Vietnam Trip, Day 2: Exploring Phu Quoc

In the morning, we rented a scooter and at the hotel staff’s suggestion, headed north along the scenic road that followed the coast. If it had been up to me, we would have spent the day like a couple of crabs on the beach nearest out resort, but J’s first task is always to orient himself. So I sat on the back of the scooter, and even had to give him my sunglasses because he was driving and didn’t have his on, and he drove us up the wicked dirt “road” that was all poitholes and mud. It wasn’t at all comfortable and barely safe, but I enjoyed it more than driving fast along the main road with the other scooters and heavy construction vehicles roaring past.

At one point, the road was cordoned off with a rope and some white plastic tassles: just past that, it had been washed away and there was a span of perhaps 60 feet between us and the rest of the road. But there were motorcycle tracks down to the beach and we followed them to a silly little bridge made of sticks spanning a stream of water flowing down to the ocean. We supposed that a local man on a scooter could have ridden across, but even I alone am bigger than a local man, so the best thing to do was for J to walk it across. He swore; the effort was all on him, but I took picture that will grow funnier in time.

the gap in the road
the gap in the road
it was a pretty big gap
it was a pretty big gap
we didn't think the bridge would hold our weight, so J walked the scooter across
we didn’t think the bridge would hold our weight, so J walked the scooter across

After a few hours on that road, we were worn out, J from dealing not only with potholes but the prolonged uncertainty about if we’d find a way back to the main road, or would we have to drive back along the same road that was only taking us further away from the hotel; and me from the stress of being the powerless partner on the back seat. We eventually found the main road, which went through construction sites of new resorts and even an amusement park. We hadn’t eaten at all that day, having started off assuming we’d “find something”, so we had some Vietnamese food at a nice restaurant overlooking the ocean. But we got turned around in the town and couldn’t find the beach the blogs promised would be there, so we just went back to our own neighborhood.

We stopped for another Vietnamese coffee at a little cafe near our resort. We were quickly developing a taste for it: black and thick as oil, but incredibly smooth and chocolatey and not at all bitter. Of course, we still preferred it with a bit of the condensed milk to make it extra sweet and creamy. From our bench on the patio, we could watch the children at the local school enjoying their recess, and noted the wild mess of cables handing from the telephone pole across the way, in front of the produce stall. Ong Lang, that little neighborhood in Phu Quoc, brought back a wave of memories of the year my family and I lived in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, when I was 13. The bad roads, the loose chickens, the  baguettes, the fried spring rolls, the shacks nestled in among the hotels and resorts, the kids balancing on too-big bicycles being passed by Lexus SUVs…

The cafe owner told us that this time of year, the beach at Ong Lang was the cleanest and most beautiful on the island. And when there are no clouds, the sunset is the most vibrant. There were clouds that evening, but it was still very lovely, and I was hugely grateful to finally get into the ocean after such a long day. The water was so clear and calm that I waded into until I was up to my shoulders, and I could still see my feet. Unfortunately, it was clear enough to see that there were not really any fish or anything worth gearing up for a snorkel for.

a very polite dog looking for scraps at the barbecue restaurant
a very polite dog looking for scraps at the barbecue restaurant

We ate at a barbecue restaurant that night. The prices were good enough that lots of Vietnamese tourists and other folks who I took to be locals were also there, but also many Europeans and north Americans. We had grilled pork belly, shrimp, squid, a whole red snapper, beef rolled up in betel leaves, mojitos, and beer. It was a gorgeous spread. When we finished, we went back to the cafe from the afternoon and drank US$3 mojitos and US$1 pints until we were drowsy and full, then it was time for bed.

My husband and I both have ADD: Here are our tips for traveling better together

Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the options when traveling. (Photo credit J Gunden)
Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the options when traveling. (Photo credit J Gunden)

J and I both have ADD, which always makes things interesting, but can especially challenging in a new place. Not having a routine can be difficult for us: we lose time trying to figure out what to do, and being in an unfamiliar environment can make us uneasy. My goal is to outline and develop habits that will make sure we make the most of our traveling time.

This was my first trip with my bullet journal, and I used that resource to write down some ideas for best practices for the future trips we will certainly be taking.

