Friday in Taipei

It’s Friday! Pretty much everyday this week has felt like Friday for me but I know Luke was totally stoked. Luke didn’t start classes until the afternoon so we started this morning at Starbucks (of which there are plenty in Taipei).

Luke studied his flashcards

And I studied the Lonely Planet

We parted ways on the MRT, Luke headed home for lunch and I headed to Shilin to check out the Community Services Center.

The Center is dedicated to helping out expats in Taiwan. I went to find out about volunteer opportunities and also where we can adopt a cat. I loaded up on brochures with activities around Taipei. It seems as though I will have no trouble filling my days.

After the Center I walked around Shilin a bit. There were some really nice furniture shops that I want to take Luke back to.

I saw this shop for what I thought were baby clothes but on second glance I realized it was selling outfits for small dogs

I also stopped in the Carrefour there as I read about this fantastic hypermart in my Lonely Planet. It was huge – 2 floors of groceries, home electronics, cosmetics, you name it. It also had a really good-looking selection of fresh fish – better than I have seen anywhere else.

After the hypermarket I jumped back on the MRT and headed home. In the station I saw this great sign and had to take a sneaky photo

Back in Da’an I was feeling a bit hungry so stopped in at Bread Societe for a snack

I couldn’t resist these guys

The mouse was just a basic sweet white bread but there was more to the smiley panda than meets the eye

A delicious almond, chocolate, raisin filling.

I’m not sure what we’ll do for our first Friday night in Taipei. It’s been a big week so we might just have a quite one at home.

Ten Thousand Books and Ten Thousand Miles

There is an old saying in Chinese, ‘Read ten thousand books, and walk ten thousand miles’ which tells us that you can obtain knowledge by studying and traveling. This is exactly how I intend to get to know Taiwan – through reading and walking (and taxis, buses, and the MRT). I started today.

Miles

I walked about 5 miles all up today. I started out at our apartment and walked to the Taipei Main MRT Station. Here are the photos from the walk.

After I reached the Main Station, I jumped on the MRT and took it to the Zhongxiao Dunhua Station to scope out a yoga studio I found online.

The studio was very nice  – probably too nice for what I am looking for. It felt like I was in some posh yoga spaceship. There were seven different studios (all with incredible city views) and three women’s changing rooms! They even had a lounge you could hang out in and use free wi-fi. Some of the classes are taught in English which is a bonus but the membership fee (which is on a yearly basis) is astronomical so I probably won’t be joining.

Books

After leaving the Namaste spaceship I started walking back towards Da’an and came across a familiar name ‘Eslite’. I remembered reading about Eslite bookstores on an online forum for Taipei. It is the Taiwanese equivalent of Barnes and Nobles. I also read that they have a good English selection so I decided to check it out.

It took me awhile to locate the English section as it is a huge bookstore.

I came across a section on learning Chinese and spent a good half hour trolling through the selection. There have been so many times over the past week where I wished I knew Mandarin. I can stumble my way through an exchange of goods for money but, if I am going to last four years here, I will need to be able to say more then ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, goodbye’, ‘no’ and ‘yes’. So I am going to start on my ten thousand books with these two Chinese ones.

Bulk Shopping and Full Bellies

Our first few days have been hectic. Since Luke is already knee-deep in study I have been in charge of getting to know our surrounding area and setting up house. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve clocked a lot of Km’s around the city.

I took the Metro (the ‘MRT’).

Street view from the MRT

I was very impressed with the MRT. It’s very clean, so cheap, and very, very easy to use.  No Mandarin required. We’ve taken quite a few taxis already which are also very cheap and a good option for getting to places where the MRT doesn’t go.

I got off the MRT close to Taipei 101 as I wanted to get a better look at the building. It’s  phenomenal.

Towering presence

I didn’t go up just yet because it’s something Luke and I should do together.

After checking out some of the amazing shopping malls near Taipei 101 (and using all  my willpower to resist buying anything) I grabbed a cab and headed to Costco.

I am now convinced I could live here forever thanks to Costco being here. After getting my membership card for a nifty NT1200 I spent a good hour and a half exploring every aisle of the 2-storey gigantic store.

