Thursday, October 30, 2014

What's in a (Business) Name? Treinta y cuatro

If you want to be balingkinitan buy bibingka from Bibingkinitan.
Spotted in SM City Iloilo by Fred of The Exaggerated Zeal. Thank you!

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jiufen

Jiufen is a small town on the mountains northeast of Taipei City. It is in the district of Ruifang, which is a part of New Taipei City (different from Taipei City) and is just 45 minutes to an hour from Taipei City.


How to go to Jiufen
(from Taipei City)

By Bus. From Zhongxiao Fuxing Station take Exit 1. Take bus route 1062 (Keelung Bus) to Jiufen. The ride is about an hour and the fare is about NT$100.

By Train and Bus. Go to the railway station near Taipei Main Station and take the train north to Ruifang Station. The train ride will take about an hour and will cost around NT$50. After exiting the Ruifang Station, cross the street to the bus stop next to the Wellcome Supermarket and board the Keelung Transit bus towards Jiufen. The bus ride will take about 15 minutes and will cost around NT$20.

By Taxi. Outside Zhongxiao Fuxing Station, where the bus stop for Keelung Bus route 1062 is, there will be taxis looking for passengers headed to Jiufen. They will charge NT$250 per person (if the taxi can accommodate five passengers, like a Sedan Wagon, try to haggle to NT$200). The taxi will be shared with other people. The drive will take about 45 minutes to an hour.


What to do in Jiufen

Blend in with the crowd in Jishan Street (aka Jiufen Old Street).
 

 Check out the different shops and try the local snacks.
 Clockwise from top left: sausages, pancake ice cream sandwiches,
grilled snails, and peanut ice cream rolls. 
(I regret not trying the snails.)

Explore more of the town.
There are many alleys waiting to be discovered.

There are many teahouses in Jiufen.
Select one and have a drink.
 We parked ourselves in Siidcha, which had a view of the Pacific Ocean and the sunset.
A minimum spend per person is required and drinks are quite expensive.
My toffee black milk tea cost me NT$180 (about Php 270).
If you plan to buy Siidcha tea products, ask if they can let you have a taste.
They let us have samples in mini paper cups that were slightly bigger than a thimble.
Their Matcha Green Milk Tea and Almond Oatmeal were really good.

Relax.

Wait for the sunset.

Enjoy the view.



Taiwan Series:
Tourist Visa for Taiwan
Taiwan Preparations
What's in a (Business) Name? Taiwan
Wisdom from the Road #20
Welcome to Taiwan
Taipei Accommodation: Fun Taipei Backpackers
Free Taipei Tourist Stops
Jiufen (you're here!)
Wisdom from the Road #21
An Artist's Playground
House Visits: Shilin Main Presidential Residence and Lin Family Mansion and Garden
Life in Mini
Time to Count My Money, Taiwan
Tasting Taipei, Starting with Breakfast
Tasting Taipei, Splurge Section
Tasting Taipei, Shilin Market
Tasting Taipei, Random Food Finds

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Free Taipei Tourist Stops

Most of Taipei's tourist attractions are free.
Free?
I'm there!


Longshan Temple was founded in 1738 and is dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. But the temple now isn't the original structure. This one was built in 1919 and currently houses many Buddhist and Taoist deities.


When we visited Longshan Temple, many locals were there with offerings and prayers. We were clueless who the gods were and what the locals' rituals were. It would have been nice to have had a guide for some enlightenment.

Directions to Longshan Temple: Take the MRT Nangang/Banqiao/Tucheng (Blue) Line to Longshan Temple Station, Exit 1.


9AM to 9PM Tuesday to Sunday

Bopiliao Old Street and its buildings go back to the Qing Dynasty. Pretty old indeed. On one end of the street is the Heritage and Culture Education Center where one can learn about its history and significance. Bopiliao Old Street can't be found on the map, search instead for Lane 173 Kangding Road—that is its current street name.


Bopiliao Old Street was maybe less than 100 meters long. The surrounding buildings were clean and well restored...but the space could have been put to better use. Only a few of the buildings (maybe two or three) were in use (one was used for an art exhibit). It would have been nice to have a restaurant or a coffee/tea shop in the area. Bopiliao Old Street reminded me of Calle Crisologo in Vigan.

