Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ashes and dust

I believe the old man next door has died.

I never met him – I have only ever been an observer of his family's life, and even then only the parts that can be seen from my window – but still, the fractious relationship he had with his land revealed a bit of him to me, and I feel like a knew him a little. He was stubborn, but kind, too. I have a vivid memory from when we lived here before, of him and his grandson walking down the gravel lane, holding hands as the afternoon light, warm and yellow, tinted the dust kicked up behind them. I find myself moved by his passing. It's a reminder of the unavoidability of death, of course, and I also find myself wondering what will happen to his widow and their little farm.

The funeral began in the afternoon of the first Monday of December. I took notice of it not from my window, but from the playground, when I looked up and saw several people in our building leaning on their balcony rails, cameras in hand. I could hear something going on next door, but the wall that separates us is high, without windows, so I had to dash up to the fourth floor to see what was going on. In the clearing stood white bundles of ghost money, carefully arranged to form what looked like a two-layer cake, festooned with flowery tufts of golden paper - more ghost money - shoved into the crevices. Family members dressed in white with sackcloth smocks (yellow for women, beige for men) walked around the pile, wailing. A paper palace stood nearby. Four men picked up a sedan chair and began circling the pile of money while another man set it all ablaze. The mourners stood in a ring around the clearing, each one holding tight to a thin white rope. As the sedan was carried about, the seat began to shake - a sign that the spirit of the deceased had taken his place in it.

This went on for hours: the men carrying the sedan, which rattled quite violently at times; the family encircling the massive fire; and continued offerings of ghost money, even the palace itself, being tossed into the flames. A second team of strong men took over the chair at one point, while a single drummer beat out a continuous tattoo. The skies grew dark, but the fire threw a great deal of light on the scene, and I spent most of my evening watching the events below. The chair was sometimes carried to a spot just out of sight, to a display of what I believe was more spirit wealth, perhaps offerings made by the family, and then carried and tipped towards the fire. It appeared that the bearers were trying to convince the deceased that he would be well-provided for in the next life. He was not in any hurry to go, though; it was quite late when the chair made its final, driving rhythm towards the flames and then fell silent. The remaining money was then heaped on the fire - great bags of it - before the mourners left their positions and walked to the funeral tent across the street.

The funeral wasn't over yet, though. The next morning the same party of mourners, holding onto the same white rope, lined up behind the coffin as it was rolled down our street. A hearse led the procession, but I don't believe it was used to carry the coffin at any time. There are many graves in our village, so I expect the old man's final resting place was not too far from home. Music blared from a speaker as they made their way, but otherwise the group was quiet. It would be traditional for the mourning family to come home along a different route, to confuse any spirits who might want to follow them back, and indeed I didn't notice their return. I heard them, though, a short while later back at the funeral tent - short speeches, some more crying. Large wreaths lined the street around the house, and several Buddhist monks were lighting incense and burning brightly-colored papers.

I have read up on some of the funeral practices of Taiwan since then, although not everything I saw has been explained; even so, I certainly understand the motives, the universal desire to honor a loved one and say goodbye with a great showing of respect. Many of the traditions are based on fear, though - fear of the spirit world, of ghosts not properly appeased, of family not provided for in the afterlife. This is a challenge for those Chinese and Taiwanese who become Christians: showing proper respect without bowing to the deceased as an idol to be worshipped. I am glad for my faith, that I can look at death not as a fearful thing but as the moment of transformation from a temporal existence to an everlasting one, and as a moment of reunion. If I fear anything it is loneliness, but not death. I think my ride in the spirit chair would be shorter than a single shake.

The next day the backhoe came and wiped out the circle of ash that remained from the fire. Someone has been hard at work, planting trees in the lot and sifting through the mounds of dirt. I don't know for sure what will become of the farm, but the old woman is still picking her guava, and her son drives it to the market. That is the proof, I guess, that their lives are carrying on.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Edge of the earth

No, I haven't fallen off of it, just dangled there for a while.

