Tuesday, December 27, 2011

week 66_Christmas In Taipei!

I wrote this article for another publication, but figured it is about what I might usually post to the blog, so here you have it folks --- just a little bit about our first Christmas together in Taipei. :)

My desserts (L to R):
Cherry Wine Cake (x3), Pecan Pie (x2), Fudge, Apple Pie, Christmas Sugar Cookies

Sharing the Christmas Spirit

When it comes to the Christmas holiday, Taipei seems ready to share the commercialism and flashy decor, but for a foreigner spending my holidays away from ‘home,’ it’s the Christmas Spirit that I miss the most. In the south central US where I was raised the building anticipation prior to Christmas is almost tangible. Moods are light, hopes are many, and even the most cantankerous Grinch may surprise you with a moment of compassion.

For our first Christmas together in Taipei my husband and I took on the ambitious task of hosting a large Christmas feast. Being overseas for the holidays means missing time with loved ones and holiday traditions, but we decided that the best medicine for any homesickness would be to throw a traditional American Christmas lunch!

As foreigners in Taipei, we are lucky to have the world at our fingertips. This city truly offers the variety of dining and shopping from the world over.  Western foods, kitchen wares, etc. may be hard to find but it seems that anything can be found here if you know where to look. From City Super to Costco, from IKEA to Wellcome, the abundance of supermarkets selling western foods made it possible for us to prepare our favorite tastes of home! We may have substituted limited items and improvised a few recipes for convenience, but no grocery seems to be unobtainable in Taipei.

After days of planning, shopping, and scouting I now feel that I may be an expert of Western grocery items in Taipei. In the end, with our table overflowing and our apartment packed to the seams, I think our Taiwanese friends could feel our Christmas spirit. I almost laughed when a friend asked if we had a heated apartment. I answered “No, but we have been baking for two days, and now we’re trying to fit 30+ people inside!” Sitting down on the sofa to breathe our sigh of relief once the celebration had come to a close, my husband and I opened our presents under the tree – our apartment still smelling of turkey and pie, now further disheveled with mountains of disposed gift wrap and bows – it felt exactly like Christmas.

With the help of my Mom, Sister, and Aunts I was able to fix my favorite family recipes for the holidays. It turns out the only ingredients I was truly unable to find in the end were: 1. French Fried Onions, 2. Dark Corn Syrup, 3. Buttermilk --- but even these I probably would have found with more time and a few pointers from the expat community, not to mention I could have made one or more of them from scratch with more time!

Most importantly, I am just so thrilled to have shared the holidays with my hubby and pleased that we enjoyed ourselves so much. It was crazy cooking for 30 people and we had a blast doing it together! :) We are enjoying the week between holidays leading up the New Year's Eve. We live near TAIPEI 101 and they are famous for their New Year's firework displays! We are guaranteed to have some of the best seats in the house... so the next blog post may be a video :)

Merry Christmas to all! Hope your days have been merry & bright.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

week 65_Weekend in Macau!

As many of you may know, my husband has the pleasure of a December birthday... very near the Christmas holiday... so I like to differentiate between birthday and Christmas to be sure he gets to enjoy both holidays each year!

Look ~ It's the birthday boy! Here's to You Babe :)
[Margaritas at the Wynn Macau]
Dragon & light show in one of the (many) Wynn lobbies.
[28 foot dragon rises out of the floor in coordination with lights & music]

This year, for the BIG 3-0, we decided to take a mini-vacation for the weekend and checkout one of the nearby tourist traps: Macau! The flight from Taipei to Macau is approximately 1 1/2 hours and very affordable, so it was an easy destination for a 2 1/2 day trip. No visa or paperwork required, so we could just show up ready to have a great time! For those of you not familiar with Macau, it is a Special Administrative Region of China, which means it has been under Portuguese rule for the past few hundred years, until finally being handed back over to China in 1999 [similar to Hong Kong]. In particular, Macau is a tourist town and sometimes known as the Las Vegas of the East. That being said, it was the perfect location for a birthday celebration ~~~ and we tried not to gamble too much money away....!

