Stranger Places & Beautiful Faces

Ello there, beatufiul people. Yilan has been treating us wonderfully these days. Well, kinda. They weren’t lying about the rain. If the sky in Chicago cries, then the sky in Yilan is having a mental breakdown. Wonderful, I tell you. It’s quite beautiful though. Perhaps I’ll take a video sometime of the downpours, scheduled so that they always happen to interrupt our Luodong scooter practices. Anyways, the ETAs finally found out our school selections, so without further ado…my schools are…


Cheng Gong Elementary School and San Xing Junior High! Joyce is the lovely and hilarious lady right above. Though she’ll be working in Thailand the next few months, she’s given me an awesome assignment setting up the school’s first blog! I’ll also be creating special country cuisine lessons for the upper grade students. Awesome! I’m pretty pumped, especially since Cheng Gong has one of the nation’s top calligraphy artists as an artist-in-residence during the academic school year. There also happens to be a lap pool there. What? San Xing is a bit more of a mystery, but junior high should at least be mildly entertaining, right? That, or I’ll just be exhausted by all the youngsters surrounding me each and every moment. 

My iPhone has been my main source of photography these days, basically rendering me into an instagram aficionado. So, instead of gabbing at you endlessly, I’ll let the photos do (most of) the talking.

We finished up the last of the school visits with a series of frantic bus and train transfers.



One of the beautiful Nan’ao schools sponsors a traditional Atayal cultural summer camp for children. We listened to a craftsmen play his freshly cut bamboo pipe and admired their recent ventures into fabric making. All the colors and sounds left us a little dazed but happy about our crazy school visits.

 Also…I should mention…


Say hello to the new boyfriend. Barry. Yes, our names rhyme, I know. Sherbear x Barrington Bear, you know, all the cuteness.


Am I right? ;)


IMG_1362 There’s this noodle place by our flat that doubles as an early morning noodle shop. It’s dumplings are meh, but in the case of the storm munchies, we go for volume rather than flavor. We chowed down on nearly 100 dumplings, plus Kenya’s soup, the first time at the little storefront. The second time, we all tried the Ma La La Mian (Numbing Spicy Ramen) which left us full and flushed with food baby bliss. All the carbs, I say.IMG_1357 IMG_1355

For some reason, you can get a ton of waffles in this country. Oh, but they are ALWAYS out of strawberries. Apparently they’re only in season in the winter? Who knew? We get spoiled in the US by all the berries year round…

The coffee at Bubble Pop is also quite impressive, especially their crazy detailed cappuccino art. I have never seen a human hand craft anything so intricate out of milk foam in my life. Until now.


strangersimage via Barrington Hwang

We met this amazing grandma (ahma) by the free blue line shuttle last week. Taiwan Bank provides a free shuttle that takes us from our apartment all the way to the Luodong Train station and back again. One day, as we weaved our way back home, a little elderly lady helped me find the blue line stop. Before we knew it, she had welcomed us into her home just a few stops from ours. She fed us endless mounds of pink guava, purple dragon fruit (isn’t it gorgeous?), noodles and steamed meat buns, just because she likes to hang out with young people. Apparently, this is pretty typical for Taiwan, as the people just happen to be incredibly hospitable and sweet as honey. 

Her grandson shares the same nickname as my brother, Maomao. He also enjoys soccer and has a mouth full of braces, just like my little bro at home. Makes a sister homesick. 



Xian Ming Elementary invited a few of us to pick rice with them. A sweaty but fun activity, we endured the heat as the kids snuck glances at us all. We ended up on the local news and actually got to visit the most famous organic Asian pear farm in the county. Because of the amount of care and labor required to produce each luxury pear, each one costs nearly $7 USD. However, because of our little publicity entourage, the managing farmer decided to reward us each with one as a delicious souvenir. So surreal, it was such a fun day. 


We’ve been downing insane amounts of iced things. This is shaved passionfruit ice, a special treat after a long day. We’ve also had other varieties involving mango, strawberries and kiwi, all mouthwatering and a cooldown during our escapades. Douhua is another specialty here, often covered in custardy or saucy goodness of questionable origin. Imma ice monster, remember? There’s no beating my bottomless stomach.


