DIY Taiwanese Bubble Tea

What’s tall, a shade of mocha brown, has tiny balls and a big fat straw inside it?

Why it’s bubble tea of course! 

Also known as boba drink, pearl tea drink, boba ice tea, boba, boba nai cha, zhen zhou nai cha, pearl milk tea, and probably many other names, bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the early 1980’s.

What started as small tea stands outside of elementary schools on the streets of Taiwan has now become an international phenomenon, with plenty of stores in North America and other parts of the world serving bubble tea!

The bubbles in the tea are tapioca pearls that are usually made of caramel, starch, and chamomile extract. This cool beverage is not just a fad, its addicting, and in Taiwan especially, it is a lifestyle.

Since bubble tea is so well known and loved in this country I decided I was going to try to make my own!
There are many ways of making this delicious drink. You can use different types of sugar, syrups instead of sugar, and even different blends of tea! It’s hard to go wrong, which is a big reason behind why I chose to take a shot at this Taiwanese staple.
For this experiment you will need:
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Tapioca pearls
Sugar
Milk (regular or soy)
Black tea
A strainer
2 pots
The quantities in this recipe are for one portion so just adjust accordingly, depending on how many glasses you’d like to enjoy!
Step 1: Take 30 grams of tapioca pearls and boil on medium to high heat in 500 mL of water for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the tapioca turns a dark brown colour.
 Step 2: In a separate pot, add 300 mL of water and 10 grams (or 1-1.5 tea spoons) of black tea and let it boil for one minute. Next add 300 mL of milk and once it starts to boil reduce heat. At this time you can also add the amount of sugar you desire, I added two teaspoons. Stir this mixture occasionally.
Step 3: Next strain the black tea leaves from the milk tea.
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Step 4:Once tapioca is cooked (dark brown), strain it and place it in a cup like so.
Step 5: Add the strained milk tea into the cup filled with tapioca and ENJOY!
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You may add more ingredients as desired but here you have basic Bubble Tea in five easy steps! Although it didn’t taste exactly like the tea one can find in a shop, the gratification of having made it with my own two hands made the drink THAT much more enjoyable. It’s also nice because you can control just how sweet or how strong you make it!

However, if you’re trying Bubble Tea for the first time, you should really go to the experts. In Taiwan, there’s an abundance of fantastic tea stores, but here are some excellent places, courtesy of BuzzFeed, that you should definitely try!

 

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A Tour of Taroko National Park

A few weekends ago I explored Hualien City, the county seat of Hualien, with my friend Josh (who by the way is super talented and responsible for all of the pictures of myself that I included in this article.)

I wanted to show him one of Taiwan’s most scenic areas so naturally we ventured to Taroko National Park!

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This was a slightly ambitious one day trip, however from Taipei we were able to make it to the park and enjoy the sights all before it got dark. To maximize your time you just need to be sure to get up early the day of and do some research prior to arriving in Hualien City.

There are two methods of getting to Taroko National Park, the first being by combo ticket and the second by taking a direct train. The two are close in cost, with the direct train being the faster and more comfortable option. For more information on transportation between the two cities, consult this expertly written blog.

Josh and I decided before hand that we were going to rent scooters in order to travel at our own pace and have the freedom to chose exactly what areas of the National Park we wanted to explore. Once we arrived at the train station in Hualien City we were approached by the owner of a scooter rental shop and he quickly escorted us to his nearby shop. It cost $500 NTD (or $22 CAD) to rent them for the day and of course they came with helmets #safetyfirst

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If you don’t feel comfortable driving a scooter there are also buses that will take you there and you can learn more about how to catch it here under the <About the shuttle bus in Taroko> heading.

We were feeling adventurous that day so we found our way there using our good friend Google Maps, however my new favourite app Maps.me is also really good for directions and accuracy! Once you are out of the core city it is essentially a straight shot and the whole ride will take you approximately 40 minutes.

On the way to the park the views of the mountains were beautiful but once we reached an area just outside the park, the beauty we were immersed rose to a jaw dropping level.

