Little Panda in Kaohsiung

In the Bay Area I used to take Jennica to a Mandarin music class called Little Panda.  She loved it and has learned to sing quite a few Chinese children songs because of it.  I was hoping to find something similar to take Jennica to over here in Kaohsiung.

Well, Shu-Fern told me about a class that’s walking distance to our apartment so Jennica went for the first time yesterday (Mei-Yu Kids Music and Dancing).  The price for the class is quite comparable to US prices for something similar – in fact it’s more expensive than the Little Panda class Jennica was taking – so my mom mentioned that really only the very wealthy in Taiwan could afford such a luxury for their kids.  My mom managed to get a discounted price by paying for classes for Ashley as well so that she can attend with Jennica.

I was always very impressed with Jennica’s Little Panda teacher and pleased with the class, but I was quite blown away by yesterday’s class.  The class is organized around a series of books, which come w/ a music CD, and the theme of the class follows the books.  Yesterday’s book was about Santa Claus searching for his missing bell – and the song was Jingle Bells.  The teacher then proceeded to go through a series of activities all related to the book.  She played a little ditty on the piano of short notes and taught the word for “catch” and had the kids pretend to catch snowflakes.  Then played a series of running notes that sounded like the wind.  She taught the word for “long” and “short” corresponding with the music and had the kids run around and stop and get twirled by the parents with it as well.  A few of the other activities included having the parents pull the kids around on an extra-large shirt that served as a sleigh (and taught the word for “sleigh”), and hiding hand-bells under pom-poms around the room so kids could find the bells and shout “I found it!”.  Kids were also encouraged to find pictures in the book where Santa’s clothes were “red”, “white”, etc. and had the chance to play three different musical instruments to go along with Jingle Bells – sounding like the feet of reindeer or the bells.

Receiving stamps at the end of music class

It was very repetitive and focused on vocabulary-building at the same time.  I don’t know about Jennica, but I learned a lot of words that day!  So excited to find this so close to where we live!  :)

Night Market Madness

Last night we attempted the popular and touristy Liuhe Night Market. On a Saturday night.  Really not a good idea.

I generally love night markets because it is really just a street or area with one food stall after another.  So dinner ends up being an eating progressive.  An order of this or that from each food stall that catches your eye as you make your way down the street.  And Liuhe has EVERYTHING.  It has many foods that I won’t eat – like stinky tofu or BBQ’d animal organs, but it also has lots that I love to eat!  Deep-fried oyster mushrooms, zhongzi (sticky rice), dumplings, green onion pancakes, noodles, papaya milk (Mike’s favorite), etc.  You have to remember to pace yourself though because it’s a long street and there’s always something else you’d like to try just a few stalls down.

Jennica drinking sugar cane juice and eating roasted corn on the cob at the night market

Susan ordering deep-fried squid on a stick

It began okay because we arrived a little early (around 6pm), but after our first stop at a shao long bao (dumplings) stall, the street became increasingly crowded.  On top of that, throw in a section of the street that allows mopeds to drive through and it’s complete chaos.

Moped pushing through the crowds at Liuhe

Still, we made it about halfway down the night market before the crowd of people just became too much for Jennica…and Mike.

The crowd

Afterward the husbands (my cousin, Mike, and Greg) took the kids back to our apartment while the wives went out for night shopping, more eating, and foot massages.  Thanks guys!

Final food stop for dessert – sweet tofu soup w/ peanuts!

Taiwan Thanksgiving

This is my first Thanksgiving in a foreign country since I was eight.  And while it can still feel like Christmas in Taiwan (decorations are abundant and there are even carolers!), Thanksgiving is just another Thursday here.  So we went in search for any traces of what might feel like “traditional” Thanksgiving – that means turkey, friends, and family.  :)

First, we were very lucky to have our friends Susan, Greg, and their 2-year old Gabe come in to visit with us starting on Thanksgiving.  Then we did a search for any restaurant that might be serving turkey that day.  We actually found a few!  We decided on the Ambassador Hotel dinner buffet.  Next we invited our extended family.  Presto!  Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Dinner at the Ambassador Hotel

There were probably only 10 other people total eating in the restaurant there that night (and all were most likely hotel guests), so it was great – no lines!  The best part though was probably the iced coffee and all-you-can-eat Haagen Dazs ice cream (in my opinion).  Or maybe it’s that none of us had to work to prepare anything for it and the hotel was in charge of clean-up!

