Reflections on Taiwan

Lately I have been focused on endings: the end of a relationship, the end of the school year, the end of my time in Taiwan, and a sick grandmother at home whom I can’t visit because I am halfway around the world. I’ve been tearing up at every little thing. This happened last year around this same time even though I had far fewer changes happening.

That’s the downside of this life – there are lots of endings and lots of good-byes at the end of every year.

But I started randomly reading journals entries from the past few years, and I realized something. I’d forgotten the impetus that brought me to Taiwan to begin with.

Man, I was in a bad place. I was unhappy, and I felt stuck. And, worst of all, I couldn’t see a way out or anything better in my future. So I quit my job.

When I quit my job, I had no idea what I was going to do. I just knew I had to make a change. It took me three months to figure out that I didn’t want to teach in the U.S. and that there were opportunities to teach abroad. It took me another four months to get here.

But I did it.

And the first few months here were hard. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and there were times when I didn’t think I could stick it out, that I could live this life that was so different from what I had at home.

  • I was living in a country where I didn’t speak the language and was at the mercy of people who spoke English or asking for help from people I’d just met at work.
  • I was living in a studio apartment with no kitchen, one tiny window, and a mattress that was hard as a rock.
  • Without a car, I found it hard to shop for anything more than what I could carry plus I had to figure out where to shop. There are very few big box stores here that sell everything.
  • I had a mold issue in my apartment and my shoes were growing mold and I didn’t know if that was normal in Taiwan or what I could do about it and it made me feel dirty.
  • I had baby roaches that woke up at night and crawled around on the floor and I would see them every time I would get up to go to the bathroom and I would lie in bed at night and pretend they didn’t exist. I felt like a little kid again who was afraid that her hands would fall over the edge of the bed and get grabbed by a monster only it was a baby roach that might crawl up my arm and into my ear and lay eggs.
  • I had trouble sleeping at night because that’s when everyone at home was awake, and I was afraid someone would need me and I’d be asleep.
  • I was teaching students who barely spoke English, and I had no Mandarin language skills so getting to know them was impossible and teaching was a challenge.

Yes, these were the crazy and real things that, by month three, were making me wonder if I could do this.

But the idea of going home and leading the life that had been slowly strangling me was far worse.

So I stayed. I spent my weekends literally wandering around and seeing this new world I was living in and taking pictures and reveling in the strangeness that gradually became familiarity. And I got to know people who became close friends who were amazing when I was hospitalized and who went on trips with me and were there for me when I needed them.

And it’s two years later, and I have to say good-bye to a city I have come to love and people I have come to think of as another family and it’s hard. But I am so grateful that I have had these experiences and met all of these people who will forever be in my heart and have memories that will last a lifetime.

On top of that, I now see three or four different futures that all seem equally as good. I wish I had more than one lifetime to do all the things I dream of and now believe possible.

I couldn’t have known where I would be today when I got on that plane two years ago, but I am so glad I didn’t allow that to hold me back. I honestly have no idea where I’ll be in five years, but I know I’ll be in China for the next two – and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Is Love a Choice?

So, my ex-boyfriend and I had a long text conversation today about the end of our relationship.  It’s been close to four months, I think, since he broke it off rather abruptly. He told me he ended it because he gave up on our long-distance relationship – of course, there was another woman involved so I’m sure that was part of it, but whatever – and I told him it’s all good and people’s feelings change and it was for the best. Blah, blah, blah.

And that got me thinking about what I actually believe about love and commitment.

Thing is, I do believe everything I told Jon. But I also believe love is a commitment. You date to see if you want to make that commitment. We did and he didn’t. Fine.

But, after that, after you make the choice that you love that person and want to be with them forever. At that point, it’s not an option for your feelings to change. What I mean by that is this. You fall in love. You make a choice to commit. Then you keep committing every day.

You commit to love that person.

You commit to be honest with that person about what you need.

You commit to do whatever it takes to keep that love alive.

You commit to make sacrifices for their happiness and, because they love you the same way, they will also make sacrifices for yours.

I don’t know at what point in the relationship you make this commitment, but I think you both know when it happens. And it’s not to be taken lightly. It’s a big deal.

Because that commitment means it’s the two of you against the world. You’re no longer flying solo. You no longer have the option to only do what you want. You have to consider another person. And you made a commitment to love and be with that person forever. Anything less is a betrayal.

