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.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Autumn: It Blows Hot and Cold

What a relief, November is nearly finished and winter is nipping at our heels. Its difficult to pinpoint exactly when autumn came and left. I think winter officially came two weeks ago, when we started to wear coats and sweaters, and of course its been raining most of the time since.

I think autumn in Yilan started sometime after all those typhoons hit Taiwan in a cluster in September and October; Meranti hit during the Midterm Autumn Festival and later Megi, with some tropical storms in between. We were blessed in Yilan. The TV news anchor literally said both times how there seemed to be a slice of typhoon cut out over Yilan; Tainan and Taitung were hit harder, there were places nearby in Dongshan and and Sanxing without power for several days, but my daughter and I, except for leaking windows, were fine. We enjoyed the extra days off.

In the beginning of October, we finally were able to explore some of the nearby Fushan Botanical Gardens 福山植物園 (by reservation only.) We saw rare water birds, bats and macaques. A winter return is necessary if only to catch rare rhododendrons in blossom. Can you believe pangolins live there too? But impossible to see them during the day.

For our 10/10 Holiday weekend, I took two more personal days off and took my daughter to Busan for a long weekend. South Korea was still recovering from their own massive typhoon (Chaba) and they were just finishing their beach cleanups when we arrived. It was a thrill to leave hot, sticky Yilan and feel a raw autumn bite in the air, even in the sun. Unlike Seoul, Busan is super chill and the trip was extremely relaxing.

Hakka Farms outside Hsinchu

In the beginning of November, we went to Hsinchu to stay with one of my oldest Taiwanese friends, Monica and her husband Roger and son Mark. Monica and I worked together 16 years ago in Tamsui. It was great to hang with them again, as they are fabulous hosts. We met them in Taipei and they stopped at a beautiful historical gardens of the Lin An Tai House from the late 1700s. Our kids played tag among such venerable beauty as I happily snapped pictures. Roger didn't mind driving us up to the mountains of  山上人家森林農場, as high as we could go, stopping at Hakka farms drying sticky sweet persimmon along the way. Another relaxing weekend enjoying the season.

Then the American election hit me, and probably most expats, like a reality grenade. Rattled, baffled and then after the shock, just more concerned in general. With the days getting shorter, nature seems to be mirroring our own fascination with darkness, sensing this undertone our time is running out. Turning inward, with greater solitude, finding solace in prayer, feeling my own inadequacy, culpable complacency. My bubble burst, my winter came.

I got a surprise last week; 2 free tickets to hear Jane Goodall speak with President Tsai-Yingwen at Taiwan University of Science and Technology. My kid and I made it for the bus station after work and were just 5 minutes late, we felt so blessed. Professor Goodall credited her mother, her dog, she talked about the intelligence of animals, how even bees can learn from watching other bees, the intelligence of octopi. President Tsai-Yingwen talked about her needy cat and apologized for all her security. I had long planned on a weekend trip to Taipei for cultural outings, but never seemed to make it. Hearing Jane Goodall's gentle wisdom was influential on my kid. Her eyes swelled up with indignant tears when Goodall told the young people, "Your future hasn't been borrowed, but stolen!" Not leaving us there, she encouraged everyone as individuals to make the right choices, collectively we can reverse climate change, although the window is small and immediate.

I suppose that's what autumn feels like now, a small window of light fading, time is shorter, latent with importance. Being away these eight Thanksgivings, it all seems such a shallow shadow from over here,   especially in the light of the Oil Pipeline Protests. Still I try to make giving thanks a daily devotion and I'd had loved to sit with my family for dinner, all 4 brothers together.

My kid loves the short days and rainy weather, Yilan is perfect for her. My ideal day is right now, the heavens like dark blue corduroys, thick on the verge of pouring, but it doesn't and its just too brisk for short sleeves (because of the humidity); which is what I wear anyways, so I can run up the four flights of stairs without breaking a sweat.  As I keep pace with the year's coming end, autumn was one walloping exhalation.

