return to Taipei!

I have been planning to move back to Taiwan for a few months next year, and my current holiday here is sealing the deal. I love being back in Taiwan (for the fourth time, albeit my shortest visit yet). I love it so much that I want to keep telling James over and over, although I’ve learned to suppress it a little as apparently it was getting old.

We landed very late at night/early in the morning and waited ages for a taxi. However when the taxi did eventually show up, the driver was lovely and we talked all the way to Fuxing Beilu, making me feel like maybe my rusty Chinese was still useable. When I was living in Sri Lanka, the Mainland Chinese I met through work often struggled to understand me (even though my Chinese was so much better then than it is now). Same when I visited Xinjiang and Beijing on work trips. Here, everyone seems much more willing to meet me halfway.

Despite only getting a handful of hours of sleep, the next morning I headed out to Hatha Yoga for a Bikram class.

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Which was wonderful, even though the room didn’t have carpet but instead was lined with plastic-covered mats and we just practiced on towels. This wouldn’t matter except I was the only person sweating like a pig (I positioned myself under the heat as the room was much cooler than I am used to), and a puddle grew around me (especially in triangle pose), creeping towards my poor neighbours. Water poured off me but to be honest I liked it! Also I loved hearing the dialogue in Chinese. I wish I could have a recording of it in Chinese so I can practice both my Chinese and my Bikram at home. I am hoping I’ll get to come back to the studio on the Sunday morning we are back in Taipei.

Then I met up with James and we went for lunch. It turns out the studio was very close to Yongkangjie, behind Shida University, where I used to study back in 2005 and 2006. We sat in Yongkangjie Park and watched cute kids play and I reminisced and rejoiced in how much I love being in Taipei.

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In the afternoon we walked a billion kilometres trying to find somewhere that would either have the flip-flops James wanted, or alcoholic beverages. This allowed us to visit Gongguan and Shida which was fun again for me as these are places I used to frequent a lot as a student, but frustrating as every bar I could think of was closed until the evening — I guess students don’t drink in the daytime!

Sneak peek of Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall as seen from the metro station:

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Then I caught up with several of my friends which was lovely. and we finished the night at Taipei’s most famous 牛肉麵 establishment, where I had beef noodles and James had the “half beef, half tendon” noodles. The funny thing is, I came here many years ago (10 years ago, in fact) when the Taiwanese couple who were hosting me took me out for dinner with some of their friends. I turned my nose up at it all as it did not appeal at all to my sensibilities. This time of course I was thrilled. I guess I have improved with age.

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That was my “one day in Taipei” as we flew out the next morning to Kinmen: at least one, if not multiple posts to come (I had to get this one out of the way first!).

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things

I took advantage of a Monday off work to try and pull myself together.

I made baked eggs from this recipe, and it was easy and delicious. It has spices! I want to get better at using spices because without onions and garlic, food gets boring very fast.

Raw:
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Slightly overcooked (which is how I prefer them really):
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These unsexy badly-lit pictures of my wardrobe? The result of extensive organisation and purging of what is habitually referred to as the Floordrobe. I’m proud, thus they are going on the blog.

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Polly is rather keen on the hairdye scene, and we picked up some coloured hair chalks on the weekend. She experimented with blue and purple as usual, and for fun, I picked up the red, pink, orange and yellow to make a little Flame Princess makeover. I thought it would have washed out after Bikram this morning, but it turns out, I still have teensy reddish highlights (if you can spot them). I quite like them, although I trust none of my clients noticed today at work.

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Speaking of Bikram and work: my backpack at 5:30am… again, boring picture for everyone else, but it holds: breakfast, lunch, two towels, my Bikram costume, my work shoes and clothes, my toiletries, and my water bottle. I was quite impressed with my packing and organisational skills. Onto the blog it goes.

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I came out of a particularly draining call conference to find a parcel from mummy on my desk, with a fancy magical butter dish and a tapestry kit from Erhman Tapestry. I’m itching to get started but I must finish the sashiko first!! I’ve only got about an hour’s work left to do so I must knuckle down.

