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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Game of Boners and the Season of the Woman

"Men are not aware of the misery they cause and the vicious weakness they cherish, by only inciting women to render themselves pleasing." - Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)

I love Game of Thrones, it gets better and better and the latest headline has heralded season 5 as the "Year of the Woman"Truly? Its about time! Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen are the series' current strong women. If season 5 is anything like its previous seasons, than the notion of "strong women" will be defined from the point of view of the average male viewer. How would women retell the story of Game of Thrones had they the chance? Elle magazine had the female characters ranked according to their looks, which is appalling but hardly surprising. Sounds like not much of an opposing angle from average female viewers either. 

My main question as a female viewer is, where is the mother daughter relationships, and why are they missing and ultimately devalued? There's plenty of father-daughter, mother-son, but not much air time devoted to this special relationship, which to me is more evident of the blatant patriarchal entertainment industry's fear of strong mother-daughter bonds, than the excessive screen time of GoT's over the top sexualized nudity. Frankly the lack of dynamic mother-daughter relationships in the show ultimately reflects in a weak and uninspired character development of its heroines. Don't get me wrong, I adore Brienne, Daenerys and Arya, but I take it with a grain of salt. I can guess that the phallocentric show, like western culture is totally shit scared of a close Mother-Daughter relationship which attacks it as unhealthy, pathological or in this case totally missing.

I am not the first one to critique the show's use of sex as a plot device, ok maybe I was, but I didn't write about it first. I was surprised to read that the show is supposedly an improvement from the books in terms of less rape, and HBO created totally new female characters with some kind personality ("9 Ways Game of Thrones Is Actually Feminist").  I love the response to this in Megan Murphy's critique of how people are forcing feminism in places it doesn't exit ("Just Because You Like it Doesn't Make it Feminist".) I do like it but I'm also very aware that the show is hardly the beacon of gender equality people claim.

The show is soft porn for dudes and the first few seasons straight female viewers like myself had to endure T and A here and there and everywhere as all the female characters were literally either Queens or prostitutes. "But that's how life was like back then!" Say the typical male viewer. "Back when?" Middle Ages? Renaissance? History should be called Hisfantasy. What was true then is true now - rape is still very much alive and well (read, Will It Really Take a Man's Word...). What is going on is this, "the patriarchal castration of the female personality principally offers women but two alternatives: an impossibly idealised motherhood or an emphasis on the kind of sexual attraction that turns women into objects" ( Phillips, "Beyond the Myths"). Popular story telling hasn't moved past the Virgin Mary/Mary Magdelene polarity, despite reality being so much more interesting. Phillips goes on to write, "Patriarchy devalues femininity. It creates a dichotomy between feminine sexuality and motherhood." In GoT femininity and sexuality are one in the same. When will this dichotomy of femaleness not be the world view in which we tell stories and watch great entertainment or frame "strong women"? Motherhood is hardly portrayed at all, except as a vehicle for men's security of kingdoms or the dragon fantasy of Daenerys.

What of normal women, mothers, married to the local miller, tanner, cobbler, farmer, weren't there any legitimate women, somewhere between Queen and whore back in western history? Is it responsible to re-represent Western history that way, basically making the lives and stories of ordinary women disappear as if they never existed? I suppose that is much of history anyways. In early Medieval writings, there was total gender separation, with men having little contact with women who lived in a world of their own (Phillips 1991). What the majority of women did was not recorded. In later medieval writings there are records of women working alongside fathers and husbands in shoe-making, candle-making, the silk industry, they were members of guilds. Normal women did exist. 

So what is it about this show that everyone is gushing about? For Canadian, feminist author Margaret Atwood, who wrote a recent column in the Observer, the popularity of the show is not from its influence from English history but literature. GoT "Draws its inspiration from so many fictional sources it’s hard to keep track. The Iliad, the Odyssey,Beowulf, ancient Egypt, H Rider HaggardThe Sword in the Stone, the Ring Cycle, Tolkien, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Mabinogion, Harry Potter, The Jungle Book, Ursula K Le Guin, Hans Christian Andersen, Idylls of the KingConan the Barbarian – himself the stolen-away downmarket twin of Walt Whitman – and The Wind In the Willows." If only there was some Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, or Christine de Pizan thrown in for good measure.

