Six Weeks in Taipei

It has been quite some time since we updated our blog with travel notes. Sara and I have spent the last six weeks or so in Taipei, Taiwan where our younger daughter was going to school to learn Chinese. We had lots of local adventures, but also worked on a few projects quite a bit, so it really wasn’t much of a vacation. I did come to realize that I very much love Taipei and want to move there someday.

We stayed with Sara’s family and really want to express our thanks for an incredible experience. We did not write anything about this part of the trip for a few reasons. The biggest was that we just did not have time. Things were always quite hectic and the little down time that we had was spent relaxing. Another big reason is that we do actually plan on living in Taipei for a few years at some point down the road. I have a lot of good ideas for blog posts, but I want to save them for when we actually live there. It is such an incredible country that it is my goal to build the best Taiwan blog out there. I don’t want to do a half-assed job, and there is so much to write.

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Rent vs. Own For Travelers

A popular debate in the U.S. right now is whether to rent or to own your home. There is much advice and speculation on the Internet as to what is the right thing to do. Every situation is different and what works for one person/family might not work for another. Here we will attempt to share our opinion on what works if you like to travel a lot.

In 2005, Sara and I sold our home to buy a new home which was under construction. During that period where we were living in an apartment, I became obsessed with the housing market and what I began to think might be a housing bubble. After extensive research, we decided to not go through with our new home purchase and just rent for a few years to see what would happen. Long story short, we guessed correctly and sat out of one of the worst housing value declines in U.S. history.

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If You Only Have One Day in Beijing…

The Great Wall

Beijing has a lot to offer, but if you only have one day there, here is a solid itinerary:

Start the day as early as possible with a quick, simple breakfast of traditional pastries, bread, or cake and milk tea at 85°C.

Take a taxi or bus ride to the Great Wall (Mutianyu Section). If you get there early, there won’t be many tourists and you can see it and go. Take the cable car to Tower 14 and then walk on the Wall back to Tower 6. Then ride the toboggan to the bottom, buy your “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirt, get back in your taxi and head back to Beijing.

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Trans-Siberian Railway Official Start: Beijing (Part 2-The Great Wall)

All of us at the Mutianyu Great Wall

Our trip to the Great Wall started with an early morning pick up from our drivers. Unfortunately, they turned a 45-minute ride to the wall into a 2-hour tour of the outskirts of Beijing. I was under the assumption that since the Great Wall stretches for thousands of miles, you could just drive north and you would eventually hit it. Apparently these guys didn’t get that, and they had quite a time locating it. Once we got there, though, it was about as incredible as I had imagined it would be. The Wall itself is built along the top of a mountain range, so not only did the ancients build a really long wall, they hauled all of the materials to the top of a mountain to do it.

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Trans-Siberian Railway Official Start: Beijing (Part 1)

The Forbidden City

The highlight of Beijing, aside from the Great Wall, is undoubtedly the food. Sara’s sister, Sophia, and her family met us in Beijing and any time Sophia is along, it is guaranteed to be culinary bliss. None of us, including Sophia, had been to Beijing before, but you wouldn’t know it based on our itinerary. We saw most of the major sites and had some pretty amazing meals in three days.

Sophia hired a driver for us for the three days, so we were able to move fairly quickly around the city without having to wait for taxis or public transportation. While this goes against our ‘Minimize Costs’ philosophy, we were able to split it amongst six people, so it was not too bad. The driver did not speak English, but in our case, this was not a problem as half of our party spoke Mandarin. It should be noted, though, that most taxi drivers do not speak English, so it will be necessary to carry pre-printed note cards of where you would like to go. Be sure they are written in Mandarin and not the pinyin form of the language familiar to English speakers, but totally foreign to the Chinese.  You can print out the addresses at the bottom of this post and hand them to the drivers.

