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.