Friday, December 30, 2011

Home for the Holidays

This year for the holidays Erin and I made the long flight back to Denver. Making the flights seem even longer was the lack of seat-back TV's that we have come to expect on international flights. I think we'll avoid flying long distances with United in the future. Once we got back to family though it made the long flights worth the trouble.

We started our visit with Erin's parents, Mike and Susie, and their cute dog, Dante. Erin's brother, Andrew, and his fiancee, Sara, soon joined us.  The next night after dinner at the artfully decorated Beatrice & Woodsley Erin's sister, Amy, her husband, Kevin, and their 6-month old daughter, Nora, joined us as well. From then on it was a cuteness contest between the baby and the dog. Even though she was sick (as most of us were or would be) I think Nora won and Dante had to battle for attention.

On Christmas Eve we had a wonderful home-cooked meal compliments of Andrew and Sara. After dinner Erin and I presented everyone with an activity we had brought back from Taiwan: Chinese Lanterns. These were paper balloons with flammable material suspended at the base. We prompted everyone to write down what they were wishing for in the coming year. We then took the balloons outside and lit them. The balloons filled with hot air and gently lifted off into the night sky taking our wishes for the New Year with them.

Christmas morning found us opening presents and talking to family. Though Nora wasn't old enough to open her presents by herself she certainly received the lion's share. Dinner that night was another wonderful home-cooked meal, this time coming from Susie's cookbook. We finished the night with a game of dominoes.

On Monday, the day after Christmas Erin went with her family for pedicures and then we all went out to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch.

While Tuesday was a relaxing day to catch up on emails, Wednesday proved to much busier. As a birthday gift Erin had gotten me some time at Denver's indoor skydiving building. After a brief introduction our instructor had us suited up and ready to get in the vertical wind tunnel. I spent my first two minutes trying to remember my previous sky-diving experience. When it was time for me to go again for another two minutes I was ready to do some basic manuevers like turning, going up and down, and going back and forth. Later that night I went out to join our supper club at Duo Restaurant in the Highlands. Unfortunately Erin couldn't join me as she was going to see "West Side Story" with her family. It was unfortunate she couldn't make it to experience the wacky gift exchange we did, but she enjoyed the musical.

On Thursday we had to say goodby to Erin's family as my parents, Karen and Gary, were flying in and we were going to stay with my aunt and uncle, Janet and Reynold, for their stay.  It was hard to say goodbye knowing we wouldn't see some of Erin's siblings and our niece until Andrew and Sara's wedding in September. Still, it was great to see my family and have a wonderful spaghetti dinner fixed by Janet that night.

On Friday Janet had reserved a table for afternoon tea at the Brown Palace.  The hotel is beautiful and the tea and scones were delicious.  Later we went out to dinner at a great place in downtown Littleton called, Terracotta.  On Saturday it was much the same except that Erin and I joined our friends Pete and Leah for dinner at the Wash Park Grill. We all then went over to join our other friends, Rachel and Cameron, at their house. It was nice to talk and catch up with them.

We started the New Year on Sunday with more relaxing time with the family.  This included playing Reynold and Janet's Wii along with some dominoes.

On Monday Erin and I got to meet with friends around town. That night Erin and I cooked my family a nice dinner of shrimp and tilapia before sharing the Chinese Lantern experience once more.

On Tuesday Erin and I drove my parents out to the airport for their flight back to California. We also took the opportunity to try to get some things out of storage that we would need in Taiwan. That night it was my turn to treat Erin to a surprise. We started out with dinner at the 9th Door Restuarant, a favorite tapas place downtown. We then went up to the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield. It was a nice hotel to stay at.

The next day the surprise continued as I got Erin an early birthday gift of a hot stone massage at the spa attached to the hotel. So she wouldn't be alone I went with her for my first hot stone massage. It was nice, but probably only something I would do rarely. We spent much of the afternoon running errands and preparing to leave. That night we went out with Erin's parents to the Sushi Den.

Early the next day Susie drove us to the airport for our flight back to Taiwan. As I type this we are once again on a long flight with limited entertainment options. It is a grueling process, but it was definitely worth it to see our family.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lions and Tigers and ... Turkey - Thanksgiving in Singapore

With four days off for Thanksgiving Erin and I decided to see Singapore over the long holiday weekend. Flying out Thursday morning we arrived to our modest hotel that afternoon and were soon out exploring the city. Our first stop was the famous Raffles Hotel and Long Bar where the Singapore Sling cocktail was originally concocted. The hotel and bar exuded a British Colonial style along with a tradition of leaving peanut shells on the floor.

From there we went to a Thanksgiving buffet put on by a brewery/restaurant on the Riverfront area. It was nice to get some turkey and stuffing, but the buffet style and confused service limited our enthusiasm for the place. Maybe finding the perfect Thanksgiving dinner in a former British colony in South-East Asia is asking a bit too much... We finished off the evening with a river cruise that described some of the history of the sites we saw up and down the river. It was nice to get a feel for some of the history of the city while taking in the splendid night skyline.

