my expat story: year 3

if our first year in Taiwan was all about adjusting, and the second year was about growing -- then our third year in Taiwan was all for exploring.

[photo above from a somehow-never-blogged visit to Taroko Gorge, October 2014]

my arrival in Taiwan for our third year began with having to plan what is commonly referred to as a "visa vacation." due to my early summer departure, certain persons not knowing the visa regulations, and weird global politics about recognizing Taiwan as an independent country... I had to take a solo trip to Hong Kong to apply for a new residence card.

my first experience with solo international travel was pretty mixed [mostly because of some creepy dude who forced me to take a photo with him then stalked me around town for an hour.] that being said -- I managed to navigate myself around Hong Kong, eat some tasty tacos, visit a monastery garden, and watch the sun set from Victoria Peak. oh, and get my new visa.

"one of the greatest dangers of expat life is that even living in a foreign place can become familiar over time. some days, even living in Taiwan, I have to force myself to look at things as an adventure."

back in Taiwan again, we were gearing up to start the search for a new school and a new country to call home. and so, I was determined to get in as much Taiwan as I could before we left. one of my friends and I established what we fondly called "scoot adventures" where we would hop on our scooters and drive off to see our city. usually, I wanted to go dragon hunting. one of the most magical afternoons we spent all alone inside a temple on the outskirts of Hsinchu. these are still the best dragon photos I've shot in all my 5 years in Taiwan.

that fall was when I really first started treating Taiwan like a travel destination. it seems silly now, but I hadn't really thought of our "home" in that way. but once it clicked in my brain I did my best to take advantage. in October, we had visitors. that meant exploring new places [like the temples and pagodas in Kaohsiung] and returning to old favorites [hiking through Taroko Gorge again.]

by this point, we had officially put in notice that we were leaving our school in Hsinchu. we loved our community there, but it just wasn't what we needed long-term. Luke and I had started a search for new destinations. they ranged from Chile to Bulgaria to the UAE, and my feelings on these places were just as varied. I was anxious about adjusting to a new country, but also looking forward to [hopefully] a place a bit more western and easier for me to feed myself and communicate.

all of these plans were disrupted when we were contacted by a school in Taipei. emails led to interviews led to offers, and before I knew it we had signed a contract. we were relieved to have our future settled, and to know our transition would be relatively painless. I admit a small part of me was disappointed that we wouldn't be exploring someplace new [or leaving Asia.] but the largest reaction was excitement.

Christmas was uneventful [especially with Husband teaching] but we had some major plans brewing for Chinese New Year break. first, we visited our friend's grandmother in Taipei who cooked us a traditional Taiwanese feast. it was amazing, and delicious, and I felt honored to be able to experience something so special. also: dragon whiskers. but after our feast... we were off to NEW ZEALAND!

I cannot write about New Zealand without resorting to hyperbole. it. was. incredible. we spent 3 weeks driving around the country and soaking in the fresh air and sunshine. our road trip was not perfect -- we had car troubles and got stranded in a gondola, the weather messed with our tent poles and our itinerary. but it was still the most magical place and I spent our trip with a face full of smiles, a hand full of cameras, and a heart full of wonder. Lake Tekapo. Cathedral Cove. Queenstown. Milford Sound. Nugget Point. honestly I have limit myself or else I'd write a whole post just on this trip. so for reference: our travel itinerary links to every post on New Zealand I have published on this blog. [and there are QUITE a few.]

returning to the muggy and smoggy and non-food-allergy-friendly world of Taiwan was, in a word, rough. but I did my best to make the most of the life we had left in Hsinchu. I visited some of my favorite dragons. I started running. we bought a bread maker so I could have gluten and dairy free bread. some days I intentionally got lost. I cleaned out my wardrobe [and a lot of our random junk] in preparation for our move to Taipei. I stressed out about visa renewal and whether I could make it back to Michigan for my cousin's wedding... but it worked out. apartment hunting was a bit of a mess as well, but we finally found a place.

through all this, I was still blogging fairly consistently. my memoir manuscript was struggling -- and would continue to do so -- but the blog was thriving. that's probably why I focused so much more energy on it. in addition to all the Hong Kong, Taiwan, and New Zealand, there was my annual birthday post [this time on turning 30] and a recap of the best and weirdest search terms that led to my blog that year. I published a bit about my writing process, about trying to blog with heart, and put together my first [and so far, only] reader survey.

