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Monday, January 31, 2011


We made it to the Christmas post!  We're only roughly one month behind!  

So, this was our first time spending the actual Christmas day together since last year Tom flew to Peru a couple days before and I followed a couple days after.  We were a bit sad to be away from family, but we still really enjoyed ourselves.  

I was really excited about Christmas, so just a day or two after Thanksgiving I started getting decorations.  In Taiwan they decorate for Christmas but don't celebrate it.  Like, they love the gaudy lights and decorations and totally deck everything out, but when the actual day comes no one seems to realize it.  Nor, indeed, to they seem to notice it's no longer Christmastime afterward.  In fact, I still see plenty of Christmas decorations around town.  

Even though they decorate, though, it's not that easy to find...stylish decorations.  They have their own style here which partly cannot be described and partly can be described as being very glittery and neon.  They don't quite seem to get that Christmas colors are red and green (and maybe silver and blue).  Anyway, we did the best we could.

This is after our first round of decorations.  We got the tree, some ornaments and a spray can of "fake snow" that turned out to only have enough in it to spell "Merry Chris."

Here's our pretty tree after we got lights.  This tree was super cheap btw.

Here's our present stash on Christmas Eve night.  It includes presents we got for each other, presents other people got for us and basically anything we could wrap (trash bags, ziplock bags, cleaning spray). 

Tom, Christmas morning, with his Lions blanket.

Our breakfast setup Christmas morning.  Notice the usb powered, panda designed mug warmers - boy do the Taiwanese know how to give great gifts!

Actually, the mug warmers ended up being a blessing to us in an unexpected way.  We usually don't get the internet in our apartment, so if we want to talk to family members on skype we have to go downstairs to the lobby, where there's wifi, and do it.  But, because we had our computers out for the mug warmers we caught the Christmas miracle of a wifi connection that lasted just long enough for Tom's family to surprise us by calling and talking to us.  It was nice.  Oh, and by the way, we had pancakes for breakfast.  

Breakfast was followed by opening presents, testing them out and relaxing.  After that, in the spirit of Christmas we decided to try to leave some money around town for people to find.  It was really fun!  The Taiwanese people are VERY honest people, though, so we were joking while we were hiding the money that we wouldn't be surprised if they would see the money and just leave it there.  Sure enough, we went back about two weeks later and at least one of the bills, in plain sight, was still there!  

In the evening we went out to dinner at T.G.I. fridays.  The wait was SO long, but it was worth it and very scrumptious.  Closest thing to a decent American meal you can find in Taiwan.

Next up: a great bike ride!

Got into George Washington!

I got into George Washington, too!

So, last night I got an email from GW notifying me that my application was under final review.  It sounded like they'd be making a decision soon, so just on the off chance that they'd already posted a decision I logged into the application to see if my status had changed.  To my surprise, it said my decision had been mailed and then a little further had a link to see what the decision was.  I opened up the letter and read:

"I am pleased to admit you to the Master of Arts in Education and Human Development program in the field of International Education in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, beginning Fall 2011."


I was really surprised to hear so soon (from either school) because I only applied a couple weeks ago.  Plus, I was expecting to have to wait until March.  Here are some campus pictures:

And the down low.

- I love D.C.
- I have family and friends close by
- It's a great place to be for someone studying and international discipline
- The World Bank and IMF are literally right down the street
- I think tuition is comparable with Vanderbilt (which i guess isn't really good)
- I MIGHT have a higher chance for funding
- Did I mention that I LOVE D.C.?
- Could be a good place for Tom to find a job IF he doesn't get into grad school

- The program is not ranked nearly as high (31st)
- It has one of those city campuses (I like to know I'm at a university, ya know?)
- Cost of living is higher than Vanderbilt

2 down, 4 to go

By the way, it's Chinese New Year, so we're going on vacation tomorrow morning to Green Island.  Should be interesting.

See ya!

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Thanksgiving just happens to be Tom's favorite holiday.  Growing up, he would wake up early on Thanksgiving and he and the boys would go play some football with the ward.  Then, they'd go to the store and get some snacks for watching the Lions game.  They'd eat lunch, watch the Lion's game, then fall asleep.   Sounds great, huh?

