About Me

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Tainan, Taiwan
I'm an ESL teacher from Colorado. I worked in Taipei in 2000 for over a year, paid off my undergrad loans, traveled, saved $ to travel some more. So when I got pregnant in grad school I thought I could return to Taiwan, be economically self sufficient while my daughter masters Mandarin.We came to Tainan when she was 2. Taiwan is an excellent base to explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety and benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shine My Light Thru Cool Colorado Rain

Z, Garden of the Gods 2013

By the time you read this we will be on our trip home, stopping at Japan and LAX before our final DIA destination. This has been the longest month, no the longest summer ever. The whole car wreck, DMV nightmare, being in debt, borrowing, scrimping, its exhausting. I realized that working p/t has perks, I miss my weekly orphanage baby party and time to chill in my hammock. That didn't last long, I needed to work and found some short term contract work in Loudong. Living off half a salary can get me by, but certainly its no picnic in any financial emergency like the past two months. My new job offer came in the nick of time. It will be a relief to be able to save for a trip or not depend on "getting by with a little help from my friends."

Home.

Colorado skies, that dry at altitude lack of oxygen air, will I even notice? Last time we were home was Chinese New Years 2013 for my 39th birthday and my mom's 63rd. Has my heart and lungs atrophied to that of a mere sea level mortal? Probably when I try a new micro brew I'll find out. It will be nice to just relax. This Thursday we are taking an RV to New Mexico to stop at places along the way, the birth home of my mom, some backwater mountain town and of course Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Hot Springs and Pueblos. My kid needs some well deserved daily spoiledness that only grandparents can give. I have 4 brothers to catch up with and two new nephews and a niece I haven't met yet. I will have to swing by Boulder and catch up with friends there too. Busy, busy eating and drinking and making merry- oh life is tough! Of course I plan on camping, horseback riding, going to Red Rocks for a workout and hopefully a decent show.

Ice skating with her cousin 2013
I told my friends I want to do activities I can't do here, like aerial yoga, take a pole dancing class, THC yoga, hit the recently legal edible bakeries and try a little bit of everything. I also know what I don't want to do, I don't want to drink, I cant really handle it at sea level let alone a mile above sea level.  Obviously I want to eat- A LOT.

 


High quality foods (salivation commencing now) spelt tortillas, buffalo burgers, turkey bacon, amaranth flakes, rye breads, sourdough, raw cheeses, pinto beans everyday, New Mexico green chili with every meal. It goes without saying that everything is organic, because that's way my mom rolls. I am going to put my face into a big bucket of cottage cheese and bob for artichokes. The danger is easily putting on 5 kg in 4 weeks and not being able to lose it in 6 months, because I do feel like my metabolism slowed like a switch when I turned 40. I'll worry about that in September.

 


What I am bringing as gifts is tea. High quality, organic Kytoto Matcha. I got them at Santa Cruz (the health food store) and some other teas and little purses/bags. For my nieces and nephews I got age appropriate books and puzzles with Chinese and English. I am also bringing  lots of  cool clothes I've never the occasion to wear and will sell them at the Buffalo Exchange and see if I can get some money or a pair of cowboy boots.

 


I'd also really like to catch a show. I miss good live music. Of course Taipei has music and Kaohsiung and Tainan too for that matter, but I don't have the opportunity to go out much.



 Speaking of music, this is a sample of what I'll be listening to on my 24 hour trip home (in total). Anyone who knows me intimately, knows, that some of this has been my playlist for eternity, but I've got some new stuff too and all that has to do with leaving Taiwan and going home. Don't read into "falling in love" referring to any person. I know I will fall in love with Colorado again and again.

1. "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" (The Beatles), my air guitar moment.

2. Lost Sailor/St. of Circumstance (Grateful Dead)

Compass card is spinning, helm is swinging to and fro
Oh, where is the dog star, oh, where's the moon.
You're a lost sailor, been away too long at sea.

Some days the gales are howling, sometimes the sea is still as glass.
Oh, raise the main sail, oh, lash the mast.
You're a lost sailor, been away too long at sea.
Now the shorelines beckon, there is a price for being free.

