To Infinity and Beyond at Wanli

The date was September 24, 2016. It was a Saturday, but not your average sleep in, watch Netflix, and run some errands kind of Saturday.

After persuading my roommate Greg to join me, I was starting to get nervous as I lay awake in bed. The hour was 8: 45 AM, and it was time for me to get ready.

After throwing on some athletic gear and making a quick breakfast we were out the door and on our way to our high flying adventure.

We met a large group of fellow adrenaline seekers at the Taipei Main Bus Station’s Terminal A to take Kuo-Kuang bus 1815.

Our destination? Wanli, New Taipei. Our mission? To run off a cliff, float 200 feet in the air, and capture some amazing views.

The bus to Wanli took approximately 40 minutes, and to me it felt even faster as I thought more and more about what I was about to do. But believe me there was no way I was going to let myself back out (I told too many of my friends, I’d never live it down).

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-6-39-13-pm

When we arrived at our destination we got off the 1815 bus and shuttle vans promptly picked us up to take us up the mountain to the take off sight!

Five minutes later at the top we suited up in our paragliding harnesses, and helmets!

Naturally, I chose a Hello Kitty one.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-6-44-09-pm

We worked with members of Mustang Paragliding Club that day and they were amazing! They made you laugh and feel calm, were very organized, and even gave you a selfie stick and a go-pro to use during your flight! Afterwards the 8G micro SD card was yours to keep, who doesn’t love free micro SD cards?! 

This shuttle service, provided by the Mustang Club, was organized by an organization called Taiwan Adventure Outings and they were responsible for this flawless event!

They purchased our bus tickets ahead of time so all we had to do was get on the bus and pay them there. They negotiated a group price for us that was extremely reasonable at $1,500 NTD or a little less than $65 CAD.

If you’re in Taiwan and are looking to do some adrenaline or nature based trips, Dustin and Ryan at Taiwan Adventure Outings are your guys! Check out their fan page and even look up their group on Facebook to see the paragliding and many other awesome trips they hold each weekend!

My paragliding experience was 6 minutes of pure bliss. There was no time for serious nerves as the take off happened so quickly that once I got in the air I was just so happy to be up there!

14462827_10157436383500175_7382034236960875261_n

Looking straight I saw the beautiful blue water of the Pacific Ocean, behind me were lush green mountains, and below there was a town that appeared to be micro-sized. The sky was so clear you could see for miles, once I was in the air I really did not want the flight to end.

14462830_10157436383525175_2663857658643663693_nscreen-shot-2016-09-28-at-7-04-28-pm

My guide was extremely kind and really fun to float with, during the flight he had us going in circles, going up and down, and I loved every second of it! To catch a short video of my amazing experience, check out my latest Instagram: @careolinadoidge or my Facebook page !

I can’t even describe how happy I am that I went through with paragliding. This experience proved to be a reminder that sometimes you just gotta suck up some courage and go for it!

Its common to complain about feeling bored or too comfortable in our routines. I think its important to think about what we can do to change that, it can start with something small and simple, or be something more drastic. For me the important thing was all about stepping outside my comfort zone and pushing myself to do something I wouldn’t normally do.

 Lululemon advocates it, and going forward I’m going to try and abide by it. Do something this week that scares you or pushes you, and afterwards see how you feel.

 

OH and in case you want to get back to Taipei Main Station: Catch the 1815 Bus!

Here’s the schedule and listed stops: http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=8236

 

Advertisements

Taiwanese Mandarin and Hokkien

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

cute-languages

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.

img_7452

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.

2016-08-08-16-34-56

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.

img_6324

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.

img_6320

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.

img_6829

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.

img_7448

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.

img_6879

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.

ghost-money

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

 

 

Dusk at Elephant Mountain

As a girl from a small town surrounded by Lake Huron, I have seen my fair share of beautiful sunsets. However perhaps one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen took place from my view at Elephant Mountain, just about a 15 minute walk from the famous Taipei 101.

DCIM107GOPROElephant Mountain is the most famous of the Four Beast Mountain collection, which also includes Tiger, Leopard, and Lion Mountains.

There are actually two more mountains on this trail system called Nangang Shan and Jiuwu Peak that rise behind the beasts. Elephant  Mt. happens to be the part of the trail that links all these together.

Not only is this view of the city spectacular, it is also easily accessible by a 20 minute walk up the mountain (not to mention its free!!) The path to this glorious sight is made of stairs that are well maintained and include a railing so although steep, its not too difficult if you just go at your own pace.

IMG_6702

Although it will likely be busy the best time to go is during the late afternoon around 5-5:30 PM so that you can catch the sunset in Taipei, which currently occurs approximately 20 minutes after 6 PM (double check with your best pal Google). If you want to see the city landscape in daylight light, go earlier!

To get there by MRT, take the Red line 2 to its terminus, Xiangshan Station. You will be instructed to get off the Subway around the Da’an stop, but fear not, another car will be along shortly to take you to the end of the line, simply step off and wait for it.

Once you arrive at Xiangshan, take exit 2 out of the station and continue walking straight. You will notice a park and basketball courts to your left as you walk. Follow the signs for Xiangshan Hiking Trail and you won’t have any problems! When you reach the end of the road, walk across the street before you take a left, and follow both the fellow hikers and the corresponding signs. After a short distance turn right and soon you will have arrived at the base of the Xiangshan Hiking Trail.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 1.07.41 PM

Take a swig of water, tie up those laces and prepare to be amazed.

You will come to a point on the trail where there is a picture taking pavilion. Although crowded there’s an unwritten code, people take their pictures and then move out of the way so that others may do the same. Be patient and you too will have your turn!

