Monday, February 25, 2008

Birthdays, fireworks, and KTV

The weather was freezing for the first few days after we got back from vacation. It actually wouldn't be that bad except that there's no indoor heating and our floors are icy cold cement. I went to sleep with my blowdryer for a few nights to warm up my frozen toes. Things are back to normal now and we're just hopin' it stays that way.


Last week was Steve's b-day so we all went to everyone's favorite place for dumplings. Then we had birthday cake, ice cream, and peanut butter at McDonald's. (Peanutbutter in Taiwan has so much sugar, it tastes like candy...so Steve had the bright idea to bring peanut butter to McDonalds and put it on icecream.)















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Chinese New Year fireworks on the roof!














Wanna' be pyros!!!










We ended the night with a crazy game of spoons. The spoons were hidden in different rooms and we had to hunt for them. I almost made it to the final round but Destiny and Joseph beat me to the last two spoons hidden in the girl's bathroom.

The next day was Sain's birthday!!! We decided to celebrate by participating in Taiwan's national pastime... Karoake or KTV as it's called here in Taiwan.





We love the random karoake videos and the chinglish lyrics.
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Pushing the reject button! It's a tough job but somebody's gotta' do it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alishan

The day after getting back from Hualien, we woke up and caught a 6:30am train to Chiayi. I think it was a two hour ride so we were able to catch up on some missed sleep. We left the train station to purchase bus tickets to Alishan but a very persistent woman who did not speak English really wanted us to buy shuttle bus tickets. We finally gave in and boarded the minivan that would take us to the mountain top.

It was a two hour ride full of twists and turns and about 30 minutes into it I was so car sick I wanted to die. Mary felt worse and by some miracle, our driver stopped at the halfway point for a short break. Poor Mary ended up leaving her breakfast in this little ditch.

I layed down on the seat the rest of the way up the mountain and was able to fight the nausea. Mary was looking pretty green and our driver, somehow sensing Mary's suffering, stopped again so that she could get rid of anything else in her stomach. I didn't get to enjoy the breathtaking views on the way up the mountain so Emily filmed this for me. Next time we come here...we are definitely taking a bus or train...no more crazy mini-van driver swerving around cars and steep corners for me, thanks.


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This is the cute little bed and breakfast we stayed at. Our room was the window on the second floor to the left.




This was our room with electrically heated mattresses ... heavenly!!!!









I love the mountains!


































Here we are doing our best "damsel in distress" impressions.




Wow...I'm a dork.














Then the fog started to roll in....
One minute things looked like this...














and the next we were surrounded in clouds...
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These two trees have grown together into kind of a heart shape. We asked some Taiwanese guys that were there to be in a few of our pictures.


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The Alishan temple was definitely my favorite so far.
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If you ever do go to Alishan, you should be aware of Rule No: 56 of Forestry Law

In case you can't read it, this is what the sign says:


To fine NT:1000-60000 for the following act

1. To break or damage the properties of the Park
2. talls
3. Littering, Urinating, or others
4. Drawing or writing on walls and making noise.

I'm not sure if I broke rule number 2 but I'm only 5'5" so I think I'm okay.








We checked out the Alishan museum and I thought this diagram was interesting. The train route spirals the mountain three times before reaching the top.







We ate dinner at a delicious restaurant (except for the few pieces of raw chicken we found in the dish we ordered) and then did a little shopping.




We all bought hats since, according to Mary, "You lose 80% of your body heat through your head."

*Mary has since checked her numbers (using her favorite website...Wikipedia) and the actual percentage is 30-50%.


Alishan kind of reminded me of an Asian Park City. Apparently, they even get snow sometimes.
















It was very cold that night and I can't tell you how fantastic those heated mattresses were in our hotel room...wow....heaven on earth.

We got up around 5:30 am the next morning, bundled up, and walked to the train station that would take us to the top of the mountain in hopes of seeing the gorgeous sunrise above the clouds that Emily had told us about. Here is the train we took...It kind of felt like we were riding the Hogwart's Express... a ghetto version of it anyway.


It was freezing cold but we kept our fingers nice and toasty with the handwarmers I brought from home that my mom put in my Christmas sock. Thanks mom!




At the top, this man was speaking to the throng of people that had made the trek up but unfortunately, we had absolutely no idea what he was saying. Everyone else seemed pretty entertained though.

