It’s the age-old interrogative sentence that haunts all of at some point, no matter how physically far away we are from “home.” And where is home exactly?
Today in social studies, I warned my students that after the lesson they were going to want to leave America and travel the world for the rest of their lives. (Most of them are more or less convinced I am from Taiwan (like literally of Taiwan blood), and they were rather shocked when I explained that I actually had roots right here in Washington and am, in fact, FROMAmerica.)
My lesson took them through a running tour of Taiwan, Mongolia, North Korea, & South Korea. I inspired them with time-lapse videos, geography videos, pictures, and horizon-broadening facts about each country. (I could tell the diversity of my presentation had everyone captivated; that’s a win in the teaching world!)
For me, this was actually the first time I had taught anyone about Taiwan. For years, I have been teaching people about America and the confusing and varying customs of the West and have even walked fellow-foreigners through the process of moving to Taiwan from their home country.
At first I was overwhelmed; where do I start, what do I say? But then the researcher mentality of an educator settled over me, and the lesson I gave my students made me crazy homesick. And happy at the same time.
It felt like every part of me was glowing with unexplainable feeling as I showed them my home city of Taipei, the forever-long changing of the guard at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and the video of my dragon boat team’s championship race. My students were immediately enraptured by the beauty and all the people, their fascination being expressed through words like, “It’s pretty!” “Coool!” “I wanna move there!” “I wanna go visit you!”
Mission accomplished. The seed of world travel and exploration and expat living PLANTED.
I was simultaneously overjoyed to teach them about something so integral to my life and yet also so fiercely gripped with nostalgia.
And the whole thing had me thinking…
6 years ago, I was torn to be so far away from all the marriage, birth, and even death that my friends in the States were experiencing. I wanted to be with them still, but I knew I could only be in one place at a time and was learning to accept that.
Over 6 years down the road, I’m undergoing the same extent of emotion; but now all the friends and loved ones I so dearly miss are in Taiwan. I want to be with them, but I know I can only be in one place at at time and I am learning that it’s not easy to know where you’re supposed to be in life.
I could simplify this issue and say I have two homes now, but I’m no longer sure that’s entirely true, either.
That weekend at the Taroko Gorge, my roommate wasn’t the only one running the half marathon. Our friend Andrew ran it with her. In fact, there were a few people on that trip who wanted to run the race but didn’t register in time. Andrew ran it anyway, bandit style.
On the train ride back to Taipei from Hualien, Andrew and I sat next to each other. Our conversation got on the topic of races and training and I expressed my interest in wanting to into distance running. I remember him talking about the races he was training for. This guy was already signing up for races and he had only been in Taiwan a few months!
I met Andrew in August when he moved to Taiwan to teach English. He had been in Hong Kong the previous year, doing the same thing, traveling and running in Asia in between. He was a consistent part of our community in Taipei until a tragic bike accident ended his life here on earth. The last thing I talked to him about was how he needed to plan his bike trip around Taiwan. It was on that bike trip that he died.
To read more of Andrew’s story, you can check out previous posts I have written about him, his influence, and how he inspired my own running journey. Here is a list of some of them:
Andrew had a to do list for his life. (His mom posted Andrew’s list here.) After he was gone, I couldn’t get out of my head how much Andrew had accomplished. He just went out and did things. He traveled and ran and stayed in touch with friends from all over the world. With or without companions. He just did it.
So that spring, the memory of Andrew my fuel and inspiration, I started doing things. I signed up for my first race with a bunch of girlfriends, I joined a champion dragon boat team, and I got some friends to run with me all the way to the Taipei half marathon that December.
The active lifestyle I had always wanted had only ever been a choice away. In the wake of Andrew’s inspiration, I finally made the choice. I was going to start ticking things off my own bucket list. Life was a gift that I had barely started to unwrap, and it is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Andrew’s last race (on this earth anyway) was the Taipei Marathon. Running all 26.2 miles of a marathon was definitely something on my bucket list. Thanks to Andrew, my bucket list was now a “life to do list.”
The holidays have come and gone, book marking the end of yet another year.2015 is officially upon us.
I’m keeping my New Year’s Resolutions simple this year, since I want to actually accomplish them: learn how to drive a stick and donate my hair to Locks of Love. It’s going to happen – and will happen in America! Stay tuned for details about my next visit home THIS SUMMER! (You can read more of my thoughts on 2014 in my blog post “2014 in 365 words.”)
