About Me

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Yilan, 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.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ballet Basics and Getting Off on the Wrong Foot

Talk about dancing to a different tune. I blame the Taiwanese dependence on tests, and focusing on the end result, not the process, along with just people with petty personalities. Actually, I think on a higher level, forces of darkness (The Shadow Trickster) were trying to steal my radiant source of weekly joy, my beloved 90 minute Wednesday ballet class from me.

Mid June,  it got real with this new dance studio, when I told them Z wasn't happy with her teacher (the owner) and wanted to quit. I had already paid for her June classes and wanted the rest of money back, but she refused. Bear in mind that we were communicating through Facebook messager. I was typing in English and a friend was helping her translate.

Refusing to give me my money back basically forced me to bluntly tell her all the reasons why my kid hated her class. It wasn't enough for me to say diplomatically, that my kid's and your personality doesn't match, so can we just cancel. I kept on reiterating that I however loved my adult class (different teacher).

She demeans the girls, ("You're the worst class, the others dance better than you") - although they are the very beginning class, she hit Z hard (she showed me, totally crossed the line), the teacher is on her phone messaging and chatting most of the time, and she doesn't demonstrate any of the movements herself (like every dance teacher I know does) but basically instructs them orally, while grabbing limbs roughly and forcing the girls' bodies. I had mean teachers before (but they could dance), I also understand that dance teachers have to adjust kids' bodies, pats, are normal, but hard smacks, um nope crossed the line.

I basically commented that I would be curious to ask the other girls what they thought of her using her phone in class too, considering how much the classes cost, and that's when she said I could have my money back and I wasn't welcomed to join the adult class anymore too. It spiraled and got ridiculous fairly quick. I doubt she would of acted the same had I been a Taiwanese mother, for sure she would of reimbursed the money.

Fortunately, my ballet teacher and a mother/fellow student in my adult class, "the peacemaker" helped to have a face to face, saving face meeting. This woman was almost unable to meet me. She took Z not liking her that personally. I think she was humiliated because she lost face with so many people, by threatening to withhold my money and barring me from my beloved class. She's just an insecure person. I was as gentle as a dove meeting her (my attending the class was on the line). We blamed it on a communications breakdown (and not her pettiness).

Those two were able to convince her that my kid's class dissatisfaction and my class, were separate and I was able to remain in the adult class. However for July, since I would be in Okinawa for 2 weeks, she said I couldn't pay for 2 weeks but had to pay for the full month, even though I would only attend 2 classes. (In what world is this good business?) So I told my adult classmates, " Happy Summer, see you in September! " As I'll be out of town for August.

I blame the Taiwanese education of tests on this as well because, the teacher said she felt stressed to have Z's class be very good for some test they would take with teachers from Taipei. Of course I had no idea. I told them that Z just started and we are more concerned that she enjoy dancing and not be stressed, humiliated and bullied. The trickle down effect of sacrificing the means for the ends.

After we return in September I will look for another dance studio in Yilan for Z or some martial arts. My kid still wanted to dance but this teacher totally spoiled so much joy out of learning, its a pity.  I however mourned last Wednesday when I was here in Yilan  but unable to go.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Waz Up? SUP!

We are 4th from the left
It was another gorgeous day in Yilan County and I woke at the crack of dawn, roused by kid from her sweet dreams and hopped on the scooter to the train station. It was easier than expected considering we stayed up a bit late at a delicious friends' braai (South African BBQ). We were early for the 5:30 am train to 和仁, and when we arrived at the little station, a tanned stranger from Fanatic Taiwan was waiting for us in a dark van tattooed with bright stickers.

After our morning SUP adventure, we are return a darker shade of brown

I thought maybe we were holding up everyone from starting, but actually they were pretty relaxed getting going, as the sun was getting stronger, there were the ceremonial picture taking. I regretted not taking my own camera as the mountain drop back behind us with the morning mists weaving in and around the crags was utterly breathtaking.

