Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dildo Valley

I know that this is what many of you were waiting for, so I thought that I'd cut to the chase:For more cerebral stuff, you'll have to wait a bit longer, however, I can give the short version:

Way too much second hand smoke: from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_demographics, 65% of males and 24% of females in the country smoke, but it felt like 99% and 65%.

FanTASTic scenery in the eastern (Ayder, Dogubeyazit, Van) and central (Cappadocia, from whence the picture, above, came) parts of the country, where we spent most of our time.

Wonderful people who made sure that we got to where we were going, sought out people who could speak to us, volunteered to help us WITHOUT thought of "compensation" (except for one unfortunate incident in Van), and IF they were negotiating for providing us a service were very up front about it. We followed lots of people around fairly blindly, and never had the problem we've encountered in other countries of someone just ripping us off (or worse, kidnapping us, given the news we constantly hear from that general area of the world!). No, people would tell us (or motion us) to "get on that bus", or "into that van" and then charged us extremely reasonable rates (many times verifiable by written rates, or just so ridiculously cheap that it didn't matter, although we could see others were being charged the same thing). That's not to say that we didn't get ripped off, ever, but we did so, knowingly, if stupidly ("He's asking us for X amount of money to show us A, B, and C - it's ridiculously high. Let's do it, anyway.").

Best hike: in the Kackar mountains from the town of Ayder. The guide felt that we did about 45km (about 28 miles) in that one day (about 27km(16.7 miles) of that was just on roads to get to/from the trails since it was off-season). Two pictures from that:

The lake we visited, and:


just some of the scenery from our mountain pass view.

The NEXT best hiking (and running!) was in Cappodocia.

Best food for me: these crepe-things filled with spinach, eggplants (aubergines, for you Europeans), and chili that we found in the undocumented (in the Lonely Planet guide) city of Bolu, and lentil soup that I tried to have for breakfast, lunch, and supper (frequently successfully!).

And. . . we crashed a wedding reception, and were forced to join in the merriment - it was a Kurdish wedding in the town of Van. We were just following the music, and the next thing we knew, we were part of the line dance at the inSIStence of the groom and guests!

leora

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What's up with leora?

People have been complaining that they've not seen much of anything since the climbs way back in May. Since then, I've tried to summit several different mountains (Hood, a couple more times, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Jefferson), summited several (Adams a couple of times - I HAD to get on the summit of SOMETHING, and Adams is easy if doing the south side, which is what I did, St. Helens, Old Snowy, Ives, and Gilbert in the Goat Rocks Wilderness area), and took the Advanced Ice climbing class that the local mountaineering group, the Mazamas, offers.

So, now, it's time for VACATION!!! Yeah! 3 weeks in Turkey, with my high school era buddy, Ed (of previous trips, like Spain and Morocco, China, Peru and Chile, and Belize and Guatamala). I leave this Saturday. Our plan is to spend most of the time in the eastern (pretty) part in the mountains, on the Black Sea, near Lake Van, and over in Cappadoccia, where I'm looking forward to seeing what I call "the valley of the dildos" - which, if you can't figure out what it looks like, I'm sure that I'll have pictures that will make it really clear, when I return! Oh, yeah, we'll spend a couple of days in Istanbul. As usual, Ed has done all of the planning for what we'll be doing. . . On the way back, I get to spend a day in Frankfurt, Germany, (so that I can catch the non-stop from Frankfurt to Portland) and get to catch up with Addy, who, by luck or goodwill, will be town that weekend. I'll be back in Portland on November 19th, and back at work for the short Thanskgiving week on the 20th. And, no, I haven't been cut, yet (people hearing the news about Intel's layoffs keep asking me), but there's always a possibility, as cuts have been promised by Otellini all the way through mid-2007.

A couple of comments on the ice climbing: as relayed by our instructor, after doing vertical ice - almost anything on snow seems a cinch! I'm still not sure how I feel about vertical ice. Vertical feels like about 10 or 20 degrees overhanging to me. I wasn't doing so well scaling those crevasse walls, but if there was the slightest incline (80 rather than 90 degrees, say), it felt great, except, of course, that my calves didn't feel so great, as one has to have one's heals lower than one's toes, and to me, that is NOT a comfortable position. I hope to have some pictures of the ice climbing, eventually.

