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.

BELIEVE. 


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.
     

RELEVANT WORDS TO KNOW FROM THIS ENTRY

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



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