小蛇散步 Book Review

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Title: 小蛇散步 (xiao3 she2 san4 bu4)/The Little Snake Takes a Walk

ISBN: 9789867188243, 9789862116043

Author: 伊東寬

Publisher: 小魯寶寶書

Level: Beginning Reader, Zhuyin, Fiction

Summary: A little snake goes out for a walk and encounters a puddle. As he is about to leave, he ends up helping a bunch of new friends cross the puddle as well.

Sample Pages:

Ratings: 5 out of 5 stars

5 Minute Review: My kids LOVE this book. They first saw it in their Chinese preschool teacher’s house and when we went back for Taiwan Trip 2014, they saw it at Eslite and begged me to buy it. So, I did.

Be forewarned. ONLY THE NARRATIVE HAS ZHUYIN.

Imagine my surprise when I finally brought it home to read it to my kids only to see that the comic portion with the handwritten font DOES NOT have zhuyin.

Let’s just say that at the time, my Chinese was not good enough to read those parts without frantically looking up characters in Pleco. However, having read this book so many times, I now don’t need to anymore. (Or as much.)

I can’t remember if my kids have tried to read this book on their own, but they do enjoy this picture book a lot because it’s funny, silly, and has lots of fun sounds and illustrations.

Super cute. Highly recommend.

What Do I Really Want?

I know I say it a lot, but it bears repeating. How is time flying by so fast? And why does it always seem as if I am treading water and accomplishing nothing?

I know it’s not true. And yet, it always seems as if my ambition outpaces my willingness to work (and work hard). I could blame the children, but let’s be brutally honest. I highly doubt I would be busy working hard on my ambitions even if I were without family obligations.

I mean, seriously. What did I do before I had kids?

Nothing. A fat lot of nothing.

One could argue that it was the forced break from things that having children required that finally shook me out of my farce of being a financial advisor. And then, even a few more years of being a SAHM that made me really consider what I wanted to do.

Would I actually spend all day writing and hustling after paying gigs if I were unencumbered by my kids? Or would I do what I always did? Fritter away all this precious time with the usual suspects?

I have my money on me pissing away my time like I always did. Because although past performance does not always predict future performance, it’s a good indicator.

Is this what a mid-life crisis looks like? Albeit, a bland, milquetoast, non-explody kind that doesn’t detonate an H-bomb in the midst of my family life?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not UN-happy. I am pretty OK with the way things are going.

But is that all we are made for? To be OK with things? To be floating along on the river of our life in an inner tube of contentedness?

Not that there is anything wrong with contentedness.

In fact, I thought I was content with my life until this moment. That is not true.

The absence of unhappiness is not the presence of happiness. And as I was about to write, “the absence of discontent is not the presence of contentedness,” I had to stop because I realized that I am discontent.

I have been discontent for a long time. Perhaps for always.

Discontent doesn’t mean that I’m not happy. I am often happy. I am even content with most areas of my life.

I AM MAKING NO SENSE.

I feel disintegrated. Scattered.

I have been going to my therapist for two years now. Maybe three? And yet it always seems to circle back with what Dr. T mentioned that first appointment. She thought I was in there to speak to her about my identity – and I laughed at her.

But it’s so true.

Who am I and what do I want? And once I figure that out, will I do what I can to get it?

I am afraid to want so many things.

I feel as if I just started going after what I want – and instead of being satisfied, it opened up a giant maw. A gaping mouth. A hole in my soul demanding to be fed.

More.

More.

Always, more.

That’s why Roxane Gay’s book, (affiliate link) Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, struck such a chord inside me. She hungered for so many things.

I hunger for so many things.

I feel greedy. Ungrateful.

I feel as if I am just like my father. Always grasping. Always lusting. Always leaving.

Always.

Always.

Always.

But that’s the lie, right?

That’s The Lie.

It’s okay to want things. It’s okay to pursue things. It’s okay to hunger. To want.

It is okay. And it is human.

