Taipei Series: Strawberry Season

The first and last time I went strawberry picking was more than 10 years ago (14, to be exact). I was in sixth grade when we brought Auntie Emi to Baguio during her annual vacation to the Philippines. Auntie Emi is my aunt based in the US who stays with us every time she's back home. I can barely recall how the place looked like, but I'm certain we went to a large field carrying baskets.

Last Saturday I sort of re-lived that experience here in Taipei. The months of December to early March is strawberry season, and most convenience stores would have shelves specifically assigned for strawberry-flavored items (yes- even strawberry milk tea). Taiwan gets really cold during the dead of winter and cools down a bit in spring, making it ideal for  growing strawberries.

The place we went to was quite reminiscent of Baguio because of the winding roads, but still accessible via MRT. We got off at Neihu Station and took a shuttle bus. We told the driver we're going to the strawberry farms, like most passengers. The farms have been in Taipei for quite awhile but it was my first time to visit over the weekend. We chose a random farm and asked for scissors and baskets. The farm we went to did not charge us any entrance fee, but there were some who asks a consumable amount of NT$100 per person. I think they deduct this to the total price of your strawberries. After picking, the owners will weigh the baskets and tell you the amount you need to pay. Ours cost a little over NT$100. These are my friends Hana and Kristine in the photo. Us girls had a fun time choosing the most perfectly-red strawberries to go in our baskets.

The area also had several other attractions. We walked a bit further to reach the Double Heart Lake and the Bishan Suspension Bridge. The place is so photogenic, I would recommend tourists to go explore this part of Taipei. The only difficulty we encountered was going back to the MRT station. The shuttle bus gets packed upon reaching the last stop and waiting time for the next shuttle would take around 20-30 minutes. We were so close to giving up and started hiking down to the station, but God works in mysterious ways! A taxi with passengers on board passed by, and Kristine was quick enough to gesture to the driver, telling him to come pick us up after dropping the passengers. I don't know how Kristine gestured, but Hana and I were in disbelief. We said the driver won't come and we better go, but after 5 minutes, here comes Mr. Driver. He saved us from what could have been a difficult 30-minute hike. Now that's believing in the goodness of humanity. We owe you one, Kristine!

Hope you're all having a great week! I shall now go and dunk these strawberry babies in condensed milk.

Happy 2015!

I'm huddled under my fleece blanket as I type. It's cold outside so I had to buy my bbq pork bowl meal to-go and eat it at home. I savored every spoonful and downed it with hot brown sugar milk tea. I was hungry after doing two loads of laundry, ironing sheets and changing my beddings. Life is now back to normal after the Christmas and New Year festivities.

I can finally sit down and reflect on my 2014. I've been arriving home early and going to bed on time this whole week, which was almost close to impossible when the month of December came. I've had a quiet Saturday so I thought it's time to gather some of my thoughts and write down the highlights of my year.

On faith
During the 9-Day Novena to the Holy Spirit in June, I was moved to tears one evening. I still remember conversing with Him and pouring my heart out. Crying made me feel better and I felt warm right after, as if someone gave me a tight embrace. There are struggles that I don't write about here in this blog. There are days too when I feel crushed and broken, but when I think about God and His love, I feel whole again. I know the strength that I have comes from Him alone, and so everyday I say my gratitude in prayer and ask Him to use my life, to glorify Him and serve others. This year, I hope to grow more in my faith and become a better person by living His word.

On family 
We were "almost" complete during the last month of 2014. "Almost" because my parents and eldest brother came to Taipei to visit me, but my second elder brother didn't make it. The four days that they were here were the happiest four days of my 2014. It's very rare that we get to spend time together, so I made sure they enjoyed every minute of it. They met my close friends and my "Taipei family." I brought them to several places and enjoyed great meals together. In April, my second brother was on his monthlong annual vacation. We met up in Hong Kong with my mom and did a side trip to Macau. This year, I hope to spend more time with them and celebrate Christmas and New Year together.

On friends
I was home for the Chinese New Year holiday and had the chance to bond with my college girlfriends and high school bestfriends. Monnette and I had a great quality time in Seoul, while I bonded with Monica here in Taipei. I also met a new set of friends, mostly TECO scholars. I'm grateful I have my Filipino group of friends and church mates. Without them, my life will forever focus on work and that will drive me crazy. This year, I look forward to building closer relationship with new friends, and maintain closeness (or be more clingy hehe) with the old ones.

On finances
This part is a work in progress. I still find it hard to fight the urge to swipe or go shopping but I promise I'm working on it. A portion of what I earn now goes to my VUL, health insurance and stocks. Investing has allowed me to spend only a certain amount of money monthly, an amount that is just right for my needs and a little wants. Looking back, I was thinking I should have started this earlier but then I'm more ready to jump into these things now compared to 2-3 years ago. For 2015, I hope to lessen my unnecessary spending and save more. I'm looking into opening an MF account within the year, just to park a little amount of money for the rainy days. I also intend to do and finish the 52-Week Savings Challenge again.

On travels
For my personal travels, I went to Hong Kong in April with my mom and brother, and to Seoul with Monnette in October. I also joined my cousins in Cebu for a mini reunion in July. For work, I flew to Malaysia in January and September, Russia in May, and Oman in November. For 2015, since I want to save up, I will limit myself to visit one particular country for my personal travel. If things pan out, I'll schedule it around April so that by the second half of the year, the piggy bank is already smiling.

On career and others 
Although there are times when I feel like quitting and wanting to book the next flight home, I always remind myself of my goals... and then I shut up hahaha. I still miss working for the paper, the adrenaline rush that comes with breaking news and the hourly deadlines, but for now, I'm ok where I am. I will strive for excellence at work and in my personal life, sige na nga love life included hahaha.

May we all have a happy, and amazing 2015!