Monday, February 4, 2013

Chinese New Year's Resolution

Ahhh, New Year. I am on day three of two wonderful weeks of vacation for Chinese New Year. It is not particularly customary to make resolutions on this particular New Year, but I have made one anyway- to get myself back online and onto this blog! Lukin has been doing such an amazing job of keeping in touch with family and friends at home, and his wonderful (and regular!) postings share much of our adventures, and so I have allowed myself to lazily ride his coat tails. No more!

As Gregorian calendar New Years has passed and lunar New Year is this coming weekend I feel it is an appropriate time to reflect a bit. January marked the halfway point in our time here in Taiwan. We are sliding down the hill towards home now. In my previous adventures abroad I have often felt like I had hit the pause button on my "real life" and was living a lovely adventure, but doing so in a bubble of away-ness. I've described it as living in parentheses. This year has not been like that. In so many ways I feel that this year has been more real and focused and intentional than many I've lived at home. We've not so much hit the pause button, as operated in slow-motion.

It has been quite a thesis statement kind of a year. We have slowed down and are rewriting ourselves as parents. We are building our family to include international elements of global citizenship that Lukin and I feel helped form us as individuals. I have changed career paths from high school to elementary school and Lukin has focused his incredible love, energy, and attention on Abel as an amazing stay-at-home dad.

Living outside our cultural context has really helped us shine some light on what aspects of our home culture are important to us: close-knit families, valuing creativity and innovation, speaking up. It has also helped remind us what else is out there in the world to toward which we can aspire and try to carry home with us: generosity and kindness towards strangers (acts as elegantly simple as standing up to give an elderly person your seat on the bus), listening, appreciation and honoring of relationships with friends, family and colleagues.

As we look towards leaving this country that has welcomed us with work, healthcare, and an incredible community of friends and neighbors (including absolutely the best landlady we have ever had!), I aspire to live our last few months here more consciously and appreciatively. This has been an amazing experience, and one I imagine we will refer to in the future as formative for our little family. Thanks Taiwan!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Color by Number

You can count 21 water tanks from our window. Abel and I counted up from 1 and back down from 21. There are 7 bus stops before I get to the stop from which I walk to work, but 8 on the way home. A metal bike basket costs 250 NT and 50 more if you would like the shop owner to install it for you. The 7-11 sells 16 ounce cans of Guinness. We live in building number 18 of the 4th alley off of Yong Kang street. 6 people have held Abel since he arrived in Taipei. 2 are his parents, 2 are restaurant owners, and 2 were people we met when we spent the morning at the Taipei Botanical Garden.

Taipei is grey and green and blue. Asphalt gives way to concrete which climbs up off the edges of the street and forms cliffs of continuous buildings from east to west and north to south. High on ledges between blue glass windows tenants place potted plants and tend to them. Fronds of green peep over the rooftop railings. Succulent tendrils drape over laundry lines. Awnings sport blankets of moss and creeping vines. From the unlikely base of concrete, green life creeps up through the cracks and crannies of this very urban city. 

The botanical garden is green and brown and sunlit. Acres of paths wind through carefully nurtured indigenous species of tree and shrub. We liked 2 of the species best: Musa acuminata- the banana herb, and Nelumbo nucifera, the lotus. Banana herb towered above us; broad blades of leaves arced from slender stems. Abel liked  the way they waved in the wind. The garden guard who held him showed Abel how the fronds feather at the edges. He liked that too. 

Lotus is a humble flower. It is a flower revered in southern Asia for its humility. 2 countries (India and Vietnam) hold the lotus as their national flower. At the center of the garden was the lotus pond- a pond of mud. Rounds of dark green leaves ringed reedy stalks on which flowers rose like flames from the oozy brown beneath to dot the surface. Flowers that rise above their mucky beginnings. Abel liked to drool and coo at the lady who held him while I counted as many flowers as I could see; 18. 

Back in our white and grey apartment, with bits of wood on tables and trim, I'm thinking a trip to the plant and flower market is in order. We will add our bits of green to the city. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


With nothing but our metro cards, we were able to travel into the jungle and spend the afternoon looking down from the mountains of 貓空 over the cityscape of Taipei. We have the brown line of the metro to thank. From our apartment it is a 20 minute walk to Da’An station. From there we took the train to the southernmost stop, the Taipei Zoo.

