Sunday, April 14, 2013


I feel ashamed that the intervals between my posts are drifting further and further apart. Call it busy, laziness, lack of motivation, whatever you call it, it has definitely felt harder to keep up with this blog as much as I'd liked.

But, as promised to a friend, today a new post MUST come to existence!

So let's see, I have done so much here that it's becoming quite difficult to keep up with everything. Life is settling down. Everything has started to feel more routine here, where I'm starting to feel more like a resident rather than a tourist. That's a good thing, I guess. Yet in a way, I'm a little worried that once the novelty of a new country wears off, will my love for Taiwan wear off as well? But so far so good, I'm still keeping busy with teaching, and most definitely, still traveling around almost all my weekends and seeing new things.

It's rain season here, which means endless days of incessant rain, gloominess, and cold chills. Not the best motivation to get up in the morning to teach, or do anything else for that matter. The kids have been so dead this past week, barely giving me murmurs in class when I asked for their response. But I don't blame them, not when I want just as badly to be in bed and hidden under the cover. Let's hope this dreadful weather passes soon before all my students turn into "zombie students".

But asides from all the rainy weather, we were actually fortunate enough to enjoy an extremely nice perfect-weather weekend last week on Green Island, Taiwan. It was a 4-day weekend, since Thursday was Children's Day, and then Tomb Sweeping Day right after that. Tomb Sweeping day is a Taiwanese holiday in which the families gather together to visit and clean up the tombs of their ancestors. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity of a long weekend, a few foreign teachers and I decided to explore the Green Island of Taiwan. Green Island is a small island in Taitung County, on the east coast of Taiwan. We took the High Speed Rail to Kaohsiung, and rented a car for the 3.5 hour drive to Taitung, where we took a 1 hour ferry ride to Green Island. The drive was very pleasant, especially after having to rely on public transportation for so long, it was definitely a treat having our own car. We were accompanied by breathtaking scenery of winding mountain roads and blue ocean for most of the drive.
The ferry ride, however, was a completely different story. Now, we were warned of this infamous "seasick ferry" before we even embarked on our journey, so we were all prepared with motion sickness medicine. But that still did not adequately prepare us for the crazy waves we encountered. It was almost impossible to stand up right without grasping on to something. Some of us got a little sick, but we managed to get there safe and sound.

The next two days composed of some very nice relaxing activities on the island as we drove our rental scooters around the island (it's small enough to circle the island on a scooter within 1 hour) and taking in all its scenic sights. We went to the salt-water hot springs the first night (one of the only three salt-water hot springs in the world). Definitely a luxurious, relaxing experience to be bathing in hot springs under the starry night while listening to the ocean waves. Next day we got to go snorkeling, which was absolutely wonderful! It was my first time snorkeling, and I was a bit nervous at first (especially since I can't really swim), but we were safe under the watchful eyes of our snorkeling instructor. Excitement quickly took over as we opened our eyes to the amazing underwater world of colorful corals and fishes, a stunning sight which I have only seen on TV before. We even got to feed the fish with bread and feel them swirl around our bodies. It was such an amazing experience! For the rest of the day ,we drove around and explored some more before taking the dreaded ferry back.

We spent the night in Taitung and met up with another FET Eden, who teaches there, and also Kathleen, visiting from Hualien. So it was a nice little reunion for us. We went to a cute little pizza place, owned and operated by an American guy Pete, then checked out the local art district, where a weekend handicrafts market and outdoor concert was going on. Eden was our gracious tour guide the next day and took us to several really nice places around Taitung city, including a delicious Tex-Mex restaurant (surprisingly good for Taiwan). We headed back that Saturday afternoon, in the drizzling rain, but still extremely thankful for the much needed getaway and the perfect weather for all our outdoor activities.

I definitely miss the island and the warm temperature we last enjoyed there. 

On a side note, while making small talk with one of my 6th graders the other day, he told me that his English had actually improved quite a bit since I came to the school because he gets to practice speaking to me. That, was all it took to fill my entire day with a special kind of warmth. That is exactly what brings me here, what keeps me going. I have been waiting to hear something like this for so long...Oh, how it warms the soul!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Living Alone

This post would probably make a lot more sense had it been written several months back, but I never really thought about it until now, after stumbling upon a video about "living alone."'s a big step in my life, a GIANT step, yet I never really gave it much thoughts. Until now.

