4 Day Weekend

Last week, we had a four-day weekend, for a historical and tragic reason. 2-2-8 is a country-wide holiday to observe the massacre on February 28, 1947. This year it landed on a Thursday. In Taiwan, rather than getting one day off, the schedule changes to enable an extended weekend. Meaning, the previous Saturday (February 23) our school had class as usual. This allowed us to take off Friday (March 1) in addition to February 28, totaling a four-day weekend.

I love taking advantage of built in vacation, but I still felt burned out from the big trip to Australia. I wanted to see something new, but not at any large expense of money or time. Pete stepped up and planned our mini-weekend getaway, which was local, fun, and affordable.

Thursday – Wulai

Wulai is a nearby village south of Taipei, famous for its aboriginal culture, cuisine, and hot springs. It was convenient to access as the bus stop is in front of my apartment and the ride only lasts 30 minutes.

As soon as we stepped off the bus we didn’t stop walking for almost 7 hours. We walked through old street packed with aboriginal clothes, foods, and drinks. We walked across suspension bridges overlooking the slow-moving teal blue river. We walked through a forest trail lined with ferns and botany unbeknownst to us. We even saw a monkey sitting in the tree tops above us!

An hour shy of check-in into our AirBnb, we decided to rent a hot spring room for an hour and a half which only cost us each $12. Behind the door labeled “My Room” situated a queen size bed and an excessively large bathroom with a tiled Jacuzzi tub, television, toilet, and shower.

After adequately bathing off the sweat and sores from our walk, we packed up and walked down the street to our AirBnb, which was an even nicer hot spring hotel.

A cozy bed garbed in crimson comforter and a heart-shaped lamp greeted us as we entered the room. Across from the bed sat a flat screen tv, framed by the window which separated the bedroom and bathroom. Walking up two steps and past the toilet we entered the *spa*.

This room had a strikingly woodsy yet whimsy atmosphere that really captured my heart. The floor was a well oiled honey-brown wood that slightly warmed our toes. Next to the sink sat two deep obsidian hot tubs. The larger tub had a seat and could comfortably fit four people. The smaller rectangular tub had no seat so you could really submerge in the water. The view beyond the hot tub was a low-lying window that outlined the surrounding forest and river. A wooden canopy blocked the sun and rain, but left an opening where the breeze, the sound of croaking frogs, and the moving river could join us.

For hours we sipped on rice wine, watched a movie, refilled the tub with scalding hot water, dipped our toes into the cold tub, and laughed and laughed. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Friday – Taipei

The following morning, we returned to Taipei early to work on personal projects and have a stay-at-home day. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of our meals that day.

Lunch – Zoca Pizzeria, the best Italian pizza in Taiwan.

(Photo is courtesy of Zoca Pizzeria Facebook page)

Dessert – Heritage Bakery. I ate a classic carrot cake that was dense and sweet. Pete had a date tart that was crunchy and delightful!

(Photo courtesy of Heritage Bakery Facebook page)

Saturday – Luodong / Peter’s Birthday

Peter is the luckiest person I know. All week the grey skies promised rain and cold winds. Except for his birthday. There were no clouds, there was no chance of rain, and the sun shone with enough force that only a small sweater was required.

We paid $100 NT ($3 USD) for a bus from Daplingling Station (a block away from my apartment) to Luodong, a rural city east of Taipei. From there, we took the TRA one stop south to Dongshan . A bike rental shop located outside the station was swarmed by weekend riders wanting to be outside on this perfect day.

We rented two bicycles for 4 hours which cost $250 NT ($8 USD) each, then we set off on the river side trail. The paved road was narrow for only two parallel riders at a time. It cut through quaint farmland and bustling, colorful parks. We shared the trail with families walking, couples on tandem bikes, and groups sharing bicycle carriages. The trail led us past the small farms all the way to the shore.

The smooth, charcoal colored sand felt so refreshing on our hot feet. The waves hit the shore fiercely making it quite dangerous to swim. We rolled up our pants and waddled knee-deep, challenging the ocean to a speed test…We quickly got splashed to the butt.

The sand did have a quick-sand quality, where areas were exceptionally deep. If we jumped down with enough force, our legs submerged up to our calves.

After returning our bikes, we traveled back to Luodong to explore the night market. This market is situated alongside a large park, with ample seating. We watched a live band perform Taiwanese hits that had the crowd singing along, and a few interesting songs from Maroon 5.

On the far left is a fish paste mixed with sausage, wrapped in pig intense and fried. In the middle is a boiled egg also mixed with fish paste and deep fried. On the far right is an egg dish also fried. They’re all covered in a combination of wasabi and sweet n sour sauce.

Sunday – Lazy Day

Not much to report here, besides a good ol’ day of doing nothing! A classic way to end a fun weekend.

End of an Era

I’ve always struggled during periods of transition. Regardless of the magnitude of change  – new job, haircut, moving, my favorite Chick-fil-A closing, graduation – it is an emotional upheaval that prods the anxious monster in my brain.

The worst-case-scenario happened in June: I resigned from DaZhu AND I didn’t get the desired writing position. I cursed myself for my zealous and foolish decisions. After a couple of frustration-filled crying sessions, I resigned to the outcome and focused on finding a teaching position in Taipei.

Within a week my recruiter lined up an interview with a private middle school close to the Taipei zoo. Typically, schools ask interviewees to create and present a 10-30 minute long lesson plan of their choice. This school provided lesson content the day-of and allotted 40 minutes to prepare a 20 minute lesson. 

