Tuesday, March 31, 2009
And today was no exception.
Tomorrow, I'm determined to come here again and continue to work on my paper. If I can sit here for a solid eight hours tomorrow, I'd be much, much closer to having yet another paper done. Maybe another eight hours here on Thursday and Friday...
I have choir rehearsal all of Saturday. And I rest on Sundays. On Monday, I might be able to do the last bit of work on the paper, then another choir rehearsal. Tuesday, it's time to pack for my 3-week trip to China. That evening, we have our choir concert. And by 4 am the next morning, I'll be off to Hong Kong to get a visa for China.
And then for the next few weeks, I'll be learning, observing, enjoying stimulating conversations with friends, walking on the Wall, visiting the Bird's Nest, the Terra Cotta Soldiers, even Shanghai. Trying to make my Taiwan-Chinese more understandable to Mainlanders, figuring out where China fits into the bigger picture of my dissertation. And then off to Shendzen to spend some time with my colleagues in the baby goods business. Getting to know them. Planning changes to the Web sites. Writing strategies for the way forward in terms of social marketing. Learning more. Being stretched. Growing.
But before that can happen, my current paper has to be done.
And so, tomorrow, I'll be back at the library to be inspired by the hundreds of studious college kids around me.
Monday, March 30, 2009
When Liesl asked what he had told her, she declared: "He says I should have a cookie right now." Of course my sister gave her a cookie the moment they got home!
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Earlier in the day, though, the Kindle could've lead into a really good conversation. But I let the opportunity slip through my fingers, I realized as I stepped off the train...
I was sitting reading when a young Taoist monk sat down next to me. The trains tend to be very crammed, and I tend to withdraw into my own world, listening to music on my iPod (as do many of the people around me). This morning, though, I didn't have my earphones on.
I heard the young man clear his throat and politely say, "Excuse me."
It definitely was a young man's voice, but the gray outfits and the shaved heads always make it hard to know if it's a monk or a nun.
"Hi," I said with a smile, surprised that he could speak English.
"My name is Master so-and-so (didn't catch his name). I'm from Pintung (that's in the south of the island.) Do you mind telling me: Is that a computer?"
I explained to him how the electronic book works. After chatting a bit, I noticed we're at my station. "I'm so sorry! This is my station! It was good to chat with you." And I hopped off the train.
As the train pulled away, it hit me between the eyes.
I had missed a golden opportunity right there and then.
I had so many questions for him. I've been wishing I could ask a monk or a nun about their outfits, their beliefs, about things I see around me. Like the fact that the temples have been crowded the past two days, and offering tables have been out on the streets with offerings for the spirits. Is it an auspicious day? Or is it one of the regular, bi-monthly Taoist worship days? What do they believe, really?
I had bought a book on the topic this week, but may not get to reading it for another month or so. (The reading stack is high right now.)
So I missed a chance to learn.
I'm praying that God would give me another chance like that. 'Cause ask about the Kindle, people will. They're curious. Rightfully so. But when they start conversations about my stuff, it may very well lead into conversations about their world, too...
Friday, March 27, 2009
But having struggled for a few days now with this particular book, I hit a wall. Right now, I cannot afford to be hitting a wall. My paper has to be done. Turned in. And done well. If it were just any topic, I believe I could have gotten it done months ago. But since it's my first paper in the field that I finally tend to do my dissertation, I'm trying to learn all I can. I'm taking more notes than I would for other reports, so that down the road (next year?) when I'm finally working on the dissertation, perhaps, just perhaps, things will be a bit easier. I wouldn't have to go back and do double work. I'm not sure.
It probably also doesn't help that the emotions of adjusting yet again to life in a new (albeit familiar) city and culture is also hitting me. I (still) love being back. I love all the opportunities I have to live wholeheartedly. I (still) love life here.
But tonight, I'm a bit tired.
