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Birthday Weekend 2016

There are few events that I celebrate more than my birthday. Starting in college I had two major parties: Cinco de Mayo and my Birthday. Since then my major events have evolved into a BBQ in the summer, my annual New Year’s Eve Eve party, and of course my Birthday.

This year I had a pleasant surprise of Jimmy showing up out of the blue. He spent he weekend with us and we had a blast. Friday night, I had a party because Saturday I had bought Seven Lions tickets a long time ago. A good number of people came, and on rather short notice so I was pretty pleased with the turn out. Jill even baked me a strawberry mousse cake! It was scrumptious!

The next night, we headed to the Royal Oak Music Theater for the Seven Lions concert. I had bought the pre-sale tickets back in August, so I was pretty stoked since this was my first official EDM concert. I had bought some LED gloves back during Prime Day that I knew would be a problem but I brought them anyways. I got yelled at and had to put them away.

Dan and his oldest joined us for the concert, and I was happy to see him since he couldn’t make it to the party. A lot of us it was our first EDM concert, so we reveled in the experience together.

We had no idea who was opening, and how the night would go. Turns out there were three headliners. Grum, Unlike Pluto, and Pegboard Nerds that each played 1 hour. We felt the energy was pretty low for Grum, but Unlike Pluto was amazing. I was really digging his set and the energy he was putting out. So much so that I bought his album on amazon the next day. Pegboard nerds was very intense. I wasn’t as big a fan of their entire set, but there were definitely certain songs that I enjoyed. I think the bigger issue was every single drop they had was super high energy, and I was just tired after the first 15 min.

Seven Lions came out at midnight. Pat and I were just amazed that the show went on for so long. Most venues usually are done by 11PM, and here was Seven Lions coming out at Midnight. It was daylight savings that weekend, but his set didn’t finish until 1:30 AM. It was AMAZING. That entire show was great.

My group slowly dwindled as the night went on. Jimmy and Dante were the first to go, followed by Katrina. Dan and his kid were next. Ryan stuck it out until about 1:10AM. Pat was my lone companion that made it through the night. It was such a great night. I ended up getting a Seven Lions tank for my next concert.

Let’s see what next year holds!

-Evilmanta

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Taiwan Trip 2016: Final Day

The last day of my Taiwan excursion was spent with Connie & Marissa’s family. We met up at the Songshan MRT station and headed towards Yangmingshan (陽明山) to eat at the Grass Mountain Chateau (草山行館). The weather was a bit inclement and it had just started drizzling, but I thought it was nice. The wind was more problematic than the rain, as it kept catching the umbrellas.

There was a little bit of confusion on how to get there, but eventually we made our way to the restaurant and sat down for a delicious four-course meal.

Each of us opted for a different main course. I chose the Dongpo Pork (東坡肉).

After the meal, we looked around the chalet. It was originally built as a summer home for Chang Kai-Shek. It’s since turned into a museum. In 2007, the chalet was devoured by a fire and 87 years of relics were lost in the blaze. Three years later, a renovation effort was underway in order to preserve a historic site for Taiwan’s culture.

As the weather worsened, we headed back to the city. My aunt decided to take me to a community for military families. My parents would have previously lived in similar housing, and they wanted to show me some of Taiwan’s past.

We looked around, I took some pictures, and everyone got ice cream. After we were done perusing, my cousins had other activities to attend so we bid our farewells. I thanked my family for taking time out of their busy schedules to see me and hoped to see them again!

As the weather worsened, I returned to our AirBNB and prepared my belongings for the long trip home.

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What a great trip. It was especially nice that it was all just friends. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go on such an extended trip that we planned on our own and without “adult supervision”. I look forward to many future trips with my friends to exciting locales.

-Evilmanta

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Taiwan Trip 2016: Day Five

The fifth day was met with a languid atmosphere. After climbing Yangming Mountain (陽明山) we were pretty exhausted. Most of us slept until 10:30-11:00 AM. My calves were the main soreness I was experiencing. Other than that I felt pretty good. It was shaping up to be a pretty relaxed day and our primary one for shopping. Megan (we found out later on) probably overexerted herself as her condition deteriorated throughout the day, and culminated in a fever.

