Happy Birthday Jen!

On Saturday, all the way over in Chicago Land, my sister celebrated her Birthday.

Jungle cats -grrrr

My Mom and Dad flew in for the weekend to celebrate with them and it looks like things got a bit crazy…

Words can't describe this

Across the Pacific we had a much less exciting weekend setting up house and, of course, studying.

These flashcards are my best friends

We managed to get outside yesterday as the weather was tops.

Beautiful Taipei day

We had lunch at a curry place near the University,

Lunch place

Bought a plant,

Now resides in our lounge

And drank coffees to keep us going.

Busy at Starbucks

Our weekend ended with a spectacular sunset.

A beauty

Happy Birthday Jen! We hope you had a great weekend celebrating. Love, Mel and Luke

We’re Moving!

Finally…into our permanent apartment in Taipei. Our sea freight arrives tomorrow so it’s going to be a busy weekend getting set-up. We’re up on the 18th floor so we have a long elevator ride to get home but it is worth it as the views are impressive. Here are some photos of our new pad – including the view, which I took last night. I will post photos again once we are all set-up.

Lounge and couches that were already here

Lounge and balcony

Lounge looking into dining room

Hall leading to spare bedrooms and bathroom

Lots of baking to be done in here

Badly made bed in master bedroom

Master bath and wardrobe

Night view from Kitchen patio

A Big Slurge: Salad for Lunch

I finish my Mandarin lessons at Noon.

Our School (NTU Language Center)

Most days I have been following the other students across the road where there are loads of small eateries to grab a cheap lunch.

The walk to find lunch

Such as exhibit A (a very good Korean place)

A solid choice for lunch

Where I would eat something like this:

Vegan Bibimbap - tasty and cheap ($3NZD)

But I have been getting sick of eating out everyday and have started to crave one of the hardest things to find in Taipei – a fresh salad. I like my salads best with chickpeas, tamari roasted sunflower seeds and a balsamic vinaigrette. Lettuce, apart from iceberg, is a bit pricey here and sometimes hard to find. Chickpeas, if I am lucky enough to find them, are also pretty pricey at $2.50 NZD a can.

Following my craving for a big fresh salad I splurged and bought $4 NZD romaine lettuce, a can of chickpeas, and sunflower seeds (I bought organic ones so these too were pricey). I searched high and low for balsamic vinegar but no luck.

I came home and threw it all together. If you haven’t ever made tamari roasted sunflower seeds, you are missing out! Here’s how you make them.

Take a cup of raw sunflower seeds.

Soon to be transformed into the most delicious salad topping

And place in pan on stove over medium high heat until browned (stir/ toss frequently).

Keep a close eye on these babies or they will burn!

Remove from heat and stir in a few splashes of Tamari or Soy Sauce.

Easy to make

Sprinkle some over your salad and store the rest in a glass container.

$$$ lunch but worth it

I finished it off with yellow watermelon (which we didn’t know was yellow until after we cut it open!).

Who knew watermelon comes in different shades

A delicious lunch indeed.

Weekend Slideshow

FRIDAY 

Dinner at DOZO

Pre-meal drumming show

Salmon sushi, Japanese pancake, and fresh rolls

DOZO Beer tower

Martinis with our new friend

SATURDAY

Big bike ride around Taipei: Luke at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Mel at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial

Changing of the Guards I

Changing of the Guards II

Mel with the big Chiang himself

Ta-Da!

Carnival at Memorial Hall: Animal cars

Cheerleaders at Memorial Hall

Chubby Baby spotted at Memorial Hall

Leaving the Memorial

Dinner at Eslite food court: Luke with Vietnamese Beef Noodles

Mel's Mapo Tofu

SUNDAY

Lots of study

Homemade dinner

Staving Off Stress

I started Mandarin lessons on Monday. Like Luke I am doing three one-on-one hour long classes a day. It’s been a fun first few days but Luke constantly reminds me how quickly that will all change and then it just gets hard. So I will be doing a lot of this.

Coffee drinking and studying

We’ll go broke if I have Starbucks every time I study so I will have to settle for the sub-par instant stuff we have at home. Whatever it takes…

As the work gets harder we are going to make sure we have some healthy activities to help get us through moments of stress. One of my favorites is cooking. Last night I took a break from the books and made these yummy things.

Barley-stuffed roast peppers

But sometimes cooking takes too long and I just want an instant stress reliever. That’s when I say ‘TGF7-11’ (Thank Goodness For 7-11). One day soon I promise to write a post on the importance of 7-11s in everyday life in Taiwan but for now I will share my latest purchase –  a special Korean Aloe Vera face mask for stress relief.

The 7-11 cure for stress

So I put it on and took a photo to share.

Hannibal Lecter look-a-like

And after 15 minutes the only thing I felt was disappointment that I had all this greasy stinky goop on my just washed hair. Then I checked out the above photo which seriously freaked me out and made my stress levels increase because of how scary I look.  So it seems this 7-11 magic bullet is too good to be true.