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The Cheapest Way to Buy Trans-Siberian Train Tickets in China

Walked to the back of the train for this picture

Shortly after our Egypt trip, Phil and I made a decision to go on our dream trip – the Trans-Siberian railroad.  The timing was perfect.  My brother-in-law, Daniel was finishing up his two-year assignment in China.  That meant we would still have a place to stay in Shanghai, and Sophia and her family would be able to join us in Beijing for a few days.  Now the decision was made, I went on to do research.  It surprised me how little information there was on how to buy the Trans-Siberian train tickets for independent travelers.  There were plenty of agencies and sites selling tickets at a premium.  But to get the absolutely cheapest price was not an easy task.  The best resource I found was The Man in Seat Sixty-One. The site has a lot of information.  I do recommend travelers read through the section on the Trans-Siberian.  However, there was no information on how to buy international train tickets in China.  You can’t just walk up to a train station and buy the tickets at the counter.  All the information I found seemed to tell me that the only way was to use a travel agency.

I don’t remember what was so funny, I just remember laughing hysterically…

Obviously, I was not going to take that for an answer.  

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7 Essential OTC Medications to Carry When Traveling

I am a big fan of natural medicine and have more than once found that a natural form of medicine has healed me permanently where the traditional Western doctors could only dull my pain. That being said, everything has its place and when you are traveling, you want to get out and see things, not stay stuck in a hotel room or hostel, miserable. In these situations, an over-the-counter (OTC) pill might just be the answer to giving you enough relief to get out there and take that picture of you holding the Eiffel Tower between your thumb and forefinger.

I do not have a strong stomach and Sara is allergic to everything, so, over time, we have developed our little kit of OTC medication that we do not leave home without on long trips overseas. Please keep in mind that we are not doctors, so please consult your own physician before embarking on your dream trip.

We usually like to bring along our own meds because finding its comparable version in a foreign language, or explaining your symptoms to a pharmacist who does not speak your language is sometimes challenging.

Below is a list of the best OTC medications that we take with us without fail. Obviously, if you have a specific medical condition or problem, you should take any normal medication with you that you might otherwise need at home, such as allergy or asthma drugs.

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Congratulations, Gary!

Gary Ryals - UCLA Top 100 AlumnusIn the mid-90’s, I was fortunate to be able to work and travel at the same time. I spent four and a half months traveling around South America with a group of guys and we had our share of adventures. I lost touch with all of them over the years, but recently ran into my closest friend from that trip, Gary Ryals (I have mentioned him in a previous post). We have since spent some time together catching up and it turns out he has gone on to become a U.S. Navy officer and earned his MBA from UCLA.

Not only has he been incredibly successful in his career, but he was also named by UCLA as a Top 100 Inspirational Alumnus.

Congratulations, Gary! We had quite a few good times together and hopefully have many more to come.

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How You Can Help Japan

Sara’s first travel experience was to Japan. That trip changed her life and gave her the passion that she has for travel today. I proposed to Sara in Japan and our younger daughter’s first trip other than to Taiwan was to Tokyo. I found the country to be at the top of my favorite places to have visited. The recent tragedy there is heart-wrenching for our whole family.

If you are not sure of the best way to help the Japanese, a fellow blogger, Todd of Todd’s Wanderings has put together a list of trustworthy support agencies based in Japan that have English websites. He was in Japan at the time of the quake and his wife is Japanese, so he knows firsthand the devastation and the relief efforts that have the greatest effect. Please go to his site, pick an organization and donate what you feel you can to help out.

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Xi’an: So Much History!

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The ancient legend, passed down from generation to generation, told of the first Chinese emperor who was so afraid of the afterlife that he arranged to bring thousands of warriors to guard him when he passed on. It was not important that they had not yet died. They were buried alive with him when he died, along with gold, food, livestock, clothing and anything else he would need in the next world.

This was a legend that every Chinese child was taught as historical fact in school for thousands of years. It was something they all believed as much as we Americans believe in Washington crossing the Delaware. Thousands of people buried alive just to appease one man’s ego. It seems difficult to believe, but was it true? No one knew for sure, until about 35 years ago.

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