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Work today was a 9 in terms of loathing. I shut myself away and cried in the training room at 9:30am, although things slowly improved over the course of the day. It’s nearly always the first day back that is the worst, I suppose I should not have long weekends…

a trip to Wangaratta

I haven’t spent much time in regional Victoria, so it was lovely to escape to Wang (as it is affectionately known) to see my dear friend Bonnie for a couple of days. At Bonnie’s we made friends with a foal at the end of the garden:
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“Excuse me, I’ll take care of that”
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We also befriended two darling little dogs, Neddy (seen here in Polly’s lap) and Puppy.
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Sorry for the badly exposed picture, however it captures Neddy and Puppy’s personalities so well!
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Bonnie had to work, but kindly dropped us at the Milawa (which I kept accidentally calling Malawi, not quite the same thing) Cheese Company, where Polly and I devoured this platter of local produce and some Cabernet Sauvigon.
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Then we walked back to Milawa, enjoying the Australian landscape and bright skies. I was wearing SPF30 as always, but unfortunately I was a bad sister and didn’t check if Polly put sunscreen on… so here she is, pre-sunburn.
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We stopped to walk around the cemetery, which drew us in with its cheerful signage.
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Can you spot the mini-ponies?
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I was fascinated by these “tennis-ball trees” — the fruit are the exact same size and colour as tennis balls. I looked them up — they are Osage oranges, apparently.
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By this time Polly was really burnt — I feel terrible for her!
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We had a couple of drinks whilst waiting for Bonnie to come back from work…
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…and then another drink at a different pub, with Bonnie. Because that’s what one does in Australia!
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The pub Bonnie took us to had a little museum in its cellars.
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There’s a tunnel which Ned Kelly allegedly used:
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And a useful illustrated tale of Ned Kelly (yes, Wang is Ned Kelly Country!)
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This picture was my favourite: The North Wangaratta Picnic Committee, c.1910. A highly important organisation, I’m sure.
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I’m so grateful to Bonnie and her mum for having us stay — it was well worth the 3.5-hour train journey; it’s so weird to reflect on how vast Australia is, as 3.5 hours by train could take you to another country in Europe, and we didn’t even leave Victoria.

tofu summer salad and home-made lu wei

I am still struggling through the whole fructose-friendly thing — the difference to my energy levels is so huge that it remains worth it. Over the winter I did cheat a fair bit by eating wheat or sugar in the evenings once I was safely home and could deal with the sleepiness and GI side-effects.

But now it’s summer! and the evenings are long and light and I don’t want to lay at home clutching my stomach. Neither can I bear to eat my same two “safe” meals (which are chicken and potatoes, or tuna and white rice) any longer. Now I’m on break from uni, I have more time to think about cooking and to actually prepare dinners and work lunches. I also really miss Taiwanese luwei 滷味, of which I have documented my love previously.

Luwei is generally translated as “brine” and its primary component is the spice mix of star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, basil, and bay leaves, which are all A-OK on a fructose-free diet. I was worried how I would get the spice mix right, but my Taiwanese friend Arthur informed me that you can pick up 滷味包 from any Asian grocery, which I did eventually after befriending the shop-owners who had to find it for me.

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I also picked up three kinds of tofu because, as you may remember, I am a tofu addict.
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There are instructions on the back of the box to add 8 cups of water, 2 tbsp of sugar, 3/4 tbsp of MSG, 3/5 tbsp of salt, 5 tbsp of soy sauce, and a small amount of cooking wine. The instructions also specify onion, garlic and chilli can be added, but Buddhists can leave them out. I’d forgotten Chinese Buddhists can’t have any of that stuff either (or mango, according to some sources!) — very convenient for me though, as I don’t have to feel like a loser by leaving half the ingredients out. I used raw sugar rather than rock candy which is the traditionally-used sweetener. I also only used 4 teaspoons of soy sauce because really? Really do you need that much soy sauce? I don’t think so.

