Category Archives: Travel

No expectations are a good thing

Standard

When I booked the trip to Taipei I knew that I had to visit the National Palace Museum. Beyond that I had no expectations. This is why it’s sometimes better to go into a situation with no expectations – I really liked Taipei. It was clean, less chaotic, and  people followed traffic rules (whether on foot or car/scooter). The weather was beautiful the entire weekend and weather can make or break a trip in my opinion. I don’t want to use the word uncivilized or civilized to compare China and Taiwan but I can’t think of better adjectives.

Having survived the food tasting from the night before with no intestinal issues we were ready for the museum. We got a later start than I wanted and was worried about crowds but it was fine. We took the Metro and then a short taxi ride to the museum. The museum is the only thing I had previous knowledge about. Without going into a history lesson (and possibly getting myself into trouble with the government) let’s just say that the Taiwanese got the good stuff from the mainland. You can read all about the history yourselves. The museum lived up to my expectations and was filled with amazing artifacts from China’s looooong history. Everything was displayed beautifully. All the literature and explanations were in Chinese as well as English. It was the main reason I joined Anders on his trip and I was not disappointed.

We attempted to go to the observation deck of Taipei 101 but were foiled. Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building from 2004-2010. I like to get to the highest point of any place I visit but sadly so did everyone else and I had to be content seeing it from our hotel room. Anders took me to our favorite dim sum restaurant as a consolation prize and it worked, I was quite happy when we left Din Tai Fung. We did some shopping and walked around the downtown area to enjoy the relatively quiet atmosphere.

Anders had to work Monday so I was left to my own devices until I had to leave for the airport at 12:00.  I had planned on shopping for a bit before I was to leave so I got myself out at 9:45. It seemed a bit quiet and I noticed that there weren’t may people out and about as I walked to the shopping area. I just thought that Taiwanese weren’t early risers. The shops weren’t open and I took my sad self back to the hotel and to my laptop to find out if there was a holiday that I somehow missed in my pre-trip planning. Guess what? Shops in  Taiwan don’t open until 11:00!!!  That would make me crazy if I lived there. I mean, I’m home by 11:00 most times I go shopping.

On Sunday from the museum to the metro station I got talking to our taxi driver. I managed to negotiate a fair price for him to take me to the airport the next day. It was a first for me and I figured that if it didn’t work out (e.g., he didn’t show up on time, he charged me an exorbitant fee, or robbed me and left me on the side of the highway all chopped up in little pieces :-)) it would be a lesson learned. I had a good feeling about him though so I went with it. So glad I did. On the drive to the airport we chatted the entire time, about 75% in  Chinese and 25% in English. He told me that Italian is his second language. Italian? How/why does a taxi driver from Taiwan speak Italian? I asked the obvious question if his wife was Italian. Nope. He was a roller-skating champion when he was a teenager and spent 5 years living and training in Milan! When he returned to Taiwan he was a skating coach for years and had only been driving taxi for one year. I pretty much got his life story and he was such a nice man. THAT is why I like to travel. Everyone has a story to tell and given half a chance they love to tell it, and I love hearing them. The more different they are the better.

In the end, I’m so glad I went and would go to back to Taipei in a heartbeat. We should also explore the rest of this island nation. Davey the taxi driver gave me a list of places to visit and he would of course be happy to pick me up from the airport. 😉

5PM – 71°

Advertisements

Shilin Night Market

Standard

My, My, My. It’s been a while, a long while since I last wrote. I now have a new VPN, a new laptop, less work, but still a dodgy internet connection. 3 out of 4 isn’t bad. I’m going to try to post at least once a week.

In January Anders had a business trip to Taipei, Taiwan. Of course I had to go with him. If I didn’t go he wouldn’t spend long weekends being  a tourist. It’s my duty as a good wife to make sure that he gets to experience these places.  These trips are purely selfless for me.

After arriving Saturday afternoon, one of Anders’ work colleagues and his wife met us in the evening  to take us to the famous Shilin night market. You pretty much go to eat food and having locals as guides was a huge bonus. The market is the favorite date night of M&T so they knew the best food to eat and the best place to buy it. We were like puppies letting lead them lead us wherever they wanted. We told them there was nothing we wouldn’t try.

I’m going to ease back into writing again so this is going to be basic. Here’s a list of food and drink:

frog’s eggs 

fried chicken steak

grilled chicken hearts

grilled fish balls

grilled chicken butts

deep-fried taro

grilled eggplant

pig’s blood cakes

oyster noodle soup

honey/spicy glazed grilled corn on the cob

grilled “mystery” meat wrapped around a bunch of scallions

milk tea

pork dumplings (my favorite and the longest wait but worth it because not only were they delicious but we watched them being prepared)

I’m going to let you in on a secret, the frog’s eggs was a drink that in no way contained frog’s eggs. It was a sweet tea with rice flour balls, kind of like tapioca, floating around. It was good. The other things are exactly what they appear to be. We did not have stinky tofu. I was disappointed but the line was way too long. M&T assured us that while they love it we weren’t missing anything.

