Archive Page 2

21
Apr
09

Caterpillar in Hualien

My students thought I was weird for stopping to take a picture of this caterpillar munching on a flower.   Caterpillars in Taiwan tend to be quite exciting and fairly common.  Butterflies flit about in many varieties and colors on the mountain trails.   Someone once told me that Taiwan was the empire of the butterflies or something like that.   Of course, gardeners like my aunt aren’t overly fond of caterpillars.

21
Apr
09

Roadside Scenery around Hualien

Sorry I’ve been dreadful about posting and responding to comments recently.

Here are some photos of the countryside of Hualien from the vantage point of a tour bus full of children…

Many of the riverbeds in Taiwan are dry as this one is.  Often the water is diverted into rice paddies.

There tend to be a lot of tour buses that frequent Hualien.

It’s a good thing I never had to drive around Hualien– the clouds and mountains are far too distracting.  I’d never figure out proper directions.

The lamppost looks like an odd sort of tree…

Sitting on the bus, watching the scenery flow past the windows, I relaxed with the view of all that green and blue.  My kids and I all ended up dozing off at some point or another.  The nice thing about a bus is that I didn’t feel compelled to count heads every five minutes to make sure that I hadn’t lost any children on our field trip!

26
Mar
09

Farglory Ocean Park

The director of my school liked to take the kids out for a big end-of-the-year trip.  So last June we took the kids on the train to Hualien to visit an animal farm/zoo of sorts and Farglory Ocean Park.

Farglory Ocean Park just appears to be a pleasant ocean-themed amusement park at first.  Little did I know…

The view from the skyway of the ocean.  It’s really beautiful, but I was preoccupied with my three charges from my school since this was one bit of our school trip to Hualien for the end of the year.

I totally lost my street cred by admitting my fear of heights and scary swift ups and downs to them…  I escaped the swinging ship thanks to my lovely guy co-workers who graciously took one of my charges on with their guys.  She proceeded to be very queasy afterwards and so we lost our chance to switch off kids for the water- coaster.  In the looong line to get in, I was a big baby and whined to my kids that I hadn’t seen taking big scary rides in my contract when I signed on to teach them.  I survived, but was left woobly kneed afterwards (yup, I’m a big dork.).

I discovered one of the outer rings of the inferno (missed by Dante) is wandering an amusement park with kids who have very different ideas of where they want to go and what they want to do in the beating summer heat.  Thankfully Farglory Ocean Park also has aquarium and water shows were you can sit and watch dolphins doing tricks or manatees getting fed.  The little aquarium theaters bring an educational component to the park though the shows are entirely in Chinese.

The link in Chinese is here.  English information is here.

04
Mar
09

Forget the stork…

So my mother and I were chatting the other day and somehow the subject of where babies come from came up…

I was telling her about my long-held belief as a child that I was really a fairy princess and they were just weird people who were posing as my parents (this was generally rumination resulting from a certain sulky line of thought probably due to being denied the chance to watch more TV or forced to *gasp* do homework) until my REAL parents would whisk me off in a breeze of sparkly fairy dust and grandeur once I came of age.  (I may have read a bit too much imaginative literature in my impressionable youth.)

There was a (slim) amount of logic behind this supposition.   I’d never seen any baby pictures of me around though there were certainly photos of my baby brother in his cutting-teeth phases.   (Years later while cleaning out the basement and opening boxes, I did discover my baby pictures… complete with hair that defied gravity much more fetchingly than Don King’s.)  My mother thought that I’d have been able to see the resemblance between my father and myself (I had much better hair– for the record.)  Oh, and the fairy princess part was just because I figured my particular variety of weirdness necessitated a  supernatural basis…

Anyway, instead of the stork or cabbage patch as a diversionary tactic of squirrelly parents who don’t really want to answer the ever-present childhood question of  “where did I come from?” my mother insists that Taiwanese parents would generally say that they picked up the kid from the train tracks.

Sneaky parents–I mean, instead of some bird coming and dropping off the bundle of joy, they cast themselves as heroic saviors of babies left between the train tracks (obviously by poor parents who just knew someone would be along at some point…)  My mom said that this was generally said with laughter and then would be used by siblings to insult each other (i.e.  “Hah– you’re not even really mom and dad’s!  You were just left on the train tracks!”)