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We never did see the sun but the thick fog rolling through the forest was incredible. I want to come back in March or April when the cherry trees are blooming and the weather is better. We spent the rest of the day walking around the beautiful forest trails. I couldn't stop taking pictures even though the whole time I kept singing John Mayer's song, 3x5 which talks about seeing the world through both your eyes and overcoming the need to fit the world in a picture frame. Huh...this stupid blog is taking over my life.







I felt like I was in Narnia...














This is the Three Generation Tree that shows how one tree died and a second grew from it, then a third generation tree grew from the second tree.












There were a lot of Easter lilies growing wild.







We checked out of our room and caught a bus back to Chiayi. The ride back down the mountain was a lot better as far as not getting motion sickness goes. I loved Alishan and hopefully will get to go back again and see the sun.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Day Four: Hot Springs

At this point in the trip, my camera battery had completely died so any pictures I post are courtesy of Steve and Tammy. Steve has already posted this hideous picture of me on his blog and has had a little too much laughter at my expense because of it. But since I spent the majority of the trip ridiculing the gargantuan helmet he had to wear the whole time, I guess we're even.


Day four started out with Laura and I getting up early and heading over to the scooter rental place to try and rent one more scooter. There wasn't one available right away so I left Laura there with my passport and international driver's license and went back to the hostel to take a shower before all the hot water was gone. Laura came back later with a fifth scooter. The girl was born ready to drive...she is a rockstar on the scooter. I hadn't driven at all the day before and was happy to let her take the wheel. As you can see from my nerdy picture...it doesn't look like I have a lot of confidence in my scooter driving ability. It was another cloudy day in Hualien but we would not be deterred from another fun scooter ride to a new destination. We decided to take Highway 11 and look for some hotsprings that were on our map.

Here are the scooter-riding duos:






Laura and Me!













Tammy and Whitney










Emily and Lish












Mary and Jessica













Joseph and Steve


(and the aforementioned orbit sized helmet that has it's own weather system)





There were road signs along the way telling us the names of the cities we were passing through but other than that, it was pretty hard to find anything. We stopped a few times and attempted to ask for directions but never really got a concrete answer on how to get to any hotsprings. We finally found this little hotspring resort to thaw out in. The water was fabulous!

After soaking to our hearts' content, we decided to head back. Oh yeah...quick story...so Steve is walking to his scooter and asks, "Where's my helmet?" Since his enormous helmet was sitting on his head, I haven't been able to stop quoting that line ever since. I even taught some of my students to say, "Where's my helmet?" to him whenever they see him. The guy will never live that one down. He's our special Steve. You know we love ya Steve!












Jessica is ready for wind and rain in this sporty Muslim woman burqa ensemble designed for comfort and functionality. Word.










We were just about to leave when we discovered Emily and Lish had a flat tire. Tammy and Whitney stayed behind with them to wait for the tire to be changed and the rest of us headed back in the freezing cold wind and wet weather. It was a long drive and nothing at all remotely exciting happened. Nothing at all. Just a peaceful, freezing cold drive back to our hostel in Hualien. Yeah, and when we got back, we decided to order pizza so that it would be there when everyone returned. Our wonderful hostel host, Chi called Pizza Hut for us and helped us order. That night we ate pizza, relaxed, and listened to the amazing poetry of the one and only Joseph Castleton. I think some of Joseph's belongings might end up "missing" in order to be sold on Ebay when he is rich and famous someday. Joseph, consider yourself warned.


Since Laura didn't get to see the coast where we had driven, she and I decided to wake up early the next morning and take a quick drive before our train left. First, we went to the train station at 6am to see if we could score some train seats before they completely sold out. We were able to get five seats and five standing tickets. Then we set out hoping to see the sun rising over the ocean and were able to see a few glimpses of it before it disappeared into the clouds. Laura has the pictures from our ride so I am unable to post them right now, but hopefully they will be available later.


The train ride home wasn't as crowded as it was on the way to Hualien and we were glad to be back after a very fun and unforgettable trip. I had to pack again that night because Emily, Mary, and I had planned a quick trip to Alishan National park. The three of us don't work on Tuesdays for the time being and had that extra day to travel. Will the blogging ever end? I can't keep up. Alishan was gorgeous and you better believe my next blog will have tons of pictures...trees, trees, and more trees.