Picture 13

Far From Formosa

I’m blogging again, albeit less frequently, since the adventures of graduate school pale in comparison with the adventures of life in Taiwan.

January will see Gene and I return to Taiwan and travel to China for two weeks.  I’ll write and share photos about that trip over on the new blog too.


Farewell, Taiwan

“The sacrifice wasn’t in going… the sacrifice was in leaving.”


To love a place. To hold it so dearly that one aches at the memory of it. Are we not most fortunate?

Both quotes come from Bo Caldwell’s A City of Tranquil Light: A Novel

It was while we were in the midst of this packing that Mr. and Mrs. T. K. Hu came calling. Mr. Hu was carrying a large box which he handed to my father. “Since you are packing,” he said, “we thought this would be the time to give you our remembrance.” My father unwrapped the package and took out a very large ginger jar. Shiny Chinese yellow it was, the happiest color in the world, and it was decorated with bright green characters which wished us long life and health and happiness and lots of money which certainly took care of my wishes.

As we stood admiring the jar, Mr. Hu took it from my father’s hands and set it on one side of our fireplace. “A pair of these jars was given us as a wedding gift,” he said. “They have always stood one on each side of our fireplace. We will keep one and now you have the other. When we look at ours, we will think of you and when you look at yours, you will think of us.” My mother put her arms around Mrs. Hu. My father took one of Mr. Hu’s hands in both of his. “Old friend,” he said. “Old friend.” He must have been misty-eyed, for he took off his glasses and wiped them.

Suddenly I found myself blinking back tears and I didn’t know why. I was counting the days on the calendar, wasn’t I? Then how could a yellow ginger jar turn everything inside me upside down? Mr. Hu, a large, merry-faced man whom I’d always liked, turned to me. “And when you look at that jar, Miss Jean,” he said, “you can think: ‘I was born in China. Part of me will always be there.”’

Fritz, Jean (2007). Homesick (Novel) (p. 93). Puffin. Kindle Edition.

The final two sentences of the above quotation, properly edited mentally to account for the fact that I wasn’t born in China, have comforted me through years of departures from Taiwan. And made me ache sometimes in America, when that part of me I always leave here, on the other side of the planet, seems all too far away.

When I try to write about leaving, my own words tend to ring false. They’re melodramatic or distortedly optimistic or just empty, dull. As the previous paragraph seems to the more I look at it.

I’m thankful that other, better, writers can lend me theirs.

On Sunday, August 18, I went downtown to watch a protest rally held in front of the Presidential Office.

I do not understand the underlying issues well enough to comment on the reasons behind the protest itself, nor should I on this blog. If you’re curious about the event specifics, check out these English news articles: Thousands join development protest and Protestors occupy government building.

Actually, part of what determined why I went was because I read about the incorporation of traditional funeral rites into the protest setting, which sounded really interesting and tangentially related to my work.

Another part of why I went is that emphasis was made by the organizers that, even if their slogan about tearing down the government sounded violent, the protest was to be a peaceful one. In light of ongoing violent protests worldwide, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, and no matter what country you live in, I think we can agree to be thankful for public spaces and political cultures that support peaceful protest. I am thankful for that freedom that Taiwanese have.


People brought their children. Police were out in force, but not forcefully so, if that makes any sense.

When I first got there, it seemed like there were more journalists than protesters present, but as the rally’s start time approached, the reporters finally had something to report on.

All ages were represented.

Then I ran into an old friend from my summers working in city government in Kaohsiung, who, as it turned out, was one of the emcees for the rally.

It was a powerfully affective afternoon in a resonant place in Taipei.

I think most protests don’t make international news unless they turn ugly. For your information, here’s one that didn’t.

Market shirts

As I browsed the market last week in search of the best market shirts as gifts for friends of mine in America, something fascinating happened.

A woman came up to me and asked me to read the shirt she wanted to buy. Specifically, she explained, she liked it and wanted to buy it for her teenage daughter, but she didn’t want it to say anything bad in English.

The shirt was covered entirely in text taken from something about architecture and design at the University of Nottingham. After I skimmed it, I explained it as best I could. Seemed good enough for her. We chatted about how one can find some really good deals on clothes at the market so long as one looks carefully. After she asked me to read a second shirt, we talked a little more about her daughter. I left to go explore another vendor’s offerings before I became the market English consultant or got caught taking photos of only the weirdest clothes.

Like these:




Last night I went to my dancing-with-the-aunties exercise class for the last time. The typhoon kept 2/3 of the class at home, so only a dedicated few were there to dance to American club music from the 1990s and then stretch to piano concertos, give me hugs and take some silly photos.


Topics of conversation while we did our exercises included what Laoshi’s mother should be fed to keep her from losing weight in her old age,

    Ensure and chicken bouillon

what people think about retirement homes,

    It’s agreed that retirement homes sound like fun – your own room, TV, and fridge and clubs to join and activities like knitting classes.

the best age at which to have children,

    My age, apparently. =o

what the greatest inconvenience of having children is,

    Laoshi said that milk powder is too expensive, but another woman reminded her that kids don’t need milk powder for as many years as they need to go to school.

about how some children are born owing you something from a previous life and how others are born with you owing them something, and that Laoshi thinks maybe she hadn’t made enough incense offerings in a previous life so she’s saddled with taking care of her grandchildren in this one,

    An alternate theory proposed is that she actually is being blessed with having a full house with children and grandchildren to cheer her in her older age, and that any life happening can be turned into a better interpretation.

and whether or not LA is anywhere near Chicago.

