Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Twist earth!

So, if you were three years old, and right in the middle of dinner your house started moving first side to side in one direction, and then side to side the other way, what might you call it? I think Nora's "twist earth" pretty neatly sums up this evening's excitement: two quakes (6.7 and 6.4), coming about eight minutes apart, each seeming to go on longer than anyone here remembers a quake lasting (a minute? half a minute? three? It's so hard to gauge time when you're in the middle of one). After the first, we went out to the hall, heard lots of voices a floor below and headed down to trade stories with our neighbors who had gathered there: fish tanks sploshing most of their contents on the floors, vases falling off tables, books off shelves, small children freaking out. This was the inaugural quake for one of our new families, and for their parents who are visiting from the states as well. (Welcome to Taiwan! Hi! Hug a wall!) While we were all chatting, the second quake hit, and I headed inside an apartment with Nora to find a secure place to ride it out. Several moms hunkered down in the hall with their little ones; they started singing Jesus Loves Me, which was comforting except that it made me realize just how long the quake was lasting. I prayed. And prayed. It really went on and on. Once that one ended, many of us headed out to the lawn, to the relative safety of open spaces. Our building is exceptionally well built, conforming to California earthquake codes, as opposed to local standards (which, in practice, if not on paper, seem to only require that something metal (old coffee cans, rebar remnants) be--oh! we just had another one. Dashed to the hall with Tim and Cole (Nora's in bed), and watched things move. This is getting really unnerving. Eek. At least we're not on the 7th floor; they really sway up there. Cole asked, at the tail end of it, "Is the building still moving, or is that just my legs?"

We have staff families traveling over break to cities much nearer the epicenters of these quakes, and I can only pray that they're out of harm's way. (One more reason to stay in better hotels, eh?) Apparently two buildings collapsed after the earlier quakes, killing at least one person and trapping others. Not a lot of details yet on the English news sites. Please keep the people here in your prayers, that there won't be more deaths, and that the aftershocks subside soon.

We're fine, if shaken a bit. Tim says the last one was a 5.5, so at least things are moving in the right direction. I'll keep you posted.

Christmas past

Christmas Day is behind us, and there's a sense of relief in the air. It is both a holy day for us and a holiday, so I appreciate that Christmas in Taiwan is a toned-down affair; there's a bit of hall-decking and last-minute shopping, but not the craziness of the season stateside. Still, I miss family, miss being able to carry on certain traditions (someone please tell me who got Willy this year!), and miss the smell of a real tree--I stuck some sprigs of rosemary into our tree so it would at least smell like something in nature--and it's easy to get homesick the more you think about what you're missing. So now that the big day is over, I feel free to enjoy the rest of our winter break without the emotional weight that Christmas brought to the first half. My parents are coming to visit in a couple weeks, so I am looking forward to that, and hoping to get a few things done around the house in preparation.

I hope you had a lovely Christmas, wherever you are, with the company of friends and loved ones. I had a good one, but I'm happy to have it over for another year.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Island in a dry river

I have not written in two months. Crazy. It's not that I haven't had plenty to write about, nor have I been so utterly busy that I couldn't sit down for twenty minutes and peck out a post or two; I just haven't written. The longer I went without writing, the more I thought about how to explain why–not just to you, my clamoring readership, but to myself, too.

The answer began to coalesce around a Chinese character I learned some time ago and just came across again in a street name downtown: jhou, which friends say means an island in a dry river. A quick (ha ha, quick) perusal of my Chinese-English dictionary (ever thought about how to arrange a dictionary when you've got no alphabet?) calls jhou an islet, or a sandbar. Whichever meaning, I think jhou describes how I've been feeling–stationary yet evolving, able to see everything around me, yet at the same time a bit tired of noticing everything around me. The unexamined life is sometimes a blessing. Of course, the lie in that is that I have still been examining, just not reporting. I can't decide, though, if I identify more with the sandbar or the dry-river island. I will certainly always be a foreigner, will marvel daily at how different things are here, will continue to stand out like a blue-eyed, fair-skinned thumb (if you'll allow me that liberty), but... this is my life, and the longer I'm here the more normal it becomes. I am a little island in a rushing, pushing, pulsing river; I am also an island in the drier tedium of routine, trying to keep from being absorbed into the plainer parts of my days.

Ack, sorry to ruminate all over you. I'm not sure if the cure for that is to write more, or less. Either way, I'm blogging again and hoping you'll pop in from time to time to say hello.


Click on over to Formosa Fix and catch a few new shots of Taiwan.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Whimsy it is

A friend's question has prompted this post; I will do my best, Clint, to muster whimsy at this late hour, but you will be lucky if it even makes sense.

When I write about the books I'm reading, I usually hyper-link the title to the book's Amazon page so you can read more about it, and buy it if you wish. Turns out, I can (in theory) make a little money by doing so, simply by signing up as an Amazon Associate and then modifying my links to include my special Amazon ID code. Then (in theory), when my readers, who are legion, click on the links, they are tagged as Browsers Who Came to Amazon Thanks to Kat, and any purchases they make within twenty-four hours (for any items, not just the ones I link to) earn me a Tiny Little Finders Fee.

In theory.

The reality, I am finding out, is somewhat different. Either:
a) My readers are not legion;
b) My readers don't buy books;
c) My readers have unwittingly already been tagged by other, less charming and definitely more deceptive Amazon Associates who create programs to randomly tag people as they roam the internet, so that my little tag has no place to hang his hat -- there's no room at the inn; not a square to spare; that train has sailed. You get the picture.

Option a) is impossible, of course; you can see from the plethora of comments as well as the many requests to post more! more! more! when I have the occasional dry spell, that you number in the teens at least. I find b) only slightly more likely, not because my readers, who are legion (see above), don't read, but rather because many of you are known, card-carrying, library card, uh... carriers, and also maybe spend your money on better things (like famine relief, or organic dark chocolate). That leaves us with c), the Tag Pirates. This, though frustrating, is a blessing and a curse, and for the same reason: I can do nothing about it. Yes, it stinks, but think of the time I save by being totally unable to change the situation!

So, my tags are set, and maybe someday I will get credit for a sale, my little tag sobbing before the Academy, "You like me! You really like me!" But there's not a whole lot I can do until then -- except, of course, write. For my readers. Who are legion.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Excuses, excuses

So, last time it was, "I'm too busy," and this week it's, "I'm too sick." But you don't want to hear it, I'm sure, so now that I am up and moving about I will put down a few thoughts that have been keeping me company lately.

For starters, we have a new car. Not an actual new car, of course -- the day I buy something off the showroom floor you'll know I've been taken over by an alien lifeform. But for us, a 2000 Mitsubishi Space Gear is a huge step up from the '93-ish Toyota Zace that we've been driving. There are bells; there are whistles; there are two TV screens and a built-in refrigerator. (No lie.) It is certainly the nicest car we've had, but I'm not totally comfortable with that. Perhaps it's not the frills that bother me, but rather just the idea that I no longer drive a Zace in Taiwan. Old Zaces are all we've ever driven here, and I love them. Manual transmission, no power steering -- no power anything -- but totally utilitarian and unfussy. And, I guess, a little bit romantic -- for all its dings and doors that don't always open and windows that leak in the carwash, it's a great roughin' it car, and captures a bit of Taiwan in its funkiness. Yet now we're in a silver mini-van. A very comfortable mini-van. I am leery of too much comfort; I think it makes you weak. The reliability, though, is a good thing. And seatbelts for everyone. And room for visitors. And karaoke! Did I mention the karaoke? It really is a hoot. Come see us and we'll take you for a spin. You can have first dibs on the mic.

