America Revisited

I’m here at Reagan National Airport in DC. 23 hours* left of zombie-like travel through a fully sun-lit twilight zone of time on the way back to Taiwan. Even though it’s only the start of my third voyage of such magnitude, it’s gotten less hopelessly endless feeling since the first flight out last summer.

After a quick year one abroad (well..just about) it’s been nice to come back to America in all it’s summertime glory to reconnect with some of the most appreciated people in my life. Not unbound from the human experience, I find that growing up, getting older, and living elsewhere slowly drives this reality (not quite a wedge) of time and differences between me and those I consider myself close to.

But I find such changes to be necessary. I can imagine that without them we can have no memories, only stagnant realities that would pale in comparison to vivid perceptions of our past.

I also expectedly find that three weeks is a short time when you’re not sure the next time you’ll get back home-home. I’m guessing about two years at this point. But the trip has been undeniably great. And it’s proven once again that I’ve got alot to be thankful for. For starters, the onslaught of Maryland seafood has been nice, along with trips to Ocean City, the old summer haunt, and those familiar little culinary establishments of Americana that really just can’t be replaced by any other culture’s.

Going a little deeper – the time with friends was irreplaceable. If you are a close friend, you know how much I value reconnecting, staying connected, and seeking out where you’re living in hiding and forcing you to hang out with me, or begging you to make your way over to meet up. What can I say, it’s a gift. Hunting such characters only in Maryland, where I decided to limit myself to for the sake of quality time, reduced that quantity some. But I was still blessed immensely by being able to see so many. Even made it for a wedding of two good friends at my old home church (shout out to Sunnyside for the genuinely-appreciated intentional prayers and support). With that, I got to see a bunch of great people I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, many from Georgia where I didn’t road trip for time’s sake. Even got to see some of the recent grads/studs from my old hall when I was an RA in college. Good times, friends.

Despite those necessary changes brought about by the unstoppable progress of time, it’s nice when good old memories are supported with unexpected new ones – even if those realities and experiences in the past can never be redone.

Aboard the Fulabul complete with a pair of welcome home flags.

Likewise, my time with the family was equally fulfilling. Spent alot of QT with mom at the beach and at the ever-growing
compound where they live. The following are new supplements to life at said compound: an addition of a garage and a beach room, a still-forming cannery, chickens, and exciting ambitions for future ministry. Nothing boring there. And then there’s dad’s new 34-ft live-aboard sailboat. Since both of us have never (ever) sailed or lived on a boat, this was an adventure by default. Both the first time either of us took it out or sailed it happened during this trip, and despite all the sailing lessons falling through, we managed to avoid capsizing and sped along at 7 knots down the bay. Success! Thanks parents for proving that even pseudo-retirement and old age (just being honest!) should be filled with first times and new territory.

This story of revisiting home is obviously ridden with optimism. I find that all my posts turn out that way even though daily life isn’t always so cut and dry. I’m going to go ahead and say focusing on that’s a positive thing. Heh. But it has been a short time here, and it was a short time where I was hoping for alot – strength and motivation for year two of community building and ministry in Taipei most notably (Not to mention learning Chinese, teaching kids ..anything, and all the etcetera). It’s a big responsibility being part of such a great thing, and motivation and recharging are just the start of what I needed. I think I got part of all I sought and prayed for. I hope I did; time will tell. Maybe it didn’t come in all the ways I was thinking, but I’m hard pressed to say this was anything but a refreshing, fulfilling time. Pardon my abstractions – they’re how I process. Just consider yourself privileged to see the process. 🙂

In all it was great being in this land of roadtrips/old friends/family/cereal/seafood done right/extroverted strangers and more that will always be my first home. And flushing toilet paper again was oh-so-rewarding.

I can only hope the next time home will be half as meaningful.

 

Found this, despite the inferior train system!

* The one thing I need to add to this otherwise airport-contrived post is the uncertainty of travel. My expected 23 hours turned into schedule-redefining 47 when a delayed flight and mechanical problems landed me a whole day’s layover in Chicago. With the addition of a free hotel to the optimism needed to enjoy such an opportunity, I claimed it as a free day-cation to a city I’d never been to before. So here’s to unexpected adventures! …And trying to avoid United Airlines next time!

 

 

 

Frames: The Other Tongue 中文 (Part 1)

ImageImage

。。。Which less than a year ago meant nothing to me (as it currently may to you), now means the tone-based, non-western language I’m ever so slowly starting to grasp.

There are a ton of different things I could say about Mandarin Chinese at this point, but I’m actually going for a short post this time(!). So, be ready for Part II of this frame shortly down the road.

If you’ve already heard me use the following metaphor about my feelings toward 中文, I hope you won’t mind bearing with me this time. I’ve decided that the truest metaphorical embodiment of my relationship with Chinese since first studying it has been that of a middle schooler’s dating life. And we’re not talking a precocious and emotionally stable pupil one would expect to become the next generation’s brain surgeons and Oprah Winfreys, just the first picture that pops into your mind when I say “middle school” and “dating relationship”.

