Friday, December 27, 2019

Zuo Yue Zi: One Month Inside




I knew when I was pregnant that I would want to spend my first month of motherhood the way Chinese women do: by observing Zuo Yuezi. Literally meaning “to sit for a month” this is ancient post-partum practice of staying home and resting for 30 days after birth. The idea is that it take this long for a woman’s body to heal post-childbirth and that putting too much strain o n your body too soon after birth can create lifelong complication. 

The basic tenants state that a woman must stay inside, keep warm, and only eat certain foods. While that seems simple enough, there are some parts of the traditional practice which are very impractical and downright counterintuitive. For instance, here are a few Zuo Yuezi mandates I purposely skipped:
  • Refrain from taking showers (way to unhygienic)
  • Refrain from Brushing teeth (not a good idea for my cavity-prone teeth)
  • Exclusive Bed rest (I definitely got up to cook and do light chores)
  • Don't read
  • Don’t TV
  • Don’t climb stairs (impossible in my house)
  • Don’t carry the baby
  • Don’t look at a computer screen (yeah right)


The part about showers and teeth has to do with water, and the idea that water makes the body cold and women should not be cold during this time. I understand how this might have made sense in rural China 100 years ago but with hot running water at home there is no reason to make myself so dirty for such a long time. The other parts of the practice have to do with resting the body and allowing it to heal, but it seemed excessive to me. Of course I want to hold my baby and refraining from reading or looking at a computer just felt weird.

So despite skipping a few of the rules, I did pretty much follow the below mandates of Zuo Yuezi:
  • Drink only hot liquids and eating only hot foods (well, room temperature)
  • Do not leaving the house (well, except for Doctor’s appointments – these were essential!)
  • Eat lots of meat and veggies
  • Keep your body warm with thick clothes
  • Bind your belly to bring it back to shape
  • Limited visitors


There were a few great things that happened with my post-partum time. By Day 10 I had lost all 20 lbs that I gained during pregnancy.  The food I ate made me feel health and gave me energy for long nights of nursing a newborn.

Whether the Zuo Yuei diet was solely responsible for the weight loss and energy I can’t say for sure, but the practice did have some downsides too: I got major cabin fever after week three. I really missed adult contact, as I pretty much only saw my partner and family at this time, and I got on a really bad sleep schedule, often sleeping in until 12:00 or 1:00pm.

But now that I'm three months postpartum writing about this period I think the practices was a good experience overall. After the month ended I overindulged in ice cream and sugary foods that I missed, and overextended myself physically with long meetings for work. I have no regrets about doing Zuo Yuezi, but wish I didn’t totally blow my health diet or periods of rest on Day 31. 

Maybe the secret is not total abstinence for one month, but rather moderation for two or three...



Tuesday, December 17, 2019

2020 is the Year of the Planner

Hello Readers!

After nearly a 6-month break from blogging, I owe an explanation. 

My excuse:



I'm a mom now! 

What an amazing journey this has been. 

But what does it mean for this blog?

Well, not much. 

You will be relieved to know that I won't be morphing it into a blog of baby updates or parenting advice. This platform will still continue to highlight my travelers, musings, and artistic creations, though, my new change in life circumstance means that I haven't been doing much traveling, musing, or creating these days, so the frequency of posts will decrease. 

As always, content is not created in a vacuum, and because I regularly post about my life and learning, you will see my daughter make a cameo here and there as she is now a big part of my life and learning. 

However, this post will not be about her debut into this world or the dramatic change that took place when I became a mother almost one year ago...

This post will be about...planners. 

Because as 2020 approaches, I've been obsessed with planners. 



For the last 12 years I have regularly documented all the happenings of my life: relationships that have begun and ended, travels, moves, new and old jobs. For a long time all this information was contained in a single planner, but now that my life has become more complex (not just with my baby but also my business) I now require not 1 - but 3 - planners to keep track of it all. 

Here is how that looks. 

1. Delfonics: Life Planner



I've been using Delfonics as my main planner for the last 10 years. Until this year, they could only be purchased in Japan - not even online from a Japanese website. So it was impossible to get one unless I had a trip planned, and only if that trip was in the last 6 months of the year, because they didn't release their new planners until then. 8 out of 10 years I was able to make it to Japan to get this planner. One year I was in Taipei, and I bought a Leuchtturm planner, which I didn't care for, and another year I ordered a Volt journal. At the time, I swore I would not use Volt again, but as you will see, the planner makes a come back in 2020 (more on that later). 