In other news, Nora starts preschool next week. She turns three on Monday (already!), and Tuesday heads off to Sunny Kindergarten (which is actually quite shady, but who would send their child to Shady Kindergarten? Who knows what bad habits she'd pick up there). She is very excited, had a great time when we visited last week to make arrangements, and is looking forward to the big day. Our little friend and neighbor, George, will be in her class, so I'm hopeful that his familiar face will help ease the transition. I am excited to have a few hours to myself twice a week, for Bible study on Tuesdays and writing/editing/napping on Fridays. I'm also eager to hear our little red-head start chattering in Chinese. I think she'll do fine.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Check this out!

There's a new blogger in town. You can find him here:

He's having a lot of fun with his entries -- drop him a line and tell him what you think.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I just posted below, but there's something amiss with the links -- they seem to work all right, but for some reason there's an extra space at the end which causes my commas to dangle precariously all on their own. It probably only bothers me (well, and Tim, and maybe a certain few of you), but now I've got to figure out how to fix it. It looked good in the preview. Sigh.

Books, books, books

I've updated my reading list over on the sidebar. I recently put in a big Amazon order with some other teachers, which meant I finally got to delete some titles that had been lingering on my wish list. The Eugene Peterson book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, is one that I've had my eye on for a while. I also ordered two cookbooks, The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook and Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker, which I'm hoping will motivate me to use those two machines a bit more. I seem to be only getting busier, so it's time to put some of these devices to work.

Still on my wish list: Oracle Bones, by Peter Hessler, whose first book, River Town, I thoroughly enjoyed; Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton; and The Poetry Home Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser. The latter I read a couple years ago and still think of often, so at some point I'd like to get a copy.

Books have been figuring prominently in my life lately. I am organizing Scholastic orders for the middle schoolers, which was a bit of a grind to set up but now should go fairly smoothly. I have been working on a children's book, based on a nursery rhyme I used to tell Cole and which might have some publishing potential; and I've been doing some editing work as well. I am happy to be surrounded by all things book, though it does keep me in the house more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have just today gotten set up as an Associate, which means that anytime someone clicks on one of my Amazon links and then makes a purchase (of that particular item or another), I get a bit of the take. I'm not expecting to make millions off it, but since I've been posting Amazon links in my posts anyway, I figured I might as well take advantage of the opportunity. I've opted to get reimbursement in the form of Amazon gift certificates, so if my nickels and dimes do add up, you can guess what you'll be getting for Christmas.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Driver's Ed.

I need to get my license.

I have always relied on an international driver license to keep me legal here in Taiwan, but, alas, mine has lapsed and I need to get a local one to get back on the right side of the law. The test is similar to to the one in the states, at least on the surface: you must first pass a written exam, and then take the practical portion. The driving guide is available online, as is a practice exam. I decided to try the test once, without consulting the guide, so I could judge my baseline competency. I wanted to know how hard I'll have to work to pass this thing. The results were not encouraging, as you can see here:

I believe you need a score of 80 to pass, so I've got some work to do -- that death threat has given me new motivation. I'm surprised they used gallows humor in this case, actually; taking an exam in this culture is a big deal, and many young people do take their own lives if they feel they have let their families down.

Passing on the first try is a rare thing among the expats who have tested and lived to tell about it. The problem is not the written test, although it is bizarrely worded and full of arcane details about fees and fines and special rules for taxis; the problem is with the driving portion, which is as impractical as a practical exam can be. The test takes place on a closed track outfitted with sensors and alarms. The student driver gets behind the wheel of a car trimmed out with tags that trip the sensors, which, of course, set off the alarms, every time you make an error. The driver is tested on his ability to parallel park smoothly (without stopping during the maneuver); to negotiate a set of S-curves, both forward and back; and to back into a space, again without stopping the car while doing so. The course has numbered markers to guide the driver: pull forward until you are even with the #13; turn the wheel two turns to the right and reverse until you are even with the #14; turn the wheel five turns to the left and reverse until you are even with then #15; straighten out your wheels. Yes, this is the practical exam. Perhaps this explains why so many Chinese people require assistance when parking their cars. It's commonplace for whomever is riding shotgun to hop out (often to race ahead and save a space, but that's another story) and direct the driver gently into the slot. It doesn't matter how big the space or how small the car; parking is very often a team effort.

I've heard that you must get a score of 85 to pass the driving portion; each error is worth 10 points. I'm not even going to go there. I'll just chalk it up to new math.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Nora's new moves

According to Weather Underground, we're in for thunderstorms from now 'til next Wednesday. We've not had a lot of rain this summer, so I guess it's catching up to us. Thunder is rolling quietly in the background as I write, but the deluge has moved on. I hope it's still dry when the kids walk back from school. I was thinking of running some errands later, but it's no fun in the rain.

A few nights ago we headed into Nanze, a nearby town of varied spellings (Nanzih, Nanz, Zanze), where the kids bought ice cream cones and Tim and I got to do a little shopping (Working House is having a huge sale). We parked on a side street, and as we walked towards the main drag we passed a group of women practicing their Tai Chi routine. The parks are always busiest at night, when it's cool enough for people to take a little exercise. A tape player sat nearby, its long extension cord trailing into the darkness. Music played as a gentle voice called out the movements. Nora was enthralled, but we had to move on.

After we were done in town and were heading back to our car, we passed a different group of ladies, who leaned and stretched and turned to a tinny little waltz. This time Nora was not going to simply walk by. I put her down, and she watched them intently, not moving a muscle as she took it all in. The women noticed her and smiled. Nora kept staring. Finally, I asked, "Can you do it, too?" Without missing a beat, her little arms rose from her sides, up over her head, and down again, in time with the women and very close to what they were doing. She was enjoying herself, but she was taking it very seriously.

The music ended soon after, and the women all turned towards Nora and gave her a little round of applause. A few of them bowed slightly, and all of them were smiling. Hau ke ai! How cute! As we walked away, Nora called out, "Thank you for the dancing!" I admire her ability to enter the moment, to connect with strangers and still be herself. I hope she always keeps that.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Repeat after me

Foreigners come to Taiwan for many different reasons, and have just as many opinions about the place, good and bad. The one thing most of us can agree on, though, is that the Taiwanese know how to do rest stops. On Wednesday we traveled up to Taichung, a 2 1/2 hour drive -- just long enough to require a pit stop or two, especially with the kids in tow. Rest areas here go far beyond mere toilet facilities and a patch of lawn: you're likely to find a 7-11, Starbucks, bakery, candy shop and shoe store at your disposal, a playground for the kids, and often a park or garden commemorating a bit of local history.

Apparently the government would like to add an educational element to the mix. They have posted short English lessons on the walls, in the hope that in those quiet moments the citizenry might brush up their skills. Hanging above the urinals (according to Tim and Cole):

"How's that project coming? So far, so good."

"A peaceful body is a peaceful mind."

"It is better to give than to receive." (Yeah, especially at a urinal.)

And our favorite,

"All men are created equal."

Never a dull moment, I tell ya'.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Summer days

July ended well, and August is off and running. Our new families have arrived and most of our other staff are back on island (except for one unfortunate family whose flights were rerouted and delayed because of the typhoon that hit Hong Kong this week; they were due to arrive Thursday and still aren't here).

Friends from Taichung came for a visit last weekend, so we set off for Chi Jin Island, a popular spot for tourists and locals which we tend to avoid because of the crowd. We had a great time despite the throng: a short ferry ride across the harbor (10NT, about 30 cents, for a 10 minute crossing), shops and street stalls to discover, a close-up view of the giant cargo ships passing by, and a sandy beach patrolled by officers on horseback. A nice change from our usual shopping expeditions.

