Saturday, November 30, 2013

A contract, some turkey, and gratitude

For me, hands down, the months of November and December are the hardest times of the year to be an expat.

During these two months, homesickness washes over me and I find myself wondering: what am I doing here? Why aren't I at home with my family and friends? Why do I live abroad??

And to be frank, Taiwan does not make the situation any easier to deal with. Around the time my friends back in America start posting their holiday plans and write things like "drinking hot coco and snuggling under a blanket to kick off the holiday weekend," I find it hard to not get down on Taiwan.

Because for me, the bipolar weather (90 and bloody hot one day, 40 and bloody freezing the next) and daily grind with no holiday weekend in sight for months feels terrible. It's life as usual, working the salt mines from 8-4.

To combat those frustrating, homesick moments, I came up with the perfect solution: throwing an absurd Thanksgiving potluck after school and cramming 35 people into my apartment.

The end result?

Pretty darn awesome.

At 6pm on Thanksgiving night, after we had all worked a long day, all of our friends piled into our apartment and brought every dish one could hope for on Thanksgiving: mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, homemade bread, salad, mushrooms, pumpkin pie, pecan tarts, and so much more.

We feasted and relaxed and for a few hours, home did not feel so far away. I wish I would have remembered to take pictures of what 35 people crammed into our apartment looked like, but I was so busy having fun that I forgot. You will just have to look at this picture of my living room before everyone came and use your imagination. It was probably the most epic Thanksgiving we will ever host.

In other news, just so you don't start to worry that life in Taiwan is not great because it is, I signed a one-year contract to continue teaching 8th grade English and social studies. While it is hard to live abroad and miss out on some aspects of America, life abroad is still our preferred life style and we are excited to say that we don't really see an end in sight. This month, no matter how difficult at times, was filled with many wonderful moments and opportunities, something for which we continue to be extremely grateful.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Taiwan: A Nation of Stink

The other night, an odd smell permeated throughout our entire apartment.

We looked in the bathroom, kitchen, and garbage cans.

After a thorough search, we simply could not find the source of the smell.

We wondered if a neighbor was going to town cooking stinky tofu.

The smell was so pungent and horrid, we had to leave our apartment in the end.

We were absolutely horrified when we stepped into the hall because the small had appeared to infiltrate our entire complex.

Rushing down the stairs, we held our breath until we opened the door. We breathed deep, only to choke on the odoriferous scent that pervaded through all of our neighborhood.

There was no escape: the stench lingered in our apartment, in our complex, and in the open air outside.

Desperate, we began to walk.

We were stumped when, one block away, the smell seemingly evaporated.

"Do you smell that?" I asked Sean.

He brought his nose up from under his shirt, which was where he had been seeking his reprieve from the offensive smell, and took in a long whiff of air.

"I don't smell anything."

I didn't either.

Perplexed, we turned around and began walking back towards our apartment complex.

Within seconds, the smell returned full force.

"What the...?" Sean muttered, looking around for the source of the smell.

The only discernible difference from the next block over and our block was the white flowers that had fallen from their trees. Looking up, the street beside our apartment was lined with these trees and the street littered with the flowers.

We tested out our theory by picking up a dead flower and smelling it.


Realizing there was no immediate solution to this problem, I headed back upstairs while Sean headed to the store to buy the strongest air freshener he could find.

After doing some research, I discovered the culprit: a simple pear tree.

Apparently, they are native to Taiwan and China and are noted to be impervious to drought, pollution, cold, fire, and disease. However, during the month of November, the trees blossom and, well, stink. A lot. Especially at night, for some reason.

Then, I got to the fun stuff. I found some articles about some Taiwanese citizens in New Taipei City who told the government to either cut down all of the trees or they would sue the government for psychological damages.

Who knew a nation could have so many unique ways to stink?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Home is where the heart is

 ... and there it is: my mom!

She flew out for a short visit and it was wonderful to see her! I got to take a six-day weekend and we just got to spend time together.

And I know this may be shocking for some of you to hear, but I really like my mother. She's, kinda like, my best friend.

Before, when I lived in Washington, we would often go to my parents every weekend for dinner and my mom and I would have girlie days and shop and go out to lunch.

And I liked it. And I miss it. And I miss her.