10507067_10202346821101504_5497544246009855141_oimage via Barrington Hwang

One of our flatmates’ parents invited us out for Taiwanese Father’s Day. We had really fresh seafood in Su’ao, including these rather unfortunate (but still amazing) crabs. It really made me miss my parents, but also reminded me about how close all the delicious seafood was.


We stumbled upon a dumpling shop just a block from our place that sells every variety of dumpling imaginable with the best dressings–seaweed strips, green onions, a bit of cabbage, bean sprouts, and doused with hot pepper oil. Holy canoli, they are the best.


Latest adventure at the water park. Acupressure stone paths aside, the slides and attractions left us laughing, wet and exhausted from all the shenanigans. Sun drunk and tired, we spent the last few moments listening to a Peruvian band blow us away with their skills.



I am really enjoying my introduction to Luodong via boba, smiling faces and ridiculous adventures with my newfound family here. Even though the ETAs have only been here a few weeks, I feel really close to them. Here’s to taking new paths and finding new, beautiful faces in strange places.


Tour de Yilan

There comes a time in a young person’s career when choices must be made. Important choices, choices that matter immensely and can change the course of your life. I would argue that this choice both is and isn’t what school you get assigned to in the process of narrowing down a school you want to work in as a Fulbright ETA.


Okay, sure, you want to find somewhere that suits you and where you can help out the most, but anything can happen in a year. Typhoons, co-teacher relationship problems and disputes with students may influence the experience of an ETA in a Taiwanese school. Touring locations is kind of like buying a house– the framework is there, but you never know what might happen in the house, and it’s completely up to you to make the house into a home.

We toured over 20 schools in under 3 days, which gradually just blurred all the schools together despite all of us collectively taking extensive notes. We also listened to hours of school presentations, made with care and accompanied by lots of complimentary snacks. However, once you visit a school, it kind of speaks for itself. You see exactly what it lacks and what it offers, its vibrancy and its small town charm.


 Will you ever know if a school is the right fit, right off the bat? No, not exactly. You might prefer local to aboriginal, or short commute to a long one, but that can mean jack squat if you fail to connect with your students. What I began to really pay attention to were the LETs, the co-teachers ETAs must work year-long with. Unlike the students, ETAs usually get to meet the LETs in advance, allowing them a short trial of their teaching philosophy and preferences. Within every presentation and side conversation, personalities bubbled to the surface. Some were fun, others creative and some just a bit mean. It comes out even in a short 10 minute school tour. Instead of taking notes explicitly on the schools, I began focusing on the teachers and how they cared for their students. This narrowed my choices down immensely.

I wanted to single out one particular school for their earnestness. It won’t be named just yet, but I just wanted to show you what they showed us—namely, their phenomenal students.

It’s never about the gifts or the attempts to woo, it’s really only about the students. Do you care about them enough to sacrifice your time, money and love? Can you live selflessly and teach without worrying about making a fool of yourself? Can it not be about your comfort and more about an impact? 


It’s never really about me, or us. The whole program centers around the differences we can make. In a reaction, a catalyst only sets to change things and shake things up, often quickening processes. ETAs share that trait, somehow invigorating local schools. However, by ourselves, we can do nothing.

“Words without action are worthless.”


Regardless of what we ETAs decide, I hope we can make a difference in the moments we have with students.



Imma Ice Monster (A Romp Around Taipei)

Why hello there. Our first weekend in Taiwan left us sundrunk and sore from endless walking. No regrets of course, and no empty bellies to say the least.

We spent Saturday gallivanting across Luodong’s endless street corners. One particular stroll led us straight into the doors of the famous dumpling chain Ba Fang Yun ji (八方雲集). Among the five of us, we managed to sample five dumpling styles–veggie, Korean, curry, pork and some other delicious concoction of seasoned meat. (After hours on Adobe and various Googling, finally figured out how to save edits. Freaking Lightroom, how I loathe to love thee).

We set off to meet the other Luodong ETA’s at a nearby Starbucks. Unbeknownst to us, as we walked by one of the Taiwanese Valentine’s Day installments to take photographs, we immediately passed up the elusive location. Foiled again. At least we look cute?



We ended up aimlessly wandering the streets of Luodong for our friends, only to circle back to Starbucks with the help of a few friendly strangers. On the way, we managed to grab some delicious boba.


