Tag: travel

Taiwan cultural experiences

We were coming out of my aunt and uncle’s apartment in Taipei, when we heard Für Elise wafting out of a narrow alley.

Despite it being dark and 9pm, people streamed towards the source of the noise — a large green truck. The men hanging off the back of the truck cheerfully grabbed the bags off my aunt and uncle’s neighbours and tossed them into the back.

‘What’s that?’ we asked.

‘That’s how rubbish is collected,’ my cousin said. ‘When you hear the music, you bring your rubbish and recycling out.’

In the city of Tainan, we ran into a late night convoy of three trucks playing Greensleeves, with the words ‘Voted best garbage truck 2012’ emblazoned on the sides.

You can read about these trucks and see videos on the Mother Nature Network. The Taipei Times also reports:

‘When the first garbage trucks to be incorporated into the scheme took the streets of Tainan on Monday, the dulcet tones of “How are you?” and “I’m fine. Thank you” sounded the beginning of the nation’s — if not the world’s — first foreign language-teaching trash collection program…

“We plan to have at least 24 trucks running the English lessons in October,” Hsieh said. “And of course, if it continues to prove popular this number could increase and eventually include all the city’s garbage trucks.”

‘To prove how easy it is for residents with no previous knowledge of the English language to learn the simple phrases, Tainan’s mayor held an impromptu examination on Tuesday. The test was hailed a huge success, with six garbage truck workers being sent to the top of the class after replying to the mayor’s “How are you?” in heavily accented, but correct English.’

I’m sad that I wasn’t quick enough to take photos of any of the musical rubbish trucks. As consolation, here are some other odd things we saw in Taiwan.

Lobster with big eyes
Big eyes indeed. I think this place was selling seafood on sticks.
Public service announcement: what to do in a typhoon
This sign was in the underground metro station. It’s a public service announcement: where to get information in the case of a typhoon.
Squid vs chicken sign
Squid vs. chicken — which will you choose to eat? This seems to be a common way of advertising shop wares. The shop/stall displays a sign saying ‘Green tea vs Red tea’ or ‘Europe vs USA’ to make you aware of the options they offer.
Pulley system to escape from Taipei 101
At Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world, they have a pulley system in case of needing to escape from fire.
Instructions for escaping Taipei 101
This seems too complicated to read in the panicked situation that would require escaping from a tall building like Taipei 101.
Massage rocks at the park
This path of massage rocks are actually kind of brutal to walk on with bare feet. Or so I’m told.
Fish food dispenser at a temple
Fish food dispenser at a temple
Jason feeding goldfish
The fish swarmed towards the food that Jason dispensed.
Sign for online knife store
I don’t understand why people don’t get a native English speaker to check translations before they are printed / posted online / put on product packaging.
Escalator for shopping trolleys
Going up the escalator? This is how you get your shopping up with you.
Escalator for shopping trolleys
This guy has a whole trolley for his backpack.
Escalator for shopping trolleys
He saw me taking photos and paused to let me photograph him pull his trolley out.
Very large snail in Tainan
This snail was as large as Jason’s Blackberry.
Entrance to Narrow Cafe in Tainan
Here is the entrance to Narrow Cafe in Tainan. No fat people allowed.
Learn American
This sign is advertising ‘American’ language lessons.
Dead mouse
An obligatory dead thing.


Free English lessons

Aaron and I were in Shanghai for a work project. One evening, we went in search of cheap electronic goods at a shopping centre that one of our colleagues recommended.

Sadly, pirated software and unbranded hardware seems to be a thing of the Shanghai past. Everything we saw was the real deal, as genuine as anything on Bourke Street Mall.

‘No discount.’ they said as we clumsily tried to haggle. ‘Real Apple. Same price everywhere.’

We quickly gave up our search for an Apple-compatible VGA cable. Instead, we found ourselves in a China-scale bookstore. It was as big as a small department store in Melbourne, and at 9pm was full of people reading.

