Thursday, September 29, 2005

A letter from home

This is too good not to share. A note from another Houston friend:

HATE you missed the non-Hurricane. It was actually pretty fun, since everyone left town and nothing happened. I tried to loot the TJ Maxx. Carried a brick over there but the front of the store was boarded up. Dropped the brick and chipped my toenail polish so I went and got a pedicure instead. God bless Vietnamese nail salons. Neither wind, nor rain, nor . . .

This returns me to my original idea of selling the US postal system to Vietnamese immigrants. The service would be friendlier. We'd get mail twice a day like James Joyce did in Dublin, and it would cost 15 cents to mail a letter.

Just got an e-mail from Peter. Sounds like he's back and settled. We'll look after him, change the water in his bowl every now and then. May take him out for a run when the weather cools, which should be Friday, we hear.

I replied to thank her for looking after Peter and agree that having the Vietnamese run the postal service was a brilliant idea. And while we're at it, how about outsourcing the military to Switzerland? Sounds like something our president can get behind; he loves outsourcing. Private enterprise, and stuff like that. . . .

I tried to add a picture or two, but the blogger wont take them. I was going to show you some of the stairs I go up each day several times and point out how many steps they contain and how they are OUTDOORS. But I guess I won't do that . . .

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Life in the hands of Providence

I just created a very good blog with photos and lost every bit of it. It just disappeared and the Google screen was the only thing on the computer. I would cry and throw the computer but apparently that won't help. It's gone, gone, gone. Not even any wind in here. Sigh . . . Maybe the preist will come get rid of the poltergeist that inhabits my computer since I came to Taiwan.

Okay. This will be much shorter. I am trundling on, and I like my little nest at the top of the student union building, except sometimes in the middle of the night when the Japanese students decide to wake up and slam doors and generally be noisy. However, after I cornered one and by gestures and other signs let her know that I wanted some QUIET ON THE FLOOR at eleven pm, the noise is several decibels lower . . . (They probably think Grendel’s mom lives here, but I don’t care. Some of my students here and at UHD would agree.) But most of the time I get in at six or so and get in my jammies and read the assignments I’ve made to the students and study Chinese (that’s quite an experience!) and listen to music on my computer while I work. Right now I am listening to the Brandenberg concertos and they are quite swell, as usual. And in a few minutes I'll study for a Chinese test. Can’t remember the last time I had a test and it’s funny to be a student again. My teacher looks to be about 20. My digs lean towards the monastic and I like it. Only two plates to wash, hardly any housekeeping or laundry. It’s not a bad life for a while.

Two shots of my room are above, one from the door and the other from the back wall. Above that is the building where I live.

I have had to explain to several classes that one reads the assignments BEFORE one comes to class if one wants to pass. But I am so big and different that the ones who don’t drop will, I think, prepare in the future. And I am happy for those who drop and those who stay and prepare. See what a zen artist I’m getting to be. Bet you’re surprised, huh?

This is me with my grad students . . .

Here's a photo of my boss, Dr.Wu.

Tuesday afternoon one of my grad students brought me some cheese which I had for dinner and it was delicious. Yum. First real cheese I've had this month. I was inspired by that to get some bread and when I went by the bakery in our building (doesn't that have a nice ring to it?) I saw a flower shop has opened next door to it. So that night Peter bought me some beautiful lillies that cost $6 for the whole bunch of five stems and about fifteen blooms. They look great in the room and will bloom for many days as they are just opening and have many buds. Whe I was a little girl my grandfather died, and every year or so after that he bought my grandmother a new set of wedding rings. (They had married without rings, being poor at the time, and so the rings she had carried no sentimental value, so she felt free to trade up from time to time.) That has always seemed a tradition too valuable to let die, so while Peter is afar he will no doubt continue to bring me flowers . . .

Now I really do have to go study. Ciao, boys and girls.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Houston and the Hurricane

In the best tradition of the New Yorker as it once was, I am including a letter from a friend. She is, or was, in Houston and her story is too good not to share.

