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, 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.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mother's Day Around the Island, Around the World


Mother's Day 2012, Tainan


Mother's Day is on the 14th of May which means I will have to treat myself again! Provided you want to treat a single Dad or Mom, or you want to honor your spiritual mother (or the mother of your child), treat them to one of the following specials below.

If like me your mama is across the ocean, don't fret, I just made a card with photos from Snapfish to send to my mom. I usually buy her a massage on Travelzoo, but I am thinking about adding something more humanitarian. Some ethical ideas  (assuming you know her taste) include buying handmade gifts from Ten Thousand Villages,  or Novica. If your mom is in the UK consider gifts from  the Ethical Superstore or Moral Fibers.  Supposing your mom loves scarves like I do,  buy her scarf from the Obakki Foundation which in their "Water for Scarves" campaign has already drilled 13 wells in South Sudan (500 scarves = 1 well).  Finally you can sponsor a healthy birth, emergency birth, maternity care in your mother's name through Maternity World or Pregnancy Twinning (both UK). The IRC's  Rescue Gifts offer sponsoring girl's education, school clothing, business training, food, as well as newborn baby kits and safe births.

Mother's Day 2015 Le Temps

Yilan


  • Le Temps (Yilan City) French restaurant with imported ingredients, very accessible across from the train station. I ate a Mother's Day lunch special here a few years ago and assume they will offer something again this year. You must call for a reservation.
  • Fulong Beach: Bring your mom to the sand sculpture contest, take your photo between May 8-15  upload, like the NECoast page and be entitled to win a prize draw.
  • Artemis Garden (Yuanshan) Bring your mom to make her own perfume with pure essential oils grown  from herbs on the premises. They also have a Mother's Day Dinner for 6 people May 13th 3800+ %10 (18:00-20:00). Year round they offer a garden buffet (11:30-14:00) and afternoon tea (14:00-17:00 with live piano on the weekends (more info here).
  • Hotel Royal Chiaohsi (Jiaoxi) offers 5 star hot springs with a view, a royal outdoors swimming pools and several restaurants, like the Zen Garden buffet for lunch or dinner- any day of the year is a treat.
    Card from my daughter not too long ago

Taipei

  • Flower arrangement with your mom and coffee at the Kidchen May 9th 11am.
  • Taipei Children's Amusement Park will offer free admissions for mothers on Sunday the 15th as well as discounted tickets for extra activities, theater and gift bags (bags available until May 31st) for uploading photos on FB (more info here).
Mother's Day Pampering

  • Pampering Package until May 31st including one night stay, traveler's massage, buffet breakfast, a youth serum (NT 5000 retail price), Mother;s Day cake and extra spa treatment for 10,500 at the Regent Taipei.

Lunch or Dinner
  • Italian at the Bencotto (Mandarin Oriental) for 2,500 + %10 per person or try homemade lasagna at the Marco Polo (38th Floor Shangri-La) by an Italient chef.
  • Both the Shangri-La and Mandarin Oriental also offer Japanese, Cantonese restaurants with Mother's Day specials as well.
  • The Imperial Hotel offers dinner guests a special 8 set Bird's Nest and a bottle of French wine as a bonus during May 1st-14th.

Afternoon Tea:
  • The Jade Lounge (Mandarin Oriental) offers British and Oriental teas with pastries (1,300 +10% per person)
  • The Lobby Court (Shangri-La) offers free access to their health and fitness facilities with afternoon British tea.
Cakes:
  • The Mandarin Cake Shop (Mandarin Oriental) "To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, Executive Pastry Chef Gregory Doyen presents “Maman D'Amour" to spoil all mothers with the loveliest treat! Made with vanilla sponge cake and seasalt biscuit, “Maman D'Amour” is topped with raspberry cream, raspberry coulis and different layers of berries. The cake is then garnished with a handmade chocolate carnation to symbolize a mother's uncodotional love." A 7" cake is 1,850 NT. To place an order, please call +886 2 2715 6789 or email MOTPE-CakeShop@mohg.com."
  • The Cake Room (Shangri-La) "This matcha mousse cake with cherry jelly and grape fruit cream layers features a perfect combination of sweetness and sourness in six layers, providing both visual joy and gustatory delight.   The Cake Room now accepts pre- orders; orders must be made in advance."
  • The Mother's Day Garden and cake basket (Regent Taipei) has a French pastry chef who created two cakes using fruit and vegetables. The first is  a vanilla sponge with raspberry and red bell pepper jelly, with a lychee and red rose mouse. The other cake is a hazelnut sponge cake covered with a tangy yuzu lemon mousse with layers of green apple and cumber jelly. The cakes by slice or 4 inch and 8 inch sizes bare reasonably priced. 
Mandarin Oriental
Shangri-La
Regent Taipei

