Deer on Campus

A group of deer can commonly be seen on campus throughout the year.  Over the last few days they have been staying near a few particular trees off of South Campus Drive. I had brought my new Sony α77 body and 16-50/2.8 lens with me today so I decided to hold up a bit of traffic and give the camera a spin. Looks like I didn’t do too bad for my first field day out with it.

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 10 in NYC

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Weather cleared up, Ashley and I left go spend our last day wandering farther from Times Square area.  We first took the subway down to High Street via the A Train.  Ashley was very excited about the A train. =)  From there, we walked in the ‘correct’ direction across Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan.  Ashley caught her first sight of the Statue of Liberty shortly after we started crossing.

 

After making it across all the black ice safely, we hopped back into the subway toward Battery Park for a closer view of Lady Liberty.  A hungry squirrel greeted us off the train in search of food, which we left alone.  Following this was a trip up to 86th street on the east side of Central Park.  Then started our adventurous walk, zig zagging west and east, picking up a bag of candied cashes and a pretzel on the way down.

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Before long, we were on the SE corner headed towards a very packed FAO Schwarz.  Inside, our attention turned to 4-figure cost plushes taller than us, expensive prints (one of which I absolutely loved), and plenty of Legos.  We made visit to the giant piano, and looked around some more before leaving for a very late lunch.  I voted for White Castle, and off we went.  We called it a good day and went back to the hotel to pack.

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Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 9 in NYC

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

Rested and feeling better, Ashley and I hit the street for a day of walking & architectural exploration.  Our first stop was the Empire State Building.  Via Park Ave, we made our way toward the Chrysler Building.  On the sidewalks of major buildings and stores everywhere, workers were busy laying down rock salt; a large snow storm was scheduled to hit in the afternoon.

Next up was Grand Central Station, and then the New York Public LIbrary. We spent most of our time at these two venues.  I especially loved the Lego version of their iconic statue.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

When we left the library, a light snowfall had begun.  Undeterred, we walked to Rockefeller Center for more sightseeing.  As we arrived, the snow become to come down in large wet flakes.  Very much different to dry and powdery Salt Lake snow, these flakes would instantly melt and drench you.  We watched a man propose to his girl on the ice rink, and then headed into the NBC store.  I bought a ‘More Cowbell’ shirt for Ashley, and the two of us headed back out with plans to see the Lego Store.  The line was around the back of the building to get in, so we left to avoid waiting in the snow.  Falling heavier and faster, we decided to head back to the hotel – stopping only to grab lunch and a deliciously hot coffee from Tim Hortons.

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 8 in NYC

Jetlagged, and not feeling very well, we had a short day in NYC.  Ashley and I woke up around 4am, waited for breakfast, and walked out to Times Square.  We stopped in a few shops while working our way towards Radio City Music Hall.  There, we watched the Rockettes in the Christmas Spectacular.  We enjoyed ourselves and the show immensely; it’s much less tacky & cheesy than we thought it would be.  Lunch followed at TGI Fridays nearby, where we discovered everything was more than twice the price back home.  We went back to our hotel after this and only left for 2 Brothers Pizza around the corner for dinner.  Slices were $1-$2.50 a piece and we decided that it’d be come a staple diet for the duration of New York.

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 7 (Travel)

Not much today. We had a 9am flight out of Taiwan, landing in New York around 3pm. This pretty much means we spent the entire day eating and sleeping.

5am, 1st breakfast in Taipei
7am, 2nd breakfast @ Dynasty Lounge in the airport
10am, 3rd breakfast in air
1pm, 1st lunch @ Narita Skylounge + Tarts that we brought from Taipei
5pm (Japan Time), 1st dinner in air
2pm (now EST Time), 2nd dinner in air
6pm, 3rd dinner at NYC Port Authority

Elevensies anyone? =)
Each (non-airplane) meal was a minimum of one “Joel sized” serving at each meal + Ashley’s leftovers. Yum!

Here’s some random photos that I remembered to take through the day.

