2009 Christmas Show

Queenie and Charlene - Christmas 2009
Queenie and Charlene - Christmas 2009

On Sunday, 20 December 2009, we all went to the Ta An Presbytarian Church to watch our beautiful nieces, Rochelle and Charlene, in their Christmas show. They both looked great in their Christmas outfits and they both did an outstanding job in their performances. We were happy to be a part of it and hope to go to many more of their Christmas shows. Some of their pictures are below

Rochelle and Esther - Christmas 2009
Rochelle and Esther - Christmas 2009

Queenie and Charlene - Christmas 2009
Mom and Charlene - Christmas 2009

Of course, wathing the video is better than the pictures of the performance so the video is below too. Enjoy!

You can see more pictures of our 2009 Christmas @ Christmas 2009.

Hope you enjoyed - Merry Christmas all.


Riis Turns 3, Andrea Turns 1

The Crazy Ones
Birthday Party Crowd

Yesterday our friends Andrew and Juvel invite a bunch of us to go up to Tamsui to celebrate their daughters' birthdays. Fortunately for them the kids were born close together so both girls get to celebrate together. Riis, turning 3, was very excited and enjoyed receiving all the gifts. I think her favorite on was the one arm giraffe that she got to ride. Andrea received the same gift but Riis pretty much commandeered both.

Aunty Queenie and Riis
Aunty Queenie and Riis

Riis and the Giraffes
Riis and the Giraffes

Riis also, to the delight of her parents, received a recorder. So she was stomping around in her party dress, sunglasses and birthday hat blowing on the recorder like a rock star. It was great and she enjoyed all the attention.

Rock Star Riis
Rock Star Riis

As we were celebrating Andrea and Riis's birthday, we were also celebrating Phoebe's birthday too. Phoebe is one of the members of the Worship Team at Grace Baptist Church. She wouldn't tell us how old she was but she had a great time too

It was Phoebe's Birthday Too
Phoebe's Birthday Too

Andrea was pretty much a passive observer with regard to all the events that were going on around her. She seemed to enjoy the people but being only 1 was a little restless. She was fun too and enjoyed getting passed around from one guest to another.

Andrew Turns One
Andrea Turns One

One of the big highlights for Riis was her chocolate birthday cake. It was an awesome cake. We didn't really see her eat anything else but, being the birthday girl, she was allowed the extravagence.

Riis Likes Her cake
Riis Likes Her Birthday Cake

The food that was put out was also delicious. I believe most of the cooking was done by Juvel but the boys (Andrew and Josh) did pitch in and make the salsa sauce. I never tried it so cannot tell you if it was good or not. All the food I did eat was delicious and went down well.

Delicious Pasta
Delicious Pasta

Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls

Salsa Sauce

After the festivities, blowing out candles, eating lunch and then dinner, and riding the giraffe it was time for the adults to settle down and have some laughs and a few drinks.

After Party Festivities
After Party

I think in the end a great time was had by all and at 9:00pm we decided to call it quits. A couple of us went down to the waterfront in Tamsui, got some take out Starbucks and enjoyed the nightview of Bali. After that it was hometime, especially after the excitement of the day. Big thanks to Juvel, Andrew, Riis and Andrew for having us over. It was a great time.

The Porters
The Porters

We are all looking forward to the next big party.

More pictures @ Riis and Andrea's Birthday


Jing Shan Beach (金山海灘) and Dented Shins

Three Boogie Boarders
Queenie, Paul and Mark - Three Boogie Boarders

Early one Saturday morning we phoned our friend Mark to see if he was interested in watching rugby at the Brass Monkey later in the day. Of course he was interested but at that time he was preparing to go boogie boarding at Jing Shan Beach (金山海灘) on the North Coast of Taiwan. Its been a while since we went to the beach in Taiwan and an even longer time since either of us boogie boarded so we decided to go.

Getting there was easy. Mark has a car so he drove us. It took us about 40 minutes, not too long. If you tried doing via public transport it would need at least an hour and a half, maybe more. The drive up there was beautiful and the weather was perfect for the beach, i.e. hot and sunny.

