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Saturday, July 14, 2018

California: San Francisco & Redwoods

On the way back from China and Taiwan, we had a layover in San Francisco, so we stretched it out a few days. We had never visited before, but now finally understand why people love it.

We stayed two days in Fisherman’s Wharf, which was a great location. Every morning we walked over to Boudin—a quite well-known bakery, famous for their sourdough—for breakfast. They did not disappoint! Along with eating the delicious sourdough, it is fun to watch it made through the window. At one point we saw them shape a giant crocodile out of dough, and later we came back and saw it all golden brown and baked.

The first day we took the cable car down to Union Square. It felt like a scene from a movie as we hung off the side of the cable car and rolled up and down the steep streets. At Union Square, we stopped in a few stores, most notably, the Apple Store! I walked out with a new phone :) After shopping, we had an early dinner at Sears Fine Foods. I had heard about this restaurant before in all my reading of food-related things, and I thought it sounded so cool and old-timey—but didn’t realize there was one still around. I was so excited to find one at Union Square! Just like I had expected, it was old-fashioned and so cute. The food was absolutely delicious. After dinner, they gave each of us a token to play their antique slot machine. None of us won, but it was fun to pull the crank and cross our fingers! We rode the cable car back in the direction we had come from, and hopped off at Lombard Street, one of the curviest streets in San Francisco. It’s amusing to watch the cars twist and turn painfully slow down the steep street. From there, we were exhausted, and headed back to the hotel for the night. That was definitely my favorite day.

Our second day in California was the Fourth of July. We started out by going to see the sea lions at Pier 39, which we didn’t realize go south for the summer. We only saw two, and were a little disappointed. We then walked back to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit The Musée Mécanique. This was very entertaining! Elena and I knew what it was from Princess Diaries, and had fun playing all of the games from the movie. Surprise, surprise, the wrestling arm was much harder than I had expected…I lost. From among the tons of antique arcade games, we tried out some pinball, racing games, and a photo booth. We left grinning. That afternoon we eagerly went to see The Incredibles 2, which was so good! Later that night, we headed out to watch fireworks from the beach near Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a great fireworks show, and so much fun with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

The next morning, we set out for the Redwoods. On the way, we did the last thing on our San Francisco bucket list: The Golden Gate Bridge. We drove across it, and on the other side, stopped to snap a few photos. A good way to start the day! We chose the scenic—and very curvy—route up the coast of California to get to the Redwoods. We expected it to be a 5 hour trip, but 5 hours turned into 12. Sure, we stopped for lunch, dinner, and to drive through a 2,400 year old Redwood, but still, we were not pleased with that timing!

Thursday we woke up early and headed out for the grove. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many ginormous, ancient trees. They were around when Jesus walked the earth! After walking the trail for awhile, we stepped into the bushes to go on an adventure. We walked up a river, climbing over rocks, under branches, and through bushes to reach a particularly tall tree. Incredible. Later, heading back, we were thankful that the highway route was actually only 5 hours. A few hours after arriving, in the wee hours of the morning, we said goodbye to San Francisco and jetted off to Washington, D.C.!


Monday, May 28, 2018

Eye Dotting Ceremony

This was my third year competing on the AIT women's Dragon Boat Team. Participating on this team has been one of the highlights of my time in Taiwan. I love starting my Saturday in a boat. We paddle together, working to become as one unit. The peace of a new morning on the water takes the cares of the week and puts them in perspective.

This is the first year our team was asked to participate in the Eye Dotting Ceremony a few weeks before the race. We had enough willing members to create a mixed team and the race fell late enough in the season that Maddie and Elena were able to be on the team this year. We met the team at a local temple and hung around watching and waiting to get in our boat. Nobody really knew what was going on. The event began with a celebration of drums, a dragon dance and of course, lots of firecrackers. The scent of incense drifted down from the upper level of the temple where offerings were made to gods. Then we followed a big parade down to the docks where the ceremony was to take place.

I was a bit surprised to see all the boats lined up on dry ground. Next to each boat stood a nice looking couple with a sign declaring which team would be in each boat. Water was sprinkled on each boat, then the dot was painted in the center of each eye. This awakens the dragon and gives hi good favor towards you. Each team captain then dotted the eyes of their boat.

Part of the event (the reason I had come) was a good long row from the eye dotting site to the race site. Our boat was closest to the water, so the first to go in. On one hand this was good because we had never lifted one of these extremely heavy boats as a team and carried it together. On the other hand, we had no clue what we were doing so there was a lot of confusion and yelling at us in Chinese. It would have been helpful to see how this was actually supposed to happen. Eventually, without a plan to follow, we all needed up in the boat and settled in for our long row up the river.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Wuji Tianyuan Temple

Early one morning, before sunrise, Chad and I took a little pre-work adventure to Tamsui to see a temple known for its cherry blossoms. The quiet drive though windy roads was peaceful as the sun was coming over the mountains. The Tainyuan Temple is a Taoist temple dedicated to the worship of Yu Huang Dadi, one of the three great deities in Taoism.

