Earthquake!!!-by Aaron


Dear Readers,

As you may have noticed my dear wife Rika has been doing most of the writing on this blog. If you have not noticed, God bless you. Rika is definitely the PR person in our relationship, but for this blog she got scooped (it’s a newspaper term I think, remember she’s the communicator).

I was sitting at home this morning by myself, since Rika went to work to cover for a sick teacher (you know who you are, we hope you feel better soon, and let us know if we can do anything for you). Anyway, I got the honor of feeling the first earthquake here in our new land. It’s a common occurrence to have earthquakes here and there have been at least a half a dozen since we’ve lived here, but we had really wanted to feel one. Don’t worry, we certainly don’t desire any earthquake of such a magnitude to cause destruction or pain to anyone, we just wanted to see the ground move a little bit. Our apartment is on the eighth floor, so we certainly wouldn’t land gently if it did fall.

What I felt met my expectations of what an earthquake would feel like up here, a nice gentle sway, if you want to know what it felt like, stand up, close your eyes and wobble back and forth just a tiny bit. Yep, that’s it, now you can experience your own little earthquake anytime you want.

From now on I’ll try a little harder to keep some blogs coming from my half of this relationship (since this blog was kind of my idea). We’ll see what happens.


Bringing our A-Game...and sometimes our C-game.


Photos 1-4: They look like angels, but these were some of the worst behaved kids in our school's history. For proof, check out the "Warning Clip Board". On it, it says, no clear leader, Hank and Ian miss all day's recesses, this class is hopeless.

We are really lucky. We have a brand new, beautiful school, high above and far away from Taipei City, with a river at our front door. Our teachers are super qualified, not to mention funny and cool and awesome. We have decent food for every meal, catered (it sounds fancy, but it's pretty home-grown) by a local restaurant. We run a tight program filled with flag raisings, classes, games, hikes, a nightly program with songs and skits, and we even let the kids call their parents the first night they're with us.

It sounds like a foolproof situation, right? Um, no. One of the things I've found is that people make all the difference. And by people, I mean the students, and our own mental and physical well-being.

Everything changes when we get a group of listening/obeying-challenged kids. Take Week 5 for example (about 4 weeks ago). We had a group of students from a school and this 5th grade class had the reputation for being the worst behaved class in the entire school. And they proved it to us. Somehow, they had the idea that because they were at "camp", with Americans, they would be able to get away with more. Not only did many of these kids have attitudes that were shocking, but they acted so much older than they were. THEY ARE 5TH GRADERS! And yet, we had problems with kids pooping in the showers, boys with those rebellious Japanese haircuts who had no problem saying "BOO-YOW" to any and all teachers (that means "NO"), and girls who decided that they would teach each other how to french kiss. Yes, real life girl action-heartbreaking. The instigator got sent home early.

By the end of the week, we were all frazzled and tired of running camp like prison. We had a dozen kids who had to eat in solitary confinement (at a table by themselves), the rest had to sit in silence, all of them had to stand in line way too long, we gave out over 20 green slips (discipline sheet that goes home to school and parents), and our average weekly green slip disposal is about 7 per week. I felt bad for everyone-for us, for the kids that weren't bad at all, and even for the bad kids who were missing out on a great experience because they want to be disrespectful.

The week ended and we were all grateful, and hoped this would be the worst week ever (it has been so far).

However, sometimes we as teachers definitely don't bring our A-Game. Last week, for example, I had lost my voice and was using a voice box with a microphone to talk. My patience was already thin and my body was week from being sick all weekend. There were even several instances where when I was teaching, I felt like a robot-merely regurgitating my teaching script and completely neglecting to engage and integrate my students into my lesson. Our whole team was tetering between getting this nasty bug and trying to fight it off and none of us were really gung-ho about the week. Our kids were so mediocre and we felt no reason to celebrate each day and tried to get through the week as well as we possibly could.

For some reason, and I'm still baffled by this, by Friday morning, no matter how the week went for the kids or for us, we have a Good-Bye celebration and really cherish each other and how we got to know each other through the week; our daily annoyances with a kid whose only English word is actually a buzzer sound effect, or the kid with the worst attitude who cries when he has to leave, or the fascination the kids have with the command "Present Arms!", or the very tall girl to whom everything is such a big deal (aka Drama Queen)-all of these seem so precious in those final few minutes together and we teachers just laugh and laugh at the funny kids. And they we hug and say Good Bye.

So whether we or the kids bring our A-Game, in the end it's all love. Let's just hope we bring more A's to the court than C's.

Stick it in a Blender: Religion Part 1


From springtime

From springtime

From springtime

From springtime

Pictures 1, 3, 4 were taken at one of the first Buddhist temples in Taiwan, in a historic town called Lugang in Central Taiwan.