‘Hello!’ someone said as I walked past a display of translated Barack Obama biographies.

‘Hello,’ I replied, keen to practice my Chinese.

‘Do you want to learn English?’


‘Here! You can have English lessons,’ he said, trying to hand me a brochure. ‘Free lessons.’

‘Ah! I marshalled my thoughts to explain. ‘I grew up in Australia. My English is… much better than Chinese!’

The fellow looked confused and then left us alone. I think he got the message.

Later, I got two more chances to practice the same conversation with bookstore staff positioned deeper into the store.

Good form in Auckland

I love forms. There’s just something about boxes. Seven years ago, I was crushed by missing out on Australia’s 2006 census. My disappointment was finally wiped by my participation as Person 1 in the 2011 census.

So you’ll understand my joy when on a work trip in New Zealand, I found these forms tucked under the door of my hotel room.

NZ 2013 census forms
A present left in my hotel room: the NZ 2013 census form.

You may be thinking, ‘That’s ridiculous. How many people in the hotel are actually going to fill in the form?’

I’ll have you know that the next morning, I walked into the lift and there were two other people. All three of us had the white census envelope, ready to give to the reception staff.

Wildlife in Sydney

Late last year, we visited Sydney for the bright lights and the wild life.

We saw this poster very close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Someone has expressed his or her genuine appreciation for the tip off.

Bread kills lorikeets poster
Warning! Bread kills lorikeets

The centre of Sydney’s CBD is marked with the City Wilderness Trail. After seeing signs for birds, rats and insects, the final sign we saw was for a human. Click the photo to read.

Human (Long Pig) wilderness trail sign in Sydney
Human (Long Pig) wilderness trail sign in Sydney


Small things such as this sign in the Blue Mountains bring us much amusement. As you can see, Damjan and I can be inexpensive to entertain.

Lookout sign near the Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains National Park
Lookout sign near the Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains National Park
Joan and Damjan look out!
Joan and Damjan look out!

TreeTop adventure

Jess and Jared took us to the TreeTop Adventure Park, about an 75 minutes out of Sydney. The Park has high ropes courses, graded from Yellow to Black, much like the difficulty grades for ski runs.

We started at Green (the first ‘easy’ adult course) and aimed to get to black.

Blue was okay with a bit of wobbling, a bit of effort.

Red started getting quite hard. At one part of the course, I grabbed a rope and swung Tarzan-style from tree to tree. At the arrival end, I had to let go of the rope and throw myself at a rope net. It was hard, pulling myself up the net to the next platform. The net kept moving because it was not anchored at the bottom. Damjan had to coax me up, every net square of the way.

At the end of the red course, Jess said to us, ‘I just spoke to the man ahead of us. He’s done the black one before and he says he finds it quite hard.’

This is true. I think the black TreeTop Adventure course was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life.

At the beginning, I almost made it over a long flying fox but I landed just a bit too slowly and didn’t get onto the platform. Instead, I zoomed backwards to the centre of the rope. Using my arms, I had to pull myself backwards toward the platform.

As I came to the next challenge, Jess yelled out to warn us that the moving platform here would slide back as soon as I let go of it at the other end, so I would have to leap onto the other tree as quickly as I could.

By this time, I had no strength left in my arms. A few times, I couldn’t keep the platform beneath me and it slid away behind me as I clung to wire ropes. As I inched close to the end, Damjan grabbed me and dragged me to safety. I burst into tears and thought very seriously about calling for management help to get me down from the trees NOW.

Forging onwards, there were unstable ladders to climb up, swinging footholds, monkey bars… For one challenge, there was a wooden plank suspended between two trees. We worked out that we had to use it as a ‘half bridge’. We inched over it to the centre, then used our feet to swing (like surfing) the half bridge over to the other tree to complete the crossing.

The man doing the course behind me walked the plank to the centre of the gap before the plank slipped off the first tree. He hung in mid-air, the plank dangling beside him.

