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.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tiger Mom and Out Come the Claws

Singapore 2014, Boat Quay
Maybe because its Monday and I didn't sleep enough last night, but I am with little patience regarding this music teacher and the school's response. In the school's defense they did have a meeting with the teacher, but that only seemed to intensify her verbal abuse of my kid the following weeks. Its just utter frustration.

Last Thursday this teacher said to the class, "What do we do with little liars who tell their mom lies?" The class responded "Beat them up." And the teacher suggested, "I'm going to cut out her tongue!" The week before that, this teacher again incited the kids, "Class we have  a little tattle-tell who tattled to her Mom and the principal" and then she threatened to, "Take this kid to court and sue" all because my daughter is telling me whats really going on. I asked my child, "Doesn't the kids know she's talking about you?" She answered, "They're too scared of her mom!"

 Most Taiwanese students just put up with it, in fact the staff and other parents have told me, "That's her personality" or  "She has a reputation" and even, " She used to be worse, she's actually better now." None of that is stopping her from picking on my kid for telling me, which is what most abusers of children do, "If you tell your mom I'm going to..."

This week is week 4 and if the school isn't doing anything about it, then it looks like I will have to. I told my kid's homeroom teacher this morning that be prepared, I am showing up during that music class. If they can't schedule a meeting, then I'll just have to do something. Unfortunately I am upset and emotional at this point, which isn't going to help, but I think waiting 4 weeks to meet with the principal (who is busy running for some educational office at the moment) or even meet with this teacher is far too long. I think I have been up to this point quite long-suffering, and of course my child more so.

Its even more tragic when the details of what transpired 4 weeks ago come to the light. I'll have to save my energy for retelling that for the next post. My powerlessness just makes me want to cry, but if I do I'll never stop so its just easier to yield it to my inner puissant jungle pussy. Its going to get freaky.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Teacher-Parent Conflict Resolution and Cultural Differences

The honeymoon is over.

Z's new school and new homeroom teacher continue to overwhelm us with their positivity. Z's recent midterm grades, especially her math and science were higher than her Chinese for the first time. In fact now my daughter loves math all because her brilliant teacher loves math and he loves teaching more. We love this school!

Unfortunately we live in a world with imperfect humans and once again we are having another experience with an abusive (music) teacher. I say once again because in her previous school, her homeroom teacher aka Evil Lyn, was just not able to be impartial, played favorites and was grossly over critical with my child. She took away Z's outdoor recess, gave her more homework, didn't really teach and subsequently my kid hated math. I tried meetings with Evil Lynn (lovingly nicknamed from one of He Man's many enemies) for almost 3 semesters, several times she got reprimanded by the principal, with little improvement.  Let it be known, all of our meetings were civil, I never "lost it" with her, although she "lost it" on my kid several times. But thats history, that was Kai Shuan Elementary near our older apartment. Good riddance.

Other than that, Z's teachers have been phenomenal. Her kindergarten teachers and 1st grade homeroom teachers in Tainan were outstanding. (There was an incident with a Taiwanese language teacher filming Z in a commercial without my knowledge, but the school and teacher apologized, it blew over.)

Bear in mind I am coming from a culture where  job performance is constantly getting assessed and workers constantly get feedback from each other, management and customers. Its much easier to get fired in the US for incompetency than Taiwan, so I think American workers are more apt to respond to glitches and evaluations more positively than in Taiwan, where here they often are in the form of a personal attack. I  know this intimately having worked for Amy/Rebecca a sadist manager in Tainan. Of course she eventually did one big sweeping sincere, umbrella apology for all the times she, yada yada, so I had to forgive her, but her style of management is legendary, unforgettable. Its the reason we all suspect she changed her name.

Another cultural anomaly is the role of a teacher and discipline. Taiwan is a Confucian society and teachers have have a kind of status that parents respect. Thus teachers have significantly more power to discipline students (harshly) here. Taiwanese parents have a kind of social contract with teachers that they can chastise students more so than American teachers. More often the American teacher will call the students' parents for them to do the severer punishment. This has been quite challenging for me as a teacher, but usually my Taiwanese co-teacher plas the "bad cop". I don't think its ever ok to yell in a child's face in front of the class or have students physically fear you, its just not anything close to a learning environment.

