About Me

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Tainan, Taiwan
I'm an ESL teacher from Colorado. I worked in Taipei in 2000 for over a year, paid off my undergrad loans, traveled, saved $ to travel some more. So when I got pregnant in grad school I thought I could return to Taiwan, be economically self sufficient while my daughter masters Mandarin.We came to Tainan when she was 2. Taiwan is an excellent base to explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety and benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

We Be Jammin' Harvest Moon Marmalade

Pomelo orchard near Jioulio Waterfall
Its Autumn in Yilan and like everyone in Taiwan, we have pomelo fruits coming out of our ears.

 Its the gift that keeps on giving, but I prefer it more than moon cakes, lesser calories and more healthy.

Pomelos (Citrus Maxima) are an ancient grapefruit, but much larger and sweeter than their newer descendants. Its the largest citrus fruit and in Taiwan the flesh is white/pale yellow.

 My work gave each of us a hefty box, with a dozen pomelos for Mid- Autumn festival, plus my building gave each of us several, so not wanting to waste I decided to make marmalade with my daughter.

It was a bit labor intensive to say the least. We had to peel them all and the rind is much thicker and stronger than other citrus fruit. Then we separated the yummy flesh from the inedible skin. Our hands were burning from removing the fruit,we had to rinse them several times. While we did that, I boiled the rind three times with fresh water before slicing thinly and adding to the boiling mixture (I dont have a food processor).

The recipe I found was 4 cups of sugar to 1 pomelo and we used 5 pomelos (I still have quite few left). Feeling uber-creative I decided to add some pomegranate fruits, inspired by the season of Autumn. I thought seeing the seeds suspended in the marmalade would look cool. It just made the final batch orange (pale yellow + blood red = orange).

My daughter removing the sweet flesh from the bitter skin
I had to buy some props for teaching from one of those "everything stores" and felt lucky to find different sized jars. I washed and dried them the night before and used the "water bath canning technique." A few days later, I gladly gave my co-workers a small gift to celebrate the season. It still feels like summer around here though!

The final result, Pomelo and Pomegranate Marmalade

Friday, September 12, 2014

Over the Moon: Mid Autumn Festival Yilan Style

Suao port and beach from Suhua Highway

The one thing to expect on a 3 day weekend in Taiwan are the crowds. That and train tickets will be sold out 2 weeks before they sell at the station (you can buy online with a Taiwanese ID #). So when we had moments of crowd-less nature, I definitely was over the moon with gratitude. It was also the first time in 6 years I was free in my own car to explore Yilan.

The empty Neibi beach, Suao.
Saturday Day 1 of our Moon festival weekend, went as planned. On our way to Nanao, we stopped for coffee at Neibi beach. It was totally desolate. We had the rooftop cafe to ourselves as well as the view of the Pacific. Where were all the crowds? In Kenting no doubt. After coffee and a shared shaved matcha iced tea with red beans we were back in the car.

The woman at the cafe told me in Mandarin that the local Matsu temple was moving the goddess idol to visit a god in Yilan and she explained times and locations. I was pretty giddy to have my comprehension of her explanation proved when we ran into the pilgrims. They had the coolest shirts, a sea of red devotees.

My friend climbing for a jump, Auhua Waterfalls.

After that it was back in the car to Nan'ao and there we found the crowds, bumper to bumper on the notoriously dangerous and most beautiful highway, the Suh-ua Highway. Its danger is not due to the narrow one lane switchbacks that plummet to the Pacific, but because fellow drivers are impatient and pass the corners on blind spots.

Outside a little aboriginal village called Aohua (the 161 km marker) there is the most magnificent waterfall. Three aboriginal teens on one scooter took us there. There were other cars in the lot and we hiked up a 5 minute walk, scrambled some rocks and there it was. There were a few families, but the pool was so enormous, the water dwarfed us so there was room enough for all. My companion bravely scrambled a bit up the wet and slippery rocks to plummet into the sparkling cold abyss.


