snapshots: lost + found

yesterday marked one month since our arrival in Taiwan.  it feels like we have been here both longer and less than that. this week is also the start of school - teachers went back monday and students show up on thursday. we haven't quite settled into a routine yet, but we're getting close.

today was the first day that I've gone out on my own. well, other than running up the street to the drug store or to 7-11. today I went out in search of a craft supply store. I didn't actually know where one was, just a general direction I heard there might be one, and so I walked over that way.


walking alone on the streets of Hsinchu isn't dangerous [other than the usual hazards or traffic] but it is a little unnerving. everyone stares at me. not always open-mouthed gaping or obvious, but they all look. it doesn't matter if I'm wearing cut-off jean shorts and a tank top or a maxi skirt down to my ankles. they stare. 

the staring is just something to get used to, like the stares and cat-calls I used to get walking the streets of New York. though it's not quite the same. in New York, it was vaguely sexual when someone would stare or leer at you as you walked by. but not really personal. I think the men there just do it to everyone. [one day I got called at while I was wearing a long winter coat buttoned all the way up, with scarf and hat and sunglasses. I either have a really attractive nose... or they holler at everyone.] you learned to not take it personally, and ignore it as best as you could.

but here it's a little different. no one yells at me [Asian men would never be so rude] but they all stare, both men and women. and especially children. they stare. because... I'm white.

those of you who know me [or have seen pictures] know that even though I am technically "white" or Caucasian, I am usually some shade of golden brown tan. I think what gives me away is my hair. I'm not as blond as I've been, but no one of the Asian persuasion would have my hair color naturally. so they see the hair first, then notice the skin. and they stare because, honestly, there just aren't that many white girls here.

there are girls who try to be white. it seems that in Taiwan [if not all Asian cultures] that the whiter your skin is, the more beautiful you are. [my new friend Jackie gets ooh-ed and ahh-ed over wherever she goes because she lived in Seattle and never saw much sun] the drug stores here sell whitening lotions and treatments - some of which include bleach and other really scary chemicals. so I guess there are white girls here. but they are white in the way that some American girls are freaky orange spray-tan. different strokes for different folks, I guess.

anyway. I set out this afternoon in search of a craft store that I wasn't even sure existed. the first store I stopped in looked promising, but was more of a stationary store that happened to carry a few crafting items. so I checked out the next road over, and the next one... I wandered pretty far off the roads I know, and maybe got myself just a little bit lost.

did I have a brief moment of panic? the oh-crap-I'm-lost-and-I-don't-speak-Chinese-what-the-heck-was-I-thinking moment? of course. but then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I had set out prepared. not with a map, but with the school address and enough money for a cab home. [not to mention our pre-pay cell phone, hand sanitizer, my epi-pen, and chapstick] I stopped for a minute to think where I had gone in relation to where I wanted to go and decided to take a change and go with my gut and turn down the road that might take me home.

and it did. 40 minutes later, I made it back home. sweaty, sore-foot, and slightly damp from the rain that decided to start [thankfully] right as I turned onto a familiar road. my heart gave a leap when I saw it, because I knew it was the road that leads to home. 

yeah, home. because somehow over the past month... this has started to feel like home. it's happened in a hundred small ways I could try to explain, but this is the story I have to write today. how I got lost, and how I got found.

[unrelated iPhone photos edited with instagram and shakeit photo apps]



if you haven't heard/seen through the social network grapevine already: we bought a scooter. or to be more precise: Husband came home from a school meeting 2 hours late, said he got me something, and handed me a helmet.

my previously expressed feelings of mild to moderate terrified-ness in regards to riding a scooter have not really changed in the few days we have owned one. it reminds me of being on a jetski. except I know what falling off a jetski feels like, and even though hitting water at 25mph is painful I think pavement would hurt worse. but. maybe a small bit of fear is healthy when dealing with motorized vehicles... it will keep me from getting comfortable enough to try anything stupid.

I myself have not driven very far on the scooter. only around our little parking area near the school. Husband intentionally got a scooter comfortable enough for two. so he drives and I hold on for dear life use the footrest and grab bar like a second rider should. it does make me feel safer that we both have top-notch ultra-safe helmets. mine is even hot pink [or rhodamine red if you're going to get specific] so that other drivers will notice me and not run me over. 

or at least that's the theory.


Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge. the pictures I have, truly don't do justice to it. you just don't get the real sense of how massive this place was. you had to crane your neck to see the sky, and the gorge was littered with boulders the size of small houses. the mountains were tall... like Colorado tall. but with the lush greenery of Hawaii. the best way I can think to describe it is a cross between Letchworth State Park [in upstate NY - the "Grand Canyon" of the east] and those floating mountain islands that they fly around in the movie Avatar.

all through the park are statures, temples, and carvings. some are reachable by the main road [though I use the term "road" pretty loosely here] and others you have to hike to get to. a major portion of the trails were closed from typhoon debris, but we managed to visit some incredible places nonetheless.

the Eternal Spring Shrine - literally built on top of a mountain spring

view from the Xiande Buddhist Temple

overlooking Taroko Gorge to the east, from the top of the Tianfeng Pagoda

we SO wanted to jump in and cool off
the park is massive. we only drove about 1/3 of the way in, and even with the closed trails had plenty to see. Husband and I want to go back [preferably in the fall when it's not 90F for hiking] and check out some of the rougher trails we missed. they have trails going all the way up the mountains, and more temples and things to discover hidden farther off the beaten track. some trails even go for days... we'll be taking a guide for those.

matching your pedicure to your hiking sandals is key.

one last thing - I forgot to charge my camera batteries before leaving. and also forgot to bring my spare battery or my charger with me. so most of my pictures are iPhone. rookie mistake, but one I doubt I will be making again. just one more excuse to go back and explore... until next time, Toroko.


the Hualien night market

the cities don't truly come alive here until nightfall. the days are so steamy, it makes sense. the sun sets. the lights go up. and the people flood the streets, wandering the open shops and strolling through the night markets.

the night markets are... an experience. packed with people. roasting hot. stall after stall of new foods and strange smells.

crispy fried squid on a stick. comes in 8 different flavors. [the boys tried curry]

there are stalls with clothes and shoes and jewelry and trinkets. there are stalls with fresh fruit smoothies and shaved ice and rice noodles. there are stalls with boxes of children's toys that look like they might actually be from the late 80s. [or maybe just knock offs of something from the late 80s.]

and then there are stalls that have tall, tall towers of tasty dumplings. yep. those are round wooden baskets stacked sky high full of dumplings, steaming hot all the way up.

that's when we stop to eat. to feast. dumplings and pork buns and hot + sour soup with rice noodles. and all for dirt cheap. a basket of 10 dumplings cost 30NT. which is the equivalent of $1. ONE DOLLAR. the five of us ate until we were stuffed and the bill was less than $10 US. ridiculous. and awesome.

these are steamed pork buns. imagine that someone wrapped a meatball in bread dough and the cooked it by steaming instead of baking. [most definitely not gluten free.] but they were delicious, or so I was told.

and... dumplings. incredibly delicious pork dumplings. also not gluten free. but so tasty I ate them anyway [and suffered a stomach ache for it.] what can I say? woman cannot live on rice noodle alone.


road trip to Hualien

so. I want to tell you about my vacation. but I want to tell you about my vacation without sounding like a guide book. [that last post about Taipei was a little... stiff and boring.]

I read this post on blogging and it reminded me of the constant struggle I had with the baking blog. do what you know will generate page views or do what you love. be what "they" want you to be or be yourself. and I really, really don't want to fall into that here.

it's harder than you think. the easy thing to do is plaster on a fake smile and write clean and clinical, just the bright and shiny highlights. but... that's not real. I should come clean about the last post and our trip to Taipei. the truth is that most of the exhibit went over my head and after we had lunch I felt sick so we went home early. that's real.

so the truth about our drive to Hualien? it was a blast. the scenery was incredible and the roads were terrifying. we drove inches from the edge of a cliff where the barriers had been wiped out by the recent typhoon. we went through cave-like tunnels without knowing how to turn on the rental car headlights.

we ate road trip junk food. we stopped at some really creepy restrooms. we cracked up over the construction scarecrows planted along the roadways. we made fun of each other. we laughed until we snorted. we stopped at every scenic overlook to take pictures... except the one that was washed over the cliff in the typhoon.

we discovered halfway through that we didn't know where our hotel was or even the name of it [none of us can read Chinese.] once we got to the city, we stopped three times to ask for directions - thankfully Peter speaks Chinese. and then once we found the hotel we discovered it was a motel... one that rents rooms by the hour. when we checked in they asked if we were staying or "just resting". it was horrifying. and hilarious.

it was, in short, everything a road trip should be.

