Letter to JJ

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Dear JJ,

By the time I publish this, you will have already passed. As I type this, you are lying next to me on my bed, panting and struggling for each breath. The selfish part of me keeps praying that with each breath, there is another one that follows. But I know that it is almost time. I can see it in your eyes, and I can hear it in the murmur of your heart and lungs when I lay my ear on your side. Your cataracts have left you nearly blind, you can barely walk, and you have not eaten since Saturday. It is now Tuesday.

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The puppy-you would have been so mad to find out you have been turning your head away from the chicken (you love chicken) and canned dog food I’ve been trying to bribe you with. Eating has always been your life. Like owner, like dog they say. I remember that one Sunday, we came home from church to find you on our kitchen table with your head deep in the donut box. Even until last week, you still dug through of our garbage, smelling and looking for any food you can come across. Sorry we can’t feed you more than twice a day, the vet says you’re too fat.

For the first fourteen years, you had the honor of calling Jingle your brother. You both made quite an odd pair but you stuck together. This brotherhood worked because a) Jingle was a pushover and b) you always got what you wanted. I don’t know why you liked sitting on him, but for some reason, he always let you.

You always loved hiding bones. The story would predictably play out as: You hid the bone, and Jingle always found it and ate it while you sat nearby watching him. After Jingle passed, you stuck closer to us. You only went out to the backyard to go to the bathroom and needed to be around people.

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And for the past sixteen years, I had the joy of being your owner. Sixteen years. All I have ever known was from the time I came home from elementary school, all the way through to when I came home from college, you were always there to greet me. I’m sorry there isn’t more time for walks around the neighborhood or trips to the doggy park. I’m sorry that it was only recently we began to spoil you with chicken. I wish there were more meals for you to beg for. I wish there was more time to snuggle in bed, for you to steal my spot and pillow and to hold your paw and bother you while you sleep. For the first time in my life, there won’t be any more of that.  No more 7am wake up call from you to give you food and no dog left to chase the squirrels away from our yard. Through all these years, you have been such a blessing in my life. Don’t worry though, I won’t let you suffer; if it comes to that, please somehow let me know that you are ready. But my prayer now is that you can sleep peacefully and wake up in doggy heaven. I know that if there was one, you would be there. It’s okay to go, I’ll be fine….

With so much love, sweet dreams Bao Bei.

JJ passed away on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at home in my arms.

Hello…it’s me

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Wow the last time I posted something was on October 3. That’s the longest I’ve ever had away from the blog. Since then, I have finished midterms, planned a friend’s wedding in twenty days, came home for Thanksgiving, saw the Lion King, was rear ended (I’m fine, thanks for asking), finished my internship, went to two weddings, finished my finals strong, moved out of my apartment, graduated from college, moved back up North to the Bay Area, celebrated Christmas and the New Years, went to Warriors vs. Heat game, planned a baby shower, and finally joined a gym. Whew.

These past few months have been absolutely crazy and to be honest, I found myself avoiding this blog for a while. Not so much so because I have been too busy in the midst of all of this, but I’ve always wanted to know the answers to everything and have it all figured out. And for the past few months, I didn’t. I didn’t want to be writing about all my joys and hopes and dreams and be lying through all of my posts. It wasn’t an identity crisis, but through all of these changes, I just need to ask, now that I have finished and retired my 18+ year title of “student,” where do I go from here? Where am I called to and where do I now belong? In the hustle and bustle of the go-go-go mentality, where do I find true joy, meaning, and purpose? Where am I called to be?

This morning I woke and it dawned on me how I’ve been trying to run away from all of this new reality. The reality that I am now to seek employment that I would like to be passionate about, the reality that I will not be returning to school in the Spring semester even though all my other friends will be (thank you SnapChat for #fomo), the reality that their lives will continue there while I try to figure mine out up here, the reality of now a real world life outside of the college bubble. It’s such an odd shift in the world you have built around yourself and its something new to face. But this morning I came to the realization that this is the way life goes. We can either wallow and trudge through the reality that is going to come whether we want it to or not, or we can see it in a new light, accept the fact that even though I don’t have this all figured out, it’s okay.  So here’s to a new chapter, the Post-Grad Life.