The Venetian Macau

We stayed on the northern island of Macau at a 4-star hotel named Casa Real [there are 3 islands connected by bridges and reclaimed land], but also ventured to the lower islands of Taipa and Coloane to visit some of the other casinos ~ and to see the permanent ZAIA Cirque du Soleil show at the Venetian. Jason & I had seen Cirque du Soleil once before [in Vegas] and we are fans for life! The show was as amazing as anticipated, and we also thoroughly enjoyed seeing another side of the city. I even forced the husband to take his photo with some Playboy bunnies at the Bellini Lounge [poor boy], since we were at the Venetian and they were at the Venetian this month...

30's not so terrible, right? ;)
[He also had to go on stage so the band could sing Happy Birthday for him...]

When we weren't drinking, gambling, and carrying on the weekend long celebrations, we were out touring the town taking in some of the historic sites of Macau [and taking on the crowds]! Macau's population is around 600,000 but the streets are crammed full of tourists and tour groups. Because the Portuguese have been so present in Macau all signage and government documents are in both Chinese and Portuguese... but more importantly, there is some great European architecture [something Taipei is definitely lacking]! Walking along the alleys filled with shops and restaurants but also hills and sidewalk cafes and New Orleans reminiscent balconies and shutters had a very refreshing feel.

Busy tourist pedestrian area ~ we were sure to pick up a few trip souvenirs of our own!
Butcher on a back alley

The markets and shopping were colorful and entertaining - much like any Asian city - but the European architecture was a real treat. In our short weekend trip we squeezed in a few sightseeing side trips, but with more time, there were many more churches and temples to see.

The ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral
Inside another Cathedral [not St. Paul's, as the facade is all that remains after 3 fires]

All in all I think our weekend was the perfect balance of play and sightseeing. We didn't win crazy amounts of cash, but I think we didn't lose too much either... and seeing Macau for the first time together was a memorable experience for a memorable birthday.

Of course, I have a particular fondness for casino interior design because they can be so creative! Jason can tell you, I was just melting over the perfection of the Wynn... and the elaborate details of the many ritzy casino hotels!

L'Arc lobby, Christmas decor
[Me standing next to the longest drapes I've every seen!]

Wynn lobby, decorative table
Oh beautiful Wynn... I will come back to you! [Well, I wish anyways!]
Until next time...

Monday, December 12, 2011

week 64_holiday busy-ness!

The entire month of December this year is turning out to be packed! I didn't find time to blog this weekend, but I did finally find time to make it back to the fabric market --- even with the husband in tow :)

We picked out some fabric for new chair covers in our dining room [The 6 chairs and slipcovers came with the furnished apartment, but let's just say I'm not partial to white lacey chair covers with skirts and ruffles...]. I successfully conveyed the message of what I wanted to a vendor who is providing the fabric and the sewing, so now we just wait for a phone call to pick up our goods later this week! The chair covers turned out to be around $20 US each for the fabric and sewing work. I think they'd cost that much at IKEA too, but this way we get custom items however we like for our apartment.

Jason & I are also looking forward to an upcoming trip to Macau this next weekend for his 30TH birthday! There will definitely be photos and a blog post for that... :)

We are keeping extra busy this month, between planning Jason's birthday trip, a holiday lunch for lots of people, and of course getting ready for our own Christmas! Not to mention my mom & sister's upcoming visit to Taipei in Jan... busy!!! And loving it :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

week 63_Christmas Decorations!

Well if it's not Thanksgiving, it must be time for Christmas... right?!
I know that I have been a bit MIA this week on the blog, but that's because I have been spending my spare time Christmas shopping, decorating, and writing holiday cards!

Now that the turkey holiday is officially over, I am ready to move on to the next celebration!

Since the hubby and I will be spending the holidays here in Taipei this year (our first Christmas together in Taipei) I have been on the hunt for decor to make our little apartment feel festive! And surprisingly ~ There are more than a few stores selling holiday decorations :)

In particular, I have heard that the Tienmu area has some Christmas stores --- but I also hear that it is quite pricey. So for those of you in the mood for a taste of home without the imported price tag, here is an area I discovered with 7 or 8 holiday shops in a row!