Because of my background, culture, education, or whatever I want to pin it on, I think that I've developed a mindset that has to box everything up in order to understand it. For example, I minored in world religions in college and took many classes studying worldviews, philosophies and religions, and while I loved studying about it at the time, I've been amazed to find that Taiwanese do not fit into any of these labeled boxes that I had studied. Although many Taiwanese call themselves Buddhist or Taoist, their beliefs are much more transcendent than that. A lot of Taiwanese that I have talked to are actually very religious (especially in older generations), and worship at the temples. The type of temple, though, is not easy to categorize.

I can't count the number of times I've stood in a temple with a local friend and asked,"So what kind of temple is this?" And they shrugged their shoulders and told me instead about the deity seated in the front of the temple, and how it's important to carry 3 incense sticks for each deity, and the path to walk through the temple, and more temple practices that bring better luck to your life. Sometimes the temples feature warlords who combatted invaders two hundred years ago, or a female deity named Matsu who will save you on the sea, Confucious himself, or Cai Shen, who will make you prosperous and successful. Read more about the most popular gods of Taiwan HERE:

When it comes to religious practices in every day life, I think that it's more seasonal than daily, at least for people my age. In the beginning of the year, there are many ways to bring luck and blessing on each person's life, and then there are special holidays to commemorate family, ancestors, and religion. However, when it comes to daily living, according to friends, it's not so much an ongoing practice like Western Christianity. There are not weekly church services, or scripture studies, or confessionals. Instead, when a woman wants a baby, she will go to the temple. When a man wants to start a business, he will go to the temple. In fact, I know many of my friends are very spiritual, but maybe not as "religious" as their parents' generation. They don't have alters of incense in their living rooms, nor do they give offerings to Buddha each day. Their understanding of religious practices is not as detailed, but their faith in a higher being is strong. I think this is very similar to my friends back home, and it's been said to be a sign of the postmodern way of thought that is prominent among our generation.

So reading through this post, I don't really think I've explained anything at all. Just that religion in Taiwan is like taking Chinese folk religions, Buddhism, teachings of the Tao and Confucious, and sticking them all in a blender, and there you go. The best thing to do, if you want to know more, is go to a temple with a Taiwanese person. Talk to them about the different worship techniques. And then talk to an old guy or lady and see what they have to say. And then do it again. And throw away your boxes and labels and open your mind to new ideas and thoughts and marvel at the beauty of belief.

Why I still love TAIWAN!


From springtime

From springtime

From springtime

From springtime

1. People are oh so friendly and accommadating. People will either try their darndest to speak English with us or find someone else to help us no matter where we are. To them, foreigners are respected, not hated like in most places. ( except the Chinese, which needs a blog of it's own).
2. People are honest. For me, in most us big cities or foreign countries, I automatically put up a trust guard against all those jerk con artists. But here in Taiwan, we have yet to be taken for a ride. Because of this, I take people at their word and I keep mine as well. It's an incredible feeling to trust a society and also be trusted. (i did have my first run-in creepy guy experience this week. First he asked to be my friend, to which i said, Of course! But then he invited me to take our friendship to another his bedroom, to which I told no way, and then mentioned my gun-owner husband. but that NEVER happens. only this once)
3. Fresh, organic produce anytime. The fruits and veggies are consistently some of the best I've tasted. And we haven't even hit mango season yet!
4. Active nation: Taiwan people are very active. It's super trendy to cycle the country side, and here will often be biker gangs scattered down the roads. Man I wish my legs looked like some of theirs'. And they're not wusses either, since most of the north is mountains and they are serious hill climbers. People walk more places, dance more, are just more physically engaged, especially where we live.
5. Environmental focus. About 20 years ago, taiwan had a terrible pollution problem with river contamination and smoggy cities from many factories and lack of trash management, but through major government and volunteer efforts, most people recycle almost all of their household garbage, and the rivers and cities have been cleaned up. There's still a ways to go, especially with the garbage management, but i believe people are more educated on ecological issues than previous generations and care what happens to their island.
6. Public transportation:
Taiwan has spent in th billions on its city and nation wide rail and bus systems. It's cheap to ride, extremely convenient, and efficient. Compared to US cities, Taipei MRT and bus system rivals those of Washington DC or San Francisco. Today, we're going to ride the high speed rail line, which would take about 6 hours on the bus, but we'll get to taipei in 90 minutes. Amazing! On a monthly basis, we probably spend about $30USD on public transportation, taxis and gas for our scooter. A bit of a savings from car insurance and gas in the States.
7. Cell phones. Our cell phone bill for 2 phones and text messaging is $24USD/month. No joke. The US is the most expensive country to own and operate a cell phone, and it's ridiculous.
8. National health care. I know this is a hot topic in America right now, but I just want to rub it in that we get to see any doctor we want, for a fraction of the price that healthcare usually costs. We went to a Chinese medicine practitioner and paid $6usd to try out acupuncture. I'm going to get an MRI on my acl while we're here and it will be under $25USD.
9. Friends. Our friends that we've made from here have helped us learn about Taiwan, been patient with our dumb questions, given us gifts, rides, places to stay, and have really made our time here a truely positive experience. Thank you Evonne, Ichong, Michael, Elvie, Jamy, our t-staff (Tristen, Eric, Frances, Sherrill, Sam, Tina and Smee), beautiful&breakfast ladies, and coco's!!!
10. And finally, our other American teachers have been great at going through this cross-cultural experience with us. Sometimes we really just want some cheese or a good pizza and people like Chris and Lisa or Eric and Leslie are just what the doctor ordered to vent, talk, laugh, advise, pray for, or listen. Chris and Ashim and some other teachers and us are starting a house/church to foster more of a community and I just think that's grand.