My ticket in

I saw so many familiar American brands. But there were also many aisles dedicated to Asian cuisine. I also found copious amount of Quaker Oats Oatmeal for very cheap (I didn’t think oatmeal was something I could find here). I filled up my very large cart with all sorts of things including a few much needed appliances.

Not as nice as my Breville but it will do the trick

This will help keep Luke looking sharp

BULK almonds for approx NZD9!

BULK dates and raisins for approx NZD4 each!

A well known American brand of granola

Organic Soymilk galore

I managed to get all this stuff back to our apartment thanks to a very helpful cabdriver.

After I got back and put everything away I turned on the TV with the idea of watching some news on CNN but instead I came across this.

No translation required

Aerobics!

Calisthenics complete with a cool down

Our building has a gym but I may not ever need to go thanks to this awesome TV show.

After Luke got home we headed out for our first Taiwanese dinner with some of the other Kiwi expats here.

We went to a place called Ai Cai. Thankfully one couple in our group has been studying for a year and so were able to order for us. I have no idea what I ate but it was all so tasty. The restaurant itself had a great vibe. It was decorated in this very kitsch antique style with lots of posters of old movies. Here are some photos from the night.

It was a great introduction to Taiwanese cuisine. We left feeling so full so next time we know to only have a light lunch.

Welcome to Taiwan

We finally made it to Taiwan. Our home for the next four years.

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in about 50km outside of Taipei city so the drive to our apartment was a great introductory tour. We saw Taipei 101 from afar and also the Tamsui River which runs through the city. Taipei sits in a valley so there are big beautiful hills surrounding the cityscape. It certainly is a big city – according to Wikipedia there are about 2.2 million people in the city proper  or 6.9 million if you include the surrounding metropolitan area. Despite all the scooters and dense apartment buildings, there does seem to be a lot of green space. The area where we live (Da’an) is close to a very large park with ponds, foot massage paths, and market stalls.

When we got to our building we were taken to the apartment we will be living in for the next month until our actual apartment is available.

It’s a very nice fully furnished 2 bedroom apartment with great views.

We were also given a food hamper to tide us over until we locate the supermarket.

After we unpacked a bit we took a walk around the neighborhood to see what’s around us. It was about dinner time and there are plenty of restaurants around us but didn’t quite feel brave enough to face the menus all in Mandarin. Instead we went to our local 7-11 convenience store and found microwave meals with English packaging.

And to be a little bit adventurous, we selected two steamed buns with fillings we couldn’t identify to sample. The one on the right had a molasses flavor and the one on the left had some kind of red bean like filling.

When we got back to our apartment we were presented with a a beautfifully wrapped box full of fresh fruits compliments of our apartment building.

This morning before Luke’s classes started we took a taxi ride downtown to get a better look at the city.

We saw a lot of interesting things like this mannequin alerting traffic of road construction.

After our trip I walked with Luke to the building where his classes will be held.

So far so good. We’re excited to finally be here and start this new adventure.

A Stock Take of Our Singapore Stop-over

Singapore is our last stop before Taipei. We’ve had two great days here. It was one big reunion as our friends, Cam and Ginny, live here and our other friends, Simon and Alex, were passing through Singapore on their way back to NZ after a week in Malaysia.

We met up for lunch on Friday afternoon at a museum cafe. (Ginny not pictured as she was traveling back from Australia for work).

It was hot and sweaty in Singapore so we had to drink a lot.

We had pre-dinner drinks and played strategy games at Cam and Gin’s posh city pad.

Dinner was downtown on the Singapore River at Indochine. There was a great ambiance and the food was fantastic.

We ended the night on top of Marina Bay Sands at KU DÉ TA for the city views and one last drink.

Much to Luke’s disappointment we took a cab home and not the  Star Wars X-Wing car.

Ginny arrived Saturday morning and we all met up for lunch in the Arab Quarter.

After Alex, Gin, and I walked around the shops.

And did our best robot impressions

While the boys played Risk and smoked an apple mint hookah

After we said farewell to Alex and Simon we headed to dinner in Little India at a Nepalese Restaurant for Momos and Dal.

We said our goodbyes this morning and are now hanging out in Changi Airport excited to get to our new home.