The first two weeks of December I battled laryngitis, mostly unsuccessfully, and still have a bit of a cough. Nothing like a lingering illness to take the wind out of your literary sails. But I am working on an entry now, and hope to have it up in a day or two.

Christmas is less than a week away. (You probably know that better than I.) I do not miss the frenzy of the season, but I do miss family and familiar foods. Still, we've got a tree up, vacation has begun, and we are looking forward to a sane amount of socializing in the next couple weeks. It's not a bad way to end the year.

More soon.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

We have so much to be thankful for! God continues to bless us abundantly. We are grateful for our family, our health, Tim's job, a nice home, the ability to travel and explore new places, and so much more. It's good to pause and give thanks for all those things we take for granted all year long. The holidays are a hard time to be so far from home, but we keep up our traditions and are grateful for the company of friends. May you, too, be among friends and loved ones this Thanksgiving. Peace to you all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Rails & trails

We had a great weekend, but boy are my legs sore. A few weeks ago we bumped into a family whose son had attended kindergarten with Cole – the two of them had been great buddies – and they invited us to join them for a hike. So last Friday night we stayed at their house in Chiayi (our first overnighter with a Chinese family), where they treated us to Pizza Hut and Pepsi followed by a tour of the local night market. We hardly ever do the night markets, but this one I really enjoyed: lots of food (like the candied strawberries you see here), people-watching, people watching us – all under a cool, starry sky. It was my first visit to Chiayi, a small city, very clean and inviting. We had a lovely evening.

The next morning after a cold-pizza breakfast we headed for Alishan. With so many little ones along we opted not to hike up, but instead took the narrow gauge railroad (one of only two in the world) to a village in the bamboo forest. The train was crowded, standing room only, but I was immediately offered a seat since I had Nora in my arms. It was an hour to the village, so that was a real blessing. We had an amazing view; the train circled around and through the mountain several times (Cole counted 14 tunnels) before letting us off at 1,400 meters. The air was fresh and cool – such a nice change from Kaohsiung.

We made our way from the station to a nearby restaurant. The owner stood at the door, waving and beckoning people in, while at his side stood a life-sized cardboard cut-out of himself, doing the same thing. Apparently he's a local celebrity; his picture was everywhere. We ate a traditional Chinese meal, what westerners call a lunch-box: a lidded tin bowl filled with rice and topped with cabbage, pickled bamboo, green vegetables, a drumstick, a pork chop, fried tofu, and a curly red garnish that no one could identify. I shared my lunch with Nora, who was most fond of the rice and chicken. I made short work of the rest, except for the Maraschino parsley.

After clearing our table, we walked through the market for some shopping and sweets. I decided against the glow-in-the-dark Alishan Train t-shirts (even though Christmas is coming), but was more than happy to spend 50NT on a bag of peppery ginger candy. Cole bought a dozen glutenous strawberry rice balls, and Nora got a pack of melon gum from 7-11. (Tim, I think, was holding out for a latté.) Snacks in hand, we headed for the trails.

Hiking in Taiwan is not an Eddie Bauer affair. Women in skirts, fur-trimmed jackets and low heels were handling the groomed trails just as well, if not better, than I was in my all-terrain runners. The fact that Nora preferred my arms to the carrier on Tim's back may have had something to do with my lumbering pace – that, and the altitude. But the scenery was worth the effort. A bamboo forest is very calming, so when we came upon some benches I was happy to sit and take it all in. The light filtering through the giant grass was soft and cool. There was very little noise. My first impression was of the uniformity of the forest, endless stick-straight stalks of green. But then I saw shades of brown and grey, even blue mixed in. And as I looked closer I noticed characters – Chinese names, love poems – etched into some of the stems. I wondered who had carved them, and when. The forest had become personal, the sameness replaced with individuality. It's akin to what happens when you live in Taiwan for a while: what at first seems like a massive, homogenous population slowly takes shape as a collection of individuals. Of course that's what they've always been, but it takes some time to see it. Humanity is in the details.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Dishing dirt

We live in the very same apartment now that we lived in during our first two years at this school. It was a strange feeling, walking back through our door after two years away. The apartment looked just as we'd left it; we even found some things tucked away for us (a phone, the Swiffer, a laundry basket) that had been ours to begin with. And outside the house things are much unchanged: the smells, the sounds, the view. Apparently, you can go home again.

