Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Canadian Christmas: prologue

At the start of December Andrea left Taiwan and flew to Canada to begin a month-long stay with her friends and relatives. It was winter, of course, and while the wind was occasionally nipping at our heels in Taiwan it was biting off whole limbs in Canada. It wasn't long before Andrea was telling me about how cold it was back in Canada and that they had received the first snowfall of winter.

North America; Ontario province in Canada

I began my own preparations for the trip to Canada. Andrea would be there for five weeks before returning to Taiwan while I had the lesser luxury of only a two-week vacation. That meant three weeks apart; three weeks for me to do whatever I wanted to do. What did I do? I cleaned the place up and moved things around and generally kept myself busy until it was time to leave. I bought a new vacuum cleaner which has made the job of cleaning our apartment so much more satisfying. Before I left I wanted our apartment to be perfectly clean, much better than it usually was. However, even then I had a feeling that the effect would be lost on Andrea when we arrived back in Taiwan after spending close to twenty-four hours on planes and buses just to get back here; I knew that as soon as we walked into our apartment we would be dumping our luggage and well-travelled belongings on our couches and on our floor and then we would be detonating them in our search for the things we needed, buried deep at the bottom of our bags under sundry items of clothing and christmas gifts, leaving my clean apartment buried under the debris of a successfully completed vacation.

Bobcaygeon is located in the Kawartha Lakes area of southern Ontario (look for the red dot)

We arrived back in Taiwan at about 10pm on Sunday night (the 3rd of January) and faced the prospect of passing through the airport checkpoints before having to find a bus that would take us back to Tainan; we were arriving slightly too late to be able to catch the high-speed train. After a short wait in the airport bus station we were directed outside where we waited with a couple of other passengers for the shuttle van to another bus station. At that other bus station we boarded a large intercity coach bus which took us to central Tainan from where we caught a taxi home to our apartment in An-ping. By the time we walked into our apartment it was about 3:30pm and we were both hungry. We also knew that we were starting work before 9am that same morning. The chance of a freak typhoon causing the cancellation of all schooling was abysmally low so we hunkered down under the covers to make the most of the precious little time we would spend sleeping before a rude reawakening to our Taiwanese reality.

The City of Kawartha Lakes rubs shoulders with the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

I had been to Canada only once before, in the spring of 2007 (northern hemisphere spring time). Andrea and I were working in South Korea in those days and I think our substantial trip to Canada was made possible by the large gap between semesters in the Gyeongsang University English Zone program. We spent five weeks in southern Ontario and Quebec although most of that time was spent close to Andrea's home base in Bobcaygeon. For me the trip gave me the chance to introduce myself into Andrea's world and to be introduced to all the people and places in it. The only thing in Canada that was familiar to me was Andrea and so I guess I was wholly out of place without a rock to fall back on, save Andrea (who would probably be a nice piece of basalt if she were a rock).

An interesting map showing the Kawartha Lakes area water sheds or catchments for the different lakes.

This two-week christmas trip was very different; almost everything was familiar and I had informed expectations and knew what I could look forward to. I actually had a great time in that I was able to let go and immerse myself in the environment and events around me. I was happy to be involved in almost anything that was happening and I really enjoyed being able to spend time getting to know Andrea's friends and relatives and family better. It's not always easy to be content and enthusiastic about being involved in whatever is happening and letting others do all the driving, so to speak, but I feel very happy about how I managed it this time; I might have done much worse in the past. I had a really wonderful time with Andrea's people and I feel quite close to them. I also established a relationship with the 'other side' of Andrea's country, that freezing cold, white winter world that Canada sometimes is, and I'm glad to say that this relationship is healthy and very positive albeit being much a one-way relationship (the Canadian winter probably wouldn't care if I was devoured by wolves in its snow).

Of course, it was all too short. In some ways after five weeks it was time for us to get back to our lives in Taiwan and resume living out our own, self-structured mandates, but I can see so much potential in Canada; there are so many things we didn't do and so many places we didn't go and so many people we didn't meet. I'm already looking forward to our next visit. And after having experienced the snow and freezing cold and learned about how people can manage in such an environment, I can say that I would even be content to visit again in the freezing winter.