Why I love Delfonics is because of the layout. On the left side of the page, I record my appointments and happenings. On the right side I record my task list (though that will change this year). 



I also use Delfonic's monthly layout to record my finances, as well as my travel schedule. 

For 2020 I was able to order this stylish Delfonics planner online from the Delfonics website. They only ship within Japan, so I had it mailed to a friend and she mailed it to me. It took this company 10 years to get online, so hopefully in one more year they can do worldwide shipping.

This year Delfonics will be used exclusively for my appointments, finances, and personal happenings. 


2. Volt Journal: Business Goal Planner



I used Volt as my main journal in 2018 and was unhappy with the weekly layout. I told myself I would not use it again (and went right back to Delfonics), but as my business grew and my schedule and tasks became more complex, I began to miss Volt. Their layout really focuses on Goals, with Yearly Goals, Monthly Goals, and Weekly Goals. I found the focus on goals really helped me, as opposed to the endless to-do lists I usually create.



I decided to give Volt another go in 2020, where I will use it to track my goals, but instead of recording appointments on the weekly layout pages, I will use those to keep track of my daily to-do lists that support my Weekly Goals. 




I will also use the monthly layout for my communications calendar (social media and article publishing). 

In this way, Volt will become my work planner. 

3. Rollbahn: Travel Planner



Rollbahn is also made by Delfonics and has been around for years, but it took me a while to warm up to this notebook...

1. I hate spirals
2. I hate yellow pages
3. I hate grids



So why on earth did I buy a yellow, grid, spiral notebook? Because Rollbahn is awesome. Once you touch it, once you open it, you truly never want to use another notebook. 
I plan to use Rollbahn for my travel planner. Whenever I'm on the road, I like to keep a small notebook with me to record observations, notes, to-dos, etc. I have used a multitude of blank journals over the years, and I prefer Rollbahn to them all for a few reasons:

1. I can fold one side completely under the other (hence the benefit of a spiral)
2. The pages are thick enough to write on both side without seeing the ink through
3. The grid helps me keep my notes formed

In 2020 I have a lot of short business trips planned and I look forward to using Rollbahn through them all! 

Well, that's my planner plan for 2020. And for those of you who were hoping for more photos of my baby...stay tuned. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Drains of Taipei

My last drains diary in Taiwan was back in 2012, and I looked forward to updating it with a couple new finds:






Saturday, July 13, 2019

Photo Diary: a day in Pingxi

Pingxi is a small town in the mountains about a two-hour train ride outside of Taipei. Often overlooked by tourists for it's more popular neighbors Jiufen and Shifen.

When I visited on a weekday afternoon, almost all the shops and restaurants were closed. It reminded of me a ghost town. But I vastly preferred Pingxi over it's crowded and cheesy neighbors. It had a quiet calm and a derelict loneliness about it that made me instantly fall in love. I tried to capture those feelings with a few photos taken in the afternoon sun of autumn.





















Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The breakfasts of Zhong Hua road


My absolute favorite thing to eat in all of Taiwan (and maybe the world) is breakfast, specifically the salty soy milk soup. This is a breakfast dish that you will find in many places throughout Taipei, and some are better than others. Places that serve salty soy milk also serve the accompanying foods, like sweet soy milk, fried dough, taro pastry, and bing.

On this trip I decided to catalog all of the breakfast restaurants I tried near our home on Zhong Hua road.

Many of them are traditional soy milk shops, and a few others are western-style breakfast, which sell sandwiches and burgers. These few shops are only a small sampling of the dozen or so breakfast places within 5 blocks on this one street.

If that  gives  you a sense of the sheer amount of restaurants in Taipei….



We tried this shop on the first morning in Taiwan because the one closest to the house was very busy. It was alright, but I ended up finding another place I liked more so this was my one and only visit. 

the entrance to the shop

taro cake and salty soy milk

salty soy milk with fried dough





This was my favorite place to eat salty soy milk, and it also happened to be the one closest to my house. Once I discovered this place, I only had the motivation to try two more on the same street, before I made a commitment here and returned every morning. 




the best salty soy milk

a great jian bing






This is another breakfast place that intrigued me. It specializes in America-style sandwiches, which sounds boring, but when you order one with ham and egg, you find out it's pretty different from an American sandwich. I also ordered sweet soy milk as a drink and a jian bing.


