void

March 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

I was looking for something today.

Last night I finished a late night 10km run and in spite of that I still went to the gym this morning.  I thought it was the expended calories, but it struck me that beyond an expected higher than usual appetite, I was satiated and yet the feeling lingered.  I tried to look for it at Netflix, thinking it was entertainment.  I found myself crying in some random father-and-son scene but I somehow knew the tears were not falling for the movie.  In fact I was just intermittently paying attention to it, shifting between reading random articles I plucked from the usual harvest grounds.  I went to Swati’s room for awhile, perhaps I just needed some company.  It was good, but we both knew we both had work to do.  Aside from that, Sunday is the worse day to hang out because of the weighted feeling of Monday.  We talked a bit, yet still the vacuum gnawed at me.  I finally decided to take a walk, and ended up calling my dad midway.  The conversation helped, it’s true home is one of the things I miss, and him.  I missed my mom too.  We talked for a good hour, and I decided to go back to the dorm instead of walking further as I had originally planned.  I doubted I’d find it anyway even if I exceeded last night’s running distance.  When I got off the lift to our floor, I walked towards the balcony.  I swallowed my pride and admitted that I was feeling thoroughly lonely.  I could not understand for who it was that my soul was yearning.  I held back the tears as I made my way to my room.  It’s probably just PhD.  I am sure in a couple of months, the travails of doing a doctorate will be something I just look back to.

But the truth is, I’m not sure if this consuming sensation will ever leave me.

zorbing with Crabby

February 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

As always, this woman always comes up with the craziest ideas – and I love her for it.  We bought a voucher for 2 rolls down in a zorb ball, but ended up passing off the 2nd roll (I had motion sickness quickly).  I thought it would feel like an easy and fun roll down the low incline, but I was wrong.  At least now we know how it feels like to be rolling down a hill while trapped in a barrel.  Some peculiar questions can be answered after all.

day marker

February 5, 2017 § Leave a comment

“The nun Wu Jincang asked the Sixth Patriarch Huineng, “I have studied the Mahaparinirvana sutra for many years, yet there are many areas I do not quite understand. Please enlighten me.”
The patriarch responded, “I am illiterate. Please read out the characters to me and perhaps I will be able to explain the meaning.”
Said the nun, “You cannot even recognize the characters. How are you able then to understand the meaning?”
“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?””

at the twilight

January 18, 2017 § 2 Comments

There is a sight I love seeing.  In school, inside the engineering building.  In the afternoons, around half past 3.  Along the corridors or around the benches, I see them preparing to leave.  Decked in their pressed shirts and blouses, with fine patterned prints.  With their bags and gold watches, looking like they’re going to see no less than the mister or the missus.  Perfumed subtly and styled in pomade, they wait for each other at that certain hour.  The familiar faces of the uncles and the aunties who take care of the dust, litter and green patches.  It’s a sight that puts a smile because I also see the hard work they put in the mornings – dressed with the same uniform and going about their cleaning.  Without much of a chatter, but maybe a tune or some lyrics.  Even a nod or greeting from their well-aged faces can easily change the mood of my musings. To some, it may be a sad reality that someone’s grandparent is still working.  But to them, it may be everything, knowing that they’re still contributing to something.

They gather their belongings and hail the next bus that will bring them.  Til the next morning.


A tribute to the elderly people who keep this city-state clean.

letters

January 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

There was a time that I wrote letters.

The thoughts seemed to flow out willingly then.  I was generous in words but never superfluous.  I committed myself to a thought before I wrote it down.  I never fawned, but neither was I curt.  I was definitely verbose, yet how could I not be?  I didn’t want to regret not being able to say what should have been said.  And to me at that point in time, most things should be.

Then I grew up, faced the impermanence of relationships, and witnessed reality like they never used to write of.  Or perhaps I just had never read of before.  Suddenly, some things didn’t seem to matter.  I love you at this moment, but I’m aware of the possibility that I might not on the next.  Should you still know how I feel right now?  I wasn’t sure anymore.  I was hurt by disappointments and let down by people I loved.  People I wrote to.  And eventually, they just became people I would have written to.  Would it matter to them if I bothered?  Does it matter to me?  One day, I just started taking the easy route of answering “no”.

