Friday, March 13, 2015

"Sheep Don't Sleep" - transitioning from the Year of the 馬 to the Year of the 羊.

Hard to believe it's March 2015 already.

I've been at my "new" school for one year now, since January 2014, and I plan on staying here through 2016. My "new" boss is everything you'd want in a school principal - she knows the students and their families well and genuinely cares about them, she cares about her staff, she's understanding, flexible, balanced, caring/sympathetic, and has a good sense of sarcasm/humor to top it off.  I love that the kids really learn in a lot of "hands on" ways - we've taken trips to dig for sweet potatoes and pick oranges straight off the trees and THEN brought the sweet potatoes back to school and made soup with them, we've gone to a DIY traditional Taiwanese puppet/arts museum, etc. It's been a really good year in terms of me feeling just challenged enough in terms of teaching/work load/new experiences and also inspired ... with bits of frustration mixed in too of course, depending on the day, depending on the class/child, etc. --- but that's life. Ultimately, I'm looking forward to moving up with my L2 class next year- who I've had since they started as L1's, teaching them as they become L3's  -- graduating preschool after L3!!!! *tears*-- and really happy to finish out my time in Taiwan here. And yes, I said "finish out" - more on that later.


many eager hands.... digging for sweet potatoes. No "Great Potato Famine" here. 

"Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit" but if they were all as sweet as this, I think we'd be ok if they were.

Taiwan is affectionately referred to as "The Far Eastern Sweet Potato" both due to the growth of this famous export here- probably second only to pineapple cake- and because the country is shaped like this. :)

During 2014-2015 here in Asia we've transitioned from the Year of the 馬 to the Year of the 羊.  The "Year of the Horse" to the "Year of the Sheep"... Or "Goat". Or "Ram" - pick your favorite. 羊. "Yang" can translate to mean any of the three, but I THINK "Sheep" is most popular, at least in Taiwan, so I'm going with that. Specifically, I've heard that it is the "Green Wooden Sheep" Year and it's "supposed" to be a prosperous year.  But I also personally think they say that about EVERY year.

A few Lunar New Year's traditions typically include - giving red envelopes - filled with money inside, lighting fireworks to scare away the "Nian Monster", cleaning your house to rid it of "bad energy" and make it fresh and clean to welcome the new year, hanging couplets/decorations on your door - wishing for "prosperity, health, luck" in the new year, wearing red, and ultimately reuniting with family and friends - some who you might not have seen all year - sharing a big meal and reconnecting/enjoying their company. Like a full week of Christmas, or maybe.... like those eight nights of Hannukah? - I don't know, I've never celebrated. But, yes Chinese/Lunar New Year is "big" like that here.

New Year's couplets in my door wishing for prosperity to enter here! Bought at 7-11, no doubt, if you noticed the characters - good "Open" and evil "Lock" and their friends/henchmen on the couplets. :p I think most people only leave their door decorations up over the New Year holiday but I'm like that neighbor who still has the Christmas lights hanging in August. Mine are up until the NEXT New Year/animal change. You can never have toooooo much luck/prosperity!

A"hong bao" red envelope with some money inside from my boss. In general, the "higher status" person gives hong bao to the "lower status" - parents/grandparents/uncles and aunts to children, bosses to employees, etc, etc.. but I'd think you can give to whoever. This year, I gave hongbao to the two women who took care of Mink at the Cat Hotel just because they've taken good care of her so many times now and I really appreciate it/them.                                                                                

One of the traditions that I've stumbled on most recently in Taiwan is the 年貨大街 "niánhuò dàjiē"  aka the "New Year's Market" on Dihua Street here in Taipei. It's kind of like a big, colorful "Christmas Fair" back home. Only everything is related to the Chinese New Year.  There's food, decorations, lucky candy, drinks, and LOTS of people out and about. This was my first year going to it and I went twice with friends.
It's crowded, yes, but it's festive, it doesn't take a super long time to get through and see everything, and it's a fun tradition!

a man and woman, husband and wife? team writing out personalized new year's wishes, greetings, slogans for customers stopping by with their- very specific, it seemed- requests scribbled on pieces of paper. Writing in traditional black AND gold. I loved seeing him write the characters in gold paint. So beautiful. So "special", as my kids would say. Rare. I see the black much more often. 

you can never have too much of that New Year's "Lucky Candy"  

Adopting a cat/dog/pet that needs regular food, water, activity, etc. can be challenging when it comes to you wanting to get out for a few days and see more of the country that you are living in, whether it is your home country or somewhere abroad. Like Taiwan. It's something that you have to take into consideration and plan for every time you step out for more than an overnight somewhere. Can a friend come over and check on you pet? Can you leave it with a friend? Can you take it with you where you are going? -- I'm guessing probably not, on this last one. Although IF I find a "pet hotel" in any of my travels I will definitely let you know! Most likely, the hostel/hotel that you are going to, supposing that you even KNOW where you are going to end up.....will not be so accommodating to your pet.

