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The holiday mood was noticeably more pronounced as December approached. I could already feel it when people started going on leave one by one and when I couldn't contact the people I wanted to contact HAHA. Anyway, I was still working till 30th December, but it was only a half-day for me since I needed to utilise my SG50 leave by the end of 2015. So I planned my leave really well haha, although I had booked my air ticket before my boss approved my leave LOL. It was a bit risky, but thankfully boss let me off. ;P

Our flight to Taipei was during the wee hours of 31st December, so Girly and I met at Changi Airport at around 11 pm. We checked-in and our plane left on time, but since it was raining, our plane got stalled at the runway for quite awhile. As usual with midnight flights for me, I couldn't sleep well. ;_;

All prices quoted are in NTD$.

Thursday 31/12/2015 (Day 1)

I'm still of the opinion that Changi Airport is the best airport in the world! So much pride! ^^

We landed at around 5.30 am. Taoyuan Airport felt really cold to me, but then again, I was only wearing a long-sleeve top since I had packed my winter coat into my check-in luggage instead. After clearing the immigration, Girly and I lagged around the airport because none of the shops were opened that early and I needed to get a local SIM card.

We took a skytrain to terminal 2 when it was around 7 am as Chunghwa's shop at T2 opens earlier than the rest. The card was really very reasonable; $500 for 10 days of unlimited 4G data!! ;O Coverage for this telcom was really very good, except that it got cut off when the trains I took went underground (into the mountains). But otherwise, I didn't witness any interruption of services.

I found their train system a bit confusing at first. There is a difference between the high-speed railway (HSR) and the normal railway, which are both operated by different vendors. Girly bought train tickets from Taoyuan to Taipei Main Station, but it turned out that the tickets she bought were only for the normal railway trains, not the HSR. And we took the bus to the HSR station. ._. However, the counter staff was very kind to explain the differences to us, so once we settled our tickets, off we embarked on our 20-minute ride to Taipei Main Station.

We go our 悠遊卡 (Youyou card), which is Taiwan's equivalent of Singapore's EZ-link card. It expires in 20 years LOL, so despite the card deposit not being refundable, I guess it's still pretty worth it if I were to return to Taiwan again.

We took the train to Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station, which is where Cynthia, our host for the next 2 days, lives. After putting down our luggages at her house, Cynthia brought us nearby to have some Taiwanese breakfast, which included the scallion pancake, fried dough fritters in soybean milk etc. I liked the pan-fried carrot cake the most lol, which was really a surprise as this is a Cantonese dish. Most people in Taiwan are Hakkas/Hokkiens.

Cynthia also brought us to walk around the wet market before leaving for work. Girly and I decided to go to Addiction Aquatic Development (I shall name it "AAD" for short here; the Chinese name is 上引水產) for lunch. This place had been on my radar since I'm really a lover of raw food and I had seen my cousin-in-law posting such delicious pictures of the food there on Instagram a few years back. We alighted at Xingtian Gong MRT station, and read that a taxi must be taken in order to reach the place. However, since both of us were still feeling quite full from breakfast, we decided to walk to that place instead. The distance was pretty alright in my opinion. We took about 15 minutes to reach there by foot. Coupled with the cold weather and cooling winds, it definitely didn't feel that the walk was long and labourious. ;)

The entrance of AAD.

AAD was really very crowded even though it was close to 2 pm, which is past lunchtime already. It was obvious that 95% of the people here were tourists, Singaporeans included heehee. We walked around and saw many varieties of fresh seafood, which included huge-ass crabs hahaha. I managed to get the second last box of assorted sushi, which included a uni and otoro sushi for $520. I felt that it was really very worth it since the uni and otoro parts are definitely the most expensive ingredients in Japanese dishes.

There wasn't any places for us to sit down and eat properly, so we had to actually stand up and share tables with other people. It was pretty inconvenient to me. ;X

My sushi platter. They tasted really damn fresh. And gosh, the uni just felt so creamy and... It was my first time tasting uni, and I will definitely eat it again, hopefully in Japan. ;P

After lunch, we walked to Wufenpu. I have been to my fair share of places in Northeast Asia, and to be honest, some of the places in Taipei really looked like the places I have been to in Seoul and Osaka. Wufenpu felt a lot like Ewha to me, but obviously, I liked Ewha a lot more. I guess I do not really like the Taiwanese style of fashion. And I find it damn irritating when the motorcyclists and car drivers try to worm their way through the very narrow roads while the shoppers are still walking along the pathway. The fumes that the motorcycles in Taiwan emit are damn toxic and smelly, so it really marred the whole experience for me. ;X

The sun in Taiwan set pretty early, like around 5.15 pm, so we made our way to Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市) for dinner. It was really very crowded, probably due to it being New Year's Eve, so it wasn't a very enjoyable experience squeezing with so many people. We walked for quite a bit, browsing through the stalls before we decided on buying the smelly tofu, grilled mushrooms and herbal spareribs. I have eaten my share of smelly tofu in Singapore's pasar malam, but I don't really see pasar malams in Singapore anymore. Even if I do come across one, it seems like they have stopped selling the smelly tofu, so I was really happy to eat smelly tofu here. ;D

The entrance of Raohe Night Market

The smelly tofu we got at Raohe tasted really good! It had the right amount of taste and smell, and I really enjoyed the sauce that came with it very much.

The delicious smelly tofu! The taste is definitely nicer than its smell haha! ^^

Our herbal spareribs.

Our grilled mushrooms were really good too!

Mandatory selfie at Raohe. ;D

After dinner, we took the train to Xiangshan. A few of the roads had been closed due to the New Year celebrations. There were so many people as well. We both knew that Taipei 101 would be crazily crowded, so we decided to go to Xiangshan instead to catch the New Year fireworks. It also turned out to be equally crowded as Xiangshan is a mountain and has a really good view of the Taipei 101 building.

Taipei 101 from Xiangshan.

The climb up to Xiangshan was really torturous. ;( The weather was pretty cold, but I had to remove my winter coat because I was sweating while climbing. When we finally came to a rest, it turned out that we haven't even reached the top yet. There were already many people crowding around the view spots, so argh. I swear I really hate crowds. We had to wait for over 4 hours before the countdown finally began. On top of that, it started drizzling while we were waiting, so the weather got really colder and the winds were very strong.

