New Year Vlog (on a Mountain)!

This video talks about how I am purposely not making new year’s resolutions in effort to be more present, spontaneous, and less addicted to productivity… but then on my way down from this hike I decided to also add “do 30 hikes” to my list of resolutions that definitely doesn’t exist. Old habits die hard.

Hope your 2021 is of to a whizzbang of a start and that whoever you kissed at midnight kept their mask on for it.

Balance

I hope you all had a smart and safe Thanksgiving and plan to do the same for Christmas and New Year’s. When I think about what it’s like back home, it still blows my mind and makes me incredibly sad. And while I of course want everyone to stay home, wear a mask, and social distance, it’s also hard to blame people for wanting to get out and see people. I don’t know how you’ve done this for almost a year now, but don’t give up hope yet. Though there is some promising news on the vaccine that may appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s still a really long tunnel so let’t not get overly excited just yet. We’ve still got a long way to go, but keep the faith and keep doing the smart thing. Plus, you know, the whole having an actual set of mentally stable humans in the White House should hopefully also help.

Meanwhile, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have landed where I did. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating; getting a job on this tiny island about which I previously knew nothing, and the fact that they handled a pandemic that has devastated the rest of the world and that I get to spend half of the worst year ever in the best place on Earth – the odds are incomprehensibly small. I get to live in a place that has had perhaps the only Pride parade and music festivals in the world this year, and I’m running a half-marathon with 10,000 other people next weekend in Taipei! And all I had to do was mess up all my relationships for a decade and decide to teach abroad 10 years later than most people do! (Joke’s on you, suckas!)

This post, however, is not going to be braggy. This post is meant to provide some balance. To assure both you and myself that I am not posting a curated life on social media. While of course Instagram and this blog are mainly going to capture the highlights, I do try hard to be real with what I post and I assure you that this is not a case of showcasing the highs and concealing the lows. It really is quite incredible here and it’s true that my cup has felt more full lately than it has in a long time. Alas, nothing is perfect and I thought you might appreciate learning about some of the less-than-ideal parts of life in Taiwan, at least from this entitled gringo’s point of view.

Things I don’t love about Taiwan:

Paper products. Absolute shit. Basically everything is a tissue that is half the size and thickness of a standard Kleenex. You need some paper towels to clean up a spill? Here’s a tissue. Hands covered in grease after eating out at a fried chicken restaurant? 450 tissues. A roll of toilet paper? I don’t even know what that is. You’ll have to make it work with some tissues. When you’re done, don’t forget to wash your hands. Oh, you want to dry them? here is a plastic envelope filled with tissues that you have to dig around in to get just one but you’ll probably grab 10 on accident and the bag is all wet from other people also failing at the finger crane game, so your hands aren’t exactly clean anymore. If you’re feeling a little cooped up these days and that travel bug is itching, here is what you can do to create a cultural experience. Go to a nice restaurant with your partner and another couple (or better yet, get it delivered, please). Take a single 2-ply generic “facial tissue” with you. Peel the two layers away from one another. Now, cut each square in half and pass one-fourth of the original tissue to each member of the dinner party. Congratulations! You have just created a Taiwanese napkin. Eat carefully.

Cash only. Other than booking a hotel, 100% of the transactions I have completed here have been done in cash. This was shocking to me. I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind it. I was expecting a very technologically advanced society, which it is in many ways, but credit cards and phone pay are not one of them. My first day here I went to a grocery store. I saw that they had a credit card machine and I handed mine to her. She looked at it like it was an alien invention that she had never seen before. She tried it a few times, but it did not work. At rare places like this, you can use a local debit card, but it seems like very few people do. I’m used to carrying cash around now, but it’s not fun. I also have a bang load of 1 dollar coins (~$0.03) from getting change everywhere, but I don’t want to take them to the bank to exchange for bills because no one there speaks English. You wouldn’t think so, but everything any of the foreign teachers have ever tried to do at that bank is always surprisingly complicated, so I’m going to wait on that for as long as possible.

Sidewalks. There are none. Your choices are to walk along the edge of the road with a thousand scooters zipping by you at irresponsible speeds or, on some streets, there is this half-promenade half-storefront space that is safer than the road, but you also have to scootch around someone who is cooking at their food stall, walk between tables at a restaurant, and squeeze through scooters parked haphazardly literally everywhere. Again, such an impressive society in so many ways… except in the early days someone forgot to add “safe space for people to walk” to the infrastructure checklist.

Aggressive dating. The Taiwanese love themselves a relationship. People like to get married and have kids. I think there is some low-key shame in being single. (It’s crazy – I moved 7,000 miles away and it’s like I’ve never left the Midwest! Ha!) Relationships here move faster than the coronavirus at a Trump rally. My first first date was lunch, and then an impromptu one-hour drive to the ocean, and then dinner at a rest stop/mall on the way home. It was fun, but a bit much. Nice girl, but no future. The second girl I met was also wonderfully thoughtful, fun, and creative. But after our second date, she was planning full-day adventures, asked me to travel to Kaohsiung to meet her family and was sending links for Airbnb’s wanting to plan a weekend away. It’s intense, and I’ve been told this is not uncommon. So I’m cooling it on that for a bit. Just going to enjoy being single, exploring the country, going on adventures, meeting people, making friends, and see where it takes me.

No one drinks anything here. Not water, not coffee, not juice, not milk, not beer, not wine. My best guess is that people have adapted to be like air plants and they just get their moisture from the air?? People seem to like tea, but that’s about it. In line with the aforementioned napkin situation, do not expect to get water with your meal when you go to a restaurant. There is typically a water station, but a) the water is likely to be on the plus side of warm (they really hate cold things here) and b) the size of the cup will be somewhere between a shot glass and a thimble. Us new teachers typically remember to bring our water bottles when we go out, but if you look around, literally no one else will be drinking water with their meals. I do not understand. It will be 108°F and everyone will be eating a steaming hot bowl of beef noodles with not a molecule of H2O in site. It’s fascinating. As for alcohol, there are a handful of bars, breweries, and clubs, primarily in one part of town, but most people do not drink much. The good news about this is that since they don’t have a problem with drunk people doing stupid shit, you can bring beer anywhere you want. Every restaurant is B.Y.O.B., you can drink in Ubers, you can drink in parks, you can drink on sidewalks… or at least you could if they existed! It’s hard to find a decent beer, but you can get a Taiwan Beer for $1 USD at any convenience store and drink it anywhere you want. I’m a simple man, and this brings me great pleasure.

So as to stick to the theme and give this post some balance, a few other things that have brought me pleasure lately include, but are not limited to:

  • On my second attempt, I passed my scooter driver’s license test! The hardest part is that you have to drive really slow and straight on this skinny line. I tipped over the first time, which is an automatic fail. But we set up a practice course at school and I redeemed myself the second time around!
  • I joined a running group called the Taichung Hash House Harriers. You follow a chalk-marked trail through different parts of the city or mountains, you get to go places where few have gone before, and they drink a ton of beer! It’s been great.
  • As I mentioned, I will be running a half-marathon in Taipei on 12/20. I will fill very good if I can complete it without my knee hurting too badly. More than that, I’m excited to be part of the race, feel the energy, and watch full-marathon finishers!
  • I am going to be Santa and co-emcee for the school Christmas concert. (More accurately, I will be playing Santa’s brother-in-law Dan.) Also, tbd on if this will be a highlight or not.

