Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas and New Years in Taiwan

Christmas certainly felt different than usual this past year. We got a phone call first thing in the morning from Erin's sister Amy and her husband Kevin who had arrived in Taipei the night before. They were taking the high speed train down to join us in Kaohsiung at our place. After breakfast with Erin's parents and some time to talk to my parents on Skype, Amy and Kevin arrived. The six of us were able to celebrate Christmas together with stockings and some gifts for their “babies” (Amy is pregnant and Erin's parents have an adorable new puppy, Dante). We then went to show all of them our school and Lotus Lake nearby. After seeing all the temples and statues at the lake we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant that another teacher had taken us to. The food was once again delicious and gave us the energy to hike up Monkey Mountain where we found a small troop of monkeys. We finished Christmas with dinner at a nice Cajun restaurant we like called, “Bayou”.

On Sunday we took the car out to the countryside starting with the nearby town of Maolin. Supposed to be the place to see butterflies now in their peak we found very few of them. The area was very pretty though and it was regrettable that we had to turn back for gas. Heading back towards Kaohsiung we spent some time at what seemed like the “Disneyland of Buddhism”, Foguangshan. They had a cave with several low-tech animatronics and kitschy scenes from the history of Buddhism. We had dinner at a delicious dim sum restaurant before heading back to our apartment.

On Monday we drove down to Kenting stopping along the way at the aquarium. It was one of the better aquariums we've seen with a whale shark, penguins, and baleen whales. Shortly after lunch we were at our hotel which was just across the street from a wonderful beach which we enjoyed for a while before heading out to see more of the area. We drove over to the Pacific side of the island to view some interesting rock formations along the coast and a park around a lighthouse at the very Southern tip of Taiwan. Afterward we had dinner at a good Thai restaurant in Kenting before walking through the city's night market.

Tuesday found us driving up the Eastern coast of Taiwan on our way to Taroko Gorge. We spent most of the day driving with brief stops to take in the beautiful scenery, switch drivers, and get meals. The East Coast is very scenic and we hope to visit there again at a little slower pace. After an inexpensive dinner of dumpling soup in Hualien we drove into the gorge whose features were lost in the darkness of the night. Fortunately we were able to find our lavish hotel and get some rest after navigating the narrow roads.

We had more time to see the gorge on Wednesday when we took a shuttle to one of the many notable views. Unfortunately we weren't clear on the shuttle schedule and so found ourselves walking through a large portion of the gorge on the same narrow road (and through the dark tunnels) that the cars and buses used. It didn't help that many of the gorge's trails were closed due to landslides from earthquakes and typhoons. When we got back to our hotel in the afternoon it was nice to spend some time just relaxing for the rest of the day.

On our way out of the gorge on Thursday we stopped to hike one of the few open trails. It was a beautiful path overlooking a sparkling stream and lush canyon walls. Back in the van we were soon on our way back to Taipei. The drive was shorter than the one the previous day and took us through one of the longest road tunnels in Asia. While the traffic in Taipei was crazy we were able to find our hotel. After checking in we tried to find a jade market but had no luck and instead made our way to the city's botanical garden. That night we found a nice Vietnamese place for dinner.

Early Friday morning Erin's parents were off to the airport for their flight home while the rest of us took in more sights in Taipei. It was a very busy day as we went up to the top of Taipei 101, had dumplings from our favorite dumpling place, visited the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, walked through the 2-28 park, visited Longshan temple, and bought a gift at the nearby “snake alley” night market. Of course, being New Year's Eve, we couldn't leave it at that. So after a brief rest at our hotel we went back out for a late dinner and joined the tremendous crowds to see fireworks being shot off from the Taipei 101. The immense crowd of people was uncomfortable due to a reduced sense (or complete lack of) personal space. However, the fireworks display was very impressive especially as it covered most of the surface of the Taipei 101 building. With so many people it took us a long time to get back to our hotel. Since Amy and Kevin were leaving early the next day we said our goodbyes and went back to our room to crash.

Erin and I started the new year with a big western-style breakfast before getting on a train and heading back to Kaohsiung. Looking back we see that it was a very busy trip that allowed us to see a large number of places in Taiwan. We have a much better idea now of the places we would like to see more of and those we can do without seeing again. It was wonderful to have family out to visit and we look forward to seeing everyone again this summer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hong Kong Thanksgiving

After a quick three days Erin and I were ready to head out to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving last Thursday.  Well, almost ready.  We had gotten up early for our 8am flight, but as we reached the airport we realized we had forgotten a passport.  Fortunately we were able to reschedule to the next flight so we had time to go back home, get some Starbucks, the passport, and a little relaxation before our flight.  This was not Amazing Race.

Once in Hong Kong we were able to get a shuttle to our beautiful hotel where we proceeded to have a drink overlooking the harbor.  Before long we were heading across the harbour on a ferry and up Victoria Peak on a tram.  Even for a Thursday there were a lot of people, but we had reservations at a restaurant at the top for Thanksgiving Dinner.  The food was very fancy, but delivered the necessary turkey and mashed potatoes and a romantic setting to go along with it.  The evening air was so nice that we decided to walk down from the peak.  We didn't get too far on the deserted path though when we realized we had forgotten a bag of souvenirs.  Heading back up a porcupine crossed our path which made the return trip more interesting and gave us another incentive to take the tram back down.

