When You Get The Love You Think You Deserve.

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A break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about courage.

If I must confess, I was a low self-esteem junkie. You get a strange sort of rush acknowledging the hate that surrounds you in catacomb mouths of taunting children. While the optimistic may deem this nervousness fight or flight, I prefer to think of it as eat or be eaten. I remember being pitted against other girls in gladiator-esque fights while a patron older girl laughed, repeated kicks to the stomach just to see if I would succumb to pain and the ever present fear of being deserted. Attack or risk broken bones and bruised flesh, the metallic tang of defeat against your teeth. I don’t remember ever feeling completely comfortable in my skin as a child.

I grew up in corn fields and plains flatter than roads can reach. Kansas, Iowa, then an oasis gap in Maryland before moving down south to Arkansas. Coveted beauty reflected the rustic scenery, with flaxen-haired girls batting cyan irises.  A visitor once asked why the people weren’t as nice and kind as the churches looked. A peer once asked a teacher to tell me my outfits were hideous. A girl wouldn’t stop laughing and mocked me as I wept from bullying. (The teacher did nothing.) People announced I would never attract a lover– far too hideous, too nerdy, too squinty-eyed and yellow. Hours spent huddled in reading nooks away from lunchrooms. The click of cameras and snickers in noisy gym changing rooms, the resultant shame in my own body, my own skin. Pleasure in binge-eating, hours of television, running…anything to block out the sound of just not belonging.

“Chink.”
“Fugly. Mugly, even, she needs a muzzle.”
“Go home.”

Hate is not something you can run away from. After a near breakdown in middle school, it was difficult to distinguish reality from paranoia. I thought people in the hallway were talking behind my back. What made my suspicions worse was when reality actually cut in–many of my paranoid thoughts came true. “Friends” who told me I could never amount to anything. Bullies who dared to only whisper behind seats in architecture class. “Fugly hermaphrodite toad.” Of course, never forget the body shaming. “Have you seen her eyes? She looks like she’s been punched…permanently.” It’s funny, despite being in my dream job in a faraway location, how stubbornly these memories stick to you. At the time, death sounded like it would become me.

Silence. Stillness. Not even pleasure, I gave up hope for that, but just hung onto the the thought of not being bullied. I entertained jumping, electrocution and choking. Drowning, downing pills or simply wasting away. My mind became a bizarre factory for frantic nightmares. Household items morphed into possible weapons.No place was safe, especially in my mind.

Then, there was God. I know my story is not special or alienated by extremity or type… but God. I was so downtrodden and ready to die…but God. No one loved me…but God. It was all hopeless…but God. I wish I could do this story more justice, to tell you what it was like to actually have an encounter with Christ, yet I do believe it’s one of those things you have to see for yourself. Perhaps, for you, it won’t be bright lights or sunrises. Perhaps for you, like me, it will be a struggle through dark tunnels and caves, yearning for a glimpse of light as faint as a distant star.

If God can speak through broken hearts and the broken body of Christ, what makes you think he wouldn’t speak through yours?

The best part is that the Christian life doesn’t end in brokenness, at least not mine. It’s more of an ongoing mending. I rip, I tear, I mess up things. Then, God.

When people scoff about how antiquated they think Christianity is or how dumb Christians are, I want to tell them that if I didn’t read the Bible, I would have killed myself. If I didn’t know how to pray, I would have taken that bottle of painkillers or worse. If God didn’t reach into my life and comfort me, I would have completely shut down. You see, most people don’t realize that God’s love is made to last and all Christians are sinners of all sorts. Liars, cheaters, prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers. Imperfect people worshiping a perfect God, so no wonder the view gets distorted sometimes. We were made to reflect Perfect Love as fallen people.

When you get the love you think you deserve, you tend to get less. I believed I didn’t deserve any love, so I received nothing. I didn’t even want to look at myself, let alone like anything.

When you gain the love you don’t deserve, everything changes. Perhaps heaven opening up for you is just one day of no negative thoughts. One day of no discrimination or racial slurs. One day of no domestic violence. One moment of peace.

For me, God is all of those things. When you gain the love you don’t deserve, you gain God.

Nothing’s better than that.

Psalm 136:1-16ESV

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew[a] Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

That Taizhong Life

The weekend before the craziness of school, we jumped ship and went south to a little city called Taizhong (Taichung).

