Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Clogged Drains, Knee Pains, and Life Strains

I'd like to take a shower or a bath tonight.--I have a nice bathtub in my new apartment here this year- BUT I'm waiting for my bathtub to drain. I'm also waiting for my toilet to unclog. So, I figure now is better than never to update the blog a bit.

I accidentally, absentmindedly, threw some paper towels -- I know, I KNOW, in Taiwan --where the pipes in buildings are generally old and most places caution against throwing paper into the toilets, even in public restrooms, that's even WORSE than throwing in regular old toilet paper -- into my toilet the other day after I was cleaning up around the apartment and I think that's the reason for the problem. I bought two bottles of that "chemical sand" that fizzes and smokes and sounds like it's ripping up your pipes when you throw it down the drain, and I've thrown some of that into both my toilet and my bathtub drain, but I have to wait 25 minutes before I flush it with cold water.... 

so, here I am. 

I feel like "slow down", "put the work/effort in" and "clean up/unclog/untangle the mess" are the lessons that I've been learning -- sometimes the hard way-- these past 2-3 weeks,  specifically.

I've had a lot on my plate in terms of school in October-- writing mid-term academic reports the same week as I had to prepare for my L2 class PTA performance/parents meeting night, preparing for and working at our -all day- school Halloween Party- running games/ going trick or treating, figuring out what I was going to BE and putting THAT together, etc. On top of the little daily things like making sure my kids who have medicine take their medicine at the right time each day-- more getting sick with the weather changes, grading homework, doing -what seems like an increased amount of- art projects, etc. etc. It's required more mental juggling and really "staying on top of my game" --- putting things aside/preparing a lot ahead of time. Thankfully I feel like I came out on top/kept all the balls in the air/ somehow managed to pull it all off. November - basically from now -until I go home for Christmas- feels like a breeze compared to all that came before. Even "the Christmas Show" -- I'm not worried about it. We're not planning for it--- yet. I can "rest" a little bit.   

I've also starting RUNNING -- as in running- not metaphorically- but ACTUAL feet moving, heart pumping, sustained fast movement for 35 minutes or so, physical running. I started running both because #1. I knew I'd need the extra energy reserves to help battle the busyness of this school semester which has been a little more challenging/busy -- with my older kids class in the afternoons on top of all day with my kindy kids. and #2. I'm going to be cycling around Taiwan for 12 days in February with a few friends over the Chinese New Year holiday and I wanted to test/improve my strength in multiple ways for that fun/intense/serious challenge too. I've done hot yoga, hip hop dance, soccer, swim team, roller skating, biking, ....even "speed walking" in terms of getting physical/working out since I was a kid, but I've NEVER seen myself as "a runner". My brother and one of my female cousins have both run in different marathons over the years...but I never saw myself in that category. So I feel like both my self-perception AND my actual physical self are going through a kind of metamorphosis. I'm challenging my own beliefs about myself and putting in the time and effort to build up different kinds of new strength and endurance. BUT that also means potential new kinds of injuries --- last week I guess I pushed myself a little too hard because my left knee started hurting. Typical me, I ignored it .... and naturally it demanded more of my attention and forced me to stop and do something about it. Tiger Balm, Tylenol, one of those knee wraps, ice, etc. etc. I threw everything on/swallowed/tried everything... for about 5 minutes ....and then attempted to run again. Slight exaggeration there .... but I didn't really give it the rest it needed and so the pain came back two days later when I attempted to run again. I was also dealing with a scrape on the bottom of my left foot from that same leg --after using one of those "cheese grater" type exfoliation knives that the women in nail salons -- in Asia and I've also had in New York too--  to scrape the skin off the bottom of my feet. DON'T try this at home, kids. Leave it to the professionals -- and/or those flesh eating fish in the tanks in the massage parlors/salons in Thailand/The Philippines. I scraped too hard and made myself bleed and had to bandage up my heel. SO... attempting to run with a busted knee and a sore heel....not exactly a recipe for a great workout. I needed to forgive myself, to take care of myself, to heal myself, and to trust that I have a pretty good level of endurance at this point and waiting a week to run isn't going to set me back too far. Still... it's hard to be patient.... luckily I can feel that, the time is almost over. Both my foot and my knee feel SO much better. After a few nights "off", I ran for the first time for 35 minutes last night at the gym with no problem.... and just a littttttle bit of pain coming home. So, here's hoping I'm well on my way to better.

