Finding the Rabbit
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Hey everyone –

I hope this installment finds you well, or at least healthier than I've been. I’ve had a recurring and extremely tenacious flu for the last couple of weeks, which hasn’t been fun. But I’d rather it happen in bad weather than good (so I don’t feel grumpy for sitting around indoors all day) and lucky for me, winter has arrived. The past two weeks have been warm but very rainy, and this weekend was suddenly dry, windy and chilly (highs in the mid-fifties, Fahrenheit). I had to pull out my sweaters earlier than usual because I’ve been sick, but everyone else on the island has started bundling up like they’re heading to the North Pole. You haven't seen so many fuzzy hats, scarves, mittens, and down jackets this far away from a ski resort! As a native of the Winter Wonderland, I believe I can say that it’s quite endearing.

Since I haven’t been able to hit the gym or the swimming pool recently, I’ve had to find other ways to get out of my house. Lately, I’ve been packing up my laptop and heading over to Starbucks on the harbor. I’m not a fan of that company, but it is the best coffee shop in town. The second floor is all windows, affording a very nice view of the ships and downtown Keelung (or, if you look out the other side, the train station and all the taxis fighting for curb space). It’s a good place to think and be anonymous. I’ve been working very hard on my novel, and I get more accomplished there than I do at home. The drawback is that it’s quite popular, and if I don’t get there early enough in the day, I don’t get a table near an outlet (outlets are abysmally sparse in Taiwan) and so I can only stay there as long as my computer battery will let me.
This weekend, I took advantage of the dry weather and feeling better, and hiked up to Ershawan Fort, above Jhong Jheng Park. While I was up there, I saw the harbor illuminated by some rare late-afternoon sunlight, and found a hiking trail I'd never seen before. Because of the shifting light (and my inability to compensate for it), some of these pictures aren't as clear as they should be, but here they are:
Here's a history of the fort. Keelung has been charged with the duty of defending Taiwan a lot because of its strategic positioning. The downtown harbor is natural, though not deep enough for the massive cargo ships to dock in, so they had to build the bigger harbors for that. But the city is surrounded by high cliffs along the ocean, and many of those were put to military use. (By the way, Google has updated this Blogspot, so if you click on any picture now it will make it much bigger.)
When I summitted this hill, I was shocked at how brilliant this harbor looked in the sunlight. I had to climb through some bushes to get this shot because there were too many trees in the way. I got some weird looks while I was doing it, but it came out all right. Further on in this direction is Hepingdao, and that's Keelung Island off in the distance.
A closer look

Looking down the wrong end of a cannon (but it's a fake cannon)
Near the arched entrance to the fort proper, I saw this sign and a little trail disappearing into the woods. Naturally, I had to follow it and see what was down there. (And find out what an "arhat" was.)

The trail dropped down quickly into a narrow valley, then climbed up again on the other side. The fort up above was quite busy, but I was utterly alone down here. It was blissful.
Some really cool shelf fungus

On the trail I came across a lot of chunks of tile floor, like this, as if a temple had been blasted apart. Maybe it was from an earthquake, or just decay. I thought it was curious.
Benches along the road. A lot of these shots near the temple were taken from a steeply inclining trail, so the angles aren't all that great. Sorry.

