It isn't like me to let two weeks go by without updating. And I can't really keep secrets, so I decided to post something now letting you know that Focus on the Good is moving. I have been working with a friend to get my blog hosted on an independent domain and its taken a while, but is getting close to finished! My friend has helped me create a website out of nothing and I am so excited to finally see it coming together. I'm afraid to put a link up yet, because its not totally ready, but be patient, please. Big changes are just around the corner...
In November I did something I had never done before, signing up for the Nectar Collective's Snail Mail Collective, a blogger exchange.
I love mail. I love getting it (who doesn't?), but I adore sending it. I stop by the stationery store weekly to browse - Asia, as a rule, as the absolute best letter sets. I send letters out every other week, postcards with quick notes to full on packages. It brings me joy to touch something, hold it, and carry it around with me, to write out my love and ship it away to the other side of the world. So when I saw their Snail Mail Collective, I knew I was committed. They are wonderful and organize it all, picking a theme and pairing people up. Our theme for November was, of course, gratitude. We're given blog links and email addresses and about 2 weeks to connect via email. The limit is $5 per package which makes it affordable for anyone to participate.
I was paired with Lauren, from My Passion Journey. I had a hard time deciding just what I should send her, because there are just so many things I am grateful for. I'm not sure if she has received my package yet, so I really don't want to give it away! But, I can tell you wrapping her package gave me lots of wrapping inspiration and I used the same theme for my family gifts this year, which are already flying across the world as I write this.
Lauren is really sweet. We discussed traveling, her recent trip through Europe made me really want to go back! She gave me lots of inspiration for different life plans, which I am always seeking out. She mailed me what she is grateful for, her favorite lip balms, and an adorable little notebook. I've been using it to take notes on bus times and train stations since its small enough to tuck into my bag or pocket. Check out her blog if you want to follow her weekly search for beauty in the every day, uplifting quotes, and her regular chronicles of goals and dreams that remind readers to be constantly seeking improvement.I especially loved her post on the reasons to move to Phoenix! I'm always looking for an excuse to move, and she gives plenty!
If you're sold on signing up for the next Snail Mail Collective exchange, check this link. This will be the last one that they host, so sign up before December 7th to get in! The theme will be travel, so it will be hard for me to resist participating again.
I have had the north coast of Taiwan on my list for a while, especially Nanya Rock Formations. They are a little out of the way, and I couldn't figure out if there was a bus there or if it was only reachable by taxi and private cars. Since I didn't really know where to go, I didn't know the best train to take and ultimately I bought a train ticket to Keelung thinking I could get a bus to the rock formations easily. I didn't realize Ruifang would have been a better choice or just how far that bus ride would be. But, when the bus pulled onto the expressway along the ocean, I just got off. It was so beautiful there, I couldn't stand to be waiting for something better. I didn't know where I was or how I'd get back to catch my return train, but the weather warmed up, almost 75F, and the skies were blue. I decided there was absolutely no where more important for me to get to than the ocean and that it would sort itself out. And I was right. I spent the day watching the waves come in, the fisherman carefully balancing on the rocks, and children running around flying kites. I wandered from the very edge of Keelung, by the Wanghai Fishing Harbor to the Fish Market. I grabbed a bus to return to the train station just in time to get whisked away.
I found it surprising how many lights the fishing boats have, but yesterday I discovered why. I'll be posting an entry all about this soon.
I love these rocks, the colors are just perfect.
I'm not sure why this is here, as neither side is accessible by a road intended for people. I found it beautiful and spent a long time relaxing here, reading my book.
The water from Keelung is really beautiful. I have heard Hsinchu's port is not as pretty, so I will probably procrastinate that trip to stave off disappointment. This will be hard to beat as I really loved Keelung.
