Thursday, November 23, 2017

a taiwanese thanksgiving

Last night, we celebrated our last Thanksgiving in Taiwan. It was truly bittersweet. While it was joyous because it was Ruby's first Thanksgiving, it was also tinged with sadness because it was our last friendsgiving in this awesome little community we have cultivated here over the last six years.

Our day-- meaning Ruby & I because daddy had to work-- started with Skyping both families back in America. This was my first Thanksgiving in Taiwan that I did not have to work, so I spent all morning and afternoon cooking mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, wild rice, and gravy as well as decorating and tidying.

Thankfully, our nanny Sheila came over for a few hours to watch Ruby in the late morning. Before she arrived, it took me an hour just to open the six cans of green beans, the two cans of cream of mushroom, and the one can of fried onions for the green bean casserole because Ruby was awake and full of mischief.

That evening, we had 11 people over for an early dinner from 4:30-7. One person was a complete stranger, but when someone is alone and new in a foreign country on a special holiday, you invite them over regardless, and when they leave later that night, they are no longer a stranger but a friend. People brought rotisserie chicken, bread rolls, pasta salad, stuffed mushrooms, salad, chocolate cake, pumpkin pie, ice cream, and wine. Sheila made us lumpias and macrons to share too! We blew the power to our living room and kitchen more than once microwaving and toaster ovening dishes upon dishes of food. We then laughed because we didn't own enough silverware to use as serving spoons!

Then, once all the food was hot and on the table, we all sat in a great big circle on the living room floor talking about family holiday traditions, Taiwan, teaching, and travel. We Skyped our dear friend who now lives in New York. Ruby babbled and ate pumpkin and loved being the center of attention. Bubu ate so much chicken!

It was such a fun night, and this is easily what I will miss the most about Taiwan.
And before you ask, yes, the Christmas tree is already up! Ruby & I worked on it this morning while listening to Christmas music and smelling cedar wood from our diffuser! It was magical!

Monday, November 13, 2017

a life update, the holiday edition

I know it's silly, but I am so excited about Ruby's first Thanksgiving (even though I understand the entire concept of this holiday is ludicrous from a historical standpoint). I already have an outfit selected for her (thanks grandma Lisa!), and our plans are made. This will be our sixth time celebrating Thanksgiving in Taiwan; in all, we will have hosted half of the celebrations before we leave. This year, though, we can't have 35 friends and colleagues crammed into our apartment until late into the night because we have an awkward dog and a six month old baby who is on a strict sleep schedule. Instead, we invited seven of our close friends and their kiddos over for an early dinner that will still allow Ruby to be in bed on time. There will be chicken, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, salad, bread, and dessert (thanks grandma Jody for sending ingredients!). Confession: I know this year I will be the crazy lady who pulls out the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, but give me a break, this is the first holiday season I get with Ruby, and I can't wait!
Honestly, I have had a million second thoughts about moving back to America next July. It mostly has to do with feeling like America and I have very few values in common. It also has a lot to do with reading stuff like this. Really, America? The solution to keeping kids safe at school is bullet proof panels for their backpacks? Really? I think we all have issues that are deal breakers for us, and the lack of effective gun control is it for me. If that makes me unAmerican or something, then so be it. If I hear one more person I know say, "It would be ridiculous to ban knives..." my head might literally explode. I am astonished that my 8th graders have the critical thinking skills required to identify that as a logical fallacy (weak or false analogy) and explain what is wrong with the argument, yet so many registered voters don't and can't. Why are my 8th graders better critical thinkers than many American adults who stumble into voting booths?

When Sean and I decided that we would move back to America next year, we started to save in earnest so we will not have to work when we return. While this might seem lazy or impossible, it's not. We very much doubt we will stay in America for longer than one year, so we would rather make it a memorable year for everyone, and that requires a lot of free time. Our savings goal is quite ambitious, and I am happy to report that we are half way there, and it even looks like we will overshoot our goal by a few thousand dollars. In America, we will continue to live frugally so when we leave to go on our next international teaching adventure we still have some left in savings.

We are so happy to report that grandma Lisa is coming back to Taiwan! I go back to work in late February, but Sheila, our nanny, will be in the Philippines visiting her family for the first time in six years. Cue grandma. She will come to hang out with us but also to watch Ruby for the first 2.5 weeks of school until Sheila comes back! We are so excited that Ruby will get to spend some more time with family because July is a long way away. I know grandma Lisa is pretty excited too!

