Ya Salaam, she's alive! And back from Boracay!!!

After a load of emails asking about my blog, I've decided to update the damn thing. Truth be told, I'm extremely busy...namely due to a crap schedule I have for work, but hopefully it will be changing soon.

After six months of non-stop work with ridiculous hours, I took a vacation to the Philippines...to Boracay island to be exact. It's a little bit of an effort to get there, but once experiencing those turquoise waters and power white sands it's well worth the travel time. Only access to the beach is by little jetty boats, so you have to fly into the nearest town of Caticlan after arriving in Manila. From Caticlan you can take the jetty boat. Another way to reach the island is to again first fly into Manila, then fly to Calibo and then take a two hour bus ride to Caticlan where you can finally get the jetty taking you to Boracay Island.

Boracay is boasts powder white sand beaches and crystal clear waters that take on an amazing turquoise color in the sun. The island is quite touristy but the people are laid back and friendly. The San Miguel beer is flowing; beach massages are plentiful; and life seems to come to a standstill while you enjoy one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world.

Some pictures

I've spent most my time in the capital of Taipei, Taiwan which can proudly take a spot on the top ten list for cities that never sleep. I'm starting to travel more around the island...here are some shots from places I've been so far...

Natural Disasters, Children and Zen

I grew up in the North Eastern United States, where the winters can be quite harsh. I remember waking up early in the morning to watch the list of school delays and closings and becoming ecstatic when I saw my school's name listed (which was usually once in a blue moon due to the sadists that were in charge of the school district). Here in Taiwan, it's much the same only for typhoons. This little island gets pelted by heavy rains and strong winds during the summer months...my apartment comes with bars on the windows for typhoon debris not burglar protection. Apparently there was a typhoon that hit Taipei last Friday, but it was a let down as I still had to work.
Earthquakes are the other natural disaster that are common to Taiwan. To date, I have only physically been in one earthquake, and that was while I was sleeping. I blame it on some uber strong sleeping pills I was given in the hospital, but truth be told I am able to sleep through an earthquake. The medal for sleeping, however, belongs to a former student I had in Yemen who apparently slept through a bombing.
I am in a two week summer break from my normal classes, and I need it. While I went through a month of insomnia due to my sciatica I actually wanted to murder children...after I became rested again I am back in action. However, I am appalled at how spoiled some of these children can be! Therefore, I am happy to have a bit of a break. I've also started teaching little kindergarten children in the morning...cuteness! I have already fallen in love with them.

I am finally settled here in Taiwan, but as always I'm planning what will be coming after my contract expires in March. Ideally I would like to return to the Middle East, my Arabic is failing me big time. It's a bizarre mix of Mandarin that comes out now. I have found several good offers in the UAE, and as long as I don't plan to be having sex on the beach in Dubai (crazy Brits were busted for this recently) it will be a welcome change from the conservative nature of Yemen. The more and more I keep thinking, I need to get back to grad school so I can begin a career outside the realm of teaching. I enjoy it, but it's a way to pay my debt and get experience abroad...I never expected to do this for the long term. I do have to admit, it's extremely rewarding.
At the moment, I'm the happiest I've been in quite some time. I was burnt out in Yemen, and the whole ordeal with my back p ut me into tears for months. I've met a good group of people here in Taipei, and am enjoying life again. I keep thinking of some other people, all of them expats, who I met while living in Egypt and Yemen. When put in such a stressful living environment, you can become close and form bonds stronger than you do with people you may have known all your life. While I have kept contacting with many, there are a few that I have lost contact with. I know that if our paths were to cross again, there would be no hostile feelings...just a curiosity to know what they have been up to since last seeing them. Then there are those, that you know, no matter what your paths will never cross again. It's strange how I can sit here with some awesome memories, but realize they're only memories and that the people I was with can never be reproduced. I guess it's the people you know that you can hit the rewind button with that are the precious few that you should hold on to.

Quarter Life Crisis

So yes, this is my quarter life crisis. While many questions run through my head, I also have come to many realizations and understandings...