After a short siesta in our apartment in the early afternoon, we decided to explore the Luodong Sports Complex just outside our door. Really, just a space filled with impossibly beautiful sights and scenic walking paths. Did I mention there was a water show? And ridiculously artsy bridges? And “a-rock-nids?” My best pun ever on a rock formation that looked like a spider statue. Bahahaha…








Mosquito-bitten and drenched in our own sweat, we began wading through the humidity back towards our apartment. We ended up eating at a “Zidong Huguo” place, which was not actually hot pot, but an all-you-can-eat steak place. Still, not bad. My favorite were these custard-y butter-filled buns they gave us as a not-so calorie-conscious starter. Fantastic. The rest of the food was just okay and not that pretty to photograph.

We wrapped the night up with night market ventures. Due to the extreme crowds and copious amounts of stinky tofu stank wafting in the air, I neglected to take pictures and opted to use my hands for fanning, defense, and cutting across endless waves of people. All I remember is a sign that said, “Wow! Frog eggs!,” sampling grilled octopus and weaving into stores for some AC. The best part of Saturday came in crashing on the bed after a full day of adventure.

The next morning, we woke up early from jet lag and heat to the promise of a day trip to Taipei. We met up with the other Luodonians for brunch at this little niche brunch joint known fondly as Shark Bites Toast.




I wanted to order strawberries and vanilla ice cream waffles, but they were out of strawberries and they only serve waffles in the afternoon. So they changed my order to mango french toast with ice cream. Completely not what I craved, but pretty spectacular. Look at it…drool…



Washed down with a side of Papaya milk, and it was the perfect carbo-loaded sugarbomb that I wanted it to  be.

We headed down the street to the bus station, grabbed our tickets, and spent the next hour hurdling through mountain tunnels to Taipei. Once, there, we walked the 27+ block stretch of City Mall, an underground shopping extravaganza reminiscent of Mong Kok in the brevity of cheap paraphernalia available to the laymen. I bought a copious amount of hair ties and a peplum top, all in polkadots or stripes (typical, I know). The mall hosted a Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival topped with red lanterns and otaka-ed locals galore. A bit hectic and super-kawaii.



We ended up meeting with Kevin, one of Emi’s new introductions at the MRT entrance. After an unexpected downpour, we ate at a Shanhainese style restaurant, complete with amazing pork buns, before moving to the main event. Snowflake ice. Behold.




Glorious, am I right? No photoshop on this one either. Giant mounds of awesomeness, pure condensed milk and fruit awesom
eness. Anyways, we topped off these ice monsters from the Smoothie house and went happily off to explore Taipei 101, bellies bursting at the seams. All the while, we had to fend off some interesting photobombers, including one that managed to sandwich herself into 2 of the 3 images I took in front of the LOVE sign. Sigh.


Funnily enough, we saw some very unfortunate people posing on the wrong side…pity. The view was great all around though.


We made our way across Taipei 101 to what we thought was a cafe renovated from the remnants of a military base. Unfortunately, it was closed or condemned, gorgeous location aside.






While we managed to catch a few breaths at another undisclosed location, we made complete fools of ourselves due to soon-to-depart bus. We scrambled out of the restaurant, laying down a few apologetic bills for the confused owner before bolting. Despite our hasty exit, the twilight ride home left us all feeling more settled.

After our weekend of first successes and disasters, we made it all in one piece back to the Yilan Teaching Center. These past two days we’ve been touring schools to figure out which one we might be best suited to. Monday was mostly Yilan and other northern schools while Tuesday covered everything south from Luodong to Su Ao. With 6-8 schools each day, it was madness. We shuttled every 15 minutes to survey another location.

Stay tuned once I get my act together for le Tour de Yilan! I have extensive notes, pictures and video clips for you. Touring and choosing schools for an ETA is no joke, even with a little luck of the draw.

However, we did get to have a bit of fun at the beach, which I’ll leave you with until tomorrow.



See you after our first scooter practice!