The next morning we were up early for breakfast out at the zoo. After a long ride on subway and bus we arrived just in time for our breakfast with orangutans. In an open-air dining area we got a typical breakfast buffet while animal handlers brought out orangutans, cockatoos and boa constrictor to join us. We were able to hold the snake and get pictures with the animals before finishing our meal and heading out to the rest of the zoo.

The Singapore zoo is truly one of the best in the world. It's been a while since I've been to the San Diego Zoo, but I would say this one was better. The main reason was because animal enclosures were created in the most natural way possible and even gave direct access to some of the animals. Highlights included a sea lion show where we were close enough to get wet; seeing various types of monkeys get fed; an Australian Outback exhibit where a walabi came up close enough to touch; and an enclosed area with freely-roaming lemurs, deer-mice, parrots, and butterflies. It's only drawback is the long time it takes to get there and back to the city.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we got back so we relaxed some and got cleaned up before going out to dinner at the fancy "Coriander Leaf" hotel back on the Riverfront. While the meal was decent and our server was nervous at times the real treat was the wine-pairing that accompanied each course. The wines were exceptional and almost justified the high price of the meal.

On Saturday we slept in a bit before going out for brunch near Chinatown. PS Cafe on Ann Siang was a wonderful place to sit back, read a paper, and enjoy the amazingly delicious food. It was a great way to start the day. From there we went out to Sentosa Island by way of cable car. While the views from the ride were nice, we met with disappointment once we arrived. The ride we wanted to do was booked for the day, it was hot outside, and everything else looked cheesy. We confirmed this suspicion with two cinema experiences: a hokey, water-in-your-face, bumpy show about pirates and a nausea-inducing, poor-video "log ride".  After sulking in the mall a bit we made our way to the Botanical Gardens.

Erin and I have discovered something paradoxical in our travels. We like to visit and stay in big cities, but once we're there we enjoy seeking out the natural, open spaces of parks, gardens, and wilderness. After walking around the gardens we were feeling much better and even made some friends from Louisiana along the way. The highlight was the National Orchid Gardens with thousands of beautiful orchids in a variety of settings. We would have spent more time in the gardens but we had to get to dinner. After a delicious Italian dinner along the river we were heading back out to the zoo area.

Right next to the zoo is a night safari that many people recommended. With many animals being nocturnal it was a wonderful chance to see them up and about. While not as good as the zoo, the night safari provided plenty of highlights as well including a tram ride where you could potentially reach out and touch several animals; a bat enclosure with bats flying inches from your face; and the chance to see a variety of animals that only come out at night.

After arriving back to our hotel late the night before we were exhausted on Sunday. We had time to get some breakfast and walk around Little India before grabbing our stuff and heading out to the airport. Leaving at 2pm with stops in Bangkok and Hong Kong we didn't get back home until midnight.

Even with only four days I feel like we got to see a good portion of Singapore. We're both fairly sore from all the walking and tired from the hectic pace, but we had a great time and would love to visit Singapore again in the future... how else will we see all the parks and nature reserves that we missed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Things you learn as you get older

It was my birthday this past weekend and to celebrate Erin and I took the train up to Taipei. We had a great time mainly because of lessons we have learned over the years and would have had an even better time if we had learned some things that we're still working on.

First off are the everyday things that help us get around in the world. As our second year in Taiwan we find things much easier because we've done them before. We've been up to Taipei several times now and so it has become and easy and enjoyable experience to get on the train and escape for the night.

Having tried many different hotels I think we've found one that tops the rest with The Riviera Hotel. Shortly after checking in they called up to confirm it was my birthday and say they had a surprise. Without either of us having contact the hotel they noticed it was my birthday and brought up a chocolate cake. This act, along with the free western-style breakfast and internet, has secured them at the top of our list when we go back.

When we went out that night things got a bit more difficult as we learned that we still need to work on writing down addresses and asking for directions. We tried to get to a wine bar, but couldn't find it and stopped instead for a glass at an Italian restaurant. Later, when we tried to get to our intended dinner restaurant the taxi could only get us to the neighborhood leaving us to walk around in the rain before we could find the place. We had a similar problem directing the taxi back to our hotel when we were finished.

Our dinner turned out to be an interesting event where years of experience finally lent themselves to better judgement. We were having dinner at a place called "Ninja" which was decorated in a feudal Japanese style with women dressed as ninjas. The food was okay (sushi, etc.) and there was a fun little waterfall gate that opened up when you said the secret password "ninja". The most interesting part was when they encouraged us to sit closer to where they were going to have a dance. That was when two women with little clothing started dancing and soon were beckoning some of the patrons to come join them. Knowing better, I declined to join them, but another young man wasn't as wise. At first it seemed to be good fun as the two women were dancing with him up on stage and started to take his clothes off. By the end though they were pouring ice water over his head and ice down his pants. He took it like a sport, but also seemed very red with embarrassment. Live and learn.

After the difficulties of getting around Saturday night, Sunday was a sunny new day.  After breakfast we went down to a store that stocks western-style food and packed for a picnic. We then found a trail up one of the nearby hills. The trail was steep, but we kept at it and before long we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the city while we had our lunch.