In Austin, evacuated Wed. pm to my sister's. She graciously let us stay. My parents are here from Conroe. Our drive was six hours, theirs was eight. We are lucky to have a place to stay. I found provisions, wine, beer, batteries and water to take back with us. If I don't use them, I'll donate to relief. Stores in Houston were stripped by Tuesday of water, bread, canned goods, meat, beer. Still plenty of healthy food though. I packed in four hours, stripped the house of what we need to start completely over if we should need to. The lawyers from NO, our renters, only brought 2 days worth of clothes and had to go back to rescue moldy clothes.

I was loathe to leave my pretty house, to say the least, especially my keepsakes from when I was a kid. When I was six, I bought a clear blue handmade vase on an island near Malta where glass has been made since Roman times. It was the first time I remember bargaining down a vendor. Boy, was he mad to have this very pretty little girl walk away, the ultimatum. It worked, and I walked away with a vase the color of the Med sea.

I cleared all tsochkes that could do damage into closets. By the end of four hours, my clothes were packed, R's clothes were packed (did I mention he didn't come home to help? WHAT IS IT WITH MEN AND PACKING?) a few kitchen basics, the plants were in the garage, the furniture was off the porch, the wills, insurance, computer, digital camera, my Gucci sunglasses (completely irreplaceable, from last year's collection), all of R's meds and eye stuff and Sam's med records, etc.etc. were in my car. I was spinning around in a tizzy, crying and heaving and not sure what to do next, walking from room to room. I did that for half an hour and realized the shadows were growing long on the floor. I walked once more to every room and screamed "GOODBYE HOUSE!" at the top of my lungs, raced to the car and took the back streets to R's office by Compac. From there, we boogied at 8 pm. We arrived here about 2am.

The people from New Orleans in our house left and took all eleven of them to Athens GA to visit family. My sister's secretary has 27 people in her house this weekend here in Austin. Galveston is completely evacuated, as is Bay City, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Texas City, Chocolate Bayou down to Surfside and Jacksonville. Landfall is expected over Beaumont area. East Houston to take Hurricane force winds. All of the loop evacuated. I have 1 friend who stayed. Her husband is a first responder with Schlumberger. They have a generator, but her house burned and rebuilt for a year about three years ago. She won't go.

We all have gas in our cars, and R and I bought steaks, asparagus, pies. We will dine in style if this is my last hot meal for a while, with Dom and Bonnaire, Silver Oak and Stag's Leap. I also have a bottle of Chateau Margaux I have been saving to share with you and Peter. I wasn't leaving that to the looters if worst came to worst. We are lucky to have the provisions for six adults and three children. I brought our good wine R received for his fiftieth birthday.

School is closed. Terrible evac problems with the plan, freeways clogged and city/state would not open them to one way out until this morning. By now, the airport is closed. Wed. PM it took twelve hours to go from Galleria to Beltway 8. I wasn't in it. I am not too worried about Peter, since he has a plane.

We expect Martial law to be declared shortly in Gal and Hou, as it is now in NOLA. I paid 2.99/gal in Houston before I left, but I swear the anarchy had already started. Some guy drove by waving a gun (in Memorial!) and another started a fist fight over gas! I got out by avoiding the freeways completely, except for a thirty mile stretch between Hempstead and Brenham. We then drove North past Lake Somerville to Milano, and came into Austin from the North. We were the only people on those roads.

Katrina death toll at 1,069. The toll from this one is already at 24, a bus of seniors exploded from a oxygen bottle that got too hot. The bus was incinerated immediately in Wilmer, TX, one hour south of Dallas. Clogged the freeways even worse.

On a happy note, my arm still hurts a lot, but I am far too busy, too neurotic and too preoccupied with destruction to think about it. Always the Pollyanna.

In the category of dumb and dumber,  5 looters were arrested last night at WalMart on TCJester, stealing stereo equipment.  With all of the highdollar stores in a deserted city, who would be stupid enough to go to WalMart for stereo equipment???

I wish I were in H now.  I love deserted cities.  Quite seriously, I would like to take pictures of all the spray painted wood on houses and business, with their references to MargaRitaville and such.  We are afraid to go back, because there is no gas.  Once we get there, there is no way to return or get around.  It would be much easier to return if I could make two trips. I have
plenty of food, though limited meat.  Did I mention that I cleaned out the fridge and freezer and dumped the food in a dumpster far from the house during my evac prep?

