Silicon Valley

 

 

Silicon Valley Eva Air

 
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It’s been so long since I’ve flown in to the westcoast that I’d forgotten how much closer it is than flying home to Toronto.

 

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I flew EVA Air to SFO via Taiwan, thanks to the coordination of Jeron Travel. Their premium economy seats are wide and roomy. They recline well-enough that I was completely comfortable during the flights.

 

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I had a short layover in Taiwan going both directions.

 

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EVA Air has different lounges in Taiwan Taoyuan Airport. Each has a slightly different vibe and decor, all brand new. They have The Garden, The Infinity, The Star and The Club. More info here.

 

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This is The Infinity, designed with a futuristic appeal.

 

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Entrance to The Infinity.

 

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After a full 8 hours of sleep, we were at the Bay Area.

 

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I had booked a cab to take me to San Jose. I tried to ignore the taxi meter as I sat through rush hour traffic.

 

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Finally San Jose.

 

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I was booked at the Fairmont San Jose right smack in the middle of downtown San Jose.

 

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Very nice lobby. I’m a sucker for anything grand.

 

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This lobby lounge gets packed at night – live music, dancing and all. I must thank Dudi Cruz of Fairmont Manila for contacting Fairmont San Jose and extending my stay one night at conference rate. All this through my friend Kara Alikpala. Thanks for the help!

 

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Like I said, the lobby is so beautiful at night. Here, a bride and groom walked in the bar and just danced. Spontaneous.

 

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I had a huge room with two beds all to myself. Missed my family so much.

 

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View of Silicon Valley from my room.

 

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Just next door to the Fairmont is the San Jose Museum.

 

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And across the street is the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph. The original St. Joseph’s was built on this site in 1803, and was the first non-mission parish built in California for the benefit of Spanish settlers instead of the Mission Indians (Ohlone).

 

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This is what it looks like inside. (There was a wedding rehearsal.)

 

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I took a walk further down look for a place to eat.

 

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It’s  a pretty city.

 

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They have self-cleaning public toilets. A person can stay inside up to 20 minutes. There is a warning light on the 18th minute then the door opens automatically in 20 minutes with a siren. After each use, the toilet seat and bowl retract into the wall, where high-powered jets clean them with water and disinfectant. I didn’t try it.

 

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San Pedro Square

 

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They were showing “Ghostbusters” outdoors. Hipsterville.

 

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Inside was a food court concept but with a more specialized approach. It was very much like the food truck concept.

 

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I ordered an Arepa which is a flatbread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour. It is prominent in the cuisine of Colombia and Venezuela. This particular stall was Venezuelan.

 

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I chose pulled pork.

 

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Topped off with cheese. OMG. I can still taste it. Everything was perfect. The pork, cheese and most of all that bread. Please tell me there’s a Venezuelan family in Manila who makes arepas.

 

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Pretty place.

 

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On my first night, I didn’t sleep a wink. Jet lag was bad.

 

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So I watched the sun go up. It was stunning.

 

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The next morning I went shopping by myself in Santana Row.

 

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Hello Anthropologie.

 

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If only for their window displays. #anthrowindows

 

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I will never get tired of cute tea towels.

 

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And how they put things together just like that.

 

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Every time I’m here I always want to change all the knobs and hardware in our house.

 

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Selfie at Santa Row.

 

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Madewell. Bought the cutest flats in tanned leather.

 

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Paper Source was heaven! I didn’t want to leave.

 

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I walked further up the street to the indoor mall. Confession, I bought a MacBook Air because I got tired of how heavy my MacBook Pro was. I got the most chichi MacBook Air model with all the high numbers. It’s been more than a couple of weeks and I haven’t even migrated yet. What is wrong with me?

 

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What is the name of this pretty tree?

 

Next, Los Altos.

