Archive for May, 2006

Last day in Taipei

Our last day in Taipei. Our plane was to leave at 6:20pm so we had all day to roam around. We went to a Chinese style HK cafe to have “yum cha” or “dim sum” as I prefer to call it. The food there was ok. As usual we ordered too much. Food delivery seems to be extremely quick in Taipei or maybe I’m just used to it being slow everywhere else around the world.

In the afternoon Lucille and I went to check out the electronics geek zone called Guanghua Shangchang. If you thought Fry’s in the US was good this place is even better. Fry’s has a lot of other crap that get’s in the way this place truly has all the electronics/computer stuff you really need. It’s sort of spread out now into a whole bunch of stalls under a tin roof and also a bunch of retail outlets on some neighboring streets. There was so much to see I couldn’t see it all in 1.5 hours. Lots of computer motherboards, cell phones, hard drives, CDs, DVDs, etc. Clearly a lot of the electronics are focused around recording/copying or displaying some kind of media. We bought a cheap Skype handset for $25 USD. I could have easily spent all day there but it was fun just to see and remember for next time. I likened this to the night market for electronics (but no pets here).

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May 24, 2006 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

Night Shopping in Taipei

Sorry for the delay. I was wondering prior to this vacation whether I would get sick from something or not. Sure enough it happened in Taipei. Not sure what it was but I had a mild bout of food poisoning on this day. Woke up ok but felt tired as the morning wore on and didn’t feel like eating much lunch. We had gone to this Tawainese place on the recommendation of one of Lucille’s friends. Speciailized in chicken dishes. Boy was there a lot of them. We had this wine cooked chicken soup. Good golly, I know that I can drink a stiff Scotch but whatever was in this soup was really intense. Combined with the herbs in it I thought they must have cooked it in vodka or rice wine. I told Lucille’s dad it was too strong for a soup for me. First I thought I had caught a chill or cold but then realized that wasn’t it. I (actually we) spent the afternoon pretty much resting in the hotel room. Fortunately after a while I felt a little better or at least could function (still no eating desire).

We went to a Mitsukoshi shopping mall to get some cosmetic stuff for Lucille and her friend then downstairs to the usual food courts to get some food for Lucille and Kaili (remember, still didn’t feel like eating). Since we had come all this way to Taiwan and not knowing when we’d get back I toughed it out and we went to the Shilin Night Market. I’m really glad we went though. This is the second time I’ve been with Lucille shopping and had food poisoning 🙂 Anyway, the Night Market had all kinds of stuff you could buy. It was less packed in that the Ladies Street Market in Hong Kong and had way more stuff. Fortunately there was a major rain shower a couple of hours before which probably scared away a bunch of people but it was still “crowded”. At least it was a Monday.We saw many vendors selling shoes, clothes, Hello Kitty stuff, watches, purses, etc. But I saw some other things I didn’t in Hong Kong. There were many vendors selling food, these were reasonable looking too and much cleaner looking than in Hong Kong. Some of the vendors were obviously illegal because we were down one lane when they came hightailing it through with their street carts blazing a trail away from the police. I was wondering what the heck was going on when they tore through and Lucille told me they were yelling about the police coming. The other thing I saw was numerous vendors selling pets. They had dozens of tiny puppy dogs and kittens for sale. These were really cute pets too. At first I wondered what it was and hopefully not for food but I think people just love dogs and cats here. I certainly didn’t expect them to be at a night market though. In the end we bought Kaili some more slippers and a Hello Kitty watch which she loves. So in the end we had a good time at the market and I managed to survive just fine.

May 23, 2006 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

Day 2 in Taipei

Today we went all over the place. We started off the morning eating a small breakfast in the hotel. Then we proceeded to venture out and check out things. We ended up walking all the way to the place we were to meet Lucille’s parents for a very early lunch (9:30am) and beat the crowd. A world famous dumpling (xiao ling bao) place called Ding Tai Fong. We must have walked about 40 minutes to get there (we could have taken a cab but decided to enjoy the walk). This place is quite something. It’s in a non-descrip building as it seems most things are. As you walk in you see the chefs off to the right cranking away making tons of dumplings and putting them in steamers. There must have been well over people in there. The restaurant itself is narrow and deep. I think it’s 4 stories tall. The place itself is very clean. You sit down, you order and the food comes out lickety split (couldn’t have been more than 5-10 minutes). The dumplings are very good. Light dough with wonderful stuffing inside. It seemed like we must have ordered 20-30 dumplings (some are very small bite sized ones) and easily ate most of it. The service is very good too. Lots of staff on hand to come over and look over you every minute or so (filling your tea or delivering more dumplings).