It is now 7am.  We are all sitting around the tv watching Mayor White.  No definite plans for repopulation of the city yet.  2.7 mill evacuated, and it is said to be the largest ever traffic jam in the world.  I don't believe that . . . you know how prone to exageration Wayne Dolcefino is. 

We are on our third pot of coffee and second pound of bacon.  Drank one bottle of Bonnaire Champers last night, damn it was good, vintage 1998 with homemade meatloaf, with lots of Chachere's seasoning.  I have repacked half of our
stuff to try to consolidate it down to take the water back to H.  Will call my friend who stayed later.  Three buildings in the strand burned to the ground, caused by a fallen electrical pole.  Presently, 750K without power in H and Clear Lake.  City of Cleveland, located at 105 and 59North without power, 50,000 people.  Lake Charles has taken the brunt of it, as has Beaumont.  The worst of all, I fear my favorite casino is damaged!  Oh, God NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

The biggest drama is my cat and my sister's griffon dog.  She is very sweet, and Sam has been remarkably restrained, perhaps because I clipped his claws.

So that's all the news for today, folks. No photos for this one though some good ones are circulating on email which are not from this storm or Katrina . . . Anna keeps me straight on these things, and it's great to have someone who can help me distinguish the real problems from the urban legends.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hanging around in Taichung . . .

For some reason I haven’t talked about the buildings in Taiwan. They are either tiny or immense, mostly immense, and it is impossible to get from one side of the building to another. (I have been watching this closely and am pretty sure it’s a plot to keep out Americans because it makes you crazy real quick.) Not only can you not go from one side of a building to the other without going outside and starting over, they have a very strange way of numbering the rooms. Now this may not seem important to you, but if you are trying to find a classroom before the class begins, which is what one wants if one is the teacher, and it is about 98 degrees and 400% humidity and you happen to sweat a lot (Peter said he had never seen anyone who sweated from every pore in their body before; even my nose sweats.) finding out that some of the rooms allegedly on the third floor (like numbered 308, for example) are not on the third floor but have spilt over onto the fourth. Or sometimes can be found on the second floor. Apparently the concept of giving each floor a new number is entirely western and has not made its way to the East yet. Also they don’t like to have a 4th floor because the word for four sounds like the word for death, so if they have a fourth floor they put foreigners on it. (Guess what my room # is. 4228. Just me and some Japanese students are up here!) I am including a photo of a sign showing rooms numbered differently on the same floor so you don’t think I’m making this up.

And stairs are good. They make things more elevated, which is good. So frequently you have a set of stairs for no discernable reason except to raise something up a bit. This is no doubt very picturesque, but if you are the sweater (and I don’t mean a garment) and you are walking up your fifth or sixth set of OUTDOOR STAIRS, you can get a bit cranky. Not me, of course, but some people might. And then you get inside the building and find the floors have moved around, like in Harry Potter. It’s very interesting. The word inscrutable comes to mind more than it should, I know.

But if you can’t find the right room someone, anyone nearby, will take you by the hand and lead you there. This morning I was going to my 9 a.m. class and remembered the Friday class meets in a different room than the Wednesday class, for reasons unknown to me. A room that is one digit different from the Wed. room (214. 215), so one would think to find it on the same floor unless one has experience in these buildings. I looked across the courtyard to the floor above before starting over there and saw one of my students standing on the other side, looking at me. He waved. I would bet money he was trying to figure out if he needed to come get me . . .

The students are amazing. They think anyone from America is great, which helps, since they have trouble understanding my English because I don’t speak with a Chinese accent. They are unfailingly courteous and prepare for class. I wish I didn’t have quite so many of them, but I will do the best I can.

Today (Friday) I had lots of fun. I taught my class, and then took Jane and Tim Allen, Fulbright friends (she’s an artist), to the Providence University art gallery where the asst. mgr (the mgr is out of town) talked to her about an exhibit and/or a workshop. We saw the exhibit they have hanging and it's very nice. In November they are having an exhibit from the Louvre; I'm impressed by that. This is a good little school; it has a great library and excellent art gallery and a very good English dept. with a Fulbright in residence. (Did you know that?) I'm glad to be working here.