Just down the road from us there is a massage place where partially blind Taiwanese work. You can get all kinds of different massages there for as low as $200 NTD ($8 NZD). I decided to check it out and went for the $200 NTD head, neck, back, and shoulders massage for 20 minutes.

Mr. Amazing Hands

It was great and will definitely be added to our portfolio of regular stress reliving activities.

Apart from the above, and our regular exercise regimes, we are also thinking about getting a pet to chill out with during study breaks.

A photo of my Sister's very stress-free dog. Broca

Probably not a dog due to our apartment living but perhaps something of the feline variety. I can feel my stress levels dropping just thinking about a cat on my lap.

A Samoan Farewell

On Saturday night we attended a farewell party for a couple of Samoan Kiwis who have been living in Taipei for the past four years and are returning to NZ.

The theme of the party was ‘Survivor Samoa’.

Kiwis in Taipei

I made a new friend

The guests were asked to dress for the theme but as you can see not everyone did. This was lucky for me as I did and was selected as one of the best dressed.

Finalists for best dressed contest

To select a winner we were told we had to do a ‘Samoan Strut-off’ and the person with the best strut would win a prize.

The music started and the guy in the wig went first. He did a sort of sexy dance around the room. The second guy followed in suit- clearly trying to appeal to the ladies and get a few laughs from the men. I was not about to bump and grind so instead I decided to pull out my hidden talent – gymnastics. I kicked up into a handstand and walked around the room on my hands. The crowd went wild.

Handy party trick

Just when they thought I was done I did a back walk-over.

Too quick for the camera

I was instantly declared the winner and was handed a big bottle of ready made cocktails and golden cocktail shaker. (I’d like to thank my Mom and Dad for all the years of expensive gymnastics lessons that have allowed me to keep my dignity at parties.).

The best dressed content was only the start of the games.

Samoan Survivor games

Challenging my senses

Luke and team blindfolded

In between rounds I snuck outside to sneak a peak at the awesome view.

101 all lit up

Fun party

We had a great time but stayed out too late.

Party Animals

Night market adventures

A very popular way to get around Taiwan is by bike. Bicycles are everywhere.

And you can buy new or used ones for very little money as Taiwan is a major manufacturer of bikes. Wanting to do as the Taiwanese do Luke and I bought brand new made-in-Taiwan bikes on Friday. We paid $1800 NTD (or $74 NZD/$61 USD) each.

Keen to use our bikes and in search of a bit of fun on Friday night we rode over to our local Night Market (Shida 師大路夜市).

It was a toasty hot day (88 F/31) so we were in need of a cold drink. We stumbled across a bar called Bistro 0.

As we walked in we saw this Bulletin Board with photos of cats on it. Since we can’t read Chinese we had no idea what it said or what the purpose of it was.

Until we walked in and saw this.

There were cats in the bar!!!!!

It seriously made my week. It was AMAZING. We ordered drinks, sat down and before I knew it this beauty of a cat jumped in my lap. She was precious. She stayed on my lap (and for a short time on Luke’s) the entire hour we spent there.

The outfit was a little strange but she totally rocked it. Meow Meow. There were other cats in the bar but not as friendly as Miss Pink.

It was hard to leave but we were both hungry and ready to find some dinner. Our dinner plan was derailed when we were stopped by a group of Taiwanese University Students in the street. They explained that they were studying English and had a school assignment to complete. They asked if they could interview us for 20 minutes. This is the second time we have had this happen to us in a Night Market. We don’t at all mind doing this as we are in the same boat of trying to learn Chinese and needing people to practice with. So we went with the three guys to a Starbucks where they bought us a drink.

What we didn’t know though was that their questions were all about American NBA Basketball  – something we know very little about. Thankfully being from Cleveland I was able to talk a little about the Lebron James scandal. And Luke has recently read a few articles about LINSANITY – enough to sound well informed and interested! They video taped us so no doubt we are up on some Taiwanese Youtube looking like big dorks.

The three guys were really lovely and it was nice to spend sometime with locals.

After the interview we made our way to dinner. We decided to try this place called ‘Toasteria’ – Taipei’s home for grilled cheese.

This bar/grilled cheese factory was packed on Friday night. The menu was pretty fantastic – there were more than 20 different kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches to choose from.

I went for the Italian – with mozzarella, pesto, and garlic and Luke went for a wasabi chicken one.

For around $5 NZD these sandwiches were pretty darn awesome. We ended out Night Market at

We tried the green tea yogurt with mochi and oreo toppings.

A perfect way to end our adventure.

Organics and Lunch at Lattea

Organics are all the rage here. I’ve walked by a countless number of organic stores most with a small eatery inside. I’m a sucker for organics, I like the good feeling I get when I purchase something that is free of chemicals and grown/made by a company with a bit of heart. Don’t get me wrong, there have been numerous examples of false claims and pocketbook labelling in the organic world so not all these companies are good.

I thought I would share some of the organic groceries I have purchased. Starting with my most bizzare find…Beetroot Jelly.

This was not at all what I expected. I thought maybe it would be more like a chutney but it was actually the strangest watery goop-like consistency I have ever seen. Edible, but I can’t say I would purchase again.

