I’m happy to announce that I will be travelling more frequently in the coming months. Hurray!
Here my travel schedule as my attempt at art:
Among the places I will be going to, Surabaya is a city I’ve not been to yet. Jakarta and Bangkok are two cities where I’ve only visited for two days. I will be adding another two days to each of them.
As in the past, I’ll be doing a lot of weekend travelling. There are two long weekends that I will be travelling (May and August). I didn’t know Good Friday’s date or else my Jakarta trip would have been longer.
A year of not travelling (much)
As a travel blogger, it’s quite silly that I haven’t been travelling. But as a person, I feel it’s liberating that I didn’t need to escape to a foreign land every other month.
While not travelling, I have been keeping myself occupied with
video games (specifically Skyrim)–but I’ve neglected this these few months
It was a weekend so my uncle brought everyone out to Miaoli for a meal of Hakka food. My aunt’s sister and her family came along in another car.
Before we had our lunch, we dropped by two housing areas to take a look at the latest Be A Weekend Farmer craze in Taiwan. These housing areas cater to city folks who want to grow their own organic vegetables and don’t mind dropping hundred thousand NT$’s for a little patch of land.
Developers fence up the plots and include a little one-room house and a webbed area for planting which also includes a sprinkler. Those who buy these plots probably envision themselves driving two hours out into the suburbs during weekends and collect the fruits and vegetables of their labors.
One of my uncle’s concern for such a place was that hobos would come and stay there while the owners are away. The developer assured that residents can hire security guards for their neighborhood to patrol and avoid such problems.
After the house seeing, we drove for another 30 minutes to the famous Hakka restaurant where meals are cooked for multiples of 4 persons. We had the 8 person set which included noodles wih pig trotters, a whole fish, chicken, radish cake, veggie and soup.
After our stomach-exploding meal, it was back to Taichung.
During the night, we met up with my mom’s friend and ex-classmate, Aunty Wu. She brought us out to dinner at a Japanese izakaya-like place. Unfortunately, the photos of the restaurant and food were not transferred to my computer so you just have to imagine.
We had thick slices of sashimi, steamed egg, yakitori on sticks, a salad (which I did not touch) and soups in little teapots.
Post-dinner, we visited Aunty Wu’s manfriend (the guy is about 70, I can’t still call him boyfriend, can I?). He was delivering goods but was hit by another motorcycle and broke his leg quite badly. He was put up in a nice private ward and had the whole room to himself.
After a brief chit chat, it was time to head back to my uncle’s. My aunt bought 2 cans of Taiwanese flavored beer for me to try. I tried the pineapple beer first. The aftertaste of beer was much stronger than similar stuff from Japan.
I have quite a silly travel regret: I do not go to outlet shopping enough.
Wait a minute, you ask. Aren’t you a miserly traveller? Why do you even want to go to outlets? Plus, why didn’t you go in the first place so you won’t regret not going?
Let me answer your questions one-by-one:
1. Somewhere in my miserly mind, I associate the discounts from buying at outlet stores as savings. (Nevermind that I would save more if I don’t buy anything in the first place.)
2. I never went to any outlets in Paris, Barcelona, San Francisco or Tokyo because the outlets were far away from the city and I would rather sightsee more than head out to shop.
So I finally had the chance to indulge in outlet shopping when my aunt and her friend brought my mom and me to Sunshine Plaza in Taichung. Well, my mom had the chance to indulge in outlet shopping, I mean, since I don’t have a job yet I cannot afford to buy.
The saleslady at the Coach outlet was really nice as she probably has a good commission. She even allowed us to put our backpacks along with our purchases behind her counter while we went for a small lunch and a walk around the outlet mall.
In contrast, the saleslady at the Fox shoes outlet was a pain. She grudgingly gave me too sizes to try. I didn’t like the designs to begin with but my mother insisted that I try them out. While I put them on, I complained that the sizes were either half a size too large or small.
Fox Saleslady then mumbled really loudly about people who do not know how to wear shoes and that sizes are fixed anyway. I felt like being a bitch back at her but bit my tongue.
I got my consolation later. As we were heading up the escalator after applying for tax refund, I saw Fox Sales lady talking to her friend. Her reflection was in the mirror at the wall and I was reflected as well. This time, I didn’t hold my tongue but rather stuck it out at my reflection. I think she caught me doing it but I brushed past her back and went up the escalator.
