|Tung Flower Festival, Sanzhi|
In this 4 day weekend, today my Saturday, I for once didn't do much of anything, which is kind of strange, and irregular for me, but necessary. I took pause to reflect on the year that's just faded into memories and photo albums. It was a busy year, but there are just a couple of stand out experiences I am forever grateful for. In chronological order:
1. Chinese New Year in Myanmar
Just getting there was a trip, I missed our flight from Singapore into Yangoon. I loved Burma, the people, so many ethnicities, and the food was better than I expected. It was hard traveling for Z, we covered a lot of distance in a short amount of time, which meant night buses galore coming into town at 5am. She's a seasoned trooper, literally the best travel buddy I've ever had. (Full Myanmar photo album here).
In Myanmar, I have to say my 39th birthday was amazing. We went into a teak plantation and hung out with working elephants who were making a camp for that spring until the rainy season came. We rode their little troupe and watched a mom play with her baby (she is free from work the for 3 years while caring for her baby).
The elephants and their handlers were making a temporary damn for the elephants while they worked there for that logging season. They cut down a majestic, old grandfather tree by hand, which pained me to see such a grand old tree fall, then the elephant dragged it back to their little damn. We watched from the elephants back, their handlers were kind, there were no canes or whips, just clucking and speaking to them. They are handlers of the same elephants for life and its the elephants who pick their handlers. Their wives and children all live together in a little camp of 2 or 3 huts by the river. As for "tourists" there was just me, my daughter and a French lady. It was hardly the kind of elephant set up "rehab" I've seen in Thailand. This was no walk in the park. We were tagging along while they worked-and this was their day off, making a little damn. There were no trails in this teak rainforest, the elephants were bush-wacking with us on their backs. I was just worried the tree would land on us as we were right next to it while they used muscle and an ax, but they were experts. They have been loggin teak with elephants since ancient Thai and Burmese kings considered it the royal wood for palaces and temples, since British colonials increased the demand. Unfortunately the demand for teak continues. Though the handlers told us they replant so as to not over log, I fear money and the military junta's hand will continue to play a negative part in order to feed the insatiable demand by Scandinavian furniture makers.
|Z putting thenaka on my face while lunch is cooking|
|The school house|
Of course Inle Lake was amazing, colder than we expected but an adventure exploring by boat. Then there was Bagan and exploring the endless tamarind tree fields littered with old temples, and Mt Popa, the Burmese Mt. Olympus. One day we rented a horse cart and the driver gave Z the reigns the whole day. It was great fun.
One of the most memorable Burmese experiences was our "hell train" adventure. We took what I thought would be a 6 hour scenic train from outside of Inle Lake (Shwenyaung) through the mountains to Thazi.
|All smiles as our "hell train" left in the morning|
We pulled into Thazi at midnight and were stepping over sleeping bodies in the dark sprawled all over that station. The stars were amazing. We walked to a roadside motel and crashed hard after a hot shower. The next morning early we took a local bus (van packed like sardines) to Lake Meiktila. I paid few pennies extra to sit in front with the driver, Z got car sick and he slowed down, but we made it.
2. I got my APRC!
Finally after 5 years I could apply for my coveted Alien residence card. Thanks to my friend and Chinese tutor Kevin for fronting me the 10,000NT in March to get it.(See Congrats To Me! I'm legal!)
3. A Family Visit
My parents and brother Ed visited Taiwan for the first time in July 2014. It was the first time my mom and bro have been out of North America. Unfortunately, when they visited there was a heat wave and it was the hottest at the suburb of Taiwan (Banciao) we were staying at. Of course they were troopers, sweating buckets but just grateful to be together again, to be with their granddaughter.
They really didnt have enough time to learn to appreciate the local food. My Dad and bro only stayed a week, my mom stayed a few weeks longer and helped watch my daughter and pack my things while I worked my last weeks at Share Fun.
After a few days exploring Taipei we went to Jiaoxi for a few days exploring the local waterfalls, hot springs and we took a boat to Turtle Island to see the dolphins. Then my Dad rented a car and we drove to Taroko along the scenic but dangerous Suhua Highway. Afterwards, we all headed south to Tainan.
In Tainan I showed them the Confucius Temple, they enjoyed eating at the western food restaurants by local expats (Funkoo, Tin Pan Diner). It was crowded at my little apartment, and hot, so my Dad moved my mom and bro down the road to the Tai Landis Hotel next to Mitzuokoshi. Before my Dad and bro took the highspeed back to Taoyuan, we did a family group photo session which was good fun, at least my daughter was in her element.
4. Starting a new life in Yilan
Thanks to my co-worker Steve for getting me this job. He was a big help during the interview process, settling here and getting into the swing of things at school.
Moving was not easy, in fact it was harder than I expected- and I moved around my whole life so I thought I was used to these things. I went through bags of books, clothes, giving them away and still I had so many things I had accumulated from 6 years of living in Tainan. It felt great to say goodbye to my job as I felt stuck there, and yet compared to my job now in Yilan, my job down south was so much easier, less stress. I loved teaching the kids there and building relationships with families, with the community there. That was hard turning my back on, and yet life is temporary, our lives in Taiwan are temporary.
We took a chance on Yilan and getting used to the life here was also more difficult than I expected. I knew it wasnt going to be easy, that it would take a few months to find my groove, learn a new system, but I think for all the increase in workload, I am more productive and am learning a helluva lot in terms of teaching and planning. I'm teaching junior high, elementary and kindergarten of all levels which requires a lot more planning, prepping and flexibility. There is good and bad at every job, of course this one is no exception, but when I stop learning then its time to change my outlook or change my scenery. As for my daughter she is learning English and Chinese. Her Mandarin is fluent, but I was starting to get concerned for her English writing, so I hope she can improve in this area.
Exploring Yilan has been good fun and having a car, finally after 6 years is so much more convenient than my grass cutter scooter. Parking in Yilan City is no picnic, but at least we are dry when it rains. Speaking of the rain, I don't have enough fingers to count how many people warned me of winters here, that I wont see the sun for months, and yet the weather has been pretty good, good enough to explore on the weekends. Living in Anping I didn't really see the mountains like I do every day here. On my way to work I look at those mountains everyday and every day they look different, I also see Turtle Island and the ocean right before I pull into work, cant beat that. Its a small dose of positive energy before I have the dreadful task of parking.
I should mention the apartment I have now is a big step up from the old one I had in Anping. This place is outside the congested, small laned city center across from the massive park on the grounds of the County Government Building and is 3 years old, furnished and bright. My drive to work is a straight shot down a non residential-commercial area. I feel blessed.
5. My Santa Cruz Consort
My dearest was my neighbor in Anping, my good friend and this past year he continued to be my kind, patient, sacrificial partner when I needed him most. Andrew helped me move, he helped my buy my car and drove it here from Tainan, he visits on weekends whenever he can. He is a great blessing and positive male energy for me and my daughter.
For these 5 above blessings, 2014 has been a predominately positive year. Other standout experiences of 2014; visiting my old friend of 14 years north in her home in Sanzhi, Saturday yoga with the ladies in Anping and a Single Mom and Daughter Dragon Boat Weekend in Kenting.
I also have to mention that this year we were divinely free from sickness and robustly healthy, so we were physically able to enjoy these blessings, which is something not to be taken for granted. You can eat clean, exercise, meditate, sleep well and then have what the news headlines recently called, "bad luck." As for us, it's more than good luck that sustained us this past year, it was lots of prayers by family and friends back home, simple prayers by us here and busy angels raining heavenly love.