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9 Days in Taiwan: Day 4

Posted by on Sep 4, 2012 in Enjoying Life, Travel | 0 comments

Day 4 started off with plans to travel to Haulien. However, since we had a couple of hours before we needed to catch the train, we explored the neighborhood around the hotel.

About a block away there was a street with several shops selling various types of herbs, dry good, and bulk foods. Apparently it was an area where shops and restaurants go to get their supplies. There were some pretty exotic things like dried sea cucumbers and various types of roots, bark, and twigs. To be honest, there was also a lot that I just couldn’t identify.

Eventually we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags and headed to the train station. When we tried to buy our ticket we found out that there were no open seats available. The ticket is the same price to stand, and you can sit when seats open up. I only had to stand for about the first 15-20 minutes and was able to get a seat after that. Once we got away from Taipei there were actually very few people on the train.

About three hours later we finally arrived in Hualien. Hualien is a small town located in between the ocean and a mountain range and is especially known for those two things.

We had about a 15 minute walk to our hotel, which was actually pretty nice. At this point we were pretty hungry so we walked to a shop we had passed and had some meat and shrimp dumplings and soup. We were completely full and had only spent about $3.

After lunch/dinner we took the free rental bikes that were available from the hotel and headed for the main strip. At first, riding in traffic was a little difficult, but we got a hold of it quickly. The strip was really busy and it was hard to look at everything and not get run over at the same time. So we left the strip and headed for the night market.

Along the way we came across this temple. It was surrounded by ponds with lots of flying bugs. Luckily, there were also lots of bats eating them.

The night market wasn’t very big compared to the ones in Taipei, but it was the funnest of them all. There were a bunch of games and and they were all very cheap. Including the mango juice we had, I think we spent about $10. We also did archery. Everyone was really nice and all the games were pretty fair. We seemed to win something just about every time we played.

After the night market, we headed to the rock crafters village to see traditional taiwanese dancing. I loved their dancing and even got to participate. The music and the dancing are very happy and upbeat.

At this point we were pretty tired, and decided to go back to the hotel. Tomorrow we head up into the mountains to see the amazing swallow tunnels and beautiful scenery.

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9 Days in Taiwan: Day 3

Posted by on Aug 28, 2012 in Enjoying Life, Travel | 0 comments

Day three started out with my friend in Taiwan meeting us at the hotel. She took a day off work to show us around Taipei and also to take us to Jiufen. I hadn’t seen my friend in many years and she made the trip much funner.

Jiufen is located in the mountains about an hour’s ride from Taipei. From our hotel it took two trains and a bus to get to Jiufen and about $5 or so in cost. The fact that it is a combination of temples and small shops in the mountains makes it a great place to go, but the biggest reason it is such a tourist attraction is because of the movie “Spirited Away”. Hayao Miyazaki used one of the buildings in Jiufen as inspiration for the buildings in his movie “Spirited Away”.

After we got off the bus, we headed down the small pathway lined on each side by a shops. A lot of the shops were food shops and so there was a large array of smells. The only one I had a problem with was the stinky tofu. When I say stinky, I mean hold my breath and walk faster! My friend kept teasing me to eat it, but since she wouldn’t eat it herself I never really felt that much pressure.

We also came across a cool little museum where you could see some older Taiwanese stuff and try on some Taiwanese costumes. It was more of a house than a museum, but it was a lot of fun.

After walking through the shops for a while we got a little worn out and decided to get some lunch. We found a cafe that overlooked the canyon and had a delicious lunch. Mine consisted of various sandwiches topped with a sweet mustard and cocoa with oats. We enjoyed the air conditioning for a little while longer and then took a different path to go see the “Spirited Away” building.

At first glance I wasn’t really that impressed. I was expecting more of a city than I was a single building. Once we finally got some distance, and could see the entire building, it was very beautiful. I wouldn’t say it’s worth going to see just the building, but the entire experience was great.

We walked up and down the trails and through the shops quite a few times and were all pretty tired. We got on the next bus back to Taipei so we could go to the large clothes shopping area.

I’m not sure about the name of this place, but it’s basically where a lot of stores come to get their clothes. Because of this you can find some pretty good deals. It was mostly women’s clothing, which made it very fun for the girls and extremely boring for me. After what seemed like an eternity at the market, we headed to dinner.

The restaurant we went to was called Umeko and was a traditional Taiwanese cuisine restaurant. A lot of it was pretty similar to Japanese food and was really good. There were only a few things that I didn’t really care for.

After dinner we said our goodbyes to our friend and headed back to our hotel by taxi. Tomorrow would be our last day in Taipei and I was already starting to miss it.

