Dang this blog is old. 2012 and 2011 and 2010.

Happy new year!

1. Venice canals in LA with Jenn Wang.
2. Maggie visited Califoria with Derek and we hung out at DT Disney. I also went to SD!
3. Went to Albuquerque to interview with Intel…
4. and then Houston a few days later to interview with Schlumberger. Traveling alone (gratis) was pretty fun and I didn’t mind it. And then Seattle at the end of April for mom’s birthday. And that’s when I got a job offer from MiaSolé!
5. After accepting my job offer I immediately dyed my hair red and started my final set of LA adventures as a resident. And then took a full-car road trip up to Norcal with Stanley. We stopped by Santa Barbara, Solvang, SLO and Santa Cruz. Oh and I went vegan and gluten free.
6. Apparently I have no pictures from June. I did make another trip down to LA to pick up the rest of my stuff, but I guess I was mostly settling in at work.
7. Family reunion with babies! Also Layla visited me in Cupertino.
8. Went to Six Flags, made a bunch of amazing address stamps and went from vegan to vegetarian! Stanley came up for his birthday and also I hung out with Alan and Tung.
9. Went to LA for Stan’s friend’s (Charissa and Sean) wedding.
10. Made a birthday cake for Rose/Kristen and had boozey game night #1!
11. Uneventfully turned 24, and went to Minnesota to visit Je and Wisconsin to see Heather.
12. Finished Ben’s giant UCLA painting! Drove down to LA to pick up Stan’s snowboard. Stayed at the Nittler cabin in Tahoe for a few days and snowboarded. And finished the year strong with a lazy two weeks of shut-down! :)

It’s been a big year full of big changes and growing up. And I like it!

road trip

This post has gotten ridiculously belated (about a month and a half) because of a major change in priorities in my life. I need to figure some things out…

Stanley and my first stop up the coast of California was Santa Barbara! I had only ever been when Je was visiting colleges (2003?) so I was kind of excited to see what the area was actually like, having heard of the amazingness that was SB by the ocean. Because of LA traffic, we arrived later than expected and missed our tour of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. We walked around and enjoyed the weather and took some photos at the top of the tower.

Since Stanley and I were both vegan during our trip, there was a dearth of appropriate eateries :( In Santa Barbara, we had an average kale salad and an above average vegan+gf “thin mint.” I should have gotten more of those thin mints… We stopped by Mission Santa Barbara (without going in…) before heading to Solvang!

We walked around Solvang, being unhappy that we couldn’t eat any Danish danishes. The Hans Christian Andersen museum was a tiny room with old books in all languages. I didn’t know that he wrote some of the stories that were there!

We stayed the night in San Luis Obispo, and woke up early the next day to go hiking!

We went to Bishop Peak around 9am – the weather was nice, and it was a really nice day for a hike. The trail was about half shaded, and we saw a good number of people also hiking that day. And even a few people running up and down! (I think the total hike was about 4 miles, don’t remember.)

Super annoying thing: On our way down, we saw a couple girls with a dog on their way up. They weren’t carrying any water bottles or anything, and their dog was obviously parched. As we walked by, the dog sat down and didn’t want to keep going – obviously tired and thirsty. The (presumed) owner was getting frustrated at her dog, trying to pull it to keep walking. I offered some water for the dog, and told her to make a bowl with her hands. The dog drank it up and probably could have used much more. I mean, you don’t have to bring water for yourself if you’re lazy, but please, please always take care of your dog. Made me super sad.

After our hike, we went to Big Sky Cafe in downtown SLO for lunch. We were starving! We filled our stomachs and water bottles and got back in the car to continue our way up the coast.

I had considered stopping at Big Sur, but it didn’t really seem convenient. Instead, we went to the teeny tiny Limekiln State Park. It was a quaint little campground with two short (5 minutes?) hikes. One went to the lime kilns in question (used to purify? lime that was mined from the mountain/vein) and the other to a waterfall. We rested here (I needed a break from the curvy PCH) and ate some snacks by the ocean. When we were about to head out, a couple of guys came back from their kayaking with their day’s catch in haul! They had caught maybe 20 or so giant fish. They were super ugly and amazing, and I wondered what it’d be like to roast a fish you just plucked out of the ocean. Possibly made it a bucket list item.

