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I guess you could tell it was going to be an interesting weekend. I had my first ride on the MRT in Kaohsiung and made it to Kinmen Friday evening. Carolyn, Rose, Sean, Betty, Marilyn and I met up with Sandy (who lives in Kinmen), and checked to a hotel designed with fascinating Chinese and Taiwanese antiques. Our weekend was non-stop!

We were greeted at the airport by Wind Lion Gods. Well, actually, they greeted us wherever we went. The Wind Lion Gods protect the island from wind and erosion. They were created when the people noticed all the soil was being blown off the island by the strong winds and all that remained were boulders. Lots and lots of boulders. The people took the huge rocks and transformed them into Wind Lion Gods who would protect them from future damaging winds. While waiting for the other half of our group to arrive, some of us toured around the island and we were able to see across the channel to see light in China.

The irony of the whole weekend is how peaceful Kinmen is. This war battered island village was the calmest, cleanest and most inviting place I’ve been to in Taiwan. Gentle cows dot the countryside, as do anti-parachute pillars, sorghum fields and fog-misted cypress trees. Views of the forests reminded me of watercolor paintings from old China. Beautiful beaches are laced with anti-aircraft spikes and landmines. These areas are well marked and humans know to stay away. It seems the only recent fatalities on the mines have been among the Zimbabweans or South Africans hired to remove them. We explored the Siwei Tunnels which were used to remove supplies from Army cargo ships during the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists and I fully expected t see James Bond emerging from the water in a submarine.

We visited Maestro Wu, the world renowned cutlery craftsman. He takes scraps from the many remaining bomb fragments (delivered every other day for about 10 years) and hones them into some of the finest knives in the world. He was kind enough to exhibit his skills for us, provide us with tea and chat as much as translation skills provided. Such a humble man! Some of us bought knives here while other bought fine pottery from the Kinmen Ceramic Factory. Some bought both!

From the Maestro’s establishment, we went next door to sample some of the island’s trademark peanut cookies. We got a bit carried away and the samples almost became our lunch! Our noon meal was actually a delicious molasses chicken. Dinner was California Pizza.

Photos are here. Do enjoy. I collected a few –isms as well and will post those tomorrow.

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The name “Kinmen” dates to 138Yuan Dynasty (371 AD) and has a very long history with Taiwan. Kinmen is on the front lines of the battle between Taiwan and China for Taiwan’s independence. As such, the island was under absolute military control from 1956-1991. Kinman was bombed daily for more than 20 years. The island’s safety was a major issue in the Kennedy-Nixon elections. The first elections for county magistrates was held in 1993.

 

Kinmen is only about 2,000 meters from China. You can actually see the mainland from Kinmen’s shores.

Today, the only legal way to enter the island is by air. I’m told there are there are incredible beaches, you just follow paths that lead alongside fences clearly marked “danger: minefield”.

Kinmen is supposed to have the closest to what is purely Taiwanese culture, untainted by the years of Japanese and Chinese occupations here on this rock. The island of about 50,000 inhabitants is known for its Wind Lions, peanut candy, unique fujianese houses and GaoLing liquor. There are miles of underground tunnels, anti-parachute landing spikes and land mines all along the coast.

And Sandy and Michelle are there teaching English. So, this weekend several people from our group have decided to see all we can see and fly over to Kinmen to visit our friends, get a hands on history lesson, take in the culture and wave hello to the folks over in China. Stay tuned, I should come back with some kind of story for you and photos as well!

To most in the US, this weekend was all about Easter. To those in Taiwan it was all about elections and both of those important happenings played a role in my weekend.

For once, my weekend began on a Friday evening with an invitation from a co-worker to join her for a Good Friday service at her church. Given that I rarely have the opportunity to interact with my co-workers, this was a welcome opportunity to participate in local culture with a Taiwanese. Rose, who unlike me is deeply Christian, was already planning to join me on Saturday and when she heard about the opportunity for worship on Good Friday, she decided to come over early. We joined a very spirit filled service which included wonderful presentations from Handel’s Messiah and original compositions from members of the congregation.

Well, that’s about it for the Easter ‘e’. It seems that Easter isn’t much of a celebration here. Well, there were also the eggs we saw in one of the local markets. They weren’t egg-xactly Easter eggs, but they were festive looking! (They’re duck eggs.)