It is in the how of things where it can go awry.

How do I fill this hunger? How do I fill these wants? And do I fill these wants? Or do I do what I always have and shove them down, deep down, burying them in the minutiae of daily life?

For me, I am choosing to be different than I have been.

I know.

I seem to be constantly choosing this. Constantly blogging about this.

It seems as if I will always be stuck.

Always.

I tell myself that changing directions in life is not a one and done.

It’s like changing directions in a large battleship cruiser at full speed. You can’t just make a sharp turn and then expect to be in a different direction. First, you have to decelerate to a safe speed and then turn, slowly, and then re-accelerate.

Making change in life is not just ONE decision to change your life. It is a constant series of small decisions. Seemingly insignificant decisions.

Do I go to sleep early or stay up late to work? If I stay up late to work, will I actually work or will I Facebook or watch TV or read or goof off? If I will actually waste time instead, am I okay with that or should I just go to sleep instead?

Do I stay at home and work or do I leave the house? If I stay at home, am I okay with my children constantly interrupting me? If I leave, am I okay with spending money or burning through the time with commuting? In all instances, am I going to actually work or am I going to procrastinate even more?

A million little choices.

Our dreams are made or broken from a million little choices.

Why I Homeschool

This year marks the beginning of our third year homeschooling and looking back, it seems inevitable that I ended up choosing this for my children.

However, until 3-4 years ago, I fully looked forward to (and expected to) walk my children to our local elementary school, then have them walk or bike to our local middle school, and then walk to our local high school (which is less than a five minute walk away).

I was a little worried about how I would manage the drop-off/pick-up for so many children (even then, I had visions of four kids), not to mention all their extra-curricular activities, but ultimately, I figured that millions of families do it every year. Surely, I would make it work.

But as the years progressed, I got more and more into my kids learning Chinese and wanting them to surpass my own abilities. That, of course, would take up at least a Friday night or a Saturday morning in Chinese school.

Plus, as I learned more about all the untold stories of America, both in terms of rendering peoples invisible as well as the mythologizing of America, I was already anticipating even more supplementing.

And then, of course, because I’m Taiwanese as well as secretly Tiger Mommyish, I firmly believed in my children taking as many extracurricular activities as possible because that is when their brains are most pliable.

So while none of any one of these things were that problematic on their own, the combination of them all was causing me a lot of stress.

And then I heard from my friend, Hotelier, that she was going to be homeschooling – and doing it in Chinese and BOOM!

A whole world opened up.

I stalked a bunch of homeschool Yahoo! groups and read a bunch of books for at least a year before I ultimately decided to homeschool and withdrew Cookie Monster from our local elementary school.

Of course, I didn’t really have these reasons crystallized in my mind when I pulled Cookie Monster out of school, but over the years, I have thought about it some more and distilled my reasons to the following:

1) I have two mutually exclusive beliefs:

a) Children are over-scheduled.

b) Children should learn as many things as possible.

I have these visions of what a childhood should look like. We all do (though they be different). For me, I see childhood as huge swaths of empty space. Plenty of time to play, read, laze about, watch TV, and daydream.

The idea of a childhood full of being shuttled from school to after school programs to home to homework to sleep to wake only to do it all again – that makes me feel claustrophobic.

How stifling.

And yet.

How else can I prepare my kids for the pending zombie apocalypse? (Or more realistically, their future?)

How else can they be well-rounded humans unless they take music lessons? Play sports? Learn coding? Survive the wilderness? Carve their own Davids? Perform calculus in their heads faster than a computer?

How else can they do these things unless they take classes? And if they are in “regular” school, how can we do these classes unless they are after school? And if every moment is filled with classes, when will we be a family? When will they be children? When will they live?

I have four children. Let’s just assume my kids each take two classes. That’s eight classes a week. Since there is an age spread of seven years between the oldest and the youngest, they cannot all be shoved into the same classes – assuming they even have the same interests.