If you keep up on Detroit news, you probably saw that the third Heidelberg house in under a month went up in flames today. If not, you can read about it here (link). You will notice that it says an investigation revealed what we all suspected, its arson. Someone is targeting one of my favorite places and destroying public, accessible art that transformed a strip of abandoned homes. I think its shameful and wrong on so many levels. I implore you to think about the value art has to you, the value freedom of expression, the value rebirth and revitalization has to you. Donate what you can afford to get the Heidelberg the security it needs to preserve the remaining houses. Donate at indiegogo (link)!
Part of the reason I wanted to post this was a similar artist's transformation of their own home community in Taichung, Taiwan. See the photos I posted recently (link).
Want more information on the project? Check out their website (link).
And one more time, in case you changed your mind... donate at indiegogo (link)!
Remember when you were like 19 and could pull all nighters and just live like a zombie on coffee and red bull for a week or so? Turns out that sort of behavior is not necessarily just for students. Teachers may be doing the same thing. For example, a ridiculously over-ambitious science teacher who is determined to teach a subject for which there are no books in Taiwan. I've learned that sometimes involves staying at work until almost 11 pm trying to write your own book, because there is just nothing suitable there.
On the bright side, this gives me plenty of opportunities to see out my window in all sorts of light. Here is 4 am creeping up outside my window and spoiling my sleep schedule for the rest of the week, I am sure.
Look familiar? Maybe you recognize the view from my bedroom window from this post.
Trying to pick out which pictures to put on my blog from my trip to Taichung's Rainbow Village was impossible. Look at these photos! So inspiring and cheerful; I want to go buy some paint and transform my living room.
At first glance they seem simple and I start to imagine being able to do it myself... but when you look closer you can see the tiny detailing, the layers and layers of pain that make each character a little more three dimensional. Amazing. It is completely amazing.
I especially love how the art moves from the walls to the floor seamlessly.
All of this is done by one man, Rainbow Grandpa. He is 91 years old and transformed his drab, depressing, military-dependent housing into his own, one-of-a-kind museum. The housing was set to be demolished, but the Rainbow Grandpa's memorable paint job and newly created photo site for Taiwanese tourists apparently convinced them otherwise. When I went he was casually seated behind a folding table selling postcards and shaking hands, smiling constantly. He has a limited selection of things for sale with his art on it, and also takes donations to buy more paint to continue the project.
I found posts and blogs about the Rainbow Village when I lived in Korea. I've had it saved and bookmarked, a backburner adventure waiting for the right time. It reminded me of the Heidelberg Project, which I realized I have never posted about on here. What a shame! It is absolutely amazing, and probably three times the size of the Rainbow Village. It will be one of my next 5 for Friday posts, without a doubt.
There was a man posing with tourists for photos, all dressed in rainbow. I went alone and initially turned him down when he gestured me over to take a picture. I didn't want to have to ask someone to take a picture of me and all of that.. maybe an hour later when I was about to leave he stopped me. He had found a man who spoke English and insisted that I pose. They grabbed my camera, handed me a ukulele, and took a few shots of us together. As much as I hate being that tourist, they really end up getting the best photos. I'm grateful to be coerced into inclusion, even when I resist it.
Side realization: I have so, so many photos of amazing, beautiful places with just the tips of feet snuck in. I should probably collaborate all of them into a video or something. And yes, Mom, these are still the chucks that Diesel the destructive doberman tried to eat.So, I've decided to forgive him, since they're alright.
Getting there is easy enough: take the train to Taichung. Leave the train station and cross the street to the large bus stop - not the one that is directly in front of the station! There you will find lots of buses, take the 30 or 40 until everyone gets off. It will be the last stop and it will take a while. They will drop you off down the street, so just keep walking on the road and you will run right into the start of the village. None of the tourist maps from Taichung's Tourist Info had it listed or featured there. But, they are well aware of it and were more than happy to help me find the village.
Europe again, this time in Poland outside of Krakow in the salt mines.
