My mom’s baptism

Today my mom was baptized.  God truly works in ways beyond my understanding and I am reminded yet again how small my faith is in His power and belief that He hears our pleas.  I really never thought this day would come.

And it is appropriate that she would be baptized today, Feb. 24, because it is also my father’s birthday.  I did not imagine that anything good could come of his passing, but it was really his loss and then the loss of my mom’s best friend that started nudging her toward God.  If you know my mom, I mean really know my mom, then you would appreciate how much of a miracle this really is.  I am in awe.

Furthermore, two of her brothers and the entire family of her youngest brother attended church today to witness her baptism.  This is the first time any of them have ever attended a Christian church service.  I do wonder what they were thinking during the service.

My mom’s baptism at Bilingual Community Church in Kaohsiung

Jennica pretending to get baptized in the play room at the church


Chinese New Year’s Day

We heard a smattering of fireworks on and off throughout the night last night and during the day today, but it wasn’t loud enough to keep us awake as I feared.  Instead it sounded like gunshots from a distant battle.  Today, since it was the first day of the Chinese new year, Mike and I wanted to see a lion dance, a parade, drummers…anything that might be festive.  In the morning, Mike saw Taiko drummers practicing by the department store (Hanshin) near our apartment so he figured there might be something happening at Hanshin.  We walked to Hanshin around 11:00am and there WAS a noticeable crowd starting to gather by the front, but the stage did not look like it was set up for a performance.  Instead, it was clear that a raffle was being held.  People were in line to buy raffle tickets and there was a shiny new car on display.  Maybe there would also be a performance?  So we waited…

Waiting for the raffle winner

Nope.  Right after the winner was announced the crowd dispersed.  Disappointed we headed inside the department store.  Bingo!  On the first floor we could hear the sound of drums and the crash of symbols.  When we arrived where everyone had gathered we could see lion dancers moving through the department store.  In fact, there were three lions.  Apparently, each store within the department store posts a red envelope somewhere for the lions to take on Chinese New Year’s day.  The lions bring the stores luck, and the performers collect some cash.  It was fascinating to watch as the lions were being directed from store to store and the red envelope was pointed out.  Sometimes it would take several attempts to reach the red envelope if it was particularly high up.  This requires the “head” performer to jump up onto the “rear” performer’s shoulders and balancing to get the red envelope.

A lion visiting Louis Vuitton

Reaching for the red envelope

They did this for every level of the department store and every individual store within it – eight levels total.  It turns out they had two teams of lions – another three lions were working a couple floors above us.  This department store has almost every brand name of cosmetics and high-end purse/clothing company that you can think of plus many, many more that are from Japan or mostly just known in Asian countries.  The team of performers were constantly tag-teaming in to relieve one another.  Overall, an impressive amount of work.  I wonder how much they made that day?

Lions moving to the next floor

(Chinese) New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is the primary “family reunion” day.  If you are a married female, you are expected to spend this day with your husband’s side of the family.  On the second day of the new year wives will go spend time with their side of the family.  Chinese new year celebrations actually last 15 days in total – ending with the Lantern Festival.

Today is also the day to remember your ancestor through “bai bai”.  This is the offering of fruits and foods in front of an altar dedicated to the remembrance of ancestors and then a moment of “bai bai” where incense sticks are lit and given to family members.  While holding an incense stick the family members bow in the direction of the altar and say prayers for their ancestors.  I know there are religious connections to this, but I’m not sure exactly what they are. The family members on my mom’s side are a mix of extremely religious (and I can’t get anyone to tell me the English name of their religion – some type of Buddhism?) to not religious at all, but everyone participates to honor their deceased parents/grandparents.  Afterwards the incense sticks are gathered and placed in front of the altar and when they have completely burned down to the end, the food placed in front of the altar can now be eaten by the family.

Preparing for bai bai

Later that night our family went out for dinner at a restaurant decorated with Taiwan antiques.  I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant and my mom said it really looks the way Taiwan looked when she was growing up.  It is designed so that you feel like you’re outdoors eating at banquet tables on the side of a street, the way weddings used to be celebrated if your family wasn’t wealthy.