Like, a lot.

So, it was really nice to see her.

Mostly, we just sat around on this very couch and drank coffee out of that very cup and gabbed and caught up. Ten months is a looong time, especially with everything that has happened.

But we also found time to go out and about. Remember, this is my intrepid mother's second trip to Taiwan.

We took her up into the winding hills to the weird statue graveyard place.

We weaved our way through Saturday morning traffic and popped by the flower market... and we even bought plants. I'm still skeptical about whether we are good plant parents. I'm thinking they will all be dead in a few months. Ce la vie.

She had a lot of fun riding around on the back of my adorable scooter. 

We had a picnic at the lake and Sean almost jumped into the murky, questionable pond to save a turtle that, as it turns out, was just fine. So all was well.

And now that will have to tide us over for the next eight months, at which time Sean and I will be heading back to the United States for our two-month summer break. And you had better believe I have a lot of plans brewing. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October Skies

Today, we woke up and saw a clear blue sky and lots of sunshine. 

So we hopped on our scooter and putted off toward the coast. 

The temperature was just right: 75 degrees, warm but not hot or humid with lots of gusts of fresh ocean air. 

We got to Nanliao and climbed up the rickety wooden ladders to the top of the cement sea breakers.

The wind buffeted us forward and backward, but we sat down and enjoyed the feel of warm, fresh air colliding with our bodies.

I dangled my feet off the ledge.

The tide was savage and sand was blasting us from all directions.

Wind surfers were in heaven.

We drank our raspberry & pineapple smoothies.

We just sat, holding hands, soaking it all in.

The sites, the sounds, the scents.

The water.

We watched people fly kites.

We watched airplanes come and go.

We watched the waves beat the shore.

It felt nice to get away from Hsinchu for a bit.

But it was also nice to know we could still see it and didn't have far to go back home.

It made us feel like we could stay a while.

We could grocery shop, do the laundry, cook, and do school work a little later.

When we could no longer ignore our waiting to-do lists, we walked back to the scooter.

But then we started exploring the little town roads of Nanliao.

The flashing signs, little shops, and friendly people beckoned.

After one or two stops for tea, we headed home.

I wasn't too disappointed.

I was just happy to be out and about with my handsome hubby on a beautiful Sunday.

As we scooted back to the city, we passed secret gardens tucked away from the road.

... and homes under overpasses.

And explored a little bit more of this place we call home.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Photos: A Sun Moon Lake Get Away

Side Note: this region, apart from Hualien county, is the country's most seismically active area. Four earthquakes of a magnitude 4 and above woke us from our sleep within one hour. We were on the top floor of our high rise hotel, and suffice it to say, I did not get a wink or sleep. And let me tell you too: there is nothing more bizarre than experiencing a 4.7 earthquake, in the middle of the night, while trying to pee in a squatty potty.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

... and they are living happily ever after

It's going to be our four-year wedding anniversary on July 25. That seems like peanuts compared to the 10 year mark we're approaching for dating. From the time I was 17 years old, I've been with Sean. We never even broke up or took a break. I'm 27 now. That's a lot of time and life spent with another human being. And through it all: puppy love, Western and the long distance see-you-every-two-weeks, grad school and roofing, Port Townsend, marriage, unemployment, Seattle, Taiwan, I've figured out a few things.These things are the reasons why I married the first boy I ever fell in love with, my second boyfriend ever, and after 10 years regret nothing.

He's the best friend I ever could have asked for, ever. He'll laugh with me. He'll love on me. He'll hold me every single time I cry. He'll rub my tummy when I have a tummy ache. He'll go on stupid adventures with me. He'll make a goofy face when I'm mad and telling him all about it and then I can't be mad anymore.

He's very thoughtful. He'll sneakily buy me earrings and scarves and bracelets every time we're in Tickled Pink (my favorite store in the whole wide world) together, and he's been known to buy them for my mom and friends too. Just cause he wants us to know we're special. He'll buy my favorite chocolate bar every time he's in a store that sells it. He'll pick flowers before coming inside and then tuck them behind my ear. He'll tuck me in at night so I don't get cold.

