Welcome to our old – ahem – new blog…

Note: I can’t assume to speak for Aye, so I will try to break the ‘we’ habit and only focus on “I” in this post…

I don’t think anyone really noticed, or cared, that our gotpassport(dot)org blog went offline recently. We (as a team) decided, after many discussions, to let go of the URL, and web hosting our 3 blogs as well. It wasn’t an investment worth paying every month, and it wasn’t a trivial amount, either. Now the old original free wordpress site, yeah, this one, is what we have saved. Content from the self-hosted sites were imported into this one – so financially we are saving a good chunk of change by not paying for a website name and hosting. But what did we lose, if anything?

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Birthday Thoughts- 2016 

It’s 2016.  My 49th birthday  is tomorrow. The last time I celebrated my birthday and Anniversary in the United States was for my 43rd birthday and our 10th Anniversary, Emma’s 7th birthday.  I’m grateful the Six amazing years we’ve had in Asia since we packed up and left in 2010.

This year we celebrate our 16th Wedding Anniversary, Jack and mine’s 49th birthday and Ms. Emma became a teenager.  It’s a big deal to our family.

As my birthday approaches, as I ponder on the 16 years of being married, raising and homeschooling a teenager–  it’s inevitable to think, oh my how time has flown.

My life is filled with reflections.  I reflect and reflect and reflect some more. Too much reflecting.  I know I’m weired that way but that’s me. To a fault.  

Returning to Texas was sudden.  It wasn’t planned although on the eve of New Years Eve (30 December 2015),  Jack and I had a lengthy serious talk about ‘what if’s’ in round-about ways and while planning the trip to Thailand, then to Burma with my Mother and Emma, without Jack– there was a nagging feeling and a voice I ignored days prior to that night we had that serious talk.  I should have listened.

Fast forward, while in  Chiang Mai, Thailand for 2 weeks in January 2016, before heading to Burma while obtaining our visas, arranging playdates for Emma with her friends etc., we learned about Jack’s Mum’s hospitalization. Remember the nagging voice.  I should have listened.

All of our plans came to a halt in Thailand. My mother in law past away. I learned about it in Thailand before our trip to Burma.   It was a tamultuous time for me emotionally being in Thailand. I hated being away from Jack.  I hated that he was alone in Taiwan. I felt torn.  We were messaging and talking to eachother on the phone between three different time zones (Texas, Taiwan and Thailand).  I remember having the worst phone conversations with my father as an adult.  I wanted to die. I wanted to disappear from this earth. Nothing is ever easy or simple. However difficult it may have been, we made it work, we cancelled 6 flights, lost money on 3, booked 4 more last minute, lost three approved visas to Burma. I manage to return with my mother and my homeschooled daughter from Thailand back to Taipei with  multiple suitcases. We saw Jack in passing for one night at a hotel near Taoyuan airport.  He was on his way to  the US and we are returing back to our small town in the south via train from Taipei.  Jack made a lot of the transportation arrangements and made my life a bit easier by doing so.  Emma was my helper with the heavy suitcases. We can’t just check-in suitcases when traveling on trains in Taiwan. We have to carry them, lift them up into the train etc. Once back in our small-town, I had a few more days to do laundry,  make arrangements for my mother to go shopping, repack (as in pack away all of belonings in our rooms) and clean up the entire 2-story rental home ( it’s a 7 bedroom home so you can imagine of the house which needed cleaning).   Then the day came when we had to leave again and head back to Taipei with more luggage, to send my Mother off back to Houston.  Then a day later we got ourselves on a plane and back to Arlington, Texas. It was a whirlwind and now, nearly 2-5 months later, we are heading back to Taiwan. My birthday felt like a whirlwind too. 

What does it mean to be 49?  What have I learned in these last few years of living abroad and traveling?  What about just in the last few months?  Since October 2015 there have been three deaths.  Two under the age of 50.  We learned about all of them while abroad.

Seriously though my hair has been falling out for months now. Try telling that to anyone. The first reaction is “you have so much hair!!” 

I’ll just keep it to myself and one of these days I’ll get to tell a doctor. 
 

 

 

 

 

Reflection: Working as a Social Worker at a Cancer Hospital

I was proud of my job at MD Anderson cancer center in Houston straight out of graduate school in 1997. for the first three years of my work there my assignment was working with bone marrow transplant inpatients and the patients in isolation rooms.  Then I moved to Melanoma and Sarcoma services.

