2015 in Review

2015 has been a whirlwind year for sure. I rang in the new year last year in Ohio at a family wedding, closed up my 3rd year at St. Edward's Elementary and said my tearful goodbyes to colleges that had become a second family to me, grudgingly packed up my fist apartment & classroom, and made one of the toughest decisions that I have yet to make; BUT, everything happens for a reason! I may have moved halfway around the world from my family and friends, but I have made so many new friends, fell in love with places that 6 months ago I didn't even know existed, tried both delicious and cringe-worthy foods, and have packed more memories and laughter into my trials in Taiwan than should be aloud in a person's lifetime! 2015, I'm sad to say goodbye, but if you are any indicator as to what 2016 might hold for me...bring it on, I'm ready!

Happy 2016 Friends!

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {pinyin & bepe mefe}

I'm not crazy & those aren't misspellings in the title...I swear!

Chinese is a crazy language! I thought I knew that before coming here, but seriously folks! Whoever started the rumor that English is the hardest language to learn has clearly never spent much time in Asia trying their hand at this crazy Chinese stuff! {ok disclaimer here...although it makes my brain hurt like never before, I do get a secret thrill at being able to read some of their funky squiggle marks the longer I live here!}

When I moved to Taiwan, naive little Tracy thought she could start taking a Chinese class or 2 and learn some of the basics....no one ever warned me ((please take this as your friendly warning!)) that Chinese is technically not the only language that you need to know to successfully live here.

Cue in...Pinyin & Bepe Mefe  (I'm not going to lie I'm not 100% on how to spell this but please forgive me as you find out why!) I'm not sure where to start so please bear with me!

Pinyin (though not technically used by native speakers, it is essential for my living here) is basically taking the sounds from spoken Chinese and transcribing it into the Latin alphabet. Instead of telling you I live in 新竹 and you thinking I'm crazy, I can type it in Pinyin: Hsinchu. 

An example of pinyin over top of the Chinese characters.

This doesn't sound too terrible until you move here and actually have to read this for your daily survival! For instance; I live and work in a town called Hsinfong, or Hsinfeng, or Sinfong, or Sinfeng, or Xinfeng, or Xinfong...seriously, I've seen them ALL used...read them out loud to yourself though and they all sound strangely similar. So, long story short depending if it was Wang, Wong, or Ling that wrote the word...they may each choose a new way to spell it...not helpful Taiwan...not helpful!

That brings me to Bepe Mefe {pronounced more like Bu-pu Mu-Fu...again thanks pinyin!} which I am in no way shape or form attempting to learn. This is what the kindergarten through 1st or 2nd graders here in Taiwan learn and what adults use when typing in Chinese. Essentially it boils down to splitting characters up into their strokes, and using these  individual strokes separately (as opposed to together making a complete character) to form words. 
Keyboard with Chinese characters (bepe mefe) at school

Hello Gorgeous Gorges...and food out the Wazoo!

One of the top travel to locations in Taiwan is the gorges in Taroko nestled in the mountains on the eastern side of the country in Hualien County. This also happens to be one of the popular locations in Taiwan that I have yet to travel to...thank goodness for willing guinea pigs...umm I mean Josh!

Hualien County

Although Taiwan is a teeny little country  {for all my Ohio readers, it's only like 1/3 the size of Ohio!} it takes FOREVER to cross from one coast to the next due to the lovely mountains that run through the middle of the country. Sooo, Josh and I left my house around 4:30 Friday afternoon & hopped on the slow train headed for Taipei where we grabbed dinner and got on the 7:30 train to Hualien. We didn't arrive in Hualien until almost 9:30 with a solid 3.5 hours of travel under our belts already! Lucky for us though, one of my co-teachers is from Hualien and offered to tour us around for the weekend, so he picked us up at the train station and took us to our bed and breakfast {ok I can't lie....we stopped for pork rice & soup on the way there lol}.

--- --- Saturday, December 19, 2015 --- --- ---  ---  ---  --- ---

We woke up Saturday morning, grabbed some quick breakfast and enjoyed our breakfast during our almost hour ride to Taroko Gorge. Once we got to the gorge we checked some maps and decided that we we start our hike at the farthest point from the visitors center where we were and work our way back...hello another 45 minute bus ride!

