Taipei: The Food City

About a month ago I took a few days off from the lab and went to Taiwan. I figured since I was in Korea, I should make the most of it and visit as many Asian countries as I can. Since Taiwan is relatively close (and small), it seemed like a good place to go to for a short break. I also wanted to go because I’ve heard good things about Taiwan, and after living in Korea for so long I needed a break and just get some Chinese food too.

I wanted to write a post about it soon after I got back but I had a lot of work to do for my lab so I never had the time or energy for it.

But, I’m writing one now so it’s ok. My trip was mostly centered around Taipei, but we took a short day trip out to Jiufen and Shifen as well. Despite the title of this post centered around Taipei, I’ll talk about those two places as well because they’re close enough and don’t really deserve a separate blog post (despite being amazing).

Taipei skyline taken from Elephant Mountain.
Taipei skyline taken from Elephant Mountain.

So despite only being in Taiwan for a few days, I had a pretty good time. Taipei was a nice city and honestly seems like a great place to live. It has all the things you’d think of when you think of a big Asian city, but it feels more.. free? than other cities. Aside from the fact that it seems incredibly liberal, like I don’t think I have seen so many openly gay people ever, the population of Taipei is lower than a lot of other cities like Tokyo and Seoul, so it doesn’t feel as crowded and there’s more open space.

I like open space, open space is nice.

The actual city was pretty interesting too. Some parts of it look like they’re straight out of Japan, which I guess makes sense if you consider historical elements, and others look very Chinese, which again, makes sense. There’s a pretty interesting blend of cultures in Taiwan and as a dude that loves Chinese and Japanese food, I honestly felt very at home in Taiwan.

Ximending looks like it could've just been some part of Tokyo.
Ximending looks like it could’ve just been some part of Tokyo.

The food selection in Taipei is fantastic. Taiwan has like, everything. They have a ton of restaurants catering to different types of food, and to me it was especially important that they had so many different types of Chinese food. They even have a lot of street markets with a lot of random street food that is both cheap and delicious. Just walking down the many street markets they have, sampling just some of everything, is an adventure in itself.

Everywhere, from the restaurants to marts, had good food. And I love me some cheap and delicious food. You could eat different food for days, even weeks on end probably, and still have a ton to eat. I wish I had more time just to eat more food really.

But I guess if you weren’t interested in food, then you’d probably go sightsee right? Well, to me, Taipei wasn’t that exciting for sightseeing.

Seeing snakes outside of snake restaurants is pretty cool.
Seeing snakes outside of snake restaurants is pretty cool.

Normally when I travel I like to see and experience things that I can’t find anywhere else. But when I went to Taipei I didn’t really have that feeling. A lot of times when I was walking around and looking at stuff, I kept having feelings of Hong Kong or Japan, and nothing really struck me as “super Taiwanese”, if you know what I mean. The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was probably the most unique thing I saw in Taipei, and despite that being really cool by itself, it didn’t really blow me away like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

Taipei 101 is also heralded as one of the big landmarks in Taipei, and I do admit it kinda looks cool, but it’s not that special. I was only in Taipei for a few days so I probably did miss some stuff, but I think I covered the major things when I was there. So in that way, the trip was a bit disappointing. That said, we did a one day trip out of Taipei and that was really awesome and definitely the highlight of my trip.

The atmosphere in Shifen is amazing.
The atmosphere in Shifen is amazing.

The first part of that excursion was to Shifen, a small town that is known for their sky lanterns. A lot of tourists go out to this small place in the middle of essentially nowhere to write their dreams and wishes on lanterns, and then light a fire and see it rise up into the sky. It does sound super touristy, but man, that was a cool place. The whole mix of the sky lanterns being constantly launched into the sky and the people hopping around on a train track was really unreal. It was even cooler when a train did come because people had to like, evacuate the track, which sounds kinda dumb but just adds to the experience.

I really enjoyed that. It was fun to write stuff with my friends, and even more fun to see our lantern fly into the sky. That was cool and I highly recommend it.