So, for those who like pictures, here are two favorites from this summer. One, by a friend, Jae, leader of our Rainier climb, while he was waiting for us down below him to get ourselves in order at about 12,000ft (~3650meters):


You should be able to click on the picture and see my cute little yellow tent in the middle of the picture. That is Adams in the distance. And between this, Rainier, and Adams, there is Goat Rocks Wilderness, that the same guy, Jae, led several climbs a couple months later, that I joined.


There was one scene that I just HAD to have in a picture to send to you all, but, wouldn't you know it, no camera was to be had at the time. So, what to do? I dragged someone else back there a couple of weeks, later, and I got my shot:


Goat Lake is nestled in the mountains on the left, and that's Mt. Rainier in the distance on the right, framed by the closer range just so perfectly.


After getting to the top of Old Snowy (a shorty at about 7900ft (~2400meters)), I had a photo taken with the same Goat Lake and Rainier in the background, but from that angle, it just didn't seem as spectacular to me, but I'll put it here, anyway, lest people complain that I'm not in the picture!


Ok - it's late, and I have a ton of stuff to do to get ready to head out! (US folks, don't forget to VOTE!!!)


leora

My private zoo

In April, the elk visited me several times, but sharp pictures with meaningful profiles were hard to get, and so I was happy to get this one:
A doe and her fawn visted in late July:
They first caught my attention when I saw something running away from the house, near my bedroom door. I went to see if I could see what had run by, and was treated to the fawn running in cirles in my backyard - round and round and round, and then kicking his back legs in the air. I managed to get a video of it, but couldn't upload it to the blog site (I think that the site only allows pictures, not videos).

A week later, there was another pair - the fawn looks different to me:


Alas, I saw just a deer in my yard about a couple of weeks ago, a couple of nights in a row (she seemed to like turning my motion-sensitive light on) with no sign of a fawn. . . It may be the same doe, or not - I couldn't tell in the dark, even with the garage light shining on her.

leora

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A couple of climbs of Mt. Hood. . .

My return from that little island in the Pacific called "Taiwan" coincided nicely with the start of the snow part of my Advanced Snow and Ice class that I signed up for through the local mountaineering group, the Mazamas. The class consisted of lectures and playing in the snow, learning, and practicing, practicing, practicing placing anchors, belaying people, steep ascents and descents, and crevasse rescue. The class broke up into two groups one weekend (night of May 5th and early morning of May 6th) and climbed different routes up Mt. Hood. Our group went up what is called the Devil's Kitchen Headwall, nicely shown here:

and here:
(this 2nd picture taken from "the Hogsback" on the south side of Mt. Hood, and looking east to where we'd gone up several hours, earlier.) The pictures for this climb are all compliments of one of the guys (Chris) in my class, who was on the other rope. We had 3 people to a rope, and 2 ropes in our group, and 5 people on one rope for the other group that went up a different route. The assistant for our Advanced Snow class was our group's climb leader, and he's the one who put in our "protection" - pickets buried in the snow, while climbing up the steepest part of the Devil's Kitchen Headwall route. Since I was the last on the 2nd rope team, I "cleaned" the route, that is, I took out all of the pickets. You'll see them hanging off of me in another picture near the summit, later.

Here is a shot looking up the headwall route, with our illustrious leader putting in some protection for us:
Looks really cool, doesn't it?

And here, Chris is at the top of the headwall, looking down, taking a picture of the central person on my rope, and me:
Also pretty cool, eh? However, that wasn't, in my opinion, any big deal. The big deal, again, in my opinion, had yet to happen, and consisted of climbing around the gendarme (the peak-looking thing) that is pictured, here:
Doesn't look like such a big deal, does it?