Think about the series' strong heroines, they are hardly the wholly feminine superpower they seem. Classical strong heroines in Western history are always linked to their strong relationship with their mother or mother figures-ie the only fitting spouse to the God of the Underworld was the daughter of Demeter.   There isn't much of that in Game of Thrones and in fact it follows Hollywood's stereotypical mistrust of mother-daughter relationships. I think Margaery Tyrell is an example of a strong woman who has been schooled by her grandmother Olenna Redwyne on the ways of the world, but that hardly got any air time.

Daenerys has no connection to her mother, no females who mothered her, she has been ruled by men, her brother, her late husband, and all her counselors are older men and even her current beau gives her policy advice! She hardly has her own voice, tho that's forgivable because she is sexually attractive, young and never mothered. The only female who gave her advice at all, was a courtesan of her husband, who taught her a few bedroom tricks as he only knew one, the Dothraki favorite (think horse). She isn't even a queen, "Khalisi" is only the title referring only to the wife of the khal. I am hoping the writers will connect her with more of her feminine wisdom as she has to learn to mother her uncontrollable, adolescent dragons. How will they mythesize motherhood though her story?

As for Arya Stark, she did have a  relationship with her "strong" mother Catherine who was tragically murdered in the already classic wedding murder scene.  But did they have a strong relationship? One can only assume. Since her mom's death, she has also been groomed and counseled by men, the swordsman Syrio and now the Faceless Man who serve the many faced god of death. That daughters without mothers like Arya and Daenerys are obliged to develop self assertiveness and independence without disturbing patriarchal values on femininity and containing "strong women" is nothing new. Jane Austen did it first in her female characters.

Whats more comical than claiming these characters are "strong women" is after 5 seasons of sexualizing the female characters, the actor playing Jon Snow, Kit Harrington was huffing and puffing about becoming a sex symbol! ("Being Called a Hunk is Demeaning"). Before you call me a hypocrite or a sexist (because I am all about hunkifying Drago), its not the same thing.

The Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen put it this way, "However, male sexual objectification is relatively rare – generally reserved for well-known males, fictional or otherwise...By contrast, female sexual objectification is an ongoing socioeconomic-cum-psychosexual epidemic, affecting the vast majority of women at some stages of their lives. Even when they are no longer objectified (losing looks or fertility; ageing), it’s used against them in a routine way. Without meaning to be crude, from a female perspective, you’re screwed when you’re being sexually objectified, then you’re screwed when you’re not. This is the truth of female objectification – it’s less about personal sexiness and more about impersonal power structures. Where sexual objectification is concerned, fame is a game-changer for men, while merely amplifying normality for women. To suggest otherwise seems misguided at least. Maybe it’s time for men to speak up about things that genuinely affect them instead of putting a spurious man-spin on typically female experiences."Men Know Nothing At All About Being Sex Objects")

Is there any other female GoT character that deserves to be called a "strong woman"?  Melisandre, she is the high priestess of the male God of Light and hardly the epitome of feminine power, although she uses her sexuality when she can as a weapon, more soft porn scenes. So nope. However she unlike most of the female characters is not expected to bear children or marry for a position or security.

Brienne of Tarth would never even be a possibility historically speaking. If women dressed as men to escape female bondage, or to act like them, they were put to death. Arya would never make it. Just read the 13th century French romance "Huon of Bordeaux". Of course in Celtic and Teutonic pre-Christian groups women did fight alongside men, but they also believed in female goddesses and had a completely different way power was shared and femininity viewed than the medievalist GoT.

So whats a woman with a brain to do who likes watching GoT? I'm not going to feel guilty, if Margaret Atwood is a fan I'm in good company. I'm waiting for the leak of episode 5 along with the sheep, fingers still crossed that Drogo might return and hoping the writers might grow up from the way they trivialized Cersei.

