Sunday, May 31, 2015

lake wakatipu & the remarkables

We pulled into Queenstown a day early after getting battered by a gale force wind storm while camping near Mt. Cook. We took refuge in the diner at Mt. Cook and a pilot who flies people in and out of Milford Sound told us to get our butts on the road. The storm was going to continue pounding the area with heavy rain and strong winds, and our plans of hiking and exploring a glacier were no longer plausible. Also, none of us exactly relished the idea of spending a second night in our tents in a wind storm given that the first night snapped some of the tent poles and the structural stability of the tents was in question, so we hopped in the car, chose Queenstown as the destination on our GPS navigator and hit the road.

The drive to Queenstown was gorgeous.

We drove by mountains, valleys and canyons, but none of them were as magnificent as Queenstown itself. This funky little town is on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and boasts a remarkable view of The Remarkables, those towering mountains across the lake. 

On day one in Queenstown, after settling into our rental apartment and resting a bit, Sean and I took off to explore the lake front.  It was cold, evidenced by the snow on top of The Remarkables. After buying heavier jackets and a wool hat for me, we wandered along a gravel path beside the lake. 

Queenstown definitely wins in my book for the best town in all of New Zealand. This is mostly due to those gorgeous, slightly mysterious and foreboding mountains looming behind that crystal blue lake.
Warning: what follows is an excessive amount of pictures of mountains & water. But if you've been following this blog for any period of time, that should not surprise you at all. 

So what do you think? Queenstown is pretty amazing, huh?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

driving milford sound: where highway 94 ends

Deep in Fiordland National Park, at the place where earth and water meet, Highway 94 ends. 

Driving Milford Sound is sacred experience.

Highway 94 rises through mountains and falls through valleys. It twists through forests and turns past waterfalls. Every moment spent on this stretch of highway is a discovery, a moment to have your breath robbed from you by the sheer beauty of nature.

And this is the place it culminates, down by the wharf. 

This is a sacred place.
This wild, abandoned place.
This is the kind of place that humbles you.
This is the kind of place that brings you to your knees and invites you to just sit in silent, stunned awe.

I was glad to do so.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

expat gratitude: working to live, not living to work

Welcome to my second installment of expat gratitude, my new series about how becoming a long term expat has changed my life. The purpose of this series is to look behind-the-scenes. This blog showcases temples + dumplings + scooters and our globetrots. But it doesn't always highlight the day to day things. It doesn't always clearly and completely give testament to how this experience has benefited far more than my quest to use up every page in my passport.

So, this series is all about getting personal.
And my second installment is all about money and work.
That's all kinds of personal.

So, let's get started:

I come from a solid middle class family.
Both of my parents worked full time.
I went to, and thrived in, public school.
I took on nearly 50K in student loans for my 6 years of college.
My parents worked hard, every day and every year, so we always had what we needed and had experiences that enriched our lives.
And they taught me to do the same for myself and my little family of two.

For me, working was never optional.
Growing up, my parents instilled in me the idea that I owed it to myself to be an independent woman who could and would financially take care of herself.
I know not every person agrees with this sentiment, or how it comes about, but for me, growing up, I found the idea empowering.
And I still do. 
Throughout my 20s, though, I have struggled to figure out what exactly this looks like or means. 
Especially because for the past 11 years, I have been sharing my life with a wonderful man who comes from a more traditional family in which the man brings home the bacon.

To find the meaning, I went through many phases.
First, I went through a workaholic phase.
Then, I went through an unemployed phase.
After that, I went through the is this it phase.
And now, since moving to Taiwan, I have settled into a this-is-my-life-and-it's-pretty-cool phase. 

I feel lucky because my job is more than just a job.
I think what I do is important.
I love my kids.
And I get three months off every year to pursue my non-career related goals.

This is a heck of a lot more than most people I know get.

That said, work is still work.
It is time consuming, demanding and sometimes boring. 
I would not do it every Monday - Friday if we did not need money for life.
That's real.
That's the truth.
And I think the overwhelming majority of working adults find themselves in the same situation.

And that's why the money matters.
If I am going to sacrifice so much of myself and my time, it had better be worth it.

Teaching is teaching.
I get paid a lower middle class salary.
In the states, it was absolutely not worth it.
My work demands left me little time to be me-- the person I am outside of work.
The person who loves to read, travel, write, socialize, photograph, camp, hike, learn.
It also left too little in my bank account at the end of the month.
I was burning both ends of the candle for nothing; my life was no better for all of the work I did, it was actually far worse.
And that was just not okay with me.
Because while my parents taught me the value of financial independence, they also taught me to work to live and not live to work.

And today my expat gratitude comes from the peace I have found with my career.
Here, in Taiwan, my work demands are significantly reduced.
And the culture surrounding education means I can enjoy my work day to day.
I have the time and energy to be me all the time: at school and at home.
Here I am a whole person, not a shadow reduced to my profession.

The money doesn't suck either.
Sure, I am still being paid a lower middle class salary, but it goes so much further here.
Would I like more money?
Sure-- I am a woman who likes to buy cute dresses.
But frankly, day to day, it would not make much difference.
I'm not even sure I would know what to do with it.
You see, even on just one lower middle class income, we've had the ability to: travel to all corners of the world, pay for Sean's bachelor degree out of pocket and enjoy life and our hobbies.
These are things we could never do if we stayed in America.

To me, that is working to live.
To me, that is a woman who can take care of herself and her life and her family. 
That is something that I not only feel okay with, but proud of.
Here, I work hard for what I earn and I enjoy the life I can live due to the work that I do.

That is a gift Taiwan has given me.
And I am so thankful.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

exploring the steps of jiufen

Jiufen has been on my list of Things To See In Taiwan since we moved here three years ago.
But, for some reason, we have managed to find time to explore New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Vietnam before finding the time to explore this mountain village, which is only two hours away from our little apartment in Hsinchu.
Life is funny like that sometimes.
But, last weekend we found the perfect reason to wake early on a Saturday morning and begin the process of making it to Jiufen: celebrating my 29th birthday, of course.
To get to Jiufen, we scooted to the high speed rail, hopped on a train to Taipei, navigated the metro to a bus stop and rode a bus for one hour out of the capital and up into the mountains.
I was giddy because I was on an adventure, and I adore adventures!
May in Taiwan is stinkin' hot and humid.
By the time we arrived in Jiufen, I was ready to take a shower and change my clothes.
But adventure waits for no such things.
So we embraced the heat and humidity by joining the massive horde of people exploring this bizarre, old, mountain side village with a view of the Pacific.
Jiufen is famous for a few really random reasons.
First, it was the setting of two popular films: The City of Sadness and Spirited Away.
It was also a Japanese P.O.W. camp during WWII.
Oh, and there was (and still is some) a lot of gold and mines in these hillsides.
But today people mostly come to get out of the city for a bit and drink tea and stroll and shop the steep steps and narrow alleyways lined with eccentric shop keepers and fun stalls.

Confession: I did not eat any of the food in Jiufen.
I have tried much of Taiwan's street + market food, and I have to say I am not a fan.
The smell of stinky tofu permeated the town and that is just not an appetizing scent. 
That said, even though we didn't buy anything, it was fun to poke around the stalls and walk up and down twisting, narrow alleyways.
After living in Taiwan for three years, sometimes it feels like all of the adventure has dissipated.
Going to Jiufen was proof that is not true.
I am so lucky.
I don't have to get on an airplane to go explore a new country.
All I need to do is venture a few hours away from home and I am transported somewhere foreign and new and fun.
Being an expat has its definite perks, one of which being stellar birthday weekend getaways and adventures lurking around every new corner. 

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