Saturday, we were picked up by new friends who were taking us to visit the incredible National Marine Biology Museum and Aquarium in the southern part of Pigtung county. Afterwards, we toured Kenting.

We couldn’t leave until Suzie voted. This was election weekend in Taiwan. Residence have to return to their hometown to vote, unless they’ve lived in a city for more than 4 years and changed their registration. While we were in the museum, a Taiwanese gentleman began speaking to me in English. He wondered where I came from and what I was doing here, but his was the real story.

He came home to vote. He’s currently living in Toronto, but felt it his duty to return home. Realize please, there have only been 4 democratic elections in this country. Know that people here who are my mom’s age (she’ll be 80 on April) lived through the occupation of both the Japanese and the Chinese which included the longest period of martial law this planet has ever seen. They have lived through regimes which repressed the publication of newspapers and literature and they witnessed the 2-28 Incident. No, they wouldn’t miss a vote especially not now when one party wants to maintain and improve ties with China and the other wants to continue developing a national identity and independence.

I got my going home date and I’m making my plans! It will be soooooooooo wonderful to be back in my little Honda Civic, not having to walk, walk, walk, walk, walk!!!! There is a new method of transport in Kauhsoing as the MRT has finally opened, but readers know I haven’t made it there in ages! Rides are free for the first month and pricing after that has not yet been determined.

119 days left and miles to go before I sleep!

I haven’t posted in while! Life here has been busy. Carolyn, Rose and I went to Tainan a couple of weeks ago to see the China Spectacular performance and ended up back there last week for a variety of services. I’ve wanted to get some eyeglasses here because the prices are so much more reasonable than in the US. So, I took advantage of having someone with me who could tell me what I looked like in the different frames to go ahead and purchase some in Tainan. (I can’t see without my glasses!) So, this weekend it’s returning to pick them up.

But, that’s not what this post is about! I promised something on technology a while ago and it’s time to deliver. Honestly, I don’t know how people who planned to return to the states after living abroad for a short while managed to adjust without technology. If one is planning to stay, they’re doing more mixing and mingling, actively learning the language and not trying to maintain ties at home.

I’ve written about the television situation. Movies are limited as well. Many movies from the US, Europe, China, Korea and Japan to eventually make it here, but its several weeks after they open in their homelands. Typically the only movies with English are those produced in English (i.e., no subtitles on Asian films). So, my laptop provides me with hours and hours of visual entertainment in the form of television shows and movies. I haven’t purchased DVDs (though I’d like to) because the ones here are in a different region from those in the US and will not play on my DVD player at home. I can play them on my laptop (which is called a notebook here) but I can only switch regions on my computer so many times before it locks to one region.

Cell phones make calling home extremely reasonable. The most affordable solution is to purchase a cell phone here and even more affordable than that is to use an Internet phone services such as Skype. I can call any computer that has downloaded the software for free. Calls to landlines or cell phones is much less expensive than other services. A note of caution: if you plan to use your US cell phone, be sure to understand pricing for services. While my text messages were supposed to be free, I was roaming and was charged for every text I sent. Yeah, they got me good. Real good.

After taking pictures, I’m able to upload them to an online storage site. I’ve been using Picasa, Kris uses Photobucket. Flickr is another, but they provide very limited storage space. Uploading photos to the net makes them available to folks at home (I send links everytime I upload) and it gives me a safe place to store photos in case my laptop crashes. I can also access the photos at school to incorporate them into lessons. (No filters here!!!!)

Like most elementary schools, mine has rather limited technology. It’s been very interesting communicating about technology in two different languages. Because the words are so new in both languages, they are usually very similar. ‘Blog’ in Chinese is something like ‘bluloga”. Something like that! Asking for cables and extension cords results in comical pantomimes. I often use a digital projector to display Powerpoint presentations (wonderful for displaying images and sounds to give meaning to vocabulary), YouTube videos which provide images and words for songs, cartoons with subtitles and movie clips which show certain actions. I also use it to project online stories or games found on the many sites for language instruction. In a pinch, I’m able to use my flat screen computer monitor to project to the class.

