Sunday, January 29, 2017

the year of the rooster

Happy New Year!

Yesterday, we decided to go on a bit of an adventure to ring in the lunar new year, which is a big deal here in Taiwan & Asia. We picked up our coffees (mine now decaf to hopefully lower my high blood pressure), and scooted to the local train station downtown. We've been there many, many times, but always to either pick up or drop off friends. When we take the train, we always hop on the high speed rail because it is fast, convenient, and pretty dang cheap. 

But yesterday, we thought going slow and doing something we had never done before sounded wonderful. 

When we got to the local train station, we didn't know how to read the route map or where exactly we wanted to end up. We thought about Neiwan, a nearby mountain village, or Keelung, a far away coastal one, but in the end, we decided on Taipei for our destination because burgers from our favorite burger joint in the capital sounded awesome for lunch, so we bought two tickets and boarded the first northbound train that arrived. 

Three hours later, we finally pulled into the ever familiar Taipei Main Station, which is also the station the high speed rail services. Normally, our trip from Hsinchu to Taipei only takes 30 minutes on the HSR. It was so much fun and oddly relaxing to take the three hour journey instead and see a new side of Taiwan from the window of our train car. 

Our railway adventure felt a lot like the time we spent last spring exploring Japan on its local, slow trains, which we just had a blast doing! 

After living in Taiwan for four years now, it's easy to feel like we've seen it all (or close to it at least), so I love these little reminders that Taiwan has so many secrets left for us to discover. 

And really good burgers too. 
While on the train, we thought about our hopes & desires for the year of the rooster.

We hope that my pregnancy continues to be healthy and smooth.
We hope for little miss Ruby to come into the world healthy and happy.
We hope for our loved ones to have many opportunities to spend time with her.
We hope for sanity and tolerance to return to our home country of America.
We hope for continued peace and stability for our beloved adopted home of Taiwan.

The year of the rooster will certainly be one of the most memorable of our lives, and we are excited to see what it has in store for us! 

Friday, January 27, 2017

an old scoot adventure with a new twist

Yesterday, I woke up early to take Bubu for his ritual morning walk, and the second we stepped outside into the bright, warm sunlight, I knew: it was the perfect day for a scoot adventure.

Scooting through the mountains of Taiwan has become my favorite hobby ever. Luckily, my scoot buddy is still in town over our winter break from school, so I instantly went home and sent out a feeler: do you have free time this afternoon? One thing I love about this lady? She is always up for a good adventure, even if that adventure means scooting up into the mountains of Taiwan with a lady who's 6 months pregnant.
So of course that's what we did! We left with our cameras and a destination: Beipu.

We've both been to Beipu countless times, but this time was going to be different because the purpose for our scoot adventure was to take some maternity photos.

I am 6 months pregnant, and up until yesterday, I did not have a single picture of my swelling bump. This was partially because of how busy I've been with school and Bubu and being pregnant. It was also partially because I hadn't picked up my camera to take a single photo all semester. Well, except of my dog.

I knew in the end I would be sad if I had no photos to look back on, and really, I was starting to wonder if people back home really believed I was pregnant because they have not gotten to experience a single day of my pregnancy with me.

Now, there is one universal truth about my life: I cannot take a normal picture to save my life, especially in a photo shoot situation. As we scooted through the mountains, I reminisced on my last photo shoot, which was for my high school graduation. I am pretty sure the photographer was like: when can she leave because this is painful?!

Before we left for Beipu, I put literally no time or effort into scouring Pinterest for maternity shoot ideas. This was for one main reason: I was pretty sure the shoot would be a complete disaster! I told myself I would be happy if I came back with just one decent photo that I could show my mother and hang onto as a keepsake.

My friend, however, did spend time scouring the Internet for ideas because she is just that kind of person, and I am so thankful because after everything was said and done, I could not believe how many awesome photos we got!

First, we scooted to Beipu's main street, which has one of my favorite temples in Taiwan. It's kinda silly to say that because most temples look exactly the same, but this one just feels different. Beipu is a small, photogenic village, and this temple is along a cobblestone street that is converted daily into an open air market. At first, I felt really weird taking photos. It's not because it was a temple. I have taken a gazillion photos of this temple (and so have countless other visitors). No, it was because people were looking at us, and I am pretty sure I even caught someone take a picture of us taking pictures. People look for two reasons: we are waiguorens (foreigners) and my belly sticks out like a sore thumb and everyone's eyes gravitate to it.

Truth be told, I got over feeling awkward and silly really fast because I was actually having a lot of fun! I am so glad I asked my friend to take these pictures. She is just as silly as I am and we had a blast romping around this village striking poses!
After the temple, we wandered around Beipu's old, dilapidated streets. We found the perfect alleyway for photos, which isn't really an amazing feat because Taiwan is one giant alleyway. We found a working water pump, a cat, and beautiful, old homes. One flummoxed elderly Taiwanese man ran into us as he was leaving his house, and after exchanging a few ni hao's (hello's), he just wandered away and left us to our silliness.
After leaving the alleyway, we decided to scoot to our favorite cold springs, which is a five minute drive from the village. On the way, we got a bit sidetracked. My friend found a perfect little bridge with a perfect view of the mountains. After using some interesting methods to take some pictures on the bridge, we finally made it to the cold springs. The water level was super low, but we still managed to snap some shots.

