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.


Lowa said...

Sounds like a wonderful time!

I love how you describe it. We sure do miss you here! Hope you come back soon:)

Anonymous said...

What a great glimpse into your life over there - thanks so much for doing this, Kathy. It really helps to make you seem closer than those thousands of miles that divide us right now. =-)

Also, I love that you have this outlet for your writing talent - you really should get published one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Wow, those are the same shells they sell here in Florida... I had no idea we had such an export business going here in the states! That makes me feel good.

The prices there must be out of sight since those shell thingies sell here for at least $2.99 each. Add to that labor, shippping, etc. and Hoo-eey! What a mark-up for the poor tourists there!

Y'all need a Wal-Mart!

Kat said...

Thank you, ladies. : ) We will be home this summer, at least the kids and I; I have been enjoying the chance to write more regularly (but no plans for publication yet); and we don't have a Wal-Mart (thank the Maker), BUT we're getting our very own IKEA this year! It's all the buzz here in staff housing. (No more trips to Taipei for decent sheets!) It will be across the street from Costco -- so convenient. : )