Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Conclusion of Christmas Activities

IMG_3637 (Large)

100-0010_IMGChristmas Eve and Christmas Day we distributed a little over 600 bags of candy and literature as we caroled in our two communities. Santa Claus trailed closely behind us in the markets! We were happy to be accompanied by several members from Songshan church in Taipei. We couldn’t have done it without them!

Christmas Truck Announcement:
 truck on street On Wednesday I had the truck announcing the birth of Jesus written up in previous posts drive routes in the northern portion of our neighboring township. Unfortunately, when I went looking for him, no one in the 4 villages I asked in the target area had seen or heard the announcement. Later, when I called the driver, I found out he had meandered off the

agreed-upon path! Soon thereafter, a worker at a tea stand as well as a friend in another village called to say he had passed by.

Christmas Eve and Day the truck drove back and forth in my township. In order to give people a chance to hear the message, he drove extremely slow. He passed through the majority of villages only one time as a result.

truckcoworkI received feedback from one acquaintance yesterday that the volume was not loud enough… if we choose to do this again, perhaps I should pay to have a more professional recording done.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Influence of the Biblical Story

Two weeks ago in our adult English class as we were reading a shepherdangel0 simplified version of a story about the birth of Jesus, I asked students how they would feel if an angel appeared to them. One of them replied “lucky”, while the other said, in all honesty, he would ask the angel for money. Slightly different from the fearful response of the shepherds! But these are probably typical responses as to how someone rooted in Taiwanese culture and religious practices might respond to their understanding of an angel. 

Similarly, last night I was reading stories about Jesus from Luke with a friend. When I asked him what motivated Jesus to heal the sick and deliver the oppressed, he responded that Jesus was only doing those things in order to spread his fame. Again, honest answers from someone with a traditional Taiwanese cultural and religious background.

Yesterday I was reading form Lesslie Newbigin’s Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. In the first chapter Newbigin delineates four principles which provided the foundation for the subsequent development of science in Europe, a science which far outstripped the brilliant thinking of India, China, and the Arab world. What set these principles apart is that they were based upon faith in biblical revelation: “Science developed in Europe in a way that far outstripped the work of ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Indian science because it was willing to take as its starting point affirmations rooted in the biblical revelation of God as creator and redeemer.” (p. 11)

Newbigin continues: a long long time ago, the medley of barbarian tribes and petty kingdoms which then constituted Europe began to be shaped and influenced by a network of monastic communities which eventually took over the whole of Western Europe. These communities had at their center the continual reading of the Bible, both in study and in the worship rituals of the community. The biblical story came to be the one story (emphasis added) that shaped the understanding of who they were, where they came from, and where they were going. … “It was this story that shaped those barbarian tribes in the cultural and spiritual entity that made Europe something other than simply a peninsula of Asia (p. 13). Though one might effectivly argue that Europe was never thoroughly  “Christianized” – the veneer was superficial in many places – nevertheless, the development of science in Europe was directly influenced by the faithful telling and retelling from generation to generation of bible stories.

I find great hope in that. Evangelism, when you get right down to it, can be very simple: telling the story of the bible.  IMG_3922 As I introduce people like those mentioned at the beginning of this blog entry to the biblical stories of creation,the life of Jesus, as well as the other narratives, poetry, and  biblical prophecies of God’s Word, they will- if they come with an open heart-- be influenced. I will be influenced. Indeed, over time, entire cultures will be transformed! As I was reminded again in my devotionals this morning: 

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ready for Christmas

We’re in the final few days before our flurry of Christmas activities gets underway (well, not including the stories we’ve already been sharing the last few weeks of adult and children’s English classes). This evening, I went to check on the progress of our truck Christmas broadcast. The poster’s ready!

 

xmasad2

Unfortunately, prospects aren’t so bright for our first outdoor activity. Temperatures are expected to reach a new low for the winter Saturday night. Furthermore, construction has just begun in the area in front of the temple where the night market is usually held. Who knows where we’ll eventually set up our table with Santa Claus…

Monday, December 14, 2009

Coarse-Sounding Language

Last week I was chatting with some elderly women who are friends with my neighbors. They cannot read, and only speak Taiwanese, so communicating with them in my low-intermediate level  Taiwanese is difficult at best.

Without intending insult to them or Taiwanese culture, which I love, I used a term to communicate that when I first came to Taiwan, I found the Taiwanese language disagreeable to hear, not pleasing to the ear, coarse, etc. My point was that it sounded that way to me because I could not understand it.

Oops. That comment really stuck with them!

Today when I walked back to the house after visiting with a neighbor,  the two old ladies flagged me down when I said hello to them. Today on the television, they said, was a foreigner who spoke really good Taiwanese. He said that when he first started learning Taiwanese, he found it very beautiful to the ear!

台灣人本土意識很強。 Next time I’ll try to smooth things over by emphasizing how lovely I am finding the Taiwanese language now that I am finally beginning to understand more of it.

Christmas Caroling Truck

I wrote in the previous post about the truck advertisements for local election candidates, and the resulting idea I had listening to them every day.

Translating that idea into reality for Christmas took far more time and energy than I expected. Because we have 4 other Christmas activities we’re preparing for I had to put in a lot of overtime.

Here’s the poster we’ve created to post on each side of the truck:

christmasad2

And here’s a clip from the track I mixed in modern Taiwanese (very different from what is used in Presbyterian churches), repeating every 30 some seconds. I also mixed in a Christmas greeting.



I am hiring the truck and driver for two full business days. Amazingly, they still use old-style tape cassettes instead of mp3s. So I had to save my recording in that format, which reduced the clarity, but I think both the music and message will still be heard.

Now everything is in the hands of the advertiser so I’ll prayerfully await the opportunity to observe the truck driving through every little street and alley of every village in our township (30,000 people) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! May Jesus Christ be lifted up where He is not known!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Election Trucks

This Saturday elections are being held to determine mayors, county magistrates, and city/county councils here in Taiwan. Trucks with noisy loudspeakers blaring candidate mottos ride up and down the streets. A funny rhythmic one I heard last week is: 口湖鄉長要換,不然口湖會更爛!Our county is one of the hotly contested elections, so extra efforts are being made by the candidates to get their message across. Here’s an example I caught on video last night:

video

As a westerner who values privacy, I find all the noise obtrusive. Similarly, a Canadian coworker shared the following anecdote earlier today with us: “One day while I was chatting with a local friend, I was feeling very annoyed with a passing advertising broadcast truck.  To me the blaring female voice was like fingernails on a chalk board.  I was startled when my friend turned to me, obviously enjoying it, and commented how nice it sounded to her.  (那個女人的聲音很好聽!)

truck

Although the loudspeakers are just a bunch of noise and invasion of privacy to us, they are an acceptable form of communication/advertisement here. Wouldn't it be exciting, if, after the election, I could commission those same trucks to take the following message in colloquial Taiwanese to every street in every village in our two townships:

Thiⁿ-sài kā in kóng, Bo̍h-tit kiaⁿ; in-ūi góa pò lín tōa hoaⁿ-hí ê hó siau-sit, hō͘ peh-sìⁿ lóng ū hūn;
in-ūi kin-á-ji̍t tī Tāi-pi̍t ê siâⁿ í-keng ūi-tio̍h lín siⁿ chi̍t ê Chín-kiù-ê, chiū-sī Chú Ki-tok.
Lín beh khòaⁿ-kìⁿ chi̍t ê eⁿ-á ēng pò͘ pau, khùn tī chô-ni̍h ê, chit-ê chiū-sī hō͘ lín chòe kì-hō.
Hut-jiân ū chōe-chōe thian-peng kap hit ê thiⁿ-sài saⁿ-kap tī-teh, o-ló Siōng-tè, kóng,
Tī ke̍k kôaiⁿ ê ūi êng-kng kui tī Siōng-tè, Tōe-chiūⁿ hô-pêng tī I só͘ hoaⁿ-hí ê lâng ê tiong-kan.

