Sunday, June 27, 2010


I am "home". The meaning of that word is beginning to be obscure to me. Home is Minnesota where I lived the first 32 years of my life. Home is Idaho where I lived for, I don't remember - was it 15 years? Something like that. It is where I met my wonderful husband and had my babies. Where we felt like we should have an ownership stake in the hospital because we spent so much time there. (SO much, that I am having trouble trusting doctors or nurses anywhere else.) Where my parents and 1 brother still live. Home is Virginia, where we have lived for only a few years. Where another brother lives. Where we love the landscape and the abundant wildlife. Where I have a house that is not fancy or grand but feels like "me". Home is an apartment in Taiwan, where my husband remains. Home will soon be a house in Taiwan that I am very much looking forward to.

We took a taxi from the airport yesterday. As the driver pulled on to the first freeway I laughed. When Ethan asked why I laughed, rather than answer him directly, I replied to the taxi driver: "We have just come from Taiwan where the taxi drivers are so crazy. It feels like you are driving very slowly." He laughed too. He is from India. He said that in India and China and Taiwan the traffic is so crazy that even if the car is going slow it feels crazy. So true. Yesterday's taxi ride was so RELAXING!

I saw a deer on the way home. And the second we pulled up to our house the kids spotted a bunny in the front yard. This morning I opened all the windows to air out the house a bit. I listened to the birds. I really love it here. I am going to miss it.

Two days ago Anna said good-bye to her new friend, Katrina. She and her family lived across the hall from us. We met them in the lobby as we arrived at the apartment from the airport on our very first morning in Taiwan. She is a bit younger than Anna and she has a brother who is a bit younger than Ethan. I could not believe that we met them immediately and that they lived right across from us. Still can't. That had to be arranged by God. It was wonderful. Both families would leave our doors open and the kids would play back and forth between the apartments. There were many joint excursions to the swimming pool in our building, as well as to the pool at the club where Katrina's parents are members.

We hope to continue seeing Katrina and her family when we move into our new home. They will likely be the first people we invite over.

And I can hardly believe that just a few days ago I was here:

Eric and I returned to Jiufen to shop for gifts. As part of our shopping we went into a WONDERFUL tea house. We were treated to an informational tour through their many styles of tea sets and given various teas to sample. Then the girl asked if we were in a hurry. Since we were not, she invited us to learn how to make tea the traditional way. We chose to sit on the patio where, for a few minutes, we were the only customers. I took the opportunity to take some pictures.

Water lilies were growing in a pot! I took a picture to help me remember. This is something I want to do at our new home.

When you are seated you are given a stone like this one. When you are finished you bring the stone to the cashier and she knows what you must pay for.

This is the set from which our tea was served. The stick is part of the process. It is just a stick, albeit from a cherry blossom tree. It was used to stir the tea leaves the first time water was poured over them.

There was a stand like this at each table. A young man came and place hot coals inside. Then a tea kettle with boiling water was placed over the coals.

Here is our lovely tour guide and tea instructor:

After she taught us the process we were left on our own to prepare subsequent cups of tea. I wish I didn't have to show the picture of myself, but it rather sums up the experience. I think I fell in love with Taiwan during this time. Seriously.

We ordered Wulong cookies, which are cookies made with Wulong tea. (In an earlier post I spelled it Oolong tea. I hadn't yet seen it in writing.) These actually tasted quite good. I confess I only ate 1 because I was put off by the green color. But I'll get used to it.

Here is our cookie tray after we finished. Since I love pottery so very much, I had to take a picture. Very handcrafted. Irregular. I love it.

Now I must get busy. I've been awake since 2 a.m. Hopefully I will be more productive today than I was yesterday!

It is just a few hours now until the kids and I fly home to Virginia. I am going to upload a bunch of pictures I took yesterday, but I won't have time to post them until I am home. I am terribly nervous about the coming weeks. There are a thousand things to get done and too many variables to allow me to plan much of anything. I will just have to roll with things. Generally, I am very good at rolling with it, but there is such pressure this time because if I forget anything I can't go back and get it, I can't have a do-over.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In Which Our Car is Towed and We Visit the Hospital

Yesterday Eric realized we are about to be separated for a month, so he took today off so that we could spend some time together. He thought we would do something fun.