IMG_6710

To get the TRUE  birds eye view continue UP the path for not much longer and you will proceed to be amazed at how much of the city is visible.

In the backdrop you see mountains. In the foreground you see the impressive infrastructure of Taipei. Look right, left, and backwards; you will see greenery and perfect picture taking boulders to stand on.

Take pictures, take video, and then a deep breath and savour this moment because it really is so so breathtakingly beautiful.

IMG_6718

Once you take it all in I suggest walking back down to the pavilion area to get a great shot of the city lights after dusk. I guarantee you’ll be thinking about this scene the entire walk down, if not for the rest of the night. Did I mention you can see all this for free??

IMG_6760

To get a similar shot, have your camera ready between 6:30-7 PM, focus on the right side of your view and afterward use some good ole Instagram editing to really make the colours of that sky pop!

Wondering where this information came from? See for yourself! 

Elephant Mountain

https://guidetotaipei.com/visit/elephant-mountain-%E8%B1%A1%E5%B1%B1-xiangshan

Taipei Metro
 
The Four Beast Mountains
 
Xiangshan Taipei

A Golden Day in Jiufen

This past weekend I explored the former gold mining town of Jiufen! With one day to visit I decided to peruse its well known Gold Museum and Old Street.

Located approximately 70 minutes from Taipei, this quaint town and its Japanese influence are definitely worth seeing during your stay in Taipei.

You can take a taxi or uber (YES they have uber in Taiwan and it is quite cheap!!) However, beware of additional charges to your Credit Card or PayPal account.

If you’re on a budget, bus or train is the way to go!

I met my friends Sandra and Helen at the MRT exit 1 of the Zhongxiao FuXing station and we got a little lost trying to find where to catch the Keelung Transit #1062 bus that goes to Jiufen…

Cue super detailed bus stop finding instructions:

Walk out of exit 1 and take a sharp right out of the exit stairs, (walk in the opposite direction you came out of) towards FuXing S. Road, Section 1.

Fashionistas, you will notice an ESPIRT on the corner if you look to your left.

Take the cross walk past FuXing S. Road, then continue past another side street and a Watson’s (both to your left). Walk beyond MRT Exit 4 for Zhongxiao FuXing station and keep on trekking until you see an area with multiple bus stops. Remember: fellow travellers will be a sign that you’re in the right place.

FYI: DaAn Road, Section 1 and Zhongxiao East Road is the closest intersection visible from the stop.

It will cost you $90 NTD to get to Jiufen or if you have an Easy card (another thing I highly advise getting as it provides use to Taipei’s subways, buses, and bike systems) it charges $45 each way.

  • Travel tip 1: If you’re staying awhile and will have a cell phone plan with data, download the app “Bus Tracker”for Taipei. It will save you so much stress and time.
  • Travel tip 2: Once the 1062 bus comes (approx every 10 minutes during the day time) try to snag a seat on the left side of the bus, you’ll be able to catch some amazing views (and even pictures with a good enough camera) on the way up to Jiufen!
  • Travel tip 3: You’re going to want to take pictures ALL day so buy or bring a portable charger for your phone, your future self will thank your current self for this.

When I arrived at the museum I can say it honestly wasn’t what I was expecting. My newfound friends and I quickly realized that it was not your typical museum set up but for us, this was extremely refreshing! We paid $80 NTD (or $3.25 Canadian) and off we went!

The exhibits had interactive components and my favourite had a large piece of gold you could touch in addition to a lot of fascinating information about the city and its mines during World War Two.

My favourite aspect of the day was wondering around the grounds and looking at all of the natural beauty this bird’s eye perspective provided.

After a nice lunch at a cute cafe on the museum grounds we headed back to the bus stop where we waited for a bus ($15 NTD) to take us to the heart of Jiufen to stroll through the Old Street.

Travel tip 4: If you don’t enjoy crowds or have serious claustrophobia it will be best to visit this street in the early afternoon on a week day, or avoid it all together. The street is busiest on weekends at night.IMG_6672

Personally, I loved Jiufen’s Old Street. Visit and you will find vendor after vendor selling different types of tea, meats, treats, and so much more! The shops ranged from selling post cards to fine jewellery; it was quite impossible for your eyes to ever be bored.

After browsing the streets we stumbled upon a delicious restaurant where we enjoyed pork dumplings, beef with vegetables and fresh shrimp fried rice (not pictured because we were so hungry there was no time). This had to be my favourite meal I have had in Taiwan so far!

To find it, take the Old Street road and when you come to a point where you can go up or down, walk down and it will eventually be on your left, shortly before the end of the stairs!

Travel tip 5: On a weekend it is difficult to get back to Taipei by bus due to the amount of tourists. SO If you don’t want to wait amongst the restless crowds hop on a bus to Keelung and take the train back to Taipei. Keelung also has it’s amazing Miaokou Night Market, a great way to end your day!

It’s safe to say, with its breathtaking views, interesting shops, and delicious food Jiufen stole a piece of my heart this past weekend.

Where did this information come from? See for yourself! 

Taiwan bus route (1062)

http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=4479

MRT Taipei

http://english.metro.taipei/

Jiufen Gold Museum

https://www.travelking.com.tw/eng/tourguide/taipei/museum-of-gold-jiufen.html

http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/m1.aspx?sNo=0002091&id=4135

City Of Sadness Restaurant

http://tour.ntpc.gov.tw/page.aspx?wtp=3&wnd=338&id=E3_382000000A_008629

http://ilovedino.blogspot.tw/2009/01/lets-go-to-jiufen.html

Movie:A City of Sadness

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

Miaokou Night Market

https://www.travelking.com.tw/eng/tourguide/taipei/keelung-miaokou-night-market.html