Flatball Gratitude

Here’s something new—a post about frisbee!

I’ve been playing it since I was 17. Many of my life’s happiest moments were experienced with my brethren on and off the field. Coupled with those were occasional moments of overwhelming frustration and questions of why I wasted my time with this stupid sport. I came close to quitting early on in college. Where would I be if I had?

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Those were my early Grundle days; they were occasionally dark but for the most part, fantastic.

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after one of the darker times

Those days are far behind me now. I’m deeply thankful they happened, and as you probably guessed from my thoughts on flatball (http://twelveahead.tumblr.com/post/67732731117/on-flatball) before, I wouldn’t trade a minute I spent with that team for anything. I’m so glad I went to Mary Wash, and they’re the main reason why. They remain the most fun team I’ve ever played for, and they will always be special to me; they’re the team I grew with.

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At our infamously-named home tournament. 

Then there was Club flatball, the summers where I played at a much higher level than my college team. For five straight summers, I took the field with older and much more experienced players. The last three of those summers, I played with a conglomerate of some of Virginia’s best players called Squires.image

After losing the game-to-go to Nationals in 2010, a great season

Squires was about working hard, bettering yourself and teammates and making it to Nationals. Although we came close, we never achieved that last goal. We did, however, succeed in making every major Virginian college team better by turning their best into much more knowledgeable, complete players. I owe a lot of my improvement and game-planning knowledge to that team. I have to say, though, while we won a lot of games, I never had nearly as much fun with them as I did with the Grundlebugs (who, if you’ve forgotten, rarely won games).

I wondered if I’d ever find a competitive and laid-back team. Maybe it was too much to ask.

Luckily, I didn’t have to look far to find that perfect medium of competition and fun. It was right in my backyard at what became my favorite tournament, Fredericksburg’s own Fools Fest. The second longest-running tournament in the world, Fools is a reunion/alumni tournament built around foolishness. Because this tournament is so famous, it attracts a healthy amount of the country’s best players, some of whom I’ve been lucky to share the field with and learn from. While these players come for the fun (and beer garden), they still play their asses off. That’s where that happy mix of competition and fun comes in. It’s some of the best playing hard, knowing the result is less meaningful and everyone’s there to have a good time—how flatball should be. The spirit is alive

Fools really is frisbee at its best. And it’s always Mary Wash at it’s best, too. Our alumni (who lost a lot less than my generation) always combine with Richmond’s best and pick an outrageous theme.image

The Sacred Church of the Heartasaurus Rex. Praise Raptor Jesus

When we send a team, we usually play up to the level of our competitors, and, win or lose, we have an amazing time doing it. Once a year, I looked forward to enjoying a weekend with this amazing team. That was the extent of my experiencing this, though. I unfortunately never found this perfect balance on a consistent team. That is, until I came to Taiwan.

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In late March, I competed in my first tournament with Whisby Nation, Taipei’s team of Taiwanese and expats, at Taiwan’s national tournament. It was a good time. We were by far the favorite to win, and the whole tournament, it was looking like we’d be the clear winner. However, we got upset by a worthy opponent in the finals. This game was the only time I’ve ever seen the Taiwanese players not play at 100 percent. It was weird, and I’m not sure why it happened. I’m convinced it was a one-time thing, though.

It’s been a nightmare trying to guard some of these Taiwanese guys. Pretty much all of them are in shape, and they all try so hard. 

I’m usually playing against these exciting Taiwanese players in pickups or practices. It’s never easy. They keep me in shape. I have more experience than the majority of them, but they still run me into the ground. I could go on all day about how I love watching them play. 

And I will. Here’s why:

As good as American flatball is, it’s amazing the lack of effort you often see. I think some players in the States take for granted the opportunity to play this game. Whether it’s playing lazy defense, skipping practice, or choosing to stay inside on a less than perfect sunny day, I’ve watched players pass up opportunities to play and it always baffled me. I’m certainly guilty of not giving it my all on the field at times. As any of my college teammates can attest, I’ve played lazily on plenty of occasions.

After college, though, I realized that my body wouldn’t always be susceptible to the pounding frisbee gives it. Since that revelation, I’ve always carried with me the notion that it’s a gift to play this game. I try to channel that gratitude on the field by playing as often and as hard as I can. The Taiwanese players remind me of this gift every time I line up against them.