One week I’ll be on top of the world, doing great in classes, connecting with my teachers in the classroom and Taiwanese friends plus random people outside of it. Add to that the feeling of ascending a platform of simple conversation I wasn’t sure I’d be able surmount, and there you have it: my typical great week with Chinese. You’d think an attitude like that wouldn’t be easy to overturn, right?

Sure enough, within a week or two (or….. a couple hours) I feel like an unteachable mess who’s dreams of connecting with the Eastern world through language are about as anticipated as single-handedly cleaning out a Las Vegas casino in sequential games of $20 Texas hold ’em.

Healthy, balanced, emotionally stable – it’s everything you imagine for relationships in that wisdom-saturated time of life 6 years prior to getting a diploma. …That’s sarcasm if you’re confused (or non-Western).

And despite holding high the values of self-awareness and perspective, I just haven’t been able to beat the cycle. So if I can’t shake it, I figure the next best thing is to cathartically make fun of it, and blog about it. So, I want to thank you, personally, for being one more step on my long road to relational maturity with 中文.

Part II coming soon. Stay tuned for optimism!

And if you haven’t already, check out a somewhat healthier language relationship with my last post here >> The Mother Tongue

Frames: The Mother Tongue

It’s actually kind of funny I have yet to share on the blog about teaching English. Before God opened the doors to doing that plus a whole lot more, I was basically only looking for opportunities to teach English (…somewhat exclusively in East Asia). Observing the pioneering footsteps of other friends jumping on the teaching-English-far-away-after-college train, I decided doing something similar would be a good step to move into the next things I wanted to do.

Teaching English overseas is really one heck of a cool opportunity. So cool that it hardly seems fair. Just think about it – if you’re born into an English speaking country, you have this you have innate ability to share an overrated language that the world just happens to want more than any other (what are the odds, right?).  You get to use the language you likely haven’t put much work into learning since 5th grade to travel the world and be uniquely needed on every continent except Antarctica (only because everyone residing there has probably already mastered English). Add to that the fact that for some English speakers (namely, Americans like myself), we’ve grown up with the mentality that our own language is enough. That’s quite a unique and mildly bigoted perspective when compared with the rest of the world. And I’d wager that my two years of forgotten French in middle school only serve to place me smack in the middle out of that stereotype. No stones being cast from this direction!

But I don’t say all this to be a downer on my country or myself. I just think it’s good to recognize privilege and never take it for granted… never assuming we are just entitled to everything we have. So, for me, teaching English here is a privilege, and one I don’t feel I’ve earned, but one I’ve gratefully accepted!

So here’s a little bit about how that opportunity has translated into my current role of “native English teacher.”

After school in Taiwan, kids go to… well, school. And that’s where my job starts – some days around 1:00 and others at 4:00. The older the students are, the longer their after-school English school (usually called a 補習班 or “Bushiban”) runs into the night. I get to teach students from about age 7 to 11 in a couple different classes, and we’re done around 6:30. And just in case you were wondering, “English only!” is the number one rule/battle-cry at my school. We take the complete language immersion approach, and it seems pretty darn effective. It’s also useful for hiring English teachers fresh off the boat – like me. Being able to treat every Chinese word as unruly makes things much easier when you can’t speak a lick.

So far I think I’ve learned about as much as I’ve taught – from my kids, from working with cross-cultural staff, from other teachers, and from a long list of personal advisors all named “Mistakes”. I didn’t expect it to be easy when I first came — probably one of my more useful expectations.  There were definitely some days where I wondered what I was doing here. An especially rough time was when I felt like I lost control of my youngest class… for a month. It felt like the personalities in that room were strategically rigged against me. It became a brewing cauldron of ADD, defiance, and anarchy (ok, maybe the metaphor’s a little extreme). It definitely wasn’t a positive learning environment.

My youngest class' two most challenging students show up on the same day decked-out in Jeremy Lin gear. How could I not take this picture?!

But with some guidance from supportive leadership (another huge thing not to take for granted when teaching!) we were able to reign in it before the end of the semester. I’ve watched my most explicitly defiant student of last semester (too smart for his own good, literally) transform into a achievement-driven, first-responder when I sound the call to “Sit nicely… 1,2,3!”. In fact, for the first time this last week he beat out the whole class in stars, my classroom’s highly-desirable, two-dimensional currency. I’m kind of blown away by how much things can turn around. Whew…

Having that first semester of teaching out of the way is really comforting. I can see that I still have a lot to learn, but it’s so nice to have some real tough lessons already learned. Aside from the challenges, it really has been awesome getting to know my kids. I’ve gotten to see this culture and the world from their eyes. And that’s a special thing as I try and take in all that God has for me in this country.  I also feel as though seeing their perspectives through their conversations and writing has helped me understand more about Taiwanese people (and Easterners overall) that are both part of my community and those who have become my close friends. Childhood defines a lot – for all people.