How Taiwan used to be…

Chang Family Dinner

Jennica and my cousin’s daughter, Ashley

And of course, the most anticipated part of Chinese New Year’s for a kid is the receiving of “hong bao”, red envelopes, from parents and relatives.  The red envelopes contain money and I remember this part very well from when I was young.  My grandfather used to give me a red envelope when my mom wasn’t around and tell me, “Don’t give this to your mother!”, because he knew all red envelopes are immediately collected by parents for “safekeeping”.  I knew he wanted me to have spending cash so I could buy something I wanted, but he always gave an amount that was way too large for a small child to be carrying around.  And I feared the wrath of my mom quite a bit so it always went straight to her.

Jennica with her “hong bao”

Luckily for us, it was quite easy to put away Jennica’s money for safekeeping because at this age Jennica is only interested in the envelopes themselves.


Preparing for Chinese New Year

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year’s Eve.  I’ve only been in Taiwan for Chinese New Year a few times when I was much younger, so all I remember is the constant ruckus of fireworks, lots of family members around, and general merriment.  This is probably what Jennica will take away from her time here too!

If you are unfamiliar with Chinese New Year, a quick summary is that this is THE most important holiday for the Chinese and it is a celebration of the lunar new year.  Most people get one week off, and for some, it will be the only vacation time they get all year.  Associated with it are lots of traditions, customs, and superstitions.  I’ll give an overview of a children’s book Jennica has that explains the story behind some of the customs…

According to the story, there used to be a monster that slept for 364 days. Then on the day of the new year it would wake up hungry and come down into the villages looking for livestock, crops, and people to eat.  People discovered that the monster was afraid of the color red and loud noises and would use this to scare away the monster.  Therefore, during Chinese New Year, red is seen everywhere and firecrackers are very popular. (And scary!  I saw a procession of cars going down the road the other day and passengers were throwing small firecrackers out the window onto the sidewalk full of pedestrians.  I was on the sidewalk across the street but I could see the sparks from the firecrackers and it certainly startled me!  Everyone else was unfazed.)

Jennica in her new red dress next to a large firecracker decoration at the mall.

It is also custom to post red banners surrounding your doorway with good fortune sayings.  Usually things like, “may your dreams be realized”, “may you have lots of happiness”, etc.

Our neighbor’s red banners

Jennica’s red banners – made in art class (with mom’s help)

The day before Chinese New Year’s Eve is apparently an important day for buying food at the open-air markets.  It is tradition to prepare a home-cooked meal for a large family reunion on New Year’s Eve.  (Although our family will be celebrating in a restaurant this year.)  And it is also important for buying the fruits that will be used for bai bai (paying respects to your ancestors) on New Year’s Eve.  I’ll describe that process tomorrow after we experience it…

Buying fruits for “bai bai”

While at the market I came across an aisle that was blocked by a woman who had her basket of fruit placed on the floor next to her.  She was busy picking out more fruits so I stepped over her basket to move on.  I was immediately chastised by her in Chinese for doing so because it is apparently very bad fortune to step over bai bai fruits.  Oops – now I know.

Anyhow, we’d like to wish everyone “Xin Nian Kuai Le!” (Happy New Year!).

A Typical Weekday

Some of you may be wondering, what exactly does Lani do all day during the week in Taiwan?  Excellent question.  I sometimes wonder that myself when I think, where did my day go?

My morning begins with Jennica waking up and saying, “I need something to eat!”.  Her waking time can range from 7:30am to 8:30am – a little later than she wakes in the US because she goes to sleep later here in Taiwan.  It is impossible to have an early bedtime for her here.  I then get out of bed and give her a slice of bread with cheese, a banana, and make some oatmeal.  Sometimes she asks to go down to the 7-11 downstairs to buy a strawberry yogurt drink for breakfast.

