Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Counting Flowers on the Wall

Come January 2016, we're moving back to the States. Mike's last day as an English teacher will be in early January and then we're relocating to Washington DC. That means I'm officially in my last couple months as a lady of leisure and I'm taking full advantage of it. I'm staying up late, lying in, killing my days with nothing but game playing and movie watching. Basically, "playing solitaire 'til dawn" (but electronically, so my deck is not missing a card).

I did have every intention of maintaining my healthy living regimen during this time but we had a guest in town for two weeks (!) which threw me off my routine. She left early last week and I took that week to ensconce myself in the pleasure of solitude without commitments. But, I did truly have every intention of restarting my healthy living routine this week. And then I stood on the scale. More than three weeks of inactivity, drinking, and poor diet have caused me to lose more weight than I've lost in the preceding three months of focused intent. If ever there was a reason to continue a poor lifestyle that, my friends, would be it.

Pai, Thailand
So, I'm luxuriating. This is where a pool would be nice. But, no pool. So, I just sit on the couch, in a/c, multi-tasking with tablet games, computer games, and movies. Sometimes I get bored, but then I realize I have the luxury of boredom and just embrace it. Who knows when my next opportunity for wasting this much time will be. If DC's anything like New York, which we don't believe it will be but we're mentally preparing for that rough of a transition, then I have a good four months of job searching and financial stress to look forward to in the new year. Thus, I'm taking this opportunity to luxuriate in my boredom.

Chiang Mai zoo
Though we are mentally preparing for a rough transition, we're leaning heavily on our past experiences to help us predict the situation and mitigate any potential issues. Happily, so far, all indications are that this move to Washington DC might be more akin to our experience in London, which was a dream, than to our experience in NYC, which wasn't.

Having friends in and near DC will undoubtedly help with our transition. The job market appears more welcoming too. Plus, there aren't any songs about "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere," which is probably the most reassuring. Additionally, we found a furnished, temporary home with ease, which, besides employment, is usually the most daunting task. So, though we're mentally preparing for a rough transition, so far all signs are allowing us to hope for a smooth one.

Hong Kong
In travel news, Mike & I spent a week in mid-September traveling in northern Thailand. We spent the bulk of our time in Chiang Mai but we also ventured towards the Myanmar border, stopping in Pai and Mae Hong Son. We've also just returned from a few days in Hong Kong, the city I originally wanted to move to prior to coming to Taiwan. I still love that city but living in Taiwan has cured me of any desire to live there, though I wouldn't mind if it still happened (it probably won't).

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong
Besides a trip down to Kenting (Taiwan) in December and a day's layover in Shanghai in January, on our way back to the States, our travel in this area is nearly finished for the foreseeable future. Once we move to DC we probably won't be planning any Asian vacations for a while. Still, though we're returning to our home country, it'll be our first time living below the Mason-Dixon and, though DC itself may not be considered a southern city, our proximity to that area will undoubtedly bring us some new experiences and adventures.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Our new view
Okay, so last year I started my life as a lady of leisure with a bunch of goals, one of which was to get healthy. Well, I failed. Miserably. It didn't help that I lived in a super hot sweatbox, sucking my will to live along with any desire for physical activity. I just wanted to stop sweating and my logic was that if I'm sweating by just sitting then who needs to exercise. Silly logic.

But, early last month we moved to a luxurious apartment with air-conditioning and an elevator. We're calling our new home The Hotel because it's like a freaking Intercontinental. We live in a goddamn Sofitel. There's no pool but our building does have a fitness room. Score! No more excuses!

A long time ago, when I was still in my 20's, I read an article that stated that both your body and health begin to deteriorate in your 40's so your 30's are your last real chance to provide a good foundation for your body as you age. I'm 37. Shit's getting real.