There was so much suffering, hope and despair all mixed in one place, it was quite  overwhelming to say the least. (Prior to that I worked as a volunteer coordinator on the weekends at the same hospital while I was in school. That was back in 1994). I was there for total of about 8+ years pre and post graduate school. This part of my career as a licensed Social Worker taught me plenty about life and death and how so many people fought so very hard to live one more day while the rest of us seemed to take life for granted focused on the most frivolous things.

It was my Mother’s illness that prompted me the desire to work with cancer patients. It was my Father’s illness that prompted me to work with the Elderly population (Gerontology Social Work). It was so so long ago but gosh, I sometimes wonder how I made it through the days at work back then. My work there taught me much about the human spirit, human strength on so many levels.  And the sheer will to survive and live another day to enjoy another meal, to feel the warmth of the sun on the face, to dance one more song, to hug one more time,

I still carry those harsh but real and raw lessons with me to this day and I am thankful I was introduced to these lessons early on in my life. Perhaps those experiences shaped my life for the past 7 years of our lives. Perhaps it is the realization that we  have today and tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone of us, that I am to exist in this life time with a healthy dose of gratitude. 

Here’s a link to HONY’s story of Robin which is what prompted me to reflect on my own personal and professional journey.

A Miracle. A Place We Can Call Home.

Wow.  Can you believe it?

It’s been over three months, damn, almost four, since we arrived to Taiwan. It was all about festive celebrations when we first arrived due to Lunar New Year. That was way back in February. Lots happened since. I’ll spare additional details but I wrote a bit about it here, here and here.

Starting late March and for a little over a month,  Jack’s parents came back to Taiwan and we were in the South and in the North zipping back and forth.   It was a nice surprise to see them and spend time with them here again.

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Our New Home

Technically we don’t have a home of our own just yet. We’ve been staying with family members in North and South of Taiwan and at Bed and Breakfast accommodations on the East Coast. Our 18 days across the East coast in March has been eye-opening and has allowed us to see the possibilities of being with nature and being able to enjoy riding the bicycle on a regular basis.  We rode many many kilometers on our bicycles during those 18 days on the East coast.  Admittedly, more kilometers than we ever have in our life time.  I can be on the bicycle on a daily basis exploring so many places. That thought alone by itself keeps me encouraged! Read more of this post

A New Year. A New Adventure.

 

Surreal.    We’re in Taiwan.  Seems like we just left yesterday.  No we left in September 2014 and here we are , back to stay, much longer this  time.

Pinch me now!

It’s only been a week since our arrival to Taiwan, a familiar place for all of us. Still, it is a new adventure because this time we are here to stay.  it feels a bit surreal and exciting at the same time.

No.  We are NOT on vacation. We’re here to make a life in this beautiful country.   Just like the life we made in Thailand for four years.  How long in Taiwan?  Of course we don’t know. We will live in the moment.  And we will take one year at a time, like we did in Thailand.

On the day we left, Chiang Mai airport was jam-packed.   We quickly realized, in addition to the  trend of Chinese  tourists coming to Chiang Mai, it’s also only a few days before the Lunar New Year.  We are glad we planned our travel at least a week before the official Lunar New Year massive travels began. Yikes!

So we came to Taiwan just in time for the New Year celebrations.   The colors of gold and red shower Taiwan it seems.

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It’s the year of the Sheep/Goat. That’s us.  That’s the three of us.  It makes sense to be here in Taiwan for Emma and her Daddy to reconnect with their cultural roots. I’m excited for us!

The PaiPai room3

It is a  celebration I believe Jack and Emma ought to experience in Taiwan as Taiwanese Americans. I’ve had my time of being reconnected with my roots in Thailand and Burma. I heard Jack utter the words the other day “It’s been a long time since I’ve been here for Taiwanese New Year! I think I was just a kid!”  Just like me. I was maybe 11 or 12 the last time I experiened the New Year Water Festival in Burma. In the four years that we lived in Thialand, I was reconnected and was present for the New Year Water Festival and Jack and Emma had a chance to thoroughly experience and learn about the cultural festivities.

Since our arrival, Emma has shown initiative and  interest in learning the language of her father’s native tongue. Emma’s great aunt (Kim-puh) has helped her learn phrases and words already in the first couple days.  We are eating delicious food as usual.  Enjoying delicious tea, fruits and snacks at all hours. Noticing, observing and enjoying  the company family and gatherings.

Taiwan.  Our new home!

 

The PaiPai room2a

 

shee4

sheepsheep2

Lunar New Year

 

Sheeps are everywhere!