When we finally got off the bus we were a bit disoriented & had to stop for directions and a generous gift of hard hats lol! Along the way we quickly discovered that although the map claimed 40 minutes each way to the cave we were headed to, that was taking into consideration that we drove the first half of the trip...not our case! About an hour and 15 minutes later, we made it {although side note, we ran into a Brazilian hiker who told us that in his 3 days at Taroko, the hike we were doing was his favorite...SCORE!} The trail to Baiyang Waterfall consisted of 7 tunnels (like bring a flash light because  you can't see your hand 2 inches from your face type of tunnels), amazing views, and a waterfall curtain inside a cave at the end.

We hiked and hiked and hiked, and finally made it to the end...Oh my goodness...I loved it! It was about this point that we were thankful for our $1USD rain ponchos, not necessarily for the rain, but for the waterfall! We took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our pant legs, donned our beautiful ponchos and went for it! The floor of the cave had 6-12 inches of water in it and along the one side of the cave was a very narrow rock shelf that we could walk along that was slightly dried (only a few inches of water haha). Towards the middle of the cave though was a waterfall curtain pouring from the ceiling of the cave EVERYWHERE! {side note: this may have been where my school-girl giggling ensued!} Needless to say, if you ever find yourself in Taroko...the Baiyang Waterfall is a must! ;)

We spent a good 3.5 hours total on this hike, so by the time we reached the road again there wasn't much daylight time, or shuttle buses, left (thank you Taiwan 5:30pm year round sunset!) We hopped on the next bus still unsure of what to do, and then the heavens opened...hello downpour...so we did what any sensible person would do...we headed one for one last hike; Swallows Grotto. This trail followed closely along a winding road to the left, and a steep drop to the gorge on the right and though we had on our all-too-flattering, bright, yellow, plastic, rain ponchos, the views were amazing and we were glad to get in one last hike of the day. Although...we were quite happy {and soggy} when our bus finally pulled around the corner allowing us an hour nap on the way home!

We got back to Hualien & met my co-teacher Ben again who helped us rent a scooter for the next 24 hour and then we began our 2 day personal food tour of Hualien! Having grown up in Hualien, Ben knew which night markets to take us to, what street stands had the best noodles, and exactly where to get the best bubble teas in town...I can't lie...we definitely went to sleep that night with our bellies happy and full!

--- --- Sunday, December 20, 2015 --- --- ---  ---  ---  --- ---

Waking up Sunday morning we didn't have any concrete plans until noon, so Josh and I scootered our way around town checking out several morning markets, sampling some local coffees & teas, and generally enjoying the morning hustle and bustle in Hualien. Around noon we met up with Ben again for round 2 of our "how much Hualien food can you fit inside you at one time competition" {I realize we may have been the only competitors in this "competition" but even if there had been 100 other people involved, I'm still confidant Josh and I would have won lol}. Dumplings, fried rice, noodles, coffin bread, black sugar bubble tea, sticky buns, sugar thread sesame balls, green onion pancakes, dried sweet bread, taro cakes...oh my goodness I'm sure I missed a few...but you get the picture...SO MUCH FOOD!

In the midst of our whirlwind  food tour we also drove out to the ocean for some spectacular views of the blue waters, mountain peaks, and black pebbled beaches. But alas, all good things come to an end, so around 5:30 we had to catch our train back to Taipei, find some Mexican food for dinner there {only my 4th time in 5 months :( } and then take a nice long nap during the train from Taipei to Hsinchu before finally calling our long weekend a wrap!

Merry Christmas from Taiwan!

OMerry Christmas from warm and rainy Taiwan! Working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day makes it a tad difficult to get in the Christmas spirit, but dressing as Santa, handing out candy, making snowmen & snowflakes in class and topping the week off with a Christmas carol competition helped to make it a little more real!

Currently Josh and I are headed to Kaohsiung (a chilling 83F right now!) for a quick weekend trip before he leaves Sunday.

Sending my eyes warmest wishes and biggest hugs to all my family and friends back home!

Hugs to all, 

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice {or 1st day of winter if you’re a 1st grade teacher!}

I’ve never really thought much about it, it’s cold, it’s near Christmas, it’s the shortest day of the year, there’s lots of cold days after it….I mean, let’s be honest, does it really have any meaning to any of us?!?!

Cue in: Taiwan & the Asian culture & Dongzhi Festival!

I’ve been notified several times this week that winter solstice was coming (December 22 this year!) as well as assuring people that I have eaten the traditional foods for this important lunar calendar festival! Last week at Fu Long, Josh and I were able to help the students make the traditional rice balls that are cooked into soup and eaten during this festival. These rice balls, tang yuan, or are made from a glutinous rice paste and then boiled before being added to either a sweet or savory soup. Although the balls can come in many colors, it is very traditional to make them in pink and white {I believe this stems in some way back to the idea and symbol of the ying & the yang}.

