Traveling in Turkey: Ephesus

travel, winter

It is surreal to admit to myself that I am in Turkey- a country in the Middle East (Never thought I’d be here), a country in both Europe and Asia, and a country so full and rich of history that I find myself living in an AP World History textbook. History was never my strong subject, but visiting the places we learned of make me want to read so much more about it.

To begin, I am in Turkey in the Winter for a few reasons: I am more free than I am in the Summer, travelling to Turkey in Winter is cheaper since it is not prime season, and there are a lot less tourists here.. I try to avoid tourists as much as I can, and oh the irony for myself being a tourist! Yes, but I leave minimal trace behind and I keep to myself, watching the culture around me rather than chasing destination hot spots and snapping photos non-stop.

With constant blizzards and grey skies, I finally visited a place that was blessed with a cloudy blue sky and shining sun: Ephesus. In all honesty, not many people know of Ephesus because these ruins are overshadowed by the Acropolis of Athens or Rhodes. When people think of Turkey, “ruins” just don’t quite come in mind… mainly Hagia Sophia does. However, Ephesus is absolutely worth the drive. It lies in Southwest Turkey, about a 9 hr. drive from Istanbul, and is home to structures such as the Temple of Artemis and the Library of Celsus. The entire site is breathtaking and magnificent since many of the ruins remain intact, unlike the site of Troy (Troia), which is also in Turkey.

The overall view at Ephesus is overwhelming, and time is a factor to consider. I recommend reading into its main sites and figuring out which ones you would like to focus on. Ephesus Breeze gives a detailed summary of the site and what you may expect to see. It is important to note that there are many stray cats around the site. However, they will not bother you as long as you do the same.

There is an admission office outside or Ephesus where you may purchase admission tickets. As of January 2019, the admission fees are as followed:

  • Ephesus: 60 Turkish Lira
  • Basilica of St. John: 15 Turkish Lira
  • Museum of Ephesus: 15 Turkish Lira

I purchased the first ticket for 60 TL and was able to visit the majority of the sites. I did not feel the need to spend any additional money for the other sites as the most important locations like the library and the amphitheater were included in the Ephesus fee of 60 TL. The ticket looked like:

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Ephesus entrance ticket

In terms of transportation, rather than immediately driving South to Ephesus from Istanbul, I recommend planning a round trip around Turkey beginning in Istanbul and visiting Ephesus on the way back to Istanbul. A complete round trip of Turkey would include Istanbul to Ankara (can visit Ataturk Mausoleum), to Nevsehir (to visit Cappadocia), to Konya (visit Mevlana Museum), to Denizli (visit Pamukkale), to Ephesus in Selcuk, then to Turkey. A detailed map of a round trip or Turkey is shown below:

Image result for cappadocia in turkey map

However, if time does not permit for such a trip, I still highly recommend squeezing Ephesus into your trip for it is relatively close to Pamukkale, and you would be able to visit both places within a day.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Short Film: A Winter Wonderland in Germany & Switzerland

travel

As I traveled through Germany and crossed into the most expensive country in the world (Switzerland), my already-prodigious adoration for mother earth grew even more. From sky-high snow caps to clear sheets of ice ideal for ice skating, the two countries had set the backdrop for cloud 9. Winter’s light and shimmering dust falling from a cloudy sky are things you dream of, and seeing the scene as reality was heart-warming. Thank you Germany and Switzerland for warming my heart in such an unforgiving cold.

Watch my highlights from my 10 day trip that wrapped up 2017 and rang in 2018. ❤

 

Featured Locations:

  • Mt. Titlis
  • Engelberg, Switzerland
  • Rothenburg, Germany
  • Titisee Neudstadt
  • Heidelberg, Germany
  • Luzern, Switzerland
  • Zurich, Switzlerland
  • Riviere-Nipissis, France
  • Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Have any questions about travelling in Germany and Switzerland? Leave comments below OR posts recalling my travels along with tips will be coming soong 🙂

Taiwan Day 14: Taiwan-Inspired Recipe: Hujiao Bing (Pork Pepper Bun)

food, travel

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All throughout Taiwan, in obscure or conspicuous corners, some form of “bing” (bun) can be found, of either yeast-based, lard-based, or baking powder-based. The variations are infinite, where sweet or savory fillings include red bean, taro, lotus paste, daikon, pork, green onion, mochi, custard, and you’ll seldom find sweet and savory combos where sweet mochi compliments Chinese meat shreds impeccably.