The school year is fast upon us, so on Wednesday we decided to head south to Kenting for the day even though the weather report was not promising. It did, in fact, turn out to be a nasty, rainy day, but we found an indoor water park and made the best of it. Cole worked up his courage to brave the water slides and had a blast; his cautious side is a blessing, but I love to see him challenge himself and get out of his comfort zone.

This weekend found us again on Chi Jin Island with another set of friends, who introduced us to their favorite seafood restaurant there. (Being a harbor city, seafood is huge here -- every Taiwan town claims some culinary specialty, and Kaohsiung's is fruit de mer.) The evening ferry was crowded with hungry, like-minded travelers, so once we landed our friend Ann dashed ahead to get our order started. Like most restaurants on Chi Jin, the fish is on view in bins and tanks in front, where diners choose their fishes and dishes and then wait for it all to be brought to table. We had some lovely ginger-y clams, smokey calamari, and a simmered white fish that was quite nice, too. Cole lost his appetite with the first dish, however: whole shrimp, with eyes, piled high on a platter. He felt bad for the little guys, and a little haunted, perhaps. He said that no matter where the shrimp were on the turntable, they were always staring right at him. He likes shrimp when I cook them at home; I hope he isn't off them forever.

Tim returns to work tomorrow, and school starts in a week, so our summer is quickly coming to a close. I'm looking forward to getting back into our routines, but these last few weeks have been blessedly unstructured and relaxed. We're usually not here for the summer months, but I've enjoyed having the extra time to poke around, see friends, and just hang out at home before things get busy again.

Monday, July 24, 2006

As I see it

Someone left a very kind comment (according to Tim, my in-house Spanish resource) on my photo blog, which inspired me to stay up a bit later and post some new shots. Come check them out!

Back in the saddle

Hello once again from southern Taiwan. We made it back with an unremarkable flight and, remarkably, very little jet-lag. I had a nap the first afternoon home, but otherwise we all three just slipped into local time, sleeping all night and waking at normal times. Unfortunately, I've gone too far, returning to my night-owl ways in the last week, so there will be some adjusting to do once school begins next month. But, we are home and happy to be here.

Last weekend we were hit with a storm (not quite a typhoon), which dumped lots of rain and sent several thunderstorms our way. Nora handled them much better than before, barely even noticing most of the noise, and only making calm commentary on the flashes and booms that did get her attention. Today, Sunday, we are again looking at another storm, this time a full-fledged typhoon, headed straight for the middle of the island. I think it's supposed to hit sometime tomorrow afternoon, which means our Tuesday plans – heading downtown to the science museum – may be off. Typhoons are fickle, though, so I'm holding out a little hope.

Our trip to the States was a good one, and the five weeks flew by. I would have enjoyed perhaps one more week, dedicated to staying on Whidbey and spending time with family there and anyone who was up for braving the ferry lines to see us. As it was, I ended up spending much more time on the road than I had intended. Perhaps next year I will maintain my resolve to travel the 9,000 miles to Whidbey and let everyone else come to me. (Yeah, right.)

I didn't take a camera with me on our trip home (I felt Tim's trip to Beijing trumped my need in that department), but fortunately others took lots of good shots for me and let me borrow their cameras from time to time. We packed a lot into five weeks, thanks in part to some wonderful weather and long summer days. Nora asks often if we can go back to Pop's house, and when I say not until next summer, she replies, "Windy Island is very far away." It is, but thankfully we have a whole store of good memories to tide us over 'til then.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

June update

Well, the month has nearly come to a close, and I've had nothing for you since the 11th. Sorry about that. We are three weeks and a few days into our five-week home visit, and the time is flying by. It's always nice to come back, but I am so grateful for this chance to be with my dad especially; he keeps apologizing that we can't do much because of his injuries, but I'm just thankful that he's still around.

We had a great time in Chelan. Our unit was right on the lakeshore, so we had a lovely view of the first night's thunderstorm (not a hit with Miss Nora), as well as brilliant sunshine reflecting off the water the rest of the week. Lake Chelan is fed from snowmelt, and none of us are crazy enough to brave the cold, but we enjoyed the warmer pools, took a paddleboat out for a spin, played a few rounds of putt-putt golf and many hands of cards. The first few nights we built some roaring fires, but the crackle and pop was, again, too much for the wee flincher, so we gave up on them.

This last week has been a bit of a family reunion with my sister, brother, brother-in-law and niece all around. We celebrated my parents' anniversary yesterday and spent today in the garden weeding and lopping--all the things my mom has had to set aside while she's been caring for my dad. Her gardens are always beautiful, so it was a pleasure to help restore them to something closer to her ideal.

Cole and his uncle spent a day this week building a fort in the woods. I'm hoping they can camp out in it next week--once the railing is up, that is. We've also spent some mornings exploring the bay at low tide this week: we spotted lots of crab, clams, geoducks, tiny flounder, a moonsnail or two, and the odd starfish. Cole and a friend built sandcastles and moats, then watched the rising tide melt them all away.

The days have been warm, though cool by Kaohsiung standards; I've only worn shorts once since I've been here. I see on my Weather Underground sticker that the days are hot and rainy back home. The crazy thing is, if you go to the Underground website it says the Kaohsiung high today will be only 84, while at the same time telling you that with the heat index the current 94 actually feels like 104. (This is how weathermen hedge their bets.) Despite the heat, I'm looking forward to getting home. It's been a long time without my Tim, and I look forward to getting back into our routines and having some family time before the school year kicks into gear.

The next week or so will be busy with visits and shopping; I will post again once we're home, and hopefully have some pictures to share.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The other side of the pond

We made it! It's been a week now, so jet-lag is mostly behind us and we're having a great time. It was a huge relief to finally see my dad, and I'm so encouraged by the progress he's made since we got home. We are off to central Washington on Monday, a trip I wasn't sure he would be up for - but he is, and we're all looking forward to some swimming and sunning in Chelan. It will still be another month until he's on his feet, but every day he gets a little closer.

The kids traveled well, and both are having a good time with their grandmas and grandpas, although Nora is pretty sure she'd like to go back home now, anyway. She has had this idea that we should just get a different airplane, ever since I told her ours won't be ready for a few weeks yet. She was thrilled when we drove past the Boeing factory - those triple-7's were calling her name. It wasn't pretty when I drove right by, though (I mean, it was a shopping trip, for crying out loud - couldn't we even stop and browse?). I'm not sure if she's more interested in actually getting home, or just getting back on a plane, where Donald-Duck-on-demand beams down from the seat back in front of you, and pretty xiaojie's come calling when you press the right button.

Cole is enjoying himself, having discovered great troves of books to sink into. His Grandpa Marc took him clamming this morning in Dugualla Bay - which reminds me, I think there are some gifts of the sea in Cole's pocket I need to deal with.

I am enjoying myself, too. I find I am less irritated by - well, by America - than I was four years ago when I came home after our first year in Taiwan. Yes, the people here are huge; yes, everything is too expensive; yes, people still think I live in Thailand. Still, it doesn't bother me like it used to. Maybe I dealt with it all that first visit home, and it's not a shock anymore. Or maybe I feel less defined by American culture now, and therefore don't suffer the same pangs of disenchantment. Either way, it makes for a pleasanter visit, and for that I'm grateful.

Tomorrow is a busy day, with a low, low tide, maybe some sun breaks, and two kids who could use some tide-pool adventures. We're happy to be here. I hope you are having a good summer, too, wherever you are.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Busy times

Sorry to go so long without posting... and this one's going to be short. The kids and I leave tomorrow morning for Seattle (hooray!). Our bags are packed, but not very full, so I'm a little worried about stuff shifting around. I'm fighting the urge to throw in more sweaters.

