2017 New Year’s Resolutions

From my bullet journal:

Read 110 books
I read 100 books last year, so I don’t think this will be impossible. If you sign up for the Goodreads challenge, you get a handy little meter that tracks your progress and tells you when you’re ahead of or behind your goal. If you’re trying to read at least two books a week, this is invaluable. Also: short books are books, too!

Complete the Yale lecture series on The Novel: 1945-Now (read all the books and listen to all the lectures)
I followed the Yale lecture series on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner last year and it was really enriching. Definitely put me on track in terms of trying to read the “American canon”, whatever that might be. I mean, whatever it is, The Great Gatsby, something by Hemingway, and something by Faulkner are on it. I have high expectations for this series and the books I’ll be reading.

Complete the list of 100 things to do in Zhongli and all blog posts
Why? I don’t know. It’s fun for me, gets me engaged with what’s going on outside, and gives me something to say when partypoopers say Zhongli is boring. It’s not Tainan or Hualien or Taipei, but we have a good time.

Plank for two minute every day (even if it’s not continuous)
Um I am already failing this. It’s not too late to get back on track, though. Just I’ve been having these lower back pains…

Stick with yoga 2-3x a week; if class with Neil ends, enroll in a yoga gym
My buddy has been showing me some of the ashtanga yoga moves and we’ve been meeting up to go through Leslie Fightmaster’s 50-minute ashtanga yoga video three days a week. I am worried that taking Chinese class might make it easy for me to find excuses not to go, but so far, so good. It feels great and I know it’s good for me in terms of mindfulness, too. (That back pain tho…)

Keep hula hooping, even if it’s just five minutes a day
I wish I had some people to hula hoop with because having someone show me what they know would be so helpful, but until then me and my exercise hoop can spin around the living room in between classes. I’m not really committed to the every day thing, but I learned a lot last year just by hooping every couple of weeks, so I want it stay on the menu.

*Pay off all our student-loan debt
This would be so great, but unless we make it absolutely our number one priority, I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t want to teach more than I have to, but I want to the go to the U.S. to see my family this year. Also I want to take Chinese classes at the university, J has some trips in mind, and my scooter is possibly dead now, so I think the realistic thing is just to keep on paying and saving what we can.

Resume studying Chinese with a tutor or at the uni or a language exchange partner
So right before the end of 2016, like literally the last Friday of 2016, I enrolled in a Chinese class. So I have eight hours of Chinese every week now, and I am considering upping it to 12 or 15 hours a week next semester. I know that I always get excited at the beginning of new projects, but I am especially excited this time, and as long as the enthusiasm’s there, why not ride the wave? Also, tutoring is way boring in comparison, and I kinda sorta don’t love language exchanges as they usually end up being either free language lessons or you spend like two hours a week chilling with someone who isn’t actually your chosen friend when you don’t even have enough time for your real friends.

Get back on the Wahls Protocol diet-HFLC, organ meats, no dairy, limited alcohol, lots of fruits+veggies
So that probably isn’t exactly how Dr. Wahl would have described her diet, but that version of it was working really well for me and J in the beginning of this year. We both lost weight and every day it was like a competition of who felt better and had more energy. We rode that wagon until June, when we went to Thailand and Cambodia and decided nothing was off limits. Now we’re back to chasing that wagon as it rolls down the road. But now that holidays are over, we have no more excuses for making or eating hash brown casserole, and I feel like there’s a better chance we can stick to it.

Play the receipt lottery
So in Taiwan in order to encourage businesses to actually provide receipts (and thus keep their books in order and pay their taxes), the government came up with a plan to provide lottery numbers on every receipt. So every time you buy something, you get a lottery ticket. J and I have never really participated, but it seems like you can win a little bit of money quite often, and who are to throw money away? The Rockefellers? Maybe some of that can go towards our student loan payments or helping someone in need…

Give charitably every month
We haven’t figured out like life insurance or our retirement funds yet, but we have more than most people on this planet. I wish we were better stewards of it, to give ourselves a more secure base from which to help others…anyway, start small. Maybe sponsor a grandmother in Cambodia? Donate money to build toilets in India? You really gotta do your homework, too.

