Monday, March 26, 2012

Going to Taiwan - Celebrating Lunar New Year in Kaohsiung

Santa Clara, CA - Ok, I've taken a break from working on the photos from the southwest and started on a few of the many, many photos I took on our trip to Taiwan this January and February. I've thought quite a bit about this post, but as I type now I'm still not sure how I want to approach it.

For this trip, I kept a journal as I usually do while traveling, but unfortunately with the baby, I often found myself a few days behind. Therefore, I had little time to share all that many witty and insightful thoughts (not that I really had much time to think witty and insightful thoughts in the first place). The results... I'm not sure if I have enough material or skill to write a very interesting travel blog after the fact. But... I do have lots of photos that I'd like to share. Therein lies the dilemma. How do I post photos and tell a little about Taiwan without boring the pants off folks. Well... I can't really say that I'm off to a great start, but here is my attempt anyway:

International Travel with a One Year Old

In short, tricky but not impossible.  Suwei and I did a lot of reading & planning to make sure everything went as smoothy as possible, and for the most part it did.  However, we did manage to learn a few lessons along the way. Here is what we did...

Packing:  Never in all my travels have I ever planned on bringing as much stuff as I did this trip!  And, I hope never to have to bring this much stuff again (unless of course we decide to have a second child).  The biggest debates between Suwei and I were mostly about cribs, car seats, strollers and high chairs.  Suwei won most of the arguments and frankly, I'm glad she did, because it worked out.

The Baby Bjorn Travel Crib
The Crib: On our trip to the Southwest we learned that a travel crib is a life saver, especially if you can get the little one used to it early on.  The one we chose is made by Baby Bjorn (  It's a bit more expensive than most at about $275, but we chose it mostly because of it's weight (11 lbs or 5kg) and because it was super easy to set up and take down.  We started using the travel crib at home about two weeks before our departure date so that Keira could get used to it in a more familiar surrounding.  The next problem we needed to solve was how to carry it on trains, buses etc.  We knew we were going to have our hands full and having another suitcase didn't appeal to either of us.  Suwei came up with the solution to this one (which I originally thought was pretty crazy).  She bought a very cheap but massive rolling suitcase.  One big enough to put both the crib and all her clothes inside.  I then bought a rolling duffel large enough to carry all the baby clothes, my clothes, and other sundries.  With most of our gear rolling on the ground we found it much easier to juggle the nugget.

The car seat, the car seat, the car seat:  I grew to hate the car seat.  And it was the one piece of luggage that we absolutely needed if we planned on riding in any sort of car (which we were).  It was also the one item that never seemed to fit anywhere.  When we had the rolling luggage, we could loop it over one of the handles (see photo above) and carry it pretty easily.  When walking through security and out to the gate, however, it had to be carried.  Not the end of the world, but when you are juggling a baby, a stroller and camera equipment (which I also had a lot of), well... it's not ideal.

The reason we didn't check the car seat was that we wanted to use it on the plane if there happened to be a spare seat available.  We did not purchase a seat for Keira as the tickets for lap babies were 10% of the cost of a full seat.  What we did wrong, after carrying the damn thing all the way to the gate (with the base attached, mind you), was to allow the gate attendant to put a luggage tag on it, "just in case there are not enough seats."  Once we got to the plane they told us that we could not board with the seat, as it already had a luggage tag on it.  They then told us that they would keep an eye on it to keep the baggage guys from taking it away and if there were any spare seats, they'd bring it back for us.  Then they completely forgot about it.  We ended up with two spare seats between us and no car seat.  No big deal, we just held on to her during take off and then used the seat belt to minimize squirming during nap/bed time.

On our return trip, we did manage to board with the car seat and install it in a spare seat between us.  However, I found it quite cramped and honestly I don't think Keira slept any better.  I'm sure she was safer in there, but I'm not sure it was worth lugging the thing through the airport.  Next time I think I'd like the check it.  Suwei, I'm sure, disagrees with me.

The Stroller: This was another item that didn't seem to fit anywhere.  At least it was lighter and smaller than the car seat.  I also found that I could strap it to my duffel bad and eliminate one more item I had to carry.  We debated a long time about taking a stroller.  I was kind of anti-stroller, but then again Suwei was going to be the one carrying Keira most often (using the Ergo), so I really didn't have much say in the matter.  As it was my mom found this small, light weight stroller at a garage sale for six bucks.  For that amount we figured if we hated carrying it we could just give it away.  It turns out that it was quite useful and we ended up bringing all the way back home.  One factor was that Suwei's father loved pushing Keira around in it, which made it very easy for us.  That said, the Ergo (baby carrier) was still very much an essential item.  There was no way we were going to use the stroller in crowded subways, steep or rocky trails, or anywhere else really where a six dollar stroller wouldn't roll easily.