Also in the above picture is the other group that took a different route up Mt. Hood. They took a much longer route, but walked faster than we, and so we met in the place where the two routes meet, which is getting ready for going around the gendarme. And here is the leader of our class, David, heading up, followed by another of that rope team:
His job (besides just climbing) is to put in protection for both of our teams, which now consisted of 3 rope teams. Again, I was last, and so the "cleaner" of the route, not wanting to leave any of our gear on the mountain. Now, this innocent looking little peak is very near the summit of the mountain. This means that it's high. On the back side of it, it drops down thousands of feet. When there, it looks like straight down, for those of us who haven't yet climbed vertical waterfalls (that's left to the Advanced Ice part of the class). . . I was sure that I would fall. I was hoping that my rope mates were paying attention, and that protection above me was firmly in place. Every time I put my foot down on some snowy ice crystals, I wondered if it would hold until I got my next foot placement. It was also at this time that I realized that I didn't exactly know how to use the "2nd tool" that I'd been given as part of this class. It's a shorter ice-axe looking piece of equipment. I whacked at the ice and rock, and when it stuck, I used it as leverage to pull or push myself up and around what appeared to me to be a rock face. Going around it, I saw a carabiner hooked into what looked like a bolt for sport rock climbing. In my altitude-induced wonderment, I was surprised that someone had "bolted" the route (it's a wilderness area - there are not supposed to be any bolts, here), and, furthermore, that David had actually found the bolt. I unhooked the carabiner, sling, and other carabiner that were attached to it, thinking that this was the best protection that I'd seen, yet, on the climb, and so sad to say goodbye to it, since that meant less protection, should I now fall. I looked down. I decided that that was a mistake, and decided to pay more attention to continuing the route around and up. The next part of the climb is pictured here:
where my rope mates are already on the other side of the gendarme, making their way to a ridge of snow, where they then sat and belayed me as I climbed up. In the next picture, you can see them in almost the same position, but you can see more clearly the snow ridge to which they were headed, and the nice drop off to the south side of the mountain from that snowy ridge. It's so hard to tell that the land that you can see in the distance behind them and downward is really, really, really far: Notice the rope between the two of my rope mates. They are some 60ft apart from each other, and I am another 60 ft behind the 2nd guy. When we got to the snowy ridge, the guys suggested that I lead the rest of the way to the summit, which was now a rather gentle slope up. Chris, on the summit, already, took a snap of me and my rope team!:
The amazing thing about this photo is that my rope team was apparently completely in line with me, and even though they are stretched out some 120ft behind me, are almost completely eclipsed by me. You can just see some orange of the middle guy between my legs, some 60ft behind me. In this picture, you can see the pickets hanging off of me. (They sound like cow bells when walking as they clang against each other.) In my right hand is the 2nd tool, and in my left, my normal ice axe. We spent just a little time on the summit, shifting gear, mostly from me to the others, and then waited in line to go down the south side of the mountain to the Hogsback, where the 2nd picture, at the start of this tale, was taken. This next picture is taken from the Hogsback, looking back up the South Side route. I could be one of those dots on the mountain coming down - not sure. You can just see the Bergschrund (crevasse) opening up just a little on both sides of the route:

While we were all on the Hogsback, taking off the rope, harnesses, crampons, giving each other our respective gear, the leader came by and asked me for his ice screw. Ice screw? What ice screw? OH NO!!!!!! You mean that "bolt" that I saw on the back side of the gendarme was actually an ice screw!?!?!? Everyone within earshot turned around and looked at me - "you mean you left the most expensive piece of equipment there on the mountain!?!?!?!" (They are in the area of $45-$55 dollars, each.) I was horrified! I turned around to David and assured him "David, I owe you a screw!" Of course, all those same people within earshot, now started giggling, and Chris suggested that now would be a good time to head down. I couldn't figure out why - he was so mad at me that I'd left that screw there? And then I realized that they were interpreting "screw," differently. . . I realized that even when speaking just plain English (as opposed to my previous gaffs in Chinese and Spanish), I manage to get myself into trouble. . .

My leaving the ice screw on the mountain was then the butt of many, many, many jokes for the rest of that weekend and following weekend. The ice screw, alas, was not found by anyone we know, and either was melted out, and went down the mountain, or was a nice score for some other climb group. . .

Last weekend, I was hoping that I could get someone to go with me up another route on Mt. Hood, but everyone was busy doing something else (the nerve!), so I decided to just go up the south side, after all, you saw the picture looking up from the Hogsback - just a walk up. . . Except. . . In between the May 6th weekend and this May 20th weekend were 2 weeks of record high temperatures in the Portland area. This left the Bergschrund quite exposed. It was HUGE. I looked at it. It stretched far to the left, and far to the right. Some guys from southern California came by and we assessed it. They didn't have a rope. Was there another way around? Hmmmmm. I decided that I wouldn't actually finish the climb this time and turned around to go. But, wait - there were a couple of guys going up unroped. I watched them. Then I watched another group go up, roped, and with protection. I walked around a little bit and realized that the snow was really, really nice. The likelihood of slipping was close to 0. It was nice and solid. And the fluffy stuff that was blowing around right then wasn't effecting the solid stuff. I decided to go up. I set off to go to the right of the crevasse. It was a bit steep. Hmmm, maybe not. . . Oh, for Pete's sake - if I'm not going to go up this, then why the heck did I spend all of that time the last month taking classes? I decided, once and for all, to go for it. There were nice huge "steps" that all of the people who went before me had made in the snow going up, and I just made sure that I planted my ice axe firmly to the hilt on every step, just in case one of the steps blew out, or I slipped or something else happened. I wasn't keen on being another statistic. On the way up, another group was going up, and one of the guys stopped and took this picture, which I absolutely love:

On the summit, I was sitting there drinking, eating, rearranging stuff. There was no view - visibility was poor due to the snow and clouds. It was a popular time on the summit, with some 4 or so little groups, there. At least 2 of them were guided. I discovered that the 2 guys that I thought went up unroped were, in fact, roped - I just couldn't see the rope between them, as it nicely disappeared in the snow. I started to worry about the trip down. Someone in one of the groups told me that they were the group that I'd passed in the middle of the night. I had been walking up, and post holed up to my hip, and then couldn't get my leg out! There was a group camped out on the rocks and I called over to them, asking them if they were wearing snowshoes, as I was concerned that the rest of the way would be like this, but they said no, and wondered if I'd had similar problems, earlier, which I assured them I hadn't. I had to take off my backpack, get my ice axe, and dig out my leg. Upon success, I walked by their little camp, and they asked me if I were going solo, and then offered me coffee, which I declined. So on the summit, this guy was telling me that they were that group, and then said, "yeah - we were talking about you all night!" One of the guys came over, asked me my name, took my picture, and then walked away, mumbling something about having to get me the picture, somehow, by email or something, but since he was walking away, I figured that that was that. I changed my glasses into goggles, as the wind was whipping up a bit, and then ran down to join one of the guided groups because I wanted to follow his route down. They had a nice route down, going down through what REALLY is "the Pearly Gates", and then swung around and down the left side of the crevasse. It was a nice descent, but my back was killing me from bending over so very much, since I wanted to be really sure that my ice axe was always firmly planted. . . Down on the Hogsback, the picture takers made it down while I was "refueling," and yelled out an email address that after a couple of spellings, I finally got right, so I was able to get the above picture, and this summit picture:
from the guy who took it and went away. . .

I asked my picture benefactor if he also had any of the crevasse so that you all could see how enormous it was, but with the snow fall and cloud that we were in, he just couldn't capture the sense of depth, and told me that it just looked like a pile of snow. . . Maybe I'll go up there, again, soon, and be able to take a picture of it in all its gaping glory. . .

I post holed one more time on the way down, and, again, had to dig my leg out. I'll swear it was around the very same spot as on the way up. . . Going down was more interesting than ever before, since this was the first time I went down while it was snowing and visibility was so poor. I followed someone else's footsteps all the way until I noticed a drop-off. A little check with the compass confirmed that I was heading toooooo far east, and just had to course correct and go south. I soon reached the ski slopes, from which it is a piece of cake to find the way down, even if it is a long slog, as they say. . .

The next day, when I was calling my Mom for her birthday, telling her that I'd survived yet another climb, I realized that that solo climb was 6 years to the day of my very first climb of Mt. Hood, when I didn't even know that there was a crevasse to worry about, and one of my team mates fell, pulverizing her ankle, causing us to stay an extra 8 or so hours on the mountain in order for the volunteer Portland Mountain Rescue folks to come and litter her out, setting her on her course of recovery which took over 2 years before she could start walking (she has climbed a mountain, since then). My mountaineering friends all yelled at me to take mountaineering classes after I admitted to being on the climb. . . I did, and, counting it up, this was my 22nd successful climb, and 7th successful climb of Mt. Hood. Not toooo shabby, considering I've been in PRC or Taiwan for a good part of the last 4 years. . . I hope that I can have many, many more successful climbs in the future, though!

Sorry this was so long, but I really, really wanted to share these climbs with everyone!!!! (This weekend - rafting!!!! Or, rather, inflatable kayaking, for me!)

leora

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

US-bound with bath towels

Gosh this is a tough week - saying good-bye to so many people who have become part of my daily life, so many fantastic people - all of my employees, my co-managers, other friends at work, hiking friends, family (Jeannie's), and friends of friends that are now friends. Last day *in* the office is tomorrow (which will be "today," very shortly!), and then I'm flying back on Sunday. I knew when I started that the months would fly by, and they have.

And I have so much to tell you all about, and so much that I've even written up, but haven't sent out, yet. I need to at least tell you about the bath towels. . .

