10 Moments of Motherhood

The chance to sit down and write for an hour or two are few and far between in the first few years of motherhood. There have been so many times I have wished there were cameras on the walls or a crew to follow me around-Kardashian-style to snap shot moments of motherhood that were so joyful, unexpected, hilarious or damn right torture. Those moments could be skillfully woven together against a dramatic instrumental background to create a beautiful montage of a baby’s first year to showcase ‘your first milestones’ and ‘the times your mother nearly threw you out the window’.

Instead though, without expensive CCTV or 24/7 stalkerism, all I have is my memory bank, a few photos and this free wordpress outlet to document what has been the most complicated, stressful, glorious and overwhelming year of my entire life. So this is the montage, you’ll have to imagine the soundtrack. I’ll leave that to you to add in. Feel free to go for something heroic, chariots of fire-esq, as let me tell you, Motherhood… aint no walk in the park.

It’s more for Z himself than for me, I can make my peace with all these emotions and memories wrapped up into one little package, buried somewhere deep in my heart, cosy and comfortable for the rest of my life. But for him, what a gift to be able to read back on as a an adult, as a Dad or even Grandad. So Z… cue the music, sit back and enjoy the trip down memory lane!

10. That time you cried through the entire Baby Massage session.

As a little bundle of chubbiness, you attended every class going from about 6 weeks. At 8 weeks, you were signed up to a 5 week course of Baby Massage. You were smothered in organic oil and had your legs ‘Indian milked’ and your tummy ‘I love You’d’. The floor of the nursery function room was heated and you were surrounded by 6 or 7 other little bundles of the same age who seemed to enjoy the piano music, the slow northern accent  of the instructor and the ‘skin to skin’ time with Mummy. Not you though! You wanted to stand on your 2 feet and look around, you wanted to get the hell out of there and feel the fresh air on your face. And by God, did you try to communicate that to me! Tried to feed you, not interested, tried to show you some of the toys around, not interested. In the end, you completed the course and now at 12 months, you have a quick cream of the body after the bath and even that can be difficult to accomplish!

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Aged 8 weeks after bath time!

9. That time you were too fat for the car seat

At around 10 weeks, Dad and I got into a bit of an evening routine with you. After work, he would take you out so I could take a breather, sing in the shower and brush my teeth. Luxuries you must surrender as a new mum. The first time we decided to try it, it was a cold, foggy and frosty December night and we had you zipped up in a baby blue snow suit your Aunty Annie brought you. I got into a hot shower, got dressed into fresh Pj’s and snuggled into bed. You and Dad had been gone way too long for my liking but I wasn’t worried. When you finally returned… Dad had you in the sling. And he looked knackered. “He wouldn’t fit in the car seat with this snow suit on, I tried for about 10 minutes and he screamed his head off so we walked for half an hour to Tesco and then back again”. Poor little bubs, at least you had some snuggle time with Dad though, the lesson here is that you can always take the jacket off. You can always take the jacket off.

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A moment too funny not to snap Aged 10 weeks, in your blue snow suit.

8. That time you partied till Midnight

Your first summer was a ridiculously busy one. Probably the busiest I’ve ever had. With 3 of your aunties and 2 of our good friends getting married there were Hens and Stags coming out of our ears and a whole lot of roadtrippin’ to get you to your Grandmas or the next hotel for the wedding location. On a cloudy day in July, your Aunty Nu and Uncle Ilk married in Bickley. It was your second wedding of the year and you had obviously developed a taste for the glitz and the glamour of it all. Come 7pm we tried everything to get you to sleep in your buggy. Milk, rocking, walking, pitch black darkness of the night on the grass, we wanted you to sleep so we could relax and party on the dancefloor! In the end, we surrended. Onto the dancefloor we took you, passed you around from loved one to loved one and enjoyed ourselves as a family! By the time we got you home it was 1am and with some extra milk and hugs you were partied out and slept like a log till morning!

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10 months old and a party animal in the making!

7. That time you caught and ate a butterfly

On a gorgeous spring afternoon in April, your aunty Mary and Dad and I took a trip to Butterfly World. A huge green house housing some of the world’s rarest and biggest butterflies. It was so hot inside, huge trees with giant leaves towered over us, ponds with fountains crashed onto vibrant Koi Carp and flowers of all different colours punctuated the sea of greenery like tiny little fireworks. The hot air hit us straight away and we stripped you down to your nappy! We let you touch all the plants and your eyes were alive with the glorious wonder of nature. And then, whilst posing for a photo by the fountain, you looked, spotted and launched at an innocent little butterfly, grabbed it midair and wouldn’t let go! As I tried to unclasp your little fist, your tight grip told me you had caught your lunch and you lifted it towards your mouth! Lucky for the little guy, I think it just about touched your lips before I saved it from the depths of your intestine.

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7 months old at Butterfly World, Preston Park.

6. That time you crossed the border with no passport

For your first little holiday (road trips to London aside) we took a 3 hour drive north of Teesside to the beautiful city of Edinburgh in Scotland. We decided to go the week before, booked a hotel and packed the car. The weather went all out for us and we got glorious sunshine the entire weekend as we toured the zoo and came face to face with a rhinoceros, lions and your favourite – the penguins. We walked all the way to top of the enclosure (mainly for your Dads Fitbit steps) and looked out at the incredibly gorgeous views. You were so well behaved the entire time we bought you a cuddly panda to say thanks and it even made me reconsider my blanket ban on ‘holidays abroad with a baby under 2 because they won’t even remember it or care’ (if only temporarily).

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7 1/2 months in Edinburgh, Scotland

5. That time you helped me launch my own little business and threw up all over my leg

It was the first time I had actually bothered to do my hair, put on a decent amount of make up and chose an actual co-ordinating outfit in months. Buggies & Bellinis, my luxury groups for mummies and babies was about to launch at a local Bistro Pub called the Manor House and you had just had your 16 week jabs. What was I thinking? I put on my ‘Mama’ jumper, dressed you in your ‘Bubba’ jumper and hoped for the best! Once all set up, I held you the entire time (you were still breastfed so weighed the same as the average boulder) and spent 2 hours apologising to new mums who had come out for the event (and the free cake and coffee) for the whiny, squirmy little human in my arms and my talent for bad timing. As I had settled you next to me on the sofa, you began exploring a handbag definitely not belonging to me, I breathed easy and relaxed my shoulders and simultaneously you leant over my leg… and vomited all over my nice new skinny jeans that I had miraculously fit into 5 months after giving birth. I had no choice but to laugh it off and continue drinking my cold coffee. “Mum life!” I exclaimed and the next event sold out.

