Monday, December 31, 2012

Ingredients for a Taipei New Year's Adventure

1 backpack chocked full of warm clothes
1 Lonely Planet guidebook
2 wallets full of NT
1 scooter journey through wind and rain
(+ 2 hot yellow ponchos)
2 high speed rail tickets
6 metro coins
1 hotel reservation, made for the entirely wrong year
1 husband + 1 wife
0 plans except to have fun

The High Speed Rail was booked so we had to get "standing tickets," which quite literally means we stood for the whole ride.

Sean whipped out his Nintendo DS and we played UNO. I kicked his ass!!!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Stars + Rooftop Bars

Every once in a while, we head up to the roof of our apartment.

It's nothing special; just this neglected space with random pipes and cables and broken chairs... and if you forget to prop the door open, you're out of luck.

But tonight, on the eve of our four-day weekend, after seeing the Hobbit and eating at the Taco House and scooting down winding back roads with illuminated paper lanterns and somewhere off in the distance fireworks booming, it seemed like the perfect place to spend a few late night hours.

So we rendezvoused at 11p.m. with our goodies: whiskey, tobacco, and chocolate truffles of course.

Sean, Luke, and I smoked from my dad's old pipes. We watched the storm front roll in. We peeped on people doing karate in their apartment. 

We just relaxed and enjoyed this moment, another random beautiful moment, that Hsinchu offered us. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The medicine of humiliation and laughter

Yeah, so we had this Christmas concert last Saturday.

It was a whole day affair from 8-4.

For months, each homeroom has been putting together a performance and practicing for the big day.

Before my kids left, they showed me their plan: a dance to Live While We're Young.

They were... um.... adorable.

Basically, my 8th grade girls were super into it and my 8th grade boys looked like they would rather go to the dentist and have their teeth pulled sans Novocaine than get up in front of the whole school and do this dance.

But they did it.

We teachers figured that if we made the kids get up and publically humiliate themselves that we probably should too.

Hence the video my friends made while we were in the states.

The kids loved it.

They were hooting and hollering and loved watching their teachers make fools of themselves.

The Christmas concert was my first day back at school and even though I was immensely jet lagged and quite sad, everything about that day made me smile and feel lighter.

So, without further ado, here's some of my favorite people:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas... Taiwan style

Anyone who tells you Taiwan, a Buddhist country, does not celebrate Christmas is full of it.

Did I work today, December 25?

I sure did.

However, I also received all of these gifts from my students (I forgot a few at school):

(Yeah, that is a $75 pashmina scarf... my favorites are the Smores poptarts and red polka dot mug)

And while this is our third Christmas overseas, it is different.

Things are just different now.

I know my family isn't having a nice little gathering.

Everyone is sad.

Well, except Bojangles.

Christmas came early for him: he got a squeaky toy from the states (and had no idea how to play with it) and a new forever home with an American family in Hsinchu.

So we've done our best to surround ourselves with friends and cheer.

Last night, on Christmas Eve, we walked down to the Royal Hsinchu Hotel with 16 of our friends and enjoyed a real Christmas dinner.

We laughed, we ate, and for a moment everything felt normal.

And tonight, we're going to our good friends' Luke and Jamie's to watch stupid Christmas movies.

It's not so terrible, this funky Taiwanese Christmas.

And, to brighten your holidays: here is the rock climbing wall Sean built in our apartment. And here he is making our friend Peter climb it. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On going home

While Sean and I were in the states, we found ourselves quite surprised to think of Taiwan when anyone asked us how it felt to be home.

To be honest, the Pacific Northwest did not feel like home.

It felt more like an old friend's house.

It was nice to stop by but we were ready to go home, back to Hsinchu and our apartment and scooters and friends and kids.

Mostly though, I think it has everything to do with our friends.

In the past five months, we have made a little family.

And Sean and I missed everyone.

So it was a freakin' miracle when the second the cab stopped in front of our apartment at 7a.m., three of our friends suddenly materialized out of thin air, gave us huge hugs and then helped us carry our (50 pound) luggage up eight flights of stairs.

Then it was even cooler when we discovered they packed us an overflowing, mondo box of food: tortillas, Tillamook cheese, beans, scones, brownies, and more.

They also gave us a miniature Christmas tree to brighten our spirits and a card signed by everyone.