So it has been about 7 months since I moved out half way across the world to live on my own. In all honesty, it hasn't been too bad, well, most of the time. There are definitely many perks of living alone, especially when I'm venturing out to a new country. First of all, no curfew! Yea, that's a biggie, since I had been living under strict curfew pretty much my whole life before coming to Taiwan (I know, hard to believe for someone my age, but it's true. My parents love me a little too much.) So that was probably one of the most exciting things I look forward to about moving out. I can go anywhere I want, anytime I want, as long as I want. Freedom is sweet! Well, there is that one little thing called public transportation that I had to consider to catch the last train back to town before everything stops running and we had to count our luck to meet some nice strangers who happen to be on the way and offer to give us a ride (but that may be a story for another time).

Anyway, freedom. Lots of it. It's my own place, I can decorate it however I want, no longer the need to make my bed every morning, doing the dishes after every meal, waiting for the bathroom...But I'm a pretty clean person, so I do try to keep my room pretty clean and tidy. It's definitely nice with no one else around, because I can play whatever music I want, drink out of the bottle, and heck, even walk around the room naked if I really want to. Yea, freedom!

Nevertheless, as with everything else in life, freedom comes with its own price. As much as I have enjoyed being on my own, there are many things I miss from living with my parents, many things I have taken for granted before. I miss the warmth of a family. I miss coming home after work to the sound of my parents' chatters and laughter, my dad's random singing to his made-up tunes, my dog, everyone talking and sharing about our day at the dinner table, enjoying hot tea and fresh-cut fruits after dinner in front of the TV with my parents. I especially miss being under my parents' tender care when I'm sick (I've noticed my homesickness hitting the hardest here during those times.) Overall, I miss the feeling of being the baby of the family.

Probably what I miss most of all, though, is my dad's cooking. I have always loved my dad's cooking, but what I miss the most is not just the food itself, but more of the gestures involved. Nothing feels warmer than waking up in the morning and coming downstairs to a warm breakfast waiting at the table, prepared by my caring father just to make sure I have a good meal to start the day. Then there's coming home after school and work each day to the aroma from the kitchen as my dad busied himself preparing for dinner. Often times at night, while I buried myself in front of the computer working on homework, studying, my dad would quietly come into my room with a little bit of warm snacks, hot tea, milk, whatever he conjured up that night. Those I call my "comfort food," to carry me late into the night until I finish my work. These are his way to show how much he really cares for me.

I guess all these things make me seem pretty spoiled before. I do feel spoiled, but it is little things like these that I have come to cherish so much now that my parents are no longer by my side. My mother showed her love through the daily conversation that we shared, fussing at me to get things done as I should, and my father showed his love through all the food he prepared for me. From this experience, I find myself to value family so much more than I did before, I find comfort in seeing my parents smile, knowing they had a good day, and I treasure each day I get to spend with them.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Not just another Auld Lang Syne

Another year passed and gone, it's the time for many of us to start reflecting upon the last year and all our accomplishments, our ups and downs, the people who have come and gone through our lives, and how much we have overcome the past year. I guess I will join in the fun and do a bit of evaluation of my own year as well.

First of all, this was definitely not just another New Year's Eve for me, for this marked my very first time greeting the New Year away from my family, one that was spent purely with friends, a bigger celebration than I've ever experienced before, with crowds, excitement, an actual countdown, glorious fireworks from Taipei 101 that I could only dreamed of seeing before from watching TV, an all-nighter of karaoke afterward, and even a flag-raising ceremony with Taiwan's president to greet the first dawn of the new year. Exciting? Definitely. Exhausting? No doubt, but well worth it. This New Year was definitely worth celebrating. Being in a new country, new experiences, new friends, all a part of a new beginning.

