December 26, 2008

We don’t look Chinese?

Incident 1
We were in the playground when a Chinese lady came with her daughter and son. Yiu Yiu was on the swing and her daughter saw the bicycle and asked her mother if she could ride. Her mother turned to me and asked, “Basikal awak punya ke?” A short while later, her daughter joined Yiu Yiu in the see saw and the little girl spoke to Yiu Yiu in Mandarin. Her mum reprimanded her, asking her to speak in English to Yiu Yiu, as we only know English and don’t know Mandarin.

Incident 2
I had been going to the gym regularly and arrived early at the class one day. There was only me, the gym instructor with another gym regular there at that time. They were chatting in Cantonese when the gym instructor suddenly turned to me and asked,
Instructor: Do you understand Chinese?
Me: Of course I do
Instructor: Oh sorry, you don’t look like Chinese

Incident 3
I was buying lunch at one of the coffeeshop one day and the stall owner mumbled the price in English. I can’t hear him clearly and asked him back “How much?” in Cantonese. He was so taken aback and stared at me for a few moments before mumbling the price in Cantonese to me again.

So tell me, don’t we look Chinese?

December 23, 2008

Timing is everything

Last Monday was a lucky day for my younger sister, WF. I left for work slightly late that day and caught sight of a couple putting up a “For Sale” signage at the vacant house a few doors away from mine. WF had been looking for a property around my area but the few she enquired so far were out of her budget. I stopped my car and casually asked how much are they putting up the house for. I was shocked by her answer – they are selling it for only 20k above my purchase price three years ago, when in fact the value had appreciated by about 120k. Furthermore, it was an end unit, which typically would cost more. The lady told me that they are from Sime Darby and they are putting the house back on the market as the previous buyer had repeatedly failed to secure a loan. She passed me her business card and I promptly informed WF.

WF called her immediately and arranged to view the house in the evening after work. A short while later, WF got a call from the lady, informing her that another buyer was interested and if she really wanted to secure the house, she’d have to pay 1k as booking fees. WF immediately arranged to meet up with her to inspect the house. Hubby was still home at that time and went over to lend an eye. The house was still in a good condition, save for a few broken tiles which caused slight leakage on the ceiling at the car porch. WF immediately paid the booking fees and after some negotiation, managed to get Sime Darby to agree to rectify the leakage and broken tiles. Best part is, since it was the last day of Sime Darby’s Parade of Homes campaign, she’ll be getting free legal fees for the S&P as well as loan agreements.

WF was both excited and nervous about the purchase – excited coz she finally managed to purchase a house in her desired location; and nervous because she committed to such as huge purchase within the blink of an eye. But I think it was indeed a terrific buy, for getting the house at about 30% below the market price and getting free legal fees, which can be quite substantial. I’m just so glad I was at the right place at the right time to catch the guys from Sime Darby in action in putting up the “For Sale” signage.

December 20, 2008

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

No, it’s Supergirl.

I got this Supergirl costume from a colleague. She was moving house and dug out some brand new clothes which her daughter never wore. I took back several pieces, including two cheongsams and this costume. The next morning, Yiu Yiu immediately asked to wear this to the babysitter’s. She loved it so much that she asked to wear it again the following day right after the costume had been washed and dried.

December 17, 2008

Falling asleep while waiting…

Incident 1
While I was taking a shower, Yiu Yiu knocked on the bathroom door,
Yiu Yiu: Mummy, I’m sleepy already.
Mummy: Why don’t you go on the bed and sleep?
Yiu Yiu: But I wanna see you.
Mummy: OK, then you sit there and wait for me, OK?
This greeted me when I came out from the bathroom – Yiu Yiu sound asleep right in front of the bathroom door.

Incident 2
I had just finished doing the dishes and wanted to take a shower. However, Yiu Yiu was getting cranky due to sleepiness so she just hung on to me like a koala bear. I reasoned with her that I’m tired and smelly after the long day and asked her to let me have my shower. She asked for some snacks which I happily gave her so I could have my shower in peace. When I came out, her snacks were untouched and I found her beside the bed.