My dad is doing better every time I talk to him; not on his feet yet but getting there. I'm very relieved to be headed home so I can just be close to him and my mom. This last month has been a challenge.

Tim is off to Beijing to start his graduate studies next week. Cole will be a fourth-grader after tomorrow. Nora may have preschool on her horizon once we're back, and I'm looking at a theology program through University of London for myself come fall. It's going to be a busy year ahead!

Taiwan continues to thrill and amaze. That is perhaps one of the reasons that it's so addictive (many people who leave find themselves back here within a couple years). Never a dull moment, either inside or out: it's not just the cultural differences, but how you adapt and grow because of them. The most dramatic landscapes are those which are beaten and thrashed by natural forces, and that describes, if a bit violently, the effect of living in such a foreign environment. So it will be good to be home – as much as one can go home. That's a whole other cultural adjustment for us now.

I will post a bit while we're back in the states. Hoping to see a few of you while we're there.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Green butterflies

The massive typhoon that swept over the Philippines last weekend, killing dozens before heading towards Hong Kong, took a right turn as it neared the China coast and started moving up our way. We ended up with nothing worse than some gusty winds and heavy showers on Wednesday and Thursday, but it was a reminder that typhoon season is upon us and we need to get the house ready (especially since it will be sitting empty while we travel next month).

After a typhoon passes by we get to enjoy, with some guilt, unusally clear weather. The improved visibility is like having new eyes. The mountain that is the focal point of our view is reduced to a little pointy hill because there's no haze to give the impression of great distance (and therefore greater size). Bamboo groves stand out in sharp relief, leafy trees suddenly reveal the shape of their greenery, and the gilded temple behind us gleams and shows off its colors.

I talk about the weather a lot, I think because it is a barometer of my foreigness here. In Seattle I know what to expect; depending on the month, the hour, and the direction of the wind, the sky can take on many different shades (of grey), and I read them unconsciously. But here I am often caught by surprise, more so when I am indoors and don't have other clues to tell me the weather is changing. It's a matter of time, I suppose, and experience. The other day as I was washing dishes, I was startled to see a bright green butterfly flicker by my kitchen window. In a flash I realized it was no butterfly, but a leaf, caught up in a gust that sent it four stories high. Within the hour, wind was whistling through our windows and echoing mournfully in the stairwell. Green butterflies are now filed away as harbingers of a typhoon. Now if I could just get used to leaves falling in the spring.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dad's saga

It's been a crazy couple weeks. Every time I called home to see how my dad was doing, the news just got worse and worse: released from Harborview, but unable to keep anything down for two days; admitted to Whidbey General, where they discovered a skull fracture (way to go, Harborview); back to Harborview for infection (seems no one put him on antibiotics after putting two titanium rods in his leg); water on his brain; gout in his good foot; total exhaustion and no end in sight.

So yesterday, 12 days after the accident, I finally got to talk to my dad. What a relief! I had heard from my mom that he was doing a bit better the day before, but to hear it from him – just to talk with him – lifted a huge burden off my heart. I have been praying (as have many of you – thank you!) which is exactly what he needed; but I've wanted to do more and have felt a little helpless. I am so glad to be going home in two weeks. I just want to sit out on the deck with my mom and dad, watch the deer and take in the mountains. That's my dream vacation. ( If there was a bowl of raspberries within reach, that would be icing on the cake.)

Remember to tell someone you love them today. And thank God for the blessing of friends and family.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The hard part

My dad was in a motorcycle accident last week; my sister called to tell me, but I haven't been able to talk with my mom yet. His leg was pretty badly injured – he'll be recovering for the next month or two – but thankfully other than that he's all right. Still, I hate that I can't be there right now. Maybe I'll feel better when I can talk to my parents; for now, though, I just want to go home.

That's the worst part about being here, knowing that bad things happen in this life, but being unable to bridge the distance when they do. At church we often have prayer requests for sick or dying family members back home, and those prayers are always extended to the people here who feel helpless so far away. It's a small world in many ways, but physically, my parents are 9,000 miles away.

I can't wait to see them. Twenty-six days to go.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Easter break

We had a good break over Easter; sorry for the long spell between posts, but with camping, recovering from camping, and now the busy-ness of spring, I've gotten out of my routine.

On our trip, we traveled with two other families down the west coast of Taiwan (south of Kaohsiung city, towards Kenting), and then cut across the island on highway 9. Across is not the right word, as it implies a somewhat straight line; we curved our way over the mountains, keeping one eye out for people passing from behind, and the other eye on the oncoming traffic they'd be face to face with. It was not a bad drive overall, though – scenic vistas of lush forested valleys, and the blue-green waters of the Pacific were refreshing, as was the clean east-coast air. We camped near Taitung, at a well-appointed campground that was entirely deserted except for ourselves. The sandstone formations that make up the shoreline there are striking, almost sculptural. (You can see some pictures here.) Just up the road we found a wide sandy beach, covered with litter but otherwise, again, empty of people. I found a small cove for the kids where the surf wasn't so rough, and we spent a long morning digging in the sand and playing in the waves.

On our way home we stopped at a water park, stopped for lunch, stopped to buy ice for someone's sunburn, stopped to use the bathroom at a roadside Karaoke bar, stopped for ice-cream at 7-11, stopped to use another bathroom at a small roadside restaurant, stopped to buy onions (and use the potty) at a roadside stand, and finally made it home at dinner time. (I had wanted to stop for steamed water chestnuts, but thought better of it.) At one of our bathroom breaks we spoke with the owner while the kids were taking care of business. She has a daughter who's gone off to Belgium, and recently gave birth to a little boy. She's eager to see her new grandson – she doesn't even have a photo yet – and seemed pleased to have our company and share her news. She also looked happy to have our kids play on her tire swing. Her restaurant is fairly remote, with no other buildings within walking distance that I could see; it would seem a lonely place, but then she gets a lot of visitors like us, so maybe it's not so bad. Like most Taiwanese, she was helpful and friendly, and asked us to come again.

We've had some beautiful weather lately, brilliant blue skies with real clouds, the kind that look like something if you use your imagination. Such a nice change from the usual cap of haze. We've had a few rainy days as well (today is one, with even a bit of thunder this morning, but Nora's handling it better). I think that will be the pattern for a while now, until things are turned up a notch and we get into typhoon season.

We are down to four and a half weeks of school left, so the calendar is filling up. It's a busy time as teachers wrap up the year, and it's also when you start to realize how little time is left with the departing staff. I will be sorry to see them go, but it's exciting to know that they're moving on to new chapters in their lives. And their leaving means new arrivals, as people we've yet to meet prepare to start their Taiwan adventures. Lots of changes ahead.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Elephants and bumblebees

We had a gorgeous couple of days early last week: really blue sky, billowing white clouds, warm breezes and sunshine. It was perfect. The winds brought with them a change in the weather, though. Thursday's mugginess turned to leaden skies, and by midday the first thunderstorm of the season was upon us. Nora and I were returning from downtown and had a great view of the approaching storm from the elevated freeway. As we pulled into the school the first flash of lightning arced just beyond our campus walls (or so it seemed), so I hurried to prepare Nora for the thunder. I told her that we'd be hearing a big boom-boom-boom, but not to be scared; it was just like elephants walking around. Immediately the thunder rolled over us, and Nora buried her head in her hands: "I don't like elephants!" We made it home, getting drenched in the short walk from car to door. The storm lingered for several long, rumbling hours. Nora hid her face at every flash, but was as brave as she could be. We pulled the blinds and put on loud music to keep the scary stuff away.