The next morning we got to talk to family as they were celebrating Thanksgiving.  It was nice to see everyone through Skype.  Eventually we got cleaned up and went out for some shopping.  While we saw a few things we liked we seemed to be constantly presented with the hip local fashion that is definitely not our style.  We moved on to the Peninsula for some fancy afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches.  Once finished we tried our hand at shopping again, this time in Causeway Bay, but were again disappointed.  Shopping really isn't our thing.

Our next stop was a ride on a traditional junk in the harbor while watching the light show.  The music was kind of hokey, but the view was excellent as we saw buildings from both sides of the harbor light up in time (roughly) to the music.  We finished the day at an amazing sushi place called Nobu.  It really typified Hong Kong for me as we had delicious sushi while overhearing some guys pitching a new technology to an investor at the next table over.  I think if it weren't for the tremendous amount of people and the high cost of everything we would enjoy living there in the future.

We got a full understanding of the crowds on Saturday when we went out to Lantau island to see the big Buddha.  We had decided to take the gondola to the remote village and monastery, but that also happened to be how everyone wanted to go.  What seemed at first to be a short line turned into a several-hour wait.  Once at the village we were rewarded with a parkour demonstration along with the majesty of the statue.  But then we had to wait once again to get on the gondola back down.  We ended up spending most of our day on the trip.  That night though we had a chance to see SoHo with it's long escalators, small bars, and narrow streets.  We found a great little Italian place for dinner to finish our day.

On Sunday, after one last walk along the harbour, I saw Erin off at the airport.  While she went back to Kaohsiung I was staying on in Hong Kong Monday and Tuesday for a conference on leadership in education and technology put on by Apple.  It was an interesting conference that really helped me see how technology can be integrated into teaching.  Plus we got to play with iPads and I got to meet other education tech people, so that was fun.  Of course it's meant spending the rest of this week catching up and I'm glad that it's the weekend once again.

It was a very enjoyable trip and I can definitely see Erin and I visiting long as we can figure out when to avoid the crowds!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fun Fair and Birthday

It's been relatively quiet for Erin and I recently.  Last weekend Kaohsiung American School (KAS) had their annual Fun Fair.  This is put on the school PTA to raise money for school and community projects and includes numerous booths for food and games.  The goal of this year's Fun Fair was to raise money for a gym.  While the theme was "Beat the Heat" it turned out that wouldn't be a problem since it rained for most of the day.  Fortunately Erin and I were able to stay relatively dry working in the entrance-way helping to sell books.  What's more, though it was wet there looked to be a large turnout and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

On Friday it was my birthday and I'm so happy for all my friends and family that expressed their well wishes.  Even though we're so far away it's nice to know that people are thinking about me.  Friday night Erin took me out to see the latest Harry Potter movie.  The movie was kind of dark and depressing, but it was an also exciting and seeing it in recliners while eating dinner and sipping cocktails made the experience very fun.  In addition to going out Erin had ordered an apple pie that arrived Friday afternoon still warm from wherever it was cooked.  It has been delicious and I'm glad she went through the effort to track down someone to make it.

Finally on Saturday night we went out to an American place called "The Brickyard".  While none of the people we had invited were able to make it out that meant we got to know the owner of bar.  Apparently he worked at KAS as an ESL teacher recently, but was let go as the school shifted its focus away from that area.  With some experience in organizing parties he was able to get "The Brickyard" up and running with an American menu and local bands playing frequently.  Our meal was very enjoyable and the place filled up quickly, so it seemed like he was doing something right.  It was another example of how quickly things can change here.

This week is a short week for us with the Thanksgiving holiday.  We're looking forward to going out to Hong Kong for the long weekend starting on Thursday.  Before long it will be Christmas vacation.  When we look back on it the year certainly seems to be moving quickly.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kenting and Early Birthday

Two weekends ago Erin and I finally had the opportunity to travel down to Kenting.  We had booked a room at a very expensive hotel because it was the only one we could find for the time we could go.  We hadn't worked out transportation before-hand though, just hoping to get on a bus when we went to the Kaohsiung main train station.  Amazingly enough, on our subway ride to the train station we ran into another teacher from the school and her friend from Taipei.  They happened to be traveling to Kenting as well.  We ended up getting on a shuttle together for the ride down there thanks to our new friend.

Once in our room we were overcome by the view and the peacefulness of the crashing waves.  We spent much of the rest of the afternoon just relaxing and listening to the waves.  By dinner time we walked into town to find throngs of people and a lively night market.  People were packed out into the street, but we were still able to find an Italian eatery for dinner.

The next day we rented a scooter from a paintball (and scooter-rental) place across from our hotel.  We then went up to the Kenting Recreation Park which had some very nice trails, caves, and lookouts.  We're looking at going back in December.  We then rode back into town for a delicious Thai lunch before cruising down the road a bit.  The wind had picked up though, so we stopped at a beach to look at some tide pools before heading back to our hotel to check out.  All in all it was a nice trip, but we're definitely looking to spend some more time there in the future.

