Tales of Taiwan

Tales of Taiwan
Summer 2010. That's when I first moved to Taiwan. I came here to teach English for six months and I ended falling in love with this little island. That is why, after being home for a year, I had to move back.This time to dance. I can't wait to see what adventures lie in my path this time...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Call to Adventure: The Road of Trials

"The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests...
...Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage."

The more this adventure pans out the more closely it follows the Hero's Journey, or the Monomyth. It's quite remarkable actually. Even during the last phase (the belly of the whale) I met my guardian/mentor. Sister Dalton. I couldn't have picked a better person to take on that role. Now here I am on the "road of trials." Quite. This is definitely the hardest job I have ever had. I am so emotionally invested in these children's lives. I care so deeply about them and I'm constantly trying to figure out how I can be the best teacher I can be.By the end of the those ten hour days I am exhausted emotionally and physically. I have definitely already learned more than I can express in the few months that I have been here and there are still four more to go.... bring on those lessons! As is referred to in the quote above, I can definitely sense that "
benign power" that is constantly bringing "supernatural aid." Lets just say that I would be lost without the guidance of the gospel in my life.

Trial number one: I have a basic reading class with thirteen students. This is a lot for our program considering that most classes have six or seven students. It has been the bane of my existence to try and figure out how to teach these childers in a good way. I'm starting to slowly figure it out but it's definitely not something I could have done without a little guidance from above.
Here we have little Joshua. I had to say goodbye to him this week because he was just a summer student. :(
Let me just tell you about this kid. He is six or seven years old and he is one of the most clever little farts I have ever met in my life. First of all, he has flattery down to an art. He is a charmer times three. But just when you fall in love with the little guy he becomes the ring leader of chaos in you classroom. As crazy as he made the class sometimes I couldn't help but admire his little mischievous mind. Although my classroom will be a little more under control without him, I will miss him greatly. Oh Joshua.

Trial number two: Gilbert, our copy machine. This thing is a straight up dinosaur. There are days when I thinks the purpose of its existence is to try my patience.... and don't get me started on our old computers...

And then of course there's the weather trial. As a big weather fan this is one of those trials that I can't help but enjoy. The main big problem is the overwhelming, knock you over, humid heat. The temperature might be only in the low 90's but with the humidity it feels like 104. And that's at about seven o'clock at night. I am grateful to be in an air conditioned room for most of the day.
After a long, hot week, nothing is more welcome than a big Taiwanese rainstorm. They can pose a few problems, however, when it's a Sunday morning and your only method of transportation to the train station is your bicycle....
But we figured it out. I wish we could have gotten a picture of us riding our bikes in the torrential downpour with our ponchos and umbrellas. It is definitely a moment I will never forget. Despite our efforts we were still rather wet when we arrived... and we loved every second of it.

And then there's the trial, or rather the anti-trial, of celebrating your birthdays in a foreign land... KAILEY TURNS 21!!! Unfortunately we had to work all day so we couldn't really celebrate it throughout the day, but it was worth it when we found ourselves in the most posh restaurant I have ever encountered.
So cool. Yes all the seats are couches. Why haven't any American restaurants figured out this blissful recipe for comfort?

Here we are just chillin. Cuz that's what you gotta do in such a posh place. The pictures just don't do this place justice.
My delicious pasta. (The name of the restaurant is Spaghetti House in case you might be wondering why my food looks not Asian. That's because it's the Asian take on Italian. Which is divine.)
What's a 21st birthday without some crazy drinks right?? That kiwi juice was amazing. I would go back to that restaurant for that alone. And to top it all off, we got to sit right next to the incredible entertainment.
He was VERY talented that I kept forgetting that the music was live. And then he started playing songs in English for us. :) I have this thing where I can't help but have a musical crush on anyone with talent. He was no exception. Well done guy! He even sang happy birthday (it was for someone else but we like to pretend it was...) for Kailey! It wasn't just your average, Applebee's birthday song though. It finished off with a fountain of fireworks blasting off just outside the window. Perfect.

Despite these little 'trials' there are always things to look forward to that make this experience worthwhile... Challenges and adventures...they all work together to assist in the "transformation" right??

Each month at our school we select "Super Students" from our classes. Ever two months we take these super students out to McDonald's to celebrate their Super Studentry. We get to wear these lovely vests declaring that we teach at Maryland Language Institute making us complete walking billboards, but it is a lot of fun playing with our students outside of the classroom.
Here we have the sisters Ivy and Mimi. Mimi is in my Basic Readers class and Ivy is one of my 4A students. It's so fun teaching sisters. I was very excited that they both were super enough to come at the same time. Cute girls.

