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.