About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Home Run! Moving House in a Typhoon


My kid and I's dream of a mountain manor where we can have chickens and a goat, providentially came true! Its a funny story how we found this place. I was late paying my water bill, so I went to the water department in Yuanshan (near my work, it was my lunch break) to pay it. They insisted I could pay at 7-11, but I was doubtful, only because whenever I am late with my Chunghua Telecom bills (phone, internet, cable), 7-11 doesn't work I need to pay at their offices.

In another example of Taiwanese kindness, the one lady insisted on driving me down the road to 7-11. I was perfectly capable of going there myself, but whatever, I was open, and then we started to talk. She grew up here, she went to the same little mountain school as my kid and her childhood classmate, still one of her friends, had this little house available to rent. Now this was back in February right after CNY and it was only abundant Grace that kept this house from getting snatched up until our lease ended in July.

 

 We moved out of our Yilan City apartment the end of July during this crazy weekend of an approaching typhoon and my friends visiting from Tainan. We decided to have the movers move the big furniture on Friday instead of Sunday because of the typhoon. It took them 2 trips in their blue truck, which cost me 4000 NT (132 USD). We sat out the storm in our Yilan City Apartment with our guests.

 My friend Chris Knight, a walker (he once walked the entire Ganges River), traveler, disaster manager, and animal lover was now walking around Taiwan with 2 boys, one an old friend of ours who is 12 (who also walked the Camino de Santiago with his mom last year) and his Taipei friend who is 14. They had been camping, sleeping at police stations, walking days, raising money for homeless dogs. Admire and marvel at their incredible journey at Footprints of Formosa.

One sweet dog Jiji had adopted Chris and was traveling with them (Z and I hope to adopt her the end of August). All four of them crashed with us for two nights during the typhoon, in the middle of my moving house, with most of my towels, bedding, and no refrigerator, but they were the easiest of guests. We ate at Balagov's, swam at the cold springs in Yuanshan, waiting for typhoon Nesat to pass. My kid thoroughly enjoyed having cool kids her age to play with and I enjoyed having some adult conversation!

Checking out political art while waiting for Nesat to strike
Yuanshan Coldsprings




















Nesat hit fast and hard, all the windows flooded except the kitchen (balcony). We survived, our guests walked the next day from my house to Taipei 101 (nuts!) as we were hustling to clean my old place, which was a mess from the typhoon waters, trying to get our security deposit back (which we did). Then I was engrossed unpacking into our new, mountain abode.

Nesat destroyed the banana field in front of the house

Ah the house, its spanking new, no one has lived in it. Its in the middle of a tea farm, a tea field beside us, and tea behind us on the mt in the distance, my other neighbor has a ginger farm. The banana field (owned by my landlord) in front of us got completely destroyed from the typhoon, half of their pomelos that border the tea field and our house were on the ground, but the jackfruit survived unscathed. The landlady's mother has a vegetable garden beside us and if we don't pick the sweet potato leaves, okra, gourds, en choy ourselves, she molests us with bags of the stuff. We have been having en choy or potato leaf omelettes for breakfast almost daily.

Digging holes for flowers! "Mom I'm gonna dig a hole all the way to America!" When I was a kid we tried to dig holes to China😅.
The benefit of our new abode besides the quiet, the views, fresh air and proximity to my work and my kid's school, is that water is free. It just comes from the mountain. Another benefit is this place is made for bike riding. The roads here are small lanes, that circle in and out of the orchard farms, perfect for a late afternoon leisure ride when the day's heat subsides. The last benefit is we are gardening. I'm not sure how long we will stay here or in Taiwan, but for sure this is our last and final homestead. We have planted yellow and orange hibiscus, lotus, some flowering bushes I don't know they names of, garden herbs, dragon eye tree, lychee tree, and a cherry tree (which the monkeys prefer over the riper pomelos). I imagine how handsome it will be in 5 years, 10 years. It's peachy keen if we aren't here to enjoy it then, as I see it already in my mind's eye. For now we enjoy caring for them. The ground is unforgiving rocky, I broke one of the old lady's tools, digging out the stones and it was back breaking work digging those holes. The road to our home has this natural compost of fallen tree leaves on the road that have never been swept or cleaned, so we scraped 3 inches of the finest, blackest jungle humus and added it to our plants. So far so good.



