Bidding Wars

It’s bidding time again for us vagabonds, and it ain’t easy. Tex and I have spent HOURS pouring over information to determine which posts we should put high, or medium. Or high-medium. Or high-low. Or really, really low-low. Last time we only had to organize 11 posts in order of “Yeah, send us there!” to “Oh, HELL no.” This time we have 31 different posts.  We have to consider so many factors that we use a quantitative method of bidding. We give each of the following a weight (Safety is tantamount to our survival, so we give it a heavy weight while internet speed is of less importance, so it gets a lighter weight.) THEN, we give each section a number between 1 and 5. In the end, each post has its own score. –   Safety –   Hardship (how difficult it will be to feel at home) –   EFM employment opportunities –   the Human Development Index –   Tex’s job description –   Population –   Internet speed (yes, it’s a factor) –   Travel options/Proximity to culture We’re very excited, of course.  It’s amazing to think of all the places we might live.  We watch all of the travel shows we can find about Sao Paulo and Montevideo.  We read first-hand accounts of people living in Belgium and Ulaanbaatar. We talk to friends currently living in Vienna and Frankfurt about what they like and don’t like in their post. Then, after all this weighing, researching, and measuring, we usually wind up with a post at the top of the list that makes us say, “Oh, HELL no.” So, we start all over again. THEN, we get sent to a place that we never thought possible – like Taipei....

Night Moves

Taipei is famous for its night markets.  Night markets come in all shape and sizes, of smelly.  We took our adventurous friend to one of the largest, Shilin, for a taste of Taiwan. Shilin is a labyrinth of steaming meat trucks, bun vendors, shrimp fishing in buckets, and various clothing and accessories.  We spent two hours wandering around eating all kinds of things.  Tex and Brynno tasted nearly a dozen weird, new snacks.  I was less than impressed with the offerings (shocking).  It was super fun to walk around though. Tex tries boar meat sausage…again. I tried stinky tofu! It wasn’t half as bad as the smell. When deeply, deeply fried, and covered in spicy sauce, it was almost good! *** The night market is built around this temple. People sit around outside and eat their night market snacks. A steaming meat truck. A spring roll stand. You tell these two ancient individuals what you want and they wrap it up. Brynno enjoys some meat on a stick. ***We all tried some durian fruit.  Um… gross.  It was way worse than the stinky...

Bumper Carts

About once per month Tex and I are forced to take a journey to Costco.  Ok, we’re not exactly forced per se, but Costco has one thing that you absolutely can’t find anywhere else in Taipei (that I know of) – MEAT.  Glorious, glorious meat.  Regular grocery stores carry all kinds of meat, but the cuts are beyond weird.  A lot of meat here is used for hot pot – think steak-ums, or chicken elbows.  So, when you want a big, juicy, prime cut of American cow – you need to go to Costco. “You dedicate an afternoon to meandering around the place at a snail’s pace hoping there is a scotch tasting instead of a soup tasting.” Everyone is warned to go ‘first thing in the morning’ and ‘never on weekends’ to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, we never feel like going to Costco at 9 a.m. on a Saturday or 8 p.m. on a weekday.  Entirely too many people shop there on the weekends, primarily because they serve small samples of gross food.  Perhaps because people in Taiwan are used to a more local market shopping experience, or perhaps because there are just too many people that love Costco, the trip is always a nightmare. There seems to be no understanding of exactly HOW to use a cart.  Most shoppers don’t realize that the cart goes where you push it. They frequently use your achilles or your hip to know when to ‘brake.’ Additionally, this is a VERY leisurely trip for most shoppers.  There is no rushing.  You can’t ‘run in and grab’ something. You dedicate an afternoon to meandering around the place at a snail’s pace hoping there is a scotch tasting instead of a soup tasting. Tex and I have adopted a “mission” style method of shopping wherein one of us guards the cart, while curious Taiwanese people stare into it, and the other gathers vegetables or other goods. “You get the salmon, cheese, and eggs.  I’ll just, uh, stand here since I can’t move the cart.” Not only do people saunter through the store for 700 hours, they then dine.  They don’t grab a hotdog.  They sit down for a very long time to eat their Costco cafe food after they shop. I don’t understand. I’ve been tempted to grab a snack myself but the lines and the seating arrangements always deter me. Maybe they have it right.  Maybe the slow, meandering, seemingly pointless path is the one to take. Maybe all the rushing and ‘grabbing’ isn’t the way to go.  We should all stop and smell the roses more.  I’d just rather do it at the flower market than our nearest bulk grocer.        Other things you can only get at Costco making the nightmarish trip worthwhile: – frozen fish filets – ground beef – chicken breasts – Fage greek...

