Friday, November 25, 2005

Sun Moon Lake

This blogspot was mostly written by Peter, who came to visit me for a wonderful week. During the week we visited with friends in Taichung, having dinner out somewhere different each night. One night we and Anna Chen met Tim and Jane Allen, she of the paper-making wonders, and their son and his lady friend visiting from the states at a restaurant in Taichung City named Smooth. The chef is from Holland and the food is fai chang hen hao (pronounced /fay/chung/hun/how), which means ever so wonderfully good.

Excuse the flash in the mirror, please!

On Friday, we were in Taipei for a social affair at the AIT, in honor of Nicholas Papp who has become a friend of Pat’s, and to meet up with the Steiner family and their friend Scarlett who is from Taiwan and knows her way around. Saturday morning early we took a cab to the station to meet them, but while we were waiting we noticed from the Pinyin that the station name was slightly different from the one where we wanted to be. Sure enough, it was the wrong one, but the cab driver got it right the second time. So we met up with Lee and Mark and their twins Hannah and Emma, age 11, and Scarlett, and took the bus to Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan. It was about 2 hours on the bus to get there and we arrived before lunchtime.

The Steiners, waiting for the bus

Pat had tried to use the internet to locate a package for the weekend at Sun Moon Lake, but only the top hotels with the highest prices had web sites – in English, that is. Scarlett found some others, good ones, in Chinese, and we had bought one of those. It was a perfect deal! The price was right; the hotel was small and fun; the rooms we had all faced out onto the lake and had great views, a several-hour boat ride on the lake was included, as was dinner and breakfast. What more could anyone want?

A view from our hotel room

We had a great lunch at a small restaurant. The lunch included a soup made of flowers (I swear they were unopened day lilies!), steamed bamboo (not shoots!), and some really delicate good tasting lake fish cooked at the table. Like, they were so fresh we were glad they didn’t splash around in the pan. Afterwards, we did a little souvenir shopping and went for a long walk along the boardwalk that goes around the lake (part way, but far enough).

Emma looks great in her aborigine hat

The view from everywhere was spectacular, islands in the lake, mountains behind on all sides, in rows going into the distance. We saw Chang Kai Shek’s private docks, and the Lalu hotel (one of the more luxurious ones, where CKS used to hang around apparently, and where we probably stayed when we came here in 1964 and ran into him there; though I’m just speculating that it was the same hotel –have to check with Marianne).

We did the boat ride on the lake, got off at the obligatory stops to see the floating island and the shrines, acted like a bunch of tourists (of which there were many, mostly daytrippers I think), watched the Steiner girls having fun, and watched the sun set and turn the lake pink. . . . Afterwards did a bit more relaxing things like visiting and talking and people watching. A bottle of Nouveau Beaujolais at the nearby 7-11 was 300 NT, and Pat and I shared it before dinner. After dinner we walked around the little town and visited and shopped some more for souvenirs. The atmosphere was cool, the streets not crowded, the people friendly, the company fun, the kids well behaved. Just what it takes to make for a perfect time.

Up before dawn, rereading Spirit of St. Louis. Seems the Spirit was built without a magnetic compass installed, just an earth inductor compass, and Lindbergh had to have an MC installed afterwards. Lest one think they forgot to put one in, remember that the ship was built for this one single mission, and at first it was thought that the earth inductor compass would be sufficient. I’m not sure that they even swung the compass, because Lindbergh doesn’t seem to mention any compass deviation in his hourly observations (he does, but it is always “0”), but he sure used the MC in his dead reckoning navigation. He seemed to use it as his primary tool, with the earth inductor as his secondary source of information. Anyway,

I saw the day come, with the light from behind the mountains across the lake to the east, gradually getting not bright, exactly, but less dark.

The wind began to ruffle the surface of the glassy smooth lake. First one, then another person out. A boat began moving across the water in the far distance, then another in the near. People with spinning rods were out fishing on the piers. Put the book down when Lindbergh yelled, “Which way is Ireland?”

In the morning we had breakfast lakeside. Then we checked out of the hotel, and took our bags and all to the bus to go to the Aboriginal village across the lake. This was not at all how I remembered it being. Now, it is a huge amusement park with rides and restaurants and a roller coaster as well as the tribal exhibits, which were all I remember being there. It was still fun, interesting and entertaining, and we watched some dancing and things we would never have seen anywhere else. Bought some weird souvenirs that Pat says I’ll have to hide when the kids come visit.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Yet another adventure . . .

I had an adventure already today and it's just a bit after eleven. Last night I returned to a physician I had seen earlier because I was having two medical problems that were puzzling and a bit worrisome: a cough and swollen ankles. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined these two things could be connected, but they are. They physician I saw was a Family Practice specialist who had been working in Philadelphia many years before coming here to do some research for a year. He told me a medication I was taking for high blood pressure could be causing both problems, and prescribed a new medication. After returning to my room, I went to bed early as I was very tired from staying up late the night before grading papers and getting up early for a class.