Thanksgiving just happens to be my least favorite holiday.  Growing up, we would wake up and pile in the car to go to some relative's house.  None of the relatives were my age, and I always felt pretty out of place.  My siblings would ignore me and my parents would ignore all of us as they talked with the relatives into the weee hours of the night.  The entire day, I would be painfully bored.  Let me say that again - paaaaaainfully bored.  And, of course, at the end of the night when all of us kids couldn't stand to be there anymore, we'd beg and beg our parents to leave and at best they'd ignore us, at worst they'd get mad at us and then still not leave.  Sorry Mom, but I don't think this is news to ya.  I always thought this is how it was for every kid on Thanksgiving and am continually surprised each time I talk to someone who actually liked Thanksgiving growing up.

The last two Thanksgivings, however, I've been with Tom, and only Tom actually.  And you know what, they've been great!  Last year I was living in Virginia with my Aunt and Uncle.  Tom came to visit and my Aunt and Uncle left to visit their kids.  I'm sure it would have been great to spend it with them (since I actually like their company now that I'm older), but we really loved having it by ourselves too.  They even left us a Turkey!  Plus, the night before I'd gone to a friend's Thanksgiving celebration and scored a whole bunch of leftovers.  Thanks Whitney, wherever you are!  It was really perfect.

This year, we didn't get the day off work, so we decided to take Friday off and designate it "Thanksgiving."  We were determined to cook ourselves a great feast and it turned out to be a great adventure!  Some friends in the ward picked up a chicken for us at Costco (turkeys are hard to come by).        And, surprise!  When we took it out of the plastic it still had a head, claws and bits of what looked like hair come out of the skin.  Behold:

It shocked Tom pretty good and definitely grossed us out, but we were determined.  He got to saw off the neck and legs.  It was all very manly.  

I got the job of reaching in and taking out the innards.

We had to buy a pot for this meal because previously, all we had was one little one.  It barely fit.

We had some serious doubts about how this chicken was going to taste seeing as how neither of us had ever really cooked a chicken like this before, but we were pleasantly surprised!  It was scrumptious.  We also got a pie from costco, some instant mashed potatoes from costco, some vegetables (not from costco) and some grape juice.  It was really a lovely meal.  One of the best we've had here.  

Happy Thanksgiving (finally) !!!

On a completely different note: I am super sick today and my sweet husband has taken care of me so well.  He keeps bringing me whatever I need and making food for me and rubbing my back and stuff.  I love being married!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Zhongshan Park

In my Tainan post I mentioned Zhongshan Park and said I would have a separate post dedicated to it.  Here it is!

The very first day we were in Tainan, we drove by this park on the way to a Thai food restaurant where we were going to have lunch/dinner with the other teachers.  I remember being amazed at how beautiful it was!  It's also, actually, quite large.  We've now been to it several times and it's one of our favorite spots.  It's probably the largest and certainly the prettiest park in the city and not very far from our apartment.  It has lots of big beautiful trees.  The type with vines climbing up their trunks that look like they've been around for centuries.  There's a library on one end of it and a playground too.  One of my favorite aspects is that there are lots of (unconventional) recreational areas.  Basically, there are these areas where there is just hard packed dirt where (usually old) people get together and do tai chi, ballroom dancing and this exercise where you just smack yourself a lot.  Below is a picture of one of these areas.  This particular one is used for tennis or something:

The park also has some beautiful Chinese stone arches and sculptures and many, many more great things.  But the thing that makes the park so stunning is it's lake.  The lake is quite a good size, with a walkway leading to a pagoda in the middle, where there are usually old men playing chess (another VERY popular activity at all the parks here).  In the water are hundreds of lilypads and on the banks are fishermen.  It's all very quaint.

When we first got here, the lilies weren't in bloom.  Then, one day we were driving past and I looked over and I saw one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  All of the lilies were open and the sun was shining down on them.  The image was stunning.  I wanted to take pictures so badly, but we didn't have time right then.  It took me a little while to get back over there and I was really paranoid that they'd be gone, but I finally succeeded.  The pictures don't NEARLY do it justice, but they're something.  Enjoy!