So, I'm giving this healthy living thing another try. In addition to running and cycling, I'm now also doing this 30 Day Push Up Challenge. I'm on Day 20 and making some real progress. I read somewhere that your arms are the fastest to respond to exercise and that push ups are the best non-aerobic exercise for overall body strengthening, so I'm hoping to be motivated by some positive physical changes shortly. My strength is already improving but I get the sense that arms need to be continuously trained in order to maintain their strength. Thus, I know that this is just the first step to a push up filled future. Yay.

practicing the dangle
For a long time I've had a goal of being able to do a pull up because someday I may fall off a cliff or building or have to hang onto a window ledge to hide from human traffickers who have broken into my hotel room. Eventually I'll need to pull myself up off the cliff / ledge or, at the very least, dangle until help comes. Today, I'm so weak that I would fall to my death almost instantaneously. I'm hoping that a well-executed series of push ups will strengthen the muscles needed for a life saving pull up and that this 30 day challenge may be the first step in eventually saving my life. Plus, how awesome is the person who just starts doing pull ups at any given gathering of friends? Um, super awesome.

Of course, exercise is just a small piece of the healthy living puzzle. Apparently, diet is even more important. My weakness used to be baked goods (cakes and Pillsbury Grands especially) but, not only are those not as easy to come by here, we also don't have an oven, so that problem has really just solved itself.

I do still possess a weakness for the drink though. Namely gin and tonics. There was a time I thought these were zero calorie because tonic is just water and gin is just...I'm not sure of my logic here. Maybe clear? Anyway, I was wrong and they're not. In fact, most of my daily calories were coming from booze. Thus, new rule, no drinking during the week (except if out with friends because no one likes the teetotaler). So far abstaining from my nightly G&T hasn't been too bad. Perhaps gin and tonics don't taste as good as healthy feels? (Yes they do but I'm employing will power here.)

With some additional dietary adjustments (more fruit, less everything else, etc.), I'm really hoping to begin to see some real changes soon. I used to have a goal to run a destination marathon for my 40th birthday. That goal has fallen to the wayside but I might revive it. Or, maybe hike a long trail, like the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. Or, maybe something more exotic? Hiking definitely sounds more my speed than marathoning. I might also enjoy a good, long bike ride. Either way, I'm resolute this time. I'm writing it down. People know about it now. Healthy living, here I come.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mid-Year Updates

The months since my last post have flown by. But, slowly. Time moves slowly here. Perhaps it's due to the newness of everyday encounters? Or, maybe my lack of any routine occupation?

I read somewhere about a trick for slowing down time because, as adults, time seems to move quickly but, as kids, time was seemingly endless. For example, as a kid the three months of summer vacation lasted For. Ever. But, as an adult, a year can pass seemingly unnoticed. The article's conclusion was that in order to slow time down one needs to adopt a child's perspective.

Most things children experience are new. Thus, the newness of everything creates a memory or experience which, in turn, simulates more time. As an adult these new memories or experiences occur less often, making each day blend into the next, simulating less time. Therefore, one must experience new things, or old things in a new way, in order to seemingly slow time down. Accordingly, because our lives abroad, especially in a Chinese speaking country, provides ample opportunities for experiencing new things, or old things in a new way, time moves slowly for us. An illustration of this would be the fact that it's only been 5 years since we left Seattle yet it seems like much longer because of all the things we've experienced in the interim. Conversely, because our 11-years spent in Seattle were routine, that time seems to have flown by.

With friends in Tokyo
But, I digress. My last update was regarding March and here we sit in June. Since that last update we've celebrated our birthday month (April), started Chinese lessons with a private tutor, been to Tokyo, and had a friend from London visit. I also wrote a short story and submitted it to two competitions and started a language exchange with a friend while Mike applied for an artist's residency program housed in Kaohsiung's Pier-2 Art Center. I find out in August how my short story fared and Mike should find out shortly as to how his application fared.

We were looking forward to a couple more international trips in the coming months but while buying tickets for a trip in November I was rejected because my passport expires in January 2016. Apparently, one needs at least 6 months validity on their passport in order to purchase international flights. So, instead of visiting new countries, we'll be waiting for a new passport for me (4-8 weeks). Definitely not as cool.

Surrounded by locals at a bar in Tokyo
Since I'm without a passport for the next few weeks, we hope to focus our travel time on Taiwan, which we have neglected since our arrival last year. Our deterrent has been that, much like the UK, intra-island travel is often more expensive than traveling abroad. But, with no other choice available, this might be the impetus we needed to stay on the island, but get out of Kaohsiung.

