Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas!

How did we celebrate Christmas in Taiwan?

-Sharing the nativity story with our students for Christmas Eve classes
-Giving homemade fudge to our neighbors and new Taiwanese friends
-A spaghetti dinner on Christmas Eve, followed by a midnight service at our church
-A Christmas morning show put on by Kalan's kindergarten students
-A quiet afternoon at home, opening gifts from our families and each other
-A very "British" Christmas dinner with our cell group, including Christmas pudding and mincemeat pies
-A day-after Christmas brunch and white elephant gift exchange with other foreign friends

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lottery Winners!

Yes, the rumors are true.

We won the Taiwanese lottery this week!

Now, before you get really excited (or concerned), let me explain.

Every time we purchase something in Taiwan, we receive a receipt with a number on it. As an incentive for stores to give out receipts, the Taiwanese government releases a list every two months of the winning receipt "lottery" numbers. If you have a receipt with three matching numbers in sequence, you win $200 NT (about $6 US). The more matching numbers you have, the more money you win. The grand prizes are actually quite substantial!

Well, one night this past week, we sat down with our huge box of receipts and went through them all...and we found some matches!

Our winnings came to a total of......drum roll please......

......... $600 NT

...........or $19.12!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Deck the Halls

A few days ago, one of my friends warned me that "very cold" weather was coming to Taiwan this week.

"It will get down to 10 degrees!" she said. "You better go buy a hat and mittens." Seeing my incredulity, she whipped out her phone to do a quick conversion to Fahrenheit.

"That's 50 degrees Fahrenheit!" she exclaimed, certain I would be impressed.

Needless to say, we won't be having a white Christmas this year.

But that hasn't stopped us from welcoming the Christmas season! Thanks to our awesome families, we have received several thoughtful packages with Christmas decorations and gifts.

Kalan and I have had fun sharing traditions from our families while developing some of our own.

We decorated a mini Christmas tree and hung stockings from our Wisconsin family.

We hung advent decorations from our Colorado family. Every night before dinner, we sing a Christmas carol and then open that day's note and corresponding gift.

Each day I am overwhelmed by all our blessings. Thankfulness seems to be our theme this season.

We hope you are also enjoying the advent season.

Oh...and enjoy the snow for us as well!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Giving Thanks

Last Saturday, we celebrated Thanksgiving at the Spencer household.

During the day, we hiked up "Elephant Mountain" with our friend Audrey.

From the top we enjoyed a spectacular view of Taipei and a picnic lunch. The huge building you see in the picture is Taipei 101 (second-tallest in the world). Oh, and Kalan and I practiced our "karate kid" moves. :-)

That evening we had dinner at our place with our American friends. Kalan was a cooking machine, creating all sorts of delicious dishes. My favorite was sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows "toasted" on our frying pan. (We tried using chopsticks to roast them over our stove, but the flame is too intense).

Here's a short clip from dinner:


The past couple weeks we have both been overwhelmed with thankfulness. We are so thankful for our marriage, our families, our friends--new and old, our jobs, our church, and the opportunity to live adventurously.

"Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!" (Psalm 95:1).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are thankful to have all of you in our lives. Thank you for your encouraging comments, emails, and packages these past few weeks!

You may be wondering how we will celebrate Thanksgiving in Taiwan.

Well, today is a regular work day for us. However, this weekend we plan to have our American friends over for dinner. Since we have no oven, we will be a little creative with our menu. Most likely we will eat fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and applesauce.

Next week, our pastor and his wife will host us for a real Thanksgiving dinner (I hear they even ordered a turkey, which are hard to come by!) We are looking forward to that.

Happy Thanksgiving from Taiwan!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hiking Adventures: Wulai and Yangmingshan

A few weekends ago, we went to Wulai, a little town within an hour of Taipei by bus. For us it was a perfect place to get away for the day.

We took a "log tram" to see a waterfall and enjoyed some Taiwanese tea and homemade mochi...

...did a little hiking...

...explored a temple and visited the aboriginal museum...

...and soaked in the natural hot spring with the locals.

(This was the changing room).

Yesterday, we went hiking at Yangmingshan National Park (again, just about an hour outside of Taipei).

I am continually astonished by how easily accessible the mountains and jungle is from the city. Since I'm not exactly a city-girl, I am thankful for these "nature get-aways." They leave me feeling refreshed and ready for another week!

Around the World in 365 Days

On November 8th of last year, Kalan and I went hiking in North Carolina. While standing under a waterfall, he asked me to marry him.

