Tuesday, September 28, 2010

So long to Moon Cakes and Ghosts

For weeks, each time we rounded a corner during a neighborhood walk the smells of incense would crash into our noses and smoke would make our eyes water. Men hover around burn barrels by themselves or in small groups with piles and piles of fake money in their hand. But this is no monopoly game gone bad. The pleasing of the deceased is at stake. According to some beliefs, the gates to the underworld are opened up for a month of the year allowing the ghosts to come wander freely through their old haunts. Imagine the night mares some people must have at this time of the year. No, I didn't mean to harm him, wait, what was that sound...

The incense, burning "money" and other offerings represent items the ghosts may want and the possibility of an earth-bound person to have a prosperous year. As stacks of money turn to ash, we wonder how a life on earth can be better spent in the service of others and those around us.

Photo taken on the block

As the ghosts began the retreat home, stories of the moon began to surface. The fall harvest moon and the Moon Festival are linked together. This year, it happened that the autumnal equinox was also on the 22nd for a large day of celebration. I asked many students about the origin of the moon festival and the answers revolved around stories of bunny rabbits, secret potions, cake and the moon. In addition, legend has it that at some point in Chinese history the Mongols were in charge and in order to plan an uprising, moon cakes were distributed throughout the country in order to coordinate a day of revolution. Today, these secret messages are replaced in the center of a moon cake with an egg yolk or other interesting surprise. Yum...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lesson of the day: Helmets—Don’t Leave Home Without One

Dogs are a part of daily life in Taiwan. Initially, I would walk across the street and keep a watchful eye on all of the canines we came across. Quickly, we began to realize that for the most part, the dogs are really scared of us. People walk around with sticks in their hands and rocks in their pockets. If a dog gets too close, they are reminded why they stay away from humans. The only time I have had to utilize the stick has been while walking Audrey. It appears as if the mangy mongrels are none to happy about a foreigner invading their territory. Audrey becomes the object for all of their attention. I quickly go into “protect the child mode” and comically chase after the mutts with the handle of a broom. The dogs invariably, run away with their tails tucked between their legs. It appears as if even the wildest of the dogs are no match for our big stick and crazy yelling.

This was until yesterday. Yesterday began like any other day. Frank and I loaded our bikes into the tiny elevator, carried them down the final steps at the front, and hopped on board for our daily commute up the mountain to work. Upon turning the corner of the site for a new development, a huge 125 pound lab came barreling towards me, teeth exposed. I initially attempted to ride my bike into the monster, hoping to scare it away. No such luck! The stupid thing barked ferociously and kept coming my way. I tried to avoid it by bearing left—big mistake. I hit a ditch and flew “ass over teakettle” (as my grammy would say). Luckily I was wearing my helmet, because my head definitely broke my fall. The dog kept coming and Frank, my darling, sweet husband, went after the pooch with a vengeance. I slowly came to my feet and quickly hopped onto my bike to get out of there. All the while, the owner was shouting her apologies. We rode off; me with bent up handle bars, bruises a plenty and Frank leading the way to protect me against any further attacks.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fanapi a bust in Taichung

We waited. We plotted radar imagery and with excitement we loaded up on junk food and movies to wait out the storm. The forecasted path looked like the storm would come right by Taichung. Instead, as the eye reached the island the storm turned south almost 90 degrees. Here is the image at almost 6:00 this evening:

Our afternoon was a dry one as we visited the park(a few trees had been pulled out of the ground from the early morning winds).

9:00 with Fanapi coming

Depending on who you ask, last night was full of adventure or one of peaceful slumber. I slept hard. From time to time I rolled over, making a mental note of surprise as to the lack of wind from the oncoming storm. Krista battled the storm. The beginnings of Fanapi brought lots of wind and rain. Our entry way was flooded. Krista braved the elements to slam shut windows to stop more rain from entering.

Here is the satellite at 9:00 this morning:

We live in the county on the west coast that appears to have another county inside of its borders. If the storm follows a westerly path then the eye will not pass over us, but if it turns north a few hairs then we may just have a break in the middle of this day.

We just returned from a trip to the local OK Mart for more water and chocolate. Surprisingly, the store was fully stocked. Is nobody concerned?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Typhoon Fanapi on the way!

Our first typhoon looks like it might sail through tonight (Saturday). Today, it was nice outside. Our original plans of heading inland to visit the famous Sun Moon Lake were stalled for a later date. With complete disregard for the incoming typhoon, we got Audrey excited about a trip, packed the car for a day of hiking and got ready to leave. I guess the safety team gods had other ideas. The car battery that has been playing difficult to start, finally went out completely. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. We unpacked the car and spent a relaxing day in the neighborhood.

I posted a few new photos of the park that is located near our house. I am amazed at the detail that goes into creating parks. Each one around town is special in its own way. Ours features a large pool stocked with koi and other fish at one end that spills over into a small stream. The stream flows down into a larger pool and then continues onwards. It exits the park and follows a boardwalk to another small park. We visit almost daily, dodging a pack of wild dogs with a fondness for Audrey.

More photos of the park are posted - check them out!

The typhoon is expected to make a landing on the east coast of Taiwan early this morning and continue its westward path. The mountains should break it up a bit but the forecasted path has it coming awfully close to Taichung. Here's to hoping it will give us a quick flyby.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Frank just had his first birthday in Taiwan. It was considered quite an auspicious day: 9/9/99 per the Taiwan calendar. (I feel a bit slighted as last year Frank’s birthday landed on 9/9/9 per the western calendar) As we set off for school, Frank and I discussed how we would celebrate his birthday. He would be receiving no gift from me, his lovely wife, due to the fact that we are always together and there has been zero opportunity to sneak off and get him something. Even if I could sneak off, I have no idea where I would go as we have spent our time exploring beaches and towns opposed to shopping centers and stores. All of this was quickly forgotten as students began to arrive. Each student came laden with gifts for Frank. By the end of the day, we were completely thankful that we drove our car (which is a rarity) and had space to take home all of Frank’s booty. Apparently, someone had called each student in his class and told them to bring something for Frank’s birthday. I truly have never seen anything like it before: hand made cards, multiple cakes, bags filled with chocolate, and little tiny toys depicting images of food (still not sure what they’re for, but they’re popular here). The students went out of their way to make 9/9/99 a special day for Frank. Frank will be spending the weekend writing thank you cards to each of his little monsters and I will be spending the weekend eating cake. I do believe this is going to be a fantastic weekend!