Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paul and Hanano Kura

11/7/09 After rehearsal I joined friend H and K for a dinner at Paul on the Jenai Circle. What a lovely spot! The bistro faces the most recognized street corner in Taipei City. However noisy it is out there, the moment we stepped into Paul, it is as if we entered a small corner in Montmartre. The ambiance of the restuarant is serene and relaxing. The aroma of freshly baked baguettes and palmier fill the air. I felt like I was in a fluff for a while.

H and K and I made a reservation. Everything looked delicious and decidedly French bistro. We wanted to try it all and had to go through a complicated process of selection by elimination. We finally decided on a roast beef sandwich dish, a salad with smoke salmon, and a french appetizer platter.

Every bite was delicious and the meal was very satisfying! This was the first time K and I met, and we talked as if we were old friends. Not only are we about the same age, she has been in Taipei for 10 years, and spent a few years in California prior to coming to Taipei. Before then, she was in her native Japan. We have many things in common indeed! It's nice to meet someone with similar background and likings.

After the meal in Paul, H had to go home and K and I decided to find another place for a drink. We ended up at the Hamano Kura, that would be "the Wine Cellar of Flower" in English. This is a trendy sake bar where one can enjoy sake cocktails, various kinds of sake, and great sushi. We decided on Otokoyama, which is a sake with an umph. Over the sake we talked some more until it was passed the metro operation hours. Therefore we had to take taxis home. For safety reasons we called taxis over the phone (despite the fact that they are everywhere if you want to hail one) and two showed up very quickly. As soon as we were going to step into the taxi, the Hama no Kura person rushed on out of the sake bar to tell us that they got our tab wrong--instead of paying for a carafe, we paid for a whole bottle!!! Thank goodness they are honest.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Taiheiyo Heiwa Toastmasters Japanese Club in Taipei

11/07/09: Today I get to do my first "ice breaker" speech in Japanese at my Toastmasters Club. I thought I was not going to be nervous but for whatever reason I was on pins and needles all the way until I went OFF the stage!! And it was only a short speech! I think the nerve came from lack of practice...I wonder how preachers like Billy Graham and Joel Osteen, or great orators like Obama and Kennedy get to speak without stage freight.

This is such a nice bunch of people and my speech received great response. In order not to make my self-introduction so boring and routined just like every one else's, I decided to quickly go through my basic data, and then move on to a quiz, including questions like what food do I not like, what sports am I not good at, which island have I not gone to, etc. It was a relief to hear laughters coming from the audience.

I am glad to say I'm liking my Toastmasters Club. Seems like I'll be able to make some good new friends there besides reaping other great side benefits such as polishing my public speaking skills and communication skills.

The Taipei Zoo

11/08/09 Yesterday there was a company-wide outing to the Taipei Zoo. Got up early and went to the 7 to buy breakfast. "The Seven" is how people call Seven-Elevens here, and the food selection is astounding. I shall have to write about that some other time.

Anyway I went to the 7 to buy breakfast and then waited on Chungshan N. for my cherubic coworker H to come and pick me up. His car came and as expected, the entire car is filled with people and McDonald bags. Ha! We had a huge breakfast match in the car, and but 20 min later we arrived at the Zoo.

The last time and the only time I went to the current Taipei Zoo was when it first opened 20-some years ago...it was very huge but barren at the time. It's nice to see the park is all filled with lush plants and trees now.

Before entering the zoo, we walked pass the new Taipei City Children's Entertainment Park. I can't wait to bring my nieces and nephew here when they come to Taipei. We also walked passed the recently built but quickly defunct Mao-Kung Cable Car. This was indeed a good idea, but it was a pity that the City Government missed the construction survey, causing the Cable Car to become a dangerous structure only shortly after its completion. Even so, The Wen-Shan area is still rich in touristic resources.

We first signed in and fetched our souvenirs for today's participation of the Zoo outing. Then, we darted towards the latest attraction inside the park--the Panda Colony. We got the timed ticket to the Panda Hall, lined up, and slowly approached the pandas. The pandas Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan came from Sichuang. They were given to the Taipei Zoo last year. I have not seen them because thousands of visitors crowd this part of the Zoo every day then. Now that the panda craze is over by a little bit, I can see the panda in relative ease without too much pain. They were very cute! Tuan Tuan was sitting on the ground eating bamboo, while Tuan Tuan was hiding behind the playground set in the "room", scratching her behind...HA~

We then went up the slope and met up with more coworkers. The entire park was swamped with people I know and recognize; it's great to see their kids, too.

I didn't realize this was such a vast ground. The old zoo near northern part of the city moved to the current site in 1986. The current zoo is said to be the largest zoo in Southest Asia. After seeing the panda and hanging out at the Hippo Plaza eateries, we made our way up the tropical forrest walkway and meandered up to see the koalas. The koalas were at ease sleeping, chewing on eucalyptus leaves, and playing among the branches, respectively. They were very cute and much smaller than I expected--this was my first time seeing koalas, come to think of it!!

The Taipei Zoo was much more fun than I thought it would be--next time I come here I want to go up to the nearby and famous Mao-Kong Hill to have some Chinese tea also.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thus Began the Whirlwind City Tour...

1/30/09 After getting back to the hotel, friend B already woke up. We went down to the hotel restaurant to the inclusive breakfast buffet. I was expecting nothing spectacular, and to my amazement, the hotel cafe was not just a cafe. It was the banquet room of the hotel converted into the breakfast buffet room. The buffet was in grand style also. There were at least 10 different food stations. Anything that one can think of--Chinese style breakfast items, Japanese and Korean style breakfast items, Western style breakfast items, coffee of different kinds, tea of different kinds, salad bar, pastry shop, and the list goes on. We ended up having this completely luxurious meal in this atrium banquet hall. That's Kaohsiung right there, everything is uh, bigger and better!! It would make my brother-in-law Jim, a son of Kaohsiung, very proud!!

After the breakfast, we checked out of the hotel. I quite liked the stay and would definitely recommend the hotel to anyone visting Kaohsiung. Upon checking out, Friend B got in touch with her friend Sophie, who moved with her family from Taipei to Kaohsiung some years ago. Sophie said she would come and get us, and spend some time with us. We didn't purchase the return leg of High Speed Railway ticket in advance, but we thought the trip would be but a few hours. How wrong we were. Little did we know we were about to go on THE day trip of Kaohsiung.

Sophie, her boyfriend P and his daughter Z arrived in this very nice SUV. That's another thing--one hardly sees an SUV in Taipei; the roads are narrower, and the cars are smaller. However, in the South of Taiwan, it seems every other car is an SUV. After happy exchanges of greetings, we hopped into the SUV and off we started the tour around Kaohsiung.

The first stop of the tour was the Fisherman's Wharf. Kaohsiung is a port city. In fact the Port of Kaohsiung is the largest port in Taiwan and to date the Port is still one of the largest in East Asia. Along the harbour there's the Fisherman's Wharf, which is a long strip of nice waterfront cafes. We took pictures and walked about. Here I saw some bicycles (which I don't yet know how to ride...) for public use. This is a new thing here in Taiwan but Taiwan boasts one of the world's highest density of cyclists, and it seems everyone on the island rides a bicycle. More and more there are free bicycles all around the island especially at major scenic spots available for public use. I have never seen it before and am glad to see such good ideas taking off in Taiwan.

The Love River

1/30/09 Every famous city is associated with a famous river, it seems. When one thinks of Rome, it is the Tiber River; Paris is not Paris without the Seine. Kaohsiung has its river, too--it is the Love River.

The Love River used to be very extremely polluted during the 70s and 80s, with raw sewage and industrial wastewater flowing directly into the river (yiew.) Today it is one of the most successful examples of pollution reversal, with more than a dozen species of fish swimming happily (or they seem so...) in the Love River.
I woke up quite early despite the beer consumption the previous night. For my morning walk, I decided to walk to and along the Love River.
As I obtained the map and checked direction with the front desk, the gentleman was very surprised I would walk it. He advised that the preferred way to travel in Kaohsiung is by motorcycle or scooter. Since I had no access to either and can operate neither, I thanked him and embarked on my journey on foot.

Just a short 10 minutes down the road I came across the Central Park of Kaohsiung. I must say it is of no particular significance to me, since I do see a lot more nice city parks either in Taipei or elsewhere in the world. I later learned that the Park is most beautiful at night and is known as the Light Corridor of Kaohsiung City, since the Park is nicely illuminated at night. I suppose that makes up for its...so-so-ness during the day.
After walking through the park, I went for another 20 minutes by foot and I arrived at the Love River. It is beautiful ineed, very serene, not too many people walking despite the fact that the paths along the bank is nicely paved. On the other hand there were quite a lot of scooters on the streets --as the hotel staff correctly advised.
I walked along the river and realized there were many people there busy putting some kind of festival together. A closer look revealed that the city and its people are preparing for the upcoming Lantern Festival. It is afterall still the Chinese New Year. The Lantern Festival is the last day of the Chinese New Year, the 15th of the month of January on the Lunar Calendar, and there will be lanterns displayed all the way along the river bank.
While walking, I encountered a middle-aged couple asking for directions from me. I apologetically told them I am not a local, and then during the next 30 seconds of conversation while walking down the road together, we found that we were all "from" California!! What a small world!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kaohsiung at Night!!

