Guest Blog Post - Welcome Josh!

It only took him 5 months lol...but Josh finally finished his movie about his 2 week whirl-wind trip to Taiwan {and first trip out of the US as well as riding on a plane!}. And I might be a little biased, but I have to say his movie didn't turn out too shabby! ;)

If you happened to miss reading about when he was here you can check out our 2 weeks together in Taipei HERE, Hualien HERE, & Kaohsiung HERE!

Enjoy & let me know what you think!

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {Temples of Taiwan Video}

It's no secret that I am slightly in love with the temples that are EVERYWHERE here in Taiwan! I may not have the same beliefs as the temple goers or understand their beliefs or customs, but the craftsmanship and artistry shown in each of these temples is not only beautiful but unique to each temple I stumble upon. My friends here tease me that I can't simply walk past a temple, no matter the size, but I must at least poke my head in to see what lies inside!

I've put together a quick video of a small fraction of some of the temples that I have visited over the past 10 months and hope you enjoy it as much as I do taking the pictures and exploring each of these hidden gems!

Jiufen Old Street

Wednesday I decided to surprise mom a bit and give her a list of several day trips to choose only took her like 4 years to decide, but eventually she settled on Jiufen Old street, east of Taipei. We headed up to a rainy Taipei Tuesday after school let out and after many failed dinner attempts and crazy angry stomachs...we ended up with a late night McDonalds night for dinner {sorry mom!} We made it a tad more authentic by throwing in a side of green tea/red bean ice cream for desert {I was a fan, mom...not so much!} After dinner we headed back to our luxury hostel [seriously if you're coming to Taipei check this place out!].

Wednesday morning we grabbed a non-traditional Taiwanese breakfast {who am I to deny my mom her new found love of sticky bun dumplings for breakfast?!?!} and hopped on a nearby bus for the nearly hour long drive to Jiufen. One quick nap later, and we were there! :P  [Fun Fact: Jiufen translates to 9 pieces in Chinese as there were 9 families that originally lived in this town]

Climbing off the bus we immediately began soaking in the views. Jiufen is situated part way up a mountain, thus allowing you both breathtaking views of the villages below and the mountains that continue upwards. Win, win in my book! It didn't take us long to make our way to the Old Street in town and quickly get pulled into the steady stream of tourists that run up and down both side of this Japanese-era street. We made quick work of locating several food stands and throughout the day sampled fish balls, red bean "pancakes", taro ice cream rolls, teas, and braised pork {our stomachs were not wanting today!}

We leisurely spent the afternoon checking out the street stands, absorbing the amazing views, munching on snacks, and people watching to our hearts content. Mid afternoon we ventured to the bus stop and grabbed a bus headed to our next attraction that we thought was just over a mile away. Well, a mile on flat, straight Ohio roads and a mile through the windy, mountain roads are 2 very different things...long story short, I'm glad in our 20 minute drive that everyone was able to keep their lunches down!

Finally, we arrived at the Golden Waterfall in Jiufen. Although, sadly!, there is no real gold in this waterfall, the water takes on a golden color due to the amount of heavy metals that are found in its riverbed. No matter the reason though, the falls are beautiful! We hung out at the falls for a bit before we realized there was only one more bus back to civilization the Old Street. We bought some last minute trinkets and snacks before we hopped on one more bus headed towards Taipei and ultimately my house. Today may have been our last outing together while my mom was here, but we had a blast!

Welcome to FuLong Elementary School

Check out this quick video tour of one of the two schools that I am currently teaching at here in Taiwan. FuLong Elementary School is the smaller of the 2 schools I teach at with a current total of 43 students grades 1st - 6th. The school is situated in the countryside about a 10 minute scooter drive away from my apartment. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of the school!

