professional

The Art of Being Demoted

“You’re not being fired,” he said.

“We’re outsourcing marketing,” he said.

“We definitely want to keep you,” he said.

In January, after two years with the company and two promotions, I was promoted to Director of Marketing. I sat on the management team and advised on whatever marketing needs came up. In February I felt a shift happening, which quickly worsened, and I tried to find out what the problem was. On Monday, March 16, I was demoted and told they were getting rid of my department altogether.

“We’d like you to move into Account Management,” he said.

no

He was asking me to move from a writing-intensive, marketing-focused position I loved, one that was propelling my career forward, to a position that had nothing to do with my career path. I felt gutted.

Being demoted – or rather, having your department, of which you are the sole member, obliterated – makes you feel useless. All the time I spent studying industry magazines, doing research, compiling data, examining Excel files, organizing binders and files full of information. All the time I spent learning more about my work and figuring out ways to make it better. Everything I did as a member of the marketing department felt like it was unwanted, punched with a “YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp.

I’m good at what I do. When you can point out errors and explain why they’re objectively wrong, that must mean you know what you’re talking about, right? I do freelance work for two different agencies, and they both love me.

I think I’m good enough. Other people tell me I’m better than good enough. But my department, my job, the past two-point-three-three years of my career were going to be outsourced.

“You’re not good enough.” He didn’t, but might as well have said it.

After being demoted, your position outsourced, you want to angrily reach out to the world and proclaim your indignation to the masses. You want to write long Facebook posts, and update your LinkedIn profile, and tell anyone who will listen about the righteous wrong that’s punched you so hard in the gut you don’t know which way is up.

If you’re me, you get so angry and scared and confused you want to cry. And you do. And it’s the most frustrating thing possible, because no part of you wants to cry: every part wants to kick and scream and throw things.

I threw my business cards into the trash instead of against the wall. Didn’t help.

Blasting the company online won’t help. Talking trash won’t help. Anxiety attacks definitely didn’t help, although I got to have one of those, which was super fun.

no panic

From a business perspective, I understand. I don’t think it was the right decision, but it wasn’t mine to make. Sure, I wanted to march out the doors of the office with middle fingers high and all my files shredded. I didn’t, though.

My anger dissipated. I took that Wednesday off to get my mind right and spare my coworkers from my emotions. I’d accepted the offer to move into the other department, and as I stood over my stove cooking breakfast I felt better. The next day I was set to leave for a week-long trip to Scotland, one I’d been planning for months.

I answered my ringing phone. It was the owner. He was upset with how I’d handled the transition. “Mandy, I think it would be best if this was your last day.”

We hung up, and I stood there, stunned. I quickly called him back and apologized, but it was done. My worst fear – being let go – had come true, and anxiety erupted. Frantic breathing, crying, and shaking took over me, and I could barely stand.

Thankfully, over the course of the day I was able to calm down, go to the office and say goodbye to my coworkers. I apologized and hugged them goodbye. The support I received from family, friends, and colleagues was unbelievable, and by the end of the day I felt fine. A little nervous, but fine.

The anger came back, and I struggled with it for a few weeks. I don’t want anything to happen to the company, and I keep in touch with my former coworkers; they’re amazing people, and I’m grateful I was able to work with them.

After a month the anger finally went away again. This Saturday will mark my one-month Layoffaversary. I’m freelancing, interviewing, and feeling optimistic about the future.

Things are changing. Hopefully I won’t be unemployed for long. I am beyond good enough.

Stuart Smalley

Love her

Tapping into my joy

Today, several months after she first told me her plans, my friend, and now former coworker, Sabrina left for her RTW (‘Round The World) trip. Italy. Slovenia. Switzerland. Thailand. Vietnam. The Philippines. Those are the countries set in stone – there’s no telling where else she’ll find herself.

Excellent photographer

I made it black and white so it could be even more flattering. You’re welcome, Sabrina.

I’m happy to see her go. She’s exactly the type who needs to travel the world and have adventures, and she’ll be an excellent ambassador for the West.

On several occasions she tried to convince me to go with her. I don’t have the money saved… but the thought catches me. Could I leave again? Instead of moving abroad, could I take the plunge and go RTW?

I don't follow her anymore.

I don’t know what I “feel wildly unqualified for”, but I do feel like I need to face my fears and do SOMETHING. But WHAT.

I’ll be meeting Sabrina in November, after my sister’s wedding, in Vietnam. My hope is to travel with her a while, then detour to Taiwan for a week, then head back. However, depending on my life at the time, I could see myself doing my own version of a shorter RTW.

