About Me

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sweet Talker: Enter the World of Taiwanese Speech Competitions

Early the other Saturday morning, I had to get my daughter ready for her first (and last?) speech competition. We both didn't realize we had entered into this hornet's nest world of school and parent competitiveness.  The whole process started out innocently enough, from her class competition over a section of their reading book to a full on process of elimination,class by class,then school by school. Her class competition had to to be video recorded because last year parents accused the staff of favoritism (" How dare my little genius lose!")

Z with me and her teachers (my coworkers) after her speech

Since she is not a Taiwanese citizen she was grouped into an entirely different category from her classmate, into a larger pool, with older kids. On the contrary had it been a Mandarin speech competition, she would still be with her age group.

I was asked to write her speech (and her classmate's) which was basically her take on the meaning of Christmas using two poems, one about a pine tree and an acrostic poem. Her judges were a panel of 4 foreigners. I think being a foreigner for any period of time here, you either are teaching and preparing a student for one of these or asked to judge one of these. Much rarer it to parent a kid for one of these, yet I saw a whole bunch of western men married to Taiwanese women, with their kid in my daughter's group. It was my first time seeing any of them, but Yilan County is massive.

The parent room for her group

She had to use her precious lunch breaks (which she uses to finish homework) to drill her speech, over and over again. My coworkers also used their precious time to coach her. Memorizing her lines is not problem, she gets that down in 5 minuets whatever the language. She was nervous speaking  in front of judges. Its a new and unknown experience.

A photo from the screen in the parent room.

The competition itself was definitely a downer. We were  not all together  in some gymnasium or stage with an audience. I was ferried into a classroom with a  screen and ghetto sound system that had sound delay and echo and if I hadn't written her speech myself, would not understand or hear what she was saying. She was incomprehensible to anyone else other than the judges. The reason for this was last year, some parents complained that the microphone on the stage was too far away and affected their kid's performance (basically their kid lost). We all had assumed it would be like a conventional set up. She was so looking forward to finding my face in the crowd. I was bummed that the experience of feeding off the energy of the crowd, of being on stage was denied her .

I could tell she was nervous, she did not flash her heart melting smile even once. Later she told me when she arrived, they took her alone to a classroom where she remained for sometime, waiting. She cried. I think it cruel, like unnecessary solitary confinement-- at least have the competitors together, make it communal. She told me her knees were shaking, and I could tell by her eyes which radiated fear from the screen.

Afterwards when she finally found me  (her teachers and I were not allowed to see her until it was over), she cried. It was definitely not how we had expected it.The whole process seemed devoid of human interaction, relating. Parents weren't required to be respectful listeners in the audience, we were on our phones, eating breakfast drinking coffee walking in and out of a sterile classroom. Her saving grace was believing that even if she lost, she could teach people that Christmas was more than a consumerist or hedonist holiday.

In the end she didn't win, she didn't make the top 3, but she did get some sort of special recognition, that the other kids didn't get- probably cutest kid or biggest effort.



On that Sunday night I asked her what was the favorite part of her weekend, and it wast playing at the rad park across our street or our leisurely bike ride along the Yilan coast (see "Easy Riders"), but unbelievably it was her speech competition. She even said she wants to try for the Mandarin one next semester! " Are you sure?"I kept asking. We will see.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Easy Riders

The gorgeous, empty and accessible bike path along Yilan's coast

I was sort of lamenting my kid's lack of biking skills, which is my fault, I mean practice makes perfect. She doesn't have my childhood of free summers cruising on our  bikes, making jumps, going to the library alone, unattended. So it is no surprise she isn't as adequate a biker, with zero street skills, its a completely different life for her.







Our morning commute to school is ideal for a refreshing morning bike ride, and getting some exercise on a non rainy day. I envy all the walkers on the numerous path while I drive to work, as I constantly admire the view of the mountain range which looks different everyday from my car. I want to be out in this notoriously clean Yilan air.

With her insane amount of homework and her massive carry on, luggage like school backpack, I don't know how she could pull it off on a bike.


Still, its a kind of goal, dream of mine that we can bike to school in Zhuanwei from our house in Yilan, when Spring 2015. (Its a ten minute drive, so a 30 min bike ride).



