Living and teaching in Penghu, Taiwan brings many photo opportunities. The other day my kids celebrated the American Thanksgiving holiday. Parents shared moments with their children, children shared moments with each other. And in those moments, light filtered into the rooms bathing those beautiful people in the warm, afternoon light.
As of today, I have been living in Penghu for 3 weeks. Notice that on has changed to in, that’s because I have a habit of getting it all a little wrong sometimes, so when it comes to whether one lives in or on Penghu, apparently it’s in. So I stand corrected, I live in Penghu.
And whilst we’re on the subject of habits, I have another: a habit of naming inanimate objects. Trust me, this information is relevant. There have been suitcases named Boris and Gwen, a camera called Colin and an automatic pool cleaner named Bill, to name a few. Those who know me personally will attest to this little idiosyncrasy without protest, yes I know it’s strange, but hey that’s me.
With that done, I shall get down to the business of life in Penghu 3 weeks on.
First order of the day is Francine. Remember I said I name inanimate objects? Well Francine is a rather flash, 100cc Kimco moped, or maybe I should say motorcycle (let’s not have another on or in Penghu moment) that I purchased a week ago. Our relationship didn’t get off to a good start, not that Francine did anything wrong, it was all about me. You see I have always had a fear of two-wheeled motorised transportation that I would have to control, but put me on the back and it’s okay. I know, weird. On many overseas adventures, my wonderful ex husband, (yes he’s still wonderful despite being the ex) and I would often hire a bike, and I would willingly jump on the back and enjoy the ride. Yet the thought of being in control was something that sent shivers through my body. So as much as Francine looked quite lovely and she behaved brilliantly when Asha (fellow teacher) took her for a spin, I was still somewhat reluctant to take control.
Frightened would be an understatement, mortally terrified would be a more apt description of how I felt when the time came to mount Francine. Adding to my fear, I had to ride through the centre of town on my first foray into two-wheeled motorised ownership as Asha and I had arrived together on her bike to collect Francine. As a result we had two bikes, so someone had to ride Francine home didn’t they?
A solution to my dilemma was thankfully at hand. Asha decided we would ride together on Francine to a nearby car park and have a quick lesson. Once I felt confident (cough, splutter) we would return to collect her bike, then we would ride home separately.
Sounds simple hey? And as much as I would love to relay some hilarious mishap relating to my lesson, I can’t, as much to my surprise, it actually went smoothly. After about 15 minutes of scooting around the car park I felt quite comfortable. Francine behaved beautifully and we began to bond.
One week later we have definitely bonded and I’m left to wonder why I had never addressed my fear of riding a motorbike previously. I really enjoy it. I can mix it up with the locals, even manoeuvering Francine through the mix of humanity and motorbikes that descend upon the daily market. A challenging, yet highly exhilarating experience.
Buying Francine has also given me the opportunity to head out-of-town, along narrow roads with only cows and the odd villager for company. It heralds a different kind of exhilaration and the kind that comes with being at one with myself: no expectations, no destination and open to discovery. Francine and I did that very thing yesterday. We rode along quiet roads, through remote villages to find stunning beaches and small harbours where aging fishing boats rocked gently upon azure waters.
My three weeks in Penghu have definitely allowed me to make many discoveries and many changes. Not just about this interesting island I now call home, more importantly, I’ve made them about myself. It’s a good feeling.
On a final note though, some things will never change, my need to name inanimate objects. And with that being said, my computer and constant companion here in Penghu (apart from Francine of course) is without a name.
p.s. She is a white MacBook
I’ve had the pleasure to photograph a beautiful young girl named Isobella on a number of occasions. She called me recently and asked if I could do another shoot with her and added I should be prepared for the unexpected.
When I arrived, she was in full makeup and her look was definitely unexpected and I felt quite apt for this week’s Photo Challenge.
Here’s the expected.
And here is the unexpected.
I’ve been living on Penghu for just over a week now and interestingly enough I feel like I’m starting to fit. Contrary to what I wrote in an earlier post about it probably taking a while to feel like it’s home, the last few days it’s starting to feel exactly that, like home. And like any home, it has its good, bad and ugly.
Here’s my list so far. I’m sure it will change, which is the exact reason I wanted to compile this list, so here it is, in no particular order.
1. The incredible kindness of the Taiwanese people.
2. Hearing my kids chant, ‘Good afternoon Teacher Jen’.
3. Being told about a bakery that bakes REAL baguettes, then tasting them. (You would understand this simple pleasure if you had been subjected to the bread here).
4. Inventing a recipe of sweet potato, garlic and rice (seriously delicious).
5. The kindness of my fellow teacher, Asha: thank you from the bottom of my heart.
6. Buying Francine, my 100 cc scooter and then having the wonderful Asha teach me to ride.
7. Not having to wear RED lipstick to work. (Or any make-up for that matter: oh the joy).
8. Having a 5 min walk to work, or a 1 minute ride on Francine.
9. Playing the dancing game with my kids and dancing like there’s no-one watching.
10. The simplicity of life on Penghu that is totally free of negativity.
11. The musical garbage truck, my nightly entertainment, ah life is full of such simple pleasures when one does not have a television or books. (A post featuring this is in the works, stay tuned).
12. Simply being free to be ME…
13. Learning and confidently saying thank you, hello, how much and I don’t understand in Chinese. (No easy feat, so I’m very proud of myself).
