About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

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
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.

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