5:30PM -79°

PS – I apologize for the large photos. I will work on that for next time. WordPress has made a lot of changes since I last wrote and I have no clue, AGAIN!

Frog's eggs

Frog’s eggs

P1040348

One of the many shopping alleys

One of the many shopping alleys

P1040353

Buying the oyster noodle soup

Buying the oyster noodle soup

This is where we ate the soup - on the steps of a temple

This is where we ate the soup – on the steps of a temple

P1040360

Favorite people photos – 1st year

Standard

WOW!!! I started to go through my vast “collection” of photos and realized that condensing my favorites from our first year to just one post would require superhuman skills. There are so many that are too good not to post so I decided that I’ll milk this idea for a few posts. I decided to start with people. Everyone likes people don’t they? I’m sure that as I’m laying in bed tonight I’ll think about this and kick myself about the ones I missed. Oh well, I can always do another blog  and title it, “The Forgotten Ones”.

ENJOY!

9PM – 82°

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Doha, Qatar airport

Standard

Almost two weeks ago Anders and I flew to Switzerland. We had a layover in Doha, Qatar. We landed at 4:45 AM local time. We were faced with a 4 1/2 hour layover. I wasn’t particularly tired because it was 10:45 AM China time. As I was sitting in the airport I was struck by how diverse the passengers were that were walking through. I started to write down everything that I saw to pass the time. The more I saw, the more I wrote, and the more obvious it became that I had to share what I saw. I’m amazed at how extensive the list is. I was going to try to do something witty with it but there is so much to sift through, I’m still a tad jet-lagged, and I have a Chinese homework assignment due tomorrow that I should have done before I left but was too busy and now I don’t know how I’ll ever do a decent job, so I’m just gonna lay it out there as it was written. OK, I will try to spell things correctly but I can’t even promise that will be done.

  • Indian nuns and Indian Catholic priests, Sikhs, Muslims, Orthodox Catholics, Buddhists,  and probably atheists but they’re not so obvious
  • Chinese men wearing cowboy hats
  • Sheiks
  • Robes on men, robes on women, robes on children
  • A man wearing a T-shirt that read “Pennsylvania Migratory Birds”, I actually have written “Pennsylvania Migrant Birds” but that can’t possibly be correct!
  • Very large American man wearing flowered board shorts
  • Corn rows, dreadlocks, bald heads, afros, a 50-ish woman with dyed black hair but her crown was candy-apple red (my P&G haircare husband was impressed)
  • Kids crying, kids running, kids being dragged, and parents losing their patience 🙂
  • Babies in strollers, babies being carried, babies in back-packs and front slings
  • Every hair, eye, and skin color on the planet
  • Burqas, saris
  • Grannies and granddads, couples, families, and singles
  • People rushing, some looking lost and bewildered, and others sleeping (on benches, not on their feet)
  • Asians, Africans, Middle-Easterners, Indians, Europeans, I’m sure Aussies and Kiwis, Americans (sneakers and flip-flops are a dead giveaway!), and I wouldn’t be surprised if a scientist from Antarctica was making his way back home. I’m certain that every continent was represented.
  • Baseball caps – flaps front, flaps back, and flaps Chav-aliciously sideways 🙂
  • Skull caps, fedoras, hoodies, turbans (so many styles), visors, Rasta caps and a pink beach hat that was about 3 feet in diameter!
  • Chinese tour groups – the only obvious tour groups which was surprising, the fact that they were the only tour group not that Chinese travel in tours
  • Sunglasses on the face, the head, hanging from pockets, and collars
  • Boarding passes in hands, front pockets, back pockets, and hanging out of backpacks, carry-ons, and purses (shouldn’t they be more careful?)
  • THE BAGS OF DUTY FREE MERCHANDISE, because unlike the GZ airport at 11:00 PM in which most of the lights were turned off everything in this airport was open at 5AM
  • Chinese women doing their “walking thing” of swinging their arms, stretching hands, twisting their wrists, patting arms and legs. They did NOT walk backwards but I’m sure that if it hadn’t been so crowded they would have
  • The most beautiful collection of scarves! I was so inspired that I bought 2 in France. I do love scarves, right SG?
  • MC Hammer pants seem to be popular with western women. I’m guessing they saw Eat, Pray, Love and were inspired
  • coffee cups, water bottles, baby bottles, liquor bottles in those duty-free bags, Coke cups
  • A bald man who had the back of his head tattooed. OUCH!
  • A woman wearing a burqa carrying a Louis Vuitton bag
  • Clark Kent/Superman is German and went to Columbia Business School
  • iPods, iPads, iPhones, laptops, Kindles and other eBooks, Nintendo DS – Steve Jobs must be smiling from wherever he is!
  • WHITE PANTS GUY as I lovingly tagged him. A westerner with the hair ridge greased up going down the middle of his head (not a mohawk but you know what I’m talking about), suspenders, and the TIGHTEST, WHITEST, THINNEST pants I’ve ever seen a man wear outside of a ballet! He had something else on underneath but I need to keep this clean, kids might be reading. 😉
  • and me, 5 pounds lighter in weight than I am currently 😦 but every glass of wine and beer, breakfast croissant and pain au chocolat was worth it 😉

