Saturday, October 29, 2011

week 58_Northeast Scenic Coastal Highway to Yilan

It's rare these days that the stars align and my husband and I share two days off in a row together, so when that happened this weekend we considered our good fortune and got out of town!

Taiwan is a small island and is very accessible by public transportation (high speed rail, slow train, buses, subways, bicycles, etc!) but we decided the flexibility of driving a car, and aiming for a nearby destination was probably best --- spending 12 hours on a train, then bus, going to and from a remote destination wasn't quite feasible.

Renting a car was surprisingly painless despite our inability to communicate well in Chinese! Jason booked a cute little Nissan TIIDA online, and the price was probably equivalent to 2 train tickets... less than 2 high speed rail round trip tickets. We used a website for a rental car agency in Taipei that has English service. We hit the road with the general goal of headed towards Yilan, a nearby town about an hour from Taipei if you take the short route --- but we took the scenic route. :)

If you drive along highway 2, the 'Northeast Coastal Scenic Drive,' the two lane highway lies just at the base of the mountains where they meet the ocean. It is scattered with small towns, fishing piers, ports, bays, little villages. It was beautiful and so refreshing! The first town we took a pit stop in was called Dali and had a very large temple (or multiple temples really all grouped together) perched on the side of the mountains, overlooking the ocean.

Tiangong Temple, Dali, Taiwan
My husband, taking in the few from the entrance
View from the top, looking back at the Pacific
Best travel partner, ever --- and an elephant :)
After Dali, our next point of interest was to find a beach! Since I had already visited Wai'ao beach during one of my hash runs[walks] I suggested we head that way. It is just a bit further down the coast and almost to Yilan. As opposed to the larger Fulong beach, which we also passed, Wai'Ao is small and uncrowded. It is a black sand beach with interesting rocks at either end of the wide open sandy stretch, and an abundance of orange seashells. We reached the beach near sundown and decided it was worth another trip the next morning! But after a walk to stretch our legs, we continued with our scenic journey to Yilan. 

When we reached Yilan we found some grub and toured the night market before settling into a nearby hotel - the Grand BOSS Hotel - ha, I'm not kidding, I think we chose it just for the name. The room was decent and offered a stiff double bed for the two of us - pretty typical Taiwanese accommodations.

The next morning we slept in, enjoyed breakfast, and set back out to the coast to enjoy some time on the beach. On our way to the ocean front, we passed through a few small towns and enjoyed checking out the nearby Wulongxi (sp?) waterfall. 

Wulongxi Waterfall ~ Beautiful
You may recognize this black sand from a previous blog post, Wai'Ao beach is small and uncrowded, but is only an hour from Taipei and was the perfect spot for the two of us on a lazy Sunday morning.

Wai'Ao beach ~ Black sand, big waves, and many orange seashells
The beach was mostly unoccupied, and the water had only surfers at this time of year - but 78 degrees and sunny outside, we couldn't help ourselves but to jump in! The waves are great here and the water was only stunningly cold for the first minute or so.  :)

Most importantly, it's easy to get wrapped up in the concrete and buildings of the big city --- it was nice to get out for the weekend, and to be reminded how very NEARBY these beautiful scenic destinations are to Taipei! Now that the sweltering summer heat has passed, it's time to get back outdoors and enjoy it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

week 57_Out of the Office!

Even though I only recently returned from the Greenbuild Conference in Toronto, this past week I had a few more opportunities to get out of the office again.

As part of our firm's community outreach, I was invited to critique Interior Design projects at a local Taiwanese University. In advance of the trip I was a bit thrilled and nervous at the same time - studying up on my design vocabulary, flipping through a few textbooks - just trying to jog my memory. I wasn't sure if my daily tasks would be relevant to the students' projects, and figured I'd better brush up on my theory/educational jargon.

To my relief, I actually did have plenty of input for the students. First of all, the projects were great - truly! - and it was really fun to see these creative minds thinking outside the box. [Goodness knows, the average client and the average budget don't allow for enough of that untamed creativity!] However, we also really 'gave it to them', so to speak. Based on our own experiences and at the urging of the design professors, our judges team decided to give these students as much feedback as possible to push them towards even more sophisticated final presentations. Some of the students probably weren't prepared for the reality of some of our critiques --- but it can't all be fun and games, can it?! All in all the day was really fun, and I hope I get to return for the final judging this November. [I was also relieved to see how far I've come in the few years since my own University studies] :) I can't wait to see how the students' designs evolve! I know they will impress.

