Recovering From Our Busy Weekend

We had a really busy weekend over here and are in need of another weekend to recover!

We’ve been trying to go out at least one night every week on a date and so on Friday night we started with a drink and appetizer at a bar and then headed to a Szechuan place for dinner.

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At the restaurant we chose the two person set menu and asked our waiter to recommend which dishes to have for each course. The menu was all in Chinese as was everything our waiter said  and we weren’t familiar with some of the dishes he recommended. The first dish that came out we knew was going to be pork based but neither of us were quite sure what exactly it was.

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I tried it but wasn’t a fan. The sauce was nice and the texture was chewy but I couldn’t help but think that it might possibly be pig intestines. The remaining dishes were thankfully all familiar to us.

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We slowly scoffed them down in between big gulps of water as Szechuan food is mouth-numbingly spicy!

Saturday I was up early cleaning the house and making carmel corn. My friends were throwing me a baby shower, held at my house, and the carmel corn was to put in favors for the guests.

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We had a great time and I will post about it as soon as I get the photos my friend took of it.

Then on Sunday we had our first birth class. We’ll be doing four in total over the next few weeks. The first class in the series covered the ins and outs of going into labor. We both found the class really informative and are glad to have signed-up. It certainly makes us feel as though we are a bit better prepared for the big day. After class I was ready to collapse from exhaustion but couldn’t as we still had one more engagement plus a night of Chinese study ahead.

Our Taiwanese friends wanted to take us out to a hot pot lunch to celebrate the Chinese New Year and  the pending arrival or our new addition. They both can speak pretty darn good English but Luke and I are always keen to practice our Chinese so I spent the lunch exhausting myself even more as I searched for the right words and grammar patterns to use.

The food at the hot pot restaurant was excellent. We’re both big fans of this style of interactive eating.

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IMG_4093This week I plan to take it easy. I’m 31 weeks pregnant and feeling the effects of carrying around the extra 20 pounds. ‘Pregnancy brain’ is also starting to kick in (I think mostly due  to being so tired!).

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新年快樂!(Happy New Year!): Camping at Sun Moon Lake

Last week was the Chinese New Year here in Taiwan. Most Taiwanese get a whole week off work and spend that time with their families celebrating. Luke and I also had the week off and were kindly invited to do some things with our Taiwanese friends. On Sunday night we had a lovely dinner with one of my old Chinese teachers and her family. And on Thursday, we joined my current Chinese tutor and her family for a night of camping down in Sun Moon Lake. It was definitely the highlight of our vacation!

We left chilly, overcast Taipei around 9:30am on Thursday morning and made our way down the west coast stopping along the way for lunch.

IMG_3888The place we had lunch at was a huge rest stop filled with a large selection of restaurants and shops. There was even an area called ‘the Tunnel of Love’ with a graffiti wall for lovers. Coincidentally it was Valentine’s Day!

IMG_3892We made it to our camping destination sometime after 1pm.

IMG_0721The setting was beautiful- we were right on the lake. The sunny, warm weather helped too.

IMG_3895Our friends were already there and had a great set-up. In addition to my tutor, her husband, and their three kids, there was her Mom, her sister, her husband, their two kids and her brother and two kids.

IMG_0733The tent we rented was raised up on stilts and had a thin mattress pad lining the inside. So we just had to bring our sleeping bags and four pillows that I arrange in various positions around my body to make sleeping more comfortable.

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After we unpacked and organized our stuff, we all headed into the small town down the road and caught a ferry to take us across to the main town. Being Chinese New Year it was pretty busy around the lake. The line for the ferry was long but moved very quickly.

IMG_3896The view from the boat was really nice. The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains.

IMG_3904Here’s us on the boat:

IMG_3905Once on the other side of the lake we all rented bikes and hit the bike trail. My bike was extra fancy as it was electric! Perfect for me in my tired pregnant state. I rode it like a scooter most of the way and was able to keep up with Luke.

IMG_3911We rode for about an hour in total.

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IMG_3914After biking we were driven back to camp where dinner was awaiting us. My Chinese teacher’s sister had make a couple of hot pots – one with a sour soup base and one with a spicy base. Both pots had various meats, fishballs, and veggies. I was a big fan of the sour base and ate so many bowls that I didn’t have room to try the spicy one.

IMG_3917The kids were super cute while waiting to get their bowls filled up.

IMG_3920I got lucky and in one serving got a Hello Kitty fish ball.

IMG_3924After dinner we played board games until almost midnight! The latest I’ve stayed up in a long time.

IMG_3929And in the morning, after a short walk, Luke and I returned to the campsite for birthday cake! A few days before it was my Chinese teacher’s son’s birthday so they brought along a yummy cake to celebrate with everyone.

