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Cathedrals old and new (wherein Connie explains physics)

The other highlights of our trip in Geneva were visiting the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre and CERN. First things first, we walked downtown from our apartment (about a 30 minute trip) to the old city in Geneva and got lunch en route (Bolivian food for once!). We reached the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre after going through some passages. Downtown Geneva is made of a bunch of hills, but over the centuries, they’ve been scraped down some and removed in other places or just tunneled through so that they fit in more or less with the street structure. That does mean sometimes there are two levels of streets or roads. Some of these passages are closed most of the year, but we came up one that emerged just behind the church. The cathedral itself is interesting because it was a Gothic cathedral built in the 1500s, but during the Reformation, it became a Protestant church removed of all the gilt, icons, rood screens, and art that Catholic cathedrals are well known for. Inside, you can even see a few examples of where stone carvings are defaced and cracked. (I’m guessing they took that second commandment real seriously.) The only thing that’s left are the rose windows and stained glass windows. The Cathedrale Saint-Pierre is known for being the church of John Calvin, who preached at the church literally thousands of times. There was one wooden chair known for being Calvin’s chair in the building, and it seemed kind of small, but then, as Steve remarked, they were all smaller back then.

We paid 5 CHF each to climb the tower to the top of the cathedral. It was a gorgeous view in all four directions. To the east, we could see over Lac Leman where the Jet d’Eau comes out. To the south is Salève the mountain and France. It’s apparently the shortest mountain (or something that could be called a mountain) in France, but looming way behind it is Mont Blanc in France, the tallest mountain in Europe. To the north and west are the Jura Mountains/ national park in France, which are also quite tall and form a solid barrier of sorts. So Geneva looks quite closed off for that reason. After we checked out the cathedral, we walked around the Jardin Anglais which is downtown by the lake. There were public pianos around, which some people kept playing tracks from Amélie on (just in case you forgot you were in the French part of Switzerland), and it was a lovely sunlit afternoon. We walked home afterwards.

One last thing about Sunday: Switzerland is very trying on Sundays. That’s because absolutely nothing is open. Pretty much all the supermarkets and normal stores are closed on that day, and it’s very sleepy indeed. The church was probably the only thing we could count on being open. I was definitely kind of disgruntled that we were not able to visit the Coop to buy presents and groceries, and probably the only person around who really wished for Monday to come faster.

On Monday itself, we got up early and took the nearby tram 18 all the way to its end at CERN. I had almost forgotten CERN was here when we booked our trip to Geneva. Thankfully, a friend who is doing his post-doc there asked if we wanted a tour, and we were very glad to accept. CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, established in 1954. It’s more appropriate to call it the European laboratory for particle physics these days, since that’s what CERN has been concerned with since then. It is presently the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is a 27-kilometer long circular tunnel where particle beams are collided at high speeds to simulate what the world looked like closer to the Big Bang. That’s the 5-second explanation. In reality, what we learned about was much more complicated but also more interesting.

Continue reading Cathedrals old and new (wherein Connie explains physics)

A wedding in Geneva!

We are fresh off four lovely days in Geneva, which proved to be simultaneously smaller and larger of a city than I had imagined. Though those days were in no way jam-packed, we managed to wander into a craft beer festival, attend a much-anticipated wedding, visit an internationally renowned research institution, and climb the tower of a 15th century cathedral. Pretty efficient use of time!

We stayed in an Airbnb in Carouge, a city which was swallowed up by the growing municipality of Geneva sometime in the last few centuries. However, it maintains its own character, with its own churches, market, and town square. When we arrived the first afternoon, we sat in one of those squares munching on sushi and tea from the local Coop, waiting for our Airbnb to open up at check-in. To celebrate having our own kitchen again and our own space, I made a much-anticipated meal of red curry with chicken and rice which we had with a glass of red wine, our third-story window open to the street. Being in high summer, the sun would not set for another two hours. Afterwards, we wandered around the neighborhood, which is how we found La Festibière, which gathered what seemed like all the young people in Geneva with beards and buns to enjoy craft beer. We used our French skills to buy a cup (entrance to the festival) and tokens which let us sample deciliters of different sorts of beer, ranging from Double IPAs to amber ales to very sour ales indeed. We also listened to a swinging blues band and a hometown pop-metal band who had three guitarists and sounded just like Blink-182. The weather was warm and sultry, and I almost didn’t want to go to sleep.

