Saturday, November 9, 2013

Taiwan: A Nation of Stink

The other night, an odd smell permeated throughout our entire apartment.

We looked in the bathroom, kitchen, and garbage cans.

After a thorough search, we simply could not find the source of the smell.

We wondered if a neighbor was going to town cooking stinky tofu.

The smell was so pungent and horrid, we had to leave our apartment in the end.

We were absolutely horrified when we stepped into the hall because the small had appeared to infiltrate our entire complex.

Rushing down the stairs, we held our breath until we opened the door. We breathed deep, only to choke on the odoriferous scent that pervaded through all of our neighborhood.

There was no escape: the stench lingered in our apartment, in our complex, and in the open air outside.

Desperate, we began to walk.

We were stumped when, one block away, the smell seemingly evaporated.

"Do you smell that?" I asked Sean.

He brought his nose up from under his shirt, which was where he had been seeking his reprieve from the offensive smell, and took in a long whiff of air.

"I don't smell anything."

I didn't either.

Perplexed, we turned around and began walking back towards our apartment complex.

Within seconds, the smell returned full force.

"What the...?" Sean muttered, looking around for the source of the smell.

The only discernible difference from the next block over and our block was the white flowers that had fallen from their trees. Looking up, the street beside our apartment was lined with these trees and the street littered with the flowers.

We tested out our theory by picking up a dead flower and smelling it.


Realizing there was no immediate solution to this problem, I headed back upstairs while Sean headed to the store to buy the strongest air freshener he could find.

After doing some research, I discovered the culprit: a simple pear tree.

Apparently, they are native to Taiwan and China and are noted to be impervious to drought, pollution, cold, fire, and disease. However, during the month of November, the trees blossom and, well, stink. A lot. Especially at night, for some reason.

Then, I got to the fun stuff. I found some articles about some Taiwanese citizens in New Taipei City who told the government to either cut down all of the trees or they would sue the government for psychological damages.

Who knew a nation could have so many unique ways to stink?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Photos: A Sun Moon Lake Get Away

Side Note: this region, apart from Hualien county, is the country's most seismically active area. Four earthquakes of a magnitude 4 and above woke us from our sleep within one hour. We were on the top floor of our high rise hotel, and suffice it to say, I did not get a wink or sleep. And let me tell you too: there is nothing more bizarre than experiencing a 4.7 earthquake, in the middle of the night, while trying to pee in a squatty potty.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

... and they are living happily ever after

It's going to be our four-year wedding anniversary on July 25. That seems like peanuts compared to the 10 year mark we're approaching for dating. From the time I was 17 years old, I've been with Sean. We never even broke up or took a break. I'm 27 now. That's a lot of time and life spent with another human being. And through it all: puppy love, Western and the long distance see-you-every-two-weeks, grad school and roofing, Port Townsend, marriage, unemployment, Seattle, Taiwan, I've figured out a few things.These things are the reasons why I married the first boy I ever fell in love with, my second boyfriend ever, and after 10 years regret nothing.

He's the best friend I ever could have asked for, ever. He'll laugh with me. He'll love on me. He'll hold me every single time I cry. He'll rub my tummy when I have a tummy ache. He'll go on stupid adventures with me. He'll make a goofy face when I'm mad and telling him all about it and then I can't be mad anymore.

He's very thoughtful. He'll sneakily buy me earrings and scarves and bracelets every time we're in Tickled Pink (my favorite store in the whole wide world) together, and he's been known to buy them for my mom and friends too. Just cause he wants us to know we're special. He'll buy my favorite chocolate bar every time he's in a store that sells it. He'll pick flowers before coming inside and then tuck them behind my ear. He'll tuck me in at night so I don't get cold.

He's bossy and protective and overbearing and honestly I wouldn't have it any other way because I know with every fiber of my being that he gives a damn. He'll cross the street with his arm around my waist, bodily dragging me forward and bringing me to a halt. He'll offer to come to meetings with me if he knows they'll be hard. He'll get all up in my face about fire safety and lighting candles and drinking diet soda pop. He'll make me stop reading on those days I start a book and literally cannot put it down to give my eyes a rest and make it worth it by giving me a head rub. He'll make me breakfast because he knows if he doesn't I'll just drink two cups of coffee instead.

He's big on making sure my dreams come true. He'll.... do everything I've ever written about here on this blog.

He's the nicest, most real person I've ever met. He'll go out of his way to help our friends out (even by dragging me to a hardware store and then browsing the shelves for hours trying to find just the right bolt for our friend's project all the while I'm loudly grumbling because I loathe any and all hardware stores). He'll climb up on any family member's roof and clean it off. He'll put up my mother's Christmas tree every.single.time and I'll just sit there and watch. He'll be genuinely himself all the time, every day, no surprises or second guessing involved.