To be honest, the fireworks that were shooting out from Taipei 101 were nice lah, but it felt too short as it was over in 3 minutes. Am I being too spoiled in Singapore? I last went for the New Year countdown a few years back, and I had sworn not to join another countdown again.

After the fireworks were over, there was another torturous journey of walking down the mountain and Xiangshan MRT station was closed for quite some time so as to limit the number of people going in. OK, now I really swear not to join another countdown party ever again. Please kick me if I do. ;(

Damn crowded I really cannot...

We reached Cynthia's home at 1.30 am even though she lives near Taipei 101. I felt so bad for waking her up. My legs were aching like nobody's business. ;(

Friday 01/01/2016 (Day 2)
HAPPY NEW YEAR! OK, maybe not. I was feeling quite angsty because ARGH, CROWDS AGAIN. T_T We had planned to spend one day at Jiufen and Shifen, so we took the train to Ruifang in order to catch the bus that goes to Jiufen. Taipei's skies were perpetually gloomy ever since Day 1 lol, and today's weather was no different. After alighting at Ruifang train station, we walked around, looking for breakfast to eat.

Gloomy gloomy Ruifang...

I chanced upon a 7-11 convenience stall and saw that they were selling lok lok, which was what I really wanted to eat 'cos the weather was cold and gloomy and I was in need of some soup to warm myself up. I didn't regret buying my lok lok because as I've realised, food in Taiwan is generally cheap. I picked 3 items for only $36?! Siao haha. And the soup was really delicious! *nyam nyam*

My lok lok. I especially liked the fish tofu so freaking much. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to eat it again. The soup wasn't filled to the brim as I didn't want to pee. I didn't really fancy going to toilets in Taiwan that much as most of them don't have toilet rolls inside. ;X Hail to the toilets in SG!

While walking around, we decided to go into a random shop that sold mee sua by the roadside. Oh gosh, that mee sua was SO GOOD. Like the best food I had in Taiwan so far. It came with pig intestines and oysters. And the owner definitely didn't compromise on the amount she gave us. It was good enough for Girly and I to share. ;_;

SHIOK. I remembered that it was super duper cheap, at only $35!!

After our satisfying breakfast, we walked to the bus-stop to wait for the bus which would take us to Jiufen. As it was a holiday, there were many people queuing up to get on the buses as well. We missed one bus 'cos we couldn't get up, but the next bus came rather quickly though. We took bus 1062 and it was super packed. The bus kept going round and round as we went up the mountain. I felt a bit giddy. ;X

We finally reached Jiufen after a 20-minute bus ride. It was pretty windy, but Jiufen really had the 1920s feel to it, which I really liked and appreciated.

View from Jiufen.

Entrance! Food stalls galore!

Wild boar sausages. One stick cost $35. Fat die us, but oh so sinful~ ;P

More shots...

Visiting the famous Ah Gan dessert store (阿柑姨芋圆) which can be reached by walking further in....

The famed dessert.

We also tried the dessert from Lai Ah Por (賴阿婆芋圓), which also had long queues snaking. I liked the soup from Ah Gan better, but Lai Ah Por had better-tasting taro and sweet potato balls. ;) So both stalls had their good points.

While leaving Ah Gan, we passed by a few other interesting shops.

A shop selling very cute things relating to cats. They even have a real kitty in there. ^^

This stall had a super old-school feel to it. And they sold so many nostalgic snacks which I used to have as a child. ;_;

The famous lane from the top.

The famous lane from the bottom.

The famous landmark of Jiufen, Ah Mei Teahouse. This teahouse appeared in Spirited Away, which I really loved when I watched it a few years back.

We spent quite a bit of time in Jiufen, before deciding that we've covered most of the places we wanted to cover. We then took the bus out of Jiufen back to Ruifang, where we caught the train to Shifen. Big mistake going to places like these on a public holiday because the trains were FREAKING PACKED. ;( I was literally squashed to the door.

After what felt like eternity, the train finally stopped at Shifen, which was where everybody got off. -.-'''

Shifen is also an old street which retains its old-school charm very well. I think I'm a sucker for this kind of places because Singapore doesn't have such streets. ._.

People are actually allowed to walk on tracks here. But of course, when the train pulls in, everybody must stay off them.

The entrance of the suspension bridge...

The suspension bridge was pretty shaky haha, but I like. ;P

View of Shifen from the bridge.

We proceeded to pay $200 to put our sky lanterns, which I thought was pretty worth it as well. It was quite an experience writing down our wishes for the year and to see our lanterns soar way, way up to the sky. Of course, we saw some lanterns falling down from the sky as well HAHA, but we didn't stay to see our lantern fall. xD

As we still had some time before we were due to meet Cynthia, we decided to walk over to see the Shifen Waterfalls. It was pretty majestic, and thank goodness we managed to reach there before the park closed at 4.30 pm.

View of the waterfalls.

We made our way back to Shifen as we had to catch the train back to mainland Taipei. Many people were also rushing to catch the train back to Taipei so Shifen was exceptionally crowded during the time we wanted to go back. ;(

Bought this super nice fried squid/octopus/calamari (haha, I couldn't quite tell what it was) for $150!!!

The lanterns in Shifen.

The crowds during this time really drove me crazy. The platform at Shifen was already pretty small and narrow to begin with, but there were so many people trying to squeeze and get onto the platform. Moreover, there were brainless parents with prams and small little kids trying to push their way through even though there clearly wasn't anymore space for anybody to even MOVE. And that was when tempers flared because they accused people of not moving in zZz... I feel that the parents are to blame because who asked y'all to visit this place when it was going to be clear that the place will be mega crowded? And still got the gall to roll their prams all over our feet. Screw you all seriously?!?! -.-'''

Oh and what's new? Because the platform was super crowded, not everybody could get onto the first train that pulled into the station. And the next train ended up coming 45 MINUTES LATER. I just felt like dying during that point of time. And when we finally got on, the train was so crowded and nobody got off until Taipei Main Station. All in all, I had stood for almost 2 hours straight. I hadn't fully recovered from yesterday's hike up to Xiangshan, so I was already feeling really very angsty and tired. And the train's aircon was seemingly down? At that point of time, both Girly and I felt like cancelling our appointment with Cynthia and go straight back home to rest. ;( This is really one trip which I never wish to repeat again. I have so much hate for their snail-speed railway. ARGH.

