About Me

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Tainan, Taiwan
I'm an ESL teacher from Colorado. I worked in Taipei in 2000 for over a year, paid off my undergrad loans, traveled, saved $ to travel some more. So when I got pregnant in grad school I thought I could return to Taiwan, be economically self sufficient while my daughter masters Mandarin.We came to Tainan when she was 2. Taiwan is an excellent base to explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety and 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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Welcome to Yilan, What's not there to do here?

Nanao Township, Yilan


I've been living in Yilan now for two months and am loving it here. My friend from Tainan came up to visit his wife's family in Yilan and of course we met up. Our biggest obstacle was figuring out which beach, mountain, hot springs, river, lake to spend the day with our kids.

I have a nice map from the very reliable, efficient, English speaking Tourist info center outside the Yilan train station and I've been studying it, ticking off places as I go, asking my new workers their recommendations  and enjoying the pristine outdoors.

Beaches:
I already went to Wulai Beach (see previous post Little Gems) and have been so busy exploring Yilan county, I haven't time to return except last Sunday to see how the coming typhoon was affecting the waves. (The beach patrol wouldn't let us on the beach, so we just admired from afar.)




Yongzhen Park and Trail
Having come from Anping and living literally a two minute scooter ride from the beach, I had to go to the closest beach to me. Its called Yongzhen Seaside Park and its just a 5 minute drive from my work here in  Zhuangwei. There is a nice bike path that goes along the beach. The sand was nice, grey and surprisingly clean. There were breakers that ruined the views down the beach that stretched out into forever in both directions, but this area gets hit pretty hard by typhoons.The beach was empty as it was ghost month when I went. There was a beach patrol station that was probably on freak out mode because we seemed to go far into the waves, but the water was quite shallow. I need to go back and see if people use it since ghost month, bring our bikes and explore that path.


Neipei Beach from the Suhua Highway

I was not expecting Neipei Beach outside Suao to be so stunning. There is no sand, just small pebbles and stones, but the surrounding rocks are gorgeous and the beach is  long enough for us to find some quiet alone time far from the crowds. There are cafes and simple restaurants are on one end for a quick pick me up. The other end has rocks and places to picnic in the shade of a cliff. On a holiday weekend, we had the entire Pacific, at least this bit to ourselves.

My beach list includes is returning to Wulai for surfing and sunrise yoga and to explore Beigan Tidal Park and the Wushibi coast.


Trails
There is a trail outside Nanfang'ao . Just park your car across from the massive pool. At the top are amazing views of the Yilan coast, picnic tables, hammocks. I am thinking it would make a great camping spot.

Yilan Coast view from a hike


The Linmei Shihpan Trail (林美石磐薄荷烤雞餐廳) is simple, about an hour loop with a pretty little waterfall. There is one set of verticle trails, but other than that is a perfect trail for young children.




Gardens:

View from Renshan Gardens


Between Loudong and Suao is the Renshan Botanic Garden (宜蘭仁山植物園). It was nothing what I expected. I expected something like the Botanic Gardens in Taipei or Denver, but this place was huge. I think we entered it wrong and before we knew it, we were doing some hardcore hiking with little water or preparation, The grounds are massive.



We didnt see a single soul for hours until the end. The French and English style gardens were in the bare minimalist style, nothing was in bloom, but we saw macaques,and  alien looking spiders. The view from Renshan to Turtle island with the verdant, fertile valley of the Yilan plain is the quintessential picture of Yilan.





On my garden list to do is explore the Fushan Botanical Gardens west of Yilan City, which requires a special permit.

Waterfalls:
I went twice to the famous Wufongqi waterfalls and returned to that area and hiked another trail to the more impressive, hard to get to Yuemeikeng Waterfalls.

Outside Loudong there is the Xinliao Waterfalls down the road from the Renshan Botanic Gardens.

Xinliao Waterfalls

Down the road is the less impressive Jiulio Waterfalls, but because they were empty and we were the only ones there, I liked having it all to myself. The trail hasnt been taken care of, but its a nice path, overgrown and neglected. The pool is shallow but enjoyable enough for kids. Standing under the falls for a neck massage is a nice treat.

Jiulio Falls
Aohua Falls

There are so many waterfalls in the area, I'm learning about more all the time. The most impressive were south of Nan-ao called the Aohua Waterfalls outside the little aboriginal village of the same name. The pool is massive, the falls are massive. The brave can climb the slippery wall and jump into the cold, mineral abyss.

