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

The Power of Positive Affirmations

This summer I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to get my kids yoga teacher certification. One of my favourite moments during training was a 20 minute drawing and breathing activity where we reflected on who we are in an authentic honest way.

It seems we are constantly surrounded by noises, chaos and the hectic pace and demands of our daily lives whether it is from our family responsibilities, work tasks etc. I find it especially true in the twenty-first century whereby technology or social media plays a really big role in most people’s lives. In the process of meeting the demands of this pace of life where we just live on “autopilot”, we lose ourselves, the core of who we are. There is no time to really think about who we are and what we want to do in our lives to be truly happy. It can be so dire, that some people experience mental, physical and emotional burnout and depression overtime.

This drawing and breathing exercise reminded me once again how important it is to really “pause”, whether it is for a few minutes or one hour out of our daily lives to simply breathe and connect with ourselves and think positive thoughts. Remember: “You are what you think.” These positive thoughts are essentially positive affirmations that help us to realize and actualize our potential and dreams.

One of my dance instructors once shared with us her positive affirmation. She said that every morning when she wakes up, before she does anything, these are the words she utters: “I am happy. I am healthy. I am blessed.” We all thought it was a beautiful way to start the day. As part of her class, we made it into our routine to end the class with these words. I truly felt these words and believed it about myself as I continued my everyday life.

Here are my positive affirmations from my yoga drawing and breathing exercise which I truly see and feel as my true self:

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I have this on my cell phone that I look at as a daily reminder. 🙂

What are yours?

They can be as short and simple as my dance instructor’s or as long as mine or anyway you want them. It only matters that you are finding time to pause, breathe, reflect and believe in the power of these two words: I AM.

Go and try it, and see how powerful your own positive affirmations can have on your life to achieve genuine happiness!

Greetings from Abroad!

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Hello from Taipei!

I know that it has been a long while since I’ve been here and you may be wondering why the complete silence. So, let me explain…

For the past 6 months, I’ve been busy preparing for my year abroad, from researching, getting paper work completed to finally packing! I feel blessed that my profession allows me to take time for myself to rest, reflect, rejuvenate and grow.

I’m really excited that I’ll be combining my love for travelling, meeting new people, and embracing new cultural experiences with my passion for learning during my sabbatical. To be precise, I’ll be learning Mandarin and getting deeper into yoga! In fact, my travel abroad adventure began in The Big Easy (New Orleans) last month already where I completed my Kids Yoga Teacher Training with an amazing Canadian trainer, Aruna Kathy Humphrys of Young Yoga Masters, and a wonderful supportive like-minded group of American classmates. Sightseeing in New Orleans and eating tons of mouth-watering Southern food has always been on my bucket list, and I’m happy I checked that off!

Fast forward to now, I’m currently living in Taipei. I flew here a week ago and am slowly getting over jetlag and settling into my new home. I’ve enrolled in a university program to learn Mandarin for foreigners at the National Taiwan University, and am looking forward to beginning class next week!

While Taipei will be my home base for the next 12 months, I also have some travel plans for New Zealand, Australia, Bali and other places that I’ve yet to decide on.

Quite a few people asked me before I left if I’m afraid to be travelling solo and not know anyone in any places I’ll be going to, and to be honest, there are moments when I doubt myself and get scared. However, for the most part I’m absolutely thrilled to embark on this adventure of a lifetime and to fulfill some of my dreams. I only think of the positives. I had a beautiful memorable time in New Orleans and met friends whom I know I’ll keep in touch for life. The beginning of my travel adventure in New Orleans was definitely a promise of yet more wonderful things to come. 🙂

One of my good friends shared this quote with me: “To travel alone is to get lost on purpose, in order to be found.” I hope this quote will inspire me to find my own true path as I travel physically, mentally and spiritually throughout some parts of the world.

I can’t wait to share my everyday travelling/learning adventures and bucket list with you and thank you for being part of my journey here!

Stay tuned!

XO, Violet

Some very thoughtful items I've received from dear colleagues and friends (THANK YOU!), or I bought on my own for my year abroad that I've packed with me. :)

Some very thoughtful items I’ve received from dear colleagues and friends (THANK YOU!), or I bought on my own for my year abroad that I’ve packed with me. 🙂

 

 

NYC: Ringing in the New Year at Times Square

To my dear readers,

Happy New Year from New York City! 🙂

For me, 2014 has been a year filled with ups and downs. To say goodbye to 2014 in a profound way and to welcome in the New Year, I decided to check off something from my bucket list. Something I definitely learned in 2014 was that life is too short; we have to go reach for our dreams! And doing the countdown in New York City’s famous Times Square has been a dream of mine since I started watching this spectacular festivity every New Year’s Eve with my family.

Words cannot describe how thrilled and blessed I felt to be able to experience one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration around the world with approximately 1 million people in NYC! Waiting for over 6 hours in the frigid temperature while soaking in the atmosphere and excitement in the air was well worth it for me. I want to thank my two good friends C & S for coming along with me on this fantastic adventure, even when everyone commented, including New Yorkers, that we were crazy for lining up in the cold for hours “just to watch a ball drop”! Yes, by midnight I could hardly feel my legs and feet even though I thought I was well-prepared in dressing warmly and I barely drank or ate anything for fear of using the washroom and losing my good spot in the “party pen”, but I loved every moment of being frozen! 🙂

It was fun to meet and chat with people from all around the world, who flew to NYC just to be in Times Square for the countdown; and I also gained a new appreciation for New York City’s Finest. NYC’s Finest did a stupendous job in keeping 1 million revelers safe! The police officers were all very professional, friendly, helpful, and strict when needed to be.

