Photo of the week #58 – Taipei Writers Group

The Taipei Writers Group (FB) is a collection of independent writers that meet regularly with different personal goals.  Some are published authors, some want to improve their writing and others simply enjoy writing.  The group was started in 2010 and recently they have collaborated on two print anthologies.  Each anthology is a collection of 8-10 short stories with a unique view of Taiwan.

This weekend (11/21 and 11/22) four authors co-hosted an indoor market event at InBetween in Kaohsiung.  There were 10-15 vendors of various personally created items and a few of the authors themselves.

J.J. Green (left) writes science fiction and in addition to writing a short story for both anthologies she also had three other books available at the event.  The cover of There Comes a Time was really cool and it is featured on one of the group’s bookmarks.

Patrick Wayland (middle left) writes crime/mystery novels and in the anthology wrote a story about a washed up American baseball player that is given a last chance in Taiwan.  He has also published several books and the Jade Lady could be particularly interesting for those in Taiwan or wanting to learn more about Taiwan.

Katannya Jantzen (middle left) told some hilarious stories of her early life and then a powerful story of her recovery from breast cancer at the event.  In the anthology she wrote about the Chinese civil war and the KMT’s retreat to Taiwan from the perspective of a young girl living on Kinmen.  I have only skimmed the story so far but I have liked what I read.

Hugo (right) was the star of the event and even though he spoke mostly in Chinese I still listened.  I can’t understand anything in Chinese (except pa Yushan – climb Jade Mt) but it was fun to watch him handle the audience.

For those in Kaohsiung there is still time to visit the Taipei Writers Group this evening (11/22).  The event will run from 5-9:30 tonight with a reading from 5-6pm.  There is a cover charge for tonight (discounted if you buy an anthology).  InBetween is located at 176-1 3F Siwei 4th Rd.  This is in between (ha ha!) Old Hanshin Mall and the 85 Building.  If you are interested in buying the books you can buy ebook versions on Amazon or contact The Taipei Writers Group through their blog or FB page.

One of the vendors Shuoyi is an artist and a sea turtle conservationist.  He illustrated a beautiful book telling about the life of sea turtles and hand painted several beautiful see turtles on wood.

Photo of the week #57 – 6 years in Taiwan

I have already been in Taiwan twice as long as I planned and I will probably stay here at least twice as long as I already have been.  Taiwan might not be perfect but it is an easy life and there are a lot of great places to explore.  This photo was taken on Banpingshan (click for directions).

I have a lot of exciting plans in the works for the next couple of years.  Some things will change while others will merely be tweaked but there will be more waterfalls, more hikes, more summits and more countries.

Photo of the week #56 – A Bird’s Eye View

I wish we had these beautiful blue skies every day in Kaohsiung but starting in October the winds shift (or die down) and the city is covered in smog.  I have been nervous since they started prepping a new building site across the river from my apartment.  I rented this apartment because of this view and my concern has always been that multiple 15-20 story apartment buildings would be built across from my apartment.  The good news is that at least the first building will be something small since they didn’t excavate a two story basement.

This photo was shot using a Cokin P121S rectangular graduated neutral density filter.  Filters have become mostly obsolete with the shift to digital cameras but there are still a few that are very useful.  I always carry a polarizer (to reduce reflections), a 3 stop neutral density filter (to lengthen the exposure on waterfall photos) and sometimes I bring along my graduated ND filter.  A graduated ND filter is 1/2 darkened (like sunglasses) and 1/2 clear.  Typically clouds are much brighter than the land and it is difficult to expose the photo correctly for both.  Either the land will be too dark or the sky will be too bright and the clouds will be blown out (actual photography term).  This particular photo might not have needed the graduated ND filter since the land is quite bright but I like to think that it gives the clouds a little extra pop.

I will also be taking time lapse photos (3-4/wk) of the construction and the changing skies.  I have no idea what I am doing but it will be an interesting and likely frustrating project.

Photo of the week #55 – northern Bali

One of the many rice fields that you pass in Bali.  Bali is at a crossroads in a way as the massive tourist service industry competes with the more traditional Balinese life.  So far things remain in balance with an endless number of small villages living a traditional lifestyle but how long will that last?  Will the younger generation(s) continue to pursue work in the more profitable tourist industry?

I have now completed 6 of the 14 waterfall guide entries.  You can view them at Taiwan’s Waterfalls – Bali.  I will be taking advantage of Taiwan’s rainy weather this week to finish up several more and hopefully start working on an article about all of Bali’s waterfalls since I visited all of the major ones.

