Friday, January 27, 2012

Our Time

What lightning speeds and lofty achievements
For a people, hurtling forward through time and space –
In great leaps bounding, destined onward,
Weights dragging regardless.
This is our generation.
But my face is pressed against the glass,
Pictured in my mind what people I could see;
As sure as North is divided from South,
Where warmth in light and hearts glow separately
A bustling city juxtaposed with green space.
The sorrows of each soul pulled in
To find a fleeting solace in lost childhood.
Who are they? Their faces
Closed to the pain of this world
Overlooking that which lies in the soul
Rushing on, oblivious.

Where is this place? Both worlds

Call to me, though as yet I sit
As witness to foreign affairs – in the midst,
But unmixing. Time accelerates, soon lost forever.
This is our motherland.
Though this transitory passing
The beauty and the mystery
Of what has gone before
Pulling, tugging, pleading
Leaving tokens of our love, be conditioned as it may
Taking with us some bright expression of hope for what’s to come
That our journey will take us here
Once more.
Each instant, for every grain
Add one shining pearl to the strand;
For this,
This is our time.

There's a light that shines when I'm on the road

Currently listening: 53 steps

Last weekend I went up to Taipei to spend the lunar new year with my relatives. I realized a little too late that I had planned more time with them than they were able to spend with me, so I psyched myself up for doing some explorations on my own. I ended up going on quite an endeavor hunting for a new journal, as the one I've been using is running out of pages. Eventually, using my MRT savvy and some helpful maps along the way, I finally found a place that was open that had a whole floor of stationary goods. I still haven't outgrown my love for stationary -- it was a good place to spend an afternoon.
After days of searching, the next perfect journal is procured at last! (Look closely -- what island is in the middle? :D)
Our CNY meal was held over lunch time on CNY Eve with all of my mom's side of the family that could make it. Having it at a restaurant buffet with a time limit took away some of the warmth and the tradition, but it was still good to spend time with my relatives again, especially my cousins.

I also went a couple times to my uncle's house to visit my grandma. It's hard to believe sometimes that she's my last remaining grandparent... it's good to see her walking around now (the was a point where she wasn't able to) and especially good to see her smile. I believe it when my relatives tell me how happy she is when she sees her children and grandchildren all together.

I took a day trip with some new-found friends to Wulai, a mountainous area outside Taipei city and home of the Atayal aboriginal tribe. It was a fun day filled with specialty foods, hot springs, and fun conversation. Note to self: when soaking in hot springs, be sure to drink plenty of water! I got a little dehydrated from all the heat...

Roast pig, anyone?

Cherry blossoms!

I relented on my usual pork-abstinence for these yummy sausages :)
It was a fun day, despite the angry headache I got from the dehydration. I felt right at home with my new friends who either grew up in the States/Canada or spent a good chunk of their lives over there. I guess it just shows how like will always gravitate towards like. But that's why we call them "homies."

A little bit blurry :(
Happy year of the Dragon! I am excited for what this year will bring -- I have a feeling deep in my bones that it's going to be EPIC.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This is a day worth writing

 Jan 17, 2012
I don't write much about teaching, although that is the main reason why I came over here. I think it is because it's my first year, and most of the time I feel like I am still figuring out what in the world I am doing. But yesterday was a good day. It is a day worth writing about.

I woke up in the morning thinking, "Today I get to meet my new choir!" with some excitement and some trepidation. This week is the official start of our new semester, and with the way middle school choir is set up, choir changes with the semester. When I looked at the sign-up sheet, I was shocked to see that there were 23 students enrolled (double the amount of first semester) -- and half of them boys. Knowing the requirement for music, I had my suspicions that they probably all didn't want to be there. But I had a plan! I was ready for them.

Checking my email, I found a few "lesson plans" from my mentor teacher for her classes that day. Suddenly I remembered that she had asked me to sub, and I had neglected to write it down! Fortunately, I had adequate time to hurry to school and prepare for the extra lessons.

I am thankful for the chance to sub for my mentor teacher. She teaches the younger grades and I've had a sneaking suspicion that my forte is with this age group, instead of upper elementary-middle school. It is still hard for me sometimes to "feel it" in the classroom as I'm teaching with my 4th and 5th graders, but with the few times I've subbed for the younger grades, it comes so much more naturally. It's a good feeling.

Last week I had a talent show with my 5th grader to wrap up the semester. They loved it so much that we didn't have enough time to fit everyone in, so we continued the next class period. A lot of my students have quite some talent (I had an er-hu, a pipa, an ocarina, along with the standard violin and piano), and the last act with the smallest boy student's skills on the violin was a big hit. Some students had chosen to sing a few pop songs, so I took the opportunity to talk about the "appropriateness" of songs and why it is important to make good choices with our music (although I lightly screened their choices, there was some debate amongst the class about some aspects). I was impressed by several of my students with their answers about why we should be discerning in what we listen to. It was definitely a teachable moment and I was glad to jump at the chance.

