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It’s like LL Cool J said back in the 80’s: “I’m going back to Cali, Cali, Cali Vancouver, Vancouver, Vancouver…”. Or like what Notorious B.I.G. said back in the 90’s: “I’m going going, back back, to Cali Cali Vancouver Vancouver…”. Yes, folks. I’ll be traveling yet again. It almost feels like I’m never settled down in one place lately. If I’m not traveling, then I’m always hosting visiting family members at home. There is never a dull moment in my life, & I’m so extremely appreciative/grateful/thankful of every aspect, every facet, everything.

Truth be told, Jian is heading to Vancouver for a week-long business trip, & he invited me to tag along. I accepted his invitation, of course, but also suggested that we invite my mom to tag along with us. Jian agreed with my suggestion wholeheartedly. As a matter of fact, Jian enjoys traveling with my mom every now & again. We once tagged along with my mom on a trip to Washington D.C. where she was invited to a family friend’s wedding, & the three of us had the time of our lives despite the wet weather. My mom & I are super excited to be visiting Vancouver once again. Jian, not as much…because of his work obligations. [Insert laugh track here.] My mom hasn’t visited the lovely country of Canada in several years. The last time she traveled there was to attend one of my dad’s high school reunions of all of his foreign-born-Japan-schooled classmates. The last time I visited the North, was almost 25 years ago. I was barely a teenager when I visited Vancouver with my parents & younger cousin for the first time.

I’m really, genuinely excited to be traveling to Vancouver once again, but one thing worries me: the shopping! I don’t want to go all the way to Vancouver & come back with another giant haul of stationery & office supply goods. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this out loud, but I’m getting a little weary of my ever-growing mountain of stationery goods. It’s kind of becoming overwhelming, & I barely have time to use everything. I’ve got quite a few items, in their original packaging, that have not even had the seal broken or even seen the light of day. The KonMari guru Marie Kondo would not be happy with me right now. I’m actually quite embarrassed myself, but I’ll live with it.

Jian has already been on a few business trips to Vancouver, & sometimes he says the food there is positively delicious. Other times he says the food sceen is mediocre (like how he described the food in London). I plan on proving Jian wrong, just like I did about the food we ate in London, which was incredible by the way. I’m planning on stuffing myself silly with good food, scrumptious cocktails, & piping hot drip coffee. (OK, I’m officially making myself hungry as I type this paragraph.)

Spending quality time with my mom is also a bonus. We are definitely going to have a blast together (mom’s Sciatica be damned!). But until our trip, Cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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December is one of the months in the calendar that brings up mixed feelings for me. I love the winter season. I love decorating the house for Christmas. I love the festive holiday cheer. However, I don’t like that it’s already the end of the year, & you’re left wondering where all that time has gone. The year has passed too quickly. I don’t want to say that I can feel my life flashing before my own eyes, but I do feel it. It’s all going by in a tidal wave of a rush.

Right now I don’t want to think about all of that. I want to focus on the awesomeness that is this winter holiday season. I am so proud of myself that yet again, I was able to assemble our faux Christmas tree all by myself. We’ve had our fake tree for nearly 20 years, & I must say that it has been money well spent, & our family has definitely put this tree to good use. My dad & I have always been allergic to the pine needles, pollen, & sap from real trees, so my dad decided to invest in a high-quality (& expensive) faux Christmas tree. Plus, my dad always hated trudging to the tree lot to find some scrawny tree with half the needles already shedding, then trying haphazardly to secure the tree to the roof of our family car. The one part that my dad hated the most was having to affix the tree stand to the trunk of the tree & trying to get it to look somewhat straight (or at least close enough to my mom’s standards). Then, having to remember to water the tree daily & sweeping the constantly shedding needles. It was super annoying & a major hassle…not to mention that my severe allergies would kick in the moment my dad hauled the tree inside the house. It was just easier (& better for the environment) for my dad to invest in a faux tree.