Photo of the week #54 – family

It is taking a long time to post photos and blog about an awesome 10 days of travel in Bali.  I took the red eye flight and hit the ground running right away in the morning.  My sister was working in Jakarta at the same time so she met me for the weekend.  Bali has an extraordinary travel option for mid budget travelers.  Car rentals come with a personal driver and it includes gas for 50 USD/day.  That is an awesome amount of convenience for a very reasonable price.  Later in the week I had plans to explore the less seen parts of Bali so I visited some of the popular tourist spots with my sister.

In two days we visited 5 of the best temples in Bali.  This is Uluwatu at the very southern tip of Bali.  The temple itself isn’t very interesting but the location on top of a 50+ meter cliff is amazing.

We also visited one of the best waterfalls in southern Bali and this was the beginning of a 14 waterfall trip for me.  This was an excruciating photo to take.  For 30 minutes 2 girls stood directly in front of my tripod taking dozens of photos and then videos of each other taking photos before moving to a different spot to take more photos.  I have no idea what they do with several hundred photos with themselves in front of the same waterfalls.  My sister had to leave after the weekend but she will be working in Indonesia for several years so there will be other opportunities for weekend meetups.

Currently northern Sumatra has taken a commanding lead in possible Chinese New Year destinations.  The best part is that Air Asia flies direct from Kaohsiung to Kuala Lumpur (no trip to Taoyuan) and then it is a short flight to Medan.  Here is one blog that has fueled my Sumatran desire Scarlet Scribbles – 8 great places in northern Sumatra.

My first waterfall guide entry has been posted on my waterfall site. I started with the best Bali waterfall.

Photo of the week #53 – gluten free lactose free pizza

My first year in Taiwan (2010) was pretty rough because I unknowingly suffered from celiacs disease.  After getting no help from the local doctors I self diagnosed the gluten intolerance and verified the self diagnosis through an elimination diet.  I have always been able to cook for myself and I easily altered my diet around this new revelation.  5 years before I discovered that I was lactose intolerant (both are common together).  In the US it is easy to find alternative cheese made from soy, almonds or other types of ingredients but Taiwan doesn’t eat a lot of cheese.  Finding premium priced cheese that doesn’t actually taste better (they don’t) has been very difficult.  But I was aimlessly wandering Costco yesterday and scanned the cheese aisle.

Certain hard cheeses like swiss are better for lactose intolerance but my stomach was always a little upset so I stayed away from all cheese.  The packaging sold me on trying lactose free cheese again.  I have learned how to substitute rice flour (50%), corn starch (25%) and tapioca starch (25%) to make gluten free flour so all I needed was pizza meat, tomato paste and yeast.  I chose a salami pepperoni from Costco (imported because almost all Taiwan meat sucks) and it was surprisingly good. After 30 seconds of research I picked a gluten free crust recipe from minimalistbaker.com and got started.  It was a little disappointing that I didn’t get to use my new rolling pin (a bottle of wine) but it was really nice to just spread the dough out in the pan.

The end result was only the 2nd pizza that I have eaten (my mother/grandmother took care of me with special ingredients during a trip home) in the last 5 years.  It doesn’t matter that the pizza is rectangular or that it is swiss cheese or that the crust stuck to the pan.  It was awesome.

Taking away pizza from an American would be like taking away vegemite from an Aussie or beer from a German.  The world might not immediately end but at some point there is a breaking point.  Perhaps tomorrow brings agony (bloating, gas or worse) but today was awesome.

And there are leftovers.  Tomorrow can also be awesome.

Photo of the week #52 – The Drought Ends

Water is becoming an increasingly critical resource in various parts of the world.  A strange thing happened this winter in Taiwan though.  Almost the entire country of Taiwan faced water shortages.  This is almost inconceivable in a country that gets 1500-2000 mm’s (60-80 inches) of rain in almost every part of the country every year.  There is a seasonal drought in southern Taiwan where it rarely rains between November and April every year but it still seems impossible to run out of water.  It reached a point where the government was implementing a 5 days of water and 2 days of no water policy to reduce usage.   This lead to many class jokes about stinky students (and stinky teachers).  By May many reservoirs were down to 15% of their capacity.

A picture from Dadi Gorge in April.  Every year the reservoir empties enough that you can cross the inlet river to a small gorge.

Outside my apartment a couple of weeks ago.

