Yangmingshan – Hiking up the Yangming Mountain

DSC_6671There are a couple of one day get-away from Taipei to recommend. One of them is Yangmingshan, just north of Taipei. It is a National Park and easy accessible by bus.

We started of from Taipei at a Saturday morning, squeezing ourselves onto a bus and joining the big crowd leaving the Taiwanese capital. The weather was good, almost too good, and everyone wanted to enjoy a nice day away from the city.

As soon as we got of the bus we found this volcanic area. The smell of sulfur was really strong and not too nice, but I loved the view. I am not sure if I have seen volcanic activity live before.

DSC_6663I realized that there was an excellent walking path starting from where we were standing, and I got excited for climbing up the mountain. That was when I realized that my travel mates never planned we would actually go hiking. After some discussion we decided to give the mountain a try, and after buying a couple liters of water and applying sun lotion we started the hike.

DSC_6690Hiking in Taiwan always means “walking up stairs”. I do not know who was energetic enough to bring all these stones up, but no matter where you hike you won’t get away from them.

It was warm, just as warm as Taiwan can be on a sunny April day. The sunshine came right from over our heads and the low bushes around us did not provide any shade. One of the friend immediately opened his sun-umbrella, and I could not keep myself from laughing and making jokes.

DSC_6683DSC_6704As we kept on walking my skin became more and more burnt. Maybe it was stupid to only buy a cream with sun factor 15, but in Sweden I think that is enough for me. In Taiwan? I guess at least a 30 would be needed for me here!

The intense of the sunshine, the lack of protection for my sore skin and the very heat of the day – soon we were all hiding under the same umbrella. He who laughs last, laughs best – so much for my umbrella jokes! 

DSC_6687We met two old ladies who were looking for herbs along the trail. They had easier taken a course in Chinese Medicine, and a guide had taken them here to find different medicinal plants. Now they came back trying to see how much they could remember. They talked happily to us and showed us some of the leaves next to where we were standing.

DSC_6696An Indian Forest Skink was enjoying some sunshine. As long as we only say skinks and not poisonous snakes, I was very happy.

DSC_6705DSC_6713The top of the Yangming Mountain was very busy. There was people everywhere, and the air was full of huge butterflies. We were trying to sit all of us under the umbrella and wondering how we could decide to go for such a long hike without bringing anything to eat.

DSC_6731This old man was cheered on by everyone who saw him. He alone carried a little baby girl up the mountain, and he looked more happy than tired.

DSC_6721On the way down we found a small hen-like bird. I had seen birds similar to this one for a couple of times already in Taiwan, but this is the first time I got a close look. Isn’t she beautiful?

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Korean BBQ and how to (not?) eat with Chopsticks

DSC_6629DSC_6635DSC_6618April 2015, Taiwan. 

Korean food, especially the BBQ, is popular in Taiwan. We went to a Taipei restaurant one day to see what it was like.

It was quite fun actually. The restaurant offered an unlimited number of free side dishes to go with the food. We went to pick up more small bowls as often as we dared to (which was very often) and filled the table with peanuts, kimchi and veggies. The meat came in raw on big plates, and we were to fry it ourselves on the table. It kept the conversation going and we competed in who could fry the most tasty pieces. (The other side of the table came up with marinating their meat in sauce before frying it and probably won)

In the middle of the meal a lady sitting to the left on me called for my attention. She was at another table, and a total stranger to me, the restaurant was so crowded she was not more than a few inches from me. “Excuse me, don’t hold you hand like that when you are eating. Hold it like this, around the plate”

I heard her voice, but I couldn’t believe it. Here I am, in a foreign country, eating Asian food with chopsticks together with my Asian friends. Am I not adjusting enough for you? Does my not-native-yet looks bother you? Or was it actually an attempt to be friendly and teach the poor foreigner how to eat properly?

After that I tried to ask a couple of friend how I am supposed to hold my (left) hand while eating with chopsticks (with the right hand). I am not sure what they told me, maybe it was impolite to keep my hand under the table while eating? In that case it’s just another cultural faux pas, in Europe it is rude to rest your hands on table!

Funny things in Taiwan: the Hostels

Did you ever see a hostel in Taiwan?

No, I guess you didn’t. Because they are impossible to find! (Or because most of my readers are living overseas, haha)

DSC_6641Just as an example: look at this small place. At a street somewhere in Taipei our friends found this impossibly small door. The door lead up to a private staircase all the way to the second floor (or third if you count floors in Taiwanese way) where the small hostel was placed.

