Taking on Tainan

April 1 - 5, 2016

If you missed the post for the first half of this weekend you can check in out here, but I also know everyone is crazy busy and a 14 page long blog post is just not going to get read...so chop it in half I did!

Sunday morning we woke up late at Ariel's aunt's house and had a wonderful home cooked seafood lunch before heading to Kaohsiung, the county before Tainan, for the day. We didn't arrive to Kaohsiung until mid afternoon, but we quickly headed towards our destination {the one thing I had actually planned for our weekend lol}The Lotus Pond and its famous pagodas and pavilions. 

Before moving to Taiwan I associated dragons with Asian culture, but wasn't quite sure if that was how things really were or if it was just a stereotype that many of us place on the Asian art and cultures. Needless to say, I know the answer now for sure, that dragons are very much a part of Asian and Taiwanese culture as noted in the dragon and tiger pagodas that we went to see in Kaohsiung. These 7 story tall pagodas each have a statue in front of them; on the left a dragon and the right a tiger, as well as a winding walkway to reach their entrance. It is believed that if you enter the pagoda through the dragon you will gain good luck while exiting through the tiger will rid you of bad luck...I'm not a superstitious person, but who am I to say no to the possibility of good luck!!

Afterwards we went next door {with tea in hand!} to the spring and autumn pavilions where we spent more time checking the area out {I'm honestly amazed we spent nearly 3 hours at Lotus Pond!}. When we had finished Ariel's cousin picked us up and the 4 of us along with his girlfriend and her friend went out for a delicious Taiwanese dinner and ice cream before heading back to Tainan for the night. Once in Tainan we headed to a small local bar where we were able to relax and unwind from the week while playing a few rousing rounds of heads up!

Monday brought along a whole new set of adventures and beautiful blooms. We slept in again (OK, I can't lie...actually everyone else slept in and my lovely internal alarm clock had me up at the crack of dawn :/ ) and had a popular roast duck dish for lunch at Ariel's aunt house before heading out for the day. Afterwards we stopped at a local park to check out the trees that were in bloom and they were B-E-A-utiful!! Later we went to another abandoned warehouse that has since been taken over by Banyan tree {the same ones from the temples in Cambodia!} known as the Anping Tree House and checked out all the cool growth and the small history museum they had on site. Later in the day we stopped by Anping Fort and the giant local night market before settling in for the night with some Chinese Mahjong lessons. {I'm feeling more and more Taiwanese everyday haha!}

Tuesday brought with it even more food (you'd think I'd look like an elephant by now!), Fort Provintia, gourd tea, and a long train ride back home to a well deserved good nights sleep! Until next time Tainan!

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {Cost of Living}

I wrote this post on money and Taiwan's currency several months ago for a previous Tuesday Taiwan-ism post, but wanted to touch a little more on it today.

I am asked quite often from people back home if I am getting paid to work in Taiwan {I mean I absolutely LOVE teaching, but sorry...I can't do it for a year for free!}, if I'm able to save money here, and how much things cost here. Cost of living withing different parts of the world {and let's be honest even within the same country} is always an interesting comparison topic as spending money and paying bills is something that we all do [side note: if you've managed to figure out how NOT to do this...please let me know asap!] So today I'll include a list of common things a person might buy or spend money on here in Taiwan and include the price both in NTD (New Taiwanese Dollar) and USD (United States Dollar).

**Remember, I am living in a semi-rural area about 20 minutes drive from a large city, yet still surrounded by rice fields! If I were to go more rural things would cheapen and if you went to Taipei your money wouldn't take you nearly as far, so these prices are approximates for where I live in Hsinchu**

Living Expenses
Rent (for a glorified dorm room) -- $5,000 -- $154.64
Water (monthly/varies) -- $260 -- $8.04
Electric (monthly/varies) -- $325 -- $10.05
Gas for a scooter driven moderately (monthly) -- $170 -- $5.26

Eating Expenses
Local dinner -- $40 -- $1.24
Western dinner -- $350 -- $10.82
Bubble Tea -- $35 -- $1.08
Bottle of water -- $20 -- $0.62
Liter of milk -- $90 -- $2.78
12 eggs -- $58 -- $1.79
McDonalds meal -- $100

Transportation Expenses
Train ride 20 minutes -- $18 -- $0.56
Bus ride 20 minutes -- $14 -- $0.43
Taxi ride 20 minutes -- $170 -- $5.26

What other costs of living are you interested in knowing about? Leave a comment and let me know!