Sheep are everywhere!

Food. Food. More Food.

Food. Food. More Food.

We Say YES to Attitude of Gratitude.

We Say NO to Status Quo. 

Live Green. Live Small. Give Large. Take Little.

Take Notice. Take Action.

 

 

The Leap from Thailand to Taiwan

My how time has flown. Our life of four years in Thailand has truly been an incredible adventure and journey.

 

yee ping 7 2013

I thought I would be so brokenhearted by leaving Thailand.  Essentially, to me, it means moving away from Burma. Chiang Mai and Mae Sot were the closest thing to my Burmese roots.  The dream and the possibilities of living there had lingered in my heart for as long as I can remember.

Without really thinking too much I tried a new approach! After all, it’s a brand new year with a new set of 365 days of opportunities for behavioral changes.  A new country. A new page. A new adventure. 

After spending 3 months in Taiwan the summer of 2014, then another nearly three months in Malaysia, then back to Texas for the 2014 winter holidays, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  Being on the move, packing, repacking, visiting with family and friends, leaving Texas again, all at the same time homeschooling,   It can be and was overwhelming.  So many emotions. So many logistics… lot of crying episodes, a lot of wine, a lot of late night worries, crunching the numbers, arguments, Korean episodes, lots of music and soul searching, lots of eating,  lots of laughing too.. and on and on.

Returning to Thailand at first was exciting then it was exhausting because we had a lot of work ahead of us before we move to Taiwan. We just had three weeks.  Three weeks?  What were we thinking!  An amazing thing happened though– by the time the last day in Thailand came and it was time to say “See you later, Chiang Mai!”   I was not sobbing in big tears. No regrets. Only a sense of satisfaction.

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Supporting NGOs and Social Enterprises is a never-ending endevor. Puzzle Box Art Studio in Mae Sot.

 

 

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We had one last meal with our friends, James (LIve Collar Free) and Maria (Fiery Tree ) at one of our favorite restaurants. Pun Pun,  in Chiang Mai.  As I sat with them enjoying and being present at lunch,  James said something along the lines of “thought you’d be crying today?” At that very moment, it occurred to me that I couldn’t cry even if I tried. I just felt at peace. I later thought about why I wasn’t in tears. Sobbing, like I thought I would.

 

 

At some point after the return, I chose to be present in everything I was doing.  

 

I woke up each morning noticing the beautiful sky above us.  I paid attention to the little fishes in the pond, the mooing of the cows from my living room as I had done in the past.  I felt the warmth of the sun  on my face. I enjoyed the beautiful mountain breezes on my face as we took rides up the mountain with our motorbike. I enjoyed the moments  we had together as a family in those three weeks.  I noticed friends’ company. I enjoyed the time we took on the road trip to Mae Sot, the art projects with our Burmese friends, interacting with them, learning from them. I tasted every bite of the Burmese salads we had in Mae Sot. I relished every cup of Macchiato as if it was my last.  I relished in the idea of being in the moment and truly appreciating it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

 

 

More photos located here in our

” target=”_blank”>FB Album on our FB page as well.  Feel free to hop-over for a look!

 

 

We worked hard to sell as many things was we could. As a family we learned to work together well.  It was hectic at times but we did it. We packed up.  Shipped 6 boxes to Taiwan and 2 to the US (yes, very costly, not recommended!). We free-cycled to friends and neighbors. Recycled whatever we could. Donated as much as we could to NGOs.   Used up  all our luggage allowed via checked-in luggage and carry on luggage.

Downloads

 

And we did it. With  a lot of determination and the willingness to test new waters, we did it.  My journey and time in Thailand was complete, for now. I felt at peace. I know deep down, there are places and people that will remain close to my heart, always.

At the end of the day,  it took a lot of faith and courage within ourselves and for each other.

I am so proud of us: the three of us.

Uhhh there it is. I see a new adventure.

Carpe Diem!  Another Leap of Faith.

Done.

We Leaped.

Again.

 

We Say YES to Attitude of Gratitude.

We Say NO to Status Quo. 

Live Green. Live Small. Give Large. Take Little.

Take Notice. Take Action.

We have retired!

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Yes, folks, we just realized that we are a retired couple, but not retired in the conventional sense. Our retirement is not related to winning the lottery, cashing in on Chipotle stock (missed that one!), nor is it related to us finally reaching our “elderish” (Emma’s word) age.

We have retired from THAT race.