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {Medical Expenses}

A couple weeks ago for my Tuesday Taiwan-ism I posted about the crazy low cost of living here in Taiwan {yahoo for me!} but I forgot to mention yet ANOTHER piece of the "low cost of living" here in

Taiwan has a national, and mandatory, healthcare plan in place for all of its residents (citizens and legal residents alike) in which an employer and the employee each pay an agreed upon percentage of the yearly costs and the resident then has access to low cost and affordable healthcare anywhere in the county {I know this sounds great...I promise I'll share both pros and cons of this!}

Medical Expenses

General Practitioner (with all tests included) -- $150 NT -- $4.60 USD
Specialist -- $200 NT -- $6.13 USD
Dentist -- $200 NT -- $6.13 USD
Eye Doctor -- $200 NT -- $6.13 USD
Dermatologist -- $200 NT -- $6.13 USD
Emergency Room Visit -- $700 NT -- $21.45 USD
Prescriptions -- "free" -- included with doctor's fees

PROS - Affordable · Easily Accessible · Most places are no appointments necessary · free necessary prescriptions · fast service · healthcare for all residents and workers in Taiwan

CONS - Rushing patients in and out quickly · many conditions not taken very seriously · far too many pills are prescribed · at times offices are quite crowded

Mom Meets the Monkeys

I'm pretty sure 99% of my mom's motives in coming to Taiwan were to go to my monkey friends in Kaohsiung {if you're wondering about the other 1%... 0.5% was to taste Taiwanese food and the other 0.5% was guilt that she should probably come see me!} And, because that's what she wanted, I had to make sure her dreams would come true lol...and what better time to do that than Mother's Day weekend! {talk about a Mother's Day she hopefully never forgets!}

My mom headed to school with me Friday morning to meet my kiddos at FuLong and after lunch with them we headed to the High Speed Rail station (thanks so much to a gracious co-worker for a ride!) and headed down south to Kaohsiung. We arrived to Kaohsiung around 3:30 Friday afternoon and I had the perfect spot in mind to start our weekend. Lotus Pond is about the epitome of everything you could want in a "classic Asian" experience! Pagodas - check! Temple - check! Lotus flowers & dragons - check & double check! Perfect picture opportunities, Chinese gods, and fancy rooftops - check, check, & check! Lotus Pond has it all; and I knew my mom would love it!

We spent a good chuck of time exploring the temples and pagodas before we decided we had better head towards our hostel and check in before the hostel owner got grumpy with us! After checking into our hostel. Once we were all checked in we relaxed for a an hour or so {ok I'll be honest...we enjoyed the AC! It was 90 degrees outside with a heat index over 100 and 85% as heck!} Once we were mobile again we headed back out towards the Liuhe Night Market not too far from our hostel where we sampled teas & feasted on Taiwanese pork sandwiches, fruit milk, crunchy pork buns, and of course...dumplings! When we didn't think our feet could possibly take us any further we dragged ourselves back to our hostel and collapsed with visions of monkeys dancing in our heads! ;)

Saturday morning, of course things won't always go right!, started off with a little public transportation hic-up that we quickly straightened out. So, after an early rise & a hearty 7-eleven breakfast {no judging, I wasn't feeling like navigating Chinese breakfast menus at 8am!} we found ourselves at the base of Shoushan Mountain 壽山 at a large temple overlooking Kaohsiung City. Naturally, after exploring the temple and its twin pagodas for a bit we began our climb....and continued for the next 3 hours!

My mom was lucky! The first time I went I was alone and had to walk a good 45 minutes before my first monkey sighting. The second time when Josh and Tina went along we walked we walked maybe only 20 to 30 minutes before seeing our first little monkey family. My mom, on the other hand, walked less than 10 minutes before a mom and her baby are plopped in the middle of our path. Stopping to check them out several more came down to see who the 2 funky white people were and my mom's camera was working on overdrive! I was pretty sure she was going to call it quits after seeing her first several monkeys, but she kept right on trekking! :P

I got a little mixed up on the trail, but it proved so worth while as we had a great time hiking, we didn't get into any of the steep areas or off the dirt or wood-paved paths, and we were still able to see several medium sized groups of monkeys at different spots as the day wore on! {ok...I just looked it up out of curiosity...apparently it's not a GROUP of monkeys...but a troop of monkeys!..thanks Oxford dictionary for your help!!} 3 hours, lots of sweat, and super empty stomachs later we found ourselves at the base of the mountain where we quickly ate and then headed to our hostel for nice cold showers and afternoon naps!

Once nap time had officially ended we headed to the Pier 2 art center {a reclaimed railroad yard turned into an artist outdoor paradise!} to check it out followed by an amazing Thai dinner filled with more curry than our hearts could handle. And of course, what trip to Kaohsiung wouldn't be complete without a nighttime stroll past the Love River that runs through the city center?! A wonderful night indeed!

