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.