I WOULD ONLY SEE MY CHILDREN IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR OF MY MINIVAN.

This was not acceptable to me.

2) Chinese language retention.

Everyone knows that once kids who were previously fluent in Chinese (or any language, really) starts full time school, their Chinese immediately takes a nose-dive and their English improves by leaps and bounds.

Of course it does.

It’s not some giant conspiracy (although it often seems to be). It’s just math.

There are only so many waking hours in a day. And if the majority of those hours are in English dominant spaces, how could our children not eventually become English dominant?

From what I recall as a child, though I didn’t exactly resent speaking and understanding Chinese, I certainly did not enjoy giving up every Saturday morning to weekly Chinese schools for my entire pre-college education.

Who is to say my children would be equally un-resentful?

Plus, having been a product of those weekly Saturday schools and finding them to be unequal to the task of what I personally would like for my own children, I knew it would require even more effort on my part (and thereby, my children). That would require even more of the already limited free time my kids would theoretically have.

3) I fundamentally disagree with how and what schools teach – particularly in areas of history and social studies.

This is the one that took the longest for me to eventually realize.

I mean, where to start?

Personally, I find that school teaches our kids information (and not always good information) but don’t actually teach our kids how to learn. Like, how to best read a textbook in order to retain information. Or how to take good notes. Or how to study.

And all those tests! What is the point of tests, really? I mean, even as a hyper-competitive person, I recognize the futility of tests.

When in life are you, as an adult, in a situation where you absolutely have to have everything memorized without access to a calculator or Google or a reference book? I mean, you obviously are required to be competent. But ultimately, if you don’t know something or cannot recall some random fact, you can find out.

Also, just like I have a huge problem with Sunday School, I have a huge problem with regular school.

It turns out, the older I am, the more anti-establishment I have become. (Not entirely, I do enjoy my creature comforts.)

But I was particularly disillusioned with how our children are inculcated with the Myth of America (from when they are very small and first learn of the pilgrims and Squanto and the first Thanksgiving) and how even in college, they may never be shaken out of their myths or confronted with the horrible realization that everything they learned about in school was a lie.

Isn’t that how we ended up with Trump?

Isn’t that how we have people who deny the Holocaust?

I distinctly recall a moment in 7th grade World History class. In a textbook of several THOUSAND pages, there were exactly two pages on the histories of China, Japan, Africa, and South America.

China, in all its 5,000 years of history was reduced to a few paragraphs.

China, a country that invented paper, gunpowder, and the compass, among other things, was explained in half a page. Of World History.

I was enraged. (Mostly because I was Chinese and wanted to learn more about my people.)

Clearly, World History meant the only world that the publishers thought mattered: the Western European World.

Fuck these people.

I realized that a lot of this “corrected” or expanded view of history is what we go to college for – but why? Why waste so much time teaching our children such a fictionalization of our world only to perhaps knock it down in college when they’re older?

Oh, right. Because white supremacy and patriarchy.

Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to support white supremacy and patriarchy.

My kids are going to be woke, y’all. They’re going to be woke as fuck.

There are other reasons why I am pleased to be homeschooling despite the obvious disadvantage of having to be with my children for so much of the day, but these are the main driving forces.

I’m sure if you ask even one hundred other homeschooling families, you will get an additional one hundred reasons.

But you will find, that like all things, these families all end up looking like what works for the main homeschooling parent and their children. It is the ultimate in a customized education – for better or for worse.

Thanks for reading, friends. I would love to hear why you do or do not homeschool in the comments.

 

Hunger: Book Review

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

Title: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Author: Roxane Gay

Publisher: Harper

Genre/Category: Memoir, POC Author, WOC Author

Summary: Gay writes a brutally honest memoir of her body, of her eating, of her weight, of her inability to lose her weight, of why she gained the weight, and of so many other things that are not related to weight or food but are equally and perhaps moreso about hunger.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

5 Minute Review: So achingly sad. Hunger is aptly named.

You feel Gay’s ferocious hunger – both literal and metaphorical.