We then hiked back down to a nearby mall where they always have a wide variety of entertainment. There were various street performers and even a small half-pipe were they let me ride a bike around. After all the steps and walking on the trail we were glad to sit down for a movie (Tower Heist) and dinner (Gordon Biersch). As we made our way back home we made a key insight to birthdays and celebrations.

I often don't like to put too much emphasis on my birthday because it can lead to unrealistic expectations. Erin loves to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries often spreading the celebrations out over several days. What we came to realize is that this spreading out of celebrations provides more opportunities to meet higher expectations and have a great time.

Of course, the most important lesson I've learned over the years is that events are best celebrated with the people you love. I want to thank everyone for all the nice birthday wishes and especially, Erin, for being a wonderful wife.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bubbles, Bicycles, Forts, and Fashion

Erin and I have been getting a lot of bicycle riding in lately. Two weekends ago we rented bikes and rode along the river. The city makes it fairly easy to rent bikes out of their numerous automated bike stands so we were able to get the bikes near where we live, ride downtown, and leave them at another stand there. While downtown we enjoyed a western-style dinner and walked around an artistic section of the city. It was a good evening to get Erin's mind off of the day-long parent teacher conference she had the day before.

This past weekend we went to Tainan for some more cycling. Tainan is the next largest city North of us about an hour train ride away. It used to be the seat of power when the Dutch ruled and still has many buildings from that era. We started with a walk around one of the old Dutch forts. Surprisingly, as we arrived we saw that they were holding a small fabric expo and were treated to the tail end of a fashion show.

After the fort we walked over to an old tree house which turned out to be an old salt warehouse that had been overgrown with banyan trees. The trees gave the place a relaxing feel. Their shade was a welcome relief from the surprisingly hot day.

As lunch time was soon approaching we rented some bicycles and rode out to where this quirky cafe was supposed to be. The crazy construction of driftwood and glass was there, but they were doing work on it and not serving food. Fortunately there was a cafe next door. Though it was serving typical Taiwanese food we found some palatable dishes before moving on. Across the street was another Dutch fort with an array of massive cannons.

Before long we were back on the bikes and heading back to where we rented them. Along the way though we spotted a massive amount of bubbles. There were people with huge saucers of soap and sticks with rings on the end. Joining the fun we got our own set. We would dip the rings into the soap and let the breeze blow huge bubbles and tubes. It really made our day after missing our expected lunch.

After returning the bikes we took a taxi back into the main part of town. There we tried to get a melon drink for Erin, but with no signs in English I fear we got something else because it just tasted like sugar water. We then went to the Confucius temple, but didn't see much as it had gotten dark at this time. We finished our trip with dinner at a Greek restaurant which also had good mango margaritas.

It was nice to get away for the day and see a different city. Looking through the guidebook it seems we've done just about all there is to do in southern Taiwan. It will be nice later this month to get away to Singapore for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thanksgiving, Paper Umbrellas, and Rugby

One of the things I really enjoy about living abroad is the ability to experience multiple cultures, even those of countries we're not currently living in.  I've found that living as a foreigner in a different country often means that you get to know other foreigners more than the locals.  As English speakers we naturally tend to gravitate towards other English speakers.

So it was last Monday night, as the Republic of China (Taiwan) celebrated it's 100th anniversary, Erin and I could be found at a restaurant/bar enjoying Canadian Thanksgiving.  Similar to a Thanksgiving meal in America; we enjoyed turkey, stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes, and finished off with some pumpkin pie.  We even had leftovers for lunch the next day.  Looking around at the Western decor and fellow Westerners enjoying the feast I could imagine being in North America.

On Saturday this past weekend we were back to local Taiwanese culture as our friend took us to Meinong, a town in the foothills not far from Kaohsiung.  We started with a delicious lunch at a place that served local, naturally-grown food.  The style was more typical of the indiginous tribes than the fried food we often see in the city.  After lunch we went to a shop where they hand-make and paint paper umbrellas.  There were many beautiful designs in various shapes.  To finish out our trip we visited a local potter.  We're hoping that the pottery and paper umbrellas will provide some character to whatever place we get back in Colorado.

For Sunday afternoon I was off to celebrate some more foreign culture as another bar had a satellite link to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.  My friend, Andrew, had invited me to watch his national, New Zealand team: the "All Blacks", versus the Australian "Wallabies".  It was the first time I had seen a full rugby game and I enjoyed how fast-paced it was.  It helped that the team we were cheering for ended up winning.

I suppose that we could have enjoyed Canadian Thanksgiving and the Rugby World Cup in the US, but I doubt we would have known about them.  Maybe now that we know about them we'll be on the lookout for opportunities to enjoy them back in the States.

Monday, October 10, 2011

10-10 in Taipei

Today is Double Ten Day in Taiwan which celebrates the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.  We got a three day weekend and took the opportunity to go back up to Taipei.  We've found it very nice to be able to jump on the high speed train and be up there in about 90 minutes.

As soon as we arrived and were in our taxi to our hotel we saw wave after wave of aircraft fly over.  It was exciting to see the different helicopters, planes, and jets.  We checked in at the Tokyo International Hotel with a very friendly staff but we only stayed long enough to drop off our bags.  We were soon off for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant we had enjoyed in the past.  We thought we might be late, but they sat us anyways and served a good meal.