and then, since July/August there's been .... adjusting to changes. The biggest being- friends leaving Taiwan. When I first came to Taiwan, almost 2 yrs ago now, in May 2O12, the majority of my friends were Taiwanese. So, for me, there was never the worry or question of them "leaving". I figured they'd always be "here for me". All of our schedules can get crazy and days/months fly, but I still see them. I actually met up with two of them - on separate occasions- in NYC last Fall when I was home. But somewhere around December 2O12 I started to become friends with other expats.... at work it was Luke and Amy. Luke and I bantered like brother and sister.... probably even better than my own brother and I ever do.... and commented on the craziness of the world, the school we were working for, America, England - he's British-, etc. etc. We would "share some good craic" sitting in the office waiting for classes to start. I found a similar sense of humor in Amy - as well as a sweetness and a general "up for anything" attitude. She invited me to go Christmas caroling with her church here around Christmas 2O12 and... that was that. A friendship was cemented.  To laugh, to cry, to spend so much time - every Sunday, every Wednesday night, with the occasional Saturday and/or Friday thrown in too with someone, to share such intense life situations in such a sort amount of time with someone ..... was EXACTLY what I was trying to avoid. I found an AWESOME. friend here in AMY. ... and I threw myself into our friendship wholeheartedly. Like we were two ten year olds and we had all the time in the world -- like me and one of my childhood best friends, Joy- riding our bikes all day til the street lights came on and "Mom just called" and we had to go home.  Like any "kids" we had our own not-so-"secret language" here- Chinglish .... and we understood each other COMPLETELY-- even if other people didn't. We had "girlie chats" over coffee, day trips to the beach, we got lost and slept on rocks together while River Tracing in Wulai, I introduced her to "On Tap" - a British pub here, our footprints made there mark on several different mountains here- lots of hiking together.

Did we spend EVERY day together? NO ... this year especially - I was at my new school and she was still at our old school - so our weekdays - except for Wed nights were very different. But ... it was always QUALITY time when we made time for each other. That's the thing too --- in a new country of course you want to go out and explore and time is limited, you feel your "humanity" more than you do walking around in a cloud back at home in the US or the UK or wherever your HOME country is- working a 9 to 5 job/ watching that favorite tv show/ shower and sleep- etc. schedule.... so it becomes obvious that the people you MAKE TIME for are the ones that matter to you. To have a real BEST friend abroad ... was not something I ever thought that I'd LET happen ...but there is was. Still, it was different than my situation in China because there, in China #1. I was the one who left . #2. I was dealing with leaving someone, Lisa, who I was casually dating and naively *hoping* to maintain a long distance relationship with --- me in Taiwan, her in China-- meanwhile I had NO idea just how "fragile" the "relationship" between the PRC - China, and the ROC -Taiwan, itself was! With Amy, we were friends and we talked about "love, crushes, relationship stuff" like sisters. I also KNEW - somewhere in the back of my mind ... that she'd probably be leaving Taiwan before me....though I never wanted to think about it. So... when that day finally came - it sucked. I told her that I was just "going to pretend that she was going home for a vacation for 6 months"... like I did going back to New York and then coming back to Taiwan. I wondered how I could feel "at home" at Friendship Church - without her there. Not just her even.... SO many people seem to leave over the summer. As a church we had pool parties and laser tag nights and KTV nights and picnics and a great beach day at Fulong Beach... and to have people disappear after making such awesome memories together... and opening your heart and praying, etc. sucks. There's no "pretty way" to say it.  I'm "out" .... to my friends at church and of course I was out to Amy and a few other people who left. So... to reveal something SO raw and personal and sensitive..... to trust people with your soul, your heart and then to have them leave.... is  just REALLY hard. As a fellow expat who PLANS - "God Willing"- to return to New York and ideally live somewhere AROUND NYC - whether it's as far out of Manhattan/Brooklyn as Queens or even farther onto Long Island, or just over the bridge in Jersey, etc.... just know that I'm NOT going to Staten Island OR the "nosebleed section of New York"... aka as far UP as "The Bronx", I can PROMISE you that. lol. I am planning to return at some point-- SO I understand people needing and wanting to return to their home country. It's not their fault that I felt comfortable with them while a chapter of their life was written and played out here and that now their chapter is over and I'm still here, sad that I can't go back and re-read it over and over. I have skyped with Amy a few times and it feels good... just to laugh and talk and I think that Skype helps..