1/29/09 After dinner we roamed some more and ended up on the top terrace of the mall, which is a pretty good size playground and amusement park and was packed with people. The ferris wheel with completely see through gondolas is all the rage and the line was long beyond my wildest belief, so I decided to skip it.

With the afternoon nap, the walking about, and the long wait to the meal, plus the meal time, plus the shopping afterwards, it was actually very late already. We decided to head back to the hotel.
As if the meal was not satisfying enough, seeing that we were on a trip, indulging ourselves a little bit would not be the end of the day--hey, I survived a 10-day Alaska cruise with regular 6-time-feedings throughout the day, what's one night in Kaohsiung gonna do for me!?
Friend and I decided we needed some BEER. If you get beer here, you need snacks to go with the beer. Our choice of snack for the evening is the down home southern garlic flavored dried tofu curds. While they look very brown and dubius to those who are not from Taiwan, dried tofu curds are bar-none the BEST snack to go with beer. Period. No discussion necessary. If I signed up for the Amazing Race and they feed me this stuff, I would surely beat the others to the million bucks.
At this late hour of the night, thank goodness Taiwan is an island filled to the brim with 24-7 convenient stores at every street corner. We hit the one right near the hotel, and bought the beers and the snacks, and went back to our hotel. Now with refreshments in our hands, we watched TV and chatted late into the night. From our hotel room, we could see the very dramatic and beautiful night view of the city. I know I haven't seen much of Kaohsiung except for one shopping mall, but for some reason I like the fact that I'm taking in the slower southern pace, kicking back, relaxing, and just having a good time. I know somehow we will see KS plenty within the remainder of the weekend...

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Dream Mall

1/29/09 For dinner and entertainment that evening, we decided to head to the Dream Mall.

The Dream Mall is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Kaohsiung. We took a taxi to the Dream Mall, and before even approaching, I discovered that Kaohsiung streets are all wider by a lot compared to Taipei City.

The Dream Mall is HUGE!!! What's more, as soon as I stepped into the lobby atrium, there's the Cold Stone Ice Creamry! What can't you find in Taiwan these days!?!

We were quite hungry and headed for the restaurants within the mall, almost all of which were on the same level. WELL!! We arrived a little bit behind the crowd, and as a result, many restuarants already were fully booked for the night! We found one hot pot+table top grilling restaurant which were still accepting walk-ins, at 45 minutes of wait time. Better than nothing, I suppose. We browsed for 45 minutes and then arrived at the restaurant to be seated.

The restaurant is nicely decorated, with fish tanks atop the dividing walls separating each seating booth. It's kind of an interesting experience cooking and viewing the swimming fishies at the same time.
The meal consists of two parts--a hot pot on my left, and a table top grill to my right. The wait staff started bringing enormous amounts of food to our table. This is Kaohsiung indeed!! Even food portions are larger down south. We had plentiful vegetables and slices of delicious beef. It was a very satisfying meal indeed.
After eating, we continued roaming around and came by a beautiful traditional Taiwanese pastry shop, Yu-Jen-Zai. The pastry shop is famous the island over and originated from my dad's home town in Zhanghua County. Even traditional pastry shops are franchised these days. So it is not strange to see one of their stores here at the Dream Mall. I saw one of my favorite snacks, Mua-Lao, which is this sticky-skinned pastry with foamy insides. The skin is sticky because the crunchy exterior of the pastry is covered with wheat-germ syrup and then coated with either sesame seeds or almond slices. YUM YUM!! Bought some, and moved on to the top floor.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To the South...(I)

(picture: Tuntex Sky Tower and the City of Kaohsiung, taken from the room window at Han-Hsien International Hotel)

1/29/09 Ever since coming back to Taiwan this time, I haven't left the City of Taipei. Today marked the first time I'll be visiting another city since my return. Destination: Kaohsiung, the 2nd largest city in Taipei, and one of the largest port cities of Taiwan. When Friend B suggested that we take an overnight mini vacation in Kaohsiung, I happy obliged.

If Taipei were like New York, then Kaohsiung would be like Los Angeles, so to speak. Taipei is built up, squishy, sophisticated, slightly harsh and rushed. Kaohsiung on the other hand is sprawling, spread out, relaxed, slower in pace, and leisurely. Even people's tastes and taste buds are different--Taipei folks like solid colors and savory food; whereas Kaohsiung folks like splashy outfits and sweetened dishes. Of course this is generalization, but there's some truth to these stereotypical impressions that come to mind every time one speaks of these two cities.

Friend B and I took off half way through the afternoon. We were going to drive there; but decided to take the High Speed Railway instead. The HSR was completed just a few years ago, and it's really fantastic. We arrived in Kaohsiung mid-afternoon and checked into the hotel.

Perhaps due to lingering jetlag or time difference, perhaps due to the heat of Southern Taiwan, I felt quite tired upon arrival and took a nap as soon as we got to the hotel. The nap turned out to be four hours long. By the time I woke up, it was already getting dark outside. Looking out the window, I got my first impression of Kaohsiung--the beautiful skyline and the hustle bustle of the port city.

Sing Your Heart Out...

(Picture: Ella singing, Omar looking for a song, Jane putting in her song's order, and Chiyue working the coffee pot. Inside of the KTV compartment.)

1/28/09 After the meal, the Wun cousins decided to leave the township of Tamsui and venture into the City of Taipei. It's been a while for any of us to go to a KTV, and we were in the mood to sing--hard to explain, but hey, this is the land of Karaoke we're talking about--so off we went to the Cash Box "KTV" in Eastern Taipei.

Ella drove Jane, Chiyue and myself across town and we arrived at the Cash Box KTV. Omar joined us in about an hour. I am out of practice either in singing or in going to a KTV, so I stood back and let others take charge of getting us a private room with the singing machine, the screen, and the rest of the gadgets.

the Cash Box KTV that we went to was one of the first and the most well established of all the KTVs in--I dare say--all of Taiwan, if not the rest of Asia. The entrance hall looks like that of a 5-star hotel, with chandelier and marbled floor. We registered for a room, were ushered to the elevator, and then were shown a room on the 5th floor of this entire enormous KTV building. The room was spacious and has cushy couches, granite tables and even a bathroom within the room itself. It could comfortably seat 6 or 7 people, so we made ourselves quite at home as soon as we stepped in.
Here's some sidebar info on KTV and Kareoke...the concept of Karaoke, which is a form of entertainment where people sing along with music and music video with the lyrics on a screen, originated in Japan. It has taken off in Taiwan during the early 80s, and I venture to say one cannot easily find a Taiwanese who hasn't been to a Karaoke at least once. Does everyone sing, or sing well? The answer is...Who cares!! The quality of singing is never the issue. Especially considering KTVs are in small room settings. You are singing among friends and family. The fun of getting over the initial embarrasement to sing before people you know--or don't know--is the entire point. Music and tension release are both good for health. Truly, it's a life enriching experience. Gotta give it a try.
Back to the KTV scene...We excitedly got into the room and little to my surprise, my cousins grabbed the remote control and the index folders listing all the songs available on the singing machine system, and started entering the songs like mad.
Very soon, the first song came up on the system and the microphones were passed around. Each person whose chosen song came up on the screen enthusiastically jumped to get the mic, and the rest of us were there to give the utmost support. To my great amazement, all my cousins sang like pros! On the other hand I have been out of loop and out of practice at singing any Chinese pop songs, so I opted for some old time favorites. Thankfully my cousins were equally encouraging.

The KTVs are known for tasty snacks, too. There are some menus and some KTVs even boast a little buffet bar on each floor. We ordered some food and drinks and had our dinner here--after that big lunch at such late hour, we really couldn't eat another full blown meal anymore. These snacks were just right for this time.

All of us had a great time singing, chit chatting, and eating. Three hours passed and we barely noticed. It wasn't until it was really late that we decided to call it a night.
Chiyue was leaving for Japan the following day early in the morning; we all said goodbye reluctantly. I am already longing for the next family get-together where I would be able to see all my cousins soon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

On the Third Day of New Year Aunt Tsui-Mei Came to Us...

(picture: Dumplings, a typical Chinese New Year food especially in the North of China.)

1/28/09 OK, 3rd day of the New Year. Big day ahead of everyone. Dad's older sister Aunt Tsui-Mei, her husband Uncle Ga-Lock and their children and grand children stage the Wu Clan's visit on this very day.