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 6 in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Stanley Coastline

Stanley Coastline

As a travel day back to Taiwan, we woke up early to grab a quick breakfast (at Super Sandwich again).  We only had time to do one last thing so we went to Stanley.  Via subway and double decker bus, we arrived at the peninsula town after a sickening hour of being tossed through winding coastal & mountain roads.  Stanley, named after Lord Stanley, is one of the oldest island villages and now a popular tourist town.  It also plays host to a street market filled with fun souvenirs everywhere.

Stanley Market

Stanley Market

The town was quiet and abandoned at 9am, but shops were starting to open.  Ashley and I were excited to find exactly the items we had been wanting to take home.  Most specifically a sign with 福 written on it….

 

 

Reversed fu character

Reversed fu character

Before I continue, a quick lesson in Chinese:
福 (fú) is a character that can mean happiness, luck, good fortune, and blessing.
As the Chinese language is filled with homophones: dào, can mean reverse as well as arrive.

With that background, Asians traditionally hang a 福 sign, upside down, on or above their door as an invitation for good fortune to arrive into their home.  To Christians, however, we focus more on the blessing meaning of 福; it is used throughout the Bible to describe blessings, but is also integral in creating the ‘phrases’ that mean gospel and evangelism. Thus, as Christians, we hang the sign as a symbol of receiving God’s blessing.  (Moreover, the actual character 福 can be broken down into elements of God, man, and earth, but I leave that explanation for another day =)

McDonalds GCB

McDonalds GCB

With shopping and sightseeing along the ocean complete, all of us headed back home for one last time to get our belongings.  We said our good byes to my aunt, and hopped into our taxi to the airport.  Throughout the trip, I had been yearning to go to a McDonalds.  I have a fascination with trying crazy McDonald foods of the world, and Asian ones tend to feature an extensive & varying (by country) seafood menu.  Ashley and I found the airport McDonalds, and the only ‘special’ item that we saw was a peppered “GCB” (grilled chicken burger).  We each bought one and I found it to be wonderful.

Dinner in Central Station

Dinner in Central Station

After the quick flight back into Taiwan, we met up with my Dad to take the scenic route home.  First a bus, then the Taiwan High Speed Rail (hitting 300kph), the subway, and finally a short walk.  We stopped in the midst to eat dinner at central station, and later went out to a Chinese bakery.  Vastly different from the taste and texture of a western bakery, we purchased a few breads and desserts for Ashley to try.  Our evening wrapped up with packing for the next day’s return stateside.

 

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Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 5 in Macau

A theme of the trip thus far: 人山人海

Sea of People

Sea of People

I taught the phrase to Ashley this morning.  Its literal translation is Man, Mountain, Man, Sea.  Typically used more so to describe displeasure in Mainland areas (esp during holidays and events), but Hong Kong has been coming pretty close.  I can’t speak too much for Ashley regarding her cultural adjustment (and shock), but she’s definitely noticed the chaos and extraordinarily large amounts of people and long lines to accomplish anything at all.  Not that this isn’t to be expected when we hit New York, but it’s pretty much unavoidable in any Asian metropolis.

Chartwells in Hong Kong

Chartwells in Hong Kong

We had an opportunity to eat at the City University cafeteria for breakfast this morning.  Being Christmas day, it was void of people in a relieving way.  Oh how I love that Universities empty themselves during holiday.  Ashley and I ordered an assortment of dim sum varieties. To my shock, I found out that Chartwells runs this cafeteria as well. I was torn with feelings.  Part of me was disgusted that the evil of the Chartwells empire, which plagues Stateside universities, had spread its cold touch to even Asia. But there was one major difference that I couldn’t put my finger on.  The food wasn’t outrageously expensive.  It was, in fact, affordable on student budgets. — As affordable and cheap as eating in Taiwan night markets, street stands, and dives.  How could this possibly be?  The best explanation that I came up with, and my aunt also alluded to this: is that education is such an extremely important focus of Asian life and culture, that government, universities, etc just won’t allow students to be taken advantage of.  That (higher education) students need to be cared for is an idea that impresses me greatly, as someone who has spent most of his life living and working in Stateside campuses. I digress from the trip though…

Turbojet & Ferry Terminal in Macau

Turbojet & Ferry Terminal in Macau

We made our way to 港澳碼頭, the Hong Kong – Macau Ferry Terminal.  Just like an international airport with immigration, terminals, and gates… but no security to move through.  On a side note, Asian airports don’t care about shoes, liquids, etc.  We boarded our Turbojet to Macau, and 60 minutes of minor sea sickness later, arrived and did the whole 30-60 minute line for disembarking & immigration dance.

