running

Taiwan photos: the most important one.

March 28, 2012. It’s the middle of the week, Wednesday, and I’m going for a jog. I pull on my clothes, lace up my shoes, put my iPhone in my armband and my earbuds in my ears. As I stretch, I decide I want to go a full 5k, so I need to exit our winding little neighborhood and hit the main road, ZhuGuang. If I jog straight down to the hospital and back, I’ll hit roughly three miles. There are plenty of side roads, too, if I get bored going down the wide boulevard.

I normally don’t get too bored, though. Jogging down the boulevard gives me plenty of things to see and watch as I go, even in Hsinchu, even at night. The side lanes, sheltered from the main traffic by narrow plots of grass, will keep me safe from crazy drivers.

Earbuds in, I open our big front door and step into the night. Taiwan’s pollution isn’t great for a person’s health, but neither is obesity. Off I go.

I slowly jog to the end of the lane, wait at the light, then cross YanPing Lu to the mouth of ZhuGuang. Tonight I’ll go along the left side, the side where you can see the rice paddy stretching out a few blocks west.

A quarter of a mile into my jog and I pass the junkyard by the rice paddy. A few people are standing outside talking, and they smile and stare as the foreigner jogs past.

As I cross their path, a small black puppy bounds past them and toward me. It couldn’t be more than a couple of months old. I try to ignore it to encourage it to return to the people, but it follows me. I stop, turn around, and pantomime to the people that their puppy is following me. They look confused. It’s not theirs.

Oh, no, I think.

I continue my jog, praying the puppy stops following me and returns to her family. Every time I turn around, she’s gleefully behind me, looking at me, wanting attention. Panicking, I turn around, hoping that going past the junkyard again will make her go back to her dog family. I speed up. I try to lose her.

I can’t adopt her. My mind is racing, and my heart is breaking.

If she gets hit by a car following me, what will I do? What if she gets lost and can’t find her way? What if, what if, what if?

Back on our street, I briefly turn and don’t see her. I’m relieved.

A bit further down, I instinctively turn around again to check for traffic. There she is, happily trotting behind me.

My heart is in my stomach. I reach the house and sit on my parked scooter outside our walled-in front entry. She sits behind me on the concrete. By this time I’m crying, begging her to leave. I can’t take her. All I want to do is sit cross-legged on the dirty ground and love on her, but I can’t.

I can’t won’t stop screaming through my head. It’s debilitating, and I’m frozen, unable to decide what to do.

Finally, ten minutes later, I stand up, open the gate, let myself in, and lock her out. She immediately starts crying. I escape inside the house, lean against the door, and cry, too.

Up the three flights of stairs to my room, and I can still hear her. I’m freaking out, and reconsidering my actions. Maybe I can take her. Can I? Can I?

She stops crying, and I climb the stairs to the roof. Silently, I creep to the edge and look down to find her. The neighbor is petting her.

Okay, I think. She’s safe. She’s okay. I’m reassuring myself, albeit poorly.

The next morning, I can’t stop thinking about the puppy. After work I walk the neighborhood, trying to find her. I want to make sure she’s okay. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I find her, but the longer I look without any sign of her, the more heartbroken I am.

She’s nowhere to be found. Where did she go? Is she okay?

Then, some days later, I’m on the roof again, reflecting. Across the street, in our neighbor’s tiny front porch, I see something. The puppy.

I call down to her, and she sits, just as she did behind my scooter. She sits, staring up at me, her tail wagging furiously. She’s happy to see me.

That was over two years ago.

Before I left Taiwan in August 2012, I frequently looked down at the puppy, now taking up residence on my neighbor’s patio. I desperately wanted to go over and love on her, but I never did. As far as I could tell, she spent all her time on that patio. She didn’t go inside, or for walks. She was just… there.

In April 2014, I went back to Taiwan to visit. We stayed in my old room in my old house. I went to the roof, looked down, and there she was. She was bigger. She noticed me and held my gaze. I felt like she recognized me, but was no longer happy to see me.

I’ve been in animal rescue since early 2011. We like to say that an animal will choose you, that you know when you meet the right dog. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a special connection between human and animal when an animal immediately, explicitly trusts you. Loves you. Chooses you.

