November Expenses

Life in Taipei has been a lot of fun but it can get expensive very fast if we're not careful...

Review of Christmasland in New Taipei City 2018

If you're a foreigner living in Asia, then Christmas can be a bit different. But there are festivities here...

The Cost of Moving to Taiwan: The First Month

How much does it cost to move a family overseas? One important question to consider when moving abroad is: How much will this international move cost?

How to compare cost of living between countries

Will I spend more money in Taiwan compared to my home country? Less money?

Toy bank - aka the Taipei City Parenting Resource Center

Those of you who are parents probably know that kids tire of toys very quickly. So the Taipei city government has this great resource for parents with kids ages 0-6 years old, the toy rental bank!

Slide 5 Code End -->

Audio book review: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

For awhile I was a working mom. My commute times tend to be around 2 hours every day so that leaves me with plenty of time to explore the world of audiobooks and learning apps. I've been learning Python from several courses on edX and the SoloLearn app. But I do switch it up with hearing an audiobook when I can't sit down to view my phone.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of battling giants
Read by author: Malcolm Gladwell
Time: 7 hours

Overall view: some good insights into how we think of advantages

My personal motivation for wanting to read this book was when I heard the author re-discovered Christianity when he met a couple he describes in the book, Cliff and Wilma Derksen.

What struck me the most about the book was the ways in which we view advantages may not be so advantageous after all.

The story starts with the familiar story of David and Goliath, however, Gladwell points out that the stone David used could be comparable to a gunshot. Seen in the context of an infantryman versus someone armed with a handgun the infantry man's large size does not seem to be such an advantage. So ironically it seems Goliath was the sitting duck, not David in this case.

From there Gladwell delves into people's personal stories and translates scientific research into laymen's terms. His ability to do this reminds a bit of C.S.Lewis's writing that is able to translate complex ideas into simpler analogies or stories that are more understandable. That's something that I'm hoping to work towards.

Overall I like the book although it gets a big long-winded ins some parts. But I'm definitely a fan of Gladwell's writings and will be checking his other books in the near future.

Easy recipe: Zha jiang mian or fried noodles sauce

So I actually got this recipe from my mother and it's not inspired by any recipes on the internet but if you want an equivalent that seems to be a good match or better measured, this one here should work:

1 TBSP oil or sesame oil
1 onion chopped - I actually use ginger instead sometimes like photoed here
1/4 cups of soybean sauce
1 TBSP corn starch - we use tapioca starch here in Taiwan to be mixed with 1 cups of water
1 lb of ground pork (or beef, or turkey or whatever you have, this is very flexible)

If you have leftover vegetables like I did with mushroom you could put them in also. This is a very forgiving and flexible recipe.

Stir-fry onions until soft. Then pour in the meat until browned. Mix the cornstarch with water and the soybean sauce and pour into the pot. Mix for 3-5 minutes on medium heat.

Cook whatever noodles you have on hand and mix it in.

You can put in whatever vegetables you have for garnish also.

Here's the end result.

You can use whatever sauce you have on hand:

Covid 19: keeping toddlers happy at home - part 2

Yes, the timeless toy, blocks are the key to keeping toddlers happy at home. Also, we are not an affiliate of any of these toys so the toys are just my own opinion with no monetary incentive for endorsement.

We have all kinds of blocks at home and other similar toys that I'll post the pictures so that your kids can model after them or just use their imagination.

So in Taiwan here, there's a bunch of blocks called "Gigo" which is very similar to legos but more flexible.

These ones are called their storyline assembly blocks. They also have engineering blocks. 

There are some of these animals I still haven't been able to figure out. There are also the cars that my son seems to like.

It takes hours to try to figure out how these are put together so it's been fun for both the kids and I.

Matcha or green tea cakes

Being in Asia, there's plenty of matcha or green tea powder around so I usually grab one when I shop and have them on hand.

Here are some of the recipes I've done that the kids taste-tested and were good.

