Road trip! Couple weekends ago I had the opportunity to hop in a car for a family road trip. Rest stops, Gas Stations, Stretching after 3 hour Jogs. All key parts of a road trip were involved, such that little of it, other than signs in Chinese, could have taken place anywhere. The whole weekend was accompanied by a comfortable feeling of familiarity, one that I attribute to the family experience. Many travel pictures, monuments and places, have a cold feeling for me; I'm sure this is doubly so for someone in another part of the world reading this. The sites from this weekend were heightened by a constant reminder of family.
Saturday morning, I left from Yilan in a small four-door reminiscent of my old Geo at home (except equipped with a much better stereo system - perfect for A-Mei or the Birthday Song on repeat).
Host Padre, James was in charge of driving (the whole time, all weekend, a would-be stressful task on some of these roads, completely taken in stride: Kendra tells me "he is used to it now, because I like to travel a lot. He always has to drive. He is used to it." See, marriage can train you to deal with anything.)
Mother is in the front seat, sings a good A-Mei, and keeps up the occasional conversation with James.
Cliff's a quiet (initially) 6 year old. He's got a Bo,Po,Mo,Fo study book, a Chinese picture book about the different colored shapes as they make their way to school, a deck of Pokemon cards (the game is: Dale throws a card, no matter the value, Cliff or Katie lay a card and it defeats my card, which is picked up by Cliff, and the other returned to Katie. I think I must not have understood the directions), some Concentrated plum candies to prevent car sickness, a pen, and that's about it. Amaaaazingly calm for 6 years old and 6 hours in the car. Of course there was lots of hide-and-seek, plenty of shifting around, the gradual tearing of all the pages in the Bo,Po,Mo,Fo study guide, and one exploding package of floss-picks, but overall a star in the car. We're fast friends and buddies by the end.
****He followed suit with me and took pictures the whole trip****
Katie and I get a window, and he sits in the middle. She was delegated to hold most of his toys and books, while I just had to lose the Pokemon card game. I think I got the better deal.
3 1/2 hours gets us to Taizhong for lunch (whoops, meat in the Mushroom pasta; sorry Katie), and a walk around DongHai University. It's a beautiful campus with a notable chapel on the grounds, and was perfect for a stretch of the legs.
****DongHai University 東海大學****
****Cliff stretching his legs and lungs****
****The Luce Chapel at DongHai U****
****Kendra resting on the wall****
****Family enjoying the afternoon****
We met Kendra's younger brother, young daughter, and wife, who recently had a baby. The mother is staying at a Month Long Rest Home for recent mothers. It's traditional for mothers or siblings to take complete care of recent mothers, either directly caring for the newborn and mother, or taking care of previous children to give the mother plenty of time for rest. The rest homes are available for 3000NT a day (less than 100USD) and offer hotel like services (internet, television, comfortable quarters) as well as complete nursery/baby care for the time. I'm surprised these kinds of facilities are not available in the US. If they are, I haven't heard of them. There is a great emphasis on family in Taiwan, and subsequently a large degree of support for new mothers. They know they aren't alone.
****Cliff and his Cousin (the not-so recently born one)****
****中科月子中心： month-long rest center****
Leaving the new mother at the center, the family went to a Batting Cage/Game Center in Taizhong. Pocketful of jingling tokens and I tried the slow-pitch softball, fast-pitch softball, and 140KM fast-pitch baseball. I was sore two days later still (amazing how that twisting accesses little used muscles. maybe more amazing how little I ever work out). I did manage to hit one foul ball in the 140KM round. Not an easy task. Miniature scotch-bowling, target practice, and air hockey were also included.
****Katie in the Batting Cages: "I can hear my dad's voice, 'choke up on the bat, Katie...' " ****
The drive continues for a few more hours until we arrive in Nantou, for dinner with Kendra's mom, dad, and sister. All You Can Eat Hot Pot is a staple in Taiwan. Return as many times as you like to the shelves of vegetables, meats, and seafoods. Supplement with dumplings, salads, and 小吃 or "small eats" and finish with (more than one) dessert. Gluttony has a place for 6-7USD.
We spent the night at Kendra's younger brothers home, where grandpa and grandma are staying to help take care of the young one while mom recovers. Kendra's father is a wonderful and impressive (I can't stress this enough) nature photographer, and we spent a couple of hours over tea looking at three books he brought from a library full of photo albums at home. Absolutely gorgeous! Almost as pleasing as the photographs (nightscapes, mountainsides, waterfalls, lotus flowers, Alishan cherry blossoms) is the chance to talk camera-shop, all in Chinese. I managed to exchange about aperture settings, shutter speeds, intentional blurriness, composition, etc. with only minimal moments lost in translation. It's amazing how a language will work for you when you are in a natural setting and really interested in communicating.
Kendra's father suggested he take me out to nearby Sun Moon Lake at 4:30am the next morning to catch morning photographs, a most gracious offer that I accepted. The weather was not so great for photographs (a heavy fog all over), but I tried a few tricks (mostly just a tripod and one double exposure) that we had talked about the night prior.
****It was a chilly morning for a swim****
****Cold Harbor Swimming****
****Sun Moon Lake Pavilion****
****Bird on a Boat****
****There were lots of Buddhist monks out in the early morning, the younger ones with smiles****
****Happily borrowed bicycles********Morning Stretches****
****There were also the remnants of some get-togethers from the night before, prior to groundscrew intervention****
The family (minus grandparents) returned to Sun Moon Lake in the afternoon, where we visited the large Confucian Wenwu Temple. It was built in 1938 and is frequented by people praying for luck in things from tests to family health.
****Prayer decorations with personal prayers written on them****
****This animated Terracota Warrior stood guard outside. He leaned over for a thumbs-up as this curious young woman stared on****
****Ladies with Temple Statue****
Lots of nice color in the temple area as well:
****Katie at the Lake****
Sun Moon Lake is home to some of the Shao or Ita Thao people, one of Taiwan's indigenous groups. Kendra's family belongs to the Atayal group, another group found in the NE and Central parts of Taiwan.
****Beneath an Ita Thao sign (set up in the community for tourists). James tells us the picture represents a Thao story about how owls are signs of fast-approaching births, and thus are auspiciously associated with fertility in the community. Note the owl and woman in the background. Also note Cliff and his camera*****
****This woman was happy to tell us of younger days of dancing and singing****
****"Si' Down! I'm 85. I'll tell you a story. I'm 85. 85.****
****"That's me in the picture. That's me. I'm 85. That's me."****
****Demonstration of the Song and Dance miss 85 talked about doing when younger****
****Much of indigenous culture receives a tourist's interest in Taiwan, where rituals and celebrations are held pin public view and supplemented with keychain sales. It is not unlike the attempts of many minority/dwindling cultures to survive****
****Economic hardships and a history of inequality make the recycling bins look like those of Native American Reservations in the US****
****Thao from some years ago****
****1, 2, 3 in Thao****
Post-Sun Moon Lake was simply a few brief stops on the way home, a long enough nap for Cliff to stay up nearly the rest of the way home (11 pm), and the beautiful, drained, return-feeling of a long weekend.
Big thanks and hugs to Katie for inviting me along.