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Backward

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With only two days left to go in the year, I decided it was time to do some obligatory reflection.  Let’s see if I can recall some highlights from 2011.  I am in no way organized enough to give you something like a top ten.  That would mean planning out this blog post before I started writing, and you know that never happens.

One of the most exciting moments of my life technically happened on Christmas day in 2010, but it was one of the things I wanted to share that made me start this blog in the first place.  Geoff asked me to marry him. I cried like a girl and then said yes.  I was ecstatic for days, and I’m sure it must have spilled over into the new year, so I feel like it most definitely deserves a shout out.

After doing a ton of research into the immigration process, (This was all done by Geoff.  He’s the smart one on this team.) we decided that the only way for us to move to Hawaii without the possibility of being separated was to get legally married in Taiwan and apply for a green card for Geoff from the US “embassy” in Taipei.  This meant a ton of paperwork had to be gathered from all over the world, but eventually we gathered all of the stamps and signatures.  Without any ceremony, we went down to the household registry office and filed our marriage certificate.  On March 4th, we became husband and wife in the eyes of the law in Taiwan and America.  We’re still not legally married in the UK.  I should probably hide his passport.  Okay, not really.

A lifelong dream came true in April when we flew to England for two weeks for Geoff to be in a friend’s wedding.  I had grown up reading and loving English literature.  It only takes half a second on my blog to realize I adore Harry Potter. England has always held a romantic fascination for me.  I couldn’t believe I would finally get to walk the streets of London and stroll through the English countryside.  It was an exhausting and wondrous trip.  We traveled all over England by train, and we had nearly perfect weather.  I absolutely fell in love with the country, and I can’t wait to go back, especially to see Geoff’s family and my great friend Gaz.  I know a lot of people who live there aren’t that fond of England, but to me, it’s still of place of magic and wonder.

Definitely the most stressful experience of  2011 was getting Geoff’s visa.  There was a week when we thought it might not happen.  He had pretty much already been offered his job at the zoo.  It was time to book the tickets.  Everything was happening.  But we didn’t have that one piece of paper that said he could get in to the country.  I cannot express the level of relief when, without ceremony, they told us he was granted the visa.  I nearly fell over right there in the immigration office.

With that most important piece of paper nicely laminated in his passport, we were able to pack up most of our belongings into our suitcases, give the rest of our stuff away, and leave Taiwan forever.  There’s not a lot about that place that I miss, but I do dearly miss our friends and hope they come to visit soon.  Also, we have yet to find a place as perfect to hang out in on a Friday night as the Early Bird Diner.  Go and drink a white Russian for us, Taiwan friends.

So now we’re here living in paradise, and it is as completely beautiful as you could have imagined.  Every single day I am in awe of its beauty.  I hope I never take it for granted.  We found a place to live, two scooters, and now a car.  I got a job, got another job, quit the first job, and am now really happy working retail at Island Sole selling flip flops and not being responsible for any children’s futures.  We’ve made some really cool friends here.  And the most exciting thing is, there’s still so much to explore on this island.  But that’s in the future.  And that’s a blog for another day.  The last day.  Well, probably later today.

I guess this is the part where I say, “Well, a lot can happen in a year.”  Well, it can, and it did.  It’s been stressful and wonderful and full of laughter and full of tears and completely horrible and completely perfect and it’s my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The best thing about the new year is that it’s the end and the beginning at the same time.  That’s its own kind of magic.  I’m ready for it.

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Two Tuesdays

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I.  Am.  So.  Tired.  It’s about 7:30 on Tuesday evening as I sit writing this.  It is currently 1:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday in Taiwan, which is where I was this morning.  Or at least, I think it was this morning.  The sun went away and came back while we were flying over the Pacific, but when we got here, it was the exact same time as when we left our hotel in Taichung,  9 am on Tuesday.  Back to the Future enough for you?  Confused yet?  So am I.  In my experience, it’s all been one extremely long day.

We set off in the shuttle, after a disappointing breakfast at our hotel, with our friend Gill riding along with us.  Our driver was great and got us there quickly and safely.  Once at the airport, we met up with Zach, checked in, ate at Burger King, and hung out for our final moments before disappearing through immigration and the limbo of air travel.  I managed not to cry, mostly from sheer bewilderment over what’s happened in the last month and what we’re about to do.  I was glad my friends could be with me until the last moment.  We’ve only been here one day and we’ve mentioned them a dozen times at least.  I will miss them immensely.

Our flights were fairly smooth, and we even got the exit row on our first short flight to Seoul.  The service with Korean Airlines was great.  The food was horrible, but I wasn’t expecting much.  My only problem was that it was colder than a polar bears nipples on that plain.  A few hours through our eight and a half hour flight, I was shivering and had goose bumps, even though I was covered in one of those frail airplane blankets.  I developed a sore throat and a sinus headache from the cold.  It was extremely unpleasant.

