Almost Home!

10, 9, 8, 7..... We have reached the final 10 days of my time in Taiwan (or as I like to call it.... Vacation Time because 10 days is about the length of time you might take on a vacation to a far away foreign country). The crazy amount of packing has begun, and I honestly don't even know how I fit everything I brought in my 2 suitcases here originally.

As I was cleaning out my drawers, I found a list.  One of our original presenters back in August recommended to us to write down a list of our goals for the year.  Then to put that list up somewhere where we would see it every day.  As he put it, for many of us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you don't want to hit the end of the year, look back, and realize you hadn't accomplished what you had meant to during your time here.  Well... I made a list... and forgot to put it up... but much to my surprise, I accomplished everything on that list! *cue round of applause* And here it is...

7 Goals for My Journey in Taiwan
1. Improve Chinese language skills, especially speaking and vocabulary (vocabulary has DEFINITELY improved. Speaking... if anything, I'm much more comfortable with speaking now than I ever was. Skill though... that depends on who you're asking haha)
2. Make an impact on at least 1 student's English learning experience and inspire them to become as interested in learning English as I am in learning Chinese (well... that last part remains to be seen, but I definitely do think I made an impact on some children's lives... I'll save those stories for the end of the post though).
3. Determine whether or not Asia/Taiwan is a place I could move to and live if my job required it (is this even a type of job I would want to seek out.
4. Travel around Taiwan and especially take advantage of the natural, cool resources here (coral reefs, hot springs, waterfalls, etc)
5. Make at least 1 Taiwanese friend (I've made many, and at least a few that I KNOW we will keep in touch and maybe try and visit each other if we can).
6. Learn about traditional Chinese medicine (I had a few encounters with it and if anything, when you get sick here, everyone has "traditional Chinese medicine" advice for what to do.... and it most summarizes to "Drink warm water, don't drink ice water").
7. Live the Asian lifestyle (as in eat local, try and adopt some customs, practice their customs for certain social situations, embrace the fashion, etc)

I guess I can go home knowing I did what I set out to do here... no regrets!

Remembering what it was like when I first got here... I feel like a completely different person and way more mature in ways I didn't even realize I needed to mature in. My best 2 examples... Patience and generosity. Being a teacher has made me more patient, and Taiwan has made me realize how much we have to offer others while still having more than enough for ourselves.

It's moments like these where I just have to ask, "How did this store name get selected and where was their designated "foreigner friend" when this was happening?"
I'm going to miss Taiwan very much, but at the same time I'm very ready to come home. Since this is probably my last post (I might do one after I get back if I see enough cultural differences that would warrent an interesting post, but we'll see), there are several people I would like to thank (in no particular order)....

1. God... You blessed me with an amazing journey and kept me safe throughout. Thank you. 
2. The Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs at USC (especially the woman who first suggested applying for the Fulbright)... I would never have had a competitive enough application without all your guidance. 
3. Fulbright... For selecting me. And helping me to move to Taichung as smoothly as possible. And making me into something of a workable teacher before the first day of school. 
4. My Taichung coordinator... You were our rock and guide when we first arrived, and now I'm so happy to call you my friend. I will miss you so much. Thank you for everything you've done for us. 
5. All the administrators at my school... Thank you for putting up with my poor Chinese level and for being so kind to me. My job was made much easier because of you. 
6. All my new friends both American and Taiwanese that I have met on this journey.... You guys are awesome, and I'm sorry we didn't meet sooner. I hope if our paths cross again in the future we can get together and create some new awesome memories. 
7. To anyone who has sent me a card or a present from the States... Thank you for remembering me half a world away. It made the holidays and the homesickness a little easier. 
8.  My co-teachers... Thank you for believing in me and setting such a great teaching example for me to learn from. I will never forget you and always think of you when my future children start school. 
9. My best friend and fellow Asian culture fanatic (you know who you are)... Thank you for introducing me to the more interesting depths and pop culture of Taiwan and Korea. This hobby you got me into inspired me to take this step, so if anything.... I'm mainly here because of you. 
10. And lastly... My parents. Who I was coming into this was a result of who you helped shape me to be. I hope the person coming home will continue to make you proud. I miss you guys so much.  Thank you for always being there for me this year and understanding this adventure I have been wanting to take for years now. I've said it a million times, but it doesn't make it any less true... I don't know where I would be without you. And I love you both so much. 

Taiwan countryside at dusk taken from moving train headed to Kenting

Last but not least... STORY TIME
A few cute stories have happened this week....

