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