There's a sea bird cryin' and there's a ghost wind blowing
And it's calling you, to that misty swirling sea.
Till the chains of your dreams are broken,
No place in this world you can be.


3. "Let It Happen" (Tame Impala)
4. "Eventually" (Tame Impala)
5. "Leaving" (Pet Shop Boys)

I know enough's enough
and you're leaving
You've had enough time to decide
on your freedom
but I can still find some hope
to believe in love

Believe in love
Don't go away

6. Hearts Like Ours (The Naked and Famous)
7. Dawned on Me (Wilco).

Every night
Is a test
To the east
From the west..
I forget 
That I know
I regret
Letting you go
Sometimes
I can't believe
How dark it can be...So far And so forth and again I will start to begin at the end

8. "Punching a Dream" (The Naked and Famous)
9. "Morning",  "Say Goodbye" (Beck)
10."Empty Threat" (Kathleen Edwards)
11. "Johnny Delusional" (FFS)
12. "Black Sun" (Death Cab for Cutie)
13. "Lampshades on Fire" (Modest Mouse)
14."Super Hero/Epic/Sunny Side Up/Midlife Crisis" (Faith No More)

Rainbows will bend for me
Curvy
Honey bees will sting for me
Stingin', stingin'




15. "From the Dead " (Faith No More). I don't know how Gould and Patton found me, but somewhere along the time space continuum, they wrote this song that is basically me at this moment or near future. I am the lion back from the dead (my family coat of arms,  my home is near mountain lions). I am dead right now, on auto pilot, my background is the Grateful Dead. If I could cry it would fill a canyon. Compared to Colorado, living in Taiwan is sleeping on the forest floor. I am going home to the open arms of old friends and family and I am going to unwind and rest. What breaks my heart about this song is I miss their Red Rocks Show by a week, which is a travesty. If I didn't start my new job Aug 31st, I'd change my plane ticket in a heartbeat. When they play this song at Red Rocks I should be there.

Homecoming parade
Welcome home my friend
There'll be no more sleeping on this forest floor
Open heaven's door
Comin' 'round the bend
Welcome home my friend
There'll be no more weeping like a canyon gorge
Hear your lion roar
Around you, 'round you
I can see you shining like a morning sun
Hear your lion roar

Around you, 'round you

I can see the parade
Welcome home my friend
We come back to history in present times
Watch your watch unwind
We've been turning mysteries to nursery rhymes
Sigils and more signs
Around you
Watch your watch unwind
Back from the dead
I can see the end

Welcome home my friend

Dinosaur Ridge, 2013

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fear and Self Loathing in Wai'ao

Thursday Z and I took a surf lesson. It was beyond enjoyable. The waves weren't as cooperative and were changing so much in the few hours we were there, it was educational for me to learn how to read them better. Our coach was a semi- pro surfer from Santa Clara and very on top of my kid's safety (there were rips). I think I made progress from last summer. Best Thursday afternoon ever. It's was starting to feel like summer vacation.

We made it to a pizza party at Wai'ao with the same people. It started out great, but I couldn't handle my alcohol at all. I basically let responsible adults babysit my kid and me. It was my worst mom moment ever and quite public. A gracious surfing couple down the road let us crash with them. The self loathing is at critical mass, the guilt is enormous. No kid should have to witness the downward spiral of their parent like that. My parents certainly never did that, so I feel like I let them down too. I don't think I am incriminating myself, as this was a one off, but I am hardly taking it lightly.

To my kid's credit all  Sunday, she felt the need to talk about it in very mature terms, "When you said this I felt ___" Last night you made me feel___." I had to repeat as many times as she needed that my behavior was no way her fault and I was just a crappy parent straight up.

At last night's bedtime prayers she prayed, "God please help my mom forgive herself because she really is most of the time a good mom," which was a relief  yet a short lived one as no kid should have to ruminate that for themselves.