Other things occupied my time as well.  I could rarely afford the clarity that helped me reach my thoughts in the past.  One could argue that I made less effort to have that.  I start paragraphs, and end them in drafts.  Or the trash.

I have also reached greater depths in my ruminations about life, humanity, love and spirituality.  Some are too uncomfortable to be written and the idealist in me tries to shut them down.  At least not write it down.  It affects my ability to write, as I disdain the idea of me writing fodder.

But time and again, I am gripped by the desire to write to people who profoundly, or even just gently, affect my life.  Not just because I need to tell them, but because I’ve always believed that some people actually need them.  I’ve always fancied being an instrument to a person’s realization about themselves.  To help them see the goodness that they’re not aware of.  Not all letters are easy to write though.  Some fill you up, but some drain your soul.  I guess it’s writing enough happy ones to have enough heart to write the hard ones.

This year will be a time I write letters.

 

Christmas with Crabby

December 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

Ever since our first year here in Singapore, we’ve been going to Orchard to see the Christmas lights (except for one year haha).  There’s an insane amount of people in Orchard during Christmas usually, but it’s always enjoyable with my Crabby Pattie. <3

letter to heaven.7

October 28, 2016 § 3 Comments

Dearest Inay

I dreamt of you today.  I’m again frustrated that I only remember the last few scenes when I wake up.  We were in a spacious building, and they had an exhibition of glass-paneled structures that looked like churches.  All the glasses were stained with colors.  I was looking around.  And so were you.  You called me over to where you were and exclaimed you found a good night light for me as you handed a smaller replica of the stained-glass church I was previously admiring.  I examined it slowly and tried to figure out how the stains were made.  You wandered somewhere else, and I walked over.  You were putting a small light against a wall and held it at an arm’s-length, perhaps trying to imagine how it would look like in some place in your mind.  It was a simple light.  Just a dim yellow, square one.  You were covering it with a piece of paper, as you usually do with night lights.  You never liked them too bright.  “Inay, ano yan?  Night light niyo? (What’s that for Inay, your night light?)“, I asked.  “Night light namin ni Ama (Your dad and I’s night light)“, you said while still looking at it.  You looked healthy and fatter, and in fact you had your wig on.  I don’t recall dreaming of you like this before.  In my past dreams you didn’t wear it; also a slightly thinner version more reminiscent of your later years.  As always, the me in my dream ends up crying when I start talking to you.  And this is always the point where I wake up.  My eyes are dry though in reality.

The rain was about to start when I woke up this time.  I reached for my phone and told Ama and Gab about my dream.  I told them you looked happy.  Nostalgia set in and so I’m compelled to write.

You never left me, I now realize.

symbols

October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

I recently finished reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.  As with most of his novels, I am left dazed after the experience of having gone through an apparent literary lifetime with his characters.  What separates his brand of fiction is that it isn’t the same as typical fiction novels which operate in the same laws as the real world albeit with details that never really happened.  It doesn’t border on fantasy or sci-fi either because although supernatural things are a common content in his stories, there is no effort at all to explain their rationale and mechanism.  Murakami often presents them as a matter-of-fact, which you are then expected to digest as acceptable if you’d like to see through the entire story.  And interspersed through these fictional worlds that float in between reality and fantasy are strings of wisdom that are true in both sides.  What’s even more interesting to me is how Murakami’s prose functions more like poetry in that the meaning is not straightforward either.  They’re more like metaphors woven into a symbolic statement that may mean different things to different people.  To both the author and the reader.  Although quite a few lines struck me, I’ve elected to write only about those that gripped me.

In traveling, a companion, in life, compassion.

On a personal level, I do thrive from chance encounters with strangers who “accompany” you in life even for a while.  It’s true that not everyone we meet, whether we’d like it or not, is intended to stay in our lives forever.  Nevertheless, like compassion, when we find them, we’re grateful, and that’s what keeps us going.  Initially I thought that if I wrote this line, I would have written “hope” rather than “compassion”.  But looking back on the times that I felt hope, I realized they are indeed moments tied to compassion.  It is compassion, through empathy, that we make real connections.

Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything.  Nothing’s going to disappear  just because you can’t see what’s going on.  In fact, things will be even worse the next time you open your eyes.  That’s the kind of world we live in.