Taiwan is a wonderful place, but perhaps nowhere is perfect… although I haven’t been everywhere yet, so standby. Thanks, as always, for reading and for your comments, thoughts, and good vibes! Peace and love to you all, Happy Holidays, wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t be a dick, defund the police, dismantle the patriarchy, and fuck Donald Trump.

Quick catch up? Yeah right.

This blog has become like papers I need to grade. Important, useful, but never a priority. Then, after a few days/weeks, the stack becomes too daunting to tackle, so I just go on avoiding it. Also like, there are way too many fun things to do here to spend too much time sitting at a computer. So I’m sorry to all my 12 loyal subscribers and the lady that my mom shared this with in her checkout line, but adventure calls.

So. A few highlights from the last few weeks. Let’s see….

Beer mile! I’m going to Tarantino this and start with the end and then go back to the beginning. I got last place! I’m going to be honest, I love putting on an event. I spent the preceding days gathering prizes, laminating certificates, and collaborating with John to determine the rules. We did a helluva job. We had those clapper things for the fans, opening ceremonies with the national anthems of all participants, and a beer mug crown for the winner. There were prizes for all runners and drinking spectators. It was a good time. As for the race, in case you’ve never run a beer mile, I’ll explain. Drink a beer, run a lap. Do this 4 times for a total of 4 beers and 1 mile. I can now advise you that the key to it is about 80% drinking ability and 20% running ability. And of that 80, most of that is weighted toward the last beer. That damn last beer. I was winning pretty much the whole time. I came into the final beer with a substantial lead and then… a wall. My body just said no. Too full and I couldn’t burp. All I needed was one good burp and I could have jogged to victory. But I couldn’t get it down. I did eventually, but it was too late. Both John and Fayo finished their last beer and had a pretty close finish. I came in about a minute later with a still respectable time of 15:30. The most miraculous part is, no one puked! John did have a mysterious few moments in the bushes, the events of which will never be known to anyone, but it was a remarkably professional performance from all three “athletes.” Well done by everyone, and thanks to the supporters. Let’s do it again next year, and this time, I’m gonna burp.

Laminated certificates for the top two and a post-it note for last place. I’m so glad I won that.

Halloween! Man, Cornel does it big. It’s my favorite holiday and even for me, it was a little much. The kids had been “practicing” the same 3 halloween songs for the entire month of October, and I had the honor of having a halloween party for each of my classes in addition to helping at the kindergarten party as well. Oh, and throw in that a haunted house was installed in the entirety of the library, which, incidentally, is the path to the office. So yes, we had the pleasure of walking through a tunnel of dark sheets several times a day for 2 weeks. Oh, and also at Cornel, when two kindergarteners get hand-foot-mouth disease, they send the whole class home for the week and then delay the halloween party for the whole school until the following Wednesday, so add an extra week to everything above. I was over Halloween before it even arrived. But the kids, of course, made it worth it. When I said they do it big, I wasn’t just talking about the school. Most of the families go all out on these costumes. there were working transformers, full make-up and nails, an insanely accurate (and seemingly structurally sound) Taipei 101, and a 6 foot tall pen inside of which I’m pretty sure was a miserable 4 year old. I felt pretty good about my own two costumes, and spent far too many hours putting them together, but the unicorn and the bubble milk tea were big hits, and definitely worth the sweat. For those worried about a holiday let-down, never fear, the kindergarten classes started practicing their songs for the Christmas performance the very next day….

Teacher Unicorn and Teacher… something. I never get any of her references.
Bubble milk tea outside of the shop… and those fuckers didn’t even give me a free drink.
Oh yeah, I totally forgot about my T. Patty costume. So yeah, I had three. And yet another Asian pop-culture reference that I didn’t know.
Not sure exactly why, but I really enjoy this picture. I was told it’s because “it exudes happiness.” Might be accurate.

New idea, I try to write less so the blog becomes less daunting, and I stop whenever it stops feeling joyful and starts feeling like work. I’m going to lay in bed and watch a movie now. I’ll write more soon. Topics may include, but may not be limited to:

– Taipei Pride (incredible)
– More hiking, always hiking (in love)
– Volleyball, finally! (sort of)
– Breweries (homey)
– The top of Taipei 101 (amazing)
– Hot springs (heavenly)
– Acupuncture (interesting)
– A new friend (or, Evan gets out of his own way and just tries to enjoy the nice things in life for once)
– Birthday week! (feeling young, except for the fact that my neck, hip, and knee all hurt)

This bird is flying high.

All these things that I’ve done

All These Things That I’ve Done
by: The Killers

When there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son?
One more son
If you can hold on
If you can hold on, hold on


I want to stand up, I want to let go
You know, you know, no you don’t, you don’t
I want to shine on in the hearts of men
I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand

Another head aches, another heart breaks
I am so much older than I can take
And my affection, well it comes and goes
I need direction to perfection, no no no no, help me out
Yeah, you know you gotta help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You know you gotta help me out, yeah

And when there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
These changes ain’t changing me
The cold-hearted boy I used to be

Yeah, you know you gotta help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You know you gotta help me out, yeah
You’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down


I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier


Yeah, you know you gotta help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You know you gotta help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the backburner
You’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down


Over and again, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done
(Time, truth, hearts)
If you can hold on
If you can hold on

I’ve always liked this song. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s also been a staple in my karaoke repertoire for some time now, but I’ve never thought much about the lyrics. Different things speak to different people at different times. Lately, it’s felt like my anthem.

“When there’s nowhere else to run… If you can hold on, hold on… I wanna stand up, I wanna let go, you know you know, no you don’t you don’t.” I spent most of the last four years feeling a bit… lost. Some of this was my own doing by way of poor decision-making and a deflated sense of self-worth. Some of it was just that Minnesota maybe just wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I got involved with different groups. I tried different sports. I tried different jobs. I tried grad school. I made a lot of wonderful, lifelong friends, I learned a lot about myself, and I had some wonderful experiences, but it was never quite right. Many people at different points in life than me and a passive-aggressive culture that I never did and probably never will vibe* with. So I held on, and now here I am letting go and standing up.
*see paragraph 6

“I wanna shine on in the hearts of men. I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand.” We all want this, do we not? We want to leave the world a better place than when we arrived. We want our pain to be worth it. We want to leave a legacy. We want our lives to have meaning. I have felt more down than up in recent years – behind more often than ahead. I’ve watched my friends and family get promotions, make more money than me, even start their own businesses, travel more often than me, buy houses, and raise kids. And in my weaker moments, it’s hard not to think, “here I am, still just teaching. Standing still while everyone else marches onward.” But in my stronger moments I remember that I’ve done quite a bit to be proud of. I won a statewide award for my teaching. I’ve gotten to live in three different states and teach in three different countries. I just got a note from a student I had last year who wrote recently that I was his favorite person. I’ve had mothers name their children after me.* So maybe my legacy is already being formed. And that feels pretty good.
*Well, the one in Uganda is technically named “Evans,” but that was mostly just a communication error so it still counts.