Exploring Chiayi

April 1 - 5, 2016

After a fun filled Children's Day at school Tina, Arial, and I had big plans for our 4 day weekend that lay ahead! {Thanks Tomb Sweeping Day!} On my quest to visit each of the 15 counties on mainland Taiwan, I am getting to the point that I only have a couple left on my list with one county being Tainan. Luckily, Arial's family to the rescue! Her mom's side of the family lives in Tainan and her aunt was gracious enough to allow the three of us to stay at their house for several days while we explored the area. {Bonus points to her cousin who also volunteered to drive us around saving us from the headache that easily follows trying to figure out public transportation in a new city!}

Sadly since Ariel lives on the other side of the country from Tainan (Tainan is in the southwest part of the country) she couldn't make it to Tainan until Saturday early evening {don't even get me started on this, I know it's crazy! Taiwan is a TEENY country but because of the mountains in the middle it takes FOREVER to get from point A to point B} Well, Tina and I are not easily discouraged, so we decided to head down early, Friday after school and get the weekend started right away!

Friday evening I met Tina late at the Chiayi train station {the county directly above Tainan} where we grabbed a quick dinner of Mos Burger (a Taiwanese fast food joint) and headed to our small hostel we had booked near the center of the small city of Chiayi. Arriving to the hostel we talked with the owner for a bit asking about what to do in the area before we headed out for a late night snack at the local Wenhua night market...turkey rice...a southern specialty that I was more than glad I tried! After our late night snack we found our way back to our hostel {lucky duck us had the room to ourselves} and stayed up talking far too late into the evening before we finally called it a night.

Saturday morning we woke up with only the most tentative of plans as we quickly found out there wasn't a ton to do in Chiayi, but we were bound to enjoy our day and cross yet another county off our bucket lists! First on our list for the day was the Chiayi Park. Naturally though we stumble upon a crowd of people at a local tea shop and I stop and ask what the specialty is and order myself a tall glass of the local fruit tea. After our tea break we continued on to the park still with few expectations of what we would find.

Surprisingly for us though, the park was quite large and there was an art exhibit going on that day with local artists spread about painting the scenery while others sold their works. One man in particular was selling his wood burning and invited Tina and I over to try our hand at making a bamboo woo burning on a key chain. After spending a little more time checking out this park {imagine a mini Central Park in Taiwan!} we headed to our next destination; the Chiayi Prison Museum. Was the museum neat to look through; yes. Was a one hour tour in Chinese necessary for 2 non-Chinese speakers; no. Were we forced to take the tour if we wanted to see the inside; most certainty! Being honest, the prison was neat to look at, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it if you don't speak Chinese unless you REALLY LOVE prisons!

By now it was early afternoon and we had one more spot we wanted to hit before we hopped on the train to meet Arial in Tainan. Hinoki Village was last on our list and sadly we would have loved to spend more time there! This cultural village is made of Japanese forestry homes and contains "crafts" from this historical time period in Taiwan's history.  Leaving Hinoki Village we grabbed our things from the hostel and headed to the train station to meet Arial and the remainder of our weekend down south!

After meeting up with Ariel, her cousin picked us up from the train station and took us to an old sugar factory that is now the home of a band called 10 drums and their cultural village that they have set up within the old factory. The drum performance was amazing and the views from the city on their many elevated walk ways were beautiful.  We spent the evening walking around, relaxing, and snacking our way through the old factory and warehouses. Afterwards we went to the movies to watch Batman vs Superman. Needless to say at 11:30pm + it being dark in the theater + it not being my type of movie + my popcorn running out...I snoozed for a couple minutes and woke up wondering why one of the main characters was dead...clearly it was bed time for me at this point!

My bamboo wood carving along with my Chinese name. 

Checkin' Out Changhua County

March 12, 2016

My goodness guys, I just can't seem to catch up on these darn weekend posts! Apparently I just need to hole myself up for an entire weekend so I can catch up on posts instead of living life and then having to write about it...on a second though; never mind...I love the traveling!

