Monday, July 27, 2015

Trip To Taiwan 台湾: Cingjing 清境 - Cingjing Brilliant Twins of Seattle 清境西雅图璀璨双城

Photo By: Elin Chow
Address: No.39, Rongguang Lane, Ren'ai Township, Nantou Country 545, Taiwan 545 南投县仁爱乡大同村荣光巷39号

Leaving Feeling 18 Degree Chocolate Factory 18 度 C 巧克力工房, we got in the van once again and continue our journey to Cingjing 清境. An hour and a half drive uphill finally brought us to Cingjing where we checked in Cingjing Brilliant Twin of Seattle 清境西雅图璀璨双城 for the night.

Cingjing Brilliant Twins of Seattle 清境西雅图璀璨双城

Situated within lush mountains, Cingjing Brilliant Twins of Seattle offers cozy accommodations in Spanish style architecture. Surrounded by natural green scenery and mountain views, the hotel offers a tranquil setting for one to relax.

Types of Room and Rates

To suit different needs, the hotel offers a variety of room types which includes penthouse, honeymoon suites and family rooms that can accommodate 2-8 adults. Below is the current published rates for the different room types on its website.

Segovia Castle 赛哥维亚梦幻城堡
2-Person Room
4-Person Room
6-Person Room
8-Person Room
Monday – Friday
 2800 TWD
 3800 TWD
 4800 TWD
 4300 TWD
 5300 TWD
 7200 TWD
Super Peak
 7000 TWD
 6800 TWD
 8000 TWD
Mijas Pueblo 米哈斯白色山城
Monday – Friday Sunday
 1800 TWD
 2980 TWD
 4800 TWD
 3200 TWD
 4480 TWD
 7200 TWD
Super Peak
 3800 TWD
 7120 TWD
 8000 TWD

Rates for Mijas Pueblo 6-person room is however, not available. You may want to call the hotel directly to acquire more details of it. Since there was 6 of us, Mr Tsai has booked a 6-person room in the Segovia castle for us. Payment for our room was made in cash upon arrival. 

For room reservation, you may directly call the hotel or book online through the hotel online reservation system. 

The hotel is located at the bottom of a very steep slope, which was so steep that climbing up will leave us panting for breath. Its location is not easily accessible by public transport, so I will recommend you to book this hotel only when you have a driver. 

There are no convenience stores, restaurants or anything nearby the hotel. It is literally situated in the middle of the mountains, away from the bustling crowds. This is a perfect place for people who would like to enjoy tranquility and nature.  

Mijas Pueblo 米哈斯白色山城

The Mijas Pueblo building is painted in white with beautiful blue trim.  It does not look Spanish or anything like those white-washed building of Mijas to me. 

Segovia Castle 赛哥维亚梦幻城堡

Designed in the style of old Spanish castle similar to Segovia, the entire building was painted an eye-catching yellow. 

The check in process at the hotel was simple, quick and hassle-free. Within minutes of arrival, we got our key to our room. 

On our way to our room, we passed by a small landscaped garden where my husband requested to have his photo taken.

Our room was located on the second floor of the building and reaching it required us to climb up several flight of stairs. This was not really a problem for those who are young and in good shape. But it could be a problem for those who are travelling with people with mobility difficulties.

There was no lift in the hotel. So, be prepare to climb up several flight of stairs with your heavy luggage. For easier access, you may want to consider requesting a room located on the ground floor. But for us, we did not like the idea of staying in a ground floor room, which often do not offer as much privacy.

The unit we stayed was a double storey room fitted with wooden flooring and furnishings. Upon stepping in, we were immediately greeted by a comfortable and spacious living room furnished with everything you need. Our spacious living room comes with a 6 person sofa set, coffee table, satellite TV, telephone and a mini fridge.  

There is no air conditioning or fan installed in the entire unit. But I believe the cooling climate will be enough to keep anyone cool. Why do you need air-conditioning when it was so cooling up the mountains? 

