I admit that these answers that I seek are all to questions I’ve never known, but I pray to keep on looking for as long as I can roam, and when the world finally fulfills me I will not forget my way back home. - Dawes
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
guarding Ting-Yi, one of my favorite players who can PLAY
so can Kuohsun (in white), perhaps the best player here. Lucky he was on my team!
probably turning it over
I loved the team names (Apple, Ball, Cat, Dog, and Egg). I was on Team (Mayon)Egg…
and after six games in one day, we were crowned champions with victory Krispy Kreme donuts, making it all worth it.
a jovial delivery from Ivan
best trophy ever
tournament MVPs, both on Team Egg (Kuohsun should have won, but he was an organizer so that would’ve been awkward!)
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.
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.
And a pleased Ian and Austin after a successful round of jumps.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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!
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.
Here’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.
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.
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.
earning a Hello Kitty mug with stickers from many 7-11 purchases, always a triumphant win
Here’s to conquering Beantown, Dahveed. You’re gonna kill it. We’ll see you soon.
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.
In the meantime, what do you say we slow down this train a little, Taiwan?
Thank you family for this awesome piece of technology. The GoPro is something else. The resolution on these underwater videos is spectacular. I got my wish: better-quality pictures than that silly iphone.
Speaking of iPhones, I got my other wish when I lost it in Taroko Gorge this past weekend. I didn’t want to lose it per se, because with it went four years of meaningful photos, easier navigation of Asia at my fingertips, my party-starting DJ sets, and tons of writing. But I was feeling too connected and comfortable with all my gadgets. I never really wanted a smartphone and I missed not having one. Not sure I’ll be rushing to a get a replacement any time soon.
Got back from my second trip to Taroko Gorge yesterday, and I have hundreds of photos to go through, but here are a few for now, including GoPro selfies and one with our bed-and-breakfast owner, a man who is doing life right, and my hero.
Don’t let em catch you! (Although the Taiwanese man was too nice to care) (at 西門町 Ximending)
This hike is dangerously close to being my new favorite. The views are a bit better than WuLiaoJian, but there aren’t as many cool rope parts. I still can’t believe we’re getting this weather in late January. It was perfect. And as you can see from the last photo, the weather was so nice hat the guys just had to take their shirts off.
I grew up in a city where weekend activities like this were never an option….and now I can’t imagine living in a place where it isn’t.
Best hike to date for me: practically all of the friends were in attendance. It was a beautiful, clear January day. For miles in every direction were mountains stacked on top of each other, light greens close to us, darkening and getting higher the farther away they got, cutting into the cloudless blue. On one side you could see Taipei, but to the southwest was nothing but ancient, seemingly untouched green. Beautiful.
I love hikes like these in Taiwan because there are so many peaks and chances to take in these views. When I reached the first peak, I felt the urge to feel the sun and perfect breeze on my bare chest and my feet against the warm rocks. Eventually all the fellas did the same. From then on it was known as the “clothes optional” hike.
At another peak, I shouted at the top of my lungs and heard my voice again and again miles away. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an echo resonate so far away. That was something special.
Thanks for taking these Joanna. I’ll share my GoPro videos and pictures soon.
alexi murdoch | her hands were leaves
My sister shared this song with me three days after I moved here, now almost seven months ago. It still gets me every time. If she had told me she wrote it about our family, I would’ve believed her.
I’m reblogging it from her source, msknope.tumblr.com
Another thing I’m stealing from Liz, while I’m on the quick subject of family/siblings, is something she showed me from the real
Ms. Knope Amy Poehler. It’s a reflection on sisters, but really on the blessing of “siblinghood.” Enjoy, then call yo sista!
(Somebody teach me how to put a youtube video in Tumblr, plz.)
Seen around town:
1. Is that a nacho cheese chalupa from Taco Bell? Nope, but it’s pretty darn close, and it’s from a “taco” stand in Shida night market that I’m paying a visit to almost every time I hang out at Jess’s or Joanna’s.
2. Taipei loves their tacky hats almost as much as they love cursing in English. This gem was also found in Shida, where my pal Ivan and I plan to move soon. As a lover of vibes, especially GOOD ones, I have no plans of being a “bitch” and killing yours, bold wearer of this stocking cap.
3/4. My view walking down the hill going to work, then up going home. The daytime commute to work always feels sunny and full of promise. The commute home of late has been more typical of Taipei’s winters, cold and wet, yet comfortable. In the fourth shot, I’m about to turn left onto my street. This walk reminds me a little of trekking up the hills at Shrine Mont, which I always loved getting used to in the summers at camp. In a few weeks, I won’t have to deal with this long journey home, but I’m going to miss the scenic commutes to work and the quiet, calf-building walk home.