Where to look for holiday decorations in Taipei: 
- Costco or other large foreign retail stores
- Party & Costume shops that bring in seasonal merchandise
- Japanese dollar stores (these especially carry a wide variety of holiday cards)

In truth, there is WAY too much tinsel and glitter at these stores, but I find that if you take the time to survey the goods, there are some more tasteful items to be found amidst the mountains of tacky Christmas stuff! Ha. :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

week 62_Thanksgiving in Taipei

Now that my adventures here have come full circle, this week I celebrated my second Thanksgiving in Taipei. Let's face it, Thanksgiving is probably the most American holiday next to the 4th of July (not exactly adopted by the locals...). Nonetheless, there must be some demand by expats to celebrate because this fall 2011 provided plenty of opportunities to enjoy turkey & all the fixins!

Not surprisingly, in these global times, Taipei residents who want to celebrate Thanksgiving should have no problem finding a feast. Let's face it - the world is a lot smaller than it used to be. Not only can I talk to people on the other side of the globe face to face, but I can also enjoy turkey & cranberries at home in Asia. I can't speak for the other cities in Taiwan, but in Taipei there were numerous vendors offering turkey dinners of all levels - frozen/fresh foods to prepare, carry out dinners to take home, or steaming hot buffets and set menus served to your table by gracious waitstaff. One of the English newspapers runs a full listing of Thanksgiving offerings each year - that seems to be the best place to get your information. This year I had a sampling of each. :)

Thursday was a typical work day (which of course felt a bit strange), so I worked steadily to ensure I would be able to bolt at quittin' time and make it to my dinner date! For lunch my co-workers suggested we check out IKEA, in case they might have a Thanksgiving meal. Of course --- being a bit dim-witted, it didn't sink in until we arrived that of course they wouldn't celebrate Thanksgiving. Western does not equal American... but I did get mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce with my meatball lunch ~ so that almost counts, right? 

IKEA Taipei Lunch:
10 Meatballs with Gravy,
Mashed Potatoes, & Cranberry Sauce

For Thanksgiving evening I joined some American friends at their home to enjoy a bountiful feast of delicious home-cooked food! I must say, it is terribly convenient to have great friends who offered to cook the entire meal, so all I had to do was show up and eat! Even still, I look forward to future Thanksgivings when I may have an oven again to cook my own turkey. :)

Delicious Thanksgiving dinner with friends!
Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Brown Gravy, Glazed Carrots, Green Bean Casserole, & Cranberry Sauce
My plate ~~~ Yum!
+ Pumpkin Pie for dessert!

The dinner was fabulous. I am lucky to have friends in Taipei who took time off work to make the holiday memorable and fix a delicious dinner! Even Ginger was there to keep me company...

Ginger keeping watch, hoping we might drop some turkey!

Nothing beats a great home-cooked meal to really usher in the holiday season. However, my honey was unable to get off work this Thanksgiving (remember - it's not a holiday here!). So on Friday when he did have the day off, we set out to try one of the Thanksgiving set menus at a western restaurant in Taipei: Carnegie's. Neither of us had been there before, though we have heard of it on numerous occasions. It was really nice to get to enjoy the evening together. He even dressed up nice so I had a hot date to show off for the evening ;)

Sadly, the Carnegie's Thanksgiving set menu left a lot to be desired! The best part of the meal was definitely the turkey! Some of the other items were very 'wanna be' dishes... they wanted to be authentic American food... but seemed to sort of miss the mark in menu selection and flavor...

Carnegie's Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner:
Salad with fresh fruit garnish and strawberry dressing or Clam Chowder (not pictured)
Turkey piled with (???) giblets, roll, 'creamed' vegetables,
White gravy, Roasted Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Coffee or Tea for dessert

Regardless, we are SO THANKFUL for each other ~ we had a splendid time. :)

Aside from the two Thanksgiving feasts above, we also had leftovers from both this week. I've been on a real cook-at-home kick since we moved into the new apartment, and I am loving it! The dinner with friends leftovers were delicious re-heated, but the Carnegie's leftovers I turned into a turkey and vegetable soup.

Soup anyone?

After the second turkey dinner, we strolled a little in town and did some window shopping. No Black Friday shopping for us, and no four day weekend, but it is my favorite season in Taipei and I am loving every minute of it!