I recall visiting Wen Zhou Jie Radish Pancake in Taipei, where sizable, deep-fried buns stuffed with daikon or green onion cost only 20 NT (0.66), and each bite comprised a burst of briny, earthy, flavor, with a crisp outer shell and fluffy interior, providing an oily “chapstick” covering for ones’ lips. This is a gem found only in Asia, and I wanted to emulate this style of pastry at home, so I haven’t devised an daikon recipe up to par, but I made an exceptional Pork Pepper Bun that I am thrilled to share.

These buns originated from the Fuzhou region in China, but due to its sweeping popularity in Taiwan, it is often dubbed as “Taiwanese Pepper Bun.” The bun includes a fat-free, yeast dough, filled with a meat filling, flavored with copious amounts of white pepper and as much green onions as the dough can hold. The more green onions, the better. Although a lot of white pepper goes into the meat, the bun does not taste extremely peppery, but rather has a nice subtle kick of spice. Hujiao bings also are decorated with an abundance of sesame seeds, thus a hujiao bing is not a hujiao bing without white pepper, green onions, and sesame seeds.


HuJiao Bing

yield: 16 buns

Ingredients:

For dough:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 c. 105-110 ºC water
  • 4 tbsp. 100 ºC water for yeast

For meat filling:

  • 1 1/2 c. ground pork (80% lean or a fattier meat works well)
  • 3 tsp. white pepper
  • 3 tbsp. michiu (Chinese rice wine)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 3/4 tsp. 5 spice powder
  • 1/2 tsp. minced ginger
  • 3 1/2 c. chopped green onion

For decoration:

  • 1 egg for eggwash
  • 3 tbsp. white or black sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Combine the 3 tbsp. water with yeast and sugar, and set aside for 10 minutes so the yeast activates.
  2. In a large bowl, pour the yeast mixture into the flour and knead with hand until a ball of dough is incorporated. On a floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 min. until it’s completely smooth and cover with a towel and place in a warm area, 85ºC-90ºC for 1 hour to let it rise. The dough will not double in size but it should rise a bit.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine all the meat filling ingredients except the green onion. With a fork, mix and mash the meat mixture for about 5 min. so that the protein in the meat breaks down a bit. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow it to marinade.
  4. Transfer the risen dough to a floured surface and knead for about 2 min. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces and place the dough pieces into the large bowl with a towel over it to prevent them from drying out.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 ºC.
  6. Working one at a time, roll the dough ball until the dough is 1/4 cm. thick. Scoop about 1 1/2 tbsp. meat mixture in and top with 2 tbsp. or more green onion. Pinch the opposite sides of the dough together and pinch the sides in the middle, working in a clockwise motion until the dough is completely sealed. Make sure it is completely sealed so the juices don’t come out while baking.
  7. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
  8. When all the balls are formed, beat an egg and use a pastry brush to brush on the egg wash.
  9. Top with A LOT of sesame seeds.
  10. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

It is best to enjoy these buns while they have come right out of the oven, but it is also good to know that you should eat these with caution for the meat juices can scald your tongue!

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All the ingredients

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Portion the dough

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Roll out the dough

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Add the meat

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Add the green onions

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Seal the edges

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Egg wash

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Add the sesame seeds

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Good stuff

Enjoy!

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 13: My Luck to Visit Bayan Village (Now Closed to Outsiders)

travel
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Crisp reflection at Bayan Village

A delicate layer of stratus clouds shrouded the skies above and reflected its image on the stagnant waters beneath, as subtle smoke piped continuously from the few homes in the quiet and unassuming village. Bayan village, indisputably beautiful, was an unknown gem in the Yangmingshan territory, distinct for its terraced fields running alongside mountains and its unique natural hot springs and waterfalls that provide so-called healing elements to the human skin. When word got out of the area, the village’s popularity grew and unpleasant hordes of tourists poured in daily, overwhelming the 20 inhabitants who were once accustomed to merely the sounds of nature.  We are all too familiar with the consequences of tourism, and indeed the inhabitants agreed to prohibit visitors to their village for issues reached unacceptable levels, including destruction of crops and use of the paths as restrooms. Despite my streak of misfortune in life, I fortunately experienced Bayan village 3 months before its unforeseen closure, and when I returned to the states, I spoke non-stop of Bayan, promising my brother that I would take him soon, only to hear it had closed….


My Experience: 

Access to the village was highly challenging for it is located in a conspicuous area in Yangmingshan, with few signs indicating its location and limited parking spaces nearby. Billy parked his sedan in a desolate spot and we were prepared to cross the street when an old man with a white undershirt and blue massage sandals approached us, requesting money in exchange for the parking spot. Turned out if the villagers were to be disturbed, they might as well make a little profit. We gave the man 30 NT and walked past a couple homes with washboards in a creek, food laid out drying in the sun, and vegetables growing profusely in garden patches. There was a miniature path of stone, hand-laid out over running waters and another local man simply sitting on a boulder, collecting an entrance fee in a bowl for the terraced fields/ sky reflection view. Imposing mountains fringed our surrounding and a murky body of water situated amid was an optimum canvas for the sky’s reflection. The sight was a thing of wonder, and luckily I had come on an unpopular day and time where masses of tourists were nowhere to be found, so all was far too serene.

