Tuesday, September 30, 2014

my favorite way to explore

When I first started traveling, trains were my favorite way to explore. Now, trains have been demoted and replaced by scooters.

Yes, I am a self-confessed moped lover.

I have had the opportunity to explore by moped in three different Asian nations: Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Scootering is my favorite method of exploration for a few reasons.

First, it's limitless.
In Asia, scooters can go anywhere and everywhere. Renting a scooter is a great way to get off the beaten path. In Taiwan, we often scoot up into the hillside for a weekend adventure. In Thailand, we scooted down a remote road on Koh Tao island and found a secluded beach {... we also got the scooter stuck and it took two hours to get it back on the main road, but that's all part of the adventure, right?}.

Second, it's exhilarating.
Being in an Asian scooter horde, especially in a big city, is an experience to be had! In Ho Chi Minh City, we scooted during rush hour from one end of the city to another. It was crazy and real and one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. Being a part of a two hundred strong scooter horde on one tiny road merging into a thousand strong scooter horde is a nearly unbelievable experience.

Third, it's romantic.
I know, I know. A scooter? Romantic? But it really, really is! It's hard to find privacy on a boat or train or plane or helicopter or elephant or camel. But on a scooter, you are all pressed up against your special person and can pull over whenever you want to watch the sunset or take a stroll or simply have a moment together.

What about you? What's your favorite way to explore?

Friday, September 19, 2014

welcomed interruptions

That right there is typhoon Fung Wong.
You will notice that it's going to slam into us over the weekend.
At first, I was a little mad about it.
You see, I had plans.
I was going to go on a scoot adventure up into the hillside to explore temples.
I was going to go to my favorite dumpling restaurant and stuff myself.
I was going to go to a movie and have a date night with my husband.
Of course, none of those things will happen because they all require going outside and that is a very foolish thing to do in the middle of a typhoon.
Then I got frustrated at its timing.
Taiwan has no such thing as snow days but it definitely has typhoon days.
Why couldn't it come one day later?
Then we would have a three-day weekend.
But after getting over my initial frustration, I started to think a typhoon weekend does not sound so bad after all.
For three weeks now I have been in go-go-go-go-go mode at school.
Fung Wong and the rain + wind it will bring gives me an excuse to do something I love to do: sit in my pajamas and read or watch bad TV or play cards with my guy.
So as it turns out this typhoon is nothing more than a welcome interruption.

(Note: Typhoons in Taiwan cause far less damage than in other SE Asian nations like the Philippines. We have lived through two, neither of which caused any loss of life here. So don't worry. I am not welcoming a typhoon at someone else's expense.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

city god temple

Taiwan kinda has a thing for temples, evidenced by the fact that there are more than 5,000 on this small island.

Some are humongous and grandiose.
Others are teeny tiny.

There are Buddhist, Taoist and Confucius temples in Taiwan.
Depending on which kind of temple you discover, you will notice differences in structure and artwork.

This is Hsinchu's City God Temple, also known as the Cheng Huang Temple. 
It is a Taoist temple smashed in between a busy night market and even busier down town Hsinchu. 
It was built in 1748 and is considered the highest ranking city god temple in all of Taiwan due to the superior power of the spirits that protect the city.
Cheng Huang, the city god of justice, is responsible for determining the fate of all spirits in Hsinchu. 

Due to the temple's Taoist nature, it is bright and colorful.
Its roof is broad and sweeping and includes figures that represent good luck such as the dragon.
Inside, there is a large oven where money is burned as an offering to the spirits.
Taoist temples are very busy places, and even though there are no resident monks or nuns, locals use these temples for ceremonies that include loud music, fragrant incense and booming firecrackers. 

As an outsider, I no longer feel awkward exploring a temple in Taiwan. 
At first I did.
I felt like an intruder because Taiwanese people actually use their temples all the time. 
You would actually be hard pressed to visit a temple that was not being used by someone, even if it was in the mountains. 

But so far, after more than two years living in Taiwan, I can say that I have never once been looked at funny or dismissed or spoken to/gestured at rudely for being curious about these intriguing religious structures. 
For the most part, this is the one place locals ignore me. 

They do their thing, I do my thing.

And every time I visit a temple, whether it be big or small or Buddhist or Taoist or Confucius, I am simply blown away by its beauty and buzz of activity and sometimes very odd placement. 
After all, Taiwan has grown explosively in the last few decades. 
As cities and towns boomed, old temples became dwarfed by towering apartment buildings and flashy shopping malls and sometimes even western restaurants. 
It's a bizarre juxtaposition at times, like when The Outback Steakhouse is next door neighbors with a 300 year old Buddhist temple.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

walking the streets of taiwan

One of my favorite things to do is stroll.
Taking a walk in Taiwan is always a memorable experience.
First, there is the scooter that almost runs you over.
Then, there are the blatant stares you get for being a foreigner.
But mostly it's the bizarre, meandering streets themselves that I enjoy the most.

Many streets in Taiwan are in various stages of decay.
The buildings look like stacked lego pieces.
Most are made of cement and nearly all are butt ugly...there really is no other way to put it.

It's odd because Taiwanese people themselves look so put together.
Beautiful outfits and intricate hair styles and the coolest accessories.
Sometimes I don't really get the contrast.

But as one coworker explained to me, it's not that Taiwanese people like ugly buildings, it's just an impossible feat to keep nice buildings due to the climate.

So why try?

In Taiwan's insane heat and humidity, it's completely forgivable for the buildings to look so dreadful.
I don't blame them.
After all, when I take a good look in the mirror after a day exposed to Taiwan's elements, I look pretty awful too.

And anyways, I kind of think all the ugly makes everything seem a little more interesting.
Don't you think?

Monday, September 8, 2014

a traditional taiwanese market

This photo perfectly represents a traditional Taiwanese market.
These markets are typically wedged down alleyways off of really busy roads and crammed in between tall, dilapidated apartment buildings.
They are crowded + hot + humid + smelly + loud + bright + rudimentary.
In two words, a night market is sensory overload.
I often feel like I float through one, kind of like the picture above suggests.
And every time I leave one, I am sweaty and a little shell shocked by my experience.

At the market, scooters weave in and out of people.
Pig heads and chicken feet hang out in the open.
Locals bombard you with their excitement and jibber-jabber at you in Chinese.
Sweat drips down your back and beads on your forehead
Scents, some delicious and others not so much, overwhelm you.

What is for sale at these traditional markets?
Fruits + veggies + meats + tofu + noodles + seafood. 
Usually, I don't buy anything.
Instead I just take photos of it all.
Which often times includes the adorable dogs that are helping their owners strum up good business.

Yeah, Taiwanese markets may be a little dirty and stinky.
You may get really overheated and sweaty.
And sometimes you will brush more than just shoulders with the people around you.
But they are still something extraordinary to be experienced, even if only once. 

Have you ever been to a traditional Asian market? What did you think??