The next morning was a bit colder and rainier, and I learned to my dismay that going to the market in Switzerland wasn’t quite like going to the market in France with Sam and Sarah. Everything was quite expensive here – like 7 CHF (~7 USD) for a kilo of green peppers! So we went to the supermarket instead to get a few staples like pasta sauce and only stopped back at the market for one thing: freshly made pasta. We picked up three each of two very large heavy cannellonni variations (au viande, and épinards avec ricotta), which I wasn’t sure how to cook, but it turned out needed to be baked with sauce and cheese over it. Thus we had a second lunch at home with wine, and it all turned out to be quite delicious, even if it was expensive for a homemade meal. After a nap, we started to get ready for the wedding ceremony and dinner. While we were intending to leave the house around 4:30 pm for the tram, we were greeted at the door with a burst of heavy rain and gusting winds. After eying each other’s wedding clothing (dress for me, blazer and leather shoes for Steve) and trying to get a few Ubers and other services which all canceled on us, we decided to stay put for the time being. It ended up being a wise decision, because it began to hail as well. For the next twenty minutes, the storm vented its fury on the outside, and outdoor furniture from nearby restaurants even fell over in the street. We finally ventured out when it had slowed down, and the rain was no longer going horizontally. Still, my sandaled feet immediately were soaked in freezing rain, and we missed the first tram. At the transport to our next bus, we waited at the bus stop for at least half an hour through an abhorrent traffic jam before Sam’s brother materialized out of the air to bring us over in his car. Thank goodness! About an hour late, we were some of the last guests to arrive at the wedding location, which, just to put the cherry on the sundae, had also recently lost its power in the storm. The venue was darker and lit with candles throughout, and while guests drank champagne and made conversation with each other, some men in work overalls and boots walked around in the background with scowls trying to get the electricity back on. Fortunately, it had not dampened Sarah or Sam’s spirits, and soon after we arrived, the ceremony commenced. Sam’s mother conducted the ceremony, and Sarah’s mother read a lovely excerpt from the homily that their pastor from Tennessee had written for the Nashville ceremony. Steve and I took part in one ritual in the wedding, the handfasting, where we helped tie a red yarn around their hands to symbolize passion and love. It was a really lovely ceremony, and it made both of us think of our own ceremony just a year ago.

Afterwards, the sun had decided to come out again, and we had the reception in the garden where we enjoyed drinks and snacks while also taking family photos. Steve and I were reunited with Sam’s grandmother, whom we met five years ago while we were traveling in France on our big trip. We had visited her and her husband (Sam’s grandfather), who passed away a few years ago, in Montchanin-les-Mines, which was a very small mining town in a rural part of Burgandy, and I remembered well her excellent cooking as well as the quaint house they lived in. She was actually delighted to see us and remembered me but not Steve, which made us all laugh. I scrounged up enough French to speak with her a little bit about how much we enjoyed being guests at their house, and it made her pretty happy.

Finally, the dinner was ready after the delay from the lack of electricity, and we sat down at a table of fellow international friends. There were a table each for the French and American sides of the family, as well as French and Swiss friends of Sam’s, and the final table was made up of us American friends and international friends who had come to join them. We were joined by the happy couple for the first course, and we enjoyed the food as well as the conversation with our new friends. The dessert was an especial favorite for me, which was called craque-en-bouche, literally meaning “cracks in your mouth”. It turned out to be cream puffs which were glazed with a hardened caramel-like sauce which had a pleasant crunch to it, with a side of raspberry sorbet. All the food was absolutely delicious, and the waiters kept champagne, red and white wine, and even seltzer water flowing throughout. We ended the evening with disco lights, dancing, and even though the lights went out again, we hardly missed it. When we grew too tired, we said goodbye to Sam and Sarah, and wished them well on their honeymoon next week to the Caribbean!

