One year has blown by, like a typhoon.
We started this blog as a type of diary/scrap book for us and then for close friends and family who are interested in what the heck is going on over here. So, thanks for connecting with us over our first year here and posting comments here and there. We really enjoy reading them!
We can’t imagine what it was like for those living abroad 10+ years ago. We’re grateful for modern technologies like being able to throw together a blog template, Facetime, Google maps and having crystal clear international phone connections that still make my dad say, “It sounds like you’re right next door, sweetie”.
Julie Resnick, our intercultural consultant at Nike, gave us the best heads-up about life abroad before we departed. She said, “The first person you’ll meet when you get off that plane will be yourself”. She’s been right, over and over again.
The feature photo here, the cutest Taiwanese granny ever wins for favorite of 2016. She was selling fruity popsicles on a scorcher of day. I bought a passionfruit one and then with her approval, snapped her photo. I don’t know her name, but she makes me happy every time I see her.
Pickles continues to be busy, moving in to this new job in footwear (he was previously in balls, soccer balls). He says, “Weeks go by like days and months go by like weeks”. My freelance is still chugging along with intermittent projects… just like back in the states. Clients are pleasantly surprised to send work at the end of their work day and wake up to find it completed. That’s the power of working in the future, my friends.
Nature & Wobble Neck
Today is December 30th. The weather is perfecto with mornings at 60° and afternoons at 77°, just like when we arrived a year ago. It’s our favorite time of the year because we get to wear our hoodies and sometimes even our puffy coats! This means the locals are definitely wearing their puffies and gloves and hats and their pets are sporting cardigans. This morning I went on a walk, about 3 miles, a well worn route that I haven’t tired of. It winds through various parks that gracefully link up. Birds can be heard chirping vibrantly throughout the lush canopies. There’s one large, camouflaged bird, which I’ve named Wobble Neck. He lurks around by foot and if you spot him he’ll freeze like a stone sculpture. He’s my favorite and this morning I locked eyes with him. The city is tracked with canals so the faint sound of water flowing can be heard from most parks. I imagine this is intentional design as it adds a relaxing soundtrack to any walk. Like Portland, plants grow year round. Something is always in bloom and trees, even the deciduous ones are green year round. In the spring the city’s airwaves are consumed with the sound of locusts which is welcomed white noise to urban living. The most surprising call of nature occurs every evening at sunset. A small Japanese house bat (Pipistrellus abramus) flits through the city, fluttering amongst the humans playing in the parks. Everyone gets along just fine here. Taiwan and the city of Taichung, (aka the Portland of Taiwan) continues to surprise and delight. These are just a few of the small wonders that make living here so special.
4,334 km biked on the island
3,422 meters, highest elevation hiked (Mt. Hehuanshan)
204 hours of Mandarin lessons (and still going)
12 calligraphy classes (and still going)
7 fabulous guests (and 6 more already booked in 2017)
5 fruit addictions (passionfruit, pineapple, mango, lychee & guava)
4 typhoons (3 close calls & 1 direct hit)
1st female president elected (Make Taiwan Great Again)!
Most practical items we brought
- Road bikes
- Beater bikes
- International Drivers License
The nice-to-haves, but we could live without for Passionfruit:
- Face/beauty products: It’s not that you can’t get these things over here, it’s that unless you can read Chinese, you don’t know what the ingredients are. I like knowing what I’m putting on my skin so I stock up when I’m home.
- Lunette: Maybe this is TMI, but let’s face it, menstruation a natural fact of life for women and it gets challenging when you’re traveling. I wish I had known about this product 30 years ago! Prior to moving here, I was informed that tampons are hard to come by and if you do find them, it’s slim pickings. All true. On the other hand, there are aisles and aisles of pads. No thanks. Lunette is a game changer, especially for those living abroad, who are on the go and may not have frequent access to bathrooms (a clean one at that). Aside from the huge convenience, there’s no plastic or paper waste. If you’re interested, I think this video is the best overview of most brands.
- Earl Gray tea: This is strange considering we live amongst the world’s best tea fields. But they harvest mostly oolong and green teas. The strong black teas here aren’t the same as my Harney & Sons Supreme Earl Gray tea, which I’ve been addicted to for years and yes, I’m stocked for 2017.
- Bob’s Red Mill Cornmeal: Strangely, this is not an easy find here and I love cornbread. It’s something I make really well and both Pickles and I find it delicious and comforting. We make it almost every week for breakfast. Pickles lugged home 6 bags when he was home in November. That’s husband-of-the-year award material.