Beyond the Myths: Mother Daughter Relationships (1991) by Dr. Shelly Phillips
The Abused Wives of Westeros
Today's Twisted TV Moms

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Seemingly Prosaic

Easter lunch at Balagov's

My personal temperament wont allow me to pass up a 4 day weekend without some kind of adventure. But considering my finances post birthday weekend in Borneo and then Chiang Mai for Chinese New Year and then not working for all of February, only to go part time in March. I could hardly afford going anywhere for Easter/Tomb Festival weekend.

It was heart wrenching getting updates from Tiger Air on last minute deals. In the past for Tomb Festival we have gone to the Pengu Archipelago, had a BBQ with friends, and or had gone to Taipei. Other 4 day weekends we had gone to Japan, Green Island (twice), Matsu Island, Guanshan and Kenting, just to name a few.

Not to feel sorry for myself, we made the best of it. The weather in Yilan for our 4 day weekend was perfect. The rains returned on Tuesday which I guess was tolerable. My daughter played with her friends in our apartment complex all weekend, I hardly saw her. She certainly preferred their company to mine, until it was bedtime and then snuggle bug didnt want me to leave. I went across the street alone, everyday to my favorite park in all Taiwan to do a quick workout or yoga. It was as close to a retreat as I got.

Easter services in Luodong with Jocelyn
 We went to church on Easter and had Easter lunch at Balagov's. We shared a plate of baked potato, salad and non -Taiwanese sausages which was topped with smuggled Ukrainian horseradish that's now flourishing in the mountains of Yilan, mixed with beets, which was to die for.

Easter lunch

My 4 day weekend basically consisted of me  teaching a few private ESL lessons and packing away the bulk of my heaviest winter bedding and clothes, washing and ironing summer clothes, while catching up on TV shows like Broad City and Indian Summers. We made kiwi cupcakes, chocolate banana cupcakes and macaroons. Hardly the adventure I might of had, but I doubt if I am missing out anything.

Z with one of my students
 I worked on my list of places to go and see in Yilan county, especially during my kid's half days. I definitely was not going to venture out on a holiday weekend in Yilan, it would be a zoo as all of Taipei likes to come here for the fresh air. Between house cleaning and reading in my hammock (my second favorite place in all of Taiwan), life was blissfully mundane. I certainly wasn't complaining.

Yoga at my favorite park, Yilan County Government Buildings

Friday, April 3, 2015

Going Green: Yilan Green Expo

Ilan Green Expo 2015

The past 15 years the Yilan County Government (my neighbor) has annually held this now famous Green Expo to expose residents to environmental education, sustainable development via local culture. The kindergarten I work for took a morning field trip there yesterday, which I was grateful for the free opportunity (tickets are 300NT). My daughter's class will go within the next 2 weeks, so I hope they learn something.

To me its just another avenue to give local vendors and farmers a platform to sell their products. I happily bought organic heirloom carrots, hand made non-toxic mosquito repellent gel and portable hand soap. There were goat milk products from local farms, mushrooms, stuff you might find at the local farmer's market. Nothing earth shattering, like plain Stevia, almond butter, or corn tortillas (I think I may be homesick).

There are some interesting themed zones with kid friendly activities. My class enjoyed the whale skeleton area with stamping and rubbings of whales that frequent the waters of Taiwan. They also have a petting zoo at the top of the hill.

 My coworkers told me the grounds of the Wulaokeng park are a good place to come explore and pitch  a tent in the highlands, obviously not during the crowds of the expo or a holiday weekend like this one. I'm always up for hitting new trails, so I hope to return. The expo ends in May, so maybe I will come back in 2 months, see how much has changed, how the flowers grew in and hopefully crowds dissipated.



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dreams in the Sky

Finally the Yilan rains stopped, and just in time. What a relief to see a blue sky. Z had been looking forward to this day as it was a holiday devoted entirely to kids.

We spent Saturday by the beach  for Rising Sun Surf Inn's hosting the "Kids' Dreams In The Sky Charity 鯉想啟程 2015 神戸スイミープロジェク", celebrating the Japanese holiday of Koinobori.