  1. Splurge on tours or classes. 
    There’s lots to be said for going on your own and getting off the beaten path, but sometimes J and I get so overwhelmed by the options that we spend more time before and during the trip thinking about what we could do than doing anything. But taking a street food tour in Saigon or a cruise in Krabi gave us the opportunity to explore without the additional worry of trying to plot our own course. Paying someone else to worry about the details lets us hyperfocus on having fun.
  2. Follow in the footsteps of the ones who’ve gone before you.
    This is the free version of hiring a tour guide. J was chasing his tail coming up with the best possible itinerary for seeing the sites in Saigon. I suggested we just follow somebody else’s walking-tour itinerary. We hit most of the stops, saw a lot of the city, and it only took about ten minutes of research. One word of caution, though: make sure you pay attention to the details about what to visit when
  3. Prepare and maintain a master packing list. 
    I started writing down what I needed to remember a few weeks before we left on our last vacation, and while on vacation, I made note of anything I wished I had brought or could have left behind. This list is in my bullet journal, too. If you’d like some ideas to get started, there’s a printable master packing list at ADDitude Mag.
  4. Plan some time alone each day. 
    In our daily lives at home, J and I do a lot on our own, but on vacation, we shadow each other 24 hours a day. J gets hyperstimulated and wants to talk about his impressions of everything; I get drained and overwhelmed by the newness of everything and being around him all the time. Planning solo coffee breaks or even splitting up for the morning gives us the little mental break we need to refresh and look forward to sharing our experience.
  5. Make sure you both have money in your wallet.
    This might be the most personal tip on the list, depending on how you and your partner run your finances. J and I usually mingle our money, but when we’re out or traveling, he carries the cash in his wallet. I don’t like having to always ask for money; he doesn’t always want to buy souvenirs or gifts. Making sure I have money in my wallet every morning will reduce some of the potential friction between us.
  6. Decide on how much money, if any, you’re willing to give to beggars or touts.
    This is another question without a clear answer. It’s hard to know what’s right or helpful to do to help other people, but I can’t stand sitting there drinking my fancy margarita and ignoring the people trying to sell me a bookmark for a buck. Having to ask J to open up the wallet every time can complicate matters, so if we agree that I can spend US$5-10 a day on souvenirs from little old ladies, then it’s one less thing that needs to be discussed at length.
  7. Don’t count on having time to do something later.
    There’s been a number of times where we’ve procrastinated on doing something or buying something and in the end, left without doing it. Procrastination is a really big problem for anyone with ADD, so it’s hard to to just say “don’t procrastinate while traveling.” I hope that if we have it written down as one of our best practices, we can keep it mind.

Any folks out there with ADD have more travel tips to share? I’m certainly looking to for ways to keep improving our experiences. I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Vietnam Trip, Day 1: First Impressions of Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City too late to do–or eat–anything interesting. It was a Saturday night, so we thought we might go to a bar, but by the time we got our bearings, it was midnight, and the bars were closing. I was glad for it, because I was wearing my comfortable clothes from the plane, and the women leaving the bar were dressed in little black and red dresses. J was disappointed, but we went to the Circle K and it had WiFi. We ate instant noodles and shrimp chips and looked up articles on the best beer to drink in Vietnam. We liked the Saigon Special better than the 333.

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

Our hotel room at the Iris was small, but fine for the night. We only needed it to be near the airport. There were plenty of pho places around, but we didn’t know how to order and I was worried about getting food poisoning before our flight to Phu Quoc, after what happened in Cambodia. (I got food poisoning and was wretchedly sick for 24 hours.)

The next morning, the cafes were open all over the neighborhood. We asked for a suggestion from the front desk and she said the place across the street was excellent, and offered the security guard’s services to help us cross. There were no traffic lights and not a little traffic, but J managed to get us across just fine. I had a baguette with fried eggs and J had the beef and green peppers with French fries. We each had coffee and it was excellent Then we crossed back again and walked down the street to another cafe where Jeremy ordered an iced coffee while I finished my cigarette. When I got inside, I realized we were in the same franchise we’d just left, just a shop on the other side of the road. The coffee was really that good.