“Another head aches, another heart breaks, I am so much older than I can take. And my affection, well it comes and goes.” LOL. Yeahhhhh.

“I got soul but I’m not a soldier.” More than just a great time to march around get everyone at the bar involved in the crescendo, this line speaks to me. It speaks to me being here, writing this self-indulgent blog, getting to have all of these experiences and share them via social media, while at the same time wanting to be just a guy. Sometimes I want to be Truman; sometimes I want to be one of the extras. At times I feel a certain amount of pressure with what I’m doing, but I know most of that is self-imposed. I have a hard time sitting still. I constantly want to be productive, to be exploring, or to be improving. Overall, I like this quality about myself, but there is also great peace in just like, chilling out sometimes. Just lay down and rest for a bit, dummy. I have been working on this over the past couple of years (basically ever since I lived with Clare Jacky). I’m getting better at it, but it’s still hard for me. I live in a city of millions of people and essentially 0% of them give a fuck about me. This is a good lesson for me, and it ironically brings comfort and a reminder that any pressure I feel is self-created. No one is asking me to be a soldier. I’m just a person.

“When everyone’s lost, the battle is won with all these things that I’ve done.” If you’re still here after that blithering introduction, we’ve finally reached the body of this essay. The thesis is: I’m happy. And it’s not easy for me to say that. I have a hard time fully accepting and expressing joy, success, and other positive feelings when they concern me. I can express it for others, but not usually for myself. I don’t know why this is. Well, I have an inkling, but I’m working on it in therapy, so I’ll keep that one to myself for now. But seriously, if you haven’t picked up on it by now, life is good. I feel good. I feel more comfortable, more free, and more myself than I have in a long time. I assure you, this isn’t a situation of careful content curation to give the illusion of perfection whilst beneath the surface, despair reigns supreme (have you watched “The Social Dilemma” yet?). I’m actually surprised by how smooth it’s been. I was excited, but I figured there would be some speed bumps that come with moving to any new place. But it’s been genuinely… easy? I feel like I’ve hit the ground running and haven’t lost my balance. The young kids I’m with grossly overuse the word “vibe.” I think it’s a lazy excuse of a word you use when you can’t or don’t want to put actual words or feeling to a situation. But in this case, it might be apt. For reasons that I still do not and may never fully comprehend, I vibe with this place. How long it will last remains to be seen, but for now, I’m standing on top of a mountain, arms outstretched and quoting Hamilton as I sing “look around, look around, how lucky I am to be alive right now.”

More than just vibing, I am proud of what I’ve done to plug in to the community. I don’t want this to be just a “gap year” experience. I live here. I want to get involved, see things, meet people, try new things, maintain old things that I enjoy, and overall fully lean in. Here is a recap of a few things I’ve done in the past month that have been attempts to not just be here, but to live here.

I bought a scooter! In full honesty, it was a pretty strong draw to Taiwan in the first place. I’ve driven a scooter since college and I’ve always loved it. It’s bordering on becoming a personality trait at this point. All of these other newbie girls have been too scared to get on one, but I was pumped from day one. I can’t judge them too harshly. Admittedly, the traffic is a little hectic and my first time on, I was more tense than I thought I would have been. But I got used to it quickly and now it feels amazing. Driving is a bit of an obstacle course every time, and there are certainly more than a few accidents, but I got a good helmet, covered it in unicorn stickers, and feel really comfortable buzzing around everywhere. Having a scooter has opened up so much more of the city to me. I have been able to get out and see places without having to pay for an Uber everywhere. Last weekend, I took it up into the mountains and went on a hike. It’s been amazing.

Me and my new best friend, Bubu.

I’ve been hiking! Hiking is huge here. It’s honestly probably the number one method of exercise for most Taiwanese people. The cities are so close to the mountains and most of the trails are very accessible and well maintained. They are challenging! The hikes I’ve been on so far are all significantly harder than the average hike even in Colorado. The trails are steep and unrelenting. It provides a great ego check when I am standing to the side chugging water and trying to catch my breath and a 75-year-old couple with their 6-year-old grandkid in flip-flops casually trot right past me with a heart rate of 55 bpm. The vast majority of people here are extremely active and fit. I’m getting there, but still a ways to go to work off the beer that 2020 made me drink.

Crazy log bridges in Dakeng.

Speaking of getting in shape, I signed up for a half-marathon! (God I am nailing these transitions.) December 20 in Taipei. I got new running shoes and have been running at the track at the university near my house. It’s been great, although the combination of getting fat during quarantine and the heat and humidity here have made me feel much slower than I used to be. I’m still not sure if my knees will be able to make it 13.1 miles, but I’m going to try my best. I’ve signed up with one of my coworkers, John. He’s very fast and in incredible shape, which is annoying, but also motivating. Can’t let myself be embarrassed too badly, so need to keep training. Somewhat related but mostly not, he and I are hosting the first annual beer mile this Friday. And by hosting I mean that we are the only ones participating. What is a beer mile, you ask? Well, it coincidentally was on both of our bucket lists and was one of the first things over which we bonded. A beer mile is an unforgiving combination that tests both your athletic ability and your alcoholism. Drink a beer, run a lap, repeat. 4 beers. 4 laps. 1 mile. First one to cross the finish line wins. Try not to throw up. If you must, don’t do it on the track. Simple. Challenging. Douchey. It’s everything I love and excel at. John is way faster than me, butI think I’m a better drinker than him, which is an equalizer here, so I think it’s anybody’s race. There will also be a spectator drinking challenge with prizes for all participants. It’s become a full staff event. Look for an update next week.

Not directly related to the previous paragraph, but found this beautiful view on one of my runs and just needed to show it off.

What else am I doing to train? I joined a soccer team! Well, for now. I found the Taichung Savages on Facebook. They are a group of foreigners (mostly Brits, Irish, and South Africans) who get together and practice once a week and play games on the weekends. After I went to my first couple of practices, Some people at school told me emphatically that the Savages are, and I quote, “a bunch of scumbags.” At first I didn’t really mind. I just want to get out there and play. But today was our first game and, can confirm, scumbaggery ensued. A lot of adult men acting like children, whining to the ref, yelling at the other team, and trying to pick fights. I got out there for a few minutes and had fun while I was running around. Blew a good chance with a bad touch, but overall played decently. There’s only a few games left in this season, so I’ll see it through and then reevaluate. Even if they’re scumbags, it’s still nice to do something different, meet some new people, and spend time around 40 year-old has-beens who are full of machismo to counterbalance against all of my time with the 22 year-old sorority gang.

Savages win 4-0! Evan Wettengal with 0 goals, 0 assists, and most importantly, 0 major injuries!

On the topic of meeting new people, I went on a date! It was my first first date in a loooong time. I was nervous. It was pretty fun, mostly comfortable, a little awkward. I think there is a lot of cultural learning to be had here too. For example, is her relative meekness cultural or individual? Is she expecting me to be more assertive, or would that type of American gregariousness be off-putting? Need to collect more data. Or maybe I need to stop thinking of everything as research and just fucking relax. Anyway, super nice girl. We’ve since gone on a second date. Not sure if it will go the distance or anything, but at the very least, it’s nice to eat dinner with someone who can read the menu.