Back in March [ok this was barely a month ago...I don't feel SOOO bad!] Tina called me up one afternoon to tell me that her counties foreign teacher department was taking them on a field trip the following Saturday and they had extra seats available and asked if I wanted to join...umm yes! {Mind you I had no idea where they were even going yet lol} Having to meet in Miaoli train station at 8:30 in the morning meant that because the way the trains from my place lined up I had to leave my house by 7:30am...I was dragging! But a quick nap on the bus and meeting up with some of the foreigners I hadn't seen in a while was enough to regenerate me by the time we were down in Changhua County 彰化縣.

We hopped off the bus in Lugang , stretched out our legs and headed for the famous Longshan temple in town but of course, we ended up very easily sidetracked! Not far from where the bus dropped us off there was a temple celebration taking place at Tienhou Matsu Temple, and if you've been reading my blog for any period of time...you know I'm not one to resist a good temple visit! As always, I'm not 100% sure what I saw {shoot I'm not even 15% sure of what I saw!} but they are always so different than anything I've seen before that you can't stop watching! They had music, they had giant dancing gods, they had small dragons and dancing old men. We saw fire crackers and fire pits, spinning tapestries and rolling altars, and of course everything smelled of incense...but alas...I still have no idea why any of it was going on! We watched for a long while and then ventured into the temple to check out the inside before our ever loudly grumbling stomachs finally won...time for lunch!

Hot pot (today's lunch) has slowly been growing on me since I've moved to Taiwan. If you've never heard of it before (I hadn't when I got here!) think of restaurants in western countries where you order a steak or other type of meat and they bring it raw and allow you to cook it for yourself at the table. That's essentially hot pot, but with an oriental twist! You order your broth flavor which they bring and put on a burner at your table and bring you a plate of raw meats and veggies to cook in the broth to your liking before dipping in an array of sauces and enjoying over rice. So yummy! After lunch we continued on our quest to locate Longshan temple but of course...we are easily sidetracked!

First up we run into a Chinese lantern shop with an elderly man inside hand panting some of the most beautiful lanterns I have ever seen in person! I watched him for a while before purchasing several of my own blank lanterns {I've got big plans for you little guys!} Afterwards we located a teeny alley called "the breast touching lane" stating that it was so narrow if two people walked through at the same time their chests would touch...of course we couldn't resist taking a stroll down the miniature alley! It reminded me so much of "The Kissing Street" {El Callejon del Beso} in Mexico.

After our little detour we FINALLY made it to Longshan temple. This 230 year old temple was beautiful and really goes to prove how timeless beautiful architecture can truly be. After enjoying the surrounding temple walls we explored the several buildings within the temple grounds, the intricate carvings and delicate window as well as the detailed beams that ran across many of the ceilings within the temple. Regardless of your religion and beliefs, it still  baffles me how people can walk in these buildings and not be in awe at their beauty. 

Finishing up at the temple it was time to head back to the bus {ok to be fair to everyone else on the bus...it was past our time to head back to the bus and we took a quick jog as to not be too late!} Was my weekend expected or planned? No. Did I have any idea what I was getting into or where I wanted to go? No. Did I have a blast and learn a little more about this culture I currently call home? Most definitely! 

Tuesday Taiwan-ism {Beauty Obsession!}

It is no secret that there are many great beauty products that come from Asia. What I was blissfully unaware of though, was the amount of beauty products that exist here that have never been on most of your radars before...I'm talking out of the ordinary beauty products, parts and pieces of your body that you never realized needed beautified and thinned, and just some downright oddball ingredients and methods of achieving these results.

I can't lie I've spent many raining evenings perusing my local beauty supply stores with my mouth hanging open in awe at the products I was seeing! And to be honest, there were some that even after looking at the how-to pictures, googling the product online, and studying myself in a mirror; I still can't understand what they are trying to achieve!

Today, I promise you, won't be my only beauty post in Taiwan, but honestly, there is too much for one simple Tuesday post. So, without further ado, today I present to you

Taiwanese Face Masks

Now I have to be transparent here for a minute, all these face masks are for sale in Taiwan, but many of them are imported from Korea or Japan as Taiwan looks to these 2 countries for much of their beauty and fashion advice {I'll keep my opinions about that to myself! lol} But honestly, you walk into a beauty supply and you can't help but glance into the several isles they have set up solely of face and body masks and wonder what you've been doing wrong all along! Though I've tried several different masks {Who's one to say no to a product claiming to give me beautiful, firm, glowing, and radiant skin?! lol} the ones I've taken pictures of below I have NOT tried, but rather am including them for some comic relief and to allow you to question your own boy...did you know that needed plumping and firming??  :)

1 of 3 face masks isles in this particular store!