While Jennica is eating breakfast I’m also doing laundry on most days.  We have a very small washing machine so I have to do small loads more frequently.  This means I can actually wear the same 4 outfits over and over and over again which also means I WAY over-packed!  Doing small loads works out well though because we don’t have a dryer so everything is line-dried – and the rack outside can only hold so many clothes.  Since it takes a day for the clothes to dry, I’m limited to a load a day.  If I need the laundry to be dry that night (or I’m tired of wearing crunchy, stiff clothing), I walk half a mile to the laundromat to dry a load.

Depending on the day, after breakfast there is usually something scheduled.  Once or twice a week I meet with Shu-Fern to have a two-hour Chinese lesson.  On those mornings my mom will watch Jennica.  On Tuesday mornings Jennica has her music class, and now she also has art classes on Wednesday mornings.  Both of these are parent/child classes and her cousin Ashley attends with her.  If we have an unscheduled day, we use the day to go exploring Kaohsiung with my mom.  We have a tourist map from the subway station that has “must-see places in Kaohsiung” that we are trying to work our way through.  :)   We walk everywhere.  If a place is really far away, we’ll take the subway or bus.  It is a 1.3 mile walk to get to my cousin’s place from our place and that’s also the general vicinity of Jennica’s classes and all the good places to eat.  On a single day I might walk up to 5 miles just walking to and from our apartment to various places.  This would be great for exercise except that I also walk right by milk tea places and bakeries…

Jennica and I almost always have lunch out with my mom after lessons and after walking around a bit or running a few errands, we’ll head back to our apartment for her nap.  While Jennica is napping I will either A) nap, B) study Chinese, or C) watch a movie on TV.  I’ll let you guess which one of those I do most frequently.  :)

Jennica has recently been napping between 2-2.5 hours so sometimes her naps will take us right up to dinner time.  If she wakes early, we may walk to the playground or go to the department store to play some games or ride the kiddie rides.  If Mike comes home early and Jennica is awake, we’ll try to drop her off at my mom’s so we can go for a jog or go to the gym (this doesn’t happen very often).  Then, we all go out for dinner.  “All” is sometimes just me, Jennica, and Mike, but more frequently includes my mom.  About 3 times a week it also means the extended family.

Night time is when Taiwan really comes to life, so after dinner we like to walk around town a bit and let Jennica run out some of her energy.  This often involves excursions to the department store next door to us.  Finally, Jennica winds down between 9:30-10:30pm and goes to bed.  Usually, Mike and I are exhausted ourselves and follow soon after!

Jennica with her home-made drum, performing a concert in music class

Hard at work on her art project

Final results – Can you tell some parents helped their kid more than others?

At the Science and Technology Museum – some pretty fun stuff in there!

Play-doh fun with Ashley

Shopping In Taiwan

I’ve been trying to learn some Mandarin during our stay here.  Since the only lessons I’ve gone through so far center on shopping vocabulary and expressions, I feel like I should be able to get along fairly well while shopping.  Sadly, that is not the case.

When I purchase something, I arrive at the cashier armed with the phrases: “I want this one”, “how much does this cost”, and “thank you.”  Unfortunately, it’s rare that it’s that simple.  Most of the time, the cashier will look at me and ask a question while ringing me up.  I usually don’t understand a single word of what was asked.  After seeing my anxious and confused expression, he or she will simply hand me my receipt as if the question really wasn’t that important to begin with.  I’ve learned that some of those questions are, “would you like to buy a bag for your purchase,” “do you have a membership card,” “do you have a frequent customer card,” and “do you need the company numbers” (something needed for tax purposes).

Of course, buying my favorite thing here, a pearl milk tea, is especially complicated.  My first time ordering one was greeted with a barrage of questions, most of which I didn’t understand at all.  After several visits, lots of gesturing, and tutorials from Mike and Shu-Fern, at least now I can answer all of them.  “Fresh milk (instead of evaporated milk), small pearls, cold drink, medium cup, half the sugar, regular ice.”  Whew!

