31 December 2005

Out in the Cold on New Year's Eve

The biggest party of the year, and I can't go because of this doffer in the toga. I mean, I think I would just have a very difficult time explaining to the hosts of this New Year's party that I'm traveling through time to cover the events in my life and I'm bringing a renowned philosopher with me. I guess I hadn't thought about that when I was in Athens.

Tonight, the team (including myself and my Handsome Accomplice) is celebrating at the home of Matt and DeeDee Wasmund, volunteer coordinators and a congenial couple of undisclosed age, and having a fantastic time of it, I might add. Earlier today, Quondam-Anne and the Handsome Accomplice picked out a nice sweater to go with the lovely Thai silk scarf he brought as one of many Christmas gifts, and she's wearing it now. Socrates and I are at the movie theater watching "Narnia". He can't get enough of this popcorn, but I don't think he understands the parallel between Jesus and Aslan. Wait, that's right, he doesn't know about Jesus yet. This could get interesting.

Anyway, here's a link to photos of the actual event that we're missing right now. At this point in time, the Handsome Accomplice has been here a few days, reading storybooks to the kindergartners, celebrating a late Christmas, riding on the back of Quondam-Anne's scooter (which is another thing: Quondam-Anne has exclusive use of the scooter. These taxi fares are getting to be a little much, but we still haven't figured out how to get the time machine to travel through space only. I think there must have been a loose fuse. And Mr. Crates' method of asking me questions about it just doesn't get us anywhere) and in general having a wonderful time. Soon though, he'll have to head back to Thailand. I don't think I'm gonna stick around for the bus station scene again. Enjoy the photos.

27 December 2005

Tuesday Night Stakeout

Cutting to the chase, Socrates and I find ourselves at the front gate of Concordia Middle School on a Tuesday night, watching me from an unseen vantage point. It is night, and Quondam-Anne is waiting for someone and checking her watch. Now, no one has to be a great thinker to figure out who she's (I'm) waiting for. After the hubbub of Christmas, my Handsome Accomplice is due to arrive here for a week-long visit any minute. I'm never comfortable waiting for something, and even now I can spy myself looking at my watch anxiously. It's cold and Quondam-Anne is not wearing the proper jacket. I had told myself I'd wait until 10:45 and then go in for a jacket...yep, looks like I'm standing up right now.

But wait! Right when Quondam-Anne turns around, a taxicab pulls up to the curb. My handsome accomplice can be seen negotiating with the driver before alighting and taking luggage from the trunk. He sees neither Time-Travel-Anne nor Quondam-Anne, who is smiling now, for she has a controller in her pocket that opens and closes the huge gate after hours. As the taxicab pulls away and the Handsome Accomplice prepares to scale the gate, it opens slowly before him. Quondam-Anne takes ten steps toward the Handsome Accomplice before he sees her.

Socrates and I turn to each other for high-fives.

And, scene.

24 December 2005

Christmas Day

Dear Readers,

Whew! It seems my journey to this point in time, though it be time travel, has taken longer than expected. I don't expect you to understand the intricacies of time travel, but suffice it to say we got a little hung up when we had to repair the flux capacitor with an umbrella and some bubblegum from 1963...don't ask.

I say "we" because I made a stop in ancient Greece to pick up Socrates, yes, the actual Greek philosopher (you know I love to reenact movies and Bill and Ted is one of my favorites). I took him around with me while I traveled through time and wrote. You wouldn't believe what a great companion Mr. Crates can be.

We observed Quondam-Anne emerge from her room this morning at about 6:30, blanket in arms, and make her way to the Christmas tree in the common area of the Practice Hotel, where a single package wrapped in gold paper waited beneath. She's now opened the package, put the contents on, and curled up in the blanket next to the twinkling tree.

Later today we'll join the Christmas Spectacular at Salvation Lutheran Church, where all of the following can be observed:

  • Church Filled To Capacity, Blocking all Fire Exits
  • Singing Ladies Guild
  • Obligatory Children's Nativity Pageant
  • Count 'Em, Not One, But Two Baptisms
  • Church Parking Lot Filled to Capacity With Tables, Chairs, Banquet Attendees
  • Fellowship
(A footnote about baptism here: it's most common for females to be baptized because there's less pressure on women to keep up the duties of honoring departed family members. Today we baptized two young women who have been waiting for a long time. Apparently the baptism class takes a long time and baptisms can only happen at certain times. To this observer, it seems like a lot of bureaucracy for an island with 4% Christianity, but I've only been here four months, what do I know.)
From the Top In the WingsNativity Cross SectionOh No You Didn't!
For a more comprehensive examination of Christmas Day photos, click here for a link to a Flickr Photoset.

Merry Christmas everyone! I recall having spent the rest of this day sitting around the Practice Hotel. People are getting suspicious about the man in the toga, so I'm gonna get out of here. Next stop: next Tuesday

Christmas Eve

The Flaming Lips, if you ever read my blog, I'd like you to know that I'm pretty sure this song you wrote, Christmas at the Zoo, is about Jesus.

Their wasn’t any snow on Christmas Eve and I knew what I should do:
I thought I’d free the animals all locked up at the zoo
I opened up the fence where the peacocks were, the lamas were unleashed
The snakes and seals could all get out, but they refused to leave....

All of the animals agreed they’re not happy at the zoo
But they preferred to save themselves, they seemed to think
They could...

The elephants, orangutans, all the birds and kangaroos all said
Thanks but no thanks man, but to be concerned is good...

It started to snow on christmas eve in the middle of the night
Walkin through the state park zoo and everything is white...

22 December 2005

Christmas Tree Contest

This link will send you to a flickr slideshow of the event

18 December 2005

The Christmas C.E.L.A.bration! -or- Hey you, yeah you--in blue

CELA stands for Concordia English Language Academy. There are three branches, and I teach at the biggest one, located in Min Hsiung. (the Hs makes and "sh" sound, of sorts.) When it came time to name our Christmas program, culminating the efforts of all three branches, one of my own thoughtless amalgamations was proposed and accepted: C.E.L.Abration. Unfortunately, it wasn't until later that I realized it was spelled celEbration. I think it confused every single one of our students. I'm sorry. I was wrong. I really want to be a good English teacher.

So anyway, this is mostly a picture post showing a month and a half's worth of said efforts as they came to fruition yesterday in a big outdoor amphitheater that looks like this when it's empty

Until we filled it with our little stars

We had 'em sing themed songs from parts of the Christmas story while a living nativity assembled. The idea was that they were all stars in the sky singing to baby Jesus, but I think the emphasis got lost in the shuffle. We must have decided that angle was more trouble than it was worth.

