Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why the heck isn't this train moving?

Photo from the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan Web site.

I would have been home four hours ago if Taiwan had the presence of mind to increase transportation in areas that are to be inundated with a flood of people during a festival.

That said, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival was still totally worth it.

I'll write all about the day in which we spent 5 hours to get somewhere to play for 3 hours and then another 5 hours to come back.

But, for now, I'm exhausted.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Can your life get turned upside-down in a good way?

Because I'm pretty sure mine has.

It's going to mean a lot of work between now and then, but I think I've figured out the next chapter of my life... after Taiwan.

I don't want to give too many details just yet, but let's just say that Operation "Live on Every Continent" will at least have a pretty good foothold. And there is a ton of traveling involved.

I'm excited.

How excited?

I stayed up until 6 a.m. researching and buying plane tickets.

I will tell you that between July and October I will have entered nine countries not counting Taiwan.

Now I have to save in the most phenomenal way possible.

I also have to remember that I am in Taiwan for a reason and there are still plenty of things here for me to enjoy.

I'm excited about the prospect of something new, but I hope I don't get so caught up in it that I forget Taiwan is new too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What would you write a book about?

The great thing about getting a country-wide vacation is that no one is really ready to come back to work.

So this has been review week and I really like that.

It basically means going back to work consists of literally doing nothing but playing games and goofing around with my kids.

Love it.

I'm reading this book right now — Eat Pray Love, maybe you've heard about it — and I love it. I'm obsessed with it. I would have finished it by now if I were any other person, but I'm a slow reader. Well, that and I'm scared of what life will be like when I don't have this book to read anymore.

That's how much I love this book that I'm only a third of the way through; I want to be able to read it for the rest of my life.

It's a travel book all about this woman pursuing pleasure, devotion and balance after her life sort of falls to pieces and she's essentially having a self-identity crisis. "Balance" apparently turns out to be love. I'm not sure how that works, but I'm not there yet.

I'm sure almost anyone could say this about this book, but I feel like so much of it mirrors my personality and how I feel a lot of the time. You know, minus the divorce and having already written several novels, some of which were being made into movies.

Overall though, the book just makes me want to keep traveling all over the world and to continue writing about it and to, hopefully — one day, write a novel. I've always wanted to write a novel, but it's sort of this renewed ambition.

Then again, I'm only in my early-20s and the prospect of writing anything of consequence seems ridiculous, at least to me. Then again Fitzgerald wrote his first novel when he was 23. I just haven't lived enough. I know we all think we know everything about the world, but luckily I'm smart enough to know that I really know nothing about life or the world or how it all works.

I suppose I could get started on the chic-lit.

Anyhow, Chinese New Year is coming to an end soon. This Sunday I'm going to Pingxi with some friends for the annual Sky Lantern Festival. They let loose a whole bunch of wish lanterns every year in Pingxi.

It's supposed to be a fairly rural town in the mountains just outside of Taipei and there are fire crews at the ready, so I don't think we need to worry about anyone's home catching on fire or something.

I can't wait to see 2,600 lanterns floating through the sky though. I'm pretty sure it's going to be beautiful. I'm going to be snapping away with my camera don't worry!

I have a
口試 (koushi - oral test) today in my Chinese class. Since we just finished the book I'm using, Linda decided she's going to test me before we move on to book two. Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How would you describe Taroko Gorge?

Well, our New Year vacation remained fairly uneventful in that there were no major crisis (other than my camera batteries dying and my charger being the wrong one).

I got pictures of Taroko Gorge on the first day, but unfortunately that's it.

It rained pretty much constantly in Hualien and Taroko Gorge. Leila and I were troopers though and we still got up no later than 6:15 a.m. and trudged through the hills and trails which were absolutely beautiful and breathtaking despite the less-than-ideal weather.

We were a bit disappointed when we got to Kenting and it was still cloudy. Granted it wasn't exactly raining, but we were looking forward to the warmth of the sun.

Luckily the sun finally came out on Saturday and we just lazed about the entire time we were in Kenting — like you do when you're at the beach. I have to admit, Kenting was a tiny bit boring.

I'm sure it's great in the summer when there are watersports to be done, but it was still a bit too chilly for that if you ask me.