The context of this line was when Nakata was forced to watch the coldblooded murder of cats.  Bringing this into the context of our times, murder is happening everywhere as well, and at a more heightened awareness for everyone who has internet access.  A lot of us may be guilty turning a blind eye to all these atrocities, especially when we feel helpless in resolving them.  But there is truth to the line that while we live in our own little box, the world may turn out worse the next time we do decide to see what’s going on.  Just now, values and perspectives are changing.  Morals as well.  And perhaps the next best thing to do if at all we can’t really help directly is to stay informed about the world around us.  To care a bit more, be more open to other perspectives and understand why people do such things.  Not just by condemning seemingly straightforward evil, but trying to dig up the cause of such negativity.  Just because we live a life where we see no reason to commit such sins means we are not capable of doing so should our situation change.  And it is our responsibility to make sure that our morals stay intact then no matter the situation.

Artists are those who can evade the verbose…Most great poetry is like that.  If the words can’t create a prophetic tunnel connecting them to the reader, then the whole thing no longer functions as a poem.

I guess this is just a realization for me why some lines strike me as poetry and some don’t.  I felt this as I was reading some of the excerpts from Michael Faudet’s Dirty Little Things (it isn’t his fault, I now realize).  Perhaps it’s not a matter of just the artist’s skill but as well as my own experience which allows or prevents me from experiencing their poem.

The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future.  In truth, all sensation is already memory.

There’s so much bitter-sweetness in the fact that indeed all sensation is already a memory.  And delving into it further, aren’t all our important memories sensations as well?  There will always be feelings associated with them, and likewise it’s those feelings that make them precious.  The memory of my mom calling me “Baby”, or the sensation of comfort that you get from a mother’s voice.  They’re almost interchangeable.  While it’s true that not all sensations are committed to memory, one can argue that the reason we don’t commit those other sensations as memory might be due to the fact that we’re not entirely feeling them.  Either consciously or unconsciously, we pass off from those experiences.

Perhaps most people in the world aren’t trying to be free, Kafka.  They just think they are.  It’s all an illusion.  If they really were set free, most people would be in a real bind.  You’d better remember that.  People actually prefer not being free…Rousseau defined civilization as when people build fences…The people who build high, strong fences are the ones who survive the best.  You deny that reality only at the risk of being driven into the wilderness yourself.

I’m not sure how relevant this line is now given that globalization and migration promote lowering down these fences.  And although they come with a lot of advantages, there are also a host of challenges such as terrorism, epidemics, resource prioritization and allocation, etc.  Perhaps this is why some people still insist on keeping those fences high, because they’re acutely aware of the fear of living in an open society.  They in fact don’t want to be free.  They just want to be comfortable.  And who doesn’t, really?  We’re used to the security of our houses, our communities and our consciousness.  Opening up demands more from us.  Honestly, I also deal with the question of how to better equip myself in this borderless economy without losing my sanity.  It is perhaps finding a balance of sort in positioning yourself out there without losing your own ground.  It’s a continuous iteration of learning how to live.

Pointless thinking is worse than no thinking at all.

This is largely self-explanatory for pointless worries.  Easier said than done though.

Symbols guide us to the roles we play.

This line was what actually triggered me to write a post.  There are a lot of symbols in our lives, and they come in many forms.  A diploma may guide you in your career choices, a ring may remind you of your role in a marriage, and the fact that you live in a mansion or a shanty elicits a certain behavior from you.  But when I thought about symbols, the first thing that came to my mind is the gold bracelet I have on my wrist.  It’s my great grandmother’s in fact, but I started wearing it when my mom passed away. In truth I didn’t attach any significant meaning to it aside from just wanting to mark the memory of her.  It comforts me to know that I carry a reminder that I am her daughter and to some extent her legacy.  I don’t see it as a talisman nor do I look at it when I need to make important decisions.  It’s a symbol that means something relevant only to me, and what it symbolizes does guide me in playing my role in this world.

Every one of us is losing something precious to us…Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again.  That’s part of what it means to be alive.  But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories…you’ll live forever in your own private library.