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Smoke from a chimney

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View

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Large boulders in the water

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Intense reflection

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Not a model at all

Nearby the exit, an elderly woman sat underneath a rickety straw roof, showing off her vegetables and fruit, freshly picked this morning and grown traditionally by hand. Billy told me that her food was phenomenal and home-y, so we strolled over and bought two steamed corn and tea eggs, both scalding hot as I juggled them between my hands. Piping hot juice splattered all over as I bit into the sweet, succulent corn, and I rapidly continued to eat because the pain was worth each decadent bite. As we nibbled on the flavorsome tea egg to prevent mouth burns, we walked along steep, zig-zagged paths, enclosed by towering bamboo stalks and shrubs on either sides that forbid any breeze. The demanding trek to the hot springs required great stamina and at the half-way point, I wondered if I’d ever make it as I slowly but surely progressed down winding and deteriorating stone steps. But then my eyes glistened at the sight of flat land ahead of us (a huge relief from the prior tedious path) that was accompanied by a behemoth fumarole, filling the atmosphere with pastel yellow, sulfuric clouds. Based on intuition, it seemed we were approaching our destination soon, and indeed there was only an additional half mile descending down a serpentine path until the hot springs.

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Within the mountains

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Smoke from underground

Very highly likely there was an easier access to the hot springs, but Billy and I entered from a threatening path as we nimbly hopped from jagged stone to stone down hill, avoiding the steaming, cloudy water beneath us. Masses of steam engorged our bodies, obscuring our view ahead, and we weren’t sure if we could withstand the fumes, but a miracle occurred when we reached the bottom and regained our sights.

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Our dangerous path to enter the springs

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Clear water from the waterfalls

I witnessed a fictitious image with varieties of different sized natural springs and melanin-rich individuals bathing in the streaming water, soaking in the sun’s and water’s nutrients. The pale blue, almost grey, hot spring water was too hot for comfort, but it came in contact with crystal clear water from a waterfall nearby to form the optimal temperature for humans to enjoy a dip. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a swimsuit so I was semi- crestfallen, but I got to dip most of my legs into the pools and relish the setting, the people, and the sounds. And since Bayan village is no longer open, all that occurred on this day remains in my memories and in my photos. And I know I’ll read back on this blog whenever I need to recall the allure of this place.

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Cooling down next to a waterfall

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Cloudy hot spring waters

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Venturing

 

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 12: Beitou Thermal Valley and the Best Braised Pork Rice Ever

food, travel
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“Hell’s Valley”

On this day, I was handed over to my other cousin, Billy, for a weekends’ worth of excitement. The motive of me being “handed over” was so that I could reunite with every single Taiwanese cousin while they took me on memorable road trips to their favorite destinations that embodies what they love about their country.

Billy drove from Bali (in Taiwan, not Indonesia) to pick me up from Kevin’s urban apartment, and when his aging, maroon Honda pulled up I enthusiastically greeted him and dumped my luggage in the trunk. Unlike Kevin, he didn’t ask me where I wanted to go- he knew immediately where to take me, and soon we were on our way to Beitou Hot Springs. The Beitou area consists of natural hot springs that continually emits steam, and some are open to people while others reach temperatures of 100 °C and are off-limits. We first visited the Hot Springs Museum which was an original bathhouse built long ago by the Japanese in European style so the inside had Victorian columns and baths but tatami rooms as well. Because the Japanese are extremely orderly and clean, we had to remove our shoes in the museum and put on slippers to keep the interior spotless.

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Hot Springs Museum

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A tatami in the museum

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We then headed out towards the Geothermal Valley, also dubbed “Hell’s Valley”, a bright emerald-colored body of water that is 90 °C, so very little life sustains in the water. The weather was already hot enough, but once near the edge of the Valley, the sweltering heat reached my skin and I began to sweat all over, especially on my neck where my long hair dangled freely. I felt audacious standing so near, knowing that a slight mishap could result in my death, but the uncanny Valley was quite mystical as subtle clouds of opaque steam arose and idled marginally above the still, emerald water. We wandered past other hot springs in the human-tolerable range, but all were rather empty because who would be in their right mind to step in a hot springs in tropical, Taiwanese, Summer weather?