I'm a wuss though.

It was still a great vacation and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I can now say I've been to the north, east and south of Taiwan (Taoyuan is technically northwest, but I'll wait until I've managed to spend time in Taichung or Kaohsiung).

Also, given the path we took to travel, I have literally made a circle around the island. The circle would have been a lot prettier had we taken the train back from Kaohsiung, but the bus was simply cheaper and easier.

Oh and Happy Birthday to my momma!

I will leave you with just a couple of photos from Taroko and you'll see what I meant when I said the rain didn't ruin it for us.

The view from the Swallow Grotto entrance.

A tunnel on the Swallow Grotto trail.

This is from the Lushui Trail which was an actual hike as opposed to the paved pathways like most the trails.

In most cases it was really difficult to get a picture that had the base of the gorge and the top of the mountains.

This is my favorite picture of all of them. I just get this gripping feeling watching the sun try so hard to peak through those clouds.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How do you travel lightly?

It's been raining pretty much non-stop on the East Coast, but we've been dawning our rain gear and going out hiking anyway.

Taroko is still as pretty as I imagined it would be despite the rain.

I didn't bring my memory card reader or I would just show you.

Apparently my battery charger for my camera isn't working either. Going to have to buy a new one or get my mom to send me the one I left in Texas.

Note to self: learn to pack.

I have some things to learn about traveling lightly and bringing all the essentials. No big problems that weren't fixable, but I definitely could have saved myself some trouble — read money.

Either way, I'm really enjoying myself and Leila is a great traveling buddy (especially with her traveling experience).

Tomorrow we're getting on a 6 a.m. train headed for Kaohsiung and then we have to find a bus to take us down to the very very tip of Taiwan where Kenting is.

Happy travels!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why does time seem to slow down when you're excited?

I'm counting down 'til my train leaves for Hualien.

Three hours left to go.

  • I'm all packed. By the way, packing lightly while taking into account that one city is supposed to be rainy and cold and then the other is supposed to be sunny and less cold — if not a little warm — is super difficult.
  • The house is mostly clean. I finally put away all my laundry and I think that things are fairly acceptable to be left the way that they are.
  • I made up a little Chinese New Year Vacation mix composed of upbeat guitar riffs and mostly stuff that I haven't even listened to yet but I know I'll love and will keep me in a great mood.
  • I have decided to take my computer with me. You'll probably get tiny little updates now and then, but it's mostly only coming with me because I will need to be able to charge my iPod.

I'm so excited!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How do you play Mahjong?

I was invited to join my co-teacher Angela at her grandmother's house for a traditional Chinese New Year's Eve celebration.

I had a lot of fun.

I probably should have spoken a lot more Chinese considering that would have been a perfect opportunity to practice, but I was nervous and scared. I spoke a little though. And I was pretty good at listening.

We had SO much food and we ate family style. Everyone just kind of gathered around the table and had a little bowl of rice and then just used their chopsticks to grab whatever they wanted from each dish.

No separate plates. Totally efficient, especially since everything had to be totally clean by midnight so that they could bring in the new year with a totally clean house.

They even had to take showers before midnight.

It was pretty interesting.

Then we played games. I learned to play Mahjong tonight. It's SO hard, but once you get used to it, it's not too bad. The biggest problem was that everything was in Chinese. That and the having to think about a trillion things all at once.

That said, I won four times! Wee!

Then we taught some of her family how to play Texas Hold 'Em. I totally sucked it up and I was the first person out. Go figure.

Oh well, tomorrow I have to pack and then it's Hualien here I come!

I haven't decided yet but I might not have my computer with me the whole week and even if I do I won't be on it too much. Sorry, but that means there will be a lack of posting again.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

How do people celebrate Chinese New Year?

With a ton of fireworks, every thing you can possibly imagine covered in red, and nine days off work.

I could totally get used to this.

Yesterday I finished my Chinese textbook! I am so proud of myself.

And to make it even cooler, this morning I went to get dan bing and the woman started chatting at me because I've been there three times this week. She made me feel so good.