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4 months old at Buggies & Bellinis

4. That time you napped under ‘one of the most spectacular waterfalls in England’

Continuing our spontaneous tour of the North East, your Dad and I drove an hour to ‘discover the force of nature at High Force’ in the heart of the Durham Dales. Needless to say we were surrounded by stunning natural beauty that rivaled scenic views from Canada or Alaska. There were trees as tall as mountains and pathways that led deep into the woods. We timed it perfectly so that you slept in the car on the way there, was awake for lunch and play in the pub garden and then asleep during our walk through the woods. We figured the noise from the crashing water 21 metres above us into the plunge pool below would wake you, just like your Dad going down the stairs in the night did or closing your bedroom door at night! But, for one day, and one day only, noise wasn’t a problem for this nap! There you were, parked in your buggy, in  the middle of the ‘North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’… out for the count! At least your Dad and I managed to take some photos and take in just how beautiful the UK can be. You snooze you lose!

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Aged 9 months, High Force Waterfall

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3. That time you found the word ‘balloon’ absolutely hilarious.

In all of the the exhaustion, the missed meals, showers and hair washes, there were points of sheer and utter peace and joy. They have been sprinkled across the year like grated cheese on a pasta bake. The foundations that make up who are today, the routines and nappy changes, the clothes you wear and the food you eat, that’s all the dense pasta, squashed together to form a stable, solid meal. But the grated cheese, the bit that really makes it, the crispy, tasty goodness that people pick off the top, that’s the good stuff. And your laugh, your big belly laugh that you only brought out for special occasions and huge efforts from other human beings made my entire week. My month! Around Fathers Day, there was still a helium balloon floating around, whilst you played with it, I asked you if you liked the ‘balloooon’ and the rest is history.

The Balloon Video

2. That time you launched off the sofa head first.

At the weekends, your Dad gets you up. I lay in bed, anxiously waiting to see if he changes your nappy and gives you your milk pretending I’m relaxing and taking advantage of the time to myself. On this occasion, nappy changed and milk in belly, you were downstairs playing happily. It had been a mere 10 minutes since your Dad had left our bedroom when I heard an almighty thud and then silence… silence is the worst with a baby… you just hold your breath knowing the screech that is coming is measure of how badly you are hurt. There it was. A piercing scream to let us know you needed help immediately. Dad, in a moment of morning haziness, had left you on the sofa and walked into the kitchen. Onto the laminate you plunged. Half a metre down must feel like a abyss for a baby and in came Dad. Once calmed, you, but also us!… we reckoned you had learned a valuable lesson that day. From then on, you knew the dangers. You put your feet first and helped yourself down onto the floor. This extended to our bed and then stairs. It was a painful way to learn, but a moment of discovery and a lesson in the brutality of life!

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Aged 12 months, at home.

1.That time you saw daylight for the first time and barely cried

Of course, the number one moment for us all is always going to be the day you were born. For me,much as it was a day of joy and amazement… it was also one of total delirium  and confusion. It went from peaceful labour at home to birthing suite and the idea of a calm, quiet water birth to consultant led care and a million and one wires in and out of and around my body. I could barely move and I looked like a robot, hooked up to a machine for recharging. After a grueling 24 hours, we were down in theatre, ready to meet our gorgeous little bundle, currently with no gender! It was quick and painfree in the end and there you were. Pulled from the darkness like when a drunken (or just inconsiderate)  adult switches on the light whilst you’re sleeping.  To me, that must’ve been horrific. But for you, chilled, laid back you, it just seemed very natural. There was a tiny cry and then it stopped. You opened your eyes, bright operation table lights must’ve blinded you but you looked around. You were so alert. Over they brought you. And you looked at me. You had joined us. You were here. And everything was different. We were complete.

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5 Minutes old, Lewisham Hospital

For you Zachy and all the love you brought with you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Moments on the Beach

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In my very first post, I stood staring at my feet and up at the sky on a winters morning in a freezing cold playground, dreaming of travelling the world, hot weather and a sweet taste of exotic freedom. This time round, 4 years later, I’m stood staring at my feet again.

They’re unpedicured. The mink gel polish from a distant spot of luxury pampering so far back I couldn’t even give you a ball park. They’re on the beach though, the sands of Redcar in the North East of England. How on earth did you get there? I hear you mumble. And why on earth? The cold tide rolls over my tootsies and I’m having a moment of clarity. One of those that brings you full circle and you feel pretty present but at the same time somewhere else. There’s something about the ocean that does that isn’t there? Gone are the days of riding around on my little scooter in the 38 degree heat on the tiny island of Taiwan. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and look up. It’s been a long 4 years since my last post and my feet, body, mind and soul are in a completely different world now.

I’m a Mother and a fiancee. No longer a teacher, just a humble housewife ‘doing’ lunch, playdates and laundry. I drive a car, mix formula and puree fruit and vegetables. No more lesson planning, staff meetings or book marking. No more class assemblies, report writing or -dare-I-say-it- creative history lessons about the Romans and Tudors (those were seriously my fave).

As the tide rolls out, there’s a babble from the baby in my ear. He’s propped on my left hip, true Mum style. I’ve settled into life here. The last 5 months up north have been a serious adventure. We rented our home in London, took to the road and made it work. I threw myself into baby groups and mummy meet ups, I went on long walks around my new sparkly-green-friendly-as-they-come neighbourhood. Andrew would work from 7-7 and by the time he got home I had somehow managed to put the baby to bed and make dinner. He’s tugging at my hair now and I sense he knows I’m off in a reflective daydream, taking in all of the colossal changes of the last year. I jiggle a bit, mums will know what I mean and it settles him. A tiny reminder that I’m still with him and dedicated to entertaining him 24/7. The water is freezing, not like the bath-like seas of my old little island and I step backwards heading back towards our ‘buggy and towel’ base.

Just how long will we be here? Not much longer; the winds of change are blowing wild again and we are going to need to pull all our mental, physical and emotional strength together to do the next big move. Andrew’s job moves us from place to place and although we don’t know where yet, we know our time here is limited. The cold Northern wind blows in an angry gust, as if it too is fed up of my momentary flashback. It brushes across the back of my neck where my one and only tattoo is. It’s made up of 2 Chinese symbols reading ‘Mao Shen’. Roughly translated as ‘Adventure’. 6 of us got them done in a dark and deserted alleyway in a beach town south of Taiwan. Back then it had every ounce of substance; my carefree, live for the moment lifestyle. The baby is moaning again.

Perhaps the next big move will test my real sense of adventure. The real challenge of moving to another city, another country, another continent with a small child and all our stuff. Perhaps this is the real Mao Shen? The purpose of the tattoo in the first place. A reminder that life is unpredictable but try to embrace it. I breathe deeply again and the baby ups his volume. Motherhood and expat life? Watch this space.

1 year on.

It’s 10pm on a Thursday night back in the UK and I’ve been sat reminiscing through old Taiwanese photos. Hilarious, embarrassing, adorable (if we’re talking about tiny Chinese children or wrinkled old men) and just way too much fun really. 

 

1 year on life is far more grown up. I’ve just qualified as a teacher in London so now I’m free to take on any kids in any country in the world and take even more hilarious, embarrassing and adorable photos. The PGCE was a rough ride but eventually I came out as ‘outstanding’… read it and weep baby. To be honest, life was far more simple in the TEFL world. There was an abundance of games, songs and the odd writing task. The focus was on how cute and rich the kids were and the ridiculous broken English their parents used. In the new world there’s just a whole load of assessment paperwork piled on top of ability groupings, behaviour management, special needs and disadvantaged, impoverished allowances. If I’m 100% honest with myself, life was so much better (professionally) on the ignorant bliss side. 

