Thursday, August 26, 2010

English in Asia

I (Kalan) haven’t posted anything in quite some time in spite of the fact that a lot has happened. Although business may have overwhelmed my creative impulses, I suspect I have actually had a case of “Idontwanttoblogocitice”. Thankfully my symptoms have almost entirely disappeared.
Returning to school marks the biggest event of my week. For the first time in my life I stepped into the classroom as a teacher instead of a student. I teach kindergarten every morning from 9-12. Each class includes the young-learner requirements of naptime, snack, ten minutes of exercise (a.k.a. running around the room in a single file line), ball tossing, play break and lunch. Unfortunately I also have to squeeze in reading, grammar, phonics and English. Each subject lasts for 45 minutes and teach three subjects a day.
At 12 O’clock I step out of the classroom for my break before returning to teach older children in the afternoon. Like the morning classes, I teach English, Grammar, Phonics and Reading but each subject corresponds to a different group of students and the students vary in ages and ability. The new semester begins on Monday and will bring a set schedule through the end of January. More to come on work as it develops…

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Things I Like About Taiwan, Part Two

Maokong: playing games at the mountain tea houses for hours

Red Bean and Taro Shaved Ice: our new favorite dessert (yes, it IS a dessert! That is sweetened condensed milk on top.)

New friends: (from left) Kelley, Kikki, me, Beatrice, Chloe, Yuko

Tall buildings: this is Taipei 101, the second-tallest building in the world

My job: last week I taught a summer art class

My students: on Friday I took them on a field trip to an art museum, and it was so fun!

A new place to dry our clothes: our clothes were starting to smell like food (since we were drying them in the kitchen), so I finally got the courage to hang them outside our window. We live in the third floor, but so far none have fallen off.

My amazing husband: I am so thankful to have him here with me. He is such an encourager, a hard-worker, a good listener, and a fellow adventurer.

The Longshan Temple

Saturday we visited the Longshan Temple, considered by many Taiwanese to be the "most powerful" temple in the city.

People come to the temple to worship a variety of Buddhist, Taoist, and folk deities such as Matsu.

Perhaps because it is still Ghost month, the temple was quite busy. I saw an old man with a tattered shirt piously chanting prayers next to a young man in a business suit, holding an incense stick in one hand and his cell phone in the other. People of all kinds worship together at the temple.

As we walked among the worshipers, food sacrifices, and incense smoke, we were overcome with feelings we didn't expect. Instead of talking, we spent most of our time in prayer. May Jesus continue to draw more Taiwanese people to Himself, and transform this beautiful country for His glory.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Our New Home: a Video Tour can see what our apartment looks like! It came fully furnished, so I just added a little decoration to make it feel like home. We love having our own place and especially enjoy having friends over to eat, hang out, and play games. We are living in the Da'an district of Taipei, and our address is:


(Yes, I'm serious...I still don't know how to write it or say it! Hopefully soon...)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ghost Month

Lately as I've been out walking, I've noticed many more sacrifices than usual in the streets. The reason? It is Ghost Month here in Taiwan. Here are some quick facts I received from a missionary friend:

What is Ghost month?
Ghost month always occurs during the seventh lunar month (usually August for us Westerners). During this month, the Chinese believe that ghosts and spirits, including those of the dead ancestors, come out from the lower realm and roam the earth. On the fifteenth day of the month ("Ghost Day"), the deceased are believed to visit the living.

What happens during Ghost month?

During Ghost month, the Chinese perform extra acts of worship to honor their ancestors and appease the spirits. They prepare ritualistic food offerings, burn incense, and burn and joss paper (papier-mache form of material items such as clothes and other goods for the visiting spirits). Elaborate meals are served with empty seats for each of the deceased, and miniature paper boats and lanterns are released on rivers to guide lost spirits.

All over Taiwan, Ghost month is regarded with a great deal of superstition.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Home At Last?

Life continues to grow increasingly normal each day. The network of ex-pats here provide invaluable resources for navigating the city and limits the ‘learn as you go’ experience that comes from moving to a new place. Largely thanks to Rick and Erin, a couple who lives in our neighborhood, Kaytlin and I abandoned some of the long bus-routes and citywide journeys for everyday products. For example, we used to travel to the 5-story, French-import grocery store to get things we could not find at the market--no longer! Turns out we have a grocery store within a 15 minute walk. I never found it because it is underground…naturally. Video rentals, trips downtown, home improvement projects, and soft-serve ice cream once required an afternoon of bus hopping and blistered feet, but now knock at our door.

The market outside our apartment:

In addition to the information provided by our native guides, our adaptation to the Taiwanese lifestyle contributes to successful living. Living like the Taiwanese while in Taiwan may seem painfully obvious, but like many things, recognizing what needs to happen and actualizing that need never come together. This week, however, Kaytlin and I ate all Asian food for a fraction of our previous grocery budget. Buying a rice cooker helped this process immensely. We bought all of our groceries, except for chicken, at the local market. I anticipate that a few weeks from now we will be 100% market fresh. We also know how to get to our jobs without accosting strangers or decoding broken English bus maps. We will be native guides before we know it. Ha.