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Wu Lai, Taipei

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Here is my last post of my adventures in Taiwan! It’s been a thrill of a two weeks that just flew by…I can’t believe we’re already nearing the end of June! Our last stop takes us to Wu Lai, a town known for it’s natural hot springs and used to be a logging town. I’m not that into those kind of things but wanted to check out the waterfall that the town lay in front of! We took a bus that took us all the way to Wu Lai and dropped us off right in front of this glassy jade colored river.

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The view of another bridge while standing on a bridge

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We thus began to make our way to their old street. When there’s rain, the river levels can rise and make this place look like an Asian Venice.

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When we reached the old street, there was the usual myriad of food and small snacks. Popular here are the rice served in bamboo shoots. By stuffing the rice in the bamboo, the flavor of the bamboo is said to infuse the rice. Also, if you are craving some fruit, you’re in luck. There are several trucks that sell fruit right off their backs.

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We then made our way across the old town and found the stairs that led us to the “train.” I say “train” because although it runs on tracks, it’s more of like a trolly car operated by a motor. It reminded me of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster from Disneyland since it was incredibly bumpy and the drivers went quite fast.

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This ride took us directly to the waterfall, and cost 50NT one way. I’m actually surprised we made it without it breaking down or something. These things were incredibly comical as the size of each caboose seems to be meant for elementary school students but are ridden by adults.

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While you are ridding, take a look at the mountains that surround you. It seems as if I was transported into the animation Totoro and I keep imagining him coming out.

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Once we made it safely, the waterfall was just a few stones away. It’s very peaceful up top and just takes your breath away at its beauty.

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The entire area up top is paved for viewing the waterfall. Even on a crowded day, you would still be able to get a good view. Thankfully, we went when it was supposed to be 95 degrees and were among the few crazy enough to brave the heat. I’ll admit once there, there isn’t much to do other than to sit back and enjoy the nature around you. Again I will say, Taiwan is so amazingly beautiful.

 

 

 

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Jiu Fen, Taipei

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Jiu Fen is a mountain village which the view from the outside looking in, reminds me a lot of Sausalito. Square boxy colorful houses are randomly nestled in a high mountain. Way back before you and I were born, this town had nine families that lived here. The word jiu means 9 (could also mean old, alcohol, long time, relative, it all sounds the same. But for this character, it means 9). With these nine families, they each needed their own portion, in Chinese called fen, of goods and shipments, and thus there became the name Jiu Fen, or nine portions. Like the other villages, Jiu Fen starts out with an old street. I was very surprised to find such a coffee drip system set up literally in the middle of nowhere.

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My dad convinced me to try this kind of ice cream wrap. The workers shave off candied peanuts into thin shavings and then places two scoops of ice cream on top. Another worker then asks the customer if they want a sprinkling of fresh greens then wraps it up like a burrito.

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The ice cream itself has almost no taste but it was so refreshingly good! The no taste ice cream balances out the sweetness of the peanut candy. Can’t believe I almost said no to these!

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Since the old street is a very narrow road that does not permit vehicles to go through, this is their UPS system. Moped pulling dolly behind him.

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This woman is making another form of nut candy. A kind of syrup or glaze is mixed with some toasted or raw nuts, then gets spread out. As it’s cooling, she’ll use that intense knife to slice small rectangular cubes before it sets and is too hard to cut.

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Now a must try at Jiu Fen is their glutinous rice balls that are often put inside red bean or green bean soup. The workers make them right up front for you to see and watch and they have two additional rooms for people to sit down and enjoy the treat. It is made from tapioca starch which gives it its chewiness, and the excess tapioca starch on the outside prevents them from sticking to each other.

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Once they have been cooked, they gloss and shine. Each color has a different flavor, but the store combines all their flavors into one pot creating a bejeweled look. Order this with red bean soup and you and your stomach have already made the trip well worth it.

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As you go through Jiu Fen, there is really no doubt that this is a mountain village. I mean, look at these steps! But no fear, not all of the village is a stair master workout (unlike Xiao Shan).

