Sunday, August 30, 2009


Last weekend, I hopped on the high-speed train and headed down to Kaohsiung for the weekend. Due to work, I wasn't able to go with the church group I first thought I'd join, so I connected with my friend Marion instead.

I had met Marion about 10 years ago when she was an intern at ORTV, and though I hadn't seen her, we've kept in touch over the years. And so, Friday after work, I hopped on the train and headed down to the very last stop on the line, where Marion, her husband Kris, and their 3-month-old son Kaeden met me.

I think I fell in love right away with Kaeden.

Look at this. How can one not fall in love with this kid? He wakes up with a smile. For real. And at times, when he's not so happy, his dad takes him flying around the house. He hums the Superman tune to him, which always makes Kaeden smile.

I think Kaeden might truly believe someday that he can fly...

Kris and Marion put Kaeden in a little Superman outfit for church on Sunday.

Just for fun, they put on Superman T-shirts to church, too. As you can tell, they're a great family, and I had an awesome time visiting!

On Saturday, we left Kaeden with a sitter and joined a local church to do some cleanup in a nearby town. Typhoon Marokot, which hit the island on August 8-9 and dumped close to 10 feet of rain on parts of the island, causing landslides and burying some villages in the mountainous areas. At this stage, the official death toll is 376, with another 254 people still missing.

Obviously, the storm has wreaked havoc on the island's economy. Here's an excellent set up pictures from The Boston Globe about the extent of the storm, including damage in the Philippines and China. But the worst damage was in Taiwan.

As you can imagine, the villages that had been affected the worst have been getting the most help so far. In areas, relief crews are still digging for bodies...

So our crew went to Kaoshu (meaning Tall Tree), a village in Pintung County where things weren't necessarily as bad as in other places, but people still needed help!

Kris, Marion, and I joined three other people and helped a coconut farmer clean out his house.

The farmer and his family had about three feet of muddy water wash through their house. We helped to sweep out some more mud. And wash off mud from walls, and from furniture, and dig out mud from behind pipes... It was unbearably hot, but working as a team, I know we were able to bless this farmer and his family!

Here I am trying to get the pressure washer to work so I could spray off some mud from the walls. You can see the mud line on the walls above my knees...

The shelf against the wall is a family altar where this family would be bringing offerings to their ancestors. The urn on the floor below the altar is what people use to burn ghost money in.

After a long time of digging out mud and carefully carrying it outside, we took a break to drink some water. The farmer brought us some fresh coconut water earlier, too, which was a bit hard for me to get down since we simply weren't too sure about the cleanliness of the tools with which he would've split the coconuts. But what can you do when the guy hands you a cup of coconut water and waits for you do drink it?

Here I am outside the house. (My face is beet red from working in the hot house.) The water next to the house is mixed with sewage, so we were very careful about not splashing any of the mud we carried outside. The farmer, on the other hand, was walking through this water barefoot!

The neighbors' house. Though the damage outside doesn't look so extensive, it's really bad when you step inside the house and there's mud in everything!

After a long day of working, Kris, Marion and I were thankful to head home and clean up!

Throughout the day, I was reminded a lot of last year's flood in Cedar Rapids as well as of the earthquake in Taiwan on September 21, 1999. I was living on the island then, too, and went down to central Taiwan to help with earthquake relief work.

No wonder my niece Clara thinks everywhere I go, disasters follow! I've lived through a major earthquake, several major typhoons or floods; I survived a tough season of living in the boonies, a civil war; I even held a ticket for a flight on an airplane that crashed (I had changed my travel plans just days before to leave one day earlier)!

But I've survived. No, I think I've more-than-survived all these crazy events in life. I've been able to enjoy life.

Which reminds me. A mom cornered me at school the other day. Her daughters used to be in my youth group years ago, and she asked me why I'm not married. (In this culture, as in Kenya, it's very unusual for people to choose to be single.) Though I was taken aback my her frankness, my answer to her was what I always tell those who ask: that I've had offers, but have not yet met a man whom I've wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and that there are worse things than being single...

"But Adele," she objected, "what if you cannot have a baby?!"

I wonder if that is supposed to be the ultimate goal in life: to procreate.

Maybe I'll think differently about these things if ever I have the blessing of marrying an amazing man and having a child, but for now, I find immense blessing in simply living life to the fullest, in making the most of the freedom afforded by being single and grasping opportunities to live abroad, get a doctorate, and simply enjoying life. Some people might think that's selfish. I think I'm being optimistic.

And so, when I cross paths with friends like Kris and Marion and get to fall in love with their little one, it's not because I desperately "want one of those" for myself, but simply because I find immense joy in seeing friends (and family) grow into a family of their own. I love seeing the promise that a little life holds.

And when that little one has a dirty diaper . . .

. . . I can hand him back to where he came from. :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

There and back again

Wanting to get out of the city for a bit, I asked Jeremiah (whose family I used to live with in California) to meet me for dinner in Tansui tonight. It's a town at the end of the river that flows through Taipei and spills out into the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates the island from China.

I had time to take a few photos before Miah showed up. Didn't have my tripod with me, so the photos aren't as crisp as I'd like them to be, but you'd get the idea of some of the nightlife, regardless.

The main night market in Tansui -- where we ended up having beef noodle soup at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant

The night markets all over the island are this crowded every night

The signs in Taiwan crack me up sometimes! "The best saporous chicken..." I had to look that one up. Saporous means flavorful.