I started reading the Lord of the Ring in January this year, during disaster relief on the Jersey Shore. The book dragged, and I carried it from place to place. I switched to a tablet. I took it all over the US and pushed on, trying to love the book as much as the movies. Strangely enough, I never read it as a child, and in the last ten months of reading the book I have probably re-watched the movies three or four times. It was hard to love the slow moving book with much different character development after seeing the movies SO many times. But then, suddenly I found myself reading more slowly, trying not to finish the book and have to say goodbye to the series all over again. Funny how quickly it changed. But the point of this all is that a the Salt Mines reminded me of Lord of the Ring's Mines of Moria and that is part of the huge love I have for them.
The salt is brought into miners and visitor's lungs and particles come out with our breath. That salt settles all over the surfaces, and over the years has created this amazing texture over all of the walls. The wood has been there for so many years, now it is as hard as stone.
This is not your typical mine. It is on the original UNESCO list even. It has a huge, pristine cathedral, stunning statues, and chapels made completely of salt. There is even a huge underground lake that was pretty impossible to take photos of in the light.
A photo of me taken by Ashley, the best couchsurfing host I have had so far. He hosted me in Vienna and we got on so well he came out to meet me in Krakow the next week. I was lucky to meet such an amazing person. Maybe one day we will meet again!
About half of my entries have first been written out, saved, previewed, and second guessed. I've put off posts for a year before, leaving drafts outstanding on my page just waiting for publishing. Right now I have five posts pending publishing, geeze. Sometimes it seems too personal or vulnerable, other times I just feel like I have posted too often or seem too enthusiastic. My posts from Korea were not wordy, and the text was mostly informative, with more directions than opinions, things that did not matter to the people I care about. Ultimately it is cooler to be slightly disinterested than passionately obsessed.
But what is the point of it all if I can't completely throw myself into something that makes me happy? Do I give a care in the world if one of my facebook "friends" thinks I post too many blog links or photos? Do I stop gushing about something I love because a situational "friend" tells me that was cool when she was like, 14 years old? Do I allow some nameless person's possible judgement of me influence my behavior? Personally, no. I've decided I am just too old to be worrying about the little details like that.
Thank you, PostSecret, for constantly inspiring.
The fact of the matter is that people are already judging. People are questioning your motives and finding you completely lacking in some way. And that is part of being human. People who really know you, who have had the amazing opportunity to see beyond the public persona and get to know who you truly are wouldn't ever make those judgements.
So now, at the wise, old age of 25, I have come to realize that I can only be enough for myself and the people I love. I spend every single day working on being the best person, daughter, teacher, and friend I can. I am actively trying to make the most of every day I have and love with my whole heart. So, that means I committed to it and bought the flashy, red, matte lipstick by MAC that I coveted for years AND the sweet leather jacket that makes me feel brave. If people are going to judge me anyway, why not do whatever makes my heart sing?
Is there anything more ridiculously charming than the idea of painting on your own lantern, covering it full of your wishes and hopes and sending it off into the sky? I think not. And of course this would be a thing to do in Taiwan, where everything is charming and sweet. I went to New Taipei City intending to see Pingxi, a small city known for their annual lantern festival, but through a series of unfortunate events (notably sleeping through my train, getting on the wrong train, and so on), I only made it to Shifen, a town right next to it. Maybe Pingxi is completely different, I am not really sure, but from the pictures it seems like the same sort of deal. People paint their lantern on the side of the street, picking a different colors for different types of wishes. They light off the lanterns right on the train tracks surrounded by friends and strangers taking photos, and when the train is coming everyone rushes out of the way while they whistle and yell at you to get back. I wandered around taking photos of the whole thing, wish I had brought my tripod because moving balls of fire in the sky are not the easiest thing to capture.
Getting there is not the most fun thing in the world with a few train transfers, but I will without a doubt be back for the lantern festival. With big festivals in far off locales, it is sure to be a pain getting in and out on crowded trains. But the sights will be worth it, I am certain. I cannot wait.