Linmei Shipah Waterfall

Lakes:
The first lake I went to here was Longtan Lake. It was recommended by my coworker Steve who helped me get a job and my first apartment in Yilan. This lake is conveniently close to Yilan, we went by scooter. We rented bikes, it was casual. Unfortunately cars can drive around the one lane which is dangerous and noisy, especially with so many bikers, joggers and walkers. I've been meaning to return with a yoga mat and a pinic basket.

Longtan Lake


The second lake I went to also conveniently close to Yilan City is Plum Blossom (Mei Hua) Lake.Its more crowded with numerous bike outfitters to rent the most outrageous bikes. There were side by side 2 and 4 seaters. I saw a bike with  4-5 seats in the shape of a Cinderella carriage.

Meihua Lake


There are many lakes I hope to check out, some include difficult hikes. I'm still working on a list.

Meihua Lake


Parks:
Conveniently right by my home is the massive Yilan Sport's Park. There is a track, Olpympic size outdoor pool, weight room, rollerblading track and outside gymnasium. Not to mention fireflies at night. Loudong's Sports Park is supposedly better, but I'm satisfied with the one outside my front door.



Yilan Sport Park

We thoroughly are enjoying Yilan on our weekends. There is plenty to do. Did I mention the hot sprinsg? That will have to be another post.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Balance is in the Air



Today its like someone turned on a switch and summer was gone. I was chilly for the first time since spring today during my lunch scramble to pay bills, buy lunch and stock up on groceries before I returned to work.

This has been a difficult summer for me, well difficult as in I was working off high levels of energy and am just now feeling I might have the space to rest.   While still in Tainan, my gym went out of business which was a dampener to my energy even tho I worked out at the park with friends or did yoga twice a week.

Also, this was the first summer in six years, we did not go somewhere. I find travel exhilarating, thrilling, it restores my energy not depletes it.This time I didn't have the money or time for it. I needed my money entertaining my family, moving, paying for a deposit on a new apartment and a car.

This summer I was mostly packing, looking for apartments online, getting rid of books, clothes and more packing. My folks came to visit, and that took a lot of energy. I ate out a lot, and worked out less. Working out also gives me tons of energy.

After I moved to Yilan, it was a week off to move in and then I was teaching the summer program for my new school. Its a big learning curve for me, teaching Junior High all levels, elementary and kindergarten. I am teaching 26 classes a week and am breaking all my ingrained Tainan rules: no skipping lunch breaks,  bringing work home or over-time. I'm bone tired! Evidence of just how busy I've been is I hadn't the time to go shopping at the traditional morning market on Saturday until last Saturday-I've been in Yialn since July. On the plus side, weekends in Yilan in summer have been amazing. There is always something wonderful outdoorsy to do to enjoy the fresh air. Now that the rain has started....

Yilan Sports Park last weekend, a perfect October day

I noticed this week that the ever so slightly cooler temperature invites me to slow down. It was 70 degrees Fahrenheit at 6 am, which felt chilly. I'm telling myself I need to be balanced. I started working out for ten minutes (all flat out, no rests like Zuzka's or the 12 Minute Athlete) before breakfast, I have a new yoga buddy for Saturday mornings, and started getting into my neglected TRX again 3x during the week. I am going to make an effort to  breakaway from my school during my lunch break and hit Yilan Sports Park, which is a million times better than any gym. But now the rain has started.

I came home from work yesterday and it was dark. The days and night seems to be evenly the same-another sign of balance. Heaven is a sunny day in Yilan in October. October grounds me.

Finding the balance in Svarga Dvidasana, Sunday at Yilan Sports Park

Thursday, September 18, 2014

We Be Jammin' Harvest Moon Marmalade

Pomelo orchard near Jioulio Waterfall
Its Autumn in Yilan and like everyone in Taiwan, we have pomelo fruits coming out of our ears.

 Its the gift that keeps on giving, but I prefer it more than moon cakes, lesser calories and more healthy.

Pomelos (Citrus Maxima) are an ancient grapefruit, but much larger and sweeter than their newer descendants. Its the largest citrus fruit and in Taiwan the flesh is white/pale yellow.

 My work gave each of us a hefty box, with a dozen pomelos for Mid- Autumn festival, plus my building gave each of us several, so not wanting to waste I decided to make marmalade with my daughter.

It was a bit labor intensive to say the least. We had to peel them all and the rind is much thicker and stronger than other citrus fruit. Then we separated the yummy flesh from the inedible skin. Our hands were burning from removing the fruit,we had to rinse them several times. While we did that, I boiled the rind three times with fresh water before slicing thinly and adding to the boiling mixture (I dont have a food processor).

