Renee In Taiwan

A year in Chiayi

20 September 27 October 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeintaiwan @ 9:12 am

Today was not super exciting. Get on a plane (again) and head to Melbourne. Get our bags in Melbourne, catch our ride to the hotel, check in, get dinner. Ta-da! The day’s gone.

We’ve been flying on Qantas Airlines throughout Australia (and mom flew them over here). They serve delicious food. Who knew!? Airlines can serve tasty meals! We had breakfast once that included a muesli and fruit bar, a yogurt, dried fruit and nuts, and macadamia biscuits. For lunch today, we had a chicken salad sandwich with sun dried tomato pesto and lettuce on multigrain bread. Yum! I can hardly wait to fly them home and see what we get over the Pacific! And, on top of serving food that’s better than merely digestible (like most airlines), they also recycle! I’m pretty sure I have a favorite airlines…if only they were available in the States, too.

Melbourne seems to be a very pretty city. Lots of old looking buildings and trees and parks. Tomorrow is a busy, busy tour day. In spite of being on an independent tour, we are kind of running around with different tour companies and rushing through a bunch of sites. I’m glad we’re not on a real tour because I’m finding myself irritated with tour guides part way through some of the tours. They’re all informative, but I tend to like to be able to take my time looking at stuff if I choose and I wouldn‘t want to be with one twenty four hours a day. Oh well, it’s still fun to be going through Australia and I wouldn’t be able to see all of the same things if I were doing it without the tours.


19 September 19 October 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeintaiwan @ 9:58 am

Guess who woke up early again today? Surprise, surprise. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before checking out of Ayers Rock Resort and catching the shuttle to the airport in time for the daily flight to Alice Springs. I feel like Alice could have been left off our itinerary and we could have had an extra day in Melbourne (our next destination) but here we are.

We got in at eleven and had a tour booked at one. We spent four and a half to five hours seeing the sights and I’m pretty sure we got most of it covered in that time period. Sure, there are day tours into the Outback where you can climb mountains or ride camels or whatever, but the main stuff to see within the city, we did.

Our first stop was an art gallery dedicated solely to aboriginal art. Our guide went over some of the differences between desert and coastal tribes, but we didn’t have time to look at everything the exhibit displayed. Seeing as my knowledge of aboriginal customs and such is rather limited and I’m pretty curious, I tried to read some of the explanations but couldn’t get through most of them before having to move on to the next room.

Then we saw the Royal Flying Doctor Base. Because so many people are spread throughout the desert with limited access to medical treatment, there’s a program that always has a plane, pilot, and nurse on call at the airport. There’s also a doctor available for emergencies. All you have to do is call and a plane comes to treat you or whoever needs medical attention; no charge.

A spin off of the Flying Doctors is the School of the Air: the world’s largest classroom. Eleven or so teachers began doing radio lessons for preschool-ninth grade students throughout the Outback quite a few years ago. It has recently changed to an online format where kids have live lessons at a certain time each day. After ninth grade, they have to go to boarding school or tech school or go through a different correspondence school. The idea’s kind of neat.

We saw the first telegraph station in Alice Springs. In fact, the reason Alice Springs was originally put on the map was in order to facilitate communication between London and Sydney in the 1870s. Alice Springs ended up being the major telegraph relay station in Central Australia. During WWII, Darwin was bombed sixty-some times by the Japanese and everyone was evacuated to Alice Springs, swelling it’s population and gaining more attention from native Australians and then the world. While we were at the original telegraph building complex, we saw two wild kangaroos, but people went too close and scared them off before we could get a picture. Plus, I didn’t really have my camera out in Alice Springs.

Our last stop was ANZAC Hill, which has a memorial for the veterans of WWI and II. ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. It was quite pretty. While the weather has cleared up considerably, it’s still rather cold and blustery.

Tonight for dinner, I went for the Camel and Stout Pie. I really can’t tell the difference between camel and beef. They’re basically the same meat. In spite of the lack of exotic-ness afforded by the camel, the meal itself was just what I wanted after a chilly day. Meat pies don’t photograph well, so I didn’t even bother. Off to Melbourne in the morning!


18 September 17 October 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeintaiwan @ 1:33 am

Indeed, the weather did not clear up for us last night. Most of the walk was spent under umbrellas and we almost skipped the “sunset viewing” completely.

We were on a bus tour with several other people, mostly older couples presumably on post-retirement trips. One young Korean couple are on their honeymoon.

Our tour guide was pretty interesting and knowledgeable. The park is legally owned by the Aboriginal tribe who has inhabited this land for at least the past 22,000 years, if not the last 40,000 years. We learned about some of their creation stories regarding Uluru (Ayer’s Rock). I don’t remember a lot of them because I’ve only heard them once and their a little involved.

