Another lazy Sunday afternoon at home and sunlight is filtering through a crinkled-glass window creating a soft, hazy, yellow glow that’s perfect for a nap. Though tempting, I knew I needed to plan my lessons and opted to leave the too comfortable apartment. So Pete and I decided to stretch our legs and brains and walked to a new cafe. With no expectations, aside from a hot cup of coffee and a chair, I entered hiiibirdie and so began my obsession.

The exterior of hiiibirdie.

*Full disclosure: hiiibirdie isn’t in Taipei, but in the surrounding suburb of Linkou. Regardless, my adoration for this place transcends labels so I will include in my Taipei Cafe series.

As I slid the flimsy wooden door to the right, I entered a larger-than-expected room and was immediately greeted by a generous amount of sunlight cascading over the wooden furniture and the slightly cracked concrete floor. As I watched the sun rays dance over mismatched chairs, the smell of lingering caramelized sugar reached me.

A few trepid steps inside, a kind apron-adorned employee asked us to sit down then placed the menu, housed in a soft light brown leather notebook, in front of us. Not sure what to order, I took a moment to absorb my surroundings.

I turned my head to the right and took note of the 12-foot high ceiling the color of rusted cement that reflected the warm orange and brown hues found among the quaint decor. Though none of the chairs matched, there was a symmetry in their varying shades of wooden browns and yellows, rusted white, and black which combined into a sweet effect.

I then spotted a muted pea green couch with matching arm chairs – all low to the ground and inviting customers to truly rest and relax. From the couch’s vantage point stood two large glass doors that nearly reached the ceiling and welcomed the sun. The doors were left slightly open to let a fraction of the outside breeze and the cafe’s cat inside.

Beyond the window laid a playground and basketball court teeming with running children, chatting families, and dribbling basketballs.

I turned my head to the left and saw a geometric wooden bookshelf fashioned from a contemporary Scandinavian design. The shelving unit was split in half by a large green chalkboard decorated with children’s art, important messages, and the wifi password.

“What are you going to get?” asked Peter and I was instantly snapped back. I walked to the front counter and ordered a Matcha latte, Pete a cup of coffee. Standing there, I saw a dozen glass jars filled with coffee beans from around the world ready to be ground and used with a ceramic pour over set. The barista asked us to smell each bean to help decide which one is best to drink.

Behind the wood slated counter was a small, but well used kitchen where they make all of their desserts. Even from our seat, the pots, pans, ovens and utensils are all visible adding to the cozy home effect which made this place even more charming.

The desserts are then shown off to right of the counter in a mini display. Inside were apple pies, lemon tarts, honey glazed cakes, and Matcha cake.

Here’s a Matcha latte served on a cute wooden plate and matching wooden spoon.
French Toast Breakfast, complete with Bacon, cubed orange and grapes, salad, and a cup of refillable coffee.

Since this first visit, I’ve returned to hiiibirdie countless times. It’s genuinely my favorite weekend brunch spot to enjoy a pour over, Matcha latte, French toast brunch, or just a slice of pie. Not only do I admire the craft and care for their food and drinks, but I love the quiet and spacious atmosphere. Sitting there drinking a latte and reading a book on my Kindle, I am always transported to a flourishing green countryside where the birds chirping, children laughing, grass swaying in the wind’s hushed blows combine into that rare song of pleasure and bliss.

5/5 cups of coffee!

Wild Mii Safari Cafe

For nearly a year, I’ve chewed on the idea of writing a series about my favorite cafes in Taipei. I’ve been hesitant in the name of ‘research,’ but the time has come.

Before I dive into the inaugural post of my Taipei Cafe series, I want to let ya’ll know that no one is paying me. I am doing this because a) I love cafes b) I want to write my experiences to reference in the future c) I want to share my experiences so others can potentially enjoy it as well.

Starting the series is WildMii Safari Cafe in Da’an District.

I have walked past this place numerous times en route to Pica Pica (another favorite cafe that I will write about in the future) without giving it much thought. The exterior gives off an overpriced microwave meals vibe. I much prefer a lowkey, tea/coffee focused cafe with ample work space.

