Finding Affordable Yoga in Taipei

It’s now September, and most people say goodbye to summer and transition into their “back to school” routine or life. I remember exactly a year ago I moved to Taipei to start my life as a university student again, learning a new language. At the same time I wanted to maintain my daily yoga classes as I’ve had back in Canada, preparing myself for my yoga teacher training in New Zealand for February 2016, which meant finding a suitable yoga studio to attend classes regularly.

To my disappointment, I did not find a lot of online English information on yoga in Taipei, so I hope by writing this blog post, for those of you who are currently thinking of finding affordable yoga classes in Taipei, this will help you!🙂

The big fancy yoga studios in Taipei (True Yoga, Pure Yoga, Space Yoga, and Yoga Journey) are very expensive since once has to sign a one year contract with them on top of initial membership fee. These studios are very rigid with their one year contract, so even if you opt out before 12 months is over, you still have to pay the full year. Another undesirable factor in joining these studios is that some of these yoga studios may charge foreigners a higher fee than a local; I found this out when I visited one of the locations of True Yoga. The sales representative told me because I’m a foreigner, I have to pay higher. I found that very discriminatory. Needless to say, I found these big fancy yoga studios unappealing in terms of the high pricing ($150-200 USD/month) and big class size (maximum 50 in a class).

When I was about to give up on ever finding affordable yoga classes with a smaller class size while living in Taipei, an American classmate introduced me to her neighbourhood yoga studio: Bodhi Yoga. At the same time I discovered that if I knew better Mandarin, I would be able to find smaller yoga studios with affordable pricing.

During my year of living in Taipei, I’ve discovered 3 nice affordable places to do yoga, and below, I’ll describe them briefly to you:

1.Bodhi Yoga

What it offers: Hatha Yoga, Hatha Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Flow, Prenatal Yoga

When: Daily yoga classes from morning (time varies each day) till 8pm at night

Where: They have 2 locations in Taipei, Guting and Songjiang. I’ve only been to the Guting location since it was close to my university and it was convenient to youbike there or take the MRT, as it was right in front of exit 1, Guting MRT.

Cost: drop in fee=$650 NTD, for first time users you can pay this price and get the second class for free (buy one get one free deal)

They also offer various packages for students such as 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or 12 months unlimited. Students can also buy 20 class or 40 class package deals. I chose the 3 months package for around $350 USD.

Why:Friendly front desk staff (receptionists) and fellow yogi classmates,a variety of yoga teachers with different styles, small class size (anywhere from 2-15), welcoming atmosphere to relax before and after class (Guting location), free water refill, tea and coffee, yoga mats and props are provided, and many classes offered throughout the day

Website: http://www.bodhiyoga.com.tw/eng/index.html

 

2. Unison Yoga Taipei

What: Hatha, Vinyasa flow, Ashtanga, Yin Yang Yoga, Dance Yoga,  Prenatal Yoga, Kids Yoga, Mommy and Baby Yoga

When: daily classes, a few in the morning but most classes are from 12:15pm onwards till 7:30pm as the last class (time varies each day)

Where: It is a relatively new yoga studio, about 13 months old. A few minutes walk from Liuzhangli MRT station.

Cost: first class free, drop in fee=$600 NTD;  10 classes package can be bought for $3600 NTD

Why: Cozy, small classes ranging from 1 student per class to 10, caring and dedicated yoga teachers who take their time to get to know you and chat with you after class if you have any questions, a variety of different creative yoga classes offered such as combining yoga with dance, and there’s also Pilates class, friendly front desk staff, free water refill and light snacks for after class, yoga mats and props are provided, and warm welcoming atmosphere.

Website: http://www.unisonyoga.com.tw/about.php

 

3. Yoga in Daan Forest Park (Harmony Yoga)

What: Any type of yoga style according to yoga teacher of the week. It is run by a group of volunteer yoga teachers who teach donation yoga classes weekly.

When: every Sunday at 9am (usually 1 hour class)

Where: Daan Forest Park (their website has a map to show the location in the park)

Cost: whatever you can afford ($200 NTD is a decent amount)

Why: outdoor yoga with sounds of nature and fresh air found in the city

Website: https://www.facebook.com/HarmonyYogaTaiwan/

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For me, the best part of taking these yoga classes is that they are all in Mandarin, so I was fully immersed in the Mandarin-speaking environment even when doing yoga!🙂

Macau: Must-Dos & Hidden Gems

It has been almost 8 years since I last visited Macau, and it certainly has changed a lot over the past few years. It definitely lives up to its reputation as being the Las Vegas of Asia. The last time I was here, there were only a few hotel casinos, and this time I’m astounded by the sheer amount of hotel casinos that have popped out all over, the area has developed a lot! Since I’ve also been to Las Vegas before, I have to say that the words that come to mind when describing these hotels are: newer, grander and fancier!

