Writer’s holiday party

My work team celebrated this holiday season with a White Elephant gift exchange and dinner at a local “hot pot” restaurant.  I must say I was originally not too excited, thinking “oh great, an a;;-you-can-eat all-meat restaurant with no veggie options”. I could not have been more wrong! The 10 of us sat around a large table with “hot pots” (large vessels set over a gas burner) and selected which liquid to cook our dinner in. We vegetarians shared half a hot pot filled with some tomoto-based liquid and heaped our plates with all manner of non-meat options. In truth, I recognized very little of the plentiful veggie options but that didn’t stop me from trying as many of them as possible.When the liquid was gently bubbling, we used chopsticks to carefully drop items into the “hot pot” and waited for them to cook. (Of course, while we were waiting for the liquid to heat up, we helped ourselves to the dessert bar – my boss actually had 3 HUGE bowls of Haagen Daz!) After the items were cooked, the idea is to place them into a bowl to cool off and then dip them into a smaller bowl filled with whatever custom-made sauce you’ve prepared. Needless to say, I’m now a “hot pot” convert!

Hot Pot extravaganza

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Weekend in Yilan

0730 comes early in Taipei, especially on a weekend! But last Sunday, I’d agreed to meet other co-workers at the Sun Yat Sun MRT, exit 4, at 0730 for a bus trip to the NE part of Taiwan: a town called Yilan (ee-lan). I left the apartment at 0700, walked down Tong Hua and left on Xinyi. A few blocks down I turned on Guangfu S. road and 15 minutes later I saw SYS exit 2, but where was exit 4? hmmmmm And then I remembered the MRT tunnels underground and descended into exit 2. And there is was: a sign pointing to exit 4, blissfully in a warm and dry environment.

The bus trip to Yilan took a little over one hour, through many long tunnels. Our first stop was the Rabbit pencil factory! Yup, good ol’ fashioned wood-and-lead writing instruments!

The Rabbit Pencil Factory logo in pencils

You can imagine that it’s a popular place for the Elementary school crowd. Sitting in small schoolkids’ desks, we were shown a movie about how the pencils are made. It was all in Chinese but I got the gist of it. Then we took a tour  (also in Chinese) through the ancient factory.  It was interesting watching the raw material, Chinese cypress, being molded into bright, shiny pencils. I cracked up seeing this sign on one of the machines:

Is there an "incoherent" machine somewhere?

Next stop: DIY pizza! It was lunch time and everyone was hungry. We waited our turn to turn a blob of yeast dough into a handcrafted feast and watch it bake in a wood-fired oven. Yum!

who knew making pizza could be so fun?

Our final stop in Yilan was an orchid farm! How wonderful to step into a botanic wonderland! We got a tour (yes, again in Chinese but this time I was assigned a translator!) We wandered through greenhouse after greenhouse, each one filled with beautiful blooms and tropical plants! (You know how expensive orchids are in the States? Not here! I bought a lovely light green orchid, a pot to put it in, and a small Hawaiian anthurium for 300NT – around 10 dollars USD.) On the drive back to Taipei, we were told the farm had given each of us a lovely white orchid plant – wow!

Yilan hothouse

Wanna guess what the cost for the entire trip was? The bus, the tours, the pizza….500NT (~16.00US). Gotta love it!

Christmas in Taipei

I finally got all my packages and cards mailed out last week; lord, I hope they make it safely to their intended recipients!  People here are so trusting. I have no doubt the packages will make it across the water. I am, however, worried about what happens to them once they land stateside (that’s a sad state of affairs, isn’t it). The postage was outrageous, but then again, the packages are travelling 10,000 miles and I had them insured. I carefully selected the gifts – all made in Taiwan. The Taiwanese pride themselves on their workmanship. And their pride is well-placed; it’s amazing to see how much care goes into even the simplest of items. I was invited to a co-worker’s house for a Christmas Eve party and to Yingge for Christmas day. It’ll definitely be a different celebration this year…

I found a live Christmas tree, all bundled up in the florist shop across from the bus stop. I wrapped my arms around it and breathed its smell in. Ah, such a lovely scent! I made the mistake of asking the price….are you ready for this? 20,000NT, the shoplady said with a straight face. That translates into nearly 700USD – for one 6’tree that won’t last one month. Yikes! Instead, I went to the “everything” store and purchased a  small fake white tree and some LED lights (both made in Taiwan). Total cost: less then 500 NT (18USD)! I can still smell the spendy pine when I turn the LEDs on…

Merry Christmas 2011

Trend Tennis

I haven’t picked up a racquet, much less played tennis, in over 10 years. I used to love it! The feel of the sun as you wait for the serve, the sound the ball makes when it hits the sweet spot. Ah, that was another day and another time….last Tuesday I “practiced” (in surfer shorts and using a borrowed racquet) with my doubles partner for the first time and could barely MOVE on Wednesday~ lol!  Today was the Trend Tournament, starting with an exhibition between one of our company’s presidents and the brother of a ranked pro. My partner and I won our first two matches, making it into the “finals”. But I was hurting, making it difficult to play well (or what passes for “well” from someone who hasn’t played in over a decade).  One of my “serves” actually got lodged in a tree – a tree(!) for goodness sakes. Hey, I may not have much control left but apparently I still have some power. My partner did a great job, although we eventually lost, coming in 2nd. Guess I’ll have to use the prize money to get my own racquet now and practice a bit more for the next game…

2011 Trend Open

6:16pm earthquake #3

This one was a BIG one – at least it SOUNDED like it. I could hear (and feel) the apartment building moving and the windows buckle.  The shaking kept up for only a few minutes. Odd, these ‘quakes feel…more personal. I’ve experienced others in the US but these (in Taiwan) are close. I mean, this isn’t a big island and we are sitting smack dab on a fault, with a huge drop-off shelf off of the east coast so it’s to be expected. Still, talking about it and living it are two different things. It makes me wonder what sort of natural disasters are in store for us in 2012…

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…