Over the Chinese New Year holiday, I went away on a 4 day 173 mile--280km bike ride from Taitung to Kenting to Kaohsiung with some friends here. They had all been on different long-distance one to two day overnight trips before, but I had never. This was the longest journey - thus far- 3 nights/4 days for ALL of us. It was a really good challenge, a great bit of adventure, and just great to get out and see more of Taiwan without being stuck on a train, bus, plane, etc. More on ALL of that in a later post. :D

Before I left for our CNY biking trip, I made sure to book Mink for a week at Miya Cat Hotel. It's located in "my old neighborhood" Yonghe - Dingxi MRT stop Exit 2.  CHECK IT OUT--  The two sisters who run the "hotel" boarding center are originally from Kaohsiung and are both really nice, very sweet. You can see that they really care for the cats. While your cat stays there, they ALSO create a "web album" of pictures for each cat who stays with them and they post it online so you can "check in" and see how your cat is doing there while you are away. It kind of reminds me of my school, with the blog/photo updates for the kids parents. It's cute. The price per night is typically 550 NTD, but for Chinese New Year it's a little more... because everything is a little more expensive during CNY. Also, if you are in Taipei and thinking of adopting, or even just fostering a cat or dog, but haven't made the move yet, check out . The woman who runs the shelter, and Liza, the CEO, really care about the animals and also host different fun, fundraisers and occasionally will go to schools and do presentations on "animal care and adoptions". At this point they are still located closest to the Zhishan MRT station, on Zhou Mei Road. There is talk of moving the shelter to a new location but I'm not sure when.

I can't confirm on anything/anyone else joining me at this point, BUT I DO know that when the day comes that I return to New York- my bike and my cat most definitely will be too.

Speaking of "animals", I've been in Asia for 5 animal years now - I went to China in April 2011 during the Year of the Rabbit, then was there for Dragon, came to Taiwan in May 2012 and have been here for Snake, Horse, and now Sheep. I felt a little unlucky, lacking energy, and wasn't a big fan of "The Year of the Snake" but otherwise, I think all years have been opportunities for growth and pretty eye-opening and awesome in their own ways. According to friends and some of my older students that I've talked to in Taiwan, your OWN ANIMAL year is, rather than being "lucky", supposed to be challenging for you.... so next year - "The Year of the Monkey", my animal year, should be interesting. It's the year that "my kids" will be graduating from our school. It is also the year of Taiwan's next Presidential election.

Personally, I'm kind of expecting the "Year of The Sheep" to kinda be a "sleeper", given the animal in question. We'll see. Still, as far as any "Lunar New Year's Resolutions" I'm hoping "The Year of the Sheep" will bring more

1. Hiking to new spots in Taiwan. Specifically: Teapot Mountain/Banping Mountain and Yushan "Jade" Mountain to start - I would LOVE to catch either sunrise or sunset at both.

2. Biking   - more in general. I'm hoping to get to Jiufen, a town just north of Keelung, next weekend- it's a little "hilly" but I'm excited because it will be my first solo "long distance" trek and first visit to the town too. It's about 40km, so only about 1/4th of what we biked over the 4 days during CNY. Do-able. esp if I leave early in the am. I *feel like* my sense of direction in Taiwan is much better than in the US, so now this solo trip will definitely be testing that theory. I bought a sweet ride here several months ago, a "Giant" bike, my girl, "Ruthie" and -when her back tire tube isn't busted - more on THAT later - she rides like she was made to dance with the wind.

3. Blogging -  it's no secret I've been slacking. I WANT to write more regularly and the ironic thing is, I feel SO much better after writing. I really enjoy it. It's pretty much "simply" a matter of discipline - taking the time to sit and organize my thoughts/pictures, etc.  I started running in November. I've NEVER seen myself as "a runner" - Bikram Yoga, Hip Hop dance, "power walking", suuuuure... but NEVER running. Until now. As of now, I can run a 5 minute mile . I usually run 20 minutes straight, then sprint for the next 30, and get in 50 minutes total. 2-3 days per week at this point. It's not always "fun"... but the point is, I make time for it and I feel awesome AFTER. Kind of like blogging....I just have to make regular time for it.

4. Weekend Trips to Penghu and Lanyu - exploring more life in this amazing country, off of "the mainland"- probably not "the mainland" you're thinking of..... I mean The Mainland of Taiwan. The country. :p

5. More music - whether it's catching live music performances at a bar/cafe in Taipei or possibly finding a teacher who speaks English well and beginning to learn how to play the saxophone while I'm here. I miss music. I love singing in church.... maybe getting more involved with them too? We'll see. But yes, more music.

I've also got two weddings to head home to the USA for - my childhood best friend's NEXT MONTH -!!!!!- in April- and my brother's in September. AND I just - yesterday- found out that Amy "Aimei", one of my best friends from Taiwan -via London- that I met here about a year and a half ago, who has since moved back to England.....has got some free time in April, she was asking what my plans were/if I was free then, I told her about my best friend's wedding going between NY and Maryland then, and she has decided to come to New York - her FIRST trip to "the colonies" :P - specifically New York- the week that I will be there in April and have a little "Adventure in the Americas"- few days of fun in NYC. So.... I guess there won't be TOO much sleeping going on this Sheep Year, unless you count jet lag.

For the first time since being back, I'm really thinking that I need to pick up some tutoring jobs. I need something more. I need to hustle. With a wedding and a friend visiting... I'm starting to feel the pressure. Feeling like I need a little bit more than what my job can give me/what I can save between now and then.

OK, more on everything next week. Have a good one! and until then here's....
           Happy New Year!  新年快樂!Xīnnián kuàilè! 
           Horse   馬 
           Sheep   羊 Yáng
           Sweet Potato    guā
           Cat  貓   Māo
           Orange - the fruit  桔子 Júzi
           Bicycle 脚踏车  Jiǎotàchē
           Friend/Friends  朋友  Péngyǒu

           Red Envelopes 紅包 Hóngbāo  $$$

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