Before I end my New Year’s post, I highly recommend you to add NYC’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Countdown to your bucket list. It is an extremely safe and family-friendly event.  I will now share with you 10 tips to make the most of this experience, if you ever decide to do it. I hope you will bookmark this post for your future reference. 😉

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10 Tips for NYC’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Countdown:

1. Dress extra, extra warm!

If you are afraid of the cold, and trust me it gets extremely cold as the hours tick down to midnight, wear your warmest and thickest Winter coat/jacket AND snowpants, plus insulated winter boots (better yet, wear double socks too)! And of course wear insulated mittens/gloves and I know this ain’t pretty and I’m not kidding (I will do this if I ever return for the countdown again), I suggest you to wear a ski mask, instead of a regular winter hat!

2. Bring a blanket!

We saw quite a few people coming prepared with a blanket and we thought they were so smart. You can use the blanket to cover your whole body to ward off the freezing cold on top of your warm winter clothing or even use it to sit on the ground after you get tired from standing for over a few hours.

3. Eat a big meal before you line up!

This is very important as you don’t want to starve for the rest of the night; we found that our huge late lunch at 3pm in a restaurant lasted us until midnight. FYI: If you’re someone who prefers to eat a proper meal even in the frigid cold every few hours, rest assured that pizza delivery guys will be walking around the “party pens” to sell warm pizza. The pizza is sold in a box for $20.

4. Use the washroom before lining up & drink as little as possible.

Make sure you use the washroom before you line up because once you get into a “party pen”, you cannot go out of it unless you don’t mind leaving it, losing your good spot, and lining up all over again to get back in, which can take at least an hour. Also, drink as little as possible to prevent you from going to the washroom once you’re in the pen. FYI: Washroom options are quite limited in the Times Square area on New Year’s Eve.

5. Bring snacks and/or hot drink in a thermos.

If you like, bring some snacks if you tend to get hungry and a hot drink in a thermos to keep you warm. My friend C was the only one who ate our snacks since she said eating a little kept her warm; while I only drank tiny sips of hot water from my thermos to stay a bit warmer. FYI: If you’re lucky, you may meet a Tim Hortons delivery guy going around the pens to sell hot chocolate. One cup of hot chocolate is sold for $5.

6. Move around!

Since you’re stuck in the party pen for hours before midnight, even with warm clothing, you may start getting colder due to lack of movement. To prevent further freezing, I suggest you to move your body a bit like jumping up and down, marching your legs or if you’re lucky, and it’s not crowded in your party pen, walk around it as much as you can.

7. To line up early or not?

Depending on how serious you are in getting a good vantage point, you can start lining up in the morning, or if you are like us, and want to check out the city a little bit and enjoy a big hot meal before lining up, late afternoon works too. Even though we started lining up at 5:30pm, we thought we still got a pretty decent vantage point of Times Square from 50th Street, which is 8 blocks away from where Times Square is located on 42nd Street. The main area, 42nd Street to 47th Street, is usually packed by 3pm. Check this site out for more info:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/holiday-lights/2014/12/31/visitors-guide-new-years-eve-times-square-ball-drop/20824125

8. If you prefer the indoors, make reservations early!

 If you want to be in the vicinity of Times Square but do not like to freeze, a variety of restaurants, lounges and hotels with a good view of Times Square offer pricey viewing parties. Just make sure you make reservations early. FYI: For a cheaper option, you can also stay in a McDonald’s either on Broadway or Times Square and wait till midnight. We noticed many people doing this while we were in our party pen. Just make sure you get a window seat and stay there till midnight. 🙂

View from our party pen on 50th Street: These 2 restaurants seemed like good options to stay in for the countdown.

View from our party pen on 50th Street: These 2 restaurants seemed like good options to stay in for the countdown.

View from our party pen: Novotel Hotel seems like a good hotel option to stay in for countdown as well!

View from our party pen: Novotel Hotel seems like a good hotel option to stay in for countdown as well!

9. No backpack and alcohol.

To pass through the security checkpoints quickly and to be able to get into one of the closer party pens (if you can), do not bring any of these items.

10. Forget you are freezing, smile & have fun with everyone around you! 🙂

 

The new year is here and it’s a new beginning…I have more things to check off my bucket list this year!!

I would love to hear from you: What do you want to check off from your bucket list for 2015? 🙂

Wishing you all another wonderful year filled with good health, joy, peace, love, prosperity, many blessings and new adventures! ❤

XO, Violet 

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Living with Intention

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Can you believe it?  It is already the second day of 2014!  I’m sure many of you already have some goals or new year’s resolutions in mind for this year.  I also have my own list which seems to be growing longer and longer by the minute. 😛  However, the thread that holds all of my goals and dreams is aptly captured in the quote above.  I discovered this quote on New Year’s Eve through a friend of mine, and it has resonated with me for the past two days.

To start off 2014 on my blog, I would like to share with you this meaningful Buddhist quote.  As we all continue to strive towards our new goals and reach new heights this year, I think it’s also important to keep this beautiful quote in mind.  Always think about and act upon these three important things as we go through our everyday lives, working towards our goals and dreams.  It means live with intention: know our own values, hopes and deepest desires, and at the same time love and care about (and spend time with) people and things that really matter to us, treat people and things (e.g. the environment) the way we want to be treated, and learn to let go of people and things when they are not meant to be or are unhealthy for us.  I truly believe that living with intention and being mindful (in the present) will help us to be more focused and bring us pleasure, joy and fulfillment in the long run.

Hope you find this post as food for thought and will inspire you to start your year off in the right direction! 🙂

XO, Violet 

 

P.S. If you’re wondering how to live a life with intention, here’s a very good beginner’s guide: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10705/the-beginners-guide-to-living-with-intention.html

Enjoy! 🙂