Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How to Beat the Pollution in Taipei - Texas Style

When I first arrived to Taipei, I was amazed at the abundance of pocket masks and face mask fashions that I saw on people walking the street everyday.  

What I didn't realized until today, is that this fashion is not so far off from my world back in Texas, where cowboys have been using bandannas for decades... centuries even.  

I have been searching high and low for the perfect pocket mask, and low and behold, it was in front of my face this whole time.  My pink bandanna has been hanging side by side with my scarves since I arrived to this city, and I intend to use it on the musty, dusty streets of Taipei!

It is not that you need to wear a mask everyday, but some days are filled with gross, stagnant and polluted air in your lungs.  Pollutants from the factories in China reach all the way the California coast, so just imagine how potent the air can be in Taiwan.   Although, Taipei has cleaned up its act since the 80's, pollution from factories and vehicles is still extremely prevalent.  Acid rain is still a huge problem here, which can be seen by the amount of rusty bikes and balding women that grace the streets.  

So, after today, I embark on a journey to beat the pollution of Taipei - Texas style.  As my family's Louisiana-Creole horse trainer used to say, "You got to do what you go to do"... 

Pass that Bandanna to the Left Hand Side.

Another modern use for the bandanna on The Playa at Burning Man in Black Rock City, Utah.  Gotta keep all that sand, dust, and smoke out of those lungs!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Power of Positive Thinking

I am a lucky girl.  

Lucky in friends, family, and love.   Thank you to everyone who has been so sweet and supportive of me during these rough few weeks.  All the calls, emails, texts and positive energy really have sent my spirit soaring.  

I love you all!

After everything, I think I have also unlocked one of life's most precious secrets: the power of positive thinking. 

After my school closed down and I was sick of being sick, it was easy to feel that life was turning its back on me.  However, instead of feeling defeated, I took it as a learning experience and a hurdle to prance over.  Something, that in fact, would end up making my life better.

 I had two interviews yesterday and was offered jobs at both schools.  Today,  I signed a new contract at a wonderful school (with nap time!), and class starts tomorrow. 

I thought positive thoughts and now a week after my former school shut down, I am back to work!  

I also re-realized that I came to Taiwan to do much more than teach.  Last Wednesday was a wake-up call.  I have started painting again (I will have work to show you by the end of the week!).   I also joined a Gaelic football team.  I have set up private lessons AND I am looking into doing some acting here, as westerners are highly sought after for ads and commercials... should be interesting and hilarious.  

Also, even though I don't really believe in horoscopes, I read them. Today mine told me that the cosmos is urging me to explore dusty dreams, because I am entering a period of good fortune, and anything I start will be especially blessed.  Now that is something to be excited about!  Keep thinking positive!  

Again, thank you all for the good vibes!  The picture above is my gift to you!  

Its a beautiful temple in Taipei, called "Longshan Temple"... although it's surrounded by bums and prostitutes, it is actually one of the oldest and most beautiful temples that I have seen.  If you look closely you can see the gorgeous tiles that decorate the surface.  Just beautiful.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

East Vs. West Tanning Culture

As the days are getting cooler and summer is falling behind us,  I would like to take a look into one of the funniest differences I have found in summer culture from the east to the west.  

This being: the tanning culture, or lack thereof. 

Back home, in The States, having a tan is something to be proud of.   For some, tanning is a way of life.  Being that I am a chameleon of sorts, I adopted this way of life while living in Arizona.  Some may say that I was too tan at times.  Actually, pretty much all of my friends at home made fun of me for it, but I embraced it.  

The tanning culture can be seen by the many tanning salons and spray tanning boutiques gracing the good ole US of A.  I even saw that they were very prevalent in Argentina.  In the west, if you are tan during the winter it shows that you are able to pay for vacation and in turn have lots of $$$.  It can be seen as a status symbol.  Also, lets face it, most white people just look better with a slight tan.  

