Taipei, Taiwan: rain, pork buns and temples

It had finally come – our family vacation to Taiwan! We had originally been planning a trip to Thailand, but the flights went up in price before John had his leave approved. So Taiwan it was! It was Chaucer who wrote that spring is when folks long to go on pilgrimage, and I can’t deny that’s what we were feeling. It was time to go. After moving every year for 6 years in a row, we were feeling the need to go somewhere. This is the longest we’ve lived in one place since having children (mind you, it’s only been a year and 4 months). John had visited China in 2015 before the kids and I were able to move out here to Okinawa with him, but when we found out the Visas to get into China were over $200 we realized we wouldn’t be able to take the whole family. So for that reason I was really excited to see Taiwan. It was about as Chinese as you could get without actually going to China. The main culture we witnessed was Chinese, as the language spoken is Mandarin, but there is also a lot of influence from Japan and other Asian countries. India even has a pretty big influence on this large island. They call Taiwan the “The heart of Asia”.

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We had booked our trip to start at the end of the rainy season, and were hoping and praying that we wouldn’t get too wet. Overall, the weather ended up being perfect, and we only had rain the first day we got in town. We were so thankful!

It was a whopping 1 hour and 25 minute flight from Okinawa – so we were in the country before 10am and had there whole day to get settled and explore. I had booked us an AirBnB apartment in the Wanhua District, which is an up and coming hip area with lots of cute cafes and coffee shops. It was also a pretty short walk to the metro station which turned out to be very helpful. Thankfully, Taipei had just opened up a new line on the metro station that took us straight from the airport to Taipei Main Station, near our apartment.

We had decided to leave all our devices at home except John’s small iPad (he still had to receive work messages). We really wanted to unplug during this vacation. When we landed we got a chip for 10 days of data and  went on our merry way. It was a bit difficult finding the place, but I had printed maps and had a phone number to reach our host. Once we found a pay phone we were able to meet up with him. The apartment we rented was super cute, with turquoise walls and Art Deco light fixtures. It was Tiny!! But really perfect, since the kids had their own room with a bunk. They were so happy to have a new space all to themselves!

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As soon as we dropped our suitcases (all two of them – read about that here) we headed out for the famous beef noodle soup of the area. Our host had given us the scoop on a great hole in the wall place nearby. It reminded us of the tiny restaurants in the Mercados of Lima, Peru. You definitely don’t go there for the atmosphere!

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Lunch at the Beef Noodle shop

But the noodles were delicious. Violet had a lot of fun playing with them.

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Olivia wasn’t too keen on them though, so she was a bit pouty through the meal – just keeping it real 😉 At least she had fun playing with the noodles after we were done eating. I’m sure this was probably not considered good manners, but I don’t think anyone saw us…lol. Generally, you’re not supposed to touch your food with your fingers at all. We ate with chopsticks for 10 days straight! Thank goodness we all knew how.

It rained all morning and into the afternoon, but after a short rest back at the apartment it had cleared up pretty nicely. We walked out to the bus station and on the way found this beautiful tree blooming with the biggest blossoms!

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Blooming tree

The city was busy, but not overwhelming. Probably 2/3 of the people rode scooters, which made things seem a little less crowded.

We got to the bus stop and boarded, but either we boarded the wrong bus, or just didn’t know how to work the system. Regardless, we jumped out at the first stop, which happened to be several blocks past where we were trying to go. We just took the scenic route 😉 We were walking to the Dihua Street area, where there are a lot of new shops and cafes that have opened in the historic buildings. Along the way we tried a green onion crepe from a street vendor. It was delicious! Cliff really liked it. Once we got to Dihua St. we saw there was a lot going on – from plays and music, to the tea cart guy who’s teapot whistled sharply through the air to alert passersby to his presence.

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Tea cart/bike guy

We bought the kids a few taro and red bean treats while we were walking.

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Red bean treat

We saw our first temple here. It was busy, with lots of locals and a few obvious tourists lighting incense and offering prayers. To who, I’m not sure.

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We continued walking and found a nice little bakery, where we grabbed a loaf of sweet taro bread for breakfast the next day (we had learned in our previous trip to have backup plans for meals, especially the first one of the day – hungry kids are not fun to travel with!). We also found many little open shops selling dried fruits, so we bought a bag of dried kiwis, pineapples, and mangos, as well as some dried figs stuffed with walnuts. Those were lifesavers on some days when the kids needed a little pick-me-up.

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Walking further down the street we finally spotted something that would satisfy us for dinner – the famous pork buns of Taiwan. Their operation was coming to a close, but we managed to grab the last few they had left. They were already washing out the pans behind the stand in the street.

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Pork bun stand

After the kids ate we hailed a taxi, since we’d walked quite a ways by now and it was getting dark. Once the kids were in bed and settled, John went out to try one of the many foot massage parlors nearby. Most of them offered hour foot massages for the equivalent of about $15 USD. We tried out a few places over the 10 day trip… It was a great first day. We were excited to see Taipei 101 the next day! The 4th tallest building in the world! More to come later…

10 days, 5 people, 2 carry-on bags

Over the past two months or so I have been on a journey to detox our home. To purge it from all the unnecessary stuff that fills my mind and clutters our space. It started with a few podcasts I’d been listening to, a book I’d been reading with a few friends, and then what sealed it was finally getting around to listening to the book called The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up. Friends. Can I just ask you, please read this book! It was a game changer for me. Seriously.

