Exploring Taiwan: Real-life Spirited Away & Houtong Cat Village

February 20, 2015 § 1 Comment

Kicking off the new year’s goal of exploring more of Taiwan, Matthew and I have decided to take a weekend trip to the famed Jiufen (九份), the inspiration behind Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ and Houtong (侯硐), an old coal mining village that became a haven for stray cats. It was a relief to leave Taipei and get some fresh air. The train ride was an hour away and only costed NT.50 (about USD $2), which makes me question myself why I don’t go out into the outside world more.

Jiufen was an old gold mining town that prospered back during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century. The town is tucked into the mountains and enjoys a stunning view of the Pacific ocean. The small area meant that the buildings are densely built, narrow roads and alleys that winds around the mountainous town.

I highly recommend exploring Jiufen at night. Mostly because you can avoid the throngs of tourists that visit during the daytime but also because the night scenes were significantly more interesting.

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Nighttime exploring

The quietness of the town at night was slightly eerie and surreal. Besides the random passerby or two, we didn’t come across anyone during our nighttime exploration. It felt like a ghost town, especially with the dilapidated structures and the endless rows of graves. The nighttime sounds that you grow accustomed to hearing in the city, scooters, neighbor arguments, tv sets, were nonexistent. Instead, you heard the ocean breeze and the occasional crickets chirping.

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Jiufen’s characteristic red lanterns and long winding alleys. Lights on, but no one in sight

After walking through numerous dark alleys and narrow staircases, we stumbled across this brightly lit tea house:

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The famous Japanese tea house #themoneyshot

It was just like a scene out of Spirited Away. The dark town backdrop just highlighted the bright building even more, absolutely stunning to look at.

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Taipei on two wheels – Riverside Park

April 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

If you ever considered biking on the streets of Taipei, you may be bombarded with scary riding stories from locals. Most of Taipei do not have marked bicycle lanes or signals. The easy, relaxed atmosphere that bikers enjoy in Amsterdam or Copenhagen is basically nonexistent. The streets of Taipei resemble something of a battlefield, with its army of scooters, manic taxi drivers and monster buses at every turn. It’s a feat that can be daunting for bikers who aren’t comfortable riding in chaotic conditions.

The Riverside Park is the answer to that. Bike lovers can enjoy a beautiful bike lanes while seeing a different side of Taipei. Though never mentioned in popular guidebooks, hunting out bite-size adventures at the Riverside Park is by far one of my favorite pastimes. Riverside Park (河濱公園) is a city-established parkway that wraps itself around the whole Taipei city, running along the Danshui and Keelong River. It’s a quick way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without leaving the city, with extensive bike paths that can take you from southern Taipei (Xindian) all the way to the northernmost part of the city (Danshui). In addition to wide bike lanes, you will also stumble upon an assortment of parks and recreational facilities such as tennis courts, basketball courts, dog parks and more. It’s a refreshingly new way to see Taipei, as it exposes you to different facets of daily life. There are many different parks, entrances and bike rental stations scattered around the city, so it is worth checking out the full map to know which parts of the riverside you want to be exploring.

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Beautiful view of the New Taipei Bridge and the Beitou Incinerator

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The other side of Grand Hotel Taipei in Yuanshan

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Did not know skating rinks even existed in Taipei

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The merry-go-round at 兒童樂園 (Taipei Children’s Recreation Center)

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Clean public restrooms

One of my favorite spots is the dog park @迎風河濱公園 where you can shamelessly pet other people’s dogs without being a creep about it.

Puppy on the left can’t even right now

 There are also designated graffiti walls for people to tag around the park. The walls are painted white periodically, so it’s a good place to get your spray practice on.

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Graffiti wall

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Another section of the wall

Bikes can be rented at stations around the river for around NT. 60/hour. You have to provide a government issued ID or a NT. 2000 deposit if you don’t have an ID. Many people prefer renting UBikes (map), Taipei’s bike sharing service. The first 30 mins is free and then NT.10 per 30 mins for up to 4 hours. There are different rates for 4 hours or more, so be wary of long bike rides. You’ll need an Easycard and a functioning Taiwan phone number for the 1-time registration.

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A UBike kiosk

And of course the delicious food trucks and coffee stands that are available everywhere!

