Friday, February 27, 2009

Freedom Square

Last post about Taiwan. A few pictures from Zi You Guang Chang (Freedom Square) and the Chang Kai-shek Memorial.

The National Theater

The gate at Freedom Square
Chang Kai-shek's Memorial
There's a changing of the guard every hour at the CKS Memorial which people crowd in to see.
I feel like I need to do some research about the Generalissimo since he seems to have a mixed reputation and legacy depending on who you ask and where you are. But one thing about him that Katie and I liked was that his monument shows him smiling. Usually when you see a statue of someone, especially a male military leader, they're shown as being very austere and serious. CKS looked grandfatherly and approachable to me . . . like you should go sit on his lap and tell him what you wanted for Christmas (or Chinese New Year, I suppose).

Well, I think it's time I moved on from Taiwan in my blogging. Here's a link to an online album if anyone wants to see the rest of my photos--Taiwan Facebook Album.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Life Can Be So Pressful

A few days ago, I got an email from a former student in Yichang. One of the sentences in her email said, "We are pressful because of the depressed economy, so ,everyone seems more serious."

Pressful?! . . . what a fun new word! A combination of "pressure" and "stressful" (and possibly "depressed"), I think. I'm going to try to get this word into circulation and common usage. Second-language students put English into such a fresh light so many times!

Unusual Museums

Because Katie and I are such cultured, refined travelers (ha!), we decided to take the time while in Taiwan to visit a few museums. We spent a few moments contemplating visiting the National Museum, supposedly the finest collection of Chinese art in the world, but hey, I've seen the "replacements" in the Forbidden City and, as with Chinese music, can enjoy Chinese art only in moderation. So, to quote my friend Amy, our feelings about the National Museum were, "Meh." Katie and I decided instead to visit the Museum of Drinking Water and the Taiwan Nougat Museum. Sounded a lot more exciting, or at least oddly intriguing, than a whole museum of Chinese art and artifacts.

So here we are at the Museum of Drinking Water. My initial thinking was that we'd see lots of different "specimens" of bottled water, but in fact, we saw the evolution of Taipei's water purification system, the mechanics of which were way over my head.

The building that houses all of those displays of pipes and machines and gauges was actually an old historic building that didn't seem to match what was inside at all. There were actually three or four couples outside taking their wedding photos at the Drinking Water Museum while we were there which we read was a really popoular activity at the museum.

And this tops my lists of hilarious places that I've visited. I've always loved and laughed at the word "nougat" and couldn't get over the fact that Taiwan has a Nougat Museum. It was a small, out-of-the-way place in the "dodgy" end of Taipei, but we found it and were the only guests in the museum at the time. The workers politely turned the lights on for us :)
Explanation of old nougat making techniques. I guess this is a family-owned business and the son wanted to honor his mom and her nougat making so he made this factory into a little museum. This brand of nougat is famously used at wedding in Taiwan.
Here I am posing next to an impossibly-large piece of gold covered nougat with an impossibly-large piece of nougat in my mouth as I discover how hard it is to chew a big piece of nougat without drooling! For larger groups, you can have a D.I.Y nougat-making lesson. How fun would it have been to take a field-trip to the Nougat Museum when you were in elementary school?!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bikeride on the Taiwan Coast

While in Taiwan, Katie and I decided we wanted to see more than just Taipei so we took a 3-hour train to the city of Hua Lien on the eastern coast of the island. We wanted to see the Taroko Gorge and get a look at the ocean. After a slightly disappointing trip to the Gorge (we were there a little too late in the day and it was very overcast and the mountains tops were completely hidden by dark clouds), we decided to rent bikes and see as much of the coast as we could. We happened on a map that showed a 15km bike trail running straight along the coast of Hua Lien. After going a little too far and ending up in what seemed like the industrial end of town, we finally figured out where the bike path started and enjoyed a gorgeous ride.

The city of Hua Lien and the cloud-covered mountains .

