Friday, August 1, 2008

Audiobooks from U.S. Libraries in Taiwan

Having been back in Taiwan for just over a year, I'm beginning to get closer to the bottom of the stack of books I brought back to read. Being on the road a lot and learning a 3rd language, I've not been doing as much pleasure reading as I'd like but it's been nice to listen to lots of podcasts and a few audio books when I'm in the car.

Last year in the US, I saved a bundle by borrowing a lot of the books I wanted to read from the public library. Alas, I thought no chance for that next year. Fortunately, I was wrong.

This term I no longer have to spend fortunes on international shipping through Amazon to buy books. I simply get on the state of Maryland's online library catalogue and look for what's available. I put a hold on the audiobook version of Elie Wiesel's Night and checked out two other audiobooks, both of which were #1 bestsellers on the NY Times list within the past year: Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World and John Grisham's The Appeal.

I sure do thank God for these free resources which I am now able take full advantage of... many of the books using Overdrive software allow for CD burns.

Don't Have a Heart Attack in Miaoli

My father had a couple of heart attacks in the past 6 years, resulting first in a stint and then a heart transplant two years ago. He had the privilege of being able to receive medical care at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. which ranks right at the top for hospital care in general every year, with an especially renowned cardiology department.

Good for him he doesn't live in Miaoli County here in Taiwan. Yesterday's China Post carried the byline: Miaoli County emergency medical services ranked worst in Taiwan. According to the article NONE of the 287 heart attack victims in the county arrived alive to the hospital last year! I wonder if that stat is correct, or if the reporter just did a poor job translating the facts.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Taiwanese Delicacy

In previous posts here here and here I shared about culinary adventures here in the neighborhood. Similarly, last night after enjoying all-you-can-eat hot pot at a newly opened restaurant (compliments of the school I've been helping out at the last few weeks), the owner treated us to a complimentary dish....


chicken or pig balls

We were first told we were eating chicken testicles, but then were told by someone else at the table afterward they were actually pig testicles (much rarer to come by). Who knows which it actually was. When I pulled my first one up  from the hot pot and popped it in my mouth, I suddenly realized I was out of soda and could hardly hold it down. Upon getting a refill, however, I actually ate a second one. while the esteemed friend here ate not one or two but three. Mmm. So succulent. don eats chicken balls

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

University Admission Rates in Taiwan

Admission rates for universities in Taiwan, on the rise in recent years, have hit a record high -- of over 100%! If I understand the China Post link above correctly, any student can be admitted into a university, no matter how bad their score on the entrance exam, so long as they show up for all the tests. You'd think that would ease the pressure for all the kids going to cram school all the time, even if the college they wind up attending in the end isn't exactly National Taiwan University. Soon we'll see some of these universities closing, experts have been saying.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Saturday Celebration

Yesterday (Saturday) the population of our town here temporarily swelled to 10 or 20 times (at least) its normal size. That's because everyone came over to celebrate. The official celebration was over at the temple (one of the largest temples in all of Taiwan for the god/general Guangong). When I drove by there last night, there were all kind of vendors selling their wares that are not there during the normal night market, and easily a thousand people milling around.

Most people, however, seemed to have enjoyed their feasts at home. They didn't bother with the temple, just as on the 4th of July a lot of folks back home enjoy their barbecue but don't fight against the crowd by going to see the fireworks. Other folks simply closed their iron doors a few hours early without participating in festivities either at the temple or in front of their house on the street.

Lots of families ordered tables and chairs which are delivered to their home, after which they set them up on the street. Neighbors to my left enjoyed a big meal and polished it off with several liters of Taiwan beer. They probably played Mahjiang until the early hours of the morning after that since it is their regular weekend recreational custom, but I didn't notice. My other neighbors finished their dinner much earlier as they were already nearly cleaned up when I got home around 8:30.

As for me, in addition to receiving several plates of food from the neighbors who finished early above, I was also invited by the mother of two of the kids I teach English to for free every Saturday to join them outside their home. Neither I nor any of my neighbors had ever meet the father, though the mother and daughters come over to my neighbor's nearly every day and live just one block away.