I just don’t know. I thought by now, nearly a year after moving back to the States, my life would have a clear direction. I’d be dating, hoping to soon move into my own mortgage and life of roots and comfort zones.

My life is blessed and I’m happy. There’s something missing, though, and it’s deep and profound. I feel like I won’t find it until I leave Dallas. That mindset is poisonous; the grass is always greener, and Shangri La doesn’t exist. Location shouldn’t matter as much as my drive to grow as a person and make my life interesting anywhere matters.

Why am I so unsettled?

I'd fall over.

All the women have crossed legs and look ridiculous standing like that. This is the type of thing I’m most concerned about these days: marketing and advertising.

I am happiest right now when I’m active and participating in endurance events. When Julie and I ran the Wounded Warrior 10K a couple weekends ago, neither of us had trained properly, and everything was against us to succeed.

Wetness

The start line. My phone was in a Ziploc bag when I took this picture because the clouds had opened up: it was a little wet.

However, we both crossed the finish line, got our medals, and I was high on that accomplishment for a week. I was so sore I could barely walk, but my spirit was overjoyed.

I have a huge support system here, one I couldn’t be more thankful for. I enjoy my coworkers,

She's got skills

Frances was transplanting a picture of her supervisor’s face onto a picture of ferrets to make him laugh when he returned the next day. This crew takes care of each other like that.

I enjoy my job,

Ouch

In the atrium of our office building, there’s this water feature and sculpture supposedly dedicated to a man decapitated by a propeller. I find the sculpture represents the way the man died a bit too well.

I enjoy living with Mel and Mikey and their lovely family,

Mel's hand

I was slightly (very) intoxicated while celebrating Mel’s 30th at the Glass Cactus. This is the most terrifying picture of me ever, and a fantastic shot of Mel’s fingers.

I enjoy being close to my family,

insane

I bought these to wear at my sister’s rehearsal dinner. They’re as heavy as they look.

I enjoy my friends,

Love her

I was fairly emotional when I was telling her about my 10K – Rachel was the first person I texted when I finished.

and I enjoy Dallas’s convenience. My life is enjoyable.

But I’m not full of joy.

So. What to do now? Sevenly, a great organization that raises money for different causes, posted the following quote today:

We believe many of you have untapped gifts that could change the lives around you. So we felt compelled to ask what talent could you use to bless someone else?”

That quote is the direction I need to take. Now. What?

thank goodness

Mapquest

I collect maps dot WordPress dot com. Mandy travels. That’s this blog!

I haven’t written in months. Currently I’m not collecting maps, and I’m not traveling, save for the driving I do around Texas.

Scary spinning wind!

North Texas. I’m currently living under all that red. That night was a special occasion: it was the first time I’ve ever heard a tornado siren. Outwardly I kept my cool. Inwardly, I was cowardly.

It’s kind of been nine months of a pity party, if I’m being completely honest. I don’t know what to do with myself, with my career, with the next several decades I have left.

Dog friendly, not horse friendly

Texas. It’s hard to see, but that sign has a person riding a horse with a red circle-slash over it. That means No riding horses in this park. Yeehaw!

Then, one day last week, while perusing my feed on Facebook, I came across a blog with a not-for-the-fainthearted-or-children title, full of self-help without the floofy sugarcoated baby talk. She cusses. It makes me laugh.

Monday the 13th, she posted “Fill In The Blank: I’m Not a ‘Real’ ____”, and I laughed, nodded along, and got back to work. In the back of my mind, though, it sat, and I thought about it. I read it again later. I found myself wondering what my Real ____ was.

Bigness

Texas. 15,000 people can fit in this building. It’s not a community college or a sporting arena: it’s a church. Welcome to the South, where churches are larger than most towns.

Yesterday I was late to work and in a slight panic because I couldn’t find my ring. Thin, gold, unremarkable… but I bought it, and it has sentimental meaning behind it; it’s my ring. I bought it. I wear it when I want to feel like I’m in control – I can take care of myself. It’s my Me ring.

thank goodness

The room was set to be vacuumed fifteen minutes after I found it. Can you see it?

I was explaining to my coworker the significance of the ring, and I figured it out… I think. I figured out my Real ____. I’m not the Real Me. Kind of. I’m not the me I want to be. Nicole Antoinette (ALLB’s author) asks this: ““What are the top three things that I believe make someone a real ____?”

bam! take that, bag!

I read self-help blogs and, instead of seeing an expensive therapist, I go punch things.

What are my three things?