This past weekend, I got to line up with the Taiwanese and competed in my first international tournament with Whisby. We traveled to Jeju Island in Korea for the 10th Annual “Dirty Dozens.” The roster was limited to only twelve players (hence the name), which meant a lot of playing time. I got in shape for this one, hitting the track for the first time since the summer of 2012, when I captained the Squires. And damn, I felt good. I hadn’t been this fit in a while. For better or worse, I played almost every point this weekend.

We came in as the number one seed for reasons unknown to us. We had never won this tournament or beaten the team seeded directly below us. We eventually saw them in the final.

This tournament was the three year anniversary of of Whisby’s first tournament as a team. They debuted at Jeju in 2011 and lost in the finals to the same team we faced in the final this year.

I don’t know how that 2011 game went, but this year’s Jeju Final was a classic. The opponent was Tokyo’s best mixed team, UKI.

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UKI in white, mixed in with Whisbyers in black

Honestly, we looked over-matched again. UKI is representing Tokyo in the coed division of the World Championships this year. Thus, they’ve practiced a lot together and have a lot of experience with one another. They also have a healthy amount of veterans with many years under their belt.

And there we stood on the other side of the field, a team of much younger, greener, but fearless players, led by the talented and knowledgeable Haahhhhvaahhhd grad, Will Chen, and revered Taiwanese captain, Kuohsun.image

Will leading the troops

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Kuohsun handling in the Final

Will visits Taiwan a couple times a year to play with Whisby and to see relatives. He has plenty of experience at a high level in America and is a respected name in the American flatball community. You certainly see why from his play and leadership, but you would never guess it from talking to him. He’s the humblest guy you’ll ever meet, and he’s a fantastic teacher. It was such a joy to to play with him these past few weeks. He is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking the field with.image

One of his many big plays in the Final

Other than Will, though, Whisby was a team with less overall experience than our opponent. Throughout the final, the crowd was treated to what I get to see every day: the inspiring passion the Taiwanese play with. These guys deeply love the game, and they honor it by giving it their all every time they’re out there. 

In addition to seeing the Taiwanese play the game the way it should be played, the crowd was also treated to a final for the ages. This game had it all and was packed with highlight reel plays throughout. image

like this one, Will laying out in the back of the end zone to nab a disc that looked doomed to fly out.

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And the crowd went wild

In the first half, after many amazing plays like these had already happened, my old Hong Kong teammate, Zach, gave the crowd this grab of the game, catching a hammer under Whisby’s biggest playmaker Willie (also from that awesome HK team). image

For those of you who don’t play, catching a hammer (an upside-down throw) can be difficult enough, let alone catching it on the run, but laying out with another guy in pursuit? That’s talent. This matchup was something special all game. And after seeing this catch, I remember thinking, “I almost don’t care who wins this game, this is just FUN.” 

The only excitement this final didn’t have was a lead change. We took an early lead and never gave it back. UKI often came close to breaking through, but we’d always find a way to put the breaks on their runs (lolz). They made it interesting at the end, coming their closest at 14-13. But in the end, heart beat out experience, and Will sealed the deal with a break throw to Kuohsun in the endzone—a fitting way to end. Kuohsun threw the disc up, he and I made ecstatic eye contact, and he jumped into my arms. (You can watch this in that video I posted last week.) 

It was that heart that won Whisby this game and this tournament. Playing club, I’ve seen my fair share of teammates who work their asses off. I’ve never seen anyone play with as much fire as these Taiwanese guys. It’s such a joy and a privilege to play on the same team as them. (I highly recommend it!)

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sporting our “Jeju Champion” shorts at the closing ceremony

In my eight years, the amount of tournaments and leagues I’ve won could be counted on one hand and, honestly, none of them meant anything in comparison. It’s never been about winning for me. I said it before: it’s about the amazing people I’ve been so lucky to share the field with.

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Where would I be if I quit? I have no idea. Not here. And here is the only place I want to be right now. I am so glad I stuck it out in the early years. 