I definitely miss the children in TW and the fact I can go out on a Saturday night without heels. I miss my scooter and the freedom that so naturally comes with being 5000 miles away from parents. I miss the sunshine, the beach and the endless supply of iced drinks. 

 

That being said, there is so much I can do now. I can climb to the top of the educational ladder, I can earn about 20 times the amount I did before, I can handle so many types of children and actually change lessons to suit their individual needs. 

The PGCE has taught me that there is so much more to teaching a group of children then just games and songs. It as given me confidence, money and a passport around the world. 1 year one, I miss TW so much and the amazing times it provided. But year wasted? Definetly not.

 

 

Around the world in 16 days.

I’m sat with an ice pack on my foot, overdosed on antihistamine in a room that actually could be mistaken for a bomb site feeling absolutely, incredibly amazing. Apart from the weird (and somewhat frequent) allergic reactions I have to mosquitos whereby my muscular tissue gets damaged and the thing turns an ugly shade of purple and the slight residue of mass-jetlag, life is pretty sweet. I’ve been in 5 different countries in 16 days.

I flew to London two weeks ago for a university interview. The can of worms I previously mentioned has been emptied, the worms have slithered their way along different paths ranging from teaching in Italy to working at the Olympics but the one I have chosen is…university-bound. I’m going home to get my teaching degree in order to help me fulfill the big dream of living in a hot country somewhere running my own tiny little school on a beach, where everyone is chilled (slash drunk on cocktails) and where Beyonce casually strolls by to say hello. Obviously.

ANYWAY, for some reason I decided it would be a great idea to buy a flight with a 16 hour layover in Shanghai. Without really knowing whether I could leave the airport, I checked in in Taipei, asked several different Taiwanese people if I could leave the airport in China. All of them gave me different, contradicting answers which left me on  a very turbulent flight to a crazy-ass country not knowing where the hell I was going (hmm where I have heard that before?!). I got off the flight, secretly thanked God for keeping me alive through a thunderstorm and asked again if I could leave the airport. Eventually I was referred to an crazy old lady with strangely frizzy hair for a Chinese who screamed “ARRIVAL CARD” in my face a few times, before I realised she needed it to give me a transit stamp, allowing me 24 hours in a brand new country! Of course, I somehow made a random new Taiwanese friend, who of course had a free hotel room from the airline and of course, because I’m just so wonderfully  charming and wonderful, invited me to stay. So there I was, randomly in Shanghai, with a random, in a random hotel. Fun times.

Rooftop hotel in Shanghai.

My next stop was London. And after another ridiculously turbulent flight (can’t really say I’d recommend China Airlines anymore) I was home. Collected and whisked off to a wonderful hotel on the river by the good ol’ boyf, it didn’t take me long to remember why I loved London and all the people and things that go with it. After a few days chin wagging and eating far too much good food, I had my interview, partied a little more and left to come back East-side. BUT – not without another recruit. That’s right, I’ve shipped another Londoner to Taiwan. Ross is settling in quickly, found a job, an apartment in the same building as us and is on his way to becoming a true expat.

View from the Hilton

Homies on a Friday night

Pizza, a glass of wine (or 4) and la familia.

Next stop. Hong Kong. What was meant to be a 2 hour layover, actually ended up being 2 minutes. We were rushed off the first plane and onto the next without a second thought for our poor luggage. Arriving in Taipei and standing at baggage claim, my gut instinct told me something wasnt right. My beautiful pink suitcase lay lonely somewhere a few hundred miles away and I had no idea, nor the language capability to work out how to get it back. As it turns out, my dear friends at work spoke to the Cathay Pacific guys (also not recommended) and I was reunited with my Fuchsia lover that very same evening.

Back in Taiwan I only had about 48 hours before I was back at the airport and on a plane to Singapore. We booked cheap flights a while ago after I insisted it was something I had to do before I die. You see, I already had an emotional attachment with this country even though I’d never even stepped foot in it. I have a uncle and aunt in Singapore. They have 3 children. I am as related to them as I am to my close cousins in the UK and yet I knew nothing about them. Until of course I got there and the amazing Moon Wong chauffeured us around like royalty, giving us the best of Singapore in 2 days. This included the Singapore Flyer – the biggest wheel in the world, the night safari (elephants, hippos, rhinos, lions, hyenas and bears included) little India, and Sentosa… a whole beach island they have converted into a dedicated grown up playground complete with indoor skydiving, universal studios, beach bars, casinos and hotels. HELLO PARADISE. I met some friends of my Dad, ate some good food and basically declared the entire country absolutely perfect (although this is also because they gas all mosquitos and therefore have eradicated one of the biggest banes of my life).

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That’s a boat on top of 3 buildings…!?

Back in Taiwan I have now been accepted into uni and am on the final countdown to going home before starting the next big adventure. With the course only being a grand total of 10 months, I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before I get itchy feet again and fly away. That is of course to a different country, different city and armed with a totally different CV. I’ll have my teaching license, 3 years experience AND most importantly… those all-important new stamps in my little British passport.

 

The Do’s and Dont’s of Winter Break

There aren’t many negative things associated with 4 weeks off. Apart from the fact that in Asia, holidays arent paid, so you lose a months salary, everything else about it screams sun, sea, sand, cocktails, too much bbq’d shrimp, cocktails, elephants rides and more cocktails… But just in case you were thinking about surprising your Mum back home on her 50th birthday, spending 2 weeks with your boyf, contracting glandular fever, allowing a car to speed into the left side of your scooter and nearly break your arm or kayak to your own island… here’s a little guide on what to go for and what to avoid.

DO HAVE 1 OF YOUR BEST FRIENDS FLY TO ASIAto say hello and to see your new world. Hayley struggled with chopsticks and scooter rides butI managed to wow her with a trip to the picturesque natural jacuzzi’s in the mountains, huge bustling night markets and cheap as chips local-style tapenyaki.

Hot Springs

UK meets Taiwan

DO MEET YOUR LONG DISTANCE BOYFin Bangkok and have him organise a 2 day itinerary of shopping in the world’s largest outdoor market and mani/pedi’s. I loved Bangkok. Despite its reputation (which is completely true, it is dirty, smelly and full of hasslers) the shopping, food and transport were amazing.

It's real!

DO TAKE A FLIGHT TO PHUKETand spend 6 days in tropical paradise trying to recall that distant memory of work, screaming Chinese children and that vague idea of responsibility. Koh Phi Phi is the most magical place I’ve ever been to. There are no cars, just a few bicycles and the odd motorcycle to move things around. That in itself is like therapy for someone coming not only from London, but from crazy crowded Hsinchu where giants roads are their signature look.  Whilst in paradise I managed to ride an elephant, hold a monkey, snorkel with 10,000 tropical fish, kayak at sunset, watch the boyfriend get drunk from drinking too many buckets on the beach and buy far too many items of clothing that aren’t suitable for work or life in freezing England.