Greg’s beautifully plated dinner

Family and friends at the Ambassador buffet

Ashley, Mike, Jennica, Gabe, and Susan

We hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and would like you to know that we are so thankful for each one of you!!

Indoor Playspace Disaster

November 19

One of the reasons why I’m eager to have Jennica spend an extended amount of time in Taiwan is so that she really gets a chance to know and interact with her “cousin” (my cousin’s daughter), Ashley.  I was so happy to see Jennica and Ashley take to each other right away.  Without speaking a word to one another they began to play shortly after they met by simply mimicking each others actions.  That game alone brought squeals of laughter – endless fun.  (Really, I don’t think the game has an actual end.)

Boarding the Dream Mall Shuttle Bus

Today was Ashley’s third birthday.  To celebrate, her mom (Shu-Fern) and I took Ashley and Jennica to a place called Dream Mall where there is an indoor play area for kids.  I have really only been introduced to indoor play areas since moving to San Diego, but in Taiwan it was quite a different experience!  In the states, upon entering the play area I would fill out a waiver stating the birthdate of my child, sign my name, and check the box that waives them of all blame for anything that might happen.  Then take off Jennica’s shoes and make sure she’s wearing socks.  Here Shu-Fern took care of all the paperwork so I have no idea what I signed.  We also had to show proof of the child’s age – I happened to have a copy of Jennica’s birth certificate in my purse (as evidence for flying Southwest when she used to be free).  Then they sent us straight to the bathroom to make sure both girls have empty bladders.  Then they took the temperature of both the girls and moms with a forehead scanner.  Once they verified we were well, they let us in to remove shoes and put on socks.  Jennica tried to make a run for the play structures right after but an attendant stopped her immediately and directed her to the hand sanitizer. NOW she can play.  In the states, there is usually just one employee keeping a lazy eye out for what might be happening in the room, and fights for toys or overly aggressive children are unnoticed.  Here there were employees standing around all over the place and while there were only four kids there, they were on top of every move each kid made – no going up the slides, no throwing the balls in the air, watch out for the little girl, no aiming the air gun at other kids, etc.

Jennica and Ashley playing in the ball pit at the end of the slides

Jennica and Ashley had a great time until Jennica froze mid-play in the middle of a ball pit.  “I’m going pee-pee!!” she announced.  I rushed to Jennica asking her to please, please stop and wait but she had already released it all.  I thought to myself, this can’t be good.  The attendant in that section immediately left the room and two seconds later I heard an announcement come over the loud speaker.  Even though I didn’t understand a word that was spoken over the loud speaker I knew exactly what was said.  Seconds later attendants wearing face masks and gloves equipped with plastic bags and cleaning supplies swarmed the area.  I sheepishly picked Jennica up and said sorry in Mandarin several times as I waded out of the ball pit.  That clearly marked the end of our time there!

Kirkland, (tai) WA (n)

I can’t believe it… after traveling halfway around the world, my first blog post about life on Formosa and Taiwanese Culture is going to be on… Costco!?


After arriving, our first order of business was to get stocked with some supplies for our new apartment.  Naturally, what comes to mind for us would be: Costco!

Lani’s extended relatives were more than nice enough to take us there (and by take us there, I mean, we ended up taking 3 cars to Costco as a large family outing):

Look carefully at the picture above… in the US, we’re all über careful about child safety.  We’ve got child seats, booster seats, buckles, latches, childproof tamper resistant electrical outlets — you name it.  With most grocery stores equipping their carts with buckles and even anti-bacterial sanitary wet wipes, safety and security is clearly of paramount importance to the folks at Safeway Joe’s Foods as well.

Not as much so in Taiwan.  Not only is Jennica’s cousin (Ashley) riding in the back of the cart unbuckled and unseated, she’s doing so while going up a moving escalator.  Woot!