After listening to the book I proceeded to work through our house, starting with my own clothing, and working through the different categories such as books, papers, and kimono (miscellany categories such as bathroom, makeup, jewelry, cleaning supplies, toys, kitchen, etc.). The goal is to only keep the things that “spark joy” and to rid yourself of all the rest. It took about 8 weeks to get to a stopping point. I also worked back around to the kids clothes and John was willing to work through his closet and dresser as well. Here are some photos of my dresser and closet. These are all the clothes I own, and I’m pretty happy with that! I even have two extra drawers in my dresser now that don’t hold clothes, so I am able to use one to hold my purse’s belongings and one to hold a few gloves, hats and belts. My closet includes all season wear, even coats, scarves and robes.

We haven’t finished the house yet, as there are still about 3 major categories I want to tackle (mainly hobbies such as art, sewing, and outdoor/beach things). However, in the areas we have completed, I have filled upwards of 20 bags full of giveaway/sell and garbage.

We’ve been living this way for a few months now, and the amount of time I have back in my days is amazing. No longer  am I spending all my “extra” time tidying the numerous things in our home that weren’t bringing us joy. We have far fewer clothes, which means less laundry, less folding, and less stress for me. We have less toys, books and dishes, which means when I do need to clean up the house, it gets done much quicker than before.

What does this have to do with traveling? A lot, actually. As I’ve seen how little we actually “need” I’ve been challenged in packing, as well. We were going to be spending 10 days in Taiwan for a family vacation, but in two of the three places where we were staying we had easy access to a washer and dryer (we usually stay in AirBnBs which means you get the advantages of living in an apartment or bed and breakfast type situation). Taking that into consideration, I decided we really only needed clothing for about four days. On our trip to Hokkaido I noticed that the kids sort of wore the same few things over and over anyways (unless they got it really dirty, of course). Especially when layering, many items can be reworn for a day or two when it’s not very hot out. There were two main reasons we wanted to lighten our load for this trip:

  1. We were flying the Asian version of Spirit Airlines. It’s Peach Airlines in Asia, and it is NO-frills. You even have to pay extra to choose your seat (isn’t that what paying for a plane ticket is??).  They allow two personal items per ticketed person, with a total weight of 10kilos. That’s not much! But we were well prepared and packed into two small carry on suitcases, and our backpacks (I always carry one in place of a handbag and John carries one). The kids each had small backpacks that they can carry which holds their notebook, drawing pens, stickers and eraser toys (a favorite travel toy from the 100 Yen store in Okinawa), and also a pair of headphones for the special treat of watching a movie.
  2. The second reason was so that we can move around easier. We didn’t have a ton of suitcases to tote around, which was so nice! Especially since we were relying on public transportation (we took many trains, subways and buses). We already have three kids five years old and younger – trying to get everyone onto a train is pretty challenging (and a bit scary) even without luggage to contend with!
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Ready to jump on the metro to Taipei City!

We visited Taiwan in the spring, so the weather was cool to slightly warm (55-75 most days), with minimal rain (the rainy season usually ends in mid-March and we left on March 26th). I packed the following for our kids, including what they wore (ages 4 and 5):

  • 1 pair jeans
  • 2 pants
  • 3 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 jacket/sweater
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 4 socks
  • 4 underwear
  • 1 hat
  • 1 swimsuit
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Cliff’s clothing in a medium cube

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Olivia’s clothing in a medium cube

For the baby I added an additional pair of pajamas and an extra pair of clothing, since she still needs to be changed fairly often. You can see this is a pretty bare essential list, especially considering the length of time. But it really worked out perfectly.

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Violet’s clothing in a small packing cube

I packed their swimsuits and 2 swim diapers for Violet in a separate zipper bag, just so we didn’t have to dig past them every day. We would only need them the last two days.

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Kids swimsuits

My clothing was the biggest challenge for this trip, as I realized that I really like having options. And I have always been a heavy packer (just ask my parents and grandparents, lol). But I tried to be ruthless and think of this as an experiment, and only take my very favorite of my already pared down clothing. It helped knowing that we were going to Taiwan, where they have plentiful shopping districts with discounted clothing, just in case ;). This is what I packed for myself, including what I wore:

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 pair of active/hiking pants
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 4 underwear
  • 2 bras
  • 4 socks
  • Toms
  • Tennis shoes
  • 1 swimsuit
  • Hat
  • 2 sweaters
  • 1 jacket
  • 1 raincoat

It felt really good to get all of my items into one packing cube!

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My clothing in a large packing cube

As it was, I still could have cut out a couple of items without missing them. The extra sweater and long sleeved shirt didn’t end up being necessary, since it was much warmer than we had anticipated. I think I’ll do better next time 😉

I only had to wash one small load of clothes in Taipei and one in Taroko Gorge. And since it wasn’t much clothing, it wasn’t burdensome to just stick it through the wash and quickly fold it up again while the kids were going to sleep in the evening. I did something similar when we went to Sapporo, though I didn’t pack nearly as light, and we ended up having way too many clothes (it was 20 degrees there, so I was a bit nervous about keeping everyone warm enough!). I had to wash a pair of pants for Olivia and a shirt for Cliff the last night in the sink in Jiaoxi, but we dried them overnight and were good to go for our flight home. Overall, it was totally worth it to have fewer suitcases.

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Waiting for our train to take us to Taroko Gorge (two suitcases, two backpacks, 1 baby bed)

I can’t wait to update y’all on our trip! It was such fun, and so nice to completely unplug for 10 days. I’ll be publishing new blogposts when I get the chance!