Elephant love.

Koh Phi Phi.

DO FLY HOME UNEXPECTEDLY unbeknown to all friends and family and have an entire 48 hours of screaming SURPRISE! to those who never expected to see your face. This included my Mum at work who burst into tears and my closest girlfriends at the Sanctuary Spa who deafened me. (Quite literally. I still haven’t quite managed to get my hearing back to normal since that day). I ‘ve discovered a wonderful new hobby this way. Surprising people never got old, I’d pay £600 just to fly home, say surprise and leave again!

Happy Birthday Mum!

The Sanctuary.

DO SPEND TIME WITH AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN before flying home. These people are the people that kept in touch the last 6 months, people who remind me of where I came from and where I’m going.

DON’T DISREGARD A MINOR SORE THROAT when abroad. Asit turns out, the last day of my holiday turned into the start of something disgusting. Luckily I was armed with tranquillizers and antibiotics, but little did I know, it was the onset of glanduar fever. By the time I had gotten home and the adrenaline of surprising people had worn off I was ridiculously sick with no voice and no ability to swallow.

DON’T FLY AIR INDIA. Like, ever. We flew from Bangkok to Delhi, then Delhi to Heathrow with this wonderfully unprofessional airline who took it upon themselves to argue in front of passengers, give us cold egg cakes for dinner, scream at us to move bags at 3 in the morning and sneeze far too theatrically for my liking. The in-fight entertainment isn’t real in-flight entertainment unless you call the 1970’s version of Sherlock Holmes entertainment. The stewards aren’t real stewards. They’re your average 60 year old Indian aunty wearing a sari with unbrushed hair who might as well be a grumpy passenger. Luckily I was knocked out for the vast majority of our 30 hour ordeal, but the boyfriend had to endure what can only be described as a flight from last century. Before technology and the idea of hairspray had made their way to the middle East.

DON’T CANCEL TOO MANY PLANS when sick. After my binge on surprising people I then proceeded to make plans on every single day of my London trip. On most days I had booked some kind of breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks to make sure I got to see everyone I wanted to before heading East. However, this isn’t possible with glandular fever. And lots of my plans got cancelled. For those I didn’t manage to see, I promise next time I come bearing Asian gifts and duty free goodies.

DON’T GET TOO ATTACHED, you’ve got to go back. I had no idea 6 months ago that I would be back so soon. As it turns out I missed everyone way more than I thought I did and returning to Asia, as much as I love this place was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. It took me longer to settle back in and I found myself still working on London time for about 10 days after arriving back in Taiwan.

DON’T GET RUN OVER. After about a week of being back, I took a trip downtown and followed a friend on a route I wasn’t familiar with. Happily humming away on my tiny little 50cc scooter (Beyonce obviously) I turned onto a busy road and was completely unaware that in about 5 seconds time I’d be flat out on the floor like a starfish with a potential broken arm. The car and I collided. I screamed far too loudly for a sophisticated, civillised Asian country and landed on my right arm in the middle of a main road, which thankfully after an X-ray showed no broken bones. The driver picked my scooter up, mumbled something in Chinese, asked if I was OK and drove off. In shock I left my scooter downtown and took a taxi to the hospital. When I tell Taiwanese people this story they give me dagger eyes for not asking the driver for a lift to the emergency room or demanding payment of my hospital fees. Apparently this is the protocol here, and I was taken advantage of by not knowing these unwritten rules.

Luckily for me I have wonderful friends who bought me a new flashy Union Jack helmet with the idea that it would encourage me to get back on. 3 weeks later I’m driving. I might be yelling ‘b*stard’ and ‘p*ick’ every now and then, but at least I’m back on.

Helmet Hugs

Since this little accident I’ve had to rethink the whole “I’m going to spend another year in this wonderful country” concept. As much as I love Taiwan, the idea of spending another year on these killer roads doesn’t really do much for me. I’m now looking into different countries and different options. Winter Break has been incredible. The Do’s and Dont’s have taught me many lessons and opened the infamous can of worms for what to do next.

A Day in the Life…

So, it occurred to me, that although people know I’m here and what I’m doing, they don’t know the particulars. Like what time I wake up, what I do at lunchtime or what flavour tea I drink at night. Thus, for you nosey lot, I took a photograph every hour to show you what my life is like nowadays. Things are about to get wild…

Room with a view.

7.15

First thing to do in this bi-polar climate is look out the window. It’s pretty consistent (ironically) that whatever it’s like in the morning, it will be like for the rest of the day. Occasionally it will change half way through the day (I’m talking like 10 degree drop or increase) but mostly, you can bet if it’s raining in the morning it’ll be raining ALL day, and likewise if its sunny, and so on. So, first thing, check the weather.  It’s cloudy. Don my sexy sweatpants and fake Abercrombie tee, do the usual girls 40-minute getting-ready-for-work routine, grab helmet, Starbucks thermos and take the lift down 13 storeys.

8:15

Pack the scooter. Although the whole idea of having your own mode of transport is that you can carry more with ease, my boot (slash trunk) is teeny weeny and I have to strategically pack my bag, books and essential full body raincoat (just in case) into the 10inch by 10inch space. Then there’s the 20 minute commute along the terrifying freeway. Which -thank the Lord- is becoming less and less terrifying the more I drive.

All the cars/lorries/tractors (no joke) and any other crazy vehicle you can name sit in gridlock. The Taiwanese treat riding a scooter as if they were playing on little plastic motorcycles in their back garden. If there is more than half a meter between you and the guy in front some idiot will almost certainly speed up like crazy, cut you up, only to then brake insanely quickly making you brake even quicker and the guy behind you too. This happens repeatedly through the entire crawl until you get off the freeway and onto the wide normal roads when all those scooters that wanted to overtake you earlier (but couldnt because you left less than half a meter) then zoom past you at twice the speed and weave in and out the traffic.

9:15

Making it to school and coffee in hand, it’s now time to face the music and enter K2A classroom. My assistant is on the ball, even at 9am and already has the kids school bags organised, communication books on my desk, tracing books ready for the 1st lesson and breakfast being served. I wander in, say good morning and begin reading all the parents responses to the 3 sentences I wrote yesterday. “Karen will not take the school bus today”. “Peggy spoke English at home last night”. “Thanks for helping Isaac change his pants.” – my pleasure.

10:15 – Tracing lesson is now well under way and I can hear the constant cries of “I need to eraser” or “ayer Michelle my crayonnnn”, “may you sharpen my pencil?”. As it’s the end of the semester we are racing to complete A-Z and whilst some children already have the most beautiful handwriting there are others who are still learning how to hold a pencil. Then there’s always the kid who thinks it’s hilarious to write his ‘W’ page as a simple solitary zig zag from one side to the other.