The weekend brought cool days, lots of rain, and nothing but grey in every direction. It made Easter feel a whole lot like Easter in the Northwest, though, so it was rather homey (I even wore a sweater). Now and then, though, Nora would peek at the drizzling skies and say, "Elephants are scary," or, "I don't like bumblebees." This last part is a puzzle. Maybe it's how she's remembering the word thunder, or perhaps it's an association with lightning. Whatever it is, I'm afraid she'll be off bees and pachyderms for a while.

We also had a little excitement underfoot. Easter morning, about 6:40, Tim and I were shaken awake by another temblor, same location as before but not quite as strong (6.2). And again this morning, about 9:30, a weaker but nearer quake (4.8, in Chiayi) gave us a little jolt. I suppose it's good to release the built up pressure in a series of quakes like this, but it is a little unnerving. If the weather cooperates we plan to go camping in Taitung with some friends this week, so any more quakes will be right under our noses. I think, though, I'd rather be in a tent on the beach than just about anywhere else.

I didn't feel these last two quakes coming, by the way. I guess my career as a human earthquake prognosticator is dashed. Not a job I really wanted anyway. Too much pressure.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Photo update

Some time back I promised to post some pictures from the New Year's market; I finally got to it last night, so you can check them out here. I published them under the date they were taken (January), so if you go to the Formosa Fix page you have to scroll down a little to see them. (And remember, you can click on an image to see it full-screen.)

If you haven't stopped by in a while, come take a look!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Good Friday

Perhaps it's the influence of my German Lutheran roots, but Good Friday is becoming one of my favorite holy days. No Hallmark cards, no candy, no gifts – well, one immense gift (salvation), but no attempt to reduce that to a human level by wrapping up trifles in Good Friday paper bedecked with nails and thorns. It's a day that humbles me and restores my focus; it's a day I feel my insignificance and wonder at the love of our God.

I hope you all have a blessed and peaceful Easter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

River Town

I've been reading Father Brown for ages – that's what I get for starting the complete works, I guess. I haven't made much headway with Answering God, although I like it. But it needs to be read at a table with a Bible and journal and pen at hand, and I've been trying to read it in bed. I've picked up River Town again, a favorite of mine that I'd lent out and just got back. If you're looking for a peek into life in China, which bears some resemblance to life in Taiwan, I recommend it. Of course the political situation is not the same, but many of the other social traits are intact in the Chinese population here. It's a very funny book, covering two years in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer in an isolated Sichuan town – his reaction to the people, their reaction to him, his struggles with the language and culture. It's excellent; I'd love to see a sequel. The author, Peter Hessler, had an article in a recent New Yorker about life in Beijing, so I'm hoping another book is in the works. I'll have to look for it this summer.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Just wanted to plug my cooking page. I've got a few recipes to choose from now, so check it out!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Loud neighbors

I don't know what the event was, but something was going on next door today. I was startled out of my seat when a string of firecrackers was thrown on a burn barrel in front of the warehouse across the street. Cole very thoughtfully ran to Nora's room to see if the noise had awakened her, while I ran for my camera and headed out to the balcony. There wasn't much to see, though, but the preparations of a party. Tables were being set, basins of water and baskets of fruit were laid out; and amid the bustle one woman walked slowly around the tables with long sticks of incense in her right hand, rapping her left hand with them in a steady rhythm. Evil spirits were being warned away, the ones that hadn't heeded the round of fireworks.

We went downtown soon after, so I missed the rest of the evening's festivities. I don't know if there was a wedding, or if perhaps the farmers were having a banquet for their laborers. As we pulled out of our gate, which faces this building directly, a couple men leaning against their truck looked at us and smiled. I waved, and they waved back, but that's as far as it went. They didn't invite us to their party, and we didn't expect them to. I'm kind of sorry we went out, though. I would have had a great view of their festivities from up here.

I'm such a snoop.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring forward

It's 8:30 p.m. and 80º. Where did spring go? It's like we reset our season while you were resetting your clocks. Time to put my sweaters away (again).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Rock 'n roll

Not sure if it made much news where you are, but on Saturday a 6.4 quake in Taitung (about 60 miles from here) had our building shaking for a good long while. There was a little damage on the 6th floor: new cracks in the plaster, some broken pottery. But except for some kitchen drawers askew, we had nothing to show for it two floors down. It was pretty unnerving, though. All four of us were home, and once we realized that the quake was getting stronger we headed for doorframes. We now know that isn't the safest. Next time we'll lie down next to an inside wall or next to a couch or bed. Hmm. Next time.

The unsettling part for me is that, once again, I felt it coming. All of March I'd been thinking we were overdue, though if I gave it a little more thought, I felt like it was not quite time. On Saturday morning, as I sat at the computer, the thought came to me again, and I felt strongly enough about it that I considered blogging it. But then I shook off the idea and went about my day. The quake was at 6:00 that evening. Weird, huh? Next time I'll follow my impulse and we'll see how accurate I really am.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

For you foodies out there...

Against my better judgment, I've started another blog, Wonton Woman, all about cooking in Taiwan. The recipes will be mostly western-style, chosen primarily because they can be made with locally available ingredients. No promises on how often I'll post, but I hope at least once or twice a week.

I've started with a recipe for microwave polenta. Suggestions are welcome. Please take a look!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Catching you up

It's been a busy week since I last wrote. I was sick Friday (it had been creeping up on me all that week) and slept all day Saturday. Sunday morning we walked over to the school for the Bilingual Community Church service; the quarter-mile walk was pushing it, though. I was really wiped out.

Monday was a day for staying home, not because I was sick, but because the air was thick with Mongolian dust. We were warned to stay inside if possible – according to the local EPA report, we were well into the red zone of unhealthy air. Cole and his classmates spent their recess times playing board games in the lunchroom. Tuesday was not much better; the winds were supposed to shift to the east and southeast, but stayed put and kept blowing the particulate our way. The dust cloud from China was an anomaly, but poor air quality is the norm, especially here in the industrial south: factories, truck traffic to and from the port, and of course fires – burning fields, burning garbage, burning ghost money. It all adds up.

Wednesday morning I had my Chinese lesson. I learned how to say maybe, probably not, and definitely (each of those requires a different suffix added to whatever the verb is in the initial question). Very useful, but if I don't practice it I'm going to forget it.

Thursday I helped chaperone Cole's class trip to the Leopard King Safari Zoo. We had a great day for it, not too hot and not too overrun with Chinese students (who travel in packs of fifty and a hundred). Still, it was a bit depressing – an old-style zoo with not a lot of room to roam, and a demeaning monkey show to boot (I wasn't sure who was less pleased with being on stage, the monkeys or the handlers). The kids had a good time, though, watching the pig races, petting a penguin, mimicking the whooping calls of the gibbons. We also got to walk among the mountain deer, the only extant deer species in Taiwan. I've eaten it, but had never met one before. They're about the size of a dog, which surprised me – I don't know if I would have found them as tasty, knowing how small they are.

Friday was business as usual, lunch with Tim at school and then an afternoon of catching up on my housework. I took Cole out later to buy some in-line skates, and he's been busy learning the finer points of not falling down ever since. Yesterday was a girls' morning out as a handful of us from staff housing headed downtown to check out some new stores: Muji (Japanese housewares and clothing, much of which is overpriced – but still fun to look at), and Jason's grocery, also overpriced, but where you can buy things you can't find anywhere else (prosciutto, artichoke hearts, and Quaker Oatmeal Squares). No chutney, though. I don't know why I can't find it here. I guess I'll have to make it myself.

So that's a week in the life of. Not terribly exotic, perhaps, but different enough; it grows on you.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

This morning as Cole was getting dressed (green shorts, orange tee) he said his teacher, Mrs. Dunn, told the kids that they should wear green, but underwear didn't count. I said, "Well, sure, because nobody can see it." And Cole said, "They would if you didn't wear pants."