In English that would be:

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Instead of the candidate's portrait, we could post a picture of the Nativity, the angels, or the star of Bethlehem burning brightly in the night. The drivers/trucks will be available soon…

Monday, November 30, 2009

Staircases

I’m thinking about staircases today.

stairs

More specifically, a sketch of staircases I saw in Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret (following Walter Freytag’s The Gospel and the Religions) which tells me how I can dialogue with people of other faiths here in Taiwan:

 stair

In Taiwan, a stock answer someone will give you about religion is that “all religions are good”, “all religions are the same”, etc. They all help us to do good, be better people, etc. I heard this again just this past weekend from an elderly Taiwanese speaking man with whom I was enjoying tea.

So, for example, Christianity may be represented below by the staircase on the left while Buddhism points to the right:

crossless stair

This view, actually, is not too far from from what Newbigin says:

The staircases represent the many ways by which humans learn to rise toward the fulfillment of God’s purpose. They include all the ethical and religious achievements that so richly adorn the cultures of humankind. But in the middle of them is placed a symbol that represents something of a different kind – a historic deed in which God exposed himself in a total vulnerability to all our purposes and in that meeting exposed us as the beloved of God who are, even in our highest religion, the enemies of God. The picture expresses the central paradox of the human situation, that God comes to meet us at the bottom of our stairways, not at the top; that our real ascent towards God’s will for us takes us further away from the place where he actually meets us. I"I came to call not the righteous, but sinners.” Our meeting, therefore, with those of other faiths takes place at the bottom of the stairway, not at the top. “Christianity” as it develops in history takes on the form of one of those stairways. Christians also have to come down to the bottom of their stairway to meet the adherents of another faith. There has to be a kenosis, a “self-emptying.” Christians do not meet their partners in dialogue as those who possess the truth and the holiness of God but as those who bear witness to a truth and holiness that are God’s judgment on them and who are ready to hear the judgment spoken through the lips and life of their partner of another faith. (page 181)

Quoting further from Newbigin:

Obedient witness to Christ means that whenever we come with another person (Christian or not) into the presence of the cross, we are prepared to receive judgment and correction, to find that our Christianity hides within its appearance of obedience the reality of disobedience. Each meeting with a non-Christian partner in dialogue therefore puts my own Christianity at risk.

The classic biblical example of this is the meeting of Peter with the Gentile Cornelius at Caesarea. We often speak of this as the conversion of Cornelius, but it was equally the conversion of Peter. In that encounter the Holy Spirit shattered Peter’s own deeply cherished image of himself as an obedient member of the household of God…(p. 182)

We are, in the end, “not the exclusive possessors of salvation, nor as the fullness of what others have in part.” Nor are we the answer to the questions they ask. So why then do we dialogue and share about our faith? Ours in the end is a humble task:

The purpose of dialogue for the Christian is obedient witness to Jesus Christ, who is not the property of the church but the Lord of the church and of all people and who is glorified as the living Holy Spirit takes all that the Father has given to humankind – all people of every creed and culture—and declares it to the church as that which belongs to Christ as Lord. In this encounter the church is changed, the world is changed, and Christ is glorified. (p. 183).

Here’s my refinement to the simple diagram above, with each staircase representing a different religion (yes, atheism is a stair too):

stairs3d2

And finally, my Christmas version… The Word became flesh and dwelled among us:

christmas stairs3d2

Thank you, Father God, Son, and Holy Spirit, for coming into the world as a defenseless baby in the lowest and meanest of circumstances. Thank you for meeting me at the very bottom of the stairs, in the gutter, so to speak. Thank for guiding me to the light, just as you directed men and women to the infant Jesus in antiquity. On the basis of your light, power and strength, continue to change me Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scooter Helmet Regulation Enforcement

Some years before I arrived on the scene in Taiwan in 1997, helmet regulations were already in effect for scooter drivers in urban centers. However, when I moved to the countryside a little over 2 years ago, a different world awaited me. Probably less than 1 in 10 of the local population bother wearing helmets. The local police force turn a blind eye. The epitome and funniest example for me of law infringement these past two years has been a friendly local village head, who drives around the community every day waving and saying hello to everyone wearing only his baseball cap for cranial protection.

The last two days pressure finally came down from county or national government officials to enforce the helmet regulations. Today in the daytime I saw several people driving around as usual without their helmets, but this time police cars were out in number on the streets to take the pictures of those not wearing helmets as their scooters passed by. Many of the scooter riders had no idea they were being photographed. One of my neighbors was busted. Tonight they had roadblocks set up on the road between townships to catch people unawares as they drove by.

Whether this will end within a day or two  (as these kind of law enforcement campaigns often seem to do in Taiwan), or if this is finally the end for not wearing a helmet in this countryside corner, only time will tell. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Update on Yesterday’s Quakes

True to my experience, the newspaper says yesterday evening’s earthquake was the biggest in that region in 10 years.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sandstorms and Earthquakes

It's been an interesting week of experiencing Mother Nature in south-central Taiwan.

First, on Monday morning we experienced a sandstorm with typhoon-force winds (I should mention that all the sand and dust were just local -- not from mainland China-- due to the lack of rain here in months). It lasted from around 5:00 am or earlier to late in the night, and spread thick layers of dust inside all homes, schools, and businesses. The old timers I consulted all say it was the first time in their lives here they've experienced anything like it.

Secondly, just now as I was driving back from Taichung I felt two sizable earthquakes centered in Nantou County, exactly where I happened to be driving at the time! As I was heading south on the freeway, I had just adjusted my seat when the car lurched to the left and right. I was lucky I didn't lose control. At the time I wondered if something was wrong with my steering wheel or if the chair adjustment had sent me lurching unknowingly. Only when I got home did I learn from a neighbor it was an earthquake. According to the National Weather Bureau website, it was a 6 in magnitude located off the closest exit to my position.