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We promised one of our (former) soldier boy James (aka Mama Giraffe) that we would visit his hometown. His amazing family put us all up in their wonderful flat for an entire weekend. 龍龍, James’ adorable little pup, also welcomed us into their beautiful home.

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We began the journey with some color, in a little known blogger hotspot called Rainbow Village. The gorgeous, vibrant environment reflected our own crazy personalities in the Yilan group. The fact that a street performer dressed like an artistically inclined Iron Man made a guest appearance to brighten our day. The painted streets and obvious backdrops turned everyone into supermodels for the afternoon. That, the terrific lighting and our high spirits added up to an amazing conglomeration of joy.

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bff Kerry

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Dazzled by the beautiful colors and the refreshing breeze so foreign to those of us usually drenched in humidity, we traipsed into the city for a spot of dessert. Oh, but not just any dessert. A classy ice cream establishment inside a refurbished bank…that type of fancy. Actually, we originally wanted to go to the first shop, which was modeled after an optometry hospital…but the line was ridiculous. We luckily just gleaned the line for the second shop and avoided the queue craziness.

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Ice cream making, especially waffle shell making, is a technical affair here.DSC_0324

The line we barely missed by coming just 20 minutes beforehand…mwahaha.icecream

Don’t let my photograph fool you…I may have gotten all fruit flavors and sorbets, but Barry had 3 scoops of chocolate, varying countries of origin and percentages (of course), that we shared…noms.

The grand finale, of course, were the Gao Mei Wetlands. Astonishing what a little water, windmill action and sand can do on a sunset. What a number.

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As the sun glinted off the wetlands and launched us into dusk, my travel companions whisked us away with lulling laughter and chatter. At our closing bbq, thanks to Mama Giraffe, I couldn’t help but think the highlight of the trip wasn’t any specific sight, but were in fact the beautiful people.

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I love you guys. ^___^

Earnest Thoughts from a Young Teacher

Image courtesy of Key & Peele.

Image courtesy of Key & Peele.

There are some days when even getting out of bed sounds like an insurmountable feat.
There are some days when you could jump out of bed from sheer excitement. Most of my days so far have been spent dragging my feet in bedsheets, dreading the morning light because it brings on the weight of responsibility and dashed expectations. While I respect the past ETAs for sharing their thoughts on Yilan teaching, I sometimes believe only the best and brightest moments were documented on their blog, as they should. However, I do not share this mentality of merely glorifying schools, as future ETAs might benefit from some no-frills, no-nonsense reality. Fulbright teaching is my dream job, but that doesn’t mean it comes without a price or a pound of flesh.

ETA-ship is hard. Your LET might let you teach, they might not. You might have a substitute who stakes her claim in student minds for a month, terrifying them with bi-weekly exams and dreadfully boring lessons relying on horrible CD songs. For the record, CD song company, English speakers sing songs about normal topics, not about mothers confusing their children with fleeting emotions (though perhaps that might make an interesting ballad) or incorrect math equations. Further, you cannot treat children like robots. Listening to the same nonsensical song 50 times in a week will make them despise English and you. I honestly don’t understand  how a teacher expects her students to react after playing the same God forsaken monstrosity for the umpteenth time in a row. They will not suddenly develop respect for you, nor will they find you more intriguing if you let them scream and yell under the guise of “expressing English feelings.” A classroom is an environment in which both the teacher and students deserve to learn.

Further, your LET might go off the deep-end. We have heard some horror stories about LETs terrifying their class into submission. Teachers have used everyday teaching aids as projectiles against students. Others shout at or embarrass students until they cry. Perhaps I’m less of a disciplinarian than most, but I think psychologically damaging a child hurts more than it encourages. Further, some LETs have abused their rights as a co-teacher. ETAs tell of certain teachers who demonstrate clear signs of mental disorder, often screaming at their co-teachers or wrongfully accusing them. Some are just plain racist. Bad teachers, it appears, rear their ugly heads no matter what culture they reside in. Others, of course, fall on the exact opposite of the spectrum. LETs take on their co-teachers like their own family, accompanying them to restaurants or bbq with them on national holidays. Some go hiking or give you a taste of Taiwanese family life by just hanging out with you on the weekends. My LET even took me on a workshop on international education at a local junior high school. It’s kind of like marriage, I suppose. There are good times, there are bad times. There are times when you want to bash your head into a wall.