 

 

BlogHer 2014

 

 

I attended the BlogHer 2014 conference at Silicon Valley a few weeks ago. I don’t really know why I went out of my way to be there. It was a spur of the moment decision because I wanted to do something I had never done before and be in a place I’d never been to. I could have just chosen a more exotic location but instead, I chose Silicon Valley. I figured, my blog rode that whole from-hobby-to-industry wave that most early bloggers experienced. Perhaps it’s time to figure out where my blog fits in in the grand scheme of things. I spent my own money for the conference fees and my hotel accommodations. I was about to pay for my airline fare, when EVA Air, through Jeron Travel, sponsored my round trip ticket.

It was the 10th year anniversary of BlogHer, a huge network of American women bloggers, who contribute content, participate in a community of shared interests and earn from commerce. Im a new member of BlogHer network. I saw the line up of speakers and participants, and that’s what made me decide to attend. And because it was the 10th anniversary, we looked back at how we all started blogging then and the challenges and opportunities we face now that there are different forms of social media.

As soon as I found out that Arianna Huffington would speak, I was there. She’s a woman I look up to, having created one of the most influential news sites online. Then there was Richelle Parham, CMO of eBay North America who talked about the huge opportunities available to and largely untapped by online influencers. Melissa Barnes, head of global brands for Twitter, Melissa gave an exciting talk about working with Twitter’s biggest customers to help them drive measurable results and create custom initiatives that are authentic and appropriate for Twitter. Hollywood star Kerry Washington was also a highlight. She talked about her advocacies and political voice on Twitter. There were many other keynote speakers and workshop speakers who were very informative and inspiring. For more information on BlogHer, go here.

Here are some highlights of my BlogHer’14 experience.

 

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It was my first time in San Jose, California. I stayed at the beautiful Fairmont San Jose.

 

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You know you’re in California when you see these…

 

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San Jose Convention Center

 

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The first morning of BlogHer’14

 

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I don’t know exactly how many participants there were at this conference. There must have been over 2000.

 

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The main hall where the keynote speakers presented.

 

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Got a chance to meet with the CEO and co-founder of BlogHer Inc., Lisa Stone. She was floored when she found out I flew in from Manila just to attend the conference.

 

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With COO and co-founder of BlogHer Inc., Elisa Camahort. Her father is of Filipino descent.

 

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So ya, all my photos were selfies not just because that was the theme of the conference – selfiebration – but also because I was alone.

 

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Kerry Washington was one of the keynote speakers. She talked about how social media and the fans saved Scandal. Every Thursday night, all cast members, producers and writers got on Twitter to exchange with fans. “There are so few water cooler shows now because you can watch most shows whenever you want, like on netflix. Social Media has allowed us to be a water cooler show because if you don’t watch it when it airs, social media may spoil it for you.”

 

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Kerry Washington was so awesome. She even took a selfie from the stage. It was the weekend before she would go back to work that Monday after having given birth. At one point, she heard a baby make a cute fussy sound in the audience (BlogHer is a mommy- and baby-friendly conference) and she stopped and looked for the baby. She joked that you can tell she’s a new mom.

 

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There was a booth for The Mrs., an all-female rock band from Austin, Texas, who launched a new album titled Enough. They had this magic mirror that gave women the experience of seeing themselves in a different way. It was quite touching, actually. You can see the video here.

 

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Arianna Huffington was also among the keynote speakers. She was interviewed by Guy Kawasaki.

 

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Arianna signed her books. I lined up and waited for my turn. She’s charming, funny, witty. So sharp! More on Arianna Huffington in a future blogpost.

 

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It was good to see that Samsung was a sponsor. They had a kitchen display called Samsung Living Atelier. I told them that in the Philippines, I represent Samsung digital home appliances.

 

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So random. I won this Nikon DSLR at the Dreamhost booth!

 

My travel arrangements were done through Jeron Travel. I flew via Taiwan by EVA Air. All photos were taken using the Samsung Galaxy Camera 2.