Students making rice balls for lunch

It is considered good luck (and fertility lol) to eat these rice balls in even numbers, but with my loving relationship with food I don’t have time to count what I’m eating!

Though I’m sure there’s a million & one family recipes for these soups the ones I’ve tried have been rice balls in a sweet red bean soup & the rice balls in a salty veggie soup. Although the red bean one was my favorite, they were both quite delicious!

The finished product ready to be cooked

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {Class Schedules}

Class Schedules

 Class schedules here are a funky thing that I haven’t quite figured out! One thing that I am for certain though, is that even though the students in many ways are leaps and bounds ahead of their American counterparts, they are much less strict with the child’s school day schedule and *gasp* let the kids, BE KIDS!

START: 7:45am
CLASS: 7 - 40 minute periods a day
BREAKS: 10 minutes between each class {with 1 break being 20 minutes!}
LUNCH: 1 hour & 20 minutes {serving, eating, cleaning from lunch/nap time/recess}
SPECIALS: music, art, English, gym, computer, 1 local language {Taiwanese or Hakanese}
TUESDAYS: there are no ‘formal’ classes Tuesday afternoon for any grade, but field trips, speakers, & special events happen during this time
END: 3:45 pm {grades 3-6} & 1:10 pm {grades 1-2}

**Cleaning – the kids are assigned sections of the school to clean daily once in the morning before school starts, and again between 6th & 7th periods before they go home for the day

**Rest time – All the students K-6 {and many of the teachers as well!} have an afternoon rest time after they finish lunch (and people ask if I want to go back and teach in America! Haha)

I love, Love, LOVE that the kids are allowed to be kids here! They know and respect the fact that kids need to move, play, and giggle with their friends in order to be productive little learners, while cleaning the school teaches them about responsibility and to have respect for their school, their belongings and the general world around them.

Kudos to you Taiwan!

My First Visitor!

Well, the man-friend made it!

I left RIGHT after school Friday, essentially flew to the train station, hopped on the High Speed Rail....and then waited in the airport for over an hour (that's life isn't it! lol) until I finally saw him!
The man-friend {ok he's got a name...it's Josh}...Josh is (was) a first time traveler. No planes, no new countries, no airports...like baby fresh...but he made it all by his lonesome  and I'm so happy for him! You know it's nothing like going out with a bang saying let's choose our first country to visit...oh, all the way over in ASIA! haha

He came armed with his luggage and his wishlist of places to visit in Taipei, and as a  first time tour guide :P I don't think I did too shabby!

--- FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11--- --- --- --- --- ---

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {Bubble Tea Shops}

In the United States drinks have become a booming source of income in the last several years. Coffees, energy drinks, and pop have become a "necessity" for many Americans making it the 'norm' to see someone walking around with an extra grande late before they get to work, guzzling a Red Bull energy drink before their lunch break, sneaking out of work around 3pm for their afternoon Starbucks, and enjoying all the free re-fills, to their hearts content, of their Pepsi during their dinner.

You may remember this Tuesday Taiwan-ism post several weeks back talking about Taiwan's customs surrounding meal time drinks. But today's post is about a drink that they DO indulge in...maybe not as much as many Americans, but I digress!

May I introduce you to...the bubble tea! {often also called pearl tea or boba tea} Any way you call it, you can thank Taiwan for this delicious drink that is slowly finding its way into tea shops around the world!

Bubble tea is traditionally served as iced black tea with milk that has pearls added to it {the pearls are very similar to large black tapioca balls} although you can have pearls added to virtually any other herbal tea, fruit tea, or juice that you order. Taiwanese people are very fond of this chewy tapioca like texture {called QQ here} and thus, are naturally big fans of this national, slightly chewy, drink!

What do you think...would you give some Taiwanese bubble tea a try?!

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {receipt lottery}

You go to the store, purchase an item or two, pay for it, receive your change & the dreaded 5 mile long receipt. We've all been there & I feel your pain!

If you would have asked me 4 months ago for a receipt I could have dutifully dug through my trashcan to find at least half a donzen, and would have been able to scrounge up a couple more crumpled up at the bottom of my purse.

Fast forward 4 months into living in Tawain...I have a nice neat stack binder clipped together in my desk drawer that I add to weekly...what the heck happend {I promise it wasn't an overnight transition to being Little Miss Organized!}

Enter in...the Taiwan Receipt Lottery!