  After this we went over to Taipei 101. This is the world’s tallest building coupled with many of the big brand name stores around the world. The mall itself felt very westernized and no different than any other major mall around America. I thought it was very similar to Hong Kong’s IFC mall. We took an elevator up to the 89th floor. The place boasts the world’s fastest elevator and  it couldn’t have taken much more than 2 minutes to get to that level. Once up there you get an amazing view of Taipei all around. This is Taipei’s tallest building by a very long shot as Taipei isn’t known for any skyscrapers per se. The amount of people up here was really tolerable as well unlike in the US. It felt eerily simliar to going to the top of the former World Trade Center. They control the amount of people going up there to 600 per hour and you can see how many tickets have been sold for that session and how many were left to go. It seems that every major office building has a food court in it’s basement. In fact every mall or department store we went to had a food court. Taipei 101 was no exception and had tons of food. You can’t eat it all and will probably feel overwhelmed figuring out what to eat or worried you can’t eat everything. There were tons of food vendors all over the place each serving some amazing food. You can get everything from Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Mexican and Hong Kong type of food here. It was all super cheap too, most food orders probably averaged around $3-$4. We ate yet another meal around 2pm here.

We went to Lucille’s parents house for dinner tonight. It’s suprising to see that there are still actual houses around that are really close to the central part of the city. Their house was larger than I had anticipated and had tall ceilings. I think that living quarters in Asia is vastly different than in the US. On the way back we were taken to the hotel by the seemingly most hip taxi driver I have encountered. This guy really liked his pop music, unfortunately it was pop music that dated back to the late 80’s. He really enjoyed talking to Lucille and was jamming to his music. He even turned it up for us to enjoy in the back seat. Had the cab been black and had tinted windows we’d be cruising down the streets of Taipei. He was really nice and funny though. At the end of the ride he even gave Lucille the CD that he had made himself and was listening too. Poor guy doesn’t get to enjoy this CD anymore tonight but I’m sure he had quite a few more in the changer.

The one thing I’ve noticed around Taipei is that there is food aplenty and good food at that. It’s probably some of the best Asian food I’ve seen and had around the world. The other is that the food is really cheap here as well. Quite noticably cheaper than Hong Kong. People in Taipei must only sleep, eat and shop, mostly the latter two.

May 21, 2006 at 3:41 pm Leave a comment

First time in Taipei, Taiwan

It’s been an interesting experience being here in Taipei. I wasn’t sure what to expect after being in Hong Kong. You can definitely tell the difference in being exposed exposed to the British and/or Western influences like Hong Kong. Much of the signage is purely in Chinese and people here speak mostly only Mandarin. I imagine this is something like what Beijing or other parts of China must be like. The place is definitely flatter and more spread out than Hong Kong.

There are a few things that I noticed while here. There are literally thousands and thousands of motorcycles everywhere. These are not your rice rockets or Harleys but rather more like mopeds or scooters. Everyone rides them, from young people to old people, kids, male and female. They are parked everywhere and people speed along in them just like cars. I saw one guy who had a little stool with his son sitting on it in front of him while they rode the scooter. I saw another with 3 people on one and then right after that one with 4 people on it (imagine that, an entire family on a scooter). The other thing I noticed is that there are many food stalls and little hole in the wall restuarants where people eat. They eat many things like noodles and dumplings. I saw people making dumplings or wontons right on the street. They were making them so fast it was unbelievable. People cook right on the side of the street in a little retail outlet. You’re never too far away from food. Also these places look relatively clean, unlike Hong Kong where some can be sketchy. Disposable chopsticks are the norm here. No live animals or too many raw meats kicking around. In addition to that the area we were at today had many little shops that sold all kinds of knick knacks. Clothes, slippers, Hello Kitty stuff, watches, handbags, etc. Truly the capitalist environment. There are so many shops it’s just overwhelming. You don’t know what to buy as there is too much choice, yet there is so much that you can just buy nothing. I mean I really don’t know what to buy and at the same time have nothing to buy. Also there are numerous arcades. These arcades are not filled with video games per se but bright lights and machines that spit out tiny stuffed animals or other little cute toys. Taxis are dirt cheap here. We rode from our hotel to the noodle house for $4 USD. 4 of us ate for a total of $20 USD (4 bowls of noodles, some pork and pickled cabbage).

Tonight we had a wonderful Japanese all you can eat buffet. This place called Jogoya (http://www.jogoya.com.tw) puts Todai to shame. The food is fresh and tasty. You can get a lot of seafood soups and casseroles. Also there is a not only great sushi but many other cooked foods (ex. peppered shrimp, lamb chops). All you can drink beer, juices and good desserts too. I think the total cost was $3000 NT (or <$24/person). The service is a little less to be desired but at least the food made up for it.