 

 

 

My day at Google

 

 

I was in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago to attend the BlogHer conference. Since I had a few days to spare and shopping wasn’t really the goal of the trip, I thought, why not try to get a tour of Google Campus? It is, after all, said to be one of the best companies to work for. And who hasn’t seen the movie The Internship?

So I did some research and found out that one has to be an invited and registered guest in order to get a tour of Google Campus in Mountain View, CA. The setting of the Google offices are spread out like a university campus, hence the popular reference as the “Google Campus.” It is huge. Like in North American universities, anyone can drive or walk through the campus and see the buildings. But you can’t gain access to the buildings unless you are a registered guest.

I found my way to Google through my friend Eliza Romualdez Valtos, who, through her husband Billy, asked a friend in Silicon Valley for a Google contact. One thing led to another and I got connected with Shrikand, who works for Google Chrome. My childhood friend Nina Carino drove me to Mountain View and joined our little tour. Security was strict. We needed to sign in and agree to some conditions.

 

 

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Google Building 43, part of Googleplex.

 

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The Google Campus is set in the quiet town of Mountain View, California. Lots of big trees and bike lanes.

 

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We walked through so many buildings. Here’s a section of Building 43.

 

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I met my host at Google Building 1950

 

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The compound sprawled further. We walked up to the pond area. Then rode the bike on our way back.

 

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So here’s the real “Google Drive”

 

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Very bike-friendly.

 

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Everywhere you look, you see the Google colours.

 

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Adirondack chairs everywhere. I think it’s to get the Googlers’ mindset into a more relaxed state.

 

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With our very patient host, Shrikand.

 

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This is Googleplex. It’s exactly what they showed in the movie The Internship. Here there is a sculpture garden and outdoor cafe.

 

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Public art everywhere. Here is the famous Google dinosaur statue. Apparently the Google founders bought it as a reminder for Googlers not to let the company become extinct like a dinosaur.

 

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Plastic pink flamingos strewn all over the dinosaur.

 

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More public art.

 

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Don’t let those yellow and blue Muskoka Adirondack chairs fool you…

 

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It’s THIS big.

 

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We went to the Android building.

 

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This is where all the Android operating systems are created. There is a sculpture for every Android operating system like Cupcake, Honeycomb, Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich.

 

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There’s the newest Android baby, KitKat. At this part I saw a lot of visitors. Some were probably kids from the nearby houses. Though it seems to be a destination for curious tourists, there are no official tours as of yet. It’s not exactly open to the public, so like I mentioned above, you still have to be an invited and registered guest.

 

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In my few days in Silicon Valley I was so dependent on car rides from friends like Nina and Gari Camaisa (more on our sightseeing at later posts). California and mass transit don’t really mix. So naturally, a lot of Googlers drive to work. Good to see that a lot of them drive electric cars. Here’s one of the many electric recharging stations on the Google Campus.

 

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Of course I would like to highlight this. One of the Google employees told me that they have very good daycare facilities for employees kids.

 

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We also saw one self-driving car!!

 

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The sight of Googlers on bicycles made me giddy. Gosh that movie. Stop it already.

 

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In keeping with the brand’s identity, all the Google bikes had the bright Google colours. They were just parked outside every building. No one owns a particular bike. You are free to use one to get from A to B.

 

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So of course I had to get this photo for the books. Initially it was just a photo op. But really, after having walked the entire stretch of the campus, I asked Shrikand if we could just bike back to our initial meeting place.

 

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So this is me in the real bike that I rode. I loved it! I wasn’t exactly dressed for it, wearing a dress and French Sole flats. But I had to get from A to B. Loved the feeling!!

 

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These bikes were so much fun.

 

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Saw this conference bike parked outside. It’s a circular bike for 7 people. One person steers and six pedal (or not).

 

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Yes there really is an airplane/space ship inside one of the buildings. These next few photos are by my friend Lylah Juinio, who went to visit with her family a day after I did.