After the gallery we went to the Eng. dept office because Wu E-Chou (pronounced Woo Uh-Jo, the dept. chair and a really nice man) invited us all to lunch. He took us to a snazzy restaurant in a nearby college where we had a good lunch and a nice visit. Then he went back to work and Tim and Jane and I went into Taichung and went to a department store looking for hairspray and shampoo for Jane and me. We didn't find that but we did find some ladies' rooms that would knock your eyes out. One had an underwater theme and had fish everywhere, including some sailing around in the air. This was on a floor with children's clothes and it was for mothers and their children, so besides the regular toilets, which were everything you'd find in a Ritz hotel, they had a child-sized bidet and toilet. I got a photo with another person who was also photographing it so you can get a sense of the size of the toilet: very tiny. Then on another floor they had a loo that Coke obviously helped decorate. Each toilet stall was like a giant Coke can and the lavatory area was bright red w/Coke logos.

They had a nice bakery where we bought some muesli and bread and three chocolate deserts to take with us to celebrate Jane's birthday, which is today. I also found another chain or cord holder for my glasses, which I had wanted badly to find since I had broken the one I was using. (Not the one you made me, Barbara; I save it for dress-up occasions.) Then we went to the Thai restaurant Peter and I went to, Grandma's Thai (don’t you love it), and had the pad Thai and fish we had plus some shrimp and rice. It was very good.

Now I am here blogging so Peter will have something to read as Houston is closed down and he only has stale chips and beer to eat. Those of you who know me know better than that. I will spend the remainder of the weekend catching up on school work and preparing for next week. CNN says the hurricane will go in at Port Arthur, not Galveston. I pray it just goes away.

See you on down the road, as Leon Hale is wont to say . . .

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saturday in the park . . .

Today we went to the Science Museum and botanical gardens in Taichung, and they were grand and wonderful indeed. The pictures can tell the story better than I. Click on images to enlarge them.

Museum entrance

People on the grounds

A bottle tree

The boulevard on the street to the museum

That fern is as tall as a tree.

Butterfly sculpture outside entrance

Inside the garden

Friday, September 16, 2005

the kindness of strangers . . .

We had an interesting experience when we took the train to Taipei last week for the weekend orientation with the Fulbright folks. We got a ride to the train station from a helpful colleague here, Anna Chen. She’s the one who came to NASA this summer and I met her before I left Houston to come here. When we got to the train station we had some time to wait because we wanted time to find everything and since the station had only two platforms, it was easy to do. The train was due to leave the station at 3:50 p.m.; about 3:30 a train pulled into the station and we figured it was ours. We asked the people in line if it was going to Taipei and they said yes, so we got on to find our seats and wait for it to leave.

Much to our surprise it started rolling out right away, and again we asked the people if the train was going to Taipei and again they said yes. Then when we went to get in our seats they were already taken by an older Chinese couple, one of whom was asleep. We didn’t want to disturb them so we looked around for a vacant seat thinking we would sit in their seat instead. Then someone looked at our tickets to see about our seat and discovered that we were on the wrong train. TWO trains were going to Taipei within 10 minutes of each other. The one we were on was the express train, and the one we were supposed to be on was a slower one which left at—you guessed it, 3:50!

So we figured we could get off at the next stop and wait for our train, but we decided to stay on that one and just stand up; one of the passengers said it was 1.5 hrs and our train was supposed to take three. . . so we stayed where we were, because we knew we could just pay the difference in the fares and stand. After a bit over an hour a bunch of people got off at a stop. An empty seat yawned beside us, and I said to Peter, “Lets sit down.” We did, and some more people got on. He said “Someone may have these seats” and I said well, no problem, we’ll get up and give them to the people who have tickets. Nothing happened for a while and then after 5 or 10 minutes a man and a young girl came up and sure enough they had tickets for our seats. So we got up and apologized, explaining we had got on the wrong train and were just stupid Americans. The man sat down by the window but the young girl would not sit down and told me to sit in her seat. I replied that I would not sit in her seat, that she should, and she told me again to sit there and then walked away a few steps and turned her back and refused to discuss the situation. I did not sit down and we rode for another 5 minutes or so, and the man got up and said we should sit down. Again we demurred and said we would stand.

