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!