About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while 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, December 29, 2017

Taipei Day Trip: Walk Like An Egyptian

Last month, I took a day off and took my kid to the AIT (American Institute  Taiwan), the ad hoc embassy to renew her passport. This is the second time we renewed it here in Taiwan. We were caught in morning traffic on the bus from Yilan, stuck in mountain tunnels. We had to make an appointment weeks before and I was nervous we'd miss out spot. I was missing classes (and money) to do this necessary renewal. (We can't travel or renew her ARC card if it has less than 6 months on her passport.)

If I'm taking the day off, might as well make a day event of it- and we did. From Taipei Main Station we took a taxi to AIT which is near Da'an station. Even 30minutes late for our appointment, it was a painless (expensive) procedure. I paid the $105US with my Taiwanese debit card, unlike five years ago running around banks for a bank that knew what a check was. (The AIT in Kaohsiung didn't want cash or credit but a bank check.)

We tried to make a yin-yang with the 2 different types of discarded tea leaves we drank. We used 2 date pits for the points
We had the whole sunny morning and decided to spend it drinking tea. As both of us appreciate traditional tea houses, the Wisteria was long on our bucket list. We took a taxi from the AIT and had one whole room to ourselves were we sampled two teas for a couple of hours.The menu was impressive. It definitely has more options than the equally atmospheric Jiufen Tea House.  Drinking tea in the Wistaria was quite a treat, not just for spending some peaceful time with my content kid, but the whole historical significance of the establishment. The Wistaria named after the vines that surround the building), is a Japanese-style wooden house built in the 1920s.  The house served as a residence for the Governor-General of Taiwan under Japanese rule prior to 1945. The teahouse, with its circa 1930s decor, was reopened to much fanfare after a long needed renovation in 2008.

The building became a teahouse and gained its current name in 1981 and was meeting place for political dissidents in the 1980's such as Lei Chen (雷震) fighting for a democratic Taiwan. Since then, Wisteria House has been and continues to be a favored meeting place for Taipei artists, academics, and literati. The teahouse was also used during the filming of Eat Drink Man Woman. There's an emerald room with tatami floors, a tatami room with large paintings including a nude, as well as chairs and tables if sitting on floors aren't your thing. It's ours so we sat on a tatami floor beside a sunny window in the largest room and had the whole space to ourselves. 

There were two other couples all in a private room. The proprietor at the cashier asked me if I came from Mexico, and I replied no, "I'm American, but my family is Spanish and Native American," and she complimented me on my bone structure" which made me smile as we conversed in Mandarin.  How strange, usually Taiwanese comment on how beautiful my daughter is. She's so exotic with her green eyes and thick wavy light hair. I'm so used to being invisible. 

Then we were off on another taxi, meeting some lovely, teen daughters of a family friend for lunch. We unsuccessfully convinced them to join us for the National Palace exhibit, but lunch took much longer than we all thought and they had places to be. 

It's possible to get mummy overload and when I was carefree in Cairo (2003?) before my daughter was born, that's what happened to me. The Cairo Museum of Antiquities has one of the oldest and largest collections of pharaonic items on the globe, but after so many mummies, my eyes kind of glazed over. I always felt pretty blessed to have seen the pyramids and this museum in person, as well as having a close encounter with mummies in the hollow burial sites in Siwa. (Picture me galloping alone on a ferocious stallion the sun setting behind Giza, a little scared and very alive.) A year later I was in grad school in York, England and had the good fortune to walk the among the collection of the British Museum. So when I saw a friend's post about the British Museum having a small exhibition in Taipei's National Palace Museum, I made it a point to take my kid.

I was pretty impressed how the British Museum set their exhibit up. Instead of overdosing on mummies, they presented six mummies from different genders, classes, times, including a small child, and it really was a digestible way to learn and appreciate life along the Nile between 900 BC to 180 AD. There were no photos allowed, and it was quite dark inside. Unlike my previous Egyptian mummy experiences, this was high-tech. The scientists had scanned the mummies and on the screen, you could see how the mummies were found, all the jewelry, tokens, amulets and their placements on their bodies. Obviously, we could see each item itself encased in glass and the layers of coffins. The paintings of some of the outer coffins were breathtaking. 

