Sunday, August 30, 2015

the year ahead

I'm a teacher. And as a teacher, I always use the word year in relation to the word school. So I don't do New Year's resolutions. By January 1st, I am well into my year.

I always try to think about what I want for any given year in late August, right before the daily grind begins. I find that being intentional about what I want before my school year starts helps me prioritize my work and personal time so I don't waste it away and find myself in June asking: where did the last year of my life go?

Since moving to Taiwan, each year my goals have been wildly different.
My first year here was all about learning to leave work at work. I know some teachers who wear their weekend workload like a badge of honor, but that is just so not who I am or what I want from my one and only life.

My second year was all about finding a groove that worked for our international family of two. I'm talking divvying up household chores and dealing with Bad Taiwan Days and creating a functional budget. You know, all the small details of life?

Year three was all about running and becoming a healthier version of myself.

This year? It's going to be about a lot of things.
It's still going to be about running (I am signing up for my first 10K tomorrow--yikes!). It's still going to be about not living to work. It's still going to be about cooking and keeping a pleasant home. But it's also going to be about some new things.

Like figuring out a new groove, because we will both be teaching full time!!! Like figuring out what to do with two incomes when we will soon be 100% debt free. Like figuring out what we want/value/need long term. Like embracing our little Hsinchu County and Taiwan and making it a point to discover more and more of it. Like choosing to surround ourselves with folks who are positive and make us feel energized and excited about Taiwan, life, work and our future.

Like deciding that having a good day/week/year is our choice, and not a result of circumstance.
Because last year, I failed pretty epically at this. 

There will also be some globetrots, which I will tell you all about later.
But funny enough, that is not even on the Top 10 List of Things I Am Excited About This Year.

Instead, I am excited about all the small things that are happening in our life. Like the after school workout club we are starting. Like being able to have lunch with my husband whenever I want to. Like teaching high school for the first time ever and embracing new challenges at work. Like all of the cool things waiting to be found in the hills of Hsinchu County on our scoot adventures. Like spending time with friends. Like popping into my husband's 4th grade classroom! Like growing my blog and connecting with other international teachers. And I am ridiculously excited about all of the beef noodle soup I will eat this year with my husband and with good friends! 

I am just so excited about where I am-- where we are. Not literally, of course, because we have been in Hsinchu for 3+ years now (and it is a very lovely place). But I mean figuratively. This is a place of victory, of new opportunities, of marking major milestones, of accomplishing huge personal and financial goals, of relief, and of excitement. It's a very nice place, this place we are in now, and we plan on savoring it for a good, long while.

So, weirdly enough for me, I am not excited about far off places or adventures or what's coming around the corner.

Instead, I am excited to live all the tiny moments of this year and not look at it or them as something to get through in order to move onto something else. That's kinda how I lived last year, and I decided that it is a pretty silly way to live this one and only life of mine.

I know this year won't be perfect, but I don't need it to be.

I just want us to enjoy the hundreds of small things every day rather than be bogged down by a few big things. This is actually the loftiest goal I have set for myself, but this is one of those things that is worth the effort.
Am I the only one who does this? 
Do you set goals like this for yourself?? What are they?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

the mystery of the giant golden buddha

I have a very sophisticated system for finding places to go to on our scoot adventures. It involves a combination of google maps and google images. I pull up a map of Hsinchu City, where I live, and start looking for towns nearby that have English names. Then, I look at the town on google images to decide if it's worth journeying to. I told you it was sophisticated.

Emei is one of the towns that appear beside Hsinchu City on the map. When I tried to google image it, the only image that appeared was one of a giant golden Buddha statue.

I thought it was an intriguing image.
So we went.
It was actually pretty easy to find because this Buddha is the tallest thing around for miles. We were lost and wondering where to go when Sean looked down into a valley and started laughing.

Because there it was, huge and golden, lighting our way like a beacon.

When we got to the complex, it was closed and everything was behind gates and fences. We could still drive around it so we did. We saw a sign that had some dates on it and the name "Nature Loving Wonderland". 
What an odd name, we thought.

