Thursday, October 25, 2012


I know there is no such thing as a perfect country or government.

I know that as an American in Taiwan, I am shielded from most of the country's social issues.

What I do know is people matter.

They need to matter more than lobbyists and agendas.

And I know, without doubt, that Taiwan has figured this out.

For example, take socialized healthcare.

If people matter, especially the average, common, every day Joe, then isn't it clearly a good thing, the only right thing, to provide him with cheap, affordable, quality health care? So money is never an issue? So he doesn't sit at home thinking, "I hope this doesn't get worse because it will bankrupt me" or even "This is serious but I won't see a doctor so my family can eat and pay rent?"

We have someone running for president that would let Mr. Average Joe die rather than, god forbid, restructure our government and how it spends its tax revenue so no one has to debate the value of his or her health versus bankruptcy or groceries or rent.

We have someone running for president who clearly does not understand the only difference between a man and woman is that one has a vagina and the other a penis, and that this fact does not make one more qualified for jobs or entitled to earn more money.

We have someone running for president who thinks he's god of all, especially women, and should decide what we can and cannot do with our bodies... in all circumstances.

We have someone running for president who is chomping at the bit for a piece of the Middle East yet seems incapable of finding Iran or Syria on a map.

Most importantly, we have someone running for president who clearly does not understand what a president is supposed to do: work for the people, and yes, Mr. Average Joe counts too.

I love America; it is my home and my family lives there and it is beautiful and there are so many inspiring people.

But I do not miss it.

Not at all.

I feel like I've finally found civilization; a country where there are no homeless people on the streets, where everyone has health insurance, where there are no guns and I feel incredibly safe walking around my city at night, where respect is real and apparent, and where there is a sense of national pride because people realize that Chinese or Taiwanese or Hakka, they're in this together.

I know Obama is no savior, but what I do know is that he gave my uninsured husband health insurance, he withdrew our troops from one of two meaningless wars, and he has not dismissed women early from work so they can be home in time to cook their families dinner.

So when it comes down to this presidential election, I agree whole heatedly with The New Yorker article below. It's definitely worth a read:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hump Day Adventures

                                                           Vanilla ice cream + black tea

               Sunset + sea vistas
                                                                 Scooter + light breezes

                                                                 Husband + wife


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bizarre, bizarre Chinese

So today is Tuesday.

And on Tuesdays, a bunch of us get together from 4:30-6 and "learn" Chinese.

It goes a bit like this:

"Did someone mention there'd be pizza?"

"Oh my god I am so tired!"

"Did you study?"
"Ha! No...."

"Is this how you say beer? Or was that beach ball?"

"Who's hitting up McDonald's with me tonight?"

"Wait a minute! You mean my brother's nickname means titties?"

The end, good night.

You see, we work really hard during the day and by the time 4:30 rolls around we're kinda done.

So sitting through 1.5 hours of Chinese after working from 7:40-4:10 can be, well, torturous.

Mostly because I'm in the first stage of "learning" Chinese.

There are five.

I looked them up:

1. Crazy Nonsense Stage: This language is bizarre and impossible and I'm not terribly convinced it's actually  a real language with rules and patterns
2. Acceptance Stage: Okay, I guess this is actually a real language
3. Oh My God I'm Speaking Chinese Stage: Tones are distinguishable and basic conversations can be had
4. Okay, I'm Still Just Speaking Chinese Stage: Most conversations can be had correctly and reading and writing skills improve
5. Pretty Much Chinese Stage: If it were not for your pasty complexion, people would be convinced you're Chinese

It's my goal, in the years that we're here, to get to stage two.

And today, we made some great strides in getting there.

For example, Jamie repeatedly said, quite clearly, "Oooh Shiiiit" twice, to the teacher, much to our amusement.

Especially because our teacher is one of my student's mothers and completely fluent in English, swear words and all.

So as this very kind woman did her best to keep from outright laughing at Jamie, who was endeavoring to say "how much" in Chinese, we all kinda lost it.

But seriously, we did learn to count to 10, the days of the week, as well as a whole host of barnyard animals.

We'll get there.

For now though, as we struggle to make some semblance of sense from this five tone language, we mostly just sound like a bunch of whales calling out to one another.

Pretty funny indeed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pizza and the East China Sea and culture shock

Sometimes, I have these moments.

