Sunday, February 28, 2016

a Taiwanese lantern festival

Last night, we took the High Speed Rail from Hsinchu to Taoyuan to visit the lantern festival. While this is my third lantern festival in Taiwan, I am not going to pretend to be an expert on it. Frankly, I have no idea what it all means. 

But I do know that it is beautiful and crazy and really fun to experience. 

However, so as not to leave you all wondering, I did try to glean some information about the purpose/origin of these lantern festivals from my Lonely Planet guidebook and the good old Internet. I have to admit that even after my (albeit brief) research, I cannot tell you much more than this: the festival marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations and this particular manifestation of the tradition began in 1990. 

For the first decade, the festival was always held in Taipei, however, now it is a roaming festival. Each year, it is held in a different city. This is all made possible by Taiwan's amazing High Speed Rail, a bullet train that links the north of the island with the south of the island in three hours. 
In our first year living here, it was held at Hsinchu's HSR station. Talk about convenient. Last year? Taichung HSR station. This year? Taoyuan's HSR station. We hopped on the train, rode for 10 minutes, hopped off the train and walked out the station's entrance into this.

This fantastical world full of color and imagination and shimmering lights. 

What follows is picture vomit. I took so many more pictures; it is miraculous my SD card had enough room and my batteries didn't completely die. I even have a ton of pictures of people taking pictures. Seriously. This is just one of the many. 
In order to create some kind of logic to the presentation of the pictures, I divided them up into two categories: my favorite "float-like" lanterns-- meaning more what I imagine to be American-style parade floats-- and my favorite red paper lanterns, which to me are synonymous with Taiwan. 

These lanterns are so varied. They are the main point of the festival. Some are made from plastic and others from cloth. There are quite a variety to these lanterns. For example, there was a large monkey, which makes sense because it is the year of the monkey, but then there was also a 40 foot tall Jesus on an ark and a 50 foot tall Genghis Khan atop a horse on a rotating platform. There was Snoopy, an Angry Bird and a minion. There were adorable animals, like pandas and penguins and turtles. Frankly, it makes no sense to me in regards to a theme, but who cares? I don't need a theme. I loved them all. 

These red lanterns. They do a number on me. They are everywhere in Taiwan, but I just find them so beautiful and magical. For other people, Taiwan evokes images of dragon covered temples or steaming piles of dumplings, but for me Taiwan is a red paper lantern. I have always loved photographing them. The paper lanterns at the festival were stressed and meant to look like fruit, weirdly enough. Most of them had bright green leaves attached to their tops. The display at the festival was enough to give any seizures. The lights flashed on and off, up and down the long line of lanterns.

What I actually enjoyed the most was the reflection of the lanterns in the puddles; it had rained, and it was so cool to "walk" on the lanterns as I tiptoed through puddles.
We got a little wet. We definitely got stuck in quite a few crowds. We had to endure the smell of stinky tofu. But for 2 hours, we got to walk around with flashing mini mouse bows on our heads and witness something so fun and bizarre and spectacular. Every year I say to myself: been there, done that. But then I feel the pull to go again, and I am never disappointed when I do! 
To learn more about Taiwan's lantern festival, click here.

Check out Travel Tuesday for more stories from around the world! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

an expat's battle with stuff

Most expat stints are temporary. I don't know a single expat in Taiwan who plans on living here for forever. Most plan on moving somewhere else in the not-too-distant future, meaning anywhere from next year to five years from now.

I know the same is true for us.
As much as I love Taiwan, I know that we don't really belong here forever. 
Most of the time, I don't mind not knowing where we will be 2 years or 5 years or 10 years in the future. Other times, it makes me want to tear my hair out.

For example: I have lived in Taiwan for 3.5 years now, and just two weeks ago, I had a mini freak out because we ordered a semi-expensive memory foam mattress online. It arrived on Monday. The cause of my grief? The same thoughts kept playing over and over again in my head:


The funniest part? We are not materialistic people. The stuff we have acquired is no-brainer stuff that everyone has like a couch, a dresser, a kitchen table, a mattress, a dryer, a coffee machine, and a shoe rack.

However, being an expat makes me question every single purchase I ever make because I know that our lives here are temporary. I think it is probably a lot easier for people who own their own home or have normal lives to buy a couch. If they move, they can put it in a moving truck and take it with them.

As an expat, far far far away from "home" or a "rooted" existence, that is just not how things work. 

We moved to Taiwan with four huge suitcases and a guitar case. 
When we leave Taiwan, we will leave with huge suitcases & a shipping crate. 

Because here is the deal: free housing is free housing. It's exactly what you would expect from something that is free. We had a couch that only one of us could comfortably sit on, a mattress that was as hard as a rock, and a kitchen table that wobbled dramatically anytime someone bumped it.