My mother said her parents never tried this with her or her siblings and she had no idea where the tradition of telling children this white lie came from.  After all, it must have been around the Japanese occupation, I’d guess, considering they did a lot of railroad building.  I wonder what people evaded their kids with before that…

15
Feb
09

Valentine’s Day

Taiwan celebrates the idea of love three times a year by including the Valentine’s Day of February 14th and the Japanese White Day in addition to the traditional seventh day of the seventh month when singletons go to temples to burn incense and pray to meet a lovely significant other.   On the February 14th Valentine’s Day, Taipei 101 lights up a heart and malls everywhere are dotted with sales for your sweetie (Really, the US should be so inclusive– we could have tried stimulating the economy with Lunar New Year withdrawals to give each other money in red envelopes).  Taiwan has also adopted White Day from Japan.

The traditional 7-7 day is the once-a-year meeting of the weaving maid and the cowherd across a bridge of magpies.  It always rains on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, since the couple are said to be crying at their reunion.  This past summer I got to visit a temple to observe the dances and sniff the incense celebrating 7-7 day.

In spite of all these modern celebrations of love, traditional Chinese love stories as far as my limited knowledge allows are rather grim.  My aunt and I spent a good chunk of the summer watching old period movies from Hong Kong that my mom and her sisters watched long ago.  The love stories all end unhappily.   An emperor falls for a mistress-spy from one of his conquered kingdoms, who costs him the empire.  A fairy falls for a human and ends up forced to return to heaven alone.  The one happy story was based on a real-life artist-poet who infiltrated a household so he could woo one of the daughters and make her his wife (in real life she was his ninth wife.)  My aunt said the abundance of  sad stories is because people there love to cry at a good tragedy.

So people in Taiwan have three days to either feel bitter, depressed, and lonely, or nervous, warm and fuzzy.

Whether you’re in a cosy couple or single and free, I hope you had a lovely Valentine’s Day with chocolate on top.

7-7 day Chinese poem (scroll down for the English translation).

09
Feb
09

Surfacing

I can’t quite believe that it’s February.  Outside a full moon has made my quiet street glow with a sparkle of frost.  The spruces behind our house are taller and fewer than they once were.  It is shiver-cold and the air has that snap that Taipei was always a bit too soggy to reach.

I’m sorry that I haven’t posted and responded to all the lovely comments that some of you have left me.  I know it’s been quite a while, but I guess I’ve needed to be a bit taciturn.  I miss Taiwan.

I’ve relished in living with an oven again (though I was disappointed that my lasagna was crunchy and my first attempt at brownies were weapons-grade hard on one end– apparently I needed to ingratiate myself with the new oven),

and raking leaves (though perhaps I was rather over-enthusiastic after getting over my cold and raking for six hours straight with some joyful jumping in the piles was not such a lovely idea though it was the right sort of fall morning for it),

and voting (though I managed to be welcomed so heartily by the cold germs of the US that I coughed my voice up that morning and had to slide my driver’s license as if I were being carded to spare the election volunteer and myself from my threaded painful squeaks attempting to spell my name.  Hopefully I didn’t infect the buttons),

and shoveling snow again (though I’m still waiting for a satisfying blizzard to dump a couple of feet on us– an inch of dusty flakes was too easy and a few inches of sludgey slush with a crisp skin of ice was too heavy).

It’s hard to believe that I still wear a tan line on my derriere (okay, to be honest, it’s a sunburn-turned-tan– little swimsuit skirts do not provide full coverage and I was tan-armed, white-legged, and baboon-bottomed thanks to short sleeves, slacks, and snorkeling on Tioman with a life jacket that conspired to turn me into a colorful duck with my bum bobbing as I looked for fish, but I digress as usual…and I can’t believe I’m mentioning my bum in my blog– I obviously should be asleep).

I’m back to living in my mother tongue of English and the ever-present quest to figure out how to be a proper grown up, yet avoid stodginess.  So far this has involved glancing at want ads, catching up on Jane Austen movie adaptations, perusing online class offerings, walks, narrowly avoiding car accidents as I accidentally run yellow lights red, moving furniture, painting a wall and two corners, reading journals from 4th grade (apparently the principal denied girls the right to play soccer, and I had a lot of quizzes), typing up a Christmas letter for a hunt-and-peck writer who had lots of children and grandchildren to inform everyone of, talking to wise people, a House marathon with my cousins, contemplating my Myers-Brigg’s personality profile (but I couldn’t decide what first letter I am), and being gravely warned away from child predators by my friend’s precocious 3 year old (a rather avid watcher of political commercials who was going to vote for Barack Obama and was impressed by the State Attorney General’s crackdown on the aforementioned child predators).