It was quite a big group, more like a club of SUP fanatics, most with their own boards and cars. They seemed all young professional types, well educated and most could speak English. They like most Taiwanese were extremely friendly and gracious, sharing their water and chocolates with us at the halfway point.  Getting past the breaking waves was easy with extra hands and with my kid perched on the board's nose, out we rowed, south towards Hualien.  Five minutes after heading out, my daughter pipes, "I'm so happy I'm here!" (She was a bit grumpy meeting all the friendly SUPers). "Me too!"

I was supposed to stay at the back with Evan, my "guide" but once we started going, I didn't want to stop. I got in a rythem. It was pretty relaxing. I could sit, stand, kneel. We stopped about an hour and half from starting. It wasn't the original idea but some of the 'skinny fat' ladies were tired. The sun was rather strong on the return, we might of left earlier.

Post Recovery
A nice group dropped us off at the little train station on their return to their guesthouse in Hualien. The 和仁 station was just a minute away and so small it was completely empty except for 2 engineers/station masters. They let us wait an hour in their freezing cold office which was a restorative oasis from the blazing sun. My daughter slept the whole hour train ride to Yilan. I was proud her fair skinned face and arms were sun-free, but yikes on her legs! Lesson learned and she will wear a skirt or some UVA material covering next time.

That night, my body, delts, triceps, core felt amazing, not painful at all. SUP seems like the perfect total body workout. I hope to continue this sport on my upcoming Okinawa trip. There's also a few events coming up, I'll see if I can afford when the time comes. SUP yoga sounds like my cup of tea. It might be better to just buy a secondhand board. For this trip renting a board cost 2,800 for basically 4 hours.

For more info contact Tidal Force, which is associated with Taiwan Fanatic.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Taming the Dragon with Rainbows and Ripe Rice

Happy solstice and strawberry moon! Summer by western tradition is officially here, but in Taiwan the Yang element is celebrated with Dragon Boat Festival.

Binh and us at Balagov's
Our recent four day Dragon Boat Holiday was boring, prosaic and perfectly calming. Usually, in my restless, wander lust I would have planned a trip (abroad) months ago, having checked the holiday weekends in January. This time, I have been so content with Yilan and also so exhausted from the end of the semester madness, both Z and I were relieved to just kick up our heels here at home. In fact, old friends came to us for a visit. The weather was just ideal; radiant, sultry mornings cooling off with a brief drizzle or thunder shower. Ironically, the west coast was covered with rain.

We will be doing enough traveling this summer, so catching up on housework, kombucha brewing, and lots of yoga, seemed wildly decadent and grounding. After living enough years in Taiwan to see various dragon boat races, and last December participating in one (on an episode of Janet's), we both had zero desire to do anything remotely related to the actual holiday.

 Z's homeroom teacher did organize his class (which is the entire 4th grade) to make zongzi, the traditional food. Z was stoked, she loves to help in the kitchen. Stuffing banana leaves with sticky rice, peanuts, mushrooms and meat instead of math class is always more fun. Other than that we rested.


Driving anywhere in Yilan congested with holiday weekend warriors, is hardly my idea of R and R. What we did do was eat twice this same weekend at Balgov's. Its where I dine with friends who come into town and have never eaten here before. I met Binh my coworker from Tainan (and also from Denver) and another friend from my Tainan beach days, the Croatian charmer Goran with his girlfriend. More frequent than eating wholesome Ukranian food, I took Z and her friend from upstairs to the University track everyday to play.

Going back to work on Monday seemed a bit of a shock to the system. Dragon Boat being the Chinese start of summer, has already passed, so now the countdown to my summer holidays has begun in earnest.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Killer Bans: Death By Oatmeal and Bye to GMOs

Oatmeal was in the news here recently for being yet another American product banned by Taiwan over health concerns. Previously, Taiwan banned US beef for six years partially from Mad Cow Disease and the use of ractopamine-an additive that promotes leanness which is banned in 160 countries, yet still used in the US. Consequently, Taiwan banned US pork containing ractopamine. That ban still remains, despite US pressure.