You know what race I am referring to, don’t you? Yes, the rat race. More precisely, the STATUS race. The race is universal, unavoidable, and you tend to stand out when you decide to not participate in it. You get judged by your peers and family. Questions about what we are doing are really disguised as opportunities to enlighten us that we are going the wrong way.

The next time we hear questions like, “What do you do?” “What do you do, all day?” (really?) or, “Do you have a business here in (insert Asian county name here)?” we will answer, “We are retired.” Short and simple. Enough is enough.

We (Aye and I) are retired from the race to move up some academic or corporate ladder. Department chair? Dean? Pass. Please. Director of an NGO? No thanks.  We are retired from the goal of a six figure annual salary (note that I said salary, which is very different than our long term investment goals). Retired from feeling the need to wear academic credentials on our sleeves to someone new we will meet, just in order to fit in it or elevate ourselves. Our occupational titles do not define us. We are so much more.

We are retired from needing to prove that by achieving ‘status’ we will achieve a higher level of happiness. A big house with walk-in closets filled with a ton of clothes didn’t do it for us. We had two houses. Yup. We had everything we needed. An Armani suit, Tesla car, or a Rolex won’t make me any more important than I am right now. I’d rather spend my money that gives my family enriching experiences, and an insane 80″ tv from my beloved Costco won’t do that.  Why watch the Travel channel in 4k resolution when we can see those places with our own eyes with that cash? I think our eyes are high def, right?

I am also retired from needing to prove to others that I am good enough husband or father, or that I am capable of providing for my family to someone else’s standard.  Judge all you want, as long as we are happy, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone else. For us, trying to impress or appease others by chasing higher status is a huge waste of time and energy. HUGE!

We are retired from using our child as a means of competing with other families’ kids just to feel better about ourselves. It’s great that your kid scored a 1600 on the SAT, won a gold medal, got into Harvard, became a neurosurgeon, or is a famous chef on t.v. We are happy for you. Really, that is awesome! We want Emma to be Emma, not to be “better than so-and-so’s kid.” By telling her, “Why don’t you be like Jane, who achieved this or that?” I would basically be telling her to not be herself. Why on earth would I do that?

Retirement is not about giving up or losing something valuable, but gaining what is important to us.

 

We no longer need to look forward to retirement. We had already retired back in 2010!

 

 

We Say YES to Attitude of Gratitude.

We Say NO to the Status Quo.

Live Small. Live Green.

Give Large. Take Little.

Take Notice. Take Action.

 

Teaching on the run

 

Playing around in New Orleans at Mardi Gras World

Playing around in New Orleans at Mardi Gras World

 

I’ve been teaching on the run (sounds like I’m a fugitive) for several years now, but I still get questions about what I do, so I’ll write a bit about teaching online.  I’ll save the nuts and bolts about how online classes work for another day, but for now, focus on the benefits and costs of this work lifestyle.  The major benefit of teaching online has afforded us the freedom of time together as a family, and to become location independent.  Sounds great on the surface, but like any profession, there are pitfalls to this work lifestyle as well.

Let me just simplify what I’m trying to say in a Good v. Bad list below…with bullet points.  Hey, I’m a professor, bullet points are deeply engrained in my brain now…

 

The Good List:

  • Freedom!  Working from home can be liberating, work on your own schedule, and from anywhere as long as  you have solid internet.  Yes, you CAN teach in your pajamas!  The stereotype is true!  As for autonomy at the job, I have that and more.  While there is accountability built into the system, I do have the academic freedom of creating the type of course I want to teach.  It’s creative freedom at its best.
  • Time – I received plenty of vacation time as a full time professor, including the summers, spring breaks, and in between semester breaks.  We didn’t even earn vacation days.  Now as an adjunct (fancy term for part time) instructor, I have even more flexibility to pursue other freelance work, such as life coaching or editing.
  • Save money – Just like any work from home (telecommuting) job, I save by not having to commute to an office location, costs of maintaining a car, fuel, professional attire, and the daily costs of eating out or using the vending machines.  People forget that a job comes with expenses in addition to a paycheck.
  • Homeschooling has evolved into Worldschooling – While Emma was attending international school for the past four years in Thailand, we lived as expats.  Once we decided as a family to homeschool last year, we became even less restricted of any calendar constraints, and can go virtually anywhere!
  • I love teaching, period.  If you love teaching, that doesn’t change when one chooses to teach online.  There is still student-teacher interaction, and you can still create an engaging learning experience.  If you want to teach online, you need to believe in the format and the advantages it brings, and not ruminate about how face to face classes are inherently better.
  • No more office politics –  I do not miss (at all) the negative aspects of being on campus, such as the typical backstabbing and gossiping that goes on in any workplace.  Not to mention dealing with bureaucracy, or ‘bosses’ who undermine your work.  Yes, those things happen in academia, and happened to me.