I love our fake Christmas tree. It’s sometimes tedious to assemble due to all of the components, but to me it’s well worth it when you see the finished results with all of the lights strung up & ornaments hung with care. I absolutely enjoy putting our ever- growing collection of ornaments on our tree, but the one part I dislike the most & often try to avoid is stringing the lights on the tree. I just don’t know how to string the lights on the tree evenly, & I’m constantly getting the direction of the strings mixed up, so the “male” & “female” plugs don’t match up. It’s so frustrating to me, so I usually get my mom’s help (& rely on her skilled artistic direction) to string up the tree lights. Then, I’m all set to hang up the ornaments.

Every year, per my dad’s annual tradition, I try to get at least one or two (sometimes 6 or more) new ornaments to add to our already over-crowded tree. I so very much enjoy shopping for new Christmas ornaments. It’s become such a major part of our family’s Christmas traditions that I’ve even managed to rope Jian in on all the fun. He enjoys helping me shop for new decorations to add to our tree. This year, I didn’t really see any special ornaments that caught my eye, but Jian was able to find a set of minimalist ornaments at Target that match our tree. He helped me hang the ornaments on the tree, & we were successfully able to get the tree fully decorated within a few short hours. I turned on my Punk/Ska/Alt-Rock Christmas playlist for Spotify, & we found our groove & had the tree decorated in less time than I had anticipated. I am quite pleased with the results this year.

We don’t really stick to one theme or color scheme on our tree other than”the more colors, the merrier”. I am always on the hunt for fun, unique, & yet practical ornaments that display a special reference/meaning to a family member. For example, I got 3 different Buddha ornaments to represent my mom’s belief in Buddhism. I picked out a beer glass for Jian because at one phase in his life he was super into discovering various craft beers. Also just for fun, we got an ornament shaped like a tin of caviar in honor of my sister (for her love of fish egg condiments, & her tendency of being extra & bougie). My mom picked out a strawberry because my nephew & youngest niece love eating strawberries & could probably inhale one pound of strawberries in one sitting (if their mom let them). I also snuck in one rabbit ornament & one fox ornament because I just had to incorporate some sort of vague reference to this blog, but also because those are two of my favorite woodland animals. Those are just a few examples of the ornaments on our Christmas tree.

I can’t wait to see the looks on the faces of our friends & family when they see our tree this year. It’s going to be so festive & fun. Until then, cheers everyone!

Today’s song of the day:

Well folks, I’m finally back from my nearly 2-week vacation in Taipei, Taiwan. It was kind of an interesting trip. It started off with my mom getting severe jet lag almost immediately upon landing at Taoyuan International Airport. Then upon checking in to our hotel, my mom got a nasty cold (which she suspected was the result of sitting on a 12-hour flight full of recycled air & intense air conditioning). She tried to muddle through the rest of the trip, but it was obvious that she was just completely drained of all energy & enthusiasm during the first full week.

By the time the second week came around, my mom was pretty much burnt out from the Taipei city environment & ready to go home. On top of that, my aunt was also ready to head home. She spent most of her days holed up in her hotel room, due to her tired & sore feet. My aunt had originally planned to visit Taiwan, not to take a stroll down memory lane, but to get a cosmetic spa treatment; then she chickened out at the last minute. After that, she was pretty much over her trip & wanted to head back home.

Jian & I had a pretty fun time during our stay in Taiwan, but by the end of the second week, we were also feeling a little burnt out as well & definitely looking forward to heading back to the comforts of our own home & bed (& definitely ready to get out of the constant rain). Of course we didn’t relish having to burst our cozy little vacation bubble, but it was time to face reality & the real world again. We definitely stuffed ourselves silly with good food & some delicious cocktails, & squeezed in a good amount of shopping. We also got a well-balanced taste of Taiwanese culture, historical landmarks, & city living. Here are some of the highlights of things I learned from my trip to Taipei.