When a kid loves music and now she hates music class, someone failed as a teacher
Since I find myself going around this same mountain again, I am not insane enough (or am I) to make the same mistakes. Face to face meetings, talking civilly, stating the facts as I see them, or how my kid perceived them have been in my experience, unhelpful. So this time I asked a coworker, a Taiwanese computer teacher- with kids- what he would do. After I told him the incident (next blog post), he said, "That's ridiculous! This would make it on Taiwanese TV news." He said if it were him, he would go to the Dean of our school to talk with the principal of her school. I immediately dismissed that as underhanded, sneaky, also I didn't want to involve more people who probably had better things to do.

Nevertheless, because the thought had never occurred to me, perhaps his suggestion was right after all. I talked it over with more Taiwanese friends and they concurred this was the best method of conflict resolution for Taiwanese: using someone more powerful, using connections and influence. This felt so wrong, so alien to me.

This friendly computer teacher told the dean and the dean said to first leave it to Z's homeroom teacher and if he cant handle it then he'll get involved. (Her homeroom teacher's reputation proceeds him, teacher Jack is a superstar in these parts). Unfortunately  a talk with Z's Vice Principal did nothing to deter this music teacher. The next class, she was just as mentally abusive and emotional as before.

So back to my method unless something else presents itself. She is only at their school twice a week and I hope to arrange a meeting this Thursday.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cordial Interrogations: Most Common Questions Being A Foreigner

North of Tamsui a few days after we first moved to Taiwan

My daughter and I have been in Taiwan for almost 8 years (in July) and we still are asked the accustomed inquiries when we first meet Taiwanese. She and I  moved here when she was 2 1/2 years old. She was still in diapers and I was still nursing.

After a year of living in Taiwan,  Aquarium in Kenting
Most Taiwanese are too polite to ask too personal of questions straight away, perhaps the 3rd encounter or so. There are some businesses in Yilan City that my kid and I will straight up not frequent, despite the good service/food, because we get a full on interrogation every time from the whole staff of a very private line of questions.

Taiwanese are curious of course of foreigners here, its a homogeneous society. Especially in Yilan we are a novelty, compared to a more cosmopolitan place like Tainan. It generally gets old, but I try to answer as graciously as possible. My kid who is less self censored by societal norms will half the time flagrantly ignore their examination.

The most common questions in order of frequency:

1. Is your husband Taiwanese?

Keep in mind they ask this in regards to my kid. I know the natural assumption is I'm married because I have a child.  But they are looking at her green eyes and light hair and are marveled that a Taiwanese person can have such a white kid. I still find it incredulous, because I look more "Taiwanese" than she does. I answer first that I'm not married, which always produces a physical reaction akin to, "Oops." And sometimes depending on the situation I'll offer that her father is American and lives in America, again because they are curious to the biological equation.

2. Why did you come to Taiwan?

I usually say,  "Work" when the answer is infinitely more complicated.  Initially it was about being financially independent, she was old enough to go to preschool at the kindergarten I worked at, and I missed living abroad. If I stayed in Colorado sure I could find a better paying job then Taiwan, but I would never see my kid. Now staying in Taiwan is about my kid's Mandarin and all the social benefits of living here. But if I didn't have her I would of left Taiwan years ago.

One of my more interesting students

3. What do you eat?

People seem surprised (always) that I cook (at all) maybe because they can't or don't and its cheap, convenient to eat out here. Since working in Yilan, I have less time for cooking, less time at home generally between my work, and TRX, ballet, weight lifting classes and my daughter's art, and flute classes, that we do eat out more. I still cook, or I should say I have my daughter cook (its the one house chore she loves) on the weekends when we have time.  We like to experiment with all the dearth of fruits and veggies when they come in season. For example, our pink guava bundt cakes turned out great. It doesn't always though, I also like to experiment with replacing wheat flour with brown rice powder or anything and sometimes the cake is more like a protein bar than dessert. When we first moved here and Z was small I made lots of pasta with whatever I have around. Now I use bean noodles and since she can do spicier, coconut curries.