About an hour later I was stopped at a drive-in window of a fastfood restaurant when an aftershock hit. Again, it was a sizaeable earthquake, a 5.7--- definitely the biggest I've felt here personally since 921 back in '99. According to the website, there have already been 6 aftershocks since the initial quake in just 3 hours.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Abba Father Speaks

Last week a teacher at a local junior high school asked me how I know it when God is speaking to me. I proceeded to share two stories when I felt God had specifically spoken through somewhat amazing (to me, anyway) circumstances.

Far more often, however, I find God speaks when I stumble across the same biblical truth – whether arcane or obvious -- “coincidentally” placed in two or three seemingly unrelated environments. For example, once a few years back a pastor friend first heard me and then two other people who don’t even know each other all share from the same rarely heard passage in the book of Ezekiel, all within a couple weeks of each other. Do you think God might have been trying to communicate something through that passage?

Being dull-witted, I have to be lovingly batted over the head like this sometimes in order for God to get my attention as well. Anyway, earlier this week He did. This past Sunday I visited a local church in which the pastor’s wife spoke about the glory of God. When the bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” what is meant by the glory of God? As God’s children progress down the road of sanctification, dealing with the root sin issues in our lives, we give more and more glory to Him. We reflect the character and glory of the Father as we grow in intimacy with Him.

How do we succeed in this journey? The key, according to the speaker that day, is remaining in the love of the Father, going back always and repeatedly every day throughout the day to the love which the Father has for us. One practical way the speaker said we should do this is by addressing our prayers not to “God” (general term 神), but always and only to “Abba Father”.

I mentioned this last point about praying exclusively to “Abba Father” the next day to a coworker, who without knowing the context strongly objected. 

Amazing! Later that same day as I was passing time on the train, I tuned in randomly to one of many downloaded sermon podcasts stored in my mp3 player. Ten minutes into his message, the speaker said the only time he recalled Jesus praying to “God” was in the moment of His greatest separation from Abba Father as He hung dying for us on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34, see also Psalm 22:1). You can listen to that powerful segment below or the entire message here.

How did Jesus instruct us to pray in the first line of the Lord’s prayer? Anyway, that’s one way Abba Father has spoken to me so far this week.

video

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hanging Clothes out at Night

In an earlier post I shared about the local belief of how to dispose of dead dogs and cats.

Recently a coworker here in the Taiwanese countryside heard about a superstition forbidding whistling at night. I tried to confirm it the other night when a young boy was visiting, but he didn’t seem to have anything against whistling, even suddenly doing so himself. However, earlier the same evening when he started to tell me a story which involved the Chinese word for “death” or “die”, he interrupted himself in mid-sentence saying it was best not to use that word after dark.

This kind of fear doesn’t end with children scared about ghosts. This week I learned from others that here locally there’s a tradition which speaks against leaving your clothes hanging at out night: they will attract the ghosts roaming aimlessly outside who are looking for clothes to wear! And then there’s the one about not ringing a bell outside at night or playing a flute. They will attract ghosts in the same manner as the Pied Piper attracted rats. These are real concerns here in the Taiwanese countryside.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Bird Tale

And as the time approached for my master to go on a journey, he tried to find someone to take me in, but there was no room for me in any inn. So he wrapped me in cloths and placed me in a manger, because there was no room in the last resort.

And when he could afford to hide me no longer inside his luggage on his way out the door to the airport, he got a papyrus basket for me and coated it with tar and pitch. Then he placed me in it and put it among the weeds of a nearby shrimp and fish farm. He stood at a distance with his motorcycle helmet and sunglasses hiding his face to see what would happen to me.

Then the parents of some English club students happened to walk down to the fish and shrimp pond to sneak in some fishing. They saw my basket among the weeds and sent their son to go fetch it. They opened it and saw me! I was squawking loudly, and they felt sorry for me. "This is one of the foreigner's pet birds," they said. And they took me home and took care of me as one of their own. And I grew and became strong; I was filled with wisdom (along with plenty of gourmet bird foods and liquids) and learned to speak more and more Taiwanese and Mandarin, and the grace of God was upon those who saved me!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Convenient Stores

One of the first things you are likely to notice upon first arriving in Taiwan is the ubiquitous convenient store.  They’re everywhere!

As this link relates, “Taiwan has the highest concentration of convenience stores in the world. Few people in Taiwan can make it through the day without entering either a 7-11, OK or Family Mart and hearing the customary "Welcome!".

The first time I took a bus by myself in densely-populated Taipei County to visit Canadian coworkers when I arrived in Taiwan in 1997, my coworkers told me to get off when I saw the 7-11. Oops!

7-Eleven by far has the largest market share (4,000 outlets in 2008).  Family Mart (全家) is second with  2,324 stores. Hi-Life is third with 1,236 stores, followed by OK Mart with 824 (Taiwan Times).

By far most of these are franchised outlets, but there still remain a few privately-owned English-challenged family businesses, such as the one I photographed below yesterday.

store2

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taiwan Disaster Numerical Comparisons

Popular opinion continues to be that the Morakot “88 水災”water calamity which occurred over the Chinese Father’s Day weekend is worse in scope than the infamous 921 Earthquake.* This grieves not only the hearts of the people of Taiwan, but also the heart of God, especially as it becomes more and more apparent that certain aspects of this disaster may have been man-made and not so-called acts of God.

To compare some numbers, one week and two days after the typhoon, the official death toll from landslides and flooding is 107 with 307 missing (and the number of dead could surpass 500). Damage is upwards of US$130 million in crop damage alone.

The 921 Earthquake Sept 21, 1999 in comparison killed 2,416 with 11,433 injured, 44,338 houses completely destroyed, 41,336 houses severely damaged, and NT$300 billion (US$9.2 billion) worth of damage.

But there are equally tragic tales which are not told as often. For example, Taiwan has one of the highest worldwide suicide rates per capita with one about every 2 hours, mostly among unemployed men, a rate falling short of that in Japan (one suicide every 15 minutes) and perhaps one or two other countries.

Finally, in Taiwan (total population 22,900,000) every year there are approximately 30,000 abortions among women 20 years and under (as reported in this 2002 news post  and elsewhere). An abortion is performed every 45 seconds, leading to the establishment of temples in the last 20 years specifically designed to worship and appease the souls of dead infants.

In conclusion, our heavenly Father mourns for all the different kinds of losses above! Let us remember to mourn them as well.

*88 stands for August 8; which in Mandarin Chinese sounds like the word for “Papa”. Hence 8-8 is celebrated as Father’s Day here).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pray for Typhoon Morakot Flood Victims, Reconstruction, etc.

This morning at a nearby Presbyterian church service, the pastor asked us to pray as follows (reference my 90% reconstruction of the chinese here) for the victims of Typhoon Morakot and Taiwan:

1. Ask the Lord to forgive our sins.

2. Ask the Lord to forgive us for the way we have damaged nature and failed to take good care of the land.

3. Ask the Lord to have pity on the flood victims of typhoon Morakot.

4. Ask the Lord to have pity on the general populace of Taiwan.

5. May the love and grace of the Lord be upon us.

6. May the Lord use us to make his love manifest.

7. May the Lord protect the bodies of all those working in flood disaster areas.

8. May the Lord use our government, policies, units, etc. giving them wisdom and loving hearts.

Good ways to pray!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Celebrating Christmas on Gwangung’s Birthday

Today is the birthday of the god of the local temple here, so the streets were full of celebrants feasting together in front of houses. Just as a westerner might invite a friend over to enjoy Christmas dinner, regardless of how seriously he or she might take the spiritual meaning of Christmas, so also several friends and neighbors invited me to dine with them.