1. I hate humidity.
2. I hate teaching children...they're cute, but they need to listen. I now
understand why the nuns in Catholic schools always carried a ruler.
3. Frank's Red Hot is undoubtedly the best hot sauce ever. EVER!
4. I will never be happy with a 9-5 job.
5. I could give up expat life following the next election ~or~ may not consider it
until 2012.
6. True friends and family will provide the support and help for you when you need
it the most, and expect nothing in return.
7. I am addicted to watching Desperate Housewives.
8. I think I killed myself in a former life due to lack of air conditioning.
9. I could live on fresh pineapple.
10. The existence and availibility of Lavazza espresso and Merlot is proof there
may be a God.
11. While the majority of foreigners who choose to live abroad are quite
interesting, there are an equal number of socio paths and those rejected in
their home countries seeking refuge abroad. That, or they're running from the
12. Choose friends wisely as sometimes it's the one ones you thought would be there
forever who are the first to forget.
13. Duct tape can repair just about anything.
14. Money is not everything, but it sure does help when you have some.
15. Nostalgia is a double edged sword...you feel bad to remember and even worse
when you realize you've forgotten some fo the details.

Much more can be added, but those I'll keep for myself. These rambling thoughts of nothingness were conjured up from my over-availibility of time on my hands. I have been ordered by the doctor to rest while my back recovers from surgery. As a result, I am not allowed to be as active as I used to be...at least not for another couple months. Time has been spent reading, sleeping and meditating and I have had time to reflect on what it is I actually am doing with my life now and have come to the realization that I am currently going through a quarter life crisis.

Up until this moment I have studied, traveled and worked my ass off on what could be dubbed, the 'Road Less Traveled'. I know that I should be able to land a job easily with my language and experience...problem is that the careers I'm bound for don't exactly list help wanted ads in the Sunday Classified Section.

Taking time away from constant Arabic study was wise just in the fact that I now understand what area I want to focus on...a professor once described our perception as a gold fish in a bowl. Unless you take the fish out of the water and say, 'hey look that's water...it's what you live in', you never come to a complete understanding as to what your surroundings are.

Now the question remains as to where I am headed. My contract is due to expire in March 2009, and I highly doubt that I will be staying in Taiwan longer than that. One of my main goals next year is to get to Damascus and hopefully find work there...most likely I will first return to Cairo and then go to Syria after.

At the same time I am attempting to break into the world of writing...which at the moment feels like I am bouncing a tennis ball off the wall and having it repeatedly hit me in the head. I'm preparing an application for a Fulbright Grant, planning to take the exam for entrance into the famed Arabic language CASA program and tossing the idea around of grad school. I know that I can return to Pittsburgh for a Master's Degree with funding provided for...but my heart is set on programs at NYU, Berkeley and Georgetown.

And I'm planning to apply for the Foreign Service...between 2004 and 2005 I was both an intern and contractor for the State Department in DC. At the time, I said it was an introduction to everything I never again want to do again in my life. hating the buttoned up bureacracy, political round about negotiations and having to provide a face for the Bush Administration. However, I'm registered to take an upcoming entrance exam, which requires that I travel to Mainland China to do so. I don't understand how there can be a testing center in Phenom Penh, Cambodia; yet not one in Taipei, Taiwan or Hong Kong. So yes, working for the MAN could be an option.

And then I have to think of family. I love to be abroad, but I love and miss my family, too. And what am I going to do when I get older??? I mean, unless I find that rare guy who at the drop of a hat would move with me to Afghanistan...well I may have a bit of difficulty there. I mean, I don't want to be the sixty year old cat woman!

And I'm sure when I hit the mid life crisis I'll look back at this all and think it was peanuts compared to what I'm up against then.