Dim sum date. Did not know that “bee buns” were made to look like literal bees. Incredible.

Honorable mentions:
Karaoke – if you’ve been to Asia you know that it’s way better here
Touristy stuff (Rainbow Village, Painted Animation Lane, sculpture garden, Botanical Gardens to name a few) – take a picture, say you’ve been there, move on. All really beautiful though!
Homemaking – I bought some rugs, hung some pictures in my room, installed the ring on the hook game, and fixed my busted shower and bedroom curtains. I know these are little, normal things that everyone does, but to me, they are not insignificant. They help make this feel more like my home than that I’m just staying in someone else’s. I am very grateful to my school for this nice place, great location, and great view.

So there you are. That’s what I’ve been up to. Thanks for reading and caring! And if you’re in the US, I’m sorry. If you can hold on, hold on. Hopefully in 16 days the world will get slightly less shitty. Until then, we’re not soldiers, but we soldier on.

Leave a comment to let me know what you think!

The assembly that said it all

It’s been too long, I know. But when the choices are constantly go exploring or blog, it’s hard to prioritize sitting at a computer. I plan to follow up very shortly with a second post that will include many more updates, pictures, and adventures. But for now, I want to write a small story with big ideas. I don’t think I can sufficiently express how different it is to teach here, but this anecdote is my attempt.

Two Saturdays ago, we had school. There was a holiday and then an extra day off, giving us a four day weekend. But for some reason probably having to do with hard work or integrity or something crazy, you don’t just get a free day off here. It appears that collectively, everyone in the country just agreed to make up that lost day and go to work on a Saturday. Inconceivable in the US. Inconsequential here. And though I was dreading it at first, it ended up being a really fun day filled with planting bean seeds, spelling bee practice, and a monthly assembly. As a teacher, assemblies aren’t exactly my favorite thing. Typically, the principal does something cringey, the kids get all riled up, and the disruption throws off your entire day. Those with good reading comprehension, however, will remember that I said it’s different here.

It started when I was told the assembly would be in the first floor hallway. I asked my director why not the library, to which she responded with a very confused, “Well I’m not sure, I don’t think we’ve ever even though about using the library.” I was feeling pretty good about the suggestion until another coworker chimed in saying that kids sitting in rows felt too militaristic. We’re supposed to be a family, after all. Okay, so hallway it is. I was, perhaps, smugly intrigued to see how we were going to cram 100+ kids and teachers into a skinny hallway and have it go well. Get over yourself sometimes, Evan.

When I brought my class down, the scene was one of successfully controlled chaos. Kids were chatting happily, teachers were milling about, and a walk down the hall was a minefield of tiny ankles and oblivious 4-year olds. Our fearless (and I don’t use that term flippantly) de-facto principal, Teacher Brittany, led things off by spending 5 minutes getting the kids to sit silently, going over rules and announcements, and sharing a powerpoint about school pride. FALSE. She spent the first 5 minutes running around with her microphone and saying hi to kids, playing a song, getting everyone to dance, and making it clear how genuinely happy she was, her mask failing to hide her smile. Next came a spelling song led by Teacher Colin. He bounced around chanting this catchy rhyme while one student from each class was in charge of spelling a word, followed by the whole school repeating the spelling. (Spelling bees are big here.) Teacher Evan the all-star forgot to write down what word was assigned to him but luckily, Miki the actual all-star had no problem spelling “put, P-U-T, put” (to which we all responded “goooooood job!”).

Next it was time for each teacher to announce their student of the month. A common practice at many schools yes, but here, instead of calling students up on stage to stand in a row and take a picture, each teacher ranted about their pick in the most teachery tones and cadences you could imagine. Such high-pitched energy was impossible this monotoned man-child to emulate. I was however, saved for last because my student of the month, Parker, was the one Teacher Brittany was most excited about. Apparently he’s had a lot of problems in the past and the fact that he has been doing so well in my class brought tears to her eyes. The funniest part was that his mom, another teacher at the school, was not buying it. We thought she would be thrilled to find out her son was doing so well. Instead, she responded with a scoff and “I don’t know why he got picked.” Upon further consideration, I can’t decide if this is funny or sad. As for Parker, he is the easiest “difficult” student I’ve ever had. People were warning me about him before I even got to school. I laughed at them when I met him. He’s a literal angel. Maybe he just needed a change of scenery as much as I did.

Last on the agenda was Halloween song practice where kids, teachers, and admin all danced around. I have to admit, I wasn’t super into it at first, but when I saw how much fun the kids were having, I couldn’t help but join in. It’s kind of a banger, to be honest. You know what’s crazy? They celebrate holidays here! Halloween, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, and even birthdays. (And they let the kids bring cake, not just pencils and veggie trays!) I believe it was during my third training session in quarantine when Brittany said she might make me be Santa. I told her my only disappointment was that she didn’t ask me sooner so I could have brought my own Santa suit from home.

You know what else is crazy about this place? They let kids sit on their laps. They hug kids. They say “I love you.” I’ll be honest, some of this is still a bit uncomfortable for me. As a male elementary teacher I have been conditioned to not touch kids beyond high-fives and side-hugs. Never be alone with a kid in your classroom. No special notes, cards, or gifts for individual students. Show minimal affection, just to be careful. I remember my first week in my last district receiving several strongarm attempts to join the union, “just cuz, as a guy, you never know, ya know?” I understand the issues, of course, and I’ve always been very careful to do the “right” things. But how sad is it that the right thing for a teacher to do is to keep their distance rather than showering kids with love and affection? It’s different here. On one of my student’s birthdays, Teacher Brittany walked her down the street to the Family Mart to buy a treat of her choice! Can you imagine how quickly she’d be on the five o’clock news if she had done this in the states? Like I said, being conditioned a certain way for the past 15 years (undergrad training included), some of these things are still out of my comfort zone. I can’t say I totally agree with asking kids to sit on your lap while you read and calling them “baby,” but I’m settling in to hopefully a nice balance of affection and authority.

When Cornel says “we’re a family,” it’s not an exaggeration. Some of these kids go to Chinese school at 7:30am, come to Cornel in the afternoon, and then even go to yet another school until 9:00pm! For many students, we are their family. While it’s easy for me to say that this is way too much time in school for 7-17 year-olds, it’s not my job to judge. This is just what they do. It’s my job to be the teacher, parent, coach, therapist, mentor, friend, disciplinarian, and extended family that these kids need for the time they’re with me. Every teacher in every country in the world will tell you that these are their roles on a daily basis. This always has been and always will be true for as long as schools exist. The difference is that in the US, at best, you fall short of being any of these things fully. At worst, you can get in trouble for trying to be the wrong thing for the wrong kid at the wrong time. Here, you are encouraged to be whatever you need to be for your kids. You are lauded when you succeed and supported when you fail.

Well, I’ve officially gone over 1000 words, so I hope that means that a picture has been painted. To review: hugs, holidays, happiness.