The fare is hosted by Aunt Shirley and Uncle William. Mom, Dad and myself took our time getting up in the morning, and getting ready. This was because the Wu Clan was somehow known to arrive behind scheduled time. I mean, really, really late. Like several hours late. Normally it is not ok really to make such an, uh, unfashionably late arrival, honestly. Knowning my dad and uncles, late arrival may very well trigger a nuclear melt down and the island could be shaken. BUT, it being the Chinese New Year and it being Aunt Tsui-Mei's day to visit with her brothers, we go by her schedule. This is the Grand Dame of the Wun's and the Wu's. Aunt Tsui-Mei calls the shots. She's the Queen Mother of our big extended family. And she always so impeccably, elegantly and beautifully put together that she looks like one, too!!

Uncle Jack's family was there too by the time Mom, Dad and I arrived. All of the Wuns from my generation--with the exception of my sister Sabrina--were present. Good! It was especially good to see Cousin Chiyue, who works in Japan and Mainland China and I hardly ever see him. I was one of the very few family members visiting him while he studied in Japan many years ago. I still think very fondly of our time spent together in Japan. Chiyue was so kind and took very good care of me, even though we are quite far apart in age, with me being much older. With his fluency in Japanese and familiarity with the culture and the places, I always felt very safe with him leading the way while visiting him in Japan.

Suddenly there were many dogs on the scene. My cousin Jane somehow teamed up with Uncle William and are known for their stray dog neighborhood rescue mission. This has been going on for many years. Between the two of them, we now have a house full of people, and 5 dogs on premise.

Time was still early because it was barely lunch time. Aunt Tsui-Mei's family will not be coming until it's LUPPER time (meaning 2-4pm.) We watched TV, played with the dogs, snacked away, chatted, tried out the very fancy massage chairs and exercise equipment all about Uncle William's spacious flat. The moms and the helpers busied themselves in the kitchen. Everyone had something to do and we were really quite ok waiting.

By 3pm, the front door opened and people started pouring in. All these cousins and their kids from the Wu clans showed up. Aunt Tsui-Mei looking her usual gorgeous self swept in, everyone greeted each other enthusiastically.

Before the meal even started, in her grandios style, Aunt Tsui-Mei whipped out a thick stack of red envelopes--with a wad of cash inside each of the envelopes--and started dispening them to those of us who are of the younger generation among the Wuns. This, ladies and gentlemen, would be the only red envelope to be received by me this year, and it is received with a bit of thick skin for sure. As far back as I can remember, Aunt Tsui-Mei is always famous for her exceeding generosity with her red envelopes. Even though my dad and his brothers and their wives all decided that we should stop the red envelopes practice among the Wuns, Aunt Tsui-Mei will not have it. She insisted that she must give red envelopes to each and every of her niece and nephew. As one can imagine, this was a somewhat awkward moment for the grown "kids" of my generation. We really were quite beyond the legitimate age to be receiving red envelopes. They are for children--liberally defined; but then again the youngest Wun cousin of my generation is already 31 this year. Aunt Tsui-Mei tracked us down one by one, stuck a fire-engine red envelope in each of our hands, and we gratefully and giddily said thank-you. I especially profusely thanked her for the New Year envelope, and my very petite Aunt Tsui-Mei slapped me hard on my right shoulder, gesturing me to clutch my envelope hard and go off with it...

The meal started and everyone was in good spirit. There were too many of us to sit at one table so we sat divided by our respective generation. All the aunts and uncles sat together in the dining room; while there's another round table seating the 12 of us from the younger generation.

Aunt Shirley's help A-Hen kept bringing out more and more and more and more food, until finally our table was barely visible and completely covered with dishes. We ate enthusiastically and admiringly as each dish came out. But very soon we were completely in awe of the amount of food brought out from that kitchen. We looked at each other, some of us looked a bit, what's the word? Overwhelmed, by the sheer quantity of the food present. They were all extremely tasty, and were being produced at an astonishing speed.

Half way through the meal I realized maybe it was time to stage that New Year greeting toast from our table to the Aunts and Uncles. I looked around and found that I was the oldest cousin. Well, that means I had to lead the pack! I filled my glass with the liquor there on the table, and motioned EVERYONE to walk over to the Auntie and Uncle Table (AUT) with me. Everyone slowly stood up and followed suit. It was visibly clear that we were in that mode of overconsumption. Will power to diet can drastically weaken in the presence of food, especially during the Chinese New Year. We were living proof of that!!

Arriving at Destination AUT, we made a round of raucous toast, and the aunts and uncles were happy to see us. We clanked glasses and toasted, drank, filled our glasses and drank some more. This was the epitome of the New Year for all of us. The Big Reunion. I suddenly realized I have been missing this scene for almost 20 years. It almost brought tears to my eyes!

As we finally wrapped up the meal, Aunt Tsui-Mei cheerfully said to me, "come for the Walk-of-Spring very soon!!" The Walk-of-Spring is the New Year expression of a visit to a relatives' home. It sure would be nice to do the Walk-of-Spring up the hill to visit Aunt Tsui-Mei. Maybe I'll do so to mark the reinitiation of my continued dieting, after all this crazy amount of food!!

The Idyllic Villa 32

1/27/09 As I was enjoying the meal with Mom, Dad, Siu-Wan and Edward, the phone rang, and it was my cousin Jane looking for me!

I curiously took the phone from Mom and Jane told me that Aunt Shirley just called her and was wondering if I would be free to visit the hot spring in Beitou with Jane and herself. Well, would I ever say no to a hot spring soak? We quickly said ok and agreed to meet at the Shin-Beitou MRT station in 1.5 hours.

I knew I was in for a treat--but I didn't know it was a really special treat. Aunt Shirley picked Jane and I up at the Shin-Beitou MRT station, which is famous for its plentiful hot spring spas and resorts nearby. We drove up this little hill, arrived at a nondescript entrance. Two valet men greeted us. A cement block was before us. It read "32".
This was the renown Villa 32, one of the most reputable and luxurious hot spring spas not only in Beitou, but in the country and maybe even in all of Asia. Most recently it was named one of the six most romantic escapes in Asia by an international travel magazine. I had wanted to come here but haven't had the chance to. I thought our very elegant Aunt Shirley in her usual resourceful way has gotten some discount coupons or sorts for this special visit today. It turned out that she JUST wanted to come and she JUST wanted us to come with her. It's Aunt Shirley's New Year treat for Jane and I. Well, with pleasure, how could I possibly think of turning her down!!??
Even though it was dark, we started snatching pictures the moment we stepped into the door. The front garden was beautifully landscaped and we could see the mist of hot spring water even in the dark. The welcoming lighting in the reception building beckoned us and we slowly walked into it, admiring the beautiful and peaceful surroundings. We had to stop the photography as soon as we were exiting the reception area. As what was before us were the general public spa area, which means we were disrobing and there would be no more pictures! It's a shame really because the general spa was really, really, really pretty to look at. Thankfully the Villa's website has photos of the interior--Sans the naked poeple.

Aunt Shirley, Jane and myself first enjoyed a long and relaxing shower while trying out all the very luxurious bathing products at the shower. Then, we entered the zen-influenced garden spa where various pools of different types of hot springs awaited us. We soaked and drank mineral water, chatted and relaxed, watched the nearby sulpheric valley with fuming mist from the varendah which disguised and shielded us bathers cleverly from people walking about out there in the valley, while allowing us great vantage points of the very exotic volcanic landscape and views.

This was a cool evening and most ideal for hot spring visit. We took our time trying out every single pool out here in the vast garden, hardly seeing anyone else while we were in the spa. We knew there were others, but it's kind of interesting each pool was somewhat hidden from the other pools, and bathers sort of have this pact of not engaging in coversations or at times not even any eye contacts or polite knodding. It's kind of a move-on-as-others-come arrangement understood by everyone. Of course thank goodness there were no frequent movers. Everyone was taking in the hot spring pool of their choice at a slow and leisurely pace, before moving on to another pool.

After several hours(!!) we decided it was time to take a break from the hot water and move on to some beverage and refreshments. Hot spring tends to make one hungry, that's for sure!!

We wandered up to the 2nd floor of the spa building, where we found a quiet and nicely decorated relaxation room and some sleeping rooms. In the lounge area there's a huge huge huge flat screen TV, and many choices of tea, coffee, and magazines. We all sat down and tried out different beverages while reading the latest magazines, but it's hard to really do any kind of reading, even light reading such as that of a fashion magazine--I was in such a state of complete relaxation I found that I could barely even focus with my eyes open!! Thank goodness Aunt Shirley was the one to drive, ha. The service was impeccable and extremely friendly, by the way.

Finally, it was time to go...Jane, myself and Aunt Shirley reluctantly made our way out. The car was already waiting for us outside--too soon of an exit from a dreamy night at the hot spring at Villa 32!

I could see Aunt Shirley flashing her signature smile on the way home...who can resist smiling after such a great visit to such an idyllic spot!

Some Pleasant Surprise Visitors

1/27/09 Going to A-Gong's for a festive and abundant lunch turned out to be just the beginning of another exciting day of continued New Year celebration. The New Year is usually also time for friends and relatives to visit each other. This afternoon, after returning home, we received a pleasant bunch of visitors--The Chens from Hsin-Chu, which is a city south of Taipei known for its science park and many FABs (IT and semiconductor factory labs.)

