Sunday, January 28, 2018

Repat Firsts: Year of the... CNY in NYC.

Well, it's a little over 4 months that I've been here now. It's currently almost 6am on Sunday and I am wide awake, coffee in hand... er... on desk. I'm getting good sleep and feel generally "well" here ( no flu for me).

Again, some days it feels like I've been here a year already. Being in Taiwan doesn't quite feel like it was "just yesterday" anymore but I'm still shocked to (still be) here at times. My most recent shock was the random, out of the blue realization just the other day that I'll be HERE for Chinese New Year this year (????!!!) That's bizarre to me. Even when I was home for those 6 months between my first year and second year in Taiwan, it wasn't during Chinese New Year.

It's not exactly a holiday that I've celebrated since birth, but it has become one that I HAVE celebrated regularly for the past 6 years in China and Taiwan ( specifically Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Monkey and Rooster years if we're talking about the animals) and one that I enjoy celebrating. Lucky candy!..... Red envelopes!.....Overpriced plane tickets to somewhere that's typically not THAT far away!..... A paid week long holiday!..... cleaning the house to rid it of "bad energy" from the past year!....... Lots of bright festive red color everywhere!

I have to celebrate here this year and who knows? Maybe I'll feel that need every year from now on. And that's OK. It's not in a sad, "homesick" for Taiwan way. Rather I feel like it's helpful in connecting and keeping Taiwan close. It's become a part of me. I'm happy that NYC has such a vibrant Chinese and Taiwanese community and that there are some things going on to mark the "Spring Festival" that is soon to be upon us.

I will also be buying some dumpling skins and filling and making some jiaozi/shuijiao. I still have lots of Taiwan money (meaning coins... NOT millions of TWD lol)  and I'll even be putting some 10nt coins in three or four of the dumplings that I make to give out to various family and friends here .... SO be very careful when you bite into your dumpling. Legend has it that if you get a dumpling with the coin you will have the best luck this coming year. :)

Here are a few links for the CNY Parade and Festival on Sunday February 25th (admission is FREE) if you're in NYC and want to join me. I'll probably send out a FB invite in a week or so to get a group together. kuai lai!

This is not actually what I planned on writing about when I woke up here but I guess my excitement for CNY got me carried away a bit. It's good to have something positive to carry you away I guess. I was planning to write more about the struggles of settling in here (along with the joys and benefits of connecting with old friends, regular exercise, and therapy). But I'll leave that for another day.

Some final good news here:  I've put down another nail in the..... homestead? I just recently got a job here in New York. I'm working as a case manager for students with developmental disabilities at the Heartshare School. My clients range in age from 3-20 yrs old. The Heartshare organization has been around for a long time - it initially started out way back in 1915 as Catholic Charities ( and, looking at the 2018 paid holidays sheet that HR sent out- we STILL get "Good Friday" off) working with Adoption and Foster Care services and then expanded to cover special needs children and adults. They're ALSO co-sponsors for the TD Bank "5 Borough Bike Tour" coming up in May.So, look out for more info on that! Jaiyou! :)  It's a good start I think. The people are wonderful and I have the option of  going on for my Masters in Special Education and teaching at the school if I want to go back into the teaching arena and they'll even pay for a certain percentage of my grad school coursework. So, lots to think about. One step at a time. Trying to still settle in and enjoy the quiet. I'm trying to ride the waves and settle in rather than use distractions ( too much drinking or just too much socializing) to "carry me away". I'm trying to "be here" and I think  I've been a good mix of a recluse/hermit and a social person since being back. So.... onward.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Re-patriation.. but, like... for "RE-al" ?

I'm sitting here thinking how when that woman, my seat-partner on my Korean Air flight from Seoul to NY had said all exasperated  "I think they were waiting for YOU.",

I replied... "They shouldn't have waited."

That little bit of mutual agreement was helpful because it shut down any further argument on the matter. No reason to keep asking "how?" or "why?" because we were both mutually just as shocked.

I absolutely agreed with her. I was JUST as baffled, bewildered, stunned, amazed, sure that I should NOT have been on that flight- having been 15 minutes late.

So, it's been A MONTH back here now. I'm clear-headed enough to realize at this point that this move just might be a little longer than a "holiday" and that.... that's really ok. It feels good. I feel at this point, it really was the right decision.

But just as Taiwan wasn't just all "mangos! shaved ice! beaches! beautiful temples! dumplings! nightmarket fun!" New York isn't just .... "Pumpkin pie! Apple picking! Fresh cider! Christmas songs on the radio! All the kinds of breakfast cereal you could ever want! A million tv channels! Kohl's!"...

The not so pretty underbelly of  "life stuff" showed itself in Taiwan at times as my four years went on there - bills, work, arguments, tears, boredom, etc. on random days and being home, I know that will be the case here too. It becomes "regular life" at either end at some point. The trick is to make your own adventures wherever you land but even when you do, "wherever you go.... there you are". 2016-2017 was a rough year mentally/physically for me personally and I feel like it's slowly.... getting better but in "fits and starts". Two steps forward for every one back I'd say.      

As far as reverse culture shock, there's definitely been some things here. Even just on the plane coming here- the sound of tinkling china, metal utensils, and clinking glasses in Prestige Class- it was so different. It was different than any sound that the plastic cups and containers would make in Economy class. Most of the "shock" has been pleasant.... some things a little more crazy than others but to start...

1.) the sound of birds chirping in the morning
2.) the sound of a lawn mower mowing the grass
3.) the smell of freshly mowed grass
4.) the sound of crickets at night
( you can tell my parents don't live in the city)

5.) the sight and sound of an "ice cream truck!" ( usually it's the garbage trucks that make music in Taiwan)

6.) the sight of an old guy at "Planet Fitness" wearing a "Thank God For Fox News" t-shirt.
(Ohhh Lord.... I'm suddenly REALLY missing all of those Chinglish shirts in Taiwan)

7.) calling my cousin on my cell phone and not thinking about the time difference, no need to do the math in my head.

8.) Hearing my mom say things like "Bear to the right" (meaning "lean over to") when driving (me thinking: "Where's the bear???") and  "I'll leave the door ajar" and also thinking that's funny/strange leaving it... a jar? Wasn't it just a door a minute ago?

9.) Hearing old ladies talking about "needing to find a bra that fits" while waiting to go into Kohl's - ohhhh the hilarity and awkwardness of understanding everything that you hear, here. lol.

10.) People holding the door open for you going into a store-- even when you are "SO far" - at least a good minute or so- away and you kind of smile and awkwardly run so that they're not standing there holding it for you too long.

11.) Fellow drivers who flash their lights at you while you're driving to let you know there's a cop parked up ahead and to maybe slow down a bit ( SO appreciated, I really did forget about that. I LOVE you people!).

12.)  The sight of diet ads on tv. Americans are too obsessed with diets. In Taiwan people don't diet. People may say (mothers or old aunties and grandmothers might tell you directly)  "You're so fat, She's so fat, I'm so fat, He's so fat...etc." but then they will go hiking or biking or go to the gym. No diets. Drink LOTS of water, maybe drink a special tea but then... yeah, just eat whatever you want ( portions are smaller too) and workout.

13.) Random acts of kindness. New Yorkers (statewide)  MAY be busy- but they ARE kind. Some examples I've seen this past month alone include- one guy giving me a free "day pass" to use the gym at Planet Fitness my first day there when I didn't have my bank router number and couldn't sign up officially as a member yet. They guy was like "promise you'll sign up?..." and just let me in. No questions. Then, this past week, a woman, at the bus stop in Queens when I was on my way to LaGuardia for my trip to Chicago, grabs my wrist and asks in a soft but strong Irish brough "Are you lost?" and then goes on to tell me how I can get a free pass to ride the bus to the airport without using my metrocard. And then, just today, driving home from the train station at New Hamburg - a guy (who LOOKED like DJ Khaled and who we could hear.... or more appropriately FEEL coming up behind us because he was blasting the bass on his radio/cd player listening to music) pulled up next to my mother's car. I rolled down the window and he motioned and said "your jacket" - seeing it sticking outside of the door. And then zoomed off in front of us, that bass bouncing him along on his way.

