I hope your holidays went well. Mine were excellent, I assure all of you who have been asking and wondering whether I’ll even have Christmas over here. Yes, Christmas is very much in Taiwan too. It’s been interesting to witness and experience this holiday in a predominantly Buddhist country. I didn’t know what to expect, and even now I’m not all that sure how to describe it. This is my fourth attempt at writing this installment!
I’m not a very religious person, nor do I tow the line very well, and so Christmas has always been a mixed bag for me, even back home. Celebrating the life of Jesus Christ meant spending time with the important people in your life, letting them know that you care about them, and a few times we helped out people in need or who had no place to go for the holidays. I never bought into all the holly-jolly department store stuff, I didn’t like or trust Santa Claus, and so the idea of spending Christmas in Taiwan, which I assumed would be a welcomed respite from the annual assault of forced cheerfulness. While it wasn’t a respite at all, I enjoyed it just the same.
Buddha step aside, Christmas does come to Taiwan. This, I believe, is because most of its venues for shopping (and there are plenty) are based in the United States and Europe, which do celebrate Christmas. There’s no shortage Christmas trees jammed onto tiny porches, shut out in the rain and left to twinkle all by themselves, flashing strands of lights in restaurants, the same old carols piped in from the same old DMX stations in the stores (which, as you remember, include the sidewalk, so all you have to do is walk down the street to hear them in succession), and people trying to say “Merry Christmas!” to you on the street because you’re a non-Asian face.
My kids knew a lot more about Christmas than I’d expected them to. By holy decree from the Shane offices in London, England, we were expected to bring Christmas in some form into the classroom. Even though we didn’t push religion on the kids, I guess it did perpetuate the notion that people in all English-speaking countries are Christian. The little kids colored and labeled pictures of reindeer, Santa, holly, etc., and the older kids played Pin the Nose on the Reindeer, which turned out to be a blast. All of the children’s classes wrote letters to Santa, which went better than I’d thought, and I taught “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” to my CE11 class. It’s a linguistically funny song, and they were in fits and giggles when they performed it for Jennifer.
I spent a wonderful Christmas Day with Clara and Nicole. We took the train into Taipei and first went to the Botanic Gardens, where we met up with Clara’s friend Daniel. I’ve included photographs from the Botanic Gardens both from Christmas Day and two weeks before, when we were there with Rodger, so it’s a bit mixed-up, but it’s the same place. Daniel left us after the Gardens, and the three of us went on to the Taipei 101 tower (pictured above, dressed up in its Christmas best) which is a huge shopping complex. Feeling adventurous, we paid a visit to the new Toys R Us store there, and I bought Uno and Boggle for the school. We also stopped into Page One Bookstore, which is a must when in Taipei 101, since it has a massive collection of English-language books. After catching the bus back home, Clara and Nicole came over to my house. My mom had sent a box of goodies, so we munched on delicious cookies and chocolate, played Uno, watched a Chinese pop concert on TV, and were quite merry.
I also got Christmas Eve off, which was a treat. Clara still had to work that day and Rodger went down to Taichung, so Nicole and I took the bus up the mountain to Jiufen, and spent a joyous day there. The weather was much better than the first time I went (with Clara and Dennis), so I got a few better pictures. Jiufen is a little old village on the hill above Keelung, overlooking Hepingdao and the ocean. Following a native around was even better; Nicole knew all the cool little teahouses which have private porches where you can sit and take in the view. We ate a popular red-bean soup with a Taiwanese name, ou-ying (?!) that was very tasty. She also bought a pack of three playing cards from a magic shop, which were obviously a trick deck, and very determinedly mastered the hand motions so she could do a magic show for Clara when we met up with her for dinner later on that night. That was successful, and Nicole was immensely pleased with herself. After perusing most of the souvenir shops twice, I finally bought my first bunch of souvenirs to send home to people. Since souvenirs usually strike me as cheesy, fake, and pointless, I usually have a hard time buying things to send back to people. But I did find a few things that I liked, so I was immensely pleased with myself! And I’m not done yet. When I go back to Jiufen again, I’ll be ready with my list again.
On December 17, a very cold and windy Saturday night the weekend before Christmas, Jennifer and I went to Taipei and joined the Shane Christmas party, which was for all the Shane schools island-wide. The menu was very British, and I’m proud to say that I have finally tasted bread sauce and bread pudding, which I’ve usually just associated with Charles Dickens. The party was held at an upscale jazz club, which had marble steps painted to look like a piano keyboard. We managed to get ourselves seated with several people that I’d gone through training with in September, all of whom had since been placed in schools around the island, and it was very nice to catch up with them a bit. Several people I’d really been looking forward to seeing were not there, but I found out later that one of them had been in a pretty serious motorcycle accident, but luckily came out with just a few scrapes and a broken chin. Jennifer and I were among the first to leave around 10:30, partly because of our hour-long drive home, and partly because I’d begun to lose my voice due to the cranked-up music and the smoke. All in all, the meal with good and filling and the company excellent. We went home happy.
This week it was good to get back into the regular schedule again, find our places in the schedule and continue on after Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, I read a story at the bookstore like I do every other Saturday night, and then went with Jennifer and Stephanie to the movie theater to see “Narnia.” Nicole and Alice planned to meet us there, but it turned out that the movie was sold out, so we walked over to Han’s and had dinner instead. After that, probably on a whim (I’m not sure; it was decided in Chinese), we ended up back at Shane and played a dozen raucous rounds of Uno, during which we were extremely loud with laughter. This week I had introduced both Uno and Boggle to them, and already both games are a hit. I’ve decided the next two games I need to buy for the school are Sorry and Scattergories. Anyway, after her private lesson in Taipei, Clara joined us at the school around 10:30, and it only got wilder from there. Jennifer turned on her computer for music. Keelung celebrates the new year, I found out, by having all of the boats and ships anchored in the harbor blowing their horns simultaneously at midnight, and then they send up fireworks over the City Hall building, just like during the elections. And, also like the elections, we raced to the windows in Jennifer’s office, and got a good view of the show from the fifth floor. I didn’t get any pictures from this holiday, but to be honest, Chinese New Year is a month away, and that should be much more interesting than a picture of us playing Uno. Enjoy the pictures below, and as always, drop me a line when you get a chance. I like hearing the news from your life too.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
- Robert Louis Stevenson