Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Move!

Farewell Taiwan - three years ago, we departed Portland with Audrey and a few belongings...

In all honesty, we did not have much information about what where we were going and we didn't have much of an idea about what we wanted. Except for one thing; or should that be two little items? We jumped into the international teaching field without much research and jumped at the first job that landed at our feet. Ecstatic that we did not have to visit snowy Boston (there was a horrible storm that year) for the job fair, we briefly read about Taiwan's mountains and said, "Yes". We had also heard about the possibility of adopting children in Taiwan so we blindly hoped that we would be able to find babies and make it through any legal hurdles. Now, our family extends to Xian and Sage as we pack up for Beijing.

To complete our move off the island, we're also making an electronic change of our home. McGowans on the Move better captures what we are up to. The girls are constantly moving and learning and we plan to continue writing about their journeys. We also hope to write about our new home and future travels while also spending sometime thinking about their multilingual journey. Our hope is to continue working on Chinese (we have a fabulous ayi lined up in Beijing who will take care of the girls while we work and help with their Chinese language), on English with Krista and French with me.

A big thanks to everyone who has followed along so far. We appreciate your support and will continue to rely on your kind words and thoughts as we again transition to a new home and culture.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Farewell to our little buddy

He took us cruising around the neighborhood in his cherry-red convertible Benz. He smiled as we broke his drum kit. He showed us the tasty goodness of apples. He smothers us with bao-baos (smooches and hugs).  For our last outing, we enjoyed roof-top dining as lightening boomed around us. Goodbye Asa- thanks for all the fun!

18 days in a month and a half

We leave Taiwan tomorrow so it's fitting that we yet again pilot the Freeca to the hospital. Since the beginning of May, we spent 18 days at the hospital. A full week was spent living there in the middle of May and Sage was operated on for the second time at the end. Over the last week, XO and Mom got sick and Sage finally caught the bug as well.

We hope that our goodbyes to Taiwan involve a goodbye to sickness. Give us healthy girls! As a tribute, we give our accumulated medicine.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Formosan Macaque Park in Dakeng

For the last two years, our home lies in a community that nestles up to the Dakeng Scenic Area. Drives home in the afternoon can be peaceful as the city falls behind and green slowly overtakes the scenery. Audrey and I spent many mornings running on the roads that lead up to the first trailhead. There are four main trails in this area and they are joined by a ridge trails. At various times, my path has been crossed by a Formosan Macaque but we have never visited the area where they are known to congregate. As our time rapidly comes to an end, we decided to check out this "park".

A few hanging out on a log
 A write-up of the park can be found here, but the general story is that this man known as Uncle Guo began laying out food for the monkeys and they started to hang-out in this area. There are no fences or cages so these guys and girls can check-out whenever they want.

Xian and Sage were completely fascinated! The scene was not one or two macaques strolling about but big families. We must have seen over 40 hanging out. There were little babies, toddlers, teenagers, a couple big males and lots of moms.

The back side of the red object is a mirror.
To get to this park, drive up to Trail #4 of the Dakeng Scenic Area. This is the one that hosts a Boy Scout Camp and a firefly garden. There are several signs with arrows and monkeys that make it easy to navigate the turns. At one point, you round a bend and find yourself on a typical Taiwanese back-country road: steep hill, barely wide enough for a car and a curve at the top. It's OK, just keep going and you will soon cross a creek and arrive at the park. Admission was 60ntd for adults.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

We Love You

Dear Dad-Dee,

Happy Daddy’s Day to the best daddy in the whole world! We’ve come a long way together since that ride home in the car with all of those crazy bright lights (I still don’t like bright lights btw). You’ve been the best daddy a girl could ask for. I know sometimes I confuse the word “food” with “daddy” but hey you know how much I love to eat and I love you too, so it all goes together, don’t ya think? Plus, you always cook up the most amazing meals. You make the best bread hands down! The kitchen is such a fabulous place because you don’t care that I’m a baby-wait a toddler-you teach me to cook just like I’m a big girl. I hope someday I can grow up to cook as well as you. I also love how you, mei-mei and myself have a secret language that Mommy pretends to understand-but we all know she doesn’t. I love the walks you take me on, showing me things; especially the banana plants because bananas are my favorite! The time spent sitting on your lap being read to is a time I will always cherish. There is nothing quite like “Caca Boudin” and the “Pied” book, that one is really great (I’m still working on my spelling too).