I am an almost 30-year-old woman.
I don't exactly want to live like a college student.

So we bought a really awesome couch from IKEA, and I like it a lot, so when we move wherever it is we end up after Taiwan, I am bringing my couch with me. And my memory foam mattress. And my vintage red dresser. And my espresso machine. And my awesome kitchen table.

Maybe that makes me a weird expat or something. Who knows? But what I do know is that I got rid of all of my stuff once before, right before we moved to Taiwan in 2012, and as it turns out, unless you are a nomad living out of a backpack, having some basic stuff to be comfortable kinda matters. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

how a $5 whiteboard is changing my life

Last semester, I had a slight crisis: I thought I was over teaching. I understand that many, many people feel dislike toward or neutrality about their jobs. However, in my 8 year career, I always felt a pretty strong sense of satisfaction. I felt like what I did had substance. It mattered. It was about more than me or my paycheck. And that mattered to me. A lot. It was why I could hang in there even when things were tough-- either at work or outside of work.

But last semester, I was very seriously wavering.

I worried that I no longer found meaning in my work.
I worried that I no longer believed in the function of public education.
I worried that I no longer felt passion for the subjects I teach.
I worried that it might be time to look for Plan B Plan C, after all, teaching was Plan B.

Plainly put: I worried.

It was only after our 4-week winter break, which was relaxing and refreshing, and one week back at work that I had an ah-ha moment. You know, one of those moments in which everything suddenly has perfect clarity?

I was sitting in my office at my desk, engrossed in The Handmaid's Tale, and realized that I got paid for the last three hours I spent reading a novel and devising discussion questions for my high school literature class. I was absolutely in my element. And I was excited about the novel and its rich opportunities for reflection. I had an acute realization that teaching was not the problem.

So what was the problem?

I have always believed that work is work and a job is a job. And that is even true of teaching. There is no way I would sacrifice so much of me-- my time and my energy and my creativity and my emotions-- if I didn't need money to live. I have always felt a little sorry for people who live to work. Sometimes, I want to shake them and ask: don't you know you only live once? Don't you know that your job doesn't love you or care about you? Don't you know you don't get days back, or time back or experiences back? Don't you know your job won't stand over your grave at your funeral and tell the world about how productive you were, how many hours you put in at the office, how on top of things you were?

Sitting at my desk, The Handmaid's Tale in my hands, I saw clearly my problem. My life needed some serious restructuring. I was balancing a full time job, five classes, 80+ students and my own household. I took on the cooking, grocery shopping and most of the cleaning. I did this for my husband so he could find his feet at work in a brand new profession.

As much as I was sinking, he was too.

I put everything that was not crucial to making it through the day aside. Most of the time, that was myself. The things I did for me, because they felt good. And that was why I felt dissatisfied with everything.

You only live once.
I will only live once.

It is not a choice for me to say: "Hmmm, this work thing is inconvenient. I think I am just going to not do it anymore". I actually know a few people who did this, but literally just a few: 2 people. The rest of us, instead, say: "How can I make this work?"

And that is when I went out and bought this $5 whiteboard. To me, it's a contract, a commitment.

At the beginning of each week, I look at what has to be planned: meals, so I know what to buy at the store. Chores, so I know they will get done. But then I look at what I want my life to look like, and then I create that life by scheduling in: runs, tennis, date nights with the husband and date nights with friends, outings. 

Last week was the first time I used this whiteboard, and I have to tell you, I feel good. I feel like a real person again. I work and I work hard. I take care of my little family and I do a good job of it-- our meals are healthy & yummy, our house is tidy & cozy and we always have clean clothes. I grab dinners with friends and watch movies with my man on the couch. Is my day absolutely packed? Yes, but it is packed with things I have to do and with things I want to do.

I may someday question my career, but I hope it won't be because I neglect myself and my life. I would rather stare into the eyes of the real problem so I can fix it rather than treat a symptom of the problem and expect major changes.
This might be the best $5 I've ever spent. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

biking taipei

I love Taiwan's YouBikes. YouBikes are these cute orange & yellow rental bikes, which are conveniently located all over Taipei and other cities (now including mine) in Taiwan. Using an Easy Card, which can be bought at MRT stations, you can check out the bike in one place and return it at any other YouBike location. 

We rode for more than an hour and our ride cost 20 NTD, which is 61 cents in USD. 

We picked up our YouBikes in Xindian, the last MRT stop on the green line, and followed the river all the way into the city. The bike path, although congested, was mostly flat and very enjoyable.  

And my bike only fell over once, so I consider that a huge victory! 

I cannot wait to head back to Taipei to explore other bike trails!