Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Black Friday: Part One

The second Friday of the year began like any other. Frank came in to awaken me for the day and I grumbled in protest. Shoved in the direction of the bathroom, I showered and then headed for the kitchen table. You see, I’m one of those fortunate girls to have the kind of guy that movies are made about: the overly sweet, intelligent, handsome man who would do anything for his woman. That’s my Frank and I’m the lucky girl. This morning began like all of the other blessed mornings I have. My piping cup of Stumptown coffee was waiting for me, freshly poured into my favorite mug. My mug was purchased several years ago in a ghost town named Terlingua in Big Bend. It’s a beautiful, hand crafted mug with an image of two faces peering at each other. I love this mug! It’s huge, so without guilt it is filled to the brim and I miraculously consume the equivalent of three cups of coffee in one gigantic mug!
Well, like I said, this morning began like any other. I finally found my way to the couch, freshly showered and a cup of coffee was placed into my eager hands. I opened my book and began to read. The coffee this morning was especially delicious. I became lost in my morning routine and a newly acquired vampire teeny bopper novel. That is until I heard a crash and felt the piping hot liquid scalding my bare legs. I had become so caught up in my book that I missed the coffee table and my favorite cup, coffee and all went crashing to the floor. The granite floor I thought was so awesome when we moved in wasn’t forgiving at all. The last cup of coffee was all over the floor and my favorite cup-shattered. Grrr. . . .

Sunday, August 22, 2010

As the sun goes down each night, we are often treated to loud sounds of explosion. Our apartment has windows on both the north and south faces of the building. So, as the sounds begin I dash towards one side of the window trying (usually in vain) to get to the window in time to see a brief fireworks display. I'm not sure as to the reason for the display but each night brings some beauty to the sky in quick sessions. As if competing for the nightly display, a few moments later a separate mini-display will start somewhere else around town. Who knows why, but I enjoy dashing to the balcony in an attempt to see the lights.

Ice Cream Truck Trash Man

The sound of the ice-cream truck reminds me of little kids running with joy during hot summer days. The jingle can be heard well before the truck arrives and serves as a way to bring the neighborhood together. In Taichung, the truck with the bells that brings people running from all over does not deliver ice cream. It picks up trash. Each evening, the trash comes to collect household rubbish, which can be food waste (I don’t want to call it compost because there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what can be put in this container. I guess if it has or could end up associated with something remotely linked with food it becomes food waste), non recyclables or recyclables. A lot is recycled from our apartment (Styrofoam, batteries, and the usual paper and plastic.) From our balcony we look down and watch people run across the street, bags of trash in hand to the tune of the trash man.

Monday, August 16, 2010


With Audrey in quarantine, I have found myself quite lonely. Sure I have Frank, but it simply isn’t the same. Frank doesn’t wag his butt profusely when I get home and now that we work together, rarely am I greeted by the super sloppy wet kisses that Audrey is so well known for. Needless to say, I feel as is something is lacking in my life. My sweet, adorable, overly zealous little pooch is still locked up tight and I am missing her company. In bounds Squeakers! A few days ago this scrawny dog exited our apartment building with her owner. The owner jumped on his scooter and drove away. Squeakers followed for a while and then tucked its tail and slowly walked towards us. Most dogs ignore us, or try to bite us so I wasn’t super excited when she came our way. I said, “hello,” and was greeted by a super high pitched squeaking sound.

She walked over to my school bag, which always is appropriately stocked with dog cookies, and proceeded to roll all over it. I figured I knew what she wanted. I reached in and grabbed a cookie. Squeakers took it delicately out of my hand (thank goodness, I was worried I would lose a few fingers), promptly dropped in on the ground, ran over to me and started jumping up and down squeaking. I petted her until our ride came. She looked at us as we got into the car and drove away. Then, she picked up her cookie and trotted off.

Squeakers without a doubt, is one of the funniest looking dogs I’ve ever seen. She’s a medium sized dog but quite scrawny. Living in the hot, humid Taiwan weather, her owners thought it appropriate to shave the poor little thing. She is completely shaved with the exception of one tuft of hair on her tail—it resembles something close to a paint brush. The hair cut sadly makes her look as if she has some weird disease. Squeaker’s ears point straight up giving her a comical expression. One ear is normal but the other one is missing the tip as if someone came along with scissors and cut it off.

