Monday, January 30, 2006

the man at the window

a week or so ago i was at home alone. it was about 4:30 in the afternoon and Kathy wasn't home yet. i was walking between the living room and the bedroom (saying i was in the kitchen would be a bit of an overstatement - it's just not big enough to mention by name) and i saw someone at the bedroom patio door. his head was in our hanging laundry and his hands were cupped around his face, pressed up against the glass. i thought, "there's someone trying to look in my window! wait - maybe it's that pervert who stole Kathy's bra!". i looked in his direction (from the space between the rooms with the fridge in it) and motioned for him to come around. he sortof knocked - sortof mumbled something, and i said, "come around idiot, come around." and motioned again.


so i hastily put on a jacket, got my shoes on and went out to confront the bra-stealer. i went out the front door and around the apartment towards the bedroom patio doors trying to think of anything in japanese i could say to convince this man that he shouldn't be looking in my bedroom window. i came around the corner and there he was.

his head was still in my laundry. he seemed surprised that i had come from inside. and he was clearly confused about a great many other things in life. he held something tightly in his hand, and as i asked in japanese, "why? why?" thinking that i was actually saying, "what the freak are you doing with your head in my clean laundry looking into my bedroom window?" he offered this precious something to me. i put out my hand, a little unsure. i thought at first that he had found something of value, and thinking that it might belong to the inhabitants of my apartment wanted to return it (this kind of thing does happen in japan - especially if you've improperly bagged your garbage on garbage day - the neighbours are so helpful). but he opened his hand and i took the prize.

it was his jacket zipper. did i mention that he was probably over 80? his zipper had broken - a chunk of teeth were missing from one side and so his zipper had fallen off the track. he desperately needed someone to help. he mumbled a lot in old-man japanese, kindof tired and not really all there - no full sentences i'm sure. but i knew what had to be done. and that day i was glad that i had been raised to be a patient person, and that i was good with my hands. there aren't many knots i can't untie, and there are fewer zippers still that i can't fix - although this was a challenge. it took about five minutes of real work (which you know felt like forever as i struggled with some strange old man's jacket while his head still bobbed around in my clean laundry). i finally got it started, and zipped his jacket up. i knew that if he unzipped it, the zipper would fall off again, so i buttoned the outside flap up for good measure. he seemed pleased, but more than that, he seemed ready to continue whatever complex task had been disturbed by the broken zipper. i asked him in japanese (correctly this time), "where are you going?" and he said, "there, there" as he pointed down the road. he shuffled away. i had done my good deed.

and then the thought hit me.

what if he remembers me? what if his zipper falls off again and he needs someone to fix it? i hope he can't remember where i live. or at least if he does, i hope he figures out where the front door is..

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I cut my finger.

Jusaat thought I'd tell everyone about my SFaturdfay. I wsazsx trying to wqaaszh the dizshesz and I dropped a qwine glass. But qqwith my ssuperb reflexzeas I wqaasaz able to catcvh it in mid-air.... BUt not until it hasds sdmasdhed up againssdt the fridge ansdx broken into little, very sxharp pieces, wsheich I cleanly ussded to carve a large chunk of skin out of my finger. ASIX ASSTICHESD! 6! That'ss the mossdt I've had. But don't wwsorry. It doeszxn't hurt much at all, and it only cosdt me $60 to have it ssdewn up. Only problem noqaW isd thisds big bandage on my left ring finger - you knows - the one that I usdse for typing sssd, ansdd qwa, and xc.

I'm debating wswherther or not to posdt a picture. It cut to the bone on the top of the finger (wsehich iddsn't that deep really), but it'ds not a pretty sight. let me knoaqw if you awsant to sdee it.


(and Dad, don't wqorry. The doctor wsazs qwuite good - I wsatched for a bit wehile he sdtiched it - very thorough).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

And Just Because There Are Some Things You Need to Know...

hmmm... "intercoursing." Kind of like "suiciding." Would they find this interchangeable with "sexing?" Ah, the dilemmas of the English language. I can't count how many times I've corrected my students... "You don't play sex, you have sex." And yes, I do correct them! If they're gonna be brash enough to ask me, "Kyashi sensei, do you play sex?" I'm gonna be brash enough to tell them like it is! (the English, that is!)


One Sunday we went with Rita's family and friends of theirs to a section of Taipei known as Danshui, on the end of the MRT line. It's a beautiful waterfront area that really attracts the crowds on the weekends. There are lots of markets, outdoor entertainers, and boat rides. We took a ferry to two different areas, walked around, admired the many dogs, lit off sparklers, sampled the foods...