Now, I find myself in the far east, where in the middle of summer, people are wearing arm covers on their bicycles to cover their arms from becoming tan.  People wear jeans to the beach, in the ocean, and then shower in them.  Children are covered from head to foot, with hats and globs of sunscreen.  There is such a thing as a "face bikini".  All of these layers being worn when it is 98 degrees, mind you.  Pale is beautiful.  Also, status symbol of $$$.  Back in the day, if you were pale, it meant you were wealthy and that you did not need to work outside in the fields.  

Another thing that shows the eastern obsession with white skin are the normality and excessive use of sunbrellas.  They are everywhere, always.  These umbrellas are used during the hot, sunny days of summer to keep those pesky rays off the beautiful porcelain skin. 

When my roommate first arrived to Taiwan after  a summer of carefree, pool lounging in the States.  Her manager took a look at her, wincing that her skin looked so different from her alabaster photograph sent in with her resume.  "Oh, SO black," she said in a shocked and somewhat disgusted voice.  I had a similar experience after a weekend at the beach.  My manager told me that I should wear a sweater while riding my scooter so that my skin wouldn't get so brown. She was just trying to be helpful

Of course these are two extremes.  Not all westerners are chained to a tanning bed, and I think that culture of extreme tanning is behind us *I hope*.  Also, not all eastern folk are found heavily clad at the beach, but its just so interesting (and hilarious) to see 
the extreme differences. 


Face-kini Family Affair

Legit biker in the middle of summer.

Keep that bod covered, woman! 

Images VIA:,,, and ME

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Week of "Building Character"

So I am going to get straight to the point.  Living abroad isn't all wonderful food, fabulous people and fun.  There are a lot of things that are extremely hard to deal with.  Besides the obvious hardships of feeling alone and missing family and friends, there is the possibility of getting sick, really sick, and not knowing what is wrong.  Not knowing what is wrong AND barely understanding any of the language.  For the past few weeks I have been in this situation: sick, tired, getting the wrong diagnoses, and slowly getting worse.  Finally, a week and four hospital visits later I was diagnosed with a kidney infection and am luckily getting better.  

... And still it gets worse... Besides missing friends and their weddings, how about your office shutting down right after accepting a position there?  Oh, because that happened too.  

My school shut down just a week and a half after I started working there, and after I resigned from my former school. 

The first week at said school was bliss. I loved my co-teacher.  The kids were a challenge, but I liked that, because I was the same as a child.  I got lunch and nap-time, which has been a life long dream of mine ever since we stopped getting nap-time in pre-school.  Naps are just a good idea.  They know whats up in Mexico with siestas.  Naps are the secret to happiness and all of life's problems.  I am convinced.

Then I come in on Monday for my second week and my co-teacher starts telling me the owner is missing and its good for us, because she is crazy.  OK, thats fine with me.  I don't need any crazies around.  The problem is that the school needs the owner, because it needs funding.  Monday was the day that all of the teachers were supposed to be paid, the rent for the building was supposed to be paid, food for the students was supposed to be funded, and so on.  

Tuesday, my co-teacher asks me if I have signed a contract.  She tells me that there is something really wrong with the school, but that she shouldn't say anything.  I figure it’s not too bad and brush it off.  All will be fine I think. I will talk to the manager about signing the new contract on Wednesday.  My previous school hasn't canceled my work permit, so it’s fine for now. 

Wednesday, I walk in and the manager says she needs to speak to me and the other foreign teacher in the reading room.  We both sit down and wait for the manager to come sit with us.  She tells us that the owner of the school has disappeared and that they have to close down the school on Thursday.  Apparently, the owner took out too many loans from some bad people, and owed a lot of money.  So, she took the tuition from the parents, and ran.  We are not getting paid; in fact no one is, because there is no money.  The parents won't be seeing refunds.  It’s a loss for everyone. 

