The first stop after Taipei was Kinmen, an island (two islands, in fact, and also known as Quemoy) barely a kilometre from Mainland China. I hadn’t realised it isn’t actually part of “Taiwan” itself; it is part of the Republic of China but the people living there are neither Taiwanese (although they speak Hokkien) nor Mainlanders; they are Kinmenese, really (jinmenren, 金門人), and have no wish to be absorbed into the PRC either. The layers of cultural identity in Taiwan never cease to intrigue me.

We stayed in an absolutely gorgeous traditional “two hall house” guesthouse that was recommended to me by my friend Matt. I can’t describe how beautiful and enchanting the building and surrounding village are; in fact, when I originally began writing this post it turned into the basis of a potential thesis subject for next year (more on this later). So I have shelved all my obsessive architecture/cultural identity observations so I can develop a more academic version of them, and come back to write more of a “This is what I did on holidays” post. However it is SUPER LONG with ALL THE PHOTOS. Consider yourselves warned.

Day one in Kinmen, we arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Zhushan where Guesthouse No.17 awaited our arrival. We were a little early so we wandered around the surrounding buildings, stunned by the scenery of Ming Dynasty homes and small gardens.

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Our host Ms Zhang was wonderful, and when I explained that I wanted to hire bikes but James wanted to hire a scooter, she diplomatically suggested we hire a scooter and then make the most of the free bike services dotted around the island to explore different locations. She drove us to the scooter hire place, where the lovely Jerry set us up with a scooter for a very reasonable NT$900 including two day’s hire, a tank full of petrol (no need to refill before we return), and a free ride to the airport on our last morning (which costs around NT$300 by taxi).

We scootered to the National Park in Guningtou first, which has a number of military sites, with the idea of trying to find a bike hire station. At Lake Ci, we came across a military fort, complete with tanks:

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View out to China

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James looking like a Japanese soldier inside the fort:

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The view from inside the machine-gunner’s room:

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The more time we spent on the scooter, the more it became apparent that cycling was the real way to go when visiting Kinmen. There is a huge network of bike trails clearly signposted all over the island, and even though many of them were on shared roads which we could follow on the scooter, they were much more enjoyable on a slower, biking scale. We sat down in Jincheng and stared at the map, whilst I tried (with much frustration) to work out the location of the dozen or so bike hire stations. I googled exhaustively (note to self: create a page with the information in English and a google map!) and eventually we gave up and decided to just ride over to Shamei and hope we would find one there. And we did! By this point it was 3pm and the station closed at 5pm — you get to use a bike in exchange for your passport, so I was pretty keen for us to get back in time. I was a little worried we wouldn’t have time to do much in 2 hours, especially with the clunky hire bikes which are the type I associate more with city bike schemes than “cycling”. But in the end we had a lot of fun!

Trying to hide my disappointment at these silly bicycles (I was in the middle of taking directions from the hire lady here, and struggling to remember which of zuo and you is right and left, which is of little help to me since I don’t know them in English either):

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I cheered up once we hit the road, the sun and the blue sky and the ocean breeze all made me happy!

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Speed wasn’t really something worth thinking about…

Love the timer function on my iphone, although between me setting the phone up on the beach, running back to strike a pose, running to get my phone and running back to James, the tide had come right in past our bikes!

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We covered a respectable 12.5km and then returned back to the station well before 5, quite worn out (those bikes are hard to work compared to Bon Scott).

Then we scootered home again to the guesthouse, before James coaxed me back out to catch the sunset. We drove to a lookout point but the sun was not quite in the right direction. Still, we had a very pretty view out to China.

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James breaking all the rules as usual:

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As the sun was hidden behind a hill, we watched it set on the iphone instead:

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We then headed over to Jincheng for dinner. Jincheng is a very pretty city, with some very fetching traditional buildings and brick archways.

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We were planning to eat at a place called Jessica’s Communist Cafe, however we couldn’t find it and ended up getting hotpot. Then we scootered home again in the dark, pausing to grab some Taiwan Beer and wasabi snacks at the 7-Eleven.

The next morning, Ms Zhang had prepared a wonderful traditional breakfast for us:

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Most of the food was heavy on the fructans, which I have to stay away from in the daytime if I’m going to have an active and enjoyable day, but I couldn’t help binging on the youtiao (oil sticks — giant fresh churros) and the fresh mulberries. James had to take them away from me, and I tried to console myself with the meatball porridge and a banana but it was not the same.