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An eerie Geothermal Valley

It was around noon when Billy told me of a fantastic “restaurant” that specializes in  braised pork rice (lu rou fan) and I was so down because braised pork rice is the perfect combination of carbs, fat, and salt, and I never turn down a braised pork rice offer. There was one minor issue with which he wasn’t exactly sure where and what the place was called, so we scoured around the Beitou area, driving through random roads as he tried to recall of the place in his head. We then arrived at a random, dingy and dilapidated building with a variety of food stands, clothing stores, and medicine shops on the inside. The interior had little electricity (and certainly no A/C), and was mostly lit up by windows on the walls and ceilings for sunlight to enter. Peculiarly, the place was congested with people mostly eating lunch or buying fresh fruits, meats, or seafood from the tiny vendors scattered across each floor. On a side note, the scene was chaotic, unsanitary, and dismal, but a scene like this is very typical of Taiwan so it didn’t bother me for I was accustomed to it. Billy and I sauntered around each floor, past multiple butchers, scanning from corner to corner to find The “restaurant”, but his frustrated complexion indicated that it was nowhere nearby. Eventually, he gave up and we sat down at another braised pork rice restaurant which he described as “not as good”. He wandered off to see what people were eating, when he ran back exuberantly and yelled “I found it!!” I stood up so abruptly that I experienced a minor whiplash, but proceeded on to follow Billy, who was now very much ahead of me.

The restaurant (a food stand really), called 矮仔財滷肉飯  was in a relatively depressing corner, however the food stand was not depressing at all. The chefs frantically sauteed and washed dishes as a line of forty something people waiting to order watched and an additional forty something people sat eating. I headed to the back of the line, which spiraled down a staircase where the food stand unfortunately was no longer in sight. Thirty five minutes had passed until we got to the front of the line, where Billy ordered several dishes but sadly had to switch a few orders since many of their dishes were sold out. But no worries because whatever we ordered turned out to be SOME OF THE BEST FOOD I HAVE EVER PUT IN MY MOUTH. I seriously don’t even know how to explain how scrumptious the food was, like does a 1000/10 tell you how tasty the food was? or the term “better than sex?” (whatttt) Yes, it was THAT amazing.

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Braised pork rice

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Very traditional Taiwanese meal

We ordered two bowls of braised pork rice which on top of the meat, the chef had additionally included ample amounts of gelatinous skin and fat, and I think that was the wow factor of the dish. I’ve had hundreds of braised pork rice bowls in my life and I’ve never tasted a memorable one until this one. We also got 2.) a tofu chunk braised in the pork juices, so if the tofu is tasting like the braised pork, it’s got to be great, 3.) kongxincai (water spinach), sauteed and drenched in the pork marinade with meat chunks (Oh my lord so good), 4.) pork and winter melon soup (perhaps the best soup I’ve ever had. It was meaty but not oily at all- how do you do that?), and 5.) fatty pork slices with red sauce. The rice, tofu, and water spinach dishes all had the braised pork sauce, but they all had their own distinct flavors, which stumps me. And the soup, oh my, do not even get me started on the soup; it tasted nothing like the braised pork sauce, it had a special flavor that I cannot fathom either. As a food fanatic, I believe that a restaurant’s food is good when you can’t decipher what the ingredients are because you can’t imitate it at home. Thus, you’ll keep coming back to the restaurant to eat it. I now know that in the future anytime I visit Taiwan, I will ask to come back here to eat. I encourage you all to put this restaurant “矮仔財滷肉飯” on your bucket list!!

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 11: The Traditions of Paper-Making

travel

 

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Fo Guang Shan Monastery

Before my eyes was a massive spectacle of temple after temple in a Versailles-esque setting, but you can imagine how the architecture of all differs between East and West. There weren’t intricate gardens and it wasn’t nearly as widespread as Versailles, but both gave off Christopher Nolan vibes with labyrinthine plots. This was Fo Guang Shan, the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan, a sacred place where monks silently strolled past visitors and minded their own business. The grand view of the monastery is looking forward to see repeated temples on both sides and a 36 meter tall golden Protection Buddha statue at the end, staring right back at you. With the right hand palm up and the open left hand rest on its knee, the towering Buddha sends a clear message of “No fear” to all guests because he wants to offer protection from delusion, fear, and anger.

Afterwards, we spent the remainder of the morning driving halfway up the country to visit the GuangXing Pulp Factory,  a quaint factory displaying the traditions of paper-making. All paper products at the factory were made by hand and we got to see the employees go through the procedures of ancient paper making which included soaking the tree pulp, drying it, weaving and pasting the mush together, and spreading and ironing out the mush on a heated metal surface. The sweltering summer air made us sweat, but the sultry atmosphere caused by steam and engines made our skin drench furthermore. I want to praise the employees because tediously forming each delicate sheet required patience and strength.