If you forget to wear some green, pinch yourself for me, will ya? (But if you forget to wear your pants, I don't want to know....)

Summer plans

I have our summer itinerary: the kids and I will be back in Washington from June 2 to July 10. (Looks like Tim will not be joining us after his studies in Beijing in June, but I'm sure he'll enjoy his downtime here at home.) We'll be on Whidbey for pretty much the whole time, except for one trip east of the Cascades. If you'd like to meet us on the island we'd love to see you!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Remembering Burma

This Sunday, March 12th, is the Global Day of Prayer for Burma. Ethnic cleansing, forced labor, landmines placed to terrorize the internal refugees – all of this is ongoing, yet these atrocities receive little attention from the west. So today I ask you to keep the persecuted Burmese in your thoughts and prayers. Please also pray for those who are working, often putting their own lives in danger, to keep the Burmese alive.

More information is available at Or click here to see a short film which documents the situation. It will only take about 12 minutes, time well spent on understanding the seriousness of the troubles there. Despite the oppression and genocide, hope survives – people are hanging on. Please help lift them in prayer.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Where my heart is

I had a grumpy couple of days. No single reason to pin it on, just a lingering bad mood. Tuesday started off well – I had a nice long chat with a friend in Virginia, a Taiwan buddy from our time here before. She and her husband have moved back to the states, started a family and settled into a new job and community. I miss them, so that's maybe what kicked off my blues. And listening to her talk about how they miss Taiwan reminds me that I will forever have two homes, and will always long for the one that I'm not living in. I wouldn't give up either one, but it's tough knowing you can never be really happy in one place. Maybe we're not supposed to be, though. Complacency sets you up for trouble; I no longer want to root my happiness in stasis.

I updated my books, finally, on the sidebar. I've already finished Traveling Mercies but wanted to post it anyway. It's Anne Lamott's unflinching look at her path to faith. Not G-rated, perhaps, but real life rarely is. I enjoy her honesty, but do wonder how she prepares her friends and family for some of the things she writes. "By the way, Mom, I'm going to be publishing all our family secrets next month. Just thought you should know."

Father Brown is a kick. I've found several passages that speak to my life here, which is one sign of a really good book. Chesterton was not thinking of Taiwan when he wrote his stories, but here I am decades later feeling like he's talking just to me, right where I am. And Eugene Peterson is still a bed-side staple; I have one more to go after Answering God. Hopefully that will get me through the spring, until I can get home and scour the bookstores this summer. Hmm. There's that word again: home. I can picture, quite clearly, whole towns, neighborhoods and streets, gardens and driveways, all thousands of miles away. I know the sounds of a city, the weak winter light, the first signs of spring. I dream of building a little house on our property in Coupeville someday. But right now this is home, and not just because this is where our house is. This is where our life is.

Living in the present is harder than it sounds.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Winter's chill redux

It's cold! Just when I'd put my sweaters away (set aside for when we return to a nippy Northwest summer), winter came back for an encore. Well, sixty-one degrees may not seem so cold to you, especially if you're under a blanket of snow somewhere right now, but when you don't have a heated home you really feel the chill. I can't complain – I'd rather have A/C than heat, and we do have some space heaters for times like this – but after a couple days in the 90s last week, we're all a bit suprised.

Much more interesting than the weather, though, is the fact that I got my hair washed last night. (No, really, it is.) For about US$4.00, I got a twenty-minute scalp massage that goes by the deceptively gentle-sounding name "shampoo," followed by a hot-water rinse and conditioning, and then finally a shoulder massage. (I was hoping for a longer massage – this was only about five minutes – but I'll take what I can get.) My hair is unbelievably clean today, and my follicles are still whimpering. During the whole two years we were back in the States I only got three haircuts – it's so disappointing after getting used to the treatment (and the price) here.

Last night's outing was with my friend Kristin, who is moving back to Colorado this year. As we sat side by side in our salon chairs, each enduring ten strong fingers vigorously raking through our hair, I said, "You're going to miss this, you know." She knew.

I wanted to write more today, but after an MSG-seasoned lunch all I want to do now is sleep. More later, perhaps.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Reading for understanding

I need to update my reading list on the right; my parents brought over some books I'd ordered and I've been dipping into them when I have the time. I'm still on a Eugene Peterson kick, just finishing his book on Jeremiah, Run with the Horses, where he writes:
Any part of our lives that is turned over to the crowd makes it and us worse. The larger the crowd, the smaller our lives.... On the other hand, every time that we retrieve a part of our life from the crowd and respond to God's call to us, we are that much more ourselves, more human. Every time we reject the habits of the crowd and practice the disciplines of faith, we become a little more alive.
This is how I felt about our two years of homeschooling, as well as our time here. I prefer living out of the mainstream, although not to an extreme – we're not to isolate ourselves from the world, only live differently in it. And you can't help but do so here.

A friend lent me G.K. Chesterton's Complete Father Brown, which I've just started. I used to read mysteries more often; in fact, Lord Peter Wimsey led me to Dorothy L. Sayers' other works on classical education and apologetics, which I love. (I have to admit, though, that I first discovered Wimsey on Mystery! rebroadcasts before I picked up the books. Thanks, Mobil.)

I bought my dad a copy of Taiwan: A Political History by Denny Roy, and he very kindly left it for us to read after they flew home. I have picked it up and read some random passages, but really ought to read it all the way through. I'm sure I'd understand the current events much better if I had a grasp on the historical ones.

My other reading is mostly along the lines of Where's Spot? and Peekaboo Bunny, which I enjoy for the company that my reading aloud brings me. Books are good companions, but even better when shared.

Friday, February 24, 2006

All there is to see

Hey, I just wanted to mention that in the post below I've hyper-linked some words to their related photos in Formosa Fix (my photo gallery). In the process of setting all that up I discovered that you can click on any photo to enlarge it -- you'll get much more detail that way. The whale shark is a bit more impressive viewed full-size.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

The grand tour

My parents left last Friday, after a two-week, too-short visit. We managed to see quite a bit of southern Taiwan while they were here, but I wish we'd had a bit more time together. That's my perspective, though, as one who knows all the places I'd wanted to take them and how many we didn't get to. I hope that in their opinion we did enough... but not too much. I know they were most eager to spend time with the grandkids; traveling was secondary. We were blessed with warm and mostly clear days while they were here. One of our first outings was to the 85-story Tuntex tower. On the right, here, is Nora taking her turn on the coin-op binoculars. She got a really good view of everyone on the observation deck – that's Kaohsiung harbor in the background – and everyone got a good look at her (and more than a few pictures).

After our trip up the tallest building in the city (in one of the fastest elevators in the world), we headed to Costco. This is more of a cultural experience than you might imagine: Chinese Costco is recognizably Costco, but the roasted chickens with their heads and feet intact, the nearly empty carts at the check-out line (for whatever gets bought has to get home, and many shoppers come on scooters), and gray-robed Buddhist nuns poring over their receipts all give you the sense that you're not in Kirkland anymore.

Shopping falls somewhere between sport and chore in Taiwan. My mom and I found a few treasures at Dollars and Walason's, but the outings took a lot of effort. Much more relaxing was our weekend in Kenting (pronounced "kun-ding"). The weather was warm and dry, traffic was light, and the drive was pleasant: we passed betel nut plantations, old women selling wax apples and yellow onions at roadside stands, men standing over barbecues of skewered squid. (On the way home we bought some fruit and a bag of onions, but skipped the squid – the eyes turn me off.)