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We proceeded to the Visitor Centre and got some helpful information from a very friendly park enthusiast. I recommend doing this just to take a break, go to the washroom, or buy a snack and some water.

We then took a left out of the Visitor Centre, went straight for 500 metres and eventually took a right following the signs for Taroko Gorge. We quickly noticed that everyone is required to wear helmets in the park due to the potential of rock slides, luckily we already had ours.

We road along the impressive Taroko Gorge until we arrived at the Swallow Grotto. The potholes found in the cliffs were especially impressive, not to mention the built in springs.

There is a trail you can walk that is about half a kilometre starting from the beginning of the Swallow Grotto, it’s called the Yanzikou Trail and it offers an up close and personal view of this impressive rock formation.

Since we rented scooters, we continued to ride along until we got to Cimu bridge where we stopped to take in the awe-inspiring architecture complimented by the surrounding astounding landscape.

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The rushing grey water that flows throughout these marble mountains is most likely this colour from the rocks and sediment below it, but there are places in the stream where marble rock is exposed and clear blue water is visible. This combination really is stunning in person and despite being completely natural, looks as if it was painted to be that way.

Next we found a waterfall that we got to observe from a nearby (somewhat nervewracking) suspension bridge. It was pretty wonderful to witness this raw and powerful display of nature.

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Below is a map highlighting the major scenic spots within the Taroko Gorge. You can find out more details on the Taroko National Park website including various tour suggestions.

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Personally, Taroko National Park served as a large reminder of how small we as humans really are. Everywhere you look at in this park, from any angle, you are surrounded by mountains and gorges up to 3,000 metres in elevation. The park is literal eye candy, a dazzling visual experience if you will. The greenery, the waterfalls, the shrines, and statues are all sensational and I guarantee you will say the word “WOW” at least five times during your time there. It is trips like these that emphasize how beautiful this world is and how important it is that we enjoy our world’s wonders in a respectful way.

Why You Should Travel While You Are Young.

I have been extremely fortunate to have grown up with a family who has traveled together to parts of Venezuela, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, Dominican Republic, United States of America (RIP), Italy, and our home country of Canada.

Now as a young woman I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to work and live in the country of Taiwan, and since have traveled to Hong Kong, South Korea, and most recently the Philippines.

The traveling I’ve been able to accomplish since living in Taiwan has definitely altered the way I think about and see the world and has only made me want to explore more of it. I strongly believe every young person should travel and spend some time away from home, now let me tell you why:

  1. Travel teaches you about the world in ways a textbook can’t.
  • Sure you’ve read about other countries in one of your global studies or international relations classes in school, but when you actually have the chance to speak and interact with people of the country you are visiting, you learn authentic truths that are often contrary to popular belief. Forming a unique and individual opinion is much more character building then assuming what you’ve read or heard from the news is the complete truth.
  • These experiences abroad become imprinted into your brain and this newfound knowledge provides you with a basic understanding of another culture. The town I was raised in is not abundant in diversity, which until this trip helped to further my cultural ignorance. Traveling has helped me become aware of the distinctness of many ethnicities I once naively assumed were similar, something that I believe is so important. Ignorance is NOT bliss people. 
  • Learning also occurs as you meet the most interesting fellow travellers.  Did you know they speak Luxembourgish in Luxembourg? I would have never guessed that until meeting somebody from there! When you travel with new people you meet you exchange valuable cultural knowledge through your conversations. You begin to understand each others cultural norms and customs, which then allows you to see why they react to situations either similarly or differently then yourself. You now understand that what might seem rude to you is simply average behaviour in that person’s country of origin. And you learn about their home and the countries they’ve visited, which makes you realize that…
  • There is SO much of the world you never thought of visiting because you’ve never really thought about all there is to see on this fascinating planet. This has made me realize that if I don’t travel now, while I’m young, and begin to discover it, I’ll be far less likely to want to do so once I am older.