  1. The Real Me is an athlete. She regularly participates in endurance events and grins when she feels the muscles in her arms from doing perfect-form chest-to-deck pushups.
  2. The Real Me has a full passport. My current one expires January 1, 2015. I need to hit up a bunch of little countries all in a row or something.
  3. The Real Me doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck. She has a savings account, and she saves! She has money for a rainy day! She has money to hit up a bunch of little countries and fill her passport!

None of these are surprises, I know. The title of this post could be “Mandy says stuff I already know”, or “Duh”. But this is my new map: my map to me. It’ll have to do until I get back to the passport business and blog about Mandy traveling and collecting road maps, instead of psychological maps.

beep beep

You know who probably doesn’t need a map? This limo’s driver. He parks at the end of my friends’ street. I wonder what his life is like.

I’m working hard on the athletic thing. I go to boxing/therapy twice a week and try to get a jog or two in the other days. I have a 10K on June 9th –

– but wait, Mandy! I thought you were signed up for a half marathon! Well… I am. Yeah. But I’m “downgrading” to a 10K. If you’re going to judge, I’ll meet you out there June 9th and you can jog next to me and tell me all about your feelings. –

– and I want to get back into triathlons.

I have more athletic shoes than heels

Post run. I’m wearing toe socks. The saleslady told me they would make me run faster. Lies. Or maybe she just said they were comfortable. I dunno.

Later this year, after my sister gets married, I’ll hopefully be taking a trip with a friend of mine. The wanderlust monster has me in its clutches. And as far as the financial stability goes… well. Buy me dinner and I’ll tell you all about it.

those things are disgusting

My dream is to put all this space to good use. An athlete would have a bike or a canoe in here. Sweaty boxing wraps and my workout bag don’t really fill it up.

In the meantime, I’m happy. Great friends have taken me in give me a bed and a place to shower. I love being within walking distance* of my sister; especially after my grandfather’s passing, my priorities have changed, and my family and close friends are more important than ever.

It’s an interesting time, and I’m struggling with being impatient. I want to know how everything’s going to turn out. Until I know, I have my map. Mandy travels – to realness and emotional stability! Huzzah!

 

*6.5 miles. Walking distance for an athlete.

Just out of reach

I’ve been in bed since 10:20pm. Between then and now I wrote a cover letter and applied for a job, then tried sleeping. It refuses to happen. According to Gmail, where I received a confirmation email from the company after I submitted my application, I finished at 11:34pm.

Seeing how it’s 1:04am now, that means I tried to sleep for an hour and a half, to no avail. I’m sleepy, my eyes warm with the urge to stay closed, but I toss and turn. Left side, right side; on my stomach with my legs in marathon-runner position; arms under the pillows, on top of, hanging off the edge of the bed.

It doesn’t come. I blame myself. Earlier, I ate and drank what I knew would keep me awake so I could work on some applications. When I decided to quit after just one, I thought I could handle the caffeine searing through my system, and I lay down, in a state I would describe as “extremely tired”.

And then my mind started its gymnastics, leaping over thoughts and tumbling through every idea.

Me: “I’m tired. Calm down.”
Brain: “THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. What was that noise? Feelings! Overthinking.”
Body: “I’m cold. This position is uncomfortable.”
Me: “Quit staring out the window. Fall asleep, please.”
Body: “I’m hot.”

This is the idiocy I’m facing right now. It’s 1:13am. Nine minutes, and all I’ve typed is absolute nonsense.

Under normal circumstances, I’d be dreading tomorrow because it would start in less than five hours, as I would be crawling into the shower and getting ready for work. In Unemploymentville, there’s a different dread. It’s the dread of waking up and having no purpose. I’ll wake up, carry my phone and laptop downstairs and, after checking various sites, face down the job applications for the day.

People who haven’t ever visited Unemploymentville are a little in the dark about what it’s actually like here. Imagine showing up for a class every day, putting forth a ton of effort, and failing the class. You spend hours on assignments, but you fail. After a while, it’s all you can do to keep going; it all feels like a waste of effort.

I’m applying to jobs for which I’m fully qualified. I study company sites and make sure they know why I want to work there. I include facts and figures and references. If I want a good job, I need to put in the effort in my application. There are 36 unique cover letters on my computer, and those don’t include several more letters written online, instead of in Word.

Trust me: I’m trying.

Being unemployed doesn’t mean I’m lazy. It doesn’t mean I’m weak, underqualified, undereducated, or unworthy. It doesn’t mean I’m not trying hard enough. I get the feeling sometimes that people who have never been unemployed think it’s a matter of not wanting it enough. I hope they never have to go through what I’m going through. It would be nice if they could “get it”, though.