The puppy chose me.

I abandoned her.

Before we left Taiwan this past April, I went to the roof with my camera and took a picture of her. As she lay there, I composed the shot. My heart was numb.

She lifted her head to look at me. I held my breath. She put her head back down, bored. I no longer mattered to her.

This is the picture of the puppy, now between two and three years old. This is likely the last time I’ll ever see her, as my former roommates moved out of the house this past June.

I have a hard time looking at this picture. It breaks my heart. I regret that night, and I wish it had never happened.

I keep it to remind me not to let it happen again. If another dog ever chooses me, I can’t say no.

the baby

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.

And then I quit.

There were eight of us: six well-trained, competitive, game-face-wearing future triathletes; the boyfriend of one of the triathletes; and me.

We rode the train from Hsinchu, up to Taipei, around to Yilan, then south along the east coast to Hualien. One way was just over four hours.

I didn’t train. I didn’t monitor my nutrition or buy essential gear or mentally prepare for the sports and the transitions. I knew I wouldn’t drown, I could keep from falling off a bike, and I can walk with some stability. Who needs to train for an Olympic triathlon?

Hannah and Catherine waiting on the platform. 8 people, 5 bikes, overnight gear: we had a lot of stuff.

We boarded the train at around 6:20pm. It got dark pretty quickly.

All the bikes go into car 12. Since only three of us had seats on the way there, the rest of us rode in the bike car. (Sarah, Hannah, Amber, Catherine)

The good thing about Taiwan is they don’t really enforce the rules.

Sarah attempting to sleep while surrounded by bikes.

The farther we went around Taiwan, especially when we went through Taipei, the more bikes that were stuffed into the car. Here’s Christy reading in one of the open spots.

Catherine and Hannah were cold.

It wasn’t until three hours before the start of the tri that I got a bike. I rented it from a surprised Giant employee; as he spoke with Catherine, I’m sure he asked more than once, “Really? She showed up to a triathlon without a bike?” I didn’t ride it before the start of the race. I grabbed a poop-colored helmet from the rental grab bag, wheeled the bike to my transition area, and decided to do more than just the swim and the run. I was going to do all three and finish! Woo!

The view from our hostel’s balcony. Hualien is definitely one of the prettiest places in Taiwan.

The amount of water consumed while we were in Hualien could fill a swimming pool.

I proceeded to set up my transition area for maximum speed and efficiency.

Actually, no I didn’t. I plunked my blue bag with all my stuff on the ground, shrugged, and figured I’d be fine.

How many taxis does it take to transport eight people and five bikes?

Three. And then the taxis drive like rollercoaster cars and have all the riders fearing for their lives.

All of us blue-swim-capped triathbeasts were led to the water. 1.5km swim? I knew I could do it. 47:55 minutes later I crawled out of the lake, scowling as I was pushed, shoved, and grabbed. It had been a brutally aggressive swim. One guy, when passing me, kicked me so hard in the chest I wanted to grab his leg and drown him. I couldn’t because I had to locate my missing body part that he’d kicked off.

We arrived alive!

As we looked around, we all realized the tri was going to have great scenery.

Now it’s real. Game faces.

The weather was perfect. The location was gorgeous. The people were great (aside from the swim). The Mandy was completely unprepared.

Fine. Whatever. The swim was done. I headed to transition, looked in my bag… and forgot what I needed. Once I wrapped my head around the transition, I put the helmet on and realized it didn’t fit properly. Too late. With the helmet threatening to slide off my head, I walked to the bike start line.

It wasn’t difficult for them to find our race packets. Out of over 2,000 participants, there were perhaps a dozen foreigners.

As we stood in a cluster at the registration desk, these girls took a bunch of pictures of us. I returned the favor. They were sweethearts.

At triathlons, you get race numbers for your arms, your shirt, your helmet and your bike. You also get a swim cap and a timing chip.

The finish line. We never became acquainted.

