About dinamschwartz

Writer. Photographer. Bibliophile. Traveler. Teacher. Student. Daughter. Sister. Friend.

Where Did the Time Go?

I can’t believe I haven’t posted a blog since August! Where did the time go?

Oh. I know. I’ve been teaching 7th grade, adjusting to a new country, travelling, and generally trying to figure out life.

I do that. I try to figure out life. But there’s no real figuring it out. Life is just…life. We make plans. We work hard. We get up and go. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces but, sometimes, we soar.

I haven’t really soared in awhile so I think my time is coming soon. 😊

Between trying to take flight and falling quite a bit, I have been busy!

  • Since August, I have had the chance to learn so much about teaching 7th graders. I have found a new obsession with teachers on Instagram who have some of the best ideas and an incredible passion for teaching.
  • I have had the chance to visit a few places here in China – all close to Shenzhen and some in Shenzhen (Shenzhen is huge! I had no idea.).
  • I’ve had food poisoning three times times in China.
  • I met up with friends in Bangkok for a weekend, visited the beach on a work retreat, did a beach clean-up with students and other teachers, and went to Seoul.
  • I had the chance to go back to the U.S. and spend time with my family for Christmas for the first time in two years.
  • I went to Thailand again over Chinese New Year and went to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
  • I’ve had a stomach flu in Thailand and experienced a busy airport, the kindness of strangers and a short flight that felt longer while fighting it.

My heart is full, and I’m grateful for this life despite the food poisoning, tension headaches, and bruises along the way.

Here are just a few pictures of life in Shenzhen from the past six months: the beach clean-up, using WeChat to pay for everything, the fruit (I love the fruit!), interesting people and things, and a few people I’ve met along the way. China is certainly not dull!

I will post a few blogs over the next few weeks about some of these experiences.






New City, New Challenges

It took almost two weeks longer to get my Z visa to China than expected. The good news about that thoroughly frustrating situation is that I got to see more of my family and friends. The bad news about it is that I arrived in a new country only a few days before starting classes with my students. These two and a half weeks have been a blur of medical appointments, lesson planning, teaching, meetings, bank trips, trips to WalMart and IKEA to get my apartment set up, figuring out WeChat (which I am still working on because it is the main mode of communication and payment here – and I just figured out that it even translates messages!) and the simple process of learning the wheres, whats, and hows of a new country.


What is the best way to get to work?

Where do I catch the bus home?

How do I get a water dispenser in my apartment?

Where do I find food I can order when I don’t speak the language – who speaks English or, at least, has an English menu I can point to?

Where do I get coffee? Something I’m finding is hugely challenging unless you want to pay $4 at Starbuck’s!

Where is the bank?

A new city always means learning the basics – and a new city where you don’t speak the language creates its own set of challenges. I also discovered that the VPN issue in China is real. Without a VPN, many helpful websites are blocked. WeChat and a VPN are your best friends.

Fortunately, I live directly across the street from a WalMart and a mall so I have access to anything I need and won’t starve. These past few weeks – fighting jet lag, preparing for classes, and trying to get the paperwork for my residency – it’s just been hard to find the energy and time to get things done. But, thanks to a typhoon day and a few good nights of sleep, I am finally starting to feel normal.

I haven’t had a chance to see much of my new city other than the paths to and from work or other obligations, but the area I’m in is beautifully green. I love the trees that line the sidewalks and the water fountains placed in strategic locations and the street cleaners with their stick brooms and big hats to protect them from the glaring sun. I love the little kiosk huts that dot the sidewalks in place of the convenient stores that I became accustomed to in Taipei. And I have had no problem finding Western food if I am craving a good pizza or French fries or even a salad. But I’ve only found one street food cart serving buns and dumplings and feel as though I haven’t yet seen the true China.


Shenzhen is what I expected and not what I expected. There is construction going on everywhere as it is the fastest growing city here. There are tall, modern buildings near older, somewhat dilapidated buildings and others in between. There’s English but not everywhere or even as much as I found in Taipei. And there has only been a little bit of culture shock.

