Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Poor Neglected Blog

Wow, time sort of escaped me the past few months. Here's a recap...

Melissa left Taiwan in mid July, so I was flying solo for a while. We had our C.O. visit which proved to be very entertaining and even more instructive. I wrapped up my last days at my jobs in Taipei (which included a live production of The Little Mermaid by my kindergarten kids), packed up my things and fled the North. All the while having more typhoons than you can shake a stick at.

One of my kindergarten classes
I arrived in Kaohsiung the first week of August. (Kaohsiung is in the south of Taiwan- so it is, in general, less crowded, sunnier, closer to beaches, and less rainy.) I was very happy to take a mini-vacation down here and spend some quality time at the beach. However, my plans were foiled when we were hit by several storms in a row for about 10 days straight. It rained, thundered and lightninged all day and all night without stopping. So, I decided to use my time to go in service instead. Albeit very wet... it was also a lot of fun.
My plan had been to move in with my friend Bara (from Czech Republic), and her room mate Fjorn (from Australia), both who are pioneers, which would help me find my way around this new territory that I was not familiar with. Unfortunately, Bara had booked a trip to Europe during the time I'd be here, so at first I was quite sad to miss spending time with her. However, two new surprises moved in around the same time. One is an awesome young sister from Australia name Lara (also a reg. pioneer), who was in Taiwan for only two months, but became my buddy very quickly. The other is a girl named Winnie. If you were to look back at my blog post from January called 'Assembly' there is a brief mention of a girl who moved here from Haiti after the earthquake, whom I met at the assembly which was her first meeting of any kind- that's Winnie. She has been progressing in her study amazingly and decided that during her summer break from school she would move in with her Bible teacher- Fjorn. So, we've had the privilege of having Winnie stay here as well and having studies with her every day. She was announced an unbaptized publisher last week at the meeting, and having just finished the Bible Teach book- she asked Fjorn if she could go through it one more time with her before she has to go back to live at the dorms. Her enthusiasm is very contagious and it's been awesome to see the changes she's made since we first met in January.
Lara (Australia) & Winnie (Haiti)

Here's a few highlights from the past month:

We traveled up to Taichung for our Safeguard Your Hearts convention. It was awesome. Besides all the wonderful parts on the program, we got to see 4 new ones get baptized and we had an all time new peak of 633 people in attendance. That's over 120 more people since our last assembly in spring. We were all very touched to see the efforts the Bible studies made to come all the way out there for the convention. Most of them only get one day off work a week, and would have to travel by bus or train for several hours to get there. One study is very shy and has never agreed to come to the Kingdom Hall before because she feels a bit intimidated, but somehow she decided she would attend one day of the convention. And although she has very little money, she decided to go buy a dress on her day off. She came on the congregation bus Sunday and made lots of new friends with the brothers and sisters.
As a side note- many of the friends here were able to attend the convention in Hong Kong a week earlier, reports have it that something like 560 or 570 were baptized at that convention. It's really evident that Jehovah is opening up the work over there as well.
Miria (Australia), Debby (Taiwan), Ruby (Taiwan), Me, Jennifer (Alaska)
Jennifer (Alaska) & Senny (Swaziland)

Living in Kaohsiung almost certainly requires having a vehicle of some sort. Public transportation is scarce and inconveniently timed. So very graciously, Bara left me the keys for her scooter while she is away so that I could get around. Well, for the first week I had an all-out battle with the thing. It wouldn't start, and if it did start- it would die promptly afterward. After many frustrated attempts I decided to roll it out to the sidewalk and have a better look at it. Checked the fluids, came to the conclusion that the electronic starter is broken, and as I am straddling it and trying to kick start it- the thing magically comes to life! Unfortunately my hand was simultaneously on the accelerator. It jolted forward like a horse that just got stung by a bee in the rear... and crashed me into a small garden lined with bricks about two feet away. So- I very calmly picked it and myself up... pushed it back to it's parking spot, dusted the dirt off the handlebars, examined my wounds and then proceeded to give it a good verbal lashing.
It wouldn't start at all after that for another 3 or so days (which gave my knee a chance to deflate after the crash). Finally, as I was about to abandon all hope of being able to travel beyond our apartment complex, it started.. *puttt.puttt..putputputputputputttt....putttttrr....prrrooooom!*
Thankfully, it has given me very little trouble since then and has served as a very valuable and fun mode of transport.
Me & Bara before she left

