dear taiwan

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Dear Taiwan,

It has been a whirlwind of two months. I feel like we just started to get to know each other and I am really quite sad to leave you, but glad that I will carry you with me in a piece of my brain reserved for nostalgia and other such unnecessary but oh-so-important dramatics.

Thank you.
Thank you for making me uncomfortable. I have not often been the visual or vocal minority – it is humbling and kind of sad some days and wonderfully difficult.
Thank you for your fruit. Glistening, fleshy, sweet, it was almost obscene how much I relished it.
Thank you for your people. Smiling, metro-crowd pushing, umbrella gifting, bowing – not perfect by any means. But mostly, genuinely, richly, and warmly GOOD.
Thank you for your dumplings. They are the perfect Saturday afternoon after a Friday NIGHT food. I will miss them oozing savory juice from underneath delicate carbohydrate rich wrappers.
Thank you for your humility. The jazz clubs are un-pretentious, the dance clubs are FUN, the curious stares I get for being of different skin are just that – curious.
Thank you for your green. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word so reverently nor inadequately before trying to describe your mountains.
Thank you for your water. We dove into tiny pools at the ends of gorges, sat is bubbling brooks mid river, swam in salty stinging oceans, showered in thundering waterfalls and stopped just short of becoming amphibious.
Thank you for your ridges. My thighs feel thundersously strong and my eyes fish-wide from looking out onto so many sweeping vistas.
Thank you for 7-11. Ice cream, MRT cards, ramen, oh my!
Thank you for your rough edges – I hated the cigarettes, and the mosquitoes hated me, but it was a dash of reality in our two month long dream.
Thank you for your noodles. In soup and cold with peanut sauce and stir fried. And buns. And bread. I should rephrase – thank you for your carbohydrates.
Thank you for your elderly. Whether they were dancing in the park across our hotel to “All About that Bass”, gathering to practice silent Tai chi at 7 am, ogling me while doing Insanity, or hiking up Elephant Mountain before the sun rose, they were a friendly, motivating, kind, and genuine presence.
Thank you for teaching me about you. Thank you for teaching me about me.


idea stolen from my friend Maika’s thank you note to the serengeti on huffpost

[guide] simple magic in Pingxi

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No. I am not leaving Taiwan in 4 days. You can’t make me desert the rolling verdant hills, the waffle grandiosity, the sweeping sunsets, the twinkling monsoon-reflected lights, or the bubbling waterfalls. I won’t do it.

Perhaps in bittersweetness, this last weekend’s trip was one of the more lovely of our time thus far. Meeting at the ungodly hour of 7:35 was only slightly painful, and leaving 15 min late and making our train was only slightly stressful.

(If only the gilmore gals could just keep their romances in order so I wouldn’t have to keep clicking “next episode” on Netflix on pre-trip evenings, and tapping snooze the next morning. Alas, Jess will never walk a straight line. But I digress)

We set off for Pingxi, a village area south of Taipei known for being the host to an annual lantern festival, and being the inspiration for (apparently) famous anime movie Spirited Away, that infused magic with face-eating monsters? Or something.

