Sunday, September 4, 2011

Turning Taiwanese: January to June 2011

Our return to Taiwan brought us back again to the frantic pace of life we had become accustomed to during the past several months, but had forgotten about while enjoying the slower pace of life over the Christmas holiday.  We were immediately thrown back into our roles and teachers, coaches, and colleagues - not to mention still newly arrived foreigners living in a still somewhat mind-boggling atmosphere.  As we began to catch our stride we realized how much we had needed our short interlude over Christmas; the rest we got over the last two weeks of 2010 would have to sustain us over the first two months of 2011.  Basketball, traveling, conferences, a soccer tournament, a Master's class, a Kinzer family visit would all have to fit on top of our already busy 'regular' schedule of things to do.

KAS basketball teams in Beijing - outside the Forbidden City

January can be summed up by "Basketball".  Dan's Varsity team had to focus it's preparation for their big tournaments at the end of the month - first in Beijing, and then in Seoul.  They had Saturday tournaments the first two weekends  after Christmas break (one of which was Erin's birthday, and a visit from one of Erin's former Swedish teammates - Lotta, and her boyfriend, Fredrik), and then they were off to Beijing.  The teams played very well in Beijing, and enjoyed making new friends with student-athletes from other schools in China even if they didn't quite like the freezing cold temperatures.  We also got to experience the Beijing subway and made our way down to Tiananmen Square to explain, experience, and contemplate the past, present, and future importance of the place.  We only had a couple of hours but we took a quick photo with Mao and then made our way into the Forbidden City to marvel at the grandeur of the ancient Chinese empires.

It felt as though we had just found our way back out of the Forbidden City when we set off to South Korea with another pair of basketball teams.  With only one day back in Taiwan between trips it felt as though we were just visitors to our own home and classrooms.  Nevertheless, we were excited to experience Seoul and compete in another tournament.  We were also happy to find out that, unlike Shanghai and Beijing, the student-athletes would get to participate in a homestay with players from Korea International School - the host of the tournament.  This adds another dimension to the experience for the players, and it was fun to listen to them describe the food they ate, the personalities they encountered, and the different culture they were able to observe from the inside. A couple of logistical hitches at the last minute kept a few players from traveling, and as the plane approached Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul we were amazed to see a sea of white - Korea was covered in snow!  All we could do was shrug our shoulders and laugh - just another 'added dimension'.  The boys and girls faced tough competition on the courts in Korea, but fought hard and earned the respect of their friends and fellow competitors, and the Sportsmanship Award.  We try to remind ourselves, and our players, that playing your best and giving all that you have, is the only thing you can do.  We were proud of our players for living this out over our weekend in Seoul.  As always, the team travel experience has such a positive impact on the players (and the coaches) and it's a real joy to be able to watch (and experience) their growth first-hand.  Coaching, more than teaching, demands a greater commitment to the relationship between leader and follower.  Even though most people argue that academics are 'more important' than athletics I sometimes think the reverse is true - success in life depends upon pursuing common goals with an intensity and trust that is very difficult to achieve in the context of a classroom, but comes much more naturally within the dynamics of a team.  As a teacher it can be a struggle to get to know all of our students.  We often have more than 100 of them, and get very little focused time with each one.  As a coach, we have the privilege of a lot of focused time with each player and by the end of a season we really get to know each other well.  Perhaps this is just cause to reconsider the way we teach young people (we would argue it is), but if not, it at least provides a good reason to value the lessons taking place on the courts and the playing fields - these are the lessons that will often matter most.

Vulcan Mayon - Philippines

February brought in another New Year Chinese New Year, and our time off school gave us the chance to travel to the island of Palawan in the southwest Philippines.  It's a beautiful and wild place, and we spent most of our time in Bacuit Bay, just off shore of the town of El Nido, exploring the hundreds of islands and wiling the day away sea kayaking and scuba diving.  The place we stayed, El Nido Resort, was posh and a bit extravagant but we decided that for a short stay and a much needed vacation we didn't want to spend our time, as we often do while traveling, trying to figure out logistics.  So everything was taken care of for us - in fact, Dan was even able to Skype with his good friend and photographer, JB, in order to work out the details of an upcoming class session and project with his Humanities students.  It's amazing to think that we can now see the person we're talking with when they're in New York City and we are on some remote beach a short flight and long boat ride away from any significant civilization.  Needless to say, we fell in love with Palawan, and the Philippines: from the intrigue and natural beauty of Bacuit Bay, to the world's longest navigable underground river, to the friendliness of strangers - this incredible nation made of up thousands of islands captivated our spirits of adventure and love of nature.  We knew we would be back.  We didn't quite realize that we would read about the quiet little village of Donsol on our way back home, and decide to make our way back to the Philippines later in the same month for a 3 day weekend filled with chasing whale sharks, scuba diving, admiring volcanoes, and playing a little street ball with the village kids.  In between we moved from coaching basketball to soccer, and enjoyed the festive Kaohsiung Lantern Festival that kicks off every Chinese New Year.  Fireworks over Love River, good street food, and rabbit-themed lanterns everywhere - Happy Year of the Rabbit!