Poor attempt at a selfie with Egyptian mural in the background

There was one woman, I'm not sure if she was the married priestess or the temple singer, but they had placed amulets along each chakra. It blew me away that ancient Egyptians also shared this with Kundalini (from another ancient river civilization). How arrogant of me to think ancient people didn't know about glands and the endocrine system when they had the science to take brains out of nostrils.

I also appreciated how we could see the evolution of the mummy's outer coffin in terms of adapting to the times. It was blatantly obvious when Greek civilization was the hegemonic power, the mummy of the young man looked like a Greek, Orthodox saint. 

Our little Taipei day trip was the best Monday we had in a while. I highly recommend catching the Egyptian Mummies from the British Museum: Exploring Ancient Lives, before it ends in February.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wake Up and Smell the (Funky Fungi) Coffee of Immortality

The latest health food trend (in America) is Mushroom Coffee; coffee spiked with Asian medicinal mushrooms. I was debating whether or not to order some from i-Herb, but it's pretty expensive and I am not sure of whether or not its medicinal properties are lost during processing and if I might find something cheaper and purer right where I'm at. For example, the medicinal mushrooms in America are really mycelium grown on grain. According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), medicinal mushrooms should be grown without chemicals and those that grow wildly on wood (like Reishi) should be cultivated on wood, as the different trees produce subtle differences of medicinal applications. 

Reishi Coffee from Nantou
The medicinal mushrooms in such coffee are usually including Lion's Mane猴頭菇, Cordyceps蟲草  (冬蟲夏草), Chaga白樺茸, Turkey Tails雲芝 and Reishi 靈芝.The health benefits are increased mental alertness (without jitters or insomnia), and a power shot of adaptogens, anti-oxidants and anti-carcinogens.

The other week, Z and I watched an awesome documentary (Himalayan Gold) on Discovery Asia about the cordycep pickers of Nepal. It's a mushroom that grows out of a body of a caterpillar and also one of the 'magic' medicinal mushrooms in TCM  (and in the latest mushroom coffee fad of the West).

The more I learn about mushrooms, the more I realize how much I don't really know. Thankfully my friend and former body combat sparring partner Erin, helped me find some local shrooms. 
Lion's Mane猴頭菇 and Cordyceps蟲草 are very common in Taiwan. Fresh Lion's Mane can be ordered from Fengnian Farm in Puli or occasionally you can see them at major supermarkets. It looks pretty far out, as its furry (it's also called Bear's Head in North America) and looks more like cauliflower than fungi.

 I have experimented with cooking with fresh Lion's Mane and use it as with any mushroom. I prefer to saute it with butter and garlic and have added it in to creamy pasta, sandwiches and omelets. It has a consistency and texture much like scallops. It's no wonder it's also called the 'Lobster of the Wood.' 

Above:Creamy Pasta with Lion's Mane and goji berry
Below: Lion's Mane upclose

Reishi in TCM is known as the "mushroom of immortality" as its a powerful tonic and immunity booster. That same Fengnian Farm does sell organic Reisi mushroom (Ganoderma antlers) coffee and it's not cheap- a packet of 10 little satchels is 270 NT (plus shipping). Unfortunately, it's watered down with powdered creamer and sugar. I'm drinking a cup right now and it tastes like any instant coffee with creamer and sugar, with just the slightest aroma of mushroom. I prefer my coffee black but this is still palatable.

 I feel like the reishi does give me more stamina (rather than quick energy) and I drink it when I have a particularly heavy schedule (7 back to back classes and running errands on my lunch break) or after a stressful previous evening (my last night). For more on the benefits of reishi read here.

Taiwanese use Reishi 靈芝 in chicken soup the same as dried Cordyceps冬蟲夏草 . Both are very expensive and  can be found in all quality Chinese Herb/medicine shops.

Turkey Tail 
雲芝 mushroom is the rarest. It is also found in the best TCM  herbal shops.  My next mission will be to check out the local herb apothecaries and see what fungi I can experiment with.

I still might order this, energizing hot cocoa with reishi and cordyceps,
30 servings for 300NT via iHerb. Use my reward code(LRF400) and we both get 5% off our next order.
(For the record "magic" psychadelic mushrooms are available in Taiwan but not as commonly used recreationally as at home or SE Asia, yet they are known to be enjoyed by artists and bohemians every now and again).