In late April the seasonal monsoon (The Plum Rains) usually relieves 6 months of drought.  This year however the rains didn’t come in late April for southern Taiwan.  Northern Taiwan received some relief but southern Taiwan went as far as planning but never implementing the 5/2 water outage schedule.  Finally in late May the rains came in southern Taiwan.  When it rains in Taiwan it really rains.  Many of the mountainous areas in southern Taiwan received 1000 mm’s of rain in a week.  Now most of the reservoirs are at 50+% capacity (link).  It will take a couple more storms to completely fill up the reservoirs to avoid this situation next year.

But why did this even occur?  Michael Turton covered part of this on his blog earlier this spring.  One of his main takeaways is that water is really, really cheap in Taiwan.  This brings us to one of the great ironies in Taiwan.  Taiwanese individuals are amazing at recycling, reuse and are usually very conservative with resource usage.  Yes, there are some instances like plastic bag usage where there is excessive waste but overall individual Taiwanese do very well at conservation.  One area where they don’t even try is water consumption though.  One of the frustrating things that we saw when the 5 on/2 off water outage was scheduled was the mad dash to buy 100 liter tubs to store water that they would likely never use.  Maybe it’s just my camping background that didn’t cause me to panic at the thought of being without tap water for 2 days (less because of storage tanks) though.  Another issue is that Taiwan has an aging infrastructure and loses 18% through pipeline leakage (link).

I have heard many talk about building new reservoirs or using state of the art technology (desalination for example) to solve Taiwan’s water problem but that is just silly in my opinion.  Those are very expensive options and much easier solutions in a country that receives ample rain even during dryer years.  This will be an interesting situation to monitor over the next decade for Taiwan since shortages in the future are expected to continue.

Photo of the week #51 – Laomei Reef

Directions to Laomei Reef

Laomei Reef is a bizarre rock formation in northern Taiwan.  It is a long (maybe 1/2 km) piece of volcanic rock located within the daily tidal range.  As a result channels have been cut into the rock over the last thousands of years.  However its signature is the brilliant green algae that grows on the rock every winter.  By April almost the entire rock is covered but the algae only grows until May when the summer heat returns the rock to its natural charcoal grey color for another year.  It’s fairly easy to get for those living in Taipei but not only do you have to go in April or May but you also need to check the tidal tables since it is submerged for part of the day.  A link to Taiwan’s tidal tables can be found in my guide to Laomei Reef. 

Sadly it isn’t exactly a tranquil spot on weekends since it has become quite famous.  Luckily it is a short day trip from Taipei and English teachers (evening hours) can easily make the trip in the morning and be back in time for their evening classes.

Photo of the week #50 – CKS vacation homes

Richard Saunders has been researching every corner of Taiwan for his new book (due out in the fall or winter).  I have been very lucky to tag along on several of his trips in the last year and a few weeks ago we visited several of Chiang Kai-Shek vacation homes in Lishan.  It hadn’t occurred to me but of course Chiang Kai-Shek would have had vacation homes built all over Taiwan.  Richard has identified and visited about 20 of Chiang Kai-Shek’s vacation homes scattered throughout Taiwan.  This particular house must have entertained important guests during Chiang Kai-Shek’s time but it is a fancy hotel and tourist attraction now.  I don’t know many of the details but Richard’s new book (101 must see places in Taiwan or something like that) will be a must own for those traveling in Taiwan.  It won’t be out until the fall or winter but I will have it (actually it will be two volumes).

Richard is also the go to resource for English hiking guides in Taiwan.  They cover northern Taiwan really well and his latest book comprehensively detailed Taiwan’s many islands.  His other books can be bought at Caves, Eslite or Page One bookstores (Taipei branches).  Caves in Kaohsiung only carries the Islands of Taiwan book.  You can also contact Richard directly at richard0428@yahoo.com (that is a zero after the d in the email address) and he can meet you in Taipei to hand deliver the books.  I was able to order the books through the Community Services Center a few years ago but their website doesn’t have order information anymore.

Additionally his Islands of Taiwan book is available as an e-book from Camphor Press.  Camphor Press is an intriguing and relatively knew expat business.  They are functioning as a small time e-book publisher with 10 interesting books available.  The books are written by expats and cover a mix of historical and current topics about Taiwan (and a little about China).  Their first paperbook (Barbarian at the Gate – an American becomes a Taiwanese citizen and must serve his compulsory service in the Army) is currently available and my copy should be arriving in the mail soon.

Photo of the Week #49 – The Tall Bicycle

I have seen a photo of this guy before but I did some rubbernecking when I passed him today.  It would be fascinating to know the story behind this.  It would also be fascinating to know the details of how everything works.  Especially the stopping part.