    It isn’t.

You can probably see that nobody particularly takes this class seriously. Its effect on my fitness level has been minimal, but going isn’t about that.

I’ll miss rolling my eyes along with the mirror’s reflection of the woman in purple when we both notice Laoshi losing count as she gets distracted by talking about what she saw on the news or giving advice or complaining about kids these days. I’ll miss the bizarre results that these exercises are supposed to bring about (Keep you from going bald! Shrink your appetite! Help your memory!). I may get in better shape with a yoga or pilates class back in Chicago, but I probably won’t have as much fun.

It sounds kind of ridiculous, but I think I fulfilled the purpose of the Fulbright grant most of all this year through joining this class. I became part of a neighborhood. I made friends. Sometimes we compared how things are in Taiwan versus how they are in America. For all its zaniness, for all that I could barely keep my face straight through sometimes, those two hours every week with a group of accepting, friendly women has been really important to me.


Typhoon Trami

Typhoon Trami

After dithering about in the Pacific for a few days, it’s decided to head directly at us. Wreaking havoc on the plans we hoped to have good weather for this week.

Click the photo to head over to the Central Weather Bureau’s English page on the storm. Info there is updated more slowly than the Chinese page, but you’ll get the idea.

Hau defends construction fatalities online database

Taipei Deputy Mayor Chang Chin-oh (張金鶚) said the latest version of the map can serve as a reference for homebuyers to identify whether a property is “haunted” before purchasing it.

Not Star Trek Generations.

Last questions from March!

How well do the generations blend? Is there as much as a youth/senior divide as America has? Do they have old folks homes there? Or do generations live in/live together?

This is probably the toughest one because I’m not part of a multi-generational Taiwanese family, so I can only speak from the experiences of some of my friends and what I see around my neighborhood.

A friend in Taipei is an unmarried young professional woman in her early 30s. She lives with her parents, who are in their 70s, and also her grandmother, who is in her 90s. There is nothing abnormal about this. In fact, when I tell people that I live in Taipei but my parents live down south, they are a little horrified that I’d be so far away from my parents and alone in this big city. When I tell them about Gene, they’re placated, but still sad for me that I have to be so far away from my family.

My exercise teacher is a 63 year old grandmother. One of her daughters still lives with her, while the other lives in another city because of work. Both granddaughters – a high schooler and an early elementary schooler, children of the divorced daughter living elsewhere, live with their grandmother. Her own mother lives in an old folks home a few hours drive away in the city my teacher grew up in. She’s one of the younger siblings in the family, so her brothers and sisters take more care of their mother than she does.

One of the professors with a Fulbright here this year chose to live in a retirement community, since he and his wife fit into that demographic. It seemed like they loved their time there and found it filled with interesting people and fun activities.

My neighborhood is fairly intergenerational. A lot of grandparents taking care of young children while parents are off at work. Grandpas with babies strapped to their chests out on early evening strolls.

There are a couple of little neighborhood old folks’ social spaces set up by the city government. It’s basically a living room – couches, a TV, a small stove and hot water boiler – for the retirees to spend time with their friends in.

I’m not sure about the divide between youth and seniors. Certainly, they occupy more of the same space than they might in the US (although that’s a shaky assertion on my part), but I don’t know about the level of communication occurring within the shared space.

You ought to hear my exercise teacher complain about her teenage granddaughter’s hair. “It’s always in her eyes! She’s hiding that cute face behind it and she just sulks all the time!”

Some things, I believe, are universal.

More questions! Getting to the ones I avoided because I don’t know the answers to them, and as any “good” academic, I’d rather not admit to not knowing things. (sarcasm alert, friends)

Do children watch cartoons? What are the movie theatures like? What forms of dance are taught to kids?

Cartoons: Yes, but I haven’t watched Taiwanese cartoons in ages and can’t answer this well! When I was a kid, a lot of cartoons on TV were dubbed into Mandarin and came from either Japan or America. Flipping past cartoon channels now seems to confirm this is still the case.

Movie Theater: This I can answer!
The biggest difference I learned when I went to my first movie in the US where I was buying tickets (so, childhood doesn’t count) was that Taiwanese theaters give you assigned seats, while in the US getting good seats is a free-for-all.

Otherwise, check out the photos of the movie theater nearby where we live and see if you spot much different. Probably it all looks pretty familiar.

Ticket purchasing:

Concessions and entrances to 4 theaters:

Perhaps another difference is that instead of occupying a lot of horizontal space, theaters take up many stories, either in their own buildings (older theaters) or inside a department store/mall. The theater we’d always go to in high school occupied the 13th – 16th floors of a 17 story shopping mall. Check out their floor guide here!

Dance: So, I stopped by a dance school nearby and pretended like I had a friend with a 6 year old daughter who wanted to take dance classes. They recommended beginner ballet. Their sign outside advertised all other kinds of dances (including belly dance, folk dance), but it seemed their course offerings inside featured the expected styles of western dance – ballet, tap, and modern. If you meant to ask about dances elementary schoolers learn at school, those are mostly silly motions pantomimed to go with music. We did a lot of that in Taiwanese preschool and I can’t say I’ve ever missed it.