I was really, really sore from the cycling and the scootering the day before so we chose to explore close to home within walking distance.

Inspecting the map:

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First we meandered through the village and the eponymous “Zhushan” (meaning Pearl Mountain, but really just a hillock).

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A ceremony was being held at the local temple, with music, singing and dancing, whilst onlookers threw ghost money over the performers.

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I particularly liked seeing the singer/drummer follow along the words with one finger — he was very dextrous at turning the pages single-handedly.

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We then walked to Oucuo, which was settled by the Ouyang family during the Ming Dynasty in the late 17th Century. Oucuo was a wonderful place to visit because of the abundance of houses still in their original layout, carefully maintained and modernised. I get very excited about “living heritage” — buildings that have carried traditions and meanings over the centuries and that are not kept as museums of how they once were, but as a continuation of their first and foremost purpose: homes to the living.

Kitty cat on a doorway:

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Nesting doorways:

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Loved this one in particular with the bright flowers, scooters, paste-ups and laundry all artfully building a mosaic of pinks and reds around the red brick frontage… sigh!

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Not all houses were inhabited or in a good state. We came across one abandoned rundown building, which we were able to access as the doorways were clear and easy to get into. It was full of abandoned broken furniture and was incredibly moving.

From behind:

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Check out this ancient TV! (and the rude hentai comics… obviously still a popular destination for locals… living heritage?)

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A group of cyclists came through the empty streets, a little incongruous in their lycra kit, but obviously quite a habitual scene for Kinmen.

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We headed in the same direction, and finally reached the beach. I always love being by the ocean (who doesn’t?) and got quite excited about the seashells.

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I packed up James’ and my shoes in my bag — a bag I made myself, with my own fair hands, a few years ago — and we progressed, barefoot in the sand. The water was very cold so we just splashed a little.

Showing off my bag:

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Cold-feet selfie, the last picture before….:

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Then we began walking along the shore, and James picked up a seashell for me (I was looking for the perfect one). It was all sandy so I dashed to the water to rinse it off… bent over… and *ploof!* my iPhone landed in the water (hitting me on the head and the shoulder on its way out of my bag). I quickly picked it up, mopped it off, and James and I put it out to dry as I pouted about having ruined my only recently paid-off smartphone. I’ve previously dropped James’ iPhone in a Taiwanese waterfall, but there’s no way the chlorides in the seawater aren’t going to cause corrosion (I’ve studied enough metal chemistry to know!).

However it does seem to be fine for now — who knows how long it will last for.

Anyway we continued along the beach, coming to a tank which James had apparently spied from a long way off but I stumbled upon with complete surprise (more metal corrosion!).

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James did what he has done for the last 32 years and climbed onto it.

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I scolded him because one does not climb on History!

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Then we walked towards a military fort, which looked exciting and foreboding.

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It turned out of course that it was impregnable by foot (well obviously, otherwise it would be a rubbish fort) and James led us through a charming landfill instead. It was a shock to see so much rubbish everywhere — the beaches had been pristine up to this point, and it makes you realise how much effort goes into keeping Kinmen beautiful.

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There but for the grace of god go I — my brand new Mizunos realise that they too, one day, could be an abandoned thong.

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We found the entrance to the fort, however it was locked.

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We headed onwards towards Zhushan, stopping at the Zhaishan tunnel to appreciate the three years it took to blast a passageway into gneiss granite.

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We were extremely fortunate to time our visit between two coach loads of tourists, as the tunnels were dreadfully echoey when filled with chattering Taiwanese. It was interesting to imagine how it must have been full of soldiers and ships.

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We had an ice-cream and discussed a potential venture for creating tours for older grumpy people, who like me don’t want to talk to other people and don’t want any noise or chatter, but would like to get out and about and see a few new places. I think this is a great potential business venture!

Then another couple of kilometres and we were back at our guesthouse. I wanted to nap, but James only allowed me to rest my weary feet a little before we went off for afternoon adventures!

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We decided to go hike up Wuhu Mountain (pronounced woo-hoo!) which is apparently the second-highest peak in Kinmen (this means very little, however). I got us lost a few times on the scooter, as I have to navigate from the back seat, one hand around James’ waist and the other clutching my precious iPhone as I indicate left or right — sometimes I overestimate how long it will take to reach the next turn and we have to reset the route. Also… I don’t know left and right, which can be challenging when giving directions. A few zig-zags around the island and we got there in the end!

We debated whether to bring water with us, as there was no indication of distance or elevation, or of how long the climb would take. The answer was: not very far, not very high, not very long!