Green Dream, Fushan Botanic Gardens, October

Friday, November 11, 2016

Post Trump Blues in Taiwan

“I am concerned that Taiwan will end up as a bargaining chip, because Trump is a businessman who cares primarily about his interests,” -former National Security Bureau director Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝)

I feel like I physically got kicked in the stomach. I melted, an instantaneous and lingering implosion. I am still reeling. Imagine my funniest robot voice, " Can not compute, can not compute." But there was nothing funny about the US election results in Taiwan. Our office all week has been as depressing as a funeral parlor. My three Americans coworkers (Vietnamese American from Seattle, Black American from Brooklyn and me Chicana from Colorado) obviously did not vote for Trump.

Disappointments aside, there is the messy aftermath, not just at home but all over the world (in Europe especially). How is Trump's victory perceived in Taiwan?

First of all, most Taiwanese I talked to were shocked. As the electoral college results were coming in around lunchtime, all eyes were glued to our lunchroom TV news. Co-workers I've never talked to before (there are hundreds, its a big school), were asking me basically, "What is up with this Trump lead?" The first feeling was shock, impending doom, disbelief.

Taiwanese TV and YouTube have been very comprehensive in publishing footage of both Trump's insane comments against women and minorities as well as Hillary's email scandal. Their debates have aired with traditional subtitles. It really doesn't do Trump (or America) any favors showing clips of his reality TV shows or WWF appearances. Someone even took the time to put Chinese subtitles to both the original Fox news O'Reilly Factor  with Jesse Watter clip of going into Chinatown and making fun of Asian stereotypes and the subsequent backlash on Comedy Central.

Make no mistake Taiwanese media aired Trump's crowd applauding when he vowed to withdraw American support to US traditional allies in Asia (or Europe) until they pay some of the financial burden for American military defense from a very real China/N.Korean threat. Obviously Taiwan sees itself as one of these Allies - although he never mentioned Taiwan persay. Apparently Tsai-Ingwen, Taiwan's first female president recently met with a Trump representative in October.

Taiwanese Young People:

My students who pretty much know nothing in terms of world history or politics, instinctively fear Trump and perceive him as dangerous for Taiwan. I had about 3 boys out of a couple of hundred express happiness at Trump's victory. I asked why and he answered,"He's a man and so am I." You are too smart to be a sexist I told him. His peers looked at him different after that. The others were shouting, "Trump is so handsome." (No he's not! I'm so sick of this reverse racism where all western men are handsome just because they're western or surround themselves with beautiful women).

What was most confusing to my 7th and 8th graders was their disbelief at Trump being the new president when Hillary won the popular vote. If this were Taiwan, Hillary would be president. So I had to explain swing states, the electoral college using the NY Times interactive map. They didn't buy it, meaning, the whole process seemed ludicrous and devoid of the kind of democracy America seems to sell abroad.

The next question was how, how could America which they assume is this good, morally upright melting pot, would chose a xenophobic misogynist? So I showed them this informative video (with subtitles) of how much of an excellent salesman Trump is. How in a minute answer to Jimmy Kimmel, his language, the way Trump constructs sentences, his easy, one syllable, 4th grade level language can hook in listeners who aren't discerning.

Then I showed them what a peaceful transition of power looks like in a democracy and I myself was encouraged my Obama's professionalism and class. They were soon depressed and worried (the juxtaposition of Obama and Trump worried them) so for comic relief I showed how The Simpsons predicted a Trump presidency. I joked with them that I need to find a Taiwanese man to marry so my daughter could have dual citizenship and quipped if they had any rich, single uncles let me know after class. They laughed. They began trying to wrack their brains for single teachers on campus so I stopped them by saying none weren't my type. "Is your type Justin Bieber?" I roared. My loud laughter freaks them out for some reason. "No! He is too pretty! He's prettier than me!" Now they chuckled. So I showed them a picture of Khal Drogo. Hushed disbelief. They'll get it someday.

I found solace teaching. We were making identity charts and three students disclosed they were bisexual and they hadn't discussed their orientation with their parents yet. I felt privileged and gratified that they would feel my classroom is a safe enough non-judgmental space to "come out." It made my week that much bearable.

Taiwanese Experts:

Like everyone else, Taiwanese international relations academics are fearing the worst and hoping for the best. The worst scenario being Trump sells out Taiwan to China in one of his famous deals. The Taipei forum organized a panel of experts to discuss the possible implication for Taiwan of a GOP controlled America and they concluded,  Our consensus is that we have no idea what he [Trump] is thinking. Read the entire article here.