Meanwhile, here’s a verbal and illustrated update about recent happenings these past several weeks. It’s been simultaneously both tumultuous and rewarding.
super short chapter one: unconventional housewarming methods
I thoroughly warmed my house during the holidays. Due to the size of my new place, I decided against a house warming bash and hosted smaller group events instead.
Then, in the spirit of the season, I hosted a festive “book club” gathering; a group of us had read the book Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, so I killed two birds with one stone by making our discussion a holiday-themed gathering. (Can you tell it was an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party?) This was SMALLER GROUP EVENT #2.
SMALLER GROUP EVENT #3 happened on Christmas morning. I invited all my former roommates who happened to be in Taiwan (no joke, lol) over for breakfast. I woke up at 6am and started preparing our feast. It was a wonderful and fantastic reunion as we “pretended” to be living together again.
Those were the holidays gatherings at my house! It’s been officially warmed.
super short chapter two: a christmas education and other christmas festivities
Since I didn’t go home for the holidays this year, I was actually around to teach my little kindergarteners a Christmas song & dance for the Christmas show! I did the song “Here Comes Santa” with my T2 class. They ROCKED it.
My friend Eli also invited me to the ORTV Christmas Show. (ORTV is the biggest Christian broadcasting company here in Taiwan. They do radio, TV, magazines, and a plethora of other activities and events that have literally been teaching the people of Taiwan English and spreading the Gospel in this country since 1960.) It was quite the production, this being my first time to see their Christmas show (I actually have a quite a few friends who work for ORTV, which stands for Overseas Radio & Television). I was impressed how Santa Claus and his Reindeer were not mentioned even ONCE and how directly they tied in the Gospel to every part of the performance. This is significant because of how unchurched Taiwan is; nobody walked away from that show without the impression that Jesus is a part of the meaning of Christmas.
And of course we did our Aroma Christmas Service at church. I designed the fliers for them, and took care of some other details like a Christmas video and special Christmas contact cards.
It was a beautiful gathering with quite a few other people who are part of the Aroma community but don’t normally attend church on Sunday. The children even did a story-telling and prayed a Christmas blessing for everyone. They were adorable. The service ended with the traditional candle-lit singing of “Holy Night.”
super short chapter three: ushering in 2015
I had to work on Christmas Day for the first time ever in my English-teaching career here in Taiwan. (The school I previously worked at gave teachers Christmas day off.) I completely compensated for this fact by
baking Christmas cookies and feeding them to my students and co-teachers,
bringing in Christmas coloring sheets,
dancing and singing all the Christmas music that was the school’s Christmas CD,
telling my students the Christmas story through an advent calendar.
And there were some surprises for me as well. A student’s mom grows her own ginger and brought in a HUGE bag of it for the teachers. I came away with quite the supply of fresh ginger! Another student’s mom bought Japanese-style cheesecakes for all the teachers. Wow! Thank YOU! It was a Merry Christmas at school!
I had the day after christmas off. So, feeling inspired by various events and recent happenings during the Holiday season, I wrote this: “Twas the Day After Christmas.” Ironically, due to Taiwan’s Special Work Days, I had to go into work the next day, a Saturday.
All of Taiwan got a 4 day weekend for New Year’s since New Year’s Day fell on a Thursday. That’s why I went in to work on Saturday: to pay for my Friday off. I celebrated New Year’s with a small group of friends for a change; the 6 of us had dinner and drinks and watched the Taipei 101 fireworks from a field near their house.
And then, on the first day of 2015, I went hiking with a big group of people.
On the second of 2015 (the day off I had paid for by working on the previous Saturday), I soaked in the hot springs and swam in the river of Wulai, one of my favorite places here in Taiwan and enjoyed the scenery with my friend Lauren, my Hump Day (Wednesdays) lunch date.
On the 3rd day of 2015, I went on another hike.
The next day was Sunday, which for me is church day, not a play day. But that was fine; I had just played for 3 straight days to celebrate the opening of 2015! It was a fantastic start.
super short chapter four: the current situation
In between all of this playing, which is really fun to share with all of you, there have been other developments as well. I will briefly summarize them below in 3 bullet points.
The Mission. (1) A new semester of small groups of started at the Aroma, and I am no longer a leader! This is exciting because I have felt for a very long time that it was time for me to step down and watch Taiwanese people become drivers of the spiritual growth of the community. I still attend the Wednesday night small group and help translate. (2) The Children’s Church Ministry is officially using Teach Us the Bible curriculum, and it’s very exciting for both students and teachers! (3) The Junior High Program has only one class left this month, and then won’t start up again until March. After a meeting with my pastor and our supporting local teachers, the class we do is going to undergo some exciting changes that will continue to advance the Kingdom in this public junior high school!