I love it when cliche statements take an entirely new being when we take their converse.  Just like the other day when I watched Boyhood and I heard the line “the moment seizes us” instead of the usual “seize the moment“.  We’re constantly taught to acquire while we’re alive.  Sure, perhaps you don’t subscribe to acquiring money, wealth and power.  But we still strive to acquire memories, acquire experiences, acquire relationships, acquire wisdom, inner peace and the list goes on.  So when I read how living is actually equated to a continuous loss, as opposed to the idea that we can only stop acquiring when we die, it made me pause and ponder.  But Murakami added the important caveat that loss is just one part of it, leaving out (that we do gain otherwise) as something we should obviously know.  But it is an important recognition that we should welcome loss.  While it’s hard to not be unhappy about certain things we lose, it allows a more graceful acceptance to be keenly aware of the fact that it’s part of it.  And that we can always take comfort in their memory should we need to.

This is probably why my greatest fear would be to lose all my memories.

 

 

28th

October 3, 2016 § 3 Comments

Woke up with no plans and finally did not resist Swati’s orchestrated birthday planning for the first time in 4 years.  (I usually insist that she play down her gifts because I’m not really into elaborate birthday celebrations).  Mamow sent me a heartwarming video to start my day where he blew my first cake in celebration of my 28 years on Earth.

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He even made spaghetti (Kuya Rey made it under his supervision, according to him haha).  Inay was there as well, literally and surely in spirit.  My cousins Erin and Erika also sang happy birthday to me over whatsapp and it was really nice hearing their voices across the miles, and I especially loved the thought that despite our massive age difference, I have these lovely and affectionate cousins.  All the messages I received from family and old friends reminded me of how thankful I should be for all the love in the world that has been generously given to me by God.  Finally, the highlight of my day was celebrating it with the master planner, Swati.  She MADE me a birthday cake, took me to Chili’s for lunch and dragged me into doing the reverse bungy ride at Clarke Quay (she’s been trying to convince me for the longest time).  I was scared out of my wits before the ride but the view at the top was worth it.  Always a memorable experience when I’m with her whether it’s my birthday, her birthday, or not. <3  She even gave me a gift and a bottle of sweet messages at the end of the day.  I just love this human being so much.

you can watch the complete version of our Gmax ride here

IMG_20161001_120859.jpgmy second birthday cake of the day,made by Crabby

dsc_0910-01-01Crabby Pattie

dsc_0934-01served the wrong margarita, but that hardly rained on our parade

dsc_0941-01making full use of this love-padlock installation at Clarke Quay, too stingy to buy our own locks

twinning poses by the river

dsc_0959-01more than 3 years of friendship through mad laughter, shallow arguments and the contented kind of happiness. Thank you, Swati :)

 

Taiwan

September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

I must admit I’ve never given much thought to Taiwan previous to my trip.  Taiwan is a country familiar to Filipinos perhaps mostly due to all the TV series that were a massive hit in the Philippines several years ago.  If not for that, news would usually mention about their illegal fishing activities in our seas – and so Taiwan to me was either the land of F4 or the land of fishermen.  Sure, I knew a little historical background about this country and its complicated relations with China, but that was about it.  Neither was it a destination I was particularly eyeing.  So when I finally had the opportunity to see Taiwan because of a conference, I found every experience insightful.  Every observation was a visual and cognitive treat.