I've been holding onto money fairly well and taking my time with little trips into NYC. The biggest expense I put money toward was for a trip to Chicago this past weekend. (more about that in the next post). I'm JUST starting to put out my resume and went on my first school interview today.I will hear back from the first school that I just interviewed at in a week. In the meantime I've decided to spend time each day writing. At least a good 3 hours. I have an idea for a fictional book that I'd like to get off the ground and so, while "waiting" for this school, I'm going to distract myself/be productive with that. Writing a little each day- creating scenarios and characters, etc.

My "predictable routine" here for the past month has typically included a regular diet of - gym, church, Yankees ( before they LOST to the Astros ahhhh) and "catching up" with the Kardashians (hey, don't judge- we all have our vices. Whew, talk about culture shock though!)

Tomorrow is Halloween. My first official holiday here since being back. I'M not getting dressed up but MINK is. She will be a "Meow-igator"/Alligator.... for as long as she lets me keep her in her costume - so most likely, for 10 minutes. :)

So that's it up to this point, for now. Healing. Taking quiet time. Enjoying the little things. Prioritizing.

As one late, great Brooklynite once said "It's all good baby, baayyyyybe." 
and if ya don't know, now ya know. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Fight or Flight?"

It's a little bizarre to think that I have been back in the US for two weeks now officially. At this point... it could still be a "vacation", it could still be a "holiday" here. The last time I was home was for two weeks over Christmas. My last few visits since 2015 have been 2 week jaunts- never anything as long as a month. A few weddings, a Christmas, etc. This time is different because I have "no reason" to be here. So in a way it's nice because it gives me more time to "unpack" - everything- my thoughts/feelings about being here as well as literally. The one thing I've noticed is that it took me longer to get over jet lag this time - two weeks instead of one. My body just didn't want to give up being on "Taiwan time" I guess. Yesterday I finally had a pretty normal sleep and began to feel settled.

Intent on keeping "my wings" despite moving back here and claiming to want to "put down roots". I'm not done with travelling. Barely one week after being here I had already booked a flight to Chicago for a conference there with "The Reformation Project", next month for 4 days.  I'm excited for this. Happy to get back to Chicago after-- 11 years? The last time I was there was in... 2006-2007? for an improv workshop with The Annoyance Theater. Mick Napier gave me his box seats to Second City and I saw "Between Barack And A Hard Place". SO long ago... great city, great people - so warm, despite being SO cold ( it was winter- around February)  I have another Taiwanese American Christian friend who I met in Taiwan who was there filming her documentary "Huandao" at the time and is back now and will be doing the music for the Reformation conference in Chicago.

It feels.... comfortable, familiar being back, but again... a little strange and scary, knowing that it's "for good" or at least for longer than a "holiday" or " family wedding". It feels like a new chapter and I' m groping around in the dark for my pen to start writing it.

There are SO many little reverse culture shock bits that I'd love to share already after two weeks here but I feel like NONE of that can be shared before talking about how I almost MISSED my flight back here from Seoul, South Korea to JFK. I was 15 minutes late boarding my flight. The plane should have left 15 minutes BEFORE I boarded..... but it didn't They waited for me. I still have NO IDEA why. I am just SO embarrassed and indebted to Korean Air for being so wonderful. Recalling it, I still shake my head and want to either just fall on a sword or crawl down into my seat and die.  I was literally on "Taiwan time" when I shouldn't have been.

Ok so, I had booked my ( and Mink's) flight from Taipei to JFK with Korean Airlines. I trust them. They were the first airline that I used going from the US to China back in 2011. They are clean, have good food and drink, comfortable, reliable. Nothing not to like. I could have booked a direct flight with EVA Air or China Airlines ( both Taiwanese airlines) but I honestly get a little restless and like being able to get up and out and walk around and check out airport magazines and stretch my legs. So, I did. I booked with Korean Air Taipei to Seoul and then a 2 hour layover before my second flight from Seoul/South Korea to JFK/New York.

This was ALSO my first time booking a Business Class flight. I wanted a little bit of a "celebration". After 5 years in Asia sleeping on a hard bunk on a 20 hr train ride from Beijing to Foshan, sleeping in wet clothes next to a river in Wulai in Taiwan, and inside a tent on top of a volcano in Bali....with Amy and then two strange men in an adjoining tent etc... I figured it would be nice to make this homecoming a little more comfortable. :) Little did I know how awkward and uncomfortable it would be.....for a good 2 hours of the 13 or so, anyway.

OK so long story short, I packed up everything on Wednesday Sept 20th, gave my keys to my landlady- she cried and we hugged and then I cried...
Her: "I'm sorry my English not so good but I hope you liked living here...."
Me: "Of course, I wouldn't have stayed if I didn't..." ( as the tears started coming..)

She invited me to stay at her house when I come back to visit and we exchanged FB information and so, we're connected now for good. She and her husband called me a cab and I made it to Taoyuan Airport with Mink with no problems. I checked in at the Korean Air desk, gave them all of Mink's paperwork. Still feeling a little unsure - hoping everything was right. Because the combined weight of Mink and the carrier was so much, she could not ride in the cabin with me and had to be put in Cargo. I watched her being cleared into cargo, said a prayer that she would be SAFE and alive to "meet me on the other side" and then I was free to go. I really didn't go too far in Taoyuan Airport because I knew my boarding time would be coming soon and wanted to settle into my seat. I had actually been in Business class once before- on a China Airlines flight from Hong Kong back to Taipei. I wasn't scheduled to be but I think the flight back then must have been kind of empty so they converted some of the Economy Class tickets to Business class. I remember lots of leg room and being able to  push my seat wayyy back.

On this flight, we arrived in Seoul/Incheon Airport after about 3 hours ( two hours with the time difference between Korea and Taiwan). I wasn't supposed to meet up with Mink until New York, so I was free to roam around for the next two hours.... and indeed I did. I went to the KAL Lounge ( there are two in the Incheon Airport - one for First Class and one for Prestige (Business) Class passengers.) I showed them my ticket and went into the Prestige KAL lounge. It all seemed normal enough - lots of leather seats and some tables, different food stations with plates of hot and cold foods, some hard spirits, juices, water, and wines. I got a plate of cold vegetables and cheese and crackers and a glass of red wine and sat down to... do what everyone else was doing-- log into the WiFi.

I connected with my childhood BFF's mom on FB messenger, played a round on "Words With Friends" -at this point it was about 6:44AM NY time and 6:44PM Taiwan well as 6:44PM in Seoul --at least according to my old Samsung Galaxy note phone that I was using because my iphone had died...

BUT it was actually 7:44PM in Seoul. I was supposed to have boarded my flight at 7PM (Seoul time). My flight was supposed to have left at.... 7:30PM.  I had no idea of this at the time in the lounge and casually closed my phone, put down my plate and glass and left the lounge to walk to my gate.....

While walking there- passport in hand with boarding pass sticking out of it - I ran into a Korean Air stewardess walking in the opposite direction - toward me. She caught a glimpse of my ticket stub with "Korean Air Flight KE-85" sticking out of it, grabbed a hold of my passport, motioned to the clock and I realized that it was actually almost 8PM in Seoul... NOT 7PM. She quickly got on her walkie-talkie and started talking REALLLLY fast and frantic and loud in Korean. She turned around to the way that I was headed, started to run and motioned me to follow her.

We RAN. I had wanted to get in a second day of running that week before I left Taipei-- but NOT like this. She in her dressy black flats, me in my black flip flops. We ran through the airport like Kevin McAllister's family in Home Alone - for what felt like a good 5 minutes straight at least. 'WHERE is this gate?" I thought....  "They should have left.... I am SO sorry"... all these thoughts going on while running. Finally we get to the gate, both slightly out of breath and I mutter "I'm SO sorry... my phone..." but she just motions for me to get on the plane.