2. Travel rewards you with the most unique experiences.

  • When you travel to different countries you experience things you could never see or engage in at home. I would have never been able to observe the traditions that take place during the month of Taiwan’s Ghost Festival had I not been here. I likely would have never cared to learn a thing about Hong Kong’s politics had I not been visiting during the time of an important election. Not to mention all of the amazing foods and drinks you never knew you were missing out on!
  • The experiences you have often push you to go outside of what you previously considered your norm. In Taiwan they have a delicacy called, “stinky tofu” and my Taiwanese friends told me that if I did not try it, it would be as if I never lived here. So I tried a food I would normally never would. Did I enjoy the taste? Not exactly… but will I remember the time I tried this local cuisine in an authentic Taiwanese restaurant? Absolutely.

3. Travel gives you perspective.

  • Often as youth we say the phrase “I’m too poor for that” but we really don’t know what it’s like to be poor compared to say young people in the Philippines, where 26 million Filipinos are considered poor, and 12 million below the poverty line.
  • I received a dose of first hand perspective after speaking with local Filipinos (who are the friendliest people) on an island hopping tour. They  were so excited and felt so lucky to be there that day as they explained they’d been saving for 6 months to take part in it. The cost of the tour was 1,200 Philippine Pesos, approximately $30 CAD… Have you ever saved so long for something worth so little? I know I haven’t.
  • Once you pass through a rural village in this country and see the structures people call their homes, and the conditions they live in every day, you realize calling yourself poor is not acceptable. And once you see what other people go through, it makes you want to find real ways to help poor communities around the world. You wonder how people with so little can be so happy, and you self reflect because of it.

4. Travel makes you more responsible and resourceful

  • When visiting a new country I have been surprised with how helpful locals often are with providing directions to tourists. That being said, when traveling you ultimately need to look out for yourself. Traveling has helped me realize the world in fact does not revolve around me. It doesn’t matter if you need to get somewhere to catch a flight, if all of the train tickets are booked, they’re booked. 
  • Meaning you need to find a solution and plan better for next time. Whether thats downloading a map of the area you know you will be in, or formulating a plan A or B in case things go horribly wrong (because odds are, at some point, they will). In this sense, you learn from your mistakes and you learn QUICKLY.

5. Travel makes you more appreciative

  • Vacationing on a budget means staying in hostels aka a room of bunkbeds with complete strangers sharing a small number of bathrooms. Its amazing how inexpensive these places can be (anywhere from $7 to $15 CAD a night) but of course there is a reason as to why.
  • It is in these situations, where the accommodation is not luxurious but enough for you to get by, that you grasp how fortunate you are to live the way you do when you’re at home. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, I will do my best to never take hot showers and toilets you can flush with a button for granted again.
  • The bittersweet aspect of travel is that at the end of your amazing experience you get to return to your regular lifestyle, and although that place remains the same, you will have grown in some way. For me this place currently is Taipei, Taiwan and I feel extremely fortuitous to have chosen a city that has become my second home. While I travel I miss the clean and busy streets filled with kind people and yummy foods.

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One travel lesson that especially resonates with me is not to assume I am guaranteed anything. This principle carries true to many aspects in life but serves as a reminder that we are never guaranteed old age. This begs the question: why wait until you’re older to travel? Why wait until you have more serious obligations and responsibilities to deal with? Maybe you’ll retire later than the average person, but you also will have seen and experienced so many different things!

Taking time off for travel seems to have a negative connotation in North American society. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, a stigma does exist, as often people are perceived to be lazy or crazy. I don’t believe this reaction to be valid because by traveling you are making the effort to learn so much more than you could ever learn from studying, working, or remaining in one place. You also become a person of higher global understanding, something our world needs now more than ever.

Of course we have responsibilities in life, we have to complete our education, pay off our debts, take care of sick family and friends, but when the time in your life allows for it, traveling needs to be at the top of your priority list.

And so fellow millennials (yes I’m looking at you),  instead of buying the newest sports jersey, or Kylie Jenner lip kit, I urge you to save your money. Put it towards something that will continue to repay you for the rest of your life, and develop you into a wiser, happier, more resourceful, and more grateful individual.

I don’t know about you but I refuse to live a life that I reflect upon and wish that I had seen more, done more, and ultimately LIVED more.