After Vietnamese coffee, I was most looking forward to a real banh mi sandwich. The were available the Circle K between six a.m. and ten p.m., but I didn’t think that a convenience-store banh mi ranked as an authentic on, even in Vietnam. When we landed in Phu Quoc, we had another coffee at the airport cafe, and ordered a banh mi sandwich to go with it. It was made with lettuce and mayonnaise, and they microwaved it, and it was horrible and I was mad that we’d spent any money on it at all.

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

J had booked us a room in a beautiful little resort that had a number of little bungalows around a pool. It being the end of the off-season, he got the room for very cheap. I message them ahead of time to let them know it was J’s 40th birthday, and when arrived, they had prepared a mango panna cotta and written “Happy birthday, Jeremy” very inexpertly. Because you can’t stick candles in panna cotta, they were stuck to the table with a bit of melted wax in a ring around the dish. It was all very cute and the extra effort was much appreciated.

That night, we ate dinner in the resort restaurant. Afterwards, we drank the mini bar beers and beers from room service. Everything was so cheap that it felt like we were rich and famous.

Winter is Coming, Zhongli edition

Winter is coming. We tell people in America it gets cold here in the winter, and they are sympathetic. They know cold. Cold is not great.

“How cold does it get?” they ask.

We cringe when we tell them it gets down to 50°C (around 10°C) because we know they will laugh.

“That’s nothing!” they say.

Yes, but: the houses here are built to be cool in the sickeningly hot and humid summers. So they are built of concrete, often with tile floors and even tile walls. The windows are often big to allow for creating cross breezes, and the ceilings are high. The kitchens are tiny in the newer houses, because nobody wants to be stuck inside cooking in a hot kitchen when you can get dinner outside for cheap.

There are often air conditioners in the apartments, but never heaters. The weather starts to get unpredictable, from day to day, then hour to hour, then one day it starts raining and doesn’t stop raining for two weeks and your clothes and the linens and the bathroom start to smell of damp.

The cold seeps into the wet concrete walls and settles on the ceramic tiles. You want to cuddle up for warmth, but keep your icy feet to yourself if you aren’t wearing socks. You can see your moist breath in the living room. You hang your clothes, but they take three days to dry. By then they are stiff and they smell weird. Room temperature water is cold, and even if drinking cold water weren’t culturally proscribed, it’s hard to do on a cold day. Stick to tea or coffee.

There’s no hot water in the taps to wash your hands. You do it anyway, bracing yourself, cursing if a drop gets on your sleeve. The students’ sleeves are wet and dirty all day. Your contact-lens solution is cold. The toilet seat is very, very cold. The shower is hot and you never want it to end because when you step out it will be cold.

It also starts getting dark earlier and earlier, so that the sun is rising with you in the morning and sets by dinner time. If you’re working 9-5, you might miss it.

You know how in the U.S., if you’re lucky enough to have a car, and lucky enough to have a car-starter, you can stand in your living room, drinking your first cup of coffee, and turn the car on by pressing a button, so that even if you have to move some snow to get to work, it will be melted by the time you get outside?

Yeah, well, in Taiwan you drive a scooter, rain or shine. You don’t want to get wet at all, because any part of you that gets wet on the way to work is going to be wet all day, and cold. You put on rain boots, rain pants and a giant poncho over your winter coat. You don’t want to wear the kind of gloves that will get wet, so you wear big waterproof winter gloves (they are never really waterproof though); or you put industrial rubber gloves over your nice woolly ones. Then you do up your poncho over your scarf, and then put on your helmet, visor down. That’s how you drive to work. In the summer, you would have stopped on the way for a coffee or a sandwich, but in the winter you’ll have to take off half your gear just to go in the store. Then it’ll get wet and so will you, so no coffee today, no sandwich. Just drive in the cold rain, your nose running and your hands too encumbered to wipe it.

You take off your rain gear when you get to school. But not your coat, your gloves, or your warm rubber boots because even if you have a space heater at home, there’s no heater in the schools, and you and the kids are all bundled up for the whole class. (Some of the babies will come to class in so many layers of shirts that they get damp with sweat in the cold and can’t move their arms very well, so out of compassion you and your co-teacher remove three or four undershirts and only put them back on again right before Gramma comes back to pick them up.) It’s too cold these days for the kids to go outside, so we all stay inside, locked up germ-incubators, always sputtering and coughing, red-eyed and hoarse, until spring.

