Saturday, November 9, 2013

Taipei, Taiwan: Our Week

A typical day in Taipei: Jake left for work around 8:00 am everyday.  I slept in until 8:30 or 9, headed to breakfast and then explored Taipei.  I met Jake and his coworkers for dinner between 6:30-7:30.  Dinner took about 2 hours, it takes a long time to eat with chopsticks, and then we headed home for the night.  I felt bad for Jake because he really didn't get to see much of Taipei, I on the other hand had a great week exploring the city.

During the week I shopped, walked around the city and went on two tours.  I have figured out that I enjoy shopping in new cities.  It is fun to see what kind of clothes they have and I like having souvenirs that I can wear :).  While we were sightseeing on Sunday I saw a few stores that looked interesting and I decided to check those out during the week.  There was one store in particular that had really cute clothes and the clothes were very reasonably priced, especially compared to Stockholm.  I might have stocked up on colored jeggings and sweaters.  I bought Jake a few sweaters for his birthday as well so he could also have a souvenir that he could wear.
Shopping is a great way to learn about different cultures.  Notice the sizing chart?  In the United States I'm considered small, in Sweden I'm about average, in Taiwan I'm closer to above average :).
One night before dinner I went to a wholesale market.  They had lots of small stores selling clothes and shoes.  The stores had one example of each shirt or item of clothing they were selling hanging up and then you had to dig through these bins to find the size you wanted. It was really overwhelming but a neat experience.
 Sid's girlfriend took me to lunch on Wednesday and then we went shopping.  It was so thoughtful of her to spend the afternoon with me.  Apparently there are lots of restaurants throughout the city that are just for girls.  Sid referred to them as princess places.  The are usually very pink and serve lots of desserts.  We went to one of those places for lunch.  The place wasn't very pink but there were only girls in the restaurant.
I tried matcha milk tea which was pretty good.
We shared two types of pancakes for lunch.  This one had eggs and bacon.
This one had caramelized bananas and ice cream.  I've never had pancakes with ice cream before but I will definitely have it again!
So good!
 Every night Jake's coworker Sid and a few other coworkers took us out to dinner.  They picked the restaurant and ordered food for us.  It was so nice not having to figure out where to eat.  Dinners in Taipei were more about the experience than about being fed.  It took us at least an hour and a half or more to eat each meal.  Sid would order lots of different types of food at each restaurant so we could sample different things.  The food was then brought out one or two dishes at a time.  We shared each plate of food and there was only enough for one or two bites for each person, some plates didn't even have enough for every person to try that type of food.  It was similar to a family style restaurant except instead of having a serving spoon where you dish up the food you want onto your plate you just use your chopsticks and take it off the plate and eat it.  The germaphobe in me had a hard time with that method of sharing but the picky eater in me really appreciated lots of choices.  If I didn't like something I knew a new choice would be coming soon.

Here are some pictures of what we had during the week:
Our first night we went to a hot pot place.  It reminded me of fondue.  We had a spicy side and a regular side.
Henrik, Jake, Me, Kristi , Steven, Sid, Tim  and Mark
Henrik, Jake and Tim work in Stockholm.  Kristi works in Olathe.  Steven, Sid and Mark work in Taipei. (I volunteer in Södermalm, that still counts as work right?)
My favorite meal was at a Japanese BBQ place.  We had probably 20 different things off of the menu that night.
Fish anyone?
Bacon wrapped asparagus - these were probably the best thing I had the whole trip! The first plate only had 9 so we ordered a second plate.
I feel like someone must have said something really funny because we are way too smiley in this picture.

Do you see all the scooters on the left?  There are thousands of scooters in Taipei.  I'm sure there are traffic rules for scooters but when you watch them it looks like they can do whatever they want.  There is a specific spot for scooters at the front of each traffic light.  Below is a video I took of an intersection right after the light turned green.  We were walking across the cross walk and did have a green light but scooters still turned in front of us.

During dinner on Thursday, October 31st an earthquake hit Taiwan.  The 6.6 magnitude earthquake was about 140 miles away from Taipei but we definitely felt it.  We had just sat down to eat and all of a sudden we felt movement.  The restaurant was really loud and chaotic so it took a few seconds to realize it was more than just our surroundings.  It lasted about 15 seconds or so.  I started to panic and grabbed Jake's arm.  I was looking around for a doorway or an exit but I could see that no one was really panicking.  I'm guessing earthquakes to the locals is about the same as tornado sirens to people in Kansas.  We realize there could be a problem but there isn't one yet so we might as well look outside for a while.