Lara's phone-
My new friend Lara had an interesting experience- she had taken a taxi one day with another sister and left her iPhone behind on accident. They tried calling different taxi service lines attempting to track down the cab it might have been in, but failed. They'd all but given up hope of ever finding it again when they decided to try calling it one last time. This time a girl answered. The sister (also from Australia) did her best to explain in Chinese the situation but was struggling to make any sense. Finally the person on the other end said "Would it be easier if we spoke in English??". They were amazed and quite relieved that the girl knew English, and arranged to meet up to get the phone. Lara decided that she would use this opportunity to give a witness, and wrapped a thank you note and a Bible Teach book up as a gift. When they met up, they began chatting and as it turns out the girl is college aged, Taiwanese, was raised in the U.S. and speaks perfect English. She is just visiting her father who lives here in Taiwan. She was very pleasant, and told the sisters she had never heard of the Witnesses before. She agreed to a Bible study and even began attending meetings once a week. She later traveled the 3 hour journey to the convention. She even came to the train station with us to see Lara off when she had to go back to Australia. She goes back to the U.S. soon but will continue her study in the mean time, and we're hoping she will have a chance to study back at home as well.

Port Witnessing-
As usual, the witnessing at the ports continues to grow and is always an amazing experience. Each Saturday a group meets at the convenience store at the port. Several fisherman come and have studies at the picnic tables in front of the convenience store. There are always new faces arriving for the opportunity to have a study. It's incredible to see how Jehovah provides what is needed for people from ALL over the world. One sister in the cong. happens to speak Nepalese, and when 3 men were found that speak Nepalese she was right there to care for them. I got to sit in on their study last weekend and they are very eager to learn. Several men from Kenya are studying regularly and attend some of the meetings and making great progress. We met some men from Vanuatu who accepted studies, and thanks to Winnie they can have someone to speak to in French. There are Indonesians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, all having studies in their native tongues thanks to the efforts of the brothers and sisters to learn a new language or simply make themselves available to use what they already know. I had the privilege of boarding one of the fishing boats and conducting a bow-step study with 5 Filipino fisherman all at once. They were very shy but very respectful and were glad to follow along in their Tagalog literature, a Filipino brother helped to translate the more difficult topics into Tagalog. It's been a real joy to see the response so many of these men are having to the truth. And we hope that when they return to their homelands they will let those seeds of truth grow.

Monkey Mountain pt.2-
Lara and I decided to take a trip up to the mountain because she had never been. I had reassured her that the last time I went up there the monkeys were totally fine and hardly noticed our presence. Fjorn on the other hand warned us to wear long pants, don't carry food, and keep our distance because they have rabies and will attack you. So, caution to the wind- Lara wore shorts and I rolled my pants up. After all, last time I had brought a banana with me in hopes of luring a monkey into close contact and ended up only encountering one after I'd given up and thrown the banana in the woods. Well, Lara and I hiked deep into the mountain- only encountering the odd elderly Chinese person practicing Tai-Chi in the woods. And then Lara began squealing with delight and started doing something that resembled the 'potty-dance'. A monkey was right on our footpath. Then another crept up from behind us, a fat male. Then another from behind walked right up along our ankles sniffing about. We were now surrounded. Still, they didn't seem to give two cents that we were there. So we took pictures and videos of them until we were satisfied with ourselves, and decided we would proceed up the trail. But as soon as we tried to cross one of the monkey's paths.. it began lunging at my legs and baring its teeth and swatting at me. So, my natural instincts kicked in and I began lunging back at it exclaiming "What?! You wanna fight monkey?!?! Bring it on!" Our turf battle continued for about 2 minutes, each of us asserting our rights to the road. In the end neither of us decided to bite but walked away from the situation in a sort of unwilling truce. Lara said she was initially scared of the monkey but concluded that I was much scarier than she realized. Shortly afterward I ran into a low lying tree with my forehead. The ensuing lump made wearing a helmet very uncomfortable, but it did aid in helping the helmet (which has previously been too large) to fit more snugly on my pin-head. 