After lunch we took the train out to the hills around Taipei for a ride up the gondola.  It was very nice to walk around the terraced fields and tea houses while the sun set.  By the time we started back towards the gondola it was already getting dark which made navigating some of the trails difficult, but it was an exciting adventure.  Down at the base of the gondola we stopped to view a water show (with lights, music, and jets of water).  Though we had to wait 30 minutes for the show to start we were treated to a random fireworks display nearby as soon as we sat down.

Back in the city we went to dinner at Gordon Biersch for some western-style food.  As we waited for a table we were able to stroll around a mall featuring a person dressed like a large cat and a group of dogs trained to lie down next to each other for a very long time.  Dinner was good with a delicious desert.
The next day we got up late and went to brunch at a place called "Grandma Nitti's".  The decor was nice, but the food was a little off.  We got on the train and went out north of the city to a place called "Danshuei" where the Taipei rivers drain into the sea.  Though it was raining a little we went ahead with our plans to take a ferry across the river and ride bikes around. It turned out to be a nice ride even though there were a lot of people.

Our day got more exciting as we took the ferry back across the river and somehow got stuck.  We couldn't tell what was going on, but the engines were running and we weren't moving.  The captain seemed to try a variety of maneuvers to get unstuck and there was even another ferry that came and gave us a bump.  When the crew had many of us move to the front of the small ferry some people seemed to get worried and had put on life jackets.  But the captain managed to get unstuck somehow and get us to our destination.

To relax from the excitement of the day we found a wonderful little hot chocolate place.  The hot chocolate was delicious and the atmosphere was cozy.  Back out on the streets the crowds were starting to grow thick.  There were some people in pirate costumes doing a dance with a float behind them, but most people were milling around the shops. 

We got back on the train and came back home Sunday night.  It was fun to get out of Kaohsiung for a while and see many things that we don't have here.  It was a little exhausting though and I'm glad we have today to catch our breath before going back to work tomorrow.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Typhoon and Taipei

I've had a hard time writing lately as there doesn't seem like much has happened over the past few weeks to write about.  The stifling heat and humidity has kept Erin and I indoors for much of our days.  We're also trying to eat healthier which means more cooking at home instead of going out for dinner.  We have had a chance to go out with our friends from school on several occasions though and there has been some interesting weekends.

Two weeks ago we were preparing for Typhoon Namadol which was heading our way.  It had been strong enough to call off school on Monday, but by the time it reached us it had weakened to a tropical storm.  Neither one of us were complaining about not having to go in to school that day though.

This past weekend was Moon Festival and so we again have Monday off.  We took advantage of this by going up to Taipei on Saturday.  Our friends from school had introduced us to a TEDx talk happening up there.  It was an interesting afternoon session which included presentations by six speakers discussing the theme of "A road less traveled".  There was a chef that treated cooking like art, an artist who drew the backs of people's heads, a writer who placed bronze plaques about his parallel world at different sites around the real world, a rice farmer who had gone to school to be a lawyer, a disaster architect who nonetheless disliked that title, and a musician that organized concerts for his friend that was murdered in Pakistan.  There were many times when I was confused because four of the six spoke Chinese which was translated.  Still I'm glad we went as it was a change from our daily routine.  That night we went out to Gordon Biersch for some good American food and then stayed the night in Taipei. 

The next morning we relaxed in the hotel room before going out for Mexican food for lunch.  That afternoon we ended up going to a concert organized by the musician we had heard speak the day before.  The music was good, but I think I enjoyed more the people watching.  With the Taipei expat community on full display there was far more diversity than we usually see in Kaohsiung.  Before long though we were heading back South on the train.  Back to the routine.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back to Work

Erin and I have now been back to work for two weeks.  The first week was for staff orientation/preparation and the second week was the actual first week of school with students.

It has been very busy for me as I've worked with the school technician to get the technology at the school ready for classes.  The school has a lot of new technology this year including an upgraded student information system, a new Apple server, a 1:1 laptop initiative for students in the 6th grade, and an upgraded wireless network throughout school.  This has meant more things for me to prepare and more training for the teachers.  All of the teachers have worked to adapt to all this new technology and I'm happy that they've been able to do so.

Erin's back to grading now as we've started to get back into a rhythm again after the summer.  In some ways it's nice to be working again and helping people out, but I often miss being up in the cool mountains on the motorcycle.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Green Island

With the start of classes just a week away Erin and I decided to spend this past weekend out at Green Island. This relatively small island to the east of Taiwan had been on our list of places to go all last year, but we were often thwarted in our attempts to go. Getting there is a bit of a trek.

On Friday we took the subway to the train station to catch our train out to the east side of Taiwan.  We had learned from previous attempts to purchase our tickets early in order to get a seat during this popular season. After the 2 1/2 hour train ride we made it to Taitung where we tried to figure out the bus schedule to the harbor. After being told we would need to wait 40 minutes we decided to just take a taxi. The taxi driver hurried us to the harbor so that we could book tickets on the ferry that happened to be leaving mere minutes after we arrived.  Fortunately we had taken our motion sickness pills an hour before, but we still grew rather nauseous on the 50 minute boat ride.