And finally, a little piece of news that ties in nicely with this frame of my life. I recently signed on for another year with the school I’m teaching with. I’m honestly quite excited about year two and everything it’s going to bring. Having more hours next year will be bittersweet given everything else our team is involved in, but I’m expecting a few things to be much smoother, like only needing to work at one branch instead of two (a significant challenge for me in feeling prepared for my classes). As odd as it might seem, it’s harder to picture transitioning back to America than it is to continue on here the next few years. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s let each season speak for itself. I’ll settle with concluding that I’m currently quite content in this place.

I want to say to anyone even slightly interested in teaching overseas for a season… do it! If you are one of those people, I hope you learned something or got a spark of inspiration. And to everyone who stopped by the post today, thanks for reading!

A postcard pic I got to take last week - Yehliu, Taiwan.

Frames: 205 HanZhong St.

Things change.

So you’re forced to have some opinion about it, even if it’s a tacit one.  Some people really hate it.  For the most part, I love it.  For two minor references, I’m on a different side of the world than and can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. And I usually feel trapped if change doesn’t keep happening in my life.  I know of many others in my generation (and some beyond it) can relate. Call it good, bad, or what you will, but really, nothing brings me back to thinking how much I’m blessed more than when I’m in a place of positive change.

After being in Taiwan for 7 months now (whoa), I feel I’ve been given a gift being in such a place of change. It’s that growing, progressive, healthy feeling of being involved in something bigger and more than just you.  I could talk about 100 different things I’ve experienced since coming out here (not to mention that transition in itself), but there’s something specific I wan tot touch on in this frame. It’s the forming life of something represented by an address just half a block from where I live. You’ve probably heard already, but it’s called The Aroma.

The three-story building is our coffee shop, our church, our hangout, and the face of our community in Taipei. We have church upstairs late on Sunday nights that every person on our team helps pull off.  On Friday’s we have a time for our friends just to come connect and play games among other things. And completely interconnected to what happens here is the full-time coffee shop that gives us a literal window into the streets of our neighborhood so we can connect with whoever walks by. (Fun side note – I get to be a barista once a week!) And it isn’t often for me that I connect with something meaningful and profound enough, and values align just so, that I want to be thought of with it. But it really has turned out that way.

All of these opportunities, this awesome front for community and ministry and affecting change in the lives of others wasn’t something that’s simply been around for us to take for granted.  The team I’m with, backed by so many people and prayers from all corners of the globe, has been setting the groundwork for all of this for over 4 years now. Each element, growing from an idea. Each idea along the way, transitioning into something that was made to happen – weekly language exchange, monthly worship services, small groups – all of it took a ton of investment and divine favor.

I’m super thankful to be part of it now, but I’m also grateful I had the chance to help in this effort to make 205 HanZhong happen before it was up and running at the beginning of the year. So many people here have been working for this for so long, and I was brought in in time to take part in the last several months of work, seeing a huge dream become a reality – and really seeing the need for it beforehand. It’s a powerful change to see.

But beyond that, we’re continuing to see God’s faithfulness poured out in the changes that have happened and are happening all the time here. The changes we have seen in our friends lives alone are overflowing.  And I also see just how much these changes, the timing – all of it – has been such a providential thing for me personally.

Another adventure with just a few from our community.

Click here if you’re interested in more about the Aroma (and why that’s our name).

Otherwise, see you next time!

Frames: Imago Dei (& Holiday Bonus Material)

So… it’s been a while, but as mentioned in my last post, I want to transition the nature of this blog to be more focused. I’m hoping that moving away from the encyclopedic, all around updates I was giving will be easier as the newness of life in Taiwan has been wearing off. But just because things are settling some doesn’t mean I’m running short of things I want to share. Don’t fret!

As I was thinking about how to label this new series of sorts, several ideas went through my mind. I wanted to be able to share more things in more detail that I’ve been observing, experiencing, learning, pondering – to give a small window into one thought at a time. For more or less obvious reasons I threw out my first two ideas of “windows” and “slants” as I didn’t want to bring to mind feelings of failing tech empires or cable news pundits. So I think I’ve settled on “frames” as a way to share snapshots, landscapes, and some self-portraits, of what’s been happening here in Taipei and remake those scenes I’ve been learning about since arriving just over four months ago (that’s a third of year! Time… well you know what it does).

And now that my preface is over, I get to share the first of these frames that’s been constantly bouncing around in my mind since week one. It’s the idea of the Imago Dei or “the image of God” that has been so uplifting for me to see in the people of Taiwan.

I had the awesome chance to Skype with my home church in Maryland several weeks ago, and this thought was something I couldn’t really hold back from mentioning when sharing my experiences so far. I really had no time to even explain it, so it had little value in the way I haphazardly hinted at it, but still it just forced its way out like a bubble rising to the surface of the water. It’s the idea that God created all of mankind in his image. It’s the idea that even those that don’t yet know him have some of his qualities, his character, and parts of his mind deeply and irreplaceably etched into them.

