Sunday, April 27, 2014

catching up

Is there anything better than an early Sunday morning lakeside stroll in pursuit of coffee with a handsome man? 

I think not. 

Especially because Sean and I are still catching up. 

You see, he was in America for two weeks for his brother's wedding. It was a for the both of us because we have been glued at the hips for nearly 10 years. We have not been away from each other for more than a day or two and certainly never on opposite sides of the world. 

I realized many things while he was gone. 

First, he is the navigator of this family. I still get hopelessly lost on my scooter. Second, it's a man's business to kill cockroaches. Seeing one in the middle of the night is a terrible experience no matter what but especially when no husband comes running out of the bedroom in his underwear ready to fight off whatever made you shriek in terror. Third, he does a lot of the chores I hate doing. Suddenly, the laundry and dishes started piling up in his absence. Forth, his cooking tastes way better than mine. After a few days of ruined dinners, I gave up and started eating Mac & Cheese. Fifth, I cannot sleep well without his body curled up with mine. I had to leave the lights on and woke many times throughout the night reaching for him and getting nothing but pillow. 

But now he's home (yipee) and we got to roll out of bed and enjoy the beauty of an early Sunday morning stroll and I got to grill him about all the food he ate in America and how everyone is doing and what this place or that places looks like now and if it was weird to be back.

And mostly, I got to revel in his presence.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

tips + tricks: how do you afford travel?

Sometimes people from back home tell me how much they would love to travel and see the world and it makes me a little sad because most of the time they have defeat in their voices as though that is a total impossibility for them. 

And I don't really think that is the case. 

So, with that in mind, I have decided to share some details of our life so people can see what it takes for us to do what we do: travel + see the world. 

Our biggest secret is cutting back on daily expenses and living far below our means so we can save more of our monthly paycheck. 

Here's how we stretch our [one] monthly paycheck to cover our globe trots:

We don't have a TV or cable bill 
We don't watch much TV anyway. Anything we do watch is online and free. In Taiwan, some channels are not accessible online but most things can be found with a bit of creativity. 

We don't have a cell phone bill
We use pay-as-you-go cell phones. We find we don't need to be connected all the time. In fact, we kinda like that we're not. Plus, not having to pay a smart phone bill each month makes us happy. 

We budget our weekly expenses very carefully
We only spend $100/week on food + household expenses. We get cash out for the week and that is all we get for the grocery store. For more about our system, read this

We set aside money each month
We put aside $500 each month for travel. We have a separate account for our travel money too. We never touch it unless it's for something related to travel. 

We find cheap + free things to do for fun
Most of what we do over the weekend is cheap or free. We scoot up into the hills, go on walks, explore local markets, etc. We rarely spend more than $20 on an outing. 

We indulge once a week
We allow ourselves one day a week to go out to eat, go to a movie or go crazy and buy three bottles of nail polish. Not being a complete scrooge with our money allows us to feel like we still can do what we want but within reason.

We use things until they bust
We do not buy new electronics or household items until we wear out our old ones. We also do our best to revive things once they die so we can postpone having to buy a new, expensive items. 

We shop sales
When we do buy new things, we poke around before we make a purchase to make sure we are getting the best deal. We also usually buy things like clothes in bulk so it's not something that happens every month. 

We buy cheap airfare
We always fly economy and we always book through either cheapoair or jetscoot. Usually we fly at odd hours and sometimes there are long layovers but we.don'

We don't buy junk
We stay away from chips, soda, beer, ice cream, candy, wine, fast food, etc. We only get those items every once in a while on one of our splurge days. 

We intentionally put ourselves in a profession + situation that allows for our desired lifestyle
Moving to Taiwan was partly an adventure and partly a good economic investment. We worked hard to put ourselves in a situation where we: get free housing, pay $1 USD every time we fill up our scooter's gas tank [which is about once a week], can live cheaply due to the low cost of living, could enroll Sean in a BA program and incur only a little debt, have three months off every year and yes: travel, travel, travel. 

All of these things allow this single income household the opportunity to travel and see the world. We have financial obligations: my student loan and Sean's university fees take up nearly half of our one paycheck. Despite that, we prioritize travel and find ways to set money aside so we can globe trot. I think you would be very surprised to see how just cutting back on a few things each month can really start to add up to the point that in a few months you could have saved for a plane ticket to a place you've always wanted to go!