Last weekend care packages arrived from both my parents and my aunt and uncle.  They were so kind to get us some non-perishable things that we haven't been able to find here.  As they were ostensibly for my birthday I hesitated to open the packages, but then went ahead feeling that there was no reason we shouldn't be enjoying them currently.  I feel very blessed to have such a caring and supportive family who would do so much to help Erin and I all the way out here. 

What got me and Erin most was the high cost of shipping and we feel bad that we didn't mention the shipping company we used to ship our stuff out here.  Shipnex ( was a bit difficult to navigate and be sure that we were using the right service (since it looks more geared towards commercial shipping), but it was also much less expensive than UPS or the US postal service.  So I want to thank everyone again for everything they've sent us and apologize for not mentioning this shipping service before.

Next week Erin and I will be celebrating my birthday by going out to see the new Harry Potter movie in the "Gold Class" theater where they have individual recliners, serve you food and alcohol, and generally treat you like a VIP.  The following week we will be in Hong Kong for the Thanksgiving break.  We're looking forward to a well-deserved break and a chance to get out of town for a couple of days.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fire Lion Festival

The past few weeks have been very busy for Erin and me; mostly for Erin as she has attempted to adapt to teaching three new English classes in a different school and different country.  While I have some planning and grading to do for my two classes, it is nothing compared to the piles of work she brings home each night.  With first quarter grades due two weeks ago and parent-teacher conferences this week it has been our primary focus.

Last weekend, with grades in, it was time to relax and celebrate.  Erin went out Friday for a "Lady's Night" as I stayed at home and relaxed.  Then on Saturday morning we both got a full-body massage.  The place had been recommended by one of the teachers at school because the masseuse was supposed to be gentler than the hard massages people seem to prefer here.  I say "supposed to" because we still found it very hard.  We probably should have said something, but the two hour massage did feel good aside from a few sharp moments.  Then again we were both sore for the rest of the weekend so I'm not sure I'll go back.

The most exciting part of last weekend came on Sunday when we were treated to VIP status at a local Fire Lion Festival at Lotus Pond.  We arrived at our school (which is a few blocks away from the pond/lake) around 4pm and walked with a tour guide as he described the history of the area.  We went to a local temple to a god of medecine and learned the lengthy ritual to get a prescription for chinese herbs (let's just say it involves a lot of random picking and block tossing).  We then went to two pagodas that sit on the lake with a tiger sitting in front of one and a dragon in front of the other.  You walk in the mouth of the dragon and out the mouth of the tiger for some traditional reason (after the medical god prescription process I was starting to lose interest).

We then walked over to the other side of the lake to take part in the Fire Lion festival.  This involved writing our wishes for our family, friends, and future on little slips of paper that would be attached (or bound up) in a large paper lion that would be burnt taking our wishes to heaven.  With that written up and attached to a line we took a trip around the lake in a boat as we learned more about the area.  It was a very nice evening as the temperature is finally starting to get cooler and more comfortable.  After the boat ride we walked over to a very nice hotel for dinner.  The dinner was a nice banquet style meal though we weren't particularly fond of the food.  Once we were finished it was dark out and time to head back for the fire lion parade.

It was at this time that we began to realize our true VIP status at this event.  As we rushed back to the lake we found ourselves walking in front of people watching the parade so that it was the parade going one way in the road, us walking the other way in the road, and everyone else standing on the side of the road watching it all.  Our tour guides led us toward a main stage where we were soon given front-row seats to watch the festivities.  There we were given up close performances by dancers and martial artists with incense, flaming staffs, and flaming swords.  At one point the mayor of Kaohsiung (apparently the third most politically powerful person in Taiwan) arrived and greeted us.  It was all very exciting, though a little embarrassing, having so much attention lavished on us.  You can see more about the festival on the city's website here: (warning: music player in upper-right hand of pages)

Finally the lions which had been brought up earlier were set on fire with a cavalcade of fireworks and a water show out on the lake.  It was all very spectacular and we were glad that we had the opportunity to participate.  It was a reminder of why we're here and working so hard to adapt to this foreign culture. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Living it up in Kaohsiung

These past two weeks Erin and I have been getting to know Kaohsiung a little better rather than traveling out of town.  That's mainly been driven by a need to get caught up with work more than anything else.  It's always fun to get out of town, but it also involves more planning and can be stressful dealing with yet another foreign place.  So the past two weeks have been a bit more easy going.

During that time one question that we've been struggling with has been what to do about transportation.  After watching how chaotic scooter drivers can be in the city and even noticing two in minor accidents we soon ruled that out for the city (we still like to get them in less populated areas).  Next we considered a car and started the process for getting one.  However, we soon learned that our apartment doesn't come with a parking space which would mean we would have to rent it ourselves.  At about US$75 a month it would be a major part of owning a car.  What's more, finding car parking in the city can be difficult and driving can be stressful.  Well, we finally decided that our current practice of walking, taking cabs, and using the subway was working just fine.  We're pretty lucky to live very close to a subway stop that allows us easy access to much of the city.  We may get something else in the future, but for now I think we'll just stick with that.

