August 2008


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I love sending postcards on my travels and I never leave home without some friends’ addresses in my notebook. Sometimes it is hard to find original and fun cards to send, but Miin Design here in Taiwan has been making my life a whole lot easier.

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They’ve come up with a whole range of fun and funky cards to send home that really grasps the feel of Taiwan. Mixing traditional culture, some tacky elements and style into truly witty works of art to drop in the mailbox. The top three up here have phrases like ‘Pray for Good Luck’ and ‘Go Shopping in Taipei’ while the other two asks you ‘Have you tried these?’ These are just a few of the cards, there are loads more and I feel like I want to collect them all for myself!

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My favorites however are the pop-up cards. They look fairly plain and almost cheap viewed from on side, but turn them around and…

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There are pictures that you can pop out to make a 3D postcard! And they are totally Taiwanese. People doing tai-chi in parks, night market stands, guards at CKS Memorial Hall, scooter drivers in the city, and tourists in Taroko. It’s more like a card, with the message written on the inside and the address on the outside. It even comes with a small sticker with the characters for Taiwan on them to enclose the card with. My favorites, of course, are the ones of Taiwan’s ubiquitous betel nut girls or bin-lang girls.

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 So there has been no reason for me not to write postcards, and to top it all of there is this really cute postbox downtown to drop them into!

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When living in Taiwan it’s easy to spend your time just traveling between work and home on the same route everyday and never paying attention to how beautiful the island is. I know this as I used to do so during my first year in Taiwan.

Even though the Taiwan of today is not the Isla Formosa that Portuguese sailors saw centuries ago it is still a spectacularly beautiful island, covered in mountains and verdant forests.

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And you don’t have to go far to experience this greenery. Within the city limits of our little city, Hsinchu (meaning new bamboo) lies the 18 Peaks Mountain Park. It is a small range of hills, clad in trees, big leaved plants, ferns and bamboo with numerous walkways, exercising spots and benches.

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Twice now we picked up sandwiches for lunch and braved the forest critters; giant mosquitoes, even bigger spiders and dinosaur-looking lizards, to enjoy a relaxing break in the verdurous hills before returning to deal with noisy and difficult students.

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A couple of weekends ago we went to Taipei for Alexander’s birthday and as it was his birthday and we have not yet traveled with Taiwan’s High Speed Rail we decided it was the perfect weekend to try it out. Everybody that’s been claims it is addictive and refuses to travel any other way on the west coast now.

The very sleek station is set in an open field surrounded by attractive new apartment buildings on one side and low green hills on the other, a very modern Taiwan setting blending in new development and the country’s evergreen trees. We grabbed a bite at the station’s MOS Burger outlet and then picked up some water at the 7/11 where we happened on these cute cookie boxes

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I was completely taken by the packaging, not outrageously cute, but cute. I bought a box and we took it with on our trip.

The cookies, each individually packed of course, were supposed to resemble the train’s engine. We enjoyed the sweet sugar cookies while the countryside sped by us in an unbelievable 30 minutes from Hsinchu to Taipei.

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And oh, they were right, the train is addictive, and the cookies, almost.

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Pudding seems to be a bit of a national obsession here in Taiwan. It’s something that I was only vaguely aware of when I lived here. Kids bringing little cups of pudding to school to snack on, pudding being added to milk tea, and pudding popsicles. But I never thought about it much until my ever-aware boyfriend pointed out how it is everywhere. Pudding drinks at 7/11, notebooks with pudding cartoon characters, pudding on shaved ice, pudding candy. It is literally everywhere!

So when I decided to bake some muffins inspired by something local I did not spend a long time pondering inspiration. It was going to be pudding muffins. Which turned out to be more like cupcakes, and they looked horrible to be quite honest. So I’m going to be very honest with you here, I did a lot editing on these in Photoshop.

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As I have not had time to bake them again and perfect my recipe I decided to only blog the images for now.

I used a lemon poppy seed muffin recipe, but did not add enough pudding flavoring, so they ended up being very plain. I also attempted to make brown food coloring for the tops by mixing red and green, or red and blue, I forget, and it came out looking rather gray. That is where the editing came in handy.