Tomb Sweeping Day


A major cornerstone of every culture and belief system is how people view and deal with death. This weekend we got up close and personal with a Taiwanese holiday that honors dead ansestors, called Tomb Sweeping Day.

One of my local teacher friends invited us to drive down to central Taiwan to celebrate with her family. It was incredible to witness this special day and talk about the end of life and afterlife with my friend.

For Tomb Sweeping Day, all of the family travels to be with the grandparents. Sometime during the day, only the men go down to the graves or tombs of the ancestors and have a ceremonial cleaning of the area and special prayer to the relatives. The relatives are either buried in the giant mole hill style grave yard (the rich ones) or are cremated and put in a box in a huge Chinese pagoda tower vault (the regular ones). Family members aren't buried near each other, and most graves or ash storage places have a photo of the person placed on the outside of the container.

When we arrived at the cemetery, the first thing we noticed about the area was the huge amount of ash raining down on everyone. No, it wasn't the dead bodies, if that's what you were was from all the "ghost money" that people were burning to make sure that their family members were financially taken care of in the afterlife. It's very common to see people all over Taiwan burning this cheap yellow paper, and they even sell it in some supermarkets. But it was still odd to be in the place where it is believed that the ancestors can quickly receive it.

Another example of this ritual is a story my friend told of when her mother had a dream about the dead grandmother. In the dream, the grandmother told her mother that she didn't have a house, so the next day the family went to the cemetary and burned a paper house and money for Grandma to be secure.

This explanation made me beg my friend for the ins and outs of the afterlife. Her response was shocking, but not because of how foriegn and unfamiliar it sounded, but of how similar it seemed to some brands of Christianity, especially Catholicism.

According to my friend, who comes from a religious background mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confuciusism-very representative of most Taiwanese, after a person dies, his or her soul is released. They experience a period of judgment and eventually are sentenced to heaven or hell. Some living people are worried about relatives and will go to a medium to find out where the family member went. The family is responsible for the funeral, burial arrangements, as well as the aformentioned financial security of the deceased, and the ancestors before those.

I would still like to talk to more people on this subject just to see if their responses would differ as much from person to person as the answers would in the States.

A final word on Sweeping Day. I think it's very meaningful to take a whole day off to spend time with family and think about and contemplate life and post-life. We were so glad to witness this event because not only did it let us see into a part of Taiwan culture unknown to us, but it set the stage for beautiful conversation to take place, and we all thought of our dear grandparents and how much we love them, as well as the rest of our family.

Discovering Taiwan...Outside Taipei


Aaron and I are slowly discovering the grand island of Taiwan. A few weeks ago, we took our friends Lorelei and Darren through the top half of Taiwan (Read her post here:),
and we've been slackers and haven't posted about that adventure yet, but are trying to get back on the blog ball and documenting our discoveries!

We're in Kaoshiung (Pronounced Gow-shong), and are on the way down to the little paradise of Taiwan, Kenting. We just missed a really really crowded concert festival and are looking forward to catching some sun (have i ever mentioned how much it rains in northern Taiwan?), waves (it's been entirely too long since I've been surfing...9 months at least), and couches of new friends (we just registered on and are trying it for the first time in Kenting).

I would say there's not a lot to do in Kaoshiung initially, but we made 2 fabulous discoveries that made our day stay worth it. 1. MONKEYS!!!! We found a trail behind a temple that is filled with wild monkeys. Just make sure to carry no food and a really big stick in case they get too friendly. I felt a bit like Jane Goodall, except a little bit more afraid than she was.

2. Harbor night photography! Kaoshiung is gorgeous at night!!! I mean, it's okay during the day, but night is perfect for this place. Every building changes color and the sea reflects all of them beautifully!

A toast, to Google Reader!


If you haven't noticed by now, i'm a major blog junkie. I think in these moments of despair or loneliness, or when I feel very very spearated by the big blue ocean, I open my google reader and read my subscriptions of all these precous people who simply write about their lives, thoughts, and things they're going through. Thank you people, for writing blogs! You inspire me, encourage me, and let me know that i'm not in this alone. I thank God for this simple little piece of technology that enables anyone to become an author of a great story.

Here's to you, people I love and appreciate!

-Garrett & Joy
-Camp Wawona
-Smitten Kitchen
-Chris & Lisa