What about you? What are your tips + tricks for saving for travel?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

strolling maokong

Tucked away in the hills of Taipei is perhaps the most beautiful suburb of the entire city: Maokong. Up in the mountain side, life slows down a little bit and people are seen tending their gardens, sitting in the shade and chatting or selling fruits and vegetables rather than playing on their smartphones, running to catch the metro or strolling high end shopping malls. 

The air is fresher and Maokong seems worlds away from the sprawling metropolis it looms over. 

Narrow roads cut into the mountainside offering stunning views of the city and tea plantations and gigantic temples carved into the steep hillsides. Every hour on the hour, a gong from a monastery across the valley sounds. Frogs croak and birds chirp and people laugh and it is such a contrast to the soundtrack of urban Taiwan: scooters reeving, horns hoking and bus tires squealing. 

Moakong is a tourist destination but all one has to do is wander five minutes beyond the last bubble tea stall to find peace and quiet and solitude. We spent the day getting lost and found on mountain roads and trails and I know in one afternoon we barley scratched the surface of everything this suburb has to offer. 

And one of the best parts about visiting Maokong? You can get there by riding a Hello Kitty gondola! Apparently, so many people fled to the mountains over the weekend that the one narrow, twisting road that led to Moakong was always too congested and very dangerous. Therefore, the city decided to invest in a gondola that would take people there instead. The gondola begins at the Taipei Zoo and takes 30 minutes to get to the top of the mountain. Along the way, riders get a bird's eye view of Taipei and its surrounding areas.  

For more fun travel stories, check out the blog A Southern Gypsy, which automatically became my favorite blog ever due to this post on the Harry Potter Studio! I am one jealous nerd! 

Friday, April 11, 2014


Most days, I love my expat life.

But some days are hard.

And some times being an ocean away from loved ones just hurts.

Today my mom, brother and husband got together to celebrate my father's life. 

What did I do? 


In Taiwan.

6,083 miles away. 

I didn't get to hug my mother or reflect.

Instead, I cut out game pieces to play vocabulary bingo. 

And this is the hard truth: I won't get this day I missed with my family back. 

I missed it and I will miss other things too.

And I know I've been at this expat life for almost two years now but this is still something that is hard to accept. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

the hidden rainbow village

Tucked away in the twisting and winding mountain roads of Zhudong is a hidden rainbow village.

One year ago, Sean and I stumbled upon this village by accident on one of our scoot adventures. The town sprouted up out of nowhere, wedged in between mountain hills and valley. Colorful, playful murals adorned each home + business and we were so surprised we had to pull over to take it all in. Little did we know that the paintings actually covered nearly every building along the side streets too.

We left knowing one day we would return and today seemed like the perfect day to do just that so we grabbed our scooters, filled up their tanks and putted off in the direction we headed one year ago. Luckily, Sean is a navigation master and can find any place. With out even taking one wrong turn, 40 minutes after we left Hsinchu we found ourselves once again back in the hidden rainbow village.

I can honestly say that the 60 minutes we spent exploring this friendly and bizarre village were some of my favorite moments spent in Taiwan, ever. This is not a tourist destination. I doubt this village is very well known among Taiwanese people themselves let alone the handful of international tourists who visit the country. There are no souvenir stands or any money to be made from people passing by. Regardless, countless villagers came out of their homes to greet us and guided us all over showing us hidden pathways that provided stunning mountain and valley vistas and even went so far as to invite us to take pictures of their homes and even themselves!

The whole time I was there I felt shrouded in the amazing hospitality so many people boast of when talking about Taiwan, and it felt even better knowing it was true, authentic, genuine kindness and not a show put on to make a buck or two.

When we got home from the village, I was desperate to find out more about it. None of the locals spoke any English, and while I know they tried to explain the murals, we left having no understanding what the meaning of it all was. After a lot of Googling [and trust me when I say I had to be very creative with the key words searches I used], I finally found some information about this odd and fun village.

Apparently, a few years back the village, which is called Ruan Qiao, was struggling with a terrible mosquito infestation due to poor maintenance. The buildings were in disrepair and so were the yards and shops. In an effort to clean up the place, the village leaders came up with an idea: if the villagers clean up their yards + dwellings, the whole town would be spruced up and painted. Literally. The villagers decided to do it and they did. The painter of the murals has been working on the town every weekend for the past three years. This is his first experience with painting. All of the paintings detail the Hakka agricultural lifestyle that the villagers lead and many have humorous undertones [can you spot the farmer's crack in one of the paintings?].

We thoroughly enjoyed our scoot adventure to this hidden rainbow village and will definitely be back. If you are interested in learning more or finding a map to this town, click here.