Lilies

I've said this before, but I feel so lucky that I get a second chance at living and appreciating Taiwan. 

I didn't really discover Taiwan's natural beauty until I was about to graduate from high school, and I've always regretted not seeing more of the island. It's amazing to do so now. 

Looking down over Taimali, on the east coast of Taiwan.

Looking down over Taimali, on the east coast of Taiwan.

Last weekend, we decided to drive out to Taimali (about 4 hours away) to see the famous lily-covered hills. Some of our friends think we're crazy for driving so far for a day trip, but Paul and I both love long drives and spontaneous adventures. 

It was totally worth it. Check it out:

Throwback

After talking about it for (literally) a decade, we finally bought ourselves a record player.

I love it.

I love the challenge of hunting down stores that sell vinyl in the city. I love that it'll take us a while to build a collection. I love listening to WHOLE ALBUMS again (after years of listening to Spotify playlists and not knowing the names of bands and songs I like). And of course, I LOVE how vinyl sounds.

What's in my bag?

There's no excusing the triviality of this post. I'm posting this because I really enjoy seeing what's in other people's bags (and the light is really good right now).

Purse from Zara. Pouches from various stores in the Philippines. Pencil bag and notebook from Muji. Glasses case from Daiso.

Purse from Zara. Pouches from various stores in the Philippines. Pencil bag and notebook from Muji. Glasses case from Daiso.

Here is everything all lined up. The green pouch holds miscellaneous stuff like wet wipes, sunglasses, and my charging cable. The orange pouch holds health-related items (like my kids' inhaler, ibuprofen, and anti-bacterial gel). The purple pouch holds feminine necessities. The denim pencil bag holds my favorite pens (Pilot V5 and Frixion), washi tape wrapped around cards, and a tiny notebook. The grey pouch holds receipts, which are the single thing that clutters my purse and wallet. Not pictured: my phone, wallet, and keys.

Here is everything all lined up. The green pouch holds miscellaneous stuff like wet wipes, sunglasses, and my charging cable. The orange pouch holds health-related items (like my kids' inhaler, ibuprofen, and anti-bacterial gel). The purple pouch holds feminine necessities. The denim pencil bag holds my favorite pens (Pilot V5 and Frixion), washi tape wrapped around cards, and a tiny notebook. The grey pouch holds receipts, which are the single thing that clutters my purse and wallet. Not pictured: my phone, wallet, and keys.

The bag opening is really wide and has bright linen lining, which makes everything easy to find.

The bag opening is really wide and has bright linen lining, which makes everything easy to find.

Better late than never

I had two books on my to-buy list when I arrived in the Philippines: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen and Euphoria by Lily King. The problem is, none of the five (five!) bookstores within walking distance carried them. Eventually, one of the bookstores ordered the books for me, but in the meantime, I decided to refocus my efforts on finding and purchasing novels written by Filipino/a authors.

Working my way through my pile as I track down and purchase books (newly acquired books still wrapped in plastic!). Not pictured: the book that started it all (for me): Mia Alvar's In the Country. Also not pictured: Lysley Tenorio's Monstress, which I bought, read, and loved soon after I wrote this post.

Working my way through my pile as I track down and purchase books (newly acquired books still wrapped in plastic!). Not pictured: the book that started it all (for me): Mia Alvar's In the Country. Also not pictured: Lysley Tenorio's Monstress, which I bought, read, and loved soon after I wrote this post.

My new fascination with Filipino/a literature started with Mia Alvar's In the Country, a collection of short stories by a Filipina-American author. I was particularly intrigued by her historical/political stories from the Marcos/Aquino era, a time I vaguely remember but don't really understand. Reading Alvar was a revelation to me — minus one romance novel I stumbled upon as a teenager, I had never read anything by a Filipina author. I, frankly, cut my teeth on books by white men: first John Grisham, later Michael Chabon, Graham Greene. The literary characters that have filled my mind are war correspondents, college professors, cops, lawyers — by and large, white males. (Sometimes Filipina characters do make cameos in these books — as maids, nannies, entertainers.) To be fair, I have encountered books about the immigrant experience that hit close to home (by Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri), but I have never read anything that touches on my Filipino heritage.

In the couple of weeks I've been here, I've been building a collection of books by Filipino/a authors, based on recommendations and reviews. Several purchases in, I was pleasantly surprised to realize all but one are written or edited by women authors. I'm noticing Filipino literature tends to be more subversive, feminist, political, and gritty. This is the stuff I had no exposure to as a student in a Western school system.