Some days, the charms of the unknown whims take over, and you find yourself in a place you had no intention of entering. The original plan was to complete a photo editing project at Pica Pica, but without hesitation, I walked into WildMii. It silently called me, and I obeyed.

Compared to the cold, spring rain, the warmly lit interior was immediately inviting. I asked for a teapot of Osmanthus Tea then sat down at a glossy, black-tiled table next to an outlet. This is a loose-leaf, caffeine-free tea that I typically order after work for a warm treat.

Once seated, I looked towards the entrance and saw an impressive shelving unit made from black iron forged into geometric shapes, with wooden squares nestled inside at intermittent intervals. Within those wooden cubes were, what I assumed, empty glass tanks. The shelves seemed like a cheap attempt at modern, Instagram-ready decor that I find lame.

Waiting for my tea to brew and procrastinating on starting my project, I stood next to a window to watch the rain when a dark, slow movement caught my attention. “What’s this?” I audibly gasped. “Turtles…HERE?!”

Recalling the name of the cafe, I skeptically walked back to the feature wall for a closer inspection. Inside the glass tanks were real, living, zoo animals!

A perched Chameleon, strongly resembling a disgruntled grandfather, refused to make eye contact with me. I walked past a deathly still tarantula. The disinterest was mutual. I continued past two sleeping sugar gliders cuddling with one another inside of a blue vase, and beyond them were waking mice, stretching and pushing one another.
Each tank revealed animals more surprising than the last. A case with hiding hedgehogs, slumbering ground squirrels, a bored gecko!

I looked back at the three other customers focused on their computer screens and wanted to scream “STOP what you are doing! There are cute animals to admire!” Instead, I continued enjoying the zoo alone.

I was compelled to finally sit when the barista placed the tea set next to my laptop. Equipped with a 3-minute sand timer, he instructed me to pour the tea into a warming vessel, which can be refilled at no additional cost, once the last crimson grain falls.

The presentation and the tea were delightful!

The interior is 1930’s glitz meets toned down French patio, with a variety of ferns, wicker and iron chairs, taxidermy decor, and a projector showing a slideshow of watercolor portraits of young women and animals. There was plenty of seating with large work-friendly tables, multiple outlets on each wall, courtesy phone charging station, free wifi, and water. I can certainly see myself coming back here in the future to work and sketch the animals.

I give WildMii, 5/5 cups of coffee.

4 Day Weekend

Last week, we had a four-day weekend, for a historical and tragic reason. 2-2-8 is a country-wide holiday to observe the massacre on February 28, 1947. This year it landed on a Thursday. In Taiwan, rather than getting one day off, the schedule changes to enable an extended weekend. Meaning, the previous Saturday (February 23) our school had class as usual. This allowed us to take off Friday (March 1) in addition to February 28, totaling a four-day weekend.

I love taking advantage of built in vacation, but I still felt burned out from the big trip to Australia. I wanted to see something new, but not at any large expense of money or time. Pete stepped up and planned our mini-weekend getaway, which was local, fun, and affordable.

Thursday – Wulai

Wulai is a nearby village south of Taipei, famous for its aboriginal culture, cuisine, and hot springs. It was convenient to access as the bus stop is in front of my apartment and the ride only lasts 30 minutes.

As soon as we stepped off the bus we didn’t stop walking for almost 7 hours. We walked through old street packed with aboriginal clothes, foods, and drinks. We walked across suspension bridges overlooking the slow-moving teal blue river. We walked through a forest trail lined with ferns and botany unbeknownst to us. We even saw a monkey sitting in the tree tops above us!

An hour shy of check-in into our AirBnb, we decided to rent a hot spring room for an hour and a half which only cost us each $12. Behind the door labeled “My Room” situated a queen size bed and an excessively large bathroom with a tiled Jacuzzi tub, television, toilet, and shower.

After adequately bathing off the sweat and sores from our walk, we packed up and walked down the street to our AirBnb, which was an even nicer hot spring hotel.