[more to come on hiking, dumplings, and failing to charge your camera batteries]


taipei, briefly

last saturday, Husband and I went into Taipei for a short visit. one of the parents who took us to Costco our first day here wanted to take us to a special exhibit being held commemorating the 60th anniversary of  the peace treaty between Japan and China. her husband works for the foreign affairs office, so was able to give us an informative tour and explain how these documents affect Taiwan and it's history. among the documents on display were original copies of the Cairo Declaration and the Instrument of Surrender signed by Japan at the end of World War II. the exhibit was held in the Taipei Guest House which was originally built in 1899 for the Japanese Governor who [at that time] oversaw the island. it was a beautiful mix of European and Oriental design and furnishings, complete with a garden and pond in the rear grounds.

after the exhibit, we made a brief stop at Taipei 101. this skyscraper held the world record for tallest building for a stretch of 6 years, and boasts expensive shopping [Tiffany's Gucci, Chanel, etc.] and two observation decks. rain and clouds rolled in so we decided to save the observation deck for another day and took the high-speed rail back to Hsinchu.

to be honest, I'm not that impressed with Taipei so far. it seems like a larger Hsinchu with the added convenience of a subway system. I guess I was expecting something a little more like New York... but then again there maybe not be any other city on earth like New York. [I may just be a little biased there.] I definitely think Taipei is worth some more exploring to see what we can find there.

and I will say the high-speed rail was faster, quieter, and cleaner than any NJ transit train I've been on.
Asia wins on railways. hands down.


food adventures

crispy rice, steamy vegetables, spicy sauce and an egg on top. this, my friends, is a big sizzling bowl of bi bim bap. and I'm excited about it.

the other night we went out for dinner with some of the other new teachers to the local Korean restaurant, appropriately called "Korea". it was my first time trying Korean food - ever - and I loved it. we will definitely be going back to "Korea" for more bi bim bap. [and who knows, maybe even to actual Korea someday for bi bim bap...]

Husband and I have been making most of our meals at home. if you know us in real life, you know we love food, we love good food, and we love to cook. our pantry is well stocked [we came back from our last Costco run with about 15 pounds of meat] and what we don't have we have been able to borrow from neighbors [crockpot and can opener]. so far, our meals at home haven't been much out of the ordinary: beef stew, stir fry, spaghetti, Mexican, Mexican and Mexican.

eating at home is good. it saves money... and you know exactly what you're eating. going out to eat in Taiwan requires a little bit of bravery [at least for me]. 

first: I am not the most daring person when it comes to trying new foods. I have some weird textural issues and to be honest there was a span of about 10 years where even thinking of eating eggs made me want to gag. [I can do scrambled and over easy now but hard boiled still disgusts me.] I know right off the bat there are some things I won't even attempt. stinky tofu? no way. BUT I do want to experience some culture and some tasty food, and not just eat "Western" all day every day.

I am also somewhat limited in which dishes I can try due to the fact I am both allergic to shellfish and sensitive to gluten. the shellfish allergy makes me nervous, but I do have an epi-pen that I have been carrying with me. most places we have been eating at have at least pictures of the dishes on the menu or even a short English description so I can pick a beef or vegetable dish. also, it's usually pretty easy to see a shrimp head floating in your soup. 

surprisingly, avoiding gluten has been my main difficulty. I lucked out and found one specialty store that carried gluten-free spaghetti. other than that, I haven't seen anything designated at gluten-free. bread and pasta are actually everywhere here. and a lot of things I had assumed were rice-based are definitely not. [like dumplings. which is sad.] trying to determine whether a menu picture of a noodle dish is made with rice noodle or wheat noodle is pretty close to impossible. and then there are things - like the mushroom curry I ate for lunch - that I forget could have gluten in them and eat anyway. [but my head has been aching all afternoon so I think it's safe to say it did.]

rice and vegetables might not sound all that adventurous, but I'm excited about bi bim bap. because let's face it - I will never be one of those people who can walk into a restaurant, point at a menu in a foreign language, and eat whatever wild or unusual dish is set in front of me. but there are still things I can try that are new and delicious... and won't put me in the back of an ambulance.