Representative to the US Stanley Kow met with Trump representatives and told local press he isn't worried, and that, "Taiwan is a vital asset to America." Read article here. He would not comment on Trump's comments of pulling out of S. Korea or Japan but replied that Taiwan should seek a closer relationship with Japan.


 You don't need a degree in politics (I do) to know that Beijing was in full celebration mode at Trump's win. Does he realize how powerful he really is? That even winning, has already destabilized the region?  That's why he was elected I suppose to shake the status quo. While American rednecks are cheering, those of us in Asia just had our blood run cold. A very clear article, "China Just Won the Election," explains China's 4 major victories (and 1 fear) after the Trump victory.

As I already stated, Trump's threat to abandon its Asian allies is beyond frightening.  You know when North Korean state newspaper calls Trump a "wise politician"  regarding his statements-something isn't right. North Korea is telling Trump, "Yes pull out of Seoul so we can unify!" Human rights in the region (and home?) are expected to take a beating. Russia, North Korea and China put on hold a UN Security Council measure to sentence N. Korea on crimes against humanity for their concentration camp prisons. Considering how dissent in the US and people of color are being treated Day 1, it's no surprise, this is the way the wind is blowing.

My Daughter:

When she walked into my office, I told her Trump won and she was also shocked. The first thing she uttered was, "Oh no, now everyone will think my Mom voted for Trump!" Then later that evening it was more questions, "How? Why?" "People want 'change' no matter who it hurts."

She was showing me her Trump impersonations in the car on the way home from school today. I think she's a natural talent, she only just started this afternoon at school. Or perhaps he makes himself too easy to mock, such a living caricature. During their lunch break, they watched Taiwanese news and the local media showed a comparison of footage of Trump's son in the background of his father's victory speech, looking bored and uninterested, juxtaposed with Obama's daughters who were listening attentively, genuinely interested. "Did the news tell you anything about their kids, what did they say?" I asked her. She replied, "No, they let the videos speak for themselves." And then the natural course of the conversation was how she thought Obama seemed like a good father.

The Consensus:

Clearly locals prefers Obama/Hillary and it's not because of some grand media controlled conspiracy, but because Obama and his family are honorable and upright as a family unit and Hillary has decades of political experience. Wholesome family integrity and hard work are very much traditional Chinese principles. A female politician who dedicated her life to politics is very much a Taiwanese ideal, more so than the businessman womanizer. Trump is perceived as a wildcard, ambitious, self serving, an uninformed leader of the uneducated, working class voters, and in an Asian society where education and being informed is highly valued, those aren't positive qualities, let alone anyone to be trusted. (No need to even mention his sexual predatory history which pretty much sealed the deal of his being an immoral leader to Taiwanese.)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Taiwan in Korea

View of Haeundae Beach. Walking around Dongbaekseom Island (동백공원) on a rainy day post Film Festival binge watching.
My daughter and I used the 10/10 holiday weekend, plus a few extra days to take a little breather in Busan, S. Korea. The weather post typhoon Champa was fabulous, clear, with refreshing cold autumn winds, sunny skies, except for one rainy day. On that rainy day we decided to check out the 21st International Film Festival, or BIFF.

Unexpectedly, the first film we watched was from Taiwan, called "The Lost Daughter " directed by Chen Yu-Jie, who also directed award winning Dawn (2014). In the film,  a half sister has a diving accident in Kenting and her living half sister is the prime suspect. More than a, "who done it" movie, it implicates everyone as guilty. The film made my daughter upset unfortunately, but provided an opportunity for reflection and conversation as we walked around Dongbaek Island later. The characters were beyond dysfunctional as that would imply some basic familial interaction. These family members were so remote and removed relationaly, I felt the film's primary message was that modern life in Taiwan still requires strong family ties and that we are are all responsible for one another.

The next movie we watched was from Iran, "The Violinist" which was somber but hopeful, based on a true story. Other movies from Taiwan represented in the Busan Film Festival, was the comedy My Egg Boy and the very serious White Ant (白蟻).

How ironic to go all the way to Korea and watch Taiwanese films, but its not like the two theaters in Yilan have English subs. A rainy day well spent.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Volunteering in Taiwan: A List of NGOs and Foundations

It used to be illegal for foreigners to volunteer, with the risk of being deported, unless they already had their visa through a foundation or organization. Taiwan has been good to so many expats (see previous post) that many have wanted to give something back. Personally, this amounted to the occasional beach clean up and when I was part time, feeding and changing diapers at a local orphanage.

