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!).