The Coast
Jing Shan Beach (金山海灘)

We arrived at the beach and went to rent some boogie boards, only NTD250 per board for the day. Not bad at all. Mark and Queenie have never boogie boarded before so they received a quick lesson on the ground and then we had to choose the boards. We chose small ones to start with as I had never used a large one and I think Queenie and Mark decided just to try and see how it went. After all, we could always come back and change the board.

The beach itself was a surfing beach with a surfing club. There were quite a lot of surfers in the water already and there seemed to be some decent waves. So the sun was out, the sand hot (and burning our feet) and we were all equipped with boogie boards. There was nothing left to do but jump into the water.

Searching for the Wave
Searching for the Waves

Here Comes the Wave
Mark Catches a Wave

The sea was fairly rough and proved to be difficult to negotiate on the boards. Queenie decided to stay in the shallow water while Mark and I tried to get out past the break line to where we could catch some decent waves. However, every time we tried we were pushed back making the task of getting out a ver tiring one. The surface of the ocean was covered in rocks too so even though the water was shallow, it was painful to walk through the Ocean.

Canadian Lumberjack

After being bashed around a bit, and Mark losing his board (the wrist leash snapped), I managed to catch a small wave, but that was about it. It was at the point, when I was standing in the shallow water, that I felt something crash into my shins. I looked down and there was a huge piece of driftwood in the water. And then I noticed the driftwood was everywhere. The driftwood comprised of huge pieces of wood and there were even some trees floating around the water. We were really impressed. Added to this was the need to dodge surfers, cutting our feet on the rocks on the surface we decided the pain was too much and we should move further down the beach.

Surferboy Mark
Mark Looks for a better Spot

Mark and I first went and exchanged our boards for bigger ones and then we went to a different spot that Mark said didn't have rocks on the surface, only sand. We went over to try it but honestly the big boards were just way too clumsy. I soon gave up on the effort. The good part about this part of the beach was that there was very little driftwood although we did notice a tree in the water.

Queenie and her Board
Queenie Gets Ready to Boogie

Paul and Mark Pull the Tree
Ocean Trees

After giving up on the boogie boards we all decided to just swim in the water. It seemed far more sensibled. I body surfed on a few waves and that was enough fun for me. We did spend sometime just lounging about on the beach (we were tired from all the swimming, walking, lumberjacking and the sapping heat of the sun). We carried on for another hour or so but then decided enough was enough.

Paul at Sea
Swimming Free

Too tired to move

We left the ocean, cleaned ourselves up and went in search of food. So although we had cut feet and dented shins from the driftwood, we had had a lot of fun in the water. Honestly cannot wait to get back.

You can see more pictures @ Jing Shan Beach (金山海灘)


Weekend in Luo Dong (羅東), Ilan

Tea Fields in Shangri La
View of the Tea Fields from Shangri La

Going to Ilan

A couple of weekends ago we decided to escape the stresses of Taipei and head into the countryside. Its been a while since we ventured out of Taipei into Ilan and thought it would be great just to head into the mountains and enjoy the "long" weekend away. Queenie booked a room in the Shangri La Hotel in the mountains (hills) above Luo Dong (羅東), we bought some bus tickets for the Friday morning and were all set to go.

The bus journey itself was short and uneventful. It was about 60 - 70 minutes and arrived in Luo Dong (羅東) at around 9:30am. However we had to wait until 10:30am for our hotel pickup. Unfortunately there were no small breakfast stands near the pickup point where we could sit, chat and drink some tea. We ended up standing in a Hi-Life convenience store waiting for our ride. It was too damn hot to wait on the road and the airconditioned store was the answer. Too bad there were no 7-11s nearby with their newly branded Citi Cafe (at least the Citi Cafes have chairs). At 10:30am the driver duly arrived and we were off up the mountain.

The Shangri La Hotel

Shangri La - Luo Dong (羅東)
Cabins at the Shangri La

Once we arrived we were happy to know we were upgraded to a bigger room (Room 775) which had an amazing view of the rice paddies (criss-crossed with pylons of course) in the valley below. The room itself was large with a very peculiar rocking chair, a very comfortable bed, a huge bedroom and a small verandah outside. It was very comfortable and well worth the NTD7,000 we paid for the two nights (which included dinner and breakfast).