A cozy bed garbed in crimson comforter and a heart-shaped lamp greeted us as we entered the room. Across from the bed sat a flat screen tv, framed by the window which separated the bedroom and bathroom. Walking up two steps and past the toilet we entered the *spa*.

This room had a strikingly woodsy yet whimsy atmosphere that really captured my heart. The floor was a well oiled honey-brown wood that slightly warmed our toes. Next to the sink sat two deep obsidian hot tubs. The larger tub had a seat and could comfortably fit four people. The smaller rectangular tub had no seat so you could really submerge in the water. The view beyond the hot tub was a low-lying window that outlined the surrounding forest and river. A wooden canopy blocked the sun and rain, but left an opening where the breeze, the sound of croaking frogs, and the moving river could join us.

For hours we sipped on rice wine, watched a movie, refilled the tub with scalding hot water, dipped our toes into the cold tub, and laughed and laughed. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Friday – Taipei

The following morning, we returned to Taipei early to work on personal projects and have a stay-at-home day. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of our meals that day.

Lunch – Zoca Pizzeria, the best Italian pizza in Taiwan.

(Photo is courtesy of Zoca Pizzeria Facebook page)

Dessert – Heritage Bakery. I ate a classic carrot cake that was dense and sweet. Pete had a date tart that was crunchy and delightful!

(Photo courtesy of Heritage Bakery Facebook page)

Saturday – Luodong / Peter’s Birthday

Peter is the luckiest person I know. All week the grey skies promised rain and cold winds. Except for his birthday. There were no clouds, there was no chance of rain, and the sun shone with enough force that only a small sweater was required.

We paid $100 NT ($3 USD) for a bus from Daplingling Station (a block away from my apartment) to Luodong, a rural city east of Taipei. From there, we took the TRA one stop south to Dongshan . A bike rental shop located outside the station was swarmed by weekend riders wanting to be outside on this perfect day.

We rented two bicycles for 4 hours which cost $250 NT ($8 USD) each, then we set off on the river side trail. The paved road was narrow for only two parallel riders at a time. It cut through quaint farmland and bustling, colorful parks. We shared the trail with families walking, couples on tandem bikes, and groups sharing bicycle carriages. The trail led us past the small farms all the way to the shore.

The smooth, charcoal colored sand felt so refreshing on our hot feet. The waves hit the shore fiercely making it quite dangerous to swim. We rolled up our pants and waddled knee-deep, challenging the ocean to a speed test…We quickly got splashed to the butt.

The sand did have a quick-sand quality, where areas were exceptionally deep. If we jumped down with enough force, our legs submerged up to our calves.

After returning our bikes, we traveled back to Luodong to explore the night market. This market is situated alongside a large park, with ample seating. We watched a live band perform Taiwanese hits that had the crowd singing along, and a few interesting songs from Maroon 5.

On the far left is a fish paste mixed with sausage, wrapped in pig intense and fried. In the middle is a boiled egg also mixed with fish paste and deep fried. On the far right is an egg dish also fried. They’re all covered in a combination of wasabi and sweet n sour sauce.

Sunday – Lazy Day

Not much to report here, besides a good ol’ day of doing nothing! A classic way to end a fun weekend.

First Acupuncture Treatment

As I started up the five flights to my apartment on Tuesday evening, my left knee tightened and pulsed with a slight pain. “That’s strange,” I thought and continued climbing. Halfway to my room, I paused and inhaled to sooth the throbbing. Five steps remaining to my apartment, I succumbed to relying on my right leg to bend, straighten, and carry me home.

Six years ago, leaving work later than normal on a rainy night, I rode my scooter home on slick roads. A car in front of me stopped abruptly, and I collided into it with enough force that my shoes flew off and the visor of my helmet cracked off and shot out of sight.

Fortunately, there was no serious damage, but I was 20 and stupid and never sought real treatment afterwards. I convinced myself my body was fine.

Consequently, my knee pains return from time to time. I’ve given up on activities with excessive knee bending, like running or dancing, which makes this week’s pain unusual: I have done nothing out of the ordinary.