Directions to Bopiliao Old Street: Take the MRT Nangang/Banqiao/Tucheng (Blue) Line to Longshan Temple Station, Exit 1. Bopiliao Old Street (Lane 173 Kangding Road) is about 200 m from Longshan Temple.


9AM to 6PM Daily

An important man deserves a grand memorial hall in an area of grand proportions. The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is surrounded by gardens, ponds, impressive archways or gates, and two huge buildings: the National Concert Hall and the National Opera House.

The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (center) and the National Opera House (right)

The only problem with such a vast amount of open space is the distance one has to walk to get from one building to the other during summer. The 100 meters or so between the Concert Hall to the Opera House was a killer...a kilikili killer. I kid you not. It was that scorching in August. The heat drained our energies that we did not bother walking up the steps to go inside the memorial hall (which was supposed to be the darned highlight!).

Directions to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall:  Take the MRT to CKS Memorial Hall Station, Exit 5.


And, let's not forget, Taipei's iconic building:

Taipei 101 has 101 floors and is 508 meters tall up to its spire, and for a time held the title as world's tallest building. Taipei 101 is home to many offices, branded boutiques, and several restaurants, coffee shops, and ice cream shops.


Taipei City can be seen from way up high by those willing to shell out NT$400 (admission fee; around Php 600) to enter Taipei 101's indoor observatory (open from 9AM to 10PM, last entry at 915PM) on the 89th floor (outdoor observatory on the 91st floor is open on certain occasions only).

Attention civil engineers, structural engineers, and science nerds, you might want to let that NT$400 in your pocket go in exchange not only for the view on the 89th floor, but for a close encounter with the world's largest wind damper (a damper reduces the wind movement in high rise buildings).

I am an engineer by name and part science nerd, with a brain that is controlled by my wallet. So, yeah, I went to Taipei 101 just to take a photo of it. Free, of course!

Directions to Taipei 101: Take the MRT Xin–Yi (Red) Line to Taipei 101 Station, Exit 4.


This article is also featured on GPSmyCity. If you find this article useful and plan to use it to explore Taipei, for a minimal fee, you can download the GPSmyCity iOS app to view it offline and use the GPS-aided map.


Taiwan Series:
Tourist Visa for Taiwan
Taiwan Preparations
What's in a (Business) Name? Taiwan
Wisdom from the Road #20
Welcome to Taiwan
Taipei Accommodation: Fun Taipei Backpackers
Free Taipei Tourist Stops (you're here!)
Jiufen
Wisdom from the Road #21
An Artist's Playground
House Visits: Shilin Main Presidential Residence and Lin Family Mansion and Garden
Life in Mini
Time to Count My Money, Taiwan
Tasting Taipei, Starting with Breakfast
Tasting Taipei, Splurge Section
Tasting Taipei, Shilin Market
Tasting Taipei, Random Food Finds

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Taipei Accommodation: Fun Taipei Backpackers

We booked a private room for four at a hostel called
No. 116 Chengde Rd. Sec. 4
Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan
+886-2-2838-1181

No. 116 Section 4 Chengde Road was our address for five days, but we accessed the building through its entrance on Hougang Street. The building did not give any clue that it was a hostel. We only knew we were in the right place because of the No. 116 by the door. No. 116 is five stories of apartments and I am guessing the owner of the hostel owns some apartments in that building and had his units converted into "private rooms."

Half of the private room for four

The room assigned to us was a bit cramped but good enough. It had two queen sized beds, a TV and DVD player, a refrigerator, an air conditioning unit, WiFi, and an ensuite bathroom. For NT$1600 (weekday rate; about Php2400) or NT$2000 (weekend rate; about Php3000), it was a pretty good deal.

Location was a plus, too. Convenience stores (OK Mart and 7–Eleven) were just around the corner, so too was the Bank of Taipei. Exit 2 of Jiantan Station was just five minutes away (about 300m). And Shilin Market, the largest market in Taipei, was about 650m or 10–minutes away on foot.