At the start of our trip, we found ourselves riding behind this man. We started up a conversation with Mr. Liu and found out he's Taiwanese but has been living in Texas for the past few years teaching Chinese at a university. He spoke decent English, but was happy to talk to us in Chinese and even said our Chinese "ting hao de" (quite good . . . a high complement from a Chinese teacher!). Hua Lien is his hometown and he was back for a visit. Mr. Liu was friendly, chatty, and in amazing shape for being in his 50s (Katie and I were really struggling to keep up!) and he helped us not make any more wrong turns or lose the trail. It seems that when Katie and I travel and it's just the two of us, we tend to meet friendly, local people along the way who go out of their ways to help us even though we're complete strangers and who end up making our trip so much easier and more fun.
At first, I was a little disappointed that we didn't have a clear day. But, it turns out that the dark foreboding clouds decided to only occupy half the sky and we did have patches of blue sky peeking out. And in the end, I think the swirling gray skies made the scenery more beautiful, dramatically set against the foaming blue-green ocean and the dark, fog covered mountains.
In the end, we think we rode 20 - 25 km which I was pretty proud of. I was worried I'd be so sore the next day that I couldn't sit down, but I guess all the biking we do in Mengzi has gotten my rear in gear, so to speak.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Taipei Street Scenes

View of Taipei from the window of our hostel room.Taipei streets reminded me of Hong Kong with the bright, gaudy vertical signs stacked up and down every street. The locals love their electric scooters. Scooters are definitely the preferred method of travel.

I love traveling to places in Asia and finding 7/11 convenience stores! I don't know why but there's just something comforting and welcoming about them and every time I walk by one, I want to go in and buy a drink. When you're standing in the door of a 7/11 in Taipei, you can literally see probably 5 more stores on the same block. Taiwan 7/11s had real milk--white and chocolate!! And Coke Zero!Crazy crowded night market in Taipei.
Some kind of odd street food for sale. Sticky, gooey rice balls? I'm not really sure . . . The first night we were in Taipei, KT and I went to 3 Starbucks stores (all within a block of our hostel!) and they ALL had lines out the door and down the block. Granted it was Valentine's Day and the weekend which I'm sure made for a more crowded time, but that's so many people wanting coffee!

Peng Yi

On our way to Taiwan, Katie and I had to spend the night in Shen Zhen after flying there from Kunming. Shen Zhen is just across the "border" from Hong Kong and is one of China's SEZs (Special Economic Zones) so it's easier to do business there. Katie and I have lost several friends to Shen Zhen because thousands (probably millions) of recent college grads go there in search of jobs since finding decent jobs is nearly impossible in most Chinese cities, espcially for young people.

About two years ago, our good friend Peng Yi (whose English name is Matt) went to Shen Zhen. Since Katie and I had to spend the night in Shen Zhen, we called Peng Yi and worked out the details to meet up with him. It was so great to see him! In Yichang, Peng Yi was one of the guys in our close group of friends, known affectionately as the Bu Zhi Freakin' Dao group. It's amazing to me that I've been in China long enough to meet friends, have a long deep friendship with them, watch them move away, miss them and not see them for months or years, but them have a chance to meet back up with them halfway across China.

Matt now has a marketing research job with a Chinese fast food chain and seems to be doing all right for himself although he says that in Shen Zhen people have to work so much and there's a lot of pressure. Since Matt's in the restaurant business, he and a friend helped us track down a Subway store in Shen Zhen! Subway and good friends . . . it was a fun night.

This is a picture of Peng Yi, me, Katie, and another Bu Zhi Freakin' Dao friend, David, on the day Peng Yi left Yichang for Shen Zhen.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Got back from Taiwan last night at 2:30 a.m. What a great trip! Katie and I loved Taiwan. There's so much I could say. I'm so glad we took the chance to go. So many blogable moments (I love how people now think of experiences in terms of their "blogableness"). Since I'm still organizing, editing, and uploading photos today this post only features one bloggable item.