On a tangent about my 5th grade class...I like my 5th graders. They are amusing, sweet, and a little more mature than the 4th graders. Most of the attitude problems have been corrected, but there is one boy that I've continually had barriers in trying to reach. There is a cold, hard shell around him and he seems constantly angry or brooding over something. I realized today on my way home that it is very likely something is going on at home that I don't know about. Taiwanese marriages these days hold very little to the ideal of the family, putting careers and money in front, and often the fathers are either physically or emotionally absent from the home. That would explain a lot. From now on, I will see this student from a different perspective.

Choir. The 9th grade girls walked in announcing, "Your choir students are here!" Turned out that 1/3 of them were missing, on a field trip, but our first day of introductions went well. The older kids actually want to be there and I am hoping they will be good role models for the younger ones. I can already tell that they will help me to work harder as a teacher because I know if I don't own what I teach, they will see right through me. Time to start reading my choir book like it's the Bible! (and pray a lot :D)

This semester, 3 students signed up for the elementary "Advanced Strings" class. I was hoping that I could play the cello with them and form a nice quartet, but the level of one of the new students was lower than I thought it would be. I was encouraged by the other two students, though. They started to make suggestions on how to help their classmate and make it easier for her. One of them (3rd grade) came up and looked at the music I had picked out and told me that we should give her the bass part -- which actually was not a bad idea. I transposed it right after school and felt good about it.

2nd semester is going to be so much better than the first.

-for a fiance who prays for me and encourages me
-for second chances
-for good students, and challenging ones
-that I've past the halfway point
-that His mercies are new every morning!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

In the mist

Photo taken by friend/co-worker Ashleigh, overlooking pineapple fields
This morning I went on a breakfast run with a friend--we went for traditional Taiwanese style, which I always love. Taiwanese breakfasts are my favorite, in spite of the high amount of calories and fat that are involved. As I scootered back home from our little adventure, I drove slowly and turned my head to watch the scenery evolve beside me. Things have changed by the side of the road that I hadn't noticed before. A building demolished, a house rebuilt, a new clearing by the fruit field framed by wooden posts, a proud lone tree standing tall in the midst. The dissipating fog from the morning tinged golden as the sun marched to his midday peak. "This place is truly beautiful," the first time I had such a thought with the same scenery I'd driven by for so many months.

One of my goals this year is to blog at least once a week, which may or may not be dangerous given that I may or may not actually feel like blogging at a given time. But I made it a goal because I thought, surely I should be aware enough of the wonder of life around me that there should be something to write about at least every seven days. So I will give it a try.

Since the end of Christmas break the days have gone by slowly, especially as I find myself with less to do. I am always the "do"-ing type...I have a need to feel useful or accomplished in any small shape or form at any given time. God is slowly honing in on me that it isn't always about doing. So in the quiet, by-myself moments, I find that if I listen closely I can hear Him stirring in the recesses of my heart, gently drawing me into His mysterious beauty -- Who are You, God? "Know Me," He whispers.

Part of the Bible study we are going through this week talks about the Mount of Transfiguration. Can you imagine the scene? Knowing somehow as His disciple that Jesus was unlike any other person you'd ever met, but then seeing it with your own eyes as Moses and Elijah themselves came to talk to Him. And what about that cloud? Have you ever thought about God showing up in a cloud? That's like fog, or mist, isn't it. But also it isn't like it, because it wasn't "just a cloud." I like that about God--He's so awesomely terrible yet mysteriously captivating that He surrounds Himself in a bright cloud.

It isn't easy, getting to know God. There are always distractions and often "good intentions" are defeated, beaten-down and deflated. But He is ever so patient. Even when the disciples found themselves in the midst of a bright cloud on, they didn't fully get it either until much later, Who Jesus really was/is. The good news is that it really isn't up to me to try to "do" anything. Anything I know or experience about Him is owed to His goodness and grace.

He is just that, and so much more.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I am here

Yesterday I went out power-walking with my housemates, something they started to do during the break while I was gone. On the top and bottom of the hill we would to regroup, the faster ones jogging in place while the slower ones had time to catch up. On one of these occasions, the last roommate reached us and announced, "I'm here!" to signal the commencing of our walk.

Those two little words brought me to a flashback where not too long ago, I heard my love saying it to me as we snuggled under blankets in the cold humidity of a sub-tropic winter. The reality of the words sunk deep into my soul then and watered my heart that had been dry from our long separation, bringing tears to my eyes. The overflowing satisfaction of having the one you love (and who loves you) near after being apart can only be understood by those who have experienced it. It goes beyond words.

This morning I was thinking about these things in the coldness of the grey winter (yes, Taiwan has winter, too), and I couldn't help but think that our Lord, too, speaks those words to us, every day, whether or not we hear them. I wrote these few lines some months ago, only to forget about them until now. But yes, I remember. His presence is with me, every moment. He is here for me to lean on, confide in, snuggle into. All the time. He is here.

I am in the cool night breezes
I am in the golden sunlight breaking through the clouds after rain
I am in the orange flame of the setting sun over the horizon
I am in the fresh air
I am in the soft petals of the colorful flowers by the road
I am in the waving trees in the wind

I am in the smile of an infant
I am in the laughter of friends
I am in the outstretched hand of a stranger
I am in the hellos of the friendly street vendor

I am in the prayers of your sisters
I am in the words I speak to you each morning
I am in the whispers of your heart in the darkest of the night
I am here. And I am with you.