There was some turnover within staff housing, but our neighbors to the north, an older Taiwanese couple, are still here. We've always enjoyed watching them work the land around their house – when we first arrived they planted two adjacent guava orchards, and while the wife could be seen tending to hers without much ado, the husband was constantly messing around, digging trenches only to fill them in again, laying irrigation pipes, pulling trees out for no apparent reason – except perhaps as an exercise in small equipment operations. He loved to bring in the Caterpiller and the backhoe. It was no surprise, really, that she seemed to harvest a lot more guava than he did, but he was probably having more fun.

So we were amused, about a month after our return, to see the same backhoe ripping out all the trees on the old man's side. We waited to see what he would try next. Pineapples are all the rage now, having replaced most of the guava and papaya orchards around us. He really pulled out all the stops, though, bringing in a digger, a giant crane, and a long flatbed truck with four mature trees strapped to its back. Nora and I stood on the balcony and watched as they moved the trees into place – it was quite a show. The trees were stripped of nearly all their foliage, and the roots were cut quite short; I was doubtful they would survive, especially considering they weren't watered at all. They seem to have taken to their new home, however, and stand like crowded sentries at one end of his field.

I knew there had to me more. The rest of his land, bare and dry, was just crying out for something to fill it up. About two weeks ago our patience was rewarded: more dirt. As the first few dump trucks tipped their loads, I thought is was the saddest looking topsoil ever. Whatever he planted would have to be as hardy as his trees. But the trucks continued to come all day long, and the next day, and the next. In the end, he had nearly 60 full loads of dirt brought in – and when the trucks were done for the day there was the backhoe, picking out the biggest stumps and chunks of concrete.

Last week the mystery was solved when an extra long dump truck came and took a dozen piles away: the farmer has turned his land into a fill-dirt depository. Like the huge cisterns in the field beyond, his dirt piles are providing an income that is probably greater than what he could earn with an orchard, with less effort on his part. His wife continues to care for her guava trees, carefully wrapping baggies around the tender young fruit and harvesting them later, still wrapped in plastic, to sell at the morning market. Kaohsiung county is growing, but the land to the west is so fully industrialized that it's the farm land around us that is feeling the pinch. This couple's farm is just the greater transition writ small. They are having it both ways for now, guavas and fill dirt living side by side; we'll have to wait and see how things turn out for them and the surrounding community.


The weather forecast was for clear skies and 77º today and tomorrow, with a chance of rain on Tuesday. A peek out the window, however, reveals that the shushing sound I hear is indeed tires on wet pavement. It's raining! Very strange for this late in the year. It's cool, too – I'm going to go put on a sweater and then post my dirt blog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Still here!

It's been a while since I've written. Well, since I've posted, at any rate. I started an entry last week that grew and grew until it turned into something too introspective to publish, even by my standards; but it was useful and I'm glad I pursued my thoughts for as long as I did. That is one of the joys of writing, arriving at unexpected places within yourself, discovering connections that you hadn't consciously made.

In other news... there's not a lot to report. This is from a letter I sent to a friend:

Not much going on here. Earthquake last week -- maybe I mentioned that already. Nora's sick today, and I'm tired from being up with her all night. Despite all that, though, I'm feeling really happy to be here. Maybe I should blog about that today.

It's two days later, but it's all still true. Nora is asleep, but feverish and scratchy-voiced, and waking frequently (I am in for another long night). The earthquakes (two right in a row) were not huge – 4.2 – but they were centered much closer to home than usual, so we rocked and rolled a bit up here on the 4th floor.

And yes, I am happy to be here. I was having a conversation in my head on the way home from Costco today, and imagined the question, "What would you change about living in Taiwan?" The main thing is airfare. I would love to be able to go back home whenever I wanted, and for people to come see us here; but it's an expensive proposition no matter which way you're flying, so once a year is probably the best we can do (and even that takes some effort).