Throughout my trip, I was impressed with how easy it was to navigate around even for non-Chinese speaking individuals like me.  They had an Easycard which worked with most trains, buses, convenience stores, etc and this made things far simpler.  Data was reliable as long as you get a 4G simcard, and at reasonable rates at that.  Google Maps didn’t work as seamlessly as in Singapore, for one it kept giving me directions in Chinese ( eliciting a “you’ve got to be kidding me” from me most of the time) and travel time estimates were not accurate, but it was easier than having to have done so with a physical map.  If your destination was something for tourists, you can almost always expect signs along the way.  If they’ll be in Chinese or in English as well is a matter of popularity.  I have to say majority of the tourists when I was there were Chinese so I really did have to ask and struggle with pronouncing Chinese words a few times to get around.  Though I didn’t get detrimentally lost in Taiwan, I could imagine it would be easy to just decide where to go on a whim.  Take a bus somewhere, visit the Tourist Information Booth nearby, and you can add an item to your itinerary on the spot.  Knowing me, I did have quite a detailed itinerary to work with, but that didn’t prevent me from veering off from plans.  That being said, fear not getting around in Taiwan.  Though taking the bus can be a bit of an adventure as most bus stops were written purely in Chinese, you can always try asking the friendly locals and pray they understand English.  The only thing I struggled with were the menus. because as much as I had wanted to eat as authentically local as possible, it was impossible for me to read the names of most stores, much less their menus.  I found myself confined to food that had pictures or if someone else had ordered it (then I could conveniently point to it).  At times I tried to make use of my brother’s Mandarin knowledge and send him pictures of what I wanted to eat and confirm if it was what I thought.  But I ended up one time getting some bun with fermented vegetables and pork fat (no, I didn’t like it) when I wanted a pork bun so I just decided to resort to my more reliable method of pointing.  Night markets, convenience stores and restaurants are a good bet for people who want to order easily.  I also noticed that the streets were very clean and public toilets were also clean in general (thank goodness!).  I still haven’t mastered doing it in a squat toilet though even after so many times of having had to do this in other countries, but if you’re in a tourist area you’d most likely find a toilet bowl.  I could only wish the Philippines can follow suit.  I read online that Taiwan lessened garbage bins in the street thus curbing litter and vermin.  I was surprised to see clear streets even in areas where night markets are held (in Shilin itself!) so it apparently works.  They also diligently segregate trash (with particular emphasis on plastics).  With the Filipinos’ penchant of throwing trash anywhere though, I think this might make matters worse unless littering gets a heavier penalty.  Another observation I made was that a lot of people wore face masks.  At first I thought it was because they were scared of getting any contagious disease in public transportation, I found out later on that these people may have a slight cold and it’s their way of politely saying that they don’t want to infect anyone.

train stations in Taipei looked characteristically Chinese.  It’s very easy to get around using their train, even to other provinces.  They had both options for the traditional train system (TRA) and the high speed one (HSR).  That’s me on the train platform from Ruifang on the way back to Taipei with my loot from Jiufen.

night markets are the place to be at night for food lovers like me! I went to a total of 6 while I was there!  after I got tired of the night market staples (this may take a while for others as there’s really a lot of options), I wandered to other stores with crowds and I was never disappointed.  My favorites were their melon bread, luruofan (rice topped with savory minced pork), braised beef noodles, dumplings (OMG yes), guava juice (perhaps it was in season this time), papaya milk and da chang bao xiao chang (grilled sausage and sticky rice).  The infamous stinky tofu is also worth a try and for me though the fried version was a cinch eating and in fact was normal tasting enough, the stewed one was more queer especially with the duck blood (I tried a bit but the texture is really not to my liking.  I miss our own version of chicken blood with rice – now that I’m crazy for).

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 …and let’s not forget the taro balls, which you can eat a lot of at Jiufen Old Street.  Let me just say that this is another thing I know of Taiwan, that it’s where Blackball Dessert originated from.  As that’s one of my favorite desserts ever, naturally I had to try it in its place of origin.  It was really good as well, though I prefer Blackball’s twist of putting in yam and taro chunks along with grass jelly and their signature coffee creamer much more.  And yes, I did eat at Blackball Dessert in Taiwan. haha

Tamsui / Damsui / Danshui was the first place I got really familiar with as it was the venue of our conference.  The Fisherman’s Wharf and the Lover’s Bridge are the usual spots to visit here.  From the MRT to the harbor is a long street dotted with food, souvenirs, other places of interest and what not.  A good discovery for me was bus F112 which offered free rides around the area.  Something to note about the buses though is that some require you to tap when you enter, some when you leave, and some both upon entering and exiting.  I haven’t quite figured out how to distinguish this, I suppose it’s written somewhere in Chinese.  Nevertheless, always board the bus in front.  Coins are still accepted but you should have the exact fare.

To get a good view of the city, I went up Elephant Mountain.  It was a 20 min hike up, but don’t underestimate the continuous stairs that lead up.  I initially planned on continuing further up if I had made it here earlier, but as exploring the night markets was a stronger urge in me rather than getting a better view of the city from on top, I headed back down after reaching the first viewing platform.  It was a good idea since I realized I don’t do well walking down the stairs – I might have developed a little bit of climacophobia on the way down.  Elephant Mountain is actually beside 3 other “beast” mountains that have interconnected trails and is a good activity option for those who have more time.  After this, I decided to walk down to Taipei 101 and check out Tonghua night market which was supposed to be near Taipei 101 but it took me a good 20 minutes to walk there. @_@  

 

My first destination after the conference was Yehliu.  I took a bus from Taipei Main Station to go to the famous Geopark with their interesting limestone formations.  When I got there, I found that the place was a quaint seaside neighborhood with a lot of seafood restaurants! It was a terrible pity that the bus ride left me dizzy so I wasn’t really in the mood to eat anything.  I was reading off from my phone the stop list of the bus I was on, and this was what made my head spin aside from the intense heat that day.  I became friends with another Japanese tourist traveling by herself, but as her English wasn’t good, we ended up mostly conversing in smiles and short questions.  Talking to her did manage to make me change my plans of going back to Taipei that afternoon and instead I headed to Keelung, another seaside city.

