All you need to know about Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival.

One of the most beautiful Taiwanese traditions, this year I celebrated and ask for a prosperous new year myself, follow this summary for all you need to know about the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival.

Sky lantern festival

Pingxi is a beautiful town one hour and a half from downtown Taipei. Is close to the famous town of Shifen, and both places are full of culture and tradition.

Pingxi, Shifen, and Jiufen are a perfect trifecta for a day trip any day of the year, packed with history and Japanese influence their fabulous old streets are full of crafts, food, and entertainment, but, Pingxi becomes the center of attention during the Chinese New Year celebrations and is all because of the lovely sky lantern festival.

This festival has been named “One of the Festivals to attend before you die” by Fodor’s Travel.

What is the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival?

During the first days after the celebration of the Chinese new year, people are aiming and working on the good luck they need for the new year, so, on the first full moon, filled with hope, love, and good wishes for themselves and their beloved ones they pray and ask the gods for one favor, or two!

In the past, most of Taiwanese society was engaged in agriculture. So during this time of the year, they will ask for better soil, better harvest, better animals, and wellness overall. They wrote wishes and prayers in little sky lanterns and light them up to the sky to reach the heavens and hence the gods.

Also, it is believed these sky lanterns were a communication method. During the harvesting times, thieves will attack the village, so most of the villagers will take a safe place in the mountains. Those that stay in the village, the stronger ones to protect as much as they could, will light up the sky lanterns as a message to those hiding, so they’ll know it was safe to go back home.

Nowadays, even though people lives have changed, they all want the same, better jobs, more money, happy and peaceful life, you name it, even love interest and healthy children are amongst the wishes people write on to the sky lantern.

Since it has become one of the major cultural events of Taiwan, there is an event hosted by the government of New Taipei City and the community, celebrated on the 15th day after Chinese New Year. They have concerts with local celebrities, release eight sessions of sky lanterns and give all information about what to expect in the coming year according to the Chinese calendar, this being the year of the Dog.

Sky lantern festival

You don’t want to miss this event, is breathtaking to see around 100 gigantic sky lanterns fly at the same time! The event at the main square lasted from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm. So make sure you arrive there on time.

Besides lighting up the sky lanterns at the main event, you can also purchase your own at the local shops, they can go from $150NTD to $350NTD, it depends on how many colors you want.

What each color represents:

Each color represents a different area you would like to focus your wish on, can be money, health, love, etc. There are sky lanterns with one color, four colors or eight colors. Each color stands for:

  • Red: Health and peace. The most popular one.
  • Yellow: Money and wealth.
  • Blue: Career and promotion.
  • White: Future and brightness.
  • Orange: Love and marriage.
  • Green: Vigour and success.
  • Magenta: Attraction and popularity.
  • Pink: Bliss and joy.

 

Choose what is best for you, mix and match each color with the others as you want, make sure you write or draw all your wishes, and then be ready to pose and send it to the skies.

There is also the chance to make your own sky lanterns, you will find two or more stores in the old street that can teach you!

What to eat during the sky lantern festival.

Since everything you do during these first days will help you create a prosperous year, even your food plays a very important part.

What you can’t miss during these days is Yuan Xiao 元宵 (yes, the same character as money!). These are little dumplings made of rice with a sweet filling (red bean, sesame paste or peanut butter most likely) and covered with rice flour dough.

The roundness of the dumpling symbolizes family unity, happiness, and good luck.

Either way, the old street has a lot to offer for you to snack during your time there. We tried some fried squid, potato fries, and an amazing peanut butter and cilantro ice cream burrito!

How to get to Pingxi?

From Taipei Main Station, Songshan Station or Nangang Station, take the train headed north to Ruifang. Then you need to switch to the train going to Shifen. There are boards in the main entrance, double check the train number and departure time here. Also, there is bus 795 from Taipei Zoo.

During the Chinese New Year celebrations, when the main festival is happening, there is a special shuttle going out every 15-20 minutes from Taipei Zoo, which is accessible by the brown line of the MRT. You will find two lines, one if you want to go seated, and the other one to go standing, have this in mind since the ride up there can last from 45 to 60 minutes.

Make sure you check the updated info for the day you are going!

If you would like to make a day out of this, check Sandiaoling Waterfall Trails, very close!

Environmental concerns, cleaning afterward!

I won’t deny that this is a beautiful tradition and that I enjoyed every second, but there is a big elephant in the room!

Sorry to be the party pooper, but I don´t seem to find this information anywhere else. Everyone loves going to this festival, they light up one, two or more sky lanterns, wander around and then return home.

But do you know what happened to those sky lanterns? Yeap, they turned off and fall down, polluting and damaging much life in the surrounding areas. Most likely the paper and the bamboo will disintegrate, however, the wiring of the structure remains.

It is until recently that people have realized this situation. There was a clean up hiking, like the one coordinated by a tour agency, called My Taiwan Tour. These efforts are important, but there are areas that can’t be reached by hikers, therefore, will remain polluted.

Some people are calling to finish the festival, extreme due to the cultural significance, however, I believe it can be much greener.

Final thoughts.

When you are the foreigner, most of the times you find yourself learning and trying to adapt the best you can. But during my time at the festival, I could relate to almost everything that was going on.

I saw many people from everywhere enjoying time with friends and relatives, writing and drawing their messages and wishes hoping to send them to the skies somehow will help achieve them.

Sounds like a fantasy, I know, but we as humans sometimes need to touch those feelings and desires to make them real.

 

I saw many people asking for world peace, asking for prosperity and happiness. Even us, as a newlywed couple, were inspired by our hopes and ambitious for our life together, as a couple and individuals.

The most touching part of them all, seeing people writing love notes to their deceased love-ones.

I enjoyed the festival and all the symbolism behind it is something worth your time if you are ever in Taipei.

