Scooping up the field mice…

It’s a beautiful morning.  Still warm, but comfortable now.  The sun is shining through the banana tree leaves, and the clouds are fluffy and gorgeous.

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As we were driving home the other day through similar lovely weather, Dan mentioned that he had an idea for his Chinese name.  We have a friend who chose a name which translates to Handsome Dragon Dragon.  It raises some eyebrows, but he figures it’s his choice and that’s who he wants to be.

Dan wants his Chinese name to be Little Bunny Foo Foo.

(All together now…Little bunny foo foo, hopping through the forest…)

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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.

Regrouping

We were complacent.  We thought we had this living in Taiwan thing nailed. Turns out what we had nailed was just going around our small circuit of familiar places.

Exploring new parts of Taiwan was more tiring than we thought it would be.  Everywhere we went we had to figure out what was a hotel and what the road signs said and where to eat. There are fewer national chains here than in the US so there was less that looked familiar.  We couldn’t recognize the signs that mean “good food here.”  Once we got to the east coast, there was very little catering to westerners.  There were fewer people who were willing to try out their English.

We hadn’t fully realized how easy Taichung and the school made it for us.  Every day on the road was a new challenge in figuring out where to get what we needed – food, lodging, tea.  Some of that is exciting and fascinating.  Too much is exhausting.

This road trip was intended as a full circle of the island.  But when we got close to Taichung we made a beeline for home.  Ostensibly this was to check on the cats. In reality, it was an excuse to crash on our own bed and eat our own food for a day or two.

Yesterday we napped with the cats all day long, then ate spaghetti and watched American TV (Big Bang Theory).  Today we ate at the most American restaurant we know (Early Bird Diner) and shopped at Costco.  I’m hoping the culture shock is out of our systems now.  We plan some day trips in the next couple of days and then will hit the road to explore the northeast coast before school starts again.

Every day we venture outside our familiar path we are getting a little more comfortable with the new and different world we live in.  But sometimes, we need to step back and regroup before we venture out again.

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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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Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids are those whose parents are from two different cultures who grow up in a third culture (or more). Thanks to my good friend Lorrin for finding and sharing this video. Lorrin was born in Zimbabwe, went to high school in South Africa, went to college in Australia, lives in Seattle, and is moving to Santa Fe.

So Where’s Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity from Adrian Bautista on Vimeo.

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!

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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