Thursday, August 30, 2012


Everyone told me that I would change during my year living abroad, and i'm sure they're right, but then again who doesn't change over the span of a year?  Add to it the fact that i'm 23, still trying to figure out what i'm doing with my life, and living in a foreign country - yeah changes will be inevitable.  Maybe it's that I've hit the 6 month mark, or maybe it was traveling alone, to another country (as if living alone in one isn't enough), but more than likely I think it was the long hours of hiking that led to these realizations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Good Thing I Hiked a lot...

.....or I would've gained an easy 10 pounds on this trip.

I was trying to decide how on earth to organize and write about my time in Taiwan and upon looking through my pictures decided that the food would need it's own posts. So here it is - from night markets, the 7/11 snacks to sit down restaurants, the [documented part] of my diet in Taiwan.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spontaneous Decisions

I think I like punishing myself - but it's all for a good reason, right? Another early morning wake up call and rush to the train station - that seems to be a theme of this trip, no?  Anyway we got lucky with train times and caught the 7:10 train to Hualien, we even got seats (unlike our first trip to Alishan where we spent half the ride in the cargo car).  I feel like i'm about to sound like a broken record but this trip was much like the beginning of Alishan, we rearranged some luggage, stored my large backpack in the baggage room and ventured out for a scooter and lunch. The woman we rented the scooter from was extremely friendly (even if we couldn't communicate much past body language and smiles). While Grant ran back to get his ID from our bag at the station she showed off her pet pig and even tried sharing her lunch with me.  Lunch was a not so glamorous lunch box from the shop next door but cheap and filling - just what we needed.  A few more stops for necessities like money, gas and a knee brace (finally, after 5 years of talking about it I bought one for my Grandma knees) we were on our way to Taroko National Park

The ride through town was a bit frightening at parts - I realized this when I released my death grip from the back of the seat at the gas station. I'm not sure exactly what my problem was, maybe I had some residual fears from our fall a few days. About 5 minutes after stopping at a gas station to use the bathroom and fill the tire with air we both looked up and saw a "Welcome to Taroko" sign which we weren't yet expecting, but at the same time glad to see.  We stopped at the visitor center which confirmed what was already expected - most of the major hiking trails were closed due to typhoon damage a few weeks before.  I knew that by the time we left the office Grant would be asking me if I wanted to hike the trails, regardless of the closures - and sure enough those were some of the first words out of his mouth.  Feeling like a mom responding to a kid's plea I answered with a we'll see.  

After a bit of disappointment about not being able to hike we continued on our way and soon came upon the Eternal Spring Shrine, complete with hoards of tourists and buses. There was a short hike walk which was open, leading closer to the shrine however the longer trail was, you guessed it, closed.

We drove on for a little while longer and took a turn off the main road to go check out a temple and escape the tour buses.  The temple wasn't far off the main road but thankfully it was nearly deserted, except for two men drinking tea.  We walked their way as Grant practiced his Chinese ability (much higher than he lets on) and before we knew it we were sitting enjoying traditional tea and snacks (sweet potato chips = yum) with them.  I of course, couldn't add much to the conversation but it was still awesome to sit there and relax and I managed to understand snippets of their conversation.  One of the men was a local police officer and super friendly - I really wish I could have said more!

Changguang Temple
We continued on our way along the winding roads of Taroko, taking in the views and trying to avoid head on collisions with over-sized tour buses.  Seriously this place was not built for these behemoths, get off the road and leave it for the rest of us to enjoy! The weather was less than optimal with small bursts or rain coming and going throughout the day, but we weren't going to let that affect us.  The next stop was Buluowan which promised multiple hiking trails as well as a hotel serving aboriginal food.  We pulled into the area around 5pm and found it to be somewhat of a ghost town, kind of the way we preferred it. There were four different trails starting in the area so we started with the Buluowan-Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) trail.  After hiking  I summarized the trail as: "That was the universe telling me I sat on my ass too much today".  Basically the trail was about 500 stairs leading down to the road, after which the only option was to go back up.  It was nice to get off the road and move a little but the trail didn't offer much in the way of sightseeing - we did spot a frog though!  After that we tried to Buluowan Lower Terrance - Meander Core Trail, our map clearly had a typo as it stated the trail would take 50minutes and we were easily finished within 10. Highlight of this trail? I saw a monkey! (but he was too fast for a picture).  Finally there was the Bulowan Upper Terrace - Bamboo Groves Trail, we had to do this one twice because we thought we missed something - like a turnoff to a real trail, but no. The trail was clearly made for tourists who didn't want to actually venture into the wild - a wooden boardwalk circling around the back of the hotel area, I wasn't impressed.  After the mild disappointment we decided to try dinner - the hotel offered a buffet style meal featuring traditional aborigine dishes, it had a steep price of nearly $20 but there weren't many other options so we went for it. The food was okay but my sweet tooth was definitely satisfied with the array of desserts available - I think we collectively ate 4+ piece of chocolate cake, oops. 