On two previous recent occasions -- once here and once in another community--  I felt at peace joining the locals for their birthday feasts (and on one of them God even opened the door for me to talk about Jesus and teach someone how to pray to Him). On neither of these occasions was the  “reason for the season” even mentioned. I had a great time with my friends.

But on this occasion with the intensity and roar of the enthusiastic celebration roaring all around me (I love quiet), and having been familiar from personal experience with Gwangung even prior to coming to Taiwan, I just didn’t feel comfortable accepting any invitations. So several times the past few days I politely declined them or even evaded those good people who I thought might invite me… which I  really felt discouraged doing. And went swimming instead.

Anyway, that was the main source of discouragement I felt today. Add two other sources of discouragement: 1) major snags in procuring a visa for an all-expense paid trip to Shanghai to join two friends for the Shanghai portion of their 30th anniversary Asian tour—I’ll probably have to cancel on them. 2) Receiving a 3,000 NT fine in the mail for speeding on the highway a few weeks ago when I was nearly falling asleep. My mood went from bad to worse.

God encouraged my spirits with something else strange and unexpected which I also received in the mail: a very belated Christmas present! A stateside church member had intended to mail me a gift last year, but it lay forgotten in the car and the kindly person in question kept forgetting and procrastinating through the year all the way until mid-August!

Anyway, God couldn’t have arranged for the generous and thoughtful gifts to come at a more appropriate time… just when I was feeling most isolated and detached from the local community. Now, celebrating Jesus’ birthday on Gwangung’s birthday, I feel encouraged again. Tomorrow I’ll be out making the rounds chatting with friends and acquaintances in the community again to make up for lost time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Typhoon Disaster Said to be Worse in Scope than 921 Earthquake

Conversations I’ve had with different Taiwanese friends the last two days have revealed that in the popular mindset the havoc wreaked by typhoon Morakot is larger in scope than I initially realized. Everyone I talk to in my neighborhood says they believe it’s worse than the horrific earthquake back on Sept. 21, 1999, which I experienced a couple of years after arriving in Taiwan.

Being an earthquake, I felt 921 to great effect way up in Taipei where I was living at the time. The flooding and landslides wreaked by Morakot, in contrast, were only apparent to those unlucky enough to be struck by them, so it’s harder for me to be aware of their condition without physically being there.

The typhoon disaster relief stories I’m hearing now are beginning to stir up memories for me of the aftermath of the 921 earthquake. Today reading the blog of a foreigner who with a friend travelled down south to volunteer, I’m reminded of how I volunteered several times in the days and weeks following the 921 earthquake. Basically, while I gave a few people rides and volunteered to help in a tent city twice for several days, the bottom line was that I and my fellow foreign coworkers, not being specialists in the area of disaster relief, weren’t really needed. In fact, I wonder if we might have even been in the way. Going down south to look at destroyed buildings for the most part was just a photo opp, and what they didn’t particularly need in these areas at that time were tourists, however well-intended.

In the aftermath of 921, the Taiwanese quickly adapted to handle the physical clean-up on their own (with the financial assistance they received from foreign governments and on-site foreign specialists). A lot of the help they needed in the camps during the time I was there was administrative, and a functionally-illiterate foreigner wasn’t going to be able to do much good other than to play with the children.

On another note, unfortunately this typhoon has begun to exacerbate pre-existing political tensions the last few days. Grassroots Taiwanese (to which group most of my present acquaintances belong)  blame the KMT government/president for not caring enough about the aboriginal inhabitants who comprise most of the disaster victims down south (For those readers who might not know, Taiwan’s aboriginal population came over in fleets of small boats from China or the Philippines or some other island chain several thousand years ago – no one really knows. The second main wave were those coming from Fujian in mainland China 2 or 300 hundred years ago (whose descendents I am surrounded with here now), while the so called “Mainlanders” only came after they were forced out of China by the communist government in 1949).

Now that the scope of this disaster is becoming clearer, may God continue to empower the people and government of Taiwan to care for their own -- regardless of whether they are aboriginal, mainlander, or grassroots Taiwanese.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Typhoon Morakot Brings the Floodwaters

Typhoon Morakot headed away from Taiwan and off for mainland China already over a day ago, but somebody forgot to tell the rain to leave with it. Pingdong County  in southern Taiwan has had more rain than any other time on record (over 2500 mm since last Thursday) and a few headlines say Taiwan has experienced its worse flooding in 50 years, especially in the south.

Here in Yunlin County, we’ve had 1776 mm of rain so far with at least two more days of rain expected. The field pictured below a minute from my house was formally a watermelon field… now just a water field! There was flooding on the roads in places locally here earlier today, although when I was out again just now the waters have receded a little.

 waterfield waterfield2

Some friends who run a restaurant in Guanziling in Tainan (spa resort area)  have been without power for 4 days already and say some roads there have been washed away again.

A few moments ago I also called my oyster-farming friend in coastal Chiayi, who along with everyone there experienced such financial loss in the last tropical storm. The floods there in his town of DongShi are bad, and he expects even worse news tomorrow when he goes out on his boat to inspect his oyster farm out off the coast. He thinks his loss will be about as much as the 4 year old second hand Toyota Altis he just bought this past month, but, in the Taiwanese spirit, he is taking this loss well since all his family and friends are safe.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bicycling in Taiwan

Cycling is the latest fad to take Taiwan by storm. Who knows how much longer it will remain popular (bowling died a quick death about 10 years ago, leaving dozens of abandoned or converted properties around this part of the island). Anyway, I like to think that me getting into biking is more a result of the suitability of where I’m living now in the countryside, as well as being too old to jump around playing basketball like I might have done in previous years, and not a passing fad.

The bicycle I bought is maybe 1/3 to 1/4 the cost of some of the premium bikes you see so often around here now, but it’s more than enough for my needs. I wanted the black model, but only yellow was available from the factory with the larger frame. I’m just happy to acquire a bike with a 21 inch frame, since most shops don’t carry these.

If the bicycle was a red bike with a bell, a basket, and training wheels or tripod (to borrow a facebook friend’s words) this might be a less boring  picture, but since they requested to see the Giant XTC SE V, here it is!

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Burger King in Taichung

About 7 years ago when I moved to Taichung, I remember my first trip to a local Carrefour where I saw a Burger King restaurant in the food court. All the signs and tables were there, but how disappointed I was to discover that it had recently gone out of business!