“You think that’s cold? Back in Russia…”

Okay, yes. But it still stands that 50°F is a lot colder here than a crisp autumn day is back in Pennsylvania…

An American Voter Abroad

I wore a tank top three weeks ago, to a party and then to the bar. I’m a 34DD, though, so it’s not “allowed.” A man I recognized, but have never talked to, threatened to grab my tits. A friend and I argued with him, back and forth. He kept running his mouth until I shouted for a male friend to come over. I asked the aspiring-assailant if he would grab this dude by the balls. The presence of another man killed his joy, and he walked away, but not before shouting about grabbing me by the pussy.

I went home and drunk-ordered a t-shirt from Etsy (now sadly a place where you can search for “grab pussy t-shirt” and get loads of results). I ordered one with an angry cat’s face that says, “NOV. 8 THIS PUSSY GRABS BACK.” Then we went on vacation, and now we’re back, the election is over, the worst has happened, and my t-shirt still hasn’t arrived.

I don’t know anyone here who said they were voting for Trump. I know one guy who seems like he would, but he made a point of telling us he was with Clinton. Of course, people can lie, but the point is that I’m in an environment where at least politically, we all seem to be on the same page when it comes to immigrants, freedom of religion, race, abortion, sexism, etc. We’re liberal and open-minded. We don’t want our freedom and happiness at the expense of anyone else’s. We travel, we like meeting new people, we hold personal happiness very high and respect and expect that in others.

J and I didn’t realize until we were on holiday that we’d be traveling on election day. I went to bed late on Tuesday night in Vietnam after watching all the CNN I could handle. I woke up as polls were closing and watched for an hour, but the suspense, the minute-by-minute fluctuations, the incessant chattering–were too much for me. I went to the cafe for my last cup; when J and I got in the cab; he told me it was looking very like Trump would win.

We sat at our gate at the Ton Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City with a bunch of Russians. I got on the wifi and buried my face in Twitter; people were saying it was over already, already pointing fingers, already sharing fears. I tried to ignore the lounging Russians, but I had visions of Trump matryoshka dolls dancing through my head. I moved to a seat where I was looking at the airplanes taking off and landing instead of five white people taking up four seats each.

When we got off the plane in Kuala Lumpur, I got online. I refreshed my browser. “Donald Trump won the election.” I felt like I might faint, but we were in line at the security gate, so I had to put my stuff into the appropriate baskets and move through the line like I wasn’t coming to terms with what feels like the beginning of the global apocalypse.

Now what? Maybe nothing changes for me. We file our taxes every year. We have federally-subsidized healthcare here in Taiwan, so that’s covered. But I just watched my country rip itself in two along racial lines. We just witnessed people–white people, men and women–who hate women, who don’t think women should have autonomy over their bodies and reproductive capabilities, people who think it’s an alpha-male’s right to grab women by their genitals without their consent, vote into the highest office in the land (and then all the Congress, and eventually the Supreme Court) a monstrous manifestation of their worse impulses and instincts.

My Taiwanese boss told me that if he were American, he would vote for Trump. I told him voting for Trump was like voting for Hitler. I’m glad we got back on Wednesday night, not Tuesday night, because I teach him and my coworkers in an adult class on Wednesday mornings. I can’t imagine having to make myself available as the voice of America just as I was learning the bad news. Now at least I have a week to get over the initial shock that we’ve elected Pennywise to the presidency. If my shirt arrives, I’ll wear it to class.

Lots of people have threatened to leave the country if their candidate didn’t get elected. Lots of people who are afraid of a Trump presidency and a Republican government that was elected on a platform of hate, exclusion, white entitlement, and American special-snowflake syndrome are talking about finding safer places to raise their kids. That’s heartbreaking. Who can tell them to stay, it’ll be fine? Because we don’t know that it’s gonna be okay. We do know that just under 50% of the country doesn’t give a shit if we feel safe or not, though.