DIY wall art : home state love

when we started planning to move abroad, I knew there was a short list of things from home that I just couldn't leave behind. this canvas is one of those things.

I was born in Texas and have spent the past 5 years on the east coast, but Michigan is the place I call home. I made this canvas last winter when we were living in New Jersey after seeing some similar ideas on Pinterest. I've had a lot of people ask me how I made it, so I figure it's time to share:

start with a blank canvas, a brush, and acrylic paint of your color choice. [if you wanted your state to be a color other than white, you could paint your whole canvas a solid color first before the next steps.]  if you want to do a state like California or Florida you may want to look for a rectangular canvas. I used a 12 x 12 inch canvas I had on hand and left out the Upper Peninsula to make it fit.

cut out an outline of your state and tape it to the canvas. I can't remember where I found my outline originally, but this website here has all the states and they look pre-sized for printing on 8.5 x 11 inch paper.

start painting around the edge of the outline. using outward strokes with the brush, away from the paper edge, will help keep your edges clean. peel off the tape and paper.

fill in the gaps in your outline from the tape. [it helps if you tape over straight edges or places with less detail.] then paint the rest of the canvas around your state.

you can also add a little heart or star [or whatever you like] over a special city. mine is on East Lansing - where Husband and I met and home of the finest university in the land. [that would be Michigan State University!] I think it would be cute to make a set of these to hang together - where you met + were married, places you have lived, or even special vacation spots.

every time I see "the mitten" hanging on the wall it makes me smile and think of home. I'm glad I was able to fit this piece of art into my suitcase when I moved, and I hope you all enjoyed learning how you can make your own!


forming [tasty] habits

we have been in Taiwan for a full week now. already we are settling in, making plans, and forming new habits. okra + eggs + avocado for breakfast. running around the lake. using our vintage star wars placemats. washing dishes together after dinner. mango smoothies.

funny how most of our habits revolve around food...

yesterday Husband and I went on an adventure to find Costco. you can take the bus [or have helpful parents drive you] but we wanted to try walking. I think part of the plan to walk was that our route took us right past the smoothie place we visited a few days ago. we tried the chocolate smoothie and the mango smoothie and both were pretty incredible. this time around, Husband got some lime-flavored drink called a green wizard. I stuck with the mango smoothie. because it is so. darn. tasty.

I like that we have a smoothie place. and I like that I have an order soon to be called "the usual".

Husband had the genius idea to look up directions on the iPhone and bring it along as our map. we only get wi-fi service [so we couldn't tell where on the map we actually were] but we made it work.

the rest of our journey was not very well documented due to the smoothie. I have my trusty hand strap, but I love my SLR too much to risk one-handed street photography while weaving between parked cars and scooters.

scooters. are. everywhere. I honestly think there are more scooters than cars on the road... which is probably a good thing to save space. anytime you walk past a big office building or apartments there will be rows on rows of parked scooters. it sounds like a lot of the teachers either have on or are planning to get one. [I myself am mildly terrified to try driving around the city on one.]

eventually we made it past all the scooters and to the Costco. we restocked on okra and picked up a dehumidifier for the apartment. [thrilling, I know] and then - because we were tired from the walk and the dehumidifier weighed 80 pounds - we took a cab home. for about $4 US. [we definitely hi-fived over that a few times]

ok, one more thing about the scooters. the amounts of people I saw coming out of Costco and loading up their scooters with flats of pop and boxes of kiwi or giant bottles of milk and 48 packs of Heineken? ridiculous. they would just stack the stuff down where their feet should be and take off, nothing holding it in place. ridiculous.

and speaking of ridiculous, check out this chicken tender.

I have no words.
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