**A side note here- The government of Taiwan has decided to promote breastfeeding and in 2010 mandated that every metro station (as well as most public buildings and department stores) have a breastfeeding room. Though Taiwanese law grants women the right to breastfeed pretty much anywhere, these rooms are a lovely retreat from busy train stations and crowded shopping plazas. What an incredibly progressive and pleasant way to directly benefit mothers and babies while promoting breastfeeding!**

From the Zoo we walked two blocks south to the 貓空 Gondola. We swiped our metro cards for 50 元 and stepped into a “Crystal Cabin” cable car with a glass floor.  The gondola took us 4 kilometers up into the mountains over treetops and terraced tea plantations. Abel took a rest on the glass floor floating above the jungle. He's used to seeing trees above him and was transfixed to find them under his feet! We disembarked at the top on a windy road lined with tea gardens and temples.

At 山水茶 tea house we breathed in mountain air from the terrace as we sat at our tea table under an umbrella. Taipei spread out below us at the foot of the mountain. The tea we drank is called “iron tea” which is similar to oolong tea with a less smokey fragrance. It grows on the mountains of 貓空; little bushes of it grew next to our table. 

The tea house owner gave us a mini-lesson on tea preparation- she showed us how to wash the leaves, how long to steep for the first brew, and how to strain and decant the brewed tea. After the lesson she left us to lounge on the mountainside with the breeze and the birds for two hours. Abel gurgled and cooed as he listened to the birds and felt the breeze.

A lovely Tuesday Taiwanese adventure for our little family. Nice to know that a few hours and a couple of subway tokens can take you out of the city and into the fresh air and green of the mountains.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Adventure Underway

 Phew! It's been a big couple of weeks! We're all cozy and settled into our tiny new apartment. Funny, but when I first saw this place I wondered how on earth the three of us would fit in it, but after living here for a few days it seems roomy and fine! Well maybe not roomy, but certainly livable.

Students started school this week and I just finished my second day with kids. We played getting-to-know-you BINGO, made "me" posters, played two truths and a lie, and decorated our library folders. I got my first student hug today- an adorable sideways sneak attack while I was passing out markers. I think I like elementary school!

Last week was filled with loads of prep work. I cut out dozens of bubble letters and had some help
assembling bunches of folders (thanks Lukin!). All the prep work was worth it though as this week has gone very smoothly so far.

A HUGE part of what has made it all go so smoothly is knowing that Abel is spending his afternoons with his dad. Even without the added  stresses of moving to a very foreign country and operating in an extremely foreign language, being a full time care-giver is hard work. Lukin has taken all the challenges in stride and is doing an
 amazing job with Abel. What a dad!

When I'm not working and we are all together, we are generally either walking, or eating. Taipei has an incredible food scene, and our neighborhood is at the center of it. We've been here over two weeks and have eaten at a different restaurant for lunch and dinner every day.

Our favorite breakfast is 包子, delicious steamed buns filled with pork and veggies. Two dollars will buy more of them than you can comfortably eat.

We're also right down the street from 東門市場
market. This HUGE traditional market winds through alleys and between office buildings and covers close to a city block. We walked through this morning and saw everything from lotus root and lychees, to snails and salmon, to lottery tickets and lingerie. We bought a bunch of bright and sweet-smelling tropical fruit.

Abel was a hit at the market and continues to help pave our way here in Taipei. He does everything from get us a break on our rent, to keeping us in good standing with our gate guard, to lowering the price of broccoli. He had a big day out on the town today and took a well-deserved nap after charming it up at the market.

Our family adventure is really underway now and all is well. We miss all of you and are all set up for Skype calls should you care to chat! Much love.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

And we're off! Lukin, Abel and I pushed off from the Wabun dock the morning of the 14th and have been on the move ever since. Marg and Dick drove us down to Toronto in the van and treated us to a night at the airport Sheraton. We hopped on the tram this morning (well, yesterday morning now with time zones!) and went to the United terminal for an hour of absolute madness. Two agents faced a throng of at least a hundred passengers and a half a dozen malfunctioning boarding pass kiosks. We found our way to an agent, checked our bags, hugged goodbye and headed off through customs. At security we were met by a United supervisor who escorted us through and led us down a special elevator to our gate- we boarded with moments to spare. 18 hours, two flights, and a continent later- here we are in Tokyo awaiting our final flight to Taipei.

Abel has been a trooper. He is sound asleep in his stroller now, and has been sound asleep for much of the journey. He has also been instrumental in scoring us seats in empty rows and lots of help with bags. We have a bit of time now before takeoff and are off to sample Japanese snacks and hang out in the nursery- an awesome little airport station with cribs and cushy rocking chairs. Looking forward to the last leg of the journey!