Turtle Island in the distance
 Until then we are biking 5-8 km leisurely along the Yilan coast just for pleasure on the weekend, getting her more comfortable with longer distances. I want to be able to cruise to work without worrying about being late.

 Our go to path is 5 minutes from our school, the Yongzhen Bicycle Path (永鎮海濱遊憩區) apart of the Zhuanwei Coastal Park ( 壯圍海濱公園). From Highway 2 there is a sign next to a massive Taoist temple. (Directions are here at the Yilan Guru).

My friend AJ with my daughter
You can rent bikes cheap, 100NT for 2 hours from a super nice couple who proudly display their daughter's impressive art work.  After a ride we treat ourselves to a Taiwanese ice cream, with shaved peanuts and fresh coriander rolled up in a rice tortilla (Peanut Roll ups 花生 ).



















Going north, the path is short, you have to get on the 2 and find the bike path again. There are several covered picnic areas should the weather change or if you need a rest.




The best thing about this path besides the roar of rolling waves crashing on the empty beach, during your entire ride, is having the path all to yourself.

One Tuesdays my Yogini coworker and I head here for some much needed vinyasa. We ditch school to come here on our lunch break. On warmer days we have brought our daughters here during the school week for a post lunch swim which is like taking a holiday in the middle of the day.

Me in Prasarita Padottanasana
It's unbelievable that no one uses this beach other than the lone fisherman and the stray beach dogs, and of course us.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Yilan's Best Kept Secret is My Backyard


It just so happens that right across the street from my apartment building is Yilan's best kept secret. I'm not too worried about announcing it. In fact I'd like to promote the space. Its big enough to share at 230 hectares. It's the ideal venue for a concert, wedding or festival. It certainly is my favorite spot to do some yoga, read a book, hang up a hammock, do a quick workout, or watch the sunset. I spend some portion of my Saturday or Sunday morning there and when the days were longer, after work too. I even dedicated a photo album to just this space.


So where is it? Its Yilan's County Government Building, located outside Yilan City off of Zhongshan Road. Its a great place to have a picnic, bring the dog for a run, admire the botany and architecture.

The nooks and crannies this space provides are endless, with different views of the mountains, the green fields and trees and art.  They kept and incorporated some ancient cypress trees that have long died or become petrified, they resemble ancient pillars coming out of the grove.


The second floor terraces of office are full of rock gardens, trees, plush grasses, rows of empty picnic tables with views, terraces, stone tables and chairs. Whenever I am here it is empty, which is another bonus- although having some kind of festival with music, food and theater would be awesome.

looking down onto the 2nd floor terrace

This facility has several canteenas, a beauty parlor and two coffee shops. All that's missing is a yoga studio, sauna, and gym. (I wonder if they have a breastfeeding room?) Of course on Saturday when I'm there its all closed. I wish I could visit during working hours just once and see how its like, go have a coffee and people watch.


In the inner field there is a shallow moat, devoid of life except for for green algae, water spiders and a  breeding ground for mosquitoes (bring repellent). From here admire the brick pillars and open skylights that let blocks of light in for dramatic photos. Sunsets here are nice with the sky's colors reflecting in the water, with the ancients trees like a temple in the background.


Walk back behind the trees for some metal sculptures that act as mirrors, and walk up the steps to the second floor terraces or even higher for open views. I marvel that this is someone's daily work space. I might just inquire if any of the offices are available to rent, it would be a rad apartment studio.


Despite everyone's foreboding warnings, this winter has been pretty mild.I half joke that my daughter and I brought the Tainan sunshine to Yilan. I think winter might have started last week, but the weekends have still been blessed with sunshine and clear skies, despite even last Friday's typhoon warnings. So I've been grateful to come here and veg, bring a yoga mat and my daughter and enjoy how lucky we are to have this magnificent playing ground literally as our backyard.


Why I don't see wedding photographers taking their happy couples here is beyond me. Its a photographer's and bird lover's paradise. (At least in my opinion).







Thursday, October 16, 2014

Welcome to Yilan, What's not there to do here?

Nanao Township, Yilan


I've been living in Yilan now for two months and am loving it here. My friend from Tainan came up to visit his wife's family in Yilan and of course we met up. Our biggest obstacle was figuring out which beach, mountain, hot springs, river, lake to spend the day with our kids.