Talking it out with my girlfriend who came over yesterday helped. I already told her how when I was pregnant with Z, I had to see a counselor because I was struggling with fear. I wasn't experiencing panic/anxiety attacks or having some social fear of leaving the house, I just felt unsafe almost everywhere I went. This us after living in the UK, traveling alone in "unsafe" places like the Middle East and India. I actually felt safer there, despite having some unsafe situations: I got jumped on a beach in Dahab with my girlfriend at night alone, I was caught in a gun battle between Pakistani Kashmiri separatists and the Indian army in Srinagar and on a separate occasion had to sleep in the same tent as the Indian captain (with 2 Russian tourists) because they didn't want us being picked off by separatists while climbing down the mountain late and starting a war. Despite very real experiences I still felt ok. Then moving home 22 weeks pregnant, was a leap in faith. My daughter's father was sending me threatening emails, calling me drunk, threatening me, and he likes to target shoot for fun. I was so scared he'd come by my parents lit with a gun. Its why I almost stayed in England.  Also in the news during that time, were several pregnant women around the country who were attacked and their in utero baby taken out. I would go for a daily walk around the neighborhood and these 2 Mexicans slowed their car down and checked me out. I was terrified. It took the joy out of living, I had to see a professional. I felt like the whole environment of the States, sure its a comfortable lifestyle, but I felt bombarded by misogynist messages and I didn't feel secure at all. I felt hyper vigilant because something terrible was going to happen at any moment.

I think since having my daughter and moving to Taiwan, yes I feel safe, but that whole struggle with fear didn't just disappear. I can't just tell myself stop being afraid. I believe my inner demon, those fears were pushed down, compartmentalized and still absorbing energy.  They come out sometimes, like the first 24 hours of my period, or when I turned down an amazing job offer teaching at a University in Yunnan, but didn't because of fear. I told my friend, that I realize I am afraid of being afraid, how even more messed up is that? Thankfully she gave me a hug, cheered me up and didn't judge me.

I thought crazy thoughts like, if I were in a relationship with a man he'd protect me (from myself), he'd take care of me and Z and that night wouldn't have ended so messy. The thought was fleeting, I need to have self control. I couldn't sleep last night, the guilt was colossal. There are some choices I can make now on my own and for the rest of it, I obviously need other people to help. I vowed to myself and my kid to never touch hard alcohol again, I just can't handle it, I normally don't drink it, so I don't know why I thought I could Saturday. Honestly one (or more) of my bros are the same. Maybe its our Native American ancestry, but I am convinced after Saturday I physically can't metabolize it. Then I starting naming my fears, maybe if I bring them into the light, they will lose some of their grip: the fear something would happen to my daughter, fear of being poor (which has already happened), fear of growing old and getting fat (which is happening), fear of driving in Taiwan (the worst has happened), fear of being alone indefinitely, (I recently ended a relationship) fear of failing as a parent, there's so many, I named so many last night.

As for outside help, there's an American psychologist in Dongshan, I am going to have both of us meet her when we return in September. This hasn't been an easy year for us at all. We moved from the only home she can remember (Tainan), and she changed schools 3 times, I changed jobs 3 times. The most scary experiences of my life happened this year with her: the amphetamine crazed attack in Kota Kinabalu and the car wreck where I almost killed a lady on a scooter. I think on some level I am so out of touch with myself, with fear and stress loads. I got into the bad habit of when she goes to sleep I watch TV, mindless entertainment and not very cheerful ones or surf the internet. I need more of a release other than TV or exercise. I am going to really be intentional with devoting time to prayer and meditation. I want to start reading fiction again. I've been stuck in non-fiction since University, I miss making time to appreciate good writing, a good story, that part of me has been neglected.

Being "together" and happy on a conscious sober level while having a subconscious Shadow of fear energy pretty much means my waking life is a fraud, an utter inauthentic illusion. Maybe that's why I hold people at a distance. It must affect my parenting, I am even afraid of my daughter becoming a teenager; that doesn't sound like the most anchored foundation to parent a teenager. When we went to the Canada Day celebration (when I had 2 beers and a lot of food in the space of 5 hours) Z told me she was afraid to go on the MRT because of the stabbing (there has since been 2 more stabbing sprees). I tried to reassure her, but honestly it was a lie, I was afraid too. I was hyper-vigilant and ready. In fact when I go home, I am going to ask my special forces bro (who competes at the Denver MRA circuit) how to deal with a nut job with a knife.