If you have a preference as to what denomination of money is on your face...they have at least 5 currencies!

Temple Procession - No Shame!

My time in Taiwan is complete, if you'd pull me out tomorrow I'd be happy...ok, I'm not REALLY ready to go home for the summer yet, but yesterday was something I've been looking forward to since I got here! I have a confession to make...I was creeping yesterday...hardcore...and I have no shame in what I've done!

This is what I began following

Ok I'll back up a bit, but please be prepared to be blown away! Yesterday, Sunday here, was a beautiful day and I chose to go check out the harbor in Hsinchu only about 15 minutes drive from my house, as I had yet to visit the area and wanted to see what all it held (side tangent, it was beautiful and I can' t wait to go back, rent bikes, and drive up and down the coast!) I left the harbor heading for church and planned to grab a quick dinner and then head across the street for mass at 6. I wasn't too far from church though when a man appeared in the middle of the road signaling to traffic to stop. I pulled off to the side of the road and tried to look ahead through traffic to see what was the hold up. To be honest I heard the drums and trumpets before I saw them and decided to shut off my scooter and sit and watch them pass by. Just a few feet before the procession should have passed me they turned right down a narrow road obstructing any view I once had.

I sat for a second and then thought...what the heck! I hopped off my scooter and began to follow the processional  {I mean I've got to figure out what's going on right?!!?} I walk with them a couple minutes down the road before they come to a standstill. There's a group of middle aged men all standing around (by this point they had put the god they were carrying down) chewing beetle nuts {think a grosser form of chewing tobacco} and drinking beer and were all quite intreagued by the lone foreign girl and were instant I have a drink with them...no thanks buddies!

We walked a bit further, with the guys picking up and carrying the bouncing god statue every time they moved, until I realized I was a decent ways away from my scooter...so I did what any good curious person would do; I walked back to my scooter and then drove it back to the processional parking only when the traffic got too bad to drive any further and then continued walking with them. I moved and parked my bike a good 3 or 4 times amounting to a solid hour of following these people and almost 3/4 of a mile covered by their processional.

[starting top left: 1. 10-12 foot god costumes 2. local men eager for a picture 3. a young boy dressed as a god 4. part of the area of the procession {look in the back, it keeps going!} 5. elderly woman & god 6.  firecrackers lining the road 7. myself and a large god 8. trumpets used during ritual dance 8. the "bouncing" gods]

Now on to the REALLY interesting stuff though! Guys, after an hour I still have no idea what I was seeing but I couldn't stop watching! There were so many local gods there. Some were on small bouncing platforms being carried by groups of 10-12 men, others were men dressed and painted to resemble warrior looking gods, and still others yet wearing costumes of 10-12 foot tall over sized gods. The entire time I walked there was a string of connecting firecrackers lining both sides of the street that they would lite with little to no warning, colored smoke being shot into the air, and 4-wheelers pulling drums and their drummers providing music for the whole ceremony.

[LOVE how these 3 pictures turned out! 1. god costumes waiting to be worn, the scenery was gorgeous!, and the sunset behind a dancing god]

Meanwhile, the "gods" were suiting up for the next leg of their procession while club music was ringing out from the group of drunk men behind me still carrying their bouncing god statues. I continued following them hoping to figure out where they were going {this puzzle was missing too many pieces lol} and saw they were heading to a small temple. Bingo! that had to be the end...or not! Each portion of the processional stopped in front of the temple, did a short dance or bowed, and then continued on down the road. I followed them for a while down a winding road taking pictures, having my picture taken, and responding to everyone hellos and where are you from's {of course all in Chinese lol} but still never found the end.

Next thing I knew it was 5:40 and my phone/gps was quickly dying. I said my goodbyes to my new found "friends" and headed on my way to church; laughing the whole way thinking off all the situations I find myself in. Until next time bouncy gods...keep on bouncing!

