Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Typhoon Megi

We are on typhoon day #2 thanks to Typhoon Megi, which roared over Taiwan yesterday. We spent most of yesterday on our couch watching scary movies. 

Late last night, once the wind had died down a bit, all schools in Taiwan decided to remain closed today too. At first, we were surprised. However, we just got back from a walk around our neighborhood and campus, and the damage was quite extensive. 

The picture above is the building I teach in everyday. Now, a huge tree is leaning against it. Our school's recycling shed and guard station also have giant trees resting on top of them. 

The pool by our house was damaged.
A bus stop by the lake has a tree on top of it.
And my favorite lotus pond took a pretty severe beating.

We scooted around the city, and many shops were still shuttered, although, thankfully, most of the damage seemed to just be from fallen trees rather than structures. 

I anticipate that tomorrow we will have school again, even though I imagine much of the damage will still remain. And while it's been a nice weekend in the middle of the week, I am ready for life to go back to normal. 
On our walk we also saw how, weirdly enough, there are trees that look better than ever. I know it's all about its roots and stability, but it's still something to behold. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

a life update & a typhoon

It's a Tuesday morning at 9:53, and I am sitting at home in my pajamas. We have Typhoon Megi to thank for that. This category two typhoon is just about to slam full on into Taiwan, so we get a typhoon day. A typhoon day is Taiwan's version of a snow day, expect we don't have to make it up at the end of the school year! So I am sitting on my couch next to an open window watching it rain every direction and trees start to bend in interesting ways. 

I love typhoons!

Anyways, we have been back in Taiwan for almost 7 weeks now, and a lot has happened! 

like work
We are in our fifth week of school, which is half way through first quarter. It's gone by so fast! Our kids are good (and many are freaking great), and our classes are going well so far. We've had open house and met the parents and everything has been wonderfully smooth sailing. I think, in general, this year is going to be so much nicer than last year. Last year was Sean's first year of teaching 4th grade, and it was our first year as a double income household supported by two teachers. It took a lot of finagling to find a new normal that worked for the both of us. I'm not going to say we have definitely achieved that, but we are close and getting there-- so much more than we managed last year.   

Plus, all the foreign teachers got 25% raises this year (my school's attempt to be more competitive at hiring fairs), annual free airfare home, and awesome professional development. Guys, this is nothing to turn your nose up at. This is a huge deal, and we are so incredibly fortunate-- and we know it and are grateful for it everyday. We are about to pay off Sean's $24,000 student debt, and then we are looking forward to having an absolutely absurd amount of disposable income for the rest of the time we choose to be here, which, frankly, will most likely be a while. 

So, yay for work going well and finances going well-er! 

like finally biting the bullet
We also did two other things that have made our lives easier and more enjoyable. 

The first: we got a water machine. It has a hot water tap and a cold water tap. We get 5 huge bottles delivered at a time, and they last for 3 weeks. I know you are probably laughing that water is such a big deal to us, but until you live in a situation in which you cannot safely drink your tap water and your fridge doesn't have a water filter and dispenser, you just cannot get how annoying it is to realize at 9pm that you have no water, so you have to get on your scooter, drive 5 minutes to a refilling station, and then return home and drink lukewarm water. This has saved us so much time and late night or early morning headaches! 

The second: we hired someone to clean our apartment once a week. Guys, I still feel a little weird about this. I am a capable woman who can clean her own apartment. That is absolutely true. However, just because I can doesn't mean I have to. So, I'm not anymore. I still do the dishes. I still grocery shop and cook. I still do the laundry. But now someone else comes every Thursday and washes the windows, cleans the floors, scrubs the bathrooms, and dusts. And you know what? It's awesome. Here, it's also incredibly cheap. I don't mind parting with $100 a month-- so $25 each Thursday-- to have a wonderfully clean home. 

like Bubu
This is not even my most exciting news, but it is still so exciting! We are getting a dog! Over the summer, after spending so much time with our families and their dogs, we came to the realization that we too can have a dog. It, meaning our situation, won't be perfect, but whose is? 

The day we got back to Taiwan, Sean asked me to start scouring the Internet looking for how to get a dog in Taiwan. Of course, we could just take one off the street, but we didn't think that was the best recipe for success. We also refused to purchase one from a shop. 