Having grown up on rolled oats for breakfast, I was a little curious to this most recent ban. I still occasionally ate oats and rye flakes, thankfully not Quakers. Since the announcement was made at the end of May, I haven't eaten the oats I bought at the local health food store. I'm totally turned off by it.

This WHO listed carcinogen, glyphosate, is created by Monsanto (never a good sign) and is the most common herbicide used in the world. It is used by GMO grown oats, wheat, corn, soy, cotton and barley. Despite Quaker's claims of its oats going through a washing process, glyphosate can't be removed.  Glyphosate has been known by Monsanto and the US government since the 1980s to cause, "Severe liver and kidney damage + Chronic kidney disease; Disruption of hormonal systems which can potentially lead to multiple organ damage and hormone-dependent cancer; Developmental and reproductive toxicity, including damage to sperm and miscarriage and premature birth + Disruption of beneficial gut bacteria, favouring the growth of botulism-causing bacteria in cows; Damage to DNA; Birth defects; Neurotoxicity; Cancer...Even at very low doses of exposure, glyphosate kills placental, embryonic, and umbilical cells. Glyphosate is associated with genetic damage (mutations), including chromosomal aberrations, even at doses below those recognized as "safe.” The herbicide acts as a potent endocrine disruptor, which can affect future reproductive health of young boys and girls. "

But it gets worse, Quaker's wasn't the only culprit. Nine other oat products including my beloved Bob's Red Mill's oats were also found to contain glyphosate. When I first moved to Tainan I had bought and consumed several batches of Australia Fine Oat Flakes, also on the list. Fortunately my daughter hates oatmeal (oh how I tried!).

Kudos for Taiwan.They have a zero tolerance for glyphosate and for GMO products. In Taiwan all GMO products must be clearly labeled (which is one of five points in their Food Act Amendments). As of December, 2015 Taiwan legislated all GMO products  banned from public schools, beginning the coming semester (January 2016). It raised each child's meal by 15NT and lower income schools had to be given more financial support, but its a cultural consensus, especially here in Yilan to eat whats grown locally. 

Remember glyphosate isn't just found in breakfast cereals. It was found in 15 German beers, conventional (non-organic wines), and women's hygienic products, like bleached cotton tampons. Even scarier it shows up in breast milk. The farmers that use it and the surrounding countryside are the real victims, in terms of still births, contaminated ground water and depletion of soil nutrients.

Fight the power Taiwan! Stay green. If the US government chooses to turn a deaf ear to global scientists, maybe they will listen to smart consumers. 


Sunday, June 5, 2016

First Time Visits To Yilan

Biking Trails, Yilan City
Dragon Boat weekend is around the corner and several sets of friends from Tainan, Taichung and Taipei are asking me the same questions. If you have never been to Yilan before than there are some "must sees" but you'll have to deal with crowds from Taipei. Holiday traffic really can take the joy out of a commute, as many of the roads into the beautiful mountains for fun in rivers, lakes or on the trail are one lane nightmares. Best to know where you're going, how your'e going and go early. Scooters rent out fast.

If you have absolutely never been to Yilan before than consider what activities you want to do. I wrote a post about visiting Yilan before and this has specific info on how to get to Yilan and some of the same restaurants I mentioned here (although Piggy's is since gone).

1. Wai'ao for Surfing or Hanging at the Beach (Easy Day trip from Taipei)

If you want to rent a surfboard than stay in Wai'ao. Rent a board at Super George Surf who is active with the local community elementary school kids in Toucheng. There is cheap accommodation and boards at Rising Sun Surf Inn, where you can camp and use their showers (because they are always booked), or try the Hi Surf. Either way check out the pizza and live music at Drifter's run by two California surfers. Many of these expat/surfers have regular beach cleanups (followed by a party) so check their Facebook events. You can also hang-glide from the mountain backdrop onto the beach. If accommodation is booked, stay in Jiaoxi or Toucheng.

