The Back Road

We live outside of Taipei on the side of a mountain.  It is nice to be outside the city and we are close to one of the most popular national parks in the country.

The downside is that it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to drive up or down the mountain to our house.  Some days it takes longer.  And everything we need to get to is down the mountain like school, grocery shopping, work, etc.

Last weekend the sun was out so everyone in Taipei decided to head up the mountain.  On Sunday afternoon they all jammed the one road leading to our house  as we were making our way home.  It took us over an hour to get from the bottom of the mountain to our house.  We let the boys walk the last 2 km home because people walking were moving faster than we were in the car.

However, there is a faster alternate road off the mountain.  Everyone refers to it as “The Back Road.”  It is a 1 1/2 lane road that twists and turns its way through thick jungle before arriving at the top of the mountain near the Taipei Cultural University.  There is one section of the road that is really only wide enough for 1 car but that does not stop anyone.  We routinely have to pull in our door mirrors and  inch our way past an on-coming car.

I actually prefer to drive this road on the scooter because it is so narrow and twisted.  However, I don’t like riding it on the back of the scooter while my wife almost gets us killed.

A Couple of Embarrassing Experiences

Since arriving in Taipei I’ve had my share of embarrassing experiences.  Most of them involve my very sad Mandarin skills or other communication issues.  Here are a few of the many:

Once, while trying to say “I like to eat delicious shrimp” I told my Mandarin teacher, “I like to eat delicious children.”  Her reaction was a dumbfounded look of horror.

Then, this week I thought I would look all smart if I asked the Chinese lady at the information desk at Taipei American School where the nurses office was in Mandarin.  So I got the question all worked out in my head and walked up and asked her.  Perplexed stare.  I asked her again.  Another perplexed stare.  So then I just asked her in English.  Her response in English, “Why did you say it like that?”  My response, “Because I’m a stupid American who can’t speak Mandarin.”

And now for the coup de grâce.  Last night we went to dinner at Taipei 101 with some friends.  After dinner we went to Cold Stone in the food court for some ice cream.  The teenage boy at the cash register wore a name tag which indicated that his English name was “Edge”.  So naturally I asked him if he was a big U2 fan.

Edge:  (expressionless blank stare)

Me:  You know, the rock group, U2!

Edge: (expressionless blank stare)

Me:  U2!  Bono!

Edge: (expressionless blank stare)

Me: (resorting to singing in the food court, with some dance moves thrown in for good measure) ♬It’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right.  She moves in mysterious ways, oh-h-h.♬

Edge: (slightly wider-eyed expressionless blank stare)

Me: (turning to Shaun, the husband of the couple we were with, who speaks fluent Mandarin) Ask him if his name is after The Edge from U2.

Edge and Shaun: (polite interchange in Mandarin)

Shaun:  He said that Edge is after an American WWF wrestler.

Me:  Well that’s just sad!

Jason:  You’re a complete embarrassment.

The Land God Cometh

A few nights ago a friend told us about a festival going on near our house.  It seems during Chinese New Year every god has his day and this day, night actually, belonged to a small god only worshipped (as far as I know) in a small valley a short walk from our house.

It was raining like usual but the locals don’t let a little rain dampen a good show.

You may need to turn up your volume when you watch to this video.  It is hard to hear the speaking parts for this video.

Our Taiwanese friends told us the fireworks were from an illegal factory somewhere in Taiwan.  My oldest son is now obsessed with finding this factory.

Sightseeing

We try to get out and see some place new every weekend… when it’s not raining.  It rains a lot so we really haven’t been out much.  Here is a video from a night out we had a few weeks ago.

Several weeks ago I had a day off work while the kids still had to go to school.  Sweet!  Erin and I decided to go to the Taipei International Flora Expo.  We had fun sightseeing without the kids, but the expo was not that great.

Leaving my Comfort Zone

My new life living abroad has caused me to leave my comfort zone in a big way.  When I think of my life back in Utah, it’s like I was wearing a huge, fluffy, fleece blanket.  It was warm and comfy and familiar.  I loved that fleece blanket.  Moving abroad has meant throwing off that blanket and leaving my comfort zone.  That comfort zone included dear friends and family nearby.  It was a neighborhood full of people who thought and acted much like I did.  It included streets and locations that I knew; vistas I had lived with most of my life.

Now, I leave my comfort zone every time I leave my house and drive through Taipei, on streets I’m unfamiliar with and with street signs I can’t read.  I leave my comfort zone when I figure out my way around town on the subway and on buses.  I leave my comfort zone when I walk up to someone on the street and ask for directions with my very limited Chinese.  The whole process of learning a new language means leaving my comfort zone.  In order to learn a language you have to allow yourself to look stupid.  Making mistakes is part of the process and often times that means opening yourself up to blank stares as people try to figure out what you just said and even standing there as people laugh at your mistakes.  Trust me, it can be hard on the ego.

I leave my comfort zone every time I get on the scooter and drive, white knuckled, down the thin, winding back road to Tianmu.  I leave my comfort zone when I go into a grocery store and try to figure out what things are and how I can make them into something that my family will eat.

My new life is full of unfamiliarity.  I’ve had to throw off that warm fleece blanket and stretch out my arms and legs.  I often face a new challenge and tell myself to take a deep breath and be brave.  But in leaving my comfort zone I’m gaining new confidence; confidence in myself and my abilities.

My children are gaining confidence as well.  Last week, my 14-year-old daughter became lost while riding the city bus home.  Terrified and alone (with a dead cellphone) she discovered that she had taken the wrong bus in this huge city where she doesn’t speak the language.  But she figured out how to retrace her steps and take a bus back to where she could catch a bus that would take her up the mountain to our home.  She arrived home late and shaken up, but she did it.  She made it and I’m really proud of her.  She learned an important lesson.  She learned that at times she will find herself lost and alone but her own brain and abilities can get her out of those predicaments.  It’s empowering.

I’ve also been empowered.  The old phrase “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” has become part of my mantra.  I’ve gained a lot recently and I’m grateful for that.  Recently, a friend from high school sent me a great quote from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”  Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t consider what my family and I are doing as all that daring, but compared to that warm fleece blanket we were wearing around before, it is pretty daring.

Hiking in the Clouds

Recently we experienced a rare stretch of sunny weather.  A neighbor invited us to take advantage of the sun by going on a hike in the mountains near our home.  We loaded up the mini-van and took off get a tan and enjoy the views.  Unfortunately, there was a cloud covering the peak all day long.

The clouds were a mixed blessing.  The hike was 1.6 km up stair after stair.  It would not be fun to hike in the heat.  The cloud also gave the environment an other worldly feel that blended with the open steam vents we found along the way.

More remarkably, Ellie didn’t complain the whole way.  She had a friend along so she didn’t notice the long and steep trail.