Taiwan Children's Day

Kids in Taiwan, the lucky little boogers here get a whole day devoted to them, and boy do the schools go all out for them!

April 4 in Taiwan is the national holiday of Children's Day. Kids here are extra lucky that it coincides with tomb sweeping in which they receive 2 days off school, thus giving the kids a 4 day weekend "for children's day".

Both my schools had fun activities planned for the kids, and lucky me was able to participate in all of them! Fu Long (my smaller school) celebrated early and took the kids the Hsinchu Little Ding Dong Scince Park for the day. This large park is divided up into area devoted to different fields of Science allowing the kids to learn while exploring and playing their way through the park. Their favorite part of the park (naturally on a beautiful 75 degree day lol) was the indoor "ski resort" aka-a hill covered with artificial snow for sledding. But, when you've never been sledding before, anything works! The kids had a stinkin blast and I can't lie, I had fun myself hopping on sleds with a couple kids as well!

Friday my school schedules were flip flopped around a bit and I was able to spend the day celebrating with my students in Hsinfong. The day started with a school wide assembly followed by an hour long magic show for all the kids. The reminder of the morning was spent rotating groups of kids through the gym which had been transformed into our very own Taiwanese carnival!! Before the big day the kids had opportunities to win tickets that they were then able to cash in at carnival to play games, get snacks, or win small prizes; they had a blast! The afternoon was spent relaxing in their classrooms and watching movies...not too shabby for a Friday before a 4 day weekend if I do say so myself!

 Pictures starting top left & working left to right: giggling at the magician, enjoying their snacks, chocolate covered marshmallows & sweet green bean soup, air gun target practice, popcorn for the win, chocolate covered marshmallows, making pins to wear, CO2 pop, air cannons, punch box fun, selecting their prize, & girlies enjoying their day! 

{Below - Teachers scored big during Children's Day as well! Holy Food!}

A Slight Change of Plans

A few weekends ago I was eager to join several other foreign English teachers in Taoyun at the opening day baseball game. My ticket was bought, plans were made, and I was as excited as can be. But, instead of watching a fly ball at the game, life through me a curveball as well!

I woke up Saturday morning and took a nice long shower before I started to get ready for my day (the game wasn't until 7). Not too long after my shower though I started to feel a little "off" and decided I needed a nap {I'm not a napper generally}. Well I laid down around 11am and honestly I don't even remember if I set an alarm or not. What I do remember though is that I didn't wake up until almost 9pm almost 10 hours later!! And to make matters worse, I felt 100X worse than before. 

I was disorientated, had a pounding headache, and dizzy to the point of not being able to walk on my own. I quickly called my neighbor across the hall and not having transportation of his own called our landlords daughter that lives in the house next door and is an English teacher herself. Chaou came to my room and all but had to carry me down the 3 flights of steps to her car. I fell back asleep in the car and could hardly muster up the eneegy to answer her questions about how I was feeling. 

Once to the hospital they did some blood tests, gave me meds for my nausea, and promptly hooked me up to an IV. Almost 3 hours later my test results came back negative for any sort of flu and they sent me home chalking my illness up to a cold or dehydration... I wasn't buying it. 

The following weekend I again showered before getting ready for my day and almost instantly began to feel "funny" again...and Ben it hit me. My #@$*% gas water heater is INSIDE my bedroom and I had taken a long shower this releasing large amounts of gas into the air. I checked my symptoms, and sure enough I hit each and everyone of them; I had had carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Needless to say my landlord was contacted immediately, an electric heater was installed, and disorientated Tracy began to return to her normal self. Check your carbon monoxide detectors friends, this stuff is no joke!

A Wish is a Dream Your Heart Makes - Pingxi

February 28, 2016

When you think of pictures from Taiwan {Ok let's be honest 1/2 of you have never seen a picture from Taiwan before this blog}...ok pictures from Asia; one thing that always seems to come to mind is the brightly colored paper lanterns. We see them hanging in Chinese restaurants back in the U.S. We see them adorning calendar pictures of brightly colored temples, and on the off chance you happen to stumble upon something during Chinese New Year time, chance are you've spotted a paper lantern there as well.

Needless to say, these paper lanterns are somewhat iconic and I've been itching to get my hands on one since I've stepped into Taiwan {no shame in playing hardcore tourist for the last 8 months here!} [Insert my travel buddy Tina to the rescue!] Of course Tina will venture to Pingxi (pronounced Ping-shee) with me to release lanterns!