We got to know the Chens back in the early 80s. Mom had an operation at a local hospital and her young nurse Siu-Wan was a pleasant and friendly girl. She became fast friends with my sister Sabrina and myself, as we visited Mom daily at the hospital and Siu-Wan found us among the very few who were somewhat close in age with her. My mom took such a liking to her that she became a "dry" daughter--the equivalence of a God daughter in the Western culture. When Siu-Wan met and started dating the very nice and handsome Mr. Edward Chen, I remembered my sister and I being invited to dinner with the pair. They are like big brother and big sister to us to this day.

Hsin-Chu my mother's hometown, and is also the city where Edward works, as he is an executive for a reputable company down at the Science Park. It is a bit far from Taipei by local standard of traveling distance and we don't see the Chens often. However in the afternoon we received news that the Chens will be coming for dinner and since Siu-Wan is a daughter of sorts to my mother, the timing is only just right for us to welcome her on the 2nd of the New Year.

A home-bound visit by a daughter is not to be taken lightly. Since neither of my sisters were coming for dinner--Su-Yi went home to rest and Sabrina is all the way in the States--Siu-Wan will be the daugther my mother will receive today on the 2nd of the New Year. Mom started cooking like mad, putting aside the fact that we just had a big fat meal at A-Gong's for lunch.

By early evening the Chens have arrived. Siu-Wan hasn't changed one bit and looks to me just like her sweet self back in the day; it's hard to believe she already has a teenage daugther and a 9-year-old son of her own. Edward also was in great spirit and being the ever so discerning gentleman that he is, he brought a great bottle of wine--which we happily drank over dinner enthusiastically prepared by Mom.

We enjoyed the meal and the conversation while the two lovely kids ran about in our flat. It was to me what the Chinese New Year is all about--family getting together, friendship reacquainted, and a good time and good food to be had.

Alas, this is not the end of my fun on the 2nd of the New Year...there's more to come all within 24 exciting hours.

Lunch at Grandpa's on the 2nd of New Year

1/27/09 Interestingly and unexpectedly, January 1st of the Lunar New Year was not as action packed. I had a relaxing day up at the mountain walking dogs with Uncle William, to be followed by a stroll through Eslite Bookstore with my sister and brother-in-law. Spent the night at Su-Yi's and cooked a simple home cooked meal for the three of us. A perfectly perfect quiet and relaxing day.
But the 2nd of the New Year is always a fun day to look forward to, as it is traditionally reserved for the married daughters to return to their original families and spend the day with their parents. On this day, we always return to my maternal grand parents' home for a big meal and fun get-together with my aunts and cousins.
A-Gong--which is how I call my maternal grandpa--is my only remaining grandparent. He is 92 years old this year and despite some failing memory, he is usually quite in good spirit. Mom and Dad and I got ready and arrived promptly by lunch time at A-Gong's apartment, to find my Aunt Lisha, her daughters Chi Chi and Yong-En, my sister Su-Yi and brother-in-law Andy already arrived and having a jovial time.
The meal was prepared by my eldest uncle's wife Aunt So-Jing, and A-Gong's domestic caretaker. We sat around the big old table with the lazy suzy turner that's been around at A-Gong's for as long as I can remember.
The lazy suzy is laiden with food. I perused the table and find the usual New Year fare of chicken, sausages, fish, shrimp, vegetables with lucky meanings, and last but not least, roasted striped mullet roe--and if you wonder about that, it is indeed a mysterious item. Pressed stripped mullet fish roe roasted on fire and then sliced into thin slices, to be consumed with equally thin slices of radish or green onion. Acquire taste, but yum yum to those who like it, and definitely considered a delicacy and definitely a New Year thing.
Aunt So-Jing whipped out the bottle of whiskey and, voila!! We were in business tackling another full blown meal!!
The conversation largely surrounds Su-Yi's upcoming birth. She's about to pop any day now.
A-Gong does not remember hardly anyone's name, but he kept toasting througout the meal. So cute! It's good to see him in good spirit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Bookstore

1/26/09 After the New Years Eve, the actual Near Year Day seems an anti-climax. I woke up pretty late from my baby-like sleep expectedly so after my visit to the hot spring the previous night. I found that there was actually NOTHING ON THE AGENDA TODAY!! Alas, the state of nothingness lasted for but one hour. My sister Su-Yi and brother-in-law Andy showed up and they decided to take me to the Eslite Bookstore Flagship Store in Eastern Taipei.

I love going to bookstores. Big bookstores, little bookstores, specialty bookstores and any kind of bookstores. There's something about going to an actual bookstore that is very therapeutic. Especially, the Eslite bookstore chain in Taiwan is really quite something. They are chic and elegant looking at the same time, and the selection of books is fantastic. In addition to books, there are also designer-packaged indiginous Taiwanese food products sold here, as if they are fashion items.

My sister Su-Yi took me to the flagship store and we surprisingly found just about the entire population of the City here. It was pretty crowded! But quiet nonetheless. It's as if everyone knows that the bookstore is not meant for raucous new year celebration.

Another reason we came here was because Su-Yi and Andy are architects and the Eslite Bookstore has the best selection of architectural and interior design books. Also, Su-Yi's firm handles all of Eslite's interior. She wanted to show me what she worked on. Interesting!!

Of all the Eslite branches, the most famous in Taipei outside of the Flagship store is probably the one on the Ren-Ai Circle in Taipei City. This is a 24-hour bookstore and it's known to be the "Social Eslite". This reminds me of the "Social Safeway" supermarkets in Washington DC and in San Francisco. While the food may not be abundently available and the produce may not be top notch, the shoppers at these Safeways are certainly mostly very chic looking for grocery shopping. Likewise, the Social Eslite boasts probably the most dressed up bookstore goers one can imagine seeing...I wouldn't mind going next time at wee hours just to watch the people.

I snatched a photo inside of the Japanese book section inside the bookstore, where I spent quite a bit of time browsing.

This turned out to be a very relaxing afternoon and a break from all the food of the previous 24 hours...

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Hot Spring on New Year's Eve

1/25/09 After the Chinese New Year Dinner Extravaganza, all of us stumbled into Uncle William's living room with a full stomach. No one called the card game this year, and the Moms and Dads decided to turn in early. My cousins Ella, Jane and I decided to venture out to do something subdue but fun. Well, what better place to go than to visit the hot springs.

Many places that are prone to earthquakes are abundant with hot springs. Taiwan is one of those places. I grew up with earth quakes large and small, and I grew up enjoying the hot springs that are so abundantly available in northern Taipei. The town of Beitou, which is only several MRT stops away, is known for its plentiful hot spring resort hotels and day spas.

Hot spring carries therapeutic effects on many ailment, including skin conditions, nervous system conditions, and circulation problems; it also promotes general good health. Most Taiwanese day spas or resorts go by the Japanese style of hot spring spa setup, meaning one can take communal all-natural style bath in huge swimming pool-size bath tubs, either indoor or outdoors. These hot spring facilities usually have beautifully appointed indoors bathing spaces, or landscaped garden-setting for outdoors pools. Some facilities require bathing suits when using the hot spring pools; but I prefer those that asks you to go in wearing just your birthday suit...once tried, there's no going back to wearing a bathing suit when enjoying the hot spring. Concerns about seeing others in their most natural state? Nah. Rather, the focus is on relaxation, and I can't get enough of that!

I love a good soak in the hot spring. When Ella and Jane suggested to do so, I jumped at the chance. This is my first visit to the hot spring since coming back to Taiwan! And what a great way to start a new year.

We met up with Ella's neighbor A-Yu, who is about the same age as me. The four of us gals jumped in the car and a short drive later we arrived at the Maple Landis Hotel, in Shin-Beitou district in northern Taipei. Maple Landis is a new hotel under the Landis chain, and I was stunned with the elegant beauty of the hotel upon entering its foyer. We were the only customers at the bathhouse at this late hour.

The bath house was an indoors facility and is a communal bathhouse, male and female separated, in Japanese hot spring style set up. We entered the female bathhouse and first encountered a really nice and elegant locker room. We were each given a locker for us to store our personal belongings and clothing. Then, it's bath time. We entered the bathroom--it's really more like a bath "hall"--and found it a wonderful oasis of beautifully appointed teak wood furniture, huge marble-lined bath pools, lounge chairs, with magazines, teas and mineral water in abundant supply. There was also steam room and a cedar-lined sauna room.

Observing the hot spring etiquette, we each washed thoroughly at the showers alongside the hot spring pools. One good thing about coming to the hot spring spa is that the spa resorts always supply the most interesting toilettries, including shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser, and shower gel and so on of different "flavors". For us girls, it's like going to the candy store. We took our time trying out those different body and hair products. After showering, we went right into the hot spring bath pools and, oooohhhh, awwwww, hhhmmmmm.....it certainly was really nice and relaxing. The water was very hot (38-42 degrees celcius depending on which of the 3 pools you choose to get into) but after the initial 30 seconds of getting used to the water temperature, the soft silky smoothness of the hot spring water makes it a completely unbelievably soothing experience.