We went home as planned, beat, ready for Sunday and finding a camping spot. Our day 2 definitely did not go as planned, except for the coffee at the revolving cafe on Highway 7. We found a camping spot next to Champing Lake, which was fairly close, like 15 minutes outside of Loudong. There was a lake circumstanced by wooden walkways and the camp spots had wooden platforms and BBQ grills. There was even a go-cart track. Surpisingly, there were few campers, maybe 2 or 3 tents that I could see. And still, greedy for solitude, we kept going further up the 7, farther away from big cities, only to find more crowds and rain. Camping did not happen. 

We did go up the eastern part of the North Cross highway to check out the Mingchi Forest Recreation area. It was disappointing. The lake was over-developed and charged an entrance fee. The Forest area itself has a massive resort  (明池國家森林遊樂區) on it with cabins and a restaurant that was of course crowded. The North Cross Highway which is high in altitude has some nice views and dark, misty, dank forests. There were moments we drove in clouds and we definitely got caught in the rain on the way back. We took a walk behind the cabins and found a few trails, but there were no camping spots there. Who knows we might com back on a non-holiday weekend and stay in one of the cabins.

Day 3 of our Moon Festival weekend, on Monday, we took our time heading out to one more nearby waterfall. Around the corner from Xingliao Waterfall is the abandoned Jiuliou Waterfall, about a 20 minute drive from my home. The trail was not very well maintained, but there wasn't another person there. We had the whole overgrown trail and small waterfall to ourselves. The overgrown parking lot is a perfect camping spot, no bathrooms, wooden platforms or vending machines. The path from the parking lot to the trail has a pomelo orchard on it. Pomelo is the fruit of the mid-Autumn festival.

We will hopefully return to those falls to camp next weekend.

Turtle Island from the Suao/Suhua Highway overlook

Pili Party!

Great news in today's paper this morning (for once), Pili Puppets will start airing free shows with English subtitles for free on YouTube (article is here). They usually air on our channel  8 at 9 pm which is past my kid's bedtime, but on Fridays, she stays up late and will translate the Taiwanese for me (she reads the Mandarin subtitles as her Taiwanese is just ok.)

I wrote a blog about the Pili display at the airport in 2012.

Just the other day I told my 7th graders about how I like Pili and they were shocked. "But teacher, that show is for old grandfathers!" As if Pili isn't cool. I guarantee the fighting scenes, special effects and attention to detail will blow you away!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Family's First Visit to Formosa: Su-hua Highway and Taroko National Park

Su'hua Highway Blues
No trip to Taiwan is done without a trip to Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) -- its the Grand Canyon of Taiwan. As we were admiring the park, it reminded all of us of Colorado, just different trees (and whole lot more humidity), those rocky canyons seemed all too familiar. They were all homesick.

Having been to Taroko before, I was more excited about the drive there from Yilan down the Su-hua Highway (蘇花公路)It was definitely beautiful, majestic turquoise waters, but I still think the coastal highways around Taitung  (especially around Taimali) are just as beautiful. My folks were more concerned about making the drive alive, they were unprepared for the reckless drivers overtaking each other along cliffs and the sharp mountain switchbacks.

More Su'hua Highway Blues

We stopped for lunch at some hole in the wall, mom and pop roadside diner, a pizza place with free WiFi, that was totally empty. My mom wanted fried rice, having warned her fried rice is pretty much the same everywhere, she still wanted to know what was in it....so she tried it, ate it all, but I think none of them were too impressed. Z and I were stoked to get some semblance of a pizza, corn and all. Food was one area of anxiety for my mom, everything had gluten and too much sugar-and that's all too true, but I it fell on deaf ears to just let it go for just a few weeks. I didn't even tell her, out of pity, that everything was probably loaded with MSG.