The Taipei 101 Tower. Might be the world's tallest building, might be second to the Dubai tower now (reports on these towers differed on whether or not the Dubai tower was actually finished yet and what actually defines a "tower"). You can go up to the observation decks on the 80-somethingth floor, but Katie and I decided to just admire the tower from the ground, although we did go in and eat at the amazing foodcourt in the tower's basement. The entrance price was a bit steep for our ultra-budget trip and we had mostly overcast weather which wouldn't have made for good views anyways. Supposedly the tower was built to resemble a stalk of bamboo. So, I wonder why the purple lights and not green lights? . . .

It was quite a cool site to see though--purple or green, clouds or no clouds.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Renegade Province

I had no plans to do any extensive traveling this winter vacation, but Ctrip (a Chinese travel service) "made us an offer we couldn't refuse"--Katie and I are leaving tomorrow for a 5 day trip to Taiwan! I've wanted to make a trip to Taiwan for quite a while now because I'm interested to see how it compares to Mainland China. I think it will also be interesting to get the Taiwanese viewpoint on their status as a "renegade province" after being bombarded with the mainland partyline stance for so many years. Since I think I'll be back in the States next year, I figure this really might be my one and only chance to make it to Taiwan, so I'm not going to miss the chance. And I'm sure this is a necessary trip since I'm going to be studying China and International Relations in grad school! :) I mean, what kind of China expert will I be if I haven't seen both China and Taiwan?! I'm hoping that Taiwan is like Hong Kong and Singapore--Chinese yet western and modern at the same time. One thing I do know . . . they have Starbucks! One grande mocha frappiccino please!

Will post pictures when I get back . . .

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Babies

Since it seems that all of my friends my age are blogging and posting pictures on Facebook of their pregnancies, babies, and kids, I'm going to post about my kids too :)

While I've been on vacation and have had more free time, I have been trying to spend time at the orphanage with the kids there. Right now, the orphanage has 5 infant girls who are just a couple months old. Sometimes, the workers don't really want us to disturb the infants, but the last time I was there the "aunties" (generally in China you can refer to a lady who's older than you as "auntie," which is what we call the ladies who take care of the kids at the orphanage) seemed really happy to let me hold and feed the little babies. I love those little babies so much (and all of the sweet kids at the orphanage!). Every time I get to see them, I talk to them and tell that I'm praying that their families will find them soon. I told the aunties that I wished I could just adopt them all myself!

Biker Chicks!

One of my 2009 New Year's resolutions was to learn to drive* a motorcycle. Brian decided that Rachel was ready to learn to drive one too so today Rachel and I got our first lesson. I think I did pretty well for my first time (no stalling out, no wrecking, no dented trash cans), although getting used to shifting with my feet is going to take a while. I made it into third gear and around the block and up and down the road by my apartment building a few times. I have the feeling that once I get used to driving a motorcycle, it's going to be rather addicting. I prefer driving a manual car (unless I'm sitting in start-stop traffic) because you have more control of the car, rather than in an automatic where you just passively sit there and let the car do everything for you. A motorcycle is even more hands-on (and feet-on) and I know I'm going to like it. Don't worry mom, I'm sure it's completely safe learning to drive a motorcycle in China!

*Edit: I have since been informed by my dad that "The first lesson about a motorcycle is that you "ride" it. It is simply against all principles of human decency and common etymology to "drive" a bike."

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Superbowl Monday

Thanks to a program called TVU, Katie, Dave and I were able to watch the Superbowl live this morning. We had the game streaming on the computer and hooked the computer up to play through the TV. We had some glitches at first, but thankfully Katie's computer came through and we got to see pretty much the whole game, including commercials and the halftime show (which is important to us American culture starved ex-pats). To watch the game live, we got up at 7:30 a.m. I'm a loyal Colts fan, so with them out I wasn't really rooting for either team, but if I'd had to pick, I guess I was cheering for Pittsburg. We were all just happy that it was an exciting game and a close finish.

During halftime, we made coffee and chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. Not exactly your typically Superbowl party snacks but the pancakes were delicious and really fluffy! Rather strange to be watching a live football game and eating breakfast at the same time.