Her: Do you have class next door this morning.
Me: Yes, I do. The students are so cute.
Her: How long have you lived in Taiwan — 2 years, 4 years?
Me: What? No, no, no. I've only been here for a little more than 8 months.
Her: Eight months! But you speak Chinese so well!
Me: Oh, thank you but I am still learning. I have been learning for about 7 months now.
Her: Only 7 months! You speak so well!

Yep, and that entire conversation was in Chinese. Granted my Chinese was slow and I had to really think about what I was saying, but I was completely able to understand her and I eventually made legitimate replies that made sense.


Then at school this morning we just had a big assembly. We played Tug of War and it was the most fun I've had in a few months.

I really love those times when I get to play like a little kid. (Remember the time we had a water-gun/water-balloon fight in the park?)

I'm looking forward to lots of New Year fun!

新年快樂! (Happy New Year!) 恭喜發財! (Congratulations and best wishes for a prosperous New Year!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What do you do when your baboo breaks?

We're zeroing in on Chinese New Year vacation and tomorrow is seriously going to be the busiest day ever.

Today was already pretty busy.

I woke up got dressed and zoomed to Taipei to meet with a potential student (and her mother). I will be teaching a tiny little 5-year-old girl two times a week it looks like.

She is adorable — and crazy smart. She obviously knows Chinese, she's already been learning English for about two years and she's learning French right now too.


I wish I had the opportunity to learn so many languages that early in life.

Note to self: Teach my kids a million languages as early as possible.

Then I went swimsuit shopping.

I don't know if I mentioned it before, but while Meghan was here in October we went to the Beitou Hot Springs.

Well, it turns out sulphurous hot springs don't exactly get along with white swimsuits.

It turned this weird rusty color.

So I bought a new suit because we're hoping to catch some sun while we're in Kenting next week. And besides, I'll need one eventually.

The Roxy store had a super sale going on so I got my swimsuit really cheap.

It was kind of depressing buying a suit here though. I think they try to make girls feel fat here.

The smallest size the had was a size 8. In America, a size 8 is too big even more me and my hips. But no, I needed to get a size 12!

So depressing!

Oh well.

The only other notable thing is that my brake handle broke on my way to class tonight!

I managed to get to get to class and then to the mechanic with use of my other brake handle, but it was a little freaky.

Awesomely enough though, it only cost me $300NT ($9USD!)

Now just to get through tomorrow and then Friday morning and then it's vacation time!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What makes you laugh?

Couple of tidbits about today.

My alarm went off at 7:30 a.m. I hit my alarm every 15 minutes until 8:30 a.m.

Still way better than dragging myself out of bed at 2 or 3 p.m.

I was teaching these tiny kids today and they're hilarious and adorable. I want to steal them — but I will control myself.

Me: OK, Everyone say, 'I like your jacket.'

Children in Chorus: I like your jacket.

Me: Good. Say, 'I like your shoes.'

Children: I like your shoes.

Me: Good. Say, 'I like your eyes.'

Children: I like your eyes.

Me: Say, 'I like your nose.'

Children: I like your nose.

Little munchkin named Danny: Teacher, Teacher. I like your...

and then he pointed at his bum-bum. He's maybe four years old.

I nearly fell on the floor I was laughing so hard.

I <3>

Monday, February 8, 2010

What is too much fun?

It's funny to me that I've developed this mild terror of small children. I'm talking like really little children.

The kind that you could break by poking them.

It doesn't take long for me to get over it and just start playing with them, but every time I get around super little kids, I get a little freaked out.

That multiplies by a million when they can barely understand me because they don't speak very much English. Then again, they're also the easiest to gauge how much their learning.

I mean, when you go from zero to spelling and reading, that's just awesome.

That said, I had a demo in one of my classes today. They started in the summer and Tess was their first teacher. She had them for two months over the summer in which I subbed twice. Then after the summer was over, I ended up with the class.

So I've been teaching them for about four months.

They're super smart kids and I love showing that off.

I like that we were able to just have fun in the demo. I honestly wasn't stressed out about it in the least bit.

I remember my very first demo I was freaking out because there were only 10 kids in the class and that makes it so hard to fill up 75 minutes.

Today, we were perfect. Our timing was awesome. We had just enough fun, but not too much fun. I know what you're thinking, "What the heck is 'too much fun.'"

