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.