When I arrived 5 minute before the appointed time, the oldest daughter greeted me with enthusiastically with: "Why are you here so early?"  How's that for a welcome? But as a result of going over I was able to spend a couple of hours chatting with the father. When I asked if he was ever over on our side of the neighborhood, he said he often drinks tea over at his friend's who keeps all the drums over at his house. God has a sense of humor.... this is the same place that I mentioned in an recent post where all the stray youth are hanging out every day and night-- other neighbors have warned me plainly to stay away from them. I guess God has another plan. May the God of Jesus Christ give me grace and wisdom for the future.

I also visited with my host's sisters (who had both come down from Taipei for the day)  and later with several of his other friends who came over from other villages and townships. While we were eating, two people walked by at different times collecting offerings which I assume were for the temple. One lady was ringing a bell and the other person came over in the garb of a god, big head and all. The people I was with just ignored them both so I'm not really sure what the deal was. I guess it's easier for the person wearing the god outfit to get rejected like this since no one can actually see his/her face!

It was truly a sumptuous feast and I thanked my hosts profusely. As the drinking started to pick up among the men I excused myself to make another quick run by the temple on my scooter.

Another Farm Visit

Friday after my two English classes I went home with the middle school's Director of Education. He wears many hats. In addition to being an educator, father, and husband, he is also a farmer. On the plot of land owned by his family going back many many generations, just a half mile or so from the sea, he has two artificial ponds fed from a ditch with sea water every high tide. In these two ponds, as well as a third one he rents further west directly opposite the sea wall, Roger raises fish, shrimp, and clams. When we pushed out on his little raft in one of the ponds, shrimp were jumping everywhere and he also dug up some clams to explain how they dig, feed, etc. to me.

He's very satisfied with life on his comfortable plot of land, and looks forwarding to retiring here. He also had a very good harvest last winter. I suspect he raked in a lot of extra bucks to complement his school salary.

The neighbor closest to the third rented pond is an "eel" (Taiwanese is LoMoa", e.g. gangster ) with great status. But since the two of them don't have any directly conflicting interests or any Li4Hai4 Guan1xi4 (severe relationship), everyone gets along just fine.

On another note also related to "Guanxi" (relationship), people are very closely connected in this school. The DoE's wife is the principal's sister. Once again before class on Friday, the principal was explaining FaLunGong to me. He said they don't participate at all in traditional Taiwan folk religion/Taoism, but that they consider Buddhism and Christianity as well as other faiths to all be a part of FaLunGong. Previously he had said to me that if I read the book he loaned me, "a warm feeling" would come over me. This time he shared about a web site from out of which if you were a Buddhist you would see the Buddha, if you were a Christian you would see the Christ, etc. Once again he said you would experience a "warm feeling".  As his faith is still completely unknown to me, I don't quite know exactly how to relate back to his context that I have all I need in Jesus, but I want to learn better how to relate with him.

The teacher at whose house I went swimming a few days ago is also into Falungong, but I suspect she and her husband's involvement isn't nearly as deep as the principal's. Her sister is married to someone in the DoE's family, and the teacher's husband is the principal of a nearby elementary school of less than 100 students. It's in Mailiao which is another seashore township polluted for years by the Formosa plastics company, which is also the townships' largest employer. To make up for their negative impact on the environment not to mention people's health, the plastics company provides free lunches for the elementary school children.

The DoE and his wife, who by the way works at an irrigation company not too far away, are regular Taiwan Taoist/Folk Religionists. He explains to me that Falungong rejects Daoism, but embraces Christianity and Buddhism as part of its greater whole.

On Friday, He and I were originally supposed to have a time of language exchange, but it seemed like 90% of it was English so next time I 'll have to be more determined to get the Taiwanese portion out of him.

Next Wednesday we'll be getting again for dinner with some of the other English teachers for dinner in BeiGang. They are all very kind and also seem very happy to have foreign adults with whom to practice their English.