 I tell people I live in Yuanshan because thats basically were we are, except because I live on the other side of a river I technically live in Jiaoxi! My address on Google map sends everyone down the road and lost, its mid August and I still haven't received any mail. I'm still waiting for my landlady to fix my mailbox that was blown away during Nesat, but still no green mailman on his motorcycle around these parts looking for us.

Adjusting wasn't hard, even with Chunghua taking 20 days to install cable and internet (we played lots of chess). The exception is getting used to the critters,  but so far no snakes. There are macaques behind our house in the mornings and evenings, they stole one of  my kid's shoes and sometimes are on the roof right after dawn. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw a side-widing centipede in my living room, which I wasn't able to catch and then 2 more in the shower. I located which farmer's supply store sell DE (Diatomaceous Earth) and sprinkled it around the outside perimeter and inside where I think critters would hide. It apparently keeps snakes away from the chickens, which is good to know, as we plan on getting chickens and a dog the end of the month.

Yet I was in a dilemma, a traveler's dilemma. I had the money, I found the cheap flights and guesthouse, we could of gone to Jeju Island- today in fact. (We could go there still). Twice I was this close to finalizing the payments of the air tickets and then I closed the window.  I think its a combination of being tired of blowing what little I have in the bank and starting from zero the next month (that was us after last month's Singapore trip) and wanting to take it easy. There are activities to enjoy here, we have yet to surf this year which is a sorry state since its now August (but the sun is so abhorrently strong), we could go diving here too. Mostly I didn't buy those tickets to Jeju because our home is so dang relaxing. I have the month off and our home is a sanctuary, and with my easy schedule, I cherish everyday being like a Saturday. I don't desire to be anywhere than where I am. Contentedness is highly underrated.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Slip Away from SE Asia: Saying Goodbyes to Sydney


My friend Sydney was finally leaving KL and I just had to see her and say goodbye. We met in Northern Sumatra (Pulau Weh an island off of Banda Ache) five years ago and have been friends ever since. She hails from North Carolina, but probably feels more at home living simply in her ashram in India. We went to KL last year to see her, but her mother was dying and she had to return to the States so we stayed alone in her fantastic apartment (Setia Sky Residence), which was a bit dour and contemplative without her (See Back to Borneo).

 The other time before that, when we visited her, she was beginning to help in the creation of a gigantic silver chariot used for the festival of Thaipusam and the infamous Hindu procession to the Batu Caves with local Hindu artisans from Sri Ganesh Jewelry. My daughter and I were walking around their workshop admiring the little intricate pieces they would eventually meld together in a 6 meter tall chariot. Sydney was honored to be the first woman to ever work on such a holy relic.



She is an incredible woman. Sydney is an artisan, jewelry maker, using jewels, and precious metals (gold mostly), specializing in enameling. Her finest pieces cost about 8,000-10,000 USD. She started a NGO in Cambodia teaching former sex trafficking victims how to make jewelry and provide for themselves (The Alchemy Project). Just her personal drama of being an older woman in a conservative, patriarchal Muslim society and establishment of Raffles College is quite the story. The hardships she endured for her the love of teaching her art, has made her a heroine of mine (and her students).


We have gone to KL several times, mostly in transit to other parts of Malaysia and I think we saw most of the popular tourist destinations: the Bird Park, Little India, China Town, Petronas Towers, Batu Caves.

This time we returned to Little India for our maandi (henna tattoo), relaxed by the pool, ate more delicious Middle Eastern and Indian Food (at different restaurants) and had some white wine at Marini's' rooftop bar, with it's towering view overlooking the Petrona's sky bridge as well as the whole city. Using an Uber like app called Grab was the only way to get around. Much cheaper than taxis -or Uber. (If only Taiwan had Grab I'd never drive again.)

View from Marini's
Sydney was busy packing and finishing last minute details, so we didn't want to be in the way too long. We left her place, with a DVD player, a picture frame, a bag of peanuts, a book, little gifts for Z, and a table clothe to add to our backpacks. As the elevator door of her apartment closed, my daughter asked me, "Will we ever see her again?" I hope so! She's just one of those kindred spirits, ageless, a profound person with an enormous, generous heart.