Yilan County Government Building

2. Fulong (Easy Day Trip from Taipei)

Fulong is closer to Taipei so expect the crowds.  It's one of the only places in Taiwan, besides Kenting where you don't have the slate grey beaches, but golden sands. You can also rent a surf board (better waves in Wao'ao) or a SUP. For a more budget friendly option, rent a bike and circle the 27 km cape (beware the sun! Read my post on me biking the cape with my daughter). There is also the famous Caoling Historic trail you can start this hike at the next train station north of Fulong. If you are a diver there are some wicked sites my coworker frequents. Contact Canadian owned diving shop ScuBar. Nigel is a friend of a couple of my friends, I don't know him personally but he answered my questions quickly when I was considering getting my daughter certified.

3. Jiaoxi 

I would recommend to stay in Jiaoxi your first time in Yilan as there are loads of accommodation options, and all the hotels have natural mineral water pumped into their bathrooms. The best way to get here from Taipei is by bus (90NT.) Its an easy train ride from Jiaoxi to the beach in Wai'ao (3 stops north) and a nice scooter ride into the mountains in Yuanshan if you have time. Check the availability at Atayal Xiang BnB. I stayed here before when my parents visited, and Paul the owner (also a surfer) will go out of his way to make his guests feel welcomed, providing taxis and car rentals and tips for sightseeing.

The Wofongci waterfalls are a must-see. Tour buses come here so beware. If you are driving there is a nice big parking lot next to a beautiful grassy river. Its a great place to cool off after a sweaty 20 minute walk to the last platform of waterfalls. If you have time and are fit enough try the other trail to the more remote waterfalls. Its not recommended for small children. I actually did this with my daughter and my friend and his family, and at the last pool we had to leave our kids with his wife as the last 100 meters were too Indiana Jones for even the 12 year old.

Other fun things to do in Jiaoxi are to hit the fish foot spas and hot springs. Hot springs don't sound so fun in summer, but many of the spas have cooler water pools as well as hot ones. In summer, if you have kids do not miss the Art Spa Hotel. They are a 5 minute walk around the corner from Jiaoxi train station and have a 4 story winding water slide that is super fun for adults too. They also have a  playground submerged in a kiddy pool that is in viewing of the adults cool water bubble spas. A win-win for everyone in the family. If you need saunas or piping hot herbal baths they have this too.

For ladies in the winter, I recommend the Japanese style hot springs up the path from the public baths. Its almost exclusively outdoors ad hidden behind bamboos and trees and blissfully relaxing. They have a freezing cold pool, tepid and piping hot pools. Accommodation in Jiaoxi range from big hotels near the station, to smaller boutique like inns, to chain hotels like the Evergreen. But the top place to stay, if you have the money and want something romantic, with the top swimming pools and spas with sublime views of the mountains is the Royal Chiaohsi Hotel. They are just down the road from the waterfalls.

Ok let's say you've done Wai'ao and Jiaoxi before and want to see a different side to Yilan. Where do you go?

Jimmy Park, Yilan City

4. Loudong

Ten minutes out of this city, the suburbs of Loudong are over run with BnBs and minsus. Many of these places provide bikes and there are paths amid green rice paddies with the blue mountains in the bakground. Take your pick of places. My Australian friend has a place right outside Loudong city. There is Plum Blossom Lake, Renshan Botanic Gardens, several short hikes to waterfalls, tea picking and if you like crowds, the Loudong Night Market. Visiting Suo'ao and the cold springs and the beach at Nanfang'au is an easy 20 minute drive from here. If you are sick of Taiwanese food try Spice Land.

5. Yuanshan

Its ten minutes into the mountains from Yilan city and has several lakes, rivers, hiking and fishing to get off the beaten track. More tour buses are starting to discover here and roads are one laners so come early. Better yet, rent a scooter from Yilan station and check it out. Follow the river, park off the road, hike into the emptiness and pitch a tent, but beware of snakes.