What's that on the left? Oh, a manger.

Anna Meyer and I played guiter for the gig.

I believe that for many of these kids, the program was nothing short of a profession of faith. Parents all showed up and clapped for their kids. I don't think they realized the ramifications of this faith taking root in their children: it means that when they die, there will be no one to honor and provide for them in the afterlife. Well, I don't think most of the kids understand this either. What we see right now is pure childlike faith. If only they could hang on to it. Anyhow, it was great to hang out with the kids outside of the classroom. They love so readily.

It went much better than we had thought it would. Even the parents, who we expected to talk all through it, paid pretty good attention. The kids smiled and sang happily (except of course my sixth graders). While tuning, Anna's high E string broke (or at least I believe so because I saw it go really slack) but continued to function throughout the duration of the show. (There's a rational explanation for this, I realize, but I'm not willing to listen to it. It was a Bona Fide Christmas Miracle.)

And of course all our hard-working crew were all very very happy when it was over and done with.

Photo credits for those I couldn't possibly have taken to team member Anna Horkey.

12 December 2005

Not For Preaching the Gospel

Along the lines of advice I've issued previously about living in foreign countries, I offer this advice today: Don't mess with the police. And always have your papers in order.

My Get Out Of Jail Free Card? Being an illiterate foreigner. On my scooter, I hadn't been stopped for anything. I just decided to pull over when they told the red-light runners to do so, because they had made eye contact with me. See above advice for explanation. After they let everybody else go (they had told me previously that I would have to go back to the Police Station with them), they took a look at my ARC and discovered I had been in Taiwan only three and a half months. They looked at each other and turned back to me: "Go home." Yesss.

So now you know.

08 December 2005

Miscellaneous Update

Anyone feeling sorry for us about the showers can stop doing so. The problem has been fixed and we have warm showers again.

Thanks for your prayers for the dean. Health appears to be stable for the time being.

Turns out my scooter's gas gauge is the biggest pessimist ever. After about twenty kilometers it insists that we're running on fumes. So far this has tricked me into putting 70 cents' worth of gas into it. Twice.

Almost got hauled into the police station two nights ago.

What else? Um...Last night I watched a Kung Fu movie.

That's about all I can think of.

06 December 2005

Cold Snap

Sitting here in a blanket, space heater whirring on the floor, I recall an exchange in the girls' shower room from Sunday:

Person 1: Wow it's December already. Wasn't it just September?
Person 2: Yeah. Maybe it feels that way because the weather hasn't changed much since then.
It's Wednesday and it's now 57 degrees out. The trick to Taiwanese winter, as near as I can tell, is that it descends rapidly. The fact that our showers only have pressure and hot water for a few minutes every hour didn't seem quite so miserable before the screens-only windows in our shower room allowed the fifty-degree temperatures outside to finish our skin with goosebumps. We find ourselves in a sudden shiver, because Taiwanese engineering doesn't understand a building as a place of refuge to the same degree as, say, a Minnesotan would. There are no heaters indoors, aside from those you plug in and perch next to your feet. As I've mentioned, there aren't even panes of glass in the windows in our bathroom, a room where we're one-hundred percent guaranteed to be naked. Even in the office and the classrooms, the doors are left open as though it's summertime in Paris. Meanwhile everyone says how cold it is. My new duty for winter: shutting doors.

Anymore, I can't tell if I'm really cold or not. All the Taiwanese appear to be chilled right to the bone unless they pile on the layers. This must be done if you're out riding your scooter, but somehow I just can't justify breaking out the winter wardrobe en force with temperatures in the fifties. I've lived in Colorado before. This isn't cold. Right?

But a snug spirit of industry seems to set in with the cold. Though I believe I'm feeling the first pangs of culture shock, opportunities and gifts deepen. I've felt most at home here than ever this Monday, with Chinese lessons at YiWen's house. It was cold out and I had almost lost my way there on my scooter. I had tried to tail the cab with my teammates inside but the maniac lost me at the third stoplight. When I finally arrived (purely by grace) warm food awaited: hot soy milk, ginger-pumpkin-chicken rice, dumplings and onion bread. Yule, YiWen's husband, made tea as usual. I've tasted other tea here but nothing can beat Yule's.

Monday night the spirit of fear hovering over this island nation became a tiny bit more clear to me. YiWen recounted to us about a neighbor in the throes of manic depression and his Buddhist wife struggling to keep it together. YiWen had just spent a long time with her on the phone when we arrived. She also spoke of her concern for one of her students (she teaches music at a girl's high school) who won't talk to anyone, participate in any lessons, or even look at anyone. This brought us to the problem of suicide, reportedly claiming five Taiwanese lives every day. Many are students to whom the limited commodity of success is no possibility, despite (well, and because of) the pressures of family and society. Education reform has drawn a distinct line between success and failure. Those who fall between the cracks have nothing to look forward to in a culture where accumulating assets is practically the meaning of life. Cultural differences aside, people live in fear. People have no hope. Most of the time they manage to appear as though they can ignore this but it always gnaws at their hearts.

The team is knit together more and more every day. Just this morning when I got up, Sam offered me some of the French toast he had made. I thought I would die of happiness. This must be what Bonhoeffer calls the roses and lilies of living in Christian community. All the WordMish missionaries spread across Taiwan (there's eighteen) got together for missionary worship on Sunday. This is a rare treat to worship in English. Last night we gathered for Bible Study, as we do every Tuesday night, and studied portions of scripture concerning Christ's coming, both first and second. We realized that just like the Jews longing for the Messiah, we are still waiting for something, but the Lord shows us that waiting passively isn't the ticket this time. Surrounded by this could of witnesses and steeped in God's Word, a more authentic understanding of Advent has grasped us. No green and red, no shopping mall "holiday" music. Just anticipation for a beautful promise.

That's the news, I guess. I still have some more stories. Don't lemme get away without sharing them.

04 December 2005

An Item Up for Prayer

The dean of CELA, (Concordia English Language Academy) is in the hospital today for some testing of some potentially serious nature. I don't know many more details than this. Please work this into your prayers for the day. Thank you.

03 December 2005

Our Baby's All Grows Up

Well, not quite. I'm still an infant in this whole missions game. This fact became quite blatant upon meeting those who had devoted their whole lives to missions at ABLASIA!. I have a lot to learn. But!

This past week marked an entirely new stage of development in the young lives of our new foreign teacher in Taiwan. After jumping through a ridiculous amount of hoops and enduring arbitrary amounts of time, our faithful coordinator Matt scored us our Alien Resident Cards the day before Thanksgiving.