We (the kids and some of us adults) wrote our hopes and dreams on 3 enormous koinobori kites that were later hoisted into the sky. There was theater, aboriginal dancing, a magician. It was a mellow way to celebrate a long awaited blue sky.

I saw new friends we made at last month's beach clean up. I also ran into Paul whose Bed and Breakfast we stayed at when my folks were in Taiwan (see Waterfalls and Dolphins). He like a few of the surfers I met, kindly offered to teach us surfing anytime, just send him a text, so I intend to do just that. I might of written on my carp streamer, "to really nail surfing down this summer" but I didn't.

I wrote something about the restoration of a dream, some dream of mine left on the back burner for so long I don't even know what it is anymore. It's faded into fantasy, wishful thinking- a trivial pursuit. I think I had lots of those once-dreams. But lately I've realized dreams aren't so inconsequential and I am dead serious about finding them again. As far as I am concerned having a dream bigger than myself is a matter of life or death.

 As for my daughter, I asked her what she wrote, assuming it would be trivial (obviously because I was at that moment trite) and quickly regretted asking when she gave me her blunt answer. The same old wound, knife in my belly, bruise in her heart. "I wrote I wish I had a Dad." Oh! My airy fairy balloon burst for a moment. And then we were both united in this instant of intense significant, silent Truth. Kids certainly 'keep it real'. But unlike previous times when that old grief, her archetypal distress of fatherlessness needed to be held and rocked and soothed, this time she was clear eyed, matter of fact, resolute with her hope and poised with this enigmatic smile.  I wish I could have some of her unwavering hope. The one thing she desperately wants is something I could not of my own control, begin to secure for her, let alone seek out.

 She also told me of what she saw written by another child whose tender message of hope and fear tugged at her heart. Some sweet child had written, "Please don't let my Mom and Dad get a divorce." Seems common place or sadly ordinary right? Not to me, the moment was by now, charged with meaning.These kids are a million times more articulate and emotionally exposed and just in touch with themselves than I am. It was an unexpected schooling to be thrust in front of this kind of mirror and see my lost and hazy reflection. I'm so out of touch with my own inner kid who essentially is a dreamer. How did I get so all around utterly inaccessible? How could I stop dreaming?

Z was thoroughly enjoying herself at today's "kids dreams in the sky" Koinobori activities.

Posted by Kathy Benavides on Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Living Clean in Yilan

Beach Clean Up organized by Rising Sun Surf Inn

I try to keep a healthy lifestyle which isn't impossible when your sh*% broke and working part time. I learned first hand that more important than "clean eating" is quality life. Downsizing my work schedule, and my stress level, even for half my salary is quality life. Changing my kid's school to one that has 2 half days, more playtime and her telling me on a daily basis she is happy- is quality life. Eating clean is important, but not as vital as having a minimally stressed environment. Even organic produce can be affordable when Taiwan greens are always available, many people have their own little gardens and fruits are always coming into season. Legumes are cheap and go a long way.  For example, just today for her post school snack, we had a fruit shake with red dragon fruit, banana, papaya, kefir and chia. (Ok chia seeds are dear, but it doesn't take much).

Health Food:
They are all really small shops here, not like the massive Whole Foods or Trader Joe's in the States. Between the following three places I can almost get everything I need. For rice milk, almond milk, wild salmon and Greek yogurt, Costco is where it's at. Carrefore has organic sunflower and pumpkin seeds, flax and chia, and recently quinoa.

All three of the following have organic wheat flours, flax, chia, organic seeds and legumes, rolled rye flakes and the same crackers, bean noodles, soba noodles and physilium powder. Incidentally after 7 years living in Taiwan (mostly Tainan) I finally found Stevia extract. Unfortunately its flavored which is weird, but you can get it from Subodhi Yoga in Loudong for 288NT a bottle.