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We were extremely impressed with the view once at the top however so it was definitely worth it.

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At the top I also finally captured a picture of one of the giant butterflies I had seen everywhere:

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We then descended to the other side of Wuhu to the village of Shanhou.

Ducks holding sentry at the entrance to the village.

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James professed this to be “his favourite duck”:

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Shanhou was built by a rich merchant family, the Wangs, late in the 19th and early in the 20th century. It was very different from Zhushan and Oucuo, as they are laid out in a highly regimented and orderly fashion, according to the rules of fengshui.

Model of the village:

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We weren’t terribly enamoured of this rigid style, and did not stay long, although we were both quite hungry so we enjoyed an icy cold Taiwan beer and a cong you bing, fried spring onion pancake, mine with an egg and some veggies and James’ with sausage as well. I love bing!

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Here is a pile of turtles, trying to clamber on top of each other and up to possibly eat me. Poor things, they are trapped in a small kind of well, no wonder they wanted to escape.

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On the way back James disappeared to explore a tunnel, whilst I powered on up the hill as I was feeling quite tired and wanted to get it all over! He found a cave with some sort of abandoned military function.

We then rode back to Jincheng, pausing at a night market where we saw the seashells from earlier that day, now ready to be consumed:

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We were determined to find Jessica’s Café. I quizzed locals until it was revealed that we had eaten there the night before — Jessica’s Cafe is no more, and has been converted to the hotpot restaurant.

Jincheng by night is so pretty though:

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We wandered around Jincheng some more, and eventually landed in a quite crappy Taiwanese restaurant whose sole merit was that they kindly provided us with a hand-translated menu. Chinese menus are my nemesis, as even if I could read every character, the names of dishes are generally pretty obscure.

Bellies full, if not delighted, we clambered back on the scooter for what I swore would be the last time — my back and bottom were both aching and sore from sitting on it.

However the next morning we had a couple of hours to kill, so James coerced me back onto the stupid scooter and we lazily roamed the nearby countryside, almost getting attacked by dogs a couple of times, and taking photographs of old and modern houses for my new obsession with Taiwanese architecture.

We posed with a Wind Spirit, iconic lions who dot the countryside of Kinmen (squinting attractively as it was so bright without sunglasses!):

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We also found ourselves at the foot of a random tower/hill, so we decided to climb that whilst we were there. It was just a 10-minute walk up, and really nothing special, but it was nice to have done one more Kinmen “thing” before we headed home for the airport pick-up!

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One last thing that made me laugh was when Jerry picked us up another driver was navigating their way past our car as we loaded in our luggage. They wound down their window, presumably to check there was enough space, and Jerry called out “Plenty of room!” The driver revealed herself to be a woman, and laughed, calling out “I know, I know, I just wanted to get a better look at such a handsome man, in such a fancy car!” Jokes that are funny AND that I understand in Chinese will always make me laugh twice as hard.


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!).


Sorry about Monday. That was a bit embarrassing! so many emotions…

Today after work I had volunteer training for the Oxfam Trailwalker event in 2 weeks — James and I have signed up to do a shift as Trail Sweeps, on Section 5 (Olinda to Ferntree Gully). Kerry is the one who told me about volunteering for this 100km walk, as she is doing a whole bunch of shifts herself, at what I learned today is Oxfam Australia’s biggest fundraising event of the year.

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I’ll be honest I was mostly excited about getting to hike 11km whilst picking up rubbish. I love hiking, but just like David Sedaris (who aside from being a brilliant author, has had a rubbish truck named after him for his efforts), I hate seeing rubbish on trails. It broke my heart in Nepal that you can stand on a Himalayan mountain, looking out to Mount Everest, and see plastic wrappers everywhere around you. Bhutan was relatively pristine in comparison, Taiwan was not quite as bad as Nepal but not great either. Of course an event organised by Oxfam in Australia is going to make sure they leave no trace behind!

It turns out that the Sweeps mostly just collect the trail markers, but there’s bound to be rubbish too, since there will be 3200 people (800 teams of 4!) walking the trail ahead of us. I saw advice somewhere to bring a trowel for burying “human waste” but I really hope I don’t actually have to bury other people’s poop. I’m a bit sad to find out I won’t have a spike on a stick… I guess there’s still time to coax James into making me one!

I’ve spent the evening booking guesthouses and AirBnB rooms for our Taiwan trip. I have been building it all in a nice gaudy spreadsheet. Here’s a teaser!