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Trump's New Jerusalem and a World Wide State of Alert

Back in 2009 after Taiwan's devastating typhoon Morakot, I joined the US State Department's STEP program. 
I periodically received little regional warnings, especially after a terrorist attack in say the UK or France for example. A few hours after Trump's Thursday decision to be the only country (and global super power, major donor to Israel) to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital, the DOS sent me the following travel warning.  This was the first time I received one in response to Trump's foreign policy decision. One like this hasn't been issued since 2003 and the start of the 2nd Iraq war (I was in Egypt's Red Sea at that time). Thursday's warning is here:
As part of the Department of State's continuous efforts to provide U.S. citizens traveling abroad with information about safety and security events, we are updating the Worldwide Caution with information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions, political violence, and criminal activity against U.S. citizens and interests abroad.  This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated September 14, 2017.      
As terrorist attacks, political upheaval, and violence often take place without any warning, U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness when traveling.  To better prepare for possible emergencies, U.S. citizens are encouraged to read Country Specific Information pagesTravel Warnings, and Travel Alerts on travel.state.gov before planning a trip.
In addition to concerns stemming from terrorism, travelers should be alert to the possibility of political unrest, violence, demonstrations, and criminal activities when traveling.  Country-specific information pages and Travel Warnings should be consulted to obtain the latest data on such threats. 
Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.  The Department uses these security messages to convey information about terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, natural disasters, etc.  In an emergency, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate or call the following numbers: 1-888-407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries
 U.S. government facilities worldwide remain in a heightened state of alert.  These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture.  In those instances, U.S. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens.  U.S. citizens abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. 
 Terrorist groups including ISIS, al-Qa'ida, their associates, and those inspired by such organizations, are intent on attacking U.S. citizens wherever they are.  Extremists may use conventional or non-conventional weapons to target U.S. government and private interests.  Terrorists are increasingly using less sophisticated methods of attack to more effectively target crowds, including the use of edged weapons, pistols, and vehicles as weapons.  Extremists increasingly aim to assault "soft" targets, such as:
·     high-profile public events (sporting contests, political rallies, demonstrations, holiday events, celebratory gatherings, etc.)
·        hotels, clubs, and restaurants
·        places of worship
·        schools
·        parks
·        shopping malls and markets
·        tourism infrastructure
·        public transportation systems
·        airports
 In multiple regions, terrorists, guerrilla groups, and criminals seek to kidnap U.S. citizens to finance their operations or for political purposes.  The Department also remains concerned that terrorists could again seek to down aircraft using concealed explosives or hijack commercial flights
Private U.S. citizens should not travel to any country to participate in armed conflict.  U.S. citizens are reminded that fighting on behalf of or providing other forms of support to designated terrorist organizations can constitute the provision of material support for terrorism, which is a serious crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines. 
The warning continued in detail with each region and links to their countries. I believe Taiwan is quite safe and I statistically have more of a probable chance being hurt in the States by a gun, by someone I know, then a terrorist attack in Taiwan. However, I don't think I will go to Malaysia or Bali this Chinese New Years.
I'm all for rocking the boat, stirring the pot, but Trump's recklessness is far from coming from a position as peacemaker. If he truly wanted to promote peace or stability outside of global cooperation with allies and UN resolutions, he might of made Jerusalem the capitol of Israel and Palestine and formally recognize a 2 state solution. Until then, Americans abroad are more of a target, which may be what Trump's men wanted all along.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Middle School Confusion ,"Teacher's Discount" and the Possible Omen

About two months ago, my daughter's homeroom teacher was asking all the parents where their kids were going to junior high at next year. I didn't have an answer for her. The majority of Z's classmates will go to the nearest junior high down the road, and a few who come from educated parents (parents who are teachers) are having their kids go to the bigger, more academic schools in Yilan City. I moved from the city into the mountains to be closer to my school, I don't want to commute, and besides, there's more than just academics and homework for a kid's education.