Uluru in the rain

All over Uluru, there are various holes, caves, and other irregularities. There are stories explaining how all of these came to be. The gist of it is that at the beginning of creation, the world was flat and featureless. Slowly, landmarks were formed by the creatures residing in this time period. The Anangu (Aboriginal tribe) believe that they are direct descendants of these creatures, all of whom seem to be native Northern Australian desert animals. Wallabies, snakes, rabbits, etc. are the main characters of these creation stories.

Our bus stopped several times and let us out to walk around. We saw some waterfalls begin to form on the rock, an unusual sight in the last ten years of drought, but one that has been common this year. I overheard our guide say that it has rained every month since December.

Even with the heavy rainfall experienced this year, we are still lucky to have seen waterfalls coming from the top of the rock. Less luckily, the rainfall and cloud cover take away from the famous red rock and leave it more of a blue-grey color. Oh well, you can’t have everything, can you?

The tour includes canapés and wine or juice at the sunset viewing area. Alas, the weather was so miserable that our guide asked if we even wanted to stop and get out. In a worrisome moment, a loud someone toward the front of the bus said that we wanted to continue back to our respective hotels! Fortunately, a Scottish group took matters into their own hands before we could leave. Most of the group was not Australian and we figured that if we’ve come all this way to see a big rock and paid for this part of the tour, we may as well take advantage of it, even if it’s only for ten minutes.

In our third and earliest morning in a row, mom and I woke up at 4.30 to get ready for the sunrise viewing at Uluru. Unsure if it was still raining, but absolutely positive that it was cold, we bundled up and headed to reception to pick up our boxed breakfast before heading out to the desert.

The same people who were with us last night accompanied us this morning as well, give or take a few who didn’t want to face the chilly temperatures, drizzly skies, and/or wee hours of the morning. As the weather hasn’t cleared up, we had more of a general lightning of the sky rather than a visible sunrise. Most likely there were clouds at the same level all over the desert, but since Uluru and Kata Tjuta are the highest (and only) variations on the landscape, it looked like two clouds were only hanging over these two landmarks.

We journeyed on to Kata Tjuta (aka the Olgas), a surprisingly lesser known rock formation within the park.

Bright and early....well, more like cloudy and early.

While Uluru is one giant rock (that extends some three miles below the Earth), Kata Tjuta is made of two different kinds of rock that have split and broken over the past 640 million years. Thus, gorges and such have formed. We walked through the Walpa Gorge. The already cold, wet wind was funneled down the gorge to make quite a blustery walk. Undeterred, I wrapped my scarf around my head and kept on going. Hopefully, this decision won’t affect my cold for the worse. Even so, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity as I don’t know when or if I’ll have the chance again. Since I’m perfectly capable of walking down a rocky gorge, I may as well do it.

For dinner tonight we ventured to the big buffet at one of the other hotels on site. Man, oh man, was it delicious. I had pumpkin and feta salad with pine nuts. It might sound weird, but it was so tasty! I quite enjoy pumpkin. The remainder of the hors d‘oevres included cauliflower and bacon soup that was superb, a slice of camel meat that tasted lots like beef, cheese and crackers, and my very first raw oyster which tasted like the ocean. Entrees that I sampled included roasted vegetables, barramundi (an Australian fish) with mango chutney, chickpeas and cous cous in a sauce, and crocodile something Indian that started with an “l” and was by far the best of the entrée options. I passed up the kangaroo curry and another Indian dish as well as the duck and lamb. I’d love to show you a picture of this delectable smorgasbord, but I was too busy stuffing my face to get out the camera. Good thing I’ve been doing yoga five to six hours a week for the last ten months. All the pounds I dropped then are looking to come back in Australia at the rate they’re putting tasty food in front of me!


17 September 15 October 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeintaiwan @ 7:52 am

Yesterday we spent the whole day in a van. Well, most of the day at least. We woke up bright and early to meet our guide at 7am. Then we drove north from Cairns with 10 of our new-found friends. There was a lively group of eighty-ish year old women. They inspired me to go on a jet setting vacation with my girlfriends in my eighties, too.

North of Cairns, you’ll find a couple rainforests. I don’t know if they’re two different areas of the same rainforest or if they’re considered two separate rainforests. Anyhow, one is called Daintree and one is called Kurunda. We went to Daintree and didn’t hear much about Kurunda, although I know it’s pretty well known and there were multiple tours to it as well. Daintree is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage sites border each other. The rainforest comes right up to the edge of the beach. A little further out in the water you’ll find the Great Barrier Reef and the whole area is protected under UNESCO’s regulations.