I also try to cook vegetables I've never seen before. We do have our favorite Taiwanese foods. Some aren't too healthy so they are for twice a year, like sweet bubble tea for her and stinky tofu for both of us. Our go-to eating out meals are beef noodle soup, dumplings and sesame noodles. One a  month we eat at the nicer restaurants in the shopping mall, or Western Food places like Balagov's, Slow Train, Slobber's or Tavola's.

Pink guava cake with dragon fruit frosting

4. Do you go back home to visit?

Its pretty expensive, somehow or other we seem to go back every year and half. The first time was during CNY when Z was 3. Mary the then owner of Sharefun in Tainan (my boss) sponsored Z's ticket, which was a godsend. I think we have been back three times (?). The last time, summer of 2015 I was able to pay from my new job's sign on bonus, the summer before then my folks came here.

Family in New Mexico July 2015

5.Will you live in Taiwan forever?

Lately, I've been answering it depends on who is president. Obviously if its Trump (which I doubt) we would stay here. The plan has been to go back when Z is in 6th grade, so she can skip junior high here and the boring, spirit defeating unbalanced life of academics and tests.

6. Is Taiwan better than the U.S?

Both places have their advantages. Obviously its safer here. The chances of an active shooter in Taiwan is almost nil thankfully. The national health care system is fabulous, we can see the dentist or get acupuncture for a few dollars US. The social safety nets here are more civilized. Taiwan is also a fabulous springboard for travel around Asia, we have always taken advantage to bucket airlines, holiday time and neighboring destinations. On the downside my dating options are nonexistent. Men my age are married with kids and the single foreigners are young and want to play in the ocean of hot Chinese toys. Taiwanese men are too shy and honestly I don't have the time or patience to deal with what I see my Taiwanese female friends deal with, I already have a kid (no offense).

 The US is more comfortable, the food is better, at least I have access to healthy foods, gluten free, high quality  organic food and ancient grains which are rare and or expensive here. I don't have to worry about tainted oil, milk, etc back home. There's more of a variety of exercise, dance and yoga classes State side, although Taipei may a have a few here and there. Of course my oldest friends and family are back home. But for a while now Taiwan has been our homestead.


What I don't tell people

What I don't tell people, but all my good friends know is the story of  her father. I have nothing to hide, you can guess what I'll say. Her father and I dated on and off for years, even lived together for some of those. We got pregnant on purpose anticipating marriage and then it all went to crap. I was in grad school in England and he was calling me drunk, sending me scary emails about shooting, blowing things up (he likes to target shoot for fun) and was generally off his rocker, very controlling (I couldn't use email to male friends, or couldn't accept baby gifts from my parents, and he even said I couldn't have a telephone.) I made him the ultimatum to see a counselor (which has done before for years) or end the relationship. I went back to the US 22 weeks pregnant to successfully finish my master's dissertation and unsuccessfully get a restraining order on him (judge said his threats were implicit). It was a scary decision  to allow him in my home to see her, but he and his mom lost interest after she was 5 weeks old. He never paid a penny. He knows where my folks live, my email address hasn't changed; basically its effortless to contact me and not once has he asked about her. I assume he's too cheap and too afraid I'll smack him my legal right to garnish his wages.

Having said that, he's always in our prayers.

Friday, April 1, 2016

What is the Grass? Flutes and snakes and Spring Magic

A child said, What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands...-Walt Whitman

Nest outside my office:Malayan Night Heron 黑冠麻鷺
Its Spring and Yilan is in a state of blissful,  aromatic renewal. Easter was last weekend, Children's Day and Tomb Festival are almost here. The big questions of the meaning of life sandwiched between two Spring Holidays.  This week was full of inconspicuous nuances. My daughter remarked how sometimes she feels so contented and awed by the mundane routine then most times unaware or too busy to notice it. I felt the same, sitting around our airy, cozy kitchen astounded how we have everything we need.