The five floors rise 200 meters into heaven which is indicative in its round architectural design representing heaven. This style of temple is not common in Taiwan. The gold columns between arched windows, along with intricate painting cause one to walk slowly, taking it all in.

The Yoshino cherry trees were brought from Japan in the 20th century. The delicate blossoms only last a short time. We were nearing the end so we made a quick decision to scoot out early one morning before the crowds arrived. We only had time for one slow walk around the temple. We didn't have time to go inside.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


A night away from town refreshes the soul and clears the mind. Chad made the escape several times to hang his hammock in a gazebo on top of an overlook. Longdong offers rock climbing and snorkeling, but we went just for the breath of fresh air and a night of sleeping with waves crashing against the cliffs. You really can't beat waking up to this view - can you?                

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Day with Whale Sharks

While relaxing in the Philippines at Christmas, we took a day trip to swim with the whale sharks. I didn't know what whale sharks were or the appeal of swimming with them, but while planing our trip, people continually told me that we couldn't miss the opportunity.

We woke up ridiculously early, stumbled in the dark to a van and began the several hour journey down the island to Oslob. I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it. We've done a few other type sea tours before and typically we get on some sort of yacht or day boat and go out into the sea before arriving at the snorkeling or dive site. Maybe it's whales we're after, but we definitely go away from land in a sizable boat. 

We got our life jackets, masks, snorkels and fins and waited a short time before being herded into a wooden canoe type boat with bamboo pontoons. We went about 30' off the shore then were paddled perpendicular to the shore to an area full of other boats. 

We were pleased to find that we were literally the only ones in all the boats who actually wanted to get in the water and swim with the whale sharks. It was amazing. We weren't supposed to touch them, but when they bump right up against you, it's impossible not to. 

Whale sharks are huge – the largest fish in the sea. They can grow up to 40' long. The ones we were swimming with were around 18' long, weighing 20 tons. To give you perspective, that's the size of a school bus. From the neck down they look like a shark, which indeed they are. They have that scary top fin, side fins, tail and slits in their side. They have a shark's cartilage type skeleton and smooth skin. But their head is a bit odd with a flat 5' wide mouth. They feed on plankton, filtering it though their bristle like teeth. 

I really wasn't sure if I was going to get out of the boat as we were driving down. Just the word "shark" had me thinking of beady eyes staring at me, a sharp toothy grin and a tail whipping again some sort of metal cage that I had been lowered into the water in. (I've seen a few too many shark week episodes.) But when we rowed out and I saw a few of them swimming around I couldn't wait to jump in. These giants of the sea are more whale like as they float around sifting dinner through their mouths. So we swam with the sharks. It was great fun. I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity. There's just something amazing about being in the water with these huge animals.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Walk Around the Hotel

The view from our room was lovely - ocean, mountains, boats. Sunrise was my favorite time to hang out on the balcony as the city was waking up to a new day.

As soon as you left the resort you were in the midst of third world life. Of course there was no reason to leave the resort, so I don't think it was common for guests to walk the streets of this area.

The photo on the right is a pay for water machine. There is a stack of plastic bags (think 1 qt. size) that people filled to get their drinking water.

These are the gas meters for all the bamboo and corrugated metal shacks.

Food stands lined our walk. We got a bit of fruit, some pop and sausages that we watched being cooked.

There was a line of Christmas decorations in the town center area. They were all made out of recycled or natural products.

There were a few shops that sold seashells. Their main business wasn't tourists walking by, rather they export to places like Miami.

We were confused by all the beautiful roosters we saw tied up with little shelters.They had about 1' of string holding them to their stake. Eggs were for sale everywhere, but we didn't see a single hen. I finally asked someone about the roosters. There was a long explanation and I finally realized they are for cock fighting. Considering how many we saw, it must be a pretty big form of entertainment.

The kids are so happy and just want to trail along. They loved having their picture taken and wanted to impress us with smiles and giggles. As you can see, Elena attracted a following.

Motorcycles serve as taxis. From grabbing a ride on the back of one to these side cars with awnings, they are an easy way to get from point A to point B. These trucks have benches along each side. The driver and a collector sit in the front. When you get on you just hand your money through the back window. We took one on the end of our walk to get back to the hotel.

These little babies were 6 weeks old. Their moms let me hold them. 

Christmas Party
Our walk ended in a basketball court area that seemed to be used for community events as well. The place was full of women and children. They were dancing and having fun. When they asked me to join I thought why not? I jumped in to their cheers and danced away.