Tomorrow, we have a 3-hour choir rehearsal with the National Symphony Orchestra to prepare for our upcoming concert. Sunday, I'm helping my friends from APU at an educational fair. And then, in this next week, my paper has to be completely done before I can go to China for three weeks. If I can finish his book report tonight, I'll be another step closer to being done.
What on earth was I thinking when I enrolled for this program?
Keep the eye on the goal, right? But more than that, know that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
With Him, I can scale this wall.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
He'd never embarrass me. Never set me up for failure. Though I may (and have before) gotten the message all muddled up. Didn't follow through. Got in the way. Got stubborn.
So, today, as I set out to go about the business of my day (focusing on studying all day, then teaching tonight), I will do so with a wholehearted "Yes!" in my spirit.
No matter what the question?
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The photos of many of the cultural items (such as ghost money etc) is so that you can have a better understanding of the beliefs on the island. I do not support any of those practices, but do not necessarily see this as the place to discuss the bondages of much of this culture. Instead, I'm merely sharing the beliefs with you so you, too, can have a greater understanding.
Taiwanese are incredible businesspeople, and people here come up with all kinds of interesting ways to make money. Like by having a vending machine near a fish pond where you could feed the koi fish. What's funny about this machine, though, is the sign. Look closely (below).
I'll keep that in mind. I bet it's because of bird flu. I'm just not entirely sure how many people try to board a bus with a duck under their arm, or with a fork-trailed drongo in a cage. But then again, I myself had pet birds here before, which means I had to get them from the bird market downtown to my home. I don't think I took a bus, though. In fact, I know I didn't. Back then, I had a car.
... and though I miss having a car here, it's super easy to get around the city by using the MRT and busses, or hopping in a taxi when time is of the essence.
So, that's it. For this week, at least.
One of my favorite Bible verses is John 10:10, where Jesus says, "I have come to give you life, and life in abundance." I believe that when we're aligned with God's purposes, we can walk in his fullness.
In so many ways, I've felt fully alive in the past month of being in Asia.
On the Work Front
In the past four weeks of being here, I have been blessed with amazing jobs (one as a substitute teacher at the Taipei American School (tas.edu.tw) from K-12. That means any of the 3 schools within TAS (lower, middle or high) can call me on a given morning and ask me to come and be a substitute. My work permit* is being processed right now, and I should have it by Spring Break. But then I go to China for three weeks (more about that later), so technically I can only start subbing in May. Nevertheless, it's an amazing opportunity for several reasons: It's a job that will provide me with a work permit and a good income (if they call me often, which I am trusting and believing they will). But it will also place me in a unique position to see the challenges that teachers face. Once I'm doing Theology of Work/Business as Mission training, I'll have a bit better understanding of the educational world again. It's been a while since I was a high-school teacher.
Get Me Some Culture
We're performing Mendelssohn's Elijah in the National Concert Hall on April 7. We perform with the Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, and Jahja Ling (San Diego Symphony) is coming to conduct. What's even more amazing about this experience is that Mr. Ling is a passionate Christian, so when you work with him on Elijah, he really gets the message across about who this God is that we're singing about! (We sung this same piece under him 9 about years ago.)
We had the chance to go and perform the oratorio in Nantou yesterday. Nantou is a town in the center of the island. We loaded up 3 tourbusses full of choir members in the morning and left the city. We got home way after midnight. Though it was only about a 2-and-a-half-hour drive back to the city, the drive down took far longer. Traffic can be pretty crazy when you live in a city, and when you're on a congested island, it's worse. But the drive was made fun by us making 3 stops: One to have traditional Hakka food in Miaoli.
Next, we stopped at a cultural center somewhere in Nantou, where we watched how artisans make a sundry of crafts from bamboo. There was also a craft market outside.
Last stop, a visit to the Nantou wine brewery. I wouldn't exactly call it a cellar. It had a brewery feel to it. I bought some great mochi. (My favorite type has peanut paste stuffed inside the glutinous rice ball.)
