Recap of Last Week

Monday: A-Bei and A-Um decided to take us exploring the countryside on Monday. We visited two markets that are popular places to go on the weekends. One area had a suspension bridge over a river that ran from the mountains. It was a beautiful area, being surrounded by the green mountains. Apparently, it’s a great place for people to hang out by the river and barbeque. We then went to the site of the largest deity I had ever seen! It is still under construction, but the statue is essentially finished. We will have to post pictures when we get back, it’s pretty incredible. We also got to see a 300-year-old temple, we didn’t take any pictures of the inside but the intricate carvings on the pillars were magnificent. Every time I walk into one of these old temples, I am just awed by the history, culture and tradition of Taiwan.

Wednesday – This was our first bus ride into Taipei. We were actually staying the night in the city because the funeral was on Thursday. Once we arrived to Taipei, we went directly to the Tzu Chi Hospital, where a monk led us through another prayer service to help my father in the afterlife. When the service was over, we walked out of the room to be greeted by three or four police officers, guarding one of the rooms. I happened to look inside the room as we walked by and there was a body covered by a sheet on a gurney. Hmmm, didn’t know what that was about and didn’t think anything of it until later that night when we saw on the news that a Taipei councilman had been shot five times by a lone gunman and killed and his body was transported to the Tzu Chi Hospital! Holy crap, that’s crazy! And as of now, he has not been caught. All that they have to go on is a surveillance video taken of the suspect leaving on a moped.

Thursday – I really won’t go into the details about the funeral. I will mention that the funeral was a traditional Buddhist funeral, a lot of bowing, kneeling, chanting, incense burning and chanting. This was the first Chinese funeral I had ever been to and it was emotionally and physically exhausting. After it was all said and done, we went back to my aunt and uncle’s house to rest before heading back to Hsinchu. While there, with Yuejing (aka Sau Sau, A Um’s oldest son’s wife – cousin-in-law for those of you keeping score at home) took Bob and me to the Shilin Night Market (Taiwan’s largest and most famous night market) to look around. It was incredible, the amount of people and food and stores. A couple of streets are shut down every night for this night market. We didn’t stay very long so I will definitely have to go back before I return to St. Louis.

Friday – Friday was a relaxing day. We slept in, did some laundry, read books and tried to relax. In the evening though, we went out to dinner with A Bei, A Um, Uncle Simon, Cousin Steve, his wife Yuling, and their three adorable kids. The dinner was a traditional 10-course meal, and Uncle Simon and Bob got into some of the local Taiwan Beer. It’s capitalized, because it’s actually called “Taiwan Beer”. There are two varieties, and Bob liked both very much. He said they are halfway between Budweiser and Heineken in terms of flavor. The only problem is that Uncle Simon, still jetlagged, could not keep up with Bob, although he tried, valiantly. It proved to be his undoing. After the meal, Bob, Chris and I went over to Cousin Steve’s house to chat and check email.

Saturday – Chris, Bob, Uncle Simon and I woke up early and took the bus to Tzu Chi, where we began the journey of transporting my father’s remains to Yang-mei, a Buddhist mausoleum. Again, it was a long, complicated, and emotionally draining experience. After we left Yang-mei, Chris and Uncle Simon went back to Hsinchu while Bob and I went with Sau Sau back to Taipei where we checked into a hotel that was adjacent to the Living Mall. The three of us explored the huge mall, and had a good time doing it. The defining feature is a round building that the rest of the mall is wrapped around which contains the main department store. After that, Sau Sau left us, and we went to dinner with the 4th Aunt (Si Gu Gu) and Uncle, and their children and grandchildren. Again, we had a splendid traditional meal with many exquisite courses. Cousin Richard had brought out for the occasion an aged bottle of Kaoliang, and Bob found it much to his liking. We returned to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow, it was going to be a busy day…

Sunday – After checking out of the hotel, Cousin Steve and family, who had been in Taipei for a concert the previous night picked us up, and we went first to the National Palace. This museum, which we had stopped by briefly before but not gone in, houses some of the oldest and most spectacular artifacts of Chinese history. The most famous piece was the jade cabbage, a piece of jade sculpted to look like some cabbage. Combined with the second most famous piece, the “meat stone” (unsurprisingly, a piece of rare stone carved to look like meat), and you start to get the idea that Chinese sculptors might not have been very well fed. Food was always on their minds! Speaking of food, we had some snack and a tea service in the restaurant at the Palace and heard a woman playing some traditional Chinese music. After lunch, we journeyed back to downtown Taipei to the tallest building in the world (for now), Taipei 101. We rode the world’s fastest elevators to the observation deck where we could see the entire city. It was awesome. After a good bit of picture taking and listening to the free audio tours (in English, no less!), we returned to earth and toured the mall that takes us the bottom six or seven floors of the building. We ate dinner at the snack street there – we had Chinese food, while the kids jumped at the chance for KFC, naturally. After dinner, we took leave of Taipei 101 and went down the street to Eslite Bookstore. It was basically a six story department store except for books and things related to books. Totally awesome. After that, we returned to Hsinchu and promptly went to bed. It had been a long day, but a fun one, and we were quite tired.

