Monday, May 26, 2014

a brief history lesson: the tale of the two chinas

Don't feel too bad if you don't know much about the whole People's Republic of China and Republic of China tiff. Also, don't feel too bad if you don't know that the PRC really means mainland China  and the ROC really means Taiwan. Actually, don't feel too bad if you can't immediately find Taiwan on a map. I couldn't either before I moved here. I certainly knew nothing of the conflict between China and Taiwan, or its origins. 

But it is actually kinda a big deal. 

News outlets, both local and international, are constantly talking about whatever China and Taiwan [and sometimes Japan and Vietnam] are arguing over this week, which is usually some off shore island. 

This weekend, I had an opportunity to learn more about the whole PRC v ROC spat while visiting the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. 

Here's a very, very condensed history lesson:

Once upon a time, in the 19th century, China [under the Qing Dynasty] and Japan feuded and Japan won. China was forced to hand over Taiwan to Japan. The people of Taiwan, quite alarmed and rightfully so, tried to declare the island an independent nation with little success. The Japanese came and took their spoils of war anyway but not without a bloody fight from the Taiwanese. Japan controlled Taiwan for more than 50 years and made many changes to the island: roads were built to connect east and west and north and south, hospitals and schools were constructed and the area was modernized greatly. While that may all sound good, Japan ruled with a heavy hand and the Taiwanese, especially vocal ones, paid heavily. It was not exactly happily ever after.

While all of this was happening in Taiwan, bad things were brewing in mainland China. Humiliated and incensed over the loss of Taiwan and other off shore islands, the Qing Dynasty fell to the Chinese Nationalist Party and then mainland China was known as the ROC.  After WWII, Japan was forced to give up all of its overseas territories and Taiwan was back again under mainland China's control. Still, this did not bode well for the Taiwanese. Civil war broke out in mainland China between two parties, one led by Chiang Kai-shek, who ran the ROC, and one led by Chairman Mao. During this time, corrupt mainland officials were sent to "run" Taiwan and wreaked havoc on the island, pillaging and plundering villages and sending valuables back to mainland China to help the ROC's cause against Mao. 

In the mid 20th century, Mao's communist party defeated Chiang Kai-shek's party and they fled mainland China to Taiwan, essentially bringing the ROC with them while Mao instituted the PRC in mainland China. Suddenly, there were two Chinas. The one Mao created and the one Chiang Kai-shek brought with him to Taiwan. Thus, the question became: which China is actually China? 

Intellectuals, monks, soldiers, artists and peasants followed Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan and suddenly the island was once again flooded with outsiders and once again the people of Taiwan had to adapt, this time not to the Japanese but to the mainland Chinese. Chiang Kai-shek was an effectual but firm leader who moved quick to strike any political dissent [especially from local Taiwanese]. Under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership, Taiwan experienced its huge economic boom and prospered immensely. It was also under his rule that mainland China and Taiwan rowed over titles and brought the international scene into the fight, both asking for official recognition as the China [this is something that did not work out too well in Taiwan's favor]. 

After he died, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was erected to honor him and his contributions to the island. I think, as with any piece of history, opinions would vary greatly over this man and his time in Taiwan depending on who you talked to. 

What cannot be disputed is that they built one pretty fantastic memorial for the man.

...and in case you missed all of that, here is a very educational video on the question: what, exactly, is China?

Travel Tips:
  • Take the green line to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station
  • Use Exit 5
  • It's free
  • Go on a weekday if possible. It is veeeeery crowded on the weekends. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Taipei Botanical Garden

I am no botanist.

Beyond the basics of rose, lavender, palm tree, lotus, fern, orchid and cactus, I am out of both knowledge and vocabulary when it comes to anything plants.

That did not stop me from enjoying the time we spent wandering around the Taipei Botanical Gardens, an almost 100 year old, 8 hectare garden full of greenhouses + themed gardens and ponds.

More so than reading the placards and learning about the immense variety of plant species in the park, I was more interested in all of the goings on.

A garden is just so busy with all kinds of life!

The old men playing a heated game of chess in the red gazebo.
The lotus bud bundled up tight.
The snail moseying down the wooden walk way.
The ducks splashing around in the pond.
The centipede trekking across the great expanse of the handrail.
The single flourishing flower in the sea of decay.
The neat and tidy pile of fallen leaves a small girl collected.
The baby turtles swimming in circles possibly playing tag.
My favorite activity was snail stalking! That little guy sure did take his time strolling along the path and I had the best time talking to him [I named him Ned] and taking his picture until Sean threatened to leave me in the park with my new friend. 

If anyone wants to visit Ned, here are some travel tips:
  • Take the green line to Xiaonanmen MRT station [leave from exit 2]
  • It's free!
  • If you go at dusk, bring lots and lots of mosquito repellent
  • Signs are mostly in English + Chinese

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Leibster Award

Over the last few months, my blog was nominated by four lovely blogging ladies for the Liebster Award.This award is passed from blogger to blogger to share some blog love. Jamie from Gunters Abroad, Patricia from Pink Macaron, Elena from Elena's Travelgram and Adelina from Pack Me To nominated me! Check out their blogs. They are all adventurous, travelling ladies who know how to write and tell great stories!  