I got a card from a student. Now this young student (who is a girl) isn't good at English nor does she care for English.  She is a little noisy, but I think she just thinks she's really funny (and actually she kinda is), but she just hasn't learned yet about "timing" and "is this an appropriate time now to make a joke?"  But she's super cute and gives me a hug every time she sees me.  Anyway, the card... She wrote (in Chinese), "Teacher Amanda, thank you for treating me so well. When I grow up, I will always remember you."  *cue tears of happiness*

Recently I picked up on something that is making it hard to leave.  I have quite a few students that struggle with English, but honestly it's mostly because they just don't care about it so they don't try nor do they want to.  But they still talk to me in Chinese, and I say what I can.  And they will occasionally show me things and tell me about the cool stuff they did over the weekend.  Well... the other day, one kid asked me for a pencil sharper, so I handed it to him, and he said "Thank you." Perfect English. Now, a lot of Taiwanese can at least say "Hello", "Thank you", and "how are you?" pretty flawlessly, but the fact that it was the first time I had heard him willing use English just about made me fall out of my chair.  And then the next week, he gave me something, I said (in English) "Thank you," and he said "You're welcome." Perfect English.  If it took him almost 9 months to warm up to me enough to start using these phrases, imagine what could happen if I stayed another year? or another?  Sometimes I wonder if it's a matter of kids connecting with something about a subject whether it be a topic, song, movie, or person that makes them want to learn that subject... and now he has to get used to a new foreign teacher next year.  And it's moments like that that is gonna make me cry all day on Monday (my last day at school).

Finally, on a happy note, look what my amazing 4th Graders made me :)

I think they got the cartoon version of me perfectly. What do you think?


Nearing the End...

As I near the finish line (only about 1 month left here in Taiwan), I thought I would write a Top 10 Things I'm Going to Miss Like Crazy About Taiwan and Top 10 Things I'm Super Looking Forward to About Going Back to the States.... So let's begin with things I'm missing about the United States.

(disclaimer: I am leaving people off these lists because if I included people, this post would get wayyy too emotional and too long)

Top 10 Things I'm Super Looking Forward to About Going Back to the States (in no particular order)

1. Chipotle: This really needs no explanation.

2. My squishy comfortable mattress: I've gotten used to my harder mattress here in Taiwan, but the few times I've slept in a hotel with a super soft mattress I feel like I'm sleeping on a big marshmallow, and it's an amazing feeling.

3. Carpet: Taiwan is too humid to maintain carpet except in hotels and really rich/fancy places so I seriously have not felt carpet under my bare feet in a long time.

4. American mosquitoes, cockroaches, and other crawly things: Bring it. They got nothing on Taiwan mosquitoes, cockroaches, etc.

5. Wide variety of food without the Taiwan twists: Pizza with ketchup as it's "sauce base" isn't that good, I promise you. And America just does a really good job about having a wide variety of options in terms of dishes and ethnicity that are conveniently located.  Not to mention things like cheese and nuts. No, "cheddar cheese" and "American cheese" are not the same thing, and yes, goat cheese is delicious so I don't know why it isn't sold here. There's pretty much white cheese or yellow cheese (which is pretty much all just plastic style American cheese) that's sold here. If you want anything more complicated, you need to find an international import store, and it'll be expensive. Nuts- You can find almonds, but I haven't had a pecan or a walnut in almost a year.

6. American exercise classes: The classes here have been great (even though they are conducted in Chinese, I can still follow along alright), but I like a really pumped up/high energy type class, and the Chinese don't really make excited expressions (cheering, etc) when they are working out. If you've ever taken one of my gym classes you'll know what I'm talking about.

7. Cars: Seriously scooters are arguably one of the most dangerous inventions ever designed, and I really miss being able to drive myself places.  The bus system is fine, but there's something I really miss about singing along to songs at the top of my lungs in the privacy of my own car.

8. Air conditioning: I have air conditioning in my apartment, but...Schools in Taiwan are open to the outside.... and don't have air conditioning... humidity is at 95% or higher every day even at 8am... need I go on? Although to be fair, I've gotten used to dealing with this kind of weather, living without air conditioning, and taking advantage of the natural air/breezes.  If I can keep this up a little when I go back to the States I'll probably save a ton of money on heating and cooling.

9. Knowing my and having a variety of healthy food options: I can eat vegetables all I want here, but when it comes to selecting eggs from free range chickens (if anything to support how the chickens are raised), Greek yogurt, or having a lot of options for a healthier meal... I miss that. I actually found Greek yogurt at Costco the other day, and it was such a big deal I almost cried. Mostly at how it expensive it was though. I bought it anyway :D
0. Having a bathtub/shower that is separate from the rest of the bathroom: Many bathrooms in Taiwan are the open bathroom style where the shower head is on the wall, so when you take a shower, the whole floor (around the sink and toilet and everywhere you might potentially aim the shower head) gets wet. So you pretty much have to wear shower shoes. Not only is this really inconvenient when you need to go back into the shower after you've dried off, put on some clothes (aka socks), and walk back into the bathroom with the floor still thoroughly wet -_-... but I find it a little unsanitary.  I take pretty regular showers at the gym, which has separate shower stalls and keeps my home bathroom nice and dry \^-^/, but I miss not having to hall half my beauty care products and a change of clothes to the gym almost every single day. Seriously, that stuff can get pretty heavy once it's all added up and you've got a full water bottle in there as well.