It's like, one minute I feel normal and then all of the sudden I'm hit with the realization that I live in Taiwan.

And, you know, it's... different.

Really different.

And nothing looks right.

And then I'm humbled by the experience, by the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and feelings.

It's incredible.

It's the most life-affirming thing I've ever experienced, which makes sense because I'm always chasing it.

I crave being completely surrounded by foreignness:

When hundreds of voices resonate but none make sense.

When everything I see is raw and messy and so real.

When flavors burst in my mouth and shock my senses.

When colors and faces and sounds and smells collide.

When the only thing I recognize is Sean, this beautiful man I get to spend my life with.

Today, as we scooted to the East China Sea, I felt assaulted by our life change.

I scooted past all these people, all these places, and simply felt flabbergasted and privileged to bear witness to this difference, this otherness.

It's so easy to be rubbed the wrong way by culture shock.

But I think the beautiful part of being here is not passing judgment and instead simply soaking it in and truly grasping that there is no one right way to live.

Today, as we zipped past bustling day markets and families of four on scooters and farmers tending their fields and fisherman hauling in their catch, we both felt immensely grateful to witness it...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A big dose of about face

My students during an earthquake drill. 
The other day, my friend said something to me that resonated.

It went something like this:

In America, people tell you that teaching is a calling.

It's your passion, your purpose, your life.

It's who you are.

Then, she called bullshit on that.

"It's my job," she said.

Reality check:

Last year, I worked in a school that degraded me, that caused me such massive amounts of stress I actually felt like puking every time I walked in the door, that appalled me on such a regular basis that I often found myself questioning my sanity and morals.

Yet I stayed.

"For the love of the children..."

"Because if I don't, who will...."


The truth is I should have quit, and it is my fault alone that I did not. However, my friend is also right; people speak of teachers as gold diggers (haha), villains, and heroes.

The truth is that I'm just Jackie, and teaching is just my job.

Much like a mechanic, accountant, waitress, or lawyer.

My life, well, that's what happens after hours.

It's the time I spend cooking with my sweetie, it's the time we spend together traveling the globe and creating memories, it's the nights spent with friends and family.

And these kids in Taiwan, they have allowed me to see this, to understand this, to find peace with this...

Here, I am a teacher.

They do not need a mother or father or disciplinarian or counselor.

Those are the people they go home to who teach them right from wrong and culture.

They do not need a savior.

They just need someone who likes them and teaches them and then goes home and lives a full life that does not include hours grading and fretting and planning.

And you want to know what?

They inspire the hell out of me.

So thank you, 8A and 8B, for showing me you simply need a teacher, and thank you Taiwanese society for doing your job, which makes mine so much more cut and dry.

8B, my homeroom, kids: they are pretty much the coolest kids ever.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Not so dreary Mondays, or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, etc.

I've got my Monday game face on. It looks a lot like happiness. 
Without trying to, Sean and I have fallen into these routines. 

Normally, when a person says that, it's a bad routine.

But for us, now, here in Taiwan, they're kinda awesome.

Today is Monday, and to be honest I have a thing for Mondays.


Well, it goes a bit like this: you see, when I get home from work we hop on the scooter (I drive because Sean loves me and I loooooove to drive) and go to the gym, except not to do anything boring like use a treadmill.  Instead, we make complete idiots of ourselves and play badminton. It's pretty amazing. Especially because we share a court with very serious people who have matching outfits and wrist and head sweatbands.

That just makes it even better.

Then, we use the gym's spa-like showers and then scoot off into the night (Sean drives because by now it's rush hour traffic and he loves me enough to let me keep loving scooting by never, ever making me drive in rush hour traffic) headed towards our favorite Japanese noodle bar where I always get The Spicy Garlic Burns the Pork Chop Noodle and the owners are lovely and nice and smiley and then we walk next door for an ice cream black tea and stroll around Jeishou Rd until our teas are gone and then head home tired and happy.

And then on Tuesdays we have Chinese class. The mother of one of my students comes and shows us how to make fools of ourselves by trying to speak Chinese.

Our latest Sunday scooter exploration find: the 18 peaks mountain and a new view of Hsinchu.

And then on Thursdays we go to kickboxing. If there is anything funnier than five Americans taking a Chinese kickboxing class I have yet to see it, especially because Peter Pan and Steve end up dancing to the American pop songs more than anything else.