We decided to go to Ding Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) for lunch. We ordered a lot of food. ~$4000NT of food to be exact. We pretty much ordered one of everything on the menu. We were very full afterwards.

 

After we managed to roll ourselves out of the restaurant, we headed towards Eslite Bookstore (誠品書店) at the suggestion of one of Adam’s friends. On the way we found a pretty cute boutique called MaMa. This was our first store in a long line of shopping stops for the day.

We continued onto the Eslite Bookstore, but there was some kind of cultural design expo going on outside, so we stopped in briefly.

We finally made it into the actual mall area, and started some serious shopping. It had multiple floors of shops, all of them pretty unique. We were all pretty satisfied with the options we had.

We entered when it was light out and upon exiting night had descended on us. The consistent 12 hours of day 12 hours of night cycle that happens is pretty interesting. It’s nice to wake up to an already warmed up day, but it’s weird to have it be so dark around 5:30, especially since it felt like summer and we’re not used to that in Michigan.

We continued to Dan Shui (淡水) with the remainder of our day for more shopping. I had been telling Dante about the Condom World (保險套世界) store that was there 10 years ago. We were pleased that they were still in business. It definitely reminded me of Safe Sex Store in Ann Arbor. We walked down Dan Shui Old Street (淡水老街) and finished our shopping day. Yong got a caricature drawn and we headed home.

All in all, a productive day. I got pretty much all the souvenirs I wanted on this day and then some.

-Evilmanta

 

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Taiwan Trip 2016: Day 4

Day four of our trip we were on our own again. We had planned on going hiking, and my aunts suggested going to Yangming Mountain (陽明山) and to climb the Qixing Mountain (七星山). We took the MRT then a bus to get to the Yangming Bus Station. We were pretty hungry, so we grabbed some food at a stand before heading up to the Visitor Center which was a 0.7km hike.

Dante decided to sit the actual mountain hike out, and so we soldiered on without him. It was 1.0km to the trail head, then another 1.4km to the garden at the midway point. At this point my aunts said we could/should turn back. We did not listen, we saw more stairs! We thought it was fine, so we kept going for another 1.0km to the mountain peak. We hiked to both the main peak and the east peak. It was really cool being up there. Unfortunately it was cloudy so the mountain peaks were just shrouded in white. Although I think I prefer that to the heat of the beating sun if it had been clear skies.

I had a rough time going up, but going down was much easier. At the halfway point, one of the locals climbing the mountain told us that it would increase in difficulty twofold. And that at one point there was a 60° incline for the stairs. Getting to the top of the mountain was no joke, but we did it and we felt very accomplished. My fitbit said at that point we had taken ~10,000 steps and had climbed 233 floors of stairs. We made it up and down in 3 hours, so it was roughly a 4 mile trip. We were booking it, because we were afraid it’d get dark while we were ascending/descending so we pushed and we did it!

We hurried back to the bus station and made our way to Beitou (北投) so we could soak in some hot springs water. On our way to Spring Resort we grabbed some KFC for dinner, then met up with Yong and booked a private room (~$4000NT/$125USD). We had it for two hours, and it was fantastic. It was difficulty fitting the five of us in the tub at once, but we did it at one point. It was more a game of rotation as the water was really hot, so people had to get out and would rinse off with some cold water.

When our time was up we headed home, with a quick pit stop at Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) for some grub. Turns out climbing a mountain uses up a lot of calories.

Despite all the hiking, I felt pretty good. No soreness or tiredness really. I slept really well when we got home. Bed and sleep never felt so great.

-Evilmanta

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Taipei, Taiwan Trip 2016: Day 3

My plan to post pictures in real-time faded quickly as our activities drained our energy. But here’s Day 3!

We started off our day with a breakfast run at a 燒餅油條 place near my aunt’s apartment. I was here 10 years ago, and they are still around. Good to see that their business has been good enough to keep ’em around. Definitely one of the better places to get 燒餅油條.