This morning I woke up, took my new meds, had a shower, and went down to get my blood pressure taken by the nurse in our health center in the basement of my building. It was very low, and while she was taking it I got very very dizzy. Actually, I still am dizzy. At the time I nearly fainted and the nurse got frightened and put me on a cot in the next room and called the doctor I saw last night. (Anyone would be frightened if they were as small as she and someone as large as I might fall on them—a certain horrible death, for sure! How she knew who to call is beyond me, but this place has an incredibly intricate information network that probaly doesn't bear a lot of scrutiny. More about that later.) Dr. Liang told her that I should lie down for two hours and come see him if I wanted to. The nurse did not want me to lie down in my room upstairs because, as she put it "How I know if you coma?" A bit histrionic, perhaps, but I saw her point and persuaded her to allow me to retrieve some papers from my room to grade while I was "resting." She accomopanied me upstairs to do so. I lay in the health office for two hours and she prepared to take my blood pressure again but was interrupted by a phone call. The call was from Chris Lu, the English department secretary, whom the nurse, Lee Shoo, had alerted to my condition. Chris asked to talk to me and we spoke; she wanted to take me to the hospital immediately because it is Friday and I live alone. She didn't want me to have trouble and not be able to get help over the weekend. But we compromised by her telling me to wait for her in the nurse's office. Meantime the nurse had called the doctor again, so I asked to speak to him since he speaks great English and understands me, as well.

He's from Hong Kong, by the way, and Anna Chen, the Taiwanese friend who took me to see him both times, says that people from Hong Kong have better English than the Taiwanese because the British occupied Hong Kong for so long. The spirit of Henry Higgins at work, no doubt.

I did speak to the doctor and told him I would come in if he really wanted me to, but he said I should just take it easy today, drink lots of water, and take only one of the new capsules per day instead of two for a week, during which time I will continue to monitor my blood pressure. After this Chris agreed I could go to my room to rest, and took me upstairs. I explained that several friends lived in the building on the same floor and I could call them if I get ill, or call E-Chou (my boss) if I need help and they aren't in. So she agreed I could safely remain in my room. The whole time she had been carrying a box which I thought was her lunch since she usually gets a "lunch box" and eats at her desk. But it was a box of dumplings for me, because she knows I love them.

Can you imagine getting that kind of help from people anywhere else? Perhaps if they knew the patient personally, and these people do know me, but they have treated me this way since the first day I arrived. I am really impressed by the kindness of the Taiwanese people; I can't possibly do justice to how considerate they are just in a description. They are over the top.

But now I really do have to grade those exams!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What is it like to live there?

People ask me “what is it like to live here?” So I will try to tell you. For starters, being Goliath in Lilliput has its ways, but also has its faults. Yesterday a man came up to me on the street, looked up at me, and announced “You really tall. You too tall.” I resisted responding as I would at home since he intended no insult, most likely; he was just stating what he saw as a fact, and an unusual one at that. In Taiwan I can find people easily and am myself easy to find. However, I cannot find clothes to fit, or shoes, without ordering them from the states. And when I look in a mirror, I get a great view of my shoulders and torso. To see my head I need to sit down.

Then the issue of stairs arises (pun intended). The Chinese think that high=good, and anything higher than anything else is naturally better. So they put stairs wherever they can. (If you think this is hyperbole you have never spent time in the Pacific Rim.) Stairs and platforms are everywhere, sometimes for no discernable reason. We like stairs, especially when they go up. And so we have as many as possible. I go up three sets (two flights of 12 in each set) OUTDOORS to get to the building where most of my classes are. And after I get to the building either two or four more, depending on the day, await me. I can use the elevator but the building has only one very small one which is usually teeming with students, so unless I am very early or very late this is not a viable option. However, stairs are of course excellent exercise and I realize it’s quite curmudgeonly of me to complain. But when the outside temperature is 40 degrees Celsius, one wants to complain but the sweat dripping from one’s nose into one’s mouth makes that impossible.

And the temperature is another matter. Everyone here is wearing jackets and sweaters except me. Never mind that it’s still hot as the devil himself, the name of the month is November (actually in Chinese it’s eleven) and therefore one needs a jacket or sweater or at least a long-sleeved shirt. I have had a persistent cough, the result, I think, of the quite visible and tangible pollution, but now that “cold” weather is upon us several people have told me my cough is a result of not being dressed warmly and one dear friend even brought me some scarves I am to wear around my throat. Again, not one syllable of hyperbole. The students in my classes, especially the females, wear sweaters and jackets and shiver when I insist on turning on the AC. When I point out that the temperature is the same as it was in August, when I arrived, I am met with silence and blank stares.

Shopping. Now this is really a hoot. Would you believe that most of my shopping is done at the 7-11? That’s right, you read that correctly. The ubiquitous 7-11 in Taiwan has two stellar advantages:
1. A store on every block, sometimes two
2. Carries everything except large furniture and produce.
3. Is inexpensive.
(Well, that obviously is three but you all know numbers are not my best thing.)