All in all, it was the perfect scoot adventure/maternity photo shoot.

I got home and could not believe how great the pictures turned out, especially because I did zero preparation. I didn't even buy a special outfit. I didn't think for more than five seconds about where I wanted to go. I wanted a place that shouted: Taiwan! Beipu seemed like the perfect place, and how lucky we were that it actually was! I love that these maternity photos are so Taiwanese. It makes them feel a little more special and true to the story that is about to unfold: Jackie & Sean becoming parents as expats living in Taiwan.

I will certainly be asking my awesome friend to take more pictures as I get further along so Sean and Bubu can join me in some of them! Hopefully we will get just as lucky then as we were on our scoot adventure to Beipu!

Monday, January 9, 2017

a life update, the winter edition

Um, hi. 
It's been a while. 

Time sure is flying by because we are on a few countdowns: countdown to our 25 day winter break (1 week away), countdown to the beginning of my maternity leave in mid-April (14 weeks away), and countdown to Baby B's arrival in mid-May (18 weeks away).

Life has just grabbed a hold of us, and we are along for the ride:

school & work & looking ahead 
We are both having good years with our kids. I am really enjoying all of my classes, which is a real treat. Usually each year, there is one class that is just tough for one reason or another. Not this year. The kids are good and my curriculum is smoothed out. 

We recently signed contracts for two more years. We both doubt we will leave after then though. We are in a really sweet spot right now. We pull home nearly $7,000 USD a month after taxes, and our cost of living can easily be less than $500 if we choose for it to be. That doesn't even account for our October or February bonuses, which together amount to 2.5 extra paychecks each. I know it seems weird to write about our income, but I've always believed in the power of proclaiming your goals to the whole world. It makes it more real, and I find myself more accountable when I am not only telling myself that this is what I will do. 

While we do not think it is wise for us to continue along this path long term, we want something to show for ourselves besides good memories and a passport full of stamps before we leave Taiwan. We came up with an arbitrary savings goal: $500,000 USD. We believe that in 5-7 years, we can accomplish this goal. Then, we will be ready to hang up our teaching hats and contemplate what's around the corner. 

There are a few things we do know though.

We do not want the American Dream: big house, car, big screen TV, etc. 

While we may choose to live in America again, we will do so on our own terms. Perhaps a tiny home. Perhaps being our own bosses. 

That said, neither of us really relish the idea of living in America again. After some outside perspective, it's easy to identify America for the circus it is. Healthcare? Gun control? Donald Trump?

No thanks. 

We are going to get our permanent residencies here in Taiwan, which will allow us to live here regardless of work. Our $500,000 could last us a lifetime here in Taiwan. So maybe we will stay here for a while. Or maybe we will move to Portugal. Or Thailand. Or Costa Rica. Or all of those places or none of those places. 

We definitely have a lot of thinking to do.

baby b
I am now almost 22 weeks pregnant, and so far all is well. At 20 weeks, I had my anatomy scan ultrasound, and Baby B and I are both healthy and happy. Baby B is a little girl, and we have decided to name her Ruby. We still cannot decide on a middle name. I kinda want it to start with A though, so she can have the initials R.A.B., like Sirius's brother in Harry Potter. Regulus was kinda awesome in the end.

We have done some shopping and have acquired a crib, changing table, and 10 newborn outfits. We also realize how inept we are and that we have a lot of learning to do in the next 18 weeks.

I also bought 15 boxes of macaroni and cheese online and am having them shipped to Taiwan because pregnant women need mac & cheese.

Thankfully, my mother is coming out in early May and staying for 10 weeks. Thank god for mothers like mine!

winter break
I have never been more excited for break, not even when we were headed to New Zealand for a month-long road trip or to Thailand for a one month hop around the country.

Why am I so excited?
I cannot wait to rest!

This past quarter at school has been so hard. I am tired all of the time and achy. All I want to do is sit on my couch with my dog. Luckily, we will have 25 days to do just that.

We decided not to go to Japan. We were both kinda ambivalent about it. Sean wanted to go to Thailand or Vietnam, but both countries have had cases of Zika. I wanted to go to Iceland or New Zealand, but both of those places would cost a pretty penny. While ultimately Sean was okay with it, I kinda wondered whether I would just sleep most of the time in the camper van. We decided on Japan purely because it was close and Zikaless.

Now that we have a real, tangible savings goal, we are less inclined to go somewhere just to go somewhere. Been there, done that. This blog is a testament to that. Instead of going to Japan, we will be hanging in Taiwan and setting money aside every month for our big trip to Iceland in 2018.

That is more than good enough for me.

... is perfect, and I am so in love with him. I am not ashamed to admit it. I love my dog, and I am pretty sure he is the best friend I have ever had.

To get away with these proclamations, I assure Sean I mean girl friend. Yes, I consider my dog to be my best girl friend-- even though he is a boy.


Bubu has finally figured out how to do all of his pottying outside, and he is even starting to kinda act like a normal dog. Kinda. He almost barked at a dog that was barking at him today on our walk. Almost.

That's progress guys.

To summarize:
exhaustion-ruby-bubu-mac & cheese
This is my life. 

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