Divine Providence has come through again yesterday in the form of two answered prayers. My child has been pining for a flute for the past year and for a snake for even longer. Like a 2nd birthday she got both just hours apart.

First was the flute. We dashed to the home/studio of her new music teacher before my TRX class.

"She's a natural!"
At the Yamaha music store they only have new, silver flutes for 10,500 NT. Influenced from my childhood, I came with the  parental philosophy that kids borrow an instrument when they start. She has got to earn a new one right? So I bought a used one on eBay and got totally ripped off, the costs of repair would cost the same as the new Yamaha.  The classes they offered there at Yamaha were a serious rip-off, at four times a month for 2800NT and their teacher wasn't even available when we were. So we waited and prayed. My daughter was not amused. I told her not to get mad that this in itself is an answered prayer, something is about to happen.

Her music teacher at her elementary school had a used silver Pearl for 10,000 and we brought it home. Finally at the thought of paying so much,  I started asking the mothers of her classmates and found this nice lady near Yilan University basically within walking distance of my house. We got a new silver flute for 4500 NT and classes are 8x a month for 2000. I am so excited for her, wind instruments are her passion. She wants to play for a symphony someday so she says and why not?

When one of the trainers at my gym, (and the entomologist of Beetle Forest) brought in his albino boa it was love at first sight (for her). Finally a snake connection, as the pet stores here either didn't have much selection or were too expensive.

She hounded him for a snake which he gets through one of his scientist friends. I kept on putting off the snake purchase for as long as I could. And then at the end of last semester with her straight A's, it seemed only fitting that she be rewarded and he was more than willing to find a nice young (small one).

So after Chinese New Years we have been missing each other at the gym until the past week when he had indeed bought her a snake.

 Last night we brought home the still sexless boa my daughter named Medusa. Within 5 minutes of bringing her home I got bit! I draw the line at handling mice and "Snake Dude" offered to buy them for us, but its Z's responsibility. Tomorrow after we pick up her girlfriend for a play date I will let them feed her!

Medusa says hello to my hand

Friday, March 18, 2016

Yield to Yuanshan

To get off the beaten track in Yilan, which is already in the boondocks, look no further than Yuanshan Township. It still gets a few tourist buses from Taipei, but less so.

Yuanshan's element at first glance is the mountains, but equally so is the water element. There's so many lakes, ponds, rivers, even hot springs.   According to my kid Yuanshan is reknown for having the cleanest water in all Taiwan. Moreover, if I could describe the essence of Yuanshan in contemporary Western music, it's Beck's "Morning Phase". Or maybe I've just made the association  as that's what I'd listen to when my car CD player workedMy daughter and I have this fantasy of our last year in Taiwan. We'd find a traditional home in Yuanshan and get a goat and some chickens. Until then we commute here everyday for my job. It's a gorgeous commute, better on scooter. Driving my car is like living out Mad Max Thunder Road most mornings. Now with the construction of some fancy chain hotel the already small roads are clogged with all kinds of trucks and their equipment. Yuanshan will soon lose its wildness without a sound. See it while you can.

Yuanshan is just outside of Yilan City between county road 7 and Sanxia in the mountains. There are tons of BnB’s, recreational organic farms (scroll to bottom of this post), fishing, and hiking trails. Here are the tourist maps. The crown jewel of Yuanshan is Fushan Botanical Gardens, which is still on my to do list. You need to make a reservation in advance as they limit the number of visitors. 

I recommend renting a scooter from any of the shops across from the bus or train station in Yilan City to explore. Buses are infrequent and stop early in the highlands. A taxi to Dahu Lake or Wanglongpi will cost around 200NT from the bus or train station.
Gregorian chants in Mandarin with this view on a sunny day-timeless!