The good news is, the law has relaxed. You don't need an APRC or open work permit to feed your humanitarian urge. Apparently it changed last year unbeknownst to me. If you are looking for a group to plug yourself into, here are some Taiwanese NGOs and foundations. Many of them do take volunteers. They certainly wouldn't reject your donations of you decided to spearhead a fund raising project on your own. The list is hardly complete, scroll down to the databases below:

Taiwan Non-Profits/ NGOs, Foundations A-Z 

Asia Pacific Public Affairs Forum
Asia-Pacific Society of Travel Medicine (ASTM)
Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVRDC)
Asian-Pacific Meeting of Religious (AMOR)
Awakening Foundation 
Beautiful Life Television
Begonia Foundation
Bureau of International Exchange of Publications
Center for the Third Sector
Chi Mai Culture Foundation
Child In Action foundation
Child Welfare League Foundation, R.O.C.
Chinag Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange-CCK Foundation
Democracy Foundation
ECPAT (sexually exploited minors, women)
Eden Social Welfare Foundation (Disability Rights, Poverty, Elderly)
End Child Prostitution Association, Taiwan (ECPAT) Focus: International trafficking and prostitution of teen girls.
Harmony Home Association (shelter, treatment, hospice for HIV)
Garden of Hope Foundation Focus: Child prostitution and sexual abuse.
Girl Scouts of Taiwan
Good Shepherd Sisters of Taiwan (women in crisis, trafficking, single moms, aboriginal families)
Good Shepherd Welfare Services I-Lan Good shepherd Center (Yilan City)
Institute for National Development
Institute of International Relations, Taipei (IIR)
International Cultural Foundation 
Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace - R.O.C.
Kids Alive International (Taitung Christian Orphanage)
Li Tien-Lu Puppet Foundation
Make-A-Wish Taiwan 
Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation
Relief Disaster Foundation
Suan-Lien Elderly Center 
Sunshine Social Welfare (burn survivors)
Taiwan Foundation for Democracy
Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF)
Taiwan Grassroots Women Worker's Centre Focus: Female workers' working rights and health problem. 
Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps
Taiwan Women Development Association
Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation 
Taiwan Zen Buddhist Association
The Big Bear Association
The Dharma Drum College of Humanitics and Social Sciences
The Field Relief Agency Of Taiwan
The Premature Baby Foundation of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
The Society of Wilderness (Environmental conservation and education)
Tien Cultural Foundation
Tien Educational Center Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation Service Center
Vietnamese Migrant Workers , Brides Office
Women Entrepreneurs Association of Taiwan
Women's Federation of World Peace
World Leadership Education Foundation
Youth Pure Love Alliance of R.O.C.
YWCA (AIDS education, women)
Zhi-Shan Foundation (International development/aid)

Here are some more useful links:
Taiwan NGOs
Taiwan Aid (a list of member groups) ++
Taiwan Women's Web
Environmental and Conservation Associations in Taiwan
TEIA (Taiwan Environmental Information Center)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Asia's Best Kept Secret is Out

There's this stereotype in Taiwan of the expat who only comes here to exploit all the goodness this little country has to offer. I've worked with people like that. They're young, like to party and they're teaching children and wind up walking out on the job, etc. But by this recent expat survey, most expats in Taiwan are obviously well aware and highly appreciative of their good life here. Sure its not perfect, (driving + kids in the local education system), but its pretty dang close. (I doubt the expat couple who had to pay a 41,000 USD hospital bill for the birth of their twins would agree.)

InterNations the largest expat network, included Taiwan in their 2016 survey and the outcome was astounding. Well maybe not so much to me, but its confirmed why I've been here for  8 years.