Certainly there are things that bug me – Kaohsiung is no one's idea of nirvana – but I'm not sure that I would change them. The further I get from what I thought my life would be like, the more I like myself for having come the harder way. That's not as eloquent as it could be, but I hope you get my point. Taiwan shapes me, refines me, and pushes me closer to the inner chasms that I might otherwise avoid. Scary, but exciting, too. And with God as your sherpa, what's to fear? If He says stand at the edge, that's where I want to be.

Hmm. Apparently introspection in unavoidable. I better post this before it suffers the fate of my last letter. I will go back to weather (84º and holding), domestic details (finally got glass for our dining table), and other mundane stuff next time. And pictures! I've got to get something new for you to look at. Maybe my crazy neighbor's fifty-odd truck loads of soil that he brought in last week. It's like Close Encounters of the Dirt Kind. Wait 'til you see.

Friday, November 04, 2005

82º|77º, 82º|77º, 82º|77º, 82º|77º, 82º|78º

This is the five-day forecast for Kaohsiung. Just wanted to share.

(Oh, and the airport code is KHH, which is useful when booking your flight.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It was a dark and wormy night...

I'm afraid I don't have a picture of this to share with you, but this morning as we left for school we were stopped in our tracks by a horde of black worms seeking drier ground – namely, our lobby. Rain all night long had driven them out of the yard and onto the pavement, and some, in desperation, had inched under the front doors and lay, still and dying, on the stone floor. It was Hitchcockian, a perfect start for Halloween. Cole and I shuddered and squealed – there were literally hundreds of worms between us and the car – while Nora kept pointing at them with her sandaled toe, saying, "Look at that!"

Our school doesn't make an event out of Halloween, which is probably best in a country where ghosts and spirits are not taken lightly. (Taiwan has more temples per capita than anywhere else on earth.) Here in staff housing, however, we had a great party Sunday night: dozens of kids roamed the seven floors of our building for treats, and then everyone descended upon our neighbors' house for apple bobbing (it's okay, we're all friends) and green bug juice. It was a graveyard smash.

The costumes were the best part of the evening. We had Neo and Trinity (of The Matrix), a hippie chick, two Mormons, a ladybug and a butterfly, a cleaver-wielding doctor, the Cat in the Hat... and that's just the grown-ups. The kids came as faeries and ballerinas, wizards and nerds, a sleepy-head (that would be Cole) and George of the Jungle (played by baby George, of course). Pictures don't do them justice, but I'll put up a couple.

We have a great mix of people in our community, and there are so many children! Cole made a good friend right away, and Nora has lots of little girls to play with. There's a babysitting co-op so the parents can get out once in a while on their own (that's been a real treat), as well as game nights and fellowship for evenings closer to home. We certainly liked all of our neighbors the first time we lived here, too, but there seems to be more going on this time around. I like it, and am looking forward to getting to know everyone more as the year progresses. Now, if we could just do something about those pesky Mormons....

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A change in the weather

There was quite a bit of activity at the temple this morning -- gongs ringing out, men yelling and cheering. (That's the temple there on the left, as seen from my kitchen window.) Our streets are noisy these days, too, with vans driving through the village blaring incomprehensible election messages; this will go on until early December. And every evening, a big yellow garbage truck inches down our road chiming Für Elise, a motif that I am doomed forever to associate with trash and a vague sense of urgency.

All this noise really stands out now that the weather has cooled and we are officially into open-window season. This is a wonderful thing, not only because 82º with 60% humidity is downright pleasant, but also for the money we'll save. We usually have the highest electricity usage in the building, and our A/C habit is to blame. We've had it turned off since last week, though, so next month's bill should be better. Power, water, gas and milk are all much more expensive in Taiwan than in Washington, and while we try to conserve when we can, we also rationalize the cost by counting up all the things that are dirt cheap (meat, produce, cell phones) and hope that at the end of the day we come out ahead.