Jokingly, I complained to my co-worker about being an old lady whose joints hurt because of the weather. He recommended that I see an acupuncture doctor, and he offered to help me translate. It’s unbelievable the extent people have helped me in this country. Seriously, I will be eternally grateful.

The office was a compact but orderly room. The front desk faced the glass door entrance, and behind it stood the nurse who assisted with registration. To the left of the desk, sat seven wicker chairs along a blank, white wall. The space between the chairs and front desk was so narrow only one person could pass at a time. I was surprised when I noticed that four patients in the waiting room with faintly perceptible needles decorating their ailed flesh – their hands, ears, neck, and ankles. I didn’t realize the acupuncture would be such a public affair.

The wicker chairs faced into the doctor’s office. There was an opening connecting the two rooms with no door, framing patients’ treatment inside. The spartan office had one desk with a computer, a skeleton, two chairs, an alignment table, and a blue curtain for additional privacy. I watched him perform “the dance” to a boy of 14.  (My coworker warned me that the doctor may ask me to move my arms and body for reasons unknown.) The doctor stood closely behind him and guided his arms to form ellipses over his head and across his toes. As the performance ensued, I looked left and right to see if others were watching, and they were completely unphased.

The doctor spoke intermediate English, so I felt grateful my co-worker helped translate. I explained my  history and my current pain. The doctor recommended acupuncture and a hip realignment.

I return to the waiting area, rolled up my tight jeans to expose my knee, and the doctor swiftly inserted five needles around my knee cap. For 20 minutes I divided my attention to my knee and the woman next to me who sat in deep meditation with needles lining her scalp, neck, knees, and hands.

When the doctor removed the needles, he motioned me into his office. He asked that I stand without my shoes on and not move. He gently grabbed my right hand and raised it to the ceiling. “Oh, here we go…The dance,” I thought. He then guided my right arm above and behind my head and asked that I look up. With a fluid motion he pushed my arm in front of my body where I bent my torso perpendicular to my legs. He repeated this process a few times on my left and right side. His goal is still a mystery to me, but it wasn’t nearly as strange as I thought it would be. Honestly, I enjoyed following my breath and creating unconventional movements in his office. It felt like contemporary partner dance.

Following the dance, I laid on the table and he adjusted my hips. As always, the right leg was easy and it felt like a nice stretch, but my left leg was a sad state. It’s so rigid and stiff and felt like it wouldn’t budge from his incorrect alignment. I mouthed a few unpleasant phrases as he shifted bones into their correct order.

Tying up my Vans the assistant handed me two surprisingly spiced fragrant pads to place on my knee for two hours. The scent reminded me of “Chinese medicine” soup, but it was the actual Chinese medicine. She then asked for a shocking $150 NT ($5 USD) for the appointment. In disbelief of the cost, I double checked my receipt and noticed my insurance covered $450 ($14 USD) and the rest was on me. Wow, affordable healthcare!

I left the office feeling a bit confused and drained, similar to a post-chiropractic experience. On the bus ride home kept thinking “please let this be the last time I see a doctor about my injury,” so let’s hope and see!

Happy New Year!

This year, there was not as much dancing as I would have liked, because I was sick. Well, I’m not entirely sure if I had a cold or suffered from extreme allergies. Either way, I sneezed over 200 times in 48 hours, used an entire packet of toilet paper to blow my nose, and breathed through my mouth so much that the tip of my teeth were a different shade of white.

A few weeks ago, Peter’s co-worker, Toby, invited us to eat New Year’s Eve dinner at a restaurant on Yangmingshan Mountain. He coordinated the entire event: he reserved a table, and ordered taxis between the restaurant and Taipei, and even ordered the food for us.

While driving up the winding road, a slight drizzle fell upon us. I walked onto a slick patio, a little disgruntled by the fact we were going to eat outside in this cold and windy weather. The annoyance of the unpleasant weather left my mind as I sat down and viewed the luminous cityscape.

Still, a beautiful view doesn’t warm you up when you’re battling a potential cold. Thankfully, under the circular, concrete table was a heating lamp. I bundled up in my scarf, placed a hand warmer under my shirt, and sat as close to Peter as possible.