When trying to find the hostel I booked I mostly find myself walking around the streets , with a gp in hand, and still not finding the right place. Once I found that I passed right outside the door a couple of times already.  Another time we came to a door with no name or number at all. Someone on the street told us to knock at it, and voila, it swung open and we found our place to stay. Why are the hostels in Taiwan always hidden in such a subtle way?

Yehliu Geopark and confusions on names in Taiwan

DSC_6512April 2015, Taiwan

This spring we went to Keelung. Or Geelung, as I thought it was to be pronounced. Taiwan is so confusing: most of the cities have names that doesn’t help you to know how to actually say the name. Taipei is to be read as “Taibei”, Kaohsiung becomes “Gaoxiong”, and Hsinchu is actually Xinzhu. Now when reading Wikipedia I realize that the name of Keelung is actually to be read “Jīlóng“. Even though older written names like Chi-lung still seems to be around. Conclusion: Does writing Chinese with Latin alphabet really has to be this complex? 

Keelung is a city on the north tip on Taiwan, a small distance from the city you can find Yehliu Geopark.

DSC_6522The Geopark of Yehliu is famous for stone formations. The geological conditions made the soft stones shaped by weather and wind, and looking like all kinds of funny figures. Above you can see the “tofu” stones, and below one of the higher structures.

The most famous (and crowded are) was at “the queens head”. Once upon the time the stone might have looked like a proud females head. But today the surface of the stone has lost so much the head is almost unrecognizable. Nature is creating it’s own live art, under constant reconstruction.

DSC_6600As always I feel an urge to get out from the tourist crowds, so we directly headed over to the more distant park of the Geopark.

DSC_6531The peninsula of the park was high and pointy, and offered a beautiful view of the sea around us.

DSC_6525A beautiful bird with a very distinct song was in charge of the soundtrack.

DSC_6519We did not really know where the path was taking us, we just kept walking higher and more far away. But when we reached the end point it was like someone had planned it perfectly for us: we got to a small pavilion just to enjoy a dramatic sunset. Can you see the man finishing on (the second picture) below?

DSC_6580DSC_6561DSC_6589When it started to get dark we walked back down to sea level. We found the previous crowded parts of the park almost deserted, and could take our time looking at the previous-queen of stone.

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As if I’m running away

It’s Monday and I’m in Taipei. I wear the most serious looking clothes my dorm-wardrobe has to offer, and I tried my best (but failed) to iron away the wrinkles on my skirt. (What’s up Taiwanese ironing things?)

It’s lunchtime and I’m already done with The Important Meeting. My classmate says goodbye and heads back to Hsinchu again. After a small stop for Wun-dun noodles for lunch, I google up a list of the best cafes Taipei has to offer, and start going towards the green MRT line.

Then something strange happens. I am just feeling somewhere deep within that I do not want to visit another big city cafe. I just want to go somewhere. Somewhere else. And my feet start taking me in the other direction.

A few seconds later I’m at a train, heading as far away from Hsinchu as I can possible come.

DSC_7850DSC_7851It is not really that I am running away. I mean, I live in a so-called “foreign” country already. What does it matter if I move myself from one town to the other, anyway? And who would I be running away from? Anyways. The mountains outside the train window looked tempting blue, and a Buddhist monk smiled towards me. Whenever I am out travelling alone it seems like random Taiwanese people starts to talk with me, everywhere.

“So you are going to Tamshui?” A tired-looking lady said next to me. She gave my touristy looking camera a smile. “You should have come on a sunny day instead” she scolded me. “It’s too dull today”. Then she waved out of the window, with the hand that was not holding the groceries bag. “That is my house”

When I got of the train I found of that Tamshui was a crowded and touristy place. I tried to get of the tourist street and find a place to get some work done.

DSC_7855I went into a tiny alley, and soon found winding staircases leading upwards. A stray cat looked scared at me, beautiful potted flowers and street-art seemed to be everywhere. I guess this was some artsy style of area.

First I was trying to use my GPS to walk towards a promising cafe logo on my map. But the soon the ap crashed and I started to feel like that there could not possibly be any cafes in an area like this.

And then I looked to my right: and there it was. The perfect cafe. With a small door, the most unexpected furniture and walls covered of good photography. “Excuse me” A man approached me, speaking in Chinese. I think you have gotten lost. This is a cafe”. He smiled politely at me. I don’t know what he thought I would be searching for, if not a cafe, inside a cafe. “Yes, I would love a cup of coffee” I replied, and soon I ordered random things from the menu without having any clue what it was.

DSC_7860That was the randomness of my Monday: doing homework over a cup of coffee, somewhere far away from home. How was the start of your week?