As for us, I had and still have no idea where my kid is going next year. I had assumed and hoped she could come to the school I'm currently teaching at. My school's recruiter visited her class back then, showed a movie about how our students volunteer abroad and my kid's classmates (who are well-to-do) had second thoughts. My daughter had talked to the recruiter and he told her with my "foreigner's salary I could afford the school's tuition"- which was mighty presumptuous, considering tuition is like 100,000NT (3,300 USD) a semester and my net salary is 2,165USD a month. When we ran into him a week later he asked us if Z was coming to our school and we told him no, tuition is too expensive. Then he told us with a teacher's discount it was like 7,000 a month, which was totally doable.

Then my managers called the Finance office who said that foreign teachers don't qualify for the discount because our salaries are higher. That's a first, I worked here ten years in private schools and always had a teacher's discount. Whatever. This is the first time a foreign teacher's kid would attend here and obviously, they aren't looking at the big picture. Already my students are asking me if my daughter will attend here, and instead of answering, "I don't know," I'm just being honest, "No she's not, it's too expensive for me." It's really up to the principal. Supposedly, the recruiter will have a meeting with the principal and Finance office director and ask officially on our behalf. I'm not counting on it.

It really is the school's loss. My kid is bright, 2nd in her class, her Chinese is better than the local kid's and her English has a positive influence on her class. I was told that even if she came here, she would have to follow the school's schedule of 7:30am -6pm which is pretty ridiculous if I'm a paying customer. Besides, what they do between 7:30-8 and 5-6 is nothing that would hurt her grades (self-studying and practice testing). My daughter does better on her grades clearing her head with music at home.

I have let go of all expectations of my school to do the right thing by me as a hard-working teacher here, or a single- parent. It might work out better for my kid if she wasn't here because it is a kind of overly regimented prison for rich kids,  but her math and coding would be so fantastic! So we checked out the other two nearest options. My manager suggested the one which is an alternative school and a 25-minute commute one way. Great school, beautiful, small, even more in the countryside, but there's the whole commute thing and no school bus. I hate driving in Taiwan and especially with my car. That was the whole point of moving closer to my work, - no commute. This school would be happy to have Z and isn't it so refreshing to be wanted!?

The other junior high school is the closest public one and the one the majority of her classmates would go. My kid was opposed to this, her first choice was mine, (because of the academic challenge of course). She also wanted a fresh start with new people. We visited this local junior high and everyone was very welcoming and nice but then one office lady took a look at our address and said since we lived on the other side of the river, we were in a different township and had to go to a school in Jiaoxi, which is even further (I still don't know where it is), which was discouraging. My kid's current homeroom teacher said foreign kids could legally go anywhere, and I told that to this woman who disagreed. So who knows still?

In the past, I worked for a private (and expensive) preschool-kindy in Tainan, where Z went from age 2 1/2 until she started grade 1 at a local public school. My then employer charged me with a teacher's discount 14,000 NT (465 USD) a month (for 4 years), which seems steep considering my next job.  It was one foot forward two back in terms of saving, which I never could. We moved to Yilan and I worked at ChungDau, another boarding private school. I taught kindy, elementary and middle school classes, my kid then was in 3rd grade and with a teacher's discount, her tuition was only 10,000 NT (333USD)  a month which seemed pretty fair.

Maybe this whole "where will she go to middle school" is a sign? The final straw to come on home back to Denver?  I considered homeschooling for a millisecond. As an only child to a single parent, I believe she needs people, others, she needs teachers and classmates and connecting. I am just praying and trusting Higher Powers that the right doors will open and the wrong ones will close and that ultimately the Universe has our best interests at heart. So I'm not worried about it, but I am curious.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Haters Gonna Hate and Going Mental

Darkness is a cruel Bully and he took my niece, he has taken friends, he tried to take others, he won't take mine.

A few months ago, I sent an emergency message out to my friends in Yilan about finding a therapist for my daughter. She had been bullied for almost a year by a girl in her class. No teacher or parent was doing anything, so the only thing we could do was minimize the damage, help Z process. I could tell one day of the gravity of the distress of her being, after a talk we had. She confirmed my intuitions and answered me with this subterranean, inarticulate guttural, cry, that she was starting to slip into a dark place. A mom can read the different cries of her child, this soul language, and know the intensity of her despair.

Honestly, I should have got my Z in therapy earlier to process her grief over the death of my niece, her closest cousin that happened over CNY. (She has reoccurring nightmares of her cousin's murder.) I had put it off, but not anymore.

