Wednesday, March 21, 2018

That Awkward "Push/Pull"

This blog entry has ended up being a little longer than expected, but I've got a snowday today- so plenty of time to hang in pj's and blog. ( watching the news now, it's a "serious storm" apparently, the 4th Nor-Easter of the year according to Channel 7 Eyewitness News on ABC now. 12-15 inches expected in NYC ???? WOW.)  Yet- none has fallen in Dutchess County yet ( 90 min north of Manhattan).

The month of March 2018 here has brought New York a mix of all sorts of weather -some gorgeous ( but still cold with the wind) bluest-blue sky days filled with sunshine and now..... snow again, apparently. I'm off today because my company is on the same schedule as NYC Public Schools and so when they're off, we're off. But so far, at almost 10am here now I'm home and haven't seen a flake fall. I'm using my work laptop now. I have paperwork to do and phone calls to make so I'm still "going to work"  (probably from 11-4ish) just to be caught up for tomorrow. But it's nice to be able to work remotely out of the office and not have to take a "personal day". I've stayed home and worked remotely twice before, since starting my new job in January. But on those days we actually had a ton of snow up here in Dutchess County while in the city, they didn't.

Looking at the calendar, it's OFFICIALLY been 6 months now that I've been back in the US. Sept 20th-March 20th. At this time back in January 2014, 6 months in back home, after my first year in Taiwan, I was getting ready to head BACK to Taiwan from New York. New Teaching Job. New Apartment. Getting Mink back from the expat foster couple that she had been staying with in Taipei, etc... it was time.

So, understandably,.... I've been feeling a little more antsy, aggressive/impatient (?) this past month. I didn't know why at first (though PMS and end of the month paperwork stress were likely partners in crime in this as well), but I think that explains it.

In my mind-- it's time to go back. Stop sitting here -- get on that flight. It's time to go back to Taiwan.

I was looking on FB in my "Year Two In Taiwan" photo album from that time- after those 6 months back in the US when I went back to Taiwan. 2014 was a great year .... hiking Scissors Stone with a group from my church....going to see "The Queen's Head"  and the really cool stone erosion at Yehliu Geopark.... taking the train to Nantou and going to Sun Moon Lake, it was my first year with "MY" kids - teaching L1 class- and I taught them how to make heart-shaped white chocolate lolli-pops with the same plastic heart-shaped molds that Aunt Joan had used with me back when I was a kid. It was a year full of wonder and joy and "newness"- returning and seeing Taiwan with new eyes.

The transition back to the US now kind of reminds me of that awkward "Push/Pull" of the doors in shops in Taipei- like 7-11, Family Mart or even some restaurants. I think for Westerners, it's common to PULL the door CLOSED from the outside when you are leaving a shop and PUSH OPEN to go OUT from the inside, not pull from the inside when you're trying to get out. Yet, I would forget sometimes in Taipei and try to PUSH when I should have pulled. Or when walking on that god-awful TILE pavement sidewalk outside of some hotels and shops in Taipei. Wearing shorts and flip-flops because despite the rain it is hot and humid. And there are no "Caution: Slippery When Wet" signs and you don't think you're gonna be walking on tile and then.... you slip and skin your big toe, or even worse, your knee, and hobble in pain the rest of the way to your destination. Thinking of my older aunts.... really, what do the old people  in Taiwan do? I never saw one fall ( or asked).

I'm not sure where I'm going with these analogies. But I guess what I'm saying is: transitions can be a blessing and a curse. Exciting and HARD. You see a place with new eyes and joy and yet you're baffled by some of the rules and customs in this place and end up doing an "awkward dance"  often in public (several times over) for ALL to see in your attempts to.... "settle in".

 When I left Taiwan, in my mind I wanted to leave, but I didn't. I was aware that I was leaving and yet I was clinging to people and things there that were not going to serve me in this next chapter. I was in denial that I was moving INTO a next chapter DESPITE my vocal desire to "go home" and "being homesick" over the past year from 2016-2017. I was meeting new people and forming friendships and that kinda sucked because I knew I was leaving and so, investing time and making meories was almost a bit painful. I had to really think about WHY I was leaving.

Did I want a new job at a different school? Did I want a new apartment? Did I need to hang out with some other people and change up my social life a bit? Was I needing a new church? ...

ALL of that could have been changed and WAS possible. I could have still STAYED in Taipei. If I was going to go BACK to the US, there had to be another reason. You don't leave a country just because you're unhappy with a few things in the present moment. I'm still trying to figure what the specific reasons for coming back at this point are -I think God knows better than I do - but I'm seeing and feeling that reconnecting with old, good friends who I haven't seen in FOREVER here is definitely one of them.