Good luck bamboo sticks in Shifen

After spending the previous day exploring the lantern festival in Taoyuan (just outside of Taipei) what better time to head east from Taipei towards Pingxi and Shifen to do a little small town exploring. Of course while traveling things don't exactly always go off without a hitch! I had stayed in a hostel the night before we left in Taipei and because we had a long weekend (no school Monday) due to 2/28 holiday {a day marking an anit-government uprising in Taiwan in 1947} I had wanted to stop and check out the 228 memorial park near my hotel before heading to Pingxi. Needless to say I woke up in the morning and called Tina, the conversation went a little something like this "Umm hi, yeah, Tina...I'm not sure I'm going to make it today" "mmm why? (I think I woke someone up lol" "yeah umm...my face looks scary today" "mmm yeah ok, I'll meet you soon" me"yeah, but really Tina, I look like an alien, my whole face is swollen up". The kind man that owned my hostel showed me to the hospital and after gentle reassurance from my doctor that though I indeed did look like an avatar character, he thought I made a rather beautiful avatar character lol. Apparently they think it's allergies...I think it's scary!

Eventually I met up with Tina...she agreed I looked rather scary lol and we checked out the memorial park as well as the small museum on the park grounds {which was open free to the public for the holiday...score!} Later, we rode the subway to the end of it's line and there ventured to the bus station where we eventually located the tourist bus that takes you east of the city stopping at Shifen; our first stop of the day. The ride was not the shortest of rides that I've ever experienced, but we were excited and the time passed quickly. 

Once arriving in Shifen we grabbed a quick lunch to share and then set out exploring. First up, the suspension bridge...I love them...Miss Tina, not so much lol, but the views were beautiful and the pictures fantastic. Afterwards we began to venture towards the famous waterfall in Shifen. We were told it was a quick walk, I'm not sure who considers a 30 to 40 minute walk quick, but exercise can't hurt us right?!?! I'm not even going to try to tell you about this waterfall other than saying it was beautiful! I'll let the pictures speak for themselves today!

We left the waterfall a little later than intended around 5pm {in hindsight we may have planned too much for a day and coupled with the hospital visit...we had a long day lol} walked back to the train station and borded the next train headed for Pingxi. Fun Fact Life Saving Fact: when exiting these trains you must cross the train tracks by foot to reach the station, the tracks quickly become crowded and if you aren't careful a stopping train may just just a little too close to you for comfort! ;)

Arriving in Pingxi just after 7 we had one goal and one goal only in mind...find and release our lantern! Walking along the train tracks {you would think we would have learned out lesson!} we found many shops selling lanterns, I wanted to find one that let us use the traditional calligraphy brush and paint so we settled on a place, paid our $150 ($5 USD) and got to work each decorating our 2 sides of the lantern. Each color lantern had a different meaning such as love, family, or career. The typical red lantern, like we used, was a general good wishes lantern. 

Once we finished we were led out to the train tracks where a lady helped us light our lantern, take picture for us, and then directed us how to let our lantern and wishes go into the sky. Do I believe that letting a lantern go into the air is going to help me win the lottery and marry the love of my life...no...was it a fun experience and a great way to reflect on my personal goals for 2016 and accomplishments of 2015...most definitely!

We grabbed some late night snacks in Pingxi, borded the train and headed back home late for a much deserved good nights sleep! 

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {face masks}

Guys, these things are real! I couldn't make these pictures up if I tried lol.

When I first arrived to Taiwan the use of face masks EVERYWHERE was unsettling and quite different for me, after only 8 months though I have to say it's become a part of everyday life much like many other things here!

There seem to be 3 trains of thought behind wearing a face mask:
1. I'm sick and don't want to share my germs {the most common reason}
2. There are many other sick people and I don't want to catch what they have {doctors offices and many businesses}
3. The air pollution is terrible and they don't  want to breath it in {not as bad as China's but they do share their lovely pollution with us!}

 {Where's Waldo Taiwan version...How many masks can you spot in the collage above?!}

Taiwan Lantern Festival - Light Up Your Life

February 22 - March 6

Living in Taiwan this year has led me to having many learning experiences. I expected to learn some of the langue and about their food and maybe some basic customs, but what you don't realize until you are living someplace completely new, is that EVERYTHING is new to you! One of the most fun things to learn about is the Taiwanese holidays because none of their holidays are the same as what we celebrate in the United States of much of the western world whose holidays are largely Christian based. 