It becomes obvious soon enough that the most scenic, auspicious spots in Taiwan house all the cemeteries. Yuanshan is no different. The foothills leading into the mountains are speckled with them. Maybe I'm biased but they aren't the total eyesores they are in most places. In fact driving to work in the morning, the sunlight on a clear (rare) morning illuminates their white tiles, making a gleam against the dark mountains and sky. Clouds hover in and out, so that every morning is a different panorama on my commute.

 The graveyards in Yuanshan even has a Catholic section, the first in Yilan with a picturesque chapel over looking the valley. Surprisingly, there are several Catholic churches where one can take mass (in Mandarin and Latin). The most picturesque is in the Catholic cemetery on the hills but there is also one  (Church of the Holy Cross) across the street from Yuanshan Elementary school just off where 7 meet the 9A. 

Yuanshan Memorial Park
To begin a tour of Yuanshan you could start out at the Yuanshan Memorial park next to Yuanshan Elementary school and then head to Pillow Mountain, Dahu (Big Lake), or Hunshan Lake.  The park has a vertical set of stairs for a quick workout with some views of the of Yuanshan mountains that will wet your appetites for some further highland exploration. At the bottom of the stairs are some tanks and horses coming out of the grass which is kind of cool. Otherwise there’s not much else to see here. Elderly people like to hike the paths circling the hill in the mornings.
Dahu (Big Lake). My kid's first choice fishing spot  

Wanglongpi lake (望龍埤) is likewise very scenic. There are several hikes you can do from here that take you above the lake and you could continue to little villages further in the mountains. There’s a pizza café opened on the weekends and a coffee shop. You can buy fruit directly from the farmers from their orchards in the valley by the lake. The best place to stay is at the very orange Avignon Bed and Breakfast just down the road from the lake exit. Come early as Mainlanders tend to come here on the weekends, most don't do the hikes. There are more bodies of water too, the Shuanglian and Taiyang ponds popular with birders. 

Wanglongpi lake (望龍埤)

For free coffee (all you can drink) head to Athena’s Bakery (not to be confused with Artemis Garden). The tour buses definitely stop here, but you can sample the cakes and drink coffee for free. The gelato is excellent and flavors change according to which fruits are in season. If the sky is clear have coffee and some cake at the A-Maze Cafe at the top of the hill. If you're lucky you can overlook Yilan City on a fair day and see Turtle Island in the distance. Sadly. they cut down their namesake labyrinth. There are also some bed and breakfasts located on that hill. Accommodation should never be a problem in Yuanshan. Every post has about ten signs pointing to various farm stays. Still I listed the most famous leisure farms a the end of this post.

If you want to sample more than just coffee, Yuanshan happens to have its very own brewery,  Jim and Dad's (吉姆老爹啤酒工場). The owner invested a pretty penny for this top of the line brewery, shipping parts from Germany. They use fruits in season for various ales and stouts. They also serve high quality American root beer and ginger-ale for kids or the responsible driver. Its a little pricey but makes for a nice gift. Its a great venue for parties or live music, with a fun lighthouse. Too bad its such a drive.Taipei Times printed a nice review, " Yilan's Beer Oasis".

Kids might enjoy educational "hands on" tours about bugs at the Honey Bee Museum, Phoenix Beetle Museum (where you could stay the night),  farming,  water weeds, sheep or fish.  Older adults might prefer the Bowl and Dish Museum or the 23 Stone House Nature Culture. As for me, I would recommend my friends to stay at the sublime Beetle Forest. They are technically in Jiaoxi on the border of Yuanshan,  but you wouldnt have guessed. Beetle wise they are more professional than the Phoenix and have a modern BnB set up with a cheerful space. Plus I am friends with the entomologist there.

Bike riding in Yuanshan
Yuanshan is mostly bypassed by weekenders from Taipei stopping in Jiaoxi or further to Taipingshan, but if you want some muted repose, with less crowds, Yuanshan is definitely the peaceful alternative.

Leisure Farms in Yuanshan:
Daan Herbal medicine
Zhen Shan Zhuang Villa
Country Orange Leisure Farm
Hua Quan Living Workshop
Old House
Shen Yang

Thursday, March 3, 2016

To World Gym or Not?

