Prescription Please!

One of the biggest advantages for me as an American abroad is access to affordable healthcare. I actually get excited every time I have to go to the doctor! I’m finally able to get various medical issues looked at that were otherwise neglected in the US due to costs.
To give you an idea of the cost, I visited an ENT specialist here in Taiwan at a local hospital. He spoke perfect English which was helpful, listened to my symptoms, had some x-rays done and prescribed a month’s worth of two name brand prescriptions. The cost: approx. $14. I honestly don’t remember how much I pay monthly for the national health insurance out of my salary, but it’s not much in my opinion. To compare, I googled one of the prescriptions he gave me and in the US the same bottle would cost $38. Plus to see a specialist would cost anywhere from $25-$100 with some insurance plans. Needless to say, I greatly appreciate the presence of a national healthcare plan.
My only complaint so far is that some of the doctors here as well in Korea don’t actually examine you. They ask you questions about your symptoms and then just prescribe something based on whatever you say you have. Hypochondriacs would have a field day! There’s no one to tell you you don’t really have what you think you have. This has happened with 3-4 doctors, even when I say ‘I’m not sure, take a look,’ they don’t. Has anyone else experienced this in their host country? Seems strange to me since in my home country, doctors are reluctant to give you any diagnosis these days for fear of being sued for medical malpractice.
As always, I’m eager to hear your experiences. Happy travels!

Am I a Bad Expat?

Subway. Starbucks. Coldstone. It’s names like these that set my heart aflutter. I walk inside and I feel instant comfort like a hug from a long lost cousin.
Hanging round an area of the city on the hunt for food, I should, as a traveler, seek out something local and exotic. Instead, I whip out my iPhone, bring up Google Maps and search for a nearby Subway sandwiches. I hideout in my little Americanized heaven for a quick lunch before heading back out to the scooter-filled chaos of Taiwan’s streets. And I am happier.
Why?! What has happened to the girl locked in the cubicle who couldn’t wait to get out and try new food and see new places, new cultures? Have I been abroad too long? Am I more homesick than I admit? I have no plan to return to the US any time soon though. I like living abroad.
OR…
Am I still more of a germophobe than I thought? The ‘Western’ franchises tend to keep their shops up to their country’s health standards unlike some of their local counterparts. So, perhaps I am merely seeking a familiar level of cleanliness.
OR…
perhaps I have not found enough local food that appeals to my taste buds. I eventually grew quite attached to Korean food while there, but cravings for Taiwanese food have yet to arise (except for the teas!)
OR…
Maybe it is that I have acclimated so much to East Asian culture that I too am accepting the Western ways as the new, young, trendy way. Haha.
I think I am finally understanding the ways of immigrants in the US and why they frequent authentic restaurants from their country and hang out in the same neighborhoods. So perhaps what I feel is normal.
Fellow expats, do you think this desire to try to live your country’s lifestyle in your foreign country is normal? Do you find yourself wanting to enjoy familiar franchises, environments and foods? If you have felt this urge before, is it merely a phase that subsides after awhile? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Hello New Life!

Has it really been that long since I have written? It’s amazing how quickly time can pass. Since then my life has changed in a variety of ways…
…I finished my teaching contract in Korea, visited the fam in the US, spent a month in Chiang Mai, Thailand obtaining my CELTA certificate to increase my hire-ability, moved to Taichung, Taiwan, moved in with my boyfriend, started learning traditional Mandarin, got a new job, and started working out.
…It’s been crazy hectic and I’ve had my emotional ups and downs along the way, but all in all I’m quite happy and still loving expat life. Over time I’ll post about each of these new changes as the reflections occur to me, but for now:
GREETINGS FROM TAICHUNG, TAIWAN! ^^

20130204-134054.jpg

The Comfort of Safety in Korea

Night Street Light

Night Street Light (Photo credit: Sheffield Tiger)

I remember several years back, when I was living in the US, walking home one night after university.  I was only walking from the bus stop, which was less than a 10 minute walk.  It was later, maybe 10 or 11pm.  I came to a darker street of the walk and one of the street lamps was out, making it darker.  I stopped, hating the idea of walking down the dark street at night, alone.  I just imagined being one of those news stories you read where the girl gets attacked and everyone asks ‘why was she walking alone at night on a dark street?!’  I looked up at the street lamp and just wished for it to come back on.  Much to my surprise, it did.  It didn’t light the street up very much, but I suppose it was more of a symbol of safety for me.  So I proceeded, walking quickly as I usually did after dark and keeping my eyes alert for any suspicious noises or people.  I made it safely, thankfully, but that night reminds me of the fear that I always felt having to walk alone at night.

