Monday, December 29, 2014

a year in review: 2014's most memorable travel moments

Dear 2014,

Where did you go?




Okay, but seriously, this year has gone by in the blink of an eye!
It's hard to believe that in four weeks we will be heading off to New Zealand because I can so acutely remember floating in the pool in Bali last Chinese New Year stating to Sean + our friends: let's go to New Zealand next Chinese New Year!
And, suddenly, the year is over and here we are.

While our 2014 did include some great travel experiences, for us the year was so much more than that.
It was about going home after two long years away.
It was about reaching goals like Sean finishing classes and me deciding I was going to finally do what I wanted to do and start running and learning the ins and outs of photography.
It was about planning for our future and deciding to stay in Taiwan for one more year.
It was about self improvement and hard work and, as always, enjoying the heck out of each other and our friends.

That said, since this is my travel blog and we had some pretty epic travel moments, it was certainly also about monkeys in Bali, anniversaries in Canada, beautiful moments in Taiwan, and a homecoming in America.

So here are my most memorable travel moments of 2014:

Bali + Rouge Monkeys
Have you ever heard of the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali in Indonesia? It's a real place. This "Sacred Monkey Forest" swallowed up ancient Hindu temples over the course of some hundred years and is now home to some of the worst behaved monkeys in the whole, wide world!

While the concept of a Sacred Money Forest is intriguing, the reality is a whole different story. What I actually expected, I have no idea. Probably something along the lines of ancient Hindu temples covered in foliage, kind of like Angkor Wat. That part was true enough. And I guess I expected cute, docile, amusing monkeys. How wrong I was! I definitely did not expect them to be little thieving terrors!
These monkeys were aggressive and rude. At one point in time, I had to shove my entire purse down the front of my shirt as a huge, mean, bully of a monkey contemplated tearing off my shirt to garner the prize of my purse, which contained nothing more than my wallet and some lip gloss. What Mr. Monkey thought he would do with those items, I don't know. It even got worse! My poor husband was actually nibbled on my a monkey and had to get a series of rabies shots.

One critical lesson of 2014? Monkeys = bad news.

Victoria B.C. + Anniversaries
This year marked our five year wedding anniversary. As a treat, my mother paid for us to stay in a fabulous hotel in Victoria. B.C. and we got to spend a weekend enjoying the many delights of this Canadian city.

Victoria is one of my favorite places on earth, and one reason is because I can take an old fashioned ferry to get there. Riding the Coho, the ferry that services the route between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, B.C., is always a special experience.
The ferry crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is lined with beautiful mountains. It's a popular shipping route out to the Pacific Ocean so big container boats also frequently pass by. On the day we went to Victoria, it was a perfectly clear Pacific Northwest summer day. The sun was shining, the sky was azure, and the air was crisp and cool.If you have never been to the sea before, I am not sure you will know what I mean when I say the air smelled delicious. It was salty and fresh and to me the smell means home.

While on the Coho, we bought hot chocolates from the galley and played cards. We went outside and let our hair get windswept. We held hands and admired the beautiful place we call home. Hands down, this was one of my best days of the entire year.

Taiwan + Indescribable Moments
Pure beauty. That was the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. Every February, in Taiwan, there is this magnificent festival in a small mountain village. On a bitter cold and stormy winter night, my husband and I headed off on an adventure.

It took a scooter, a train, a metro, a cab, and a bus to reach the small Taiwanese village of Pingxi. In the process, we got soaked by the deluge and were frozen from the wind. Regardless, we pushed onward with smiles, waiting to see something unspeakably beautiful.
The rain did not dampen our moods. We waited in the crowd and watched the first lantern release. It would suddenly go quiet, all the lights would dim, and then hundreds of illuminated lanterns would ascend into the sky. Scribbled on them were well wishes for the new year.

Witnessing this was so profound we had to get our own lantern. So we set off to choose one and write our messages. Most were for our families: that they would find peace and comfort. Some were for us: that we would have adventures and continued love and more success.

I like to think our wishes came true.

This year, absolutely nothing beat going home. We were in Asia for two years in a row without any escape trip off the continent. Trust me, it was a long two years. I love Asia and I love Taiwan but I needed some good old America.

When our plane landed in Seattle, I almost burst into tears. The sun was just starting to set over the mountains and the Puget Sound was basking in this warm, pink glow. We got to spend eight whole weeks with friends and family and it was a magical time.
Getting to spend so much time with my mom was heaven. Getting to see beloved friends and dogs: heaven. Getting to eat real bacon and donuts, you guessed it: heaven. Same thing with the hiking and beach strolls and Target shopping extravaganzas.