https://flic.kr/p/x9kAbj[/embed>brThe%20day%20began%20with%20a%20hike%20to%20some%20grumbling%20from%20the%20peanut%20gallery%20(it%20was%20hot%20and%20high),%20as%20we%20made%20our%20way%20to%20the%20famous%20crags%20of Xiao-Zi%20Shan%20(shan%20meaning%20mountain).%20The%20winding%20ascent%20started%20with%20stone%20cut%20stairs%20and%20then%20graduated%20to%20rope-assisted%20steps%20up%20the%20face%20of%20jutting%20rocks%20in%20the%20midst%20of%20mountain%20forestry.%20It%20was%20one%20of%20the%20coolest%20things%20I've%20done,%20even%20cooler%20thana%20href=https://alimentarily.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/the-accidental-30-km-bike-ride-a-weekend-at-sun-moon-lake/%20that%20accidental%2030%20km%20bike%20ride/a. There%20are%20three%20total%20such%20crags%20in%20the%20area,%20easily%20accessible%20and%20honestly%20not%20at%20all a%20difficult%20or%20technical%20hike%20~%20all%20we%20really%20needed%20was%20a%20sweat%20towel%20for%20the%20summer%20heat%20(no?%20just%20me?)%20and%20our%20thighs%20of%20steel.%20In%20all,%20the%20three%20must%20have%20taken%20us%20less%20than%201.5%20hours%20to%20ascend%20and%20descend.It%20would%20have%20been%20shorter,%20if%20not%20for%20missing%20the%20turn%20of%20for%20the%20tallest%20(and%20most%20beautiful)%20of%20the%20three:%20Putuo%20Mtn.%20-%20we%20climbed%20all%20the%20way%20up,%20got%20lost,%20climbed%20all%20the%20way%20down,%20remained%20confused,%20said%20goodbye%20to%20half%20our%20leftover%20group,%20and%20climbed%20all%20the%20way%20up%20again%20~%20(Our%20highly%20enthusiastic%20resident%20gentleman%20member%20RAN%20the%20last%20portion%20to%20try%20and%20find the%20entrance.%20What/why/stop%20being%20so%20nice!%20And%20he%20missed%20it%20anyways,%20only%20perpetuating%20the%20nice-guy-finishing-last%20stereotype)%20Finally,%20we%20found%20the%20entrance,%20which%20is%20about%20halfway%20up,%20and%20marked%20by%20a%20tiny%20little sign%20to%20the%20right,%20indicating%20a%20dirt%20path.Maybe%20it%20was%20the%20travails%20but%20that%20last%20one%20felt%20most%20beautiful.%20It%20could%20also%20have%20been%20the%20fact%20that%20it%20was%20the%20tallest,%20and%20offered%20wide%20sweeping%20views%20of%20the%20valley%20below,%20lanterns%20floating%20at%20mountain-top%20height,%20released%20from%20the%20village%20below,%20and%20an%20intermittent%20cooling%20breeze.%20We%20felt%20small,%20the%20view%20was%20expansive,%20I%20wanted%20to%20put%20down%20roots%20and%20move%20in.%20Or%20out,%20I%20guess?%20But%20alas,%20our%20friends%20awaited%20impatiently%20in%20the%20village%20below%20so%20we%20made%20our%20way%20back%20to%20reality.BUT%20were%20stopped%20halfway%20to%20find%20half%20our%20group%20that%20was%20supposedly%20waiting%20for%20us%20in%20the%20village%20–%20throwing%20down%20in%20the%20middle%20of%20the%20forest%20with%20a%20bunch%20of%20middle-aged%20Taiwanese%20hikers.%20These%20people%20were%20amazing%20-%20they%20had%20basically%20set%20up%20camp%20and%20were%20kings%20and%20queens%20of%20the%20mid:%20partying%20midday%20midforest%20midlife.%20#SquadGoals.%20As%20soon%20as%20I%20walked%20up,%20an%20iced%20beer%20was%20pushed%20into%20one%20hand%20and%20green%20mangos%20that%20were%20tart%20and%20sweet%20and%20luscious%20into%20the%20other.%20Ganbei!%20(cheers)brhttps://flic.kr/p/x9shEp

They referred to us all by our ethnicity – I became “In-du”, while others were christened “Salvador” (Irvin), “Japan” (Keiko), and “Yi Da Li” (Italy – Drew), and generally laughed for about 30 minutes straight. We told jokes, giggled, exchanged facebook profiles, ate their food, took pictures, and then had to bid a quick farewell.

We must look really cute and lost as a group or something, because we have been blessed by complete strangers giving us food and kindness so many places in Taiwan. I could not and still cannot express my gratitude adequately, so I’ll just put these strong thank you vibes into the internet ether here. Someone commented while we were there “America has a few things to learn” and I had this thought – that these people, they don’t offer their kindness hoping to be thanked profusely in return – and that in itself is as exotic as Taiwan gets from our homeland. I really hope we can save these moments in little heart boxes and remember them in our land of the polite thankyou’s.

The evening ended in Jiaoxi – the Spirited Away town itself – famed for its night market. I had a life changing peanut candy shaving ice cream burrito (yes. read that again I dare you), bought some gifts, and took 15 of the same photo of the bay below – it was that. beautiful.

The lanterns, the ice cream, the bustling crowds, the scenery, the mosquitoes — it was all the perfect last weekend in this beautiful island nation ya girl could have asked for.

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Logistics

How to get to Xiaozishan (Pingxi) from Taipei

TRA from Taipei Main Station to Ruifeng (88 NTD round trip I believe) and then exit at the station to purchase a day pass for the Pingxi railway line (64 NTD)! We didn’t make use of ours due to unforseen circumstances, but saw some great things we wished we could have visited- namely Shihfen Waterfall, and all the sweet-looking villages in transit.

Get off at Pingxi station, and walk through the village/stalls area. Turn left at the one intersection between stalls, and walk to the main road. Turn left again – the entrance to the hike should come up on your right within a few minutes!

Detailed description on how to get there and some great pictures here! : http://www.goteamjosh.com/blog/pingxi-crags

To get to Jiaoxi – head back to Ruifeng station, walk out of the station and up the street to the left – a ton of buses are at the stop in front of a small park. There are a few that pass through or to Jiaoxi – ask a local!