Maple Landis' hot spring facilities is indoors only. But the bath house is really well ventilated that we were not in lack of fresh air. We sat in the hot water and chit chatted away. Time went by quickly as we went in and out of different pools to try out different spring water, sauna and steam, taking breaks on the lounge chairs enjoying tea and magazines.

After several hours we thought we were quite sufficiently relaxed and finally were ready to get going. As we were exiting, the Hotel staff gave us two big bags full of desserts. It turned out the desserts were included in the bathing package we purchased; just that it was so late and they figured we were not going to be eating here (which indeed we were not going to...) and as such they packed things for us to take home with. How sweet!

As we exited the hotel, the late night air was so fresh and crisp. I really couldn't think because I was so relaxed...but I tried to imagine a little bit about the next few days of new year celebration still ahead...well, life certainly is good!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The One, The Only, The Chinese New Year Dinner!!!!

1/25/09 After all day's waiting, finally, finally, finally, the Chinese New Year Dinner commenced.

Of course the best part of the meal was the conversation and seeing everyone. Of all the Wun cousins, only two were missing this year.

We had some very special dishes for the New Year. First and foremost, the must-have fish dish--as fish symbolizes abundance and everlasting wealth. Then, there's the chicken and pork dishes. There's also the very Taiwanese New Year dishes of pork sausages and preserved striped mullet fish row, sliced and served with raw radish and green onion slices. Uncle Jack and Aunt Cherie also brought their famous seafood dishes. Uncle Jack made my favorite marinated clams, abalone salad, and king crab legs. Aunt Cherie made some very fancy stir-fry dishes of different kinds of delicacies. There were so many dishes on the table we had to layer them--and the dining table was squishy with everyone around it. More were brought out from the kitchen as the meal progressed.

Miss A-Hen, the very capable domestic helper at Uncle William's, busied in and out of the kitchen. She was invited to eat with the family, but as it turned out, she didn't have a moment to sit down. Thanks to her, we had a wonderful meal where my aunts could sit down to eat with everyone else. As for helping out, forget the Wun men!! Two generations of Wun males were comfortably seated and I didn't see any of them showing any interest in kitchen matters! Shall we say typical male behavior on an international scale? (This is with the exception of Uncle Jack who cooked before arrival and brought dishes that hit the spot...Now that's my Uncle Jack!!)

Let's not forget about the beverages of the night. Dad brought a bottle of Chilean red wine from 1981; and Aunt Sherry also had some very special gaolian liquor from Kinmen Island (which is off the Coast of China but under Taiwan governance.) There were also some very unique tea served after dinner.

Last but not least there was also beautiful fruit platters of cherries, pineapples, guavas and wax apples served after dinner. The red, yellow, green and pink made a beautiful combination in the platter and it did help with digestion somewhat--somewhat b/c no matter how hard one tried to exercise self control, it's just not one of those situations where success is not really possible...thank goodness I went walking beforehand...

What To Do With The Mandarin Oranges?

Dear Friends,

The big news of the week in Taiwan is the overproduction of mandarin oranges this year. The price has gone to USD 3 cents per orange; yet no one is buying!

What are some mandarin orange recipes that may come to mind? Let me know and I'll be on my way to buy up oranges to help the orange farmers out!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ancestral Worshipping, and other traditions

1/25 Before eating the dinner, all the Chinese New Year food is offered to the ancestors before the offering table where the family plaque is placed.

We are a semi-traditional family. Our family rituals are quite simplified. Many of the older traditions like bowing or kneeling on the floor kow-towing to the elders were never practiced at our family. The tradition of new year cash gift from older family members to younger family members have been mostly abolished within the Wun Family (!!!!!) to my dismay and relief. Dismay b/c we don't get money; but relieved because we don't have to give money. We used to play a round of black jack with our new year money, which, in addition to instant redistribution of our temporary wealth, was also a rare occassion when everyone is truly equal to others on that card table; but that has since stopped as well with the abandoning of the red envelopes custom at our family.

Alas, being a good daughter of firm belief in filial piety, I still placed red envelopes with what I thought to be fair amount that would make Mom and Dad happy on their desks respectively, before taking off for dinner today. I have been treated like a princess since coming home that this is one of those rare chances when I can say thanks to them. Maybe one day when I strike that pot of gold I can do up the red envelope thing in grand style...

The Wun Family's ancestral plaque is placed in the alcove at Uncle William's home. Actually Dad is the eldest son, but I suppose it is there at Uncle William's b/c Dad has all girls and our children will not be carrying the Wun family name; and Uncle William's son, my cousin Chiway, will be the next person housing the family plaque, and so on, and so forth. As such Uncle William takes care of the family plaque. In this day and age of equal opportunity and male-female equality, it's kind of interesting to think about the reasoning behind this practice at all. But I've grown used to seeing the family plaque at Uncle William's and Aunt Sherry makes sure there's always fruits, flowers and incense in the offering. And even though none of us have ever been to Chuan-Zhou city in Fujian Province of China, I have always felt some sort of affinity to the place since I've seen that city's name for soooooo many years.

Ancestral worshipping is a tradition that I hold quite dear to my heart even though I haven't done it for many years now. When I think of ancestors, I think of my gramps who passed when I was a child. I remember them quite vividly even though they passed when I was only 3 or 4. When I worship them, I simply say a little prayer. This year there was no incense offered. But the food for Chinese New Year was first offered to the ancestors. Which means we get a preview of what we are about to eat...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Uncle William and His Dogs

1/25/09 The only thing one ever does during the Chinese New Year is eat, and then eat, and then eat some more. This gets to be tough from time to time. So, before launching into heavy duty eating today, Uncle William decided to take me for a walk, to the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) Campus.

The TNUA campus is but 5 minutes walk from the front door of Uncle William's place. The school is located on hundreds of acres of land, beautifully landscaped and with fine view over the Taipei basin. Uncle William makes it a habit to feed stray dogs in his neighborhood--and the abundance of stray dogs is a problem here in Taiwan. Many Taiwanese buy dogs from pet stores or pet stands in the night market, and then realize they don't want to keep pets anymore due to space constraint. Some would just abandon the dogs and let them loose!! It has gotten a bit better over the years but one can still fequently see stray dogs in the City of Taipei.

We walked around the campus and Uncle William showed me his usual path. This campus is so nice and spacious. There are all kinds of large sculptures placed here and there on the campus. The view is very clear today. Uncle William's dog friends heard his whistling and showed up like little children jumping about him. He fed them, and played with them a little bit, and then we walked about.
Uncle William also showed me the swimming pool. He swims here at their fantastic indoors pool every moring and is a part of the local community swimming troop. I may consider coming here to swim in the evenings, too.
After about an hour of walking around in brisk pace, we strolled back to the apartment and now I'm ready for that big New Years Eve meal...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The New Year's Eve at the Wun's

1/25/09 Finally, after eager anticipation, it is the Chinese New Year's Eve!!

The family dinner is held at Uncle William and Aunt Sherry's, as usual. It's eve so exciting to see my uncles, aunts and cousins again. Mom, Dad and I started making way to Uncle Williams by about 4:00pm. Everyone is there already! This is my first Chinese New Year at home in over a decade. Everyone warmly greeted me and everyone showered me with compliments on my success in weight loss. I guess there's looming worries also about how long I can keep this slimming effort up in view of the commencing Chinese New Year celebration, since it is a known fact that starting right this dinner one will be eating nonstop for about the next 10 days.

While Mom, Aunt Sherry, Aunt Cherie and Aunt Sherry's most abled Vietnamese domestic help Miss A-Hen busied about in the kitchen, everyone else just sits back and snacks away. The enormous coffee table at Uncle Williams' is piled with all kinds of goodies particularly prepared for the Chinese New Year--the mixed nuts, the oranges, the preserved plums, and the list goes on and on. There are no "kids" per se. All of us Wun cousins of my generation in the 30s are the kids.

Even sitting around watching TV and chatting w/ cousins was a lot of fun! Little did we know the snacking and chatting was just the beginning of a fun evening...

Saturday, February 7, 2009


1/25/09 Like everywhere else in the world, Taiwan is filled to the brim with fast food chains. Of which, McDonald's is the obvious leader of the pack. However, i was surprised to find the fancy version of McDonald here right near where I live.

This morning Friend N and I went to the McCafe to have breakfast. Well, this just might become my new favorite spot.