Taipei Dragonboat Festival

Two months of early morning practice was spent to get my company's team ready for the International Dragon Boat Festival which took place from June 6-8th at the DaJia riverside park in Taipei, Taiwan. My position on the boat went from rower, to steering helmsman (even had a Mandarin training lesson, with the certificate to prove it) to cheerleader on the sidelines. My surgery took place a mere two weeks before the event.
During the festival, teams from all around the world (mostly from Asia) and race their boats four at a time. First and second place moves on to the final round, third and fourth are disqualified. My team won the first race, then lost the second by a mere 1.5 seconds. So sad!
During the festival people sell special sticky rice dumplings that are wrapped in leaves and tied with a string...some of the dumplings are stuffed with meat, lotus seeds and eggs. Others are like dessert, they are heated so the rice become like jelly and the inside is some kind of bean. I find it odd here that red beans are always sugared and served as dessert...my thoughts of red beans are always for burritos. It is surprisingly yummy to eat. Sachets, little bags of fragrane, are are also given as gifts.
Many told me not to worry about not rowing this year because I can always do it next year. That will all be insha'allah.

Ramblings from Arabia Withdrawl

Shisha is alive and well in Taipei!!!

There is a saying in Arabic that says that once you drink the water of the Nile you will undoubtedly return. I never did drink the water, let alone touch it as I always feared amputation may be necessary. I once ate a fish from the Nile and my face went numb for five hours as a result. Also, when the Bird Flu spread to Cairo, there was a mass slaughter of chickens and rumor has it their bodies were dumped into the mighty waters o the Nile. Water was cut in Cairo for three days as a result.

Regardless of my failure to drink the water, I do feel that I need to return. Whether it be to live I’m not so sure, but I have missed living in Cairo since the day I left. I do not have the same desire to return to Yemen; however I do have a desire to get back to the Middle East. I used to say this about Latin America, and I do feel this way. While in college I studied in Peru and Bolivia and I will always hold those times dear to me and I have since returned. But there is something about the Arab countries I find fascinating.
I left because I needed a break. Arabia is a special place and is not for everyone to live. For the western visitor it is truly the exotic experience. For the pessimist, it is thought to be utterly dangerous. For those that fall under the spell of Arab culture, the people, the food the dance, the history and camaraderie all of the negative reasons fall by the wayside.

Arabia does have its fair share of ironies such as veiled women buying sexy underwear from outdoor male vendors. There are the nuances like the five calls for prayer that can shock the new comer especially if they are staying in a hotel next to a mosque. The 4:30 am fajr prayer sounds as if there were a man in your room with a blow horn to let you and you alone know that Allah is waiting for his prayer. And of course there are the fears like eating with the wrong hand.
And then there are all the other sights, sounds, smells and tastes that overwhelm the senses. Men who wear long galibeya dresses in Southern Egypt and men who are wearing futa skirts and daggers in Yemen; this of course not being complete without a wad of qat in his mouth. The occasional man with a flute charming snakes. They sit and chat over spiced mint tea, the sounds of Um Kalthoum wafting in the warm night air while men sit puffing on large pipes that bubbles and fruity smoke is exhaled. Child vendors with youthful but the eyes of an adult. Taxi rides that can make you re-evaluate your goal in life as you almost lose yours in the process of getting to your destination…the cabs that have screwdrivers holding the window in place and the door that occasionally opens in traffic.
The daily fast during the month of Ramadan and the party that begins with the evening call for prayer. Prayer, always there is prayer. Drinking a Stella beer on the rooftop Odeon when the Morning Prayer is sounded through the city. Saudi business men dressed in freshly starched white, clutching prayer beads with one hand and tossing money to a belly dancer on stage with the other. The belly dancing, tie a sash around your waist and then watch hip shimmies and body control that make every onlooker envious for their own respective reasons. The look of sadness in the eyes and abnormal white power on the face of a Somali prostitute forced to service sailors.
Defending myself while I was being robbed by a corrupt manager of a Yemeni airline and the generosity of the others on my flight who were appalled by his behavior.
The hospitality, the un-relentless Arab hospitality that is a must and makes the host forget about world politics and ideas. A bond that is formed between strangers by uttering only a few sentences in a common language. The jealousy of the women who want the same freedom in life as their brothers. Sweet smelling incense being burned to clear the air especially on Thursday evenings. Holding the coals under my hair allowing the smoke to fragrance my hair and sometimes being wrapped in a green cloak and forced to stand over the burning coals to perfume my body and clothes. Mixing henna and having women with years of practice quickly decorate my hands, feet and arms with intricate floral designs. I remember seeing the same floral designs in the black wedding khadab (black henna)on the arms and legs of a Yemeni teenage bride, not more than 16. She was made up to look like a doll and had fear in her eyes and she was fighting back tears while she waited next to a packed suitcase; waiting to be taken to her new home and life.
Being one of five females out of 700 men packed onto a boat from Egypt to Jordan and wrapping my hair in a flaming red head scarf to ‘protect’ me…protect it did and also enticed a Jordanian customs official to propose marriage. Watching the sunrise over the jagged mountains of Sinai and thinking if it really was the location where Moses received the ten Commandments…thinking the same thing at the gate of St. Mary of Zion Church in Ethiopia where the Ark of the Covenant is rumored to be kept.
The characters I have met and friendships I have found through the years from every walk of life and every corner of globe. Waving goodbye and giving a kiss on the cheek; walking in opposite directions and not knowing if those paths will ever cross again. Wondering if this crazy road I’m on will ever end and where that will be. Hopefully it will not be with a dead end.