Exploring the corner of Switzerland

Basel is not a large city, but an interestingly shaped one. Basel is in the northwest of Switzerland, situated on a little triangle which borders France to the northwest and Germany to the northeast. If you think of the city as the face of a clock, you can trace the path of the Rhine River, a pale green ribbon, which flows into the city at 3 o’clock, and then after reaching the center, goes back out around 11 am or noon. The more-or-less quadrant that you have cut out with the river is Klein Basel (Little Basel), and that is the part where we are staying.

Not too far north of us (about 30 minutes walking) is the German border. The other three-quarters of the city is Gross Basel (Big Basel) which holds the Altstadt (or Old Town) and most of the inhabitants as well as the other buildings. It only takes a bus about half an hour to go clear across the entire city, but many of the roads trace smaller circles within the larger circle of the city, so it can takes considerably longer to get around. On our second afternoon in the city, we found that Tram 2, which we were counting on taking back, was suddenly out of service because the city was going to re-pave some roads in the center of town. It took an extra 15 minutes to walk all the way back to the train station where we thought we were going to be able to catch the tram before, but we were told to get ourselves on the next 30 bus which would drop us off across the river. It ended up taking nearly 90 minutes for us to get back to the apartment with all the groceries we had promised to pick up.

Construction is not an uncommon thing to see here. Cranes do dot the Basel skyline, and even smaller ones are common in the neighborhood, where folks are having work done on their houses or on the sidewalk. Steve commented that there was so much construction, it kept reminding him of China. Sam indicated that it was a Swiss way of employing people and keeping things spic-and-span. Sometimes, the roads or the buildings don’t need to be redone, but it certainly serves a purpose. To me, it sounds like Switzerland is one of the only countries in the world which is ahead of the game. Most countries are woefully behind.

Continue reading Exploring the corner of Switzerland

Welcome summer

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019 – Thursday, June 6th, 2019

It is summer, and we are on the road again. After twenty-four hours of travel, we have hopscotched two continents, and find ourselves starting our summer vacation in Basel, Switzerland, basking in the hot, bright, dry sunshine of western Europe.

We are visiting Sam and Sarah, who are getting married in the presence of all their family and friends from Europe, next weekend, and taking the chance to stay with them in their lovely new home in Basel. This is a lovely a garden we’re in. From where I sit on a small terrace, I can see a riotous herb corner with parsley, basil, rosemary, mint, and a lot that I can’t recognize. Beyond that, we have the neighbors’ flower patches, with lavender, bright orange poppies, and magenta-colored blossoms. To my left is a long, grassy backyard lined with large pink roses in bloom, and a shady backyard with chairs and a table. Now that I’ve freshly showered and had a chance to drink some water and tea, It feels like forever since we were traveling, but it’s the travel that has lasted forever, and we only arrived in Switzerland this morning.

The past few days have been some crazy, busy rush to get ready for the summer. Steve and I made stops at work, the bank, brunching with friends, dropping off keys, and said goodbye to Stella on Monday. Yesterday, we cleaned up our house as best as we could because later this summer, other folks will be staying there, and threw out the last of our trash. We unexpectedly brought an umbrella along so that we could brave the rain during first ten minutes of our trip between our front door and the MRT station, and were finally off. The first leg of our trip was a short 3 hour hop to Hong Kong, where we enjoyed some final Asian noodles, crowd-watched, and finally boarded an Etihad Airlines flight for Abu Dhabi. The next eight-hour flight was a bit more of a pain, but I succeeded in watching Captain Marvel and catching a little bit of sleep before we alighted in the U.A.E.

Even at 1:30 am, the Abu Dhabi airport is a fascinating place, with advertisements of more dates and chocolates and desert-like goods than you can shake a wooden spoon at. Men wearing long robes with slippers and hats or other head coverings walked about everywhere with each other. We saw planes with destinations we’d never heard of before, like Dammam (a city in Saudi Arabia) and Calicut (third-largest city in Kerala, India), and debated with each other how many AEDs or dhirams to the US dollar (about 5).

