Thursday, August 25, 2011

week 48_Wai'ao beach

This past weekend I participated in my second Formosa Hash. The hash -for those of you who didn't read about my first hash (yes, the name sounds questionable at best... a Brit told me hash meant "bad food," and it's true, that is one meaning...)- is a group "run" through the mountains near Taipei, followed by dinner & drinks with the group. When my girlfriend invited me to join the run and mentioned that it would take about an hour to get to the location, I didn't think twice about it (after all, Taipei is a big city). After I had piled into the car (along with some other hash runners), it became clear that A. I should have brought my swimsuit, and B. This run would be absolutely fabulous because it was to begin on a beach an hour outside of Taipei! I was happy to be getting out of the house, but so much more thrilled to hear that we were headed to the ocean! I hadn't been to the beach yet in Taiwan, despite it's proximity to the city ~ it's about time!

I didn't take ANY photos (go figure), but I had such a great time... so I'll fill in the blog with a few pictures I've found online that represent the area. The beach was actually a black sand beach, with large rocks protruding out of the ocean, and pleasantly not too much of a crowd. People were scattered along the shoreline, but we didn't have to fight for space - which I've heard is an issue for some of the other beaches near the city.

Wai'ao Beach
The day was ridiculously hot - or mostly just humid, clearly because we were so near the ocean - and our run began at 3pm. Personally, I am not a runner. AND almost immediately after we started the run I was 95% convinced I wouldn't make it... I might have to turn back. The climb started on the beach, but immediately turned vertical scaling the adjacent mountainside headed straight up! I need to read back at my previous hash blog... I wonder if I felt so defeated then too!

View from the mountainside back to the ocean
The climb was KILLER(!), but the views were absolutely spectacular. In the end, I made it through the hard part and eventually reached easier terrain. The hashes (two) that I have been on so far are always so rewarding. I have to work up the nerve to attend, but once I'm there it is such an awesome way to see parts of Taiwan that I might not even hear of otherwise. The trail was scenic and interesting, I saw many creatures in my travels this time: frogs, lizards, grasshoppers, birds, too many gigantic spiders to count. Of course, the rest of the reward is the feeling of accomplishment once it is over. Tired legs, and complete exhaustion are replaced with pride and renewed energy. At the end of this run, it was so hot and exhausting that we all couldn't wait to dive into the water! I forgot my suit, but decided to just swim in my clothes anyways. After all, I had finally made it out the beach ~ and I am so glad I swam, it was definitely worth it!

More beach
Following the swim, I found a small beach shop with showers and cleaned up a bit. When I offered to pay for the shower and towel they said it was on the house. Did they let everyone use their showers for free? Plenty of surfers and young folk were just hanging out cooking dinner at the place. What a life, just beach bumming along! We ended the day with dinner and drinks as usual at a nearby seafood restaurant. The food was delicious, and most likely had been caught the same day from a few miles away! This is the one photo I took, because I thought "I might want to come back to this restaurant sometime..."

I can't wait to go back so I can show the husband around! I had forgotten how rarely I see the sky (really see the sky) these days, and how rarely my view is without tall buildings. Being in the heart of the city is great, but getting out and spending a care free day ocean side was just perfect. :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

week 48_Ghost Festival (bai-bai 拜拜)

The month of August is traditionally known as the ghost festival in Chinese culture [technically it is not always the month of August, but a specific period on the lunar calendar, which usually falls around that time]. The ghost festival is a time to remember and respect all of the ghosts past - who are said to pay a visit at this time. As usual, I think that Wikipedia can probably explain the holiday better than I can...

But I did get to experience my very own bai-bai ceremony first hand. :) For the ghost festival, and many other occasions, the Chinese present incense and bow in prayer. The prayer may be long, sometimes the person holds the incense to the sky during this part. Then the pray-er bows his or her head in multiple quick nods (2 to 3... maybe sometimes more) before placing the incense in a bowl of rice, at an altar-like table. It reminds me of the Catholic traditions of crossing your body, bowing your head, and lighting a candle at the church altar.