HALLoween hype
The cutest note from my little buddy on National Teacher’s Day.
My perfect 5th grade girls publishing their stories. (The boys on the other hand…)
I don’t know what this says but probably something about checking out our bean seeds, maybe.
Miki’s bucket hat is everything.
If they get all their work done, they get to read with the finger puppets. Hopefully not to slowly (turtle joke boom).

Thank you, not pee pee

Wow. Two weeks in, or out (of quarantine) rather. It’s flown by and, at the same time, it feels like I’ve been here forever. Writing this post gets more daunting with every day that passes, like a stack of papers that need to be graded that just keeps getting higher. So instead of my typical self-indulgent, narrative slash poetic ramblings, I’m just going to try to bang out a few succinct updates. Okay, I can’t reread that sentence and take it seriously. We all know succinct is not my thing. But I see writing as an imitation of life and like my current journey, I’m just gonna wander around and see where the road takes me, so here we go.

At school every Friday the teachers share their “roses and thorns” from the week. It’s a little cheesy, but I’ve always liked cheesy team-buildy things, so I’m about it. Here are some of my major roses and thorns from my first two weeks in Taichung.

Roses:

  • My apartment. Having lived in a house on my own for the last two years, I was a little nervous about moving into a high-rise apartment with roommates, 23 year-old girls, no less. But so far it’s been great. Morgy and The Flash are legit and the apartment is nice! It’s a two-story, 4 bedroom place on the 19th/20th floor. I can see an outline of the mountains through the smog, and the most recent purchase of a couple of rugs has really brought the place together.
The view from our balcony. Ugly buildings as far as the eye can see, but beauty beyond.
My little bedroom. I am irrationally pumped about my new rug.
  • My school. Cornel is a happy place, man. It’s painted bright colors, the kids are always smiling and laughing, and the teachers are treated well. If this describes your school, then you probably don’t work in the United States. My work week is 20 hours of teaching and 10 hours of planning, which is still mind-boggling to me. The kids go to their Chinese school in the mornings and then come to Cornel for English in the afternoons. I teach 1st grade four days a week and 5th grade three days a week. The kids are very cute and sweet, but above all, they are focused. They sit and listen intently, they all do their homework every day, they write silently when you ask them to, and they can all pretty much read at or above grade level. These are all new phenomena for me. The fifth graders are in school from 7am ’til 7pm some days, which is probably too much, but it shows up in the quality of their academics. The teachers all share a big office so we can plan and chat, and everyone seems to get along quite well. Ages range from 23 to mid-40’s (I was worried I was going to be the weird old black sheep). The returning teachers have all been very welcoming, kind, and helpful. I didn’t get out of quarantine until a couple of weeks into the school year, so it’s been a challenge to catch up and figure everything out, but I’ve just been taking it one day, one task at a time. Some of the lesson planning and figuring out curriculum and grades has been overwhelming, but when I’m in the room with the kids, I feel at home. It also helps that I have seven first graders and 12 fifth graders. It’s amazing what you can do with such a small group. Coming from an average class size of about 27 for the past 10 years, it feels like cheating. It’s going to be really hard to ever teach in the US again.
Sylvia working hard
Max, Miki, Janet, Parker, Mia, Sylvia, Danny, and T. Evan. #squad
Grade 5 working with their writing partners and a self-made poster that I felt really good about until I realized that I should have moved it down to be in the random white rectangle painted on the wall and now it bothers me.
  • The food. There are about 100 little shops and stands on the walk between home and school. There is so much variety to choose from and it’s been fun to try a bunch of new stuff. It’s not always easy to order, but the Google Translate camera usually gets the job done. Some favorites so far include teppanyaki, dumplings, dim sum, fried rice and noodles, and a super fun conveyor belt sushi place! And the quality for the cost cannot be beat, which brings me to my next rose…
  • The prices. Everything here is so cheap! You can get a really good dinner for $2 USD. Beers are about $1, and pretty much every place is BYOB. I got a hot, fresh donut today for about 30 cents, and the mountain of sushi, a few beers, and ice cream for dessert was less than $10. It’s nuts. I also get free lunch at school every day, which is alway a delicious buffet of rice, veggies meat, and occasionally some other unknown things.
  • The comfort. I did not expect moving to the other side of the world during a pandemic to a place where I didn’t speak the language and had very little knowledge or understanding of the culture to be easy. But I have been pleasantly surprised with how much easier it has been than I thought it would be. I can’t read any signs or understand what anyone is saying, but it’s been weirdly easy to navigate. Most locals are super helpful and patient on top of people at school helping us get settled and find our way around. Technology is another big piece of this. We can Uber everywhere, we can translate signs and menus with our phones, Chrome can translate websites, and we can stay connected with people back home. I am sure that 30 years ago a trip like this would have come with more challenges, but I am grateful for this little rectangle in my pocket that we typically take for granted. (Yes, I did just watch The Social Dilemma, and yes, it was extremely upsetting and unsettling, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that technology and globalization have made many things, places, and experience much easier to access and for that I am appreciative.)
  • The lifestyle. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is just some good energy here. People are just genuinely good. People leave their helmets on their scooters and their shoes in the hall without worrying anyone will steal them. Old people exercise in parks every morning. Restaurant workers smile and wave as we walk by and remember us if we eat there. The culture at school is very much one of trust, respect, and appreciation, whereas the lack of those three things are the most prevalent traits of most of the buildings I’ve worked in. Everybody here loves hiking and has a great appreciation for nature. I’ve already been on a couple of really beautiful hikes and yesterday visited the botanical gardens, which were fabulous. The night markets are also super fun. It’s like a carnival is in town every night of the week. I even found a corndog! It’s hot as fuck, but it’s better than being cold. It’s smoggy, but I’ll survive. You can also walk around on the street with a beer, bring your own beer to restaurants, and drink in Ubers. When I found these things out, I knew I was home.
The rainforest is the best biome. Don’t @ me.
We were told it was a “casual hike.” We were lied to.
With Morgy and Trashley at 6,000 ft. (Not to be confused with Flashley)
Love this energy at the night market. Do not love the smell of stinky tofu in the streets.

Thorns

  • I didn’t get a sign.
So much for feeling welcome…

*Editor’s note: Regarding the title, “shì shì” is how you say “thank you” in Chinese, but pronounced with the down tone, so it’s pronounced more like “shay shay.” The first time I said it to the person who gave me tea, my friend informed me that by pronouncing it “shee shee” I had just said “pee pee.” I feel fairly confident that the tea lady could have inferred that I was probably more likely to be saying thank you than pee pee, given the context, but I guess it’s best to not take any chances.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you think or if you have any questions!

Random Thoughts from the Inside

I’ve lost the capacity to comprehend the construct of time. That’s overly dramatic. I’m fine. If you read my last post but you want to hear about any updates since then, just go reread it 13 more times. That should give you a better sense of what it’s really like in here.* While I don’t really have anything new to share, I also don’t want to lose momentum with my writing. So here are a few totaly random thoughts I’ve had over the past couple of days.
*The title of this post refers to being both inside this room and inside my own head, neither of which I seem to be able to escape.