*bonus* Having an oven again.

Top 10 Things I'm Going to Miss Like Crazy About Taiwan (in no particular order)

1. Tea shops: Yes, the tea shops aided in my gaining 5 pounds once I moved here (and which I have since gotten rid of, but still...), but when it's 90+, you're tired, you're dehydrated, have sweat coming from places you didn't know could sweat, and are just looking for a little pick-me-up, the tea shops are like a shining of beacon of light in the darkness.  I will miss these sooooo much.

2. "Ice" desserts: A very common dessert/snack here is *insert flavor/fruit* Ice. Examples, Mango Ice, Taro Ice, Red Bean Ice.... It's literally your fruit/flavor layered over a bunch of shaved ice in a bowl with some sweetened condensed milk. It's refreshing, light, and delicious. 

3. 7-11/Family Mart: These places are magical, and you can do anything here. They are so convenient and are great for picking up quick drinks, snacks, or supplementing your meals for the week if you just don't feel like dragging your butt to the grocery store. Not to mention food/drinks in Taiwan are super cheap, so I can buy a banana and a carton of milk for $1.50 if not less.

4. Readily available Tea Eggs: My parents gave these mixed reviews, but it seems that most foreigners here in Taiwan grow to love Tea Eggs/ 茶葉蛋. Made by soaking hard boiled eggs in a combination of tea and soy sauce for several hours, they make a great flavorful, healthy, low calorie (but still keeps you full) snack.  7-11, Family Mart, and most rest areas in tourist attractions stock these regularly, so they are super cheap and convenient snack.  However, looking up the recipe online, they can take quite a long time to soak, so if I wanted one in the next 20 min or so, I would be super out of luck :(. I guess I'll just have to keep a steady supply on hand after I go back to the States.

5. Taro: I never really had heard of taro or knew what it was before moving here.  It's a root that is served as a vegetable like a sweet potato in slices or is more commonly used as a dessert but adding a little bit of sugar to "mashed" taro. It's not too sweet and isn't too strong in flavor.  I've really come to love it, and it's quite a common dessert flavor here. I don't know how easy it is to find in the States, but I've never really tried to find it before, so we'll see how it goes.

6.  How it takes me 5 minutes to walk to 10 different restaurants and my grocery store from my apartment: Seriously, there's a mall right across the street from my apartment with Taiwan's Walmart equivalent in the basement.  So not only is my grocery store super close, but there are a lot of restaurants to eat at in the mall and surrounding the mall (and a movie theatre too for that matter).

7. The Night Markets: these places are really cool, fun, and have a ton of awesome things.  The shopping is super cheap and has quite a selection of accessories (from hats to jewelry to bags to glasses) and food for sale, and is just a fun place if you wanna get a variety of unhealthy yet oh so delicious food.  Although without Night Markets in my life, I'll probably be way healthier.

8. The cheap health care: It cost me USD$1.50 to get my teeth cleaned last December, and just about any visit to a doctors office is only about USD$5 (no matter what the problem is or what you're getting done). Traditional Chinese medicine clinics are also covered by the health insurance which is pretty cool too since it's the "alternative health care" style that some people like to use as a prevention method to illness or as opposed to just popping yourself full of pills when you're sick (I still prefer the pill method when I'm sick though, but it's there if you wanted it).

9. Using Chinese everyday: I truly enjoy studying Chinese, and I will miss being immersed in and being able to use the Chinese language every single day. However, I have also never appreciated English as much as I have after the past 10 months here.

10. The Taiwanese Fauna: Sometimes it is like you are in a movie or a completely different planet when you're in the Taiwanese wilderness.  Even my school has a huge variety of flowers in different colors and sizes blooming right now... truly it's almost like it's a botanical garden just at my school alone. 

Granted, I'm sure I forgot some things on both lists, but these are some of the common ones that I've been thinking about lately. Let the last month countdown begin!


Of Weddings, Rain, and other things...

Continuing on with some fun culture posts....

Mother's Day:

First off, Happy belated Mother's Day to any mothers reading my blog. I was very sad not be able to be with my mother this Mother's Day, but I think she had a nice day with my Dad none the less.

Mother's Day in Taiwan falls on the same day as Mother's Day in the United States (Father's Day does not).  However, what we do for Mother's Day is slightly different than what they do in Taiwan.  In the US, I feel that Mother's Day is more of a give your mother a present, and then it becomes a "we do what Mom wants to do today" type of day.  In Taiwan, Mother's Day traditions consist of giving a present (like we do in the United States) in addition to a cake and carnations.  Specifically carnations.  All the Mother's Day cards I found here had carnations on them, and I was really confused as to why until someone told me that you give your mother carnations on Mother's Day in Taiwan.  Why is this? It seems that no one really knows.  A friend of mine here thought it was a western tradition, but I had never heard of it being significant in the United States.  Am I crazy? (if it really is a Western tradition, I'm about to be really embarrassed...)


