I was sent upstairs to input some basic personal information into their computer database.  Lastly, I received a few handouts, a student guide book, and my ISIC, an International Student Identity Card:

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Student guide book, ISIC card, and other handouts.

Tuesday 8/25: Taipei Bus Station and bus life in general

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MRT

This day marked the first time I walked out of my aunt’s house independently! Grandma, and Aunt and Uncle 2 live just down the street from where I am staying with Aunt 1, so I met them there for lunch. They took me to a western-style restaurant at the Taipei Bus Station, and taught me how to use the public bus transportation system. We also visited Hands Tailung, basically a Daiso/Tokyo Lifestyle on steroids, and then shopped around some random small street stores nearby. We took the bus home, and by this time I was getting pretty used to how the bus works. The wonderful thing about Taipei is that there is English everywhere. Every street sign, MRT sign, all the maps, and even the buses are labeled in both Chinese and English. The buses announce every stop in both languages as well, so it’s very convenient for foreigners to navigate the city.

Wednesday 8/26: Taipei Metro Mall

I met up with my Aunt and Uncle again for lunch. This time we took the bus to the National Taiwan University (Taida) area, which has a lot of good places to eat and shop close by. However, Taiwanese restaurants apparently only serve lunch until 2 pm, and they close very strictly at that time. We came a bit too late and had to eat at a different Thai restaurant than the ones my Aunt and Uncle had intended to eat at. Afterwards, my Uncle took me down to the Taipei Metro Mall, an underground network of diverse street shops accessible by many of the main MRT lines. Everything is really cheap there…I got myself a selfie stick and a desk tripod for only 88+30NTP = about $4 USD altogether. Yes, I will now be one of those people who take selfies obnoxiously in public.

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Goodies from the Metro Mall (not including camera).

Before heading back, we stopped by Tim Ho Wan, a quick take-out dim sum place to pick up some of their well-known crispy char siu buns.  My Uncle, who is from Hong Kong, informed me that Tim Ho Wan is known as one of the cheapest Michelin-star eateries. And the char siu baos did not disappoint. I’m not a particularly huge fan of char siu baos in general—they’re usually just a-ok for me. But piping hot out of the oven, these unique buns have a caramelized, crunchy cookie shell (kind of like a melon pan), and the rich Chinese bbq pork filling inside is seasoned to sweet and tangy perfection. Highly recommend if you’re ever in Hong Kong or Taiwan where there’s a Tim Wan Ho nearby!

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Tim Wan Ho char siu buns (baos)

Thursday 8/27: Dentist appointment

A year ago, I was told I would need a root canal, but it costs major $$$ at the dentistry in Irvine that I went to, so we decided to try our luck in Taiwan. Aunt 1 took me to a place down the street that’s run by an old high school friend of hers’ and let’s just say this experience kinda-sorta-maybe scarred me for life. Either way, I’m now scheduled for a root canal on my birthday -______-.

Later that night, Tracy finally arrived in Taiwan! We decided to go to Shilin Nightmarket for cheap food and shopping. The nightmarkets are always a must if you’re visiting Taiwan (or any other Asian country in general). At Shilin, most of the food vendors are organized into a large underground area, which made it unbelievably loud, stuffy, and hot down there.

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Outskirts of Shilin Night Market

Legit fried stinky tofu.  Heavy stink and very garlicky.

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Fried stinky tofu

Tracy and her duck blood stinky tofu soup. Yes, there is such a dish:

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$30 NTP ($1 USD) boba milk tea! Perfectly chewy tapioca and rich, creamy milk tea.

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Boba milk tea

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Sitting area in basement food court

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Freshly made dishes on display

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Teh Tarik – Malaysian “pulled tea” in a bag

Watch my Shilin Nightmarket video!:

Let me know if there’s anything about Taiwan you’re curious about, or if there’s anything you want me to cover in later posts and videos.  My Youtube channel finally has stuff on it so go check it out, and follow me here and/or on Youtube for more FOBification adventures 😀 Until next time!