We wondered what was inside the huge building.
We wondered why the Buddha was holding the world.
We wondered what all the statues were in the courtyard in front of the big Buddha.

We wondered what the Nature Loving Wonderland was all about.
It was just such a mystery to us.

So of course I googled it when we got home. I found an English website too! But in the end this explanation didn't really help me understand the place any better:

Finally, jolly good news had arrived in this world.The opening ceremony of the Nature Loving Wonderland located in the Hsinchu county of Taiwan was held on March 5th-6th, 2011. For residents in Hsinchu, it was a small step toward a more civilized society; to all humankind, it was a giant step forward to a New Civilization that transcends nationality, ethnicity, religion, and culture.
That night, a local friend came over for a bit. We told him about our adventure to the giant golden Buddha statue, and he told us that he just went to a cafe with a great view of it the previous weekend.

Excited, I asked him what the place was all about.

I had to laugh a little when his response was, "Hmmm, I don't know. That place is a bit of a mystery to me"., I guess I will have to wait until the complex opens again in late September to unravel the mystery of the giant golden Buddha statue and Nature Loving Wonderland.
Have you ever come across really a perplexing place on your travels??

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

the ducks of lake tekapo

I am going to do something weird, which is get all sentimental about ducks. These ducks visited Lake Tekapo at the same time I did, and while they may be ducks, I thought they were beautiful. What struck me was their physical appearance along with something else altogether. It was their very embodiment of fernweh, a lust for far off places.

I know it's totally silly, but I really watched these ducks-- floating this way and that, napping on the shore, taking off in flight-- and I saw a little bit of my suitcase heart in them. We shared a blissful morning of quiet contentment together along the shore of Lake Tekapo, those ducks & I, and I would like to think that when we parted that day, they over the mountains and I to the mountains, we we were both off on an adventure to see distant places.
What do you think? Are ducks just ducks and birds just birds? 
Or do they have suitcase hearts??

Friday, August 21, 2015

taiwan's love-hate relationship with typhoons

Just two weeks ago, Typhoon Soudelor struck Taiwan head on and wreaked all kinds of havoc across the island. Sadly, a handful of people died. Thousands more trees died. Property damage was extensive, and a village that had been evacuated was basically taken out by a mudslide. Now, Typhoon Goni is knocking on the door.

Let's get real: typhoons are super destructive. They are also really common in this region, and they are a much needed nuisance.
Last spring, Taiwan was on its highest level of water rationing due to a severe nation wide water shortage. The island depends on its reservoirs to water the people and land, and those reservoirs were scarily empty. The water rationing was no joke either (not like telling the people of California not to water their lawns).

For two consecutive days, a county would have no running water. None at all. That means no showers, no flushing toilets, no water to do the dishes. Nada. The worst thing? Schools and other work places were not closing either! Can you imagine that?
The government had counties on a rotating schedule going counter clockwise. Hsinchu City, where I live, was next in line when fate intervened and we experienced one week of intense tropical thunderstorms. Rain started to fill the reservoirs ever so slowly, and the government lifted its highest level of water rationing.

Okay, but what does all of this have to do with typhoons? Taiwan had not been directly hit by a typhoon for over a whole year at the time of the shortage. That was one big reason why the shortage happened in the first place. Coupled with an unusually dry rainy season, the island was in crisis. Taiwan absolutely depends on at least one typhoon hitting a year to fill up its reservoirs.
After Soudelor, Taiwan's reservoirs are at a healthy and comfortable capacity, so even though the damage took days to clear and some people had broken windows and other annoyances, I have to think that people are still somewhat happy to know that Taiwan will get rain water from more than one typhoon this year.