When it was time to board our final flight to Zurich, I fell asleep before the plane even got off the ground. When I woke up two hours before we landed, it was clear it was morning. Steve pointed out mountains below us and to our left as we made our slow descent, and these long ranges of mountains were lit up with the beautiful colors of dawn, all lemon-yellow and pale pink. When you’re traveling, I think it makes a big difference whether you do so by bright daylight or the dark of night. After we disembarked and left the airport, we took an hour-long train that leisurely wound from Zurich to Basel in the presence of many commuters on their way to work in the city, and the bright sunlight went some distance to making us feel like we’d arrived.

At Basel, we stopped to get a coffee and some breakfast, and as soon as we had taken a sip of our drinks, I noticed Sarah’s parents Norm and Theresa walk in! I knew they were in town, but even this was a little too coincidental. We had coffee together, shared stories about their trip to Taiwan to see us last year, and also enjoyed seeing a few photos from their first wedding in the US last month. That was a funny coincidence.

When we finally ended up at Sarah’s door, it was a glorious reunion. Sam, Sarah, Steve, and I (why don’t I have a name that starts with S?) have enjoyed each other’s company in no less than four countries before, so we were delighted to spend more time together in the country that they now live in. Their house which they moved into this spring is a delightful narrow house with a long lot of a backyard which seems to be par for the course out here. It’s beautiful to be in the land of single-family homes again, and to have this patch of land to call your own.

For the first afternoon, Steve and I walked to the nearby Tiergarten, which is a small petting zoo-garden. We saw domesticated animals like wooly pigs, horses, donkeys, goats, and chickens, as well as some more exotic animals such as storks (which are native to the area), giant owls, and a lynx, which simply resembled a very large cat. It was a lovely time to simply walk around and enjoy how gloriously warm and dry it was in Switzerland. We finished the evening when Sam came back from work at home, grilling sausages and vegetables on the back porch and drinking beers. The sun sets so late here, and even though we only started getting dinner together around 8 pm, it was finally full dark by the time we finished near 11 pm.

All memory of the warm day had fled when we woke up yesterday. It was down to fifty-degrees, drizzling and breezy outside. Steve and I were at odds about what to do and where to go, but we finally figured things out and ended up walking downtown for lunch (at a Chinese restaurant called Happy Wok – of course) and then to the Basler Munster (Basel Minster). It’s a lovely old Romanesque church that is celebrating its 1000-year anniversary, as parts of the foundations date from 1019. Sometimes, it’s such a great reminder that we come from such young parts of the world, that the oldest thing we can claim in the US only boasts about 400 years of history. We wandered about looking at the crypts below the floor where there were fascinating medieval style paintings that date back to the 1400s, as well as the stained glass windows (one had Jesus in the middle of a six-pointed star wearing a red cloak, which is not something I’ve ever seen before). I even loved the wooden chairs that made up the rows – they all had a different design on the back. I counted at least twenty-something different designs which were all simple and lovely. It reminded me of heraldry in their style and shape.

We finished off the afternoon with coffee and törtchen (little cakes or cupcakes) at a café downtown called Fumare Non Fumare, which was originally a bank of sorts. The first floor was just one big room with a very sunny, lovely atrium in the middle, lit by a large skylight, and there were at least 50-60 people in the room all reading, in conversation, enjoying time with their children or friends at different couches or islands of tables and chairs. It felt warm and lively but not overwhelming. Steve worked on his app while I finished reading Bringing Up Bébé, which is a book about French parenting. It was fascinating to read this while eying the toddlers who were walking around or people breastfeeding their children in the middle of the atrium.

This is kind of an abrupt end, but honestly, I have too much to write about Basel to squeeze it all into one essay. So tomorrow, more about Basel the city and our explorations therein!