2012 has definitely been an intense year for me, with much drastic changes, realizations, discoveries, and LOTS of learning and growing as an individual. Life has surely taken me a long way in the past 6 months, considering just half a year ago, I had absolutely no clue where I was headed. I was fed up and unfulfilled by my life at the time, and desperately wanted to leave. I never thought that Taiwan would even be a possibility for me. As much as I like the country and the culture, working in Taiwan was not an option I was considering, for it would mean that I would be half-way across the world completely on my own for the first time, something that my overprotective parents would strongly frown upon. Yet somehow, as if by some mysterious force of fate, I happened to glance at the program book of my school's job fair and spotted the Taiwanese Embassy on it, the ONLY international organization out of all the local school districts on the list. Out of curiosity, I decided to check out their booth. One thing led to another, and next thing I knew, I have landed a job teaching English in Taiwan! The surprising thing is, my parents actually supported the idea and urged me to try it out, for the program seems well-organized and reliable. So in a way, it was also a very big leap for my parents as well, to learn to let go of me and send me out to face the world on my own, no longer sheltered under their protective arms. I love them dearly for doing this for me!

The months following my arrival in Taiwan were a whirlwind of getting settled, adapting to the new life and job, culture shocks, excitement of exploring new places, meeting new people, new discoveries, everything that a colorful life should be. I have never felt so alive, just breathing in the freshness of a new life! Being in Taiwan has definitely challenged me to realize many things about myself, what I'm really capable of, what I can live without, who really matters and truly cares, and helped me realize what I truly value in life. I feel like I have accomplished much more in the past 4 months than I have in years spent in the U.S. I hope to accomplish even greater things in the next year, with even more exciting adventures in the making. 

Anyway, to follow traditions, here are some of my resolutions for this new year:

1. Travel and explore more of Taiwan (definitely doable!)
2. Explore other countries
3. Meet more people & make more new friends
4. Keeping in touch with old friends who matter
5. Get into a better sleeping schedule
6. Learn to cook better
7. Improve my Chinese (drastically!)
8. Keep up with my blogging more

Even though I really hope to achieve all these for the coming year, there is a one other resolution that I long to accomplish most of all. I think I can actually do without any other resolutions as long as I can find a way to achieve this one resolution. Ironically, the achievement of this "one" resolution remains completely out of my control...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's That Time of the Year

It's been awhile, and the holidays are creeping up quickly. It hasn't failed to amaze me how fast Christmas is approaching. Guess it's harder to keep track here since there's the absence of the hustle and bustle of shoppers doing their holiday shopping, the aroma of warm Christmas spices lingering in the air, houses adorned with vibrant Christmas lights, constant Christmas songs playing everywhere you go, and of course, the ever anticipated Christmas Break.

No Christmas vacation here, but on the contrary, school has been keeping me quite busy, for our Christmas show is coming up. Yes, another performance. While exhausting, I don't mind the work, for at least it's keeping me in the holiday spirit with all the preparations and decorations we have been doing in the classroom.

This time of year is probably toughest for all the foreigners who have to spend the holiday season away from home, not excluding myself. While homesickness might not have hit me as hard as some of the others, I still find myself getting wrapped up in the nostalgia of Christmas past and reminiscing on all the holiday activities I usually find myself involved in.

Since Christmas is not a Taiwanese holiday, it really isn't a big deal here, hence the lack of the warm and cozy Christmas atmosphere. Still, I'm not going to let that stop me from enjoying my favorite holiday. So what do you do when there's no atmosphere? You create it! I have dragged home and decorated a little Christmas tree, hung up Christmas lights in my room, went Christmas shopping, wrote and sent Christmas cards, and have been playing Christmas songs from my computer and singing along every chance I get. I have even gone to scope out places with the most Christmas lights and Christmas trees to take pictures of. Some of my co-workers have asked me to join in their Secret Santa gift exchange, which I am more than happy to take part in. All these little things somewhat help bring out that "warm and fuzzy" feeling I always get during this time of the year. It also helps knowing that our county director will be hosting a Christmas party for all the foreign teachers the evening of December 25th, and will also excuse us from half a day of work that day so that we can get ready for the party. It's really not as bad as I'd thought it would be.

Nevertheless, there are still quite a few things I do miss comes the holiday season. So here's a brief list.