If you are an expat in Taipei keep in touch with the main cultural and traditional events, listed by the Tourism Board.

Recommendations.

  1. Have your camera with you, plenty of photos worthy moments awaits you!
  2. Use public transportation, is too crowded and difficult to park near the main event.
  3. Arrive early and experience both sides of the town, during the day and during the night.
  4. Make sure you wear a nice comfy jacket and have an umbrella with you. These are the last days of winter, which can be chilly, especially at night.
  5. Wander around thru all the train lines, be aware, though, as it is in use. Locals have created a remarkable mechanism to let people know the train is coming: shouting to move like crazy!
  6. Have as much food as you can, you won’t regret it.

Hope you find this information useful if you want to know something more don’t hesitate and leave a comment!

 

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Aprendiendo Mandarin.

Aprendiendo Mandarin en Taiwán.

Debo admitir que de niña nunca le preste mucha atención a ningún idioma asiático, siempre pensé que como hispano hablante debería permanecer en los lenguajes con la misma raíz; entonces por eso es que me vine para acá con cero conocimiento, bueno al menos podía decir “Ni Hao!”

Uno de los retos que me encontré al llegar a Taipei ha sido el idioma, por dicha hay bastantes personas que manejan un buen nivel de inglés, sin embargo, para andar por ahí en la ciudad es más fácil si se habla por lo menos las cosas básicas. Este descubriemiento me ayudo mucho, puedes ver que más he descubierto aquí: Descubriendo Taiwan

Aprendiendo Mandarin

Así que aprovechando mi tiempo libre, y considerando que eventualmente me gustaría trabajar mientras estamos aquí, dos semanas después de haber llegado acá me inscribí en un instituto privado para aprender mandarin. No les puedo mentir, ¡después de mi primer clase terminé con un ligero dolor de cabeza y de garganta!

Escuelas de Idiomas en Taiwán.

Dado que estamos viviendo en Taipei, solo consideré las escuelas que están cerca de mi área; sin embargo, no dudo que existan otras buenas opciones en las demás ciudades grandes como Kaohsiung, Tainan, y Taichung.

Empecé haciendo una pequeña investigación en línea y leí todas las revisiones y recomendaciones de las principales escuelas, al llegar fui personalmente a las mismas para asegurarme de la ubicación y demás detalles de la escuela, así también para averiguar más de los precios, ya que fue un poco díficil encontrar esa información en la web. Estos son mis resultados:

Mandarin Training Center.

Esta escuela pertenece a la Universidad Nacional Normal de Taiwán o mejor conocida como “Shida”. Al ser parte de una de las universidades principales aquí tienen mucha credibilidad y reciben a muchos estudiantes, sin embargo, creo que el formato y la duración de las clases no son para todos. Esta escuela es para personas que se puedan quedar por aquí al menos un año, su inscripción es anual, y se necesita aplicar con buena anticipación para entrar en el periodo deseado, de ahí, si te seleccionan debes entregar todos los requisitos y estar presente en el país en el mes que debes iniciar el curso.

La gran ventaja de esta escuela es que desde el día uno vas a estar totalmente sumergido con la lectura y escritura de los caracteres chinos. Tiene varios horarios a escoger y todo el ambiente universitario se presta para socializar y encontrar nuevos amigos en tu misma situación. Hay que tener en cuenta que pueden tener de 25 a 30 estudiantes por clase, así que no será tan personalizado como podría desearse.

Esta escuela ofrece becas por medio de programas gubernamentales, si te interesa puedes encontrar más información aquí: MTC en NTNU.

Taiwan Mandarin Institute.

Ubicado en la misma zona que Mandarin Training Center, está escuela se especializa más en extranjeros que quieren aprender un poco de mandarin mientras están de paso por la isla. Esta escuela ofrece una nueva clase todos los lunes, sin embargo esto solo sucede si hay al menos tres personas inscritas para comenzar. Ofrecen clases en la mañana, y en la noche (por aquello de que trabajes o andes paseando de día), así como varias clases privadas donde puedes escoger el horario que mejor te convenga durante la semana.

Lo mejor de esta escuela es que solo abre grupos de seis personas, logrando una clase dinámica con la participación constante de los alumnos. Aquí se enfocan más en las habilidades conversacionales y aprendizaje del vocabulario, de hecho, aquí se usa el libro desarrollado por el Mandarin Training Center, el cuál es el certificado. Lo único malo es que, dado a que hay muchos estudiantes de paso, según vas avanzando el nivel puede que no haya suficientes alumnos para abrir el siguiente nivel.

Taiwan Chinese Academy.

Esta escuela privada está en la misma zona que las otras dos, al igual que Taiwan Mandarin Institute, tiene un enfoque en los extranjeros que vacacionan o viven por periodos cortos en Taipei. Sin embargo, aquí si existen fechas fijas de inicio así que es mejor acomodar las fechas de viaje de acuerdo a sus horarios.

Tienen varias clases en la mañana, y de noche, así como los horarios privados de acuerdo a tus necesidades; también se enfocan en la parte conversacional transicionando lentamente a la lectura y escritura. Como tienen las fechas de inicio fjas puede ser más fácil ir avanzando de nivel continuamente, ya que se aseguran que haya estudiantes para abrir el curso

Aprendiendo mandarin en Taipei

¿Cómo escoger entre escuelas de mandarin?

Mi recomendación número uno es que te inscribas lo más pronto posible al llegar aquí, no importa cuanto tiempo te vayas a quedar, es mejor que aproveches el tiempo, no solo por el aprendizaje, sino también para estar inmerso en esta bellísima cultura y aprender más allá de las palabras.