As I was on my way out of the park I came across this guy:

He saw there eying me warily, but let me get pretty close and take a zillion pictures of him.  He was pretty neat in person - or maybe I just get more excited about simple things than most people do.

Next post: Thanksgiving!!!  We're gettin there!

Plant Silhouette

Just another one of my plant photos.  This is one of the plants we have in our house.  


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Got in!!!


Yesterday, I was just casually checking my mail and I saw an email from Vanderbilt with this subject: "You are invitied to visit Vanderbilt for Masters Visitation Day."  I clicked on it, but thought absolutely nothing of it.  A lot of the schools have had events either online or on campus for prospective students and that's all I thought it was.  But when I opened it up, I read:

 "I am pleased to inform you that you have been admitted to pursue master’s studies at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development. You will receive a formal offer letter in the mail within a few days, but I wanted to share the good news with you as quickly as possible."  

When I first started reading it I was somewhat on auto-pilot mode, so I didn't quite process what I was reading.  It was so strange.  Of course, after a second or two I realized what it was saying and I freaked out.  Tom was right there, so I shouted to him and we jumped up and down a bit.  It was pretty darn exciting and very unexpected.  It's a lot harder to get a handle on whether you're qualified for programs or not when it comes to graduate school.  Before I get to the rest of my thoughts, here are some photos of the beautiful campus!

The school grounds were designated an arboretum because they have some many great trees and such.

My building!  School of Education and Human Development.  Arguably the sweetest building on campus.  Great lawn too.

- Pretty campus
- Nice area
- Cheap living expenses
- #1 Education program in the U.S.
- A really great professor that I like
- Close-ish to my sister Emily
- Decent weather
- One of only two schools that Tom is applying to


- Possibly more expensive tuition-wise than the other schools
- Not real excited to live in my 4th mid-sized city in the midwest/south (VERY been there, done that)
- There MAY be other programs I like better
- 2 year program (some are only 1)
- School year starts earlier than most, giving us very little time to get there and set up before school starts

Basically, there's a decent chance we'll end up going, but it won't be clear until we hear back from all the other schools and, most importantly, get the financial break-down of all of them.  It's very nice to have gotten in, though, because it's one of the school that could be the only one I got into and I'd be completely content.

If any of you have ever visited Vanderbilt, or know someone who's gone there or anything, feel free to give me your input!!!

Til next time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tom's Birthday!

So I made a nice post about this, and then it got deleted.  Boo.  So, this will be quite short.

Basically, Tom's birthday was on October 16th.  The night before we went to Coldstone to kick off the celebrations.  It was probably the best time I've ever had going out to get ice cream.  That night, I waited for Tom to fall asleep (which he didn't do until, like 2am or something!) and then I carefully snuck out and bought some special snacks for him at Family Mart (convenience store).  I hid them around the house along with several love notes (some of which he still hasn't found).  In the morning, he woke up and found some of the things and then, even though it was Saturday, Tom had to work for a couple hours.  After he came home I'm not sure what we did, but at night we drove the scooter to the pretty area of town by the river and by the sea, called Anping, and went to this great park.  The thing I love about Taiwanese parks is that, unlike American parks, even if you go there late at night there are still just families or nice old people, instead of bums or drug dealers.  It was a great atmosphere.  The park also had some beautiful sculptures.  Here they are:

I like this photo and the next couple, because I feel like they show the family atmosphere.

Same sculpture, different perspective.

This photo is real, not photoshopped or anything.  The one on the left is just much farther back than the one on the right.
After we left the park, we went to a supposedly authentic American food restaurant called Candy's.  We were super excited and all of the food in the menus looked absolutely scrumptious.  However, we were quite disappointed.  The lasagna tasted like Mexican food and the "steak" was this thin, gritty, grey thing.  

The day was still really pleasant though and we still remember his birthday fondly.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Moon Festival!