View from our balcony. A perfect Sunday evening.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

week 61_Under the Weather

The weather was a little cold and dreary this week, and so was I! 
Sadly, I've been a little sick since last Sunday! Even though I've mostly recovered (still coughing), it consumed my entire week. At first, all I wanted to do was sit on our sofa and watch TV... but by now I am bored of the TV and just ready to be back to normal! Thankfully, today was the first beautiful weather all week (low 70's and sunny), and it was also the first day I felt mostly normal - with a cough. Last year December was my favorite month, but a few more days like today and November might be a contender.

Being sick in Taipei is such a different experience than being sick in Dallas or Oklahoma - so I guess that was the adventure for this week!

For starters, in Taiwan people are congregated in dense urban cities connected by public transportation, gigantic department store food courts, etc. My point being, that as opposed to a typical day in Dallas (when I might touch my desk, touch my car, and eat within the proximity of 2 other people for lunch), my typical day here includes a bus ride packed with others on my way to work, possible taxi rides during the day to and from business appointments, lunch in a crowded food court or restaurant where you are often sharing table space with strangers, and a bus or MRT ride home surrounded by countless more people... Contagious much??? It is probably for this reason that people in Asia frequently wear surgical face masks when they are sick or fear that they may be contagious... and with the week I was having, yours truly dawned a face mask too!

I still caught myself reaching up to cover my mouth when I coughed, but when you cover you mouth and cough you should really be washing your hands every time! When you wear the mask... you are not coughing the germs onto your hands and further spreading them that way. Smart.

Poster in the MRT station.
I think I have posted this pic to the blog before...

By Tuesday afternoon - in very unAmerican fashion - I decided that I should A. Leave the office and take sick days rather than try to push through as usual, and B. Proceed to a doctor's office immediately. I never had a doctor in Dallas and I lived there for 3 years... I think that lets you know I'm not usually one to schedule an appointment. Just tough it out and surely it will go away, right?!

Wrong. Anyways, Taiwan has a National Health Insurance which means that health care here is MUCH cheaper than the states and very accessible. I had recently noticed that there just so happens to be a "National Health Insurance, Chinese Medicine Clinic" on the same block as our apartment --- so I headed there for a checkup.

Once I met with the doctor, he took my pulse by hand and looked into my ears with a new tool I'd never seen. He asked if I'd been coughing and had a runny nose. Yes. This seemed so minimal compared to the typical appointment in the states: weigh you, take your temperature, blood pressure cuff, say 'ah', look in your ears, up your nose, listen to your breathing through the stethoscope, chat about what ails you..... I learned afterwards that this type of medicine is called auricular medicine. Similar to the reflexology foot massages or acupuncture, auricular medicine teaches that certain parts of your body are interconnected to other parts of your body - therefore for example, the doctor can determine what ails me by examining the inside of my ear which then relates to other organs.

Interesting to say the least.

After examining me, I was prescribed medication to take 3 x a day for 3 days. The clinics actually grind the powders and provide it to you on the spot. Then these square packets of brown powder can be mixed into a glass of water and drank as prescribed. All in all, total cost for the doctors visit and medication = $200 NTD (about $6 USD). 

Well, 9 doses and 3 days later I am not completely over it, but I can tell this cold is on it's way out. I also keep a few local convenience on hand in case I need them...

Left to Right: Nin Jiom Honey Loquat individual dose packets,
Tissues from 7-11 [6 packs of 10 tissues - 18NTD],
Nin Jiom Herbal Candy [95 NTD]
The Nin Jiom liquid medicine and candies are pretty popular here - these are equivalent to an herbal cough syrup and herbal cough drops. I keep them on hand in my purse for those terrible coughing fits that sometimes creep up. Neither tastes too terrible, they just remind me of a slightly sweeter cough syrup than others I've taken in the states. The ingredients are pictured on the packet in the center of the photo above. And of course... you can never have enough tissues!