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PSA: The definition of young in this article is not unilateral, if you are in good health to travel, and aren’t bound to one location, who cares what your age in physical years may be, I say it’s never too late to get out there and explore!

 

Fear Not Food Lovers

When I talk to people about life in Taiwan I am often bombarded with questions about food.

“But…. what’s the food like over there?”

“What do you eat everyday?!” 

“Is it mainly just rice??”

It’s true that I eat a lot of rice and noodle based dishes, (which I am more than okay with because frankly they are delicious) but I have also found plenty of alternative meal options, that are healthy, scrumptious, and most importantly, diverse!

Taipei is a city with a population of 2.7 million people, so naturally there are restaurants of almost any cuisine one could possibly desire! I’m talking Spanish, Italian, Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, Vietnamese you name it, this city has it.

Recently I decided to try a German restaurant called Oma Ursel’s and it was one of the best meals I have had in a long time!

Oma Ursel’s German Restaurant and Bakery has operated in Taipei since 2004. It’s safe to say they definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to serving freshly cooked food.

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The exterior of the building has an old fairy-tale feel to it and the outdoor patio is extremely quaint and makes you feel as if you are visiting your grandmother’s home. Waitresses dressed in traditional German outfits add to the cultural experience.

Their menu is filled with authentic dishes, with lunch and dinner specials ranging from approximately $300-600 NTD ($13-$25 CAD). Oma Ursel’s offers great value for the freshness, high quality, and accompaniments of their dishes see for yourself and check out their menu here!

When I visited I had fresh fish and spaetzle noodles for dinner; it was delectable.

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The restaurant has homemade vegetable and chicken soups, in addition to fresh salads for appetizers.

For myself, and my fellow dessert lovers out there, the real winner is their dessert selection.

With fresh pastries and pies made each day, your choice of dessert is included in most lunch/ dinner specials and they are all to die for. Don’t forget tea or coffee is also included!

Apple pie and caramel ice coffee. Is there a better way to end a meal? Maybe. But this way is pretty darn good. 

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Coming from an Italian background, most of my family and even many of my friends always have food on the brain. Some firmly believe that they could not survive over here because they believe the food is so “different.”

What they have yet to see is that there are SO many fantastic food options to choose from, even for the pickiest of eaters. So to help debunk this myth I’m going to start writing more about the meals I have and the new foods I indulge in.

Hopefully I’ll provide some knowledge about how delicious authentic Taiwanese cuisine can be while showcasing how diverse the restaurants of Taipei are!

Stay tuned for updates on traditional Taiwanese restaurants, and look out (be glad you are nowhere near my kitchen) for a personal attempt at making a few authentic recipes!

Until then, stay hungry friends!

Oma Ursel’s Restaurant and Bakery Taipei

Menu

Facebook Page

Review by The Taipei Times

 

 

 

A Taste of the Pacific Ocean

Have you ever tasted the Pacific Ocean? Maybe an unexpected wave crashed into you right when you opened your mouth to yell something at a friend or sibling?

I realized this past weekend that fortunately, the Pacific is much less salty than the Atlantic! Why is this relevant you ask? Because recently I chose one windy day to go snorkelling and although I likely swallowed an entire glass of salt water, it was extremely worth it.

My friends Sandra, Shiun and I met at Taipei Main Station and took the 1811 bus to LuoDong! The bus ticket will cost you $110 NTD (and the bus leaves at 8:20, 9:20, and 10:20 AM, so naturally we took the latest one.

CAMERAThe stop for the snorkelling is called Long Dong Port.

The location is remote so before leaving make sure to stock up on food, water, sunscreen, and to bring all necessities: bathing suits, towels, sunglasses, etc.

Once we got off the bus we walked down some bamboo stairs, continued straight for about two minutes, and before long saw a quaint shop on the corner that rented snorkel equipment.

For $70 NTD we rented a snorkel and began the journey to the “Dragon’s Hole” for some underwater adventures! The path to the snorkelling cove is straight from the shop (ProTravelTip: remember to follow the people, the crowd rarely leads you astray) and is a tad difficult to get to, unless your parents put you in rock climbing classes as a child.