December 14, 2008

Developments of a 3-year old

This post is 1.5 months overdue.

Toilet training
She’s been diaperless in the day since she was 2.5 years old but we still kept her on diapers at night, to prevent any accidents. A few months before she turned three, she refused to let us put on diapers for her at night too. We had to resort to sneakily put it on after she slept. However, sometimes she’d wake up in the middle of the night and asked to remove the diaper so we gave up. She had one or two accidents initially, but she’s been dry for the last 2-3 months now. I’d normally ask her if she needs to use the potty when she wakes up for her milk during the night (yeah yeah, yours truly is a sleep deprived mother, with her 3-year old still waking up for milk at night), or she’d sometimes wake me up to bring her to the potty when she has the urge while sleeping.

Appetite and food intake
It’s still a constant battle trying to get her to finish up her food at home. Just the other day, while attending my cousin’s wedding, another cousin commented on how patient I was in feeding her lunch. She said she would have given up feeding her son if she were in my shoes. Sigh! What to do, she’s already so petite so I try my best to get in as much food as I can into her.

Speech and verbal development
Her vocabulary is growing by the day that I’m surprised sometimes at the words she uses. I haven’t been diligently jotting them down or trying to remember them but some phrases include pierce my ears, give birth to baby, get married, etc. The other day when hubby showed her the Madagascar DVD he bought and immediately she broke into a song, “I like to move it move it move it”. Both of us were perplexed until we switched the DVD on, and true enough, the song was in the DVD. I wonder where she picked that up.

On going to school
She’s been very excited about going to school, thanks to her birthday presents which included a Winnie the Pooh trolley bag and Barney bento box. We recently got her a Barney water tumbler to go with the bento box as well. And recently she’s been talking about doing this and that with her teacher when she goes to school next year:
When I go to school ah, I’ll show this sticker book to my teacher.
When I go to school ah, I’ll show teacher my colour pencil
When I go to school ah, I’ll ask my teacher to take me to the toilet
I hope her enthusiasm on going to school will continue, coz I can only take 2 days off work when she starts kindy next year, as I need to attend my company annual sales meeting from Wednesday onwards.

Here are some shots taken at the Taman Tun Park recently.

December 10, 2008

Street food in Taipei

If you watch Taiwanese variety shows on Astro, you would know that Taiwan has an abundant street food culture. Most of their night markets are packed with street hawkers selling a variety of mouth watering gastronomic fares. So instead of babbling non-stop as I’m wont to do, I’ll let these photos do the talking instead.

Spring onion pancake – much like our roti canai

Pan-fried dumpling

Rice flour noodles soup – noodles with pig intestines in a delicately flavoured broth made from pork bones. One of the most famous is Ay Chung stall in Ximending. There’s a perpetual large crowd queueing for the noodles, and enjoying it al fresco standing by the stall, no seats provided.

Stinky tofu – marinated, deep-fried, drizzled with garlic sauce and served with pickled vegetables. The stinkier the tofu, the more delicious it is. It can be prepared in a variety of ways – fried, steamed, simmered in sugary soy sauce, cooked in spicy sauces, etc

An array of BBQ food items

Sausages - big and small, long and round, deep fried in batter: you name it, you've got it

Another Taiwanese favourite is fried chicken fillet, where the fillets are hammered until soft, coated in flour and fried. This golden, crisp treat is a popular snack among young people and is really yummy, cholesterol and fat notwithstanding. And of course, the quintessential Taiwanese drink is pearl milk tea. Originating from Spring Water Teahouse in Taichung, the famous tea drink is made from little tapioca balls that are boiled in black sugar and dropped into the milk tea.

