A Year of Letting Go

What an interesting year this has been.  The more I let go of what I thought I knew and what I expected, the more interesting it became.  This year we let go of our plans (multiple times), our possessions (well, not all of them, there’s a lot in storage), our literacy, our cultural assumptions, and our roles in our family.  I don’t know what will happen in the coming year. I’ve stopped trying to predict the future.  My goal now is to embrace whatever comes.  Not a bad place to be.

Happy New Year 2013!

Keeping the Cats Off the Keyboard

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Looie and Cricket really like to “help” while I’m typing.  Some of you know this from the odd statements in the middle of my emails.  I discovered that Looie will happily sit in my desk drawer instead of on the keyboard.  Big improvement!  Then Cricket wanted to get in the act.  (Cricket always wants to be where Looie is.)  Of course the desk drawer is nowhere near big enough for one cat, let alone two.  So now Cricket crawls into the shallow drawer and down to the next drawer where she can have a little privacy.  Scared me to death the first time I tried to close the empty drawer and heard the rattling from inside the desk!

Helpful cats.

Peaceful Time with Our Friends

Originally we thought we would take advantage of the two week Christmas break with a big trip.  Fortunately, we decided against that.  Now that the semester is over and we have been in Taiwan for five months, it’s time for a rest.  So we have been enjoying a peaceful time for the past week, and still had plenty of opportunities to get together with those of our friends who stayed in town.

Christmas Day we gathered at the traditional Taiwanese outdoor restaurant about a block from our apartment.  It was a beautiful evening.  Just right for noodles, three cup chicken, and a cautious taste of stinky tofu.  Carol even brought champagne and cake to celebrate her birthday.

We arranged a tour of the Chung Tai Chan Monastery on Friday.  I had been to the public areas, but this was a chance to see the upper floors.  No photos allowed on the tour so you’ll just have to take our word for it – it was spectacular.  The monastery was sited in Puli where it is surrounded by mountains in the shape of a lotus flower.

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You can really get a feel for the site from the immense windows on the upper floors.  We even got to walk down the pilgramage stairway on the side of the building.  Our group converged at the monastery from different parts of the island so I thought it best to set a time to meet well before the time of our tour.  Fortunately there was a very good vegetarian restaurant on the grounds. We spent a peaceful hour sitting in the shade on a perfect day.

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Saturday evening Rod and Michiko hosted a potluck dinner.  We had Japanese, Thai, and Spanish dishes (plus an all American succotash from me).  Good food, good conversation, a great evening.

Now we have a week with no scheduled events.  I think it’s just what we need to get ready for the next semester.  We’ll sneak in a few more side trips before school starts again.

Poinsettias for Christmas

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Poinsettias growing wild and tall in the forest.

Charlene took us to Dongshi Forest Park for a Christmas Eve adventure.  It’s about an hour’s drive away from Taichung.  Since it was the middle of an ordinary week (in Taiwan) there were very few people there. The air was clean.  The flowers were beautiful.  And most of all, it was quiet. A great way to spend Christmas Eve!

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Dan and a very persistent bird he had been feeding.  It just would not go away.

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Gardening staff headed home at the end of a long day.

Christmas Concerts

We thought we were going to have a quiet Christmas.  We thought wrong.  The calendar is pretty full this week.  We’ve already had a few Christmas adventures, with more to come.

Sunday night we went to the Klazz Brothers and Cuba Percussion concert.  Onstage were Germans, Cubans, and a Taiwanese translator.  The Germans and Cubans spoke English. We understood their jokes. We didn’t understand the Taiwanese jokes, but the audience did.

The music was jazzed up American Christmas songs with some Mozart thrown in.  They also threw in one song that clearly resonated with the Taiwanese (they all sang along) but we had never heard.  That’s when I leaned over to Dan and whispered, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”  I think we saw one other Westerner in the audience.

The Germans commented a number of times about how Christmas here was like Christmas in the summer.  The Taiwanese were bundled up in sweaters and parkas.  But we understood.  At least until the temperature dropped and the cold wind picked up the next day.  Now it feels more like Christmas. At least Christmas in Seattle.  Time for fleece!

Last night we joined Charlene at her church for a Christmas celebration.  We misunderstood the directions so arrived too late for the singing but we were in time for the entertainment portion of the evening.  Children played violin and piano.  The youth group did a skit (with all the awkardness of teenage youth groups around the world).  Santa handed out candy.  The pastor gave a short sermon (with PowerPoint slides).  The foreigners (that would be us) were made to stand up and introduce themselves, and pull raffle ticket numbers, and sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (the only song the congregation knew in English.  Surprisingly it felt like a very familiar community.  Charlene translated it all.

After all the Christmas songs and decorations in the stores and restaurants, it didn’t really feel like Christmas here until the tiny church choir sang carols in Chinese.

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What Fruit is This?

The tomato lady at the morning market handed me a sample of a funny looking fruit yesterday.  The texture is like a crisp, juicy apple, and the taste is slightly spicy.  It’s very good! She didn’t know the English name for it.  Does anyone know what this is?

On the way home we stopped to buy peanuts from a vendor on the sidewalk (literally sitting on the sidewalk).  She talked us into a bag of small citrus fruits which she said are good when you have a cold.  Dan recognized them as something Tracy made into tea for him when he was sick.  We squash two or three into a mug, toss in the peel and all, add hot water and a little honey.  Lovely.  No idea what these are called either.

Adventures in the morning market…

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Teacher Betsy

To all my teacher friends….I’m so tired.  I don’t know how you do it.  I admire you.

I said I didn’t want to teach English. I said I didn’t want to teach children. But we could really use extra income to do more traveling in the region. And because I am not fluent in Chinese (so, so far from fluent), just about the only job available to me here is teaching English. Fortunately I look the part (I’m white and American).

Earlier this week I got a call from a friend of a friend who needed a substitute teacher while she went off on a long weekend in Hong Kong (hey – wouldn’t you take an opportunity for a long weekend in Hong Kong?).  Thursday I was in front of a wiggly mob of second graders.  I had seen the material we were using for the class 15 minutes before. I had them for two hours.  Right after their nap.  In the late afternoon.  Let me just say that two hours is a long, long time.  The material was also….thin.  I learned a lot in two hours.

Then I dashed to the next class – 20 third graders from 4:30 to 5:50.  We were all very tired by the end of the class.  These kids have long school days.  They have regular elementary school followed by formal English school.  I admire their stamina.  Wish I had it.

By the time I got to the third graders I was on my third hour of teaching.  Ever.  I got better.  I discovered that it really isn’t so different from leading a meeting of software developers.  Many of you will not be surprised that there was a fair amount of brainstorming and writing on the white board.

I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  I’ll like it more when I have a better understanding of what’s going on and how the pieces fit together. But for now, I can do this.

The second day I got smarter.  I had the second graders moving around more – jumping and running in place kinda fit in the curriculum.  I got the shy girl to smile at me and answer questions.  I brought props for the third graders to explain some of the new vocabulary.  I even grossed them out a bit when I made pulp of a piece of paper to demonstrate recycling.  I still ran out of material before I ran out of time.

Today is my last day as a substitute with this group.  Today I am going to the local children’s English library and checking out a couple of story books.  I will fill the time alloted.

I hope.

Dan stayed home with the cats.  I’m looking for more teaching opportunities.

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