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It takes about 15 minutes, and my best advice is to just take your time, wear some running shoes, and look before you step/ jump.

Once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view and will instantly forget how annoying that rock trek was. Place your bags somewhere on the rocks, strap on that snorkel, and jump in!

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The water was perfect temperature for swimming and we quickly found a spot where, what I like to refer to as Dory’s (ahem Finding Nemo ahem), we’re hanging out!

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After swimming around and taking in the bunches of beautiful coral and fish gathered around them, we spotted a rock formation where people we’re jumping off.

It was about two storey’s high so of course we had to jump off of it. After scaling up the rock formation, with the help of two ropes tied to the rock, I quickly took in the view before taking my leap! Oh, and plugging my nose.

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We swam, laughed, and soaked up the sun during lunch while we reflected about just how lucky we were to explore this hidden treasure at so little cost! After all, it’s important to be in the moment, but in that moment it’s also extremely important to reflect and appreciate what you are experiencing.

There are some days in life we wish we could relive because they were THAT awesome, and let me just say that for me, this was definitely one of them.

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Travelling to Long Dong?

First, download BusTracker Taipei from the app store.

On your way home, the 1811 bus can pick you up at the Long Dong Port at 3 PM or 6 PM.

Alternatively, you can take a bus to Keelung (for example bus 791) and then from Keelung buses leave every 10 minutes for Taipei.

Bus 1811: http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Line=3025&Lang=En

 

Typhoon Tyranny!

My Taiwanese experience got a little more authentic after this past Tuesday, September 27th as Typhoon Megi made landfall in Taiwan. And just like Miley Cyrus it came in like a wrecking ball!

Schools were closed, work was cancelled, and most businesses, except for the trusty and ever so populous 7-11’s, were closed.

Typhoon Megi was especially threatening to the country as the centre of the storm passed directly over Taiwan, moving from east to west and beginning in Hualien City.

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Before

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During

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In Hualien it brought ashore winds equal to that of a Category 4 Hurricane.

As the winds and rains of Megi ravaged Taiwan, the effects of the storm were also greatly felt in the west of Taiwan. The island’s Central Weather Bureau showed steady winds of 100km/h in Taichung City with gusts of 198km/h on Tuesday afternoon.

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Before

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The storm even effected Eastern China as multiple mudslides occurred resulting in at least 30 people missing.

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More than 14,700 people were evacuated in Taiwan, while millions lost power and hundreds of thousands of homes were without water. Typhoon Megi killed four people and injured more than 523 in Taiwan in total.

Prime time typhoon season in Taiwan is July to September.However these massive storms are possible from June to October and supposedly are more rare but often more fierce in October.

Check out this video from CNN’s report on Typhoon Megi to get a visual representation of what this country is dealing with.

Luckily for myself I live in Taipei, the capital located in northern Taiwan. The effects of typhoons are not felt too strongly here however within six hours of Megi hitting Taiwan, 75 mm of rain was recorded.

The radius of this storm was large and it’s safe to say it effected Taipei in a greater way then the last two typhoons Meranti and Malakas, who’s force was felt off-shore of Taiwan.

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This was the third typhoon Taiwan has been hit with in the past 2 weeks. Oh and good news folks, my friends tell me theres rumblings of another typhoon for this coming week. Strap in real tight Taiwan, you’re in for another strong shower!

Reports on Typhoon Megi: 

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2016/09/26/2003655949

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/26/asia/typhoon-megi-taiwan-weather/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/29/typhoon-megi-dozens-missing-after-landslide-hits-chinese-village

https://weather.com/storms/typhoon/news/typhoon-megi-forecast-taiwan-china

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-37503174

Taiwanese Mandarin and Hokkien

Traveling to a country different than the one you were born in can often involve dealing with a language barrier.

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In my case, I’ve found this to be too true. Although a large amount of people in Taipei can speak a decent amount of English, it is common for people outside the city to know less, and in both situations there is still not much room for lengthy communication.

I stand by the statement made by Rita Mae Brown when she said that, “Language is the road map of a culture.  It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

Not understanding a certain language can leave you feeling all of the above, but I really believe that you cannot completely understand another culture, or really get to know the people you meet from it it, until you speak their language.