Our first three months have been a sort of purgatory compared to this.

The Alien Resident Card (henceforth referred to as ARC) opens up a whole new spectrum of possibilities for foreigners living in Taiwan. Tuesday, we opened bank accounts. Now I can transfer dough from here to an account in the states and all sorts of whatnot. I'll save the details for an email to my parents, where they belong. But needless say, I'm breathing a sigh of relief not having to hoard wads, and I mean wads, of cash in an undisclosed location possibly in my residence (just in case someone who reads this also builds a time machine to go back in time to steal all my Monopoly Dollars). Now I keep all my funds in a little buiding called "ATM" just off campus.

This building was my first stop today before heading out to the used scooter shop; the proprieter of which considers Matt and any friend of Matt as a good customer. Yesterday, mulling over scooter selection, the majority of which looked something like praying mantises with plastic armor, I was pleased to find a quaint little Yamaha that looked like its designer had some idea about style. (Dad, you can check the approximate specs here, though mine's a little older and has a 90cc engine.) Now, if you think like me, "scooter" and "style" are synonomous, and accordion music should play in your head every time you ride one. So this praying mantis business was right out. I gave the helpful-but-hopelessly-unilingual-scooter-lady NT$3000 (approx USD100) to hold it and said I'd back the next day to pick it up.

Today, I did just that.

Guess what I did for the rest of today? If your answer involves accordions, you are correct.

At least five of the nine new foreign teachers will have a scooter by tomorrow. We're pretty excited. We did some victory laps around the campus when we got home. Some controversy remains as to whether the scooter will really change anybody's life. We'll still have the same places to go and just as many things to do, right? My mind is divided. It's true, we'll still have the same jobs to do and the same busy schedule, but at least a trip to the grocery store doesn't involve a commitment of at least two hours, or an errand to the city is actually possible within a half hour. And there's the accordion music. But maybe, like any other supposed time-saving technological advancement, it will just give us more things to do with our time. Will this scooter obligate me?

I'm hoping not. In fact, let's keep the main thing the main thing here. I bought my computer with the intent to use it to the glory of God. Have I always kept that in mind? No. But now's a good time to remember. If I want to hold to using what he's given me to glorify him, then the scooter is no exception. You might think I'm silly, but I'm going to ask for your prayers for this scooter and its use as a part of ministry. Which also reminds me: you're reading the blog of a missionary, and as such I have some stories to tell.

01 December 2005

I Feel Lonely

During November I made friends with a little jumping spider named Roy who would frequently visit me on my vanity, wall, or windowsill. I thought we were friends. Since coming back from Hong Kong, I haven't seen any sign of him.

This morning while arranging my locks, I saw what looked like Roy atop a picture frame. Upon closer examination, I found his coloring all wrong. Roy is black and yellow, and this impostor was all kinds of brown.

"Who are you?" I yelled. "And where's Roy?!"

Secretly, I'm afraid that I swallowed him in my sleep.


Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that doesn't end up with a lot of afterglow. It fades next to the plastic red sheen of the Christmas shopping season. It's December and Thanksgiving was last month, but I'm still thinking about it.

First of all it's striking that I think I've experienced hunger about one time total since our gathering at coordinators Matt and DeeDee's house. If they ever invite you, it's best to go with the understanding that 1) you're going to like whatever you put in your mouth, 2) you're going to put a lot of stuff in your mouth 3) and the majority of that stuff will come at dessert. Seriously, I think there were something like 18 different dishes and six of them were Nachtisch. They generously invited Team Taiwan and friends. Afterwards we collected twelve bushels.

We got all the celebratory stuff out of the way early (including stuffing hundreds of kids' faces with "foreign food"):

so that on Thanksgiving day proper we could shove off to Hong Kong. For dinner that day, I ate sushi. While riding a bus. It was probably the most thankful Thanksgiving I've ever lived, especially when we arrived in Hong Kong for collective participation in a missions conference and individual participation in a mystifyingly magnificent romance.

LCMS World Mish held a summit for all those involed in ministry all over Asia. They called it Asia Ablaze! (or Ablaze! Asia, we were never clear) but let's be honest, folks: your tongue just longs to say ABLASIA! I did my darndest to spread the terminology. I did a fair job among my field of influence. Unfortunately, within the lacquered networks of LCMS World Mish and other important Lutheran types, my realm of influence doesn't go too far. My handsome accomplice and I finally decided our best shot at spreading the coinage far and wide was to utter it as many times as possible within earshot of Lutheran Hour personality Reverend Ken Klaus. We're still waiting for the results on this.

Hong Kong International School hosted most of the goings on. This wonder of architecture crowned the tropical hills that protected harbors nestled in Hong Kong island, but was obviously chosen for its ideal group-photo circumstances.

Be sure and check the dead center of the above photo for the only one who knew she was in the photo, and also, incidentally, the cause of udder chaos in Macau.

The conference was tremendously edifying. Participants numbered almost 300, representing 16 nations. Upon arriving I immediately sensed togetherness. I reunited with people I had trained with, an admired college professor, A few Concordia PDX alum and a chance pen-pal from junior high. I met inhabitants fresh from places I can only imagine: Papua New Guinea, India, Korea, Indonesia, ad infinitum. We listened to and told one another our stories. We gave and received our name cards. Our understanding of the breath and width and depth and height swelled. Possibilities took on vivid color. Vague descriptions abounded.

When we finally rolled back into Concordia Middle School past midnight on Sunday, however, still sogged in bus-sleep, we noticed a queer emptiness. Upon looking up one of the mighty tree trunks, we found it led only to bare sky. The light of the next day revealed nineteen topless trees, cut to avoid loss of limb after exposure to pest during typhoon season. They didn't want branches falling on anybody. I guess it's safer, but none of us can help discomfort at the ominous brightness.

Those are the headlines, recently. Those only cover the physical world, though.

16 November 2005


I guess it's time for some more members of Team Taiwan to get sick again. I was thinking of this while I was teaching today...

So we're learning "In" and "Out" in the kindergarten class this week. The kids love the lesson because I make a bunch of them get inside a cardboard box. I also have a big board that says "In" and "Out" on it. I make the kids come up and touch the appropriate word. Lemme lay out the scene:

Me: Is Jay in or out of the box? Who can help?
Entire class: I CAN HELP!
Me: Sandy, come help. In our out? Touch the word.
Sandy: Sneezes into hand, slaps word "in" using sneezed-into hand
Me: Well, this lesson is over. Everyone clap for Sandy! Yay!