Staying in town on the weekends we've been going on to eat much more often.  A week ago Friday Erin went out with some girl friends to watch a movie and have margaritas while I met a friend from college who happened to be in town.  On Saturday night we made reservations and ate at a wonderful rooftop Thai restaurant downtown.  The views were great and the food was delicious.  It's definitely a place we'll be going back to.  On Sunday we rented and rode bikes down the river to an outback Steakhouse for a large Western-style dinner.

During the week we've gone out to a variety of places as well.  We've been out for Italian, Indian, Thai, Western, and local cuisine.  We're even going out for a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner tonight (same kinds of food, different day).  Back in the States I don't think we would have been able to eat out so much, but here it is one of our few expenses with our place already paid for.

Getting to know the city we had a chance to walk around the Central Park last weekend.  Then last night we took a five-minute ferry ride across the harbor to Cijin island.  It was nice to rent a bike and ride around.  We got to check out the lighthouse and an old fort as well as some beautiful views of the city that they provided.  It was also nice just sitting and listening to the waves on the beach before going back and having some dinner and shaved ice with mango. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moon Festival on Penghu Island

Erin and I have returned to work this week after a very relaxing vacation last week.  Last week started off very exciting as Typhoon Fanapi blew through on Sunday.  While Erin and I stayed comfortably inside watching the wind and the rain the storm dropped enough rain to cause school to be closed on Monday.  Going in to school after the storm had passed I saw some of the damage it had wreaked with downed trees and flooding in some of the school's classrooms.  It also meant a short work week (one day) as we were scheduled to have our Moon Festival vacation starting on Wednesday.

So after a busy Tuesday at work we woke up Wednesday morning and went to the airport.  For this vacation we had decided on Penghu; an archipelago of the Western coast of Taiwan described as "The Hawaii of Taiwan" in our guidebook.  Getting on the plane in Kaohsiung was a breeze (no need to take off shoes or take out liquids) and we we're soon flying to the main island of Penghu.  It was a short flight though (about 30 minutes) and before we knew it we were getting picked up at the airport from one of the owners of the B&B we were staying at.

With our bags dropped off we were soon on a scooter exploring the beaches and temples of the island.  We came across some wonderful sandy beach spots with warm waters, numerous sea shells, some very interesting temples and beautiful clear skies to go with it all.  It's probably no wonder then that we found ourselves sunburned after only our first day.  That night we rode into the main city on the island, Magong, for dinner and to have a look around.

The next day Erin was determined to ride her own scooter after having practiced on the one we had the day before.  So we rode out on separate scooters to explore the island.  As an archipeligo, Penghu is actually made up of several small islands connected by bridges.  Because there's only one way out to (and one way back from) the farthest island,

Thursday ended up being a long day.  During the day we saw the aquarium with some wonderful turtles, a large banyan tree sprawling across a courtyard leading to a temple, basalt columns formed by the volcanic birth of the island, a traditional village built from that same basalt, and a lighthouse at the very end of the last island.  After riding all day we got into Magong to see the sun set before getting some dinner and heading home (though not before seeing a fireworks display, seeing a small parade, and stopping for a drink at the pub).  It was wonderful seeing and doing everything, but we were exhausted.

On Friday we took it much easier and spent most of the day relaxing at a tree-filled park next to a beach.  The day included a lot of rest and a long walk on the beach as we found beautiful shells and coral.  That night, as the wind grew stronger we decided to rent a taxi to take us into town for dinner.  Not being able to read the menu we ended up getting mainly what was pictured which turned out well, though somewhat strange (they put bbq sauce on our spaghetti).

For Saturday our hosts had recommended a small island accessible by ferry called Tong-pan which had a nice path and some stunning basalt formations.  We got to the dock just in time for the ferry, paid the gruff captain our fair, and agreed to be back for pick up in two hours.  A short ride later found us on the small island which was very easy to walk around.  The ferry back arrived with just a little hesitation (and anxiety on our part to be able to leave the small island), but we were soon back at the B&B packing up to go.  The host shuttled us back to the airport while telling us of his wind surfing and kite surfing passion.  With the amount of wind the islands get, he certainly seems to be in a good place.

Back home we did some Costco shopping and then spent all of Sunday working in preparation to go back to school.  It was quite a trip and I'm glad the weather cooperated so well.  It was a good reminder of why we go through all of the challenges of living in a foriegn country.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Typhoons, Bicycling Down Love River, Friends, Sickness, and Taipei

I've been slacking on writing the blog for a few weeks now and it's not for lack of things going on (as you can tell from the title of this post).

As this month started our new island home was being buffeted by typhoons with heavy rains and winds.  One storm looked liked it would be so bad that school was closed for a day (decided by the city).  We went in like we do every day and the superintendent was standing there at the front of the school telling us that there wouldn't be school.  It was nice to go back home and relax even if the storm wasn't really that bad.  It seems like we've had stronger storms since then, but no more days off school.

The following weekend we got up Sunday morning and walked over to the river where we found a stand to rent bikes.  After figuring out the automated stand we had our bikes and were riding down along the river.  It was a nice ride that took us down to the bay and showed us an Outback Steakhouse that was serving American-style brunch.  We eventually made our way back to the original stand, put the bikes back, and would have paid for the rental if my credit card hadn't had a block put on it. 