Tourism Thailand: Thailand Invites You!

Have you thought about making your next holiday a Thai holiday?

We here at the Thailand Tourism Board would like to invite you to visit sunny Koh Samui!

We have great beaches
The locals are friendly
The food is tasty (you like fish, right?)
The weather is hot, hot, hot
We have lots of activities
(Puzzle time…)
It’s easy to get around
But best of all…
Come to Koh Samui for the babes!
***This has been a special Guest Blog by Luke***

19 March 2012

This is what we did last year on 19 March:

Tying the knot

And this is what we did this year:

My feet in Koh Samui

Koh Samui cocktails

Romantic dinner on the beach

One year married

And here’s what we ate:

Spicy eggplant salad

Very spicy beef salad

Grilled red snapper with Thai style greens

Chocolate malt cake with mango sauce and ice cream

We thought of all our friends and family who were with us last year on our special day. We also really appreciated all the special messages of congratulations.

Love from Thailand, Mel and Luke

Greetings from Thailand

Phang Ka Bay, Koh Samui

Lunch - spring rolls and green papaya salad with tofu

The resort's pool

Our private pool

What we did most of today

Lazy afternoon

Drinks to aid our laziness

Dinner - Pad thai with prawns

Green curry with chicken and steamed rice

Perfect ending - coconut sticky rice pudding with mango

Our last Kiwi supper (for awhile)

After leaving Wellington we flew to Auckland and then drove to Thames for our last New Zealand supper for a wee while.

Family dinner

Elizabeth wanted to make us something extra special for our last night in New Zealand. She’s an expert fisherwoman and has caught a lot of snapper recently. She saved bits of the fish and used it to make a seafood stock. So naturally, a seafood chowder made with lots of fresh New Zealand caught fish, was the perfect dish to make. Here it is simmering away on the stove.

Masterchef worthy chowder

And here’s what it looks like all plated up and ready for consumption.

Seafood chowder and garlic bread

I’m sure if you show up at Elizabeth’s house she’d be happy to make it for you. But if you can’t make it to Thames here’s the recipe so you can make it at home.

A secret Leonard family recipe passed down through the generations and revealed here for the first time ever

We posed a bit before trying the seafood chowder.

Abby, Brad and Renee

The oldest and the youngest

After the delicious chowder and before our mains, I took a few engagement photos of Brad and Abby.

Newly engaged

I forgot to take photos of the main course (fish, pork, salad and roast veggies). But thankfully I remembered to take snaps of the desserts. Abby made an iconic ‘Kiwi’ dish, a pavlova (note that the origin is debated, see Wikipedia). It was tops.

Berry pavlova done roulade style

We also had poached quinces (my new favorite fruit) and ice cream.

Poached quinces and ice cream

After dessert Luke said a few words (quoting Lord Byron and then Lady Gaga to be exact) and Elizabeth gave us a few going away presents- a beautiful book of NZ landscapes for our Taiwan coffee table and an adorable sheep to keep Luke company at night when he gets homesick.

Andre Apis New Zealand landscapes

You're never too old to get a stuffed sheep

We finished off the night with more family photos.

Luke, Renee and me

A true bromance (sorry Matt!)

Renee, Faith and Dominica

Us with Dominica and Matt

Luke and Mum

It was a great night full of lovely family memories. We will miss you all so very much!

A taste of Taiwan in Wellington

To celebrate our last night in Wellington (and Luke’s last day of work) we went to Lychee Cafe with Pearl. Lychee is Wellington’s only Taiwanese restaurant. It’s a bit out of the main restaurant area so not many people know about it. It’s a shame we discovered it on our last night as the food was great.

Wellington's only Taiwanese restaurant

The portions were huge and quite cheap for Wellington. The vast selection of teas and bubble teas also made it feel more authentic. Here’s what we sampled.

Vegetarian dumplings, Taiwanese sausages, and salt and pepper squid

Szechuan eggplant

Taiwanese style pork belly and garlic bok choy

We smiled for the camera but we were feeling a bit sad as we had to say goodbye to Pearl.

Our last night with Pearl

There will be lots of this kind of food in Taiwan but sadly no Pearl. We’ll miss you!