14 November 2005

Things I Meant to Write About, Part 4: YiWen and Brother

Allow me to more formally introduce my friend YiWen, my Chinese teacher, tour guide, mother hen and opportunity organizer. And if my faith would let me say it, oracle. I met her at church but I think she just came the one Sunday in order to meet and greet the new foreign teachers. She's a member, but might be better described as a silent partner, for reasons I won't go into just now. Or proabably ever.

Since then, she's been responsible for kicking many of our butts into more mainstream Taiwanese experience. (Living on the campus without a scooter can become something of a fishbowl.) Previously, she has taken me to visit her elder brother on weekends because she aches for him to know the Jesus loves him and believes that he will listen to me. Every Monday night she prepares dinner in her home for some of my teammates and me. Afterward she and her husband teach us Chinese.

Last Saturday she called me up while I was still tangled in sheets, her predictable m.o. (though it was kind of hard to avoid on this particular Satuday because I slept quite late), to ask if I wanted to go to an art exhibit. She said the gallery was somewhere near her folks' house, where her elder brother would most likely be. Convenient. We organized a time. I went back to rolling around on my mattress in attempt to avoid the reality of sunlight.

Soon enough I found myself at the gallery with her, asking where she'd heard about the exhibition. "My mom told me about it. She knows I like to go out and do things". Inside, a large panel outlining the lives of the artists greeted us when we entered. She pointed them out and matched up each artist with their work. As she lingered, I surveyed the room but we met up by the work of the only artist in the exhibition I really appreciated. Each had an inscription beneath, adding proverb to the didactic mindscapes. Sometimes she translated one for me. As we left, commenting on this artist's work, she looked to see when the artists were present at the exhibition, suggesting that I could meet him. I didn't know what I'd do meeting such a man, so I did little more than smile acquiescently, hoping she wouldn't put too much effort into the endeavour.

We got into the car and headed off in the direction of her parents' house. The conversation dwelled on the life of the artist. "All of those in the exhibition live in this county. Many are very poor, even though well known." I nodded, and she continued by speaking my own thoughts. "But they're rich by what they have inside."

"Have you heard of any of those artists we saw today?"

"A few I know very well." I had had no idea. In actuality I had all but given up hope on the presence of art in Taiwan. These are people who take every other weekend off because it's a requirement. "Too bad we missed them at the exhibition. It's all right, there will be another opportunity." A lot of time when I'm with YiWen, I just keep my mouth shut because I'm not sure what's happening. Instead I looked out the window, wondering how such an artless environment could have produced such vibrant and imaginative artists. I really don't understand Taiwan yet and I would be well-served to reserve judgment, just like I keep my mouth shut around YiWen, but I guess that's why I have a blog. Blogs and reserving judgment seem mutually exclusive.

Pretty soon we pulled up at her parents' house in the country, as expected, but I had to re-confirm my bearings when YiWen sighed, perhaps, I thought, transitioning to audible internal monologue, "So maybe we won't meet the artist today." I looked around. She looked at me and deadpans: "The artist is my younger brother. Let's move." This is what she says when she means "Let's go." She has no idea how colloquial it sounds. I even think she was surprised to see me double over in laughter at her ruse. I guess we both have to get used to one another.

13 November 2005

Things I Meant to Write About Part 3

So one of my adventures here has been in teaching Bible to the sixth graders, which is a beautiful thing because they've reached an age in which questions are starting to occupy a greater portion of their minds. Plus their English ability also presents a harvest of teachable moments. I think. Anyhow, this allows me to posit some questions that younger, unquestioning learners would never trouble over.

On top of that, their bible lessons thus far have often and unfortunately taken the shape of an old testament story or something about Jesus' miracles, or simply an endeavor to instill a biblical moral teaching without first laying the essential ground work that the gospel is essential to our hearts. I don't know when it became okay to teach kids--or anybody--straight morals, leaving out the detail that they are incalculably loved by an all-powerful God, hence the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus--and call it bible study.

But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about bible lessons in my class. The casual theme of our bible lessons is "Who is Jesus?" I think I made this up at the end of our first bible lesson together, a few seconds before telling them as much. We talk about, you guessed it, who he is, and what he does. They have little books of blank paper where they draw pictures of who Jesus is. So far we've learned--and drawn--that Jesus is a friend, Jesus forgives, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Judging from the industry invested in these books, this is one of their favorite activities. In fact Bible is one of their favorite times of the week in general. Which is why it surprised me when I found blatant evidence of cheating on two students' bible work a few weeks ago.

It's not hard to spot counterfeit work in the ESL classroom. It's either the exact same inane mistake on two or more students' work or a struggling grammarian has suddenly blossomed into a flawless liguistic acrobat. Today we deal with the former.

This all arose of a Bible lesson that provided some interesting feedback from the students. After we learned that Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full, I asked, "What did Jesus mean by a full life: goods, family, happiness, etc.?...or is there more to a ful life?" Surprisingly, many of the students ended up writing that there was more to life. One even included the idea of suffering as a part of a full life. And then, at the bottom of the stack, two papers:

I think love, forgive, and the time.
I don't know what this means. I could stretch my assumptions of these kids' existential understandings, and I will say, yes, perhaps the original author had ahold of an idea of merit. Regardless: zero points for delivery. I can just imagine these two scrambling at the opening of class (you have to imagine the Chinese yourself):
Taiwanese kid #1: You got Bible done?
Taiwanese kid #2: Yeah
#1: Lemme see the answer to number four
#2: Uh, just write "I think love, forgive, and the time."
#1: You sure?
#2: Man, it's solid. Plus it's Bible. Who cares?
The weird thing is, I know which of the two wrote it and which plagiarized. The impostor was the better student. Needless to say, neither of them knew how to explain "love, forgive and the time". Zero points for Bible.

01 November 2005

Things I Meant to Write about Part 2: The Recreation Habits of the Host Culture

This is the type of stuff I see every day

Several weekends ago, some of the national teachers (read: Taiwanese) and the CELA teachers celebrated Ten-Ten holiday (Tenth of October) by camping at Sun Moon Lake, ambling through the made-for-tourists paradise of the Bamboo Culture Park, and joining the rest of Taiwan's 23 million citizens on the island's limited thoroughfares.

First stop: bamboo culture park. The most thematic theme park I've ever been to. No rides. Tons of varieties of bamboo. The man in the picture gave us a complete tour including every piece of information you'd ever want to know about bamboo.

Unfortunately it was all in Chinese and translations were spotty at best.

