Wednesday, January 27, 2016

getting a $3 haircut in Taiwan

I have never been a high maintenance girl. I know it is one of the qualities my husband most appreciates about me. I can get ready faster than him, and 98% of the time I don't even need a purse.

That doesn't mean I cannot get dolled up when the occasion calls for it, but neither of us really find dolled up attractive.

I like my rugged Pacific Northwestern husband. Was he mistaken for Jesus or Dave Grohl a lot? Yeah, but that never bothered me one bit. Give me flannel shirt, long hair, and scruff. My husband prefers me to hold onto my I-just-rolled-outta-bed look: messy hair & bare face.

For a long time now, my husband has been begging me to cut my hair short. I love my long, messy, curly hair, but ever since I was 19 years old and I cut my hair short for the first and what I thought would be the last time, he has been fixated on it. He loved my hair short. Seeing as I will be turning 30 in a few months, I thought that maybe, just maybe, 10 years later, I could indulge him, so I agreed to cut my hair whatever length he wanted.

Then he suggested I get my hair done at a real salon that a Canadian expat owns. It's a place where you have to make an appointment and where you definitely spend more than 20 minutes.

I scoffed at the idea.

In Taiwan, you can get a perfectly good haircut for 100 NTD, which is less than $3 USD. Also, no appointment is necessary. You walk in, and 15-20 minutes later, you walk out. They don't even wash your hair (which I like, because, thank you, I already washed my own hair today).

In the end, I refused to pay $50 USD for a haircut simply because the person cutting my hair would speak English. I mean, I only get my hair cut twice a year, once during summer break and once during winter break.

Does that tell you how much I care about my hair?

Instead of going to see the Canadian that all my expat friends flock to when they need a trim, I went to the hair salon next to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. The place is run by three young people and their three dogs, one of which is blind but sat on my lap and let me pet it (the dog, obviously, not the salon owner).

Via charades because none of them spoke English beyond hi and thank you I explained what I wanted, and then let fate (and the man with blue hair wielding the scissors) decide the outcome, and I have to say that I loved it. The experience, that is. I am not a good chit chatter. I don't really want to chit chat with the person cutting my hair. Further, I don't really want to hear about how they can "fix up my grey hairs". Not all women want to dye their grey hair. Not all women think that something as natural as hair turning grey is a crisis.

So, in almost total silence except for movement of the dogs, the guy did exactly what I asked him to do: he cut my hair short.

Personally, I hate it.
But I knew I would.

My husband loves it, however, and that's what I was going for.
So in the end, it was a hugely successful trip to the 100 NTD Taiwanese hair salon.
And I am putting the remaining $47 budgeted for a haircut to better purposes, like my next scoot adventure! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

the lavender cottage & route 126

My scoot to the Lavender Cottage by Mingde Reservoir was hands down my favorite scoot adventure to date. It was also the scoot that made me decide that I just have to get a GoPro. Because I was with three other girls, there was no way I was going to stop every single time I wanted to take a picture of the picturesque highway or beautiful river valley or green, jagged mountain tops.

And I am terribly sad I don't have any pictures or video of those things.

It's okay though because hopefully in the next few weeks I will find my way back to Route 126.

The final destination of our scoot adventure was a lavender cottage. Truthfully, the only reason this was our destination was because it very clearly said in English on Google Maps "Lavender Cottage". Everything else was in Chinese.

I was really surprised by just how cute the cottage was! From what I can tell based on its website, the cottage was opened by two girls who share a love of coffee, travel and "simple, rustic life". Actually, it sounds like these girls and I have a lot in common! And I just loved their farm. Everything was cute, but just in a cute way, not in an OTT way. The gift shop was to die for, and I cannot wait to go back and clear the shelves of all bath salts!

To see more photos from our scoot adventure to the cottage, click here.
A lavender festival just started last weekend at the cottage, and I hope to be back in the next few weeks with the husband, who lets me pull over as many times as I want to snap photos!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

reflections on our first semester as a married teaching couple

I am going to apologize in advance because this post reads a lot like word vomit (and because I found Frost's most cliche line applicable), but I realized today that we made it to a pretty big milestone, and I am a woman so I reflect at any given opportunity. 

Like the fact that today was our first full official day of winter break, which means we are exactly halfway through this school year. 