Now… if you want to imagine what Costco is like in Taiwan, basically multiply the craziness of Ranch 99… with the chaos of Costco… on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  And then, maybe you’ll get a glimpse of what Taiwan’s Costco looks like — on a slow day.

Asians in general are notoriously frugal and will not pass up a good deal, or a free sample.  Can you imagine what the line was like for the free slice of apple they were giving away on one of the sample carts?  35-people long!!!!

Anyway, we fortunately got all of our required shopping done… but as we got to the all too familiar Costco Food Court next to the exit, Lani noticed something a little different amongst the Hot Dog and Soda deal and the Chicken Caesar Salad in a container that all people reuse as Tupperware:

Costco’s Mango Shaved Ice!

Finally, as we were departing, notice something a bit interesting with the Costco parking lot?  I really want to wonder, just how is one able to pack the 48-pack of toilet paper on a scooter and ride it with their family of 3?  So curious…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

We’ve made it to Taiwan!!!

What a looooooooong trip.  This is what our travel experience includes:

  • a 2-hour drive from San Diego to Los Angeles
  • a 3-hour wait in LAX
  • a 15-hour flight from LAX to TPE
  • a 2-minute line at Taiwan Immigration and Customs — wow… only 2 minutes, Mike?  How can that be?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  BTW, this is something that the US and DHS should learn from pretty much every country in East Asia… a 2 year old child, who has just been trapped in a 2×2 space for the past 15 hours, waiting in a long 2-hour line where you can only stand and can’t have anything to do is likely not the best idea; not for the child, nor for the parents, nor for pretty much anyone else who is also waiting in that line.  But the solution to this is so simple, that it can be said (or in this case, typed) with just 3 simple words: Family-Only Lines.
  • an overnight stay at the airport hotel
  • a 10-minute shuttle-bus ride to the High Speed Rail station
  • a 1 hour, 40 minute rid eon the High Speed Rail
  • and finally, a 10-minute car ride to our new home

Given normal circumstances, I would say that most people would agree that the above would already be quite a trip.  But… throw in there a 2 1/2 year old girl, a stroller, and count them: 8 pieces of luggage and no less than 8 additional pieces of carry-on bags… and the entire experience turns into, well… an experience.

In hindsight, I should’ve taken a picture of everything, as I’m sure it would’ve made a pretty cool blog photo.

So as a consolation, I guess another cute photo of Jennica will have to do:

Anyway, interestingly enough, at LAX, they now charge a whopping $5 per luggage cart at the departure drop-off area in the international terminal.  Such a rip off, isn’t it!?

Well, had some aspiring Taiwanese entrepreneur been renting out similar luggage carts at the HSR station, I would’ve easily paid $500… US.

Trust me… moving that many pieces by hand is something you don’t want to do… ever again… until, I guess, you have to do it again when you leave in 4 months.  Ugh… oh well.

The morning at the hotel, we had a chance to catch up with one of Lani’s cousin and her family (husband and two children).  After taking about 842 photos, I think I got one where all three were (kinda) looking at the camera and (kinda) smiling at the same time.

Thank goodness for the trash icon on the iPhone Camera app.  Now… if only I would use it… in the meantime, one of my TO DO list tasks in Taiwan is to get (yet another) hard drive to store all of our photos… j/k

I <3 Papaya Milk!!!

Random post… but I was looking thru some old travel photos and came across this one:

As I’ve been talking with people and saying our goodbyes, one of the questions that most often comes up is, “What are you most looking forward to?”

The de facto answer is always, “the food!!!!!”  For those that don’t know, Taiwan has some incredible food.  Little ma and pa shops, street vendors, heck, even the 7-11 has some great snacks there.

But by and large, most of the food items out there you can actually get in some form or another in the states, especially in SoCal.

However, there is one thing where you really can’t find anywhere (at least, not that I’ve been able to find):

Papaya Milk!!!!!

Which reminds me… I Love Papaya Milk!!!