One of the highlights of the trip was the National Aquarium. This is a world-class facility, with walk-through tanks of tropical fish and coral, a pool of beluga whales, and a giant wall of glass holding back schools of tuna, gliding skates, and a pack of menacing whale sharks. We spent a morning at the fortified lighthouse on the very southern point of the island, Oluan Pi ("o-lun be"). Vendors lined the park paths, selling shells, toys, and coral jewelry. We drank sweet cold coconut juice right out of the shell, and got the soft white meat scooped out for us when we were done. We ended our day at White Sand beach, where it was still warm enough for Cole to chase some waves. Kenting is close enough to be a day-trip; we should go more often.

The second week of my parents' visit went quickly: we shopped, visited Cheng Ching Lake, and went up into the hills to an aboriginal culture village. Mom and I helped Cole's class celebrate Valentine's Day, and my dad spoke to some students about drumming: the history, the discipline, and the joy of playing well. He is a born teacher. We were so happy to have them here. Kaohsiung is no paradise, but there's more here than just the city. I hope they enjoyed themselves, and I really hope they'll come again.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Taking a break

My parents arrived safely last Friday, whereupon we all got sick to varying degrees. Not the best start to a vacation, but with mom and dad sleeping off jet lag anyway maybe it's not so bad, timing-wise. It's great to have family here – it feels more like home now – and hopefully it helps them understand our life here a little better.

We're off to Kenting for the weekend, so I'll be incommunicado for another few days. I'll get some pix of the sun and sand for you next week. Till then....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy New Year (please pass me a tissue)

Well, it's official: the Year of the Dog has commenced. Cole and Nora both have a fever and cough, and my nose is driving me nuts, but hey, we're on vacation, the weather's been great – it could be worse.

We only had a smattering of fireworks in our village this year, but an unbelievable amount of traffic. The holiday follows a strict heirarchy of family visits – driving on New Year's eve to spend New Year's day with the husband's family, then driving, sometimes across the country, to spend the next couple days with the in-laws (the husband's in-laws, that is – the Chinese always lose a daughter, never gain a son). The flow of people has been uneven, with one side of the freeway crawling along while the other direction is wide open; when we've had to go out, we use surface streets and avoid the worst intersections. I don't think people here are big on shortcuts. Everyone seems to stay on the main roads, even when everyone, literally, is on the road. Most foreigners stay home over the holiday; it's not a good time to go sight-seeing.

Last Saturday we did venture out with our friends, the Pinkertons, to the New Year's market. (I took tons of photos, but have had difficulty loading them – check the photos link in a day or two.) The market is open all year as the dry market – dried mushrooms, beans, fish, tea, assorted grasses and grains, powdered who-knows-what – but I haven't gone before, so I don't know what distinguishes it as the New Year's market right now. There were stalls selling red banners, tassles, envelopes, and so on, and a man creating large calligraphy banners, but otherwise it seemed to be a pretty normal dry market. Just very, very crowded.

My parents will be here in two (two!) days, so I'm going to keep this short and get back to my to-do list. Our study is slowly being transformed into a guest room, thanks to Tim. The rest of the house needs a little attention, though, so off I go. My dirty windows beckon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Earth & Altar

Wow. What an amazing book; very challenging. I finished reading it tonight as I sipped a hot chocolate at Starbucks all by myself, which is worth italicizing. I really like Eugene Peterson, and would like to buy about a half dozen more of his titles. Maybe I can get my parents to bring them when they come.

Earth & Altar covers eleven Psalms and shows how praying them will help release us from the self-centeredness that not only stunts our own growth but damages society as well. Lots of good stuff, but the last chapter was particularly relevant. Here's a bit of it, as Peterson delves into Ps. 45, a wedding song. He is describing the bride, a princess marrying a king in another land:
She is in a strange country. She is in unfamiliar territory, addressed in strangely accented speech, away from the cozy securities of friends and family. She is full of longings for what she has left. As long as she is attached to her childhood and her family and her customs (that is, the things that certified her acceptance and significance), she is incapable of a new venture in love.
He goes on to say:
Love launches us into new territory. To explore the new, the old must be left. It means leaving earlier levels of accomplishment and relationship and growing into new ones. Every act of love is a risk of the self. There are no guarantees in love. Much can go wrong: we can get hurt; we can be rejected; we can be deceived. But without risking these perils there can only be a repetition of old patterns, the routinization of old comforts.
And then he addresses the self:
The self cannot be itself if it does not grow, and for a creature made in the image of God to grow is to love. No living being can be static.... Self love is obsessed with keeping what it has and adding a little more of the same. That is why it is so boring. There is never anything new to say, nothing new to discover. Self-love assesses its position by what is has and is panicked at the thought of losing any of it. Forced into new relationships, into new situations, its first consideration is not of the new fields for love but of the appalling prospects of loss. So it clings. It holds. And it whines.
This has been my struggle over the last five years, knowing that great possibilities lie before me if I will only let go of the familiar. Easier said than done, although I'd like to think I've made some progress.

The book has been republished under the title, "Where Your Treasure Is." I recommend it highly.

Across the wall

This is a picture I snapped last week of the old woman who lives next door. She and her son were walking around the dirt lot that used to be her husband's guava orchard (before it became a giant rock-sifting facility and place where trees come to die). The house is quiet now, so I think she may have moved in with one of her children. One of her sons comes by a few times a week to help pick guava, but other than that it's feeling pretty deserted.

I hope I'm not coming across as some kind of stalker here. This has been a fairly public episode of their lives, and I have been intrigued, eager to glean what I can from it. How we handle death reveals so much about our culture as well as who we are as individuals. I find it fascinating.

Pineapple fields forever...

I will show great restraint and not use any more Beatles allusions. (You're welcome to hum along in your own head, though.)

This is a view of the pineapples, taken from our roof eight floors up. Not a great shot, but I did say I'd post one, so here it is. I'd like to get some close-ups of the women who work in the fields, but I'm too shy. It would require me to go walking through the rows, uninvited, and then stand there with camera in hand, butchering the little Mandarin I know as I try to explain my intentions – either that, or just boldly start taking pictures. Neither option appeals. I need to get over myself or get a better camera.

I did try to photograph the women last fall. They were working near our school and would take their midday break in the shade of the trees near our gate. Nora and I would deliver lunch to Tim and Cole, and the ladies, crouched over their noodles and tea, would smile and pat Nora's arm as we went by. After lunch, though, on our return home, we'd find the whole group of them sacked out on the sidewalk (never the grass, perhaps because of the spiders, whose little wispy webs dot the lawn in the mornings). Lying on their sides, the women would pull their coats over their heads and just check out for an hour or so. Shou syi, I think it's called – like siesta. A few times I had my camera ready, so I could snap a shot as we passed, but someone would always raise her head as I came near, and I would chicken out. Maybe that's for the best. It doesn't seem right to treat your neighbors as anthropological subjects, even though on one level that is what they are. It's the other, deeper level of our shared humanity that stops me. I wouldn't want someone to be so brazen in their curiosity of how I live. Well, come to think of it, people here are brazen in their curiosity of how I live. But I don't particularly like it, so I try not to do the same to them.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Thoughts on Geisha

I finished Memoirs of a Geisha the other night. Quite a good read. I hear the movie is well done, too; maybe Tim and I can see it next week. I like Taiwan; I like Chinese people and their culture – but I have to say that they've got nothing on Japan when it comes to raising everyday life to an art form. I used to lump the two cultures together as being artistically sensitive, and while the Chinese have produced amazing art over the centuries, the appreciation of beauty has not been incorporated into the common life here as much as it has in Japan.

