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.

I will be sending out a newsletter here soon. If for some reason you think I don't have your email address and you would like to receive a newsletter, please click the link to email me off to the left. I mean RIGHT.

01 September 2005


Upon waking up this morning I heard the meek little sounds of a bird chirping right outside my window. Under normal circumstances it wouldn't seem out of place, but this was the window I had fortified with a thick blanket last night to prevent anything from coming through it: water, branches, whatnot. The finch, as it turned out to be, sought a moment's respite from the torrential wind and rain of Typhoon Haitang on the tiny windowsill outside.

Since my windows were so blurred with rain, I went into the bathroom, where the windows are screen and metal bars. The view from there afforded a look at two palm trees suffering in the wind, just like all the stock footage of any hurricane you've ever seen. I understand now why journalists always choose to film them; they look so dramatic, bending to the whims of the tropical storm. The actual storm boils off the eastern coast of the island, and though it's not a big place, the mountain range running north and south through its center provides the west coast, with the majority of the population, with shelter against the worst of the storm. Notwithstanding, Haitang managed to do a good deal of damage around the island, being the "most powerful tyhpoon to hit Taiwan in the last five years". Read a complete rundown of Haitang's path of destruction here.

I was delighted to discover that all our luxuries (electricity, hot water, internet connection) were all still fully operational. In this we are blessed, because a cursory glance around the campus shows a battlefield of broken tree branches and torn-down electricity wires. School was called off (yesterday was only the first day of school for the elementary level students and teachers). The storm is winding down to intermittent downpour and electric activity, which is a relief to those of us who have been holed up in the Practice Hotel all day. The Hotel itself has sustained only a little water damage, and this only in the "lobby", which is used more as a garage.