Well, there is a level between "having fun and learning" and "just having fun."

Something tells me parents like to see that we're learning.

Anyway, I'm waking up early every day this week. Friday and Saturday we don't have to work at Gloria so I'll have two chill days off before heading out to Hualien.

I swear it's like that last week before the end of the semester. All I want to do is play games and nothing else!

Friday, February 5, 2010

What do you get excited about?

It wasn't until the end of my first class today that I realized I wouldn't see my Friday students next week. Chinese New Year is one week away!

I know it's not really my holiday but I'm super excited.

I think it's a mixture of having a week off and everything looking so festive.

I'm pretty excited about learning more about what CNY is all about and how people celebrate it.

That and I am totally psyched about going to Taroko Gorge and Kenting.

I bought our train tickets the other day and put down the deposit on our hostel in Hualien and Leila put down the deposit on the hostel in Kenting so we are all set.

Every where you look there is something red. The staff in our apartment complex put up red lights (not really like Christmas lights because they're cylindrical) above all of the doors. Apparently if you put up red in the doors and windows it keeps out bad luck.

Again, I still have a lot to learn about CNY but I can't wait to report what I've learned.

I also spent the whole day booking things for our Thailand trip. I can almost smell the beaches. I keep thinking back to The Philippines and then I think, "Man, this is going to be even better."

Don't get me wrong — I thoroughly enjoyed myself in The Philippines — but I'm going diving for four days, snorkeling one day and kite boarding and/or surfing one day.

I'm going to be all water-sported out, if such a thing is even possible.

Of course that is all still six months away and there are a million other things to do between now and then.

For instance: What should I do on the 3-day weekend I get for Tomb Sweeping Day? I'm thinking maybe a mini-trip to Hong Kong?

Man, I know sometimes I complain about my job, but — I have to admit — it certainly has perks.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What are you doing for Chinese New Year?

My sleep schedule is all messed up again after all the celebrating we had going on this weekend.

I'm going to try to reset myself tomorrow since I only have one class so it won't be too terrible if I'm a little sleepy during it.

I'm also going tomorrow to try to buy train tickets to Haulien!

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but since Chinese New Year is coming up, we have a whole week off — nine days if you count our weekends.

My friend Leila and I are hoping to go to Taroko Gorge for a few days and then Kenting for a few days. I'm really excited but I'm also a little worried.

Chinese New Year is a big time for everyone to travel. Foreigners can't buy ticket until 12-days in advance, so we're running the risk of not being able to get a train ticket. And since we haven't bought train tickets yet, we haven't booked the hostel yet.

As you can see, this is snowballing into the possibility of not being able to go.

I'm sure we'll be able to make something work. I'm certainly not going to just hang around Taoyuan the entire week.

Other things to look forward to:

My Chinese teacher said tonight that she thinks we'll be finished with my textbook by Chinese New Year! I added a day and then switched my schedule around so that now I'm going on Tuesday and Thursdays instead of just the Wednesday night. I'm pretty excited about that.

She said she's really impressed with my ability to read, but that it still takes me too long to put my thoughts into actual words. She wants us to work a little more on conversation and I totally agree. Reading isn't really going to do me that much good.

Also, I booked my trip to Thailand with my sister!

This is way in advance considering we're not going until July — just in time for her birthday — but that's just how we do things. Unfortunately we don't have a ton of time so we can't really just go with the flow, but that's OK because my sister and I are big planners. We're planning a day in Bangkok and then four days diving in Koh Tao and another two just lazing around the beach before heading back to Bangkok for a night so she can catch and early flight back to America the next morning.

If anyone has any suggestions on must-see/must-do things in Bangkok let me know.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Have you ever won a prize?

Gloria hosted its Chinese New Year banquet last night.

The room was gigantic and there were SO many people. It's amazing how many people work for Gloria. I honestly didn't even realize there were so many of us.

The food was very authentic and basically disgusting. I tried to eat, but nothing was appealing except for a little bit of sashimi.

It seems that most of the foreigners found the food pretty bad and didn't really eat.

It was really funny to see everyone super drunk though. Even the people from head office were pretty tipsy.

Also, I won $1000NT in a red envelope! Yay for some good luck in the new year!