Event: Chinese Taipei Touch Tournament

This is just a bit of cross promotion for something I’m heavily involved in here in Taiwan.  About 10 months ago I started playing Touch Football, and have become involved in running training on Tuesdays & Saturdays, as well as organising tournaments and what not.  It’s been great fun, and most of the people I call friends in Taipei I know through Touch.

Aaaanyway … a couple of weeks ago we had our national Touch tournament. It was a fantastic day, with teams from Taipei, Taichung and even Hong Kong (!!) taking part.  We even had a representative from the Japan national team playing for one of the sides.

There’s a more comprehensive write up here.

If you’d like to get involved in Touch, visit our website, and like our Facebook page!

Sights: Taipei Zoo

Okay this, like many posts I’m hoping to put up in the coming weeks, has been a long time coming.  Last summer a few friends and I planned an outing to Taipei Zoo.  It just so happened that a typhoon developed that week, and was just off the coast of Taiwan that day.  Needless to say we had a wet, cloudy, sometimes sunny, and very muggy day wandering around what is a very nice zoo, nestled up against the Mountains to the South of the city.

I haven’t got any pictures of the day, because one – they’d mostly be of animals, and two – the weather was pretty bad at times, so my camera stayed in my backpack.

It’s not hard to get to the Zoo.  Take the MRT Brown Line to the last stop, which is called Taipei Zoo Station.  This is the same station you get off at to go to Maokong via the gondola.  Actually, both can easily be done as part of day-trip, and you’d still have plenty of time (perhaps not the energy though) to visit a night market that night!

Entrance to the Zoo is NT$60 for adults, and when you realise how big it actually is, and how long you can while away in there, it’s a very good deal.  There’s a small buggy-train thing inside the Zoo too, which can help take you from place to place.

There’s a good mix of animals, and habitats as you walk through.  The main attraction though are the Panda’s (especially baby) and there’s plenty of panda paraphernalia you can pick up at the enclosure too.  There are also quite a few monkeys & apes at the Zoo, which are always fun to watch.  For me, it was also good to see some of the Aussie animals there, such as the resident emus.

All up, Taipei Zoo (and Maokong) make a good whole-day trip, if you are looking for something to do, especially with children in tow.  Just try to avoid a Typhoon ;)

Events: Eslite 誠品 Unplugged 分享現場

洪申豪 @ Xinyi Eslite

洪申豪 @ Xinyi Eslite

I’ve recently found out about a series of live FREE music gigs that

take place on Friday nights at various Eslite bookstores around Taiwan.  Obviously I only know details for the ones in Taipei, but if you are in Taichung, or Kaohsiung be sure to keep a look out.  It’s a nice way to unwind on a Friday night, with a small crowd & a local Taiwanese band playing some tunes.

Last week I was a the flagship Xinyi store to see 洪申豪 play some songs from his new album LIGHT CORAL, and tonight I made my way to the Tianmu store to see a short gig by BIKE樂團.

All the gigs start at 8pm, and go for about 1 hour.  Keep an eye out at your local Eslite (or online – www.gigguide.tw or Eslite Music) for November’s lineups.

Places: Ershui & The Jiji Branch Line (二水 + 集集線)

It’s been a very, very, very, very (I could add a few more, but I’ll spare you) long time between posts.  In the time since, I’ve learnt a whole lot more Chinese (not enough to start blogging using it though), been back home to Australia briefly (which I might post about once I get a chance to go through the photos), finally made it down to Kenting (definitely posting), and got really involved with playing Touch Rugby here in Taipei.

Anyway, with all that said, today’s post is about a trip I made in the middle of the year.  I spent a couple of days in Taichung, and explored the area around Taichung-Changhua.  During this time, I spent a rain interrupted afternoon around Ershui, Shuili & Checheng – otherwise known as The Jiji Branch Line.