For those of us who know God in a personal way, it becomes easy to forget this is the case. I think we sometimes focus too much on the inherent evil of man, undoubtedly there, which serves as a reminder to us that they would forever benefit from finding redemption in Christ.  If you, like me, also believe in this practical image of God inside all people, this remarkable stamp God so graciously gave us at creation, there’s a whole other beautiful sight to see.

Sometimes it takes an entirely different culture to help see this clearly once again. The people of Taiwan have been that for me.

A literal overview of me and a whole bunch of Taiwanese people... at an eccentrically-timed Crowd Lu concert half a block from my apartment.

Even in this land of folk religion and literal idol gods, where so few claim to follow Jesus, I can still see that image shining through. What I believe I’m recognizing is that the Imago Dei isn’t contained by cultural norms I’m accustomed to, but it expresses itself in spite of cultural differences. In the Taiwanese people I see elements of community rarely seen in the West, a community that takes care of its families in very practical ways and often works for the local, common good. I see people everyday who value their roles as part of their society above that of their individual selves and express patience and gentleness in a way I hope to grow in. I’m also inspired by the lack of overwhelming ego and certain kinds of judgment I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing regularly in the lives of people I routinely encountered in my own context.

But, of course, all of this praising doesn’t come without balance.  There are plenty of negatives that I don’t find enjoyable — like the absence of social bubbles, waiting behind people who seemingly don’t understand why other people need to get by, and a frustrating proclivity to avoiding helpful conflicts.  And again, since I don’t deny the darkness present in souls still separated from their Maker, there are many worse realities than these – two very apparent ones here are the masks that people hide behind and the self-obsessed worldviews that seem pervasive.  But this post is about the side that’s easier to miss as a Christian. And being in a new environment and seeing a new side of human culture has been a refreshing reminder of the good that is embossed on the souls of all mankind.

I’ve recently been reading a book by Thomas Merton that articulated a lot of what I was thinking about. In it he said,

“It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race… If only everybody could realize this! …But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun.  At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth, a spark entirely belonging to God. …This little point of nothingness and absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us.  It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship.  It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.  It is in everybody… The gate of heaven is everywhere.”

I see that in every culture, among every group of people we can find traces of this image, inspiring us to be reminded of who we are, and if we are in Christ, to share more about that with those who have yet to find that peace.

Thanks for reading!  That’s been simmering for a while. I’m glad to finally give it a voice.

Bonus Material  – The Holidays! 

(All the American ones)

So I’m sure most of you have noticed my blog’s radio-silence of late.  On the update end, things are always happening!  And I haven’t been entirely on task with posting everything. So… since Christmas is just around the corner, I thought I’d stoke the old yule log and show just a quick overview of the holidays …and just throw my birthday in there for good measure.

                              HALLOWEEN!

My school asked us to dress up, got creative, dressed up as Roadkill Cow (self-titled). Used the absurd opportunity to do all the following in costume: ride the subway all the way home, order food out, lead a scavenger hunt for our Friday night coffee house, get pointed and snickered at. Enjoyed every moment of it.  Also chaperoned my students on a field trip to a theme park that weekend …still in costume ( the school still made me). I then finished enjoying it as soon as all that was over.

THANKSGIVING!                              
Hiked a mountain, had a 7-11 picnic on the summit, saw Taipei and the ocean from there, taught my students about “the thankfuls”, recognized many of my own, ate dinner out with our team, even had turkey! (A rare and useless bird here.) Helped out with the Thanksgiving service we put on, got my chef on, made a bakery-load of sweet potato biscuits, represented my mother-peninsula well.

                   CHRISTMAS!

…Isn’t here yet, and it’s on a Sunday, so we have no days off (a downer), but has been a good season so far.  Already I’ve: listened to lots of Christmas music, made a sweet Grooveshark playlist to do so, attended a great Christmasy party right after Thanksgiving, ate good things, hung out with good people, had a Christmas dinner at a fancy hotel with my school’s staff, ate more good things, got some cool gifts thru our teams secret santa plan, sent some good ones too, surprisingly saw some nosltalgicly awesome Christmas lights, had no reason to complain.

THE BIRTHDAY!                           

Took off Chinese for the day, got up early, enjoyed my first Starbucks experience in Taiwan,

I'm happily piled into the center of this one.

chilled out, explored more of Ximen (where  I live), taught class, met up with “3” friends for a planned dinner out, suspected something, had my first surprise party, found our team and a few more friends there at hot pot, acted surprised, ate a TON of great food. Then invited everyone back to the apartment to wind the evening down, was blown away by almost 20 people hiding in the kitchen, was ridiculously surprised!  (Man they were good!  A two-tiered surprise party, honestly, who pulls that off?!)  Managed to squeeze in some cake, enjoyed the rest of the night like no one’s business, appreciated being here even more.