I don’t know if others in the US feel this fear as well.  I know that those with OCD like me tend to be on the more paranoid side to begin with.  Some people say the US isn’t as bad as I think it is for crime, but how can I help but think that way when night after night the news stories involve random people being attacked on streets, in parks, in their own homes.  Assaults, robberies, shootings and stabbings of guilty and innocent people alike.  There are also hundreds of stories of people snapping and going on killing sprees.  The fact that ‘going postal‘ is now a well-known phrase in American English vocabulary is an indication of how often this type of thing happens.  Everywhere I went I never felt truly safe.  I hated that feeling.  I live an average life.  I am a good person.  I shouldn’t need to feel like I’m walking on egg shells everywhere I go.   It was stressful.  My body and mind felt tense.  I love to walk at night, but as a woman living alone, I didn’t always have the luxury of someone to go with me, so I felt trapped in my own home when I’d rather be out enjoying the moon and the cool air.

Then, I moved to Korea.

I heard it was safe before I got here, but you never really believe it until you experience it.  It’s funny, you can always tell who the recently arrived Americans are because they are the ones clutching to their bags and wary of those around them.  I was one of them.  Now, two years later, I am noticing the effects that the lack of crime here has on me.

Just the other night I was walking home from dinner, my friends headed in another direction, so I was off to walk home by myself down a few dark, seedy looking streets.  I wasn’t sure exactly which streets to take so there was a chance I’d get lost.  It was about 11pm or so and there weren’t many people around.  I got to a dark part of the street and it reminded me of the night I described above where I felt so much fear.  I kept walking (still alert, but relaxed) and took the time to reflect on what it feels like now to feel the comfort of safety.  My body is so much less tense now.  I am relaxed and can actually enjoy a nightly walk without having to walk fast and hope I don’t run into any unsavory characters.  I passed groups of men and plenty of drunks, none of whom bothered me.  As a woman, I cannot tell you how liberating that feels.

It’s not just walking alone at night.  It’s not just the fears that women normally fear.  This comfort of safety can also be felt in other areas too, such as being able to leave your iPhone or bag on a table, walk away and know it will still be there when you get back.  You can break out every fancy electronic device you own on the subway and not fear getting mugged.

I’m not sure of the exact reason that it’s so much safer here.  Some say it’s the idea of family vs. individual because doing a wrong here affects the family name and the respect of your whole family.  Others say it’s the presence of CCTV and knowing you could easily be caught.  Or perhaps it’s simply the lack of guns and drugs roaming the streets.  And for those in America who blame violent video games for their children’s violent behavior, I say, think again, because Korean children play the same video games with much more intensity than the American children do and I do not see the same types of juvenile crimes here.  My students may be able to draw AK47s with frightening accuracy, but they don’t intend to use them to harm their friends or classmates.

I know that crime still happens here.  I’m not ignorant of that.  I still maintain the level of alertness and ‘street smarts’ I learned throughout my childhood, as should everyone to be on the safe side, but the possibility of experiencing crime first hand is much lower than what I am used to.  So when people ask me why I don’t wish to move back to the US, I tell them the lack of paranoia and stress is worth the small sacrifices I make by living outside of my home country, outside of my supposed ‘comfort zone.’

The Northern Winds of Change…

Deutsch: Macchu Picchu, ein UNESCO-Weltkulture...

Image via Wikipedia

There are many times when I feel like Juliet Binoche’s character in Chocolat.  The pull of the winds tells me when it is time to move on.  One day I am amusing myself with thoughts of staying in the current city/state/country for a few years, and the next day I’m itching for a change and ready to take flight instantly.  It is so easy to get into a routine and forget that there is better out there for you.  So I am thankful for these demanding winds that remind me of all the places I have yet to see.

At times my desire to travel and see the sights is so strong that it is akin to the longing that can be felt for a distant love.  Today, for example, I was teaching a lesson on vacations (standard chapter in many ESL books) and looking at the pictures of Easter Island, Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu, Grand Canyon, etc., I actually felt an ache in my body.  I felt sadness because there are so many places I have yet to see and my current job does not offer enough vacation time to accommodate them all.

However, I am hopeful, optimistic and quite determined to make my traveling desires become a reality.  I just need to find the right combination of income vs. travel opportunity in my next job to make it happen.  That is my priority.  I have always said that I do not care to climb the corporate ladder nor be rich.  It’s not about money for me.  It’s not about status either.  If I become a well-known magazine writer, awesome.  If I become a little-known waitress or barista, equally as awesome.  It’s about happiness.  I only want enough money to travel comfortably without worrying about the budget.  I spent too long daydreaming; now it’s time to MAKE IT HAPPEN.