<3 I love You, Jesus.

Seventh Heaven

Over Christmas break, my birthday corresponded with another very memorable day of my life. B was here and we took the opportunity to get our Taiwan-style wedding photos done. I was a little nervous about the whole thing, but in the end, all the minor problems encountered were quickly taken care of, and it was not nearly as tiring or overwhelming as I expected it to be.

We set off bright and early at 7:30am to take the MRT to our studio location. The trip would almost span the entire length of KHH's MRT system, and even the car ride to the closest station took about 20 minutes. (That should tell you how far out in the boonies I live.) But even with the length of the trip there, we ended up arriving 15 minutes early. B and I sat on a nearby park bench to wait for someone to open the doors.

A lady arrived who dialed inside, and the manager opened the doors for us (the lovely little manager girl seems to live there). The lady who called happened to be my makeup artist--she was super nice and told B and I that we have the sweetest smiles. I was a little nervous about the makeup, but she put me at ease, telling me that if I didn't like anything I would have to tell her. Fortuately, I never had to.

All made up! Complete with the unmistakeable Taiwan-style caterpillar falsies
As we were getting ready, we encountered two problems: 1) My dresses didn't fit and 2) The photographer didn't like B's glasses. Problem #1 was easily solved by the expert seamstresses on hand who altered the dresses on the spot. B overcame problem #2 by learning how to put in contact lenses. To our astonishment, our photographer happened to have a prescription similar to B's and had a pack of daily disposables on hand.

Our first look was upstairs in their "attic" -- Seventh Heaven's on-site shooting spot. We met our photographer (who's name actually is Seven) and his assistant, called A-Shiang. Seven was a trip and a half. He was like a cartoon character, perfectly modeling the poses he wanted us to do and occasionally bursting out into a hilarious laugh. It didn't take me until later to realize that he is just like a Taiwanese version of Jack Sparrow, replacing the brandy with betel nut. He must have ingested at least 15 of those things during the course of the day, and the loopiness was increasingly exaggerated in his personality. A-Shiang on the other hand, was a balance to all of that with his down-to-earth, polite friendliness. Spending the day with them was a blast!

Our first look was all-white, and sparkly. I loved the dress I got to wear! At first I didn't want them to give B a white suit but it turned out okay I think, given that white suits are for FOBs and B looks like a FOB. The jacket he wore was pristine and looked really good on him.

After the first look, we changed to go to the beach at SiZiWan. They took us down a secret passageway next to a deserted parking lot, across dirty water, pebbles, and small boulders (very difficult to travel over in a big dress and heels). The beach was so much fun! The wind was really blowing but Seven knew how to work it, and we got to stick our toes (and the lower part of my dress) in the cold water.

They gave me hair extensions. What B said about it: "I will make sure not to touch them."
We came back, washed up and changed, and had lunch. They gave us bien dang that came in two layers--rice on the bottom and veggies/meat on the top. So smart!

Topped off with a yakult yogurt drink!
Excited to eat!
Third look was off to a park, as per my request to have "trees and grass." My favorite part was getting to climb a tree in a beautiful white dress!

We brought everything needed to change into the other two looks, and I was wondering where we would change when, much to my amusement, my makeup artist told me we would use the "over-under" trick. So right out in the open road with plenty of cars, mopeds, and pedestrians passing by, I slipped out of the old dress and into the new one all at once. It was quite the technique, but definitely requires assistance.

After the park they took us to some old neighborhoods built by the Japanese during the Japanese occupation back in our grandparents' day. Someone living in one of the houses there had a pretty garden with huge, yellow, iris-like flowers and Seven stopped to pick one on a whim. "These flowers are made for picking," was his excuse to our protestations. The flower made it into a few of our pictures, but I personally didn't think it matched our outfits that well.

We came back for the fifth look because this dress (above) broke at the zipper, and I had to be sewn into it. But we didn't go far and got a few night scenes in this dress. By this time, Tu Zi, the manager, was making tang yuan and we were invited to stay. Tang yuan are little balls made from rice flour that may or may not contain something inside. The kind we ate had meat inside--traditional hakka style. They are supposed to be eaten on the first day of winter (which my birthday happens to land on sometimes).
Here we are waiting for the tang yuan after we finished our pictures

Here are the studio ladies busying over the food, while Seven looks on and tries to offer suggestions

Happy birthday to me!
We had two bowls, then Seven and A-Shiang graciously drove us to the MRT station where we bid our goodbyes. I brought B to Little Italy at the HanShen mall. Sitting there in the ambient light with B, chatting like best friends, recounting the epic year was a moment that filled my heart with joy and thankfulness where I realized that my cup was indeed overflowing.

B with his food and his TW-style hair
We topped off dinner with ice cream - my favorite! =) Coldstone knew it was my birthday and gave us a free cup of tang yuan flavored ice cream (black sesame ice cream with red bean and mochi topping). Actually, no, it was because it was the first day of winter, not my birthday. But we pretended like it was. :)

It was such a fun day, and when we get our pictures, we will have them forever to remember it by! <3