I think I’m still too childish.
In the end, I managed to get one pair of shoe at Sunshine Plaza. It’s actually a triumph because I rarely find shoes that I actually like.
The beginning of the day…
I took a bath in the hot springs tub behind the room before heading to breakfast. The breakfast buffet was quite amazing with a spread of Taiwanese food including porridge, pan fried dumplings, organic soy milk, century egg, tofu, stirfried veggies and so on.
Later, we took the 10:20am bus to Shuili and then another bus to Taichung. Halfway through the journey, an old lady realized that the bus was not heading to where she wanted to go. The bus driver kindly went out of the way and dropped her off before
When we reached Taichung station, we found our way to Sunshine Plaza and did what I mentioned in the beginning of this post.
After our shopping trip, it was my aunt’s time to head back while mom and I waited for my uncle in front of a shopping mall. The sky turned dark and the lane in front of the mall was semi-clogged by cars dropping off and picking up passengers.
Our uncle arrived finally and brought us to a little place for freshwater fish. Then we retired for the night.
We met up with my aunt’s high school classmate at Taichung train station. The train station is a beautiful colonial building and its internal structure reminded me very much of the train stations in Japan.
In fact, did you know that that Taiwan was colonized by Japan between 1895 and 1945? Quite a few people are still enamored with the Japanese rule and hope to return to “the good old days”. (“Quite a few” being a handful few older folks that I’ve met.)
The train rolled through the Taiwanese country side, bringing us visions of rice fields, tall betel nut trees, mountains and one scene of hundreds of ducks. I thought the countryside looked a bit like ours back home in Sabah with betel nut trees swapped with coconut trees.
Our final destination was Dongpu (东埔) so we stopped at Shuili (水里) for the 1pm bus. We walked on the narrow streets and had an early lunch before having an ice cream. Then we headed to the bus station.
When the bus came at 1pm, we queued to get on. Strangely, the bus queue stopped moving so we thought that the old lady in front was holding up the queue.
A quarrel on the bus
Suddenly, the bus driver got out of the bus and went into the office. He brought out one of the station employees, saying, “A passenger said he wants to ‘fix’ me!” He got back on the bus with the lady in tow and shouted for the man to reveal himself.
We eventually got on the bus but the driver was still having his one-sided shouting match. He threw a tantrum and said that he dared not drive since the man would beat him up. An old lady with snowy white hair kept apologizing on behalf of her 50-year-old son. From her pleas, we learned that the son had mental problems and was angry when the driver required his mother to show him her senior citizen pass.
Some of the passengers also tried to calm the driver down, saying that the passenger’s mom had already apologized and the driver should forgive and forget. Still, the driver did not budge.
We all sat in the warm bus while the driver made calls to the police, announcing loudly that a passenger had “threatened” him. Soon, a police officer who also looked in his 50s arrived. When he got on our bus, he said, “Hey, why is it so hot in here.”
The driver turned on the engine and cool air rushed out of the vents. My mom clapped once. Upon hearing the clap, the officer asked everyone to clap for the driver. We all did clap and cheered.
The police then heard both sides of the stories. In the end, he gave the driver a choice of filing a report or suing the passenger. The driver probably chose the former. Finally, the drive started.
A hot spring resort
Even though Google Maps said it would take 24 minutes to reach Dongpu, the bus stopped multiple times so it took about an hour to reach our destination.
Our room was on the lower floor of a wooden structure. Behind, there were two small pools, one for hot spring water and the other for cold water.
The Taiwanese also inherited a love for soaking in hot springs from the Japanese. Taiwan’s mountains are filled with these mineral-laden hot water so it makes perfect sense to cultivate such a tradition.
We didn’t do much in the resort. We watched TV, took turns in pair to soak in the little tubs and had dinner. Then I went to the open air pools with my aunt’s friend where we soaked in 40 degrees Celcius hot spring water.
Location: Shanghai, China -> Taipei -> Taichung, Taiwan
Background: My flight to Taiwan was cancelled yesterday because of typhoon. However, the airline company gave us each a bed in a nice hotel far away from the airport.