On that note, I have posted my list of places I want to see (which grows every time I glance at it).  I posted this a few months ago elsewhere, but thought it was a good list to put on here as well so we can all share our traveling dreams together.

I ask you, where do YOU want to go and how are YOU going to make it happen?

Here are the Countries/Cities/Sights I want to visit, by region:

SOUTH/CENTRAL AMERICA/CARIBBEAN:

  1. Argentina – tango classes, the southernmost tip of the continent
  2. Brazil – rainforest
  3. Bolivia – suggestions?
  4. Chile – las montanas, el hielo
  5. Colombia – Santa Marta, Cali, Andres Cepeda concert/restaurant and perhaps volunteer with one of the Pies Descalzos schools for awhile
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Cuba – a country without American influence for 50 years!, the music
  8. Dominican Republic – beaches
  9. Guatemala
  10. Mexico – saw Cancun, want to see the ruins and the less touristy beaches
  11. Panama
  12. Peru – obviously Macchu Picchu amongst other things
  13. Puerto Rico – el Yunque
  14. Venezuela – Angel Falls

AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST

  1. Egypt
  2. Israel – Dead Sea
  3. Jordan
  4. Madagascar – biodiversity
  5. Morocco
  6. Turkey – saw Izmir, want to see Istanbul
  7. UAE – Dubai – architecture and salsa

EUROPE

  1. Austria
  2. Croatia – AGAIN!
  3. Czech Republic – Prague
  4. France – southern France
  5. Greece – Santorini
  6. Iceland – beautiful geology
  7. Ireland – castles
  8. Italy – AGAIN!  Florence, Tuscany, Roma, Milano
  9. Monaco – to see what the big deal is
  10. Poland
  11. Portugal
  12. Russia – St Petersburg, Moscow, Siberia and maybe Trans-Siberian railroad trip
  13. Spain – AGAIN!  Miss it immensely and have yet to see Barcelona or Malaga, and visit my Aunt/Uncle
  14. Scotland – highlands and castles
  15. England/Wales – AGAIN!  more castles and visit family

ASIA

  1. China – pandas, great wall, architecture
  2. India – Goa
  3. Indonesia – Bali
  4. Japan – salsa, style and food
  5. Macau
  6. Malaysia
  7. Philippines – swimming with whale sharks!
  8. Singapore – the zoo, the cleanliness
  9. Sri Lanka – resort vaca
  10. Taiwan – waterfalls and hot springs
  11. Thailand – elephants
  12. Vietnam – culture

ANTARCTICA – For the penguins of course, and to see a continent of ice

OCEANIA (AUSTRALIA FOR THE AMERICAN FOLK)

  1. Australia – salsa, animals
  2. Fiji
  3. New Zealand

NORTH AMERICA

  1. Alaska – animals, cruise
  2. Quebec – for the French influence
  3. US – 4 corners – more red rock, Grand Canyon
  4. US – SF – hills, bridges and liberal culture

P.S.  Got my renewed passport today (which btw is processed sooo much faster when outside the US) and they are actually much nicer and more interesting than those from the last decade.  I’m determined to need more pages added to my passport before this one expires!

Reflections and Resolutions

2011 was a damn good year.  It was my year of FINALLYs.

I finally went on a cruise.

I finally saw more European countries.

I finally got an iPhone AND a Kindle Fire.

I finally started taking Korean classes.

I finally got my root canal fixed! (blog on that to come later)

And many other smaller finallys along the way.

But that is not to say that I am finished.  Not even close.  I actually feel like I am just getting started.  There are still many things that I want to accomplish and figure out over the next 12 months to continue to improve my already good life and to continue building my ball o happiness.

As for last year’s resolutions, I’d say to some extent I accomplished about 25-50% of them.  The biggest success was in the form of travel.  I wanted to visit two new countries in 2011 and I visited 4 (technically 7 if you count airport layovers too).

Here are my aspirations for this year (in no particular order):

1.  Continue my intensive Korean lessons.  This means I should be able to get to level 5 (out of 6) by the end of my employment contract in July.  Also, I want to take the TOPIK test and see how high of a level I can achieve.

2.  Learn more Italian.  I am currently considering doing a 3 month intensive language stint in Italy after my contract ends so that I can achieve a high level of that language as well.  Plus of course the added benefit of not working for 3 months (haven’t been able to do that for 10 years!!) and seeing more of I.T.A.L.Y.  So if anyone has any recommendations on language schools there that have scholarships or work for tuition type deals, please let me know.