Sure I can have basic conversations with Taiwanese people but even not being able to ask a sales person more than “How much for this?” in Mandarin bothers me.

And just when I thought I was starting to be able to detect the sound of Mandarin. I was walking down my street one day past a place where an elderly man owns a small fruit market.

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He was sitting close to the street talking to what looked like his close friend, only it didn’t sound like Mandarin. After consulting with one of my Taiwanese friends they suggested it was likely Hokkien, which instantly made me wonder, what is Hokkien?

Hokkien is a dialect that descended from old mainstream Chinese. And after some research I realized there’s several variants of the Hokkien language, Taiwanese Hokkien just happens to be one of them! But Medan Hokkien and Singaporean Hokkien also exist as spoken languages in parts of Indonesia today!

The majority of the people who continue this language are elderly Chinese men and women, as Mandarin has become the more commonly used standard. Despite this, author Kuan Eng has created, “My First Book of Hokkien Words” to help continue and teach Singaporean youth the language. hokkien

If you think Mandarin sounds difficult to learn consider the fact that Hokkien has 8 tones, instead of 4 tones like Mandarin. These tones come with strict rules of pronunciation that I think native speakers would agree are no piece of cake to learn.

Mandarin and Hokkien represent just one case of language differences. However there’s even differences between the Mandarin spoken in mainland China and Taiwan!

Often the same words are used but mean completely different things, or the words are simply completely different! Take for example the word “pineapple.” In China it is called bo luo but in Taiwan it is referred to as feng li.

For more on those differences, check out this video.

With so many languages in South Asia that were previously unbeknownst to me, it’s been an interesting struggle to try and learn some basic phrases and comprehend the differences between each.

(Don’t even get me started on the differences between Cantonese and Mandarin)

However this difficult learning experience made me realize that had I never taken this amazing opportunity to travel and work abroad I would likely still have no knowledge of these languages or their existence.

In North America the popular mindset is that English can get you anywhere, and through any circumstance, but I’m here to tell you that simply knowing English will not provide you with a truly deep experience while you travel, so if you have the time and the means, the best advice I can give would be: learn another language. 

For more info about Hokkien:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_Hokkien

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singaporean_Hokkien

A Pokara Kind of Paradise

Because I only have a couple months in Taiwan, I have been making the most of my time in this beautiful country. This means traveling and trying new activities, almost every weekend (life is really tough for me right now, I know).

After a day of relaxing by the beach and exploring the province of Yilan I spent one peaceful night, sleeping under the stars, at Pokara Resort.

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Located in a rural area amongst rice fields, this place truly feels like an oasis. When I walked into the lobby I instantly felt relaxed, and it wasn’t just from the air conditioning, but rather a combination of the calming music playing and the friendly staff waiting to greet me.

I found the lobby beautifully decorated, with elaborate vases and comfortable couches to sit on while the staff processed my passport and checked me into my room.

As I checked in around 4:30 PM there was a selection of tea, coffee, fruit, and treats waiting for me, because I arrived perfectly on time for the afternoon tea hours.

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The interior design at Pokara Resort is extremely well done. Besides the lobby, I especially loved the look of my room. I had a very unique hotel stay experience because my room was actually an outdoor cabin, which I paid a little extra for, but found it to be totally worth it.

The surrounding scenery is gorgeous and the room is equally as stunning! With wooden walls, and flower accents, a nice area to sit by the window, this was definitely no regular hotel room. The room came with all the comforts of a usual indoor hotel room but it’s unique setting really set it apart for me, I had never experienced a room like this before! Another bonus was the extra privacy it provided.

To get to the outdoor cabins you walk through a lovely garden area with comfortable chairs and tables to sit at. One is actually made out of marble and would be great for playing a round of afternoon Euchre, if you’re into card games.

Because the resort was in a rural area I had no problems with sleeping at night. There was no noise coming from the streets, just the faint sound of crickets at night and birds in the morning. It was nice to feel the morning sun and take a quick walk through the garden before eating breakfast.

img_6339Leading me to my next topic of breakfast. To some, this might not be so important, but to a food lover such as I, a hotel with good food is a prerequisite. At Pokara Resort I was definitely pleased with their morning food offering!