My daughter in our neighbor's tea terrace

This isn't the first time my kid has been targeted. Mean girls seem to enjoy targeting my Z (kindergarten and grade 3). Its been a lesson in resilience for both of us, mostly her. In a homogenous society that does little to educate its populace on inclusionism or face its own racism, its no surprise, she's an easy target. Also, teachers bullying students is perfectly acceptable, so of course some kids have no problem following suit. The only way anything changes around here is someone gets caught on tape and its aired on the local TV "news".

About a year ago, I actually invited myself for tea over the bully's mom's house in an attempt to nonchalantly drop the message of her daughter's change in behavior (they were friends before.)  Unlike her classmates, my kid comes home and tells me every detail of her day, the good and bad. This mom had no idea how many times her daughter had burst into tears that week- I knew more about it than she did. Her mom was kind, well mannered, and promised to talk to her daughter. Well, there was ultimately no change in her kid's behavior.

Then about a month or two ago this girl "accidentally" hit my daughter and for me that was the last straw. Tiger mom claws coming out. I feel like my kid and I had been overwhelmingly patient and long-suffering. I messaged her mom and teacher that enough is enough, this girl's verbal abuse has escalated to physical because there is absolutely zero consequences for her behavior. The mom wasn't soft spoken and nice anymore. In fact, she must have been gossiping with the teacher because she asked me,"why had Z gone to so many schools before?"- implying Z is the problem- as if my change in jobs or moving to Yilan were any of her business.

This bully already has a reputation among the classmates of being "nuts" and emotionally unstable, so my daughter isn't the only one (though she is the main target), yet I am the only parent to put my foot down. Whatever, I am THAT mom, no use being someone else.

I demanded a meeting. Everyone, including myself, was calm-but I was frank (her mom wasn't there). I have over a year, tried the Taiwanese way of dropping hints, waiting for adults to do something, indirectly communicating. I had to reassure her teacher that I didn't dislike her (she took everything personally), I liked how she let the kids work things out, but in this case, she actually has to tell this girl to stop- a long time ago. I suggested to the group this disturbed girl needed to see a professional. It's no exaggeration, a recent study showed that 30% of Taiwanese students have some kind of mental disorder that requires professional intervention. They chuckled.

One positive manifestation of this bitter experience is my kid just puts her nose to the grind in terms of academics and is 2nd in her class, the only girl in the top 3. Her Chinese is better than her classmates. After my meeting, their teacher finally told the girl she had to be civil with my kid and the girl actually improved (if only she could have done this a year ago.). The girl had a few setbacks as to be expected, and their teacher took time to talk to her alone after each episode- so progress.  Who knows what's [not] going on at home?

A not so positive manifestation is my kid in trying to defend her person-hood, existence in that space,  she has begun to "roast", insult her bully or anyone who gangs up on her (as they do because its all herd mentality and Z will call them, "Sheep."). I told her teachers and principals at the meeting (before they brought it up) I knew about it, because she tells me what she says. I reassured them that I am not supporting Z's retorts and insults, but I did say it was a survival mechanism. I tell Z the old, "Two wrongs don't make a right" (以牙還牙是不可取的) spiel my folks told me (she doesn't buy it). Its hard enough for me or any adult, let alone a kid, to navigate that fine line of protecting your boundaries and not become a jerk like a bully. I really think a good old fashioned school yard fist fight would resolve the pecking order and said as much in the meeting. Let's tell the mom, make a date and time, serve coffee, bring some lawn chairs and get it over with so we could move on. Ok that's a personal fantasy, but what I do encourage my kid on a practical level is to instead of roasting her enemy be overly kind, use her fantastic humor. She says she doesn't want to waste her jokes on "them" but really I believe she can use her talent by making a room laugh and take her power back in a positive way. I will forever encourage her wit over insulting others, even if they started it.

This week, my kid and I are feeling some small vindication. The girl bully in Z's class finally got caught on tape a few days ago- undeniable, irrefutable evidence that we are not exaggerating and this is no "accident". Her mom was quite ugly to me when I told her last time (the 2nd time) that her kid hit mine (as well of the daily microaggressions of verbal abuse that Z endured for over a year). I made it clear to her principals and teacher should this happen again, Z has the right to defend herself without fear of penalty. I just want to make sure with her mom the point again because this disturbed girl needs a serious ass kicking. Kudos to my kid for having self-control and patience. I am seriously thinking of sending the psychologist bill to her mom. Also, kudos to myself because I have been extremely patient with this mom and culture of denial and kudos to her teacher for taking the time to check out the security camera tape, she didn't have to.