After singing about bamboo, dancing with bamboo, drinking water purified through bamboo, sitting in houses of bamboo on bamboo furniture, eating bamboo, internally repeating the word "bamboo" until no longer able to distinguish meaning from syllables, pledging unfailing devotion to bamboo, making a kitschy bamboo craft, and peacefully reflecting upon the meaning of bamboo, the whole company loaded back into vehicles and braved the mighty hairpin turns leading us to one of Taiwan three wonders (or so I've been told): Sun Moon Lake.

The camping here is said to be outstanding. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly had very little to do with broken down boats, about a dozen stray-and-barking dogs, a Catholic Priest from Minnesota as proprieter and owner of said stray-and-barking dogs, tents of complete strangers' pitched almost on top of mine, and a surprise fireworks display from the opposite shore. Amidst these revelations, I grew suddenly aware of the fact that I was pretty grumpy, understandibly due to traipsing around in close quarters with the same set of folks for nigh on twenty-four hours now. When I went on a walk I found tadpoles! Hundreds of them! Squirming right there in the water by the handfuls! In fact, it was a little strange to pick them up. They felt like a bunch of squirming little beans.
Even though there was no campfire that night, we busted out the guitar and sang some songs. This activity quickly attracted the attention of every child in the campsite. They came to stand and watch. It was clear from the expressions on their faces that they didn't know what they had come for; only that in their purest of curiosity the music had drawn them and they had not denied its pull. We grown-up Americans, not satisfied with this, taught them all the kiddie songs and motions their little heads could hold and sent them back to their families' tents reciting incomprehensible jumbles of consonants paired with catchy tunes.

The next morning, still, none of our hosts bat an eye at the uneven balance between activity and leisure, so we broke camp and packed all equipment up the tropical jungle path in one big sweat and settled back into the cars for a sleep until our final stop at the paper factory. Our centripitally-pitched sleep was interrupted, however, about an hour and a half in, by a screech. Both cars pulled onto a narrow shoulder. Everyone's frantic search through every piece of luggage slowly reached through the haze of sleep: one of our company had lost his wallet.

The initial search brought us no closer to credit cards or identification so the two vehicles made for a safer roadside harbor. Noticing a house sitting at the end of the driveway, I wondered aloud whether they might let me use their bathroom. No sooner had the words escaped my lips than I found myself being led by the wrist to the front door of a stranger's house in a foreign land and presented to its inhabitants. Who can deny the feebly grinning redhead with the full bladder on the doorstep? And so while my little wish was granted, the Lord granted a bigger wish at the bottom of a bag, credit cards, identification and cash all intact, and we climbed back into the cars again

We arrived at the paper factory about a half an hour before it was set to close which, meant no lingering by the Mulberry Papyrus tree for that photo-op. According to sources, we were about to witness the highest quality of paper production on the island. I think that's kind of a big thing in a culture with a historical claim to the invention of paper.

It comes from the bark of the finest groves of trees, (don't ask me which species anymore, I only know Mulberry Papyrus) which is cut, boiled, and then blended. We saw and even got to touch a big vat of this blend after the water had drained out of it. It looked like a big white pulpcake. Mom, next birthday, keep it in mind: Pulpcake! Mmmmmm!

Mixed with water again, a man pours exactly the right amount over his big, flat bamboo sieve (and you thought bamboo was good for nothing) and let the water drain out. If the man touches the wet paper, it will be ruined. So he carefully attaches a sticky piece of string to the paper, lifts the flexible sieve and deposits the wet sheet on his growing stack of hundreds of wet sheets of paper.

From here, the stack is pressed and heated for awhile, maybe a couple days but don't take my word for it. If you make paper based on this recipe, I'm not resposible for what kind of muck you turn out with. I can, however, give you a solid set of instructions for pulpcake.

Finally, a lady takes one sheet from the stack at a time and puts it on her hot steel counter to brush it out with a little water. As soon as all the water cooks away, the paper is done and ready to be packaged and sent to all the foremost calligraphers in the nation and probably all over the occidental world.

So if this weren't enough, if we hadn't had enough of one another yet, we load back into the vehicles to join just about everyone in Taiwan--again--on the roads in search of an obscure little food stand we just had to visit. Of course by this time I had completely lost my bearings (okay let's be real. I didn't know where the heck we were the entire time) but my efforts to find out whether this joint was out of the way or not were onconclusive, mostly because, conveniently, no one answered me. It was about 2 and a half hours and several wrong turns before we finally decided, or discovered, that our little destination was closed (and why not? Everything is closed in Sunday night so why should this be an exception) and we'd have to opt for a little hot pot which just happened to be serving. After consuming a meal mostly in silence, we finally reloaded the cars for the last time and on the other side of stop-and-go-sleep ended up at the Practice Hotel.

All in all a satisfying, if enraging and exhausting, weekend. New entry in my internal dictionary of things that, even when translated, have different meanings in Chinese and English: vacation.

Things I Meant to Write About, Part 1

If you've ever had a fruit tree in your yard you know what it's like, come harvest time, when the fruit ripens, falls off of the tree and rots before anyone has a chance to get around to eating it. Just so with so many experiences in Taiwan. By the time I get around to writing it down, the fruit isn't quite as tasty as fresh-plucked.

First up, (and I think I should clarify from the get-go that I don't consider this topic like a piece of rotten fruit,) a little recap to put closure on that last post of so so long ago. Ryan and I have become more and more aware of people praying for us, sometimes people neither of us even know. This completely knocks me off my chair every time I think about it. Definitely a first as far as my own romantic endeavours are concerned. All the time I used to spend thinking "God wants me to" keep my head clear of that worthless mushy stuff so that I could focus on him, only to find out that:

  1. The Lord uses our meaningful relationships as a profound method of teaching us about himself, and
  2. He even provides support--via the prayers of the church--for said relationship to grow strong!
So if it were not apparent, the time we had together was delightful. Travel eventful enough to be called adventurous but not dangerous, and safe. Everyone, thank you for your love and prayers. I wish we could all hang out some time.

18 October 2005

Special Day!

Yesterday I got two packages: one was my order from Amazon (they even deliver here!) and the other was a care package from home (thank you, Mom and Dad! I love you). But today is a special day.

Today, someone very special to me makes a journey from Thailand to Taiwan for a visit. You may have guessed it: this someone, if you'll excuse the sentiment, is my sweetheart, Ryan. He teaches English in Thailand, and if you want to know more about him than this fetching photo, you can read his blog. For now, though, here's a fetching photo.

Trouble Commenting?

I've been receiving word that some are not able to post comments. Please try and if you experience similar trouble, email me (see the link to the right). I'm trying to troubleshoot and the more info I have, the better. I think I might just have to ask the folks at Blogger for some help (they host the site).