Also, Jasmine and I owe all our trip planning abilities to countless bloggers in the blogosphere who are beyond meticulous with their documentation. A shoutout to all of dem! (too many to name at present)

[guide] pure sky, private garden: day trip to Maokong

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the sign said: meander here.

 

Maokong was Saturday feels, a late start day, a lazy meandering sort of wonderful.

Though I miss our hare-brained and crazy weekends, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to aimlessly wander about in a piece of land whose main attraction and purpose is the sale and purchase and promotion and celebration of tea. To me, tea is (probably what should have filled) the holy grail. ((Shoutout to the Da Vinci Code for teaching me that the grail is actually a cup. Full of Mary Magdalene’s lack of virginity? Or something. Maybe it’s time to re-read that book))

But tea! Maokong is Taipei’s natural tourist trap, and I happily stepped inside, riding the ‘Crystal Cabin’ (a regular gondola with a clear floor) up to the top of the mountain, bearing the stagnant air of the enclosed space to experience the ironically wide green expanse around. Maokong presents some of the best views of Taipei City in my humble opinion, and the slightly damp weather offered a multitude of clouds that layered the distant city in many hues.

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look at all da huez in da distance

We ventured to the Maokong Tea Promotion Center (no bandying about with intentions, promotion is promotion), walking down a winding highway in the hilly breeze [go left after you exit the Maokong Station, through the small food market. You’ll arrive at a slightly solitary red brick building on your right in about 15 min.]

At the Promotion center we found free piping hot tea to cool off our sweaty bodies (laugh, it is never cool in Taiwan in the summertime), and then sat down to more tea tasting. As much as I want to go wine tasting in the near future, it shall not compare to tea tasting in a foreign nation, the only form of communication between vendor and customer being the aromatic semi-colored drinks served in dainty bowls. I actually liked the free tea best – it was made of the cheap stems of the famous Maokong tea, rather than the leaves themselves. *Shrug* I’ve always been a second-hand kinda gal, but *cry* they wouldn’t sell it to me!

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tea promotion center garden

 

At this point, I bid farewell to my drooping companions (it was a tired sort of Saturday, after a very un-tired sort of Friday night) and set off into the “trails” in the area, which were really paved and constructed pathways and steps. The ‘Healthy Trail’ sets off right across from the Maokong Tea Promotion Center, and descends into a dark, dense, quiet, buggy, beautiful forest.

 

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the private sky garden

I’m really learning to relish the quiet and clear headspace of venturing places alone. I made my way to the Earth God temple, Pot Hole (it was marked as such and led to…nothing), and finally the Sky Walk, which was a large deck built overlooking a valley and the unequivocal highlight. The sign read this:

“Here we left you a pure sky as your private garden. No matter if it is daytime or night, raining or sunny day, when you stroll here, you will find the different faces of Maokong.”

A truly cooling breeze blew constantly, and enabled standing for a long time, gazing dramatically into the green, feeling all the feelz, and getting ‘motional if so desired (it was desired).
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humpday: dreaming of green

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Today is a Wednesday in cubicle land. It is that point in the afternoon where a 7-11 chocolate run is imminent. Some days I enjoy sitting on my butt all day in front of a computer, but its only when a) I have made a chocolate run, and b) I have updated my Spotify selection so I don’t listen to John Mayer for the 15000th time. Though worse things have occurred.

Things I miss from the weekend: the outside. forestry. waffles. walking. sweat. a 12-person sleepover in a far-too-clean hostel room.

Things I like about today: The rain. Cold noodles with peanut sauce for lunch (and no pork for once). Endless cups of green tea. Finding the perfect Helvetica replacement for your powerpoint because goshdarnit why does a font cost over $1000 to install on a computer?!

Things I am looking forward to: Spending a weekend in Taipei City itself. Both days. More waffles. More greenery.

Things I can’t believe: We have been living in Taipei for well over a month. You know, 30-something days. I still can only barely ask for the bathroom. I understand that when someone says “mayo” it means they don’t have. Mayo or otherwise. Lunch costs about $2. Boba costs $1. I am an avid boba fan now.

And that is all. Above, pictures of Bitan, a southeastern section of Taipei City where we ventured a month ago. (*%#!?)

[guide] A weekend at breakneck speed: 3 days in Hualien, Taiwan

The refreshing end to the Shakadang trail - a dip in a natural pool
The refreshing end to the Shakadang trail – a dip in a natural pool

No rest for the enthusiastic traveler — Time here moves like my parents’ poor car when I learned to drive stick shift – lurchy, equal parts speedy and stopped, and under nobody’s control. Weekends pass at breakneck speed, and then come to a screeching halt on Sunday night when we return to our home/hotel rooms, dirty, bags full of laundry, exhausted, and oh so content. Our group of 14 Global Fellows has determined to see more of this beautiful island nation than most locals try to see in a year, and even when we wish for weekends to recover from our weekends, I couldn’t ask for better use of our short time.