Since I’ve done all the big touristy things in Macau last time, this time I was just enjoying seeing it through new eyes and want to share with you the big must-dos that I think are worthwhile, and the hidden little gems that I uncovered while staying here for a few days.

 

First thing first, let’s do the big must-dos.

1.Casinos

Everyone says it but really, visiting the casinos is a must!! There are free casino shuttle buses that take you to the casinos from the Macau Ferry Terminal to Taipa, where all the newer casinos are located, and you can also take them back to the terminal or elsewhere in the city. I’ve only had time to explore Galaxy, City of Dreams and Studio City (sister casino to City of Dreams) this time. Even for non-gamblers like me, just seeing the sheer size, creativity and design of each hotel, is enough. Plus the eating of course.🙂 I highly recommend “Din Tai Fung” inside City of Dreams.🙂

 

2. The House of Dancing Water

Seeing The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams: I love, love, LOVED IT A LOT!! It has everything: a love story plus all the thrilling actions including diving, acrobatics, motorcycle stunts, dancing etc.! The money is definitely worth paying for. In my opinion, it’s even better than Cirque du Soleil’s O in Las Vegas.

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3. A-Ma Temple

It’s the oldest temple in Macau and located in the southeast part of the peninsula, at the top of the mountain. Without transportation, it is quite hard to come here, but the trip to come here is so worth it. There are less people here, and it is very tranquil. Furthermore, the views are pretty.

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After visiting the temple, we walked to see the huge statue of A-ma, the sacred goddess of the sea. The temple plus the statue are made to commemorate her since she blesses the fishermen. Therefore, the temple and statue face part of the sea.

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Here is a good website with detailed description of the temple:

https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/macau/a_ma.htm

 

4. Tasting Portuguese food

Since Macau used to be a colony of Portugal, there is an abundance of Portuguese restaurants to choose from. I recommend trying Fernando’s at Hac Sa (Black Sand Beach). It may be a little bit out of central Macau, but the trip here is worth it as the food is delicious and the atmosphere is warm and rustic. I think a visit to Hac Sa Beach is not complete without visiting Fernando’s as well.🙂

Fernando’s website: http://www.fernando-restaurant.com/index_en.html

 

5. Macau Portugese Egg Tarts at Lord Stow’s Original Bakery

The egg tarts from here are famous, and having them at the place of origin is best! You can either buy the egg tarts as take out, or if you would like to sit down and savour the egg tart with a cup of tea or coffee, then I’ll let you in on a little secret.😉 Behind the bakery, there is actually a tiny cafe associated with it, where you can dine in. It’s a great place for afternoon tea with friends and/or family!

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Lord Stow’s Bakery (Original Shop)
1 Rua do Tassara, Coloane, Macau
Tel: +853 2888 2534
Opening Hours: 10am – 7pm Daily

 

And without further adieu, here is the list of little hidden gems in Macau that are often overlooked:

1. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

Since I was studying in Taipei, I knew there is a Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, to honour Sun Yat Sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China. I was surprise to find one in Macau as well! It’s interesting to note that this was originally the Macau residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. He used this house occasionally till his death. It is opened daily from 10am-5pm, except on Tuesday.

 

2. The Mandarin’s House

This used to be the home of a well-known Chinese literary figure, Zheng Guanying and his family. It was constructed in 1869. The government has decided to preserve this place as part of Macau’s rich history and cultural heritage, opening it to the public. I enjoyed spending a few hours here roaming around the nooks and crannies of this heritage home, and learning about its history.

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A detailed description of the Mandarin’s House

 

3. Breakfast at Piu Kei Hung Heng

This is a small hole in the wall breakfast place where the locals come for breakfast, so to experience the local way of life, I highly recommend coming here for one morning or more.🙂 In my opinion, the congee (rice porridge) is one of the best I’ve tried, and its texture is quite different from what I’ve eaten before. It is very smooth and light, it’s like drinking a good bowl of flavourful water. The steamed rice noodle rolls, cut up into mini pieces, served with peanut sauce, soy sauce and spicy sauce, is to die for!