Lowdown on Luodong

After approximately 16 hours on a plane with a 4 hour layover in San Francisco, we finally made it to the beautiful township of Luodong, Yilan. Despite not sleeping consistently for about a day, we managed to get our phones/SIM cards, our first paycheck (“allowance”) and apply for our ARC residency cards. Oh, and take some very hilarious photos at a shop near the teaching center. Of course, the first three of us are Asian, so the photographer kept telling us to open our eyes wider. I kept laughing which made my already small eyes smaller, so I had to take nearly 6 shots before he let me go. Adventures for sure.


Our apartment is pretty nice, a 3 bedroom flat on the 4th floor of a two-tower, 20+ floor building in the fringe of Luodong, a good 20 minute walk from the nearest train station. It’s definitely not city, but not really off completely into the boonies either. There is a really cute ice cream and cake shop right near the lobby of our flat, called Kiki’s (Studio Ghibili, anyone?). I was really tempted last night to grab a bite, but our heft dinner at a nearby restaurant stopped me.

Otherwise, pretty eventful and hectic first day. We landed at 4:30am or so and it was already 81 degrees…so…that bodes well. After waiting a bit, we got picked up by a giant blue bus through numerous mountain tunnels. About an hour later, we had drawn lots for flats and flatmates. My roomies are pretty awesome and our rooms are pretty generously sized. The important thing, of course, is that each room ensures major AC action, plus de-humidifiers left by the previous ETAs. We’re supposedly only staying a month before switching it up, but I’m pretty moved in already, so we’ll see about that.

A quick box lunch accompanied by a info rundown and photo taking session left us closer from all the tired, bumbling mistakes we made. We then made a trip to the supermarket and spent our first NT dollars on household amenities and food. Bedsheets are ridiculously expensive here, but you learn to deal. I had to take a major detour away from the bakery because it smelled so amazing.

After shopping, we went to dinner a few blocks down from our place. I tried Mu Er juice, this gelatinous, brown jelly substance which was surprisingly alright. The dishes were your standard Asian fair, with plenty of green onions, tofu, meats in savory sauces and vegetables galore. I found myself peering suspiciously at fried shrimp covered in mayo and…sprinkles. Yep, that was definitely the most creative dish of the night. We polished the night off with a long talk amongst the ETAs in the building which left s all feeling a bit closer and more at home.

Excited for the weekend, which heralds in Taiwanese Valentine’s Day and the rest of ghost month. Still on the search for a church, but haven’t been too successful just yet. Might have to book it to Taipei next weekend if I really want to go.

Excited for more adventures!



Happiness is the Best Revenge

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus, L’étranger

This, from one of the darkest existential novels I read in Dr. Kinnan’s AP Lit class way back in high school. It’s true though.

(image via

What is the trouble with getting wrapped up in grudges and bitterness? It makes you a prisoner to your own captive heart. All you think about is how the other person treated you or failed you. Soon enough, your life becomes a memoir to broken relationships and a testament to all things dreadful. 

Is life unfair sometimes? Sure. Do we have days where we want it to thunder and rain acid on all our enemies? I suppose. Is it okay? No, not really. 

This last spring, I told you about #100daysofhappy. While I didn’t get a physical reward from the challenge, after 100 or so days, I noticed how my outlook on life started changing. It wasn’t always doom and gloom anymore. I began documenting things I learned in small group, little DIY projects, or walks on the quad. It was enjoying the small, peaceful moments in between the spastic craziness and perpetual loneliness that was my last semester in college. One little snap of my phone a day, I grew more and more optimistic. The funny thing is, all it took was one little, positive thought to change an entire day. How crazy is that? 

(image via

I remember my good friend in high school, Hannah, told me how much pessimistic people irritated her. We agreed that it takes a lot of courage to banish negativity to embrace a more joyful outlook on the day. Sometimes, it’s not about conquering but just surviving the moments.

All of us have love and lost, won and failed, tried and given up…but if we just got up one more time than we got knocked down, we will still be standing. 

I’ve never been in a successful relationship. Many of the ones I have been in, I was cheated on or the terms were so unclear that the whole thing just unraveled. I’ve said horrible things to my loved ones and done even worst things. I’m guilty of gossiping, resentment and lying, just to name a few. But you know what? Today, that can all change. I’m not the person I used to be. Each day, with new mercies every morning, I’m learning to be a little more selfless and a little less self-pitying, a little more helpful and a little less fed up. Day by day, thought by thought, action by action, we can pray to become more like Christ. Before you know it, you’re no longer victim to your own guilt or anger. That, my friend, is freedom.

