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!

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Easy recipes: Crispy waffles

 Yes, we have attempted the crispy waffles originally from here and

But we actually have made a lot of changes to the recipe to be more Taiwanese


3/4 cup of cake flour

1/4 cup of tapioca starch

1 cup of runny yogurt

1/3 cup of coconut oil

1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 Tsp baking soda

1 egg (best at room temperature)

1 Tsp vanilla extract

Mix the wet ingredients first with blender

Then pour into the dry ingredients

Mix by hand at this point and try not to over mix

Travel adventures: A visit to Alishan

So we went to visit the beautiful Alishan mountains with our kids.

Not having a car, we took the train. 
The mountain route was around $600 NT for adults. Kids under 120 cm do ride for free if they're on laps.

So on the train, car 12 is usually the kids' section but it's on a lottery basis when you buy the tickets online.

We stayed at the Orient luxury hotel in chiayi. We picked this place because there was a multi-floor kids play area right next to the hotel and you do get discounts for being hotel guests. 

Then the Shang Ming Show BnB high up in the mountains of Alishan. 

There's a promenade nearby that overlooks the beautiful tea farms in the mountains of the Alishan. 

All too soon our visit came to an end, but not before we visited the railway storage facility park near the station:

Life in the Xindian New Taipei Area with Kids

We live close to Xindian Station. While we like living here, there are both pros and cons to our area.

Let's start with the downsides...

1. Limited food options

One of the biggest perks about living in Taiwan is all the great (and cheap!) food. But sorry... if you live in the Xindian area, you'll find a hard time finding good food. And the few places that are good will be expensive.

The closer you live to the Xindian/Wenshan border (that is, the further north you live), the less food troubles you'll experience. But if you live close to Xindian Station (or further south), expect to cook for yourself regularly. Delivery services like Food Panda even have limited options for our area.

2. It takes forever to go anywhere

If you live in the center of Taipei, you'll find that public transit can get you anywhere in the city within a matter of minutes. But if you live at the very end of the line (or, in our case, a 20 minute walk from the end of the line), plan on an hour or more if you want to visit all the fun attractions... such as the Children's Amusement Park, the zoo, the parent-child play centers, the toy bank, etc.

I feel like we would go out a lot more often if we lived closer to the center of the city.

So... if life in this area is so inconvenient... why do we still live here?

We like our area because there's still some significant perks to living in Xindian.

1. It's quiet and peaceful 

Here's a view of the bitan recreation area

You'll find us and our kids walking through this area often. 

2. We are close to nature with great kids friendly hiking and biking trails. 

This is the hei mei mountain trail just to the right of the bridge down below. Our kids at age 3 and 2 could go through this trail. 

There's also a bike rental place with kids bikes suitable for those 2 and up and also bikes with baby seat at the front and back for families wanting to bike up the trail. 

Further up the metro green line, there's other kids friendly mountain trails.

One stop up from the end of the line at Xindian to the the green line at Xindian district station you'll find the little lion head (shi tou) mountain trail that's kids friendly but before the age of 3 we haven't hiked this trail.

Then a few stops up, at Jingmei station you'll find the fairy prints (xian ji) mountain trail that we also have yet to hike up. 

3. Kids friendly shopping areas - Carrefour Xindian and IKEA Xindian

IKEA has awesome kids' rooms that my kids love to pretend they live in. I do the same thing with their show rooms.

Carrefour has these great carts that are cars on bottom and grocery rack on top that works well if you only have one child. But not so well if you have just one adult and two kids. Often on the weekends you'd have to go early to grab one of these carts as it gets quite crowded with families. 

Then there are the pre-schools options if you have infants to toddler.

If you copy and paste the words: 幼兒園 (youeryuan)

The ones that seem to be concentrated are near Xindian district office station on Zhongxing road. We saw at least half a dozen on that road just walking up and down on it. 

The one we wanted to go to is called cute mama kindergarten at No. 203 section 1 of zhongxing road. 

