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.