Fun Taipei Backpackers. Was it really fun then? If your idea of fun is meeting other travelers, then the answer is no. We did not see any other guests at Fun Taipei Backpackers...because, as I found out on our last day, private rooms were in a different building from the dorm rooms.


Dorm rooms were in another nondescript building along Wenlin Road. Location was even better: just 100m from Exit 1 of Jiantan Station; and just a 3–minute walk to Shilin Market.
 
The common room at the dorm (Photo from their facebook page)

There were 28 beds in total at the dorm, from a 3–bed dorm room to a 6–bed dorm room. A bed would cost from NT$400 (about Php 600) to NT$650 (about Php975) per night, depending on the room type and the day (weekends cost higher). All dorm rooms had common bathrooms.

Dorm room (Photo from their facebook page)

When we checked out of the private room (check out was at noon), we left our bags at the common room at the dorm (our flight was still at 1AM). The manager was also kind enough to let us use the shower before we left for the airport. The hostel — its dorm rooms, common rooms, toilets, and shower rooms — upon my inspection, was spic and span. If I was traveling alone, I wouldn't mind staying at the dorm.

Visit these links to book a...
Private Room at
No. 116 Chengde Rd. Sec. 4, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan
Email: funtaipeibackpackers@gmail.com

Bed (Dorm Room) at
No. 27 Wenlin Road, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan 
Email: funtaipeihostel@gmail.com

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wine Lessons in Planet Grapes

I am the ape in grape. 
No culture.
Knows nothing about wine.
But maybe I am right where I need to be.
In Planet Grapes.
To get a little culture.
Without the drama.


Level 4, New Wing, Ayala Center Cebu
(032) 266 0526

 
White wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling.
White plate: Thai-spiced crab cake, danggit, fried oyster mushroom, chicken isaw, quail eggs, squid balls 

Lesson #1: White Wine
Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay. Riesling.
All looks (and smells) the same to me.
But with the help of Luke (you can ask any of the Planet Grapes staff about wine),
I got a crash course.

Sauvignon Blanc: acidic; goes with seafood
Chardonnay: creamy; fermented in oak barrels (otherwise, it can taste like Sauvignon Blanc); goes with fish and poultry
Riesling: dry or sweet; aromatic; goes with sweet and spicy food

White wine should be served cooler than red wine.
It should be chilled hours ahead and taken out 20 minutes before serving.

Sauvignon Blanc (sip)
Water (gulp to cleanse the palate)
Chardonnay (sip)
Water (gulp)
Riesling (sip)
I still have no idea how the adjectives relate to my tastebuds.
But, what the heck, I am preferring the Riesling.

Red wines: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Red plate: salted egg rice, BBQ pork spareribs, rib-eye steak, penne putanesca, beef tapa, BBQ garlic chicken wing

Lesson #2: Red Wine
Pinot Noir. Merlot. Sauvignon.
Pinot Noir: fruity; food friendly; lighter color; goes with pasta (red sauce) and pork
Merlot: smooth; darker (color) than Pinot Noir; goes with pasta (red sauce) and beef
Cabernet Sauvignon: full–bodied (no idea what that means); darkest (color) of the three; goes with red meat

Should be chilled 20 minutes before serving.

I take a sip of each and...
I am still clueless.

Wine: Gewurztraminer
Sweet plate: Banana creme brulee, original creme brulee, durian creme brulee, bite–sized turon

Lesson #3
What was lesson 3?
I have not wrapped my head around all the information from the first two lessons,
but the wine has wrapped itself around my head.
I sit and enjoy my sweets.

Planet Grapes' Enomatic (wine dispenser) machine (left) and the reloadable card used for the machine (right) 

Planet Grapes is a good place for apes like me and non–apes like you to start becoming a wine expert (although I think I am hopeless). Their little Italian Enomatic machine (it's like a wine vending machine!) lets you try different wines from just a sip, a half–glass, to a full–glass. And if you find something really good, bottles of wine are also for sale.


Thank you Planet Grapes.
I got a little culture (or so I think).
And I got a little drunk too.
But I am still an ape.


Watermarked photos from Planet Grapes.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Buhisan Damn

Officemate's head pops above the cubicle divider and says, "Hike on Saturday at Buhisan." Then he sends an email and I look at the invite list and it's mostly girls. I sign up, not because of the girls, but because I assume it's an easy hike. Or maybe it's really because of the girls.

