Sunday, July 27, 2014

Changhua (彰化市) July 5, 2014

After the first few crazy days of teaching we were all a little bit anxious to get out of Fengyuan (pronounced fong you-en) and explore some sights around the area (all recommended by Pinterest and The Lonely Planet, of course). Our first excursion was Changhua, to visit the infamous giant buddha, along with several other tourist destinations. 

Prior to departing we made a game plan that not only involved going to a Confucian temple, a fan shaped railroad garage, and the giant buddha, but also involved going on a bike ride "through the sweet rural roads" around the area (Lonely Planets words, not mine). As is often the case our plans were altered by some unforeseeable events, but more about that later 😃.

Our first travel picture waiting for our train

It has been 5 years since I have been traveling in a foreign country - and that was apparent. I was a little rusty at the train station, luckily it was just like riding a bike and all of those experiences from traveling by train to and from church in Nanjing came flooding back to me. 

We made it Changhua with no problems (it helps that I have no shame and will ask every person I see if I am in the correct location). Our first stop was the fan shaped train garage. According to The Lonely Planet "the fan shaped train garage is the last of its kind in Taiwan. In essence a single line of tracks connects with a short section of rotatable track from which 12 radial tracks branch out. A train engine rides up onto the short track, rotates in the direction of its garage, then proceeds inside for maintenance and repairs... The garage accommodates the oldest steam-powered train engine in Taiwan (built in 1907)." (Pg 222)

Next we headed back to the train station to rent bikes for the rest of the afternoon. Well that was a FIASCO!! We found the bikes but apperentaly in order to rent them you have to have a Taiwanese phone number or credit card. Well only one girl brought her credit card with her and we could only rent one bike per card. So needless to say we were not able to go on the "sweet rural roads of Changhua." Instead we walked to our next two destinations, the Confucion Temple and the buddah statue. 
According to the Lonely Planet "This 1726 beauty both ranks as one of the oldest Confucian temples in Taiwan and as a first-class historical relic." (222) Although what they don't tell you is that it was remodeled in 1978. 

 After exploring the temple grounds and stopping at subway for lunch (which was heavenly!!) we headed up to Baguashan (八卦山) to see the 22 meter high Great Buddah Statue that looks down over the whole city. 

"The Great Buddha was added in 1962, while the Baguashan slopes were for centuries a military observation zone. The area affords views not only over the whole of the city, but far out to sea." (222)
The climb up to the buddha was breathtaking. It was lush, and green with quite a few water features.
 As we approached the top of the hill we were left speechless as we looked to our right and got a view of the entire city of Changuah. We looked to our left and saw a giant sculpture with an ornate temple closely behind it. Now I have seen a few buddahs in my days, but NONE of them compare to the majesty and beauty of the Great Buddha Statue. We even got to go up inside of it (although I didn't stay too long because it was hotter than hell in there). Anytime we go to a temple there is always religious practices going on, which is always so fascinating to me. 
Overall I would say it was a pretty successful first adventure (well second if you count the Rainbow Village). I am excited to finish the rest of my travel-blog and more excited to continue adding to it throughout the rest of my time here in Taiwan. 

Rainbow Village (彩虹眷村) June 29, 2014

Four years ago a co-worker introduced me to Pinterest. While I appreciated its usefulness, I procrastinated jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon for fear it would become another social media fad. Fast forward several years and I found myself in a position at work that required a considerable amount of planning and it appeared I just could not procrastinate jumping on the bandwagon any longer. I have to say that the decision to join Pinterest has been one of the best decisions of my life. Whether I need ideas for planning parties, new hairstyles, resources for work, or travel destinations, Pinterest always has my back. I cannot count the number of times I have consulted Pinterest since being in Taiwan. I know it sounds a little bit dramatic - and maybe it is, but I seriously don't know how I managed to do anything before Pinterest! 
One of the things that Pinterest has done for me is drastically change my travel style. Previously I took more of a backseat when it came to planning trips and had more of an "I'm along for the ride attitude." However several months prior to moving to Taiwan I created a Taiwan sightseeing Pinterest board which has altered the way I plan vacations. Here are a few examples of some sightseeing I want to do or have already done in Taiwan:

Pinterest has not only allowed me to research the significance of the locations I am visiting but has also allowed me to find touristy spots that are off the beaten path. Anybody who knows me knows that I often get bored seeing similar sights over a long period of time, so while I love visiting Chinese temples (I find the religious aspect fascinating and the craftsmanship is so intricate) I have been drawn to less traditional sightseeing locations - like the Rainbow Village. 

The Rainbow Village is a little bit of a commute outside of the city and the village itself is rather small, but the backstory totally made the trip worth it and I even got to meet the 92 year old grandpa who painted it!

Here is the story (sorry half of it's in red I can't figure out how to change it).

In the outskirts of Taichung 臺中(pronounced tie-jung) there is a small  village of 3 or 4 houses. Built in the 1940's as housing for Nationalist soldiers, these houses were eventually given to war veterans in gratitude for their service. Several years ago they were slated to be demolished and replaced with trendier high rises. However there was something about this village which made it special - this village had a resident named Mr. Wong, a KMT veteran of the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949). 
During his free time Mr. Wong (or affectionately known to the public as Rainbow Grandpa - Grandpa Huang - 彩虹爺爺 - or Huang Yung-Fu) would graffiti the walls of the village with paint he purchased with his government pension. Eventually every door, wall, and inch of ground was covered with vibrant colors and cartoonesque aboriginal paintings. Because of Grandpa Huang's efforts the government has shifted their urban renewal plan to preserve this "whimsical world" that was brought to life by the passion of a 92 year old man.
Ironman insisted on taking this picture. #gottalovetaiwan
I thought this was interesting: tucked in the back corner was evidence that the village was still used as housing for retired military. 

