Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eight days until xmas

Today is Wednesday and christmas is next Thursday. This christmas is going to be a lot nicer and warmer than the last one. Last christmas we had just arrived in Taiwan, knew almost no one, needed jobs, didn't have a permanent address, were running out of money, and the wind blew cold and bit at us. This christmas will be spent with friends. There will be stockings and gifts and a special christmas dinner. I think it will be one of the nicest christmases in years.

Andrea and I are almost finished the marathon we have run to reach the point where we can submit our application for a spouse visa for her. We will be travelling to Taipei this weekend for the Taipei marathon and afterwards Andrea, John, and Laura will return to Tainan while I stay on in the capital for another day so that I can pay a visit to the Australian high commission in Taiwan on Monday and submit our application package. It has been a big project. Besides the actual application forms, we had to prepare all sorts of evidence in support of the legitimacy of our claim to be in a de facto relationship: photos, emails, a timeline, statements of intent, statutory declarations from witnesses, proof of having lived in Korea and living in Taiwan, passport photos (of course), the address of my blog, copies of identity documents, etc, etc. And it is going to cost us AU$1420 for the pleasure of applying, with no guarantee of anything; they may well reject our application.

It looks like another beautiful day outside; good for checking a couple of my favorite websites!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hualien, Taroko, and the International Marathon Part 4

The next morning dawned clear and fresh in the mountains of Taroko and Hualien. Well, by clear I don't mean the sky as much as the air and the spirit of the place. We stood upon the rooftop and enjoyed the scenery.

Eventually the time to depart came to us and we had to say our goodbyes and thankyous to Mister and his family. The woman in the photo above is Gina's aunt. She cooked us dinner on both nights that we stayed with the family and they were very generous and looked after us well.

Before long we were back on the train heading home.

I really like this shot of us curled around the frame of the doorway. We look so.. curved here. I don't think I could be accused of poor wordplay if I said that I thought that Andrea looked particularly curvaceous in this photo.

The sky, the water, the mountains. All passing by as we settle into a sleep from which we will awake later and wonder if it was all just a dream.

Hualien, Taroko, and the International Marathon Part 3

John and Andrea were on their run and wouldn't be finished for a long while. I hung around near the staring point for a while, watching the runners file through and watching the people watching the runners file through. I didn't know when my race was supposed to start but I was keeping an eye on all the other people who were wearing a number. As these numbered individuals drifted away toward the other inflatable arch I also made my way there. There was no way I could have been confused about where my run was going to start. After a bit of talking from some guys in suits on a raised podium, the starting guns fired and we were off. "We" were all kinds of people: mothers or fathers pushing babies in strollers, dogs on leashes, Taiwanese, Americans, Canadians, and other assorted foreigners, boyfriend-girlfriend couples, and people who were obviously unfit for a longer run let alone as many as five kilometres. Everyone looks so fresh and excited and happy. It won't last long. You may note that despite having only run a kilometre or so at this stage, there are people who are already walking. In fact, there were people who never ran and walked the whole way. Oh well, good on them for doing something. It certainly is a magnificent place for a walk. The water and sponge station. Sponges for a fun run? To be fair, the sponges were probably used more by the long-distance runners who had already passed by but there were many fun-runners, I'm sure, who sponged themselves just because the sponges were there. The organisers or sponsors had enlisted a couple of professional Kenyan runners who, not surprisingly, both came first in their respective male/female categories. I'm sure that they were expected to win and were there to headline the whole show. The Kenyan runner was the first of the competitors in the full 42km marathon to reach the finish-line. Although running twice as far as John and Andrea, he managed to overtake them at some point in the latter stages of the run. Here are Andrea and John about to cross the finish line after running 21km. After crossing the line they found a shady spot and sat down. Andrea was feeling nauseous but John seemed to recover pretty quickly. They collected their complimentary lunches, having run the longer distance. My measly five kilometres hadn't earned me a lunch but Andrea's nausea put her off her lunch box and I was quite the gentleman in offering to eat it on her behalf. There followed a period of much resting and laying about, doing very little of anything besides remarking on the physical toll the run had taken on their bodies. It was turning out to be quite a hot day and the heat was not helping with Andrea's condition. We caught one of the buses back to the station where we were collected by taxi and ferried on to Gina's aunt's place. It will come as no surprise when I say that it was a fantastic experience for John and Andrea to have showers and change clothes and sit down with a drink and just relax. I felt as though I hadn't really earned the right to complain about my legs or my feet. Well, I guess I didn't really have anything to complain about anyway, unlike the other two who sported the wounds of long-term chafing in all sorts of wonderful places about their persons. That night we were joined in our room by Mister who bought his guitar along for a sing-song. And sing we did, all quite badly apart from Mister who played the guitar and sang at the local church on a regular basis. I managed to belt out a rendition of Gandhara (the song played over the closing credits of Monkey), and a couple of my other faves. Mister was particularly keen to hear me sing the theme to an animated children's show called Alias the Jester after John explained to him that it was a traditional Australian song that families in Australia liked to sit around and sing together. Perhaps the truth would have been more difficult to explain. WARNING: While the first of these two short movies showcases Mister's skill and passion with his guitar, the second contains images of singing and dancing that may disturb and potentially embarrass the weak-of-constitution. You have been warned.