DOTTING OUR i's AND CROSSING OUR t's: the DODEA & Search Associates
Sean and I have decided that our Plan A is moving back to America for one year to spend time with family and allow Sean to finish his Masters in Mathematics Education program. After that, we will look for work overseas again. We just submitted our applications for the 2019-2020 school year with two agencies, the DODEA and Search Associates. The DODEA would place us at an American base overseas to teach the American children of active duty personnel, and Search Associates would place us overseas to teach at another international school. I am relived that the paperwork is done, and I am excited to see what is in store for us!

I went on my first postpartum run last week. I knew I had put it off far too long, so one night when the weather was cool and Ruby was asleep, I headed to my school's track. The last time I went on a run was in September 2016 when I was 1.5 months pregnant. At that time, I could run five consecutive miles. It had taken me quite a while to make it to that point. Last week, I walked my first lap and tried to pump myself up. I really didn't know what to expect. When I began my running journey in 2014, I could not even run one single lap. I was so worried that I would be back at square one again. However, I knew how to move forward from that place because I had done it before, so I knew I could do it again. I put in my ear buds and took my first few steps. I noticed immediately that my body just feels different these days, but I think that is to be expected after having a child. I was pleasantly surprised while on my first lap; I was definitely not back at square one. I knew I had started a little too fast, so I slowed my pace a little and made it easily half way through my first mile. In the end, I ran only one mile. I knew I could have kept going if I really wanted to, but I also learned the first time around that starting slow and building up stamina was better than overdoing it. I will be back out there on the track until I build my stamina and then road running after that. Hopefully, this year I can finally enter one race and cross that off my Life To Do list.

I am so lucky that by a random coincidence I was pregnant at the same exact time as two of my other 8th grade colleagues. We had out babies exactly two weeks apart with Ruby in the middle. We have been trying to get them all together, and it has finally happened! The three girls got to meet and hang out at our school's annual fall field day. It was a lot of fun to see the girls interact and to finally meet all the babies! I will really miss these ladies and their girls when we go back home!

Friday, November 10, 2017

hu pan art park dog cafe

This week, my world was rocked. I have lived only a five minute walk away from a dog cafe for five years, and I never knew it until last Tuesday. There is nothing more Jackie in this world than a coffeehouse full of dogs. I just cannot believe all of the time I wasted going to cafes without dogs when I could have been spending my time here at the Hu Pan Art Park cafe. These people are so obsessed with their dogs that there are painting and sketches of them everywhere you turn. These are seriously my kind of people. I think I know what my life's goal is now: open a dog cafe where Bubu is the main star. Sure, he is a socially awkward dog, but I know he could rise to the occasion for me. Right, Bubu? Plus, Ruby had so much fun petting the dogs (and sometimes pulling their fur-- oops).

Sunday, November 5, 2017

baby update: 6 months

I keep coming back to this one thought: how on earth can she possibly be six months old already? In the beginning, I just wanted her to grow up so she would grow out of her infant reflux. Well, she has, and now all I want is for time to slow down so this wonderful chapter of our lives in which I am home with her doesn't come to a close. 

I think that is probably just motherhood, though. 

Let's start with some great news: Ruby is off all three of the medications she was taking to manage her reflux, and she has been for 1.5 months now. I had noticed she spit up less and was much less irritable, so I weaned her, and she didn't show any of the terrible symptoms she had prior to medicating her. We have put that tough chapter behind us-- bye bye colic and bye bye reflux. 

These days, she is a lovely, sweet, beautiful, funny, determined, hungry, social, and mostly easy to care for little girl. Everywhere we go, people stop to talk to her and tell her how wonderful she is (and I think she knows it too). 

We had so much fun this past month casually introducing some solid foods. I know most American pediatricians recommend waiting until at least the six month mark before introducing solids, but ours said that solids could help reduce her reflux, and after doing copious amounts of research, we decided to try it. Our pediatrician was right on all counts! Ruby has been eating a very small amount of solid food once or twice a day just for the sake of fun and experimentation. She loves fresh bananas, carrots, avocados, sweet potatoes, and apples. So far, I have just been boiling and mashing the foods that require it, but I am going to start looking for a convenient baby food processor now that she is six months old and can begin eating in earnest. 