Where I live now, there is very little indeed in terms of western food. Although I love Chinese food, the Chinese food available here is not the greatest and the only western food within a half hour of my home is McDonalds, which is not particularly appetizing to me or healthy. 

bkSo imagine my excitement when last month I read about Burger King reentering the Taichung market by opening their new flagship store near the FengJia Night market. I paid them my first (and perhaps only?) visit yesterday (picture at right).

Happily, I also see from the BK web site their second Taichung store is scheduled to open just a 5 minute walk from one of the schools where I sometimes go to study Taiwanese. Since Chinese New Year Taichung has both a Costco and now BK again. I can enjoy them occasionally but it’s nice healthwise to have a good buffer in between them and me!

Language Gaffes

Yesterday when I was studying Taiwanese I made two language mistakes that are rather indicative as to how difficult this language is to an (aging) western learner (Actually, I’m sure I made many more but these were the two that stuck out).

First, I read a prayer which should have been addressed to choân-lêng ê Pē (Almighty Father). Instead, however, I added a nasular tone to the second word,   * thus addressing my prayer to “Almighty Illness” or “Almighty Sickness”!

Later I made a similar mistake as I was reading a story about a superlative thief who deftly climbed over a chhiû*-á (wall or fence) when I thought I was saying he had climbed a chhiū-á (tree).

I doubt I’ll ever get beyond these nuances, but at least I’m having fun with the language and can share some simple stories and conversation with Taiwanese friends and acquaintances.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dedicated Bicycle Lanes in Northport

Now that I’m regularly riding on my new moderately-priced 21 inch frame Giant XTC SE V bicycle, it’s reassuring to know that in BeiGang they’ve recently added dedicated lanes for bicycles. No matter where I looked, the scenery was similar (last week on the blogosphere I saw a similar post regarding lanes in northern Taiwan).

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Thankfully, there are unobstructed countryside lanes and paths in the rice fields and along the coastline that run for miles once you’re out of town. I’ll never be one of those cycling around the island, but one morning last week I biked 54 km to Dongshi in Chiayi with some friends and have been out several mornings for rides half that far this week on my own.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More Wind Generators

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Over the past couple of years driving to and from Taipei on the #3 freeway, I’ve appreciated the Taiwan government’s desire to be “green” by stationing wind generators on the coast  halfway between Taichung and Taipei. I saw some out on Penghu last summer, and read again recently about more generators having been added elsewhere on island.

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But I wasn’t expecting to discover them practically in my own Western Yunlin backyard when, heading to the coast west of here for the first time in a half year or so,  I spied several new wind generators (those pictured here).

I observed 4 or 5 units not yet in operation, but the project sign below said the plan is for 14 generators to eventually be in operation in this location.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Raining on Today’s English Club

Early this morning I was unhappy to not be able to take my brand new bike on a 4 hour round trip bike trip with some friends to Dongshi in Chiayi County due to the threat of inclement weather. I was especially unhappy about the trip’s cancellation when the weather this morning turned out to be just fine! That changed this afternoon just before my afternoon English club for neighborhood kids… the rains began coming down resulting in a reduced attendance of 8 kids with one parent.

It went well though. Last week for the short bible story segment I began using a new set of bilingual children’s stories for kids which relate events from the viewpoint of animals (a lion001 hungry lion’s view of the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den; an elephant’s perspective of the Noah flood story. The English is simple with Chinese above it, and there’s no more than a sentence or two for each beautifully illustrated page.

Today I’m sure it wasn’t lost on the kids that when we got to the part of the Noah story about the rains coming down, exactly that started happening outside to dramatic effect!  I added the part about the rainbow since the storybook didn’t share about this symbol of God’s promise.

We went on to a book about numbers and finished the class. The rains stopped. After the last 3 kids were picked up, when I was riding my scooter home, there ahead of me above the wide road was a beautiful rainbow with one end of the arc coming down just over my house. For any of the kids who were outside at the time, I’m sure this visible representation of God’s promise which we had just talked about wasn’t lost on them either.

Story Telling, Story #2

I wrote in my last entry about the opportunity to practice sharing the first creation story with 11 people the first week back from the conference about story telling. I’ve moved on to a simplified Taiwanese version of the second creation story in Genesis 2.

Although I’m still not able to tell either story without peeking down at the written Romanized spelling every couple of lines, at least my delivery is getting smoother and pronunciation understandable to local Taiwanese speakers. I’ve already been through the second story with 6 people (2 adults and 4 children) in two separate tellings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible time-wise to have the desired interaction and feedback with most of them this afternoon in the second telling. But I’m encouraged that my attitude so far has been to  加油 (add oil) rather than give up.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

11 People Heard the First Creation Story So Far This Week…

Last week my colleagues and I attended seminars on bible story-telling at an annual conference for workers from different Christian mission organizations and churches. When just beginning to tell stories, we were encouraged to just be willing to give it a try no matter how imperfect the initial effort. The goal is then to make sure the listener got the details right, and to gather feedback in order to improve.

About 6 months ago I began studying basic Taiwanese versions of some New Testament stories. Although I went through the lessons in class, my intermediate language ability left me feeling inadequate to tell the stories. Anyway, even though I’m not telling stories the way our speaker recommended (I’m trying to memorize and sneaking peaks at the written story instead of visualizing), the last few days I made the goal to start trying harder.

Two weeks ago I began studying vocabulary related to some Old Testament stories. So last Saturday I shared the first creation story in Taiwanese with a mother and son who came early to my English Club. Then today I shared with my friend Roger at the Middle School, who gave me very constructive and helpful feedback and repeated the story back to me. Surprisingly, he then invited me to share with the 8 junior highers whom I met with at the middle school’s summer school English Club.

11 people have heard the story so far in less than a week… Not a bad start, even if my Taiwanese story telling skills leave much to be desired! At least I’ll be able to tell the story of God’s creative Word better in the future because I’ve started telling people now as best as I’m able. Next week I’m going to back to the other book and try to start sharing some of those Taiwanese bible stories  a bit more proactively as well.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yet Another Pet Bird Entry….

birds2 About 6 weeks ago my new friends who raise exotic birds gave me two baby cockatiels to add to my ever-growing bird collection. Here’s another shot of what they looked like during the hand-feeding period. 

bird3 Later that very same week, dorm parent friends from Morrison Academy in Taichung called me about taking a Indian Ringneck they found which was not convenient for them to take care of. It’s a much smarter, gentler bird than the other two I’ve raised and can say a lot. At left is a pic from the very first day I picked it up. My friend Annie sure has a big mouth!

Finally, here’s a shot of the whole brood from 3 weeks ago or so… birds

Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Dispose of Dead Dogs and Cats in Rural Taiwan

Last week a friend told me of seeing a dead cat being hung in a bag from a tree on their street. Without me saying anything, that same week a teacher related a Taiwanese saying of disposing of dead dogs by throwing their bodies in rivers or streams, while hanging dead cats in trees:  死貓吊樹頭  死狗放水流。

影像016 Well,it’s not just a saying! This morning  I saw another dead cat in a bag dangling from a tree this morning while prayer walking in my teammate’s community.