Re: writing = measure activity, not results
Yeah I am getting sick of myself talking about writing, too, except that I do write a lot, whether it’s this blog, short stories, memoir, or in my diary. I beat myself up regularly for not finishing more things, for not submitting anything, for never really being published, but all I need to do is write, and anything that gets in the way of that, including self-flagellation, has to go.

Write for myself every day
For me, this kind of means journaling, but also not wondering what anyone else thinks about what I am writing. I mean, blogging, obviously, somebody might be reading it, and I’d like reading it to be a good experience, otherwise I am an asshole/sadist, but anything else, man, worrying about what people think before I’ve even started writing is creative suicide.

Make writing a priority: first thing every morning
Okay, so, no, ten days into January, still not good at this. I am still figuring out how to make time for Chinese class and Chinese homework, so I am not going to beat myself up. However! I know that I am quick to discover things that will distract me from all the complicated feelings I have about writing/not-writing or will substitute for the sense of accomplishment I get from writing, so no excuses: writing has to come before anything else.

Say yes more often!
If it’s not obvious to you, I am generally anxious and always worried about the consequences of my actions, which makes for a very boring day/year/life when you look back on it. I hemmed and hawed about taking Chinese classes for like a year, but so far, I am so glad I just made the impulsive decision to sign up. What else has this year got in store for me?

 

Surfing

I’ve mentioned before that learning to surf is the number one item on my bucket list. It’s been on the list for years, and really there haven’t been any huge hurdles in front of me, but arranging the lesson, transportation, and lodging, and the risk of looking stupid in front of people who know what they’re doing always left me on the shore chasing my tail. But all that is why J is the best partner for me: I told him I wanted to surf, he booked a room at a hostel where surfing lessons are offered, and he got up with me to take my first lesson.

It wasn’t anything like I expected. I knew better than to think I’d be able to stand up on the board on the first day, but I hadn’t really contemplated what falling off would be like, or getting knocked off and tumbled by a wall of water as big and unforgiving as an SUV.

I had worried a lot about the mechanics of standing up and balancing on the board, but I had never thought about how much hard work it is to just get out past the break, something I never do even without trying to ride and steer a heavy piece of foam longer than I am tall. I’m not much of a swimmer and ten push-ups is still a struggle for me, so the paddling was tough. Paddling and getting rolled and finding myself back on shore time after time was enough tougher. I’d always thought surfers looked really graceful, but I looked and felt like a cat in a bathtub.

learning to surf in Dulan, Taiwan
I looked like a sea witch most of the time. I got knocked around so much, my hair tie was pulled out and swallowed by the ocean. This picture was taken after 90 minutes of trying to catch a wave, so the board was lying somewhere else on the shore while I took a break.

After a few unintentional underwater acrobatics, I started to ask myself the big existential questions: Why do we surf? What’s the point of surfing? How do people surf? What happens when we die surfing? Are there sharks nearby? I experienced the futility of cursing at the ocean as I watched the wave the was going to knock me over and somersault me four times rising big and irrefutable in front of me. There’s actually something magical in being able to see even just a little bit into the future: I am going to lose my grip on the board, touch the ocean floor with my toes, and inhale and swallow just a ton of seawater, but I am probably not going to drown.

What an obvious metaphor for life.

But I wanted it, I want something that can’t be dodged by filling out the right paperwork or having an IRA, I want to fight, I want use my body and my brain to figure something out. The ocean doesn’t make it easy to learn to surf or swim, it just gives you opportunities over and over again. But you can learn, even as the tide is coming in or going out and every single wave is different.