Address: https://www.mlocal.biz/eng/biz/4e6698d26249fb3109000235

 

4. Eating the best pork chop bun at Jardim da Flora (Flora Garden)

This cafe is hidden inside this garden. From the entrance you need to walk a bit and turn left once you see a little lane, passing by a playground. The cafe is located at the top of a building. It has a tiny indoor seating; most of the seating is outdoors. The pork chop bun is one of Macau’s most famous and popular snacks. The bun is crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside, with a piece of salty pork chop in the middle. The reason I think this pork chop bun is the best I’ve had in Macau is because the pork chop is not deeply fried like many cafes here, that all you can taste is the oil. Instead, the pork chop bun is lightly fried and the taste of the pork really stands out. This pork chop bun is best eaten hot or warm!

 

5. Taking the shortest cable ride up in the world at Jardim da Flora

It opens from 8am till 6pm daily, and it takes 80 seconds to reach to the top of Guia Hill, where the Guia Hill Municipal Park is located. The trip costs MOP $3 one way or MOP $ 5 return. The park is a great place to stroll around, appreciating the green landscapes, and visiting Guia Fortress, built in the early 1600s in an attempt to protect Macau from naval attacks.

A panaromic view of Macau can be seen at the top of Guia Hill.

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Duli, Taiwan: Yoga Retreat for the Body, Mind & Spirit

Katrina Mayer, author and motivational speaker, once said: “Time spent in nature heals your body, mind and spirit.” I found this quote to be especially true as I enter the last leg of my year-long travel journey. After a few months of nonstop travelling from country to country, and then settling back into life in Taipei as a student learning Mandarin once again, I felt I needed a little getaway to reflect, relax, rejuvenate and reconnect with myself. Call it divine intervention or whatever you will, one night as I’m googling away on my laptop searching for travelling to Taitung, I found out about a yoga retreat taking place there at the end of June.

I’m so happy to have discovered Teacher Joe’s (Joe 老師) 3 days/2 nights yoga retreat in the scenic Eastern tropical region of Taiwan. The sceneries along the way from the train station to our retreat centre in Duli, a small village in Taitung county, was absolutely breathtaking: trees so green and lush, and the ocean has 3 to 4 different shades of blue. After seeing this, I now understand why the Taiwanese always recommend people to go to Taitung. Fewer people come here, so it seems as if it is untouched by the human hand. It’s like nature in its true form.

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I love the secluded area of the retreat centre called Oceantree Yogasurf Ecocamp (https://www.facebook.com/TYTguesthouse/). It is run by a very down to earth and extremely welcoming couple, Mark and Kite, and they have two very cute children, plus two friendly and docile dogs. Mark teaches surfing, while Kite teaches yoga.

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From here, I really felt in tune with nature, from listening to the singing of the cicadas,to the chirping of the birds and sounds of the ocean waves. Seeing the neighbouring pineapple field and the farmers harvesting the pineapples, and then eating the pineapples in our vegetarian meals was an incredible experience. I always thought that pineapples came from trees like coconuts, and never thought to investigate it. When I discovered they actually came from the ground, I was in awe and once again am reminded that in life, we take a lot of things for granted, or it’s based on our own ignorance. At that moment, I made a pact to be genuinely more aware of things around me and not to take things for granted.

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The pineapple field

 

The vegetarian meals in the retreat was a reminder to eat healthy and of the connection between earth and us. I’m inspired to cook healthy homemade vegetarian/vegan meals when I return home to Canada, thanks to this retreat centre’s talented creative chef Jake!

At this retreat, I discovered 4 new things about myself:

1. My Mandarin has improved a lot since last year, despite taking a 4 months’ break from it. I was comfortable being in a full-immersion Mandarin speaking environment. For the most part, I understood what everyone was saying and I could communicate with them. Of course at times I would be confused, and could not find the right vocabulary or grammar pattern to talk. I’m still learning the language. At the same time, I realize that taking a break from a language and then getting back into it truly works!

2. Sometimes you just have to cast your fear aside and not think about anything, and do it. Thanks to Mark’s encouragement and attitude that “surfing is fun and like playing in the water”, that is exactly what I decided to do for my first surfing lesson. I have always been afraid of the water even as a kid even though my parents put me through swimming lessons. In the process of letting go, I learned that I love surfing! It is so fun and it is definitely something I want to continue so that goes hand in hand with relearning swimming as an adult.

3. Another huge fear I have decided to cope with this year throughout my travels is to try to overcome my phobia of dogs. In the past if a dog came near me, I would be freaking out, jumping up and down, and even getting on the table to get away from it. Therefore I cannot be in the same room with it. Two months ago, after meeting a very well-trained dog in Macau, I guess I got some courage to see if I can continue to be closer to dogs. This time even though I’m still apprehensive, I noticed that it is okay for me to be in the same room with them if they are well-behaved like Mark and Kite’s dogs, as long as they don’t pay too much attention to me.

