Maokong – A Place For An Afternoon Escape in Taipei

Taipei is such a spectacular city due to its variety of geographical features. Lush, green mountains surround every angle of the city, so escaping to nature is easily achieved by just hopping on the MRT.

One of my favorite places for an afternoon escape is Maokong, a mountain famous for growing local oolong and green tea. Maokong is located in the Wenshan district of Taipei, City and it is accessible by taking the brown line to Taipei Zoo station.

There is a gondola located adjacent to the MRT. The cable-car ride is about 20 minutes to the top, and it stops at the Taipei Zoo South Entrance, Zhinan Temple, and then finally Maokong.

During the gondola ride, one can achieve a panoramic view of the city skyline and mountainous city border. For those seeking a more thrilling adventure, every fifth or sixth car features a glass bottom for more exhilarating views. If you are not afraid of heights, opt to stand in the “crystal cabin” line to experience this invigorating ride!

Once you arrive to the terminal station, meander along the ridgeway to find a teahouse or local restaurant. There are many restaurants that incorporate tea to infuse flavor in their dishes.

There are also delicious pineapple cakes, traditional Taiwanese dishes, or other local snacks to enjoy. I tried the tempura mushrooms from one of the cafes, and I must say they were scrumptious!

If you decide to enjoy the local tea, I recommend purchasing the option that comes with a presentation of the tea ceremony. The waiter or waitress will demonstrate how to properly steep and pour the tea for the best flavor and experience.

They will show you how to warm the cups and pot, and they will tell you how long to steep each brew. Drinking the Maokong tea on the mountain ridge will surely help you to unwind and relax from the bustling Taipei city life.

Maokong is open from 8:30am-9:30pm on weekdays and 8:30-10pm on weekends. Though tea is wonderful at anytime of the day, I highly recommend going in the late afternoon and staying for the sunset. It is a stunning sight watching Taipei light up in the night sky. Furthermore, be aware of weather, especially in the summer, as the gondola may close during thunderstorms or stormy weather.

 

 

Taiwan Lantern Festival – Sending Wishes to the Sky

The lighting of Kongming lanterns, also known as sky lanterns, has been a popular tradition for centuries throughout most of Asia. Like a hot air balloon, the lantern is propelled by a small flame that guides it up towards the sky during the Taiwan Lantern Festival each year.

Taiwan Lantern Festival 

In Taiwan, lighting Kongming lanterns is especially popular during the Lunar New Year holiday. The locals believe that these lanterns carry their prayers to the sky to bring them a fruitful and fortunate new year.

In Pingxi, there is an annual festival where thousands of lanterns are floated into the sky together. It is said that the floating lights resemble a constellation of stars as the lanterns flicker and float away into the night sky.

Though watching thousands of lanterns fly into the sky together is a majestic site, fighting the crowds and getting to Pingxi can be a bit of a hassle. It takes some advance planning.

Personally, I would advise getting a hotel in Pingxi if you decide to go, otherwise it can be challenging getting back to Taipei after the festivities end.

If you are like me and prefer a more relaxing way of doing things, then I suggest visiting Shifen, just three train stop before Pingxi to send your lantern of hopes and dreams skyward.

Lighting lanterns is available at all times of the year, so you don’t have to wait until the new year festivities to have this special, memorable experience.

As soon as you exit the train at Shifen station, you will be in the heart of the charming old street. Shops selling souvenirs, Taiwanese sausages and other delicacies, and artisan crafts stalls fill the market along the tracks.

If you walk beyond the train tracks, you can visit the stunning and magnificent Shifen Waterfall, which is just a 15-minute walk from the town’s center.

Signs mark the waterfall trail, so it is easy to find upon arrival.

There are many shops selling the Konming lanterns in the market area. The train passes by every 30 minutes, so during this time gap, people go onto the tracks to send their lanterns into the sky. Before sending the lanterns up and away, you can decorate your lantern using a traditional Chinese paint brush and black ink.

The shops provide an easel-like stand to paint the lantern on the side of the train track. You are free to express yourself in anyway that you wish.  Some people paint pictures, others write a message, and some traditionally write their prayers or wishes.

When I visited Shifen, I traveled with my brother, so we set up the stand in a way where we could not see what the other was paining until we were finished. It was amusing how differently we interpreted what to do with the lantern. Sending the lantern into the sky was a joyful moment, and it will be a memory I cherish for a long time.

In order to go to either Shifen or Pingxi, take the northbound train from Taipei Main station to Ruifang station.  Make sure not to take the Keelung northbound train.