Then, we all fortunately got to experience making our own paper fans from the delicate, hand-made sheets, which turned out to be quite hellish. If you messed up one simple step, your fan was ruined altogether, and naturally as the hapless being I am, my fan turned out to be a catastrophe, but I brought it home anyways and showed it off. The process required putting your sheet on a cast iron mold, spraying some water (apparently I sprayed a bit too much), and gently patting down with a brush (apparently I didn’t pat gently enough). You then softly apply some paint and then carefully remove the sheet to transfer to a plastic fan. At this point, my sheet already looked defective, but I glued it onto the plastic fold, sealed the edges, and sobbed at my dreadful incompetence. Check out below to see the design on my sheet! I didn’t include a photo of the fan because it was a soggy, wrinkled mess. So that pretty much concludes what I did today, and it also reminds me that I should start being more competent at life.

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A rooster mold

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 10: An Entire Road Trip Packed in One Day ft. Spirited Away’s Movie Inspiration Location

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Crowded nightlife at Jiufen

Hopefully “Spirited Away” caught your attention, or if you are unaware of its existence, it is possibly the best animated film in history directed by world renown, Hayao Miyazaki. Indeed we visited its movie inspiration location, but prior to visiting the location, we visited two other magnificent places, which is why by 11 PM of today, my feet had blisters, my legs were shaking, and my clothes reeked of sweat. My cousins and I packed an entire road trip into 14 hours and crazy would be an understatement of our adventure. Without further ado, here is the tale of Taiwan Day 10.

At around 9 AM, my older cousin, Kevin, picked me up from Taipei city and I was so delighted because I had not seen him in six years. He looked pretty much the same, but I know I looked taller, older, and more mature than my 12 year old self. I hopped into shotgun and we conversed nonstop during our drive to Taipei train station to pick up my two other older cousins, Kiwi and Villea, (These are their real names, but uncommon English names are prevalent in Taiwan), who I have not seen in 7 years, and they pretty much looked the same as well.

“Where would you like to go?” Kevin asked me.

Yikes, I’m the foreigner, and I didn’t know much of the area, but based on Google Search “Taipei attractions” I saw a beautiful location called Yangmingshan National Park so I asked to go there. And indeed he swerved his miniature car towards North and drove 45 minutes up sinuous roads until we saw a parking lot and awkwardly maneuvered to squeeze into a tight spot. We hiked down to Qingtiangang, a grassland within the mountains with cotton ball-esque clouds hovering not too far above your head and Japanese shorthorn grazing tranquilly. The shorthorns wandered around freely and thankfully all the visitors respected them, as nobody hollered and ran towards them, took selfie stick photos, or tried to pet them. Several people laid on the grass, wrote in their journals, read a book, or enjoyed a picnic while others had large cameras, snapping photos of the stunning scenery. My cousins and I simply walked along the trails and eventually sat down to converse and listen to the running waters nearby in the midst of fog and comfortable 70 degree weather.

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Two Japanese shorthorn resting

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Qingtiangang

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Typical jump photo

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Japanese shorthorn grazing

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Got a photo with it!

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Xiaoyoukeng

Afterwards, we hiked two miles to Xiaoyoukeng, a fumarole that spews sulphur gas from underground, filling the atmosphere with a rotten egg smell. Large clouds of gas constantly piped up from underground and the surrounding rock was stained yellow as we could feel the increased temperature nearby on our skin. Thus after a morning of spectacular views, we headed East towards Yehliu Geopark, on behalf of my request. The Queen’s Head formation at Yehliu was always shown in Taiwan brochures and travel videos, so I decided it was about time that I go. I expected a large desolate land with unique rock formations in the middle of nowhere, but to my disappointment, the area was highly developed with apartment buildings, stores, and a gaudy aquarium with dolphin shows. The plethora of billboards with vibrant colors just didn’t suit the monotonous yet enchanting colors of the Geopark. Then within the geopark, bold red, painted lines with the words “Do Not Cross” were drawn all along the borders of rocks, wrecking the nature of the rocks. And even with the garish bold line, people kept jumping across the lines to take pictures and touch the unique rock formations as park rangers indignantly hollered at them to back off. It was such a pathetic site, and it vexes me that humans have such little respect for nature.

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The famous, Queen’s Head

Despite what I said above, if you ignore what the humans had done and focus on the rock formations, you begin to wonder how the earth does wondrous things such as forming such spectacular oddities. The rock formations remain a mystery to this day and the park seemed a little eerie because it really looked as if aliens had come millions of years ago to mold the rock figures.