You will survive on the smallest of kindnesses. A care package sent by a loving friend. A postcard from Boston. Updates from your small group back home. Communion taken in your newfound church home as a broken child of God. You will weep as if the ground could sprout trees from your tears, as if you could collect salt from every droplet. But, oh, you will also laugh until you shake. You will giggle and snort until you feel like you will explode from joy. I’m not going to pretend and say that being an ETA is easy, but I do not hesitate and tell you that it will be everything you make of it.

Reality toes the line between your highest flung dreams and your darkest nightmares. Some moments lay outside of your grasp on the cloudy edge of hopelessness. Others pull you in and remind you what it means to take hold of your faith and know that some things, some dreams, some kids, are worth fighting for. Those are the times you shine the brightest.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” [Romans 5:1-10 ESV]

Despite the fearsome paths we tread, in the face of dire situations and great evil manifested in ordinary clothing, we know this to be true. Kids deserve the best. They deserve us at our best. Further, it DOES NOT MATTER WHERE THEY COME FROM. I am sick of teachers and even parents putting students down because they are poor or need special care. It only matters how big their dreams are and how much they want it. It’s up to teachers to show them how much they are capable of.

As teachers, we have a chance to be somebody’s best friend, a parent and, to some, a superhero dressed as Clark Kent. The more we discourage our students, the more we become their Kryptonite and their greatest weakness. In many ways, we just need to do our jobs, but we must also find a means to encourage students out of the stereotypes that inhibit them. It’s not about us. It’s all about finding light in dark places.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” [James 3:1]

I guess it really comes down to one thing only. Why are you teaching? What is your purpose? Is it to glorify yourself? Is it to terrify someone “under” you? Or is it to foster the future? Like it or not, we’re doing just that.

The future stares us in the face everyday, and they call us teacher.

Thoughts on School Mornings

Time to get up...

Time to get up… (all credits to Animal Care College & Grumpy Cat)

  • This alarm is ruining my favorite song.
  • What do you mean that was my third alarm?
  • AHHHHHH-I’m late-I’m late-I’m late
  • Gah, dragon breath needs to die a Colgate death.
  • Do I have time for breakfast?
  • I can be late because of breakfast, right?
  • Why is the toaster making that mysterious ticking noise?
  • I unplugged it and it still ticks…what the…

10 minutes later…

  • I should wash my face. *splashes water haphazardly*
  • I should comb my hair. *shrugs*
  • I’m ready!
  • Where’s my phone? *runs back inside*
  • Did I turn off the A/C? *runs back inside*
  • I left the powerstrip on, noooo…. *runs back inside*

Another 5 minutes later…

  • I press the elevator button right before our floor…and it skips it.
  • It proceeds to go up passed my floor 20 levels…and back down again.
  • I wait longer than it would take me to just take the stairs.
  • I finally scoot to school! Huzzah!
  • Remember that awkward time I had to adjust my skirt during a light, forgetting there are other scooters behind me? Me too, me too.
  • SUCCESS! The finish line emerges at Cheng Gong Elementary.

Time to do that just a few more times this week. =___=’

Happy Monday, students and teachers!

Best Kept Secrets at Cheng Gong Elementary School

Thought I’d leave a post for the next ETA stationed at my elementary. I figure if we build on previous ETA knowledge, we could avoid quite a few awkward situations while simultaneously enjoying our experiences here. Just my two cents on the issue. For those of you based in Taiwan as ETAs now, I’m sure you can relate to several of these points. Perhaps they’ll inspire your own survival guide to the newbies next year. One can only hope, eh?

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Waiting to explore Nan’Ao

  • If you forget to make your 7-11 or Family Mart coffee run in the morning, there is 30NT (10centUSD) coffee in the teacher’s lounge on the first floor. However, this is legit rocket fuel, so BYO sugar and cream. Or you know, you might like it black and very, very dark roast.
  • Participate in Teacher’s Day activities. We danced to this popular Chopstick Brothers song called 小蘋果 (Little Apple). With costumes. No joke, even the principal did it because Cheng Gong is awesome sauce.
  • Make sure you go on at least one field trip. Sure, you might not know the class very well, but you get to hang out with the kids for a whole day, not to mention take part in the fun activities. Hiking, making food, you name it.
  • There is one seated toilet located in the 3rd floor girls bathroom, first accessible stall on the right. All the others are squatty potties, so make sure you really have your, um, “technique” down if you know what I mean. Squatties are so very tricky sometimes.
  • Your LET tends to travel a lot, so be prepared for alternative classes and teachers to teach with. Keep your eyes peeled for side projects if she’s away on a longer trip.
Students on a recent field trip to Nanao.