Hay que tener en cuenta que la única escuela que te ayuda con la visa de estudiante es Mandarin Training Center; con las otras dos escuelas, tienes que seguir el proceso personal para conseguir la visa de turista según las regulaciones de migración de Taiwán para tu país. Adicionalmente, para Shida, necesitas preparar tus documentos y traducirlos a inglés, y certificarlos en la oficina diplomática taiwanese de tu país. En las otras escuelas solo con tu pasaporte es suficiente para la inscripción.

Taiwan Mandarin Institute y Taiwan Chinese Academy el costo de las clases ronda $22000NT (cerca de $740USD) por 12 semanas, dos horas al día, de lunes a jueves. En el otro caso, Mandarin Training Center el costo es de $28000NT (cerca de $940USD) por el mismo periodo, solo que ellos tienen clase los cinco días de la semana. Los libros y otros materiales son extra en las tres escuelas. Te recomiendo que revises el precio directamente con ellos antes de inscribirte ya que puede cambiar con el paso del tiempo. you can start connecting with all the wonders that Taiwan and its culture has to offer.

Recursos adicionales.

Finalmente, si de verdad te interesa empezar a hablar mandarin en el futuro cercano, la práctica te ayudará un montón, no tengas miedo de hablarle al que te atienda en el restaurante o puesto de té. Si aún no quieres andarte exponiendo por ahí, te recomiendo que uses dos aplicaciones que puedes descargar en tu celular, una se llama Hello Chinese, y la otra se llama Chinese Skill. Ambas te ayudarán a aprender más vocabulario así como a practicar el pinyin y la pronunciación. Si te gusta escuchar podcasts te recomiendo el de Chineasy, muy interesante y con temas muy oportunos.

chinese apps

¡Mis nuevos mejores amigos! Así puedes encontar las aplicaciones.

Admito que estuve un poco negativa con todo esto, en las primeras semanas me sentí muy frustrada, pero a como fui avanzando fui encontrando el simbolismo detrás de cada significado y me dí cuenta de lo hermoso que es este idioma, ¡el reto que representa me tiene decidida a conquistarlo!

Descubriendo Taiwán.

Han pasado algunos meses desde que llegamos a Taiwán, y todo lo que puedo decires ¡Qué lugar tan eficiente! ¡Todo lo que has escuchado sobre la belleza, eficiencia y amabilidad de su gente es completamente cierto!

Descubriendo Taiwan

Hay tiendas de conveniencia en cada esquina, literalmente. Estas tienditas, como 7Eleven y Family Mart son pulperías, farmacias y cafeterías a la vez, también puedes sacar fotocopias, dinero del ATM, y hasta puedes pagar las facturas de los servicios públicos.

La gente es súper conciente con la línea del tren, así como con el reciclaje; todos separan la basura y la entregan al camión adecuado que la recolecta. Hemos usado varios servicios públicos, como la oficina de correos, que también es banco, hasta el hospital, en el cúal en menos de dos horas logramos hacer cuatro chequeos médicos, y todo por un precio muy razonable.

Hay también muy buena variedad de comida, los restaurantes alrededor de nuestra casa son humildes pero hemos probado la mejor comida, y súper barato, estos lugares se les conoce como los “restaurantes de pa y ma”, y en definitiva son la mejor manera de probar la verdadera comida local, además de los mercados nocturnos. Los restaurantes de hot pots y dumplings son bastante famosos también. De la misma manera se encuentra fácilmente restaurantes tailandeses, coreanos, y los más populares, los japoneses.

También he descubierto los hermosos cherry blossoms en la ciudad de New Taipei.

Que he descubierto hasta el momento.

Existe una maravillosa comunidad de expatriados, si vienes por acá solo, y te gustaría conocer personas en tu misma situación, hay muchas opciones para crear amistades basadas en networking, idiomas o comida. Estos son mis grupos favoritos:

Taiwan Expats Association

Taiwan Foodie Girls

Language Exchange in Taiwan

Existen muchos lugares hermosos para visitar sin tener que salir de Taipei, si vas a estar trabajando o estudiando por aquí y tienes el tiempo limitado para andar por toda la isla, no te preocupes, hay bastantes cosas por hacer, mis recomendaciones son:

  • Caminar por el mercado nocturno de Shilin, probar toda la comida que puedas. Es un lugar grande, fácil de llegar y con una excelente vibra.
  • Tomar el metro hasta Tamsui, caminar por el muelle, tomar una bicicleta y andar por el sendero junto al río, es muy seguro y tiene una hermosa vista de toda la ciudad.
  • Hacer senderismo, no importa si tienes experiencia o no, puedes ir al parque DaHu y aprovechar los hermosos senderos alrededor, Yangminshan o la montaña Elefante son buenos lugares también.
DaHu Park 1

Parque DaHu y sus alrededores.

Finalmente, pero no menos importante, mi nueva actividad favorita que he descubierto recientemente son las hermosas cafeterías que hay por toda la ciudad, perfectas para ir a estudiar, trabajar, o simplemente relajarse con una buena taza de café y un libro. Estos lugares son acogedores, con un hermoso ambiente y decoración, ofrecen café y té de muy alta calidad, tienen buena variedad de comidas, y algo muy importante, una conexión a internet estable y rápida.

Puedes ver mi primera celebración de Año Nuevo Chino aquí.

Estoy muy entusiasmada de seguir descubriendo la ciudad y la isla entera, ¡los mantendré informados!

Two spectacular hiking trails in Taiwan.

Español

I admit it, I’ve never been the most athletic person, however in these past years I have enjoyed new activities and sports to keep myself healthy. After arriving in Taiwan I discovered that the people here are active, you can always see people in the park doing some kind of physical exercise.

Then, while commuting and wandering around, I noticed a lot of trail signs. Taipei is a metro area; however, you won’t need more than half hour to find a trail to explore.

Xiangshan, or Elephant Mountain, was the first trail I tried. This is the popular one since it is a special place to get a sight of the whole city with the iconic Taipei 101 building as a cover. I liked the experience, and so I decided I could keep trying, but I wasn’t sure on how or where to start.