If you have more time for more waterfalls and hikes, check out "Yilan Whats Not to Do"

6. Yilan City

There's not so much to do in the city per say, but it does have some great restaurants and is a central location to use as a base to explore Wai'ao and Jiaoxi to the north and Loudong and Su'ao to the south, as well as Yuanshan inland and the lonlier beach and beach bike paths of Zhuangwei.

Some great places to eat for Western Food is Slobber, just a ten minute walk from the train station, and the French restaurant Le Temps, across from the station and adjacent to Jimmy Park. Next to them is the very slow Cafe Slow Train with their delicious sandwiches and beers. If you have your own transportation, than drive or take a taxi to Balagov's Ukrainian Cafe, Tavola's for Italian, Little Mexico and the Japanese colonial Le Grand Bleu in front of Luna Plaza. Luna Plaza itself has budget dining on B1 (like Sushi Express,KFCs and lots of Taiwanese shops) and higher end dining on the 4th floor (Tasty's, Cafe Grazzi, etc.)

There are cheap hotels across from the train station as well as the Hero Hotel between Yilan Train station and the University. I've seen Taipei families "camp" on the grass of Yilan Sports Park and if that's possible, I don't see why you couldn't pitch a tent at the more sublime grounds of the Yilan County Government Building.

If camping is your thing there are "official" sites outside Loudong as well as unofficial, North American style spots (for a future post.)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Season of School Birthdays

Bird on a wire, fishing village outside Fulong

Last month all the schools around Yilan celebrated their founding year with a Saturday activity. The following Monday was off to preserve the 2 day weekend. The different schools did it on different days so that for my neighbors it a hodgepodge of comings and goings. The oldest elementary school in Yilan is Zhongshan, which was founded in 1896.

My daughter's school celebrated their 38th year mid May with many speeches, a performance by each grade that ended with a massive pot-luck feast. The early morning race around the lake was canceled because of the rain. One of the mothers was Vietnamese so I made sure to sample her spring rolls and fish sauce. A Canadian father baked three different scones, I had brought bland potato salad (that Z and I made together) but the kids were happy gorging themselves on pizza and ice-cream.

I parked near the house of my child's classmates home, and her gran gave us several of these veggies.
The most notable performance was from my daughter's class (of course) playing a traditional Chinese clay "flute" (aerophone) called a Xun () that dates back over 7000 years from the Stone Age. Its associated with loneliness, respectable hermits, ladies in sorrow and was played in palaces. She played the tambourine as well. I adored the "Chinese Yo-Yo" (扯鈴) class performance and solo. I wish I had the time to learn this myself.

My school had their big bash the end of May. The students had been rehearsing their class dances the past few weeks. It was a terribly hot and humid day. We escaped to our office AC several times when it was unbearable. It was set up like a night market with each class selling different snacks. 

The Environmental Science table was my favorite; they demonstrated how to collect and filter rain water, gave me a free succulent and sold edible cacti drizzled with raw honey. I ended up buying more little succulents for my balcony. 

With my following Monday off, I wanted to do something that I couldn't do on the weekends because of the crowds. So I pulled my kid out of school and we took the train to Fulong and biked 27 km around the Sandiao Cape. We rented bikes for the day (100 NT)  and started at the Old Caoling Tunnel, looping around the Lighthouse, returning near the free beach. Despite having hats and sunblock we still managed to get patches burnt- human candy canes. My daughter had a bit of an accident near the end and is recovering from a nasty cut that became partially infected fairly quickly after washing it (hard to dry out in this climate.) We want to try to bike the loop again in the Fall from the other direction.

Yilan Coast from New Taipei City, biking the Fulong Loop Bike Trail 
We were so hot and sweaty, shaved ice (bing) was in order as soon as we returned the bikes. Z was extremely exhausted from the bike ride that she didn't even want to cool off with a swim!  This worked out, as the sky started pouring as soon as we took the train back to Yilan. She slept in my arms the whole time. This was the highlight of my Fulong venture.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Next Semester: 3 Teaching Jobs in Yilan

1.Maple Leaf Education Center
Position Available:
Monday to Friday 8:30 - 12:00
20 classes per week (30 minutes each) with the same class
ARC, Health, Statutory Holidays
A Bachelor's Degree Required
Experience Teaching Young Children Essential
Start Mid July/August
Salary 30-33,000 per Month Depending upon Experience
Afternoon Hours may also be Available
Contact: r_l_chew@hotmail.com
(include Maple Leaf in the subject heading)

2.English Teaching Job at Hu Shan Elementary School. It is a government job.