1. Santa Cruz on Zhongshan road just after it forks,  from Yixing Rd. coming from Yilan train station towards Loudong its on the right corner.
260 宜蘭市中山路二段139號
tel. (03)933-3551

 Taiwan's island wide chain. At the Yilan branch I get brown rice vinegar, molasses, cereal for my daughter, kefir and kefir starter which I'm making my own now. They also have lots of hormone free frozen meat, teas, organic baking powder and yeast. I bought some organic Okinawa Matcha Tea (read The Newest Tea Craze, if your'e not already a fan).  They also have maxi pads, tampons and panty liners with non-bleached materials.

2. Leezen 里仁
I'm not sure if they are a chain but they have a branch in Taipei.
宜蘭市中山路三段174 號
tel: (03)93334268

This store has lots of veggies, brown rice milk in powdered form. I bought some organic apple cider vinegar with the mother culture to start to grow my own kombucha  Scoby, and brown rice cakes and breads from organic flour. They also have several nut butters (no almond butter though) and more of a beauty section.

3.綠園有機 生活館
tel: (03) 9355767

This shop is really small, they don't sell any refrigerated items, all dried. Their pumpkin seeds and rye flakes are cheaper though. I also bought vegetarian powdered bouillon with none of the msg and crap in it.

4. Vegan Bakery
tel: (03)9321490
Hours: 11:00-2:00 and 5:00-7:00

On the corner of Jiankang Sec 1 and Lanfeng Rd where it forks. Every time I go there I always double check that it's indeed vegan because its hard to believe sometimes, everything seems like normal Taiwanese baked goods and for a vegan bakery they sell both soy and cow's milk. My Sri Lankan vegan neighbors told me about this place. I prefer the French bread here to Carrefore's, its seems fresher and lasts longer.

5. Yilan Honey Museum
403 Yuanshen Rd Sec. 2. Yuanshen Township
tel: (03) 9233668
Hours: 8:00- 17:00

One can't be too careful about honey, its often diluted in Taiwan. Here the honey is amazing and its often comparable or cheaper than the questionable supermarket brands. Right now they have a special on winter honey. Its pale and thick and imaginably perfect on homemade bread fresh out of the oven with butter. Next payday I am going back to see if there's any winter honey left and also buy a big jar of royal jelly. They also sell propolis, honey vinegar, honey cake, ice-cream and pollen. They all taste heavenly. I really don't get excited about honey cake after years of getting my hopes up, only to be disappointed but I can actually taste the honey in this one.

Me at the Yilan County Gov't park

I pretty much practice alone in the park in nicer weather, but I of course would love to find a nice local studio. I recently started teaching private lessons in people's homes. I have found a few studios around town and since I have time will be sure to check them out. I'm pretty picky though; there's nothing worse than paying for a yoga class and being let down because a) its not really yoga   b) the teacher doesn't know what he/she is doing- but that can happen anywhere. (I had an amazing teacher in  Tainan who seriously pushed my limits and comfort zones)

Driving around Yilan I found:

1. Sun Yoga
11 Jiankang Road, Yilan City
tel. 0952-937-760

30 classes cost 3600NT, 50 cost 5500NT, 100 classes cost 10,000NT. They have mostly aerobics and the clientele looks like older middle aged women. The owner speaks English and offered me a free class to check it out.

2. Having Fun with Yoga Studio
tel. 0952-090156
Its at the corner of Fuxin Rd Sec 1 and Jiankang Rd Sec 2, across from Cafe 85 above Ok Mart on the 2nd Floor. Their classes are every morning (M, T, W, Fri.) 7:40-8:40 and evenings (Tuesday and Thursday) 5:40-6:40. They also have packages.

3. L'amigo Gym and Super Fitness Gym (scroll down to Gyms)

4. Life Long Center- It's basically a recreation center that offers all kinds of classes for kids and adults, from arts and crafts, Japanese, computers, dance and of course yoga. Its across from Zhongshan Park, on the corner in a red brick building. They have several classes of different styles of yoga, quite cheap, but they wouldn't let me peak in and see what kind of class/teacher I'd be paying for. You pay for a 3 month block. The current session just started March 13 and ends May 1. For example there is an afternoon weight loss yoga class, from the description of using asanas to open blocked meridians for better organ function (sounds good right?) costs 2600NT for 3 months, once a week  90 minute class. I will be there in May.