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01. The taxi drivers in Taipei are the worst. I’m sorry, but they are just horrible, plain & simple. The taxi drivers are equally rude & mean…& I mean it. (No pun intended.) Here are two prime examples of how badly the taxi drivers suck:

  •  A.) On the day it was raining the hardest, my mom & aunt wanted to go back to our hotel to rest up before dinner with my uncle. My mom was feeling tired from her jet lag, & my aunt was feeling burnt out from department store shopping. They had planned to take a taxi from the giant department store we were at, but when they told the taxi driver their destination, he flat out refused to take them as customers. He angrily told them to get out of his car all while proceeding to scold them about how he did not want to drive all the way to the neighborhood where our hotel was located (which was actually not very far from the deparment store we were shopping at).
  • B) There was one day when Jian & I had planned to take my mom out for a nice Taiwanese breakfast (& let my aunt sleep in). Jian went online & found a small breakfast shop near our hotel to take my mom for breakfast. We originally planned on using Uber, but we decided not to wait for an Uber driver, & tried a cab instead. Here’s where the story takes a nasty turn. First off, the cab driver got upset when Jian didn’t immediately tell him where we wanted to go (no exaggeration). When we told the cab driver the name of the café we wanted to go to, the cab driver claimed he had never heard of such place, & it didn’t exist. Jian continued talking to the cab driver & gave him a specific address. The cab driver then said that that address (specifically the street name) did not exist. Jian tried to describe the location by giving the name of a nearby hotel (or some sort of landmark), but the cab driver continued his “that doesn’t exist” rant saying that neighborhood had nothing. So basically, that cab driver gave us a bullshit story so he wouldn’t have to take us to a neighborhood he didn’t want to drive to. At that point, my mom was extremely annoyed, plus it was raining fairly hard…so she gave him an equally snotty attitude, & told him to take us to a place he would recommend. He then brought us to a nearby shop that was about to close for the day, not bothering to mention that they only operate super early in the mornings & close early (we got there at 10am). When we told the cab driver the place was closed, he ignored us & made us exit the taxi anyway. Jian & my mom were so pissed at that point we took Uber instead to the original café we wanted to go to. The Uber driver was so much more helpful & friendlier. He knew exactly the café we wanted to go to, & even talked about how popular it was.

These two experiences turned us off from ever taking taxi cabs again in Taiwan. From that point on, we exclusively used either the metro or Uber as public transportation.

02. The MRT in Taipei is so easy to use, & such a convenient way to travel around the city. Just like the subway system in Tokyo, the metro in Taipei is efficient, on-time, clean & relatively cheap. Plus, it’s a great way to get around town without having to walk in the rain. Jian & I practically used the MRT the most while we were in Taipei. For certain destinations that were a little too far from a standard metro station, or if it was late at night, or we were too tired, we would then use Uber.

03. Speaking of Uber, this is also a great way to get around town. The Uber drivers are very friendly & easy to talk to. The cars are relatively clean (some cars we rode in smelled like tobbacco &/or beetlenut pulp), & they’re also efficient. Using Uber in Taiwan is the same process as it is in the U.S.. The only thing I would suggest is to make sure you put a travel notice on the credit card associated with your Uber account, so your payments will go through without any problems. Quite a few locals had warned Jian & I about taking taxis, more specifically about how taxi drivers will sometimes scam you by purposely taking a longer route just to get a higher fare. As for our experiences with Uber in Taipei, we were fortunate to have not experienced any scammers (knock on wood).

04. Disclaimer: Looks can be deceiving. The architecture in Taipei, from the outside, looks very outdated & stuck in a 1990s time warp. On the inside, the decor looks quite modern. There are quite a few modern & contemporary structures dotting the Taipei skyline, but for the most part, the city feels a little dingy & past its prime. There’s not a lot of old historical architecture either. Even though Taipei shows a lot of its Japanese influence, it is definitely not as modern looking as Tokyo.

05. Continuing my architectural theme, Jian had made a very keen observation about the buildings in the city. He mentioned that he had noticed that many of the buildings in the city were either giant shopping malls/department stores with huge food courts, or they were hotels. The other third of the buildings in the city were convenient stores or restaurants. During our 2-week stay in Taipei, we were getting pretty sick & tired of seeing the same old boring department stores or touristy hotel chains everywhere.

