Tuesday, September 19, 2017

alone in the mountains

Yesterday, I decided to do something I have never done before: scoot deep into the mountains of Taiwan all by myself to get lost.

I did this because I had the time to do so and the desire. You may wonder how on earth a woman on maternity leave with a 4.5 month old baby could say she has free time, but I do. Every Monday and Wednesday, our nanny comes from 9am-5pm, so I am free as a bird to have coffee, breakfast, or scoot adventures with friends-- and, originally, yesterday's scoot adventure into the mountains was supposed to include a friend, but her daughter had a hard time at preschool, so only I could go.

At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to go by myself.

The voices of so many other people ricocheted in my head saying: it's not safe to scoot into the mountains of a foreign country all by yourself, but I realized pretty darn quickly that if I was going to wait on other people to do the things I truly want to do, I may never actually do them.

We have lived in Taiwan for more than five years now. I have been scooting around Taiwan for more than four years now, and I have been zipping through its wondrous, glorious, lush mountains for more than two years now. So far, the scariest thing that has ever happened was being chased by a pack of rogue mountain dogs that scattered when I turned around and drove straight at them yelling and honking my scooter's pathetic horn.

Feeling like an adventure was in order, I packed my backpack with water, my cameras, and my cell, and then I drove out of town and towards a mysterious road I read about in Lonely Planet that connects Beipu to Nanzhuang:

"A few kilometers past the hot springs, the road splits again. Left takes you up a winding uninhabited road back to Beipu..."
That road called out to my spirit of adventure. I looked on Google Maps, and thought I located this "winding uninhabited road", which is actually called Daping Road. This road connected a waterfall I wanted to see in Nanzhuang with the cold springs I frequently visit in Beipu, so I decided to try to find Daping Road and drive down it as far as I could. I was not disappointed, although Lonely Planet is wrong because the road is inhabited by some homes, farms, and a strange Buddhist temple and its many chickens.

Daping Road is a true single lane road; sometimes its width didn't even seem wide enough to accommodate a car, and we are talking Taiwanese cars here, which are super tiny and clown looking. Daping Road took me past beautiful rivers, across single lane, shady looking bridges, and by green, tree covered mini mountains that looked close enough for me to reach out my arm and touch.

Eventually, the road forked and the only true way forward looked so narrow and overgrown I doubted it actually could connect to Nanzhuang (my Lonely Planet is six years old, after all, and Taiwan has been known to completely abandon roads-- even major ones like its central cross island highway-- that take too much maintenance). I decided to turn around and save any further exploration for a day out with friends in case my bike broke down on the bumpy, dilapidated road.
Since I still had some time on my hands and because it was a beautiful fall day, I thought I would drive to the top of Five Finger Mountain for the glorious views of the mountains tapering off as far as the eye could see. However, when I got to the fork in the road to go to Five Finger Mountain, I decided to turn left instead of right.

I had never been that way before, and I was curious what was around the bend in the road. I was not disappointed!

Turning left brought me behind Five Finger Mountain and gave me an incredible view of the range that I had never seen before. It also opened up into a great river valley. I drove down and down this road, which after consulting Google Maps, I discovered was Country Road 37-4. I drove past gazebos and beautiful vistas for 20 minutes, but then I had to turn back to go to the grocery store and feed Ruby. I am so eager to return to Country Road 37-4 to see what waits for me in the river valley.
I know how fortunate I am to have this time-- time to do more than survive the daily grind. It is my endeavor to make the most of this free time I have to do the things that bring me joy and make me feel alive. 

Because of that, I can assure you there will be many more adventures ahead-- with or without the company of friends. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nanzhuang Old Street

I first heard of the small Taiwanese mountain village of Nanzhuang a few years ago in Lonely Planet. The guidebook raved about it, calling it a secret gem tucked up against the Snow Mountains with inspiring views found in every direction. That all sounded really good to me. I easily found the village on Google Maps, which said it would take about one hour to scoot to, but never could quite find it in real life. I tried on multiple occasions with multiple people to scoot to Nanzhuang, but we always got lost over bridges and through tunnels and down winding roads. It was a great source of frustration for me, especially because it was the only place I tried to scoot to but never made it to after years of scoot adventures all over Taiwan. 

Yesterday, however, while trying to find a beautiful waterfall in Miaoli County, we scooted right through the village! A beautiful river runs through Nanzhuang, so the first thing we did was park our scooters and soak our feet in the cool, fast flowing water. 
Then, we visited the real reason Nanzhuang is on the map: its old street. Taiwan has a handful of well known "old streets"-- which are really just streets that have preserved their older, Japanese or Hakka style architecture-- and Nanzhuang's old street is definitely a prominent one on that list.

To date, we have visited five of Taiwan's old streets: Wulai's, Dihua's, Neiwan's, and Juifen's and now Nanzhuang's. All of these old streets have some things in common: cramped alleys full of food vendors trying to give free samples of their goods, the pungent scent of stinky tofu, red paper lanterns lining walkways, and beautiful, massive temples.