This is a really nice part of Changhua county, with farmlands giving way to mountains & woodlands as you make your way along the Jiji Branch Line.  While the branch line starts at Ershui & goes to Checheng, you can actually catch trains bound for Checheng from both Taichung & Changua.  There is a train approximately every 2 hours.  I didn’t go all the way in one go, instead catching a train from Taichung to Ershui (1 hour, NT$72).  At Ershui, I rented a bicycle (NT$100/day) from a small shop outside the station exit (on the right hand side).  There are a couple of routes available around Ershui, most of which go through farmlands & are very flat & easy to handle.  Unfortunately for me, my ride only last 1 hour before some heavy afternoon rain forced me to stop & then ride back to Ershui (in the breaks between the rain).

Heavy enough to make me head back.

Heavy enough to make me head back.

There’s also a very friendly Visitor Information spot next to Ershui station, where you can pick up information not just about the Jiji Branch Line, but also the region in general.  English is spoken, and you might also get tips on how to meet “nice Taiwanese girls” (go to Church in Taipei I was told – yep, that type of “nice Taiwanese girl”).  From Ershui I boarded the train & started along the Jiji Branch Line.  As my time was limited to one day, I decided to go all the way to Checheng (50 minutes, $NT78 – all day).  There are several stops along the Line, one of which is Jiji itself, which was damaged by a massive earthquake in 1999, and has some interesting sights to see, so I’m advised.

I didn’t end up taking the train all the way to Checheng.  Rather, I alighted one stop before, at a town called Shuili.  From there, you can bike or walk to Checheng, first alongside a river, then by the rail line itself.  For the walking/biking route, leave Shuili station, walk to the first intersection & turn left.  Keep going until you reach a T-intersection & from there follow the signs to Checheng :)

Left to Checheng.

Checheng itself is a very interesting place to look around.  It’s pretty dead during the week (when I was there), but I can imagine it would be teaming with people during the summer months.  There are plenty of places to buy food, snacks, souvenirs & learn a little more about Taiwan’s rail history.  Kids & photographers would love it!

Video: 走路回家 | The walk home

I know it’s been a while, and I’ve finally got some time on my hands tonight to go through the many photos I have sitting on my laptop waiting to be looked at – hopefully there’ll be a proper post in the next day or so.

In the meantime, here’s something else I do when I don’t particularly want to study – make short movies.

I made this one many Sundays ago at a small coffee shop in behind ShiDa called “T.Loafer“.  It’s a really tiny, but cute little place – you can read more about it here: http://curatingcuteness.com/2013/01/t-loafer-cafe/ It’s not somewhere that you’d really go to study, but I like to sometimes, just to change things up.  While I was there on the Sunday in question, I also had my camera & tripod with me.  Naturally I got bored to studying fairly quickly, and out came the photographic equipment & I played around with a few of the things in the shop.  Here’s the result:

Update: Sorry for the silence

Hey folks,

I’d just like to apologise for the lack of action on the blog lately.  I’ve been without my laptop for a while (broke, but it’s better now), and then was without internet while I waited for my landlord to get her act together.

I’m back online now, and just catching up with a few things (have got a little behind on school work), but I hope to be back & posting more pictures & places in the next few days :)

Fish.

Places: Changhua (彰化)

I made a half-day trip to Changhua last week, during my school holidays.  I was staying in Taichung for a few days, and was keen to see places outside of Taiwan’s 3rd largest city.

Changhua is located about 30 minutes by train from Taichung city.  The train ticket costs only NT$26 (one way), and trains are very frequent.  Once you’re in Taichung, either rent a bike, or make sure you have your walking boots on.  There isn’t a lot to do in the city, but there are a couple of interesting sights which you can see, and as with anywhere in Taiwan, plenty of places to eat – so Changhua is a city that can easily be seen in a few hours.

The tourist information desk, located inside the train station, can help you with a map, and directions on how to get to various sights.  One of the staff there spoke good English and, though they only had a Chinese map,  they were able to explain the different sights to me, and how to get there on foot.

