Wednesday, June 29, 2011

week 40_American Vacation!

Ha! We are such a pair.
I might not normally describe Dallas, TX or Oklahoma City, OK as my vacation destinations... but after 9 months living in Asia, these were definitely vacation spots for me! Spending a week surrounded by the comforts of home and the friends & family that mean the most to me was so much fun! Although I am living very far away, and it is hard to keep in touch with people the way that I might be able to if I lived nearer - it makes me appreciate the time that I do have with close family & friends so much more! Not to mention, it is so flattering when everyone finds time in their busy schedule to remind me that I am very loved.

Why do we own so much stuff? 
How I managed to squeeze in two cities and so many dinner parties in 8 days still amazes me, but I am so glad I found the time to visit up with everyone I miss so dearly! Not to mention time to eat delicious Mexican and American foods and  lounge by the pool! :) I also visited all of our precious belongings in storage (that was a hot day - thank you to my sister for all of the extra help organizing!)

My niece, She's a cutie!
Surprisingly, I failed to pack my camera - but that's alright, sometimes it's about just being there, not necessarily about taking hundreds of photos! Some of the highlights of the trip were: spending time with my BFF's (aka the design girls), catching up with my aunts, uncles & cousins, hanging out with my brother, his wife, and my 6-month old niece, and keeping my own former dog for a few days!

Best dog! Seriously, he's the Best :)
Home is always going to feel like home. It's nice to go back with a new appreciation for things I took for granted before, and to be able to just enjoy it! For those of you living in the great 50 states, count your blessings my friends!

Ah, bliss.
And for those of us roaming the globe, appreciate your countless life experiences too. Stepping off the plane in Taiwan (or honestly, even before that when I boarded the China Airlines flight in LA) had it's own familiar feeling too. The smell of Asia in the air (if you've been here, you know what I mean), telling the taxi driver my address in Chinese, gazing at TAIPEI 101 in the distance as we crossed the bridge into the city. It may not be home, but it is natural to me in it's own way.

Glad I have both to cherish.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

week 39_Flew right by!

After the intense holiday weekend full of dragon boat races, stair climbs, and so on - we took the rest of the week pretty easy. By the next weekend I was ready for some easy time off with lots of relaxation, and the sporadic downpours of rain offered a good excuse to stay indoors with a magazine to read or a good TV series. The husband and I spent the whole of the weekend being lazy together or running errands related to my upcoming vacation [a trip to the US!]]

Honestly, I was too swamped getting work done and preparing for my vacation to do anything adventurous! Ha, but some of the packing & planning is the adventure these days, I suppose. Since I only have the chance to visit family & friends a couple times per year I was frantically purchasing goodies and trinkets to bring back, reorganizing the suitcase repeatedly, and daydreaming about what to eat/listen to/do while back in the States!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

week 38_101 Stair Climb (2011)

I am really behind now on the blog - Wow!!!
I guess the lazy days of summer have caught up with me ~ not to mention the heat!
So, like a heat-crazed, slightly mad person, I signed my husband and I up for the TAIPEI 101 2011 stair climb on one very very hot summer day! Our office had joined a group together for the challenge, and as ominous as those 2,046 steps sounded - it was somehow exciting at the same time. Could we do it? Could we climb the once tallest tower in the world?!

Team Gerock!

I think we were both quite nervous and excited when the day finally came along (the day after the Dragon boat races). We geared up and stretched extra and walked the 15 minutes from apartment to the bottom of the tower. The rest of our team slowly gathered along the sidewalk - pinning on our race numbers and putting on our wrist chip, which tracks your time from start to finish line.

At this point I was actually pretty eager to start! I had psyched myself up enough to get the adrenaline flowing, and just hoped that I would be able to give it a solid effort, even if I had to bow out before reaching the 91st floor!

Sadly - one of the final steps, we filled out the health certificate to get final approval to enter the race. When I checked the box for "Asthma", thinking I was just being honest and of course I also had an inhaler with me for good measure... the on-site doctor told me in his limited English that I could NOT enter the race! No, I could not just try and stop when it was too much. No, my inhaler did not remedy the situation. I was surprisingly pretty bummed that I would now have to miss out on this adventurous event! I had mostly been looking to the story I could tell my kids about the hot summer day we tried to climb TAIPEI 101...

The bigger team

...but I guess the hubby will just have to tell that story to the kids! He got to go for the climb with all of my co-workers without me, ha :) I think he is even considering entering the race again next year!

While the team climbed the tower, I watched the big screens at the ground level featuring the contestants as they reached the top. The professional athletes had AMAZING times - reaching the 91st floor in less than 15 minutes. I am certain they were taking the steps two at a time at a running pace.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

week 37_Dragon Boat Races!