The first week here felt like a picture that was out of focus. The people looked different and dressed differently than in Taiwan. But the humidity and the heat were the same. The city smells different. The food is similar but different – more meat, less vegetarian options, less tofu, more potatoes and pasta. There aren’t 7-11s on every corner or drink shops side-by-side, but there are pizza joints and cafes and other restaurants everywhere! The people are kind but more aggressive with less smiles. The scooters are different, smaller and less prominent than the cars. The buses are a better option most of the time than the subway, at least where I live. And taxis don’t always have their light on when they’re available so you just stick your hand out every time you see one.

The picture is more in focus now. I’ve adjusted. I don’t expect it to be just like Taiwan now. I knew that intellectually when I arrived but, in my tiredness and in trying to adjust, I still emotionally expected it. I literally compared everything to Taiwan…and it always fell short. Now I am starting to look at it as its own city with its own pros and cons and not keep score. I can’t wait to see more of the city and discover what makes Shenzhen unique and special in its own right.

A new city and new challenges – I see good times ahead!


USA: Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, Maryland has one of the highest murder rates in the USA. It’s a diverse city of historical significance that is overlooked at times. It’s where the original flag was sewn by Betsy Ross and the Star-Spangled Banner was written. It’s the city where Babe Ruth was born and Edgar Allan Poe died. It’s beautiful and ugly and interesting, old and new. Depending on where you are in the city, it can be either very safe or very dangerous – and those two places are often side-by-side.

For me, though, Baltimore is home. Although I didn’t grow up there in the traditional sense of the word, I was born there and we made annual visits to see family. The city is rich with my family’s history, with stories told repeatedly and places pointed to with the pride of relationship. To this day, when I visit, we’ll pass a place I may not know and hear a story about an aunt or an uncle or a cousin or a grandparent or even one of my own parents. I feel connected to Baltimore more than any other place that I have lived.

I didn’t realize how special Baltimore was to me until the past few years when I would go to visit and feel nostalgia for childhood memories. I didn’t realize how deeply rooted and visceral those memories became because I was with family: the crab boils in the backyard that always created tiny cuts on my fingers that tasted of Old Bay, walking to the snowball stand with my cousins on the hot pavement and the pleasure of sticky, icy sweet on my tongue on the way back, the horror movie marathons in my aunt’s basement where I would hide my face and sit close to my brother, my grandmother’s cooking that always involved lots of cheese and butter, hanging out with my cousins and feeling both special and alienated because I lived in another city most of the time while they all lived near each other.

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, passed away recently. I wasn’t there because I was in Taiwan at the end of the school year and couldn’t come home.  She was a constant presence in my life either through my mother talking about her or my own visits with her. In my childhood, she was someone who loved me and who would hug me tight when I would go to see her, but someone I didn’t really know that well. I loved her because I knew I should and because she loved me, but I could only talk about her cooking or the way she was with my mom when my mom was little. I had very few memories with her of my own.

As an adult, I finally took the time to get to know her. I learned how to ask questions and listen to the answers. I got glimpses of the little girl she was during the Depression, living with her grandmother, dreaming big dreams and getting her heart broken. I met the young girl who married an emotionally abusive man when she was too young to know better then moved on to someone even worse. I saw the woman who had three children because that was what you did, and any slim opportunity she may have had as a poor, uneducated woman in the early 1900s disappeared.

My grandmother was intelligent. She started off with the disadvantages of extreme poverty and a bipolar disorder. When she met my grandfather, she was suffering from depression, running from an abusive husband with three of her four children in tow and trying to support them. She then got married for the third time. My grandfather was 16 years older than her, an Italian immigrant who spoke broken English and worked the night shift on the railroad, and he was her savior.

