Another Saturday in Taipei

I’m drinking my ginger puerh tea from Muji, thinking about my day. It’s been long, but lots of fun.

It’s Saturday here in Taipei and I had an Internations meeting at 11am. After that, I stopped at an antiques mall and had fun checking out all the new, old stuff. Then, a fun dental appointment (the dentist is the wife of a co-worker) and met up with a friend for dinner at an amazing vegetarian place: The Art of Food. Next door to the restaurant is the teahouse owned by my friend Victor. I’m so glad I stopped in today since he’s leaving for India tomorrow; he’s going to Darjeeling on a tea buying trip!

1347, earthquake!

This was a good one. I could see the room swaying and hear the structure creaking as it moved. This one seemed to last longer than the last one (probably less than a minute but it seemed longer).

When you live/work several stories above street level, “earthquake” takes on a whole new meaning. It’s interesting to note what goes through ones mind at a time like this. 

I had flashes of the building above falling down on me. Then, I thought, I’m in my pj’s, I don’t want to be found wearing them. Then: who cares, if the building falls, what I’m wearing will be the least of my worries.

Taiwan is on the edge of the “ring of fire”; there is a lot of seismic activity here. This earthquake was centered several hours south so I can only imagine what those poor folk felt.

Another year, another fast and painless….

tax time!

Just like last year, I took the tax forms mailed to me (and those generated by the company I work for) to the Ximen Finance Ministry office. (It was beastly hot and the tax office is a 15-minute walk from the MRT station.) The section for foreigners is well-marked, with English-speaking helpers at each station. They help fill out a paper form, do a series of calculations, and voila! The total (refund or amount owed) pops up. Next, you wait your turn to speak with a professional tax preparer who checks the helpers work and does the final calculations.

Last year I got a refund. This year, I made 32,000 NT (~1000USD) too much to qualify for the 12% tax bracket, darn it. When the helper told me I was in the 20% tax bracket, I said “good for Taiwan” and she smiled. Of course, that “extra” pay was eaten up by what I owed. Oh well…

To pay what I owed, I walked 10 steps to a payment counter. They took my ATM card and within minutes, I had paid my taxes owing. Back to the tax preparer who printed a lovely blue “certificate of taxes paid” to be used when I file my US taxes next year.

Despite the fact that today was the last day to file taxes, I was in and out in less than 45 minutes!

And yet more signs

Apparently this successful event has been held for many years; and I’m sure none of the organizers has any idea what their event title really means!

Uh, I know no English speaker review this one...

Uh, I know no English speaker review this one…

As if there weren’t enough reasons to go veg…

Yum, just what every meat eater wants!

Yum, just what every meat eater wants!

The gate opens automatically?

Still trying to figure out what this means.

Still trying to figure out what this means.

Yangmingshan

The geothermal activity in Taiwan spawns all sorts of hot springs; the most popular lie just north of Taipei City in Yangmingshan National Park. From Wikipedia: “The National Park is famous for its cherry blossoms, hot springs, sulfur deposits, fumaroles, venomous snakes and hiking trails, including Taiwan’s … extinct volcano, Seven Star Mountain.” What the heck’s a fumarole? And everyone knows how well hiking trails and poisonous snakes go together!

My friend Victoria’s Mom works at a hot spring and they have been inviting me up for a visit for a while now.

V and her Mom

V and her Mom

I’ve resisted because basically, I’m not a nudist! I’m not sure what made me say “yes” this weekend but, at 12:40, V and I were outside of Taipei Main Station boarding the bus to Yangmingshan, driven by a young, betel nut-fueled-but-friendly driver. An hour later, the bus stopped in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.
Old bridge, new bridge, hot spring plume

Old bridge, new bridge, hot spring plume


If you looked carefully you could see a paved drive heading downhill into a valley where hot spring plumes were visible. 20 minutes later, we entered a small resort, built around sulpherous hot springs. After a delicious meal (read: way more food than 4 people could eat), I opted for a private room. The naturally smelly water was HOT and 15 minutes was all I could handle. Afterwards I wandered around the lush, surrounding gardens.

I’m happy to report that no snakes, poisonous or otherwise, were spotted on today’s outing.

Welfare Committee

Interestingly, the Taiwanese government encourages and sponsors activities in the workplace. A small amount is taken out of each paycheck and added to an employer subsidy to offset the cost of various clubs, group travel, free movie tickets, vendor days, and all sorts of other feel-good opportunities. To oversee all the fun, my workplace elects a “Welfare” committee each year, and as luck would have it, this year, I’m on it.

Tonight we had a dinner meeting and, as often happens when a well-displayed dish is served, everyone takes photos. So, here’s a photo of the photo-takers.

Does that look good?!

Doesn’t that look good?!

Lost Luggage

Today I’d like to share with you a story about some of my recent travel adventures. As you might guess, my adventures have something to do with luggage. How many of you have travelled internationally recently?

Men have it easy. You can pack deodorant, a pair of pants, a t-shirt, and 7 pair of underwear into an overnight case for a week-long trip. You know that your hotel will have shampoo and soap and a comb. Not so with we women. Before the heavy duty restrictions on luggage, I used to travel with 3 suitcases: one for clothes, one for shoes, and one for toiletries (make up). Hah! Not any more. Now, I’ve had to learn to cram clothes, shoes, and make up into one small carry-on. I usually write out a list of everything I think I’m going to need on my trip, cut that in half, color coordinate my outfits, and select shoes and cosmetics that do double-duty.