Once you arrive at Ruifang station, you will transfer to the Pingxi Line. Shifen is only three stops down, while Pingxi is a total of six stops. Overall the trip takes about an hour and half, maybe two hours if you have to wait for the trains.

Event Recap: Celebration Canada 2016

Sometimes living abroad can be most challenging around holiday times. One cannot help but feel a longing for home life as they skim through pictures and read statuses from friends and families celebrating back home. Though pangs of homesickness set in most around holidays, expat communities in Taiwan help ease the agony of missing festivities back home.

In Taipei, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce hosts a Canada Day celebration to give expats and travelers a chance to celebrate while also sharing Canadian traditions with the local Taiwanese community. This year, Celebration Canada was held on June 25th, 2016 at the Taipei City Hakka Cultural Park from 1:00-9:00pm.

This year’s festivities included live music, a variety of local food and beverage vendors, a children’s activity center, an art corner, and even a bull-riding contest!

The CCCT also hosts a terrific raffle each year with all sorts of fun prices, including:

A round-trip ticket to Canada from EVA Air and China Airways, food coupons for Roots and Texas Roadhouse, hotel accommodations with Xitou Le Midi (米蒂亞套房雙人住宿券) and Zhongli Le Midi hotel accommodations (中壢米堤雙人住宿券), MacKay Charity Gala Tickets for two from the CCCT, Afternoon Tea for two at La Rotisserie, various items from Roots Taiwan, pearl bracelets from 引雅珠寶-珍珠手鍊, several bottles of Canadian red wine, various items from China Airlines, coupons from Alleycats Pizza, coupons from Carnegie’s Taiwan, coupons and coffee mugs from Campus Café, a number of Canada Beef Travel Kits, several coupons from The Diner, several packages of Canadian nougat, and three Le Midi Gift Bags.

The CCCT would like to thank our generous donators for our raffle prize. It gets bigger and better every year!

Celebration Canada 2016 - CCCT Reporter Caroline Hosey_2

Though the day started out cloudy and grey, the rain stayed away and everyone had a lovely time celebrating Canada! Many participants showed up in Red and White to show their Canadian pride! Everyone enjoyed the delicious food, music, and activities. Canada Day is a fantastic family affair, and it shouldn’t be missed by anyone traveling to Taipei in late June.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s event:

The diverse list of food vendors this year had something tasty for everyone!

Texas Roadhouse, a CCCT corporate sponsor, cooked up some smoky and delectable BBQ ribs and chicken. Mayur Indian Kitchen served up some tasty vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian options. Three Idiots Toast and Curry offered some wonderful vegetarian grilled cheese sandwiches and curries.

Maple Maple, a CCCT corporate sponsor, offered some typically delicious Canadian treats. Merkel and Meat Mate served up sausages all day long. Chelsea’s offered some delectable grilled cheese sandwiches, and Uncle Kunkel distributed some savory Tex Mex. Finally there was also a booth called Slyders selling sweet and tangy maple glazed pork sliders that absolutely hit the spot!

Celebration Canada 2016 - CCCT Reporter Caroline Hosey

This year the kid’s zone featured a bouncy castle and a blow up slide. There was also a face-painting booth and Canada-themed temporary tattoos so everyone could show their Canadian Pride! The children were grinning from ear to ear as they enjoyed all of the festivities!

Celebration Canada 2016 - CCCT Reporter Caroline Hosey_5

This year’s event would not be complete without the amazing lineup of bands. Nothing is better than dancing the day and night away to some fantastic live music.

We heard from Tony Taylor and the Rockits, Jesse Helton and The Green Machine, Pineapple Plaid, DC and the Funky Duds, Sam Lin, Red Cliff, and a special band that was organized just for Celebration Canada called the Canadian All-Stars! Many thanks to Brandon Thompson for organizing such an outstanding line-up of fantastic bands to entertain us throughout the day and evening.

Celebration Canada 2016 - CCCT Reporter Caroline Hosey_4

All day long, the bull riding machine had people lined up to try riding the longest in order to win the Grand Prize of a free ticket from Taipei to Canada. While some riders lacked the essential balance to ride more than a few seconds, a few skilled riders were able to hang on! This year’s lucky winner(s) were:

1st Place: Nick Coulson snatched up his grand prize with a whopping 95 seconds on the mechanical bull.

2nd Place: Jenna Robinette placed second with a very respectable 81-second ride. She took home a NT$1,000 coupon from Texas Roadhouse.

3rd Place: Tyler stayed on the mechanical bull for 70 seconds and took home a NT$1,000 coupon from Roots for his efforts.

Our bull-riding minors also took home prizes for showing their prowess on the mechanical bull. Natalie took home a NT$1,000 coupon from Texas Roadhouse for riding the bull for 164 seconds. Great job, eh!