I've had the pleasure and honor to be able to visit a lot of people in a lot of different houses, and stay over at a lot of different people's houses. If someone has lived in the US, before, it's a little different - they know the US ways, but for people who haven't, I sometimes am surprised by something that is so normal here, and not so normal in the US.

In general, when visiting people, here, along with your toothbrush and toothpaste, you're expected to bring your towel and soap. Well, I, of course, forgot this the first (and second and third) time I stayed overnight at someone's house. So, there I was, I needed a shower, and I'd forgotten to bring a towel with me. I requested one from my host. Sure!!!! He came back with a US-perspective "tiny" towel, which I thought was a kitchen towel (maybe 1-1/2foot by 2-1/2feet long?), and he proudly said "here you go!" It was obviously nice and new. Wow! Was I surprised! Besides my surprise, I remember asking myself how I was going to dry myself with that small piece of cloth. But then I thought about it. Here was a big guy giving a smaller me a "bath towel". Well, if HE can use something like this, than SURELY *I* can. I did, of course. And then I thought some more about it. Maybe that is why everyone has such small luggage when they travel, while my pack is pretty big. I started taking the towels that I bought for my kitchen dish towels (to dry dishes & hands) as my bath towel when travelling. At one point I realized that it's bigger than my US camping towel. . . My kitchen towel-cum-bath towel works, and it saves room. At home, I'll still be quite happy to use my big towels. . .

And home I shall be, in just a matter of days. I know that there are a ton of people that I'm forgetting to say goodbye to, here. I will just have to come back to say it, later, I guess. . .

Stay healthy.

leora

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

the art of survey taking. . .

I went to Taipei Eye with my cousins when they were here last week. There was a puppet show, and a little Chinese opera/dance show, as well as some free "tang yuan" - the hot soup with little chewy rice balls filled with various things, hand puppets for sale, a chance to see the actors and actresses putting on their makeup, and a myriad of other little sweet (as in nice) little things. . .

I was going through my stuff while packing for this trip that I'm on back to Oregon, and I noticed the survey for the little theater. I had to laugh - it asked questions and then had as the choices:

Excellent
Very Good
Good
Not Bad

It was very, very funny. Had to share. . .

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fire in the year of the dog; emergency 119; balding rain

The new year, the year of the dog, has officially begun. The year of the chicken is over. If you bear a child in this new lunar year, you can expect him/her to act like a dog. . . well, ok, I exaggerate, perhaps. The book I looked at mentioned honest and loyal, and keeps secrets well. Loyal - that's what I think of as a dog characteristic. And most dogs I know keep secrets very well, at least none have told me any. . . If you were born after Chinese new year in the years 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, or 1994, you're a dog. . . This is because, as many of you know, the Chinese zodiac system is a 12 year system.

(For the curious, after dog comes pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, and then chicken.)

Sometime around 10:30pm or so, someone rang my door, and, upon seeing me switched from Chinese to English and warned me that there was smoke coming out of the apartment across from me, and that they'd already called "911." Sure enough, I don't know if a minute had even passed by the time a (small) emergency vehicle, with siren howling showed up in front of the door, and some guys came in. I don't really know what they did. They seemed to have a conference in the hallway, and later, another. I'm not sure if they tried various ways of getting into the apartment or what, but I decided to get dressed into running clothes, in case I had to make a quick exit - might as well go for a run. . . Before I headed out, the door across the hall was open, and things seemed to be settled. I didn't see any big plumes of smoke or flames of fire, so I supposed that the quick exit would not be necessary. The "911" phrase kept running in my head, though. I thought that it was quite interesting. 911 is NOT the emergency number, here. 119 is. All that I can think is that the woman who told me this wanted to convey that emergency number had been called, so she translated it to 911 for me. .

I finally ventured out at 11:30pm for a run. The 3 temples that I passed before midnight were all open for business, although only one of them had people in it. One of them was very well stocked with the paper money ready to be bought to be burned in hopes of good fortune. I ran along the river during the midnight hour and was treated to a rather continuous display of fireworks. One place in particular seemed quite well stocked. Not only are they rather nice to look at, but they're also supposed to have the practical purpose of scaring away the evil spirits. One store I ran by had someone firing off an amazing sparkling, noisy firework candle thingie - right on the sidewalk, so about 2 feet max from the front of the building, and a foot away from the scooters parked in front. I started imagining scooters exploding, and backed farther away. Since the houses all are made of cement with metal doors, I guess that fires aren't such a fear, but it still freaks me out. Another store had someone throwing in the paper bought from the temple into the little burning container in front of his house or store, which resulted in a roaring fire, again, just about a foot or two in front of the door. The container looks like:

This particular one was just inside the front door of my apartment building. There is another one near the door on the roof of the apartment building. These containers are used very often - at least twice a month.

