Monday, March 29, 2010

A Hike in the Clouds

Last week, Chris and I got to enjoy the comforting presence of our last visitors from the U.S. while we are in Taiwan. My sister, her fiancĂ©, and their friend stayed with us for several days to experience life in Taipei. Unfortunately, they largely had to serve as their own tour guides as our spring break doesn’t come until next week. We did, however, make the most of our evenings together by highlighting some of our favorite restaurants and introducing their senses (olfactory, though not gustatory) to the famed stinky tofu. The weekend was the high point since we were able to spend more time together.

We planned to spend Saturday hiking up a mountain just outside of the city. Living in a city whose annual rainfall is about 83 inches, we were more than a little concerned that it might rain on our parade. We were delighted, however, when we woke up to some of the bluest skies we have seen since we lived here. Enjoying our direct dose of vitamin D, we headed out to Yang Ming Shan. When we arrived, we wandered into the visitor’s center where a helpful Taiwanese woman directed us to the path we wanted. Since Yang Ming Shan is a national park, it is laced with all sorts of trails with varying degrees of difficulty. One trail sparked our interest as it led to the top of the highest peak in Taipei. Boasting an underwhelming 1120 meters (3654 feet), we still felt the uncontrollable pull to summit the tallest natural thing around. All of us being relatively active and accustomed to hiking in the Colorado Rockies, we expected to have a quick jaunt up the mountain, snap a few photos, skip down the other side, and get some lunch. Yang Ming Shan, on the other hand, had other plans.

We started out full of confidence and warmed by the sunshine. We chatted cheerfully about some of the interesting “cultural experiences” that Tori, Matt, and Andrea had had since their arrival on the island. We waited patiently for the stairs that we assumed were leading us to the trail to end. The thing is, they didn’t. Meter after meter, step after step, the rocky staircase became steeper and steeper as it channeled us up the mountain. Eventually, we each swallowed a nice big piece of humble pie and sat down on a bench to take a break. It was at that point that we noticed the cooling weather. At that point, the chilling breeze felt good on our sweat-drenched faces. Revived, we once again began our ascent. However, we noticed that the temperature began to fall precipitously as clouds rolled in to cover the clear blue sky.

As we neared the peak, the fog eerily wafted through the trees and chilled our hands and faces. When we finally made it to the top, we could barely see ten feet in front of us. Laughing through chattering teeth, we took a few photos of the would-be scenery. We descended the rocky steps as quickly as we could and dreamed of the all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue restaurant we had planned for our post-hike meal. Since the hike turned out to be more difficult than we anticipated, lunch became linner. The timing actually worked out well for us since the restaurant was relatively empty even though it was Saturday. While we weren’t sure if it was possible at the 3654 ft. summit, we finally thawed out and had our fill to eat. I’m pretty sure I know who came out ahead of that all-you-can-eat meal.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Marathoner's Diary

A running friend of mine did this for her last marathon and I thought it was a cool idea. So, here is a diary, kilometer by kilometer, of the marathon that I ran in Kenting this weekend. Just as an FYI for those of you who are not metrically-inclined, a marathon is 42.2 kilometers. Thanks for the inspiration, Cheryl!

0 – 5 KM: A special treat

This part of the run was exceptionally enjoyable this time around because I actually had a buddy with me! Chris trained for a 10K race so we got to run side by side for the first 5K until Chris’ turning point. It is amazing how time flies when you have someone to chat with while you jog. We had a great time and I was sad to see him go at the turning point, though he wasn’t too disappointed to be heading back home.

5 – 10 KM: Finding my pace

Back to running alone… kind of. One of the things that makes running races so much more fun than running solo is that you get to run along side a few thousand of your closest friends and, though you may or may not speak the same language, you all enjoy the camaraderie that comes from knowing that you have all trained for the same thing and have come to this point to endure this task together. So, between 5 and 10K, I found my marathon pace and enjoyed looking around at the other crazies running with me.

10 – 15 KM: A first for me

This part of the race was interesting. It has happened several times that, if I run past a gentleman on the road, a sudden sense of inspiration seems to take over and he does whatever it takes to either pass me or at least run next to me. One guy was thusly inspired and chose to run next to me, all the while chatting away in Chinese, some of which I understood and some I didn’t. When he finally began asking me questions beyond my name and country of origin, I was forced to admit that I didn’t speak Chinese at which point he switched to broken English. Immediately after the switch, we evidentially moved to a new level of intimacy; so, he asked me about my activities that afternoon and invited me to his home. After declining his hospitable offer, he asked for my phone number. I’m not kidding. I kindly notified him that, though I wasn’t sporting the ring during the race, I was, in fact married. He persisted in asking for my number and informed me that he would remember it if I told it to him. The whole experience was so humorous to me that I couldn’t let it end there. So, I gave him Chris’ cell phone number just to find out if he could truly remember the number and actually call. No word yet from this dashing Don Juan.