Our last city stop of the road trip was Santa Cruz. We spent nearly a full day hanging out at the Natural Bridges State Park and Boardwalk. At the Boardwalk, Stanley and I got the most amazing salad ever at The Picnic Basket. It had olive tapenade, avocados, asparagus, citrus dressing, pistachios, kumquats… and some how worked together spectacularly. It was the market salad of the day, but I do plan on going back there for another go at their salads someday soon.

After Santa Cruz, we headed to SJ. Home sweet home!

Yesterday I went to the 2nd Annual Santa Anita BBQ Competition with Stanley, Wesley and Jeff. The event was held in the open area of the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, where the 626 Night Market was. It was pretty cool – lots of tents set up from different BBQ-ers and you could try samples of BBQ for $1 tickets. I barely was able to spend 13 tickets and was super full, which is a good gauge in case I end up going again next year. Lots of pulled pork, brisket and ribs, and a few other unique things like bacon, bacon-wrapped meatballs, mac-n-cheese. I haven’t eaten that much pulled pork in my life, but I found out that I prefer it to be drier with a more interesting texture rather than soggy and soft. After stuffing ourselves with meat, we dropped by the race track to make some bets on the horse races. I was excited to participate and lost $2 (minimum) in the first race. There were a lot of seasoned gamblers there (as expected) dropping big dollars on the races. Pretty intense. I’m definitely not a big risk-taker though (yet??) so I was content to just watch the next round. Now that I know there’s about 30 minutes of down-time between the short (1-2 minute) races, I’ll be prepared with snacks and books for the in-betweens. It’s a pretty nice atmosphere to hang out in the shade of the stands so I’d probably want to go again.

After the two races, we decided to get our boba fix. After gulping down our cold drinks on the hot (80F high!) day, we decided on doing some recreational activity: either rock climbing or P90X yoga. We decided to do yoga at Stan’s house. We did the entire 90 minutes and I definitely feel it in my muscles today, basically everywhere: hamstrings, obliques, trapezius, triceps. I like feeling sore, it means I’m making improvements to my body :)

I brought my camera with me everywhere this weekend but barely took any pictures. I need to get out of my funk and start taking more pictures. I just haven’t been inspired by anything and I don’t know what to do to improve as a photographer either. I’m not interested in rare-use techniques but just general snapshot photography, so… I guess I just need to be more prolific. I’ve barely taken 100 pictures in 2013 so far.

busy days

I haven’t been blogging about my day-to-day life because well, I typically don’t do much but sit at my computer and work on my thesis, occasionally heading to campus to meet with an adviser. But this weekend has been busy and fun so far, so I want to make note of it! I’m super tired from just one full day of outings, but it was a good break from the norm. It seems like I’m in a reasonably good place for my publication/thesis, so that’s a little bit less stress on my shoulders.

On Thursday, I drove over to Pasadena to have dinner with Phyllis and Frances at La Grande Orange Cafe – I realized when I parked that I’ve walked by the place a handful of times while in the area in the past, but it was my first time eating there. Service was good, food was good but not spectacular. The dineLA menu got me a shrimp+avocado ceviche, short ribs with mashed, and gelato for dessert. The ceviche was really good and I might want to look into making it at home, because ceviche is just so refreshing and tasty!

After dinner I went to Arcadia to spend the night at Stan’s house, since the next day we were planning on going to the LA Art Show at the convention center. We left around noon on Friday to head to dtla. The convention center was pretty packed, but mostly for another event. The Art show just took one section of the South Hall, and was much smaller than I expected. This ended up being not a bad thing, since Stan has been recovering from a cold (or flu?) and was tired out pretty quickly. There was a really good representation of Chinese art (modern) at the show, which kind of surprised me. I was used to seeing a lot of it in Beijing at the 798 art district, but didn’t know how much ‘muricans seem to like their style. Also seen was a bunch of modern art from Korean artists, which I also feel has a really distinct style. It’s like, Chinese modern art is always executed with a lot of technical skill, but much less complex in idea/composition. Korean artists always have a playful idea, doing something strange and ugly-on-purpose, and often really colorful. All in all, I enjoyed the art show and saw a bunch of fun stuff and contemporary classics as well. (Note that there were a handful of Robert Indiana prints costing an armload of thousands of dollars each. A girl can dream right?)