I set the alarm for 4:15am since we needed to check out at 5:00am. But I woke up before the alarm and spent 15 minutes lying in bed, not willing to get up before the alarm. Is there a word for this situation?
The hotel lobby was dark when I went down to check out. It wasn’t until 5:32am when the shuttle bus came to pick us up to the airport. Yesterday, there were 2 buses which brought us to the hotel. Today there was only one as many had probably left for their home in Shanghai.
When we arrived at the airport, only one regular counter and the first class counter was opened. The queue snaked out of its boundaries. Soon, someone managed to put the queue in order.
As I was reaching my end of the queue, a lady with a ponytail went to the counter and made a loud fuss. Between her fake-like, dry crying, she asked the airline employee to “please, please let [her on]” since she wanted to “bring [her] kid home”. Then she dropped to her knees and started really begging him for help.
The airline employee looked uncomfortable and replied that he couldn’t help her if she did not bring her identification with her. Hearing this, the woman let out a loud moan. In the end, the employee said he would see what can do.
In the end, I did see her and her kid at the boarding lounge. So thankfully for that.
Another flight delay
When we were all gathered at the boarding lounge, we were still not asked to board the plane. I overheard that the flight would be delayed yet again. This was confirmed when the airline folks asked us to queue for our breakfast since the flight would be delayed again.
I ate some of the biscuit and drank all my Coke and waited. Suddenly, we were asked to queue up for the shuttle bus to the plane. Hurray!
My seat was in the middle with four seats in the row. My seat mate was on the other end of the row so I sad comfortably.
For breakfast on China International Airlines, there was a choice of Chinese and Western breakfast. Chinese food was porridge while Western was eggs with one sausage.
I fell asleep for most of the flight so the 2-hour flight so it was very fast.
Back in Taiwan!
The last time I was in Taiwan was in 2010. It was a business trip so I didn’t enjoy a lot of the island. This time ’round, I will be joining my mom on a 9-day trip where we will see a lot and eat a lot.
Mom was already at the airport when I arrived. We headed to the mobile company booths on the left corner of the arrival doors. Here, we each bought a SIM with unlimited 3G internet for 10 days at a cost of NT$500.
We bought bus tickets to where we would meet our aunt. The bus journey was long and I even caught a few winks.
My aunt was waiting at the bus stop when we got there. We went to her place and settled our luggage before taking the bus to central Taiwan–Taichung.
Since I didn’t need to do any travel planning, travelling from Taipei to Taichung seemed easy. We went to the bus company and bought tickets for the bus leaving in 10 minutes.
Off we went to Taichung. Of course, this is also the best time for napping.
Miyahara ice cream in Taichung
When we reached Taichung, my aunt brought us to a famous ice cream place. The building was previously a hospital but now it’s a really beautiful place selling ice cream and biscuits.
We bought three ice cream flavors (82% Ecuadorian chocolate, “half-dreaming-half-awake” and local guava) on a wafer bowl. With three flavors, we got four free toppings including cheesecake, pineapple cake, pumpkin seeds and caramel.
The shop also has a lovely space selling all sorts of wedding cookies. However, these cookies are packaged like books and are arranged on shelves.
After desserts, we took the bus to the National Museum of Natural Science. While we were there, there was a promo for paying bus rides using payment cards. The first 8km of the ride was free when you use payment cards. Luckily, Taipei’s prepaid cards work here too.
National Museum of Natural Science holds fond memories for me. The museum was a place my mom brought my sister and me to frequently when we were in Taiwan as kids. Unfortunately, the museum was closed on Monday so we ended up sitting at the garden behind the museum.
After bumming around in the garden, it was time to meet my uncle. When we got on his car, we found a walking sticks. Turns out he was knocked down by a motorcycle on his way to take the bus. He added that he rarely takes the bus.
Since my uncle could not walk far, we chose to eat inside a shopping mall. Our meal for the night was Hunan food, a bit funny since I just came from China and ate a lot of Chinese food there.
After dinner, we head back to uncle’s place.
Have you been to Taichung? Do you have a favorite sightseeing spot?
My flight to Taipei was originally scheduled at 2:30pm and I was supposed to reach the destination at 4:25pm. However, I learned that the flight was delayed till the next morning so I would be Google, Faceook and Twitter-less for another day.