Sunday morning we got our tired tushies up for breakfast and then walked to the Holy Rosary Cathedral in town {fun fact its the largest and old in Taiwan and in the top 3 in Asia...not so fun's actually not that big haha} where we had English mass with people from all corners of the world....LOVE IT!

After mass we walked to the Kaohsiung 85 Sky Tower and holey moley guys...the views were great SPECTACULAR! You could see the city, the ocean, the harbor...they were amazing and we were so glad that we went! {and this was a first for me #winning!} Once we were able to close our jaws from awe we hopped on a pair of rented bikes, biked our booties all over Kaohsiung including stops at the sea-side university, Pier 2 art center, and a steamed bun shop before realizing that it was 6pm and we still had a 2 hour trip home! Goodbye Kaohsiung and Happy Mother's Day to my mommy!

My Mommy's in Taiwan!

So if you don't follow me on any other forms of social media {Shameless shout out! You can check out my Instagram and Facebook here!} and you didn't know my mom made mom made it! It might have taken 9 months, lots of convincing, and promises of limited scooter rides, no nasty food, and monkey sightings; but, she's here!

She left Ohio Thursday morning bright and stinkin' early and landed in Taipei Friday evening a little after 6pm Taiwan time (I'll do the math for you...24 hours of flying and 36 hours lost with time change included!) on Friday, April 29. We grabbed some quick food in the airport and headed back for my home in Hsinchu to prepare for sports day Saturday morning. (Funny thing about schools here in Taiwan...they don't mind making you work an occasional Saturday, but you're always compensated for the we got Monday off instead...whatever makes you happy!)

Sports day on Saturday included many waves from the students for my mom and many MANY stares from parents at the 2 lone white people that some didn't even know existed in the town {I'd blow their minds if I told them there was a white guy teaching at the Junior High as well! haha} Guys, I promise I'm not exaggerating this stuff! I had a mother of a first grader follow me around for a good 45 minutes taking numerous pictures of me and telling me over and over again in Chinese how beautiful I was and that she loved my nose...I've said it before...but I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried! After sports day (early release at 1...heck yes!) we headed home, quickly packed our bags, and hopped on the Train for Taipei {mom avoided a scooter ride here and I allowed her to breathe more easily on the local bus!}

We arrived to Taipei a little after 4pm, checked into our hotel, and Tour Guide Tracy got right to work on the extensive list I had been given to accomplish in Taipei {I'll brag for a second and say we covered everything on the list my mom gave me and then some...and we both lived to tell about it!}

First Stop...Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall 

{previous visits HERE & HERE}...with sightings of 101!

Next up...Longshan Temple

{previous visits HERE & HERE}...a must see temple in Taipei!

And finish the night off with...Shillin Night Market

{previous visits HERE, HERE, HERE, & HERE}...clearly I have a problem with night markets!

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Sunday brought along a whole new set of adventures and exhaustion (I can't lie though I love traveling so, it can be quite tiring at times as well!) We slept in a little bit to help cope with our long day the day before {and possibly a previous 24 hour flight around the world!} and then headed out for our day's first adventure...and one that my mom was madly in love with!

First stop of the day...Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall 

{previous visits HERE} was quite smitten with the architecture of the buildings in this area AND that she got her first ever jumping picture in front of the Memorial Hall {it's truly the little things in life!}

After we were starving and caved for a late super late lunch, Hello...Din Tai Fung!

{previous visits HERE & HERE}...I can't lie, I think this restaurant is wonderfully delicious and I will miss it something fierce when I finally leave my island home. Needless to was also a fan, it's hard not to be!

We finished lunch and headed to...Ximen walk off our food babies & see what we could find!

{previous visit HERE}...I can't say this is a must see in Taipei, but if you are in the area for several days and are wanting to see a different vibe of the city, this up & coming district is the place to be and a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, or in our case, a little of both as the nightlife here proved to be unique in its own right as well!

Last up for the night...Taipei 101 sighting at night!

{previous visits HERE, HERE, & HERE}

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Monday was our last official day to gallivant through Taipei, remember thanks to sports school Monday! And we started off with a bang and ended again way late; tired, but with full bellies and happy smiles!

First up, breakfast...Traditional Taiwanese Cold Peanut Noodles!

These can be bought just about anywhere, but I have been introduced to a popular street-side shop and knew she would love it!

Afterwards, the Taipei must see...Taipei 101!