Ruby is still growing like a weed -- she is wearing 9 to 18 month clothing-- and has met quite a few new milestones! She can laugh, sit up by herself, and move around a lot more. While she still is not crawling, she can maneuver herself all over the floor, crib, and bed, so we have to watch her like a hawk because she pulls and drags and twists her body until she gets where she wants to go. We have so much fun talking with her too, and she started to make a few consonant sounds: the good old m and b. She has also discovered a new hobby: swimming Our nanny brought over a baby flotation device, and Ruby has so much fun splashing around the bathtub under our watchful eye. 
Ruby is really becoming quite a social butterfly, and she had her first official play date this weekend with a friend/colleague's baby girl who was born just two weeks before her. The girls were so curious about each other and loved to touch and babble. The play date did end with both girls in tears, but only because it was nap time for both of them. Next weekend, we are going to get the girls together with our other friend/colleague's baby who was born two weeks after Ruby at our school's field day. It should be interesting to say the least! 
In my last post at four months, I mentioned that we had just started sleep training. While we started it a little earlier than most, we had good reason: she was impossible to soothe to sleep and we were both completely exhausted. Ever since the first night of sleep training, she has been sleeping through the night -- a solid 11-12 hours (hallelujah). She also takes three naps every day, but she often either fight one or cuts one short, so I am starting to wonder if we need to adjust her schedule, which looks like this:

6:30 -- wake up & breastfeed
7:00 -- walk around the neighborhood & park with Bubu 
8:00 -- nap
9:30 -- wake up & breastfeed
10:00 -- eat solid
10:15 -- play time & stories
11:30 -- nap
1:00 -- wake up & breatfeed
1:30 -- walk around the lake with Bubu
2:30 -- play time & stories 
3:30 -- nap
4:30 -- wake up & breastfeed
5:00 -- daddy time!
6:00 -- bath time with dad
6:30 -- bedtime routine & sleep
10:30 -- dream feed 

I am really loving this schedule! It leaves a lot of time for fun & play, but it also ensures she doesn't become overtired and gives me baby free time each day to shower, prepare dinner, or simply enjoy a cup of coffee. And yes, I have given myself permission to drink caffeinated coffee for the first time in more than a year (can I get another hallelujah). 
I am kinda devastated that the next time I check in Ruby will be eight months old. We had such a rough start, which lasted for months and months, that I just want to freeze time now because she is so precious and being her mother is so immensely enjoyable, but I think that too is just motherhood.

Friday, November 3, 2017

a road trip around taiwan, an itinerary

I am so excited to tell you all about our upcoming road trip, which I have been planning in earnest because we are leaving Taiwan for good this July. We are determined to see as much of the island as possible before we leave, and a road trip seems like the best way to do that.

Our road trip will occur during the first week of our four week winter break, which is from January 24th to February 21st. I chose this week because it is not the week of Lunar New Year, so hopefully the roads will be a little less crowded and accommodations will be a little less expensive. We considered doing this trip in July after school lets out for summer break and before we fly home, but we decided we would rather go in the cooler months. In the north, the average temperature will be around 55 degrees while in the south it will be an average of 75 degrees. In the mountains, though, where we will be spending much of our time, it will be very cold.

We will be embarking on this road trip with our eight month old daughter and our weird dog. While we could send our dog to doggy day care, he is a complete couch potato and we love him, so we decided to take him too. These two travel partners have made us think very carefully about drive times, destinations, and accommodations. Our daily plans are loosely based around our daughter's nap schedule, and all of our accommodations are pet friendly. We plan on cooking our own meals in our rentals to limit the amount of time our dog spends alone in an unfamiliar house or apartment, and he can come with us to almost all of the places we intend to visit.

We will leave Hsinchu City early in the morning bound for Taipei. The drive is 90 kilometers on inland Highway 1 and takes about one hour. We will spend the first night in the Shilin District of Taipei so we will be close to Yangmingshan National Park and the Beitou hot springs. On the second night, we will stay in the Wenshen District of Taipei so we will have easy access to the Taipei Zoo, a place we have been dying to take our daughter, and Maokong. Sean will likely use one of these evenings to visit his favorite bouldering gym in Taiwan, STONE Bouldering Gym. Hopefully we will find time to catch up with our friends who live in the city one of these days too!