He's one of the hardest working people I've ever met. He'll spend way more time on something than I would to make it just right. He'll never want to let you down so he'll work his hardest to make sure that whatever he does was the best it could be.

He's sweet. He'll call and miss me like crazy even if we're apart for just one day. We're pathetic like that. We always have been. If we go on a date, he'll hold my hand and want to pay. He'll run me a bubble bath just the way I like, and believe me I'm picky and have rules about swishing the bubbles around. He'll run to the store late at night to get me ice cream. He'll let me wear his blue button up poncho and in turn wear by hot pink pull over poncho so I can actually sit on the scooter fully covered when it rains. He'll tell it like it is, which is how I know he loves my elf ears and nose and freckles and eyes and silky hair... and other parts too.

He's pushy. He'll make me try a bite of something even if I'm convinced I won't like it and then only rubs it in my face a little bit when it turns out that I actually love it. He'll do what's right for us even when I'm pouting and not being realistic.

He's his own person with all these silly and endearing quarks like his OCD. I love that every time we go to leave the house, Sean finds random tasks he has to do like clean the kitchen sink or arrange all our shoes on the shoe rack or tidy the counter. I love that when we scoot down the road he sings really bizarre songs. I love that he can spend a day reading or playing video games.

I love that after 10 years of being together, my favorite thing to do is what I'm doing right now: sitting in the same room together, each doing our own thing, but just happy to be in the presence of each other.

Now, I wouldn't want you to think that I live with my head in the clouds or am lying and only leading with our best foot forward. We bicker. We fight, kinda, in a unique Jackie-and-Sean way. Sometimes, I want to push him off our second floor balcony. Sometimes, he jokes about breaking hard and dumping me off the back of the scooter. But when you share your life, day to day every single day, with another person, it's bound to happen.

But, the honest truth is, I adore this man. And there is not one single doubt in my mind, ever, that he friggin' adores me. Like, a lot. Life is beautiful because of him. And while I don't really think luck had much to do with it, I still feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Work in progress

I promised a tour of our new place.

Here it is! 

Something to keep in mind: WE'RE NOT DONE YET!

Most of the furniture is in place but we haven't hung any of our photos or paintings or nick knacks. 

Even so, this place is so cozy and comfy and we adore it!

The kitchen:
Please note that the sink and oven are not held up by bricks. Improvement!

The coffee table:
Swoon. I'm in love with my espresso machine and my cute coffee table Sean got me.

The dining area:
We're still going to get a rug for under the table.

Bathroom 1:
Note that there is nothing duck taped to the wall and all of the pipes are not exposed. Oh, and there's no black mold. Yipee!

The living room:
So cozy and comfy! We have TV for the first time in 4 years! Sean is going to get black/white European city scapes from Taipei that I was drooling over. They take up the whole wall. It'll look so cool! I heart my husband!

The hall way:
I love the pink and salmon walls and green doors. So cute. The apartment has the master bedroom and two spares. We'll fix up one for guests and the other will turn into Sean's Man Room aka a rock climbing gym.

View from our real porch:
We live on the second floor. Those are our two scooters. Mine is the adorable white one on the right side.

Our bedroom:
Yum. Our bed is heaven and soft and our new blanket is to die for! One of the city scapes will hang above our bed.

 Spare room 1:
This will be turned into a guest room. Right now, it's the laundry room.

So there it is! Our new apartment that we friggin love!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

super Typhoon Soulik

Yup, that "super typhoon" is just a few hours away from smacking right dab into us.

And all we can think about was last year's Typhoon Saola, the "regular" typhoon type that flooded our bedroom, smashed a tree through our window, and caused electrical issues that resulted in our bathroom wall mildly electrocuting us every time we reached for some TP.

So, this "super typhoon" (and what does that even mean, really? It does not conjure comforting imagery!!) has us scrambling to prepare.

First, as Americans living in Taiwan we would have had no idea this beast was at our front door unless our friends said something based on something they overheard another westerner mention.

Because, well, we don't listen to the radio/news. It's all in Mandarin.

Luckily though, our friends did hear news of this bad boy and saw fit to mention the impending disaster to us.

So this morning I raced around on my little white scooter and stopped by three grocery stores to get provisions: food, water, batteries.

Holy crap, though.

It didn't take long to realize I was a little late to the party and every other Taiwanese person residing in Hsinchu had already done this as each store's shelves were baren.

So we'll be riding out Soulik drinking booze and eating chocolate Dove bars and Frosted Flakes.

I'm actually kinda excited.

I mean, I love chocolate and Tony the Tiger but also the last typhoon we had was the strongest storm I've ever seen. It was simply stunning in its sheer power. I thought it was beautiful.