He's bossy and protective and overbearing and honestly I wouldn't have it any other way because I know with every fiber of my being that he gives a damn. He'll cross the street with his arm around my waist, bodily dragging me forward and bringing me to a halt. He'll offer to come to meetings with me if he knows they'll be hard. He'll get all up in my face about fire safety and lighting candles and drinking diet soda pop. He'll make me stop reading on those days I start a book and literally cannot put it down to give my eyes a rest and make it worth it by giving me a head rub. He'll make me breakfast because he knows if he doesn't I'll just drink two cups of coffee instead.

He's big on making sure my dreams come true. He'll.... do everything I've ever written about here on this blog.

He's the nicest, most real person I've ever met. He'll go out of his way to help our friends out (even by dragging me to a hardware store and then browsing the shelves for hours trying to find just the right bolt for our friend's project all the while I'm loudly grumbling because I loathe any and all hardware stores). He'll climb up on any family member's roof and clean it off. He'll put up my mother's Christmas tree every.single.time and I'll just sit there and watch. He'll be genuinely himself all the time, every day, no surprises or second guessing involved.

He's one of the hardest working people I've ever met. He'll spend way more time on something than I would to make it just right. He'll never want to let you down so he'll work his hardest to make sure that whatever he does was the best it could be.

He's sweet. He'll call and miss me like crazy even if we're apart for just one day. We're pathetic like that. We always have been. If we go on a date, he'll hold my hand and want to pay. He'll run me a bubble bath just the way I like, and believe me I'm picky and have rules about swishing the bubbles around. He'll run to the store late at night to get me ice cream. He'll let me wear his blue button up poncho and in turn wear by hot pink pull over poncho so I can actually sit on the scooter fully covered when it rains. He'll tell it like it is, which is how I know he loves my elf ears and nose and freckles and eyes and silky hair... and other parts too.

He's pushy. He'll make me try a bite of something even if I'm convinced I won't like it and then only rubs it in my face a little bit when it turns out that I actually love it. He'll do what's right for us even when I'm pouting and not being realistic.

He's his own person with all these silly and endearing quarks like his OCD. I love that every time we go to leave the house, Sean finds random tasks he has to do like clean the kitchen sink or arrange all our shoes on the shoe rack or tidy the counter. I love that when we scoot down the road he sings really bizarre songs. I love that he can spend a day reading or playing video games.

I love that after 10 years of being together, my favorite thing to do is what I'm doing right now: sitting in the same room together, each doing our own thing, but just happy to be in the presence of each other.

Now, I wouldn't want you to think that I live with my head in the clouds or am lying and only leading with our best foot forward. We bicker. We fight, kinda, in a unique Jackie-and-Sean way. Sometimes, I want to push him off our second floor balcony. Sometimes, he jokes about breaking hard and dumping me off the back of the scooter. But when you share your life, day to day every single day, with another person, it's bound to happen.

But, the honest truth is, I adore this man. And there is not one single doubt in my mind, ever, that he friggin' adores me. Like, a lot. Life is beautiful because of him. And while I don't really think luck had much to do with it, I still feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Work in progress

I promised a tour of our new place.

Here it is! 

Something to keep in mind: WE'RE NOT DONE YET!

Most of the furniture is in place but we haven't hung any of our photos or paintings or nick knacks. 

Even so, this place is so cozy and comfy and we adore it!

The kitchen:
Please note that the sink and oven are not held up by bricks. Improvement!

The coffee table:
Swoon. I'm in love with my espresso machine and my cute coffee table Sean got me.

The dining area:
We're still going to get a rug for under the table.

Bathroom 1:
Note that there is nothing duck taped to the wall and all of the pipes are not exposed. Oh, and there's no black mold. Yipee!

The living room:
So cozy and comfy! We have TV for the first time in 4 years! Sean is going to get black/white European city scapes from Taipei that I was drooling over. They take up the whole wall. It'll look so cool! I heart my husband!

The hall way:
I love the pink and salmon walls and green doors. So cute. The apartment has the master bedroom and two spares. We'll fix up one for guests and the other will turn into Sean's Man Room aka a rock climbing gym.

View from our real porch:
We live on the second floor. Those are our two scooters. Mine is the adorable white one on the right side.

Our bedroom:
Yum. Our bed is heaven and soft and our new blanket is to die for! One of the city scapes will hang above our bed.