  1. Community is a really, really good show. I don’t know why I never watched it back in the day. I think it was because it was out around the same as The Office and Parks and Rec and I just didn’t have the bandwidth for another show in the same genre. But damn, it might be better than both of them. If this were an official review, which it obviously is, I would call it clever, poignant, and timeless. Five stars.
  2. There are a few things that, as a foreigner in a new country, I’m glad I’ve gotten to experience from the safety of this room. One of them is that if you hear music coming down the street, you will be disappointed that it is not, in fact, the ice cream truck but rather the garbage truck. From what I understand, Taiwan is a very clean nation (smog excluded) and, as this interesting article explains, this is an effort to get people to deliver their trash directly from their homes or businesses to the trucks, rather than letting it sit around in alleys or on curbsides. It’s a respectable initiative, but when you’re already on the verge of losing your mind, hearing Beethoven’s Fur Elise come down the block another. goddamn. time. doesn’t exactly help.
    2a. Another thing I’m glad I’ve learned by looking out the window rather than the hard way is that if you park your moped on the inner promenade space in front of a store, you are fine, but if you park on the designated sidewalk, you will get ticketed or towed.
    2a…i? I’m really excited to get a scooter. The people I’ve talked to have recommended getting something in the 100-150cc range, which would leave my old 50cc Zuma in the dust, and I am just thrilled.
    2b. Lastly, when walking, look both ways and cross carefully. Yellow ones don’t stop.
  3. Pretty sure Atmosphere has officially unseated Brother Ali as my favorite artist of all time, but I’ve also been listening to a lot of Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and even some Britney. Gotta keep the energy up in here. I’m very glad I brought my speaker, and sorry to my neighbors.
  4. I’ve never considered myself very political, but it’s too important now not to be. I still don’t involve myself much in politics, as we used to know them at least, but we live in a world where just about everything one does is political. Standing up for what you believe is now a political act, the decision to send your kids to school or not makes a political statement, and even something as fundamental as the amount of value you place on a human life has been thrust onto political platforms. So while I don’t intend for this blog to be political, I feel compelled to at least share a few basic thoughts because to not say something is to take the side of the oppressor. To stay silent in times of distress is to be complicit in the maltreatment of others. We all participate in political, social, and economic systems that privilege some groups over others and to carry on as “normal” is to participate in the perpetuation of inequality. If you haven’t read White Fragility yet, please do. I encouraged my dad to read it and I couldn’t have been more proud of his openness to and acceptance of Robin DiAngelo’s assertions. What is happening in the world lately is sad and not easy for anyone to digest. (Well, it’s been happening since basically the dawn of civilization, we’re just more aware of it now, which is at least a step in the right direction.) It’s hard to see, it’s hard to talk about, and it’s even hard to think about, but we must. We must reject cancel culture, we must look beyond our curated facebook feeds that are filled with confirmation bias, we must have honest and challenging conversations, and we must be open to new ways of looking at things, even if that comes at the cost of disrupting our current beliefs and practices. A willingness to admit that we are not perfect and that there are not only two, but sometimes three or four sides to every story, not just the side we want to believe, is a necessary first step on a long road towards healing.

    Which brings me to my main point. Donald Trump has made our country significantly worse than it was four years ago. He has emboldened and elevated the very worst parts of our humanity. He has normalized the most evil parts of people’s beliefs. He has almost single-handedly created a national culture of mistrust, hate, and fear. This election is unlike any other. This election is not about the economy, or education, or abortion, or creating jobs, or secret scandals, or deleted emails. It does not matter how you align yourself or how you’ve voted in the past. In my mind, this election comes down to one thing: are you a decent human? If you were to tell me that you truly hate black people, Mexicans, women, and poor people and you want to vote for Donald Trump because you believe that your life is better when they are kept in their place at the bottom of society so that you can sit on the top, fine. That makes sense to me. I don’t respect you, but I can understand that logic. If you are literally anybody else – if you like to think of yourself as non-racist, if you want to stop seeing people getting shot and cities burning, if you want to prevent more people from dying from COVID, if you want to ever be able to give someone a hug again, you need to vote for Joe Biden and you need to tell your friends to vote for him too. I know he might not be your ideal candidate, but unfortunately that doesn’t matter at this point. The options are either him or four more years (and undoubtedly effects that will last even longer) of destruction, death, domestic terror, misogyny, racism, sadness, and fear. As a quick reminder, those commercials that warn “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” are showing actual footage from Donald Trump’s America. That messaging baffles me, and the fact that anyone might believe it confuses me even further. It is also important to understand that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Trump. Not voting is a vote for Trump. All of his nonsense about mail-in voting fraud is an attempt to suppress voter turnout because he knows that the more people that vote, the more likely he is to lose. The nice lady at the Burlington city hall assured me that she would get my ballot all the way around the world to me and I am eagerly awaiting its arrival. I’m hopeful that America will prove to be just slightly less dumb than it was four years ago, but I won’t be able to relax until the final vote is tallied. As I was saying, I’ve never been much into politics and I don’t know as much about all of the details as many others do. I couldn’t tell you Kamala Harris’ voting history, or what impact Biden will have on your taxes. But I do know that they are decent, mentally stable people. And sadly, this year, that’s all it takes to make this a pretty obvious and immeasurably important choice.
    For further, more intelligible and informed reading, check out this article written by my good friend, Nate.
  5. On a lighter note, we’ve reached the Evan-gives-himself-horrible-facial-hair phase of quarantine.
If you know anything about me then you knew a shave like this was a matter of when, not if.

6. I’m not a big video game guy, but the Nintendo Switch is a really remarkable machine. Everything about the design and the functionality are impeccably executed. I finally beat Zelda, which is one of the best games you’ll ever play. I’m now on to an indy game called Hollow Knight, which is also brilliant. If you like the old Mario games, you’d love this one.

7. I am really mentally strong. I am proud of myself for getting through a two week quarantine in stable condition. If you know the Mrkvickas, you know we’re not real good at sitting still. Laying in bed and watching Netflix all day every day sounds torturous to me, so instead, I made myself a schedule and kept myself busy. I have worked out every day, I have written almost every day, I have practiced Chinese every day, I made 2.8 cross stitch… pictures? projects? cross stitches?, I completed all of my trainings and orientation for school, I’ve been able to do some planning and getting to know the curriculum, I beat a video game, I read/listened to parts of two different books, and I have kept myself in good spirits. I would not recommend this for anyone as a voluntary project. It’s good to like, you know, go outside, walk more than 70 steps per day, and interact with other humans. But I’m confident that a week from now, it will have been worth the grind and I will living my best life in this beautiful country. A teacher friend told me yesterday that after such a long time away, being back with the kids is extremely energizing. I know being back in the classroom will bring me great joy in addition to being good for my mental and physical health.

T-minus 40 hours ’til freedom! But who’s counting?

I live here!

Quarantine Lyfe

I realized, in the weeks leading up to my departure, that most people were about 15% curious about the country, the school, and the culture and 85% enthralled with the prospect of a 14 day* quarantine in a hotel room. So I thought I’d document a detailed breakdown of what my day to day has been like in here.
*I got here at around 7:00am last Sunday and I don’t get out until Monday the 7th, so it’s really 15 full days, which feels like bullshit.