Luckily, a few weeks after this I found a post in which another expat was saying how she got named the ambassador of Hiker Babes Taiwan, and that she was organizing the first trip. So I hit like and signed up for the event.

Easy and short hikes in Taipei.

Caoling Historic Trail.

Located just outside Taipei, is heading east to Yilan County. The hike takes around 10km, has moderate difficulty, and can be done in 3-4 hours. We started at Dali station, from there you take right, the trails start just next to the temple, and we finish at Fulong.

From there you walk, the trail surrounds the mountain, but if you want to go faster, you can take the stairs in each section. In this first part, you can see the coast, amazing, mountain after mountain you can see part of the mountain range of Taiwan. The road paved and well signed; there are resting stations all around.

So after looking at the top, we went back to the intersection and started the trail to Fulong. There is no way to get lost, however, a good sign we were on our way was seeing the Tiger Stone. The tale says it is placed there to clear out the heavy fog and winds so they could keep working, according to Chinese believes “All the winds follow the Tiger”.

The trail in this part is smoother and deeper in the mountain, the air is fresher and you can see all the nature of this area. While you keep walking, another engraved stone appears, and this text also seems to be directed to the heavy winds and clouds that more often are seeing in this area.

Keeping down this road you can see a river and a street, in here you have to turn right until you find an abandoned construction site, there is a Little sign that says “Fulong”, looks like an undercover trail, but is ok, and is a good route to avoid the street and keep walking among nature.

This is the final section, one of the funniest experiences was to find an old house filled with cats, they were everywhere, in the roof, in the windows, in the main door. In the beginning, I counted around seven cats, but once one of my friends opened a tea egg she was carrying, we ended up counting maybe fifteen to twenty cats.

We found the main street again, which had a little communal farm and some of my friends took advantage to purchase veggies, why not? From there we found Fulong train station where we had lunch and waited for the upcoming train to Taipei.

I couldn’t have found a better day nor company for my first day of hiking, I enjoyed it, and once arrived home and signed up for the next one.

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail.

Now with beautiful spring weather, this day was perfect to explore the three waterfalls in the rail. I was doubtful because everything I read mentioned how this trail was a Little more demanding and there was a few climbs section.

I went anyway, and it was worth it! Taking the train from Taipei Main Station we alighted at Sandiaoling station, one of the smallest and simplest I’ve found here. From the station, you can see the trails signs, easy not to get lost.

Not long after having started you can find the first waterfall, Hegu, which can only be seen from a distance, and is the bigger one of the three. By walking we found hanging bridges, this and the muddy trail were the definite clues that the hike would be challenging.

 

IMG_0007

Hegu Waterfall.

 

We found the second waterfall, Motian, this is close by and even has a standing platform so you can take good pictures. This moment was perfect to freshen up with the breeze coming out. And a good thing it was because the coming part was the most interesting of the whole trail.

 

IMG_0035

Motian Waterfall

 

We climbed really steep stairs, the newer ones with a metal frame. The other ones just a well placed stones and some ropes so you can lean on something. After all of this, we found the third waterfall, Pipa Cave. Besides being awesome, it has a very convenient set of rocks at its downfall, which made it the perfect place to sit down and have our lunch, after some group photos of course!

 

IMG_0055

Pipa Cave Waterfall.

 

After this point, we climbed another natural stair and found an intersection; we took the trail to Shifen where we took the train back to Taipei. The trail leads you the exit, then you walk on the main road until you find the Shifen Scenic Area, which is a very famous waterfall perfect for a picnic day closet to the city.

Recommendations.

  • Take a good amount of water with you, at least 2L per person. Also, a good cold lunch, fruits, and candies.
  • Don’t leave the sunscreen at home, and the sunglasses, hat, and UV jacket or windbreaker.
  • Some trails in Taiwan, like Caoling, acknowledge hornets, so it’s better not to use bright colors clothing and no fragrances for the day.
  • Have your EasyCard loaded with at least $300NT, so taking the train faster.
  • Please be responsible for your trash, and why not pick up something that doesn’t belong to the trail.

I am super excited to be part of Hiker Babes Taiwan, now every time I’m at the gym I only think how I can train and strengthen my legs for the next hike. The good thing is that this is a worldwide movement; there is a group in each city encouraging one another. You can check if there is a group in your town already, or why not become a new ambassador for your city, follow them on Instagram.

Happy Hiking!

Dos espectaculares senderos de hiking en Taiwán.

English

No seré la más atlética pero en los últimos años he disfrutado enormemente de nuevas actividades y deportes para mantenerme saludable. Al llegar a Taiwán descubrí que la gente es sumamente activa, siempre se puede ver en los parques a muchas personas de todas las edades en algún tipo de actividad física.

Luego en mis tiempos de transporte, y descubriendo lugares por ahí, empecé a notar muchos rótulos de senderos. Taipéi es una gran ciudad metropolitana, pero no necesitas recorrer más de media hora para encontrar una montaña que recorrer.

Xiangshan, o la montaña Elefante, fue el primer sendero que probé.  Este es uno de los más populares dado que es un excelente lugar para tener una vista de toda la ciudad, con el icónico Taipéi 101 de portada. La verdad es que la experiencia me gustó mucho, y decidí que podría seguirlo intentando, pero no sabía cómo o donde más podría empezar a ir.

Por dicha, justo unas semanas después me encontré con una publicación en la cual otra expat comentaba como acababa de ser nombrada la embajadora de Hiker Babes en Taiwán, y estaba organizando la primera excursión. Así que le di “me gusta” y me registré para el evento.

Senderos fáciles y cortos cerca de Taipéi.

Sendero Histórico Caoling.