Soft green tea/matcha coconut soy milk cake

2 eggs - separated into yolk and whites
1/4 cup of coconut oil
1/4 cup of soy milk
3/4 cup of cake flour
1/4 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tbsp of matcha/green tea powder

Egg whites mixture/meringue
Beat the egg whites, I always add 1/4 tsp of vinegar to make it easier to form peaks (The acid in the vinegar helps to break down the coils of amino acids in the egg white's proteins so that they can repeal each other and form the foam that you see:
1/4 cup sugar added in 3 different times to not disturb the forming process
Apparently, meringue is especially hard to do in humid weather like we have in Taiwan so I usually need to do at least 10-15 minutes on low-medium/high egg beater.

Combine the cake ingredients in another bowl. I usually have to heat the coconut oil to get it into a liquid form unless it's the middle of the summer.

Shift the cake flour into the bowl. Mix well.

Then mix the meringue into the cake four in 3 batches.

Then bake at 130 degrees celsius or 265 Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes.

The bunny is looking a bit doubtful here but it tasted great, just didn't rise as I probably didn't put in enough baking soda.

Easy recipes: lamb in the instant pot

My husband really likes lamb so for Easter I tried piecing together these two recipes to make a lamb dish in the instant pot.

We couldn't decide on a lamb shank or lamb stew so ended up with a combination of the two, a lamb shank with a lot of sauce.

My receipt is adapted from this one here and the 3 cups lambs suggested by the grocery store.

3-4 lamb shanks (or in our case, a whole package)
2 Tbsp olive oil (for browning lamb)
2 Tbsp Costco's Kirkland no-salt seasoning (or Trader Joe's 21 seasonings)
2 larger peppers (sliced)
1 large ginger (12-15 slices)
1 medium onion
8 garlic cloves (sliced or diced)
Optional: other vegetables
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine (or rice wine vinegar)
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp brown sugar

Optional garnish: basil

Browning the lamb
-Put the pot on the saute function, wait for it to get hot.
-Put in the olive oil, then season the lamb and saute it in the pot, 5 minutes each side
Put everything else except the sauce into the instant pot
Mix the sauce and pour it evenly over the lamb
Reset the pot and use the normal lamb setting (or 40 minutes)

Novel coronavirus: vitamin C, D, and zinc for Covid-19?

So there's been quite a few articles that I've seen posted on Facebook and other places about boosting your immunity for Covid-19 so I took some time to look into some of the things I've read.

Caveat: please do take this with a grain of salt as I'm not a medical doctor nor nutritionist so really can't tell you what you'd need.

Basically, these supplements are really not necessary if you already have a good diet. Natural way to get them from your normal diet is still the best way. The Mayo Clinic caution that taking supplements may cause harm:

However, if you like me and my son, who is really bad at eating enough vegetables and fruits and have deficiencies, supplements may be helpful in a time like this.

Zinc: this was recommended by James Robb, a pathologist, and molecular virologist who, while at the University of California, San Diego in the 1970s did pioneer work on coronaviruses.

Vitamin D: despite the name, it actually is a hormone that you get from sunlight that in turn helps to absorb calcium. A meta-analysis study has found that Vitamin D seems to be correlated with a slight reduction in respiratory infections, the study was led by Adrian Martineau, professor of respiratory infection and immunity at The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London. The BBC also covered the other studies on Vitamin D here Former CDC director Tom Frieden also published an article in Fox News that vitamin D could be helpful for boosting the immune system but this is only if you're deficient and can't get enough sunlight:

Vitamin C: despite what Linus Pauling, the Nobel prize winner, says about vitamin C curing cancer, it is not a cure for covid-19 at this time. There are two studies currently undergoing testing on the effects of Vitamin C on Covid 19 but the results are not in yet. Yes, they do give that to patients at the hospital but it is because of a deficiency in the blood test results. But it could decrease the duration of mechanical ventilation

There's also an ongoing study conducted by a university from Turkey on Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) with vitamin C and zinc for health care providers:

The majority of what I've put into the table are either from Harvard's School of Public Health and Mayo Clinic.