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And final note: this morning I did the 6am Bikram class. This allowed me to wake up at 5:45, grab my water bottle, roll straight into class, and discover I had purple wine-stained lips from dinner last night with Graham. I love living next door to the studio so much.

mercury in retrograde

Title courtesy of James who was mocking my end-of-day bliss.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 5:20 and onto the tram. As usual by the time I reached the studio I was glad to be there, but when I bent down to straighten my mat, pain shot through my ribs and chest. Every time I bent forward, nerve pain darted around, and I realised this was not going to be compatible with yoga, aka bendy-bendy-pretzel-sport. The teacher and I agreed I would see how the first exercise would go — but from the first deep breath I was in too much pain to even contemplate it, so I went home.

This gave me time to lay in bed, gawk at shoes from Bared (I need new sandals), and research methods for cleaning silicon shower caulk. I spent a pleasant twenty minutes scrubbing bleach into grout with a toothbrush, then headed into work. And I struggled to believe it myself, but today was pretty good! I got several nice emails from clients, which I filed under my Praise folder, because, yes, I have one, and it’s pretty dusty most of the time, because Operations is a thankless, praiseless task. I got all my reporting wrapped up in time to go to Bikram for the 6pm Focus60 class and was pretty excited to get a second chance since my back had stopped spasming.

Yoga was great. It was one of those really easy classes that happens every now and then, where I nailed every posture and never felt dizzy or overheated. Standing head to knee pose, normally a trigger for hip pain, was strong with both legs locked. My triangle was deeper than it’s been for a month. Everything felt wonderful. During class, the thunderstorm that had been brewing all afternoon finally exploded above us, and laying in shavasana with deafening rain and thunder drumming over my head was just blissful.

When I came out, the combination of the muggy heat and the torrential rain felt just like Taiwan. Did I mention James and I scored ultra-cheap flights to Taipei? My eternal gratitude to Graham who texted me to say Cathay had return flights from Melbourne for just $733!! Amazing. We are going on the 23rd of April and I cannot wait. But in the interim, it felt like a Taipei typhoon day, and I was grinning like an idiot all the way home.

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Then I came home and cooked dinner. Believe it or not, I appear to have cooked a healthy, fructose-friendly, vegetarian meal every night this week, often with leftovers for lunch the next day. I’ve done physio every time I do yoga, so every other day (which is how I’m currently planning my Bikram). Taking my ulcerative colitis medication religiously. My house is a complete mess, but I’m hitting lots of goals. This is in all likelihood linked to my purchase of an app called Way of Life, where you can set daily goals and habits and then check them off every day, building graphs. I love it so much. It’s the best $8 I ever spent on an app.

January 2012

I was going to write a post about my visit to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in North/South Korea last year, but then I didn’t have all the pictures I thought I did. However flicking through my January 2012 folder, there are a variety of photos and I thought it might be fun to revisit that month!

January 2nd: Not the funnest start to the year, but the first diagnosis of what turned out to be a major case of the Screwed-Up Knees (what James calls a “bung knee” but that expression is so stupid!)
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January 6. Here I am in Seoul! It’s cold, and bright, and cold!!
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There is a long winding riverpath which I ache to run along, and which Stefany informs me goes for miles. However, I wisely did not pack my running gear, as I am supposed to be resting my freshly injured knees.
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The supermarkets in So.Ko. sell EVERYTHING. Including fish. As in aquariums and their inhabitants.
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January 7. Our trip to the DMZ! Our guide is the most adorable, slightly camp Korean. I have forgotten his name but I have a feeling it was Kim (safe bet).
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There aren’t many photos as it is a restricted area (duh) and therefore we aren’t allowed to even point at things, let alone take photos. I remember that it was fascinating but I can’t remember enough to really write about it with any great skill. This is why I need photos.
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Apparently, we have now left the DMZ. This shop display was amazing, but then the shoplady came over and echoed the DMZ rules: No photos.
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Innocent Bystander! I have gotten blotto on this delightful pink moscato many a night out in Fitzroy’s Little Creatures brewery, where you used to be able to buy it on tap by the jug. It is also known as “Slut Cheowse”.
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Hello Kitty: Unsurprisingly, just as popular in Korea as in Japan, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
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January 15: Back in Taiwan, at Rebecca’s Election Day Party. I am eating homemade blueberry cheesecake next to a piano.
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MRT afterparty with Edu & Co:
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January 16. I was utterly bemused by my trip to see those nuns.
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January 18. Applying my powers of deduction to this picture of two Kingfisher Beers, I’m guessing that I’m at the Indian restaurant in Ximending, and that my companion is Catherine. I seem to remember us guffawing too loudly and a Taiwanese gentleman asking us politely to keep it down. Loud English Girls. Mortified.
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January 24. A cup of the most delicious tea in existence. I am really quite enjoying this process of revisiting old pictures! I had forgotten that Rebecca had given me a sachet of this beautiful Hot Cinnamon Spice tea. How clever of me to have taken a photo — I must track some down tomorrow and then DRINK IT FOREVER.
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January 26. This is the sleepy face of a very naughty girl, who has slept in her running clothes in order to wake up early and go for a run DESPITE THE FACT THAT HER KNEES ARE SO BAD. My Australian sports doctor tells me that actually I was right to keep running despite getting injured. However at the time, I was supposed to be resting…
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A glutton for punishment, this appears to have been my supper that evening. I identify red cabbage and omelette on a bed of lettuce.
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January 27. A bird in a cage attached to a scooter. Why? Because Taiwan.
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January 30. My conservator side laughs at this picture. Most people would struggle to see any value in it. I, however, and any fellow hashers out there, will recognise it as a splash of flour. Beautiful, glorious flour, from a run (ANOTHER FORBIDDEN RUN, so much for resting): the Taipei Zoo run, which I had missed the day before, and ran by myself on the Monday.
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The run ended at Taipei Zoo (the clue is in the name), which has some interesting artwork, including this one monument to animal poop.
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And so my month of January 2012 ended, happy and sweaty. Looking at this picture of me, I want to start running again! But I ran for the tram yesterday morning and OW OW OW. Not quite yet. Soon.
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first day of school

I’m pretty sure I used that title 18 months ago when I started my Chinese classes again at Zhengda. So maybe the title for this one should be “First day of Big Girl School”. Me! Doing a Masters degree! I would never have thought it would happen.

It was… unreal. I can’t believe that my journey has really begun. Today was the first day on my way to making my dream come true. Up until now I’ve been kind of unsure if this was the right thing to do, I mean, if this was the right path to get where I want to be. There aren’t many maps and I’ve been kind of stumbling along in the dark, bumping into trees and stumps and brambles. If you’ll forgive the purple prose, I feel like the sun rose this morning and suddenly the entire majestic country is illuminated and I can see my destination up ahead. It’s going to take a few years, but this is it!

After class I was a bit overwhelmed and headachey. I found my way back to the library, climbed the stairs to my bookless study room, and sat down to do the reading for tomorrow. I was so tired, I ended up having a quick desk-nap. I learned to do this in Taiwan, when I was studying ridiculously long hours, often from 7:30am to 9 or 10pm. It seems weird at first but the Taiwanese kids do it all the time: just lean forward and lay your head on the table. Then close your eyes and bask in the silence. Wake up suddenly, sit up with your hair all fluffy à la Bernard Black, wipe the drool from your chin and take stock of the extraordinary levels of energy you now possess. Note: occasionally you will wake up feeling worse. This means you really have burnt out and it’s time to go home.

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And then I read for two hours about mould treatment and which types of gloves are best for handling which chemicals. It was glorious.

Today in our afternoon tutorial we did case studies; practice scenarios of this or that object and how would we ethically chose to approach it. Do you know how fun that is? I want more. MORE.

an ko mc hotdog

Saturday, 1:50pm. My dreaded Saturday morning meeting finished before 12 instead of after 2pm so I have already fit in a 40-minute run, shower and lunch. Now I could go soak in the rooftop pool, or write my university application, or work on my freelance gig (the one that actually pays real $$ and not rupees) writing about golf course bunker construction. One of these is not like the others. But I’m procrastinating on all of them by writing up today’s run.

On the treadmill today I listened to the ANCIENT and bordering-on-embarassing Taiwanese “rap” album Wake Up by MC Hotdog. It was a huge hit when I lived in Taiwan in 2006 and it was lovely listening to his taike accent after weeks of dealing with Mainlanders. I did nearly all my best runs in Taiwan and for some reason felt much lighter and happier running with taiyu (however bad the music is) in my ears, made me miss the China Hash. I still only did 6km (in 39 minutes!), for all the reasons iterated in the post below.

It was fun also to listen and be able to understand a good 80% of the lyrics (there’s lots of Taiwanese thrown in). In 2006 I could probably pick up a few words here and there but that was it…