Now as Frank and I walk through our neighborhood, we always look for Squeakers. If she is out prowling, she runs to us squeaking and begging for attention. She’s no Audrey, but she’s definitely helping the weeks go by until our little pooch is back with us.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

First Week of School

Like the firing of the gun at the Olympic 100m race, the beginning of the school year starts quickly. Ready or not, here they come. On Wednesday, our school year began. Nine days in a new country and school is simply not enough time to prepare for a year when teaching new classes and attempting to anticipate the interests of students. But, off we went and the first week was a good one. Krista and I are sharing many students and she teaches 6th and 7th grade Language Arts and I teach 6, 7 and 8th grade Science along with 6th grade math. Class sizes are small – ranging from nine to 15 students. I almost know all of the middle school students after the first week. The overwhelming majority of students in our classes are Taiwanese and speak remarkably good English as well as their native language, Mandarin Chinese. The possibilities for these students are amazing as they master two of the most used languages in the world.

Other than school, we have not had the opportunity to do much this week. Each morning, we walk down the street a few blocks to a small place that provides breakfast food. It’s a street food drive through that is constantly busy with people stopping on their way to work or school. The people who work there are nice and welcome us with large smiles each day and provide us with different breakfast choices. They want us to try everything!
In the evening, we return to the streets in search of food. Sure, we could go to the grocery stores and buy food to cook (we’ve actually done this once) but the available street food is quite good. We have visited a different place each day ranging from buffets, to “a choose your food and they cook it there”, to sitting down at a small table and laughing with the owners until they bring us something delicious to eat. One owner and his wife want us to learn Chinese and made us practice the names of the dishes before serving to us. Then, there is the tasty tropical fruit sold at multiple stands throughout the neighborhood. Pineapples, mangoes, bananas, kiwis... It has been quite nice to get fresh fruit on each outing into our community.

Audrey is doing well. Unfortunately, the quarantine location is on the opposite side of town so a few days a week we get a taxi for the cross-town trip. She is quickly putting on weight and has a different look about her. The trim physique earned through hours of swimming has morphed into the bulges of a couch potato in two weeks of limited activity and extra food. I guess that’s a warning to us all on the dangers of staying locked in a small area, eating too much and not exercising. The people who run the quarantine are nice and let us visit her after the posted visiting hours are over. Two more weeks are left and I’m sure she will come out a little confused but OK. She seems resigned to kennel life and doesn’t dash for the exit as we return from the small, concrete dog run. She is always excited to see us and will be ecstatic once we jail break her from there.
Friday ended with a special treat – our ARC cards have arrived. This opens our doors to transportation and communication. At the same time, we hope to begin bike commuting to school. Last week we went to the Giant (bike brand not monster) store to purchase bikes. Giant is manufactured in Taichung so I had hoped for a better deal than what we got but bikes are on the way. Bikes are made a bit on the smaller size for the locals so larger bikes need to be brought in for us.

I guess that does it for the moment. Thanks for the kind words and thoughts as we continue to transition to life in Taiwan. It’s amazing to think that we have only been here for 12 days.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Our ability to get truly settled into life in Taichung is pegged to the lack of this card. The ARC, or alien resident card, is what we need for many things but do not have. Prior to leaving for Taiwan, we bought a car from a teaching couple that was leaving. Can we drive it? Nope, no ARC. It sure would be nice to have a phone to call people around town. Is it possible? Nope, no ARC. Internet? Don’t even think about trying to get service without an ARC. Scooter, it looks so much fun seeing people zip around town on brightly colored two-wheeled machines. Don’t get excited about driving one if you don’t have an ARC.