(image via

“Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV

You see, it’s not really about making ourselves happy. It’s letting joy overflow when our hearts are too full to hold it in. It’s something to be shared, to give out and to live out.

(image via

Let out your inner happy.

IMG_1554 (1)



It’s Not Over

Jessica Keener Photography


From this picture, you’d think I was always happy-go-lucky and confident. Not so, friend. Not so.

Today, I decided to be brave and share about my story within God’s story. It’s been a long and winding journey, but I’m happy to say that I’m here before you today, trusting in the Lord.

I’m not sure why I’ve been reflecting so much recently, but I think it’s perhaps because of some of my more recent mistakes and encounters. However, instead of reacting, I grew numb. It was quite alarming. That, coupled with a strange, empty desperation made me remember how good God is in my life.

Forgive the post-work messy hair and second take puffy/teary eyes. Please just take a moment and let me explain…

If I had given up at 13, I would never have:

  1. learned what love is not.
  2. learned who love is.
  3. studied abroad in Hong Kong.
  4. gone to Hungary and work with amazing refugees
  5. gotten a Fulbright scholarship.
  6. heard Spoken Word.
  7. fell in love with lindy hop and dance culture.
  8. written for Buzz and Hyphen
  9. become Yelp Elite.
  10. lived and let live.

“Never, never, never give up.” That’s what one of my favorite pastors on campus said to me at a moment when I needed to hear it the most.

If you’re feeling down and need help, please don’t hesitate to ask someone or seek resources.

When I felt out of sorts, I consulted:

“You are not the answer. You are not the problem.”

Never, never, never ever quit. Even with your car alarm, smoke alarm heart, your too quick wit and your endless mistakes. You are not a mistake. You are created.

You are the type to last and to love and to create.

You are art formed by the Divine Creator.


“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~Isaiah 41:10

Love, love and more love,


(image via

Turn It Around

Whenever I tend to feel down about my situation or the way I’ve acted (more like reacted to things), I like to imagine being airborne. Not in the “I have wings!” type of way, but in takeoffs and landings. You know, after you’ve been taxi-ing forever on the runway and as you lift up into the air…everything looks and feels so small. Watching paper towns and lego houses disappear into cumulus towers. All of it– the rejection, the pain, the disappointment. Broken promises and gossip mongered. A speck of dust on your window. So insignificant yet vaguely familiar. When you finally come back to earth, quite literally, you feel like it’s alright to step away for awhile. You left the earth and the world did not end. You went away and came back. No one, usually, is worst for wear.



Maybe all we ever need is a little space to call our own in the universe. Perhaps best not to find home in others. Perhaps to call home somewhere else.

That Girl.

Happy 4th! If you’re State side, I hope you’re enjoying family time resounding in happy explosions of light and color. I’ve mostly been enjoying the sounds and smells, after watching copious amounts of the awesome that is Ip Man in The Grandmaster. Fireworks are a bit unnerving in my book.

Wong Kar Wai’s movies often cycle around the destructiveness of desire and the dark underbelly of lust. Through the lush veil of his cinematography, you can see to the rotting core of debilitating human vice. I know how destructive self can be. One thing I know, I never want to be that girl. The one that’s hidden and selfishly consumed, that girl. The one that lets superficial desire consume her and caters to someone else’s whims. Whether psychologically, physically, spiritually…I refuse to be bullied into something I don’t know or experience for myself. It’s too easy to get pushed aside or run over. What I had to remember, what I still must remind myself, is that I have a voice, and I have a God-given life.

A few years ago, I was hurt in a way I don’t wish on my worst enemy. You might call it abuse or assault. During the time, I wasn’t doing too well either, seeking out comfort through meaningless relationships. I lost friends and, nearly, my sanity. Regardless, it has taken me a while to cope through, and even today I’m unsure of my complete well-being.

What I know is this.

Sometimes, you have to take back what you thought you lost in the fire. When all someone wants to leave you is hate, bitterness and sorrow, you fight back with all the strength you have. Hold onto hope. Hold onto people you love and who love you. Let go of the ones who don’t and the regrets that surround them. Persevere with the knowledge that a perfect God gave Himself that you might live. It’s never, never too late to start living the life you wish you had. 

