Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Out of Jecheon.

Sorry for the blogging delay, I don't have any excuses as I haven't actually been teaching. I've been at work 40 hours a week but I've only taught around 12 classes since the end of December. I've watched a lot of TV shows - The Vampire Diaries, Face Off, Castle, Cougar Town - I've almost completed a crochet blanket, I've played a ton of Bejewelled Blitz and I've eaten several bowls of snail soup.

Tom and I had to split up some of our vacation time, primarily because his principal is a bit of a dick nice person. We got to go to Taiwan together, but had an extra three days of holiday to spend apart. As a result, Tom went to Japan for a bit and I jettisoned off to Hong Kong for an awesome long weekend.

I've wanted to visit HK for ages, not just for the food (okay, it's a big part of it) but also because one of my besties has lived there for almost 6 years. A week before I was due to leave I started to freak out because I hadn't done any planning. I got in touch with my friends Dan and Kim who had both visited Hong Kong and Sandy before and both of them responded with a resounding OMG SANDY IS THE BEST TOUR GUIDE EVER. They were right.

Sandy collected me from the airport and we took the train to Hong Kong Island where she lives. My friend had recommended I take the Mid-levels escalator while I was visiting and conveniently it's the best way to get to Sandy's sweet apartment. Along with being generally pleased to get away from Jecheon's -17 temperature, the area around Sandy's place is full of awesome restaurants and cafes and cool stuff to look at. We dumped my backpack at her apartment and went to a cafe where it was possible to order a FLAT WHITE. I knew I wasn't in Korea any more.

Because we hadn't seen each other in 3 years (!) we spent the afternoon and evening chatting like crazy and in between managed to fit in a tram ride to Causeway Bay, a dim sum dinner and an abortive attempt to catch the Peak tram. I think I was too busy being amazed to take many pictures, but I do have these:

Blurry, blurry picture of Causeway Bay at night. Super-popular shopping area and possessor of the World's Busiest Street, according to my guide.

Super sad that although I haven't had a land line in over 3 years, I didn't buy one of these bedazzled torso phones.

Even sadder I didn't buy a bedazzled toilet phone or that awesome Rolling Stones-esque lips phone (the tongue is the handset. So many regrets.

I have a bit of a thing where when I visit a new country (or a new city, who am I kidding?) I like to look at a supermarket. I am not sure what the draw is, I just like to see what's available, what the most popular items are and what you can pick up for next to nothing. It's something I share with my Mum, but it could be from the numerous supermarket jobs I had between the ages of 16 and 23. 

Living in Jecheon isn't so bad but I remember talking to a friend when I was living in Buan, and she was too lazy because the shop was a 15 minute walk from her flat and she really wanted a coke or something. I had just lived a Monty Python type scenario, where I'd completed a 6 hour return trip - nay! - QUEST! - to get cheese from Costco in Seoul, battling freezing temperatures and bulk-sized food-obsessed crowds of Koreans. 15 minutes to the dairy in summer? Luxury.

So, when Sandy took me to one near Times Square, and I was almost overcome. Hong Kong has amazing supermarkets, like Chaffers New World but with more international items. I remember Sandy telling me she was happy I was so easily entertained as I squealed over Arnott's Shapes and 50 cent dragonfruit and Bundaberg Ginger beer. I even took pictures. Sad.

24.80 HKD = $3.85 NZ
We finished my first evening in Hong Kong with a pint of cider (CIDER!!) and a glass or two of New Zealand wine (NEW! ZEALAND! WINE!) and then passed out ready for day 2.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Story Dog

A couple of months ago I went to Seoul with my friend, to show her the ropes and hopefully visit Bow House again. Alas, like many of the places we visited in Korea 1.0, it was closed, so I got my nose pierced instead.

And then a few weeks ago Tom and I got some awesome news - a new dog cafe had opened in Jecheon! It's above a puppy shop I already knew about, so we had to visit. The puppy shop sells small, fluffy designer dogs (nothing bigger than a miniature poodle) so I wasn't completely surprised when the only dogs on offer at the cafe were bite-sized. As the cafe had just opened, we were pretty much the only customers so we had our pick of mini dogs and we took advantage.