Most teachers use portable microphones in the classroom. There is a large amount of ambient noise which makes hearing the teacher a challenge. Even in the US, these devices are becoming more popular as students ability to hear decreases (from listening to the pounding bass and loud music) and because they’re reliant on hearing digitally improved sound. I’m beginning a blog with my teachers who are learning English after school. This is a way for a community of learners to practice and learn from each other.

Many of the Taiwanese websites are bilingual and I’m able to use them to get train information, book hotels, find out about upcoming performances and check out museums and exhibits. Webservices such as Tealit allows English speaking expats to form an online community and exchange survival information including taxes, mail, jobs, visas, shopping, buying cell phones and shipping stuff out of the country. I’ve connected with English speakers by finding their blogs. Kristen met many people before coming over through her MySpace and Facebook accounts. (There’s an interesting story there!) I met a school librarian in Taipei through my Ning account. These are all social networking sites that obviously bring together people all over the world. I’ve even used Facebook to stay connected to my Arlington students. I read about Christian making it to the state finals on the Star’s website and I do still have my IPS email account which keeps me connected as well.

I read Educating the next generation and Plan B 3.0both free onlinefull text books. New books to follow soon. It seems the second best way to get current books at good prices is to order them online.

I end my day by watching the evening news on msnbc.

We have a Carolyn-ism.  When Carolyn struts her stuff in the streets of Taipei void of any sense of impending danger, when she if fact DARES any car to try and mess with her… she’s calling that “Doing a Kris”.

We miss you, babe!

Great post coming on the technology I’ve been using to teach, live and keep in touch.  But, right now, I have to use the technology to file my taxes!!

With somewhere around 130 days left to the finish line, my thoughts often turn to what I will and what I will not miss when I leave here. I just gotta say that I will NOT MISS EARTHQUAKES especially the ones that come in the middle of the night. I’ve only (only??) felt 4 since I’ve been here but the ones that come like the one that came last night at 1:30 in the a.m. that rattle my windows, shake me awake and get all the dogs to barking and fussing, they scare me! I do not like them and will not miss them. I’m sure my friend Carolyn felt it worse than me as the epicenter was near her city and I’m sure she felt the second one this morning as well. Here’s to rockin and rollin in Taiwan!

What a weekend!  On Saturday, I went back to Tainan and met up with Rose and Carolyn.  The weather gave us a gorgeous spring-like day full of sunshine and warm breezes!  We went to Tainan to see a performance of the Chinese Spectacular and were entertained with  music, songs and dance which portrayed a various aspects of Chinese Buddhist history. Afterwards, because we were the only westerners in the auditorium, we were interviewed like celebraties by the promoters of the event.  We were kinda glad to get away from the cameras and microphones so that we could walk around the culture center at a leisurely pace.  There was a health fair going on we had blood pressure and pulmonary fuction tested and purchased pedometers.  We left to have dinner at a landmark restaurant in Tainan.  I don’t have the name in front of me, but they’re known for the shrimp rolls and they were quite tasty!

By going to Tainan, I missed the first day of Mary’s daughter’s wedding.  The first day is when many, many traditional events occur.  Among them is the groom arriving at the bride’s home and asking for his bride.  The male head of the house presents the bride to her husband.  She is supposed to cry to show that she is sad to be leaving her home, but modern brides don’t cry.  The mother walks around the car twice with a kettle of hot water.  This is to bring the new family luck and prosperity on their new beginning.  The circle she forms is the perfect shape that symbolizes the family.  The bride leaves with the groom and goes to give an offering at the temple with the grooms family.  The groom’s family also provides a huge feast on this day.  On the second day, the bride’s family provides the feast.  According to tradition, the bride will return to her parent’s home for a week about a month after the wedding.  There is much toasting, talk of prosperity and blessings for the new couple and lots and lots of food!  I was so touched by the hospitality shown to me by Mary and her family.  I was honored to be part of this special day and wish the happy couple much peace and love all the days of their life together!

If you’re interested in teaching in Taiwan for one year please know that the Indiana Department of Education is currently accepting applications.

Ohio, Michigan and Arkansas have similar programs for their teachers.

In August, 2007 I will be leaving Indianapolis with my daughter, Kristen, to live and work in the Republic of China (Taiwan). This will be my fiftieth year on this planet and my first year living in another country. This blog will let you join us on the adventure!
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Taipei

March 2008
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