The Booster Seat:  Although we were told that many of the better restaurants in Taiwan would have high chairs for small children, we knew were going to be visiting a lot of relatives and probably wouldn't always be eating out.  We looked into a lot of options including the type that screw on to the table top (heavy and a problem if the table is not shaped just right).  I was ready to chuck the whole idea due to the weight and the bulk, when our Pediatrician offered to lend us her First Years On-The-Go Booster Seat.  I think Suwei was looking to get something with it's own tray, but I thought this worked just great and it was super light and compact.  The only places it didn't work were in the restaurants with the small plastic stools. In those cases we either held her on our lap or kept her strapped in the stroller.  Also the fact that the booster didn't have a tray meant Suwei and her mother we constantly sanitizing restaurant tables.

The Grandparents:  Ok, so we didn't have to pack the grandparents, nor did we have to navigate any airports with them, but we did meet them in Taiwan and traveled with them for most of the trip.  I'll be honest there were definitely up sides and down sides to traveling this way.  On the up side, they are from Taiwan.  They know the country, the language, and the customs.  This of course helped immensely for obvious reasons.  On the down side, I'd never been to Taiwan, Suwei hadn't been there in 13 years, and we had a baby who had never been out of the USA.  So, they and some of the other relatives we visited were a wee bit over protective to the point of being stifling at times.  On the up side, four extra capable and helpful hands sure didn't hurt when it came to wrangling the baby.  Suwei's dad was the master stroller driver of the group.  On the down side we didn't always see eye to eye on the wrangling methods.  Overall, I think they were one of the main reasons why the trip was as easy as it was, but I'm not sure I'd want to go with them on a trip to India.

Keira taking the grandparents for a walk near Love Pier, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Traveling in Taiwan During Lunar New Year

Outside Taipei's Main Station with Auntie & Mr Yu
We arrived in Taipei on January 20th, 2012, three days before the Lunar New Year.  One of the first things we did upon arrival was to hop on the High Speed Rail and headed south to Taiwan's second largest city, Kaohsiung, before all hell broke loose.  As it was, we needed to have Suwei's Aunt buy the train tickets well ahead of time to assure that we got seats.  Like Thanksgiving or Christmas in the USA, Lunar New Year is a time when folks head home to be with family, which was essentially what we were doing.  Both of Suwei's parents have quite a few relatives living in Kaohsiung.  Therefore, their plan was for us to get south, as quickly as possible and lay low until the craziness subsided. Most folks try to get home for New Year's Eve.  Then two days later, it is tradition that married daughters head home to their parent's house for another round of festivities. All told it really ties up the transport system.

Auntie's Building where we stayed in Kaohsiun
How did the celebration of The Lunar New Year start?  Legend tells of a ferocious beast, called the Nian 年, who had a nasty habit of eating livestock, crops and even villagers (especially children) on the first day of the lunar New Year.  To protect themselves from the Nian, villagers would set out food for the creature to eat (hoping to fill it up before it moved on to people), they would hang red lanterns (knowing that the Nian feared the color red), and they would set off fireworks also to scare the beast away.  And sure enough, beast or no beast most of these traditions prevail.

As we quickly learned it's also a time when the villagers themselves do a fair amount of consumption (although I am sure the children were quite safe).  We were invited to a family dinner on New Year's Eve, family brunch on New Year's Day, another huge family dinner the night after New Years and another family lunch somewhere in those first few days.  Add to that all the great dumplings, snacks, noodle shops, and stuff Auntie made and we were getting a little worried about bursting at the seams.

New Year's Eve Dinner with Family in Kaohsiung
Although many folks in Taiwan get about a week off for Lunar New Year the festivities seem to continue for two or three weeks more as the new year fades into the Lantern Festival (which is another post all together).  In any case the new year gave us ample opportunity to meet the family, see lots of Kaohsiung and the surrounding area, and to eat, eat, and eat some more!

The Sunset Market

My very first night in Kaohsuing, Suwei's Father took me out to the nearby Sunset Market. As the name implies, the Sunset Market, really gets going in the late afternoon and boy was it hopping when we got there! Stall to Stall people buying up loads of chickens, veggies, fish, fishy type things, dumplings, fruits, grains, noodles etc, etc, etc. It was lucky we visited when we did as the next day the market shut down for completely for Lunar New Year (probably explains why it was so crowded that night) and stayed quiet for almost a week.

The Sunset Market, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Chengcing Lake

Chengcing Lake as seen from the Top of Jhungsing Pagoda.
On New Year Eve Day, we took a short bus ride out to Chengcing Lake for a long walk and some fresh air. Chengcing Lake is actually a man made reservoir built in the 1950's to regulate irrigation water. Originally called Ta'Pei Lake, it was renamed by Caing Kai-shek, who had a chateau built there, as well as an underground tunnel that served both as a bomb shelter and a military headquarters. In 1960, the government built the Nine Cornered Bridge and opened the surrounding area up as a sightseeing area and park. The bomb shelter was later converted into an aquarium and marine museum.

It's quite a peaceful place to wander, and wander we did. We walked around for quite a while trying to rid ourselves of the jet lag and work up a massive appetite for the upcoming family food fest.