EFM Employment

EFM* employment.  The words strike discomfort and fear in even the most prepared of State Department spouses. During our six months in Falls Church, one of our biggest fears was my being unemployed abroad. My hope was that, even before arriving at post, I would have a steady 40 hour per week job.  I assumed that most spouses probably wouldn’t want work and that I would suck up those great jobs in a heartbeat.  After reading the FAMER* and researching jobs in Taipei, I brought myself down to the reality that I probably wouldn’t have a job before arriving at post, that many spouses DO want to work, and that I’d have to change my standards a bit.  Even with these realizations, nothing could have prepared me for this job market. First, we had a sequester.  A few months later, after arriving in Taiwan – a government shutdown. Needless to say, the market for government jobs in Taipei became slimmer and slimmer.  In a mostly successful effort to keep myself busy when we first arrived here, I took classes, lots of Chinese classes.  I shopped.  I took naps. I interviewed, sometimes horrendously.  Finally, I got a job – sort of. My first job here in Taipei was that of Cleared Roving Support.  I basically do whatever they call me in to do in the building. It pays the AMAZING salary of “when actually employed.”  I’m not kidding.  That is my pay grade. The greatest part of this job is that I got my highly coveted top secret clearance. In December 2013 I was informed that I got the position of AITEA* store manager. This job pays very little, by the hour, for 24 hours per week.  I’m very grateful to have a job, but one of the greatest challenges for an EFM is finding meaningful employment, not just a job.  Since my goal is to work in human rights, Taipei, with all of it’s pesky safety and annoying safeguarding of its people, isn’t exactly the place to find the kind of meaningful employment that I’m after. Now, nine months after our arrival, jobs are practically being thrown at EFM’s.  There have been 5 job announcements in the last 3 months that can be filled by EFM’s.  I applied to the two for which I am qualified.  However, the summer turnover season is coming.  The jobs I’ve applied for may be immediately taken by someone with more experience coming between June and August. The State Department is very good about hiring the person that is most qualified for the job at hand.  They ensure that each successful candidate has the experience that they need.  But what if you don’t have experience for DOS jobs because you’re on your first tour?  I feel like when I was in high school and couldn’t get a job at the local frozen yogurt stand in the summer because they wanted experience.  How am I supposed to get the experience if you won’t hire me so I can get some experience? I am very grateful to have my jobs. I continue to ‘rove’ when they need me, and my work at the AITEA store certainly keeps me busy.  It is not the deluge of meaningful employment that I had hoped for early on, but also not the drought we experienced our first 6 months here.  Perhaps our next post will provide me with that meaningful employment that so many EFM’s strive to acquire. *****   *EFM – Eligible Family Member *FAMER – basically a list of all the possible job positions at a given post and who can fill them (i.e., EFM, AEFM, local employee, etc.) *AITEA – American Institute in Taiwan Employee Association.  I run the small commissary store under the watchful eye of a volunteer board....

Boracay

Tex and I spent a few nights in Boracay, Philippines over Chinese New Year*.  This was my first trip to a developing nation (besides New Jersey).  We had a fabulous time, but it was so much different than our previous island trips to Aruba and Curacao. My American guilt reared it’s head on an hourly basis as I said “no” to dozens of vendors that have less than a quarter of what I have.  “No, I can’t spend $5 USD on your wood carvings because I have to slather myself in sunscreen and beach myself on that chair.  Also, you’re interrupting my massage time. Thanks, though.” Best of Boracay 1. Sunsets 2. Beautiful beaches 3. It’s very affordable. Beer was around $2 and a professional swedish massage was about $50. 4. Corn nuts.  I’m not kidding.  They were the best I’ve ever had. 5. There seem to be a ton of activities to fill your day.  You can go on cruises, snorkel, scuba, etc.  We didn’t do anything.  We just laid around. Worst of Boracay 1. Gut-wrenching poverty. 2. Getting there.  Affordable flights from Taipei to Kalibo all seem to have a super long layover in Manila followed by a one hour flight, 2 hour bus ride, 20 minute boat trip, and 20 minute taxi ride. 3. Animals.  Chickens are everywhere.  We woke up to roosters every morning.  Also, like so many islands, there seems to be a serious stray dog problem. 4. Tricycles.  The island has very few vehicles on it so all taxis are tricycles.  They are cheap but inconsistentand require bargaining. Puka Beach – I didn’t find a single puka shell. View from inside the tricycle. Happy Hour. Dinner. Tapas. ? Beach. Perpetually confused. Sunset time. Sunset. Sunset.   *Chinese New Year – I still don’t have a firm grasp on this.  I know that the entire city appears to be covered in red because it’s “lucky.”  In fact, any time I ask anyone why something is the way that it is around here it’s because it’s “lucky.”  I know it’s the year of the horse and that you’re supposed to give red envelopes full of cash to your loved ones, as well as your front desk people apparently.  I also know that we get an awesome amount of time off.  We had Thursday through Tuesday off from work to...