So, because of this tension- (unhappy with some things going on, trying to make the best of my final months, in denial of grieving the fact that I was leaving) I acted out in ways that were not healthy and that reflected that tension of "pushing Taiwan away while grabbing to pull her close" at the same time. During my last few months I drank too much and at the worst times of day on occasion ( dang you little "convenient" bottles of Jack and Absolut sold at every 7-11 on the island). While trying to escape my angst and sadness, I also had a one night stand with a friend of a friend, someone who could have become SUCH a good friend if it wasn't for my "push/pull" and angst. She is an an amazing teacher, fantastic baker, loves hiking and ktv and baseball games, has a great snarky sarcastic sense of humor (courtesy of being a fellow East Coaster/south-Jersey native). But I f'ed it up. I clung on when I should have let go and made it.... awkward. When, now, what I truly think my heart and body needed were maybe just a few good spooning sessions. Just good arms connected to a good heart, to rest and sleep in. 

The whole "leaving" process ended up being really messy and hard. I was slipping all over everything, pulling when I should have pushed, pushing when I should have pulled.... and so, in some sense I REALLY WANTED to leave just to escape this chaos.

These 6 months in NY have been a kind of "break" and now I think my mind thinks- "Ok, we're good. It's time to go back." The fact that I don't have an apartment in the city yet also keeps me in a bit of denial of "living here" and fighting that denial, has been challenging. (maybe repeating the mantra..."I'm living and working in the USA...." would help?)

I'm also itching to travel again- in general. Going to Chicago in October was nice. I will be in Minnesota for a christening in July (that's just a family thing though not really touristy), but I'm REALLY excited about and hoping to take 9 days and go to Antigua, Guatemala in August. More on that later. I would love to go to Taiwan THIS year but realistically I'm thinking it will be in 2019.... along with a stop back in Chiang Mai/Rai and possibly Ayutthya in Thailand.

I think when I DO go back to visit Taiwan, just as in that 2nd yr return, I will see it with new, fresh eyes again. I miss rechao, and KTV, and "Honey Nut Queerios" <3 and some friends from my church who I'm still in touch with. I'd love to camp out in Teapot Mountain ... there are joyful reasons to return.

Just please PRAY that for now the "push/pull" will end and that I can "unpack" my heart and mind and take it completely out of denial to truly settle in here fully in NY as a "resident" .... for the moment at least.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Repatriation Struggles- Humility and Patience.

Welp, February sure flew! Whereas January seemed to drag us through its gray slush and cold and.... seeming unending-ness, it was more like February stopped by and said  "Heeey! Good seeing you!*kiss. kiss.*" and headed out the door.

When I was in Taiwan we never turned the clocks forward or backward and I wasn't really aware of it staying "lighter later" ( or the much less fun alternative, getting "darker earlier") but here, I notice. It's staying lighter and getting slightly warmer - though we just had  SNOW yesterday. It's supposed to be 45 and partly sunny today. March is always somewhat unpredictable like that in New York but despite that you know, it FEELS like the start of spring. And HERE Spring means breezes and warmth and birds starting to chirp. I think, in both Asia and the US ( DC and NY come to mind specifically) there's the celebration of the "Cherry Blossoms" as a sign of spring. However, Spring in Taiwan can still be pretty DAMP and COLD (esp without indoor heating). The unending monsoon rains- even without the summer typhoon winds, can sound like the ocean is swirling and pounding up against your house.(This especially sucks on a weekend and sucks even MORE when it happens on consecutive weekends when you'd like to be outside). I remember coming back from my 2014 CNY trip to Bangkok and Phuket where it was HOT and I got sunburned. I was probably in short sleeves and capri pants and flip flops on the plane and coming back to "my little island" I found it was FREEZING in Taiwan. This was the time that my Taiwanese cab driver GAVE ME his coat. We were chatting in broken Mandarin and English and he pretty much left it's return up to fate saying something like "if I see you sometime in the future, you can give it back to me." It was chocolate brown and shiny. I have a picture wearing it to the Pingxi lantern festival that year and then I think I left it in my first apartment in Dingxi when I moved! Oops! On to the next much needed owner...

Things didn't exactly unfold as I had planned as far as celebrating Chinese New Year HERE this year, BUT the unexpected ways were almost just as nice. February continued to be a month of reconnecting with friends who I hadn't seen in YEARS. I met up in early in the month with my old elemtart/middle/high school friend Kelly who I hadn't seen in 20 years! Like the typial 15 yr-olds that we stil are... we went to "the (Galleria) mall" and ate and window-shopped and laughed over ridiculous things- like the fact that it had been 20 years and it felt like absolutely no time had passed. Then I met up with Masha - one of my first post-college roommates. We had "met" back in 2006. I was looking for roommates and apartments and found her on CRAIGSLIST, without any pictures of the apartment or her - funny to me now, but I guess we trusted the internet more back then. We shared a 4 bedroom apartment in Park Slope with two guys that year. She had been living in it for about 2 yrs prior with 3 other girls who were all moving out back then. I hadn't seen her since about 2010 by this point. This time we met up in Park Slope right outside of our old apartment at 462 3rd St ( btwn 6th and 7th aves). Then went to the Brooklyn Flea! ( neither of us had ever been, so many treasures to be found there) and ate ramen burgers and bought plants. :) 