Even so, the hotel still provide a standing fan in the room, just in case the weather is hot on some days. For internet addicts, do not worry as free internet access is available throughout the entire property for you.

Complimentary bottled mineral water and some basic tea and coffee making facilities were also provided in the room.

A dehumidifier was provided in the room, which helped to reduce the level humidity in the air. We actually turned this on to dry our slightly damp clothes. 

Basic toiletries such as soap, shampoo, cotton buds, toothpicks, shaver, shower caps, comb, disposable toothbrush and toothpaste are also provided for guest use. Each of these are packed in individual sachets for complete hygiene, which also helps to prevent unnecessary wastage.

Our room also opens to a private balcony overlooking the lush green landscapes and mountain ranges.

Located right next to the entrance was the en-suite bathroom. The bathroom was clean and spacious with more than sufficient bath towels provided. Each of the towels were folded nicely and placed on top of a drawer outside the bathroom. 

The bathroom is perhaps the only thing I dislike about the room. Although it was spacious, the bathroom facilities were tired and in need of some refurbishment.  

Apart from that, the entire bathroom floor can get really wet and dangerously slippery after shower, even when we had the shower curtain fully over. So, make sure you be extra careful when the bathroom floor is wet. 

However, we were glad that slippers were provided since the floors can get too cold to walk with barefoot, especially after evening time. 

As you walked up the small flight of stairs to the second floor, you will find a spacious bedroom featuring three queen size beds. The beds were comfortable and clean with no unpleasant smell. However, it was a little too small for comfort. The duvet was not large enough to keep 2 persons warm at night. I really hope the hotel can provide a larger size duvet for its guests.

There were extra thick blankets in the wardrobe, but we did not dare to use them. The blankets were musty smelling and we could not imagine covering ourselves with that. 

The old wooden floor squeak noisily under our feet, which can be extremely annoying if you are a light sleeper. But luckily, I was quite a heavy sleeper. so the noise did not affect me that much. 

The room also comes with two meshed windows that allow sunlight and fresh air to enter while keeping insects out. However, there was no curtains to block the morning sun out. So, be expected to wake up as early as 5.30 am once the sun started to shine mercilessly on your face.

It was cold that night, with the temperature dropping slightly below 10 degree Celsius. There was no heater in the room, so it can get miserably cold at night. But luckily, the room comes with a electric heated mattress pad that will keep you warm while you sleep. 

Before you turn the electric heated mattress pad on, please read the instruction manual. For those who cannot read Chinese, it does not matter very much too. 

To use, simply preheat the bed 10 minutes before you go to bed and turn it off once you are turning in for the night. If you wish, you could also turn it down to a lower temperature after you slipped into the bed just to keep it warm all night.

The landscape outside was filled with fog. It had rained earlier in the evening when we were having our dinner at Inako Scenic View Cafe Restaurant 伊拿谷景观咖啡餐坊.

After dinner, we spent the rest of our night watching TV while enjoying the cold mountain fresh air.

Since it was cold, we decided to sip on some of the rice wine that we just bought from Sun Moon Lake. A sip of it instantly warmed my body up.

The balcony off the living room is also very spacious, offering a spectacular and uninterrupted view of the surrounding mountains. A truly breath-taking view!

The balcony also serves as an outdoor space for smokers to take a quick puff without having to leave the entire building. But unfortunately, there were no chairs provided on the balcony for us to sit back and enjoy the scenery. So, no matter how much we wanted to, we did not spend too much time on the balcony.

We were awake earlier than expected the next morning. At 7 am, we got ready and headed off to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

A complimentary buffet breakfast is served at the hotel restaurant every morning from 7 am to 9 am.

Breakfast was very basic with not much choice. There were just toast, porridge or salad for us to choose from. None of the food were delicious, but enough to fill our stomach up.

After an early breakfast, we went off to snap some photos around the hotel garden. 

The mountain range provides a stunning backdrop for photo taking. 

Overall, we had a pleasant time staying at Brilliant Twins of Seattle. I would recommend this hotel to anyone who is looking for a quiet, clean and spacious place to stay in Cingjing. 