Our next big obstacle was immigration.  We had no idea what to expect.  After initially getting in the wrong, very crowded line, and then having to duck under poles with all of our bags to get out of it, be made our way to the immigrant waiting area.  The officers who helped us were very relaxed and friendly.  They didn’t make me feel anxious at all.  We did have to wait for over an hour, as there were at least four other immigrants entering in front of us, but we got to sit on a comfy chair, so I can’t complain.  I was worried I’d fall asleep though.

Getting out of the airport was tricky.  We couldn’t find our bags.  Remember we’d been sitting up at immigration for over an hour, so all the other bags from our flight were surely long gone.  Turns out they were down at the other end of the baggage claim hall waiting for us nicely stacked on a cart.  That’s aloha for you.  We also had the world’s most awesome bus driver on our shuttle bus into Waikiki.  She had this fantastic rat tail braided down to the middle of her back.  That woman could maneuver that enormous bus as if by magic.  It was flawless.

When we got to our hotel at noon, we found out we couldn’t check in for another two hours.  Luckily, they let us leave our suitcases in the lobby, but Geoff didn’t feel comfortable leaving his backpack and computer bag, so he had to carry it around with him while we walked through Waikiki trying to pass the time.  It was very reminiscent of our first day in London.  We just had to keep moving to stay awake.  We managed to buy SIM cards, though, so message me if you want my number.  🙂

Once we finally got into our room, we fell on to the two separate twin beds (which will be pushed together tomorrow by housekeeping) and fell into a deep sleep.  I was so bewildered when the alarm went off after 90 minutes.  It was extremely difficult to drag myself back out of bed, but it was 3:30 in the afternoon, so I knew if I slept anymore my internal clock would be a mess.

We went swimming in this walled off area of ocean that essentially functions as a salt water swimming pool.  It was lovely for just lounging in the water because it was protected from the waves that often crash onto the shore on Waikiki beaches.  We didn’t manage to last very long swimming though as we were both extremely tired.  We did the only sensible thing a person can do when in an exhausted and hungry state.  We ate cheeseburgers.  Expensive cheeseburgers, but delicious cheeseburgers.  Cheeseburgers we’d been thinking about for a year.  I also ordered a cocktail called a Sunburn, which tasted like melted raspberry sorbet.  So good!   We won’t be eating anymore expensive restaurant meals for quite a while, so I especially enjoyed this one.

It is absolutely wonderful to be here.  It’s so beautiful, and I am so fortunate.  I can’t wait to get settled down into our new place and start figuring out how our lives will work oh this island.  Right now, though, all I care about is sleep, and lots of it.

Farewell Formosa

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This is it.  My last night in Taiwan.  After two years, I’ve finally come to the last night.  It’s been the craziest two years of my life.  It’s been like Wonderland.  So many things are different.  So many things are incomprehensible; it does indeed feel as if we’re all mad here.  I am so grateful for this experience.  I don’t regret a single moment.

Taichung Park

I met so many interesting people here from all around the world.  It has enriched me tremendously.  Some of the greatest friends in my life right now are people I met here in Taiwan.  I’d also be nowhere without the help of many Taiwanese friends who went to so much trouble to help a poor helpless foreigner who could never manage to learn the language.

Chingjing Farm

Taiwan has some truly beautiful places, and so many interesting things to see if you just open your eyes.  Even in the midst of the crowded cities, there are surprises around every turn.  And driving just a few minutes out of town takes you into the middle of mountainous jungle like I’ve never seen before.  It’s unforgettable.

You never know what can happen in Taiwan.

When I came to Taiwan, I was a mess.  I was searching desperately for myself.  I had no idea what I wanted from life.  I was in a sad state emotionally.  But destiny provided.  Tomorrow I will get on an airplane and start a new life with a man I met my very first weekend in Taiwan.  More than anything else, I am grateful for this.  I’m scared to think of where I would be if Geoff and I hadn’t found each other in this crazy place.

Global winter brunch at the Early Bird

It’s time for me to go.  I’m ready, no doubt.  I wasn’t able to adjust to differences in culture well enough to make this my permanent home, but this has been an absolutely unforgettable experience.  I would recommend teaching abroad in Taiwan to anybody who was considering it.  It’s easy to get by here.  You can make good money.  There are wonderful things to see.  People are mostly nice and helpful.  Living in Taiwan has changed my life.  A new adventure awaits.  Farewell, Formosa.

Leaving Party

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The leaving party is an important part of the expat experience.  Everybody has one, and you can’t leave Taiwan without it.  One final chance to get together with your friends and act like a fool.  We had ours last night, and my body is reminding me just how foolish I was.

We met everybody at our favorite place, the Early Bird Diner.  It was a good thing too because I was starving.  Naturally, we showed up with two homemade cakes.  When do I ever go anywhere without cake these days?  It was wonderful to see so many people, old friends and new, come to say goodbye.  Some people even gave us gifts, which was an extremely pleasant surprise.

