Thailand and the iPad miracle

We are writing about our trip to Thailand fairly late (since we went at the end of December), but just thinking about everything that happened was overwhelming so sitting down to write about it was daunting.  So here goes…I will try to be as brief as possible.

The day after Christmas we were scheduled to fly out of Taoyuan to Bangkok, spend a night in Bangkok, and then fly to Phuket where we would join our friends Danvin and Frankie.  The night before, we had Christmas dinner with our family at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant where Mike had his fair share of raw fish.  So the morning we were supposed to leave, Mike tells me that he is feeling sick…really sick.  I confirmed that he had a 102 temperature, gave him Advil, and had him sleep.  We planned on catching a train around 2pm to arrive in Taoyuan with plenty of time to make our evening flight.  When 1pm arrived he was not feeling any better.  After looking at all our options (which weren’t many since most future flights to Thailand were booked), Mike decided to just push himself and go for it.  We made a last minute scramble to get everything ready to go (put on hiatus while figuring out what to do) and made it out the door around 3:30pm – still just in time to catch our flight.

The flight, of course, was miserable for Mike.  The next day confirmed that he probably had some type of food poisoning.  We hopped on another flight that morning to get to Phuket where it was a relief to see our friends at the airport.  We rode a shuttle car for about an hour before arriving at our hotel/holiday apartment.  Our thoughts at the time – phew!  we actually made it!

Day 2 – Beach Day and Fantasea

Mike was still sick, but able to get around.  We went to a beautiful beach where it was super relaxing to just float in the warm water and see the silver fish below.  Jennica loved it and would squeal with delight every time a wave would rise up.  Afterwards Jennica played in the sand and we picnicked on chicken satay and spring rolls under the shade of an umbrella.  Mike’s stomach could only handle rice with an egg.

Jennica enjoying chicken satay

After returning to the hotel for naps, we ventured out again for a tourist show called Fantasea.  We thought Jennica would enjoy it since it featured elephants, lots of them (on stage!), as well as dancing.  But during a slow beautiful dance about halfway through the show she said it was “too scary” and she was “all done”.  This was several acts after a dance depicting fighting warriors with scary masks (which is the one where I thought she would call it quits!).  So Jennica and I went outside to play games in the carnival-like area of Fantasea where she won a sympathy stuffed animal (the rules clearly stated that you must catch 12 balls with the net to get a prize – we caught zero and the attendant let her pick one).  Afterward we had a buffet dinner which was pretty good – lots of things to try!  Overall, Fantasea was an interesting experience.  Mike felt the show was a “combination of every show you would see on a cruise ship all wrapped into a 90-minute presentation on a Las Vegas style stage.”  The rest of the theme park was really quite fun for Jennica and also very interesting to see – fake palace facades and real elephant rides, carnival games and souvenir shops.  You kinda have to see it yourself…

The front entrance to the actual show w/in the Fantasea park

Welcome to Fantasea!

Jennica and Frankie

Mike, Jennica, and Danvin trying on hats

Day 3 – An Elephant Ride and Food Poisoning

Ah…if only Frankie hadn’t made her daily order of papaya salad look so appealing!  But more on that later…

We had scheduled a tour for this day which included kayaking and an elephant ride, which Frankie and I were eager to try.  However, after reading really negative reviews regarding the tour (especially about the poor treatment of the elephants), we decided to cancel the tour and do just an elephant ride with another company which received better reviews on the treatment of the elephants.  In hindsight, I believe all elephants are probably treated pretty poorly because it was pretty heartbreaking to see such large, beautiful animals chained by their feet to a post to stay put while eating, and driven by a driver carrying a large stick with a very sharp metallic hook on the end (this was not used on our elephant but I assume the hook serves a purpose).  So…now I feel pretty guilty about contributing to the elephant tourism industry which keeps these guys in chains.  Jennica, however, was simply thrilled to ride an elephant.