Upon arriving on the island we were met by several people renting scooters and we were soon riding around the island.  Being a somewhat small island it didn't take us long to get to our hotel and check in.  After dropping off our bags we were back on the scooter and cruising around the island.  About 30 minutes later we had circumnavigated Green Island and were back in our air conditioned room relaxing.  Well, all the travel must have worn us out because we soon went to take a nap and didn't get up again until the next morning.

Saturday morning we tried to go out for some snorkeling, but soon found difficulties.  The day before we had seen large groups of snorkelers in wet suits and life jackets being led out past the small waves holding on to life preservers. We just wanted to rent a mask and some fins to see the reefs that Green Island is locally known for.  However, we tried four different places and none of them would just rent us the gear (or they didn't understand what we were asking). We finally ended up just going to the beach and wading in the cool water.

Later that day it was Erin's turn to ride the scooter as I sat on the back. We stopped several times to take pictures of the beautiful coastlines and rock formations.  The formations in the picture above are called Pekingese and Sleeping Beauty for their resemblance to a dog and a woman laying down. Throughout the day we would take time out of the heat back at our air conditioned room to relax and read before heading out again.  That night we even decided to get adventurous and had dinner at a cook-it-yourself BBQ place where we were given a table with a small fire pit in it, an aluminum foil wrapped grill, and directions to a large fridge with tubs of raw meat and vegetables. While we were able to cook a couple of things the experience left something to be desired and the heat of our little fire was more than we could stand for very long.

On Sunday we were up early again as a result of lingering jet lag so we made our way to the island's hot springs. Said to be one of only three salt-water hot springs in the world we were glad to get there before it got to packed.  Unfortunately the pools closest to the ocean were closed for repairs, but it was still a nice outdoor hot spring.  Before too long it was time to make the trek back home.  After scooter, boat, car, train, and subway we were exhausted. I'm glad we got a chance to see Green Island, but I feel like we can cross it off our list of places to go in the future.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Return to Taiwan

Our summer of fun is coming to an end as we got on a plane and returned to Taiwan. We left Denver at 9AM Friday morning and arrived in Kaohsiung, Taiwan around 9PM Saturday. Of course part of that long time was just crossing the International Date Line and losing a day, but the 13 hour flight from Dallas to Tokyo added to it as well. At least there were plenty of movies to watch.

On Sunday we met our friends Pete and Leah who were spending their honeymoon in Asia. It was fun to get a rental car and take them to some places in the area that we hadn't seen before. We started out in a small town called Sandimen where the native people carry on the tradition of making glass beads. Erin and Leah enjoyed making their own beads with the help of the women there. After a slow lunch we went to the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Culture Park nearby. We were excited to learn about the many different tribes of indigenous people in Taiwan, but the heat and humidity soon got to us and we went back into Kaohsiung to get ready for dinner.

The next day we drove down to the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium south of Kaohsiung. While Erin and I had been before it was nice to stroll through the air conditioned rooms and see the variety of sea life including penguins, seals, beluga whales, and a whale shark. We then took Leah and Pete to Lotus Lake near our school before taking them to the train station to continue on their trip. It was very nice to see them and share part of Taiwan with them on their honeymoon.

These next two weeks will be spent getting ready for the new school year, settling back in to Kaohsiung, and enjoying the last remnants of summer vacation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Colorado in July

The final leg of our summer vacation this year takes place in Colorado. Each time Erin and I return here we're amazed at the beauty of the countryside and this time was no different. Before long we had the motorcycle out of storage and were riding through the forested hills and meadow-filled valleys. Our first week back we rode up to Evergreen for a walk around the lake with lunch at the Morrison Inn.

That Friday night Erin's parents treated us to a Chris Isaak concert at the Denver Botanical Gardens. We had all the fixings for a delicious picnic out on the lawn while we listened. However we had failed to bring any rain gear which we were punished for as a massive thunderstorm rolled in during Chris's first set. It got so bad that the band was called off the stage and we were advised to seek shelter. Eventually the rain cleared and the concert carried on with Chris and most of the crowd taking it all in stride.

The following week Erin's parents left for a fishing cruise in Alaska leaving Erin and I with the house and their dog, Dante, to ourselves. While the week gave us many opportunities to see friends in the area it also gave us a chance to just relax a little after so much traveling. It was nice to get up in the morning to walk Dante and then return to read a book on the couch or watch some TV.

The latter part of the week was dominated by the wedding of our friends Leah and Pete. As a bridesmaid Erin got to take part in many of the pre-wedding festivities, but also had to deal with a dress that was the wrong size from what she ordered. It all got worked out and though the rain had threatened to make a mess of things all the events turned out wonderfully. The rehearsal/picnic in Washington park was fun and relaxed; the ceremony on the Denver University campus was beautiful; and the reception at the top of the Grand Hyatt was spectacular.

The following week was a whirlwind of friends, family, and activities. We saw my aunt, Janet, give a delightful rendition of Margaret Brown in the Molly Brown house. We joined our friend, Janice, for BBQ at her house followed by a small theatre production mixing acted scenes and improvisation. We toured the Denver Botanical Gardens with Janice. We had delicious burgers and drinks with our supper club at HBurger.