 Z's therapist is quite the blessing. My coworker's wife homeschools and this therapist is in her homeschooling group, so she not wanting her kids in the Taiwanese school system is a positive indication to me. Her training, style is EMDR, which is excellent for children suffering PTSD  and the loss of a loved one. Also since we can't meet during normal working hours M-F because Z's at school and I'm working, she meets Z on Sunday morning. It ain't cheap, but Z is over the moon so I am too. 

I had a couple of Facebook friends send me this  and everything he said about power and being resilient and not showing the bully you are upset is everything my kid has done. But her bully did not stop, this guy is wrong if he thinks it will stop all bullies. Z won't show her bully she's hurt, she comes home and tells me and cries with me. In my opinion the only thing to stop Z's bully is either her parents investing in counseling or  an old school ass kicking at recess.

Some of my friends suggested other therapists in the Yilan area:

  • Near YiLan university is a  quite famous, male counselor 王意中
  • Lynn is an American married to a Taiwanese TCM Dr. She does sand art therapy.
  • Wenhsiung is Taiwanese married to a German, she lived in Germany a long time and speaks excellent English. She helped my friend's son.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Dog Daze: Canine Lovers and Puppy Love in Yilan

Up the road, morning bike ride

Even as we were negotiating with our now landlady, we were planning to finally get a dog (or two.) It really didn't seem like a feasible idea living in an apartment. Once we got the house, it was just natural. As my friend Chris was walking around Taiwan (Footprints) raising money for one of the many dog shelter/orgs for strays, he picked up Gina, a stray who followed him on his journey. They came by as they passed through Yilan in July and Chris basically gave me his blessing that we could take her. For a month as we were settling in she stayed with friends in Taipei.

During our first month settling in, we contacted Jenny from the French bakery for another stray. Far be it for her to not only be a business entrepreneur with her French husband, but she dedicates all her free time, feeding, caring for strays and finding them owners. She knows the ins and outs of various local shelters, dog "farms" and vets (She uses and recommends 開口笑寵物精品店). It was through her that we got Zarkon our German Shepherd/Taiwan Mountain dog mix. He maybe is 6 months, no one is sure. He spent 2 months on a farm after he was found and was just annoyingly LOUD, that the neighbors would throw firecrackers at him to scare him quiet. His bark is pretty loud, but his first few days here were quiet. Thanks to Jenny, Zarkon came to us already fixed, chipped and vaccinated. (Its the law here for all pets to be chipped to keep from owners abandoning their pets, although pet stores don't sell them chipped.)

It was a week after we got Zarkon that Chris' friends from Taipei drove Gina over. (Their son was one of the boys who walked around Taiwan with Chris.) Fantastic people. I was worried Gina and Zarkon wouldn't get along as Zarkon was jealous and territorial, but they're the best of buds now. Zarkon is a big bully/baby, but Gina knows how to wind him up and she's much faster.

Gina post fixin'

Gina was already vaccinated when the Taipei clan brought her so we just got her fixed and chipped like two days ago for free.The only 2 places to get a pet spayed or neutered for free in Yilan (normally costs around 4000 NT) is either the Yilan Animal shelter, a reputed hideous place or the kind people in Dongshan's  湖光動物醫院 - 宜蘭分院. My car was in the shop and Jenny got some of her dog volunteers to drive Gina to Dongshan to get fixed. I ended up paying 1800 for her and Zarkon's ear mites drops, meds for her skin allergy and meds for her wound to not get infected. I'm very thankful I didn't have to pay for her getting fixed because that money went to fixing my car!

I grew up with a husky but I don't remember it being so tiresome. Taking care of my dogs is exhausting. Now I see why childless people refer to them as their children. I am up every morning between 5:30-6:15 and take them for a run (while I bike) usually before I have coffee and definitely before I eat. I love that time of day, especially where I live and lead them along the river, deeper into the mountains. I was until, we had a run in with a troupe of Macaques two weeks ago.