Afterwards we went to Jiufen, which is a nearby town that many people say was the inspiration for the town in Spirited Away. Going at night definitely makes the experience a lot nicer, but I think that it wasn’t really that special. Taipei has a lot of night markets already, and the old town in Jiufen just kinda felt like a more traditional looking night market. The “landmark” there, the tea shop, was kinda cool I guess, but I’m not sure if it’s really worth the trip out there.

The Ah Mei Tea House, a very cozy looking building swarmed with tons of tourists.
The Ah Mei Tea House, a very cozy looking building swarmed with tons of tourists.

So overall Taipei was nice, but I think that if you were to visit Taiwan, it might be a better trip if you took some time out of the cities and went to the countryside. That’s what I’ll be doing the next time that’s for sure. I liked Taipei, and I probably wouldn’t mind living there, but aside from a brief respite for food and stuff, it doesn’t seem too exciting from a tourist perspective. Granted maybe I just didn’t appreciate it as much as I could have. Like we went to the National Palace Museum too and I just didn’t get it.

Regardless, would go again, but definitely want to check out some more naturey and traditional spots the next time I go.

Year in Review: 2016

Well, it’s officially 2017.

2016 was one hell of a year. On one hand, it was a pretty good year because I made a lot of progress in my work, and I also had a chance to go on a bunch of trips to new places. But on the other hand, it was probably the most physically, mentally, and emotionally stressful year of my life.

So all in all, it’s been one giant roller coaster of a ride.

2016 started off with some sparklers, tangerines, and chocolate in a Hungarian bar in Korea.
2016 started off with some sparklers, tangerines, and chocolate in a Hungarian bar in Korea.

Let’s talk about the good things first. If you disregard all the negative aspects of the year, 2016 was probably one of the best years of my life. Easily in the top three I think, although it’s hard to rank exactly.  The most obvious highlights of my year were the travels I went on.

In February I went on a trip to Hong Kong, Malaysia (Malacca and Kuala Lumpur), and Singapore which was just a fantastic trip because I had a chance to spend Chinese New Year with my family in Hong Kong and visit a new area, Southeast Asia with my friends. The summer also saw a short trip home back to Canada too, and going home is always great. Finally, I went on my first international “business trip” in October when I went to Dubai for the Global Grad Show.

Having an international trip staggered like that was fantastic. I always had something to look forward to, and each trip was wonderful in its own way. It was especially awesome since that’s three new countries that I have never been to before, in two areas that I also haven’t visited prior to those trips. I definitely had a lot of fun during those trips and also learned a lot.

Some cool people I went to Malaysia with.
Some cool people I went to Malaysia with.

It was a pretty big year for my family too. The big one would obviously be my sister having a kid, meaning that I’m officially an uncle now. The main reason why I went back home in the summer was to meet my new nephew and I’m eagerly waiting for when I can go back home next so I can play with him some more. As additional bonuses, two of my cousins got married this year as well, which is just a merry time.

My parents also came to visit me in Korea twice, and I also had a bunch of friends visit as well. It’s always nice to have visitors. The friends I have in Korea are fantastic, but it’s different to talk to someone from my pre-Korea days. Just, different topics and different feelings you know? Really milks the nostalgia.

Pictured: A non-Canadian dude representing Toronto more than the actual Canadian dude.
Pictured: A non-Canadian dude representing Toronto more than the actual Canadian dude.

This was my first full year at KAIST, which I will definitely talk about later in the post (foreshadowing). Surprisingly my grades went up. My first semester had some (relatively) abysmal grades, but the last two semesters saw a rise in my GPA. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I ditched the dorm and got my own place. Probably not though.

I also had my first conference paper published this year. That said, it’s in a domestic Korean conference that has incredibly low standards so it’s not really an achievement in any way, but it’s still kinda neat. Speaking of conferences, I got brought to another Korean HCI conference earlier in the year and that was a fun little trip too since it was held in a ski resort and casino.

The High1 Ski Resort, a place I definitely went to just for an HCI conference.
The High1 Ski Resort, a place I definitely went to just for an HCI conference.

There were just a lot of really good moments in 2016. Hanging out with friends, playing with new technology, trying new things – there’s just too much to list.