11:15

Having endured my constant erasing of errors and screams to hurry up, I give the kids of K2A a break and take them to the playground. I use the term ‘break’ losely as there are a few rules I impose very heavily. 1. You speak Chinese, you sit out for 1 minute.  2. If you want to play with a certain toy you must approach the person and say “you have 2 minutes left, then it’s my turn”. 3. If someone is doing something you don’t like, you cannot hit. You must say “STOP. I don’t like it.” To this end, after a semester of drilling and drilling and drilling, K2A can now fully govern themselves at playtime. I even have 2 ‘little helpers’ who patrol the playground listening for anybody who might be speaking Chinese or not adhering to the script. This leaves me able to sit back with the 2 kids who like to play with my hair and massage me. Their idea, I swear.

12:15

After playtime, lunch is served and the kids then brush their teeth and head into bed. Naptime lasts from 12 to 2. Most teachers use this time to plan lessons, fill in paper work etc. Not me. No no. The kids nap. I nap. Oh yes. Most days I sleep at least half an hour. I even have my own little blanket and pillow. When I’m ill (which is far too frequently for my liking) I will sleep for the full 2 hours. Best job ever.

1:15 – Communication book time. There are a whole load of boxes to check. Behaviour: excellent, good, ok, argue, fight. Attitude towards school work: Fully participated, participated, distracted, needs improving. Can’t remember the others. They’re all in Chinese anyway, most of the time I make it up. At the bottom I must write a few words to let the parents know what we’ve been up to. Today I write that we worked hard with our tracing books, enjoyed playtime and learned a new song. (I’ll teach them after lunch)

2:15

Wake the kids up. They all know they cannot leave their sleeping bags until the lights go on. As soon as I do, it’s like lifting up a rock at the back of the garden and watching all the bugs run around like crazy. They climb out through the little circles and start laughing with excitement that they are now awake.

Gathered round the holy popcorn.

3:15 – Song and dance complete. It’s snack time. It’s always a boring old soup but today one of my kids has brought in some fancy popcorn. We sit round and share it. K2A have been particularly good today, as the bribe of popcorn all day was more than enough motivation to speak English, eat lunch quickly, fall asleep properly and wake up at the right time.  We pack our school bags, communication books, lunch bags and jackets and make our way down to the front gate. I drop them off and head to the office for my 35 minute break before P-class.

6:15 – P-class are always a handful. There are 8 kids who make enough noise to be 20, they know enough English to happily get by if they ever went to the Western world and, unfortunately they know it. They can be extremely cocky (one of them actually asked me if I had farted because “sumting is vewy smelly” … I hadn’t, for the record) but most of the time extremely funny.

Today is a serious matter however, because we have our final semester test. Luckily, these kids still have very very strict parents (naturally) and a test means a test score and a test score means a parents signature. Only 90% and above will suffice with these kids, so they knuckle down and follow instructions perfectly.

7:15

Leaving the building I punch my card and brace myself for an even crazier commute home. For some reason the evening drive is always so much worse. However, like I said, I am slowly acclimatizing. Home sweet home.

8:15

I try to take full advantage of the gym downstairs. However ‘full’ is pushing it and although I always aim for 4 times a week, it’s normally 2 or 3. It’s a small gym, but it does the job. And its free! To get to the gym you need to walk through the Lounge Bar.

9:15

I’m sure you don’t want to hear about my bedtime routine, like showering, choosing what to watch on TV and what tea to drink (honey or peach?). So for you guys, the day ends there.

Of course it’d be a shame to say all of my days were like this, but I can thoroughly assure you this: Monday through Friday this is me.  Most of my problems consist of what to wear on a Friday, where to find a pedicure before my Thailand vacation,  how to communicate to the taxi driver we want to go to one of only 2 clubs in town (this always involves some kind of mimed dance and drink) or new game ideas to bring the classroom. It’ a tough old life.

10 things you didn’t know about the Chinese.

As the long year comes to a close and the Christmas hype dies down, I felt it only necessary to float spontaneously into a reflective reverie about what a strange and unbelievable 12 months I have had. Aside from the obvious fact that I am now living on a continent 5,000 miles where my family first originated hundreds of years ago and I branched out on my own with no friends (yada yada yada) there is actually more to learn from this blog then meets the eye. For throughout my time here, I have sat upon a white fluffy cloud and carefully observed the culture and traditions below.

10. For example, did you know that burping and farting are completely acceptable over here? No polite excuse required. Just simply let loose and go about your business like it never happened. Even if you’re 50 years old, dressed in a suit and burp with a volume that could shake the earth or are 5 years old, in the presence of your foreign teacher and have a mouthful of food, go for it. Leave your ‘pardon me’s’, ‘excuse mes’ and apologise in Europe my friends,  out here…no shame or blame. Still not sure how I feel about this concept. I feel very offended every time a  5-year-old burps in my face or my assistant frees t her wind in with no acknowledgment. In my head the Chinese would be the most apologetic for this spotlight behaviour. They hate drawing attention to themselves. But, like in many  other ways, Taiwan has surprised/shocked me.

9. When I say umbrella, you probably think rain, wind perhaps the odd storm. A normal and expected association that people in the UK and western world make. Think again.  Here in Asia, not quite how it works. If it rains, grab your head to toe raincoat, complete with sexy zip and poppers, hood, over the shoe covers and visor for your helmet. If its 38 degrees and sunny, grab your umbrella. God forbid the wonderful sunrays should touch your face and discolor that artificially whitened skin of yours. If you don’t have an umbrella, its ok. You can use a book, your bag or if you’re bag/bookless there’s always your good old hand and sleeve, just whatever you do, do not make contact with vitamin D. Not in Taiwan anyway.

8. In the West we’re fed images of Chinese people obeying strict and difficult rules that their government impose on them. You probably picture little shack villages where people don’t have human rights, can’t vote and most tragically, can’t even use facebook. From this, most of us (definitely me anyway)  have made huge assumptions about sex and sexuality and that it’s an unspoken and repressed subject. WRONG. Here it is the total opposite. Sexy girls dressed in wonderfully tacky costumes (think Britney Spears video) stand in shop windows, children in school are far more aware of sex and sexuality than 10 year olds back home and on the whole I feel like it’s just a far more open and acceptable topic than it is in England. I was shocked to see X-rated video shops freely advertised, girls in bikini’s in clubs and a huge gay population both in Taipei and in Hsinchu. Sex Appeal and is alive and kicking and in big business here in Taiwan.

7. Another image we all have of Asia is the buddhist guy, sitting pensively on a rock somewhere with his legs crossed and humming to himself. Now, although buddhism is still the main religion of China and is practiced devoutly across the Strait, here in Taiwan, I am shocked at the amount of churches and neon red crosses sticking out of buildings there are. Christianity is just as common (if not more so in Hsinchu) than Buddhism, there are more Christians in Taiwan and China than there are in Italy and although there are Buddhist temples scattered about the city, Taiwan and China combined are on track to becoming the largest centre of Christians in the world.  Crazy huh?

6. When I say pasta, I could bet you probably everything I own (minus my Beyonce collection, Starbucks thermos flask and scooter) that you think of Italy.  Wrong again. The Chinese have been eating noodles for over 4000 years and are the official inventors of pasta. They didn’t call it pasta obviously, Lord knows what they called it, pasta is an italian word, but pasta itself, is a Chinese dish. Marco Polo (traveller and king of Venice) loved it so much he brought it back to his wonderful country and here in lies the history of the noodle.