The man said no, I will not sit in this seat, I will go get a seat on the last car or two where plenty of empty seats will be available. So I said thank you for telling us; we’ll go to those cars. He said no and left the car. Well, we stood there a minute and then we sat down, as no one else was going to sit there, clearly. I felt really guilty but it certainly was more comfortable than standing.

We rode the rest of the way to Taipei, which by the way was 2.5 hrs, not 1.5. Just before the train pulled into the station the man returned to tell us to get off the train here. (I guess he figured we wouldn’t have sense enough to do that on our own!) But this is very typical of the Taiwanese. If you ask directions, they will tell you how to go but will also walk along behind you in case you make a mistake; we’ve had that happen several times. They are the most considerate and kind bunch of people I have ever seen. In restaurants we several times have been served food we didn’t order as a gift from the house, especially if the place is not very full. It’s like they are saying thank you for coming into my restaurant.

I have included a few pictures from that trip, including a pig which was sweeping the sidewalk in midtown Taipei. The man on my right is Dr. Wu Jing-Jyi, the head of Fulbright in the Far East and a very brilliant and accomplished person. He had a play produced in New Yor, off broadway, when he was right out of graduate school, and he brought drama to Taiwan. The gorgeous girls are Fulbrights who are teaching elementary school in a village in the mountains. Peter and Maxine and I are at the reception for the grantees. And Peter proves once again that he can go anywhere in the world and find someone who knows him.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

From Peter Wednesday, September 14

For lunch we avoided the crowds and bought 2 loaves of "bread" at the bakery in the student union building. They looked like small sandwiches or hot dog buns, and came in pairs (we know because we tried to separate them and get only one, bringing down the wrath of the girl behind the cash register). They did have something like a small piece of ham and some cheese inside, but they had been brushed on top with some fish oil. Fish oil????

Last night we bought a loaf of bread to have for breakfast this morning. It was the size of a small French loaf, and about the same shape. It was green on the outside (like an Xmas confection or cookie), and had taro root inside. Taro root is sweet, purple in color, pasty in consistency, and we first tried it in a desert dumpling one evening last week.

I figured out how to get a cup of coffee this afternoon. Get this: espresso @ 500 cc. How's that for a shot? Cost was about US $1.10. Take that, Starbucks! BTW, Starbucks is about as ubiquitous in Taiwan as Subway, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Dominoes. Did I mention that I had gone to a McDonald's in Taipei, and could not find a hamburger on the menu? They had chicken though, covered in mayo. Drenched in mayo. Dripping with it, as though it had had mayo flowing in its veins, and mayo was the most natural thing in the world for a chicken, besides feathers.

The faculty people whom I have met here are swell. Patricia Hazeltine, who came here from the States 30 years ago, and loves it, and has been teaching at Providence for 15 years. Dr. Wu, the chair, who studied at Univ of Illinois. Dr. Tsui, whom I met today, who told me that he had spent 35 years in the US (did I understand that correctly? I think I did) and not long ago was in Houston with his church group. He certainly knew the geography and areas in the States, and we discussed how hot PHO (which he referred to as Maricopa County) is, and LVN (which he referred to as Clark County), and the LOS basin. He's been to Utah and hiked in most of the national parks, including Zion, told me which mountains he had climbed in Washington -- and Indonesia. As I said, they are an interesting group of people.

Have I mentioned that Dr. Pat is true to her school. She has been working round the clock, as is her wont, when she has work that has to be done. Only once, for a short time, have I seen her start to feel overwhelmed: yesterday, when she sat down and cried a bit and allowed as to how she is too old for this and she should have done it 40 years ago, when she could remember things better. Then she calmed down, and sat at the computer and worked til the job was done. She'll be just fine. I don't think I'll have to worry too much about her getting along here; and I expect that by the time I come back in January she'll be ready to party and show me the rest of Taiwan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We go out to dine . . .

One night shortly after we got to Taichung Peter and I decided to walk off campus to try to find a drink and dinner in an actual restaurant with air conditioning and tables and chairs and all the regular dinner out stuff. We walked down a street not far from the campus and looked at what seemed like hundreds of small shops, some in buildings and some in small carts. These places are usually very clean and have good food; if they don’t, the locals don’t patronize them and they go out of business. So all you have to do if all you want is food is to look at the places who are doing a lot of business and they are a good bet.