IMG_0729After packing up we said our goodbyes and thank-yous and headed back to Taipei.

IMG_0736We had such a great time in Sun Moon Lake and can’t wait to return.

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Weekend in Taoyuan Part 1

On Friday afternoon Luke and I packed a bag, got in our car, and drove to Taoyuan.

I booked us a night in a Minsu (Taiwanese B&B) in a very remote part of the Taoyuan countryside. We decided that as part of our language learning it would be good to get out of Taipei every now and again, stay with locals, and practice our Mandarin.

After we settled into our room we took a walk to check out our surrounds. There was a lot of bamboo.

And a river with good skipping rocks.

The Taiwanese family that runs the minsu provided us with dinner. It was quite the tasty feast!

After dinner we played a board game and hung out with the family’s very big beautiful dog.

We were up early and were treated to a Taiwanese-style breakfast. The style of food served at the minsu is definitely more indigenous than what you would get for breakfast in Taipei. There were fried eggs, tofu skin, salted peanuts, and congee with mushrooms, fish, and preserved eggs.

After we bid farewell to our hosts we ventured out to Lalashan Forest Reserve – where some of the oldest tress in Taiwan can be found.

Here’s me admiring a huge, old tree.

And here’s the huge, old tree itself (2,400 years old!).

After the trees we hit up another famous site in the area, Xiao Wulai Waterfall (小烏來瀑布). The Lonely Planet rates it as a must-see waterfall in Taiwan.

It was certainly beautiful.

To be continued…

Cats and Cupcakes

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this weekend making cupcakes.

I made a whole batch.

But decided they were so good that I had to make a second batch.

Fern and Goose hung out with me in the kitchen while I baked both batches. The first time on the fridge sleeping.

And for the second batch in the dryer.

We managed to get out of the house to do some shopping at the Taipei 101 mall. New pants from Zara for Luke.

Sunday I hosted a brunch with other alumnae from my College  who also live in Taipei.

After brunch I headed over to my Chinese teacher’s house for two hours of tutoring and then an hour of me teaching her six-year-old daughter English. By the end of the weekend we were all pretty exhausted.

School’s Out

This week was our final week of classes. The semester concluded with a speech. This semester Luke and I did a joint speech on our trip to Nepal. We spent heaps of time preparing for the speech beforehand.

We practiced in our building’s ping pong room:

We practiced in the park:

At an outdoor cafe:

Until finally it was time.

We took our seats here, in front of our Chinese name plates, and gave our 10 minute speech.

It went great! It was good to see just how far we’ve come since our last speech. Unfortunately we couldn’t celebrate right after our speech as we still had one more class to get through so it was back to the library:

After class we were all about celebrating with Belgium waffles!

We also decided to venture out into the big smoke to have dinner.

We ended up going to one of our favorite food courts for Korean:

After we walked around enjoying the warm air and interesting city sights.

This weekend we are catching up on sleep, housework and all the other things we neglected during the semester!

The Weekend Is Here…Finally

This has probably been one of the busiest weeks we’ve had since we’ve been in Taipei.

We had mid-terms exams, so there was lots of study going on.

I had an MRI on my dodgy knee and found out that I will need to have surgery on it next month.

I took Goose to the vet for the first time to her vaccinations.

We ate Indian food (in Taipei!).

I made whole coffee cake (and we managed to eat it all in one day).

And finally, we exchanged this:

For this:

It’s perfect weather out today so we’re off to explore in our little Yaris. We’re keen to find some hot pools to relax in after our busy week.

Summer Semester

This week we started our second semester of studying Chinese. And we’re already tired from all the study!

Luke and I each have three one-on-one classes everyday. We even have our classes at the exact same times which means we will be spending a lot more time with each other than last semester. So this week has been all about getting our routine in place and getting a feel for our new teachers and what they expect of us. We’ve already realized how hard this semester is going to be. Our teachers have pretty much stopped talking any English to us and are in full-on Chinese mode. Typhoon Talim is meant to be blowing over Taiwan sometime today. I hate to say it but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing as we would get a day off school which we both already need! Not a good sign.

On a more positive note we’ve both noticed how much we have improved since we started 10 weeks ago. This semester is going to help us improve even more. We’re both looking forward to being able to have conversations with the locals. It will also open up the number of new opportunities to us (Such as eating at this place which always has a long line but we don’t know what it sells):

I am also looking forward to reading signs like this one in Chinese (as I’m sure it will make more sense in Chinese than it does in English)

In other news, Fern’s water obsession is out of control. She demands to be in the bathroom whenever one of us is in the shower. She also peeps at me when I take a bath.

We’re not sure what to make of this  – should we be concerned?

Last week of the semester

It’s the final week of our first semester studying Chinese. It didn’t start so well for me.