Aside from the lengthy Chinese New Year celebration, Taiwan has two other holidays that seem to be most significant - the Dragon Boat festival and the Mid-Autumn festival. All holidays are based on the Chinese lunar calendar, so they fall on slightly different dates of the western calendar each year. The Dragon Boat holiday happens to occur very near to the US's Memorial Day, and has a familiar feeling, a three day weekend filled with picnics and family get togethers, just in time to welcome the hot summer season.

The many, many onlookers cheering for the racing teams!
I've been told by folks here that the Dragon Boat festival marks the beginning of summer (there are really only two seasons here anyways...), and it must be true because the heat has not lifted since the day we went to watch the Dragon Boat races! The day of the races was hot and sticky too, but it was fun to be out and about, getting a taste of the local culture.

Go team, go! Row, man, row!!!

The "dragon boats" are similar to crew boats, with teams of twenty or so rowers and a strong one at the back to help with direction. A drummer keeps time at the front of the boat, indicating to the team when to row (in unison of course). They are painted and carved to look like a dragon gliding through the water. Some at a moderate pace... but some speeding along sooo fast!

Dragons Boats lined up, Waiting

The individual races are quick. We watched many races within the span of about 40 minutes - typically 4 boats competing against each other, then the winners moving on to additional rounds. I was surprised at the number of foreigners competing on the teams, but it seemed that many of the crews were multi-national. I learned from my co-workers that although the Dragon Boat Festival is widely celebrated, the percentage of people who attend the races is quite low compared to the population of the city... This was fairly evident. It was clearly a popular spot for athletes, families with children, and foreigners looking for a bit of local holiday celebration!

The scoreboard
We attended the races on Saturday, although they continue on all three days. Winners of each bracket move on to the next days race ~ and the team spirit in this crowd was great to watch. :) We saw some pretty fun displays, but weren't able to get the video camera rolling fast enough to catch one teams dancing, chanting circle, on film! Oh well. I guess you had to be there! Here's the last few seconds... trust me the full dance and carrying on was much more entertaining!

Dragon Boat team, welcoming back teammates after a race
Other than the actual races, there are carnival-like activities near the river for this occasion ~ so we spent some time meandering through the tents. There wasn't much there that we couldn't live without... except some ice cold drinks on a hot day! ... and the chance to take my picture with a retired dragon boat.

Happy Dragon Boat Festival! 

And sometimes, I just don't convey the full picture unless there is a video... To remind you of the Chinese/English announcers in the background. The sound of the dragon boat drums... the thrill of the race, etc!

Of course, there is a lot more background to this holiday than just the dragon boat races. You can check out a little more info here:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

week 37_Grand Opening

Thursday last marked the grand opening of one of our many LEED projects here in Taiwan - the Starbucks Minquan E. Road Coffeehouse. It is wonderful to see some of our construction & design work finally come to completion! Just like a proud soccer mom, I thought maybe I should post a pic or two...

My team (minus one)!

Many efforts were made to create an environmentally conscious space that is also aesthetically pleasant and inviting. If you are in Taipei, I would highly recommend checking it out.

Green parking lot pavers:
Reduce heat created by spans of concrete/asphalt,
Maintain a natural eco-system,
Allow storm water run-off to eliminate unnatural flooding

One of the drawbacks in this line of work, is that you can't always tell the effort that has gone into the project - not to mention, it is also sometimes difficult to visually observe the benefits of environmental design. However, as someone "on the inside," let me assure you that this store is a cut above the rest. This is not your average retail space - it's better!

High-efficiency light fixtures,
designed of re-used scrap cardboard material,
Controlled by day lighting sensors to turn off when unnecessary
provide a comfortable environment without
excessive energy consumption

Finishes with high recycled content and/or
Materials that are extracted and/or manufactured locally,
Products made in Taiwan produce significantly less
transportation emissions than imports and
stimulate the local economy

That doesn't really cover it, but those photos are just the tip of the iceberg, to help explain what elements were taken into consideration in the design & construction of this store. In an attempt not to carry on about business, I suppose I will just say that if you are intrigued and would like to know more about how this Starbucks has 'gone green', shoot me an email and I can talk your ear off... :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

week 37_afternoon in Danshui

For the second day of my birthday weekend, the weather was lovely! In fact, it inspired us to get out of town after all - so we rode the MRT to the last stop on the main line, to Danshui, a suburb of Taipei about an hour away by MRT. When I visited Danshui in 2006, I remember the pier venturing out into the water, seafood vendors with freshly fried snacks on the street corners, and cute shops & cafes for wandering. During this visit to Danshui, it was clear that the quiet escape has changed... Hundreds of city-dwellers filled the MRT seats all the way to our destination. The crowds flooded the streets, making it impossible for cars to drive on some streets, and every park bench appeared to be taken.