What I do miss:
- Heater! (While the temperature isn't necessarily lower, it sure feels a lot colder here due to the humidity and the lack of heating)
- Continuous Christmas songs on the radio
- Christmas classics playing on TV
- Christmas vacation
-  Candy canes (believe it or not, it is near impossible to find any candy canes here, even if I go to more westernized supemarkets)
- Seeing Christmas lights everywhere
- Surprise visit from my Aunt and cousins
- Baking holiday sweets
- Putting up Christmas tree and lights with my parents
- Wrapping presents, writing Christmas cards besides my Christmas tree while listening to Christmas music and sipping hot chocolate (actually, I guess I can still do that here)

What I don't miss:
- Cramming for final exams
- Traffic jams
- Houston's crazy weather mood swings
- Blowing holes in my wallet from Christmas shopping

Anyway, I wish everyone a delightful Christmas and New Year. Regardless of where you are, whether you are warm and snuggly besides your loved ones, or out on an adventure in a different land, make this holiday season a special one with memories to keep a lifetime!

Mini Christmas tree and lights in my room

Monday, December 3, 2012

The sky is blue

It's such a joy to see the blue sky for once, as opposed to the gloomy, dreadful, rainy weather we have been having the past couple weeks. With the rain comes a slight chilliness in the air, a sign that winter here is quickly approaching. The lowest it has gotten here so far is about 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees F). While 60 degrees wouldn't be considered cold back in the States, it definitely feels much colder here with the gusting wind and the dampness from the rain. I have been told that the coldest time here will be from January to March.

One thing I have noticed is that the local Taiwanese seem to be extremely sensitive to the cold weather, for as soon as the weather drops a few degrees, I would see everyone busting out their full winter attire: big jackets, boots, hats, scarves...Or maybe it's just an excuse for all the girls to show off their cute and fashionable boots and winter accessories. Either way, perhaps it's time I start dragging out my winter clothes and join the fun too!

The cooler temperature also means one thing: the arrival of the most anticipated, or in this case maybe the most dreaded, holiday season! I'm a huge holiday person and normally, once Thanksgiving rolls around, I begin to get into my bubbly Christmas mood that tends to last all the way til past New Year. Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday! For me, it would be a whole month of Christmas music, holiday baking, Christmas art & crafts, holiday shopping, and Christmas cards writing. However, given that this will be my very first Christmas away from home and my family, in a country where Christmas is not a highly celebrated holiday, I wonder how I will manage to cope through the entire season.

So far, it hasn't been too bad. Despite the occasional homesickness I have felt upon listening to Christmas music, I have managed to keep my spirit up and even get wrapped up in a bit of Christmas spirit as we start to plan and get ready for my school's annual Christmas show. I have been teaching the kids in my English Club a couple of Christmas songs, and have been throwing in some holiday crafts in my classes. Next will come the part of putting up the Christmas trees and going Christmas shopping. Maybe it won't be so bad spending Christmas here after all...

Asides from that, my weekend adventures continue with fun, food, and explorations of new places. For Thanksgiving, all the foreign teachers in Miaoli county decided to throw a Thanksgiving dinner together to keep us all from getting too homesick. What an elaborate, full-blown Thanksgiving meal it was! There were turkey, bread, mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, and even pumpkin pie! Ironically, this was my first traditional Thanksgiving dinner ever. Considering that my family is Chinese, we seldom celebrate Thanksgiving the traditional American way, and most of the time resulted in us eating out at a restaurant. Who would have thought that I would be experiencing my first-ever "real" Thanksgiving meal in Taiwan! 

The next day, our county director took us all to the local hot springs, Tai'an Hot Springs, where we got the spend the day pampering and indulging ourselves in the soothing hot baths, and even got to participate in some DIY chocolate making at a beautiful estate called the Schokolake. It was my first time trying out the hot springs here in Taiwan, and I must say I definitely look forward to going back for more! (not the traditional nude ones though. Yes, they do exist here.)

By the way, I will be going to the studio tomorrow to record a radio broadcasting for an English teaching program here. I am super excited to be going to a radio station for the first time. Hope all goes well!

Monday, November 12, 2012

I'm Back!!!