And then on Fridays we always, always, because we are just that stupid, wind up driving through rush hour traffic way far down Guang Fu to eat the best bacon cheeseburgers at Ricks. Because they are worth it. And it's amusing to wind our way through 4 lanes of traffic on our scooters. Because really, we are just that dumb.

Saturdays we play games and eat pizza with friends.

Sundays we explore and scoot around town.

These routines, well, they make our life here everything the states was not; there we lived to work, here, well, we live to have fun.

What a difference that makes.

Man do I love Mondays!

Most of our movie or game nights starts with a delivery from Domino's. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Zooming, spills, and lessons learned

I've been growing my bravery in regards to scooting.

I've seen those idiots who jump on and think they are ready to fly down an Asian city street.

They truly are idiots, and it usually doesn't take them too long to figure that out.

There are cars and trucks and buses and millions of scooters vying for a piece of the road, usually the same small piece of road, and usually at high speeds.

It's an accident waiting to happen.

And they do happen.

All the time.

My knees have brushed against large city buses and Sean has already been in one fender bender (and no, it was not his fault).

But some things really are just accidents.

And they suck.

Last night was supposed to be a fun night.

A bunch of us hopped on our scooters and went in search of the reservoir again.

Sean rode with Steve because it's much harder for me to control our bike with him on back, and the road to the reservoir has sharp corners, long hills, and lots of stray dogs that relish the chance to run out in front of passing scooters.

I wanted to be in control.

We got split up from Sean and Steve and our other friends. They went left while we went straight. The five of us found this new glorious spot while the four of them ended up at the spot we went to last week.

I didn't like not knowing where Sean was.

I did love the freedom and bliss I felt as I zoomed through the hills, no sound except for the wind whooshing past me and the engine underneath me.

We only had 10 or so more minutes of day light so we took off to join our two groups back together. On the way, things turned ugly.

Our friends turned a corner to find brush in the mountain road.

It was too late to stop or break so their bike went down.

They were able to walk away but not without injuries: swollen knees, torn jeans, huge scraps, bruised hips, and shredded palms.

And that was that.

Sometimes shit happens and you just have to deal with it.

It was certainly a wake up call for me, this novice rider who was taking corners way too fast in the dark with a stupid smile on my face.

I don't want that to be me, or Sean, or anyone else we care about.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Traffic jams and serenity

The other day, some of our friends drove out to a reservoir.

We followed on our scooter.

First, we drove through snarled traffic jams (breaking a few traffic laws white at it).

Our friends turned right onto this upward sloping road.

From there, everything melted away: there was no traffic, no industrial buildings, no high rise apartments.

There were no people.

The road curved up and up.

I spread my arms open and allowed the gushing air to flow all around me.

Vegetation hugged the road.

For the first time in a long time, I felt a tad bit like I was close to home, to the landscape I adore.

The trees and bushes broke to our right, and there they were: true mountain peaks poking up over Hsinchu's haze, the sun a fierce ball glowing red hot in the sky.

We drove on and on, through small villages that sprouted from nowhere, past stray dogs that were well fed and cared for, past farmers tending fields.

This was the Asia I remembered from our backpacking.

This is the Asia I love, and it was only a 20 minute drive away this whole time.

We pulled off onto the shoulder and there it was: this beautiful reservoir surrounded by towering trees and green rolling hills.

Hsinchu is not so bad.

Sure, it's an Asian city with all that entails but here, well...

Thank you Ruth and Ben for showing us this haven, where life stills.

Thank you for showing us a place we can be alone, just us and our scooters on the dark road.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

High speed trains, really big buildings, and IKEA

I'm convinced there is no place hotter and more humid than Taiwan in August.

The high speed rail offers some relief as it whizzes us from Hsinchu to Taipei.

We are a roving group of Americans and Canadians and we are hungry.

So we head to Din Tai Fung.

We eat every kind of dumpling imaginable, and then some more.

We wander.

We watch.

We soak in this new country that is suddenly our home.

Everything is different.

Mandarin swirls all around.

How freeing it is to hear a million voices all around and yet understand none.

The smell, the sound, the sight: all different.

How lucky we are.

Stinky tofu, giant temples, towering buildings, and friendly people.

Welcome to this new life. 

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