5. And the same can be said for smoothies. And ice cream. And Ketchup. And fireworks. And the kite. And the parachute. In fact, there are so many things that everybody in the West uses that China first thought of. I mean, where we be without our Ben and Jerrys? Or our innocent smoothies? Or our 5th November ritual? Let’s not get into it, too upsetting. Better to just be grateful for the clever clogs in the 14th century who first came up with these crazy-ass ideas.

4. So its 15 years ago, my Mum and I are traipsing around different secondary schools in 90’ oufits trying to decide which would be best/least distressing for spending 5 years in and we both agree that smaller schools would probably be better. I mean isn’t it a given that the less children in a class the better they do? As it turns out I went to a gigantic secondary school in the end and came out ok (I think), but the saying definitely goes, the less kids, the better they do. For surely, this means more one on one time with the teacher and thus better grades? Not in Taiwan. No no. That would be far too predictable. Here, it’s more like our restaurant browsing policy. The more kids the better. For, obviously this means the teacher is well trusted. So, much to my delight, whilst other classes have 11 or 12 students, mine has 22.  My supervisor tries to spin this as “it means you very good and trusted” as she attempts to place one more in K2A. I’ve drawn the line. And you’ll be pleased to know, the small child was rejected and placed in K2B, her parents weren’t the happiest. I mean there are only 13 children in K2B. This can’t be a good thing at all.…. I will never understand this backwards concept in this country.

3. Friday the 13th. Unlucky right? In the West yes. In the East? No siree. Try the 4th. Or just number 4 in general. Apparently the word of death sounds or looks just like the number 4. So anything related to 4 naturally must be related to death. That’s why very often a building won’t have a 4th floor or models of phones or computers will skip the 4th generation.

2. Chinese kids are crazy! Everybody who comes here to teach expects them to be the most obedient, well-behaved children on Earth. And every single person has this expectation shattered to pieces within the first few hours of their first day. These children will happily say ‘no’ to your face, and when I say happily I mean it. A kid last week said no with a huge smile on his face. That is until I sent him to Baby class and he spent the entire lesson with children 10 years his younger. They won’t sit still, they speak Chinese to your face and are so clearly calling you an ugly bitch or some insult of the sort. It has taken me 4 months to tame both my classes, using a trial and error method I have eliminated strategy after strategy and eventually found ways to gain both their respect and obedience. Nobody has ever anticipated just how much of a handful a 12-year-old Chinese boy can be, but let me tell you, as soon as they learn the word ‘gay’ or ‘shit’, you’re in for a challenge.

1. The biggest shocker of all is how friendly the Taiwanese are. In general the Chinese have a stereotype for keeping themselves to themselves, needing nobody and befriending only their kind. But, I have experienced only the latter. The locals here will go out of their way to help you. To me, this has made such a difference to my time here and having my iPod returned to me after 4 weeks of frantic searching, being let off the last 20 dollars from a cab ride and being given water at 5 in the morning from the taxi man have all shown me just how amazing this country and it’s little people can be.

As 2011 becomes 2012 and my fourth month here turns into my fifth, I have accepted the disgusting burps and farts. I have gotten used to the crazy 8 lane freeway twice a day. I have learned the hard way that my big class means I am a good teacher. My little cloud is slowly disintegrating and I am falling into the culture I so closely watched and examined. I now wear 3 layers when it’s 22 degrees because I understand the weather and the crazy-ass wind. I now drink hot water instead of cold because I understand it’s better for your throat and nose and can prevent colds. I actually shout at children that need to be shouted at (this is not such a good thing back home) because I realise they must learn how to form their letters and numbers correctly before elementary school  (again, never normally such a big deal, kids in England have crap handwriting). There are probably a million more things I don’t know about the Chinese, after all they’ve been around about 5000 years longer than us, but I’ll take the above 10 as good footing as I head into my second semester.

Happy new year to those in this continent and that which I miss so much.  2012 is the year of the Dragon. My year. If that doesn’t sum it up, I don’t know what will.



 

Thanks to the Giving.

So in compliance with the school assembly schedule and general life in wannabe-American Taiwan, this week is Thanksgiving, and boy, don’t I know it. Thus, my next entry is wonderfully Thanksgivingy themed. There it is in black and white, my 6 letter name on the paper timetable next to THANKSGIVING ASSEMBLY. Out of all the American and Canadian teachers here, somehow it made the most sense to get the English girl, having never given Thanks in her life to teach 100 Chinese kids the story, customs and traditions behind the whole thing. Of course Wikipedia is my first port of call, and now I’m fully up to speed on why the nice (petrified) red-Indians gave the poor (armed) Englishmen their food and land.

That aside, I am feeling rather festive. The playground is a spectacular array of fairylights, both entrances are aglow with LED reefs and Christmas trees and round the clock Christmas show rehearsal has indeed commenced. There is a giant white tree in my classroom complete with pink, blue, green and purple decorations and the school sound system blasts Christmas songs (although not your traditional festive album… unless yours consists of Hilary Duff belting Jingle Bell Rock, Abba and their infamous Super Trooper or Aqua and their rather seductive Happy Boys and Girls’) pretty much 8 of the 10 hours it is turned on. Nonetheless, they are our Christmas Show songs and as I’m wandering from the office to the playground to my classroom I definitely am starting to get into the spirit. And with that in mind (and with assembly research still in progress)  I thought it the best time to be reflective and have a little Thanksgiving of my own…

So, in true English fashion,  first things first: things I am not thankful for….

The weather in Taiwan could be likened to something off a Katy Perry album. It’s 33 degrees and humid one day and then literally 24 hours later its 20 with the coldest, iciest wind. This, I am truly not thankful for. I now have a pretty much resident chesty cough, croaky voice as well as a lacking ability to choose clothes correctly . The sun that beams through my 13th floor ceiling to floor windows in the morning is criminally deceptive and has left me on many occasions freezing my butt, hands and ears off on the scooter ride to and from work. I am slowly learning to ignore its smiley loving face and put my (new snug) coat on every morning regardless of how beautiful the view of the mountains is on the horizon.

Secondly, I am not thankful for Taiwan’s sneaky Christmas loophole. Although it appears to be in the festive spirit, with decorations and music galore, the country runs a completely normal schedule through the entire month and working at a school this obviously means working right through until Chinese New Year (the obviously more worthy celebration) at the end of January. So where as I normally see Christmas décor and make the clear connection with at least 2 weeks off; this year is all trickery and come Christmas day (although the school have kindly given us poor foreigners 2 days off) I shall quickly be back at work as if this special day never existed. Gone will be the wonderful tree and music (having said that if I never hear Super Trooper again I shall lead a happy and fulfilled existence).

