in search of dragons

two friends set out one blistering hot afternoon to explore the hidden temples of Hsinchu. we got over the "what are those white girls doing?" stares and poked our cameras [respectfully, of course] into some of the most beautiful places in the city.

we stumbled upon one large temple in search of another, and were waved in and given the "ok" to take pictures by some men painting. red lanterns galore greeted us, and a set of stairways leading up.

for an incredible 15 minutes, we had this temple space to ourselves. and I was able to click away on undoubtably my favorite subject in Taiwan. dragons. the upper level put us at the perfect hight for viewing the lower roofline's decorations. up close and in-your-face. I have never been so close to temple dragons, and probably never be will again.

every scale, every tooth and claw, every wire whisker was right there in front of me. set in beautiful contrast to the half-abandoned cement buildings surrounding the temple. I might have shed a tear I was so happy. or maybe that was just sweat dripping down my face? either way, it was magical.

flowers, birds and other strange creatures were all right there for the photo-taking. I could have stayed there, clicking and sweating, all afternoon. but mostly looking at the dragons.

discovering places like this makes me so grateful that I've had this opportunity to live in Taiwan. having a friend who is willing to come and sweat alongside me while exploring - even more so. spending an afternoon dragon hunting would have been beyond the realm of my comprehension five years ago, but now it's hard to imagine life any other way.


so I'm taking a "visa vacation"

there are a lot of benefits to being a "trailing spouse" of an international teacher. mostly: I don't have to work. sure, I do work. I've been writing my book and blogging, teaching my blog class, trying to keep the apartment in order and still get out and explore Taiwan. but for the purposes of most people's [and the Taiwanese government's] definition... I don't have a job.

which means, I do not qualify for a work permit. my visa is residential only, and is given to me because I am married to someone who does qualify for a work permit. our original visa application took place in New York [after a visit to the NY Public Library to print forms and CVS to get passport photos.] we were issued visas that allowed us to enter Taiwan and apply for Alien Residence Cards [ARCs] and those ARCs were renewed last summer before we left Taiwan in July.

well... due to the fact that I left Taiwan in early June this year and other circumstances that were beyond my control, my visa did not get renewed this summer. before Husband left, he was able to get a special extension sticker in his passport, but I didn't qualify. so I returned to Taiwan on a tourist visa, with the intent to re-apply for a new ARC this fall. I was told I could accomplish this easily with a visit to Taipei.

but since it is a new visa and not a renewal, it can't be done on Taiwanese soil.

it doesn't matter that I previously had an ARC, it doesn't matter that I lived in Taiwan for 2 years, that my Husband has received his new ARC, or that I've filed all the necessary online paperwork. I have to physically go to another country to be approved.

so next week, I am taking a visa vacation to Hong Kong. I have to present myself at the TECO office with all my paperwork by 11am, then return the next day to [hopefully] retrieve my new visa.

even though I'm traveling for "business" I'm hoping I can make the most out of my trip. the last time I visited Hong Kong was before I knew the world of travel blogging existed. I did little to no planning about where to go, and more importantly, what to eat. but I've been scouring the web and am happy to report that I've found not only a place that serves gluten-free sandwiches, but a tasty-sounding Mexican joint as well.

and [as strange as it was for me to realize this] other than business trips back in my past life, this is my first time traveling solo. certainly my first time traveling to another country solo. which makes me both nervous and excited for this experience... and I have to ask: do you have any tips on traveling solo? or places I should visit/ eat at in Hong Kong?


Georgetown, TX // Inner Space Caverns

I've always loved the word "spelunking" but I never realized it was only a North American term. the rest of the world calls it "caving" or "potholing." but whatever term you use, exploring a cave can be quite an experience.

while we were on our whirlwind tour of the US this summer, Husband and I dropped in to visit Inner Space Caverns on the recommendation of my sister-in-law. she lives north of Austin, Texas [we were visiting her at the time] and Georgetown was just a short drive.

the Inner Space Cavern was discovered about 50 years ago when construction workers were building I-35. they drilled down to take a ground sample and came up with nothing... and realized there must be a cave.

we opted for the shortest and least intense of the cave tours. part of the cave has been wired with electric lights and a path has been cleared and paved for easy walking [I made the trip in flip flops.] the other tours involve carrying your own flashlight, helmets, and even climbing gear.

I remember visiting Mammoth Cave in Kentucky when I was younger - this cave is a lot smaller but it packs some unique formations into a small space. our tour was maybe 3/4 of a mile in total, and all the ground we covered had something going on. my favorite part was at the end of the tour when we went down to an underground lake. it was so surreal to see the water and the reflections, knowing you were underground.

I did my best to capture things with my camera, though it was difficult without using flash or a tripod. I would definitely recommend bumping up your ISO and opening your aperture as wide as possible to compensate for the low light. [most of these were taken at ISO 800 and f/2]

there are a few bats in the cave, but they're harmless. mostly they just want to keep napping and let you move along your tour. the creepiest part for me was when Husband made a Gollum reference... ick.

other than that, we really enjoyed our morning touring the caves. it was much cooler underground [by about 20 degrees F] and it was a great way to escape the Texas summer heat. and, of course, we stopped at In-N-Out Burger afterwards... so really, a perfect morning.

linking up with Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for Travel Tuesday.

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