The point is Dad-Dee, you’re the best. I know I’m touchy sometimes and can be a bit demanding (just because I’m a girl who knows what she wants!) but at the end of the day, I look forward to a good ole fashioned snuggle and dance around the room with you.


Dear Da,

I’m still working on getting your name down, but at least I’m not like Xin-Xin and get all messed up with what is food and what is Dad. Geesh, that girl. Anyway, I wanted to tell you Happy Daddy’s Day. You’re really patient with me and all of my craziness. Keep in mind though, I take after you-I just want to be on the go non-stop and explore new things, and learn all I can. I’ll grow up someday and maybe, just maybe, I won’t cry so much (don’t hold me to that, I’ll deny I ever said it). I love early mornings with you when it is just you and me and Audrey-although Xin-Xin seems to be invading our private time as of late. The walks you take me on in the carrier totally rock! There is just so much to see at 4:30 in the morning, who could ever dream of sleeping later? Oh man, I almost forgot. . .the towers. . .Oh how I LOVE the towers you build. There is something so satisfying about running across the room and knocking those towers to the ground. The really cool thing is, you just build me another one. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!

You and me, we’ve had our ups and downs. There was a time when I couldn’t hear and so I didn’t follow directions really well-but that time is passed and I’m ready to get with the program! I’m perfecting my eye roll since I have “the look” down pat, so I’m ready to show you just how much I understand when you ask me to do something I’m not really willing to do. I’m learning new words every day and pretty soon, I’ll be able to say Daddy, just like big sis! For now though, you’ll have to be okay with a firm finger point and a light sounding “Da”.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Audrey departs

This morning, Audrey was whisked away in a blue van. It wasn't intended to be that way. Her journey to Beijing began earlier than expected. Today, the blue van's job was to get her papers in order and to get her cleared for her trip. Instead, a voice appeared over the driver's phone. "There are issues with her flights. She must leave now." Now? "Yes."

We're not even really sure where she is at the moment. The blue van took off and we believe she boards a plane for Hong Kong on Sunday. The girls return home this afternoon to a home emptied of their pooch. Maybe it is better this way? For weeks, Xian has called Audrey's name as we leave school. The excitement of seeing her furry friend has calmed many car seat conflicts. It will be months - Audrey overnights in Hong Kong before flying to Beijing to spend the rest of the summer.

Just over three years ago, we were dealt miserable travel plans for our trip to Taiwan. In order to make the trip bearable for Audrey, we scrapped a portion of the flight plan and decided to drive/camp to San Francisco. In the middle of the night, on the banks of a beautiful river, Audrey felt the need to get out of the tent. The next day we all paid the price for her evening excursion. This time, we hope that Audrey has a quick travel and a fun summer at "camp".

In Taiwan, Audrey's favorite locations involve coast lines. If swimming is an option, she is a happy dog.

An early trip to Kenting, on the southern tip of the island, found a perfect spot for her.

A fast moving stream in Taroko Gorge

East side of the island

Audrey - we hoped you enjoyed your days in Taiwan. Your pack doubled in size and you have a few little ones to take care of once we rejoin in Beijing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Teppanyaki Night

It's fast, it's tasty and it's fun. Teppanyaki can be considered a version of Taiwanese fast food. From walking into the restaurant to taking the first bite, the time can be measured in minutes. When we first moved to Taichung, this teppanyaki restaurant was a short walk from our apartment. The guys cooking there - and there has only been guys in this place - quickly remembered us and smiles greeted our arrival. An English version of the menu appeared after a few visits though we have rarely strayed from our original order.

Cooking it up
The menu doubles as an order form and marks indicate how much of each dish, drinks and rice you would like. Once the girls popped into our lives, the weekly excursions to teppanyaki rapidly dwindled and the random take-out sufficed though the food never tasted as good once it got all the way home.

This week, we decided to take the girls and arrived a bit on the early side of 5:00 to avoid the mad rush. A few other diners sat around the grill and we found seats on one edge. The girls appeared fascinated as various foods cooked in front of them.

Food rapidly arrived and a successful dining experience (meaning no meltdown!) was had as we enjoyed the cooking and left for the night market.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oh, the Places You'll Go

How do you measure stages in your life? As a teacher, each year takes on a different quality as students enter our room at the end of summer and spend a year growing as we talk, think, laugh and sometimes cry. Our girls are winding down the last few days of their first school experience. Almost a year and a half ago, a 7-month old Xian and a 4-month old Sage began going to school. They've loved it and get excited in the mornings as we prepare for the day. If, in order to make another stop first, we pass the turn to school in the morning, a disgruntled Xian quickly voices her discontent. They have friends who each day give the girls a rousing "Bye bye!" and they have a wonderful teacher who has shown lots of care and kindness to these two little ones. Next week, it will be time to give a final "Bye bye!" as we depart Taichung. With this in mind, we asked our girls' teacher to sign their special books. Each girl has a copy - one given to us by a friend of Krista's as we packed our bags for Taiwan and the other given by an old friend of mine as I graduated from high school. Where will they go? What will they see? We hope that they have an amazing journey as they meet wonderful people and visit this world.