I feel like even more of a hobo walking into Business Class late now with my frazzled hair, comfortable grey capri sweatpants, t-shirt, hooded sweat jacket, and flip flops while my seat neighbor has her diamond rings ( plural) on and nice black flats. People are standing around and sitting - drinking, talking, etc. There's no time to sink into my seat and attempt to "blend in" because the woman next to me is WELL AWARE --- that it's my fault that we're still sitting here. I put my carry on in the above storage bin and sit and ask out loud "What did he say?"... as the captain said something over the loudspeaker.

The woman ( who was in her early 50's I'm guessing with her well-manicured gel nails, nicely coiffed brown hair, and who could have been a Real Housewife of New York or New Jersey...) replied "We're finally about to leave .... I think they were looking for YOU ... and now I'm gonna miss my connecting flight (sucks teeth)."

Fuck. Why couldn't I have been seated next to one of the smattering of nice Korean grandmas in Business Class that evening? This Real Housewife is PISSED ... and we are seat neighbors for the next 13 hours and I'm fairly certain she's gonna call her posse in NYC to jump me once we land. I had wanted to go check out the "Sky Bar" in the back of the upper level of the plane where we were seated (which was all Prestige Class seats)- which was open to First and Business class, but NOW... all I wanted to do was either fall on a sword or sink into my seat. "WHY did they wait for me?"... "WHO am I?" I thought to myself. I'm fairly certain, looking at me, my RHW seat neighbor was asking herself the same questions. I could tell early on that this wasn't her first rodeo as far as riding in Business Class- she was a regular. I knew because of the way she moved-  she knew where to put her shoes - in the "shoe bag" that had the slippers inside. Me? Clueless. I stayed in my own comfy flip flops for the rest of the flight. Later in the flight I glanced at her laptop while she was typing on some formal document format and saw "Samsung- Talent Profile" and that confirmed it for me. Clearly, I was the "Jack Dawson" on this "Titanic" trip and she was.... Rose's mother.

As time went on, she drank champagne, typed on her phone, and watched the sky map. I... didn't dare move out of my seat despite the AMAZING amount of legroom, drank three glasses of white wine, watched the sky map, and listened to music. Dinner was served. I had the bibimbap. The cabin crew was incredibly KIND and it was SUCH GOOD service ... despite my being late. Seriously- I will take Korean Air to and from Asia on every trip FOREVER if they would let me on again. I put the HUGE headphones on and listened to the "Pop Music" station... Whitney's "Greatest Love of All" and Destiny's Child "Say My Name"... being two of the songs I recall.

I couldn't recognize any more than TWO of the 12 or so "Movies" in the English section of the movies being offered (blame it on me- being stuck in Taiwan and not up on new American movies that are not "action films" a la "Iron Man") and so resorted to just listening to music and hoping the wine kicked in soon. My RHW seat partner put her "eye mask?" (what's it called...English words are failing me- I just remembered the term for her nails "gel manicure" this morning). Anyway, you know that "blindfold" thing so you can't see when you sleep.....? she put that on and was softly snoring. "GOOD" I thought, "She's a deep sleeper so.... at least I can't snore or talk in my sleep and unconsciously annoy her anymore than she has been.."

The rest of the flight was merciful-heaven- I slept SO well. You could have made your seat go all the way back flat in Business Class but I preferred the kind of "lazy-boy chair" style with feet up and back just back slightly. While my seatmate was sleeping I DID get up to go to the bathroom and walked to the front bar of Prestige Class- it was a "self service" bar. There was cranberry juice, orange juice, fruits and nuts and a huge unopened bottle of Absolute Vodka. I didn't make myself anything though, feeling buzzed enough and ready to sleep. I'm pretty sure the captain made up the flight time in the air that we missed by my being 15 minutes late. In the morning there was a little "turbulance" as far as my seatmate's frustration with getting to her next destination on time- she was on the phone with her husband? (I'm guessing-talking about a kid) when we landed. AND I was relieved to see that she didn't have time to jump me with her posse because she was off and running to her next flight. To "save face" I ALSO got on my phone while we were pulling in and pretended to talk with... someone. Saying how my flight from Taipei was delayed and this flight waited for me. "Yeah... so crazy... I don't know why????" That seemed to buffer it a bit- made the blow a little less humiliating.  

But--- Still. The lesson here is:
When you travel:  (even if you are an early person)
ALSO :  I LOVE YOU KOREAN AIR !!!! <3 <3  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ready to REpat.

Where do I (re) start?..... it's been challenging. more and more lately.
Trip home in April 2015 for Joy's Wedding
Trip to the US September 2015 for Greg (my brother's) wedding about a year ago now exactly.

2015 in (the US AND Taiwan) in general was great.
trip with good friends  to Taichung to the "Rainbow Village" for the 4th of July here
beach day trip (again w/ awesome friends)  to Fulong on  September 12th, 2015
Amazingly warm (and hearty and delicious) Thanksgiving dinner at James n Monica's apartment here
A few fun nights at KTV.....

But something changed going into 2016. (little did we know - maybe the lack of "wooooooos! yeah!"  enthusiasm/passion/noise at NYE at Taipei 101 should have been an indication). I've heard from some of my older Taiwanese students that, as far as the Chinese zodiac/the Chinese New Year Animal Year, rather than bringing you "GOOD" luck, your animal year is typically supposed to be more challenging for the person who was born under that sign. 2016 is The Year of the Monkey. I am a Monkey (1980 was also a Monkey Year). So....I'm gonna just blame it on that. I mean, in general life is good. Believe me, I count my blessings.....but I can't ignore/get past this restlessness?heartache?hunger?homesickness?.....that's become more of a staple in, if not everyday, at least 3 times a week.
That daily "heavy" feeling has come back. The same feeling that was here when I first arrived in Taiwan. At that time I blamed it on the heaviness of the May heat and jet lag. Just a real "body tiredness". I still workout 3-4 days a week regularly.. I rarely get sick. I sleep pretty normally.......yet I still feel tired. It's more like my spirit has split from my limbs. It "left" ....and a body without a spirit the Christian/Spiritual sense at least, .dead, right? I go through my work day until around 5:30, I tutor on Mondays and Tuesday nights,, I occasionally go to my LGBT meetup Tuesday after tutoring, have Church Community Group on Thursday nights now and then the sleep,  read, meet up w/friends, coffee, workout....and the cycle starts again. I don't mind routine but I want to "plant myself, water my roots, and grow". I'm tired of being an expat. I want to be a REpat.

I felt so ALIVE in the US these past two times. It was the perfect mix of autonomy (aka not relying solely on my parents as far as places to stay and transportation- road tripping with Cheri down to Maryland for Joy's wedding, etc.) and connectedness. I felt energized and light and connected and happy. I have felt these things in Taiwan too--but more and more I have to point it out- the specific situations- to myself and remind myself to be grateful and relish it. They are fewer and far between. I still want to travel- I'm still hungry to "move around and explore" and BE scared and excited and a little lost new places. I want to road trip to California and Tennessee and Texas to visit friends that I met in Taiwan who have since moved back there.

I miss my family. It's been almost 6yrs. I've missed two little cousins being born. I missed my Uncle Stuart's 80th birthday. I've missed one whole term of President Obama in office. I want to nest and I want to cherish the time I have with my parents and older relatives more and more because....God only knows. I'm not the person who would live abroad forever. Even when I was so naive....with Lisa in China (5 yrs ago- wow) I didn't think that I would settle in China, I expected HER to move back to the US. Most of my family still live in New York. Even after checking out places in Tennessee and the Carolina's and Arizona, (or you'd think somewhere cheaper, near my brother and his wife in Minnesota) my parents didn't feel any of those places were for them and are looking to move somewhere in NY when they sell the townhouse and scale down to more "senior living". New York is home and it's time to head back there.