14. Being recognised by the Vegetarian vendor at the market. (Ahh, I’m finally unforgettable in someone’s eyes!)
15. The Everything Shop. (Seriously that’s its name and it literally has everything).
1. My rock hard bed. (My mother would LOVE it).
2. My crushed rock pillows. (A visit to The Everything Shop might soon be in order).
3. The relentless howling winds that are unforgiving to the unsuspecting. (Thankfully they die down in February, hmmmf only 2 months to go!).
Not too much on the Bad list and as for the Ugly, well I’ve yet to find that one…
I knew it was inevitable I would shed a few tears, after all I packed up my life in just 10 days and the emotions associated with such a life-changing move were bound to boil over and explode. I just didn’t know when. What follows is what happened this morning, when without warning the floodgates opened and as expected the tears flowed.
Interestingly, my morning begins well, I wake feeling happy and decide to rearrange my apartment. Inspecting an adjacent unused room, I find a tall table, perfect for my cooker and wok. Putting this in place, I move the small bar fridge for better access and arrange all the other pieces to create a workable kitchen space. As I shuffle furniture, Angus & Julia’s calming voices and gentle tunes filter through the room, keeping me company and mixing beautifully with the scent of burning incense.
In my bedroom I move the bed so it faces the window, in this position I can watch a myriad of stars dance in the night sky. And as dawn breaks I will see the dark sky brighten as it bathes in the sun’s early morning light.
When I finish, I feel good and make my first coffee for the morning in my newly ‘designed’ kitchen. Taking my coffee to my desk, I open Facebook to see what friends and family have been up to in another part of the world. It is this moment when I see my cover image of Oscar & Stanley that tears begin to well. My eyes fill and my emotions erupt, I begin to sob and I cannot stop. I’m letting go. Not of my beloved family, friends and dogs, but of the emotions I have suppressed since making the decision to take my life to Penghu. I have expected this outpour of emotion and I let it come and allow it to wash over me for it refreshes and renews.
As I write this now, 3 hours later, I am not lonely or unhappy for I like it here and after spending the last 3 days getting to know my kids and the teaching role I have undertaken, I am happy with my decision.
Quite simply, I just miss those who I love most in the world and as expected tears flow…
As the aircraft descends through thick cloud, I am given glimpses of my new home. Concrete structures dot the barren landscape, the architecture similar to that which graces the islands of Greece. Yet unlike Greece, the facades are tinged with a yellow hue, those that are not, stand as they were laid, grey and without colour. It is industrial in form, and whilst not beautiful like the streets of Paris or Rome, it is interesting and commands exploration.
So now here I am, in Penghu. Outside, the notorious winter wind howls at the walls of my new home, as if in protest to the walls presence. It is eerie, yet not unpleasant and an element of life here on Penghu that I knew to expect. And with 24 hours having passed since my arrival, I have established my presence and created my space in a two room apartment supplied by the school I am to work for. It is spartan but all I need for now. My only complaint is the very hard bed: through the night I actually contemplate what surface would be more comfortable, the floor or the bed? Seriously! Yet I sleep reasonably well and on waking this morning, exploration of my new surrounds is foremost on my agenda. I have never been one to fear new places, so with camera in hand I head off in the direction of the morning market that my fellow teacher says will supply me with all the food I need. She is right, it is awash with so much fresh produce, some of which is foreign and unfamiliar. I too am foreign yet I feel comfortable and the local people welcome me with warm smiles and offers to sample their produce. I have found my new supermarket, I am sure of that. I buy only a few items, yet I know I shall return daily.
I leave the narrow streets and head in the direction of home. I stumble upon a western style coffee shop around the corner from where I live. Warm smiles invite me in. Christina introduces herself and asks why I am here. I explain. Her English is limited, my Chinese non-existent, yet we manage to share a little of ourselves as I sip on an iced latte. She invites me to sign a wall that many others have done before me, afterward, I bid her farewell and head for home.
Home, that word does not yet fit. I do not know if it will for some time. I am still a little raw emotionally, not sure if I am where I need to be. Yet I will heed the words of my beautiful son, Rob. ‘… don’t come home when your are sad Mum, give it a go, you will be glad you did…’
On November 5th, I will be heading off to discover new horizons as I shall be spending the next 12 months on Penghu, an island off the coast of Taiwan. This week’s theme therefore was quite fitting, for I’ll be bidding farewell to my current horizons that are familiar and comforting. And I shall be also saying goodbye to friends and family, and someone who falls into both of those categories is my niece, Kate: she is new to WordPress, take a look at her first Photo Challenge. I think she’s amazing.
I wish I could talk to animals, my animals in particular.
In doing so I would be able to explain to my beloved Oscar and Stanley that I will be going away for 12 months. But as I cannot, they will be left to wonder where ‘Mum’ is, which breaks my heart and as such, since accepting my teaching role on Penghu, I have shed many tears.
I shared my concerns with my dear friend Amy as 18 months ago, she embarked on a similar journey that took her away from her beloved Lola for 12 months. On her return Lola had not forgotten her, Lola did not turn her back, Lola just continued where she left off. Loving Amy. Her words as usual, were comforting.
I know they will be well cared for as my parents moved into my downstairs granny flat a few months ago and they love them to bits, and Oscar and Stanley are also devoted to my son Rob, who loves them equally in return. But they are also highly devoted to me and if they can, they will be at my side 24/7, just as they are now as I write this post.
Yes, I wish I could speak Dachshund…