For me, leaving the country hasn’t meant leaving behind all these problems. If anything, I’m more engaged politically as the years go by, and social media makes it easy to stay informed and enmeshed. And the fact is, I love living in the U.S., especially as an adult. I love the seasons, the holidays, the open highways, ham salad, NPR in the car, god, the list is so long. I love travelling, too, though, and the life I have with my husband, but I want to retire in the U.S. in a house with a porch and a couple of dogs. I want my family and friends to be safe. I want my nieces and my friends’ sons and daughters to grow up in a world where women can be president of the United States, people of color are valued as 100% human, and being of a different religion doesn’t mean we can’t break bread together. Electing Trump on his amorphous platform of exclusion, entitlement, and exceptionalism is a giant step further away from the American ideals that we’ve never yet fully realized. This race wasn’t even about platforms, though–it was about personalities, and nearly half of American voters said that they wanted a geriatric frat-boy representative of the 1% to lead the country as Commander-in-Chief.

When we got back to our apartment, we watched CNN for a few hours. I physically can’t stand to look at Trump’s face or hear him speak, but we listened to Clinton’s concession speech, then Obama’s remarks. I vacillated between crying and shouting at the television, picking fights on Twitter. J and I talked about how we both felt numb with shock, deeply disappointed in our compatriots, and worried about the future.

Part of me wants to rush back to the U.S. and…what? Mourn, and then what? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Donate to charity? I don’t know what my going back would mean. I don’t know what my staying means, either.

If anyone wants information of teaching English in Taiwan, give me a shout…I don’t know what else to tell you.

Maybe next time I will stand up for myself by myself

So let’s flashback to when I was fresh out of college, a new teacher in Taiwan. I had just turned 23. My co-workers and I, we didn’t have an office: we all shared a giant table with cupboards underneath, so there was plenty of opportunities for everyone to interact. I worked with a woman who became my best friend, a couple of other people, and this older guy named — who was married and had a kid, male pattern baldness, and literal war stories.

This is what -- looked like when I met him in 2004. He looks older now.
This is what — looked like when I met him in 2004. He looks older now.

Here’s what I remember about –:

  • He asked me to do a recording session for an English test with him. I did it. In the car on the way home, the man driving asked him how long he’d been in Taiwan. He said, “Taiwan very good.” The man stopped talking to us. I’d been in Taiwan less than six months at that point and knew he didn’t have a clue what was being said.
  • He used to talk about being in the military and fighting in the Gulf War. But he always said that driving in Taiwan was more dangerous than being in the infantry.
  • When we all had an hour break between evening classes on Wednesdays for a spell, he invited us into an empty classroom each week to watch Northern Exposure. But then he started making us watch videos about government conspiracies, so we stopped going, which sucked, because Northern Exposure was good TV.

Anyway, I started working elsewhere after two years and did not keep in touch with –.

Jump ahead to just a few weeks ago when we end up at dinner with friends of friends and — is there. Quelle surprise! He’s looking a little more worn, a little more tired, but whatevs, it’s been like a DECADE. So I introduce him to my hubs and that’s it.

Now, I didn’t miss –, and the rest of the people at the table I either don’t know or don’t like, but we’re at like my favorite restaurant that we never go to because J doesn’t like it. Fine. I resolve to love the shit out of my bamboo pork. These people are not gonna take that away from me.

I overhear — telling somebody about being in the military and I think, man, those stories were already old when you were dropping them in 2004, but, bamboo pork. I don’t care.

Then comes the part where someone mentions that a foreigner they know is a “know-it-all”. This strikes me as funny because basically every person at that table falls into that category. (Note to self: do some soul-searching, cause you probably do this shit, too.)

So I say something: “Dude, every foreigner who’s been here like a year is a know-it-all.”

“Do you mean foreigners in general, or specifically people at this table?” queries –. I instantly regret making him think I want to talk to him, but J is on the job.

“No, not necessarily people at this table, but like anybody who’s been here for a while thinks they know all about Taiwan and Chinese culture and whatever,” says J.

“Well, really, that’s funny, because I seem to remember Rae talking a whole lot when I knew her before. It was like, jeez, you couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Isn’t that right, Rae?”