This, I believe, was the 18 Luo Han Dong. It was a temple set into a cliff wall, but it was closed up, so I couldn't see inside. This water garden had been cut into the hillside. The statues were faded from the sun and acid rain, so I imagined them to be very old.
A dragon and some fish in the water. At this point I had to start making my way home as dark was coming on quickly. I did get to see a stunning sunset back at Jhong Jheng Park, but my camera didn't capture it.
Classes are doing fine. CE06 has graduated to CE07 and has begun a new book – SPEC 4, as it were, the very same book I helped record nearly a year ago. We haven’t yet heard my voice on the CD but it’s only a matter of time before they realize it’s me, or that it sounds an awful lot like me. Then I wonder what I’ll do, because I already know I’ll never live it down! My new CE01 class has completed their first term already, and will become CE02 next week. They’ve been a very easy class to teach, since most of them are nine or ten years old (unusually old to begin studying English), a bit more mature and well-behaved. CE15 just had their midterm, and are cruising along at their usual breakneck speed. Their pen pal program has kicked off well, and I’ve already received a message from the American school saying they’re starting to receive our letters now, and the kids there are thrilled. Hopefully before Chinese New Year most of my kids here will have received letters back from the States. My junior high class, CJ09, had their final exam today and will be promoted to CJ10 next week. And the kindergarten, CK04, is starting to speak English in full sentences now. They can read quite a bit, too; I’m immensely proud of what those little guys and gals can do. I’ve started branching outside their standard textbook and including more “daily life” vocabulary, which seems to be going over well. And my adult class, API07, which took a three-week break, will resume next week again. I have picked up another adult class and several private lessons in the past month; all of which are doing fine. Here are some recent pictures from the classroom:
My kindergarten class is now eleven strong. We've added quite a few new kids over the last couple of months. Here are Johnson, May, and Vincent after an activity.
My little Buddhas: I facetiously pretended to meditate one day, and they mimicked me. When we weren't laughing, the Eternal Om was present throughout the entire room. Here are Peter, Debbie, Jacob and Miffy.
Shawn, Roger, Judy and Peter

In front: Roger, Judy, and Miffy. In back: Debbie, Peter, and Jacob.
The cheerleader of CE15 and friend to everybody: Zippy! Here she is showing off her new glasses.
Two of my private students, Otis (11) and Jennifer (8). We read books together every Wednesday afternoon. For some reason, our theme this month has been the Wild West. Three of the past books happened to take place on prairies and inside conestoga wagons. They're probably the only kids in Taiwan who know "Giddyup" and "Whoa"!
And CJ09, my beloved junior high class. L-R: Ruth, Cheyenne, me, Judy, and Annie. In honor of the holidays, we're in the middle of reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol , and thoroughly enjoying it.
In the beginning of December, I had a guest from America come visit me. His name is Alvin, and he’s a friend of a friend. Apparently we’d met each other a few years ago in Los Angeles, but neither of us remembered that very well. Anyway, he’s just begun a multi-year trek around the world, and decided to start with Taiwan. He came over for one rainy day in Keelung. I had lunch plans with my friend Christine, so I brought Alvin along and she brought her friend Mindy along. Ah, never underestimate the freedom of a car! There are of course much better ways to get around, but nothing beats the flexibility of having your own vehicle at your disposal. First we drove out to Hepingdao for lunch, and had shark soup! It came in three forms: jellied, deep-fried, and…something else. It was very good. After that we headed up the mountain to Jinguashi, to a remote teahouse that Mindy really wanted to take us to. It took quite a bit of time to find it, after getting lost twice, but eventually we got there. It was truly a magical place, made even more so by the dense fog hanging over Jinguashi. This place also had rooms for rent, though I have none to show you here. Each room was different, and most opened out onto one porch or another. They all had the standard raised sleeping platforms (leftovers from the Japanese occupation). The general rule in Asia seems to be that if the floors are wood, you’ll probably won’t be allowed to wear your shoes, but on anything else you can. Each room in this house had its own bathroom, and some of those had very nice red tile floors, and others were filled with stones, like a miniature beach!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
On the way to the teahouse, we stopped at what's known as the Temple-Within-A-Temple. It started off as just a little shrine, built in the early 1700's (the colorless bit in the back there), and over the years they just kept building around it instead of knocking it down.
A close-up of the original shrine. The inner walls of this temple were the same faded color as this shrine, their carvings worn away by many years and many hands. Just think - this temple is older than my country is!
And the guys in front

I have never felt comfortable taking pictures in temples, but this time I was given permission by my Taiwanese friends.
Shrines for the departed on a hillside, as seen from behind. They're small, only about four feet tall and three or four feet wide.
After visiting the temple, we eventually got to the teahouse. The hike down to it was very steep, popping us in and out of tree cover. I took this shot when I came up for air at some point. It's very Jinguashi - multi-leveled and jumbled together, and quite content at the same time.
That old incredible fog was back again, giving us some surprising views. It rained in Keelung all day, but the sun played peekaboo with us up here.
A very green, very open place. The wind whipped through here while we were inside. That's Keelung Mountain behind it, and what would be a clear view of the ocean of not for the fog.
Alvin in front of the teahouse. He was here for one day and two nights only. Wednesday morning he was off again, heading down to Hualien. Aside from my being sick, it was a very nice, if very short visit. Best of luck to him on his travels.
Jennifer’s elementary school classmate, Jason, has returned from San Francisco again. One not-so-rainy Sunday a few weeks ago, Jennifer invited me to join a group of them on a trip to Yehliu on the north coast. I’ve seen pictures of this place before, but hadn’t ever been there, so of course I went. It’s got the same Martian-style landscaping as Hepingdao, the effect of wind and water on sandstone.
Luckily we had a beautiful sunny day. The downpours waited until we were at home that night.

In Taiwan, umbrellas are appropriate in any kind of weather. Ivory-white skin and impossibly thin figures are valued here above all else for a woman (besides being a mother), and they go to any length to ensure that.

Stephanie was being a human least until everybody else jumped up there too. Here, Jennifer is explaining to her how it works, and why her shadow is pointing to one o'clock. Afterward, I showed her my watch, and she was delighted with how accurate the sundial was.
This planet of ours is amazing. The bigger pockets are only a few inches high, just a couple of feet in front of me.
I don't know this man, but he seemed to be up there posing for everybody's pictures. The formation behind him is the most famous one here in Yehliu, called "Queen's Head." From this angle it looks like Nefertiti, or maybe that's the queen they had in mind when they named it. Because of wind and rain, her neck is in danger of snapping, so everybody's in a hurry to see her while she's still here.

Stunning coastline

Jason and me

There were "secret" paths spiraling up this hill. You can see one at the bottom of the picture.

Stephanie and her "uncle" Jason


These rock formations are called "candles."


Jason and his friend Allen who came along for the day

And me

Jennifer, Jason, and their friend Skye have been busy decorating our school for Christmas. Jason has quite an eye for that sort of thing, and I told Jennifer that she has the prettiest school in Keelung. My kindergarten is in love with our Christmas tree, which sits next to the door, and everything is right at their level. The first day it went up they showed me every single ornament. Jennifer ordered the Wee Sing For Christmas CD set, so we've got some quality - if kid-oriented - Christmas carols to go with it. I had intended to teach some of those songs to my kindergarten class, but everything is just too difficult. I learned last year that Christmas songs are actually quite complex, both in meaning and in pronunciation, too hard for most of our students. They know most of the tunes, but the words have been hard to pin down. So, after a lot of searching and trial-and-error, my favorite song to teach is "The Little Drummer Boy." Not only is it relatively slow, but it doesn't have any really hard words in it and the story is easy to explain. Plus, if your class is up for it, it has an extremely easy beat to follow, so you can create a rhythm section for it. (But you have to strictly control that or it tends to turn into something like a polka.)

This probably won’t interest anyone except Rodger, but they’ve been dredging the canal for the past few weeks. Of course, I waited until the day after they finished to take a picture, so all you get to see is this lonely little backhoe sitting on its barge. The city of Keelung decided that the reason the canal smelled so bad was because of all the mud at the bottom. (I've had a love-hate relationship with this canal. I love being near it, but at the same time it thoroughly disgusts and horrifies me. I rarely get nightmares, but since arriving in Keelung I've had more, and nearly all of them involved this canal. Rodger has heard all of it, and has his own ideas about what they mean. I wonder what he'd say about this project.) Now the muck at the bottom of the canal is being dragged to the surface, poured into a giant floating Dumpster and towed away somewhere. For some reason, this work has fascinated me. They even had an accident a few weeks ago - one of the barges had tipped over and was hanging half-submerged in the water, in danger of going all the way down! I saw the workers leaning on the fence above, frowning down at it, watching all their work being undone and probably wondering what on earth they were supposed to do now. But later that day they brought a crane in, and as far as I know nothing (or no one) was lost. It’s over now, and even if the color of the water hasn’t changed much, the canal does indeed smell better. Maybe they could do the same thing to the harbor...? One can dream, anyway.

That's all for now. Have a safe and happy holiday season, and I’ll write more next year.

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. - Robert Louis Stevenson

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Location: Keelung, United States
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