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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.

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.

Life lessons from kids

Telling the truth is a beautiful thing.
Kids are great about telling you what you don’t want to hear. They’re going to tell you if you’ve got something between your teeth, if your hair looks awful (“Teacher, why does your hair look like that?”), if you look fat, if you have a giant zit, if you smell funny (“Ew, Teacher! Stinky!”). I’ve been told every one of those things.

Political correctness doesn’t really exist with kids. It’s refreshing… sometimes.

I asked one of my students to draw a picture of me on the board.

Chances are, you’re talking louder than you think.
Either shut up or say something worthwhile, because no matter how secretive you think you’re being, someone’s listening, and you’re probably going to get in trouble for it. The grapevine’s more like a noose.

My favorite is when the kids start whispering in Chinese while staring at me. I’ll turn to another student and ask what the two whispering kids said. Students, at least mine, love to rat each other out, and I exploit that every chance I get.

Lying is an art form, and most people suck at it.
I get lied to about where workbooks are, why their homework isn’t done, who stole the markerboard eraser. Once again, the other kids will pipe up and tattle, but it’s generally unnecessary. If they don’t, I push that kid’s lie until he or she breaks.

No one stole the eraser? Fine. I’m looking in every single person’s desk and bag. Ding ding ding! Shayna gets extra homework, not for stealing the eraser, but for lying about it.

“Did you wash your hands with soap after the bathroom? With soap? Let me smell your hands.” Ding ding ding! “Go use soap!” To embarrass them, I start whining about not wanting their “peepee or poopoo” all over me, then I pretend to rub my hand over my jeaned butt, then rub their hair. That immediately grosses every single kid out, and my point is made.

Overconfident people are fun to knock off their high horse.
Putting an overconfident person in their place is a David and Goliath feat, one that requires skill, offensive maneuvering, and excellent debate skills. Taking those qualifications into account, the only Goliaths I can take on are children.

Being confident is good. Being smug is bad.

This kid, who I actually liked a lot, was a major troublemaker. He always tried to one-up me in class. Finally, one day, I'd had enough and ordered him out of the room. He refused to leave, so I picked him up and carried him out. I win.

No self-confidence is really annoying.
I teach super smart children. When I see the potential and the knowledge and the capability right there in front of me, hearing, “I can’t,” is enough to make me angry. I seethe. Most of the time the kids are just scared of being wrong or of trying and failing.

I understand. I do. But it’s true – you only fail if you quit. And you quit before you start if you say, “I can’t.”

Hugs make everything better.
Most of my students are in the “too cool to hug” stage, which is cute; it gives me the chance to punish them by giving them big bear hugs and cooing loudly, “I looooove you!” They fight me and are thoroughly embarrassed, and it’s my preferred form of punishment.

One day, when talking about Christmas, Jack (one of my older boys) spelled “merry” with an A. I freaked out, clasped my hands to my chest, and yelled, “You want to MARRY me? Oh, Jack, I love you, too!” Then I rushed forward to hug him.

Look at me, I'm too cool to hug Teacher or laugh at her.

My youngest student, Jessica, is still a hugger. She’ll come racing up to me, throw her arms around me, and hold on tight. With that, she’s confirmed my status as a trusted member of her little world, and I feel special.

Hugs, when done right, make you feel important. When you feel important, the world is a better place. Jack isn’t going to believe the power of hugs for a few more years, but he’ll get there.

Taiwan basics: Money

When I decided to move to Taiwan, I spammed Gretchen, my future Hsinchu roommate, with questions. She graciously answered all 50 of my long, in-depth, blabbermouth, doesn’t-know-how-to-be-succint, worried emails. I may not be much of a talker sometimes, but I’ll write your face off.

Quite a few people have contacted me, now that I’ve been here more than a few hours, about my move abroad, and they have the same questions I did. The biggest concern? Finances.

So I’ve decided to make a terrifically boring, long, couldn’t-be-succint-if-I-tried post about money.

This post is going to be like an adult movie – you’re going to see everything. Real numbers, real finances. And you’re going to get bored halfway through, fast forward to see if there are any good parts, then quit paying attention.

That’s an important place, probably in Taipei.

Taiwan New Dollar vs. US Dollar

Taiwan New Dollar, aka New Taiwan Dollar, NTD, NT, NT$, or 元

Taiwan is a cash-based society and utilizes full-dollar amounts – no cents or decimal places. It has four coins that dwarf coins in the US: 1nt, 5nt, 10nt, 50nt. There are 100nt, 500nt and 1,000nt bills that look like Easter threw up.

I guess you can’t really have primary-colored money. Not even Monopoly does that.

As of 2:30pm on 8 December 2011:
1nt        =   $0.033          $1     =   30.15nt
10nt      =   $0.33            $10   =   301.53nt
100nt    =   $3.30            $100 =   3,015.35nt
1,000nt =   $33.15

The 50nt coin. Imagine carrying 11 of these in your wallet, which I’ve done. It’s like lifting weights when you try to get your wallet out of your purse.