With June nearly half over, and my first year as a lady of leisure coming to an end, I'm in the process of assessing the status of my goals and, sadly, my Chinese skills are not where I had hoped they would be at this point. Though I'm able to maintain a simple conversation and read simple sentences, my writing skills are definitely lacking. Moving forward I'll be focusing more on those but, otherwise, I'll just continue as I have and hope I reach the tipping point soon, when learning becomes easier.

Shrimping with visiting friends in Kaohsiung
My writing goals have mostly been achieved, though I'm disappointed that the act of writing doesn't come easier for me. It's an absolute effort to write every day and often times I don't. Because I am inherently lazy. But, despite my laziness, I have completed a novel-length manuscript, which I'm currently editing, and a short story, as previously mentioned. I haven't been published yet but I have an article I'm kicking around in my head and I hope to get that to someone before the end of July for possible publication, meeting my goal. I've also been paid during the year, though not for my writing.

Looking forward, I'm not sure how much longer I'll be a lady of leisure. I'm beginning to miss working, especially for a cause, and Mike is beginning to loathe teaching. Both of these developments portend a shorter stay in Taiwan than originally anticipated. We're withholding any final decisions until later this year but, assuming an end is nigh, I hope to use my remaining months as a lady of leisure to finish my writing projects, accomplish my goals, and lounge by a pool, preferably with a drink in my hand at all times. 乾杯 (gan1bei1 / cheers) to that!

Thursday, April 09, 2015


Compared to our February, which, besides a trip to Vietnam, was fairly uneventful, our March was rather busy. In addition to traveling to Macau for a long weekend we had a fairly full social calendar here at home.

BBQ'ing like a local
First we went north to Cingpu (青埔) MRT station, an area of Kaohsiung we've never visited, to experience BBQ'ing like a local. The custom here is to rent an area at a private park (I don't believe public parks have BBQ'ing facilities) where you can also purchase food sets, allowing you to arrive with nothing more than yourself and some beverages. The BBQ is built into the table, Korean BBQ style, rather than a stand alone unit. Our area had three picnic tables with this setup.

This BBQ was our first event with Conversation Kaohsiung, a Meetup group populated mostly by locals, most of whom have lived abroad and most of whom also speak English. We had been trepidatious at first, expecting only to be there for a couple of hours, just to try it out, but when the party was wrapping up we realized more than five hours had passed. Time had just flown by.

Enjoying ourselves so much, we joined that same group the following weekend for a trip to the Kaohsiung Fine Arts museum to see the recently opened Kusama Yayoi exhibition. Though Mike's brother lives near this museum, and we've been to the surrounding park many times, we've never actually ventured inside the museum. We didn't even know that it was free (though special exhibitions have an entry fee).

The exhibition was enjoyable, though incredibly crowded at times. The museum itself is fairly large and the other exhibitions, which we quickly explored before returning to our group, appeared very interesting and are worth another trip. We look forward to returning, adding this free diversion to our list of things to do when bored.

March was definitely our month for culture because, in addition to the above, we ended the month with a play at the Pier-2 Art Center. We saw "It's Dark Outside" which was absolutely magical. Imported from Australia for the Kaohsiung Spring Festival the play had no dialogue, relying instead on a combination of live-action, animation, music, and puppetry to tell the story of an elderly man with Alzheimer's. Not relying on language as communication, it was perfect for a multicultural audience. Additionally, the unique storytelling was viscerally affecting. It was a beautiful interpretation of a tragic disease and an excellent way to spend an evening.

Mike's new bike
In addition to the above events, we also bought a secondhand bike for Mike to use for his commutes. It was super cheap at only about US $24 and has reduced Mike's commute time by 80%. An excellent investment!

In other news, the weather is beginning to turn again and we've already had to turn the A/C on a few nights this month. Hot water is no longer needed for showers as the cold water is lukewarm since the outdoor tank is heated naturally by the blistering ambient temperature. Luckily, the weather appears to be turning slowly, one day hitting 32 another day only reaching 26, allowing us to savor these last few days of comfortable temperatures.