One of the minor questions I was facing prior to CNY holiday was if I should join World Gym  or not. Finally, a first rate gym was coming to Yilan! Yilan City has been inundated with airdrop raids of flyers that have littered every available wall space and mailbox.  I could use a shot in the arm regarding jazzing up my fitness routines. I haven't exactly gained weight on the scale, but my clothes are noticeably tighter this semester.
Train here and you can look like her or attract her

My  memories of going to the local gym in Anping are mostly blissful, it would be great to have that community again. I miss mostly the classes, yoga and kickboxing, so I checked out World's gym schedule and they're basically is like 24 Hour Fitness back home. They offer the same "Turbo" kick-box classes, etc in other words they bought the rights to use the choreographed materials. World Gym had cheaper sign up fees before the Lunar New Year so I was feeling pressured to sign before my trip.

World Gym is located in the Yoai Department Store. Parking is available free for 2 hours in the basement of Yoai or across the street. I went to go see them, ready to sign up. First of all, I had to consider my schedule and if it was worth paying 1,000NT a month. I already go to Super Fitness on Tues/Thurs and Saturdays for TRX or weight training and am happy there. I do have my friends and sweat comradery. Also I recently started ballet on Wednesdays and strip tease dancing (class) on Mondays. So I would really only use World Gym on  Sundays or Fridays (usually busy). I was already on the fence, but I was willing to pay the 1000NT (for a 2 year contract, 1 year was twice as much) for going to yoga or kick-box classes.

I guarantee she does no TRX

What I didn't like is that it would be automatically taken out of my account and they wanted a credit card. I know thats the way the world works. Yet, I like having the choice and when given the choice I prefer to pay cash. My debit card is a Visa and they wouldn't accept that which is nuts because I use it online to buy things regularly. The only credit card I have is from the US and I only like to use that when I absolutely have to (like when my ATM card got eaten in Borneo last year). They were unwilling to use my Visa debit card. So forget it. I use YouTube videos a lot for yoga and I am in walking distance to the Sports Park. There is also a new gym "Green Light" that just opened near me, much like Super Fitness (TRX and weight training classes) just down the street from the University.

I should mention they weren't too keen with my kid waiting at the sofas by the entrance doing her homework. I had to explain I didn't have a spouse or extended family to watch her, and I have been going to gyms in Taiwan for 7 years and no one ever had an issue with her hanging around.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Back to Borneo: I let IS change my itinerary

Treetop Jungle Lodge, outside Miri
Its near to impossible to make travel plans  for Chinese New Year last minute. You'd be lucky to find an affordable flight, and the best accommodation will be booked. This requires careful planning and research months in advance. Knowing this I created my little central Javanese dream itinerary in October.

Unfortunately 2 weeks before my plane left to Jogjakarta,  IS bombed Jakarta (same island), targeting a Starbucks, killing a Canadian and six others. IS' Indonesian  leadership and support coincidentally comes from central Java (Solo) and some of their supporters are in the very cities I had planned to travel through (like Semerang).

If you know me, then you know I am not one to cower from an adventure. I volunteered teaching English in Sudan, spent a month in Kashmir and was caught in a middle of gun fire between a Pakistani separatist and Indian police. I traveled alone through Egypt for 5 months, India for 3. I (stupidly) hitched-hiked with a my friend from Barcelona to Amsterdam. And my daughter and I have traveled to Malaysia 5 or 6 times, Japan twice, Sumatra, Hong Kong and Thailand, which are safe enough places but its still no walk in the park traveling alone with a child, gender aside.

Niah Caves
 If I were alone I would so be on that plane to Java, but with my daughter, I am cautious. Traveling is my affirmation in the goodness of strangers and hopefully offering them an alternative (better) view of Americans, but I also want to be relaxed. The chances were nothing dire would of happened, we would have had another legendary exploit, but I didn't want to look at locals and suspect the worst. Maybe our taxi driver has an ISIS flag in his home or something.  ISIS also was targeting Borobudur, the 8th century Buddhist temple complex I simple had to see. Our hotel emailed me that they had stepped up security, and security at tourist places like Borobudur, but more men with guns  is hardly reassuring.