We checked out a few, but it was not what we were looking for in our dining experience that evening. The food was fresh and clean, though, and they cook it on the spot for you. If you speak Chinese, you can even tell them how you want it cooked.

We kept looking and found a few places in buildings with air conditioning and some had bars, a good sign. However, most were closed as it was only 5:30 and I suppose the sophisticated supper trade comes out a good bit later. However, on a side street we found one that was attractive, spacious, had a waterfall and a bar, and was OPEN. We went inside and ordered two gin and tonics. The only part of that the three young women understood was two. We started pointing, and motioning, and finally I went behind the bar and showed them what glasses to use and how to make the drinks. They laughed a lot and had fun and we looked at the menu and decided to stay for dinner. I made a photo of them with Peter, and I think they must have liked us. However, the blog thing won't load that particular photo, so you can see it when I get back if you want.

We were seated at a table in a lovely room that had a dance floor and an area for a band. We were the only customers in the place at the time. And have I mentioned that most of the shops and restaurants here play western music in the background? Peter and I even danced a little and the young ladies brought us menus. We pointed to a picture of steak. The way you order in most restaurants here is they bring you a list of the dishes and you mark on the list to order. We saw a picture of a steak and figured that would be good. Underneath it were numbers, and I checked number one so of course Peter took number two. We also saw some onion rings that looked good and checked that too, for good measure.

Pretty soon two iced coffees appeared at the table, unordered. The Taiwanese don’t drink much so I figure those girls thought we needed sobering up after such strong drinks. Then the food started coming, and it didn’t stop ‘til we left. We had a salad, then a vegetable, then two more iced coffees; Peter doesn’t like iced coffee and I don’t like to drink caffeine after five, but I didn’t want to hurt their feelings so I drank some of each serving. The food was very good. Then Peter got a pork chop and I got some other kind of meat, I think beef, with a sauce on it. I (guess the steak was another number . . . ) Then some soup covered with puff pastry came, and I was all over that. Then another dish. Then some other kind of drink, non-alcoholic, of course. At this point we got up and paid and left before they could bring out anything else. The onion rings never showed, but who cared!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunday, Sunday . . .

The four of us at the end of the day.

The Pao An temple.

Maxine and Steven

Peter and Maxine in the bookstore.

Practicing for the tea ceremony.

The temple of Confucius.

Maxine in the kitchen in the old house.

A sign posted in the men's room.

A Chinese bed (for the rich)!

Looking through the front door of the house to the courtyard and the house altar.

The house of the god of the ground.

The entrance to the house, inside the gate and fence.

The gate house entrance.

One of the desk people at the hotel who has been a godsend to us, going far out of her way to help with many things, managed to get the airline to bring my bag to the hotel. So I have, for the last two days, not been wearing the clothes in which I came here. Peter said he was all used to them. but I was tired of washing them every night. ( All of you know how I can't eat without saving some for later on the front of my shirt . . .) When you come to Taipei go the the Friends Hotel on Hoo-Ping West Rd.; the people are great and the rooms are big w/computer connections and adapters for your 3-prong plugs. Our bil for two nights in a room with a sitting area, office area, and king-sized bed, including breakfast (which was both tasty and ample) was $140. Oh, and that included some laundry we sent out in the morning and got back the same day in the evening. Such much!

Thanks to a new friend, Lin Wen Sheen (aka Maxine), the young woman who retreived us from the airport after our very long flight, and her boyfriend Stephen, Peter and I had a wonderful Sunday. We started by walking across the courtyard to the Fine Arts Museum, which was huge and had really interesting sculpture outside.