  • 3:00am – Wake up inexplicably. I cannot tell if this is a product of jetlag or not. I left at night and arrived in the morning (albeit a day later) so I felt like my body was still pretty much on schedule from the start. But for the first 4-5 days I was wide awake for about an hour in the middle of the night. Typically I would turn on The Office, which has been my sleep aid for the past several years, but they don’t have it here! I get seemingly almost the full rest of the Netflix catalogue other than The Office and Parks and Rec. I’m trying to transition to Modern Family, but I haven’t watched it in awhile and it’s just too damn funny to not pay attention to. I think The Office is funny too, obviously – it’s my favorite comedy show of all time – but I’ve seen it so many times that I think something about the familiarity and predictability of it allows my brain to turn off. The real ticket is the sleepcasts on the Headspace app. Those things are incredible. They knock me out in minutes. But they’re not as funny. But in either case, after about an hour or so I usually fall back to sleep.
  • 7:00am – Wake up for real. I usually wake up to several messages, which is nice. I’m sure it will die down after you all forget about me, but hopefully it lasts for at least another week. It’s really weird to get used to the time zone difference. There are a few precious hours in the morning at night during which we’re both awake, but other than we’re on completely opposite schedules, which is still wildly disorienting. Although I will say that this should force me to be present in what I’m doing during the day and not worrying about my phone, which feels like it will be a valuable exercise. Hilariously, the official Welcome to Cornel School handbook mentions that people have a tendency to drunk dial home. “Teachers have a habit of ‘drunk dialing’ — in fact, that seemed to be the only time I called home. My folks thought I had bit of a problem, but it was just that I got a little over-emotional after the 12th bottle of beer.” First of all, 12 beers. Respect. Secondly, if you get a phone call from me around noon central, you know what I’ve been doing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • 9:00am – Orientation over Zoom. Under normal circumstances, new teachers would have gotten here in June and used the summer for onboarding, orientation, observations, and planning. I personally and explicitly blame Trump’s handling of the pandemic for that not being the case. Instead, I have a few short meetings each day during which they walk me through the policy handbook, curriculum, and online resources. These meetings at least give me something around which to structure my day. I always leave them feeling a mixture of excited and overwhelmed. It simultaneously feels like there is a lot I should be doing and nothing much I can do at all. On Friday I got to observe another teacher leading one of my classes. You can only tell so much over a grainy video (the WiFi in this hotel leaves much to be desired) but I could tell that these kids are very smart, sweet, well-behaved, and eager learners. Being with the kids has always been my favorite part of teaching, and in fact the only thing that keeps me in the profession at all. It will have been about six months since I was last in the classroom with kids by the time I set foot in a classroom again, and, although I am admittedly a little nervous, I cannot wait for that day.
  • 10:00am – Text my temperature to the police officer assigned to me. I’m honestly kind of surprised they let me do this on the honor system, unless there is a chip I don’t know about in the thermometer, which is fully possible. I also have to respond to an automated message from the Central Epidemic Command Center to let them know I am feeling well and healthy today, except a few days ago my phone seemed to run out of prepaid SMS time, so I don’t think my replies of “1” are going through anymore. I’m rather nervous someone is going to come knocking on my door at any moment. I’ll keep you posted.
  • 10:02am – Try to understand TikTok.
  • 10:04am – Close TikTok because every video is really fucking stupid. To be fair to me, I asked the other young people in my program if I was out of touch and they agreed that 99% of the videos are hot garbage. The main thing I don’t understand is why you can’t set your preferences to show you certain types of videos. I know it is supposed to learn what you like and adjust over time, but if I don’t like anything, how will it learn? In sum, I feel really good about not wasting time scrolling through this app. If people could just continue to send me the one really funny video out of every 10,000 that would be ideal.
  • 10:05am – Listen to a podcast/audiobook and cross stitch. This has become one of my favorite activities in the day. I am currently listening to (do I dare call it “reading?”) The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. It came highly and unanimously recommended from basically all of my best friends and they were not wrong. Current podcasts in the rotation include, but are not limited to The Daily, Fantasy Football Today, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Wind of Change, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Radio Rental, and You Meet in a Tavern, which is a delightful Dungeons and Dragons campaign (I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that. Trust me. This is another post for another day.) As for cross stitch, it is a recently acquired skill/hobby inspired by my good friend Jordan and I absolutely love it. For me, it is a perfect blend of engaging yet mindless, artistic yet mathematical, and tactile yet low effort. I just finished my first project and have started on my second. This next project is my first attempt at a self-made design, so we’ll see how it goes.
First project is complete, though the message is still in progress.
  • 11:00am – Stare out the window. I feel quite lucky to have the room that I have. My initial reaction when I walked in was that it was really tiny, and it is, but I have a huge bank of windows that overlooks a fairly busy intersection, so I at least get lots of natural light and a decent amount of entertainment. Highlights so far include a moped-to-moped collision, a fight with some pretty respectable punches thrown, and an insanely efficient construction project. It took them like an hour to repave part of the street around a manhole cover. I couldn’t believe it. This almost certainly would have taken three weeks in the US. The vast majority of people here ride scooters, and despite the crash, I am really excited to get one and get riding. In fact, as a moped owner for nearly half my life, it was a strong factor in choosing Taiwan in the first place. The rules of the road appear to be a little looser than the US, but not nearly as hectic as what you might think of when you picture India, for example, where thousands of people are trying to kick and shimmy their way through an intersection. Plus, 100% of people here wear helmets, as they are required by law. So don’t worry mom, I’ll be fine.
They were both fine… I think.
  • 12:00pm – Eat lunch. We get three meals a day delivered to our door. The first 3-4 days I thought everything was really amazing and impressive. Since then, I have realized that there may have been a little international adrenaline at play and the meals have become something less than amazing. They usually consist of some combination of lukewarm rice, meat, veggies, tofu, and some mushy things from the sea. For mass-produced quarantine hotel food, I don’t think I could expect much more, and it’s three free meals a day delivered to my door, so I don’t want to complain too much. I do think I’m really going to like the food here once I’m free. You can also order from Uber Eats, which is just nice to be able to switch it up once in awhile, and it’s super cheap too! I also brought along Clif bars, fruit snacks, and Dove chocolates for when the going gets tough.
Standard lunch and dinner box. I was successfully able to identify four out of eight components.
  • 1:00pm – Workout. I remember seeing a meme once that said “thinking about going to prison just so I can finally focus on my fitness.” This is funny because it’s true. I have worked out harder in the last week than probably any other point in my life. As my parents were sure to point out many times, I’ve gotten a little soft since March. I think quarantine has had this effect on many of us, so there’s no shame in that game. (Some call it too much beer, I call it SELF CARE!) This time presents a good opportunity to get back on track. Additionally, working out is a good way to kill 40-60 minutes each day. There is sufficient space in my little room for lunges, pushups, sit-ups, burpees, etc. so look out, Taiwan, Evan’s comin’ outta here jacked!
View from the bathroom. Workout space is in the foreground and, in case you were wondering, that giant metal pole is labeled “fire escape equipment.” Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
  • 2:00pm – Another meeting with school. Typically these go something like, “Here’s all the curriculum for the year, why don’t you take a look at it and start planning things out.” And I say, “Okay, I will” then immediately feel extremely overwhelmed and clueless and close my computer and go lay down.
  • 3:00pm – Unknown. “What time is it? What day is it? What have I even done all day?”
  • 4:00pm – Watch a movie/play Zelda/nap/Duolingo. Chinese seems like it’s going to be really hard to learn, but I’m going to try. So far I know numbers through 10 and “My name is Evan, what’s yours?” So I’m basically fluent.
  • 5:00pm – Stand in my nook. My bathroom has this great little bump out nook with windows on 2 sides and some pretty direct sunlight. Sometimes I just stand in there for a few minutes and feel the warmth and pretend like I’m outside. I’m 76% sure the windows are tinted and reflective, but if not, well, hopefully people have enjoyed what they’ve seen.
My nook overlooking a 7-Eleven.
  • 6:00pm – Try to eat most of the dinner.
  • 7:00pm – Watch more Netflix, I guess? I don’t know. At this point it’s just run out the clock until it’s an acceptable time to go to bed. At least around now some people back in the states are starting to get up so there are some more messages to look forward to.
  • 9:00pm – Go to bed.