It’s Cold in San Diego…

… unseasonably cold.  Typically, you can count on SD being right around mid-to-upper 70′s pretty much all year-round.

However, the past few nights it has gotten down to the low 40s.  Yikes, as much as I fought it, I actually had to bring out my long pants.

Now, before all of you left wing vs. right wing folks start arguing about global warming vs. climate change, carbon footprint and carbon dating vs. the carbon cycle, I wanted to let you all know that I did my own research into the situation, and I suddenly realized why it was so cold:


Hell has frozen over.


Last night, Lani’s mom threw all of us off-guard by asking me, “Mike, can you get me an iPad”?  Keep in mind that this is a lady who would be the complete opposite to the “early adopter”.  Now, in all fairness she really has come quite a long way — especially after Lani’s dad had passed — in learning technology, figuring out how to email, and even do some basic banking and bill pay online.

However, it’s a regular, weekly occurrence when we hear her yelling out, “Look at this website… so many discounts!  I’m going to click on all of them.  Wait… they’re asking for my email address… and cell phone number… and my social security number… That’s okay to give them, right?”

Anyway, her explanation on why she wanted / needed the iPad seemed plausible enough.  Basically, she didn’t want to keep bothering us while we’re in Taiwan to check her email.  But at the same time, she thought getting herself a laptop might be too large / overkill.

Sounds good.

Interestingly (and not so surprisingly), I had an extra iPad “lying around” (something that Lani will never let me forget), so I took some time to reset everything to factory defaults, clear out my data, and get her set up with her email account.

As soon as I gave it to her, the first question she asked… “How can I play mah jong on this thing!?”

Immediately we realized why she truly wanted to have an iPad.  Apparently a few of her friends have gotten iPads recently, and they’ve been playing this MMOG version of Mah Jong.

Anyway, as soon as we downloaded it, she started playing… um… during (or rather, instead of) dinner.


Compressing Your Life into a Cube

Moving day, er, uh… moving weekend has arrived.

I can’t believe that we’ve been in San Diego 7 months already!  It allowed me a brief moment of reflection to see how much God has been able to help us with our adjustment to SoCal.  Of course our biggest concern was trying to find community, make friends, etc.  And even though we’ve definitely hit some bumps in the road, I can definitely say that I’ll miss all of the people that we’ve met and gotten to know during our short time in San Diego up until now.

Anyway, moving from Sunnyvale and packing up everything 7 months ago was already such an ordeal.  So Lani and I swore to each other that we wouldn’t buy any durable goods during our short time at our apartment in San Diego… hehe, oh well, so much for that.

We ended up accumulating a ton more junk (to add to our already existing pile of stuff), which of course meant that we added work for ourselves.  But good thing Jennica was helping us with packing!

Er, well, helping in her own way, I guess…

Obviously, since we’re leaving the country, we ended up renting a storage unit to store most of our larger stuff (furniture, etc.)  It’s actually a bit surreal to see all of your worldly possessions compressed into a 12x12x12 cube:

It’s also a bit weird now feeling like we have no actual home.  I’m still going into work this week, and I think it’s gonna be a bit weird coming “home” from work… to… well, a place that’s not really home (we’re staying with Lani’s mom for the remainder of the week until we take off).

Anyway… just 4 more days and we’re on our way!

Whirlwind in the Bay

For over the past 6 months, Lani’s been training for the US Half Marathon, and she finally got to run the (incredibly hilly) race this past Sunday with a whole bunch of friends.

It was actually her best time ever!  Something like right around 2:15 (just about 10 minute miles).  Here’s a pic with the Wu’s and Debbie

And speaking of hanging out with friends… we basically decided to take the entire weekend to spend up in the Bay Area to catch up with everyone one last time before we head out.  Wow what a whirlwind of a weekend!  It was exhausting but incredibly comforting to get to see everyone one last time.

And speaking of races, watching and cheering everyone on reminded me how much fun it was to run a race… and so I’m actually starting to contemplate running a half marathon while in Taiwan… there’s actually one at the end of February, the Kaohsiung International Marathon.  I’d actually just run the half… but the route takes us right in front of our apartment… how cool is that?