Before we got to the edges, though, we had to actually drive through the rainforest. At the beginning, we stopped at a rainforest wildlife habitat. Most rainforest animals are nocturnal (because it’s too hot to move around during the day in a rainforest) so it’s hard to see them when you go on a day tour. Fortunately for me, an entrepreneur rounded up a bunch of jungle creatures and put them in a facility where tourists can come gawk at them at any hour of the day. Hooray! For a mere $2, you can by Roo Food. Best two dollars ever spent. This was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

One section of the rainforest walk is basically a kangaroo petting zoo. Wallabies live there, too. Look! I fed the kangaroos and I got to pet them too! They have surprisingly sharp claws as I found when I stood up while feeding them. They also stood up and reached for my hand (still holding food) with their little claw hands and pulled me back down. Then they wouldn’t let go. I suppose I wouldn’t be too impressed if someone was in the middle of feeding me and they stopped halfway through.

They both had joeys in their pouches!

We also saw koalas, but they were sleeping and they weren’t part of the petting/feeding section.

So sleepy.

Then we went to Mossman Gorge. One of the ladies mom sat next to on her plane over said that Mossman Gorge was a must see destination in Cairns. I don’t know. It was pretty, but I don’t know if I’d consider it a must see.

Mossman Gorge

We continued through the rainforest. We ate a buffet lunch at a resort in the middle of the jungle. This resort was built in 1985 and the area was declared a World Heritage site in 1989, after which no more development was allowed. Now they have quite the nice setup as it’s one of the few places that you can stay the night in Daintree. We just had lunch. No overnight for us.

After a short drive a bit further up the coast, we came to Cape Tribulation and Alexandra Lookout. Here we got out and walked along the beach/rainforest borderline for a little while. It was picture perfect. The rainforest literally came right out until the soil gave way to sand. At the far end of the beach, a whole bunch of mangroves were growing.

I got in the water a bit and was amazed by how warm it was. Like bathwater.

All of this driving around and sightseeing took up a good part of the day, so it was time to start heading back to Cairns. On the way, we got to go on a riverboat cruise where we went searching for crocodiles. Mom and I weren’t super impressed on account of the amount of alligators we’ve seen in Florida. The riverboat cruise was still pleasant, though. We went through a huge mangrove forest. And we did see a six month old crocodile sitting out on a log, so that was neat.

Today we woke up at quarter to five to make it to the airport in time for our 7am flight to Uluru (Ayers Rock.) You know, the giant red rock in the middle of the Australian desert? Three hours after take-off, we landed in the middle of a slight drizzle. I think there was a big rainstorm yesterday and the shuttle driver said it’s been quite a wet year here.

It’s very unusual to see rain at Uluru so we’re supposed to consider ourselves lucky. I doubt many people come to Uluru and change into two long sleeve shirts and purchase an umbrella before doing anything else. Wearing my shirts, a jacket, leggings, and jeans I’m still cold!

We’re supposed to go on a sunset tour tonight and a sunrise tour tomorrow morning, so it’ll be another early day. I don’t have high expectations of seeing the blazing red colors of Uluru at sunset tonight, but I hope the weather clears up a bit in the morning. Fingers crossed!


15 September 7 October 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeintaiwan @ 3:13 am

Well, the month’s half gone already! And I’ll be back in the States in a mere two weeks. How about that?

Today mom and I woke up bright and early. Mom woke up because the bats came back to roost in their tree that happens to be in the lot next to our hotel. I think she’s afraid they’re somehow going to come into our room and eat us. That’s just silly. The bats eat fruit, not people.

See how the tree is infested with bats? Now picture dusk or dawn...treefulls of them flying around and chirping...

I woke up because mom turned on the kettle and it’s loud.

We went to breakfast and then headed off to our catamaran cruise to Green Island. Technically, Green Island has it’s own reef system but that reef is still part of the Great Barrier Reef. We opted for the half day tour which was a bit rushed, if you ask me. However, the full day tour would have been too long. If only there was a ¾ day tour. That would have been just right.

In spite of our limited time on the island, we still managed to go snorkeling for about an hour, sit on the beach for about 10-15 minutes, and go on a semi-submersible ride.

Who loves snorkeling? This girl!

At one point as I was floating over the reef, I looked to the left and saw three giant fins sticking out of the sand. I noticed this at around the same time as the couple (or possibly siblings or cousins) near me. The whole animal appeared to be at least four feet long, if not five or larger. I’m not good at estimating sizes. The boy insisted it was a ray and the girl said it looked like a shark. Always the people pleaser, and not quite sure what I was looking at, I said that it had fins like a shark but it was sitting under the sand like a ray. I was leaning toward shark. Isn’t there a shark that lives in the sand?

After a short debate, we bravely ventured a little closer and decided that it was indeed a ray of some sort. Mom was too nervous to come see and made fun of me for not knowing the difference between a shark and a ray. However, we asked the semi submersible guide about it and she said, “Did it look kind of like a shark and kind of like a ray?” which made me feel validated.