Bride's first dress
So as some of you know who have been following my blog since at least October know, I have been to a very elaborate Taiwanese wedding before.  However, recently I was invited to go to another one that was a little more traditional.  This time around, I learned a lot more about the significance of the wedding practices here in Taiwan.  So in the United States, the more traditional Western style wedding is based on Christian traditions of pronouncing your union to God, family, and friends.  In Taiwan/more traditional Eastern style weddings, the traditions are based on the fact that the bride is literally leaving her family completely and becoming a part of her husband's family.  If I remember from my Chinese culture classes, back in the old days, sometimes the bride would never see her family again after the wedding, especially if her own family lived far enough away from her new husband's family.  That is definitely not the case now, but the customs and wedding practices are based on this concept.  So from what I learned, there are 2 major parts to a Taiwanese wedding.  The first is the engagement party which is completely put on and paid for by the bride's family (we did not get to go to this part because the bride's family lives in Taipei).  The engagement party is essentially them announcing their intention to get married.  The second part is the actual wedding ceremony and banquet.  This is all put on and paid for by the groom's family.  We unfortunately did not get to attend the ceremony because that is reserved for family and very close friends.  From what I understood though it is not like a Western wedding with an aisle and stuff.  It consists of the bride and groom paying respects to the ancestors and elders, asking for blessings from them, and being wished lots of happiness and luck.

Bride and Groom walking in (2nd dress) 
Bride and groom being presented on stage
Then comes the wedding banquet which we attended.  During the banquet the bride changes dresses anywhere from 2-4 times.  This is possible because the Taiwanese rent their wedding dresses, which honestly makes a lot more economical sense.  I was wondering as to why more Americans don't do this as we only wear our dress once, but the thought of wearing a dress I just rented and was worn "who knows how many" times before.... well I was horrified at the thought.  I suppose it's just engrained in our culture.  We also discussed how in Western culture the bride will then pass her dress down to her daughter to wear, but since that never happens anymore, I wonder why we didn't switch to renting dresses more often.  

The food is also very elaborate with almost 10 courses served family style on big plates.  In Taiwan, wedding food is traditionally seafood based being an island.  Oh, and did I mention there is lotsssss of alcohol? The main alcohol is beer that gets poured into little tiny shot glasses.  But with all the toasting that happens, after taking 20+ shots of beer.... well it's gonna be a party.  However, this type of partying is expected and even encouraged.

There is always some sort of entertainment during the dinner, and for us it was a live band (piano/vocals, saxophone, and violinist).

The wedding banquet was held outside under a huge tent in a small city on the outskirts of Taichung (hence why we were invited).  And the whole village was invited.  Like I said, the groom's family paid for everything, and out of respect for this, the bride's family will traditionally keep their "tables"/family members down to 1-2 tables to help with the cost of the banquet.
Some mussels with the salad and sashimi dish

Tiny dried fish with peanuts...
why did they have to ruin the peanuts?
During the banquet, the bride made her main entrance with the groom with a tiny flower girl throwing petals in front of them.  She started off with a white dress.  After eating for a bit, she changed and appeared again in a red dress at which point she and the groom got on stage with their parents.

I have no idea what type of fish this was,
but I have seen all its internal organs
Now, after this lots of Taiwanese was spoken (which consists of a mix of words I don't know and Chinese), so I only had a vague idea of what they were talking about.  I believe lots of it was related to presenting their son and daughter to the guests (in olden days this was probably presenting their newest family member (the bride) to the village as part of their family.....wishing them happiness, etc.  This "presenting the bride now as part of the groom's family" I was told is actually very important because now, to the eyes of the Chinese community, the groom's family is fully responsible for her... health, happiness, food, shelter, clothes, etc.  Granted, this had a lot more significance many years ago, but the traditions still hold true.

After this the bride and groom along with their parents visited each table and made toasts with everyone thanking them for coming.  And in return we made them toasts for happiness.

Overall it was a very nice wedding.  Compared to the other wedding I attended, it had a lot less air conditioning and a lot more bugs, but it was more traditional and I really appreciated that about the whole thing.  It felt more like what I expected from a wedding.  The other one had felt more like a "show" than a wedding, and I appreciated all the cultural knowledge I gained at this one.

Side notes:
  • At one point, I was also told about a tradition where the brother of the bride has to go inspect the wedding bed to make sure there's nothing weird about it and that the conditions are acceptable for her.  Apparently, if there is no brother or if the brother is too young to perform the duties, then there is a very well established list as to who comes next in line to do the inspection.  
  • There really isn't a dance floor or opportunities to dance to the music like there are at Western weddings, but that doesn't mean people don't a little after the alcohol has kicked in.
  • The engagement party and wedding banquet dates are all chosen by a fortune teller who can tell you which days are the most advantageous and will create the must luck/happiness for the new couple.  Now this means that the dates can fall anywhere between a year apart to a day apart.  It all depends on what the starts and other signs say.