After baking and cooling the muffins I cut off the tops and turned them upside down to resemble the popular local pudding.

I know this is being very lazy of me, editing pictures, not posting a proper recipe and all that. But I promise I will make amends and bake them again and make them look real pretty and have everything ready right from the start and blog a decent recipe with un-edited pictures soon, maybe!

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Our first Sunday in Hsinchu we decided to take the bike and drive out to nearby Beipu. It is famous for being the center of Hakka culture in northern Taiwan and a good place to sample some Hakka food.

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We arrived to a drizzly and gray Beipu, where I’ve never been despite its closeness to Hsinchu, and started walking around the streets, busy with other day-trippers who were not deterred by the wet weather. The streets were lined with numerous stands selling juices, local vegetables, snacks and tourist souvenirs. We stopped to sample a couple of buns before heading to Fanpokeng Tavern, one of many attractive teashops in the town, for lunch.

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It is a lovely shop with red brick and white walls, wooden ceilings and red tiled floors, decorated with wooden benches and tables and some antiques displayed throughout. The atmosphere was warm and pleasant as tables of friends and family were sitting around enjoying drinking and making lei cha.


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Lei cha is a famous Hakka tea, originating in China. It’s also known as ground tea, combining green tea with a paste of peanuts, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Despite it sounding a little strange it is most enjoyable, although you have to work to enjoy it! The staff places a stone grinder on your table with some dried tea leaves in it. You begin by grinding this into a powder. Next you add the plateful of seeds until grind it into a smooth paste. The staff, despite being very friendly, pretty much flat-out refuses to do anything besides checking your progress. Understandably though, as this is a long and exhausting process! It does add to a feeling of camaraderie as other patrons lean over on another’s shoulders to see how the table next to them are doing, or in our case, offering help in how to grind!

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Once our waitress was happy with our paste she added hot water and gave us some popped rice. The paste and water gets stirred together and served in a bowl with a spoon and some rice on top. Delicious and very filling! I highly recommend it!

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We also ordered some snacks, the menu was all in Chinese, so I tried to ask the waitress to suggest some items, which worked very well. She brought out a plate of maji, or sticky rice rolled in ground peanuts along with fried eggs and another rice snack.

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We tried our best to finish everything, but in the end we had to leave some food. Turns out lei cha is a meal in itself!










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Alexander’s birthday is coming up and since we’ll be spending it in Hsinchu and it will be a work day we decided to head to Taipei for a weekend of some fun shopping, eating and just us. Visiting the world’s current tallest building, Taipei 101, was of course on the list of things to do.

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Once we reached the top we found that you can buy postcards and stamps and mail them from the top of the world! Being a big fan of sending postcards while traveling I bought one and sent it to my grandmother while Alexander sent one to his parents.

The part that was most fun for me was the rubber stamps you could stamp onto the postcard to add a little fun touch. And once you’re ready to mail your postcard you can select to throw it in a mailbox for family, friends or lover.

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Hopefully my postcard will make it all the way from the 98th floor of Taipei 101 to my grandmother’s small town mailbox back home.



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After a bowl of muesli with yogurt and fresh fruit, my favorite breakfast meal is danbing. Its something I discovered when I first came to Taiwan and fell very much in love with. Danbing literally means egg-pancake and it is, literally, an egg pancake. An egg is fried on a hot griddle, almost like an omelet, a crispy pancake is added on top and then flipped over to grill the pancake. A filling of bacon, cheese, tuna or chicken is often added before the whole thing gets rolled up and served with thick soy sauce. Delicious!

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The pancakes for making danbing can be found at just about any grocer in Taiwan, and so I decided to try my own version for breakfast I chopped up some tomatoes, garlic and mushrooms, wrapped it up in aluminum and cooked in the oven for a few minutes. In a bowl I mixed eggs, salt and pepper and some shredded basil leaves and then fried it, like an omelet, before placing a frozen pancake sheet on top and flipping it all over. I let the pancake grill for a few seconds, added the filling, rolled it up and served it.

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Simple, easy and tasty. Now if only I could find a place in Cape Town who sold the pancakes!