Parks and Recreation

There seem to be parks everywhere in Taichung.  Quite a few of the parks aren’t even on the maps.  We’ve found some good ones recently but one of my favorites is still the little park a few blocks from our apartment.  I took a walk this afternoon to return some library books to the English language children’s library in the park and to stroll along the paths.

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In addition to the library, this park has exercise equipment, plenty of space for evening dance groups, walking paths, and ponds.

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And today there was a roller skating class.

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In Praise of Potlucks

The Saturday dinner group couldn’t get a reservation at the Korean barbecue they planned to visit so an impromptu potluck sprang up instead. We gathered at Carol and Simo’s (site of the best potluck Thanksgiving dinner ever), brought a few dishes and wine to share, and ordered the best pizza in town.

What a great evening.  By the end of the night we had hashed out what the new teachers need when they arrive in Taiwan, admired Simo’s beautiful photos of Thailand, and were well on our way to a viable plan for world peace.

OK, maybe not world peace, but it was a lively and thoughtful conversation.  We had time and space (and good acoustics) for getting past the surface “Hi, how are you?” of many dinners out.

Group consensus – monthly potlucks!

Cooking Lessons

I love to feed people.  And I love to help others get comfortable enough with cooking so they can feel confident in feeding themselves and others (like me!).  The other day Jenn said that she was concerned about moving to Korea next year because she doesn’t know how to cook and it’s too expensive there to eat out all the time like she does here.  So of course I said I would teach her.

Last Sunday Dan took Jenn’s four year old daughter off to the park while Jenn and I gathered ingredients at the morning market and headed home to learn some basics.  Jenn thought she would just make one dish.  I made her make four dishes – rice casserole, Spanish rice (an example of a pilaf), vegetable soup, and roast pork.  Result: tasty food we all enjoyed and a newly confident cook.  Later in the week I got some of Jenn’s homemade pilaf.  She said her daughter loved it!  We’ll do another cooking lesson next month.  Got any suggestions for good dishes?

This is the dinner Jenn made by herself.  (clearly her daugher’s plate)

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Cool breaking news – I just got a phone call asking me to teach cooking to the elementary and middle school students at summer school.  Sounds like fun!

 

Getting Ready for Chinese New Year

In December nearly every store in Taichung had a small display of Christmas things. What store could resist promoting a holiday that includes both sparkly decorations and extensive gift giving?  But since the start of January we’ve seen the stores get ready for a real holiday.

Everything is sparkly red and gold.  Stores are piled high with gift boxes of whiskey and big displays of new clothes and cleaning supplies.  According to Wikipedia, ‘People will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration, material, food, and clothing. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck.”

In the stores the music has changed from sappy American pop songs from the 70’s to traditional Chinese music.  It finally hit me – it’s Christmas music! (or rather the local equivalent)  It’s the one time of year that we listen to the same favorites over and over again.

Thanks to the cats we resisted most of the New Year decorations. However I did buy one special item… a shiny red potted radish with gold sparkles. Of course.

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The school gives us a week of vacation over Chinese New Year (February 10 to 17)but we are not planning to travel anywhere.  We’ve been told that all tour and travel related prices go sky high during that week. Roads can be very crowded, particularly during the two days that it is traditional to visit graves of your ancestors (which are likely to be in the country while most people now live in the city).  We are planning to do our own version of New Year’s cleaning and preparing for the coming year.

 

Technology I Love

There is no question that modern technology makes an adventure like ours much easier to handle.  There are tools that we have come to depend on every day to make our lives easier and more comfortable.  In no particular order, these are my top ten…