We ate dinner with Toby’s girlfriend, sister, and friend. Together the seven of us shared spicy Kung Pao Chicken, Thai style mushrooms, fried tofu in a peanut sauce, boiled cabbage, sauteed beef, and fish. There were so many plates of food and drinks there was no space on the table!

After feasting, we had three hours until the count down. Toby and his friends played a phone game together that is reminiscent of League of Legends. Peter, Scott and I talked, drank, and played our own silly version of Taboo. I was having fun drawing doodles of everyone in the dark!

A few minutes before countdown, everyone in the restaurant was given a sparkler. We lit up our own by touching our neighbor’s fire, and shared the flame.

We watched from atop a mountain the array of fireworks exploding green, red, white, purple, and blue all over Taipei. Taipei 101 was visible, but was shrouded in clouds and smoke so the fireworks weren’t breathtaking. At first, I thought “this is it” we’ll just see hundreds of mini fireworks from far. Not necessarily disappointing, but not what I expected. At that moment, a blinding white firework burst 50 feet away from us, shocking us foreigners.

Taiwan style fireworks are being so close the smoke is suffocating, and you can feel the heat of the flame on your face. It was equal parts terrifying, exhilarating, and confusing. For 10 minutes, enormous, colorful flames erupted above our heads, forcing us to look directly above us, but covering our eyes because it was as though we were looking at the sun. I could not contain my screams or my laughter.

Joanne’s bag: a casualty of NYE fireworks!

I cannot believe I’ve been in Taiwan for a few days shy of a year. Many things have changed that it’s exhausting! I’m excited to keep changing, growing, learning, and living!

Christmas in Taiwan

For the second time in my life, I celebrated Christmas abroad.

The weeks connecting December 2012 and January 2013 my best friend and I clumsily and drunkenly traversed through England and France. We shared beds, couches, dorm room floors of college friends, but we didn’t care! We were 20, resilient, and extremely broke.

On Christmas Day, Hayato and I made spaghetti in Laura’s one-person dorm room in Montpelier, France. Three 20-year-olds crammed into a tiny studio dorm room cooking dinner was so messy, even before Hurricane Hayato spilled an entire plate of spaghetti onto the floor. This was also the night where we experienced a Christmas Miracle: a package of guacamole mix whose flavor competed with fresh guacamole.

Those first three weeks outside of the United States, I experienced a multitude of emotions: anxiety, sleepiness, grumpiness, excitement, confusion, fear, exhaustion, sneeziness, and relief. Remorse for skipping Christmas never joined the lineup.

Perhaps my age, sobriety, and distance from home explains why I missed Christmas with my family so much this year.

While on the train to Christmas lunch at an Italian Pizza Restaurant, I felt my chest dampen with the realization that I won’t have a “normal” Christmas filled with my friends and family, dancing, singing, decorating, and baking. Instead, I would only have this single lunch, where most of the people I invited couldn’t attend. Walking to the restaurant with Peter and Scott, I couldn’t shake the sadness.

My mood shifted as soon as I sat down and the three of us shared pizza topped with Brie, diced potatoes, Italian sausage, and a Caprese salad. Between the jokes, laughter, and stories a sparkle of the Christmas spirit revived in my heart. Nothing compared to home, but special and sweet in its own way.

My school does not observe Christmas, so all of the foreign teachers are expected to report to work. Come Sunday the 23rd, I planned to go to school, but a persistent voice kept running through my mind saying, “Bitch, don’t go to work. Do not go to work!” I decided to listen to her, and on Monday I asked for Christmas off. Best decision of 2018.

After work on Christmas Eve, I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant to surprise Peter with a Christmas Eve meal: a carne asada burrito, and a Christmas special complete with a tamale, Mexican rice, mole with shrimp, and macaroni with ham. We bought hot chocolate, Bailey’s, downloaded “The Grinch”, and played Super Smash Bros with Scott until 2 AM.

For 30 minutes, I spoke to my parents who told relentless sex-jokes, and debuted their new Christmas song, “Spank me Daddy.” SMDH, some things never change. When my mom handed the phone to Meme I watched her bounce with giddiness on the pixelated screen. Her unrestrained excitement reminded me that she is THE #1 human in my life.