Hualien, Taroko, and the International Marathon Part 2

We awoke in the dark when somebody's alarm went off and got ourselves ready to run: breakfast, ablutions, and dressing the part. John and Andrea managed to find Mister in the house somewhere (after waking other persons unknown) and he was soon driving us to the marathon collection area. A constant stream of ordinary people who had become recognisably marathonesque for the occasion were being shipped in large buses from the collection point to the marathon site inside Taroko National Park. We joined the stream and were soon whisked away in the swiftly flowing stream and were spat out at the other end amidst the looming dark of the mountains in the very infancy of the new day. Posing for a photo while waiting in a queue for a bus at the collection point. John and Andrea, excited to have finally arrived at the place and day of the marathon, anticipating the big event and wondering where the starting line is. At this point we still weren't quite sure where the race was supposed to start from as there were two of these large inflatable arches installed on different roads. We would discover later that one was the origin of the half and full marathons while the other was the origin of the fun run. The one in this picture turned out to be where Andrea and John would be starting their race shortly. Removed slightly from the Taroko Visitor Centre and anything else, a bank of portable toilets had been set up on the side of the road against a backdrop of scenic grandeur. It was one of the nicest queues for a toilet that we've ever been a part of, as you'll see in the next photo. A very nice place to use the toilet; I guess that's why Andrea went twice. John asked somebody for information about where and when the race was supposed to start and so he and Andrea were there when the starting gun was fired and the mass of Adidas/Nike/New Balance/Saucony/Asics-clad humanity thronged through the inflatable archway at a walking pace. Those who tried to run found themselves running at the same pace as others next to them who were walking. You don't really run at the start of a big marathon: you move forward at a pace that mitigates against being trampled. Not long after leaving, the mass of Adidas/Nike/New Balance/Saucony/Asics-clad humanity were returning from wherever they had been, albeit now running and not so much a throng as a long narrow stream. [to be continued]

Hualien, Taroko, and the International Marathon Part 1

Andrea had been training for months for the international marathon that was to be held in Taroko National Park. The date of the marathon had been set for November 1st, a Saturday. Andrea and I both asked for the Friday off work so that we could travel up to the north of the island the day before the race. Our friend John also took the day off work and came with us. He and Andrea had been running together on many a morning in preparation for the 21km run they had committed to. Andrea had been following a training regimen that involved them running five days a week for progressively longer distances. They had started running about 5km and by the final two weeks were running 19km. They were ready. I was also ready... for my 5km run. I had entered into the fun run in order to be a part of the big event but wasn't harboring any grand ambitions. We took the high-speed rail (HSR) train up to Taipei and caught another train eastwards to Hualien county. On this map (taken from this website) you can see Tainan county on the south-west coast and Taroko National Park on the north-east coast, about as far as you could have to travel to get somewhere in Taiwan. After debarking from the train at Hualien we walked out of the station and straight to the Hualien visitor centre where we collected our marathon run bibs (the numbers you pin to your front and back), samples of sport/health-care merchandise (for example, abrasion-reducing patches), and other paraphernalia. After signing in and confirming that we had arrived and collected our marathon packs, we headed outside to wait for our pickup. Luckily for us, Andrea's co-teacher Gina had an aunt and uncle living very close to Taroko National Park and they were very generous in letting us stay with them for the two days we were going to be in the area. Gina's uncle was a taxi-driver and soon rolled up to the station looking for us. As it turned out, Gina's uncle and aunt were aboriginal Taiwanese and lived in a small village close to the mountains (but then everything is close to the mountains once you get into Hualien). After arriving and setting up in a small room on top of their house, Mister (we just called him Mister) showed us around the village and explained a few things to us. Here he is next to the river that runs by the village. The water in the river is apparently clean enough to drink as is. In fact, it is probably cleaner than our filtered water in Tainan. The whole place was beautiful; clean air; clean water; people close to the landscape around them; mountains looming up around us. Wonderful. A far cry from Tainan where the natural landscape has been severely shaped and manipulated, often beyond any semblance of resemblance (nice turn of phrase if I do say so myself, and I do) to what came before. And the mountains! The further peaks are obscured by the drifting clouds. That night we ate dinner with the family and then tried to get some sleep knowing that the big day, anticipated for so long, would already be underway by the time we awoke in the morning.