For some people, for some couples, that seems pretty easy. I think, in some ways, it’s how far you open your heart. Once a person is in there deeply, embedded, they become a part of you. It makes it easier to make that daily commitment because to hurt them, you hurt yourself. But, even then, you can’t forget. You can’t take it for granted.

I’ve seen so many couples who thought they were safe, that things were good. Then, a few years later, one of them cheats. The excuse of the cheater is always that they didn’t feel that their partner listened to their needs. It’s imperative to check in with each other. To talk and to listen to each other.

I’ve never been married.

But I’ve seen a lot of marriages – both good and bad.

I’ve listened to a lot of people with broken hearts tell me what went wrong on their side. I’ve had friends who have been cheated on and friends who cheated. I try not to judge because I know marriage is hard and that it takes two people for it to work. And that’s my point. It’s work.

The couples I know whose marriages are currently good all say that it’s work and that they work at it. They talk. They check in with each other. They compromise. They BOTH compromise. They make deals: you do this one night for me and I’ll do that one night for you. You figure out what’s important to each other, and you make it happen.

And I’ve never heard a couple who works on their relationship say that it wasn’t worth it. Love always is. It’s worth sacrifice and pain and hard work because…well…love.

For now, I’m flying solo again and that’s okay. I am living the life I want, learning to love myself the way I deserve to be loved, and opening my heart up to the Universe to be more generous and caring and vulnerable and daring. I’m learning not to be afraid of physical or emotional pain on my path to get what I want. And, hopefully, I’ll find someone to share in my crazy adventures along the way.

Of course, the steps required to get my Z Visa may kill me but, if I get through that, I am psyched about what the future holds.

What are your thoughts about love? Can you make a choice to love one person forever or are you at the mercy of whimsical emotions? Is the notion of loving one person forever a social construct or is it a desirable and attainable goal?

I think that choosing to love one person forever is a desirable and attainable goal. And, the older I get, the more I think that love is a choice. You can choose to love someone forever. I am, however, an idealist and a romantic so I believe the impossible is possible if you want it badly enough!

But whatever you believe and however you believe, I also know that you must be true to yourself. Think about this. Take the time to love yourself and decide how you want love to exist in your life. There are no wrong answers as long as you’re honest with yourself and the people you allow into your heart.

Peace.

Yang Shin: A Review

Yang Shin – I am about to rave about Yang Shin. If you are looking for a delicious, unique vegetarian restaurant in Taipei then go to Yang Shin. If you are not vegetarian and you want some good dim sum, go to Yang Shin. Since I am not the only person who has discovered how good the food, the service, and the ambiance are at Yang Shin, make a reservation or you won’t get in to enjoy the deliciousness.

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Yang Shin is located near the SongJiang Nanjing MRT Station. It was easy to get to but took us a minute to figure out to get into the restaurant as it is on the second floor of another building and the entrance in at the end of narrow hallway through a bakery. Once you see the sign outside, just go in and look around, and you’ll figure it out.

We arrived a few minutes before our reservation, and they seated us on time. We sat and looked through the menu book – and it is a book, I kid you not. The menu is in English as well as Mandarin with plenty of pictures. Unfortunately, there were only two of us which was so difficult because we wanted to try so many different things and only had two stomachs to fill. *sigh*

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We finally settled on five dishes: kung pao deep fried spicy stinky tofu, baked shaobing  with ji-cai, vegetarian xiao long bao, steamed vegetarian dumpling, and steamed rice noodle roll with day lily and lily bulb.

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Kung pao deep fried spicy stinky tofu: The tofu was fried on the outside and soft on the inside, slightly sweet and a little spicy served with cashews and peppers. There was a lot of this, and we couldn’t finish it.

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Baked shaobing with ji-cai: There were three buttery, flaky pastries with sesame seeds on top and a buttery, salty spinach filling. Truthfully, these were my favorite.

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Vegetarian xiao long bao: There were three tiny, perfect dumplings that were made of silky, soft pasta with a savory, juicy mushroom filling.

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Steamed vegetarian dumpling: There were three of these as well. They were slightly bigger than the shaobing and beautifully made in a shell shape with the same silky, soft pasta and a filling of greens (not sure what kind exactly but very good).

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Steamed rice noodle roll with day lily and lily bulb: These were long, soft rice noodle rolls with the day lilies and lily bulbs inside. The texture was nice, but there was very little flavor. Out of the five dishes, this was my least favorite and the only one I wouldn’t order again or recommend.