 

The Bad List:

  • Insecurity – Giving up a full time faculty salary, and the benefits that come with it, wasn’t an easy decision.  Ask any adjunct instructor, and they’ll tell you that they were waiting for many years to get a shot at applying for a full time faculty position.  Going from a full time to adjunct position is basically a demotion in most people’s minds, and I would not argue with that. A full time faculty position is extremely competitive and secure, but I gave it up for ‘adjuncthood,’ which includes a constant state of insecurity, as there are no guarantees that you’ll continue to get classes.  Not all colleges support faculty who want to teach their online classes from any location. Many want their faculty in-house, often in their offices as they teach their classes online (Don’t ask me the logic of THAT).  I’m fortunate that I work for two colleges (in states of WA and LA) who are willing to allow me to teach my classes from any location..
  • Being online all the time – When you work at the office, there are clear prompts of when you begin and end your work day.  After you leave the office, your work day is done (unless you take papers home to grade).  Teaching online, though, requires discipline to stay OFF the computer.  I can safely say that I probably put in more hours than is required with my teaching load.  I’m proud of my work ethic, but not proud that I’m working more hours than I should.  That’s out of balance.  As a traveling family, we often rely on our internet access for news, communication, and entertainment.  So combining that with my online work, it’s a bit too much time in front of a screen for my taste.
  • Professional Development – Typically as a full time faculty member, there are numerous conferences and professional development activities that one can engage in to further one’s skills and knowledge base.  Teaching from Asia creates a new challenge in this area.  I do my best to be engaged by reading books, research, and news articles in my field, but I do miss the face to face interaction and discussion with colleagues in my field of study.
  • Internet needed – Make that GOOD internet.  Our short stay in a Penang apartment last fall turned into a nightmare for my work.  The wifi speeds were too slow.  So slow that it reminded me of the dial-up days (avg of 1Mbps download).  While I managed to get my work done, it was stressful and not as efficient as it could have been. Don’t take fast internet for granted, people! This fast Wifi requirement also prevents us from exploring some parts of the world where internet access is poor to nonexistent.  We’ll have to schedule those ventures during my non-teaching part of the calendar.

 

On the whole, I can’t complain though.  My work lifestyle is devoid of most of the stress that I had as a full timer, and I’ve exchanged that lofty status and security for more time with my family, and I’ll make that trade again any time.  I’m grateful to the colleges that entrust me to teach their classes from a distance, and the freedom that this work has provided for myself and my family.

 

We Say YES to Attitude of Gratitude.

We Say NO to the Status Quo.

Live Small. Live Green.

Give Large. Take Little.

Take Notice. Take Action.

 

 

 

 

 

In search of balance for 2015 and beyond

 

Here's fearless Emma, leading us up the walls!

Here’s fearless Emma, leading us up the walls!

It’s another new year, which brings time for reflection of the previous year that passed.  However, this time I’m getting the feeling like I’m in the film “Groundhog Day,” where I would go through the motions of declaring hopeful changes to be made in my life, but I wonder if any of them will stick this year?

No, I won’t do it.  I won’t go through the usual public declaration of the things I’d like to accomplish this year, as I’m getting to the point where  talk (and blog posts) is cheap (and I’m tired of my own broken promises to myself, and others), so I’d rather just do them, and talk about them later.

What I will say is that what will guide me from today forward is the overarching goal of seeking balance in how I live.  Whatever is causing my discontent is the result of some aspect of my life going out of balance.  It’s relatively easy to see that imbalance in others as well, who are not leading happy, content lives.

I personally want to reach a state of mental, physical, and spiritual homeostasis, and a sense of peace and joy.  I wish that for our family of three, from this day forward, but I won’t preach it to Emma, or anyone else.  Even as a lecturer, I’m tired of lecturing.  Instead, I will act by example, as Emma did by leading us with her newly developed passion for rock climbing.  Thanks Emma, now let’s see if Daddy can return the favor and inspire you as well.

Let’s see how things go, starting now.

 

We Say YES to Attitude of Gratitude.

We Say NO to the Status Quo.

Live Small. Live Green.

Give Large. Take Little.

Take Notice. Take Action.

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