We finally met Cynthia, almost 2 hours behind our original meeting time of 6.30 pm. We wanted to go to Shilin Night Market, so we alighted at Jiantan and walked over. We queued for the famous Shilin chicken cutlet. The queue was mudder scary I can't...

Hi Shilin!

While Cynthia queued for the chicken cutlet for us, we went to buy this as well! This was my first time trying fried milk. Yummy! ;D

The famous chicken cutlet stall which is located just by the roadside.

Crazy queue... O.O'''

We walked around Shilin, but as it was New Year, the number of people on the streets was no joke and as I've mentioned, I really hate crowds, so during that time, all I could think of was just to get out of the place. I got to try my papaya milk though, so that made me less angsty LOL. We also saw many old-school arcade games in Shilin.

It was about 11 pm when we finally made our way back home. I couldn't wait to get back home 'cos my legs were feeling damn sore... Thankfully Cynthia lives in central Taipei so the journey back home wasn't that long... ;O

Saturday 02/01/2016 (Day 3)
Cynthia had to report to work at 8 am even on a Saturday, which meant that we had to leave the house earlier as well. It was our last day with her, so after bidding her farewell, we took the MRT to Taipei Main Station. As we had planned to visit the hot springs at Xinbeitou, we decided to leave our luggages in the lockers at Taipei Main Station. After putting our luggages aside, we went over to 7-11 to buy breakfast. Since Taipei Main Station is a major interchange station, the 7-11 here was extremely packed as well. I decided not to go for the lok lok even though I really wanted to as I wanted to try other types of food that they sold.

My yummy breakfast! Only $39!!! ;D

Very interesting sign outside the toilet. It showed which toilets were empty.

After breakfast, we took the train to Xinbeitou. Once we alighted, we could actually smell the sulfur in the air. Thus, we began our walk to the hot springs. The hot spring that we wanted to visit was Millenium Hot Springs (新北投千禧湯露天溫泉), and it was about 10 minutes away from Xinbeitou MRT station by foot.

The entrance of Xinbeitou MRT station.

There were different timings to go into the hot springs. I guess this is to prevent overcrowding. Since we missed the first period to go in, we decided to visit the museum that was located besides the hot springs and lagged there until around 10.15 am, where we walked out to queue for tickets to go into the 10.30 am slot. We paid only $40 to go in, and another $20 for the lockers to keep our bags.

We were not supposed to take pictures of the hot spring, so this was the last shot I managed to sneak in.

People who come here are required to wear a swimsuit, not go in naked haha. Girls with long hair are also required to tie up their hair, as I was asked to lol. I didn't really think that my hair was that long. ._. Anyway, this was my very first time in a hot spring, and I really enjoyed the experience a lot. The spring at the lowest level had the most comfortable temperature, but it was also the dirtiest as everybody crowded over there. It was still pretty clean when I first went in, but it became damn gross as time passed. *digusted face* I decided to go into the spring at the highest level, which had a temperature of about 45ºC. It was freaking hot I swear. I really salute those old people who can just sit in there nonchalantly while I was yelping around in pain and splashing water all around 'cos it was just too hot for me. ;X The hot waters smelled sulfuric to me, and tasted very salty too (I accidentally got some on my lips yucks), but there were two pools which had ice-cold water. I guess those were for people who decided that they had enough of hot water. The cold water felt damn cold to me at first, but it got quite shiok as I slowly got used to the water. So for the next 1 hour or so, I was happily hopping from the hot water to the cold and vice-versa. xD

After we both decided that we have had enough, we cleaned up, got dressed and decided to go for lunch. We decided to try the famous ramen at Man Ke Wu Ramen (滿客屋拉麵), which was just about a 3-minute leisurely walk from where the hot springs were. The queue for this was terrifying. People even had to queue on the steps?! But thankfully the queue moved pretty quickly, so we ended up waiting for about 30 minutes for a table of two during lunch hours. This was because once we were nearly at the foot of the queue, we were supposed to place our orders so that by the time we got our seats, the food would have been served to us about 5 minutes later. The food here was really delicious and worth the price. We only paid around $150 per person. ;)

Look at that queue... O.O'''

Freaking nice tofu. Totally regretted buying only one to share. ;_;

Our hot spring eggs. Food porn, sorry not sorry. I must add that it was damn delicious as well. ;_;

This doesn't look much, but it was so good as well. Only $120! ;_;

After lunch, we decided to explore the place further as there was still time for us as our train to Hualien would only be at 4.28 pm. We walked over to Thermal Valley, which is also known as Hell Valley (地熱谷). The smell of sulfur was really strong here, and the water here can measure up to 90ºC, which is almost boiling water point?! Imagine dropping inside. ._.

Hell Valley.

We left after touring the place, which wasn't really very big, and so we stopped by a convenience store for some desserts. I have so much love for their convenience stores, especially 7-11 HAHAHA.

Just chilling as we wanted some rest. The jellies tasted damn good and refreshing. There were real juicy fruit pieces to boot!

We went to the Beitou Hot Spring Museum (北投溫泉博物館) afterwards. There was a queue to get in because we had to remove our shoes and put on the slippers provided before they let us in. The museum used to be a public bathhouse so the architecture was also pretty retro-looking.

Picture at the entrance of the museum.

This is damn funny HAHAHA.

We decided that it was time for us to leave Xinbeitou for Taipei. I had no idea why the train was so packed, but argh. I hate crowds. ;_; We went to retrieve our luggages. Luggage storage is really cheap here. I paid only $160 for 7+ hours of storage. It is actually $20 for every 1 hour. Thankfully, we managed to catch our train to Hualien as our train left right on the dot.

The journey to Hualien took pretty long, so I also took the opportunity to sleep. When we reached Hualien, it was raining, so we took the cab to Shui Ming Yang BnB, which would be our accommodation during our stay in Hualien. It was already dark by the time we reached Hualien, and it then dawned on us that we haven't had our dinner yet. The host cooked us instant noodles and since it was raining, we decided to call it a day.

Our room in Shui Ming Yang was really big and spacious. Although the toilet was supposedly shared, since the toilet was just right outside our room, it meant that we didn't have to wait for people to finish using the toilet before we could. Out of all the accommodations we had stayed in Taiwan, I really love Shui Ming Yang the most. ^^

The noodles that the host cooked for us.