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The mushroom rocks

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The coast

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More mushroom rocks

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The Candle rocks

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The Candle rocks

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The pedestrian bridge

After walking through multiple shapes of rocks, my cousin suggested we end our day at Jiufen, an old street in the Northern mountainous area of Taipei, aka the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s vision in Spirited Away. I felt a yearning to experience this old street, and when we arrived at its exceptionally narrow entrance, I was ready to enter a mesmerizing world. It was 6 PM and the sky remained bright, but once I forced myself into the horde of people, my surrounding suddenly became dim, chit-chat filled my ears, and a conglomeration of food scents reached my nose. It was a Saturday night so there was absolutely no leeway on the paths as everybody slowly, but gradually took baby steps to move the traffic. There were countless number of vendors selling handmade jewelry, purses, egg rolls, musical instruments, passion fruit jam, glutinous balls, literally anything you can name! I took my time, looking at all the fascinating little shops, and then reentered the sluggish crowd to continue moving along the paths. As we dawdled along the path, I heard Chinese spoken infrequently and instead it seemed as if only Japanese was being spoken. Suddenly, three bulky camera crew men, an elder man, and a tall, slim, and well-dressed lady unexpectedly walked through us all as many people behind me began to take photos of the woman. She was speaking Japanese, and it looked like she was doing a travel TV show, but I had no clue who she was, perhaps someone famous? And to this day, I keep wondering if I had bumped into a Japanese celebrity.

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Crowded pathways

The night gradually approached as the sky dimmed drastically when we decided to dine at Zhang Ji Traditional Fish Balls, a simple restaurant specializing in handmade fish ball and noodle soup. There was an awfully long line of people waiting to be seated indicating that the food served was probably exceptional, and indeed when we were finally seated, the food was exceptional! Despite being stuffed from dinner, there were two more things that were a “must try” at Jiufen, so we exited the restaurant and headed up to find Lai Ah Puo Yu Yuan shop that serves sweet potato, green tea, and taro glutinous rice balls in a brown sugar ice mixture or brown sugar hot soup, topped with adzuki and green beans for 40 NT a bowl (approx. $1.30). Customers have the option between brown sugar ice or soup, but because the Summer days were hot, we ordered 3 bowls, all with ice. Because I grew up accustomed to eating glutinous products, the bowl of soup tasted phenomenal and not weird to me at all, but if foreigners visit Jiufen, I highly recommend trying this odd-sounding dessert because it is truly something you’ve never tasted before.

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Taro, sweet potato, and green tea glutinous balls

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Zhang Ji Traditional Fish Balls

If you have made it this far, I want to thank you!! I am almost done, but not quite yet…

The time was 8:30 PM and the sun was close to setting so everybody in the vicinity enthusiastically waited for the entire Jiufen area to light up its red lanterns and bring the “Spirited Away” essence to life. As each red lantern gradually lit up, all that could be heard were peoples “oohs and ahhs” and the moment was truly indescribable as people rushed out of restaurants to see the views, crowds stopped moving to take pictures, and everyone was appreciating the night life with Taiwan’s mountains and oceans in the background. I find it so difficult to describe the atmosphere at that moment, but it seemed like there was a charm placed on Jiufen; it looked like we were all characters in a utopia.

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Jiufen at night

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Overview of nightlife at Jiufen, PC: reddit

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View from Jiufen

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The sun sets

Finally, it was time to leave the utopia for we were all exasperated and were ready to dive onto a fluffy bed and pillow to relax. Because of the mobs of people, we estimated it would take about 30 minutes to exit the old street so we headed towards the original path we had taken and wandered through the crowds to exit. On our way back, we quickly stopped at the Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake vendor to purchase some glutinous rice cakes stuffed with sweet red bean or savory dried preserved vegetables at 10 NT per cake.

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Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Cake

Miraculously, we located our car at 10 PM, piled in, and passed out during the hour drive back to Taipei Main City, except for Kevin, who unfortunately was the designated driver. I remember very little of what else occurred that night, but all I know was that it was a glorious day and Taiwan never ceases to amaze me. I probably wouldn’t recommend touching down on 3 locations in one day, but if you are crazy like we are, go for it 🙂

-Jamie

 

 

Taiwan Day 9: Aboriginal Amusement Park and Feng Chia Night Market

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Sun Moon Lake

Today’s adventure led us to Nantou, a serene county known for its mountains and waters that are perfect for the outdoor fanatics. As our car meandered through the narrow roads, high rises gradually disappeared and all that could be seen were trees within the mist and seldom wooden homes. We arrived at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, a monumental amusement park amid the mountains that integrates aboriginal culture and modern thrill together into one. The park accurately depicts Taiwan’s nine principal aboriginal tribes throughout, displaying meticulously hand-carved and painted totem poles, old-style wooden homes, and hand-spun textiles. The entire experience brings you back several hundreds of years to the aboriginal era, especially since the workers are dressed in cultural garments and often put on shows of dancing, singing, and rituals.