It was a really long semester, and not just because we worked 20 weeks in a row without more than an odd 4-day weekend here or there. It was long because the past 20 weeks have been a huge transition for us, a transition that has been much harder than I thought it would be (probably because I didn't really think about it at all). 

When we decided to move abroad in 2012, we told ourselves that we would give ourselves one year to see how we liked living abroad before deciding to sign Sean up for a teaching program. It is no secret that Sean would not be a teacher if we never moved abroad. Truthfully, his prior career roofing was far better for a few reasons: more income, more favorable hours and more reasonable demands. 

However, halfway through our first year in Taiwan, we decided that being abroad was not just going to be a 2-year fling (I think we made this decision while staying in Thailand- Railay in particular, which is a beach paradise- for the entire month of our winter break), so Sean enrolled in an education program. For the following two years, he worked almost non-stop to complete his degree. 

Then, last June, he signed a contract to teach 4th grade at my international school for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. In July, we went home to Washington, excited and eager, and purchased two suitcases worth of supplies for his new classroom. 

Then, September came and it got real fast.

I think after three years of being a single income household, we forgot what it was like to be a double income household.

Let me explain what I mean:

When we were a single income household in Taiwan, I would come home from work and Sean would be eager to see me and full of energy. I, on the other hand, would sometimes come home cranky and would regularly come home exhausted. 

However, Sean's energy would often seep into me, and we would have wonderful evenings together. Now? Two exhausted people come home from work. Someone still needs to cook dinner. Someone still needs to do the laundry. Someone still needs to take out the garbage. And those two people still need to be eager to see each other and full of energy in order to give their best to each other rather than to their jobs. 

That is hard.
Over the last three years, I forgot just how hard.

Truthfully, there were days I longed for the way things used to be.
But not Sean.
Sean wanted needed to work.

And the truth is: Sean likes his job. 
Today is our first day of winter break, and it is obvious he misses his 13 kiddos. 
And Sean is good at his job.
Trust me, it takes a certain kind of person to spend 8 hours a day with a hoard of 4th graders.

Anyone's first year teaching is hard

Sean is figuring out four new classes: math, science, English and social studies. He is dealing with demanding parents. He is getting used to the idea that teaching is so much more than class time. There is the planning, the grading, the emailing parents, the staff meetings, the department meetings, the curriculum development, the observations, and then there is the photocopying, cleaning up students' puke, drying the kids' tears, dealing with bullies...

Me? I took on a new high school English class. It has been interesting, but my kids turn in 5-page papers. I have 80 kids. You do the math. 

We have been treading water to keep from sinking under the load.

And this has certainly leaked over into our home.

Because now we work at the same exact place. And how easy would it be to come home and complain about our classes or our shared workplace? Too easy. So now we have rules about that. And how easy would it be to come home and sit on the couch in spent silence because we are both tired? Way too easy. But it's a lot harder to make rules about that. 

However, there are obvious benefits:

Like the $.
Now we have twice as much.
We paid off my debt three years early. 
We bought a really, really nice couch.
Here, and elsewhere abroad, $ will never be an issue. 
We will always have plenty to spend and to save.

However, we also know $ cannot buy happiness.
Luckily, there are other good things. 

Like our future prospects. Our friends just came back from a job fair, and it is incontrovertible that people like us--married and experienced international teachers-- get shown preference. Schools want to hire married teaching couples. We can cut in line at the fairs--figuratively speaking, because literally speaking that is just rude-- and schools will pursue us rather than the other way around. We have job security one way or another that most people can only dream about. 

There is even more:

Like our standing Thursday lunch dates.
Like classroom drive bys. 
Like having almost an entire month off together in the middle of winter.
And then two in the summer.

All of that said, truthfully, I don't know what our future holds. 

What I do know is that we are going to see these two years through, and then we will have some pretty tough choices to make.


To stay in Taiwan or move to ___________________________ (fill in the blank with nearly any of the 200+ countries that exist).
To continue teaching or pursue something else?

Being a married teaching couple overseas is not perfect, and it is not what I imagined it would be, but Sean keeps reminding me that there is nothing inherently bad about that.

And I think more than anything, for the first time, I truly understand what my husband did for us. In his 30th year of life, he threw caution to the wind and started a brand new profession. How many people are courageous enough to do that?! He dove in head first, and gave it his all. He didn't really know fully what he was getting himself into, and he had no guarantee it would "work" or that he would be "good" at it. But he leaped anyway. He got a little wet, and he hasn't quite made it to shore yet, but he has not sunk either.  And he won't. 