The Saturday hike starts off easy enough...
down the slope, in between trees, on a clear path.

Over flat land covered with rocks and pebbles...

...then my officemate, who is leading the group, tells us this will be a river trek.
For a distance we continue walking on rocks and pebbles.
But still no water.

And then we see a small stream: "River trek, at last!"

Our leader takes us over some boulders to a small waterfall with a small pool at the bottom.
Thinking we are already half way, I ask, "Is this our rest stop?"
"Rest stop?" and then he laughs.
He invites everyone to take a dip, but half the group decline and just relax in the shade.
 
(What he doesn't say is that we are only a third of the way through.)

After the "rest stop", we continue our hike, skipping from boulder to boulder
and sometimes splashing in the water.

Then a quick photo stop by this tiny waterfall.

And onward again over boulders...

Scrambling over neverending boulders, which reminded me of Mt Apo...

...only worse...

Because some boulders are too high for my short legs to reach
(and my body is too heavy for my weak arms to carry),
my friends help out and haul me over:
one pulling my arms, the other pushing my legs.

And in another area, I cling to some vines
while someone struggles to pull up an equivalent of a large sack of rice.

Then I realize we are already in the woods and I heave a sigh of relief.
Goodbye river. See you never!
But it is a sigh of relief expelled too soon.

The steep hike in the woods continues over dried leaves
and under fallen trees...

And one last challenge...
when I face a wall of crumbling soil that is as high as my head.
My friend, using all his muscle power (again), pulls me up,
and I land on a pile of dried leaves,
where I crawl uphill until I am a good way away from the edge.

Damn Buhisan, I underestimated you.

Thank Yous are in order:
To H. Villarante and F. Casinillo for the muscle power.
To H. Villarante and M. Unat for the photos.
To S. Ortega for the moral support.

Buhisan Damn by the numbers:
Estimated number of hours for this hike: 2
Actual number of hours for this hike: 3
Number of weight lifters needed: 2
Number of muscles pulled: 3
Number of bruises acquired: 4
Number of scratches obtained: 5
Motorcycle from Jollibee Labangon to Buhisan Php 25/way
Lunch bought from Labangon market Php 30

Tips (that I learned after this hike):
Wear sandals, shorts, and leggings (optional) for this hike.
Eat a big meal before embarking on this hike. (I did not eat a big enough meal and was hungry an hour into the hike.)
Bring at least 1.5L of drinking water. (I brought just 1L of water which had to be rationed til we got to the end of the hike.)
Bring trail food and don't forget to eat it. (I brought some trail food but only ate one and was tired and starving by the time we entered the woods.)
Bring an extra shirt. (I did not bring an extra shirt and on the way home everyone was looking at me like I just got out of a mud bath.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Welcome to Taiwan

Welcome to Taiwan.

I might have looked to the immigration officer like a person who would use whatever means necessary to enter his country. What rang his warning bells? Must have been my unruly mustache or the very handsome mugshot on my passport. Of the few countries I have been to, this is the first country where the immigration officer scrutinized my passport with an eyepiece.


Welcome to Taiwan. Really.

After finding nothing wrong with my passport (hey, I'm an honest guy!), the immigration officer stamped my passport thru with nary a "Welcome to Taiwan". Nevertheless, I was happy to be officially out of his sight and officially in his country.


Welcome to Taiwan. Now, move it.

The plan. Take a Kuo–Kuang Bus 1819 from Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei Main Station. Kuo-Kuang buses depart every 15 minutes from 540AM to 1230AM. After 1230AM, there are only two other schedules: 1AM and 130AM. The bus ride will take about an hour and would cost NT$125 (about Php190). From Taipei Main Station, take the Taipei Metro (minimum fare NT$20 or about Php30) to my hostel.

The reality. I am a tightwad and it sucks being one. Being a tightwad means getting cheap airplane tickets. Which means getting stuck with sucky flight schedules. Which often means arriving late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. In our case, we arrived after midnight and got out of the airport after 1AM when there was only one bus bound for the city and the trusty Taipei Metro was fast asleep. Too lazy to do transfers (bus then taxi), whatever we saved from our plane ticket we spent for a taxi from the airport to the city (NT$1300; about Php1950).