Next time: weekend adventures, from Sun Moon Lake, to the Paper Factory, to the Air Force Base Officer's Club! Stay tuned.

14 October 2005

Living Fossils

Tonight as I rode the lonely road home from Friday Night Bible Study, I passed an vacant lot, clearly neglected ruins, save for two standing gas pumps, blue digital displays lit. I thought that was interesting. Dinosaurs couldn't hack environmental changes, but our dependence on their bones won't seem to die with the era it fueled.

Go to the Ant, You Sluggard!

I've been having problems with ants. I don't know what they want in my room. I sweep. I keep clean. I know they're all over inside the walls and out my window I can see their trails on the bricks. Now, I like ants. I just wish they would play out of my sight.

I've tried to get the message across. They start up a trail, I start up a massacre. It had been my habit to smash them against the wall using a small, hardbound book, the effect being that many of their flattened bodies stuck to the wall as a message to the others. After compiling a mural in a concentrated part of the wall composed of well over one hundred flat ant carcasses, I sat back to observe how the ant community would respond.

This is when I began to discover a few different kinds of ants. First came the regular trail ants, just following the scent of those who had gone before. But then, encountering a slaughtered kinsman, they turn into panic ants, running wildly in any direction, not unlike a man traveling through a myseterious cave and seeing a skull or a pile of bones. In his efforts to make a quick retreat, he more than likely stumbles upon several more skeletions, possibly falling into a pile and augmenting his hysteria. Exactly so with the ants. At this point, observing, I'd usually smash the panic ant too.

After awhile, I observed a different reaction. I'm almost certain that the next kind of ant I began to see was slightly bigger and had longer legs. They approached the dead, investigated briefly, and went right to work prying the smooshed bodies off of the wall. Some of the remains must have dropped to the floor in the process, because I watched several ants travel down to retrieve them. In two days' time, most of my wall of death had been collected and carried to the secret ant burial gounds. This section of the wall was then avoided for awhile.

Meanwhile, a much smaller and feebler variety of ants started poking about my vanity. They gathered mysteriously around a colorless spot whose value to the ants I couldn't ascertain. I also couldn't find where they'd been coming from, so I glued up all visible gaps in the vicinity. Pokey and tiny as they were, I smashed them anyway, though I kind of felt bad about it. In the ant world, they've got to be like kindergartners, and there's nothing funny about smashing kindergartners flat.

The bigger ants collected them too! As though there was a tax deduction involved in the work! And I wondered, then, what kind of punishment ants would ever be given, if there were an ant judicial system: their whole lives are already community service anyways!

I eventually figured out their gathering place had been the site of a drop of jam several weeks hence.

The jelly ants can detect jams, jelies, and preserves from 100 kilometers away, give or take a few meters, depending on flavor. On a good day, they can stake out dried fruit: apricots and the like. I cleaned out some jelly jars for decorative use in my room. I put water in them and floated candles. Apparently soap wasn't enough. The next day I found a gathering of jelly ants, half of whom had already drowned in the water. There couldn't be but .5 ppm jelly, if that. And despite the drowned ants, new ones just kept coming.

At this point, I walked down the stairs to the kitchen, got the Raid out from under the sink, and dispatched everything smaller than a breadbox living in my room. Then I washed the walls with bleach and water. I have seen one ant in my room since. I let him live, since I figure hes like the servant who escaped the catastrophes that struck Job's possessions. It amuses me to think of a little Job ant scraping his boils with a piece of broken pottery.

13 October 2005

The Garden Kitchen and Adventures with Crazy Man

To start off, a little context. I teach until 6:30 every weeknight and I've picked up a routine to occupy my evenings. Monday night I take Chinese lessons at the house of a friend. Tuesday, the team has bible study together. Wednesday, more Chinese in a group of foreign teachers, taught by some national teachers at Concordia Middle School (Heretofore referred to as CMS). Friday nights, the springboard for a lot of our work here: Friday Night Bible Study, or FNBS. Held at Salvaiton Lutheran Church in ChiaYi, it hosts Christians, seekers and random invitees for praise songs and bible study in three different levels of English proficiency. But this entry was supposed to be about something different.

All this leaves Thursday nights in the hands of my fancy. Last night, this meant furthering my efforts toward becoming a regular at my favorite restaurant, the Garden Kitchen. By the grace of God, it's within easy riding distance from the Practice Hotel. However with the waning health of the majority of our bicycles, one can't expect a trip without incident. Sure enough, about 50 meters from my destination, I derailed the chain of the bike known as Crazy Man (mostly because that's what the decal on the side says) and the pedals stuck fast. I decided to leave it in front of the restaurant and deal with it later.

What makes the Garden Kitchen so appealing other than proximity, you ask? I myself find it trying to give just one answer. For one, the owners of the Garden Kitchen seem to be the only ones in all of ChiaYi County with a gift for creating an aesthetic casual dining atmosphere. One can look out the glass walls at the thriving layers of green in trees, palms, potted plants, vines and mosses all nestled in a homey garden. One can even sit outside in said garden and enjoy the sounds of the little waterfall, so the restaurant is exactly what it says. Though this was the first appeal for me, others now rival it.

The wait staff, whose names I don't even know yet, always give a warm and charming welcome. I know they recognize me and make every effort for accommodation, sometimes to the point of comedy. Anyway it's apparent that they appreciate patronage of all the foreign teachers, and they're always endearingly curious about us. Last time I went with Anna Banana and when the waitress served her a honey waffle, she had written "HONEY" on top with the whipped cream. Then, from the counter, they all watched her reaction to the "hidden message".

They're also delighted that we're trying to learn Chinese. Last night when I was there with my workbooks, the waiter told me that he could help me with any questions--and made good when I asked him how to phonetically write the name of the restaurant.

He also asked why I had decided to come to Taiwan, so I told him the standard answer--teach English, talk to people about Jesus. I did not get a chance to talk gospel last night. That's why I want to be a regular.

Finally, the menu is dynamite. Last night, I ordered the swordfish and the hot tangerine tea, and I didn't know exactly what to expect. The tea was bright, opaque yellow, and in the steeper were three miniature, peeled tangerines! I think it was the cutest drink I've ever drank.

By the time I finished my pot of tea, I had learned enough to write "Garden Kitchen is my favorite" in the chinese phonetic alphabet (BoPoMoFo--don't laugh) and leave the note on the table. As I was positioning Crazy Man's kickstand outside the gate, I could see the waitress collect the note, and after puzzling over it a little she looked up and smiled at me.

