I'd been dreaming about going to Bhutan for a long time. But it was always a distant dream, both geographically and financially. So, it was truly a gift that in early May that I got a text message from my sister Ellen asked me if I want to go to Bhutan with her and her family. I replied, "Heck ya, but I don't have the money. So, you guys have fun." 3 seconds later I got her text, "I'll pay for it."
My sister has always been very generous towards me. But this was beyond generous!
Ellen, being the oldest sibling, always acted more like a parent towards us than our parents. I, being the lazy, messy kid, would constantly get on her neat-freak, over-achiever's nerves, hence our endless fights when we're growing up. Now we're older, though her perfectionist personality has not changed a bit, she has been very kind and generous towards me. She does all my dental work for free, and every time I'd saved up enough money to go on a trip, she'd hand me an envelope of few hundred dollars and wished me a good trip. The first time was my 2-month long backpacking trip to Europe after college. I funded the trip with a scholarship. My parents said "OK, have fun" and hung up the phone. Yet, Ellen totally freaked out. The day before my flight, she gave me some traveler's checks and a phone card. She sternly told me I must call her whenever I arrive at a new town. She was a broke Dental School student at that time living in New York City, yet she gave me her savings so I could have a safe trip.
Now her and her family goes on exotic trips every year and this time they invited me knowing how I'd love to go.
A trip to Bhutan is not cheap. In order to avoid much cultural and environmental impact caused by tourism, the Bhutanese government requires visitors to spend minimum $250 per person per day in the country (including visa, lodging, local transportation, guides). This is the country's way to have high value, low impact tourism. Also, all tourists have to have an officially registered guide regardless of the number of people in the group. A 9 day trip plus airfare to Bhutan was way out of my league.
In the middle of August, we flew to Taiwan, and stayed there for 4 days. While my sister and family stayed at her in-law's place, I stayed at my mom's vacant apartment. They invited me to stay with them but I was so grateful to have my mom's apartment all to myself. Taiwan was super hot and humid beyond words in the summer. I was happy to be able to walk around in my underwear and take shower twice a day and have a nice, good AC all to my spoiled self.
|A typical street view of Taipei|
If you're like me, coming from a cooler and much dryer climate, Taiwan is not a place to visit in summer. The first day I thought I was going to pass out from heat just walking around. Every morning I'd get up way early while it was still cool enough to walk around outside and walked 2 blocks for a traditional Taiwanese breakfast, the highlight of my day. The rice balls, the soy milk, and the scallion pancake with eggs, there is just no better way to start a day than this.
The breakfast I love so much.
Dumplings for breakfast, total deluxe.
My sister and I spent our first day walking around our old neighborhood, delighted by the fact that not too much have changed in the past 30+ years.
Taipei is not the prettiest city in the world. The city developed rather organically over the years, not much planning or zoning regulations in the old days, during the time it was working hard to go from a developing country to a developed country. Taipei, being the Taiwan's capital, has turned into a very densely populated city. I spent the first 12 years of my life there. Although my family moved a few times, it was always in the same neighborhood, only blocks from previous apartment. It was and still is the neighborhood with the most parks and trees in the city. I remember we always lived next door, or across the street from a park. My childhood memories was filled with walking to different parks nearly every evening after dinner with my family. Now my parent's apartment is outskirt of the city in a newly developed neighborhood with high rise apartment buildings. Although the area is modern, super clean, wide and well-managed sidewalks, it doesn't have the same charm as our old neighborhood.
Other than eating, and a day of walking around the neighborhood we grew up, regrettably, I didn't do much because it was simply too hot.
It's OK, I know I'd visit Taiwan again for sure. 4 days were plenty this time.
yummy plain noodles
Who the heck puts the ingredients on top of shaved ice???
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Not all changes are good.
and it was difficult to find shaved ice nowadays in Taipei...
I was sad to see this.
The neighborhood we grew up in Taipei
The block where our house was.
Our old street block.
Mom's current apartment in Taipei.