We've been busy since we returned from our 10/10 vacation. Nora's second birthday was on the 16th – we made banana splits for everyone down in the common area, and set up the sprinkler for the kids. Nora was a bit overwhelmed, and had no interest in her ice cream or the sprinkler, but overall she had a good time. She is already talking about whose party will come next. ("Party George, party Nora, party Scout!")

I spent a day last week showing around a new missionary couple who have come to work with some friends of ours for a year. I enjoy being tour guide and talking about Taiwan to newcomers. They always have such good questions, and their observations remind me of why I like living here: it's wildly different, and it's a challenge. We hit three stores in one day: Walason's (bakery supply and western foods), Dollars (grocery and household), and Costco (everything else). It was fun, but tiring – we are not that long past setting up our own house, and shopping has not yet become a treat.

Tim is back at work, and Cole at school. The 2nd quarter has begun, and it looks to be a busy one: concerts, dramas, and several holidays will take us right into the new year. Tim will be attending a conference in Chiang Mai over Thanksgiving break, lucky dog, while I get to stay home and roast to my heart's content. I would like to go to Thailand sometime, but for more than a few days. Maybe next Christmas....

Last Sunday we joined some friends in their outreach at a local park. We drew a small crowd with songs and testimonies, but it wasn't until the Taiwanese pastor of this tiny church spoke of his faith in God and love for his fellow people that it hit me: we would all be jailed for doing this on the other side of the strait. Life here is a challenge, yes, but it is not a hardship.

Friday, October 14, 2005


We're back, safe and sound and glad to be out of the car. We made good use of our fall break, spending a couple days with friends at the Morrison campus in Taichung before heading up to the mountains. Our night in Chingjing was the best: nice hotel, cool alpine breezes, and spectacular views of the clouds below us. Next morning, we fueled up at the highest Starbucks in Asia (1,743m) before tackling the kitschy Swiss gardens and an immense sheep farm. I wanted to twirl and sing like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, just before she hears the abbey bells. It was amazingly picturesque; not at all what you imagine when you think of Taiwan. As we made our way out, though, a bridal couple arrived to have their wedding photos taken amidst the sheep, and I remembered where we were. (You'll want to get that dry-cleaned, dear.)

Our second night, spent in the bamboo forests of Shitou, was not as comfortable, although the hotel had a lot of charm from the street. We had no hot water for showers, the karaoke from the hotel restaurant drowned out any nighttime forest noises, and the beds were stiff as boards (which is the norm here, but we were spoiled by our first night of western amenities). We did have some good food, however: pork with fresh bamboo, mountain deer with peppers, an herb-like vegetable called mountain celery, and local trout served two ways -- in broth, and baked, the latter dish being set over a blob of some napalm-like substance to keep it warm. It nearly set the tablecloth on fire.

No Taiwan adventure would be complete without some hair-raising moments on the roads, and this was no exception. The blindest curves always seems to come at the narrowest points in the road, which, due to the nature of road-building, tend to occur on cliff faces. This trip was not as scary as our Easter trip to Hualien in 2003, but it was enough to make me want to lobby the tourist board to change their slogan from "Taiwan - Touch Your Heart" to "Taiwan - Clutch Your Chest." Never a dull moment, though, and Tim was super behind the wheel.

We traveled with the Pinkerton family, with whom we have seen a great deal of this island. Ann is from Taiwan, and serves as our invaluable interpreter. Kevin shares Tim's fondness for good coffee, good cigars, and obscure movie references. Anna keeps Cole company and dotes on Nora. We're a carful, but somehow it all works. The kids should get extra mention for traveling so well; they smiled at all the strangers, tried new foods, and got along far better than I expected. They were real troopers. They went through an alarming amount of gum during the week, but if that's all it took to keep them happy, I'm not complaining! It's a blessing to have such patient children. I hope they look back on these trips someday with at least a little smile.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The reluctant babysitter

Well, at least she's agreed to come back one more time.