Price wise, it was reasonable and affordable. Our 6-person room cost us 4800 TWD a night on a weekday, which worked out 800 TWD per person. The only downside were the musty thick blankets and bathroom.  Hopefully the management can do something about that. 

Be sure to bring and wear extra clothing when you visit Cingjing. It can be really cold when night falls. 

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 11D10N round island tour itinerary for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 11 days in Taiwan. Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for the latest updates on my 11 days adventures in Taiwan!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Trip To Taiwan 台湾: Nantou 南投 - Feeling 18 Degree Chocolate Factory 18 度 C 巧克力工房

Photo By: Elin Chow
Address: No.20, Ci'en Street, Puli Township, Nantou Country 545, Taiwan (R.O.C) 545 南投县铺里镇慈恩街20号

Leaving Sun Moon Lake 日月潭, we set off for our last destination of the day - Cing Jing 清境. Along the way, we decided to stop by the Feeling 18 Degree Chocolate Factory 18 度 C 巧克力工房 for a short rest break.

Feeling 18 Degree Chocolate Factory 巧克力工房

Feeling 18 Degree Chocolate Factory was initially started as an online venture in 2006 by Master Mao, who has a passion for chocolates. He firmly believed that chocolates are at its best condition when it is stored at 18 degree Celsius. Thus, it was named 18 degree Celsius. In order to maintain its quality, all chocolates from the factory are prepared, produced and shipped at 18 degree Celsius.

Each chocolate produced by the workshop is 100% handmade with imported ingredients and contained no artificial flavorings. Their dedication to deliver high quality chocolates was well-received by the public, who helped to spread words about their chocolates to many others. In 2007, Master Mao decided to take a gamble and open a brick-and-mortar store in a small town in Puli, where he hope to avoid expensive rentals in urban areas and invest in high quality ingredients to produce good chocolates.

Operating Hours

The Feeling 18 Degree Chocolate Factory is opened daily from 10 am to 10 pm.

There are plenty of free parking lots available, so you would not need to worry about where to park your car if you are driving your way there. 

The factory consisted of three main areas - an Italian Gelato area, a fast selection and check out area and a display and selection area. The Italian Gelato area offers a great selection of natural low-fat, low sugar Italian Gelato with great flavors that will satisfy any ice cream lovers' craving. 

The display and selection area offers a selection of delicious chocolates for visitors to choose from. In order to control and maintain the right temperature in the area, only a few visitors are allowed to enter the display and selection area at a time. Visitors who wish to enter this area are required to get a queue ticket number and wait for their turn.

Just across the streets, free unlimited coffee and chocolate samples were provided for visitors who were waiting for their queue ticket number. So, feel free to get yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy it while waiting for your turn.

We were lucky that we did not have to wait too long for our turn. The entire area was quite empty on the day we visited.

The fast selection and check out area, on the other hand, offers visitors a specially handpick selection of its most popular chocolates. For those who are tight on time, you might want to consider buying from the fast selection and check out area instead.

The success of the 18 Degree Chocolate Factory has help the small town to prosper. With the Feeling 18  Degree Chocolate Factory becoming a popular tourist destination in Puli, the number of visitors (both local and foreign) visiting the town increased, which also brought some business opportunities for other vendors around the area.

I am really not sure what is all the hype about this place. But for sure, the Feeling 18 Degree Chocolate Factory is definitely not a must visit attraction for us. This is basically just a good place for one to rest, enjoy some fresh air and coffee after a long day of travel.

There are plenty of seating areas around for visitors to sit, chat and enjoy free coffee.

Of course, we did not leave without buying some of its famous handmade chocolates. Although the chocolates were not cheap, it is definitely worth every penny we paid. The chocolates were beautifully packaged in an elegant white box that included a re-usable ice pack to ensure its freshness.

Cooler bags are also available for purchase to keep the chocolates at the right temperature. So, if you are intending to bring some of these chocolates home, I would really suggest you to get a cooler bag to prevent them from melting.