The MacCafe concept seems only available outside of the United States--at least I've never seen them in the US of A. This McCafe that I visited is converted from a long-standing McDonald which has been here on this corner of the Chung Shang North Road and Chung Cheng Road for at least the last 20 years. Now that it is a McCafe, it's got a more sophisticated exterior, mostly brown, with cafe-style umbrellas and tables outside on the terrace. The interior is bright and spacious; all counter tops made of granite. Tables well made, none wabbly; even the chairs seem quite upscale.
I ordered a latte, and the coffee drink arrived momentarily and just perfect looking. There are pastries and cakes in the display window. And they are pretty delicious looking!
N originally asked if I wanted to go to some other local or Japanese-invested chain cafes--there is the Starbucks, the Dantes, the Ikaris, and the Manabes, as well as various individual cafes. But after trying the McCafe, I may have to look into the McDonald stock...!!

Good Old Friends and Some New Friends (II)

1/24/09 This evening I went to the Lins for what I thought would be a brief visit but turned out to be a long 2-hour lovely chat.

Benny and Amy are long time friends from the Bay Area. It wasn't until we met in the Bay Area that we discovered that Amy and I went to the same elementary school in Taipei! Amy's family lives right nearby the school, and prior to my return to Taipei Amy had contacted her family to make sure that we meet and get together. Uncle Lin called twice already and I hadn't had a chance to go visit. On this lovely evening right before the Chinese New Year, I decided it was time to visit the Lins' home.

A short 15 minute walk took me to the "Xing Fu Jie" Lane, which, in Chinese, transliterally means "Happy Lucky Lane". What a nice street name. The Lins have lived on this street since supposedly 30+ years ago. I also have some elementary school and kindergarten friends on this street. It's been a long while since I set foot on this street.

Soon enough I located the right building and the Lins took me into their home. This was the first time for me to meet Lin Bobo ("revered uncle"), Lin Mama and D, who is Amy's younger sister and is the same age as me. Their home is a very lovely, welcoming, yet unassuming apartment, with a grand piano smack in the middle of the living room. I know Amy plays piano beautifully and I knew she learned piano from Lin Mama, who is a retired music teacher at a local highschool. D also place piano and plays at her church on Sundays.

Lin Bobo went to San Francisco to visit Amy and I missed the call for me to play local host, thus we didn't meet at that time. He is a kind-looking, energetic man of medium stature and salt-and-pepper hair. I was ushered into the living room where I sat and was quickly greeted by Lin Mama and D a moment later. They are so warm, nice and friendly that I quickly grew fond of them. We started chatting and very quickly the pleasant conversation went on and on and before I knew it, 2 hours passed!

Before we parted, the Lins invited me to church the following morning. They attend the Free Methodist Church right by my elementary school. I didn't have any plans the following morning so I thought it a good idea to go to the service. This set the Lins into action and quickly they produced a detailed map--so detailed it should have been submitted to the Taipei City Government to be incorporated into the official City Map.

Reluctantly we parted ways. The Lins sent me off and we were all happy to have made new friends.

I walked down the dimly lit and very narrow Happy Lucky Lane, noticing both the odor of motor-bike exhaust mixed with the fragrance of night-blooming flowers from the neighborhood fence in the air. One could also hear the occassional dog barking and the somewhat disaccording but pleasant enough sounding music from some kid practicing the piano. These are the sensations I remember, that are so specifically particular of Taipei. As I walked the Happy Lucky Lane, I thought to myself how happy and lucky I have been since coming back to the City with so much of my memories, and so many people who are dear to me. Happy and lucky I am, indeed!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Good Old Friends and Some New Friends (I)

1/24/09 In Taiwan, I have only resided in the Shih-Lin district of Taipei since I was born. My elementary school is in the area, 15 minutes by foot from the apartment that I grew up in. All my immediate family and closer relatives are almost all in Shih-Lin, and I am truly fond of this area. It is scenic, cultural, with great night life, great shopping, great food, and all that jazz. I'm sure every Taipeian (that is officially a word now, says ME) has their particular neighborhood that they are attached to. Mine is Shih-Lin, and more than thinking of myself as a Taipeian, I have to say I identify myself as a Shih-Linian, first and foremost.

To my amazement, many of my fellow Taipeians and Shih-Linians have stayed put and never moved away; or they have moved far away, and some for a long time, but then they decided to move back, despite the fact that they are quite international, really. Maybe they also sense the special something that I sense in Taipei and in Shih-Lin. Once you are a Taipeian, you carry a little of the oxymoron big-city-crazy and the small-town-charm of Taipei with you at all times. Today I met with some old friends and new friends which validate this observation of mine.

Before coming back, I made plans with my friend N from my elementary school days to meet up upon return. Like me he also hasn't moved since his elementary school days. (I mean, I've moved, but I'm back!! So it's as if I haven't moved. Right?) Finally today we had some time to meet up. N and I decided to head to the Takashimaya Department Store which is a short taxi ride away from the MRT station nearest my home. (Actually there's a free shuttle bus from the MRT station, too. Convenient! I will have to control myself so I hop on that free shuttle bus all the time...) The Takashimaya Department Store here in the neighborhood is very popular with all the locals, and it's got a good mix of high-end and affordable goods. I especially like the bookstore within as well as the restaurants within the Department Store.

N is a landscape designer at a large construction company and he frequented Vietnam for work quite a bit. As such we decided to go for Southeastern Asian food. Among the restaurants within Takashimaya, we decided on The Spoon, which is a Thai restaurant. The very finely decorated restaurant has a pre-fixe menu for two people (good deal!) and we got to make some selections also among the pre-fixe items. The service was great, too.

While enjoying the food we chatted about the elementary days. We reminisced about the good old days...I cannot believe it's that very many years ago!

N and I profusely complimented each other on how we each haven't changed whatsoever--which, I'm sure to whomever else would be a blatant lie; but the funny thing is I think we were both pretty genuine about this and it is true that we didn't have any problem recognizing each other from the good old days even though the last time we saw each other was at least 10 years ago, and, before then, when we were in elementary school. In fact, I didn't keep in touch with that many from pre-highschool days, much less elementary school days. N and I actually re-connected thanks to the Internet quite accidentally, about 10 years ago. Amazing. The cyber world.

We had some great food--Thai fish cake, seafood salad, and some delicious chicken curry. But of course the best thing was that I got to spend some time with some good old friend.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Andy's Birthday Celebration

1/23/09 Yesterday was my brother-in-law Andy's birthday. Dad invited us all for a birthday celebration at Restaurant "Izakaya Watami" for dinner.

"Izakaya" (pronounced "eeee-za-ka-yah") is actually a Japanese word rather than a Chinese word. And, rather than a restaurant, an Izakaya is actually the place to enjoy alcoholic beverages while having some light snacks. It is best described as a subdued version of a bar.

Izakaya Watami is a Japanese franchise restaurant. The particular restaurant we went to was on Tun-Hwa South Road, which is one of the main thoroughfares in Taipei.

I haven't seen my pregnant sister Su-Yi much at all since coming back to Taipei. Neither have I seen Andy really, except for the two seconds at the door the other day. This birthday would be Andy's last BD before he becomes a Dad, since Su-Yi is about to pop the baby out anytime now. Thanks to Dad's invite, it's nice to have some time to sit down and enjoy a nice meal and good conversation together. Besides Mom, Dad, Su-Yi, Andy and me, Andy's parents Huang Mama and Huang Papa, as well as my Uncle William and cousin Ella were here at the dinner, too. It's been a while since I've been in the same city with so many relatives. But now I realize it's kind of nice to just call people up, and off you go and there's a party in progress!

Because the business was so good, Restaurant Izakaya Watami not only required reservation, it also required you to leave at a particular time. In other words the reservation gaurantees your seating for a pretty specific block of time. That's something new for me.

We had beautiful sashimi (raw fish) dishes, all kinds of Japanese dishes to go with some fine wine and sake. Everyone had a great time. Andy's parents came with the world's most delicious cheese cake. It really was a great dinner!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cafe by the National Park

1/22/09 I have the good fortune of living right near the Yangmingshan National Park, which is located within the City of Taipei, to the northern rim of the Taipei basin. Finally I get to visit again today.

What a beautiful spot this is. Growing up, I have come here so many times to hike, to picnic, and to look at the spring blossoms in season. The family graveyard is also on Mt. Yangmingshan inside of the municipal cemetary. I remember paying annual tribute to Grandpa, Grandma and the never-met great grand parents every year on the day of the Tomb Sweeping Festival.

The Datun Nature Reserve was the perfect place for an excellent and relaxing walk-about. It was misty and damp but green everywhere.

Half way through the afternoon, it was time for coffee. Smack inside of the park there's the winding Jingshan Road lined with secluded cafes. This time I had coffee at Cafe 19. The place looks like a French farm house. Large windows opened up to the beautiful garden featuring a creek and two madly blooming cherry blossom trees by the water. There are seats, sofas, mattresses, everywhere. Curling up on the sofa sipping my coffee, the very handsome owner Wei Wei asked me if I wanted a blanket. !!!! That just made it all perfect for a quiet afternoon in the Yangmingshan National Park.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Old Wedding Picture

1/21/09 Dad's sister Aunt Tsui-Mei and Uncle Ga-Lock moved to their new mansion--and a mansion it is. Dad and I were invited for dinner; Mom couldn't go as she had other plans that evening.

