Saturday, February 23, 2013

An impromptu explosion of color and happiness

Photo by: Nicole Bond

Not thirty minutes ago, I was completely passed out on our hot purple, zebra striped couch.

Boom, boomboomboom, boom.

Twenty nine minutes ago, at 11p.m., I was suddenly upright on the couch, crazy hair and wrinkled clothes, wondering if Sean exploded a bag of popcorn in the lousy microwave again.

"Hurry!" Sean urged, smiling widely and making a beeline for our front door.


Ah, fireworks. For the past week, ever since we've been home from Thailand, fireworks have been randomly going off: in the middle of trying to teach, early in the morning, in the middle of busy intersections, etc.

I think it would be completely fair to say that Taiwan has a bit of an obsession with pyrotechnics. 

But along with that obsessions comes expertise.


I jumped off the couch looking for pants to throw on and shoes. After all, I had never seen a dull fireworks show in Taiwan.

I raced up the staircase after Sean, dodging the huge spiders that live in the corners and tried not to trip as I stumbled over the cables and pipes lining the roof.


From every direction, brilliant fireworks exploded in the starry night sky, hundreds of floating light particles, green, red, yellow, descending back to earth just in time for others to take their place.

For more than 15 minutes, we leaned against the cracking rooftop wall, me in my long tee shirt and flip flops (I never did find those pants), captivated by the mystery and beauty of another Taiwanese moment we never could have anticipated.

Those, after all, are usually my favorite. 

So now, at 11:34p.m., I am wide awake.

But, you know, there are plenty worse ways to spend a Saturday night than startling awake to fire works and watching an impromptu light show with your man on your own deserted rooftop. Yes, definitely much worse ways like being left alone to sleep undisturbed through the night.

Friday, February 15, 2013

When grocery shopping becomes mission impossible

I think it's obvious that I like living in Taiwan; my job teaching is as good as the profession gets, our friends are awesome, and everyday can be a new, exciting adventure if we want it to be.

However, it does come with its fair share of really weird obstacles: small things that should be so easy (read: were so easy in the states) that drive us a bit crazy here.

Take for example:

Taking out the trash:
Taiwan is a green, eco-friendly nation. You want an immense challenge? Go eat at McDonalds and then go to throw away your trash. Good luck. There are six bins for food waste, paper recycle, one kind of plastic recycle, left over ice, another kind of plastic recycle, honest to goodness garbage and I forget the others. Every time, every single damn time, Sean and I stand in front of this contraption wondering what the hell to do (it's all in Chinese) scanning the room, making sure no one is looking, then dumping everything in one hole.

At home, we're only allowed to take our trash/recycle/food waste out from 6:30p.m.-6:50p.m. Mondays - Fridays. And it's a supervised dump. The food waste bin, which is used to feed pigs, is swimming in maggots and the one time I dared to do this chore I puked. The recycle and garbage house are infested with rats that have no fear of humans and run over your feet while you sort your waste into the freakin' eight categories of waste.

It's a nightmare and I hate it.

For the rest of the Taiwanese people who don't live on a school campus, they have to wait for the garbage truck. It's not like in the states where you leave an overflowing can in the morning and grab an empty one at night. Nope. You see, the trucks sing. I'm not kidding. Whenever the song is heard, shop owners drop whatever they are doing and run outside with their bags of trash to meet the truck. It doesn't stop moving. They have to chase after it and throw it in. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they don't.

Okay, I don't mind that part too much.

But trash, who knew it could be so complicated? In protest, Sean and I refused to make any food at home and ate every single meal out for about two weeks.

Grocery shopping:
How I miss starting up my 1986 beat to hell Toyota Camry and driving down the street to Safeway to stock up on anything and everything I could possibly want. Fresh produce, choice meats, imported European cheeses, fresh pastas and breads... drool.

Today, I wanted to make this really simple soup recipe Sean and I adore. I mean, so easy I even had the dry mix to start us off. But we're picky so we like adding things.

