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).

Taiwan Trip 2017 Post Mortem

Now that we’re back from our Taiwan Trip, it’s time for the post mortem. (Note, I did not call it a vacation because let’s face it. No trip with small children is a vacation.)

I totally thought I would have written more on this trip. I mean, last year, I seemed to be writing a lot! But then, I remembered that I had Sasquatch strapped to me and that I was out almost all day and by the time the kids were in bed, my brain was mush.

I did a lot of FB Live videos, though!

But honestly, I felt silly blogging about my trip this year because quite frankly, it was remarkably similar to last year. I mean, the kids were in pretty much the same camps and schools, the routes I took were the same. I ate, hung out with friends, and took care of kids at night.

Oh, don’t worry. I will probably do at least one more Taiwan related post unless I really get off my ass and turn some of my FB Live videos into blog posts. I will do a financial write up of the trip and maybe a Chinese update/summary/camp thingy. But otherwise, my brain has moved onto the new homeschooling school year.

Sorry, folks.

I see no need for guilt about posts I should have written to hang over me.

HOWEVER. Here are some random, disparate thoughts/mental flotsam nougats to hold you over until the more substantial posts. (Just thinking about writing those is exhausting.)

1) Being in Taiwan with three young kids and a nine month old baby strapped to me is SO MUCH BETTER THAN being in Taiwan with three young kids and pregnant.

OMG I CANNOT ADEQUATELY EXPRESS HOW MUCH BETTER IT IS.

Most of you long time readers know this, but last year was just one long, 40 week shitty mood. As soon as the baby was born though, it was great!

I totally thought that Taiwan with four kids would be worse than Taiwan with three kids. IT WAS NOT. Apparently babies are easy. Pregnancies are NOT.

2) It also helped that my kids are older this year. Plus, I already knew what I was doing – everything was familiar. The apartment was the same. The driver was the same. Our schools and camps were the same. And not only that, I built on last year’s knowledge and added NEW knowledge of bus routes, etc.

My mother was there for the first 10 days and I was so sorry she left. She didn’t sit with us on the plane, but she was super helpful in the apartment at bedtime! A lot of my friends were in Taiwan at the same time with their kids (some of them at the same camps) and my cousin’s kid was also at the same camp.

3) This year, I realized early on that though I liked food, what I really wanted to eat was shaved ice. So really, I just spent most of every day eating shaved ice. Food was consumed, but not nearly with as much fervor as Taiwanese shaved ice.

4) I am more than pretty sure that there will be a Taiwan Trip 2018 because I am a glutton for punishment and I am incredibly stupid – but it will be even better because it will be the THIRD year at the same schools and camps and hopefully, apartments.

5) I don’t really think my kids’ Chinese improved that much this time around. I think because this year, despite being in the Chinese environment, Cookie Monster (7.5) resisted speaking Chinese and thus, so did Gamera (5.5). Glow Worm (~4) was in school though, so his Chinese improved a lot. Their vocabulary still expanded so I guess that is still a good thing.

This is a lot of the reason I want to go back again next year. I worry if I skip even one year, the chance to catch Cookie Monster up or stem the inevitable English slide will not be in time.

Actually, come to think of it, Cookie Monster and Gamera’s Chinese did improve, but it was in super specific areas pertaining to their camps. I really would NEVER encounter these new words because I am never going to talk about science, water rockets, ripsticks, or even the random games they played.

So, I guess the only way to know whether their Chinese improved is if they all of a sudden start speaking incomprehensible Chinese words to me.

Incidentally, I never knew 營 (ying2/camp) was a word you could use by itself. Like, “This week, we are doing blah blah blah 營.”

Looks like Cookie Monster learned something after all!

6) Back in 2014, Cookie Monster only ate white rice the first four weeks and didn’t venture to try beef noodle soup until the last week we were there. Gamera was a tiny bit more adventurous, but still mostly ate white rice. Only Glow Worm ate everything set in front of him, but since he was 11 months old, I didn’t think it would last.