Taichung


Tainan


  • Sweet Treats for Dear Mummy at the Shop (Shangri-La's Far Eastern) from 4/10- 5/30. Call to make a reservation.
  • Afternoon English Tea at the Tai Landis Hotel or book your mom a room there for some pampering and inclusive breakfast buffet with their special Mother's Day offer 5/1- 5/31.

Kaohsiung

Mother's Day Jewelry Carnival (4/28- 5/1)



Monday, April 17, 2017

Tea Afoot in Jiufen 九份

I've been meaning to check out Jiufen 九份 since moving to Yilan, but the threat of swarms of tourists held me back. It's infamous for its historical tea houses and picturesque old streets that were the backdrop in such films as City of Sadness and Hayao Miyazaki's  Spirited Away 神隱少女.

Going during the 4 day Children's Festival/Tomb Festival weekend was guaranteed to be packed, but I live on the edge (joke). We hopped on a local train from Yilan to Ruifang that took about an hour.

The bus from Ruifang station was standing room only for us as we held on for dear life, speeding up the curving road to Jiufen. Our hotel was surprisingly easy to find on a climbing stone path that deviated from the old street bazaar chaos.

Pu-er 普洱茶 Princess

After checking in (YuanYee Homestay), around 4pm we gathered our courage and braved the currents of the crowds. I spied the famous old 九份茶坊  tea house and whisked my kid into the found refuge and quiet. It was a different world and time from the stampede of the old street. As you enter there is a row of boiling kettles on a long bed of coals, tea cups and sets, moss, a pond, waterfall and ceramics shop in the basement. I wanted to sit outside with the view, she wanted to sit on the antique wooden table, so we sat inside. (We ended up coming back again our second day after our hike, it was such a priceless atmosphere.)
At the start of the trail to Teapot Mt.
My daughter was in heaven. Our hostess explained how to make our tea according to tradition, soon my kid  was in charge of all the tea preparation. We were starving having not eaten since breakfast but we stayed at the tea shop til dusk, stopped at a noodle hole in the wall along the way for dinner and back to our hotel, played cards in our room. Living in Taiwan we had friends who regularly served us tea when we came over, we drink tea at home too (oolong, Chai, British style) so tea is important. We took a class on Korean tea preparation when we were in Busan and now here we were finally in Jiufen. Z quipped, "Mom can I have a new hobby of drinking tea?" An emphatic YES!

Post hike tea



My plan was to get up bright and early to take photos of the famous cross streets in front of the old Theater.  We had such terrible sleep from the young group across from us partying through the night, we didn't make it early enough for my photo opp. Instead we did make it early (first in line at the ticket counter) for the Gold Museum (formally the Gold Ecological Park) in Jinguashi 金瓜石. Just take the Jiufen bus to the end of the line. The museum grounds are extensive and require a ticket plus extra fees if you want to go inside one of the tunnels or pan for gold (which we did).

The blissfully empty shinto shrine

I was ecstatic being there before the crowds because it eventually was like a festival. I really wanted to see the Japanese relics of the old shinto shrine. All that's left were 2 stone torii gates, the foundation, some pillars and some stone lanterns. It was a nice 20 minute hike with an incredible view. We were the only ones there (for a while).

Teapot Mountain
That little hike wasn't enough for me. I saw Teapot Mountain like a sandstone and shale crown across the valley and I was determined to check it out. My daughter was less enthused. After she panned for gold (and yes there were flecks of probably fake gold) and went inside the tunnels, she was so appreciative she hiked Teapot without complaint. We were both energized. At the top you can rock climb in the crags with a rope. The views along the way were exceptional. The path starts behind the bridge at the far end of the Gold Mining park, below where the air pumps are displayed.

So many nice views on the way up Teapot

You could drive to the last bit to the peak, there's a road and trail starting from the beach, driving would be cheating. It was only a 75 minute walk up and with several covered rest areas to admire the view, which she needed. We returned to the old tea house in Jiufen and sampled a different variety, sitting outside to please me.