Crazy Man gave me problems all the way home, but I wasn't bothered. First I had to stop near a taxi stand, where there was light, and try to put the chain back on the cogs. Lucky that it's a loose chain, so it was possible, but I kept slipping up until one of the cabbies approached and pointed out the bike shop across the street. I tried to assemble the words along with some gestures to let him know that I didn't have money*, but ended up just blurting in German, "Ich habe kein Geld!" A foreign language is a foreign languag, right? Somehow I got the point across and he held the back wheel of the bike up off the ground so I could get the chain working again.

I repeated this process once more, alone, in the dark, on the 5-minute ride home. During this encounter I noted, additionally, that the space between cogs and chains is no place for fingers, and Crazy Man's kickstand wasn't worth a bean after all. Didn't bother me, though. Really didn't bother me. As long as I had the Garden Kitchen, all was right in the world.

*This wasn't really true, Mom and Dad, I just didn't want to pay for something that I knew I could do myself, even if awkwardly.

30 September 2005

Get-Ready...Get-Ready...The Worrr-uld is Coming to an End!

Did anyone else read that short story by James Thurber, The Car We Had to Push? With that one character the Get-Ready Man? And he was always only saying what it says in the title of this post?

No? I'm the only one?

Another typhoon will shortly be upon us. I've heard it'll be bgger than the last one. The campus is eerily empty and still, and the air is thick. I am hiding out in my basement kindergarten room all day, trying in vain to banish mold and mildew. Mom, send more Lysol!

29 September 2005

Will God be Good?

I'm well! I'm not sick anymore. Though the health of Team Taiwan in general has been spotty the whole time; since training, even. One of us heals whilst a different ailment pulls another asunder.

My Dad tells me that plenty of folks back home are reading and enjoying the blog! I'm so happy to hear this! Thanks so much for reading and praying. Please don't stop.

I was talking to my Mom this morning (though it was night there in Lodi) and something she asked has got me thinking: "Is there any big news?" There's no big news. As far as the blog is concerned, I realized that I only tend to make a post when big news does happen, or when I realize what God has been putting together.

Today's entry, then, is none of the above. Today's entry is the in-progress look at what is going on, from my little point of view, anyway. Picture hard hats and scaffolding.

We (Team Taiwan) are a month into teaching. We're starting to think that we know what we're doing, or at least, we know how to get through a day in the classroom and avoid pandemonium. I may not be able to speak on everyone's behalf, but I know that I am just getting by on the seat of my pants. I get by because I happen to realize, a split second before it does, that the kindergartners' attention span is about to run dry. This is when I make everyone stand up and shake different parts of their bodies.

I'm getting used to living with everybody, and living here on the campus of the school. I find this difficult, mostly because the campus is not centrally located or even in a city and my means of transportation is a bicycle. I can appreciate the monkey wrench this throws into my quest for independence, thereby carving out a handy niche for "interdependence", but not without a little bit of frustration. It's even difficult to put aside time for a trip to the grocery store, much less the engineering involved in bringing back said groceries.

Most of all, though, I often doubt my progress in bringing the Gospel. I know, I know: who can let their light shine when they're always busy throwing themselves pity parties? The truth is, this is the bulk of the obstacle right now. It's not the inexperience or the campus-fishbowl or the bicycle or any other scapegoat I might conjure up. It's me. It's the talents hidden in the ground. It's the fact that I wake up every morning without the solid assurance that God Will Be Good.

Pete, my father, has some instructions hanging up in his office for "How to be miserable". The first of them is to disobey God.

Didn't God give us multiple promises and evidences of his goodness? Didn't Jesus tell us that we were worth more to the Lord than sparrows, who get their needs met every day? Doesn't he offer the desires of our hearts to anyone who will just open their hands?

21 September 2005

Eastern Medicine

This week I got sick; nothing fancy just a coughing and mucous ordeal. On Monday, the kindergartner's brilliant substitute had all the little muffins write me some fifty charming prescriptions. Here is one.

You get the picture. The pharmacist knows what to do. Come this morning, though, still hacking, I finally decided to stop ignoring the color of my snot and visit the doctor. He set me up with a prescription that they filled right at the clinic: nine little paper wads, each with the pictured cocktail of pills inside. If this doesn't sooth my throat, decongest my nasal cavities and prevent me from ever having cancer, I'm demanding my six bucks back.

18 September 2005

Moon Festival Continued

I was hard-pressed to find a national who could adequately explain the story behind Moon Festival. Finally, on Friday night at another Moon Festival celebration hosted by Sun Rose and her six siblings, someone handed me a piece of paper with all the legends printed out on it. From the internet. Unwilling to accept such an unromantic presentation, I handed it to Anna, sitting next to me, and had her read it aloud.

Apparently, there are four legends. I could easily link to them, but then I'd have to edit my earlier remark, and I don't like to edit.

The Lady
The time of this story is around 2170 B.C., when ten suns circled round our planet, each taking its turn to illuminate the earth. One day, though, they all appeared together, scorching the earth with their heat. The earth was saved by a strong and tyrannical archer, Hou Yi. He succeeded in shooting down nine of the suns. One day, Hou Yi stole the elixir of life from a goddess. However his beautiful wife Chang Er drank the elixir of life in order to save the people from her husband's tyrannical rule. After drinking it, she found herself floating and flew to the moon. Hou Yi loved his divinely beautiful wife so much, he didn't shoot down the moon. I don't know why he had in mind to shoot down the moon.

The Man
Wu Kang was a shiftless fellow who changed apprenticeships all the time. One day he decided that he wanted to be an immortal. Wu Kang then went to live in the mountains where he importuned an immortal to teach him. First the immortal taught him about the herbs used to cure sickness, but after three days his characteristic restlessness returned and he asked the immortal to teach him something else. So he asked the immortal to teach him chess, but after a short while Wu Kang's enthusiasm again waned. Then Wu Kang was given the books of immortality to study. Of course, Wu Kang became bored within a few days, and asked if they could travel to some new and exciting place. Angered with Wu Kang's impatience, the master banished Wu Kang to the Moon Palace telling him that he must cut down a huge cassia tree before he could return to earth. Though Wu Kang chopped day and night, the magical tree restored itself with each blow, and thus he is up there chopping still.

The Jade Rabbit
In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh instead, jumping into a blazing fire to cook himself. The sages were so touched by the rabbit's sacrifice that they let him live in the Moon Palace where he became the "Jade Rabbit."

During the Yuan dynasty (A.D.1280-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (A.D.960-1280) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule, and set how to coordinate the rebellion without it being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Backed into each moon cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644). Today, moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend.