Later on Sunday I had some friends that were in town so we met them for tea.  We had a chance to see them again the following Wednesday night.  They were so nice to help us with getting SIM cards for our phones and showing us a good place to get some Belgian beers.  Afterwards they took us to a Szechuan hot-pot place for dinner.  It was fun dunking the different food in the pot of boiling broth and the food tasted really good.

Unfortunately the next day neither of us weren't feeling very good.  I guess our stomachs haven't quite become accustomed to Taiwanese food.  Erin soon got better, but my stomach/colon has issues so it's taken me longer to recover.  In order to get a refill on prescriptions and hopefully get better a very nice teacher at school agreed to take me to see a doctor at the hospital.  It was an interesting experience as appointments are made based on a number (like when you take a number at DMV), not by time.  So when we got to the hospital with the doctor I learned we had number 59 and the doctor we were seeing was at number 24 (and moving slowly).  We eventually saw the doctor and I got some medicine, but the whole process took several hours.  On the plus side, the doctor's visit plus medication for a month came to a total of about US $15 (compared to hundreds I would pay back in the US).
Even though I wasn't feeling well Erin and I had a room booked in Taipei last Saturday and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity.  We took a very nice ride in the fast train Saturday morning which allowed us to see the beautiful countryside.  Once in Taipei we had dumplings at a great lunch place before going to the National Museum.  The museum had many antiques from China including jade carved to look like a leaf of cabbage and another carved to look like a piece of pork.  After the museum we saw the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial before heading out for some delicious pizza.  Our final adventure was a traditional Chinese opera which was very peculiar, but entertaining.  Exhausted, we returned to our room at the Grand Hotel.  We came back to Kaohsiung on Sunday morning.

Those are the highlights from the past few weeks and I'm sure Erin will have more detailed stories in her blog.  Going back over it I'm amazed at all that we've done and yet we're just getting started.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The challenges and joys of getting away for a weekend

This past week has been a busy one as Erin and I continue to settle in to our new home.  We've gotten a foam top for our very hard bed and a toaster/oven for the kitchen while we've struggled to dry and iron our clothes.  At work, my teaching counterpart Peter has taken over my 4th and 5th grade classes giving me more time to fix issues with spam emails and Windows administration.  Meanwhile Erin is neck-deep in grading while keeping in mind the demands of some of the parents she met at an Open House night on Thursday.

With all of these things happening we were looking forward to getting out of town for the weekend at a hot springs resort on the Eastern coast of Taiwan.  In order to do this we received a lot of help from a fellow teacher who booked our room and got our train tickets.  She even wrote out notes in Chinese that we could show people for help.  So on Friday after school we took a taxi and rushed down to the train station.  We were able to find our platform and our train amongst the throng of people though the rush had left us a little stressed.  Fortunately the train ride was pretty and serene, but when we got out at our station we were confronted with a challenge.

Our friend at school had told us there would be someone waiting for us with a sign when we got off the train, but when we arrived they weren't there.  In our hurry to leave we hadn't bothered to ask where we were staying and so we felt a bit stranded at the train station.  Fortunately, more people from the school were coming on a later train and when they got there someone from the hotel showed up with their name on a sign and we were all able to get to the hotel for check in.

We had arrived so late though that our best option for dinner seemed to be room service.  When I called what I thought was room service though I couldn't get anyone who spoke English.  So someone would answer, I would ask for something or ask if they spoke English, they would indicate that they didn't and seem like they would find someone who did.  Unfortunately this routine played out several times as one person after another would pick up the phone, find out I spoke English, and put the phone back down as they tried to find someone there who also spoke English.  We were so tired and stressed that it was all we could do but laugh at the whole exchange.  We finally got some dinner and went to bed shortly after.

After some sleep on our room's very hard bed we woke up the next day feeling better.  After some breakfast we took a walk around the hotel to see the hot springs, koi pond, and some aggressive black swans (among other caged animals).  We then went back to town to rent some scooters to ride up and down the coast.  It was very liberating to have our own transportation and using it to find our own secluded beach made things even better.  We even found some roads with little to no traffic for Erin to practice her scooter driving on.  It was definitely a fun way to see the island.

While out riding we saw many stands for a fruit that's supposed to be very popular here.  Someone back at school called it "Buddha-head" fruit because it looks like a Buddha's head I guess.  So on our way back from riding we stopped at one of the stands and got some.  They're tasty, though a little messy.

Saturday night we watched an aboriginal dance show which was fun.  While the dances looked traditional the music seemed to be influenced more by Lady Gaga than traditional music.  It was all a bit funky.  Afterwards we went to the spas that were the draw for the hotel.  They had a wide variety of spas and we eventually settled in one that was colored and scented by roses.

On Sunday we took a trip over to a nearby national forest which turned out to be very nice.  Our camera broke after taking the first shot so we didn't get many pictures, but it felt very jungle like with some beautiful waterfalls.

Getting back to Kaohsiung turned out to be very easy and now we're left to prepare for next week.  The trip ended up being relaxing, but there were definitely some challenges that went along with it.  I'm glad we did it and now I feel we'll be better prepared for the next time we go out of town.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Busy Days and Fun Nights in Kaohsiung

This past week has been a blur of work and going out.  Monday night I cooked up some tilapia (fish) that we had gotten at a gourmet store.  It turned out well and it was good to know that there are some things that we can have at home here.  With the language barrier it's actually easier cooking and eating in (as long as we've got some food in the fridge) rather than eating out like it would be in the US.