I had a shopping list with six ingredients on it.

I had to scoot to three stores.

I paid $3 for a can of sweet corn, $15 for a bag of granola, etc.

Trying to make anything close to our favorite western style meals is a marathon effort of scooting trying to balance groceries on the foot rest of the scooter, searching aisle after aisle for the hidden, overpriced ingredients and then trying to cook with our two burners and toaster oven.

Doing the laundry
Sunday was always my laundry day, the day I'd roll over in bed and think Oh shit, all my clothes are in the hamper and I have to wake up tomorrow at 4a.m. to go to work.

So I'd make a pot of coffee and start one load. Yeah, I only had enough clothes to take up one load. They'd wash for 30 minutes and then dry for 45 and then voila: I was set for the entire next week!

Here, my wardrobe has come to take up four loads of wash and if I want to have clean clothes on Monday well then I better start the wash on Wednesday. No joke. Our washer machine has two buttons on it, one green and one red. In order to start the machine, I have to push both buttons. Once I do that, the machine goes for FOUR hours. Once again, no joke. Then we have to hang dry everything. Right now it's winter... I'd say roughly 60 degrees or so. That's laughable in Washington, but in Taiwan no homes have heaters. That means it's typically colder inside than it is outside. Not exactly conducive to drying clothes. When we hot box our smallest room, running both the dehumidifier and small space heater, it takes about three days to dry every piece of clothing. More often than not, we just leave the drying rack in the cold living room to save money. Then, if we're lucky, every piece of clothing will be dry on day 5. By then, they have usually acquired a mildewy smell.

Trying to leave
Taiwan, as I'm sure you've heard me mention before, is the 8th most densely populated country in the world. When a holiday rolls around, it can be damn near impossible to leave because everyone else on this island is too. Airfare prices soar and suddenly you have to ask yourself: is it worth it? OF COURSE it's worth it, my inner voice always tells me. So then you find yourself blowing way more than you normally would on a plane ticket after hunting around on the Internet for ages and ages.

Some days I dearly miss how easy certain things were in the states.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

slow boat to Ayutthaya

Today Sean and I headed north from Bangkok to the ancient Thai city of Ayutthaya. It's just this crumbling place with ruins peppered on nearly every street corner. We didn't hit up this town on our first round through Asia because we had been to Angkor Wat and figured-- what could possibly beat that? However, as I started looking into getting to Ayutthaya, I realized one could get there via river and it was a done deal.

We had to start early because it's a long trip to get there. When our alarm blasted at 5a.m., both Sean and I seriously questioned our dedication to this adventure. Nothing looks good in the darkness of 5a.m.

[Confession: Sean and I live these glorious lives that involve alarm clocks going off at 7a.m. at the earliest]

But, we threw off the bed covers and blearily dressed. Bangkok never quiets, not even at 5a.m. on a Sunday morning. Sleepy eyed shop keepers sat on short stools outside their shops, tuk-tuks roamed the streets, and people walked down the street with fresh fish.
The river was calm and the 2-hour journey gave us another glimpse of Thai life: people hanging their laundry on their "porches," children jumping into the water, barges plowing north full of sugar and spices, long tail boats shuffling people from one side of the river to another...

The Thai people who live along the riverbank sure live simple lives, but it is undeniable that those lives are full of color. Finally, we docked and hopped on a bus that took us inland to Ayutthaya.

We had to be picky about what we would see; the city is sprawling and temples are everywhere. I desperately wanted to see this World Heritage cite, a Buddha head statue with tree roots growing all around it, but I learned long ago that it's sites like this that attract tour buses and everyone and their mother, so we ditched that idea and instead headed for the lesser known and lesser popular temples and sites.

It was totally worth it. In a town overflowing with tourists, we were able to find space, and although the temples were not as impressive as Angkor Wat [I challenge you to show me one that is], we were not expecting them to be.