We left the art show around 3pm and headed to a late lunch at Bottega Louie. Ordered the french onion soup, portobello fries, lamb porterhouse, grilled artichokes, burrata and tomatoes. Everything was super tasty and I wish I had enough kitchen space to make my own mozz or burrata… After eating, I dropped by the bakery side to get some maracons to-go. And then we headed to Little Tokyo to get some mochis :) Basically it was a Friday of gluten-free dessert acquisition. I got my favorites and a box of little kinako (soybean powder) mochi.

After our downtown LA excursion, we dropped by home depot to get me some parts for my desktop garden prototype #2, and worked on crafts at home til dinner. :)

On Saturday, we watched Django (it was nearly three hours long…) before I headed back to west LA. I met up with Jenn Wang and her friend in Venice to wander around… We parked near Abbot Kinney and dropped by a few shops on the way to the oceanfront. Although I’d been to Abbot Kinney a few times, I never actually went to Venice Beach, so it was definitely… an experience. While we were there, a huge fog covered the coast and obstructed vision, it was amazing.

It was pretty trippy to walk on the sand and then realize that we were completely surrounded by this thick white fog. It reminded me of both Harry Potter’s limbo, where he has his explanatory conversation with Dumbledoor, and also concurrently Cptn Jack Sparrow’s adventure in Davy Jone’s locket, with the rock-crab things. I guess both places are lonely but not, and definitely secluded and kind of private. Would’ve loved to spend more time in the fog… if it weren’t so cold!

After the beach, we walked down the boulevard and made our way to the Venice Canals. For a few blocks in Venice, streets are replaced with canals such that each hose has their back porch facing the water. Nearly all the houses in the area have been remodeled to look modern and cool, despite the super small square footage of each lot. Most of them were two or three stories, and definitely designed for function. It’d be super cool to get a tour of some of the houses, I think.

When we were done wishing we lived in those hoeses, we headed back to Abbot Kinney for ice cream before parting ways. At around 5pm, I headed home to meet up with Layla for dinner. We rested at my apartment for awhile before heading out to Annenberg Space for Photography. The Space is one of Stanley and my favorite places, since the exhibition changes a few times a year and is always well curated. And free. Right now they have a show up called “no strangers” which documents a number of different cultures and lifestyles of tribes in Africa, Central America, Asia. Pretty crazy stuff. (But I still think it’s too easy to get a good photograph when you’re climbing a mountain in the snow with a reindeer.)

After the museum, Layla and I headed to Palms Thai while Kyle and his friends went to Chego. We stuffed ourselves silly and then walked a few blocks to an improv show. Is improv hard? I felt like they really weren’t that good and I might be better at thinking of witticisms and ironic situations on the spot… but maybe I’m sitting an a high horse and didn’t know what I’m talking about. Make it a resolution to try improv. When the show finished, we decided to head back to my apartment for some board games/chill time. We ended up playing Stone Age until like 3am! I’m pretty surprised that my apartment was able to fit 6 people, but my new furniture arrangement worked out pretty well. I came in last (no surprise…) while the guys who didn’t know what was going on for most of the game ended up winning.

After everyone left, I took a shower and KTFO’ed til 2pm today. :)


As per previous years 2011 and 2010, here’s my photo recap of the year 2012!

1. Took the bus to the Getty Museum to hang out with some Arcadians and stayed after they left to read some papers and enjoy the sunset.
2. No photos from February – this picture is from Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle.
3. Taking the LINK back to the airport to head home to Los Angeles after Spring break.
4. Saying hello to baby Amara :)
5. Happy wedding to MK! I didn’t take many pictures since I was part of the festivities.
6. Victor, Yung Lam and I surprised Phyllis at the Natural History Museum and she took us to see the outdoor butterfly exhibit.
7. Camping at Big Bear with Lay+Kyle, Kency, Den+Sum – tried to catch the crazy looking starry sky without actually leaving the tent…
8. Wandering around Pasadena with Wesley and Stanley during our motorcycle safety class.
9. Went to Taiwan and Thailand with family + Layla! This picture is from Yangmingshan national park, before we started our crazy hike.
10. Stanley and I went on a photo adventure to attempt the Brenizer method in Arcadia.
11. Took the weekend off to go to NYC for my birthday, and got to catch up with Stacey.
12. This is also from November – Disneyland with Sophie, DK and James. I would’ve put a Vegas picture here but I can’t find my card reader to edit the pictures off my camera…

