Spectacular Sand Sculptures: A Photo Essay from Fulong Beach

What was the best sand castle you created as a child? I’m willing to bet it didn’t look anything like these:   Every summer, international sand sculptors congregate to create stunning sand masterpieces on the northern coast of Taiwan for the International Sand Sculpture Festival.  Selective artists from around the world are invited to Fulong Beach, where they are given a heap of golden sand from which to create their masterpieces.   This year’s chosen theme was ‘Childhood Memories’. The creativity that goes into these works of art is truly astonishing, not to mention the detail, depth and feeling achieved from such a simple resource. When the sculptures are finished, they are sprayed with a biodegradable, non-toxic glue to keep the sand safe from the wind and rain so prevalent in Taiwan. At the end of the festival, the local sand used to create the masterpieces is leveled back down, returning to its natural state. Quite a sustainable way to boost tourism and promote the arts.   Two sculptures were easily our favorite, and they happened to be the judges’ picks as well. Casey’s favorite  (second place) was named Through the Eyes of Babes, portraying what all crazy adults must look like when they oogle and google at infants. Dan’s top choice (first prize) was named Dragon Reality and depicted a child sketching a dragon, vividly coming to life as the viewer revolves around the sculpture.   Technically, access to the sand sculptures is free; however, you must pay $100NT to enter Fulong Beach (the most popular beach in Northern Taiwan). The weekends are insanely crowded with Taiwanese tourists elbowing...
Sunday Snapshot | You Can’t Spell Gorgeous without Gorge | Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

Sunday Snapshot | You Can’t Spell Gorgeous without Gorge | Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

It’s a fact: you can’t spell gorgeous without gorge. And Taroko Gorge certainly fits the bill. This is the Shakadang Trail; it’s the first path you’ll come across after entering the national park. I’m not sure what they put in that water but it is a serious hue of aqua. Also, I may have spent our entire walk yelling “mucho azul aguaaaa”, but that’s not important. Be sure to check out our full post about Taroko Gorge for more photos and...

How to Change a Flat Tire: A Lesson in Generosity

How do you fix a flat tire in Taiwan? 20 really friendly Taiwanese people, 5 smart phones, 1 awesome blue truck driving us around for free, and we still don’t have the answer.   If you happen to be a fan of our facebook page, (which you totally should be, btw ;-p) then you might have seen this status pop-up on your news feed. We’ve had a lot of questions about the details, so without further ado, here is the ridiculousness behind my broken bicycle’s flat tire. Our first day of cycling from Hualien to Taitung began fabulously. Although rain was plaguing the rest of Taiwan, we managed to find a pocket of sunshine on the East Coast, which only amped up our spirits more. DIY cliff bars and emergency rain ponchos in store, no hills could slow us down; no worries could weigh us down. Or so we thought. Then there was this whole matter of lunch. And somewhere between parking our bicycles and carbo-loading on fried rice, cycling got a lot more difficult. At first I thought the struggle was most likely a derivative of stuffing my face with about 10,000 calories of oily carbohydrates. But after a few moments of feeling like I was riding over cobblestone and carrying a ton of bricks, I realized that my bike tire was as flat as a pancake. Like, so flat that the outer tire was actually flopping out of the metal tire frame. Don’t judge me for the fact I didn’t notice immediately; if you don’t remember, bikes and I are still just getting acquainted. So I have...

Cycling Taiwan’s East Coast: On the Road Again

Bikes and I haven’t always been the best of friends. Don’t get me wrong—as a child, I had a bike like any other little girl, complete with tassels on the handlebars and a basket on the front. It was probably pink. But then, somewhere between being six and sixteen, I kinda forgot how to ride a bike. I know. You’re thinking the one thing ‘they’ say is that you never forget how to ride a bike. In all honesty I still knew how, I was just severely out of practice. So severely that I pretty much just wobbled around whenever I tried to pedal, spending the majority of my time swerving back and forth across the street. Yea, this was in high school. Kinda embarrassing. And then there was this time in Italy. I was teaching at an English camp in the small city of Piacenza, and staying with a lovely host family. They gifted me with a beautiful bike to borrow for my brief time spent at their home, which I was thrilled about, because something about quaintly biking around a picturesque Italian piazza sounded perfect. However, the host family wasn’t so thrilled when I actually got on the bike and put my skills-or lack thereof-on display.  They were so nervous about letting me loose on my own that they insisted all of us take a biking expedition together—with their four-year old daughter leading the way—so I could practice a little more. Once they felt I had finally passed their biking lessons, they hesitantly let me loose to go fulfilling my romantic visions of exploring the city independently....
Taiwanese Hot Springs: The Ultimate Guide to Taiwan’s Hottest Attraction

Taiwanese Hot Springs: The Ultimate Guide to Taiwan’s Hottest Attraction

I’m not really a huge fan of hot springs. I mean, I like them enough. They’re relaxing and rejuvenating and don’t require any physical exertion. It’s mostly that I can’t manage to stay in them longer than five minutes because of the sweat that begins to pour down my face. That being said, Dan and I just got back from a hot spring hotel in Central Taiwan, and I loved it. It probably helped that we had a private hot spring bath in our room that overlooked the adjacent valley and mountains. And I must admit, even if I don’t normally get excited about hot springs, I always feel amazing afterwards. In Asia, hot springs are believed to raise energy levels while possibly treating chronic fatigue, eczema and arthritis—a pretty good reason to give the popular Taiwanese pastime a go.     There are two main things to remember before visiting Taiwan’s hot springs:   1)    If hot spring baths are separated by gender, you’re expected to bathe nude. I was bit worried it would be totally awkward sporting by birthday suit with a bunch of old Taiwanese women, but it’s not actually that bad. Plus, these “nude” hot springs are typically a bit nicer, with various showerheads, more variety in water temperature, steam rooms, and no obnoxious children splashing sulfur water in your face. 2)    You must wear a shower cap before entering the hot springs. Sometimes these will be provided, other times you are expected to bring your own. Beyond that, just follow common sense. Don’t bathe if you have any health risks, don’t stay in the hot...

It’s Dragon Boat Festival Time!

Dragon Boat Festival fell on June 23rd this year. I can easily say that before coming to Taiwan, I had never ever heard of dragon boats. What’s a little bit more embarrassing is that even after living in Taiwan for nearly a year, I still had no idea what constituted Dragon Boat Festival until a couple weeks ago. People kept talking about zongzi and a suicidal poet, and I was in the dark. So I donned by detective hat to do a little wiki searching and a little quizzing of my local friends. Here is what I found out: Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday in honor of the poet Qu Yuan. Apparently Qu Yuan got on the bad side of the Chinese king in or around 300 BC. After being accused of treason, Qu Yuan was exiled, during which time he wrote a great deal of poetry. (What better thing to do with all that free time?) Some time later he was captured, leading him to commit suicide by means of drowning in a river. Understandably, Qu Yuan’s followers were quite upset about his death. In an effort to save his body they dropped sticky rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves (zongzi) into the river so that the fish would eat the rice instead. Additionally, the people took their boats out on the river to look for his body (from which Dragon Boat Racing was born). Today, little is really mentioned about the poet; however, most people do celebrate the holiday by making and eating zongzi and participating in the dragon boat races. So let’s first talk about zongzi, because...