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9 Days in Taiwan: Day 2

Posted by on Aug 26, 2012 in Enjoying Life, Travel | 0 comments

After a good breakfast at the hotel, day two started out with us on our way to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. However, on our way to the station, we came across a small outdoor market and decided to check it out.

The best way to describe the market would be a farmer’s market, but there were some shops selling regular everyday products as well. I was most impressed with the displays of meat and fruits. Some of which I hadn’t seen before.


I also liked the prices, which were about half to one-third what they are here in Japan. Everything seemed like a bargain. So much stuff to eat and only so much room in my stomach. We finally decided that it wouldn’t make sense to buy anything, since we had a full day of sightseeing ahead of us, and went to the station.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall was about a 10-15 minute train ride from our station. I have lived in Japan for quite a few years now and have seen a lot of temples and shrines. The size of these buildings were quite massive, but it was how people were using them that really intrigued me. There were various groups (kung fu, dance, taichi, yoga, aerobics, etc), using the outsides of the buildings and everyone was completely respectful of one another. Also, notice how clean everything is?

Being in the center of this square surrounded by these buildings was really amazing. It’s felt like it was straight out of a Jet Li movie. The Memorial Hall in the front, the National Concert Hall and Theatre Hall on the sides, and a large white gate (The Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness) at the back. I really wish I could have spent more time there, but we had a bunch of other places to go, so on we went.

The next stop was into one of the popular shopping areas where we got tapioca drinks (milk tea with jelly-like balls at the bottom). I absolutely love these drinks and  had two to three each day I was in Taiwan. It’s usually cheaper to get a drink form a shop than to get one out of a vending machine.

After walking around town for a while my wife and I decided to get a foot massage. This was one of the less fun things that I did on the trip. It was very painful and not very relaxing at all. It wasn’t too expensive, but I think I would rather spend my money doing something else. As soon as we left the massage parlor it started pouring.

We thought that the rain wouldn’t last too long, but it actually got worse after about 15-20 minutes. The lightning was so close that the thunder was setting off car alarms, and at one point, the street we were on lost power for a couple of seconds.

We eventually gave up waiting for the rain to end and purchased some cheap rain jackets at 7-11. It had been a long time since I had worn a rain jacket and I felt like I was in the movie “Dude Where’s My Car” (if you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about).

As we headed back to the station we came across a beautiful little temple. I don’t know it’s name, but it was well lit up made for some beautiful pictures. There wasn’t much light because of the cloud cover, which made all the lights stand out even more.

After visiting the temple we took a taxi to the Din Tai Fung dumpling shop. We had to wait about 10- 15 minutes as this is a very popular restaurant, but the dumplings were very good. However, I don’t believe they were particularly special. I think that most restaurants in Taiwan will probably have pretty good dumplings. Since so many tourists go there, most of the staff can speak either Japanese or English.

If you are in the area, I would say check this place out. If not, just find the closest dumpling shop and enjoy!


We left the restaurant satisfied and full, and walked around the surrounding neighborhood to see what else we could find. After a short walk, we came across a juice stand that was selling watermelon juice. To be perfectly honest, this didn’t really seem that appealing to me, but my Chinese teacher said it was the thing she missed most about China. I paid about a dollar and got my juice. It wasn’t anything super special, but it was actually pretty good.

After walking a little further we came across a sweets shop and ordered some mango ice cream. I was completely full at this point, but come on, it’s ice cream. It was good, but by the time we left the shop I felt completely bloated. More food was the last thing on my mind.

Up to this point we had a very busy day. Had we decided to head back to the hotel for some rest and dinner it would have been a full day. Instead, we decided to go to Taipei 101. Taipei 101 is the name of the largest building in Taiwan (the largest in the world when it was built). It was the first building to cross the 500 meter mark and the observatory sits at nearly 400 meters. We arrived by taxi and and then paid the roughly $15 it costs for a ticket to the top.

Looking out the window of Taipei 101 is a bit weird. Rather than looking out of a tall building, it has more of a feeling of looking out of a plane. It was so high that I didn’t feel a fear of heights. It was more like looking at a miniture Taipei.

It’s beautiful during the day (even though the weather could have been better), but it is gorgeous at night.

After you leave the observatory, you are forced to go through a museum/gift shop where they take one last shot at getting you to buy something. It’s hard to complain though because everything was just so beautiful. An amazing mix of jade, coral, gold, and other types of rare jewels and rocks.

After popping our ears about a thousand times on the elevator ride down, we finally exited Taipei 101 and captured this shot. That day it was purple, but it actually lights up a different color each day.

We were much too tired at this point to go out for dinner, so we stopped at one of the street vendors near our hotel. The top is a type of tofu and the second picture is kind of a Taiwanese burrito. I was pretty full so I just had another tapioca milk tea.