 

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And yes it’s true, all Google employees get free food and drinks. All meals are free. All. Photo by Lylah Juinio

 

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There are over 40 cafes in the Google Campus. My friend took us to the biggest one in Googleplex. This one had various themed cuisines – Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, Mexican, American grill etc. And don’t expect your typical cafeteria food. They have gourmet chefs designing the menu.

 

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My lunch. After getting a slice of ham and really good gourmet pizza, I lined up for a burrito.

 

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Sorry for the shaky photo. I was balancing my tray. The pizzas were so good.

 

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Pho soup and some dumplings

 

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This isn’t the first playful office space I’ve seen. Locally there was the P&G head office that had sleep pods and spa treatments. Google had all that too. Here’s one with a pool table. Photo by Lylah Juinio

 

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Some of the services for employees. Photo by Lylah Juinio

 

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They’re big on composting and segregating waste. Yes!

 

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The Google store where I bought some Tshirts and pens. It isn’t open to the public. You need an employee to bring you in. But if you really want Google merchandise you can purchase them all online in the Google shop.

 

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So that’s how my Googliest day went.

 

 

* My trip to Silicon Valley in California was sponsored by EVA Air. Travel arrangements by Jeron Travel.

All my photos are taken from a Samsung Galaxy Camera 2. I love that it is directly linked to the Google cloud and all my photos are stored automatically.

 

 

Ten things to love about Taiwan — Part Two

 

 

TAIWAN LANTERN

 

More things I loved about Taiwan…

06  The National Museum of Marine Science and Technology

Taiwan has an museum complex set in an entire town focusing on marine sciences and technology. The museum building itself is situated in the old fire power plant built by the Japanese in 1937 at the town of Badouzi in Keelung City. Badouzi was discovered to have rich mineral deposits in the early 1800s– the reason why the Japanese chose the site. By 1975 Badouzi had become a busy harbour with fishery manufacture and storage facilities. By 1990 the coal mining business and fire power plant had to close down because of the awareness of air pollution. The town also started to suffer an economic downturn because of the decline in fishing profits.

Enter this idea of building a museum complex in the old power plant. In addition to the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology, the site includes an IMAX theatre, a proposed national aquarium, a park and a harbour village. What once was a city in decline is now on its way to becoming a more dynamic place where people can work at or visit the museum, do research or enjoy a relaxing weekend by the harbour.

 

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The facade of the National Museum for Marine Science and Technology resembles a ship’s hull.

 

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The NMMST is built from two old abandoned power plants — one from the Japanese period in the 1930’s and the other built by the Taiwanese in the 1950’s.

 

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The beams from the industrial era are highlighted against white walls.

 

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In the new part of the structure, exposed beams are perforated with circles giving a bubble-like effect like what could be seen under water.

 

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The “bubbles” continue on to the ceiling and light fixtures…

 

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… as well as on the floor.

 

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I love this spot. Here you see layers of the new museum building and the two old power plants. (OOTD – my dress is from Religioso).

 

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The museum building has 9 galleries and various exhibits. The 9 galleries are Marine Environment, Marine Science, Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering, Fishery Science, People and the Sea, Wonders of the Deep Sea, Deep Sea Theater, Kid’s Exploration, and Regional Exploration. Steve Zissou would be very happy.

 

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I was particularly touched by this temporary exhibit of works by school children.

 

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I love that the museum brings awareness to environmental causes and the importance of a sustainable marine science culture.

 

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Environmental message

 

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Antique scuba gear

 

07  Taipei 101 and Public Art

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Taipei 101 was officially the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010. It is now the 6th tallest in the world.

 

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I love that Taipei 101 invested more than 0.5% of its total construction budget for public art. (In the city of Toronto, back when I still lived and worked there, developers were mandated to spend 1% of construction budget and area on public art).

