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

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