The Moon Festival (also called the Mid-Autumn Festival) is all about, well, the moon.  Typically, people get together with their families and have a barbeque.  They also eat lots of moon cakes and pomelos and set of lots and LOTS of fireworks (as on any day of any importance whatsoever).  Sometimes they go out into a scenic spot to gaze at the moon.  Since we don't have a barbeque, don't like mooncakes and had the day off, Tom and I opted to spend the day driving to the mountains on our scooter!

We had been really aching to get out of the city and into nature and had been feeling quite claustrophobic.  So, even though our map only extends so far toward the mountains, we were determined to make it to them.  Before we left, I got on google maps and just pieced together a bunch of very loose directions.  And that's all we had!

I remember feeling quite euphoric when we started out our drive.  We'd stopped in at Mcdonalds and I was sitting on the back of the scooter with my ipod playing and was feeling quite adventurous as I managed to balance my chicken nuggets on my bouncing lap and dip them in the sauce without any disaster.

We saw all kinds of fascinating things along the way.  Crazy food on the roadside, locals carrying all manner of things on their scooters, interesting buildings, beautiful landscapes and much much more.  One of the first interesting things we came across was this guy:

And his friend, this guy:

And their friend, this guy:

These giant gold statues were either guarding or about to charge this random building.  It was just on a regular road, which made it seem all the more out of place.  We never know what's going on here and it might be more fun that way.

Tom with his favorite giant gold statue.
Another cool thing we came across was this HUGE temple complex:

The picture don't nearly do justice to how large it was.  You don't come anywhere close to seeing all of it and how far back it goes, or how large that building in the middle is.
There are temples ALL over Taiwan.  Especially in Tainan.  But, this was probably the largest we've seen. The ones in Tainan are all much much smaller.

This is incense that is burned at the temple.

A building to the left of the main building.

Food brought for the ancestors (or Gods?).

Temples tend to have beautiful, intricate sculptures, like this.

Inside the main building.  This is where the idols are and where people bring the food.

This rock/plant formation has mini steps and things on it.  So cool.

The mini steps.

The next photo was taken much later on in the drive.  It is just a nice view from the road.

In the following photo and the one after it we are nearing our destination.  From here to our destination was the most beautiful part of the trip.

This was taken from the same spot as above.  It is what Tom would be seeing if he were looking straight ahead instead of at me.
Our intended destination was a mountain town called, Maolin.  Which, surprisingly, we made it to!  There were roads close and detours we had to take, which made much of the drive total guesswork.  We had to ask for directions from a few people who didn't speak any English, which is always fun.  It also took us about four hours instead of the 1.5 that google maps predicted, which is a looooong time to be on a scooter - especially if you're on the back.  It was also VERY hot.  We are grateful that convenience are very, very prevalent in Taiwan.

Our tentative plan, upon setting out, was to try to stay for the night in Maolin and head back the next morning before work.  However, an earthquake last year, combined with last years very large Typhoon Morokat and this years Typhoon Fanapi has changed things in this area a lot.  For starters, the bridge that leads to where our intended guesthouse was is compleeeetely gone.  We're not talking about some little footbridge either.  We drove all the way to it to see for ourselves and it's a rather large cement highway type bridge.  You can walk all the way to the edge and look down at the concrete that is in pieces on the side of the mountain and in the river.

Once we realized we would have to drive all the way back before the end of the night and since it was already 4pm or so, we realized we couldn't spend too much time in the area.  This was a big shame, because it was breathtaking and even just glimpsing the town (which as an aboriginal town) was an interesting cultural experience.  During our few minutes there, we happened upon this hillside cemetery:

We were wondering why they used crosses on the graves, since more of Taiwan in Buddhist.
The ride home wasn't as bad as we thought it would be, even though it was dark most of the time and we did have one incident where we got lots and had to drive onto a random, dark, provincial street and ask some people who were barbecuing how to get home.  They even ended up leading us the wrong way, which we recognized.  So we just said "thanks so much!" and waited for them to drive off before we kept driving around and eventually found our way.

Overall, it was a fabulous adventure.  It was exhausting driving on a scooter for 8 hours in one day, but we were so glad we did it.  

Next post: Tom's birthday and our trip to a riverside park.