Using my laptop, a notebook filled with past lessons, and provided textbook, I struggled to create an interesting and fun lesson plan in the designated time, but I ended up making a shoddy six-page PowerPoint outlining grammar rules, and one boring activity. After 45 minutes of hectic planning, I presented to the Director of foreign English teachers (a young Taiwanese woman), a current English teacher (a young South African man), and my coordinator (a Taiwanese man) in only 7 minutes. Both the coordinator and Director asked “that’s it?” when I ended, but the Director added “nice and efficient I like it.”  The interview portion left me feeling confident because I connected with the Director about being women in education, and she mentioned “students love young, female teachers but they’re hard to come by.”

As I walked to the bus stop with my coordinator, he assured me I handled the interview portion better than two other candidates, but they have more experience than me so it’s hard to tell who the school will choose. I held back disappointed tears on the bus ride home.

2 days later an email from my recruiter popped up on my phone and my eyes widened as I read they offered me a position starting on August 27. My immediate response, “WOW!!!!!!!! I AM SO HAPPY!!!!”

Though the school is located further from the city than I anticipated, I will work with my desired age range (7th-12th grade students) and receive a sizable raise (more than my previous teaching position & the rejected writing job).

Eager to begin my life in Taipei, I ended my apartment lease on July 31, completed  my teaching contract the same day, and found an apartment with a move-in date on August 1.

My agenda was filled with a long to-do list for two weeks. While teaching summer camp, I filed a police background check, completed a medical exam, opened a bank account, toured potential apartments, and ate multiple goodbye lunches with co-workers.

Once I completed the pre-employment check-list and signed my teaching and apartment contracts, I relaxed and began looking at Luzhu through a lens of lasts.

Below are photos and captions taken in Luzhu to commemorate my 7 month stay and appreciate everything that happened.

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Beloved art of mine hanging above the desk in Luzhu apartment. Posted to the wall are: a card from students, photo taken by my sister, images from various artists, and a selfie of Peter and I taken in Tokyo. (Photo taken on a disposable camera).

Photograph of Ricoh 3ZF (left) and Canon Rebel T6 (right) taken on my balcony using a disposable camera.

A view of Nanzhu Road, connecting Luzhu and Nankan. I biked along this road numerous times to Nankan to get my nails done, meet Peter for coffee, go to the movies, eat at Pizza Rock, or because I was bored. The road was surrounded by serene farms and occasional betel nut stands. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

A row of U-bikes sitting outside of DaZhu Elementary school. Whenever I traveled to Nankan or needed a Ubike, this was my go-to station. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film).

Peter hesitantly posing for picture while sitting on toilet in Luzhu apartment. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

A cherished routine of mine was to walk 2 laps around a large pond after dinner. At night, the small sidewalk filled with joggers, families, stray dogs, and flirting teens. The smell of fish and ripening fruits floated in the air and I was surrounded by mysterious foliage, such as the one featured. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

This photo is taken from the same tree. The fallen petals from the blooming flowers were delicately arranged into a heart. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

This is a result of a shutter speed experiment. I looked at this view daily for 7 months. Here, I read books, watched dogs lazily cross the street, and waited for the garbage truck. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

One afternoon shortly after work, I ventured on bike ride around Luzhu to capture idyllic snaps of the Taiwanese countryside. Here are the results:

This alpha dog diligently watched as I hopped off my bike to take a few pictures of him and his family. As I situated myself on my bike and started to pedal away, he chased me down the narrow trail for five minutes nipping at my ankles! I’ve never pedaled so fast in my whole life. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

I knew I lived in the country, but I had no idea my proximity to farms. I stumbled across a pit filled with hogs (?) sleeping and playing inside of giant concrete tubes. It was an unexpected and funny surprise. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Located adjacent to the hog pit housed a large population of identical chickens clucking in unison. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Seated along the edge of the wall, I enjoyed the view of the sunset against the backdrop of the river. I questioned myself “why haven’t I done this sooner?” It’s only when the end is near do I regret inactivity. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

(Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

It’s difficult to see in this image but this wall has hundreds of nails poking out of it. Unfortunately, my pant leg caught a nail and pinched my skin. Sometimes a little pain enhances the enjoy. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Small farm along Nanzhu Road. What is growing is unknown to me. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Once a week since February, I ate dinner with Phillip and his family. I met Phillip while playing tennis at DaZhu, and he quickly became a great friend of mine. Originally, our dinners included a language exchange, but we all tired of this due to our busy schedules. We agreed to simply eat dinner, catch up, and spend time together like a family. I watched movies, talked about politics, and learned about Taiwanese cuisine and history. Phillip and Grace supported my decision to find work in Taipei and I am very grateful for their friendship!

Thanks to Peter’s long arms, we managed to take a group selfie. Seated from left to right: Peter, myself, Phillip, Grace, and Oscar. (Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S8).

Grace and Oscar laughing as their dad, Phillip, teaches Peter and I how to say a Taiwanese phrase “My name is Peter.” (Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S8).

Here is my best friend/mom, Jenny, in front of a wall of roses at River Mall in LuZhu. Neither one of us knew this mall existed even though it’s located 2 miles away from our school. After this photo was taken, we enjoyed a fancy Italian meal. (Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S8).

While walking around my neighborhood, I found a graffitied wall. My favorite tags were “roach” and “fuck.”  (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film.)

DaZhu has a bi-weekly night market on Monday and Thursday. During my last visit, I ran into three 7th grade students (wearing red shirts) and their friends. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film).

For $100 NT, patrons purchase a bucket of rings to throw at bottles in hopes of encircling one. The prizes range from Taiwan beer, soda, whiskey, and small toys. Image taken at DaZhu Night Market on a Monday evening. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film).

Vendor at DaZhu Night Market selling sausages. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film.)

The day I cut and dyed my hair, I took a selfie. This is the best my tiny bangs have ever looked. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film.)