Terrible.

Last year, they expanded their food repertoire and ate a lot of fried rice, a variety of noodles, potstickers, and 小籠包 (xiao3 long2 bao/soup dumplings). Glow Worm again ate everything set in front of him – including a bunch of fruit.

This year, they were even more improved! (I firmly believe it’s because I have been so good about cooking with the Instant Pot and making them eat things they don’t necessary like.)

In fact, we managed to NOT eat at McDonald’s the entire trip except for the last weekend – and even then, it was only because I had the flu and Hapa Papa needed to take them somewhere easy for him to order.

You guys. DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW AMAZING THAT IS?

I consider it a WIN.

Oh. AND THEY EVEN ATE ON THE PLANE.

7) Kids were much better about going to their camps this time around. Glow Worm only cried the second day when he realized that school was a permanent situation. But then we had a conversation, he no longer cried and RAN to his teachers and barely glanced at me when I dropped him off. He was such a big boy.

Oh, and THIS year, he actually participated (and with great enthusiasm) in all the session end performances. HE WAS ADORABLE.

Gamera was much happier this year because she was with Cookie Monster and not bored out of her mind learning characters she already knew. They took Chinese yo-yo, Ripstick, and games sessions. Gamera also took a sewing class and Cookie Monster took a science class.

They LOVED the courses. Surprisingly, Cookie Monster liked the science class the most! Gamera liked the sewing class the best. They both complained that they wanted to take a cooking class – so I told them I would try to sign them up for it next year.

8) If we go next year, (which we probably will), I will likely keep it at the 4.5 week mark. Both the kids and I are sick of Taiwan by then – and I think it’s better to leave wanting more vs. staying until you are sick of a place.

I might stay a few extra days at the end because the kids complained that we didn’t play enough, but truthfully, by the end of each stay, they are so sick of the heat that they never want to leave the apartment.

9) Because I had the flu, Hapa Papa took Gamera to buy breakfast and she did all the ordering and paid. I think she was a little shy about it, but she did a good job.

10) Of course, my kids loved all the DIY crafts. I resisted though and we managed not to go completely bankrupt. I suppose I should just consider it one on one paid Chinese arts and crafts instruction.

11) Oh, and people wanted to know how it was traveling around Taipei with a fat 8-9 month old baby on my person. Just like 2014, it was hot and my entire front would be dripping wet. Sasquatch would also be dripping wet from my sweat. But ultimately, it was pretty easy.

Because I am his food and tend to nurse him in the Ergo, it was such a gross mix of fluids. There was my boob sweat, my hand sweat, his head sweat, his saliva, and my milk. Mmmmm… slippery.

But mostly, since he only just started cruising and is otherwise, non-mobile, it was very easy. Just slippery with sweat. People are endlessly kind and always offering seats on MRTs and buses (which I refused because like all my babies, Sasquatch insisted on me standing).

Since I hate strollers, I really didn’t have to make much of an accommodation to Sasquatch’s presence. And once I realized I needed to be home for part of the day to allow him a nice long, uninterrupted nap, he was much happier. It was easy peasy.

Alright. I think that’s it for now. Hopefully, I will not burn out on the Taiwan Trip topic and you will not be bored too terribly to have to read more about it. And again, if I am feeling really on top of things, I will turn my FB lives into posts.

Thanks for reading! I’m so happy to be back home.

How to Choose a Taiwanese Preschool

The other day, a reader brought to my attention that perhaps my post on How to Plan a Trip to Taiwan was not as helpful in the choosing a Taiwanese preschool department. So, in the spirit of being helpful, I wrote another post about specifically, finding a preschool for the 6 years and under set.

Here’s the thing: it’s really obvious.

I mean, so obvious, I feel dumb writing an entire post on the topic. Thus, be forewarned, this is a super short post and may seem bare bones.

I’m not trying to be difficult. It really is as you likely would have approached the task on your own.

You are not missing out. You are totally doing it correctly.