All I knew about Keelung was their Miakakoku Night Market.  But as I reached there a little after lunchtime, that wasn’t really an option.  I went to the train station and saw the Visitor’s Information Center where a friendly grandpa who was working there showed me the map and all the options I had.  I scanned the pictures and saw Badouzi – the beautiful view from the brochure was enough to convince me and I got the directions and straight away headed there.  When I was already on the bus, it was only then I realized that I didn’t know where to go down and how exactly to get to Badouzi Wangyou Valley.  I was actually on the right track when I tried figuring out the way by myself, but a few turns and the lack of English signs made me doubt my instinct and so I headed back to a Maritime Museum there where I decided to ask for decisions.  The Maritime Museum was huge and beautiful that I almost felt bad there were barely any people there.  It was probably so slow that day that when I asked one of their staff, he volunteered to leave his post and take me to the bus stop to go to the Valley.  He even made sure I had an umbrella as it started drizzling at this point.  The bus took forever though and as I was conscious of the time, I ended up taking a taxi instead.  Turns out I should have walked straight on where I was earlier.  Oh well, as long as I managed to reach it!

The view was worth it and I was lucky the rain stopped while I was there, allowing me to get a bit of blue sky on my photos.  It was picturesque enough that so many couples were there enjoying the breezy afternoon by the sea.  I contented myself by taking their pictures instead. haha.  After taking in the scenery, I walked back to town and took a bus to Keelung and subsequently easily took a train back to Taipei.   

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When I got back to Taipei, I went to Dihua Street and Ningxia Night Market.  Dihua Street is full of Chinese herbs and medicine – and a lot of stalls were selling fish roe.  I wasn’t familiar with the use of most of these things so I just walked down the road and went inside some interesting shops that sold novelty/vintage items.  There were also a few pastry shops down the road, but I was craving for something savory so I ate dumplings at Ningxia Night Market which is a 10-minute walk from Dihua Street.  I should mention at this point now that the walk from the MRT to Dihua Street was also 10 minutes, and from Ningxia Night Market to the next MRT station was also 10 minutes.  Needless to say, I was damn tired at the end of this day.

The following day, Gale had finally arrived and I finally had a companion going around!  More stomach space too to try things since we could split everything.  We went to some usual tourist stops in the morning (Longshan Temple & the Chang Kai-Chek Memorial Hall) and proceeded to Maokong thereafter to take the Gondola and enjoy our lunch with the view of Taipei.  Although Maokong was quite elevated, it was terribly humid and hot still.  There were a lot of dining options but we ended up eating somewhere with AC because there was barely any breeze and it was unthinkable to enjoy sipping tea in that weather.  The gondola ride was enjoyable especially if you get the “Eye of Maokong” option which had a glass bottom. Not much tourists that day so no queuing for us yay!  After Maokong, we went to Eslite, which is a 24/7 bookstore.  It was huge and if not for the weak AC, it was paradise!  There were books, food, clothes, toys, stationaries, even cosmetics.  Most books were in Chinese though.  Syntrend mall since Gale wanted to buy some gundams for her Mike.  The mall was swanky and we especially loved how each floor had themes like “Create, Imagine, etc”.  It was at this point that we realized that we needed to change money, but found out that the banks don’t allow currency exchange after 3:30pm.  And there was no other option but the airport.  So we actually had to go to Songshan Airport to change money.  Money exchangers are practically non-existent in Taiwan so it’s best to estimate your budget beforehand or bring a lot of extra.  We had plans of hiking Teapot Mountain at Jinguashi the following day (i.e. wake up at 4:30 am) so we were bewildered when we managed to do this and find out that the weather forecast that day was thunderstorms when we reached Ruifang!