This past weekend, we took advantage of the Dragon Boat Festival holiday (read: day off from work) to take a 3-day journey to Hualien, a town on the north-eastern coast of Taiwan, famed for its proximity to Taroko National Park. The park houses Taroko Gorge, one of the greatest natural wonders I have ever encountered thus far in my life. Taipei has been hailed as the Portland of the East, for its growing cafe, nightlife, and cultural scenes, but I think is so under-appreciated for its proximity to some of the most sublime natural beauty in the world. (Also pinching myself that I can use that phrase – in the world. Feeling blessed.)

Our lil’ group of 14 has taken a masochistic approach to exploration: we want to be as freaking tired at the end of each adventure as humanly possible. It has led to some hangry and unforgettable experiences. They are sometimes one and the same. (if you’re wondering what hangry means, please refer to 2 stanchions of modern culture: Buzzfeed and The New Yorker)

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butterflies. everywhere.
the reverse view of pool/grotto
the end of the Shakadang trail – description below

 

Being in Hualien made me feel we were truly on vacation for the first time – the beach-side town is slow, quiet, and quaint. The locals wore blue rubber flip flops, hung laundry where the passing public could see it, tied their dogs in the front yard, and moved at a slower pace. We, in our American loudness and enthusiasm, were required to slow down in our thinking, if only when strolling past the open-front shops that doubled as homes.

Hualien also made me feel at home for its similarities to smaller towns in India: the smells of exhaust, the dust on the floors and the gritty concrete, the undershirt-wearing men, the oppressive heat, the scooters, the stray animals, the colorful play structures in a local park, paint eroded by humidity. I am constantly struck by the similarities that can be drawn between drastically different countries, and how comforting it is. I’m not alone in this – others in our group are always finding relation to Haiti, El Salvador, Mexico, and more. The world is so much smaller than we make it seem. #trite but also #true

Here is an overview of our weekend. Read More »

if you love food, eat a mango like this

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Step 1. Let go of the traditions you have steeped in your head of childhood summers in sweltering Mumbai heat, cooled only by turtle backs cut by grandmotherly hands of lawlessly sweet Alfonso mangos from the family orchard. Recognize there is more than one way to eat a mango, and more than one way to remember a person’s loving legacy. Make peace.

Step 2. Become frustrated with the lack of fresh vegetables available in a restaurant setting in your current location, and set off in search of street vendors.

Step 3. Befriend the owner of the fruit stand across the street from your workplace without speaking a single word of each others’ language. Simply show up everyday, point to sample every single thing, grin enthusiastically, and buy everything.

Step 4. Ignore his uncomfortably long fingernails.

Step 5. At his mimed and yelled encouragement, buy the mildly pricy sunset-hued and fragrant fruit. Buy more than one.

Step 6. Leave them in the fridge at work for a day too long. Forget about them until the moment you cannot endure another second sitting still in your cubicle. Remember. Rejoice.
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the accidental 30 km bike ride: a weekend at Sun Moon Lake

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Unedited beauty of the lake, because I am technologically handicapped but also because it needs #nofilter

As Week 3 rounds the corner in a mad dash, I feel like we’ve properly settled into Taipei life, (however much as we can living in a hotel, eating in restaurants, and not speaking the language). Each night and day and evening and afternoon and weekend passes without warning, and despite our best efforts to do everything there never seems to be enough time. Suffice to say, we’re keeping ourselves busy.

This past weekend, we bundled into a four hour bus journey for a hastily (me) but thoroughly (Jasmine) planned trip to Sun Moon Lake, one of the most beautiful natural areas I have witnessed thus far in 19 short life years. (Read Jasmine’s perspective here!:)

Everyone kept telling us that it wasn’t as great as the brochures, that it was just ok, and we learned this is the Taiwanese way: under-promise and over-deliver, so visitors are not disappointed. They were of course wrong: it was a stunning vista, a long 36 hour trip that passed at breakneck speed, and an exercise in dealing with challenges as they come.

Some highlights:

  • A throw-caution-to-the-wind airbnb reservation in which I paid for the place and then didn’t hear from the hosts ever again. Thankfully all was well when the grandma-owner of the place came riding in on her red bicycle to welcome us with smiles to her rural Taiwanese home, complete with outhouse showers and mosquito netting. It was perfect. Different members of our crew immediately compared it to their childhood experiences in El Salvador, Mexico, India, and Haiti (diverse much? I think our entrance into any establishment warrants 3x as many curious stares)
    Read More »