On Christmas morning, we awoke to a Christmas miracle: a leaked episode of Ru Paul’s All Stars on YouTube in *amazing* quality. We watched it while cleaning, painting, drinking more hot chocolate and coffee, and waiting for Scott to finish talking to his parents so we can eat lunch.

Following our silly morning of dancing, singing, and watching “The Grinch, ” the three of us biked to the mall to eat at Kura Sushi where we feasted upon 40 plates of sushi. My god, I could barely walk out of the restaurant I was so damn full.

We walked through the mall to digest our meal, and Peter and I were sucked into Color Smith, a handmade Taiwanese back pack store. Since my backpack broke the day before, I needed a new one ASAP. We had no intention of purchasing matching book bags, but that’s just what we did! Same style, different colors. Mine is yellow, and Pete’s is brown.

We topped off the day listening to hip hop Christmas and playing Smash Bros until a nap forced my eyelids shut.

Peter and I did our best to make it *feel* like Christmas, and I think we succeeded. It’s not the same as reading a book in my parent’s living room seated between the Christmas tree and the fire place. But sitting next to Pete on my futon watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas while eating a Subway sandwich was still pretty damn fun. A little strange, a little different, but still full of love.

I’m forever grateful that I had special people with me to create our own version of Christmas.

Teaching is Hard

It’s two weeks before finals, and it’s unfortunate to admit my life feels like this cliche of a comic.

K.C. Green Gunshow Comic “On Fire”

Thinking, and now writing, the following sentence feels very 13-year-old Michelle who is unable to express deep emotions with eloquent words, but here it goes anyway. Teaching sucks.

Dealing with 15-18 year-old teenagers is exhausting. They stare blankly into space, ignore your questions, sleep, and worst of all, don’t try.

Dealing with 12-13 year-old kids is also exhausting. They’re loud, energetic, and require a lot of guidance. Thankfully, they try. They may cry, “teacher, too hard!” but they do their work (for the most part).

The worst part about teaching is how thankless it is. I stay up late, come in early, work on weekends, and try so damn hard to make lessons somewhat enjoyable. I enter class with a positive attitude, then some smart ass walks in 7 minutes late because “I was in the bathroom” who then continues to talk to his friends the entire time and/or sleep. Y’all, I thought I was patient but it’s a whole other level when dealing with thankless children. I don’t know how many times I’ve said the following line, “I’m not doing this for me. I can speak English, so wake up!”

With finals around the corner, my workload has tripled. I leave work breathless and dizzy because I can’t even keep up with my never-ending to-do list. I feel like I am literally drowning in work. Kids don’t care. They’re clueless!

In the past, my terrible work experiences were mitigated with funny, confessional chats with co-workers. However, I don’t have that relationship with my current coworkers.

Backstory: While creating our midterm exams two months ago, one co-worker admitted that he “purposely belittled me” because, and I quote, he wanted “to teach me a lesson.” He interpreted my proactive behavior of creating two tests in one week as “standoffish,” “rude,” and “pushed him to the sidelines.” Because his feelings were hurt, he decided to be condescending, raise his voice to me, and not listen to any of my suggestions. He never thanked me. Instead, I got an ear-full of criticisms. Yeah, so. I don’t talk to that guy.

My other co-worker is really chill, but there is still some distance between us. He has this “no-new friends” attitude, so I respect his space.

On top of that, I go home to a lonely, single bedroom. My life feels like a sad cycle of:
meh-annoyed-pissed-quiet-lonely-meh-annoyed-REALLY PISSED-quiet-lonely.

*Deep breath*

Things feel especially difficult now. Once finals are done, and everything is graded I know things will be better. It’s just hard. I envisioned teaching as a breezy lifestyle, but it is not.

I’ve always respected and admired my teachers for their guidance, but I am now in awe of those who made this their career. This shit’s hard, y’all! Please, go hug a teacher friend, buy them their favorite coffee, check in on them, buy them a cake, and tell them thank you and I love you!