21KM : Half Marathon Envy

In the morning before the race, all of the runners are sporting their color-coded numbers indicating the distance they are about to run. There is a certain air of pride that the full marathoners carry with them and I have to say that I was proud of my red number in the morning. But, when the half marathoners are making their final sprint toward the finish line and I am only halfway finished, I have to admit that I get a twinge of half marathon envy. The sense of envy was exacerbated by the special present that I knew was waiting for me at the halfway point. The first of two giant hills.

21 – 25 KM: Hill #1

I wasn’t exactly sure how steep or how long these two inclines were going to be. I just knew that the altitude diagram looked quite daunting. But, to be honest, the first of the two hills wasn’t too excruciating. The steep portions were interspersed often enough with flat recovery zones so that I was encouraged by the time I reached the top. I made sure to note a landmark of the top of the hill so that, on my way back (as I would be coming up this same hill to reach the finish line at the bottom of the hill I had just come up) I would know where the road started heading downhill again.

25 – 30 KM: Recovery and Preparation

At this point, the hill turned down. Part of me was enjoying allowing my body to recover and not have to fight so hard against gravity. I was able to catch my breath and look at the fantastic scenery that the road offered. This marathon is called the Southern Border Marathon because it goes along the southernmost tip of island right along the coast overlooking the ocean. It was indeed spectacularly beautiful. However, with each step downhill, my heart sank a little deeper in my chest. I knew that every stride down meant another stride back up in just a few more kilometers. I worked on noting landmarks for myself so that I would know when a flat part was coming. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the flat parts were quite a bit fewer and farther between on this side.

30 – 35 KM: A blessing in disguise

The turn around point was a short distance from the bottom of the hill. That gave me some time to brace for what I knew was coming. I was tired, but every step I took, I intentionally made myself appreciate that it was one more step that I got to take on flat ground. Eventually, however, I found myself staring up at the dreaded return trip over the hill. The first part of the hill was, to be brief, agonizing. I wasn’t aware that it was possible, but it was even longer and steeper than what I remembered coming down. I knew I looked rough when a lady on a scooter stopped and asked if she could give me a hand. But here is the funny part. I was particularly worried about this part of the race during my training because I knew that I often hit a wall around 30K. But, as I was drudgingly ascending this hill, my eyes continually scanned the road for a break from the climb. I kept saying to myself, “If I can just make it to that point, I’ll be fine… If I can just make it to that point, I can do it.” And, in that way, concentrating on one step at a time, I finally made it to the top. I didn’t have time to think about anything else and, before I knew it, I was out of the “wall danger zone”. So, while this hike was incredibly difficult for me, it helped me break up those tough kilometers in such a way that I never had to worry about a wall. I’m sure there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

35 – 42 KM: The Descent

After reaching the landmark that let me know I had finished the uphill, I was as overjoyed as one can be after running 35K and still having more to go. Optimistic, I ceded to the power of gravity and began my descent. This may come as shocking information, but the kilometers sure seemed to click by a lot faster when I was going downhill rather than up. Before I knew it I had come to the final water station where I stocked up on the final refreshment for the home stretch.

42.2: The Finish Line

The final descent dumped me right into the finishing alley where I used up the last of my energy to smile for my wonderful husband and friend who awaited me. After receiving my finishing medal, I sought out a shaded area to enjoy being finished. Considering the difficulty of this race, I was pleased to learn that my time was only four minutes slower than my first marathon. I was also excited to find out that I placed 10th overall for the women runners. I’m not exactly sure how many women were running, and though it might have been ten, I was proud nonetheless, especially since my trophy came with a cash prize this time. After a nice shower, Chris, our friend Tracy, and I collapsed into our train seats and began our journey back home to Taipei.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Little Bit of Seoul

Though many of you have already heard, we thought that we would go ahead and make it blog-ficial. We have decided that this will be our last year living here in Taipei. But, we have also decided that we aren’t quite through with Asia just yet. In January, Chris and I accepted teaching positions in Seoul, South Korea.

Come August 3, Chris and I will proud members of the Seoul Foreign School family. It is a Christian school with extremely high academic standards and an excellent reputation. Chris will be teaching regular and AP American history and take over the head basketball coaching position. I will be teaching second and third year Spanish. While this means that we will be far away from our dear family and friends for at least two more years, we are thrilled about this opportunity that God has given us. So, we look forward to many more social and cultural blunders to fill this blog as we attempt to make ourselves at home in a new culture. Wish us luck in our venture and we look forward to teaching you all about kimchi.

Check out the slideshow of our new school if you get a chance!