(I’m pretty dangerous on a bike.)

Thankfully the week (and my elbow) has gotten progressively better. For one Luke and I completed our end of semester assignment – to give a five minute speech in Chinese. Our speeches were both introductory speeches – to tell the audience about ourselves,  our families, where we come from, etc.  It took a lot of preparation and practice to do this.

Our speeches were both on Tuesday afternoon so we spent the morning preparing (and trying to calm our nerves). We went to the room where the presentations were held a bit early to watch the other speeches.

There weren’t any of our fellow beginners before us so hearing these close-to-fluent speeches was impressive but also nerve wrecking as we didn’t understand much. So we spent the the time reviewing our note cards.

Luke had decided to memorize his speech and go sans notecards which was pretty brave. Thankfully he was wearing his lucky socks.

When we finally presented we both did great. The hardest part was the 5 minute question time after as the audience was asking questions using vocabulary we didn’t know. They were most interested in Fern. In my speech I said that Fern is a Taiwanese cat and so she teaches me Chinese and I teach her English. During this part, I put up a photo on the powerpoint:

The crowd went wild.

We’re both really glad to be done with our presentations. Just two more days of classes and we’re on break.

To celebrate a job well done we went out for dinner to a small Cambodian place we stumbled upon near the night market.

New Friends

One of the great things about learning a new language is the opportunity to make new Chinese speaking friends. About a month ago Luke was introduced to a Taiwanese man, the same age as Luke, who was keen to practice his English with someone. Just about every weekend since then Luke and Yeats have been meeting up to share a cup of coffee and talk in both English and Chinese. They get along really well so we proposed taking it one step further and going on a double date with him and his girlfriend, Claire.

So last night we met them for dinner on Yongkang Street.

Yongkang Street is packed with awesome restaurants and cool little boutiques to explore.

The restaurant Yeats picked was called 府岸海鮮城.

We quickly picked up from the interior that it was a seafood restaurant.

When Yeats and Claire arrived, Yeats called the waitress over and ordered the meal. This is just one of the many advantages of dining with locals-they know what is good to order.

The dishes started coming out…

My favorite dish, which is also the restaurant’s most famous, is some kind of fried rice with crispy baby shrimps on top called ‘Sakura shrimp and rice’, as it looks as vibrant as the Japanese sakura flower.

Throughout the dinner we talked mostly in English as they both have been studying it for 15 years. Towards the end of the dinner we switched to Chinese and it was quite hard. Luke and I managed to respond to some questions and also ask them questions in Chinese. They thought we sounded good so we were both quite pleased about that.

After dinner they took us to another place on Yongkang Street to sample Taiwan’s famous dessert, shaved ice.

You can pick from various toppings to go on top of your shaved ice. The most popular is mango (we were also very happy to find out that Taiwan has just entered its mango season).

We ordered the strawberry and mango shaved ice and Yeats and Claire had mango and taro.

We had a great night with Yeats and Claire and all agreed to do it again very soon.

Mid-Terms

We’ve both had our heads down buried in text books this week. Our language school doesn’t mess around. Being apart of a University, they go through all the usual University motions: copious amounts of homework, pop quizzes, mid-terms, presentations, etc. This week we had mid-terms.

I had three tests in total – one oral and two written. They were hard but I studied a lot and think overall I did really well. For me, the hardest thing about learning Mandarin is getting the tones right. Since there are 4 different tones (plus neutral tone) you have to remember which tone goes with what combination of letters to create which word. It’s very difficult coming from a language that has more classifications – more words for things, and no tones.

Despite being difficult I am really enjoying the process of learning a language full-time. We are both slowly improving. Every week we build our vocabularies and get a chance to test out what we’ve learned on locals over the weekends.

This weekend we have a number of errands to run as we continue to make our apartment feel more like home. One thing we will be doing is going to get some of our photographs and art prints framed. Professional framing is dirt cheap in Taipei. The only problem is that most don’t speak English. It will be the perfect opportunity to practice our Mandarin. And failing that, our exaggerated body language.

Our relatively boring week was made a bit more interesting by a little ball of fur. Fern is no longer the shy, quiet kitten we brought home last week. She runs the place now. She has explored just about every inch of the apartment. Her favorite thing at the moment (apart from long afternoon naps and attacking Luke’s plants) is water. She is obsessed. Whenever we turn on a tap she is there. She can watch it run for hours (not that we leave our tap on that long). I shouldn’t say that she just watches it because she actually plays with it. She’ll get right into the sink, getting her paws all wet, and will stick her face in the stream of water.

She’s stinking cute.

Last night we had a post exam celebration. Pizza and then out to the night market.

We stopped in at a bar near the market for a drink.

After our drink we came home and played with Fern a bit more before calling it a night.