We had better sleep that night and took our time the next morning. After our complimentary breakfast we decided to walk up Jilong Mountain 九份雞籠山. before checking out. The path begins not far from where we were staying just beside the cemetery. People were already cleaning their family tombs as we passed them. The hike up Jilong was crowded and unshaded. It was all steps. Fortunately for us the path forked and we took the longer route (go left). It was the right choice. We had supreme views of the sea, it was shaded and even better, was devoid of walkers. The top was also crowded but not massed, we could enjoy the view for a good twenty minutes or so munching on apricots. We decided again to take the long way back through the shade and with the views.

Quick hike after breakfast before checking out 九份雞籠山.

After checking out of our hotel, we went to the train station and bought a ticket to Houtong to check out the infamous Cat Village. The train was about to leave but so many bodies were smashed together, I don't think we could of possibly squeezed in, nor did we want to try. We'll save Cat Village for another day. I imagine its more of a tourist trap than even Jiufen. Yet, for being a notorious tourist trap, my daughter and I were rewarded with more excellent memories. It was worth giving Jiufen a chance.







Friday, April 14, 2017

There is a Remedy for Everything Except

My Grandma and my daughter
A month ago, I woke up on a mid March morning with yet again another solemn message from my Dad.

 My grandma passed. 

It was so soon after the tragedy of niece and ex sister in law (previous post). My father was exhausted emotionally, and physically from driving to New Mexico every other weekend. I saw all the photos of my brothers and cousins, aunts and uncles at her memorial and funeral. It was rotten being here alone. I couldn't afford a ticket or missing more classes when I'd only just return from Emma's memorial. 








We were closer to my paternal grandparents. She suffered her last years with undeserved pain, so in many ways, her death was also a blessing. My aunt and uncle were there with her at her last moments which is a beautiful solace for all of us.

I definitely got my love of travel from my grandma. She and my grandpa went to Europe and N. Africa more than once when I was a kid. She often told me she wished she was in the service so she could see the world. She was a wonderful independent woman, and a working single mom most of the time because my grandpa was often deployed abroad. She spoke her mind and was tolerant and kind. 





My grandma was hard working and observant of human behavior. She worked the night shift as a nurse at a mental hospital and then took care of 4 kids at home during the day. She hardly slept. I loved the stories of her childhood, the severity of being the eldest daughter of 11 kids on a ranch, of the abundance of nature during the Great Depression, how she met my grandpa (funny story). Her handmade tortillas and chocolate cake are legend. Her children loved her fiercely. 

Now Emma can delight in being with both her great-grandmas.


Z, Grandma, Grandpa and Emma

Friday, February 17, 2017

Family Nightmare and Celebrating Love: Rest in Peace Emma

Yesterday was her birthday. It's no surprise she was almost born on Valentine's.



My daughter and I were on the tail end of our amazing Lunar New Year holiday in Bohol when we got the horrific news. I had just woken up and stepped out of our jungle cottage in Anda to get some wifi reception when my Dad was typing me a FM message at the same time. His words were unbelievable. I must be dreaming. I texted back to him, "No! No!" and he replied, "Call me." I ran inside to the bed howling, my daughter next to me, "Tell me! Tell me!" I couldn't tell her.

Quickly, I was talking to my brother crying, "I can't tell her!" (my daughter). I commanded Z to get inside and all I could do was wail, "Andy I'm so sorry" over and over again, and "I love you." His voice started breaking up, choking back his tears. I said goodbye and then returned to my bed howling. I didn't care who heard. Later, the German backpackers came over and asked me if everything was ok. No nothing was ok. The whole world is in chaos.

I had to tell my daughter her cousin Emma, who she grew up with her first 2 1/2 years and are forever bonded (they are 33 days apart) is dead. My ex-sister in law shot her and then shot herself. They both were dead. My brother found them the next morning. He currently is my new hero. All of us are still devastated. I feel like an amputee. This is now the new normal.

Emma and Z

In retrospect it was a saving grace to be on holiday when we found out, but I wished we were home. We didn't have to do anything, or go any where or talk to anyone- and we didn't. We canceled that morning's dive for the next two days and waited til our last day. It was just the shock of it, totally immobilized us. We sat on our jungle porch getting bit by slow mosquitoes or collapsed on the bed stupefied. When we did finally dive, we saw some green turtles which seem even more meaningful, considering it was Emma's totem animal.