 

Taiwan Love sculpture
“Partners Monument” by Florence Ng. And “Love” by Robert Indiana 1928

 

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Detail of the Partner’s Monument. Made of glass by Florence Ng. This is a tribute to all the people involved in the building and creation of Taipei 101. Their names are inscribed in these colourful glass bricks that illuminate at night. Beautiful.

 

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Detail of retired elevator cables from Taipei 101 turned into a sculpture called “Infinite Life” by local artist Kang Mu-hsiang.

 

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Going up to the 91st floor view deck and detail of the Ruyi scrolls.

 

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Aerial view of Taipei

 

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From view deck on the 91st floor

 

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Safety fence

 

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The tip of the tower

 

08  The art of lantern making

We drove almost an hour out of Taipei to visit a remote hillside town called Pingxi. The setting was picturesque with zigzag roads, forested hills and quaint little houses. Here, the art of lantern-making is still well-preserved. Generations ago, sky lanterns were used as a means of communication. Over time, the practice has evolved to symbolize a prayer for peace or good fortune. We met the president of the lantern-making association — Mr Wang Chaw-Jing, a gentle man, passionate about his craft. If you have an extra day to explore the northern part of New Taipei City, I recommend you visit and explore Pingxi. It’s accessible by bus or rail.

 

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It was a rainy day, but that didn’t stop us from trying to raise a sky lantern.

 

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Our bus stopped by the side of the main road in Pingxi where we found Ming Tong Lantern Shop.

 

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They had these beautiful silk lanterns. But we came here to make beautiful paper lanterns.

 

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Mr Wang Chaw-Jing is the president of the lantern-making association of Pingxi. Every year on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, Pingxi holds the Lantern Festival. Celebration of the lantern festival actually takes place all over Taiwan. Thousands of sky lanterns are released to the sky. It’s become a popular favourite among international tourists.

 

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The shop of Mr Wang also has stationery, cards, rubber stamps and other lantern paraphernalia.

 

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After Mr Wang built the paper lantern, he hung it by the side of the road and asked all of us to write down our wishes. I’m sharing with you my wish – that I get to build our little cottage up in our small plot of land in the countryside. I need to get my act together on this one. But that’s the wish. A cottage.

 

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We loved Mr Wang’s organized clutter. He even gave us free postcards so we can send our good wishes home. Then he offered to put stamps on them and mail them for us. What a sweet man. Our postcard arrived a couple of weeks later.

 

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Me and Mr. Wang Chaw-Jing.

 

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It was drizzling quite heavily but we all ran to the bridge by the river and released our wishes to the sky. It was quite touching. I can only imagine how beautiful it is to see thousands of lanterns flying in the sky.

 

09  Chiang Kei-shek Memorial Hall

A must-see for all first time visitors to Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall commemorates the life and work of the late Taiwanese president. They had Chiang Kai-shek’s memorabilia, photos, and even his cars, all telling a story of his very interesting life. Great way to learn about Taiwan’s history.

 

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At the museum, China’s great revolutionary minds — the young Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat Sen

 

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Chiang Kai-shek’s military medals and uniforms were on display

 

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The monument

 

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View from the shrine — the National Theater and National Concert Hall. We entered through the back of the Memorial Hall, went through the museum on the ground floor, then took the elevator to the top to see the actual memorial hall and witness the changing of the guards.

 

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If you can, time your visit on the hour so you witness the changing of the guards. It’s quite solemn and grand.

 

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I loved the formality and precision

 

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Changing of the guards

 

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Behind the monument of Chiang Kai-shek are the three pillars of nation-building – Ethics, Democracy, and Science. Love that! Science!!

 

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Our guide knew where the best spots were for photos. Here is one, right on the landing of the steps as we descended from the memorial hall.

 

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A bit of trivia, there are 89 steps leading up to the memorial hall, representing the age of Chiang Kai-shek at the time of his death.

