Twice blessed.


by Rika.

Aaron and I have been married for 3 months. And we are so very blessed. Today we bought tiny harmonicas to play duets. We're getting really good at playing "Row Row Row Your Boat" in a round, and maybe we can convince the church to let us do a special music. We get to explore new places together, like little towns, big cities, hiking trails, waterfalls, and new stops on the train. We are getting used to having each other as roommates, co-workers, partners, and lovers. Aaron does the dishes, and I do the laundry. Although this week we switched chores because it turns out we hate doing our chores (because I am messy in the kitchen, and Aaron doesn't pick his clothes up.)

This week we celebrated being married. It was an inadvertent celebration. Trials punched our team in the face and our only choice was to cling together and rely on each other. And I caught a glimpse of how strong and courageous my husband is. I think that people really recognize this steady quality in him. He's definitely the Pinglin students' favorite American teacher, because he looks them in the eye and gives this huge smile (and they aren't even afraid of him with his bushy Neanderthal beard!). He picks them up and spins them around and never misses an opportunity to play with them.

So sometimes these rough weeks come along and remind us of what we have. Aaron, I love you, and I am glad I've got you here in Taiwan with me. You're the best roommate I've ever had.

Wow-a little slice of heaven


From Pictures

From Pictures
In our precious town of Shengkeng, there is a severe lack of good quality, non-deep-fried, vegetarian/fresh restaurants to eat at. A couple months ago, one of our team leaders, Travis, made a wrong turn down a dark road near home and accidentally came upon one of the most beautiful sights he's seen in Shengkeng-a modern coffee shop!
From Pictures

From Pictures

"Wow", as it's name is repeated each time we bite into each dish, is a delicious bistro, styled in very tastful design, and has incredible food to match the ambiance. Decorated with a projected clock, a runaway merry-go-round horse, vintage chairs, cracked matted concrete floors, and a bocce ball court below, Wow entertains the eye as well as the tastebud.
From Pictures

From Pictures

Wow is the passion and project of Tim, whose taste and eye for design caused him to think outside box and yearn for something more in the traditional town of Shengkeng. After working for a French restaurant in Taipei, Tim began to experiment with his own creations and soon began to dream of opening his own European cafe in the foothills east of Taipei. Tim and his wife built out her parents' house and opened Wow 10 months ago.

From Pictures

Tim stacked the professionally designed menu with goodies like foccacia, satueed mushrooms, freshly-made waffles topped with gourmet ice cream, fresh salmon and salad, and a variety of pestos and pastas. And he has a top-quality espressso machine for the best coffee in Shengkeng. A full meal runs for around US$7 with drink, which is high for Taiwan standards, but cheap for US standards, for the high quality food and atmosphere.

From Pictures

We, as a KEW team, have decided to help Tim in his marketing, as it seems like no one knows about this secret hideaway, since we're always the only people there. So for Chinese New Year, we are giving gift certificates to many of the people who have been kind to us so far in Taiwan, both to thank them and let them know how great Wow is. Tim has been extremely gracious to us everytime we have dined in his restaurant and we hope we can just help his business survive and thrive.

Thank you WOW!

Healthcare in Taiwan kicks America's healthcare plan.


See this documentary here, and learn about healthcare systems can actually work.

My top favorite things about the healthcare in Taiwan:

1. It's dirt cheap.
2. Insurance comes out of our paycheck, and it's not much at all.
3. It's convenient-we can see any doctor or clinic, whenever we want, including Chinese medicine practitioners (acupuncture anyone?), state of the art Buddhist hospitals, or our local clinic.
4. It's organized-all of our health history is contained on our health card and is updated each time we have a visit.
5. Doctors speak English! Doctors are very well educated and have had to pass very difficult language tests to graduate with an M.D.

New Blog Layout+Slideshow


Check out our new blog layout! And here is a slideshow of some of our pics so far, you can see them all on our picasa website.

Prayers for Haiti


What a devastated loss for an already devastated country! I visited Haiti a year ago on a documentary/mission trip, and it really blew my mind and brought the stories of "third-world countries" to life. The issues there were so complex, and the country is scarred by history, politics, and poverty.

But I came to love the people there, and they pulled me out of our safe little mission, and into the streets to see how they lived. I loved the children and the elderly the most.