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Have you ever biked around Taipei? Feel free to leave your stories in the comments!

100 Years Before the Birth of Doraemon

January 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

100 Years before Doraemon's Birth Exhibition!

100 Years before Doraemon’s Birth Exhibition!

For those of you that are scratching their heads in confusion, let me back up a few. Doraemon is a Japanese comic series about an extremely intelligent robotic cat (Doraemon) from the future, that travels back into time to help a rather miserable, often bullied young boy named Nobi.  Doraemon owns a magical pocket, which allows him to conjure up thousands of different gadgets, tools and potions. Most of these special tools are used to help get Nobi out of his sticky situations that arise in his daily life.

This year, 2013, marks Doraemon’s 100th pre-birth year.

What Doraemon originally looked like fresh out of the press

What Doraemon originally looked like fresh out of the press

Pre-rat Doraemon

Pre-rat Doraemon



Though Doraemon originated as a Japanese Manga, he’s been a staple part of many Taiwanese childhoods. It wasn’t uncommon to find the neighborhood kids swapping the comic books, watching the tv show before dinner, and eagerly saving up our allowances to watch the latest Doraemon movie.

One of my favorite gadgets was the Dokodemo door, which allowed you to travel ANYWHERE by simply passing through the entrance. The door had a mind of itself, figuring out where the user wants to go without so much of a hint. It’s perfect for any quick escapes.

The other equally badass gadget is the Time Machine, which is located in Nobi’s desk drawer. You use the knobs to pick a time and travel through a time vortex. In the comics, Doraemon, Nobi and the rest of the crew would go on epic journeys into space or back into prehistoric times when dinosaurs still roamed earth.

Doraemon and his time machine

Doraemon and his time machine

Besides time travel, the capabilities of the gadgets and tools available would boggle your mind ! There was all sorts of things such as creating a clone so you don’t have to go to class, magical pens that can automatically writes down the correct answer on tests, a cloth that can reverse or fast forward time, gravitational paint that allows you to walk upside down, a phone where you can call and order anything…the list goes on and on. Anything your mind can think of, Doraemon will most likely have it in his pocket.

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The Power of Color: Da-an 56

September 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Power of Color is this awesome annual festival that promotes the creative art scene in Taipei. Works from both Taiwanese and international artists are showcased in different venues around the city, and also includes a variety of events and activities over a 2 month period.

I accidentally stumbled upon the Da-an 56 exhibit this past Saturday. Da-an 56 is an old red brick house with a large courtyard, nestled  in the bustling shopping district of Taipei’s East area. I’ve passed it several times in the past, but this is the first time it’s been opened to the public. It’s very rare to see a standalone western styled house in Taipei. Except for the super-rich, most of us live in apartment buildings in Taiwan.

Da-an 56


Though the date of when the last owners moved out is unknown, the house looks as if it has been frozen in time, about 40 years ago. The wallpaper peeling, the floor boards creaking and the unmistakable musty odor of old houses. From the living room to the bathroom, each room and area of the property has been transformed into individual exhibit rooms for the artists.

“Thank You” by Heidi Volt

The first exhibit you see when you step foot into the house is the eye catching piece “Thank You” by Heidi Volt.

3000 digital watches were used to form a large carpet

At the start of the exhibit, all the watches are set to the same time and beeps at each hour. As time goes by, the cheap digital watches start walking to their own pace of time. If you take a close glimpse, the time on each watch is off by a few seconds or some by a minute or 2 (or more). The beeping at each hour slowly loses its synchronization and creates a cacophony of digital noises. Time really is relative isn’t it?

“Their sight/your sight in Taipei” by Akiko Ikeda
Pop up Daruma doll

I loved the 3D world created by Akika Ikeda’s pop-up cut outs of books, magazines and other media. The scenes seem to come to life when popping out of their paper home.

An Artic expedition

“Similing Face as a Flower” by Hsu Wei-Hui

Finding a gigantic pink flower in the bathroom caught me off guard completely. Upon closer inspection, you can see that the piece is created by facial masks, which is very popular among Asian women. I interpreted it as sacredness of the bathroom for women and their quest for beauty.

“3:15” Hua-Chen Huang

“3:15” Hua-Chen Huang
Glowing bathtub!