Taiwan Series:
Tourist Visa for Taiwan
Taiwan Preparations
What's in a (Business) Name? Taiwan
Wisdom from the Road #20
Welcome to Taiwan (you're here!)
Taipei Accommodation: Fun Taipei Backpackers
Free Taipei Tourist Stops
Jiufen
Wisdom from the Road #21
An Artist's Playground
House Visits: Shilin Main Presidential Residence and Lin Family Mansion and Garden
Life in Mini
Time to Count My Money, Taiwan
Tasting Taipei, Starting with Breakfast
Tasting Taipei, Splurge Section
Tasting Taipei, Shilin Market
Tasting Taipei, Random Food Finds

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wisdom from the Road #20

On connecting flights
Do not trust the connecting flight schedule.
Unless you want an adrenaline rush.
(This applies to Cebu Pacific domestic+international connecting flights
and may or may not apply to other airlines.)

Maybe this is what we get for being too cheap. Too cheap to buy a connecting ticket (you know, when you book on Cebu Pacific, you click on Cebu to Taipei, and it gives you Cebu–Manila–Taipei all in one click) because connecting tickets do not ever go on sale.

We bought our Cebu–Manila and Manila–Taipei tickets separately for a total of about half the price of a connecting ticket. We chose the same schedules as the connecting flights. We're on the same schedule as a connecting ticket so the plane would never leave us behind even if the first leg is delayed, right?

The first leg was—what else is new?—delayed (good thing we already paid for our travel tax in the international departure area in Mactan Cebu International Airport) and we arrived panting and wheezing at the check–in counter for the Taipei flight just as it was closing (for international flights, passengers who have checked in online must still go to the check–in counter for checking of travel documents). Add to that an error in our companion's Travel Authorization Certificate and our hearts raced as her fingers raced to fill out the online form not once, but twice (first through smart phone, but it did not generate a pdf file of the certificate; second time through a laptop). A Cebu Pacific agent was shouting "Last call for boarding for Taipei! Last call for boarding for Taipei!" and we had to run like the Flash from the check–in counter, to the international terminal fee counter, to the immigration counter, and to our boarding gate...which happened to be the farthest gate!!! We were involuntarily cast as contenders for a 500–meter dash.

If getting a connecting ticket means [1] having your passport and visa checked at the first airport (in this case Mactan) and [2] tagging your bags as check–thru baggage (bags are tagged through to their final destination and you don't have to pick it up when you arrive at your layover destination) then you won't have to go through all that impromptu exercise. Those are the only two things I can think of as advantages of having a connecting ticket (that's if [1] applies...which I am not sure of).

Lessons learned from this trip:
1. Do not trust the connecting flight schedules. Expect delays especially when going via Manila. A 2.5–hour leeway between flights (especially if the second flight is an international flight) might not be enough.
2. Pay your Philippine travel tax (applicable to Filipino citizens) at the first airport (if it's an international airport).
3. Take advantage of the web check–in. Check in online and print your boarding pass.
4. Ensure your travel documents (passport and visa) are complete and have no errors.
5. Gadgets can be lifesavers. (In our case, Companion #2's effort of bringing a laptop and having data connection paid off when Companion #1 had to redo her Travel Authorization Certificate.)
6. If possible, just bring hand–carried bags.
7. Wear comfortable clothes and running shoes. Just in case.

For more lessons from the road, please visit Go Learn.



Taiwan Series:
Tourist Visa for Taiwan
Taiwan Preparations
What's in a (Business) Name? Taiwan
Wisdom from the Road #20 (you're here!)
Welcome to Taiwan
Taipei Accommodation: Fun Taipei Backpackers
Free Taipei Tourist Stops
Jiufen
Wisdom from the Road #21
An Artist's Playground
House Visits: Shilin Main Presidential Residence and Lin Family Mansion and Garden
Life in Mini
Time to Count My Money, Taiwan
Tasting Taipei, Starting with Breakfast
Tasting Taipei, Splurge Section
Tasting Taipei, Shilin Market
Tasting Taipei, Random Food Finds