Lara's initial reaction to finding a monkey

Before the turf battle.

Well... sorry to make such a long post all at once. It's been a bit difficult to keep up as things have been so busy. Every day here is an experience and I wish I could share them all... but you'd be reading for hours, if not days. Hopefully I can share more with some of you in person. One week until I return to Washington!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

...aaand we're back

Haven't fallen off the face of the planet quite yet.

So... recent updates ...
Well... its summer. That is without question. The temperature is high... all the time. And humidity is unreal. In addition, we are in a bit of a typhoon season. So unexpected heavy rain, thunder, and lightning are a frequent occurrence. (When I say 'heavy' rain, I don't mean buckets of rain so much as entire olympic sized swimming pools of rain suddenly falling from the sky all at once)
So far there have been two official nation-wide emergency alert typhoons in the past two months.Which is quite nice for us, because much like snow-days back home... schools are closed. So we get a free day, albeit unproductive since leaving the house inevitably results in getting completely drenched. If you happen to be homeless, a farmer, or a chicken, however... these occasions mean doom.
The number of earthquakes has also multiplied lately (is it possible to have an earthquake season?) We frequently have small earthquakes, probably once or twice a day, that are hardly noticeable unless you are lying down. But we've had some much more noticeable ones lately that almost prompted me to run and stand in a door frame (but as per usual, I have no interest in getting out of bed).
Melissa and I have moved upstairs out of our 'asylum', and are temporarily house-sitting the brother's apartment upstairs while he is on vacation for a month. His is much nicer than ours, so it's been a relief. No mold or noisy neighbors, a fridge that works, hot water, windows with real sunlight, and fresh air! It's like being at the Ritz.
Melissa departs from Taiwan in two weeks, at which point I will be flying solo for the remainder of my stay.
I have notified the kindergarten of my plans to leave, this news was not received well. My boss's exact words were 'I want to die'. (The Taiwanese tend to be a bit over-dramatic)
I plan on notifying the other employer this afternoon, and I'm hoping she will take it a little easier.
Well, July is just around the corner and things will be getting much more hectic as September approaches. I will try to post an update here and there along the way.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shifting gears (without a clutch)

Well, this post serves as more of a notification than anything else, I suppose.
Every now and again life likes to throw a few hot potatoes at you. At which point you have to make a decision... catch the potatoes- painfully and frantically juggling them until you make the next logical decision, or take a few steps back and let the potatoes hit the ground (or some other passer-by)
It's not the best analogy, I know. But, it does sum up my current situation in a way.
It's my turn, once again, to have those piping hot plant tubers chucked in my direction. And rather than attempt to juggle these projectiles in a clumsy and uncomfortable manner- I have chosen to take a few steps back.
Thus, I am ending my journey here in Taiwan (at least for now). I have about three months left here, in which I hope to complete my experiences with a bang. So, stay tuned for what may be the last installments in this journal of my Asiatic ineptitude.
With any hope, I will be better equipped to deal with the next arsenal of potatoes that might accompany the next adventure. (Or learn to invest in oven mitts)

The countdown begins- 3 months and 4 days remaining.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