But despite all the good things in 2016, this was also an incredibly terrible year.

Like I’m willing to give it the title of the worst year of my life, which is both really not saying too much cause I haven’t lived that bad of a life, but at the same time is saying a decent amount considering how much fun I had during the year.

A light in the darkness. Korean style.
A light in the darkness. Korean style.

The theme of the year was definitely politics and tragedy. I never really used to pay attention to politics that much, and I never really followed the news. But after coming to Korea and meeting so many people from all around the world, international relations and events have quickly risen to something I actually follow. It’s easy to just block out news when it’s happening somewhere on the other side of the world and not directly affecting you, but when you know people from those areas and see how they’re being affected, it’s hard to ignore.

Like, I have friends who are British or living in the UK who were so confused and upset with the results of the Brexit referendum. During the Turkish coup I had another friend who went back home message me that he heard the jets flying overhead. And obviously everyone on my Facebook, both American and not, was going insane over the American election.

And then we get to all the tragedies. There’s been a lot of death in the news this year. Be it from attacks, accidents, or natural causes. Maybe technology is just keeping us so connected so it just seems like bad things are happening all the time. Or maybe bad things are just happening more often. Regardless, it’s a pretty bad feeling to shake. Especially when there’s so much hate and discrimination thrown around due these.. events. I think the most important thing though, is to stay strong regardless of what happens. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

Korea also had their largest earthquakes in many years, despite not being too big.
Korea also had their largest earthquakes in many years, despite not being too big.

On a bit more on a local level, 2016 was pretty rough for me too. Studies are KAIST are tough. The most ironic part is that the studying aspect is nothing at all, but the lab work and the expectations are definitely taking a toll on me. Spending so much time in the lab working on projects is incredibly tiring, both physically and mentally. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up in 2017, but thankfully it should only last half a year this year.

It’s also been almost two and a half years since I’ve come to Korea. And considering how most of my friends aren’t from Korea, it also means that the natural ebb and flow of everyone’s lives are slowly tearing our relationships apart. It sounds bad, but I’ve already had some friends leave Korea and the increase of work in our schoolwork is also making it more difficult to see the friends that are still here.

Probably my favourite group picture of 2016, taken at a farewell party.
Probably my favourite group picture of 2016, taken at a farewell party.

But alas, ’tis life.

2017 should be a very interesting year for me. It’s interesting because it’ll be the first time since 2014 (long time right?) where I have no idea what my future holds. Naturally, I never know the future, but you can generally make educated guesses. But this time around, I really don’t know. I know that I’m graduating this year, but that’s about it.

What am I going to do after graduation? Where will I be after graduation? How will I graduate? These are questions I have no answers to. A bit scary really. People ask me these questions all the time, and I ask myself these questions all the time too. But in reality, it’s really not my decision. I want to find a job somewhere making cool things. I’ll be applying to a lot of places all around the world, but the decision to hire me is not mine.

Maybe I’ll go back home to Canada. Maybe I’ll end up staying in Korea. Maybe I’ll go to a third country. Who knows?

I don't normally get homesick but.. I wouldn't mind being home right now.
I don’t normally get homesick but.. I wouldn’t mind being home right now.

I’ll deal with it when I get there I guess. It’ll be nice to go with the flow again.

I just want a nice break after I graduate. I’m planning on going back to Europe for another grad trip. Should be fun, especially since I have a lot of friends scattered all around Europe now. And speaking of travelling, I have a short trip to Taiwan booked for a couple weeks from now too as a quick break from the lab.

I’m hoping that 2017 will be a fantastic year. Not just for me but for everyone. We could use a 2017, not a 2016S.

Kuala Lumpur: The City with Three Towers

Finally, the last stop in my February trip. Before coming back to Korea, me and my friends went back to Malaysia to check out the capital, Kuala Lumpur. As the capital, I expected more from the city as compared to Malacca, and honestly I think it was more of a fun place to visit.

For one, there’s more stuff to see and do. Kuala Lumpur (from now on KL because I can’t spell) is a fairly big city with a decent amount of things to check out. We weren’t there for very long though, about a day and a half, but we still managed to see a decent amount.