Put all of the above into a big pan, preferably one that can fit a sieve, or find a sieve-like utensil. In Taiwan everything gets lobbed into a basket which makes it much easier to do multiple people’s luwei at once, but the truth is, a sieve also makes things much easier even alone at home.
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Once it has boiled for a while and is suitably fragrant (很香!) you can add your selection of ingredients. I decided on rice noodles, tofu puffs and bok choy (the tofu skin sticks have to be soaked for a few hours first, so I’ll be eating them for dinner I expect).
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It was a bit tricky getting everything out of the pot, but I got there in the end. And….
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THUMBS UP. GOOD STUFF. My new favourite dinner. Sorry about the dirty-looking bowl, I was just in a hurry to get it all in my mouth.

As I was feeling creative and I also had that pack of fresh shredded tofu skin, I made this salad and it’s kind of fusion… maybe Italian-Taiwanese? 100% delicious A++++ will be making this all summer. Ingredients and directions are below.
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(Again, please forgive messy kitchen bench behind. That’s quinoa sprinkled everywhere behind it).

Take a fairly large shallow bowl (as in don’t use a Chinese rice bowl) and pour in a splash of soy sauce. Add in a splash of garlic-infused olive oil. Take a smidge of Massaman curry paste and add a splash of water before mixing everything together.

Grab a handful of chilled shredded tofu and untangle as it tends to clump, then lovingly coat it with the dressing. Finely chop cucumber, tomato and fresh mint and mix it all together. Voila!

Spicy Eggplant

I was inspired by Szechuan Spicy Eggplant for this — a dish I used to be very suspicious of, when I first lived in Beijing, because the Mandarin name is “鱼香茄子“ — fish-smelling eggplant. However there is no fish-smell in it and it’s delicious, particularly when it’s cooked so the eggplant is melting and fragrant. Another linguistic anecdote is that for a very long time I thought I would never be able to say “eggplant” when I grew up calling them aubergines in both English and French. Yet here I am, saying eggplant. Eggplant eggplant eggplant.

Anyway here is my (vegan, not very Asian) version that I made up to satiate that craving, and which was surprisingly so good I had to write it up straight away. Sorry for the not terribly glam photo, but it’s night and I only have an iphone, and you know, brown food.
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Ingredients
1 medium European eggplant chopped into 1cm cubes (it will seem like a lot when it’s raw but it cooks down quite a bit)
2 red chillies, finely chopped
garlic-infused oil
sunflower oil
300g beef-style Quorn mince

Sauce
2/3 cup chicken-style broth (I use Massel’s 7s stock cubes which are not only vegan but also onion- and garlic-free)
4 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sweet soy sauce
1 tsp worcester sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar

Directions:
Heat some sunflower oil in a wok and when it’s hot, throw in eggplant and chillies, then lace with garlic oil and toss till everything is nicely coated. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden.

Push eggplant away from centre of the wok and add in Quorn, fry for a minute or so, then add in sauce and stir. Simmer until the eggplant is melting — about 5 minutes.

august

A conspicuous absence of updates in the past few months. I am not a fan of winter and even less so in the Southern Hemisphere, because July and August should be full of long, glorious sunny warm days, and instead here in Melbourne it has been ridiculously cold.

This doesn’t mean I have not done anything, fortunately!

I’ve made this a photo-based update rather than the other way around. This tends to work better for summarising an entire month. But this makes it very photo-heavy, so brace yourselves. What am I saying! I am showing my age… Back in the day it was common courtesy to warn before dumping pictures but now… who’d even notice?

Sooo backing up a bit to July:

I went to see the last performance of Mikelangelo and the Tin Stars, aka the only band I’ve ever truly enjoyed watching live.
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I got a haircut, hoping my curls could be coaxed back, but they seem to have been the exclusive domaine of my twenties and I am resigning myself to not having curly hair anymore.
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I bought some expensive cycling shorts and before I’d even worn them once, managed to cut a hole in them whilst removing annoying tags:
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My cold morning runs were dark dark dark but I kept running until the sun came up:
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I invested in a lot of merino from Icebreaker — it keeps me warm as toast, and it’s like having a hug from James as he is the one who got me into Icebreaker in the first place.
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More love from James came in the form of 3 kilos of birthday Kitkats, delivered anonymously to my desk at work.
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I had a lovely night out catching up with my friends Magnus, Thomas and Alastair. This sculpture hangs in the kitchen of Tom’s warehouse.
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More pics taken when out running — I do so love living so close to Merri Creek. It may be less dark…
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…palm trees may sway against a backdrop of brilliant blue skies…
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…but trust me it’s just as cold as the pre-dawn runs.
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Preparing vast amounts of caramelised onion for my birthday high tea. In the end I made around 4 times too much and I’ve still got about a kilo of it in the fridge.
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I also roast my first chicken for said tea party (to make adorable mini-sandwiches). Fiona came home in time to egg me into eating roast chicken skin for the first and last time in years — I don’t think I’ve eaten it since I was a child! It tasted simultaneously delicious, decadent, and nauseatingly rich. No regrets.
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Making Pimm’s cake from Siobhan’s recipe!
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Here I am in my party frock, with friends in the background hard at work.
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The dress is a gorgeous brocade shot through with gold thread – hard to photograph, so you will have to trust me!
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My 30th birthday high tea was lovely, but I failed to take any proper pictures. Here are a few I salvaged off other people!

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Rebecca made these fabulous mini-pavlovas
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My actual 30th birthday was a Monday and the first day of school. I ate a delicious leftover cupcake for breakfast (actually I ate mostly cake for the entire week, as there were a lot of cupcakes and cake leftover).
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There were relatively few events during school that I could photograph, as it was Preventive Conservation (which I think is going to Be My Thing, career-wise) and so the exciting stuff was mostly confidential site visits. I took a lot of pictures anyway, and am sharing just a couple of tantalising shots below, but I can’t tell you where they are of course…

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We did a few interested lab sessions, one about salvaging paper after floods:
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Another was on cleaning mould:
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We had a go at preparing Oddy tests too (which were difficult to photograph as we were in a hurry, hence the blurriness and someone’s fluffy sleeve:
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Some fun times outside of school: finding the cat in my backpack…
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And being greeted with this fantastic scene on a morning run (it’s the Orthodox Greek Cathedral, which I often run past, but which really glows when the sun hits it right!):
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Running has unsurprisingly resulted in shin splints again, so I am taking a break and giving kinesiotherapy tape a go. I do feel like it works pretty well in relieving the pain, if not in solving the problem.
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I got an amazing book of bike rides around Melbourne from my beloved Rebecca as a birthday gift. I decided to go check out Port Phillip Bay.
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Brace yourselves for many pictures of the sea!
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This bit of road was flooding, which made riding through it extra fun!
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Picnic on the pier!
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On my way home I passed these lovely Scottish deerhounds which mummy will appreciate:
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Ok that’s all the photos I have! I have not been photodocumenting things much in the past week — I was too wrapped up in my work situation. But now we have waded through all of this: I have accepted a new job with a cultural study tour company, and will start in October. I will be researching and designing cultural tours all around the world, and I’m really excited and glad that I’ve made the leap. It was a big decision to quit my current job but now it’s finalised I realise it’s the best choice I could have made!

first day

Today was my first day at my new job. It’s kind of weird how un-flustered I was, considering how I knew nothing about the company, nothing about what work I was doing, nothing about anything other than my ex-ex-boss (aka my re-boss) was giving me a job. I just had to turn up, smile, and learn whatever was expected of me.

I checked in with myself for any anxiety or nervousness or apprehension but none could be found, just the vague disgruntled feeling of “Pff. Work.” And so with that, I got off the tram in my pretty new dress and snazzy new jacket and walked towards my office building in the midst of a crowd of other office workers.

My day dragged by; my boss took me for coffee and told me his strategy to get me promoted to management as soon as possible; I tried as best I could to take an interest in the work I’m going to be doing and to be friendly and charming to my new work colleagues (although the boss said not to get too friendly as he plans to have me managing them within a month or two). I took a 15-minute break in the sunshine and checked my Facebook.

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Getting out of work though, my evening seemed all the sweeter. I met Rebecca for (too many) galettes at Breizoz, and then we went for one of our lovely long walks.

J’ai tout mangé!
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I love Melbourne. It’s good to be here.
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