This week: time to finally be back at 110% and to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday - I can't wait!!! :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

week 60_Yongle Fabric Market, Dihua Street

With the start of November, we have officially entered the 'wet' season in Taipei. However, for this girl, that still means a great time to get out and about! The heat has finally let up here, and the "cold" has not truly set in yet (despite what local fashions might lead you to believe...). Scarves and winter coats for 65F? Really?..... I like the contrast of the rainy days to the hot, hot summers, and the rain here is usually a light drizzle to moderate rain - rarely the kind of weather that would truly confine me to indoors.

This weekend, I finally, finally, made it to the Yongle Fabric Market on Dihua Street to explore! I have tried to go many times, but my timing has always been off and so this was my first chance to truly meander the entire market and see what they have to offer! Markets are abundant in Taipei, and this is a market dedicated entirely to sewing related crafts.

For some great photos, check out another blog here
I've been scheming some creative ideas for our apartment, and I thought that finding a few fabrics could be the best inspiration! Seeing the market in person though, let me know that if I am truly seeking the perfect fabric, I should probably have a color concept in mind before I go --- and return without the husband in tow. The market had rows upon rows of stalls with every fabric you could imagine, plus all of the ribbons, trims, and accessories. With the thousands of options to choose from, I am absolutely certain that I could spend days there scrutinizing the unlimited choices one by one. This is the kind of place that could make even an engineer wish they were a seamstress!

Unfortunately the markets' scheduled hours (M-Sat 10am-6pm) mean that I won't be returning until next Saturday, but that gives me a week to zero in on the perfect color inspirations for our home. I cannot wait to go back! I have the feeling I may be spending my afternoon there next time :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

week 59_Death Star & Blood Cake

Last night my husband and I decided to check out another nearby mall/department store (there are SO MANY in Taipei!). I had walked past before and never wandered in, but when my husband got word from a friend that we had a mall in the city that looked like a death star, he wanted to check it out. So we set out to check out the Core Pacific City Mall - not too far from our neighborhood.

Taipei's very own death star, the Core Pacific City Mall

Even though I sort of figured it had to happen eventually (?) I guess (??) that I would inevitably try the local favorite, blood cakes!!! I didn't realize this was the moment...

I know I've featured many food entries on my blog, and that is because the food is so different here from everything I've eaten most of my life! 

I've tried some adventurous foods here in Taiwan (well, adventurous for a girl from Oklahoma/Texas!) and there've been plenty of foods that I have still turned my nose up at, and decided not to try. It's challenging knowing that the locals really enjoy these dishes and yet I'm turned off just by learning the name of the dish, or the main ingredients. Not sure there's any way around that though.

Core Pacific City -aka- the Living Mall, Food Court

One of the local favorite ingredients happens to be blood - pig's blood, duck's blood, etc - apparently each has it's own unique flavor. Even though it doesn't' sound appealing to me, the locals especially enjoy this delicacy, and prepare it in multiple dishes, so I have the opportunity to eat this anytime I choose.

Of course, I've never chosen to eat it...
But when my dinner last night came with a small blood cake on the side (blood/sticky white rice), I figured I should probably just bite the bullet and try it this once --- so the husband and I both took a nibble.

Tempura Dinner:
[left - Boat] : Fish sausage rings, Winter Melon, Corn, Blood Cake, Sweet Sauce, Miso Soup
[right - Bento Box] : White steamed rice, Cabbage, Fried Egg, Tempura Shrimp & Veggies,
Salad w/Thousand Island dressing

It was not for me. Then again, I'm also sure that this fast food version, served cold was probably a poor example of the snack that the Taiwanese have encouraged me to try and may not compare to the places the locals prefer to order blood cakes. Who knows.

Even though I initially thought I could blame my Western heritage for my impartiality to blood cakes, it turns out that is altogether untrue. I recently saw a show on National Geographic featuring an exclusive dinner at the US's Swedish embassy, where the featured entrees were blood cakes (of a different variety) and Surstr√∂mming (which sounds equally unappealing!). Come to find out, blood has been a popular ingredient in many European countries for a looong time! You can learn more about it here:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

week 58_Northeast Scenic Coastal Highway to Yilan

It's rare these days that the stars align and my husband and I share two days off in a row together, so when that happened this weekend we considered our good fortune and got out of town!

Taiwan is a small island and is very accessible by public transportation (high speed rail, slow train, buses, subways, bicycles, etc!) but we decided the flexibility of driving a car, and aiming for a nearby destination was probably best --- spending 12 hours on a train, then bus, going to and from a remote destination wasn't quite feasible.