Ubicado en las afueras de Taipéi, se toma hacia el este, yendo hacia el condado de Yilan. La caminata abarca unos 10km, es de moderada dificultad y se recorre en unas 3-4 horas. Nosotras empezamos en la estación de Dalí, de ahí se toma hacia la derecha, el sendero empieza justo a la par del templo, y terminamos la caminata en Fulong.

De ahí se empieza a caminar, el sendero va rodeando la montaña, pero se puede ir más rápido tomando las gradas que hay entre cada sección. En esta primera parte se puede apreciar toda la costa, es una vista realmente impresionante, montaña tras montaña se aprecia buena parte de la cordillera norte de Taiwán. El camino es cementado y bien demarcado, hay estaciones de descanso a cada cierta distancia.

Todo el camino está muy bien señalizado, así que después de apreciar la vista desde lo más alto, nos fuimos a la intersección y empezamos el sendero que se dirige hacia Fulong. No hay manera de perderse, sin embargo, una buena señal de que estábamos en el camino correcto fue encontrarnos con la piedra del tigre. La leyenda dice que fue colocada ahí para disipar la fuerte nubosidad de la zona y poder seguir trabajando, según la leyenda china escrita en la piedra: ¨Todos los vientos siguen al tigre¨.

El sendero en esta parte es más tranquilo y entre la montaña, el aire es más fresco y se aprecia mucho mejor la flora de la zona. Mientras se sigue el camino, otra piedra gravada aparece, el texto parece ser también dirigido a los vientos y la nubosidad que cierran la zona cuando están muy pesados.

Al seguir bajando por este camino aparece un río y se encuentra una calle, en esta calle hay que tomar hacia la derecha hasta encontrar una construcción abandonada, con un pequeño rotulo que dice Fulong, parece un camino clandestino, pero es una buena ruta para evitar la calle con carros y seguir entre la naturaleza.

Ya esta es la parte final, una de las experiencias más graciosas fue encontrarnos con una casa antigua llena de gatitos, estaban por todas partes, en el techo, las ventanas y la entrada principal. Al principio logré contar unos siete gatos, pero una de mis compañeras empezó a repartir un huevo de té que tenía con ella, y pues terminaron saliendo unos quince a veinte gatos en total.

Encontramos de nuevo la calle principal, encontramos una pequeña granja comunal, unas aprovecharon para hacer las compras de vegetales, de ahí ya encontramos la estación de Fulong, la idea principal era cerrar con el almuerzo en la playa pero calculando la hora para el tren de regreso a Taipéi decidimos almorzar al frente de la estación y tomar el próximo.

No pude haber encontrado un mejor día y compañía para mi primer día de hiking, lo disfruté mucho y al llegar a casa confirmé mi participación en el siguiente tour.

Sendero de Cataratas Sandiaoling.

Ahora sí con clima de pura primavera, este día fue bellísimo para explorar las tres cataratas del sendero. Tenía mis dudas porque todo lo que investigué mencionaba que este sendero era más demandante y tenía ciertas secciones en la cuales hay que escalar un poquito.

De igual forma me animé, y valió la pena totalmente. Tomando el tren desde la estación central de Taipéi nos bajamos en la estación de Sandiaoling, hasta ahorita la más pequeña y sencilla en la que he estado. Desde la misma estación se aprecian los rótulos hacia el sendero, no hay manera de perderse.

No pasa mucho tiempo después de haber iniciado cuando aparece la primera catarata, Hegu, solo se puede apreciar a la distancia, y es la más grande de las tres. Al seguir caminado encontramos unos puentes colgantes, esto junto al camino más lleno de barro, fue la primera pista de que definitivamente esta caminata iba a estar un poco más retadora.

 

IMG_0007

Catarata Hegu.

 

Al poco tiempo encontramos la segunda catarata, Motian, esta si se aprecia de cerca, y hasta tiene unas plataformas de madera para las fotos. Justo en este punto fue riquísimo refrescarnos con la brisa de la misma catarata, ya en este punto llevábamos buena energía invertida. Y fue bueno que nos refrescáramos, porque la parte que venía iba a ser la más interesante de todo el trayecto.

 

IMG_0035

Catarata Motian.

 

Empezamos a encontrar unas escaleras súper empinadas, unas más nuevas, tenían una construcción de metal. Las otras nada más unas piedras bien colocadas y unas cuerdas para poder agarrarnos de algo. Después de todo esto encontramos la tercera catarata, la Cueva Pipa. Además de impresionante, tenía una formación de rocas al frente de su caída lo cual lo hizo el lugar perfecto para sentarnos y almorzar juntas, por supuesto, ¡después de habernos tomado la foto grupal de rigor!

 

IMG_0055

Caverna Pipa.

 

Después de este punto, se sube otra escalera natural y se encuentra una intersección, nosotras decidimos tomar el camino hacia Shifen, donde abordaríamos el tren de regreso a Taipéi. El mismo sendero de dirige hacia la salida, y luego se puede caminar sobre la calle principal, cuesta abajo, hasta encontrar el paradero turístico de Shifen, la cual es una de las cataratas más famosas y perfectas para un día de picnic cerca de la ciudad.

Recomendaciones.

  • Lo más importante es llevar una buena cantidad de agua, al menos 2 litros por persona. Además de un buen almuerzo frío, frutas y dulces.
  • La protección solar no se puede dejar en casa, así como los lentes de sol, la gorra, y una buena jacket UV.
  • Algunos senderos, como del de Caoling, menciona la presencia de abejas, así que es buena idea no usar ropa de colores brillantes y usar la protección solar más inodora posible. Por supuesto mejor no usar perfumes o fragancias para este día.
  • Tener el EasyCard cargado con al menos $300NT, el acceso al tren será más rápido de esta manera.
  • Finalmente, ser responsable con la basura y porque no, recoger una que otra cosa que no pertenezca al sendero.

