Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Guest Post: A Beginner’s Guide to Living Outside the USA

Editor's Note: The following is a submission by a guest writer calling herself Caroline Secure Thoughts.  I have been contacted by people, Americans, who have an interest in moving to and living in a foreign country. Caroline submitted this article for possible consideration as a guest post.  Because of the information contained here, and the quality of her writing I have posted it.  I think it will be helpful to those considering a move from their home country to Taiwan.  Thank you, Caroline. - Chris

Living outside the USA is an exciting adventure. You will have the opportunity to explore new parts of the world, try new food, and experience a different culture. However, a big move like this does not come without its challenges. Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of living outside the USA:

Keep an Open Mind

This is a great rule to keep in mind always, but especially when deciding to live outside the USA. Wherever you live, it will definitely not be exactly like home. By going into your new living situation with an open mind, you will better able to handle culture shock and adapt to your new environment.

Some places may be harder to be open to than others. But, if you try to keep an open mind, slowly your view of the world may broaden and change. You will start to see the world from a whole new perspective.

Learn a New Language

One of the largest obstacles faced when living abroad is a different language. You might be able to get by some places with English, but it will greatly enhance your experience if you learn the local language.
However, this is of course much easier said than done. Once, you are in your new country, it is great to learn by jumping right in, and trying to speak the language as much as possible. However, this can be intimidating and overwhelming at times. Thankfully, there are many free resources that can help:

Best Free Language Learning Resources

1.       Duolingo
 A fun and easy way to learn a new language. They also have an app to help you learn on the go, and are continually expanding the languages they offer every year.

2.       BBC Languages
 This is a great resource to learn some of the basics of almost any language. Each language page also provides resources to radio and news stations in the language of your choice.

3.       Movies and TV Shows
 Watching movies or TV shows is one of the best ways to practice your abilities of understanding the spoken language without having to leave your house. Try putting subtitles on in the language you are learning so you can practice hearing and reading the language at the same time.   

Staying in Touch
When moving outside of the USA you may expect to face challenges like learning a language, or getting used to a new culture. However, one of the most unexpected challenges is often keeping in contact with those you left in the USA. Time changes and iffy internet connections are just some of the obstacles you may face when trying to stay in touch with family and friends.
Staying in touch with those back home requires dedication and time on your part, but, thankfully there are plenty of free resources out there to help make it little easier and without extra expense. Here are a few of my favorites:

                        3 Best Apps and Websites for Staying in Touch Abroad:
1.         Skype
This one has been around forever, but still works great.  Also, many people already have Skype set up, or are at least familiar with it. So this is a great one to use for those family members who don’t like downloading new apps. This is best used for voice calling while using Wi Fi.
2.               WhatsApp
This app is most popular for texting overseas. This is also a very famous app, so makes it easy to keep in touch with many friends and family members.
3.         Wi-Fi Finder
Depending on where you are living, finding a Wi Fi connection can be a huge problem. There is nothing worse than having a call drop on you every 10 seconds. With the Wi Fi finder you can find the closest and strongest Wi Fi connections around you. (But, if you decide to live in Taiwan, you will be extremely happy to find that they may have the best Wi Fi options in the world. Almost the entire city is a giant hotspot).
These apps will make it easier to communicate with those at home. However, what makes staying close to those at home the most challenging is that you are not sharing your everyday lives and experiences together. But, with a little creativity, you can find many alternative and unique ways to not only stay in touch, but stay close.

                        Alternative Ways to Staying Close and in Touch Abroad:
1.         Make a Blog
It is hard for friends and families to relate to the new life you are living. One of the best ways to keep your family informed of what you are doing without making a bazillion phone calls is making a blog. It will help bring friends and families a little closer to you, while saving you from repeating stories again and again.

2.         Watch the Same TV Shows Together
You may be living on other sides of the world, but you can still share some things together. Try picking a couple TV shows that you can watch together. You can easily access many TV shows on websites like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon. If you are living in a country that denies access to these kinds of websites, this is not a problem. You can use a VPN to trick your computer into thinking it’s in the US.

3.         Send Care Packages
Sometimes it’s the random little things you miss, like peanut butter or your favorite shampoo brand. Have a family member or friend send you a package of some of your favorite things from home. In return, send back to them a package of things from your new home. Can be anything from a new candy you discovered, to a pretty scarf from the local market. Regardless of what you send, these little packages will help bring your family, friends and yourself closer to each other.

Go out of your comfort zone

Moving outside of the USA will provide many opportunities to go out of our comfort zone, but it is up to you whether you take these opportunities or not. It is in our nature to gravitate towards the familiar, whether that’s similar food or people that speak our same language. But, if you continue to stay in your comfort zone, you might miss out on a lot.