Around seven or more of them started to cross our path, about 30 meters away, and Gina takes off as she does full speed into the forest, while Zarkon is barking like a nutter and I have him on leash, waiting for them to all cross. There were infants, a few adolescents , the bigger ones were Zarkon's size but heavier. I was flipping scared, utterly defenseless. The troupe had crossed, but their alpha was holding the line as they escaped into the forest. He was barking at us, like ten feet above us, and not liking Zarkon barking at him at all. The branches under him were heaving, leaves were falling, I feared being mauled and jumped on my bike, leaving Gina hidden in the trees and yelled at Zarkon to, "GO!" We made it home and I was just about to get on my scooter and return to for Gina when she comes trotting along from the back way. What a relief, I literally wept from relief.

I haven't been down that bit since, which is a shame because its my home road, just up the mountain and very pretty. I debated getting pepper spray and I'm looking for an air horn (like in basketball) which is harder to find than I thought, so I can just scare any monkeys away. These aren't your friendly, tamed, Kaohsiung monkey mountain sort. They are here almost every morning, this is there territory. So I go downriver where the mountain is further in land behind the many BnBs, far from monkeys. Its still pretty, but not my first choice.

Zarkon and Gina are hard work, but give us a lot of joy and entertainment (watching them play is therapeutic).  Besides taking them for a run in the mornings, I come home during my lunch break to take them for a quick walk and pee, and then rush home to do the same thing after I clock out.   My kid helps when she can, like in the evenings. In the mornings I feed them dry food from Carrefore and in the evenings mix it up with gourmet wet food from Cookie and Cream a pet store owned by my friend (my former trainer and meat head) who lived in NZ. All his food is high quality, he won't sell animals and he takes in strays too. His big canned wet food is imported from NZ and has clean ingredients, like lamb, pumpkin, chickpeas (and is cheaper than Wonder Pet in front of Luna Plaza).

Sometimes I give them raw, but not everyday its just too expensive buying at the supermarket. My former housemate 17 years ago from my Tamsui days, has a house in Hsinchu and adopted 2 strays herself. Her dogs are on a raw diet and she buys the scraps from the traditional market, costing them 200 NT a week for 2 dogs. Going to the local butchers at the traditional market is next on my to do list. My friend in Dongshan has 12 dogs all on a raw diet which just blows my mind, the expense, the time, the personal sacrifice. Respect.

Its easy to think Taiwan isn't a pleasant place to be a dog.  When I was first in Taiwan 17 years ago (I worked in Tamsui for a year and a half before traveling, going back to school, etc.) it seemed like everyone hated dogs. Then when I returned with my kid in 2008, it appeared like a kind of fad that people have dogs (the little toy ones or an exotic Husky). The problem is people would get a dog and realize how much work they are and then drive out to the countryside, like Yilan and abandon their pooch. My neighborhood in Yuanshan is rife with street dogs, mostly because the farmers don't spay or neuter. Its one of the reasons driving a scooter here is dangerous at night (that and the old people.) Nevertheless, there are just as many people in Taiwan (expats and locals) who are also working tirelessly on the behalf of animal rights, or are responsible dog owners themselves. Recently, Taiwan became the first Asian country to officially ban dog and cat meat for human consumption- yes that's a thing.

If you are in Yilan and want to help, you can go to the Boulangerie Française bakery, ask for Jenny. She is very transparent with her doggie bills and you can be one of those people who monthly helps her pay for taking care for all the strays' food and medial expenses. Likewise, you can visit the kind people at 莉丰慧民V  臉書官網 and buy some of their products that also goes into taking care of strays. Or if you have the space and time, you can just take home a stray.

Next month are 2 holidays weekends (10/10 and Moon Festival) and any other time I'd be planning a short stint somewhere, Japan, Korea like last year. Now, having these wild dogs, who love chasing flying squirrels and scaring wild pheasants, these dogs have domesticated me. I'm more of a homebody now than ever.