The house certainly is beautiful, as expected. The view was fantastic and I felt like I was in a Hollywood movie, wondering around in and out of different rooms to admire the spectacular decors. Dad and I agreed that the swimming pool reminded us of the Hearst Castle's swimming pool.

While looking around, the one thing that caught my eyes was not so much the chandeliers or the paintings, but this old weddin picture of Aunt Tsui-Mei and Uncle Ga-Lock. They were so young and happy looking. I've only seen Aunt Tsui-Mei clad in luxurious and well-coordinated outfits with, shall we say, sufficient amount of makeup; and Uncle Ga-Lock in, uh, uncle-like outfits. It was surprising to see them in their early 20s in the wedding picture. The happy glow of their faces were incredibly beautiful. I couldn't help to snatch a digital photo of it. It's a touching moment to see this picture for me. Aunt Tsui-Mei in her elegant bridal ware, with her typical Wun's slender eyes, the wide forehead, and the round chin; and Uncle Ga-Lock with his handsomely chiseled nose and thick brows. I tried to imagine their happy thoughts at the moment of taking this picture. They were looking forward to a life together, but they wouldn't have known they were to have five children who would grow up to be kind and talented individuals, and 10 beautiful grand children.

They are still happy looking after 50-some years, and now that I've seen this picture, everytime I see Aunt Tsui-Mei and Uncle Ga-Lock, I see the younger them montaging over their faces now with all the hopes in their eyes. Except now I also see fulfilled happiness in their eyes.

Aunt Sherry's Hot Spring Apartment

1/20/09 Taipei is known for its abundant hot springs with therapeutic effects. There are many bath houses in northern part of the City. Lately there are also hot spring residences and hot spring apartments in the suburbs.

Aunt Sherry's hot spring residence is a cute small condo near the coast of Ba-Li District in northern Taipei county (think of the Marina/Fisherman's Wharf District of San Francisco.) She took me there in the afternoon just to show me around.

Ba-Li is a nice little area, on the left bank of Tamsui River, which is the river that goes through Taipei basin. Tamsui River goes into the Taiwan straight right from the area nearing Tamsui and Ba-Li, as such there are some swamp lands right near the river mouth. The mangrove trees are quite pretty to look at, actually. One can see them even just riding on the MRT looking out the window.

I have never been to a hot spring condo, so I didn't know what to expect. WELL, the condo is acutally in a resort hotel-like high rise building. The security guards greeted us and showed us around the building and all its public facilities which is accessible to all residents of the building--includin reading room, gym, hot spring spa, sauna, steam room, entertainment rooms, and so on.

The condo itself is decorated very exquisitely. Aunt Sherry showed me the bathroom. For a small one-bedroom condo (only about 800 SQ FT), the bathroom is certainly beautiful and spacious!! The bathtub is extremely large and the hot water source is local sulpheric hot spring. Quite delux, one might say!!

No one lives here; Aunt Sherry and Uncle William just come here once in a while whenever they need a rest or a little bit of getaway. It certainly is a nice little relaxing spot. Aunt Sherry is thinking of renting it out and I get to manage the rental for her. Anyone interested, please contact me!!

After seeing the place we walked around the complex--the view from the riverbank is serene and gorgeous. From here one can see Tamsui and all the lights twinkling on the river water.

Aunt Sherry and Uncle William kept telling me to come here and use the condo whenever I want. How LUCKY I am!! Now that's Taiwan to me. Everyone is just over the top nice and kind. Thank you Aunt Sherry and Uncle William!! You Da Best!!!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Danzai Noodle House

1/19/09 After the massage, good food was in order. I was taken to a traditional Taiwanese noodle house to have "danzai" noodle.

Danzai noodle is a soupy bowl of noodle with braised pork topping, usually only sold on noodle stands on the streets. The word "danzai" literally means the noodle cart on the street. It originated from the city of Tainan, in southwestern Taiwan. However this restaurant where we had dinner has modified the taste of Tanan danzai noodle to suit the northern Taiwanese palette. The Haoji (pronounced "How Gee") danzai noodle house is located in one of the more historic districts in Taipei. It has been around for only 10 years but it looks like a store with a lot more history.

The store is decorated in a nostalgic old Taiwanese style from the 1940s and 50s. There are indoor seating or seats straight on the streets. One can also choose from dozens of sample dishes displayed right outside the store. This was an excellent experience in sampling some of the down home Taiwanese local flavors. It seems the composition of their client base is mostly locals or Japanese tourists. Well, I certainly felt somewhat of a tourist at this unique restaurant.

We had noodles, veggies, soy sauce and garlic-marinated clams, and this excellent steamed guord dish. Everything was delicious and it certainly was a great ending to a great day...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year

While I'm still catching up with posts on various over the last week or so, I do want to wish all my friends and family out there a Happy Chinese New Year!!

May the year of the OX bring everyone good health, good fortune, and lots of happiness.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thai Massage

1/19/09 I love massage. There are plenty of options in massages in Taiwan. There are foot massage parlors, 24-hour walk in parlors, "blind people" massage parlors--and yes, advertised as so--where the visually impared are often sent to massage schools by their families and then placed in massage places that employ only visually impared massage therapists. This is a pretty traditional practice that has been around for years, since massage therapy is a job that does not necessarily require the ability to see. Then there's day spas of all kinds; and then there's Thai massage, which came from Thailand, of course, and has caught on in Taiwan since Thailand is so close and Thai massage is so wonderful!!!

The Thai massage I received today was the first massage since returning to Taiwan. Again, this was compliments of my dear friend V. I'm spoiled rotten by friends and family here. Dad says that this is my Taiwan honeymoon; let's see how long this streak of luck lasts.

V and I stepped into the nicely appointed spa, and were ushered to the nice seats to have our feet scrubbe and washed. I felt like a princess already!

After having our feet carefully attended to, we were taken to a room with two mattresses on the floor, with television sets hanging from the ceiling. We changed into the pajama sets provided by the spa, each took a mattress and laid down and started watching TV. This is relaxing aleady!!

Soon thereafter, my massage therapist came in. V and I each requested a Thai massage therapist from Thailand--I have no particular preference but V is convinced that the Thai massage therapists--as opposed to Taiwanese ones--give better and more authentic massages. As such I went with her arrangement b/c she's a regular customer here.

My massage therapist came in and I greeted her with the only Thai word I know of: "sawadeeka", meaning "hello". She started kneadind me with all kinds of techniques and soon I was so relaxed I fell asleep. During the sleepy two hours I remember being bent in pretty interesting ways--as in I have no idea human body or my body could be as flexible as such. I was awaken again when my massage therapist needed to stretch me. I was asked to sit up, put hands on back of my head, and off she went sttttrrrrreeeeeetttcccchhhhhiiinnnnngggg me like a piece of dough. I heard my spine crack loudly although I felt no pain.

Hmmmm~that was total relaxation, for sure.

Here's the website of Siam Spa which I visited: http://www.siamspa.com.tw/

Friday, January 23, 2009

Playing Er-Hu at the Tea House


Friend V took me to a Chinese tea house for lunch. I was so pleasantly surprised with the unique look of the place. Who would've thought that there's such a cute place in such a non-descript alley? The tea house is of a Ming Dynasty Chinese feel in its interior decoration. The window frames, tables, and chairs were very traditional looking; I felt as if I've stepped into a different era.
The food was delicious and well presented. The tea was also aromatic and smooth to the taste. But what caugnt my eyes were the two Er-Hu's (pronounced "uh-rrr-hu") hanging on the wall.
Transliterally, "Er" means "two", and "Hu" means "barbarian"--yah, barbarian. The name clearly indicates that the instrument has two strings, and is from outside of China originally, most likely central or western Asia. However, seeing that this instrument has been around in China for over a thousand years, let's just say it's pretty much considered a Chinese instrument.
The owner of the place saw me looking at the Er-Hu's, so he took one off the wall and had me try it out. Well, I just knew at some point those violin lessons I took would come in handy!!
Er-Hu is a wonderful sounding string instrument. I wouldn't mind coming back here to give it another try. The owner said he would give me a few free lessons...

Finally, the Concert...


While in the US of A before my return to Taipei, I found out that Natsukawa Miri, one of my favorite singers was holding a concert on January 17th in Taipei. I asked my friend V to go with me; and V was so generous that this ended up being a treat to me!!

We met up at the MRT station near my place, and then trained into the Eastern District of Taipei.
East Taipei has become quite the neuvo downtown. During my childhood years, Western Taipei was all the rage. I still remember Mom taking us to the bookstores or shopping arcades in Western Taipei. But now, with Taipei 101 (the tallest building in the world) located in Eastern Taipei, this area has become the more happening part of TPE, and it definitely exudes that worldly metropolitan feel. I almost did not recognize my way even though I worked around here for two years on assignment in the mid-90s. Thanks to V we found our way in no time whatsoever.