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Aboriginal ritual

Surprisingly, the amusement portion had several invigorating rides not for the faint of heart. However, if you want relaxation, I highly recommend the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, a cable car ride that carries you aloft the mountains from the bottom to the highest point of the park. A second cable car must be boarded to visit Sun Moon Lake, one of the most beautiful destinations in Taiwan with waters blue as can be and silhouettes of perpetual mountain ranges, all engulfed in heaps of clouds. The weather at the Culture Park consisted of clear skies and constant sun, but as the cable car traveled towards Sun Moon Lake, cloud mass increased and colors deepened in hue. The temperature dropped drastically and our view became slightly clouded. The ambiance was serene and all I could hear was the slight chatter from other people, who were in awe of the view as well. We were fortunate to see the sun in process of setting, which lit up the sky creating an aura of peace, as I frantically whipped out my phone to snap a panorama of the altering scene.

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View from the cable car

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cable ride

We stayed overnight at the Sun Moon Lake Youth Activity Center which had a large balcony several stories high with a perfect view of the lake. My friends and I sat on a wooden table and watched the sun set until the sky became pitch black. When there was nothing left to see, we headed out to Feng Chia Night Market, which was an hour drive away, but we were out for a good time accompanied by good food.

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Egg cakes

Parking at the night market was such an infuriating task that we almost decided to head back home, but after 20 minutes of honking and hair-pulling, we finally found a spot. The large night market was packed like sardines as I constantly had bodies up against my skin, transferring sweat from one person to another. It was insanely unhygienic, but I was craving savory and sweet goodness on my taste buds, and I luckily was able to purchase food, despite the mobs of  hangry people. I hastily munched on my gua bao (steamed bun with pork belly, fried egg, cucumbers, cilantro, and peanut hot sauce), egg cakes, grilled kebabs, and matcha snow ice with adzuki beans, as people shoved and hollered to get in line for food. Smoke from cooking shrouded the sky and the smell of fried and grilled meats filled my nostrils as I enjoyed being among the mass of food lovers.

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Matcha snow ice with adzuki beans

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Selection of BBQ kebabs

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Pork belly bao

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 8: Spectacular Drum Village and Performance

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Coffee shop

Our day in Tainan was filled with fascinating cultural enrichment that deepened my love for Taiwan as our first stop was Ten Drum Cultural Village, an abandoned sugar refinery that had been re-purposed to become an artistic destination and performance venue. Original warehouses and machinery from the Japan-ruled period still remained, but the area was refurnished to add a modern touch, creating a gorgeous area for visitors to witness. The entire factory takes up 12 acres, so there were too many attractions for us to cover, but we first walked through a winding path with arching trees hovering above us to enter a spacious tree house resting upon thick, warped tree trunks. Inside contained around 30 drums, so I sat down on a stool when a tall, slim lady with braids waltzed in and greeted us. She informed us that we would be playing a simple drum piece today and reassured us not to panic because it was a relatively simple piece. A large sheet music was in the front and different notation stood for hit with right/left stick, or together, or hit the sides of the drum. Thus, there were four different moves to make sounds so we began steadily and roughly, until everyone got the feel of the drums, and 5 minutes later, we were all drumming in sync as the sounds filled up the tree house. The lady ecstatically congratulated and complimented us for being musically gifted as we exited the tree house and toured parts of the village, full of aged chimneys, rusted pipes and colossal vats complimented by the modern architecture, vibrant, with unique colors and structures.

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Modern architecture

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Above the coffee shop

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Modern architecture

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Glass pathways within the trees

We later entered the inside of the factory to see that they had built a magnificent performance venue with wooden seats above a glass floor on top of the sugar vats, and a spacious wooden stage with blue and green hue spotlights shining down. The entire room was dim, but we were soon about to witness a jaw-dropping performance of music to our ears. Placed on the stage were ten drums of several sizes such as small and medium bongo sized ones as well as larger ones, and in the back was a mighty massive one. Audience chatter ceased as extremely muscular men and women dressed in black marched out onto the stage and positioned themselves by their respective drums. They all had a fierce demeanor as they began their first piece which started off with slow and steady beats from the massive drum, which was controlled by the most robust man on stage. One by one, each drummer began to join in and soon they were all frantically contributing each sound to the piece as well as jumping and dancing along. The job looked meticulous and tiring as they glistened in sweat after the first piece was complete. Of all the drummers, my favorite was a tall, model-like woman with long flowing hair who played small bongos with thin sticks at the speed of lightning. Constantly, she twirled her sticks and produced several beats per second while showing the audience how much of a badass she was. The crew performed six more pieces and were cheered on with a standing ovation from the crowd members who were whistling and hollering in delight.