And finally here is the group at the entrance to the Rainbow Village.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Taiwan in a Nutshell

Unfortunately I am not as good at blogging the third go around in Asia. It does not help that I have tried to post this twice and it keeps getting deleted. Hopefully the third time will be the charm.

First I want to publicly say that I have the most amazing friends, I seriously could not have asked for better people in my life. The decision to leave America was not an easy one: Adam and Ashley spent countless hours with me processing this decision and the impact it would have on my life. All of my friends have been so supportive through they entire decision making process and I miss each one if them daily. I am so grateful for their continued love and support even through I am a few thousand miles away.

Let's start off with this girl. We've been through a lot these past two years: we've laughed a lot, cried a lot, and one of us has almost died choking on our own hair (I'll give you a hint, it wasn't me). I have grown to love her like a sister and I miss her every single day.

Then there are these guys... I do not think there are words in the English language to describe what they mean to me. They have had my back since the day I moved to Salt Lake; they have seen me at my best and also at my worst. I love that they know me so well they can answer any questions others may have ranging from my food preferences to opinions on gender roles. I love the dinner parties, movie nights, and BBQ's we've had over the years. I love that they will still talk to me even when my ugly cry is out in full force (which happened a lot the last week I was in UT.) Most of all I love all of the memories I have made with them over the past 7 years, including the BBQ they gave me the Sunday before I left. The weather was beautiful, the company was great, and the food was delicious. It was the definition of a perfect evening.

This next guy should deserve a medal for continuing to be my friend after I almost kicked him out of my car in the middle of Wyoming several years ago. I am so grateful for his ability to forgive me and my shortcomings. I would not have made it through my last day in America without him.

To say coming here was a difficult decision would be a major understatement. My last few days in America were especially difficult. I spent many hours in tears wondering what possessed me to ever make a decision to leave everything and move to a foreign country. Adam spent countless hours listening to me cry as I questioned every decision I had ever made. We spent many hours processing what would happen if I did not get on the plane and going over hypothetical situations about staying in America and finding a job instead. It is safe to assume that I did not act on those hypothetical situations (even though some days I wish that I had). Out of those conversations with Adam I was able to finally give myself permission to stay 6 months instead of a year if I felt I absolutely needed to be back in America. While I have not yet made that decision, I have decided to make the most of my time in Taiwan - after all it's not every day you get to live in a foreign country. 

In the short time that I have been here, Taiwan has already taught me so much. Here are a few snippets of my life the past three weeks:

First off - it is hotter than the inner circle of Hell. I have never been so grateful for AC in my life. I miss being able to pick an outfit based on style instead of based on how sweaty I will get that day and what will camouflage the sweat best. I miss being able to style my hair and have it stay. Much like my outfit selection, my hair selection is made based on functionality and not style, although with the help of Pinterest I have been able to add a few stylish hairdos to my repertoiré. 

Second- I knew I would really struggle with the food but I had no idea I would struggle this much. The first two weeks were so incredibly difficult, I only had one or two dishes I would eat (fried rice and mangos- not together of course). But as I spend more and more time here I find more and more dishes that I am willing to eat. So far my "safe list" includes: fried rice, homemade stir fry, frozen dumplings, steamed buns, mango or pineapple bing sha (ice drinks), shaved ice, roasted corn on the cob, taco salad, bakery goodies, Chinese pancakes, a lemon/winter squash drink with boba at the bottom, white rice, and a variety of crackers from the grocery store.

 My "hard pass" list includes: noodles in broth (it only takes one bad experience to ruin it), slimy flour concoction-that has the consistency of worms-in broth with pork meatballs (my Taiwanese friends bought it for me, I have never prayed so hard to finish a meal in my life), raw fish (I dry heaved on that one for about a week- now I just occasionally gag while discussing it), star fruit drink, meatballs, stinky tofu, chicken feet, oyster omelets, the list can go on and on and on but I think you get the point. And just for good measure here is a typical picture from the local night market.

Next are the kids I get to teach. I have two classes that I love- the first is a class where I sing at 2 year olds (yes AT not WITH) and despite their crying and inability to understand me when I say sit down they have already taken up a huge part of my heart, especially when hey come up and give you a huge good bye hug, or they wrap their little arms around you as you are holding them. The second class I love is the 8 year olds. The class has 6 boys and 1 girl and they love playing games. One boy has a pretty good vocabulary and he loves having conversations about sports and places to visit in Taiwan. My last class is slowly growing on me...very very slowly. 

One of the factors in deciding to come to Taiwan was that it would give me the opportunity to practice what I had been learning in counseling. It would give me opportunities to be vulnerable, trusting, and not defensive that I didn't have in Utah. I have to say that the group I am with is amazing and they have brought so much joy into my life. I am grateful for every single one of them and what I have been able to learn from them. (I am also grateful for their willingness to overlook my bitchiness the past week- why is week number 3 always so hard?!?).

Finally despite everything I miss in America, I am making a whole hearted effort to immerse myself into the culture. My goal is to speak conversational Chinese by the end of December. So far I know how to say "where is", count, and a few if my favorite foods.... so I still have a long ways to go.

We have been able to go to some really cool sights the past couple weekends but I am still waiting on a few pictures before I can post, hopefully it won't be too long. 

Finally I want to thank everyone who is reading this and has been a part of my life at sometime, whether it was high school, college, China, Hawaii, Cleveland, or Utah, you have all made a major impact on my life and I would not be where I am today without your love and support. THANK YOU!!!