Renting a car was surprisingly painless despite our inability to communicate well in Chinese! Jason booked a cute little Nissan TIIDA online, and the price was probably equivalent to 2 train tickets... less than 2 high speed rail round trip tickets. We used a website for a rental car agency in Taipei that has English service. We hit the road with the general goal of headed towards Yilan, a nearby town about an hour from Taipei if you take the short route --- but we took the scenic route. :)

If you drive along highway 2, the 'Northeast Coastal Scenic Drive,' the two lane highway lies just at the base of the mountains where they meet the ocean. It is scattered with small towns, fishing piers, ports, bays, little villages. It was beautiful and so refreshing! The first town we took a pit stop in was called Dali and had a very large temple (or multiple temples really all grouped together) perched on the side of the mountains, overlooking the ocean.

Tiangong Temple, Dali, Taiwan
My husband, taking in the few from the entrance
View from the top, looking back at the Pacific
Best travel partner, ever --- and an elephant :)
After Dali, our next point of interest was to find a beach! Since I had already visited Wai'ao beach during one of my hash runs[walks] I suggested we head that way. It is just a bit further down the coast and almost to Yilan. As opposed to the larger Fulong beach, which we also passed, Wai'Ao is small and uncrowded. It is a black sand beach with interesting rocks at either end of the wide open sandy stretch, and an abundance of orange seashells. We reached the beach near sundown and decided it was worth another trip the next morning! But after a walk to stretch our legs, we continued with our scenic journey to Yilan. 

When we reached Yilan we found some grub and toured the night market before settling into a nearby hotel - the Grand BOSS Hotel - ha, I'm not kidding, I think we chose it just for the name. The room was decent and offered a stiff double bed for the two of us - pretty typical Taiwanese accommodations.

The next morning we slept in, enjoyed breakfast, and set back out to the coast to enjoy some time on the beach. On our way to the ocean front, we passed through a few small towns and enjoyed checking out the nearby Wulongxi (sp?) waterfall. 

Wulongxi Waterfall ~ Beautiful
You may recognize this black sand from a previous blog post, Wai'Ao beach is small and uncrowded, but is only an hour from Taipei and was the perfect spot for the two of us on a lazy Sunday morning.

Wai'Ao beach ~ Black sand, big waves, and many orange seashells
The beach was mostly unoccupied, and the water had only surfers at this time of year - but 78 degrees and sunny outside, we couldn't help ourselves but to jump in! The waves are great here and the water was only stunningly cold for the first minute or so.  :)

Most importantly, it's easy to get wrapped up in the concrete and buildings of the big city --- it was nice to get out for the weekend, and to be reminded how very NEARBY these beautiful scenic destinations are to Taipei! Now that the sweltering summer heat has passed, it's time to get back outdoors and enjoy it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

week 57_Out of the Office!

Even though I only recently returned from the Greenbuild Conference in Toronto, this past week I had a few more opportunities to get out of the office again.

As part of our firm's community outreach, I was invited to critique Interior Design projects at a local Taiwanese University. In advance of the trip I was a bit thrilled and nervous at the same time - studying up on my design vocabulary, flipping through a few textbooks - just trying to jog my memory. I wasn't sure if my daily tasks would be relevant to the students' projects, and figured I'd better brush up on my theory/educational jargon.

To my relief, I actually did have plenty of input for the students. First of all, the projects were great - truly! - and it was really fun to see these creative minds thinking outside the box. [Goodness knows, the average client and the average budget don't allow for enough of that untamed creativity!] However, we also really 'gave it to them', so to speak. Based on our own experiences and at the urging of the design professors, our judges team decided to give these students as much feedback as possible to push them towards even more sophisticated final presentations. Some of the students probably weren't prepared for the reality of some of our critiques --- but it can't all be fun and games, can it?! All in all the day was really fun, and I hope I get to return for the final judging this November. [I was also relieved to see how far I've come in the few years since my own University studies] :) I can't wait to see how the students' designs evolve! I know they will impress.