After we ate our fill, we headed out! First stop – Houtong Cat Village! Previously a prosperous coal mining town, it has since declined and become a cat group home. In the past a cat lover volunteer turned the area into a home for abandoned cats. All the cats were pretty friendly, although it was like 90°F out so they were also lazing about. There were remnants of the coal operations that occured in the early 1900s, decaying structures that dot the landscape from its glory days, but the town has since dwindled and the residents fewer.

Our next stop was Shifen (十分). This town was clearly a tourist stop for letting out sky lanterns and seeing the waterfall. One of the bigger waterfalls in Taiwan, it attracted a plethora of people. One of the interesting things to note was that people were allowed on the rails when a train wasn’t incoming – if there was a train inbound, red lights would go off on both sides of the rails warning everyone to get out of the way. There was a shaky but interesting rope bridge (suspension?) that we braved to get a good view of the valley.

We grabbed some food at some random places along the street and headed out to the waterfall. It was a bit of a hike and it was really hot out. Dante and Megan bought parasols to shield themselves from the sun’s attempt to cook them. We reached the waterfall, and it was gorgeous. The mist from the area was also extremely soothing and we lingered around enjoying the scenery for a while.

After we walked back, we got back on the train to head to Jingtong. We (re: Adam & Dante) actually held up the train by a couple minutes, and my aunt had to play the foreigner card to get them to hold the train for us. We headed to Jingtong Old Street to check it out and see the 360° LED screen light show at the old police station. Unfortunately the recent typhoons knocked out a lot of the LEDs, so they were in the process of repairing it. It was getting dark, so we bought some sky lanterns, and got to work writing on them with a calligraphy brush. Each of the colors represented different things: Blue for wishes, white for health, pink for love, and yellow for prosperity. We chose to have a common phrase on our lanterns, 馬到成功, which translates to “achieve immediate success”. On Adam’s phone, however, the first translation was:

Be victorious the moment the battle steeds arrive-win success immediately upon arrival; gain an immediate victory; win instant success

After a long day we headed back to our apartment, and saw a cultural theater show going on by the train station. We dropped off our stuff, and headed back to Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市) to grab some Black Pepper buns (胡椒餅) that the night market is famous for. When we got in line there were only maybe 8 people ahead of us. One of the ladies ordered 19 buns. By the time we got up to the front, the line had grown exponentially. It was ridiculous how many people were waiting.

It was a pretty great day. Not as much walking as the previous day, but still a lot of fun. The next day will be without my aunt’s guidance, so it should be interesting.

-Evilmanta

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Taipei, Taiwan Trip 2016: Day 2

Second day in Taiwan! My aunt met up with us and took us around the northern shore of Taiwan. We hit up Shimen Dong (石門洞), Guihou Fishing Harbor (龜吼漁港), Yeliu Geopark (野柳地質公園), and finished up at Keelung Night Market (廟口夜市). It was a jampacked day and hot as hell. 

Today I only managed to take 546 pictures. That’s a 25% decrease. I was only able to pare them down to 119 pictures for this post for. So higher quality pictures?

We started the day at 7:30 AM when we headed out to the 燒餅油條豆漿 place I wanted to go to on Day One. On our way we passed through a street market where they sold all mananer of vegetables and meats. I remarked how I wish there was something similar in Michigan, where any day of the week you could just go down and buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats for your day.

We left early enough that there was still food left, so that was great. We ordered enough food for 5 people, and spent $305NT. I love breakfast here.

After we ate our fill, we started our ~2 hour trip to Shimen Dong. After a smooth MRT ride, followed by a bumpy bus ride on mountain trails, we arrived to a pretty nifty stone arch. The area was really picturesque, but aside from hanging around the arch, there wasn’t much to do so we took our pictures and continued on.

The trip to Guihou Fishing Harbor took another hour and a half, and we had to endure most of it standing on the bus. We were stopping here to eat since it was crab season! Upon arrival, the heat of the day started to take its toll. We took refuge in a bubble tea stand, while we waited for our table at the seafood restaurant next door.