Yours Truly, placing my incense in the rice
For the ghost festival, large tables are placed in front of businesses (and possibly homes too?) covered in food and drinks for the ghosts. Everything is offered up, and during a second round of incense, the incense is actually placed on the goodies offering them up to the ghosts and the gods.

Incense placed on the offerings...
Yes those are Chips Ahoy cookies peeking out at me!
The food is offered to spirits in hopes that they will avoid visiting individual homes. The table at our office was absolutely overflowing with fruits, candy, sodas, juice boxes, tea, cookies, crackers, noodles, and on and on! In addition to all of the consumables, paper money is also burned as an offering. Yes... apparently money is key, even in the afterlife!

Paper Money
Tin at front for burning the paper money,
Tables loaded with offerings, behind
 The bai-bai (prayer) was performed in rounds. First round mid afternoon, another round later, money burning all the while. The actual time spent was small for most employees, but our administrative staff stayed watch over the table, burned money, and reminded us when it was time to once again bai-bai. We office in a high rise building, so each time we would load up all elevators to maximum capacity and herd down to the building entrance, just outside the doors.

Surely the ghosts were please with this feast! Yum!
After all of the offerings and prayers, all food was brought inside at the end of the day for us to share! I didn't realize we would each be partaking in the spoils as well - but I now officially have a snack drawer at my desk! (never did before) Who knew the ghost's needs would so bountifully overflow into my personal cabinet... and they like many American foods?!

My ghost festival stash.
As you may imagine, the office was in particularly good spirits yesterday. Me too. I think this was one of my favorite holidays yet - maybe because I was able to participate, or maybe just because all of the treats were like Christmas in August! Some of my co-workers were concerned... Do I bai-bai? Really? But for me, it was simply an opportunity to pray, reflect, observe, and to soak in the rich Taiwanese culture once again. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

week 47_Lazy Summer Days

You may have noticed that the blogs recently have had less exploration of Taiwan, and more of my day to day routine... and I think it's just summer time laziness! After all, we may not be "out of school" for the summer, but we do get to wear flip-flops [yes, sometimes I even wear fancy flip-flops to the office... it's casual!], moan, groan about the heat, and lounge by the pool whenever we find the time! So honestly, that's where most of my free time has gone lately... to the pool. Or alternatively very-air-conditioned spaces!

For our anniversary, we enjoyed some delicious Haagen-Daz ice cream!
[I think many of you know my husband & I met
when we worked at an ice cream shop together!... many years ago! ]
Now that I have been here for almost a year (yes, wow - already? I know!). I have experienced each of the seasons in Taipei. For me, December has been been my favorite month so far, hands down. The weather was absolutely lovely, sunshiny every day, chilly but not cold, and of course it was Christmas time for me so I had holiday goodies and traveling to look forward to!

Looking up from the roof of our building while lounging by the pool
[There is a large metal sculpture on the roof of our building
It reminds me of a boat... this would be the bow]
The summer months have really not been so bad. The big blue skies and bright rays of sunshine streaming in the office windows, the afternoon rains cool things off for the evenings... and everyone here talks about how unbearably hot the summer season is! Ha. I guess they've never been to Texas or Oklahoma. I've heard from friends, family, and Facebook that TX & OK have had 100+ degree weather for something like 40 days in a row now!?! The weather in Taipei is usually in the mid to upper 90's when it's hot. 

And sometimes, the husband & I go for a dip in the pool to cool off :) The swimming pool on the roof of our apartment building is nice. We are high enough up to look down on the rooftops of other residential buildings. There aren't many residences able to look down on us while we are up there. And more importantly, we seem to be the only residents who care to go swimming - so it is pretty much our own private pool! 

Sunflowers from my Family :)
Summer means different things in different places I suppose! The sunflowers are a nice example - Don't they look so bright and cheery?! When I think of a Texas summer, I think about snow cones, pool parties, sitting on the patio at a restaurant if there's a breeze, summer clothes, taking the Classic car for a spin... and so on. In Taipei it seems to mean weekend road trips to the beach (I need to get on that already!), umbrellas for the afternoon showers, short shorts, cold noodles, icy desserts... late summer season could mean typhoons...