We would like to thank EVA Air and China Airlines for offering two round-trip tickets for our mechanical bull prize and for our raffle prize.

Celebration Canada 2016 - CCCT Reporter Caroline Hosey_3

The success of Celebration Canada is all thanks to the participants from both the Taiwanese and foreign communities. Make sure to join us again next year for the 150th year celebration of Canada Day in Taiwan, which will be held on Canada Day, July 1, 2017.

Feathered Fortunes

One of the greatest aspects of living and traveling in Taiwan is the opportunity to delve into the anomalous daily practices of local life. Experiencing the unfamiliar helps us to broaden our horizons while also gaining a deeper appreciation of local culture. In Taiwan many ancient Chinese practices and traditions have been preserved, so travelers and expats can easily seek out treasures from a bygone era.

One tradition that is still upheld and practiced regularly is fortune telling. Booths can be found throughout the city, usually around temples or night markets. In Taiwanese society, fortune telling is a revered and essential component of social and business culture.

The role of the soothsayer is essential when businessmen are making important investments or management decisions. They also help people socially by resolving personal issues and inner conflicts.

If you are traveling to Taiwan, the fortune telling booths may be particularly busy around holidays, and they are especially occupied in the days and weeks before the Chinese New Year. Many of these soothsayers use Chinese astrological charts to determine one’s fate. They also typically use techniques such as palm reading and investigating a client’s facial lines and features.

However, my favorite are the ones that use birds to chose the cards for the client.

Personally, I have always been enchanted by the idea of fortune telling. Though I am unsure how much truth may lie in the reading, I am still fascinated by the process and experience. One day, I suddenly had the urge to finally give Taiwanese fortune telling a try. My brother was visiting me, so I wanted to give him an experience that was truly unique to Taiwan. I was most enthralled at the opportunity to try out the bird fortune telling.

My brother and I went to the underground shopping market that is connected to the Longshan Temple MRT station. I chose this location, because I had previously been informed that there were English speaking translators and fortunetellers. Bird fortunetellers can be found by other temples and night markets; however many of these locations can only offer readings in Chinese.Fortune Tellers in Taiwan

As I sat down at the booth I was greeted with warm smiles and curiosity. The translator explained to me that I needed to deeply ponder the question that I sought to have answered.

Once I knew my question, I was then told to speak it to the birds. It was a bit difficult to ask the birds my question with a straight face, however I did my best to act as serious and composed as I could.

I stared at the birds and uttered, “Will I go to graduate school at NCCU this fall?” Suddenly, the birds became very spirited. As the fortuneteller opened their cage, the birds began vigorously pecking at the bright orange envelopes. These feathered creatures were quite eager to determine my fate!

The fortuneteller then laid out my cards in a past, present, future layout. She told me I was very lucky and hardworking, and that I would soon benefit from my determination and hard work. Honestly, I found her interpretation to be quite vague, and it seemed she was just trying to please me. I wondered if she was reluctant to say negative things due to me being a foreigner.

I decided to dig a little further and ask her what I need to watch out for, or should I have any concerns or worries. She then took my hand and asked to look at my tongue. She told me that my father should take care of his heart, and I should eat more mushrooms. It was quite interesting, indeed!

Whether one believes in the credibility of these soothsayers, participating in Taiwanese fortunetelling is a memorable and alluring experience. I highly recommend paying a visit to these feathered fate readers to see what the future has in store!

YouBike- Taiwan’s Bike Sharing System

Taipei is a city that has many outdoor attractions. Whether it is parks, temples, gardens, or the night markets, much of daily life is spent in the midst of the bustling city streets. Taipei’s bike sharing system, YouBike, is a great way to get out and see some of the incredible sites Taipei has to offer.

In 2009, the Taipei City government teamed up with Giant, a world-renowned bicycle manufacturing company. YouBike started with only 11 kiosks in the Xinyi District of Taipei. Now there are 190 rental stations with over 6,000 bikes in circulation! YouBike has also stationed kiosks in Taichung, New Taipei, Changhua County, and Taoyuan.

How to Register for YouBike

In order to check out a YouBike, you will first need to buy an EasyCard. This card is an essential purchase in Taiwan because it is used to access the Taipei Metro, buses, and taxis.

You can even use the card for purchases at convenience stores. Cards can be purchased at 7-11, Family Mart, or any other major convenience store. For further information about the EasyCard, you can visit their page here.

Caroline Hosey - YouBike2

The process of registering the EasyCard for YouBike is quick and easy.

Do note that the only way to register your EasyCard is to have a Taiwanese cell phone number.