eric carle

I’m naming this little dummy Eric Carle after the one who has been inspiring his adventures through my tomato plant’s leaves lately. I first met him a few days ago but just sprayed him with a little soapy water… apparently he enjoyed the bath and stuck around. Today I saw him (double his original size!) inching from eaten leaf to fresh leaf, picked him up, and exiled him to the other side of the apartment complex. I’m giving him a chance to find a new home before I throw him off the balcony.

summer travels part 4

Day 6: Arrival in Bangkok, Wat Saket, wandering
Day 7: Wat Pho, Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo
Day 8: Ayutthaya day trip, Khaosan market/area
Day 9: Chatuchak marketplace
…then home!

Layla and I arrived in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, and decided to KTFO at our hostel until whenever. We ended up lazily waking up in the late morning, and making a vague plan for the day.

First order of business was to get us some Thai bahts (exchange rate about 30 THB to the dollar, same as NT$), preferable from a Citibank where I would be able to feelessly withdraw from an ATM. The nearest one was a ways away, so we looked up a bus route on Google maps before heading out. Near our hostel was a Thai bank, from which we exchanged just a bit of cash for the road. Then we made our way to the bus stop, which was an adventure in itself.

Bus stops in Bangkok are more like general bus slow-down areas. There are not always signs posted/visible, especially at busy intersections, and the bus only stops if you flag it down. On each bus is a driver and a fare collector. The fare collector carries a cylindrical container that rattles with coins and rolls of tickets: tell him/her your destination and pay up, and s/he’ll return the appropriate change along with a ripped up ticket. Buses with A/C cost about 16 baht per trip, double that of a ghetto wooden non A/C bus. All this we learned from a nice white guy riding a bike, getting his morning Thai tea near our “stop.” Thanks, stranger!

We got ourselves some Thai tea as well, as per recommendation of said white guy. It came in a bag, surprisingly, as we found out later all street foods do. Here I feel obligated to note that Thai tea in Thailand tastes just as good as Thai tea in California.

We headed to a mall (Central World, maybe?) and wandered around for awhile. Layla decided to get a haircut (for 100 THB = $4), and I adventured around the huge mall shopping for misc things like phone cases (not cheap!) and earphone jack plugs and Asian BB creams. I found a giant UNIQLO at the top level, where I bought a pair of jeans, parachutey PJ pants, and shirt 😀 While we waited for my pants to get hemmed (for free, thanks, UNIQLO!) we went outside to peruse the mini-market on the streets surrounding the wall. I got a shaved ice dessert with misc things in it, and some fried chicken parts. When we finished at the mall, we were ready for our next adventure.

Since we knew where we were on a map (not always a guarantee) and our next destination was just along the street for a mile-or-so, we decided to take a tuk-tuk instead of a bus or taxi. It was important to me that we ride on one during our trip, so we seized the opportunity! The driver of the empty one we flagged down tried to extort us (I think he said 100THB?), but having already taken the bus we knew how cheap travel could be. We took the ride for 40 THB (I think) :)

We got to Wat Saket (Golden Mount Temple) and got to see a view of the city from the top. I was happy to overlook a city full of green trees, compared to Los Angeles’ concrete jungle.

Next, we tried going to the Grand Palace, but it had closed for the day already (at around 4 or 5). The infamous tourism swindlers were at the entrance, ready to bring us on various alternative! boat! trips! instead, but we rejected them and decided to wander across the street and get some food. I had some mango sticky rice (40 baht) but the rice tasted salty? so I just ate the mango itself. So yummy :) After dinner we headed home to ktfo; I slept and Layla went to adventure at Khaosan Road.

On our 2nd day in Bangkok, we woke up early and headed to Wat Pho for our Thai massages! It cost about 350 THB for an hour of massage, which was a great experience. It was cool to see how the masseuses manipulate their bodies to massage yours, and it was obvious afterwards that “Thai massages” in the US are toned down versions of the original. We also took a look at the biggest reclining Buhhda in Thailand, which had giant 10+ ft tall feet made out of mother of pearl.