Elephant ride

Afterwards we took a walk to the beach closest to our hotel and had a nice beach-side dinner while watching twilight turn to night.  It was after the dinner that I realized the papaya salad that Frankie and I had for lunch didn’t settle well.  I didn’t know that 10% of the papaya salad eaten in Thailand leads to food poisoning.  (But I probably should have guessed it!!)  Luckily, Mike and Jennica didn’t eat any of it (which would have added to Mike’s existing digestive issues) and Danvin only had a little.  So now everyone had some degree of something icky, except for Jennica!

Kids collecting something in the sand during low tide – clams? crabs?

Day 4 – A Day in the Hotel

We had a boat tour to Phi Phi Island scheduled for today, but after my eventful evening I was spent – and still a bit queasy.  Frankie and Danvin were troopers though and went on the tour anyway.  Mike and I knew with the condition we were both in it would not be a fun boat ride and day at the beach for us – especially since Jennica was full of energy and feeling great.  Where would we scrape up the energy to keep up with her?  So we stayed in our hotel and tried to rest while she ran around us entertaining herself, and then being entertained by the TV.  In the afternoon we managed to make it out to the pool.  That day I ate nothing but “safe” foods – crackers and pizza.

Jennica in our hotel pool

Day 5/6 – Our Return Home and the iPad Miracle

Our return home was a great example of what happens traveling when both parents are not at their best. After flying two back to back legs (Phuket to Bangkok and Bangkok to Taoyuan) we arrived at our hotel in Taoyuan and realized that we left Jennica’s portable potty seat on the airplane.  Argh!  We loved that thing and nothing as good as it exists in Taiwan. The next day we took the high speed train from Taoyuan to Kaohsiung and after returning home we realized that we had left Mike’s new iPad mini on the train.  AAAAAARRRRGGGGH!  We contemplated the odds of getting it back.  Kaohsiung was the last stop for the train before heading back north to Taipei so a cleaning crew usually enters before others can board.  We were the last passengers off our car – perhaps the cleaning crew found it and turned it in?

I went to the train station with my mom as a translator.  The guy behind the help desk asked a series of very specific questions – what train did you arrive on?  what seat? color of the iPad? etc.  Then my heart soared when he said, we found an iPad on that train.  He handed me the iPad – is this yours?  My heart sank.  No, it’s not.  Man, how many iPads are lost on the train each day?  He had me leave a description of our iPad and our contact information in case something came up, but he admitted the odds were not good since it wasn’t found by that cleaning crew.  I sadly gave up hope but left a message for Mike saying he should answer any call from an unfamiliar Taiwan number in case it was the train station.  A few hours later I received a series of frantic texts from Mike – they found his iPad!  Thank you, God!!  It turns out that the iPad actually made the journey all the way back up to Taipei and then down again to Kaohsiung before it was found by the evening cleaning crew.  The guy behind the help desk couldn’t find it earlier because the iPad was listed as being found on a later train.  Seriously, how many iPads DO they find each day?  We thought it was unbelievable that no one decided to pick it up during its entire “journey without its owners”.

That concludes my very long summary of Thailand!  Thank you Danvin and Frankie for bearing with us and sharing in the adventure!!  Khob-kun-ka!  (Jennica still says it from time to time.)  :)

Din! Tai! Fung!

After 2 months of eager anticipation, the day is finally here.

Three simple words has graced our welcome since we arrived to Kaohsiung over 2 months ago:


For those that don’t know, Din Tai Fung is the Taiwanese contribution to world cuisine.  They have been rewarded with the famed Michelin star since 2009.  And (Lani thought I shouldn’t say this since she felt it would ruffle up a lot of feathers) seeing that Michelin has stopped rating restaurants in Los Angeles, and seeing that there is actually a branch of Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles, I would argue that Din Tai Fung is the only restaurant in Los Angeles that has a Michelin Star.  Heh heh heh…

They are most famous for their 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo), which are similar to dumplings, but are steamed in small bamboo baskets and are typically incredibly juicy inside, and thus, wonderfully delicious.

In fact, xiǎo lóng bāo buns are so juicy inside, that in Taiwan they are actually called 湯包 (tāng bāo), which is literally translated “soup bun”.