Then again, on Tuesday night we went out to a brick-oven pizza place, and it was delicious.  We're still mainly walking everywhere, but the distance doesn't seem too bad.  Taxis can get kind of expensive and the subway, while great, is somewhat limited.

On Wednesday night we went out with many of the other teachers for some bowling.  Apparently the bowling alley is open 24 hours and it looks like it has been that way since the 60's.  It was fun to hang out with our coworkers outside of school and relax a bit.  We hadn't had dinner yet though, so we only bowled one game before getting some dinner at a nearby pub.  The food there was okay, but I don't think Erin will be getting their quesadilla again.

After work on Thursday we were invited out to dinner with Jana (whom we share a taxi to school each morning) and her husband Joe.  They had found a good local restaurant with some servers that spoke English.  The food was delicious and we are grateful to Joe and Jana not only for picking us up in their car, but also showing us such a good place.

By Friday after school we were ready for a drink so we met up with most of the staff for happy hour at a bar called The Lighthouse.  Again it was fun seeing everyone outside of work.  Plus this place actually had good quesadillas which made up for the ones Erin had earlier in the week.

Saturday was busy as we got up and went out to Starbucks to start our day.  We followed that by a trip up to a mall for some grocery shopping at a specialty shop called Matsusei.  By specialty I mean it was kind of like Trader Joe's back in the US.  We were able to find several items that we're more familiar with.  By the time we had walked back with our bags through the humid weather we were ready for a dip in the pool.  It's always so refreshing and peaceful that we always tell ourselves that we'll go more often.  To finish the night off we went to the local night market filled with a wide variety of food stalls, carnival-style games, and tons of people.  By this time I was exhausted and just wanted to go home.

One reason I wanted to get to bed early was because we were meeting our friends at 6:30am and going for a hike up Monkey Mountain.  You can see pictures from our hike here:


After our hike we set off in search of brunch.  It was 10am, but the places we tried were closed.  We finally ended up waiting for a place called "Bagel Bagel" to open at 11am.  I had seen a sign outside for "Classic American Brunch", but when I tried to order it they informed me that it wasn't served until 2pm - 5pm on weekdays.  Disheartened, I was still able to get some tasty bagels.  The morning seemed to typify life abroad: there are great adventures and new things to see, but don't expect to get brunch in the morning...or something like that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Week of Teaching

While it was Erin and my second week in Taiwan last week, it was my first week teaching.  The amount of preparation and work involved has left me feeling more in awe of teachers and Erin in particular than ever before.  We have returned home each day last week exhausted and looking forward to the weekend.

So on Saturday we slept in before heading out to the Art Museum.  It was a very peaceful place with plenty of modern art.  Unfortunately we spent the next hour or so searching for a place that was open at 2pm for lunch.  Having gotten hot and sweaty from all the walking we returned to our place for a dip in the pool.  It was very refreshing and something we'll need to do more often.  That night we went out to the movie theater.  The experience was largely like going to see movies at home: crowds of people on a Saturday night, expensive movie food, and English movies.  There were the small things like Chinese subtitles and assigned seating, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

Today it was back to work for us.  I'm starting to get a handle on the teaching part, but I still prefer the other part of my job: being the school's IT Coordinator.  It's still got it's challenges, but they're challenges that I've grown accustomed to and excel at solving.  Hopefully teaching will prove to be similar before the end of the year.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

First Week in Taiwan

We've been in Taiwan for five days now, but it feels like it's been five months.  Each long day has been filled with so many new people, stories, and adventures that it's hard to know what to include here.

Our travel out to Taiwan began on Thursday afternoon last week with a tearful goodbye in Denver.  Erin and I were off to Los Angeles and we were soon trying to figure out where to go in LAX.  I've been in and out of the airport a few times, but I still have a hard time finding my way around and this time was no exception.  We eventually made it to our flight and got settled in.  Though our flight was long (close to 14 hours) we each had a television with plenty of movies, shows, music, and games to keep us entertained.  Arriving in Taipei we met up with a few of our fellow new teachers before getting on the final leg of our trip to Kaohsiung.  Upon arriving at our new home city and getting through immigration/customs we were met by the school's director to take us to our apartment.  We were dropped off and walked up to our place and pleasantly surprised by the size.  After 20 hours of traveling we were finally able to go to bed as it was 1am in the morning here.

The next morning (Saturday since we had lost a day traveling over the international date line) we got up and had a cab waiting to take us to the school.  We got breakfast and got to meet many of the other new hires like us.  Our day included a short trip to the photographer for our id pictures, information sessions about the school, and a tour of the campus.  After lunch we all got in a bus and headed over to a grocery store for supplies.  Unfortunately we didn't have much time so it felt a little like a scene from the Amazing Race as we tried to figure out what we needed, where it was located, how much it cost, and how to decipher the packaging to determine if it was actually what we wanted.  We also got to check out a gym before being dropped off back at our apartment.  We didn't have much time to unpack though before being picked back up for a buffet dinner at the director's place.  After walking back to our place we were exhausted and ready to go to sleep.

