Friday, February 27, 2009

Ten servings of sleep, please.

Glimpses from my journey home to my (very temporary) home in downtown Taipei after a delightful day with friends in the center of the island:

1. It was fun watching farmers work their rice paddies. I wished I could hop off the train and visit with the old men and women who were ankle deep in the water, but apart from it being logistically impossible to hop off and walk off into the fields, most of the small-scale farmers are Taiwanese, as in, they wouldn't understand my limited Mandarin Chinese. At least, I think this is true! (Taiwan friends, correct me if I'm under the wrong impression, please.)

2. The youth culture on the island seems to have changed a lot in the 7+ years that I've been gone. It used to be that school kids had tough rules on uniforms and hair styles, but as I was making my way through the the masses at the Taipei Main Station, I saw all kinds of hair styles, even on guys, and even school boys wearing heavy make-up. Couple that with school uniforms, and you have a very odd sight.

3. After getting off the last train and walking home, I had a plethora of options for dinner. The street vendors were in full swing. Chinese dishes of all shapes and varieties can be bought in small shops or from carts that are parked on the sidewalks. I love that. I passed the chicken feet/liver/hearts vendor (who also sells pig liver on a stick) and looked for steamed dumplings...

When I finally found a small restaurant that sells these, I confidently announced that I'd like ten dumplings, but got the tone wrong, so I actually asked for ten sleeps. The vendor was kind enough to point out my mistake, which I accepted with as much of a smile as he dished it up with.

I really have been blown away by how much Chinese I can remember! I say that with humility and gratitude, since I had a hard time learning Swahili, which is a MUCH easier language than Chinese! And I've had very little opportunity to speak Chinese since I had left Taiwan. But since I'm living and exploring by myself, I get to speak Chinese all the time. Which is fun.

Time and time again I think back to 15 years ago, when I arrived on the island not knowing a single word (no, actually, I knew only how to say hello), and how much more overwhelming the experience was back then, as a 25-year-old! And yet, somehow, I stuck it out back then. I'm thankful I did.

4. Food on the streets is so cheap! I like that. The ten dumplings cost a whopping $1.50. Yesterday, I bought bigger pork dumplings (baudze), which were just 35c apiece. A cup of soy milk (great with breakfast) is about 30c. As a single person, it really is cheaper to buy food at the small vendors rather than cook at home. Seriously.

5. There was a Buddhist monk/nun in the seat behind me on the bus. Their loose outfits (I don't think they'd call them habits, they're gray and white outfits with brown bags) and their shaved heads make it virtually impossible to distinguish the sex of the person. I wished I could visit with him/her, to learn more about what they do etc, but it wasn't possible.

OK, not having gotten 10 servings of sleep, I still feel like I could sleep for 10 full hours tonight, though! I rented a DVD on my way home. Made of Honor. Something light. I don't think I'll make it through the movie before I'm asleep...

I promise I'll try my best to upload photos tomorrow. I don't have the energy to do so right now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Can't think straight right now. Here's what I did today.
  1. Did a ton of walking. Which is wonderful. And lotsandlotsandlots of riding on buses & trains. Some of them in the wrong direction, since I can't always read the Chines maps on the bus signs and if there's no-one to ask, I just take a chance sometimes, which means you end up going someplace different than planned.
  2. Discovered that somehow, I can still speak a fair amount of Chinese. Enough to get around. Not enough to have an in-depth conversation about anything important whatsoever without making a total fool of myself.
  3. Found that in the almost 7 years since I had left, Taipei has changed quite a bit. Lots of new buildings in my old neighborhood. Lots and lots of electronic signs, like on buses, or even at the bus/train stop, telling you how long till the next bus/train is there.
  4. And found that though you could buy about 3 kinds of coffees when I lived here (OK, Starbucks opened in 2001, I think, and suddenly you could get a bit more), you can now even order lattes at little kiosks at 7-Elevens, without even having to go into the store. This is a huge change for a former tea culture.
  5. Hardly any of my colleagues from 7 years ago look a day older than back then. They were all saying the same of me "ni dou meiyou bien!" (you haven't changed a bit!) but I know I have. OK, maybe I still look the same, but I really have changed a lot in the past 7 years. Growing up is good, you know?
  6. It was fun to teach again. I tutored a 14-year-old for 2 hours tonight.
  7. And it was fun to have teppanyaki with 2 dear friends, Gabe & Jeremiah. Both are like younger brothers to me. Gabe was an intern and worked with me, then attended APU (as an undergrad) at the same time as I. And I live with Miah's family when I went to APU, while he was still finishing high school.
Tomorrow, I'm taking the high speed train to the center of the island to see my friend Debryn and her family. Can't wait.