Out of 191 countries/territories, 14,000 expats ranked Taiwan:
~ 1st in quality of life and personal finances
~ 1st  in friendly attitude towards families with children
~ 2nd in working abroad (only behind Spain)
~ 2nd for overall satisfaction of life abroad
~ 8th for "family life"
~ 10th for ease of settling in

Most expats in Taiwan are long term, like myself staying for 3 years (64%) or longer (36%). What is the primary reason for expats loving Taiwan? The people of course.Taiwanese generally are extremely friendly people. I'll give you an example:

My daughter and I just got back from our summer trip to Colorado a few days ago. The other night we were buying fruit at our local stand, NINE white dragon fruits for 100 NT(bumper crop) and a bushel of dragon eyes. As we were leaving, the vendor stuffed another bushel of dragon eyes into my shopping bag. This is common practice, both as a demonstration of appreciating my business , knowing I'll come back. But being away from this for even a month, my kid and I were still blown away, "It's great to be back in Taiwan!" My daughter remarked, " Giving gifts in Taiwan is like saying hello and goodbye." What a beautiful understanding.

 I was still so appreciative, that when I went to pay my late phone/cable bill immediately afterwards, I didn't demand the man who cut in line in front of me to let me go first.

So if you can get over the initial culture shocks, the hurdle of getting acclimated to the climate, the traffic, the food, it really is a comfortable life. Sure makes the ideal base for exploring the rest of Asia while making friendships that last.

Thank you Taiwan!

Friday, August 19, 2016

12 Ways The U.S. Can Learn from Taiwan

As I am here back in Colorado, enjoying the beauty of the Rocky Mountains with my family, I have a lot to be grateful for. I am satisfying myself with delicious foods I can't eat in Taiwan, like green chili, blue corn tortillas, nitrate free turkey bacon, gluten-free everything, not to mention all the legalized edibles.

Still, for a tiny country the size of Rhode Island, Taiwan has many assets going for it that the US could learn from:

1. Guns Are Not Necessary

Gun ownership by ordinary citizens is illegal in Taiwan, although 4000 aboriginals have the right to carry for hunting purposes (as of 2009). In 8 years I have never heard of a hunting accident or any of the daily US headlines of massacres or guns falling into children's hands. You'd have to be living in a hole not have read the vast comparison between the US and the rest of the world in terms of gun homicides and suicides.

Washington Post 2012

2. Health Care is a Right

A single payer, nationalized health care system (全民健康保險) is a no-brainer. Its not rocket science, there's no ideological debate hijacking half the population by throwing around the word "socialism" and it works. Everyone receives a smart card with their patient history, which is fed into a reader for instant doctor analysis and billing. Taiwan has the lowest administration costs for health care in the world, at just 2%, spends 6% of their GDP on healthcare which is about 900 USD per person. How does the US compare? The US spends more than 17% of its GDP per person, ranking 2nd in health care costs after Switzerland- with millions still uninsured, not to mention the highest infant and mother mortality rates of the developed world. (Read AP's Why It Matters)

On the downside, Taiwanese people maybe overuse it too much and naysayers say the current  NHI system is unsustainable, especially with an aging population. I'm confident the Taiwanese can figure out how to fine tune problems, since they have the experience- its been in operation since 1995. They already improved the payment system in 2002. My daughter and I have been benefiting from it the past 8 years, its wonderful.

As for the citizens of Taiwan, 99% of its citizens were covered by 2004. Did I mention the NHI includes TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and treatments like acupuncture, cupping, herbs which costs the same. Its a flat 150 TWD, which includes the meds. If I need x-rays at the dentist I might pay a few hundred NT more which is still less than 10 bucks USD.

3. Nothing is Wasted

Taiwan has the world's most efficient recycling system, with a rate of 55% (America is 35% ) as 2015. My parents have to pay for their garbage trucks to handle recycled material (which means they and many others opt out). My kid an I feel that not recycling is uncivilized, inexcusable. In Taipei alone 4,000 musical trucks, 5x a week come down the neighborhood blocks. Nothing is wasted, even kitchen scraps have their own green truck that's given to pigs and farmers. The schools also collect this green waste.

4. Squating a Garden

There really isn't a whole lot of academic information on this, but just from my observations, it seems if there is an available plot of land, anyone can come in and cultivate a family garden. Small spaces between a rice paddy and an intersection will maximize the small space with a few rows of greens. I've seen old men set up a 2nd house on the beach, complete, with water tanks and fences, with zero interference. There is an actual government administration, the NFP (財政部國有財產署), but I don't see them ever doing anything over small spaces. If a family can grow their own, pesticide-free veggies, why not? All the power to them. Part of the mindset behind this is homegrown tastes better anyways and Taiwanese are all about food.