We will leave Taipei early in the morning bound for Hualien. The drive is 170 kilometers on inland Highway 5 and coastal Highway 9 and takes 3.5 hours. We will break up the drive by stopping to spend a few hours hiking the Bitou Cape Trail, which is something I have been talking about doing for years. Then, we will get on the Su-Hua Highway, which runs along the Pacific and is carved into the cliffside, and drive to Hualien. Instead of another visit to Taroko Gorge, we will check out is wilder cousin, the Mugua River Gorge.

We will leave Hualien early in the morning bound for Taitung. The drive is 160 kilometers and takes 3.5 hours long. We will begin the drive on inland Highway 9, which runs along the East River Valley. We will make a pit stop at Liyu Lake, and then hop over to coastal Highway 11, which runs along the Pacific Ocean, where we will stop at the Platform of the Three Immortals. We could take either highway all the way to Taitung, but the very allure of this region of Taiwan is the scenery, and I don't want to have to choose between the valley and coast. Once in Taitung, we will bike the city's 22 kilometer cycling loop using a buggy for our daughter.

We will leave Taitung early in the morning bound for Maolin. The drive is 200 kilometers along inland & coastal Highway 9 and takes 4 hours. We will explore the Maolin National Scenic Area, which includes many hiking trails, waterfalls, and high suspension bridges. I am most looking forward to seeing the Purple Butterfly Valley, which is home to thousands of butterflies during the winter months! This is one of the first things I read about Taiwan when we first accepted our job in February 2012, and I would be devastated if we left Taiwan without at least trying to see it.

We will leave Maolin early in the morning bound for Tainan. The drive is 90 kilometers along inland highways and takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. Tainan is said to be the "heart and soul" of Taiwan, and we have a few colleagues who are from there. We will let them show us around for the day, and I expect to see a lot of temples and tea houses. I am really excited to get a local's perspective on this beloved city.

We will leave Tainan early in the morning bound for Alishan. The drive is 121 kilometers along inland Highways 1 & 18 and takes 2.5 hours. In the Alishan National Scenic Area, there is a lot to see! There are ancient trees and temples so high in the mountains they are covered in clouds! There is an antique Japanese train and great hiking trails.

We will leave Alishan early in the morning bound for home! The drive is 250 kilometers along quite a few inland highways and takes almost 4 hours. We will break up the drive with a stop in Taichung to visit the famous rainbow village that I have wanted to see since first moving here. Then, we will head back to Hsinchu to drop off the rental.

We are going to rent an SUV so the four of us and all of our gear will fit comfortably. We plan on cooking most meals, so we will need to fit a cooler, some cooking utensils & pots/pans, and groceries. We will be traveling with an eight month old, so we will need to be able to fit her travel crib, stroller, clothes, diapers, wipes, and toys. We will be traveling with our dog too, so we will need to be able to fit his bed, food, and toys.

Taiwan is not a popular road trip destination. In fact, now that I think of it, Asia in general is not a popular road trip destination unless you count scooter road trips around Vietnam or Thailand. When I visited Pinterest and typed in "Taiwan Road Trip", literally nothing popped up about taking a road trip around the island. Actually, most of the pins that appeared were from my friend's blog, and I know for a fact that she has never embarked on a road trip around Taiwan. We are cautiously hopeful that our plan will work given our travel partners and despite everyone and their mother telling us that we are nuts for even entertaining the idea of doing this, but then again, that is just kind of how we roll.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

cultural cruelty & a personal mission

Taiwan has treated us so well over the past five years, but that does not mean that Taiwan treats everyone well. My biggest beef with Taiwan is the rampant animal cruelty and indifference that permeates every city, town, and village as well as every beach and mountain on this small island.

I make no secret of the fact that I am an animal lover, especially when it comes to canines. It is fair to say that I am obsessed with my dog Bubu, and that I earnestly think that all dogs deserve safe, loving homes. 

On this issue, most Taiwanese people and I do not see eye to eye as I have found the average local to be scared of dogs and completely unmoved by the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of stray dogs that live and die in their neighborhoods and parks. 