Perhaps one day, it will be pleasing to remember even these things

Day 8 definitely merits the above quote from the Aeneid, known in the original as “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.” I’ve been looking for one to use this on, and I thought it was going to be one of those sun-baking days, but today definitely takes the cake so far. This quote is a good reminder that even the worst of times will be pleasing to look back on one day. And biking in the rain and mud is definitely something it’s going to take some time and perspective to look at with an unbiased eye! Here’s to Day 8.

Day 8/9: Ruisui to Jiaoxi (84 km?)

Today was a rainy, sodden mess that took me forever to get out of my clothes and shoes. I’ll be wearing some of the grime from the East Rift Valley forever, it feels. When we started off in Ruisui this morning, it was in the fine drizzle. I was wearing a dry short-sleeve jersey with long arm coverings and Steve’s rain-resistant jacket over it all. But by the end of our first 20 km, it wasn’t rain-resistant anymore. In fact, it’s not a breathable jacket, so between the rain and the sweat, everything was soaked by our first stop. I was horrified, but fortunately, we had some spare clothing tucked away in our bag. I switched to another shirt, and put on a yellow rain poncho, and kept that for the remainder of the morning.

Riding in the rain is basically the most unpleasant thing. If you’ve got sunglasses, it fogs things up and makes it hard to see. If you don’t have guards on the rear wheel, it throws up mud and grit that gets into your gears and your back and even your helmet. When trucks and large vans pass by, they emit a fine mist behind them of nasty stuff that you inevitably breathe in unless you’ve got a wet headscarf over your mouth which is its own form of torture. And the rain is usually accompanied by wind. In this case, it was a healthy headwind that was taking at least 7 if not 10 kmph off my speed. I was severely irked. By the time we stopped for our second stop, everyone’s shins and knees looked like they had been sprayed with concrete. We actually took a fun picture of all of those muddy, dirty shoes. I washed them tonight, of course, but now have some real doubt about whether they’ll make it in the future. At the rest stops, they wouldn’t even let us have a proper rest, because if you cooled down too much, it would be dangerous, and we were likely to catch a cold. To round it all up, we were trying to catch a train. We made it the epic 73 km or so to Hualien Station with only about 15 minutes to spare.

On the train, we had gotten a whole train car to ourselves. On one side, we put all our bikes. On the other side, the mainland Chinese bunch elbowed us out of most of the seats, so we took a seat on the floor (not that our muddy, dirty butts minded very much), and enjoyed our lunchboxes of charcoal-roasted chicken and veggies very thoroughly. It took about 90 minutes for us to go from Hualien to Yilan. This trip was because the Su’ao Tunnel is the only road connecting these two cities, and it’s notoriously difficult and dangerous, even for proper vehicles, not like our bikes. So they didn’t chance it, and just had us train it, which was a different way of seeing the eastern shore. Finally, we got off in Yilan, and had a leisurely 10 km bike ride to the hotel where we were staying in Jiaoxi.

Tonight was our third night of hot springs and last. It was also our last dinner together as a group. We’ve generally sat together every meal: the three Californians and their Canadian cousin, Debi, the Scottish lady from Beijing, a husband and wife from LA, and two Taiwanese ladies who came separately but room together, and of course, me. I proposed hot pot, which is NO surprise to anyone who knows me, and we found a really great place just two doors down from the hotel. They let us bring in beer and liquor, and we enjoyed a fun night having dinner together. We talked about things we’d seen on the road today (a snake!!!), incidents that had happened (one of the girls biked straight into a tree, and it was captured on video), and how old everyone was. It turns out I’m the youngest in the group (though several women look way younger), and I also took a picture on the train with the oldest person in the group – a 72 year old man from Houston. He took the pic with me, and then laughed about how his younger son is older than me (I should hope so). We then walked around Jiaoxi buying a few presents for family and friends, ended up spotting some Singaporean friends from the road in a massage center, and generally enjoyed our last night out.

Tomorrow, we have 90 something km to still tackle. The grapevine says at least 5 km of uphills (though not all at once). We’re expecting some more drizzle and rain (which I am super dreading now), and we expect to be back in Taipei between 4 and 5 pm, tentatively. I’m really, really eager to see everyone at home, though it will be amazing enough to have finally made the trip. I’m going to be glad to not live out of this suitcase any longer, and will be sad to say goodbye to these new friends. And of course, to go back to work the day after!