- My Traci Isaly bag: This is a bag I rarely used in Portland, but it’s become my everyday purse here… my market shopping bag / flight-carry-on / bike-around-town / lug-my-laptop-around vessel. It has the most comfortable shoulder strap and it’s built to last. Thank you, Wendy! If you’re interested in getting your own custom bag, ping her.
The nice-to-haves, for Pickles:
- Strava / Garmin Bike GPS: The Expat cycling community has been great showing us bike routes. It has been great to record the route, and find new ones on Strava and put them on the GPS. It allows us to explore without getting lost.
- Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Cheese / Costco membership: At first we thought we didn’t need a Costso membership, but then how would we get our cheese?!?
- Canon G9X camera: We picked up a nice point and shoot camera which takes better pictures than our phones and still fits in the pocket.
- Bike tools: There are lots of bike manufacturers here in Taichung, but only a small handful of good bike shops. It is good to have the tools to give the bikes tune-ups.
- Craft beer: Taiwan Beer is a fine Asian lager, but sometimes you need variety.
- One kitchen accoutrement we wish we brought was the wok. It’s not that we forgot it, we intentionally did not bring it. It makes no sense.
- We did however, lug a crock pot over. Scott had and has visions of making his one hit wonder Nebraskan- chili-with-cinnamon-buns. We have not used it once yet, but Scott’s threatening a New Year’s Eve chili dinner!
Our bests of Taiwan
- Food. Enough said.
- U-bikes (aka city bikes). Stations are located everywhere. Meticulously maintained by GIANT. First 30 minutes are free.
- Excluding August, the warm weather. We can get our snowy snowboard fix in Northern Japan.
- Mandarin. It’s crazy hard, but it is a good challenge and helps us connect with the locals (although their english usually trumps our Mandarin).
- Social harmony “saving FACE” A major difference from Western culture is that in Eastern culture FACE is gained less by individual achievement and more by promoting social harmony and by being seen as helpful. This article sums it up perfectly.
- Simply experiencing a different culture and another way of life is truly the best of the best!
- Air Pollution: Taiwan has bouts of poor bad air quality due to coal burning power plants. It sucks. It’s the most challenging part of living here, but clean energy initiatives like wind and solar are in the works. Until those take off, we track the air quality index with the AirVisual app. It’s our go-to for all things air related. It measures the super small particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the air… the stuff that settles permanently in your lungs and bloodstream (same shit that’s in cigarette smoke). If the PM 2.5 measures over 120, we don’t bike or exercise hard. The mask was only worn 2 days in 2016 because I needed to do some errands by beater bike.
- Saying goodbye to expat friends: Living abroad is a temporary state for most. People come and go for various reasons which means we’ve said goodbye to some friends already. We miss you PVD, Kelly and J. Pow.
- Being far from family, friends & pets: We had a scare with Pickles’ dad this past year. Thankfully he’s on the mend and doing well, but it was hard being so far away. Shawnee had baby Kieran right before we moved in 2015 (still haven’t squeezed that pun ‘kin). And dear friends in PDX had babies this year (power to the little feisties Sylvia and Simone)! On the flip side, Tati and Joe moved to Shekou, China which is only a 2.5 hours flight away so that fills some family void. Looking ahead, we have friends and family already booked at Chez Sweet Potato HQ in February (Kathy/Jerry & Jayme/Jonathan) and in April (Sue & Paul). And it goes without saying that we desperately miss the fur balls tottering about our feet. Feeling grateful that both pets have adoring homes. Thank you Deb/Tony and Jack/Wendy.
- Dirty gardening & bees: I really miss digging in the dirt and growing massive amounts of tomatoes and watching my honeybees. Surely there was a 2016 PDX tomato shortage and I must return home asap. For now, it’s potted porch plants and that’s better than nothing. And Taiwan has bees…
- Medical stuff: Not speaking fluent Mandarin has it’s pitfalls here. Luckily many doctors speak English and are trained in western medicine. Ironically, it’s hard to find the same kind of alternative care like Chinese acupuncture and Naturopathic care that was so accessible in the states. This is really missed. On the flip side, we both qualified for National Healthcare after 6 months.
- Dog balls: Lots of ’em. The spay/neuter program has some work to do in Taiwan. Dog balls get old, but seeing dogs on scooters does not.
Overall, Taiwan is a lovely place to be and we have no regrets of saying yes to this adventure. What’s made the adventure sweeter is all your phone calls, Facetimes, texts, letters and in-person visits! They’re a life line to home and dampen the homesickness in a big way, so thank you, 谢谢, xièxiè.
The local holiday flower scene… poinsettias and lavender, living in harmony.
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