Moon Festival falls in the middle of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It's a kind of harvest festival, and I guess there are enough legends about the moon--how could it help but be a time to celebrate. And celebrate we did! Barbecue again--and what better way to fan the flame than--that's right, the traditional way--a hair dryer.


16 September 2005

Mooncake! The Outside Tastes Like Moon and the Inside Tastes Like Autumn!

It's that time of year again: Moon Festival. I can't seem to get the whole story on Moon Festival. I don't know why it's a holiday; that is to say, I don't understand why the story of a girl traveling to the moon with her pet rabbit is an occasion to be celebrated. All I know is that it is celebrated, there's food, mooncake and jollification involved, and there's moon involved.

Last night, to celebrate, the teachers had a barbecue after school, slow-cooking all kinds of fare: shrimp, squid, fish, rice sausages, veggie kabobs, cornonnacob, things I can describe but wouldn't sound delicious even though they were. We gathered around three small, squat grills for a good three hours, a little longer, perhaps, than my attention span for such an "event", but we get used to these things. The moon, almost white and almost full, glided along its slow arc against the starless, purple sky.

Keeping with the theme of late, it occurs to me that a child might have similar early rememberances of Moon Festival, or any holiday for that matter: not sure of the occasion's significance, fragmentary but personally poignant--even magical--memories assume priority in the holiday schema. Perhaps as grown-ups, the sky won't seem as purple nor the fellowship as simple. Notwithstanding a basic ignorance for the holiday's legitimate reason, however, the concept of Moon Festival is about as concrete as it's going to get: there's food, mooncake and jollification involved, and there's moon involved.

15 September 2005

"I think that's a fang..."

This is a joint blogging effort, on the parts of myself and one Anna Horkey. It all started when Callie (one of the Taiwanese English teachers) burst into the office with news of a snake in her classroom. Our reaction (or lack thereof): Stare blankly. Maybe a nod. Eventually two of us humored her enough to follow her into the room. The rest of this story was only heard, rather than experienced, because both Anna and this typist were ambivolent. We didn't need to see this snake. We've seen snakes.

Well, so two of our boys went in there and poked at the snake, who was hiding underneath the unit of cubbies, in order to get him to pop out the other side. They, like us, were assuming garden snake. Apparently everyone forgot that we are in Tropical Asia. The boys poked the snake onto some upturned tape underneath the cubbies, where it stuck. They extracted the creature, which was longer than expected. Something was amiss, but being unable to put thier finger on exactly what, they continued to take care of the problem. They got a little more skittish when the "problem" flared, turning out NOT to be a harmless garden snake, but rather a cobra. It was then that they were struck with a sudden awareness of their peril. Happily, the tape kept the cobra on a short leash until he was contained, and we're unclear about the apparatus and method, other than there being a mop involved. But soon he was in a box, and Calvin-the-all-pupose-fix-it-man was quickly on hand. At least he looked like he had done this before.

The lesson here: don't poke.

12 September 2005

Time-Honored Advice From a Very Happy Kitty

In America, all we get is a name brand logo, dimensions, and maybe a little graphic design on the front of packs of loose-leaf paper. In Taiwan, they go all-out. Who needs fortune cookies when you have fortune everything?

08 September 2005

Baby's First Haircut

On our first arrival here, Team Tiawan receieved clear instruction that the immediate future has steep learning curve in store for us. We were reminded that just as Christ came as an infant into his culture, we must be willing to learn with a similar attitude. This includes not understanding almost all dialogue, gathering a lot of clues, and trying not to stand in the wrong place.

Last night I went with a new national friend, Annie, to get my hair cut. She brought me to a place just down the street from her house. Now, you've got to understand a little something about homes here in Taiwan. It appears that the average city dwelling can be easily converted into a place of business. The front room is just the right size you'd need to market your wares and services. The beauty salon was no different.

Still, though, not what you'd expect from an American beauty parlor. There were two chairs stlled comfortably in front of two full length mirrors. A woman soaking her feet occupied one chair. Annie, upon whom I'd be entirely dependent for the next hour or so, guided me toward the other chair. While Annie and the stylist had a hands-on conversation about my hair, I took in what I could through the reflection in the mirror. Just behind me sat and entirely indifferent elderly woman watching a soap opera on television. The woman soaking her feet interjected familiarly. A little girl peeked in at me from behind the curtain separating the room from the rest of the dwelling. And by peeked I mean, well, gaped. Not open-mouthed, but close enough.

By this time the woman was pouring goopy soap on my dry hair and massaging it into a lather. She did this for about twenty minutes. Recommended if you ever come to Taiwan. Meanwhile, the cast of characters gained some permanence in the scene. I discovered that the entirely indifferent elderly woman was in the care of her daughter-in-law, the stylist, who was also babysitting the little girl. The woman soaking her feet was a regular.

What unfolded in the beauty shop eclipses what I can pin down in words. It was a humble episode of ordinary life. I suddenly gained a more acute appreciation for the unremarkable atmosphere of Jesus' birth.

The haircut turned out great. That lady really knows what she's doing.

And Speaking of Babies...
Just when you thought they couldn't get any cuter, here are some little ones who understand more about this place than I do.

Can you resist them? No, you cannot. I thought I could, but there are so many of them that they could carry you away. They are to me as ants are to a picnic watermelon. Any fans of Disney's animated television series Recess will remember the apt portrayal of Kindergartners as tribal savages. The sheer number of Kindys at this school makes them a formidable foe. There's got to be at least 200 of them, I'm not kidding you, and they occupy an entire building. When you walk in and hear their voices, you can only pray that they're not restless or hungry or have to got to the bathroom. The trick, I've decided, is to find a way to convince them that you're just as crazy as they are.

06 September 2005

All the Accoutrements Again

Maybe it was lightening, maybe it was providence, but for the last four days, the Practice Hotel lost its connection to the internet. This was a troubling prospect for us, the intrepid polytopians we had come to be--only through the magic of the internet. But we noticed something. All of a sudden there was no "default activity". We were not constantly stealing away to make sure our respective electronic realms were still intact (in case enyone was wondering, this is what I'm doing now). We became calmer and gained focus. We met people. We grew.

But with the restoration of our connection, all that growth is both-feet-down-the-toidy.

In the meanwhile, I've started teaching: five crops of hopelessly confused kindergarteners and a sprouting garden of bemused sixth graders. I have about three years of prep time every week, which is a beginning teacher's dream come true. But enough talk, because I know why you're all really reading my blog and all your holding out for pictures of cute foreign kids is about to pay off. These two are kindergarteners.

And these are narcissistic hoodlums fascinated with westerners and their cameras, God love 'em.

Got your fix? Good. I myself, I just can't get enough.

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