And then, off to the concert hall where we did a last run-through, got ready, and sang our hearts out! I found it so like God to orchestrate that a choir made up of mostly non-believers would sing, in English, to a crowd of about 700 people, most of whom would know very little English, so that we needed a narrator to tell the story after every 3 or 4 songs. I had prayed that the narrator would be someone who himself believes the events, and sure enough, it was a teacher who is not only a gifted storyteller, but who was clearly convinced of the truth of the showdown between the prophets of Baal and Elijah, prophet of God.
In fact, the narrator gave a very clear explanation of the Gospel. And as I stood there, listening to his narration, it struck me that the crowd here would have a far better appreciation of the story. They know about taking offers to idols. Perhaps far better than a Western audience can, they could relate to the tension of whether or not the gods will find the offers acceptable... Amazing.
I also really appreciated the opportunity to connect with some of the individuals in the choir. When we all hurry into rehearsal and rush out to catch trains 3 hours later, there's no time to get to know people. So a day-long road trip gave me the chance to get to know some of the choir members better. They're very patient with my limited Chinese, for which I'm very thankful. Some of the older ladies decided to start teaching me Taiwanese, too, but I just don't think my brain can handle a whole lot more at this stage.
Insofar as church goes, I've decided to connect at a bilingual church in my neighborhood, Oasis. Though I was very involved with youth ministry at Taipei International Church when I lived here before, I enjoy the fact that worship at Oasis is very lively, and the congregation is very young. In fact, I may be one of the 15 or so oldest people at the church. I love the opportunity this gives me to share life with some of the younger people. In fact, a group of girls had invited me to join their Bible study group on Sunday nights, and it's been a blast to talk about life with them! They're so full of passion, and have a can-do, positive look on life. I love that.
I've written a book of an update. My apologies. I should've written an update earlier in the week. Alas, for those of you who've been asking for an update on life here, bottom line, it is good. It's good to be back. I truly feel at home, and am convinced that this is where I need to be for this season.
For that, I give God the glory!
* On a side note, my work permit in Kenya took 3 years to get, and it cost me about US$4,500 in total. My Taiwanese work permit will take 10 days to process. It cost me $29.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Monday, March 09, 2009
That's how I felt today, visiting with my very dear friend Jean Lin. Jean was my very first translator during our weekly Bible studies. She was also the head of the art department, so over time, we got to work together very closely. We also became very good friends and prayer partners. Jean got to travel to South Africa on a work trip with another friend (Silvija) and I, and over the years, her family grew very dear to my heart. In fact, her dad shared his coveted beef noodle soup starter with me. :)
Today, I got to sit down and catch up with Jean. It's been years. (I very briefly saw her when I was on the island three-and-a-half years ago en route to Kenya.) But I hadn't seen her otherwise, nor have I heard much from this super-super-busy woman. Turns out she's spent much of the past few years doing ministry in Moscow. As we sat and visited, two hours passed in the blink of an eye. We laughed together at memories of when we first became friends, when I was a naive 25-year-old, and rejoiced together about news of years of prayers having been answered.
I look forward to catching up with her family soon, before Jean heads back to Moscow for a while. But for now, it did my heart well to visit with someone who's known me well, who's tread deep tracks in my heart, who has prayed much for me and with me.
And as we sat and prayed together in Starbucks, Jean's hands as strong as her faith, holding mine in prayer, simple tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. As we said "So long," I had a smile on my face and in my heart.
I know I won't get to see Jean much. It's just like that. But spending a couple of hours visiting with a dear old friend was comfortable. Very, very comfortable.
Jean (standing in the back) with friends and Bible study group members. This photo was taken in January 1996.
In February of that same year, Jean traveled to South Africa with me, and got to visit my cousin Andries and his family on their corn farm. (That's his son Tielman next to Jean.)
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Like when I keep wanting to shake everyone's hands... The Taiwanese don't really do a lot of that. In Kenya, you shake hands with a LOT of people EVERY DAY. You rarely say hi to someone (even neighbors you pass on the footpath, or kids walking by the river, or colleagues whom you may have already seen earlier) without shaking hands.