I’ll be fine. It’ll happen. I took a risk in moving back to the States without a job, and I don’t regret it. That said, it’s been scarier moving back than it was to move abroad. I’m home-of-my-ownless, gratefully filling guest rooms at friends’ houses for weeks at a time. My savings from Taiwan are slowly draining.

This “time off” isn’t relaxing or fun. I’m not able to focus on myself or do much beyond think about how I’m going to make it past this month, then through November.

Unemployment is lonely. It’s rejection after rejection and hours of time alone working on job applications. First, I was the weirdo because I lived in Taiwan for two years, so my thought processes are a little different now. Now, I’m an even bigger weirdo because I’m also unemployed. Very few people understand one or the other. Fewer still understand both. It’s ostracizing.

It’s being awake at 1:35am, knowing that the only item on the docket after I finally do fall asleep, then wake up late tomorrow morning, is job applications.

1:41am.

Still wide awake. Maybe I’ll write another cover letter now.

Yanking on my bootstraps

I spent hours working on that job application. I crafted my cover letter, registered for the company’s website, answered all the questions on said website, tried to think of exactly the right thing to say. This job, this job I really wanted. I’d be perfect for it. I’d be a rockstar at it.

Within a week, an email in my inbox: “We appreciate your interest in joining the XXX team. After careful consideration, we have decided to concentrate our attention on other candidates who we believe best meet the current needs of our organization.”

…okay. At least I know, right?

But… all those hours and all that stress of thinking of just the right word and how to phrase what I thought. All the times I re-edited my cover letter so it would read a little more persuasively, a little more coherently, and reiterated the qualifications from the job posting, but not in the same words…

This was my second time to apply to this organization – a very small, very niche company. I won’t apply a third time. Two strikes and I’m out. It’s a little embarrassing to be rejected more than once.

You’re supposed to treat every job application like it’s gold. Write a cover letter, format your resume just for that company, sign up for their website, spend precious time clicking the appropriate responses and hoping desperately you’re not going to be lost in the hundreds of other applicants.

You spend all this time, all this effort and energy and stress and then

nothing.

Most of the time, you don’t get a response. 2% of the time you hear back that they’re “concentrating their attention on other candidates”.

I don’t blame the companies. I understand. There are a lot of applicants. I don’t envy the people who have to sort through all those trite cover letters and resumes full of adjectives and random verbs people never use in real life.

As a job searcher, though, it’s horrible. First you have to find a job description that sounds good, for a company you wouldn’t mind working for, in a city that doesn’t sound soul-numbingly boring, for pay that will hopefully put you above the poverty line. Then you have to spend some time preparing your application, making sure it’s just right. At least half an hour of work, up to a few hours, all so that it can be dumped in the Trash folder of some stressed, overworked HR person’s email client.

I’m an average applicant on paper. I’ll knock your socks off in a job, but my resume doesn’t have well-known companies on it, or fancy titles, a top-tier university or awards or ten acronyms after my last name. It has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but that’s as riveting as boiling water. What sets me apart? The fact that you’ll like working with me. The fact that I’m gregarious and personable and sarcastic and true to my word and organized to the T. But can you put that on paper? Yeah, if you want to sound like a personal ad. “Non-proveables” on resumes are generally frowned upon, but a very large part of the draw of having me work for your company is based upon my “non-proveables”.

Then, THEN, you get the email telling you you’ve landed an interview. What if you’re offered this job… but yesterday you applied for your DREAM JOB. What if you accept this job, and then DREAM JOB wants you to interview.

You’re screwed.

In this economy, everyone is screwed. The company is screwed. It receives too many applications, making it impossible to effectively sort through and find THE CANDIDATE. Those they reject more than once give up, even though they may eventually be a perfect fit. Too late. The person sifting through the applications is screwed. I would never want to work in HR.

To all the people in HR, I’m sorry. You’re just as screwed as the applicants because not only do you have to deal with all the resumes, cover letters, interviews, emails, phone calls, and whathaveyou, you get to deal with the rejection letters. You have to handle people blaming you for not getting hired. It’s not your fault, but you’re the scapegoat.

I’m sorry.