There's a potato restaurant. Look at the small print:
Ireland's proverb says: There are two things in the world that can't be joked. 1. Marriage 2. Potato

If you don't want saporous chicken or Irish potato, how about some coagulated pig's blood (mixed with rice) on a stick (on the far left) ...

... or some fried squid on a stick?

Want something sweeter? How about caramelized cherry tomatoes with pickled plum?

Along the main drag along the coast is this little Taoist temple. There were numerous urns along the water where worshipers would burn ghost money for the spirits to protect the fishermen

Another Taoist temple along the waterfront. Taoist gods are very scary-looking!

Tired? Get a quick massage!

I was impressed to see most kids wearing helmets. You still often see entire families on a scooter without the little ones wearing helmets. In case you're wondering, the fruit on the table next to the family are similar to litchis. They're a tropical fruit called dragon eyes

Off in the distance you see Taipei City. It takes about 30 minutes or so on the MRT to get from Tansui back to the suburb where I live. A good little getaway for the night.

Heading back to the train station, I ran into Charis, a kid that used to be in my youth group years ago. She and their YWAM team were just coming back from the south of the island, where they were helping with typhoon cleanup.

It was especially good to see Jeremiah again, and to visit about everything from family to studies. It's good to be able to connect with someone here who's known me a bit longer than most of the people around me!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Big Picture

Here's an excellent set of photos from the typhoon. The majority of the photos are from southern Taiwan.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Life at the Foot of a Volcanic Mountain

I live on an island, just a hop, skip, and jump from the coast. Not really. You'd need to hop, skip and jump over the mountains first. Between the apartment I call "home" and the ocean lies a mountain. I live at the foot of a gorgeous volcanic mountain.

Watching the moon set
Seeing that it was still early, I could easily pull over and take in gorgeous little waterfalls

The volcano is extinct, though. But it still has sulfur springs. Some are hot enough to boil eggs in. Which people do. Just for the fun, I guess.

You can smell the sulfur as you ride up the mountain. Having lived higher up on the mountain during my previous stay in Taiwan, I've grown to love the smell. I had driven the roads around the northern tip of the island many times, usually in the small car I used to have. I called it the Silver Bullet. It was actually gray. And not too fast. The name was an optimistic take on life.

Today was my first time to drive these roads on my scooter. A friend had left me her 150CC Yamaha scooter, which has been a tremendous blessing. I'm calling the scooter Solomon, since it has three stickers on it with Salomon written on it. I'm guessing it's the snowboard company. I'll call it Solomon instead. For the wise king of Israel. Partly because I'm working on a class on church history right now. But mostly because I seek to be wise. Part of my Chinese name, in fact, is "wisdom," since that is what I seek to have.

But that's another story.

Seeing that I've been waking up at crazy hours, thanks to jet lag, I decided this morning to head up the mountain. Beat the crowds and go early. 'Cause the mountain really gets crowded on Saturdays. As in bumper-to-bumper traffic most of the afternoon.

Once you're up on the mountain, you can explore various nearby mountains, all with hot springs

By 5:30, I filled up Solomon (it cost me all of $3 to fill its tank with gas - nice!) and headed up the mountain.

There were hardly any cars on the road. Some bicycles. A few other scooters. The cars started trailing up the side roads only as I made my way down.

It didn't take long before the smell hit me. Sulfur. It made me smile. I passed the turn-off to my former home, passed the alleys leading for former friends' homes who have all since moved. Stopped at the 7-Eleven high up on the mountain to get a cup of latte. The Starbucks next door was still closed, else I may have stopped to study there.

Kiptoo and I, stopping at the top of Yangming Mountain (with the Taiwan Cultural University in the back) to enjoy some hot latte from 7-Eleven

But I kept going higher up the mountain, passing many older people who were heading out for early-morning walks. Many greeted me in Taiwanese as I waved at them. I don't speak Taiwanese, only Mandarin. But a smile and a wave transcends language barriers.

Looking down at my neighborhood... Due to the haze you cannot see it clearly, but the ocean is visible towards the top right corner of the photo

Not wishing to go all the way over the mountains to the coast (not today, I didn't want to be stuck in the traffic later in the day, plus I need to study), I turned around at the entrance to Yangming National Park and took a side road down to my neighborhood.

I took a side road down to my neighborhood

The side road is much steeper and way more curvy. You constantly have to make hairpin turns. I was glad there were only a handful of cars winding their way up the side road by that time.

Suddenly, a rock about the size of 3 baseballs landed a meter or so in front of me... I looked up and saw a whole group of macacus monkeys up in the trees right above me. They weren't happy, for whatever reason, so I didn't pause to take a picture...

Passing through the bamboo forests

As I kept winding down the mountain, I passed through bamboo forests, then past small-scale farms until the road spit me out in Tienmou, my neighborhood, where I stopped for breakfast and to come and change into something cooler.

Closer to the foot of the mountain, some small-scale farm with persimmons ripening on the tree

At the same farm, the "moon fruit" aren't ripe yet, either. These are giant grapefruit that are usually ready by Moon Festival, which is coming up next month

Entering Tienmou, I passed by two local temples. The one at the back is a Buddhist temple (it's more simplistic) while the one in the foreground is a Taoist temple

Some detail on the Taoist temple roof

Now, I'm heading out to make myself at home in some little coffee shop someplace and study.

Life at the foot of this volcanic mountain is good.

Hot. But good.