Author Archives: sylvia

Lantern Festivals

Its lantern festival season in Taiwan. It seems most cities across the island have some sort of festivities. Jason got the chance to go to Pingxi last week to see the famous sky lantern festival. For my taste of the festivities I took an afternoon trip with Max to see what Taipei had on offer.

At Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall the city put on a large festival for over a week. It’s the Year of the Rabbit, which is painfully obvious since the entire site is basically a bunny explosion:

Make no mistake. Its the year of the Rabbit. If the hundreds of bunny’s littering the front lawn doesn’t do it, well than this giant rotating pink rabbit should:

I do find it interesting that the Taiwanese interpretation of the year of the Rabbit is more so the year of the cutesy smiley bunny.

Or so I thought. Until I saw the free mini lanterns being given away daily to kids:


Surveying the rest of the grounds the majority was dedicated to displaying lanterns built by various schools in the city. For me, say the word paper lantern and I conger up images of the typical ikea ball shaped paper lantern lamp. Imagine my surprise when I rock up to the festival to find these:

Lanterns it seems can be any paper shaped hallow object. Personally I love the ciber-bunny. And I appreciate that the students of Taipei strayed from the cute bunny image as well. Although dimsum bunny and banna/garlic bunny have vague resemblance to Bugs Bunny back in the racist years of cartoons.

Aside from lantern displays, there were DIY crafting tents for kids, a large stage for concerts, and an area for writing down wishes:

This is afterall a festival with religious roots.

So, by no means as cool as the Pingxi Festival that Jason went to, but still a very interesting sample of local culture.

Costco Taipei

Last week I took a trip out to Costco here in Taipei. A bit of disclosure, I was never a Costco shopper in Canada – something about owning a SmartCar and buying giant vats of mayonnaise didn’t seem to mesh together. So, I suppose part of my amusement with my trip to Costco here in Taipei was Costco itself, and not so much the Asian experience. Although, i had high expectations as to what sort of amusing bulk items i would find.

Much to my sadness there really weren’t that many local offerings. No big barrels of soya sauce, no crates of wanton wrappers or barrels of kimchi. Instead, it was just local Taiwanese stocking up on things like bulk Vaseline, plasma tvs, and dinner rolls. Sure, there was meat offered thinly sliced perfect for hot pot, sold along side the kilos of ground beef and 24 pack steaks. But the beef was USA beef, and the buffalo mozzarella i bought was proudly made in Wisconsin. If anything this really ended up being a trip to America town:

Interestingly, I saw only two other westerners on my visit. I assumed this would be mecca for homesick Americans, perhaps they were all at TGIFriday’s enjoying chicken fingers no doubt sourced from Costco.

Yingge: Ceramics capital of Taiwan

With the weather finally warming up, we decided to take a day trip out of Taipei to the town of Yingge. Only 30 minutes outside of Taipei on a local train its an easy trip (with some careful navigation of the Main train station and the mostly Chinese ticket machines). This town has a 200+ year history in making pottery and ceramics and today it is basically fly paper for tourists.

The Yingge street is beautifully cobblestoned, packed with ceramics shops, and lined with lovely palm trees. Although as historic as it looks, it’s apparently a fairly new development designed to increase tourism.

And it works well. The town is packed, and we walked away with far more purchases than planned. I think we may have single handedly boosted the local economy. Tea pots, dinner plates, pots for plants, there is a lot on offer.

And of course, plenty of tea.

stuff on that scooter

We’re over 4 months into our stint here in Taiwan, so its about time I post a few pictures of the obvious annoyance to Westerners: Taiwanese scooters.  The city is full of them, yes.  This is Asia, its a common thing, the majority of commuters use scooters, I get it.  They weave in and out of traffic, have free reign over sidewalks as they beeline to a parking spot (which by the way seems to be any spare piece of cement not already occupied by a scooter).  They absolutely do not yield to pedestrians carrying small babies at intersections (this I can firmly atest to) and seem to have no environmental emmision laws since most of them sputter out grey puffs of pollution conveniently right at baby stroller level.   That’s all fine and dandy.  The real shocker to me is the bizarre things people transport on their scooters.  Within the first week here we already had the shock of seeing our garbage collection dude hauling our trash away on his scooter, but here is a collection of other bizarre sights I’ve seen:

Safety First!