I left it all because I needed a break, and I long to return. While I lived in Yemen, many had told me I had become Arab. I laughed and cast this to the side. But I understand now, I did in a way become Arab. I had created an identity for myself, and now I’m beginning to lose it. I guess it’s like a drug, skeptics are apprehensive to try it; however, once they have a taste they are dying for more. Perhaps I’m suffering from a bit of withdrawl. This time too will pass.

My Story of Sciatica and Surgery

This is the story of my lower back. If you have met or spoke to me within the past two years, I have undoubtedly told you of the woes of my back. Two years ago, when I lived in Egypt, I auditioned for a commercial for Egyptian tourism. It involved my riding full throttle on a horse for about five hours around the pyramids. Little did I know that this pounding hurt my back and was the beginning of a two year period of pain and recovery.

A few days later I lifted a very heavy oriental carpet in my apartment, I don't know what happened exactly, but I do remember feeling something pop in my back and then I keeled over in pain. For weeks I could not walk correctly. When I visited docotors in hospitals they doped me up on drugs and told me to rest. When I visited chiropractors they told me that I had hurt a joint, and in a few sessions I'd be okay. They did a minor test on me and at the time decided that the cause of my injury was not due to a disc being out of place. Finally, I visited a physical therapist, who diagnosed me with 'my sacroiliac joint coming out of place'. I then underwent therapy with him, but the pain was not relieved. I became used to living in pain, and began to use pain killers to ease it. It was not until months later, when my leg began to go numb that I realized I had a really big problem. Around this time, I was returning to the States, a place where I should have felt security in seeking medical treatment, right? Wrong.

After first seeking a doctor and fighting for an appointment I saw a rheumatologist, who basically told me everything I needed (MRI, bloodwork, testing, diagnosis) would put me into medical bankruptcy, therefore he would prescribe none of it. He also accused me of being a CIA operative, something I found quite amusing. His advice was to get medical insurance as soon as possible so I could properly be treated. He also told me I had to live in pain until this could be fixed. He wrote a prescription for the same pain medicine I had take in Egypt, which in Cairo cost roughly $10 US dollars...in the States I could not afford it as it cost me about $200 with no insurance. Also, my doctor bill, for him to tell me he could do nothing, cost about $300. Rock on Medi Care USA.