 Spare room 1:
This will be turned into a guest room. Right now, it's the laundry room.

So there it is! Our new apartment that we friggin love!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An anniversary, of sorts

We are coming up on our one-year anniversary of moving to Taiwan. In the past year, so much has happened it's hard to wrap my mind around. A lot has been gained. A lot has been lost. And right now, we're just living for the present. We're not really looking forward and we're not really looking back. We're here and we're trying to experience it to the fullest.

Moving to Taiwan has been the second best thing I've ever done, next to marrying my man, and this year has marked my life like none other before it.


Grappling with loss
I guess in a way, compared to many, I lived a lucky and sheltered life in regards to loss. I managed to live 26 years on this earth before death really visited me. Sure, there were a few close calls but they were just that: close calls. And while those experiences marked me, nothing rocked my world like the completely unexpected loss of my dad. We left for Taiwan with smiles and hugs. I never dreamed that, four months later, I would be rushing to an airport and the hospital simply praying (and I am not one who prays) that my dad would still be alive by the time I made the 18 hour journey from Taipei to Seattle. Well, he made it but only for a few days. Then, he was gone. Simply gone. I still don't really know what to do with this experience. I've been sad and mad and everything in between. But, the only thing that nags at me is the very real knowledge that one day I will be here and the next... who knows. Same for Sean. Same for my friends and family. And that is what has rocked my world. It makes me want to go do and see everything right now please and it strangely makes me want to curl up on the couch with a good book and pull the shades. I think this is one of those things that it takes a while to navigate. So, that's what I'm doing.

Making great friends
The friends we've made here make Taiwan what it is for us: home. We go out to eat, we play a lot of cards and probably drink too much, we travel, we scoot, we work, we watch stupid shows, and we experience this bizarre world together. It's perfection.

More and more travels
Hong Kong. Thailand. Vietnam. Taiwan. How lucky we've been! How lucky we are. This blog started after my second trip to Europe. It was storage for my memories. It really was for me. A way to keep everything all in one place so later I could look back. I never really believed that it would expand to what it is today: a journal of this person who has traveled to many countries and lives abroad. Me. It was a pipe dream. How we got here? I'm still a little fuzzy on all the details. But, this year has been another great opportunity to step foot in more countries, get a few more stamps, and travel with some awesome people in the meantime. I know there will be many more travels to come!

Actually enjoying work
I taught for 200 days and never once had to go cry in the bathroom. Trust me, this is a big deal. Not one student failed my English or history class all.year.long. Trust me, that is a huge deal. And guess what? I'm not dreading going back to work. Holy moly. Who knew it was possible?

Slowly making adjustments
I get around on a scooter. Still, I forget. Don't wear a dress. Just yesterday, I was wearing my adorable red and white striped Anthropologie dress. The second I turned the accelerator and vroomed through the intersection, the entire skirt of the dress lifted revealing my blue lace underwear with a black bow. I scrambled to scoot one handed while trying to gather the material and shove it under my butt so I could sit on it and thus keep it down while many Taiwanese eyes followed my progress down the street. Dope.

Defining and redefining marriage
I started dating Sean when I was 17 years old. We've been together for 10 years and are coming up on 4 years of marriage. Moving to Taiwan has taught us a lot. Basically, together we can do anything. Does that mean we never bicker? Heck no. But, we always end up smiling and laughing. We like each other a lot and cannot stay mad at each other. Also, for the first time we have married friends we spend a lot of time with. It validates our idea that every relationship is different. Ours isn't the flashiest or the most romantic but it is solid and rooted in love, respect, and friendship. Being here has confirmed what I already knew to my bones: when you find someone good and worth it, pull down the safety bar, put your hands in the air, and enjoy the bumpy ride.

Letting go of the money fixation
Sean and I moved to Taiwan with nearly $20,000. That's what happens when you sell you cars and cash out your retirement. We made the choice to not worry about saving. After all, in two years Sean will be a teacher and we will literally be able to bank and entire salary and live off the other. So we decided, for the first time in our life, to set aside the guilt and worry and live it up. What has that looked like? Well, we went to IKEA and spent a pretty penny on making our new place cozy and comfy. We lived it up in Vietnam and Thailand. We eat out all the time with our friends. We buy stuff. We're not mindless consumers but if I see something I want, I don't berate myself for wanting it. Instead, I buy it. We always have plenty of money in both our bank accounts and we have never once had a credit card or spent money we didn't have. We've simply decided to not worry and give ourselves a brief reprieve from the ideals we were brought up with. After all, we're not in America anymore. Our worries have, in many senses, been lifted from our shoulders.