 

Senado Square

Senado Square

Macau, more commonly known & referred to as Las Vegas of Asia than the ex-Portuguese colony that it was, quickly revealed the reasoning for this nickname as we stepped off of the boat.  The first thing I took a photo of ended up being a casino. Many more casinos were in our way before arriving at Senado Square in the city centre.  It was a nice change from all the casinos on the way in.  The square was filled with European architecture, beautiful cobblestones, and of course a massive Christmas tree in the center.

Panorama by St. Dominic's Church

Panorama by St. Dominic’s Church

Cafe de Tomato

Cafe de Tomato

I started working us towards St. Dominic’s Church for sight seeing, but hunger hit my Aunt.  She immediately went on a massive hunt for food, leading us up and down various streets.  I finally convinced her to look at a tourist map that she had, and told her to pick a mentioned restaurant from it.  A particular Cafe de Tomato, a Portugese restaurant, caught her attention.  Excited to try local fare Ashley and I agreed.  The food was quite interesting. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw dishes saying horse.  We even asked to waitress to confirm that it truly was.  We ended up splitting Grilled Pork Neck in Portuguese Style Sauce, a Portugese Simmered Seafood Rice, and I wimped out with a Hong Kong style fried noodle with black peppered beef.  The noodles ended up being the only tolerable dish; we struggled to finish the others.

Missionaries at Ruins of St Paul's

Missionaries at Ruins of St Paul’s

After lunch, our highlight stops ended up being the Ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, and also Fortaleza do Monte high above it.  At the Cathedral, were many missionaries trying to spread the word about Jesus.  They were passing out gift bags while saying in Chinese  “This gift is is for all of you, the gift of Christ is free for everybody.”  I was rather impressed by what was going on.

 

 

From atop the fort, one thing also quickly became evident of Macau — it had one of the most evident rich/poor splits I’ve ever seen. Being yet another one of the world’s most densely populated areas, but surviving on tourism & casinos as a primary economy, the toll on its people and buildings could be easily seen.  One side of the fort was dominated by towering casinos, and on the other side belonged the slums and accommodations of the poor.

Crystal Jade

Crystal Jade

When we had finished exploring the city, we returned to Hong Kong via the wildest ride ever.  Ashley and I both fell heavily seasick by the motions of our turbojet skipping up and down 10+ feet with every wave we cut across.  Following our 1-hour roller coaster ride, was another disorganized 30-60 minute line through immigration.  We headed toward a Shanghai-style restaurant called Crystal Jade that specializes in noodles and mini meat buns.  We put our names down, and spent the next 90 minutes roaming the nearby shops and sitting at Starbucks until a table was ready.  Being our last day in HK, on Christmas, we ate a large variety of traditional foods, and celebrated each other’s company.

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Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 4 in Hong Kong

Ah.  Christmas Eve.  In contrast to Taiwan, where Christmas is non-existent with no vacation time, Hong Kong pseudo-celebrates it as a former British Colony.  Christmas Day is a day off as with other western countries, but the big difference is that the 26th is a day off and not the 24th.  Aunt Chieng had to work this morning, so in effort to play host to Ashley and me for breakfast she took us to Super Sandwich at Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong.  It is less than a five minute walk away from her flat, and directly across the street (and adjoined by walking tunnel) from City University of Hong Kong where she teaches.  As Chieng splits her week between Taiwan and Hong Kong going back and forth, Super Sandwich is a staple breakfast diet for her as is for many other CUHK faculty.