Daybreak over Sturgeon Lake. The frozen surface of the lake is textured by the blanket of snow that has fallen on top of the ice. Under the low angle of the light in the early morning a great rippled sea of subtle hills and troughs are revealed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

This wayward blog: why I need to change my MO

This blog was originally intended to serve several aims. First and foremost it was initiated as a log of what was going on in our lives so that anybody who was interested in what we were doing could just check here. It was meant to save me time that otherwise would have been spent writing the same thing several times to several individuals about what we were doing. So the main purpose of this blog was to serve as the answer to the question, "What have you been up to lately?". Well, at first glance it seems to have done that but I now feel that the scope of the enterprise has become quite narrow in a way. The only events that get recorded here these days are travel events of which I managed to take photos. While the posts I construct for the blog are entertaining enough for anyone else, their format has become pretty predictable and restricted in some ways. These days a post begins when I have photos of an event and I write a frame of exposition around them; it no longer begins when I feel that I want to write something or that I think that I have something to write about. And this is where my blog has slowly and subtly left the main line and headed off down a lesser track to destinations predictable. The important point here is that my other big reason for having a blog in the first place was to serve as an outlet for my literary passions and this has been lost in the honing of this blog's MO: this blog started out as a life narrative with a lot of scope for practicing the craft of writing and has somehow shrunk to a photo-travel-narrative.

Everything I write in this blog these days is considered and thoughtful and polished because of the writer's equivalent of performance anxiety. In as much, it is rather formal and doesn't allow me to stretch much or experiment or simply practice writing in whatever form and way I want. I have only just realised that what I need to do is to begin another blog for personal expression and continue Sesquipedaustralian as a record of our time and travels. However, I want to broaden the scope of this blog to include a bit more of daily life and I also want to be able to post without having photos to anchor the trials and tribulations concerned; for example, if we experience a mini-trauma getting plane tickets and I want to write about the experience, then I am not going to have photos to illustrate what I am talking about; yet an experience like that might well be worth writing about and feature as a memorable experience, something we want to remember for better or worse.

So, outcomes...? I will begin another blog purely for personal expression where I can smear the joy of writing all over myself in an orgy of syntactical and grammatical perversion. And I will continue to post here on Sesquipedaustralian but broaden the scope of the content to include our experience of life in general. To be honest I didn't know what I was going to do or say when I started writing this post and I hadn't even thought of starting another blog. I think this post serves as a demonstration of therapy through writing. And I am happy at the prospect of being able to write about nothing in particular (in another place). Sometimes the best thing to do when you don't know what to write about is just to start writing: begin the process by writing anything at all and let your thoughts order themselves in the process. I guess it's a lot like meditation in that way.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Camping at Wushantou (again)

As the year was drawing to a close and Andrea's departure from Taiwan to a Canadian christmas approached, we had time for one last peregrination out of Tainan and into the Taiwanese countryside. It was a beautiful time of year for camping; the heat and humidity had ebbed and made it comfortable enough to sleep inside our sleeping bags while the seasonal changing of the winds was not yet chilling us with hints of Siberian ice. And so we set out on a Saturday morning to cycle to Wushantou, a reservoir and park north-east of Tainan city. This journey has been covered before in this blog and so I'll take this opportunity to post the few, nicest photos that were taken.

Somewhere on the road to Wushantou, this giant gorilla begs for a refill beside a bar/restaurant. Why a giant gorilla? Perhaps the "Don't drink and drive" message was an afterthought and the gorilla was originally communicating something like Cheers! I'm a happy gorilla because I'm drinking beer! Perhaps. It makes a nice distraction for tourists regardless.

The campsite. There was no shortage of space for tent-pitching although we would like to have pitched right about where all those people are standing. There's a good patch of grass there and it's very close to the bathroom, useful for those moonlight urinal serenades.

On the Sunday morning, on our way out of the Wushantou Scenic Area, we stopped for a group shot before a field of flowers.

Just as we were getting back on our bikes we were greeted enthusiastically by this posse of pre-pubescent pedallers. I wouldn't expect anything less, in Taiwan, than enthusiastic greeting.

Just down the road, on the side of the road, corn. Road-side corn. And road-side water-caltrops (the red jester's-hat shape on the sign hanging from the red awning). And it was good corn too. A lovely spot to stop and snack while more water-caltrops where being harvested by water-caltrop farmers in the flooded field immediately to the right.

Temple roofs are a Taiwanese phenomenon worthy of being acknowledged as a tourist attraction in their own right. I'm sure you could write a book about the art, craft, form, history, cultural legacy and religious inspirations of temple roof decorations in Taiwan. This one caught my eye, the central feature occupying pride of place being a giant goldfish with flags sticking out of its back. Ah, Taiwan.