Sunday, September 25, 2011


We're in Taiwan this weekend! I (Brad) had a conference in Taipei this weekend, and Emily decided to come along. We'd never even considered Taiwan as a holiday destination, but since work was paying for most of the trip (except Emily's ticket), we thought we'd give it a try.

We didn't do much research ahead of our trip, so we wound up seeing an interesting mix of things. We started off at the "Taipei 101," which up until a couple years ago was the world's tallest building (it's still got the fastest elevators in the world, which was quite a blast).
The observation decks (on the 89th and 91st floors) turned out to be more interesting than we'd expected. As it's so much taller than any other building in the city, the views are pretty spectacular (there are no other tall buildings around to obstruct the view).

One of the fun elements of the observation deck - a post office! They were selling postcards and stamps in a little kiosk, and had a mailbox close by. We always try to mail postcards to our nephews whenever we visit a new country. What better place to mail a postcard than from the top of one of the world's tallest buildings!After visiting the tower, we took a bit of a walking tour of the city. We stopped in a 7-11 convenience store at one point to buy water and look what we found in the candy section:
We really felt like we were discovering hidden bits of Taiwan!

Eventually, we walked to the "Sun-Yat-Sen Memorial." Sun Yat Sen was the founder of the "Republic of China" (the first government to replace the Imperial Chinese government after the last Emperor left the throne in 1911). He died long before Taiwan was established as an independent republic, but he's still revered here as the "father" of the current Taiwanese government. Taiwan and greater China share a complicated political history, but the point is that the Taiwanese people love Sun Yat Sen.

His memorial has an "honor guard" constantly on duty. We were fortunate enough to show up just before the changing of the guard. It was pretty impressive:
Our last stop for the day was at the "Miniatures Museum of Taiwan." I had come across it online before our trip, and knowing how much Emily loves small things, I thought we'd give it a try. It was one of the most random museums we'd ever visited. They had exhibits on Barbie, dollhouses, miniatures of various rooms of the house, and an impressive gift shop selling everything you need to create your own little miniature world.
Before coming to Taiwan, our friends and co-workers in Hong Kong had told us all about Taiwanese food (this place is generally agreed upon as home to the best Chinese food in the world). We walked around the neighborhood by our hotel for awhile, looking for the most authentic restaurant we could find. We settled on a little place that looked busy. It turned out to be great:
We picked out a fresh raw fish from the display case and they grilled it up while we waited:
Today, I (Brad) spent most of the day in my conference. In the evening we had some free time and we took a trip down to the "Shilin Night Market." We found a restaurant with an interesting theme. The name will probably give it away:
The seats were actually toilets:
The food was served in plates shaped like toilets:
(or like bathtubs):
After the meal, we continued exploring the night market:

Night markets seem to be a uniquely Asian phenomenon. We love them. The market we visited today was supposed to be the biggest in Taipei. I don't know how it compares to the others in the city, but it was certainly a busy place. We bought some fresh juice and generally enjoyed just walking around (except for the times when we came across the "Stinky Tofu" vendors - that's a smell that's hard to describe, although it smells a bit like a combination of well-used gym shoes and an open sewer).

Overall, Taiwan has been a pleasant surprise. The food has definitely been better than any Chinese food we've encountered thus far (although we only have Beijing and Hong Kong to compare to). The people have also been very friendly. In spite of the language barrier (not many people speak English here), people on the street seem eager to help tourists. We've also been pleasantly surprised with how courteous people are in public spaces (mostly as compared with Beijing - where it's hard to walk 1 block without being intentionally shoved out of someone's way). We still don't know what there is to see elsewhere in Taiwan, but we're definitely open to the idea of visiting this country again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

SCUBA Diving in the Philippines - Subic Bay

A couple of weeks ago, our school had a 4-day weekend (to celebrate the Chinese "Mid-Autumn Festival"). For the first time in our marriage, Emily and I took separate vacations. It happened quite unintentionally. About 6 weeks ago, I was sitting in an in-service briefing, in which school administrators were discussing the details of starting school for the year. When teachers are pulled out of their classrooms and asked to pay attention to other grown-ups talk, we tend to act like teenagers. Thus, most of us spent those in-service hours looking at facebook, playing jokes on one another, and generally acting as immature as possible. Somewhere between iPhone scrabble games, one of the male teachers suggested a SCUBA diving trip to the Philippines. Within 2 hours, we had planned almost the whole thing (thus proving that we were both immature and extremely organized).

