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.  : )

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

week 51_our first visitors!

We've finally had our first relatives come to visit! All are welcome, but the trip to Taiwan is obviously very expensive, and clearly time consuming if you plan to spend enough days to recover from the jet lag before returning home! In my opinion, based on my own trips to and from the US, a 10 day trip is a good amount of time for a visit, but for many people if you had 8 days that would still be manageable [any takers? anyone ready to visit exotic Asia?! and us?!]  For most people coming from the US you should allow 2 full days for travel, but for these relatives, the trip was only half the distance --- they've flown in from Australia [still an 8 or 9 hour trip...!]

The in-laws, my hubby's dear parents, arrived last Friday and it has been a whirlwind visit since then! There is so much to eat, see, and do in this city and so many places that we just have to show them --- I feel like we have been feasting for weeks already! [It was truly only a few days]. I wanted to start off the visit right, to make sure the message is clear: We. Love. Visitors!

So I put together a little 'Welcome to Taiwan' basket 
and had it waiting for them at the hotel :)

Goody-bag includes:
2 Asian pears, 5 sugar cookies from Florida Bakery, 
2 Starbucks VIA instant coffee packs, Taiwan guide book (on loan), 
temporary cell phone with local Taiwan #, and one lotus & egg yolk moon cake
[It was the week of the Moon Festival]

The trip has already come and gone so fast that they leave today! We've made it a point to visit some of our favorite places in Taipei during their visit --- so here is my short list --- but really, there is so much more to see and do! I guess they will have to return again sometime to see the rest! :)

Here's a recap of the quick trip agenda, as planned by Yours Truly ~
(our activities varied around our work schedules)

FRIDAY, landed early AM
Private car to San Want Hotel [older hotel, great location and excellent service]
Breakfast - San Want with L. Eastern & Western buffet
Lunch - Burger Stop with J. Classic American casual. Similar to In N Out Burger
Window shopping / walking near Sogo Dept. Store (while we were working!)
Dinner - Chili House Restaurant with L. Traditional Taiwanese dishes, plenty of spice
Gelato - Cosi o Cosi . Yum!
Evening shopping & strolling alleys at NE corner of Zhongxiao Dunhua. Tiny designer and hole-in-the-wall shops

SATURDAY, sleep in!
Lunch/Brunch - Cafe Cafe. Western brunch & Crepes
Shopping in Xinyi - Hankyu & Mitsukoshi Department stores + Eslite Bookstore. Everything you could ever want to buy... and more...
Drinks & finger foods - W Hotel, Woo Bar. Modern, classy, poolside bar
Shilin Night Market! More shopping & bargaining, it's what the locals do!
Dinner - Formosa Chang's. Taiwanese food casual restaurant. Family style dishes

SUNDAY, sleep in :)
Lunch at the Burger Stop (tight schedule and it was nearby)
Tour of our soon-to-be apartment! Fun
Taipei 101 observatory. View all of Taipei from the 88th - 91st floors
Flower Market, Jade Market, and Artisan's Market stroll. Open air, classic Asian markets
Dinner - Din Tai Fung. the Most Famous Taiwanese restaurant in Taiwan - Must. Visit.
Drinks & Cigars at the Grand Hyatt Hotel (just the boys)

MONDAY, last day of our holiday weekend
Lunch - Macho Tacos. Taiwanese style Cali-Mex casual food. Delicious!
Day Trip to Yingge Township. Small suburb known for it's artists, ceramics
Dinner - 1885 Burger Store. Char-grilled burgers with gourmet cheese

TUESDAY, Mostly J & his folks (I was working!)
Lunch - Dan Ryan's. Typical American restaurant (similar to Chili's)
National Palace Museum. Collection of Chinese art & artifacts
Dinner - Dan Ryan's... again! We were looking for a nice juicy steak

WEDNESDAY, last day in Taipei
Shopping for any last minute items
Tour of J's work place
Sad farewell!

We had an amazing time - and only completed about 1/2 the things on my suggested to-do list! - but we look forward to their next visit... or our next visitors! :D

Here's a little something J & I picked up in Yingge!
Our first real keepsake that we've purchased
during our time here together... and we both love it!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

week 50_hittin' the gym

Well, after all of the many blog posts about our quests to find the best food in Taipei, it is no wonder that I eventually decided to seek out a gym as well!!! I enjoy walking and touring the city when I have the chance, but sometimes it is too rainy, too dark, or even too hot to exercise for any length of time outdoors.

