Friday, August 28, 2009

1st day of school

Today was Ben's first day of school in Taiwan. I had a very difficult time sleeping last night, spending countless hours wondering if moving to Taiwan would truly help our kids. Questions kept sounding in my brain about whether the kids would adapt, if a bilingual environment is best and if I am a terrible mom. My kids are the minority. Will this challenge ahead of them make them shine like the diamonds that I know that they are, or will it just scratch the luster off of the surface, leaving them dull and tarnished?

As we left Lizzie at the kindergarten today she cried. Not her normal drop-off cry, but still complete with tears and screams of "I'll miss you Ben." It doesn't matter how much the two of them argue, they are great friends. Ben on the other hand could not be happier about leaving his sister, as it meant that he finally could leave the "Kindy" and move into the Primary School grade 1. Finally, some big kids!

I do have to admit that up until today has really been a challenge with the kids. Ben was placed into Kindy with much younger kids (like Lizzie's age), but he and two other "minority" children were often given special "activities" (read: they were too disruptive in class, so they were put together away from the others). If you put three kids in a room together for an extended period of time, well, things don't always go well. Add to that Lizzie doesn't want to be in class when her brother and friends are playing somewhere much cooler and a mess arises. Lizzie spent many times trying to sneak out to see Ben.

So back to today. We meet Ben's teacher at the classroom and watch as Ben is instructed how to take off his shoes, where to put them, and when to put on the house shoes. He is genuinely excited about being in a classroom. He is also happy because one of the boys from the kindy (one that he did not get in trouble with) is in his class. I saw Ben a couple of times during the day-- twice on the stairs, in the cafeteria, in the auditorium. Each time, he looked completely happy.

We picked both kids up this afternoon and found two completely different children from the ones we had picked up yesterday. BOTH were smiling. BOTH had gleaming reports. BOTH had a great day at school. Such a relief!

What's really neat is the change that I have seen in Ben just today. Until today, he was rather resistant to speaking Chinese. Instead of saying "Xiexie" (read: shay shay) he would say "Mayonnaisse". But tonight, he has not stopped with the Chinese. The children in his class speak both English and Chinese. The only common language for all of them is English, but Chinese is the mother tongue and therefore has its place. Today, speaking Chinese went from being "weird" to being "normal".

Isn't that what learning is? In science, we learn a new language filled with complex vocabulary and Latin. In math, we learn to communicate using both numbers and letters. When things are presented as normal, we are more apt to learn, because, well, it's normal. So today my son embraced Chinese. My daughter "taught" her teacher how to count to ten in Chinese. Both of my kids are growing in confidence and becoming world citizens. They are learning that there is more than one "right" way and that differences are part of who we are. They have learned a bit about ghosts (it's Ghost Month) and how to use chopsticks.

No, moving here was not a mistake. I have not hurt my kids. Instead, I have given them a great opportunity that they are starting to embrace. It truly is wonderful!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Earthquake!

Since I've been in Taiwan, there have been two earthquakes that I have not felt. Not so this morning! Just before 5am we woke up to our bed shaking. "Earthquake" I said to Wally as I rolled over, then I looked at the clock and went back to sleep. They say that if an earthquake wakes sleeping people, then it is a 4, and sure enough, when I checked on it just now (and above) it was a four.

I have to say that it was not like the episode of Laverne and Shirley where the earthquake makes their beds move around the room. Our bed is in the same spot. It just felt like the Earth was growling. Still pretty cool.

An explanation of the numbers in the above pics can be found at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Meteorological_Agency_seismic_intensity_scale



"You're not like most Westerners"

Today we had an awesome party at work. The entire school went to a park called Taiwan Sugar Mill. It has tables with built-in grills. The food was from something called "BBQ in a Box". Awesome idea. You buy this box and it has everything in it, the brushes, the starters, the lighter, the coal, the squid balls, the chicken, the pork, the tofu, the mushrooms, the fish. It was so cool.

We gathered ten people to a table. Each table had a box on it. There was also a plate of Salt-cooked chicken. Picture a whole chicken, cut up, and cooked. Did I mention that it was black? For those of you who remember my chickens, you might remember Chicky Girl. Chicky Girl was a Silky chicken, a type of chicken that comes from this region. In addition to having silky, fuzzy feathers, they also have black skin and meat.

Wally ate almost all of the chicken for the table. The head director came and added more to the plate and everyone was surprised when Lizzie grabbed the chicken foot and started gnawing on it. Yes, there was Lizzie, with a black chicken foot in her mouth, chewing on the toes.

After most of the meat was cooked, I threw the fish on the grill. The fish was very similar to the ballyhoo that we used to troll with on Poppy's boat, minus the bait skirt. When it was done grilling, I pulled it off of the heat and took the skin off. I then used my chopsticks and broke off a piece of the meat. It was really good! That's when it happened.

One of the greatest compliments that can be recieved... "You're not like most Westerners."

It's not the first time I've been told that, and I always wonder if it is meant as a compliment or an insult. So I asked the guy to explain. Apparently, in Taiwan, fish is cooked whole and then the meat is pulled off of the bones, much like I had done. Westerners, he explained, only eat clean fillets. Also, my children are not scared to try new things. Therefore we clearly do not fit the stereotype of a Westerner. It was meant as a compliment!