To help discourage people throwing receipts away and littering the streets, trains, and shop floors, the Taiwanese governement began a receipt lottery as a way to encourage citizens {or random English teachers!} to hold on to their receipts.

Here's how it works:

1. Go shopping...anywhere! the grocery store, 7/11, the gas station; any where that gives you a reciept (this part is easy!)

Can't a Girl Get a Waffle Around Here?!?

I love eating new foods, I love all most of the food in Tawain, I've even come to love & accept not having a clue what I'm eating 95% of the time, but when we were in Taichung and the hotel boasted a "free breakfast buffet" I began to crave some good, healthy, fattening, syrupy Western breakfast. You know; some waffles, pancakes, donuts, REAL milk, syrup, jelly....anything, it sounded wonderful!

If you remember that I mentioned in this post that we woke up quite early that Sunday morning, I'd be lying if visions of waffles dancing through my head didn't help motivate me that morning! Sooo, you can imagine my dismay when I walked downstairs to find NOTHING close to resembling a waffle on their buffet...Tina laughed...I almost cried!

Rainbow Village

Ok, back in Taichung to finish off my weekend with Miss Tina. If you missed the previous post about the Flower Carpet Festival you can catch you and read about that here!

We woke up early Sunday morning and we actually had a plan! I couldn't believe it {we never have a plan!} now granted we walked 10 feet out of the hotel and then realized we forgot to ask the hotel about the bus schedule for this said "plan" but a little extra exercise won't kill us! We enjoyed a breakfast buffet at the hotel {and by enjoy I mean I found something that remotely resembled food I wanted (I was not feeling the Taiwanese breakfast that morning!) and by breakfast I mean noodles and rice}...there will be a post on this later! And headed out the door for Rainbow Village.

This blog post  has some great information about the village if you want to read more than what I have here.

The Rainbow Village is actually a military dependents village set up in the 1940's when the Chinese Nationalist Party fled China and moved to Taiwan. Many of the military men that came to Taiwan brought with them their families and thus the military dependents villages were set up throughout the country as temporary housing. Well, like many things go, "temporary" lasted longer than intended and temporary for some turned into permanent.

Fast forward 60 years to the 1990's and the government decided it was time to begin tearing down most of these cramped and poorly built villages & cluster of homes to make room for new and larger buildings to be built. Though protests were made most of the homes were torn down and very few remain, other than that of Mr. Huang Yong-Fu, also known as "Rainbow Grandfather", who created a more peaceful protest by painting his entire village with bright rainbow designs, animals, and characters.

His village still stands, and is occupied by several families, today and is known to tourists and Taiwanese locals alike as "Rainbow Village"

The 'famous' Rainbow Iron man that takes pictures at the village

After our time at Rainbow Village, we caught a bus back into Taichung and began to look for lunch..boy was that an experience! We ended up at a “mall” called ‘little SE Asia’ hosting stores, restaurants, strange people, and dead animals from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, etc. Hands down this was the dirtiest mall, shopping center, whatever you’d like to call it that I had ever been in! We were looking for something to eat and Tina leans over and asks “do you think this is safe to eat!?” Well, we ate lunch and we are still kicking, so it must have been ok! The Vietnamese food was amazing, the karaoke was loud, and our server Rolley Wang {I can’t make this stuff up} was a little too touchy; but dang it, we found lunch!

After lunch we ran into a group of guys we had met Saturday night and they convinced us to explore the remaining floors of this ½ abandoned mall with them including (but not limited to) finding a rundown bowling all, making friends with a dead ½ eaten lizard, climbing multiple sets of broken escalators, and finally going to a bar just in time for their weekly ARC checks {just to make sure we were legal && documented}.

ARC's out people, ARC's out!

You’d think we would have called it a day after that lol, but we weren’t quite finished with our to-do list for the day, so before boarding the train home we hopped in a cab to check out Paochueh Temple boasting one of the largest laughing Buddha statues in Taiwan && it did not disappoint!

And that's a wrap!

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {pictures of everything}

Although I've mentioned the idea of loads of pictures  before, I don't think it is quite comprehendable until one finds themselves actually living amidst the flashbulb paparazzi.  You may remember reading about the camera mobs in some of my previous posts like here or here. But they don't even begin to touch the tip of the iceberg!

