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One. Oh. One!

This is my one hundred and first post on this blog. And we just went to the top of Taipei 101. The giant building is one of those things you “have” to see while you are here. But just like I’ve lived in San Francisco for nearly nine years and have never set foot in the Transamerica Pyramid or walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, my in-laws watched 101 be built from the ground up only a few blocks from their house, and didn’t go up in it until now.
It was worth checking out, even though we had to wait in a long line to get in and to come back down. I don’t know if it’s because our baby is extra specially cute (which he is, if I do say so myself), or if he seems exotic because he’s mixed, or if they are just crazy about all babies here, but our son draws a lot of attention in Taiwan. Usually just playful smiles and sweet compliments, but I guess because he had a captive audience with that line, he became the star attraction. Good thing he’s in a phase right now where he likes strangers because he was being aggressively admired by one and all as we slowly wound around through the amusement park style line. Groping, poking, pinching fingers all trying to get a piece of him as if he were a lucky Buddha. He basked in it, hamming it up, showing off his dimples, even beaming through the forced portrait session in front of the green screen version of 101 spewing fireworks.
We zoomed up the fastest elevator in the world in 37 seconds, up so high your ears have to pop to adjust. We leaned against the windows over dizzying views of the entire city. We stood on the outdoor observation deck and spotted my in-law’s building, which we could have spit on with a good wind. We looked at the huge ballast that keeps the building from swaying too much in high winds or earthquakes. We came, we saw, we got back in line, our baby had a brief meltdown, I felt claustrophobic, and it made me glad we haven’t been hitting up too many of these “must-see” sightseeing venues.
We have had a great time wandering around neighborhoods, eating delicious food (I promise I will get to that food post, but it will have to wait until I get home and can add pictures to it), and hanging out with my husband’s relatives. Last night, we left our son with his grandparents and our cousins took us to a night market, the best dumpling house in the city, and then to a favorite local bar, and we sat and talked for hours. It was such a perfect way to see a slice of life in a different place. You wouldn’t get to know my San Francisco by seeing the Pyramid or the Bridge, and though I may have seen most of Taipei from the 101 building, I will remember it most by the people I met here.
Slow Travel 101: Stick with the locals. They’ll show you where it’s really at.

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And Slow It Goes

Exploring Taipei with a nine-month old can definitely be categorized as Slow Travel, a concept I blogged about before we left. We are living like locals, camping out at the in-laws, and venturing out around our baby’s two-nap schedule. Which means we can’t really be out for longer than four hour stints, so we are getting to know the neighborhood well and getting lots of down time. When we go further than our feet can carry us, we take a bus or MRT, Taipei’s subway system. Cities like Jakarta and Bangkok prepared me well for this city. By comparison, Taipei is much tamer and easier to navigate, more like New York or Singapore, where there is constant action but the rule of law still counts for something.
We made it to the National Palace Museum which houses a giant collection of Chinese art and artifacts. The highlights for me included a beautiful display of painted scrolls by Chiang Chao-shen, a master calligrapher. Also, the famous hand scroll Up the River During the QingMing Festival, painted by court artisans depicting the daily activities of the Sung Dynasty was captivating in its detail. A collection of curios, intricate boxes meant to hold some of the emperor’s most valued treasures, which were also on display, was impressive. Many pieces were so tiny and elaborate it was difficult to imagine how they were made. My favorite piece was in the Rare Books collection, a gorgeous Tibetan version of the Tripitaka, or Buddhist scripture, hand copied in gold ink. Almost as special was the room designated for nursing mothers that I put to good use. They really look out for mamas and their babies over here.
So far, the only other “must see” from the guidebooks we’ve been to is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, built to honor the “Father of the Nation”, and happened to be there during the changing of the guard, which was cool. Even more entertaining were the many groups of high school kids practicing hip hop dances around the perimeter of the memorial. One of them stopped me to help them finish their English homework, asking me timid questions about my plans while in Taiwan. Teenagers here seem very polite and respectful of elders. They actually got up on the subway to give my mother-in-law and whichever one of us was holding the baby their seat, and I literally saw one helping an old lady across the street. Can you imagine?
Mainly, we have just been behaving as if we live here. We spent a day visiting my husband’s relatives. I mostly sat and smiled as they doted on our son. More than anything else, we have been eating. The food deserves its own post which I will get to soon. In the meantime, we’re enjoying sampling outstanding fare at every meal and getting fatter each day that passes. Ah, sweet vacation. Tomorrow is our seventh anniversary and we are celebrating by going off on our own for a night, a date planned by my man, so I don’t know any details yet except that it will be our first night away from our little guy. Will let you know how it goes.