Indeed, it’s never been about winning games. This weekend wasn’t a game won. It was a true victory. A triumph of the Taiwanese. It was the most inspiring frisbee I’ve ever seen played. I am so grateful I was a part of it.image

Photos are courtesy of Katherine and Haruna Machida (stolen from facebook)

zhizuzhe:

2014 Jeju Dirty Dozens - Whisby Nation

I saw a line once, a really cliche one, about the way you choose to dedicate your time speaks volumes on your person and your passions. There rarely is a truer saying. I think a part of me should go without saying: just sit back and watch this short I made of Jeju. (Frisbee vids are the newest fad in my life!)

What a weekend. I got the usual post-tournament mix of sadness and gratitude. But now it’s Friday afternoon and I’m still euphoric. I’ve watched this video a couple times every day since Kat put it together on Tuesday, reliving this amazing victory. Victory. That’s where I’m unfamiliar. More on that and what it’s like to share the field with the Taiwanese later.

Reblogged from 知足者常樂

A Love Once New Has Now Grown Old

How is it that I’ve been here for ten months? How swiftly the seasons (or lack of seasons) have blended into each other. The past few months I’ve been here have flown by as quickly as my favorite Simon and Garfunkel melody.

My love for Taiwan is familiar now, broken-in and routine. Still, it gets stronger as each month passes. 

I’m ecstatic to share it with two of my best pals in less than three weeks. May 2 will arrive faster than the next line of that song.

Taiwan’s got moves

After class tonight, I just missed Lizzy sitting on her fold-out chair, arms crossed, legs sprawled out like a dad watching his son’s baseball game. I tried (too hard) to re-stage it, but she wasn’t having it. One of the funniest, cutest things I’ve witnessed here.

Don’t let the last picture fool you. Lizzy is 98% of the time a very happy camper.

Teacher Austin is lonely and polite.

York’s analysis after nine months of getting to know his English teacher.

We recently learned personality types in my Level 12 class such as “outgoing,” “nerdy”, “friendly”, and the crowd-favorite after I acted it out, “stuck-up.” Most of my students pinned me as “geeky” or “crazy” but I think York’s comment got it dead-on.

He gets me.

jojointransit:

This almost made me cry—I love Taiwan so much.

I thought about making a video of Taiwan with footage from throughout the year. Not sure I could top this, though. And I know that song from somewhere…

For some reason this video got me thinking about how I’m less than two months away from seeing two of best pals from home get off a plane in Taiwan. Maybe it’s because I’m beyond stoked to share Taiwan with them for a week. I really couldn’t believe it when they told me a few months back. I’m not sure I will believe it until I see them come through that terminal. Still, I’m starting the countdown now.

Hints on their identities will soon be revealed.

Reblogged from 知足者常樂

Here’s to Now

"You know where I wanna be right now? Is right here. Nowhere else—not in the future, not in the past. This is what I’ve worked for all my life. I’m gonna be 70 this November. It’s a good life. I tell you I have no regrets. I just live for the moment."

- Yvon Chouinard, in 2010 from the documentary 180 South. I added Chouinard to the list of my heroes back when I first watched this flick in 2012.

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Almost a year ago, I had finished my TEFL course, had my certification, and all I had to do was find a job. I was taking my sweet time, though, and was getting complacent in Richmond. Doubt was creeping in. I started to feel like I had been all talk this whole time.

"I’ve met a lot of young people that ask me what books to read, or what films to watch. I think it’s a good way to start, but there’s no substitute for just going there." (also Yvon)

Then I re-watched this gem on my parents couch. It did the trick: gave me the itchy feet I needed to pick my ass up off the couch and make this trip a reality. The next day, I applied to Reach to Teach recruiting. They hired me a week later, found a job for me almost immediately, and—after a slight delay due to The Broccoli Rebellion of 2013—I was in Taiwan a month later. I cite this movie as a big source of inspiration.

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Chouinard has much more quotable moments in 180 South, many of which were the fuel of said inspiration. But that first one stuck with me when I re-watched it tonight with good pals Jo, Ivan and Guacamole.

I can really identify with this feeling. I feel it often. I’m not good at many things, but one thing I take pride in is living a fulfilling and intentional present as often as I can. If I am blessed enough to make it to 70, I hope I’m saying something similar to Mr. Chouinard.