Plus, it's a great excuse to cuddle up by the window, drink something lovely, and listen to the howling winds and punishing rain.

And this time around we know better than to venture out during the eye of the storm to go get tacos.

See, one year into living in Asia and we are so much wiser.

To see the damage this typhoon caused, check out my super cool friend Jamie's blog post!

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Sunday morning stroll through Hanoi

You wake up warm and snug in bed in Hanoi's Old Quarter on a slightly overcast, drizzly Sunday morning. 

You wonder: what does this day hold?

You eat breakfast and nurse your coffee at your hotel's rooftop restaurant. 

A thunderstorm rolls in and out.

The clouds part and there it is: blue sky and fleeting peeks of sunshine.

You shower and dress and you're in no hurry.

You're an explorer, in a foreign city and country, and you have no plans or agenda.

You grab your map and venture out with no care in the world except thoughts of more coffee.

You stroll hand in hand through the Old Quarter and appreciate its French architecture.

You watch locals live their lives: eat, drink, work, laugh, shop, be.

You think it's beautiful and real and stunning.

Even in the cramped, busy streets you find morsels of beauty.

The red shutter door. The vine spilling down the side of a building. The sound of women laughing, real and hardy.

You come across The Temple of Literature and think: how cool!

You wander across the eight lane street very, very carefully, mostly with your husband being a major control freak and throwing out his arm and jerking you this way and that to avoid imminent collision with scooters.

Then, your heart melts when you see this temple is in the middle of a lake and you get to cross an adorable red bridge to get to it.

Then, as always, you wish you were the only people in the world so you could explore this wonder on your own instead of battling crowds.

Such is the life of a modern day explorer in the age of jet planes and tour buses.

You wander around the temple and take in the scent of incense and feel like an intruder to the locals who come to use the temple for its actual intended purposes.

Still, you can't help but watch the bowing and the chanting and the offering of gifts and the burning of money and the lighting and waving of incense.

After having your fill of the temple, you wander back over the cute red bridge and decide to meander around the lake.

You see some kids training their dog how to pay Frisbee and think: let's sit down and watch.

So you do.

This is the life of you, the traveler.

Each day is an opportunity to watch and learn and do.

Each day, however small and slow, is filled with adventure. 
And for this, you feel like the luckiest person in the world. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sleeping with dragons in Halong Bay

Green placid water.

Tall jutting cliffs Vietnamese myth attribute to dragons.

Monkeys and fish.

Sean and I spent:

... three days idly floating through the bay and surrounding waters.

... two nights curled up together in the chair on our balcony.

... two mornings lazily watching the sun rise.

... three days kayaking, laughing, and sun bathing.
Halong Bay is truly indescribable.

So, I won't try.

Just know, whenever I hear the word paradise I will close my eyes and think of the time we spent sleeping with the dragons. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

saigon's unexpected surprises

We only spent four days in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, but each day was filled with exploration and adventure. Here is a list of our favorite experiences from our time spent in southern Vietnam.


XO Scooter Tour
At first, we planned on renting two scooters to get around the city. It took approximately five seconds of driving in a taxi to realize that was a.bad.idea. The traffic in Saigon is unlike anything I've ever seen/experienced. While yes there are stop lights and intersections with stop/yield sings, literally no one pays them any heed. Scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, food carts, cars, trucks, buses, etc. all compete for space on the road and it is absolutely insane. So instead, we carefully practiced crossing the road and booked an XO Tour to get to see more of the city. The company is composed of women who pick you up at your hotel and proceed to scoot you all over Saigon, including the wealth, poor, and expat districts, and feed you local food. The tour lasted three hours, from 6-9, and was a complete blast.

Mekong Delta 
We bused south and spent a day floating along the Mekong Delta. Sean held a really big slithering python and I rowed a traditional boat down river wearing an awesome straw hat. Basically, it was a really fun if not somewhat touristy day.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk
At least three times a day, Sean and I would stop in at a cafe and have a cuppa joe. Vietnamese cafes are very different; you walk in and are escorted to a table. Then, a menu is brought with a million coffee choices (mostly in Vietnamese) and then you choose one of the options knowing it's going to be tasty as hell. You wait a while and then a large cup filled with ice and a long spoon are brought out along with a miniature coffee pot that's still brewing. You wait until a server comes around, checks the pot, and then pours your amazing coffee creation. You lounge around for at least an hour, order more than one coffee, and people watch. It's fantastic and one of my favorite experiences in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City Botanical Gardens
Wanna picnic?
Wanna watch a traditional Vietnamese wedding?
Wanna get caught up in the middle of a dance competition?
Wanna get away from honking horns, zooming scooters, and people, people everywhere?
Then the botanical gardens is the place to go!