I’m really interested in the idea of flow, which is an idea that productive people and people who like to read self-help books will know by name. Basically, you have to get yourself in the zone where your skills are up to the challenge you’re facing, but you have to be full engaged to succeed. It comes from the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Basically, I think the biggest hurdle right now is that I can’t experience flow at this level: there isn’t a level between getting knocked on your ass repeatedly and being able to get past the break with some dignity, you just have to keep fighting and struggling until it clicks. Then you learn how to paddle more effectively, you get stronger, you learn how to get past each wave as it comes, you learn how to sit on your board and wait for a wave worth riding to come up. Then once you put yourself in a place to take advantage of those opportunities, you have to get a lot of waves, and mess up on a lot of waves, before you learn when to pop up, and how to stand. And even then, you’re just cruising back to the shore before you really learn how to carve a wave, or whatever. I’m not an expert.

surfboard as an accessory
Carrying a surfboard like a giant, unwieldy accessory. This is actually right after I thought I was going to crash into some rocks and die like I’ve seen in movies, and J was taking pictures of my big day of learning to surf because he didn’t know, and I was actually really worked up because I am a big baby.

Everyone I met in Dulan was so casual about learning how to surf because it’s such a regular and important part of their lives. They’d invite us to join, to watch, to go in the morning, to go in the afternoon, tell me I could surf on the west coast of Taiwan, or that I could move to Hualien and surf there, and they’d talk to me like I was the kind of person who could just decide to surf one day, and I almost felt like I could be, one day, even though I am 33 and an English teacher who can’t do a pull-up.

I loved hearing them talk to each other, but they were always noticing that there were better waves further down the shore, at another beach, yesterday morning, the one they just let go. Just like we had a great time, but we missed the big nights, the ones when everyone stayed up until dawn, and there would be a party the day we left, but we’d miss it by a couple of hours because we had to get on the road. That’s how it goes, there’s the good stuff, but you miss the better stuff, you fall down, you choke, you get up and keep moving, trying to keep your head above water as you paddle past the break. You put yourself in the right situation and–sometimes–inspiration comes, the right wave comes, the right people come, the universe provides whatever it is that you needed, but only if you’re ready and waiting. That’s life.

I’m way out of my element writing about this, just a noob who spent a few hours over a few days in the water with a big, cheap foam board. But it’s amazing to have a dream, to have a goal for ten or fifteen years, so that just having this almost-secret little fantasy makes you feel good, and then to get out there and actually experience it. I didn’t learn to surf, but I learned what it would take, and I learned that I could do it with time and practice, that I just have to put myself in the right context.

The 環島: Driving around Taiwan on scooters

The 環島/huándǎo is the trip around Taiwan that loads of people make every year: expats, students, families, and soul-searchers. You can drive a car, ride scooters, ride a bike, or even walk, as we saw one man doing.

A man walking around Taiwan.
When we stopped to ask him, this man said he was three months into a six-month walk around the island. The banner on his back says,”Wǒ zài huándǎo,” “I’m going around the island.”

I know a (much younger) guy who on a whim took two weeks of his summer holiday to bike around the island. It all depends on how badass you are. You kind of have to go out of your way to make it difficult since Taiwan isn’t very big and it’s probably the most convenient place on earth. There are 7-11s, coffee shops, and guesthouses everywhere. Only once were we worried about getting gas, but then we got gas. No big deal.

If you know me, you probably know that I drove “around the island” by myself during the summer of 2008 because it’s one of the few things I think I can brag about. I took just three days to go west from 中壢/Chungli/Zhongli, then up and along the northern coast, down the breathtakingly beautiful east coast, and started back up to Kaohsiung, where I surrendered because I cannot read maps, my butt hurt, and I wanted to make it back in time for French class that Friday. I put my scooter on the train and I took the high-speed rail home, sitting on each butt cheek in shifts.

Granted, I didn’t see much, but riding 70 km/h for hours and hours along an incredibly beautiful highway with the blue, blue ocean almost constantly in sight is not an experience that should be underestimated. It was amazing. I took that trip after a particularly tough breakup: I learned how to be alone, I learned that I could rely on myself (except when it comes to reading maps), and I did something not a few people told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t do. It was my own quick gloss of Eat, Pray, Love.