U.S…It’s not you; it’s me.

Or it’s Asia. She’s beautiful and I’m just getting to know her.

That number is what it just cost to book a flight to Malaysia for ten days.

I would love to go longer, but so much is up in the air right now. However, this booking means a couple of things will likely be true:

1. I will be in Taiwan for another year.

2. I will be teaching English for another year.

3. I’ll be getting lost in Malaysia and Thailand for a week before a tournament in Kuala Lumpur, then enjoying a few more days in Malaysia with my pal Joanna.

The brief adventure begins July 12. I’ve never done something like this on my own before. Ivan just hit the “confirm purchase” button and said “you’re going” before I realized what happened.

Feel free to join, but understand it might be a tad more expensive from where you’re coming from.

Taiwan Flatball: You’re Doin’ Everything Right

Taiwan Flatball was in full force this weekend with a clinic Saturday and a Hat tournament Sunday. A few things reminded me of home:

1. The “go-to” drill from the clinic was my favorite drill at Mary Wash practices because it always yielded great battles, showing who really wanted that plastic more!

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nothing cooler than two dudes laying out for a disc…bro

2. Teaching a few newer guys the mechanics of throwing reminded me how much I missed the fall season at college: recruiting, teaching, showing them how much greater college is when you’re on the flatball team.

3. The Hat tournament was just a perfect day. Great weather, fun teams, GOOD vibes—not a frown to be found. Thanks to the excellent organizational skills of Katherine and Kuohsun, it went off without a hitch. Witnessing some of the work that went in beforehand (and helping a little bit) reminded me of organizing tournaments back home. One of my favorite memories from college flatball was putting on a tournament right on Mary Wash campus. It was such a weird feeling, the most fun stress I’ve ever experienced. It was so much work, but I had such a good time planning every aspect. Watching Kat and Kuohsun stressing but then seeing the final result reminded me of that beautiful reward I witnessed four years ago.

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dem killa hosts

My mom always says that I never put pictures of me up here. Well here ya go, Ma. I stole all of these from Brian Kao, who took almost 1000 of the tournament alone.

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guarding Ting-Yi, one of my favorite players who can PLAY

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so can Kuohsun (in white), perhaps the best player here. Lucky he was on my team!

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probably turning it over

I loved the team names (Apple, Ball, Cat, Dog, and Egg). I was on Team (Mayon)Egg…

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and after six games in one day, we were crowned champions with victory Krispy Kreme donuts, making it all worth it.

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a jovial delivery from Ivan

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best trophy ever

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tournament MVPs, both on Team Egg (Kuohsun should have won, but he was an organizer so that would’ve been awkward!)

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Man, I am loving this community.

Is that Explosions in the Sky? Nah trick. But it’s just as good and it’s open to interpretation like an EITS track. I’ve been all about it lately, thinking all sorts of things when I hear it. Maybe you’ll enjoy it as well and think about a thing or two.

Finally found my Quarry

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This water hole was my happy place in college. I first went to this cliff during exam week sophomore year. Dan, Dave, Andrew (Sandy) and I took a roundabout journey to find this thing. That first jump can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=1125295063782&set=vb.1569300219&type=3

I edited out a lot of mental prep it took me to jump. I’m afraid of heights. Cliff jumping is one of my favorite things to do because I like trying to conquer that fear. Now, whenever I see water, I look for a way to jump in it. This 45-50 foot plunge is where this obsession started. Here’s a much more seasoned Austin jumping a few years later. 

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And a pleased Ian and Austin after a successful round of jumps.

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Since I’ve been in Taiwan, I’ve looked for a cliff to fill this void. I’ve found a few 7-10 footers to flip off, but nothing to turn the stomach over.

At the end of our Chinese New Year break, Mark, Katherine, Ivan and I went to Xindian to find an old spot Kat had hopped off before. Xindian’s the southernmost part of Taipei, and it’s a beautiful area along the river. After some killer curry chicken wraps, we went on a wild search to find this thing, much like the one Dan and I did years ago. Finally, we came out to a very open area where a diving board used to be.