For Chinese New Year, I planned a trip to Sri Lanka (a tiny island close to India). I knew it would be HOT and that I’d be changing hotels often, so I carefully packed summer clothes (shorts, t-shirts, sandals, swimsuit) and managed to fit everything, including my laptop, into a carry-on. Once in Sri Lanka, I started shopping. The gems and batik were easy to fit in my suitcase. The giant carved wooden masks, not so much. So, I purchased a duffle bag at the Kandy market and filled it up with exotic souvenirs. Two weeks later, I once again carefully packed most of my personal items into the carry-on and the masks, the laptop, and a few items of clothing into the duffle bag. Now, if you’ve never been to Sri Lanka, let me tell you, there is a lot of crime there. But, I was at an airport with armed guards everywhere, flying Srilankan airlines so I thought my luggage was safe. Think again. As I checked my one suitcase in, I had a strange feeling. Little did I know, watching my suitcase on the conveyer belt it was the last time I would see it.

My return flight stopped in Singapore where I changed planes to China Air. As I was checking in, something made me ask about my luggage; China Airlines could not find it on their system. It had disappeared. “It can’t really be gone”, I thought, “I just saw it a few hours ago.” China Airlines assured me they would do everything they could to find it. Now, 2 months, many, many phone calls and emails later, my luggage still has not been found. Apparently it grew legs and walked out of the Srilankan airlines cargo hold. The moral of this story? Do not check luggage if you can possibly help it, especially on an outbound flight from Sri Lanka!

Shanghai

If you think that my luggage adventures ended there, you’d be wrong. On a recent trip back to the US on China Eastern airlines, I had a 14-hour layover in Shanghai and the airline was paying for my hotel. Sounds like fun, right? It was, right up until it was time to leave to go back to the airport. My 2 bags (I guess I didn’t learn my lesson) were loaded into the very back of the hotel van. The driver got in and we headed to Pudong Airport. photo I was the only passenger that morning. The driver stopped by the China Eastern departures area and I went to get a cart for my luggage. And then it happened…the driver took off – with my luggage still in the back of the van!! I stood in disbelief and then thought “It can’t really be gone.” So, I was in a foreign country, at the airport with no luggage, and my flight was departing in 1.5 hours. It took me 10 minutes to find the right airline representative to explain my story to. Another 30 minutes for them to figure out the Chinese name and phone number of the OgOd hotel. (I knew the EN name, and the name of the street, but not the Chinese characters.) Finally, the airline representative called the hotel, and was put on hold. In the meantime, the airline was insisting that I check-in and board the plane. I checked-in (it’s easy with no luggage) but insisted I would not be leaving Shanghai without my luggage! Now what? Finally, the hotel talked with the airline rep but said they didn’t know when they could get the luggage back out to the airport. I asked the airline rep, as calmly as I could, to tell the hotel that I would go find a policeman and tell him that my luggage had been stolen. Within 15 minutes, my luggage was delivered to the airport and the airline had me RUN though the entire airport (it’s BIG) to my boarding gate. By some miracle, I made my flight! The moral of this story? Keep an eye on your luggage at all times, and do not check luggage if you can possibly help it.

Printer Jam2

If you haven’t yet discovered the abandoned-winery-reinvented-as-a-creative-park, otherwise known as Huashan1914, you’re in for a treat! I recently attended a weekend-long event in one of the renovated spaces, which happened to coincide with the opening of a fun cafe/laser printing shop aptly called FabCafe.

FabCafe owners

FabCafe owners

Co-founder Tim Wong has created an inviting atmosphere where you can not only get made-to-order sandwiches and drinks, they have a great selection of homemade baked goods (the whoopie pies and mexican wedding cakes are my favorites).
Whoopie pies and cupcakes

Whoopie pies and cupcakes

The decor has a clean, Scandanavian look with chairs custom-designed by a local artist to seat patrons comfortably and then be stored on wall-mounted pegs.
Furniture as art

Furniture as art

Should you happen to be in the market for 3D art, they also have a state-of-the-art laser printer, which you can see in action while waiting for your order. Rev up your creative abilities and refresh your senses, all in one hip space.

Just back from the States….

Seems like forever since I’ve written anything and for that, dear readers, I apologize. Soon after my adventures in Sri Lanka (I promise to dish more on that later, in detail!), I needed to return to the US again: my Dad was scheduled for open heart surgery. It was a bit nerve wracking, especially since we had just lost Mom a few months back. I’m happy to report that Dad made it through the 12-hour procedure, 12 days in ICU, 10 days in a step-down unit, and 2 weeks in rehab and is now finishing finishing his recovery at home!

Sri Lanka 4 and beyond

Words you never want to have to say about a long-awaited vacation: I survived! With 4 days to go, I am finally relaxing at the beach (Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa).

Unawatuna Beach

Unawatuna Beach

The Indian Ocean is a marvel: just as clear and aqua as you see in travel brochures. After a week and a half of too much driving and not enough sleep, I was able to spread a towel on untouched sand and listen to the sound of waves hitting the shore. Ahhhh, now that’s more like it. In the distance I could hear the sound of drums, part of a wedding celebration happening at the Sanmira hotel.

I’m writing this at the Thapraban Beach House, where I’m enjoying incredible views (and a strong wifi signal!) with my meal. Afterwards I’ll take a leisurely walk to the main street, checking out the shops along the way. Who knows, I may need to purchase those last few touristy gewgaws. Then I’ll take my life into my hands and flag down a tuktuk for a ride back to the hotel. Until my next post, wishing you all a very Happy Valentines Day!

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