Thursday, October 15, 2009

Haulien or Bust...

So I usually leave the blogging up to Joslyn as I feel she might be a little better at telling a story through this type of thing, but seeing as how she missed the trip to Hualien with school work, I figure I'll give it a shot.

Hualien is the largest county in Taiwan and is located on the east coast.  It has a number of draws for tourism.  You can surf, you can go whitewater rafting, or check out Taroko Gorge to name a few things.  We were really just going there to see the island and spend some quality time with friends, and planned to do a few things while we were there.  The weekend to come turned out to be a great adventure, filled with the most rain you could ever imagine, even on a tropical island.

The drive on Highway 9 is supposed to be one of the most beautiful routes you can take on the entire island, and as a prelude to the weekend to come, we weren't able to see anything.  I guess not being able to see anything is a bit of an overstatement... we just couldn't see anything worth looking at.  As you can see in the picture, Lindsey has no trouble pointing out the landslide that is blocking our lane of the highway.  So instead of seeing beautiful scenic highway, I saw for the first time in my life the brutal power of a landslide, with piles of trees ripped from their roots mixed with mud and rock laying in the middle of the road.  I also was able to see mountainous roads with lanes that existed a few days ago, just not that day.  So just making it there was a great feat, and thanks to Mark's wonderful driving through 7 landslides and 4 missing lanes, we made it there with our lives.

So after making it there we asked the nice lady at the counter what there was to do in the town while pouring down rain.  She promptly replied with "nothing."  So not wanting to waste the day, we ended up hanging out on the porch of the hostel playing games and enjoying each others company.

So we woke up the morning of the rafting trip and they told us there was too much water to go rafting?  Too much water?  Like too much air to go flying?  Or too many waves to go surfing?  Needless to say, it didn't make much sense to us in the beginning.  But we decided to make the most of the day and head to Taroko Gorge.  The ride there should have given us an indication of what was to come.

These two pictures were taken a day apart and pretty much show what happens in Taiwan after a lot of rain.  The entire island erupts in waterfalls and Taroko and the drive there turned out to be one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a long time.  This entire mountainside the second day of our trip was full of waterfalls, and my camera could only catch half of them.

Taroko could have been the most beautiful place in the world I ever thought I would die.  The enitre gorge was stunning.  Beyond all of the great picturesque things in the gorge, there was also the occasional four ton boulder where our van once stood, or the sight of falling rocks in front of you, as well as inadvertent waterfalls occuring in the middle of the road.  We finally understood what too much water meant.  Keep in mind that the boulders in the pictures below are about the size of a really large house.

But getting past the life threatening aspects of the gorge, it was easily the most stunning place we have gone in Taiwan yet, and I would definitely reccomend anyone who visits Taiwan take a trip to the gorge, and check the weather before you go.  I would give it at least a day, but all of the hiking trails were closed so we couldn't totally explore.

So the ride home turned out to be the last, and longest part of our journey.  As I have said before, there was a good bit of rain during the entire weekend, and we almost didn't make it there with landslides.  Taiwan has a huge mountain range in the middle of it and there are only two cross island highways, one on each end of the island.  Well they were both closed, as well as the highway north to Taipei.  To make a really long story short, we travelled as far south as is possible in Taiwan to travel back north to our lovely home.  In only took 13 short hours in a car with friends, and turned out to be a fun trip.  When I realize how to post pictures without making this post a mile long, I'll give you a little more of a glimpse.  For now, I'll just give you these few pictures.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Taiwanese Engagement Party

Last weekend, David and I were invited to go to one of our co-workers engagement party in Taipei.  I am so intrigued by the dating/engagement/marriage situation in Taiwan.  Having just gotten married, it's hard to wrap my brain around something so different.  I by no means have figured it all out, but what I have learned so far is really interesting and thought you might like to hear about it. 