Financial Health

September 2010

Bank of America checking balance: $5,561.25 (thank you, cashed-in retirement funds)
Bank of America savings balance: $210.11

Student loan balance: $17,598.79
Citi credit card balance: $2,877.30
Second Citi credit card balance: $0
Bank of America credit card balance: $9,705.60
Wachovia car payment balance: $6,476.22

Total credit card debt: $12,582.90

December 2011

Bank of America checking balance: $221.75
Bank of America savings balance: $4.82

Balances pre-December payments
Student loan: $15,651,21
Citi credit card: $3,123.61 (month-long trip home in July, all on this card)
Second Citi credit card: closed
Bank of America credit card: $6,837.54
Wachovia car payment: sold

Total credit card debt: $9,961.15

That picture’s from 2005. The bank guy tricked me into taking my ID picture at 8:30am after a long week. It expires soon, thankfully. Below, my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC). It’s twice as thick as my Texas license.

But Mandy, if your finances in Taiwan are so great, why do your checking and savings account balances look so sad? I bought: 2 scooters (the first died a very ungraceful death), a heavy-duty winter coat, a visa to China, a flight to China, a week-long vacation in China, a month-long vacation in California/Texas/Vancouver, two trips to Hong Kong. And TUAPA owns my heart. Chew on that, Judgmental Judy.

My money and I play hide and seek every month. I think it cheats, though, because when I call olly-olly-oxen-free at the end of the month, it stays gone.

Finances:

Austin:
Income: $2,197.82 (my annual salary was $37,500)
Rent: $650 (29.57% of income)
Car payment: $306.50 (13.94%)
Bills and other debits: HELLO, DEBT

Hsinchu:
teaching and tutoring:
Jan 2011: 60,112nt  ($1,992.87)
Feb 2011: 31,000nt  ($1,027.73) (due to Chinese New Year. No work = no pay)
Mar 2011: 28,312nt  ($938.62) (thanks again, CNY)
Apr 2011: 46,912nt   ($1,555.26) (lost one tutoring job, teaching hours reduced)
May 2011: 36,912nt  ($1,223.73) (looking for full-time job)

working 9-4 at telecom company, 4:30-6 tutoring:
Dec 2011 total income: 69,742nt  ($2,312.13)

Taxes were taken out of my teaching income, which significantly reduced my pay. No taxes are taken out of my current paycheck; I’ll have to file and pay next year, likely around 8,000nt ($265.22).

Rent: Sept 2010 – Aug 2011: 8,000nt  ($265.22)
Sept 2011 – Nov 2011: 3,500nt  ($116.03)
Dec 2011: 5,000nt  ($165.76)

Current rent is 7.17% of my income.

WHO IS THAT GORGEOUS MODEL ON YOUR ARC?!? This is my worst ID picture ever.

Wire Transfers and Paying Bills

I list my mom as a co-conspirator on my Bank of America accounts, and she has a debit card to access my checking account. She has full access to my account, and all my Bank of America (checking, savings, and one credit card) and Citi (now just one credit card) statements go to my parents’ house.

I generally send money home on the 6th of every month. The 5th is payday, unless life is rotten and the 5th falls on a Sunday, and then the 6th is payday. The next day I take a wad of cash to E. Sun Bank, which Gretchen found. E. Sun Bank charges a flat rate of 300nt ($9.94) for wire transfers. To compare, I have an account with Taiwan Cooperative Bank and they wanted to charge me 800nt ($26.52). Way to fail, TCB.

That’s right, my debit card has three baseballs and fancy reflective decorations on it. I’m a winner, obviously.

Tangent: Non-teaching companies here have direct deposit only, not paychecks, and each company contracts with a bank or two for its employees. If I switched jobs here and the new company contracted with a different bank, I’d have to switch banks. Teaching jobs pay cash. You’ll never handle a Taiwanese check as a foreigner.

There are machines at the bank that print your register. You don’t have to do the math or remember how much that deposit was. It’s glorious. Note that the dates are listed with year 100 – Taiwan uses the worldwide date of 2011, but internally uses its own country date of 100.

I walk into E. Sun Bank with a wad of cash. I take in my ARC (residency card) and fill out a form with wire transfer information from BoA, which I get when I log into my account online.

The first time I wired money home, I’d hoarded over 96,000nt over the course of three months, so if anything was filled out incorrectly and I didn’t get the money, I’d be minus $3,000 and plus one heart attack. It was nervewracking.

After filling out the form the first time, though, I just take my copy back with me every time so we can copy the information and check the appropriate boxes. When Peggy, my favorite teller, helps me, I don’t even have to fill out a new form – I slide her the form/ARC/money, she works her bank magic, then has me sign a new form confirming the transfer. Easy.

The bottom red stamp is Peggy’s chop – her Chinese name carved into a small block of wood, which she uses to stamp official documents. I have a chop for my Chinese name and one for my English name, but I rarely use them.

The money I sent 7 December (yesterday) at 12:30pm showed up online when I checked my Bank of America account 7 December (yesterday) at 10:30pm. I paid my two credit card bills and my student loan bills online and voila – done.