“The Rotators” by Ujino

The Rotators was a sound sculpture assembled by various different objects, mostly motor-driven appliances. Besides creating a rhythmic sound, the lights also go on and off! Also, were you creeped out by this picture? My friend was taking a closer look at the exhibit just while I took the picture. So no, that isn’t Ringu (ahhh, I’m getting the creeps already) but in all honesty, Da-an 56 can definitely be considered for a haunted house venue. It has that old, eerie feel to it that comes with the aging house. *goosebumps*

The Rotators by Ujino

“Bring the colorful telescope” by Yen-Chiao Huang

“Bring the colorful telescope” by Yen-Chiao Huang

This is what I would imagine would happen if a graffiti artist gets locked into a white room for a week.

“Erebus” by Chia-Yu Lee

“Erebus” by Chia-Yu Lee

Erebus” didn’t seem that interesting at the first glance. However, if you look at the frames closely enough, you’ll see dim outlines of the artist’s family. It was kind of like a magic eye, where you have to stare at it long and hard, and even at different angles. The first image I saw was an elderly grandma and I freaked out completely. It’s interesting how the artist manipulated the photos and her statement about the piece is worth a read.

“Passing in between” by Han-Hong Tai

“Passing in Between”

Passing in Between was by far the memorable, as you had to personally enter the exhibit. As you can see from the picture, it’s an enclosed wooden staircase with a normal human sized door but then decreases until only a mouse can make it to the end. As a human, you get stuck half-way into the staircase as you try to make it to the light at the end of the tunnel.

The tiny alice-in-wonderland door at the end

The garage door

“Doughnut in Alice’s Wonderland” by Wen-Fu Yu

Doughnut in Alice’s Wonderland” was by far the most popular piece. It’s a beautiful piece that is created completely out of bamboo. I love the reference to Alice in Wonderland as the whole Da-an 56 was by far a mind-bending, stimulating trip out of reality. But in a good way.

“Dispatchwork” by Jan Vormann

I almost missed the “Dispatchwork” by Jan Vormann but luckily for me, I caught it on the way out. I think this is my favorite piece because it reminds me that if you look hard enough, there are bits of creative sparks all around this city, fueled by color. Those sparks are subtle but they are there. They act as reminders that even in our mundane daily lives, you can always find something little that can bring a small on your face.

Playing with reflections

August 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

Walked past the beautiful Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall after a rainy day and snapped some pictures of the reflections in the puddles.

low light reflections

the beautiful archways

the national theatre and its underwater counterpart



Ran the Run: A Love Story

May 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

When I stepped foot into my somewhat health-obsessed university in Virginia 5 years ago, I was genuinely shocked to learn that people ran as a hobby – even more bewildered that people actually enjoyed it!  None of my family or close friends ever just…ran. Running belonged in high school gym class and my worst nightmares. I automatically assumed that people who ran were athletes. It’s boring. And exhausting. No one in their right mind would want to run when they can sit around and eat cookies.

My Nike 6k goody bag

It’s safe to say that my stance on running has change drastically since then. I ran my first official 6k this past weekend at the 2012 Nike Be Amazing Run! It took a while, but I’m so thrilled to have made it through that god-awful journey to get where I am now.

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Ringing In The New Year – Thumbs Up Taiwan!

January 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

NYE 2012 was surprisingly awesome for me since this was my first time going out to celebrate New Year’s (for more details, hit up my other blog here). I sincerely hope the world doesn’t end this year so that I can have another go at it next year!

I loved how characteristics of Taiwanese society and culture is so prominently displayed during large social events such as NYE. People are very polite and courteous to one another, even though we’re all squished together on the streets. Large groups of friends and family gather together for BBQ/cook-out. Though there is trash on the streets, it seems that people at least make an effort to toss all the trash in a distinctive pile. Just some observations I made while I was semi-intoxicated and being distracted by the number of food stalls that have sprung up from nowhere.

My favorite was the motivational messages/new year blessings that appeared on the scrolling text on Taipei 101. I think it’s a pretty great reflection of Taiwanese society and culture:

"Happy 快樂"

"Taiwan 台灣 Like 讚"

I almost pissed my pants when this text scrolled out. This is the most iconic building in Taiwan, and the scrolling text has a “like” and a thumbs up, just like on facebook. Whoever was planning these messages had a sense of humor for sure.

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