06. One must-try food when you visit Taiwan is the quintessential shaved ice (& new Korean trend snow ice), especially with fresh fruit. Taiwan’s national fruit is the mango, so the traditional shaved ice with fresh mango (& a scoop of ice cream) is the most recommended dessert. My favorite shaved ice toppings are red adzuki beans & condensed milk. It’s what I’ve known & have eaten since I was a young girl. These shaved ice treats are great to cool you down when it’s hot outside. They’re also just as good to eat when it’s been raining throughout your entire stay on the island.

07. A new trend I saw popping up all over the city was churros. Yes, you heard me. I said churrrrros! Those cinnamon-sugar coated fried sticks of delicious dough. But, wait. These aren’t just any churros. They’re churros formed into the round shape of a doughnut. Two of the most popular shops in Taipei are Street ChurrosChurro’K. These hot & crispy treats come with a variety of ooey-gooey, sweet dipping sauces & toppings. Now that I’m writing about it, I kind of wish I had tried these churro rounds when I was in Taipei, but I was trying to balance out my diet & not eat too many sweets (which I tend to do when I’m on vacation). Plus, all the food we were eating at every meal made me too stuffed to even want to eat dessert.

08. Oooooh! I have quite a few things to say about the emerging craft cocktail scene in Taipei. When Jian & I first visited Taipei four years ago for our friends’ wedding, there weren’t that many places to go chill out & have drinks (like old fashionedsgin tonics). Now, there are more & more cocktail bars & lounges opening up all over the city serving up innovative concoctions as well as the “classics”. The two of us had the best time discovering a few awesome (& some rather unique) cocktail bars. I’ve listed some highlights below.

  • The very first cocktail bar Jian & I visited was called Dig Out. It’s a very small 10-person space, located a few minutes drive outside of the Mitsukoshi shopping square/complex/park. The bar’s atmosphere is very cozy with leather furniture, comfortably cushioned bar stools, with a very rustic, vintage, & wood decor. The bartender we spoke to could speak a little bit of English (& we can speak a decent amount of Mandarin), so we were able to chat with each other & really have a fun time. The bartender was very skilled at twisting classic cocktails into creative new drinks. The most memorable thing for me about Dig Out was that they used little, novelty, dessert spoon sized metal shovels as stir sticks, for a fun & cute nod to their name.
  • One other highly memorable bars we visited was called R and D Cocktail Lab. Started by a French man, you’ll find tons of ex-pats & foreigners frequenting this bar. This place is located on a quiet street, but is pretty roomy in terms of capacity. You’ll definitely find your standard fare of classic cocktails as well as house-made cocktails (on tap), & other delicious libations concocted by the very-skilled & highly knowledged bar staff. The proprietor of RnD, “Frenchie” (as he so nicknamed himself), is very warm & friendly, & he likes to mingle with the guests almost as much as he loves to create delicious, refreshing, yet strong cocktails. Jian & I met a really cool guy named Ben on our second visit to RnD. We exchanged pleasantries (he’s from Chicago, & we’re from San Francisco). He talked about his business trip & first time visiting Taipei, & we ended up giving him our travel guide book. We hope he actually used it, & maybe one day he will pass the travel book on to someone else he meets on another business trip.
  • I never thought I’d end up drinking very boozy cocktails with my retired mother & her sister (imagine Grace & Frankie from the Netflix TV show) while on vacation. My mom & aunt can sometimes be a little “frisky with the whisky”, & other times they are very conservative & will only have a small nip of a glass. On this trip, I was surprised that my mom & aunt happily & eagerly joined us for a drink or two. We thoroughly enjoyed Backyard Jr., a whisky-centric cocktail bar. With over 2,000 varietals of whiskies, bourbons, & ryes, we had a great time sipping our Hot Toddys, Old Fashioneds, High Balls. Of course Jian had the most fun chatting it up with all the bartenders. He always has a way to charm the bartenders & is able to talk with them for hours on end about cocktails, spirits, & the cocktail drinking experience. My mom, my aunt, & I enjoyed the plush decor & soft jazz music, & we all truly enjoyed the food!
  • One drinking experience we had in Taipei that both intrigued us & baffled us at the same time, was when Jian & I visited Wa Shu. I’d call it an experimental cocktail bar. This minimalist bar was started by a Japanese ex-pat, who also happens to be a very strict taskmaster when it comes to keeping his bar staff in line. We heard him on several occassion openly scold his staff for various tasks he felt were not done to his exact standards. Here’s where things get a little confusing for us. This bar doesn’t have a standard drink menu. Instead they have a menu with a list of flavors, fruits, & taste profiles for you to choose from. You tell the bartender what types of flavors, fruits, &/or taste profiles you prefer, & they will create a drink for you. (You can’t just order a plain ol’ martini or whiskey sour.) Also, this bar does not carry standard spirits. All of the spirits they use to make cocktails are infused with some sort of experimental recipe, or some unique herb or barrel wood. It was hard for us to grasp the concept of telling the bartender what flavors we liked because most of the flavors we like, within the spirit-forward cocktails we often drink, were not listed on their menu. It was also hard to describe our taste profile because this bar only makes light & fruity/herbal drinks, but they don’t really understand how to make spirit-forward drinks. Let me just sum this up by saying cocktails in Asia are by far much “lighter” than the “stronger” cocktails over here in the States, & we sometimes struggle with grasping that concept.