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You will be led to a beautiful tea house that has infamously served as inspiration for the bath house from the animated movie, Spirited Away. But whether you are familiar with that movie or not, it holds so much character. #NoFilter.

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All the streets in Jiu Fen along with the teahouse have been lined with these lanterns that light up beautifully at night.

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We sat down at the opposing tea house to watch the sun set. As it was going, it created such layers between all the different mountains and you remember how small you really are compared to them, then remember how small the mountains are compared to Taiwan, and how small Taiwan is compared to the rest of the map of the world. Jiu Fen is a fun and cute place where you will definitely encounter good food and a good reminder. Until next time!

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Xiang Shan, Taipei

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Throughout this trip, I’ve been debating if I really wanted to go on this hike up a mountain called “Xiang Shan.” Xiang in Chinese is for elephant, so it basically means Elephant Mountain. I’ve read online that the hike was moderately steep and was worried about the mosquitoes since it’s in a wooded area. But I finally decided to go with my cousin and was deeply rewarded with an amazing view of Taipei and the 101 building.

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Please understand though, that the word “hike” is a complete understatement. I ought to give the websites that said “moderately steep” a request for revision. No stair master machine could ever match up to this mountain climb. To get here, you take the subway and get off of the Xiang Shan stop. You’ll come out and see a park with a sign that will lead you around the side of the park then to the base of the mountain to begin climbing. At the very beginning and also placed at various locations throughout the hike, you will see the below sign as a trail map of where to go.

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We started at the very bottom where that red dude on the map is and began to climb up. And I mean UP.

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And then you go even more UP. The entire hike is stair climbing.

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As you are trying to catch your breath and look down, you may see some placards reminding you that this is Elephant Mountain. No kidding.

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After thinking you’ve passed out five times over, you will finally reach this location with a nice lookout view. However, there are buildings in the way so up higher we go.

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Don’t think about the amount of steps you have to go, just keep focus on the step right in front of you and charge on.

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You will then encounter this rock and right above it has a small lookout.

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You can even stand on some of the rocks and take a higher picture. But do not be deceived or spend too much time there. A better shot and viewpoint is just a few steps away. My cousin took this photo of me taking a photo.

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You will see this little pathway and go through. If you are super athletic and want to continue to go up, then knock yourself out. I wasn’t down and so I stayed with this level and was more than content.

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You step onto a balcony and am immediately welcomed by the sight of 101. You are higher and can see further to the right of the building, and there’s even a bench there for you to sit and rest your feet and wait for the sunset.

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You can see how Taipei is really nestled in the middle of the valley and has pushed its building to the limits, being next door neighbors to the mountain side.

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An absolutely stunning view.  On normal days, the sunset would have been more present but because we were expecting a thunderstorm to be approaching, the clouds had already set in. If you look back on the map and follow the red line, we only reached the flower. But that was good enough for me.Would I do this again? I would probably consider this to be a once in a life time hike. But the view was well worth every step.

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Shi Ling, Night Market

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OC Night Market ain’t got nothing on this! If in the Taipei area, an absolutely must go to is the Shi Ling Night Market. You can go around 5pm but the real night life begins after dinnertime and when it gets dark. Here, you have a wide variety of shops to browse through and if your lucky, you can negotiate or “sa jia” for a cheaper price with the store keeper. This may be a little messed up, but one of my favorite parts of the night market is when the police come. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are some shops that are not there legally, and those are the ones that occupy the space in the road. The vendors there have a system going though, as there seems to be one person at the entrance or somewhere that keeps a lookout for the cop. If one is spotted, the other vendors down the line will all get notified and they will quickly pack up, roll up, or pick up their items and disappear either into an alleyway or a legal shop that allows them to stay there. This is what it looks like when the cops have just come:

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The area is quite clear because it is normally occupied by vendors like the one in the middle with the blue wrapping. Once they have waited about five minutes or so, they will come back out and lay everything back out and continue to sell until another cop has come. It’s tiring for them but quite amusing.

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With all bought and said, my focus is still always on the food. Shi Ling never disappoints with their wide variety of snacks and small eats!

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Roasted corn is waiting for someone hungry to come and snatch them up.