We wanted a rescue dog that we could know some stuff about, like whether it is good with other animals, strangers, and kids. Eventually, I found the website for GAIR. This organization rescues and rehabilitates unfortunate dogs in Taiwan, and then EVA Air flies them to homes in America. We scoured GAIR's website and found the dog of our dreams, Bubu. We submitted an application and had a Skype interview. We get to meet Bubu next next weekend, and I sincerely hope that everything works out after that. We are so excited to welcome him into our home and our lives. We even have a doggie daycare picked out for when we travel overseas during winter break or summer vacation. 

like vacation plans
The other day, I told Sean that I thought I was mostly over my travel bug. Then he laughed out loud in my face and said, "yeah right". Which, of course, is the truth. If you look at my Pinterest, I am clearly in the midst of planning three trips: one to Greece, one to Iceland, and one to Japan. 

So, no, I'm not over my travel bug. However, things are starting to change. I can tell. 

For our 26-day winter break in January & February, which is so not the right time to go to Greece or Iceland, I was seriously struggling to come up with a place I did want to visit. I am kinda over Asia. I live here, after all, and I've been most places already. 

I threw out suggestions like New Zealand and Australia, but Sean vetoed them. He doesn't want to spend the money or time those destinations require. In the end, we decided on Japan in the winter time. Japan is a 2-hour flight away from Taiwan. It's beautiful, easy to navigate, and much cheaper than anywhere else I wanted to go. 

In the past, I would go somewhere just to go somewhere. After a decade of travelling the world and 4+ years living as an expat, that is no longer my thing. And that's okay. 

That said, I am still greatly looking forward to our adventures around Japan. We loved our time in Osaka & Kyoto last spring. 

like friends & fun
One thing I love about Taiwan is the people. We have made some awesome friends here, and we miss them when we are gone for summer or winter vacations. 

We have Friday night tennis followed by ice cream at Family Mart by the lake afterwards. We have our beef noodle soup, ramen, pho, or xiao long bao dinner dates. We have our girl nights with games and finger nail painting. We have our scoot adventures up into the mountains so we can soak in a cold springs (which is what these photos are from). We have our movie nights with popcorn. We have our work out sessions and gatherings to celebrate birthdays, the beginning of the school year, the end of the school year, or a random Friday night. 

We have our awesome scooter hoard. 

What we have is so much fun and the creation of so many precious memories! 
So, that's been our life over the past 7 weeks.
Busy, but good. 
And full of wonderful things, and even wonderful-er things to come! 

Friday, September 23, 2016

the missed bus to Longdong

I'm always a little surprised when Taiwan throws us a curve ball. I kinda feel like we've been here long enough that nothing is surprising anymore, and that we are pros at navigating life in Taiwan and all it entails. 

Of course, Taiwan decided to throw us a curve ball when my friend was in town when we were trying to take her some place awesome: Longdong.

I've written about Longdong before (and giggled a little at its name many times). We hung out at Longdong for Sean's birthday because he loves rock climbing and these are Taiwan's best rocks to climb. 

We wanted to take my friend somewhere beautiful and outside of Hsinchu City, and as a typhoon was fast approaching, Taiwan seemed like a great and easy day trip. 

The last time we went to Longdong, we took a cab. 

Mostly we did this because most of the blogs we read mentioned how remote and random Longdong is. We didn't really trust ourselves to be able to find it from the bus stop. However, since we took the bus back from Longdong to Taipei the last time, we knew we could find the right bus stop, Longdong from the bus stop, and we knew when the buses ran. 

What we didn't expect was how hard it was going to be to find the bus station in Taipei! 

We have taken many buses from Taipei to other places, like Wulai, Pingxi, Yehliu and Juifen. All of those bus stops were super easy to find and figure out. Actually, it is shocking how well organized Taiwan's public transportation is, especially for people who don't understand Chinese. 

So we arrived in Taipei with our friend and a bus number. The two morning buses to Longdong run at 9a.m. and at 10am. 

We arrived in Taipei in time to catch the 10a.m. bus for Longdong because, let's face it, sleeping in is always the better choice.  

We wandered from Taipei Main Station to the nearby main Taipei bus station, only to find it was entirely the wrong station. 