They were still so special in and of themselves. I don't really like reading the guide book or researching their histories. I just like to stand before them, to run my hand across them, and know I'm standing in front of something special, something beautiful, something old.

It's quite spectacular.
At the end of the day, our 5 a.m. wake up call was more than worth it!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Our story

Every once in a while, mostly by other vagabonds while on the road, I get asked:

How did you do it?

These are people who quit their unfulfilling, soul-crushing jobs, which usually paid quite a lot of money, to travel the world for months or years on a shoestring budget while taking overcrowded buses, sometimes with chickens and goats, and sleeping on hard as rock beds with mosquito nets and no AC.

These are the people who want to know how we escaped the American Dream: the picket fence and new car and two kids and a dog and 9-4 and big screen TV mold. Mostly because, at some point in time they will probably need to return home or find work and they want their ticket out too.

They ask us because we found a way, without relying on the military or religion, to relocate our lives abroad; a life that comes with free housing, completely worry free finances and job stability, and full on wonder and adventure and friendship and discovery.

And, every time I try and answer this question, I have to go back nearly 10 years and start with the story of how I fell in love with him, my handsome, kind, funny, artistic, incredibly loyal and loving husband.

Because I truly do not believe my life would be 1/10 of what it has been if he were not in it, the leading role in it actually.

I have done truly "once-in-a-lifetime" things, huge things, but at the end of the day, it is Sean who has made my life and who will continue to make my life.

It is our friendship, our love, and our teamwork that constantly take my breath away, far more powerfully than anything else on this great, big, wondrous planet.

My husband has given me the courage to be, on a daily basis, the best version of myself possible. A version of myself that was willing to throw caution to the wind and actually pack everything we own in two huge suitcases, get on a 13 hour flight, and know there is no turning back.

So how did we do it?

Here's our story:

When I was 17 years old, I met my person.

I didn't know it at the time.

I first got the hunch that he was it when I was in Europe with my a friend, still 17 years old, and even though I was in the midst of a dream come true, it still didn't feel right.

Because he was not there.

I got back and, as most teenagers newly in love, we held clammy hands and kissed, first softly and sweetly and then passionately, and explored our new found love among other things.

I was infatuated.

And confused.

I never thought I'd meet my person when I was still a kid, but when you know you know.

And I knew.

Sean is this goofy, soft, shy person. His laugh is addicting. His hands are gentle and confident. His heart is kind and loyal and bossy. His brain is analytic and artistic and problem solving. His lips are silly and quiet. His eyes are loud. His arms are strong and fiercely protective. His feet are curious and adventurous. His soul is youthful and sweet and loving.

He is the most incredible person I will ever meet.

Every weekend while I attended undergrad, Sean and I would travel for hours to see each other-- it took buses, trains, boats, and cars-- but we never missed an opportunity to wrap up each other and not let got until we absolutely had to.

Most of my college friends didn't understand.

Some were quiet about it.

Others disdainful.

I didn't care, and I still don't.

When you know, you know.

And I knew.

So when I graduated with my masters at 21 years old, and found my first adult job, Sean and I nervously moved out of our parents' homes and to Port Townsend.

It was the first time we would ever be completely responsible for our own being: rent, groceries, student loan payments, gas, insurance, etc.

We moved into this great big Victorian house with stained glass windows, fountains in the yard, an old fashioned library with a fireplace, and a claw foot bathtub. I taught in my very own classroom for the first time and with that came all the ups and downs associated with middle school teaching. Sean took any old job he could find, landscaping, and hated it.

Although I made a real, adult wage, our money disappeared quickly on rent and bills and groceries and stupid things like clothes and DVDs and gas.

We noticed, mentioned it in passing, but thought: this is just how these things go.

We were madly in love and everyday felt like playing house. We'd snuggle up by the fire every night and drink wine and make extravagant meals and take long walks around P.T. by moonlight.

One night, tangled up together on the couch, I casually asked Sean what he wanted to do.

