Saturday, November 22, 2014

my taiwan: my top 10 expat posts

We have been living in Taiwan going on three years now.
And we just signed a contract for one more year.
To celebrate, I am highlighting some of my favorite expat posts.

Some will make you laugh and others may make you shake your head in confusion.
We have come a long way in our expat adventure.
And three years into this adventure, we still have days of wonder, merriment, extreme culture shock, and lingering confusion.

So here are my expat highlights:

Taiwanese Baseball Insanity
It may sound ludicrous but the first time I felt like I ever truly understood what it meant to be Taiwanese was when I went to my first Taiwanese baseball game. It was total pandemonium. Up until this game, I had a very limited perspective of the average Taiwanese person: quiet, respectful, non-confrontational, happy. Then, bam! This was a game changer. I saw the other side: obnoxious, over the top, passionate, don't *%@# with my team!

My Love Affair with my Scooter
When we first moved to Taiwan, I had only ridden a scooter two other times: in Thailand and in Canada. Both times were in remote areas. Suffice it to say, I was ill prepared for the reality of relying solely on a scooter for transportation. The streets of Taiwan are congested with cars, trucks, over sized buses, and thousands of scooters. As an added bonus, there are flashing, neon lights stacked all the way up super tall buildings. Riding a scooter in Taiwan is truly like being sucked into a motocross video game. See that car aiming for you? Quickly veer to the left to avoid it. See that scooter that is going to pull into traffic despite the fact there is literally no room for it? Slam on the brakes pronto! Despite all of that, or perhaps because of all of that, I freakin' love riding my scooter around town.

A Welcome Home, Taiwan Style
Nothing says welcome back to Taiwan more than these dragon covered temples. Or maybe I just appreciated my welcome home from this temple more than the welcome home we got from our apartment. Over summer, we were in the states for more than eight weeks. Apparently, that was sufficient time for all of our utilities to be turned off, which we discovered upon our arrival back in Hsinchu, you know, when it was a billion degrees and humid outside. Power? Water? Who needs things like AC and showers? Most of the time, we like to think we manage our daily affairs alright despite the immense language barrier. However, having to locate each office and communicate our issue and sort out payments and times for people to pop over to connect things turned out to be a huge undertaking and a few days.

Sometimes, being an expat forces you to humiliate yourself. Like that time, for example, I had to ask a coworker to write it burns when I pee on a post it note so I could bring it to the clinic and show the doctor who only speaks Chinese. Sometimes, bring an expat forces you to reveal TMI to people who probably would like to remain ignorant of your medical woes.

Pole Dancing in Rush Hour Traffic
Months and months later, this still tickles me. This was the scene outside of my school last spring. You see, a mother felt the lottery system for admittance into my school was unfair so she hired pole dancers, who dance on top of moving jeeps, to put on a real show in front of my K-12 school as a form of protest. Taiwanese people are extremely non-confrontational. I suppose the mother thought it was better to have strippers make her point rather than go to the office herself.

Ugly - Pretty
It took me a while to appreciate Taiwan as a whole. A lot of days, all I could think was: how ugly! Because, honestly, a lot of Taiwan is hard on the eye. But I have learned how to spot the pretty, in nature and in culture. Taiwan is a land of great contrast but I have come to a place where I can appreciate the beauty it does offer.

Up on the Roof
One major adjustment we had to make after moving to Taiwan was dealing with a lack of space. Taiwan, especially on the west coast, is densely populated and very cramped. We are from the Pacific Northwest. We always had a yard and a back yard and empty places we could wander like forests and beaches. Here, not so much. Instead, we have claimed our rooftop. No one ever goes up there so when we need to get out of the apartment but we don't actually want to go out out, we simply go up. We especially like to go to the roof at night time. We like to observe Taiwan's crazy light pollution and every now and again catch a glimpse of the stars.

Typhoon Preparation
We have experienced two pretty major typhoons since moving to Taiwan. The first typhoon knocked a tree through our bedroom window, flooded our apartment, and caused electrical damage in our bathroom. It was a pretty interesting experience, especially considering is happened three days after we first moved to Taiwan. That said, our second typhoon was a real treat because we only learned of its imminent threat hours before it hit and therefore every single store was sold out of necessities like bottled water and batteries. We survived the storm just fine eating chocolate and drinking wine though.

Moving Day, Taiwan Style
That's us, moving everything we own in Taiwan from our first apartment, which was located on my school's campus, to our current apartment, which is about a five minute scoot away. You will be surprised to note that despite going out in rush hour traffic on a major roadway, not one single thing fell from either of our scooters and we successfully moved everything from point A to point B.

Cobras on the Loose
I found this letter on my desk at work one spring day and sat down and started crying. I was horrified. I had researched all of Taiwan's numerous deadly snakes prior to moving to Taiwan and even went so far as to purchase snake boots from REI, which protect hikers' feet from snake bites. To discover that Chinese Cobras were slithering around my work place, which also happened to be where I lived, was too much to bear. I took a flashlight with me everywhere and literally contemplated not going outside for a few days.