Yeah, it was quite entertaining and the best people-watching EVER!

8PM – 87°

The end of Yangshuo

Standard

I have a few things to wrap up and then I’ll be done with Yangshuo.

  • Anders’ team could not have been nicer to us. They treated us like we were royalty. We went to the noodle restaurant for breakfast, were told to sit down (no waiting in line for us) were presented with a menu, asked what we wanted, and a tray appeared with our bowl of noodles. We did not order one bite of food the entire weekend. I got up to pour tea and was practically tackled at the knees by 2 of the women! They were not going to let the laoban’s wife pour tea for everyone at the table. The ironic thing is that I am the only one in the group that doesn’t have a job!  This hierarchy stuff doesn’t fly with me but I’m trying.
  • It was amazing to see rural China. These “country people” work very hard just to live day-to-day. Ben had told me a while ago when we saw some beggars that frequently the “country people” will go to a larger city and beg because there’s simply no way for them to make a living in the winter at home. They have no other way to put food on the table so they come to cities to beg for a few months and when the growing season starts again they go home. I can see what he means. We were off the highway for about 50 miles and driving through these places was eye-opening. So many people sitting in front of their store-fronts and along side the road watching life go by. There were also a lot of people out working their fields with cows that were pulling their farm equipment! I only ever saw that in Lancaster, PA in Amish country. So many people bent over from the waist digging, planting, weeding, and watering their patches of land. Back-breaking work that I think they do for most of the daylight hours just to have food for the table. R-E-S-P-E-C-T
  • In an odd way the town of Yangshuo reminded us a bit of places we’ve been in Europe. The karst mountains were backdrops at the ends of streets, the cobble-stones, bars, restaurants, cafes, outdoor seating,  lots of people, and a general good life atmosphere.
  • Our travel companions introduced us to a really cool game one night while we were at a coffee shop/bar. It was so much fun and too involved to explain but we played it for about an hour and a half. It’s a popular game at universities. I love how they play games to keep themselves occupied while waiting for food or to pass time the time while enjoying a few drinks. So Anders and I did our American part and introduced them to the brainless but oh so fun game of Spoons. I actually packed spoons and cards hoping for the chance. Actually it was supposed to rain every day and I figured we’d need something to do. Our chance came at dinner on Saturday night. We had time to kill before we headed our for the evening’s entertainment so I whipped out my spoons. It was so much fun!! Other people in the restaurant were stopping by to see what was going on. Later in the night as we were waiting outside in a pavilion area to see a show they wanted to play again. There was no table and no place for cards or spoons, but they wanted to play. (we didn’t)
  • The show we saw was an outdoor music and light show that was directed by the man who directed the opening/closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. The mountains and river are used for the scenery and it was amazing. The performers are the local farmers, fishermen, boatmen, and residents. They work their jobs by day and perform in the show at night. What a great way to give them earning power. I understood about 5 words of the songs but I didn’t need to understand the story to appreciate the show. I wish I had photos but night shots without the use of a tripod are just blurry! 😦 There was a group of women that had a difficult time not talking at the beginning of the show and our team kept shushing them. It was funny because the women were about 40 years older than them but they weren’t shy about telling them to be quiet. No respect there. 😉
  • On our return ride home on Sunday we stopped at a tourist destination that Anders and I had no clue we were scheduled to make. On the back of the 20RMB bill is a beautiful drawing of the Li River. I knew this before we left but didn’t think we were going to see it. We walked for about 15 minutes and came upon the spot where you can see and compare. It was beautiful. Unfortunately I have been trying since we got back to procure a 20RMB and all I keep getting are two 10’s. Trust me, the photos I took look just like the drawing. That got me to looking at the other RMB notes and I think I have a few trips to make to complete the Chinese RMB drawing tour. Oh Anders, the travel part of my brain is ALWAYS scheming.:-)
  • The town where we stopped on Sunday is also where our travel companions did a lot of food shopping. This is where they bought their candies and snacks. Let me tell you – they all know how to bargain.  It’s a sport to them and as a spectator it’s fun to watch. They are ruthless though which doesn’t exactly fit in with the whole “aren’t they sweet for treating us like king and queen personas. (that’s probably supposed to be personae)
  • I hope I behaved well enough that they invite me on another trip. I may have sealed my invitation with the cookies.  My mom didn’t raise no dummy.;-)

5PM – 83°

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Faces in Yangshuo

Standard

I don’t have a lot of time today to write so I thought I’d just post a bunch of photos.