MASSIVE snails we almost stepped on along the trail 
After dinner we still had a good 20 minutes to drive until Tianxiang which is where we were hoping to find accommodation for the night. I guess we spent more time eating than we realized because it was already past  8 o'clock and we found ourselves in the dark. There was a bit of a scare when we thought the scooters headlight didn't work but thanks to the light from my cellphone and pushing all the buttons I could find, we figured it out.  John Mayer serenaded me (about all my cellphone was useful for in this trip) as we made our way through the dark and winding roads.  We negotiated a bit of a deal at the Tianxiang Youth Hostel and were soon relaxing in our room, showered and watching Definitely, Maybe. Apparently Taroko felt it didn't give me enough of an adventure that day and sent me one more visitor.... 

Grant was showering when I spotted this little creature and as much as I hid it for the majority of the trip, the little girl inside of me emerged.  I stood on the bed staring this thing down for maybe 10 minutes until Grant came out and managed to guide it out the patio door.  We decided squishing it would've been a bit messy.  The next morning we woke at 7, made our way down for the included breakfast and were soon on our way to find some open hiking trails.  The first stop was at the Baiyan Waterfal Trail which began in the middle of a tunnel on the side of the road, this one looked promising.  

The first half of the trail offered beautiful views but were somewhat disrupted when a scooter and then a SUV came barreling down the road - umm I thought I was in nature? The trail wound around the top of a ledge with views of the water below, led through a few dark tunnels and came out to a suspension bridge ending at a lookout platform.  After the platform the trail continues through another tunnel and gets a bit more serene - no SUV's allowed!  The trail comes to an end at Shuiliandong (the water curtain), basically a long porous tunnel that allows the water to come through at different points, pretty cool. I'm not sure why but multiple times during this hike I felt like I was in line for a ride at Disney or Six Flags (i.e. the buildup to the Batman ride), don't ask why.  

Back to our scooter and on to the next destination, from here we began making our way back towards the entrance to the park, stopping along the way for a few more sights. The final trail we decided to attempt was the Lushui Trail which according to our map, should take about an hour and offer forest views, a suspension bridge, running water and cliffs.  

View from Lushui Trail

After this trail we were about ready to call it quits, there weren't many other options as far as hiking goes but i'm not so sure I could've handled it anyway.  I think the travel and lack of sleep was starting to get the better of me and I was just ready to be settled somewhere, plus I was hungry and there was no food in sight.  We made our way back through the park with one last stop at an awesome suspension bridge. 

Once back into town we returned the scooter (thankfully didn't have to pay any extra for going over our one day time limit) and tried to figure out a time to catch the train.  There was one leaving at 2:30 giving us only a half hour to grab some food, our bags and buy tickets.  Of course, the station was packed leaving us scrambling to try and get tickets before the train left as we didn't' really want to wait for a later one, kind of made me feel like I was on the Amazing race (I totally want to do that by the way).  Grant tried to use the old school ticket vending machine and successfully bought tickets, but as we tried to enter the platform we were told they were no good for that train and ushered to the information desk.  Thankfully we were able to use them on a later train, leaving at 2:50 so we joined the crowds, waiting for a bit and were soon on our way back to Taipei.  

For not having planned too much ahead of time, except a rough itinerary taking me from Taipei to Alishan, down to Kaohsiung and back to Taipei I'd say I lucked out.  I was fortunate enough to make it around the entire Island (literally look at a map - I made a full loop) seeing both Alishan and Taroko, which was awesome as I thought i'd have to decide between the two.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On to the South - Kaohsiung

After our adventures in Alishan it was time to head South, on to the islands second largest city Kaohsiung.  Thanks to the free WiFi at 7/11 and some luck we arranged to stay with another CouchSurfer, Boris a local from Kaohsiung with good (British) English due to studying in the UK for 7 months.  Boris was nice enough to meet us at the station and stop by a night market for some more snacks before heading back to his place.  I'm pretty sure as soon as my head hit the pillow I was wiped out, it had been a long day.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

3:50am wake up call

After not so much convincing I decided to cancel my train Sunday morning and stay in Taipei for another day.  I think a major factor was the wine buzz I had going Saturday night and thoughts of catching an 8am train were no where in sight.  After realizing he didn't have to work the rest of the week Grant asked if he could tag along for the next leg of my trip. Why I agreed is beyond me - after all this is the guy that told me I looked older (that's a first) than 23 due to my wrinkles, although  he later determined it's because i'm always smiling/laughing so i'm okay with that.  But in all seriousness I was up for having a travel partner, and with his help renting a scooter was now a much likelier possibility.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sour Grapes

After our adventure on Thursday I agreed to tag along with Grant and a hiking group on Saturday - destination Beishi Stream Historical trail which would connect us to Wantan trail and Pingxi/Xiangliao trail.  The total time was estimated to be between 7-8 hours of hiking but there was promises of ending at a beach for swimming and seafood so I was sold.