So all at once I’m feeling hot and embarrassed, and I can feel some anger in there somewhere, but it’s not gonna beat the apology out of my mouth, and I am already doubly pissed for apologizing to this guy…

“No,” says J in his nice, big boom.

“What?” says –.

“No. Whatever you just said, no.”

Granted, the rhetoric could be polished up a bit, but that’s how it went down. And — got the point, because now he turns back to me to say, “C’mon, Rae, don’t you remember? I know you’ve changed a lot…”

But something snapped in me when J interrupted him. It wasn’t only that J defended me, because that was cool, but when he did that, I realized I was defendable. That I wasn’t automatically wrong, that I didn’t have to apologize, that I could talk back to this guy. That my apology-reflex is on steroids, but I have other muscles to flex.

“I don’t know about that, but I seem to remember someone not letting us watch Northern Exposure until he proselytized us with government conspiracy theories,” I said.

Again, you know, with time, I could have scripted a wittier exchange, but this is how it went down.

The gall! Even if I did or do talk too much, coming from him, that’s a textbook example of the pot calling the kettle black. And then to observe me during a dinner where I was flanked and outnumbered by my enemies and had resigned myself to just enjoying my meal, and to deduce that I had “changed” in any way…and then to ask me to publicly disagree with my husband while he’s standing up for me was just so stupid.

We all were leaving anyway, so we left, and — shot us a few awkward, possibly conciliatory glances as he left, but we did not acknowledge him. But I got a taste of what it could be like if I don’t automatically cringe and say sorry every time someone drops a complaint at my door. And yeah, shriveled-up, bullshit, ten-year-old complaints are not being received here. Take that shit right to the trash.

Bye, –.

10 Things to Do in Zhongli, Taiwan

I first moved to Zhongli in 2004, and it would have been very cool of me to come up with this list when I arrived. Instead I waited so long that my beloved Zhongli (Chungli/Jungli/Jhongli) stopped being a city in Taoyuan County and was absorbed into the sprawl of Taoyuan City as a district.

At least now we mostly agree on the name.

Here are just a very few of my favorite things to see or do in our fair town:

  1. The River: If you’re so new to town that you don’t know about The River, then you should definitely go there first. You’ll meet the friends you need to help you complete your quest.
  2. Paris Bar: Met somebody special at The River? Invite them to a more private, romantic bar where you can impress them by buying NT$300 cocktails.
  3. Bowling: Every Wednesday at the lanes on Zhongmei Road, not too far from The River.
  4. Kickball: The first Sunday of every month on one of the fields at Yuan Ze University in Neili. (Be sure to connect with someone from the group before you go so you know where everyone will be.)
  5. The Yilan Beer Place: Tasty Taiwan brews on tap, including my favorite green spirulina beer. There’s also an extensive menu of pan-Asian bar food. Great place for a small party.
  6. Roasted Duck: If you’re trying to get this duck for a dinner party, make sure that three or four other people aren’t already doing the same thing.
  7. Daxi Old Street: Nifty little neighborhood just a short scooter drive away from downtown Zhongli. Famous for it’s delicious and cheap tofu.
  8. Xinming Night Market: Your one-stop shopping destination for your dinner, your clothes, your sex toys, your pet hamsters, your milk tea, your incense, your cellphone accessories, etc.
  9. Shrimp Fishing: One of the more unfamiliar things a Westerner can experience in Taiwan is fishing for super-sized shrimp in a big concrete pool in a building the size of an airplane hangar. Some people love it.
  10. Sanmin Bat Cave and Tuba Church: A lovely day trip into the mountains of Fuxing. Check out an old, tiny church in a nearby aboriginal village and quiet, beautiful “cave” and waterfall a little further down the way.

Kickball in Zhongli

amateur vagrant things to do in zhongi taiwan play kickball

On the first Sunday of every month, a group of people from Zhongli/Neili/Taoyuan get together to play kickball at Yuan Ze University in Neili.

The core group is made up of local foreign teachers, but many different people come every time. Anyone who wants to play kickball or just meet new friends is welcome.

You can get in touch with the group members via their Facebook page. They use the page to confirm the date, time, and which field they’re playing at every month.