I ALSO met up with "Pa" this month! I saw her once when I came home for Christmas in 2014 and Sara was just a baby, about a year old. But hadn't seen them since then. Now Sara is 4 1/2 yrs old, standing on her own two feet- smart as a whip and sweet as a bowl of "hong dou tang" :). It was SO nice. Typical Kate tried to round up people, get the "old gang" (gay-ng? ;)) together for brunch at her fairly new apartment in Dyker Heights. She managed to get a hold of Mo and Carly and we had delicious brunch with mini-quiches made by Sara and ginormous bagels courtesy of this shop in Kingston up near my Aunt's house. I had never been to Dyker Heights before that and so I was SO shocked and HAPPY, pleasantly surprised to see the "Flying Dragon" market and other shops with their Chinese characters and to hear people speaking Mandarin. Apparently Sara is one of two non-Chinese American kids at her Pre-K  ("just Sarah and Mohammed"....). So, part of my " unexpected CNY at home surprise" in addition to being surrounded by Chinese in Dyker Heights/Sunset Park was hearing her singing CNY songs that she learned in Pre-K, in Mandarin. I was smiling from ear to ear and just like the "Aunties and Uncles" in Taiwan who would hear me speaking Mandarin and continue on waaay past my comprehension- with their rapid fire questions and excitement, I "naturally" wanted to continue to speak with Sara in Mandarin -asking her questions, etc. lol. I think we got as far as talking about "hong bao" - which is really ALL you need to talk about as a kid at CNY anyway though :) 

Another part of my CNY surprise was going into Flushing in Queens to visit one of my clients and seeing the vibrant Chinese street life there. I chatted up the ladies in this plant shop and bought some pork baozi and a good sized take-out portion of douhua with this ginger sauce ( I'm not the biggest fan of douhua so the majority of it, unfortunately got tossed a few days later). Wanting to keep the peace and not knowing where "everyone was from" ( as far as Mainland vs. Taiwan) I only mentioned working in Guangzhou/Foshan. One woman then began talking in Cantonese and I was pretty certain, despite not detecting a good ol Beijing "R" that these were all PRC folks in this shop. Then, later on, out on the street I saw a man selling newspapers and he caught my eye and I wished him a "Xin Nian Kuai Le!" He handed me a paper, a bit surprised, and we chatted in Mandarin a bit. I told him that I had taught kids English in China ( again, not wanting to get into politics, only mentioned Guangzhou and Foshan here) and he smiled and HUGGED ME! It was SO sweet. SUCH a good way to ring in the "New Year" - even if it wasn't firecrackers and dragon/lion dances ( I didn't go to the parade in Manhattan bc it ended up raining).

Despite not being able to "scare off the "Nian Monster" with any firecrackers,  It felt like "FAMILY" and that's really what the " Lunar New Year" is about anyway. Fresh starts... and family. ( and yeah, I mean some hongbao and/or end of the year Weiya celebrations from your boss maybe too ;)).

So, I guess THAT right above there, is the best segue to bring me to what I really wanted to talk about, but never got around to, in my last post. The struggles- a lot unforeseen- that come with repatriating. I think you can "Google it" and get a sense of the typical things that go on in various forms at different stages of "reverse culture shock" for the INDIVIDUAL WHO  IS repatriating - loneliness, impatience, confusion, excitement, wonder, etc. BUT it's a little different when you add other people and their struggles into that equation.

To cut to the chase- My mother and I had a really bad patch here- from about mid October to end of November and then a little "flurry" in January - to compare the tensions to slippery ice. I didn't know "where to walk", I didn't know what to say that would or would not set off some 0-60mph switch where all of a sudden voices were raised and I was being told to "go to Aunt Joan's". At the end of the day, it ended up where I felt like I was walking on eggshells and I would have just rather avoided her than attempt to engage and heal things at all.

But I did realize that, not counting the 6 months I was home between my 1st and 2nd year in Taiwan, before now, I HADN'T lived at home since 2004. 13 years. A long time. A lot can change. I truly feel that a lot of these current issues stemmed from Mom's anxiety about things that weren't in the picture 13 or so years ago, the last time I lived at home- things like my father's health, my mother's own health, things with my brother and his wife, me getting settled here, my parents wanting to sell the house but not knowing/never having sold a house before... ( SPOILER ALERT- everything is working out fine in its own way in each area- Thank God.)