We bought a box of liquor-filled chocolates, which gush out upon biting. The moment the chocolate hit my mouth, it started to melt. I took a small bite into the chocolate and my mouth was instantly filled with a generous amount of brandy. It feels as though I was drinking brandy straight from the bottle.

Both the chocolates and brandy are top-notch. It was an absolute treat. However, for those who could not drink, these liquor-filled chocolates might be a little too strong for you.

The white box which these chocolates come in is a keepsake too. It was so elegantly beautiful and of course, I still kept it nicely even though I have finished the chocolates long time ago.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 11D10N round island tour itinerary for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 11 days in Taiwan. Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for the latest updates on my 11 days adventures in Taiwan!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

[Film Review] India's Daughter - The Story Of Jyoti Singh

Photo Credit: India's Daughter

"Her name is Jyoti Singh. By revealing her name, we hope that it will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks."

India's Daughter is a documentary directed by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin and is part of the BBC's ongoing Storyville series. The film is based on the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a 23 year-old young woman. who was a physiotherapy student. The victim, Jyoti Singh, widely known as Nirbhaya (which means fearless in Hindi), boarded a privately run bus with a male friend home after watching a movie. That was where she was assaulted, brutally raped and violated with a metal rod by six men before throwing both of them out on the streets.

Both of them were taken to the hospital where Jyoti received emergency treatment including multiple surgeries in India and Singapore. Despite her horrific injuries, she somehow still managed to survive 13 days even when she was expected not to live through a few hours. However, no matter how much she wanted to live on, she still died 13 days later from her injuries.

The Ban

The documentary was originally planned to be broadcasted on International Women 's Day, 8 March in India on NDTV 24x7 and in UK BBC Four. However, the India government block the broadcast of the documentary in India with a court order obtained.  BBC complied and the documentary was not air in the country.

BBC, on the other hand, brought forward its broadcast and air the documentary on the 8th March in UK. After the broadcast, the film was also uploaded on Youtube and has been circulated around the various social media and sharing websites.

Indian government agencies has ordered Youtube to remove access to the film after BBC made it available on the Storyville website. Unfortunately, Youtube has complied with the order and taken steps to block access to the film in India upon the government's request.

A more severe global ban was launched shortly after that as the BBC proceeded to ask Google to remove all copies of the documentary that are viewable on Youtube, anywhere in the world. However, I have managed to obtain a copy of the documentary before it was completely removed from the internet.

However, India's efforts to suppress the film has backfired as it will be viewed by more people than if the Indian government has allowed it to be screened. India's efforts to ban the film has inadvertently spur greater interest online and helps to generate more publicity for it, which in fact, contributed greatly to its international success.

Why did I say so? Well, when a film is banned, it immediately makes people interested and curious to know why they have being stopped from watching it. I am sure that most of the people will attempt to find a copy of the film to see and find out the reason why it was banned from screening.

With great angst, helplessness and tears in my tears, I watched the whole documentary. Filled with emotions, I sat down and started typing my thoughts on the computer. This is not my effort to review the documentary. Rather, I am just sharing my thoughts on various issues raised throughout the film. By doing this, I am hoping to raise awareness about the rape culture in India.

The film began with a few dramatized scene shot in the dark with voice-over narration that provide a brief overview of the incident before it shifted to Jyoti's home, focusing on her grieving and heartbroken parents.

"Jyoti means "light". We were given a gift of light and happiness when she was born."

Unlike many other homes in India, Jyoti's parents were equally happy even when a girl was born. According to her mum, Jyoti means light and they were given a gift of light and happiness when she was born. 

"The first thing they said was "why are you selling it for a girl."

Jyoti's family is traditional but their thinking is modern. Her parents gave us sweets and celebrated the birth of a girl like a boy. Since young, Jyoti aspired to be a doctor. She wanted to help to poor. So, against the wishes of their extended family, her parents used the money they saved for her wedding and sold their ancestral land to fund her daughter's ambitious medical education.