If you’re nervous about venturing away from your norm, there is no need to worry (they call it a comfort zone for a reason). Pick one or two things a day to take on. It can be anything from saying hello in a new language, or finally trying that strange looking stew. Slowly, you will go from saying hello and strange stews, to full on conversations and fried chicken feet (which is actually pretty tasty).

At times living outside the USA can be intimidating and overwhelming. But, hopefully after reading this article you feel ready to take on whatever comes your way. As long as you follow a few steps and rules, living abroad can truly be a life changing experience. So pack your things, and get ready to embrace all that your new country has to offer. 

Article Printed by Permission
Photos:  Royalty Free

Saturday, February 7, 2015

PS118 – Taiwan’s Newest Motovlogger

I've discovered a new Motovlogger.  Well, let’s be fair I didn't discover him, I've known him for a while. It’s just that he just recently started motovlogging.  So what is motovlogging? 

It is a rather new art form.  Currently, the most highly watched motovlogger is Mordeth13, more commonly known as M13.  He rides through Taiwan and records his thoughts on a wide range of subjects, all while filming through his helmet.  Recently, M13 had a terrible accident in Hualien and will be laid up for several more months.  I’m sure, though, when he gets back on His feet, he’ll begin vlogging again. 

The new motovlogger that I want to write about today is called PS118.  He’s a motorcycle blogger that uses a little different twist.  On Tuesdays he uploads a video about driving a scooter in Taiwan.  So far all of these videos have been instructional in nature.

In his first “scooter tutorial” he explains the two-point left turn that is required at many intersections in Taiwan.  In heavily trafficked intersections where there are multiple lanes, there is a blue sign directing scooters to make a two-point turn.  In the intersection itself there is a small box, in front of the crosswalk where you pull your scooter in and wait for the light to change.   If you follow this rule you can avoid some serious scooter squishing.

The interesting thing is that this rule seems to be pretty effectively enforced which, is unusual for traffic violations in Taoyuan City.  The police seem to have this method of enforcement where they pick a traffic rule and enforce it for a month, then move on to another rule.  However, I often see police officers about a half block from the intersection with a video camera filming people violating the two-point turn rule and then waving them over and ticketing them.

I, of course, strictly obey all traffic laws.  I have no desire to die in the street.  Okay, so I went off and talked about driving a scooter in Taiwan and didn't mention the “different twist.” 

What makes him different begins with his channel name PS 118.  This is a reference to Psalm 118 in the Bible.  On Fridays, instead of a scooter riding tutorial He uploads a devotional.  In other words, he discusses a specific passage of scripture and tells us how it applies to his life.  He’s only just begun but his intention is to be faithful to do these weekly. His first shot at this is a devotional on Jesus’ walking on the water.  He analyzes what is happening from a spiritual perspective and them makes it personal by relating it to his own life. 

I have to applaud him on what he’s trying to do.  When I first came to Taiwan, there were things I didn’t understand about riding a scooter, here.  I figured it out on my own, but I believe that what he’s doing is helpful, to visitors or newcomers from other countries.  It is also refreshing to hear someone unabashedly put out what they believe on YouTube. 

The nature of YouTube comments makes putting your beliefs out there, sort of dangerous.  Whatever your beliefs are about anything.  If you have an opinion there is a troll out there somewhere ready and waiting to tell you your stupid, among other things.

So check out PS 118.  Taiwan’s newest Motovlogger.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Taiwanese Traditions: Holidays and the Lunar Calendar 2015

Living in Taiwan, as a foreigner, means that I have to pay attention to the Lunar Calendar.  I’m a pastor and I have to be careful of church events planned throughout the year, because if they fall on one of Taiwan’s major holidays, I will be the only one attending the event.  As a result I have become interested in the Lunar Calendar. 

The very first renderings of a lunar calendar go all the way back to the Shang Dynasty.  This is the 2nd Chinese Dynasty, which existed in 1600 BC until 1046 BC.  But the calendar has gone through a number of revisions since that time.  As science progressed and the true and actual cycles of the moon and the earth were understood the calendar was changed t reflect this information.  These revisions are tedious and boring, so I will not include all of that stuff in this post but I will tell you that the current lunar calendar has been in use since 104 BC. 

There are a number of rules that govern the calendar:

  1. Each Month begins at midnight on the day of the new Moon.
  2. There are 12 regular months.
  3. The sun must pass through winter solstice in month 11

In order to make that happen, there must be an intercalary month inserted into the calendar.  An intercalary month is like a leap month.  It month can take place after any month and is the same number of days as the month it follows. Because of the use of intercalary months of the Lunar calendar the corresponding days of the holidays in the Solar Calendar Change each year.  For example in 2014, Chinese new Year took place on January 31, in 2015 it will be on February 19.