Since I last posted here I've had some beautiful eye-opening trips to Vietnam and Bali.
 "My kids" that I taught for 2.5 yrs  have graduated from kindy and are now 1st graders.
I've seen AMY again!- since her April 2015 to NY- we met up in Bali in July 2016.
My laptop BROKE/BURNED OUT .....I still haven't bought a new one- with money going in other directions- so yes, I am blogging from my iPhone right now.
I've been researching/reading/connecting with more LGBT Christians and rooting myself in my Christian faith more- rather than running away- as frustrating as that can be at times as a Christian who also happens to be gay - learning to lean on/ground myself in Christ and all that he is and has done already, all that he has completed for me- and the work I see being done in my life- rather than the opinions, or judgements of others. There is SO much that I am excited about regarding this.....but it waits in the US. Nothing I can do here.
What else? Live music--been looking for more and more of that here with friends as that feeds my soul and keeps me happy/grounded in the here and now. Going on a road trip to Taichung next weekend with some friends....looking forward to that.

I am trying to be patient with myself and with God. I am happy that I'm starting to slowly save up a good chunk of money for when I move home. (Though honesty I'm going to spend $2,000 of that on a Business Class flight-- treating myself for at least one flight in my life-  (after flying ONLY Economy flights and one 20HR TRAIN ride from Beijing to Foshan my first year in China), I want to go home on that 13 HR direct flight in comfort, style, and with a fully reclining seat/bed. So....that will take a little more saving effort. But I hope to book it soon (by December). ("Moving Home" offical date currently TBD but I'm thinking late May)

I WOULD post pics here from Rainbow Village and the beach and T'giving....but for some reason I can't access them (and they are ON this phone). So I'll have to try to email them to myself and get them here another way. I am so grateful for all the people who have crossed my path here, the friends I've made, the challenges I've encountered and conquered, the pleasures and the's ALL worked and it's not that I don't wish I came here (I DO--how else would I have met and loved so many beautiful souls/friends/newfound brothers and sisters here?) is time. It's become harder to tell my mind, like a wandering child, to "get back here!" "Hold my hand!" "Stay with your body!" . But I am trying and I am so grateful for everything.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dealing with the "Expat Exodus"...over and over.

**SIDENOTE-- I wrote this entry a few weeks ago, back in June. Between finishing up my older kids classes, exam grading, report submitting, etc. AND starting Summer Camp with my younger kids, it's been a really BUSY few weeks.  I'm SO grateful that it's over. I've been meaning to post this for awhile. My friend Chris from AIT has left since I wrote this -- we had a nice dinner/drinks night out at this great speakeasy-type spot and he's on his way. But I've enjoyed seeing his posts on FB since leaving Taiwan and I think, like I said below here, there's a comfort in that. Remaining connected with expat friends via FB. To know that you're all still.... "out in the world" exploring, stumbling over new bizarre things, revisiting culture-shock in new places, finding your way, etc. Dragon Boat Weekend has come and gone, 4th of July weekend was this past weekend.... so lots more to update on. But I wanted to get this out before any more time escaped from under my fingers.  Here I talk about the pain/fear anxiety that long-term expats may feel going through the "Expat Exodus" - watching people leave. I think, I thought, after awhile I would become "immune" to it, but when you develop relationships and make amazing, fun, wonderful memories-- it's so hard to think of pulling yourself away from those people. Maybe, if you're lucky you won't ever have to... but that's not commonly the case. For me right now I feel torn between wanting to TRAVEL more - to see other countries in Asia, Guatemala, Amsterdam, and possibly Africa - Tanzania- hiking Kilimanjaro- and NESTING - getting some retirement planning/social security, setting down ROOTS in a real home base where I can live and work with a salary that takes money out for retirement. I used to have a job like that, but for the past 3 years... I haven't. Teaching in Taiwan here- I don't get retirement benefits. And at this point.... that's juuuust starting to worry me. I know that I want to nest/take root in New York. But... not yet. So, that's the frustration because, as much as I love and have loved my time in Taiwan, I know that I don't want to settle here... and so, I think there's this anxiety/frustration building in me because it already feels like I've been here for so long. I've just completed my 3rd year. That makes 4 yrs in Asia in total.

ANYWAY, here's what I wrote back in June. Enjoy. Also, here is a pic from Dragon Boat Festival - with Sar after her race. To prove that the weekend has already come and gone!
a gorgeous day to be down by the river for Dragon Boat Racing! Getting into the spirit! 加油 Hess Team!

Happy Dragon Boat Festival weekend! 端午節快樂!
For those of us teachers who still work a 5 day work-week over the summer, a long holiday weekend is a nice reprieve from the regular schedule.  Dragon Boat Festival is one of my two favorite holidays in Asia - along with "Mid-Autumn Festival" aka "Moon Festival". Dragon Boat Festival brings a chance to go down to the river, watch the international competition of dragon boat races, eat zongzi, and 9 times out of 1O you know you'll be guaranteed a sunny day to boot because it is SO HOT.  If you were wondering about the historical legend behind Dragon Boat Festival, here it is -- basically the legend surrounds a poet, Qu Yuan, who was also a member of the King's royal court. He was accused of treason and committed suicide by drowning himself in a river in Hunan Province, China. Qu was loved so much by the local people that they raced out in their boats to save him, or at least rescue/preserve his body. They threw "zongzi" - sticky rice balls into the river so the fish would eat them instead of his body.
zongzi - wrapped up in bamboo leaves

zongzi- unwrapped. This one filled with sticky rice, beef, duck egg, green onion

This time of year - May- my birthday month, and June- can often seem like the best and worst of times teaching and living abroad here. In Taiwan, May is considered to be "SPRING" just like in the US, but in the US we learn "April Showers Bring May Flowers". In Southeast Asia the saying might as well be" "April Showers Bring More Showers Followed By May Monsoons..." It's not really a "pretty spring" like we get back home in New York. It doesn't feel like the "flower buds" are coming out on the trees. It's not a "beach weekend - Memorial Day weekend" sunny weather type-feel either. It's kind of a "purgatory" of sorts -- you spend most of the time hiding out avoiding drowning and waiting for the drier weather. May also brings the end of the school semester- which can be stressful- preparing for graduation, writing final class reports, practicing songs and dances for the "Graduation Show". BUT the silver lining is visible -- once graduation is over- JUNE is right around the corner and you can feel summer camp/time off/an easier schedule in general - is coming soon.

June here- is HOT. a little rainy, but mostly HOT. By this point you can tell it is definitely summer. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow regarding June is that June is ALSO - lychee and mango month. Mango ice. Mango smoothies. Beautiful sweet lychees. Dragon Fruit. Summer fruits are out and being sold in abundance -whether off the back of a migrant farmer's truck or in your local Jason's or Wellcome. Endless big, fat, "bouquets" of lychees and fresh, sweet mangos along with dragon fruit, papaya, etc. etc...
A "Double Stuffed" Lychee

Look at those FAT lychees. The beautiful, bountiful wares of a migrant farmer and his fruit truck in my neighborhood.

found my first set of "conjoined twins" lychee fruit!

More and more I'm noticing that the end of April to the end of May brings me some anxiety. This year in particular I almost felt like.... I lost a month or two. Almost like I literally disappeared, I mentally "checked out" because I was so lost in thought and consumed by potentially losing another good friend here. It's a sort of limbo where I have no control of what the outcome will be and I'm just waiting and ...bracing myself.

This = me- during April and May here. Not as much blue sticky tac around my neck but... pretty much. 

I'm talking about the "Expat Exodus". I'm learning- if you're me: there are always tears - usually in the quiet- alone... and prayers. Sometimes unexpected tears may come on your birthday, if you happen to be meeting with your community group that night and are going around doing a group prayer for different things. The saving grace may be that it is a smaller group that night, not everyone is there. But still those tears.. come. Bend you over. Faster than you can keep them in while, embarrassed, not meaning to make a scene, not knowing that this would happen, you try to muffle your voice- bring your mouth to your knees. But what follows may be the consolation of a hand rubbing your back and whispering prayers and another hand holding your hand and praying and the realization that.... these friends are SO GOOD and SO LOVE you and know EXACTLY WHAT you're feeling. They're - two long term- Taiwanese-American and Texan/"Army Brat Germany-raised"-American- expats too. Here because of marriage and family/work and most likely here for the "long term". They have seen people come and go and come and go .... and have cried the same tears. Again, maybe not in this way, maybe not so publicly at 8pm on a Wednesday night in Neihu, but they HAVE been there. If this kind of DEEP MOURNING is the flip side of the PURE JOY coin of connecting with people, that night I desperately wanted someone to toss that coin again and see where it landed. With their prayers and love, I was blessed with.... pure joy. That night, that suffering and all of the little day to day short term sufferings that, as an expat, anyone may feel, is NO match to the long term love and joy that I feel to be surrounded and loved and accepted by such amazing friends here.