It was hard to choose just 10 of my favorite expat posts, but I love these ones because they show so many elements of our expat life. There have been really amazing ups and some pretty severe downs. That said, I am totally ready for one more year of Taiwan and all it has up its sleeve for us! 

This post is part of the Sunday Traveler link up! Check out the blog Pack Me To for more fun travel stories + photography! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

seasons of sacrifice + perspective

When it rains, it pours.

Sometimes, this is true.
The more life experiences I accumulate, the more I realize life comes in seasons.
Some seasons of life are joyous.
And others... not so much.
Currently, we find ourselves in the latter. 

We are in a season of stalled change.

Sean is almost done with school. 
We are almost ready to take our next big step: moving countries and moving schools so we can both teach and work and make money. 

Almost is trying our patience. 

We have been lingering in this season of life for two years now. 
We can see the end in sight and are growing impatient to get there and reap the rewards of moving on to something bigger and better.

We are in a season of homesickness.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner.

But for the third year in a row, we will be separated from our loved ones.
And, to add insult to injury, I will be working.

I can tell you there are fewer things more bizarre than "celebrating" Christmas in a predominately Buddhist country by eating a feast provided by your students' parents composed of Costco pizza, Chinese food and bubble tea. 

While we have made a family of friends here in Taiwan, nothing quite compares to my parents' house illuminated with Christmas lights and the smell of my mother's turkey dinner baking in the oven.

We are in a season of anniversaries and new beginnings, witnessed from afar.

December 10 is the anniversary of my dad's death. I am taking the day off so Sean and I can spend the day remembering my father and continuing to process his entirely unexpected death. Most likely, we will scoot up into the hillside and simply enjoy being outside. That is something my dad would enjoy. 

December 8, my mother moves out of the house she and my dad built. It is the absolute right choice but I long to help her pack up the house. I wish I could walk through it one last time. When I left this summer, I didn't even look back. It didn't really occur to me there would not be one more chance to do so.

November 20, my brother is getting married. I will be there via Skype. I'll take what I can get but I'll tell you I sure wish it was more.

We are in a season of having very little.

My student loan payment.
Sean's tuition and books and test fees.
Saving for New Zealand.
Bills + groceries + gas.

Suffice it to say, we have very little left over at the end of the month.
So little, we have not left Hsinchu since we got back in August. 
Usually, we would go to Taipei every other weekend or so but not now.

We made choices, great choices I do not regret to pursue a degree for Sean and explore the world, and we have been living with the consequences of those choices for more than one year now. 
This is just life, and we know that.
And we know one day, this will change.
But we are feeling the squeeze.

We are so ready to be financially freer. 

We are lingering in a season of sacrifice.
And we are trying to keep appropriate perspective.

How lucky are we to be in a position where we can actually afford to pay off my loans and send Sean to school and still get to travel and see the world?!

How lucky are we to have family we adore and miss terribly and wish we could spend more time with?

How lucky are we that my brother is happy and getting married and my mom was able to sell her house quickly?

How lucky are we that we have friends we love here who we get to celebrate the holiday seasons with and share our ups and downs with?

Even when it pours, there is still a silver lining somewhere up in those storm clouds.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

life, in five words

Taiwan takes midterms very seriously. Elementary kids take midterms. So do my 8th graders. This week, I've had 60 English midterms to grade, 60 social studies midterms to grade and 60 short stories (mystery or science fiction) to grade. My palm has turned red, the color of this pen, because I have spent most of my waking hours with it clutched in my hand.

This man is my hero, seriously. Today, he woke up and went to work for me so I could sleep in, lounge around our apartment, take a bubble bath, read for fun, make scones, and then tackle some grading after having some down time first. Guys, this means he went and subbed for my middle school language arts and social studies classes. That's true love. He willingly spent time with my 8th graders, who I love dearly but I also know are rather...spirited, so I could have a break. Seriously, after 10 years, he stills finds ways to reel me in deeper and deeper.

We are considering moving to another Asian country for the 2015-2016 school year. So far, no official job offer has been made but we have interviewed for positions and should know sooner rather than later if we got the jobs. This is huge. We had no intention of actually leaving Taiwan this year but this opportunity was too good to pass up (if it actually pans out). I will save the finer details for later if we are offered the jobs, but I will tell you two things: one, it will make you scratch your head and wonder if we're sane and two, it will be one amazing adventure.

In 85 days, we are heading to New Zealand for three weeks with our good friends. So far, we only have our airfare. Originally, we were going to rent a huge camper van but due to cost, that won't happen. Now, we will mostly likely rent a small car and stay in cheaper hotels. This is definitely something that needs our attention as this time will fly by and we will be heading out before we know it!

I am in love with this soup. I tried it for the first time recently and, seriously, for 15NT (or 50 cents), it's amazing! I could eat this every single day for lunch. Its discovery was so welcome and amazing it definitely warrants a spot on my list, alongside major things like maybe moving and epic trips. That's how good it is.

What about you? What are your 5 words?