Our busiest day was Saturday after Erin's brother, Andrew, and his fiance, Sara, arrived. The four of us started the day by going to the Renaissance festival in Larkspur. It was amazing the amount of people and booths that were there. It was like a small town. We saw a jousting show, acrobatics, comedians, and all manner of costumes. It was also very hot and we were glad to get some cool drinks in the shade and enjoy watching the various people.

Later that afternoon Erin surprised me with a helicopter ride around Denver. It was exciting to see the city from above and to ride in the small helicopter. Our pilot was very knowledgeable of both the aircraft and the area we were seeing. We finished the night with some tapas at the 9th Door restaurant.

This last week we've been trying to get in a few more things before we leave. We went to the store to stock up on things we can't get in Taiwan; we've seen friends and family one last time; we've been on some hikes; and tomorrow we'll ride the motorcycle once more before putting it away in storage. It's hard to say goodbye, but as we plan to come back for our winter vacation it's easier to say, "we'll see you in a few months".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicago is for Food Lovers

The thing I think Erin and I enjoy the most about being back in the US, after seeing friends and family, is the food. While we've been able to find good food in Taiwan we have missed the vast diversity of quality food that is available in the US. That diversity and quality became very apparent when we visited Erin's brother, Andrew, and his girlfriend, Sara, in Chicago.

After arriving and putting our stuff down we went with Andrew to get some delicious Thai food for lunch.  We then went out to meet with our friends from California who had been touring Chicago on vacation.  We met them out on the Navy Pier as they were finishing up a short cruise on a pirate ship in the lake. That night we met up with a friend from Illinois that was in town for a few days with her baby.  We had dinner at a French restaurant called Mon Amie Gabi.  The steaks we had were delicious and we ended up sitting by "Meredith" from "The Office".

The next morning Andrew and Sara took us to a very good croissant place near their apartment. Erin and I then went downtown and eventually found "Fulton's on the River" for lunch with friends from Illinois. That afternoon we took an architectural boat tour of the city. It was very interesting to see the range of architectural styles and learn about how they were developed in the city.  Upon finishing the tour we met Andrew and Sara at the top of the John Hancock building for some drinks as the sun set.  We finished the day back at their place as they cooked us some delicious pizzas.

On Saturday we all went downtown for brunch at XOCO, a famous Mexican restaurant from chef Rick Bayless. With Mexican hot chocolates and churros we were all very happy with the food. Of course with all the food we were eating we needed to walk around so we went to Exposition park where they have a huge silver "Bean" sculpture. We then set off for Erin's, Andrew's, and Sara's Alma Mater, Northwestern University. There we got giant cookies from "Al's Deli" and walked around the campus while the three reminisced on their school days. We then went for dinner at Pita Inn for some good Middle Eastern food. Later that night we went out to the Kingston Mines Blues club. It was a great, relaxed atmosphere for hearing some really good blues musicians and a wonderful end to our stay in Chicago.

Sunday morning we were up early as Andrew and Sara thankfully drove us to the airport. The company had been wonderful and the food had been so delicious. After arriving in Denver later that day we learned that Andrew had proposed to Sara.  We expect that they'll be getting married in Chicago so we're looking forward to going back out there for the wedding (and some more of that great food of course).

New York Anniversary

After spending time with all of our friends and family with babies Erin and I spent some time on our own in New York City for our second anniversary.  We started off the day with drinks at the boathouse in Central Park. It was a nice day out and we enjoyed seeing the diversity of people. After lunch in the park we walked back to our hotel to prepare for the evening. That night we went out to a wonderful tapas (Alta) restaurant followed by a small jazz bar that we had been to last time we were in town (The Bar Next Door). The bar proved to be just as cozy and romantic as it was before and a nice finish to our first night of anniversary.

Not content to have only one day to celebrate our anniversary we continued the celebration for our entire stay in New York. On the following day we made our way to the Highline Park. We had recently read about this new park on the southwest side of Manhattan that had used to be a set of elevated train tracks. Instead of having them torn down after disuse the community formed a group to transform the tracks into a park. The result was stunning as we walked among shrubs and bushes while looking out on the streets of New York. After lunch we decided to forgo the usual museums and instead visited the Sex Museum. While the museum had some interesting exhibits on sex in cinema, in comics, and in the wild we were torn between their candidness and our sense of sexual norms.

That evening we went out to see the play, "A Bengal Tiger in Baghdad Zoo" starring Robin Williams. It was an interesting existential play with Robin Williams playing a foul-mouthed tiger amidst the war in Iraq. While the actors were all very good, Erin and I felt the story lacked definition at the end. We finished the evening at a delicious Cuban restaurant (Victor's Cafe 52). Though they didn't have much of the seafood on their menu due to a large party that night, the food we had was delicious.