I’m not super athletic, but I have fun when I go. And it’s nice to see everyone outside of the bar now and then. (And by “outside the bar”, I mean further away than the River patio.)

Amateur Vagrant Weekly Link Roundup Sep 30, 2016

I’ve started a bullet journal! While I loved the excuse, any excuse, to buy a new notebook and some colorful pens, I am not sure how this is different from any other notebook. But I’ll give it a sincere try through the end of the year, and continue in 2017 if it’s helping me be more productive.

I found this bullet-journaling blog called Tiny Ray of Sunshine, and it quickly became a new time suck for me.

This week, I read Beloved by Toni Morrison and This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two books couldn’t be more different, and reading them back to back like that is an excellent way to make obvious the stark difference between the lives of poor, black people and rich, white people in late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century America. I intentionally started This Side of Paradise after I finished Beloved because I needed a chance to recover emotionally. But black people in the United States don’t get to recover before the next murder by cop, do they?

We had two days off this week for Typhoon Megi. Last week, we had a four-day weekend for Moon Festival that was mostly rained out because of two other typhoons, Meranti and Malakas.  We usually don’t get hit very hard when there’s a typhoon, but high winds can still make it dangerous to go outside.

The thing is, for most of us, most of the time, typhoons are just really bad weather that might result in us getting a day off. So we make jokes about stocking up with ramen and vodka, and we laugh at this determined lady eating her pork bun even as she’s losing her umbrella to the wind. But some people die in nearly every typhoon, so we can’t joke too much.

Here’s another thing that’s not funny at all: restrictive abortion laws that make it practically impossible to get an abortion. Imagine working retail, feeling lucky to even have that job, then having to request three days off from your manager (and having to lie about it, because you don’t need to tell everyone you’re trying to have an abortion), having to figure out a way to get across state (even gas is expensive), finding someone else to take care of your kids while you’re gone, finding the money for a hotel for two nights since you have to wait 72 hours from the time of your first exam until you can actually have an abortion–and imagine these “small” hurdles being so impossible that you end up having another kid. That’s fucked up, man. Well, Lady Parts Justice League came up with this spoof of Beyonce’s  Formation to spread information about the bullshit that is Louisiana’s abortion laws and regulations. Please note the stodgy, white, rich, old, male lawmakers making laws that have nothing to do with them (but I bet if they knocked up a mistress, they’d find a way past their own laws real fast). Ew.

Prep yourself to handle the next troglodyte that wants you to answer for “black-on-black” crime every time they hear about an innocent black person being executed without a jury during a routine traffic stop with this informative post. It’s mostly tweets, so yes, you do have time to read it.

This has been a problem since Emancipation — a broad interest in policing black communities sitting next to an entrenched indifference in actually protecting them. “Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kinds of policing that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm,” Eric Monkkonen, the late UCLA professor, once wrote.

And look, here’s a whole syllabus for a Black Lives Matter course. Let’s get informed, one book, one story, one article, one video, one movie, one day at a time. I love a good syllabus.

At the moment, I am finishing up a Yale series on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. If you’re as ignorant as I was  a year ago, read the books, listen to the lectures, and watch Midnight in Paris. Or don’t, because I’ve been heartsick in love with the Roaring Twenties and the Lost Generation and the Jazz Age since then, like I was in love with NKOTB when I was in fourth grade.

And oh yeah, of course, there were some debates or something this week. The brilliant Alexandra Petri called them The Mainsplaining Olympics and I’m with her. Honestly, Clinton couldn’t have made Trump look any dumber: the man got up there and bragged about not paying any taxes. But nothing he says will deter his supporters from voting for him, and there’s just too many of them. I don’t want him to win, but maybe if he does, we’ll all have to recognize America for what it is: backwards, racist, misogynistic, pharisaical, prude, and hypocritical. I’m a teacher and if I had to write comments on the report card, they would be “America is not living up to her potential.”

But between global warming (it’s worse now than scientists realized or predicted) and Plato’s observation like 2500 years ago that democracies give birth to tyrannies, does any of this even matter?

Ah, but being so cynical is naive, too.

