Saturday, January 24, 2009

Off to China

The last two weeks have been very busy and so will the next. My two-week vacation started at about 4:30 pm yesterday when I finished work. I had been doing oral testing this week and my work schedule was a mess. Outside of my work hours I was dealing with problems with our application for Andrea's spouse visa for Australia. I was also trying to clean the house and making arrangements for my imminent trip to China. Andrea left on Monday and I will leave this morning. I have been so busy that while I am looking forward to going away to China, I am not looking forward to having to make an effort to do anything and I hope that the first couple of days in China will involve a lot of sloth; a good deal of sitting down not having to do anything would be great. I had better go and finish getting ready before the shuttle bus arrives to take me to Kaohsiung airport. Here's to future blogs and bloggers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

When things fall apart

Several components of my milieu conspired to prevent this last week from being relaxing yet dull. On Sunday the alarm system in our apartment spontaneously started letting us know it was there every time we opened the front door by emitting a loud and startling chime reminiscent of the chime that greets me each and every time I walk into a Seven-Eleven. Our alarm system had, prior to Sunday, kept absolutely quiet and let us alone to come and go peacefully. Alas, now we cannot come or go from our apartment without being reminded that we are coming (or going).

On Monday evening, we suddenly lost power to almost all of the electrical outlets in our apartment. The lights and other switches still worked but almost all of our appliances were rendered useless. After a while someone (not me) realised that we could just plug the refrigerator into the one outlet in the house that still worked, serendipitously located just an extension-cable length away from the refrigerator. The following evening we arranged for an electrician to come and have a look. He traced the problem back to the main power inlet for our apartment, located somewhere down in the basement. After the job was done he brought the evidence back to us and I cheerily stowed it away in the television cabinet in the hope that we could convince our landlord to reimburse us for the cost of the repair. Here it is:

So that was Tuesday evening. On Wednesday during my lunch-break I was at my bank close to my school on the other side of the city when I received a call from Andrea. She couldn't get into the apartment and was calling me from our friend John's cellphone in the lobby of his apartment complex. I decided to start home to see if I could have a look and perhaps fix the problem. Meanwhile, John helped Andrea to get into the apartment but shortly I received another call from her telling me that she was unable to open the door to get out of the apartment. When I got back to the apartment I managed to get the door open by leaning heavily on the door while putting pressure on the key as I turned it. But the problem persisted until I happened to notice a small object on the strike plate near the latch bolt. It turned out to be four very small magnetic discs that I recognised from an art project I had taught in my kindergarten class months earlier. How they came to be on the strike plate of our door latch I have no idea but once I picked them off the door returned to its usual cooperative state. Here they are:

That evening I was feeling a little worse for wear, particularly my throat. I had obviously contracted some kind of viral or bacterial infection and it concentrated on making my nose run, the excessive mucous from which ran down the back of my throat, inflaming it, which in turn affected my ability to speak. I was losing my voice again and that is one of the last things you want if you teach kindergarten children. It was bad enough that I sought some kind of convenient medicinal relief and remembered that I had a small bottle of medicine on the shelf next to our bathroom door. My manager at school had given me the medicine last time I had a sore throat, some months ago. It was actually intended for her six-year-old daughter but with the blessing of her doctor husband (given over the phone) she gave it to me to use. On this Wednesday evening I couldn't remember much about it, particularly relevantly, how much to take. I got a soup spoon and poured out a measure of the syrup and tried it. It tasted fine and so I poured and consumed three more doses. Soon afterwards I started to feel very sleepy and decided to call it a day. By the time I was climbing into bed I was already half-asleep. When I awoke on Friday morning I was unable to break out of a strange mental fog that robbed me of the ability to think or act properly. After fighting the retarding fugue long enough to get ready to go to work I had to accept that I was unfit to do much of anything and promptly called in sick. I spent the rest of the morning in bed and woke up to go to work in the afternoon although I suffered some residual effects of the weirdness of the morning. It only occurred to me later that the strange sleepiness that had overcome me was most probably the result of me overdosing on the medicine I took for my throat. In the course of events I did, however, have the best and most restive sleep I have had for a long time and I have since considered taking a bit of that wonderful stuff again to help me sleep.

So that was Thursday.