We had a great time strolling through the park, looking at all the flowers and locals, and found ourselves enjoying quite a few kebabs while relaxing on the plentiful benches.

Truthfully, when we go back to Vietnam, we will most likely skip over the south and fly into Hoi An so we can scoot the mid and northern parts of the country. That said, I am not sorry we spent some time seeing the Mekong Delta or enjoying Saigon. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Moving day, Taiwan style

What a traumatic week:

Grades are due by Friday.

We're flying to Vietnam at 5a.m. Saturday morning and thus far only have our ticket to Saigon.

Oh, and we're moving to off campus housing.

You see, we live in a dump.

There's really no other way to describe it.

The outside of the building looks worthy of condemnation.

The inside....?

Well, that's even worse.

And, quite frankly, we simply cannot take it any longer.

Our kitchen stove and sink are held up on bricks, every creature imaginable has infested our place, and black mold grows along the walls.

It is long past time to GO, so earlier this year once we knew who was staying another year and who was leaving, I talked to the school's admin and got permission to take over our friends' apartment once they leave for Doha, so during this last week of school with a trip to Vietnam looming, we are packing up all of our things in black garbage bags and the two HUGE red suitcases we moved to Taiwan with all the while wondering: how does one move apartments in Taiwan?!

You see, I've never seen a Taiwanese version of a U-Haul, and all we own are two adorable scooters.

Then, in a moment of genius, I asked to borrow our friends' car, and stupidly, they said yes.


Then I told Sean that he would have the honor of driving said car.

He was not happy to put it mildly because, well, driving a scooter in Taiwan is intense.

Driving a car? Damn scary.

Plus, there is this small fact that we don't actually have driver's licenses.

Minor detail.

So here we are scooting and driving all of our belongings (which have somehow multiplied in the last 12 months) across Hsinchu City.

We are dead tired, we feel like idiots for doing this now, but despite the craziness of the week, it is totally worth it to move. Our new apartment's backyard is a beautiful lake, there's a Family Mart one block away so anytime an ice cream craving hits we're ready to go, and the apartment itself is cozy, cute, and not disgusting.

We're heading to IKEA soon to get a few pieces of furniture so once the place is dolled up I'll post pics.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Beware: I am looking for you

One great thing about working with your friends?

When you're in the midst of a panic attack over the cobras slithering around your workplace, you'll find something like this on your desk.

And suddenly, the situation doesn't look so grim.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A shark, a tiger, and a cobra

Let's play a game. I'll give you a scenario, and then you tell me if you think my solution is logical.

Scenario A:

There is a shark in the water where a lot of people are swimming. Logically, you close the beach and get everyone out of the water. That was easy, right?

Okay, round two:

A tiger escapes from the zoo where many people are enjoying an afternoon. Naturally, you close the zoo and don't open it again until the rogue beast is caught. Makes sense, right?

Here's a tough one:

Two Chinese Cobras are on the loose in an urban school campus that's quite small. Some 1,000+ students go there everyday. Chinese Cobras can grow to be 6' long and are venomous and sometimes deadly. Obviously, you wait until the day is half over before you decide to make a vague announcement about some snake without giving it a name, and then later leave a piece of paper on each teacher's desk urging them to tell their 1st-12th grade students to avoid the grassy areas, which many have to walk through to get from class to class.

Wait a minute...NO. That doesn't sound right. In fact, that sounds insane. What would make sense? Hmmm...close the freakin' campus until you find, catch, and relocate the two huge deadly snakes. That makes a lot more sense than advising students to "walk carefully."

Taiwan, sometimes you boggle my mind.
This was the note left on my desk Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wrong turn at Sun Moon Lake

My big brother Joel flew in for a one-week visit.

We did all of the traditional things:

Din Tai Fung dinner with dumpling galore.

Scooter, scooter, scooter.

Taipei and culture.

But we also wanted to take advantage of his visit and go somewhere new: Sun Moon Lake.

From all of the reading I had done, it seemed like a great destination for a Sunday day trip.


Not that the trip wasn't great, but certainly not day trip great.

We got a late start (typical) and didn't hop on the HSR until 10:30. That wasn't too bad.

We arrived in Taichung at 11 and found a bus to Sun Moon Lake. I guess it was our fault for not clarifying. I anticipated a 30-minute ride. Two hours and many small towns and stops later, the bus ambled beside the lake.


We walked around the lake and were very grateful for the cooler weather and fresher air.

After a few hours, we realized, hey this will take a long time we should probably head back and thus began the four hour trip home.

Inclusive of getting on the wrong HSR train and everything.

I wonder if Joel will ever visit again?