May 30, 2010

China-Taiwan Trip Part 1

We have been saving up to take a trip to visit relatives who couldn't make it to the wedding in Taiwan and China, and we finally found a good deal for airlines tickets for April 8-26th. Paul and I took most of our vacation days for the year to make this trip happen. We were able to forget about work and obligations at home and enjoyed 2.5 weeks of packed meeting, greeting, eating, and having as much fun as we could. Here we will share some highlights.

We flew United out of Albany, with stop-overs in Washington DC, to Tokyo, landing in Taipei, Taiwan. The whole trip took about 24 hours and we didn't sleep much on the plane. It turned out ok though because it was evening when we arrived and we slept until morning, so not much effect from jetlag. We met Paul's dad at the airport and he drove us to a neighborhood with lots of small eateries. Unfortunately it was about 10pm and most of the places were either closed or about to close. We were lucky though to find one that was still open and we got Paul's favorite "Gao Li Cai" (Stir Fried cabbage) and I got a veggie noodle soup. It was very refreshing to eat some fresh veggies after the long plane ride. Paul's dad also got us "Scallion cake", "Deep Fried Tempura, Chicken, and Veggies" (鹽酥雞) to snack on. Miss Ye also met us and we had shaved ice together. That night, we stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel, the bed was so comfortable (Firm King sized Simmons with Featherbedl; we would later spend many hours back in Albany trying to find the same bed to purchase for our home). The hotel was extremely comfortable, elegant, and welcoming. They even offered free fruits in the room. We were disappointed though that the peach was not ripe (Taiwan's supposed to have the most delicious fruits!). Oh well, it was "free".

The second day we got some breakfast at the Family Mart convenience store next to the hotel (There is a convenient store around every corner in Taiwan). We had yummy salmon rice ball. We then spent the most of the day at the photo studio doing our "wedding pictures" Taiwanese style. The place was across the street from "Zhongzheng Memorial" so we did some outdoor shots in the park setting as well. We chose our clothes, they did makeup, hair, and photos in about 6 hours, and even gave us bentos and tea, which was nice. Both of our faces were sore from smiling at the end of the day. Pauls' dad and Paul's Aunt accompanied us during the process. We went to dinner and met more of Paul's family and friends. After dinner, we met up with some Cornell friends (YC and Jude) at "NY, NY" (a mall near Taipei 101) and sat in the patio chatting. This is also when we got our first round of mosquito bites.

The following day (4/11), we had more time to eat breakfast since we didn't have any appointments. We found a small breakfast shop and had "Egg pancake" (蛋餅) and soy milk, we had tried to replicate the recipe for "Egg Pancake" from Paul's childhood memory many times before this, it was fantastic to try the real thing, and of course it didn't disappoint! We walked, cutting through the "Da-an Forest Park" (大安公園) and met Paul's Dad, Miss Ye, Miss Ye's son and mom at their apartment. Later, we went to visit Miss Ye's dogs (two friendly golden retrievers). Miss Ye teachers dogs owners to train their dogs to become "Dog Doctors" to help out patients in hospitals and stressful situations. We have a lot to learn from her if we decide to get our own dog someday. We then had lunch, Japanese hot pot, and Paul got his haircut at an instant haircut place next to the restaurant (You pay money into a ATM-like machine, and it gives you a ticket. When your number is displayed, it's your turn to get your hair cut!). It was then time to pick out our pictures from the day before, we tried to do it as fast as we could, but it still ended up taking about 2 hours. At least we didn't feel too bad since there was a couple sitting across from us who were picking out pictures since the day before, and was still not done when we finished picking ours. We decided to upgrade the album style and picked the best photos we liked, and headed to "Yi Lan" (宜蘭) for hot spring bath. To get to "Yi Lan" from Taipei, the fastest way is to go through "Snow Mountain Tunnel", a 13 km tunnel through mountains. The tunnel has many safety exits along the way in case there is an accident. We were blessed with a safe journey. When we arrived at the hotspring, we changed into bathing suits and started to explore the myriad varieties of hot spring water treatments. There was the standard hot tubs with pressurized water aimed at different muscle groups, chest, feet, butt, head, and then there were rain fall showers, spraying from different directions. There was a large heated stone plank where you could lie down and suppposedly get some ions from the stone. There were hot and cold pools for traditional hot spring treatment, where you alternate between hot (~40 deg C) and cold (~15 deg C) to cleanse the pores of your skin. There was also hot spring pools flavored with Chinese medicine, rose, wine, etc. After about an hour or so of different hot spring treatments, we were both relaxed and exhausted. We then got some local Yi Lan famous snacks, "Yi Lan crunch", flat crackers called "Cow tongue cracker", and vacuum packed salted duck. We got "pot stickers" and ate it in the car as we drove back to Taipei. Jenn was so tired she fell asleep in the car. Paul's dad dropped us off at the subway station, and the plan was to head to "Dan Shui" to checkout the night market. We got on the subway and Jenn was feeling tired the whole way. When we arrived, Jenn was even reluctant to walk towards the night market area. We did manage to find a street with vendors, and admired the sight. It was only one street though, we may not have found the right place. We almost got some clothes from one guy, but decided it was too expensive. Not long afterwards, we rode the subway back and then got a taxi to back to the hotel. Home sweet home.

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