The first place I visited was the Fan-Shaped Train Depot, just a 5 minute walk away from the station.  This is a fantastic place to spend some time walking around. It would be a fantastic place to take kids (especially if you have a young boy/s), and also for photographers.  When you get to the train yard, you will just need to sign-in (despite being told my Passport would be required, I simply signed my name, dated, and was let in).  The best part about the train yard is that you can walk on the tracks, right up to the trains!  The main draw of the depot is the rotating section of track in the middle, which rotates to allow trains in-and-out of the train garages.  Though most of the trains there are being serviced, and are modern, there are two older engines there which are very cool to look at.

Trains parked at the fan-shaped depot in Changhua

Trains parked at the fan-shaped depot in Changhua

Next, I made my way to the other main sight in Changhua City, the Bagushan Buddha.  From the train depot, it is about a half-hour walk.  Along the way, I made a quick trip around the city’s Confucius Temple, partly because it looked cool, and partly because it was just about to rain, and I wanted a place to take refuge in.  Once the rain stopped, I kept walking to the park in which the Buddha is located.  It is a little bit of a hike up to the Buddha, though it is marked fairly well – if you have a scooter, or take a taxi, then you can save yourself the effort and take the road up.  As I went on a weekday, and just after some heavy rain, there were very few people in the grounds around the Buddha.  From the top of the hill, on which the statue sits, there are very good views of Changhua City (which was much bigger than I expected), all the way out to the West coast & the sea.  The Buddha statue itself is very big, though not all that impressive.  The surrounding grounds offer a few places to wander around, before heading back down the hill.  If you’re looking for some food to eat, there is plenty in the streets at the entrance to Bagushan park.  I didn’t venture there, as it was late and I was keen to get back to Taichung for dinner.

The Bagushan Buddha at Changhua

The Bagushan Buddha at Changhua

Changhua can be done as a stop on the way to/from Lukang – which is famous for its temple & old streets.  If you plan to do both, then I would definitely leave much earlier in the morning than I did (I left Taichung at 12pm).  It is about 40 minutes, I’m told, from Changhua to Lukang.  Changhua City can also be used as a base to explore the surrounding countryside of Changhua County, if you would like to spend more than a day in the area.

Places: Beitou

Beitou is a popular stop for Taipeiers looking for a relaxing hot spring escape.  Only about 30 minutes north of the city, it is extremely easy to reach, and makes for a perfect day trip if you don’t have long in Taipei, and want to get your hot spring fix.

I explored Beitou as part of a free walking tour, organised by the team at Topology tours (website | Facebook).  I’ve been looking out for something like this in Taipei for a while now, and this one is the first of its kind that I’ve found.  While travelling around Europe last year I went on free walking tours of every city I visited.  They were a great way to orient oneself with the city, quickly see all the main sights, hear the stories behind them, and most importantly, meet a whole bunch of new people.  The team at Topology hold a free walking tour at different locations around Taipei every Saturday, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for upcoming events – who knows, we may just meet :)

The tour of Beitou started at 10:30 at Xinbeitou station.  The group was small, and to be honest, there was actually an equal number of Topology staff & visitors.  That said, the walking tour is actually a form of training for the Topology tour guides, and having so many of them there was good to get ideas & insights into other places around Taipei & Taiwan too.

We started from the station, walking up through the back streets of Beitou, stopping at different houses & streets, and being told of the history of the area, especially during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, when Beitou’s hot springs were the last port of call for the Japanese Kamakazi (suicide mission) soldiers.  Seeing various old houses in the area, it was interesting to see them juxtaposed with newer buildings, which underline Beitou’s popularity as a retreat for wealthier Taipeiers.

The main hot spring area in Beitou has a mix of high end, expensive resorts, cheaper options, and even an outdoor public pool.  On the muggy day that we went, I wasn’t too keen to jump into a hot spring, though I can imagine they would be very nice on a windy, wet Taipei winters day.  There is an outdoor pool of hot sulphuric water, that you can smell as your enter town, and even a stream running beside the street of the same water.

After a ramen lunch at what seemed like a very popular Japanese place in town (sorry I didn’t take a business card) we made our way to last remaining free stops on the tour – the Beitou Hot Spring Museum, and the Beitou Public Library.  The Hot Spring Museum has a limited amount of English information, but there’s a nice park around it (and the public hot spring, mentioned above, is next door) so you can easily spend a few hours in/around it.