J being the extremely enthusiastic man that he is, we decided to take our time, stopping at major cities around the island for a couple of nights consecutively so we could explore. We took three weeks to go around the whole island during the height of summer, which turned out to be hours and hours of driving in humid, tropical heat that reflected off black asphalt and burnt our legs and arms pink.

me on my scooter
I think this is in Taroko Gorge or thereabouts. Anyway, it was hot.

The first day, I was dressed entirely wrong. I had on my denim shorts, a tank top, and a crop top over that, which only meant that my thighs and arms were getting mercilessly pummeled by the sun. I thought slipping on my lightweight cargo pants and a very lightweight nylon jacket would help because the extra layers would protect my skin, but they only made me so hot that I was incredibly irritable whenever we stopped so J could take a picture, which was every.fucking.where. Dude got a new camera right before we left, specifically for this trip, and he wanted to record every gorgeous thing he saw. Taiwan is an incredibly gorgeous place, so you do the math. He took like 2000 pictures, no joke.

After a few days, I had a system of covering up my legs with a sarong tied at my waist and wearing the light jacket over only a tank top, and quickly shedding that outer layer as soon as we stopped before the humidity made me want to rip off all my clothes and run naked into the ocean. Even still, I resented every second that I had to wait for J to finish a cigarette or quadruple-check the map once I had already put my full-face helmet on. It was temper-tantrum hot, every day.

me at Yushan National Park
This is me in my driving outfit, sans helmet. It was so hot I actually wanted to cover up instead of strip down.

Then when we got back on the scooters, I’d fall in line behind J because he’d plotted our route and looked at the map, but then I would get pissed if he drove too fast, or too slow, or missed a turn, or stopped to look at the GPS, or asked me if I’d bothered to look at any of the road signs we’d passed. I hadn’t. I looked at nothing except his back for hours and hours every day, it felt like. Sometimes, I’d realize that I wasn’t even breathing, and I’d remind myself to breathe, until I started to wonder if my body was no longer really doing that automatically, then I’d panic and concentrate on my breathing until I forgot about it again.

For hours every day, we sat in shallow swamps of our own sweat. For relief, I’d drive with my right hand and bundle the sarong into the jacket, then stand up and lean over like a jockey on a racehorse and let the wind flow between my legs and dry the sweat off my seat. When the sweat dried, then the skin of my thighs stuck to the plastic seat like masking tape and hurt just as much to pull off. We got heat rash on our butts and we both smelled like gym bags left in a hot car at the end of every day.

We drove so much that it was almost like I couldn’t hear the engine of my scooter anymore. Also, because we drove separately, I had hours to myself to think about important things, like the lyrics to The Impression That I Get, that alliterative line up there about butt sweat, and what kind of cancer I’ll eventually die from. Evidently, this trip was a good time for me to start smoking again, so with that and the regular sunburn, just about any cancer is on the table right now.

But, despite all that, this trip was the adventure of a lifetime. It was the first time J and I got to go to the beach together, it was our first long vacation together, and I love rediscovering the island with him, and falling in love with him and this place all over again. Traveling can really make or break any relationship because you’re out of your element and you can’t fall back on roles that might only make sense in certain contexts. You have to figure out how to relate to each other differently, and find out if you can depend on each other in times of stress and uncertainty. I definitely learned that it would be to my benefit to give a shit when he takes three months to plan out everything he wants to do for a three-week vacation instead of making suggestions and complaining when we’re actually on the road.

Anyway, this was just about the drive itself, which was beautiful and grueling like the best things in life, so there are more posts to come. Let me know if you’ve gone around the island or do any epic scooter trips.