So blessed to have these ladies in my life here. <3

Around May is when most teachers decide what they will do for the next year because a lot of teachers here get hired/leave in August and so, by May they are making decisions. I got hired in December, so my schedule is a little different, but still, I know for myself that I am staying in Taiwan through December 2O16.   But I knew for a fact that two of my good guy friends- Chris and Alex will be leaving. CHRIS works for AIT- the American Embassy in Taiwan, and he will be moving to Azerbaijan- I think I've got that right- I was calling it "Ahmadinejad" like that Iranian dictator/president for the longest time!- to work at their embassy next. Chris has hosted Thanksgiving dinner for a big group of his friends at his - amazing, huge, lovely AIT provided- apartment here in Taipei for the past two years. There's eating, drinking, a variety of boardgames and mahjong. He is nothing less than open, kind, hospitable, and really happy to have people over and host. Plus, he's got great timing/wit- he's funny. So it will be really sad to see him go. BUT there is Facebook and potential future adventure trips to Azerbaijian to look forward to. ALEX is another great guy friend here- he's from Philly/Southern New Jersey and so we've got that "East Coast" connection. He went on the Chinese New Year bike trip with me and Sar and Sar's friend Julia this past year and he's just an all around great guy - down for anything - indoor rock climbing, KTV, checking out bands at a livehouse here. He's going to Beijing for a year and then to London doing a Master's Degree - one yr in each country. He's going to China first. He's never been to China .... so it will be interesting and fun for me to see his reactions/culture shock on FB. Ha. :D I'm thinking of doing a trip to Chengdu/Sichuan for CNY next Feb ... so maybe I'll meet up with him then? But either way, I know that there is the potential for future adventures and the consolation of FB connections. Alex is awesome... and he also has a great sense of humor- very necessary to survive in Beijing I think. So, see? He's off to a good start. He's got an advantage when all those elbows come at him in the Beijing subway! Ha. Thank God for wit and swift reaction time!

Two people, to me, seems like a lot to lose in one year already. Last year, I lost Amy- only one really good friend. But still, one TOO many in my book. So.... when I heard that this year it might be moving from two up to THREE people leaving this summer- when I heard that Sar - (a fellow New York/New Jersey snarky, witty, awesome soul who like me lived in China before coming to Taiwan and who I am SO grateful to have in my life here and who I've made SO many memories with here already) was debating on leaving too - whether to go back to her "first love" - Beijing for another year. My mind began racing and my heart sank - like a really heavy dragon boat. Loaded with people. Too much information. I unexpectedly fell into the river. I was throwing my "zongzi" in the water at the fish but I was still being eaten up by.... worry about being left behind, etc.

found a "good luck" gecko in my apartment hallway. Things must be looking up. :)  I love these guys. My bodyguards. They eat any/all the spiders and cockroaches. 

You're NOT allowed to leave until I leave. That's "the rule". For everyone.  In my head. But in reality it comes down to two things: #1.PRAYING trusting that God has a plan- knowing that you are God's as much as I am and that we all have life lessons to learn- unfortunately sometimes not in the same location, AND #2. PERSUASION/ADVERTISING - if you have a friend in limbo, not sure if they will "stay or go" and they have booked a week long trip to Beijing in late May to go and see and help them to decide-- maybe you might send them a FB message listing all of the reasons why it would be both more practical and more awesome to stay in Taiwan for another year rather than go back to Beijing? OR you might leave a subtle but still somewhat snarky comment on her/his Instagram photo taken in Tiananmen Square? about the Beijing smog you can see in the picture contrasting with the gorgeous blue skies back in Taipei happening that same day. THEN you might get smacked in the face by KARMA/GOD for your snarky comment-- because the universe/God throws a wrench in the plan - obscuring the obvious notion that no one would want to live in all of that smog- by delivering your friend a week of gorgeous BLUE skies in Beijing - perfect for biking the Great Wall and exploring Houhai Lake and the hutong neighborhoods. Fuck. - pardon my American. But seriously you think- Now what? Gorgeous skies, big historical city, memories from 3 years living there in the past, a perfectly working VPN to access FB and Instagram. Surely your friend is gonna pick Beijing over Taipei. ALSO - note that KARMA/GOD sends you and Taipei a full WEEK OF RAIN at the same time BEIJING is getting SUNSHINE.  Again, I blame it on my snark and not trusting God.  So... you brace yourself and think.. well... I guess we know where this is going. 

Growing increasingly impatient- Hating to wait until your friend gets back to hear someone else- most likely Leo, because your mouth can't get the words out and your ears can't handle to hear it, so you know it's not gonna be YOU- ask "the: question "How was Beijing? When will you LEAVE to move BACK there?" wanting but not wanting to hear her answer and at this point thinking to yourself "FINE. JUST LEAVE." 

Only to find out.... that your friend has decided to STAY in TAIPEI - Taiwan for this next year. It was a shock to me. I felt like the deck was stacked against Taiwan. But obviously God has his reasons for keeping her here and she has her own too. So, I am SO happy that we get another year to explore, laugh, make memories here etc.  Despite our connections, we're all independent souls wandering this earth and tomorrow isn't guaranteed but... God, it's sure nice to have people that you love stick around a little longer than you were expecting them too -- especially since we are BOTH New York/New Jersey people. I don't know anyone else here who knows New York the way she and I know New York - (meaning the city, the "south", not "Albany/Buffalo")... it is home. for both of us. I feel like it's so rare to find a New Yorker living/working in Asia and I'm so grateful for the gift of her presence and all the memories we've made here already. Plus, knowing that we both have the same "home" to go "home" to whenever either of us choose to....whether to visit or to live, is really cool. To put it simply. 

So now that THAT albatross has been lifted from my neck, all the comings and goings for this next year have been "decided", I am feeling so much more free and ready to enjoy the summer here. KTV night and dragon boat racing coming up this weekend, Leo's PH.D graduation ceremony next weekend, a tentative weekend group trip to Alishan soon, beach days at Baishawan in July... etc. 

Life is good. Life is SO FULL. But still, I am feeling.... a pull, as far as me, myself my time here. I know that I have another year. One. Until December 2O16.... or possibly May 2017- depending if I stay through the next graduation-- I would be back teaching an L1 class then, starting September 2016 and wouldn't have the pressure of "hosting" graduation -- teaching L3 graduate class.  I want to travel more and maybe get different types of work experience? Maybe do a stint as a sheep sheerer in New Zealand at a WWOF before heading home? who knows. I'd love to do a road trip around the US--- and I want to return to New York. At the "end of the day", I really really really really really want to return to New York. So, those are the two wants that I'm caught between- more traveling and nesting in New York. BUT I'm ready to stop living in Taiwan. I'm growing impatient with myself.... staying still here for too long. I've loved my time in Taiwan but it's a gut feeling that is really pulling me. So, see? it's really unfair for me to hold people hostage/expect them to stay for... to wait for me. I get it. It hurts to see people leave, but I get it. At the end of the day/night it all really comes down to prayer -- and persuasion. 

** So that was my May and June. I have to say, in comparison, July has been a real blessing. My older kids class is OVER - their finals taken and graded, their academic reports submitted and sent home. I get out of work between 4:30- 2 days per week and 5- 5:30 3 days per week now- as opposed to 6:30 or 7pm. So many things - Qipao Night/Leo's Graduation, 4th of July trip to Rainbow Village in Taichung, TWO KTV nights, AND  speaking of "rainbows" - Marriage Equality has happened across all states in the US after the Supreme Court ruling. Ah... I will TRY to do better at my updating.  