Besides all the white Russians that were consumed, I think I might have put everyone on the edge of diabetic shock.  I cannot believe how much pumpkin cake Matt managed to eat.  I hope his heart is still working today.

We have met so many wonderful people during our time in Taiwan, both fellow foreigners and Taiwanese friends.  I cannot begin to express how much I appreciate my Taiwan family.  They supported me through a huge transition in my life.  I would have been lost without their friendship.

We’ll have an extra bedroom in Hawaii, so I expect everybody to come and visit.  It’s a win-win situation.

Frustration Friday

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It was my last day of work.  I should have been elated.  But I wasn’t.  I was annoyed, irritated, frustrated, and otherwise generally pissed off.  My students were just as rude and disrespectful as ever, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  The worst part was finding out I had to sub after lunch.  On my last day of work.  Are you kidding me?  Luckily, those children were delightful.  And I owe a big shout out to my workmate Chris, who allowed me to get the much needed nap that warded off my sore throat and sinus headache.  Huge appreciation.

Even though half of my stuff is in a suitcase, and the other half is going in this morning, I still really don’t feel like anything unusual is happening.  My mind hasn’t been able to wrap itself around the fact that my entire life is about to change.  I’ve been finding Taiwan and my inability to adjust to its many eccentricities excessively frustrating lately.  It feels like it’s been such a prolonged goodbye.  Let’s just go already.

Yet there are still three days to go.  Today is our leaving party.  I’m hoping there will be more than three people as I decided to make two cakes.  Sunday I expect will be spent cleaning up the apartment and turning this place into an indoor garage sale as we try to save as much stuff from the landfill as possible by giving it away.  I don’t know how to access the Taiwanese version of Goodwill, if there is one.  Monday I have to go to work to collect my final pay and then go to the bank to change and transfer money and close my account.  Then the landlord comes around, we hand over our keys and get our deposit back, and it’s off to the hotel.

Tuesday the shuttle van comes to pick us up at 9 am and we’re finally out of here.  All my possession packed neatly away, I depart this island for the last time.  I’m ready.

A Series of Lasts

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This is our last week.  That means every five minutes I’ll be saying “this is the last time I’ll…”  Tonight was the last taco Tuesday at The Early Bird Diner.  That’s a tradition I’ll surely miss.  It’s great to have a place you can go where everybody knows you.  We’re having our leaving party there on Saturday, and the owner told us he’d stock up on Kahlua.  They know exactly what we want.  It feels like home in there.

Every day at work this week I’ll say “This is my last Monday.  This is my last Tuesday. etc.”  Until finally it will be only the last day.  I’ve already had to return my books and stationary supplies, so my desk is half cleaned out already.  Time is slowly ticking by.  Three more days and I can say goodbye to that place forever.

I must confess, I’m not much for goodbyes.  I mostly like to just pretend like it’s not really happening and that I’ll just be seeing all my friends again next week.  Expect to get a hug and a “see you soon” from me.  I’ll break down in tears later when you’re not looking.

My head has been swirling lately with reflections about my time here.  There is so much that I am appreciative of, despite my complaints.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not particularly perky.  I don’t really do positive and sunny.  I’m a bit cynical, and I like to grumble.  But I’m much to old to change, and the people who really love me understand.  But I’ll save all of my revelations and epiphanies for another day.  I think it’s best to let it stew a bit longer.  Right now, I’m full of refried beans and ready for bed.  Why are refried beans so awesome?  But I digress.  Good night.

Full House

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Yes, I know it’s actually Monday morning and not Sunday evening.  It was like a slumber party at my house last night, complete with movie time, so my computer was inaccessible up until bedtime.  My apologies.

Our day started with showing Zach how to use a piping bag so he could add the green potion to our cauldron cakes.  The cakes all fell in the oven, not sure why, but Zach used this to his advantage.  He simply filled up the caved in centers with even more cream cheese frosting, making these cakes ridiculously delicious.

Most of the day was consumed by reading our Oahu Lonely Planet guide.  I forgot to mention that the very first thing we woke up to was Geoff being officially offered the position of education coordinator at the Honolulu Zoo.  Finally.  So now I’m free to get excited about our move with wild abandon.  My job prospects are not nearly as good, but I’m sure I can find work waiting tables or working in a hotel or something. I love reading this book and making plans in my mind to visit all the beaches and hiking trails around the island.  I also discovered that there’s an English pub in Waikiki, so my husband will have a homesick remedy.

Later we walked all over town in a rain storm.  I didn’t mind at all.  There’s something so refreshing about being able to walk in the rain.  You end up soaked regardless, so I’d prefer to be dripping in rain water rather than sweat.

It was a great day surrounded by friends.  I ate WAY too may cupcakes.  But who cares.  Just because I’m moving to a place where everybody wears a bikini everywhere doesn’t mean I shouldn’t gorge myself on cupcakes.  Oh, wait.  What?  Damn.