My brother, who is a persoanl trainer, told me that my ass was weak and that if I strenthened my glutes and abs then I could alleviate the pain. After a session at the gym and him telling me what I needed to do I started to do that, and yoga. A month later, all my back pain went away. My entire time spent in Yemen was pain free. I always had the memory of the pain in my mind and long distance travel on buses/planes always involved emergency pain medicine in case it started up again. Funny stories getting the medicine include one time in an Ethiopian pharmacy where they absolutely refused to sell me muscle relaxers, saying 'we are not that kind of pharmacy, you must have a prescription'. Even though the assistant pharmacist then fished in her purse and produced a bottle with 100 pills of Vicadin in which she offered to sell it to me under the table. I told her I just needed enough to travel in which she just shrugged and gave ten to me free of charge.

I am currently living in Taiwan and am covered by the national health insurance which makes all medical bills super low...however, I just realized how low they really were as I just had surgery here.

I am known to be quite active, loving to do lots f outdoor things and as a result always jeopardize my injuring myself. Six weeks ago I was belly dancing, Dragon Boat rowing and then went for an intense hike with the local Hash House Harrier Group. That night and the following week my back was out. I thought it would get better, but no it got much, much worse. I had shooting pains from my hip down to my toes, sometimes part of my leg would go numb, the other excrutiating pain. I do not cry but I would often have tears streaming down my face because it hurt so bad. I could not sleep, I went for about two-three weeks with no rest becuase everytime I moved I would be jarred awake by pain I can not even describe.

I visited the emergency room several times being injected with pain killers and put on loads of steroids and anti-infammatory medicine. Problem is, that with nerve pain no amount of pain killer will take it away, it's always there.

I learned that I definitely needed a MRI, to see the soft tissue damage done to my body. When the doctor told me I had to be put on a three week wait list to have the test I burst into tears thinking of how I could be able to manage the pain. That's when he told me I needed to be admitted to the hospital.

Being an American, first thing that comes to mind is cost of health care, how the hell can I afford a MRI and hospital stay? He smiled and told me not to worry, with national insurance I would not have to pay for a MRI and the cost of the hospital stay would be minimal. I agreed and was put into the hospital. After finally receiving the long awaited MRI, the doctor told me I had a ruptured disc in my lumbar spine, the L5 portion. It was so far out that there was no way other than surgery to fix the problem. Because it was so far out, it was constantly hitting my sciatic nerve, the nerve that controls everything waste down in your leg...this explained the shooting pains and numbness I was experiencing and I was diagnosed with sciatica.

At first, I was fully against the surgery, but then after consulting with friends and family and other doctors...I realized it was the only option. I was scheduled for surgery the following morning. It was for a discotemy, the doctor would remove the material that had ruptured from my disc along with the inside liquid from my disc. Following surgery, scar tissue forms inside the disc...making it nearly identical to what it had been.

Following the surgery I found myself drugged and screaming in Arabic and Mandarin...but not English. I guess I registered that I was in a foreign country and could not speak English. I remember screaming 'I'm cold' and 'I need drugs' in Mandarin to the nurses. I was then given an easy pump medicine machine, in which I could inject myself with drugs when I felt pain. In my dazed state I looked up to see my school director and co-worker with me in the post-op room. Not one of my finest moments...I believe I now have a reputation for crying a lot at work :)

While I'm sure that I would have been taken care of on my own, it was with the overwhelming support and help I received from my co-workers, family and friends. I had enough Mandarin from what I learned to communicate my needs to doctors and nurses, but it was from my friends and co-workders where I got full on language translation...from expressing my needs to the doctor to translating every piece of paper that had my name on it. I have never been so overwhelmed with the care, concern and generosity that everyone had and gave...I really have no idea how to repay them all.