That, friends, was the beginning of my three-hour, two-wheeled, sore-butted, cramping-thigh-muscled, bruised-ego adventure. I was in misery for 45 kilometers. How many times did I ride a bike before this race? Once. On a flat course. Even the volunteers holding the SLOW DOWN signs at the sharp turns of the course would yell, “JIA YO! JIA YO!” Hurry up. Faster. Thanks, guys.

We all had interesting names.

JP, the fantastical photographer and Number One fan of Denise, and Denise, soon to be a rockstar triathlete.

I know it was three hours because I watched the minutes tick upward on my stopwatch. Children in elementary school when I started were graduating college when I limped back into the transition area. I shamefully walked the bike up the final hills. I was so frustrated I fought back tears and considered signaling frequently-passing scooter cops and race volunteers to pick me up. On the second loop, a group of twenty-something Taiwanese cheering on the competitors noticed my exhaustion, surrounded me when I shook my head at “Jia yo!”, and took pictures with me. I obliged because it meant I could stand still.

Numbers are on! I have a bike! I’m totally going to finish!

These numbers are now outlined in a sunburn on my arm. It’s like a semipermanent reminder of my ego being demolished.

I wanted to at least try the run. But as my watch ticked closer and closer to the three-hour mark, my body went to my mental flagpole and raised a dirty, ripped, lake-water-rank white flag. After the final leg of the bike ride, emotionally and physically beaten, I walked my bike back into the transition area, flipped the kickstand down, fought back tears,

and then I quit.

This is before the race. I refused to be in pictures after.

Amber came up to me, her medal hanging triumphantly and heavily from her neck. “You finished?” she asked, a smile growing on her face. “No. I quit. I can’t,” I responded, and my body finally gave up and I cried. I turned away as she and Catherine talked and took happy pictures in front of the finish line. They let me be disappointed for a few moments and gave me space, which I was thankful for.

My friends, the triumphant triathletes, were encouraging. They chided me for being so hard on myself. But as each woman finished and were awarded a medal, as they glowed and laughed and exulted in their accomplishment, they recalled their training and what they were looking forward to eating now that they had finished. And I felt like a world-class jerk*.

(*substitute a rated R word here)

I didn’t do that. I didn’t sacrifice time and energy and devote myself to this tri. I didn’t push through the obstacles and make it a priority. In my defense, for the entire month of May, I couldn’t, really. But how unfair would it have been for these women, for all these athletes, to train so hard, and for my lazy butt to have the same success and not train at all?

I hate quitting, but I quit. It was the right decision, even though it hurt my ego. My ego deserved it, though, for thinking it was going to be a cakewalk and all these people who trained for months were great, but I was going to do it, too, with no training.

First place went to someone who finished in around three hours. I finished just the bike in around three hours. Take that, Mr Elite Athlete.

The train ride back to Hsinchu. I sat on the floor next to the doors.

I took this out the small window as the train was chugging north along the east coast.

There’s no mistaking the east coast and the west coast of Taiwan. The east looks like Jurassic Park. The west looks like the apocalypse came early.

This gave us permission to sit right next to the door… right?

For a long while Christy and I sat and talked. After Taipei Main Station, the train was packed for about twenty minutes. There was so little space that I had trouble checking the time on my watch.

If you could fit, you could sit. Even if you’re between the last row of seats and the wall.

This was not meant to be my race. As I sat with my friends on the train back to Hsinchu, eyeing each enviously and kicking myself, I vowed to do it again. Next time, I’m going to do an Olympic tri, and it’s going to whimper and call for its mommy.

No prisoners.

Until that day, congratulations to all my friends who beat this tri with grace and style. You’re all inspirational. Trust me on that one.

Running in Hsinchu

Yesterday my ankles ached and my left hip felt like it belonged to an octogenarian. My knees felt a bit wobbly and my entire body had a tiredness that doesn’t come from sleep deprivation. I knew the physical consequences of running 10 kilometers Tuesday night, but I needed to do it. It was a matter of determination; I’d never run 6.2 miles before, so I did.

I'll never be able to wear this shirt in public save for on runs. It's see-through and oddly cut, but I love it.

Prior to August 2009, if someone had told me I’d venture out willingly and jog 10K in one go, I would’ve mocked them. “Oh, and once I finish that, would you like me to build a rocketship?” It sounded preposterous and impossible for my unathletic (Google says it’s a real word), pear-shaped body. I had muscular strength, sure, but no cardiovascular strength.