Basically, they cocooned us in comfort and care and let us hide in our apartment for two days while we tried to process everything that had happened and take care of business like laundry and cleaning out the fridge and sweeping and scraping the mold off our wall.

And then, when we were finally ready to join the world again, we all went out to Ricks and I got to hop back on my trustworthy (rundown) scooter and test out my new gloves and jacket.

They listened while we talked about dad and didn't try and make anything better or find the right words because who the hell are we kidding... there are no right words.

And then they laughed with us about the fact that we're having him mailed to Taiwan.

Completely absurd.

They were everything we needed them to be: good friends.

So I quite suspect they have something to do with why home is Taiwan.

(Thanks guys!)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A tribute for a fellow explorer, my dad

Horrible fashion sense.

Inordinate love of puff Cheetos.

Animal lover extreme.

World traveler.

Kayaker, mountain climber, dirt bike rider, hiker.

Italian food and wine enthusiast.

Dreamer and achiever.

Husband and father.


My dad was one hell of a man who lived a truly amazing life.

That's why I'm not going to go on and on about how sad I am and how tragic this all is.

Of course I'm sad. Of course this sucks.

But my dad deserves to be remembered for everything he did, not the end of his life.

So I think I'd rather tell you about him instead.

This man was my father, the man who made me wear elbow pads and shin pads every time I went rollerskating, who scared away my first boyfriend by answering our door wearing a kilt, who helped me rot my baby teeth in soda for a science fair experiment, who drove me one hour everyday so I could go to horse camp, who went to all three of my college graduations and took me out all three times to fancy and expensive Italian restaurants to celebrate, who cat sit for us many times, who simply loved being a part of my life and then later on Sean's life too.

This extraordinary man taught me to think outside of the box, to dream and strive and reach my goals no matter what, taught me the painful patience it takes to do that most times,  did everything to help me achieve my goals so I could be the one left feeling proud and satisfied, bailed me out of hairy situations on numerous occasions, and simply enjoyed life with me whether it be through a walk in the woods, cheesy Italian food, sharing travel stories, paddling in the sound, watching stupid movies, or scheming and dreaming.

Here is what I want you to know about him:

My dad lived his life intentionally. He was never a victim. He married the woman he loved. He met her at work and told her he would be a dentist. Ha! He proposed to her over the telephone and they drove his beat up car to Las Vegas and eloped. He was living with his parents at the time and had to call up his mom to tell her that he wouldn't be home for dinner. They lived all over the U.S. before once again packing up that car and driving west until they found a place they loved. They set up shop and desperately wanted to have kids. That much has always been obvious to both me and my brother. My dad dreamed and planned and achieved. I'd like to think I got that from him.

He was a adventurer. He conquered mountains. Literally. Mt. Rainer, Mt. Baker, Mt. Shasta. I know there were more. He even took me with him! When I was in 8th grade, we climbed that blasted mountain, Mt. Elanor, together. He was even crazy enough to invite my friends. I remember so clearly standing at the top of that peak, looking over the mountain range and peninsula, and just feeling in awe of my life and father. After all, only cool people climb mountains and then take along their teenage daughter and her friend.

What a man.

He raced his kayak around Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay as a young man and as an old fart. Boats with guns patrol the race so no sharks eat the contestants. One time, when he was paddling an Orca whale swam right under his boat. He never could get over that. He said the water hardly moved and it was one of the most spiritual things he'd ever seen. He would take me out kayaking in his double kayak he had shipped over all the way from New Zealand. Mostly I would let him do the paddling and simply admire the view. He took Sean out all the time and even raced with him. My dad loved Sean to pieces.

He built the home of his dreams in the middle of the woods eight years ago. He planned the entire design and used to take me out to the property when it was under construction. We'd sit along the skeleton of the house and he'd tell me all of his plans for the lawn. The house is truly a home. It's full of pieces of my mom and dad's lives. It's like a living museum and tribute to the man. Bears, cougars, deer, and owl roamed his front yard and he loved it. He was always outside building new walking trails where just this last April he hid a bunch of Easter eggs for me to find.