  1. Skype – This still seems like magic to me. I can see and talk to friends and family for as long as I want for no charge.  Today Casey and I just hung out together for hours while we both got work done – nearly as good as being in the same room except we each had to get our own tea.  Skype made a big difference at Christmas when we got to “be there” for the family present exchange.  I love Skype.
  2. GPS – Our favorite tool for getting safely home again when we go exploring.  GPS really helps us feel safer in an environment where so much is new and incomprehensible.
  3. Google Translate – Another magic tool on my cell phone.  I type in what I want to say and words come out that (usually) get my message across. Then the person I am “talking” to types into their cell phone.  The translation is sometimes more literal than correct, but it usually works well enough and I’m learning to be careful in the words that I choose so they are more likely to translate clearly (no more idioms!).  Surprisingly, this is the communication tool of last resort, used well after hand gestures and expressive eyebrows.
  4. Internet search (I use Bing, Dan uses Google) particularly when combined with a browser translator for websites in Chinese – Does anyone remember how to find information without using the internet?
  5. Facebook – I was a slow starter on Facebook, but now I’m a believer.  In some ways I know more about my friends now than when we were living in the same city. I certainly know more about their politics.   Facebook keeps me in touch with dear ones on the other side of the world and I am grateful for it.  (Yes, I can hear your “told you so” loud and clear.)
  6. Email – Gotta have it.  I use email for work and personal communication and coordinating dinners and sharing the cool thing I just found with exactly the right person who would love it. It’s the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I check at night.
  7. Seattle Public Library Kindle book hold system – My book habit can be fed.  I can call up the SPL website any time, place a hold on an old favorite or a new recommendation and I get an email when it is available.  A few clicks of the mouse and it’s on my Kindle.  One of the hardest things about moving here was limiting the number of books we could bring.  This system is nearly as good as browsing our own shelves.  (Note to any SPL employees who may be reading this – we are still residents in Seattle. Really.)
  8. Kitchen Gizmos – I can’t decide what I love best between the rice cooker, toaster oven, microwave, electric skillet, hot water dispenser, and slow cooker. I use them all nearly every day.  And I really should add a good knife to the list.  (Hey – it may be old technology, but it’s still technology.)
  9. Air conditioning – maybe not such a big deal now in the colder weather but it sure made a difference this summer.  I would be dreading the warm season if I didn’t know we had dependable air conditioning to look forward to.  Taiwanese air conditioners are lovely pieces of equipment.
  10. All  the comforts of home – never underestimate the importance of a good roof, clean floor, comfortable bed, running water, electricity, internet, and an American style toilet.

I am truly, deeply, respectfully thankful for all of these.

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Getting From Here to There – Camp Taiwan

(Taxi to High Speed Rail (HSR) to bus to taxi to walking to car to subway to another subway line to HSR to taxi)

It was a long day.

Vickey arranged for the three of us to tour Camp Taiwan where we will be chaperones for the Middle School students in late May.  We wanted to know what we were getting into before we took on responsibility for all those squirming 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.  Particularly the (“love ’em to death, but boy are they challenging”) 8th graders.  Dan really enjoys the 8th graders.

The camp brought back many happy memories of Girl Scout Camp.  Clean air, trees, babbling brooks, and musty tents.  They’ve really tried to make it an American camping experience and I think they’ve done a nice job of it.  Summer camp is not common in Asia and many of their campers are city kids so this is a very new thing for them.  They run separate English speaking and Mandarin Chinese speaking summer and winter camps as well as the school program we are doing.

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Part of our visit was to make sure that I could navigate the terrain.  I’ll be fine as long as we put the girls in the upper set of tents so I can use the road instead of the rock stepping stone stairs.

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Because the camp is outside of Taipei and we were visiting on a school day, we took the really fast train.  It only took 45 minutes to get to Taipei instead of two hours or more on the regular train and over three hours driving.  The HSR got up to 280 kilometers per hour (about 174 miles per hour) and was surprisingly smooth and quiet.  But the HSR only got us so far.  Once in Taipei we transferred to a bus that took us up the mountains to the closest town to the camp.  That took an hour.  Then there was the 30 minute taxi ride further up the mountains to the camp itself.  Fortunately the director who met with us had to head back into Taipei and gave us a lift.  Beautiful scenery but twisty roads.  We went down a mountain and up and over another mountain before he dropped us at a subway station. Two subway lines later we were at the HSR station.  Then back on the train and into a taxi to home.

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That was more than enough for one day.