5. Bullet Trains Rock

Taiwan's highspeed rail (THSR) has been in operation since 2002 and makes travel along the densely populated west coast (reaching 90% of the population) extremely convenient. I used it a lot when living in Tainan and having to go to Taipei to catch a plane. It uses Japanese technology that has safety measures in place for earthquakes, typhoons and landslides. The bullet trains in Taiwan were so successful they out competed planes by 2008.

Considering the US taxpayers bailing out unsuccessful airlines, high-speed trains would seem like an option, yet the US cannot seem to get 'on board'. Even the definition of "high-speed" in the US is up for debate. Meanwhile, while Americans are still debating, Japan is busy innovating their high-speed rail by having it adapt to its environment with a special reflective coating.

6. Be a Giver

Taiwanese custom is based around gift giving. People have always passed me gifts, some situations more formal or informal. Its good etiquette to receive (and give) gifts with both hands. I think its a considerate social practice. It gets tricky when the receiver is required to turn down the gift several times (because humility is valued) and its required to be reciprocal. From a western perspective, if a gift has strings attached, is it really a gift? But often the Taiwanese spirit is generous, while being pragmatic. I think if the whole world re-gifted extra goodies they didn't have need of, the world might be a happier place.

Keep in mind there are certain gifts you must not give in Taiwan, like watches or anything with the number 4.


7. Birth Control in a Snap

Teaching kids about sex is still extremely difficult for parents and educators in traditionally modest Taiwan. Fortunately birth control and the morning after pill is so cheap and available that they can be found in any pharmacy, without moral judgments on women's decency. Oral contraceptives are a low monthly cost of 100 TWD ($3 USD) , the morning after pill is a few hundred NT more. Birth control is so successful in Taiwan that women are having less children every year. Having said that, the dark side is that medical abortions are also considered birth control. Perhaps the vacuum left by parents and educators about the availability of contraceptives and condoms is to blame. Forget the pill, getting a 5 year copper coiled Intrauterine device in Taiwan will cost about 1000 TWD (32 USD), compared with 500-1000 USD, maybe because American women still don't understand all the benefits of the IUD.

8. Bilingual Kindergartens

Its a competitive world, Taiwanese parents want their kids to have an edge, and that means learning English (ideally from a white westerner). The law is vague, in that its technically illegal for kindergartners to learn English, yet everyone does it. Some of my students' parents were judges and lawyers, so its a law parents and businesses choose to ignore. As a teacher its risky, we have dodged out windows and back doors, into secret rooms when the government inspectors dropped by ("raid!"). Even so, the societal value placed on education and the multilingual brain are invaluable. If it were an equal value in the States, most kindergartens in America would be half day English, half day Spanish or Mandarin, because a bilingual brain is more focused and pliable. (Read Psychology Today's article).

9. Female Heads of State Rule

As America is on the verge of electing their first female president, Taiwan did it first. Read about it here.

10. Fast Food Is More than Just McDs or KFC

Sure Taiwan has McD's, KFC and even Subway. We might eat at one of those once every two years, but why would we when Taiwan has this amazing street food culture?

Eating out in Taiwan is cheap and convenient in comparison to America.  It a working single mom's go to when I don't have the time to whisk up dinner in between coming home from work and taking Z to music class. You can pay anywhere from 2 bucks to 20 bucks for a bowl of beef noodle soup. Then there's the whole night market culture where people nibble on a variety of foods, like tapas. Street food in Taiwan is now becoming widely celebrated in foodie culture, as it should be.

11. GMOs are just wrong

Unlike the U.S (and the rest of the world), Taiwan requires by law all its food to be labeled if it has GMOs. The Taiwanese public and government are so distrustful of genetically modified food that they banned them from all public schools. But most Americans, like Taiwanese also want to know whats in their food and supported GMO labeling. The state of Vermont made GMO labeling mandatory, then the federal government got involved and when everyone was watching the Dallas shooter at the BLM protest, Congress passed the Dark Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know). Obama just signed it into law.

12. Paid Family Leave Act 

Taiwan like most of the developed world, values new parents and babies at the critical time after birth. In Taiwan, all fathers receive nine days ( five workdays including two weekends) of paid leave after labor. Mother receive eight weeks paid leave to be used either before or after birth. That time has been amended to include more time for OBGYN visits. Both parents can apply for unpaid sabbaticals up to 3 years after their child is born, including adoptive parents. Financial penalties to employers were raised to combat gender discrimination against childbearing women in the workplace. (For more info read Gender Equality Act Amended...).