The recipe I found was 4 cups of sugar to 1 pomelo and we used 5 pomelos (I still have quite few left). Feeling uber-creative I decided to add some pomegranate fruits, inspired by the season of Autumn. I thought seeing the seeds suspended in the marmalade would look cool. It just made the final batch orange (pale yellow + blood red = orange).


My daughter removing the sweet flesh from the bitter skin
I had to buy some props for teaching from one of those "everything stores" and felt lucky to find different sized jars. I washed and dried them the night before and used the "water bath canning technique." A few days later, I gladly gave my co-workers a small gift to celebrate the season. It still feels like summer around here though!

The final result, Pomelo and Pomegranate Marmalade



Friday, September 12, 2014

Over the Moon: Mid Autumn Festival Yilan Style



Suao port and beach from Suhua Highway

The one thing to expect on a 3 day weekend in Taiwan are the crowds. That and train tickets will be sold out 2 weeks before they sell at the station (you can buy online with a Taiwanese ID #). So when we had moments of crowd-less nature, I definitely was over the moon with gratitude. It was also the first time in 6 years I was free in my own car to explore Yilan.

The empty Neibi beach, Suao.
Saturday Day 1 of our Moon festival weekend, went as planned. On our way to Nanao, we stopped for coffee at Neibi beach. It was totally desolate. We had the rooftop cafe to ourselves as well as the view of the Pacific. Where were all the crowds? In Kenting no doubt. After coffee and a shared shaved matcha iced tea with red beans we were back in the car.



The woman at the cafe told me in Mandarin that the local Matsu temple was moving the goddess idol to visit a god in Yilan and she explained times and locations. I was pretty giddy to have my comprehension of her explanation proved when we ran into the pilgrims. They had the coolest shirts, a sea of red devotees.

My friend climbing for a jump, Auhua Waterfalls.

After that it was back in the car to Nan'ao and there we found the crowds, bumper to bumper on the notoriously dangerous and most beautiful highway, the Suh-ua Highway. Its danger is not due to the narrow one lane switchbacks that plummet to the Pacific, but because fellow drivers are impatient and pass the corners on blind spots.


Outside a little aboriginal village called Aohua (the 161 km marker) there is the most magnificent waterfall. Three aboriginal teens on one scooter took us there. There were other cars in the lot and we hiked up a 5 minute walk, scrambled some rocks and there it was. There were a few families, but the pool was so enormous, the water dwarfed us so there was room enough for all. My companion bravely scrambled a bit up the wet and slippery rocks to plummet into the sparkling cold abyss.

 

We went home as planned, beat, ready for Sunday and finding a camping spot. Our day 2 definitely did not go as planned, except for the coffee at the revolving cafe on Highway 7. We found a camping spot next to Champing Lake, which was fairly close, like 15 minutes outside of Loudong. There was a lake circumstanced by wooden walkways and the camp spots had wooden platforms and BBQ grills. There was even a go-cart track. Surpisingly, there were few campers, maybe 2 or 3 tents that I could see. And still, greedy for solitude, we kept going further up the 7, farther away from big cities, only to find more crowds and rain. Camping did not happen. 

We did go up the eastern part of the North Cross highway to check out the Mingchi Forest Recreation area. It was disappointing. The lake was over-developed and charged an entrance fee. The Forest area itself has a massive resort  (明池國家森林遊樂區) on it with cabins and a restaurant that was of course crowded. The North Cross Highway which is high in altitude has some nice views and dark, misty, dank forests. There were moments we drove in clouds and we definitely got caught in the rain on the way back. We took a walk behind the cabins and found a few trails, but there were no camping spots there. Who knows we might com back on a non-holiday weekend and stay in one of the cabins.



Day 3 of our Moon Festival weekend, on Monday, we took our time heading out to one more nearby waterfall. Around the corner from Xingliao Waterfall is the abandoned Jiuliou Waterfall, about a 20 minute drive from my home. The trail was not very well maintained, but there wasn't another person there. We had the whole overgrown trail and small waterfall to ourselves. The overgrown parking lot is a perfect camping spot, no bathrooms, wooden platforms or vending machines. The path from the parking lot to the trail has a pomelo orchard on it. Pomelo is the fruit of the mid-Autumn festival.





We will hopefully return to those falls to camp next weekend.

Turtle Island from the Suao/Suhua Highway overlook



Pili Party!


Great news in today's paper this morning (for once), Pili Puppets will start airing free shows with English subtitles for free on YouTube (article is here). They usually air on our channel  8 at 9 pm which is past my kid's bedtime, but on Fridays, she stays up late and will translate the Taiwanese for me (she reads the Mandarin subtitles as her Taiwanese is just ok.)