I don’t really go out shopping for clothes over here because if I can fit anything at all it has to be XL (the largest they offer), and even then if it has long sleeves or pant legs it is often still too short.  I know there has to be a population of Chinese women that are bigger than me – where do they buy their clothes?  The other day I walked by a clothing store with a sales rack outside.  My mom pulled a pair of pants off the rack that were a steal – $6 (US).  And they were long!  I was so excited, but when I went into the store to try them on, I was told you cannot try on their sale items.  Huh?  I was super glad my mom was there because I would not have understood that by myself (and still don’t understand the logic).  I sadly put the pants back on the rack because the pants were labeled S and really, the odds were not good that my waist would actually fit.

Oh, and I completely avoid looking at shoes. When I ask for a pair that would fit me the sales people just point at my size 9 feet and laugh.

Go Cats!

Okay, so I know this is off-topic since I’m not blogging about Taiwan and Asia, but since it happened while I was in Taiwan, I’ll blog about it anyway.

On January 2, 2013 at around 4:45am (Taiwan Local Time), Northwestern finally snapped it’s 64-year drought and won it’s first bowl game since 1949.  I’ve been waiting 17 years for this day, when in 1996 I had the Cats come home with me to Pasadena during my freshman year to watch them play in the Rose Bowl, only to see them fall to USC.

Since then, we’ve had 9 bowl games… and 9 bowl losses.

But finally, this year, we snapped that streak.

The only thing that makes me sad is that I wasn’t able to actually watch the game — ESPN’s app requires you to have a valid subscription with one of the affiliated cable companies in the US in order to watch games (darn you US cable companies!!!).  But I was up, listening to the game live on streaming internet radio starting at around 3am while Lani and Jennica were asleep.

I was glad I didn’t wake them up with all my hooting and hollering.

Oh, and so was Lani.

Go Cats!

Exercising in Kaohsiung

Since I’ve been in Taiwan I’ve only been jogging twice.  Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan so while there are nice jogging paths, large roads and lots of cars and scooters are also right next to you.  Both times I returned feeling slightly dizzy and like my lungs were full of exhaust.  Ugh.  Not to mention that it’s much harder to jog when I do it so infrequently.  Each run felt like I was running for the first time!

I normally never make good use of a gym membership, but now seemed to be the best time to get one (for the sake of my lungs).  And there is a really nice one conveniently located right across the street from our apartment so we signed up last week. :) While Mike likes to use the gym for the free weights, I like going for the exercise classes.  The problem is my inability to understand most of what is said to me in Mandarin.

My first class was a yoga class. I walked in and surveyed the room – lots of mats were already on the floor and some were clearly claimed w/ towels laying on them or people standing near them.  I saw a few “free” mats so I picked one in the back of the classroom.  I noticed people getting spray bottles and small towels from the side of the class and using those to wipe down their mats.  I copied them.  I was feeling proud of myself for picking up on the ways of the class when a lady tapped me on the shoulder, frowned, and said in Mandarin that I had her mat.  Oops.  Flustered I said “thank you” instead of “sorry” in Mandarin and quickly grabbed a new mat and started the procedure again.

When I first started yoga, it was already difficult for me to follow even in English because of all the different names for poses that I was unfamiliar with.  So having a yoga class led in Mandarin actually wasn’t too different.  I was constantly looking around at others to see what was going on, which is really hard to do in any of the downward poses!  Mike said he stopped by to watch me through the window of the class for a few minutes and said that I was always behind or doing the wrong move at the wrong time.  I said that’s pretty much what I look like in an English-speaking class as well!

Today I tried a step aerobics class.  For this one, I think knowing the language could have made a difference.  Once I would understand a move, the instructor would say something else and everyone would switch to something different.  Again, I was always behind and this time most often on the wrong foot as well.  I felt better when I noticed a few others also on the wrong foot, until I realized that they were behind me and perhaps trying to follow me.  Sorry!  Many times I would have to just stop and watch for a while before I understood the footwork at all – then the instructor would move on by the time I got it.  Hmmm…actually, it would probably be the same if it were in English.  :)

I’m excited about the classes though.  I hope they will help get me in shape!  At one point in the step aerobics class everyone grabbed a weight off the wall.  I watched what most of the other women were taking and took a similar-sized weight with both hands – it seemed reasonable.  It turned out that most of the time we used the weight with just one hand though, and all the women were actually much stronger than me.  Ouch.