4. I used to think that I’ll never be able to do aerial yoga because it requires a lot of flexibility and doing craziness high up. It is amazing to discover what happens when there is a very good encouraging yoga instructor (thank you Joe 老師!!) and when I let go of my doubts. Aerial yoga is actually not as difficult as I perceived it to be, and it is really fun!!!!

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Aside from making connections with the others, here are two of my other favourite moments on this yoga retreat:

-Waking up early at dawn to do beach yoga as we listened to the sounds of nature (ocean waves, birds and cicadas singing) around us, and seeing the sunrise.

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-Facing the pineapple field and feeling the ocean spray touch my face once in a while as I’m reading about mindfulness in my quiet spot.

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In reflection, this yoga retreat in beautiful and serene nature was indeed perfect healing for my body, mind and spirit. I am filled with gratitude and look forward to living with mindfulness and finding peace within myself each day!🙂

Vegan Flower Salad

For the past two weeks I was enclosed in a magical nature place called Te Moata Retreat Centre, where every day I lived and breathed yoga, and ate healthy wholesome delicious vegetarian or vegan meals.

The following vegan salad recipe is inspired by the talented creative chefs at Te Moata who made us beautiful salads daily. It is from them that I learned flowers can be put into salad and eaten. I never knew that flowers had so many variety of tastes, from spicy to sweet!

A few days ago, when I saw edible flowers being sold at a farmer’s market near my friend’s home in Auckland, I let my creative culinary juices run and created my version of a vegan flower side salad, inspired by the kitchen crew at Te Moata!

My friends who ate this salad loved it a lot and it actually took us longer to take photos of it than to eat it! They said it was too gorgeous to eat!🙂

I hope you’ll enjoy this simple salad recipe and will be inspired to include edible flowers into your own recipes from now on!

 

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Serves: 4 people

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1 bag of kale

1 box of cherry tomatoes

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1/2 cucumber, sliced

1 apple, sliced

1 box of edible flowers

Optional: your favourite nuts and seeds as toppings, and salad dressing

*My favourite homemade salad dressing is a mixture of olive oil, raw apple cider vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

 

Instructions:

  1. Wash, drain and dry kale.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a salad bowl.
  3. Decorate salad with edible flowers as garnish.
  4. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunar New Year in Taipei & Next Adventure

As promised, I’ll be sharing with you how I celebrated Lunar New Year in Taipei. Today is the second day of Lunar New Year!🙂

When I arrived to Taipei end of summer last year, I was excited that I’ll be spending Lunar New Year here, and was looking forward to it, because I thought it would be more festive than in Canada. To my shock, it is not as festive as I imagined it to be; even my local friends admit that Taipei is the least festive city during Lunar New Year. The main reason is that most of the people who usually crowd the streets and MRT stations are actually transplants. They live in Taipei because of work and when it’s Lunar New Year, they return to their hometown to celebrate it. I learned that over 50% of whom I assumed were local Taipei residents return to their hometowns. Therefore, the past few days have been eerily quiet and empty, since most stores close too. I’ve actually been enjoying the peace and quiet the past few days, with less people on both the streets and subway.

Nonetheless, there are some little festivities around the city to remind us that it’s still Lunar New Year, such as red decorations and Lunar New Year sales in stores that are opened during this holiday.

Below, I’ll share a few photos with you so you can get a feel of Lunar New Year festivities:

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Of course Taipei 101 Mall is decorated and it’s opened to tourists.🙂

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Inside of Taipei 101 Mall

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Another department store with beautiful red decoration at front door

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I thought it was cool that even Krispy Kreme celebrates Lunar New Year and sells Lunar New Year themed donuts!

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Top row, sells a few kinds of Lunar New Year donuts, the monkey one is so cute!🙂

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Of course lots of stores sell Lunar New Year decorations…red means good luck!🙂

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Some typical New Year snacks Taiwanese eat as introduced to us by my Mandarin professor. 

 

I was very happy that my landlords invited me to go grocery shopping with them and experience the hecticness of buying food to prepare the two most important meals/dinners of Lunar New Year: New Year’s Eve & First Day. It was most crowded with people at the grocery stores and the markets. That was where I felt the most festive atmosphere!🙂

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This is Hua Gao (literal translation: Flower High); it’s a very yummy sweet cake that is eaten during this time because it means in whatever endeavour you pursue (e.g. work place) you will be promoted to a higher level. 