My heart breaks for her. I sympathize in my limited capacity. I am grateful for her opening wide so we can glimpse her hunger and brokenness.

Gay’s writing is haunting, melancholic, and deep. Her writing is the kind that cracks me wide open and all sorts of feelings leak out. Feelings that I have been shoving down, trying to bury, trying to forget, trying to unthink or unfeel.

Her book reminds me of all the things that I hunger for, the things that I want and desperately desire, and then try to fill with completely inappropriate or inadequate things.

I had to space out the reading of this book because it is too raw. Too painful. Too brilliant.

She writes in a way that I want to write. Gay reminds me of the best of Radiohead or Tori Amos.

She is luminous.

Utterly fantastic.

青蛙撲通跳 Book Review

Like my reviews? Want more tips and advice on how to teach your kids Chinese? Want someone to just give you an Action Plan that you can follow? Check out my book (affiliate link), So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

Title: 青蛙撲通跳 (qing wa pu tong tiao4)/The Frog Jumps

ISBN: 9789861612430

Author: 李紫蓉

Publisher: 信誼

Level: Beginning Reader, Zhuyin, Fiction

Summary: Another bunch of short poems/rhymes about nature.

Sample Pages:

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

5 Minute Review: Though the illustrations are quite beautiful, neither Cookie Monster (6.5 at time of reading) nor Gamera (5.75) liked this book much, either.

Again, it’s because it is a bunch of short poems about nature and my kids are somewhat MEH about poems that are not longer, involved stories. In fact, Gamera was so bored that it took her over 4-5 days to read this book even though clearly, it’s not long and doesn’t require that many days to get through.

Come to think of it, the hardest part actually is that the characters are in a handwritten font so it’s not as easy for children to decipher what the character is. On top of that, the zhuyin is also handwritten. That is what both my kids objected to the most.

Here is a quick video of Gamera reading an excerpt of this book.

It’s Not About Me

I have been hiding.

I was on a good roll for a few weeks, posting almost daily, writing and typing to my heart’s content and then, last Friday, my brain ground to a halt.

wanted to write about stuff. I even created time and space to write about stuff.

But I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

I felt fake.

I felt on the surface of things. Unwilling to delve deeper into what I was feeling. And most writing – at least the kind that rings true – requires some type of emotional honesty.

How can I be honest to others when I am lying to myself?

Even now, I know I need to write this piece. For myself.

But I keep procrastinating. (Which, let’s be honest, is what I do anyway. But MORE SO.)

I do not want to face myself.

“It’s not about you,” Dr. T said. “It’s not about you at all.”

I squirmed.

“I know, I know,” I glibly reply. Not really knowing. “But it’s sooooo hard!!!”

“We can address your behaviors and try to fix them all you want, but at some point, we have to break down WHY you keep doing these things. What is the underlying belief that is behind it?”

“And you think it’s because I’m still mad at my dad?”

“Possibly. It’s not as simple as ‘Oh, I’m mad at my dad. Now I am taking it out on the kids.’ But it’s related.”

“Ok. I’ll think about it.”

We were interupted by Glow Worm needing to poop. Since there were only five minutes left to our session, we ended early.

Sometimes, hauling four kids to my therapy sessions really was inconvenient.

I went home and picked two all out screaming fights over really stupid things with Hapa Papa right before he left with the older three kids to LA for the long weekend.

He apologized, as usual. Ever the conscientious grown up.

I ignored him.

How long after a divorce is it reasonable to wish ill upon the offending party and their co-offenders?

I ask because sometimes, I forget why I have cut my father out of my life.

I think, if my parents are no longer married, why does it matter who he is with now? What their lives are like? Whether my nine year old half-brother is happy and healthy?

It feels like betraying my mother to think these thoughts.

My parents have been divorced over four years.

No, the math does not work out.

And then I remember.

My father is a consummate liar. A con. A cheat.