Monday, June 10, 2013


One of the drawbacks of living in a seven story house is that each floor is a different room (oh, and there is the issue of having to always go up and down the silly stairs). Our girls quickly aged out of the "living room" space but are not quite ready to charge up and down the stairs. This means that rooms get mighty small, mighty quick and the girls spend way more time than necessary finding out ways to get to places they don't need to be. Sage's current trick is to pull out a drawer so that she can use it as a stepping stone to get up on counters.

Xian, who currently has just over an inch on Sage, doesn't need the drawer and can pull herself up to the counter. They tend to congregate there and when they think Mom or Dad is not looking quickly stand and race back and forth. If a song is played that they like, dance routines are practiced. We're hoping to get out of here without a serious tumble...

Sage feeling better...

Chalkboard table

The girls just got their first play session on the chalkboard table. They loved it! The table was once your run-of-the-mill wooden table but a quick sanding, some awesome blue paint and a few coats of chalkboard paint has given it a nice, new purpose. It still serves as our main "dining" table so that the girls can eat on their stools.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A budding relationship

We get asked from time to time about our four-legged girl, Audrey. How is she doing? How does she like the girls? What is she going to do over the summer... Here's a quick update.

Over the last year, Audrey grudgingly tolerated the girls. Who knows - maybe the newborn cries were too much for her to handle. She wondered, what are these little beings that receive so much attention. Slowly, slowly, those little beings began doing more than screaming. They sat up. They flapped their arms and one day, each began moving forward. Audrey watched from a distance and always ensured that she was out of arms reach. Crawling changed the dynamic again. No longer was she safe on her bed - the little ones visited her. It seemed touch and go for awhile at that point. Was Audrey really ok with them? She quickly became grumpy when chased down. Recently, love has been the game around here. Xian is a bit more on the gentle side so Audrey often shares space with her and Sage is becoming a good friend as well. She is starting to understand the need to be kind with Audrey.

Sage asking to join Xian and Audrey on Audrey's bed. She is signing, "I want".

Both girls coloring on Audrey's bed as she snuggles in behind them.

Eventually, they all get tired of each other and the jockey for positions begins...
Sage on Audrey's bed

Xian on the bed

Audrey trying to find comfort on a small pillow.

Next week, Audrey takes off for Beijing. She will zip through Hong Kong and then spend her summer in doggie camp until she rejoins us in August.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tai Bao Zheng

Sage and Xian are cleared to enter China! As Taiwanese citizens, they do not need a visa for entrance. Instead, they get what is known as a tai bao zheng. Unlike a visa that is placed into a passport, our girls now have a new book that is a lot like a passport though its only purpose is to document travel into and out of China.

Our trip to the passport photo studio was a comical disaster. A descent of a few stairs led to a room with a chair at the far end. Bright lights focused on the chair and when Xian sat in the spotlight, she lost her marbles. No way can do! The guy taking the photos said that he worked to photoshop XO's tears out of the photo.

Our next job is to get our visas for entry into China but we cannot do that until we get back into the United States.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Back under the knife

Four months ago, this photo was snapped as Sage bravely marched towards the operation room. Today, we returned for Round 2. Sage was again a trooper as she woke up without immediate breakfast. I know, we've created a little monster but this girl's metabolism is crazy high and after fasting for the night she wants her bottle!

Both girls experienced a rough night - waking at 3:00, then 4:00 and finally deciding to get up for the day around 5. Krista distracted Sage as Xian pounded her bottle and then I took Sage on a nice long walk with Audrey. Eventually, we got ready for the day and out of the house. Krista was soon dropped off to catch a ride to work with a coworker, Xian exited at school and Sage and I managed to be the first to the operating room. In moments, we were changed and the "strawberry scented" anesthetic administered. Given the boot, I waited for a short hour until the surgery finished.