Dan (and Erin, the photographer) scuba-diving in the Philippines

Like January and February, March would also prove to be a busy month - filled with lots of work and play.  In the middle of the month, during Tim's spring break from USC, the California Kinzers made a trip to Taiwan.  During their first weekend Dan took them down to Jialeshuei to catch a few waves and admire the beautiful southeastern coast scenery, and get a whiff of chou dofu, or stinky tofu, at the Kenting Night Market.  Erin tried the stuff back when she was in Taiwan for the Deaflympics, but Dan still hasn't tried it, and couldn't even get his family to believe that smell was coming from something you are supposed to eat.  Erin was in Shanghai for the first part of the weekend for a meeting of Athletic Directors from all over China, but arrived back in Kaohsiung on Sunday so we could share a meal with the family before sending them off.  Dad made it back to Taipei the following weekend, after a few work days in Korea, and we went up to meet him to hang out in Taiwan's biggest and most well known city.  We spent the days wandering the streets and visiting the major memorials and museums, as well as the zoo.  In Dan's five years in Pensacola, Florida his family only came to visit one time - for the wedding.  In our two years in Curacao they made one trip to celebrate Christmas and New Years.  In just our first year in Taiwan, the whole family has already come once, and we've gotten to spend time with Papa Kinzer four different times.  Maybe we just needed to move to the other side of the world to get more frequent visitors.  After the Kinzers left we had some work to tidy up before leaving for Spring Break, which would be filled with work and play in both Malaysia and Bali, Indonesia.  First, we were off to Kota Kinabalu again for an East Asian Regional Council of Overseas Schools (or EARCOS) Teacher's Conference.  It was a fantastic professional experience as Dan was inspired by, and connected with, some incredible educators - some well known, and some soon-to-be well known.  His favorites from the Conference were Carl Hobart, of Axis of Hope and Boston University (; Geoff Green, of Students on Ice (; and Michael Thompson, co-author of Raising Cain and an expert on the educational challenges and potential of boys.  Like Dr. Zhao, from the Conference during the first semester, these three educators are changing the face and heart of education and Dan was thrilled to begin developing a working relationship with all three.  Besides being a wonderful professional experience it doesn't hurt that the conference is hosted in one of Malaysian Borneo's most luxurious hotels, and we both enjoyed the fantastic scenery and interesting culture of Kota Kinabalu before heading off to Bali.

The Year of the Rabbit - Kaohsiung Lantern Festival

Bali was a dream come true.  Despite having too many people living on too small of an island, the culture and energy of the place make it a true tropical paradise.  We spent our first few days relaxing, surfing, and wandering around the Bukit Peninsula, a region of Bali renowned for it's epic surf spots (Uluwatu, Padang Padang), it's beautiful temples, the laid back vibe, and where the beach scene in Eat, Pray, Love was filmed.  We both caught some great waves and enjoyed the quality time together.  After a few days of surfing and relaxing we made our way by boat towards the island of Lombok.  Like most of Indonesia, but unlike Bali - which has retained it's largely Hindu identity, the people of Lombok are predominantly Muslim.  Other than the Maldives we haven't spent much time inside the Muslim culture, and while we look forward to traveling to Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia in the future, we were excited to get a glimpse at Indonesia's muslim identity.  It didn't actually work out too well: we had chosen to spend our time on the small island of Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as it's affectionately known, to do some diving and experience the culture.  The culture was more of an ex-pat diving community filled with mostly European tourists and a few guys from Lombok who had discovered an opportunity to make decent money selling weed to these tourists.  We politely declined on the marijuana and made our way down the single dirt road to the small dive shop and hostel where we had booked a room for our two nights there.  Despite not being surrounded by the culture and community we sort of expected the few days we spent on the island were wonderful: fantastic diving and even a decent right-hander peeling off the reef on the southern point.  After a few more waves, and some world-class diving, we made our way back across the straits to Bali and on to Ubud - the cultural heart of Bali.  We had two days left to enjoy traditional Balinese dance and craftsmanship, and just enough time to squeeze in a little bit of work and adventure as well.  We made our way to visit Bali Green School (, an inspiring initiative to build a school that not only teaches, but models, sustainability and an environmental conscience, as the main piece of its curriculum.  The school is growing and flourishing, and after speaking with the founder, John Hardy, as well as some of the students and employees at the school, we were convinced that the school will ultimately push the Bali and global communities towards a better way to educate young people.  We also got to bicycle through some charming villages and serene rice fields, enjoy some close encounters with the Asian elephants at Bali Elephant Park, and paddle hard down one of Bali's few rivers open for white-water rafting.  It wasn't even one day out of Bali that we were already itching to go back.