 

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The Memorial Hall is built with so much imagery and symbolism. It is white with four sides. The octagonal roof, 8 being a symbol of abundance and good fortune, is made of blue glazed tiles. The blue and white colors of the building and the red colour of the flowerbeds echo the colours in the flag of the Republic of China.

 

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Another picture-perfect spot by the garden.

 

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We then went to the Martyr’s Shrine in Zhongshan District, Taipei, dedicated to the war dead of the Republic of China.

 

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Loved the solemnity and grandeur of the space.

 

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This shrine was built in 1969, recalling the architecture of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing’s Forbidden City. The structure houses the spirit tablets of about 390,000 persons killed during the Xinhai revolution and wars that followed.

 

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I was fascinated by the red doors.

 

10  Accessibility and services

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I loved that most establishments in Taiwan had a breastfeeding and nursing room. This was at the Gold Museum.

 

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Taipei is a bike-friendly city

 

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The government promotes biking as a mode of transportation and form of recreation.

 

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They have clearly marked bike routes and bike sharing systems.

 

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The stairs to and from the train station have tracks for bike wheels. Just follow the Taiwan bike logo.

 

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You can pull your bike up and down the steps with this rail specially designed for bicycles.

 

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I love the ease and accessibility of public transport. Our hotel, Palais de Chine, was situated across the Taipei Main Station. From there we took the train to the northern part of Taipei.

 

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We took a one-hour train ride to get to Fulong and Jiufen.

 

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Here’s what the train looked like. Very clean and comfortable.

 

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Accessibility to Taiwan is so easy with Eva Air. I especially loved our cabin. This is what Premium Economy looks like. Very roomy.

 

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One day we shall ride the Hello Kitty Eva Air jet out of Taiwan…

 

Check out the first part of this list – Ten things to love about Taiwan Part One.

My trip to Taiwan was sponsored by Jeron TravelTaiwan Tourism Bureau  and EVA Air.

 

 

Ten things to love about Taiwan – Part One

 

 

Taiwan penguin

 

I was writing the highlights of my trip to Taiwan from last month and realised that because we saw too many things in two full days, it would be best if I wrote it as a list. We were invited by by Eva AirTaiwan Tourism and Jeron Travel. It was my first time to see Taiwan, and I found a lot of pleasant surprises.

Here are the 10 reasons to love Taiwan from a first-timer’s point of view.

 

01  Food

I’ve heard it many times before I left, “Ooh, Taiwan. The street food!” And it’s true. It is street food paradise. The night markets are lined with food carts that cook everything from “stinky tofu” to roti to tempura mushrooms. But we also went beyond the market stalls and enjoyed fine restaurants.

 

Taiwan Fruits
An abundance of fresh fruits at Ximending Shopping District!

 

Taiwan tomato night market
Cherry tomatoes
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On the first night Old Manila Walks‘ Ivan Man Dy had to have his “Stinky Tofu”  

 

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Food carts were a common sight at the Ximending shopping district  

 

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This food cart sold different types of mushrooms which were mixed in batter and fried.  

 

Taiwan street food Mushrooms mixed in batter, tempura-style.  

 

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What looked like roti with egg and greens  

 

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Flaky roti  

 

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Sausages galore.  

 

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Seafood platter at a traditional Chinese lauriat  

 

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Roast duck. Yum.  

 

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Ribs and green  

 

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Steamed greens wrapped in barbecue pork at the Shihlin night market  

 

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Caramelized fruit  

 

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I didn’t realize that Din Tai Fung originated from Taipei. I first had Din Tai Fung in Shanghai. This branch was located at the base of Taipei 101.  

 

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A must-have in Din Tai Fung… Xiao Long Bao.  

 

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But favourite dish in Din Tai Fung is actually quite humble – just these simple stir fried beans. Go good!  

 

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One of our best meals was at Have Hot Pot. I don’t have the exact address but it’s near Exit 2 of Shuanglian MRT Station facing Minsheng West Road. Thank goodness my colleague Anton of Our Awesome Planet was taking notes.  