All the dogs in the cafe were total bitches, and there was a sign outside advising customers not to bring male dogs into the store - I am fairly certain the cafe dogs are also supplying the store downstairs, if you know what I'm saying.

Half Bear Half Dog

We went back yesterday with some friends and learned there's also a cat cafe in Jecheon too! That's this weekend's plans sorted.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More Taiwan Random

Okay, this is the last of my extensive Taiwan posts! Some more random pictures for your enjoyment (?)


Aboriginal museum near Beitou Springs

DJ Exercise Equipment

I friggin' LOVE Calpis, an unfortunately-named Japanese soft drink. This is the sour version, and it's REVOLTING.

Modern Toilet's handbasic\n

Bizarre art in Taipei Main Station

Okay, this isn't Taiwan - it's a rotating toilet seat protector in Incheon Airport.
For pervy reasons, the shutter sound on Korean mobile phones can't be deactivated, so someone heard me taking this.

Maybe (definitely) Asia has messed with my taste buds and I thought this was good.

This dude.

Terrible fruit beers.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Taipei 101

Our trip to Taipei would not be complete without visiting Taipei 101, once the world's tallest building and still the world's tallest building which looks a bit like bamboo. Taipei isn't as skyscraper-clogged as other big cities so 101 stands out like a sore thumb and you can see it from (almost) anywhere in the city. Here's the view from our hotel room:

We took the subway as close as possible and then a free shuttle bus to the base, walked around a bit, visited the SUPER SLICK mall right next door and didn't go up. It's about $25 NZD to take a super fast elevator to the top and look around, but Tom's scared of heights and I'm cheap so we literally took a hike.

About 15 minutes walk from Taipei 101 to the base of Elephant Mountain, one of four (I think) animal-themed mountains around Taipei which are popular hiking trails. The trail to the top is relatively short and takes 15 - 30 minutes depending on your fitness level. Guess how long it took me! It's not so much a trail as a set of never ending steps that go on forever and help you lose your will to live. Nevertheless the view from the top is AWESOME and FREE, two of my favourite things!

We chilled out at the top eating dried mango and trying to take a picture of ourselves but we're both terrible at it, so here's the best one:

We headed back down the hill and saw this awesome dog on the way down. Judging by the sticker next to his hidey-hole it's a popular hangout and stare at the hikers spot.

Related - I have never seen as many pet dogs as I have in Taiwan. So many people would carry their tiny dogs through food markets, up hills, around shopping malls... everywhere. Korea's comparatively pet-free and I really miss being able to interact with animals on a daily basis, and Taiwan helped me out in this regard. Neat.

We got back to Taipei 101 with slightly shaky legs and took this obligatory photo:

We attempted to take the same free shuttle back to the train station, and ended up on a tiki-tour through random suburbs which had a lot of temples for some reason. Too afraid to disembark randomly, we waited a good half hour until the bus came to a different subway station and we got off. Fortunately we weren't horrifically lost, it just took a little longer to get back to Taipei Main Station and on a train going to Keelung. 

Keelung is a port town about an hour out of Taipei, and we went for it's night market which is meant to be the best in Taiwan. It was absolutely pouring down the whole time we were there, but the food is really good. Tom tried Oyster pancake and we had some incredible pork buns. Nom.

And that was pretty much that. Our 9 days in Taipei were enjoyable, but as you may have guessed it wasn't the greatest holiday - Taiwan is geographically very similar to New Zealand, and it's cities are very similar to Korea so it wasn't the comfort-zone-expanding holiday I'd hoped for. If we weren't from New Zealand and if we hadn't travelled through Southeast Asia and if we didn't live in Korea I think I would have been more enthused. The food was excellent though. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Soaking up Taipei (It's a Pun!)

If you're looking to meet older Taiwanese men, this is the post for you.

I found this blog post before our trip and Beitou Hot Springs was immediately put at the top of my list of things to do. Unfortunately we had a bunch of things to do first, but on the Friday before we were to head back to Korea we hopped on the subway and headed out of the city to get steamy. 