After Wat Pho, we got on a bus to head to the Samphram Elephant Ground and Zoo. The ride was about 40 minutes and took us far from the city. 600 bahts later, we were in the zoo!

It really depresses me to think about animals that should be wild but have been trained for humans’ entertainment (and not practicality, ie horses). The first show we watched involved two guys pulling around a number of crocodiles and doing tricks, but it was primarily things like not getting their heads/hand bitten off, which just required the crocs to stay still. (Less unnatural, since crocs spend like 90% of their lives staying still.) But the elephant show we watched was super depressing, because they made them dance with one or two of their feet in the air, and shake their bodies and heads around, and ahhhhh it made me so sad and I don’t want to think about it anymore. Our ride around the park on the elephants’ back was not as depressing but still kind of sad, since with all the gear + guide on the back we must have been 4-500 lbs. (Although I just looked it up on wiki and it says the average Asian elephant weights about 10,000 lbs. Maybe it’s not a big deal after all…) But we got some amazing pictures! So I’m mostly glad about that.

On our way back to the city, it started crazy thunderstorming and raining. The bus we were on (a non A/C one) started leaking in a number of places, through the roof and windows, and the wooden floor got soaked. It was definitely an experience, especially noting that the locals were not phased at all.

The next day, we had our day trip tour planned to Ayutthaya, the old capital city of Thailand. Our tour cost 1800 baht/person, and included a bus ride to the ruins, a few stops some temples and landmarks, and a boat ride back down the river to central Bangkok. It was really nice to get away from the smelly city, and have a planned day instead of just wandering around. (The city was really hard to get around and not especially tourist friendly.) The picture above was taken at the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, where the royalty still visit sometimes during the summer. Compared to the Summer Palace in Beijing, it was tiny… but still pretty interesting to see the Chinese influence/gifts to the Thai.

The actual ruins of Ayutthaya were really amazing. I’m not sure how much of it was restored, but it seems like a lot of the ruins are in great shape. There were super tall monuments and steps in tact, everything made out of brick. You could see where the buildings and rooms were set, with some doorways still around. A few years ago (15 or 20, I think) there was a big flood in the area, and there were still water damage marks on the sides of the ruins (and buildings in the surrounding villages). Crazy to see how time passes.

Delicious pad see ew from the street! For less than $2. It really hit the spot; Layla and I devoured it in minutes.

We got back to our hostel and rested a bit before heading out to see Khaosan Rd. The area we stayed in is a popular place for backpackers to stay, and so there were a bunch of American/European style bars and restaurants a few streets away. It was a weird backwards culture shock to walk down a street with loud English music playing and drunk young people having fun. It definitely felt a little bit out of place! On the street there were many carts selling typical “Thai” food (for the tourists) so I tried some pad thai. Tasted very similar to the US version, but not orange! And no peanuts!

On our last day in Thailand, we took a bus north to the Chatuchak weekend market. It was a huge market with all vendors for everything over a large area, maybe a square mile big. We wandered around and saw shops selling toys, furniture, artwork, clothes, Ikea-type shops, pet fish, other animals… it was ridiculous how many shops there were crammed together. Oh yeah, we even saw a bunch of stalls selling used/worn/dirty American sneakers? If I had more money and space in my luggage, I would have definitely bought more stuff! As it was though, I left the market with a couple of colorful tanktops ($3 each), some voodoo keychains, a giant safety pin, and a mango rice :) It was super delicious and I want more.

I wouldn’t really recommend visiting Bangkok as a primary destination. It was difficult to get around, and a lot of the interesting things (besides temples) were far from the city. I was kind of disappointed and thrown off by how low-tech and dirty the city was, but I guess that might have been post-Taiwan-relativity. But I’m glad I visited, and now I have a better idea what to expect from a Southeast Asia trip :)

wrinkly beans

My second attempt at Chinese wrinkly (dry-fried) beans (a la Din Tai Fung, Fatima, etc). I tried getting my oil hotter, but it didn’t fix my initial problem of the beans losing their crunch. I stir fried my mushrooms separately this time, to keep away the excess moisture, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. Any clues? I did the following:

  1. Wash, “prune” and let dry long/green beans
  2. Heat up olive oil in a pan til HOT, enough to cover the base of the pan
  3. Drop beans in all at once, mix to coat all beans
  4. Mix and let get wrinkly (~5-10 minutes) -> Here I took them out as I saw them get wrinkly one by one, since I was standing by the stove anyway. Maybe a problem with a pan not big enough, or with inconsistently sized beans?
  5. Put wrinkled beans in a collander to drain excess oil -> There was no excess oil since I took them out one by one
  6. Stir fry mushrooms, put in separate bowl
  7. Re-oil the pan slightly, put in minced garlic
  8. When aromatic, put beans back into pan and stir fry again for a few minutes, adding sugar, soy sauce, salt
  9. Mix in mushrooms, serve

Somebody teach me the secret to wrinkly beans that keep their crunch!

summer travels part 3

Day 1: Taipei west side – ? hangdoufu, Longshan temple, Botanical Garden, CKS memorial, DTF, 3 Brothers shaved snow, dinner
Day 2: Taipei east side – Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain), TP101, Duxiaoyue, SYS memorial
Day 3: Northern Taiwan – Jiufen, beef stew, shrimp fishing
Day 4: Yangmingshan Nat’l park, Xinbeitou, Danshui
Day 5: Foot massages, Ximending, flight to Bangkok

I had planned another excursion away from Taipei city for Tuesday, and found that it was a popular day trip to hit up a number of the places I was interested in one day. Early morning (around 8am) we left our hotel and went to Taipei Main Station. From there, we took bus 260 which brought us all the way to Yangmingshan, which took about 40 minutes. We were hungry from not having breakfast, so we took advantage of the 7-11 near YMS and had us some 30NT steamed buns :)

I’m pretty sure the park is free, but you have to pay to use the shuttle service that makes rounds around the park. It’s 15NT for one ride (no matter the distance) or 60NT for unlimited on/off. Since we didn’t really have a plan, we just all got the 60NT pass for the park shuttle. The shuttle was super ridiculously cramped all the time, and the drivers drive FAST when turning sharp and steep corners. It was a major arm/core workout to stay standing on the minibusses.

We started our self guided park tour by walking the distance from the main entrance to the Visitor Center. There was a huge line at the main entrance to get on the shuttles, which is why we chose to walk instead of shuttle there. But turns out, the short walk was more like a serious trek, and we were already pooped by the time we got to the Visitor Center, which was only about .6 km away. The Visitor Center wasn’t amazing, there were some historical facts and displays inside, and a slightly better map than the one on the shuttle bus ticket, but not really recommended to stop there. (Although I guess we did bypass the long shuttle line, so, maybe…) We perused the map(s) and decided to hit up Mt Qixing (Seven Stars) and the Lengshuikeng (Cold Hot Springs). There were maybe 10-15 points of interest that the shuttle stopped at, but after realizing that the shuttles were mostly always all full, we decided just to hit a few of them. We weren’t planning on spending the entire day there, anyway.

We went to the Xiaoyoukeng bus stop and headed up the trail to reach the peaks of Mt Qixing. It was 1.8 km up to the first peak, then 2.1 km to Lengshuikeng, passing through the second peak. We covered a total of 400 meters of elevation up and down. It was a ridiculous hike that took us ___ hours. And afterwards, our feet were totally dead. But it was still pretty amazing and I don’t regret it. My favorite part about hiking up the mountain was that the atmosphere changed so drastically from where we first started to the peak. About 1/3 the way up, our surroundings got way greener and we could start to feel the fog and mist in the air. At the top, you could no longer see down the mountain anymore! Super awesome.

After we headed down, we took a short break at the cold hot springs. They’re called cold because the’re only 40 deg C instead of the usual 90 deg C… but that’s plenty hot if you ask me, haha. Layla and I rested our feet in the sulfuric water for awhile and then took the shuttle back down to the main entrance. By then we were starving, having exhausted all our energy on the mountain, so we took a long lunch break back at the same 7-11. :)

After our “lunch,” we took the minibus (from the bus stop across the street) S9 (or A330) to Xinbeitou. Beitou is an area famous for its hotsprings, so after getting off at the wrong stop and unnecessary walking for which we were saddened by, we went to the Hot Springs Museum in a big park thing. The museum was just ok, and I wouldn’t really recommend it if you’re already pooped. The park was surrounded by a number of hotels and hot spring resorts, so after the museum we made our way down the hill/park and inquired with the hot spring resorts as to their prices and such. The first few we saw had deals for public baths (150 NT/2hrs) and private (300 NT/room/2hrs), but some were fancier with only in-room hot springs. We continued our way down to find a hot-spring-front which was just a straight up old style hot spring resort. It cost 50NT per person to enter. Since we weren’t prepared with any towels or anything, we each bought a small towel for 40NT. For 3USD, we went to a hot spring much like I had expected/wanted to experience.