And then there's Jimmy and Sara. These are two of the reasons I put up with the long hours at work. They make it worth it.
Notice how Jimmy's head is cocked in exactly the same way in both of these pictures. He is a little model. He's got his signature look down completely. And he's very proud about dipping his fry in the ice cream. No I did not teach him that. The Taiwanese figured that little treat out on their own.
And then we have the sisters Barbi and Eilleen. I don't actually teach Barbi, who is only three years old and therefore in our very bottom level. Eilleen, who is only five, can read rather well, though and so I get her in my BR class. These two are stinkin adorable. They are total princesses and they know it. But you can't help but love them.
Gifted children, as you can see...
And here are Kailey and I sporting our lovely vests and a beautiful hat that Sara made for me.
McDonald's night is crazy but oh, so fun. :)

Once again we were invited on a little "home visit" excursion.This time it was Kailey's student but her family was kind enough to invite us all. I was certainly glad for the opportunity. This time we went to the Sitou Forest. Not too far from Jhushan and Sun Moon Lake. I sure do love our trips into the heart of this country. It is so lush and lovely. You can't help but feel like you are in Jurassic Park or Ferngully.

This little forest is owned by a university and they take great care of it. The first part of the forest has a bunch of little hammocks randomly strung about and different little playground/ exercise areas to be played on. The air is VERY clean here, compared to the rest of the Island, So many people like to go and just relax in the fresh jungle.
Here we have Kailey and Kitty racing to the top...
As we continued along our way we came across this lovely little wall. All of the structures and paths were designed in such a way that they just seemed like they belonged there almost as if they were a part of the natural life there.
So beautiful.
I loved the little pathways and staircases...
Me and Kailey standing on rocks in a little creek. :)
And then I did some Imago. Can't seem to get over that little dance.
Eventually we made our way up to "The Great Tree"...
This picture doesn't really do it justice but it this tree is massive. It is supposedly 2800 years old... But George, Kitty's dad, says its been 2800 years old for the past 40 years or so. I swear this is the tree that Krista traps Xcisssss in at the end of Ferngully.

This country loves corn. You can get a little piece of corn on the cob just about anywhere you go. George and Grace were so so kind and bought us all a little piece of corn while we sat gazing upon the great tree. I couldn't resist taking a picture with it because several of the students at the school decided my Chinese name should be Euoo Mee (ha! I don't know the pinyin) or, Corn. I think its because Karyn kind of sounds like Corn. It was easy for me to recognize this because Cammie has been calling me Karn for years now... but there you have it!
As we continued on our way we began to notice these cool tree like things... upon closer inspection we found that they weren't trees at all...
They were gigantic ferns!!!! I never knew ferns could grow so tall. I guess anything horticulturally fantastic is possible in the subtropics...

One of my favorite parts of the Sitou Forest was the Sky Walk. So when I said in my last post that I was reminded of the games Myst and Riven I had no idea how accurate that actually was... well its either Myst or the little tree network society of Robin Hood and his Merry Men... "To the trees!"
It was so cool to get to see those trees up close at a height that would otherwise be unattainable. Beautiful plant life that normally remains unseen and admired was at our fingertips. I definitely took my time up there soaking it all in...

This one kind of gives you an idea of just how high up we were. See the little photographer on the path below?

Another lovely spot in this little forest was University pond. I love the color of the ponds and rivers here. The greenish blue just sucks you in...
This lovely little bridge is an incredible suspension bridge made out of bamboo. Only ten people are allowed to cross at a time...
I love bamboo. I love the way it looks in its natural habitat. I love the way it people use it in sculptures and art. I love the way it tastes. I love the creaking sound it makes as the wind rushes through the bamboo forests. I'm a regular panda when it comes to bamboo. Here we have a lovely bamboo sculpture of two tiger babies in honor of it being the year of the tiger. I felt inclined to pose with them in honor of Nicole. It's your year!!
As with most day's this time of year, it began pouring in the afternoon. This definitely did not hinder our experience. We trudged along in the rain and continued to enjoy the incredible beauties around us. Dear family, I wish more than anything I could bring you to this place. I wish I could share it's beauty with you in more than just a little photo.
The picture above reminds me a lot of Asian landscapes. Doesn't Dad have a landscape of a river that looks kind of similar to this?? Or am I just making things up in my head? I'm definitely going to want to look through those paintings when I return....

And then there was a gigantic bamboo owl. Seeing as I was wearing an owl shirt, I thought it appropriate to pose with said owl structure.
We finished off the "home visit" with a trip to a famous pineapple cake factory. SO delicious. I guess Taiwan is known for it's pineapple cakes. They are most excellent. I'm going to try to bring some home with me for the fam.

Let me pause here to say that while I am still waiting for my spirit animal to manifest itself in an impressive way, there have been a few applicants for the position. Animals I have seen here in action: 3 creeeeeeeepy spiders, many many koi, several little crabs, frogs, lizards, hordes of dragonflies, a beautiful white crane flying over the ocean, a real flying squirrel (one of my favs.), and I'm still waiting to see fireflies..... basically I just need one to step up to the role of spirit animal....

And then came my birthday....

Since Kailey was unable to celebrate her birthday in a big way we decided to combine our birthdays this weekend for a magical birthday extravaganza-Taiwan style: UN.FOR.GET.A.BLE.