Our passports were whisked off a few days ago with the promise of returning attached to an ARC. One week, two weeks, who knows but the sooner the better!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

New photos

Click here

Water (8.4.10)

Life on the 8th floor of an apartment building provides great views of the city. In this northern part of Taichung, most buildings are shorter than ours so between the north and south windows I see much of the city. On top of buildings, stainless steel vessels gleam like rockets polished for takeoff. These shining pots contain water. Reportedly, the source of water for Taichung is pure though somewhere along the pipe to where it flows into my glass it becomes questionable. Is it that the polished stainless steel covers a dark and contaminated inner shell? Or are the pipes laced with a visit to the infirmary. Maybe I'll find out but in the meantime, we are boiling a lot of water before drinking and hoping small doses of the contaminants will toughen up our tolerance.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Address Change

For the hordes out there interested in sending care packages, letters or other forms of love, we are going to be using the school's address instead of our home.

Please use:

American School in Taichung
c/o Frank (and/or) Krista McGowan
21-1 Chu Yuan Lane, Pei-Tun
Taichung, Taiwan 40661

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Four years ago, I became a Peace Corps volunteer and traveled from the Guinean capitol of Conakry to my village of Wonkifong. My house had been built by Canadians working on a long finished project and had been vacated for who knows how long. I was the first PC Volunteer to Wonkifong so it was sparcely furnished - a bed, a table and a few chairs.

This time, the stars aligned themselves and Krista and I entered an apartment vacated by teachers who have moved on. They were quite kind, leaving furniture, kitchen items, place settings and other items (key among these is a french press for Krista as ours broke somewhere in security - the x-ray people were a bit worried with all the shards of glass she was packing).

So, where are we / how are we living? At first glance, Taichung is bigger than I expected though relatively calm. We live in the north/northwestern part of town near the forested hills. Our apartment is spacious - three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen area and a living space. Several of the rooms have window AC units, which have been greatly appreciated as we adjust to the tropical environment. Our kitchen contains a stove top but no oven - apparently ovens are not a common appliance. The heights are interesting with counter tops being too low for me whereas cabinets are almost too high. Maybe the low set sink is my path out of dish duty...


Monday, August 2, 2010

In Taiwan!

How often does a plane arrive early? Our long 13 hour flight to Taipei wound up being only 12 and we safely arrived. It seems as if tomorrow allows for no time to slowly adjust to the time, culture, weather, the fact that the currency is such that we have to carry a wad of cash and deal in the thousands, etc. Off and running!

Our address is:
8F, No. 505 Jyunhe St
Beitun District
Taichung Taiwan 406


A Strange Smell (7.29.10)

The Redwoods are majestic. These tireless sentinels watch the Pacific Northwest Coast for hundreds of years at a time. What would be the catalog of sites from a Redwoods grove? We woke on our second day of travel from Portland to San Francisco and continued south along the Redwoods Highway. The air was cool and fog blanketed much of the area though it shifted in a way that hinted of a beautiful day to come. We were in search of Gold's Beach and the hopes of arriving early enough to find a campsite.

The road narrowed and the dense fog limited visibility in all directions, making us feel as if the only ones moving this morning. It was a moment of tranquility, a time to relax into thoughts when the hint of a powerful smell reached my nostrills.

"Do you smell something?" I aked Krista. Of course she did. Her sense of smell is so much more sensitive than mine.

"Yuck, it's like something died. Where is it coming from?"

We rolled down the windows. The smell intensified. Heads out the window, we realized that this smell was internal. "What could it be?"


We pulled over at the next shoulder to see Audrey staring out from her travel kennel, covered in poop. She has to be in the kennel because of space and the upcoming plane trip but this was gross. The walls, her blanket, the top of her head and everything in between was covered. The smell was almost overpowering. What to do? Her eyes begged for some immediate action but that was not possible. There was no water around. The door slowly closed as she likely cursed me for not rescuing. We hopped back into the car, rolled down all the windows and raced towards the closest campground. The beauty of the Redwoods Highway was now a thought of the past as the crisis set in.

Reaching Elk Prairie campgrounds, we found a water nozzle with enough pressure and set to washing Audrey, the kennel and a few bags unlucky enough to be near the kennel windows. Unfortunately, Audrey was sick. A 3:00 am jaunt that morning likely led to a smells-so-good-that-I'm-gonna-eat-it delicacy. As she commenced vomiting we snagged a remaining camp site, called it a recovery day, and hope to see Elk.