Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moon Festival on Penghu Island

Erin and I have returned to work this week after a very relaxing vacation last week.  Last week started off very exciting as Typhoon Fanapi blew through on Sunday.  While Erin and I stayed comfortably inside watching the wind and the rain the storm dropped enough rain to cause school to be closed on Monday.  Going in to school after the storm had passed I saw some of the damage it had wreaked with downed trees and flooding in some of the school's classrooms.  It also meant a short work week (one day) as we were scheduled to have our Moon Festival vacation starting on Wednesday.

So after a busy Tuesday at work we woke up Wednesday morning and went to the airport.  For this vacation we had decided on Penghu; an archipelago of the Western coast of Taiwan described as "The Hawaii of Taiwan" in our guidebook.  Getting on the plane in Kaohsiung was a breeze (no need to take off shoes or take out liquids) and we we're soon flying to the main island of Penghu.  It was a short flight though (about 30 minutes) and before we knew it we were getting picked up at the airport from one of the owners of the B&B we were staying at.

With our bags dropped off we were soon on a scooter exploring the beaches and temples of the island.  We came across some wonderful sandy beach spots with warm waters, numerous sea shells, some very interesting temples and beautiful clear skies to go with it all.  It's probably no wonder then that we found ourselves sunburned after only our first day.  That night we rode into the main city on the island, Magong, for dinner and to have a look around.

The next day Erin was determined to ride her own scooter after having practiced on the one we had the day before.  So we rode out on separate scooters to explore the island.  As an archipeligo, Penghu is actually made up of several small islands connected by bridges.  Because there's only one way out to (and one way back from) the farthest island,

Thursday ended up being a long day.  During the day we saw the aquarium with some wonderful turtles, a large banyan tree sprawling across a courtyard leading to a temple, basalt columns formed by the volcanic birth of the island, a traditional village built from that same basalt, and a lighthouse at the very end of the last island.  After riding all day we got into Magong to see the sun set before getting some dinner and heading home (though not before seeing a fireworks display, seeing a small parade, and stopping for a drink at the pub).  It was wonderful seeing and doing everything, but we were exhausted.

On Friday we took it much easier and spent most of the day relaxing at a tree-filled park next to a beach.  The day included a lot of rest and a long walk on the beach as we found beautiful shells and coral.  That night, as the wind grew stronger we decided to rent a taxi to take us into town for dinner.  Not being able to read the menu we ended up getting mainly what was pictured which turned out well, though somewhat strange (they put bbq sauce on our spaghetti).

For Saturday our hosts had recommended a small island accessible by ferry called Tong-pan which had a nice path and some stunning basalt formations.  We got to the dock just in time for the ferry, paid the gruff captain our fair, and agreed to be back for pick up in two hours.  A short ride later found us on the small island which was very easy to walk around.  The ferry back arrived with just a little hesitation (and anxiety on our part to be able to leave the small island), but we were soon back at the B&B packing up to go.  The host shuttled us back to the airport while telling us of his wind surfing and kite surfing passion.  With the amount of wind the islands get, he certainly seems to be in a good place.

Back home we did some Costco shopping and then spent all of Sunday working in preparation to go back to school.  It was quite a trip and I'm glad the weather cooperated so well.  It was a good reminder of why we go through all of the challenges of living in a foriegn country.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Typhoons, Bicycling Down Love River, Friends, Sickness, and Taipei

I've been slacking on writing the blog for a few weeks now and it's not for lack of things going on (as you can tell from the title of this post).

As this month started our new island home was being buffeted by typhoons with heavy rains and winds.  One storm looked liked it would be so bad that school was closed for a day (decided by the city).  We went in like we do every day and the superintendent was standing there at the front of the school telling us that there wouldn't be school.  It was nice to go back home and relax even if the storm wasn't really that bad.  It seems like we've had stronger storms since then, but no more days off school.

The following weekend we got up Sunday morning and walked over to the river where we found a stand to rent bikes.  After figuring out the automated stand we had our bikes and were riding down along the river.  It was a nice ride that took us down to the bay and showed us an Outback Steakhouse that was serving American-style brunch.  We eventually made our way back to the original stand, put the bikes back, and would have paid for the rental if my credit card hadn't had a block put on it. 

Later on Sunday I had some friends that were in town so we met them for tea.  We had a chance to see them again the following Wednesday night.  They were so nice to help us with getting SIM cards for our phones and showing us a good place to get some Belgian beers.  Afterwards they took us to a Szechuan hot-pot place for dinner.  It was fun dunking the different food in the pot of boiling broth and the food tasted really good.

Unfortunately the next day neither of us weren't feeling very good.  I guess our stomachs haven't quite become accustomed to Taiwanese food.  Erin soon got better, but my stomach/colon has issues so it's taken me longer to recover.  In order to get a refill on prescriptions and hopefully get better a very nice teacher at school agreed to take me to see a doctor at the hospital.  It was an interesting experience as appointments are made based on a number (like when you take a number at DMV), not by time.  So when we got to the hospital with the doctor I learned we had number 59 and the doctor we were seeing was at number 24 (and moving slowly).  We eventually saw the doctor and I got some medicine, but the whole process took several hours.  On the plus side, the doctor's visit plus medication for a month came to a total of about US $15 (compared to hundreds I would pay back in the US).
Even though I wasn't feeling well Erin and I had a room booked in Taipei last Saturday and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity.  We took a very nice ride in the fast train Saturday morning which allowed us to see the beautiful countryside.  Once in Taipei we had dumplings at a great lunch place before going to the National Museum.  The museum had many antiques from China including jade carved to look like a leaf of cabbage and another carved to look like a piece of pork.  After the museum we saw the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial before heading out for some delicious pizza.  Our final adventure was a traditional Chinese opera which was very peculiar, but entertaining.  Exhausted, we returned to our room at the Grand Hotel.  We came back to Kaohsiung on Sunday morning.

Those are the highlights from the past few weeks and I'm sure Erin will have more detailed stories in her blog.  Going back over it I'm amazed at all that we've done and yet we're just getting started.