In all, this move to Taiwan has been a gift. It's not for everyone. Sometimes I still have Bad Taiwan Days. But, for Sean and I, we like our little slice of happiness we've been given and will continue to do everything we can to make the absolute most of it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bring it on super Typhoon Soulik

Yup, that "super typhoon" is just a few hours away from smacking right dab into us.

And all we can think about was last year's Typhoon Saola, the "regular" typhoon type that flooded our bedroom, smashed a tree through our window, and caused electrical issues that resulted in our bathroom wall mildly electrocuting us every time we reached for some TP.

So, this "super typhoon" (and what does that even mean, really? It does not conjure comforting imagery!!) has us scrambling to prepare.

First, as Americans living in Taiwan we would have had no idea this beast was at our front door unless our friends said something based on something they overheard another westerner mention.

Because, well, we don't listen to the radio/news. It's all in Mandarin.

Luckily though, our friends did hear news of this bad boy and saw fit to mention the impending disaster to us.

So this morning I raced around on my little white scooter and stopped by three grocery stores to get provisions: food, water, batteries.

Holy crap, though.

It didn't take long to realize I was a little late to the party and every other Taiwanese person residing in Hsinchu had already done this as each store's shelves were baren.

So we'll be riding out Soulik drinking booze and eating chocolate Dove bars and Frosted Flakes.

I'm actually kinda excited.

I mean, I love chocolate and Tony the Tiger but also the last typhoon we had was the strongest storm I've ever seen. It was simply stunning in its sheer power. I thought it was beautiful.

Plus, it's a great excuse to cuddle up by the window, drink something lovely, and listen to the howling winds and punishing rain.

And this time around we know better than to venture out during the eye of the storm to go get tacos.

See, one year into living in Asia and we are so much wiser.

To see the damage this typhoon caused, check out my super cool friend Jamie's blog post!

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Sunday morning stroll through Hanoi

You wake up warm and snug in bed in Hanoi's Old Quarter on a slightly overcast, drizzly Sunday morning. 

You wonder: what does this day hold?

You eat breakfast and nurse your coffee at your hotel's rooftop restaurant. 

A thunderstorm rolls in and out.

The clouds part and there it is: blue sky and fleeting peeks of sunshine.

You shower and dress and you're in no hurry.

You're an explorer, in a foreign city and country, and you have no plans or agenda.

You grab your map and venture out with no care in the world except thoughts of more coffee.

You stroll hand in hand through the Old Quarter and appreciate its French architecture.

You watch locals live their lives: eat, drink, work, laugh, shop, be.

You think it's beautiful and real and stunning.

Even in the cramped, busy streets you find morsels of beauty.

The red shutter door. The vine spilling down the side of a building. The sound of women laughing, real and hardy.

You come across The Temple of Literature and think: how cool!

You wander across the eight lane street very, very carefully, mostly with your husband being a major control freak and throwing out his arm and jerking you this way and that to avoid imminent collision with scooters.

Then, your heart melts when you see this temple is in the middle of a lake and you get to cross an adorable red bridge to get to it.

Then, as always, you wish you were the only people in the world so you could explore this wonder on your own instead of battling crowds.

Such is the life of a modern day explorer in the age of jet planes and tour buses.

You wander around the temple and take in the scent of incense and feel like an intruder to the locals who come to use the temple for its actual intended purposes.

Still, you can't help but watch the bowing and the chanting and the offering of gifts and the burning of money and the lighting and waving of incense.

After having your fill of the temple, you wander back over the cute red bridge and decide to meander around the lake.

You see some kids training their dog how to pay Frisbee and think: let's sit down and watch.

So you do.

This is the life of you, the traveler.

Each day is an opportunity to watch and learn and do.

Each day, however small and slow, is filled with adventure. 
And for this, you feel like the luckiest person in the world. 

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