After experiencing a winter here, we were hoping to have acclimated by now but that doesn't appear to be the case. Consequently, when our lease expires at the end of July, we're hoping to move to a flat with less stairs (we're on the 6th floor of a walkup), better A/C (right now only our bedroom is air-conditioned), and a pool. (As a lady of leisure, I demand a pool.) All things that should help us cope with the heat and continue enjoying our time here without constantly commenting on the weather. Because weather commentary is boring. And we refuse to be boring.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Expat's Life: How To Make Friends

Childhood friend
When I moved to Seattle in 1999, having only ever lived in the house where I was born and raised in West Valley City, Utah (represent!), I had a hard time making friends. It was the first time I realized both how important friends are as well as the fact that I had no idea how one goes about making them.

Being born and raised in one place, I'd never grappled with the need to make friends because it had always just happened (plus, with no internet, my options were fairly limited). As a kid it's easy and, as you grow, when you don't have to start from scratch, you never really recognize when you're making friends. One day you just have a new person to call or hangout with. But, when you don't know anyone, and everything is new, making friends becomes a deliberate activity.

Seattle friends
In Seattle, making friends was hard. Without any experience, Mike & I faltered and failed more than once. Eventually, however, we wound up with an amazing group of friends. It took about two years before we had any real friends though, and we met those almost exclusively through our various jobs.

In 2010, when we moved to Dundee, we encountered the same conundrum. We went back to our notes from our early days in Seattle, hoping to duplicate our successes and minimize our failures, desperate for immediate results as we didn't have 11 years to cultivate friendships, as we had in Seattle. We were on an accelerated timeline and wanted friends NOW! And, looking back, we were fairly successful. We still have friends from our early days in Dundee, both from my various jobs as well as Mike's school. But, we weren't really successful until we moved to London in 2012.

London friends
In London we discovered the magic of the Yelp community and, with it, our first expat community. Since Yelp was still in its early days in London, most in the community were expats and expats, as we found, are instant friends. Additionally, I wound up working at a stellar organization with topnotch colleagues and became fast friends with most of them too. Within weeks of arriving in London we had an amazing group of friends, both locals and expats.

In New York City we attempted all the tricks we'd picked up in London and prior. Unfortunately, like we've been saying, New York City was hard and what worked for us previously wasn't really working for us there. But, since we maintained our expat skills, and expats are usually open to new experiences, I persevered and eventually discovered the HarlemGo Meetup Group.

NYC friends
Meetup is very popular in New York City and HarlemGo, though not providing us with any long-term friends, provided us with some much needed socialization. Eventually, we also wound up crafting a really good group of friends through our jobs.

When we moved to Taiwan last year we were immediately greeted by a large group of expats, instant friends, because Mike's new colleagues, native English speaking teachers, are all expats. But, we're also keen to make friends with some locals, though our inability to speak the local language is proving a difficult obstacle. Still, as expats we persevere.

Kaohsiung friends
Earlier this month, while revisiting some of our old tricks, I came across Conversation Kaohsiung, a Meetup group of mostly locals wanting to practice their language skills. This group has already proven quite fruitful as we've already gone to multiple events with them or those we've met through them. It's a very promising start.

Additionally, last week Yelp announced their expansion into Taiwan and, though the community is in its infancy, I'm optimistic that it might be able to play a similar role for us here as it did in London. We're also set to begin Chinese lessons in April, which will hopefully help us overcome that pesky language issue.

Our time in Taiwan has already been exceptional and these new developments will hopefully only add to our experience here, no doubt making it that much harder to leave when the time comes. But, if and when we do leave, making friends is no longer the obstacle it once was because of the lessons we've learned from the trials and tribulations we've faced in the past. By being open to new experiences and not afraid of trying new things, we're meeting new people from all around the world and getting to call them friends. Our friends enrich our lives exponentially. We only hope they're getting something out of it too.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Happy New Year (Again)!