The Nine Cornered Bridge, Chengcing Lake, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Playground / Jhongsing Pagoda / The Nine Cornered Bridge

Taking the Ferry to Cijin Island

Cijin District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
After a massive New Years Day Brunch at the Ambassador Hotel, Suwei's family took us down to the Love Pier for a ferry ride out to Cijin Island.  Cijin Island used to be just Cijin District until 1975 when they hacked a channel through the southern end to create a second entry into the port.  Although it's possible to drive there via a tunnel, it's quite popular to take a ferry and make a day trip of it.  The island is quite well know for it's seafood street.  We, however, had to take a pass on that due to our earlier over-indulgence, and opted instead to take a walk up to Cihou Fort at the north end of the island.

The Ferry to Cijin Island, Kaohsiung Harbor

Cijin Harbor, Cijin Island
 Cihou Fort is perched atop Mt. Cihou and has been there in some form or another since 1875.  The most recent incarnation was built in the 50's and was designed by a British Engineer, giving it a much more western look.  The fort has served as a strategic defense against the Mudan Tribe, the Japanese and the Chinese, albeit not too successfully.  Now it mainly serves as a nice place to stroll with the family, offering great views of the island and the City of Kaohsiung beyond.

There is also a lighthouse up there, but it was closed for Lunar New Year.

Cihou Fort, Cijin Island, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Enjoying the view from Cihou Fort, Cijin Island, Taiwan
Waffle Maker on Cijin Island
 Pier 2 Art District

I really liked this area! The Pier 2 Art District is pretty much a perfect example of urban renewal. The district used to be a heavy industrial area full of warehouses. Now the old train line is a bike path and the warehouse are galleries. In between the buildings are walking paths and courtyards full of our door sculptures. It's a perfect place to wander and gawk at the creativity.

While we were there, many of the entrants to the 2011 Container Art Festival were on display. Artist from all over the world were asked to express their views on urban ecology by transforming massive shipping containers into amazing works of art.

Taking an Afternoon Stroll Trough the Pier 2 Art District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Container Art, Pier 2 Art District

And that's it for this entry. I better post this before it gets any larger. Stay tuned for much, much more from Taiwan. Check out the link to the slideshow below. There are 59 photos in there.

Going to Taiwan - Celebrating the Lunar New Year in Kaohsiung

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Valley of the Gods & The Moki Dugway

Keira loving the desert, Valley of the Gods, Utah.
Santa Clara, CA - More photos from the Fall Road Trip are here!  I've been a little short on time lately what with the jet lag and taxes to deal with, but... I've managed to get another small set of photos processed and posted.  In this set we will visit the Valley of the Gods at the base of Cedar Mesa in Southern Utah.

The Valley of the Gods is located about 40 miles north-east of the much more famous Monument Valley, and although the sandstone formations might not be quite as grand, they are well worth this little side trip.  This valley is also a lot more remote than the well visited Monument.  There are no gift shops here, no fees, & no tours.  There is also no water, no bathrooms and no facilities what-so-ever.  Just a sign post (where you can get a description of the formations) and a 17 mile dirt road (FR 242).  The road is in fairly good condition with a few lumps and bumps here and there, and should be just fine for most cars with a decent clearance (as long as the weather cooperates).

Sign post at the start of the 17 mile Valley of the Gods Road
Suwei and I took The Valley of the Gods Road from Highway 163 to the base of the Cedar Mesa and the Moki Dugway (Highway 261).  We arrived late in the afternoon and enjoyed watching the shadows get longer and the rocks turn redder.  Keira, of course, loved playing in the sand.

The Valley of the Gods & Cedar Mesa as seen from Highway 163.
The Valley of the Gods Road, Utah
The Valley of the Gods

Once the shadows began to overtake us, we turned north and headed up the side of Cedar Mesa via the Moki Dugway.  I had to look up what a dugway was.  Basically, it's a road dug into the side of a hill or below the surface.  This particular dugway is a three mile, crazy, twisty, section of road dug into the side of Cedar Mesa. In that three miles of twists and turns, the road climbs 1100 ft, each bend offering another spectacular view.  The road was built in 1958 by a mining company in order to haul uranium from the "Happy Jack" mine in Fry Canyon to the processing plant in Mexican Hat.  I'd highly recommend checking it out, if only to get to Cedar Mesa... which we'll visit in the next post.  Stay Tuned.

The Valley of the Gods as seen from The Moki Dugway at Sunset.
Check out these earlier posts from our 2011 Fall Road Trip:

Fall Road Trip 2011 - California to Colorado
Fall Road Trip 2011 - Part II - Misc. Colorado Including Grand Mesa
Fall Road Trip 2011 - Part III - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Telluride & The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument

And that's it for now. Check out the slideshow for full sized photos (16 of them). Just click below.

Fall Road Trip 2011 - Valley of the Gods & The Moki Dugway