Time for another weekly 5 for Friday. Last week my internet at home went out, so it never managed to get posted. Regardless, I'm just going to ignore that mishap and keep moving forwards. This week features Northern Michigan, specifically Traverse City and my first trip to the legit Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks. I grew up in the mitten, but never really experienced the UP at all, so last March when I created some serious downtime in my life plans, I knew it was time to go. I was inspired by this amazing blog (link) and if you're looking for inspiration photography, especially that of Michigan, I would highly suggest his site. Seriously awesome stuff there.
How lucky am I to have a great friend living in Traverse City ready and willing to tour guide me around AND a supportive father who just so happens to be driving up for a long weekend there? Clearly, I am the luckiest. It was sheer serendipity.
Pictured Rocks is a National Park, which means it is accessible, well cared for and beautiful. All of my favorite things. Best of all it has some amazing waterfalls that are not to far from parking lots. We were snow shoeing- which is a whole heck of a lot harder than I anticipated.
A size comparison, here is Patrick and about 2/3's of the waterfall frozen next to him. It is insanely large and even better in person.
We saw the two falls I really wanted to see, and ended up heading back early in hopes to making it to a few pubs for St Patrick's Day that night. Which started off looking like a possibility until we went down a dirt road of doom. Two tow trucks and 5 hours later we finally were back on the road in time to catch a snow storm. Needless to say, St. Patrick's Day was memorable in a completely different way than my previous experiences. But, overall it was one of my favorite days in Michigan. It reminded me how much there still is to see even in the state I grew up. Every time I travel I seek out beauty, so its nice to still be surprised in my own backyard. I'm thankful to be from such a wonderful place.
A while back I attempted to go hiking for the first time in Taiwan. I picked Lion's Head Mountain because of what seemed to be an easy busy system there run by a tour company. Things were in English, it seemed simple. Actually, the information was completely wrong and super confusing, but regardless I got to the base of the trails eventually.
Turns out that even in November it is uncomfortably hot in Taiwan. Maybe I was silly to think it would automatically be cooler on a hiking trail, but let me tell you, it was hotter. I felt like I was in Thailand - lush, green vegetation, humidity so thick you can see it, and a sudden downpour that ended up sending me running back to the bus stop. I was surprised just how lush and amazing the area was, but even more surprised that it was so oppressively hot in early November. Part of me thinks eventually I will just "adjust" to the weather, but that is probably just wishful thinking. As much as I love hiking, I think this is going to be a primarily winter activity for me in Taiwan. Also, I will pick higher peaks that might be cooler next time.
After talking to some friends who live here and doing some research, I have to accept that motorbikes are the best way to get into the mountains. The bus systems are not as extensive as I hoped and the information just is not as reliable or up-to-date in English. I think I will have to get over my fear of driving in Asia and get one sometime soon.
Some days I am a total, culturally-aware rock star, navigating the norms of a new country easily. Some days I am that stereotype, that stupid American who has no idea what they are doing.
Recently, a few friends - who wish to remain anonymous - and I went to some natural hot springs. The whole deal is outside and kind of thrown together haphazardly, and for sure not up to any codes. There are no signs or posted rules. Its free and open to all, so we went and fumbled our way through. Generally when we did something wrong, like attempting to touch the water without rinsing off with the water from the particular pool we wanted to go into, a random stranger or two gestured and yelled. So, mostly we figured out what to do by that and observing other people. But after an hour or two we were hot and wanted to go into a cooler pool that some boys were snorkeling in. Seemed reasonable... Until about 20 minutes later when a Taiwanese man who spoke English informed us that we were in the foot-bath. That pretty much sealed the deal, they didn't want us back in the normal pools afterwards. We rinsed off and headed back to Taipei, tails between our legs. The joys of expat life, eh?