It took me a few minutes to get over the change in plans but as it was very cloudy, I didn’t think it was worth it going through the hike and not seeing the view I looked forward to.  So we proceeded to Jiufen instead.  We were there by 8:30 am and so most stalls were still closed.  It was a quaint town and fortunately it was only drizzling.  I didn’t get a photo with the quality of a Spirited Away-inspiration, but walking in the town situated on the hill, one could get a feel of community and serenity of the place.  Gale and I realized Jiufen would be a good place to stay overnight at if we had the chance of going back.  The view from the lodges were nice and it was much colder up here.  There was also so much good food again, and I will mention again: Taro Balls.  After getting enough of Jiufen Old Street, we headed back to Ruifang and bought one-day pass tickets (80 NTD) for the Pingxi Line to go to Pingxi and Shifen.  The main tourist attractions were along the old railway, and visitors usually released lanterns here as well as buy pretty souvenirs.  Though we didn’t get to go to Teapot Mountain that day, the experience of riding their Tze-Chiang TRA train as well as at the Pingxi line left me a good impression of their railway system.  People can actually eat on the train yet it was clean.  

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This is by the way the fermented vegetables bun I bought with the help of Gab’s Mandarin.  I told him to consider going back to Taiwan to practice his Mandarin so I don’t end up eating such things and he told me to go smell the smelly people because it’s deemed respectable.  Nothing as reliable as a brother’s advice, really. (sarcasm)

The next day, Yangminshan National Park was on our itinerary.  The park is huge and beautiful and more importantly, just 20 minutes from the city center!  I’m just really speechless.  There are a lot of stops available inside the park, you can even opt to hike.  But as we had to meet April that day, we just went down Qingtiangang.  The road on the way up is quite curvy and steep.  We took an S17 bus which stopped directly at Qintiangang.  It was a minibus and that day most of the people on the bus were senior citizens probably looking forward to enjoy some natural scenery on a weekday.  After that, we proceeded to Xinbeitou via bus as well from the Yangminshan Bus Terminal.

It was here that we met up with April and her friend.  It was really fortuitous that my conference was almost the same time as when April just moved to Taiwan.  She’s moved here for work and I’m happy Gale and I were able to meet her here before we gear up for probably a long time of not seeing each other again.  Marge was supposed to go as well but she wasn’t able to make it.  Xinbeitou is known for its natural hot springs, and it didn’t help that it was damn hot as well that day.  We didn’t try the hot springs, but I can imagine it would be a good option on a cooler day.  The public library at Xinbeitou is worth visiting though, it had full-length glass windows and wooden interiors.  It would have been an optimum place to read had it not been for the droves of people playing Pokemon Go scattered all over the entire area! It was quite an eyesore, and I’m pretty sure they contributed to the heat.  We had lunch at a tea shop and went to the Thermal Valley where steam can be seen rising up all year round.  After that, we headed to Tamsui that afternoon to see the sunset.  That night, Gale left and the next day though I had planned to go around the city area some more, the heat and all the walking the previous days discouraged me and I went to the airport 8 hours early instead.  I didn’t really regret it as I got to eat my xiao long bao and do some leisurely souvenir window shopping.  The airport was quite comfortable to hang out at actually.  There were a lot of lounge-style seats even in the waiting area, not to mention charge points and restaurants, so it wasn’t that bad.

It was a wonderful experience, and if given the chance to go back I definitely will for the sights, the cuisine and the nice people.  I’ll make sure to do this on a colder season though.  I’m also really grateful for my Taiwanese friend, Jacky, who practically helped me translate and get around so many times when I was at the brink of getting hopelessly lost in translation.  Xiexie~ (this is the only Chinese phrase I used and it somehow managed to go a long way)!  Here’s my itinerary for anyone interested.  600 NTD budget per day for food would be good (you can’t drink from the tap but you can easily buy bottled water from convenience stores), accommodations are flexible – both cheap and pricey ones are available, and it’s easy to estimate your transportation cost using their train websites so I suggest you do this to see if you’ll do better buying their unlimited train/bus pass.  I preferred buying an Easycard though.  If I had more time, I would have included a visit to the Sun Moon Lake & Longdon as well.  Even more time and I would definitely explore Central, East and Southern Taiwan!  Hopefully at another time in the future!

 taipei-itinerary

 

 

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