So on the 4th of July we slipped away on a bus to Singapore.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Dragon Boat Weekend in Shoufeng 壽豐鄉

Just a 2 hour train away from Yilan is the Rift Valley town of Shoufeng. It has what is said, to have the most beautiful University campus in Taiwan (National Donghwa University 國立東華大學), which I only admired from the road. The area is breathtaking and only a 15 minute drive away, in the same township is the Pacific coast.
View from our window Sea Hi BnB
We stayed at the Sea Hi BnB for 2 nights, which included breakfast.  The grounds were beautiful and out of our window was a view of the green garden and sea. We could hear the lazy, lapping waves. The quirky owner (who speaks no English) has all kind of Roman statues of gods and goddesses, and guests have signed and graffitied his rock collection. There's all kind of nooks and crannies to sit and read a book, play cards, throw down a yoga mat.
View from our window Sea Hi BnB

My coworker who teaches environmental science lives on a farm in Shoufeng. She was visiting family in Tainan for the weekend and gave me an extra set of keys to her jeep which was parked and waiting for us at Shoufeng station. What a luxury! After we filled up the tank, we headed to Liyu Lake. I always wanted to go there. The weather looked like it would rain, but we just went for it. My kid insisted on going on a swan paddleboat (I'd prefer the kayak). But it was fun, we paddled to the other side and back in 30 minutes (300NT an hour), and then went to a cafe with rooms (looked like a nice place to stay for next time) on the edge of the lake on our way to the bike rentals. After over priced coffee we rented bikes and enjoyed a wiz around the lake. We spotted several hiking trail heads for next time. About halfway around the lake it started pouring so we just finished our loop and returned the bikes.

One more stop before we checked in, the Taiwan Jade Workshop. They had DIY which my kid loves, and it being a a now rainy afternoon, not much else to do. It was in fact, very interesting. I still do not understand the process so much even after making our necklaces.


100% Concentration

My daughter had the fantastic idea of making a necklace for each other. We chose a template shape and jade color and then passed through 6 stations of sanding, water, shaping and buffing before choosing our string. I made her a pink dove and she made me a green leaf.



We were starving by now so I thought we could eat some fish at the Lichuan Fishmarket. It turned out to be a tourist trap, catered to big groups and families, my Z was not impressed. So we googled places to eat and I saw Ian's Table which was open. I am familiar with his food column in the Taipei Times, and he was literally 5 minutes away. Unfortunately google was wrong he wasn't opened, reservations were required and it was too pricey, 1200NT a head for a 4 course Mediterranean meal. Maybe next time. I headed to our BnB hoping they could whip us something. We ended up walking 3 minutes down the road to the famous 055 Lobster Seafood Restaurant . It was pricey, but there were budget options. We had a simple dinner of lobster miso soup  with a side of greens, a large plate of fried clams, beer (for me) and 2 small bowls of rice for 600NT. The place was packed so we dined al fresco in company with the Pacific, which for me was the best table in (well outside) the house .

Chilling at SeaHi

I was surprised to find out the closest convenience store was 50 km away, so the next day when we did pass a 7-11 on our road trip, I was sure to stop for beer and snacks.

The full day of our road trip we planned on hitting the beaches and testing out our new full face snorkels for a friend who sells them online. First, we drove down to Ciji beach. There was someone camping in the parking lot with a gorgeous view of the Pacific. Unfortunately, the beach is fenced off with an admissions gate! It looked closed.

 

Bummed we drove down to the Tropic of Cancer Marker, bought some fruit and ice cream and turned the jeep around, heading north again. We stopped at some beautiful beaches along the way. A private one with camping and a simple cafe, we lunched on smoked wild boar and smoked flying fish (sold everywhere down the East Coast highway). The fish was great if not bony. The rocks made a natural pool, but it being a private beach , they didn't allow us to swim there.


So we  went to the geological wonder of Shitiping 石梯坪. The view of the lush mountains encamped with white clouds besides the aquamarine waters was breathtaking. It seemed crowded, but there was parking. People crawled around the rocks like little ants. We went as high as we could go over looking from the precipice into the breaking foam.


 It was hot, the water was too enticing but even in the shallow pools no one was swimming. My kid couldn't stand not being in the water but she was self conscious, knowing everyone holding their cameras would eventually turn their attention to the lone foreigner- swimming. We were wearing our swim suits anyways, so what the hell?! Once in the water, it began to rain, but that didn't matter either. Freedom washed over us as the crowds scrambled away.

View from Dashibi Hill
Making our way northward to our BnB we stopped for a quick hike at Dashibi Hill (大石鼻山). The very last stretch of the walk was roped off and the 7 or so people in front of us just sort of congregated under the pavilion besides the roped trail. Undaunted we just walked over the rope and continued to the top to enjoy a gorgeous view of Ciji Beach.