How does the US Compare?

 American workers are guaranteed their jobs for 12 weeks of unpaid work since 1993. Doesn't sound so bad until you read the US is in the same bracket as Swaziland, Papau New Guinea and Lesotho for NOT paying their workers after the birth of a child. Considering the US pays so much for health care while not getting so much in return, women and newborns are the ones to suffer.

America is so obsessed with itself, like a teenager or narcissist, is it no wonder the upcoming election has personalities like Donald Trump on the GOP ticket. My country would be wise to look at whats working in other democracies, like Taiwan. More pragmatism, less ideological wars.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pensive Independence Day: Penitence and Prayers for Peace

Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, Itoman
Another 4th of July came and went, and unlike the usual oblivion and neglect I regard the 4th living abroad, this year's was quite meaningful. It was saturated with historical significance, perhaps foreshadowing murky and morose nuances. In light of the current atrophy of the geopolitical world, my day was suggestive; full with sinister symbols and of ominous forebodings.

Of course if I wanted to celebrate the 4th of July, in Yilan, I could go to Taipei and join the younger expats at bars with their theme nights, but that's not my scene. The only other American I know here is my coworker from Brooklyn and Independence Day is really not highly regarded enough to merit any mention. Somehow synchronicity had a different agenda.

It was day two of our two week holiday in Okinawa. I had an itinerary of course, but we were always open to what the day had in store. It was morning, we ate our breakfast (muesli and cereal we brought from Taiwan) and I decided we walk to the nearby bus station in Naha City and see about getting a bus to the second royal residence outside of town (also a World Heritage Site), as we saw the Palace the previous day.

On our walk we passed the touristy Okinawa Bus headquarters. They have day bus tours that can hit 3 or 4 sites in one go, plus lunch. It's not exactly my way to see a place. At 8:25 in the morning it was incredibly hot, so we decided we might as well check it out as we passed by, it had AC. I walked up to the counter and asked about what was available. There was a bus about to leave and it was hitting some of the places on my list anyway. Plus my kid was begging me to go. It seemed like fortuitous timing, and I'm not that dense, I bought our tickets and quickly boarded.

Into the bowels of the Underworld, Gyokusendo
There were 3 other passengers on board. Fortunately it wasn't a gas guzzling coach, but more of a mini bus, yet it was so empty. There was a friendly Chinese couple from Shanghai, who has been living in Oregon for the past 10 years, and a Japanese woman from Tokyo who acted as or interpreter as our guide spoke zero English.

Habu mating (so the exhibit said)
We did a quick stop at Okinawa World, that was far too rushed. This place was on my kid's list for the Habu Snake Museum (and show which our tour didn't have time for), and on my list for their famed Eisa Show. The most famous snake in Okinawa is the venomous Habu. We saw warning signs for it everywhere but fortunately didn't run into any. 

What was on both of our agendas was the Gyokusendo cave.  Caves are a familiar travel adventure for my daughter and I. We have been to some massive, dangerous caves on our Borneo travels. Gyokusendo was more like Disney Land, the pathway was stable, man made, everything was lit, sometimes with colored lights for effects, there wasn't the chocking stench of bat guano that layered handrails. Even so, the safety and sterility of it all, was relaxing, unlike our previous cave encounters.

Serenditous crossing of paths with my old friend Monica at her luxurious hotel, ANAクラウンプラザホテル沖縄ハーバービュー.

The 25 minute Eisa show was everything I expected. Unfortunately we couldn't film or photograph the show itself. Although we sat in the back, Z was called to the center to put her head into one of the Dancing Lions for good luck. It must of worked because we had an intimate turtle encounter while snorkeling a few days, had an unplanned crossing of paths with a dear friend, and another providential Eisa encounter at the more interesting Ryukyu Mura.