So. With that caveat out of the way, here’s how you choose a preschool in Taiwan:

1) Decide what you would like in a Taiwanese preschool. 

If your kids are already in preschool (or you have gone through this with previous children), you already have an idea of what you want in a preschool.

Do you want it to be more play based? More structured? More formally “educational” (like with learning characters, alphabet, zhuyin, etc.)? A particular educational philosophy?

However, be aware that just like in your home country, the more specific you are (and inflexible), the less likely you will find a preschool fitting your criteria.

Sometimes, beggars can’t be choosers.

So, in my case, I wanted a play-based Montessori-like environment. I didn’t really care if my kids learned any characters, etc. because we do enough of that at home, during the school year. (We homeschool as well as attend Chinese preschools.)

Unfortunately, because Glow Worm has many food allergies (ranging from severe to mild), most Taiwanese preschools refused to accommodate him. They cited a Taiwanese law that states only authorized medical personnel (ie: a DOCTOR) could administer shots. Even if it kills my kid in the process.

So, with all the schools refusing to accept Glow Worm out of fear in applying the Epipen, (always in their super polite, vague, passive aggressive manner), I had to go with any school that would accept him.

Thus, I had to really refine what I wanted, and that was (and is): to have my kids be taught by adults whose Chinese obviously surpassed my “kitchen Chinese” and be surrounded by kids who spoke (mostly) Chinese.

Hence, I settled on an international school because they were used to dealing with all sorts of food allergies, were willing to administer the Epipen if needed, and allowed me to provide all Glow Worm’s food and snacks.

So, although I preferred something less academic, I was satisfied with the school we attended because being alive at an academic place is better than not being alive at a play-based place.

2) Settle on a location and then Google (or ask friends/family) for preschools around the area.

I know. Thanks, Captain Obvious!

But seriously. Google is a thing. Use it.

Also? Local preschools will likely have websites and Facebook pages in Chinese only. For obvious reasons.

If you are like me and when you see a wall of Chinese text, respond with an internal, “GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”, this will be the most difficult part of the process.

Thus, I prevailed upon friends and family and Facebook groups for their recommendations and experiences.

Sorry, internet readers. I will not be that friend.

For many reasons, but chiefly: I am not qualified to make recommendations to you, a stranger.

I’m sure you’re a very nice person and not at all creepy. This is nothing personal. Please do not ask me for specific preschool recommendations

I will ignore you if I’m feeling generous.

I will screenshot and publicly shame you if I’m feeling ornery (which is the norm because I have four children and though I love them to distraction, they also eat up all my minute reservoirs of patience).

3) Email/call the preschool directors and ask if they a) have a summer program, and b) the details of this summer program.

If they are local preschools, you will most likely have to communicate in Chinese. To expect them to accommodate you in English isn’t realistic or fair. After all, you don’t expect a preschool in America to communicate in Chinese (or any language other than possibly Spanish). Why would it be different in Taiwan?

Also, you will either have to pay in cash on the first day or have someone wire tuition via a Taiwanese bank account. This is NOT handy. (I always feel like a drug dealer when I carry around a fat packet of cash in my purse or on my person. Particularly since Taiwanese money has 1000NT bills!)

4) Choose. 

After which, I have not tried to reinvent the wheel every summer and just stick to what I know.

You cannot know the depths of my consternation when I realized Glow Worm could not attend the school I sent Cookie Monster and Gamera to back in 2014. There was much teeth gnashing and fist shaking and creative cursing.

Do not succumb to FOMO. Unless you had a mediocre or horrible experience, make life easier for yourself. Stick with what works.

Of course, this will fall on deaf ears for people who truly have FOMO. But for those of us who are lazier than we are fearful, this is my official Mandarin Mama seal of approval/permission to just do what you did last time already.

You’re welcome!

Ok. That’s it.

I told you the information was obvious.

There is no need to overthink the situation. You were going to do this anyway. Here is now the official article giving you confirmation bias.

You’re welcome, again!

I am just a font of benefits today. Happy Hunting!