Sunday 03/01/2016 (Day 4)
We woke up to every traveller's nightmare: IT WAS RAINING. D; There was breakfast for us, but it was just sponge cream cake and some ang ku keuh thingy which was too sticky for me. I now realise that I don't really fancy Taiwanese glutinous rice snacks that much. ;X

We had hired Ms Gu (can contact her at +886 09 3508 3682) to be our driver for Hualien, but her son, Zeng, came to pick us up instead. It turns out that Ms Gu's entire family is involved in driving tourists around Hualien. Ms Gu couldn't bring us around because somebody else had already booked her services. Hiring a driver is a must in Hualien as from what I could recall, there weren't any public transport available at all, besides taxis plying the road. We paid $3000 for Zeng to drive us around and brief us on the notable attractions. The price was quoted by Ms Gu via Whatsapp and it was for two people.

It was a long drive to Taroko Gorge. I realised that Taroko was really big, because all the places that Zeng brought us to were actually all related to Taroko.



Qingshui Cliffs. The scenery here was really beautiful with all the fog / mist. It looked really mystical, but RAIN. D;

Zeng then brough us to hike through Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道), which was a few minutes away from where Qingshui was by car. The view was really spectacular with the turquoise waters and imposing natural marble structures, but as I've said, it was raining so I think that kinda dampened my mood.

The entrance of Shakadang.

While on the trail...

We then went to the Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠), which was really a very pretty and yet solemn place as more than 200 workers died to build the highway that runs through the mountains. We then walked the suspension bridge, which was much sturdier than the one at Shifen, in the sense that it didn't really sway haha. Girly and I decided to hike up (damn tiring) and we finally found the Bell Tower. We rang the bell 3 times for good luck before making our way back down.

The entrance of the shrine.

The not-so-wobbly suspension bridge.

The pretty view from the Bell Tower.

Selfie at the Bell Tower.

Me ringing the Bell Tower. ._.

It was around lunchtime, so Zeng brought us to eat lunch. The beef noodles here were pretty good, but I loved the cold drunken chicken the best!

The awesome cold drunken chicken.

What we had...

Moving on...

Wearing a helmet at the Swallow Grotto as there was a high possibility of encountering falling rocks, more so with the rainy weather.

Spot the Frog Prince!

At the Cimu Bridge, which was built by some guy in order to show filial piety to his parents or something...

Inside the Cimu Bridge pavillion.

Hiking again... ._.

As our tour around Hualien drew to a close, Zeng brought us to Qixingtan Beach, which was undoubtedly beautiful as seen from pictures on the Internet. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't really in our favour so instead of the azure blue skies seen on most pictures, we had gloomy skies instead, with fog / mist obstructing our view. Otherwise, the Pacific Ocean was no doubt, expansive, and yet, scary. The waves were huge, and crashed onto the shore with ferocity. One thing worth nothing about Qixingtan Beach is that instead of it having the white sand which I am accustomed to seeing, the shoreline is made of pebbles. This was why despite the rainy weather, it wasn't that icky walking around Qixingtan.

Fierce waters.

Threatening skies...

Fierce winds and rain. I was pretty soaked and was shivering while taking this photo. Look at my soaked shoes. ;X

Zeng drove us back to the city area of Hualien, where he dropped us off. Since it was our last night in Hualien, Girly and I decided to find the famous eating establishments and tour the city area at the same time. We stopped by Gongzheng Baozi (公正包子) for their dumplings. It seems that in Taiwan, if you wish to dine-in, all you have to do is to find a place to sit at and the owner / shop assistant will come over to you and take your orders. If you wish to order take-out, you will have to join the queue outside the shop. o.O'''

Anyway, we ordered the steamed dumplings and the dumpling soup, which were oh-so-good I cannot... ;_; Xiaolongbao was on their menu too, but we didn't get to try those. Girly said that the xiaolongbaos here were not the usual xiaolongbaos; over here, their skin was fluffy in texture instead, much like the normal Cantonese paus. o.O'''

Outside the store...

Steamed dumplings for only $30?! Just take my money! They were so damn good I cried.

The soup wasn't really the clear broth per say. It had more of a gooey and starchy texture to it. This cost $50. I could do without the "soup" haha. The dumplings used here were the same as the steamed dumplings above.

As we were feeling quite full from the dumplings, we decided to walk around before proceeding to Mr Goose (鹅肉先生) for dinner. Mr Goose was clearly popular as the restaurant was operating at full capacity. We didn't know what to order, so we did take a bit longer to decide what we were going to eat. The shop assistant got quite impatient with us and left. ;(

In the end, we ordered the braised pork rice, cold dish (凉拌) and 100g (minimum weight which all diners must order) of the goose as we were still feeling quite full from the dumplings. I couldn't really tell what I was eating for the cold dish, but it was strangely delicious haha. The goose I ate here was special, mainly because this was the first time I was eating steamed goose instead of the roasted Cantonese variant. The braised pork rice was nice too, but it had more fatty layers than meat. Nevertheless, it did "melt" in my mouth. Sinful, but quite good. ;P

Dinner at Mr Goose.

We went over to Shark Bites Toast, which is a cute little cafe just located directly opposite Mr Goose. Girly bought the papaya milk which cost double the price than what is usually sold in the night markets LOL. Since I was quite full, I didn't order anything, so she had to take-out her drink since the cafe has a policy that every diner must at least order a drink in order to dine-in.

The cute toys at the cafe. Someone please get me the broccoli toy!! ^^

With that, we embarked on our 20-minute walk back to our cosy accommodation at Shui Ming Yang. It then started raining heavily again. -.-'''

Monday 04/01/2016 (Day 5)
The sky finally cleared up, and WHAT A BEAUTIFUL BLUE IT WAS. I swear I felt like crying because had the weather been good yesterday, Qixingtan would have been exceptionally gorgeous. ;_; Breakfast was better than yesterday's, probably because today was our last day in Hualien HAHAHA. The host bought us scallion pancakes and soyabean milk. The pancakes tasted really good with the soy sauce and chilli. ;)

The view from my room. I felt like I was in some European country can... ;_;

Our train to Taichung was only at 1.28 pm, but we had to check-out by 11 am, so the host suggested that we go out and take a walk since the weather was really good. The weather was good in the sense that it wasn't raining, but it also became really hot and unbearable. I was only wearing a long-sleeve top, but the sun was so strong that by the time I came back to Shui Ming Yang about 2 hours later, we had to switch on the fan at full-blast and fan ourselves. ;X It was like Singapore's weather. Yucks. Where / what is winter???