There are slightly different versions of this award out there but the basic premise is to share facts about yourself, answer your nominator's questions and then in turn nominate other bloggers, all for the purpose of sharing great blogs with the world. 

So, here goes my [weird] facts:
1. One of my greatest disappointments in life is that I am not quite 5'2". My whole life, I wanted to be at least 5'4" but I am always stuck as the shortest person around. Even moving to Asia hasn't changed that. Facts are facts, and I am short. Luckily, my husband thinks it's cute. 
2. I have this soft spot in my heart for animals that I cannot control. Especially homeless animals. Especially dogs. That is how I ended up fostering and co-fostering two Taiwanese street dogs within four months of living in Taiwan. Just yesterday, I rescued [made my friend Peter Pan rescue because I am actually afraid of] a baby bird that fell out of its nest at school. 
3. I am obsessed with Harry Potter. No joke. I've been to Platform 9 3/4. I have every book. Multiple copies, actually. And the British versions too that I bought in the UK. One of my life goals is to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida. 
4. I obsessively research things that terrify me.  For example: plane crashes, grizzly bear attacks, venomous snakes in Taiwan, alligator attacks, shark attacks, tsunamis, symptoms of rabies, etc. I literally read everything I can find and even watch National Geographic shows [Air Crash Investigation, anyone?] and documentaries about these very things. Then, I have to take sedatives or get really drunk when I fly or hike in places where I might get eaten by grizzly bears.
5. I guzzle coffee like it's going out of style. If I see my friends with a Starbucks cup and they did not get a coffee for me, I feel instantly betrayed. Coffee is my lifeblood.

Okay, now that you know how weird I am, onto the questions from Jamie + Patricia:

1. What have you missed most about living in another country?
I miss moments and places. My husband and I have always been the best of friends. We choose to spend the majority of our time together. We lived in this great little community for a few years and there were so many things we loved to do together: go see a movie at the old-fashion movie theater, take a walk along the beach or through the woods, get a coffee and peruse a book store and so many other things [yummy pizza, Japanese food, French food, drool]. I miss being able to have those exact moments. We certainly found new moments and places in Taiwan but honestly, they just don't compare. 

2. What has been your most favorite travel moment?
My most blissful travel experience was my 3-day honeymoon in Victoria B.C. Everything about it was perfect. We are actually returning this summer for our 5-year wedding anniversary! 

3. What is your favorite indulgence?
Coffee, chocolate, coffee, chocolate, cheesy novel, bubble bath, coffee, chocolate, coffee, chocolate, puppies, coffee, chocolate.... hmmm, after careful consideration, letting myself have one more cup of coffee than I told myself I would have is my favorite indulgence. Especially during the work week. 

4. What/Who inspires you?
This is going to sound cheesy but honestly the people who inspire me the most are often my middle school students. They are still, in general, too young to be jaded and bitter and angry. I so admire genuine kindness and gentleness in people and I find it's my students who exhibit these qualities most often, both to me and each other. They seriously humble me.  

5. What is your all time favorite book?
HARRY POTTER! Don't make me choose because I can't. It's a toss up between 3, 4, 6 or 7 [did anyone else loathe and want to burn book 5? I just could not stand Umbridge for one more second and it is the only book I have not and will not reread].

6. What would be your ultimate vacation?
When I was unemployed and broke and knew I could not take such a trip, I planned the ultimate tour of Europe. It literally took me via train to nearly every country on the continent. My plan was to sleep on overnight trains and never pay for a hotel. As someone who has actually spent a fair few nights on overnight trains both in Europe and Asia, I know this is completely ludicrous. I just thought there was something so romantic and exciting about waking up in a new European city every morning and stepping off the train with just a backpack and a heart for adventure!

7. What is your favorite blog to visit?
I have two, and weirdly enough they have very little to do with travel and a lot to do with the beauty of everyday moments and average people. Check out Humans of New York and Enjoying the Small Things. You will not regret it. 

8. What is your favorite season?
Fall. I love the colors. I even have a tattoo of a turning maple leaf that my husband designed for me. 

9. Where is the perfect place to be in your favorite season?
I can explain it down to the town/road. In Washington State, there is a small town called Port Gamble. The main road that runs through the town is lined with great big trees. Each fall, they turn a brilliant red, yellow and orange. I can imagine it with the crisp blue sky and the brilliant fall colors. It's a slice of heaven! 

10. What have you learned from writing a blog?
I felt on an island for a while after moving to Taiwan. I didn't know anyone who had chosen a similar life path except for the people I met and later became friends with at my school. Through blogging, I have met other international teachers who plan to teach and live abroad indefinitely. It's nice to have people, even if it's just via the Internet, who can relate to your experiences and life choices. It makes you feel less crazy for moving to a random country and staying for years at a time. 