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Baby on Board: Slow Travel by Necessity

Before our son was born, my husband and I naively proclaimed that this baby would operate on our schedule. After all, if we just took him everywhere we went, wouldn’t he be used to traveling and eating out late and just adapt to our on-the-go lifestyle? I just heard the collective “HA!” of all you seasoned parents who know what a pipe dream that was. How wrong we were really sank in on the way back from a weekend trip to Tahoe when he was barely two months old, during which he screamed his lungs out, making what should have been a four-hour trip take nearly eight with all the times we stopped to comfort him and try to figure out what he needed. Fortunately, he’s gotten better at being in his car seat, but we have certainly learned that babies come with their own set of needs and preferences which require huge adaptation on our parts, and often deference of our own desires. Duh. Welcome to parenthood, right?

While becoming parents has dramatically impacted our day-to-day routine (wow, we watch a lot of TV since we have to be home for his 6pm bedtime and dang, getting up for the day at dark:thirty hurts), one of the things I miss most about our pre-baby life (besides sleep) was the ease of travel without a little one. We could up and go without packing or planning much. We could drive into the night and sleep until noon to make up for it. We could take international flights to multiple destinations and not think twice. That life is gone. And we can mourn it and be miserable, or we can adapt. I wrote about the Slow Movement as it applies to parenting a couple posts ago, and Slow Travel seems to be the philosophy that will serve us well at this stage of our lives, and maybe convert us in the hereafter.

“The art of living,” says Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement, “is about learning how to give time to each and every thing.” Whether it’s slow food, travel, or parenting, it simply means doing things at the appropriate pace to truly enjoy the experience. It means gathering with friends to prepare a meal together instead of eating fast food. It means stooping to see and feel and smell the grass with your son as he explores it for the first time instead of urging him to hurry up to get wherever you are going. Slow travel is about being present in the moment, not checking off must-see destinations with your nose in a guidebook, not getting from here to there as fast as possible, but enjoying the journey and taking the time to engage in the culture wherever you are.

We have become slower travelers by necessity. In his first nine months, we have only taken our son on short trips around our home state of California. Hardcore slow travelers even eschew driving or flying. In this way, it is a philosophy that goes hand in hand with Ecotourism, attempting to do as little damage as possible, and even aiming to help out the place you’re going. Fortunately, we live in an amazing place and just staying home in San Francisco can be like traveling around the world with the right frame of mind. But we are in desperate need of a true vacation.

So, we are going on our first international trip with Little Man. Pre-baby, we had hoped to hop around Indonesia this year. We went to Gili Meno and Java right before we got pregnant, and made great friends we’d love to see again, plus we wanted to go to Bali and some of the other islands. Post-baby we realize this would be a tad too ambitious, and probably not enjoyable to lug a baby around an extremely hot, occasionally dangerous, and often frustrating country. We’ll save that until he can carry his own bag. For now, we are headed to Taiwan. We are going to stay with my husband’s parents in Taipei for three weeks. We will have a home base. We will live in the city like locals. If we go anywhere, we will take the train to the coast, and play at the beach. We will hunker down and take it slow. It will be better for the environment, for our baby’s schedule, for the thrilled grandparents, and for our peace of mind.

Just like I would never label myself “green” or “progressive” because I could never live up to the die-hard followers of those philosophies, I wouldn’t call myself truly “slow” yet. But just as I believe my attempt to be a little greener whenever possible is good, I think taking it a little slower will make a difference, too.

Stay tuned for adventures in slow travel with Little Man and the in-laws. We leave on April 6th and I will hopefully be posting regularly while we’re there from my new iPad!