On November 8th of this year, Kalan and I went hiking in Wulai, Taiwan. While standing under a waterfall, we marveled at what an adventure the past year has been.

In the past 365 days, we: graduated from college, planned a wedding, got married, lived with friends and family in three states, moved to the other side of the world, began our first teaching jobs, joined a new church, and started learning Chinese. We never could have imagined what an adventure we would be on together. Through it all, God has been so faithful to give us grace and perseverance.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I've Got it Covered

I think I forgot that Taiwan is a tropical island.

When I arrived, I expected to see giant insects, poisonous snakes and lizards in my house.

This is not the case.

I encountered vastly more cockroaches in South Carolina. I have yet to see a snake (poisonous or otherwise). We did have a lizard in our house, but it was less than 1.5 inches long. We welcomed him because he ate the mosquitoes that congregated in our house for free drinks.

Overall, however, I found myself amazed at the limited number of non-human creatures I encounter here…until about two weeks ago.

Sure, you get a mosquito bite at night every once and a while. Sure, there is a lot of rain during this season, so a few more mosquitoes isn’t unusual.

However, sleeping with the sheet pulled tight over your head because you wake up 6-7 times a night swatting mosquitoes only to end up with 10% less blood in the morning is not acceptable.

So, just like the Peace Corps workers in Somalia, we put up a mosquito net to protect ourselves at night.

Only we live in a city with millions of people, have indoor plumbing, electricity, and a McDonald’s down the street.

On the bright side, Kaytlin likes it because it reminds her of a fort and she is entertained by crawling through the opening at the foot of our bed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Finishing Strong (?)

In America, I struggled with the dilemma of hating running, but needing to exercise. Taiwan has provided the answer: a ‘race’ where you don’t actually run.

I awoke dark and early a few Sundays ago to attend the Samsung Race at the Taipei City Hall. I joined 25,000 people for a 3k (1.86 miles) race. People made running motions such as slightly bouncing while they stepped and swinging their arms fluidly, but after about 3 minutes I realized that I kept pace with the crowd using a brisk walk.

The mass of people hedged us in on all sides, preventing anyone from accelerating into an actual run.

Within 15 minutes, my compatriots and I had completed the race--up the street on one side and down the street on the other side. On our return we greeted about 5,000 who had not yet left the starting line because of the crowds.

For our participation we received a Samsung sport T-shirt and a bar of organic soap shaped like a leaf…Ah, the spoils of athleticism.

Getting ready for the race

...with 25,000 of our closest friends

A race like no other:

Greeted at the finish line by a special friend

Friday, November 5, 2010


Lately, I have been feeling a bit homesick.

As the cooler weather approaches along with the winter holiday season, I often think about my family and friends back in the U.S. I miss you all very much.

However, this past Sunday night, I was very encouraged.

We hosted a baby shower for a British friend, Hannah, who is expecting her first baby next month. The women who gathered were so diverse-- American, British, Taiwanese, young, old--yet we all came together to celebrate and support Hannah and her baby.

The next morning I read what Jesus said when he was with his followers: "Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matt. 12:48-50).

I was reminded that when we become part of the Church, we become part of a huge, worldwide, spiritual family. As Christians we are called to love, serve, and take care of each other, just like our biological families. At the baby shower, I experienced this "family" as women from all over the world who love Jesus came together to help Hannah.

I will always miss my American family. But through our separation God is teaching me about His bigger family, the Church. And for that I am thankful.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Halloween in 60 minutes or less…

Not a description from late-night infomercial, but the account of the Halloween experience at my school of Friday afternoon.

The afternoon parties of my elementary days don’t line up with the Taiwanese education system’s values. Bobbing for apples-too unsanitary, cookies and cake-too expensive for a ‘pretend holiday’, afternoon party-too much time out of the classroom.

My school did set a new standard of efficiency for holiday celebrations however.

Within the course of an hour, all the students in the school put on their costumes, walked around the block to ‘trick-or-treat’ at prearranged locations, took a barrage of pictures and were back in their classrooms learning.

It helped that the school had gone to different business and supplied them with candy to give to the children a week or so in advance. This way the children could walk into each store single file and receive their 1 allotted candy item.

You thought your teachers were scary...

Someone who really understands the Halloween Spirit:

Trick-or-Treat takes on a new feeling in a city of millions

Saturday, October 23, 2010

If You're Happy and You Know It, Read Church Doctrine

Some people like to play basketball. Others draw, paint or create music. The way a person spends their free time tells a lot about that person.