A day of mountain-biking, white-water rafting, and riding elephants in Bali

Actually, it was only one day out of Bali and Dan did have to go back … well, sort of - to Indonesia anyway.  The Global Issues Network students that Dan advises at KAS were attending their regional Conference at Jakarta International School.  The Conference lasted four days and while the students shared their thoughts and action plans for solving some of the world's most daunting challenges, Dan was able to network with other educators from around Asia with a similar vision for education.  All of us were inspired by the keynote speakers, and the students' and teachers' energy in working together to make our world 'suck less' - as one of the less eloquent young minds phrased it.  While Dan was being inspired in Jakarta, Erin was back in Kaohsiung busily dealing with the final preparations for the soccer tournament that KAS was hosting.  Ten teams from all over China were making their way to Kaohsiung for a weekend tournament in mid-April.  This was KAS' and Erin's first experience hosting a major tournament, but with the help of the KAS community - teachers, students, and parents - Erin pulled off an incredible event.  The kids were healthy and competed hard under the already hot sun of southern Taiwan.  While it was a relief to have the tournament come to a close she also felt a great sense of well-deserved accomplishment.

Fire Dance in Bali

The rest of April seemed to be the beginning of the end of the school year.  We began to prepare for final exams and work with our students on their final projects.  Dan celebrated his birthday with his good friend, and new college James, as well as Papa Kinz - who made one more trip to Taiwan to bring in the Big Day with Dan by climbing one of Taiwan's tallest mountains.  It was no easy climb, but it was exactly the kind of birthday celebration that Dan hopes for.  Once April was over it really was "down hill."  Middle School basketball and high school soccer and volleyball tournaments kept us busy, but having fun, during the first two weekends, and after that both of us were working hard to meet all of the requirements of the end of the year and prepare for our summer travels, work, and study.  Of course, we also had our end of the year party for school and several invitations for lunch/dinner before many of us parted ways for at least the summer (sometimes indefinitely).  We got all of our work and preparations in order and managed to sneak away for a weekend to celebrate our 3rd Anniversary.  Courtesy of Typhoon Songda, our Anniversary getaway happened to coincide with 15-20 foot swell on the east coast of Taiwan.  The swell began to dwindle as the weekend faded away, but Dan was still racing down the faces of a near-perfect overhead left-hander well into Sunday afternoon. In only the most wonderful way, it is hard to believe that it has only been three short years.  We have grown so much together while we worked, played, and explored alongside each other.  There have been so many people, and so many places, in our first three years of marriage that have helped to shape and define who we are, and pushed us to discover what we want our life together to be about.  From our old friends, to our family, to our students and student-athletes, to the numerous colleagues we've had the privilege of working with over the past several years, to the travel companions and gracious hosts that we've met on each of our adventures - these people, and the places in which we've shared our company, are helping us become who we are, and want to be: adventure, compassion, generosity, humility, love, insight, innovation, exploration.  What will today add to our lives, and how about tomorrow?

A romantic dinner in the Gili Islands off the coast of Bali

As could be predicted, our last week in Taiwan was a bit frantic.  Dinner dates, and lots of hours up at school - packing up classrooms and organizing for next year; Dan had a meeting with a group of young and energetic students from around Kaohsiung who are helping to coordinate the first ever TEDxKaohsiung, of which Dan is the main organizer.  This is an exciting opportunity that Dan hopes will help him dive deeper into the Kaohsiung community, and build a bridge between the large number of expats and local Taiwanese living in Kaohsiung.  Other new partnerships and potential projects in Taiwan have us both excited to return in August, despite being overwhelmed at the enormity of our voyages between now and then.  "Between now and then" - finding that balance between cherishing the present moment, and anticipating the future possibilities - is perhaps what this summer will be about.  There is so much to be happy for now today, and there will be so much to be happy for tomorrow.  We hope you've enjoyed the stories from some of our yesterdays, and that you too will discover the joy of your present moments and future possibilities.  For now, our possibilities reside at the beginning of our summer voyage - here we come Beijing.

 The Temple of Heaven - Beijing


claire teschel said...

love the photos! looks like yall are having a blast! sending hugs from georgia:)

Mama Meg said...

What a fun and exciting Life you and Dan have. I love reading about it all and living it SORTA thru you both. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful year. Congrats on 3 years of marriage. :o)