Here are some sickening statistics about the problem:
  • Fewer than 10 percent of Taiwanese households have dogs; in comparison, nearly 40 percent of American households do
  • The number of stray dogs being intentionally killed by local Taiwanese people increased dramatically in 2013 after rabies were reintroduced to the island by a local ferret population; most Taiwanese kill the dogs by poisoning them
  • Previously, only 18 percent of dogs from government run shelters are adopted; 72 percent are "euthanized", although that can simply mean letting them die from starvation or disease. Now, the government has banned euthanasia, so the shelters are even more overcrowded and dogs are still dying at alarming rates from starvation and disease 
  • The Taiwanese government states that there are 130,000 stray dogs living on the island, but animals activists place the number at a staggering 600,000+ 
  • It is common for Taiwanese people to adopt a puppy and then abandon it in the mountains or at a park when it grows bigger 
  • Until very recently, it was legal to eat dog meat, so many locals, especially in the south, killed stray dogs for that purpose 
From an outsider's perspective, the most confusing aspect of this entire situation is the steadfast refusal almost everyone shows to do anything about this problem. It is painfully obvious that the majority of Taiwanese people find stray dogs to be a complete nuisance, but they also fail on a spectacular level to do a single thing to address the problem. 

Taking the first steps to begin the process of solving this problem is not rocket science, especially because so many other countries have tackled this same exact issue effectively, and simple keyword searches on the Internet can offer a plethora of possible remedies to try.  

For example: 

Taiwan could ban the selling of dogs and penalize anyone caught breeding so rescuing from shelters is the only avenue for pet ownership. Taiwan could also offer incentives for veterinary practices to begin spay-and-release programs. The country could also offer pet ownership education and fine negligent owners or owners who abandon their pets. 

It is not fair for me to say that all Taiwanese people are indifferent to these poor creatures and their very real suffering as I have found a handful of privately run non-profit organizations that rescue Taiwan's stray dogs -- in fact, we adopted Bubu from one. Bubu used to be a stray dog living in the mountains with his six siblings. Today, all seven dogs have homes, six in America and Bubu with us in Taiwan. It breaks my heart to think that if someone hadn't come across Bubu and felt compelled to help him, he wouldn't be snoring and sprawled out on my couch today.

With that in mind, I have made it my personal mission to at least try to do something, and I am a very motivated person when I set my mind to something. 

Near my apartment is Lake Placid. Since I first moved here five years ago, there has been a steady pack of stray dogs living on a grassy hill by the lake. Occasionally, I will see a local bring a bag of food to feed the dogs, but more often than not, the dogs go hungry and thirty for days on end. I have also fed the dogs our scraps, which causes so many locals and even my expat friends & colleagues to give me flak. Ultimately, their messages are the same. They think that the animals should just die so they don't survive long enough to breed and make more stray dogs. 

Personally, I find that cruel and sickening-- but I am my father's daughter through and through, and he became a vegetarian because he loved animals so much and found the meat industry inhumane and worth boycotting. 

I have reached out to various rescues in Taiwan to see if any of them can help this pack of 10-15 dogs. Many of the non-profits are small and cannot accommodate so many dogs at once; however, some are suggesting that if five smaller rescues each take two or three dogs, maybe they can help after all, so I am now in the process of trying to organize a rescue effort between a lot of people, most of whom do not speak English well. 

I know a lot of people here think my actions are silly. After all, helping this one pack won't solve the problem or prevent new dogs from taking their place on the slopes of the lake, but I say to them: it's better to do something small than nothing at all because I am not the only one doing so, and with many people's small efforts, a big impact can be had on at least some of these poor creatures' lives. 

Plus, I would rather teach my daughter that she can make a difference with small actions rather than sit back and do nothing because she is powerless against a greater problem, and I would wager that for a dog like Bubu that once lived as a beggar on the street, that one person, whoever he or she is, made a huge difference in his life, and I would really like to pay that forward. 

If any expat is looking to donate money or adopt, check out these Taiwanese non-profits: Guardian Angels International Rescue (GAIR), Mary's Doggies, Gone to the Dogs,  The Pack Sanctuary, and Animals Taiwan. If any readers abroad want to help or adopt, you can too! Many of these rescues adopt out their animals to American families! 

Monday, October 30, 2017

the roads that lead to wufeng

If you had eight consecutive hours of legitimate free time three days a week, how would you spend it? I think a lot of people are surprised to learn that often times this is how I spend mine: scooting through the mountains of Taiwan with my camera hanging around my neck. 

Frankly, I am not entirely sure what else I should be doing with that time. 