While we are not expecting a direct hit from Goni, much of the island is expecting a breezy & soggy weekend. I, for one, am extremely happy that when school starts, running water and flushing toilets will be a part of the experience.
FYI: All of these photos were taken in my neighborhood after Soudelor blew out of town. Due to Hsinchu City's location, we are often spared the worst of any given storm. Mountains buffer our wind and catch a lot of our rain. Still, many tress were down and clean up took a few days. We are very grateful for the crew who worked tirelessly to remove the debris from the roadside.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

on buying & using my first iPhone ever

We did it!
We actually got a smartphone.
Well, it's not actually smart yet as we don't have a plan for it... but we did buy an iPhone 5 from a friend who upgraded to an iPhone 6.
A photo posted by Jacqueline (@jacquelineintaiwan) on
So many people are flabbergasted when I tell them that we don't have smartphones, and never have. But we never really saw the need to have one, and the whole foundation of our adult life together has been to live way, way below our means.
Our test was simple:
Do we need it? No. 
Does it come with a monthly payment or bill? Yes. 
Conclusion: Don't spend $ on stuff you don't need!
This test saw us through some tight financial times and helped us avoid financial worry and stress. Because of our low-cost lifestyle, I am about to pay off the last of my $50,000 of student debt this October. That's ahead of schedule. Waaaaaay ahead of schedule, actually-- woot, woot!
A photo posted by Jacqueline (@jacquelineintaiwan) on
And things are changing around here.
My husband has a job now and we are a double income household for the first time in three years, but also for the first time ever abroad.
We were already doing fine with a single income household; we put Sean through his BA in education and traveled the world and pursued our hobbies.
Could we spend as much as others on random things like booze, dinners out, clothes and other stuff like smartphones?
No, but that was okay because we never felt like we were wanting for things we couldn't have.
Our lifestyle is minimalist, but that's just kinda who we are as individuals and as a couple.
But when I recently realized the benefits of being debt free and being a double income household, I decided: why not?
A photo posted by Jacqueline (@jacquelineintaiwan) on
Because I had seen first hand how much fun (Instagram, anyone?) a smartphone could be as well, as how practical for someone like me who lives in another country and deals with a huge language barrier every single day.
On our scoot adventures, I plan on consulting Google Maps from now on instead of our confusing hand drawn ones.
When I cannot read a sign posted on the entrance of my apartment complex, I can now take a picture of it and get a translation.
Plus: hello Instagram! Can you tell I have been having way too much fun with it??
While we did not need one before, I can certainly see the many benefits of owning one.
A photo posted by Jacqueline (@jacquelineintaiwan) on
So, globetrotters and expats, what apps do you recommend??
What do you find most useful for travelling and navigating another culture/country??

Monday, August 17, 2015

a few wrong turns to Beipu

I fell pretty hard for Hsinchu City, my home in Taiwan, almost instantaneously. One reason why? The everyday possibility of adventure. All we need to do is grab our scooter keys and helmets and head off into the nearby hills. There, everything is new & exciting & foreign. There, adventure is automatic. While we know the road that leads out of the city and into the mountains pretty well, there are so many meandering side roads just begging to be explored.

My goal this year to is embrace local & everyday adventure. In this pursuit, I have spent a lot of time lately with my nose in the Lonely Planet Taiwan and scouring the Internet for inspiration & information. I discovered the small Taiwanese village of Beipu on Pinterest of all places. One pin seared itself in to my imagination: a blue-green swimming hole in front of a small waterfall. 
I showed Sean the pin. His immediate response: let's go, so we did. 

We packed our baby blue polka dot explorer's backpack with a hand drawn map, snacks, and the Canon, and then we left, simple as that. For about 10 minutes, we scooted down familiar roads, but then they began to fork, and we would look at each other, shrug, and decide to go this way or that. Our landmarks were simple things: after passing an elementary school, turn left & near the 7-11, look for a road called...

We definitely took a few wrong turns because there were a lot of elementary schools and 7-11's and signs with no English. We definitely worried that my little scooter would not make it up a few mountain hills. We definitely pulled over on the side of the road a few times to recap how did we get here so we could attempt to make it back home, and we definitely stopped a few times to marvel at gigantic temples and towering mountain peaks.
In the end, we scooted right past Beipu and didn't even realize it. That's how small the village is. We whizzed by it in a blur, but after scooting for far longer than Google Maps said we would have to, we turned around. Sean noticed one small English sign that said: Beipu --->, so that's where we went. 