There's also a chain preschool by the name of Filex Kids that are around the area:

Kid castle also has a lot of branches all over the island:

Easy recipe: Instant pot eggplant and carrots curry

So I ran across this recipe and thought it would be great as eggplants are difficult for me to cook on the stove. I tend to either overcook or undercooked them when I do eggplant curry on the stove so figure out an easy way to cook them in the instant pot when I saw this recipe:

Here's my easy version of it:

1 whole onion - chopped
2 long eggplants or 1 if you have the bigger thicker ones - cubed
2 small carrots or a bag if they're the snack bags - cubed or thinly sliced
2 cans of coconut milk
2 cubes of the curry spices or you can make your own from the receipt linked above
4 cups of water (or 4 in the cans of the coconut milk)

3 tomatoes
tofu or any meat on hand

Instant pot
You can do the saute steps like in the recipe linked above or you can just put in all the ingredients and press the soup option like I do.

Travel adventures: Fulong beach

So for my birthday, we traveled to Fulong beach.

We were there for the sand sculpture festival that usually goes from 1st of June until the end of July I believe.

You can take the local or express train from Taipei main station to Fulong station. I'd suggest doing this on a weekday as weekends and holidays the train is very crowded. The round trip for adults are around 150NT each and kids half of that. 

There's also the entrance fee into the beach area, for adults I believe the tickets are 100NT and kids 3-12 are 50NT. 

 Here's the map of the park.

 Our favorite sand sculpture is one that depicts the pandemic heroes. See the mask?

There area is very hot so definitely bring sun hats, umbrellas, shoes that are washable and put on lots of sunscreen and bring a lot of water or hit up the convenience stores in the area.

We actually ate lunch from the stores that are right next to the train store, apparently, the bento boxes are famous from this area. 

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:

Novel coronavirus: resources for health care personnel on the frontline

For those of you who are health care professionals on the frontlines, here are some resources I've found that may be helpful for you:

This is a handbook translated from Chinese to English from the Zhejiang University School of Medicine's affiliated hospital that managed to have 0 deaths and 0 nosocomial infections with 104 patients with confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 78 of those being severe or critical conditions:

Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment

Medical Missions, a community of Christian health care professionals and organizations serving the world, has put together some great resources as well:

For those with surgical masks and institutions that may be more adventurous or desperate, here's a study from Taiwan that says you can sterilize surgical masks in rice cookers for up to 5 times:

The head of the command center of Taiwan's infection control has demonstrated in a press briefing:

Let me know in the comments if you've discovered other great resources for health care personnel.

Novel coronavirus: Why such big deal over such a little Covid-19 virus?

As a stay at home mom who also happens to be a public health nurse with a Ph.D. I have been following the course of the coronavirus closely.

So it was sad to see when the U.S. finally realized the seriousness of the outbreak there were people who were still going out to parties and ignoring the importance of social distancing such as the now infamous college student on spring break:

There are people asking, what is the big deal if the virus affects mostly the elderly (over 65) or those with chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease, etc)?

In the greater scheme of things, there's a lot of fear over the virus. Compared to other pandemics in history, it's not ranked at the top for the number of deaths, see helpful infographics here that are constantly updated. 

Unfortunately, we live in an age of social media where people are seeing the numbers and hearing/watching the news in real-time. It's kind of like hearing about a case of a puppy being tortured and killed after the fact versus watching it die before your eyes thinking you could have done something to prevent it.   

What we tend to worry about in the health care system is overburdening the capacity of the system. (From studying this in my Ph.D. process, there's usually a major health care worker shortage most everywhere in the world.) 
So a person who would normally be able to recover from an illness with the care and equipment provided in a hospital might not be able to have access to that and would instead go meet their creator. 
This is what happened in Wuhan, China and why they deployed so many health care professionals and built hospitals to increase capacity:

Also, the virus seems to be very successful in transmitting between humans and wrecking damage in the lungs that don't seem to be controllable with antibiotics:

I like how this Johns Hopkins virologist describes them:
They break into your home, eat your food and use your furniture and have 10,000 babies. “And then they leave the place trashed,”