For our final day in New York Erin and I went back to Central Park to read and relax. It was nice to just sit and watch the many different people walk and ride. Again we had lunch in the park, but in comically New York fashion we were seated very close to two ladies discussing intimate details that Erin and I could have done without hearing. After a stroll back through crowded Times Square we were packing up and heading out to Newark for our flight the next day. Among the many people, the delicious-but-high-priced food, and wealth of events Erin and I concluded that we love visiting NYC, but I don't think we would want to live there. It certainly is a wonderful anniversary location.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Babyland Tour Continues

As I mentioned in my previous post, Erin and I have been visiting babies and their families this summer.  It has been fun and exciting to see all of them, but also a little tiring as our schedule has meant that we haven't stayed in the same place for more than three days.

After Atlanta we flew to Baltimore for another difficult travel day.  Since we're flying American Airlines for this whole vacation we had to fly from Atlanta to Chicago and then Chicago to Baltimore on Monday (6/20).  The only problem was that once we got to Chicago we saw that our flight to Baltimore was cancelled and there wouldn't be any more until the next day. After some scrambling we were able to get an agent to book us on a United flight leaving out later. We made it okay into Baltimore, but our bags didn't, so we had to wait until Tuesday for United to deliver them to us.

Once in Baltimore our days took on some conformity as we helped Amy and Kevin with their 3-week old, Nora.  We would get up around 6:30 AM in the apartment that Erin's parents had booked for the month for visiting family to stay in.  Out by 8 AM we would get chai tea lattes from a favorite coffee shop for Amy and Erin.  We would spend the rest of the day at Amy's and Kevin's while Erin helped take care of our niece and I would cook the meals.  It was nice to be able to relax for the rest of the day without worrying about having to get someplace.  During that time we enjoyed taking her for walks around the neighborhood in her stroller.  I also enjoy cooking so I'm glad we could help out in that way. 

Erin and I could see how it is a full-time job taking care of a newborn baby.  They need to be fed every three hours and it often takes an hour to feed.  The schedule varies a little at night, but it doesn't leave more than a few hours for sleep.  In the past Erin had thought how nice it must be to get maternity leave as a vacation from work, but now we could see just how vital that leave is.  Of course, it gets easier as the baby gets older and we're looking forward to the time when Nora is able to start talking and sleeping through the night. 

On Friday it was time to go as Erin and I took a bus from Baltimore up the coast.  Had we planned better we would have taken the bus to Newark, but instead we took the same route we had done last year getting on the bus to New York and then taking a train back down to New Jersey.  After being delayed, the bus ride was long and hot.  We eventually made it to Stephanie's and Shawn's place in New Jersey late in the day as they cooked up some delicious grilled clams and scallops.

If we had thought taking care of one baby was a lot of work we saw with Stephanie and Shawn how taking care of twins means twice the work at the same time.  Last year Erin was mentioning how twins would be good since you could have two kids and get all of the work out of the way at one time.  The problem is that you have to do twice the work (twice the feedings, twice the changings) at the same time which looks to be exhausting.  Shawn and Stephanie seemed to be managing well with their six month olds, but were also happy on Saturday when they dropped off the twins with their aunt and uncle so we could enjoy some baby-free time.

The day was definitely geared towards relaxation as we started off with a delicious tea place.  From there we went to Queens for a stay at Spa Castle.  This is a Korean place where we paid a set fee to get in an then could spend as much time as we wanted in the numerous spas and saunas.  It was uncomfortable at first with the same-sex, nude changing areas and the rule that we had to wear gender-specific uniforms.  Erin and I felt like we were back in Taiwan with the same sense of uncertainty of what to do.  We eventually were able to relax and enjoy the accommodations before heading into NYC for dinner at a vegetarian hummus place.  On Sunday Erin and I had a chance to catch up on emails while Shawn and Stephanie picked up the kids.  We spent the rest of the day putting up a canopy out in their back yard and having a small BBQ.  It was nice to share the weekend with them before moving on.

As Stephanie drove us to our hotel in NYC for the next leg of our trip I thought about all of the babies we'd seen. All of them we're very cute and all of them demanded a lot of time and energy. I'm glad we got to see them and got to see our friends and family in this new stage in their life. As cute as the babies were, the amount of work and the sacrifices that they require didn't exactly make Erin and I want to rush out and have kids right away. We could see how rewarding having kids was, but for now it's nice to be an aunt and uncle so we can enjoy them (and potentially spoil them) in small doses. Whatever our decision in the future is though, I'm glad we got a chance to visit Babyland.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Welcome to Babyland

Last year, as Erin and I were talking with our friends and family about moving to Taiwan, many of them were talking about having kids for the first time.  We noted that the life change they were expecting (like most major life changes) was similar to moving to a new country.  The language they would use would change to incorporate child-related terms, they may find themselves eating different foods, and they would be spending more time with other parents in a similar situation.  We called this new place, "Babyland".

Fast-forward to this summer and now all of those expectant parents are actual parents.  Erin and I planned our summer vacation to visit each of the new baby families over the month of June.  After leaving California our first stop on the Babyland tour was Georgia to see some of my friends from the Army, Brian and Steve.  Both of them had their first kid about six months ago so we were going to meet them and their families at Steve's house in Savannah.