{previous visits HEREHERE, & HERE}...You just CAN'T go to Taipei and NOT go into Taipei 101! The building is beautiful, the dampener inside is legendary, the elevator is one of the fastest in the world, and the views are incredible! We spent a good 2 hours checking out the inside of the tower and lucked out when the outside observatory was open for visitors as well! Afterwards we took our grumbly tummies down to the first floor food court and found some delicious noodles for lunch!

There was ONE more item on her to do list...National Palace Museum!

{previous visit HERE}...This museum is incredibly beautiful both inside and out! It is interesting enough the largest (or one of the largest depending on your sources!) collections of ancient imperial Chinese artworks & artifacts in the world and constantly rotating its collections for an ever changing museum display. Needless to say we spent several hours exploring the museum ending with their borrowed exhibit from the Vatican.

The end of the museum sadly also signaled the end of our long weekend in Taipei as we headed back to Hsinchu to prepare for school the following day.

Tuesday's Taiwan-ism {Cram Schools}

Cram schools, also known in Chinese as Buxibans [pronounced Bu-she-ban] are EVERYWHERE in Taiwan (and from what I head in China as well). Likewise, they apparently spread throughout much of Asia but go by different names within each country.

Regardless of where they are or what you call them though, their purpose remains the same...they are school after school.

In the United States is is typical for students, if both their parents are working 1st shift, to attend sports, day care centers, babysitters, or other after school care providers until one or both of their parents are available to pick them up for the evening. Traditionally though, even families who utilize these services, have their children home between 4 and 6pm so they are able to enjoy a family meal together, work on homework, and spend the evening with their children.

In Taiwan though, when that final bell rings for children to be dismissed from school, we have quite a different site than the typical yellow school bus or mom's carpool lane that we might be used to seeing in many American schools. At 3:50 when children are dismissed from the public schools, many of the children are picked up by a teacher from their buxiban and the groups of children are led to one of the dozens of buxibans that are scattered around each town here in Taiwan to begin their second round of school for the day.

Buxibans often are based around teaching math, Chinese, or English, but especially in larger cities, a parent can find a buxiban specializing in nearly any subject under the sun. Though younger children may only stay at a buxiban until 5 or 6 in the evening {for a total of 10.5 hours of schooling a day} many high pressure parents of high schoolers have their students enrolled in 1, 2, or 3 different buxibans until 10 or 11 o'clock at night! {That's up to 16 hours of schooling a day...everyday!}...and we wonder why many of the students in Asian countries are so more advanced than many of our students!

As the students age, their time spent in the buxiban also tends to increase. In families where it is expected that the children will go to great university and become doctors and engineers, the students may also attend buxibans or other remedial classes on Saturdays and Sundays to ensure that they are focusing all of their time and energy on becoming the absolute best student they can be...and then some!

Near me two of the larger schools, having multiple branches each, are American Eagle Institute and Giraffe English School, but there are countless smaller "ma & pa" cram schools as well. This notion of a school after school is still something I try to wrap my head around here in Taiwan, but good or bad, it's here to stay in Taiwan!

Sun Moon Lake & Cultural Village

Remember that time I hitched a ride with several teachers from Mialoi County thanks to Tina and we headed down to Changhua County and the amazing temple they had there?! Yeah...I did it again and this time we headed back down to Sun Moon Lake {check out my first visit to the lake here!}

April 9-10

We met bright and stinkin' early at the Mialoi Train station just south of Hsinchu, hopped on a bus and started the nearly 2 hour drive southeast to Nantou County where Sun Moon Lake is located. Getting off of the bus a little before noon at the Sun Moon Lake Cultural Center none of us were 100% sure what to expect from our day ahead.  {I'm not going to lie, I'm feeling lazy today...get ready for a ton of pictures!} We spent the day exploring the village, learning about the native indians from Taiwan, watching the aboriginal show, riding the gondolas, checking out the rides and soaking in the sweet sweet sun and the amazing views...oh, and of course, eating!


The 4 of us decided before hand to grab a hotel in Nantou overnight instead of taking the shuttle bus back home less than 5 hours after arriving to the lake, so we bid our friends goodbye and spent all of Sunday exploring more of the lake and it's spectacular views. Sunday brought with it bike rentals and bumpy rides, Wenwu Temple, day market foods, and souvenir shopping followed by a long ride home!