Travels in Java.

Three weeks ago, Steve and I set sail (I mean, flew over) for the island of Java, also known to the rest of the world as the most populated island in the nation of Indonesia. While we’ve been pretty active in visiting places in East Asia, Indonesia’s actually the first new country in Southeast Asia that we’ve been able to go to. I had been pushing for this for a while, so it was with a lot of excitement that we made our way onto the flight. In the days prior to our flight, there was a lot of wrestling with baggage (stupid 7 KG in-cabin allowance) and trying to pin down last minute details for each of our four destinations. Stella watched us pack with trepidation, and then we packed her off before we went to the airport, dropping her off at our preferred dog hotel near Taipei Main! Despite swearing them off, we took Air Asia on Saturday afternoon from Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport (TPE) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL)’s low-cost airline terminal, KLIA2.

Our first stop was actually KL! We didn’t leave the airport, but after landing in the evening around 9 pm, we headed to another exciting first: a capsule hotel! Capsule Transit is the name of the container-based capsule hotel that is situated in the airport here. It was a fairly cheap way to spend the night (~$50 USD), and as we found, fairly roomy too. We booked a queen-bed two-person capsule, and the entire space was subdivided into different male only or female only or mixed sections. Our capsule was on the ground, but some were on a second level that needed a short climb up the ladder. We spent so much time exploring the airport to find an ATM and a decent place to have dinner that we just collapsed into our capsule and fell asleep for six hours.  Continue reading Travels in Java.

Hello, goodbye, Taipei.

Tomorrow is our last day in Taipei and Taiwan! Steve and I have stretched our 90-day visa-free entrance stamps to the limit, but tomorrow, we board a plane for Hong Kong, and get to hang out in Hong Kong for four more days before finally leaving Asia for the summer. When we first came here for the summer, Taichung seemed strange and made me feel lonely and homesick, but within a week, everything clicked into place. Since then, living here has felt so natural, so nice. Especially being back in Taipei this week, I take the MRT here for granted, being able to zip back and forth through the city in shiny subway cars and ferried through in relative cool A/C. Being able to take a look around at any intersection and find three convenience stores where I can get my fix of tea drinks or cheap sandwiches. When I walk down the street, looking for scooters and cars roaring by has become second nature. Being able to walk everywhere with a beer in hand, having stinky tofu right around the corner at any one of five night markets in a city (okay that’s just me), and cooing at people’s long-haired dachshunds, which is a definite trend in pets here. I mean, the list literally goes on and on. Steve and I will miss Taiwan severely when we leave this summer.

We’ve had a great time this past week in Taipei, staying with Kara and Ken who have been such helpful and gracious hosts! On Saturday, we climbed Yangmingshan together with their friend Eric, a native Taiwanese, and had a great time. On Sunday, Steve and I visited the Taipei Zoo where they have raccoons (yes, raccoons behind bars) and also climbed Elephant Mountain to watch the sunset silhouetted by the Taipei 101 Tower. Yesterday, Steve coded and Ken went to work while Kara and I walked along the lovely riverside park they live near, and bought some fun summer dresses at Gongguan near National Taiwan University. And today, we visited Yongle fabric market and goggled over fun patterns and gorgeous bolts of cloth. Steve and I also took time in the morning to go see Yehliu Geology Park to the northwest of Taipei near Keelung, which my mom had recommended. It was all gorgeous, and we’re a little exhausted from all our travels and explorations. We nearly haven’t enough energy left to see Hong Kong, and miss our dog and a stable lifestyle not a little bit.

I think it’s fair to say at this point that we will be back. Eventually, this blog will become a chronicle of our time living in Taiwan, which would be really nice and different. =) Our hope is that next summer, after I graduate with my master’s degree, we will move to Taipei and find jobs here for both of us. While I don’t know how long that will be for, what’s certain is that this is a wonderful country with a great culture, environment, climate, and excellent cost of living that we would love to be a part of. Goodbye isn’t really goodbye, Taiwan. We’ll miss those hot pots and teas for the year, but come next summer, we’re planning on being here again. See you then!