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Massive vats in the sugar factory

We all reluctantly headed out the sugar factory, wishing for more, but it was time for dinner as we feasted on a traditional Taiwanese meal of bamboo shoots with Kewpie mayo and dried squid shreds, sauteed Taiwanese cabbage, steamed pork patty, dried tofu and green onions, and pork soup. Dinner was splendid, but dessert was decadent, perfect for those with a sweet tooth. We were able to enter a bakery and buy whatever we desired, but with so many options along with my indecisive self, I personally couldn’t make a selection, so my friends purchased wheel cakes stuffed with custard and matcha choux pastry, which I delightfully consumed both and was unable to sleep afterwards.

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Taiwanese dinner

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Matcha creme choux pastry

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Custard wheel cake

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 7: Lihpao Land and My Bikini Tale

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Thunder mountain water ride

On a sunlit day where human skin roasted and charred, we drove to Lihpao Land, an amusement and water park in Taichung. The massive theme park is segregated into wet and dry, but with the temperature in the 100s, the dry section was eerily deserted because a hot scar from the metal machines didn’t sound too fancy. Nevertheless, we visited the dry after the wet because we’re dauntless people.

Once we had gotten into the water park, I put on a bandeau-like bikini that zipped in the front. No big deal, right? Actually it was a big deal, and a terrible mistake on my part for several reasons; one being I was horrendously out of shape but more importantly, I was in a more conservative country, in a water park, full of children in one pieces with frills, swim caps, and aqua shoes. Aqua shoes were not required, but swim caps were, so with my bikini on, I meticulously stuffed every single baby hair under the tight-fitting cap, and it was a miracle when the cap finally went over my awfully large, round head. With the top extremely wide, my head takes the shape of an upside down triangle, so while everyone else seemed to function properly with their swim caps, the latex hugged my cranium so tightly, pulling my eyes upwards, and I felt I was going to faint. As I looked into the mirror, the exceptionally unflattering figure staring back at me was cringe-worthy. With my colossal, latex-wrapped head, beer belly, and muffin top, all packed into a teeny bikini, I looked like an unfortunate, rebellious monk. I broke into laughter and took several photos to document the hot mess I was, but I confidently walked out, forgot my looks, and simply had fun. As we went on every attraction through the park, people clearly stared and judged at me for my improper outfit, and I wholeheartedly wished I could lash out at them, but I thankfully kept my composure. Although I did see a few other locals in bikinis, I believe mine looked the most inappropriate since I’m just a tad bustier.

The main attraction at the water park was the “Big Wave” which is constructed to imitate a beach, as a machine generates mountainous waves, sweeping people off their feet. As I waited for the wave to come, I realized I had been in this same exact spot in the big wave 10 years ago, so a rush of anticipation struck me to relive the moment. As hundreds of people eagerly counted down for the wave, my stomach drastically dropped, and instantly the wave worked its way from front to back. When it hit me, I was lifted a couple feet off the ground, and I felt bodies pile on top of me as my swim cap and goggles were knocked off my head. The scene appeared to be an apocalypse where zombie-like bodies were battered by vigorous waves, but once this wave died down, everyone cheered and reordered themselves for the next wave to come. The best part of the big wave is the variability of wave strength, for you may get hit with a weak wave once and then a forceful wave next. Of course we all want to be blessed by that gargantuan, powerhouse wave that causes you to lose your accessories, or even your swim top.

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The big wave

When we had been pummeled enough, we changed into T-shirts and shorts and enjoyed cheap grilled squid, savory egg pancakes, and braised pork rice from the food stands. We took a much needed break and trekked through the heat to the dry, amusement portion of the park.

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Braised pork rice with pickled cucumbers

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Egg pancake

Similar to a horror movie, the amusement park seemed deserted as employees stood by each attraction, on their phones, waiting for a single visitor to go on their ride. There was an aviation coaster, high above us, propelling in circles with just one lonely rider among thirty empty seats. There were no screams and laughter as you would typically hear in an amusement park, but just sounds of silence and the seldom running engine from one ride. We decided to go onto the aviation coaster, which we walked up to and within seconds were buckled and up in the air. The world was spinning rapidly as I gradually rose up into the air with the centripetal force acting upon my body. Scanning below, I saw the deserted scenery, but was also able to see the water park, far off into the distance, crowded with miniature ant people having the time of their lives. With so few people, we were able to knock out most of the daunting and exhilarating rides within a short amount of time. Our invigorating day had come to an end, with our skin three shades darker and our stomachs one pound lighter. As difficult as it was, we gratefully waved Lihpao Land goodbye and swore we would return soon.

 

-Jamie