And I had absolutely no mental strength. Every time I said I couldn’t do something, I believed it.

The markers are miles, not kilometers. The far left point where I start jogging is a 5-10 minute walk from my house. The top right marker is a 5 minute walk from my office.

My Tuesday night jog began at the base of a 1.4-mile gentle hill that would alternately rise and then flatten. Then I turned right onto a quarter-mile-long, steady, more vertical hill. Once I reached the apex, I thought the hard part was over, so, feeling good, I picked my pace up a bit and congratulated myself.

Talk about a premature congratulation. My new pace and euphoric feelings were because I was going downhill. When one goes up a hill, one then must then go down that hill, and if you turn around and run back in the direction from which you came, chances are high that you’re going to be going up that same hill again. Elementary Law of Duh.

I jogged up a mile-long hill. One full mile with an elevation change of approximately I Want To Quit.

My Fish Camp 2004 cap, which used to be white. Yup, I've washed it, several times. Yup, I've bleached it.

My legs were leaden and my feet felt like they were sticking to the ground as I tried to lift them for the next step, and I was only halfway through my jog. I tried to keep a spring in my step, but by that point my legs and feet felt like I was wearing cement shoes. When I realized how stiff my back and neck were, I doubled over as I jogged, then leaned back a bit, then shot my arms out like I was doing Tae-Bo. I probably looked like one of those punching nun puppets.

96 minutes, 35 songs, several curse words and a few blisters later, I finished my first 10K. I teared up and chugged air.

A raw patch under my underarm where the seam of my sportsbra rubbed me raw. My skin is angry.

Jogging in Taiwan has its challenges. Traffic is tricky, even when you have lights and pedestrian crossings and sidewalks, namely because most people here drive blindfolded. Traffic lights tend to be more of a “please” than a rule.

It all works, somehow, up until you’re 7 kilometers into your workout and all you want to do is stop, and if you break your pace you’re going to stop, but that light just turned red and now cross traffic is ruining your original path, and you have to run around and in between cars and scooters to get to the other side, and that scooter is about to cut you off, and now you have to avoid another pedestrian.

My main concern, though, is with the pollution. Denise and I have returned from a run and found our sweat mixed with exhaust and dirt. If we were to wipe off our arms, legs and faces after a jog, a white towel would turn gray. Is it really cardiovascular fitness when you’re ruining your lungs in the process?

Yay for jogging in the rain! Even if it's acid rain. My shirt is wet, if you couldn't tell.

You deal with the smell (and taste, when you’re a mouth-breather like me) of exhaust and sewers. You deal with cockroaches scurrying between and beneath your feet.

Me: “What’s worse: being attacked by a cockroach or by a car?”
Denise: “Cockroach. Definitely cockroach.”

You deal with cars and scooters parked on the sidewalks. You deal with scooters driving on the sidewalks and expecting you to get out of the way. You deal with stepping in dog poop in the middle of the sidewalk. You deal with stares and stiff wind and acid rain and bugs flying into your mouth.

You deal with it all because it’s not a big deal.

And you deal with it so your butt can look like this!

Cameron asked me one night why I worked out. I said something very philosophical about constantly improving myself. I believe it was, “Because I feel better.”

When I run, I escape undefinable worries, pain, responsibilities, conversations, my phone, the internet, and loneliness. I know exactly what hurts and why it’s hurting. What? My hips, ankles and knees. Why? Because I’ve been going up Mount Killajogger for the past five minutes. It’s clear-cut and simple. When I lift weights, I hurt because there are 10 pounds of iron doing the Cha Cha with gravity while I try to thrust the dumbbell into the air one-handed. Of course it hurts.

It hurt, but I did it. And now I'm laying on my bedroom floor to cool off and stretch my limbs.

October 29, Denise and I will be running a 10K in Nanliao, a beachside community within ten minutes of scooting from Hsinchu. I blame my CrossFit coaches, Zachary Thiel and Stacey Lashley, and my running buddy Denise for where I am physically. It’s a long way from August 2009.