I did pass a couple of apartments where it was clear that there was a big gathering, but not so many - possibly due to the great exodus from Taipei, although I couldn't tell much other evidence of that. I'll see what the traffic looks like on Monday.

I returned soaking wet, due to the rain. Which reminds me, did you know that rain on your head can make you bald? Well, that is the theory, here. I don't know if it is a new idea, due to acid rain, or a long held belief, but I was reminded of it when I saw a man with a tiny square handkerchief covering his head on my run. I was thinking that that makes a poor umbrella, but then I remembered the warning I'd been given by others when I've gone hatless in the rain. . .

Keep dry, be safe (wear round jade things to be protected), and may you have a healthy and prosperous year of the dog!!!

leora

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year! On the Gregorian calendar (no, it's not named after me in any way), the calendar which is used in the universal time codes for things like earthquake recordings, Chinese New Year's eve is January 28th, and Chinese New Year's Day is January 29th. This is definitely the holiday season, here. I can feel it. In fact, I've been feeling it all year round, since people have been talking about it since before I got here: "will you be there for Chinese New Year this time?" And then, for the last couple of months, the questions and planning and discussions have been going on pretty constantly, with the frequency getting higher as we neared this day. In the last couple of days, discussions of hongbao (red envelope that contains money) have really increased. The guys in the group that I call my "sons" started demanding hongbao (meaning money), and then I found another employee getting the hongbao ready for her and her husband's parents. I had them explain, and got a few more explanations from others, and came up with, in general, when you are a kid, you get hongbao from your parents and aunts and uncles, and then when you become an adult, it's payback time, with interest. . . You start giving it to your parents, especially if they are retired. Armed with this new information, I went back to my "sons" and started demanding hongbao from them! Of course, none of us were serious, but it sure helped to get some explanations about the finer points of who gives hongbao to whom. . .

Also, it seems that children get very demanding about this hongbao, which, to me, as a westerner, borders on downright rudeness, but doesn't appear to be taken in a rude way at all, here. I got a taste of this when I started saying "gong xi fa cai" to people, a phrase I'd learned more than 20 years ago from Jeannie, which means "congratulations, become rich" but is a common greeting that I had always thought simply meant "happy new year," since that's what everyone said to each other at this time. Anyway, now that I understand the translation, having the response be "hongbao na lai" something like saying "where is the red envelope?" makes a heck of a lot of sense. It's sort of like saying "I'm happy to have you contribute to my becoming rich", which no longer seems rude.

In Taiwan, you're supposed to go visit the parent's of the man's side of the family on New Year's eve and Day, and then on January 2nd (of the lunar calendar, so, January 30th on the Gregorian, this year), you're supposed to visit the parent's of the woman's side. This has a whole bunch of interesting ramifications. For example, this means that if you are Mom and Dad, you can expect to see all of your sons and their families on New Year's Day, and all of your daughters and their families on the 2nd, but you won't have ALL of your kids, together, during that time of year.

Since a big percentage of all of the people who live in Taipei are actually from somewhere else in Taiwan, and have only moved up here for their jobs, many families head down to their hometowns. No-where is *really* far in Taiwan, of course, but even a 5 hour ride is considered a fair distance for people like me, especially for just a couple of days. So, if you're a man and your family heads down to southern Taiwan to be with your side of the family, and your wife is from the north of Taiwan, this could present a problem, and, indeed, does, for many families, since this January 2nd at the wife's family is a very, very strong tradition (no matter if you spend most of the rest of the year near your wife's family! People can be very irrational when traditions are concerned. . .). For all of those folks who married someone from their hometown, they get to avoid this mess.

I've heard a few firecrackers, but not what I'd been expecting. I hope to stay up to midnight to see if anything special happens, then, but I'm suspecting not, since the new year celebrations seem much more about spending time being with the family. I seem to remember that this is supposed to be a 10 day festival, but that, in the new era, lots of people just take the week off, and certainly all of the companies give the week off. I met a couple of Americans flying to Taiwan for the holiday, so that they could do all of the maintenance to various equipment while everyone was on holiday. It was funny, since their perspective is always of a Taiwan in festival. . .