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This spot is probably 15-20 high, so it’s a little less than half of the cliff in ole Freddy, but it’ll do for now. And it’s got a 50-foot neighbor that I’m determined to find a way to get to. We’ll be going back for sure.

As I took off my shirt and shoes and prepared to jump, a crowd of paddleboaters gathered around, phones at the ready. To find out what happened next, check out the video on Mark’s blog! Mark’s a good friend who is here teaching himself Chinese, with the help of a few of our friends.

He edited some of my GoPro footage into a neat video found here: http://markteachermarkmark.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/nothing-to-see-here-just-a-white-guy-jumping-off-a-cliff/

Where my Continuity at Y’all? Pt. II

For my first few months here, my work and social life were two practically separate entities. I’d go to work for maybe six hours: plan, teach, grade, have some laughs with my Taiwanese coworkers and students, then, because I do all of my planning and grading at school, I’d head home and wouldn’t think much about work after. If I was talking about work, it was usually to share something funny or profound a student said (even with somewhat limited language ability from both parties, I learn from and laugh with these kids every day (teacher cliché? YUP).

About three months ago, while I was starting to accept that there wasn’t much consistency in my social life (http://twelveahead.tumblr.com/post/62393873693/where-my-continuity-at-yall-not-a-revelation-more-a), my life at work was solidifying and even starting to become part of said social life. Coworkers were becoming friends and I was getting in the groove of English teaching. But now, just as I was getting comfortable, that continuity’s getting thrown out the window again. (But it’s good…it’s going to be good).

Why was work feeling so solid?

I was forming great bonds with quality people. There was Deana, the teacher in charge of the daycare one floor above, who would help some of my students with their Chinese and English work. Deana’s a little shy, so it took me a few days to realize she is practically fluent in English. On the first of many walks to the MRT, she said “You don’t have to speak slowly to me.” She is considering being an interpreter one day, which I think would be perfect because she is so patient with our students. She took me to my first Taiwanese movie theater (pretty similar to American ones, just smaller and a lot cheaper…go deals). And I had a good time helping her with English idioms and answering her “wtf” inquiries about my wacky native tongue.  

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I took Deana to my favorite late-night breakfast joint, conveniently located between school and the MRT. I can order for myself in Chinese, but Deana had to translate something to the effect of “we see him A LOT.”

Then there was Chrisdy, the secretary of my school who worked tirelessly to make the teachers lives easier, always going far beyond her job description. Man, she’s so inherently kind. She lives near the Tuesday/Thursday frisbee fields, and after work she would take me on her scooter just so I could catch the last 20 minutes of flatball. She even started to let me drive (driving a scooter in Taiwan is outrageous fun, in my opinion). One day, when I got off work earlier than usual, she insisted I take her scooter without her so that I could play longer; she’d take a bus when she got off later. I insisted back that she was being too nice. Like other Taiwanese people I’ve encountered, she is always confused by my guilt in accepting her kindness. Many Taiwanese people don’t seem to know any other way. There’s something deeper here, and I don’t think it’s just me, I think it’s the culture I grew up in…or maybe it’s some of the white people I see here taking advantage of this kindness. Regardless, it’s an intriguing difference between Taiwanese and Americans, but I’m too tired to explore it right now.

Finally, there was Vivian, Chinese teacher extraordinaire. About six months ago, two of the three Chinese teachers I was working with quit on the same day. For some reason, to this day, no full-time Chinese teachers have been to hired to take their places, leaving almost the entire workload to Vivian. And for half of a year, Vivian has been shouldering the work of three Chinese teachers with grace. Luckily, a part-time teacher, Verona (also an awesome person), has come to help us out at night when she gets off from her full-time job. Vivian’s our rock, though, and without her, I’m not sure what will happen to our humble school. 

Weeks ago, I was surrounded by three fantastic Taiwanese coworkers whom I hung out with after work way more than I did with my fellow foreign teachers. I was loving life at Xi Yuan School. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when I’d teach a class at a much larger, hectic, neighboring school, it always reinforced my gratitude for our school and people I worked with. It’s always been important to me that I like and spend time with the people I work with and I was joyfully experiencing this with my coworkers.