We walked briskly towards the Taipei Convention Center, which was where the concert was; but this being my first chance to go by Taipei 101 since my return, we stopped to snatch a few pictures. I can't really quite explain why a tall building makes me proud, but yes, I'm pretty darn proud that I'm standing looking right at the tallest building in the world, and it's right here in my hometown of Taipei, a short MRT ride away. It's an awesome sight at night, with all the lights on. I couldn't help glancing up at the building as I walked down the street!
At the Convention Center, we bypassed all the venders selling those glow-in-the-dark wands, rushed upstairs, got to our seats and eagerly awaited the start of the concert.
The singer we were there to see was Natsukwa Miri, who is a Japanese singer originally from Okinawa, Japan. She is from the Ishigaki Island, which is so close to Taiwan that on a good day supposedly one can see Taiwan from Ishigaki with bare eyes.
Natsukawa has a beautiful crystal-clear voice and she sings with such moving emotions that I fell in love with her songs the first time I heard her. She sings Japanese pop, folk songs, as well as songs from the islands of Okinawa. Cliche as it may be, I do like best the one song that is Natsukawa's claim to fame, that everyone else also likes, which is "Nada Sou Sou". This is a song written by my all-time-favorite Japanese folk song singer Moriyama Ryoko. I went to Moriyama Ryoko's concert in the Bay Area at Yoshi's a few years ago hoping she would sing this song. She sang many wonderful songs that day, but not this one. I could only listen to it on her CD. It's such a treat that I get to listen to Natsukawa sing this beautiful tune live--and I know she would. The song Nada Sou Sou was written by Moriyama in memory of her older brother who died at the young age of 23. It truly is a beautiful song and I never tire of listening to it.
The concert started pretty much on time and Natukawa's sweet voice filled the entire convention center. Everyone was quiet and mesmerized. When she finally sang Nada Sou Sou, it was so moving my friend V started crying!!
Natsukawa talked to the audience in between songs. She talked about how she liked Taiwan; introduced her newly wedded husband who is the drummer on stage; and talked about the songs and their meanings, and so on. One can tell she's a woman of very sweet but lively nature. The last few songs were Okinawan songs, and the Okinawans are known for their festive and fun-loving nature. Natsukawa got the entire audience of several thousand people to stand up and sing and dance with her to the Okinawan tunes. The singer told the audience to carry away and not worry about the person in the next seat looking at you funny...and the audience was really cooperative. As far as I could see the entire convention center was really into the Okinawan song and dance. What a sight!
After the concert, seeing that we were in the neighborhood, we went to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where I have many treasured memories because I spent so much time there back when I was living in Taipei. Had a few (too many...blush) drinks and some snacks at the Cheers bar and hopped into a taxi to get home, thus concluding a perfect evening.
Natsukawa Miri's website: http://www.rimirimi.jp/free/

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Economic Stimulus Coupons Are Here!!


The news of the week in Taiwan would be the issuance of the ecnomic stimulus shopping coupons by the Taiwan Government. The coupons are coming and everyone's excited about them. Mom and Dad were eagerly awaiting the notification slip in the mail. The first thing out of everyone's mouth seems to be: "Have you gone to get the coupons yet?" It seems this economy stimulus policy would at least make people happy for a day or two amidst the dismal news one sees each day.
I too was thinking that I made it back just in time to get the coupons. ALAS!! I am not eligible for the coupons due to the fact that I have not "resided" to Taiwan over the last two years. As such my household registration expired and I was not considered a valid resident at my household when the government counted heads for coupon issuance. Boohoo. Nevertheless, I still benefited from the coupons disseminated by the government. How? Well, in the most quintessential Taiwanese way--I was taken to a great meal by Aunt Pauline.
Aunt Sherry, M and I showed up at Aunt Pauline's around 5pm as planned; and we sat around and chit chatted until it was time to go to dinner. Aunt Pauline took us to the Jily (pronounced "jee-lee") Restaurant which has been around in the Pan Chiao district in Taipei County for the last 40 years under the same ownership.
The food at the restaurant is a fusion of tranditional Taiwanese seafood fare with Japanese influence. We tried to order a light and healthy combination of dishes, and were quite successful at it. The meal started with an Asian seafood salad, which was beautifully presented and tangy and refreshing; then we had a brothy tofu dish, a huge piece of grilled Spanish Mackerel, and a drunken chicken cold cut platter; and I also ordered an asparagus and shrimp temaki sushi roll.
Even though we were in our own compartment when eating, one could tell that the entire restaurant is packed and everyone is in this joyous mood. According to Aunt Pauline this has not been the case for a while no matter where you go in Taipei. Well, I'm glad the stimulus coupons put everyone in a good mood, and that I got a great meal out of it even though I didn't get any myself!!

Church on Sunday


My friend M, whom I met in Poland two years ago, has moved back to Taiwan as of last year. She asked me to meet on Sunday and to go with her to her church. I thought it would be a good idea so we made plans to meet early the first Sunday upon my return to Taiwan.

M's church is called Change Life Church, and is an evangelical covenant church. I seldom visited an evangelical church, so I was pretty excited to see the service knowing it would be pretty festive.

The church is a good 20 minutes by MRT from my home. M and I met at the nearest MRT station, and a short stroll later we arrived at the church.

I was surprised by how modern the church looked like. From the street level the entrance is modern and simple looking. Once I entered the church from the staircase sprialing downward, I was taken by surprise how spacious the church was! The congregation currently numbers 500, which is sizeable; it felt like the total number of people who showed up for the service were many more than 500.

This is truly one of the most beautiful churches I have seen. Not in that it is solemn or awesome in scale at all; but rather the design of the space is so pleasant and different--it's very contemporary and modern, in elegant soft earthy tones. On the podium, there are some gigantic orchid plants. I felt quite at home upon stepping into this space. Those serving as ushers and greeters were dressed in soft pink and blue sweaters. The entire place is color-cordinated to the tee!

The service started with beautiful hymns and a really great band (!) on stage. There were some large projectors on the walls and on the pillars throughout the church. Everyone sang along. There was a lot of clapping and exclamation throughout the service. One might say it was a really cheerful experience! The surmon that day was really humorous and interesting, too. Time passed pretty fast didn't feel like the entire service took 2 hours whatsoever.

After the service, M took me around to introduce me to various people from the congregation. I was very intriqued by how young the congregation seemed. Many are in their early 20s. I was greeted very warmly and soon I was invited to all kinds of church activities...we shall see how this pans out.

After the service it was time to eat. The lunch was simple but superbly delicious. Then there's the birthday celebration, so I partook a slice of the birthday cake--mmm, cake.

This was quite an experience and I may say I quite enjoyed it. What do you know!! Since then I have received several other invites to other churches. It should be interesting.

Change Life Church website: http://www.changelife.org.tw/

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yingge, the Ceramics Town


After several hours of doodling in San-Shia, P and I decided to move on to Yingge, a town 10 minutes drive away from San-Shia. Yingge is famous the entire Island over for its fine ceramics and procelain products. We went to the downtown area and saw various b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l ceramics goods, especially fine china tableware. It made me think of my own kitchen back in the US of A and I itched to pick up a tea cup, a bowl, a something that I can bring with me as a souvenior for today's outting. Alas, I cannot buy anything right now lest we run out of space that the kitchen here at home is cramped as it is.

Curiously I didn't take any pictures while in Yingge; perhaps due to the fact that the main street in Yingge was not as scenic as San-Shia; and then one is not allowed to take pictures inside of these stores.

Still we had a lot of fun walking down the street, hitting every store and browsing through various kinds of dishes, tea pots, vases, art pieces, wall hangings...and various porcelain things.

I found that the Yingge Township has an excellent website. It's worth a visit. http://www.yingge.tpc.gov.tw/yingge_english/index.html

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Day's Outting in the Town of San-Shia III

After the Li Mei-Shu Memorial Museum, P made the executive decision for us to visit the Old Town. Old Town San-Shia consists of several criss crossing old streets, with Taiwanese style buildings dating 300 years back. The row houses are historical looking yet modernly outfitted on the inside. The shops are nicely displayed. I was really stunned by this unique sight.

P took me to a store which was a furniture and home furnishing store. We went inside and pleasantly discovered further the beauty of the old house. The interior is narrow and long; however the lighting and the cleverly positioned windows make it so that the interior of the house was bright and cheerful looking.

We went up to the second floor and third floor, and I caught a few pictures of the rooftop of the streets at P's suggestion. This was indeed a very memorable sight!

The Old Town of San-Shia has not always been this pleasant to look at. The Taipei County government made a real effort to preserve this area. The entire Old Town area was practically "re-designed" to ensure the authentic look and feel of the old days. This was particularly obvious when one looks at the man hole covers for the sewage and underground electric cables. All the covers bear artistic designs echoing the surroundings. P helped me identify every single different cover and I now have a nice collection of pictures of San-Shia Old Town Man Hole Covers.