Salt and Pepper Chicken (盐酥鸡)

Egg and Seaweed Soup

Gluten-free flatbread

Cold mung bean soup

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Maokong Video

Kayt the director. More to come. :)

View from the Top

Saturday, we visited Maokong, the largest tea-growing district in Taipei. A twenty-minute MRT (Municipal Rapid Transit) ride takes you to the heart of the area and to the base of a mountain that boasts a gondola ride to the top. The gondola stops half a dozen times on the way to the top, at which any pause you can get off, tour the mountainside villages, temples, and tea houses.

The American in us brushed aside the ‘lesser’ stops along the way and took us as far as the gondola traveled. Once atop, we found a tea house where we sat for almost three hours learning the tea drinking customs and watching the rain fall as we sipped our Oolong tea. Kaytlin love the intersection with nature, still adjusting to city life. Rainy days and lazy afternoons will bring us back to the mountain sooner than later.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Things I Like About Taiwan, Part One

Gardens and Straw Hats: even though Taipei is a huge city, there's always a garden or park nearby

Scooters: everyone rides 'em

Bicycles: everyone rides these, too!

Teaching: once again, I have rediscovered my love for teaching children.

Beautiful architecture: I pass the National Concert Hall everyday on my way to work.

The weekend Flower Market: several city blocks' worth of gorgeous tropical plants
(Photo by Beth Barthelemy)

Awesome neighbors: Ben and Beth live in the apartment downstairs. Before we moved in, they stocked our fridge for us and even put ice cream in the freezer! After we moved in, Beth cheerfully helped me deep clean our apartment...for several hours! They are a blessing in our lives here. In this picture, Beth and I just finished re-potting our flower market purchases.
(Photo by Ben Barthelemy)

Snack or Sacrifice?

The other day, as I plodded down the street under the hazy sun with streams of sweat trickling down my legs, I noticed that many of the market vendors had placed enticing bowls of fresh tropical fruits near their store entrances. Cool and refreshing, this fruit is the perfect pick-me-up for a hot and hungry shopper. How thoughtful of the Taiwanese to put out snacks for their customers, I thought subconsciously. It must be like when we go to Sam’s Club and get free samples. However, because I was in a rush, I decided to pass up the fruit this time.

Several hours later, as I walked back home, I noticed swirls of incense smoke on either side of the fruit bowls. Immediately to the left I also saw a storeowner throwing fake paper money into a pot of fire. That’s when it clicked: those pieces of fruit were not hors d’ouevres, but sacred sacrifices to the gods, ancestors, and good spirits. Faintly I remembered that several times a month, according the lunar calendar and the gods’ birthdays, many Taiwanese make public offerings such as these.

I have so much to learn about Taiwan! One notable difference here is the lack of distinction between the physical and spiritual worlds. I will write more about this soon. In the meantime, I will always think twice before picking up a free snack!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cultural Roller-coaster

Life still swirls around us like hurricane. It shouldn’t surprise me, but I failed to prepare myself for the magnitude of adjustment required to thrive in our new home. In some ways, for me in particular, Taipei seems to welcome me with open arms. Its skyscrapers, fast-paced living, and droves of people comprise the environment I never knew I always loved. Somehow, it feels like Denver; big city living; the life in which I feel most at home. On the other hand, acute awareness persists that this is not yet my home. I cannot communicate with anyone outside my isolated community. Substitute teaching for the remainder of August in abnormal schedules inhibit building routine. Living in tandem with another person presents continuing learning opportunities. Ha.

Kaytlin secured a job today and she will continue substitute teaching until September 1. I hope to pick up some subbing hours beginning next week, but don’t have anything guaranteed except my full-time job starting August 23. Building a budget from scratch feels like trying to dig for buried treasure in a pit of quicksand. Only time will give us solid ground. Culture shock, especially for Kaytlin, continually knocks at our door.

In spite of our struggles, I stand in amazement at how much we love our new lives. Our decision to follow this path shows clear marks of Providential leading.

Kayt at the Taipei Botanical Garden

Kalan, TJ, Kelley and Eric enjoying sweet tofu soup for dessert

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Back Online

Sorry for the delay in posts. We lived without internet for the past few days. I intended this post for last Thursday. I promise pictures sooner than later...

Tonight, Kaytlin and I sat in a Taiwanese restaurant and caught our breath from the non-stop week. Multiple job interviews each day, prepping and performing demo teaching lessons, apartment hunting, getting nationally-certified health checks, attending Taiwanese church and prayer meetings, carving out time for our marriage, and adjusting to the culture took its toll on us. Also, living in another person’s house, even with hosts as spectacular as Eric and Kelley, degrades the restfulness of down time.
Fortunately, the previous jam-packed seven days in Taiwan have produced bountiful results. Our pointedly transient married life has ceased. Yesterday we signed a year-lease on an apartment upstairs from Ben and Beth (check out their blog at Kaytlin and I have our first place to call our own after two months of marriage! I will invest some time rearranging and doing some ‘maintenance” type adjustments while Kaytlin decorates and makes it our own. Praise Jesus for homes away from Home.