As we were all eating, the kids played. Ben is treated like a celebrity here. He is such a handsome boy with those huge eyes, the women all go crazy for him. There was literally a line of people waiting to take their pictures with him. He of course just smiles and enjoys the attention.

After lunch, we had some KTV. Lizzie and I sang some songs, I never realized had bad I sang until it was blared at me. Wow, I'm bad! While we were doing that, Wally and Ben went on a train ride down to the sugar plantation. I only know this because as I was waiting in line for the go-carts I received a text. Yes, this place had it all. Grills, trains, go-carts, KTV. Such a great time!

*This email is not meant in anyway to imply that being a Westerner is a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hump Day

The Wednesday workday has come and gone, our first week of working is half over. It has been a long and trying week so far, but we are starting to see the light at the end of the work week. The kids have had to adjust to the long day, they start at 8 am and we pick them up at 5 pm. It might not seem long to most people out there, as this would be a normal day in preschool, but our kids have never really been away from us for more than six hours during the day. We have been spoiled, and being away from them for those nine hours makes us realize how lucky we have been to be able to have me home with them.

The hardest part of the week would have to be the lack of running water. We have been filling up buckets from water trucks and flushing toilets to the best of our ability. No laundry has been done, and cooking is near impossible. But, I am happy to report, that as of 4 am this morning, the water has returned. How do I know is was 4am? Wally heard the banging of the pipes as the water entered them.

Everything is going great here. We are watching the Pacific as another tropical system is developing, but we are not too worried about that. Once we get our transport situation squared away we will see about helping with the relief effort, there is still so much to do. I even read an ad today asking for people to help with burying dogs that had died during the typhoon. Apparently over 100 drowned. We won't even talk about the human lives lost in the landslide...

As for now we are settling in, making trips to town, and loving Taiwan. It is fantastic. We are having a blast!

Friday, August 14, 2009

video

A little bit of Lizzie :)

Our Kitchen


Our water has returned! It is so nice to have water back, a fews days without and no dishwasher means a huge stack of dishes!
Our drain has this really neat basket that catches food. It can be removed and emptied into the trash. I love it! I want one in my Umatilla kitchen.





After cleaning up the house, it is time for me to grab a bath. I love my bath tub here!


We went back into town today. We all tried some street food, some pork dumplings. They were great! Ben really loved them!


Our final stop was at the fruit stand. Nothing quite like fresh fruit. Here's a sample of what we got.

More pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/schmmems/Waterreturn#

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Introducing Betsy

Today we decided to try our hand at going into the village. We don't have a car, and the nearest village is about 3 miles down the road, a mountainous road. Our plan was to have the security guard call a cab, take it into Dashe, go to the 7-11 to buy minutes for the phone, then shop around and catch a cab home.

Ahh, plans! We got to the security office and had our Nintendo DS in hand. I purchased a game called "My Chinese Coach" which not only teaches you how to speak Chinese, but also has the phrases written in Chinese so that you can show the person you are trying to talk to what you are trying to say. It has worked well, I have found the bathrooms, the laundry room, and even some foods. When we get to the security guard, we ask him to call a cab for us. Complete language breakdown. So then we decided to call Scott, a wonderful man from work, to talk to the guard to ask him in Chinese to call us a cab. We also needed the security guard to write down our address so that we could find our way home.

While this was happening, one of our neighbors pulls up and asks if he can drive us into town. A complete stranger. But hey, this is Taiwan, one of the safest places on Earth. We accept his invitation and climb into his car. Wally did get our address so that we could get home. The ride to Dashe was quite enjoyable. The Taiwanese love to talk in English so that they can practice the language, which makes things easier for us! They dropped us at the 7-11 and we thanked them for the ride.

The cell phone that we got is a prepaid cell phone, much like the ones that we have in the US. Unlike the ones in the US, you can not refill your minutes using your phone, you have to go and buy a card. I was told just to hand the lady my phone and my money and she would get the right card for us. If things were only that simple. We bought a card and the lady was nice enough to load the card, except that she had sold us the wrong card! Thank goodness that she was the one who tried to load it, because it was all in Chinese. After she realized her mistake, she refunded the money that I had spent on the wrong card and sold me the right one, again loading it onto my phone. Success!

7-11's are amazing here. You can do anything there. Pay the water, electric, rent, everything. Just a simple kiosk and things are done. Lovely!

We decided to walk around Dashe for a bit and found a place that cuts hair. Ben's hair was in need of a cutting, so we walked in. Charades commenced and we were able to ask for Ben's hair to get cut. As we were waiting for his hair to get done, two other women started to style Liz's hair. They braided it and made it very cute. The whole thing was not very expensive and was a wonderful experience.

Next we walked more and found a bakery. Ben picked out some cookies and Liz picked out a custard cup.

We found a fish store and fell in love with many of the fishes they had for sale. We can't wait until we can set up a tank here, our first family tank!

We also went into a book store where we found, wait for it, a hamster! I was attracted to the display because of the large beetles they had for sale. So pretty! Then we spotted the hamsters and were amazed at the price. We fell in love with this little girl and decided to take her home. Her name is Betsy.

After buying Betsy, we decided it was time to call a cab to take us home. I went into the 7-11 again and showed the girl my DS that asked her to help me call a cab. As we were starting to use the kiosk (again, an amazing thing), Scott pulled up and offered to take us home. He was driving by and saw us. I guess we stood out! He was so nice.

We got home and found that we still don't have water, but after a nice day out, things look great! We are really liking it here!