Tears come to my eyes.  What the hell am I supposed to do?  I think about my work visa.  They were supposed to renew it.  I loved the school too.  It is just so sad.  I wrote down my number and gave it to my Taiwanese co-teacher, who begins to cry and gives me a long hug.  "This is what I was I was talking about" she says, frowning and trying to hold back tears.  I tell her everything will be ok and to keep in touch.  I walk to the front door and on my way I see the manager breaking down into tears.  I feel so bad for them, even worse for them than I do myself.  They have been with this school and the kids for years.  It's just heart-breaking for everyone.  

I leave the school and break down and cry.  Seriously?  After all of the health problems I have been facing?  I am loosing my job?  I am so far away.  I miss my family and I miss my friends.  I start to think that maybe these are all signs.  That Taiwan is not the place for me anymore.  This day was a bad day.  It was a breaking point and test in my life.  

I was upset and I cried.  I thought of all the options.  Of leaving taipei, leaving taiwan, moving to Vietnam, moving back to the US.  I was afraid.  

What I didn't expect was to wake up the next day empowered.  I CAN DO THIS.  I love Taiwan.  I am not finished here and I will find something better.  I am healing.  I know what was physically wrong and my body will be ok.  Now, the next step: finding a job.  That will be easy.  There are so many jobs here.  I have so much more to do here, so many more sunsets to watch from my roof and flowers to paint.  I need to finish my Taiwan painting series that I have only just started.  I need to learn Mandarin.  This week has been hell, but it has also been a re-awakening.  

I am strong, I am on my own, and it feels good.  

Today, I met with a recruiter, who saw my school on the news.  She couldn't believe that had happened to me.  Apparently, this is the first time something like this has happened.  I have interviews set up for next week.  So, send some good vibes my way.

Keep on keeping on. 

Thanks for the picture Danielle!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Taiwan High Speed Rail - Taipei to Kenting

Kenting National Park is in the Southern most tip of Taiwan, and it is beautiful.  One of the things I love about Taiwan are that parts of it have an undeveloped third world feel.  Something truly special to this American girl, used to miles of overdeveloped Earth covered in skyscrapers, fast food chains, and parking lots.  Obviously, not all of Taiwan has this feel, as it is a first world country, but the amount untouched coast that I have seen is marvelous.  

There are many ways to get to Kenting from around the island.  You can go by bus, scooter/car,  train, and by the HSR (High Speed Rail).  For my first trip to the South, I took the High Speed Rail from Taipei Main Station and it was glorious, absolutely glorious.  

You can travel almost the entirety of the island in 1.5 to 2 hours.  The approximate distance from the Taipei to Kaohsiung is 393.3 kilometers or 244.3 miles.  The HSR does not mess around.  

The only down side to the HSR is that it does not take you all the way to Kenting.  A ticket on the HSR from Taipei to the last stop, Zuoying Station, is $1,490NT (roughly $45 US).  Zouying Station is in Kaohsiung, the second largest city and last stop on the HSR.  

From Kaohsiung to Kenting, you can either take a $400NT bus or a taxi for $1,400 - $1,600 NT.   The drive to Kaohsiung to Kenting ranges from 1 hour (taxi) to 2.5 hours (bus).  I opted for the taxi, so the duration of my trip was a little bit more than 3 hours.  A total of 450 kilometers/279 miles in that time is pretty amazing.  

I highly recommend the High Speed Rail.  Its a cool experience.  I think that many places would benefit from a rail system like this one.  In the US alone, imagine: Houston to New Orleans, Tucson to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to San Fran, Boston to New York, and the list goes on.

*Also, be sure to bring a sweater or something to keep you warm.  The HSR is Freezing. For serious. 

Inside the HSR Car

Back of the Seat, Yo.

One-Way Ticket to the SOUTH, Thank You Very Much. 

Don't judge.  I was having a bad day, and for some reason wanted McDonald's.  I had two bites, felt sick, and hated myself for the duration of the train ride.  Never again. I swear. 
Final destination - Beautiful KENTING.   More on my adventure in Kenting to come! 

Images VIA: Me, Wikipedia,,