aaand going back to read the results post is actually making me want to assemble a new survey...

in June, I said my bittersweet farewells to Hsinchu. we boxed up our apartment and sent it to live in the spare bedroom of our future apartment in Taipei, to be unpacked on our return in July. 48 hours later I flew back to the states.

at the end of year 3, I spent some time looking back on the lessons expat life had taught me thus far. it all reinforced that some days are mountainous and momentous, and some days are a major struggle. and occasionally, the only difference between the two is your attitude.

"travel will change you, but only if you let it. keep an open mind and an open heart. anything can be an adventure if you choose to see it that way."

year 3 milestones

first [international] solo travel
drove on the left side of the road
bought a fitbit and started stepping
turned 30 years old
taught a blogging class for kids
went inside a hobbit hole
the dingy/VSCO photo edit phase
camped in Middle Earth
played tourist in Taipei
found my way to the mountains
actually touched a dragon

4 countries traveled

Hong Kong
New Zealand

a few favorite posts

Hong Kong // thoughts on traveling solo
blood moon lunar eclipse
behind the blog: my writing process
the art of getting lost
Kaohsiung // Confucius Temple
some days you will struggle
a mountainous farewell
expat confessions: 3 years abroad
everything from New Zealand


Yaquina Head Light and Natural Area // Oregon

Yaquina Head Light on the Oregon coast is not just a beautiful place to take in ocean views, but a great location for spotting wildlife. Both whales and seals can be found here, depending on the season.

the August weather in Taipei has been even more of a sweat box than usual. at least that's the excuse I'm giving for not getting out to do much of anything since I've been back in Taiwan. I could also give the excuse that I'm sitting on thousands of photos from my travels over the past year - Turkey, Czech Republic, Vietnam, and of course my road trip through the Pacific Northwest. of all those options... I think I'd prefer the cool weather of the Oregon coast in May.

and so, we end up at the Yaquina Head Light and Outstanding Natural Area. [and yes, that is literally the name of the park.]

I mentioned before that I visited a lot of lighthouses this summer. [you'll probably be sick of them by the time I'm done sharing my travels. or if you're into charming towers and ocean views... maybe not.] of all 12 that I saw -- Yaquina Head had the most amount of things to see, in addition to the actual light.

the point of land where the lighthouse stands is situated in an ideal location for whale watching, if you're there in the right season. you can also hike a trail to the top a a nearby hill for views up and down the Oregon Coast. we sadly missed out on the whales, and had already done a major hike that morning. but -- nearby the light is also a fantastic vantage for spotting some other sea creatures: seals!

these seals were sunning themselves in a cove just to the south of the light. the nearest one had just woken from a nap and started to splash around and wave for our cameras. they were so cute! I had a hard time dragging myself away, but we still had more of the park to explore before it got too late.

the tide pool area is sometimes closed off due to baby seal pups [I would probably die from the cuteness] but we were just a bit early in the season. we were free to wander the rocky beach and peer at anemones in the pools. there were plenty more adult seals out on the far rocks, but we couldn't get very close.

if you do venture to the tide pools, please be careful where you strep. one: you don't want to squish any of the sea life. two: the beach is made up of golfball and baseball-sized rocks and is extremely difficult to walk on.

the park also has another cove for spotting seals [we saw one but he swam away too fast] and a freshly renovated interpretive center with restrooms and exhibits. while the lighthouse itself was not my favorite that we saw, the park overall was impressive. there is enough to see on Yaquina Head that you could spend a whole day visiting.

I have to admit that I laughed when I first read this was named "Outstanding Natural Area" but having visited and seen so much wildlife and such gorgeous views... it's hard to argue otherwise.

visiting the park

a $7 vehicle entry fee will admit you for 3 days to the Yaquina Head area. since the park is run by the Beaurau of Land Management [and not the State or National Parks systems] any annual passes for other parks will not work. if you want to tour the lighthouse, check the park's website for times and information. you can also find more information on the tide pools, seals, and whale migrations.

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