Thursday, December 23, 2010

Have a wonderful holiday!

We hope that everyone has a great time this holiday season doing whatever it is that you really want to do. We are thinking about our family and friends and appreciate the support that you all have given us throughout the years.

Even here in Taichung, the Christmas spirit has caught on. We've heard more renditions of the "classic" songs than ever before. Who knew that Silent Night could be so catchy...

We're leaving tonight for Thailand to visit Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok and who knows where else. We'll talk with you in 2011!

Frank and Krista

From Random Taichung

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Scooter Milk Men and Street Cleaning

Each weekday, my alarm abruptly ends my sleep at 4:30 in the morning. It's dark outside and cold. If it was up to me, I would roll over and fall back into my dreams for another hour. But, Audrey dictates the daily schedule. Some mornings, she pops up ready for her walk and bounds over to me if I don't move fast enough. Flapping her ears and nuzzling me, she shows her impatience as I slowly wake. Other days, it is she that is groggy. Walking sideways, her eyes droopy, she slowly makes her way to the door. By the time we reach the apartment lobby, both of us are usually awake enough to slide past our sleeping guard and out the door.

The streets are calm. Few lights are on and there is a surprising number of stars showing. Morning darkness in Taichung is clear and the moon lights the way as we begin our walk around the block. It's safer at this time of the day. Scooters are parked on the sidewalks and we stroll down the center of streets. The only other activity are the street cleaners and milk men.

From Random Taichung

In this photo taken later in the day, a street cleaner is loaded down by the collections. I'm not sure what the system is for cleaning streets but early in the morning I see the same people in the same area cleaning streets. They do not wear any type of uniform that would identify a city worker. Each appears to have a designated area, which they thoroughly walk to pick up any type of garbage. The streets are remarkably clean and much credit should be given to these people who begin the day early picking up trash. How are these people paid, I wonder? This scooter driver has a full load but the weight does not seem to be significant. Is it by volume? Type of material? Whatever it is, I thank them for clean streets and the hours spent collecting what other people let loose.

The other early morning activity is also done by one or two scooter drivers. Their scooters are loaded on each side and the back seat with clinking coolers. At first, I listened to them zip by and wondered why the coolers were attached. Making frequent stops, the delivery consists of yogurt and milk delivered door to door. Refrigerators are not included in the basic set-up of an apartment so many people appear to subscribe to a daily milk service to bring these refrigerated items.

So, my morning walks are mostly calm with silent nods to the street cleaners and a watchful ear out for the scooter milk men. By the time Audrey and I finish our loop and get hot water boiling for coffee, the city begins earnestly stirring awake for the new day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Packaging, Taiwan and peas

Packaging and Taiwan are definitely two peas in a pod. Every morning we venture to the local breakfast joint and order us up a couple Shao Bings. Each Shao bing is dropped into its individual plastic sack and then both are wrapped inside yet another plastic sack. We’ve learned to be thankful of the ever present tiny bags as they often accompany us on our daily walks with Audrey and have proven to be quite useful. I have never before believed that packaging was so important until a few weeks ago as we were preparing ourselves for a dinner at one of our student’s parent’s house. Upon receiving the invitation, I immediately went into overdrive deciding what to wear and what we should bring to thank them for the invitation. My mind drifted to the flower market. I became a bit excited at the thought of picking through all of the stemmed flowers for sale in order to create a beautiful bouquet. My excitement quickly dwindled as my friend rattled off all of the colors and styles of flowers that would be considered inappropriate for such a venue. Of course I couldn’t keep straight if it was okay to buy white roses but not red ones, and which chrysanthemums were appropriate, oh and then again, there was one flower that, without a doubt, were only used in funerals. UGH! So, I enlisted the help of the students in my class.

From Random Taichung

The students told me I should purchase a cake, some cookies and maybe some tea. I thought it was an awful lot to bring to dinner, but they insisted. I decided on one of the above. However, there was more to bringing the items than just showing up with the gift. I should have known. Of course, it all came down to packaging. The cakes must be packaged just right, include the tiny plates and impossible to use spears (I think they call them forks here, but trust me, they are in fact little spears). Once the cake becomes packaged, there is also a certain type of bag it must go into. I was told in no uncertain terms that the cake must not go into a plastic bag. Everything is plastic here so that definitely came as a big shock to me . Well the night went off without a hitch. I was armed with my perfectly packaged cake, complete with tiny utensils and plastic spears. The cake was swept from my hands and dropped into the kitchen, never to be seen again. That’s the other thing I was told--you bring a cake, not to eat for dessert, but for them to enjoy once you’re gone.