From the applicant’s perspective, when it comes to these rejection letters, let’s be brutally honest: they’re grenades in your inbox ready to detonate into a million shards of failure all over your day. They dig into your psyche a la Temple of Doom and wrench your self-confidence out of your chest. When a company doesn’t respond at all, you can almost think to yourself, Maybe they didn’t get it. Maybe they never saw my resume. It’s not that I wasn’t good enough; there was a glitch in the system or something. Then it lands, with a deafening, gutting thud, into your inbox. “We appreciate your interest, but…”

It makes me go back to my resume and angrily demand what it did wrong. It makes me reread my cover letter and realize that, even though it sounded honest and professional yesterday, it sounds like a total sycophantic blowhard today.

It continues with no end in sight. Saturday, after receiving another rejection email, I spent the weekend feeling sorry for myself and despondent. I’ve been in this game long enough to feel like the fat kid in dodgeball – I get knocked down, a lot. My ego is bruised, and my confidence slips a little more with each rejection.

Then, yesterday, I had a come to Jesus chat with myself; I think Coach may have been in on it, too, but he didn’t sign in. It’s time to change tack. Maybe I’m not supposed to play dodgeball; maybe I’m more a rugby type of girl.

So now it’s time to throw a few more bullets onto my resume and write some cover letters: I have lots of HR inboxes to tackle.

Dear family and friends

The reaction to my last post was stronger than I anticipated. Sure, that weekend I was really upset, but putting text to screen and hitting Publish made me wonder if I had overreacted. According to almost everyone, I not only underreacted, but if he had been with some of you rather than with me, his favorite body part would’ve been in jeopardy.

Thanks for all the support. Just don’t forget: I allowed it. Sure, he pole-vaulted every single boundary a gentleman wouldn’t even consider toeing, but I didn’t tell him to quit until the very end. He set the boundaries. I fussed internally and blamed him for not respecting my unspoken boundaries. A mind reader he was not, and yet I expected him to pick up on my signals.

This signal means, “WOO! He’s twenty feet away!”

Lesson learned: speak up.

I’m doing fine now. I don’t even want “it to rot” like I wrote in Chinese at the bottom of the post (passive aggressive, party of one). He’s a jerk with a limited future, and he knows it. What a sad, pathetic life.

In their defense, I told them to write every adjective they could think of on the board. The timing was just interesting after the Chubby Chaser Incident.

Anyway, enough of that. My friend Caitlin will be coming to visit August 23, and she and I will leave Taiwan together on Saturday, September 1. Two years and roughly five days in this country: I’m not setting any records, but that’s a pretty decent jaunt in a foreign place. Taiwan and I have had our ups and downs, but it’s going to be hard leaving.

It’s going to be hard to leave the woman by the window who has inches-long gray mole hair.

I’m excited, but yeah. Leaving will be difficult. I have a pretty nice little life carved out here. It’s time to start the next chapter, though, and hopefully the next one’s as happily ridiculous as this one has been.

I’m coming back and will hopefully live nowhere near the Gulf of Maxico.

My 30th birthday, which I’m careening into headfirst, is the perfect start to what will be a life-changing August and fall. The Taiwanese regard a woman’s thirtieth as the true start of her life; she’s a woman. I’ll be working that day, as my application for a national holiday seems to have gotten lost in the mail, but my housemate Chocolate, who turns 30 five days after me, and I have discussed going to Taipei and camping out in the lounge of the W Hotel like two sophisticated women.

Birthday August 7, last day of work August 17, Caitlin August 23, US-bound September 1, new career starting in 3… 2…

Mere days before the apocalyptic typhoon!

Uh, yeah, about that. No job yet. I’ve sent out roughly 25 applications in the past few months. Yesterday I was supposedly going to knock out five cover letters/applications thanks to a half day of work for Typhoon Fakeout, but then my afternoon turned into a long, unattractive snoozefest. I’m pretty sure three people came into my room at different times to talk to me, but I did little more than mumble, “Huh?… tired… uhhhhhhh.”

Here comes the rampaging typhoon!

Sorry and love to Emily, Chocolate and Boabi.

So, yes, the job search continues. There are quite a few applications out there that I’d like to follow up on with a singing telegram admonishing them to hire me, but since they said “No phone calls” on the posting, I suppose a barbershop quartet might be a bit much.

The rainy aftermath of the devastating typhoon!

In the interim, I need to focus on my health and ease out of my winter padding, seeing as how spring is already over and summer is glaring me in the face. If my kettlebell were here, I’d already have bikini tan lines but, alas, it sits in my parents’ house, waiting for me to come back and swing it around.

I’ve also got to spend as much time as possible with my Taiwan family. Today Jessica, my youngest student, came up to me as I was leaving. She looked concerned.

“You leave when?”