So, that's it. I've been running, staying connected to our circle of friends through Friendship Church, I've got an overnight hiking trip to Smangus - a tribal village near Hsinchu and bamboo forest - planned for November AND a weekend trip to Taroko Gorge planned for a weekend in December before I go home for Christmas... so, seeing some new parts of Taiwan, meeting new people, "widening the circle" while STILL loving all of the people who have come and made their mark on my heart already. Looking forward to visiting friends who have "gone home" is the silver lining that surrounds the big black rain cloud of... "expats re-patting". I haven't been to London in at least 12 years! So.. visiting Amy at some point... will be awesome.... and a million times better than going "as a tourist".

BUT I've also seen the changes play out in not so great ways here.... how losing one person can kind of unintentionally put pressure on other friendships... attempting to make them into something that they're not. Or just focusing on things that really never mattered before and all of a sudden... there's this tension and stress... where there really shouldn't be.  I'm kind of working through that now with another friend .... it's not fun. But it's something important to be aware of.... each friendship is its own entity. Recognize and respect that. Like a set of twins ... twins are not two copies of the same person, but rather two people with two similar chains of DNA who have nature/nurture life preferences and situations that can be very different. Since the days of Mary-Kate and Ashley on "Full House", I've had a really good knack for telling twins apart. I should be able to "tell apart" aka to LOVE and to SEE my friends here as individuals too....and I feel like I do.

A friend here, who will remain anonymous, told me once- "You're  (I'mnot as subtle as you ) think". I completely agree. ...and I think that applies to a lot of things. I really was such a quiet, sometimes shy, kid growing up. But as the decades have gone by, specifically since my twenties and I think with "coming out" I've become more of an open book. I don't mind-- but sometimes life - my feelings/my reactions to things -  surprises ME too.

I'm really so grateful overall for "it all:" .... for EVERY "lesson". For EVERY chance to love, to laugh, to cry, to say "I'm sorry", to forgive, for life at home and for life here.

I'm NOT really happy about this shower/toilet clog going on right now
 ... but I know I'll get through it.
It's certainly not the end of the world.

Look at those smiles! At this point, we had NO idea we'd be shivering in wet clothes all night and sleeping on those rocks. @Wulai, Taiwan. 

Happy Moon Festival! BBQ-ing under the moonlight. 


getting ready for another intense Asian shoulder/foot massage with a medicinal foot bath beforehand.... HARD rub down. Gets EVERY tension. EVERYTHING out.  You really can't go back to any of those limp, weak, "Swedish Massages" after this... 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back In Taiwan .... Here We Go.

                         Gorgeous sunset @ Yehliu Geopark on a weekend in January after my return to Taiwan. 



If you told me that, after 6 months in New York I'd be moving BACK to Taiwan with NO job, NO apartment, NO idea when - or if - I would get Mink back .... and only 90 days to legally stay in the country before I would have to leave again, I don't think I would have believed you.

But then again, I don't think I would have believed you if you told me that I would be living at home in New York for 6 months....

I've been BACK in Taiwan now for almost a year - since November 21st, 2013 - and at this point, SO much has gone on that it feels normal, natural, I'm in a groove here again. Coming back was a HUGE leap of faith and lesson in being optimistic and keeping a positive attitude despite everyone else's - specifically my Mom's- questions and worries/anxieties. I always said, and knew in my heart that I would be returning to Taiwan. I just didn't know exactly when or how.

I think, you get to a certain point in life where it's nice to "visit" home, but you don't really intend/want to "live" there long term. I wasn't planning on being at home for as long as I was, but money was running out and I needed a job THERE to get me back HERE. The general school hiring trend in Taipei is slow during the late spring/early summer months so after my contract ended in May I went home to New York but I had to wait it out there for a bit.  By the end of the 6 months at home, I was SO ready to come back to Taiwan. Even without a job here or an apartment here or .... any idea what the future would hold for me here.  

While I was home, in August, about my 3rd month in, I was lucky that I applied for a job at my old company in the city - doing Social Work - and was hired. Unfortunately the 85 minute train commute took a chunk from my paycheck every two weeks... but I needed a job. I wasn't really happy with my job here in Taipei last year. I felt like I was "chasing paper" with my pay pretty much based on how many hours I was teaching - receiving a certain rate per hour- versus being paid a regular "salary". Plus I worked a mix of nights and mornings and my days off were not consecutive - Wednesdays and Sundays. I wanted something different. Specifically "weekends off" and "paid holidays". The Lunar New Year -"Chinese" New Year -  a week long holiday that falls between late January and early February - can look more like a burden than a blessing when you realize that, without paid holidays, you are actually LOSING 9 days of pay while you're away partying it up in Thailand. Add to that the fact that you are paying extra for the plane fare to begin with because airlines always jack prices up from "Insert Any Asian Country Name Here" to ..... wherever." over the holiday every year.