Bicycle in Festival Walk

Bicycle in Festival Walk

Following breakfast, we were left to explore the mall until Chieng was finished with what work she had to do for the day.  I immediately took interest to an itty bitty road bicycle on display at a store.  Walking the mall revealed the extent of western influence – food, shops, Christmas decoration, and later on we even saw a choir singing carols.  Outside of the mall, was something I had always wanted to see in person — bamboo scaffolding. They were actually building one right in front of us at the university. We also stopped at the Apple Store to see what kind of pricing they had there; I’m always hearing about how cheap Apple products are in HK.  Upon inspection I discovered that prices were largely similar — you just don’t have to pay any tax.  Chieng explained to me, later, that the Apple Stores hold free-entry raffles that allow you to buy heavily discounted items in the mornings.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Lunch time on this work day proved to show us just how busy Hong Kong would be for the rest of the trip.  We waited nearly an hour to get into a Bakery Cafe called Simplylife. Ashley ordered the Grilled Black Cod, and I ordered Australian Lamb Chops.  Filled and ready to go exploring, we took the MTR (subway) out toward Central Pier, where we walked around and then boarded a bus to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.  HKCEC is where the ceremonies of China taking sovereignty of Hong Kong took place; at it’s side is a Golden Bauhinia which to people in Hong Kong plays importance as a symbol of the handover.

Star Ferry Seats

Star Ferry Seats

From HKCEC, we walked over to board the Star Ferry docks to take part in crossing Victoria Harbour on one of the ferries.  In the 1920s, ferries such as this were used to cross the harbour between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. To this day taking part of the ferry tradition is still hailed as one of the top 50 things to do in the world. Travelling back and forth without turning around, each ferry has seats with a back that flips to the other side with a loud clap as passengers board and re-position them.

Temple Street

Temple Street

As we crossed the harbour and back into Kowloon, we took in the scenery and navigated swarming crowds of the streets, shops, & museums.  At one point we even stopped at The Peninsula to look around.  It is a luxury hotel that is heavily favored by the British… each shop inside of it had it’s own security guard at the door. Wow. We then found a shop to stop at for some fruit treats and fresh squeezed juices before making it to Temple Street for some proper street/night market shopping.

We found ourselves in a taxi, soon after, zipping toward the cable car station that would take us up to Victoria Peak.  On arriving, the line was more than 2 hours long.  We opted to stay in the taxi and continued to take it all the way up.  The top revealed beautiful views of the harbours and city.  Being 55 degrees and humid, most HK residents tend to walk around in what I consider overkill dress — down coat, gloves, hats, etc.  The peak was windy and even colder but I braved the temperature, loving every moment of it (having come from smelting 70s and humid Taiwan). My humor of the day came when a group of girls came up to me asking for help with a photo.  One asked, “Are you from Canada?”  I asked why and ended up realizing that the girl herself was from Canada and was also in naught more than a t-shirt.  We had a good laugh at how the down coats seemed a bit much.

Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak

After we took plenty of pretty pictures, we spent the next hour looking for a reasonably priced restaurant.  As a note and a warning — Victoria Peak is a high tourist area and most places wanted $600-800 HKD per person for a meal.  One place we saw had $200 HKD plates, but had a $500 HKD per person minimum … that’s ~$65 USD!  We eventually found a place that was more reasonably priced.  Ashley and Chieng both ordered a NY steak that wasn’t the greatest (this place didn’t ask how well done they wanted it).  I ordered a peppered steak that came out sizzling and more edible than the NYs.  We left to head home after the meal, and ended our long day around 11pm.

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Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 3 in Taiwan and Hong Kong

Presidential Office Building 總統府

Presidential  總統府

Somewhat recovered from the massive banquet of the previous evening, although not quite fully, it was now time for … another one!  This time in celebration of Ashley and my wedding + first year.  Ray booked a private room for us at 晶華軒 Silks House at Grand Formosa Regent Hotel. We made a quick drive-by viewing of 總統府 Presidential Office Building on the way to the restaurant.

Reception Room - Double Circles & Double Happiness (囍 Character)

Double Circles & Double Happiness

Our room was decorated with a large 囍 character that Ashley and I were to sit in front of.  It means double happiness. Our room also had a double circle above us and as the table.  All of this, including our menu, are a cultural tradition specifically for the occasion. Since this meal celebrated us and not my Grandmother, Aunt Kerri from my mother’s side joined us for this meal.  We would have liked to visit her house and spend more time, but our schedule wouldn’t allow for it.