Even so, Jyoti has to work night shift at an international call centre to pay her hostel fees, and would only sleep 3 to 4 hours a night. It was her final year in college as a physiotheraphy student and she had went home looking for an internship.

She had a bright future and her parents have high hopes for their daughter and are proud of her achievements. But the sudden death of Jyoti left her parents utterly devastated and heartbroken. It pains me to watch Jyoti's parents grieving for her.

"What I pulled out of her body, I threw it away. I wrapped it in cloth and threw it out."

The film contains an interview with one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, who narrates in excruciating details what has actually happened on the horrendous night of December 16 in a calm and composed voice. Perched on a stool in the prison cell, he recounted in explicit details how they mercilessly raped, tortured and disemboweled her. 

In one scene, he casually described how one of them put his hand inside Jyoti and pulled out something long. It was her intestines. Thinking that she was dead, they dragged her to the front door and threw her out of the bus. They took their belongings, threw whatever that was pulled out of her out and went home. There was no fear in them.

" A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible than a boy."

On the camera, Mukesh has shown no slightest remorse and claimed that "a girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy." He aggressively blamed that it was Jyoti's fault for being out on the streets late at night. If she was a "good" woman, she would not be roaming the streets at 9 o'clock at night.

"When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they'd dropped her off after 'doing' her and only hit the boy."

So, if the women are not "good", men have the right to ''teach them a lesson'' by raping them. He also said that "when women are being raped, they should just be silent and allow the rape. Those who resisted rape, as Jyoti did, might be killed by "accident".

"The death penalty will make things even dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won't leave the girl like we did. They will kill her."

Apart from that, he also argued that the death penalty imposed on them will actually cause more girls to be killed.

As I quietly listen to what the rapist murderer has to say, I feel powerless, angry and utterly disgusted. I wonder why this monster was given the chance to justify and defend himself. Why should we listen to what a rapist has to say?

I could not imagine how much pain Jyoti has went through. That will be indescribable.

" They had no fear in their eyes, no shame"

There was no guilt or fear in his eyes. He does not even flinch when the list of gruesome injuries which Jyoti has sustained was read out to him. From bite marks, to kicks, to the fatal pulling out of Jyoti's intestines. He appeared to be a little annoyed and simply do not understand why people are making such a big fuss about such small thing like rape.

It was not a surprise that Mukesh's comments in the documentary has grabbed international headlines and sparked instant outrage on the internet. Many people have actually questioned whether it is right to give the convict a platform to express his views.

But no, the interview does not make him a celebrity. On the other hand, it actually helped us to see and understand the real roots of India's rape culture. That is the deep-rooted gender inequality in the society.

One of the most disturbing interview was with the wife of convicted rapist, Akshay Thakur, who completely denies that her husband would do such a thing. She even asked why her husband was punished when there are other criminals at large,

"If a husband is not there to protect his wife, then for who does she live? I will have to strangle my son. What else can I do?"

She even explained how she no longer wanted to live and will have to strangle her son if her husband is hanged. But who cares whether she or her son live or not. That does not matter very much to me. But there is one thing I can be sure of, that is as long as women in India continue to hold similar views as Akshay's wife, who think they are useless without a man in their life, the battle for gender equality will not end.

I wish I could slap her hard in her face. Even so, I believe she would never wake up or understand the pains which Jyoti went through. She was expecting the viewers to sympathize her. I am not sure how many of you would feel sorry for her. But at least I know, I would not.

Personally, I feel that death penalty might not be harsh enough to punish the rapists and definitely, will not be the ultimate solution to rape. Rather, I believe life imprisonment without possibility of parole with caning would cause much more suffering for the offender than a quick and painless death after a short imprisonment.

Perhaps, some would argue that chemical or physical castration would be the better way to punish the offender. But it does not prevent them from committing the same crime again. A person can be castrated and still have an intact penis. Although castrated men will experience a much-diminished sex drive, they are still capable of sexual activity.

Furthermore, rape is not always motivated by sexual desires. Sometimes, it is purely about control, power and violence.

