Beautiful Music

A few weeks ago the parent association at school treated the teachers to a traditional tea ceremony and accompanying traditional Chinese music.  It was beautiful and relaxing.

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Simo was so taken with the music that he hired the musician for his 60th birthday party.  We gathered at the traditional farmhouse restaurant near our apartment.  I’m told the name of the restaurant is actually something that translates roughly to “good old neighbor.”  That’s an appropriate name. This restaurant feels like a comforting friend.  We sat outside on a beautiful evening and listened to lovely music.  A fitting birthday for Simo.

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Happy Easter!

Taiwan is not a Christian country, less than 5% of the population identifies as Christian, so we made our own celebration.  Vickey invited us to a special Easter dinner at a very nice restaurant/art museum.

The food was elegantly served.

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The wait staff was very friendly and helpful, and spoke English.

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And we were all delighted with our specially decorated dessert plates.

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Happy Easter!

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Revving Up for the School Year

It’s almost time for the new school year to begin. The new crop of teachers has arrived and the returning teachers are trickling back from summer vacation.

There are always lots of things needed to settle into life in a new place – stepstools, shelves, baskets, brooms, and more.  Charlene arranged for the new teachers to shop at several kinds of stores, but we felt they could benefit from an introduction to the wonderful Taiwan “everything” stores.  Everything stores are kind of like dollar stores and they are everywhere. The stores sell all shapes of plastic bins, household gadgets, inexpensive dishes, and more, all jumbled together.

At the welcome dinner last night we figured out the car pools and all met this morning at our favorite breakfast place, the Pancake and Waffle Café (which after a year we realized has no pancakes on the menu).  Even Carol and Simo made a surprise appearance, fresh off the plane.

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We coached the new teachers through the extensive menu, dragged them down the block to the everything store when we were done eating, and walked them through their first morning market.

Job well done.

The new teachers are wonderful!  They’re a great fit for the school.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the whole team together next week.

Rest up, folks!  We have a big week coming up.  Classes start on Thursday.

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Teacher and Staff Gatherings

It’s almost the end of our first school year in Taichung.  What a great experience this has been.  The people and the location have really surpassed our expectations.  We are trying to fit in a few last minute things before the group scatters for the summer.

I’ve been talking for months about having a cooking class for the teachers and staff.  I finally realized that it was now or never for this school year.  Last week we had the first after school American cooking class for teachers and staff.  We made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (really tasty since I accidentally doubled the butter), quick pasta sauce, carrot raisin salad, and classic macaroni and cheese.  Drop me a line if you want the recipes.  Amazingly we finished all these recipes in just under an hour.  The real advantages to teaching the teachers and staff instead of 9 and 10 year olds are that the conversation is better and they clean up after themselves!  I’ll teach this group again any time.

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The other big event last week was the year end dinner.  There’s a great restaurant on the 27th floor of Hotel One in Taichung.  It was a beautiful evening so we had a great view.  The food was wonderful as well – buffet salads, good bread, and soup followed by a choice of entrée that was some of the best Indian food I’ve had here, and then the dessert buffet.  I’m a little embarrassed to say we ate like Americans.  We loved it.

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I really haven’t wrapped my mind around missing the daily presence of those teachers who are leaving. It’s an inevitable part of working in the international teaching world.  But it does occur to me that now we have people to visit in more parts of the world.

Weekend in Hualien

(note: this is a long post because it was a packed tight weekend.  Vickey is now an honorary Norton for her adventurous spirit, detailed planning, love of good food and ability to laugh in the pouring rain.)

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Vickey had a last minute space on a fast weekend trip she planned to Hualien and Taroko Gorge.  It sounded like great fun so of course I jumped on board.  Vickey had planned travel train through Taipei to Hualien and back, a whale watching tour, a bus tour of Taroko Gorge, and a splurge on a seaside hotel.  it was so nice to have someone else do such a thorough job of planning. All I needed to do was show up ridiculously early Saturday morning with my overnight bag in hand.

We weren’t able to get on the fast train but I think the slow train was in some ways better.  We had a much better view when the landscape wasn’t whizzing by.  Plus it gave us time to grade papers and get our homework out of the way before the weekend began.

One of the owners of the hotel, Juan, met us at the train station in Hualien.  Wow – this hotel (Hotel Bayview) exceeded our expectations!  The room was beautiful and comfortable with a great view. There was a nice dining area with always available tea, coffee, and cookies.  The breakfast buffet the next morning was enough to keep us going all day – good food and a good variety.  This is definitely on my list of hotels to stay at in the future.

Juan assisted us out with all the tour arrangements.  His English is perfect which was very helpful for us.  There had been landslides recently in Taroko Gorge so some of the tour arrangements had changed.  This was shoulder season so some things were still “getting ready for the real tourists” as we say in our family.

We settled on whale watching on Saturday afternoon and a shorter Taroko Gorge tour on Sunday before catching the train home.