Living here I have 2 things going against me in terms of pictures 1) I'm white {as in 1 of only 2 white people I've seen in my small town in the last 4 months type of white} & 2) They love taking pictures...combine these 2 things and they weren't kidding when they said "Everyday is picture day here"

If you can try to imagine, these are all legitimate reasons that people have taken picture of me: 

1. I stopped to ask them directions
2. They saw me walking down the street
3. It was the first day of school
4. It was Halloween day
5. We had a staff meeting
6. I was getting in their car
7. I was getting out of their car
8. I was eating dinner
9. I am white and they wanted a white person in their presidential campaign pictures
10. I was the only white person at church
11. The student was sitting next to me
12. The student was playing a game with me
13. We had a staff meeting
14. I was reading to a class
15. I was teaching a class
16. I was walking to class
17. A guard was leaving our school
18. A new guard was starting at our school
19. We had a staff meeting
20. Because "you are so beautiful"
21. Because they saw me taking a picture
22. Because I asked if they needed help taking a picture
23. Because they thought I couldn't see them trying to sneak a picture
24. Just because they can

I'm not kidding folks....it's a little absurd!

Taichung Flower Festival

Flowers Galore!

This past weekend Tina and I ventured back down south to Taichung thanks to the recommendation of a friend in my Chinese class to check out their 2015 International Flower Festival. Oh my goodness was it breathtaking!

When they call this a "Flower Carpet Festival" they aren't kidding, the ground is completely covered in flowers (ok and mud too if you go after it rains!) I have never seen SOoo many flowers before! We headed down Saturday morning, checked into our hostel, grabbed some food {I apologize, when I write about my days I realize how often I do this in a day...I  think I like to eat!} and hoped on the nearly hour shuttle ride headed for the festival. We weren't quite sure what we were expecting, but were certainly glad when we got there!

Seriously, as far as you could see...there were flowers!

I was madly in love with these friends! {if I had even an ounce of a green thumb in me I'd be planting some of these guys!}

Turkey Day Taiwan Style!

Happy Thanksgiving from good old Hsinchu, Taiwan!

Hoping you and your families had the most blessed of days and didn’t forget to throw in an extra thank you (or 20) throughout your day! If you take the time to truly look around it is absolutely amazing how much God has given each and every one of us to be thankful for!

Now trust, I realize, that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Taiwan…shoot, most people don’t even have any idea what it is, but that doesn’t mean that this American girl went through the day without a little turkey and Macy’s Day parade!

The last 2 weeks I have been teaching my students about thanksgiving…in the most BASIC form possible! I’m not kidding, part of my presentation included “bye-bye England…Hello America” haha…like I said BASIC! We also talked about traditions, foods we eat, watched the parade & crazy shoppers, and thought of all the things we have to be thankful for!

I’m all about numbers, so here’s a little Turkey Day breakdown for you!

13 – times I re-watched the 2014 Macy’s Day parade
46 – the number of Thanksgiving day pop-up cards we made
5 – the number of plates I had of thanksgiving food! {eating is a sport right?!)
11 – the number of American’s that made it to our Thanksgiving dinner!
1,354 – the number of times I had to repeat the word  PILGRIM  for the children to understand how to pronounce the word!

Also, some misconceptions that I dispelled during classes…we do not eat TURTLES for Thanksgiving, papaya pie is not served at the table, and the big bowl of fluffy stuff is neither rice nor mashed sandwiches but rather mashed potatoes! Haha oh the ESL classroom!

Turkey Day group! William, RJ, Tina, myself, Matthew & baby Jacob, Ruth, Tory, Rebecca, Glen, & Angie.

THEN, to make Thanksgiving even better, we found out the Sheraton in Hsinchu was having Turkey on their buffet Thursday night…cue in 11 excited Americans and a solid 3 hours of eating, and we all left more happy and Thankful than  we would have thought possible! I’m telling you, I had turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, cheese {these last 2 are difficult to find here!}, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake…oh my goodness, delicious! (And thank goodness for flowy shirts at Thanksgiving!)

Don't know what I'd do without these girls in Taiwan!

Next up, let the Christmas celebrations begin!

Chinese Classes!

"It's not difficult!"

...or at least that's what my professor likes to tell us...always followed by a hearty "jia you" {or you can do it, in Chinese} ...I'm pretty sure she realizes that learning this is near impossible!

I'm not sure exactly what state of mind I was in, or better question yet, where my mind was at all! when I decided to enroll in the local National Chiao Tung University for Chinese classes, but that's where I find myself every Monday night. 

When I walked across the stages with my Master diploma this past May I was happy with my accomplishments, but swore off any more schooling for several years {or possibly ever!}...granted I had said the same thing when I finished my undergrad only 3 years before...But, here I am, less than 4 months later...working on Chinese homework. 