On Sunday we got picked up and got on a bus for a tour of the city.  It looks like a very metropolitan city, but also with a lot of green spaces.  We got a chance to have lunch by the sea and check out the water (very warm) before heading up the local hill for a view of the city.  That afternoon Erin and I returned to our place to clean and unpack before heading out to dinner with two of our fellow new hires.  We had a good meal of sandwiches and pasta at a nearby restaurant before heading back home and going to sleep. 

Monday morning found us back at the school for introductions to the staff, our rooms, and other information about the living, driving and working in Taiwan.  After spending some time getting our rooms ready we were taken out to Costco and IKEA.  Again we had very little time to spend at the stores and it felt stressful trying to figure out what we might need in such a short amount of time.  It didn't help that we're not normally Costco or IKEA shoppers.  After getting dropped off at our place we still didn't have the necessary tools or food to make dinner so we went out to a pasta place.  The "bacon" looked more like ham and the bread was a little weird, but I had an interesting orange tea drink and Erin enjoyed her ice cream desert.

Tuesday we were back learning more details about the school and other key organizations.  Afterwards we were given more time to fix up our classrooms.  The packages we had shipped had arrived by this time so Erin and I spent much of the rest of the afternoon unpacking.  For dinner some of the existing teachers took us out to a place called Bayou.  The food was all really good and the atmosphere would fool a person into thinking they were in a small restaurant in Louisiana.  We took a long walk back home that night because it was such a filling meal and we wanted to get a better understanding of how the streets were layed out.  We were exhausted by the time we got home though.

Today we've been working with the other teachers on scheduling and other details to prepare for the first day of school on Monday.  I feel a bit divided as I am the IT Coordinator (an administration position), but also teaching at both the elementary level (4th-6th grades) and secondary level (7th & 8th grades combined).  Its all very exciting though and I think it will all work out okay.

There are some funny stories that I know I've left out: like trying to find toilet paper our first night here, Erin's trip to get tea, our helpful door-guard Wilson, or finding lizards in our apartment.  I'll leave those for another time though.  We have to venture out once more and figure out what we're going to have for dinner tonight.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Last days in Denver

While our time in Las Vegas, NM last week gave Erin and I a chance to catch up on some work we were glad to get back to Denver on Friday.  We had even had a nice trip out to Taos, NM last Wednesday, but even as we crossed the border into Colorado and had lunch in Trinidad it felt good to be back in the state.  It helped that our destination was my aunt and uncle's place before taking us out to dinner at Nono's.  It was nice being able to have dinner with them at the same place where we had first had dinner together when Erin and I were dating.

Saturday night, after spending the day back at Erin's parent's place, we were back out on the town meeting our friends for dinner at the 9th Door.  The tapas there were delicious and it was good spending time talking with our friends.  After dinner we walked over to The Red Square, a vodka bar, for some drinks.  More friends met us there for some very tasty vodka.  It was really nice getting a chance to see everyone.  By the end though we were very tired as we walked back to the hotel room we had rented for the night.

On Sunday night Erin's parents treated us to dinner at Sushi Den which was delicious as always.  We are very appreciative of all the help and advice they have given us during this time of transition.  This whole move would have been much more difficult without them.

By Tuesday night we were out again; this time with our supper club at The Wash Park Grill.  The food was good and the company great as always, but the parting was sad as we realized we won't be able to go to one of these dinners again for a year.

Of course it hasn't all been delicious dinners with family and friends.  Our days have been filled with the last minute details of leaving:  Packing, shipping, closing accounts, changing addresses, selling our stuff, and a million other little things.  While we know we will be very busy when we get to Taiwan I feel like I will sigh in relief when we make it onto the plane on Thursday with everything done.  Well, hopefully everything...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tattoo, Ceremony, and New Mexico

For our first anniversary Erin and I decided to skip the traditional gift route (1st year is paper apparently) and went with something edgier.  And while our anniversary was last month, we've finally had some time to get each other's gifts.  So last week we went in to the motorcycle shop where I got her a full-face helmet.  I had also gotten her a necklace earlier, but I think the helmet goes much better with the theme of ths story.  That's because we also went up to Boulder so Erin could get me a tattoo.  I had already sketched out the design and decided where it should go (on my side), they just needed to ink it in.  While there wasn't an artist available when we first went in they were able to schedule us for Saturday.  Though it wasn't my first tattoo the whole experience was as interesting as ever and a glimpse into a very different culture than we're accustomed to.

That night we shifted gears from the tattoo parlor to the roof of the Denver Art Museum as Erin was officiating a ceremony for our friends Rachel and Cameron.  It was a very beautiful ceremony that Erin delivered very well.  It was also very interesting to meet Rachel's and Cameron's families and get more of a sense of where each of them came from.  Of course there were many of the things you would find at a wedding: good food, fun dancing, and many tissues damp with tears of joy.  I'm glad Erin and I could take part in the festivities.