Hope you have an amazing time with friends and family this yule tide! Missing many of you these days!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Starting to Gel

I can hardly believe it’s been a month since I posted last.  Two weekends ago I was blown away by how quickly the weekend came — then how quickly it was over.  And just as I began to complain about the start of the week, I was interrupted by the next weekend.  So now I find myself already in the middle of that next week, after that last weekend, and decidedly taking a step back see the value that each of these days holds.  Life is too short and significant to only anticipate weekends.

Me, 101, and a metaphor of just how great it feels to have residential legitimacy.

So in the spirit of that, I’m excited to share all the milestones that took place on normal days in the last few weeks. To start with a bang, I finally got my ARC (alien registration card)!

I really couldn’t be more excited about this one.  No longer a tourist (…or a traveling storyteller for legal reasons…) but a verifiable, documented alien.  What this translates to practically is finally having a bank account in Taiwan, the ability to sign up for random supermarket cards, rent things in my own name, start a phone contract — you know, all those things we love to do that make life increasingly more complicated.

So as the law of cause and effect would have it, I  just got a Taiwan cell number and a much needed connection to 3G on this fast-paced, uber-connected island. And while I would like to say it was only a long process of soul searching and a moment of enlightenment that brought me to my first defined commitment to a length of my stay here in Taiwan, I would be leaving out a very practical truth; phone contracts last for two years here as well…

So there it is – a very practical commitment to two years.  Fear of commitment is trembling in it’s inevitable defeat.

In all seriousness though, I truly am stoked about the idea of staying for at least that long.  It seems like it takes a whole year to really get the hang of any new job.  And as all teachers know, teaching is definitely no exception to that rule.  Add to that an attempt to study a new language that’s just barely beginning to look like there’s meaning in a world of sticks and graffiti and a culture based on epochs of history that the West quickly summarizes in one chapter of a high school history book, and the prospect of a lone year to really take this experience in makes me feel like I’m just visiting for a holiday weekend.

There are more indicators of how life here is beginning to gel for me too.  Everything for the year is pretty much up and running.  Our language corner program at Jing Wen University has been happening weekly.  I actually got to lead my first one these this morning, and it went surprisingly well.  Other things like weekly small group studies, monthly quizzes with the students I’m teaching, and just feeling more at home in the environment here are all molding this transition.  But out of all of these things, I must say my favorite is the connection and familiarity I’m finding with this city and it’s people.  I just keep coming back to how thankful I am to be here connecting with people on new levels and being constantly engaged by their way of life while having opportunities to speak the truth that I’ve found into their lives.

Beyond just my experiences here, there is alot that’s moving forward in the ministry and life of our Ximen team (Check out Aroma’s page for a bunch of new updates).  We had our first monthly worship service in the new building just a week ago.  For the group here that’s been a dream materializing for several years now.  And while everything isn’t done just yet, our soon-to-be new hangout, full-time coffeehouse, and church building is well on it’s way to completion.

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So, as you can see, things are moving right along here.  I’ve enjoyed the ability to keep everyone up to date through these posts, especially those of you from back home.  And with the longest dead-air time between posts so far I’m going make a plan to give an update  at least monthly.  As the craziness and newness begin to wear off, I hope to shift gears from big posts like these to sharing windows into what continued life, teaching, studying, relationships, adventure, etc. look like here in Taiwan.

And remember, the internet isn’t a one-way street  …so keep in touch!

Bonus Material:

If you want to see more of what are our monthly meetings look like, check out the video from September’s gathering (pre-building).  

Like A Working Honeymoon

Whew… finally found some time to share a little more of the transition happening with me here in Taiwan.  I’m officially in to the second week of my employment as an ESOL teacher, and man alot has happened (of course) since that last update.

To start let’s see where we were before… O yes, adventure.  There’s [not surprisingly] alot more of where that came from.  I guess that’s what happens when you put someone from a small town, who’s really only lived in small towns his whole life, in a city like Taipei.  I’m already a sucker for exploring new places and seeing new things in my free time, but let’s just say this move hasn’t cleared up that problem much… : ).

A week or so ago, I got to go with some people to a beach north of Taipei.  It wasn’t the beach I referenced before and it wasn’t really far enough East to be considered on the Pacific, more of the straight between Taiwan and mainland China, but we had a blast! Check it out…

Mountains... and the beach... all in one shot (crazy to us East-coasters!)

This was pretty much the tippy-top of Taiwan.

And I owe most all these good times to the many great people who have led me by hand on busses, through Chinese-laden signage, and to these sweet new places.  Although I’ve got to admit I really feel like I’m getting the MRT [subway system] under my belt here (still got some brushing up to do on the bus system though).

Here's me and a chunk of that crew on the MRT. Our beach day was successful.

This is all old news by now though…  The real deal is this whole transition from having my two weeks as a tourist to diving headlong into teaching.  I finished up training the last week of August and have been in the classroom since last Thursday.  I really like the company I got a job teaching with, and the people I’m working with are pretty great.  But gosh it’s hard to come back down to earth after living in tourist world.

