Here on La Isla Formosa it’s now the year 95, counting up from the 1911 revolution which marked the end of the Qing Dynasty in China, as I’m sure you recall. They also recognize the year 2006 too, just to keep in touch with the rest of the world, and have celebrated both New Years, as well as Christmas, accordingly. And why not? There’s a whole string of holidays that happen between November and February, and Taiwan is smart enough to take advantage of all of them. The city has been decked out in bright red and gold. I even perused the countless stands and tables crowding the already packed sidewalks for cheap New Year’s decorations, and bought a few for my own walls next year.
Up until this past Friday, the New Year’s holiday break has meant extra classes for me. The schools are out for three weeks, which, in Taiwanese parents’ minds, means that there’s plenty of time for their kids to take more classes. The motto seems to be, if you’re not in school you should be in school. Jennifer wisely jumped on that boat, and we sent out an exhausting eight thousand mailers advertising new classes we were opening just for the winter break. Unfortunately, all but one fell through, due to no one signing up. The only one that did have any takers was a children’s intensive reading and writing class which meets for three hours four times a week. Though one of my problem students is in that class, there are only three kids total, and it’s been going fine. We’ve been immersed in an African safari last week, finishing that book tomorrow, and next week we’ll be following a hot-air balloon ride.
Then Shane closed down for the second week of the holiday break. The actual Chinese New Year’s Day was on Saturday, January 28. I’d naively expected there would be parades and things floating down the canal - well, nice things - in honor of the biggest holiday of the year, like there are for so many other holidays, but this one turned out to be more like Christmas Day: a lot of noise and color leading up to it, but once it arrived most people stayed home with their families. Clara and I were generously invited upstairs to dinner with my landlord’s family, which we accepted after spending the day doing a bunch of last-minute shopping getting ready for our journey south. And what a dinner it was. At least four generations were present there, our landlord's 92-year-old mother down to his 3-year-old grandson. A few of the younger people could speak decent English, and made noble attempts to include Clara and me in the conversation, though it was work for them. The big center table was jammed full of food, all Chinese and Taiwanese dishes, and much of it new to me. We crowded onto the deep leather couches and filled our bowls over and over again, some of it requiring chopsticks and some of it spoons. The fare was largely noodles, rice, seafood and vegetables, mixed in a variety of sauces, and very good. After dinner – and no small amount of red wine – came the entertainment. Then they turned on the keyboard, took up the guitar, and everyone sang New Year’s carols loudly, boisterously, and in the case of our landlord, entirely off-key, but with delightfully juiced-up smiles on their faces.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
- Robert Louis Stevenson