The Community. At the very beginning of my time here, it was the natural thing to do to make friends with all the Taiwanese people I met; we had no choice but to reach out since our community was still in the growing stages. Over time, it’s been easier to not reach out and make friends, especially when the community feels like it keeps growing on its own more and more everyday. Recently, however, I’ve been blessed with new friends and a reunion with one I have known for 5 years: my very first language exchange partner Dulcie. I spent an afternoon with her and Jessica catching up and sharing new experiences.
The Person. I have officially made some new goals for myself that will take me the next few years to accomplish. I feel called to continue doing ministry here for the time being, but I know longer feel called to a life of work and ministry, but to a life of school and ministry. This means that as I am serving at the Aroma, I will be pursuing serious study in Chinese and then my Master’s degree here in Taiwan. BIG CHANGE! I know! This is why I am moving into a more support-sustained lifestyle. I trust God will provide all I need! If you are interested in supporting, below is all the information you need to know how. Also, feel free to contact me directly via email: email@example.com
–The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians
It’s been quite the month…many things have gone as planned, many things have not. Overall, it would be a lie to say that there is shortage of things to be thankful; and as I recount for you all of you the highlights of the last month, I am forever grateful for all the experiences, good & bad, that keep drawing us farther along in this thing called life. I’ve learned that even learning to be grateful for the BAD is key.
I’m gonna break this update down in 3 fun, visual pieces: missional, personal, communal.
the missional piece.
You just had a look at one of Aroma’s newer ministries that I’ve been leading this year. We just had our first successful month of classes this school year! Thanks to some incredible Christian teachers in the public junior high schools, we’ve been given an opportunity to go in and do English classes for the students, and at the same time hang out with and reach out to a group of kids who would otherwise have no time outside of class and homework to interact with foreigners. It’s also been a unique bridging opportunity between the local church and the students.
the personal piece.
I moved! And I didn’t just move; I officially have my own apartment. It’s small, but it fits both me and whoever I feel like having over. Living by myself feels different than I thought it would, but I definitely think it was time to finally get my own place, especially after almost 10 years of both negative and positive roommate experiences. Having my own place has seemed to usher me into the next step of adulthood. And not to mention financial responsibility.
I also switched schools. Long story short, there were some good times at Chinese Culture University, but at the end of the day (more specifically the end of a rather non-academically stimulating semester) their Chinese program was not for me and my language goals, so I won’t be continuing my studies at that specific Language Center. I’ll be researching my other options and making a decision at the end of the year. Meanwhile, I will keep studying on my own.
However, it was definitely an experience being in the classroom as a STUDENT again. (Quite a humbling one after being the teacher for 5 years, I might add!) Good times were still had. In the pictures below you can see that I got to enjoy quite the diverse set of classmates; students in my class were from Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey, and Germany.
the communal piece.
I had 3 different Thanksgiving dinners this year! One was with a smaller group of friends in our lovely neighborhood of Ximending on Thursday night, one was a special event for our regular Friday night Coffee Talk crew, and the other was hosted by a friend who does a big turkey day meal every year.
We also said goodbye to a friend who succeeded in getting an immigration visa back to the States. Tai has been a part of our Aroma community for a while. A small group of us also took trip to a railroad town called Shifen to hang out with him one last time.
There you have it, another brief and visual monthly update! There’s a lot of be thankful for; alas, there’s always a lot to be thankful for. For more information on ways to support me, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, keep reading my blog!
Upon getting back home one afternoon, I found myself in dire need of a moment of thankfulness as well as some creative expression, so I spent an hour making this. The words you will hear are by Walt Whitman which I copied down in my journal a few years ago. I called these words “words of brilliance and inspiration to read and re-read again.” While I was re-reading these words, I found myself overwhelmed with the need to give thanks. So I illustrated them with moments from my life, moments that reminded of all the good and beautiful things I have experienced already. These moments also capture some of (definitely not all) the people who have lit my path along the way.
In this creative moment of thankfulness and reflection, I want to remind myself and share with all of you that it’s not over. That every time we look back, we only see a fraction of what is to come. Let that be your hope, and never stop being thankful for all the good things in your life.