Adventures living as expats.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Birthday Trip to Kenting National Park

Jeff planned a fantastic weekend beach getaway to celebrate my birthday.  It was so nice to get out of the city and enjoy the fresh air and scenic views of Kenting National Park which is at the very southern tip of Taiwan and is well known for its sunny climate and beautiful beaches.  Jeff chose a dog friendly BnB so Oolong could play and run on the beach.  It turns out that she hates the sound of the waves and was happier to lay under the umbrella with us and relax.   It was a very quick trip but it was just the dose of nature that we needed to revive ourselves.
Family photo 
Our beach babe
We relaxed under the umbrella for most of the day 
Grilled meat at the night market
Fun drinks at the night market
Mobile bar with fantastic mojitos
Jeff trying to convince Oolong that the ocean is fun.
Not sure what this sign says, but we're guessing something about crab crossing.
On the way home we stopped at a rest stop that had an agility course for Oolong.  She was definitely a natural.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Oolong and Sun Moon Lake

After pestering Jeff for around a year about getting a dog, he finally gave in and agreed.  I've been anticipating having a dog ever since and we couldn't have been luckier with the adorable pup we adopted.  We've now had Oolong for almost a month and we're so attached and want to take her everywhere with us.

She's 9 months old and some type of terrier mix which certainly shines in her personality.  She loves going on walks, but hates getting her harness put on.   Today we let her off leash at the park for the first time and she had a blast chasing birds around and playing fetch.  She certainly plays hard but loves to nap a lot during the day.   We've been working on her training - mostly not barking and not pulling so much on the leash but she often can't control her excitement.

Such a photogenic girl.
So tired after a good walk.
She's been coming with me to Chinese class and mostly behaves herself.  :-)
She wasn't crazy about her Halloween costume at first but warmed up to it after we told her how pretty she looks.
Our first trip away with Oolong was to Sun Moon Lake.  It's a quick drive from Taichung and a beautiful place to enjoy nature.  You can rent a bike and ride around the lake, but we opted to hike a few sections with Oolong.  She even road the ferry with us and did great.   
Family portrait.
Hiking around the lake
Such great views.
Beautiful temple overlooking the lake.

First 2 months in Taichung

We arrived in Taiwan just over 2 months ago and have been busily getting ourselves acquainted with our new city.  After 2 months of living out of a suitcase, it is so nice to be settled into our cozy apartment.  I've started Mandarin classes at Donghai University and have quickly figured out just how challenging the language is, especially the tones!

Anyone that meets us knows that Jeff and I love searching out great food and Taichung has a lot of options.  Taiwan is famous for pork dumplings and we now understand why.
Everyone must try the famous Din Tai Fung
Dumplings from a small family run restaurant
These big steamer carts are filled with pork and veggie dumplings
Hot Pot, another Taiwan favorite.
Every morning throughout the city you can see a lot of people being active - walking, practicing dance routines, doing tai chi / karate kicks, singing karaoke, and other interesting calisthenic moves.   One park I walk in even has a large group of people that sit on stools and smack their body with their hands in a synchronized routine - I'm guessing to help with circulation. 
Throughout the city there is a lot of exercise / stretching equipment.

We've had some wonderful hikes including this one in Dakeng.
Our first getaway was to Taipei to celebrate Jeff's birthday which I kept mostly as a surprise.  We took the high speed rail and were there in less than an hour.
Our first stop was boozy brunch at The W with a group of new friends.  
View of the Taipei 101, now the 5th tallest building in the world.
Unfortunately the main event for Jeff's birthday, the Bon Jovi concert was cancelled due to an incoming typhoon.  We quickly caught a train back to Taichung the next morning and settled into our apartment just before the storm hit.  The wind was really whistling through our building and debris was flying everywhere.
Downed tree after the storm.
Once we finally got our apartment squared away and our pictures hung, we hosted a housewarming party where Jeff showcased his new cocktail skills.   We had a fantastic showing and even managed to lure some friends down from Taipei.  
My favorite was the gimlet rose.
Jeff's party prep.
Although Taichung is a pretty small city compared to Jakarta, we've found a lot of fun stuff to keep us busy and still have a list of places to check out.
Night market with Annie. 
Taichung Jazz Festival with Mary and Mike.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Moving on from Jakarta

A few months ago, Jeff and I received the much anticipated news that we would be moving to Taichung, Taiwan.  After returning from our home leave trip in late July, we immediately got started with all the moving preparations - securing Taiwan visas after gathering all of the paperwork, sorting and packing up the apartment, moving into a temporary residence, cancelling our Indonesia residence cards and working visas, and saying many heartfelt goodbyes to our wonderful friends in Jakarta.   During this time we had a bit of a chance to reflect on our experience in Jakarta and recall some of the ups and downs we've had.

We've been fortunate to have such an amazing opportunity to travel and experience living in a completely different culture; however, it has come with sacrifices and taught us a lot about ourselves and how blessed we are as American. We've never regretted our decision to take on Jakarta and will always look back on it with overwhelmingly positive memories.  Here are just a few of the things that we'll miss as we adjust to our new home in Taiwan.