At the pier.

The view of the Pacific Ocean. See how clear the skies were. ;_;

The host (sorry, I didn't get her name LOL) helped us call for a taxi. Our trip from Shui Ming Yang to Hualien Railway Station cost only $100!!! It was pretty unexpected haha. Since there was still time, we lagged around the station and bought our railway bentos from there as well. Thank goodness we had the good sense to get our railway bentos from the 7-11 shop in the railway station because when the trolley-pushers came on board to sell food, they said that the bentos were totally sold out. D; Imagine the hunger of those people who didn't buy bentos!

I really have so much love for Taiwan's 7-11! They sell literally everything there!! D; This was the railway bento that I had bought. It tasted pretty good, and it cost only $65! The cabbage inside was surprisingly tasty, and so was the braised chicken drumstick that came with my bento. ;D

Our train journey from Hualien to Taichung was about 4 hours, because the train went back to Taipei before proceeding on to Taichung. Since it was a long trip, I slept for about half the trip, and woke up in time to see the sun setting.

Sunset from the train. As I've mentioned, the air quality in Taiwan wasn't very good on the whole. As the train zoomed past, I could see smoke bellowing out from the chimneys of the factories. ;X

It was already pitch dark when we reached Taichung Railway Station at 5.30 pm. Even though our hotel was supposedly near the railway station, we still took quite a bit of time to find it as there weren't many street lamps, so navigation became a bit more difficult. The room we had in Moon Lake Hotel was pretty alright. It was big enough for us to walk about and we had our own toilet, but obviously nothing came close to Shui Ming Yang hahaha. That was really the best accommodation I had stayed in for the whole of my Taiwan trip. I guess the location also played a part.

After putting down our luggages, we asked the counter staff how to go to Fengjia Night Market from the hotel. She told us where to board the bus, but the bus journey would already take 45 minutes, so both Girly and I decided to just heck and hailed a taxi to go to Fengjia instead. Our taxi trip cost $220, which was pretty reasonable in my opinion.

The entrance of Fengjia Night Market. Fengjia was still bustling, but I liked walking here a lot more than Shilin, probably because it wasn't as packed. I guess coming during a weekday also really helped. ;)

The German pork knuckle which cost $100. We took the honey mustard flavour. The pork really tasted very succulent and good! Yummy! ;D

This chicken cutlet is apparently very famous that we even had to get a queue ticket for it. As with all fried chicken cutlets in Taiwan, it came with bones. The cutlet tasted really good, but I thought I had tasted something similar at Shilin in Taipei. Hmm...

In my opinion, this was the best food buy of the night haha. I love my root vegetables, and I was delighted to find out that they had actually found a way to incorporate root veggies into chewy QQ balls. I bought the small packet for only $30!! I should have bought the big packet for an additional $20!! Big regret of my life LOL. xD

We were dying to try the coffin bread (pardon the pun hahaha), so as this was probably the last time we would step into a night market in Taiwan, we decided to give this a go! The bread we chose was dumped with various ingredients, and then drenched with some mushroom soup. It tasted pretty good, but I don't think I will ever have a craving for this. ._.

We also did some shoe shopping. I feel that Taiwan doesn't really sell nice clothes, but the shoes that I came across looked pretty. I bought a pair of Korean-looking shoes for $390! Hopefully they last and not come apart a few days later. ;X The shops along the roads of Fengjia reminded me of Hongdae. It didn't help that the shops also sold Korean accessories and whatnot. I miss Korea now. ;(

After we decided that we had enough of Fengjia, we hailed a taxi back. I felt that the taxi-driver drove a bit recklessly by weaving in and out of the lanes, but I guess that's how drivers in Taiwan generally drive. o.O'''

Tuesday 05/01/2016 (Day 6)
We woke up to have breakfast, which was a modest buffet-styled spread. There wasn't any Western option besides bread, butter and jam. It was mostly a Chinese food affair. I'm not a picky eater, so the breakfast was good enough for me.

Our plan for the day was to make a trip down to Sun Moon Lake (which I will shorten to "SML" here). SML bus tickets could only be bought at the Taichung HSR station (not the railway station) or Gancheng Station. Since Gancheng is located nearer to our hotel, we decided to head over there to buy our tickets instead. It turned out that along Gancheng itself, there were many shops selling bus tickets, so you have to be sure that you are buying tickets form the correct shop. The people manning the shops will tell you if you are in the right place to buy tickets or not.

We managed to catch the Nantou bus that went to SML just as it was about to leave. Thank God, if not we would have to wait for the next bus which would come only in another 30 minutes. The bus journey was very comfortable because the leg room was really huge. The journey was slightly over 2 hours, and I did manage to sleep comfortably on the bus. The tickets for the return trip cost $340. There was supposedly a SML pass that one could buy for $680, but we didn't get to enquire about it as we were rushing to buy the tickets to catch the bus.

The bus stopped at Shuishe Visitor Centre, which is usually the first stop for tourists going to SML. We bought our boat tickets here for $250 (original price was $300, but we said we were students, so the auntie charged us the student price), which allowed for unlimited boat rides. Since we started off from Shuishe, we walked to the souvenir shops while trying to find the pier to board the boat.

The view from Shuishe.

We finally found the boat which would bring us to Xuanguang Temple. This is where Monk Xuanguang's (the monk in Journey to the West) remains are kept. This was also where the famous Ah Ma tealeaf eggs are sold! We bought two eggs for $25. The eggs smelled really very different, and more importantly, fragrant. It smelled like mushrooms, which I really love. When I bit into the egg, I just felt like crying 'cos it was really that good. I wolfed it down in seconds. o.O'''

While on the boat to Xuanguang Temple. What a pretty blue!!

The famous Ah Ma tealeaf egg shop. I was the first in line. After that, the queue became horrendously long. ._.

More scenery from Xuanguang Temple.

At some sculpture in Xuanguang Temple.

Selfie 'cos lighting was good. #nofilter

We then took the boat to Ita Thao, which was also where we stayed until we had to catch the last boat back to Shuishe. Ita Thao is a very quaint little town. I realise that I do really love this type of towns a lot. The shop assistants here also look darker and different from the mainland Taiwanese. I'm guessing that they are from the tribes.

Welcome to Ita Thao~~~

The street in Ita Thao.