So when I walked into the choir office tonight, it felt so very wrong NOT to shake hands with people I recognized. Or new people I met. There were a few times I actually shook hands, because it was appropriate to do so, but almost every time I got the "umm, did I miss something? am I clueless? or are you foreigners just weird?" look.
Speaking of choir. it did my heart well to be back at choir! Talk about being clueless, though... Everything is in Chinese. Actually, we're singing a Schubert piece in German and Mendelssohn's Elijah in English, but all the talking is in Chinese. So I've got to learn music terms in Chinese again. 'Cause I'm mostly following the instructions by watching the conductor's body language when he stops us, or simply paying very close attention to what my neighbors do. 'Cause I don't want to be totally clueless and make a fool of myself.
Which is inevitable.
But I avoid it when I can.
Speaking of avoiding things, I had a bizarre encounter in the subway station today. I noticed a 20-some-year-old blind guy walking through the busy main station with his walking stick, but talking on his cell phone. He was so into the phone call (looked like it had to be a girl he likes on the other side...) that he wasn't paying any attention to what he was doing.
So he walked straight to the escalator that was coming up. He wanted to go down. And because he wasn't paying attention, he was ready to step onto the fast-moving steps (going in the wrong direction). People just watched. I ran over and grabbed his arm, apologizing profusely for intruding, and explaining that he would've fallen. He just smiled and kept talking on the phone. It was really a bizarre situation. I have a very dear friend who is blind, and I'd never ever think of yanking her arm. But I also know that she pays attention to where she goes... If I saw her heading into a dangerous situation, I'd yell. But I didn't know how to yell "Stop!" in Chinese, so I grabbed the guy's arm. Oh, well, I may have been clueless, but at least the twitterpated young man isn't toothless tonight!
Very last thing before I go to sleep: I've been passing a series of pictures in one of the subway stations, as you take this really-really long escalator ride to change from the blue line to the brown line. It's an ad for Benjamin Button, and the one poster has a poignant quote at the bottom that I've been looking at every time I pass on the escalator. It says,
I think more often than not, we're clueless about the opportunities we have missed. Chances to do something new. To try something new. To help someone. To make a difference in someone's day, or in their life.
But tonight, as I was going by that poster after almost 3 hours of singing my heart out, practicing Elijah, I thought, "I'm so glad I didn't miss this opportunity to be part of something so beautiful... despite the fact that I risk doing something silly 'cause I don't really understand everything the conductor says, 'cause I'm the only person in the room that speaks very little Chinese, 'cause I'm the only person in the entire room that doesn't sight sing."
As I spent time with God before starting the day, though, I read Psalms 16, and was filled with immense peace about the day and the ongoing journey. Here's how David put it:
1 Keep me safe, O God,
for I have come to you for refuge.
2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
5 Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
6 The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!
7 I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
9 No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
11 You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
I won't bore you with all the details of the day, but by the end of the day, I had news that I've been accepted as a substitute teacher at Taipei American School. This is an excellent school, and being a sub is perfect since it allows me flexibility in my schedule to accommodate for my studies. Plus I can use the school's libraries to sit and work on my studies when I'm not subbing. Now I just need to pray for good hours at the school, that they'd be able to use me a lot! :)
Next: Find a place to live. I searched various directories till deep into the night, and sent out some inquiries. This morning, I made some follow-up calls to people who had already responded. I had a delightful visit with the first lady I called about a room! She's American, has one younger American roommate, and the apartment is about a minute's walk to school! It's perfect! As we visited, we discovered that we have a lot of mutual friends (people who had already left the island). I'm heading there this afternoon to see the room, but I'm pretty sure I'll be moving in on Saturday morning!
After that, I made a foll0w-up call with the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus. I had sung with them before and had inquired about joining them again. They told me I'm very welcome back, and rehearsal is this evening. We're performing Mendelsohn's Elijah in a month, on April 7! This oratorio is one of my favorite pieces! This is where we're performing.