If I didn't want to make matters even worse...I had the choice between two different classes being offered: Conversational Chinese  (speaking & listening) or Introductory Chinese (speaking, listening, reading && writing), and what do you think my smart self chose....yeah, let's just saying reading & writing Chinese is just as difficult as one would image {times 50!}.

Introductory Chinese here I come!

I'm about half way through my course right now, and although my grades may not be the best evidence, I am actually learning some of this stuff! It only took my professor, 2 work books, a handwriting book, 2 separate apps, && a deck of flash cards to learn how to count to 10 {remember, it's not difficult! lol} But no, on a serious note, I'm loving this!

I mean, I wrote this...and I can actually read it too! 

Though the class  is tough and there's days I feel like its all gibberish {oh wait!} I am learning some...slowly but surely! I get a secret thrill each time my professor writes something on the board and I know what the sentence says, or I can read a character or 2 on a street sign, or I finished a page of homework ALL in Chinese, or I can read my train schedule without waiting for the English menu to pop up...I'm telling you, it's coming, s-l-o-w-l-y but surely! 

Tuesday Taiwan-ism {no drinks?!}

So this one has taken some getting used to, and to be quite honest, I  still tend to lean towards the "western customs" on this particular topic.

Lunches here {for the most part!} are great and I've enjoyed getting to try so many new foods during my daily lunches (if you missed my previous post on lunches you can check it out here), but the strangest part, is that there is never a drink served with lunch! In the US the kids typically get a choice between white milk, chocolate milk {and the lucky duck kids maybe even strawberry milk & orange juice!} but here in Taiwan, a drink during lunch, or any meal for that matter, is not so typical.

Instead of a drink the children are ALWAYS given a broth based soup. It might have meat, fish, or veggies in it as well...but always soup!

Some days the soup might be served cold and other days it might be a sweeter soup, but for the most part, their soups are broth based with various cooked veggies in it & this substitutes the drink that children in the US would typically get for lunch.

Although some days I do venture and try the soup {it's nearly impossible for me to know what's in them though!} I do have my trusty water bottle by my side during my lunch period as well...a little western fusion at its finest!

Monday Morning Prayer

This little prayer card has traveled great distances with me lately (both literally and figuratively lol). Back in April when I found out I was accepted to my teaching program in Taiwan I was also attending a 3 week prayer class of sorts where we talked about the many different ways you can pray. One of the nights I was given this prayer card  and the 3rd verse jumped out to me and gave me goose bumps. At that point in my life I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do; or more importantly what God wanted me to do, and this verse couldn't have shouted my name any  more loudly.

"May you meet life's adventures with a clear mind and a bold heart." 

I was beyond upset when I arrived to Taiwan and couldn't find the prayer card that I had made SURE to keep out when packing my house. Low and behold, about 3 weeks after moving here I opened up  my Taiwan travel guide and this little card flutters out...it was meant to make it here :) 

It's been on my mind lately and I thought I'd share it and maybe it'd speak to someone else as well! Happy Monday my friends, have a terrific week!

Suggestions, SUGGESTIONS, Read All About It!

Ok friends, I need some help!

Poor me has only about 3 weeks off of school for Chinese New Year {school goes until the very beginning of July so don't even start on "it's not fair!" lol} and I plan on making the most out of each of these days in the only way that seems logical to me....TRAVELING!

Shoot me your thoughts, personal experiences, & opinions! 

I'm leaning towards Thailand, but Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam are also great contenders as well {ok let's be honest...any country that I've never explored is new to me...right?!?!}

Also, since I'm most likely traveling solo I'm leaning towards some type of slightly organized trip. Like I don't need someone spoon-feeding (or chop-stick feeding me for that matter) and holding my hand as I cross the street, but having English speaking friends and a loose guideline of what way's up would be greatly appreciated for my first time there!

Sooo, do you have any suggestions of travel companies you've  used or heard of?!
Any first hand experiences to share with traveling in Asia that might be helpful?!
or...Do you just want to fly on over and join me and we can ditch the whole tour deal altogether!?!?! 

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {stamps}

Sooo, maybe this post is a day late....Wednesday's Taiwan-ism?!?! (ok, so it doesn't have the same ring...I'll try to stick with Tuesdays!) But to be honest, I've been beat lately! I think all this running around and trying to understand a new language is finally catching up with me and all I've wanted to do lately is SLEEEEP! But I'm awake now {I'm technically at school so I guess I hope I'm awake lol} and I've got a new Taiwan-ism for you!