In yoga and step-aerobics at least my mistakes are limited to my own mat or step.  I think it will be a while before I venture out to a Zumba class, where I could cause some real damage to others!



Shou Shan Zoo

Mike and I had mentioned to our relatives that we wanted to visit the nearby mountain/nature reserve which is supposed to have great hiking trails and lots of monkeys – also nicknamed by tourists as “Monkey Mountain”.  Yesterday they took us to the Shou Shan Zoo located within the reserve.  My mom mentioned to our relatives, “No, they wanted to hike and see the wild monkeys” and my relatives said, “Why? They’re mean!”.

So a little something was lost in that communication – but it was probably for the best since I think the hiking trails are probably too much for Jennica.

At the entrance of the Shou Shan Zoo

Overall the zoo was nicer than I expected considering some of the zoos I’ve seen in Asian countries, except for the poor alligator exhibit which looked like an old shallow swimming pool.  Oh, and the lonely single African elephant.  It also had a water play area but I was unprepared for that so no water for Jennica.  She did enjoy the coin carousel though.

Riding the black and white zebra

Seeing the black and white tigers

Then to my delight – wild monkeys!  While I was in the bathroom with Jennica, a large male was watching my family from a tree branch above them.  Mike spotted him and warned the others away just before he dropped to the ground and then scampered off.  I was sad I missed it but soon after two more monkeys appeared looking for handouts from the zoo visitors.  There are also signs all over the place warning you to not have food in your hands because they will grab it directly from you.

Looking for handouts in the zoo…

Macaque surveying the area for free food

I believe these are Formosan macaques.  Apparently they cause quite a ruckus at the nearby Sun Yat-Sen University as well – raiding student dorms if a door or window has been left open.  Can you imagine having wild monkeys on campus instead of squirrels?!  I’m really looking forward to our future mountain hike now….  :)



Little Panda in Kaohsiung

In the Bay Area I used to take Jennica to a Mandarin music class called Little Panda.  She loved it and has learned to sing quite a few Chinese children songs because of it.  I was hoping to find something similar to take Jennica to over here in Kaohsiung.

Well, Shu-Fern told me about a class that’s walking distance to our apartment so Jennica went for the first time yesterday (Mei-Yu Kids Music and Dancing).  The price for the class is quite comparable to US prices for something similar – in fact it’s more expensive than the Little Panda class Jennica was taking – so my mom mentioned that really only the very wealthy in Taiwan could afford such a luxury for their kids.  My mom managed to get a discounted price by paying for classes for Ashley as well so that she can attend with Jennica.

I was always very impressed with Jennica’s Little Panda teacher and pleased with the class, but I was quite blown away by yesterday’s class.  The class is organized around a series of books, which come w/ a music CD, and the theme of the class follows the books.  Yesterday’s book was about Santa Claus searching for his missing bell – and the song was Jingle Bells.  The teacher then proceeded to go through a series of activities all related to the book.  She played a little ditty on the piano of short notes and taught the word for “catch” and had the kids pretend to catch snowflakes.  Then played a series of running notes that sounded like the wind.  She taught the word for “long” and “short” corresponding with the music and had the kids run around and stop and get twirled by the parents with it as well.  A few of the other activities included having the parents pull the kids around on an extra-large shirt that served as a sleigh (and taught the word for “sleigh”), and hiding hand-bells under pom-poms around the room so kids could find the bells and shout “I found it!”.  Kids were also encouraged to find pictures in the book where Santa’s clothes were “red”, “white”, etc. and had the chance to play three different musical instruments to go along with Jingle Bells – sounding like the feet of reindeer or the bells.

Receiving stamps at the end of music class

It was very repetitive and focused on vocabulary-building at the same time.  I don’t know about Jennica, but I learned a lot of words that day!  So excited to find this so close to where we live!  :)