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

My Top 10 Must-Eats in New Orleans

I believe one of the greatest pleasures in travelling is trying and eating foods from places I’m visiting. In my opinion, New Orleans is definitely a foodie’s paradise. Its rich history and diversity of cultures makes its food unique and mouth-watering whether it’s Cajun, Creole, Southern or a mix with other ethnic cuisines.

Before going to New Orleans (NOLA), I asked friends and family members who have been to New Orleans what are the must-dos there. Everyone’s response was this: “You have to EAT A LOT while there.” By the time I finished talking to everyone, I had a long list of food I had to try in NOLA.

Below, I would like to share with you my favourite top 10 picks of New Orleans food that I tried this July. You cannot leave the city without eating them at least once!😉

1.Red Beans and Rice

I’ve always loved eating red beans and rice and when I was in NOLA, where it was invented, I could not stop myself from gorging on it almost every single day! From fast food shops to pubs to fancy restaurants, I ordered it off the menu and no matter how each place made it, whether eaten on its own or paired with some kind of meat, I loved it!

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Red Beans and Rice with Sausage

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Mike Anderson’s Seafood at Riverwalk Outlet (food court): Red Beans and Rice

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Muriel’s Jackson Square: Wood Grilled Pork Chop with New Orleans Red Beans and Louisiana Popcorn Rice 

 

2. Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Because I’m allergic to certain seafood, I could not try the seafood gumbo. Instead, I ate the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Since I really like sausages especially chorizo, I ate this flavourful dish a few times. This stew tastes amazing especially with white rice in it.🙂

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Eaten at Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant

 

3. Jambalaya

This popular Louisiana Creole rice, meat and vegetable dish is also a must-eat; it’s simply delicious!!

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I made this with my friend F.Y. at Crescent City Cooks, a really good culinary school! If you have time, I highly recommend signing up for a hands-on culinary class here where you not only learn about making several dishes but also get to eat them at the end of class. It was so fun!

 

4. Muffuletta

Trying this ginormous classic sandwich is a must, and you have to get it from its’ original place, Central Grocery Co. on 923 Decatur Street.

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This round type of Sesame bread is layered with Italian salami, olive salad, Italian ham and freshly minced garlic. At this deli, they cut the big round bread into 4 quarters, and sell them either in half or whole. A whole muffuletta can feed 4 people.

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I bought half of the muffuletta and ate one quarter for lunch, and then saved the other quarter for dinner. Each quarter is huge!

 

5. Bread Pudding

New Orleans is known for this scrumptious dessert!

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6. Pecan Pie

When I think of New Orleans, I also think of pecan pie and honestly, almost every local I spoke to while here knows how to make it or has someone in their family who knows how. Pecan pies are so delicious!!

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These mini pecan pies were made at Crescent City Cooks too.🙂

 

7. Pralines

If you have a serious sweet tooth, these sugary and creamy candies filled with pecans are for you! I highly recommend trying the original flavour.

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These original flavoured pralines are from Southern Candymakers.

See:

http://www.southerncandymakers.com/index.php/pralines

 

8. Praline Bacon from Elizabeth’s

Elizabeth’s is located in the Bywater district in New Orleans, and it claims to have invented the Praline Bacon in 1998. Since it’s famous, I had to give it a try here, even though I rarely eat bacon anymore. I had my first bite and I was hooked. It’s sinfully delicious…a perfect combination of salty and sweet.

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9. Boudin Balls in Creole Mustard Sauce

These flavourful Cajun style deep fried pork and rice sausage balls are to die for!

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I had them at Elizabeth’s too. They were sooooooooooo good!

Thanks so much to the best bike tour I did in the city, the Confederacy of Cruisers, I learned about Elizabeth’s!🙂

See: 

http://confederacyofcruisers.com/

http://www.elizabethsrestaurantnola.com/

 

10. Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde

I think a true authentic New Orleans culinary experience cannot be complete without visiting Cafe du Monde and treating oneself to its famous French style beignets (square size donuts dusted with powdered sugar) and cafe au lait.🙂

The Cafe du Monde on 800 Decatur Street (French Market location) is open 24 hours a day and only closes on Christmas.

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Beignets are served in a plate of three; they are quite huge so can be shared.

Life in Taipei: 5 Lessons Learned So Far

I have now been in Taipei for two months, and I feel like I’m finally settling into this beautiful and dynamic city, after going through some minor culture shock, as any person would as they move into a new country.

Many of you have asked me what life is like here and are interested in hearing about the everyday life of the locals and how I’m adjusting. I’m happy to share with you all as seen through my own personal lens.

To make it fun, I’ve made them into lessons I’ve learned about living in Taipei and my impression of it so far.🙂

5 things I’ve learned so far…

Lesson #1: The umbrella is my best friend.

I am not kidding when I say this. The weather is unpredictable at times, and I’ve found out that it rains a lot especially during summer and autumn. After all, it is typhoon season. Thus it’s super handy to have an umbrella on me at all times because it might rain after a few hours of sun, or vice-versa.

I used to scoff at the idea of people especially ladies carrying umbrellas while it is sunny. The main purpose of carrying the umbrella is to protect their face from the sun. Guess who is doing that now? Me. The sun is extremely strong here and even with sunblock, it doesn’t protect my face from the sun properly. I get freckles easily from the sun so in the interest of having as little freckles as possible on my face, I have now resorted to using the umbrella like the locals. Frankly, I feel quite at home doing it. I guess this saying is true: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”😉 Well, in this case, do as the Taiwanese do!