A nurse told me that all went well and a groggy Sage quickly snuggled in for some love and comfort. A bit uncomfortable, she moaned and the display of toys did little to capture her attention. I tried a few scenarios to the amusement of passing nurses - who is this guy babbling in horrible French with a toy teacup-man in one hand and a chameleon-esque speed racer in the other. Something worked as she eventually passed out and I stared in amazement at her bouncing heart rate: 140 to 90 in seconds and a bit of everything in between.

By 10, we walked out of the hospital and Sage was in fine form as she accompanied AST students for the rest of the day. I hope that our trips to the operating table are over for a long time...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A morning walk

Xian and I seized the opportunity to take a morning walk over the weekend. Temporarily, the rains cleared and the sun had not yet turned the outside into a sticky oven. A few dogs took passing interest in Audrey and threatened from a distance yet gave us plenty of room.

Xian loved the small road we walked along. There is rarely any traffic so she entered full explorer mode as the path winds among a few small homes with chickens and roosters calling in the day. Banana plants dot the edges of the road and other fruit trees are also present.  The mirror in the photo is typical of Taiwanese backroads. I believe the idea is to help cars see around the blind curves but it is a rare sight to see a car or scooter check the mirror and react accordingly.

Fruit on the lychee trees are rapidly growing and I hope that we get a harvest within the next month (Did we mention how excited we are to be in the final countdown...) Quick lychee tip given to me by a coworker last year: Peel them and freeze them. They make tasty frozen treats.

The pink spot is XO's awesome hat.
We then came across a plant that I have not seen before. It's flower begs you to take note and look closer. When opened, it gives me the message of Don't Touch. What is it?

Closed flower on the vine
Opened up - what are the red seeds? Edible?
I know that each parent is caught by surprise as to how quickly their children grow but I shook my head in disbelief as Xian charged down this big hill with no problem. Only a year ago she was a tiny little thing that could not walk and just a few months ago would never have had the balance to race down.

A grate at the bottom of the hill provided a challenge. Xian peered through the holes and wondered if she should step onto the metal. Eventually, she mustered the courage and crossed back and forth and back and forth.

The rains have been absolutely relentless. With over 3 meters just in May, I'm surprised that our home is still standing. Water did begin entering through the floor at one point though the roof and surprise leak places seem to be holding strong. Over 10 years ago, a massive earthquake shook this part of Taiwan. The homes in our area cracked in visible and hidden locations so water occasionally finds it way into the house during big rain events. The river near us sprang up to fill its banks and scoured the plants that had rooted since typhoon season in the fall.

A fisherman caught our attention as he tried to find fish in the waters.

Xian loved the bridge over the river that seems to be designed perfectly for a toddler to peer between the cracks. She alternated between the two sides of the bridge to take in the flow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

International Teaching: a Transition Summer

Summer is around the corner and many international teachers look forward to returning to that place called home. Personally, I eagerly await my summer visit to the Pacific Northwest.
Punchbowl Falls on Eagle Creek, Columbia River Gorge
As an engineer, I moved to Los Angeles; Huntington, WV; Raleigh, NC; and Portland, OR to start new jobs. Each time, an orientation was followed by a slowly ramping up of responsibilities. Learn the processes, the work flow, the people and begin contributing. Meanwhile, I found it easy to get my home life up and running. Bank accounts transferred and language barriers did not exist as I obtained a phone, places to live, utilities, groceries and almost anything else.
Teaching is different. On the first day of school, students are nervous yet ready to begin. The fact that my life may be in a crazy state of turmoil is low on their radar. I'm the new teacher and I have to hit the ground running. There is no slow ramp up with students. A sweet spot exists at the beginning of the year. Who is the new guy? What is he like? Is he up for us? International teaching adds an additional twist. Not only is there a new batch of students, a new grade level, new coworkers, new procedures but life outside of school must be established. This can be difficult with language barriers and process that are different from the States. For example, in Taiwan little can be accomplished without the Alien Resident Card, which takes several weeks to obtain. As we move to China, our belongings must wait for us to clear customs before they can arrive. This means that our household summers in Taiwan longer than we do and will arrive in Beijing weeks after us.
So far, the transition to China seems to be moving along smoothly. Our new school is doing a fantastic job communicating with us and making us feel part of the community. I'm curious as to how people transition to new jobs and cultures. What do you do? A retired US ambassador recently talked at my school and when he was finished his wife gave a few words. She said her goal was to establish "home" as soon as possible. Once home was set and the family felt stable everything else could continue. This is our first big move with children. Advice? Thoughts?