May 20, 2006 at 3:40 pm Leave a comment

Sydney the first day

We spent the afternoon wandering around Sydney harborfront. There are definitely some lovely views here as you can tell from the pictures. The weather is sunny and quite mild due to being so close to the water. It reminded me a lot of Seattle in September/October.

We went to a great restaurant for dinner. It was called Fish at the Rocks (http://www.fishattherocks.com.au). Amazing looking and tasting seafood at an laughing great price. Very friendly service and walkable distance from our hotel. Chalk one up for the concierge for recommending this place.

May 10, 2006 at 5:16 am Leave a comment

The day begins in Sydney

Short one for now. We got here around noon. Kaili screamed the whole way in the van. The Aussie driver probably hates us now and will request that we kindly walk back to the airport.

We’re staying at the Quay West Suites http://www.mirvachotels.com.au/hotel_detail.asp?hotel=6. We got a two bedroom suite for us and Lucille’s parents. The view is amazing, check out the picture from our room.

Not sure what we’ll do this afternoon as everyone else is sleeping. Maybe I’ll go eat some roo meat.

May 9, 2006 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Our last day in Hong Kong

We had a full day to enjoy Hong Kong one last time. We’re not sure when we will return next. We decided that we would go to Stanley Market and then just generally hang out. Prior to that though I had thought long and hard about when we might come back and figured it would likely be quite a few years later. So having thought that I decided to buy one last pair of glasses to keep myself happy for a while.

We packed up all our bags in the morning and took a taxi out to Stanley. It’s amazing to see this ocean front resortlike area only about 30 minutes outside of Hong Kong central. We took a taxi there and it only cost ~$20 USD. We drove though an area which was covered with trees and saw a dam with a lake on one side and the sea on the other. Apparently many foreigners or wealthier people live out in this area. At the Stanley Market we saw a lot of non-Chinese tourists. The area reminded me of a combination outlet mall and a boardwalk in California. We ate our first non-Chinese food on the trip.

After Stanley we went back to Aberdeen where my parents were staying. We ate at some Chinese noodle/congee place. A little hole in the wall with reasonably good food but no passion for napkins. You have to wonder how clean these places actually are. The city itself was packed full of these little stores, cafe’s, etc. After the meal we went to my parent’s apartment and hung out there before going to dinner and then the airport.

Getting to the airport was super easy with the hotel having arranged a mini-van for us. The Landmark Mandarin Oriental is just simply amazing with their service. All these people run around with bluetooth earpieces communicating with each other in black suits. You’d think they were Chinese secret service or something. At the airport Cathay Pacific really took good care of us. At 10pm it’s a breeze to get through security, etc. We hung out in the nice lounge, took a shower, ate some good food before boarding. In the first class section we were 3 of 4 people in there. You felt like you had this big A340 to yourself (the plane itself wasn’t even full, only 60% in coach class they said). The beds lie flat, they give you pajamas and to have 2 flight attendants taking care of just 4 passengers is amazing. Overall the service, flight and how peaceful it was to have Kaili sleeping in another berth while we ate and then slept ourselves was a real treat.

Overall I was really happy with our time in Hong Kong. It wasn’t long or short, just right. I was impressed by how the city has cleaned itself up a lot (it wasn’t even that bad when I was there in 1995) but many things have changed and seemingly for the better. The subway is immaculate and super easy to get around everywhere. Make sure you get an Octopus card (multi-use transit pass). We only paid $150 HKD (you can get $50 back since that is a deposit) and we used it all up near the end but traveled so much on the MTR. Getting around in Hong Kong has to be the easiest thing to do. A city block here is like 1/4 of a NYC city block. Everything (and I mean everything) is super accesible. You can find the best brand name things in stores so close by or even in one store itself. Good food virtually everywhere you go (compared to Seattle Chinese food this isn’t hard). Quite a few people speak Catonese, Mandarin and even much more English now. We accomplished the two main things I wanted. We got to see my grandma and for my grandma to meet Lucille and Kaili. The other was to get my new glasses. I didn’t expect to get so many pairs but when they are good quality, get the lenses done the way I want them and very reasonable price I just can’t resist. I thought about buying a new cell phone, a platinum chain but ended up deciding I didn’t really need that. Penny is trying to decide whether she wants to buy a camera there but I told her to wait and get it in the States. Lastly as if you can’t tell I highly recommend the Landmark Mandarin Oriental (http://www.mandarinoriental.com/hotel/556000001.asp). Great staff, location and decore.

May 8, 2006 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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