Emily doesn't dive. So, when I told her about the trip, she offered to let me go, and promptly began to plan her own "stay-cation" here in Hong Kong with some of the single ladies on staff. Thus, the "separate vacation" was born. I don't think we'll make a habit out of this, but it was definitely a fun weekend. Here's the photo essay of Brad's side of that vacation.

We (myself and 4 other male teachers) went to Subic Bay, Philippines. It's a couple of hours' drive from Manila, and is the location of a former US Navy base (now closed down). As the bay has been a focal point of naval activity for about a century, it has seen plenty of shipwrecks (some intentional, some unintentional). We had chosen Subic Bay for its wrecks, and here is one of my favorite: an old Japanese Patrol Boat from WWII. Here's me entering the Pilot House.

Here's a Spanish wreck from the late 19th Century (the "San Quintin"). The ship's pretty well broken up, but it's become a beautiful reef (some of the old boilers are still visible).

This is my favorite photo (above). It's a beautiful little Nudibranch that we came across on the San Quintin wreck. This little guy's about the size of my finger.
And a giant clam (above). Daniel (one of the other teachers) and I took turns poking it with our fingers.

Here's Daniel at the San Quintin:
And a beautiful Blue-Spotted Ray:
Here's an oyster shell I came across:
On one of our last dives, we decided to conduct a little experiment with compressed air. We took an empty plastic bottle (see below) down to about 50 or 60 feet and filled it with air from our regulators (the air you breathe at depth is pressurized to the same pressure as the water around you, meaning that you squeeze about 3 times as much air into your lungs at 60 feet as you do at the surface). Thus, the bottle below, once filled at depth, held triple the air that it would otherwise have held at the surface. Once we screwed on the cap and let it go, it shot to the surface. We listened for the inevitable explosion at the top, but couldn't quite hear it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rules of diving, in order to allow your body to off-gas the nitrogen that you absorb at depth (from breathing all that super-compressed air), you have to spend time on the surface between dives. Hanging out on the surface between dives can be quite boring. It can also be a blast. The boat crew we went with was a very relaxed group of Filipino guys. They let us climb all over their boat and jump into the water.

It was a great 4 days - just what all of us high school teachers needed after a very tiring session at camp the week before. I'm not sure if I'd go back to Subic for another diving trip (the visibility was too unreliable), but I'm very glad I went on this trip.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beginning of 2nd Trimester

I'm into my second trimester and feeling GREAT! I feel like a normal person again it is amazing how not throwing up multiple times a day will do that to you. This weekend I actually went out of the house with Brad for the first time in many many weeks.

Here are some bump pictures that you all have been requesting. I'm getting creative in making my pants fit and will need to explore maternity pants soon (although I have heard in HK they are really expensive or hideous, so we will have to get creative).

A colleague at work who is due any day now and me.

This dress is a hand-me-down from Ruthie, who says it makes everyone look pregnant :-)

Lounging with Rudy in the evening

Brad and Rudy being silly.
I didn't want Brad to feel left out of the blog. He has been an amazing husband through out this whole pregnancy. I'm so happy he is in my life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We're having a baby!

We just announced it to our colleagues last week (showing the above I love Lucy clip) and thought it was about time to announce this happy news to our blog fans. We are going to be parents! Emily is having a spring break baby!

We found out the week before school started and almost immediately I (Emily) started feeling very sick. Brad has been a super husband. He basically set up our whole house, picked out curtains, hung pictures, bought tons of plants, cooked dinners, went grocery shopping as I lay on the couch making frequent trips to the bathroom. As I enter the second trimester, I am having more non-nauseous days and I am praying this morning/all day sickness (and vomiting) stops sooner than later. Hopefully I will have a good bump picture soon, as of right now it is very small and not very picture worthy yet.

We went in last week for our first official doctor visit and got to see our active little jellybean up close. The doctor said that the baby is growing normally and looked really good. We got to see the baby's fingers, toes, elbows, knees, hear the heart beat. We really are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Baby's profile (umbilical cord in the background)

Baby's head, arm and fingers

Baby's belly, leg and toes (my favorite picture)