Learning about sustainable living.

  • Incorporate art and music into your lessons. For the younger kids pure enjoyment,  you might even want to add some dancing as well. The second graders and I have a blast with the “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” song. My LET wants me to do it with the older grades, but I’m thinking I’ll try the Cup Song with them. Awka-awesome.
  • This one’s another bathroom tip: go first thing in the morning or in-between class periods. During the first and last periods of the day, students tend to clean the stalls. Talk about uncomfortable environments to relieve yourself in. Not fun, especially when the Taiwanese version of cleaning bathrooms involves drenching the entire floor in water. You do not want to slip on that floor. Death by squatty? No thank you.
  • Apparently, Cheng Gong hires a pizza truck once in a while. That’s right. A PIZZA TRUCK. Where you can make pizza…it’s a dream come true. Unfortunately, it comes today when I have Fulbright workshop, but be sure and make pizza at least once. I had it with the sixth graders on their field trip and it is truly the best pizza you’ll ever DIY in Taiwan.
  • Do not fall into the trap of eating school lunch every day. Sure, it’s free and semi-tolerable, but there are several restaurants in the area which do a speedy and delicious job. There’s pasta, Japanese food and a curry place (I think). I think I got sick from school food two days ago, so it’s always good to take a break.
  • There’s a bunch of free food in the office after Ghost Month. People tend to pick their favorite foods for offerings, so they can eat it later. I kind of have some qualms with this (since I’ m Christian), but there are plenty of snacks if you’re hungry and not easily spooked by sacrificial ghost food.
  • Get involved in an activity. Apparently, there’s yoga lessons and calligraphy club here, so I’m definitely getting involved. I think there’s badminton in the gyms at night too, so it’s time to get active!
  • There’s nap time everyday for everyone. So get your zzz’s right after lunch. Noms and yawns galore.
  • If you look at swing dance pictures from events, make sure there are no cabaret shots. So awkward when your clean-up kids come and there’s a picture of a risque lookin’ dancer up on your screen. Further, the firewall’s here are super vigilante, and they will even block music websites (8tracks) if they think there’s inappropriate content. So get your computer act together, people!

I’ll probably post one of these every two weeks or so, depending on what other secrets I can unveil at Cheng Gong.

Hope your Wednesday is full of good food and laughter. ^  ^

S.

Taipei, My Love.

Given that Luodong is practically kissing Taipei on the Taiwan map, you might predict we make the hour long trek by bus up there once a while nearly every other weekend. Fresh from my latest adventure at Taipei LIndy Festival, I figure it was finally time to unveil what the kids have been up to (no good, obviously, I solemnly swear. 10 points for Gryffindor if you know what I mean.) How to describe Taipei? If New York City had a secret love child with Hong Kong…perhaps Taipei would be the artsy yet refined version of that kid. Super clean metro like HK and passionate swing dance scene like both its parents, but definitely fused with the same amount of grit and history as NYC. However, Taipei holds a specific charm for any traveler, that special something you can smell in the stinky tofu scented air and the oh-too-present humidity. Oh, and this.

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Taipei is just so darn beautiful.

Rather than deplete my memory in some sort of ridiculous and unappetizing purge, I’d thought I would leave you with some highlights. As residence of a nearby neighborhood, Taipei offers subtle twists on benefits we are blessed to have in our little township smackdab in Yilan County. Luodong has an awesome night market, but Taipei has an entire underground mall connected to both the Taipei Bus Station and the MRT. We visited this upon our first trek and were dazed for days by the kaleidoscope of colors, smells and sounds burbling under the sidewalk. Taipei also ups the anty on food, anywhere from monstrous snowflake ice to monstrous bowls of beef noodle soup to the perfect Taiwanese small eats shop. Which we just so happened to try.

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A few weeks ago, Barry and my “foster parents” Auntie Susan and Uncle Allen (relatives of a church friend) took us around the capital. They began the afternoon with a trip to a traditional Taiwanese restaurant. The results were somewhere between dim sum and my mom’s home cooking, only not as spicy and a bit on the sweeter side. We ordered fresh bamboo shoots, clams, cold-cut chicken (way better than it sounds), and fish soup. It was all delicious, and of course Barry ate all our leftovers.