It really is good to be back. Just surreal being in the same city as before, yet doing something completely different! A good surreal, though.

And no, I don't know yet exactly what I'll be doing. The job search is still on. Might know by tomorrow or Friday about one possibility.

"Nope. I'm not a nun. And being one is not my ambition."

I love my buddy Manoj. In 1987, he and I were exchange students at the same school and the same Rotary club on Long Island, NY.

And on Sunday, I saw him for the first time since August of that year, when he returned to India. The short 2 hours we had to visit wasn't nearly long enough to catch up. Granted, we've chatted on the phone in the past year, but to sit face to face and visit about the impact a year abroad had on us as teenagers, was a blast.

What cracked me up, though, is that the very first question the inquisitive Manoj asked (on behalf of his wife and daughter, since he couldn't adequately answer them) was, "Are you a nun??"

When I explained that I was indeed not a nun, but had been a missionary, he asked a poignant question that exposes our dual lives as Christians. "Wait! So can you choose not to be a missionary any longer?"

"Ah, actually," I explained to my dear friend, "you can't. At least, not the way I see it. What I mean is that I will no longer be paid by people in a church to do what I did, but get a salary. I'll always be a missionary at heart."

Manoj equated it later to his thoughts on being a husband a dad. "I'm not fully me without my wife or without my daughter. They're such a critical part of who I am now..."

We didn't get to explore the depths of all of our various thoughts. If we had, we would've sat there for many more hours. Instead, I had a plane to catch, and Manoj and I promised to get together again, so I can meet Medha and Sannika, of whom he speaks with so much pride and joy.

As I walked through security, I had a huge smile on my face and in my heart. As had Manoj (though, if you know him, you'd know that he is one of the most outgoing, friendly chaps around).

Having moved so many times in my life, I have few friends who go back so far. Hence, sitting with a pal whom God used 22 years ago to open my eyes to the realization of how wrong my country's racist policies were (remember, it was 1987, Mandela was still in prison, SA was still segregated), did my soul well.

But as I pondered on our conversation during the 14-hour transatlantic flight, it struck me again that Manoj never forced his ideas on me when we were younger. (Nor does he now.) But by being his vivacious self 22 years ago, he had a profound impact on the way I've looked at people of other races ever since.

For that, I am thankful.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back in Taiwan - end of Day 1

I thought I'd be in bed already by 9 pm tonight, but lo and behold, it's just before midnight and I'm still up. I get busy doing stuff at night, and before I know it, it's late.

Hence, a short update:
  • I went for a first interview at a school today, and things look promising. More about that once I know for sure if it'll pan out or not.
  • Walked around the suburbs, just taking in the sights and sounds of Taiwan again. And the smells. I love the aromas that come from the many hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Food is a BIG DEAL in Taiwan.
  • Had really good "niuro mien" (beef noodle soup) for dinner, made with shaved noodles.
  • Hope to get up early and get some shots of the old people doing tai chi in the park. Right now, I'm living in an apartment that's within walking distance from the biggest park in the city, so there should be some fun activity in the park from very early in the morning.
  • Got a haircut since I realized quickly that my hair needed to be thinned out drastically in this heat. So I got to see Daisy (who used to cut my hair when I lived here before) and the other ladies at George Pai's (the salon). I was surprised at how much Chinese I was able to speak with them. Yeah for a brain that still functions. :)
Right at this moment, though, my brain's not functioning as well as it should. I should get some sleep.

More tomorrow.

Life is good.

I read Psalm 103 and 104 this morning, two of my favorite Psalms. Am praying Psalm 104:28, that God would open his hand as I seek him, and that he would fill my life with good things.

One such good thing is good friends. Had a blast this morning visiting with Asha, my new little best friend. She's 3. I got to stay in her room last night. She made sure I ate something this morning. We also played with Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head. And I saw all the dresses in her closet. And she insisted that I try some of her pancakes with my coffee. She wants me to pick her up from school this afternoon, but I don't think that'll happen. I'll be out and about. Perhaps heading downtown to take my luggage to the place I'll be staying for the next 2 weeks. Not sure yet.

Got this photo by e-mail last night. It's of my posse in Iowa. The girls.

In the back is Danette, Beth, Connie, then Nan, Jodie, Karen, and then Pam and I in the front. Crazy chicks, these are. Good friends, too.

I'll upload a photo later today of Manoj and I. I got to see my buddy after 21 years. More about that later, though. Want to take a shower and head out.