‘Is this supposed to happen?’ he called plaintively. ‘What do I do now?’

With no options, he dragged himself to the other side using the guide rope.

I kept thinking the course was almost over but it was obstacle after obstacle.

At the end of it all, I was so relieved. I think I accomplished something but… all I think about, really, is how bloody hard it was.

Possum proof

I saw this at the Sydney Botanic Gardens.

Possum collar around a tree
Possum collar around a tree

Some tourists came up beside me and talked puzzedly amongst themselves. They eventually figured out it was a collar to prevent possums from climbing up the tree.

Singapore, once in a lifetime

Last month, I had a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Singapore.

I’m sure I’ll go back to Singapore again but not in the same circumstances. You see, last month, six families converged onto Singapore from Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia and England. It was a reunion of my father, his brothers and sister and their families.

We departed from Singapore on a 14-storey cruise ship, going to Penang and Phuket. It was my first time on a cruise. I admit that I felt a bit trapped, despite the theatre, amusement centre, bar, club, bar, disco, eight restaurants, library, swimming pool, gym, spa, hairdresser, basketball court, driving range, putting course, table tennis area, giant chess boards, karaoke rooms, casino, movie theatre, two souvenir shops, ice cream parlour and sports pub.

However, I was soon satiated by food. Early breakfast at 6am, proper breakfast at 8am, morning tea at 10am, lunch at 12pm, afternoon tea at 4pm, dinner at 6pm, midnight snack at, well, midnight.

I gained a kilogram and an inch around the waist. It was totally worth it.

Foyer of the Star Cruises Virgo
This is the first thing we saw on entering the ship. It's the atrium of the Star Cruises Virgo. It looks like Vegas but I was actually impressed with the quality of the finishes. No decor shortcuts here.
Top deck swimming pool on the Star Cruises Virgo
This is one of two swimming areas on the Star Cruises Virgo. Check out the huge water slide, which needs to be closed off when windy.
Cold treats at Penang
Look how excited I am! Cold treats at Penang. Mmm, chendol...
Ice Kacang
Oh my gawd, ice kacang. Me want it now. With green tea ice cream.
James Bond Island
At our Thailand stopover, we took a boat to James Bond Island. The island has a real name but it's been called James Bond Island ever since Hollywood came.
No durians
Poor smelly spiky durians. Discrimination is universal. This sign was at our hotel.
Joan on luge
Here I am, on the luge at Sentosa Island. It's one of the craziest things I've done in my life (and I actually have the brakes on slightly).
Joan on luge
There goes that madwoman, Joan.

Assault on Conwy Castle

Joel and I spent the long Easter weekend in and around Snowdonia National Park in Wales. We climbed the icy Mt Snowdon, ate three course meals every day, drank mead and watched medieval sword fighting.

Castles were on the agenda, Wales being the ‘land of the castles’ with 400 within its borders. The most magnificent one we visited was Conwy Castle.

Conwy Castle
From a tower of Conwy Castle, Wales

Joel is a keen rock climber. I could tell he was itching to scale the castle walls. He was always examining the stonework and looking up to plan his route.

Joel at Conwy Castle
The rocks call out to Joel.
Joel at Conwy Castle
He tests his footing...
Joel at Conwy Castle
...and begins his ascent.
Joel at Conwy Castle
For a moment he hangs.
Joel at Conwy Castle
Then he pulls himself up.
Joel at Conwy Castle
Smile for the camera, Joel.
Joel at Conwy Castle
Look how far you've come!
Joel at Conwy Castle
Time to come back down, Joel.
Sign at Conwy Castle
Oops! It's really time to come back down now.


Back in Australia, I enjoyed three weeks of sunshine and beach. Only when I came back to London did I realise how quickly I had tanned. Once I had put on my foundation for my first day at work, I looked in the mirror to see a white face attached to a brown neck!

Just kidding, it wasn’t that extreme. In certain light, though, the difference in skin colour was noticeable.

Joan at the beach
Joan at the beach