Taiwan + Extending Contracts
Oh Taiwan, how I love you. This year, you and I became even closer friends. I think I finally figured out how to dress appropriately for your bipolar weather. I think I finally figured out where to shop for everything I need to make all of my favorite dishes from home. I think I finally figured out how to navigate the immense cultural differences at work.

And I think I finally learned how to say more than five phrases in Chinese.
The last few months have been strained while we tried to decide what to do next year: stay or go. But in the end, we just weren't ready to leave. We love you Taiwan. We love our apartment. We love our scooters. We love our little Hsinchu. We love our friends. And we love this little country.

So we will spend one more year together.


So that was our 2014.

As for 2015? 

Stay tuned!

In four weeks, we are heading off on an epic, three week road trip through New Zealand with a popover in South Korea! 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

in the spotlight: a reluctant wallflower

I have always kind of been a wallflower. I know that may make some people who know me really well laugh out loud, but it's actually the absolute truth.

I am shy and awkward around people I don't know, and I don't like a lot of attention.

This is one aspect of expat life that I still struggle with daily.  In Taiwan, I stick out like a sore thumb. I get so much attention, and I have no idea how to deal with it or get over the massive amounts of discomfort I experience because of it.

Just the other day, we were eating dinner at one of my favorite restaurants ever: Din Tai Fung. The tables are close together to maximize room (because, let's face it, I think DTF is a lot of people's favorite restaurant ever), and the two women sitting beside us would not stop staring at me. They were completely without shame either. I made pretty serious eye contact with them at least twice, but they were not deterred. In fact, they didn't even look away and pretend they weren't looking at me when I glared at them. They proceeded to stare and talk about us as we ate for nearly the entire time. 

I have to tell you, I am weird about some things, and this is one of those things, but please show me a person who would like to be stared at and talked about while trying to eat slippery dumplings and fried rice with chopsticks when chopsticks are not his or her utensil of choice for such a complex dining experience??

Their blatant lack of respect for my desire to eat with some semblance of privacy made me so angry and in some ways humiliated because I don't have it in me not to wonder what they are saying/laughing about. It was the only time I have ever been to DTF and did not enjoy it.

Maybe I am overly sensitive, but that is not something I can change. I have never really been comfortable in the spotlight. I like being a wallflower. In my experience, wallflowers are not stared at and discussed in great and enthusiastic detail while trying to eat dinner. 

Everyday, something similar happens to me.
I am learning that it's not always entirely bad, though.

The other night, I was out running. For those of you who don't know, I got a wild hair this fall and decided that I would become more serious about running (meaning, I can now run three whole miles. Impressive, I know). I went out one night this week to challenge myself to run my fastest mile yet.
And I did. For a short, chubby girl, I totally kicked butt, but I noticed that every time I would lap this old couple, they would turn their heads and watch me come and go.

They did not do this for any of the other (numerous) runners on the track, only for me. Running is another one of those times I do not like being in the spotlight, which is precisely the reason why I choose to go at nighttime.  When I finally crossed the finish line, I had to walk two laps huffing and puffing. I was emitting a terrible choking/wheezing sound, and I am sure I looked a complete mess.
I mean, I did just run my guts out, but when the elderly couple caught up to me, they gave me a little round of applause. 

And, I have to admit, that was nice.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

our first (charlie brown) tree

Say hello to our first ever Christmas tree.
We bought it at a Taiwanese hardware store for less than $10 USD.
All of the ornaments were less than $1 each and had Made in China stamped on them.
Regardless, I love our little, cheap, made-in-Asia Christmas tree.

Some people have a hard time believing that we have never had a Christmas tree before. Yes, we have been together 10 years, living together seven, married five, but we have spent most of our holidays overseas. We spent a Christmas in Venice and a Christmas in Singapore. We have spent a few in Taiwan, and the others at mom's of course!

This year, though, we scooted past the hardware store on the way home from dinner and saw this Charlie Brown Christmas tree and thought: that is meant to be ours. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

the work of temple bedazzlers

Last weekend, I stumbled across this temple.
It is obviously undergoing some work.
And it made me do a double take because, well, I have never seen a naked temple before.
I am so used to their ornate appearance that at first my mind could not comprehend that, beneath it all, temples are just like every other building in Taiwan: cement + drab + ugly.

And what a juxtaposition this one is; half is bared for the whole world to see and the other half is still clad in colorful tiles and intricate artwork.
Seeing this temple made me appreciate even more these marvelous pieces of artwork.
I mean, just look at what amazing temple bedazzlers are able to do with a huge cement skeleton:

Amazing, right?! 
I know.