He is a man who faked being stooped, old, and frail for years when he was around us. Gingerly sitting down in a car, then painstakingly using both hands to lift his legs into the car one at a time. Talking constantly about his ailments, refusing certain types of foods because they made him ill.

Only to be found out when he and my mother were in China and she couldn’t understand how he was walking so quickly, standing up straight, acting as if he were a man decades younger in age.

What is the point of such a lengthy deception? And how much contempt did he have for us that he no longer cared to keep it up?

My father and his new wife (of more than four years – again, the math does not work out) have three homes in Texas.

I know because Google.

To me, the only silver lining to Hurricane Harvey was the possibility that they have lost some or all of their homes.

It seems fitting that such a shitty person would have a flood of actual shit in his homes.

I don’t want my half-brother and his half-sister to be hurt or injured or to suffer. (Well, no more suffering than the average human, anyway.) I don’t like children to suffer for the sins of their parents. They’re just living their lives. (I am reminded of Beatrice from Kill Bill killing Vivica Fox’s character in front of her daughter.)

And I don’t want my father and his second wife to die, exactly.

But I don’t NOT want them to suffer. I don’t NOT want them to experience hardship or crippling financial disaster. I don’t NOT want them to be unhappy.

My brother says the best revenge is for us to live well.

My brother is a good person.

I am not.

I am petty as fuck.

Here’s the thing. In previous posts, I have talked about how before I had kids, I could perhaps understand why my father was so selfish a human. Full of want and thwarted ambition. But that after getting married and having kids, your life is no longer all about you.

To quote myself, “Much of marriage and parenting is selflessness – a daily dying of your self to serve the other person.”

Ah, irony.

It is so much easier to be theoretically selfless. It is another to actually be it.

Here’s the thing.

My father was an abysmal parent. He was abusive. He was unstable. He was an asshole.

He would tell me he knew what I was thinking and that I wasn’t even allowed to think that.

Really? I wasn’t even allowed the privacy of my own thoughts?

What a fucking shithead.

He made me feel small and worthless.

I would never, in a million years, wish this feeling upon my children.

And, yet.

I always did what I was told.

I don’t recall being mouthy or disobedient. I ate all that was set before me. Cleaned. Did my homework. Was a good kid.

I did what he wanted when he wanted how he wanted.

And if I am honest to myself, though his methods were execrable, he got what he wanted.

Sometimes, I would like to get what I want from my children.

On my birthday this year, Gamera told Hapa Papa that she wanted to go to the wishing well by Whole Foods and make some wishes.

She wished she wasn’t stupid (because when I yell at her, she feels stupid). She wished she had a secret room to hide in when I yelled at her. She wished she didn’t talk so much (because I often shush her because FFS sometimes, she doesn’t stop talking at ALL). She wished she didn’t cry so much (because she really cries a lot and I tell her to stop crying all the time).

She is 5 years old.

I have done this to my beautiful little girl.

My sweet, sensitive, thoughtful, funny little girl.

I have broken her. I am breaking her.

It’s not that I treat Gamera any differently than I do Cookie Monster and Glow Worm. Ok, that’s not entirely true, but for the most part, it is. She just internalizes everything I say whereas Cookie Monster and Glow Worm do not. Or, at least, they do not thus far.

But it is true that she pushes my buttons the most.

I love her. I love my girl.

It’s just. She is hard for me.

And I don’t know if it’s internalized misogyny where I’m ok with my boys showing more of a full range of human emotions, but I want her to suck it up and get over things because FFS the world is hard and judges women so harshly so why does she have no sense of time or direction? Why does she seem to play into female stereotypes?

But it’s not fair. It’s not right.

Dismantling patriarchy means that BOTH my boys and girls deserve to live the full range of their emotions and be whatever they are – with or without a sense of direction.

It’s just – could it be possible for her to still be herself but possibly with less crying and with a little more speed?

I have made my bright, shining girl think she is stupid and hate who she is.