"I want to marry you," he whispered.

So we ran around our neighborhood in the snow at midnight screaming for the whole world to hear, "We're getting married!" And then we went to the 24-hour Safeway and bought Fun-Fetti cake mix and frosting and baked it and ate the whole thing.

We got married on our beach, our favorite place, Third Beach at La Push, Washington. My wedding dress was hot yellow and $50 dollars. It was the most expensive thing at the wedding. My brother married us in front of 10 people: Sean's mom, dad, and brother, my mom and dad, brother and (ex)sister in law, Eli and Kate, some of my favorite peeps, and Nick, the coolest guy possibly ever. And Indi, Kate's dog, of course.

We drank champagne, chased seagulls, and promised to be there for each other always.

We went on our first vacation together and something clicked into place, although we both hardly noticed it in the haze of our honeymoon induced love and lust.

But that was a turning point.

A moment, where we both stopped, and thought the same thing at the same time: how do we get more of this? This adventure? This exploration? This you're-the-only-person-around-I-recognize? This exhilaration?

This recognition that the world has so much to offer?

Small things started happening:

I found no meaning in my closet full of nice clothes, shoes, make up, etc.

Sean found no meaning in his video games.

We both came to grips with moving, leaving our first ever, mouth watering home together and we moved into our friends' basement apartment, a move that saved us nearly $1,000 every month.

Sean reached the point of realization that no job, no amount of money, was worth hating your job every second of every day.

So he quit.

And found a new one that paid well.

But most importantly, he worked for good, kind, fair people.

I grew tougher skin at my job.

We started to talk.

Whispers about travel, the world, exploration, more...

Suddenly, due to a few smart choices, we found ourselves at 22 and 23 with more money than we'd ever had before and impulsively bought plane tickets to the other side of the world because why not now, what are we waiting for?

And there we were: London, Venice, Florence, Rome, Paris.

Not studying abroad like friends, not on mom and dads' dime like friends, but on our own steam.

We did it.

We got ourselves there.

We ate drool worthy food. We saw stunning  architecture. But most importantly, we smiled, explored, kissed, and discovered together. Our world became bigger and fuller and we wanted more for ourselves. We wanted a world of choice.

Our time in Europe, however brief, was a beautiful time, full of magic and wonder and inspiration.

Sean's hand would snag mine as we roamed the Colosseum, my arms wound around Sean's waist as we watched the sunset from the Eiffel Tower, we spent hours awake in bed dreaming and Eskimo kissing and reveling in our friendship and love and togetherness.

More things clicked:

Why not?

Why can't this be our life?

This roaming, this traveling, this exploring...

So we boarded a plane home and started looking at our life, at the facts: I had a master degree, Sean had an associates, I was a middle school teacher and mostly loved my job and Sean was a roofer and made way more than I ever did, I had 2 months off in the summer and 2 weeks off in the winter, Sean was busiest during the summer and had sometimes months off at time during the winter, we didn't have a lease, owned our cars, had no credit cards, and lived below our means, I spent too much on coffee and Sean spent too much at the electronic store, our families were loving and supportive and available and encouraged risk taking.

I met some teachers at school who lived and worked overseas: China, Tanzania, Ghana.

Their stories left a mark on my imagination and once again we found ourselves asking:

Why not us?

So I dug my heels in and made binders and binders full of research.

International School Services.


Search Associates.

I enrolled in these companies that placed American teachers in international schools. I completed dossiers and got letters of recommendation and visited hundreds of schools' websites.

And then it all became real fast when I was laid off from my beloved job and Sean and I wrung our hands wondering:

What now?

Sean cuddled me up and gave me a talking to. Like I said, his heart is bossy. According to him, the only thing to do was let him take care of us and have fun: drink coffee from a trough at Sweet Laurettes every day, read books at Chetzemokah Park, learn French, take Angues (our dog on loan) for longs walks on the beach and not worry.