Buses left from that station to all the towns near Longdong, they just didn't actually stop in Longdong. We were given directions by at least three people to the correct smaller bus station, yet we could just not find it. It was hilarious and maddening at the same time. 

In the end, after at least 30 minutes of wandering around and consulting signs and maps, which also happened to be just enough time to miss the last bus to Longdong, we found the small, poorly marked bus stop. 

So, in the end, we took a cab. 

But this time, we paid the cabbie to hang around while we explored. 

I think he had a great day at Longdong too! 

And I'm sure my friend was like: seriously, you guys?! How long have you lived here and you can't find a bus stop?!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

a Pacific Northwest road trip, Part V: The Hoh Rain Forest

I'm not sure if a place greener than the Hoh Rain Forest exists on Earth. From the moment you take a left off Highway 101 in northwestern Washington to drive deep into the heart of the temperate rain forest, green (and brown) becomes the color of the landscape. 

Most people are shocked to learn that Washington State, and the Pacific Northwest as a matter of fact, has a rain forest. Most people, when they hear the word rain forest, conjure up images of the Amazon. The rain forest in Washington is nothing like the rain forest in South America, and for a good reason. The Hoh Rain Forest is a temperate rain forest and the Amazon Rain Forest is a tropical one. 

Temperate rain forests are called such because of the climate the live in. Same for tropical. While I've never been to Brazil or South America, I wager the climate is very, very different than Washington State's climate. Washington has a temperate climate. That means it has mild winters and a lot of rainfall (the Hoh gets 12 - 14 feet of annual rain fall). The trees of a temperate rain forest are tall and seasonal. The other really cool thing about temperate rain forests is the ages of the trees. While trees in a tropical rain forest are typically between the ages of 50 - 100 years old, trees in a temperate rain forest are often 500 - 1,000 years old! 

Crazy cool, huh? 

This map below shows the world's temperate rain forests:
There aren't many of them. How lucky we are to live (both in Washington State and Taiwan-- look at that map again! Our scoots to Sheipa take us high into the mountains and into the beautiful temperate rain forest of Taiwan.) in a place with such a spectacular rain forest for us to explore!

Over summer, we drove to the Hoh while we were camping. The drive from Mora Campgrounds to the rain forest was supposed to take 45 minutes, however, it ended up taking much longer, but only because we got stuck in three road construction spots. Usually, the drive into the forest is scenic and somewhat lonely. This is, after all, literally in the middle of nowhere. It takes anyone a long time to reach the Hoh from anywhere. 

Instead of a peaceful drive through towering trees, our drive was full of traffic jams and loud construction equipment. 

Ce la vie.

Once we passed the final construction spot, the route returned to the idyllic one I remembered from our last trip here a few years ago. 
When we came before-- which was years ago, and we must have been 20 years old at the time-- we didn't realize you had to pay to park. 

Since we only had our debit cards, which the ranger would not accept, we ended up striking a deal. We would only stay 15 minutes and then turn right back around and leave. I think the ranger felt bad for us. After all, it was quite a trek to get there. Sean ended up running a 2 mile loop through the rain forest. This was long before my running days, so I ended up going to the bathroom. Suffice it to say, we left pretty dang disappointed and swore to return one day and do the Hoh right. 

This time, we brought plenty of cash so we could actually park and explore some trails. Funny enough, though, the park is completely different now and rangers can actually take debit card payments. We had to laugh a little at that turn of events. 

We parked and consulted the entrance sign. 

There are two short trails and one really long one that requires overnight camping in the bush. We trekked down the Hall of Mosses trail, which is a .8 mile loop, and the Spruce Nature Trail, which is a 1.2 mile loop. We want to return one day and hike the Hoh River Trail, which one-way to Blue Glacier is 18 miles.  

Before we do that, though, we will need to invest in some serious hike-in camping gear. 

Our walks, while short, were still spectacular. 

The murky blue Hoh River, which is a 50 mile river that is born in the mountains and ends in the Pacific Ocean, runs along side the Spruce Nature Trail. The river front is wilderness at its finest. The Hall of Mosses has beautiful old growth trees and hungry elk, birds, and chipmunks. 

It's a shame that so many people who visit Washington State never even make it over to the Olympic Peninsula, let alone this gem of a rain forest tucked away in the northwestern corner of the state. 

This, after all, is truly the Pacific Northwest at its best.

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