Take and moment and put yourself in my shoes -- every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, instead of going to work, you get to play from 9-5. What do you do? How would you play? 

Before anyone suggests it, I can't sit at home in my underwear and binge watch TV or read or blog because our nanny is there taking care of Ruby, and anyway, I can do all of those things every night after the baby goes to sleep or the other days of the week our nanny doesn't come.

I am not a big money spender, so aimlessly shopping or wandering the mall is definitely out. I don't really enjoy going to restaurants or to the movies by myself, so those are out as well. All of my good friends here except for one are teachers who work during the day, so they are out too. 

I guess I could be keeping busy doing chores and running all kinds of errands, but that seems like a cop out for someone who is not creative enough to find better things to do because there are always better things to do -- plus, for me, this gift of time is not infinite. In late February, it's back to the daily grind for me. 

It started off simple enough-- this little past time of mine. It was a beautiful summer day after Sean had started work again, and I wanted an adventure. No one could adventure with me, so I scooted solo somewhere I knew well: Beipu. There was no way I could get lost, and Sean knew exactly where I was in case something happened (for example, if I was eaten by a rogue Taiwanese Mountain Dog or some other similar situation occurred).

Then, my curiosity got the best of me and I found myself returning to familiar places and roads looking for unfamiliar places and roads. Signs like this old, fading one tempted me greatly, and I found myself driving down roads that are not even on Google Maps. 

At first, I was a little timid in my exploration. I would find a new road and scoot for only 15 minutes down it before turning around, but over time, I got braver and more curious and would follow new roads until they ended or led to other newer roads or became so dilapidated I worried about my scooter breaking down.

Today, after four months of these solo scoot adventures, I genuinely think that I know more of Hsinchu County and Miaoli County than 99 percent of the locals who have lived here their entire lives.

My greatest victory has been finding the three roads that lead to the remote, indigenous, mountainous township of Wufeng. The green, jagged mountains that lead to Wufeng are by far the greatest nature & scenery that Taiwan has to offer, and I find myself returning again and again just to sit for a while in the gazebos and temples lining the road. My other victory was finding perhaps the most remote and amazing coffee house in Taiwan at the top of a random mountain that has gorgeous views and pretty great coffee too.

Maybe this seems like a huge waste of time to some people or overly indulgent, but I have to tell you that there is little that can compete with scooting through the mountains of Taiwan on a beautiful, crisp fall day while listening to Lord Huron's Lonesome Dreams album.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

cultural confusion & a taiwanese Halloween carnival

One thing I miss the most about America is being home to celebrate holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. One thing I love most about my international school is that the administration tries its best to acknowledge the holidays western staff & students miss out on even though those holidays are not Taiwanese holidays -- like Halloween. 

Every year, our school has a Halloween carnival. Every class all the way from grades 1-12 sets up a booth and sells goodies like dry ice drinks and fudgy, gooey brownies. There is a costume contest and trick-or-treating and a haunted house. It's one of my favorite events of the year, and out of the six Halloween carnivals I have attended at my school over the past six years, this one was by far the best because of this:
Seriously, could they be any cuter?! Sean had been wracking his brain for weeks trying to figure out what to be for Halloween (he teaches 4th grade & his kids obviously get really into Halloween), but the second he saw the costume for Ruby that my mom mailed to us from America, he knew: he would be a farmer and she would be his prized strawberry. 

The only catch to my school's efforts to celebrate western holidays is that it forever confuses students who are not from the west. We have many students from South Korea, India, and Taiwan, and most of them think that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are always on Wednesdays. Why? My school always celebrates these holidays on Wednesdays. These pictures are from this year's Halloween carnival, which my school held on Wednesday October 25th instead of Tuesday October 31st. 

The reason is the same for all holidays: every Wednesday, there are two open hours built into the class schedule for reasons just like this. Therefore, the school's Thanksgiving feast will be on Wednesday November 22nd instead of Thursday November 23rd, and the Christmas concert & party will be on Wednesday December 20th instead of Monday December 25th, even though we will have school that day. 