Also, I've learned to stay true to myself and not get swept away by the world of blogging. A while back, I was invited to participate in the launch of a new iPhone app for social media because of my blog. The company was prepared to give me a brand new iPhone and some money but also a list of expectations regarding posts, most of which I already met. I said no. I know some people will think I am crazy but I don't want an iPhone. My husband and I like not being those people who are always connected and on their phone. We like to be with the people we are with when we are with them, each other included. Also, I do not want my blog to be anything but what it is. 

11. Link to your favorite blog post that you have written.
My dad's tribute is the best blog post I ever wrote. Or maybe, it's the one I cherish the most. 

And last, the questions I want answered by some of my favorites on my Bloglovin feed, Elizabeth, Polly, Adelina, Michele, and Melanie
1. What gave you the travel bug? 
2. How has travel changed you? 
3. What was your biggest travel blooper? 
4. Where are you going next? 
5. Why do you blog? 
6. What are your carry on travel necessities? 
7. How do your families respond to your vagabond lifestyle? 
8. What's your favorite city for eating? 
9. What's your worst transportation horror story? 
10. Where do I absolutely have to go and what do I need to do when I get there?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake, for being one of Taiwan's major tourist attractions, was not at all what we expected it to be. We expected what we expect from anywhere Asia: crowds, crowds, crowds. We were so pleasantly surprised to get off the bus in the unassuming, quiet town that hugs the lake shore and see practically no one and a Starbucks. I hear it is booming during Taiwan's peak tourist season but we went in the off season. It was so off a lot of the shops were closed. 

That was okay with us.

Up in the mountains, the air was cooler and fresh. We could hike the lakeside trails and see not one single person. There was no line for the gondola to the top of the ridge. There were no lines at the amusement park on the opposite side of the lake. The was never a wait to get a table at a restaurant. We felt like the lake and town was ours alone to explore. 

It turned out to be the perfect weekend get away, far removed for all thoughts of work and city and busy and heat and humidity.


There are a lot of things to do at the lake:

You can take a gondola.
You can go out on a boat.
You can explore temples.
You can hike.
You can go to an amusement park.
You can rent bicycles.

Sean's favorite thing to do was hike. There are nicely groomed [mostly wood paths or stone steps] walking trails that go around the lake and up into the hillsides for nice panoramas. There are public bathrooms and stalls selling bubble tea and the like.

While I did love our hikes, my favorite part of Sun Moon Lake were its temples. Wenwu temple is hands down the coolest temple in Taiwan! Apparently, this temple was built under Japanese occupation when they had to tear down a previous one to build a hydroelectric power plant. My favorite part about the temple was the very top. After climbing a lot of stairs, you get an amazing view of the orange tiled roof and lake! 

Travel Tips

  • Stay overnight! There is simply too much to do in a day trip.
  • Take the glass bottom gondola. It is well worth the extra $5. 
  • Use the lake buses to hop from temple to trail to restaurant. It makes life much more convenient.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Exploring Taroko Gorge

Any trip to Taiwan would be incomplete without experiencing Taroko Gorge, a beautiful 92,000 hectare ecosystem full of high mountains, stunning gorges, immense water falls and the blue-green Liwu River. The national park is located in eastern Taiwan and was founded to preserve and protect land that was being destroyed by Taiwan's booming industrial economic success in the 1980s. Today, the park offers great day hikes through several different climate zones, natural hot springs + spas and many beautiful temples to explore. 

When hiking, do be aware that Taroko is home to many native animals including black bears and rock monkeys. Really though, you need to be more careful about the smaller critters like the giant hornets and snakes. Taiwan is [unfortunately] home to so.many kinds of snakes, many of which are venomous like the Hundred Pacer Chinese Moccasin [comforting name, right... get it, you'll be dead in 100 paces], so it is important to note caution signs before trails. 

[Side Note + Confession: before moving to Taiwan I obsessively researched the deadly snakes of Taiwan and then bought $200 "snake boots" from REI, which really tickles anyone who finds out. But I can hike the trails of Taroko much more confidently than those who try in flip flops!]

Despite the snakes, Taroko is a must see for anyone visiting Taiwan! 



Travel Tips

  • If you go during typhoon season [generally May-September], do be aware of any impending storm as the park will close
  • The park will also close after larger earthquakes for safety checks
  • Make Hualien your home base
  • Set aside more than one day to explore the gorge [it's huge]
  • You can see the park via bus, taxi, scooter or your own two feet and I would recommend the last two
  • Taiwan in the spring & summer & early-mid fall is HOT and HUMID. Dress lightly and bring lots of H20 & sunscreen
  • Read all of the caution signs posted before trails

This post is part of the Sunday Traveler link up. For more travel writing, check out Frank About Croatia