Su Ruong came over this morning, and all went well until Nora figured out that I was actually leaving. She was not amused. I left her crying at the door, but I was hopeful that she would settle down after a few minutes; that has been the case when she's stayed with friends here in our building. I don't know how long she cried, but it was enough to make Su Ruong hesitate when I asked if she would come again. She finally agreed to come over next week when I can stay home the whole time; perhaps Nora will be more shu fu, comfortable, with her after that.

Speaking of shu fu, or the lack thereof (that would be bu shu fu for you linguists out there), it's 96º degrees today when you factor in the heat index (and 88º if you don't). I have tried to acclimate by dressing for the season, as opposed to dressing for the actual weather, but jeans and a jacket just aren't doing the trick. We're heading to the mountains this weekend, where I have been promised that I will need a coat. I am very excited about this. We have all of next week off -- Monday is 10/10, Taiwan's independence holiday, and then our school stays closed for fall break. We'll be going to the island's largest bamboo forest, and then high up to what is billed as the Switzerland of Taiwan. If only that meant there'd be really good chocolate once we'd reached the summit, but I'm not banking on it. Cool weather will be worth the trip, though, and the views are supposed to be breathtaking. I'll post some pix when we get back next week.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Well, it's descriptive...

Just had to share: when I was at Dollars tonight I passed the cold case with lunchmeat and such. I saw three different sausages on the top shelf and paused to check them out -- they had chorizo, bratwurst, and emulsion.

Would you buy it?

My kingdom for a nine-grain loaf

I withdrew Nora from preschool today. It went fine. When I said, "Ta hai tai shyau" (she is still too young), they were quick to agree, but also eager that I bring her back when she's a bit older to try again.

Yesterday the new babysitter, Su Ruong, come by to meet the family and see how Nora likes things done. We covered snacks (rice, plums, kiwi, tortillas), music (Boney M, nursery rhymes), and amusements (books, swings, her favorite Spot movie). I think they'll get along fine; we'll find out on Thursday, I guess, when I go to my morning Bible study.

After leaving the preschool today we headed down to main street to find a bakery. I had run out of bread and still needed to make lunch for Cole. We found a nice store -- the smells wafting out were wonderful -- but after going in and picking up a tray (which, I feel, commits you to buying something), I realized they were out of bread. Well, they were out of sandwich bread. Chinese breads abounded: savory loaves full of chicken and sauteed onions, purple-swirled taro breads, and the ubiquitous coconut-scented sweet bread that often disguises itself as a western loaf until you get home and open it up. (It works with PB&J, but it's a no-go with tuna. It also happens to be what we use at church for communion, which is unfortunate. The Body of Christ shouldn't smell like Coppertone.)

I left a short while later with a bulging bag of pastries, then came home and made a ham-n-cheese on a hamburger bun (from our freezer) for Cole. I don't think he'll complain; I threw in half a creamhorn, too.

After Nora wakes from her nap we'll head down to Costco to pick up my new glasses, drop off some books with a friend, and stop by Dollars, the grocery store I like in downtown Kaohsiung. With the heavy traffic and our location so far from the city, errands take forever here. I think it's worth it, though, to be out where it's quiet (well, quieter -- Taiwan is never quiet). And I love our view -- the picture above is looking SE from our deck. It's very peaceful, considering 3,000,000 people are bursting the seams of Kaohsiung. It's just a hazy collection of apartment towers and smokestacks on my horizon.

Sunday's typhoon petered out on us. This is not a complaint. Preparing for the storm forced us to get our books unpacked, plus we didn't have any mopping up to do. The storm did cause some damage up north, but we were spared here -- just lots of rain, and some random gusting winds. I think typhoon season should be wrapping up soon. October is the month that the weather gets better: cooler, drier, but with enough wind to keep the air clean. I can't wait. It was only 82º (but still humid) when I went out at 9:30 this morning, so we're getting there. I hear there's snow on the Olympics this morning -- that seems a million miles, and a hundred degrees, away.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A view from the front seat

Hooray! I think Mozilla Firefox has saved the day, and I can start uploading some pictures. I'll start with a typical Kaohsiung street scene, this one taken while I was parked (I never shoot and drive) outside Starbuck's on Minzu Lu. While Tim ran in for beans, I took aim at unsuspecting scooterists.