You know "April showers bring May flowers..."?  Well in Taiwan it's "May showers bring lots and lots more rain."  Recently it has been pouring on and off between sunshine and torrential 30 minute downpours with lightning and thunder for about a week now.  Apparently May is the rainy month in Taiwan and it is living up to it's reputation.  I haven't seen rain this intense since the typhoons I experienced back in August.  Granted, it only lasts for short periods, but when it pours, it pours some more.  In fact, it has been raining so much that a friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook of a fish out of water.  Literally, it has been raining so much that fish can come out of the water and be alright on land for a bit.  One of my co-teachers told that when she was young, during the typhoons, the streets would become like rivers with all the water and there would be fish.  And they would catch the fish "in the streets" and eat them.  Yes, the below fish is edible as well.

The land fish... (not my photo)

Also, I now get to go with my students to swim class every Monday morning.  They don't really need my help, but I am enjoying swimming in a pool again, and it's been fun trying to use my Chinese to ease the fears of first time swimmers.  A surprising number of people in Taiwan don't know how to swim.  Almost half the Grade 4 students who I go to swim class with on Monday mornings can't swim.  At first I was really surprised, but if you think about it, most Americans know how to swim because of summer league swim team.  They don't have summer league swim team here, so I think it's really great that the schools organize swimming classes for them since it is such an important skill to have.

And as promised from many posts back, here are a couple pictures with literally "the whole family" on the scooter...
Baby in scooter high-chair, father, and mother holding a baby to her chest in the beige cloth... so scary...
It might be hard to see, but there is a baby in front of the Dad in the leg area in a scooter high-chair.


Sun and Stares

Currently, I have less than 2 months to go until my return flight home.  Although I know it's so short and the time is gonna fly by, it still feels like there is a long way to go.  I know that I haven't been posting as much this semester, so I'm gonna try and do better about that these last couple months.  Since I don't have any current grand adventures to share, I thought I would share some observations/experiences I've had lately.


When I return home to the States, I will be much more self conscious about when I'm staring at others. Taiwan, like most of Asia, is a homogenous society, so when someone comes along who looks nothing like the common set of features that most people see every day (aka me), naturally people are curious.  Long story short, I get stared at a lot.  I've grown used to it, but for some reason recently I've been getting more stares than normal it feels like.  Maybe I grew a mustache on my face that I can't see or something.  My friends here assure me that nothing new is wrong with me though.

Due to these recent stares, I was reminded that this is a lesson that I will take back to the States with me.  It is hard enough to be different as it is sometimes, but when you catch people staring at you over and over again (with children, it's no big deal-- that's understandable, but when adults are doing it....) it can drain your energy and patience very quickly.  Most people just want to be accepted, and when people stare at you... not in a "oh you're so pretty way" but in the "you look super different and you are so strange that I can't believe what I'm seeing" type of way... it can be very depressing.  It makes you feel like a spectacle or an animal on display.  Especially abroad, the stares make you once again aware that you are the "these" of the "which of these does not belong?" question.  It can make you feel very lonely.  I think sometimes we get so caught up in our own curiosity that we forget that we're also staring at someone who is probably consciously aware of multiple stares, not just ours.  Instead of staring, when I see someone who is different, I will try from now on to either 1-treat them as I would anyone else or 2- reach out to them and try to make them feel more accepted.

Personally, I've experienced both ends of these gestures from some kind people (even if they didn't' know it).  I've had people who have come up to me and asked me questions about my appearance, and I'm more than happy to answer any questions they have ("Yes, my hair is real. No, it's not a perm. Yes, my eyes are blue. Why you ask? Because my mom and dad both have blue eyes.").  But when the pointing and "look it's a foreigner" comments come out that the situation becomes harder to handle.

Staying Out of the Sun

One of America's favorite past times (that I have always struggled with) is tanning.  We love the tan skin look, especially during the summer.  Well in Asia, it's the exact opposite.  The paler, the better.  Much to my delight!  Everyone here makes comments like "wow your skin is so white!" (they technically mean pale but that's a more advanced vocabulary word).

Why is it this way?  I think it's a combination of a couple things. 1- farmers and "country folk" are usually out in the fields and sun working more, so their skin is tanner.  Thus, tan skin is seen as being poorer.  2- over glorifying western culture.  Perhaps it stemmed from wanting to seem more western or more "white."

Seriously, people go through all kinds of trouble to keep their skin out of the sun.  In 80+ degree weather, I have seen women and girls of all ages in long sleeve shirts, gloves, and extreme hats.  People use umbrellas on extremely sunny days as often as they do on rainy days.  Umbrellas even come with the advertisement that they are UV proof.