I knew that if I was coming back to Taipei, I had to think about the plane fare which would be a small chunk of short term pain, and then more long term monthly things like monthly "housing" and little things like daily "food/drink". One of my Taiwanese friends, Romona Guan,  owns a hostel  in Taipei - with two locations- that she calls "Taipei Fun House 1 and 2". I had been talking to her while I was home in New York and found out that she started to list rooms on Airbnb.com. I ended up renting a room from her from November to February. I had my own bedroom and then shared a kitchen, bathroom, and living room with whoever else was staying in another bedroom there. A few people came and went but there was one other "long term" Taiwanese woman and me for the whole time I was there. So I never had it as "my own space" completely ... but I definitely had enough space, privacy, quiet time, wireless internet/skype time, for myself.

I had saved up some money working at home and I also a pretty nice tax return check waiting for me in my Taiwan bank account when I returned in November. But still, I was on a limited budget and needed to be as frugal as possible. I could book a flight to Taipei, as a US citizen I knew that I would be automatically issued a "90 Day Landing Visa" which meant I could stay in the country for 3 months without having to apply for any "Visitor Visa". But then? .....  

I figured I would scope out http://www.tealit.com/ for some short term tutoring or part-time teaching jobs until "hiring season" began and I could find something more long term. Tealit also has apartments for rent but usually the prices are a little.....pricier. Focused on the "expat community". A better option is to go on http://rent.591.com.tw/  where apartment prices are usually catered to the Taiwanese community and a little more reasonable. The one drawback to using this site is that the site is all in Chinese. If you can read enough Chinese to understand/click the neighborhood and apartment size you want on the site you can just Google Translate the rest and/or have a friend help you to translate it and make the call to the landlord. 

So, I had resources here but I still didn't "know"... I had optimism and faith and a pretty clear IDEA in my mind of what I wanted. I was happy to be back and so I tried to just focus on that happiness and re-connect with friends here and just put one foot in front of the other. 

                                               Stamped. Sealed. Delivered. My landing visa. 

Little did I know that only about one month later, by Christmas, Carrie - my recruiter friend here from http://www.reachtoteachrecruiting.com/ would email me with a lead on a teaching position and help me to find EVERYTHING that I was looking for ..... literally everything on "the wish list' that I had written out. A teaching job that gave me a regular salary that ended up- monthly- being double that of what I was making every month working "hourly" at my other school last year. 

Monday to Friday. Weekends Off. Paid Holidays. A boss/Principal who really knows and loves the kids individually, who bakes cheesecake and egg tarts and is not afraid to share her "creations" freely with her staff. Who, while being focused and hard working, also has a  huge heart and a great sarcastic sense of humor and who would never simply do things to "make money for the school" or "to please the parents". 


making chocolate heart lollipops with my 4-5 yr old kids using pretzel sticks for the lollipop "sticks"! Using the lollipop molds Aunt Joan and I used when we made them years ago...  when I was 4 yrs old! 

                                          w/ adopted Mink! "Together at last, together furrever....."

I HAVE a JOB that I love. I HAVE an APARTMENT that I really like a lot and - realized about a month after starting my "new" job- is in walking distance to work! Sweet! I've ALSO ADOPTED MINK. I got her back and made it "official".

I had NO IDEA what was waiting for me back here... but honestly I am so much happier this year and I feel like I've had so many new, varied, different experiences already. I ALSO have a group of friends that I LOVE here and Thank God I've got weekends off this year .... because they do too. Sunday is never truly a "day of rest" when we're together. It's a marathon. :p   

Christmas lights, decorations, and three lovely "Christmas ballerinas" in the Xinyi District near Taipei 1O1... 

Bowling <3 

I hope to update this blog more regularly this year. The first year making the transition from China to Taiwan was difficult for a variety of reasons. I felt like a walking zombie. A lot of insomnia. But this year- I feel SO free. SO at peace and at home here. At this point I feel equally at home in New York and Taiwan. Returning and seeing the "Taipei" sign on an early morning driving into the city from Taoyuan Airport on November 21st was such a good feeling. I remember sighing and just curling up into my seat smiling ... even without a job or an apartment. I had a real gut feeling that this was the right decision. I had no idea what was waiting for me ... but it felt like home. 

Seeing signs for "Taipei" and "Sanchong" rolling into Taipei from Taoyuan Airport around 9am on November 21, 2013. *sleepy smile and exhale* so good to be "home"! <3