Estoy súper entusiasmada de haberme encontrado con Hiker Babes Taiwán, ahora cada vez que voy al gimnasio pienso como puedo entrenar  y fortalecer mis piernas para la siguiente caminata. Lo bueno es que es un movimiento mundial, todas desde nuestras ciudades nos motivamos y comentamos de nuestro progreso. Puedes ver si hay en tu ciudad, o porque no convertirte en una nueva embajadora, siguiéndolas en Instagram.

¡Feliz Caminata!

Chinese New Year 2018: Celebrating Lunar New Year in Taiwan.

Taiwan Chinese New Year 2018.

This February I celebrated my first Chinese New Year. Being from the other side of the world, this date used to be that time of year when my Asian colleagues had a couple of days off. Now that I’m here I came to realize how big and important this celebration is for all Taiwanese.

To start, all the Christmas decorations are still on and lighten every night. A month ago, all the bakeries started selling the special buns and candies of this season. Three weeks ago I started noticing big piles of non-traditional trash in my neighborhood corner. Why? You will find the answer later.

 

Lucky cat manicure

My lucky cat manicure to get in the mood.

 

What is the Chinese New Year?

The Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is the biggest celebration in most Asian countries. Based on the moon cycles, it celebrates the start of the New Year surrounded by good food and family. This is the best time to honor family and ancestors.

Each year is ruled by an animal, this known as the Chinese zodiac. There are twelve and each one rules the personality of the people born during its year as well each one represents a special gift or value for the year to come.

History of Chinese New Year.

No one knows for sure, but this festivity is as old as Emperor Yao and Shun, -2300bC. The legend tells that, a mythical beast called “Nian” (Year in Mandarin), an ox/lion animal, used to go on the last night of the year to harm people, animals, and property. Then, the people discovered that this beast was afraid of the color red, loud noises, and fire. Therefore, to protect themselves, people posted red decorations in their houses, launched fireworks and hanged lanterns all over the town, so the beast finally stopped showing around.

Offerings from people to the god

Fruits, flowers and money paper are offerings from people to the gods in other to have a prosperous new year.

Besides this legend, there are a few others details I learned during this past week, all of them to attract good luck and prosperity for the household, and your parents.

Chinese New Year: Taiwan Traditions.

Deep cleaning: as I mentioned before, two to three weeks prior New Year’s Eve, people start deep cleaning their houses. By cleaning the dust and removing the old things away, Taiwanese people are getting ready to make space for the new luck provided by the New Year. All the cleaning must be done prior to the new year’s day; otherwise, you might be sweeping the new luck that just arrived. Also, you should not sweep or take out the trash during the first five days. Is believed that the gods will come down to inspect your house, so you better have everything spotless so they will grant you a favor.

Dihua Street Spring Festival Market: this is the place where you can buy all that’s needed for your New Year feast. Every single traditional ingredient and delicacies to celebrate are here. This street is in Dadaocheng area, so you will also enjoy some beautiful buildings filled with history.

Fireworks: remember that fire and noise scared Nian away, these days is also set to send away other bad spirits. These are held during the last hours of the last day.

Is all about family: all restaurants and stores are closed during these days, everyone is set to spend some family time, first with your father’s family and then with your mother’s family. Of course, expect a big feast; there is a lot of good food enough for everyone. Also, all family gathers around to play dices and mahjong, the traditional games, and gamble.

New red clothes: red is the color of the season, everyone uses different items of red clothing, especially underwear, in order to attract good luck. Many stores will offer good discounts, so is a good time to shop.

Red envelopes: all the kids receive red envelopes with some cash. If you are the only child, you’ll get all the attention from your aunts, uncles, and grandparents. When the children grow up and start working, they will return the favor to their parents and grandparents as a sign of respect and appreciation.

Red scrolls: these are red decorations hanging on the front door, they contained wise or good luck messages that the family would like to receive during the year. These stay hanging all year long.

Chinese New Year Food.

This is the most important part of the whole festivity, gather your family and eat together is the best way to start the New Year. These are the most important dishes and its meaning:

  • Whole fish: the word fish in Mandarin sounds like the word abundance. You should not eat its entirety or at all, if you do, may spend all your savings prior the year-end.
  • Noodles: the longer the better, they represent longevity. Don´t cut them while eating so you’ll not be resting years of your life.
  • Dumplings: the steam dumplings resemble the moon, and the fried dumplings resemble the gold ingots, either way, they represent prosperity and a perfect and united family.

Is an awesome time to be around, everyone is happy and joyful. I love how is all about family, and how the younger generation is still holding to these traditions. To finish the festivities, we are expecting for the Lantern Festival, will be showing it here soon.

Chinese new year 2018

Learning Chinese in Taipei: a quick review!

Learning Chinese in Taipei.

I must admit that growing up I never paid much attention to any Asian language, always thought that as a Spanish native speaker I should remain on the same root of languages; and so I came here with zero knowledge, wait, not zero, I was able to say “Ni Hao!”. Either way, I arrived in this beautiful place and the correct thing to do is speak their language, so here is my experience learning Chinese in Taipei.

One of the challenges I’ve faced since my arrival in Taipei has been the language, thankfully there are a lot of people who handle a basic to a good level of English, however, to wander around is a lot easier to speak the basic stuff. This was a wonderful discovery; you can read more about my first impressions here: Discovering beautiful Taiwan

Learning chinese in Taipei

What you should consider in order to pick the best school.

So, taking advantage of my free time, and considering that eventually, I would like to work and make a living while I’m here, two weeks after our arrival I enrolled in a private institute to learn Chinese. Not going to lie, after my first class I ended up with a little headache and a sore throat!

Language Schools in Taiwan.

Since we are living in Taipei City, I only consider the schools in the nearby area; however, I’m sure there are plenty of options in other big cities like Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung.

