Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy New Year!

A closup of my nose in its current iteration

It's warm and sunny outside and I have already made my third trip to the doctor this week who says I am better but what does he know he's just hoping and not living inside my head with a nose that runs and is stopped up at the same time you say that's not possible just like they say in Russia but anything is possible in this best of all possible worlds and I want you all to know that I'm hoping the next year will be better and much less interesting than this one was and that we all can breathe and vote and keep our jobs and see our friends and our families and go to the beach with our grandchldren and do all the things that make this world so wonderful and none of the things that don't. And that's the truth!


and be careful out there tonight . . .

A friend from Texas visits

Ann and I on the bus to Taipei.

Anna was right beside us.

A week or so before Christmas a good friend from Houston came to Taiwan to visit me. The weather was cold and we had no heat; Taiwan doesn't do heat in winter; I guess they get enough in the summer to last them. But we wore lots of socks and sweaters (even to bed!) and had a great time. My friend Ann is younger and more energetic by far than I, and she kept me moving right along. We had some adventures and lots of laughs and she met most of my friends here in Taiwan. It was the best Christmas present I got by a long shot!

I went to Chang Kai Shek airport to meet her; the plane arrived at ten p.m. and we took a bus back to Taichung. After getting her luggage and going through customs and finding the bus and buying more tickets we finally got off about eleven. I had packed us a care package for the trip that included wine, fruit, and chocolate (she was allergic to that but had brought some homemade Christmas cookies). We had a jolly ride back and got to my digs about midnight, where we were greeted by some of the many stray dogs that live on our campus. The students take care of them, bless their hearts, and then they go elsewhere to sleep. (I , on the other hand, get to listen to the dogs bark all night long. But that's another story . . .)

She opened her suitcase and pulled out a small Christmas tree complete with a set of tiny blown-glass ornaments that looked like minature Christopher Radkos. Ever so charming, it still sits atop my refrigerator, adding cheer and color to the room. She had sat behind a couple who shared the flu with her on the way over, thoughful folks that they were, and we both had it soon after her arrival. We both still have it, as far as I know. But we had a great time.

Dinner with Ann, Anna, Jane and Tim in Taichung at Smooth, which is very.

A stroll after dinner.

During the week we took turns being critically ill and having fun. Ann transformed my room by cleaning it (!) and rearranging some things and helping me drag a huge bookcase into it, which allowed me to take the things piled on all the flat surfaces and put them in the bookcase and thus make the room ever so much tidier and more organized. I am very grateful for that. However, I think her working so hard made her more sick than she was and one night she was really, really sick and I was worried she might check out on me. She had told me several times that if she died over here she was to be cremated and put in a jade urn, and just having that information was more than I wanted and sort of spooked me. Anna's very practical take on the situation was "Ann, do you know how much a jade urn will cost?" Fortunately we didn't need one, but I could have got a good deal in the market with Anna helping me negotiate. This woman is extremely talented in many ways, and getting a good price is one of her specialties. She went around the jade market with us to great good effect.

Our friends the Steiners in Taipei had a Christmas party with Mexican food on Friday night and of course we couldn't miss that, so Ann and I and my friend Anna went to Taipei for the party and other entertainments and we stayed in the Grand Hotel, which was Chang's main palace in Taiwan. He had several, as despots are wont to do, all located in the most beautiful spots in Taiwan, which has some really beautiful spots for palaces, let me assure you. Sun Moon Lake has one, and the beaches in the south, and in the mountains . . . You get the idea.

The Grand Hotel is really grand. I was very impressed with everything about it. Our friend Anna was able to get a lovely room at a discount because she is a citizen of Taiwan, and it was tres swell. Wonderful view, huge room, huge balcony, gorgoeous lobby and other facilities.

Great gift shop! Reasonable rates, as well. It's up in the mountains on the north edge of Taipei, near the palace museum, in which all the treasures from the mainland are safely harbored. I'm told that Madame Chang traveled with all the national treasures wherever she went in China, all 70,000 crates of them. And had she not brought them to Taiwan they probably would have been destroyed by the Red Guard back when Chine was obliterating culture and learning from its country. Can you imagine a trip to the beach in China with Madame Chang? "Just put those 70,000 crates over there by the palm trees for the nonce. Mind the fragile ones; I'd hate you to lose your life for a vase." Or, God help us, the mountains? But that too is another story, and not mine to tell . . .

View from the balcony, specially made for Peter!

Ann is ready to party with her new bag snagged in Taichung after dinner.

The Fulbright Christmas party group enjoyed Mexicanish food in Taipei.

We went to a very fun spa and to the local jade market as well, where we worked very hard to boost the local economy and did a pretty darn good job of it. The spa was great fun, lots of very hot water and not quite so hot water and a bed in the next room for collapsing in after the hot water has drained all your energy. We had a lovely very light Japanese meal at the spa after our water treatments. It was all very posh and fun.