I wrote a blog about the Pili display at the airport in 2012.

Just the other day I told my 7th graders about how I like Pili and they were shocked. "But teacher, that show is for old grandfathers!" As if Pili isn't cool. I guarantee the fighting scenes, special effects and attention to detail will blow you away!





Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Family's First Visit to Formosa: Su-hua Highway and Taroko National Park

Su'hua Highway Blues
No trip to Taiwan is done without a trip to Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) -- its the Grand Canyon of Taiwan. As we were admiring the park, it reminded all of us of Colorado, just different trees (and whole lot more humidity), those rocky canyons seemed all too familiar. They were all homesick.

Having been to Taroko before, I was more excited about the drive there from Yilan down the Su-hua Highway (蘇花公路)It was definitely beautiful, majestic turquoise waters, but I still think the coastal highways around Taitung  (especially around Taimali) are just as beautiful. My folks were more concerned about making the drive alive, they were unprepared for the reckless drivers overtaking each other along cliffs and the sharp mountain switchbacks.

More Su'hua Highway Blues

We stopped for lunch at some hole in the wall, mom and pop roadside diner, a pizza place with free WiFi, that was totally empty. My mom wanted fried rice, having warned her fried rice is pretty much the same everywhere, she still wanted to know what was in it....so she tried it, ate it all, but I think none of them were too impressed. Z and I were stoked to get some semblance of a pizza, corn and all. Food was one area of anxiety for my mom, everything had gluten and too much sugar-and that's all too true, but I it fell on deaf ears to just let it go for just a few weeks. I didn't even tell her, out of pity, that everything was probably loaded with MSG.







We arrived at Taroko too late to really explore it, just a day trip with the usual walks, no real hikes. They weren't up for anything athletic anyways, so at their pace we admired the natural beauty. Things got pretty exciting when a big tourist bus hogged the small mountain road and forced my Dad to reverse into the taxi behind us. There was no harm done, no car damage, so I told him to not worry about it and the taxi driver seemed pretty nonchalant, but it did make a great memory, "Remember the time that Chinese tourist bus..."

Mom and Dad crossing the bridge
My daughter was in heaven pretending to be our tour guide and spending time with her favorite Uncle.I had fun with him on some of the suspensions bridges, making it jump, us giggling like children.

Ed, me and Z at the Eternal Spring Shrine


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Yilan or Bust, Moving House

At the end of July while I worked my last week, my mom and daughter helped pack boxes. The whole month I was giving away and throwing away bags of clothes, toys, books. And I wouldn't consider myself materialistic or a pack rat, so I'm not sure what happened except six years with a kid at the same place  I had amassed a whole lot of crap.
AJ, Andrew and my Mom

When it was time to move my friend AJ and I rented a truck (he has a local driver's license) and together with one of his friends Andrew, they quickly and efficiently packed. I went to get some lunch and drinks for everyone, I was gone maybe 15 minutes and was astounded to find they were nearly done when I returned. What a strange coincidental blessing that Andrew for one miserable summer, worked as a professional mover, so he pretty much managed the whole packing of the truck. All 6 years of my life took an hour and a lot of sweat to pack into one truck.


Renting the truck was probably the easiest part of the whole move. Unfortunately the company is located in Yongkong district, but the man Yo-yo spoke perfect English and they were all very fast, efficient and professional. (Tainan Car Plus rental offvce in Yongkang 06-243-6655, No 169, Zhongzheng N. Rd, Yongkang 71081). It cost around 3,200 to rent the truck for 24 hours and after so many miles it was 4 nt a mile that added up, plus all the tolls that are automatically scanned by blue lights, that added up to 800. All in all, it was significantly cheaper to do it ourselves. (A moving company would be around 15,000 or more).


I'm very thankful for my dear friend AJ, who significantly helped be there to pack, move, get boxes, drive the truck, which wasn't easy. We played good music and were following this double rainbow between Chiayi and Chunghua, were caught in a thunderstorm around Miaoli, and stuck in Friday eve traffic between Hsinchu and Taipei. We arrived in Yilan around 830 pm but lost didn't find the new apartment until 9:30. It was a long day. My friend Steve who helped find me a temporary place was there with my new landlady and we all busted ass for twenty minutes  until our little studio was filled with boxes.



The next day bright and early AJ and I gassed up the truck and head back to Tainan to drop off the truck and the following day bring my mom to the airport. As you can see from the above map, Yilan at the northeast is in the exact opposite direction of Tainan in the southwest. It took about 6 hours one way.