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To make things even better, Hess threw us not one, but two company parties over the holidays. The first of these was a small Christmas party with the other couple of schools run by my boss. It was at a nice hotel with good (and free) food and drinks, and trivia which paid out the equivalent of $60 USD for each person at the winning table!

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Here are few moments from the aftermath of those free drinks. Turned around, and in the process of making a heart with their arms, are Deena and Chrisdy. To the left of them in the first picture is an enthusiastic Ryan—a Toronto native who is a Hess veteran with a positive, happy-go-lucky attitude. In the second picture is a confused Garrett.

The second party was the end-of-the-year shindig held for all Hess branches in Taipei. I should have gotten a picture of this. There are an insane amount of Hess schools in Taipei alone, and we packed a massive auditorium full. And when the host—some random, suave, Taiwanese fella—called on each branch (probably saying in Chinese something to the effect of “Banqiao schools, where you at?!”), the employees would carry out their respective tribal cheers and, in some cases, choreography. Some of the more enthusiastic leaders of these would shriek into the microphone as if they were miles away from it; you’d see the whole auditorium’s shoulders meet their ears, cringing as if we didn’t expect it the tenth time.

This party was a marathon—starting at 3 and going until almost 10—and if the foreign teachers of Chung Hwa and Xi Yuan hadn’t taken a voluntary intermission at a nearby bar, it would have felt like an eternity. I felt guilty leaving my Taiwanese coworkers as they sat through the awards section of the party, but all the other foreign teachers were doing it! We returned for a dinner made up of maybe eleven courses and then enjoyed another fun after-party.

imageHere’s Garrett again, a California native who, like me, works at both Chung-Hwa and Xi Yuan schools. We share a cab ride every Tuesday night as we transfer from school to school. He loves his hats, and we found this fake tommy gun (is that right?) near a trash can in the hotel, which complemented his prohibition bootlegger getup perfectly. Looking on longingly, yet regrettably like any good mob wife, is Tiffany, an Australian-Taiwanese (yes, it’s a cool accent) coworker who is essentially Chung Hwa School’s Vivian. 

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And here I am ruining a picture of my lovely Xi Yuan coworkers (sans Chrisdy). From the left is Deena, Teacher Banana, Vivian, and Verona. I daresay, work life was going great and I was thinking, I could totally do another year with these great people.

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Around the end of 2013, Chrisdy left us. About three weeks ago, Deena followed. And, because the powers that be seem to put little to no effort toward keeping good people around, Vivian left us right before Chinese New Year. The glue that has held our school together, handling a very hefty workload without ever complaining and as solid a teacher as they come, is leaving. With all her heart, Vivian wanted to stay because, like Deena and Chrisdy and me, she genuinely cares about these kids. It’s so frustrating and uninspiring to see such good people leave because they don’t really have another choice. I won’t get into the details of their departures, but I will say they all wanted to stay.

So, now it’s time to cope with the unfortunate truth that work will have the same lack of continuity that my social life will. I have nothing to complain about; I think this is just part of the growth of an expat.

There will always be someone leaving or moving on and now that someone is David, who has just left us for a GOOD job in Boston. Dr. Wong, a fellow hiker, adventurer, teammate, is as reliable and thoughtful as they come. He’s the guy who always made sure to include everyone, the guy who wouldn’t forget your birthday. And dat muggle’s got a PhD, so he’s obviously wicked smahht; he’ll fit in great in his new adult job in Boston. image

imageearning a Hello Kitty mug with stickers from many 7-11 purchases, always a triumphant win

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Here’s to conquering Beantown, Dahveed. You’re gonna kill it. We’ll see you soon.

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Work’s constancy is still up in the air and in a ridiculously quick seven months, my role at the school has changed from the new guy to the guy everyone’s relying on. But for the next three months, while work gets figured out, some consistency will once again come from my social life: Katherine, Mark, and Matt have returned from home and Charles has returned from his travels. Of course, Ivan returned a little over a month ago (and now we’re roommates in an awesome house). Joanna, Jess, and Jimmy stuck out Christmas here and aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The next closest departures are in May, which feels like forever away, but it’ll be here as quick my first seven months went by. So we’ve got four months to enjoy each other.image

In the meantime, what do you say we slow down this train a little, Taiwan?