That was Tuesday, and on Friday our company closed the office for a day of team building and corporate training. We returned to Camp Taiwan (for my loyal blog readers, you may remember it from last year's company outing). The weather was drizzly and foggy all day - we have officially transitioned from the summer season to the cool & wet season it seems - but the activities carried on, rain or shine. It was nice to be settled in this year. I remember feeling so new at last year's outing. Camp Taiwan reminds me so much of the camps I attended when I was younger. It seems like I spent at least 2 weeks every summer exploring the wilderness --- and now how often do I get to do that??? Well... at least living in Taiwan has given me some opportunities! And some motivation to get outdoors. The day out of the office was appreciated. There is so much laughing and camaraderie amongst our group. I like it.

To wrap up, we feasted on Taiwanese "barbecue" [This just means food cooked on a small grill, from what I can tell]. One thing is for certain, no one at our company should ever go hungry! We are constantly feasting... with some time to work in-between from one feast to the next of course. The barbecue was tasty, but the best part was roasted marshmallows for dessert! We even had almost-s'mores (marshmallow placed between 2 Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies), and the poor Taiwanese who've never tasted a classic s'more still don't know what they're missing!!!

After a long (and winding) bus ride back through the mountains and home, I finally arrived at my apartment around 9pm(?). Exhausted, but it was a great week! :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

week 56_*TV star*

Ok... maybe not quite ;)

While I was busy flying back from Toronto early last week, Taiwan was busy celebrating 'Double 10' day [10-10-2011] commemorating the founding of the Republic of China, AND National Geographic Asia aired a new show for the first time featuring Yours Truly! [Too bad that I was literally in flight for this momentous occasion]

It's true, I may have only had a total of.... 30 seconds (?) airtime... but hey, I'll take it! :)
The show was an hour long feature about TAIPEI 101 Tower and a yacht called the Eco Ark. So, really the portion talking about the environmental strategies of 101 only spanned probably half an hour. It only begins to scratch the surface of the building's complexity, and the numerous efforts involved in the process to reduce the environmental impact of the tower... but it was exciting to be included and to see that I actually did not get 100% edited out of the final cut! Lucky for me, my sweet husband sat patiently on the sofa with his iPhone and tried to record clips as he could just in case I was about to be featured on screen, so I've seen a mini-preview of the actual show by now.

Nonetheless, since I didn't get to watch the original showing, I have already marked my calendar for the next showing that is feasible based on my work schedule. Tuesday, November 8th at 8pm --- I guess you know where I'll be!

Filming for NatGeo

Friday, October 14, 2011

week 55_Toronto, Canada

If you're wondering where I've been recently...
Taipei > Oklahoma > Toronto > Oklahoma > Taipei. Whew! And I'm exhausted!

I spent last week attending the Greenbuild Conference & Expo in Toronto, Canada - and stopped through Oklahoma to visit the family on the way to and from the conference. It was a whirlwind trip, as always, but I loved getting to see everyone and I really enjoyed attending the conference.

My colleagues are awesome, and I think we all had a great time
It's nice to know we work together professionally,
but we can still have a little fun too

Greenbuild is an industry trade show for building professionals interested in or working with sustainability. I have always been interested in the show (and also attended with my previous firm in 2009), but now that I am working full time as a sustainability consultant in Taipei it was more relevant than ever. I especially enjoyed being so in-the-know, learning more about the latest environmental trends, attending classes (yes, I just love class - what can I say?), and the various entertainment events as a part of the conference (Maroon 5, live concert). I appreciate that Greenbuild is a combination of learning and fun - I think the organizers really work to provide a sense of community and positive encouragement for all of the green professionals trying to make a difference out there in the world. :)

Maroon 5 performance at the Opening Plenary
I did learn a lot, and I enjoyed the conference - classes in a traditional setting, lectures, panel discussions and off site educational tours. Greenbuild is always looking for more ways to "green the conference". They recycle the attendee bags, badges, handouts etc... but they also purchase energy offsets, provide organic locally grown meals, encourage attendees to use public transportation, etc, etc [the list of conference "green" strategies is actually very long so I won't list them all but I think you get the picture]. The theme of this year's conference was 'NEXT' - What's NEXT for Green Building?