NEXT - OVERDUE POST is my visit HOME - in APRIL-- Joy's Wedding and meeting up with Amy! Stay tuned.  :)

Sunset from The Empire State Building. NYC.  April 2015.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

An Easter Monday Hike - conquering 茶壺山 and 扳平山

  I love these people. Thank you all for "saying yes".  Fearless. Awesome. 

It's amazing how many hours updating a blog can eat up. I don't mind, don't have anything planned until later tonight, but I definitely had to make a run back to my apartment to grab my laptop charger to finish this post up here. I'd love to get paid for this- writing. Maybe someday... 

Sitting here on a Saturday morning/afternoon in a Cama coffee shop near my apartment. It's May. The weather is turning swiftly from spring to summer here in Taipei. I've had my air conditioning on, on several different occasions now at my apartment. Shorts and flip flops are back to being the daily "uniform" of choice when heading out. No lychees in sight... yet, but mangos have begun to make an appearance at the little local markets and bigger supermarkets like Jason's. 

In one of my last blog posts, I think it was one after the Chinese New Year, I made a little list, commenting on some small goals that I wanted to accomplish over the next year.  ONE of them, my FIRST goal on the list, included more hiking- specifically Teapot Mountain and Mount Jade. I'm happy to report that, less than one month after putting that goal in writing.... I conquered Teapot Mountain! 茶壺山 "chahu shan" and it's lovely neighbor-friend Banping Mountain 扳平山 "banping shan". 

Hiking Mount Jade requires a little more prior planning than simply praying for gorgeous weather and remembering to wake up and pack water, good shoes, etc.--  specifically you have to apply for hiking permits. BUT, as one of my Taiwanese friends has said on several occasions, foreigners here have the "white magic". He meant that, if we apply for the permits for our hiking group ( that *could* include a mix of foreigners AND locals ;) ) we're more likely to get them before Taiwanese people.... because the government "thinks" that foreigners are here temporarily I guess.

So, Mount Jade- coming soon.  But that day, Easter Monday (as luck had it, it was also the "Tomb Sweeping Festival" holiday weekend here in Taiwan. So, we were off from work. Here's a pretty good, local post I found about it - from a waiguoren commenting on traveling to his girlfriend's hometown   ) Teapot Mountain was waiting for us with sunshine on her shoulders, the bluest skies bowing down to meet the bluest waters of the North Coast of Taiwan, the fluffiest clouds outlining her borders, and a mix of STAIRS ( always stairs.... lol... oh, Taiwanese mountains. I love you), ROPES to climb up, and ROCKS--those "avalanche-consistency kind of rocks" (that didn't result in an avalanche- PTL). 

Honestly, the Monday that we picked, April 6th, 2015 the Monday after Easter, we could not have had better weather. Mostly sunshine and clear skies with the faintest breeze about 80 degrees F. I am going to completely, unabashedly, shamlessly gloat here in saying that our pictures - that my friends and I took- mostly now on our Facebook profiles, my other friend who blogs hasn't posted them to her blog yet- are THE MOST gorgeous of Teapot Mountain/Banping Mountain that I've seen on the web ....yet. Neil Wade's  are the only other's that could rival ours.茶壺山/  . Most other blog posts, except for Neil's, that I've found online have complained how "foggy/cold" it was when they hiked Teapot Mountain. But we didn't find ANY of that. Before organizing this hike ( with the help of my friend, Leo) I actually contacted Neil and asked him if his group was doing any hikes to Teapot. I've been hiking with him twice before and he knows the ropes ( and rocks ;) ) of Taiwan and her mountains very well. Sadly, he said no :( BUT as luck would have it, my ready-for-anything, energetic, happy-go-lucky merry band of friends from FRIENDSHIP church were ready (and crazy to be willing to-)  to follow me.... into the unknown. 

At the time, I was forgetting that I had the BEST resource at my disposal, my friend and very local ( originally from Keelung) Taiwan hiking guru, Leo Lin. Honestly, I've told him that he should moonlight a a hiking guide because he knows all of the mountains in Taiwan - he could probably walk them blind at this point. Not only that, but he has stories and is just so enthusiastic about hiking in general. Almost mere seconds after the words were out of my mouth wanting to do this hike, he had sent Facebook messages and LINE messages and FPC FB Group messages to all of our friends and contacts that he thought might be interested. I lined up the time, date, meeting place, details and just hoped that people would come and told everyone to pray for good weather. Despite having hiked in Taiwan several times, this time, I was a little.... scared. I was "leading" this hike ( as Leo continued to remind me over and over), and only maybe two weeks earlier there had been a pretty big accident -someone had DIED hiking the exact trail that we were taking. The person didn't die of a heart attack or stroke or any natural causes, they died because they slipped and FELL off of the mountain. From what I've gathered the person was older - 65 or 70 or so ( maybe it is uncommon in the US, but it's really not uncommon for older Taiwanese people to be hiking - usually out in groups of 3-4 people at least - in Taiwan... at all. Pretty regularly. I've seen small groups of them up on mountains smiling with thumbs up, telling me to "Jaiyou!" all the time (One time a group of friends and I ran into the former mayor of Taipei, Mayor Hau (郝龍斌) with a small group up on Yangmingshan). But this time, for whatever reason, this person who died on Teapot was out hiking when it was foggy/wet/rainy, NOT the best conditions to be hiking in at all.  This brings into question their mental state- was there alcohol/drugs involved? We don't know.... but still, it made me pause ( if only for 5 minutes) and think and pray that.... I could "lead OUR flock" on a gorgeous hike without anyone tumbling to their death.  

Here is a link to the "accident article" It's all in Traditional Chinese, but anyone with access to Google Translate, or another more reliable translation device can get the gist of the article. Needless to say, at least one Taiwanese person scheduled to travel with our group had seen this article and was worried. She ended up being late and not coming with us.

HOW TO GET TO TEAPOT MOUNTAIN: We took Bus #1062 from outside of the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station (Exit 1) to the Jinguashi stop. The hike/trail begins at Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park.  

Teapot and Banping mountains are, combined, about 11km , so that's almost 7 miles of hiking -- with a pretty steep elevation. It took about 6 hours in total to complete. Seeing Teapot Mountain in the distance, on our way there, it reminded me more of a "Minnie Mouse face" or a "Thanksgiving Turkey sitting on a plate". But, squinting more, I could also make out the "Teapot" resemblance too.  

We were planning on going into Jiufen for dinner afterwards but resigned ourselves to taking the bus back to Taipei because we were so tired by that point. We all collapsed into our seats on the bus and I think, after a full, beautiful day, were content with our decision. Dinner in Jiufen can ( and will) happen ( in sunny or foggy weather) at some point. It's easy to get there from Taipei. 

Teapot Mountain in the distance reminded me personally more of a "Minnie Mouse side-profile face" or a "Thanksgiving Turkey sitting on a plate". But I could also see the "teapot" resemblance too. :) 
茶壺山 Teapot Mountain

"Dragon's Tail" - we hiked this thin outlined route you can kind of see here up toward it and to the right a bit. We did not ride the whole tail, but we slithered along a portion anyway (singing merrily as we went. :) ) More to conquer next time.  

"The Beginning". Before all of the the sweat led to sunscreen in our eyes, there were..... STAIRS.

A rainbow colored phoenix rising from the "ashes" ( roof of a temple along the way) has GOT to be a good omen for survival..... right??

A photo shoot that we stumbled upon and subsequently made no secret of taking photos of. "I just got a hot pic of the model!" - exclaimed *someone with an "Irish whisper" to one of her friends. The model smiled and giggled behind her shades. The person with the Irish whisper failing to realize that....many people speak English. I suppose even an English teacher is prone to.... forget. ;)

"Blurred Lines" - the sky kissing the sea. I can't tell where one ends and the other begins....

DEAD. and barely halfway there. LOL.

The view from inside the teapot. SO cool! We're inside! We made it!!!

Sar, reminding me of Indiana Jones, climbing up and out. Conquering the tomb (teapot) like a boss.  


Hahaha. We're so Taiwanese! ( well, all of us except for Leo, who looks puzzled. lol) "Asian peace" forever.

