Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas wrap (up)

Just a quick note to say that we are off tomorrow to start a real live vacation: first to Taipei for a Chinese wedding (a family friend's step-daughter is the bride), and from there on to Chiang Mai, Thailand. The bags are packed, and we'll leave early tomorrow to catch the high-speed train to the capital city. The trip will take 90 minutes, instead of the 4+ hours it takes by car.

Our Christmas was very nice, and hopefully yours was, too. We enjoyed several great meals with friends, and the kids had a fun morning opening all the lovely gifties under the tree. Santa was good to them, as were their grandparents! I broke with tradition this year and went to see an acupuncturist, squeezing it in between opening presents and Christmas dinner. My neck has bothered me off and on for years, and I'd had a twinge for a week that was threatening to totally seize up. I will (maybe) give you the whole story later, but for now I'll just say that it was a success, and with follow-ups every day this week I am feeling very relaxed.

I must get to bed now, but I'll write more when I can, maybe from Thailand. Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ironing sandwiches, winning the lottery, and other Taiwan commonplaces

I hesitate to say that the drought is over, but I do feel like writing more lately. Not to put all this on you, my small cadre of faithful readers, but it is hard to write to a silent audience. A person needs a little feedback, and sometimes she needs even more. But regardless of who stops by to read, I still need to sort through life from time to time and you, my friends, get front-row seats. No fear, though--I'm not going to unload three months' worth of the expat experience on you (at least not in one telling). But perhaps some highlights....

The immediate crisis in my life is my broken range. Since Thursday last I've been without both stove and oven, due to the fact that I complained that the oven was not heating properly: 55 minutes to heat the thing to 350ยบ means wasted gas and a hungry family. Anyway, this led to a visit from our maintenance man, who deemed the problem bigger than he could handle and called in an appliance repairman. The repairman came and gave it a go, but realized a part would need to be replaced. Of course the part had to come from Taipei, so it would be Saturday--Monday at the latest--before he'd be back. He returned Tuesday. That was yesterday, and after he'd retrofitted the part (because it certainly couldn't be exactly what was needed straight out of the box) he discovered that there was another problem as well, requiring another part, this time (thankfully) a bit closer to home. He did come back today but still hasn't finished up the job. In the meantime I still have a family to feed and a strong desire to make Christmas cookies before the holiday passes us by, so I've had to get creative. Enter: ironed cheese sandwiches. It works, I did not invent it, and Cole prefers them now to cheese sandwiches made any other way. They actually cook much quicker, but there's a tendency to be a bit underdone in the middle (which, honestly, is what Cole loves about them: more melty than toasty). There was a little improvement today: when the repairman came by he hooked up the gas to the burners again, so at least I can make a decent supper. Cookies, however, are still on hold.

Considering how often I win the lottery here, you'd think I could exert a little pull and get these kind of problems dealt with straightaway. At this very moment I am sitting on two winning receipts (yes, receipts) worth a total of four hundred dollars. Of course, those are New Taiwan dollars, or NT$, so they're only equivalent to about US$12, but still, I won. You see, every odd-numbered month the winning numbers are announced and people all over the island pull out their stash of cash register receipts to look for a match--and I am right there with them. I once had five digits match, which was a nice little bonus of NT$4000 (US$120), but all my other winners have been small fry: three digits, about six bucks a pop. The great thing about winning, though, is that you don't have to go to some distant lottery office to collect (well, unless you win big). They can be used same-as-cash at any 7-11, and there's not much you can't find at a 7-11 here, so that's a pretty good deal. The whole point of the lottery is to ensure that businesses issue receipts in the first place. With everyone clambering for official, lottery-eligible receipts, the government has a much easier time of keeping track of sales and collecting taxes from businesses. Without the receipt incentive a lot of money would never hit the books, and there'd be no reliable record for the taxman. So what the government saves in henchmen they give back to people as lottery winnings. Well, not all of it, I'm sure, but I can't complain. Somewhere there's a million dollar winner with my name on it. I just have to keep shopping until I find it. If only they'd fix my stove, so I can go buy groceries and get back in the game.