We arrived at Taroko too late to really explore it, just a day trip with the usual walks, no real hikes. They weren't up for anything athletic anyways, so at their pace we admired the natural beauty. Things got pretty exciting when a big tourist bus hogged the small mountain road and forced my Dad to reverse into the taxi behind us. There was no harm done, no car damage, so I told him to not worry about it and the taxi driver seemed pretty nonchalant, but it did make a great memory, "Remember the time that Chinese tourist bus..."

Mom and Dad crossing the bridge
My daughter was in heaven pretending to be our tour guide and spending time with her favorite Uncle.I had fun with him on some of the suspensions bridges, making it jump, us giggling like children.

Ed, me and Z at the Eternal Spring Shrine

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Yilan or Bust, Moving House

At the end of July while I worked my last week, my mom and daughter helped pack boxes. The whole month I was giving away and throwing away bags of clothes, toys, books. And I wouldn't consider myself materialistic or a pack rat, so I'm not sure what happened except six years with a kid at the same place  I had amassed a whole lot of crap.
AJ, Andrew and my Mom

When it was time to move my friend AJ and I rented a truck (he has a local driver's license) and together with one of his friends Andrew, they quickly and efficiently packed. I went to get some lunch and drinks for everyone, I was gone maybe 15 minutes and was astounded to find they were nearly done when I returned. What a strange coincidental blessing that Andrew for one miserable summer, worked as a professional mover, so he pretty much managed the whole packing of the truck. All 6 years of my life took an hour and a lot of sweat to pack into one truck.

Renting the truck was probably the easiest part of the whole move. Unfortunately the company is located in Yongkong district, but the man Yo-yo spoke perfect English and they were all very fast, efficient and professional. (Tainan Car Plus rental offvce in Yongkang 06-243-6655, No 169, Zhongzheng N. Rd, Yongkang 71081). It cost around 3,200 to rent the truck for 24 hours and after so many miles it was 4 nt a mile that added up, plus all the tolls that are automatically scanned by blue lights, that added up to 800. All in all, it was significantly cheaper to do it ourselves. (A moving company would be around 15,000 or more).

I'm very thankful for my dear friend AJ, who significantly helped be there to pack, move, get boxes, drive the truck, which wasn't easy. We played good music and were following this double rainbow between Chiayi and Chunghua, were caught in a thunderstorm around Miaoli, and stuck in Friday eve traffic between Hsinchu and Taipei. We arrived in Yilan around 830 pm but lost didn't find the new apartment until 9:30. It was a long day. My friend Steve who helped find me a temporary place was there with my new landlady and we all busted ass for twenty minutes  until our little studio was filled with boxes.

The next day bright and early AJ and I gassed up the truck and head back to Tainan to drop off the truck and the following day bring my mom to the airport. As you can see from the above map, Yilan at the northeast is in the exact opposite direction of Tainan in the southwest. It took about 6 hours one way.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The 7 Worst Mistakes People Make In Their 30's

This is in response to an article I read online and being 39 and a half years old, I decided to see if what they considered a mistake was also one of mine. The thirties are the new twenties, n'est pas? Not that I compare myself to what mass media considers success, but it did give me a moment to reflect on the past 10 years and be grateful.

I think my ideas of mistakes in my 30's would of been a little different from the article's. For example, I would have included something about breaking free from past internal scripts given to us in childhood, and neglecting a spiritual life (not already having some kind of spiritual habit or relationship with a higher power, ie (daily prayer, meditation).

The 7 Mistakes of that article are:

1. They abandon their loftier aspirations: Yes I definitely do identify with this mistake, although I havent abandoned as much as re-prioritized.. I had dreams of changing the world, working for an NGO or being apart of a peace process that includes the participation of women and caretakers. I dreamed about writing that screen play or a book of short stories, or publishing a book of poetry. Yet I'm not gutted or regretful right now, motherhood has temporarily filled this space. I think I'm still relatively young, there is still time. Being a working single mom in a foreign country is exhaustive, at the end of the day I'm pretty brainless and ambition-less. I definitely settled for job security over satisfaction- not to say I don't enjoy teaching, I do, its challenging, I grow constantly, but its not my passion. Of course there are those single moms who somehow find the time, energy and stamina to do their passions along with motherhood, my hats off to them. For now my energy is going into teaching and motherhood.

