To travel, or not to travel, that is the question. In face of the pandemic, my answer to that question is unlikely. The inability to travel got me reminiscent of my most recent oversea trip: a two-week vacation to Taiwan back in December 2019. And as I oscillate between feeling happy (oh, it was so much fun!) and regret (if I had known COVID-19 was going to happen, I would have…), I want to take the opportunity to share one of my favorite spots in Taipei.
Dadaocheng and its Port City glory
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is a modern metropolis with its share of skyscrapers, restaurants, and department stores. But there is a neighborhood that takes you back to another era in time. It is Dadaocheng (大稻埕). To Tai-bei-ren (Taipei people), the neighborhood is best known for its main avenue: Dihua Street (迪化街). It is the premier spot to buy dried delicacies that range from scallops to mushrooms to spices. If you were to come the weeks preceding Chinese New Year, you will find the street packed with people stocking up traditional Chinese foodstuffs for Lunar New Year’s feasts.
There is, however, more to Dadaocheng then Dihua Street. The origin of the name Dadocheng pays tribute to its agricultural origin—”Dao” (稻) means rice grains and “Dacheng” are machines used to dry rice. The village then became a small city at the end of the 18th century due to the opening of Danshui Port (淡水港) and soon became famous for exporting tea. Today, the place hints of its former port city day glory, presenting a unique blend of old and new, East and West. You will find a delightful collection of historic buildings, tea shops, clothing shops, Chinese herbal medicine shops and local food stalls all easily accessible by walking.
FYI #2, the best way to get to Dadaocheng is by taking the Taipei Metro and getting off at one of these three stops: (1) Shuanglian (雙連) Station/Red Tamsui-Xinyi Line, (2) Beimen (北門) Station/Green Songshan-Xindian Line, or (3) Daqiaotou (大橋頭) Station/Yellow Zhonghe-Xinlu Line.
Here are some of my favorite shops (pastries and tea only for this post), curated by Yours Truly! Continue reading →
Why the tendency to land myself in places that are cold? Let’s see…
when I studied abroad in Beijing, winter was about -10°C (14°F)
when I worked in Seoul, Christmas was -14°C (6.8°F)
when I visited Harbin for the Ice and Snow Festival, it was a walloping -35 °C (-31°F). Standing in front of St Sophia Cathedral (see photo below), both myself and the bing tang hu lu held in my hand were quite frozen, albeit one slightly more than the other.
In front of St. Sophia Cathedral (Haerbin, China 2011). Even the sugar-coated plums turned form soft and juicy to completely frozen.
Having been to very very cold places and lived (obviously) to tell the tale, here are some tried and true advice to staying warm. Continue reading →
Jejudo is Korea’s largest island, famous both as holiday and honeymoon island. The island has been compared to Hawaii, Disneyland, and even paradise. While I admit the island is most striking because of its volcanic landscape and beautiful sandy beaches, my trip, which included biking, camping, and packaged ramen, was less than idyllic.
For my one-week Chuseok holiday (barely a month since my arrival in Korea), I joined my friend Warren’s Jeju tour. A group of 60 or so participants, we were to travel down south from Seoul via bus, then boat to Jejudo. Once arrived, we would follow highway 1132, which circulates the island, and bike the entire 225 km (140 miles) in six days. I did a little quick math and saw that we would be biking roughly 60 km (40 miles) a day, which, didn’t sound too terrible, so… I went.
Unfortunately, being so clueless about distance has its setback. I discovered, with the island’s up-and-down volcanic landscapes and blustery wind, I was pedaling but barely moving. My muscles were sore and my butt hurt.
It’s a love-hate relationship when it comes to Korean food. On the one hand, dining gets boring when options revolve around rice, kimchi, jjigae, and grilled meats. On the other hand, because Korean food has a certain “flavor” to it — fermented gochujang (chili paste), doenjang (soybean paste), you start craving for it when you’ve been away.
I swear, when I returned from my one-month South East Asia trip, the first thing I did was visit our neighborhood Korean chain restaurant and ordered jjigae.
The thing about abandoning everything and living in a foreign country where all aspects of it — language, culture, custom, are unfamiliar, is shocking easy. Back in 2010, I was a newly grad fresh out of college who didn’t want her fun to end, and my decision to work in Korea was a no- brainer. With my airfares and apartment paid for, I figured that the year abroad would be a party.
It was, in a way, but it was definitely not what I had expected.
“Hello, I am Sherry Teacher”
I had envisioned myself teaching at an all boys high school in the heart of Seoul, sort of a teacher by day, glam girl by night kind of deal. In reality, I taught ALL-GIRLS high school and lived in SSangmun, a suburb that has more traditional rice cake (떡) shops than bars. Another aspect that I had failed to taken into consideration was: “Koreans speak Korean, not English.” Now this may seem obvious, but I had honestly believed that because Seoul is an international metropolis, I could survive with just “안녕하세요” (“Hello”).
I lived and worked in Seoul, Korea, from 2010 to 2011. Just to clarify, I am not, nor do I speak, Korean. Furthermore, I had no particular interest in Korean dramas or pop stars. Hence, you might ask, “Why did you go to Korea?”
Frankly, I do not not know myself. But I can most certainly retort with a “Why not?”. In Alastair Reid’s poem,“Curiosity,” there are two types of people — dogs and cats. A dog person opts for stability (e.g. family, work) while a cat person seeks the unknown. Contrary to popular proverb that “curiosity kills the cat,” the poem contends that it is the lack of curiosity that kills us. For only the curious, “have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.”
I survived Korea splendidly. But that was luck and, I would say 87%, attributed to meeting a lot of great people. For those who don’t like to leave having a good time to chance, there are a thing or two you should know about the city.
Every year at Jindo, which is located in Korea’s Jeollanam-do Province, the ocean parts and reveals a 2.8 km (1.7 mi) path to an island in the middle of the ocean. I partook in the annual Sea Festival and the experience was, excuse my lack of better adjectives, totally wicked. It was surreal as my friends and I (armed with knee-high rain boots) made the crossing with water on both sides.
If you have any doubt that the narrow path you walked on was earlier submerged underwater, just looked around you and you will find plenty of proof. While the path looked like any regular post-heavy rain road, the path is scattered wit seaweeds and sea creatures. BTW, you can tell whom the locals were because they didn’t bother to walk to the island and chose to spend their time picking up kelps and sea delicacies like mussels and clams.
The ocean parts and reveals a path to a nearby island. (Apr. 2011, Jindo, Korea)
On the way back, the water rose quickly and I was shocked by the speed. The water level, which was at my heels when I initially made my way to the island, was well-over my knee-high rain boots on the way back. My friend and I walked quickly, but the tide caught up to us and at a point, the icy cold seawater came up to our thighs (brrr~).
We made our way back to land and when we looked back, the island had disappeared. The ocean once again returned to its original form. It was as if the path was merely a mirage and the whole thing never happened. The water had removed everything. Considering this, perhaps rather than walking to and back from the island, I should have spent my time collecting kelps and clams (see images above of locals collecting foodstuffs). At the very least, I would have gotten a free meal out of the adventure.