After it was over we couldn't believe we just felt an earthquake.  It was actually the second earthquake I've ever experienced.  About two years ago after the K-State vs Oklahoma State football game we felt a small earthquake in Wichita.  The one in Taipei was much stronger and lasted a lot longer than the one a few years ago.
I had lots of fried rice over the week and it was so good.  Rice is pretty hard to eat with chopsticks but it is easier when you put it in a bowl.
Table manners in Taipei and Beijing were different than what I am used to.  I guess when eating with friends they can pretty much eat however they want.  If they are eating with their boss or someone who deserves more respect than they will be more polite.  Eating with friends just means they slurp noodles and hold the rice bowl up to their mouths as they shovel rice in.
We had lots of dumplings and other things wrapped in rice paper.  I liked most of what I tried but I am weird about texture sometimes and I had a hard time eating things that I couldn't see inside of first.
While we were in Taipei we decided to buy a sim card for me for the week.  For about $10 I had a Taiwan phone number and internet access. I could call Jake at work or on the cell phone he was given for the week. It was so helpful to be able to figure out where I was going and it helped me feel safer since I knew I could call Jake or send him a message if I needed him.  Everyday Jake would email me to tell me where we were meeting for dinner about an hour before and it was no problem finding my way there. (Side note: Restaurants aren't clearly labeled and even if they were very few people know English so it is hard to ask if the group had arrived.  Thankfully Jake sent me the exact address and I had a phone to help make sure I was in the right place.)

When we were in Stockholm this past June it was hard for me to leave the hotel to explore during the day unless we had a planned ahead of time where and when we were meeting after Jake was done with work.  But plans would change and then we had a hard time communicating the change.  I would have to bring my tablet, because I didn't have a smart phone yet, and try to find free wifi.  Seriously, what did people do before phones and internet?  It was so nice having a phone to keep in touch.

Jake woke up early one morning and went on a hike with two of his coworkers.
Can you find Taipei 101?

Lots of dogs just hanging out.

I went on two tours in Taipei.  I was nervous about going on a tour by myself but it was set up through the front desk of our hotel which made me feel like it should be safe.  This was another time I was thankful for a phone with internet.  I was able to chat with Jake as I was getting in the van for the tour.  It made me feel better to know that if something felt fishy I could at least let him know.

The first tour was on Tuesday afternoon to an aboriginal village.  

We took this train to get to the culture center.
There were five of us on the tour including this couple from Australia. 
They were singing and welcoming us to their cultural center.
At the cultural center we watched a show about the history of the aboriginal people in Taiwan.  The theater held a couple hundred people but there were only 7 of us watching the show that day, 5 from our group and two others.  The show included pulling people from the audience up on stage which meant all of us did at least one thing during the performance since there were so few audience members.  At one point everyone was up on stage dancing.  Apparently, the way to get me to dance on stage is when there isn't an audience :).  During the show there was a tribal wedding.  I was the bride.  After the wedding the groom put a chair on his back, with straps like a backpack, and carried me around.  (Did I mention he was only wearing a loin cloth?)  It was a strange tour but I had fun and I was proud of myself for going without Jake.

I went on another tour on Thursday.  This time I went to the northeast coast of Taiwan to the village of Jiufen.  We had great weather all week in Taipei until Thursday.  This was the only rainy, cloudy day the whole week.  The rest of the week is twas 70-80 degrees and sunny with maybe a light sprinkle once or twice.  This time our tour group included a guy from Russia, a couple from China and another couple from Sweden.  Such a small world that I would be in Taipei and run into a couple from Sweden.  They live in Uppsala which is about 40 miles north of Stockholm.  (I saw them again the next day in the airport when we were heading to Beijing.)

These rocks would have been really fun to climb around on but our tour guide was worried we might slip since it was wet.

There we lots of shops in the middle of the village, some sold stinky tofu :(.
We flew to Beijing on Friday, November 1st.  Here are some pictures from the airport in Taipei:
They had a nice area right by our gate where you could hang out, charge your electronics (every one of these seats had two outlets on the front) and read some books in the library corner.

Jake found the book Hearts in Atlantis which was the movie we saw on our first date together.  The movie wasn't very good but the date was fun :).
They had a Garmin display at the airport and some of the airport carts had Garmin advertisements. Since Garmin is the reason we are on this crazy adventure I thought the boys needed to have their picture taken.  When Jake clicked on the huge Nuvi on the wall the city that popped up was on was Stockholm, Sweden.  What are the odds?
Hello Kitty is a pretty big deal in Taipei.  This indoor play place was right next to our gate.
Even the chairs were Hello Kitty.