Din Tai Fung originally started as a cooking oil company but opened up a restaurant in Taipei in the early 1980s.  Since then, they have become world-renown, with about 50 locations throughout Asia (8 in Taiwan alone), 2 in the US (Arcadia and Seattle), and 3 in Australia.

Unfortunately, while I am such a major fan of Din Tai Fung, I cannot say that I have been to all their locations.  In fact, I have actually only been to three: the one in Arcadia (which we’ve been to like a dozen times), a new one in Taipei 101 recently with Jonathan and Kathy, and the original Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road in Taipei.

Eating with my mom at the original Xinyin Road Din Tai Fung back in 2008

Interestingly enough, even though there are 8 locations throughout Taiwan, there are actually no locations in southern Taiwan, including Kaohsiung, which is especially surprising considering Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan.

Well, that is all about to change.

When we first arrived to Kaohsiung back in November, I took a walk through the food and restaurant area at the Hanshin Mall right next door to us, and there… shining like a beacon of light, calling a weary traveler back home to the comforts of love and peace… was a sign that had the sweetest 6 words I have ever seen written on a wall:

Din Tai Fung
Coming January 2013

Fast forward two months later, and we finally got word of their actual opening date and time: Tuesday, January 22.  Hanshin Mall put up banners all over the mall to celebrate the occasion.

So, even though I can’t say I have been to all 50+ of their locations worldwide, I have the unique opportunity to say something that I think even some of the most die-hard fans of Din Tai Fung would not be able to say: that I have eaten at a Din Tai Fung on opening day.

I have a very strong feeling that the lines on Tuesday will be very long, so I intend to get there bright and early to wait in line.

Funny enough, I think most people know how much of a die hard fan I am of Apple products.  After all, on our trip to Taiwan alone, we brought the following Apple-branded products with us:

  • (2) iPhone 4S
  • (1) iPad Mini
  • (1) iPad (1st Gen)
  • (1) MacBook Pro 15″ (Early 2011 Model)
  • (1) MacBook Air 13″ (Late 2010 Model)
  • (2) iPod Touch (4th Gen)
  • (2) Bluetooth Keyboard
  • (1) Bluetooth Magic Mouse
  • (1) Corded Magic Mouse

Yet, despite all my Apple fanboi-ism, I think it’s probably pretty surprising that I have never done the get-in-line-early thing for an Apple product launch.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever really done the get-in-line-early thing for any sort of launch whatsoever.

But all that is about to change this coming Tuesday.

I’ll be live-blogging from this once-in-Mike-Ho’s-lifetime event.  Stay tuned.

P.S. We were chatting with Lani’s mom about our plan for Tuesday… and she snidely remarked, “What’s the point of getting there so early?  No one’s going to be there.  It’s not that big of a deal.  Just go there around 2pm, no one will be there and you won’t have to wait.”

I tried to explain to her that I’ve been to 3 different Din Tai Fung’s, all at times that are not traditional lunch times, and all three have shown crazy wait times.  So especially given that this is opening day, and the first Din Tai Fung in southern Taiwan, it’s going to be even crazier.

Well, after this conversation, Lani and I ended up walking through Hanshin to get a few things for the week.  Even though they do not open for another 40 hours, they finally pulled down the construction barricades and revealed the restaurant, and staff was running around doing the last minute preparations.  The crowd that was already there checking out the restaurant confirms to me that it’s going to be crazy on Tuesday.  There was even a queue of people who had lined up just to ask some of the staff questions!

And finally, speaking of crazy, clearly I am not the only one who is looking forward to Tuesday:

A Typical Weekday

Some of you may be wondering, what exactly does Lani do all day during the week in Taiwan?  Excellent question.  I sometimes wonder that myself when I think, where did my day go?

My morning begins with Jennica waking up and saying, “I need something to eat!”.  Her waking time can range from 7:30am to 8:30am – a little later than she wakes in the US because she goes to sleep later here in Taiwan.  It is impossible to have an early bedtime for her here.  I then get out of bed and give her a slice of bread with cheese, a banana, and make some oatmeal.  Sometimes she asks to go down to the 7-11 downstairs to buy a strawberry yogurt drink for breakfast.