The first two days of recovery were pure hell. I was miserable and cried a lot, I remember people who I did not know coming to my bed and telling me in Mandarin to stop crying, and they dried my tears with a tissue. I was a complete invalid, and was not allowed to move my spine for three days. I was constantly put on 'ice pillows' to lower my fever and depended on everyone around me for help. A co-worker came and fed me fish soup with a straw the first day in the hospital...the nurses smiled saying that I had become Taiwanese. The next morning a nurse tried to feed me nasty smelling and tasting fishy rice...like I child I spit it out. She then tried to bribe me saying, 'if you want your pain medicine, then you have to eat it'. I told her fine, I didn't want the medicine and she then reluctantly gave it to me. Thankfully a friend arrived soon after to sort things out. As much as I hated this at the time, I believe that it sped my recovery. After the third day I was walking and a week later I am able to perform functions and I am building my strength up. I will have to wear a brace for 3-6 months, a very light weight one which keeps my spine straight. I will be able to do all sports, but none that involve deep stretches forward or backward. I guess yoga is out, but there is always pilates!

From my experience, Taiwanese healthcare is incredibly efficient, the doctors are very well-trained and the surgeon I had was amazing. I ended up spending ten days in the hospital with round-the-clock care from the nurses.

To give you an eye opening idea of how affordable the healthcare is here...
Cost of a MRI WITHOUT insurance: $300 USD
Cost of a MRI with national insurance: FREE
Cost of discotemy surgery, ten day hospital stay WITHOUT insurance: $1900 USD
Cost of discotemy surgery, ten day hospital stay with national insurance: $272 USD
Cost of life pain/debt free of medical bills: PRICELESS

So now, the story that first began in the desert of Cairo, traveled to America and Yemen and finally, and thankfully, come to an end here in Taiwan. I never did get the part for the Egyptian tourism commercial; however to this day I see it on CNN. Some memories live forever I suppose. Lets just hope there's not a sequel to the problem with my back!

The Color Red

If you have ever seen one of the Kill Bill movies you are for sure familiar with Beatrix Kiddo scribbling down the names on her 'Death List 5'. What you may have not noticed, was that she writes those names in red ink. The significance of this is a Chinese superstition that a name written in red means you will die.
I made this mistake in class when I was explaining a grammar point on the board. I was using a red marker and without thinking, wrote a child's name on the board with the red ink. Realizing what I had done, I tried to quickly erase the red Jeremy that was on the white board; however it was too late. A terrified gasp swept the classroom and one girl even said, did you see what teacher did? I apologized and told them I really didn't mean it...I don't even believe in this but I still felt very guilty for potentially having a child killed.

Chou Dou Fu

In English, this is called Stinky Tofu. And yes, it describes it to the its full extent. The first time I smelt it, I actually had to stop and inspect the sidewalk to see where the stench was coming from. I was confused, as the nearest thing to me was a street vendor with a plume of steam coming up from a pot. When I walked closer, I realized that the stench was the food he was serving up to people, Stinky Tofu.
Now I'm open to new experience, new foods go with this; however, when it comes to food I like to use all five senses. Normally, all five senses should have a good reaction to the food...so when my sense of smell sends off alarm bells of 'foul stench', I wonder how I could consume such a food. A friend told me that a shop owner was once fined due to how bad his tofu smelt.
I have not tried it, yet. I will...I just have to work up to it. Many have told me that it actually does taste good...others tell me that no, it tastes just like it smells...that being pretty awful.

My other experience with a strange food came when I was at a breakfast buffet after just a couple days of arriving. I bit into a bun that looked reminiscent of an asiago cheese bagel...however, when I bit into it I dropped it in horror after finding it stuffed with a fuzzy red substance that was overly salty and really not pleasant. I must have let out a scream because a the table next to me with a couple of Japanese tourist were curiously looking at me staring at my plate in horror. I later learned that the fuzzy red stuff is some kind of shredded pork substance...and is put on loads of baked goods here.

Perhaps it's all an acquired taste?

Settling In

My old home of Yemen has recently been in the news due to a series of bombings in the capital of Sana'a near to where I lived. This along with political unrest in the south are cause for quite a bit of tension in the country...however, when I emailed friends to find out what was going on they all were quite mellow saying that, 'yes we did hear of some explosions. Not sure why, but it's all okay. No big deal.' or 'so whack job with a grenade threw a grenade over a fence and now CNN's reporting Al Queda is on the offensive...which is completely blown out of proportion.' Despite my friends' complete disregard of the events, the US Embassy has issued departure of all non-essential personnale from the country. I'm glad I left when I did, but sad that this is all going on, not fair.