Soymilk

Miso paste

Lots of organic greens

Non-GMO soy sauce

And this Oat Drink which is basically really watery oatmeal. I sucked it down as the health benefits are sure to outweigh the gag-inducing texture.

Speaking of trying new things Luke and I went to this place called Lattea the other day in search of a cold beverage and lunch.

Lattea is famous in Taiwan for their specialty drink which is basically an iced honey jasmine tea with a salty buttery foam and green tea powder on top. It looks just like a beer but the taste is far far from alcohol.

I love the drink but I think Luke is still deciding if he is a fan! Lattea has other other drinks if  butter tea doesn’t interest you.

They also have a small selection of food. We ordered the spicy tofu salad, chicken nibbles, and

crispy savoury turnip cake slices.

The food was really tasty.

There are Latteas all over Taipei. They tend to attract the student crowd as a place to study and socialize. Just don’t come to Lattea to play a game of cards- it seems that is not allowed.

Wednesday Walkabout

I got up early this morning and hit the university track for a few laps.

At 7.30am it was already 75 degrees F (24 degrees C) out. By the time I got home I was dripping in sweat. Not from my workout but from the insane humidity. We have had perfect weather our first few weeks in Taipei – in the 70s (20s), sunny and with very little humidity. Everyone has been telling us to enjoy the weather while we can. Apparently the summers here are intense – very hot and very very humid. I’m talking 90% humidity! Wowzzers!

After a cold shower, I had my breakfast and planned my day in consultation with a map of the city.

I had a few things I needed to buy for our apartment and a few places I wanted to check out. I left around 11am at which point the temperature had risen to 80 F (26 C). I decided to do as the Taiwanese do and carried an umbrella around to protect me from the sun.

I set out from our apartment building towards Da’an Park

And walked alongside the park

Past a neat building with park space facade

until I got to Renai Road.

Renai Road is one of the beautiful tree-lined streets in Taipei. It’s filled with very expensive looking apartment buildings (guards standing outside) and lots of very high-end car dealerships and designer stores.

As you go along it get a bit less tree-lined and a feels a bit more like a typical city street. Eventually I found what I was looking for on Renai Road – Florida Bakery.

Florida Bakery is well known for it’s exquisite cookies and cakes, great breads, and Mexican food (During its early years in Taipei the bakery supplied baked goods for US military advisors and later for airlines. Perhaps this is where the Mexican food comes in?).

I bought some German-style bread, tortilla chips, and two cookies for Luke and I to try.

(If you are wondering about the significance of the ‘Lin’ basketball cookie, check out: http://www.linsanity.com/).

After munching my cookie I continued walking on Renai Road until I hit the Eslite Dun Nan Store. The bookstore/shopping mall has some really neat boutique stores inside and so I spent some time browsing all the cool vendors and tasting heaps of yummy samples. If you come visit us we will be sure to take you here.

At this point I was getting tired and in need of some caffeine. Luckily there was a Starbucks on the GF. I was feeling adventerous and decided to (in the spirit of being in Asia) grab a Green Tea Latte.

The color is pretty off-putting. The taste took some getting used to. I drank it but can’t say I would order it again.

After Eslite, I made my way up Dunhua Road to Ikea.

I bought a few things for our apartment – wine glasses, a kitchen mat, silverware organizer, and candles. Ikea is great for those bits and pieces you need but don’t want to spend much on.

After Ikea I made my way to Sogo at the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station. As a side note, one of the things I love about Taipei is how pedestrian street crossings have a handy little countdown letting you know exactly how many seconds you have to cross. Clever.

This was my first time in a Sogo, which is a chain mall in Taipei. I went there specifically to check out a grocery store called City Super which is a very upmarket and is known for having a lot of Western goods.

I wanted to go to City Super specifically to check out their peanut butter selection. Since arriving in Taipei Luke and I have searched high and low for a peanut butter without any added sugar or salt. We have tried at least four different brands.

I am happy to report that the search is over. Mission accomplished. City Super had just the jar we’ve been looking for. I hurried home via the MRT eager to present the jar to Luke.

Luke approved.

Easter in Taipei

Our weekend started off chatting to Mom, Natalie, and the Easter Bunny.

We couldn’t find any Easter eggs in Taipei but we did find the public library

And this decked out midget car

In search of new Easter traditions I tried a Sugar Leaf Jelly Iced Tea but it was no substitute for the almighty chocolate egg.

Instead of an Easter basket Luke bought a Peace Lily for his desk.

Easter lunch was this scallion pancake purchased from a roadside stand.

For Easter Dinner we decided to class it up a bit. After some research we found a bit of New Zealand in Taipei at KGB: Kiwi Gourmet Burgers.

The interior felt made us feel right at home with New Zealand art, magazines,

plastic tomato sauce holders,

Monteith’s beer,

and of course, Kiwi burgers

As we were walking home we came across this guy who was selling little pancakes with a custard filling shaped like eggs.

Luke gobbled them up before I got a chance to take a photo so here’s one I found on the internet instead

We hope you all had a very Happy Easter! With love, Mel and Luke