Most of Taiwan’s traditional holidays are marked through the use of the Lunar Calendar.  modern Holidays are marked through the Solar Calendar.  Let’s take a look at the Taiwanese Holidays:

Chinese New Year春節Lunar date is January 1.  (February 19, 2015)  This is the most important holiday of the year.  It is celebrated much the same way that Christmas is celebrated in the west.  Families gather for 3-15 days.  Traditional meals are served on Chinese New Year’s Eve.  People are given gifts of Hong Bao 紅包 these are gifts of money that are a wish of prosperity for the recipient.

The LanternFestival元宵節 Lunar date is January 15.  (March 5, 2015) This is the first day a full moon can be seen in the New Year.  People celebrate by lighting and launching sky lanterns.  There are also huge venues where people go to see artistically made lanterns and watch them launched.  People often write prayers and wishes on the side of the lanterns before they are released.   The traditional food for the Lantern festival is the Tang yuan 湯圓 (soup circle).  These are balls of gooey, sweet rice gluten.

Qingming Festival: 清明節 Solar Holiday: April 5, 2015.  During the Qingming Festival families gather to sweep the tombs of departed ancestors.  It is a day to honor the dead.  Many people use this day to burn incense and worship their ancestors.

Dragon BoatFestival: 端午節 Lunar date is May 5.  (June 20, 2015)  his festival honors Chinese Poet Qu Yuan.  It is celebrated with the racing of the dragon boats.  People eat a special sticky rice pyramid called a zongzi. 

Night of Sevens: 七夕  Lunar date is July 7.  (August 20, 2015)  This holiday celebrates the legendary love of  Niulang and Zhinu.  According to legend they are forever separated, but are allowed to unite on July 7.  The Taiwanese view this as a romantic night celebrated much like Valentine’s Day in the west.

Ghost Festival: 中元節 Lunar date is July 15. (August 28, 2015)  The festival honors the departed ancestors.  People commemorate this day by placing offerings of incense, food and beverages outside their homes and the burning of spirit money for the family members who have departed the world.  This is the most important date of Ghost Month (The whole month of July on the lunar calendar.) 

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival:  中秋節 Lunar date is August 15.  (September 27, 2015)  This is the day when most people get together with friends and family and barbeque.  Look for an in-depth post on the Moon Festival in September.  A gift is given to friends and family of moon cakes.  Circular cakes made with egg yolks and other things inside.  The shape represents the moon and the cakes themselves are good wishes for the recipient.

Double Ninth Festival:  重陽節 Lunar Date is September 9.  (October 21, 2015)  People usually celebrate this holiday by climbing mountains or visiting flower shows.

Xia Yuan Festival:  下元節 Lunar date is October 15.  (November 26, 2015)  During this festival people pray to the water god for a peaceful year.

Winter Solstice:  冬至 Solar Holiday (December 22, 2015).  This corresponds to the Winter Solstice in Western Countries.  Families gather to celebrate on this day.

Kitchen God Festival:  謝灶Lunar date is December 23.  (February 1, 2016)  This is the day to thank the kitchen god.  It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year he returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Jun's yearly report.

(You can follow the links for more information on selected holidays.) 

One final note is that the Chinese Zodiac is broken down into 12 years.  Each year corresponds to a particular animal.  It is believed that people born in a particular year will share the traits of the animal mentioned.  The following is a breakdown of the Zodiac and the corresponding years from 1924 through 2031.  See if you can find yours.

Rat                   1924  1936  1948  1960  1972  1984  1996  2008  2020
Ox                    1925  1937  1949  1961  1973  1985  1997  2009  2021
Tiger                 1926  1938  1950  1962  1974  1986  1998  2010  2022
Rabbit               1927  1939  1951  1963  1975  1987  1999  2011  2023
Dragon              1928  1940  1952  1964  1976  1988  2000  2012  2024
Snake                1929  1941  1953  1965  1977  1989  2001  2013  2025
Horse                1930  1942  1954  1966  1978  1990  2002  2014  2026
Sheep                1931  1943  1955  1967  1979  1991  2003  2015  2027
Monkey             1932  1944  1956  1968  1980  1992  2004  2016  2028
Rooster              1933  1945  1957  1969  1981  1993  2005  2017  2029
Dog                   1934  1946  1958  1970  1982  1994  2006  2018  2030
Boar                  1935  1947  1959  1971  1983  1995  2007  2019  2031

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  The Beliefs of Confucianism
Taiwanese Traditions:  The Planting and Growing of Rice
Taiwanese Traditions:  Selling and Brewing Tea

Photo Credit: (Ed. Note:  This photo can be purchased as a t-shirt at