Whale watching turned out to be … interesting.  It had been raining on and off all day. We assumed that of course the whale watching boats wouldn’t go out if the water was too rough.  Wrong.  Or maybe we were all wimps.  Once we got past the breakwater the rain was pouring down, the spray (the saltiest water I’ve tasted) was slapping in our faces, and the boat was bouncing.  A lot.  We saw dolphins jumping and that was pretty cool, but what we are most proud of on this trip was that neither of us got sick.  Unlike at least a third of the boatload of tourists.  The trip was shorter than advertised but no one was complaining.  It was a pretty quiet and queasy group that made it back to the dock.

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After we got back to the hotel we took a short walk on the bike path by the ocean to clear our heads.  In the hotel room we showered off the salt spray, changed to dry clothes, and  headed out to dinner.  I dragged Vickey to our favorite restaurant in Hualien (Jia Curry).  Fortunately she loved it.

We thought about going to the stone market but instead wound up at a used bookstore.  A used bookstore in a converted house with English language novels, nooks and crannies with armchairs, quirky drawings, a coffee bar, three cats, and a sleepy dog.  Heaven!

Sunday morning we tried a little bit of everything at the breakfast buffet.

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Then we went for a longer walk on the bike path before the Taroko tour.  The bike paths in Hualien are great – long stretches of smooth pavement and wonderful views.

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We had tried to get an English language taxi driver for our tour but the usual people were not available.  Instead we joined a Chinese language tour.  Fortunately several people on the tour spoke excellent English and could tell us the key points.  We also got to know a nice American woman on vacation from her job in China.

The rain was pouring down by this point in the day.  The one thing I forgot to pack was any sort of raincoat.  Or an umbrella.  The hotel gave me one of those ubiquitous disposable raincoats which ultimately meant that I was wet on the outside from the rain and inside from my sweat.

But oh, the view!  When Dan and I drove through Taroko Gorge I was so ready to be done with the drive that we didn’t’ explore much.  Now I know that there are some great paths I would love to explore further.  What a wonderful place.

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I guess the tour time needed to be padded out so it ended up on a beach just down from our hotel (where we had already spent plenty of time exploring the beach).  Vickey tried to just stay put in the nice dry bus, but it was “all tourists off the bus” so she had to stand in the rain with the rest of us until they let us back on.

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One quick weekend, a whole lot of rain, a long train ride, a queasy boat trip,  and a tour in a foreign language – we had a great time.

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Hello Kitty Dirt Devil

Derrick loves West Side Story so much that he came to our place for movie night even though he’s very allergic to cats.  Alas, the best of intentions and allergy medication just wasn’t enough and he couldn’t stay past “I Feel Pretty”.

Vacuum cleaners were on sale at Save and Safe today.  Anything that can keep the dust and cat fur under control seemed like a really good idea.  The best choice in the store? The special edition Hello Kitty Dirt Devil.

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Dan may have been influenced by the Exorcist parody commercial that was playing nearby.  Keep in mind when you watch this that Christianity is a minority religion here.  How many in the Taichung Save and Safe understand the religious references in this clip?

p.s. we tried the vacuum and it’s great!  Just what we needed when the cats are shedding.

Things That Make Us Smile

There have been a few things in our daily life in Taichung that make us smile every time, even after eight months.  Here’s a short list.

Driving to school – The drive to school starts in the city, moves through the developing suburbs along tree lined boulevards (where something is always in bloom), then through banana trees and bamboo up into the mountains.  A great way to start the day.

Soup dumplings in our restaurant downstairs – I smile just thinking about this.  We say hello to our friends making the food, place our usual order, try to let the food cool before we burn ourselves, and eat lovely, satisfying food.

Shopping in the morning market – The morning market is where I feel that I am living in another country and at the same time feel at home.  Lulu sells me tomatoes and practices her English. My pork sellers show me just the cut of meat that I like, without my having to ask.  My vegetable lady tries to teach me Chinese names of vegetables while I teach her the English names.  Then she stuffs a new vegetable in my bag for me to try.  Other shoppers are roped in to tell me how to cook it.  On the way home I pick up a freshly made cabbage stuffed pastry or roasted sweet potato for my breakfast.

Relaxing on the rooftop at the bicycle cafe (Warehouse 185) – I think this is the most relaxing place in the city.  The rooftop garden is lovely, the music is good, and there is rarely anyone else up there when we visit.  We can sit for hours sipping passion fruit tea.

Watching the teppanyake chefs – We’re tired. We need groceries.  We go to Save & Safe as an excuse to get teppanyake across the street. What better for a process geek than to watch high speed dicing and slicing on a hot grill.   It’s a joy to watch these experts at work.  Plus the food is really tasty and affordable.

Line dancing in the park – Every evening about 7:30 the park near our apartment fills with groups of (mostly) women line dancing.  They all seem to know what they are doing and they are intent on doing the dance moves just right.  It’s magical.

Laughing and singing at the outdoor restaurant with our friends – How did we get so lucky?  When someone has a guest visiting we almost always bring them to the traditional outdoor restaurant to be introduced to the gang.  A few beers later and someone almost always is reminded of a song (a pop song, a TV theme song, a camp song… there’s always something).  Before you know it the group has burst into song.  This may be why we are often the only people sitting outside at this restaurant.

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