Ciji Beach was opened and they didn't charge us any entrance ticket, but alas, once again we weren't allowed to swim! We snacked on cold mung bean soup and bought some meat rice buns for dinner. We checked out the camping spots which were both covered and uncovered and had a BBQ grill at every tent site. It looked amazing. Tragically they had the whole beach roped off! I was tired of breaking rules, and yet we did dodge a rope and was about to walk on the beach when my kid's eagle eyes spotted a used hypodermic needle and syringe besides my foot. We were both too disgusted and just went back to the car. Our day was basically over anyways.  We used our last hour of sunlight playing cards at one of the little nooks on the green grounds of our BnB.


The next day we ate breakfast at 7, checked out early, returned the car at Shoufeng station and took the 8:30 train to Hualien. We were meeting the Dolphin Watching tour group for their  second morning tour, before heading back to Yilan. We had a somewhat uninteresting meeting before heading to the boats. What was clear was the dude can speak English and seemed to care about not disturbing the dolphins so much. They had seen sharks the tour before us, so I was hopeful. Please note that our BnB was literally 5 minutes away from the Farglory Ocean Park 遠雄海洋公園, which had tempting amusement park rides, and also dolphin shows. Z and I talked about how supporting the park would be supporting the capture and abuse of dolphins and both of us made the joint decision to see dolphins in the wild.


The Turtle Island dolphin tour we did the summer we moved to Yilan (when my family visited) was much better. We did see dolphins this time too, some of them doing tricks, but they were breeding and my operator was rightly not wanting to disturb them (unlike the other tour company). Still it was relaxing to be on the boat and spend time with my kid. The view of Hualien and the mountains was nothing short of stunning.

We returned to the train station and luckily caught the next train to Yilan. We didn't have seats, but we had a comfortable nook next to a wheel chair. It was a relief to be back home, but I was grateful for our mini Dragon boat adventure.


Things to Do/See/
Lao River/Cha Creek
Baibao River Bikeway
National Donghwa University 國立東華大學
Jiqi Beach: In Jiqi Bay Cape there is a Dashibi Hill Trail, visitors can observe the flora and fauna with the trail and and appreciate the terrain landscape. It is a natural ecological trail for families."
Shitiping Beach Going south: Follow Highway 11 to Taitung, pass Jingpu. At the 65 marker, you will see Shihtiping.Shitiping is a great place to observe intertidal ecology and an excellent place for diving. Shiti Level Ground has a well-equipped campground. Stay here and enjoy the sound of the waves on a starry night. It offers a wonderful experience."
Notice:
1.Shitiping no shading facilities, beach, sunlight intensity, and equipment to complete, in addition to Sun Hat, pants, long-sleeved, thirst-quenching water more indispensable.
2.The initial visit, we recommend that you walk along a wooden plank road, from the first wooden Pavilion next to a stone walkway, about 2 km long, you can see the sea, you can also see the coastal plants .

Sand Po  Shabao Water Source:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yilan County Weekend Warriors

Yilan's weather gets a bad rap. Most times the sky is overcast grey and thus its perfect for a bike ride or hike. When its blazing sun of course cold springs or beach are the best choice. However, the weather is a bit of a gamble. Rule of thumb is, if its raining in the morning, it will clear in the afternoon and vice versa, but then we get these rains that can stay for a few days (or weeks) in which case check out my Rainy Day Suggestions.


Travel Suggestions


This is my list of spots near us, and we have been to most of them (some more than once). Still, there are a few I hope to cross off this summer.


Local Microbrewery in Yuanshan

Fulong
2.    Long Men Bikeway


Yuemeikeng waterfall.

Wai'ao/Toucheng/Jiaoxi
Assuming you already checked out some of the hotsprings, Wufangchi Waterfalls and, Linmei Shihpan Trail, then check out:

5.    Eagle Rock Tip
6.    Lanyang Museum
7. Yuemeikeng waterfall.

Yongzhen Beach Park 永鎮海濱公園.