After settling in we went off for lunch. The dining room once again had an incredible view of the valley. The lunch (and as we were to discover) and all the meals we ate at the hotel were incredibly healthy. We were impressed. The fruit and vegetables were fresh, as was the meat. Most of the food was boiled or grilled with very little being fried. We were really impressed with the meals. On the first evening we actually missed the free dinner so the hotel gave us a coupon for a free lunch on our second day (lunch cost NTD250 per person). We were really pleased with their flexibility but, after eating dinner on the second day, we were kind of disappointed we missed the first night's meal since it was all really delicious.

Once lunch was done we headed off back to the room to relax. At around 3:30pm Queenie decided we should head out to the Cold Springs in Suao. We called a taxi and was told the trip from the hotel to the Cold Spring would take 40 minutes and cost NTD500. Of course we arrived within 20-minutes and when I suggested to the taxi driver it took half the time so we should only paid half, he roared with laughter.

The Cold Spring itself was pretty funny. Apparently the water in the spring stays at 22C all year around. There were both private rooms and a public swimming area. We chose the public swimming area since it was outside and we wanted to enjoy the sun. Unfortunately the entire cold spring area was the ultimate in Taiwanese kitsch and something we have avoided for a very long time and had missed in some crazy way.

Cold Springs - Suao
Suao Kitsch

The public swimming area was below the ground level and surrounded by red brick walls. There were also terrible megaphone type speakers blaring out the worst pop music imaginable at the highest volume. The surface of the swimming area was covered in stones, pebbles and rocks making it really painful to walk through the water. And yes, the water was cold. We took our time getting into the water and our bodies slowly adjusted to the temperature. So it wasn't too bad. There were a few screaming kids, a couple of rowdy teenagers and a bunch of adults and babies laughing, talking and screaming in the sunken cavern. The noise was amplified by the echoes bouncing of the red brick walls and only added to the cacophony of the pop music being unceremoniously directed into the bathing area. It wasn't quite the relaxing, peaceful dip in the country I had imagined, but it was Taiwan at its best and most social self.

Sunset in Suao
Sunset in Suao

After more than an hour in the water we decided to head off. The sun was setting and we thought it might be too cold to stay in the cold spring without the sun. We got showered and dressed and headed went to the train station. We had decided to take the train from Suao back to Luo Dong to save on taxi fares and also because we do enjoy train rides. Since we had time to kill we decided to take a walk into Suao. Everyone who has been to Suao would perhaps agree that it is a typical rural town in Taiwan. Its on the coast and at the end of the main road there seemed to be a naval base of some sort. Another part of the town was host to a a rather large temple and even though it was now about 5:30pm, the local night market had not even started to stir. We thought the night market might actually have closed down although there did appear to be some functional stores, they were just all closed.

The trip to back to Luo Dong was 20 minutes on the train (pretty quick). The train conductors was a friendly, smartly dressed character who seemed to take his job very very seriously. We were kind of amused by him but did respect the way he took care of his responsibilities.

Once in Luo Dong we walked over to the night market. The night market itself appeared to be very popular, as popular as any in Taipei. We guessed most of the customers had driven in from Taipei for the weekend. Queenie had been there before and said when she came with her friends they struggled to find parking. I could see why. The night market itself was as good as any in Taipei with the usual Taiwanese foods out for sale, the clothes stores, some DVD shops. The park next to the night market had been nicely decorated and made the place look a little more pleasant. After drifting through the stalls, we settled for some shredded pork and rice with soup for dinner. Not too exciting but it was one of the few stands without a long line. We were hungry and didn't want to wait for our food.