Teaching Certificate Required
Salary (based on degree) 62,720 - 73,025 per month
Housing Stipend 5,000 - 10,000 per month (w/ spouse)
Sick or personal days up to 14 per year
One month bonus on completion of contract
Airfare stipend up to 80,000 (can include spouse)
Teach grades 1-6 (20 classes per week)
Help Coordinate English Events (up to 4 classes per week)
English Events may include English Club or Speech Contests
Help create an Bilingual Environment
Teachers will also be required to help with Website Management, Festival and Event Planning
Hu Shan is a small school with less than 100 students. It is located in Yuanshan, near the mountains but still close to Yilan City (10 minutes away)
The staff is very friendly and the students are all very eager. They have a new principal starting in September and he is very active and has a lot of great plans.
Please email r_l_chew@hotmail.com (include Hu Shan in the subject so he can spot it among all the spam)Thanks in advance.

2. Teaching Positions at Huey Deng High School, Yilan Taiwan (where I work)
About the School:
The vision of Huey Deng High School is to incorporate international educators to teach several content areas in English. Additionally, Huey Deng is increasing its ability to prepare its students to attend university in English-speaking countries abroad. This vision is based on facilitating teacher and student exchange opportunities between Taiwan and foreign countries.Huey Deng is located one hour from Taipei at the hillside of Yuanshan Township, next to Jiao-Xi River, surrounded by natural environment. The school enrolls approximately 2,400 students from grades 7 to 12. Up to 90% of the school’s students are accommodated at the school’s three residential dormitories, with the goal to cultivate the student’s independence and leadership abilities. As a boarding school, Huey Deng makes every effort to ensure campus safety and provide quality residential life on campus.
Huey Deng High School is seeking qualified candidates to fill teaching positions in English Writing, Reading Comprehension, Environmental Education/Biology and Math, beginning September 1, 2016

Job duties:
1) 20-25 in-class teaching hours per week (overtime pay after 20 hours); 
2) 15-20 office hours (lesson planning and student advising); 
3) administering tests, grading papers and participating in faculty meetings and school events.
Other responsibilities include working effectively with Taiwanese teachers, developing curriculum relevant to all grade levels. Working together, foreign and Taiwanese teachers will identify, adapt, and develop appropriate materials to support and assess student learning.
Grade level: 8-11
Class size: approximately 25 students / per class
Monthly salary: starting TWD $67,000-$ 72,000, commensurate with experience.

1) Reimbursed round-trip airfare, up to USD $1,500.
2) Sponsored Taiwan work visa.
3) Housing assistance. 
4) Teachers are required to enroll in the National Health Insurance Policy and the Labor Insurance Program, and are obligated to pay, in accordance with the laws, at his/her own expense, a portion of the insurance premium in the amount equal to 35% of the total premium charged to him/her under the National Health Insurance Policy.
5) Contract may be renewed contingent on successful teaching performance.
1) Native English Speaking Teachers with a valid teaching (or substitute teaching) certificate in the subject area or related area. 
2) Native English Speaking Teachers with a valid APRC or JFRV
2) Prior teaching experience. Experience working with youth in other contexts will be considered.
3) Teaching experience with English Language Learners.
Application Procedure:
Send the following to the Center for International Studies at Huey Deng High School at cfis264@gmail.com:
1) a letter of interest describing your teaching philosophy, your vision and conception of being a teacher in a foreign context, and your abilities to be an effective teacher to those learning English; 
2) your current resume;
3) three references.
Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the position is filled.
(**Please note that only qualified candidates will be contacted)