Besides scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, and toast with their homemade garlic butter (essentially garlic bread minus the cheese) they also have some true Taiwanese dishes that I thoroughly enjoyed. These range from Taiwanese braised pork rice, boiled sweet potato leaves, and rice porridge, if you’re into foreign cuisine you won’t wanna miss out. They also had fresh tea and most importantly to me, a coffee machine that used fresh beans to make the delicious (and necessary) beverage.

Pokara Resort offers free bicycle rentals to their guests and I really appreciated this feature as I biked to the nearby beach! These vessels gave me a more authentic experience as they allowed me to explore the nearby town and countryside on my own time.

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Besides this, the staff service really blew me away. They spoke limited English but tried their best to communicate, using Google translate so that I could understand what they were trying to tell me. They were extremely friendly, helped me with my luggage and even wrote out the names of local restaurants in English for me. They effort was extraordinary and they also escorted me by shuttle to the bus station on the morning of my check out!

If you find yourself in the North of Taiwan, you should make the province of Yilan a priority to get to, but more importantly, staying at Pokara Resort should be at the top of your list: http://www.pokara.com.tw/en/index.php

 

Yunoyado Onsen Hotel Puts You First

Recently, I have had the pleasure of working at Yunoyado Onsen Hotel located in the town of Jiaoxi, Taiwan.

I wanted to express my gratitude towards the hotel staff and also express how fortunate I feel to have been able to work in such a positive and welcoming environment.

The moment I walked into Yunoyado Onsen for my first day of work, I felt at home. Most of the staff can speak English and even those who don’t consistently go out of their way to make me feel comfortable in this new work environment.

I have been a witness to the kindness they extend not only towards employees but also towards guests. They treat each and every visitor to the hotel with the ultimate level of respect, as they greet people at the door and help them carry in their luggage. They exceed service expectations of a typical hotel, providing guests with local secrets on how to see the best attractions, bottles of water, towels if its raining, and much more.

One of my favourite aspects of the job has been working in such a beautiful building! The hotel was built one year ago and features modern Japanese style decor and design. There is a pond outside the main entrance to the hotel that features large koi fish and fresh plants.

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The lobby is sleek and exudes a natural vibe, the exterior of the front desk resembles a log and the wood is actually from Myanmar. The seating area looks as though it was freshly carved from a tree!

The rooms in the hotel are quite nice. Personally, the most appealing aspect are the spacious showers and modern style bathtubs found in the different styles of rooms the hotel offers.

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For me , Yunoyado Onsen hotel has provided a sanctuary; it serves as my retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Taipei.

One of the best parts of working at this particular hotel is being able to indulge in the complimentary tea and homemade treats, which all guests are of course invited to do as well. Between the various cookies, pastries and the different types of tea, (Nepalese black tea pictured here), it’s safe to say my taste bud’s have been quite the happy bunch since I started my internship.

One of the greatest features of the hotel, in my opinion, is the rooftop patio. This space provides a great view of the surrounding Jiaoxi mountains. Each day I make sure to take advantage as during my break I often enjoy relaxing up there. After looking at screens all day long, it’s nice to just look out into the town and see the nature behind it.

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Although I have not yet gotten to take advantage of this, there are also hot spring tubs that guests can enjoy and soak their feet in after a long day of travelling. In comparison to North American hotels, this amenity is very unique. Even more interesting is that the water found in the hot springs of Jiaoxi is actually very rare because it is extremely rich in minerals such as sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Naturally, the hot springs in Jiaoxi provide many health benefits for users.

SO, if you’re ever in Taiwan, I implore you to visit the province of Yilan and in particular Yunoyado Onsen Hotel in Jiaoxi Township; the hotel is quite convenient to access as it is close to the city’s bus and train stations. Just like mine have, your expectations will not only be met, but exceeded. You’ll enjoy a relaxing atmosphere enhanced by friendly staff members, modern design, and a high standard of quality and overall service.