He had us, he cradled us, and we ate bags of popcorn and watched movies at the Uptown Theater and went on walks through the woods and ate delicious meals out and read books to each other and watched the stars on the lawn in front of the clock tower, legs entangled, hands loosely held, and whispered dreams:

Winter was coming, he would be off, so would I...

So why not us?

Why not seize this opportunity?

We drank wine and bought open-ended airfare to Bangkok. We dug through our dark closet and dusted off our hiking bags. We threw in some clothes and headed to the airport.

Our families kissed us goodbye, huge smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes, best wishes exchanged, and then we were off:

Bangkok, Chumphon, Koa Tao, Butterworth, Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Singapore, Bintan Island, Alor Setar, Krabi Town, Chaing Mai, the Bokeo Nature Reserve, Siem Reap, Cha Am.

Months spent on the road, nights spent on overnight trains and buses and boats curled up together, wide eyed and hopelessly in love and lost and wanting more.

Friends made, other vagabonds in pursuit of something more too.

Occasionally, meeting someone living the dream.

Over and over, realizing:

This can be us. This is us. Look at us. We are doing it. We are so close.

We landed in San Francisco, an International School Services job fair on the horizon, and we laid in bed, his arms holding me, my hands resting on his heart, listening to the saxophone player outside our window, wondering where we would land.

Countries like Switzerland, Croatia, Greece swam through our minds.

And then reality hit full force as I came back from the first day of the fair: I was a teacher and Sean was not, an automatic no for 95% of schools.

Europe? Yeah right.

Try Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria (yes, yes, I know. This is in Europe), Taiwan.

So disappointed, we fought and cried and hated it so we choose each other above all and walked away from the fair and the dream and instead walked along the wharf, quietly but contently because nothing was worth fighting over.

We spent a happy week in San Francisco and then boarded a train north while trying to figure out:

What next?

The dream wasn't for us, not now. Not when we couldn't agree on the smallest things let alone the big, important ones.

So... what was?

Sean went back to work and continued to pamper and care for me.

Then, I found a job and we had to leave Port Townsend, a place that was truly a home for the both of us.

We got these two fluffballs of love and moved to a box on Bainbridge Island so I could commute to the city every day.

We turned our heater way up and framed pictures of our adventures and filled our box up with love and happiness and kindness.

We sat on our porch each night, and would look up at the night sky filled with bright stars and the flashing lights of planes leaving Sea Tac and would play the "if you were on a plane, where would it be going...." game.

We worked hard and lived well and happily and dreamed of our adventures abroad and held our breath, wondering when to try again.

And I don't even know when it happened, or who mentioned it first, but somehow we were on a plane in February 2012 headed to Boston and another ISS job fair.

This time our goal was simple: do it, make it happen.

So we did.

We went through the process, and all of its disappointment and uncertainty, and then we met Christine, Jess, and Helen from IBSH and they outstretched their hands and we clasped on without a second thought.

We knew nothing about Taiwan, a country the year before we refused to even think of moving to.

We fell asleep that night holding fingers, completely relieved.

It is us.

We did it.

So that's my answer.

We get to live this extraordinary (what a perfect use of the word) life because of our friendship and love and dedication.

I can say with utmost certainty that Sean would never, in a million years, be living abroad exploring the world unless he met and fell for me.

And I can say with even more certainty, that I sure wouldn't either, which would have been the second greatest disappointment of my life because from the first time I set foot abroad it was what I wanted.

So why, together, did it happen?

Because we make each other braver, stronger, smarter, happier, and more confident.

Sean has given me the push to jump off the ledges of uncertainty because I know he is 100 per cent behind me, our fingers clasped together, and as he says every time I'm afraid, he "won't let anything happen to me."

And after 10 years of proof, I need nothing other than his hand in mine as we create our lives one day and one place at a time, fore-fitting the lives that would have so easily fallen into our laps back home, to live something authentically our own.

So that's our story.

That's how we did it.