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The fish agree, we were pretty astounded at the quality and speed of service. Noms. Next time, we’re up for a round of dumplings and beef noodle soup at famous locales around the Dong Men area.

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The more I think about it, Auntie Susan and Uncle Allen mostly took us around to see where we could get our eat on. Buffets, night markets, little side streets and proper restaurants galore. My favorite has to be this luxurious all-you-can-eat extravaganza stored away in a giant box of a shopping mall. While it’s a bit on the pricier side, you can avoid empty pocket prices by going for afternoon tea. By what I saw, they have everything from dim sum to sashimi and sushi to grade A steak, Parisian pastries and Haagen Daz ice cream. Did I mention this was all you can eat? That’s right. (Not Fat Angelo’s, but near it. Although Fat Angelo’s doesn’t sound bad at all…om nom noms.)

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After buying us some boba (the tapioca pearls were just perfect) at THE most famous place in Gong Guan near the National Taiwan University, Auntie Susan and Uncle Allen left us to play in the cordoned streets for a bit. We visited a pet shop, several famous chicken places and several shops selling everything from candy to name-brand shoes. Senses overloaded, we knocked out on the bus home.

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On a more “serious note,” our recent Taipei trip left us formally welcomed into the Fulbright community. While some networking did take place, I would have to say our dance party with a live band left most of us with our dignity at the door. Our appetites were satisfied by a buffet to end all buffets, so much so that the plates were larger than our heads. It was a fabulous affair, filled with beautiful venues, smiling faces and dances galore. I personally recommend Zhongshan Hall as the best historical bookable site. It has an excellent wooden dance floor on the second level ballroom, as well as a traditional Japanese tea house on the third floor, complete with traditional Qin instruments. Apparently, I caused some ETAs to drift off to sleep.

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Fulbright party at the Taipei Garden Hotel…look at the noms…& that chandelier…

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Look at that floor space. Mmm.IMG_1659

The Fulbright party also exposed us to several other cultural sites, including MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), a traditional art museum and the 228 incident exhibit. All left an indelible impression on us, forcing us to remember the hopes and dreams when we first arrived in Taiwan, as well as those for our students. Whenever thoughtless acts of violence or trauma occur, those of us fortunate enough to remember, must. It creates and sustains a fire for restoration, for renewal and for regeneration. It reminds us to grow, to change and to never let the past stop us from what could be in the future. It’s the great perhaps.

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So, after you give your taste over to all the decadent treats, lend your eyes to the galleries and your heart to the exhibits, what is left? Perhaps you are a bit tired of wandering and just need a good night’s rest a reasonable cost.

Honestly, I have never been in a cleaner hostel than the one I was fortunate enough to stumble across because of Taipei Lindy Fest. Meander blends hipster with functional, even hosting a miner’s cart in the center of its lobby alongside a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard of the MRT sites around town. Located in hip Ximen district, the hostel is just outside all the noise but just close enough to walk to the famous pedestrian walkway. What is there to do there? Why, more eating of course. Ah Chong Rice Noodles, Modern Toilet (yep, toilet shaped bowls and eatin’ out of a bathtub) and boba galore. There’s also this amazing cafe called Oven Coffee on our walk around Ximen. They do some killer lattes, hot or cold.

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Yes, Taipei is for lovers. Lovers of food, lovers of fun, lovers of dance…really, if you love life, you will fall for all of Taipei’s quirks and perfectly burnished sunsets. Through every glint of light, you see a little more clearly, a little more effortlessly.

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May you love the journey you’re on.

Wanderin’ & ponderin’,

S.

I See You.

This is for all my monolid brothers and sisters out there.

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photo via onsugar.com

I see you, even if society would rather not.

Coming to Taiwan, I expected entirely different standards of beauty. Given my exposure to Kpop and Cpop, I knew the prevalence of surgery and the prestige of whiter, brighter skin. However, living in the culture is entirely different.

Out of many Asian countries, Taiwan probably puts a lot less pressure on getting double eyelid surgery. However, I would say there is a stigma against 小眼睛 or those with 單眼皮as seen by the ridiculous posters for sketchy eye surgery on Luodong street corners and humongous eyes advising going under the knife in Taipei. It seems like everyone wants to look a little wider, to see in a different physical way, to look a different way.