Usually, we don't buy anything at Taiwan's old streets because we are not that into Taiwanese street food and the touristy stuff is usually junk, but this time we drank smoothies (and beers) and bought a bunch of bath salts from the lavender farm we scooted to a few years ago that opened up a stall in the market and found fun toys for Ruby.

Eventually, after sitting in the sun long enough to get burned on the tops of our thighs and backs of our necks, we had to hop back on our scooters to make the 1.5 hour scoot journey through Lion's Head Mountain back to Hsinchu City.
But on the way out of town, we spied these little wooden gazebos by the river front, so of course we had to scoot down the river front trail to eat some fried chicken from a bag and listen to the water gush by and the breeze blow.

I will miss days like this more than I know how to explain whenever we leave Taiwan for good next summer. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

a taiwanese kite festival

Nanliao is a little harbor village just outside of Hsinchu City. Really, it is nothing special. The beach is so-so, the views are so-so, and the town itself is so-so. Really, the only brag-worthy aspect of Nanliao is a wood oven pizza restaurant right on the water. However, we randomly found ourselves desiring to climb up onto Nanlioa's great cement wave breaker to watch the tide roll in and out from the Strait of Taiwan.

As we scooted closer to the coast, we knew it was not going to be an ordinary so-so day in Nanliao because we saw hundreds and hundreds of kites in the air. As it happened, we drove right into Hsinchu's 2017 kite festival.

People came from all over the island to buy, trade, and fly kites.

Kites of all colors, shapes, and sizes soared high up into the air. The kite festival is always held in Hsinchu, which is dubbed the "Windy City" of Taiwan. While we didn't buy or fly a kite, we were certainly amused by the ones we did see, especially the T-Rex and huge shark.

It was also really fun to see families having so much fun, and we certainly looked forward to the day we could fly a kite with Ruby!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

4 months with Ruby Mae

Before I get started, I wanted to thank everyone who reached out to me after reading my last update when Ruby was two months old. It buoyed me to know that other people lived through colic and GERD and survived! Things have, in fact, become so much better on those fronts, but before I get started on an update about her medical condition, Ruby wants to share some things with you all:

Hi everyone! 
I am four months old today!
I am often full of smiles and laughs these days 
(although I sure do know how to pout and throw an impressive fit). 
I love to babble and help mom read stories. 
I am trying so hard to learn to blow raspberries. 
I have rolled over all by myself four times!
I love grabbing toys and putting them in my mouth. 
I am teething and have four teeth coming in at once!
I love to eat and weigh almost 16 pounds
(and I left the hospital weighing only 6.2 pounds).
I am wearing 9 month onesies and medium-size diapers. 
I hate bed time and nap time and being snuggled.
I love my furry big brother, my mom and dad, reading stories, bath time, going on walks, and hanging out in my play gym. 
As you can see, I am pretty dang adorable. 
As far as the other stuff? 

Well, sadly, Ruby still suffers from reflux, but we have it pretty well under control with two medications that she takes multiple times a day. I am going to try weaning her at five months because I don't relish the idea that she is on medication at such a young age. If that doesn't work, we will continue to give her the medicines and try weaning her at the start of each new month. I hope she will not have to be on the medications for the entire first year of her life (although many of you who reached out to me told me that is what happened with your sons and daughters), especially because she seems to be reaching her milestones early. I know that when she can sit up, her reflux should bother her less because then she can manipulate her body to offer some relief. 

Ruby's colic has also dissipated (hallelujah!). 

She is a joy to be around and rarely cries when she is awake anymore. I am so relieved those days seem to be over. Ruby has been so much fun these past few months, and her huge personality shows itself more and more every day. 

Our biggest struggle recently has been sleep-- or the serious lack of it. 

Ruby has never been a great sleeper. She hated to be swaddled or in her sleep sack. We would have to do this frustrating and intricate dance to get her to sleep, both for naps and at night. It involved rocking, shushing, swaying, patting, and she still howled for 10-20 minutes each time. We would end up holding her in our arms for 30 minutes to an hour. When we would try to put her down, she would often wake immediately or within 2 hours. 

Everyone was frustrated and tired, and Ruby even had dark bags under her eyes. 

We decided somewhat impulsively to use the Sleep Sense method, which is a lighter version of the Cry It Out method. Our first night using Sleep Sense, she slept from 7pm to 6:20am and only cried for 8 minutes around midnight, but she managed to soothe herself back to sleep. The second night, she didn't cry at all and slept from 7pm to 6:10am, waking only once around 2:30 when she cried for a total of 3 minutes before falling back to sleep. I am so glad we decided to bite the bullet and do sleep training.

Hopefully when I check in 2 months from now we are all resting well and happy!

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