Just now I googled “dead cat”, “dog” and “Taiwan” where I found, written in 1998, the article  Humankind and Catkind--The Evolution of a Relationship:

Another custom which reflects the bad image cats had in the past is "hanging dead cats from a tree." In some places in the Taiwan countryside, it has been the tradition that cats are not buried after death to rest in peace, but are hung by the neck in the woods. Oddly enough, this is said to be due to the purring sound cats make when they are feeling content. Shin Dai says that people from her small hometown think purring is the sound of troubled breathing, indicating that cats carry illness. Therefore, after a cat dies they insist on tying a rope around its neck to prevent the germs from getting out.

There are still people in rural central and southern Taiwan who hold these beliefs-which arose to try to protect people's health but, ironically, are now seen as unhealthy superstitions of people from the sticks. In March of this year, the China Youth Corps undertook a survey (at the behest of the Environmental Protection Administration) in which they discovered more than 20 instances of "hanging dead cats from a tree and putting dead dogs in the river" in villages within a five-minute bus ride of the city of Changhua. Overall, in two months of field work, they discovered 214 such cases in various towns and villages, most of which were in Changhua, followed by Yunlin and Tainan counties.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stolen Jasmine Plant

In September 2007 shortly after first settling in here, I blogged about the flowers on my water lilies mysteriously disappearing time and time again. Finally, I moved them off the porch, after which they quickly died because I forgot to water them. After refraining from putting any kind of potted flower plant on my front porch for the past year and a half, earlier this month I bought two Jasmine plants. Unfortunately, sometime during the last couple of days,  someone swiped one!

None of my neighbors have problems with plants disappearing, and they have a lot more (and lot prettier) plants than I do. Why is someone singling out the foreigner? Maybe because I don’t do as  good a job taking care of my plants and they think I won’t miss it?

I don’t have any solid proof, but I have a hunch it might be some kid from the neighborhood, maybe one from a special needs family as we have several around here.  I want to care more about their family situation than about the plant. But I’m praying that the plant issue might lead to a deeper conversation about things that really matter.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Another Assist from Mango, the Divinely-Appointed Church Planting Bird!

In previous posts (search on “yellow bird”) I’ve discussed how the yellow and orange love bird, since codenamed “Mango” in Taiwanese, has been one of God’s secret agents in helping me to get to know people here: Mango flies away, 3 months later reappears, 6 months later someone elses’  pet bird escapes and comes over to visit Mango, etc.-- all leading me to meet people in the community.

sick mango Well, unfortunately 3 days ago Mango developed acute respiratory problems and has been increasingly stretching herself out vertically up the side of her cage to minimize wheezing ( see pic). A little surprised she was still around to see the light of day this morning, and knowing that vets here do not treat birds, I nevertheless finally made an attempt to find a vet who could help her.

The vet two townships over where my coworkers live referred me to a shop that sells and treats pigeons two doors down. In actual fact, I discovered they also breed and export in small quantity exotic birds to a few other Asian countries!

Very very cool… after getting the medication for the bird, I stuck around for an hour or two conversing with the family and learning all about their passion for birds. They insisted on giving me two very small baby cockatiels as a gift which I’m not sure I’m happy to have or not, being as I’ll be baby cockatiel hand-feeding again for at least the next 3-4 weeks.

Later in the afternoon, the couple brought their 2 kids over to my town for the elementary school English Club that meets in my house. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of other opportunities to share in Taiwanese, Mandarin, and a little English as our friendship develops. In summary,  God continues to use “little yellow” Mango, the church-planting bird to assist in the beginning stages of the work here.

5/18/2009 Appendum: Alas, there won’t be any more assists from Soai-a (Mango). The respiratory infection finally did her in this afternoon. :-(

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Identical Dish Sets

This evening I went over to a local rice shop for dinner. When I sat down to eat, I was surprised to see they served my dinner on a regular glass plate (unusual for this kind of casual rice shop).

DSC00058 Not only that, I was especially surprised to see that the plate was exactly like those I use at home,  handed down to me when my grandmother moved out of her house into a nursing home 13 years ago. Those plates are probably much older than that! The owner confirmed hers were at least 20 years old.  I told her I would make her restaurant my “2nd home” and she told me she would be my “2nd grandmother.” DSC00059

Anyway, the back of both sets (see pics) confirms they are “Stoneware Hearthside Cumberland”,  made in Japan- not Taiwan and not Eastern North Carolina. Small world!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Affirming and Confronting our Cultural Legacies

In chapters 7 and 8 of his recent bestseller Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell analyzes airplane crashes:  “The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication.” (p. 184).

One example that illustrates the above principle which is studied regularly in flight schools is the Colombian airliner Avianca flight 052 which crashed in New York in 1990. The superficial cause of the crash was fuel exhaustion. But when one listens to the transcript, it becomes painfully obvious (comical if it were not a tragedy) that the real cause was “mitigated speech”.

The first officer was Colombian. Culturally speaking, Colombians have a high power distance index (PDI). In plain English, that means they have high regard for authority, they remain polite and they are easily intimidated. This leads to “mitigated speech” in which critical information may be neither clearly nor directly communicated. On this particular flight the first officer was being so polite and deferential to the traffic controller, he never got the point across that his plane was experiencing an emergency! Instead, the first officer continued speaking in his cultural language right up until the moment of death.

Next, Gladwell discusses a rash of Korean airplane crashes in the not-too-distant past and a glaring cultural factor behind those crashes. In Korean culture, hierarchy is everything. In greeting, drinking, smoking, and all other social behavior absolutely everything is conducted according to hierarchical ranking.

Unfortunately, in the world of aircraft, this mentality led to an ridiculous rash of airplane crashes! As one Korean air pilot puts it, the sensibility in many Korean airline cockpits is that the captain is in charge and does what he wants, when he likes, how he likes, and everyone else sits quietly and does nothing.” When someone else goofs, the captain hits them with the back of his hand.  And when the captain goofs, no one else dares correct him in an unambiguous manner (lest he be slapped with the captain’s hand too). For him to speak out directly would violate the culture. Unfortunately, in the example cited in the book, that led to the plane crashing into the side of a mountain!

Thankfully, the larger story of the Korean Airline had a happy ending. The airline company successfully took the same group of middle-aged pilots “out of their culture” and “re-normed” them: By way of summary, the author asks:  “Why are we so squeamish? Why is the fact that each of us comes from a culture with its own distinctive mix of strengths and weaknesses, tendencies, and predispositions, so difficult to acknowledge? Who we are cannot be separated from where we're from — and when we ignore that fact, planes crash.”

I’ll conclude this entry by asking how “affirming and confronting our cultural legacies” applies to our mission organization here in Taiwan.  A few years ago we covenanted to work together in teams to reach Taiwan’s working class.