 

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The hotpot was excellent.  

 

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They use real charcoal instead of a gas stove.  

 

Taiwan Corn
The interiors had a nice east-west vibe. The produce, as is the case in all of Taipei, was always fresh.  

 

20140618_181850 We loved the hotpot experience. But I have to say that the most unforgettable detail of this restaurant was its extra-crunchy yet extra-juicy fried chicken. I don’t have a photo of it because I got my hands dirty and bit into the fried chicken right away. My tummy just growled writing that.  

 

20140618_181507 Here’s part of the media group that joined this familiarisation tour sponsored by Eva Air, Taiwan Tourism and Jeron Travel.  

 

 

02  Festivals

Taiwan is so close to the Philippines and yet it has all four seasons! So if you are into chasing the cold, you can go to Taiwan in the winter months. There is always some kind of festival going on no matter what season. While we were there, we got to see the Fulong Sand Sculpting Art Festival. It took about an hour by train to get to Fulong. We were transported to a picturesque town by the beach.  

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These sand castles were no ordinary sand castles.  

 

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They were enormous.  

 

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Incredible detail  

 

Taiwan Sand Castle
I was so happy that I brought my little foldable umbrella with me. I used it to shield myself from the harsh sun that morning and the non-stop rain in the afternoon.  

 

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Our media group. The tourism board gave all of us a baseball cap. So very practical! Loved it.  

 

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The sand sculptures remained on site for about two months.  

 

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I couldn’t believe the incredible detail that went into these sculptures. The Sand Sculpting festival ended last June 30th. Watch out for next year’s event.  

 

 

03 Night Markets

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Ximending shopping district  

 

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I need to go back and spend more time here.  

 

Taiwan Night Market blouse
Loved the stores – a mix of local designers and foreign brands.  

 

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A multi-storeyed hair salon  

 

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I loved the shops that featured local designs.  

 

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A testament to the strong youth culture in Taipei, some foreign sneaker brands like Nike and Adidas release designs exclusive to the Taiwan market. The collectors go nuts!  

 

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I love the mix of street vendors, creative entrepreneurs and established retail brands all in one big pedestrian outdoor shopping area.  

 

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This restaurant is so cute – Risotto. And they had their two resident mascots there.  

 

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A vendor worked on these miniature dog sculptures in clay or resin.  

 

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Shilin night market was busy, crowded, colourful, and fun.  

 

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It is lined with rows and rows of shopping stalls.  

 

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I had fun shopping with the shopping expert, Jenni Epperson.  

 

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Back massages?  

 

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Taiwan fashion  

 

 

04  Quaint old town of Jiufen

I was smitten by Jiufen. We only got to spend about an hour there, but I was hooked by the charm of the place. Jiufen is a popular tourist destination. There are busloads of tourists that visit this place. But despite the popularity with tourists, the place is not that touristy. You can still feel the strong local spirit – in their food, handicrafts, tea shops. You won’t see much gentrification here except for maybe the one 7-11 landmark on the top of the hill. Jiufen was founded in the end of the 19th century when a gold rush transformed the formerly poor village with nine-households (there’s a play of the word “nine” in the name of the town) into a prosperous mining town of 4,000 families. The gold rush reached its peak during the Japanese colonial period in 1895 to 1945 but it declined when the mining stopped. Jiufen became the setting of an award-winning movie A City of Sadness, which revived its popularity as a tourist spot. I’m more attached to it because of Hayao Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away.  

 

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The picturesque drive to the gold mining towns in Riufang District. Located off the Jinguashi-Shuinandong Highway, Golden Waterfall is fed by rainwater that seeps into the mines and mixes with pyrite and enargite.  

 

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We walked from our bus stop to the old town of Jiufen but first we stopped by this deck…  

 

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And marveled at the lovely view.  

 

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It was nice to see small towns amidst forested areas along the shoreline.  