I tried explaining to the students that these holidays are not always on Wednesdays (or ever for some like Thanksgiving), and while most got it, some just looked at me blankly. I guess sometimes some cultural confusion just comes with the package of being a part of an international community, but at least we can sure have a good time sharing our cultures with each other! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

a photographer's delight-- Huashan 1914 Creative Park

When we first moved to Taiwan, I was terrified of going to Taipei by myself. It seems so silly to me now. What was I so afraid of -- getting lost, maybe? Not being able to figure out the metro? Not finding someone who understood English? I honestly cannot answer that question because I don't know what I was so afraid of, but whatever it was, I let it stop me from doing so many things I really wanted to do.

Luckily, I am a very different person now than I was then. Now, I am not afraid of doing something even if that means I could get lost or confused or misunderstood. Now, I trust myself enough to have my own back and figure things out. Now, I know I don't need to wait around for anyone else to do the things I want to do.

On a whim, I decided to visit Taipei earlier this week while our nanny watched Ruby. I decided to climb a mountain, but when I was done and had made it all the way back to the main metro station, I realized that I wasn't quite ready to head home. Sure, I was a little sweaty and dirty, but I was swimming in time and the desire for more adventuring.

I stood in the metro for a while staring at a map of the city trying to figure out what I wanted to do next when I saw that Huashan 1914 Creative Park was only a few metro stops away from where I was standing. I had just talked to one of my friends about it, and I thought she had said positive things about it. For me, that was reason enough to check it out, so I hopped on the metro and 15 minutes later I was standing at the entrance of the park.

I had no idea what to expect from this place, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. I know you probably have questions because, let's get real, the park has a bizarre name, so to get it out of the way, here is the gist of what this oddly named park is all about straight from the horse's mouth:
In 1997 members of the Golden Bough Theatre made a startling discovery.  There, deep in the heart of Taipei and cordoned off from all visitors, stood an abandoned factory.  The group described the factory as a city within a city, a place where nature was left to age with concrete for nearly a decade…and they were intrigued.   
While the young thespians did not know it at the time, they had stumbled upon one of the oldest and most well preserved structures in Taiwan. Built in 1914, the factory was among Taiwan’s largest wine producers throughout the 1920’s.  It had however, long since been abandoned.  
The brazen group “restored” a small section of the factory and began staging plays in the abandoned halls.  Their experimental performances, and intriguing choice of venue, quickly caught the attention of the local community…Unfortunately it also caught the attention of local law enforcement and the group was promptly cited for trespassing.  This minor act of excessive enthusiasm however, was just the beginning.  
Local artists became drawn to the open spaces, high ceilings and abundant natural light.  Soon art and literary giants from across Taipei began using the factory as an inspirational work space, giving performances and leaving their distinctive mark on the structures themselves.  
Word about this unique environment spread further and in 1999 the Association of Culture Environment Reform Taiwan, a non profit NGO, was established to oversee the restoration of the factory into a full fledged arts center.  The factory was renamed the Huashan Creative Park and, in 2005, the rebuilding of the Creative Park officially began.  
In 2007 the Taiwan Cultural-Creative Development Co. Ltd assumed responsibility for the renovation and operation of the Park and renamed it Huashan 1914.  An organically creative environment has been growing ever since.   Huashan 1914 now serves as Taipei’s primary creative arts center and a hosting ground for Taiwan’s most significant cultural activities.  Examples include the Simple Life music festival and the BiBo student design expo.  Today Huashan 1914 is not only the heart of Taiwan’s creative pulse, but also a bridge to a unique architectural past.

Now, I didn't know any of that before I visited the park or while I was there, but it didn't matter one lick because the second I laid my eyes on this place I made it my mission to simply wander around and take pictures. I instantly fell in love with all of the colors and textures and doors and windows and paintings and murals and trees and soft lighting.

I also had way too much fun [accidentally, I swear] photobombing couples who were here getting their wedding photos taken. I also had the great idea of taking Ruby here when we are in Taipei during our winter road trip around the island so I can take portraits. I am thinking baby & brick. What more could a mother possibly want in life?

Huashan 1914 Creative Park is certainly a beautiful place that I enjoyed very much, but even more than that, I will always remember how it felt to think about how the old me would never have been brave enough to do something as simple as ride a few trains and wander a few streets [albeit in a foreign country] to spend an hour strolling around such a delicious place, and how if that never changed over the past five years here, I would have missed out on so much more than just climbing a mountain and becoming well acquainted with all of these exposed brick walls.

I am so grateful I figured out some of the ingredients to a life well lived-- ride those trains, wander those streets, find those treasures.