I started making a little online research and reading all reviews of the main schools to learn Chinese in Taipei, and after my arrival I went personally to each place in order to make sure about the location and the overall feeling of the school, as well as to find out about pricing, since is very difficult to find it online. Here I summarize my top three findings:

Mandarin Training Center.

This school belongs to the National Taiwan Normal University or best known here as “Shida”. Being part of one of the main universities here gives them a lot of credibilities and has a lot of students, however, I believe the format and the length of their classes are not for everybody. This school is for people who can stay in Taipei at least for one year or more, their enrollment is made once a year, you need to apply in advanced around May, then if you are selected you need to fulfill all requirements and be here ready to start in September.

The big advantage this school has is that since day one you will be totally immersed in reading and writing the Chinese characters. There are several schedules for you to pick from and the whole college environment will help you socialize and find new friends in your same situation. Have in mind though, that they can take up to 25-30 students per class so it won’t be as personal and conversational as you may like.

This school offers scholarships thru government programs, if you are interested you can find more information on their website. MTC at NTNU.

Taiwan Mandarin Institute.

Located in the same area as Mandarin Training Center, this school is more focused on foreigners who would like to learn a bit of Chinese while they are staying here. This school offers a new class opening every Monday, however, this only happens if there are at least three people signed up for it. They offer classes in the morning, and in the evening (in case you need to work during the day), as well as several private classes where you can pick the most convenient hour during any weekday.

The great thing about this place is that they only open groups of up to six people, making the class more oriented to participation; you have almost a personalized experience. They start focusing more on conversational skills and pushing vocabulary, also, they use the book developed by Mandarin Training Center, which is the certified one. The bad thing is that, since there are a lot of students just passing by, as you would move forward you may not have enough classmates to open the next level group with you.

Taiwan Chinese Academy.

This is a private institute in the same area as Shida, just like Taiwan Mandarin Institute, has a focus on foreigners vacationing or living short-term in Taipei. However, they do have fixed starting dates so is a good idea to arrange your arrival according to their start time.

They have several classes in the morning and evening as well as private classes according to your schedule; they also focus on conversational learning slowly transitioning to reading and writing. Since they have fixed dates you may find continuity easier as they will always have enough people to start.

How to choose chinese school in Taipei.png

How to choose between Chinese Schools?

I strongly recommend you to sign up for language classes as soon as you arrive, it doesn’t matter how long you will be staying, take advantage of your time, not only for the sake of learning a new language but also in order to immerse yourself in this beautiful culture and learn beyond words.

Please have in mind that the only institution that can help you with a student visa is Mandarin Training Center; with the other two schools, you need to apply yourself for your visitor visa according to the rules and requirements for your country. Also, for Shida, you need to prepare your papers and have them translated to English, in case your papers are written in other languages, and have them certified by a Taiwanese diplomatic office near you. With the other schools, you only need to show your passport.

Taiwan Mandarin Institute and Taiwan Chinese Academy charge around $22000NT (around $740USD) per 12 weeks, two hours a day, from Monday to Thursday. On the other hand, Mandarin Training Center charges $28000NT (around $940USD) for the same period of time, only their schedule is five days a week. Books and other materials are extra on all of them. Please double check all pricing directly with them prior signing up at this might change with time.

All three of them offer nice non-mandatory extra class activities, different every week so you can start connecting with all the wonders that Taiwan and its culture has to offer.

Additional resources.

Last but not least, if you are serious about speaking Chinese any time soon, practice will help you a lot, don’t be afraid to start practicing with the personnel at the restaurant or tea spot. However, if you don’t want to be that exposed yet, I recommend you to use two apps that you can download to your phone, one is Hello Chinese, and the other one is called Chinese Skill. Both will help you learn more vocabulary as well to practice the pinyin and pronunciation. If you are into podcasting I recommend you the one from Chineasy, very interesting and very up to the moment.

chinese apps

My new best friends! This is how you can find the apps.

I must admit I was a bit negative about all of this, during my first weeks I found myself feeling frustrated, but as I continued and discovered the beautiful symbolism of every character and every word made me realize what a wonderfully rich language this is, and the challenge it represents just makes me want to overcome it even more!

Chinese Language.

Learning Mandarin in Taiwan.

I must admit that growing up I never paid much attention to any Asian language, always thought that as a Spanish native speaker I should remain on the same root of languages; and so I came here with zero knowledge, wait, not zero, I was able to say “Ni Hao!”

One of the challenges I’ve faced since my arrival in Taipei has been the language, thankfully there are a lot of people who handle a basic to a good level of English, however, to wander around is a lot easier to speak the basic stuff. This was a wonderful discovery; you can read more about my first impressions here: Discovering beautiful Taiwan

Learning chinese

So, taking advantage of my free time, and considering that eventually, I would like to work and make a living while I’m here, two weeks after our arrival I enrolled in a private institute to learn Chinese mandarin. Not going to lie, after my first class I ended up with a little headache and a sore throat!

Language Schools in Taiwan.

Since we are living in New Taipei City, I only consider the schools in the nearby area; however, I’m sure there are plenty of options in other big cities like Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung.

I started making a little online research and reading all reviews of the main schools here, and after my arrival I went personally to each place in order to make sure about the location and the overall feeling of the school, as well as to find out about pricing, since is very difficult to find it online. Here I summarize my top three findings:

Mandarin Training Center.

This school belongs to the National Taiwan Normal University or best known here as “Shida”. Being part of one of the main universities here gives them a lot of credibility and has a lot of students, however, I believe the format and the length of their classes are not for everybody. This school is for people who can stay in Taipei at least for one year or more, their enrollment is made once a year, you need to apply in advanced around May, then if you are selected you need to fulfill all requirements and be here ready to start in September.