Training was chocked full of all kinds of great information which I couldn’t retain any more than 15% of.  It was a whole year’s worth and only two days to absorb it all.  And I was pretty nervous leading up to my first day.  I find myself to be a pretty frustrating combination of neurotic and distracted at times like those, so thinking about, planning, and dwelling on my first day for 48 hours (between the end of training and D-day) was a little taxing for me.  I was stressing out a bit, to be  honest.  Once I actually got into the classroom things really improved though.  I love the kids already, and I feel like we’ve connected well after the first few classes.  Now to find the time to get all that work done they need to do!  The curriculum is quite intensive with all my classes.  But so far I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing I can do is to stop planning/stressing and just jump in and start going, letting the louder, people-fueled side of my personality lead the way.  I’m going to stick to that plan and see how things go from here.

I’ve definitely got room for improvement as I try to get everything down that any teacher needs to figure out – lesson planning, classroom management, curriculum pacing… and so on, but just starting was a huge relief.  I think I’m a decent teacher and just a very distracted lesson planner.  Here’s to progress!

Four friends in the foreground on the MRT. I'm here at least twice a day. Love it.

So in all, this time of transition has been a much anticipated one.  After all, teaching was my first (and only) plan in looking to come to East Asia in the first place.  But I can’t say how thankful I am at the opportunity to add so much into that with the community here in Ximen and their intentional spiritual and relational focus.  I’m only working 16 hours a week at this point until I pick up more tutoring hours, but the rest of our week’s time here is given to alot of different times for things like building relationships in alot of different environments, studying the language, and seeking the Lord together.  And all of that makes teaching English just one part of my much-loved new existence in here. I’m quite happy I didn’t end up at a English school in Japan teaching 40 hours per week with no community to call my own.  I found a couple of those jobs when I was looking back in the spring.  I’m pretty sure I would have been on my way back to the States by now if I had!

I’m still clearly in honeymoon stage here.  But now that I’m about to get my ARC (Alien Resident Card) as my means of staying in Taiwan, it’s changing into more of a working honeymoon.  And that’s definitely nothing I can complain about.

Adventures in Elsewhere

A week and a half in… there’s already way too much to tell!

While elements of life here are progressively transitioning to the day-to-day, really I’m still in full-blown tourist mode.  I must say though, that’s nothing to complain about.  I’ve met a whole slew of great people and been checking off whole bucket lists of Taiwan “to do’s” with them.  Along with constantly exploring the streets and alleys of Ximen (the section of Taipei where we live) to dig up new finds, eats, and good-to-know local shops, I have had really some cool adventures in the greater area with alot of amazing people here.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in the foreground. Taipei 101 way in the background.

Some of the highlights (in OJ concentrate version) included renting bikes on one side of the city and biking along the river to the other… beautiful!  25 miles later, I learned I did actually remember how to ride a bike although some of my muscles preferred I hadn’t.  Also got a chance to check out some historical sights like the Chiang Kai Chek Memorial Hall and more recent wonders like Taipei 101 to name a few.

A first adventure in the magnificent mountainous area that surrounds Taipei started with a ride in a lift up a mountain and ended with a hike to “Pothole”.  We had no idea what said pothole would be, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a mini hike up a creek bed through some amazing scenery.  I’m thinking the outdoors here is something it won’t take much work to appreciate… 

Chinese lessons have begun.  And that’s about all I have to say about that, haha.  But seriously, I’m just trying to get my basic tones, sounds, and pinyin phonetics down.  Most words (and all phrases) are a still far off.  It’s a little intimidating, but I’m glad to be starting it before work gets up and running.

Click to see the BigByte website.

On that note, I’m looking forward with anticipation to actually begin that starting with training this Friday.  I’ve seen one of the twoschools I will be working at, and I love both the atmosphere and the kids already.  I can also tell that living and spending much of the time I have with fellow (and much more experienced) English teachers will be a HUGE help.  There’s really no better way to start.

Despite all this excited anticipation and adventure, I did have one sharply contrasting moment in all of it.  It happened a few days after I flew in, right in the thick of jet-lag, when my emotions were taking their fare share of the circadian stomping necessary for all quick trips to the other side of the world.  It was one of those, “O crap, the ticket was only a one-way” and “I left everyone I’m closest to in another hemisphere” moments.  I had all the feelings you can imagine come right after that kind of emotionally-heightened and sleep-deprived thought combo.  But I was soon reassured in the most empowering and humbling of ways.  On Sunday nights the team here has a prayer time in the apartment.  Anyway, to be honest, that first Sunday I was really tired and only looking forward to getting through it to go to bed.  God’s prerogative was thankfully different than mine though.  Victoria, one of the members on our team who leads that time, directed everyone in the group to pray for me exclusively.  And it wasn’t just a broad, sweeping one-time prayer.  It was each of the team praying for me in a deeply personal way.  They prayed specifically for me in the ways they’ve been involved in Taiwan, from what they’ve done best at to what they care about most here in Taiwan.  I saw their hearts for this place and was immensely encouraged by their willingness to share with me and encourage me as I was the one starting up, not knowing how all of it would change me too.