First post: Welcome to the motherland

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The countdown is over and I am finally starting my 3-and-a-half month trip overseas. After so many weeks of anticipation, even my initial arrival at LAX gave me goosebumps. This will be my first real dabble in independence. Even though I lived away from home throughout college, I always made sure to visit often to check up on my parents and my dogs— I’ve never truly been away from home for such an extended period of time…not to mention being in a foreign country.

LAX → Taoyuan International Airport is a grueling 13 hours, nonstop. On a long flight like this, exit row and bulkhead seats with extra leg room are basically the best spots in the cabin, as they have the most leg room, offer quicker exit at the end of the flight, and are often closest to the bathrooms—everyone wants these seats! I was exceptionally lucky to get transferred to an exit row seat when I checked in. These seats aren’t available for reservation directly online, since several requirements must be met (over the age of 15, responsible for emergency exit duty, single traveler), and I only got the chance to transfer since I was one of the first in line to check in.

I was happy to see that Eva Airline had an extensive entertainment system comprised of a touch tablet that included movies, music, TV shows, games, and shopping. There was even a USB port for popping in your personal material. I watched two movies from their library and played sudoku during breakfast.

And the food….I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious everything was.

Dinner: parmesan chicken with mushroom rice pilaf and broccoli, bread roll, smoked salmon with dijon potato salad, cantaloupe and honeydew melon, dragon fruit cake

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Breakfast: congee with ground pork and veggies, bread roll, green beans, pineapple and orange

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Even with the spacious seat, variety of entertainment options, and good food, I was still so tired and so dead at the end of the flight. I always find it difficult to really fall asleep on a flight, and this time was no exception. I think I only “slept” for at most 4 hours. I looked like a disaster at the end of it, with a tangled nest of limp hair and dark eye bags no amount of concealer could hide. It was already 11:30 PM by the time I exited the arrival gate, and I can’t even describe how grateful I was to my aunt and my cousin for being there to pick me up at that late hour.

Nevertheless I am finally overseas in the land of my ancestors…Taiwan! I am so excited to be here—it’s wet and crazy humid and everything kind of has this Asiany smell…I love it all. The next day my aunt took my grandma, my cousin, and I out to her house in Yangmingshan mountain for the weekend. During the drive the bright sunlight suddenly morphed into pelting rain at some point—the first signs of the incoming typhoon. Boy, do Taiwanese people whip out their umbrellas fast. At the first signs of rain, everyone outside was suddenly brandishing a colorful umbrella or wearing a rain poncho as if they had sprouted out of their hands at the sense of wetness.

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Taiwan is also the Land of Mopeds. There are mopeds everywhere, and everyone rides them, even dogs. Literally saw a dog riding on the floor of a moped today like nobody’s business. Yeah I know, pics or it ain’t real, right? But unfortunately that particular moped passed by so quickly I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough. Also, my DSLR is currently out of service just because I couldn’t find its battery charger anywhere in the house before I left, and also it’s got the dreaded Error 99 that I still need to troubleshoot once I have a good battery in. It’s part of the reason I feel so off here…I desperately want to record everything, but there’s only so much I can do with a cell phone camera, and I am still easing into using a camcorder 😦

Anyway, my aunt’s house in Yangmingshan is absolutely beautiful. As with most houses in Taipei, it’s apartment style (because unlike suburbs in America there are just so many people and there is no space for regular houses), and it has AMAZING views. The whole unit is spotless white marble and minimalist elegance with huge floor length windows in every room that basically blow up your retinas with the magnificant sight of a vividly green and lush Yangmingshan mountain outside. Further words won’t really do much justice to how beautiful it was so I’m inserting a few pictures of the apartment. Sorry, since my DSLR is out I had to pull these pics from my videos and they’re quite blurry.

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SO…that’s it for now. I am trying to withhold on too much blogging until I get my life here in order (aka get a charger for my camera) just because I want to do this properly and that requires more legit pictures! But yeah, be at ease friends, I am alive and well in Taiwan but the real challenge ahead lies in figuring out how to navigate the public transportation system o.O I promise next time I’ll have better pictures to show!