The big advantage this school has is that since day one you will be totally immersed in reading and writing the Chinese characters. There are several schedules for you to pick from and the whole college environment will help you socialize and find new friends in your same situation. Have in mind though, that they can take up to 25-30 students per class so it won’t be as personal and conversational as you may like.

This school offers scholarships thru government programs, if you are interested you can find more information on their website. MTC at NTNU.

Taiwan Mandarin Institute.

Located in the same area as Mandarin Training Center, this school is more focused on foreigners who would like to learn a bit of Chinese while they are staying here. This school offers a new class opening every Monday, however, this only happens if there are at least three people signed up for it. They offer classes in the morning, and in the evening (in case you need to work during the day), as well as several private classes where you can pick the most convenient hour during any weekday.

The great thing about this place is that they only open groups of up to six people, making the class more oriented to participation; you have almost a personalized experience. They start focusing more on conversational skills and pushing vocabulary, also, they use the book developed by Mandarin Training Center, which is the certified one. The bad thing is that, since there are a lot of students just passing by, as you would move forward you may not have enough classmates to open the next level group with you.

Taiwan Chinese Academy.

This is a private institute in the same area as Shida, just like Taiwan Mandarin Institute, has a focus on foreigners vacationing or living short-term in Taipei. However, they do have fixed starting dates so is a good idea to arrange your arrival according to their start time.

They have several classes in the morning and evening as well as private classes according to your schedule; they also focus on conversational learning slowly transitioning to reading and writing. Since they have fixed dates you may find continuity easier as they will always have enough people to start.

How to choose chinese school in Taipei.png

How to choose between Chinese Schools?

I strongly recommend you to sign up for language classes as soon as you arrive, it doesn’t matter how long you will be staying, take advantage of your time, not only for the sake of learning a new language but also in order to immerse yourself in this beautiful culture and learn beyond words.

Please have in mind that the only institution that can help you with a student visa is Mandarin Training Center; with the other two schools, you need to apply yourself for your visitor visa according to the rules and requirements for your country. Also, for Shida, you need to prepare your papers and have them translated to English, in case your papers are written in other languages, and have them certified by a Taiwanese diplomatic office near you. With the other schools, you only need to show your passport.

Taiwan Mandarin Institute and Taiwan Chinese Academy charge around $22000NT (around $740USD) per 12 weeks, two hours a day, from Monday to Thursday. On the other hand, Mandarin Training Center charges $28000NT (around $940USD) for the same period of time, only their schedule is five days a week. Books and other materials are extra on all of them. Please double check all pricing directly with them prior signing up at this might change with time.

All three of them offer nice non-mandatory extra class activities, different every week so you can start connecting with all the wonders that Taiwan and its culture has to offer.

Additional resources.

Last but not least, if you are serious about speaking Chinese any time soon, practice will help you a lot, don’t be afraid to start practicing with the personnel at the restaurant or tea spot. However, if you don’t want to be that exposed yet, I recommend you to use two apps that you can download to your phone, one is Hello Chinese, and the other one is called Chinese Skill. Both will help you learn more vocabulary as well to practice the pinyin and pronunciation. If you are into podcasting I recommend you the one from Chineasy, very interesting and very up to the moment.

chinese apps

My new best friends! This is how you can find the apps.

I must admit I was a bit negative about all of this, during my first weeks I found myself feeling frustrated, but as I continued and discovered the beautiful symbolism of every character and every word made me realize what a wonderfully rich language this is, and the challenge it represents just makes me want to overcome it even more!

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Discovering beautiful Taiwan.

It’s been a few months since we first arrived in Taiwan, and all I can summarize is Such an efficient place! Everything you ever heard about the beauty, efficiency and lovely people is absolutely true!

Discovering Taiwan

There is a convenience store on every corner, literally. Those little 7Eleven and Family Mart stores work as grocery stores, drug stores, and coffee shops, they all have copy machines, ATM machine, and you can even pay your bills.

People are so mindful of the line in the train, as well with recycling; everyone separates the trash and delivered properly to the truck that collects it. We’ve used several public services, from the post office, which is also a bank, to the hospital, in which in less than two hours we managed to do four medical checks, and for a very reasonable price.

There is a good variety of food, the restaurants around the home are humble but they have the best and the cheapest food, these are known as the “mom and dad restaurants”, and definitely are the best way to try the real local food, besides the night markets. Hot pots and dumplings restaurants are really famous as well. In the same way is super easy to find Thai, Korean, and the most popular one Japanese food.

I also had an amazing time discovering cherry blossoms in New Taipei city.

What I have discovered so far.

There is an amazing community of expats, if you come here on your own, and would like to meet people in your same situation, there are plenty of options to create new friendships based on network, language or food. These are my favorite groups:

Taiwan Expats Association

Taiwan Foodie Girls

Language Exchange in Taiwan

There are plenty of beautiful places to visit without leaving Taipei, if you are going to be working and will have limited time to go around the country, don´t worry, you still will have a lot to do, my recommended activities:

  • Go walk and try new food at Shilin Night Market, pretty big, easy to get to and an awesome vibe.
  • Take the MRT to Tamsui, get to meet around the pier, take a bike and start pedaling in the river bike lane, is safe and has a very beautiful view of the city.
  • Go hiking, it doesn´t matter how experienced you are, go to Da Hu Park and take advantage of those awesome hiking trails around, Yangminshan or Elephant Mountain is highly recommended as well.
DaHu Park 1

Da Hu Park lake and surrounding areas. The photo was taken by me.

And last but not least, my new favorite thing I just discovered here are the beautiful coffee shops all around the city, perfect if you need to study, work or just relax next to your favorite book. These places are cozy, warm and offer excellent coffee, tea and a variety of food, and most importantly, super stable wifi connection.

Explore my first Chinese New Year celebration here.

I´m looking forward to keeping discovering the city and the whole island, will keep you posted for sure!