I struggle with the same terrible habits, the temptation to believe that I’m worthless, the struggle to remember I’m more than just what others think of me.  

It’s a lie, but a convincing one sometimes.

What is truly important, what I must remind myself is that God is the Lord of the storm. He saves me from my worst enemies and myself, sometimes one and the same. He is my calm, my sanity, my all in all.

Though I am faith less, He is faithful. 

So. If you’re feeling like that girl, the one that others seem to just want to throw away or who is treated like trash. The one who feels like trash….

Remember who God is. Who He created and intended you to be. That girl. The one with second, third and infinite chances. That girl. The one He loves and prays for and blesses. That girl. The one He gave His son for. 

That girl. The one who, even when fallen, He welcomes back with open arms.

I have always been the prodigal daughter. 

What you learn from wandering away and from losing your will is that you can always return home. What is beautiful about God is that He is always waiting with mercy. No matter what I have done, the shame I carry, the people I’ve hurt…it is His love that washes me clean again.

The truth is, I’m scared of being that girl no one will ever love. That has led me to so much pain and anguish, so many attempts to compensate for that which isn’t there. What I never realize, until it’s much too late, is that the love I long for is always right there. Right where the Cross met His hands. When the stone rolled away and the tomb was empty. When He promised and delivered.

He is that God. And this girl, this girl is going to remember that.

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea,“Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them,“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” -Mark 4:39-40 ESV

How to Conquer Life, Pre-Fulbright

I was going to write about how not to pack, but this title was far too tempting to pass up.


1. Do ridiculous pilates exercises in the living room until your father shuffles out in embarrassment for you. You’re doing it right.

Face it, I’m fabulous. (image via NPR)

2. Gourge youself on all things chocolate, fattening, fried, carbonated and caffeinated. Life is too short for diets and low cholesterol. Chocolate for breakfast. With bacon.

1836857_10203605592676304_1548004245485584465_oThis is my hangry face.

3. Pay an inordinate amount of money for dance classes. Realize you do not have the time or motivation for said dance classes. Try anyways. Realize you are a talentless blob with stilts for legs. Rejoice that you are, incrementally, getting better anyways. Hey, at least you’re working off the chocolate.


Maybe if I close my eyes and think real hard, I’ll become a flapper. Or a lindy super star. Both are acceptable.

4. Write too many blogs. Feel too much. Realize that college life is over and post-college life is all about your lunch hour and your precious off time.

5. Signing up for ALL the Yelp Elite events. Aw yeah. Then, realize you still need to withdraw money for tips. Le sigh.

6. Perfect your foreign accents. Because, while being PC is great and all these days, you can get away with a lot of things as a minority. Kind of. Not really at all. But here’s your chance to spite them! Confuse them with your British/Irish/Austrailian/Indian/Spanish accent to no end. It will challenge their stereotypes and broaden their horizons, all the while as you say “Good Eye Might” and “Razor Blades” in a pseudo-Aussie voice. Try ordering things, it’s the best.


I do what I want.

7. Cry over your two degrees. No, just kidding. Wait until the slowness that was your university actually delivers your degrees.

8. Realize it could be worse.

9. Have such crazy dreams you think you live in one of the Inception realities.

10. Pine for a holiday.


All I do is win, man.

Alright, all jokes aside, I am so ready for Fulbright. I’ve filled out all the paper work, I’m still waiting for my college to send them my proof of graduation, and I’ve done absolutely 0 packing. Which is okay, given that I still have a month. I’m still wondering if I should get my International Motorcycle/Scooter License before I head out, or if I want to take it with everyone else. Meh. Thoughts on clothing? I’ll probably need to by more summer-y things. God knows that they don’t service my size shorts abroad.

I’ll probably be applying for grad school, though I’m not sure how that will go. We shall see.

Excited for traveling, new photo adventures and teaching! Not to mention the awesome food. Night markets, local fruit stands, fancy schmancy restaurants, noodles, dumplings…yesssss.


Packing list and other fund things to come.

Ayo ayo ayo ayo…

Chimishurri out.