I am not sure what I say to people by diving into Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol 1-The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition during my break between “If You’re Happy and You Know it” and “Essentials of Writing: 4th Grade Level.”

Regardless of what my actions are communicating, or what people say about me for that matter, I have enjoyed and have finished hanging out with good old Jaroslav for a while.

In addition to the information presented on specific topics, some more general insights I took away include:

--how indebted I am to the thousands of years of Christian study that came before me. The doctrine of the Trinity took a few centuries to hammer out, but for a person to abandon it now would likely jettison them from Christendom.

--I also feel like I see the struggle between Eastern and Western Christianity more clearly. We are all one team, but each team is trying to preserve specific aspects of the faith that they believe are important. These priorities shaped their development from the beginning.

--Finally, I am humbled and reminded that no one has a corner on the market for doctrinal truth. Later generations declared almost all of the church fathers heretical on some idea or another a few centuries (or decades) after the respective fathers published their ideas.

I will pick up the next book in the series soon, but first I need to spend some time brushing up on my “Rain, Rain, Go Away” hand motions.

Thus far, I have limited my posts to narrative accounts of my life in Taiwan. What have I done recently? What interesting things do I see in Taiwan? Where have my travels taken me?

I wanted to avoid wearing my heart on my digital sleeve and boring readers with things like personal observations about Asian culture, thoughts from books I have read, or experiences that impact me. After encouragement by my wife, inspiration from other blogs I read (most notably and, and a healthy push from a fellow ex-pat, I will torture some and tantalize others with a new element on the blog.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ponchos, Panties, and Pizza

It has been a rainy week here in Taipei.

I like rain. I especially like rain when I can curl up in a comfy chair with a hot cup of tea and a good book.

However, I started liking rain less after trying to steer my bicycle with one hand while holding my umbrella with the other.

Until I discovered this 50-cent purple poncho at our local convenience store.

Now the rain and I are back on good terms.

Last night, as Kalan opened up the window so we could enjoy some fresh air and the sound of the rain, he looked down toward the street and casually asked, "Hey Kayt, is that a pair of your underwear?"
"What?!" I exclaimed, rushing over to lean out the window.
Sure enough, a pair of gray underwear had fallen off our makeshift "drying rack" and landed on the second-story awning below our flat.
Out came the umbrella, the broom, and a hanger, all in an attempt to rescue the lost pair of panties.
Finally, Kalan succeeded to retreiving them and placed them directly in the washing machine.
Perhaps I will start drying our underwear in the kitchen again.

Kalan never ceases to amaze me with his dinner creations.
Last week, he surprised me with homemade veggie pizza! Now, this might not sound impressive, but remember that we do not have an oven, while cheese and tomato sauce are hard to come by and quite expensive.
How did he do it? He made a rice flour flat bread crust in a pan, whipped up a delicious white cream sauce, and topped it with veggies. Amazing!

With homemade food like that, who needs an "American Style Restaurant"? :-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pay Day

A day never passes without an adventure in Taiwan.

For almost all teachers in Taiwan, payday comes the 5th of every month. For me however, the day came without any pay. Well…only 50% of it.

Over the recent months I have become increasingly aware that the Kindergarten portion of my school is failing. Not in a “the school system is letting our children down” type of failing, but a “we don’t have enough students to pay rent” failing.

To make a long (although rather entertaining) story short, today was the climax of my ultimatum: pay the rest of my salary, or continue offering classes without a teacher. I wouldn’t be quitting, just removing the English portion of their “all-English” immersion classes until I got my money.

Although my stand frustrated the school-owner, I received my money today. I think he tried to communicate something like “I don’t know why all the teachers are so upset, I am going to pay them sooner or later” to my boss, but its all Chinese to me. Ha.

“What now?” you ask. Kaytlin splurged and bought plastic cups for our apartment since we broke all 3 of our glasses.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fireworks and New Foods

Sunday we celebrated Taiwan's National Celebration Day or "Double Ten Day" (雙十節). (It's kind of like the 4th of July in America). That evening I went with some Taiwanese friends to the best fireworks show I've ever seen. After that, we went to a local restaurant famous for its "ginger duck hot pot." (Hot pot is the Taiwanese version of fondue). We all sat on low stools around a table with a hole in the middle. In the hole was a fire and a boiling pot of broth. Nearby men cut up ducks and placed the various organs and pieces of meat on serving platters. Along with raw cabbage, we used our chopsticks to cook the meat in the pot.