I was baffled, as i walked by many of their houses, at the construction of the buildings, which was mostly made of concrete blocks and steel bars. They seemed so heavy, and as I have been looking through the photos around the internet, I have just visualized the sheer weight of the destruction, but practically and metaphorically. While we were there, cars would break down or fall into a ditch, and no AAA tow-truck would come to pull it out. Instead, the town would rally around and 40 men would lift the car out of the ditch. I know Haiti doesn't have the neccessary heavy machinery, only manpower to lift these pieces of concrete to free the people underneath. It's a severe situation.

In the midst of all of these wreckage and destruction photos, let's be reminded of how Haiti was, not too long ago. These are the people affected.

Please open up your heart. ADRA is heading down there to set up a hospital to see up to 1,000 patients a day, and the American Red Cross is collecting donations for relief as well.

Photos coming and more!


So I have had a severe lack of photographic inspiration in the last couple of months, not because it's not beautiful here-because it is! But the drippy constant rain has threatened my camera and let's face it...dark cold dreary weather seems to deprive the soul of optimistic art. But...that is about to change, my friend!

We have several photo projects underway, one of which just needs to be uploaded.

1. Aaron's art museum pics (we hit the modern art museum and aaron made some modern art pics out of the modern art)
2. Portraits of our people. I am working on shooting portraits of some of our biggest Taiwanese influences here. I'm growing tired of the traditional tourist approach to travel photography which is, "shoot fast, get their faces, breeze by, don't get talk just shoot!". No. No more (at least for now). We've been trying to get to know these people, spending time and becoming friends with locals all over. And then I'll shoot them in the face.
3. Our most challenging and fun project will take place tonight in our town of Shengkeng. Gizmodo has a photo contest every month and this month, it's a "run away from the camera on a 2-sec timer" contest. Check it out here:

Without giving anything away, I'm just gonna say that ours will involve a scooter, downton, and hopefully some Chinese New Year lanterns. We'll post when we can.

4. I have been scolded by Steve Bontekoe that we haven't posted up a library yet of our pictures from Taiwan, other than facebook. Dangit. There's so many things to keep up with! So coming soon, how soon, we don't know; we will throw up some stuff onto Picasa. So watch out world!

5. KEW Music Video: We're recording this sesh tomorrow downtown to celebrate the opening of Kuolai English Wilderness. It'll be on youtube, hopefully before we leave for Thailand.

Abbreviated Intrepretation of Taiwan's History


History of Taiwan

I have been very apprehensive to write this post, although I’ve seen it to be extremely valuable to our readers. I have felt like I lack expertise and knowledge in this area, given the complexities of Taiwan history. But, through the journalistic approach of three or more sources, I feel that I have a slight grasp now and can make an attempt of making sense of the tumultuous history of the Taiwan people.
Taiwan has both a really long history, since most of the people living here have mainland Chinese ancestry; and rather short history, because Taiwan has been a “nation” since the mid-1900’s (read on to find out why I put nation in “”).

Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China has transformed over the last two centuries from a small island off the coast of mainland China, being owned by China, to becoming one of the most economically stable nations in the world. Taiwan also had the luxury and intelligence as a developing nation in the 80’s and 90’s to study other countries’ infrastructures and implement the “best of” each entity to create a really remarkable and functional infrastructure of their own. Taiwan accomplished this by creating a healthcare system, a transportation system, a viable economy with moving out of textile production into become one of the world’s leaders in technology and computer parts, bill paying (you can pay just about any bill at 7-11), and more, by using things that worked in other countries.
The island of Formosa was part of China, inhabited mostly by islanders and sometimes European settlers (Dutch, Spanish) until the late 1800’s. Japan ruled Taiwan throughout the 20th century until the end of World War II when Japan surrendered to the Allies and moved out of Taiwan. The Republic of China (R.O.C.), led by Chiang Kai-shek, accepted the surrender and many powerful Chinese followed Kai-shek to Taiwan to escape Communist China.

Kai-shek was a powerful military leader in China, but was outlawed when he tried to lead an uprising against the communist government to overhaul its rule and form a democracy. So this was perfect timing for Kai-shek to gather up his troops and start a democracy, a long boat ride away from mainland China.