We spent Thursday just getting out to Atlanta.  It was not a good day.  A bad omen was when we showed up at the airport and our shuttle got scraped by another shuttle backing up.  LAX was packed as usual, but the next irritation came when Erin was patted down twice (including once in a little frost-glassed room) even after going through the new x-ray machine.  It didn't help later when I accidentally spilled my frappucino on her.  We then sat on our plane at the gate for an hour because they had to fix a door before we could leave.  When we finally got to our hotel our room wasn't made up.  We got through the day with a great deal of patience, but it was very taxing.

Friday morning we were reminded why we endure the travel as we got to do some sight-seeing in Atlanta.  We started with a tour of the CNN headquarters which was very enlightening to how the shows are produced.  We then had lunch at the Sun Dial restaurant at the top of the Hampden hotel.  The great part about that was that the whole restaurant slowly rotates so that we got a wonderful view of the entire city while we ate.  We finished our tour at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.  It was interesting to see where he grew up and lived, but it seemed like it could use some better care.  We finally left the city, got a rental car, and made it out to Steve's and Adriennes's place that night.  Brian and Cassie got there later that night.

On Saturday we were all pretty tired (either from travelling, tending to babies, or both).  Fortunately Steve and Adrienne have access to a pool, so we spent much of our day there.  

It was great to just relax and not have to worry about being anywhere.  We really enjoyed catching up and reminiscing with everyone.  The babies of course took center stage with lots of adoring to be done.  There was often something that needed to be done to take care of them as well.  Erin and I were thoroughly impressed at the amount of work that went in to taking care of the babies and the apparent ease with which the parents completed that work.  Since both babies were almost six months old I imagine they all had a fair amount of practice.

After spending time at the pool we went with Brian, Cassie, and their daughter to downtown Savannah for dinner.  While we didn't see much of the city, the part we saw looked very nice.  We ended up having dinner on the rooftop of a pub while we discussed life and having kids.  Our discussions continued late into the night back at Steve's and Adrienne's place as we watched a lightning storm roll through.

After breakfast on Sunday it was time for us to pack up and head back to Atlanta.  It was unfortunate that we couldn't spend more time, but I know we'll meet up again in the future.  Even though our friends are at a different place in their lives (full of feedings, diaper changes, car seats, and strollers), it doesn't mean that they're any less our friends.  Erin and I haven't made a final decision on whether to have kids sometime in the future, but whatever we decide, it's good to know that our friends in Babyland will continue to be our friends - just as we'll continue to be their's.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

California Dreamin'

The first leg of our summer back in the US started in California.  With the trip East across the International Date Line we had left around 9 AM on Sunday in Taiwan and arrived around 10 AM on Sunday in California.  Everything went smoothly as our flight from Kaohsiung to Los Angeles was on time, we were able to get our bags, and found my parents outside the terminal as they drove in to pick us up.  That afternoon we were able to have lunch with my uncle and cousin as we drove back to Tulare.

On Monday we were able to relax as we got re-acquainted with America.  This included a trip to Target and the joys of consumerism, washing and drying clothes in a washer and dryer we could understand, and understanding what people were saying.  Later that week we enjoyed eating some of the most delicious Mexican food we've had in a very long time.  There's a lot we've been missing.

Tuesday found my parents, Erin and I driving up to the mountains where my family has always spent summers.  Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park is like a narrow version of Yosemite, but with a fraction of the visitors.  It has always been a place of beauty and peace for me and I was glad to share it with Erin.

For the rest of the week we enjoyed the relaxing nature of the park and it's breath-taking views.  After collecting plenty of firewood we had fires each morning and evening since it was colder than usual.  It was nice to relax in camp, eat some snacks, and read a book during the day.  When we got energetic, Erin and I would hike through the canyon and take in the sights.  On our last day my Dad and I went out fishing, though we didn't catch anything.  It was a very nice trip.

For the following weekend we took a trip out to the coast to see my friends who live in Pismo Beach.  We arrived somewhat late on Saturday night and ended up having some amazing BBQ before ironically sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows (like Erin and I had done all week in the mountains).

On Sunday we went out for some wine tasting.  I had never known there were so many wineries near Pismo Beach.  Though my recent flare up made me cautious about drinking too much wine it was great to have some small samples.  It was also a lot of fun just hanging out with my friends too who I haven't gotten to see much since moving away from Tulare. While we're older now and have wives (and kids) we can still enjoy some really good times and share a lot of laughs.  The wine wasn't half bad either!

Erin and I stayed at the coast on Monday enjoying the delicious seafood and some beautiful trails along the cliffs above the beaches.  However, by Tuesday we had to say goodbye and head on back to Tulare.  We were able to get one last hike in and enjoy a picnic lunch in Paso Robles on our way back though.  It may not have been Colorado, but by the end of our trip I think Erin was starting consider what it would be like to live in California.

By Wednesday it was time to pack up, finish some last minute details, and head back to LA for our flight the next morning.  My parents were kind enough to treat us to one of their favorite restaurants, Lowry's, for a wonderful prime rib dinner.  Even the vegetarian plate that Erin was delicious.  Early next morning Erin and I caught a shuttle over to the airport and we were off to our next destination: Georgia.  After such a wonderful trip we're looking forward to the next time we're able to visit California.