Back Care

I have a scoliosis in my lower back so one leg is slightly shorter than the left. I also twisted my pelvis in a bad fall (or I should say beach side throw down playing rugby-not a smart choice) and I still think I am only mostly recovered. I get piriformis syndrome under stress, or sitting standing too long and of course modern life with cell phones and computers doesn't' help-so long story short- I need a back care specialist and I need to stay active. Yoga certainly helps. I am sure my back would be in worse shape without it.

1. Dr. Wu  Jing-Yi
265 Yixing Road #83
Email: whaley@yahoo.com.tw

He is located at Yixing and Fuxin Rd. From the train station heading towards Yilan Sports Park, he is just after Fuxin on the right side.

This guy studied this type of medicine in Japan for 15 years and its extremely rare to find in Taiwan.  He is basically a chiropractor but doesn't manipulate or crack any bones. He uses his hands, fingers, elbows to massage trigger points along the meridians to release the tension of tissues around the bones, so that they go back in place gently and without pain. His type of medicine is more yin to the yang of western chiropractic medicine. Like a good doctor he explains exactly what he's doing as he's doing it in very good English. It's also a bit like Thai massage, where he will also stretch the body as he is massaging trigger points.  He was recommended to me by the lovely couple at Mr. Balagov's Cafe. He is not covered by National Health but each visit is 600NT, less than a massage and he often treats me well over an hour, sometimes two if I am really in  need. Usually I go to him when I am in bad shape pain-wise from my piriformis.

2. Renji Clinic
This clinic is TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). The head doctor here was recommended to me by my current boss who tweaked his neck years ago body surfing in Nanfang'ao during a typhoon, They use acupuncture, hooked up to electricity. I did this in Tainan and found it excruciating, I think my nerves are too sensitive to the electricity, but its certainly effective and faster results than with just needles alone. My boss raved about this place, and especially the head doctor who also goes to clinics around Yilan County. I will check him out as he is covered by Taiwan's National Health insurance.

Gyms are not an option budget wise for me, although Yilan sports park is 50 NT a pop to use their weight room. I usually do body weight workouts, TRX or kettlebells at home. There are so many bike trails and hiking trails should the weather favor me. Still I miss the comradely of the gym, the usual goers, the cable machine, bosu ball and the assisted pull-up machine.

1. L'amigo

Its near my back care doctor on Yixing Rd. on the other side of the street near Shabu Shabu. I've heard they are overpriced so I haven't checked them out, they have a weight room and yoga classes.

2. Power Fitness Leisure Club
I've heard they are affordable, I should check them out.

3. YOY Climbing Wall
Located just outside Yilan City. It doesn't look like a climbing wall from the outside and the sign is pretty ghetto looking but the walls are new. For women  its free, kids and men pay 100NT per person. The walls aren't so high maybe 3 stories, yet one of  them is extremely difficult and they have harnesses and ropes to practice technical climbing. I had my kid's 9th birthday party here (see The Two Faces of January).

4. Super Fitness
278 Zhongshan Road, not far from the train station, a block south of Santa Cruz Health Food store. This place has small classes, about 6 people as the spaces are small of TRX, crossfit, body weight and barbell/dumbell/kettlebell weight classes.  They also have lots of yoga, but its all very yin, soft style, which is great for body builders, but no Power/Ashtanga (I might sell myself as a power yoga instructor). They also sell Herbalife products and the staff are super friendly. It costs 1000NT for 5 classes and they have classes M-Sat from 10 am- 9pm.  I am so there for Crossfit. The owner's name is Maz Yo 0919-900-041 LINE ID: yusicchain

My daughter cooling off inYongchuan Pond

Swimming Pools
1. Yilan Longchwen Pool (Its actually SW of Loudong and not in Yilan City)
tel: (03)958-1290
Hours: 5:00- 22:30