After I assured her it was almost three months from now, she brightened up. That time will fly, though, and soon I’ll be hugging her one last time before I leave.

This kid is a ray of sunshine.

Yeah. It’s going to be hard to leave.

Considering the Leap

It’s official.

My boss knows that I’m moving this summer. I surprised myself and teared up when I told her. I think it’s the stress from the reality that I’m really, actually, absolutely leaving Taiwan.

Whoa.

I arrived August 27, 2010. I’ll leave within a couple of weeks of that date – almost exactly two years later.

There’s an onslaught of questions I have to answer now. Where will I go? What do I want to do? How am I going to afford this? There are quite a few, and while I have some ambiguous answers, the questions are like a fog in my brain, keeping me from focusing on much else.

There are a few things I (basically or just pretend to) know:

One
I want to work somewhere I can feel good about what I do, and where I enjoy what I do. I’ve found most of the positions I want to apply to on idealist.org. Most positions I get excited about are writing related. That surprises no one.

Two
I don’t want to teach. I’m good at it and I love my students, but I don’t enjoy lesson planning. Quite frankly, I’m also sick of schools and politics that have lost sight of the students in this whole “education” game, but that’s another post for another time (never).

Three
I’m looking at New York, DC, California, Hawaii, Vancouver, South America or Europe. State, city, state, state, “foreign” city, continent, continent: I like to keep things simple.

Four
It’s terrifying moving into a weak economy with no job lined up. It’s puking terrifying.

Five
I’ve been a conference coordinator, recruiting coordinator, teacher, technical writer, executive assistant, timing chip assistant, office manager, sales clerk, cashier, and janitor. Surely I’ve picked up a decent skillset somewhere in all that work experience. If nothing else, I’m really good at doing laundry. And lawn mowing.

Six
I shyly speak Spanish and bumptiously abuse English. I would love to be fluent in Spanish again.

I’m ready. It’s scary, but I’m ready for the next adventure. First there’s a pre-adventure adventure in figuring out the next adventure, but that’s okay. Leap and the net will appear.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere

Just two years ago, I couldn’t stand beer.

My uncle ordered this bottle. When he wasn't looking, I stole a few swigs. I recommend it.

Hops. Barley. Water. Some other bitter stuff. I didn’t want it. If I tried to choke it down, it had to be when it was cold. Warm beer was an absolute no no.

Now, after being in the business world for a while and traveling a bit, I realize the importance of beer. When I was working the conference in Phoenix last week, I learned of several business transactions that took place at pubs. If someone came up and offered us a bottle or a pint, even while we were working, we accepted. One beer was so hoppy I could’ve been chewing on flowers, but I finished every last bit.

One of the best places to meet people when you travel? Bars. Pubs. Places where you can go, sit, and nurse a pint. Or two. Or a few.

The bartender and I may have flirted a bit, but he lost all interest when he saw me attack the Scotch eggs they brought out. His loss.

Beer drinkers are perceived as more approachable, more laid back. Wine is great with fine dinners or for nights when I’m curled up on the couch watching movies in my pajamas. I tackle hard liquor when it’s time to party hard. But beer is easy and more everyday. No fuss, nothing to clean up.

I know jack squat about beer. I think I know what hops are thanks to some Sam Adams Brewery commercials that aired a few years ago. Barley… maybe that looks like wheat. It’s fermented, or something. Ales versus IPAs versus stouts versus lagers versus dark versus light versus Guinness, which is in its own category. I actually quite like Guinness.

When I first started drinking, it was wine coolers and Smirnoff and the fruitiest, sweetest drinks I could get my hands on. Now I wouldn’t drink that stuff even if it were offered to me for free. I guess that means I’m growing up.

Dear Second Graders

Dear Mrs. Mandy’s Mom’s Second Graders,

My name is Mandy.

I’m Mrs. Mandy’s Mom’s daughter. I used to live in Texas like you, but then I moved away from the United States to another country called Taiwan.

Yes, I realize my globe is wildly inaccurate. Just be thankful I'm not teaching your kids.

Taiwan is an island next to China and under Japan. It’s a lot smaller than the United States – it’s even smaller than Texas. In fact, Taiwan could fit inside Texas almost 20 times! Because Taiwan is so much smaller than Texas, most people live in houses that are skinny, but very tall. A lot of families live in apartments. There’s not enough room in Taiwan for people to have houses and yards like we have in Texas!

I work for a company that helps computers work together. I write long papers telling customers how to use the products the company makes. I work with two other women the same age as me: Polly and Yvonne. They can speak Chinese and English, and we have a lot of fun together.