While Jennica is eating breakfast I’m also doing laundry on most days.  We have a very small washing machine so I have to do small loads more frequently.  This means I can actually wear the same 4 outfits over and over and over again which also means I WAY over-packed!  Doing small loads works out well though because we don’t have a dryer so everything is line-dried – and the rack outside can only hold so many clothes.  Since it takes a day for the clothes to dry, I’m limited to a load a day.  If I need the laundry to be dry that night (or I’m tired of wearing crunchy, stiff clothing), I walk half a mile to the laundromat to dry a load.

Depending on the day, after breakfast there is usually something scheduled.  Once or twice a week I meet with Shu-Fern to have a two-hour Chinese lesson.  On those mornings my mom will watch Jennica.  On Tuesday mornings Jennica has her music class, and now she also has art classes on Wednesday mornings.  Both of these are parent/child classes and her cousin Ashley attends with her.  If we have an unscheduled day, we use the day to go exploring Kaohsiung with my mom.  We have a tourist map from the subway station that has “must-see places in Kaohsiung” that we are trying to work our way through.  :)   We walk everywhere.  If a place is really far away, we’ll take the subway or bus.  It is a 1.3 mile walk to get to my cousin’s place from our place and that’s also the general vicinity of Jennica’s classes and all the good places to eat.  On a single day I might walk up to 5 miles just walking to and from our apartment to various places.  This would be great for exercise except that I also walk right by milk tea places and bakeries…

Jennica and I almost always have lunch out with my mom after lessons and after walking around a bit or running a few errands, we’ll head back to our apartment for her nap.  While Jennica is napping I will either A) nap, B) study Chinese, or C) watch a movie on TV.  I’ll let you guess which one of those I do most frequently.  :)

Jennica has recently been napping between 2-2.5 hours so sometimes her naps will take us right up to dinner time.  If she wakes early, we may walk to the playground or go to the department store to play some games or ride the kiddie rides.  If Mike comes home early and Jennica is awake, we’ll try to drop her off at my mom’s so we can go for a jog or go to the gym (this doesn’t happen very often).  Then, we all go out for dinner.  “All” is sometimes just me, Jennica, and Mike, but more frequently includes my mom.  About 3 times a week it also means the extended family.

Night time is when Taiwan really comes to life, so after dinner we like to walk around town a bit and let Jennica run out some of her energy.  This often involves excursions to the department store next door to us.  Finally, Jennica winds down between 9:30-10:30pm and goes to bed.  Usually, Mike and I are exhausted ourselves and follow soon after!

Jennica with her home-made drum, performing a concert in music class

Hard at work on her art project

Final results – Can you tell some parents helped their kid more than others?

At the Science and Technology Museum – some pretty fun stuff in there!

Play-doh fun with Ashley

Shopping In Taiwan

I’ve been trying to learn some Mandarin during our stay here.  Since the only lessons I’ve gone through so far center on shopping vocabulary and expressions, I feel like I should be able to get along fairly well while shopping.  Sadly, that is not the case.

When I purchase something, I arrive at the cashier armed with the phrases: “I want this one”, “how much does this cost”, and “thank you.”  Unfortunately, it’s rare that it’s that simple.  Most of the time, the cashier will look at me and ask a question while ringing me up.  I usually don’t understand a single word of what was asked.  After seeing my anxious and confused expression, he or she will simply hand me my receipt as if the question really wasn’t that important to begin with.  I’ve learned that some of those questions are, “would you like to buy a bag for your purchase,” “do you have a membership card,” “do you have a frequent customer card,” and “do you need the company numbers” (something needed for tax purposes).

Of course, buying my favorite thing here, a pearl milk tea, is especially complicated.  My first time ordering one was greeted with a barrage of questions, most of which I didn’t understand at all.  After several visits, lots of gesturing, and tutorials from Mike and Shu-Fern, at least now I can answer all of them.  “Fresh milk (instead of evaporated milk), small pearls, cold drink, medium cup, half the sugar, regular ice.”  Whew!