Finally last night in my bout of shame induced insomnia I realized that I haven't been practicing my faith at all. Sure I know God loves me and if God is Love, "perfect Love casts out fear" (I John 4:18) then I have been just dipping my toes in that water, I haven't been immersing myself and I know why. I've been questioning some things. I have 2 dear friend in Taiwan who are followers of Master Miao this Zen guru and they both say the same thing how he has changed their lives, so many peoples lives are transformed. My dear friend in Denver she has a guru too and when I see these people whose lives are actually improved in health, finances, peace I wonder if I shouldn't check it out too. Then I feel guilty I'm cheating on Jesus, so I haven't been able to really move beyond this point.

Ultimately I came to the genuine conclusion that all these fears I have, are projections, that what I'm really afraid of is myself. The ugly truth is under the right circumstances I am capable of doing anything, and that indeed is a scary thought.

Its with this heaviness of spirit, that I pack and tie up lose ends for our flights home tomorrow.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Smell You Later Kindergarten!


Today doubtlessly was my last day of teaching kindy. Its such a relief not to teach kindergarten and I love that age, with kids' brains like sponges its gratifying as a teacher. Yet teaching kindy in Taiwan is such a game show despite just leaving one of the better bosses. There were times the past 7 years (bloated graduation ceremonies on steroids, monthly telephone teaching, gate duty, leading morning exercises, PTA meetings, testing 4 year olds, irrelevant staff meetings) when I had to suck it up and grit my teeth.



Teaching kindy in Tainan and here in Yilan  (at Chung Dau and Maple Leaf) I can see what works for me and what doesn't. Share Fun in Tainan was full day English with the same class, with a focus on project/theme teaching, so I had a lot of freedom to take them as deep as I wanted and incorporate our theme into other classes, like art, science, reading, phonics. There weren't so many books (yet they could read) and the kids were busy cutting, gluing, painting, cooking and language was natural and holistic because our theme was reinforced in different subjects. I found reading material that had to do with our specific theme.


 For example, we did a K2 theme on flowers, so I focused on the two most commons flowers in Tainan, the lotus and orchid; we made vases for mother's day, had a drama area of a flower shop, learned the parts of a flower and took 2 field trips one for lotuses and one for orchids. We baked vanilla bean cupcakes, vanilla is an orchid and made vanilla bean ice-cream in zip lock bags.

 





In Chung Dau I was one of many teachers the kids were exposed to, so that was good for them listening to a Kiwi or South African accent, but too many books in my opinion and hardly acceptable ones, they seldom did art, and I never met any parents. Maple Leaf my (last school) ran like a well oiled machine, no need for staff meetings, all materials provided for, I just plugged in, but they also had tons of albeit, first rate text books. They crammed so much material in one morning at the expense of art, play, hands on science and cooking; which I suppose is the sacrifice for half day English. They had one PE class a week and one Art or Cooking class, which isn't enough. I tried to incorporate as much art as I could, and my boss encouraged me to be as creative as I wanted (yipee), but it was almost too difficult with their merciless curriculum. The books at Maple Leaf are superior, but overkill. For example, The Hooked on Phonics books of course are classic, kids need phonics to read and for pronunciation, but you don't necessarily need books for that.


A lot of what's lame about corporate kindergartens in Taiwan comes from paying parents having unrealistic and dare I say cruel expectations of their kids "performing" (come speak English for your aunts and uncles) at the expense of health and play, despite play being the ideal form of learning at this age. Having a shitload of books justifies the parents paying a majority of their paycheck to a kindergarten that sticks their foreign staff at the front gate. I may sound harsh on parents when they are victims of the system too, but they are the consumers and should have more of a say. On a personal level, most of the parents of my classes were well educated, well traveled, high earners who appreciated a holistic project oriented learning. I pretty much was blessed with great parents every semester, which isn't always the case. It was easier having a relationship with parents in an all day kindy, I missed that working part time.