A happy return to Kaohsiung.

Written on the 781
Sunday, July 27, 6:13 pm

It is the evening, and we are seeing our first sunset over the mountains. We’re most of the way through our rail journey from Kaohsiung to Taitung, winding a slow counter-clockwise arc around the southern tip of the island and emerging on the eastern side of Taiwan. Many of our evenings in Taichung and Kaohsiung on the west coast have featured splendid sunsets over the water and a city, but in Taitung and Dulan on the east coast, we will be chasing sunrises over the water and sunsets over the mountains.

The hillsides here are fairly rugged, and the train zips long much closer to the water. For some parts of our trip, we were darting through mountain tunnels to emerge on a narrow railway with the water and a precipitous drop on one side and on the other high mountains that we had to lift our faces to greet. The view is definitely worth it. On the right, the sky fades from a pale distant blue to light pink clouds, and then back to the blue-grey of the ocean. On the left, mountains barely a dozen meters from our left will loom close, and then give way suddenly to large expansive green valleys. Deep in the heart of the valley, we can see the lighter and mistier shapes of more distant mountains, and finally beyond that, the clouds themselves, gilded and illuminated with a deeper richer tone by the sunlight that has already sunk beneath the mountains. It is really strikingly lovely. Continue reading A happy return to Kaohsiung.

Circumnavacation hits 100, and the summer is flying by.

This is the hundredth post we’ve made on our circumnavacation blog! Kudos to me and Steve. Steve for writing three of those, and me for writing the rest, a number which shall only be known to those who can do subtraction. A mystery, in other words. *wink*

This summer in Taiwan has gone far too fast! Let me try to recap what’s been going on in the past few weeks, what we’re doing right now, and what we’re up to in the next month or so.

Night sets in Taichung.

The last time we saw our brave heroes, they were being reunited in Taichung… Steve and I missed each other a lot when I was in Taipei for two weeks, but it also had its perks. He used a lot more Chinese while I was gone, and people here do treat a white man differently when he’s not being accompanied by an Asian woman. He gets a lot more “Hello”s on the street, among other things. I on the other hand got to visit lots of cat cafés, ha! I think I got the better end of the bargain. Since I came back to Taichung, we’ve been doing more of the usual things, trying to explore more of the city, and paying more attention to our individual projects. I have a lot of ambitious plans for the second year of grad school, and some of it needs planning and attention now. Steve is also doing several freelance projects involving building apps and websites, and it’s consuming a lot of his attention. Continue reading Circumnavacation hits 100, and the summer is flying by.

Rainy day adventures in Tainan.

What do you call a rainy day in Taiwan? The answer is: a normal day. At least during the early summer, that is, because it’s the East Asian monsoon season. I did the research (i.e. Googling) that you’re probably not curious enough to do. For people who think that monsoons belong to India and the subcontinent, there is in fact an East Asian monsoon season, which runs from May to July, and encompasses much of southeast Asia, the Philippines, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Koreas, and Japan.

Rain in Tainan. People wear serious gear to ride scooters and their bikes.

Having lived most of my life where there was no rainy or dry season, it’s pretty strange to experience this kind of downpour. For the last five days, it has rained pretty consistently every day. There is little thunder and few tumultuous winds, but just gloomy skies and a skin-drenching amount of rain. Occasionally, it will lift to a light drizzle, or even pause enough for the streets to dry a bit, but it’s never safe to venture outside without an umbrella. That’s a lesson that we did not have to learn a second time. The rain alleviates the crushing heat and has made late May quite a bit cooler, and we’re enjoying temperatures in the high 70s most of the time, but what it hasn’t changed is the blanket of humidity. We essentially sweat everywhere we go, and I’ve learned to build in a lot of time for walking to work and other places, because hurrying is just not worth it.

Drizzle and a grey sky, seen from the train, en route to Tainan.

Continue reading Rainy day adventures in Tainan.