Questions & Answers for Taipei:
Where did we go?
Taipei, Taiwan
How long were we there?
We were there for 7 days.  We left Stockholm on Friday, October 25th but didn't arrive in Taipei until Saturday, October 26th.  We flew to Beijing, China on Friday, November 1st.
What language do they speak?
The official language of Taipei is Standard Mandarin.  Some of the elderly population who have lived in the country their whole life speak Taiwanese.  They use traditional Chinese characters in writing.
What currency do they use?
They use New Taiwan Dollars.  To do the mental math in Taiwan we knew counted by 30s, instead of counting by 15s like we do in Sweden, because 1 US Dollar is about 30 New Taiwan Dollars.
Were things expensive?
No, things were pretty cheap compared to the US and really inexpensive compared to Stockholm.  Food was really inexpensive which is why most people eat out every night there instead of making food at home.  I ended up buying lots of clothes while we were there because they were so much cheaper than they were in Stockholm and yet the quality was still really good.  I ended up buying five pairs of pants, four sweaters, a button up shirt, underwear and some socks.  I bought Jake two sweaters as well for his birthday that was coming up in less than a week.  The sweaters were made of merino wool which is really soft and it was really good quality for about $25 each.
Would we be able to live there for a year?
I don’t think so.  As much as I enjoyed our week long trip there I don’t think we could live there.  The time difference of 13 hours made it really difficult to talk to friends and family but also the culture was just a little too different for me.  I felt safe there and I enjoyed walking around but I don’t think we could live there for a year.  They did have more written English than what you will find in Stockholm but not very many people speak English which I think is harder than what we have in Stockholm.
What was most memorable thing about the trip?
This is hard to answer because there are so many things.  I think I will always remember this city as the city where I learned that I could walk around and explore it on my own (with the help of a SIM card that allowed me to access the internet and call Jake if I needed. Having a phone really gave me peace of mind).  We also experienced an earthquake which was not a very settling experience but I won’t forget it.
What was the food like?
I enjoyed the food and I think Jake really enjoyed it.  I did get burned out because to me Chinese (or even Taiwanese) food is one type of food and when you eat that every day for lunch and dinner for 7 days it starts to be a bit much (and then we went to Beijing for 3 days and I was definitely done with the food by then).  Thankfully the Garmin office in Taipei arranged our meals each night.  They found a restaurant and made reservations and several of them would join us for dinner to hang out with us and to help order the food.  Sid, one of Jake’s friends that works in Taipei, went to dinner with us every night.  After I told him I didn't care for seafood he did a great job of making sure I knew if anything that he ordered had seafood in it.  We usually ordered several different plates of food at each restaurant so we could try different foods.  They would bring the food out when each plate was ready so we would eat a few bites and then another plate of food would be out.  Also the food was served family style so each person would just dish up food from the main plates.  Sometimes there would be serving chopsticks but most of the time you would grab the food with your chopstick.  That took a little getting used to for this mild germaphobe :). Each dinner took us at least 2 hours to eat.  I think that was a combination of the food slowly trickling out and we use chopsticks at every meal.  Forks were not an option.  Jake actually preferred the meals taking longer than what we are used to.  He liked the time that would spent talking and getting to know the people we were eating with.  
Least favorite food?
My least favorite food was all of the food they sold on sticks.  I was done looking at and smelling food on a stick.
Favorite food?
I have two favorite foods that really stick out this trip.  One night we ate at at Japanese BBQ place and we had really awesome food that night.  My favorite was bacon wrapped asparagus.  It was delicious!  My second favorite thing was an egg custard dumpling.  I typically only like desserts that have chocolate but this was so good!
Would we want to go back?
I would go back to Taipei.  I think Jake would like a few more days to explore since he spent 5 of the 6 full days working.
What was I most surprised by?
I was most surprised with how comfortable I felt walking around the city by myself especially at night when I was heading to dinner.
What did I learn about myself on this trip?
I learned that I can be more adventurous than I thought and that the unknown is scarier than the actual experience.  I was worried about going on the tours by myself because I didn't know what to expect but I ended up having a great time.
Did we do anything we thought we wouldn't do?
I wasn't sure how much exploring I would do on my own during the week.  Before going I hadn't thought about what to do during the day and it wasn't until we were already there that I decided to look into taking some day tours and I am so thankful that I did.

If you missed the first post about Taiwan here it is.  Our next stop . . . Beijing, China.

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