I have a nice map from the very reliable, efficient, English speaking Tourist info center outside the Yilan train station and I've been studying it, ticking off places as I go, asking my new workers their recommendations  and enjoying the pristine outdoors.

Beaches:
I already went to Wulai Beach (see previous post Little Gems) and have been so busy exploring Yilan county, I haven't time to return except last Sunday to see how the coming typhoon was affecting the waves. (The beach patrol wouldn't let us on the beach, so we just admired from afar.)




Yongzhen Park and Trail
Having come from Anping and living literally a two minute scooter ride from the beach, I had to go to the closest beach to me. Its called Yongzhen Seaside Park and its just a 5 minute drive from my work here in  Zhuangwei. There is a nice bike path that goes along the beach. The sand was nice, grey and surprisingly clean. There were breakers that ruined the views down the beach that stretched out into forever in both directions, but this area gets hit pretty hard by typhoons.The beach was empty as it was ghost month when I went. There was a beach patrol station that was probably on freak out mode because we seemed to go far into the waves, but the water was quite shallow. I need to go back and see if people use it since ghost month, bring our bikes and explore that path.


Neipei Beach from the Suhua Highway

I was not expecting Neipei Beach outside Suao to be so stunning. There is no sand, just small pebbles and stones, but the surrounding rocks are gorgeous and the beach is  long enough for us to find some quiet alone time far from the crowds. There are cafes and simple restaurants are on one end for a quick pick me up. The other end has rocks and places to picnic in the shade of a cliff. On a holiday weekend, we had the entire Pacific, at least this bit to ourselves.

My beach list includes is returning to Wulai for surfing and sunrise yoga and to explore Beigan Tidal Park and the Wushibi coast.


Trails
There is a trail outside Nanfang'ao . Just park your car across from the massive pool. At the top are amazing views of the Yilan coast, picnic tables, hammocks. I am thinking it would make a great camping spot.

Yilan Coast view from a hike


The Linmei Shihpan Trail (林美石磐薄荷烤雞餐廳) is simple, about an hour loop with a pretty little waterfall. There is one set of verticle trails, but other than that is a perfect trail for young children.




Gardens:

View from Renshan Gardens


Between Loudong and Suao is the Renshan Botanic Garden (宜蘭仁山植物園). It was nothing what I expected. I expected something like the Botanic Gardens in Taipei or Denver, but this place was huge. I think we entered it wrong and before we knew it, we were doing some hardcore hiking with little water or preparation, The grounds are massive.



We didnt see a single soul for hours until the end. The French and English style gardens were in the bare minimalist style, nothing was in bloom, but we saw macaques,and  alien looking spiders. The view from Renshan to Turtle island with the verdant, fertile valley of the Yilan plain is the quintessential picture of Yilan.





On my garden list to do is explore the Fushan Botanical Gardens west of Yilan City, which requires a special permit.

Waterfalls:
I went twice to the famous Wufongqi waterfalls and returned to that area and hiked another trail to the more impressive, hard to get to Yuemeikeng Waterfalls.

Outside Loudong there is the Xinliao Waterfalls down the road from the Renshan Botanic Gardens.

Xinliao Waterfalls

Down the road is the less impressive Jiulio Waterfalls, but because they were empty and we were the only ones there, I liked having it all to myself. The trail hasnt been taken care of, but its a nice path, overgrown and neglected. The pool is shallow but enjoyable enough for kids. Standing under the falls for a neck massage is a nice treat.

Jiulio Falls
Aohua Falls

There are so many waterfalls in the area, I'm learning about more all the time. The most impressive were south of Nan-ao called the Aohua Waterfalls outside the little aboriginal village of the same name. The pool is massive, the falls are massive. The brave can climb the slippery wall and jump into the cold, mineral abyss.

Linmei Shipah Waterfall

Lakes:
The first lake I went to here was Longtan Lake. It was recommended by my coworker Steve who helped me get a job and my first apartment in Yilan. This lake is conveniently close to Yilan, we went by scooter. We rented bikes, it was casual. Unfortunately cars can drive around the one lane which is dangerous and noisy, especially with so many bikers, joggers and walkers. I've been meaning to return with a yoga mat and a pinic basket.