The whole experience was one I barely knew how to react to.  In all, I saw the strength of the great community I get to to be part of here.  (And so far each day, that number has only continued to grow.)  It was just what I needed to see, and God knew it well.  And between that practical revelation, a couple full nights of sleep, and the continuing reality that adventure and the Kingdom of God go hand in hand, I’m ready to dive deep into this year here and see what all I come back up with!

And so to pay it forward, my prayer for you is this… Eph 3:14-21.

Until next time!

First Impressions

It’s still a little surreal.  Or maybe it just feels so unexpectedly normal that I think it hasn’t hit me yet.  Either way, I’m in Taiwan.

After a tireingly long day of 24 hours all spent in airports and in the air (and basically all in the sunshine) the journey here is safely and thankfully over.  I enjoyed the experience of a super-long flight for the first time, but let’s just say I’m not ready to make it a round trip anytime soon : ). I’m pretty sure I could spend all that time driving with a couple bathroom breaks in the middle and be a lot happier in the end.  But I better get that out of my mind since it’s public transportation for life here in Taipei.

Which reminds me… I live in Taiwan now!  I think the oddest part of arriving here was my surprise at how similar it feels.  Maybe this is stupid, but I thought it would just feel like the other side of the world somehow.  As if something in the air would constantly remind me that I’m nowhere near home.  The truth is it’s the same sky, water, earth, and human race, and I feel like I’ll be able to call this place home in no time at all.

First impressions of my new life have all been fantastic so far.  After getting in from my flight and to bed by 2:30 AM, I woke up early in the morning (much earlier than planned, I might add) to unpack my things and eventually sit down with the site leader Chris and his wife Jamie, whom I’m living with in the apartment.  I’d really enjoyed the few times I’ve previously connected with Chris on Skype, and expected we’d get along pretty well.  Now that online has transpired to in person, I’m even more excited about the community I’ll be living with here.  There are eight of us included in the Envision community.  I’ve met half of them so far, but tonight the rest will be arriving from out of town for a staff dinner.  That should be a good time.

First impression of the city — absolutely love it!.  Taipei is a really huge, really modern city about 7 million people thick. Yesterday Chris and Jaime took me on a tour that just touched on this one district of the city – Ximen (pronounced she-min).  Walking one block in takes you to the central area of Ximen, a crowded, loud, high-energy intersection that’s reminiscent of Times Square with its endlessly distracting visuals and flashy mega-ads.  I didn’t take the pic on the left since I don’t have a phone or camera yet, but if I did, it would look just like this.  It might have looked busier actually.  This place is hopping on the weekends.  I can easily see this building out the window next to my bed, but somehow the energy  calms down alot by the time the sprawl gets to our end of the street.  So, thankfully, it’s not very loud from the 8th story window of the building.

My first meal was on the tour when we ate lunch at a cool Taiwanese restaurant that serves dumplings.  Surprisingly good stuff!  Anyway eating out here is arguably the same as fixing all your food yourself – dirt cheap.  You aren’t even supposed to tip.  I think my whole meal was a little under $3.  After grabbing a green apple green tea we resumed the tour.  Along with seeing a ton of other things, from stores, to temples, to street markets, vendors and street concerts, I saw the whole city from the roof of an apartment building some of the girls on the team live in.  …Really amazing!  The buildings, river, and mountains on every side all combine to form a breathtaking sight that  I’ll have to show you once I get a phone.

One thing the team really wanted to make sure to show me so I could function here was the grocery store, really a three story adventure by itself.  I’ve got alot to learn.  Everything from buying food, to interacting, to Celsius and New Taiwan Dollars will take some getting used to.  But I’m super-excited about it and expect to be so for some time.  After all I woke up at 5AM to start this post, since I couldn’t sleep with so many little Chinese words, money conversions, and sights dancing through my head.  I’m sure jet lag enocuraged this some, but I really am that fired up to be here.

Today I’ll be checking out the church the team goes to and hopefully finishing up getting unpacked.  Monday I’ll be seeing the school where I will be teaching English, Big Byte, and hopefully getting alot of business taken care of there.  Teaching won’t start until September 1st, but I’ve got paperwork, a demo, and training to do before that.  I’m also hoping to jump on official Chinese lessons this week while I have this little chunk of summer free time.  Chinese seems daunting, but at the same time I really can’t wait to start studying.  I’ve loved the [very] few things I picked up yesterday, having not even known how to say hello two days ago.  And now I’ve got a little book that I plan to fill up with Mandarin which I bought at the flashy, Asian equivalent of  a dollar store.  Gotta start somewhere!

So, yeah.  That’s the overwhelmingly condensed version of day one.