Yvonne on the left, Polly on the right. Polly has a lot of hair in her ponytail.

After I finish working with Polly and Yvonne, I go to my second job. I teach kids just like you! Every school day I go to a family’s house and teach English to nine kids from five different families. The youngest is 6 years old. The oldest is 10 years old. They go to school until 6:00pm every day so they can learn all their regular lessons and learn English. All of my students speak Chinese, but they are very good at English, too.

Most students wear uniforms to school just like you. Since I’m not Taiwanese (a person from Taiwan, like a Texan is a person from Texas), buying new clothes is hard. I am little taller than a lot of people here, and my bones are shaped a little differently than theirs are. That makes it hard for me to find clothes that fit.

Some foreigners (people who aren’t from Taiwan) have trouble finding new clothes because they gain weight from eating all the good food here. When I eat lunch or dinner, I usually have rice and noodles with meat and vegetables. The food is very good! We eat eggs and pork and chicken, but it’s hard to find beef here. It’s also hard to find a place that will make sandwiches. Most stores don’t sell sliced sandwich meat. I like to eat lunch at Subway so I can have a sandwich just like in the United States.

Driving in Taiwan is very different from Texas. Many people drive scooters instead of cars. Scooters are like motorcycles, but they’re smaller and can’t go as fast. Adults have to drive very carefully because so many people are on the road at the same time. The scooters are allowed to drive between cars, and sometimes they drive on sidewalks, too!

Taiwan is a nice country, and the people who live here are nice, too. It’s not like Texas, so make sure you ask my students lots of questions!

Your friend,
Mandy

My day: Thursday

6:45am: First alarm goes off.

I barely remember taking this picture.

8:00am: Get out of bed late.

My face is a little fluffy in the morning.

Shuffle to the bathroom.

The shower is great, save for the moments of boiling water followed by the ice water.

Shower, brush teeth, do bathroomy things.

20-25 minutes later: Return to room.

My room, which Cameron claims looks like a crazy person's room. I like it. And the A/C unit makes it heavenly.

Check phone for texts,

I Love the 90's! This thing cost me $30, give or take.

get dressed, put on makeup, dry hair. Pluck eyebrows.

Face has returned to normal proportions.

Realize I’m running late.

8:47am: Head downstairs,

Three Taiwanese women, Cameron the Canadian, and I the American live here. It's big, so it's comfortable.

put in earbuds, put on mask, put on helmet, walk out to the front porch,

My scooter, which Cameron is borrowing until he buys one. I know what you're thinking - from an Xterra to this. It's a dream come true! It tops out at 80kph.

open car gate, climb on scooter,

The scooter Chocolate and I share. It's a bit smaller and girlier than mine.

back out, close car gate.

Our front porch and door. I live on the second floor in the back. The house is four stories with a great balcony on the fourth floor.

Leave.

Our house is immediately to the left, out of frame. At the end of this private little gated street is a big temple.

8:49am: Realize I’m still wearing my house shoes.

And to think I used to wear Crocs in public frequently.

8:57am: Check the pollution levels by scoping out how much of the mountains I can see at the long light at HsinAn Road and Highway 1.

8:58am: Pull into underground parking garage.

Cars on the right, scooters and motorcycles on the left. Pedestrians out of my way.

I hope there's good ventilation in here.

Walk to elevators. Go to the sixth floor.

9:02am: Clock in. Greet Vicky at the front desk, then Yvonne and Polly at our cubicles.

That large red spot on my forehead is from my scooter helmet. This will be a theme that runs throughout the day.

9:04am: Eat “danbean” for breakfast, an egg and bacon concoction. Drink milk tea. Fill water bottle.

A fairly nutritionally sound and fully delicious breakfast. Thanks to Polly, whose parents own the restaurant.

before 10am: Order lunch for DinBenDon!, the lunch delivery service.

All the menu items are in Chinese...

...Google Translate to the rescue. Korea Caichao surface sounds wonderful, but I order the beef fried rice.

until 12:00pm: Show the English language who’s boss. Repeatedly fight with Microsoft Word 2003 and Photoshop 6.0. Try to Google how to solve a problem, but get mocked by a screen that says that company policy forbids social networking sites at work.

Where the magic happens.

12:01pm: Pick up lunch in cafeteria. Realize I accidentally ordered noodles instead of rice.

Tastes good, especially the beef, but they give you enough noodles for four people. I never finish.

Kill Bill: Ladies who lunch edition

12:40pm: Take leftovers and trash to cafeteria.

Compost on the left, trash in the middle, recycling on the right.

