Day Trip to Taichung

My friend Billie visited Taipei over the weekend. It was her annual food pilgrimage, as she likes to call it. We planned a day trip to Taichung just to see the place as most of us have not been there. We booked our train tickets two weeks in advance, but still we were not lucky to score seats from Taipei to Taichung. It was a long weekend holiday so locals scrambled to get tickets online to head down south.

We endured a two-hour train ride from Taipei to Taichung -standing- but it went by fast since we spent time catching up and talking about random stuff. We arrived past 10 in the morning and the cab we rented was waiting for us outside the train station.

We saw a Japanese couple visiting Rainbow Village #relationshipgoals

We had a pretty simple itinerary. We visited Rainbow Village 彩繪春村 to take a few snaps, then headed for late lunch at the first branch of the famous Chun Shui Tang 春水堂 (where pearl milk tea originated). We took a leisurely stroll along Fantasy Story 范特西 then made our way to Feng Chia Night Market 逢甲夜市. I was recovering from gastritis so I didn't eat much night market food. Our driver dropped us at the Miyahara 宮原眼科 branch near the train station to buy some sun cakes and pineapple cakes.

So many artsy stuff in Fantasy Story

 Miyahara Cakes reminded me of Harry Potter 

Yay for reserved seats on the way back to Taipei! 

Breakfasts with Bille. She's the more adventurous eater- she likes stinky tofu, innards and all other things while I stick to the more normal kind of food. But we get along when it comes to breakfasts :)

 Bacon egg crepe and french toasts at 陳跟找茶

Traditional Taiwanese breakfast ma-hu (porkfloss) egg crepe, you tiao (fried crullers) and hot soy milk at 永和豆漿

Other memorable things on my list: Rex's birthday party and got to finally try the famous Fika Fika Cafe. Hope you're all having a happy October!

An Unforgettable Birthday

I thought of ordering Filipino food to share with my friends for my birthday last Saturday, but things didn't go as planned. I had an appendicitis scare on Wednesday night after a horrible LBM which started the day before. I was having fever and had crippling pain on my right side. The symptoms reminded me of a friend who recently underwent an appendectomy, so I headed to Taipei Medical Hosp. Good thing I made it at 7:45, otherwise I will be directed to the ER at past 8pm.

Funny thing was that the doctor did not quite understand what I was saying. I specifically asked for an English-speaking doctor when I registered, so I thought it was going to be ok. When I said I was having LBM, he typed "dyspepsia" and when he learned I'm from the Philippines, he immediately sent me to have a blood test for Hepa-C. Really?! I made a mental note that I'm not going to see this doctor again. I left the hospital with a pack of humongous antacids!!! I tried popping one and after just a few minutes my stomach started to rumble. I drank Sprite and water to replace lost fluids, and went to bed thinking it will just go away. Thank God we were on a typhoon holiday from Tuesday to Wednesday so I didn't have to skip work.

The next day I woke up at 4am and it was the same scenario. I sent a message to my boss saying I need to go see a doctor (again). I tried so hard to find the name of the Filipino-Chinese gastroenterologist in Zhong Shan Hospital, who turns out to be my gynecologist's husband. Good thing I can still recall how he looks when I ran into them in Costco. I had to match the photos one by one with the doctors' Chinese names online.

I think I was the first patient he saw that day. I was so relieved when he said that what I have is gastroenteritis from the now-famous rotavirus here in Taiwan. He chuckled when I told him about my experience with the other doctor, it was an odd miscommunication he said. He prescribed some meds, checked if I have swelling on my right side, then he took another blood exam to confirm that it was not appendicitis. He gave me a list of what to eat and what not to eat for a week. He sent me off and he was even joking that I should avoid eating buffets for now ("no 吃到飽  okay?" hehe).

So that was how I started my birthday celebration... an appendicitis scare, a trip to the doctor, and a week of 'clean eating' (no birthday cake for the birthday girl). Friends and colleagues tried to keep me alive by sending over food and fruits (I could only eat apple so I had tons of apple in the fridge).

I alternated lugaw, white bread, plain rice with soup and ma-hu for almost a week. Thank you, church family, friends and colleagues for celebrating with me and for eating all the cakes!