And May be

Who would have known May would creep up so quickly. The month started out with a bang. We had our zone visit for Taiwan two weekends ago. Only the Northern half of the country were invited to attend the actual talk. That included our congregation, so we rented buses and made the trek out to Taoyuan. The group attending was mostly Chinese congregations so the opening talk, announcements, and songs were all in Chinese. The brother who gave the zone talk came from the Germany Bethel so he spoke English, and a brother translated it in to Chinese along the way. There was also a sizeable Chinese sign language group there, it was cool to watch them sign the songs.
The talk was very encouraging, and very informative. He brought out many points most of us had never thought of, and related some exciting experiences in the Chinese and English fields. He was talking about how undeniably involved the angels are in our ministry, and gave the following experience:
A man in Indonesia came down from a mountain village, where he lived, to the city of Jakarta to go to the train station. He wasn't planning on boarding the train, but was going to throw himself in front of it. He stood on the platform waiting to end his life, but a very different chain of events took place. The train was late. And as he stood there something fell out of the sky and hit him on the head. It was one of our study books. The man picked it up and began to think twice about what he was doing. He read the book and began studying and was eventually baptized. This experience was told at a circuit assembly some time later, and one sister in the audience heard it and realized it was her book that had hit him in the head. After the program she found the man and explained that on that same day she had been preaching at the train station. She was witnessing to a woman on a balcony above the train tracks when the woman's husband came over. He began asking what they were doing and became very angry, grabbed the book and threw it over the balcony. I'd say it hit the target.

Anyhow, the zone visit was a very encouraging day. There were over 6,800 people that attended the talk in Taoyuan and thousands more all over the country that got to listen by video tie-in.

Last Saturday I had another fun filled day in Suao port witnessing. I was able to catch a ride in an actual car this time, with one of the French families in my congregation. We took a different route that the GPS suggested would be shorter. However, it ended up leading us by a narrow winding road up and around a mountain. It definitely was not a faster route, but the scenery was amazing. There are huge peaks covered in lush green rainforest, deep valleys, tiny villages peaking out of the hillsides, furrows of tea fields, rivers and waterfalls, and the occasional massive gold statues and pagodas situated among the vines and trees. It was a beautiful drive that I hope to be able to do again when we have more time. Would be ideal on a motorcycle.
We had a large group with us at the port, as the Tagalog language class decided to practice their new service presentations and joined us. The sun was out and there were plenty of fisherman to preach to. After we had preached through the whole port we decided to walk to the beach to see if we could find more fisherman. Then we all decided it was play time, and enjoyed the beach for the rest of the evening. The beach is very nice and the water is warm. It reminded me of being back in Hawaii. Unfortunately I didn't have proper swimming gear, so I only got to go knee-deep. But it was worth it just to see the beach again.
Our group was quite a spectacle there. This area is well off the tourists path usually. So when a group of 20 or so foreigners, all dressed in nice service clothes, come to a remote beach and jump in and swim (the Taiwanese don't swim, so we were the only ones in the water), it drew quite a crowd. People were standing all around us just staring, some were taking pictures of us, some were video taping us like were were a group of rare animals they'd never seen before. It did open up an opportunity for those who speak Chinese to witness to the Taiwanese onlookers.
After the beach some of us went to a seafood restaurant back at the ports. We ate virtually every kind of creature that lives in the sea. They just kept bringing us more and more dishes until we couldn't eat anymore. The food was very good and amazingly cheap. We had everything from raw tuna, to jelly fish, oysters, whole squids, shrimp, shark and more.

the 'shortcut' through the mountains

The Brinster family 

Suao beach

full moon on the beach

On Sunday after the meeting, Melissa and I decided to try to find a hiking trail called Elephant Mountain. We had heard it has great views of the sunset over Taipei. We did find it, only just a little too late for the full sunset. But we did get some spectacular views of Taipei city at night all lit up.

Well, summer finally feels like it's here. The weather is plenty hot now, and all I can think about all day is where to find the next cold beverage. Mel and I head back to Hong Kong again on Saturday. And who knows what else May will have in store for us.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Kaohsiung weekend- into the wild

This past weekend Mel and I decided to get out of the big city for a change and visit our friends in the southern part of the country, Kaohsiung. So we took a bus Friday night from Taipei to Kaohsiung following the yellow trail pictured below. It was about a 5 hour bus ride and we didn't arrive until about 2:30 am Saturday morning.

