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