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Even though we were quite full, we still decided to get a dessert so we tried the pan fried pumpkin flannel cake. If you are looking for something really sweet, this is not for you. It is very good but only slightly sweet on the fried bottom with sesame seeds, a light pumpkin flavor to the dough, and a taro filling.

The texture and taste was very satisfying once I got past the expectation of a super sweet dessert. It does not resemble what I consider cake in any way but is more of a gooey, chewy mochi texture. I probably wouldn’t get it again only because there are so many other things to try, but it was very good.

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Fortunately, I have a good friend here who is great at research and loves me! So when I did the 30-Day Vegetarian Challenge, she looked up interesting places to go. We didn’t make it to Yang Shin during that time frame, but it looked so good that we decided to make a reservation and go last night. It was such a treat. Thank you, Blair!

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Taiwan: Taitung and Dulan

My time here in Taiwan is going very quickly. A part of me didn’t expect to find a job in a different country for next year, and I thought I’d have another year to explore this beautiful country. As excited as I am about my new job and moving to a new country, I am just as sad to be leaving a country I have come to love.

With only a little bit of time left, I am attempting to see places I’ve already seen and loved and visit a few more of the places I haven’t been to yet. The rain thwarted my efforts this past weekend although I did find a new market (so fun!), but my fingers are crossed that I’ll have another chance to do some of the things on my list before I go.

One of the trips I took last year that I haven’t yet written took me to two of the few places I’ve been to outside of Taipei and the furthest south I’ve been – Taitung and Dulan. Jon and I planned to visit Taitung, Dulan, and Green Island, but we only made it to two out of the three.

We flew out of Songshan Airport to Taitung on Friday night. It’s a short and easy flight, but we still arrived pretty late. Our hotel was out of the town proper near a fishing port. It was a rainy, dreary night, and we were so hungry!

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View from the balcony of our room

We went looking in a misty rain on a dark night down alleys and around temples and discovered that, at 7:45 pm, everything was closed or closing except a tiny, local restaurant. When I say restaurant, I mean wooden shack. When I say tiny, I mean a room filled by with three little tables that seated two in front of a cooking area and a glass case with seafood for us to select for them to fry up.

Additional seating outside was occupied by a few people, but we bypassed them and went in. One of the young ladies followed us in a few minutes after we ordered and informed us that the place was owned by a husband and wife team who were incredibly sweet. I’m not sure where our new friend was from (I can’t remember now), but she spoke both English and Mandarin. The wife whom we had ordered from using the point and mime method did not speak any English, but the husband whom we had not yet met spoke a little.

The young lady told us she was staying nearby, had been to Green Island the day before and ahd gotten badly bitten by a stray dog. This was not reassuring to me since we were planning to go there Sunday, but she said it was an unusual thing to have happen. She’d had to extend her stay in Taitung, though, because of the bite and this couple had been very kind to her.

She sat and talked to us while we ate one of the most delicious meals of fried food, and the owner brought us the most delicious Taiwan beer I’d ever had. I wish now that I’d taken a picture of everything, but I was too tired that night to think of it. For a spontaneous meal on a night when we thought we’d be eating 7-11, we were off to a great start. We walked back to our hotel room – a suite on the top floor (three stories) with a huge bathtub where I planned to soak for the next hour.

Taitung:

The next day we took a taxi cab to Taitung Forest Park then walked around Taitung City, visited the Taitung Railway Art Village then had an amazing meal made specifically for us at a restaurant where one of Jon’s co-workers had a friend.

The park was lovely! There were so many different kinds of plants with everything labelled and described

The Taitung Railway Art Village was adorable. It had hot air balloons everywhere, little shops, an outdoor area with vendors selling crafts and t-shirts and jewelry, and, of course, an old railway station with trains!

We left there completely stuffed and wandered around the night market. For such a smallish city, the night market was packed! I took a million pictures and drove Jon crazy then we headed back to the hotel where I almost immediately began vomiting. Jon slept while I spent the night by the toilet throwing up every morsel of once-delicious food. Let me tell you, it was not as good coming back up.

We were supposed to leave for Green Island the next morning, but the boat trip over is notoriously rough. Having spent the night vomiting, I was still feeling queasy and definitely not up for a rough boat ride. I spent the morning in bed while Jon went out and explored some rock park in Taitung. By early evening, I finally made it out of bed, and we took a walk by the water near the hotel.

