Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Shake, rattle, and roll

Part of living in Taiwan is experiencing frequent earthquakes.

Often, they are so subtle you find yourself wondering is this an earthquake?

But sometimes, like today, they roar.

I first noticed something strange when I was walking past the second floor display board at school.

Student work is displayed behind glass cases, and they were all rattling.

Then, before I could truly comprehend what was happening, a roar filled the hallways.

It's hard to explain what a cement building sounds like when it's being rocked by a 6.1, shallow earthquake.

I heard more than felt this earthquake, oddly enough.

As soon as the rocking began, hundreds of students' footsteps thundered above in the third and fourth floor hallways.

We recently had an earthquake while school was in session and no one batted an eye or evacuated the building.

The suddenness of the students' evacuation, before an announcement to do so even sounded on the intercom, told me everything I needed to know: this was a big one.



When we first started school in the fall, we all joked about how many earthquake drills we were forced to practice.

But then, upon learning about September 21, it made sense.

You see, 15 years ago a large and shallow earthquake struck the middle of the island. Thousands of people died when cement schools, temples, and apartments collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of people were very seriously injured.

Any time there is an earthquake, my first instinct is: leave.


Everything in Taiwan is made out of cement and the cracks running up and down the walls do little to comfort me regarding structural stability.

All it takes is one look at the pictures from all over Taiwan after the 1999 quake to understand:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

a weekend adventure to hong kong


Hong Kong is frenetic.


Flashing neon lights.

Honking horns and stop-and-go traffic.

People bustling, talking, laughing, shouting.

Trains coming and going.

I had to make toilet paper ear plugs before I could get even a wink of sleep in this megacity.
Our hotel was in Kowloon and our room was on the second floor right in front of Nathan Street.

It took forever to doze off and then squeaking breaks & honking horns would startle me awake all.night.long.

So in the end we gave up on sleep and did our best to keep up with this never tiring city.

It was a bit hard for our more chilled-out, going Taiwanese selves.

But in the Hong Kong spirit, we sought out this city's iconic nigh time views instead of sleep:
We took the tram up to The Peak late one evening.

The train goes vertical up the mountain side and we had to hold on for dear life as it climbed and twisted its way up to this precarious view point.

The whole weekend was a foggy and soggy mess but I think the city looks just as it should with its bizarre skyscrapers poking up over the haze of clouds and mainland China's pollution.

We also wandered outside downtown to explore the islands we flew over on our way into Hong Kong.
We hopped a gondola to Lantu Island to see the mountains and one really big Buddha.

Hong Kong is not pretty, really.

And neither are its surrounding islands.

That's the price it pays for its relentless development and economic drive.

Or, maybe I've just seen so much of Asia that now I'm hard to impress.
But I guess one does not go to Hong Kong for beautiful nature.

One does go to Hong Kong for the glitz and dazzle and sparkle.

So we hoofed it to the Avenue of the Stars to be blown away by the city's skyline only to find the lights had been shut off for Earth Day.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of the earth, but when you're in Hong Kong and it's your last night there and you discover there will be no flashing & strobing lights, it's hard not to feel mad at the earth for being such a drama queen and inspiring cities all around the world to turn off their lights to make a point or something about how we all need to treat it a wee bit better.

All in all, what was great about Hong Kong had absolutely nothing to do with the city itself and more to do with the weekend away with friends and doing something a little bit different.

Hong Kong: check.

Friday, March 22, 2013

my fear of flying

Newsflash: I hate flying.

In fact, I'm absolutely petrified of flying.

And before you start throwing all these statistics at me, trust me: I know them.

No one has researched airlines, aircraft safety, and plane crashes more than moi.

I understand that flying is the safest way to get from point A to point B.

It doesn't matter though.


The mere prospect of having to step foot onto an aircraft is enough to get my heart fluttering.

In the days and weeks leading up to a trip involving an airplane (which let's be serious here, that's 95% of them), I seriously reconsider whether I'll go or not.

I tell myself that it's not worth the panic and terror and absolute horror I experience for the one hour or 13 hours that I'm in mid air.

To give you an idea of how severe the issue is for me, one time I turned to Sean and told him "we need to get off this plane right the #*$@ now" as it was taxiing down the runway for take off.

So how do I always end up on planes every few months, you may be wondering?

Becaue it is absolutely worth it-- worth the massive amounts of courage I have to muster up each and every time I get on a plane.

For two reasons really:

One, I dearly love to travel.

And two, what a sad way to live a life: always letting fear dictate what I can and cannot do.

So every single time, I put on my big girls pants and strap on that seat belt and endure one hour or 13 hours of pure terror so I can live the life I want for myself.

Because I want more than what my own limitations would settle for.

Friday, March 1, 2013

the dumpling house of the gods

Friday night.

There's only one place to go: Din Tai Fung.

This place is a world-famous dumpling house that opened its first ever restaurant in Taiwan.

This is the place you go after you've gathered your friends and loosened your pants.

This is the place you go to feast:

Dumplings, every kind imaginable, steamed buns, sweet and sour soup, peanut noodles, pork fried rice, steamed cabbage, pickeled cucumbers, shrimp rolls.

You cannot go wrong with their menu, which serves 50+ handcrafted, fresh, made-to-perfection dishes.

Tonight, the four of us ordered 15 plates and shared them all.

Chops sticks and soup spoons and small bowls and teaming dishes passed around the table; for a while all was quiet except for the clanking of cultery and sighs of appreciation.

Steaming mugs of tea were refilled and room had to be made on the table to accomodate the stream of arriving dishes overflowing with flavor and color and texture.

Some of our favorites are:

Steamed + garlic cabbage. Drool.
Spicy pork + spinach dumpling.
Pork soup dumpling. How do they do it??
Shrimp + pork dumpling
And for those of you state side, there are more and more of these restaurants opening each year. I know there are two in Seattle alone, which means this summer we can enjoy home and still have a taste of Taiwan at the same time! Check out their website and see if there is one near you!