2. Silks Place Hotel- On the 6th floor they have a pool and spa free for guests, 700NT for non-guests. This hotel is attached to Lunar Plaza. I will call and ask how much the spa is if I am too lazy to take the 10 minute train to Jiaoxi's hot springs (which I think I can usually manage- mineral waters are worth it).
tel: (03)935-8800
Hours: 7:00-23:00

3. Yilan Sports Park- They have a nice outdoor pool, but the hours are weird, very early and evening. I assume because Taiwanese prefer not to be in the sun. I've heard it gets crazy crowded. Many students from my my daughter's school take swimming classes there starting in May at 5:30 am-7 and then go to school. I wonder if my daughter and I could pull that off too.
tel: (03)925-4034

4. Yongchuan Pond- Its a good old fashion water hole, an actual cold spring, the local kids use- very refreshing in summer and free! Its not deep, maybe 4 feet and not long, maybe half the length of a full sized pool, but you could certainly do laps. It is super cold beside a banana grove, and its enjoyably emptier than Suao's cold spring s with more blue dragonflies and mozzies (be prepared). If you drive along Jiucheng S. Road turn left onto Huanhe Rd, but you quickly divvy off to the right and then you should find it on your left. There is parking across the street in a field, or take the bus! Just look for all the wet kids hanging around.

It's not difficult to embrace the clean living in Yilan. Just breathe in the fresh air after a rain, take a walk on a trail.

On the trail to Gaba Waterfall
++ I hope to be constantly updating this page. I know of another swimming pool and yoga studio, but lack the contact info- so coming soon.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Consider the Lilies and New Beginnings

Lanterns, CNY holiday, Old Bagan, Myanmar 2014
Lantern festival was last week, formally closing the Chinese New Year festival and Friday the rain stopped after weeks of gloom, so it finally feels like Spring! (Reminds me of George Harrison's Here Comes The Sun).

 I have started my new morning job at a Canadian owned kindergarten just down the road from me near the Sports Park. I am going to start riding my bike in this lovely weather once I buy a lock. I should mention I applied to 2 editing jobs in Taipei before the CNY holiday. I haven't heard from the one, but the other I did hear through the grapevine that they gave it to an under-qualified white, 24 year old dude. I wasn't a top contender, they had a qualified American Asian woman with a 4.0 from Berkley, and they gave the job to him. (Shaking my head in disgust).

We also started going to a church in Loudong, they have English translation and I can't tell what denomination is it which is a good indication to me. ( In the paraphrased words of Peter Tosh, "Denomination is segregation"). It's indubitably a joyous vibe, quite a lot of aboriginal tribes come down from the mountains make up the congregation. Z actually loves Sunday school, which she hated in Tainan. I don't know if she is just older or in more a receptive place, but she certainly can't wait to go. She loves being with the aboriginal children.

A happy dolphin greets everyone at her school entrance

My daughter started at her new local school which is a 5 minute walk away. She absolutely loves it. It's a nice change to hear on a daily basis, "This was the best day ever!" Last semester at her prestigious and expensive bilingual school, it was constant stress, anxiety and her being the victim of bullying. Her previous class went through two different homeroom teachers in one semester to no avail. Managing them is problematic, managing the parents, not much better. Our neighbor, her former classmate said the new homeroom teacher (now #3) neither is handling them with any success.

Her new school and class are like night and day from last semester. Her new class is smaller, with again quite a few aboriginal kids, the campus is bigger, greener, more play time and a half day on Wednesday and Friday. She takes guitar and recorder classes, helps her teacher and classmates in English and to her delight her class grows their own little garden (now she wants to be a gardener or landscaper when she grows up). She pretty much is outside playing everyday, which hasn't happened as a student in Taiwan til now. It should be normal right? Having my afternoons free and not sticking her in an anchingban while I work makes a big difference in our time, in her well being and happiness.