My American ham-and-egg sandwich

sweet soy milk drink

jian bing





This restaurant is on the corner by the elementary school and is super popular in the early morning.  Again, they specialize in sandwiches, but instead I ordered soymilk, jian bing, and a taro cake. 



my sweet soy milk drink

jian bing, very simple version

taro cake

Friday, July 5, 2019

Babymoon in Taroko Gorge



A babymoon is a vacation you take with your partner while you’re pregnant. Many people treat this like the last vacation you will ever have together for the next twenty years. There’s something both depressing and inspiring about it.

I would have never thought of such a thing, but after seeing all my friends’ babymoon photos on instagram from Greece and the Bahamas, I felt the desire to go somewhere exotic and photograph my pregnant body too.

Most of the babymoon photos out there are moms in bikinis, sporting cute bumps and tiny limbs. This was not me. For one, I'm no beach person. I also had a sick and sluggish pregnancy, and no desire to be in the sun at all. And despite having no stretch marks, I have a gnarly surgery scar that turns enough heads at bathhouses – I have no desire to be seen in a bikini.

Also, I discovered I hate flying while pregnant. Living in the cold Pacific Northwest, that really limits my options. So I was exciting when a Taiwanese friend recommend we visit Taroko gorge while on our trip to Taipei. It was only a 3 hour train ride from Taipei, so no airplanes or layovers. And it was beautiful nature. Not quick fit for a bikini, but still a chance for me and my partner to get away from my in-laws and have alone time.
Also, we only needed to spend one night and make it a 2-full day trip. Seemed like the perfect respite from Taipei.

My friend had arranged every detail of our trip, from train tickets, hotel reservations, and even our meals. The train tickets, she said, were the hardest to get. The train from Taipei to Hualien is frequently full and tickets sell out right away. Thankfully she was able to get us some tickets during our desired times. So we left around 8:00am and arrived by 10:30.
Because  I had such a bad experience on the Portuguese train with motion sickness and morning sickness, I was a bit afraid of the train in Taiwan. Thankfully I didn’t get sick at all and was even able to enjoy some morning snacks on the train.




Our guide began the tour by taking us to some cultural sights along the coast. We visited an elementary school that was for native children of the Taroko tribe. It reminded me so much of the school I had taught at in Shimane, Japan years before.





We then visited a Christian church with a strange monument that was first erected by the Japanese to honor the soldiers who died during the Taroko uprising again the Japanese military during colonization. However, it was remodeled with a statue of the Virgin Mary, and replaced to honor the Taroko people who died in that same uprising.




We then headed to the beach to get a glimpse at a few lookout points and come up close to the water. Hualien is on Taiwan’s east coast, and the Pacific roared with the strength of a Typhoon in the distance. It was very windy and the waves were high.







By 12:45pm it was lunch time. We stopped at a traditional restaurant that serves native dishes and ate what was a feast of meats, rices, and vegetables. It was one of the most delicious meals I had on my trip to Taiwan.






After lunch we headed into Taroko gorge. Being popular tourist attraction and a national park, the area is well mapped and the roads are all paved and well-maintained. In fact there was a quiet a lot of construction going on when we were there to build to repair roads.



Our first stop was the Eternal Spring Temple, which is a monument to the workers who died building the train tracks through the gorge.








The second stop was the Swallow’s Grotto. Having to wear a hard hat through the grotto makes one think there is an element of danger, but it was completely safe and easy walk.
Had I not been 6 months pregnant we might have gone on a hike – Taroko is famous for some beautiful trails and our guide knew the area very well – but my body was not in shape for that kind of physical exercise, so we stuck to talking on flat paved surfaces which was perfect for me.











In the evening we were dropped off at our hotel – Taroko Village Inn, nested in a valley with a mountain range to all sides. 






We relaxed in the room until it was time for dinner, another offering of traditional native food, and the evening performance by hotel staff. 








We also were lead on a short night walk around the property to check out some of the nocturnal animals (snakes, spiders, frogs, etc) that roam the premises



At night we slept peacefully and in the morning awoken to this view:



We ate breakfast at the hotel again, and spent a leisurely morning reading from the veranda of our room. As the sun rose, it became hotter and hotter, and by noon it was time to ride back to Hualien station to catch the train to Taipei.



Though I don’t have any photos of my bare belly on a beach or other stereotypical babymoon photos, I felt like our short babymoon trip to Taroko Gorge was perfect for us.  

Dispatches from Addis Ababa

I spent a week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in February of 2020 for work. I did not know at the time that it would be the last business tr...