09. Amidst all of the tall skyscrapers, shopping malls, & very 1990s designed apartment complexes, there were lots & lots of greenery dotted all over the city. It was surely a welcome sight in contrast to all of the chaos that surrouned us daily. Everywhere you turn, there’s always construction happening somewhere. So, it’s nice when you can find a small park here & there, or when you are able to walk down tree-lined streets. If only the greenery could help lessen the pollution in the city, but there are just too many motor bikes & motor scooters clogging up the streets with their nasty exhaust. On some days when it wasn’t raining, we were able to enjoy taking a stroll in the park, or in the small garden next to a museum.

10. Lastly, I will end this list with food. Oh man, I didn’t even notice this until the last couple of days of our vacation, but Jian had pointed out that all we’ve been eating throughout our entire trip were starch-filled foods. All the vegetables at the places ate at were so bland & over-cooked that we ended up not really eating much of it. Besides, since they were over-cooked, the veggies pretty much lost all of their nutritional value anyway. Most of the dishes we ate consisted of some sort of green onion (a.k.a. scallion) pancake (always made fresh), a rice bowl meal set, soup dumplings, a bowl of noodles, or some sort of steamed bun filled with meaty delights. It was practically rice on top of noodles on top of bread. Towards the end of our trip, Jian & I started drinking more pressed/blended juices just to get the fiber from the fruits, & we tried eating whatever veggies we could (bland or not). We wanted to re-balance our bodies again before flying home as two human-sized dumplings. I think I had the hardest time eating in Taipei. Whatever I saw, I wanted it all. I could not decide which of my childhood favorites I wanted to eat first. On the flip side, I thought my mom & my aunt were going to go buck wild eating all of their childhood favorites (since they actually grew up in Taipei), but they ended up being the most finnicky about food out of our entire group & didn’t really go wild with the food. Jian tried to keep up with my eating habit, but he ended up feeling very bloated & unsettled towards the end of our trip. By the end, we were definitely ready to go back home & eat a classic hamburger.

Well, this is the end of my first Taiwan blog post. If you want to see photos from my trip, you know, to get a better grasp of the time I spent there, the food I ate, the places I visited…please check out my Instagram feed (@mel__senpai). My Instagram feed is my most active social media account, & the best place to follow me & to contact me. Until next time, 干杯!

Today’s song of the day:

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Transamerica, where you at? You used to be a signature landmark of San Francisco, but now you’re being blocked out by all these ugly McMansions-in-the-sky (a.k.a. skyscrapers). 🏙🌁 . . . . . . . . . . #TransamericaPyramid #OldLandmark #HistoricLandmark #architecture #building #JustTheTio #SanFranciscoSignature #ChangingSkyline #WTF #SFSkyline #WhatHappenedToYou? #WhatHappened? #UglySkyscrapers #skyline #BlueSkies #CityLife #CityLiving #SF #SanFrancisco #LineCamera @linecamera_official
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