From Random Taichung

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Tucked away to the southwest of Taichung is the small town of Lugang. This past weekend, we decided to explore this town that many had mentioned as a nice place to visit. The quick drive (a rarity here) got us to the town around mid-morning. Navigating unknown areas in Taiwan can get dicey with one little turn. Our standard form of transportation is for me to drive while Krista uses the mapping program on her phone to navigate. At times, the map hiccups and forgets to update our position and at the street level many signs do not have Pinyin (a westernized expression of the Chinese characters). As we tried to find the area of town we wanted to visit, we suddenly found ourself turning right onto a small street. One small bend later and we were in the middle of a bustling market. The Freeca is a big car and we slowly lumbered through trying not to bump into fruit stands, pig snouts, scooters or pedestrians. Getting out to safety, we quickly parked and started walking.

A big draw of Lugang is that part of the older town has been preserved. Through our limited exposure here, we have found that most towns have destroyed the signs of old buildings and concrete structures or modern buildings replaced brick (or older) style construction. The narrow streets that define many older towns are widened so that cars can pass through. In Lugang, this is different. Narrow streets exists and the Lane of 9 Turns is so windy that two people could quickly lose sight of each other.

Incense fabrication seems to be common; likely it is a needed process to support the amazing temples in town. Here are bundles of incense laid out on the street:

From Lugang

The first official stop on our aimless shuffle was the Lung-Shang Temple. Wood construction and the use of geometric designs to create depth made this a beautiful spot.
From Lugang

From Lugang

We then found ourselves near a tiny lane. The placard on the wall explained that it was a fire lane but then went on to describe that it's name is "touch breast lane" because it is so narrow two people can barely pass (gotta be tiny!) without bumping into each other.
From Lugang

The old part of the time is weaved in with the hustle and bustle of a thriving market. Once out of the car, we appreciated the energy of the crowd and the stalls as we ventured from an area to the next. The meat section, a covered area with many vendors, featured anything and everything meat. Here are - I believe - pig snouts hanging down. Now, what do you do with a good pig snout? Is it grilled, put into a stew for flavor, used as a prank?

From Lugang

The narrow streets of Lugang were relaxing in that we did not have to constantly watch for errant scooters zipping through. We enjoyed the quiet that small lanes can bring to a city. We finished the day savoring a local delicacy known as a cow's tongue. This one was found in the pastry store, not the meat market!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Krista!

Thanks for another wonderful year! I can't wait to see what excitement and joy this next one brings.


The battle continues

An unexpected consequence of the cooling temperatures has been the migration of mosquitoes into our apartment. Outside walks are pleasant and rarely do we flail miserably about trying to squash the buzzing pest. However, nighttime has become an itchy experience. We can wake in the morning and have hands completely chewed up. It's like one of the little blood suckers went down the arterial highway sucking every few stops. Or, a constant hum creeps into our ears as flybys get closer and closer.

Our latest attempt to stop these monsters was to purchase a mosquito net. For some strange reason, it was hard to find - isn't this a problem for everyone? We had a peaceful night last night. Here's to hoping that we've found a permanent cure for mosquito nightmares.

From Random Taichung

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Upon arriving in Taiwan at the beginning of August, the temperature was unbearably hot and it was incredibly humid. I remember spreading out on the bed in an attempt to have no part of my body touching itself to help alleviate the incessant sweating. Of course, all attempts ended in failure.

At school, the tiny black flies would swarm my legs and munch away. I walked around for months with little red dots that itched something crazy. It was during these months that I could hardly believe the word around campus—it will in fact, get cold. . . just wait. We were told we’d be craving central heat; which of course, does not exist here. We were told that the little black hellions would pretty much disappear. I could hardly wait for these times which seemed to never come.

Keeping track of the weather back home, I’ve felt very lucky to be living in a tropical environment. No ice storms, no snow, no nonstop drizzle that causes the cold to seep into your bones and take up residence. However, all said, “Just wait, the cold is a comin.”