He worked his butt off so he could do what he loved. He earned his BA in biology and got to spend the past 26 years as a hydrologist for the local utility district. For anyone who knows my dad, this was his dream job because he got to spend his days in the woods in streams and lakes and rivers. He had great stories of the salmon going upstream that would smack into him and make him scream like a little girl. I remember on those "bring your kid to work days," I'd don all the right gear: rain jacket, waders, boots and head to the forest with him thinking "I cannot believe my dad gets paid so much to play in the woods all day..." and you know what? Neither could he! He got to work side by side with my brother for two years. For a man who loved his children, what a gift that must have been.

When we were kids, he rode dirt bikes nearly every weekend with my brother. They would come home covered in mud, limping, and with stupid grins on their faces and all my mom would say is, "I don't want to know." And then he would come to my horse back riding lessons or my Tae Kwon Do classes and promotion tests or track races.

He was always there. 

Combined, he must have helped my brother and I move nearly 30 times in the past 10 years. We joked that we should get a LeCuyer Moving Company sign for his green truck. Even when he said he wouldn't help, there he was with his tool kit mumbling to himself as he fought to get our damn futon apart again. Every winter he would put on my snow tires and every few months he would change my oil. He made sure we had what we needed, always.

He never left us hanging. When my brother's wife left, he was on a ferry in hours to visit Joel. He toasted my brother, told him this was good, and then bought him a bunch of new furniture. When I was unemployed, he encouraged me to live with hope and not fear. He taught me to be the type of person who looked at that time as a gift and that enabled me to spend months backpacking around SE Asia instead of sitting on my hands worrying back at home. When I was so miserable last year, he encouraged me to see it through until the end then get the heck out of there and make my dreams come true. And you know what? It felt so good to do just that.

When I was 17 years old and told him I wanted to backpack around the United Kingdom for one month with my best friend, he steadied me with his look and asked me one question: what countries make up the U.K.? When I could answer that correctly, that was all it took. My dad saw something inside of me and instead of blowing out that flame, he encouraged that spark to roar into this fire and here I am today because of that. Really, though, what I like to think is that he saw himself in me: this person with dreams and goals who was going to live their dreams come true, no matter what.

I'd like to think he was proud as heck of me for even entertaining the thought.

(And I think he was.)

My dad definitely rubbed off on me in one way: the wayward traveler. In the middle of college, he took off one year (much to his parents chagrin)  and backpacked through Europe and Africa with his buddy. He got beat up in Morocco, slept on the side of the freeway, and met all kinds of people. He was no stranger to adventure. Later, he and my mom got to travel through Europe twice making more dreams come true.

This man took me on week long hiking trips in the forest and enriched my life and imagination. When I got a C- in Mircoeconomics in college, he laughed it off. When I earned my master's degree when I was 21, he was immensely proud. When I turned down a job because it wasn't what I wanted, he supported me. When I wanted to marry Sean, he said "it's about time."

At every point in my life, my dad was there encouraging me to create the life I wanted for myself and not settle for anything less.

So right before he died, I was able to hold his hand and thank him. I was able to tell him that, because of him, I am in love with my life. 

I'd like to think I gave him a gift then, because really, what more could a father as loving and dedicated as him ask for?

Thank you pa man.

For everything.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


One thing Sean and I feared about moving overseas was what would happen if a loved one got sick or hurt or died while we were away.

Last Thursday, our nightmare started to unfold.

I noticed on Facebook that my brother posted something about his truck dying and a family member in the hospital.

I should say that I noticed this while I was in the teacher's office with two more classes to teach that day.

And the thing about being abroad is that it's not like I have this nifty phone that will connect me to my mother's cell. We keep in touch via carefully planned Skype chats (16 hours is quite the time difference) and Facebook emails.

Not exactly helpful in the midst of an emergency.

But what could I do? I fired off an urgent, inquisitive email to my brother and then had to get up, walk to the classroom, and pretend everything was okay and teach proper MLA citations as my stomach clenched in dread and fear.

I knew my dad had not been feeling well.

But when I finally got a hold of my brother and found out that my mother had driven him to the ER and they admitted him because the man had practically no blood left in his body I was floored.


He wasn't hurt or bleeding so how on earth did this happen?

As it turns out, the doctors didn't really have a concrete explanation. So they pumped him full of new blood and let him go. Over the two days he was in the hospital, I had been keeping in touch with my family and felt anxiety and confusion and generally a WTF attitude as words like Lymphoma and chemotherapy were being tossed around.