List of animal shelters in Taiwan
AIR 宜蘭縣動物權利
Humane Yilan
莉丰慧民V  臉書官網
Taiwan Unofficial Animal Shelter List

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Art of Summer

Over the summer we were fortunate enough to catch a couple of world class exhibitions as well as our local gallery.
"Day Walker" at the Yilan Museum of Art, mid June

I waited patiently for summer vacation and the end of school to take my kid to the National Palace Museum to catch the Musee D’orsay exhibit in July. We went during the work week but it was still so crowded. Tickets were about 700 NT  total and afterwards we walked around the adjacent garden and then had pizza near Shilin MRT station. It was a rare Taipei day trip.

Musee D'orsay exhibit at the Nat'l Palace Museum

The exhibit from the infamous French museum included 69 iconic masterpieces from artists such as Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Millet, Renoir and Gauguin. The most moving works for me were Renoir's "Young Girls at the Piano" as it reminded me of my recently deceased niece with my daughter. The painting always did remind me of them, even when they were just toddlers at my parents' piano (my daughter was blond then). My daughter mentioned it, she knew. 

In my mid 20's living in Capitol Hill Denver I had this calendar of these same masterpieces that I framed and hung around my apartment. I've been to the famous museums of Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Berlin, to the Louvre, but that was so long ago, when I was 18 or 20 years old. I was so grateful to bend the knee to these classics in person, especially Millet's Shepherdess which was always a personal favorite. The colors in person, the lighting can't be appreciated in a replica photograph.

First installation of the Imaginarium exhibit

When we were in Singapore in early July, we enjoyed a guided tour with a Swedish expat who had been in Singapore for 25+ years at the Singapore Art Museum. They were having an exhibit called "Imaginarium" featuring several up and coming SE Asian artists which were quite interactive. My kid liked the remote control wheeled paintbrushes that were linked up with students all over the world.

Last room of the Imaginarium
It was because of our Swedish guide that we just happenstanced upon the "Life is a Heart of a Rainbow"exhibit from Yayoi Kasuma at the National Gallery Singapore. I had no idea she was in town. We changed plans and headed there on foot immediately.

The queen of avant-garde had this all encompassing, colossal exhibition spanning 70 years from her post WW2 early works until recent pieces/installations from this year. It was astounding. It was multiple mixed medias, film, video, sculpture, lighting, music, she even recorded some haunting song she sung in Japanese, playing over and over in a video room.  We enjoyed several of the interactive installations where you'd have to stick your head into a cube and using mirrors, see yourself inside these psychedelic kaleidoscopes. Of course I knew Kasuma's circle obsessions, her spotty universe, and those gigantic canvasses were just brilliant. Yet I really loved her pumpkins and her phallic fascination as a women, trying to make sense of that in a political and intimate way. There was a room for adults only during her 1960's anti -war, nude photographs. My kid indignantly waited outside, craning a neck out of curiosity.

 We waited in line for about twenty minutes,  two by two to go into the Infinity Mirrored Room's Gleaming Light of the Souls installation. They kicked us out after a minute, but it was basically imagining what it would be like to be in Kasuma's brain. It was dark and spotted colored lights absolutely floating all around us. I felt dizzy. 

We had a little time to kill before our High Tea at the Raffles Hotel and admired the permanent exhibits on the first floor of Singaporean artists from the past. It was excellent. It was better than a history book to see life under British colonialism from the point of view of the Chinese.

Kasuma in person

I'd like to think the summer had some kind of positive influence on me. I recently bought some art supplies and started sketching landscapes of my new living quarters and will work up the nerve to delve in watercolors which had always been so scary for me. There was a time I used to draw and paint and I miss it. Beholding these masters' treasures filled the void. 

Yilan Museum of Art in June

In the meantime, (of working up the nerve to paint again) the Yilan Museum of Art as of today began a new exhibit, "The Landscape of Taiwan," ink paintings by the educator/politician Huang Kuang-Nan 黃光男. Admission is free for Yilan residents and the adjacent cafe sells decent tea and sparse lunch dishes.

In June we caught the local exhibit, "Day Walker" at the Yilan Museum of Art across from Luna Plaza. The large blue landscapes, the rich verdent green trees on gigantic canvasses were my favorites. It was all mostly mountains which is my familiar safe place, my reoccurring childhood dream. I love to see artists sketchbooks, and they had several of the artist's (Li Zanheng) encased in glass. This museum is so underrated and never cited in the English speaking newspapers art exhibition weekly sections.