Daily dose
Zinc is found in most of the cells in the body (the highest concentration in muscle and bone) and is a catalyst for more than 100 enzymes.
Zinc could increase the immune response. Oral zinc supplementation reduces the incidence rate of acute respiratory infections by 35%, shortens the duration of flu-like symptoms by approximately 2 days.
Do not use zinc spray in the nose as it could lead to a loss of smell and taste. Also, the side effects of zinc intake can include indigestion, diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting
Do not take zinc if you are taking antibiotics.
The National Institutes of Health considers 40 mg of zinc a day to be the upper limit dose for adults and 4 mg of zinc a day for infants under age 6 months. The dose of zinc in RCT studies ranged from 20 mg/week to 92 mg/day. Dose does not appear to be the main driver of the effectiveness of zinc supplementation.
Vitamin C
A water-soluble vitamin that is an antioxidant (protect against free radicals). Also important in protein metabolism and the immune system.
RCTs evaluating the effectiveness of vitamin C have been conducted among soldiers, young boys, and older people in the US, the Soviet Union, the UK, and Japan. In these studies, vitamin C supplementation was shown to significantly reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infections.
Too much could cause nausea, diarrhea, and cramps. Upper limits for kids 1-3 years old is 400 mg, 4-8 years old is 650 mg and 2g for adults. Do not take vitamin C is you are undergoing cancer treatments.
The dose of vitamin C varied from 1-3 g/day, and dose does not appear to be the main driver of effectiveness. Doses of vitamin C above 2 g/day should be avoided outside of medical care.
Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium and bone growth in the body.
Vitamin D supplementation lowers the odds of developing acute respiratory tract infections (most of which are assumed to be due to viruses) by 12% to 75%.
Taking 60,000 international units (IU) a day of vitamin D for several months has been shown to cause toxicity. The main consequence of vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. Symptoms might progress to bone pain and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.
Among those who were infected, flu symptoms were fewer and recovery was earlier if they had received doses of vitamin D greater than 1000 IU. The benefits were relatively greater in individuals with vitamin D deficiency than in those who had adequate levels of vitamin D. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for most adults of 600 IU of vitamin D a day

There's a seltzer tablet that you put into water and drink from Germany with zinc and vitamin C that I give my kids in the morning.

Then at night, I give my kids the general multi-vitamin gummies. I also give them a combined vitamin c, d and zinc gummy imported from Germany.

There are also these tablet candies for vitamin D that I got for the kids that I give out for special occasions (or times we don't go out to the sun).

Novel coronavirus: masks for the non-medical personnel

So it seems the great mask-wearing debate has come to a conclusion as the World Health Organization finally admitted that “We can certainly see circumstances on which the use of masks, both home-made and cloth masks, at the community level may help with an overall comprehensive response to this disease.”

So here's the tutorial from Hong Kong scientists for those who are looking to make their own masks:

Materials: paper towel roll, strong tissue paper, elastic bands, a hole punch, paper tape, scissors, plastic-coated steel wire, a pair of glasses, plastic file folders and binder clips.

For the mask:
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean your items
Put one piece of paper towel, with proper hygiene, on top of another
Place a piece of tissue paper, which will act as the bottom layer of the mask, on top of the two pieces of the paper towel
Cut the stack of paper into two
Use the paper tape to seal off the two sides of the mask
Make two holes at each sealed side with the punch
Attach the metallic wire with paper tape to the top edge of the mask to make the nose bridge wire
Tie four rubber bands through the holes on the mask’s sides

For the protective shield:
Cut the file folder into two pieces
Attach one piece on the edge of the glasses with binder clips
The shield can be reused after disinfection for each usage
Note: The hospital said other materials such as cling film, air conditioner filter paper, and cotton cloth were not suitable for making the masks.

Homemade face shield:
Materials: hard hat, plastic sheeting

The CDC came out with some patterns also and a recommendation to put coffee filter inside the mask:

If you can sew, here's a fancy version:

If you're wondering what types of cloth to use, ones with 180 counts, when you can't see the light when holding them up, like batik work better than cotton.

If you can't sew or can't find elastic or hair ties, a friend of mine has a solution with bandana and shoelace that only takes a minute: