Thursday, January 28, 2010

How long does maintenance take?

I am seriously far too attached to my computer. I almost went into shock without it for the past 10 days.

On that note, dumplings are never allowed near my computer again. I don't know if I could make it through that again.

Long story short: I was eating dumplings a couple of weeks ago. My computer was sitting off on the chair next to me playing music and I reading a book. As I bit into one of those juicy (though not even that tasty) dumplings, the juice and grease from inside shot out across the room and landed on my keyboard!

I was momentarily frozen and then I kicked into high gear grabbing a towel and trying to sop up what I could.

My computer continued working for the next 30 minutes or so, but then the keys slowly stopped working. It started with the 3edc-row. Then the 2wsx-row started acting up and next thing I knew the 4rfv-row, the space bar and the Apple button all stopped working.

Unfortunately, there are something like 18 Studio As (Apple reseller in Taiwan) and only one service center for them to all go to. It took them three days to decide what was wrong with the computer (though it was obvious) and then another week to fix it.

But I have it back now and that's all behind me.

Things of note for the time that has passed:

Taipei in the middle of the day in the middle of the week is actually a lot of fun. I'm thinking I might make myself go into the city during the week more often so I can spend my one day off going somewhere a little more adventurous.

The weather here reminds me of Texas mostly in that it's cold and rainy one day and then 70º F, sunny and gorgeous the next. It's a little frustrating because it's difficult to make plans or to simply get dressed in the morning. (Well, if we're being serious then the afternoon...)

My Chinese is coming along really nicely. I've been pretty good about stuyding about four days a week for a couple of hours (but at least one hour) at a time. I'm almost all caught up on the homework exercises in the book. It's nice being able to read things and understand stuff when people talk to me. Oh and starting next week, Linda and I will be meeting twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays after my classes instead of just the one Wednesday. We should finish my book in about three weeks and then I think I'm going to shift gears into using a book once a week and having homework and then doing conversational stuff on the second class of the week.

I'm starting to get a pretty good grasp of the grammar, I just need to beef up my vocab. A lot of my kids are thoroughly impressed with the fact that I'm even trying to learn, specifically my students who like to talk Chinese a lot in class. I've gotten to the point that I'll just translate something I heard them say and then tell them to say it in English. They just look at me in shock.

Of course, now one of my classes just keeps calling me waiguo laoshr (foreign teacher) because Sam was talking about me to my co-teacher and I cut him off saying, "Waiguo laoshr did what?"

That class just likes to give me a hard time.

I've decided I need a hobby. Writing doesn't take up enough of my time and honestly I haven't been feeling all that inspired to write lately. I think I might take up scrap-booking.

Oh! Best news of all:

I'm going to Taroko Gorge for four days and then Kenting for four days for Chinese New Year. Also, I'm spending the actual Chinese New Year celebration days with one of my co-teachers and her family.

She said they basically spend the day cooking and playing games. I like both food and games, so I think that ought to be really interesting and fun. I'll finally get a little bit of that Taiwan perspective.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where are you?

FYI, my computer is under maintenance and I won't have it back for another week or so.

I'm periodically checking my e-mail from friends' computers but I don't really have time to blog.

But, I didn't fall off the face of the Earth and as soon as I get my computer back I'll write up what's been going on.

Thanks for you patience!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Want to hear all about my vacation? (I know this is a week late)

So I guess I promised you information about my stellar North American vacation and I never gave it to you.

I'm sorry to have strung you along, but here we go (Warning: This is a long one).

Mei Guo, ahoy!

So getting to America was easy and great. I sat next to this Chinese girl and I had a window seat. The girl and I never talked because every time I so much as looked at her she turned the other way. Some people just aren't down for trying to talk to strangers.

My sister and her husband picked me up from the airport, immediately bought me coffee and then took me home where they made me eggs and bacon. Have I ever told you how much I love bacon (or my sister)?

You can buy bacon in Taiwan, but it's expensive and not the best quality. Meat in general is difficult to buy here. I think I just have particular expectations about how to buy meat. It's the Texan in me.

Anyway, I spent quite a bit of time reading and eating while in Seattle. When my niece came home she didn't immediately see me in the living room. Apparently she had "forgotten" I would be there, but when she finally saw me she pounced.

It was a hug I could not escape.

My second day in Seattle I got to meet a reader and his family. He is a very nice Taiwanese man married to a woman from Queens, NY and they have two very polite sons. We met for lunch and talked about Taiwan and living abroad and health care and China.

It was a very illuminating conversation to say the least. I find that many of the Taiwanese people I know here either don't care to talk about these things with a foreigner or simply aren't confident enough in their English ability to try. I always want to learn more about Taiwan (and especially Cross-Straight relations) but I'd like to hear it from people instead of Wiki.

The land of Tex-Mex, BBQ and Joy

Then I went to Texas for nine days. Oh how I missed Texas.

Madison (my sister's daughter) and I boarded a flight which headed for D/FW. From there we grabbed my niece Lauren (my brother's daughter) at the boarding gate and rushed onto the plane which took us to Austin.

Upon landing, we immediately went to Taco Cabana. Madi and I hadn't eaten since leaving Seattle that morning so we were starved. Beef tacos, queso, and flour tortillas never tasted so good. Oh!, did I mention the Dr. Pepper?

While in Texas, I replaced green tea with Dr. Pepper. Obviously slightly less healthy, but acceptable in the levels of caffeine and tastiness.

I spent the first four days in Texas with just my family. So Dec. 22 to Dec. 25 was just me, the girls, mom and dad and then Christmas Eve my brother, his wife and his son came as well as a family friend who I just consider family. Not sure if I would consider him more of a brother or an uncle, but it's family none the less.

I had a BLAST playing with the kids. Before I left Evan was only 8 months old and I was a little afraid to hold him because he was squirmy. The irony in this is that when Madison and my older two nephews were born I was 10 and 12 and had zero issues with holding a baby. The difference — I wasn't anywhere near the age of motherhood.

I think the fact that half my friends from high school are married or getting married and on the brink of childbearing kind of freaks me out.

But now Evan is 14 months old and I can throw him in the air and chase him around the room and tickle him and dance with him. Oh my goodness, can I just start with a toddler and skip all that infant nonsense? I know they're cute and all, but toddlers are way more entertaining.

But after four days with just the family, no matter how much I love them, I was a bit overwhelmed and I needed to get out of the house. Don't get me wrong, it was good to see everyone, but I'm not around people now nearly as often as I used to be. It gets to be too much.

So I went out with friends to one of our old hang out spots. It was weird being back at the Hole in the Wall just across the street from (old) The Daily Texan office again.

The next night, I couldn't hack it and I ended up staying in. I guess after just over a week of constantly being around people I was a bit exhausted. I passed out at something like 9 o'clock. The next few nights were off and on going out with friends, having drinks at our old hang outs, going to lunch at our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, etc.

Even hanging out with my friends got to be a little exhausting at times that we were in big groups though. Again, I love them, but I can't handle being around so many people at once anymore.

It was good to see everyone and thats when I realized I would be happy living in Austin again, but only if I had a real job that allowed and afforded me the time and ability to do enjoy myself. That said, there's only so much I can do to make someone give me a job, so until then, I'll keep doing this whole visiting thing.

I also went to Fredericksburg with Flannery where I bought Chili mix and raspberry jalapeno jelly. I have no idea what to do with raspberry jalapeno jelly, but it tastes awesome and I'll figure it out.

New Years Eve was great. It was like a Daily Texan staff party circa 2005. Half the people on staff from my first year or two at the Texan were there. Luckily, a lot of those people are really good friends of mine, so all in all, a great way to bring in the new year.

Back to traveling

Then it was back to traveling. Madison and I had to be at the airport bright and early (10 a.m.) New Years Day and we both insisted on eating breakfast. We grabbed some breakfast tacos at Taco Cabana on our way (mmm chorizo, egg and cheese...). We learned our lesson from the previous time and bought some Schlotzsky's (it's an Austin-born sandwich joint) for on the flight while we were waiting to board the plane.... which had mechanical issues.

Apparently there was something wrong with the air-conditioner so they spent an hour trying to fix it. Unfortunately, our lay-over in Houston was only supposed to be an hour so we were certain to miss out connecting flight which would make us late to Seattle which would make our subsequent drive to Whistler even later.

I panicked a little.

Luckily, our connecting flight also had maintenance problems (and so did several of the other flights that were also connecting to it). Doesn't that make you feel great about flying Continental Airlines?

We boarded the plane at the same time as the other passengers, but then the plane sat there waiting for a few passengers connecting from a flight coming from Atlanta. Now, my only comment about this is that if it had come down to it, they would not have asked the plane to wait for me, Madi and the other woman on our flight from Austin who was going to Seattle. We just would have been out of luck.

We ended up arriving in Seattle almost on time. I think the pilot seriously laid down on the accelerator here.

Then it was off the Canada!

Oh Canada!

We arrived at Whistler at around 10:30 or 11 p.m. New Years Day only to have to walk up a million stairs with all of out stuff. For the first time ever, Gwen found us a cute little ski-in-ski-out condo about a five minute walk from the Creekside Gondola. This was our first time at Whistler, but not our first time snowboarding.

We've been going skiing and snowboarding since I was 15 or 16.

I have to tell you, I think I prefer the snow in the Rockies. Don't get me wrong, I loved that there was so much terrain and all the paths were super wide open, but that snow hurt.

At the top of the mountain, it was a little powdery and it was pretty nice. In the middle of the mountain, you were surrounded by clouds — so visibility was low — and the snow was packed super hard. Since the snow in Canada is really wet (unlike the Rockies) it packed like ice.

Falling hurt. Falling hurt a lot. There were actually a couple times that I fell and just kept sliding because the side of my board wouldn't dig in enough to stop me.

I tried to have fun, but I ended up coming out exhausted and beat up instead. I will keep trying to like it though. No worries though, Gwenny and I spent the next day doing a Whistler pub crawl.

My sister and I don't get a whole lot of opportunities to go out drinking together and this in particular was unique because there was a bus that would take us back to the condo once we were sufficiently buzzed.

We went around to five or six bars including one that I think was supposed to be Texas-y (called The Longhorn, good burgers by the way) and an Irish pub I can't remember the name of. At the Irish pub, we listened to Celtic music (this guy with a guitar and this girl who was an amazing fiddler), ate perogies (OMG!), and talked to these old Irish and English men.

It was entertaining to say the least.

We spent the next day in Vancouver at China town. It was super exciting but we did get some Vietnamese food which I really enjoyed.

Traveling "home"

I've been using the word home sort of profusely. I think I generally use it for where I am at the time, but in all honesty, it's both Texas and Taiwan. "Home is where the heart is," but I think it's probably also where all your stuff is/where you spend all your time.

On January 5th, I went to the airport and boarded the plane like any other time. Only this time, I got to sit on the plane at the gate for three hours. After the first hour they told us there was a problem with the engine starter that they needed to fix and it would take about an hour.

OK, no biggie, I have a book and my iPod. I'm fine.

After they finished doing what they were doing, it still didn't work. Apparently it wasn't the starter, but "the box under the starter", which they also happen to have the part for, but it would also take an hour because they would have to remove the starter again.

Around hour three they decided to deboard the plane, at which point they handed us each a voucher for $5. Now you tell me, what the hell can you buy for $5 at an airport? Nothing.

I had a beer and put the $5 toward my quesadillas which cost $11. Thanks for nothing Northwest Airlines.

When deboarding they said we would be boarding another plane shortly. Well, two hours later they handed us vouchers for a hotel room and another $7 meal voucher to use at the restaurant next door to the hotel. Can you get anything there for $7? Nope, It's a steakhouse.

I arrived back at the airport at 5 a.m. waited two hours to board the plane, waited on the plane for another 1.5 hours and it finally took off at 8:30 a.m.

I was definitely going to miss my flight from Tokyo to Taipei not to mention my first night back to work.

Luckily I had already let my boss know that.

Upon arrival to Tokyo I found out they had put me on a China Airlines flight that didn't take off for another three hours so I was stuck there for quite a while. That flight ended up also taking off an hour late.

All in all, I got home at around 7 p.m. Thursday night in Taiwan. I took a shower, started to read and passed out to the garbage truck song around 8 p.m.

I was exhausted and that's why I'm never flying Northwest or Delta again... accept maybe to use that $100 voucher they gave me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's the plan?

I'm pretty proud of myself.

I know I've only been home five days or so, but I haven't slept passed 10 a.m. yet.

In fact, I've been waking up by 9 a.m. and then just kind of hanging out in bed until 9:30 checking the news and my e-mail. I think this is a good start to a new routine.

Going back to my Monday classes felt good and I'm really excited about my classes tonight. I get to see my babies! I love those kids.

I bought a new helmet the other day. It's blue (of course) and it covers my entire head and the visor covers my whole face so I don't have to worry about anymore rain-on-the-face-while-driving induced colds.

That said, it's only supposed to be around 9º C (48ishº F) and it's supposed to be raining all day. Somehow I don't think that's going to be the worst of it this season.

Even better, I was supposed to bring back my winter jacket with me, but in the flurry of over-night packing, I left it with all the rest of my ski stuff at my sister's. I'm debating asking her to send it to me or just buying a good jacket. I fear I'll end up getting one that's all puffy and some bright color with fur on it though. (Oh Taiwan fashion!)

So, a reader asked me if I would consider staying on at Gloria after my contract is up if I can't get a job at home and I thought I would answer here where I can really explain myself.

The answer is probably not, though keep in mind that's not a definitive no. I do love my students; it's a good job, I can't deny that; and I really like Taiwan, a lot.

That said, the point of coming here was to push myself outside the box (you know, aside from having an income that requires a degree). While I'm still learning things, I can already see that after six months, I'm comfortable here — really comfortable.

If I'm going to stay abroad — key word if — I think it would be valuable to keep pushing myself and keep learning. I've been toying with the idea of a 3-year around the world trip. Basically, living and working on every continent (except Antarctica, augh!).

I would pick a city in Europe where I could live and work and easily travel from — like the before mentioned Prague. Then do the same with Africa, then Australia (or New Zealand) and finally South America. Of course, I could abort that mission at any given time that I find a job or feel like I'm ready to come home.

The idea is that this is the best time of my life to travel. I have no major attachments to keep me in one place (husband, kids, etc).

This idea has it's positives (life experience, lots of travel, continued learning experiences, stories to tell my kids one day) and it's negatives (logistics, safety, stepping even further away from journalism) but nothing is set in stone yet and I will obviously weigh all my options and think really hard before I jump into anything.

Anyway, I hope that you all understand that I'm in my 20s and I'm trying to balance what is best for me in all the aspects of my life without turning myself into a tired old lady just yet.

Besides, if I keep going, you'll have something you can keep reading.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What are your New Years resolutions?

So I'm generally really bad at resolutions, but I see the ones I'm choosing for myself more as lifestyle choices. They're really less resolutions and more goals.

1. More exercising: OK, I know this is on everyone's list but I truly need to do this. I was happy to get home and find out that I haven't gained any weight, but I also haven't lost any.

I'm not saying I need to run so many times a week or do yoga this many days, but just getting up and doing something. A few push-ups. Walk around the park. Anything that gets my body moving a little.

This is less for weight control and more for getting myself on track to a healthier lifestyle. I eat way better than I used to, but I still worry about my future health. My extended family's health problems are ominous at the least.

2. Have some what of a sleep schedule: Being jet lagged is probably the best thing of my life right now. I woke up at 7 a.m. Saturday morning with absolutely zero problems and I have been super energetic in all of my classes. It's nice not to be dragging along every day. If I keep this up then it might help with my next goal.

3. Get out of the apartment more: By this, I mean during the day during the week. I want to make a goal of going and doing something each week, but I hesitate merely because sometimes it's nice just to sit and do nothing. As long as I go out and do something most of the time I'll be happy. This is also coupled with getting more exercise because walking around the park or neighborhood can count.

4. Drink less: This is for a number of reasons including the fact that it will help all of my above goals and it will help out with this whole money situation. Not that drinking in Taiwan is all that expensive, but it sure does add up. That and honestly I've been drinking less and less as the months have gone by anyway. I'm not cutting it out all together but I am going to stop drinking like a college student.

5. Practice Chinese more: OK, I guess this is actually kind of a resolution. I still speak quietly when it comes to Chinese; I don't study nearly as often as I should; and Tones just get kind of thrown out the window when it comes to basic survival sometimes.

Enough of that.

I'm feeling really good about being back in Taiwan. I bought a new (good quality) helmet today — for less than $30USD! — so driving in the rain shouldn't be quite as miserable.

I have been happy to see my kids and they've been happy to see me. That said, I'm glad I only have to work two days this week simply because it's a good way to transition back into everything.

I only intend to take one more vacation before my contract is up and that will be during Chinese New Year when we're all on break. I can't decide what I'm going to do yet, so if anyone has suggestions for things in Taiwan or things in countries that aren't very expensive, let me know.

Otherwise, I'm saving up for my big trip with my sister in July where she's coming to Taiwan and then we're going to Thailand and Cambodia together (and then I continue on to Vietnam and maybe Nepal).

From there I'm either moving to Europe to get my official TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certification OR I'm going back to the States. This all depends on the outcome of my job search that will commence around May/June-ish.

So that's the plan for now. Can you see the little OCDs coming out in me? :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Are you jet lagged?

I'm glad to be back in Taiwan and my bed and with all my stuff.

I actually fell asleep to the garbage truck song last night. I got back, took a shower, read for a bit and as I could just barely hear the garbage truck song from the street, I started dozing off.

But despite all the things I missed (GREEN TEA!) I can't say I missed driving in the rain. In fact... I still kind of hate driving in the rain.

I still feel a little disconnected, but I also haven't seen any of my students yet and I'm not really back in the swing of things at all.

I just planned lessons again for the first time in about three weeks.

Later I'll give more details about my trip and my (ridiculously long) travels including why I will probably never fly Delta or Northwest again (at least after I've used the $100 voucher they gave me).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

When will she go back to Taiwan?

Well to answer that question, from this moment I will be back in Taiwan in about 22 hours, give or take a few minutes.

I have to say I kind of miss Taiwan, but that doesn't mean that I miss America or my family any less. I know it has only been six months, but it took coming home for me to see how much I've really changed.

I went in pretty independent — despite the fact that I bawled like a baby for 12.5 hours and everyday for the first week I was in the R.O.C. — but now I'm almost detached. I have people that I'm around everyday in Taiwan, but not for more than a few hours at a time.

It was weird being constantly surrounded by people (actually I did have a couple of meltdowns related to this).

Also, I had heard people say it before, but it really is difficult to tell people what it's like. Granted I write this blog and that helps. Telling the story as I go is a whole lot easier. Maybe if I looked back at all my blogs I could sum it up a little better, but as it goes, could you tell me exactly what your life has been like for the past six months without leaving out some details?

The way I see it, everything there is so normal now. And while strange things stand out at the time (and some continue to) they eventually pile into the category of "once was strange but now is normal."

That and conversations tend to circle around Taiwan and teaching abroad and such. Sometimes, believe it or not, I don't want to be the center of attention. I know that's hard to believe, but sometimes I just want to talk to everyone exactly how I used to. That's not to say I don't want to talk about it at all, but it's really difficult to just shift really easily in and out of that conversation.

Of course, given that my entire life the past six months has taken place in a foreign country, it's hard even for me not to talk about it all the time. It's like when you spend every waking moment with a particular friend or boyfriend. Most or your stories begin with "Oh well we went and did such and such..." rather than "I did..."

You just can't take the Taiwan out of my life.

Probably my biggest thing was seeing my nieces and nephew again.

They're all growing up so much and, especially when I look at Evan, I freak out a little about what I'm missing and whether or not they'll remember me. I know the girls will remember, but Evan is still so young that will be more difficult.

That's why I love Skype. As soon as I have extra cash I'm buying Webcams for my family and sending them all back to them. Then there is NO excuse (except the time change I suppose).

This time is also a little more indefinite. I'm getting more and more used to being abroad not to mention, it would be stupid to go home without a job.

Until I find a job in the States, I'm going to have to stay abroad. Maybe not in Taiwan the whole time, but somewhere.

More on this later. I have to go shower and finish packing so I can drag myself to the airport.

See you in Taiwan!