First, take off your shoes in the dry area, and walk through to put your stuff in the cubbies behind the bath. Strip down (including jewelry, which gets really hot) and rinse with cold water from the taps available. Once rinsed, head to the hot hot hot bath. At first, I sat at the edge of the pool and just put my feet in. It was scary to feel like you might just fall in by accident, but the water was just too hot. The ladies at the hot spring told us that if you leave just your feet in for too long, it’ll actually be more difficult to completely submerge later. This makes sense to me, because if you let your legs acclimate but not your upper body, there’s a bigger temperature difference in your entire body and you’re more sensitive to the changes. Their tip was to straight up go all in and sit on the jacuzzi-bench-rock, and stop moving. When you struggle and move around, it feels more hot. So after a re-rinse, I did what they suggested, and the temperature was surprisingly bearable. I stayed in the pool for about 5 minutes before getting out. Apparently, the right way to do it is to go in for about 10 minutes, come out and rinse with cold and rest, then repeat a few times. Too bad though, I decided once was enough for my first hot spring experience. (The water was 42 deg C.)

We all felt refreshed after our hot spring excursion (but our feet still hurt) so we decided to head to Danshui. We took the MRT to the Danshui station (easy) but promptly got confused as to where to go. The plan was to go to Danshui old street, a famous area for food and tea shops, but instead we wandered the wrong way and headed to a mini night market. I blame the confusion on the construction happening at the station, but possibly we were just too brainfried to figure out where to go. Since it was around dinner time by then, we decided to just shop and eat at the night market. Happily, we found a cart that sold Shuijianbao (water-fried buns, I think 10NT each) right next to a boba cart and made a dinner of it. Perrrfect. By then we were so pooped from the day’s activities that we decided to bypass the original plan to stop by Shilin night market and just head home to knock out. Which we did.

The next day, Layla and I had just half a day before having to head to the airport to go to Bangkok. We spent our last day wandering around Ximending. First stop: a necessary foot massage. We found a place recommended by the Internet and got one hour shoulder + leg massages costing 300NT/person. Those massages hurt SO BAD! It was amazing how much pain I felt in my muscles just from pressing, but I suppose we were quite tight from all the walking. Are there people who get massages so frequently that their muscles are crazy flexible and aren’t tight at all? Is that a bad thing?

After our massage we wandered around to check out shops, get boba, and eat. I finally found a fried chicken chop and we also got some of that brown intestine noodle stuff. After lunch, we just headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready to head to the airport. Then, Bangkok!

summer travels part 2

Day 1: Taipei west side – ? hangdoufu, Longshan temple, Botanical Garden, CKS memorial, DTF, 3 Brothers shaved snow, dinner
Day 2: Taipei east side – Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain), TP101, Duxiaoyue, SYS memorial
Day 3: Northern Taiwan – Jiufen, beef stew, shrimp fishing

Day 4: Yangmingshan Nat’l park, Xinbeitou, Danshui
Day 5: Foot massages, Ximending, flight to Bangkok

On Sunday, we left the hotel around 8am and headed to Xinyi district. The plan for the day was to beat the TP101 crowds in the morning, then go hiking, followed by a late lunch with some friends. When we got out of the subway though, we realized it was way too hot to be hiking around noon, and we flipped our plans to go hiking first. Slightly southeast of TP101 is a small group of mountains called the Four Beasts Mountains – Tiger, Elephant, Leopard and Lion. The closest to the city is Elephant Mountain, our destination for the morning. To get there from TP101 area, we took a bus two large blocks south (saving energy/being lazy!) then walked about the same distance east until we saw signs for the hiking trail. It was surprisingly easy to find, and there were a few locals already heading up when we got there.