And then on Saturday, for the first time in a long time, I went to work on Saturday morning and taught all day. Strangely (for me anyway) the Taiwanese government had given us two weekdays off for the new year but expects us to make those days up later by working on the following Saturdays. Luckily for some of us, we were obliged to work only one Saturday. However, the Taiwanese co-teachers must duly attend to their work for a second Saturday which will be next Saturday.

It is now Sunday night and after a two-hour bike-ride around the city and a wonderful chili dinner cooked by that empress of the culinary prerogative, Andrea, I am mentally preparing myself for the Monday that will shortly be dawning upon me. I guess it has been just one more week in Taiwan.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Christmas in Taiwan

The yule tide washed up and over me as I lay on the metaphorical beach, as in the less-than-popular expression "life is a beach and then you die". Christmas day isn't all that christmassy in Taiwan although you can find a range of christmas cards and decorations in many stores and you can find christmas decorations of some sort up on the front of quite a few buildings. But I think the Taiwanese are just saving up their festive cheer for something culturally relevant, by which I mean Chinese New Year, THE celebration of the Chinese calendar. Chinese New Year means two weeks' holiday for us (foreign English teachers) and one week of vacation time for most Taiwanese people apart from those manning 24-hour convenience stores and supermarkets all over the country (poor people). Chinese New Year is a time to shut up shop and go back to your childhood village somewhere in the country where your 90-year-old parents still live and spend the time doing 12 months of catching up.

Anyhow, we have christmas which is oh-so-much more meaningful.

Here we are, christmas eve I think, with wine, chicken, salad, cheese, bread; all the makings of a fine meal. Andrea even lights up a few candles to make special dinners just that: special.

Christmas morning and we get to open our gifts! Here is Andrea wearing her new scarf and earrings and unrelated stocking-socks.

Here I am looking altogether much less dignified than Andrea. A new pair of underwear, a new water bottle, a Scrabble set, a pop-and-catch-the-ball toy, a kitchen dishcloth; everything I could want for christmas. Perhaps what I really need for christmas is a personal grooming consultant to help me lift my game for the sake of photographic posterity.

Christmas dinner with friends. Secret Santa, cheesecake, cookies, wine, turkey, turkey-stuffing, cranberry sauce, a gingerbread house, and so much more. This christmas repast fit the stereotypical christmas feast better than any I had ever had before. Despite determination to guard against overdoing it and eating too much, I overdid it and ate too much. But it was soooo good.
Secret Santa managed to get me something that I had wanted for a long time: a copy of the Planet Earth DVD series! I don't know how Santa knew but he did well. It is a wonderful series and Andrea and I love to sit down and watch an episode and refine our appreciation for the world we live in. Exquisite.

This christmas was a whole lot better than last christmas. Last christmas was just sad while this one actually felt like a celebration of something; turkey perhaps?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Taipei Marathon

A week before christmas, four of us travelled to Taipei for the Taipei international marathon. While the guidebook for the Taroko marathon highlighted the participation of only two world-class marathon runners, both from Kenya, the guidebook for the Taipei marathon had pictures and stats for about 8 different high-level male and female runners from abroad. Was this a sign of something? Was the Taipei marathon going to be bigger and better than the Taroko Gorge marathon? The first thing I have to say about the race was that there were so many people that we didn't cross the starting line until eight minutes after the starting guns were fired. I was expecting that the situation would improve soon but the press of moving people continued to be a problem all the way through the ten kilometres of my run, from beginning to end. Just negotiating the eddies and currents in the flow of runners took a lot of my time and attention. The congestion on the course also meant that I couldn't just take off and exert myself because apart from the odd break or opportunity there were people around me all the time. I crossed the finish line having barely broken a sweat and having not had the opportunity to exert myself enough to generate one. The snack pack that everybody was collecting after the race turned out to be a disappointment: three different kinds of bread or cake. One of the things I look forward to after a run is the food, and eating all three pieces of bakery gave me a stomach-ache. One other thing you look forward to upon crossing the finish line is the opportunity to drink some water but it took me ages to find the water table. The organisers had not hired enough portable toilets and we spent the 20 minutes before the race queueing for the right to relief. Overall the race was a disappointment and I will not be participating in it again. However, we tried staying at a new hotel/hostel in Taipei, the Holo Guesthouse, and it was great. I'm sure we'll be back there but we won't be running any more marathons in Taipei. Here we are outside the Holo guesthouse. From left to right: Myself, John, Laura, and Andrea.