That was Tuesday, and on Friday our company closed the office for a day of team building and corporate training. We returned to Camp Taiwan (for my loyal blog readers, you may remember it from last year's company outing). The weather was drizzly and foggy all day - we have officially transitioned from the summer season to the cool & wet season it seems - but the activities carried on, rain or shine. It was nice to be settled in this year. I remember feeling so new at last year's outing. Camp Taiwan reminds me so much of the camps I attended when I was younger. It seems like I spent at least 2 weeks every summer exploring the wilderness --- and now how often do I get to do that??? Well... at least living in Taiwan has given me some opportunities! And some motivation to get outdoors. The day out of the office was appreciated. There is so much laughing and camaraderie amongst our group. I like it.

To wrap up, we feasted on Taiwanese "barbecue" [This just means food cooked on a small grill, from what I can tell]. One thing is for certain, no one at our company should ever go hungry! We are constantly feasting... with some time to work in-between from one feast to the next of course. The barbecue was tasty, but the best part was roasted marshmallows for dessert! We even had almost-s'mores (marshmallow placed between 2 Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies), and the poor Taiwanese who've never tasted a classic s'more still don't know what they're missing!!!

After a long (and winding) bus ride back through the mountains and home, I finally arrived at my apartment around 9pm(?). Exhausted, but it was a great week! :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

week 56_*TV star*

Ok... maybe not quite ;)

While I was busy flying back from Toronto early last week, Taiwan was busy celebrating 'Double 10' day [10-10-2011] commemorating the founding of the Republic of China, AND National Geographic Asia aired a new show for the first time featuring Yours Truly! [Too bad that I was literally in flight for this momentous occasion]

It's true, I may have only had a total of.... 30 seconds (?) airtime... but hey, I'll take it! :)
The show was an hour long feature about TAIPEI 101 Tower and a yacht called the Eco Ark. So, really the portion talking about the environmental strategies of 101 only spanned probably half an hour. It only begins to scratch the surface of the building's complexity, and the numerous efforts involved in the process to reduce the environmental impact of the tower... but it was exciting to be included and to see that I actually did not get 100% edited out of the final cut! Lucky for me, my sweet husband sat patiently on the sofa with his iPhone and tried to record clips as he could just in case I was about to be featured on screen, so I've seen a mini-preview of the actual show by now.

Nonetheless, since I didn't get to watch the original showing, I have already marked my calendar for the next showing that is feasible based on my work schedule. Tuesday, November 8th at 8pm --- I guess you know where I'll be!

Filming for NatGeo

Friday, October 14, 2011

week 55_Toronto, Canada

If you're wondering where I've been recently...
Taipei > Oklahoma > Toronto > Oklahoma > Taipei. Whew! And I'm exhausted!

I spent last week attending the Greenbuild Conference & Expo in Toronto, Canada - and stopped through Oklahoma to visit the family on the way to and from the conference. It was a whirlwind trip, as always, but I loved getting to see everyone and I really enjoyed attending the conference.

My colleagues are awesome, and I think we all had a great time
It's nice to know we work together professionally,
but we can still have a little fun too

Greenbuild is an industry trade show for building professionals interested in or working with sustainability. I have always been interested in the show (and also attended with my previous firm in 2009), but now that I am working full time as a sustainability consultant in Taipei it was more relevant than ever. I especially enjoyed being so in-the-know, learning more about the latest environmental trends, attending classes (yes, I just love class - what can I say?), and the various entertainment events as a part of the conference (Maroon 5, live concert). I appreciate that Greenbuild is a combination of learning and fun - I think the organizers really work to provide a sense of community and positive encouragement for all of the green professionals trying to make a difference out there in the world. :)

Maroon 5 performance at the Opening Plenary
I did learn a lot, and I enjoyed the conference - classes in a traditional setting, lectures, panel discussions and off site educational tours. Greenbuild is always looking for more ways to "green the conference". They recycle the attendee bags, badges, handouts etc... but they also purchase energy offsets, provide organic locally grown meals, encourage attendees to use public transportation, etc, etc [the list of conference "green" strategies is actually very long so I won't list them all but I think you get the picture]. The theme of this year's conference was 'NEXT' - What's NEXT for Green Building?

Taking a pedi-cab (walking cab) tour downtown
Free rides provided by one of the exhibitors: Sloan
For one of my educational sessions, I toured the an underground water station for Toronto's deep lake water cooling system. The city takes advantage of the naturally cool Great Lake water temperatures combined with an engineered heat exchange to provide hot and cool water to some of the downtown business district high rise buildings. It was very interested to hear about and see first hand. This system uses less energy and less water than conventional rooftop chiller systems.

Water supply & return pipes feeding heat exchangers
When I wasn't taking notes and name cards, I took every opportunity to get out of the convention center for a taste of the city. There was plenty to see, and the weather was gorgeous for my entire visit. Toronto showed me it's best weather and friendly people.

The CN Tower reflected in downtown windows
We toured the CN Tower observatory one night, great views!
After 11 days away... it is time to get back to life in Taipei, and back to my Chinese lessons! Off to study... :)