Mid Atlantic Savage Race 2013

Me climbing the Colossus wall
Me climbing the Colossus wall

My brother paid nearly $200 for two entrance fees to the Mid Atlantic Savage Race. I drove four hours from my home in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to a game farm way far across the Chesapeake Bay. He drive three a half hours up from Virginia Beach. We had to sign waivers absolving the race from responsibility for anything–from the possible toxicity of the muddy pond water we would inadvertently drink to the potentially lethal nature of some of the obstacles. I drank $15 worth of sports drinks before and after the race, paid for two tanks of gas, and got a sunburn. In exchange, we got t-shirts, a free Coors Light, and a shitty medal.

Was it worth it?

I’m cringing as I say it, but yes.

For the first time since I don’t remember when, I threw myself into playing, running, climbing, getting wet and dirty, and having a good time–and all while sober. It’s a little sad, really, that we had to pay $90 a ticket (and that was the early registration price) for someone to give us permission to jump in puddles, slide on our asses down mudslides, wade through pond scum, scale walls, jump 30 feet into a pool of dirty water, and slide down a water slide that would have launched a small child into orbit. That kind of behavior would be frowned upon if we hadn’t paid money to participate in an organized event.

The price tag was my biggest hang up: I just imagined the race organizers sitting at home, surrounded by stacks of $20-bills and legal agreements. But by the time I finished the race, I wasn’t really worried about having been taken advantage of as much as how sad it was that so many of us were so happy to pay money to be allowed to play in the mud.

At the end, I was sunburned, bruised, covered in a thick layer of sticky, sticky mud, exhausted, and a little dehydrated. I’d inhaled mud and dirt, fallen on my ass, fallen on my knees, and crashed boobs-first into walls I couldn’t climb. But I felt so alive, so strong, and so human using my God-given body to run, climb, jump, slide, and swim.

Keili and Brice at the Mid Atlantic Savage Race 2013
My brother and I

What made it even better was running along my baby brother. I didn’t want to ruin the moment with idle sentimentalities, but I had flashbacks of giving him piggyback rides when I was twelve years old and he was three, when I was the one who had to watch out for him. Twenty years later, he’s a  6’3″ sailor, an IT nerd with bulging biceps, expensive tastes, and a badass girlfriend. Where does the time go? He hoisted me over walls, pulled me up hills, encouraged me to keep up the pace, and, on the count of three, slid down the water slide of death with me.

It was a huge indulgence in terms of time, money, and effort, but I’ve paid as much for a mud spa treatment before. After the spa, though, you only feel like a pretty princess, and this left me feeling like a badass. Maybe next year I’ll get a Groupon or something and get over my scruples.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever done an obstacle course race/mud run, or if you want to!

The Savage Race finish line
At the finish line

I’m mostly cleansed

Keili eating hot pot at Mala Tang in Arlington
Me in my natural state: eating hot pot

Well, I got to Day 8 of my ten-day Master Cleanse, threw a major temper tantrum, and made myself a bowl of noodles.

I was impressed that I stuck to it so long, but disappointed that I didn’t quite finish. But then, it just got weird telling close friends that I hadn’t eaten solid food in a week, and even weirder telling myself that I didn’t need to eat, that I just needed to go a few days longer. I could lose a few pounds for health and happiness, sure, but I don’t have low self-esteem.

Continue reading “I’m mostly cleansed”

Bucket list: Master Cleanse

lemonade for a master cleanse
When life hands you thirty pounds, make lemonade! Photo by Kim Tan.

I’m on Day 5 of a 10-Day Master Cleanse. I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far not only because I I don’t have a history of success in terms of sticking to the plan, but also because

  • my other website is a food website;
  • I like lots of food blogs on Facebook and they are always posting the most wonderful pictures of their creations;
  • I started reading Julia Childs’ biography Life in France this week, and she is especially good at describing what she is eating;
  • my husband is still eating, and without my interference, he is eating all the most delicious carbs in the pantry;
  • every commercial on television is food-related; and
  • cooking is one of my favorite things to do and normally takes up a lot of my time every day.

Continue reading “Bucket list: Master Cleanse”