Sunday, December 13, 2015

let's talk food

Recently, I've touched base with three people, one via Skype and two via email, who are thinking about moving to Hsinchu. During our discussions, all three eventually asked about the same topic: food. I so get that. I would definitely be curious about my culinary options too.

I always lead with we have an Outback Steakhouse here.
I kind of think it says a lot.

While it is undeniable that Hsinchu does not have all of the same options for western dining as Taipei, we can usually find what we want here whether it be a steak, cheeseburger, pizza, or really good Italian food.
We have found a nice groove for cooking & eating; we typically eat in half of the week and eat out the other half. Usually, when we cook at home, we make western dishes. When we eat out, it's to eat local at family owned restaurants or food stalls.

For the nights when I cook, the first thing I have to think about is: what am I going to make? Usually, it's a homemade soup in the crock pot, tacos or burritos or enchiladas, pasta, or some kind of meat & potatoes. There are quite a few grocery stores near our apartment, but my favorite is Wellcome Mart. It has lots of fruits & veggies, meats (like pre-diced chicken breast and ground beef), real imported cheeses (like cheddar, Parmesan, Colby, etc), beans, rice, pasta, cereals, etc. The only items I now buy at the more expensive specialty import stores are tortillas, tortilla chips, and sour cream. I used to visit these import stores every weekend, but they are further away and more expensive, so now I rarely go at all.

As far as eating out, we are so spoiled!
Now that it has cooled off quite a bit, our new & favorite week night tradition is to walk to our favorite restaurants. The ones we visit most often are a Vietnamese restaurant, a duck restaurant, a beef noodle soup restaurant, a dumpling stand, a teppanyaki restaurant, and a ramen joint. Usually, our meals average out to less than 300 NTD, which is less than 10 USD. That's for the both of us too!

If we are really craving it, we might go to a really nice Italian place run by an Italian man. We typically go all out here, and our meals can cost $60 USD. As it's the best Italian food I've had outside of Italy, I don't mind paying the hefty price. Sometimes, we also go to The Outback Steakhouse where a burger costs around $10 USD. Sometimes, although we always regret it, we frequent a hole in the wall called The Taco House, which sells tacos & nachos along with mashed potatoes and mozzarella sticks.

I guess what I am trying to say is everything is here if you are patient enough to find it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

experiencing grief as an expat

My dad died very suddenly and unexpectedly less than four months after I moved to Taiwan. That was in 2012. Since then, we have all been grieving. Grieving is not something you do for X amount of time. It is something that comes and goes. Sometimes, it comes in a giant tidal wave, and sometimes, it's a gentle lapping. I am 29 years old. I lost my dad when I was 26 years old. I will still grieve his death when I am 86 and 89. The loss of a loved one as pivotal as a father is something that cannot be "got over" or fixed.

My dad is the first person I have ever grieved, and while I have nothing to compare it to, I can say that grieving has felt really difficult because I am an expat living in Taiwan. 

First, there is the literal distance that separates me from those I want to be with. I miss my family every day, but I miss them so much more in December and April. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays. Skype is no substitute for a long hug or a hand to hold. I hope to be able to return home some Decembers in the future to lessen this hardship, both for me and for my family. 

Then, there is the complete and total disconnect that comes from being abroad. I used to take off December 10th, my dad's death day, because it felt wrong to treat it like just any other day, but then I found myself asking: where can I go here in Taiwan to feel closer to my dad? To remember him? To honor his memory? And the truth is: no where. There is not one place in Taiwan that evokes anything of my dad. Back home, my family hikes trails in the forests that he loved. They eat at his favorite restaurants. The scatter his ashes. I don't get any of that. Here, my dad is a complete stranger. 

All of this is greatly compounded by the fact that not one single person I have befriended here in Taiwan knew my dad. And even worse, when he died, our friendships were still in their infancies. We had only known each other for three months, and then the worst thing that has ever happened to me happened. Most people would not want to touch that with a 10 foot pole, and I can understand that. When I returned to Taiwan after his passing, it was as if nothing happened. No one asked me about my dad, and besides Sean, there was no one to talk to. It was just business as usual. 