Another example of a K2 theme/project was devoting a month to Foods of the World, I only remember doing Mexico and India. For the Mexican week, our reading was a Salsa recipe, which we made, along with burritos, a pinata, cactus art and we learned the Mexican Hat Dance.

 



 In Tainan I had to give my kindergarten classes (including K1 and K2) midterm and final exams including written and oral sections. We had to record the oral exams with video cameras and when the school extorted crappy results (big surprise because its no fun having a camera in your face) they started using mp3 recorders. Parents need evidence you see, or at least that's what the manufacturer/managers believe. Its end results focused and not valuing the process. Unfortunately it turns kids off learning all together. There are funner ways to assess young learners.

Other things that suck about teaching kindergarten here, is the Taiwanese staff working longer hours for less pay (sure they get much fatter Chinese New Year bonuses, a month's wages) and well its plain illegal for kids that young to learn English. I certainly wont miss jumping out doors with my indoor shoes on, in the rain because the government showed up without warning, despite having an APRC. Good riddance to all that.

Nevertheless, teaching kindergarten has its rewards, of course the kids, I got my daily fix of hugs and singing and dancing, but also its a great schedule. I have been lucky as well, my bosses were decent too. My first Sharefun boss sponsored Z's airfare one trip home and bought me a new refrigerator. There were times I needed loans for a trip and I never had a problem. My second Share Fun boss gave me a nice bonus my last year and would of doubled it if I stayed on. Of course I am highlighting the positives. On the negative side, there was little trust between management and teachers, it wasn't transparent and teachers got different treatments. The manager I worked for was an abusive, sadist and I saw dozens of good foreign teachers (with teaching licenses) leave solely because of her. Finally at Maple Leaf, it was my first time working under a foreigner, a Canadian and he was down to earth, mellow, easy going and also gave me loans and extra hours when I needed it. In fact I was happy to stay there until my new employer hunted me down and swept me off my feet.



What could improve about kindergartens in Taiwan is:

1. Make it legal, as everyone does it anyways.

2. Educate parents on the importance of play, exercise and enjoying the outdoors and incorporate this into the school's style and class curriculum.

3. Let teachers have regular raises. Years of loyalty should be respected. I know what its like to feel like a slave, being chained to a school for 5 years so I can apply for an APRC. Bonuses would be nice. Extracurricular activities at night or Saturdays, like telephone teaching or graduation ceremonies should be paid. This is time away from our families and self care. I don't think signing any contract that stipulates a monthly salary includes these kinds of activities is legal for one thing. That totally nulls the contract in my opinion and can be contested by higher powers.

4. Educate parents on how diet and lack of sleep affects their kid's ability to focus and learn in class. Inadequate sleep is a social travesty that cuts across all generations here and the problem is totally unrecognized.

I am looking forward to Monday morning and not trying to be late for punching in my time card. I have another month of this morning bliss.

young yoginis 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cut a Rug Canadian Style


Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends! I still have this fantasy of settling somewhere in B.C and sea kayaking along the coast everyday.


Last Saturday we went to Taipei to celebrate an early Canada Day.  As we walked from the closest MRT station,  following the trail of Canadian flags to the park, Z sang the theme song from the Quebecois TV show Just For Laughs.  She cracked me up. To her 9 year old mind that show, which she loves is her biggest connection to Canadian culture. 

The event was quite the extravaganza. Although I didn't catch up with my party hearty Canadian co-workers, we made new friends. I partied with my kid which was a treat. Z made a new friend at the bouncy castle straight away and they were inseparable. Like the other girl's Dad observed, "It was bounce at first sight", her parents both work at the Canadian embassy. Z and her new friend were dancing right in front of the stage, They were getting into it, I had to join in. The girl's Dad exclaimed, "Your daughter is a party animal!" 