Our friend Vanessa and her fiance as they toasted with each table

The Ring - First of all, there are no engagement rings or wedding bands here.  Not for the women or the men.  When our co-worker Vanessa came to school one Monday announcing that she had gotten engaged, my first instinct was to look at her hand.  No ring.  I asked David, "I wonder how people get engaged it a big production?  Is it a question over lunch?"  I still don't know the answer to that.  It did make me think about the ring though.  Not about the social norm part of it or the pressure the men are under to "deliver", but more about the commitment that it means.  When I think about the planning that goes into it, it makes it so special.  To think that a man one day decides that he wants to spend the rest of his life with someone, and then has to act on it...  It requires a great deal of commitment(generally, I hope) to put away money every month in anticipation of going somewhere to buy a ring that you want to see on your wife's finger for the rest of your life.  Then waiting for the right moment, and how proud he must feel to present a ring to the woman that he loves....proving his commitment to her.  The size doesn't matter.  It's not about what clarity, cut, and color it is.  Being the woman on the other end and realizing all in one instant that the man you love, loves you that much and wants to spend his life with you is the most magical moment ever.  It really is unbelievable to me.  I may be getting a little sappy, but I am proud to hold on to that moment in a special way. 

So back to Taiwan.  I by no means think that the "American" way is the right or best way.  I find it equally as special to think that in this country, a ring is not required.  They don't need it.  Most of the country is Buddhist and the traditions and ceremonies relate to their religious beliefs.  I feel like it puts more trust into the other person.  There are no men at the bars taking their rings off to hit on a pretty girl.  I don't know if it happens here or not, but there is no physical object to bind them.....just trust. 

Who Pays for What? - So our co-worker Vanessa didn't have a ring either.  As we started asking about the party and what to do and what to expect, we started to learn alot of little traditions and interesting quirks.  First off, the engagement party would be thrown by the bride's family, and only includes friends and family of the bride and the groom's family....not really a joint gathering.  The wedding however, would be thrown by the groom's family and would include a lot of their joint friends and family.

The room we were in for the party - so beautiful!

The Dress - Vanessa and her fiance made a grand entrance and she was wearing a beautiful pale pink gown.  Later she would change into a gorgeous red ball gown, traditionally good luck.  We also understand that most women change into 2 or 3 different dresses during the engagement party - they are all rented, as they will also change into 2 or 3 dresses for the wedding as well!

The Gift - In Taiwan, there are no registries...  :)   To the engagement party, you bring a red envelope.  The envelope should include multiples of $800(about $25 USD), a lucky number.  As you walk in, you give your envelope and people are stationed at the door to recieve them, count the $$, and record who gave what.  We were a little nervous trying to figure out what was appropriate to give, as we didn't want to offend anyone. 

The Food - Also traiditionally, the parties include 10+ courses of food.  Unbelievable food!  I couldn't believe.  We had 12 courses and I was stuffed by course 5.  There is even a little "intermission" time where you take a food break and walk around for a bit.  Our co-workers tried to explain most of the food to us, which helped quite a bit, but sometimes we just had to go for it and see what it was like!  The food was pretty extravagant as explained by our friends and everyone was very impressed.  I made a few boo-boos with my chopsticks and looked like a total amateur, but overall, we got the food into the mouth successfully!  Here are some pics of the food served family style to tables of 12.


This was the first course -some kind of lobster potato salad - ***** ( Out of 5 stars)

This was a warm, sweet soup with pink and white gummy balls - **

This was a soup made from and including fish bones - a very extravagant and expensive dish - ****

Mushrooms in a gravy sauce with green veggies and yellow beans(bai guo) - ***

Mushroom, bai guo, broccoli, Japanese potato, and abalone - *****

Roasted chicken - head included....  : (     - ****

The fish dish - so yummy...head also included! - *****

There were some courses that we didn't get pictures of, including two courses of desserts!

The Pictures - Probably the most unbelieveable part to me was the pictures...they were everywhere!  Apparently, when you get engaged in Taiwan, you book a day with a photography studio for a package of 30, 60, or 120 different pictures!  And they are all taken in one day!  Sometimes from 5am -11pm! Unbelievable.  There were outdoor shots, indoor shots, pictures in front of famous places.  Casual, formal....a little bit of everything.  One friend told us that Vanessa spent $100,000 (about $3,000 USD) just on the pictures.  There was a picture slideshow playing the whole time, a table full of pictures in a book and probably 10 stacks of -little take it with you- pictures that served as a thank you for coming.  It was unbelievable.  They must have changed clothes, hair, and make up 20 or more times that day!  It was really beautiful and the pictures were gorgeous!  There was even a framed portrait as we walked in that was changed several times during the event!