The Japanese occupied Taiwan for fifty years (1895-1945). There is still evidence of that in the architecture, the language, even the faces of people, particularly here in the south of the island. The Japanese started the first schools for the deaf in Taiwan, and the local sign language still bears the mark (like Laurent Clerc's French influence on American Sign Language, albeit under very different circumstances). My impression is that most young people here hold a positive opinion of Japan. I came across this article, however, that outlines mainland China's position (and political strategy) that she and Taiwan are united against a common foe: Japan. I don't imagine that this will be very effective, especially with the younger generation here not only lacking the first-hand experience of living under Japanese occupation, but in general wanting to be much more like Japan.

So, any suggestions on what I should read next?

Winter's chill

Oh, wait, that's just the A/C.

Yes, the air-con is on again - just for a few hours last night, and just in the dining room, but this might be the beginning of summer. Our west-facing bedroom wall was warm to the touch (after two months of being cool and clammy). Once it starts giving off heat then the bedroom A/C will be called into play, too. Lots of fog these last few mornings, which I think means the temperature's making a big jump in the mornings. The humidity is up, as well.

I just added a weather sticker to my sidebar so you can check all this youself, if you're so inclined.

Not much news, otherwise. Tim is headed up to Taipei to photograph a basketball tournament this weekend. While he's gone I'm going to try to get our guest room into shape - my parents are coming in about two weeks. (Yay!) And maybe I can catch a game tonight with the guys – Citadel or Puerto Rico or Settlers. This is quite a partying group of missionaries here. No joke.

Well, Nora is patiently sitting at my feet, waiting to go out and swing, so I better scoot. More soon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Aren't we forgetting someone?

This doesn't have anything to do with Taiwan, but when I read this story from The Observer, I recognized this man immediately as a fellow third-born:
A British man kidnapped in Iraq and held for five days by armed men who threatened to behead him was rescued last week by American special forces and astonished to discover that no one had noticed he was missing.

I feel for him, man.

What I know is...

We had an earthquake last week – not big, but enough to get my attention as I was drifting off to sleep. I mention it because I had been expecting an earthquake for several days prior. It's nothing more than being in tune with the cycles of things – I'm not claiming any special power here – but we seemed due for one, and then there it was. (This happened before the quake in November, too.) I'm not all that fond of earthquakes, but there is some comfort in knowing a place so well.

I've been thinking of the other peculiar ways I know Taiwan. My butter and salt tell me the weather (butter stays hard on cold days, and my dish of sea salt clumps up in the humidity, even when there's no discernible change inside the house). I know what color the sky turns before a big storm, although I am still caught off guard when we have rainy days in the dry season. I heard shooshing in the street this morning and thought, "What is that?" Thirty-some years in Washington should have taught me by now.

I know what other drivers are thinking, or at least I can predict the moves they're going to make. (Whether there's a thought process behind the action is sometimes debatable.) I enjoy the organic nature of driving here, like water seeking the most natural course. It's best not to fight it.

I know when people are surreptitiously photographing my children at Costco, and I can spot fellow foreigners by the way they move (as well as by the content of their carts).

I can identify almost all of the kids in our building by their various cries.

I know that congealed chicken blood tastes lovely until you know what it is.

I know how to say what I want at McDondald's, but I also know that the order will not be right.

I know that my Chinese teacher will utter the words, "What I know is..." at least once in every conversation. It always makes me smile.

I know which parking garages can accommodate our very tall Toyota Zace, including the ones that say they're too low but really aren't.

I know how coin-op grocery carts work.

I know how to use chopsticks, and how not to use them, which is just as important.

I know that I may pick my nose in public (although I don't), but never my teeth (which I sometimes do). I know I use more paper napkins when I eat beef noodles then anyone else around me. I don't know how they do it.

I know my European shoe size, my children's heights in centimeters, and what to wear when it's 16º, 21º, or 34ºC.

I know what it's like to be almost famous. We are stared at, approached, photographed, and whispered about wherever we go. Sometimes it's flattering, and sometimes just annoying.

I know there's a reason we're here, and I know there will come a time to leave. I don't know the details on either count, but God does, and that is good enough for now.

I know the next few years are going to be interesting.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Time for a babysitting update:

Su Ruong did not, in fact, come back, but she very kindly found us a replacement. Sandy was able to come for about a month, until her nursing intership began in December. (We had fewer tears with Sandy.) She, in turn, introduced us to Rebecca, who was with us for a few weeks (she is also a nursing student), and who sometimes brought her friend Twiggy along. When Rebecca's time was up she found us Star. I understand that Star is available for two weeks, including her first visit this past Thursday. No other prospects on the horizon, so Nora may be tagging along to Bible study for a while. She behaves well, but I would prefer to go alone and not have to divide my attention.

The one good thing to come out of the whirlwind of sitters is that Nora barely makes a peep when I step out the door now. She's also good with names. When Star left last week I prompted Nora, "Say goodbye!" And she complied: "Goodbye, Star. Goodbye, Rebecca. Goodbye, Sandy. Goodbye, Twiggy. Goodbye! See you next time! Dzai Jien!"

I'll have to teach her to say "Next!" in Chinese.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


More exercise is on my horizon. Not as a New Year's resolution (my last one was circa 1989: "No more resolutions"), but as an avoidance technique. I bought a new pair of Levi's last week at Costco. No fitting room, of course, so I bought a size that resembles my impression of myself and took them home. I find that I can get all five buttons done, but another inch in the waist would have been nice. However, making a return is about as appealing as gum surgery, so I'll hit the treadmill instead. I have no gripe with my bathroom scale (don't worry, Mom!), but it would help to get a bit firmer in places.

I don't usually buy clothes at Costco - or anywhere in Taiwan - but my favorite jeans have reached a critical stage of fragmentation. A spot below the right rear pocket is going threadbare, to the point that I've been using duct tape to keep the weft in place. I tape it on the inside, which actually works pretty well. (I dropped this bit of information into conversation the other night when I was compared to Dennis the Menace's mother - you know, the perfectly polished appearance belying the fact that she's about to pull her hair out. I think my tailoring technique put a damper on that idea.)

Despite my long-standing no-resolutions resolution, I feel an urge this year to make changes: more discipline, more writing, more stretching, and stretching my boundaries, particularly regarding speaking Chinese. (Some people live in Taiwan for years and years yet speak very little of the language; I understand why it happens, but I don't want it to happen to me.) My first priority, though, is to get into a better devotion habit. I've been reading a lot of Bible-related texts lately, but if I'm going to get anything out of them I have got to spend more time in quiet meditation. Our women's Bible study is beginning a new book on prayer, so I'm hopeful that it will get me moving in the right direction.

Chinese New Year is right around the corner. I don't know if there is a resolution aspect to it; I know it's a time to be with family and to clean the house. Old debts must be paid (which leads to an increase in property theft this time of year), and red envelopes full of cash are handed out quite generously to the children. In our village it's a week of drinking and fireworks, each for casting out various demons. This will be the Year of the Dog, which happens to be my year (so for those of you who don't know how old I am, I have narrowed it down to a multiple of 12). This supposedly makes me loyal, which is not a bad attribute. I'm not a dog person, though, in general. I hope they don't kick me out of the club.

I feel like we're in a lull at the moment, with the Western holidays just behind us and the Chinese holidays over the next hill. It's good to have a breather. My parents are coming in a few weeks, which we're all very excited about. But for now I feel a bit empty, with not a lot to say (she says, 500 words later). The pineapple fields have been lovely these recent mornings, mellow browns and greens with a bit of gloss to them. I've been meaning to get a picture from the roof so you can see the patterns in them. That's a theme I've wanted to pursue, photographically: order in chaos, the places where the human hand has brought a bit of control to an otherwise unruly landscape. I think I'll work on that for next time. Stay tuned.