Made In Taiwan Christmas

Christmas is such a busy time around our place with three birthdays in 26 days wrapped around the annual visit from Santa. Embracing the Philippines Christmas tradition of starting early and ending late, gone are the days of  putting up Christmas decorations after the December birthdays and pulling them down before Mum’s. If the locals can put lights and trees up starting in September, surely November isn’t too soon for ours! The extra time with the tree must have helped draw Santa in, as there was some concern the jolly old fellow might miss our place this year due to some misbehaving incidents. Papa blames the new holes in Amira’s ears for prematurely and spontaneously inducing teenagerhood. Fortunately it seems Santa was distracted getting all the toys ready, suffering from selective memory loss, or has completely given up handing out coal due to concerns over global warming.

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Getting into the Christmas spirit waaaaay back on November 11

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Everett getting a lesson on the nativity scene

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November 12: ‘Tis never too soon to be the season

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Racing to get the tree up before December 1

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The exact second Amira went from big girl to teen. You can actually see how oblivious Papa is

On what is already our third Christmas in the Philippines (surpassing the two in USA), it’s possible we may never fully adjust to the warm weather and palm tree lights. Everett is the notable exception since all three of his Christmas’ have been here. Despite being an ocean removed from the traditions the parents grew up with, we all work to find the balance between the old and new. In the weeks leading up to the main event, we were treated to Amira’s class performing Penguin Pete, we made ginger bread cookies, and of course we visited Santa to make sure he knew exactly what to bring.

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Looking for her parents at the start of the show

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One cute penguin

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Making gingerbread

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Amira & Santa

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The annual stare down

With the countdown in the final stages, we got in one last pre Christmas family yoga session, wrote the note to Santa, set out the snacks to make sure Santa wouldn’t go hungry (or at least to make sure the cockroaches also get their own festive treat), took in the Christmas Eve fireworks and waited for morning…

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You can almost smell the anticipation

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Mum leading her Christmas class

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Some pre-Christmas bliss

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If the free hand cut maple leaf cookie didn’t get him, the note must have been the clincher to Santa caving to leave presents

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Ready for the big man

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Christmas Eve fireworks (amazingly the kids slept through)

The decadence and randomness of Christmas here has become so second nature that not even the African Safari Christmas theme phased us. Our acceptance of the inexplicable in our new home partly helps explain why a Christmas Day skate in the tropics (and in a mall no less) is one the season’s top highlights (of course when you are six, nothing beats the present opening). With Everett still too young to lace up for the first time (we can barely get the kid to wear closed shoes) it was the girls turn to skate together while the boys cheered them on

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In past years the Christmas safari theme would have seemed more out of place but now is almost too tame

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Everett was pumped with his trains and airplanes from Santa

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Amira got a bluetooth microphone with built in speaker. Dangerous.

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It turned out to be a gift where everybody wins

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Nothing like a skate to make it feel like Christmas

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Apparently there aren’t that many die hard skaters on Christmas in the tropics

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Now that is a Christmas display

With the formal portion of the festivities complete, the only thing left to do was get the heck out of Dodge. Christmas in our own home is really important to Mum, and the kids are concerned if we leave Santa might not find them. Since Papa aims to be out of the city every minute he can, the best compromise is travelling in the afternoon of Christmas Day. With so many great places to visit only short distances away, it works for everyone. And with that we unleashed the kids on what is now our favourite Asian city…

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This is one visitor Taipei might not be ready for

Just over two hours away by plane, Taipei was so good that Mum is now scheming on how we can move there. Papa certainly isn’t resisting. While it doesn’t have as many years of history as many of the great Asian cities (Taipei is considered a “new” city having just turned 300 years old in 2009), and doesn’t have world renowned “must see” landmarks, it was such a great place to visit. Mum did a great write up of the trip here. We fell in love with the food (best served in the night markets…and you must try the boar sausage in a rice sausage), the ease of getting around (in the city on the metro and outside on the train), the friendliness of the people (who mostly speak English well…and who drew out some of Amira’s Mandarin), and the parks that were seemingly on every corner. Did I mention that a number of big bike companies actually make their bikes here? It was almost too good to be true.

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Another great meal out on the streets of Taipei

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Enjoying dinner and dessert. Food on a stick is always more tasty

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We never did try the mysterious oversized watermelon…

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…but the sugar coated strawberries were delicious

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The 1980s style mall rides were aplenty…and were evidently more than a single generational wonder

 

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The city seemingly had parks at every turn to keep the kids happy, but none was as good as the Daan Forest Park

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With food this good, any time was snack time

Although Amira claims we only ever do grown up things on trips, we started our city tour at the Taipei Zoo. The panda was the obvious highlight, but the koalas (affectionately known around our house as HALL-AHS (which must be shouted)), elephants (“ellas”), rhinos, lion, leopard, tiger, giraffes, hippo and zebras were also exciting for Everett to see for the first time in real life. Beside the zoo is the Maokong gondola which goes up the hill to a number of tea houses and places to walk. Because we were late getting to the zoo and slow to move through it, we didn’t get far at the top. We still enjoyed the view, some snacks, and then came down after sunset and into the embrace of all the city lights.