After leaving Korea in July 2012, I moved a lot. I backpacked Europe, visited Michigan, then Sacramento, Oregon, back to Michigan, New Jersey, Sacramento, Michigan. Then I took lots of vacations - the Upper Pennisula, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Washington State, and British Columbia. I moved to Alaska for 5 months, then jetted back to a whirlwind trip in Michigan before flying to Taiwan.
It was great to see so many awesome places, don't get me wrong. But now I am home. I live here. I have my own space and I love that. The beautiful two-bedroom apartment was a big draw to this school, and I wanted to make this house my home. So I painted, and it took forever. This is the view from my bed in the morning light. Somehow it looks a little Willy Wonka'd with all the stripes and lines. I assure you my whole apartment is not mildly crooked, ha. And sure, the rest of the apartment has abrasive white walls, and I still need to make and hang art everywhere... but I am taking this one step at a time. So this week, my bedroom walls are for sure the good I am focusing on.
It is official: I've been in Taiwan for one month. I spend a lot of time reflecting and planning for the future, and I really always have. I celebrated every monthly anniversary in Korea, every semester in university, every milestone. Here is my reflection on my first month in Taiwan.
The biggest victory in this month has been at school. I was initially frustrated, because my students' classroom habits and behaviors did not meet my expectations. Starting my contract mid-semester means that I get whatever the previous teachers have excepted, plus a little sass, and some efforts to test me. My teaching style and even subjects were a big change for the students, and some of them adamantly pushed back. Luckily, my manager, James, and I have been brainstorming methods to direct their behavior, and it has made a huge change. I am, as always, a workaholic, so it is really inspiring to have someone at school who is as creative and inspired to come up with solutions to cope with classroom challenges as I am. I was hired to help facilitate some changes in our school, and I love having a supportive network ready to help achieve those goals. James has also been excellent at facilitating conferences with the parents. Every parent was encouraged to sign up for a meeting with James and me to discuss the new direction we were taking the class in and their student's progress. Quite a few already have, and more will be coming every week. I love that the parents want to be involved, and it gives me a lot of insight into the individual students and Taiwan's culture as a whole. I have never been in parent conferences before, mostly due to the language barrier, but I am so pleased to able to here.
Shocked Keynes during our scent lab in Science.
If you know anything about my teaching experiences, you know I love teaching Science. It is my absolute favorite, but generally not taught at after-school programs in English in Taiwan. My school is willing to try it out though, which is huge. It is a way to excite kids and inspire them. It is hands-on with immediate results. It incorporates multiple learning styles and types of intelligence easily. It is everything I love about teaching in one class. Luckily, I've been given the books and materials I need to create the science classes and labs I want. My younger, lower level classes have been doing the five senses this month, while my older, more advanced classes are using a Foresman book from the States. It has been a great month, and the excitement over this new vocabulary has carried over to our phonics, conversation, and writing classes. It is awesome to see the kids adapting to the new structures and expectations.
A park in Taipei, wandered here with her and her friends from Japan on their recent visit to Taiwan
I think it is strange how often people ask me if I am lonely. Of all of the places I have moved since graduating in 2006, I don't think I have ever really been lonely. Of course loneliness is something everyone - regardless of location - experiences at certain points, but I've been blessed with a sense of contentment. I am just as happy wandering alone through train stations and night markets as I am with a group of friends. I recognize that it does not come easy for everyone, though. I've given a lot of thought to moving and starting over and the challenges and loneliness that can come with it.
Here are some tips and insights for your future solo travels.
-Know thyself: If you absolutely cannot stand the idea of eating in a restaurant or seeing the ballet alone, don't force yourself to be absolutely miserable on your vacation. Instead, find a compromise. Perhaps you stick to eating street food, bring a book, or get standing room only tickets for performances. Find a way to cope with the situation.