Funny story: after reading a few books, I picked up a book by an older white male (the kind of book I've always read, the kind that gets a lot of attention from the media outlets I read) and I was astounded by how alien it is, how far it is from my reality. It's startling to realize so belatedly how the loudest (and most powerful) voices from my literary journey represent a largely homogenous perspective that is not my own. 

Happy to have my eyes (and world) opened. Better late than never.

 

Vietnam!

It’s been a few weeks and I’m just now sitting down to write about our 10-year-anniversary trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. To be fair, the past few weeks have been CRAZY. Paul took off for Tanzania (he's gone for almost a month!) the day after we returned from Vietnam, which was also the start of my last week of school.

So yeah! We went to Vietnam for our anniversary! Paul surprised me by purchasing tickets and planning the trip. The intention was to keep the destination a secret until we arrived at the airport (!) but I accidentally ruined the surprise (as usual) about a week before. Nonetheless, I was blown away by Paul’s thoughtful planning.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

Paul picked Vietnam because he had just read one of my favorite books, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Paul ended up booking a room at Hotel Continental Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest hotel, where Greene actually wrote the book. I’ve never been on a “literary” trip before and it was pretty thrilling to hunt down locations from the book.

We stayed at the Hotel Continental Saigon, where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American and where a good bit of the book is set.

We stayed at the Hotel Continental Saigon, where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American and where a good bit of the book is set.

Of course, being in Vietnam was also sobering. It was hard not to think about the Vietnam/American War with every step we took. It’s chilling to see how easily we rewrite history for our own benefit and terribly frightening to think that this dehumanization of the “other” is something that humans have always done and continue to do.

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We found Ho Chi Minh City extremely charming and picturesque. The architecture is a fascinating mix of new and old. There are red flags, yellow stars, and pictures of Ho Chi Minh everywhere. Hotel Continental is located right at the heart of the historic city and we spent many hours wandering the neighboring streets and stopping for coffee every couple of blocks.

Coffee! Vietnam is chock-full of cafes! And — even better — the home of so many “secret” cafes! We went to a number of cafes and restaurants that required walking through dark alleys and climbing flights of stairs in what look like residential buildings. 

A little hint to let us know we're on the right track, three flights in on our journey through a dark residential building.

A little hint to let us know we're on the right track, three flights in on our journey through a dark residential building.

Vietnam is one of the leading global producers of coffee beans and the local culture certainly reflects that. We picked up a coffee dripper (my favorite kind of souvenir — local coffee gear!) and had our share of super strong coffee + sweetened condensed milk.

All of those lit spots are cafes and boutiques. We picked a cafe on the 8th floor--it was quite an adventure to get there (a walk down a dark corridor then 8 flights of stairs through a residential area).

All of those lit spots are cafes and boutiques. We picked a cafe on the 8th floor--it was quite an adventure to get there (a walk down a dark corridor then 8 flights of stairs through a residential area).

The food was, of course, incredible. We ate and ate and ate and EVERYTHING was good.

I had three bowls of noodles for breakfast one morning.

I had three bowls of noodles for breakfast one morning.

All-in-all, we loved Ho Chi Minh City. It made for a fantastic weekend trip and we can’t wait to go back for a longer visit.

Downside of going on an anniversary trip somewhere hot: Paul: Sorry, I didn't mean to touch you.

Downside of going on an anniversary trip somewhere hot:
Paul: Sorry, I didn't mean to touch you.

 

 

Taking stock

I’m sitting at a coffee shop on the mezzanine of the mall directly beneath my parents’ apartment. This is surreal for so many reasons: 
1) I finished my first year of teaching and I’m on vacation for the next two MONTHS!
2) I’m at a coffee shop blogging with my KIDS — Lucy’s playing a game and Anna is reading and listening to music. So weird to enter this new (awesome) parenting stage. 
3) I’m in the Philippines! 
4) Paul’s not here — he’s been in Tanzania teaching a college program for the past 2+ weeks and won’t join us here for another 10 days.

There’s so much to reflect on at this moment, halfway though a calendar year and at the end of a school year. I feel a great sense of accomplishment for making it through a year as a teacher — everyone says the first year is the hardest — but now that I have this time under my belt, I’m also well-aware of all the things I want to do differently (better!) the next time around. 