I wrote an article earlier about Chinese New Year that fell in early February this year, but later I learned there was a 2nd holiday signaling the end of the new year 15 days after it began; Lantern Festival. 

From what I've learned and researched this holiday has always been present, but it's only been in the last 25 or 30 years that the tourism bureau began printing and organizing a national event corresponding to the holiday. 

The thought behind the holiday is that people light paper lanterns with their hopes and wishes for the new year and release them to the sky hoping that their lanterns reach the gods who grant them a safe and productive year ahead. The present day lantern festival has turned into a huge national festival that travels around the country to a new county each year displaying lanterns from local artist & school children, showcasing performances from local groups, and presenting a vast array of local food and treats for out of town guests to sample. 

This years festival was held in Tayoun (outside of Taipei) only a quick 20 minute High Speed Rail ride from my house {needless to say I visited 3 times since it was so close!} and lasted 2 weeks from February 22 to March 6. This year, on the Chinese calendar, is the year of the monkey so tons of the lanterns were monkey themed (sadly none of my monkey friends from Kaohsiung were there) but the lanterns didn't stop there! If you can think of a popular kids cartoon; it had a lantern. If you can think of a cutesy animal; it had a lantern. An island surrounding Taiwan; lantern. Surrounding Asian countries; lantern. Sports, teams, and players; lantern, lantern, and lantern. Seriously guys, they were never ending and some were downright huge!

The main lantern was a multicolored ginormous monkey who every 30 minutes would light up, play music, and spin for everyone to see (not that it needed help there was no missing this neon colored fellow!). There was one section devoted to religious lanterns and paraphernalia, another to other island and counties of Taiwan, and still another reserves to elementary children's classroom creation. Even better yet was the 4 giant areas devoted to food stands and vendors making sure everyone's tummies were full and the performances that took place each night of the 2 week event!

Trip 1 - Tina, Tara and I headed up after school for dinner and because of the day's rain it was empty and perfect for a quick walk through! Trip 2 - Tina and I went up again on Saturday and though it was crowded it was beautiful outside and it didn't compare to the record breaking crowds on Sunday, but being the middle of the day on a weekend, we were able to watch many different performances! Trip 3 - Phil and I went a week later on Sunday for the last day and the closing ceremony shows they had lined up!

Were 3 trips necessary? If you ask any Taiwanese person they'd say absolutely not...to the person who had never heard of the festival 6 months ago...most certainly!!

[Top left clockwise] Cutesie steam buns for sale, proof I actually went!, HUGE and delicious sausage buns, lotus flower lantern I was given,  [bottom] aboriginal dancers

It Truly Is a Wonderful Life

Wednesday, February 10th

Guys! I made it! Not only out of Thailand, but this is officially my last post about Thailand {bittersweet to be honest because I love any excuse to flip through my several hundred (hehe or more) pictures that I took during my trip!}

I warned you, we were all about relaxation these last two days! We woke up Wednesday morning and I happy to announce that I was the last one out of the pool when it closed Tuesday night and the first one in the pool when it opened Wednesday morning…fine living at its best! Waking up we were excited because our fancy schmachy hotel came with breakfast vouchers.

We had no idea what that might actually look like but we knew 2 things to be true 1) we would actually be eating breakfast that morning and 2) it wasn’t going to be toast and strawberry jelly! I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited to scarf down multiple bowls of corn flakes in one sitting before! In Taiwan cereal is not really considered a breakfast food and milk is not super cheap so I rarely [read: never] have either milk or cereal, so having both offered to me was a little slice of heaven to start out my day! Coupled with scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, and salad, I left breakfast one happy camper. I would like to say here that after breakfast I went back to my room like a respectable adult to put on my swimsuit before going to the pool, but that would be a lie…I actually woke up at 8am and dressed directly into my swimsuit so as soon as breakfast was finished…it was hello blue water and sun for Tracy!