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Busy Nanmen Market on New Year’s Eve

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I was told by many Taiwanese friends that I won’t be able to see a lion dance in Taipei, but they were wrong! On the first day of Lunar New Year, I was woken up by loud drum sounds so I quickly went to see where the noise came from. I was really thrilled to see the lion dance from afar, on my apartment balcony. This lion dance went on for about 20 minutes in front of the department store. Very festive indeed!!

Eating homemade New Year’s Eve and First Day of New Year dinners with my warm-hearted lovely landlords and their family was a very wonderful experience! I learned it takes them the whole day to prepare such a feast!

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New Year’s Eve Dinner

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First Day of Lunar New Year Dinner

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I found it very interesting my landlords decorated even a refrigerator door with red Spring scrolls. They told me that wherever there are doors, the red Spring scrolls must be put on. The Chinese character on the fridge door means “full”. The word full signifies that all year long one is never hungry, and have enough to eat.🙂

Living in Taipei has been beyond what I expected…I’m filled with happiness every day and feel so blessed to have met so many warm-hearted and caring souls, and exposed to so many different exciting everyday adventures!!

I am now off on my next adventure, to New Zealand for my 200 hours yoga training and some travelling down under and some other countries for the next few months.

I will not bring my laptop while travelling, but when inspired by what I see and experience, will try my best to share with you via instagram. On the right hand side of my blog, I’ve added an instagram link (violet_everydaygirl), so feel free to click on it whenever you want to see where I am in the world!🙂

Like this sweet dumpling soup that my landlords are sending me off with (they say it’s for good luck this year and will encourage me to be the best person I can be as only sweet thoughts and words will come from me), I wish you all a very sweet Year of the Monkey, and wherever you are or go, may only sweet and good things follow!❤

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With love and gratitude,

Violet 

 

 

Weekend Trip to Taichung from Taipei

One of my classmates invited us to tour her ancestral home in Taichung, so I took up on her invitation with another friend and away we went, making it into a weekend getaway. We thought we might as well stay overnight to check out Taichung. Taichung is located central west of Taiwan, and it’s the third largest city in Taiwan.

We picked January 16th, Election Day, to go; not a smart move as we found out the day before and on the day of. However, being foreigners in Taiwan, when we picked that weekend in advance, we honestly had no idea it was Election Day. We learned that the Taiwanese are extremely patriotic to their country and take their voting right seriously. Many Taiwanese work in Taipei but their home city is elsewhere, so they went home to vote. Therefore, bus and train tickets on Friday and Saturday were SOLD OUT! Travelling by bus and train to Taichung are the cheapest options, so people actually bought them in advance.

However, if not for Election Day and the sold out bus and train seats, we would not have discovered the convenience of travelling by Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR). Yes, it’s triple the price of bus ($250 NTD) and double the price of train ($380 NTD), but very well worth it, in my opinion. We got to Taichung in 50 minutes as opposed to 2.5 hours if we travelled by bus or 2 hours by train. I’m a big fan of the High Speed Rail now; it’s the best way to see Taiwan. Compared to travelling within my own country, $30 CAD ($675-700 NTD) one way is so cheap to go to another city that’s far! The only downside I can think of taking High Speed Rail to Taichung is that the HSR station is in Wurih, 20 minutes away from downtown. Nonetheless, there are plenty of taxis and public buses that go downtown.

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Because all reserved seats on HSR were sold out, we saved $25 by getting non-reserved seats ($675)! Non-reserved seats are slightly cheaper, and non-reserved sections are from cars 10-12. On our way to Taichung, we got lucky and found seats. However, on our way back to Taipei, we had to stand but standing for 50 minutes is not tiring at all.

We took the taxi to our friend’s ancestral home from the station which was about 20 minutes away, so we paid around $250 NTD. For the rest of our Taichung trip, we either walked or took the public bus. Public buses come around frequently and it’s the cheapest ($15 NTD) way to see the city if you are not rushed for time. We were thrilled when we discovered that our Taipei’s Easycard worked on public buses in Taichung, so we used that to pay our bus fares!

Here are highlights of my short trip to Taichung:

1.The Wufeng Lin Family Mansion & Garden

This is my friend’s ancestral home which is now open to the public by appointments. To see the inside, visitors are required to either join a tour, or request for a private tour guide. Our friend booked an English-speaking tour guide for us so we could really understand the history behind this magnificent site. I learned that my friend’s ancestors, the Wufeng Lin of Taichung, used to be one of the five powerful families in the early days of Taiwan.