Next on the agenda was a trip to the Luo Dong Sports Park. The local government had decorated the park with a lot of lights and arranged a lot different shows and activities. As we arrived a musical water fountain show started. The show was pretty cool and went on for about 30 minutes. The background to the show was the brightly decorated "Love Bridge". The decorations looked good and had attracted a fair crowd. When the fountain show ended we went for a walk (in a designated direction) through a tunnel of lights, then over the love bridge, around the lake and back to the place we saw the fountain show. Along the way we happened upon many other events and activities. There were performers on stilts, some American-Indian singers doing their native chants, a foreigner playing the panpipes, some latin american music and dancers on a side stage and another full on night market. The park was a great experience and we really enjoyed it. We were happy to have gone on the Friday night because apparently, on Satruday's, people from Taipei visit the park in their hordes. Well, we had a great time in the park, but were tired, and headed off a little earlier than we would have expected.

Luo Dong Sports Park
Love Bridge

Luo Dong Sports Park
Queenie and Paul on the Bridge

Luo Dong Sports Park
Lanterns in the Trees

A Taxi Driver's Story

The taxi driver who took us back told us a funny story. He said that once he was taking a female tourist from Hong Kong back to the Shangri La Hotel. Remeber, the Shanrgi La is not in a town, its on a mountain and to get there you go up a dark and winding road. The taxi driver said that once they had left the town and started ascending the mountain, the tourist asked him, "Where are you taking me? I'm scared." The taxi driver responded, "I'm scared too! I don't know if you are a crazy tourist or not!" We thought it was a funny story and soon the bright lights of our hotel were there to greet us.

The Second Day

On the Saturday morning we woke up earlier than usual and decided to go for a walk. We walked for about 10 minutes and then thought breakfast sounded like a much better idea. So we trooped off to the dining hall for a regular Taiwanese breakfast that included all the goodies including rice porridge. Yes, I even ate some of the water rice concotion (I am used to it now) and we thought it was a pretty good breakfast.

Once breakfast was done and dusted we went for a genuine walk. The Shangri La is surrounded by a lot of greenery and the hotel has put up some fairly good observation points. We went for a long stroll around the grounds and just enjoyed being in nature. It was on our first walk in the morning that we noticed the size of the spiders. The spiders were huge and some of them had spun enormous webs. The spiders were impressive (and scary) and not something we will forget soon. There were also some drums we could pound and just a lot natural greenery to enjoy. We had a blast. We walked around the grounds for about two hours. By this time it was 10:30am, the sun was getting up and it was getting hot so we high-tailed it back to our room to spend the late morning and early afternoon relaxing.

Shangri La - Farm
The Observation Points

Paul Makes a Noise
Paul on the Drums

Spider Spider on the web..
Beautiful Spiders

Queenie on the Trail
Queenie on the trail

Since our second lunch was free we went back to the dining hall for lunch at midday. The lunch was another splendidly healthy meal. Lots of vegetables and fruit with some cold chicken. It was good. And after lunch (you guessed it) we went back to the room to read and while away the time. Once the heat of the afternoon had passed at around 3:30pm we headed out again along another trail through the grounds of the hotel. The views were spectacular and walking through the trees and natural vegetation was refreshing and relaxing and something we just really needed to do. We also followed another path to the bottom of the hill and landed up in a beautiful tea plantation.

Cute Couple in Love
Queenie and Paul on the Trail

Talking Trees
Talking Trees

Tea Fields in Shangri La
Tea Fields

The Second Evening

We walked along the trails and on the road through the tea plantation for about two hours and then it was time for dinner. Dinner was a wonderful buffet of the freshest country food you can find anywhere. We ate quite a bit and it was all delicious. The highlight of the second evening was writing wishes on a lantern and then sending the lantern into the night sky. By this stage a couple of tour buses had arrived at the hotel as some company was sponsoring a trip for the employees so there were a lot of kids running around screaming and special shows were put on. Everyone was having fun. We bought our lanterns, wrote our messages (promising each other we will return to the same hotel in 40 years) and sent the lantern into the sky. I must say, although the lantern did go fairly high, the flight time was less then two or three minutes. It was kind of sad seeing our lantern come crashing down to earth but at least it flew for a short while.