So this is for all you monolids out there. I just wanted to say, my, my, you look fantastic. I mean, look at you. All that fantastic lid space, those gorgeous peepers. Why do you wanna see in standard when you can see in HD widescreen, baby? ;D Alright, alright. Sure, you can’t always pull off three different eyeshadows and maybe you long for more contour, but no one else can look that cute with just a little bit of eyeliner or barefaced. Not a one.

This is for every single man or woman who has or is considering eyelid surgery because they feel inadequate, ugly or out of place. This is for those who American ads ignore and who Asian ads ignore as well. This is for all ya’ll that have used eyelid tape, glue, clips (really?) or other terrifying appliances to create an extra fold and achieve bigger eyes. This is for everyone who has ever been told they have saggy lids, ugly eyes, small eyes or squinty ones. This is for those whose eyes puff in the morning, puff when they’ve cried too much or just have eaten too much ramen at night. I see you for who you are and…

You. Are. Beautiful. Never forget that.

This is for you because too many things are against you. If it’s not a negative stereotype, it’s still an equally derogatory “positive” one. Yellow fever, etc. You are more than what people think of you, more than what they say about you. It’s not just skin deep just because they try to make it about that.

Once upon a time, I hated my eyes. I hated how my classmates would tug at their eyelids to make fun of my almond shape, the way I struggled with eye makeup, the way I couldn’t ever really achieve a so-called “wide-eyed look.” Older, wiser now, I’ve thrown away the eyelid tape, the glue, the circle lenses. I don’t try to “find my eyelid socket” to contour my eyes (what?!). I look at myself and think of my history.

I come from a line of strong woman with monolids. Women present at the Rape of Nanking. Women who stood at TianAnMen Square. Women who fought, resisted, struggled and won. Erasing my face, becoming like everyone else, is forgetting my history and where I come from. I have had a revelation and am proud of my genesis, so don’t try and rewrite me.

You are more than you think you are. You are pleasing to a perfect God. That’s all that matters.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”

Psalm 139: 14-16 ESV via biblia.com

Haters, keep drinking your haterade. Lovers, overflow with love.

You do you.

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I’m single-lidded and lovin’ it. ^____^

Love from Luodong,

S.

Adjustments & Addendums

Hello pretty people of the internet. Long time no talk. I’ll soon fix that. If you miss me more though, you can always follow me @mintmiss on Instagram. ;) Once I finished my practicum with Ellen, life trickled into the responsibilities Fulbright intended for us to have. Far fewer pretty swing nights in Taipei enjoying the bright city lights.

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Since our very long goodbye last post, I’ve been settling into my new schools, Cheng Gong Elementary and SanXing Junior High. Let me tell you, school here is no joke. When one of my LETs (Local English Teachers) led me around the first grade classrooms, I saw 3 out of 5 teachers disciplining their first graders. Wow. My LET told me first graders experience extreme “culture shock” when entering the higher grades, especially when they essentially get to do anything they want in kindergarten. I mean, the kids have a ball pit on school grounds, for goodness sake. So, when they enter the hallowed gates of first grade, the teachers berate them into the good model citizens they mean to be. Perhaps berate is not the right word…more like scold or lecture to death. It might seem harsh, but most students here are incredibly well behaved and prone to respectfully addressing others, a far cry from the crazy kids in my classes back home. I teach mainly 1st and 5th at my elementary, though I do have cultural exchange programs in every grade, 1st through 6th. Hmm…need to get on that.

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School days in Taiwan read quite differently than my elementary days in the States. At least two class periods are devoted to cleaning classrooms and hallways. Students also take turns serving each other lunch (ridiculously cute). This past week of school, I didn’t do as much as I hoped to. The principal introduced me to all the kids, so now they’re a bit more cautious in the hall when they see me. I love it when they say, “Hello, 教師” if they happen to run into me.

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My LET Joyce will be in Thailand for another week, so the days have been slow with only my two 1st grade classes. Instead of letting my free time run rampant, I work on creative classroom rule posters. They let me infuse a bit more American pop culture into my lessons through well known TV series like Adventure Time and movies like Monsters, Inc. One of the 5th graders has already accused me of tracing my artwork instead of creating it. I’m not sure if I’m flattered or annoyed just quite yet…oh, well.