Naturally, I'm already very pale.  So I've definitely been enjoying not having to worry about people jokingly saying, "Amanda, you're so pale! You should go tan!"  With the prevalence of skin cancer now-a-days, I simply don't want to.  I've never been pressured into going tanning, but the remarks still don't feel awesome.  And I personally think I look better a little pale rather than tan.  Besides skin cancer, sun exposure can lead to premature wrinkles and signs of aging.  Seeing as I hope to keep my youthful skin for as long as possible, upon returning to the States I plan to keep and even adapt some of the techniques I've learned form the Taiwanese and stay out of the sun as much as I can.  I'm going to wear more sunscreen, do better about wearing hats outside, and maybe even bust out an umbrella now and again when I'm going to be out in the sun for a very long time.

Below are some pictures of an incredibly sunny day in Taiwan and all the umbrellas that are out...

Side note: did anyone catch my Game of Thrones reference in the title of this post?


Taiwan Animals Everywhere

Sorry I haven't posted in a really long time. But to be perfectly honest, not too many things have been happening that are worth posting.  Traveling has been minimal, and school has been pretty calm. The only thing is I am very ready to come home. I haven't mentally checked out yet, but once June hits, I'll probably start packing with great excitement. Although to be fair I'll probably need a month to sort through and organize what I want to leave and what I want to take home.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Green Island, one of only 3 places in the world with salt water hot springs.  I got to experience these wonderful hot springs, but I really couldn't tell the difference between them and normal ones (at least until some water got in my mouth).  No special health/beauty effects seen post- salt water hot spring soak.  We also got to go snorkeling on the coral reefs right near the beaches of the island, and that was absolutely incredible (unfortunately no pictures since I don't have a water proof camera).  And the final cool observation about the place was.... the goats.  There are wild goats seen all over the island and it was kinda cool to see them running up and down the side of these steep cliffs.

Wild goats!

On a cliff overlooking the ocean surrounding the island

Weather wasn't so good... so here is how you travel in Taiwan during the rainy days (full body ponchos)... only NT$75 at 7-11!
Last week, the Taichung ETAs took a little trip to a small town called Lishan, up in the mountains towards the center of the island.  It was COLD there.  Recently, most of Taiwan has been experiencing a comfortable 81 degree high recently (although honestly, with this humidity, feels more like 90 which is not as awesome).  But up in the mountains, I was pulling back out my coats.  In this small town, we put on a day English Camp for the students there since they don't have much access to foreigners/native English speakers.  It was an amazing trip, and I feel so lucky that I got to see all this.  Up in the mountains of Taiwan, I felt like I was in the Alps or something.  It was breathtaking...

Yes, we were high enough to be at cloud level

Teaching has been going great, and my knowledge of children's psychology goes up every day.  But the most exciting thing to happen this past week was this beauty... see if you can tell what it is you should be looking at....

Do you see that massive spider in the brown/clear container? If not, look again.  Luckily, I did not have the misfortune to trap this monster.  Now, I know you're probably thinking... "Oh it can't be that big... we don't have a reference point to compare it to...etc".  Let me give you a reference.  This is a species of spider in Taiwan that eats not only mosquitoes, but cockroaches as well.  Taiwan cockroaches. In case you didn't know, Taiwan cockroaches are about the size your middle and index finger put together (side note: when I get back to the States, I will never fear a cockroach again).  So to bring it back to our spider friend in the picture... one of his legs was as long as my middle finger.  One of the deans found it in the school and caught it.  My co-teacher and I were like "why didn't you just kill it????"  But she wanted to release it outside after school.  Which in hindsight was probably the best idea.... it kills the cockroaches so it must be our friend.... and that would have been a lot of spider guts to clean up.

Happy Easter everyone! He is Risen!

2014/4/22 update: Apparently a teacher took the spider home because she wanted to release it in her father's house which currently has a cockroach problem.  Yes, she willingly released that into her house.  Also, apparently it's not poisonous/dangerous to humans. I personally beg to differ.


Korea Kicked Our Butts

To keep the good times rolling, I went to South Korea over the Winter Break (the Winter break here runs from January 20- February 9 because of Chinese New Year) for 9 days!  Some posts will be shorter than others due to unforeseen circumstances….

Day 1 (arrival):
A bright and beautiful day, comfortable temperatures, excellent airline service (seriously, Asian airlines could teach American airlines a thing or two about not cutting when it comes to customer service and comfort).  A wonderful landing in Seoul with it’s brisk weather…. Abruptly followed by me emptying the contents of my stomach on one of the Seoul subway platforms.

Gas masks available in the subways in case of an attack by a certain country
Day 2:
Out of commission due to stomach flu.

Day 3:
Feeling slightly better, but a little weak (and having 0 appetite), we headed off to check out the more traditional sights of Korea.  We visited two palaces: one was the main palace and the other was more of a vacation/retreat-to-in-case-of-emergency palace with a “secret” garden (called so because only the king, queen, and any special guests they allowed in could enter the garden). Because of Chinese New Year, all admissions were free and there were even some special events going on.  