It was another rushed morning, partly due to the fact that I didn't set an alarm and was woken about 5 minutes before we had to leave, but soon enough we were on the platform waiting for our train. The only problem being that we weren't 100% positive the rest of the hiking group was there with us.  The train was longer/slower than expected but I spent the time eating my bagel (with mystery filling) and coffee from 7/11.  Once we got to Shuangtai station we met up with the rest of our group, bought some more food for the hike and hopped in taxis which would take us to the start of the hike.  I met a few people from the group including the leader YiRu who told me that I look European when I asked why she said "well you're not fat" - Grant actually had a similar reaction when I told him I was from Wisconsin, as did one of his friends - woo hoo  go USA.  The taxi ride up the mountain nearly caused me to lose my breakfast but I managed to keep it down.

Over the River and Through the Woods

To be honest I didn't plan all that much before leaving for Taiwan - I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and some of the sights I wanted to see but aside from that my days were up in the air.  At some point the trip turned into a cross-country, full island hiking tour and i'm okay with that.

Exploring Taipei

I could have not asked for a smoother journey to Taiwan, and I have multiple people to thank for that.  It began Tuesday when I took a train south to Busan where I stayed with Harriet and her son for the night.  I first met Harriet when my Aunt, Uncle and cousins came to visit back in April but she was nice enough to open her home to me for my early flight to Taiwan.Upon arriving I was met by Yu-ru, a girl I came into contact with through CouchSurfing.  She was kind enough to help me get a SIM card for my phone and MRT (subway) card - both of which making the next 10 days of travel much easier.  Unfortunately she had to go to work later that afternoon so we did not have much time to visit but I appreciate her help.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I should have called

I can quite honestly say that in America I've never had one of those moments where I show up somewhere and thought, "hmm guess I should've called before I came".  Maybe the reason is that in the US we rarely just show up somewhere anymore.  Not even to visit friends, it's always a phone call or text "What's up/What are you doing/etc."

Well, yesterday I had to make my way to Gumi so that I could go to the bank and exchange money for Taiwan.  Well that's a whole different story but without going off on too much of a tangent let me just say i'm proud of myself. Going to the bank here is a bit daunting knowing that you're dealing with hard earned money and a limited ability to communicate.  Anyways, I have my money for Taiwan and set up and "Easy One" account so that I can transfer funds home, bonus!

So back to the rest of the day - it's been close to two weeks since i've paid a visit to Samsungwon due to our conflicting schedules and crazy summer heat.  I thought as long as I was in Gumi this morning i'd stop by.  Well upon my arrival Mrs. Noh looked at me shocked and quickly apologized that the boys went to school.  I said it was no problem, that I was in the area and though i'd stop by to say hi.  She couldn't figure out what to do with  me (although I was fine with just leaving) so she insisted I stay for a while and have lunch.  While trying to communicate I thought she had meant that the boys would be coming back at that time, so I thought sure I can hang out and wait.  

We spent about a half hour watching the [replay] of the South Korea vs Great Britain soccer game, shared some awkward laughs and minimal communication.  Lunch was served and I sat with the most adorable little boy, pretty shy and we couldn't talk much but it was fine.  At this point I realized my boys would not be back anytime soon. I figured it was time for me to go when Mrs. Noh told me to go wait in her house, now I was thoroughly confused, maybe they were coming back?

Some more awkward waiting with some of the older boys and then Mrs. Noh offered me coffee in the office.  She asked if I was busy so noticing that this could go on all day I said I had to be back to school by 2. Not a complete lie as i'm now here printing out my final documents and plans for Taiwan - and typing this blog.  We enjoyed our coffee and I was on my way, but I would not leave without multiple apologies from Mrs. Noh.  I couldn't express enough that it was  okay!  I was just stopping by and she went out of her way to make my time worth it, lunch coffee and some awkward albeit lovely company.

Entertaining myself on the bus home

Okay off to Taiwan I go, wish me luck! I'll be sure to take lots of pictures and hopefully have some good stories to share when I get home. 