This mansion compound is beautiful from architecture, detailed carvings to the layout inside etc.

I took some photos of the place, and will share with you here.🙂

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Detailed pattern/carvings on a window. Do you see what they are supposed to represent? If I remember correctly from our tour guide, they are turtle shells. Turtles represent longevity and the Wufeng Lin wished that for themselves and their descendants.

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The view from the tea parlor, where we rested and had a nice cup of homemade herbal tea.

The next photo shows the doorway leading to my favourite part of the mansion: 大花廳 (direct translation: Big Flower Hall). It is absolutely gorgeous in here.

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The Big Flower Hall was where the Lin family used to entertain guests, and also where they could enjoy outdoor theatrical plays, performed on the exquisitely designed stage below.

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This is where outdoor seats were placed for family members and guests to enjoy the plays.

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Stage as seen from outdoor seating area

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A close up of the detailed carvings on stage, including the ceiling with a flower, very fitting for the Big Flower Hall.

Something visitors can do at the Big Flower Hall is play dress up! Traditional clothing is available for free, and visitors can choose any outfit they want and wear it to take photos with the beautiful backdrop. Of course we couldn’t resist, so we dressed up and had fun taking a variety of photos, in front of a big tour group of American tourists, who were watching.🙂

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For location and hours of operation to The Wufeng Lin Family Mansion & Garden, see:

http://travel.taichung.gov.tw/en-us/Attractions/Intro/1049/The-Lin-family-Mansion-and-Garden-in-Wufeng

 

2.Drinking the original bubble tea at 春水堂 (Chun Shui Tang)

Bubble tea was invented in Taichung in the late 1980s and this tea house claims to have invented it. We didn’t have time to go to the flagship store but went to the one located inside ModeMall, as it was more central. It is located very near to the train station. The bubble tea was really good…not too sweet and the tapiocas were small and extremely chewy just the way I like it!🙂

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We ordered two traditional Taiwanese snacks to go with our bubble tea and were not disappointed. The brown sugar mochi and pork shao mai were delicious!

More info on Chun Shui Tang Tea House:

http://www.rtaiwanr.com/taichung-city/chun-shui-tang-cultural-tea-house

http://chunshuitang.com.tw/

 

3. Feng Chia/Fengjia Night Market

We had a blast at this night market from eating, people watching and shopping! It claims to be the biggest night market in Taiwan, and we definitely agree it is. It seems to go on forever from street to street, packed with many people, waiting in line to buy street food,  or going into shops to buy things. The vast size of it is astounding and we have now declared it as our favourite night market in Taiwan because of the wide variety of food options available, and the shopping is simply amazing, so many choices and oh so cheap! We bought beautiful stylish good quality wallets for just $100 NTD! Both food and shopping at this night market is so much cheaper than in Taipei. Since we didn’t have enough time to finish exploring this night market, we made a pact to return in the summer time to do more eating and shopping!🙂

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This Japanese savoury pancake that I bought from a stall (right photo above) was so yummy! I got tuna with all the extra toppings for just $65 NTD! It was large and filling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More info on Feng Chia/Fengjia Night Market:

https://www.travelking.com.tw/eng/tourguide/taichung/feng-chia-night-market.html

http://travel.taichung.gov.tw/en-us/Attractions/Intro/850/Feng-Chia-Night-Market

http://www.rtaiwanr.com/taichung-city/fengjia-night-market

https://www.englishintaiwan.com/shopping-in-taiwan/taichung-night-markets

 

4.Miyahara Branch of Dawn Cake (日出宮原店)

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter and desserts, like me, then this place is paradise for you! This building used to be an eye clinic built by a Japanese optometrist by the name of Miyahara. However, it has now become a pastry/dessert/ice cream shop with a restaurant, all owned by Dawn Cake.

The interior design has a “Harry Potter” feel (see photos below) and it is definitely a tourist and/or foodie powerhouse. The main floor sells a variety of its special sweet products, beautifully packaged, from honey, chocolate, jam to traditional cakes, all promoted by its fine-looking employees, dressed in traditional clothing. Outside they have an ice cream shop, where tourists and locals can buy its ice cream specialty and eat it outside, standing.

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Since it was a rainy day and we wanted to treat ourselves, we decided to go all out, and dine on the second floor of Miyahara, where the restaurant was located. As we approached the stairs, we were politely greeted by a host, and then ushered upstairs for a very scrumptious and special dining experience including excellent attentive service!

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The layout at the table for each dining guest: There are 3 menus for each guest. If I remember correctly, one was for tradition Taiwanese dishes, the second one was for desserts and specialty dishes, and the third one was for drinks.