3.  Travel even more.  With trips expected to Taiwan and either Philippines or Thailand before the end of spring, this resolution is already in the works.  But I still want more.  I’d like to explore more of Asia while I am here including but not limited to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Jeju Island (Korea).

4.  Live a more minimalistic lifestyle.  Being an expat, and one who likes to live in small spaces, I’m learning to retrain my shopping habits and buy less STUFF.  I’ve talked about this in other posts as well and I want to continue to make this idea my way of life.  (See short, but inspirational TED video below on living in small spaces.  It’s one of my all time favs and I have watched it several times to remind me*).  I prefer to spend my time and money traveling, not cooped up in my apartment, so why do I need so much stuff there?  So this means getting rid of bad purchases, parting with my books and giving up on clothes that I barely wear.

5.  Learn how to balance my moods.  I tend to fluctuate from extreme happiness to extreme sadness and irritability.  This could be attributed to hormones, the emotional swings of a creative mind, a nutritional imbalance or something more serious such as a bipolar or anxiety disorder.  I’m not sure.  So, I need to figure out what it is and control it so that I can live a more balanced life (and stop driving my friends crazy).

6.  Figure out what I want to do with my life.  This will be a hard one to accomplish simply because I figure out what I want to do with my life all the time…and then I change my mind a week later.  (I can see my family and friends laughing and nodding in agreement)  I am known for getting super excited and obsessed about an idea, then changing my mind to something COMPLETELY different.  In the past week alone, I seriously contemplated moving to 4 different countries.

As for careers I am still considering the idea of being a writer, although perhaps magazine writing would be better suited for my attention span than novel writing.  I really enjoying teaching my younger students (1st-2nd grade), so continuing teaching English is an option (just with another company since mine is getting worse by the day).  I am also now researching the possibility of being a flight attendant, not only for the travel benefits, but because I’d like a job where being multilingual (see resolutions 1 & 2 above plus of course Spanish and English) makes me more marketable.  It would be a good fit for me since I don’t mind working holidays and don’t have a significant other, children, pets or a mortgage to go home to so there would be less stress on the scheduling front.  If anyone has any info on that career path let me know.  Also, if you have any other suggestions on what I should do with my life, I gladly welcome any out of the box thinkers.  🙂

I love the prospect of a new year and starting over.  It’s life refreshed.  What’s on your plate for 2012?

* TED video – Graham Hill (only 5 minutes long and worth it!) 

The Greenness of the Grass

I live a life that many envy.

No one depends on me. I have no mortgage, and within the next few months no credit card debt. There is nothing and no one truly holding me back from my dreams nor my spontaneous traveling desires. I live in an exotic country. I date who I want, when I want. I am free to eat peanut butter from the jar for breakfast should the mood strike. I enjoy the freedom of making my own decisions such as which social events to attend and how to spend my money…without compromise. My apartment is quiet or loud, messy or clean – based entirely on MY whims.

I am in my 30s. I am single. I am free. I am enjoying life. I am finding my own happiness.

But…

there do come some days, just a mere few, when I feel like the many characters in American movies. The ones who are insanely busy, living in a fabulous apartment in the city, smiling about how great life is…until they stop being busy. Then the sense of loneliness overwhelms them and they wonder if those on the other side may have it right after all. Maybe the human desire for love and stability is stronger than the desire to be free after all. Just maybe.

The holidays of course bring this feeling about with a much greater force. Not to mention these characters are portrayed in seemingly 75% of all holiday movies. The end scene showing them running, not walking, to the other side of the fence wherein lies the pretty wife, 2 kids, white fence and 2 car garage.

Now mind you, I only have very few of these days. The rest of the time, this Gemini is thoroughly enjoying her freedom from cages of any kind. So I do not want to put out the idea that I am longing to settle down anytime soon. I have too much traveling yet to do to make up for my 20s lost in cubicle-land and it may prove difficult to find a potential husband willing and able to go along for the rides. Not to mention that the men I meet lately have a rather skewed view of what constitutes a committed relationship, so I have little faith in finding one worth risking my happiness for – but that is definitely a blog for a different day.

What I would like to point out though is that despite the lovely greenness of the grass on my side of the fence, there are days when the grass begins to lose its bold green and wilts just a touch, due to not having a rock to shade it from the elements.

And on those days feel free look away and appreciate the loveliness of the grass on your side and smile at whatever life you may have hand-picked for yourself.

Previous Older Entries