Kevyn and Allison invited us to join them at this little surf town on the east coast of the island: Wushi Gong. This is a little taste of the beautiful view of the coast we enjoyed on our train ride out there.
When we arrived there we immediately met up with them and got going with our surf lessons and what not. There was such a friendly atmosphere on the beach. It was packed full of surfers of all ages and all levels of skill. Everyone had a great open respect for each other no matter how good or awful you were at the sport. The fact that you were out there giving it a go, sharing in the passion, created an instant bond of friendship. It was beautiful.
Here are Kailey and I sporting our lovely surf shop's shirts and surfboards. You should have seen us getting our surf lesson in Chinese with Kevyn doing his best to interpret. We are certainly some awkward humans with surfboards. It was definitely worth it. :)

And of course we couldn't spend the whole time surfing...
Whats beach bumming without a good book??Even if you spend most of the book time watching the surfers instead of reading your book...

Images and lessons from surfing that I will definitely want to hold on to:
-I love watching everyone out on the ocean, sitting or holding onto their boards, all eyes following the movement of the ocean. It was incredible to see so many faces turned towards the same natural phenomena. The waves determine everything. If you look away for a second you could miss your chance for a great ride, or worse, be overtaken by a big one... the focus was everything. There is definitely a lesson in there...
-It takes more than just practicing hopping up on your board. Before you can surf you have to figure out how to read the waves. You have to be able to predict when they will break. Timing is everything.
-My favorite: While I was trying to figure it all out I kept having trouble getting my board to straighten out right. I would just get up on my board in time to catch a good one when my board would turn. It wasn't until after a few awkward attempts that a wise surfer told me to pick a spot to look at out on the beach. Having nothing to lose, I gave it a go. It was amazing. I have no idea why it worked, but as soon as I stopped focusing on the water and the people around me, and started focusing on a specific point on the beach, my board magically lined itself up just right and I was able to stand. I don't think I need to spell out the lesson in that for anyone. All I can say is I can't wait to use a surfing metaphor in a future talk or lesson.
Will I be going surfing again? Most definitely. Such a rush.
After we returned to our little hostel and cleaned up we decided to go exotic for dinner... Our meal consisted of: Frog.
Crab. (which you had to crack open with your teeth.) Sushi-mi. And soup...... .....with a surprise! Yes, that is a fish head. It was certainly one of our most interesting meals! Definitely worth the experience.

The rest of the evening was quite interesting although not interesting enough to be blog worthy... All that needs to be said is that Kailey and I got to play mediators in a little relationship schism. Whats a weekend without a little drama right?? Ha. Fortunately we were able to mend things enough for the next day to remain unspoiled...

While we were on the beach we had noticed a bunch of para-gliders floating down from a lovely cliff to the beach below. So naturally we had to do it. The next morning Kailey, Allison, and I set out - once again using our minimal knowledge of Chinese and a lot of body language and stick figure drawings. Language barrier, schanguage barrier. Our goal was para-gliding and we accomplished just that.
Clearly we mean business.
As I gazed out onto the ocean below, I prepared for my first big moment in my airbending training.

Thankfully, we were attached to trained gliders and my trainer spoke pretty good English. Otherwise I don't know how I would have felt about running straight off of a cliff. With the guidance of my sensei, I ran straight forward until I felt the parachute gently catch hold and before I knew it I was gently flying out over the coast.

It was marvelous.
This is a picture Kailey got of me in flight. :) You can see the beautiful Turtle Island in the distance behind me.
And this is the beautiful beach we landed on...We spent several blissful hours here just enjoying the feeling of our feet in the salty sea.

What a perfect way to celebrate....
This is our year!!!

What is it about large bodies of water that reach so deeply in to the human soul?? We can't help but feel it pulling us in. It's the same everywhere you go. The beauty of the ocean is universal as is the human draw towards water. H2O. Life. ....I think I will choreograph a dance about it....
....Swim with me darling, if you've got the inkling to dance...

Convenient little frame expressing exactly how I feel about this little town :)

And then of course at the end of the weekend in which we frequently broke out into the classic B*Witched song.....

Cups that say "C'est La Vie!" .......some people say I look like me dad! Very appropriate seeing as I was spending my 21st in the same place my Dad spent his.... and its true some people do say that...

And what could possibly make this birthday weekend of the gods any better?? COLDSTONE! Thank you Taipei bus/train station. As you can see the effects of the beach would be felt far into the next week in the very pigment of our skin. That's alright. It's just another reminder of the incredible adventures had.

While returning to the classroom after such a weekend didn't necessarily sound ideal, I was happy to receive an incredible little package from my family with the best birthday gifts ever: deodorant. fancy rain poncho with grandma hair protector. cake mix with frosting. talking card. skirts from the DI. an awesome mix-tape. and a fu-manchu mustache complete with little beads on the ends. What more could a girl ask for??? Only a letter from her grandma...Which came just a few days later. :) BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.

The "road of trials" is certainly still underway, but I am extremely blessed and with the support of my dear friends and family and of course, the Lord, I feel like I could take on the world!


  1. "the water beckons in its childish innocence. Put your feet in me, come on put your heart in me. So a little further, little further, little further. Cautiously, but eagerly she steps into the sea, and it swallows her whole!"- bramble.

    I miss you. lots and lots. call me eh.