But there have been a few developments since then. I’ll only mention one here: never before has our small collection of international workers been so ethnically diverse. Presently our field is composed of Canadian Vietnamese, American Vietnamese, Canadian and American Cantonese, Korean Americans, and plain old Caucasian Canadians and Caucasian Americans. In the near future, we’ll have Taiwanese coworkers again (hope I’m not missing anybody!).

Let’s start with the Caucasian group first. What cultural legacies might we need to identify and come to grips with?

One might be the Western cultural tendency to glorify  “freedom” and “individuality” , which is rooted in Western modernistic and post-modernistic thought. D.A. Carson, in Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (p. 113) quotes Richard Bauckham: "In the Bible freedom is understood to be liberation from slavery to serve the living God, whether the paradigm is the Exodus or the freedom from sin and its entailments as promised by Jesus. But under the Enlightenment, the pursuit of freedom became the quest for human autonomy. And we could add that under the Enlightenment's bastard child, post modernism, it becomes easier still to cast off the remaining constraints, because these constraints have no final absolute significance....” See also David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers, p. 138: "The combination of a modernized social fabric and the Enlightenment ideology which took root in it until relatively recently produced, as we have seen, the autonomous self. This is the self which is not subject to outside authority and into which all reality has contracted itself. The result is a radicalized individualism whose outlook is deeply privatized...Here’s an aspect of our cultural legacy the strengths of which we need to to affirm and the weaknesses maybe to confront. How does it impact our ability to work together? Are we willing to change?

With respect to our Cantonese coworkers, what might we want to affirm and/or confront? Gladwell credits the success of the Chinese to the cultural legacy of hard work and dogged perseverance dating back to centuries of farming rice paddies, which are 10 to 20 times more labor-intensive than a similarly sized wheat or corn field. Chinese historically have linked hard work to success in many of their proverbs. What other aspects of their cultural legacies would our Cantonese coworkers here  want to affirm or confront?

I don’t know much about Vietnamese yet, other than having had a Vietnamese roommate one year in college. He was a former fighter pilot who stayed up every night until 2 or 3 studying. He also knew the value of hard work! What other cultural legacies are at play here that lead to or prohibit success?

Whatever the group, Gladwell's broader point is that there are no real outliers. Successes “are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. Success is grounded in a web of advantages and disadvantages, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky -- but all critical to making them who they are.''

Will we be successful in our team-based church planting strategies to reach working class peoples? To rephrase it in “Outliers” language, will we be able to successfully take the same group of largely middle-aged international Christian workers (read: “missionaries”) out of their native cultures to “re-norm” them?  To rephrase Gladwell: Cultural legacies matter. They are powerful and they persist. But these legacies are not an indelible part of who we are.  If we are honest about where we come from and are willing to confront those aspects of our cultural heritage which do not suit our common mission --- just as the Korean air pilots were willing to confront those aspects of their culture which did not suit the world of aviation -- we can thrive!

Friday, April 24, 2009

New Countryside Acquaintances

Last week I made a few more new friends here in Western Yunlin while participating with the team on an outing.

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  In scripture Jesus tells us on the one hand not to judge, but in the very next sentence never to do throw our pearls before swine, lest they turn against us and trample us. Would that restriction include our little friend at left?

 

ox2 oxThe water buffalo started getting too friendly as it really wanted me to keep rubbing its head!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Harmony versus the Highest God

An important cultural value here is to avoid decisive subjects such as politics and religion in order to maintain harmony on the surface between people. For example, the other day a coworker had a conversation with a taxi driver up in the city.  The conversation was about how one must go to so see so many different temples to seek out so many different gods in order to find answers to specific problems, etc. My coworker’s probing question was, if one could talk to the highest God over all the other gods instead of going to see each and every individual god, then wouldn’t this save a lot of trouble? The taxi driver was uncomfortable with the direction of this question so the conversation basically ended right there. But maybe God’s Spirit will bring that seed to life.

The Strip-Tease of Religion

Night before last I was driving home in the countryside and from a distance saw a performance in progress at a local countryside temple. My Taiwanese passenger matter-of-factly responded, “Oh, it’s a striptease performance.” IYesterday I asked a teacher about them and read a few online blog articles. These strip-tease performances are common at some weddings, funerals, and major temple celebrations (such as the god’s birthday party, which is probably what was in progress that night). And yes, the strippers do take it all off, at least some of the time, and even let the men touch.  (maybe a Taiwanese reader of this blog can provide helpful insight as to the religious significance of these performances).

Whenever identified as a Christian, a common response we hear in rural Taiwan (well, anywhere in Taiwan, for that matter) is that “all religions are good”, “all religions are the same”, etc. because they all espouse standards of morality, encourage people to upright living, etc.  Are they really the same?

Historically in the Christian tradition both the body and sex have from time to time mistakenly been denigrated as being “evil”. Only the spirit is good, our spirits will eventually go to heaven, sex is bad, etc.

Wrong! In truth, God created our bodies. He intends for us to enjoy them in the proper way, with the proper person, at the proper time, to eat right, exercise, take proper care of our bodies, etc.  Part of the good news then is: our bodies are good! Therefore, we don’t want to denigrate or abuse or mistreat them. We want to respect ourselves and others because this is the way God made us.

In actual fact, even Jesus Christ, resurrected from the dead, now positions Himself at the right hand of the Father in a transformed human body. Furthermore, those who go to be in the future with him will not be disembodied spirits; they too will have bodies. We are created in the image of God. Our bodies then are good.

How then to respond to the comment “all religions are good, all religions are the same?” Those who follow Jesus have certainly messed up over certain historical periods in their own way (see “Crusades”), and each and everyone of us have our secret and not-so-secret warts of which we are not so proud today. Some individual Christians even turn away from God to attend strip-teases, etc. But as far as I’m aware, Christian weddings, funerals, or Christmas celebrations (birthday of Jesus) do not include strip-teases as part of the formal celebration event. So whether it’s this particular issue, or some other, if we say that Buddhism and Taoism, Christianity, Falungong, etc. are really all the same, are we being fair? Are we not disrespecting the nuances and distinctives of each and every one of these world views as we reduce and assimilate them into one nebulous faith concept? Aren’t we just teasing ourselves?

World Religions/World Views individually promote their own way of doing things and seeing the world, atheism and relativistic pluralism included. They each have their own system of do’s and don’ts.

I’m so glad I follow a person, Jesus. Following Jesus is not about following a system of do’s and don’ts in itself. It’s not about enforcing a set of rules, of forcing that set of rules on others, of abolishing traditional cultures, world views, and celebrations. In actual fact, Jesus liberates me from all doing and not doing just for the sake of the rules themselves. Rather, I seek to follow God’s way because that is like following an instruction book that will lead me to a wholer and healthier life with God both now and forevermore. No, I’m not there yet, and I have no desire to dictate my way to others, but I’m wanting to continue walking down that road myself, with whoever wants to come along. I’m following a Person, God Incarnate, risen from the dead.  And for this, I dance and celebrate (with my clothes on, however).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Winning Invoice Numbers

Ever since I arrived on-island back in 1997, I’ve carefully saved purchase receipts and filed them away in my desk. Why?  Some years ago (prior to my arrival, anyway), the government of Taiwan, in an effort to encourage businesses to pay their taxes, began printing numbers on the top of receipts which customers could redeem if they matched one of several winning numbers. This practice encouraged customers to hold businesses accountable who did not give out receipts. See this page for an example of how it looks today.