After nearly two months in Taiwan, I've settled into daily life. My first pay check immediately went to paying debt which really made me upset...but, this is how it goes. I have private lessons teaching what can only be described as a demonic child...it's only for a couple hours and I make around $30/hour for it...so I will deal. A company wanted to hire me as a spanish tranlator, however then said that they wanted someone with a European Spanish accent...that being the one with the lisp. Something I proudly do not have! But alas, I did not get that job.

I am surprised at several similarities that I see between Arab and Asian cultures...however, I have clearly been taught patience in the Mid East as I hear a lot of westerners complain of the 'crazy traffic' and 'lack of lines'. When I see the traffic it all look quite orderly to me...I mean they actually drive in lanes here as opposed to on the sidewalks and down the wrong way as they did in Egypt and Yemen. As far as lack of lines go, I think I'm guilty of nearly everyone else when I cut to the front...I had to learn to fend for myself in Egypt. However, not only the Arabs are guilty of the mob scene at counters...Italians are pretty bad about that, too!

Two things that I'm getting used to are the non-confrontational conversations and the food.
Taiwanese will neverly directly tell you if something is bothering you...rather, they will politely beat around the bush until you pick up what they are trying to say. Such as if you wear shorts to work and your boss is displeased, she will say to you, "Is it cold outside today?" when it is very well hot...then you are supposed to wonder why she said such a ridiculous comment and then decode it to know she meant that you should not be wearing shorts. Often you do not know this until its too late and she does not give you a raise do to a flaw with the dress code.
This happened to a friend of mine. I now find myself freaking out everytime a Taiwanese person makes a comment directly to me...not sure if I'm supposed to decode it or not.
As a result of this non-confrontation, everyone is extremely polite. Even when they are upset with you, they have to be polite...otherwise, it is shameful.

The food is the other things I'm getting used to. Sometimes it's just downright bizarre, at least for me. I'll write more on this later. I have pictures to go with it!

From Taiwan

While I still use the 'Lauren of Arabia', I have left the location. My reasons for doing so were both psychological and financial, more so of the latter.
A year in Yemen was intense, and after leaving the country I am beginning to realize how intense it was. When put in a situation, you must adapt...which is what I did while I was there without difficulty. However, after a year of fundmental Islam, lack of bookstores, lack of movie theaters, lack of nightlife, questions of my nationality, questions of why I was in Yemen, questions of why I wasn't Muslim, constant poverty, political injustice, government wire tapping, being unhappy with my job, crazy foreigners, watching my Yemeni friends live in place they want to leave, and most importantly missing my family...I found it was time to leave. Yemen is a special place that words can only scratch the surface while describing its lure, but it can take a toll on the most hearty of psyches.
Upon return the States I had a much needed reunion with my family and friends. However, I have found that after having been away for two years there are some changes in a lot of the relationships I have there. I still view everyone as I did two years ago, as if my life in the States is on hold in the States. The reality is that life continues on for everyone whether you be in it or not. I found the majority of my friends and family to be te same, unfortunately I was faced with a few which I had drifted apart from. C'est la vie.
I have friend in Taipei, Taiwan and am able to make quite a bit of money with a very low cost of living, which is why I have chosen to live as an expat in Taipei for the next year. I have moved in with my friend and her Korean roommate. I'll be teaching English and doing freelance writing on the side. The beauty of it all is I work half the time I did in Yemen with twice the money :)
Plus, I never have to question whether I may receive a negative response when I tell someone I am from American because this country pretty much depends on the States for its very existence.
The language barrier is irritating me as I'm so used to being able to speak the language. I'm enrolling in language classes by the end of the month so all should be okay. I'm already picking up the language just the way I learned arabic...throwing anything againt the kitchen wall to see what sticks. My 'mafeesh mushkeela' is now a 'may won tee' both meaning no problem in English.

More to follow...