Jeff took this while we were waiting for our first ferry.

This is the scene at the first of our ferry stops.

And this is the walking bridge at our first stop. At night, from far away, it looks like the sail of a ship. Very cool.

We Even Made Pottery!

One day Rita's family took us to a nearby town that specializes in pottery. As you may or may not know, pottery is my (Kathy's) weakness. Especially in Japan. I see it, and I'm always drawn to it. And I invariably want to buy it. I especially like teapots, mugs, and the more rough - as opposed to polished - stuff (just for your future reference!) We first got a chance to make pottery, and then I got a chance to BUY pottery... and yes, I did buy... a lot... as Jeff constantly muttered behind me "how the heck are we gonna get all this stuff back home!"

Everyone in Japan got excited when they saw these pictures. "Ah, sugoi!" they said. Don't be fooled. A potter (haha... I wanted to say 'pottist,' but Jeff corrected me) did all the prep work and finish work. We merely cupped our hands around the clay while it spun. It was fun, but as you can see, Jeff and I both did our own, so no remakes of scenes from "Ghost," unfortunately! ;)

And we got to write little designs into the clay after. Jeff went messy and abstract...

... and I went cute and traditional.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Temples Were Cool Too

So, in Taiwan, there is a smorgasbord of religions. Popular are Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity. We weren't there long enough to get a sense of whether people actively believe, or whether, like Japan, it's more of a superstitious thing... you know, go to the temple on New Year's Day and pray for good luck for the following year.

The temples (for the first three religions, that is!) also vary. As far as I know, we only saw Taoist temples, which are the most colourful of the three. They are also fascinating because so many things happen at them. In Japan, you mostly see people lighting incense, clapping their hands, and bowing and praying. In Taiwan, people also go to temples to try to learn about their futures. For instance, I watched about three people using oracle blocks. They would take two blocks and drop them on the floor. Apparently, if one block lands convex side up, and the other flat side up, the answer to their question is positive. If both are convex side up, the answer is negative. If both land flat side up, the answer is unclear... try again!

I also saw people use oracles. This has something to do with bamboo strips that have numbers on them. Don't really get it, but they seemed to use them together with the oracle blocks. The other interesting practice we witnessed was the burning of "ghost money." People take paper that represents money and toss it into large furnaces. It's meant to keep their ancestors happy.

Anyway, hope you didn't mind my ramble. I like to educate as well as entertain! And I know many of you faithful readers are interested in Asian culture, so you know, I aim to please! ;p

I so love this picture. It just really captures the gaudy colours. Love it, love it. Isn't Jeff a whiz?

And the gargoyles are cool too. Each one has a ball in its mouth that you can move around (if you stick your finger in), but you can't remove.

And this is inside the temple. You can see the big incense pot in the middle of the room.

And I just like this picture. There's actually a funny story behind these pictures. We saw more grandiose temples than this one (all the pics are from the same one) but... One morning, Jeff got the photog itch. So he went for a walk near Rita's home. He came across this temple. He was soon noticed by a man who seemed rather impressed by Jeff's equipment (yes, he's acquired quite a number of lenses...) The man excitedly invited Jeff into the temple and motioned to basically just explore anywhere he wished. That's why Jeff was able to get all the cool shots and close-ups. After some time, the man approached him with a bottle of water and a bottle of Taiwan beer! And he got a woman to ask Jeff to please send some copies of the pictures. Not a bad deal!

(Jeff here. Just thought you need to see this picture too. It gives a good feeling for the number of buildings that these temple sites have. This is standing on the balcony of one of the main buildings of one of the bigger temples we went to).

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Oh, the Fooooood.....

Before this trip, I thought Japanese food was my favourite food in the world. I mean, I love all Asian food, but I thought Japanese was my best. But now...? WOW! I never knew there could be such a variety of food as what we found in Taiwan!

We ate and we ate. So much. Each meal contained many dishes. Jeff and I quickly learned to pace ourselves and go easy on the rice so we could get through the 10+ dishes often served during a meal! Rita explained that a typical dinner includes noodles or rice, one or two vegetable dishes, fish, one meat dish, and soup. Soup is thought to be an important part of a balanced meal. A yin/yang thing. Rita also explained that in Taiwan, the appearance of a restaurant is not thought to be as important as the quality and flavour of the food. Her family loves good food, so we were taken to all their favourites, ranging from classy, hotel buffets to small, dirty, out-of-the-way holes-in-the-wall. Everything was good. Jeff's favourite quickly became the dumplings. I'm not sure what my favourite was, but as usual, I loved all the seafood.