Before this turns into a rant rather than a blog entry I shall turn my attention instead to the things I am indeed very thankful for…

Firstly, and probably most importantly I am thankful for the friends I have mde here. Now we all live in the same beautiful building life is like being back at uni but with an actual apartment, a gym, a job and the money to travel around this beautiful continent over the long holidays. Without this little support group I can safely say I would be far less settled here and have them to thank for a ridiculous string of good (drunken) times. It’s a weird feeling being able to lift your life up, move it a few thousand miles to the right, put it back down and a few weeks later feel like you never moved it.

Secondly, I am thankful for (hold the vomit people) my wonderful boyfriend back home who, in all of this is probably the most incredible. I never mention him, I don’t need to. But on my first thanksgiving it is important I include him.  For being on the other side of the world, he still does an amazing job of taking the piss, calling me at the wrong times and being a rock of support.

Lastly, aside from the complete and utter obvious that is my best friends and my sisters (who are one and the same really ) back home, I can only really say I am thankful for the opportunities I have been given from those in England and those here.  I mean this in many ways (including watching a grown man do the chicken dance to Abba in front of 150 children and sitting on a freezing cold stationary coach in torrential rain for 3 hours on the way to Taipei) but mainly the chance to do things I never would like flying here in the first place with 5 days notice, teach my own class and actual feel like I’m doing a half decent job of it and making wonderful cocktails of vodka, wine, cough medicine and sugar (yes this is a true story and I was not the initiator!) in the wee hours of Friday nights.

If anyone is wondering how the old cousin is doing, he’s settled in probably quicker than I did. He has taken to the job like a fat girl takes to grilled cheese and it almost feels like he’s been here all along. My Chinese is still better than his and I plan to keep it this way. Anyone who has met me for long enough will tell you of my weird (subtle) competitive streak and I will not have him overtake me!

Tomorrow is actual Thanksgiving and my Californian friend Hannah is cooking up (in our £10 toaster ovens) a Thanksgiving feast. Wish us luck, this girl can just about make pasta. If I don’t have a blog entry in the next few weeks, perhaps raise the alarm bells. But until then, Happy Thanksgiving everybody. May your day be filled with things you are thankful for (for me this would simply be the lack of ABBA, Aqua and Hilary Duff) and take care in the cold November weather. I wish I could say I lived in a tropical country and was not experiencing any of this, but unfortunately Taiwan could win awards for its trickery and tonight I shall snuggle in bed with my fleece blanket and dream of roast Turkey.

Flesh and Blood.

You never really know how well you know something… until its gone. At least I think thats the saying, right? Well, for the sake of this entry I’m changing the words to – you never really know how well you know something until someone new comes along and you realise, shit me. I’ve been in Taiwan nearly 10 weeks and I know it pretty damn well.

There I am, at the High Speed Rail Shuttle Bus Stop waiting for the free bus to take to me the bullet train to pick up my actual flesh and blood from the airport. (Although if it were my actual flesh and blood I’d be in serious pain and unable to wait for a bus I imagine… anyway) It’s been nearly 3 months since I’ve seen any of them, and this is not just any special visit. My beloved cousin is coming to live.  I managed to wangle a job for him at the same school, and just like me, they needed him quicker than you can say ‘ni hao’.  The hype over the week has reached its height and I end up telling the Chinese guy at the bus stop (in Chinese) that I’m on my way to pick up my cousin who is going to be an Ingwing Lowshur (English teacher).  I don’t think anything of it. Except – wow, when he nods enthusiastically, I think he must think I’m nuts. I get on the bus. Sit in the traffic. Swear under my breath because I’m late. Run through the station. Buy a ticket (in Chinese). Jump on the train, swear under my breath because it gets held up in a tunnel. Run through the station, jump in a taxi and scream “Wo yow Airport!”

I’m 20 minutes late, and all my marathon efforts and making a ‘Welcome to your new life’ sign on cardboard and squeezing into my bag were in vain. He ends up waiting for me. We exchange a mutual “this is f*cking crazy sh*t” hug, grab a coffee and take 10 minutes outside to absorb the fact that he’s here.  A few words in we’re rudely interrupted by loud bangs. We look around; there are fireworks in the sky. Gorgeous red,  yellow, blue, purple fireworks on a backdrop of the mountains, sunset and my actual cousin in Taiwan. I took the opportunity to cease the moment, a rare landmark moment in life when everything comes together in sync and screamed “Welcome to Taiwan” at the top of my lungs.

We finish our Starbucks, he finishes his cigarette (which he was and still is astonished at its fractional price in comparison to back home) and make our way back to my NEW apartment. That’s right people. After 8 weeks in Taiwan, a developing phobia of mosquitoes, 2 trips to hospital and bites the size of my head, I took the advice of my dear old Dad, threw out my mattress and moved the hell away from my old room. So far away in fact that it took me 20 minutes north into a new city and into a brand new building with rooms complete with plasma TV’s, hot plates, balconies, court yard gym and best of all, every other foreign teacher at Stanford. As soon as I was shown the room I was in love. It’s like living in one of those fake rooms at Ikea that no one ever really has but always dreams of having, with an amazing view of the mountains and the city skyline. So there we were outside the airport, and I tell the guy (in Chinese) that we want to go to the train station. Joe looks stunned. The last time I saw him was in a bar in London, after a few beers we hugged it out and said ‘see you next year.’ A few weeks later, there we are, on the other side of the world and I speak a load of jibberish to a guy who says “ok” and opens the car door.

It’s not until he says “Soph, did you just speak Chinese?” that I realise how much I’ve learned, how comfortable I am here and how much this really has become my life. In the taxi ride and pretty much over the last few days he’s thrown questions at me that I can answer properly and comfortably. What a funny feeling. I am no longer the newbie. In fact, now I almost feel like old news. My sisters, my parents and my cousins now ask how he’s doing, how he’s settling and how what he’s up to. To some this would lead to a sense of replacement or thunder theft. But for me, it’s lead to a feeling of comfort. My chapters are changing. I’m in the second phase. No longer do I feel like a stranger here, in fact quite the opposite, it actually feels like home.  Moving into this building was the cherry on the top of a wonderful, 6ft tall cake made of Nutella and strawberries.  The past 10 weeks have been incredible, but my next chapter looks set to top it. I’m now confident at work and don’t feel like a fish (who doesn’t speak to language or eat the food) out of water and have a nice little routine during the week. I still have moments where I think “dude… you’re actually LIVING on the other side of the world”, but for the most part the beautiful mountainous commute, the gazillion scooters, the bright sunshine, the never-ending adorableness of K2A, the obsession with Hello Kitty and Spongebob and abundance of rice has become second nature to me and as the year comes to an end (and Christmas Show rehearsal  goes into overdrive) I am still as excited as ever for where I am and what I’m doing.

As Joe unpacks his things into the 3 shelves I’ve cleared for him,  he stares at the floor to ceiling display of photos on the wardrobe. “Soph, have you seriously only got that one picture of me where I’m dressed as a zombie from like 4 years ago?” It’s ok I think, we’ve got a whole year.