12:41-1:00pm: Nap.

Naptime is serious business. They even turn some of the lights off.

1:01pm: Wake up with giant red spot on forehead.

Well, that's unfortunate.

Resume battles with English, Word and Photoshop. Get in a major disagreement with PowerPoint 2003.

2:10pm: Walk to the bank on the first floor and use the ATM to pay my registration fee (approximately $10) for a 10K I’m attempting next month. Then walk across the street to 7-Eleven to get a non-water drink.

There's a 7-Eleven tucked into that building. I go to it almost daily.

2:20pm: Return to the office.

Our office is on the sixth floor on the left side of the picture. On clear days we can see the mountains from our conference rooms.

Drink more milk tea. Drink more water.

I'm really kind of addicted to this stuff.

Get Yvonne and Polly’s feedback on my brochure.

Polly, Yvonne and me. We act like adolescents.

4:02pm: Clock out. Return to scooter parking garage.

The stairs to B1 where I've parked. B2 is for cars.

Put in earbuds, put on mask,

This keeps me sane while I scoot.

put on helmet. Zoom.

4:15pm: Go through school zone. No zone, really, because not one vehicle slows down. Stupid amounts of traffic, pedestrians and bicycle riders.

In the daytime, visor is down.

4:17pm: Check the time at an intersection clock. I’m on time.

Public clocks display the temperature and time, while a countdown timer lets you know how long until the light turns green. People start driving at 03.

4:25pm: Park in alley at a home that’s been converted to a private tutoring school.

I tutor on the second floor of the gray house.

The helmet strikes again.

4:27pm: Go inside. Put on red Mickey Mouse house shoes.

I have my own cubby for my house shoes. It's labeled Teacher Amanda.

Walk up one floor. Greet kids, corral today’s first class: Jessica, Ryan and Ting Ting.

4:29pm: Call to Ting Ting to hurry up.

4:30pm: Start class.

4:31pm: Tell Ryan to sit still.

4:40pm: Tell Ryan to put his chair back at the table and sit still.

4:44pm: Tell Ryan to put all four chair legs on the floor and sit still.

4:49pm: Threaten to tie Ryan to his chair with the stereo’s power cord if he doesn’t sit still.

4:56pm: Tell Ryan to get off the table. He knows he’s irritating me. Ting Ting and Jessica laugh. Ryan giggles nervously.

5:06pm: Laugh with the kids when Ryan trips and falls while jumping around.

Ryan is your typical 7-year-old boy, but he's a cool kid. We were all laughing about his fall.

5:07pm: Continue laughing. Ting Ting shares gummy candy. Goof off.

Ryan, me, Ting Ting, Jessica. They do learn. Sometimes.

5:15pm: First class over. Head to another classroom for second class.

5:20-6:05pm: Tutor Shayna and Ilitta.

I look crazed because I was trying to make them laugh. They kept making Chandler Bing faces when I took their pictures.

Try to teach them about the phases of the moon. Give up when they start dancing. Make them sit down and do book work.

6:06pm: Chat with Sunny. Laugh about the crazy kids.

6:10pm: Head back to the house. Make it through three green lights, then get stuck at busy intersection by the train station.

ZhongHua Road at the Hsinchu Train Station (on the left). Also known as a traffic beehive, because all the commotion makes very little sense, but it somehow works. And the scooters sound like really angry bees.

Visor up at night so I can see everything 100% clearly. Until something flies into my eyes, and then I'm screwed.

6:14pm: Take tiny underground scooter/bicycle tunnel to a back alley. Four-block shortcut cuts out 10 minutes of scooting time. Key to tiny tunnel: hold your breath and duck. There are 8 open sewer grates lining the ground, and it smells just how you’re imagining.

You mess up in this tunnel, you die. You probably kill several others in the process. It's thirty feet of doom, but it's over in five seconds. Fair trade.

6:20pm: Pull up to the house.

We're in the foothills, so the view at night is pretty, as you can clearly see in this picture.

6:22pm: Greet sweet-but-insane tiny dog who doesn’t stop moving. Ever.

I couldn't even get a good picture of her. Every time I moved, she scrambled around.

Forget letters, it's a Scarlet Blob. It's signifies someone who didn't buy the right size helmet.

6:30-bedtime: Catch up on emails. Check Facebook. Watch show online. Push tiny dog off my laptop. Push her off again. Push her off again. Push her off the bed. Change to go for a jog. Eat dumplings with roommate. Somehow lose track of time and go to bed at 2am. Never go for the jog.

(I jogged tonight.)