Shangri La Lantern
Shangri La Lantern at Night

Wishes on the Lantern
Wishes on the Lantern

Wishes on the Lantern
Wishes on Lantern

Lighting the Lantern
Lighting the Lantern

Lantern in the Sky
Lantern in the Sky

The Final Morning - Death Walk up the Mountain

View of the Temple
Temple in the Mountain

Sunday morning arrived all too soon. We had a quick breakfast and decided to take another walk down the mountain. The road ran below through the shadows of the vegetation on the mountain above so we were mostly cool on the way down. When we got to the bottom of the hill there was a huge temple overlooking a beautiful lake. The temple itself was quite an impressive and beautiful structure nestled into the side of the mountain. We spent sometime milling around there, bought a drink and then debated how we would go back to the hotel. The most obvious route was to follow the road back up. It would have taken 30 minutes or so and most of it would have been in the shade. The second option was to hike up the hill and head to the hotel along a trail cut through the trees and vegetation. We chose the latter option.

Lake View
Lake View

View of the Temple
Temple View

People we spoke to said it would take around 90 minutes to get back to the hotel through the trees but we decided to give it a bash. We started up the hill at a slow pace and rested at regular intervals. As we got higher we had tremendous views of the temple and the lake and we were well covered by the trees. The incline up the slope in the beginning was gentle and easy and within 30 minutes we seemed to be approaching the top. Queenie and I were both thrilled that we had arrived so quickly but little did we know the fun had just begun!

We arrived at the top of the first hill and then the shade disappeared and we were walking in the sun. It was hot and sticky and then, horror of horrors, the trail started to go downhill. In the beginning we thought it would just go down for a short distance but trail continued to plunge further into the valley. I am not sure at what point we realized that the trail would take us all the way into a second valley and that we would have to hike up a steeper and more difficult hill, but we were dreading the second hill. We were not to pleased with the idea but thought we had come this far, we couldn't turn back. Besides, the view of the tea planations were amazing and it really was a beautiful day to be out walking. We just needed more drinks and were racing the clock as we had to checkout by 12:oopm.

Tea Fields in Shangri La
Tea Fields at Zhong Shan (中山)

We reached the half way point, Zhong Shan (中山). There was a small pavillion we could sit under and a welcome breeze that brought relief from the stifling heat and humidity. We rested up for about 15 minutes but had to continue so we could check out on time. Unfortunately the trail continued to go down for a further 15 minutes. Finally we were at the bottom and looked at the very steep incline we had to ascend. We started up the hill cursing every step. Our legs were tired and the walk was not so pleasant anymore. It took another 40 minutes to get to the top and it was heavy going. Most of it was under the trees so there was no sun beating down on us directly, but it was still hot. We finally made it to our room at the top of the mountain and crashed on to the bed gasping for water. We both concluded that we had done enough excercise for the day.

So that was the end of the weekend. It was a great weekend for both of us. We relaxed a lot, enjoyed nature and ate a lot of healthy food. What more could we want? A more relaxing walk on a Sunday morning I suppose.

Click Here to See More Pictures

P.S. Shangri La is highly recommended if you are looking to get away from the city but can be a bit pricey.


Boracay Beach 02: The People

Couple in Boracay
Couple in Boracay

Filipino people to our mind are some of the most friendly, gentle and heartwarming people on earth. We have had the great privilege of befriending many Filipino people here in Taiwan and some of them have become our best friends, so we were expecting the local people, at least, to be warm and friendly. We were not disappointed. Even the touts and the vendors selling trinkets and fruit were not pushy. They would simply ask us once if we wanted to buy something. If we said no, they would leave us alone and not chase us or beg us to buy from them. Waitresses in the restaurants and all the service people and generally people everywhere greeted us with smiles.


Nemo @ the Top of Mt. Luho

The most memorable person we met was a 32 y/o dwarf, Nemo. We met Nemo on the first afternoon on the beach. We were just settling in on the beach, getting ready to swim, when Nemo came along and very politely introduced himself and offered us a wide variety of activities that we could do. We said we were just relaxing but that we would consider doing something with him on the second day. He agreed to come back and meet us then. Well, on the second morning he had some other guests so introduced us to his friend Sammy, who would take us snorkeling and jet skiing.