Rooms in the "Retreat Palace"

More of "Retreat Palace"

Frozen pond, pavilion, and island that they would strand scholars on if they couldn't come up with a poem in the time it took them to float out to the island in a boat (all in the Secret Garden of the Retreat Palace)

At Main Palace... Changing of the Guards ceremony

Intricate details of some of the paneling in the palaces (can you find the bat? Bats were supposed to bring good luck and fortune in Korean culture)

Intricate gold dragon fixture on the ceiling of throne room in Main Palace

A lot of Korean women (and tiny girls) wore their traditional Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) in public as part of celebrating the New Year and it was beautiful to see the different colors and styles… even on the subway.  Pink seemed to be an overwhelmingly popular color. 

We also tried to check out a Korean night market, but it was all shut down because of the Chinese New Year.  Actually, a lot of things were shut down because of the New Year.  Some restaurants were still open (and our hostel owner supplied us with an overwhelming amount of ramen and other snacks), so we weren’t going to starve.  But after the New Year was over, we realized just how much of the Seoul nightlife we had been missing because of it.

Day 4:
Out of commission due to my boyfriend’s contraction of my stomach flu.  Needless to say I got to watch a lot of movies that day.

Day 5:
Find Eat Your Kimchi Day! So in case you don’t know, I follow some bloggers known as Eat Your Kimchi who are a Canadian couple living in Seoul.  They blog about Korean music, culture, living abroad as foreigners, and are just plain hysterical.  Anyway…. I really wanted to find their studio, especially since Google maps showed it was so close to where we were staying.  And success!

I didn’t get to meet them unfortunately, nor did I get to go inside the studio (1- it didn’t look like anyone was home, 2- I couldn’t find an entrance, and 3- my creepiness was only gonna go so far).  But it was still cool to see where the magic happens.

We tried to go to this REALLY cool café, but we didn’t find it.  As it turned out, they had moved locations, and the address I had was the old location. Luckily we had success the next day (so I won’t tell you what the café was just yet).

One of the big stops on our agenda was the Korea War Memorial/Museum.  I never knew much about the Korean war and it’s not something we cover thoroughly in any US History class I’ve ever taken, so it was really interesting to learn more about what caused it, why many thought it was necessary to get involved, and the impact the war still has on the Korean peninsula today. 

Memorial outside of the Museum

Day 6???:
After I finished writing this blog post I realized I was missing a day.  Or maybe I'm putting too many events on one day... hmmmm.... I was sick people, ok? Anywho... at one point we went to Namsan/Seoul Tower. Check out the view of Seoul!

Day 7:
Many dreams came true this day.  First, we found the Coffee Prince Shop.  For those of you who don’t know, I watch some Korean dramas/tv shows.  My favorite one is called Coffee Prince and, in case you couldn’t tell, quite a bit of the store takes place around this coffee shop called Coffee Prince (the concept of the coffee shop in the show is that all the waiters are handsome guys, so hence the “prince”).  Once filming was done, they turned the location they had outfitted into a coffee shop for filming purposes into a real coffee shop which follows the same theme from the show… all “handsome” male waiters and baristas.  It was a really cool/bizarre, just like walking around in the show (since it was the actual location for filming).  Slightly overpriced coffee though.


We also checked out this pretty cool "river" in Seoul. Not sure how natural it is as you can see from the pictures.  And in case you were wondering how to find it, just look for the big unicorn horn. 

So… remember that REALLY cool café I was talking about earlier? We finally found it! Welcome ladies and gentleman to the Bau House.

Yes, it is a café full of dogs.  You can bring your dog there to socialize with other dogs or just walk in to enjoy spending time surrounded by beautiful fluffiness.  You are required to buy at least one drink, but that was by no means a problem.  They had a smaller area for people who had smaller dogs/felt more comfortable around small dogs and then a huge area for everyone else.  I saw some of the biggest dogs that I’ve seen since arriving in Asia at this café and it was awesome.  Most of the people there were just there to play with dogs (not many people brought their own).  The staff there was great too.  Super on top of cleaning up any accidents going on and keeping the dogs under control.  They also seemed very close with all the dogs.  As it turned out, the café (or maybe the café owner?) owns about 10+ dogs (they gave us a little flyer with all their pictures, names, and ages) that “work” there.   Talk about an awesome life! They get to lounge around where they want (literally, anywhere they want. I’ve never seen so many dogs climbing on tables before), get fed treats all day, have someone throw a ball for them all day, and get petted as much as they want (this one dog came right up to me when I sat down and just wanted to have her tummy rubbed. As soon as I stopped to take a break, she got up and walked right over to someone else to get petted).  Many people in Asia seem to gravitate towards smaller dogs as their personal pets, but many of the dogs at the Bau House were huge (a couple tiny ones though).  So in my heart of hearts, I dream that these dogs were adopted/taken in off the streets and brought to the Bau House as their loving home. 