What we were up against. Straddling the side of the mountain. 
I mean...... speechless. <3

The city of Jiufen leaves her lights on for us as we descend. Nightfall, coming down from Banping. Our journey is over. We have  "risen from the tomb". Happy Easter. :) 

I am SO glad that everything came together so seamlessly with this little day trip.

As far as any future "group trip plans" -- I still want to plan a hike to Mount Jade ("permits permitting"), a camping trip to Smangus, and a very belated birthday dinner and KTV night at Partyworld in Ximending for my birthday- real date coming up on May 20th.... but any bday party plans will probably be pushed back to June - ( I'm thinking either Sat June 13th or Sat June 20th -depending on when Dragon Boat Festival is) because everyone/everything is busy in May- school graduation is happening, etc. plus a few friends here will be out of the country.

I KNOW that I've been slacking with blog posts. My 4 yr anniversary in Asia has come and gone (April 3rd). Mink's ( my cat's) 7th birthday ( April 8th) has come and gone. My trip home for Joy's wedding and reconnecting with Amy has come and gone ( April 17th to around the 25th) I've been SUPER busy getting ready for Graduation and "the end of the year" at school.... so blame it on that. AND my home visit -- 9 days between New York and Maryland and a little jet lag. All have knocked me off my "blogging every two weeks" schedule. But I'm feeling a little more balanced and will work my hardest to make sure I blog again before the next two weeks are up!!

until then.....


Tomb Sweeping Festival - 清明節   Qīngmíng jié

Bus - 公車  gōngchē.

Asia - 亞洲 Yàzhōu

Sunrise - 日出 rì chū.

Sunset - 日落 Rì luò

Happy - 開心 kāixīn 


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Home for Christmas 2015

Well, look at that- only about two weeks since my last blog entry! So far, so good I guess  keeping up the "writing more regularly" resolution. Also the hiking resolution - last Saturday I hiked Elephant Mountain Xiangshan 象山 for the first time. Elephant Mountain is considered one of the "Four Beasts" 四獸山 here in Taiwan, the others being Leopard, Lion, and Tiger Mountains. All of them are in the Xinyi District overlooking Taipei City and specifically Taipei 1O1.
at Elephant Mountain, chillin' on a rock that commemorates "Chiang Kai-Shek's birthday" from what I was told. I'm surprised it hasn't been removed or demolished like some of his statues have been lately. Probably, the reason I was told in sort of "hushed" tones.

hazy daytime view of downtownTaipei from Elephant Mountain

I promised to write about my first Christmas home in 3 years, so here we go. I've heard one or two Taiwanese friends tell me that when they've gone to the US around Chinese New Year , they've been disappointed because CNY isn't celebrated as widely as it is in Asia - China, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, etc. I would say the same feeling applies when you're talking about Christmas here. 

In Taipei you get the kitschy Christmas decorations, the bright lights, the stores advertising "Christmas sales"- especially down in Xinyi district near Taipei 1O1. There are plenty of churches here and people are free to worship openly. Every year my church here- Friendship Presbyterian Church - has a night of Christmas caroling where they go out to Shida Nightmarket and sing a variety of traditional carols for about 2 hours before heading back to Pastor Dennis' house for cookies and coffee. I've been caroling with the group twice. That was how I first got involved with the church here - my coworker friend at the time- now just really awesome non-co-worker friend, Amy- who is back in London now, but SOON to be visiting New York with me! - invited me to go caroling with them. I love to sing and I've been a cantor and have sung in the choir at my parents church, so I said yes... and two years later I'm still with the church. I've met some of my closest friends, have opened myself up completely, and have had some of my best adventures with the friends I've met through "FRIENDSHIP" - ironically enough. :P  I've had very candid, sit down for coffee, one-on-one talks with the pastor here and - I feel comfortable and accepted. Being gay and being Christian are NOT mutually exclusive. It's sad that some in the media and some very outspoken "Mega Churches" try to present it that way. I know for a fact that if I brought a partner to our church, she would be embraced/accepted/welcome to worship here. Even if we - myself and the PCA in general, don't agree on everything, gay marriage, etc... it is so comforting to have a pastor who embraces people as they are. My friends are also very open-minded, accepting, fun, spiritual, kind people and truly, the last to judge ANYONE. So, if you're a Christian in Taipei and looking for a church- come, as you are.

posing in front of the large Dr. Seuss-esque paper tree inside of Taipei 1O1. w/ Kevin, Amy, Leo, and Kelly.

The three loveliest Sugarplum Fairies practicing for their upcoming performance in "The Nutcracker" @ the National Theater. Taipei, Taiwan ROC. 

post-caroling Christmas cookies and hot chocolate with Pastor Dennis and his wife, Kay at their apartment here in Taipei. Great people.

 I mean, really... what says "Merry Christmas" more than an enormous cup of Instant Noodles?

more practicing for "The Nutcracker". Merry Christmas! Shengdan Kuaile!

In Taipei, there is the potential for Christmas caroling and decorations and if you're lucky enough to have an oven- baking Christmas cookies, and church services..... but. It's not the same. There's nothing like being home.

Though, last Christmas WAS.... an adventure. After a moderately cold night or two walking around Xinyi- looking at and posing with the light displays, on Christmas Day I went hiking in the rain (and up many stairs, I remember) with my friend Leo  (who, when he's not busy doing engineering work, really should moonlight as a hiking guide here-- he knows all of the mountains in Taiwan), his wife Kelly, and Amy, Young and Kevin. I just remember it was very wet, thinking we'd laugh when it was over- we were all dry. I ended up completely ripping my dark green, billowy, "MC Hammer pants" that I had bought in Chiang Mai a year earlier, and THEN to our surprise when we came home to Amy's apartment we ended up spending a good 15 minutes pulling leeches (AGHHHH! UGHHHH! there's another one!!!") off of our bodies. HOT SHOWERS and WARM CLOTHES and BACON SANDWICHES and SKYPING with our respective families =ed HEAVEN. Thank God. RESPITE. and now.... we have pictures and the memories... and we are (still) laughing and can fondly remember. Sitting here in warm, dry clothes. :)

Leaf hat/umbrella. All the rage. Lady Gaga already called up asking us to make her one.

Pretty much. Wet. Cold. Ragged. The struggle is real, folks.

natural beauty. That's "Some Spider!"

if you were a kid from the 1980's you remember "Polly Pocket... right? It looks like you could just jump down and play with them. They kind of look like "Polly Pocket" houses from this angle, but these are actually all different family burial plots. It's a cemetery.

"I KNOW HIM!!!!!" and he surprised me. First time in 3 years he found me here in Asia. December 2013.

Christmas Dinner 2013. Warm, dry clothes and crispy bacon. It's the little things. :)

At my school this year I have paid- Taiwanese- holidays/time off. These mostly consist of long weekends- 228 National Holiday, Tomb Sweeping Festival, Dragonboat Festival etc, which are nice for local travel around Taiwan or a weekend in Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.  Also, we get about 9 days off for Chinese New Year in January/February. Any other time that I want off, I have to request.... and your personal requested time is all unpaid.


This year, I was lucky enough to be able to take 3 weeks off for Christmas/New Years - the traditional/secular one. My school isn't huge, we don't have a lot of teachers - there are 5 of us in total- and only 3 of us teach kindy - so I know that my boss stepped in and helped out. I was lucky that my other 4 co-workers/teachers were staying in Taipei this year. As time was getting closer, I was getting more and more excited about going home-- and also, becoming more frugal. First budgeting for a plane ticket, then budgeting for Mink's 3 weeks at the cat hotel, Christmas gifts for family, and then figuring out whatever I'd have leftover for a little fun in New York. I honestly don't know how I did it now..... but Thank God, it all worked out pretty seamlessly. Unfortunately, looking back at it now, it all seemed to fly by much too quickly.... 