There are fitness center chains here, even one called World Gym which also has branches in the US. I believe by paying the membership dues, you may access both the gyms here and in the US. I have stepped into the lobby of the World Gym before, very posh, and I've heard good things ~ but for someone like myself who rarely makes time to work out... in a gym... on some machine... [let's face it, I'm not much of a gym-goer!] the product just isn't worth the price.

Lucky for me - as usual! - Taipei city's wonderful infrastructure has a public gym system with multiple locations that is available to all, no membership required. And even luckier for me [I suppose it could be a blessing or a curse ;) ], one of the public gym locations is directly across from my office. In a society full of super skinny women, I feel surprisingly comfortable about not going to any gym on a regular basis. [There is truly no competing with the naturally thin Asians around me, so I don't feel pressured in any way to match their slim figures ~ impossible] But finding a gym has nothing to do with competition, it is just for my own health & happiness. Since I already know that homemade strawberry milkshakes and Taiwanese bubble tea make me happy, it seems like a little gym time is a good idea...

Mostly, I'm just impressed [yet again] with the accessibility and efficiency of the public programs in Taipei. There are multiple gym locations, and they are open to anyone. The gym use is pay by the hour, so you can visit the gym once, or every day if you like, and simply pay $50 NT (~$1.50 US) each time. There is an outdoor track, indoor swimming pool, yoga classes, other classes, and a weights/machine room. Of course they have lockers, locker rooms, showers, etc. + a gym shop, and a small cafe. There is probably more - I haven't taken the time to explore it all!

I am just so pleased with the convenience of the big city life here in Taipei. I don't know why I'm surprised - so many things in Taipei are designed to be convenient and user friendly! Despite the super convenient public transportation system as well, I usually walk home from the gym...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

week 49_apartment hunting!

Those of you who know me best already know that house-hunting is practically a hobby for me. If I'm happily residing at one home, I am undoubtedly already searching for the next can't-live-if-I'm-not-living-there type place! Now that I'm smack dab in the middle of a densely packed urban city, it is all about finding the perfect living space! :)

When I moved to Taipei almost one year ago (wow, time flies) I was lucky to find my current apartment, and I knew the moment I walked in the door that I'd sign the lease. However, now that my husband has finally joined me abroad, the dream apartment does feel more like a glorified hotel room. Honestly, it's not the size of the apartment that matters to me, just the quality and comfort of the home. My first apartment in Taipei has not failed in comfort or quality (oh, I will miss it!) but it is a little small when I am blow-drying my hair in the mornings and my husband is still asleep in the same room --- one room studio --- or when he gets home from work and it's physically impossible for him to enter our place without waking me from my slumber.

Dear perfect reading nook, you will be missed!
I hope someone new will appreciate you!

So clearly we had decided that at the end of my lease we should get a larger apartment. At least a place that has a bedroom door which can be closed for acoustics and privacy. As anticipated, once again it was all about the fun of the chase!

The husband and I began looking at apartments early. If you're going to find your dream apartment in a big city: A. It probably won't happen overnight, and B. The good places get snatched up quickly! I had been browsing online for a few weeks before we finally opened the flood gate and toured the first place in person.

Apartments in Taipei run the gamut so the price really depends on what you're looking for - furnished, unfurnished, including public areas, security guards, concierge - or without - with a pool, a gym, with an elevator or a 7th story walk up, near public transportation, or at the edge of the city on the mountainside. It is all here! And if your wallet can buy it, your dream apartment is certainly within reach. Based on my online hunting, it was immediately clear which apartments we didn't want to live in...

Room 2
Unfurnished [It would cost quite a bit to buy all new furniture,
and sometimes that includes the fridge, air conditioning, etc!]

Outdated [Color matching bathroom fixtures... no thank you!]

Tiny [Yes, that is the fridge, aka the kitchen, at right]

Ghetto! This is a "kitchen". Hmmmm...
No fixer-uppers in our immediate future plans.

Too Nice! Trust me, there is also an abundance of gorgeous homes
that we could never afford!

So, in the end when you find that perfect apartment, the one that is just nice enough and worth the price that the landlord is asking... you had probably better pounce on it! And pounce we did. :) At the end of September, we will be moving into our new 2 bedroom home, and enjoying all of the luxuries of space that I have missed! Full-sized refrigerator, walk-in closet, a true kitchen, large outdoor balcony, etc! I think the move will be an adventure... Do we just take a taxi back & forth over and over again??? Whatever the case, we are looking forward to the change of scenery! 

Our soon to be Apartment ~ Living Room
Our soon to be Apartment ~ Kitchen big enough to cook in!

The photos really don't do it justice. The lighting and windows, and ceiling heights provide the whole picture when you are standing in the space, but there is a guest bedroom in our new place... so if you'd like to see more, maybe you should plan a visit!!! :)