Treetop Home Stay, outside Miri. She caught 3 huge fish.

So I decided to return to Sarawak, but a different part. Sarawak is blessed with amazing national parks. There were a few on my list I still had to see and Miri was our logical base.We didn't stay in Miri the city, but 20 km south on the coast.  I probably could of axed 3 days in Miri, it didn't take long to explore the nearby region. In other words, we had a lot of non-connected to the outside world, jungle time; lounging in hammocks, fishing, lazily doing yoga or laundry. I got my adventure fix renting a standard car for 3 days of driving British style (opposite side of the road, driver sitting opposite side of the car) on the crazy roads of Borneo. People drove insanely fast and  passed one another by a hair's width. It was good bonding time with my daughter. The radio didn't work, so we talked and sang a lot.

Our home stay (Treetop Jungle Lodge) charged me 90 RM a day for using their car plus filling the tank. We stayed our first few nights in their deluxe double with hot shower (not that we needed it) and eventually migrated to the cheaper longhouse above the water. The expat Rhodesian owner, his wife and her sister made us feel well taken care of, which as I get older, I don't take for granted.

 My daughter didn't want to leave this place, and after 3 days on the road she was happy to return. There was not anything for her to do, which I suppose was the charm. Walking 10 minutes to the beach was the height of activity- if we even ventured that far. She caught 3 large fish, one Tilapia of which we ate and the other catfish I assumed they ate. My daughter was the only person to have ever caught anything and that place has been around for at least 15 years.

My first day with the car was a day trip to the nearby Lambir Hills National Park. It was kind of strange shifting gears with my left hand and the turn signals were on the opposite side too. After driving for a day I was confident I could do a longer road trip. It was empowering because my confidence in my driving was severely damaged after last years accident. We hiked to the waterfall which we had all to ourselves.

Lambir Hills National Park

The  Niah Caves were truly impressive. I was unprepared for the amount of walking and in hindsight should of brought more water. It was 3 km to the cave, after crossing a crocodile infested river (according to our boatman), 3 km back and I'd say 3-4 km exploring the caves.

 It was not an easy walk. The bat feces (guano) and dripping water made the pathway deathly slippery. Few tourists were inside, but one woman coming back slipped and just broke her wrist. She put the contorted bone in my face close to my flashlight so I could see it. Fortunately we met up with a Canadian woman at the ticket office and she  was an extra pair of helpful eyes, hands and light to help me with my kid from slipping into the abyss.  Nice single traveler, my age, we had some intimate chats, dinner and breakfast and I dropped her off at the bus stop the next morning.

What was exciting about this cave was we had already some experience caving in Sarawak, outside Kuching. The Fairy cave was quite magical. Niah was even more spectacular especially knowing that the oldest human skull (40,000 BC) in Asia was found here. They had it on display at the forgotten museum at the start of the trail. It was our mission to make it to the farthest cave, to see the cave paintings of burial boats that was disappearing from view. My daughter almost didn't make it, the wooden path was that greasy and perilous. Parts of the trek were in utter darkness, the handrails covered in bat shit. It was an experience to take to the grave. Literally we felt we were on a heroic journey to the Otherworld, the abyss. The ferryboat to the cave only added to this certainty. There were magic moments of coming out of the obscurity to see holes in the ceiling revealing the outer world, life, the rain forest piercing through. The camera could not completely replicate these moments of sunlight illuminating raindrops.

Painter's Cave: Burial ships
On our road trip we headed south to the Similajau National Park on the beach. Its located 4 hours south of Miri and 30 minutes north of Bintulu. We got lost on our way here and fortunately found it. It was weird checking in.Staff was on siesta so we had to wait at the gate office with a bunch of men for 2 hours and it felt uncomfortable being the only 2 females and foreign. Eventually I just we went to the cantina for some drinks and finished waiting there.