Now here comes the exciting part. During the meal, one of my friends placed a reddish blob of gelatin in my bowl and said, "Here, Kayt. You should try this."

"Okay. What is it?"

"It's duck blood."

Coagulated duck blood?! Really?! But since I have a personal rule to "always try everything at least once," I took a bite with a little smile. "Delicious," I managed to say in Chinese. Everyone got a big kick out of that. Next, they offered me the pig blood cake (pig's blood mixed with sticky rice). Again, I sampled a bite. Really, it didn't taste bad at all...I just tried not to think about what I was eating.

The whole night was really fun. I made some new friends and had lots of opportunities to practice Chinese. And while I don't think I'll be making pig blood cake anytime soon, at least I can say I tried it.

Happy double ten day!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I have a new favorite Chinese phrase: 加油! (jiā yóu!) It is what people say at the gas station, and it literally means "add fuel" or "add oil." However, in everyday life people use it to mean, "You can do it! Don't give up! Keep pressing on!" According to the dictionary it means "to make an extra effort; to cheer somebody on."

For example...

Teacher Kayt: Annie, here is your writing project. You did a great job! I made some corrections. Please re-write a second draft.

Student Annie (eyes growing large as she looks at all the red pen markings): Ooohhh, difficult!!!

Teacher Kayt: 加油, Annie!

This phrase often comes to mind when I am feeling discouraged. So whether busyness at work, stress at school, or anxiety about the economy has got you down...加油!


Friday, October 1, 2010

You know you live in Taiwan if... start your day with black rice and fungus paste...part of a complete breakfast can't name at least half of the fruits and vegetables in the market

...your kitchen boasts an enormous gas tank

...for after-dinner entertainment, you and your husband take turns reading your ESL students' "quick write" essays take showers in your bathroom sink

...when the temperature drops to 75, you pull out a sweater and wonder if it will be too cold to go the beach this weekend

...a relaxing Saturday afternoon involves bubble tea and writing Chinese characters over and over eat from the 7-11 buffet at least once a week do not find it strange to carry an umbrella on a perfectly sunny day can't remember the last time you used a microwave or an oven enjoy eating sweetened red beans and taro (a root vegetable) for dessert carry your own personal chopsticks with you at all times believe that if a meal doesn't include rice, it must only be a snack frequently forget common English words you used to know think that any restaurant dish costing more than $3 US is expensive

...your trash truck sounds just like the ice cream truck

...your favorite kitchen appliances are your Brita water filter and your rice cooker ride your bicycle everywhere

...for extra spending money, you teach a three-year-old the English alphabet smile and feel a little excited whenever you see another white face on the street

...your toilet is located right next to your washing machine invite a friend over for dinner and plan for at least five people to come

...everyone at your church attends weekly prayer meetings and has read the Bible at least three times more than you have

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Settled At Last

It's official...

we are aliens.

Alien residents of Taiwan, that is!

Over the past several months, we have made some wonderful new friends. Without them, we never would have survived moving to a new country.

friends from Truth Church

Hanging out during Moon Festival

Moon Festival Barbecue

Kayt and Beatrice

Last night we had a party for everyone who has helped us settle into life here. We are so thankful for this new community God has blessed us with.

Ice cream sundae bar

Typhoon Fanapi

Last weekend we weathered our first typhoon. The storm was scheduled to hit the island early Sunday morning, so on Saturday we headed to the beach to check out the waves. Unfortunately, no swimming was allowed due to the strong currents. Many surfers were waiting patiently with hopes that the beach patrol would leave so they could catch some waves. Others took advantage of the strong winds and flew colorful kites.

Since we couldn't swim, we went for a walk and then settled at a little beach front cafe. With cold drinks in hand, we wrote in our journals, read our books, and studied Chinese.

After that, we headed back to the Fishermen's Wharf to explore. Squid on a stick, candied fruit, fresh lobster, and other seaside wares were in abundance.

We stopped to listen to some traditional Taiwanese musicians, too.

Early Sunday morning, Typhoon Fanapi hit Taipei. Wind speeds were reported at 195 km/hour. It wasn't as bad as we anticipated, though I definitely had trouble sleeping with all the noise of the rain and wind. Several times I was awakened by the sound of breaking glass or by dust/tile particles falling from our shifting ceiling.

By Sunday, the worst was over, but church and Chinese class were still cancelled due to high winds and hard rain. We spent the day relaxing in our flat.