December 08, 2008

Shopping in Taipei

In the 1970s, Ximending was a prosperous entertainment centre crowded with movie theatres, dance clubs, performance venues and coffee shops, but its influence waned with the rise of the city's other commercial districts. Following a period of revitalization, Ximending is once again a booming area with diverse entertainment venues and shops catering to Taipei's youth. Plenty of street boutiques and shops selling strange and interesting gadgets stand next to one another in the winding back-alleys. I bought some bags and several pairs of shoes but the photos were lost when my hard disk crashed, so nothing to show here.

Night markets are great places to shop for bargains and feel the pulse of Taiwan's after-hours life. The markets are a bustle of noise and energy, with friendly restaurant owners calling out their menus, stall holders calling out their wares, and crowds of curious onlookers, shoppers and diners mingling together in the night air. We visited Shida Road night market near National Taiwan Normal University. This night market features mostly snack food and other low-priced items needed by students.

One of the largest and most bustling night markets in Taipei, Shilin night market has a vast collection of food stalls selling a diverse selection of economically priced Taiwanese snacks. There are also numerous stalls selling a wide variety of products from clothing to toys and watches. This night market continues from noon until the early hours of the next day. In addition to its fame for great food, the night market's proximity to several schools has made it a magnet for teenagers shopping for clothes, accessories, cosmetics, music CDs, DVDs and other bargain items. During the day, it functions as a day market selling fresh produce and food items.

Dihua Street is a popular destination with old buildings, temples and one of Taipei's biggest markets for traditional dry foods, snacks and Chinese medicine. During the Chinese New Year, it is converted into a street dedicated to selling CNY goodies like peanuts, kuaci, sweets, dried vegetables and fruits, and many more. The last night before we left, the CNY festive sales began and we had the opportunity to experience shopping for CNY goodies in Taipei. Unfortunately the colourful photos of Dihua Street, and photos of my Taipei shopping loot were among the casualty of my hard disk crash, hence this rather lackluster post.

December 05, 2008

The East Coast of Taiwan - Taroko Gorge (Part 2)

The tortuous course cut by the river has produced a gorge of many curves, and the path of the highway that has been carved out of the cliff face here seems to be an endless series of turns, hence its name Tunnel of Nine Turns. It has many more than nine tunnels and turns but in Chinese "nine" can also denote "myriad/numerous." The gigantic opposing cliffs here come within a few dozen meters of each other in spots, making this area the narrowest, and one of the most scenic parts of the gorge.

Stone formation that resembles the face of a Red Indian

A carp rising against the tide

Next, we visited the Buluowan Recreation Area, a retreat celebrating the culture of the Atayal and Amis native peoples. Taiwan's second-largest tribe, living in the northern hills/mountains, the Atayal moved into the gorge a few hundred years back, displacing the Amis, the largest tribe, who inhabit the eastern plains. It is believed population pressures and resulting strife within the Atayal orbit caused a sub-group to break away, traveling old hunting trails to the gorge. This group, the Taroko, was formally recognized as a distinct tribe last year.

Our last stop was the Eternal Spring Shrine, a lovely small complex perched on a narrow cliff above a wide, meandering section on the Liwu River. The shrine is a memorial to the hundreds of retired soldiers who lost their lives descending from the clifftops in nothing more than hand-woven baskets, picks and explosives in hand, hacking at the rock to construct the Central Cross-Island Highway in 1956-1960. Beside the shrine is a stream that plummets into the river valley below and is one of the most photographed scenes in the gorge.

December 03, 2008

The East Coast of Taiwan - Taroko Gorge (Part 1)

In the lingo of the East Coast Amis natives, "taroko" means "beautiful. Taroko National Park, situated in the northeastern part of Taiwan and established on November 28, 1986, covers more than 92,000 hectares in the northern section of the Central Mountain Range.

