Sunday, June 12, 2011

Moving (well, we're actually moved...)

As our first school year is coming to an end, so is the lease on our apartment. Frank and I were met with a decision: do we take the easy way out and stay put, or do we venture into the unknown and search for a place that better meets our needs? Throughout the year we have wavered back and forth with our decision. Finally though we decided that we would casually begin searching for a house with ground floor access.

Deciding to move was just the first of many steps. Housing here is at a premium and most people live in high rise apartment buildings. If we wanted to live in a house, we would have to move deeper into the jungle and higher up the mountain. These houses are not sought after by the local population as living away from restaurants and thousands of other people is not considered advantageous. So as we searched, we knew we would be living in a community with other westerners and far away from modern conveniences like 7-11’s and shao bing (our favorite breakfast treat).

Most people here hire agents to find them housing. Many of the complexes will refuse to speak to any one but the agents and so it is extremely difficult to find living arrangements on your own. With agents taking ½-1 full month’s rent, they can be expensive. However, their services don’t just last until you sign that initial contract, you can go to them for the entire first year for help with anything dealing with the house. We knew that if time became slim, we would be enlisting the help of an agent but initially, we thought we’d try to see what we could find on our own.

The community - just behind the row of plants is the swimming pool.  So nice on hot days.

A few weeks ago, a house fell into our lap. We simply had to decide if it was the one for us. With 8 flights of stairs, 7 floors and 4 bedrooms, we weren’t so sure. That was until we saw the yard. Looking out of the kitchen window, there was an actual lawn! After having to take the elevator down 8 stories to a tiled breezeway and out to the concrete street for the past year, this was paradise. However, rentals are quite different here than in the US. We made a list of all of the things we wanted changed about the house-almost like we were actually purchasing the house. The landlord agreed to some and not to others. With the lease signed, keys handed over, we were officially ready to move into our new home!

The neighborhood view

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Island Trips (one solo & one with 10 bikin' 6th graders)

A three day, two night trip with 10 sixth graders + bicycles = recipe for disaster. Frank and I both knew it and yet the excitement buzzing throughout our classrooms was quite catching. With high hopes, we set out to tour Xiao Liu Qiu Island a few weeks in advance.
A 25 minute ferry ride ended in an island paradise revealed. 
From Xia Liu Qiu Island

Entering the harbor

A rented scooter took us around the 18 km island in a very short period of time. During that ride, we saw caves, amazing coral beaches, 

From Xia Liu Qiu Island

tide pools, quaint beach shops, a beautiful stark white lighthouse, and a 100 year old banyan tree.
From Xia Liu Qiu Island

Two weeks later, we boarded the same ferry with 10 overly zealous kiddos with bikes. Upon arriving at Xiao Liu Qiu, the weather decided to take a turn for the worse. It rained and rained and rained. Ten bikes with twenty flat tires were pumped up and one student was down before we even hopped onto our bikes with the confession that she couldn’t ride. Shortly thereafter, another student was down with blood dripping from both knees and the promise of a tremendously huge bruise in the near future. 

The bike line-up - check out the folding bikes that are favored by many Taiwanese.  They seem practical for folding up and cramming into a car but those tiny wheels make for a lot of work.

This day, tide pools were enjoyed while the rain pummeled us. Dripping wet and content, we went back to the cabins for the night.

The next day, we were greeted with a sick little girl. By the end of the day the fever was so high a trip to the hospital was made, an injection given, and the little girl was put to bed. Amidst the sickness there was another bout of bike collisions, skinned knees, and lots of tears. Oh and the rain--it didn’t stop.
In spite of the sicknesses, blood, gravel and tears, we had a fabulous time. One the last night, the rain let up long enough for an outside BBQ and a beautiful sunset.

The kids were little troopers, ever anxious to see what else the island had to reveal. Biking back to the ferry terminal, we got wet-very wet. With water spraying in all directions, they bombed down the final hill and dismounted their bikes. Every one was drenched and smiling. The perfect end to a not as planned trip was having a pod of 30 porpoises playing in the ferry’s wake.