The spa was very steamy, as you might imagine, and out of consideration for the audience I did not make photos of us nude.

The jade market was really an adventure! Acres of jade, in jewelry, statues, fountains, anything one might want. I bought a beautiful horse chop which Anna got my name affixed to back in Taichung, and a few other items. Ann bought some beautiful very large jade beads which look great on her.

Ann wears her new beads!

More beads . . .

Delicate jade sculptures.

Oh, yes. After the jade market we went to Taipei 101 for a lovely teppanyaki lunch and a bit of shopping on the haute side. For folks who don't celebrate Christmas, they do a right good job of decorating for the tourists . . .

We gathered our packages and staggered onto the bus for a late return, exhausted and very content. Bessie took Ann to the airport bus the next day and she was off for Christmas in Houston, where she is recovering nicely, I trust!

We plan to return to the Grand Hotel and bring ball gowns just so we can swish down this lovely staircase—made entirely of jade.

A closer look at that staircase. I've also seen some jade staircases in temples.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Catching up to Christmas

Early last week the Catholic ministry on campus lit the Christmas tree here in the central plaza area, and you never heard such a raucous religious occasion. Cheerleaders, fireworks, Miss World (a graduate of Providence), a nativity scene, fireworks, loud music, a choir (which got my hopes up only to sing one rather lame carol in Chinese that I had never heard before). Speeches galore, more fireworks, a collection, exchanging greetings (the peace of God be with you), and no telling what else as Frances and I decided we had enjoyed as much as we could stand and left before the end. The fireworks were still going off, and being launched from about ten feet away, so falling all over everywhere. In the States we would have had an ambulance standing by and the fireworks ignited about a mile away. I never thought my hearing would be damaged by a Christmas tree lighting, but that’s what I get for thinking. Wistful memories of our celebrations at St. Andrews (and how I will miss them all this year) followed me from the scene.

The program to go along with the lighting of the tree was a mixture of things. Some other Taiwanese Catholic universities sent delegations to participate in our ceremony; one of them had sent the rather acrobatic cheerleaders who were exhorting such loud cheers from the audience when we arrived. Another part of the ceremony featured a group of international students who each said “Peace on earth, good will to men” in their native language, which was impressive and reminded us of our international flavor. The choir sang, as noted above, and some recorded Christmas carols (traditional western ones) were also played at a very high volume. Miss World made a speech which was well received by the audience, and some student groups were honored. Not for studies, as I had thought, but for excellent Christmas decorations in some of the buildings on campus. All this on the first night of December. The graduate students have invited me to a party later in the month which happens to fall the day their papers are due, so naturally I had to give them an extension to the next class period. In short, the holiday season is upon us. Hallelujah!

The Christmas decorations in department stores have been out since mid November. Taiwan’s approach to Christmas makes the States look restrained. It’s commercialism with a capital K, but then Christmas here really is a mostly revenue-generating occasion, since most of the people here are not Christian. (At least I think this is true; they are Buddhist and Taoist, and probably other groups are represented as well.) The Japanese department store, which I call King Kong Mitsubishi as a functional approximation of its actual name, has already done mailouts and coupons for Christmas shoppers. They have coupons for discounts and free things here just as we do, but the coupons are about 1” x 3” and hard to read as they are so tiny. It tickles me to see them because they are so little! Even the 7-11 gives out coupons. If I could read them I might even want to use them; who knows?

The bikers at Providence gate

On Saturday my friend Melanie from Nanjing was here and we went with a bunch of Bessie’s students on a bicycle riding adventure. The Taiwanese government has taken an unused railroad bed and made it into a bike trail. Then, to make it easy to enjoy, they have set up stands where people can rent almost any kind and size of bicycle for very little money near the entrance to the trails.

They are trying to get people to be healthy and get outdoors but not stay in their cars. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our country did this? I’m very impressed. Anyway, about twenty of us students and adults went there and rode bikes for the afternoon, and it was great fun after I got my bicycle seat adjusted and someone showed me how to change the gears.

I haven’t ridden a bike for a very long time and never had a bike with gears, so I had to adjust myself a bit, but it was lots of fun and I went all the way to the end and back, about six miles, which made me very happy.
I made some photos of the lovely scenery and flowers we saw, but they didn’t all come out.

Afterwards the adults went to an absolutely marvelous seafood restaurant where the fish are alive when you order and then prepared and served to you immediately, so to say they are fresh is an understatement. In fact, the tail of the very delicious sashimi provider was still moving when it arrived on the table. Should I worry that it didn't keep me from eating some?

Buttermilk skies in Taichung on a beautiful day!