This is the story of the day my flight was delayed. (There’s a happy ending, don’t worry.)
Breakfast at Xiao Yang
After eating at Xiao Yang’s Dumpling yesterday, I still wanted to have more of it. The dumplings themselves weren’t delicate works but its rough, doughy texture and soupy filling makes it a great meal. This was why I decided to wake up early to head to a Xiao Yang branch before finishing my luggage packing and checking out.
As my phone didn’t have mobile Internet, I copied out the directions given by Baidu Map and took a look at the road maps for that area.
When I stepped out of the hotel, it was drizzling. I had to head back and grab my umbrella since I would be walking quite a distance later. The bus stop was right next to the hotel, which was convenient, but the bus that I needed to take arrived much later.
Taking the bus in Shanghai is very easy if you know Chinese as you will be able to read the destinations listed at the bus stop.
Even if you don’t know Chinese, there are announcements of the next destination of the bus once you are in it. However, sometimes the announcement comes too late (one second before the bus leaves the stop) so you’ll have to memorize how many stops there are before yours.
I reached my destination without a glitch and found the restaurant. The Xiao Yang Dumpling branch at Huanghe Road (黄河路) is the main branch and it even has an upper floor.
As with yesterday, I paid for my dumplings and went to queue. Unfortunately for me, the last dumpling in the pan was given away right before my turn. I waited for the next batch and suddenly realized that I was standing in the wrong queue. Thus I joined the second queue.
Again, my luck ran out and there were only 3 remaining dumplings by the time it was my turn. It was déjà vu as the same situation happened yesterday. I was a bit whiny so the employee told me to find a table and she’ll let someone send it up.
So up I went the upper level which smelled like a musty table cloth. My wanton soup arrived and I happily dug in. The fried dumplings were still as oily and had a strong taste of pork, making me wonder why I actually like them. As I ate, I realized that the best part about these dumplings were the soup inside.
Unlike xiaolongbao which are tiny, these shengjianbao are much bigger. Nibbling a bit of the upper part off, you can slurp out the scalding hot soup inside. It takes several deep slurps to suck the dumpling dry. Then comes the crunchy bottom part (which is actually the top of a regular Chinese bun). This is the most oily but I cannot help not eating them.
After I finished my meal, my single dumpling hadn’t arrived yet. I waited and waited and still there was no sign of my dumpling. Since my stomach was stretched to its limit, I thought I should just leave without it.
As I walked down the stairs, I thought I heard the employees say my table number. Too late to turn back and finish that little rascal.
Off I went in search of my bus back to the hotel. Again, it was the slowest to arrive but at least I had a seat.
Taking the metro to Shanghai airport
At first, I thought about taking the Maglev train to Shanghai Pudong Airport. However, Nicole who went to the airport last night reported that the time it takes to reach the airport wasn’t very long so I decided to take the metro and save 33 yuan. Plus, the distance from Longshan Station to the airport is really quite short.
Off I went with my luggage to Yuyuan Station. The rain had stopped but the ground was still wet with puddles.
The train station wasn’t as crowded as it was yesterday. I couldn’t find a seat so I stood most of the way. At Guanglan Station, everyone got off and switched to another train.
Flight delayed…until tomorrow
Finally, I reached Shanghai Pudong Airport. But when I reached the check in counter, there was a note saying that the flight had been delayed to 8pm and we should check in at 2pm. Hey! We were supposed to leave at 2:30pm. The airline would get us a room to rest.
There wasn’t much to do in Terminal 2 so I walked around, bought a stamp for a postcard home, walked around some more and sat down to read before it was our check in time.
At check in, Air China employee told me to wait at Gate 26 for the shuttle to the airport. As you have guessed, the bus–buses actually since there were too–came late.
We were driven around for a while before finally stopping at a fancy hotel. Is this where we will be resting?
Yes, it was. The hotel staff said the rooms were for two people so I paired up with a lady who spoke with a Taiwanese accent. After putting my bags in my room, I head out for food and some toiletries shopping.
The little ramen place that I visited was run by Muslim-Chinese. Many of them run noodle shops such as the one I went to. The father of the house was rolling dough and pulling it into thin strands of noodles.