After the banquet, we split into two cars driven by my dad’s brother and sister…. In Taiwan, this is a guaranteed adventure.  The Hsia family who are brave enough to drive in Taipei are masters beyond adeptness.  From my aunt’s mouth as she zipped left and right through traffic, “driving in Taipei is like fighting a war.”  Traffic lanes are a mere suggestion, horns are used liberally (but never out anger), and traffic lights mean very little.  Then, just for kicks, throw in the hundreds of mopeds all around you that weave around you in circles.  An hour early for a meetup with my Aunt Chieng, Ashley and I killed a bit of time at the Taipei 101 shopping mall.

CX Business Class

CX Business Class

Aunt Chieng was going to take Ashley and I to visit Hong Kong where she now taught at City University in Kowloon Tong.  As a Cathay elite, she upgraded us into the business cabin with lie flat seats!  This was quite a treat, given that even as we are skyteam elite with Delta, a trans-oceanic upgrade into 777 lie-flat is a very rare thing and typically only done for operations (and not being an elite).  Our 90 minute flight served a meal beyond anything ever seen in a Delta Business Elite seat, and at one point I accidentally walked into the First Class bathroom.  The lavatory was at least the size of four regular lavatories, and a quick peak into the FC cabin showed that their lie-flat seats were bigger yet.

1010 at HKG

1010 at HKG

On arrival into HKG, we all cleared customs and continued to the Octopus Card counter so that we could pay for transporation (and even purchases like coffee) through the trip.  A mandatory stop at 1010 was also made, so that we could pick up prepaid SIMs for our phones.  $88 HKD ($10 USD) a piece got us going on a 7-day unlimited data plan.

 

We headed out to the taxi queue, and away we went toward Kowloon Tong. My aunt chatted away with the driver, as Ashley and I stared into the lights and buildings of one of the world’s most densely (per mi^2) populated cities.  Ashley likened the night drive to what entering Gotham City must be like.

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Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 2 in Taiwan

Having been starved of data access for too long now ;) I started the morning off with a walk out to a nearby ChungHwa Telecom for a prepaid SIM.  $450 NT ($15 USD) later, we were set for 7 days of unlimited data.

牛肉麵 Taiwanese Beef Noodle SoupWe decided to start the day late today, so our first stop wasn’t until noon.  We hit Taipei (Central) Railway Station first.  I, Joel, had already been in Taiwan for far too long without any 牛肉麵 Taiwanese Beef Noodle lovin’, and something had to be done about it. We ordered a bowl each and a bunch of side dishes to share. While we were there, Ashley pointed out a girl with crazy bell bottom pants; I took a photo of it.

IMG_6266

IMG_6293With that out of the way, we went over to the Taipei 101.  Unwilling to pay money for a cliché chroma key photo that all high rises do, I attempted to take a picture of their preview screen — it didn’t work out too well on the iPhone.  Oh well, better/real photos were to be taken later anyway.  Ashley and I went up to the top where we looked at what view was available (through a very cloudy day).  I took her into the damper room, where a 730 ton ball acts as a counterbalance to keep the building safe during high winds and earthquakes. On a side note, we saw a crazy sign in the bathrooms — it had a little picture telling people to not go potty on the floor…. Occupy Wall Street anyone?

Our next two stops were the 國立國父紀念館 Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, and a proper walk through 國立中正紀念堂 Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.  We grabbed lots of photos here, including those of the Taipei 101, and had a laugh when my Grandma pointed out that the Sun Yat Sen building looks a lot like whiskers.

SONY DSC

After plenty of photos at all the different places, we went back to The Dragon (Sheraton Taipei).  All of the Hsia Family and their spouses showed up to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday.  In tradition, a private room was rented out with a special menu tailored for the event.  We all ate through the longest multi-course meal, EVER, until we were all stuffed beyond belief.  Ashley loved my uncle, who was a character through the whole meal.  He kept spouting random things with much gusto, and one of the highlights was when it came time for parking validation — he enthusiastically explained that “If you’d all arrived [fashionably] late like me, then you wouldn’t be worrying about validation and time”

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