The two pink helmets caught my eye. Something about the camaraderie of it, in an otherwise chaotic environment. Although you can't see it in this photo, it's still commmon to see three or four (and sometimes five) people on one scooter here. The greater the number, the more likely that most of the passengers will be small children.

I have yet to actually man a scooter myself; I think I'll ask my friend Kristin to give me a lesson and go into the village with me. It's something I meant to do last time....

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I sent Cole off to school today, although his throat is still a little sore. Both days that he stayed home, though, he was laughing and hollering by mid-morning -- except if I asked him how he was feeling, whereupon his voice would get scratchy, his eyelids would droop, and he'd struggle to say, "About the same." Uh-huh.

Nora slept in today and woke up happy, talking to herself quietly for a while. Then she called out, "Gunky!" which means she needs a tissue. I wiped her nose, lifted her out of bed to steal a quick hug -- she's not much of a snuggler -- and asked if she wanted breakfast.

"Shuga, shuga!" was her reply.

No, not cries for Sugar Frosted Flakes (remember when they called a spade a spade?), but for a song: Brown Girl in the Ring. You know the line, "...she looks like a sugar in a plum." That shuga. It's Nora's favorite song, with Holi-Holiday coming in a close second. She's become a huge Boney M fan since she discovered that I can play music for her while I'm on the computer. Disco all morning, and endless samba once Tim gets home. We're all stuck in various time warps, musically.

There's a typhoon on the horizon, category 4 and aimed at the middle of the island. We are on the leeward side, but Taiwan is not that wide, so we're bound to get some heavy winds and rain come Sunday. I'm stocking up on newspapers to jam into the window sills. The teacher on the 6th floor swears by them -- better than towels for sealing up the cracks that otherwise let the water flow right in. Some of the staff are going to Taipei for the weekend, so we'll probably be checking in on their places, too, once the storm hits. Last typhoon, we awoke at 4:00 a.m. to the sound of water dripping into the bathroom, found more leaks in other rooms, and spent a couple hours mopping up. Well, Tim mopped and I made scones (cranberry orange -- super), did some laundry, and went back to bed. Others were not so lucky, waking at their usual hour only to find themselves adrift in bedroom-sized puddles. Not pleasant, stepping out of bed and hearing a splash.

Well, as I expected, it's hard to pull myself away. You may disagree, having only stuck with me this far because of some OCD-type compulsion to finish what you start. (You know who you are.) I will spare you further pain and sign off for now. Next time I will touch more on what's going on outside our house. It's just so easy to get caught up in one's children and weather and household trivialities. It will get better, I promise.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Let's give this a whirl...

I've been meaning and needing to write to a lot of people since we moved back to Kaohsiung, so I'm going to give blogging a try and see if it does the trick. The hard part, I think, will be getting up from the computer and getting other things done during the day.

I should post some news here, I think, so let's see what I can come up with....

-Cole was home sick for the second day in a row today. Head cold.
-Nora's still getting over hers.

There's your peek into the thrill-a-minute expat life.

We've been back two months now, and we're all doing well (except for the colds). There was not a lot of adjusting to do -- the same school, same apartment, same kind of car (long live the Zace!), same friends and neighbors (with some new ones and some others no longer here after our two years away). It's a little strange, stepping back into our old life; it makes our time in Everett seem like a dream. It's good to be back, though, even if Kaohsiung is not exactly paradise.

I'm studying Chinese with my former teacher, Chang Lau Shr, and that's going well. Happily, lots of what she taught me before has remained lodged in the old grey matter, and comes to the surface when needed. I help her with English for three quarters of an hour, and then we switch. I like this arrangement, because I get to decide what I want to study. This week I had her help me prepare a script so I can go into Nora's preschool tomorrow and withdraw her (it was a short-lived adventure). Nice school, but she is still too young. We'll give it another go in the spring, maybe.

All right, let's hit the publish button now, shall we, and see how this goes?