Before lunch we stopped at the extensive Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Park. It was blistering outside. I had to drag my kid away from the air conditioned museum to check out to me, the more interesting grounds, which were once the site of the Japanese military headquarters. The memorial commemorates the 3 month Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and the end of WW2. It honors the deaths of 149,329 Okinawan civilians, Japanese soldiers and 14,009 American soldiers by unit. Their 240,000 names are inscribed on The Cornerstone of Peace, a set of onyx stone walls that stretch out for meters in all directions from the pond to the ocean cliffs. It was overwhelming. Okinawan families were instructed to commit seppuki (hari-kiri) or ritual disembowelment if the Japanese lost. Locals were mobilized to fight for the Japanese as Okinawa was the only site of Allies fighting on Japanese soil. Entire families' names gone in a flash to a bomb or ritualized suicide. The place was pulsating with melancholic grief. Just a few days in Okinawa and already I had a vague understanding that Okinawans weren't necessarily Japanese, which made their exploitation all the more bitter.

I was thankful that my maternal grandfather who was in the Navy in Asia during WW2 survived, or there would be no Kathy and Z story. I explained all this to my daughter, along with how my paternal grandfather (who is still alive and she knows) fought in the same war (in Japan and Germany) with the air-force. She was immensely fascinated that this war somehow radiated its tentacled effects even to her- to her very existence.

Facing that wall of names, death was so indiscriminate against which side was who, in that glaring summer light all were pawns. Peace is a park beyond accusation, where all can be guilty and paradoxically innocent. It reminded me of one of my favorite Rumi quotes, "Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doings is a field-I'll meet you there."

My 4th of July prayer

The Japanese commander has his ashes in a special tomb as he also committed seppuki. We made our way there, past the pond to a shaded gazebo. It had a stunted tree adorned with people's written prayers on colorful paper.  Behind was Peace Hill, where all the collective ashes are resting.While my daughter rested in the shade, I was moved quite literally, to a do few round of peaceful warrior and write my own prayer.  I saw a blank piece blown to the ground which invited me to participate. I wasn't condemning of any particular group.

The whole world or my understanding of it, is like that flimsy yellow paper, that even a small wind can blow it off, so fragile. How events could snowball into the atrocities of war is a meditative discipline worthy of daily devotion. It starts somewhere, with someone.

Himeyuri Monument
Down the road, we hopped on our bus beside the southern tip of the island and came into another grim memorial of the Battle of Okinawa, the Himeyuri Monument. This was perhaps even more personal, as a teacher, with my daughter. The site was where 222 girls and 18 teachers from a Confucian "Lily Girls" were recruited to be nurses for the Japanese military. Unlike most Okinawan students, they practiced a strict form of gender separation and were discouraged from talking to boys. Suddenly, they were thrust into the ugliness of war and living in unspeakable conditions (See the Himeyuri Girls). Their clinic was in a network of cave that in the end had to be entered vertically with a rope. I could see a bit of the cave entrance and tried to imagine how it must of been to be a teenager nursing dying soldiers in such conditions.

Afterwards we lunched and got to know our fellow travelers a bit better. We made our way to the Outlet Mall outside of Naha City, which I totally needed to hit, as I forgot to pack my clothes! I was wishy-washy if I should come here and shop for clothes for a 2 week trip, seemed like such a waste of limited funds. The Universe answered my question by just our coming on board this day tour! All we had time for was an hour and I spent the whole time at the Gap trying on clothes.

We were stuck in a traffic jam on our way back to their bus depot and all along I was occupied by what the day meant, seeing these memorials on this day, couldn't be a coincidence. The day was full of happenstance.   Why this day, the Battle of Okinawa, of the effects of WW2, and of the state of the political climate now, the US presidential election, Brexit. I could only interpret that I must be emancipated from the ugly and horrific tyranny that is always around the corner for us humans and our systems, our comfortable choices to be manipulated. That the foundations of America, of world war and Asia, are closer and closer intertwined. Do we never learn that we must repeat history? Praying for peace, practicing peace continually is more a necessity now than ever, and yet I've always ever grown up in a Cold War mindset.

Peaceful  Warrior in front of Peace Hill

 The mystery and peace practice is applying this enigmatic truth of Grace to my dualistic psyche (Ponder the Rumi quote, which is also the essence of real Christianity). The dilemma is that this is impossible without a superlative, universal Being/state of Being, to absorb my ineptitude. The nightmare is when a country drowns in the collective shadow of following a charismatic medium who embodies all that is undeveloped, ugly and hideous in ourselves. The world we are in today is in that trippy, Hypnagogia state between waking and sleep. We are on the threshold. What will they ask of us civilians, soldiers, girls and teachers next time?