Tomorrow we meet up with a friend and head to the mountains to see the building that Miyazaki used in his animated film “Spirited Away”

Taiwan Day 3



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9 Days in Taiwan: Day 1

Posted by on Aug 24, 2012 in Enjoying Life, Travel | 0 comments










On August 11th my wife and I left Miyako and headed to Naha airport on our way to Taiwan. The flight was actually the opposite direction we wanted to go, but there are no international flights from Miyako island. So, we had a forty minute flight to Naha and then an hour and 30 minute flight to Taipei. Being used to travelling back and forth from the US and Japan, this wasn’t bad at all.

I had been told that the people in Taiwan were friendly, and this can be felt as soon as you arrive at the airport. I have never talked with such a pleasant immigration officer. Rather than looking at me suspiciously, she stamped my passport and welcomed me to the country. We left immigration behind and got on a bus headed to Taipei station (the airport is located about 1 hour away).

Arriving at Tokyo station on a Sunday night, I was surprised at how quite and calm it was. I lived and worked in Tokyo for three years, and just about any station will be loud and packed on a Sunday night. Instead, there were small groups of all ages who were sitting in a large open area near the ticket machines. Being used to the craziness of Tokyo, the whole scene seemed surreal. We were also shocked at how clean the entire place was.

We got on our train and had no difficulty figuring out our station. Everything is well marked and most things are written in English. As long as you know the name of the station it’s really easy.

If you are wondering what Tokyo is like, look at the picture below and imagine three times as many people.

After exiting the station we opened our map to try and find our hotel. The very first person who walked by and saw us, asked where we were going and offered to help. As we were looking at the map with him, an older lady also stopped to ask if we needed help. He pointed us in the right direction and even walked with us a while to make sure we went the right way. I mentioned the Taiwanese people are nice right? Even the people at the convenient store we stopped at were very nice and welcoming.

We checked into our hotel, who also spoke Japanese as well as English, and called it a night. Tomorrow we will visit some small markets, national sites, and Taipei 101. We have a busy day ahead of us.

You can find Day 2 here: Taiwan Vacation Day 2

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I’m a Beginner

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Enjoying Life, Personal Development | 1 comment

It’s interesting that many of us want to avoid the stage of being a beginner, when in fact it is actually something we should try to prolong.

Think of all the advantages of being a beginner.

  • You have the freedom to make mistakes
  • The ability to make mistakes allows you to practice and become better
  • The freedom to try new methods
  • You have a more open mind, and aren’t held back by what is possible
  • You are more flexible and can change more easily
  • There is less pressure

So what are the negatives of being a beginner.

  • Learning new things can be frustrating, especially if everyone is ahead of you
  • Pride. We don’t like to be labeled the beginner

Obviously you can’t be a beginner forever, but you can think like one.

Once we get to a certain level, we start to take pride in what we know. This pride slows down our learning because we are less likely to want to admit that someone else might know more than us. If you can get past your pride you will realize that it is perfectly okay to say “I don’t know”, and ask others for advice and help. Especially if they are beginners who may be able to offer a unique perspective.

This is something I learned studying Japanese. When I first started learning, I would get help from anyone. Anything I could learn was great. However, once I got better, I felt I had to show a certain level of fluency to demonstrate my level. I felt that if I asked a question, people would think that I didn’t know as much as they thought. I had pride in my level of Japanese. Not being able to ask questions meant that my learning dramatically slowed down as well.

So here is the secret I figured out. I was the only one who felt that way, not the people I was worried about.Most people are usually much more impressed by someone who isn’t afraid to keep learning, than someone who acts as if they know it all.

You won’t be able to stay a beginner forever (at least not in other people’s eyes), but you can keep the beginner mindset. Not only will you learn more, you will have  lot more fun without the pressure of trying not to look like one.

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3 Weeks Back in the US

Posted by on Jan 23, 2012 in Enjoying Life | 1 comment

It had been three years since I had last been to the US, and so it was great to visit my friends and family, and do a little shopping and sightseeing. The trip back home inluded four planes and a four hour drive, so we were pretty tired when we finally got there.

The next few days went by in a whirlwind of shopping and christmas parties. We also went shopping in some of the cooler places like the K Street Mall, which is located in Old Sacramento. The weather was great (though a bit too dry for this time of year), and having christmas in America was a ton of fun.  After christmas I went with my friends to Tahoe, where we drove completely around the lake. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do anything in the snow because there simply wasn’t any.

Before my trip ended I had a chance to go to the river,  shoot an airsoft rifle, ride a dirt buggy, go over the golden gate bridge, eat at an Afganistan restaurant, and more. Here are some of the pictures I took. I’ll have another post soon talking about something that was really disappointing to me on this trip.


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