Nonetheless, the #1 appeal for us Texas folk was not suffocatingly crowded, it was juuust right!
By now (approaching my 9 month mark), we've heard rumor that there is a Mexican restaurant in Taiwan that is actually owned & operated by a Mexicano! [No way!] But in fact, it's true! In the popular suburb of Danshui there is a small restaurant called Eddy's Cantina that is owned by a gentleman from Mexico who is married a Taiwanese woman and started a life here. We are thankful! Yay for Mexican food! It made for a perfectly wonderful birthday lunch/dinner... since we were splurging, we went all out and ordered entirely too much food for two people!

They even had tasty margaritas! Happy birthday to me! :)

Yes, that is my husband wearing a cowboy hat & eating a burrito...
... In Taiwan [?!?!]
Sorry ladies, he's taken!!! ;)

After we had completely gorged ourselves, we hit the streets for some window shopping - that turned into some trinket shopping plus dessert. :) On my previous visit to Danshui, I purchased a hair pin in a cute little shop full of wind chimes. On this trip, I made a similar purchase - two hairpins... a very sentimental purchase for me because it was on my last trip to Taiwan that I learned to pin my long hair up with a single pin, and loved it!

It's a beautiful day to shop in Danshui (pronounced Done-shway)

Trinket / Gift shop, where I purcashed my hair pins

Hair pin: $3 (USD).
Learning to pin up long hair tightly with a single pin: Priceless!
[Thank you Taiwan!]

We packed in among the crowded alleys and continued meandering along until we found some dessert... the tallest twist cone I've ever seen! The perfect weather, great food and good company certainly made for the perfect end to my birthday weekend :)

Hard to eat this one before it melts!

Finally, to wrap up an already wonderful birthday celebration, I received flowers at my office from my immediate family, and goodies in the mail from my amazing more extended family! Thank you everyone - near or far - for making my birthday so special! :)

My birthday was wonderful ~ thank you!!! 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

week 36_Bowling & Shilin Night Market!

After our tea time, we moseyed on along to a bowling alley near Shilin Night Market to spend the afternoon practicing our bowling skills! (Ha ha! Or lack there of...) The hubby had been searching for a bowling alley, and it sounded like fun... but, no wonder he wanted to go bowling! That boy has skills.

If you can't tell, there are FOUR X's next to "J"...
Jason bowled FOUR strikes in a row on the first game! When you bowl three strikes in a row, apparently that is called a turkey... when you bowl four strikes in a row, is there a name for that?! That's alright... I was pretty weak for the first game, but I caught up with him during the second!

That was probably a strike...!

The bowling alley was pretty typical. About what you would expect to find in the US. Not crowded, and a little dated, but clean enough and it was nice to be there without being over crowded by the masses. The name of this place said something like 'Bowling & Gaming Center'...they appeared to have some other arcade games to one side, and possibly billiard tables upstairs?

I understand the pool stick & the 8 ball,
I can get the microphone (Karaoke is pretty big here),
But what is with the banana in the Kings hand???
After Jason beat me again in the third - we were playing for best 2 out of 3 - it was about time to get some dinner anyways. Since we happened to be just across the street from the largest and most well-known night market in Taipei (Shilin Night Market, we've been there before), we decided it would be the perfect spot to grab some very local dinner... And dinner at a night market, is always an adventure...

Name that dish...?
My first purchase was a crispy seafood... pancake? I don't know what the actual name was, but a lot of flat entrees get called "pancakes" here, and I guess I don't blame them - what would these undefined eats be called?! Jason had some steamed baos (doughy buns filled with pork & veggies). I tried to order some grilled corn on the cob that looked delicious! But when the vendor told me the price, I was convinced he was telling me the foreigner price (the 'you don't know any better...' price tag) so even though I asked him to repeat it twice, once in English, I still walked away from the corn. Darn. Maybe next time!

Candied fruit on a stick
In the end, I decided to try some candied fruits on a stick. I see these every time I visit the night market, and always want one - they look so good! The vendors sell strawberries dipped in red hard candy; the strawberries are easy to distinguish by shape and size. They also sell 4 or 5 other fruits dipped in candy... and though I was hoping I'd ordered a stick of cherries, it turned out to be bite sized tomatoes. Yes, I said tomatoes. Those are still a fruit, right? Well, whatever the case they were still tasty! Next time I may go for the obvious fruits...

Day 1 of the birthday weekend = Success.