When our table was ready my aunt ordered a bunch of food for us, and we were treated to quite the feast. All of the seafood was so fresh and succulent. My aunt told us that most of the shellfish that we ate is fished from the sea and lands quickly into the tanks of the restaurant. Most of the seafood there doesn’t sit for more than 24 hours before it gets cooked. Succulent, fresh, delicious it’s hard to describe just how good all the food we ate was. The sashimi was so fresh, the salmon melted like butter in my mouth. The mouthfeel was just indescribable. 5 people, $4690NT. Not cheap, but also not too out of the realm of what I would expect for the quality of seafood we had.

We ate until we were stuffed, then took a walk to aid digestion. Also we didn’t want to wait for the bus to get to Yeliu Geopark. It was a pretty pleasant stroll chock full of informational plaques and gorgeous seaside scenery.

We ended up at a formation we affectionately called cat mountain, and of course we decided to climb it. It used to be some sort of structure that the military carved out of the rock to act as a watchtower or something. It was not clear to me.

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The geopark was basically a lot of rocks that had been cut by the waves, typhoons, salt weathering, and joint fracturing. It left some really cool formations, the most famous of which was the Queen’s Head. We had to wait in a 10 min line to be able to take a picture with it. We only explored about 25% of the park, as we had to make our way back to the bus stop. Also, we were getting tired from the miles of walking in extreme heat that we had been doing.

We got on the bus and headed to Keelung District to go to the Miaokou Night Market. It’s named as such for the 300+year old shrine that exists there. We met up with my other aunt and uncle there; he grew up in this district so he knew all the hot spots and stands. We went to a 60+ year old restaurant to have some oyster omelette dish that is pretty famous. We also stopped by a bakery that has been in operation for over 100 years! Aside from stuffing our faces, we checked out the shrine and even said a prayer (拜拜). My uncle kept wandering off and coming back with more food for us despite us being stuffed, so at some point we had to keep him in the group so he couldn’t sneakily go buy more food.

A busy and strenuous day. Each day just gets more exciting. We may have to take a couple low-key days near the end of the trip.

-Evilmanta

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Taipei, Taiwan Trip 2016: Day 1

 

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Day one of our trip to Taipei. Everyone woke up at a reasonable time, apparently we slept at the correct times and mitigated any jet lag that we may have experienced. It took us until 11 AM before we headed out though.

We headed out for breakfast, but the place my aunt suggested was already sold out by 11 AM. Despite my disappointment, our group soldiered on. We traversed the streets looking for our morning sustenance. We eventually came upon a shop that looked pretty good by the pictures. I was just very interested in getting soy milk (豆漿) for breakfast. This would be Megan and Dante’s first encounter with the affordability of delicious food in Taipei. Several dumplings, potstickers, and bowls of beef noodle soup later we continued on to Taipei 101.

We traversed via MRT to Taipei 101, but first we had to go through the surrounding shopping district. The area has really expanded and developed in the ten years since I last visited. It was pretty cool. Dante, Megan, Adam, and I had our first bubble tea of the trip here – with many more to come!

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We finally reached the skyscraper and discovered an option to ride to the 89th floor observation deck. Deciding it was worth the cost, we headed up and became lost in the breathtaking view. The elevator ride up was extremely fast, not quite Top Thrill Dragster fast, but it climbed 89 floors in 34 seconds. The top speed in the middle few floors was ~600m/min.

The view from the observation deck was fantastic. Everything always looks a little bit like a model set from high above.

There was also an observation room of the wind dampener that they use for the skyscraper that reduces the movement of the tower by 40%. Being the engineering nerds we are, Megan, Adam, LaDante, and I were chatting about how it works and all the various specs that they shared at the tower. They even use the shape of the wind dampener as the mascot for Taipei 101, Damper Baby! There was a variety of them with different names, colors, and personalities. Very power ranger-esque. They’re only mission to keep Taipei 101 from swaying too much. Probably one of the cooler things in the room was a video of the dampener doing it’s thing during a typhoon.

After Taipei 101, Adam found that Elephant Mountain (象山) was a highly recommended landmark to visit so we made our way there to climb a mountain. Although the path up was not quite the leisurely stroll that I imagined, it was definitely worth it. The contrast between nature and the developed city of Taipei was gorgeous. Taipei 101 might have offered a hawk’s eye view of the city, but Elephant Mountain really gave us a majestic view of Taipei.