After the first few steps, we were already exhausted by the humidity. We consulted the maps and decided to make our way ~30 minutes to the first vista point and then head back. In hindsight, it was pretty much as much we could have handled anyway. It was humid and hot, being surrounded by nature the entire hike, and there were mosquitoes everywhere landing on and biting us every few seconds. I wasn’t expecting so serious of a hike, so I was totally not prepared and got a lot of bites :( The view of the top was really amazing, but we were probably too pooped to enjoy it. I read later that this group of mountains is a really popular photographer destination during day and night time. I think if I ever come back, hiking the (paved) trail at night (when it’s cooler and I can stand being clothed to protect from bugs) would be pretty cool.

After our short hike, we headed to TP101. (It was our most expensive activity in Taiwan, 450NT/person. If you bring your student ID, it’s discounted to 400NT but I didn’t think of it.) It was my second time here, so it wasn’t too exciting but it was nice to rest for awhile after the hike. When we finished at TP101, we went to the nearby malls to look around and get some Tenren. I was happy to find that a regular iced jasmine tea was 30NT, 45 with boba :) Afterwards, we met up with my friends Calvin and Kailey from RISD 2008 and took a taxi to Duxiaoyue on Zhongxiao district. We got a bunch of yummy things (Layla loved the noodles and wanted them every day after that) and then headed to Ice Monster for shaved ice. There was a CRAZY line maybe 100 meters long out the door to eat-in, so we did the American thing to do and got our shaved ices to-go. We brought them to Sun Yat-sen memorial nearby to enjoy. (It was just ok, I don’t know why there was such a crazy line…) We chilled awhile there and then parted ways.

Layla and I went back to Zhongxiao Rd to check out the local shops – I bought a sheer teal button up for 100 or 150 NT, and then we headed back to the hotel via MRT.

My parents had planned a fancy catered dinner on one of the top floors of the Sheraton we were staying at. Ironically, although probably our most expensive meal in Taipei, it was the least tasty. Lots of so-so dishes and nothing that made me want more. Dinner was fun because I got to re-meet a good handful of extended family members that live in Taiwan. I was surprised to find that my level of Chinese was enough to socialize and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. Including paternal grandfather who kept trying to make people drink. (“You’re a graduate student now? Cheers!”) After dinner I was too pooped to go out to the night markets, so we just knocked out.

On Monday, the group headed to northern Taiwan for a day trip. Our main destination was Jiufen, an area known for 9 old buildings/homes/temples? We wandered around the market and ate legitimate Taiwanese food. I had the best grass jelly I’ve ever eaten (probably because it was freshly made) and wanted to buy freshly made taro chewy ball things that I love but didn’t know about bringing them home :(. We had lunch at a teahouse, where my dad taught us the steps to brewing Chinese tea.

After lunch, we went to an old gold mining village, saw a waterfall, saw a view, and then headed back to the city. By the time we got home around 5pm we were hungry and since I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied if I didn’t have beef stew and noodles in Taiwan, we headed to my parents’ old favorite place. I don’t remember what it’s called or where it was (I’ll find out and update later) but it was amazing and exactly what I wanted. NOM.

We left the restaurant to wander and get shaved ice on the street (traditional style, with red beens, barley, boba, taro balls) before heading home around 8. After resting for about an hour, Layla and I headed out to go SHRIMP FISHING with Maggie and Derek. Shrimp fishing was hands down the best thing we did in Taiwan during our five days. I was so excited when I caught my first shrimp that I jumped up and down and screamed and all the locals thought I was crazy. But it was amazing! Layla and I caught four shrimp in about an hour :) We fished from the mixed male/female pond which costs 500NT for 2 hours per fishing rod. Bait and stuff is provided, but you are also allowed to bring your own.

After you catch your shrimp, there’s a kitchen area where you wash your shrimp, salt them, then put them in a giant toaster. It only took a few minutes (10 ish?) to cook them all the way, then we sat in the dining area to EAT! They had wasabi and soy sauce, but I chose to go plain for the freshest shrimp I’ve probably ever eaten in my life. Amazing. I’d love to do it again, or bring this recreational activity to the US, haha. SO FUN SO AWESOME.