Also yesterday, I began to get things rolling with school applications. I received a list of needed documents from the school and some are needed by next Tuesday. We decided to take what documents we had to the school this morning. Not fun, but necessary.

So we all headed off to the school. Eric drove. I think he wants to be a Taipei taxi driver when he grows up, because he sure drives like one. Which is to say I get more gray hair every time we go someplace in the car. Anyhow, we arrived safely at the school. The parking lot is gated. One gate said exit and the other said buses only. Since it was raining and we hadn't brought umbrellas Eric dropped the kids and I off at the front gate, then he parked and walked in.

It was good that we went in person. It gave us a chance to try to explain Anna's crazy, mixed up school record to the admissions woman. It goes like this: kindergarten at school A except we left on a temporary assignment before the year was over so she has no grades for the last semester. ("where did she go to school then?". "She didn't. I sort of home schooled her".) We returned to school A where she began first grade, but then we moved. She then began kindergarten at school B. ("you mean first grade?" "No. Kindergarten. The curriculum...") The next year I home schooled her. ("Did she take some standardized tests?" "No.") Last year we put her into 3rd grade in school C. Except we left on a temporary assignment so we pulled her out early. I imagine it all sounds very fishy.

Once we clarified things as much as we could we left, armed with a list of things we still need to provide. Time to go do something fun! Except, our car was gone. Oops! Guess it's not legal to park on the street here. The fact that the car was towed wasn't too big of a deal. The problem was figuring out where it had been taken to.

Eric went to the guards at the school gate and they helped us out. They flagged a taxi and told the driver where to take us. On the way Eric asked how much money I had because he didn't have much. Actually, I switched purses today and all of my money was still in the other purse, so I had none. Thankfully we had enough to pay for the cab!

Near the tow yard I saw a sign on a building that said "Post". I assumed that was a post office and I've read that the post office is also the bank here, so I sent Eric there in search of an ATM. He returned several minutes later to report there were 2 ATM machines but neither worked for him. (This happens to us here - some machines work for our account, some don't.) He set off in the other direction to search for another ATM. He found one which, he told me later, was only in Chinese. He managed to get money out of it though! He said he just kept pushing buttons and eventually it gave him some money. Perhaps it came from someone else's account! (Probably not.)

By the time this was all taken care of it was afternoon and we were all hungry. Also, one of the things on our school "to do"list was to have physicals for the kids at "the clinic". We decided to forgo our fun and take care of business. So we went to the clinic, which is actually the hospital. In Taiwan apparently doctors rarely work out of offices. They work in the hospital. We approached the information desk and Eric pointed to a sign that said "English Interpreters". Someone was quickly summoned. I must say, we received an impressive amount of help at the hospital. There was a woman who helped us with the forms. (Just 1/2 sheet of paper per child. If we were in the U.S. we would have been required to fill out pages of forms.) Then a very friendly man escorted us to the area where the doctor worked. He remained with us and interpreted for the nurse. He then gave us some instructions and left. We waited only a few minutes before the doctor called us in. His English was excellent so no interpreter was needed. He informed us that the kids would have to give specimens, and the male interpreter appeared again to escort us to the proper area. Once that was done, he directed us to the nearest McDonald's because we had to wait about 40 minutes for the results of the urinalysis, then the doctor could write up his report and we would be finished.

After all of that was done Eric was taken to the cashier to pay. You will not believe the cost. The total for BOTH kids was approximately US$30! I am so glad we did it HERE. We could have waited and had the physicals done in the US. It would have cost a WHOLE lot more money.

Catchy headline, huh?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Our New Garden

While there is still no OFFICIAL word, apparently the house is ours. Yesterday Susan took me back to the house to measure the rooms and choose paint colors, then to a furniture store to choose furniture. I'd say it must be ours...don't you agree?

The kids came along this time. They were SO excited. They got to choose their rooms. They had already chosen on paper, but I wanted to be sure. Once they saw the rooms, they chose differently. They are each very happy with their choices. They will each have their own bathroom which I think will be a good thing.