The ocean is so calming and always awe-inspiring. This area had people fishing and large fishing boats and lots of rocks which made it difficult to walk.

Dulan:

We hitchhiked the next day to Dulan, getting picked up within 10 minutes of putting out our thumbs. The couple who picked us up spoke a little English, were willing to drive us anywhere, and were disappointed we didn’t speak Chinese. We got our picture taken so they could post it on Facebook, presumably entitled “The Disappointing Foreigners.” They dropped us off at the Dulan Sugar Factory and continued on their way back to Taipei.

We took pictures, wandered into and out of a few shops, walked through the one-street shopping/restaurant area of town, got directions to the beach, and headed down. The beach was stunning. We spent a few hours in the water before hunger drove us back to the one-street town where we ate at a vegetarian Mexican restaurant, Pink Rosa. It was good, not great, but filling and the closest thing I’d had to Mexican food since I’d arrived in Taiwan in August!

After lunch, we decided to hike off our food and headed up the mountain. It was rural and awesome with fields of crops and fields of cows and the occasional truck or scooter passing us on the two-lane road. We were still in our bathing suits and getting burnt and getting chafed by our wet clothes. We found a clearing with some benches in the woods and quickly changed before heading back down.

We found our way back to the abandoned sugar factory and hitchhiked home. It took us a little longer this time to get a ride. A car pulled up with a little bit of room in the backseat with fishing gear, and we climbed in. We had a male driver with a female passenger again, but the female passenger spoke fluent English and talked our ears off the entire way back to our hotel, spending part of the time berating us for not knowing Mandarin and the other part promoting the driver’s band.

It was our last night in Taitung and, by now, we were exhausted. We showered, found another local restaurant to eat in, and fell into bed.

Living in Taipei doesn’t begin to give you a taste of what it’s like outside the city. In the city, there are places I can’t eat because I don’t speak the language but I can find another place a block over that does. I have many choices, and it’s easy to live here without speaking Mandarin. Also – public transportation is easy and takes me within walking distance of all the important places.

Outside of Taipei, it’s different. In the rural areas, it’s hard to find people who speak English and it’s harder to get around and there is no public transportation. We basically relied on taxis and the patience of people to understand our halting Chinese coupled with their usually slightly better English, Google translations, and hand gestures.

Keep all of this in mind when you decide to venture outside of Taipei. It’s worth it, but it’s definitely harder.

Wrap-Up:

Taitung is a cute, small town that is challenging to navigate on limited Chinese skills. We easily saw almost everything there was to see in one day.

Dulan is an even smaller beach town that has a beautiful beach and beautiful scenery, but that’s it. Go if you want to spend time relaxing at the beach with no other agenda.

All in all, it was a relaxing weekend, but I still regret that we didn’t make it to Green Island. *sigh* I guess there is no way to predict getting sick – and maybe I’ll be back here on vacation one day to see all the places I didn’t make it to while living here!

The Hard Stuff

There are times in my life when I feel like I’m losing my mind and that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Okay, there are lot of times in my life that I feel this way. Sometimes I feel this way when the day before I was completely sure of where I was headed and what I wanted to accomplish.

Today is one of those days. It is pouring down rain outside. I’ve spent a crazy week trying to get the paperwork together for the visa for my next move, figure out the logistics of the steps for my move, do my current job which is fortunately not too terribly stressful, and not completely freak out about moving in less than seven weeks.

I’ve been trying to relax today, but a part of me is so excited and another part is trying not to fall apart in panic. This is me: two conflicting sides. This is my life and what I do to myself. I think part of it is that I’m alone. I do all of this alone. And I never stick with any one thing so I’m constantly learning new things, changing things, and complicating my life. I exhaust myself sometimes.

I don’t know if this sounds like I’m bragging or if I’m having a pity party, but it’s neither. It’s just who I am. It’s not better or worse than others. It’s simply the way my moods swing and my brain works and it’s how I’ve chosen to live my life. I don’t regret anything except that life is probably not long enough for me to do everything I want to do, but I’m okay with that as well. I plan on plowing ahead until I can’t or don’t want to anymore. Then I’ll stop and settle and be grateful I did as much as I did.

But there are moments like now when I want to bury myself under the covers and never leave. However, I know that’s not an option and that, when I finally come out from under the covers, the option I will wish for is the one that takes all the work. So I may as well do it and finish the hard stuff as soon as possible so I can get on with enjoying the good stuff.