Life is good.

Praying I find a good job this week! :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tidbits from the journey

Written at the Narita airport in Japan
  • The flight attendants on the 14-hour flight from Chicago to Japan were super. Hats off to the United crew.
  • I was in the back of the bus, with 3 seats open next to me, so I could at least stretch out. May have slept for an hour on the 14-hour flight, but feel fairly rested.
  • Thanks to headwinds, it was a bumpy flight, and an hour longer than scheduled. But we had good meals – lunch when we took off at noon, then instant noodles somewhere over the North Pole, and noodles again for dinner. Asian flights are the only ones I know of where you get instant noodles as snacks. ☺
  • If I hadn’t eaten enough on the plane, I would’ve been really tempted to have some Sushi at the sushi restaurant close to my gate…
  • I learned 2 new Japanese words during landing announcements: hedo-resto& futo-resto. You figure out what they mean…
  • Since I sat in the center section, I didn’t get to see Mt Fuji during the half-hour holding pattern when we were flying in circles along the coast, but it was visible in the distance.
  • The flight to Taipei has been delayed by more than an hour. I don’t have a way to let my hosts know. Bummer.
  • Tonight, I’m staying at friends’ house in Taipei. It will most likely be after midnight when I arrive at their place. Oops.
  • I haven’t heard any Oscars news. Just saw signs about Slum Dog Millionaire, and the television screens at my gate keep showing footage about some Japanese movies that I assume won Best Foreign Film and Best Animation?
  • I found it rather comical that the drink of choice of the perhaps-70-year-old lady sitting across the isle from me was beer.
  • There were a number of people on the flight wearing facemasks. Welcome to Asia, where those with colds spare others the joy of sharing their germs in enclosed spaces.
  • Tomorrow, I am moving to a classmate’s apartment in downtown Taipei. She’s out of town for 2 weeks for class, during which time I am blessed to use her place while looking for a job and a place to stay.
  • I wonder what the season ahead holds…
Written in Taipei, at Rod & Amy's place
  • It's amazing to fly out of Japan at night! I cannot think of any other part of the world that I've flown out of (or into) at night where you see so many lights, so close together, for such vast areas. London's dense, but I'd bet Tokyo stretches much, much farther.
  • I just looked it up. About 80 million people live in that area. (Not Tokyo itself. The greater Honshu area.)
  • I know Taiwan is hot, but having spent the past couple of months in the frigid weather in the Midwest wouldn't allow my brain to believe that it really was going to be hot. Especially since it's actually supposedly still spring here. But it's a nice a balmy 25C (almost 70F) right now.
  • It's after midnight. I'm sleeping with the fan on and on top of the bed. I like that.
  • It took me 30 hours from when I left home in Iowa to when I got to my place for the night in Taipei.
  • I'm going to try and get some sleep now...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Adele's Final Update: 60 Degrees of Separation

I just sent this update out to everyone on my mailing list. For those of you who don't get my e-mails but follow the journey on my blog, here's the latest.

Dear friends,

This morning, I checked the weather in Taipei and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I am right now. There's a 60-degree difference (in Fahrenheit). And though the actual temperature in Taipei and that in Kipkaren isn't as vastly different (it's actually 6 degrees warmer in Kenya than in Taiwan right now), the world I'm heading to this weekend couldn't be any more different.

What? You're heading to Taiwan?

Indeed, I am. Though a university has been pursuing me since the time of my resignation from ELI, they have a hiring freeze brought on by the economic crisis, and thus cannot offer me a contract at this time. And so, I need to move on and find a position, earn an income, do what I love doing: Work hard.

Since I've lived in Taiwan before, since I know one can find teaching jobs there fairly easily, since it would be good to brush up my Chinese in any case, since the island nation is in the 10/40 Window and opportunities to have an impact on young (and older) friends abound, the decision to head back to the island wasn't too difficult.

But even with my bags packed, I still don't know how long I'll be in Asia. This morning, I realized again that God may have simply not allowed the university position to come through yet since he has something totally different he wants me to do in Asia. I don't know. But He does. When I arrived in Taiwan in 1995, I thought I wouldn't stay more than a year. I left almost 8 years later. So I simply don't know what to expect this time around.

What I do know is that life in Taipei honestly couldn't be more different than life in an African village. Here are some general differences.

In Kipkaren, everyone knows everyone. You hardly ever walk past neighbors without stopping and enquiring about their day, about their family, their farm.

In Taipei, many people don't even know anyone in their own apartment block.