SO many things worked out though - I got to see my recently engaged childhood best friend - chat and go out for dinner at "The Daily Planet" - an awesome diner across the street from our old high school that we've been going to since high school, I got to spend New Year's Eve with Cheri- another good friend from high school, I met up with Vaydra- a dance friend who teaches Zumba at NYSC in the city now- in NYC for her birthday on Dec 23rd, etc. Funny enough, it also turned out that Sara, one of my good friends from Taipei - she's originally from New Jersey - was going home to spend a month with her family and I ended up meeting up with her and her twin sister and Margaret- another Taiwanese friend from over here who ALSO happened to be visiting at the same time with her boyfriend - in NYC for a day. We went to see "THE tree at Rockefeller Center, and The Union Square Greenmarket and The Strand for some book shopping. ALSO, ironically enough, Sar and I ended up on the same Korean Air flight on the last leg of our journey home for Christmas- from Seoul to JFK. Kinda cool to land in your mutual "home airport" with someone you know from the OTHER side of the world.

Woo-hoo! Landed in NY! "Jet-lagged, super-excited, expat-Americans 'Run on Dunkin' ". 

It was late at night- around 8-9pm when we landed in NY but that didn't stop Mom, Dad, Me, and our driver from stopping at Dunkin Donuts for some WARM, DELICIOUS coffee. It was a little COLD in NY compared to Taipei. Plus, DD is awesome.... and sadly, no longer exists in Taiwan. It was as... close to perfect as it could be. At this point, I'm comfortable going "between worlds". There isn't any culture shock or reverse culture shock going to/from Taiwan to New York and vice versa. I know "what's expected of me" and pretty much "what to expect" in both places, if that makes any sense. It's not that I'm "fake" or change myself to fit where I am, but I just know that certain parts of me are going to come out more than others in different places. It's kind of like knowing that different environments require different skills that you possess. It's like skiing versus cycling. Both require the use of your legs, but in different ways.  Regardless, I am comfortable and at home in both places now and THAT makes traveling so easy ... hard to leave people on one side, but at the same time, knowing that I have people "on the other side" that I can't wait to see again and who can't wait to see me. Kind of like "heaven" and "hell" rolled into one. I love you/I miss you. I love YOU/I miss YOU.  I only wish I had a girlfriend, a wife, partner to do it all with.... someone who would be up for adventure, flexible, someone to make the journeys back and forth with. That's really the only thing I feel that I want more than anything at this point, the thing I'm ready for. I don't know..... do I really have to wait to "settle down" in New York when this "adventure" is "over" to "nest" and find someone? Can't I find a partner "on the road"? .... I've come close, and I have friends who met out here, who have long-term relationships out here. It's possible. I guess, it will happen when it's supposed to.

What struck me the most being home this time was
#1. "Wow, New Yorkers are SO friendly" - whether it was at a gas station getting gas or coffee or walking around Khol's or Shoprite, shopping, etc. fellow shoppers/workers random strangers were chatting me up, so talkative ("Can ya believe.....yadayadayada, etc?") and helpful.
#2."Wow,  Americans in general, really are heavier than people in Asia".  I HAVE seen obese Taiwanese people on the MRT here on a rare occasion and people are probably heavier than they used to be in general in Taipei/bigger cities in Asia now especially- thanks to the introduction of Burger King, KFC, Krispy Kreme, McDonald's, and those huge, sugary cups of  milk tea, no doubt.  So it's not as if obesity is impossible in Asia. But, I think a combination of diet and outdoor activity- biking, hiking, playing basketball etc- still keep Taiwanese people at an advantage when it comes to staying trim-- though the temptations/bakeries/ice cream options ARE mounting here!

Back to my "Home For Christmas" trip, I couldn't believe the "VARIETY" of options of clothes and shoes in the mall and foods at the grocery store at home. It was blinding. I have my staples here that I enjoy in Taiwan - yogurt, certain cereals, an abundance and VARIETY of fruit, a variety of coffee from different coffee shops, dumpling spots, etc. But in New York .... there was so much more. I felt like Belle setting her eyes on the Beast's enormous library for the first time in "Beauty and the Beast". I saw things that I wanted to buy for "my kids" - my students- in Taipei, things I wanted to buy for my aunts/family, things I wanted to buy for myself ("Hello H&M!!!!" -- at that point, the flagship store that just opened up here about a month ago now, had not yet opened in Taiwan.) It felt GOOD to be home. It was kind of cool to wake up and make myself a toasted Thomas' English muffin with butter and jelly and a cup of coffee and sit in front of the tv and watch "Kelly and Michael" at 9am on ABC, to "catch up" with some of "The Real Housewives.... on Bravo, etc.  But still,  I KNEW in my gut that it wasn't "time yet".... as in, not time to "go back for good".

Happy Birthday, Vaydra! December 21st, 2014. Goodtimes in NYC w/ Vaydra, Matt, and his fiancee, Melissa.  Go hard or go home! Dance life or regular life it's always positive/high energy goodtimes w/ Vaydra! What a great, crazy night. Check out her Zumba classes at NYSC. #olddancefriends #datchampagnelife 

ahhhh baking cookies. making Gingerbread. MUST have an oven for the holidays.

Sisters. Aunt Anne, Mom, Aunt Joan

Christmas Day 2014 w/ my cuzzzins. Yes, that's MY right hand holding that wine glass.

It WAS strange coming back to Taipei at first- esp because I felt a little of that post-holiday emptiness. I still had a friend in New Jersey and I was like.... "Hey, this doesn't feel right. I WANT to be able to stay for another week TOO!" But then, time has a way of helping you to remember your old routines and responsibilities. It keeps you distracted and occupied enough to not think about anything outside of "the bubble" that you've bounced back into. The guabao and dumplings and danbing and wax apples and roasted sweet potatoes ...also keep your stomach full of fresh Taiwanese goodness and can keep those primal, native cries for NY Pizza and Bagels buried far down to where you cannot hear them or feel them.... until they are unearthed, instantly awakened upon your next return to New York, of course.

I am happy to have spent this Christmas in my "biological home" but as long as I'm with people that I love, I think, at this point, I can celebrate it anywhere in the world and still feel warm, happy, home. I'd love to celebrate one year in London visiting Amy, maybe another year with friends/cousins-family in Antigua, Guatemala - my cousin's wife's brother - John Rexer- owns a mezcal company - "Ilegal Mezcal". They are based in Antigua, Guatemala but they distribute to bars/restaurants/liquor stores all over the world. Go out and find em' in NYC, people!!! He ALSO owns a bar down there in Antigua "CAFE NO SE". I rarely drink it, and haven't looked for it/subsequently FOUND it here in Taiwan but I remember, similar to tequila you can drink it straight, on the rocks, or mix it in drinks.  I remember mezcal tasting kind of "smokey". Dark and delicious. I'd pick it over tequila any day. I haven't been yet, but Antigua looks beautiful, ripe with adventure.  I think it would be fun to spend a Christmas there.... "Feliz Navidad!" :) 

"One more day, one more time, one more sunset, maybe I'd be satisfied?.... but then again, I know what it would do..... leave me wishin' still for one more day with you." - "One More Day" by Diamond Rio lyric sums it up best. You cherish the moments and ALWAYS wish there were more of them. Whether it's going home or over here --- thinking about the possibility of people leaving and... getting scared about "time left". You really feel your "mortality" when you come and go and see people come and go, so quickly....  so if you're here in Taipei now, please. linger a little longer.

hopefully I will blog, hike, update more in the next two weeks! Until then, Have a great week wherever you are.

NEXT ENTRY: Taking it WAY BACK. It's my 4 Year Anniversary in Asia. My first year in Asia: China: April 3rd, 2011.


MERRY CHRISTMAS! --  Shèngdàn kuàilè 聖誕快樂
HOLIDAY--  Jiérì  節日
COOKIES-- Bǐnggān  餅乾
SNOW --  Xuě  雪
CHURCH--  Jiàotáng  教堂
NEW YORK--  Niǔyuē 紐約
COFFEE-- Kāfēi  咖啡
AIRPLANE--  Fēijī 飛機
HOME--   Jiā 家
HOUSE--  Fángzi 房子
FAMILY -- Jiārén 家人
SANTA CLAUS--  Shèngdàn lǎorén  聖誕老人