Beach at Cijin Island
January found us exploring our city a bit more, finally taking the ferry over to Cijin Island, a popular day trip destination, where we discovered a lovely beach and lively market area. We also spent some time around the downtown area where Kaohsiung's tallest building (85 Sky Tower) is located and also where the fancy new library is.

Fengshan Canal Path
We explored our immediate neighborhood a bit too, meandering along a lovely canal path which took us to the Fengshan train station and an MRT station as well as an historic fort.

Our January was both a great way to begin the new year as well as a great way to end it. As this area of the world begins preparing for the solar new year (Feb 19), it feels a bit like we get a do-over on our new year's resolutions. Good thing too, since we've already failed at most of them.

For our first legit Chinese New Year, rather than ensconcing ourselves in it here in Taiwan, we're going to be celebrating Tết in Vietnam. When we get back, hopefully we'll be attacking the Year of the Goat with a renewed vigor.

Additionally, my third #100days as a Lady of Leisure begins tomorrow, placing me well beyond the halfway point of my first year on sabbatical. During these next #100days I hope to continue pursuing my original goals for this period - Mandarin, Writing, Being Published, Being Paid - but, I also hope to re-attempt previously failed and discarded goals, like running. This past August I had hoped to make running a habit. Presently, not only is it not a habit but all attempts at fitness, including yoga, have been abandoned. I'd like to remedy this.

New Year's Day bike ride
Finally, I'd just like to say that Taiwan is amazing. We are constantly awed by the kindness of the locals and the culture, which is warm, friendly, and inviting. And, though Kaohsiung itself is a lovely city, it's when we venture outwith that we're reminded of how beautiful this country is. We hope to begin regular explorations soon, with our sights set on Tainan and Xiao LiuQiu for our first couple trips.

Happy New Year everyone! 新年快樂!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Second #100days Check-in

Final sunset of 2014
Happy New Year!

I've got less than a month left in my second #100days as a Lady of Leisure. Happily, I'm now able to check #2 off my list of goals - write something, from start to finish - after having completed a manuscript of more than 76,000 words in December.

I was able to meet the deadline for the competition I was writing for and, while I have no illusions of actually winning that competition, it was a successful exercise in discipline. Writing for a deadline with a provided theme (music and its influence) gave me direction and purpose. And, a finished manuscript.

I've also started querying agents, hoping for some professional feedback. Again, I have no illusions that my manuscript is publishable as-is but, with some professional guidance and additional effort, I hope that it will be ready someday (though probably not in time to apply towards Goal #3).

For those who are curious, my target category is Commercial Fiction with Pop Culture and Feminist elements (because everything must fit into a box). My title is Old Friends and Dangling Conversations (a mashup of two Simon and Garfunkel songs) and my pitch looks something like this:
Pauline Dier is an Elton John. She is also a matchmaker. She matches people based solely on their favorite musician because she believes music is fundamental to one’s personality and that one’s favorite musician can predict certain personality traits. 

Along with her best friend Brett, a Michael Jackson and an emerging artist, Pauline navigates New York City's bar and art scenes. Leading a routine but enjoyable life of career, bars, and friends, she believes herself to be complete until she reconnects with her old friend Gina, a Dolly Parton, who, after eight years in a bad relationship, has taken steps to rediscover her happiness.

Influenced by old friends and the music she has designed her life around, this is the story of Pauline as she begins to explore what it means to truly be alive.
In other news, my Mandarin is coming along. Slowly. Mike's is coming along at essentially the same pace, though I'm putting much more effort into it. Damn him and his natural talent for languages.

I'm learning to play the guitar as one of my 2015 resolutions.

Another resolution has us eating a vegan dinner once a week. For our first attempt, Mike made a lovely pineapple coconut curry over rice. We didn't even miss the meat in that one. I think our next one is going to be an attempt at Phad Thai. Yum!

We also ventured out on our first day trip since moving to Kaohsiung.

2014 was a good year for us. Much better than 2013 but, hopefully, not as good as 2015 will be.

We hope you had a very happy holiday season and a happy new year. We wish you happiness and good health in the new year.

Much love to all.

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