While I did all the boring measuring and took more photos, the kids explored the yard. Once I was finished they had to lead me on a tour of their many finds.

There is a bird's nest in a bush outside the main door.
In the back there are stone steps leading to a large grassy area. I love these steps, as does Anna.
There is this little thing, which doesn't look like much in a picture. I think it has the potential to be a small pond, if it holds water. Or perhaps we can raise mosquitoes in it!

The pathway along the back of the house.
The back patio.
A nicely sculpted bush, which is maintained by the "yard boy".
There is one thing noticeably missing: color. There isn't a flower to be seen! But that is okay. The stone steps and moss covered walls seem to me the most amazing foundation for a wonderful garden. As of this moment I feel like I am not going to want to leave after 2 years. Of course, there was the little issue of the lizard in the living room...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Maokong Gondola

I am awaiting confirmation of flights for the kids and I to return to the states. It is going to happen quickly, like, any day now. This confuses people because I say I'm leaving then staying then flying home, etc. I believe we will be living here, and so we must get home quickly to get the house packed up. School begins here in early August. Of course, we don't have confirmation that there are spots available for the kids at the school, but, details, details... I believe we will be flying to Boise rather than Virginia. The most recent plan has been that I would get to visit my Mom again, then head to Virginia to pack up. However Mom is, once again, in tough shape so I am not sure if I'll see her or not. In any case, I want to be there as soon as possible.

Having said all of that, I am trying to sort of catch up on posting some pictures from our recent excursions. Today I will show some of our trip on the Maokong Gondola.

I thought I would hate it, because I'm terribly afraid of heights. I HATED the Ferris wheel, and this is much higher so I was hoping I would survive. In fact, I was quite calm and very much enjoyed the ride. Except when Ethan started "what if-ing", as in "What if someone took a huge sword and sliced the cable?" and similar scenarios. I had to make him stop.

Here is our gondola:

A partial view of the city of Taipei. It goes forever.

A BIT of a feel for our route:

Looking down. Once you get past the crush of the city, everything seems like jungle. I was on the lookout for monkeys or parrots, but didn't see anything. I know there are monkeys, but I don't know about parrots. I have no idea if the live here.

I don't understand why so many people live on top of each other in the city, when there are areas like this:

A little difficult to get to, I suppose!

This next house is quite high up the mountain, very remote. I don't know if it's a farm or just a self-sustaining property. My guess would be the latter.

Once we arrived in Maokong we began strolling past the cafes and tea shops. I spotted some pretty flower boxes.

One of the pleasant cafes:

We were there on a weekday. I imagine on the weekend this place is bustling with activity. I prefer it this way.

We strolled past a couple of nice houses. Here is one. There was an even nicer one behind it.

Part of an outdoor cafe. Don't you just want to sit and sip tea?

There were several interesting gates and pathways along our walk.

As is our style, we just headed straight to the gondola without researching what normal people do. I believe they hike up or down part of the mountain - from one gondola stop to another. We weren't prepared so just strolled for awhile, had lunch (sort of - that was the earlier post!) and returned to the same gondola station.

We will add this to the list of things we want to do again, and better. But it was a wonderful experience, probably the most peaceful thing I've done in Taiwan.

Wedding Talk

Anna bought a new Barbie yesterday, and it's wearing a beautiful wedding dress. This morning she is sitting in my bed showing me all the details of the doll and we are talking a bit about weddings. I asked if the doll has a name (Anna has never been very interested in assigning names. Dogs tend to be called "puppy", rabbits " bunny", etc.). When she just looked at me I said "She needs a name so that when you are having a wedding you can say 'I Anna take you William to be my lawfully wedded husband'". Anna said "I always thought it was "waffly wedded husband!"

Also, yesterday we were looking at pictures of the weekend wedding of Princess Victoria of Sweden, and watched a bit of video from it. So we were discussing the bride being given away by her father. She asked why some brides walk down the aisle alone. I told her it might be because they don't have a father. Then I told her that when Grandma W. got married her parents had both died so a family friend walked her down the aisle. It brought back a memory of Mom to me...