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Locals use the umbrella for rain or shine too.

 

Lesson #2: Mosquitoes are my enemies!

Since day one of my arrival, I’ve been pestered by these little bugs. In my naivete, I thought there would be hardly any mosquitoes in Taipei since it’s a big city. Well, how wrong I was. It seems that they are everywhere and they love me a lot. Almost every day when I come home, I have a new mosquito bite mostly on my legs but sometimes in very interesting places that I’ve never had while in Canada.

One of my aunts shared her secret recipe of keeping mosquitoes away since I really didn’t want to apply any chemicals on my skin anymore. I’m looking into more natural or organic skin products these days. She told me all I had to do was dab a few drops of sesame oil onto a cotton pad and then apply it onto my wrists, ankles and neck. I personally vouch that this method works!🙂

 

Lesson #3: Taiwanese people are really friendly and helpful.

I know I’m quite directionally challenged, but before leaving Canada I was determined that while living in Taipei, I’ll work on my own navigational skills and REALLY learn how to read a map. I mean, come on, everyone knows how to read a google map right? Well, apparently not. On my first day of using google map on my cell, I was extremely unsuccessful. Instead of arriving at said place which was about 5 minutes from my location, as indicated by google map, I was getting further and further away.

As a result, I decided to go back to my #1 method of finding a place which is by asking people. Since I tend to get lost a lot, even in my own city or when travelling, I’m not shy in asking people for directions. This is the first city where almost every time I ask someone how to get to a place, they would personally take me there! It has happened to me more than five times now. I’m really touched by the warmth and helpful spirit of the locals here.🙂

 

Lesson #4: Taipei’s subway (MRT-Mass Rapid Transit) system is amazing!

My home is right next to a subway station and I have to tell you that I’m simply amazed by how the MRT runs. Like clockwork, I can rely on it consistently. There are screens located throughout the station telling passengers when the next train will arrive. It’s really high-tech, in comparison to the subway system in my home city. And you can go almost everywhere in Taipei using the subway system as many main attractions have their own station name, and each station has at least 4 exits where the places and streets you want to go to are clearly labelled, so you know which exit to take to reach your destination.

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A clearly detailed map showing commuters which exit to take to reach their destination

 

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There are 5 subway lines

 

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Love the screen indicating when the next train/subway will arrive and the clear white outline on the floor allowing commuters to line up in an orderly way!

I’m also amazed by the good manners of the commuters. Since I’ve been here, I’ve only seen everyone abiding by the rules of the MRT. For example, the priority seating on the subway are colour coded in blue; and no one occupies it unless they are elderly, pregnant, handicapped or with very young children. When you get off the subway, no one is rushing off; there’s almost a zen like atmosphere, where people follow one after the other to go on the right side of the escalator and wait patiently for their turn to board it to go up. Even people walking on the left side, are walking calmly, as if they have all the time in the world.

Here are some photos of rules that remind commuters how to behave on the MRT:

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Here are photos of the very well-behaved commuters:

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I take this extremely long escalator to go to university every day. It’s always calm and quiet.

 

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Each subway station is generally very large like this and really well organized and clean!!

 

Lesson #5: Taipei is extremely bike-friendly!

In almost every big intersection I walk to, there are bikes that I can use to go anywhere when I don’t feel like walking. I simply have to use my EasyCard to rent a bike and off I go. These bikes, known as YouBikes, are owned by the Taipei city government and it’s for public use. The government wants to encourage its citizens to use these bikes as a greener alternative to improve the quality and environments of its city.

The EasyCard works on the MRT, Bus, YouBike and even some convenience stores and coffee shops!! I love using it, it's really convenient.

The EasyCard works on the MRT, Bus, YouBike and even some convenience stores and coffee shops!! I love using it, it’s really convenient.

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Another form of transportation that I see a lot of locals use is the motorcycle or scooter. According to locals, a motorbike or scooter is fast, convenient and cheaper than owning a car. I have to admit I was shocked when I first saw this scene on my first day to university, as there are more cars on the road where I come from:

It seems like there are more motorcycles on the road than cars. Usually I see only motorcycles at the front behind the traffic lights; cars are behind.

It seems like there are more motorcycles and scooters on the road than cars. Usually I see only motorcycles/scooters at the front behind the traffic lights; cars are behind.

 

Most police officers ride a motorcycle on while on duty!

Most police officers ride a motorcycle on while on duty!

Now I’m so used to seeing many motorcycles and scooters on the road; it’s just a form of transportation and way of life here.

Some might think that Taipei might be a bit too bike-friendly as bikes and motorbikes/scooters are allowed on the sidewalk with pedestrians. At first I was scared of being run over by the bikes and/or motorcycles/scooters as I’m walking on the sidewalk but after a few weeks, I got used to it. Plus, the cyclists or motorcyclists are quite experienced in navigating on the sidewalk.

Today I managed to navigate myself around pedestrians, other cyclists and motorcyclists on the sidewalks on my way home with my youbike. I’ve finally gained a vital survival skill in Taipei. Not bad for someone who just came 2 months ago!🙂

Flowers drop from trees here, instead of colourful leaves like my home in Canada. Happy Autumn! :)

Beautiful flowers drop from trees here during Autumn, instead of colourful leaves like my home in Canada. Happy Autumn, my dear readers and fellow bloggers!🙂

Stay tuned for the next 5 lessons as I continue living in my new home city, Taipei!🙂