My husband is the coolest, most brave person I know. And I am in complete awe of his dedication to us, this dream and his kids.  I am one lucky gal, and I will continue to follow his example as we move forward.

So while I can't tell you for sure that this whole let's-be-international-teachers thing will work long term, I can tell you that I am not going to let uncertainly or tough transitions or a little bit of hardship stop us from finding out. And if it doesn't? I will just use my husband as a role model for figuring out Plan B.

Or Plan C.

Or Plan D. 

Because part of bushwhacking your own path in life and doing something most people would not even consider is expecting and encountering some bumps in the road and then just deciding to go for it, come what may. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

a belated new year

So, it's January 17th. 
Does that mean it's too late to wish everyone a happy new year?
I guess I kinda fell off the face of the blogger planet for a whole month.
But that's just life when you're a busy gal.

Let me get you all caught up.


We spent Christmas at work:
We woke up really, really early and got breakfast at 6am with a bunch of friends from school to make the day seem special. It was actually really fun. I kinda think we should have an early-morning-before-school breakfast monthly.

In total, between my husband and I, we got 15 boxes of chocolate, 10 bags of coffee and my favorite: 6 mugs! We had to clear off another shelf in our kitchen. My favorites are always the sweet notes my kiddos give me though!

If Christmas is about spending time with people you like, I guess I am pretty lucky to say that even though I spent Christmas at school, I still spent the entire day surrounded by people I genuinely enjoy.

In class, we watched Peanuts. Really. How much complaining can I do?

On New Year's Day, we bought a new (amazing) couch from IKEA:

Does that answer the question a bunch of people have been asking: Are you staying in Taiwan??


We will be in Taiwan until July 2017 for sure. After that, who knows?

We had a fur ball invade our apartment for a week, and I was in heaven:
Our friends went to Bangkok for a week, and we got to take care of their cat Blanca. Blanca has been our house guest before, and we love having her! She is adorable and fluffy and sweet and spicy. Every morning, I would walk into the living room and she would pounce on me, ready to play. Every night when I went to sleep, she would curl up at the bottom of my bed.

Although, we did spend 2+ hours vacuuming trying to get her hair off the couch and carpet, and oddly enough, off the ceiling fan.

Our nights and weekends have been a constant stream of friends and gatherings (and s'mores):
And that's been awesome!
I've had sleepovers (who says 29 is too old for a pajama party?!) and late night conversations on the roof top and lots of dinners out and fun gatherings and s'mores made in the toaster oven.

But we are both sooooo tired.
I think we need a few days to laze around in our pajamas.
But that is definitely in our near future because...

Winter break starts this week, and we will have 27 days off in a row!!!
We will sleep in, travel Taiwan and hopefully pay off 2 of Sean's 4 student loans!

Right now, our only concrete plan is for Thursday morning, our first official day of break. It involves waking up early, walking downtown and trying out a bunch of different breakfast stalls and juice stalls we've been eyeing for years but have never tried. Most of these places cannot be called restaurants; instead, they are more like food trucks. We will grab a snack from one, walk a block, grab a snack from another, walk a block-- on and on down the road.

It's the strangest plan I've ever had for the first day of break, which in the past has always been head to the airport to go to _____________, Thailand, Bali, or New Zealand. But I am strangely okay with our strange plan for Thursday, and then complete lack of plans until late February.

And also, here is a bunch of pictures I wanted to share last year but never did. Oops. 

Well, the cat is Blanca. She is my favorite furry house guest.

There are some pictures of Sean's classroom, but they were all taken before the little monsters actually started school. So, his classroom is not this barren (or organized) today.

Others are of our apartment. We brought back lots of fun things to decorate with. It is always a top priority for me to make my house (or apartment) a home.

Also, there is a picture of my chocolate chip-oat-peanut butter bites. They are amazing. They make life worth living.

Oh, there is a pictures of our Christmas tree too. We actually lost our tree from last year, and had to get a new one. We are still really confused about how we lost the tree. Ce la vie. I am sure we will find it when we finally do leave, one day, hopefully a ways away.


So, that's what we've been up to!
And hopefully soon I can share with you some more Taiwan adventuring!