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In terms of future progress, hope to develop more of my guided reading lessons and focus on cultural exchange topics. I’m thinking dance lessons might be fun, or at least showing American dance clips through the decades. I’ve promised my very eager 7th graders an exclusive Beyonce lesson the next time I see them. I happened to stumble into the class elective assembly when I first scooted to SanXing. Theresa, my LET, ushered me last minute into the crowded gym into a bunch of wide eyed junior high students. I blabbered something in English, but my translator (as they want to pretend I only speak English) basically told them I would teach them about Beyonce…great. I actually said I would teach a bunch of popular music, including Sam Smith, Beyonce and Lorde. Lost in translation, for sure. Anyways, they swarmed me for Q&A and the rest is history. I love how eager and hyped up they are about the elective. It really surprised me how quickly the space filled in my class. At SanXing, students must stick their number onto a board for the elective they want to take. Imagine the ensuing angst and chaos.

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After the whirlwind of a quiet English elementary classroom, a dip into the madness of junior high and hectic poster making, my LET Joyce gave me a surprise break Friday with a trip to the Asian Rowing Junior Championships in Yilan County. Barry, Albert and I found ourselves accompanying our LETs to the Shangrila Hotel in Dongshan where a hoi polloi of rowers from all over the world gathered. The locale amazed us with the crystal clear Dongshan River and the gem that is Shangrila.

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We managed to attend the special Welcoming Ceremony which featured some amazing Er Hu elementary school players and a Hakka dance troupe. The rest of the ceremony involved quite a bit of pomp and circumstance which I did not find that interesting. Fast forward an hour later, and we said our goodbyes in the twilight. I scootered home on my pretty bike, only to find out later I had my brights on. Whoops.IMG_1477

This weekend, we partied hard at the Fulbright welcoming party. More on that, and our Taichung trip last weekend, later. Otherwise, this will be another one of those TLDR; posts you never read.

In brief, I’d like to introduce a little subtopic I’d like to call..

How to  Survive School in Taiwan

1. Try to become friends with at least one other teacher that is not your LET. Otherwise, you will find yourself very lonely at lunch and eating really quickly to avoid the awkwardness.

2. Do not, I repeat, do not lie to the students and tell them you only speak English if you also speak Chinese. Sure, the other teacher will probably want you to lie, as will the principal. I’m not a fan. Instead, just insist in speaking English in the classroom. That’s all, keep it simple. No sneaking or two-faced teaching involved.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for an all-access pass to the supply room to up your teacher game. Once I got up the courage to ask for supplies, I could make any colorful poster my little heart desired. With my artillery of oil pastels, markers and endless reels of pastel papers, my imagination knew no limits.

4. Get to school early to know the area. I’ve had the opportunity to walk around and find hidden breakfast places in the morning. If I didn’t get to school so early, I would have never found my secret handmade Bao Zi place found on a side street just past the school entrance. Noms.

 5. Pack toilet paper. Lots of it. None of the school’s squatty potties will have any. Did I mention the squatty potties? Better strengthen those leg muscles. Also, try to #2 at home, your body will thank you if you’re not used to the smells and acrobatics of squatty potty dynamics.

6. Make mistakes but learn from them. This goes for all of life, but especially as a teacher. You do the wrong TPR motion? It’s alright, just make sure the students learn from your mistake. Make sure to spell things right together if you or your LET do it wrong the first time. Better yet, correct it with the students so they learn as well.

7. Make time to de-stress. Teaching is hard. Co-teaching is harder. Set aside some alone time to just breathe and adjust yourself. Life will not end if your lesson plan is not as creative as you want it to be.

8. Practice your scooter, train or walking route. No one wants to get lost or be late on their first date, especially if you’re the new foreign teacher.

9. Befriend your Soldier Boy. Elementary schools often have alternative soldiers working for them as security guards. These guys are usually chosen for their English skills, so be sure to find ways to get to know them and the local culture. They are awesome! We just barbequed with our soldier boy friend James tonight for Mid Autumn Festival. 

10. Have fun. So much can get lost in translation or the stress of planning. However, if you know how to have fun and get others to do the same, you’ve won half the battle.

Hope your classrooms weren’t empty like this the first week. My academic dean kicked out all the kids because my LET wasn’t there the first day. I was so very lonely.IMG_1502

Here’s to love, life and lots of mango ice. Noms. Here’s a treat from the Luodong Night Market.

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More posts to come on Taichung and Taipei (Fulbright edition)!

 

 

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…

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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.

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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…

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

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Am I right? ;)

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.