The moment you get into the city, the most striking thing you see are the towers. Many cities have towers and they add to the overall atmosphere of the city, typically towering (heh) over the rest of the city and thus making it a pretty significant landmark.

The KL Tower in the early afternoon.
The KL Tower in the early afternoon.

So KL is pretty unique because it actually has three towers. The first tower is the traditional one, KL Tower. It looks like any other regular ol’ tower with a standard plain base and an observation deck. It also lights up in a bunch of different colours at night.

The other two towers are definitely much more spectacular. Technically, the Petronas Towers are not towers, but rather skyscrapers, but they’re called towers so here we are. Those are probably the most iconic buildings in Malaysia as they are twin buildings that are also connected. Being twin towers is important because by themselves, they wouldn’t be that impressive.

But the fact that there’s two and they’re joined by a giant mall makes all the difference. They’re actually pretty spectacular to look at, especially at night when the towers are just awash in light and look magnificent

The Petronas Towers at night.
The Petronas Towers at night.

The three towers are within walking distance of each other too. My hotel was close to the KL Tower but after maybe a 10? 15? minute walk you could reach the Petronas Towers too which was cool.

The least cool part though, was that I actually didn’t go up any of the towers. This is surprising because I actually really like going up towers to check out the city from observation decks. Pretty much every time I go to a city I check out the tower there. I did that in both Malacca and Singapore and also had the plan to do so in KL as well, but the theme of the trip was just, bad coordination and planning.

The stairs leading up to the Batu Caves.
The stairs leading up to the Batu Caves.

The first day went ok. We went out to check out the Batu Caves which was really cool, probably my highlight of the KL leg of my trip. The next day was a lot less coordinated. I thought that KL had a lot to see, but when you get actually get there you realize you don’t really need to spend that much time there.

For example we took the city bus for a bit. Out first stop was the Istana Negara which was really nice, but you weren’t allowed in. So you essentially got on the bus, got driven to a palace, walked around for five minutes, then got driven back to the city.

A lot of the city was similar too. Lots of nice scenic and interesting spots, but you walk around for a few minutes and realize there’s actually not too much to do.

Istana Negara, the residence of the Malaysian monarch.
Istana Negara, the residence of the Malaysian monarch.

Although I will admit, a lot of the city is nice. It’s just that I thought that there wasn’t much to do. Maybe I was just doing it wrong, and I probably was doing it wrong. But whenever we went to a park or to a random tourist attraction, we just ended up walking around for like 30 minutes and moving on because there was nothing there to keep us there.

I feel like KL is one of those places that has a lot to offer if you spend more time there. There’s enough stuff in there that I’m sure you can really find some unique stuff there. But being there for only a day and a half really limits how much you can do, especially considering you want to see as much as you can, which naturally results in spending minimal amount of time actually indulging in what the city has to offer.

But anyways back to the towers. I went to the base of the Petronas Towers and went into the mall, but we never went up. And my hotel was literally next to the KL Tower, but due to a massive fail in timing, we got to the tower at like 9:30 and just missed the last entry for the observation deck. Which really sucked because I really wanted to go up the tower to look at the Petronas Towers.

The National Mosque of Malaysia.
The National Mosque of Malaysia.

Malaysia was the first Southeast Asian country I went to, and also the first Muslim country I’ve been to. It was different and pretty neat to go visit, but I don’t really feel an urge to make a trip out of it and go again anytime soon. That said, I wouldn’t mind doing another short trip, like a day or two, to KL where I can check out a bit more of the city and reconsider my first impression. Even like a eight hour layover or something would be acceptable. I totally wouldn’t mind going up one of those towers, considering how I missed out last time.

And this is it! I’ve finally finished the recap of my February trip. Just in time for the end of 2016 too which is good because I was worried I wouldn’t get it done in time. Luckily this means that I have entries on this blog about every trip I’ve done (going home doesn’t count), which is pretty neat. I’ll write about travels again when I go somewhere new, but for now, other types of entries!