Today, the cold hit. By cold I mean 18 degrees C or 64 degrees F. You may think that isn’t cold; however, I simply can’t get warm. My fingers have turned into ice sickles and the goose bumps on my arms won’t relax. This is one cold 64 degrees! There is no heat in the buildings and the granite floor (I used to think was so beautiful) is like walking on a sheet of ice. Oh but it gets worse, much worse. It is true that the black flies have disappeared; however, they’ve been replaced by huge mosquitoes that have voracious appetites and I am their favored dish. The mosquitoes huddle by our door waiting to be let inside to a bit warmer room and an ever present buffet. I am definitely sensing a mosquito net in the near future.

I suppose I’m still happy to not be battling the NW’s infamous Northeasters and to not have to worry about spending 5 months of the year completely soggy. However, at the moment all I can think about it getting warm and being itch free. I’d love nothing more than to curl up in front of a fireplace with a warm wooly blanket and watch the snow come down. And here I thought sweaters and hats were a thing of the past. . .boy was I mistaken! Even the dogs here are fully decked out in their winter attire.

From Random Taichung
Student decked out for the weather

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Passion Fruit

On of the Pacific Northwest events that I truly missed this year was apple season. Honey Crisp, Jonagold and the other local varieties were hopefully enjoyed by others. But, life in the tropics is opening us up to a new world of fruits. The hands-down favorite recently walked into Krista's classroom as a gift from a student.

From Random Taichung

She was instructed that it would be ripe once the outer skin became wrinkled. I was amazed at the lightness of this purple balls. Each one carries a sense of lightness with it as if the wrinkled skin protects a ball of air. But, under the skin is a hard shell that a sharp knife is needed to cut into. First glance at the insides may turn a newbie away but a delicious treat awaits the person who scoops out the yellow glop and black seed mixture.

From Random Taichung

The taste is unlike any other fruit I have encountered. Sweet, yet tart. Some bites lie on the sweeter side while others, well...

From Random Taichung

Kenting Night Market

Most days after enjoying the sun set into waters of the the Taiwanese Strait, we would head back into town for food and the excitement of the night market. Kenting's night market consists of its main strip through town and comes to life with clothing, souvenir and food vendors. The trip begins with a preparation for the bright lights and crowds.

From Kenting Night Market

Some nights we feasted on a random assortment of -on-a-stick

From Kenting Night Market

From Kenting Night Market

squid (actually, we passed on this one)
From Kenting Night Market

and corn
From Kenting Night Market

One night, we happened upon a special treat - the burrito stand! The tortillas were individually rolled out, the chicken cut off a special rack of chicken breasts and then rolled together with what must be a multi-generational secret sauce. mmm, mmm good

From Kenting Night Market

From Kenting Night Market

From Kenting Night Market

Though the seafood treats seemed to make many folk happy on their food scavenging expeditions, we avoided it. I'm not sure if I want to eat something from the Taiwanese Strait.

Lots of shrimp
From Kenting Night Market

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chicken with its head attached

One of the various things I’ve been craving lately is a greasy, juicy piece of fried chicken. With no fried chicken on the horizon, Frank and I made our monthly trip to Costco. Excited was I to learn that Costco in Taiwan has just about all of the accoutrement that Costco in the US has. Including. . . rotisserie chicken! I could hardly wait to get home to bite into the tasty morsel.

Upon arriving home, I pulled open the all too familiar bag and peered inside. What I saw made my stomach flip. What was this? It was seriously not the chicken I am used to. No! They left the head attached and tied down to the body of the poor little thing. The eyes were half open and a faint glimpse of who the chicken actually was (before his unfortunate death) flickered before my eyes. I blanched a bit and quickly closed the bag. Frank asked what was wrong but I hardly had the words. How the heck was I supposed to cut into that THING?

I spent quite a while completing my evening chores with images of the headed chicken invading my thoughts. Finally, I could put it off no longer. I reached into the drawer and grabbed a pair of tongs. I delicately grasped the chicken by one of her wings with the very tip of the tongs and lowered her down on the cutting board. Grabbing the largest knife possible, I slowly pulled the head away from the body. I dropped the knife quickly, hoping to sever the head immediately. I was not so lucky. After several passes, the head disconnected from the body. I had my eyes closed as I lifted it into the bag and put the bag far away from my sight.

Needless to say, I couldn’t eat chicken that night. Perhaps today for lunch the image of the chicken won’t plague me. Chicken with a head attached. . .who’d a thought?