Transfer details:

Amount wired: 32,000nt  ($1,040.90)
E. Sun Bank fees: 300nt  ($9.94)
Bank of America incoming wire fees: none, but I have a $12 monthly maintenance fee

My smallest wire to-date is $360.27. That was a rough month.

So there you have it.

That should cover more than you ever wanted to know. If I missed something, don’t be shy – just ask. I’m more financially stable here than I ever have been, and much of that is because I ONLY use cash. If payday is next Tuesday and I only have 500nt in my wallet, then I’d better only spend 500nt. There is no alternative. It’s a good life lesson.

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

Company trip to Pingshi

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pingshi is a small, touristy mountain town nestled in the mountains just south of Taipei. It’s known for the lantern festival, when thousands of visitors go and write their wishes and dreams for the coming year on a giant paper lantern, light a fire at its base, then let it float off into the night.

If you’ve seen Tangled, you know what I’m talking about.

I got to go to Pingshi with my coworkers on a company-sponsored daycation. That means I only paid for my souvenirs, which means I spent a grand total of approximately $10. The souvenirs alone were totally worth it, but add in the pictures, fun day with friends, and a great experience, and I would’ve totally coughed up the $40 it would’ve cost to go.

Taiwan is cheap.

The interior of our bus was swanky. Wide-screen TVs, Vegas-worthy aisle lighting, cup holders, footrests, curtained windows.

We headed out at 7:15am. For breakfast we were served McDonald’s muffins and black tea. Once we were at our first destination, we wandered around, took pictures, and I got in some souvenir shopping.

You could buy a short stick of bamboo and write your wishes on it. There were thousands of "wishboos" hanging around the train station in Pingshi.

Of course I bought one. Polly helped me write my prayer/wish in Chinese. The shopkeeper asked if I wanted to hang it with the others, and I chortled. "No, I want it!"

While waiting for the train to take us to our next destination, we wandered around the area taking pictures. There were several signs warning people to stay off the train tracks, but they were just so inviting.

Yvonne took this picture of me. The only reason I was able to pose was because her boyfriend, Larry, was carrying my bags and jacket. He'd known me for two hours at that point. He's a saint.

Not long after the above picture was taken, we all scampered off the tracks to make way for an incoming train. Safety first!

At 11am, we boarded the train for our next destination further in the mountains.

Polly and I sat next to this kiddo on the train. He was silent the entire trip.

Two stops later we arrived. I followed the group, which listened to the tour guide explaining the history and different aspects of the town. Since it was all in Chinese, I explored on my own.

The day was Goldilocks-perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, not too sunny, not too smoggy, not too crowded.

This was basically it; a lane of businesses separated by train tracks.

We wore name badges to show we were with a specific tour company. As one of five foreigners I saw that day, I'm pretty sure I could've gotten away with not wearing the nametag.

Then, at 1pm, it was time for us to eat lunch. It was a typical meal in a typical setting: many, many courses of seafood and Taiwanese “delicacies” served on a large lazy susan in the middle of a round table. It was a good meal, and I tried sardines for the first time; they were whole and fried, and it weirded me out a bit to eat something’s head. I apologized to both of them before I ate them.

Amidst the chaos is a busy, popular restaurant. We ate on the second floor - this is the first.

Once we finished we were led back to the buses, where we loaded up and set off for the Taiwan Coal Museum. Again, there was a tour, but I just wandered around. So did most of our group, to be honest.

We were led through a series of tunnels to show what mining was like for the miners. It was really hard being tall.

Yvonne and I stood lens-to-lens and took a picture. This is her lens.

This is my lens. We're nerds.

As the tour went into the museum portion, Yvonne, Larry and I separated from the group and went into the back door of the museum to look around. Then we walked to a separate building where the bathrooms and bathing rooms were located.

Can you find me?

The fact that Larry posed for not one, but two shots, and changed his expression in each shot, is a testament to his total awesomeness. This is probably one of my favorite pictures ever.

The end of the tour called for a short, somewhat anticlimactic ride in a coal car like the miners did. I was hoping for some kind of rollercoaster, Indiana Jones-inspired runaway-mining-cart adventure, but we topped out at 5kph. Maybe. It could’ve been slower.

I know, it looks fast, right? So fast you can almost make out individual blades of grass.

The exhilarating ride wore us all out; at least, it made our bodies sore from the bumpy tracks. Comfortable it was not. Luckily, the next step was to make our own lanterns and set them off at sunset.

I wrote my prayers/wishes, as did the others in my group, and releasing the lantern into the sunset was actually a bit of an emotional moment for me. It was a beautiful, peaceful sight.

Where's the genie? I've got my wishes ready.

One of the engineers took this shot of all of us waiting to release our lanterns.

Setting it free.

I took video of the lanterns, but luckily others took stills of them silently drifting away.

The lanterns drifted to the horizon. We all clapped, took a group picture, then headed back to Hsinchu. It was a wonderful day.