I am so grateful for the kind and hospitable treatment I have received and I guarantee after staying here you will feel the same. For an English version of their website visit: https://www.agoda.com/yunoyado-onsen-hotel/hotel/yilan-tw.html?

 

Jiaoxi Hot Springs 

http://www.jiaoxi-tourism.tw/Portal/Content.aspx?lang=2&p=201020001

http://enwww.e-land.gov.tw/cp.aspx?n=471BF3A523D05BB2&s=4C874B0C0A621518

The Ghost Festival

As August comes to an end I wanted to highlight what this month really means to the majority of the people living in Taiwan.

The Hungry Ghost Festival in Taiwan, also known as Zhong Yuan Jie ( 盂蘭節), is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival. In the Chinese calendar, (which is lunisolar) the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh month but according to the Gregorian calendar, which is used in Taiwan, it occurs on the 15th night of the eighth month.

ghost-festival

During this month it is believed by many that ghosts and spirits, even those of deceased ancestors, visit the living. It is said there are two kinds of spirit that visit: the good, called shén (神) and the bad, called guĭ (鬼).

Bad spirits are described as those who died an untimely death. To appease their suffering, feasts are prepared in their honour so that no harm may come towards family members still living. Large meals, often of the vegetarian variety, are placed on long tables that are made up as if someone is actually about to eat from them!  Water and towels can also be left for dead spirits, so that they may cleanse themselves.

Other rituals can include burning incense, joss paper, and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the ghosts, spirits, or ancestors who may be lost in the spirit world.

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On the last day of the month it is said that the ghost gate to the world of the living closes. To conclude Ghost Month or Zhong Yuan Jie, there is an event called grappling with the ghosts, held each year in the city of Toucheng, in the province of Yilan.

Picture a real life version of Disney’s Mulan, recall the scene where she climbs up the tree trunk, except now its a greased up tree trunk  with not just one person but a group of Taiwanese men trying to get to the top using only a cloth and each other to boost them up.

mulan-traininggrappling with ghosts

After they reach the top they must swing themselves over an elevated platform, and then scramble up bamboo lattices to be the first to cut down a flag. The team who wins receives cash prizes and admiration! Often winners sell the flags to fishing boat captains who believe that the flags will protect their boats and employees through another year.

Crowds of people gather to watch the different teams, where it seems both food and music is enjoyed. Here’s footage from last years event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GunohPGgqk

In case you want to visit Taiwan during this month, here’s an interesting list of just some activities that you should and/ or shouldn’t do:

1.DON’T go swimming : arguably the most popularly followed rule, it is believed evil spirits who may have drowned will try to gain a chance at rebirth.

On the plus side, if you’re a nonbeliever you’ll have the beach to yourself.

2. DON’T just turn your head around if someone pats you on the shoulder

It is believed that the living have two protective flames, one on each shoulder. If a ghost pats you on the back and you only turn your head, you’ll snuff out a protective flame, thus making you vulnerable. To avoid this, turn the whole body at once instead of just the head.

3. DO consider being a vegetarian for the month

Those of the Buddhist faith abide by this to help absolve the sufferings of the deceased.

Luckily, Taiwan has an abundance of yummy vegetarian restaurants to choose from. 

4. DO burn hell notes

Burning joss (blank) paper on the sidewalk or in front of ones house is an offering to ones ancestors and on the 15th is considered a gesture of good will towards lonely spirits.

 

And probably my favourite,

 

5. DON’T pee on a tree!

Apparently, it is believed that urinating on a tree could anger tree spirits who will seek vengeance upon you!

Personal belief here but you should probably always follow this one? Just saying…

 

Want to learn more? Continue your quest for knowledge here:

Ghost Festival( Hungry Ghost Festival )

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Festival

Top 10 taboos to avoid during Ghost Month in Taiwan

http://focustaiwan.tw/news/aedu/201508130025.aspx

Chinese Vocabulary for Ghost Month

http://www.fluentu.com/chinese/blog/2014/07/24/chinese-vocabulary-words-ghost-month/

Grappling With the Ghosts 

http://www.go2taiwan.net/ghost_month.php