But the best birthday present I received from the heavens (apart from my 28th year of life here on earth) was the approval of my permanent residency here in Taiwan... finally after 7 long years and one month (today to be exact). It was mailed to me the same day I went to the hospital, and I received it two days after my birthday. I was in tears when I opened the mail... I felt all the hard work, will and determination that came with the piece of plastic card. Thank You, Lord for everything!!! I prayed for this so hard (harder than I do for prince charming to find me, because #priorities first hahaha) and asked all of my close friends to join me in prayer.

I'm grateful for friends and loved ones who made my birthday extra special, my heart was too full that day I thought it was going to burst :)

An unforgettable birthday indeed!

My Cousin's Wedding

I was in Manila for my cousin's wedding last week. It was super timely that they decided to have it during the 4-day Mid-autumn Holiday in Taiwan more commonly known as Mooncake Festival; that way I didn't have to file for a long leave. I was deeply moved that my cousin asked me to be a part of her entourage. I know she has a lot of close friends during high school to college days so I told her it's okay if she has other people in mind. Thank you, Gine, for thinking of me and letting me be a part of your special day. Your wedding also served as an opportunity for us to spend time with the family, to bond with cousins and relatives I have not seen in ages, and to get all dolled up for the occasion.

Blog readers in Manila, the wedding of my cousin may be a bit familiar to you. I chose photos with our side of the family so the couple can still enjoy some privacy :)

My uncle Boy, dad's youngest brother, tried his best not to cry but he sobbed like a little boy when the groom lifted his bride's veil to kiss her after being proclaimed husband and wife.

You're blessed to have found one another. Dear WRC, please please take good care of my cousin. I can't wait to host the two of you here in Taipei.

Our baby cousin Rob was my partner. He was very emotional the entire time because he is really close to his sister. They are business partners, partners in everything. The two have such an admirable sibling relationship.

We only get to dress up once in a while so we kept this polaroid with us. It would have been nice if my brother James was around... but I don't think we would all fit inside the frame, just look at my dad and my brother posing sideways :)

I was delighted when my cousin told me she invited one of my best friends, Joy, to her wedding. The two of them worked together in Green Media Group, DLSU's events org. Joy originally thought of crashing the wedding haha! Thank you, Joyerz for delivering the cupcakes for the bridal shower!!!

I loved loved loved our make up. I asked the make-up artist to create a natural look, and she did a wonderful job. My mom looked so radiant! If only I can replicate what the artist did, pero paglagay pa lang ng foundation sablay na ako.

It is very seldom that we get together as a family specially now that we're all grown up, but when we do, we try to make the most out of it. Until the next wedding!

7 Lessons in 7 years

Staying strong since 2009 

In 2009, after a short stint working as a writer-researcher in Eat! Bulaga (yes, I'm serious, people would often laugh thinking I'm joking!), I decided to apply for graduate studies and a scholarship that will not make my parents shell out money. It was around June when I received the acceptance letter from one of Taiwan's universities, and weeks later, the scholarship application results were announced. I was granted a 2-year full scholarship from the Taiwan representative office (TECO) in Manila and was set to leave home early September. I was 20 years old.

My mom refused to talk to me weeks before I left. She didn't want me to go and insisted I continue working in Manila. My dad on the other hand was happy that I received the scholarship and said it would give me a chance to hone my Chinese skills (and 'my being Chinese', exact words of my a-peh- uncle, dad's elder brother).

But my mom had no choice. She kept quiet while I processed my papers in school and other documents required for my student visa. I knew she was really sad. And then I asked her to accompany me to buy my luggage few weeks before the flight. I remember going to MOA with her and eating lunch in complete silence. 

They dropped me off at the airport. My college barkada arrived few minutes later to give me a surprise farewell. After checking in and giving everyone a hug, I went straight to line up to the immigration. I tried my best not to look back. I sent a message before boarding the plane and tears wouldn't stop from falling. 

I landed Taipei seven years ago today. I cried myself to sleep every single night for almost 2 weeks during that September of 2009. Crying while praying, while texting my parents, while Skype-ing with them, while taking a shower. I Skyped every day after class to tell them how my day went. When I have dinners with classmates, I tell them I'd be late and sometimes they'd wait for me online. That is how I survived my university years. The first couple of months were difficult, but I learned along the way. And I have never stopped learning since. Every day in this expat life is a learning process, it is like going to a university where your professor is "life" itself.