Bottom line – if first impressions are everything, I really couldn’t be more excited about living in Taipei!

Thanks for reading!

Moving to Taiwan: Pre-Flight Check

A common topic in this whole adventure has been, “Well, It’s too late to back out now!”  And now I find myself at the absolute peak of that: homeless, jobless, stuffless, carless as of yesterday (Carmax for the win!), and surprisingly not all that much left to do in this country.  It seems Taiwan’s the only way to fix my current dilemmas… and I’m seriously pumped about it!

With my flight heading out from BWI at 11AM tomorrow, I’m sure it goes without saying that it’s been a little crazier than most weeks of my life.  It’s so weird and yet so freeing to get rid of almost all of your stuff and move with only two bags of things you actually own.  Today I’ll be making sure my international belongings don’t weigh more than 50lbs, are all the right size, etc.  You know the drill.  These past few weeks have been stressful at times, meaningful most times, and certainly point to the rest of this adventure being, well… an adventure!

On that note I noticed my current location gives a good vibe to this adventure as I sit here on the bed in the dead animal room where I’m staying with my dad and western shore family, haha. But seriously, it’s been a sweet send off!  I spent a good chunk of time last week hanging out with my mom, chillin with amazing friends, saying hello/goodbye to my old home church, and hitting up all the old stomping grounds.  I went to my old summer haunt of Ocean City, MD with great company and found a perfect beach day with some of the best waves I’ve ever seen there.  Since Monday I’ve been on the western shore (FYI for all non-Marylanders reading – that’s how we divide up our state with the bay; and we’ll look confused if you don’t intuitively understand this) with my dad and family up here.  We had a legit crab feast two nights ago that my uncle and cousins had just caught that day.  And there’s just not a better send-off feast than that!

I’m really thankful the Lord has continued to provide even in the details of leaving the States.  I think I mentioned this before, but by the time this whole move to Taiwan had materialized, I really could see that God had providentially opened every single door, one right after the other.  All the last-minute details have come together now as well – from visas, to moving, to packing – the works. I’m also genuinely thankful for everyone that’s helped in any way, from getting me moved out of Georgia (you know who you are), to encouragement, prayer, and support, to just being able to say hey before I left.  It’s really been awesome seeing how many people have my back and just how many I expect to forever have as family and friends – including a few serendipitously finding their layover in Baltimore, minutes from where I’m staying this week.  I should probably just rename this post “The Thankfuls” since that’s something I could really go on forever about.  (Gosh, and I thought I would have a hard time making my posts long enough…. :/  Obviously not a problem, haha.)

Lastly I wanted to share what I’ve been geeking-out about.  You may be part of the crowd who came anywhere near me when I had my computer nearby – if that’s the case, you’ve probably seen some of this already (but now you get the link!).  Basically since the first time this whole life-changing move showed on the radar, I’ve been creeping up and down the roads of Taipei on Google Maps like it was my job.  I found it really cool to check out where I’ll be working, sleeping, and exploring so far away well before getting there.

You can check it all out on my custom map here: Taiwan MyMap

Can I just say, I love this?!  Anyway, once you open it up, you’ll find all the important markers in blue.  You can see where the apartment is I’ll be staying in (smack in the middle of Taipei), Tian Mu – the school I’ll be working at in the North, and the coffee shop the team I will be serving out of just north of where we’re staying.  [Geek-out warning] And guess what?!  Taipei has street view!!  You need to check it out! (Just drag the little yellow man to the spot you want to see – for those of you unfamiliar with it)  Ok, so you’re probably not freaking out as much as I was when I discovered that gem that I thought Google limited to the U.S., but then again, you aren’t moving there (…yet!).  Basically, I’ve routinely been exploring the area around the apartment every other day and have memorized the short jaunt to the subway I’ll be making every day.  Oh, and markers in green are just sweet finds I want to explore sometime.  A beach, a disc-golf course, and the like (yup, found a disc golf course in Taipei …just sayin’).

  Here’s a quick 411 on my trip (that starts tomorrow morning!!!)

     – Leaving BWI (Baltimore) tomorrow, Thursday August 11th, at 11 AM.

     – Arriving in JFK (New York) for a quick layover.

     – Leaving JFK at 2:30 PM to embark on the flight of unending daylight until arriving in Osaka, Japan 16+ hours later.

     – Then finally, I’ll be landing in Taipei, Taiwan at 9:40PM their time.  That’s 9:40AM (EST) Friday morning, if you were wondering.

 All together it’s about a 22 hour trip, unless my head exploded in the middle of that time-zone math as it tends to do.  I am excited for the journey, but I’ll be really happy when I finally land in Taiwan.

So here’s to a fast jet lag recovery!  Hoping to check back in on the blog this weekend once I recover…. or if I can’t sleep a lick, heh. Take care of the country while I’m gone, ok?  And next time, I’ll be in Taiwan!!! (still geeking-out).

Peace be with you all.