  1. If you are just visiting Taiwan, you can purchase temporary SIM cards from major Taiwanese carriers at the International Airports.
  2. The next step is to register the EasyCard at any of the YouBike computerized kiosks. To find a YouBike station, you can download the YouBike app and check the map to see the station locations. You can also typically find YouBike stations outside of most MRT stops.
  3. To register the EasyCard, just follow the instructions on the screen. Directions are available in both Chinese and English.
  4. First you will select “Join YouBike.”
  5. Then you will need to agree to the terms and conditions.
  6. Finally a confirmation code will be sent via text message to your phone.
  7. Submit the given code, and then place your EasyCard on the sensor. In a matter of seconds you are ready to ride!
Caroline Hosey - YouBike3

Simply click “JOIN YOUBIKE” and you will be on your way!

If a visitor does not have a local Taiwanese cell phone number, they cannot use the EasyCard for YouBike transportation.

However, there is an option to use a credit card registration instead. To do this, select the “Single Rental” option from the screen. Then agree to the terms and conditions and follow the instructions for inputting your credit card information. YouBike puts a temporary hold of NT$2,000 on the credit card until the bike has been returned. Once the bike has been returned, the proper amount will be credited and the hold will be removed.

The cost of renting a YouBike is based on the duration of use. The first 30 minutes costs a mere NT$5. After the first 30 minutes, the rider is charged NT$10/ per half hour for the next 3.5 hours. After four hours of use, the rate increases to NT$20/per half hour for the next 4 hours. The final rate increases to NT $40/per half hour if the bike is used longer than 8 hours.

How to Check Out a You Bike

Caroline Hosey - YouBike4

Error codes in English.

Checking out a YouBike is extremely simple!

  1. First select a bike from one of the kiosks. I suggest checking the seat and tire pressure to make sure the bike’s condition is suitable. The YouBike maintenance crew is quite efficient in picking up faulty bikes, but occasionally a bike might have a loose seat or a flat tire.
  2. After choosing which bike to ride, swipe the EasyCard on the “Sensor Zone”. When you hear the beeping sound, you can remove the bike. A screen will also display your balance, so you check how much money is on your EasyCard. More money can be added to the EasyCard at convenience stores or inside any of the MRT stations.
  3. Occasionally an error message might appear. In that case a number will pop up to let you know what the issue is.  Each number corresponds to a different error message, so just check the number to see what the issue might be. There is a chart adjacent to the sensor that has the numbers and their corresponding problems. If the sticker only displays the problems in Chinese check the adjacent bike slot for English instructions.

Best Places to Cycle in Taipei

Once you get the bike, its time to enjoy all of the sites Taiwan has to offer!

In many neighborhoods there are bike paths. If the bike paths are not marked on the sidewalk, just stay to the side that is closest to the street. In some cases the sidewalks may be too narrow or crowded, in that case it is acceptable to ride in the street. Just make sure to follow traffic rules and stay to the far right.

Conveniently marked bike lanes are throughout the city!

Conveniently marked bike lanes are throughout the city!

Though it is quite easy to ride anywhere in the city, I highly recommend taking the YouBike to the riverside.

The best places to access the river are at Songshan, Gongguan, Tamsui, and Yuanshan MRT. The river path is rarely crowded, and it will give you the freedom to ride as quickly or as leisurely as you prefer.

Stunning riverside views near Tamsui

Stunning riverside views near Tamsui

Returning the YouBike

Returning the YouBike is just as simple as checking it out.

You do not need to return it to the same station.

Instead, just find a kiosk anywhere in the city.  If you are having problems finding a station, there are three solutions to solve this problem:

  1. First you can check the YouBike app. On the app, a map shows the locations of all of the stations. The app also tells you if the kiosks are empty or full.
  2. Option two is to visit YouBike’s website. The website has a map feature to assist you in finding the bike stations.
  3. The final option is to use Google Maps to find the closest MRT. If you can find an MRT station, then you should be able to locate a YouBike parking zone close by.

When you arrive at the YouBike station, just slide the bike into the lock and scan your EasyCard. The card should beep and show your remaining balance.

Caroline Hosey - YouBike8

Also, if you want to park the bike, have no fear! There is a lock feature, so you can leave the bike anywhere you would like. On the front wheel of the bike, there is a removable key and a cable attachment. Simply, just secure the bike wherever you wish using the attached cable. Just be careful not to lose the key!

By choosing to ride a YouBike, you can get great exercise while also decreasing your carbon footprint! You can explore more area than would be seen on foot, and you can easily access any point of the city. I highly recommend to anyone, young or old, to get out and enjoy a ride!