I didn't read any of the media articles, not until my uncle showed me some of them when I went home for her memorial. They were all wrong. The put this ugly and untruthful spin that C---'s suicide was due to jealousy from another woman. The story went global. I had friends giving me condolences from around the world, which is insane to me because sadly this story of guns and mental health issues,  happens all too frequently. (It happened a week before, a mile away in the parking lot of a sporting goods store, a mother shot her two sons and herself in the car.)

Although we don't live at home and we've been in Taiwan for 8 years, its still devastating. My daughter Z and Emma are just 33 days apart. I have pictures of  C-- and myself putting our preggo bellies together (mine was significantly bigger). In other words, even in utero, they were destined to be close. I had assumed and was looking forward to them growing up to be remarkable women together, best friends. Even in utero, we were praying for Emma because her mom's behavior, past issues seemed to be there still. I don't want to trash talk C-- by any means; she had a horrible childhood, her and my brother had a short miserable marriage, the world's most insane divorce and an even longer, uglier custody battle most of Emma's life. I empathize with what must of been C--'s unimaginable suffering to do what she did, but now my brother is the one in utter torment. Ironically, she was staying with my bro, who was helping her get back on her feet when it happened. Emma's last week must of been her dream come true, both parents getting along under the same roof, both with plans to move to Hawaii. I still can't believe C--- did it.

The only positive development is how much the community, our home church, and my brother's friends and coworkers came together to support him and my family. Neighbors have been bringing my folks meals (although they both lost noticeable weight), money was raised to pay for me and Z's flights home, money was raised for Emma's funeral expenses. Everyone seems to be going through different stages of the grieving process at different times; sensitivity, empathy, seeking peace is in order. My daughter and another brother are extremely angry, I myself am still in shock and sadness, I think I'm afraid of my anger right now.


I'm inordinately proud of my brother for choosing to focus on the love that was Emma and not on the ugliness of her murder. He is using her whole ministry of harmony as a catalyst to be a better man. My brother explained it all in his memorial speech, that it was she who inspired him to volunteer dive at the Denver Aquarium. A beautiful manifestation of his healing was taking some of Emma's distraught classmates snorkeling at the Aquarium. He also said how Emma's favorite animal is a sea turtle and she is like a turtle, and its so true. I've seen her with my daughter and when they had a misunderstanding, Z would want to talk about it, clear the air then and there (I'm the same) but Emma would retreat, be alone, seek quiet with one of the dogs, she seemed afraid of even a smidgen of discord. I had to teach my daughter that people handle conflict differently, you can't force yourself. And because Emma was surrounded so much by conflict, not any of us adults cared to try and get Emma to talk it out. Kids moved on, they were playing again eventually.



What was especially difficult for my daughter is we left our recent summer visit immediately after they had a misunderstanding and us adults were minimizing my kid's need to find resolution. "Its ok, it will be ok when we come back next year." My daughter was so distraught, "I never had a chance to tell her I forgave her!" Honestly, we told her that Emma probably wasn't worried about it at all. None of us could remember when Emma was ever mad, and if she was, it came out passively. All Emma ever wanted was for everyone to get along. She was a wonderful older sister to her baby brother and younger cousins.That girl loved her parents more than herself, she literally died for one.

I was so sad that we would never have any more new adventures, memories with Emma. Then after the memorial, Emma's Mandarin teacher came up and introduced herself. She is from Taiwan, her husband from Yilan. She told me with tears in her eyes how Emma used to say she was going to visit me and Z in Taiwan. That about broke my heart because whenever we begged her to visit (like she could) she would just flash one of her gentle, enigmatic smiles. It was such a love gift to get some new piece of her, even after the grave. I believe she is in a better place but I still shed selfish tears for all the unfulfilled memories we won't have on this earth.

Early morning at the cabin, August 2016

My brother returned to work yesterday and had his own personal love gift. On their sound system they play some internet radio and for the first time ever some random Hawaiian song that was familiar to Andy and Emma came on the speakers. The whole place became hushed, and they turned up the volume cognizant that this was her. I think big loves are like that. They will leave us these trails of love gifts to help us in our distress of missing them. I look forward to the next one, maybe when I visit her ashes that are in Hawaii or Chatfield, CO (she has 2 places because she is double the love). Probably she will drop a few love gifts by surprise; either way, she feels so close, we think about her so much she is everywhere.



Every moment was a privledge
Miraculous blessing to our family
Mistrustful of discord
Mature beyond your years
Always calm and enduring