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Green onions wrapped in bacon grilled and smothered in bbq sauce. The line for these go long and around the corner!

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Behold. The wait was about 20 minutes for this one (jk, got three).

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Peanut powder stuffed mochi balls covered in more peanut powder! Super chewy and super delish! I loved these when I was a kid! I would say I’m trying to watch my figure now but that would be a lie.

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Ahh….you know it’s coming before you even see it. Stinky tofu. My friends back at home forbid me to order it because they can’t stand the smell. But these are a classic to Taiwan, and a must try especially if you come to the night market. This stall makes some of the best that I know. These people are waiting for the next batch to finish.

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The tofu first starts as firm white tofu. Then they fry them until they look like the above photo.

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Then they’ll take scissors and cut them into four pieces and continue to fry them until crispy on all sides. They then place them on the racks to drip dry, place into bags with cabbage and sauce and serve.

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I stared at this french bull dog for a good five minutes who was staring down this drain for even longer. There is probably a mouse or something down there. Not going to dwell upon that fact. Moving on.

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Papaya milk. There are four things I drink on a regular basis when I come to Taiwan: tea, apple sidra, papaya milk, and watermelon juice. On this night, I had two cups of papaya milk from this stall, both finished within 10 minutes.

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There is also this stall which specializes in baked meat buns. My favorite though is watching them make it, it looks so simple and easy to them. They’ve probably already made hundreds and maybe even thousands and is tedious but it’s so cool to watch and see how your food is made instead of just buying it in a package at the market or having it served to you at a normal restaurant.

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Yes I would like two chicken skins, a couple chicken buts, three chicken hearts and some mutton. Chinese cuisine likes to utilize basically every part and leaving nothing to waste! I personally did not have a heart to try these… (did you get that?).

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I’ve probably been to the night market ten or more times? I used to go several times during one trip back but it never get’s old! There’s always an excitement, a new discovery, and a new item to try!

Tam Sui, Taipei

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The fun and diversity of Taipei continues! For my third day in Taiwan, my parents took me to Tam Sui, a town that sits next to a river and is known for their sea food (i think?…). Well, there’s boats and fishermen there and people that sit on the wharf with fishing poles and restaurants that line the shore with their buckets of fresh seafood so by the power vested in the deduction theory, I conclude that seafood is big in Tam Sui.

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Tam Sui has an old street (called lao jie) which is a street with almost a night market feel with venders selling some of that location’s specialty foods and trinkets. For the above mango soft serve, it was 30NT or the equivalency of $1. THIS IS WHY TAIWAN IS THE #1 FOOD LOCATION AS CITED BY CNN. (Sorry my Taiwanese pride came out a little….)

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Among the food stands had a stand dedicated to guavas. These are real guava’s. You know that amazingly delish carton of pink guava juice you get from Safeway? If not, you’re missing out. Well actually, you’d still be missing out as that carton is imitating these guavas. Which are legit on point on fleek whatever u want to call it guavas. No artificial coloring. No extra preservatives. Pure pink raw hold in your hands guava. The vendors blend these to make guava juice with no extra sugar added and is basically incredible.

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As we continued to walk on, we began to learn some of the history behind this town. Apparently some many years ago, a missionary named George Mackay came to Tam Sui to spread the gospel. He established a church and a dental office specializing in pulling out rotten teeth. In exchange for the free service, he asked the locals to teach him one word of Taiwanese for each tooth pulled. Now, the church there still stands and they still have service there every week. They have turned part of the original church into a small museum and a place to share his story and spread the gospel. They invite tourists in and offer tea and a cookie free of charge as part of their on going mission. The people that work there seem to genuinely have an excitement for the gospel and a willingness and quickness to serve.

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After our time there, we continued our walk up to see Fort San Domingo that was used. It reminded me more of Downton Abbey instead of a Spanish fort, but was beautifully maintained. It looked like God had just picked up a building from the set of Downton and dropped it in the middle of a hill in Taiwan. A little random, but still very peaceful. We ended the day with a walk along the shore. Although this place is well known for their sunset, there were too many clouds preparing for the next day’s thunderstorm and thus, the sun seemed to disappear without much of its usual glory. Ah well. Until next time!

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