Being back in the place where I grew up is disconcerting.  For the first time since I left high school, all of my stuff is in one place (with the exception of one box lingering in Taiwan or in transit), albeit mostly in boxes and piles.

These photographs have been lingering in my head (ETA: I think they rather visually depict my topsy-turvy state of mind lately).  They’re from my grandfather’s pond in Tainan.

If you’ve been clicking through waiting for me to come back to the world of blogging, or waiting for me to reply to e-mails, comments, etc., thanks for your patience.  I’ll be rewarding it soon.  In the meantime, I hope you have the chance to go outside and see your shadow from the full moon.

03
Nov
08

Back in my Swing State!

Now I’m back in the house I grew up in where the trees got all dolled up in gold to welcome me home.

It’s kind of weird being back in a place where I never quite fit.  Things feel smaller somehow (and I haven’t really grown in height probably since sixth grade… Um, yes, I’m that short.)

I ran into one of my middle school teachers when I went to volunteer to get out the vote and she didn’t recognize me (though to be fair, I wasn’t completely sure until I left the building either).  Note to all of my former students that may be reading this– if ever you recognize me and I don’t recognize you– do run back, introduce yourself, and submit yourself for hugs.

Things I miss about Taiwan already:

1.  FOOD.  My mother has been making me yummy food, and my cousins and auntie treated me to some very yummy food too in CA, but it isn’t quite the same.

2.  7/11.  I didn’t realize it, but being able to go anywhere and rely on a 7/11, FamilyMart, or (what’s the pink one’s name again?!  Ack, it’s only been a week and a half post-my whirlwind bye-bye tour and I’ve forgotten!) to be in the immediate vicinity was really convenient.  Gas stations just aren’t the same.

3.  The MRT.  Actually this is a Taipei one, and really if I were in NYC or Boston, I might not miss it as much as I do in the car culture of suburbia, where the closest thing we have to public transit is a bus that stops around four times a day around a mile away.

4.  Not wondering if people are looking at me funny just because I’m… well, rather atypical for the area.  I don’t know if that’s fair to say– considering that it is something I didn’t feel or was oblivious about before.  Arriving in our local airport with its three baggage claims (which is WAY nicer than the in-renovation scariness of LAX.  I know it was almost Halloween when I arrived, but the DANGER and CAUTION strips hanging off of the exposed ceiling were rather odd, and the customs agent didn’t even say “Welcome Home” which is a small thing, but I missed it.  LAX has to be the least foreigner friendly airport — all English signage– even Atlanta had digital signage in the terminal shuttle in Arabic, etc.   LAX was also not friendly or helpful when I got my tea through Agricultural Inspection.  I ended up falling into the conveyor belt with my luggage.   It didn’t give me a very good feeling about coming home.  P was my fun seat neighbor though, and he and his co-workers were really gallant and chivalrous in helping the people around them get their bags, so I knew that there are still friendly Americans.  Sorry, /end LAX rant.)*  Umm…  What was I talking about?  Oh, yes, I know there were heads swiveling when my mom and I reunited and I practiced my Chinese as we left the airport.   But I do (fairly or not) feel an impulse to shrink a bit the way I did when I was in middle school, and school was a dangerous territory considering how much I got picked on.

5.  And most of all– my students, cousins, aunties, uncles, friends, colleagues, and roommates in no particular order.  Hugs to all of you (and I just remembered, I forgot which relative I was supposed to call when I got in safely, sorry…).

* to be fair, the Taoyuan Airport is a bit grey and dry, and I had a nervous moment while they went searching for the “Cancelled” stamp to put on my visa before my 30 day re-entry bit was to begin.  They were pretty polite about it though.

And for my fellow Americans stateside– Tomorrow is Election Day!!!  If you haven’t already voted, GO VOTE!  If you have questions about your registration or what your polling place is or how to volunteer for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, click here…  and hopefully we’ll get to party Tuesday night!




Free Rice

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