I had no idea what to expect. Lonely Planet had three short paragraphs on Beipu, and the tone of those paragraphs wasn't exactly compelling. Pinterest had a handful of photos, but all of the same things-- that swimming hole and a temple. Following the sign, we made it to a township but were not certain it was Beipu Township until we scooted right by the temple I saw online. 
But make it we did. 

We parked and wandered the old street, with its fruit vendors, locals with welcoming (and definitely curious) smiles, and familiar dragon-covered temple.

On a random Thursday, I have to admit that not a whole lot was happening in Beipu. Locals sat outside their stores and chatted, kids rode their bicycles, people bought groceries, and that was about it. I guess small town life is small town life no matter where you are in the world. 
After admiring the temple and perusing the stalls along the old street, we decided to try to find the swimming hole. The rumor was that it was a cold spring. To us, in the midst of a hot & humid Taiwanese summer, that sounded like the loveliest thing on earth.

A few roads exited the town. We randomly chose one and scooted for about 20 minutes. After seeing no river/creek/water source of any kind, we turned around and headed back to the main drag of Beipu. We then chose the unlikeliest exit from town, one that appeared to be a dead end, but lo and behold, it was the one. Right before the road came to an end, there was a narrow alley.  Even better? There was a small brown sign that read COLD SPRINGS ----->.

Elated, we drove and drove and drove and drove down a single lane road. The road passed farms and homes and ran alongside a beautiful rocky river. Vegetation from the mountainside appeared to be trying to swallow up whole the narrow paved lane. 

We rounded one of many corners, and there it was-- the blue-green swimming hole from Pinterest! 
It was a happening spot. There were plenty of families. There were a few fishermen. There was a scooter horde of college students. And then there was us. We kind of stuck of like a sore thumb.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, gave us huge smiles, and then proceeded to ignore us. It was one of the nicest things that could have happened. We climbed down into the river and wandered up the river bed until we were right up to one of the mini waterfalls. No one was there; it was our own personal cold spring. Sean dove right in, and I savored the feeling of getting in slowly.

While Lonely Planet may not have been that impressed with Beipu, I wonder if the author felt as adventurous and refreshed as I did as we scooted back down the mountain side, sopping wet, with hearts full of wonder at all of the small yet lovely places just waiting to be discovered up in those hills. 
Stay tuned for our next scoot adventure to a place called Emei.
What awaits us there?
Apparently, a huge free standing golden Buddha statue, and who knows what else?
That's all part of the adventure! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

expat gratitude: finding & embracing my spark

A friend introduced to me to the idea of sparks. They are the things that make you happy, that make you feel alive, that make you different from the person beside you, that make you excited, that make you smile, that make your life interesting and worth living.

Sparks can be anything.
And, in my opinion, sparks are everything.

The happiest, most content people I know not only know their sparks, but live very sparkly lives. The unhappiest, least content people I know "have no sparks" because they are "busy, poor, stressed, tired
"... you get the idea. 

I was once one of those people.
I knew my sparks, but they were not a part of my daily life.
But not anymore.

My life has become so sparkly since moving to Taiwan, and I can no longer imagine my life any other way!

The other day, I read something on Pinterest of all places that I liked a lot. It was something along the lines of finding three things you love to do: one to make you money, one to help you express your creativity and one to keep you healthy. 

Since moving abroad, I have found & embraced all three and then some.
My job teaching middle school humanities is a huge spark. Running is a spark. 

And this blog and its stories and photographs are a spark, which is where my expat gratitude comes from today. 

This blog.

Boy & Girl Globetrot was born many, many years ago under the name Tales of a Wannabe Vagabond. As you can see, I have been posting on this travel & photography blog since 2009. What you don't know is that I actually started blogging in this little space long before then, more than an entire decade ago! It all started in 2004, when I returned from my first trip abroad at the age of 17. Oh the stories I had to tell then!