I bought instant macaroni from the 7-11 in Ita Thao hahaha. That thing really tasted very delicious and most importantly, it cost me only $50! What is life? ;_;

I bought the black tea (without sugar) from this shop since it looked famous HAHAHA. The tea tasted really fragrant.

This macaroni tasted really damn good I couldn't believe it was actually instant food LOL.

We spent quite a bit of time getting the attention of this particular dog, but it seemed to be content with just having fun itself. ;( Nevertheless, this dog was really cute. ;3

Lazy dog being lazy.

Playful dog being playful.

We then went to walk the Lakeside trail and visited the various souvenir shops. We passed by this shop which sold handmade products while walking back from the trail. The shop auntie was unbelievably nice. She made small chats with us, but never once did she coerce us to buy her products. She also explained to us how the bees she reared produce pollen, honey etc. This was one of the few times when I experienced Taiwanese hospitality.

Walked passed this quaint little cafe, which wasn't opened for business. But it'd be damn good to dine alfresco here.

Spot the queen bee!

As our trip to SML drew to an end, we stopped by another cafe to buy the black tea ice-cream, which tasted really good. In fact, I think nothing can go wrong with tea-flavoured ice-creams. ;) The cup of ice-cream cost $50.

The cute cat at the cafe.

So much love for the selective focus feature on my phone haha. More artsy-fartsy. ;P

As we made our way back to the pier...

The aboriginal tribe performing some really good music. I'm not sure which tribe they were from though...

Girly bought a funny-looking banana for $40. ;O It tasted like a normal banana though.

Pretty pretty...

Photo of me 'cos the scenery was beautiful lol.

Selfie 'cos weather good. ;D

Night fell as we made our way to leave Ita Thao. There wasn't any pretty sunset 'cos the weather suddenly turned gloomy. ;( But nevertheless, it made the whole place look more mystical and mysterious.

Goodbye Ita Thao!!

After buying the souvenirs from Shuishe, we boarded the bus which would bring us back to Taichung. The trip back to Taichung took noticeably shorter than our trip to SML, probably due to the bus not stopping at a lot of stops.

Since our hotel was located near Miyahara Eye Hospital, which sold the famous pineapple tarts, we decided to pay a visit to that store. As with all old buildings, the interior of this building looked really very retro haha. We ended up buying a box of pineapple tarts for $450, which we at first thought was a little on the pricey side. Boy, were we so wrong! After returning back to Taipei to buy the pineapple tarts, we realised that Miyahara actually sold cheaper pineapple tarts. ;( And I regret not trying the ice-cream too. When we left, we saw two Korean tourists leaving Miyahara with a very photogenic ice-cream waffle in their hands. ;_;

Entrance of Miyahara.

The interior...

We then proceeded to eat our dinner, which was at some random roadside stall located very near our hotel. But the noodles we had was really very delicious! It had the very homely feel. A very satisfying meal for only $45, which is less than SGD$2?! Crazy.

This didn't look much, but it was sooooo good!

You could see how much I really loved it haha.

Wednesday 06/01/2016 (Day 7)
We planned to tour Taichung on this day before heading back to Taipei, so we booked Mr Lin (his contact is +886 925 580 202, and can be contacted via WhatsApp) to drive us around Taichung and back to Taipei. We hired him for $5500 for two people. Not sure if we were cursed with bad weather or what lol. It never failed to rain (quite heavily, though not on the same level as Singapore's torrential rains) whenever we had many plans for the day. ;_;

It was quite a long drive to the Rainbow Village, but when we finally reached, I was awed by the colours used to paint the village. As it was raining, the famed grandfather who is the face of the Rainbow Village didn't make an appearance, which I thought was really a pity. When we were about to leave the village, the rain had lightened, so the Rainbow Village Ironman appeared and took photographs with us. He was really such a pro in taking selfies haha! I could learn a trick or two from him. ;)

Thank goodness we were first in line to get our photographs with him taken. The line grew considerably longer once the other tourists saw us taking photos with him; the rain became heavier too LOL.

So damn colourful. Colours really make me very happy. ;)

Panorama of the Rainbow Village.

Spot the Ironman's ukeleles.

We then moved on to Carton King (紙箱王), where the things here were almost made entirely out of cardboards. It was quite a feat that these cardboard structures were used to make tables and chairs in the restaurants there, and the cardboard sculptures could actually withstand rain as well. We had to pay an entrance fee of $200, but $100 of the entrance fee could be used to offset any purchase made in any of the shops in Carton King.

Hihi!

Chairs and tables made out of cardboard. They were able to withstand our weight too, I kid you not!

My favourite shop in Carton King. They sold really nice-smelling hand creams heehee. ;)

When we left Carton King, it was about 11.30 am. Uncle Lin brought us to Dongdong Taro Balls (東東芋圓), which sold kickass taro desserts. Yam/taro is one of my favourite root veggies and the taro here definitely didn't disappoint!

I had the pearls, taro/sweet potato balls and big beans combination. I liked eating beans in Taiwan as they were generally sweet, but am not a big fan of them in general. I should have asked if I could swap the beans for barley. ;( However, special mention should go to the taro paste. It was very fragrant and velvety. It felt like orh nee to me, which is also one of my favourite Chinese desserts of all time.

We then moved on to a mushroom farm. Uncle Lin thought that it would be good to bring us to the mushroom farm as Singaporeans in general are city-dwellers, which mean that as most of our things are imported, we rarely get to see how veggies/fungi are grown.

The mushroom farm was indeed an eye-opener for me. There was another Singaporean family of four who came to tour the mushroom farm afterwards haha.

Spot the mushrooms!

Fascinated by the mushrooms hahaha.

The drive to Lavender Cottage (薰衣草森林) was quite a distance away from the mushroom farm. We had to pay $100 for the entrance ticket, but the $100 could be used to offset purchases made in any of the shops in Lavender Cottage. Lavender Cottage was really a very charming place to be in. In fact, we stayed here till about around 4 pm. We spent the longest time in the "post office" that they had because Girly bought postcards there and it was fun trying to decide when to send out the postcards. ;)

We then went to the "lavender field", where there were lavenders blooming, but not as lush and many as I would have expected. Now I really can't wait to visit Hokkaido during the lavender season in summer.

The entrance.

This place was located right at the entrance.

The toilet was crazily awesome! It looked like a room?! D;

Pretty flowers!