 Z  rode a mechanical bull and lasted 82 seconds (the top was 94), she got the first round of applause, the organizer said, "that kid is special." She makes it look easy. Soon after she finally got thrown off, many adults followed but they didn't last as long. The adults also held on with both hands and still they didn't last as long: 7 seconds, 12, 22 and when they got off they were so dizzy they couldn't walk! Before they got on, she told the men, "See if you can beat me," which made their friends laugh. I didn't appreciate at the time how well she did, until I watched them. The one guy who came the closest was wearing jeans, was tall enough to hook his legs under the bull, and he was heavier. The winner was 94 seconds, a small guy, we met him, unfortunately we didn't see him ride.


 After the last band finished (an amazing Latin, Rumba, reggae band with trombone, trumpet and various percussion) Z somehow made it on the stage to help announce the raffle winner (as she could read the Chinese name.) My kid was quite the little Canadian girl for the day, waving her little maple leaf flag beside her new friend.


Z in the limelight

Delicious food, and beers, ales and stouts, were plentiful. I saw so many beers I'd never seen before, I didn't know where to start, so started with a stout then later had a local micro-brew from Hsinchu. Our late lunch was also our dinner. We were full from the Texas Roadhouse ribs and sliders. The night ended with a bang of a fireworks show. Z and I crashed hard on the bus ride back to Yilan, it was a late night for both of us, but she is still raving how it was the best weekend ever.


Hakka Cultural Park
Its a serene park in the middle of the big city.




Monday, June 29, 2015

Embrace the Sun: First Dragon Boat Fest in Yilan

Dragon Boat Festival to me is synonymous with celebrating the power of the sun. The locals have their sun related traditions. The solstice was the 22nd, and the first International Yoga Day was the 21st. In superficial solidarity I attempted the 108 sun salutations to test my endurance and will (in my case lack of will), I only made it to 50. I had places to be and my wrists were getting sore. I am sure I would of injured my wrists doing 108, and although my ego would be proud,  my body would rather I listened. Next year I think it would be possible to complete 108 sun salutations if I was flowing with a group and raising money for a charity.



We live for three day weekends. Unfortunately I was and am still flat broke (read previous posts on car and driving trouble) so lack of funds made staying home bound the only choice. That's ok we watched boat races on the Dongshan river park (冬山河親水公園) under the shade of some trees. It was a completely different experience than Tainan. We lived about a minute drive away from the boat races in Anping which were held at night and were extremely crowded, night market like affairs.



 In Dongshan, the boat races were held in the morning and the park itself was spacious. hardly any crowd at all, we watched a few races under the shade of a tree. One thing both cities' boat races have in common, watching them once is enough. My daughter older so maybe next year we can actually be in the boat.


On Saturday Z still had her violin class, I still had my Muay Thai Kickboxing on Friday and I still had to tutor (they all canceled last minute anyway), so we couldn't really go up to the mountains and pitch a tent anywhere. It was boring but relaxing. I hope I will be in a better place financially to go somewhere for next Dragon Boat weekend, but we had no complaints. In the past we have gone to Green Island, Orchid Island, or Nantou. Z just played outside with her neighbor friends and I listened to music in my hammock.


Best seats on the river watching Dragon Boat racing with my daughter, eating passion fruit slushies- priceless!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Better to be one small candle: New Job!



Well better find Z an anchingban because I accepted the job offer from  Huey Deng High-school! 

Ms. Chang said I was their # 1 candidate (always nice to hear), but for the full time position I would have to teach, Peace and Social justice classes to 3 diff grades (7,8,9) and have to design 3 different curricula. It was just too much prep work, I turned that down.




 So she was willing for me to go part time and teach just higher level 9th graders and give the other classes to candidate #2 (an American from NY), which was ok, I could still teach my kindy in the mornings. Then I thought that getting off at 12 and rushing to my next class at 1:15 in Yuanshan too stressful, less prep time if I was p/t. So she was flexible enough to come up with a different full time position. I still teach 12 9th grade peace and justice classes, plus 12 7th grade Reading classes. I told her reading classes to lower level 7th graders, been there done that, but the cool thing about this reading program is, its for parents who want their kids out of a traditional classroom, yoga, gardening, etc, up to me, the limit is my imagination.