I had heard about Taiwan's stamps (or signature stamps or chops) before I came here, but was still surprised by the amount that they are used in everyday life. In America if you go to the bank, they ask for your signature; if you sign a rental contract, they make you sign your name; if you buy a car, agree to a work commitment, or apply for a loan...you must sign a paper. We view this as a sign {no pun intended!} of ones approval and as a way of "making our personal mark".

In Taiwan though, this isn't the case.

In any of these legal situations in Taiwan, a person must use their signature stamp; and these are exactly what they sound like...a stamp, with your name on it. Within a month of moving to Taiwan I already owned 2 stamps; one for my bank account and a second for signing the purchase agreement and insurance on my scooter.

These stamps range from dinky & super cheap to beautiful works of art that are  much more costly. They can be square or sound and engraved into wood, plastic, or expensive stones. Virtually every street has at least one shop boasting that they engrave keys and stamps as well as many street vendors offering to make them as well.

Personally I feel as they are much more impersonal more easily replicated than a personal signature, but in this culture, it is the norm. These red stamps (they always use them with red ink) are every where you look here; from your pay stub, to art work on the walls, to your bank statements. The Taiwanese way of marking something as their own!

Pictures, Pictures Read All About It!

If you haven't noticed yet, my blog has gotten a little face lift...I'm loving the clean look and bright colors!!!

Also, added to the top of the blog is a PICTURES tab. I am contantly putting new pictures on here {it links up to my Instagram} that don' t always warrent there own blog post, so make sure you take some time and check them out! If you click on an individual picture it will take you to a new page and show you the caption and tell you a little bit about what't in the picture as well!


Also, please feel free to leave some love and comments at the end of my posts! I LOVE staying in touch with people back home and hearing your reactions and questions to what you're reading! (it always puts a smile on my face when I check my blog in the morning and I've got some new love on it!

Have a great weekend, and stay warm!!  It'll be 82 here this weekend ;)

Persimmons & Baseball & Dumplings, Oh My!

To say this past weekend was an eventful weekend is to say the least, but it was also a blast!!!

You may recall from this earlier post about my terrific ability to get lost...anywhere! {thanks mom!} and making it to the local persimmon festival was no different! Last weekend I tried to venture to Xinpu about 30 minutes away and found myself so terribly lost that I gave up for the time-being, but was determined that I would make it! One of the teachers I work with at school had told me about this festival {think about visiting an apple orchard in the fall....now change the apples to persimmons} and I was determined to check it out for myself!

SOooo, this Saturday I woke up early and determined and set out on my scooter with high hopes of finding this place. Let me tell you after 30 minutes of driving the excitement I felt when I began to notice signs in the shape of persimmons pointing in the direction of the farm! I finally made it!!! And, oh my goodness, I am so glad I did, it was so pretty!!!  (be prepared for picture overload!)

 This is a persimmon, Hsinchu (where I live) is known for their persimmons and their bountiful harvests each fall and then their gorgeous displays such as these at the persimmon farms (I'm not really sure what they are called!)

 Down to the nitty gritty...what in the world is a persimmon festival?? First it's not technically a festival! This is more their processing area that just happens to be beautiful so they open it up to the public! Here's a little snapshot of the process starting top left 1. Fresh persimmons are picked they can be red, yellow, or orange/soft or hard/round or pointy  2. Persimmons are put through this apple peeling-like machine to take off their skins  3. They are then put on these round well ventilated racks on bamboo poles up high to "bake" in the sun  3. The dried persimmons (also known as persimmon cakes) are sold to visitors to enjoy!

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {Calendars}

I never thought something that I learned how to use in kindergarten and first grade could prove to be such a crazy thing here some days. It's easy to point fingers though when they are juggling no less than 3...yes I said THREE calendars in their day to day lives.

Please let me be the first to tell you that I didn't even know that 3 calendars  existed lol.


The western calendar or Gregorian Calendar {or what we would simply call...a calendar} - This is by far the least used calendar here in Taiwan although it's what I use when I'm here! (I promise I'm not being stubborn! You'll see it's easy to flip back and forth here.)