We stayed with our friend Bara (from Czech Republic) and her two roommates Rhonia (from Germany) and Fjorn (from Australia). They have a fantastic great big apartment outside the city which felt like a palace in comparison to our little concrete asylum back in Taipei. It was nice and hot down there, as it typically is in the south, so we were enjoying it immensely after the endless rain in Taipei. However, my pale city skin hasn't seen sunlight in so long I immediately burned. I was just glad to be some other color than fish belly white. Kaohsiung is much less crowded and laid back than Taipei, even in the main part of the city. So it was a nice change. And people seem to be more relaxed and friendly. The only downside would be the lack of public transportation options. At one point we piled onto the "city bus" (which was about the size of a large VW vanagon) with about 20 people inside. It was like a human jenga puzzle, my face was smashed between some old Taiwanese man's armpit and some pimpley kid's shoulder for the whole ride. And when it's 85 degrees and about 95% humidity, it makes for a rather unpleasant journey. 
The first place Bara took us to was a famous lake called 'Lotus Pond' where there are giant colorful Hindu/Buddhist statues and pagodas of Disneylandish proportions surrounding, and in, the lake. Along with thousands of turtles and lily pads with giant colorful lotus flowers. 
Here are some pictures. (click to enlarge)

Some of the statues in the distance are as big as the skyscrapers.

Turtles holding hands

Later in the evening we met up with a group from the congregation and did some witnessing at the ports. The English Congregation in Kaohsiung has had enormous success preaching here. This port harbors more big fishing boats than the one we preach at in Taipei area. So, they usually are docked for a month or so and then out to sea for upwards of 9 months, sometimes never to return. So they preach here every week to make sure they can pack in as much spiritual food for these sailors while they are in. The past few weeks a large group of men from Eritrea, Africa were docked and took full advantage of their time here to get a spiritual feast. They've been able to study with about 9 or 10 of them several times, and most of them took the opportunity to come to a meeting as well. But they will have to go back out to sea soon, and likely will never be back. So we're all hoping the seeds the brothers and sisters have planted will continue to grow back in their home lands.  

Witnessing to Indonesian sailors by street light

L to R: John Gedge (from Hawaii), Tabetha (from Australia), and Mel.  Port witnessing.

After our nice evening of witnessing, we all decided to go out for dinner. And I got to go on my first scooter ride in Taiwan. (not pictured)

Sunday morning we attended the meeting and then had lunch with some of the sisters and one of Bara's bible studies at a really good Thai restaurant. Afterward the girls dropped Mel and I off at Monkey Mountain. (There are many small mountains in the Kaohsiung area, this one happens to be teeming with wild monkeys... thus the name) We were warned ahead of time that the monkeys were not shy and that we shouldn't bring food with us, or even plastic bags because they have a reputation of jumping on hikers and tearing through their things. One of their most successful methods being to drop out of a tree unannounced in front of a hiker in order to scare them into dropping their food. So naturally, I brought a banana with me in hopes of increasing my chances of such an encounter. 
The mountain is quite jungley, lots of amazing trees and big broad leafy plants. And every so often if you walk off the main path you find stone ruins and underground man made tunnels that go through the mountain side. It's very reminiscent of being in the Jungle Book. And sure enough, there are lots of monkeys.

lost in the jungle

After our hike through the mountain we packed Bara, Mel and I all onto her tiny 50 CC scooter and barreled down the mountain. All three of us cracking up the whole way. We even got a thumbs up from some of the locals driving by. 
Mel and I got back on a bus and spent another five hours getting home.  
We're hoping to be able to spend at least another week down there sometime soon. We didn't have time to make it to the beach or catch any surf, so maybe next time.

I heart Kaohsiung.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A memorial to remember...

There have now been two memorials in my life that have been most memorable. The first was when I was a teenager and my sister and I accidentally dropped the plate of bread. (I'm sure Grandma remembers that one) That one goes on the top of the 'mortified' memorials list.

Today's experience tops a different list, let me tell you what happened...