Isn’t that just the way?

There’s no easy path to get the life you want.

Learning Mandarin

Learning Mandarin Chinese is hard. I’ve read it. I’ve heard it. I’ve experienced it.

Learning another language is always difficult, but Mandarin takes it to a whole new level. For one thing, the characters look different. They sound different. Then throw in tones, and it’s on, baby. The same word can have different meanings depending on how you pronounce it – and some of the sounds are nothing like the sounds we use in English!

Needless to say, I’ve lived in Taiwan for two years where the primary language is Mandarin Chinese, and I’ve barely gotten past a few words and phrases. The only thing I consistently order in Chinese is coffee. The rest I point and motion to explain what I need.

I’ve been lucky living here in Taiwan because enough people speak English or, at least, have enough English skills to help me that I haven’t had to learn Mandarin. I’ve tried. I’ve half-heartedly tried. When it started making me feel stupid, I quit. Then I would try again a few months later and so on.

I haven’t made much progress.

However, I got a job in China.

Yes! I got a job!

And it’s in Shenzhen, China.

From what I’ve read about China, English is not as readily spoken. So I’ve started trying to learn Mandarin. Again.

It’s still hard. But this time I’m more motivated because I have a feeling I’m going to need it. I feel like I’m picking it up faster than before because of my past sporadic studying. It’s somewhat familiar. I’m trying to study at least once a day.

After my lesson today, I was feeling really good about it.

Until I went to a restaurant I go to a lot and tried to order my usual salad in a different way. *sigh* I had no idea how to explain it in Chinese and resorted to lots of pointing and hand gestures until the owner figured it out. I immediately felt like a failure.

But this is what learning something new is like. The progress is slow. And you may feel stupid at times. But you can’t quit. If you quit, you definitely won’t learn it, but, if you keep trying, you will eventually get better.

I mean, how else will you spend your time? If the choice is between watching television and learning something new, pick the learning something new option. Ask yourself: at the end of the day, which one is going to be more memorable, not to mention more useful and, quite frankly, more interesting?

So what skill have you been putting off learning?

Maybe now is a good time to start.

Taiwan Dragon Boat Festival

This weekend was the Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan. This is a Chinese holiday that is attached to three different legends, all of which involve a dead body in a river and of which dragon boat racing came from.

The most popular legend surrounds the suicide of a famous poet in China, Qu Yuan. When people found out about his death, they got in boats to search the river for his body, feeding rice to the fish to keep them from feeding on his body. Now we have dragon boat racing and zhonzi (sticky rice dumplings) to commemorate the day.

I didn’t go last year so I made sure to visit Dajia Riverside Park today for the last day of races to see what it’s all about.

I walked there from my house which took almost an hour and wound up being more of an adventure than I anticipated as I was propositioned on the way by a man. This is the first time in the almost two years that I’ve lived here that I was treated this way by a man so I was rather shocked. I guess it happens everywhere. *sigh*

Anyway, I moved quickly away from him once I realized what he wanted, made it to the park, and got absorbed into the festivities and festive atmosphere.

The park had rides for the children, food and drink vendors, games for adults, music, and, of course, the main attraction with the races on the river. The teams wore matching shirts and many of them were warming up in the fields and open concrete spaces to get ready to row. As the teams would walk in front of the spectators, they would cheer them on.

The boats all look the same, but each team carries a flag with their team name and logo. They have a person in front with the flag, a drummer who drums the timing of the strokes, and a person at the back who uses an oar to directionally steer. When the gun would go off to start a race, the beat of the drums and the chants accompanied the rowers’ efforts. They were drowned out a bit by the music and announcements going on, but I could imagine what they were like when they first began.

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It was a hot, hot, hot day. The races were short and fast. I couldn’t imagine preparing for the race only to have it over so quickly, but it still looked fun!

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Today, all of the races were local teams, a few races with high school teams, but, on Sunday, there were expat races where everyone entered had to have a foreign passport. The races ran all day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Someone told me that the later the day and the later the time, the better the racers. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the racers I saw Sunday morning looked pretty good!

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While I took pictures, this guy drew the races and looked so absorbed in his work. It was a pleasure watching him.

I can’t wait to compare the races here to the ones in China. From what I’ve read, the dragon boats vary greatly in appearance from region to region and country to country in addition to the way they celebrate. I look forward to seeing the races in another place next year.