5. That’s just a Hummer in Taiwan, with “Delta Force” plastered on the side.
6. I saw this beauty after our company party, and I had to have it. So I stole it…….or….I didn’t. But maybe I should have stuck around and kindly asked the owner if he needed anyone to take this babe of a bike off his hands.
Over my six months here, my Level 1 class of two Tonys and one Gary has progressed into a Level 3 class and grown with twins, Michael and Oscar, and recently added Franky. The new three have meshed quite well with the original fellas and have only increased the rambunctious hilarity of this class of dudes. Man, we have so much fun in this class. I could quote these kids every day, (and sometimes do to my friends here). One example that I believe only I’ll think is funny: practicing new sentence structures, I asked Gary, a generally happy, wound-up kid, “Are you sad?” Without missing a beat or looking up from his book, Tony 1 piped in with a short, confident, I-know-you-better-than-you-do-Gary, “Yes.” We all laughed pretty hard at this one, and I sighed in relief that the ten year-old didn’t have any deep baggage buried under his day-to-day carefree smile.
Today, in Lesson Nine, we learned the words “ask,” “today” and “crazy.” At the end of class, I was explaining the homework, which requested, for the first time, that the students write the questions, rather than the answers (Jeopardy-style). Tony 1 always needs a little more hands-on explaining, so after the other five guys gave me nods of comprehension, I gave Tony an example, then used one of our new words: “you have to ask the question.” His eyes lit up as he looked at me and back down at his evidently insane book. He used a new vocabulary word of his own, completely appalled that his Student Book would switch the form of the usual homework. He wasn’t done degrading Homework 9 just yet, though. He followed every ESL student’s favorite phrase with his personal favorite from our Level 3 reading book, “[Homework 9], you are a big pig!”
Don’t worry, Homework 9, it gets better.
And thank you for lending me this book, Mark.
I’ve read some pretty fitting “finding yourself” books while I’ve been here. First, I read the The Water is Wide, a gift from my mother. It’s a beautifully written memoir by Pat Conroy, narrating his year as a teacher on Yamacraw Island. The forgotten island is off the coast of South Carolina, but it’s a world apart from mainland America. His hilarious classroom scenes often remind me of mine. I am especially reminded of these scenes whenever I hear Allen, as he slaps his hand against his chest, shout out in shock, ”Oh mah GAWD!” For this phrase alone, he drops his Taiwanese accent in lieu of what I imagine isn’t far from a Yamacraw dialect, one he certainly didn’t pick up from me.
After The Water is Wide, I read Into the Wild, a story I was significantly influenced by after I saw the movie in college. I finally got around to reading the short book, which I loved for different reasons. For some reason I wanted to, but never felt like I could, relate to Christopher McCandless.
Yesterday, I finished Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas. This is a modern story of a man seeking freedom from the shackles American society places on us. Ilgunas is influenced by Thoreau’s Walden (coincidentally the book I started prior, but put down when I was enthralled with this one) and strives to live the simplest life he can after he pays off his student debt. I’ve never read a story that is more perfect for my life at a given time, so I may be biased. But it’s not just the story, this guy can write.
If you are in debt, a graduate of a liberal arts school, an American, an environmentalist, a wanderer, a student of life, read this book. http://www.kenilgunas.com/p/the-book-walden-on-wheels.html
Thank you Ken Ilgunas, for giving me a perfectly timed, inspiring story with endless words to live by.
It took me forever to choose which words of his to share here, because I was constantly writing quotes down during my reading, but I landed on this one:
"When I thought about my hitchhikes, the voyageur trip, Duke — I was happy to have suffered; I was happy to have been miserable; I was happy to have been alone. And I knew I’d soon be happy to have been scared half to death by that bear. That’s because it was in those moments, when I was pushed to my limits, that I was afforded a glimpse of my true nature.
"I learned that such a glimpse cannot be gotten with half-hearted journeys and soft endeavors. Nor could I hope for such a glimpse merely by setting out to conquer some random geographical feature, like getting to the top of a mountain. Rather, I knew one must confront the very beasts and chasms that haunt our dreams, block our paths, and muffle the voice of the wild man howling in all of us, who calls for you to become you—the you who culture cannot shape, the you who is unalterable, uncivilizable, pure. You.
"Koviashuvik is an Inuit word that means ‘time and place of joy in the present moment.’ I’d used to think that the word probably meant something like ‘nirvana,’ attained only by the Eskimo version of the bald, saffron-robed man on a mountaintop who’s able to achieve a state of unity with everything. Maybe that was the case, but more and more, I began to believe that to live a happy present requires having lived a full past. It requires that we go on our own journey. And if we are so lucky as to reach the end of that tortuous, troubled path, we may be afforded the gleaming vista of self-discovery. This, I thought, was koviashuvik.”