Monday, May 13, 2013

a Guinean repost: Ant Armies (December 3, 2006)

A few weeks ago, I was on a hike with some students as part of the Earth Day activities at our school and at one point we crossed a line of ants. I had forgotten this story but managed to get most of the details together to tell the's a crazy one

The view out of my kitchen window reflects the battle of the previous night. The sides of my neighbor’s (Tanti) house are blackened and the earth surrounding the house out to 15 feet is scorched black.Fortunately, there is no sign of the vanquished, the thousands and thousands of ants who laid siege to the house.
By chance, I was at the edge of my porch last night when I saw Tanti come out on her porch, notice something and with a shriek disappear quickly back into her house. What could it be? Instants later she returned on the veranda with the two girls who also live there. They all look and point towards the ground and then run down the stairs. As they reach the bottom of the stairs, each person jumps and runs quickly away from the house.
I yell, “What is happening?”
“They can kill a person. It’s not good,” Tanti replies.
Confused, I leave my porch and go over to where she stands. At the same time, the two girls run past me towards the opposite side of my house. They return in several moments with dried straw. The neighbor on my other side has recently moved out and there are piles of old, dried straw from what used to be their outside cooking hut.
“Look, look,” Tanti urges me as she flashes her flashlight beam on the ground. It takes my eyes a couple of seconds to focus on the moving earth. Nothing is fixed. Suddenly, a sharp pain on my foot helps me realize what is on the ground. Ants. Lots and lots of ants.There are so many ants that the dirt and rocks are almost covered. Apparently, at the end of the rainy season, hordes of ants leave their tunnels underneath the ground to forage around the neighborhood.They can swoop through a house and clean it out.
One of the girls is holding a bundle of the straw and Tanti lights it.She then attempts to light any debris on the ground. I join in and grab a bundle, light it and set the ground, ants, anything that burns on fire. We are soon joined by Bachir, a friend of the family who was just happening by.
Several minutes later finds us all standing on the porch, about 10 feet above the ground.
“They’re coming up! Don’t let them in the house,” shrieks Tanti.
The image of defenders of a medieval castle comes to my mind. As I look on the ground and the base of the walls to the house, the ground is blackened by the teeming ants starting to climb up the walls. The ants have laid siege to us. Running down the stairs to grab a bundle of straw, I am brushed by the heat of Bachir’s burning bundle as he races up the stairs. He reaches over the wall and uses the flame to repel ants coming up. One of the girls drops salt over the edge into the masses of ants while the other pours kerosene onto the ground to be followed by a flaming mass of straw. We are able to stop the upward progression of ants into the house and return to the ground to get the ants away from the building. Running around with bundles of flaming straw, each person is busy setting small fires while also trying to keep their feet moving constantly. These ants are not friendly. I pause for a second and my feet are instantly covered with biting ants.I drop my flaming bundle, retreat to safe ground and beat the ants off of my feet and legs. Some have crawled up my legs and are biting my back. I get the ants off and look at the scene around me.
The full moon has illuminated the area and the light is amplified by multiple fires burning red around the house. After almost an hour of battle, the ants finally disappear back into the earth. Who knows when they will reappear?
Post script: A few days later, I was told that the ants did reappear at another house and killed 5 chickens and were working on a few sheep that were saved. Mean little things...

Reposted from Guinea!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

to Mom in the trenches

Happy Mother's Day! I know, I know, today should be a rest day.  It should be a celebration of how great of a Mom you are, but that's not quite your style. Instead, you're hanging out in the hospital playing with one of your daughters to keep her spirit up. You are helping her color all over the books you thought to bring. You are reading to her about the Something-a-saur. You are again digging into the sticker pile to find more stickers for her to place who knows where. You are singing, what the 200th rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star - I think Xian has the "Up above the sky so high" part down. And you are laughing your beautiful laugh with the wee one to keep her laughing.

Doing what you do best - making the little monkeys laugh.
This week has been a challenge - with emergency room trips and two girls in the hospital, there has been little room for relaxing and the rest of us thank you for all your work. But, Mother's Day is also about thinking of all those times when you are here for your little ones. We appreciate how you stay up late working because you are completing an intensive Master's program on top of teaching, living internationally and moving our family to Beijing. We appreciate your insistence that the girls learn languages - Chinese at school, English with you, and getting me, a reluctant French speaker, to only speak French to the girls. We appreciate the projects you always include the girls on...

We appreciate your commitment to family - it is truly amazing how you build upon the girls' extended family and do the extra bit to keep connections strong.

So, on this day, we think about all that you do for us and we smile because above all you make us happy. Thanks for being so amazing! We love you!