Longtan Lake


The second lake I went to also conveniently close to Yilan City is Plum Blossom (Mei Hua) Lake.Its more crowded with numerous bike outfitters to rent the most outrageous bikes. There were side by side 2 and 4 seaters. I saw a bike with  4-5 seats in the shape of a Cinderella carriage.

Meihua Lake


There are many lakes I hope to check out, some include difficult hikes. I'm still working on a list.

Meihua Lake


Parks:
Conveniently right by my home is the massive Yilan Sport's Park. There is a track, Olpympic size outdoor pool, weight room, rollerblading track and outside gymnasium. Not to mention fireflies at night. Loudong's Sports Park is supposedly better, but I'm satisfied with the one outside my front door.



Yilan Sport Park

We thoroughly are enjoying Yilan on our weekends. There is plenty to do. Did I mention the hot sprinsg? That will have to be another post.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Balance is in the Air



Today its like someone turned on a switch and summer was gone. I was chilly for the first time since spring today during my lunch scramble to pay bills, buy lunch and stock up on groceries before I returned to work.

This has been a difficult summer for me, well difficult as in I was working off high levels of energy and am just now feeling I might have the space to rest.   While still in Tainan, my gym went out of business which was a dampener to my energy even tho I worked out at the park with friends or did yoga twice a week.

Also, this was the first summer in six years, we did not go somewhere. I find travel exhilarating, thrilling, it restores my energy not depletes it.This time I didn't have the money or time for it. I needed my money entertaining my family, moving, paying for a deposit on a new apartment and a car.

This summer I was mostly packing, looking for apartments online, getting rid of books, clothes and more packing. My folks came to visit, and that took a lot of energy. I ate out a lot, and worked out less. Working out also gives me tons of energy.

After I moved to Yilan, it was a week off to move in and then I was teaching the summer program for my new school. Its a big learning curve for me, teaching Junior High all levels, elementary and kindergarten. I am teaching 26 classes a week and am breaking all my ingrained Tainan rules: no skipping lunch breaks,  bringing work home or over-time. I'm bone tired! Evidence of just how busy I've been is I hadn't the time to go shopping at the traditional morning market on Saturday until last Saturday-I've been in Yialn since July. On the plus side, weekends in Yilan in summer have been amazing. There is always something wonderful outdoorsy to do to enjoy the fresh air. Now that the rain has started....

Yilan Sports Park last weekend, a perfect October day

I noticed this week that the ever so slightly cooler temperature invites me to slow down. It was 70 degrees Fahrenheit at 6 am, which felt chilly. I'm telling myself I need to be balanced. I started working out for ten minutes (all flat out, no rests like Zuzka's or the 12 Minute Athlete) before breakfast, I have a new yoga buddy for Saturday mornings, and started getting into my neglected TRX again 3x during the week. I am going to make an effort to  breakaway from my school during my lunch break and hit Yilan Sports Park, which is a million times better than any gym. But now the rain has started.

I came home from work yesterday and it was dark. The days and night seems to be evenly the same-another sign of balance. Heaven is a sunny day in Yilan in October. October grounds me.

Finding the balance in Svarga Dvidasana, Sunday at Yilan Sports Park

Thursday, September 18, 2014

We Be Jammin' Harvest Moon Marmalade

Pomelo orchard near Jioulio Waterfall
Its Autumn in Yilan and like everyone in Taiwan, we have pomelo fruits coming out of our ears.

 Its the gift that keeps on giving, but I prefer it more than moon cakes, lesser calories and more healthy.

Pomelos (Citrus Maxima) are an ancient grapefruit, but much larger and sweeter than their newer descendants. Its the largest citrus fruit and in Taiwan the flesh is white/pale yellow.

 My work gave each of us a hefty box, with a dozen pomelos for Mid- Autumn festival, plus my building gave each of us several, so not wanting to waste I decided to make marmalade with my daughter.

It was a bit labor intensive to say the least. We had to peel them all and the rind is much thicker and stronger than other citrus fruit. Then we separated the yummy flesh from the inedible skin. Our hands were burning from removing the fruit,we had to rinse them several times. While we did that, I boiled the rind three times with fresh water before slicing thinly and adding to the boiling mixture (I dont have a food processor).