Having an overcapacity for health care systems is not a good place to be even with the low percentage of risk of death for those who are young and healthy, in the case, you get something other than the virus and need the hospital, you might not get access.
Which is why you have no doubt seen the "flatten the curve" graph, first proposed by the American CDC for the 2007 flu- page 3 here

I like the explanation of the spread of the disease from the visual capitalists that shows that the Covid-19 has a large R0, or spread factor than the flu (for covid-19, 1 person can spread it to 2.5 people and for the flu, 1 person spreads to 1.5 people) and a current higher mortality percentage (2-3% for covid-19 versus 0.5% for the flu). While thousands of people die every flu season, this could be a lot worse since we do not have vaccines or medications yet.

Novel coronavirus: what to do when you suspect you have covid 19

So an ounce of prevention outweighs a pound of cure. It is best to wash one's hands and not to touch one's face and have all kinds of prevention strategies. But in the case where there's just too much of the virus around and you suspect you've caught it, here's what I'd do.

Being a nurse, I'm usually way too paranoid so I'd actually check the differential symptoms with the common cold, flu, and allergies first.

But the American CDC has actually come out with an AI named Clara who'll help you to see if you need to be tested:

In Taiwan, there's a government hotline number you can call (1922) and they can help to decide if you need testing and where to get it done.

Most people without pre-existing conditions or younger than 65 who have mild symptoms can recover at home in isolation (American CDC). This is also not to overwhelm the hospital systems.

You would do the same things you'd do if you were sick at home with the cold/flu, except everyone who you live with will also have to do the same things and not go out. As parents, we're pretty used to our kids coming down with some sort of sickness and all of us having to stay at home. Although the past two times our son ended up in the hospital with pneumonia so we're extra nervous and even though Taiwan has not imposed lock-down, we've imposed self-quarantine for awhile now.

We don't check the mail, no one really mails anymore anyways. And our groceries are delivered to our apartment complex.

It's drinking a lot of fluids and sleeping it off like my husband and son are demonstrating here (when they didn't have any sickness).

However, if you suspect you or someone in your home has Covid-19 which is highly contagious, be sure to give the person with the suspected case their own separate sets of linens/towels, room, silverware, personal hygiene items, toys. But if you're the parents of a child who is not totally independent yet, try to have one designated parent who is healthy (or more healthy) to take the child and get them to rest, drink a lot and play in a designated area (their own personal fort/room that others aren't allowed to come in for two weeks).

For our son who was 3 when the coronavirus hit, we had to sit down and explain why everyone is out wearing masks and why he had to wash his hands and sing the alphabet song so many times. This cartoon PDF from United 4 Children may be helpful:

Novel coronavirus: when you have to self-quarantine with toddlers part 1

With most things with kids, it's hard to make a plan that goes exactly right but when you don't have a plan it's a disaster.

I know there's a ton of online educational sites offering free subscriptions right now but with little kids, I'd like to limit screen time unless I'm desperate (happens more often than I'd like to admit).

So, if you're looking at quarantine with toddlers here's what I've found to be helpful:

Arts & crafts:

I stocked up on about two rims of paper, colored pencils, crayons, markers, pencils, paint and paintbrushes at my local store. It's helpful to have a storage box to put everything in.

The result was this:

But the kids had a blast! Except I probably should have saved more newspapers and made them wear their aprons.

For the older kids, hundreds of museums all over the world have transformed their art into coloring pages so you could totally do an art lesson with this:

Then there's planting:

I got this kit from a monthly subscription magazine and apparently, everyone at one time in Taiwan schools has planted window plants of cabbage.

But did remember to put something down on the floor to catch the dirty since I let the kids put the dirt in. I'm the worst person to do plants so I hope it grows in two weeks according to the instructions.

But there's a ton of lesson plans for this out there:

I was going to try to do composting but realize this may need a year or worms that I have no idea how to get. So well see if I can figure out just doing fertilizer from organic materials at home. If anyone has good ideas. Post below.