Speaking of Chinese New Year, and family. . . here is a picture of parents, my brother, and me, taken on my parent's 49th wedding anniverary, taken in Michigan, at my Brother's house (I didn't notice, but it's kind of cute that there is an anniversary clock in the background, above my head - how fitting). leora

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Weather, hikes

First, the weather - The lowest I've seen, here, has been about 9C (48F) on the SongShan Airport thermometer that shines out across the road from my place (I have to walk to the corner to actually see it, so I only see it when going to and from work). Invariably, it goes down to 9C and starts to rain for a week when I have visitors, and then the sun comes out and the temperature shoots up to about 27C (81F), when they leave. . .

On one of the Richard Saunders hikes, I lucked out because our fearless leader's roommate had a car, and joined us, and there were only 4 of us, so we went around to the far side of Yangmingshan Park, where the buses don't go, and we went up the 2nd highest mountain in the park (Juzhi Shan). This was particularly nice because, besides being a dirt path, we got to fight our way through a short bamboo jungle up the side of the mountain. The views out to the sea were spectacular. And I can gloat, because I was on a mountain that few of my native Taiwan friends and none of my employees have scaled. (I've since taken a few up!).

Two weeks before that, I went up the highest mountain (cising) in YangMingShan Park, which is about 1120 Meters (around 3675ft) high, which, while it was a concrete stair climb was still quite enjoyable because of the group I went up with. It is an incredibly popular hike because it's pretty easy to get to the trailhead, goes to the highest peak in the park, and is very short (only about 5km (3 miles) ROUND TRIP!). There was a slightly shorter peak that we went to on the way to our goal, and as we glanced over to our destination, we saw that there seemed to be a lot of people, there. Part-way there, we decided to break while we waited for a bunch of people to leave, and saw a big group of maybe 30 or so depart, so we thought we'd have it to ourselves. HA!!!! There were probably another 100 or so people up there!!!!!! It seems that there was a company outing, so a lot of folks and their families were up there having a big picnic lunch. We took a couple of pictures to prove we'd made it, took in the views (unfortunately hampered by the pollution, that day), and went back to the other peak and were greeted by one of our group members making tea for us!!! (He was willing to make coffee, but most of us wanted tea. . .) No roughing it, here!

Oh, and on the way to meet up with the crew to go to Cising mountain, I took the bus. On some buses, you have to pay when you get on, and on others, you have to pay when you get off. You have to pay attention to the Chinese characters that are lit above the bus driver's head when you get on to know when to pay. This particular one was pay as you leave. I'd had very little sleep the night before (had a meeting that I presented at until 2:30am in the morning), and I was busy staring at the Chinese characters on the screen of the bus, where it said what each stop was in advance in both Chinese and English. I guess that I was sort of daydreaming, because all of a sudden, I realized that it was my stop, so I leaped off of the bus. I heard the bus beep, and in my fog, I turned around, very slowly, I guess, as the bus was continuing on, but I realized that the driver was beeping at me, because I'd forgotten to pay! I'm a criminal in Taiwan. . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Do you know what the biggest news is here (specifically, in Detroit), right now?

(I wrote this for my Taiwan team, and then decided to send it out to others who may not be so familiar with Detroit, Michigan's biggest city, as well as other tid-bits).

The biggest news is. . . The SUPER BOWL!!!!! I'm not sure if you know that that is some football (American football, not soccer) game. It seems that it moves around, and it seems that this year, the Super Bowl (the football game over which some marriages end. . .) will be in Detroit. My parents told me that it's on the news every single night, and has been on the news for the last month. They can't wait until it's over, and it disappears from the news. . .

Today, it went all the way up to 3C (37F). My Dad was musing, yesterday, when the high temperature was around -4C (24F), that it was soooo warm. "Hard to believe that it's January because it's so warm. . ."

Famous things in Detroit: The MOTOR CITY!!!! Yes, folks, this is where it all began. This is where the first moving assembly line for cars, well, for anything, actually, was created. The Model T rolled off the line many years ago (in 1913), here, in Detroit! Henry Ford's contribution to history! Actually, he had another huge contribution to history: he realized that his workers could become potential customers of their own work, IF they earned enough money, so Ford paid them what was considered a lot of money in that era. From "http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dt13as.html" it says "Ford was called 'a traitor to his class' by other industrialists and professionals, but he held firm in believing that well-paid workers would put up with dull work, be loyal, and buy his cars." This set the stage for high wages for this type of work, in the US. We will see if it lasts through the globalization process.