Tea Time treat -
Ice piled with Red Beans, Cold Noodles, Taro,
and something made from soy beans that is not tofu.
[Terrible description, I know! Forgive me!]
It actually tastes yummy!
I am SOOO looking forward to slightly cooler weather so that we can get out and explore the island more again! :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

week 46_Happy Anniversary to my Sweetie

I would be remiss not to note that today is my 3 year wedding anniversary. I am so happy, and so blessed to be spending my life with the man that I love! So, I just wanted to take a moment to put it on the record! [I like to think when this is all said and done, maybe I will keep this blog to look back at in the future - when my own memory starts failing!]

Ah, to be young & in love.

For our first anniversary we attended a Rangers baseball game in Arlington, TX. Young, broke, and in love! Ha :) 

For our second anniversary we enjoyed a fondue dinner in Addison, TX. Still young, but developing a strong appreciation for delicious cuisine (and finally settled enough that we had a little bit of money to spend on ourselves)!

For our third anniversary we are spending the time together in a foreign country, where not everyone speaks our language and sometimes it is almost as though we live in our own little world. Not to mention, after many months of living apart, we appreciate each other even more. Young, together at last, and madly in love! :) I can't believe it has already been another year. 

So - my favorite thing to do on our anniversary? Look at the amazing photos from our wedding weekend and remember how much fun we had!
This photo slideshow is my bliss!

Here we are, 3 years later!

Monday, August 1, 2011

week 45_Platinum Success

Although we have already completed the LEED certification project for TAIPEI 101 Tower, this week it was officially made public - announced to the press, and the world. For all parties involved it was a particularly proud moment, as we revel in the magnificence of this monumental achievement for such a large/tall building. Many new construction projects have made the news for their LEED certifications... but to take an existing building and find ways to make it even more efficient can result in significantly reduced environmental impacts - and we're hoping that the building industry takes notice. TAIPEI 101 was able to achieve the highest certification available under the LEED rating system. This made for one very very happy LEED consultant! (me, obviously)

Posing with a green display at the press conference
Anyways, this blog is not about preaching for everyone to become tree-huggers... so I'll limit it to the highlights of my busy week! Because this achievement is so significant, my week was FULL with of related events - happy hour, press conference, cocktail party, celebration dinner, another appreciation dinner coming up next week. All I can say is, thank goodness my family recently bought me many new dresses to celebrate my birthday! I wore them all, all week long!

The happy hour event was organized to put the LEED APs in Taiwan in touch with a LEED AP group in Hong Kong. It was really great to meet someone from the Hong Kong group and to chit-chat about the challenges of international LEED projects. It's amazing how small the world becomes when you start finding the commonalities you share with people of other countries. At least in this line of work, it was easy for us to carry on about the challenges of sustainability consulting in Asia. The camaraderie was great and the venue - the W Hotel - was pretty sweet too (as you already know from my previous blog posts...). 

Accepting the plaque:
(from left) Harace Lin -President of TAIPEI 101,
Premier Wu of Taiwan, and Mark MacCracken
of the United States Green Building Council
My favorite part about the press conference was either the fabulous announcer - he seemed very much like a television game show host - who spoke perfect English & Chinese. He really made the show. I also especially enjoyed seeing the Premier Wu's assistant. He played one of those roles that you know must exist, but it was neat to see it in real life - walking behind Premier Wu and whispering in his ear as he approached each person (this is Mr. D...P... and he is senior partner at S....L... and so on!). The information this man had memorized was amazing as they crossed the room greeting the key players in attendance. [Not being from Taiwan, or completely familiar with their political system - it has been explained to me that the Premier is something similar to the 2nd in command of the country... the Vice President for all intensive purposes].

My team and I.
To top it all off, the TAIPEI 101 Tower has been lit up all week with the words "LEED" and "Green On" on different sides of the tower - which we discovered as we were leaving the happy hour at the W Hotel. Ha! You can just imagine our pleasant surprise when we saw it. We stood there and took many pictures with the building in the background as many people stared at us wondering what sort of a tour group we were with. And now, I see it on my way home from work each day. This is not the only project I've been working on for the past 10 months, but it is the most impressive one.

Yes! So proud. :)