The very charming post-office!

The so-called "lavender field". It resembled more like a garden to me though. Though not as plentiful as I would have expected, it was nonetheless pretty. I didn't really get a whiff of the lavender scent here though. Am I supposed to smell it here?

We had lunch at around 2.30 pm. The restaurant that we went to had an awesome ambience. It was nice dining out in nature. Their food was really good as well! I bought their signature chicken thigh dish while Girly got their baked rice. *thumbs up*

I bought their signature dish, which was chicken thigh and roasted veggies. This dish was totally the bomb. I've never tasted fries as crispy and yet potato-ey as theirs! I will definitely go back to eat their fries again! The veggies were also grilled nicely and the chicken thigh was really well-marinated with herbs and all. A definite must-order!!

After lunch, we then walked back up the hill to buy our lavender ice-cream, which cost $50 a scoop. The lavender ice-cream really tasted very good, especially with the small bits inside the ice-cream, which gave the ice-cream texture. I love ice-creams like this!

My mad awesome ice-cream! ;D

Our next stop was Zhongshe Flower Market (中社觀光花市), where we had to pay $120 for the entrance fee. The flowers here were really very beautiful, but the weather wasn't. There wasn't clear blue skies for us, so lighting wasn't really very good. The bad weather also meant that there was fog covering the mountains, which would have otherwise made a very awesome background for our photos. ;(

Entrance.

That sea of flowers though...

Pretty tulips!

Lavenders!

Acting like a pianist LOL.

The bad weather meant that our last stop of the day, which would have been Gaomei Wetlands (高美溼地), had to be scrapped as the clouds would be obscuring the pretty sunset that we were supposed to see. With that, we left for Taipei. ;(

We reached Taipei 2 hours later. Uncle Lin brought us to eat dinner before sending us back to Tomorrow Hotel, which would be our last accommodation in Taiwan.

I was dying to try the oyster omelette in Taiwan, and so on my last night here, I finally got to try it. It wasn't as bad as my mum made it out to be, but I still like Singapore's version of the orh luak better. ;)

Our hotel was located right at the entrance of Ximen MRT station, so our hotel was in the Ximending area. After we put down our luggages, both of us thought that it would be such a waste if we didn't get to explore our area, given that Ximending is also a shopping district, so we went down and toured around before we called it a night.

Ximending!

Thursday 07/01/2016 (Day 8)
We woke up at 7+ am to pack and go down for breakfast. I think Tomorrow Hotel actually doesn't provide breakfast in-house, but we each got a $70 meal coupon which we could use at the 7-11 located at the hotel lobby. I think that was a better choice for me, given how much I really love the 7-11s in Taiwan. I was told to try the cheese hotdog from 7-11, and I was glad that I did. The $30 was so worth it! *salivates* I bought back the first breakfast item which I bought from 7-11 in Taiwan, 'cos that sushi roll/burrito was really delicious!

Since the famous Ay-Chung Mee Sua (阿宗麵線) was just a walk away from our hotel, we decided to have our second round of breakfast there. As luck would have it, Ay-Chung only opens officially at 10 am, but the shop assistant told us to come back at around 9.15 am, so we continued walking around under we came to a very retro-looking Starbucks building. The interior was wooden, and yet very beautiful-looking.

The retro-looking Starbucks at Ximending.

The beautiful interior.

After spending some time sitting on the second floor of Starbucks (this place has 3 freaking levels of sitting space?!), we decided to return to Ay-Chung, which was now opened. There were already some people there, and we decided to order a big portion which cost $65 to share since we would be going to the Rilakkuma Cafe later on. Service was pretty quick, and within seconds, we were served with our hot piping bowl of heavenly mee sua. There weren't any space for us to dine, though there were seats. It was quite inconvenient to just sit and eat, especially when the bowl was really hot, but oh well, we found our ways to manage.

This place is definitely a MUST-VISIT when in Taiwan! ;D

When I first took my bite of the mee sua, I knew what the fuss was about. The mee sua tasted so good that I could cry in just pure bliss and happiness. It was made even better because I told the auntie not to put in the Chinese parsley HAHAHA. But that's besides the point lol. The point was the gravy was on-point, noodles were on-point and yesssssss, you know the pig intestines? They were totally on-point too. I felt that they complemented the noodles really well. I did mention that I had some kick-ass mee sua in Ruifang on the second day in Taiwan right? Ay-Chung totally kicks the ass of that mee sua I had in Ruifang HAHA. xD

Damn good I can really cry. Sorry for the sloppy picture 'cos the bowl was really hot and I was balancing the bowl and my phone together. I swear that if I ever return, I will take a proper photo of it. Oh, and have the big portion of mee sua all by myself. Without the Chinese parsley, of course! ;_;

We walked back to the hotel, left our luggage at the hotel lobby and took the train to Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station, which is the nearest MRT station to where the Rilakkuma cafe is. One thing I love about Taiwan's metro stations is that they have photo booths in most of the major stations. It costs $100 to take a photo there, which I thought was pretty reasonable as the designs were pretty good.

Each station has their own unique designs of photo booths, which meant that you are guaranteed to get a different design of the photos if you visit other station booths.

Our train journey was pretty short, so we reached our next destination in no time. The Rilakkuma cafe is located about 5 minutes away from Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station by foot. Since it was still early, we dropped by Uniqlo first before making our way to the cafe. It seems that Zhongxiao Dunhua is a shopping district as the streets resembled the lines of boutique shops at Apgujeong quite a bit. My Korean feels are back. ;_;

The popularity of the Rilakkuma Cafe must not be underestimated. In fact, it's so hot that reservations for this cafe must be done one month in advance, and only internet booking via their Facebook page is allowed. Reservation for the next month only opens on the 20th of every month at 12 pm sharp i.e. If you wish to visit the cafe in March 2016, you will have camp at your computer on 20th February 2016 at 12 pm.