This is also where all the "Motown" (for "Motor City") songs came from. "Standing in the Shadow of Love" "Whenever you are near, I hear a Symphony" "Heard it through the Grapevine" and soooo many more. . . (REAL, singable, music. . .)
Detroit is also famous, well, infamous, for some other things, like:
  • the 1967 race riots - I remember the tanks rolling down the streets - and we weren't allowed onto the streets after some hour in the evening
  • Murder Capital of the world (i.e., we had the greatest number of murders here for a number of years while I was growing up - had to be proud of something - Yeah! We're number one in murders!) I remember having 800 or 801 one year. Just think, this was the city that had the most killings, not the only killings. We're pretty darned good at killing our own. We don't even need a war! I noticed that Detroit is down to about #5, now, with fewer than 400 murders per year (a small number unless you happen to be one of the lucky fewer than 400 people. . .) But, then, the population has shrunk to less than 1,000,000, when the all-time high was around 1,850,000 in 1950. Let's see, 400 a year. . . Nope even over a period of 50 years, that's "only" 20,000. . .never mind. . .
Detroit also totally surrounds 2 other cities: Hamtramck and Highland Park, which I think is a neat thing. . .(I lived in Highland Park in my early formative years.)

And then, there is Romeo, where my parents really live - 32 miles north of Detroit. We know that, because the big roads are set 1 mile apart, and named in "mile" roads north of Detroit. Some "mile" roads also have other names (like Big Beaver is 16 Mile Road). My parents live just south of 32 Mile Road.

Romeo is famous for peaches!!! It has a Peach Festival every year, and there is a Peach Queen selected. There are parades, art shows, home tours, garden tours, rides, and more. However, most of the peach orchards (and, later, apple orchards) are now gone, most becoming subdivisions. This is very sad as there used to be such a fantastic variety in peaches, here, and ohhhh so yummy! (I know, Cedric would disagree, since he likes those hard, lightly flavored, crunchy things called "peaches" that we have in Taiwan. . .)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to celebrating my parent's 49th wedding anniversary this Friday. I went to one of my Mom's medical meetings, tonight, and the other couple at the table had been married for 53 years, and told us that their four children had bought them a luxury cruise down the Panama Canal. Geez. Did I HAVE to sit at THAT table? Did they HAVE to tell my parents about that? The pressure mounts - what will my brother and I do for our parent's 50th?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bags and Mosquitoes

Soon after I arrived in Taipei, last year, I met up with another expat whom I'd contacted to find out about his experiences. When he greeted me in Taipei, he gave me a cloth bag filled with something that looked like a shortish-handled`badmitten racket. The bag, he said, was a reusable shopping bag, so that I wouldn't have to keep buying plastic bags at the stores. The "badmitten" racket, was for mosquitoes. . .

First, the bag. I don't know if Taiwan ever had the brown paper bags for placing grocery items, as is very prevalent in the US. When I went to Taiwan some 25 years ago, everywhere there were plastic bags. The concept hadn't moved to the US. I thought they were neat. They were neat, but soon, the government of Taiwan recognized that there was a real garbage problem, and mandated charges to customers for the plastic bags. All the stores had to comply, but the street vendors are exempt. I read, somewhere, that this helped the garbage problem a little, but I don't have hard facts. . . I reuse my bags, and try to avoid having any vendors give me plastic bags, but, in spite of that, my plastic bag collection is still growing.

Now, the mosquitoes. The expat assured me that there would be mosquitoes, and that the solution was this racket thing. It has a little button on the handle, and when pressed, makes the paddle part of the racket become an electrocution machine. . . Fortunately, I went through the whole summer and never saw a mosquito in my apartment. Then came winter. Something happened. First, it was just one in a week, but gradually, it progressed to multiple mosquitoes in a night, which is annoying because 1) I get itchy mosquito bites if they manage to get to me, 2) I'm not really keen on all of the neat little diseases that they like to spread, and 3), they're noisy and wake me up when I'm sleeping (assuming that the upstairs neighbors haven't already done that. . .). So, enter the mosquito racket - push the button and swat at the air, and be happy when the sparks start flying. It's like having one of those bug zappers that people hang out in their yards in the US, except that there's no cage around it, so don't test it out with your fingers, as seems the natural inclination of all of us who are curious about it. . . ZAP!

FYI, I just made it to Michigan for the week of home leave that I get for this assignment that I'm on. I'll be back in Taiwan well before the January 29th Chinese New Year, and am looking forward to an empty Taipei as everyone promises me that folks head out to the home towns in the south of Taiwan for the week's holiday.