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.