However, due to the sheer popularity of the cafe, I had encountered a lot of frustrations and lagginess when I tried to make a reservation for the cafe. Here's a tip for those who wish to make their reservation: The confirmation should almost be instantaneous (give at most 10 seconds?) once everything has been filled up. If the page keeps spinning/loading, it means that your reservation didn't go through, and you will have to fill up the reservation form on Facebook again. Don't be like me when I stupidly waited for 45 minutes by the computer in hope that my confirmation message would show up. -.-'''

Another tip I have for potential cafe-goers is: I tried filling up the form again at almost 2 pm, and the system was a lot more responsive. I got my confirmation message and email almost immediately. For us, we planned to go for a weekday lunch, so by the time I booked at 2 pm, there were still slots, though not many. However, popular timings like holidays and weekends were completely blanked out when I tried again at 2 pm. Use Gmail as your email host. I tried using Hotmail, but the confirmation email didn't even appear in my junk folder for Hotmail.

If all else fails, just try your luck by queuing outside the restaurant. They only hold seats for those who have reserved for 10 minutes, so if those people don't turn up, you'll be shown to your seats. ;)

This is what should appear on your screen if your reservation is successful.

We joined the queue which was forming outside the cafe as the opening hour neared. The shop assistant first checked if we had made reservations. The couple in front of us didn't make any reservation. The shop assistant then took down their particulars and asked where they were from. The girl said that they were from Singapore, so I was like "Oo. Sinkies here too!".

Hi!

Lazy bears are lazy.

My bae! *squishes*

We were shown to our seats, and were seated beside the "Singaporean" couple. Why the punctuation marks? Because after that the couple started speaking in Cantonese with the Hong Kong accent. Both me and Girly were looking at them incredulously as we both realised that they were not Singaporeans LOL. I really didn't know you had to lie about your nationality in order to secure seats in this cafe. Does this HK couple realise that they have been standing in front of bona fide Singaporeans all along? -.-'''

That amusing incident aside, we were told to place our orders. The waitress came to tell each patron that everybody must order at least a drink. I took quite a while to decide what to eat as I wanted to try everything!

The huge bear that was just sitting by the window. The sign on the table put "No touching", but I'm pretty sure nobody paid heed lol.

Hai!! ;D

My strawberry cheesecake, in the shape of Korilakkuma (aka my Korwiwi). SO CUTE CAN!

Poor Korwiwi being dismembered. ;_; Totally heart pain.

My hazelnut latte was pretty good! The waiter did tell us to drink up quickly, and I knew why. Because the foam started disintegrating and my bear face slowly got distorted. Not really a pretty sight lol.

The Korwiwi coaster. We were allowed to bring it home, and I regretted not putting it into my bag earlier because when I wanted to, I realised that the waiter had already cleared my table. Damn you really. -.-'''

Kuma in a sauna.

I felt like bringing back the plate too lol. Here's Korwiwi with strawberry hair. ;3

The cafe was really packed!

Their pretty toilet. Everything was really Rilakkuma-fied, including the soap dispensers. The toilet bowl is the same toilet that Japan uses; it has a seat warmer. Nice nice for my bum bum. ^^

We just be lazing on da sofa.

Stupid bird friend hahaha.

WAI SO KEWT?! T_T

After about an hour in the café, we had to reluctantly take our leave as we had booked a taxi to Taoyuan at 1 pm. We reached slightly earlier than 1 pm, but the taxi-driver who was supposed to pick us up arrived even earlier. ._. Anyway, I'm not sure why taxi trips from downtown Taipei to Taoyuan (the airport) are so much more expensive, even by Singapore's standards. We had agreed on the price of $900, which is almost SGD$40 already?! And this was considered cheaper than what the hotel had offered, which was $1000. O.O''' Even my taxi trip back home after I OT comes up to only about $30, inclusive of the booking, CBD and peak-hour charges. And the journey from downtown Taipei to Taoyuan took about the same time as my journey from CBD back to the West.

When we reached Taoyuan, we checked-in our luggages and proceeded to the immigration soon after. The weather at Taoyuan wasn't good. It was raining in fact. What's new lol... Thankfully it only started raining after we went to the Rilakkuma Café.

Is this the SG50 Scoot plane? HAHAHA.

The flight back to Singapore was pretty uneventful. I had ordered the in-flight meal, so it arrived earlier than I thought, probably about 0.5 hours after take-off. ._. I ordered the swiss mushroom beef wrap, which also came with a Toblerone and a can of green tea. The wraps were really good. In fact, I do think that Scoot's meals are pretty delicious lol. ;) To add on, Scoot's flight timings for Taiwan are pretty good in my opinion.

Yum yum in my tum tum.

The cabin was really pretty!! ;D

We landed back in Singapore, safe and all. In fact, I was pretty glad to be home. I guess that there is still no other place better than home, no matter how green the grass on the other side may look.

-----------------------

This trip to Taiwan is my very first trip with Girly, even after being my twinnie since Sec 1. I guess that to me, RV will always be the place where the fondest memories were made, and even though this trip was way overdue, I'm glad it still happened. ;') Thank you Girly for doing most of the planning as I was really tied up with work.

Taiwan is really a nice place to be in. Knowing how to speak and understand Chinese definitely did help us a lot as we could navigate around quite easily. However, sometimes I do not feel like a Chinese in Taiwan because most Taiwanese speak Taiwanese/Hokkien, and I must say that my knowledge of these dialects is close to zero. ._.

People have said that the Taiwanese are one of the nicest / friendliest people around. I must say that I went to Taiwan expecting Japanese-standard of hospitality, and sad to say, I was kinda disappointed lol. While people in Taiwan are probably not as rude as the Hong Kongers or Koreans (the old people there are damn scary lol), I have encountered my share of less-than-friendly / impatient people. Not sure whether it is due to me 100% meeting nice and genuine people in Japan, or if is it due to the Taiwanese thinking that we are PRCs LOL.

Oh and anyway, when I was there, there were really so many Singaporeans that I had thought that I was back in Singapore, with the winter clothings haha. Girly and I took pleasure in trying to identify fellow Singaporeans. Besides Singaporeans, there were also countless of Hong Kongers, Koreans and Japanese. Mainly all tourists from Northeast Asia haha.

I will definitely be back in Taiwan as there are some places (like Cingjing, Danshui etc.) which I have yet to explore (AND YES. AY-CHUNG MEE SUA HUAT HUAT HUAT!!), but I will want to travel to other countries, hence I don't think I will be returning to Taiwan that soon. In fact, I don't really understand my colleague, who can travel to Taiwan at least once every year and will still pine to go back. ._. The air there is really atrocious, and that is enough to put me off from visiting too often. Or maybe I'm just too used to clean air in Singapore, which is why after every trip overseas, I will definitely count my blessings to have been brought up in Singapore.

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