About a week ago, I got very sick. Unfortunately the morning I woke up feeling the worst was the last Saturday of March, the day I had planned on finishing my time for auxiliary pioneering. I woke up and attempted to cook breakfast and get dressed for service, but quickly realized I was in absolutely no condition to leave the house. This was a very depressing day. I laid in bed all day and watched the hours, and my chance to make my time, slip away. Wishing I could have gotten sick tomorrow instead so I could finish my time. Needless to say, I was feeling like a bit of a failure... and with the memorial only a few days away I knew that if I didn't get better I would have no time to engage in the invitation work.
Well, days went by and it got worse. I went from feeling bad to feeling like death warmed over. I wasn't able to breath properly because of all the fluid in my lungs, in addition to a soar throat, fever, and constant headache. Finally my boss demanded I see a doctor. She made her husband walk me to the nearest clinic and have me examined. The doctor told me I had a bronchial infection, and prescribed me lots of colorful pills to take. So I complied. That night I came home hoping this would help the situation when suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my back, and my right leg seized up. Next morning I awoke in agony. My lower back had gone out so badly that I could hardy stand up or sit, even laying down was uncomfortable. The worst part was that all the mucous was breaking loose because of the medicine the doctor had given me, so I was constantly coughing very violently as my lungs attempted to eject anything in them. But each time I coughed it felt like whip-lash to my back. If I didn't cough, I couldn't breath. So I was sort of stuck in a catch-22.
Needless to say, my situation was getting worse. I called in sick to my jobs. And feeling desperate on Wednesday night, I emailed a friend who I thought might know of a chiropractor in the city. (As it turns out, the Taiwanese have no concept of chiropractic care, they assume you mean massage therapist or doctor)
This morning: Very kindly, my friend recommended a lady she had been to that helped her before and booked me an appointment. However the lady had moved to a different city since then. So I decided to give it a try in hopes I could make it to the memorial tonight. Problem was, I could hardly walk and sitting was excruciating. So getting to the city (which is an hour bus ride away) would be troublesome. So I hailed a cab and toughed it out. When I arrived at the address given to me, there was nothing there but some little back-alley tire shop and an old poster on a rather unkempt doorway that said 'Swedish Spa'. I rang the doorbell a number of times, but no one came. After calling my friend, and about a half hour of waiting in the rain, I was informed they had moved their office. I was in so much pain I was about to hail the nearest taxi and leave. But then a minivan pulled up near me. The door opened and two women waved me over. They had come to collect me and take me to the new spa. As it turns out, there was no chiropractor there at all. The woman is a massage therapist and no one there spoke English. But I figured, I came all this way and it might help, I was desperate at this point. I will say this... it was the most torturous, painful, and long massage I've ever had. I left, and took a train back home. But, I still felt horrible. In fact, now I felt pain everywhere from the beating I received. I hobbled home in the pouring rain as fast as my twisted tortured body would let me. But by the time I got there it was 5:50 pm... and memorial started at 6:00 pm... and the Kingdom Hall is 45 minutes away. I prayed to Jehovah to help me just make it there, and tried to put a skirt on. I walked about 3 blocks in the pouring rain and realized that by the time I would get there it would be over. Not to mention I was in so much pain I was nearly in tears, and my shoes were full of water already. So I turned back and hobbled home defeated. I felt so depressed and lame. I just laid in bed and cried myself to sleep. I couldn't believe all my efforts were in vain, and that I'd miss the most important day of the year.
Then about an hour later my phone rang. It was an elder from my congregation calling to make sure I was okay. I explained what happened, and he was very understanding. He contacted a brother who had planned on giving the memorial talk out at the east coast tonight. He wasn't able to make it out there for some extenuating circumstances, so he and another brother arranged to come to our apartment and give the talk here for me.
By the time they were able to arrive it was about 11:00 pm. Equipped with bibles, wine, and unleavened bread they prepared a humble presentation on my plastic dishes. We sat in my living room and the brother gave a nice memorial talk, and prayer, and even got to pass the emblems... to an audience of one.
I can't express how thankful I am to them for making a special trip here to allow me to participate in the memorial. I really see how Jehovah took care of me in my time of need. I know first hand that not one of Jehovah's sheep goes overlooked. All the grief of the past week sort of melts away after receiving such a blessing.
And although I am still laid up in bed, and in pain... I am truly happy.

The two brothers who conducted the memorial at my apartment.

The emblems (fine dining wear courtesy of the Barksdales)