Thus, the thought of having to spend the rest of your life in solitary confinement in a small prison cell actually makes it worst than death itself. Life imprisonment without possibility of parole with caning might be a better way to punish those who committed a rape and murder.

In patriarchal India, it was not surprising to learn that Mukesh Singh is not the only one with a sick mentality. The documentary also included some of the most disturbing interviews with the rapists' defence lawyers, M.L Sharma and AP Singh, both of whom hold similar views on women.

" That girl was with some unknown boy who took her on a date. In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6.30, 7.30 or 8.30 in the evening with any unknown person.  You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn't have any place in our society. A woman means I immediately put the sex in his eyes. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman." 

It was difficult to watch as Sharma tries to justify the brutality of  the sexual assault and blames the woman for the rape. Just like Mukesh, he insisted that it was Jyoti's fault for being out on the streets with an unknown person late at night. If she had stayed at home, the tragedy would not have happened.

"If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities or disgraced herself or allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort or sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my whole family, I will put petrol on her and set her alight."

AP Singh, the other lawyer who defended the rapists also made similar sexist comments about women in India's society. When asked whether he still stand by his views today. he said yes.

Certainly, the sexist and inhumane comments made by both the lawyers have caused a huge public outrage. How can a person with such mindset still be a lawyer, whose job is to deliver justice and truth. I wish that they will be punished and have their licenses revoked. They should be deemed unfit to practice law as they clearly lack of ethics, morality and respect for human life. Can you imagine having such lawyers to represent you in court should you ever need one? I could not and I definitely would not want any one of them to defend me.

The rape and murder of Jyoti has sparked national protests and riots, with hundreds of thousands of Indians - both male and female - marching onto the streets across the country holding candlelight vigils and rallies demanding for strict laws and reforms. Even so, any changes are expected to come slow in a patriarchal society.

In the documentary, there are other voices - police, judiciary, historian and varied experts, but their comments were not significant enough for me to mention.

It was a difficult documentary to watch. I have to pause the film several time to digest whatever I have seen and heard. But for sure, India's daughter is not a conspiracy to tarnish the reputation of India. There was nothing fabricated in the film. The government decision to ban the broadcast of India's Daughter was in fact, more damaging on India's reputation than the film itself.

Even though the documentary was banned and removed from Youtube, I believe there are still numerous copies of it on the internet. So, if you managed to get a copy of of the documentary, I would really recommend you to watch it.

However, the film title might be inappropriate. It actually feels like an insult to the victim, Jyoti. India's daughter? No, She was not India's daughter. Jyoti was a strong and determined girl with a big dream. She wanted to help the poor and dreamed of building a hospital in her hometown. But what did India give her? Nothing. The country gave her nothing but pain and suffering. Her achievements were given by her parents. She was her parents' daughter.

How many of us have such a big dream like her? I felt infuriated that she was robbed of a promising future that she had worked so hard for. She was just a step away from success. I wish I have the ability to help her build a hospital in her hometown.

Jyoti represents hope for the future. I hope that she will be the inspiration for the next generation of women to demand for freedom, equality and respect in modern India.  Her life has been sacrificed to tell the world that rapes and violence towards women will no longer to be tolerated. The society has to stop devaluing women.

"A girl can do anything."

Jyoti used to believe that a girl can do anything. What a boy can do, a girl can do it too. The biggest problem in India is mentality. If majority of the population are taught from birth to devalue girls, then they will grow up not knowing how to respect girls.

Imposing strict laws and death penalty are not the solutions to rape. I hope this incident is enough to shame and wake India up. Perhaps, it is time for the government to confront the deep-rooted issue that men in India do not respect women.

It is great that the film has helped to explore the issue of gender violence and reflect the collective mindset of the people of India. Without the interviews, would you see a highly successful and educated lawyers making such sexist remarks as M.L Sharma or AP Singh did. I believe you would not.

So, until and unless the mentality of the population changes, this rape epidemic will not end. However, the question is "How? How can we change the mindset of the population?"

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for any latest updates on my blog. So stay tuned!