The picture table

The Thank You - Not only were there the stacks of thank you pictures to take home, near the end of the meal people came around giving out little gift bags with a giant box of cookies inside.  People always give their guests cookies or cakes when they come to the party....for some reason it's good luck.  Also, it is bad luck for the bride to eat her own cookies!  So the week after the party, Vanessa brought the extra cookies and gave them away to the kids and other teachers who couldn't be there.  The cookies were delicious and it's such a huge box full that we have gotten a kick out of picking a different one to try everday and still have tons left! 

Our bag of cookies

The Groom - So as we are eating our 12 courses of delicious food, our table warns us that when the fish course comes out that the groom's'family will leave the party.  We were like....huh?  Why?  Well, no one could really tell us why, just that that's the way it goes down.  Also, no one in the family is allowed to say means bad luck for the couple.  So sure enough, right as we were served the fish course, the groom's family shuffled out - no eye contact - no goodbyes....strange huh?  The groom stayed until the end but his family was long gone...

So I felt like this was the first real experience inside the culutre and thought that it was a great success.  We weren't too awkward and were forunate to feel accepted into another culture.  It was an interesting experience and we are so grateful to have been invited to share in such a special day.  Here are some pics of us and our co-workers from Well School.

Teacher Maggie has been so helpful since we've been here!

The bride, Vanessa in her second dress

The group of us

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The first one...

I must say, I never thought that we would be committing to a blog, but we feel that it is hard to tell our stories through small status updates and photo albums on Facebook.  We are having SO many great experiences and we want to preserve them for ourselves just as much as we want to share them with our friends and families.  Every single day in Taiwan is an adventure.  Sometimes they are truly crappy, but most days are exciting and new and there is always something to learn.

We moved to Taoyuan, a smaller, industrial city about 30 minutes from Taipei on July 1st.  So now that we have been here for three months, we are really starting to settle in.  We got jobs right away at Well American School in a busy part of town and work part time from 1:45 - 6:30pm Monday- not a bad gig!  The school has been trying at say the least...but our schedule allows us to travel, which is one of the main reasons we are here.  I feel that we have both embraced teaching and really enjoy it....MOST days.  We both have our difficult classes and tough days, but overall it has been very rewarding.

It really is amazing to see the cultural differences present in the education system here.  These kids, from the very youngest, go to public Chinese school all day, then they go directly to a "cram school" which is what we work in.  They go to 2-4 extra classes a day all taught in English, and many kids have extracurricular lessons or activities after that, not even getting home until after 8:00pm most days.  The kids can get antsy in our classes and act a little hyper....with reason!  The culture is really not about letting kids play and have fun and want us to drill English into their heads.  It's a tough balance.  We both have tried to incorporate small games in the classroom and lighten the load a bit, but dealing with a tight curriculum and security cameras in every classroom to watch how the teacher teaches, can be a bit stressful!  The parents can log in online and watch their kids in the classroom, and if there are kids up having fun and playing a game, that parent is calling the school to complain.  This means, we have a meeting about what we are allowed and not allowed to do in teaching the students.  Using this process of course, means that those policies change on a daily basis!!  So these are a few of the challenges that we face here, but the best part of the week is the weekend! 

We've really been able to get out and see quite a few sites so far on the weekends.  Now that we have our car, it really opens up the island to us.  We recently went to the East coast of the island in Yilan County to hike Wufongxi Falls. 

The area is absolutely breathtaking and it is so nice to breathe some fresh air outside of our densely populated city!  I've never been the hiking, backpacking, camping kind of girl, but taking small steps in that direction since we've been here has been exhilirating and rewarding....and I think I kinda like it! 

Well the goal is to update the blog as we live our lives here in Taiwan and try and capture some of the memories and stories so that we will never forget our time here.  It will be our living scrapbook and I hope that our families and friends will enjoy keeping up with what's new on the other side of the world!