Her first day at her new school

During the gloom of the weather I also felt a bit discouraged. After not working in February and post Chiang Mai trip, I was disheartened at my lack of funds and lack of future funds. Its a bit scary having to plan on living on half of my previous salary, when I was already pretty much living paycheck to paycheck while saving for the next trip, blowing that and starting from zero. But when you believe in Divine Providence as I do, then being at zero means being a prime candidate for receiving abundantly. I built up my inner spirit by realizing the closeness of Presence. I call on that same Christ power that can feed a multitude with a boy's small lunch, and this hope got me through a week or two of 'back of my mind' worry of if can I make it or not.

5 loaves and 2 fish feed 5000

Also therapeutic for me is volunteering at the local orphanage (Home of God's Love) on my free afternoons. There are about 9 babies from 7 weeks to 21 months and when they all wake at 2, its 3 of us quickly changing and feeding and then playing. They eat some solids/porridge at 3:30 and then I leave to pick up my daughter at school. I brought her once during one of her half days, she was like a fish out of water, babies so not her thing right now! I remembered how I always wanted to adopt, since I was a child and now that I'm 40, I can barely take care (financially) of myself and my daughter. I felt disappointed in myself. I had imagined that by this age I would of had my shit together. I had to stop comparing myself to how I thought I should of been and keep my eyes focused on my blessings which are more than sufficient. ("The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not lack-for anything!" Psalms 23)

What is getting us by are three weekly tutoring gigs. I went by a few kindergartens and anchingbans to see if they need an English teacher for an afternoon, but they don't. I hung up a few posters for teaching English and yoga, but havent heard anything yet. I just got a new University student, through my daughter's Tai Chi teacher so I am hoping she will recommend me to her friends. I'm not worried about it anymore. I actually have time to study Chinese (ya right) and catch up on reading. I certainly have been luxuriating in my yoga practice and daily visualizations.

This post became quite unintentionally ecclesiastical (Just say, "NO!" to religion) but one of my favorite sayings of Jesus really has been my mantra. He basically says to take a giant chill pill, stay present, and don't worry.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Happy" Women's Day? The Dark side of Taiwanese Extended Families

March 8th is the internationally recognized Women's Day. Twenty years after "Beijing" when 189 countries committed themselves to a blueprint on gender equality, not one country has yet to achieve true equality  (see Gender Equality is Still Decades Away) -although Iceland is probably the closest.  Sure that bugs the crap out of me, because I'm a women and a mother of a daughter, but even if I was a man and had a son, I'd like to think gender inequality would bother me.

However, whats gets me royally incensed to the point where I want to don a super hero costume and break knee caps and testicles is sexual violence against women and girls.

Chinese New Years wasn't the domestic, extended familial bliss I sort of imagined it- for many Taiwanese women its a time of re-victimization and imposed silence. This isn't the first time it was recently brought to my attention. In fact I had to ask around for the right resources to direct these women to.

If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted/ raped by a family member here in Taiwan-please find help, if not for justice, then for the sake of future little girls and women.

 It is not your fault and local culture and custom can not be an excuse to legitimize male dominance to the point where little girls lose their peace of mind and childhood. It's not just men who are guilty, mother's too afraid to confront or rock the boat who keep silent are delinquent. This is unfortunately real people that are in my life, and the lives of my friends- not some remote newspaper clipping.

Here is some helpful resources to find out your options:

Sexual Assault Prevention Centers (by county)

The Garden of Hope Foundation   (GOH Facebook)
Tainan contact info: 70060 70060 台南市臨安路一段89號
No. 89, Sec 1, Lin'an Rd, North District, Tainan City
tel: (06) 3582995
fax: (06)3580195

Tainan Contact Info: 708 台南市安平區中華西路2段315號7樓
7F, No. 315, Sec 2, Zhonghua W Rd., Anping Dist, Tainan City
tel: (06)295-3315  (06)295-3438
fax: (06)295-1079
email: mwf.tainan@38.org.tw

These organizations need your help, there are many ways you can contribute, contact them and find out. Especially in terms of funding, small, local women's organizations are systematically overlooked by donors  (see Grassroots Women's Groups Must Go It Alone).