Holy moly.

How does this happen?

It's amazing how suddenly and completely your life can change.

Fast forward 36 hours and my father was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and intubated and almost dead. There I was, once again in the teacher's office with classes lined up, getting a simple, three-word email from my brother that read: Come home now.


Let me tell you, I was fully prepared for my father to be dead either before I even left Taiwan or by the time we landed.

I barged into my friend Jamie's apartment without even knocking, sobbing and mumbling, and the woman's a freaking saint for following me around and helping me do really important things like finding a flight we could get on ASAP and entering our passport info and credit card info because by that time all I was good for was sobbing uncontrollably and and tearing our (wet) clothes from our drying rack and shoving them in our backpacks (let me tell you I was not thinking and did not pack appropriately for Washington in December).

And then it occurred to me that I live in Taiwan and teach at an international school, so while yes my students are fluent in English there are no subs who are so then poor Jamie (who is most definitely not a middle school teacher) was saddled with not only all of my classes for two weeks but our insane foster dog Bojangles too.

We raced to the airport in  taxi and then I downed my Lorazapam and passed out for the 11 hour flight only to suddenly find myself back in America in the middle of this huge crisis.

Talk about shock.

If feels like a nightmare I'm still waiting to wake from. My dad is in Harrison Hospital getting constant blood transfusions and chemo and we're going to have to leave next weekend, in the middle of all this crap with nothing resolved, because I have to work and we decided to create this life, this really beautiful life, in Asia, 11 hours away by jet plane.

I guess this the price we (and our families) pay.

My father passed away on December 10, 2012 at Harrison Hospital in Bremerton, Washington. My entire family, Sean's family, and our good friends Jenn and Roger were there. It happened very suddenly and unexpectedly. We later learned he had a very aggressive type of T-cell lymphoma called Malignant Angiommunoplastic Lymphoma, which was complicated by the fact that he also had pure red cell aplaysia. So, fuck.

Monday, November 26, 2012

...And we call him Bo

Meet Bo:

He's our foster dog.

Last Friday, I walked into school and there he was hanging out on the second floor corridor.

It was 7:40 a.m. and with hundreds of students flocking around him, he was a little terrified.

I squatted down to pet him, wondering how on earth he came to be in the second floor corridor, when he just flopped on the floor, rolled on his back and waited to be scratched on the tummy.

That pretty much sealed the deal.

A kid from the school's humane society club took Mr. Bo home over the weekend and to a vet. Except for a dislocated paw, he's fine.

Now he's with us, laying on the floor after a dinner of chunky Pedigree, and he seems pretty content to simply be somewhere warm and safe and dry.

I know we cannot keep him.

We are real vagabonds. We have been for a while.

The Humane Society is actively looking for a home for Bo and we have someone who will take him if he's still with us by the time Chinese New Year holiday rolls around.

But this whole time all I can think about is how easy it is to do the right thing.

This guy is so special.

He's sweet and has huge personality.

And now, he has a home.

It is no hair off our back to give him a safe place to be where he will be loved.

For Bo, this simple gesture is the difference between life and death.

Doesn't he, and all the street animals, deserve a good life?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Friends and feasting

Part of living overseas, or travelling for an extended period of time, is missing holidays, birthdays, weddings, etc.

Sean and I are no stranger to this.

We once spent Christmas in Venice while it flooded. We once spent New Years Eve on a bus in Malaysia.

This year, though, a little bit of home came to us.

First, my mom.

Second, some ingredients for my favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

And last, my homeroom threw a Thanksgiving party that included turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

So while yes, I did have to work both Thursday and Friday, we still had our own funky Thanksgiving. On Thursday night, 10 of us got together at our place and enjoyed a little taste of America.

Here is my friend Jamie's blog with some photos of our Thanksgiving soiree:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Showers and flowers

My mother is a trooper.

Not only did she sleep in the spider room (on the floor, I should mention) for two weeks, but she also bravely hopped on the back of Sean's scooter and allowed us to whisk her all over town.

It's not as care free as one might think.

Driving in Asia is much like playing one of those car racing games at an arcade.

On top of that, she even let us scoot her down to the weekend flower market in weekend traffic in the pouring rain.

Here are some snapshots of our journey.

(Please enjoy the hot yellow ponchos. We sure do.)

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