I remember wishing I weren’t so loud or chatty or whatever I was. I hated it. I felt miserable in my skin.

How can I be doing this to my precious baby girl?

I have spent so much of my life stuffing my emotions. Pretending how I feel isn’t how I am feeling. Denying who I am. Blunting everything except anger.

This is not a life I want for my Gamera.

Why am I doing this to her?

It is not about me. And yet, it very much is.

I don’t know how to end this piece today. There is no tidy resolution. I have not magically turned into a good mother to my daughter.

I do not have trite bullet points skimming over the hard work of denying the easy cycle of exploding at my children and then apologizing and then exploding again. (Or the occasional shame spiral and picking fights with Hapa Papa to avoid feeling the pain of being such a shoddy human.)

I cannot fast forward through the years of therapy wherein I am working on my relationship with Gamera and the other kids by working through my anger at my father – and to be honest, my very real anger at my mother.

I cannot conceive of a time when I am not a seething bundle of resentment desperate to escape my children on my bad days and then weeping at the inevitable silence when my kids head off to college and live lives of their own without me.

I have no idea. I can only hope.

Let us hope together.

How to Taiwan with Kids

Upon hearing that I took four kids 7 years old and under (including an 8 month old) by myself for a month, most people immediately say, “You’re so brave!” This is usually immediately followed by, “How do you do it?”

Well, the short answer is, “With a lot of yelling.”

The long answer takes a lot of time (and a lot of swears) but because I’m a giver, here is how I personally get through it (and without any alcohol, too!).

1) Ask for help.

I cannot reiterate this enough.

Do not be a jerk. Do not let pride get in your way. Either ask for help or accept help when people who love you offer.

I will be honest. I was offended and pissed off at my mother when she told me she didn’t want to go to Taiwan in the summer but was only going to help me on the plane (even though I did not expect her to come – NOR DID I ASK). She just could not fathom how my children would go to the bathroom.

I tried to explain that Cookie Monster (7.5) and Gamera (5.75) could go by themselves. I really would only have to help Glow Worm (~4) and as for myself, I have gone to the bathroom plenty of times with Sasquatch (8 months) strapped to my body.

I was a little less offended that my cousin rearranged his travel schedule to the US in order to accompany us on the trip back.

Either way, I felt as if they were saying I was not a capable person. After all, don’t I take care of my four kids every day?

But you know what? FUCK MY PRIDE. My mother and cousin were helpful. And I accepted their help (despite internal grumbling).

Even though my mom ended up not sitting next to us on the plane (and only checking in once for about a minute), she was still helpful at the airport, going through customs, and when we moved into the apartment. She helped me at bedtime for the ten days she was there.

THAT IS NO SMALL MATTER.

Plus, my kids got to spend extra time with her – and she is so wonderful with them. They got to hear stories and just laughed and laughed and laughed.

And on the way back, I forgot that since we did not have a direct flight, we would have to go through customs with all our luggage then recheck them in for our domestic flight.

I could not have gotten it done without my cousin there. It was hard. SO HARD. (I was still recovering from the flu and I just could not manage all our luggage along with all my children.) I am SO GRATEFUL he was there. Even a minor thing such as him being there allowed me to go to the bathroom without worrying about my kids being alone.

As for during our stay, several times, my cousins would bring food over (both in terms of dinner and in terms of fruit and snacks). They also lent me supplies that I needed for the kids’ school so I didn’t have to buy them. Super helpful!

2) Make a packing list at least a month (or two) in advance.

That way, you have enough time to order stuff on Amazon or go to a physical store and buy. And of course, anything you forget to purchase, you can most likely buy in Taiwan. It is, after all, a developed country. The only problem is that everything is in Chinese.

THAT IS A REALLY BIG PROBLEM. (If you are mediocre like me.)

Here’s a pic of my packing list. Obviously, YMMV.

3) Know your limits.

If you are going to be single parenting it in a foreign country (or really, anywhere – and quite frankly, even if you have a partner in the picture), you really need to know your limits.

