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...

Shopping at Wufenpu in Taipei: What’s the Deal?

I get ridiculously proud of myself when I score a good deal shopping. I know I shouldn’t be telling everyone that my designer dress was actually on super-clearance due to a defect in the zipper, but I can’t help it. If I bought that $80 dress for a whopping ten bucks, you can bet I’m going to tell you about it. With probably more excitement than is socially acceptable. Shopping in Taiwan gives me similar thrills. Racks of extremely cheap clothing are everywhere, and it takes almost all my self-control to tell myself I don’t really need another sweatshirt with college logo I’ve never heard of—even if it is a super cute hoodie for only $4. Granted, a lot of the fashion here isn’t really me. I like to think I’m quite girly, but even I have to set up some barriers against all the lace and hearts and baby shades of pink that proliferate.  Although as I sit here I’m donning a shirt of a baby giraffe wearing a bow tie. Not so sure what that has to say about my taste in fashion after two years of living in Asia… It’s easy to shop in Taiwan. Markets are everywhere, and virtually all of them will have racks of clothes set out to tempt you while purchasing your bubble milk tea. Heck, there’s even a cheap jewelry/purse rack at my favorite dumpling shop! But still, there’s one place that rises above the rest. It’s the place all those other inexpensive street vendors buy their products from. It’s a place called Wufenpu. Located in Taipei, Wufenpu consists of over...

Lantern Festival and the 20-Meter Serpent

Last year, you probably would have considered our experience at Lantern Festival to be a bit less than ideal.     Yeaaa. That’s Dan holding our blazing sky lantern, completely obliterating his dream of finally getting a pony.  He’s still waiting for Santa to write back on that one.     This year we decided to stay away from fire and stick to the main Lantern Festival event hosted by the Taiwan tourism bureau. It just so happened to be held in Jhubei, just over the river from home.   There are numerous stories to the origin of Lantern Festival, most dating from Taiwanese folklore. Some say thousands of years ago, the Chinese would see dancing deities under the first full moon of the month. On one cloudy night, the deities were no longer visible; all the people gathered their torches to try to illuminate the gods. Although the Chinese never could see their gods again, lighting up torches became a tradition. Today’s lantern festival is a way to promote tourism while carrying on Chinese heritage, including the art of lantern making. From master paper craftsmen to elementary school children, everyone is invited to participate in the creative lantern designs. There were many incredible lanterns, but the main attraction was a 20-meter tall serpent.  In honor of the Year of the Snake, the serpent-like dragon symbolized national prosperity, and of Taiwan flying into a flourishing future.     We would have enjoyed lantern festival much, much more if it weren’t for the constant pushing and shoving. It seems we went during prime time, which left little ability to stop and...
Ubud, Bali: More than just ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Ubud, Bali: More than just ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

We were sitting at breakfast in the middle of who-knows-where-Java, drenched to the bone and devouring our glamorous breakfast of plain toast and Nescafe after a failed attempt at climbing Mt. Bromo.  (Well, in all fairness, we succeeded in waking up at 4am and climbing to the viewpoint to see the sunrise. It was the constant downpour—aka lack of seeing anything—that constituted as failure.) A couple of minutes into our breakfast of champions, a retro British gal (also returning from the not so epic Bromo quest) asked to join us as she awaited her next transport. Our conversation soon arrived at the generic, travelers meeting other travelers questionnaire, somewhat reminiscent of freshman year of college. After covering the basics of “Where are you from?”, “How long are you here?” and “Is this going to be a long term, clingy friendship kind-of thing? Cuz I can’t tell if you’re annoying quite yet.”, our chatting soon turned to Ubud. Our new friend had just spent a month practicing yoga there, and I was intrigued to find out if it lived up to all the hype it receives. After all, I kept hearing Ubud was supposedly the one place I just had to visit while in Bali. Like finding out your favorite male celebrity is actually only attracted to other men, her description more than turned me off: “Well, actually, it’s quite Eat, Pray, Love at the moment. A lot of middle aged American women soul searching and practicing bunny yoga. But I still loved it. Everyone does.” Ughhhhhhh. I inwardly groaned for about five minutes, thinking back to how much I...
10 Things To Love About Bali

10 Things To Love About Bali

Anything that has to do with poop is automatically deemed either childishly humorous or just super gross. Even saying the word out loud might bring a chuckle along, especially if you’re of the same maturity level Dan is. Of course, there is always an exception. In this case, it’s Bali’s luwak coffee. I was lucky enough to get a sip of this extra smooth, velvety cup of Joe, freshly roasted via coffee beans a civet pooped out. And yes, that’s correct—I actually thought it tasted phenomenal. Especially once I got the fact out of my head that it had already passed through the digestive track of a luwak—which are SO cute, btw. Unfortunately, Dan detests everything about coffee, so while he can’t quite be included in the sentiment, I did get him to admit that extra-sugary-vanilla-milk-with-a-hint-of-coffee is okay. After six years of trying, I’ll take it. While we might be in discrepancy about the coffee, we are certainly in agreement about the rest of Bali. There will be lots of photos and descriptions in the near future, but until then, here’s a bit of an appetizer: just a few of the things we love about Bali. Hopefully it will entice you to come back for seconds. And thirds. And maybe even fourths.   10 Things We Love About Bali   1. The View From Our Room at Suara Ombak That’s Dan. He’s in our room. And that’s the panoramic view of the Bukit Penninsula, including major surf spots like Bingin Beach and Dreamland. I guess you could say we’re comfortable. 2. The Photogenic Monkeys Sorry, I just had to pick...