Monday, August 6, 2012


Despite the fact that i'm soon leaving for Taiwan I was really feeling the travel bug last weekend and therefore was adamant on getting out of town.  I messaged my friend Grace who lives in Ulsan and figured this would be the perfect destination, beachside town promising a cooler breeze than the armpit of Korea that I live in. Grace was happy to have me come visit but said she had plans that night/the next day so I wouldn't be able to stay over.  My friend Sojung said he'd come along but also couldn't stay over because he had a lot of work to get done. Wanting a break from our home towns we decided to make a day trip out of it.

Summer Camp

Summer break, what's that?  Oh right at home it's when teachers AND students get close to three months off of school to relax - you know the time that it's totally acceptable to stay up until like 4am for no reason what-so-ever just to sleep until 2pm the next day. Sleepoever marathons, Summerfest, all day pool parties, obnoxiously too may Kopps runs, and who could forget those awesome summer jobs.  As wasteful as some of my high school summer days have been I wouldn't trade them for anything.

I'm Meeeeelting

Okay i'm not sure how much I previously wrote about Korean summer - or the lack there of.  I was seriously skeptical about how terrible the summer really was going to be. My kids kept talking about it like the plague was coming, but I had my doubts.  Well about two weeks ago death rolled into town.  One day of torrential downpour and the next day you didn't want to leave your house, and it's continued that way ever since.  It may sound like I'm complaining, but i'm not - it's more for your entertainment.  I mean yea, it's freaking hot, but like i've said before I would much rather this heat then sitting in my apartment shivering.  One problem with the heat is that it slows you down - both physically and mentally.  My brain is moving at the speed of mush which causes problems when I realize it's friday and I've made no attempt at plans for the weekend.

Last weekend Sara saved me from boredom and invited me along to Gyoengju to visit our friends (namely Amanda and Ryan).  Nothing special going on but I realized (that day) there doesn't always need to be a reason or festival for me to travel to a town.  Yeah, I had been there before (twice) but I had friends to visit and I love the town.

 Friday night our friend Stu hosted a BBQ on his roof and then we made our way DT to a few bars.  Nothing special but quality time spent with some fun people and good friends.  Oh, we did waste a good chunk of time standing outside playing games. There are random 'crane' type games all over the streets of Korea, I myself have never been sucked in but the boys couldn't seem to get enough of them. Amanda was nice enough to host Sara and I for the weekend so we made our way back to her place to pass out.

Saturday came and the only thing we could think about was how hungry we were (didn't help that Amanda's stomach was talking - to all of us).  We made our way downtown and decided on Korean food for lunch, we were all craving rice - is that weird? Maybe it's the fact that I haven't had school lunch for the past two weeks so i've been lacking.  After lunch the next stop was Daiso (Korean dollar store) and then coffee.  I'm happy to say I found my new favorite coffee shop - down side is that it's all the way in Gyeonju, hmm might be a problem (and they're closed on Sundays-lame).  What was so cool you ask? They had puzzles!  We spent enough time there to complete two puzzles as well as time to sit and chat, upon which we remembered our plans to visit the cat cafe.  Yeah you heard me.

So, from one coffee shop to another we made our way back to the bar area? (not sure on my Gyeongju neighborhoods) and entered an alternate reality.  If you know me you also know that I don't like cats, but there I was, sitting drinking a coffee surrounded by them.  I guess they were kind of cute, but if I could've had a dog or puppy to play with instead I would've swapped in a heartbeat.  These things are all over Korea though, you pay 7,000 or 8,000 won (drink included) and can hang out with their cats. Hmm, not sure i'll be going back anytime soon but it was worth the experience.

It seems that Amanda, Sara and I are always after a good cafe adventure when in Gyenonju together. The first time I visited it was the awesome cafe with racist dogs and astronaut lights, now puzzles and cats - I can't wait to see what's next. 

That night we had a first in Korea - mexican night! We recently discovered that Homplus-uh carries a variety of mexican products.  Ryan (hailing from Texas) and the rest of us had been feeling quite deprived from the delicacies of mexican food so we decided to take it upon ourself and whip something up.  We went with chicken quesadillas and home made guacamole, success!!  The rest of the night we took it easy and watched the olympics - not quite the same as being back home.  Here you get the choice of Judo, Archery, Shooting, Judo, Fencing, maybe some handball oh and swimming, but only if Park Taewon is in the event.  Either way it was a good time and thankfully since then I discovered a website where I can check out the US version - just in time to catch the women's gymnastics dominate!

Well once again the weekend is upon me and my plans are a bit up in the air.  As I sit here in an airconditioned cafe i'm hoping something will magically materialize, guess you'll have to check back to find out. ***Delay in the post due to my pictures being stuck on my camera - I did make it to Ulsan this weekend, there'll be a post about it so go read that** Although it might be a while, in less than a week i'll be in the midst of my Taiwan tour, here's to hoping all goes well!