Taking a pedi-cab (walking cab) tour downtown
Free rides provided by one of the exhibitors: Sloan
For one of my educational sessions, I toured the an underground water station for Toronto's deep lake water cooling system. The city takes advantage of the naturally cool Great Lake water temperatures combined with an engineered heat exchange to provide hot and cool water to some of the downtown business district high rise buildings. It was very interested to hear about and see first hand. This system uses less energy and less water than conventional rooftop chiller systems.

Water supply & return pipes feeding heat exchangers
When I wasn't taking notes and name cards, I took every opportunity to get out of the convention center for a taste of the city. There was plenty to see, and the weather was gorgeous for my entire visit. Toronto showed me it's best weather and friendly people.

The CN Tower reflected in downtown windows
We toured the CN Tower observatory one night, great views!
After 11 days away... it is time to get back to life in Taipei, and back to my Chinese lessons! Off to study... :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

week 54_what's New for Me

Here's your pic of the week ~ taken by Jason one night headed home from work. Due to his evening schedule, he is sometimes on the last MRT train of the evening and gets to experience the only empty MRT cars you'll ever see (the last run of the evening). I should ask him to take a video for you all... it's amusing to watch the cars snake around the curves when the train is empty enough to see quite a few cars at once.

This particular MRT line (the blue line) runs East to West and we both take this to and from work each day. The MRT fare to or from my office, one-way, is 18 NTD with a pre-paid MRT card. That's about $0.50 USD per trip. It definitely beats our transportation expenses in Dallas! [New truck + insurance + gas prices...]

Taipei MRT Blue Line
The peaceful yet creepy MRT cars my husband enjoys each night on the way home from work.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is my very first blog post to you from our new Apple computer, sitting in our new apartment, using our newly connected high speed Internet! Oh glorious moment.

Around the same time we moved apartments, we concluded that the 10 year old laptop should probably be replaced... and lucky lucky us! We are now the proud owners of an Apple desktop computer. It is not only lovely, but I am really enjoying it - so smooth, clean, and pretty - this may lead to more blogging!

I am supposed to be packing for my trip to Oklahoma / Toronto tomorrow... but clearly I thought I would procrastinate for at least a few moments longer. I am headed to Toronto for a green building conference, and it just didn't seem right to fly half-way around the world without "swinging by" home and saying hello to the family. So before and after the week in Toronto, I will be spending my weekends with family and friends. Thankfully, I've started accumulating enough airline miles to take me somewhere (finally!) so I did not have to pay for multiple airline tickets out of pocket. 

I should really get packing... I can already taste the Diet Coke I'll be ordering on the airplane! A trip back to the other side is always a welcome break :) and I'm looking forward to seeing Toronto for the first time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

week 53_in transition!

Hi y'all ~

We have been right in the midst of packing, moving, and unpacking this past week & weekend! We don't have the internet hooked up at our new home yet so it may be late this week before I get to write!

Hope you're enjoying Fall. :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

week 52_Many moons & many mooncakes!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen - 
One year ago today I landed in this far away land they call Taiwan... aka Ilha Formosa... aka Beautiful Island.

It has already been many moons since my arrival, and this past week I have eaten many moon cakes. Earlier this week, we celebrated the Moon Festival Holiday ~ with a day off work, and many, many moon cakes leading up to the holiday! Moon cakes were sent to our office from clients, friends, and family.

The moon cakes come in all varieties, ranging from the most traditional (with egg yolk at the center of the cake and flavors like sesame, lotus seed, and red bean around the yolk), to the most contemporary (no yolk, and an unlimited array of flavors).

Sometimes it is all about the wrapping!
A mix of modern and traditional

Traditional egg yolk center
Left: Passionfruit, Right: Taro

"Martini" flavored cakes from the W Hotel bakery

Coffee flavored moon cake with yolk center

The culture here is so polite, even though many boxes may only contain 3 or 4 moon cakes, people cut thin slices just big enough to try the cake's flavor, and they share, and share, and share! So giving! This is one of those things that you would need to experience to truly appreciate, but I'm always impressed by the generous and giving traits instilled in the Taiwanese. I've had a blast discovering my favorite cakes... and the ones I don't really care for.  : )