I do think some parts of teaching have come naturally — caring for the students, being excited about the subject matter, showing kids the real-life relevance of what we do in class. But other parts of teaching are HARD and, I think, not things I’m naturally good at — class management, organization, keeping my cool when things feel out of control. It’s hard to celebrate the successes instead of dwelling on the failures.

Oh, and remember my equanimity goal? Hahaha. Let’s just say I’ve failed in so many ways.

But! We love Taiwan. I still sometimes get choked up doing run-of-the-mill things like going out for a Taiwanese breakfast. It still feels like such a gift to be back after missing Taiwan for most of my adult life. 

We love our community. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think living in staff housing is just fantastic. In my years living in America, I had so many conversations with friends about how awesome it would be to live in an intentional community, where kids go outside to play tag after dinner and you can still do things like run across the hall to borrow a cup of sugar. That’s totally the life we’re living now and I LOVE it.

I also love that I have a job with a natural end and beginning. I love the idea of a fresh start and I’m glad for a break so I can reflect, rest, and recharge. 

 

April book report

My reading frenzy, which began in March, is still going strong. I read 11 books in April, which puts me 10 books ahead of my 52-book reading challenge this year.

Here are one- or two-sentences about each of the books I read in April, for future reference:

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Oh, to be Hemingway, when living the life of a starving artist meant maybe cutting short your Swiss ski vacation to a month instead of two! Maybe my favorite parts were Hemingway's scathing descriptions of F. Scott Fitzgerald (and Fitzgerald's various, um, insecurities).  

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I'd never read this — and I had no idea there is so much more to the story than the crazy lady in the attic. Talk about a sprawling novel.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

This book surprised me with its spare, matter-of-fact characterization that somehow still left me with a vivid portrait of the main character's complex and paradoxical emotions. I was also surprised by how much I resonated with Toibin's portrayal of the immigrant experience.

What If? by Randall Munroe

I listened to this at 1.5x speed while I was laid up with a concussion and it was such a laughably poor choice for what was supposed to be a brain-resting activity. I did enjoy it — and particularly liked Will Wheaton's reading.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and John Levithan

This started my dive into John Green's back catalog. I loved the characterization of both Will Graysons — one reminds me so much of a few of my 7th grade boys, it's painful.

Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami

I usually feel deeply satisfied reading Murakami even though I never understand his books, but this time I just did not feel invested. 

The Collar and the Cavvarach by Annie Douglass Lima

Lima is a colleague from our sister school and she is visiting this month to give a talk in my class, so I figured I should read her book ASAP! Happily, I enjoyed it — I found her made-up world compelling and her characters sympathetic. (I cried!)

Animal Farm by George Orwell

WOW. This was so much darker than I anticipated — almost unbearably dark.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I can see why this remains an enduring Green favorite. He has such a gift for respecting the intelligence and maturity of teenagers.

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Being a middle school English teacher gives me an excuse to read fluffy YA novels. I read one of Smith's other books based on a blogger recommendation and I liked it enough to pick this up from the local library.  

No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre

I read this play for my book club — dark, but darkly funny. Makes me wonder who would be in my version of hell...

Ouch

While returning from a river/waterfall hike on Sunday, I slipped on a wet rock and landed RIGHT on my cheekbone. (Who knows where my hands were and why they didn't break my fall.) Paul didn't see me fall but he said the sound of my face hitting the rock was like a branch snapping.

It killed. At the moment, I really thought I broke my face. And my brain.

Fortunately, nothing is broken, but I've had a headache ever since.

Our friend and neighbor K is a nurse and she has been monitoring me. She says I undoubtedly have a concussion, and the only real treatment is to rest my brain. I feel like that is nigh impossible — how can I just sit there without reading? Working? Thinking?

I downloaded an audiobook as a compromise — I won't actually be reading, so it should be fine, right? I picked Randall Munroe's What If?, which turned out to be a laughably poor choice. The whole thing is one thought exercise after the other. 

Concussions stink. Wear proper footwear when hiking by rivers, people. And for goodness' sake — why are people still playing American football?! 

At least it was beautiful hike! Image credit: Paul Shaffner

At least it was beautiful hike! Image credit: Paul Shaffner

Aimless Love

I'm teaching a poetry unit to my middle schoolers right now and I'm very much enjoying hunting down poems to share with my classes.

Here's one I particularly like. (My students found it perplexing.)

Aimless Love
by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

Spring cleaning

First time our dining room has been clear of various projects since... I don't even remember.

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