Similijau National Park

 The park is vast. The accommodation was at the beach with a bit of green, with trees and picnic tables separating the lodging from the beach. The sound of the waves was loud. There was absolutely no one but a group of men having a BBQ. So it felt kind of lonesome. We had a dorm room all to ourselves away from anyone and I didn't sleep well. A huge family of about 30 people checked into the dorm next to us around 9pm and it was reassuring to see women and children in the dark with their flashlights and laughter. It seemed so empty I found it unbelievable that all the beds were occupied for the weekend (which was the holiday Chinese New Year weekend.) Apparently we had the only remaining room for that night, yet the dorms and chalets between us and the cantina were like a ghost town. I assumed staff didn't want to clean those up. No one had swept our floor, but for 400 NT a night I wasn't complaining. We had running water and 4 comfortable beds and the sound of the ocean .

Similijau National Park

Eventually we left the security of Treetops and stayed our last night in Miri at a 3 star hotel (Mega Hotel) in the center of town which was a treat. They had a nice pool and across the street was an Indian restaurant. It was back to civilization. We hopped on a plane the next day to Kuala Lumpur and stayed at my friend's fancy condo with the most amazing views to the Petronas Towers. Sadly my friend had to bail back to the States to her mother's deathbed. so it was pensive and surreal sitting on her sofa, sleeping in her bed, enjoying her breathtaking view, texting each other and she wasn't there in person.

Our bedroom  window view
I had a plan of day trips we could do from KL that I still hadn't done on the several previous trips. The pools were so stunning and the condo such a luxury, my kid and I just vegged by the pool. She made friends with some of the kids and I could finish a book. After a few days we went to my other friend's apartment and pretty much did the same thing. She is leaving for Jordan in a couple of months so we definitely had to catch up while she was still in the SE Asian vicinity (a trip to Jordan is planned.)

We ate well in KL. Fancy juice shops, Indian and Middle Eastern, my kid and I had lamb for lunch and lamb for dinner. Ultimately my child grew bored of paradisaical swimming pools and perfect weather and when driving in our taxi back to Yilan  in pouring bitter rain and gloomy skies she was utterly happy to be back, she in fact missed the rain and cold. I on the other hand already missed the blue skies.

Beach, 10 min walk from Treetop Jungle Lodge

My Central Java Itinerary:

2/1- 2/3 Yogykarta  Phoenix Hotel (4,351 NT /Rp 1,936,000
 Mount Merapi for hiking and camping. Borobudur is a Buddhist stupa and temple complex in Central Java, Indonesia dating from the 8th century, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of world's truly great ancient monuments, the single largest Buddhist structure anywhere on earth, and few who visit fail to be taken by both the scale of place, and the remarkable attention to detail that went into the construction. Set as it is in the heart of the verdant Kedu Plain, the backdrop of mighty active volcanoes only enhances the sense of awe and drama. 

2/3-2/4 Semerang Hotel Candiview Semarang (1,292 NT/ 575,000Rp) 
Semarang It takes less than 2 hours to drive from Semarang to Yogyakarta. Solo is also only a one and half hour drive from Semarang. From Semarang and Yogyakarta you can go by tourist car/rent car with 7 seaters vehicle like Central Java Transporter, (+62/0) (thejavatransporter@gmail.com),  who operates the car to Dieng Plateau.

2/4- 2/8 Karimunjawa Cocohuts Hotel  (4046NT/ 1,800,000 Rp)
Mon 2/8 Return Ferry Karimunjawa to Jepara (Express 7am- 9am) Jepara to Semerang

2/8-2/12  Semerang to Purwokerto (5USD 5x daily, 5 hours via Nusantara) + Taxi (5USD) to Baturaden

 Green Valley Resort Batu Raden Purwokerto address: Jalan Raya Baturraden KM 8, 53151 Baturaden tell: (4091 NT/ 1,820,000 Rp) f

2/12-2/13 Yogykarta: DusunJogja Village Inn (2,000 NT)

2/14 Retrun to Taipei