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.