A few days ago, I changed my Facebook profile to a photo of my dad. Within minutes, friends from my childhood were leaving comments about his terrible fashion sense and silly laugh and sharing memories. I never get that here in Taiwan. Here, it's as if my dad never existed, and that is beyond strange.

I know that moving home wouldn't "fix" his death, but I also know that it would mend a few hurts. Moving home is just not something that we are going to do, at least anytime soon, so in the meantime, I am just kinda making this up as I go.

There are many strange aspects of expat life, but for me, this is by far one of the most difficult to adapt to and figure out.

Friday, December 4, 2015

dear december

Dear December,

I used to love you. 

You meant a two week break. You meant family. You meant Christmas trees and hot chocolate and twinkling lights. You meant snow on occasion and hats, mittens, scarves and sweaters. You meant feasts and gatherings and friends.

You were joyful.

Now you are something else altogether.
You usher in a season of grief.
You make that ocean between us feel even bigger. 

Three years, almost to the day.

His death day.

1,095 days.

Maybe one day, you will stop haunting me December.
For weeks before you arrive, I feel you creeping in.
Along with you, you bring sleepless nights, dreadful memories and so much anger.

I loved him enough that I will probably always be angry.
Because it wasn't supposed to happen this way.

This is not what December is for.

He was cheated.
I was cheated.
We were all cheated.

This week, I wanted to tell him I paid off my student loans.
This fall, I wanted to ask for his advice on our finances. 
Last summer, I wanted to tell him Sean got a job.
Last spring, I wanted to tell him Sean graduated.
Last winter, I wanted to show him all of my pictures of New Zealand.
Last last year, I wanted to tell him about my running.
Last last last year, I wanted to tell him that moving to Taiwan is the awesome adventure that he thought it would be.

Every day, every single day, I wish for the chance to tell him that I love him. And that just doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

Loss has changed me.
It has rewritten my priorities.
Many people my age lust after money and prestige.
Not me though. All I want is time to live my life.
It has stolen future promises.
We want to have a kid in the next few years, a kid he will never meet.

This is the third December without him.
I can't imagine it will ever feel the way it did-- before.
I can't imagine ever ushering in the season with the same eagerness and anticipation as those around me.

Sure, I put up our little Christmas tree.
I bought some presents.
I even wrapped them.

And day to day, I feel much better than I did three Decembers ago.

But I think this time of year has been forever marred for me.
And, inexplicably, that feels like a kind of secondary loss I still need to grieve.

(You can read more about my dad here)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

expat gratitude: becoming a debt free gal

It's time for another installment of Expat Gratitude. Expat Gratitude is all about highlighting ways in which moving abroad has changed our lives for the better. It's not about the travels or the adventures. Instead, it's about personal growth and fulfillment. In the past, I've written about running and sparks and finding my own voice.

Today, I am going to write about money.

Money matters. Let's not pretend it doesn't. I have been so poor I hoarded change. In four plastic baggies, I collected coins: one for quarter, one for dimes, one for nickles and one for pennies. I kept a post-it updated with the total amount all four baggies added up to. These baggies gave me some source of comfort, like if I really needed to, I could do one grocery run and buy Top Ramen and Kraft macaroni & cheese.

So that time period kinda sucked.

But I am lucky because I wasn't poor for very long, and I always knew I had two great families at my back: Sean's and mine.

One reason why money was always a little headache was because of the student loan debt I carried with me for the past seven years. Even though I had two free years of college, even though my parents generously paid for half of the remaining two years, I still graduated at 21 with $50,000+ dollars of student loan debt.

And for the last seven years of my life, even while unemployed, I managed to make my $500 monthly loan payment on time. For reference, over the last seven years of my life, making this payment has required me to relinquish anywhere from 50% to 25% to 20% to 15% of my monthly income, depending on which job I had at any given time. And let's please remember that for the last three years, I was also the sole breadwinner of my family-- a family that was putting the husband through school too.

And this is where my gratitude comes from today, because  I never could have paid off my debt three years early, traveled the world and put Sean through school if we had stayed home in Washington State. Not unless we won the lottery, at least. Or caved and got a credit card.

Today, I am 100% debt free.
 I hope to stay that way for the rest of my life.
Thank you Taiwan!!!