Today I finally got around to looking at my receipts from last November and December. No, I didn’t win the 2 million New Taiwan dollar grand prize, but I did match 4 of 8 digits, which means I can collect 1000 NT (currently just under $29 US).

No, I’ve never even come close to winning the big money, but I’ve come away at least 3 times with 1000 NT, and 200 NT maybe a half dozen times or so. Yes, this is small money (and they keep reducing the number of winning combinations). I think from time to time about not bothering to save the receipts anymore (a lot of people donate them to charities), but I experience the adrenalin  rush of winning just enough to keep the suspense alive, at least for now…

Anyway, this reminds me of the stories Jesus shares in Luke 15 about the man who went out looking after the one lost sheep that got separated from the 99 others, and the woman who searches after one lost coin among ten silver coins. Both were precious to their owners. In the end, both the man and the woman call together their friends and neighbors, inviting them to share in their joy after what was lost is found. Jesus concludes: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Anyway, I invite the two or three of you who actually bother to read this blog regularly to similarly rejoice with me in my recovered spendings. Dinner and drinks are on me!

 

 

3/12 Update: Oops. I goofed. Today when I went to cash my earnings, I discovered that the last four digits were only countable on the total # from the 1st prize, not the grand prize #. So I only walked away with 200 NT this time. :-( Until recently, all the #’s were counted the same.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Submitting Car Insurance Claims, Taiwanese-Style

Note: What follows is probably not that far off the mark from how insurance claims are sometimes filed in the U.S. or other countries, but Taiwan is the only place I’ve purchased a new vehicle. I’m not trying to be biased here, just report what I’ve heard and experienced.

I took out a year of comprehensive insurance on the new car I purchased last March. Now, with the insurance expiring in 9 days and me not planning to pay out that kind of money a second year, a Taiwanese friend who knows a lot about cars and how the system works here recommended that I have some scratches and a minor dent from where somebody dinged the car removed by having the car shop repaint a door or two, etc. wholly at the insurance company’s expense. After all, that’s what I paid for.

Today when I paid for another year of reduced insurance with a different (local) carrier, I explained to them the situation and showed them the marks on the car. They knew the previous year's insurance was purchased with someone else so I figured I'd get straight answers. They told me, that, just like in the West, any claim would first have to  be reported before any work could be done. But then the XiaoJie took me aside and explained that I could get around this by having a friend come forward to claim falsely that his car and mine were involved in an accident and then have him file with me to get the repairs done for free.

I wasn't willing to go that far, but when I went by the dealer later in the afternoon to ask their take on the same situation, I was told they could repair up to 4 scratch marks/dents, etc. without having to have any claim whatsoever filed. So this is what I am going to do.

Later, I was talking with another friend who told me their friend had been in a situation where a driver hit their parked car, dented it badly, and then fled. Because there was no second car to report, there was absolutely nothing they could do to have the damages paid for. Explaining this to the Laoban of their car shop, he told them to move away from their car. He then rammed his car into their car. Both vehicle owners were then able to file a claim without losing any money.

Interesting how the system works in a place where societal  "rules" are different, where people scratch other peoples’ backs in reciprocal arrangements due to Guanxi relationships.

On a related note, this past week I had some interesting conversations with locals on another topic. The local middle school here has had a very bad reputation for the past 8 years or so, resulting in many, many parents sending their kids to junior high schools in nearby towns. In order to do this, they must 轉戶口 (transfer household registration). When I asked how this was possible, I was told that all that was necessary was to have a friend in another town willing to let them use their address (this must really throw off accuracy in government reporting of population and registration data).

On a second related note, the girl from the car insurance company above who took me aside to explain a possible solution to my problem reminds me of last spring, when I had to pay taxes in a ridiculously high tax bracket (tripling my taxes for the year?) just because I missed being on-island half of the previous calendar year by just a week or so. All the workers at the counter thought this was extremely unfair since I just missed the deadline by a few days, and since my salary came from the United States anyway and so should not have to pay any taxes. The governmental worker disappeared behind closed doors, talked to her boss, came back out again, and took me aside. She then explained that if I chose not to pay that year's taxes, the chances were next to none that I would ever get caught. So that was her recommendation. However, there was a small chance that a customs worker doing a random check at the airport might discover I had not paid, etc. I paid them all the same (especially since I get reimbursed by my organization anyway). The shocker was  being told I could get away without paying by someone who actually worked for the tax office! I guess learning a little Taiwanese these past two years is helping me to assimilate a little more into the culture... Don't want to entirely go native though.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Taiwan MK "brandjacks" Burger King

Former Taiwan MK Caleb Kramer, now in college back in the United States,  recently drew some attention after successfully brandjacking Burger King on twitter. Google "Burger King" and his name, or read on his blog about some lessons he learned.

Chinese New Year Banner Distributions

banner

Prior to and during Chinese New Year, our team gave away hundreds of 春聯 (Chun1Lian2 -- Spring Festival Couplets) with Beautiful News about Jesus Christ written on the back.

Compared to my teammates, who passed out more than 300 in the township where they live, I gave away relatively few (partly due to being sick with a stomach virus beginning a few days prior to the New Year).

However, this afternoon I was still hopeful that God could still miraculously take advantage of what I distributed in a way that might change lives. Today one little girl from a single-parent household told me she would be sure to put her banners up in her bedroom. Maybe she'll hold onto them, years from now taking another look at what's written on the back. Or maybe God's Spirit will lead someone else in her family to check them out. Anyway, it was a pleasure to bless kids in this way in the school and in the neighborhood.

Western Yunlin Clam Harvest

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The Wednesday before Chinese New Year, Roger Lu, Director of Academic Affairs at a nearby Middle School where I volunteer, invited me to come watch the clam harvest on his farm about 20 minutes southwest of here on the coast.

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After the clams are dregged up off the bottom of the ponds, the living clams are hand-separated from empty shells.

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The living clams are hosed down and filtered through grates of various width in order to sort by size. Then, they're packed into bags and trucked off (Sadly, there's a lot more to this process than I can remember now having waited more than a week to write up this blog entry).

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Roger hired locals to help bring in the harvest, selling his clams to a seafood wholesaler in Kaohsiung County.

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He did not turn much of a profit his first 3 years of learning the trade. But the last 5 years or so he's done very well. This year, in fact, he brought in bigger and healthier clams than most other farmers.

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Roger attributes his success to the special attention he pays to maintaining balance in his pond ecosystem. image

In addition to clams, Roger raises shrimp and fish in his three ponds.

In addition to here in Western Yunlin County, clams are grown in salt water ponds along the coast in Tainan to the south and ChangHua to the north.

(All Pictures Courtesy of Lorne White)