The semi submersible was fun. The bottom of the boat had clear glass all around so we could see everything we were passing by. We saw two sea turtles swimming about and quite a few sea cucumbers (or sea slugs) that were on average two feet long. The guide threw some food overboard which attracted quite a plethora of good sized fish. Black fish, silver fish, shiny fish, blue fish…so many colors!


14 September 6 October 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeintaiwan @ 10:56 am

Long plane rides just aren’t fun. There’s not way around it. Sitting in a cramped position for hours on end is no good for anyone, no matter how lazy you are. Especially on budget airlines where they cram as many rows of seats as possible. And then they charge 3 Singapore dollars for one Sprite. And don’t offer food on international flights. I suppose you can’t complain too much when you purposely book a budget airline though.

In better news, on the flight from Singapore to Cairns (via Darwin) I was smart enough to reserve an exit row seat. I promptly forgot I did this, leaving me pleasantly surprised when I discovered my newfound leg room.

I made it safely into Cairns and wandered about a bit, eating breakfast and finding an Australian SIM card. By the time I finished, they’d gotten a room ready for me so I showered and waited a bit for mom to show up.

Shortly after I was ready, she arrived. Hooray!

We spent the afternoon walking around downtown Cairns, looking at menus and trying to decide which restaurant offered the best meals. We passed a few trees that were absolutely covered in fruit bats. After dinner they were flying around, as bats are apt to do. These bats are ginormous! We estimated their wingspan to be about the size of an average person’s arm. When we got back to our room, I Googled it and discovered that their wingspan is roughly 3 feet long. Holy moly!

We ate a fancy-shmancy dinner involving almost any sort of seafood you can imagine. Crab (Mud crab to be specific)? Check. Lobster? Check. Prawns? Check. Fish? Check. Octopus (in the form of squid)? Check. Bugs? Check.

Bugs look like crawfish or baby lobsters. They are delicious. Absolutely delicious. It was the best part of the meal, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I was so busy devouring everything in sight that I didn’t bother taking a picture of the bountiful feast of the sea.

Early to bed, early to rise seems to be our motto for the next couple weeks. Tomorrow we’re up bright and early to go to Green Island for some snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef.


12 September 5 October 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneeintaiwan @ 7:21 am

I decided that I’ve had enough of Hong Kong and Kowloon today. Plus it’s my last day, so I super splurged and went to Lantau Island. There’s a cable car there that takes you up to the top of a mountain where Asia’s largest seated Buddha resides. The price of the subway there, the cable car up, and the bus down were more than my usual daily budget of food, travel, and souvenier shopping.

This is the seated Buddha and the cable car all in one shot. Am I good or what?

There’s a very commercialized/Disneyfied “Chinese” village at the end of the cable car. It had the requisite Starbucks and Subway. I’m sure there was a McDonald’s as well. It was spotless, lacked color, and had a spacious walkway between each building. Not your typical Chinese village.

The Buddha was kind of cool though. It reminded me a lot of the Buddha sitting on a lotus flower on the side of a mountain that I visited in Chungwha, Taiwan. This one had a monastery nearby where they give you a vegetarian lunch for twice the price of a cheap meal on Hong Kong Island. It wasn’t half bad. I had tea and platters of rice, mixed vegetables, and bok choy with mushrooms. I noticed that other people got tofu with corn, but I think they only gave that to groups and I was by myself. It was loads of food and it was quite tasty.

Then I decided to venture to Tai O village, where the native villagers apparently have a strong distrust of land. This wariness is so strong that they wouldn’t even build their homes on land until very recently. Some of them still build their houses on stilts in mudflats. I saw a few people sitting in these stilt homes, but I have to wonder how many are doing it for tradition and how many are doing it because of the money that tourists bring. The town was basically a bunch of homes, restaurants, and markets. I suppose this is a lot like other Chinese villages, but everything felt a little faked for the tourists to me today.

Stilt houses.

When I came home, I discovered that I have three new roommates. Apparently, I misheard when I thought the reception guy told me I had a female dorm because I’m currently sharing the room with three boys. Two from the UK and one from Australia. The Brits are nice but the Aussie is a bit long winded; therefore, obnoxious. We all went for dinner in Kowloon. I think the Brits and I wanted Indian but the Aussie didn’t. We ended up at a place that served curry and other stuff, so the three of us got curry. Yum, yum. I’m going to have to find an Indian restaurant in the area of my new home.

It somehow took me two days to notice this, but in Hong Kong they drive on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. It’s odd now that I’ve noticed it, but luckily I haven’t had any mishaps crossing the roads.

Other than that, I spent the late afternoon shopping for breakfast and picking up my laundry. I’ve been washing my clothes with soap or shampoo in hostel sinks. While this works in the short term, it’s nothing like having freshly washed and dried laundry. Tomorrow morning I leave bright and early for my almost 24 hour sojourn to Cairns, Australia where I meet my mom! Hooray!