Winner of the “No shit!” Award is this little piece from The Washington Post on the effect class size has on student learning. Apparently some people, probably not teachers, think that class size doesn’t matter.  IT MATTERS. Especially as a language teacher–the more kids in the class, the less opportunity I have to interact with your kid. Give me eighteen students, one or two with legit behavioral problems, and my goal goes down to each kid speaking once per hour class.

Fun stuff:

  • Taiwan was voted the friendliest country for newcomers* (apparently they didn’t take the terrifying driving conditions into account here)
  • Did you know that Taiwan is the Butterfly Kingdom? I love butterflies! I now have like ten more places on my must-visit list
  • Bad Bitches in the Canon: What if Anaïs Nin and Flannery O’Connor had been friends?

    O’Connor had something Nin did not, besides success as a fiction writer. What Nin needed more than any night of boning Henry Miller was to hang out with a person who could laugh at her and with her, who wasn’t trying to sleep with her, who wasn’t using her for her husband’s money, who read her writing for what it was instead of what it wasn’t. What her writing is, for the record, is fucking brilliant.

*does not apply to people from Southeast Asia hired as laborers or domestic help here in Taiwan

The best reasons to live in Zhongli

View from our old apartment.
View from our old apartment.

Zhongli is not a very beautiful or famous city, though it’s certainly nicer now than it was when I got here in 2004. Now there are more parks, some nice walkways for morning walks, lots more restaurants, and two cultural centers.

None of that draws the big crowds, though.

This exciting typhoon season is what got me thinking about the really good reasons to live in Taiwan. My friends and family in the U.S. started messaging me frantically ahead of the recent super typhoon, Meranti. It was such a big storm that it was making headlines back home.

But any time a typhoon comes to Taiwan, Zhongli doesn’t get the worst of it. If you’re worried about typhoons, you’ll be much safer in Zhongli than you would be in the east or the south. The east and the south are more beautiful, though. Zhongli is in the northwest, which means it’s closer to the narrow China Strait than the wide-open Pacific Ocean, so we don’t get full-strength storms coming at us. And on the other side, Taiwan’s formidable mountains take a beating protecting us from the high-speed winds and torrential rains.

That’s not to say we never feel the impact of typhoons in Zhongli: We have lost running water before, and we could lose electricity.

Another big concern for people living in Taiwan, especially new foreigners, is the earthquakes. Taiwan has had terrible earthquakes. The worst one in recent memory was just last year during Chinese New Year. Hundreds of people in Tainan had to worry about where they and their kids were going to sleep on a day meant to be spent with family, celebrating hopes for a new beginning. Eighteen people lost their lives.

And in 1999, a massive 7.6 earthquake killed thousands of people in central Taiwan, in Nantou and Taichung.

We certainly feel earthquakes in Zhongli, but we don’t usually expect any serious damage. (I am furiously knocking on wood.)

Actually, now that I’ve looked at the fault-line maps, I might not want to get too cocky about the earthquakes. But trust me on the typhoons.

In addition to being a wee bit safer during typhoons and earthquakes, it’s also fairly easy to find jobs teaching English here. I know people in prettier places like Taipei, Taidong, Taichung, Tainan, Yilan, or Hualien have said it’s harder, anyway. My guess is that plenty of foreigners want to live in those lovely places, giving schools the upper hand when it comes to picking and paying teachers.

But not so many foreigners want to live in Zhongli. Zhongli doesn’t have the nightlife, the beautiful beaches and mountains, or the arts scene of any of those other places. It does have a good public transportation system, including easy access to the HSR, to get you to those other places, though.

Also there are lots of people here with more cosmopolitan (i.e. “in Taipei) ambitions who want to learn English or want their kids to learn English, and are making enough money to pay for it. That’s apparently not the case in Taidong (based on what some surfers/teachers told us).

So in Zhongli, you have a better situation for employment: fewer foreign teachers competing for jobs, and more students with more money to pay for English classes. That does give foreign teachers a better situation for negotiating salaries, etc., and if you’re reliable and professional, you might be able to get yourself a pretty good situation.

These are my three most practical reasons to live and teach in Zhongli: Weaker typhoons, probably weaker earthquakes, and better employment opportunities.