Monday – We slept in and relaxed for the morning. In the afternoon, we met us with my Mom’s siblings and went to rent bicycles and tour the park areas along the Taiwan Strait. Of course, this being Taiwan, these were no normal bicycles. Bob and I snagged a tandem bike, my sister got a low-rider cruiser bike (would have looked right at home in South Central) and the adults crammed into a six person pedal-powered carriage. The path we took wound through some quiet woods before opening up to the Strait (really, the part of the Pacific Ocean that separates Taiwan from Mainland China) and it was really beautiful. Bob took interest in the assorted armaments that must have been put in place to discourage the Communists from invading the island, but we all agreed that the sea was quite nice. There was a strong breeze, which kept us cool (if a little sandblasted) and it was a nice bike ride. Upon returning the rentals, we met a group of my mother’s siblings’ friends at a local restaurant for a (you guessed it) 10-course traditional Chinese dinner! Again, the food was excellent, and they were all impressed with Bob’s chopstick skills.

Which brings us to today. We actually haven’t done much these past two days, just passing time and trying not to suffocate from the heat and humidity. How does a country that excels at making electronics/computers not be able to figure out central air for the home? I just don’t get it.

Observations from a Foreigner’s Perspective

I thought I would let people know some differences that I have noticed since arriving to my parents’ homeland.

1. The beds are firm and I mean firm. It is like you are sleeping on a wooden floor with the barest of padding. Yeah, yeah, yeah, a firm mattress is good for the spine but this is over the top.

2. I am washing my clothes by hand, BY HAND! Yes, the whole bucket of water, washboard, rinse and hang on a line dry. I know I’m a wife, but I draw the line at handwashing rank undies.

3. I am considered ginormous. That’s right, fat, large, stocky, every adjective you can think of to describe voluptous. Thank goodness I have great self-esteem to tell them all that winters are very cold in Missouri and I need the extra insulation.

4. Only wimps use air-conditioning. Sure, there are some window units where we live but we were advised only to use when it is so oppressively hot. I wonder who’s going to crack first, Bob or me (I’m thinking it’s him because it’s his first time here and he doesn’t know yet how bad it can be in the summer).

5. Men carry their ladies’ purses and not in the “Eww, hurry up in the bathroom, I don’t want to carry this monstrosity anymore” way. They are actually carrying them around while holding hands. And they also wear matching tee-shirts, as in same exact tee-shirt, in pink.

6. Mopeds have the right of way in everything. These vehicles are everywhere, swerving in and out of traffic, blowing red lights, on sidewalks, going down the wrong side of the road. To the moped driver, no rules of the road can contain them. Which is why I always have Bob walk next to me. If one of those things slams into him, I’m thinking the moped would sustain more damage than him.

If you can think of anything else I should be looking for and compare, please leave me a comment and I shall seek and find the answer. Until next time, be grateful that you are enjoying your washer and dryer and a soft cushy bed with extra fluffy pillows.

Taiwan Days 3 & 4

Since we last wrote, we have been pretty busy. Friday night, we went to see Spiderman 3 at the semi-vacant mall / cineplex across the street. It wasn’t a good movie, but was a nice diversion.

Yesterday, we went and had another prayer service with a different monk. More of Jen’s extended family was there, and we got to meet some of her cousins. With over 40 cousins, Jen hasn’t actually met them all, or was too young to remember when she did, so that was nice. After the prayer service, A Bei and A Um took us around to some of the other sights in Taipei. We stopped quickly by the National Palace and the Martyr’s Shrine (a history of the Republic of China, from a military point of view). We are going to go back with Chris to spend more time there in the future, but it was nice to see, if only briefly.

Last night, we went out to dinner with Jen’s cousin Steve, a microchip designer with multiple patents who lives here with his family in Hsinchu. We went to a really nice restaurant that was very moderately priced. Great food. After that, we went to three electronics superstores. It was geek paradise.

Finally slept in to 8 am today. Nice.

Taiwan Days 1 & 2

I’m going to spare everyone the details of the flight. It was long and uncomfortable, but uneventful. I’ve always found that uneventful plane rides are the best kind. I will, however, recommend Malaysia Airlines. Great service, good food, and personal TVs in every seatback.