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Amira at the panda exhibit

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Lunch in the panda restaurant

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Checking out the ellas…

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…and the zebras….

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…and the rhinos

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Photo of the day with a photo bombing hippo

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No snow on this December gondola

Day 2 we spent visiting other areas around town. With limited knowledge of the city and therefore no expectations, we were pleasantly surprised by our stop at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. It reminded us of our many visits to the Lincoln Memorial in DC (which even Amira remembered!), and every hour they have a changing of the guard ceremony that is definitely worth seeing.

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Beyond excited to be at the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (hidden behind scaffolding for restoration and repair)

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Looking out at the Gate of the Liberty Square from the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

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Inside the Kai-shek Memorial Hall reminded us of our many visits to the Lincoln Memorial in DC

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Near Taipei 101. Papa thought the down jackets at +16C was a bit much, but it was the coldest these tropical Canadians have experienced since last July in the Rockies (yes July is Canadian summer)

As much as we enjoyed the city, we picked Taiwan to get outside in nature. Papa had done a trip to Taiwan a year earlier going from the southern end to the north along the west coast for work. The trip took three days and never seemed to get out of urban areas. The east coast by contrast is exposed to typhoons and as a result is mostly undeveloped. Throw in mountains exceeding 3000m separating the two sides and you have exactly what this family was looking for. Toroko National Park is one of the top tourist draws in the country and one of the best places to take in the natural beauty of the island.

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A ride on a train…with seaweed wrapped fish filled rice snacks (way better than it sounds)….going to the mountains …could this place get any better?

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It was an online picture from about this vantage point that had us convinced we were going to a Taiwanese Banff…it wasn’t quite that, but still pretty spectacular

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A great first impression of the Toroko Gorge at the Swallow Grotto. We’ll have to return to complete the Zhuilu Old Trail (green bridge below) which required a prearranged permit to hike (which we knew but couldn’t get in time)

The jumping off point to Toroko is Huilien, which was a disappointing town (made worse by our hopes for a small mountain community), but did give us a place to load up on food for our day trips into the National Park. We actually stayed closer to the park in Xincheng which is almost the middle of nowhere, but it had mountains in the background, a pebble beach out the front door and the hotel had three dogs to keep the kids entertained and completed the trifecta of happiness. The gorge has buses running up and down the road all day stopping at the various trails and sights. Lots of trails were closed, and the more advanced trails have limited spaces per day and require advanced registration so we weren’t able to complete any of these, but we found lots of places to get away and enjoy the park over the two days we were there.

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Delicious dumplings required a temporary exception from not eating pork

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The highlight of Huilien

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Out for a walk along the Shakadang trail. By the time you get 2km up the trail (not far past the boar sausage stand….mmmm boar sausage) the rest of the crowd has turned around

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In front of Changchun (Eternal Spring) Shrine. You can’t go to the actual shrine, but it’s still worth stopping to to see

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You can hike up to a bell tower above the Shrine…the trick we missed the first time we stopped was you have to walk across this red bridge and through a tunnel to get there.

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Cable bridges always lead to good things

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Ringing the bell above Changchun made the walk up the hill worth every step

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At the bell tower above the Changguang Temple

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A more adventurous walk in the woods on the Wenshan – Lushui trail (not on the visitors map, but recommended by the wardens at the National Park HQ)

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Exhausted and excited we are going to Lushui!

With refreshed souls, we headed back to the city on December 31 to end 2017 and start 2018 on a high note. Using the tried and true 7PM bedtime and 10PM alarm, the whole family got to see the incredible fireworks and light show off of Taipei 101. The view from Zhongshan Park was incredible, even if they reduced the number of fireworks to 16,000 down from 30,000 in years past. It’s a bit hard to explain to kids why you go two hours early to wait for a 6 minute show, but 850,000 people can’t all possibly be wrong! And the extra wait time gave Amira and Papa the chance to break away and take in the main stage for a bit in front of Taipei City Hall.

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Even Papa’s never seen a building do this before

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Our last full day in Taiwan was the most important, with Mum’s birthday to celebrate. A trip up Elephant Mountain at the edge of town followed by a visit to the Beitou area hot springs probably wasn’t how Mum envisioned spending the first day of her fifth decade, but it was a great way to end a wonderful trip.

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Part of the girls New Year celebration. Everett is also still trying to figture it out

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An extra beautiful view from Elephant Mountain

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Two beautiful ladies, Taipei 101 and the big 4-0

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At the hot springs of Beitou. It was different to have hot springs in private rooms in a hotel, but pretty awesome. Even better that the kids got their own tub!

With another great year past, a new place to go back and visit, and so many exciting things to look forward to in 2018 we returned to Manila with one last Christmas surprise following shortly behind us. In the spirit of the extended Philippines Christmas, a package arrived from Canada not long after we returned filled with lots of great new treasures and two wonderful birthday paintings from Gran. It was a perfect ending to the month of celebrations and the Christmas season, and hopefully the start of another new Christmas tradition.

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Amira unwrapping “Where Fairies Play”

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Everett loving “The Royal Hudson & The Three Sisters”

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Taiwan definitely gets our seal of approval. Can’t wait to visit again. Happy 2018!

 

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