For instance, today's date is Tuesday, November 11, 2015 && my birthday is January 11, 1990


The Taiwanese Calendar or Minguo Calendar - This is the most commonly used and official calendar of Taiwan. This means that although you can find calendars that fit description #1, all legal papers, official documents, and general day-to-day life events use this calendar. While the months and days are the same as the Gregorian Calendar {see I told you it was easy to flip-flop!} the year follows the pattern of the number of years since the start of the Republic of China (ROC) commonly known as Taiwan. When Sun Yat-sen became the first president of Taiwan (in our year 1911 or 104 years ago) he ordered that the year be declared the first year of the ROC and thus the calendars begin at year 1 of the Republic. Essentially, you always subtract 1911 from whatever the western year is!

For instance, today's date is Tuesday, November 11, 104  && my birthday is January 11, 79


The Lunar Calendar - This calendar, although not used for their day-to-day lives, is also extremely common in Taiwan as a large majority of their holidays revolve around this calendar. I personally have trouble understanding all the logisitics of this calendar and simply know that it is the second date (usually smaller) date posted on all calendars in Taiwan! This calendar fluctuates from year to year and its months are aligned with astronomical dates and happenings and the cycles of the moon.

For instance, today's date is September, 23, YiWei && my birthday is December 15, JiSi

{quickly figuring out why we don't use this one all the time!}

Check out this website and learn your Lunar Calendar birthday!

Sun Moon Lake...A Place of Beauty

Apparently I just need to sit at home and hibernate some weekend so that when I type a blog post on Monday it's actually for the weekend that I just finished instead of the week before!

---------------- Saturday & Sunday, October 31 & November 1, 2015 ----------------

Like always I have nothing planned for the weekend and then last minute we scramble to put our plans together...so, yet again!  

One of the top travel to destinations in Taiwan is Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County. {Fun fact, Nantou County is the only county in Taiwan that is landlocked or completely surrounded by land and has no points touching the ocean!} Needless to say, neither Tina nor I had ever visited and thought that this  weekend looked like the perfect time to check it out! (side note, I'm so glad we usually don't look at the weather BEFORE  planning our trips! 60% rain proved to be false and it was gorgeous out!)

We set out bright and early Saturday morning, well at least I did & picked up Tina on the way, and made it to Taichung (this is the city with the closest train station to Sun Moon Lake) by midmorning & located a local train headed for the Lake and settled in....for 2 hours (nap time!!!)

We arrived to Sun Moon Lake around 1ish and immediately set out for lunch...a quick boat ride across the lake provided us with all the day market treats we could handle including this sandwich with pork, cucumbers, & super fluffy bread! 

We spent a majority of the afternoon walking around, soaking in the beautiful sights, treats & people. 

The views here we beautiful!

What's That??

Quick post!

Issues that I didn't even know EXISTED before moving to Taiwan. I go to the bakery to buy a piece of bread (you know because some people frown at eating a whole tub of peanut butter with a spoon) and bring it home for breakfast...it looked so innocent! Only to open it up to find it filled with red beans and some type of foamy custard... I'm not thinking they play well with peanut butter ☹  All I'm saying is a warning would have been nice! Haha

Country Scooter Drive!

Finally! I thought I would never get this video! To say I had some hiccups while filming this is an understatement, but finally take #837 worked!

This is my 10 minute (about 4.5 mile) drive from my apartment to my teeny tiny school Fu Long out in the country. I teach there Wednesdays and Friday so I only make this drive 2 times a week, but I think the  scenery somedays is breathtaking!

This video is sped up to about 2x's the normal speed, but I drive between 50 & 60 kph (or between 31 & 37 mph). It doesn't sound that fast, but with air, bugs, dirt, and the thought of the pavement hitting you that fast, it's plenty fast....oh and the speed limit as well haha. 

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did filming it! :)

Rice Fields & Mangroves!

So it's not exageration to say that for the last 2 {almost 3...eeek!} months that I have lived here I have said more times than I can count that I want to go check out the rice fields. Weird sounding...maybe...but let me tell you, they are soo beautiful you would understand if you could see them yourself!

Now if you know me well, you may think I am sick in the head for writing this (if not a gentle disclaimer, I hate car rides, I don't like driving, I don't like having to be the passenger, planes, and trains, and everything else were made for a good reason!). Last weekend, I, Tracy, went for a joy-ride...JUST FOR THE HECK OF IT {clearly this whole scooter deal has affected me more than what I would have thought haha} and of course I had to stop and take some pictures once I felt that I was sufficiently "in the middle of nowhere!"

Ummmm, so pretty gorgeous, these pictures don't even begin to do it justice!

A little panoramic action so you can get a feel of where I was at!

Close up of the rice growing {if anyone would like to explain harvesting this to me, I'm all ears!}