The little girl was at the farmhouse where we had lunch. She was gorgeous and so friendly. I think she would have walked away with any one of us. She started to eat lunch with us and then Granny took her away. She was not very pleased about that because she was definitely the center of attention. Granny strapped her on her back and in about 15 minutes she was sound asleep. As we were leaving Granny came out and woke her up. She smiled at everyone and waved goodbye from her back strap. All from a sound sleep!

The photo of Ben and D on the bike is my favorite from the trip and one of my favorites ever. I had packed my old camera just in case something went wrong. As it turns out I took so many photos on the raft trip that my battery died. I was so glad I had the backup or I would have missed this shot. D doesn’t know how to ride a bike and this time there were no tandems. I’m not sure who had it worse: Ben because he had D (he teased her about the extra load) or D because her legs were about 1 inch too long and she had to hold them up ever so slightly the whole way. You wouldn’t know it though look at their faces though and that’s why I love this shot.

5PM – 76°

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Farmhouse lunch

Standard

On the car ride to Yangshou on Friday I was able to see rural China from the comfort of our van. After our bamboo ride on Saturday I was able to see it up close. I have no idea where we were but I didn’t really need to know. I just know that it was someplace along the Yulong River in Gongxi Province and we were on our way to eat lunch.

I still don’t know how our group found this place. It was a restaurant but I never would have known. It was the downstairs of this family’s home. They lived upstairs and kept the main/only room on the first floor for a restaurant. There was a menu board and they served 7 dishes. I think we had all of them with a special one requested? If it seems like I don’t have a clue it’s because I don’t have a clue. We were shown into their home and the women started working. They stoked the fire in the kitchen (separate building) and asked us to choose the chicken from the coop. I missed the killing of the chicken but watched them pluck it. Then she sent XJ to pick the greens and he kindly asked me to help. I was able to pick the greens that were cooked for our lunch! The food doesn’t get any fresher than this.

The kitchen was primitive. Just look at the photos! I will never complain about cooking again after seeing how much work went into preparing our food. Of course, it was a meal for 14 people but still it was accomplished without a stove, oven, electricity, gas, or running water. There were so many times that the younger woman had to empty her water basin and refill it and every time she did she had to walk outside and pump the pump. 😉

This all took about an hour and a half  to prepare so we chatted, played with the adorable little girl who lived there (I will include photos of her another day), wandered to take photos, and soaked it all in.  Anders and I kept looking at each other and grinning. We know that if we were not with his WONDERFUL team that we would not have experienced any of this. As we were walking to take photos we were passed by 3 very lovely cows and their owner.  He stopped and said something with a grin on his face. I have no clue what he said but he chuckled. This all occurred while walking on the sidewalk in the village.

Finally it was time to eat the hen that so graciously gave her life. I can’t even remember what all we had but I think it was 2 chicken dishes, a pork dish, greens served 2 different ways, the taro, and of course, RICE! Let me explain about the taro. It looked and tasted like purple Play-doh. As a child I tried Play-doh (who didn’t?) and can therefore say with all certainty that that’s how taro tastes! Trust me on this, there is no need for you to ever eat it! This is where we had the bee and “I don’t know what berry” wine. Total cost of this meal? $3/person!  Let me repeat  lest you think it’s a typo, $3/person.

After we finished lunch we walked back to the river and alongside it for about 15 minutes to pick up bicycles. We rode back to Yangshuo and it took about 45 minutes. It was so cool to able to ride through these little villages and see things that I have only ever seen in Nat Geo. It was an easy ride, all downhill. The bikes were also better than the ones we had a few months ago when we did the scavenger hunt with Anders’ team. When we got to Yangshuo it was a tad scary as we rode through town to return the bikes. There were cars, motorcycles, other bicyclists, and pedestrians everywhere. No one follows ANY traffic rules and it was chaotic. But… it was so much fun! I am living a dream.🙂

In the van on the way back to GZ on Sunday when I asked what everyone’s favorite thing was Ben said that this lunch was it for him. I can see why. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it and how many more times I will, but here it is again. I will never forget this!

I think I’ll let the photos tell the story now.

4PM – 74°

This slideshow requires JavaScript.