2. They put their career above friends and family: Having boundaries between work and home is very vital in Taiwan, or at least at my previous job because there is a social pressure to self sacrifice family time for boss brown nosing, and I refuse to play that game. At the same time I have been reflective enough to admit that I probably have more patience as a teacher than as a mother. At the end of the day,after  repeating myself to a class of 4 year olds (or 12 year olds) I am done. This is where I rely on Grace. I do make the most of my time with my daughter, long bedtime routines, after-school activities together (like biking), weekend trips, and international travel during holiday time.

3.They neglect their health: I think I have given more thought, energy and priority to my health during my 30's than my 20's. Being a working single mom I have had to learn to be efficient and frugal when it comes to eating clean and working out smart. I don't have a Hollywood body-type, I mean I enjoy eating, I regularly splurge on chocolate, wine, beer, etc, but I definitely do not neglect my health. Perhaps my sleep has been less during the majority of my 30's, 6-7 hours a night (but since moving to Yilan I have been getting more than 8 hours of sleep). I think I am more healthy and stronger in my 30's.

My 39th birthday lunch, Pequ Division, Myanmar

4. They miss the chance to have kids: Another mistake I did not make. Also not having kids is only a mistake if you really wanted them, and even then, women are still having babies in their early 40's, so if someone chooses not to have children there is no mistake in that.

5. They don't spend enough time with their aging parents: During my first 2 years of my 30's I lived with my folks when I got pregnant and had my baby, so I think those two years alone was a concentrated amount of time to have spent with them! Having said that, we do Skype each other weekly, I go home every year and a half and they just recently just visited me in Taiwan. They are aging so gracefully I don't feel like I am missing any chances to spend time with them, but I do feel like my daughter is missing a chance to spend time with her grandparents.

6. They don't set up financial foundations for the future: Ok I have my cousin Ben and father to thank for establishing a monthly setup where 25 bucks a month goes into some kind of fund which grows, is protected from market ups and downs and will be available in 25 years. I don't think I voluntarily would have set this up. Thanks guys! I suppose this is an area I can still learn more about though.

7. They stop having fun: Sometimes I feel like a bitch when I have to discipline my kid, repeat myself, etc and that's definitely no fun. Its a burden to be the sole disciplinarian, when I'm fun loving by nature. So I try do fun activities with my kid, play the games she likes, etc and find that balance with what I think is fun. A few times a year I really let my hair down, but generally fun for me is doing something outdoors with my daughter.

Z applying thenaka paste to my face, 39th birthday

My 30's can be summed up best by my 39th birthday. I was in Myanmar waking up at 4:30 am, drinking coffee, hopped in the back of an open pickup truck, huddled under blankets, watching the sunrise with my daughter and a French woman. We were going to the end of a teak plantation (Pequ division) to see some elephants and their handlers temporarily damn a rain forest stream for the elephants, while they camped there for the next few weeks.

My 39th Birthday Elephant Adventure

We got to hang out with the handlers and their wives and children and then we hopped on some elephants while we watched their work elephants make the damn. The animals worked hard, uprooting old, majestic trees and dragging it back.  The nursing mother was allowed to take a break during the duration of her nursing baby elephant (several years). It was an amazing experience to watch how they worked with elephants, how this has been going on for thousands of years. The handlers were not cruel, they were very poor and got a small cut of the government fee we had paid. We emptied our purses and bags of pencils, earrings, lips balm to give their wives as we left.