Unfortunately, the noodle wasn’t that good. I couldn’t finish half of it. When I asked how much it was, the son even charged me a large bowl of noodles although I think it was a small one. That’s only 1 yuan difference but it’s annoying to be overcharged.
Then it was toiletries shopping. I bought several bars of soap–something I’ve been buying as souvenirs for some time–although I’m afraid that people might think I am hinting that they need to take a shower if I give them any.
So back to the hotel I went. While I went online in the lobby, I spotted my roommate who was getting her luggage out of storage. Turns out, she was returning to her home in Shanghai city as the flight was delayed until tomorrow.
Back in my room, I found out that the internet speed was really fast. Wonderful! I have been plagued by slow internet speed since returning home.
In the middle of j-drama bingeing, the reception called to say that I could go for dinner at 5:30pm. Dinner was pitiful but at least they tried.
Later, the reception called again to say that check out tomorrow is at 5:30am and we will leave at 6:00am.
I have come to embrace days when I do not do sightseeing while travelling. These days are for recharging and slowing down.
Today was one of those days of very slow travel.
Going to the wrong Grandma’s Place
In the morning, we headed to what I thought was a branch of Grandma’s Place (外婆家). This is a famous chain of restaurant in Hangzhou. We didn’t make it there because there was always a gigantic queue in front of the place.
However, when we got to that particular restaurant, it felt weird. The sign said “Grandma’s Place” in Chinese but it looked like a pokey little place instead of the grand chain that we saw.
I couldn’t remember where the other branches of Grandma’s Place were so we stood outside Costa Coffee for its free WI-Fi. While we were searching, Nicole suggested that we head to Xiao Yang’s Place for 生煎包 (shengjianbao) which our mutual friend had recommended. Then I remembered that there was a Grandma’s Place branch there so off we went in search of food.
The fake Granma’s Place is situated just outside of the Chenghuang Shopping area so we had to swim through crowds to get to the subway station.
Once we were at the right stop, it took a while to find Grandma’s Place since I didn’t record the address. Nicole used Costa Coffee’s Wi-Fi to figure out where to go.
Grandma, what big bowls you have!
The branch that we went to occupied the whole 7th level of a shopping mall. It was like a maze trying to get to our table. Since it was still a bit too early for lunch, we didn’t have to wait for our table.
We ordered what we thought would feed 2 people nicely. But what came out seemed to be a nice meal for four.
Of course, we ate them all (except a bit of dessert).
Our next to-do list was to eat shengjianbao at Xiao Yang. However, we were still very full from lunch so we had to pass time before eating again.
We spent much of our time in Costa Coffee, surfing the internet. I dearly miss apps such as Facebook and Twitter but I had to satisfy myself with repeatedly looking at Instagram and WeChat. It was a very difficult period.
After sitting in the café one hour too long, we went off to do a bit of shopping. Yes, it was only “a bit”. My favorite clothes store UNIQLO has awesome shops in Shanghai. While we were there, its largest worldwide flagship store was opened somewhere in Shanghai but I didn’t go because we didn’t have time.
Finally, it was time for tea. There was already a queue at Xiao Yang. Unlike the Nanxiang branch we went to yesterday, Xiao Yang’s employees do not help customers look for seats. Instead, Nicole found a table while I queued for the shengjianbao.
Unfortunately for me, my order of 8 mini buns lacked just one bun and I had to wait for the next batch.
At XIao Yang (or at least the two branches that I’ve been to), the buns are cooked constantly so you won’t get anything chilled. The main cook prepares the buns by arranging a pan full of raw buns in hot oil. The buns are arranged with the usual top (the swirly part) on the pan so the flat part remains white and fluffy.
The cook then shifts the pan from side to side so the oil scalds all the buns. This process takes forever since I was only waiting for ONE. After the buns are fully cooked, the cook shifts it to another pan from where the food is served. The assistant then scatters sesame seeds and some Chinese green onion-like thing before scooping the cooked buns onto plates.
The most fun part about these shengjianbao is the soupy inside. When you bite into a Xiao Yang bun, the soup flows out and you have to slurp it up fast. It takes me about 2 slurps to suck the thing dry. Then you eat the meat along with the crunchy part. It is divine.
After our meal, it was time to head back to the hotel. Nicole had to catch a flight at 1am so we couldn’t go shopping.