9.    Wang Long Bi There are several trails to appreciate the lake from above, as well as walking through beetlenut hills. The lake itself has a few shops that sell snacks, a cafe and a pizza place. Local farmers sell their fruits from their orchards.
13.  Bee Museum, The Honey House right next to the Jim and Dad's brewery
14.Jim and Dad's Brewery


Plum Blossom Lake

Datong
18. Jiuzize Hot Spring
19. Jiouliao Waterfall- turn off right beside the gas station.  Trail takes about 40 minutes, to falls with a small rope bridge. There's some simple places to buy dumplings and drink homegrown oolong tea, right across from parking lot. Becoming more popular with tourists buses on their way to Taipingshan.
20. Syano Campgrounds- Opened June  2016 
21. River Creek Sihumut Campground 溪河木露營區- Opening now
22. Mu Ye Camping in Mingchi National Forest Rec Area
23. Taipingshan
24. Fanfan Hotsprings


Dongshan
32. Shyang Yeu organic Farm (picking tea leaves)+
33. Dongfong Farm (camping)
34.Happiness 20 Farm (not many animals, pizza DIY)
35. Dajin Organic Farm
Aohua, Nanao
FanFan



Nan'ao/ Su'ao/Nanfangao
    36. Aohua Waterfall
    37. Su'au Cold Springs
    38. Nanfang'ao Harbor
    39. Neipi Beach/Yilan Lover's Bay
    40.


    Zhuangwei (also spelled Jhuangwe, right east of Yilan City)
    41. Yongzhen Beach Park Coastal Bike Trail 



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rainy Weekends and Limited Choices

Tea Time, Artemis Garden

If it's raining on our blessed weekends, my kid and I have no problem making a pot of chai or oolong, indulging in a video in between me doing yoga and her practicing her flute. Sometimes her friend from the 7th floor comes down to play.

I feel sorry for people who come down for the weekend and the weather doesn't agree. If it's sprinkling, I think a hike or swim is perfect. But if its torrential buckets, choices are limited. My suggestions of what to do should you be stuck in Yilan when its pouring:

1. Luna Plaza: It's a shopping mall, so you have tons of food options for various budgets, plus movies and a bookstore (limited English section.) There's underground parking. Across the street is the Yilan Art Museum.


2. Yuanshan's Bee Farm, Jim and Dad's Brewery and Artemis Garden, are all basically next to each other. Hit the brewery first, sample some microbrews then sample the different honey and royal jelly before heading to Artemis Garden for an organic lunch or afternoon tea. While you're in the area might as well stop at the Kavalan Whiskey Distillery.

3. Lanyang Museum is an ultra modern building in the shape of a "cuesta" rock formation that is seen here on the coast. The Lanyang is  near where the boats take people dolphin watching at Turtle Island. It has a permanent exhibition as well as special exhibitions.

 

When in doubt, indoor hot springs either in Jiaoxi, or Datong's Sakura Spa are great choices as well as the indoor water spa in Silks Hotel (a part of Luna Plaza). We've learned to embrace the rain- yet that's easily said dry indoors and not on a scooter!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Recovering from Getting Burned


Mid March we were volunteering at our neighborhood church's English activity for the young people. Several of my students from work were there. Its like pulling teeth to get my kid to go to church, but for this function she was having a blast with the role playing and micromanaging. That was until a traumatic accident happened.


A boy just a few years older than her threw piping hot water on her chest. Her skin began unfurling, peeling off. Fast thinking women had whisked her off into the showers, while I unsuccessfully searched for ice (there was none.)

So I drove her to the ER (270 NT each visit, x2). She was crying behind me on the scooter mostly from gratitude (and shock). She said she literally felt an invisible force shield her face (her cousin?). The boy who is taller than her, had his bowl of just filled boiling water (for his instant noodles) right at her face level.The odd thing is they didn't even bump into one other, maybe he was startled or something but he turned around looked at her and threw his bowl at her. By all accounts he's already labeled as "disturbed" having had a childhood of parental neglect and physical abuse from his teachers (his aunt brings him to church). That's why I am hoping it was an accident but also doubtful, he didn't even apologize after it happened, which aggravated my kid. We had to wait several weeks for an adult to pry away his smartphone from his hands for a bowing apology.

2nd degree burns 
The kids group made her a lovely card and gifts, but my daughter was really resentful and bitter for her pain and slow recovery (she still has a scar and we are not sure if she will always have one). Her bandages had to be removed and cleaned daily, until new skin grew. Fortunately between her school nurse and the nurse at my work, this was done without me having to do it. (She's a much better patient with strangers).

Ultimately, my kid asked for monetary compensation to at least have him reimburse for the doctor visits. His aunt gave her 3000NT which was more than we expected and it did make her feel like justice was done, so I suppose we can move on now. She used 600 of it to treat me for Mother's Day, so win-wins all around. Until then we rub PawPaw Balm on it and hope the scar will go away someday.