-Know your resources: I personally love CouchSurfing, as I love being invited into people's daily routines and homes. I find it the perfect combination of intimate and comfortable. But staying with strangers is not for everyone, and for those people, I still suggest CS. You can use the site to find a local guide or meet up with fellow travelers for a meal or drink, they even have weekly meet ups in big cities. Don't be nervous to post asking for a friend for the afternoon - the world is full of people looking for connections.
-Be wholehearted; put yourself out there. Don't turn away opportunities to interact with the people you will undoubtedly encounter. In many countries it is normal to be invited for a meal or into someone's home much sooner than we would be in America, so don't be surprised. Bring a gift for your host and an open heart, it is a huge pleasure to be included in someone's family.
-Create opportunities in your plans. Stay at hostels - and don't pay up for a private room, get to know your new roommates. Sign up for city tours or pub crawls, both free and paid give you a chance to meet those with similar interests. Take your headphones off and smile back. Every place I have been to there are always people trying to help, who recognize the guidebook, dSLR, and slightly overwhelmed expression. They might ask where I am going or what I am there to see, and often they suggest directions or offer to show me the sights. Depending on the situation and area, sometimes I say yes. Sometimes it is nice to see where life leads you. Sometimes you are stranded outside a bamboo forest without a mode of transportation and a tour bus scoops you up and takes you with them. You just have to look for the good.
Another Friday posting, this week features Budapest. I went here in August 2012 while couch-surfing my way through central Europe. The city was amazing, which is saying something, because I don't prefer cities usually. Maybe its the whole first time in Europe wave of appreciation of buildings and architecture or maybe its the drastic difference I saw from my life in Korea to the city. It overwhelmed me, and I loved it.
I took a free walking tour, which is popular in Europe. The guides volunteer and hope to make a profit by tips and donations. It was great, because everyone could pay what they found a fair price. I highly recommend looking for a free tour when traveling, oftentimes they are even better than the paid tours!
The Parliament Building at night
Clearly I like bridges best.
I don't know if I will head back to Europe anytime soon, but if I do, it will be to Eastern Europe!
The temples here are so whimsical. I find myself photographing the roofing from every angle, changing all of my settings, trying to capture the vivid colors and meticulous detailing. This shot is from two weeks ago, wandering around the city with a friend from couchsurfing. We realized it must have been a Buddhist holiday, because even the smallest temples had performances and ceremonies going on all day. I hope to do a temple stay over a long weekend to understand the Buddhist culture in Taiwan a little better and also just experience something very different and out of my comfort zone. Culture is best understood by active participation, in my opinion. I love seeing the temples and watching ceremonies from a distance, but the opportunity to be there with monks and learning exactly what each thing means... that is one of the privileges of living in Asia. I missed out due to scheduling and laziness in Korea, so I refuse to let that happen again. Now I am just waiting until I can take off a Friday and sign up to go!
I've been wishing I had a video camera daily. I've decided I have to upgrade my DSLR so I can get a video recording function in it. I think it will change the way I share my experiences and give me a new way to relive these moments.
Watch this and be completely impressed; I've been playing it on repeat today. It is the same guy who went viral for his "Porkchop vs Karate Chop" video.
Starting this week, on Fridays I will be posting entries with five pictures from a specific location.
This week is Cave Junction, Oregon. This was my first location site for Americorps NCCC (I resigned from, but that will be a longer post at some point in the future). I lived in a cabin on a nature ranch, and a wonderful friend, Mike from Korea, mailed me a fixed 50mm lens. I wandered around the property every few days, taking pictures and learning how to control the focal point with what is still one of my favorite pieces of camera equipment.
Here are five photos from around the property in beautiful Southern Oregon in November 2012:
It is easy to dwell on the negative aspects of life anywhere, and this is no exception, but I really loved Oregon's landscape. I hated pulling poison oak for hours every day and living in a crowded cabin. But, it was wonderful to have such an amazing backdrop. I was given the opportunity to learn new skills, try now things, and learn about myself. Focus on the good, of course.