Here are some lessons I have learned and have taken by heart:

1. Be kind and grateful, always.
It takes little effort to be kind and to say thank you. I learned to help people who are in need as a way of giving back and paying it forward. I could not thank enough the people who helped me during my early days here. There are times that I fail to be nice or kind, but each time I think of the goodness God has given me through people who show their love and care and I'm reminded of my mission to help others. I've also learned to be appreciative of even the littlest of things. Here in Taiwan everyone says thank you to bus drivers when they reach their stop. I've developed the same habit of thanking them and even the ah yi's or aunties who clean the office and security guards who look after us. This is a throwback photo of a thoughtful classmate's gift to me when she learned it was my birthday:

2. When in doubt, Google (and have a lot of patience).
After graduation, I didn't have a big group of Taiwanese friends to guide me through job search, apartment hunting etc. They were all busy with their thesis so I was shy to bother them. I Googled everything and was able to find job banks, and a local Craiglist. It took so much time to read (and backread) threads about living in Taiwan but I guess it's all worth it. I found my apartment online too after checking out almost 13 places. I remember crying inside the bus while watching the rain pour because I was just too exhausted to house-hunt. I now laugh when I look back and remember those days. Chasing Pavements was the theme song of my life back then. 

3. Be open and adaptable.
Being an expat will introduce you to different kinds of people- a multitude of colors, cultures, races, religions, values. At 20, I found it hard to adjust but I slowly learned to keep an open mind and to apply the Filipino value of 'pakikisama' or camaraderie. Pakikisama will take you a long way. That and a couple hundred ounces of patience hehe. I made great friends during my university years- a Slovak, Korean, American, German, French, Singaporean, Indonesian to name a few- with Asians being my closest friends (I don't know, maybe we think alike?)

4. Take care of yourself.
Because no one else will. Lately I've been gobbling up Vitamin C tablets. We've been looking after a friend in the hospital and I could not help but feel bad for her. Like me, she's also an expat working here without her family. Imagine having to stay in the hospital alone most days when friends can only get to visit at night. I know it can also happen to me so as much as possible I try to eat healthy to avoid getting sick, and to always be extra careful wherever I go or whatever I do. I will not forget that near-death experience in 2012 when I slipped and hit my head on the wooden headboard. I was so dizzy but still went to work. I remember being so afraid to sleep that night because I might not wake up anymore. I think I even wrote some goodbye letters! Silly but true!

5. Have a constant group of friends.
"No man is an island" sounds so cliche, but it holds true. We all need someone to lean on to, or have a random dinner with when we had an awful day at work. My "Taipei constants" consist of my fellow Filipino TECO-scholar friends, my Wenshan housemates, and people from my church family. We run to each other when we schedule a trip to Costco, or if we go on long vacations and we need someone to pay our rent or phone bills on our behalf, or if we have little milestones to celebrate. It feels really nice to have them around.
Last week's get together, missing Hana and the Gatmaitans!

6. Keep in touch with family and friends back home.
My life relied so much on Yahoo Messenger and Skype back in 2009. 3G was not as widely-used then. I only signed up for 3G service when I started working in 2011 and availed of a Blackberry phone. Now things are easier with Viber, Whatsapp and Facetime. An expat friend once told me she envies how I'm still close to my friends back home and even quipped that maybe it's because I'm a communications graduate and I love communicating. I was bewildered at her remark and told her it has nothing to do with being a Communication major. I said it takes so much effort to maintain and nurture friendships, and if they are truly important to you, you will go the extra mile to at least be with them even virtually. (Screenshot taken during my 21st birthday in 2009)

7. Pray. Your faith will keep you strong.
I still wonder how I managed to thrive and survive even after 7 long years. It must really be the grace of God. My faith in Him has strengthened every fiber of my being. I have grown so much, not only emotionally but also spiritually. I'm beyond grateful for everything- for all the storms, sunshines, sunsets, and rainbows that come my way. I will use every opportunity I have to serve and magnify His name, for all my life.

Happy 7 years, Taipei! (Buti pa tayo may anniversary! Hahaha!)