 Did I mention, all classes have a Taiwanese co-teacher present, the salary is better than I thought, and she would give me 1500USD up front reimbursement for my trip home this August! I wasn't planning on giving her an answer today, but I did! 

So now I get to design a course based on themes like Poverty, Racism, Gender Discrimination, Environmental Injustice....I am so psyched to start finding materials and books!!!

 Its as if this job was created for me!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Grass is Greener in Yilan: Tainan and Yilan Comparison

A year in Yilan next month; time flies!
We lived in Tainan for six years before we moved to Yilan, which is the at the very opposite direction geographically. Next month we will be in Yilan a year now.

My first impressions are still fresh and some have or have not changed within the past year. Here are some of them:

1. What are those scooter windshields? The scooters in Yilan all have big, weird windshields. I did not see these in Tainan, and I carelessly figured they were for insects (don't laugh). I now am pretty sure its for the rain.

2. Where are all the drinking water stations? In Tainan it was very easy to fill up your massive water containers for drinking water at the water stations conveniently located every other block. They look like mini gas pumps and are very cheap.  When we moved to Yilan I didn't see any and when I asked people about it they all said the same answer: "What are those? The water in Yilan is fresh." My apartment building is new so I just boil mine from the tap, which is what most people here do. I have seen 2 new water station around the Yilan area, about two months ago for the first time, but none conveniently located near me.

Speaking of water, water is everywhere; lakes, rivers, the coast, waterfalls, my dehumidifier. Aquarian shenanigans, I'm in my element. There's no chance of a drought here, for now.

Dahu Lake at dusk, nearby taro fields
大湖
3. Tainan is by far more cosmopolitan. Tainan people like to think of themselves as more country folk compared to Taipei or Kaohsiung, but actually nothing feels more backwater than a ten minute drive outside Yilan. Whip out the Chinese banjos, it gets quickly a Mandarin episode of  Deliverance. Speaking of Chinese banjos, I can't count how many people actually play Erhus here. I saw my first one from my landlady's daughter. Its a Chinese fiddle whose body is covered by (legal) python skin. At least one person in every family I've come across plays one, not to mention piano and a local reed recorder. I don't judge this as redneck at all, but an example of how traditional and rich the culture here still is.

There's lots of fishing options for Z's inner Huck Finn
 I remember one of our first out of town explorations, we were lost and my daughter asked an old lady how to get to this lake and the old lady answered, "Shut up! Go away!" My kid's feelings were hurt, we were all shocked. I told Z not to take it personally, "The old gran probably never saw a green eyed foreign kid speak impeccable Chinese before and thought you were a ghost." That made her feel slightly better.

I figured because Yilan was closer geographically to Taipei it would be like Tainan or better but the mountains are still a natural barrier and the Snow mountain tunnels to Taipei were recently built, so its still very Chinese hick, farmer mentality. When I picked up my kid at school last Friday some of the kids still wear the traditional rice paddy farmer hats to protect themselves from the sun.
Taking a break on our bike ride

4. They drive worse in Yilan. Driving and parking is a nightmare, maybe I was spoiled living and working in Anping, I hardly needed to commute. In Yilan I have to commute to Luodong for jobs here and there, for my kid's violin class. The immigration office is in Luodong. People just park in the middle of a lane and put on their hazards, while the rest of us have to squeeze through. Sure Yilan drivers heed red lights better than Tainan drivers, but other than that I'd drive in Tainan any other day.

5. I've had more job offers here. I came here for a nice job at a private boarding school Chung Dao. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I since found a great boss and set-up 5 minutes away from my house and he's promised me more afternoon hours next semester. Since then, I was offered a job at a private boarding Waldorf school in Taitung, (which I turned down). This past month I've been doing some short term contract work, doing video and voice recording for the Education department of Yilan on a new project and if all goes well, the producer will launch a project in the business market and I'll have more work. Easy money and unexpected. I thought jobs like that only existed in Taipei. I also give private yoga classes, tutor private English classes and have had to turn away people because my time is already booked.