In a 7-11 in Taiwan you can pay your utility bills, get copies made, buy cell phones, buy more time on cell phones, buy magazines and newspapers in most languages, buy wine and beer and gin and vodka and brandy, buy Haagan-Daas (sp?) ice cream, fax things, and do any number of other very necessary tasks. And the post office also is a bank, only people don’t use checks here. Just ATM machines or tellers/postal clerks. Need an ATM machine? Go to 7-11. Are you beginning to get the picture?

Our guide at a temple. The green staircase is carved jade.

They have grocery stores, which are small, mostly, and a few supermarkets, but those of us without an auto (and in our right mind so not willing to drive here) don’t go to them very often and really don’t need to. My building has a general store, a bakery, a post office/bank, a coffee shop, an optician, a copy center, a peripatetic jewelry store and flower shop, and a cafeteria. Another, much larger cafeteria is next door to my building where I can buy cut up fruit and vegetables as well as hot meals. Since I can’t buy clothes here anyway, the 7-11 is my Foley’s/Kroger/TJMaxx. It’s hard to spend a lot of money here, even for me, who have pretty finely honed skills in that arena. I challenge even Pat Wente to spend more than $10,000 NT in a month. In her wildest excessive dreams. Now $10K NT amounts to about $300 US, give or take a little. $100 NT equals about $3.00 US, or as they say here, Meijing. Sort of like saying ‘Mercan (remember Lyndon Johnson?) and adding the sound of a cash register . . .

You know, our postal employees might not be so crazy if they got to be bankers, too. But then if they “went postal” they might steal our money. On second thought, forget it.

Love those Chinese dogs!

And the dragons! (see corners of temple silhouetted above, click on photo to enlarge)

I’m sorry I haven’t written more lately. I have lots of work and I am tired most of the time. Yesterday I slept a couple of hours in the afternoon after I returned from a visit to some temples and a museum. Bessie’s (one of my colleagues) students were interesting, particularly one older man who kept trying to talk to me in what (I think) he considered excellent English but I had great difficulty understanding., His wife’s was much better. He wanted to be the center of attention all the time, and that is always off-putting. And then he got us to go in his house, which is very crowded with machines and too much furniture of dubious origins, and after showing us his calligraphy, which I must admit was quite excellent, played a CD of his performance in a play at a volume so high I am sure my hearing was permanently damaged and my ears are still ringing! He is apparently very talented but has the social skills of a gorilla. I was just glad he didn’t have a microphone to hand (see earlier explanation of Chinese men with microphones).

Bessie herself is quite wonderful—very funny and a quick wit. Last night we attended a concert in my building (I forgot to mention we also have a concert hall) and though I missed the first half I arrived in time for the second, which consisted largely of a karaoke flautist. (Don’t ask.) The performer obviously had limited Chinese-speaking ability (he could say che che, which is thank you), and she leaned over to tell me “His Chinese is almost as good as yours.” She has a car and has taken me to some really good restaurants, and I have joined her students on a couple of field trips which were enjoyable. Any outing with Bessie is sure to involve a lot of laughing. We also went with some of her students to a spa and enjoyed the hot and cold tubs for a while before class.

Bessie at the spa.

Explaining American culture (not easily done!)

My Chinese lesson starts in about 20 minutes so I’d better get ready and go. Learning Chinese is the last in my chronicle of incredible events. When I think about studying Chinese it makes me cry. That is the truth, I am astonished to report. This must be my body screaming at me that I am much too old to undertake learning a language which is a. unpronounceable; b. has ten thousand characters one must learn just to read a newspaper, hundreds of thousands to be literate; c. has “measure words”•; d. has fifteen ways to say ch which they insist are all different, and certainly they are spelled differently but none are spelled ch; e. I could go on and on but this is getting maudlin. I learned Old English a few years ago; isn't that enough?

I am settling for learning spoken Chinese enough to hire a cab, order a meal, answer the phone, and make very small conversation about the weather and the time. As in “Isn’t the time flying! I must go.”

My friends and colleagues here happily translate for me, which of course makes them enablers in my illiteracy of Chinese. And that’s why I love them so! As my boss said recently, “We brought you here to speak English. Forget about Chinese.” A little know fact, moreover, is that speaking Chinese ruins one’s English. A colleague (native English speaker) recently told some students, when asked if she minded if they did something, “No, I don’t have a mind.” See what I mean? And yesterday a student sent me an email, which I will quote entire so you don’t miss any of the charm:

Dear Miss Golemon,
I'm the student in Professional Writting Class at 8:00 this morning. I overslept today because my alarm clock didn't work. I am so sorry! I've already put the cover letter and resume in your mailbox in the office. I hope you could accept it. I'm sorry for turning my homework lately. And I'll buy a new alarm clock today. Ying-Yen

I never thought of lately as being the opposite of early, but it certainly makes sense. Do you see why the Mandarin she is damage my speech? See you lately . . .

•measure words will be explained later, when I have more world and time.