The recipe I found was 4 cups of sugar to 1 pomelo and we used 5 pomelos (I still have quite few left). Feeling uber-creative I decided to add some pomegranate fruits, inspired by the season of Autumn. I thought seeing the seeds suspended in the marmalade would look cool. It just made the final batch orange (pale yellow + blood red = orange).


My daughter removing the sweet flesh from the bitter skin
I had to buy some props for teaching from one of those "everything stores" and felt lucky to find different sized jars. I washed and dried them the night before and used the "water bath canning technique." A few days later, I gladly gave my co-workers a small gift to celebrate the season. It still feels like summer around here though!

The final result, Pomelo and Pomegranate Marmalade



Friday, September 12, 2014

Over the Moon: Mid Autumn Festival Yilan Style



Suao port and beach from Suhua Highway

The one thing to expect on a 3 day weekend in Taiwan are the crowds. That and train tickets will be sold out 2 weeks before they sell at the station (you can buy online with a Taiwanese ID #). So when we had moments of crowd-less nature, I definitely was over the moon with gratitude. It was also the first time in 6 years I was free in my own car to explore Yilan.

The empty Neibi beach, Suao.
Saturday Day 1 of our Moon festival weekend, went as planned. On our way to Nanao, we stopped for coffee at Neibi beach. It was totally desolate. We had the rooftop cafe to ourselves as well as the view of the Pacific. Where were all the crowds? In Kenting no doubt. After coffee and a shared shaved matcha iced tea with red beans we were back in the car.



The woman at the cafe told me in Mandarin that the local Matsu temple was moving the goddess idol to visit a god in Yilan and she explained times and locations. I was pretty giddy to have my comprehension of her explanation proved when we ran into the pilgrims. They had the coolest shirts, a sea of red devotees.

My friend climbing for a jump, Auhua Waterfalls.

After that it was back in the car to Nan'ao and there we found the crowds, bumper to bumper on the notoriously dangerous and most beautiful highway, the Suh-ua Highway. Its danger is not due to the narrow one lane switchbacks that plummet to the Pacific, but because fellow drivers are impatient and pass the corners on blind spots.


Outside a little aboriginal village called Aohua (the 161 km marker) there is the most magnificent waterfall. Three aboriginal teens on one scooter took us there. There were other cars in the lot and we hiked up a 5 minute walk, scrambled some rocks and there it was. There were a few families, but the pool was so enormous, the water dwarfed us so there was room enough for all. My companion bravely scrambled a bit up the wet and slippery rocks to plummet into the sparkling cold abyss.

 

We went home as planned, beat, ready for Sunday and finding a camping spot. Our day 2 definitely did not go as planned, except for the coffee at the revolving cafe on Highway 7. We found a camping spot next to Champing Lake, which was fairly close, like 15 minutes outside of Loudong. There was a lake circumstanced by wooden walkways and the camp spots had wooden platforms and BBQ grills. There was even a go-cart track. Surpisingly, there were few campers, maybe 2 or 3 tents that I could see. And still, greedy for solitude, we kept going further up the 7, farther away from big cities, only to find more crowds and rain. Camping did not happen. 

We did go up the eastern part of the North Cross highway to check out the Mingchi Forest Recreation area. It was disappointing. The lake was over-developed and charged an entrance fee. The Forest area itself has a massive resort  (明池國家森林遊樂區) on it with cabins and a restaurant that was of course crowded. The North Cross Highway which is high in altitude has some nice views and dark, misty, dank forests. There were moments we drove in clouds and we definitely got caught in the rain on the way back. We took a walk behind the cabins and found a few trails, but there were no camping spots there. Who knows we might com back on a non-holiday weekend and stay in one of the cabins.



Day 3 of our Moon Festival weekend, on Monday, we took our time heading out to one more nearby waterfall. Around the corner from Xingliao Waterfall is the abandoned Jiuliou Waterfall, about a 20 minute drive from my home. The trail was not very well maintained, but there wasn't another person there. We had the whole overgrown trail and small waterfall to ourselves. The overgrown parking lot is a perfect camping spot, no bathrooms, wooden platforms or vending machines. The path from the parking lot to the trail has a pomelo orchard on it. Pomelo is the fruit of the mid-Autumn festival.





We will hopefully return to those falls to camp next weekend.

Turtle Island from the Suao/Suhua Highway overlook