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. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sleeping with dragons in Halong Bay

Green placid water.

Tall jutting cliffs Vietnamese myth attribute to dragons.

Monkeys and fish.

Sean and I spent:

... three days idly floating through the bay and surrounding waters.

... two nights curled up together in the chair on our balcony.

... two mornings lazily watching the sun rise.

... three days kayaking, laughing, and sun bathing.
Halong Bay is truly indescribable.

So, I won't try.

Just know, whenever I hear the word paradise I will close my eyes and think of the time we spent sleeping with the dragons. 

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