Around 3pm the hotel decided that they wanted to introduce us to this thing called “mandatory check out” I’m not so sure what that is though :P but sadly our swimming had to come to and end. By this time though, naturally, our tummies were rumbling once again so we decided to get a little adventurous after stumbling upon a street stand. This man was selling what appeared to be a flat dumpling or a fat pancake stuffed with different veggies. We each ordered one of each flavor and our taste buds thanked us graciously for the meal!

After lunch we walked to a ways to Wat Traimit temple to pay a visit to the Golden Buddha that we had read about in my lovely Lonely Planet Guide (remember as I mentioned in a previous post, by this point we had basically done all the “big name attractions” in Bangkok and we were just now leisurely visiting things as we discovered their existence.) The grounds of the Wat Traimit temple were beautiful with everything coming together in beautiful golds and whites and although not nearly as large as many of the other temples we had visited throughout the country, it was beautiful in its own respect. Unfortunately being my last day in Bangkok I was running a little short on cash {and still had yet to get my dear brother the soccer jersey I had promised him!} and hated to take money from an ATM with crazy high fees for a quick trip inside to see the gold Buddha, so Tina ran in for a couple minutes while I people watched outside of the temple; win-win if you ask me!

After checking out the temple we didn't have too much on our agenda until early evening, so we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering. Honestly, after two weeks of being on the go all the time, it was nice and relaxing just to walk around and see where we would end up. We stopped at a food stand for Tina to grab a bite to eat, we browsed a local shopping mall, stopped in  a local jewelry shop, and chatted with locals curious as to why 2 foreign girls were away from the touristy areas of Bangkok. 

With today being Ash Wednesday I was determined to find a Catholic Church to attend mass at some point during the day {easier said than done when 94% of the population is Buddhist and only a mere 1.2% of Thai people are Christian LET ALONE Catholic!} Low and behold though, I was able to find a church (at this point I couldn't get picky about the language!) and around 6:30 I left Tina at the mall and ventured to find the church {actually it was the Cathedral!} nearby for mass at 7:00. I was shocked when I arrived, not only was this a Cathedral, but also a primary school, high school, college, and convent all on the same grounds, and it was beautiful! I got to mass a little early and watched the high school band practicing for an upcoming competition before heading into the church. 

In terms of churches go, the Assumption Cathedral was brand new having finished construction only 16 years ago in 2000 but it was beautiful in its simplicity nonetheless. Through my years of travel I have had the opportunity to go to mass in several different counties and have experienced it in several languages as well, but I have to say, Thai mass was a first for me! Everyone in the church was Thai except for myself and an older European looking woman several rows ahead of me. As soon as I sat down she noticed me (being the only 2 non-Asians in the church!) and gave me a small wave. Periodically during mass she would turn around and smile to me {it was obvious neither of us spoke any Thai lol} and during the sign of peace she made a point of coming over and giving me a big hug before returning to her seat. When mass was over she made a bee-line for my pew and we both exchanged greeting before realizing we still weren't speaking the same language! She was from Germany and was visiting Thailand for 2 weeks. I don't speak German and she knew only a handful of words in English, but she expressed her happiness in seeing "a young person" in church and gave me the biggest of hugs and a kiss on the cheek before she left. It honestly left me with tingles. What a beautiful world that we live in where I can go to church that is speaking a foreign language {and still be able to follow the mass...one thing I love about Catholicism} meet another foreigner whom still doesn't speak the same language as you, yet leave the church feeling so fulfilled and happy inside!

Nap Time!
Once mass was finished Tina and I made our way back to our hotel where our bags were in storage (easier said than done as we had slowly been wandering further away from the
 hotel all day) grabbed our bags and settled in for one last Thai dinner before getting on our airport shuttle bus. Ok, in reality I wish our trip back was that peaceful! It was a bit of a time crunch, but we made it! Coupled with the fact that I was bound and determined to still find a specific Thai soccer jersey for my brother and make it back to the hotel before they closed the baggage room for the night. Needless to say all worked out, I've got the jersey, our tummies were fed, luggage in hand, and we made it to the airport with time to spare in preparation for our 2am flight home {hello naps on every airport chair I sat in!}

Thailand, you've truly been wonderful! I couldn't have asked for a better 2 weeks to fulfill my desire that I've had for years to visit Thailand. The temples, the elephants, the sights, sounds, and food, it was truly a vacation that I'll never forget...thank you!