Once Mom and I were out for a walk near the apartment I lived in. We were walking through a beautiful neighborhood in Bloomington, past a house on a very large, corner lot. I don't remember if Mom saw the owner working in the yard or saw their name on the mailbox, but somehow she realized this was the man who had walked her down the aisle! She had not seen him for many years, obviously - she hadn't even known where he lived. We ended up visiting with the couple in their home. Sadly, I haven't the faintest memory of their names. But I've always liked the idea that I spent some time with the man who walked my Mom down the aisle. I never knew my Mom's parents, so somehow this feels like a special link.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Food Photos

When we first arrived we ate a few times at New York Bagels, because they have a place in our building. Ethan ordered hot chocolate, and I thought it was picture-worthy:

I ordered a latte, or cappuccino or some such coffee-drink. It's presentation was equally nice. I didn't like the flavor though. For a few weeks we had Friday breakfast at NY Bagels, but then our last trip they were out of plain bagels, grapefruit juice and milkshakes. We've since taken to buying our own bagels from Costco. And making pancakes. LOTS of pancakes.

When we were in KenTing (was that really just last week? Seems a long time ago!) Eric and the kids ordered milkshakes. They came with knotted straws and colorful marachiano cherries. (did I spell that wrong?) The kids ate the cherries so fast I couldn't get my camera ready. So I made Eric wait until I had taken a picture.

Once again, pretty presentation but lacking in substance. These were apparently nothing more than flavored milk - no ice cream. A huge disappointment to the ice cream lovers in my family. I don't get excited about ice cream so I had ordered milk tea. It's taste is growing on me.

There is a blog about food which is proving very helpful for us. It's called A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei . On Thursday night Rosa, our babysitter, came over so Eric and I went to try a new Mexican restaurant that "The Hungry Girl" recommended. It is called Oola Mexican Grill.

Since I don't normally blog about food, I didn't think to take pictures of the food before we ate it. Most of my salsa was gone by the time I took this picture.

This was without question the best meal I've had in Taiwan. You get to choose what you want and they assemble it in front of you. I chose tacos and and had one with chicken and one with barbacoa. I'm told the barbacoa is beef and I choose to believe it. The barbacoa was absolutely wonderful. The chicken was good; it probably would have seemed better if I hadn't eaten the barbacoa first. They have 4 types of salsa that you get to pick from, and you can have them mixed. Mine (pictured above) was a mix of corn salsa and mild salsa, which is like pico de gallo. It was good, but next time I would mix in one of the chili salsas for more kick. We will definitely go back to Oola. It was so wonderful to eat something good and, for the most part, familiar.
On Friday we rode the Maokong Gondola. I will do a separate post with scenic pictures. It was a wonderful day. Once in Maokong everyone was hungry so we stopped at a restaurant. While waiting for our food to arrive Anna was trying to teach me how to use chopsticks. (She's already a pro!) She had it down to such a science that I took pictures.
Step 1. Bend 2 fingers.
Step 2. Rest the chopsticks on your bent fingers.

Step 3. Wrap your other 2 fingers around the chopsticks.

Step 5. Put your thumb on one stick and push it back and forth.

I tried. And tried. And TRIED. Until Anna gave me up as hopeless. I couldn't make it work. Eric says her method is not the method he learned, but it works well for her.

Meanwhile, our cokes arrived - in glass bottles!

(Maokong is famous for tea, and I think you are supposed to order tea in these restaurants. We did order Oolong tea along with the cokes.)

The proprietor brought us these lovely little cakes. Again, I began eating before realizing I ought to take a picture! Just one bite this time. I asked what these were called, but the lady could not think of a way to explain it in English. I am guessing this is something fairly common in Taiwan. I hope so, because I wouldn't mind eating more of this. It seemed a bit like a cross between cake and shortbread, and it had a filling of some fruit. It tasted rather like pineapple, but not too strong. (I don't actually like pineapple, but I liked this.)

Finally, our infamous chicken foot lunch. I felt bad for not eating most of the food, but this sight just pushed all of us over the edge. Bon Apetite!