After we landed, Jen’s oldest uncle (A Bei — spelling, not so much. Just pronounce it like that.) took Jen, Chris and I to the hospital so we can pay our respects to Jen’s dad. It’s a Buddhist hospital, and they had everything set up to deal with these situations within the protocols of the faith, which is just great. It’s also the nicest hospital I have ever seen, which is really nice for the family and everyone. After that, we went to the place where they will keep his ashes. His brother had purchased a family section several years ago when the place was built, and theirs is the most desirable of the “resting places”. I know there’s a real word for it, but I don’t know what it is. The grounds of the mausoleum / temple are really peaceful and beautiful. It is high up in the hills and surrounded by nature.

After we left there, we went to get lunch at a hot pot place (cook the food in boiling broth on your table) and then went to the apartment were we are staying with A Bei, A Um (his wife — again, not sure on the spelling), and Jen’s mom in Hsinchu, a large city about 40 miles outside of Taipei. Imagine O’Fallon with skyscrapers, industry and 400,000 people. The apartment where we are staying is very large, at least compared to my mental images before we came, and despite some things with the bathrooms that westerners are not used to (more on that later), it is very comfortable, and we are grateful to have such nice accommodations. A Bei owns this apartment, and one in Taipei as well. He and A Um usually stay in Taipei, but with all of us in town they are staying in Hsinchu and have been great hosts. Once we got to the apartment, we decided to shower and take a nap, as it had been 24 hours of travel and a lot of emotional stress all coming to a head. 4 hours later, Jen’s mom woke us up, and they had dinner ready. It was delicious. All the meals here have been. After that, we were lounging around and A Um (who had gone for a walk) called up to the apartment and let us know that they were shooting a commercial in front of the giant mall across the street. Sure enough, we went downstairs and watched a fabricated scenario where a bunch of hipster teenagers leave the mall and almost get run over by a girl on a moped. Sidebar: mopeds — THEY’RE EVERYWHERE! Anyway, we went and walked around the mall before going back home and to bed. Of course, we woke up at 3 am.

The next morning we went to a Buddhist prayer service for Jen’s father. It was almost two hours of a rhythmic reading out of a prayer book led by a monk. While I didn’t understand a single word of it, I certainly understood the meaning behind it and the power of their prayers. It was a good thing, for sure. We went down to the food court (again, nicest food court ever) to eat with the monk and the family after the service. There, I got to try out my fledgling Chinese skills. Everybody seems to at least appreciate my effort.

After that, A Bei took us on a driving tour of Taipei, taking us past a number of memorials and Taipei 101, currently the tallest building in the world. We didn’t have our camera with us, but we are planning on coming back to Taipei after things quiet down in a few weeks. That part of Taipei is incredibly awesome. Also, we saw some white dudes. We’ve been playing a game like Where’s Waldo, except it’s called Where’s Whitey. It had been over 24 hours since we left the confused German guy waiting for his ride in the airport. That aspect doesn’t bother me at all, but I wonder what people must think when they see me.

One of the most interesting things about Taiwan is the Betel Nut Beauties. Basically, it’s skimpily dressed hot Asian chicks in glass front stores selling Betel Nuts, a tobacco like substance that gives a caffienated buzz. It’s always funny to see one wearing jeans or something where you can’t see their undergarments. We comment that they are “overdressed”. For more information, read the sidebar on this page.

After we got back to Hsinchu, Jen, Chris and I wandered around, found the shopping district (and the Nike store — very important), got lost, and found our way back with the help of a friendly local. A Um had written our address on a peice of paper and even though we couldn’t read it, it saved our ass (or at least a taxi fare). We had dinner with the family, and then went to bed around 8:30. Woke up at 3:45 am. Getting better…

How Life Can Change, In a Blink of an Eye

First of all, I would like to say that Bob and I have the greatest family and friends. You have all been very supportive and understanding throughout this, constantly offering support and being there for us. So, we wanted to say, thank you and that we love you. Your love and support has greatly helped us, me especially, during this terrible time.

As most of you know, my dad was diagnosed with primary liver cancer about a month and a half ago and so my parents decided to return to Taiwan to receive treatments. Unfortunately, my father succumbed to the disease and passed away on Sunday, May 13, 2007. So, Bob, Chris and I left for Taiwan very quickly Monday evening and arrived in Taipei Wednesday morning. We will be here for a little less than a month, to be with my mother and attend the traditional funeral rituals.

So, for the next month, we will be blogging from Taiwan, a tiny island crammed with millions of people. We will be spending some time in this Internet cafe emailing and blogging and staying connected. It’s great because it is 24 hours and it’s only $1 per hour. Small price to pay for technology.

Thank you again for being there for me. I just can’t seem to say that enough.