I don’t really go out shopping for clothes over here because if I can fit anything at all it has to be XL (the largest they offer), and even then if it has long sleeves or pant legs it is often still too short.  I know there has to be a population of Chinese women that are bigger than me – where do they buy their clothes?  The other day I walked by a clothing store with a sales rack outside.  My mom pulled a pair of pants off the rack that were a steal – $6 (US).  And they were long!  I was so excited, but when I went into the store to try them on, I was told you cannot try on their sale items.  Huh?  I was super glad my mom was there because I would not have understood that by myself (and still don’t understand the logic).  I sadly put the pants back on the rack because the pants were labeled S and really, the odds were not good that my waist would actually fit.

Oh, and I completely avoid looking at shoes. When I ask for a pair that would fit me the sales people just point at my size 9 feet and laugh.


This past week, the most unfortunate thing happened… Lani’s MacBook Air broke down.

Actually, it turns out it wasn’t her MacBook Air, it was more specifically the brand new SSD “upgrade” that I had put in her Air a few weeks before we left for Taiwan.  (Other World Computing will be hearing from me shortly after we get back… but I digress…)

Unfortunately, and for reasons past my understanding, there are actually no Apple Stores in Taiwan.  My hunch is that it has to do with some sort of Taiwan vs. China thing — China has 8 stores, yet the GDP per capita in Taiwan is over 4x that of China’s, which is odd considering Apple’s notoriously high prices for it’s products.  I tend to wonder if there’s something else going on, especially considering that the products, themselves, are made in China… but I digress… again…

Anyway, in order to have repairs done in an Apple product in Taiwan, you can go to any number of Authorized Apple Service shops.  The closest one to us was a little store called (no joke) Lemon Computer.  It is located on Jiànguó Road, which is known colloquially here as Computer Road.  But I prefer to call it… “Nerdvana”.

In California, it is all about Fry’s Electronics.  It is the place where I can get my weekly (or sometimes daily) hit of geekdom.

And if it’s after 9pm or before 9am, then there is always online.

But I tell you… all the Fry’s locations in California combined, plus, have nothing on Jiànguó Road.

We are talking a whole mile of computer stores… back-to-back.

Anyway, as inconvenient as it was to have to do computer repairs out here, I was pleasantly surprised with one thing.  The total cost it took for them to do everything, including diagnosing the problem, replacing the faulty SSD with the original one (which fortunately we had brought with us to Taiwan), reinstalling the latest copy of Mountain Lion, and then running final diagnostics on everything: 850 NT, or roughly $29 USD.

Imagine that, compared to something like Geek Squad in the US, where (I believe) that an initial consultation for computer hardware repair starts at $90.

Anyway, I’m happy to announce that Lani is back up and running with her MacBook Air now, so that I now have full, unimpeded access to my own 15 or so Apple devices here. =P

Go Cats!

Okay, so I know this is off-topic since I’m not blogging about Taiwan and Asia, but since it happened while I was in Taiwan, I’ll blog about it anyway.

On January 2, 2013 at around 4:45am (Taiwan Local Time), Northwestern finally snapped it’s 64-year drought and won it’s first bowl game since 1949.  I’ve been waiting 17 years for this day, when in 1996 I had the Cats come home with me to Pasadena during my freshman year to watch them play in the Rose Bowl, only to see them fall to USC.

Since then, we’ve had 9 bowl games… and 9 bowl losses.

But finally, this year, we snapped that streak.

The only thing that makes me sad is that I wasn’t able to actually watch the game — ESPN’s app requires you to have a valid subscription with one of the affiliated cable companies in the US in order to watch games (darn you US cable companies!!!).  But I was up, listening to the game live on streaming internet radio starting at around 3am while Lani and Jennica were asleep.

I was glad I didn’t wake them up with all my hooting and hollering.

Oh, and so was Lani.

Go Cats!