Maxine showed us many charming and interesting things we would not have known to seek out ourselves. We took a bus ride to a marvelous old Chinese house built by some Fujiian immigrants in 1783. Using materials from Fuji, they built the house as part of a community of houses all built at the same time. It had a gate house, with an impressive door and a sedan chair, used for travel by the upper class (and Maxine added that every bride was carried to the ceremony in a sedan chair). Maxine and Peter are standing by the chair in the photo. The house follows the traditional design of mainland China in having a three-sided courtyard. Traditional houses were built using fengshui: the entrance faces southwest and it has a crescent-shaped pool of water in front for cooling, raising fish, and as a supply of water for the garden or in case of fire. Our guidebook says that until recently many such houses remained in Taiwan, but now it is difficult to find one accessible and in good condition, and this one is a gem. The Lin Antai (Lin is Maxine's surname but she says it's not her family home!) Homestead is the oldest residential buildling in Taipei. The original house was built elsewhere and moved to the present location in 1978 by dismantling it piece by piece, numbering the pieces, and putting it back together like a jigsaw puzzle. I made some pictures which I will include.

However, this dismantling and reconstruction became even more difficult: the taking down occurred in 1978 but the putting back together in Pinchain Park did not happen until 1984. The building is now right under the landing path for Sungshan airport and planes come in so low it’s a wonder they don’t knock off the chimney. Peter loved this detail, needless to say.

The Confucius temple, compared to Taiwan’s ornate Buddhist and Taoist temples, is quite modest. It has no statues or dieties and is really lively only on 28 September, Confucius’ birthday and also teachers’ day, when an interesting festival is held at dawn. (Do not look here for a report on that, needless to say.) While we were there we saw some young women practicing for a tea ceremony which was to be held in the afternoon, and in another area was a chamber music concert.

The Pao-an temple is very near the Confucius temple. And is Taipei’s oldest temple. Like any good Taoist temple, the interior is a riot of colors and deities. Being the Victorian harlot that I am, I fell dead in love with it (and William, you will too). Particularly wonderful are the dragons on the corners of the wonderfully decorated roofs; I have about 20 shots of this but will only trouble you with one.

Somewhere in here we had a beef noodle lunch (beef noodle dish is something Taipei is famous for. It is really good but it is very large wontons filled with beef (or pork or chicken or vegetables) in broth with scallions and seasoning. Sort of like wonton soup on steriods. Very tasty. With the lunch I drank white gourd juice which was really delicious. Peter had cold green tea. Actually, we were served the opposite and traded after tasting them; he liked my tea better and I liked his gourd juice better than my tea. It had been sweetened. Almost everything here is sweet.

The Lungshan (dragon mountain) temple was the happenin’ place to be on Sunday. We could not walk without negotiating around the hordes who had come to light incense and ask for favors/forgiveness/help in passing exams/you name it. It was built in 1738 in the Mengchia district to honor the goddess of mercy, Kuanyin; in 1815 an earthquake leveled Mengchia, along with the temple. However, the Kuanyin statue survived and a new temple was built around it. The temple was wrecked again by a typhoon in 1867, but rebuilt. Then in 1945 the U. S. bombed it during a raid against Japanese troops who had occupied Taiwan. The temple was again rebuilt (!) and remains today one of the most popular in the city. The colors are brilliant, the people are packed chockablock, and the air is heavy with smoke from burning incense and ghost money. Piles of prepared food, unprepared food, fruit, vegetables, flowers were everywhere, and when I asked Maxine what happened to the stuff after the prayers were over (thinking it was no doubt donated to some charitable enterprise, she told me the people took it home and ate it. Talk about eating your cake and having it too! My camera stopped working here so we have no pics to show. The temple was full of gods—they had a god of business, of having babies, of good fortune, of good health, of many other things I can't remember now. Something for everyone's needs. I figure they are sort of like the saints for the Catholics.

A short two-block walk will take one to the Snake Alley, of which Peter has written, I fear to excess. I did not watch the snake stuff and did not read what he wrote. Narsty, narsty. A subway station is across the street from the temple, as well.

