Posts in life
Catching up

SPRING BREAK

We decided a mere four days before break to head to the Philippines for Easter vacation. I'm so glad we did! It was a very relaxing week. My parents live in a high rise apartment building right in the middle of a shopping district. It's such a change of pace to live an elevator ride away from a mall. In the week we were there, we got to go out for coffee every day, swim in a rooftop pool, and — best of all — spend time with family.

The sunrise from our apartment window our first day in the Philippines.

The sunrise from our apartment window our first day in the Philippines.

ORCHID ISLAND

The school asked Paul and me to be chaperones for the 9th grade biology trip to Lan Yu (Orchid Island). I was mostly excited to spend time with my former students, whom I love and miss, but it was also really cool to get to explore a new place. Orchid Island is a two-hour ferry ride away from Kenting. I was blown away by the island's relatively untouched beauty. We had an amazing time! Highlights for me were snorkeling in the Pacific, hiking a steep and muddy path to a crater lake, and yes, hanging out with the students. I feel so lucky we got to go.

A panoramic shot of Orchid Island from the outgoing ferry.

A panoramic shot of Orchid Island from the outgoing ferry.

RECENTLY READ

It's been a while since I checked out books my students are reading — I figured spring break would be a good opportunity to do so. I read all three of Stephanie Perkins' "name" books (they're pretty much exactly what I expected by judging the books from the covers) in quick succession. While I normally eschew these types of books, it's hard to deny that they're fun. They also remind me of how it feels to be a teenager, which doesn't hurt since I am surrounded by teenagers every day.

I randomly wandered onto Powells.com and saw they're having an Earth Day sale (buy two used books, get one free). I made a large purchase in record time: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love & Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed, Poems by Elizabeth Bishop, A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami, Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins, Aimless Love by Billy Collins, All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren, Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay. I got all of these for the price of roughly 3 books here.

MOVING!

We'll be in a different apartment next school year! There are always housing shuffles when staff come and go. We decided to move when a first floor apartment in the neighboring building opened up. We LOVE our current 7th-floor apartment (it's so bright!), BUT there's much to anticipate about the new apartment. Our talented photographer friend Michael kindly agreed to take some photos of our current apartment for memory's sake. Here's one of our record player/map wall.

Taken by Michael Chang.

Taken by Michael Chang.

lifeKate LSComment
We the People

We happened to discuss the First Amendment guarantee of the freedom of assembly in Government class last week. We were reminded that so much of the good that America stands for is a result of peaceful protest (and at times, civil disobedience) and the willingness to STAND UP. Thankful for and proud of all my friends who marched for their convictions. ✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿

Image by Ana Gambuto via  Cup of Jo

Image by Ana Gambuto via Cup of Jo

lifeKate LSComment
Wellness

Last year's word was equanimity

I had many moments of discouragement and outright failure in 2016, but I think my family, friends, and students would agree that I am more equanimous this year than last. I don't know if it's simply because I'm no longer a first-year teacher adjusting to life in a new country... I don't really care! What matters is I no longer completely feel like a slave to my emotions. 

Things that helped:

  • better planning/organization at work

  • better habits: I work like crazy at work and try NOT to work (too much) when I'm at home

  • NOT TEACHING 7th GRADE (ha!)

  • therapy: identifying and treating anxiety

  • more sleep (I charge my phone in the living room and bring a book to bed between 9:30 - 10:30 every night)

  • discussing struggles with the right (positive, level-headed) people

Last year's word leads right into this year's word: wellness.

I don't have any interest in starting a major health/fitness regime, but I do want to establish (and continue) better habits. 

Specific goals:

  • continue getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night

  • actively exercise for at least 20 minutes every day (starting small here)

  • continue NOT taking my phone to bed

  • continue limiting work to work hours (as much as humanly possible)

  • start eating breakfast every day

  • keep personal spaces (desk, closet, etc) organized

  • perhaps... blog more? I am trying to decide if some sort of regular journaling would be helpful

That's it. 

My previous years' words/goals tended to be more philosophical, but 2016 wore me out. I am happy to focus on practical actions and hope that leads to an overall sense of wellness. 

lifeKate LSComment
All by myself

Paul's job takes him back to the US twice a year and this time, his parents asked if the kids could join. The girls are so excited about seeing their old stomping grounds and, of course, friends and family. 

It just so happens that their departure date coincided with MY departure date for a professional workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam. So we went up to Taoyuan Thursday, stayed the night at a hotel, then parted ways in the morning.

I KNOW so many moms crave time by themselves (and the thought of a week alone would be amazing) and I've definitely had periods when I would've LOVED it, too, but I think working full-time for the past few years has taken away much of that desire and I am just genuinely sad (and a little anxious) to be on my own.

That said, this weekend in Hanoi has been fantastic! I'm here for a professional workshop so (sadly), aside from two dinners out, I've pretty much been in a conference room or the hotel... but it's fun to be back in Vietnam (and I've certainly LOVED the delicious food). 

Last night, we were all so exhausted from the meetings that my colleagues and I said goodnight at the insanely early hour of 7:30. I promptly crawled into bed with a tub of strawberry gelato and started a new TV series. It was pretty wonderful.

Now it's back to reality; I'm just about to board my flight to return to Kaohsiung. Will arrive home around 11:00 PM — and then it's back to school in the morning! 

lifeKate LSComment
Fall break

We're at the tail end of our fall break. I'm so thankful we've had this week off.

We spent Tuesday night tent camping by Fenqihu, a little village near Alishan. It rained almost the entire time, but I loved it. (Our inherited, almost 40-year-old tent held up to the water surprisingly well.) Fenqihu is definitely worth a visit; there's a traditional market down an alley leading to a train station and the village is bordered by breathtaking cedar forests. 

Yesterday evening, we headed to Tainan, less than an hour's drive from where we live. Tainan is remarkably charming; there are rows of historical buildings mixed in with newer architecture. We particularly loved Shannong St., chockful of old residential buildings converted into stationery stores and cafes. 

I love Taiwan.

lifeKate LSComment
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:

lifeKate LSComment
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.

lifeKate LSComment
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.

IMG_0462.jpg

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.

 

 

lifeKate LSComment
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. 

 

lifeKate LSComment