  • Indonesians are some of the friendliest people we've met in all of our travels.  They are always ready with a warm smile and a "selamat pagi" (good morning) or "hello mister."  Even during the fasting month of Ramadan, I was blown away at how positive people would remain.  
  • Spas are everywhere and prices are unbelievable.  We typically would get a weekly reflexology or massage which would cost us anywhere from $7 - $12 for an hour depending on how luxurious the setting was.  
  • Jakarta has a fantastic fine-dining restaurant scene with so many cuisines to choose from as well as great casual cafes and coffee shops.  Some of our favorites restaurants were Monologue, Goods Diner, Potato Head, Union, Le Quartier, Turkuaz, Han Yang Garden, Taco Local, Anomoli, and La Luce.  
  • Having a housekeeper / cook was such a luxury that we're unlikely to have again anytime soon. I loved having a clean house all the time and not worrying about when I next needed to clean the bathroom.  I will miss ironed pajamas and perfectly folded underwear.
  • Travel opportunities from Jakarta were extensive and cheap.  During the last 3 years we've visited 11 new countries and 20 different islands throughout Indonesia.  Some of the most memorable trips have been with friends like Nusa Lembongan with Brendan and crew, Anyer with Adelle, Lombok for Mia's 30th, Pulau Macan for Bede's 30th, Yogyakarta with Tane and fam, Bali with Dalena, Vietnam with Tav and Jenny, Oz with Matt and Adelle, and of course the epic Banda Belters trip.  
  • Above all else, Jakarta has an incredibly welcoming and adventurous community of people and we've made so many life-long friendships.  From the first month we arrived through to the last week, we always had people inviting us into their lives and supporting us through struggles we were having.  
This farewell post would not be complete without a list of the more humorous and strange things that became very normal in our lives in Jakarta, so here goes.  

  • Beware of Jakarta street food and fresh fruits or vegetables.  This is not the same risk level as a local taco stand in Mexico.  Three years in Jakarta doesn't make you immune either as both Jeff and I can attest to.  Moreover, don't assume you or your visitors are safe in fancy restaurants (sorry Tav and Jenny). 
  • Embrace side cutting in lines.  Our initial polite attempts to queue in lines often felt like a test of patience.  Merge into the line on the side like the rest of the crowd.
  • Security screenings don't need to slow you down.  You're not required to take off your purse or stop when the metal detector goes off.  Just follow along with everyone else and keep moving.
  • Singapore medical outs are fantastic.  Why not combine a vacation with teeth cleaning?   
  • Four people on a motorbike is average, five people is worth a look, six is worth a picture.  
  • Someday you will have to clean up after yourself.  I love to tell people of the time that our housekeeper called in sick on a Monday and I forgot to tell Jeff.  He got home before me and called in a feigned panic claiming that our house had been ransacked while we were at work.  Actually we just left our apartment looking like a tornado had ripped through it.
  • When in doubt about the food while traveling to remote areas, you can subsist on rice for several days.  Nasi goreng (fried rice) and nasi kuning (yellow fragrant rice) are great options in these situations and rarely will your stomach regret it later on.  
  • You can pay "jockeys" in Jakarta to ride along in your car so that you can use 3 in 1 lanes during rush hours.
  • Jeff had a special pair of "massage underwear."  
  • We often sent more texts to our driver than to each other.
  • Discussing stomach health (or lack of) was a surprisingly common and popular conversation topic.
  • Being asked personal questions like "how much weight have you gained?" or "why have you been married 4 years and don't have any kids yet?" became the norm.  
Sampai jumpa lagi Jakarta.  We will miss you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Milano and Parma, Italy 2015

After getting off the train and getting settled into our hotel, Jeff and I were famished and headed to dinner at a nearby restaurant at around 7:30.  We got a few strange looks as we're seated in the completely empty dining room.  After looking around uncomfortably for a few minutes, the host explained to us that most Italians don't eat dinner until 8:30 or later.  Luckily another naive couple walked in a few minutes later and broke the awkward silence that was hanging over the restaurant as Jeff and I whispered about whether we should leave and come back later or not.   We opted to fill the extra time by ordering a bottle of wine and taking our time deciding on what to eat which worked out perfectly for us.

The next day was our only full day in Milan so we walked all over the city touring museums and the Duomo (cathedral) in city center, drinking espresso, and eating gelato.

The Armory in one of the museums we visited
A mall close the city center with so many luxury brands
The Duomo of Milan
Inside the Duomo
After our short tour of Milan, we rented a car and headed south to Parma - the home of Parma ham and Parmigiano-reggiano.   What a wonderful finale to our trip it was!
A Castle in Parma
Inside the Duomo of Parma
Inside the Baptistery in Parma

Our second day in Parma included a self guided castle journey around the province.  Our first stop was the Fontanellato Castle with a deep moat surrounding it.  We did see some bottom feeder type fish but unfortunately no alligators or man eating piranhas.
Fontanellato Castle
Fontanellato Castle
Next we headed to the picturesque Torrechiara Castle which was surrounded by beautiful countryside and had beautiful paintings on the inside of most of the rooms.
Torrechiara Castle
Torrechiara Castle
Torrechiara Castle
Our final stop for the day was Bardi Castle, which was an important military fortress that looked pretty impossible to defeat.  There were enormous walls complete with arrow slits and holes for dumping hot tar or rocks out of.  There were cellars set up to store large amounts of food in case of a siege.  There was even a torture rooms with super creepy apparatuses that made us both feel pretty queasy.  
Bardi Castle
View from on the of the towers
Torture table in the dungeon
This view was made for selfies.
Our final day was filled with a food tour around Parma to see Parmegiano-reggiano production, Parma ham curing, and traditional balsamic vinegar processing - all among some of Jeff's favorite foods.
Making the cheese
These salt baths help to cure the Parmigiano-reggiano so that it can be aged
The cheese vault
Parma ham aging refrigerator
More Parma ham
The traditional balsamic vinegar has to be aged in these barrels for at least 12 years.  
12, 20, and 25 year balsamic vinegar
We had such a fantastic time exploring a little of Paris and Italy.  One tradition that we're working on taking home with us is how Italians eat dinner - lots of conversation, plenty of wine, and no time limit.  This seems to us like a huge improvement over the quick dinners we've gotten into the habit of having lately.