We learned that the Moon Pavillion Sundae is Miyahara’s signature dessert, the must-eat that every tourist or foodie needs to have at least once while in Taichung. The ice cream shop downstairs sells it as well, but with no fancy seating available like at the restaurant.

The sundae is ginormous, can be easily shared between 2-4 people. It costs $450 NTD (approximately $19 CAD). We get a choice of 4 ice cream flavours and 5 toppings. There are 10 unique flavours available: Irwin mango, Kyoho grape, Heiye lychee, Lugu green tea, Ceylon black tea, raisins Mascarpone, cactus and native pineapple yogurt, Alpaco 66% floral & fruity chocolate, Vanuatu 44% milk chocolate and Uganda 80% smoked chocolate.

We were very overwhelmed with all the interesting ice cream choices, since we have never tried some of these flavours and wanted to try them all, but could only choose four. Our server patiently described each flavour for us, and made suggestions (e.g. pair a sweet one with a not so sweet one etc.) until we made our final four choices: Heiye lychee, Lugu green tea, cactus and native pineapple yogurt, and Uganda 80% smoked chocolate.

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Once the four ice cream flavours were put in front of us, our server came over with a huge movable tray filled with the special toppings. When she lifted the lid, we were astounded by the variety and the sheer size of some of these toppings. For example, the pineapple cake was quite big. In the end we decided on these 5 toppings: pineapple cake, soft cheesecake, a cacao ball, hard fruity jelly candy and the butterfly pastry.

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Our sundae was decorated carefully by our server and at the bottom of our ice cream serving bowl, was another hidden sweet secret. There was mascarpone cheese which allowed us to dip our butterfly pastry and cone pieces into it.

Our final verdict is that the Moon Pavilllion Sundae was decadently delicious and worth every single expensive dollar!😉

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On our first day in Taichung, my friend asked what’s a Canadian food, and I proudly told her poutine is very Canadian. She said she never had it before and as luck would have it, it was at this restaurant! So, we also tried another food item on the menu: Poutine (French fries with gravy and melted Gouda cheese).

Even though it’s not authentic, the presentation and flavourful taste of this poutine definitely made up for it!

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The french fries were elaborately stacked into a pyramid, and our server poured the melted gouda cheese with flair as we “oohed” and “aahed”. 

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Next he poured the gravy on top. I was pleasantly surprised that pieces of meat was added to the gravy.

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Final presentation of Miyahara’s Poutine.🙂

More info on Miyahara:

http://www.rtaiwanr.com/taichung-city/miyahara

https://www.travelking.com.tw/eng/tourguide/taichung/miyahara-eye-hospital.html

In Chinese: https://www.dawncake.com.tw/

 

And there you have it, my whirlwind weekend getaway in Taichung, with my two new friends from Taiwan! We think Taichung is a city worth visiting especially for foodies and shoppers. We also heard that Taichung is the gateway to other nearby natural scenic attractions such as Sun Moon Lake and Alishan. Many people use Taichung as the main base and do day trips to these places. Therefore, we are definitely returning to Taichung this summer!😀

Celebrating New Year in Taipei

Dear readers and fellow bloggers,

I know I’ve been MIA for almost two months now; I’ve been enjoying and settling into local life in Taipei, travelling a bit within the country, meeting new local friends, participating in community events, volunteering etc. Of course learning Mandarin at the university is taking up a lot of my time; the course load is heavy, despite the part-time hours, and the pressure from my professor to perform at my best is intense. Within 4 months I progressed from Level 1 to Level 3. It’s definitely quick acceleration of learning. I hope to write about my Mandarin learning experience at some point this year when I complete it!

Since Christmas is not really celebrated in Taiwan (don’t be fooled by all the Christmas decorations displayed all over town especially inside or outside of department stores in Taipei; it’s all commercialized) I decided to fly over to Hong Kong for a few days to be with family when I found out that they would be there!🙂 I’ve always heard that the Christmas lights are the best in Hong Kong and it’s a must-see (yes, it’s also commercialized like Taipei but hey, I’m with family during Christmas there!), so I’m thrilled that I finally got to see it in person and check that off my bucket list. The epic Christmas lights and decorations in Hong Kong did not disappoint at all.