You have to be brutally honest with yourself about your capacity and ability to handle shit. BECAUSE SHIT WILL HAPPEN.

So, I know that I have a really low tolerance for sightseeing stuff – especially with so many wiggly and crappy kids. I also hate eating out with my kids. Or really, doing ANYTHING with my kids.

As a result, we saw nothing. We ate out at ONE restaurant. We avoided anything that I hated doing. If I knew something would piss me off if the kids were with me, I would either not do it or only do it when they were in school.

I also made sure I got enough sleep because I know that when I’m sleep deprived, I am even meaner. And because I have a low noise tolerance level, I was okay with the kids having a lot of screen time. Like, A LOT of screen time. Because that is the only time they are guaranteed to be silent. Because their brains are rotting.

4) Be OK with feeling stupid. ALL THE TIME.

I am not kidding.

I spent 99.9% of the time in Taiwan feeling like an idiot.

It’s sad, really. I always forget and think that I’m fluent in Chinese when I’m in the US because really, my Chinese is pretty good. When I am in the US.

When I’m in Taiwan? MY CHINESE IS SAD AND JUST ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT I AM MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

I cannot wait until my children’s Chinese is better than mine so they understand what people are saying to us. Better yet. When they can read the Chinese so that we don’t have to speak to anyone.

I don’t know how to explain to people who have not experienced this, but ultimately, it’s not that we don’t understand Chinese. It’s just that everyone speaks so quickly. Or they use obscure terms. Or super polite terms. Or super official sounding terms. Or normal terms that our parents never saw the need to teach us. Or terms our parents didn’t know to teach us. Or terms they might have taught us but we never retained.

Couple that with my functional illiteracy, I end up asking questions that are obviously labeled and answered IF ONLY I COULD READ ALL THE WORDS. OR IF ONLY I COULD COMPREHEND WHAT THESE WORDS I CAN READ MEAN TOGETHER IN A SENTENCE.

5) Have a routine.

This seems silly but routines saved me.

They ensured that I remembered to do things like pack lunches, refill water bottles, had clean clothes, sunblocked and bug sprayed my children, and washed the dishes.

I mean, would these things have gotten done WITHOUT the routine? Yes. Of course. How could they not?

But my life was much less stressful because these routines became muscle memory and I didn’t have to expend as much brain power trying to make sure everything got done.

6) Appropriate footwear is key.

I am a big fan of kids having covered toes and sneaker like shoes because Taipei is an urban city and the last thing I want is for their flip flops or crocs to get caught in an escalator or snag on uneven sidewalks and then end up at the hospital to replace a toe.

So, I made sure we had shoes that were breathable, had sneaker like tread, but could dry quickly if they got wet in the rain or water. I chose to buy (affiliate link) Stride Rite Phibians. They’re boring and sturdy and get the job done.

7) Take out is your friend.

I don’t understand how some of my friends would physically bring their children to restaurants and then eat dinner during prime people eating time. That sounds like my personal version of hell.

Maybe it’s because I have never trained my children to behave in public. Or that there are too many of them. But by the end of the day, I can’t think of anything my children want to do less than sit still and quietly while waiting for their food (that they might not eat) and then eating it. (And also hoping there are forks because only one of my kids can use chopsticks.)

No, thanks.

Instead, I found a place by my kids’ camp and bought off their menu almost every week night (before even picking them up) and then we would eat it at home while they zombied out on iPads.

8) Indoor play spaces are also your friend. (But they are expensive.)

Look, maybe my feral children are unique, but they are used to a lot more space in the States and being at parks and running around to let out their boundless energy.

It’s not that there aren’t parks (and great parks) in Taiwan. It’s just that it’s hot and there are a lot of mosquitoes. Nothing makes a park less fun than a blazing sun that is trying to melt you and incinerate your body with fire. And when you’re hiding from the sun, eating you alive with evil, tiny black mosquitoes.

Nope. No thanks.