Honestly, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The days mostly do go by fairly quickly, and I do a pretty good job of staying busy, moving from activity to activity, and keeping my mind engaged. Today marks the halfway point! I imagine the second week might drag a little more than the first, but there should also be a wave of excitement near the end that I can hopefully ride to the finish. Next time you go outside, think of me and be grateful for the fresh air.

Lastly, thank you for all of your messages to check in and encourage as well as your responses to my blog and instagram posts. They mean a lot, especially during this time of solitude. If you haven’t already, enter your email and click subscribe and you will get each post in full delivered directly to your inbox.

Would You Rather be Ridiculed or Unseen?

I’ve never known the exact meaning of “straw poll,” but I’m pretty sure I took one recently when I asked several of my friends this question. “Would you rather be ridiculed or unseen?” Before you answer for yourself, take a guess at what you think most of them said. If you guessed that 100% of them chose “unseen,” you are correct. Now guess what my answer is. I’ll give you a hint: people who prefer to be unseen don’t typically publish blogs. After about a 9 year hiatus, this is now my second attempt at documenting my life by way of a blog. I could only glance at a few posts from my first one. For one, I am very critical of my own writing, and while my stream-of-consciousness style usually feels right in the moment, rereading it makes me wish I could go back and clean it up. (Damn you, grad school, for acid-raining on my creativity parade.) It’s as if my goal for writing is to send these thoughts out into the universe, but then I want the wind to carry it away and hopefully the seeds get planted somewhere else. (Or get stuck to your pants and then you throw them in the garbage, which is fine too – survival of the metaphysically fittest.) The second reason I cannot reread my first blog is that it’s intensely embarrassing to go back inside the mind of 23-year-old Evan (he had a good heart, but he was an idiot). I can’t wait to chuckle at this paragraph a decade from now. So anyway, ten years after that original endeavor as I sit, well, not exactly in Taiwan, but inside four walls within Taiwan, here we are again. A few things are the same: I’m teaching abroad, I’m on the pursuit of happiness, and you’re reading my blog, but mostly everything is different: all of my friends have two kids, there is a global pandemic (what’s the difference, amirite?! jk love you all), and America is as un-great as it has ever been. 

Back to the point. My reaction to everyone choosing “unseen” made me feel unsurprised, yet perplexed. How could anyone want to go through life like this? Is it fear? Self-consciousness? Social conditioning? Minnesota niceness? Or am I the crazy one? A Dove chocolate once told me (or was it a refrigerator magnet?) “I came to live out loud,” to which I thought solemnly to myself, “yes queen.” If you were still unsure of my answer to the original question, not only would I rather be ridiculed than unseen, but I have been, particularly post-28. I should be married by now. I probably should have boughten (That can’t be a word, can it? Can someone please clarify?) a house by now. I dated her for too long. I should have tried to make it work that one, everyone really liked her. I’ve learned the hard way that Minnesota (see also: passive af) teachers are supposed to keep quiet and do what you’re told, even if it’s not what’s best for kids. I’m supposed to want more money. I should probably move into admin, that’s where the money is. Cut your teeth in the inner-city and then move to the suburbs where the kids behave better and there’s nicer houses and little streams of apple juice come a-bubblin’ down the rocks. Aren’t you going to finish your PhD? You were so close! Aren’t you ever going to move back to Wisconsin and settle down?

And while each of these comments, hints, and reminders on their own are each benign, at some point they start to stack up and get a little harder to brush off. It’s great to be single… but less great when all of your friends are married and have to be home by 7:30. It’s awesome to travel… but it sure would be more fun with a partner. Societal norms, coupled with the fact that all the other people in my program are 25 and under, sometimes makes me feel like something went wrong in my life that caused me to end up here. But then again, as I was doing my daily calisthenics (thanks, Will, for the word), I heard an Atmosphere song that reminded me, “Gotta get yours like there ain’t no wrong way; the worm and the bird both worked a long day.” Shel Silverstein corroborates, “If you’re a bird, be an early bird, but if you’re a worm, sleep late.” Maybe I spent too much time comparing myself to the other birds when I’ve actually been a worm all along. Worms are nobody’s favorite animal, but without them, there would be no flowers, no fruit, and eventually, no life!

So when I can allow myself the grace to get past the comparisons, the “shoulds,” and the self-doubt; when I stop trying to be an early bird and accept my life as a worm, I realize that I’m actually happy. Or as Taylor Swift sings as if anybody asked, “I’m doing good I’m on some new shit.” (We didn’t ask, T, but thanks for checking in.) I’m doing things people are jealous of. I’ve done things most people never do. I’ve had some down years recently, but this chapter I’m entering feels like I’ve righted the ship, set the sails, and I’m ready to go where the wind takes me. (Full disclosure: I know nothing about sailing so this is an irresponsible guess of a metaphor.)

This is WAY deeper than I was planning on getting in my second post on my fifth day, but we all knew we’d get here eventually, so might as well dive in. The last thing I want to say to anyone still reading is that this post and it’s preceding revelation is inspired not only by Atmosphere, Shel Silverstein, T-Swift, and Brené Brown, who taught me to be vulnerable (Mount Rushmore of writers?), but also by all of the friends, and you know who you are, who have encouraged me to embrace my worminess over the last couple of years. Not only are worms better than birds, but birds aren’t even real.

So I now, in turn, and at the risk of sounding like an eighth grade girl’s graduation speech, encourage you. Don’t go unseen. Don’t live a life uninspired. Don’t settle. Don’t put limits on yourself. Don’t listen to the shoulds. Don’t have 2.3 children, because that poor .3 child is going to have a very, very tough life. And I know we hear these clichés all the time and they turn into white noise, but I encourage you to think of one specific area of your life where it might apply and see what you can do about it. Take a risk, put yourself out there, and when people ridicule you, tell them that you can’t hear them because you’re busy breaking down and enriching the soil and doing your little part to make the world a better place.

Comin’ for these cuties in 10 more days!