Just last week the better private boarding school outside Yilan, Huey Deng offered me a nice contract with a higher salary than anything I've seen. We are meeting for coffee this Thursday but I'm leaning on staying with where I'm at, just because I don't want to commute (even 20 minutes) and I don't want to be a slave to a school. The biggest temptation besides the salary, is I would be teaching Social Studies with an emphasis on Peace and Social Justice, which is basically what drives me. Imagine teaching what I actually have degrees on!? Further down the line when I move on to jobs that are perhaps in this line of work (returning Stateside), it would look great on my resume. I also believe that getting kids passionate about social justice issues is a safeguard for democracy in Taiwan, which is literally threatened by China. To be continued...


6. Tainan has better food, international food options and a night life scene. I took it for granted until after I left and even returning for a visit, the average hole in the wall is still noticeably better in Tainan than Yilan. Even the best restaurants in Yilan are a hit or miss, with the exception to Balagov's Ukrainian Cafe which is reliably satisfying. The wonderful Italian place down the road from us Tavola is the only place in Yilan where you can eat foods with Ricotta, the food quality is excellent, but I recommend ordering to go. We ate there the other week and it was so loud, my daughter and I couldn't even hear one another over our table. People were literally shouting at each other. I told the people next to us to keep it down, but since everyone else was shouting at each other, they were soon yelling across their table again. Little things like that, being served dessert before our main plate and having to explain why that isn't what we want, (8Nanana) little things like that, I miss Tainan. When a new MexTex place, Slobber recently opened up, everyone cheered. I mistakenly ordered the worst things on the menu both times (skip the Nacho plate or 4 cheese sandwich). I will have the smoked salmon salad next time, it looked amazing. That's about as good as it gets (other than Balagov's).

7. Yilan expats are more private. In Tainan, foreigners pretty much know each other, there's a handful of bars, venues, people can congregate and like a small town everyone knew each other's business. Which can be a good thing too, because there's a kind of solidarity, network. Sure I knew some more solitary souls in Tainan who kept to themselves, but I still knew them. There are long term expats who have been in Yilan for decades who surprise each other when they meet for the first time. The number of foreign women in Yilan are even more minuscule, we are like rare Youtan Poloa flowers. I liked my occasional once every 2 years ladies night in Tainan. The single Canadian gal I work with, she goes to Taipei every weekend, the rest are older moms, my age and are busy with their kids and businesses.

1 Minute from Yilan Sports Park

8. Yilan is still the outdoor lovers paradise. Enjoying the outdoors either mountain or sea is more accessible and more convenient in Yilan than Tainan.  You don't have to drive far, but you certainly could, Yilan County is massive. That first impression hasn't changed, there are always river hideaways, aboriginal villages, almost private beaches to explore that long term expats who know seem to keep greedily to themselves.

9. Aboriginals have more fun. Having relationships with Taiwanese aboriginals is a recent benefit of living in Yilan. Our neighbors, Z's classmates and friends are Atayal tribe and it brings a richness to our lives here that we didn't have in Tainan.

10. The grass is literally greener here. It's flourishing all year, especially now when green rice paddies stretch as far as they eye can see between the coast and mountains. It smells marvelous every morning. In Tainan, the parks were more dusty than verdant, the air is full of pollutants and irritants. That alone is enough to breathe deep and be grateful about.

My classroom nemesis

11. The critters here are scarier. Included in the greener grass and generally wetter climate means I come in contact with nastier critters. Poison vipers, centipedes, gargantuan spiders, macaques. I am not a fan. Our school seems to have  these enormous wiggling centipedes and our S. African coworker is the registered critter disposable call to. Fortunately there are none in my home, but my kid found a gorgeous full snakeskin for her bizarre collection.



Its absurd to judge which place is better. I felt stuck in Tainan with my job, and lack of job options. Life there was comfortable and I needed to take a chance and get out of that comfort zone.

I tend to reckon where I am right now is the paramount place to be.