Nan and Pap

Between the two of them, they had six children when they got married; they had four more children together. The picture I have that stands out in my mind is them living in a two-story Baltimore city townhouse with plastic covering the furniture and sticking to my legs in the summer, a hot kitchen with my grandmother either cooking or doing dishes, three tiny bedrooms bulging with too many people, hugs and laughter everywhere I turned, and stories told so many times I felt like I had lived some of them myself even though they took place before I was born.

There was also drama. There were tears and fights. There were mistakes and gossip and family who cut off others only to forgive them several days or months or years later. But there was always love in that house, a fierce love and loyalty that was there even when we weren’t.

Those memories will always be a part of me, and, even though I love the Inner Harbor and Ellicott City and Annapolis, those memories and that two-story townhouse are Baltimore to me.

USA: Phoenix, Arizona

I landed in Phoenix last Saturday with most of my belongings packed in two very heavy suitcases, a carry-on bag, and a purse (a giant purse stuffed full of things). I keep saying that I want to get rid of more things, but I really want all of the things in these bags. I am not a very good vagabond.

The week was filled with training sessions for my new position, good meals that caused me to gain a few unwanted pounds, and networking opportunities to make new friends. It was much more interesting than I anticipated, and I didn’t meet one person I didn’t like. On top of that, downtown Phoenix is a really cool city with a big heart!

The training – the training was almost all very targeted so I was able to learn more about the company I’ll be working for, the philosophy of education, the educational goals, and the expectations for my position. They also included some sessions to prepare us for moving to China which was very helpful, and I was able to meet people whom I’ll be working with. This was probably the best part because I made connections with a few people, and, I will admit, I’m a bit nervous about the move. Knowing I’ll have a few friends already helps immensely.


Although I spent most of my time in the Phoenix Convention Center, I did have an opportunity to wander around here and there for a few hours, eat at a few of the restaurants, and go to the symphony. It was interesting that most of the waiters had tattoos and that graffiti art was everywhere – even on the side of a credit union, advertising the building. Something about the tattoos and the graffiti art go together, as though art is a part of showcasing everything and everyone to their best advantage.

The art, the symphony, and the buildings revealed what kind of city Phoenix wants to be.

The graffiti art – the murals were amazing! There was a skeleton with a black hood holding a sign that said, “Love Life.” There was an area with a wall of kindness for encouraging messages with a mural behind it that honored the homeless who had died in the city. The messages were mostly positive and life-affirming which made my heart happy.


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The symphony – the music was BEAUTIFUL! It wasn’t a full symphony, but a quartet just for us as the symphony has the summer off. If you have a chance to go, there is some serious talent in Phoenix. They only played for about 45 minutes, playing music from old to new, ending with Jimmy Hendrix! Corinna, one of my new co-workers, and I both cried during several of the songs, including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Granted, we were both jet-lagged and emotional but, still, they were good!

The symphony has also done a study that shows that listening to music improves Alzheimer’s. They are the only symphony that has promoted and participated in a medical study of this sort and have published a paper on it. In addition, they have created a school program for elementary students that pairs music with learning. They also did a study on their school program which showed increased scores in the classes that used it and the students’ scores remained higher beyond the classes they took using the music program. Bottom line: music is good for the brain and the Phoenix Symphony is out to prove it.

The buildings – I took a picture of a building with Westward Ho on the top and had to look it up because it also had ASU on the side. I learned that it was a low-income apartment building and ASU decided to partner up with Westward Ho and use students to offer services to the tenants – social services, nutrition services, medical services, etc. Arizona State University wants their students to be part of the community rather than an isolated institution of learning and they are acting on their words. That’s why we educate and get educated – to make the world a better place.


I enjoyed my time learning about the city and my new company, but, after a little less than a week in Phoenix that was packed full and just when I was recovering from my jet lag, I left the most comfortable bed in the world at the Renaissance Hotel and hopped on a plane to head East to see my mom.

See ya again one day, Phoenix, but I’m moving on to something else for now.

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.


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.



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*


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.


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.


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.


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


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).


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.


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.


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!