Taroko began its emergence about four million years ago with the collision of the Philippine Oceanic Plate and the Eurasian Continental Plate. At that time, thick layers of limestone formed over many tens of millions of years in the shallow seas of earlier times were gradually pushed high above the ocean surface to form lofty peaks. During this period of immense tectonic forces, the high pressures and temperatures of compression folded and metamorphosed the original rock (limestone) into marble. Taroko Gorge was patiently carved over millions of years, as the Liwu River gradually wore away at Taroko's hard marble foundations. With the river continually etching away and Taiwan's mountains continue to rise, the gorge deepens at the rate of 5mm a year.

Taroko ranks among the world's most stunning scenic locations, with towering mountains, tectonic faults, deep river valleys, and waterfalls pack a great variety of sights into a relatively concentrated space. The main Taroko Gorge generally refers to the 20-km section of the Central Cross-Island Highway that runs from Taroko to Tiansiang. As one travel west from the arched entrance as the eastern end, the gorge becomes narrower and narrower. The narrowest parts of the gorge are at Swallows' Grottos and the Tunnel of Nine Turns, and here too, are the most enchanting vistas.

The area was first occupied by the Taroko aboriginals. In the old days, facial tattoos were culturally significant in the Taroko tradition. Everyone at seven or eight must be tattooed on the forehead for tribal identification. At 14 or 15, a young man would be tattooed on the chin after his first successful head-hunting. The head-hunting initiation rite was banned in 1914 during the Japanese Occupation and was completely abolished by 1930s. The human head was replaced by a large wild game like a boar or a black bear. A young woman would be tattooed on the cheeks when she mastered weaving.

There are a number of hiking trails to appreciate the beauty of Taroko National Park. The first one we took was the Shakadang Trail near the entrance of the park. The highlights were the stone patterns due by erosion by the river and the clear bluish water of the river.

Next we went to Swallows' Grottos, where the rock face of the cliffs has countless tiny holes; many were carved out by the Liwu River long time ago, when it pounded by at this level. Other holes were carved out from within - places where underground streams once found their mid-air exits. There were once swallows' nests in many holes, but tourist traffic has driven them elsewhere.

We then adjourned for lunch at the small town of Tiansiang at the gorge's western terminus, once the site of a Taroko village. Its name commemorates Wen Tian-Siang, who lived in the 13th century was the last prime minister of the Song Dynasty. Just before the town is a six-story pagoda perched atop a low peak and can be accessed via a short suspension bridge.

After lunch, we backtracked to Heliu, the highlight of which is the Bridge of Motherly Devotion. Beneath it are massive pure marble boulders fallen from high above, loosened from their vantage points by typhoon rains, tectonic heaves, and Mother Nature's more patient pecking.

Before reaching Heliu, we ventured onto the suspension bridge across the river that leads to roads that were used to access the forests.

December 01, 2008

The East Coast of Taiwan - Hualien

Continuing my posts on Taiwan. Read my earlier posts on:
Wulai and its waterfalls
Jiufen & Jinguashih
Yehliu & Danshui
Taipei City

The Taroko Express train to Hualien

We arrived in Hualien in the evening. After checking into the hotel, we asked the hotel for recommendations on places to eat and things to do at night. After giving some suggestions, the hotel asked if we would like to loan their bicycles and explore Hualien on the wheels. We thought it was quite a cool idea, and the bicycles were loaned to us on complimentary basis.

We proceeded to dinner at a beautifully decorated restaurant which serves aboriginal cuisines, much like what we had in Wulai.

After that, we went shopping for a while in the commercial area of Hualien while waiting for the clock to strike 9pm for the nightly aboriginal cultural performance taking place at the aboriginal cultural centre.

After the performance, as there were many taxis waiting outside the centre, we approached one and hired him to take us to Taroko Gorge the next day. Then, it was more shopping for Hualien muachi and muachi biscuit, and dried meats to be taken home as souvenirs.

The next morning while on the way to Taroko Gorge, we stopped by a factory to see how bonito flakes are produced, before going to Hualien beach to take some shots.