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.