A is for Adventure (and antibiotics)

It’s 6 months ago. I’m in the playground at 10am, its May and it’s cold. 6 police cars zoom past the school with their sirens on ‘deafen the general public’ setting. The city kids in the playground don’t even hear it. To them, it’s nothing. I stare up at the sky. Get me out of here.

Fast forward. It’s October, I look down. My feet are in the clearest sea water they’ve ever seen. There’s a pina colada in my left hand and Bob Marley is playing from the band at the end of the beach.  I breathe in deeply and take in everything around me.

Kenting was absolutely incredible. Think 5 hour road trip in blacked out people carrier,  white sand, warm sea, live music,  snorkelling with tropical fish, ice cream inside a coconut, surf competitions and most importantly – think, TATTOO! I kid you not.

It started out as a joke on the ride down. 3 Taiwan Beers in someone makes a joke that we are having a ‘bonding’ weekend and that we should all get matching tattoos. Everyone laughs. And then comes… “actually I’d be down for that”, and then “actually me too”… “if you’re in, I’m in”… and before we knew it, the tattoo discussion turned from talk to tale. We walked around the night market the following night with one eye open for a tattoo artist. Ideas of what to get had been thrown from left to right  and even as we searched for someone to draw on us, we hadn’t made an unanimous decision – except that it had to be Chinese symbols. As the night went on, the search continued and the idea began to fade. Then someone had the bright idea of asking someone at a ‘fake tattoo’ stall if they knew someone who could help us. Turns out, the guy himself could, but didn’t have his tools. This is where the tale starts to get a little shady.

He jumped at the idea of doing 6 tattoos in one night and offered to drive the 2 hour journey back home to collect the tools and then come back. We were interested. Then he said he could only do it at our hotel room as he didn’t have an actual shop. Shadiness continues. We agreed and as its started to rain a little, we made the decision to go home, drink at the bar downstairs until the guy arrived. At the bus stop, Kera and Brad started having reservations. “Guys, we can’t have a random guy giving us tattoos at 2  in the morning in our hotel room.” No one else is that bothered, so we play it down. “Oh it’s fine, he’ll be in and out before we know it.” Kera has 8 tattoos from all different parts of the world. She’s like tattoo queen. “It’s like a drilling noise, and he’ll be at least 3 hours” Playing it down continues. And I start freaking out about this drilling noise.  Deep down we all knew the couple were talking sense. We called the guy back and explained we didn’t want to annoy the nice Hotel lady or get kicked out. But refusing to take No for an answer, the guy insisted  he’d find a place somewhere nearby. Shadiness goes up a notch. “Ok no problem, I’ll rent a room nearby, in fact I think I have a friend on that street. We can go to his apartment.” Somehow, in the mist of it all, we agreed and got on the bus home.

2 hours later, the phone rings. He’s outside. It’s now pouring down outside, and in the thick of the night, the tattoo idea just didn’t seem as appealing. I put my bag over my head and frowned. We all know about my lack of love for the rain, (except for when we’re in school and there are Chinese children laughing of course) and this just wasn’t my idea of fun anymore. We all knew our relatives back home would be saying ‘no  no no, that sounds way too dodgy’… but each and every one of us still stepped out into the rain (in shorts and flip flops I may add) in the early hours of the morning (delirious obviously) and followed the stranger from the fake tattoo stand at 2 in the morning.  To make things worse -I kid you not – a blacked out Mercedes car crawled alongside us the whole way, apparently it was carrying his tools but by this point all of us felt very on edge. Still nobody piped up and rejected the grand idea.

Up in the apartment, the air conditioning box was literally hanging out of the wall. There was nothing actually inside it apart from 2 double beds, a chest of drawers with a TV on the top and an empty wardrobe. We never asked why it was so empty, we just stood with straight backs and were joined by a Chinese man and woman with tools.  Kera stared at the tools, examining  and analysing carefully. She gave us the nod of approval after seeing fresh needles inside sealed canisters and the tattoos began. It only seemed right, that after the entire journey – from the inner city playground to Taiwan, from no friends in Hsinchu to bonding on the beautiful southern tip – that the Chinese symbols for “adventure” would be tattooed onto the back of my neck. And in what more of an adventurous situation could I have been? There I was. 2 in the morning on the other side of the world, with people I had only known 7 weeks in an apartment that a horror movie could quite easily be set in.  To say it didn’t hurt would be lying. It did. But not so much that I stopped him. It was like having 1000 tiny weeny pinches, but from someone with long, freshly cut nails and with a vengeance. I pulled all manner of faces in the 20 minutes the guy spent needling my back. Erin held my hand and Kera updated me every 30 seconds on its progres. It was like giving birth (although I’m sure there are several mothers reading this ready to slap me and tell me otherwise) but whilst the pain having it done was horrible, once he had finished, I was so happy with the finished product, that I forgot about the ordeal I had just been through. Together, one by one, we got through it. Once he had finished, I stood up and took a giant deep breath.

When I was 16 I wrote a “things to do before I die” list… ‘Get a Tattoo’ was number 4. I can now cross that off. I also had “learn Chinese” on there, perhaps in a few months’ (or years) time I’ll be able to cross that one off too. “Adventure” seemed so perfectly fitting and a week on, I do not have one single smidgen of regret. Now, in years to come when the 6 of us are back in our home countries, with mortgages and babies and no time to think about the amazing times we once had,  we will always have the tattoo as a reminder of our incredible adventures in Taiwan and how a few little symbols can provide so much fun.

We took the bullet train back. I’ve never heard or seen anything like it. For £25 we got home in one fifth of the time (and at the same price) it took us to drive down there. It was like flying. We zoomed through the gorgeous Taiwanese countryside, mountains, waterfalls and fields and arrived back in Hsinchu precisely 1 hour and 23 minutes after leaving.

Back home, I now have a cough, sore throat, headache and bites the size of my palms on my legs. A trip to the hospital on Thursday informed me that I am having a “severe allergic reaction to insect bites” and that the “tissue beneath the first 3 layers of skin is badly damaged”… lovely. After an antihistamine injection in my arm, I hobbled away with 6 bags of medicine which included 3 days of steroids, 7 days of antibiotics and very strong painkillers. Thank the Lord, the doctor (who wasn’t very sympathetic – I don’t think the Taiwanese are too big on empathy) worked miracles and my legs are starting to resemble actual lower limbs again.

Although the past week has been fairly miserable for me, last weekend was so much fun it’s almost like you’re allotted a certain amount of fun per month and I maxed mine out in Kenting. I’ve spent today, nursing my cold, eating peanut butter on bread (don’t have a toaster you see) and tiding my apartment. As I’m doing so, I’ve been boxing things nicely… as I’m now looking at moving out. Yep. I’ve convinced myself that the bugs that bit my legs are here, living with me and that’s why I’m getting bitten so much. It could be in my head. Or it could be in my bed. Whatever the case may be, I need to get out of here.  The last time I said that I flew to the other side of the world. As nice as my landlady is, I have no qualms about moving out next month and into somewhere where I can just relax. Even if it is in my head, I’m ready for a change. I guess the symbols inked across the back of my neck really do ring true. Adventure is now a part of who I am.