In Kipkaren, most people live in homes made of sticks and mud, with floors that get a fresh coat of a cow-dung-and-mud mixture every week or so.

In Taipei, I'd guess less than 1% of the population live in single-family homes. Instead, most people live in high-rise apartment buildings.

In Kipkaren, you buy your eggs and milk from neighbors. You pick your lettuce from your garden, or buy veggies from the market in the village.

In Taipei, you buy staples at one of several neighborhood 7Elevens (or the Wellcome store - yes, spelled with two L's), but you also buy the freshest fish and freshly-slaughtered chickens (and great veggies) at the local wet market.

In Kipkaren, well, there's much more land than there are cars or people.

In Taipei, it wouldn't surprise me if there really are more vehicles than the 6 million people that call the city home.

In Kipkaren, most people call themselves Christian.

In Taipei, only about 2% of the people are Christian. Most are Buddhist or Taoist. Temples abound, as do little shrines in almost every store.

In Kipkaren, you cook your own meals. From scratch. Always. Unless you buy an ear of grilled corn on the cob on the side of the road. Or drop in on neighbors at mealtimes.

In Taipei, there were about 50 restaurants in my immediate (say, 3-block radius) neighborhood. It was often cheaper to eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants than cook at home.

In Kipkaren, people speak Nandi and Swahili; some speak English.

In Taipei, people speak Mandarin, some speak Taiwanese, more and more can speak English.

In Kipkaren, most people have never used a computer.

In Taipei, nearly 70% of all people regularly use the Internet.

In Kipkaren, the staple is ugali, which people usually eat by hand.

In Taipei, the staple is rice, which is always eaten using chopsticks.

I can go on and on. And I'm sure I will frequently bring up the differences between life in Taiwan and that in Kenya in my blog over the next few months. So keep reading. I'll post photos and stories as always.

What about your studies?
I'm still on track with my studies and still hope to graduate next December. In fact, moving to Asia at this time seems to be ideal in terms of dissertation research in the field of marketplace ministry. I'll attend my next class in April, and will share more about that later.

What about ELI?
I frequently hear from my friends both in Kipkaren and Ilula. I miss my friends there. I miss the kids. I miss my quiet times in the gazebo by the river. I miss the simplicity of life in the village. But there are many things I don't miss about living a very secluded, rural life. I don't miss wearing skirts/dresses every day, either. I didn't pack a single skirt for Taiwan! :)

I still have peace that I did the right thing at the right time by moving on.

Will you keep sending out newsletters?
I don't plan to do so. Instead, I'll post frequent updates on my blog. Thank you again for being part of the incredible journey over the past few years. It truly has been an honor to share the joys and challenges with you.

Please do keep in touch! You can post comments on my blog whenever you want, or, of course, just go ahead and e-mail me! I don't want to lose touch with you.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What's next?

I've recently had quite a few people ask me if I knew yet what's next. I wish I did! I know some of what's next, but there are still many variables.

I'm still visiting with one particular university regarding a position. They indicated that they'd like to hire me, but they still have a hiring freeze. I'm supposed to know THIS WEEK if they can at least offer me a contract, even if we don't know the exact starting date since they don't know when the hiring freeze will be lifted. That would allow them to start working on a visa application for me.

In the meantime, I am leaving the US this weekend, and going to Taiwan. How long I'll be there will depend on news from the university this week. If I don't hear from them, or if they cannot offer me a contract, I'll be looking for long-term positions in Taiwan. Teaching positions. Hopefully at a university.

But if they let me know that I have this other job, I'll be in Taiwan for a shorter time, basically focusing on tutoring and writing travel stories. I'll also be going to China in April to interview some businesses there for my dissertation, since I'm still studying. (Which is something others have asked me. "Will you still complete your degree now that you're no longer in Kenya?" The plan is to be done by the end of next year. If all works out well.)

So it could be that I return to the US after the China visit and start working at a university, or it could be that I return to Taiwan after that and continue teaching.

God only knows. And I don't say that flippantly.

I appreciate your prayers as this journey continues...

Why Taiwan? Why not go back to South Africa? That's an easy one to answer. I had lived in Taiwan from 1995-2002. I know I can find jobs there quite easily. Which isn't necessarily true about my home country. I want to work. That's simple. So I'll go where I know I can find a job that I'll find rewarding.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


... for the news from Ilula that Sifuna and his family are doing really well.

My colleague Davis wrote this update recently. If you've walked the journey with the Sifunas and I over the last 2 years, the update will either make you smile or tear up.

Thanks for the news, Davis!