French traveler with Z

As if our day couldn't get any better, it did. We had an outstanding lunch that my daughter was allowed to "help" prepare. The little floor-less roadside cafe was across from the only school, a bamboo hut separated into three classes by age. There were no books, three teachers and three blackboards. It was humbling as a teacher from Taiwan, who teaches privileged students from wealthy families in a private school. My heart was bursting in my chest. Anything that can humble me with love, without criticism is a gift. This experience was an unforgettable day for me and my daughter, a memorable birthday that summarizes my 30's that were full of favor, blessing, and adventure.

School children, Pequ Division, Myanmar, my 39th birthday
If you would like to make a donation to this school, please send pencils, paper, crayons, markers, notebooks, etc to:
 Township Education Officer Oaktwin 
Pequ Division, Myanmar
c/o Daw Myat Myat See
Mile (20) B.E.H.S. Oaktwin

School children, Pequ Division, Myanmar, my 39th birthday

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Family's First Visit to Formosa: Waterfalls and Dolphins

After Taipei, we quickly left the busy city for some slow paced, nature time in Yilan County.

A bunch of goofballs,Wofongci Waterfalls

We arrived in Jiaoxi (礁溪) and took a taxi to our guesthouse called Atayal Xiang, which was just around the corner. In the stifling heat with all their luggage, taking a taxi from the bus depot was the only option. There are really no side-walks on the main road.

Double room at Atayal Xiang

The owner Paul is an aboriginal (Atayal tribe) and very welcoming, helpful, knowledgeable and his place is clean, comfortable and well located. He was able to book us the boat tour to Turtle Island and rent a car to drive to Taroko, among regularly surprising us with delectable trays of exotic fruits and teas.

Dolphin watching tour, Turtle island in the background

There was a typhoon stalking our itinerary. I was a bit worried we would be stuck indoors as the tropical storm approached Yilan and was growing into a massive typhoon. Fortunately for us it changed direction and hit Okinawa severely, sadly peopled died there. For us it meant our afternoon boat and island tour to Turtle (Guishan) Island (龜山島) was rescheduled from 1pm to the morning, and we wouldn't be disembarking. On the way to the boat docks we stopped for some motion sickness pills, my daughter who gets sea-sick, staunchly refused to take them and later suffered.

It didn't take long for us to be surrounded by a large pod of dolphins. There were dozens on either side of the boat, babies with their mothers. Some of the show-offs did amazing leap displays. My camera phone couldn't catch a decent shot, so I had to just enjoy it in the imprints of my memories. It was a beautiful trip, but most all the Taiwanese were getting sick, the back of the boat was one large group puke fest and my stubborn daughter was among them, she didn't get to enjoy the dolphins at all. I was pretty disappointed we didn't get explore the island, but after 2 hours on the boat, I couldn't imagine the others having the stamina for the real tour. My folks and brother were relieved to be on dry land.

Back in Jiaoxi, we had some noodles, chili ice-cream and took a taxi to the Wofongci Waterfalls (五峰旗瀑布). It was an easy enough walk, 10 minutes to the first set of falls, maybe ten more to the top and most impressive of the falls, but the humidity took its toll on my family and they dragged their feet. Z and I made the most of their slow pace by frolicking in the cold mountain pools.

 We returned to Atayal Xiang exhausted, everyone took a pre-dinner siesta. I had to convince my mom to come experience the Japanese style hot springs.

Grandmother and granddaughter admiring the falls

I was uber-excited for my mom to experience the tranquility of an outdoor hot springs with the Japanese bamboo setting. It was our second time at these springs, but being nude in a public bath (separated by gender of course) was inhibiting for her. After a while, the soothing waters and natural setting worked their magic. She explored the different temperature pools and we returned to our guest house in a light rain which cooled the evening off. Everyone slept well that night.

We spent 2 nights and 3 days in Jiaoxi. I had to go apartment hunting in Yilan one afternoon with a new coworker and a couple of real estate agents, but came up empty handed. In my absence my family went to the fish foot spas and returned with many jokes of their experience.