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.

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.

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.