Beitou is on the outskirts of Taipei and the metro ride out to the springs was beautiful, as the mountains started peeking through the buildings and everything got a bit greener. When we reached Beitou Station we disembarked and got on a train kitted out like a steam room with 'hot tub' touch screen computers giving you info about the area.

The train only travels one stop and is purely for those headed to the Geothermal Valley area, it's cute though. We followed the crowds to the public hot pools which are a ten minute walk from the train station. As soon as we got off we could smell the sulphur in the air!

For pervy reasons, you aren't allowed to take pictures of the springs so I will just have to use the magic of words. If you don't like words, I've put some random pictures in too!
Taiwan loves crane games. I saw more crane games in Taiwan than I have in my life.
It also loves the excellent cartoon Adventure Time!
After you pay your 80 TWD ($3.30) you head to the changing rooms and put on your togs. Apparently that's unusual as most hot springs expect you au naturel. You can also buy spandex atrocities at the gates if you've forgotten your suit.

The pool complex isn't extensive, just 6 pools varying from ice cold to 46 degrees. Although the internet assured us that weekdays weren't busy, each tiny pool was packed with at least 20 people, mostly comprised of older Taiwanese men who had a good old stare at two curvaceous white people in their midst. We started in the coldest warm pool, a bathlike 35 - 37 degrees. Due to the crowds, it was difficult to get a seat around the rim so we bobbed in the middle instead.

This one had Dong Chim (Poo Needle) Dolls. You might remember him from Delicious Poop!
I hadn't tied my hair up and got yelled at by the sole attendant, whose job it seems is to hand out rubber bands to dummies like me, and tell people off for only going into the pool up to their knees (seriously.)

After a few minutes, Tom wanted to go into the hottest pool - 44 - 46 degrees. I walked with him to the top of the complex - the water falls from the top pool to the bottom, cooling as it goes - and noticed many men with bright red skin that turned a normal colour around their upper chest area, a distinctive water line.

We got in. Wary of the attendant we immersed ourselves and almost immediately felt feverish. It was SUPER HOT. There's clocks through the complex as you're not meant to spend more than 15 minutes in each pool, so we watched the clock and dared each other to last an additional 30 seconds. I think we were in the hottest pool less than 4 minutes, but it felt like a burning eternity.

A little bit of Korea, to remind us of home... Gangnam Style!
Lobster red and sweaty, we got into one of the ice pools to cool down. I haven't been to a jimjilbang in Korea, but I had heard that going between hot and cold temperatures like this can have a euphoric effect - and it's true! After a few minutes in the cold pool I started to feel pretty happy with myself and unable to stand up. It took a few minutes after that before I'd settled down and needed another hit! We were in the pools for about 2 hours, hopping between each one and getting high. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

The public pools are open for 3 hour slots at a time, so we left early to beat the shower queues and went for a walk. A short distance from the pools is the source of the springs in the area - a large green sulphur pool surrounded by suburban homes and sulphur-infused mist.

Still a bit high
Water from this pool supplies the public baths and all of the hotels in the area which offer private baths (for much more than 80 TWD). We followed the stream downhill and back to the train station, and for ultra cheap travellers there are a few spots you can dip your feet in and take a soak for free!

On the trip back to the city we decided to stop in at our third Taiwanese market, Shilin Night Market. It's the biggest in Taiwan (I think) and also... a bit lame! It's incredibly spread out and labyrinthine, with a lot of stalls selling everything from food to clothes to tattoos, but the things we ate weren't very tasty - I think we were spoilt being so close to Raohe.

We did try deep fried milk, which tastes like a crispy vanilla-ish pudding and is a little bit addictive. We also tried the opposite end of the spectrum - chòu dòufu or stinky tofu. The smell of the tofu permeates most of the night markets and reminds me of walking past a sewer in the middle of Korean summer. Fortunately for this analogy, it also tastes like what I'd imagine a hot sewer would taste like. Never. Again.

Fried milk stall - nom!
We also saw this cool dude being cool:

The food was so unsatisfying we ended up doing the same thing we did almost every night - back at Raohe getting treats! Nom.