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Little Red Theater where we saw the Shuimo Kun Opera Troupe perform two Chinese operas. Chinese opera is defined in my guildebook as including “acrobatics, martial arts, poetic arias and stylized dance, usually performed on a bare stage, with the actors taking on stylised roles. This is an understatement of magnificent porportions. The titles of our operas were Lotus, or Bankrupt Blue Blood Sings Beggar Song, and Eye Piercing, or Lady Pierces Her Own Eyes for the Sake of her Lover. (These are taken directly from the program, honestly.) The title of the two works together is inexplicably The Embroidered Bedding. It is taken from The Story of Lady Lee, Bai Xingjian’s chuan qu (tale of the marvelous) in the Tang dynasty; it tells the story of Li Yaxian, a famous courtesan who, to stimulate her lover, Zheng Yanhe, pierces her own eyes to urge him to obtain an official rank in the imperial examination (get a job, you bum!). You can see how this plot ranks up there with the best of the Italians and Frenchies in every way. The program says “both scenes are filled with affecting quqing (melody and moods)” but this is a good example of how one should not believe everything she reads.

The operas were mercifully brief (eat your heart out, Wagner!), so I enjoyed them. (The singing was shrill and unmelodic, not unlike the CD you gave me of Yoyo Ma and a Chinese lady on Silk Road, Barbara.) In this kind of opera a person comes out and tells you the story of the play before it starts. Of course, you have probably already read it in your program, which is good because the storyteller speaks in Chinese, don’t you know. Then the actors come out laden with so much makeup one wonders how they can walk or see, and begin to do what you’ve just been told they would, at great length. Makes a silent movie look subtle. The when it’s over the previewer comes out for a postview, one presumes, but one cannot testify because that part isn’t in the program and one doesn’t know Chinese yet. Or not enough Chinese, in any case.

Another interesting part was the instruments the orchestra used to provide the music, and their music. Peter alerted me that I should go check out the orchestra because “their music looked funny, not like music.” Another stupendous understatement. Their music did not look like anything but a bunch of random marks on paper. No notes, no bars, no clefs, nada. The music for different instruments differed one from the other, but all were completely inscrutable (those Chinese!). (This may have some bearing on why the music sounds the way it does. I need to look into this but think I’m onto something big here.) And the instruments themselves were even stranger. The woodwind section, for example, was one guy playing a circle of bamboo pieces of different lengths wired together and having holes in the bottom of each at the same distance from the bottom of the pipes, where they were parallel. It was played through a brass mouthpiece somehow joined to the whole thing and supplying air to all the pipes. How that man got his hands around that thing and on the right holes is beyond me. And it sounded, alternately, like a piccolo, a clarinet, and a saxophone. Did you ever?

The playhouse itself was fascinating, painted bright red. Downstairs was a shop with many attractive tchochkies for sale; I bought a red t-shirt that looks good enough to wear over a skirt. I think. Upstairs, where the show is, the setup is like in Vegas, where everyone is seated at a long table and can order drinks (unlike Vegas, all made of tea) and snacks. You get the tea and snacks before the play starts and everyone feels free to eat and chat throughout the performance, which helped us understand what was happening on stage. I know we already knew the plot, but lots of subtle stuff was going on that we would have otherwise missed. For example, our hero in the first play is wearing low shoes (sneakers, actually) which means he is poor. In the second he is wearing high heels (platforms from Manolo Blahnik or I miss my guess) because his honey is supporting him and he is living a life of ease. In the first play she is a beautiful courtesan on whom he has spent his entire fortune so he can monopolize her time. She is dressed in gorgeous silk clothes, bedight with jewels, and rides in a sedan chair. In the second she is also wearing gorgeous silk clothes and many many jewels but she has on a belt, or sash of heavy cord, which means she is a working girl (housework, not her former career). You can see how a viewer needs to be on her metaphorical toes, as it were, to keep up. They all wear gorgeous silk clothes, the only difference being his have beautiful silk patches in the first act and are sans patch in the second, and the part about the shoes and the belt. Italian opera hasn’t a patch on these guys, trust me on this . . .

After the opera Peter managed to drag us into a book store. Now think about this: how many books in English would you expect to find in a Chinese bookstore? Precious few, no doubt, and because of that we were able to get him out in only half an hour. By this time Maxine’s friend Steven had arrived and we had some snacks and a beer and then headed out for snake alley. I will elide that adventure, and say we finished the evening at a bar near one of the larger universities having gin and tonic and another snack. The whole day was a rousing success, which we owe to Maxine’s and Steven’s generosity and kindness. I hope we can see them again soon when we are in Taipei for my orientation to Taiwan.