Day 8:
DMZ tour! Actually, we got an email the night before that said, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the tour for tomorrow will be canceled….” NO!!!!!!!... “because there will be negotiations about reunions between North and South Korean families who were separated by the war.” Oh. Well I guess that’s ok \^-^/  Luckily, we were able to be rescheduled for the next day. Instead we went to…

Lotte World! What is Lotte World you may ask? Only the world’s largest in door theme park! They had roller coasters, theme rides, spinning cups, hot dogs, funny cakes, roast corn (wait, what? Ya roasted corn is a pretty popular snack food in Asia), ice cream, funny ears, etc.  And a trade mark greeting/parting wave of double hand jazz hands.  Need I say more?

They even had an outdoor section full of rides and awesomeness.

Day 9:
South Korean soldiers standing guard at the blue houses
DMZ tour! For those of you who don’t know, DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone.  Which is ironic because it’s heavily armed, constructed with military strategies in mind, and full of military personnel on both sides of the line.  This was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it for any travelers to Korea.  What I didn’t learn about the Korean War at the museum, I learned here.  Plus more about what’s going on there today.  We got to see the Line of Demarcation, North Korea’s Propaganda Town, and a whole bunch of other cool things.  I even stood in North Korea for about 5 minutes (one of the buildings used for negotiations that is under the control of the United Nations crosses the boarder into North Korea… so no need to panic).  

Now for fun facts:
·      The North and South are technically still are war, and you can truly still feel the tension along the line.
·      North and South Korea even still have petty competitions. Examples:
View of North Korea's building and the tiny addition to make it taller
o   When South Korea built a building in view of the boarder to North Korea, North Korea had to respond in kind and add an additional structure on top of their building to make it taller than the one the South Koreans built. 
o   When South Korea put up a flag pole (~100 meters tall) in view of North Korea that was taller than the North’s flag pole, the North once again responded by putting up a new flag pole substantially taller (~160 meters tall?) and with a flag that has a dry weight of ~600 lbs.  So in other words, the North Korean’s flag is huge, but hardly ever flies unless a serious amount of wind is blowing.  And they have to take it down in inclement weather conditions because it’s own weight could cause it collapse.  Our US Military security escort/tour guides also mentioned something about a $1,000,000 reward (not sure if that’s American dollars or Korean won) to anyone who can bring a piece of that North Korean flag back to South Korea.  Not sure who’s funding that competition though.
The super tall North Korean flag pole and heavy flag
o   There was once a meeting between the North and South that lasted 11 hours straight because no one wanted to get up to use the bathroom in fear of looking “weak” to the opposing side.  Now there is a rule that there is a mandatory break every 2 or 2.5 hours (?) during meetings.
·      The South Korean soldiers stationed directly at the North Korean boarder are hand selected from the Korean military.  They have to be above a certain height (in order to look more intimidating), have a certain physical athletic ability, and be black belts in Taekwondo.  Their uniform is also chosen to make them look more intimidating towards North Korea, and their stance they have to hold adds to that as well.
·      There have been multiple skirmishes over the years between North Korean soldiers and UN soldiers in the past that have led to several deaths on both sides.  From what the stories said about the incidents, North Korean soldiers were always starting it.
·      At the Bridge of No Return, the POWs from both sides were allowed to choose which side of the line they wanted to end up on, but after they made their decision they could not go back (hence the name).  Many of the UN Forces’ POWs opted to stay in South Korea (1- because they had been forced to fight in the first place, 2- many were Chinese and didn’t want to go back to China, and 3- North Korea executed many of it’s returning POWs because they shouldn’t have gotten caught in the first place and might have told the enemy secrets.
·      We weren’t allowed to take pictures of certain areas of the South Korean side of the line for security reasons.  We could see things from our vantage point that the North Koreans couldn’t.  If those pictures were put on the internet, the North Koreans could piece them together and use for their advantage in case of an attack.

Bridge of No Return

Site of Ax-Murder Incident
Kick-butt South Korean solider (standing on North Korean side) as described in blog post.
There’s probably lots more I could say on the visit, but I don’t wanna make this post any longer than it is.  If you have any questions, shoot me an email or comment on this post and I’d be happy to talk to you about it!

Conference table for North and South negotiations. Everyone else is standing on South Korean side. (which means we're in North Korea)
Day 10:
Fly home.  Early.

Seoul was fantastic, and is truly an incredible city.  The subway was clean and efficient, the food was great, and it’s easy to get around without knowing any Korean.  And it was cold.  Which was a relief from the 80 degrees in December which has been Taiwan’s weather (although not everyday, but you get my point).  Much to my own surprise, now that I’m back in Taiwan, it feels like I’m returning home.  Kinda weird to be “coming home” when it’s still a foreign country.  Maybe it’s not so foreign anymore!