And don’t think these guys go any slower than the rest. You’d think a 6ft mound of trash on your scooter would slow you down on those turns. Nope, they just make being a baby carrying pedestrian just that much more fun.

(next instalment, people and animals on scooters)

Mayoral election mayhem

Oh man – why is this thing not over with?! We’ve been here for practically 3 months and the city has been bombarded with it the whole time. Flags covering the streets:

from wikipedia

You know what this road needs? More flags.

Volunteers thrusting leaflets and sponsored kleenex packets into your hand on the streets, little vans blasting candidate platforms through megaphones (this is particularly annoying):

I can't go 10 minutes outside without seeing one of these

Here’s some video to show just how annoying these “megaphone trucks” and other loud events can be:

… and now, at 8pm I can hear a drum parade outside our window. As I pray that it doesn’t wake our baby up, I also mentally count down to Saturday when this thing will finally be over.

Side note. the news today reported concern about potentially low voter turn out due to cold weather.

The forecast: low of 17C high of 21C. um…. really?


This came in the post the other day:

Looks like a Taiwanese Home Depot (BQ for the Brits). At first, all looked normal. But on closer inspection a few interesting differences. First, the ad for beer at the bottom. Maybe they do sell beer alongside lumber? Fair enough, probably very appropriate cross shopping.

Next, flipping though the pages, I find this:

seems normal

Here, a zoom in:

That is one happy looking man with a hoover!


In the UK, spam was reserved for email (or a Monty Pyhon sketch) but here, mobile phone spam seems very common. I get at least 3 or 4 a day.  I don’t know what’s more amusing, the bizarre things the spam is peddling (i’ve actually had municipal election related spam) or Google Translate’s feeble attempts at translations :

Nokia N8 Gifts overweight will be sent to the first sale, 10/15 18:00 Come from Taipei show store buy Viagra! Direct stores carry pre-order pre-order customers and invoices you can pre-order at the scene set off against the gold‬

Or, also amusing:

The most popular “love psychological test” newsletter reported that every Tuesday, Friday to provide a graphic of the test, accurate answers to interesting questions and a better understanding of yourself and your lover’s heart! 60 yuan per month, responding to a blank SMS to subscribe!

Hello Kitty? – Hell yes!

When you learn that a Hello Kitty cafe exists within a 15 min walking distance to your home, how can you not go?  Does it matter that Hello Kitty is a bit creepy and probably an evil feline mastermind?  Does it matter that you’re going to eat in a cafe whose mascot is a cat with no mouth?

Hello afternoon snack

No.  You really must go and see it for yourself.  I have to hand it to the designers, they made the experience of sitting in Hello Kitty Sweets feel like you were actually inside one of their giant mystery confectionery cats.  Pink everywhere.

And lest you forget where you are, her logo is plastered everywhere:


She's not just framed, she's sittingon the edge of the booth



Not one, but two!

check.  My coffee:

Hello Latte

Check! No matter, time to order.  Not surprising, the menu is in full Chinese – fair enough.  Although under the drink section I find it amusing to see a category called: “Kitty”:

We play a little roulette with the menu and randomly chose some items in a price range that seems reasonable.  A few minutes later I am presented with this:

let's count the number of logos

The logo in the middle is chocolate powder.  Overall its pretty tasty.  Would it win a patisserie prize in Paris?  No, but that’s not the point.  The point is to sink into a world of the clever capitalist kitty.

mmm j-e-l-l-o kitty!

And if all that Hello Kitty left you wanting more, elsewhere in Taiwan you can also give birth in a Hello Kitty themed hospital.  No joke.

Finally, I felt that one!

This week Taipei has had two earthquakes, and after missing the first one, I actually felt last nights!  Just a minor 5.1 magnitude quake – no biggie (by Taiwan standards), but i felt it during Max’s night feed (very weird feeling, like a gentle swaying motion).  Both Jason and I slept through the Wednesday night one, but our friend who’s staying with us can attest that the chandeliers in our living room did in fact sway and the windows rattled.  I’m pleased to see that our place is holding up just fine during the quakes.

Side note, outside of Taipei in the rest of Taiwan, there were actually a string of 10 mild earthquakes on Wednesday.  Considering that i’m pretty sure last night was my first earthquake experience, i feel like we’re being thrown in the deep end here.

ps – Canadians – that minor 5.1 quake we felt last night?  Same magnitude as the Ontario/Quebec quake that hit a few months back in July.