Kai-shek is regarded with very mixed feelings today in Taiwan. He ruled Taiwan as a dictator, and while he stood for a democratic government, he and his men were extremely intolerant of the aboriginals and people’s rights. He was highly suspicious of communist activity among the people and members of families would disappear, taken by Kai-shek’s men in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. Although I believe it was Kai-shek’s eternal ambition to build an army to overthrow communist China, he also began to build Taiwan as a nation, and as hated as he is, he was a strong leader that laid the groundwork for a successful economy. He was so organized and brilliant as a leader that the United Nations recognized the Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China throughout the 60’s and 70’s because of the Cold War and its effect on how the rest of the world viewed communist countries.

Chiang Kai-shek eventually stepped down as leader in the early 80’s and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo took over and is credited with developing Taiwan into a successful nation. He is known for representing the people instead of his own personal ambitions, unlike his father. He picked a Taiwanese vice president and together they began to give the Taiwan people a pride in Taiwan, and not just Chinese ideology and tradition (since at Taiwan was a mix of Chinese and Taiwanese aboriginals). Ching-kuo cleaned up many of his father’s dictator moves and gave more and more freedoms to the people, such as press and education, and continued to build up Taiwan’s trades to become internationally known and needed.
In 2007, Taiwan attempted to break away from China’s overall hold. This is from Wikipedia:

On September 30, 2007, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party approved a resolution asserting separate identity from China and called for the enactment of a new constitution for a "normal country". It also called for general use of "Taiwan" as the island's name, without abolishing its formal name, the Republic of China.[31] The Chen administration also pushed for referendums on national defense and UN entry in the 2004 and 2008 elections, which failed due to voter turnout below the required legal threshold of 50% of all registered voters.[32] The Chen administration was dogged by public concerns over reduced economic growth, legislative gridlock due to a pan-blue, opposition controlled Legislative Yuan, and corruption involving the First Family as well as government officials.[33][34]

So in short, I’ve been really confused about Taiwan’s current global position. Are we a country or aren’t we? The answer is, as much as it sucks to be stuck as a “wannabe” nation, that’s what Taiwan is. Taiwan has some benefits and imitations as an independent country, but is still a part of China. It’s too risky right now to demand independence and Taiwan does not have the military capability to stand up to China, especially because of China’s recent major development.

Taiwan would love to be a part of the United Nations and contribute troops to world wars, to issue real visas and to have total governmental control of its people, but it’s just not there yet. And many of the people I’ve interviewed don’t see it happening any time in the next 10 or 20 years. China still pushes Taiwan around like its immature kid-brother, and as mad as this makes Taiwanese leaders, they’re stuck to do nothing about it. Taiwan is split down the middle on their views of independence, with the KMT party leaning towards working with China and using China’s global position for protection and stability, and the opposing party, the DPP, yearning to become an independent nation.

So Taiwan pushes on, hoping still to be internationally recognized for its innovation in technology, tourism, and kindness. I would love to see this classic story of the underdog rise up and stick it to the man, but unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen.

New Year=New Adventures!!!


Hey ya'll!

So we have been pretty busy lately, and even though it seems like we've been neglecting the blog, we've actually been researching some upcoming posts.

Just a quick update on all things Taiwan and Meyers. We are putting the final touches on our program of the new camp. Construction is just about finished, and we'll use the week before Chinese New Year to work on the landscaping and classrooms of our new school. The school itself is pretty amazing, and we're so lucky to get a brand new, million dollar outdoor school to teach little Taiwan kids about the wonders of nature. Along with outdoor skills, the kids will be learning English, teambuiding, good old American humor, and how to have fun just in case they don't know how.

We just got our last two team members, Steve and Shannon, who we knew in Tennessee, and they bring a plethora of knowledge to the table from their baackgrounds in organic gardening and outdoor skill facilitation.

So our big personal project right now (besides handsewing curtains and baking bread-i'm turning into a 50's housewife), we are planning our Chinese New Year, which hopefully will include a trip around Malaysia and Thailand. Rumors have it that Thailand is a big kiteboarding destination and I have determined that it's our responsibility to find out.

We thought about staying in Taiwan over CNY but have been told that it's actually quite boring since everyone travels to the south and middle of the country to see family and apparantly there's little food in the stores, restaurants, shopping and theaters close down, and there's not a lot to do with no one working. Cool for the Taiwanese, but probably not an idea travel situation for us.