This is one of the hole-in-the-wall places we were taken to about three times. Rita's mom has been going here for breakfast for 10 years. The couple you see is retired and simply runs this business for fun, for their friends. They are only open till about 11am every day. They make cheap, delicious breakfasts for their friends and chat. Now that's what I call community. My favourite here is something that I can't really describe! It's fried. There is egg and some vegetables and flakes of a sweet meat inside. And the outer "shell" is kind of pancake like, but not really. It's really really flaky. And you eat it like a taco. So Good!!! I could eat that every day. A popular breakfast drink is a sweet soy milk. You can get it everywhere, cold or lukewarm. Not my favourite. I always opted for the tea.

And well, two western establishments in Taiwan I have to brag about:

Starbucks. They need to learn in North America to make them this big. This one had three floors of seating plus an "art gallery" on the fourth! The decor made it feel like we were in a comfy ski lodge. Rita said most of the Starbucks in Taiwan are like that. Now, admittedly, we were in Taipei, which cannot be compared to say, St. Catharines (HA.) However, don't you think we could use a little more seating, even in puny old St. Kitts?

Rita also went on and on about KFC. Kept saying how popular it is in Taiwan, and how it's far superior to the ones in Canada. I'm not a big fan of fast food, so I didn't care, but finally we caved. We tried it... the Taiwanese Chicken burger.

Here it is, folks. Yes, how photogenic. Jeff, who is an avid fan of fast food, took one bite and exclaimed his admiration, "Why, it's fantastic! The meat is so much more juicy! Not dry at all!" (or something to that effect). He's a believer. Someone we met later on our trip said it had to do with using free-range chickens. Whatever.

So You Wanna Hear About Taiwan??

I'm so wired. So very wired. I slept till 1:30 today. Then, after reading, I fell asleep for another hour. It's 12:30 now, and I'm nowhere near ready for sleeping. Thank goodness it's another long weekend, and tomorrow is off! YAY! One of the benefits of life in Japan: many long weekends!

I have so much to say about Taiwan. It was an absolutely amazing trip. One of our best. And, lucky for you, Jeff has found a way to resize his HUMUNGOUS photos so that they are more friendly to you and your weary computers!

Let's begin with... Our Hosts... Many of you know Rita, farthest on the right. Her and her sister Vivian are studying in Canada. I met Rita when she studied English in the IELP. We quickly became very good friends. Last winter Rita said, "Hey, if you and Jeff stay in Japan another year, you should stay with my family in Taiwan next Christmas." Okay!

Rita's family lives in the city Taoyuan, which is very close to Taipei. Her family was extremely kind and generous to us, and we want to say a huge THANK YOU!!! again. They really treated us like family. It was a wonderful time, and it was hard to say good-bye.

In addition to Rita's family were her dogs. And well, I think you should meet some of them too. Presently, Rita's family owns five dogs and six puppies!!! WOW! But I think all of the puppies are to be given away. They were born about two weeks before we came.

This is Michael, a very friendly and very submissive Golden Retriever. He's the father of the puppies.

And this is the biggest of the puppies. Couldn't you just eat her up??? Oh man!!! One morning, Rita's mom brought the puppies in and bathed them and then let them sleep in the house till they dried. I held this one for awhile and then, when she started complaining, placed her in a box with another sleeping puppy. She walked around the box, complaining the whole time, crawled onto the poor sleeping puppy, and then pooped all over him! Rita picked her up and told her off. Apparently, she had pooped all over Rita earlier that morning!

And here I am, with the same puppy, after having been licked by her. Oh! I had forgotten how bad puppy breath smells!!

Monday, January 02, 2006

taipei 101 new years

at the beginning of 2006
Originally uploaded by

We were here! I didn't bring the camera, but I wanted everyone to see what we saw at midnight. We fought our way to the downtown, and fought our way to stand relatively close, and fought our way to get those stupid glow stick things that you can put around your wrists, and we fought our way to get a closer look at the band on stage after midnight, and then we fought our way out, fought our way to a cab, and finally stopped fighting and fell asleep at around 3am. What a night. I heard that there were about 400,000 people at the base of the building. There must have been at least that many.

Happy New Year everyone!