 

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Local tourists arriving in Jiufen.  

 

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Jiufen has become somewhat of an artists enclave.  

 

Taiwan Chiufen
The village sits on a steep hill. There is a lovely walk through the back area where the artists actually live.

 

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This is what the tourists come here for. Steep and narrow corridors lined with shops and tea houses.  

 

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Cute tea house  

 

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It’s a lovely place to keep time still… while having a pot of tea.  

 

Taiwan Spirited Away
The charming tea house that inspired the movie Spirited Away. My hair is screaming Lion King here. This was because we spent the morning under the sun in Fulong beach, then got rained on at the gold mine and here in Jiufen. But nothing could dampen my spirit…  

 

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Jiufen is so charming. I watched Spirited Away again when I got home.  

 

Taiwan teapot2
Jiufen is also spelled Chiufen. Most of the Taiwanese proper nouns are spelled in various ways, just pronounce them phonetically and you’ll be fine.  

 

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There was this one store that sold only cat paraphernalia. And the ceiling was covered by these hanging cards with messages about people’s cats.  

 

Taiwan magnets
Wooden magnets and red lanterns  

 

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This was a particularly steep climb. The steps were so narrow, there were small doors and foyer landings on either side.  

 

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It rained every day we were there. In June. Bring an umbrella or buy these inexpensive clear umbrellas from the night makets.  

 

Taiwan egg
One of the stalls in Jiufen sold these tea-soaked hardboiled eggs.  

 

Taiwan Chiufen Tiled place
Most of the homes in Jiufen, and in the rest of Taipei for that matter, have tiled facades.  

 

Taiwan windows
More tiled exterior treatments. I asked our guide why. He said it’s for practical reasons. It often rains in Taiwan. The tiles act as some sort of weather-proofing. On the left, an interesting take on window grills.  

 

 

05  Gold mining

The gold rush during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan played an important role in the development of the towns in Northern Riufang District. Many factories and refineries were built and with that, towns developed to house workers and managers. By the time gold sources were exhausted, the villages were abandoned. It was only until the early 2000’s that the heritage of these old towns were rediscovered and preserved. We spent a couple of hours walking through the Gold Ecological Park in Jinguashi, a pretty mountain area where the old mines were located. The walk up to the Gold museum was lovely. I particularly liked the wooden boardwalk and old railroad tracks. We actually experienced going through the Benshan Fifth Tunnel and had a Miner’s Lunch at a quaint Japanese-period building. I like the concept of an ecological-museum in a park environment. It was a great way to know more about the Japanese colonial period of Taiwan. Yay for heritage conservation.  

 

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On our way to the Jinguashi mining town is a river that’s very rich in copper content.

 

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It was a lovely walk up to the mines and Gold Museum.  

 

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On the rooftop of the Museum of Gold  

 

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We got to experience extracting gold out of sand.  

 

Taiwan Gold dig
It was fun swishing the dirt back and forth underwater.  

 

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And then we had gold.  

 

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So this was my first time to touch a gold bar brick.  

 

Taiwan Gold Bar
It weights 220 kg  

 

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The Benshan Fifth Tunnel gives guests the feeling of what it’s like to be a miner.  

 

Taiwan Gold Mine
We went through the tunnels which were lined with safety railing and lights. There were also life-size dioramas of miners on display.  

 

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A highlight of the mining town experience was our traditional gold miner’s lunch in this Japanese colonial building.  

 

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It came in a traditional Japanese tin lunch box, wrapped in a handkerchief.  

 

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We all got to take home the lunchbox, hankie and chopsticks as a souvenir.  

 

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Inside, the tastiest and most tender tongkatsu (pork cutlet) I’ve ever had.  

 

 

To see Part Two of 10 Things to Love about Taiwan, click here.

My trip to Taiwan was sponsored by Jeron TravelTaiwan Tourism Bureau  and EVA Air.