This week as our departure for Taiwan looms large we find ourselves in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Apart from the temperature it bears very little resemblance to the city in Nevada bearing the same name.  We're here for a conference Erin is attending in a nearby college which will hopefully better prepare her for the classes she will be teaching this coming year.  It has also finally given me a chance to catch up on some programming work that I've needed to do.  Still, there's not much to do here and I think we'll both be happy to be heading back to Colorado tomorrow.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Handies Peak & Crested Butte

Erin and I started last week spending time with her family including her sister, Amy, and brother-in-law, Kevin.  After a very fun 4th of July we went with them and Erin's parents on Monday out for lunch and a nice walk around City Park.  It was good to just stroll around and chat before they had to go back home to Baltimore.  That night Erin and I went to my aunt and uncle's place for a delicious dinner and to stay the night as we were heading up to the mountains the next day.

For the rest of the week Erin and I enjoyed as much as we could of the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  We started out on Tuesday driving up to Lake City.  This is a small town towards the western side of Colorado which meant it was a long, but beautiful, drive.  We were staying at a motel with my uncle Reynold so that we could get an early start on hiking the next day.  After strolling around town and having dinner we got to bed early in preparation for the next day.

Getting up early Wednesday morning Reynold drove Erin and I up to the American Basin trailhead where we would start our ascent up one of Colorado's 14'ers, Handies Peak (14,048' elevation).  It was a rough start getting up at 5:30am, travelling over the 4x4 road, and starting the hike in the cold.  We charged up the hill with Erin in the lead, but soon slowed to a more moderate pace as the altitude caught up with us.  As we climbed the mountain the sun started to warm us up and the amazing views compelled us to continue onward.  Before too long we reached the summit and enjoyed the panoramic view with some fellow hikers.  We started back down as we saw the afternoon storm clouds approaching and were back in the truck headed for town before the rain started to fall.

While we all stayed Wednesday night in Lake City, Reynold stayed on Thursday to hike up two more 14'ers while Erin and I returned to Denver so we could take care of our lengthy to-do list and prepare for our next trip into the mountains.  A rapid turn around found us heading up to Crested Butte on Friday with Erin's parents for the annual Wildflower Festival.  After a lengthy, but beautiful drive we found ourselves again in the mountains enjoying a delicious dinner looking out at Mt. Crested Butte.

Throughout the weekend we enjoyed numerous breath-taking hikes around lakes, past waterfalls, and even down the slopes of Mt. Crested Butte.  Throughout all of them there were numerous wildflowers decorating the landscape.  As the festival started on Monday we even enjoyed a jeep tour through which the driver stopped several times to describe the area and it's native wildflowers.  Each afternoon, after doing a hike in the morning, we would relax back at our lodge with some wine before heading out to dinner.  Our meals were generally good (though often expensive) and I would definitely recommend Django's in Mt. Crested Butte for anyone heading up there.

Today, after our enlightening jeep tour, we made our way back home.  It's been a wonderful week of stunning vistas, cooler temperatures, and thrilling hikes with great company.  As I look at Erin's and my schedules I realize that we likely won't get much more time up in the mountains before we leave.  While that does sadden me a little, I realize that this past week has given us plenty of memories (and pictures) to last us until we come back for a visit next summer.  Until then I'm sure we'll find some other mountains to climb and explore.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Education Conference, Selling Condo, and Discovery Flight

Last week was a busy one for Erin and I.  As the week started I continued to go to the technology in education conference in Denver.  It was exciting learning about how different schools are integrating technology into their schools and meeting other school IT coordinators.  It was a very large conference and finding the information that was valuable and applicable to me was a little daunting at times.  All in all I was glad to attend.

As I finished up the conference on Wednesday I went directly from there to Littleton were Erin was finally closing on the condo.  It has been a long and often difficult process to sell the place with several false starts.  We've had a back-up contract since April, but it wasn't until last week that the buyer finally decided to pull the trigger.  Amazingly they were able to get everything worked out for us to do the closing on Wednesday.  Unfortunately that only left us with 72 hours to move out before they took possession.  We spent most of the rest of the week packing up our stuff and moving out.  It was a massive effort on Saturday to get everything done in time and we wouldn't have been able to do it without the help of our friends Jim and Laura.

We did get a chance to have some fun this week though as we had already scheduled a discovery flight on Friday.  Erin had given me the opportunity to fly a plane for the first time as a gift recently and we were excited to finally go.  We met the pilot/instructor at the Centennial airport where he briefly went over what we would be doing.  I would help taxi out to the runway and takeoff, then fly for about an hour and the instructor would take over for the landing.  The whole thing was very exciting, but a little stressful as there was a lot of things to think about.  Even though the instructor was taking care of the radio communications and was there to take over if anything went wrong I was constantly working to keep the plane moving in the appropriate direction and around a specific altitude.  It reminded me of my first motorcycle lesson when I was so focused on all the details that it was hard to enjoy it.  Erin certainly enjoyed the ride from the back seat, so I guess I was doing something right.

By Sunday Erin and I were settled in at her parent's house in Englewood and enjoying the 4th of July with them, Erin's sister Amy, and her brother in law Kevin.  We enjoyed a nice walk along the S. Platte in Littleton and then a delicious dinner of grilled pizza.  It turned out to be a very wet 4th of July, but we still had a chance to light some small fireworks which was nice.  It was a nice way to relax after a very busy week.