What a whirlwind October has been! From traveling, preparing for my school’s Halloween program, to classroom observation by the Ministry of Education and recording for the TV program, October has definitely kept me on my toes. I have never anticipated the arrival of November more! Now that the hustle and bustle is out of the way, I’m finding a bit more breathing room, meaning it’s time I get around to updating this blog again. I do apologize for my month-long hiatus, but I will definitely try to catch back up with more updates on happenings around here.

First of all, I have to say that it was more than pleasant to have my parents around for a change. Not having them with me has definitely made me realize the many things I have taken for granted in our daily lives. On the other hand, it was nice to prove to them my capability and independence. 

Since my parents both speak the language here fluently, it was no problem for them to get around. Within one week of their arrival, they probably knew the town better than me. In fact, they ended up the being the ones helping me to buy things and get around. During the weekdays, while I was at school, they stayed around town, went to the market, helped me with chores around the house, and what I appreciate most of all, my dad cooked for me. I have forgotten how nice it felt to be coming home to a hot, home cooked meal!  My dad’s cooking is definitely one of the things I miss the most after moving to Taiwan. I’m sure I gained some weight during their stay here. 

Since they refused to do any long-distance traveling without me, I did my best to squeeze in any time I have to take them to as many places as possible, so their visit would be worthwhile. We had 3 full weekends in all, so we used them to explore Miaoli City, Sanyi and its old Shengxing train station, Taipei (that’s a must!), the historic mountain town of Jiufen, and for the last weekend, went to the east coast to Hualien to check out the infamous Taroko Gorge. We celebrated the Moon Festival and Taiwan's Independence Day together, and witnessed some very impressive festivities. I was also able to take some time off from work, so on those shorter days, we went to Hsinchu city, and also visited the local leisure farm: Flying Cow Ranch. We had a lot of fun and I felt rather proud of our little accomplishment, for within those 3 weekends, we managed to travel across almost half of Taiwan. I won’t spend time on our travel details, rather let my photos tell the story. Of course, knowing me, we took a plethora of photos, but I’ll spare you the torture and just include some.

 Being interviewed after a very special Moon Festival celebration at Taichimen. We felt like V.I.P's.
 10/10 Taiwan Independence Day Fireworks Festival
 A very elaborate dinner with my principal, co-teachers, and other school staffs

 Sanyi Shengxing train station
 We actually got to ride on a very old-school train, so much fun!

 Beautiful view from the train
 Sanyi Wood Carving Museum
 About to ride the Maokong Gondola in Taipei
 Hello Taipei (view from the gondola cable car)

 No trip to Taipei is complete without a visit to the Taipei 101 building

 Jiufen town by night
 View from our hostel balcony in Jiufen

 Old town Jiufen

 The Old Street is packed with tourists

 Tea house which inspired the setting for the anime Spirited Away

 Taroko Gorge adventure!

 Chishingtan beach in Hualien

 The waves were huge!

 Attacked by bunnies at the farm >.<
 Flying Cow Ranch

Overall, I think my parents have really enjoyed their stay here in Taiwan. They left October 20th, so I’m back to living solo once again. However, that doesn't mean the fun has to stop. The weekends after their departure were just as eventful as I ventured out with friends to explore more of Taipei, attended the Taichung Jazz Festival, and even experienced my first foot massage session in Taiwan with my co-teacher. 

 At Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei

 Bustling Ximending District
 Promotion for a Halloween event
 Art & crafts market
 The Red House in Ximending
 Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

 Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

 Taipei City Hall
Foot massage in Miaoli City. So painful, but no pain no gain...

Nevertheless, with as much fun as I've had the past month, October was also the toughest and most exhausting month I've had in Taiwan so far, teaching-wise. For some reason, everything seemed to pile up all at once, with our Halloween performance, my MOE observation, and teaching demo all in the same week. Good news is, I miraculously pulled through successfully, with the help of my wonderful co-teachers, of course. It was a lot of work and planning, but we did it! And it's all over! Well, not all (work never ends), but at least November is giving me a bit of room to recuperate and get ready for the bustle of the next month that will be coming with Christmas on the way. 

 English Club kids performing Thriller for our Halloween program

 School-wide Halloween costumes parade

Classroom visit and observation from Ministry of Education representatives