The day finished with a walk to a nearby market for some shaved ice & then saying our goodbyes at Beitou station.  It was a great day, everyone made a lot of new friends, and we all went home with very, very tired legs :D

Places: Miaoli 苗栗

One thing I do find lacking about studying Chinese at NTU’s Chinese Language Department is that we seem to be very separate from the rest of National Taiwan University (NTU).  So when I found out about ISIS (International Student Information Service) I jumped at the chance to take part in some of the events they hold.  My first trip with ISIS was a one day trip to Miaoli County, and Hsinchu.

Our day started early, meeting at NTU Main Gate at 7:30am, on a very rainy, wet, Taipei day.  We took a chartered bus, and to be honest to get to most of the places I mention you will need your own transport (or hire something from Hsinchu city).  After a little sleep on the bus, we reached our first destination, where we would be doing some Taiwanese tea grinding & making Taiwanese style mochi.

I must say, grinding the tea was an amazing workout.  To grind the dried tea leaves into a find powder, then have to also crush in other nuts & herbs was a real effort.  That said, the tea that was produced was delicious!  To make the mochi, we had to pound a bowl of glutinous rice for about 10 minutes.  Again, absolutely exhausting, but really tasty mochi.  I suppose you do appreciate food a whole lot more when you understand the effort that goes in to making it.  The owner of the tea house didn’t speak very much English, so gave all instructions in Chinese.  Luckily for our group, we had the ISIS students to translate, but if you’re on your own, I’m sure you can still get by.  I don’t think bookings are required, but if you want to find more information, you can use the details below.

Ancient Latee Mill (擂茶坊)

苗栗縣南庄鄉東村17鄰109-6號
Tel: 037-821237
Website: http://hakkatea.many30.com/

The tea we ground, with some rice puffs.

The tea we ground, with some rice puffs.

After the effort of grinding tea, and the delight of devouring the results of our hard work, we then went on to Nanzhuang Old Street to have some lunch & sample some of the other local food.  Many of the food & drinks in the area feature the osmanthus flower as an ingredient, and as you walk down the old street in Nanzhuang you can sample food at every store!  There are also plenty of places where you can eat delicious local noodles.  There is a lot to sample, and eat in Nanzhuang, so it’s definitely worth making a stop there to fill your belly.

Local noodles at Nanzhuang.  Delicious!

Local noodles at Nanzhuang. Delicious!

With our bellies full, we went on to our final activity of the day – traditional Aboriginal fabric dying.  It was a little bit away from Nanzhuang township, up in the mountains.  It was amazing up there, with the heavy rain falling, the mist over the mountains, and waterfalls cascading down across the river valley.  We went to 石壁彩虹民宿 (Rainbow Guesthouse), which is one place you can stay in the area if you want to spend a weekend there.  The guesthouse is run by local Taiya Aboriginals, who showcase their tribes culture, and crafts for guests.  To the side of the guesthouse is a large hall, in which sessions on local crafts are held.  The patterns that are able to be achieved by dying the fabric are amazing, despite the methods being fairly simple.  By simply folding the cloth, and tying it with rubber bands, or holding it together with chopsticks, we were all able to create some amazing designs.  The fabric is dyed in a very foul smelling brew, so be sure to wrap it up in a plastic bag while taking it home.  Again, the instructions here were entirely in Chinese, so having a translator to help is very, very handy.  Details for the guesthouse below, they can be contacted about the fabric dying too.

石壁彩虹民宿

苗栗縣南莊鄉東河村石壁21號
Tel: 03 782 1777

The final stop of a long day was a the City God Temple in Hsinchu city.  The temple is really cool, and the night market surrounding it has plenty of food to fill your belly.  Our stop there was only brief, so I can’t say too much on it.  After having a light dinner, we boarded the bus again & made it back to Taipei by 9pm.  It was a long day, but a very interesting day – despite the rain.  To make the most of it, and to not rush your time too much, I would suggest staying at a local B&B , or in Hsinchu city, and working your way around the area from there.