Since then, I have obviously made a few changes around here. First, I moved abroad and changed the name of my blog. I thought it was the right thing to do since I no longer felt like "a wannabe" traveler-- heck, I live in Taiwan! Second, I deleted the really old stuff because I no longer felt like it fit and the writing was truly atrocious give me a break, I was 17! and the photos were scanned prints I'm not gonna lie: some days I miss those posts from 2004. Third, in the last three years, I have used this blog to reach out to the expat blogging community and have since developed somewhat of a base audience. And fourth, I have learned some tiny bits of coding and this blog now actually looks like a real website and not the blogger template I chose when I signed up for Blogger.

Now, I have no intentions of ever using this blog to make money or become anything other than what it already is, a collection of our life stories. Because this little corner of the Internet is my creative spark. The words and its photos are primarily for me, so I can exercise my own creativity and passion for storytelling and crafting beautiful images.

And lucky for me, since moving abroad, I have been offered a wealth of material to write about and capture in photographs. So much so, sometimes my spark lights up like a literal sparkler and I have ideas exploding out of me, pulling me in a billion directions at once-- beef noodle, ghost festivals, the anatomy of the perfect soup dumpling, antique trains at Alishan National Park, off shore islands, religion, road trip, bus trip, train trip, SCOOT ADVENTURE! This spark impels me to get out and about. It helps me explore Taiwan and experience Taiwan. It makes sure that I will have seen this island and what it has to offer before we move on. And it gives so much more meaning to my expat experience than simply moving abroad for work.

Oh Taiwan, what an incredible adventure you have been.
And what fun I have had blogging about our time together. 

Now don't get me wrong; I have other sparks too, like cooking or enjoying a cup of coffee or playing with dogs or reading or day dreaming our next grand adventure or getting lost on my scooter or long bubble baths, and my life is so much more than this blog or Taiwan or traveling or being an expat or what I choose to showcase here. But I learned a long time ago, when I was holed up in my bedroom writing short stories with friends and then later on by myself, that writing is a huge part of who I am. It always has been and it always will be.

It is my sparkliest spark. 

I find words delicious and style ridiculously fun. Adjectives have their way with me and sometimes I feel compelled to make up words because none that exist are good enough. My heart is bursting with imagery and poetry and maybe a little bit of hyperbole.

Because of Taiwan, my spark exploded into a fireball.
Because of Taiwan, my life is the sparkliest it's ever been.
And because of Taiwan, I am the most content I've ever been.
Now I don't know about you, but I think that deserves some serious gratitude.
What is your spark?? How do you make sure you live a sparkly life??

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

shaved ice, a taiwanese treat

I had never heard of shaved ice until I moved to Taiwan.
Here, it is the dessert to have. 
Shaved ice stands, both fancy & expensive and plain & cheap, are on practically every street. 
At first, I was skeptical of this treat.
I am an ice cream girl through and through, and the more chocolate the better. 
The first time I was introduced to shaved ice was right when we moved to Taiwan three years ago.
Our friend Peter took us to a nice shop and a huge bowl of mango shaved ice was put in front of me. But then again, shaved ice always come in huge servings. Right away, I wasn't impressed. 
Where was the chocolate and what was with the fruit?
The entire top of my bowl was covered in chunks of fresh mango. 
I tried it and thought it was alright, but I didn't really see why everyone loved it so much. 
Then, one night a few months ago, Sean came home after getting beef noodle soup with some guy friends raving about a shaved ice stand.
It was incredible, he said!
So he took me there.
And they had chocolate shaved ice!!
And that started my love affair, at least with this particular plain & cheap shaved ice stand.
The two young women who run the joint, which is nothing more than a few small plastic tables, a counter and the equipment required to make the ice, know what I want and I don't even have to ask anymore; I just sit down at my rickety plastic table and a few minutes later a mound of chocolaty shaved ice is delivered to me. 
On a hot & humid night, we often find ourselves scooting late at night to this stall so we can people watch on the street side and enjoy a refreshing dessert. 

What's your favorite local dessert??

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