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Night View of Christmas lights at Tsim Tsa Tsui Waterfront

 

Now that you’re updated on why I’ve been missing, I hope you’re all off to a phenomenal start this year already!🙂

I would like to share with you two special New Year things I did in Taipei, and I think you should definitely add it to your own bucket list if you ever come!😉

 

1. New Year’s Fireworks at Taipei 101

To welcome 2016, I checked off another bucket list item, which was to see the spectacular fireworks explode from Taipei 101 at the stroke of midnight. There are so many places throughout the city that you can see it (near Taipei 101 where a special free countdown concert is being held, hiking up a mountain to see it or just standing in a corner of a street with a good view etc.); it all depends on your preference: to see it far or near. Instead of waiting for hours outdoors like I did in NYC last year, this year I decided to join my new friends to see the fireworks from their apartment rooftop. It was definitely less crowded. The perspective was different but still very beautiful as I could see the whole city.

Tip: My friends and I discovered that the MRT Station Daan, exit 4 (street in front) has a very good view of Taipei 101.

Rumour (I also read it in the news) has  it that there will no longer be a fireworks extravaganza at Taipei 101 for next new year; however, according to locals I spoke to, they say this rumour happens every year and then there’s fireworks. I guess only time will tell…

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My cell phone camera does not take night time photos well especially if it’s far, so this photo of Taipei 101 fireworks close up is not mine. It’s shared graciously from a friend of a friend who saw it closer than I did.

 

After the fireworks ended, my friends and I decided to walk towards Taipei 101 (Xinyi area) to experience the crowd. To our delight, the party was still going on strong. Of course the bars, lounges and cafes were full to its capacity so they did not accept any newcomers. In fact, to our surprise, some places were closing down “early.” However, a lively night market was set up and it was fun to walk around to feel the crowd atmosphere and to buy some Taiwanese snacks (小吃) to eat. We stayed around the area till around 3:30am because we were extremely exhausted from a long day of school and then countdown. When we left, I can honestly tell you that the locals were still wide awake and socializing in every corner of the streets in this area, from sitting on available benches to just sitting on the ground.

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The night market by Taipei 101

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The sea of people roaming the streets after the fireworks, by Taipei 101

 

The city of Taipei did a very good job with security, cleaning up (we saw many cleaners on the streets cleaning) and providing public transportation. The MRT (subway system) was running for 24 hours that day to ensure everyone could go home. Other options to go home were using taxis, walking and using YouBikes. I used YouBike to go home with two very sweet friends who made sure I arrived home safe and sound before they headed home themselves. A big thank you to AE & CK, for starting my 2016 off on a positive and happy note, a reminder to always be kind, caring and thoughtful!❤

 

2. Receiving Spring Scrolls from Xingtian Temple (宮) 

Many older locals tell me that the western New Year (January 1st) is only celebrated by the young people, which is evident from what I saw on the streets on January 1st. However, according to them, Lunar New Year is an integral part to Taiwanese culture so everyone celebrates it from young to old.

I learned a cool tradition and activity that you can do if you’re in Taipei before the Lunar New Year starts. Many locals go to the temples to receive free Spring Scrolls which they use to decorate their home for Lunar New Year. They are called “Spring” scrolls because Spring is the season that represents growth and a new beginning. Hence Lunar New Year welcomes the beginning of Spring.

One of my classmates told me about Xingtian Temple and that the Spring Scrolls were beautiful. As a result I went there with my language exchange friend to check out the temple and receive the scrolls.  According to both of them, many people line up to receive the scrolls, especially on weekends. True to their words, it seems as if the people entering the temple was never-ending. Although the line may seem long, it moves very fast; I think we only lined up for about half an hour before we got our scrolls.

To avoid the crowd, you can go during a weekday. They give out Spring Scrolls daily from 8:30-19:30 during this period before Lunar New Year.

It is very easy to get to Xingtian Temple. It has its own MRT station on the yellow line. It only takes about 10 minutes to walk to the temple from exit 3.

Below you’ll find some photos and descriptions of how I collected the Spring Scrolls:

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The long line to get the Spring Scrolls

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Temple volunteers ask each person which Spring Scroll they want, and you collect the ones you want from table to table, until you reach the end.

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I took some Spring scrolls that hold meaning for me; for example the one word on the red square piece of paper means “Spring” and the two words below it mean “peace”.  In the end a patient temple volunteer rolled all the scrolls for me and put them into a plastic bag for me to take home. According to my landlord, it is a nice gesture to leave a small donation before leaving the temple, as a token of appreciation, since the temple took time and effort to produce so many beautiful scrolls to give to everyone for free.

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Thank you for reading my long New Year post!

I’m looking forward to celebrating Lunar New Year in Taipei and will share with you how it’s celebrated here next month!🙂

With love and gratitude, Violet