I know that 10 different people can have the EXACT SAME issues and deal with them in 10 DIFFERENT ways. It's not the hand you are dealt, it's how you deal with it. When you take on ALL of that worry it can be overwhelming- especially when you're older- I'm thinking. So I tried to have compassion and understand that, but my attempts to see every glass/situations that mom was worrying about as "half-full" even turned into arguments at times. So I went and (left Mink at my parents house-- I missed her but she was in good hands and had a chance to develop her own relationships with "Amah" and "Agong") stayed with my Aunt Joan for about a month and a half in total. I also sought out therapy for my mother and I to address our concerns individually and then hopefully come together and have a joint session. Things cooled down and got better before that joint session ever materialized but I'd still like to go back and have one just for closure. The therapist I found was specialized in family therapy and she was/is wonderful. During that time I got to really engage with and care for my Aunt Joan and Aunt Anne ( my mom's two sisters, who have always been like Moms to me). I made homemade turkey noodle soup and baked salted caramel chocolate brownies and we played Scrabble and on Sundays went to their church and bought bottles of red wine from "Uncle Paddy's" and Aunt Annie made dinner and we watched old movies/old episodes of "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman".  So, in the midst of all that was going on it was GOOD QUALITY time and I just... want them to be happy. With both of them on the cusp of turning or having just turned 80 yrs old,  I can see in little ways that they've gotten older since I left in 2011 and I just want them to be happy. (I also want to note that neither of them have ever spoken a bad word about my mother or any of their "sister frustrations" to me, which says a lot about their character. I love them. Rockstars.)

I feel like "humility" and "patience" are the biggest lessons being learned in these 6 months. For example, before I got my job ( in late January), when I was looking for a therapist, I had no health insurance. I had to go on "Medicaid" which, "as an American" can be kind of... embarrassing. BUT, having come back from Taiwan where health care is UNIVERSAL - it really took the sting out of it. I realized- who cares WHAT KIND of healthcare I have.... as long as I'm being treated and TAKING CARE of my HEALTH! At the end of it all, I didn't have to pay a cent out of pocket for the 3 sessions I went to and neither did my mother ( on Blue Cross/Blue Shield). So, by humbling myself and going to the Social Services office and chatting with the wonderful woman there and getting a Medicaid card and then seeking out therapy, I feel that both my mother and I grew stronger. ("For when I am weak, then I am strong"...)  During all this time, my father was a good middleman and initially tried to have a "family sit down" where we could all talk ( despite that, Mom and I still needed therapy). Dad was so good and trying to.... find a way out. God bless him for riding the waves and being the calm in the storm.

As a final note- I'm not posting this to "air dirty laundry" and I would hope that if you are family or friends of mine and reading this, you would NOT mention this to my mother- it would NOT be helpful and would only create anxiety and probably put distance between you and I. Please, leave this here where you found it.  I'm only admitting this to show to any person who has been so "homesick" and who is thinking of  "coming home" or who HAS "come home" and is struggling that- YOU'RE NOT ALONE. Repatriating can be difficult for unforeseen reasons.... not only the individual occasional "sadness of missing your adopted country". and it DOES GET BETTER. SO much better--- I promise you.  I'm so thankful- for Kate and Kelly and Meghan and all my cousins ( esp Meg- letting me crash at her apartment that night) and Aunt Joan and Aunt Anne and  Joy and Jade and Jerry and Annastasia and all my old co-workers at YAI, and Loren  and therapy and Planet Fitness and Hopewell Reformed Church and good pizza and that guy at Panera's who gave me a free large coffee and baconeggandcheeseonabagel and music in the subways.... lol. You get the point. :) Gratitude goes a long way.

As a closing final-FINAL note- Isn't "Shout Out To My Ex" a song?... I feel like it is. I'm not sure what the lyrics are, I honestly don't think they're flattering to exes, BUT I have a "shout-out to my ex" - Jade- who has resurrected in my life here after 9 years absent, as an amazing sounding board, listening ear, encouraging texter, sending me "good mojo" on those job interviews, sharing her own year of hell that she went through dealing with another ex who totalled her car and stole money from her. Jade is just... such a good person, still. Going through my own issues with identifying what a "good friend" truly was in Taiwan, and thinking back on her and our relationship I realized what a good person she was and how I had just let her go. I was cold and distant and she was and is still so.... warm and forgiving and encouraging. When I got back I sent her a FB message and apologized for my coldness and distance and told her I'd love to meet up- and we have- twice now- in addition to texting and playing occasional "Words With Friends" games. Sidenote to any romantics out there: Jade HAS a current 1 yr and a half long relationship going on now with another woman. So, This isn't about "dating". At all. This is about appreciating GOOD people and being SO glad for her friendship and forgiveness.

It's been a truly unforeseen journey the past 6 months......


but home is finally starting to feel like "Home".

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.