Nemo explained to us that although he was a dwarf, both his parents and his four siblings were of normal height. He told us he came from Manila and had been working in Boracay for three years. He started out in a restaurant but then moved to being a commission-based tour guide after a short while. He studied catering and hotel management and graduated with a two year diploma. He had previously managed a bar in Manila and worked in the restaurant industry there before deciding to move to Boracay. Nemo’s dream is to travel the world. The country he most wants to visit is America because they are rich and he believes dreams can come true there. He loves basketball and his favorite team is the LA Lakers. On one of the days he told us it was his lucky day as his team, the Lakers, had won. Nemo was interested in starting his own business but as he said, “I am waiting for my luck to change.”

Nemo Gets Ready to Ride
Nemo Gets Ready to Ride

Nemo is an awesome guy. He usually hangs out outside the Le Soleil hotel. He is obviously fairly famous in the area. Just walking through the mall (D’Mall) with him was an experience as he seemed to know everyone. He was a good guy. Has a great sense of humor and is very polite. If you are looking for a good tour guide, I suggest you find Nemo.

Paul and Nemo in Boracay
Paul and Nemo in D'Mall


Paul and Sammy in Boracay
Paul and Sammy

Sammy was introduced to us by Nemo on our first morning in Boracay. Nemo was going to take us out to go snorkeling and jet skiing but he had other guests so he introduced us to his friend Sammy, another commission-based tour guide who hangs out around the Le Soleil hotel. Sammy was a very relaxed, easy going character. He was only 22 y/o but already has two kids, a six year old son and a one year old daughter. He had his first child when he was only 16 years old himself. Although unmarried he and his girlfriend do live together. He told us his neighbor had 15 kids, the same as a basketball team. We asked him way he had kids so young and he said in the Philippines, their excuse is that they were “cold” and there was nothing else to do.

As I said Sammy was a pretty relaxed kind of dude. He did try and get us good prices for the different activities and he always had a smile. He was just a genuinely nice guy and we really enjoyed his sincerity and his light heartedness. Once again, if you want a great tour guide we recommend you go find Sammy, he will hook you up with whatever you want to do and will give you a good price.


Sarah at Boracay Beach Bar
Sarah in the Bar

Sarah was a British girl we met in a beach side bar. She was there with her friends but currently works in Thailand. We didn’t really speak much to her but she was a memorable character. She seemed to really fancy the singer in the bar and kept on telling us how great he was. After a little bit of egging on from me she decided to become his backup singer. Well, a drunk English girl and an average Filipino rock n roll cover singer certainly made for a hysterical combination. After she got tired of singing she handed out a hat to collect money for the singer insisting he had a hard life. Ah well, we threw in a hundred pesos, drank a few more San Miguel’s and decided to call it quits for the night. Sarah was still dancing around like a mad girl, but we are old!

The Italian

Another interesting guy we met (no pictures or videos, sorry) was the Italian owner of a restaurant who had lived in Boracay for 30 years. He was married to a Filipino lady and had a daughter. I was later told by some other friends who went to Boracay that the food in this guys restaurant was amazing. He also owns the Tree House bar (which we never went to). We went for a walk and met this guy. He was lamenting the loss of the beauty of Boracay and the over commercialization of the island. He was saying how the beach front had been destroyed by the hotels and how the big hotel chains such as Holiday Inn were moving in and taking over from the traditional hotels that had been there for a long time. He was looking to sell his restaurant and property and retire somewhere else. He was thinking about retiring in New Zealand (he thought it was more natural and beautiful). We recommended the East Coast of the South Island. We asked him why he didn’t want to retire in Italy. He said because everyone there had become crazy. We had a good laugh at that.

So that’s it really. The trip was too short to meet tons of people and we were mostly trying to have a relaxing vacation as opposed to a wild travelling experience. The people we did meet and speak to were wonderful and friendly and our only regret is that we didn’t have more meaningful conversations with more people. That is the true fun and adventure of travel, not the places but the people.


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