Finding the Rabbit
If you’ve ever wanted to see what an approaching typhoon looks like, here you go. These pictures were taken from our fifth-story school window.
Now, we couldn’t claim any damage or drama on this one. These pictures – can you see the driving rain? – were about as bad as it got in Keelung, and that’s equal to any moderate winter day. The typhoon cut an east-west swath across Taiwan’s belly, several hours to our south, though the storm’s total diameter encompassed the entire island. The basic attitude toward typhoons here is to hunker down indoors and stay home. Much the same way that people view taxes in the US. No fear, really, just something you gotta do. They’re well-prepared with extra food and water, and emergency lights in case the electricity goes out. Indeed, with the vast majority of people living in apartments, buildings in the city are like fortresses. It would take a truly monstrous storm – or earthquake – to dislodge one of those.
A few weeks ago, my friend Christine took me out for a very nice seafood lunch at Bi Sha Harbor, outside of Keelung. I teach both of her children: her son in CE13 and her daughter in the kindergarten. She and her husband have spent the last ten years in Novi, Michigan, of all places, and are quite familiar with my homeland. After lunch Christine and I wandered around the harbor a bit, talking and enjoying the sea breezes.
Bi Sha Harbor
That's Keelung Mountain, the dominating peak near Jinguashi, visible in the distance.
Summer has begun. The busy season for those of us in the cram school business is here. In addition to every academic subject under the sun, the art, music and sports schools and camps are jammed with kids whose parents have very high expectations. Shane opens in the morning now, instead of mid-afternoon, and I stay in that classroom until 9 or 10 pm. I kind of like it, really. We’ve opened a bunch of new classes, too, most of them reading classes, but a few private one-on-ones. I am now tutoring a teenage girl on how to take the speaking and writing portions of the GEPT exam, which is an English proficiency exam unique to Taiwan. It’s a big, scary, important test which many, many people want to pass. It helps them with things like getting accepted to good high schools and universities, and getting good jobs. Taiwan is very internationally focused, and taking the GEPT is a good career move for a lot of people. So Katie and I have been dissecting things like the rhythms of speech, syllabic stresses, and making unimportant words flow together. I’m not sure how exciting she thinks it is, but I think it’s actually pretty interesting to teach.
A couple of weeks ago, I joined Jennifer, Stephanie, and Stephanie’s father, JB, in Taipei to visit some old friends of Jennifer’s. This family has an interesting story. The wife, Jenny, was born in Shanghai but spent most of her life in the United States. The husband, Martin, is German but has spent a lot of time in Canada (I think). They have two children, Tatiana (6) and Oliver (5), who were born in the United States but haven’t been back since. The kids are fluent in English and probably German, and have a grip on Chinese. They have lived most of their short lives in Germany, in the castle-turned-hotel which their parents just purchased, and have most recently moved here from Singapore. Now they’re in Taipei, attending a Canadian school there. When we went to visit them, they were staying at the Grand Hotel, one of Taiwan’s most famous buildings, for one week, and were about to move out into an apartment as soon as their furniture arrived from Singapore. We drove to the Grand Hotel, which is in the Neihu District on the northern edge of the city, backed up against Yang Ming Shan National Park, and spent the day hiking around and swimming with them. Living large isn’t my style at all – way too tedious for me – but I found that I could handle being steeped in opulence for one day fairly well.
The hotel's entrance gates and front steps
The Grand Hotel is a national landmark, and easily seen from the freeway on the way to Taipei. I was surprised that I actually ended up here.
Playing on the hotel's front steps. That beach ball was a constant source of joy for Stephanie on this trip.
Jennifer and Stephanie in front of the hotel
Me and Stephanie
"Hiking" the Grand Hotel grounds. The woods were beautiful, mostly eucalyptus and palm trees, and the paths manicured, for the most part. There were split-log benches here in there to rest in the shade.
JB and Jennifer, Stephanie's parents. He lives in Taipei, and seems to visit Stephanie about once a week.
The lobby of the Grand Hotel. My camera didn't handle the lighting very well (or actually I didn't), but this gives you at least a dim view of how well-done this place was.
Inside their suite at the hotel. This is six-year-old Tatiana and her mother, Jenny, who is an old friend of Jennifer's.
Martin, husband and father. And no, he's not putting a hex on anyone here. This is just part of the normal course of conversation.
Five-year-old Oliver, who was master of his father's computer games and was labeled a "technogeek" by his sister.
The seventh-floor balcony. Their suite was the largest on this side of the hotel; the rooms on either side were much smaller.
The Grand Hotel sits in the Neihu District north of Taipei. You can see part of the park and the river here, and Taipei 101 in the distance. Behind the hotel is a chain of mountains, including Yang Ming Shan National Park.
The swimming pool, as seen from the balcony. Like everything else in the hotel, this place was huge and pretty. We had a good time down there, playing with Stephanie's beach ball in the water, though I couldn't get anyone to go to the deep end with me, and jumping off the diving boards just didn't seem like much fun by myself. So I did a few laps down there, appreciating the pool immensely, and that I was all I saw of the deep end. But oh, that I could have something like this in my back yard!
Lunch was in a very nice Chinese restaurant inside the hotel. In the baskets on the table you can see steamed dim sum, which was our main course. This restaurant is known for its dim sum.
Fried dim sum
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
- Robert Louis Stevenson