So, in a span of just more than 24 hours, I have a job, a place to live, and some culture!
Needless to say, I indeed have joy. And peace that for now, this is where I'm supposed to be.
On a completely different note, I just got news last night that the cow we got the Sifunas died of West Coast fever. I am disappointed by the news, especially since that's something completely preventable. But there's nothing I can do about it. The cow is dead.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
This past weekend (on Saturday, 2/28), there were some major protests at this spot. 228 is a national holiday during which Taiwanese commemorate the massacre of thousands of Taiwanese in 1947.
But more about the history another time.
One thing I love about parks in Taiwan, is that groups of people exercise in public. Or goups of young people practice dances, as the group on the other side of the flowers were doing.
The National Concert Hall, on the same grounds as the CKS Memorial Hall. When I lived in Taiwan before, I was a member of the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus, and this is where we used to perform. It's amazing to sing here! (I hope to join the choir again. Am waiting to hear if they have an opening.)
Tonight, I headed to Tansui, the town at the end of the red line (on the MRT). Tansui is on the northernmost tip of the island, and used to be a fishing village. Now, it's a bustling town. The night markets are famous for dishes like fish ball soup.
I hopped off the train but decided not to go and look at studio apartments (my original purpose for heading out there tonight) since the train ride took longer than I'd care to spend on a daily commute. And since it was drizzling by the time I arrived, I literally just stepped out of the station, took a photo of the market, and hopped back on the train.
Thirteen stops later on the red line, I hopped off to take some photos at the Shihlin night market. Just so you can see it. Honestly.
The Chinese have perfected the art of massage, and you can now find 24-hour massage spots! This shop is on the same road as the night market. Inside the market, there was also a massage parlor where, when I stopped to look, a woman approached me promptly with a "menu" in both Chinese and English. You could get everything from a half-hour foot massage to an hour-long full body massage. Somehow, I don't think getting a massage at a busy, noisy market is relaxing. But I could be wrong.
A dumpling vendor. Yummy. I didn't have any tonight since I had grabbed a protein bar on my way out the door.
I did, however, get a cup of dzin dzu nai cha (hot, milky tea with tapioca balls). Kiptoo went along, of course.
Food vendors at the night market. Like I've said before, food is a crucial part of Chinese culture. Around mealtimes, you greet people by asking if they've eaten yet. (When I visited Nariyo in Rendille land, she was amazed by this factoid, since it's a total faux pas to ask a Rendille if they've eaten. That is because food in their part of the world is scarce, and no-one wants to admit they may not have eaten a good meal in days.)
Oyster omelets. I don't care for these at all... but it's a very popular Taiwanese snack.
Some kind of seafood soup. The big, white pieces are octopus, I believe. Taipei is really close to the coast, so you can get VERY fresh fish here.
This vendor was selling nail polish. If you look closely, you'll notice she's wearing angel's wings. I thought that was rather hilarious. An angel selling nail polish. OK.
I wish I knew how many people make their way through city night markets every night... Since it's a weeknight, and since it was drizzling, there weren't too many people at the Shihlin market tonight. On weekends, though, foot traffic is shoulder-to-shoulder all the time. What's interesting, though, is that the vendors in the center of the road are illegal. So whenever the police come, they disappear into alleys within the blink of an eye!
... seconds ago, this empty street had vendors in the middle... Minutes later, they were back.
I think this sign is hilarious! OK, not really funny, but crazy! I sure hope they didn't have to put it up since there were any cases of baby strollers blowing onto the train tracks!!!
And that's it for tonight.
I actually also went to Taipei 101 this morning, since I wanted to go to a bookstore there. But I didn't take photos (it was hazy outside, and I was totally overwhelmed by the opulence inside! So I didn't take any photos. Not today. I left pretty soon after arriving, so I could get some work done on a project I'm working on.)
OK, so that's really it for tonight.
Hope you're enjoying the glimpse of life in Taiwan.