So, indoor play spaces are great.

9) Make sure your kids understand how to navigate a city.

Since my kids are born and bred in the sprawl of an American suburb, they are not used to the density of people, the pace of the movement, and the rules of city life.

So most of my stress was making sure my kids weren’t impeding the flow of traffic by coming to a dead stop in front of an elevator, turnstile, stairwell, escalator, MRT door, middle of a crosswalk – YOU NAME IT, THEY’VE JUST STOOD THERE LIKE IDIOTS WITH MOUTHS AGAPE.

Oh, I was also worried about them plummeting to their deaths from the 3-4 story high escalators.

Also? My kids are not quiet. Or well-behaved.

Taiwanese children apparently know that they’re supposed to be quiet and well-behaved in public and on public transportation.

So, other than trying to civilize my children, I also had to make sure I didn’t lose them among the crush of people on escalators, MRT trains, buses, and THE SIDEWALK.

10) Remember, your children get culture shock, too. And jetlag. My God, the jetlag.

You know how everything is hard and foreign and overwhelming to you? It’s the same (and perhaps moreso) for your children.

Be kind. And gracious.

If you can remember. (I often did not.)

11) Get internet access for your phone.

You can buy a SIM card with a Taiwanese phone number at the airport and/or at local telecom stores. Or, you can rent a hotspot. Either way, YOU NEED INTERNET ACCESS.

In Taiwan, you buy two separate services: talking minutes and data. You need to buy both, but data is VITAL.

How else will you find what foods, attractions, activities, and addresses are by you?

12) Google Maps and Pleco are your best friends. 

This is, of course, predicated on having internet access.

Google Maps has improved so much since I started going back to Taiwan three years ago. (Has it really only been three years?)

As long as you know your destination, Google Maps will tell you how to get there. Of course, you can always take a taxi – and Google Maps will tell you how long that will take.

But, it will also tell you how to get there (and how long it will take) via public transportation (MRT, bus, train, etc.) or walking.

Plus, now if you click on the bus numbers, Google Maps will show you all the other buses you could take, how many minutes until they arrive, how many stops there will be until your destination, and how much it will cost!

Just keep in mind that there is sometimes more than one bus stop in a given location. It took awhile for me to realize that the buses are grouped by each stop (logical) versus just listing all the possible buses you can take near you. You need to click on the separate bus listings to see all the other possible buses that are available to you.

Also, you can also change the date and time when you’re searching. This is important because if you search directions in the middle of the night, you might think there are zero to no options when in reality, during the day, there will be lots of options. Or, if you search during commuting hours but then travel on a weekend or during non-commuting hours, you will think you have more options when really, you have few.

Ask me how I know.

For the MRT, Google Maps will tell you which exit you take (there are many exits per MRT station) and trust me when I say, the longer you can stay within the air-conditioned confines of an MRT station and avoid the fiery ball of gas outside the better.

As for Pleco, unless you are native fluent and also functionally literate, YOU WILL NEED A GOOD TRANSLATION APP.

Some people prefer Google Translate. I prefer Pleco.

Plus, Pleco has OCR where you can just scan characters and it will tell you (for free) how to pronounce the characters (but not their definitions). That is useful if you understand Chinese but just can’t read. Not so useful if you don’t.

13) Don’t bother with car seats. 

If you are super worried, just take public transportation or walk. For the rides to and from the airport, you can call ahead and book a taxi that will rent you up to two carseats. (In this same vein, there are companies where you can rent pack ‘n plays and other baby things.)

Just keep in mind that no taxi will wait for you to install/uninstall a car seat – and even supposing you do find a taxi that will, are you really going to be walking around Taipei carrying a car seat along with your children?

Get over it. Kids here ride ON MOTOR SCOOTERS.

Anyhow, I hope this was helpful.

If you have a lot of time on your hands or just want more of me, here’s my Facebook Live video that discusses a lot of these same things (but unedited and with perhaps some more swears).