6 months in Taipei

Tex and I hit the six month mark here a couple weekends ago.  Some days it feels like we’ve been here FOREVER and others it feels like we just arrived.  That’s true with a lot of people in the Foreign Service, I’m sure. Now that we’ve had time to make this city our home, to a certain degree I feel more comfortable judging it. The Good: – Taipei could not be more safe.  It it perfectly safe to walk down weird alleys, ride public transportation, and wear stupid clothes here.  No one will bother you – ever. – Taipei is navigable.  We are able to get anywhere in this city quickly, cheaply, and safely. – The city is full of tons of different restaurants, stores, and experiences.  It is not some sort of homogenous Asian experience.  There are scotch bars, tons of western food, and festivals all the time.  It’s fun. – Everyone is NICE.  My weird Chinese word salad is TERRIBLE.  However, the people here LOVE that I try.  They correct me, help me, and let me massacre their language with patience and understanding.  Thank goodness.  Also, so many people speak at least some English. – Environmentally speaking, Taipei recycles and is very aware of their carbon footprint most of the time.  Island living certainly makes them conscious of their imprint on the world.  (Unfortunately, sometimes we get pretty bad smog from China.) – No tipping – everyone in Taipei is paid a living wage.  Unfortunately, that is very low.  We sort of live like Kings here. The bad: – Timing – it’s just weird. Servers hand you your check and then stare at you until you pay them.  It’s probably to be polite, but in the U.S. that would be considered super weird.  Also, I’ve noticed that people walk really slow here.  The mindless, zombie, phone-staring youth contributes a great deal to the slow moving streets. – Food.  I know I’ve complained about the food before but I’m so serious about it.  Before we came here people said: “Oh!  you’ll LOVE the Taiwan food.”  Um…no. Sweetened boar meat sausage, weird cartilage-filled cuts of meat, oyster omelettes, stinky tofu, pork balls… it’s gross. Just EW. Luckily, just around most corners you can find French, Indian, Spanish, American, Swedish, Sichuan, Italian, German, even Canadian cuisine. – The phlegm – Gross.  In many Asian cultures it is considered unhealthy to keep any phlegm in your body.  If you know it’s there – get rid of it.  Unfortunately, that means that people are hacking, coughing, spitting, clearing, and otherwise being gross much of the time.  It’s accepted here…and very disgusting. – The table manners – annoying.  My family instilled in me a strict set of rules for the dinner table.  Some of them I still follow though I can’t seem to keep my elbows off the table.  The number one rule was to “chew with your mouth closed” because “nobody wants to see what you are eating.” This does not extend to the Taiwan people. It can make for an uncomfortable meal.  Many people will also take any opportunity to floss, even if that means doing so on the bus seat next to you. They also tend to suck on their teeth – A LOT. Besides the 3 F’s: Friends, Family, and Familiarity, I can’t help but miss the following about America: Cottage Cheese Taco Sauce Shopping for clothes/shoes that fit my giant American body English Readily available popcorn Sephora My brand of deodorant Morning Star Farms products Being able to get all of my groceries at the same store My car Snow I consider myself VERY lucky that this list is so short.  There are many other posts that just, well, suck.  They don’t have lettuce, nightlife, western food, vacation spots, etc. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is: So far, so good....

2013 In Review

As 2013 ended and the New Year began Tex and I reminisced about the previous year. Most years we talk about how we took a vacation or bought a new piece of furniture, but 2013 was very different.  At the very end of 2012 we both quit our jobs in preparation for joining the Foreign Service. A little over a year later it’s hard to imagine how much has changed in our lives. We took so many risks, brought our relationship into a new and stressful world, and really changed the relationships we have with other people.  I very much look forward to 2014 but I am still exhausted from 2013. January- We took a cruise to the Caribbean. We moved to Falls Church, VA. Tex started Orientation. February- We had our Flag Day and learned that we were moving to Taipei, Taiwan – a completely unexpected tour for us. March- I started taking Mandarin classes which I continue today. April-July- We had multiple house visitors all saying their farewells. We finally settled into a groove in Falls Church. July- We took a vacation to wine country and San Francisco. We moved to freaking Taiwan. August- I started interviewing for positions both at AIT and on the local market. We received our HHE shipment (Household Effects). September- My security clearance began for the position of Cleared Roving Support. We celebrated Tex’s birthday. October- Tex and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary in Taiwan. We celebrated my birthday. We took a CLO trip to the small town of Jiu Fen. November- We took a trip to Bangkok. We went to our first Marine Ball. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving abroad in Wulai. December- I got a job as the AITEA Store Manager. We took a trip to the town of Yingge with some friends. We celebrated our first Christmas abroad.   Cruise – January 2013 Chinese Winery Tour – July 2013 Jiu Fen – October 2013 Bangkok – October 2013 Wulai – November 2013 Christmas – December 2013 Christmas – December...

Christmas in Taiwan

We haven’t quite figured out if people in Taiwan love to celebrate Christmas, or if they just love to celebrate period. Since the two major religions on the island are Buddhism and Taoism with only about 4 percent of the island claiming Christianity as their faith, I’m guessing it’s the latter. Our local shopping malls were coated in glitter, garland, and gold.  It was similar to how stores in the states decorate but somehow seemed a bit more tacky.  Everything seemed a bit … off.  While I’d normally smell cinnamon and pine everywhere Taiwan smelled like rain and food stalls.   All of the stores played holiday music but it was a bit bastardized and lacked a lot of … English.  And it all seemed to be some form of techno music. It felt too hot to be Christmas at 60-70 degrees every day.  I miss the cold and the snow. Tex warns me that if I keep complaining about the heat we’re going to Ulaanbaatar next.  Maybe they have real Christmas trees… To offset some of the not-so-jolly spirit I was feeling Tex and I hosted a holiday party at our house.   My family hosts a large holiday party every year so it was very satisfying to recreate a holiday tradition from home.  I think it was just an excuse for Tex to talk me into buying a 4lb tin of cookies at Costco. Taiwan did a lovely job at Christmas, it just wasn’t home. I think no matter where we were posted for our first tour I would feel a bit homesick.  It’s not like my family stands around singing carols while we exchange wooden toys across a piano. I’m probably just romanticizing a comfort zone.  However, let me just say that I was raised in the same town in Pennsylvania that inspired THIS song, how could I not miss it? Despite my preconceived notions about what the Christmas season should feel like we had a lovely holiday.  Tex wanted Chinese food on Christmas Eve (rather easy to find here) so we went out with some friends for dinner.  On Christmas Day we made salted caramel cappuccinos, opened our stockings, and watched movies all day. Not bad for our first Christmas away from home.         Inside SOGO Department Store. Outdoor courtyard at the mall. Christmas – December 2013 Christmas – December 2013 Grocery store. Sichuan Xmas eve dinner. Outside the nearby swanky hotel. Our lobby “fireplace.” Our lobby front desk. Please notice the traditional Santa Claus/Mrs. Claus in the nativity...