Sunday, May 26, 2013

A morning walk

Xian and I seized the opportunity to take a morning walk over the weekend. Temporarily, the rains cleared and the sun had not yet turned the outside into a sticky oven. A few dogs took passing interest in Audrey and threatened from a distance yet gave us plenty of room.

Xian loved the small road we walked along. There is rarely any traffic so she entered full explorer mode as the path winds among a few small homes with chickens and roosters calling in the day. Banana plants dot the edges of the road and other fruit trees are also present.  The mirror in the photo is typical of Taiwanese backroads. I believe the idea is to help cars see around the blind curves but it is a rare sight to see a car or scooter check the mirror and react accordingly.

Fruit on the lychee trees are rapidly growing and I hope that we get a harvest within the next month (Did we mention how excited we are to be in the final countdown...) Quick lychee tip given to me by a coworker last year: Peel them and freeze them. They make tasty frozen treats.

The pink spot is XO's awesome hat.
We then came across a plant that I have not seen before. It's flower begs you to take note and look closer. When opened, it gives me the message of Don't Touch. What is it?

Closed flower on the vine
Opened up - what are the red seeds? Edible?
I know that each parent is caught by surprise as to how quickly their children grow but I shook my head in disbelief as Xian charged down this big hill with no problem. Only a year ago she was a tiny little thing that could not walk and just a few months ago would never have had the balance to race down.

A grate at the bottom of the hill provided a challenge. Xian peered through the holes and wondered if she should step onto the metal. Eventually, she mustered the courage and crossed back and forth and back and forth.

The rains have been absolutely relentless. With over 3 meters just in May, I'm surprised that our home is still standing. Water did begin entering through the floor at one point though the roof and surprise leak places seem to be holding strong. Over 10 years ago, a massive earthquake shook this part of Taiwan. The homes in our area cracked in visible and hidden locations so water occasionally finds it way into the house during big rain events. The river near us sprang up to fill its banks and scoured the plants that had rooted since typhoon season in the fall.

A fisherman caught our attention as he tried to find fish in the waters.

Xian loved the bridge over the river that seems to be designed perfectly for a toddler to peer between the cracks. She alternated between the two sides of the bridge to take in the flow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

International Teaching: a Transition Summer

Summer is around the corner and many international teachers look forward to returning to that place called home. Personally, I eagerly await my summer visit to the Pacific Northwest.
Punchbowl Falls on Eagle Creek, Columbia River Gorge
As an engineer, I moved to Los Angeles; Huntington, WV; Raleigh, NC; and Portland, OR to start new jobs. Each time, an orientation was followed by a slowly ramping up of responsibilities. Learn the processes, the work flow, the people and begin contributing. Meanwhile, I found it easy to get my home life up and running. Bank accounts transferred and language barriers did not exist as I obtained a phone, places to live, utilities, groceries and almost anything else.
Teaching is different. On the first day of school, students are nervous yet ready to begin. The fact that my life may be in a crazy state of turmoil is low on their radar. I'm the new teacher and I have to hit the ground running. There is no slow ramp up with students. A sweet spot exists at the beginning of the year. Who is the new guy? What is he like? Is he up for us? International teaching adds an additional twist. Not only is there a new batch of students, a new grade level, new coworkers, new procedures but life outside of school must be established. This can be difficult with language barriers and process that are different from the States. For example, in Taiwan little can be accomplished without the Alien Resident Card, which takes several weeks to obtain. As we move to China, our belongings must wait for us to clear customs before they can arrive. This means that our household summers in Taiwan longer than we do and will arrive in Beijing weeks after us.
So far, the transition to China seems to be moving along smoothly. Our new school is doing a fantastic job communicating with us and making us feel part of the community. I'm curious as to how people transition to new jobs and cultures. What do you do? A retired US ambassador recently talked at my school and when he was finished his wife gave a few words. She said her goal was to establish "home" as soon as possible. Once home was set and the family felt stable everything else could continue. This is our first big move with children. Advice? Thoughts?

Monday, May 13, 2013

a Guinean repost: Ant Armies (December 3, 2006)

A few weeks ago, I was on a hike with some students as part of the Earth Day activities at our school and at one point we crossed a line of ants. I had forgotten this story but managed to get most of the details together to tell the's a crazy one

The view out of my kitchen window reflects the battle of the previous night. The sides of my neighbor’s (Tanti) house are blackened and the earth surrounding the house out to 15 feet is scorched black.Fortunately, there is no sign of the vanquished, the thousands and thousands of ants who laid siege to the house.
By chance, I was at the edge of my porch last night when I saw Tanti come out on her porch, notice something and with a shriek disappear quickly back into her house. What could it be? Instants later she returned on the veranda with the two girls who also live there. They all look and point towards the ground and then run down the stairs. As they reach the bottom of the stairs, each person jumps and runs quickly away from the house.
I yell, “What is happening?”
“They can kill a person. It’s not good,” Tanti replies.
Confused, I leave my porch and go over to where she stands. At the same time, the two girls run past me towards the opposite side of my house. They return in several moments with dried straw. The neighbor on my other side has recently moved out and there are piles of old, dried straw from what used to be their outside cooking hut.
“Look, look,” Tanti urges me as she flashes her flashlight beam on the ground. It takes my eyes a couple of seconds to focus on the moving earth. Nothing is fixed. Suddenly, a sharp pain on my foot helps me realize what is on the ground. Ants. Lots and lots of ants.There are so many ants that the dirt and rocks are almost covered. Apparently, at the end of the rainy season, hordes of ants leave their tunnels underneath the ground to forage around the neighborhood.They can swoop through a house and clean it out.
One of the girls is holding a bundle of the straw and Tanti lights it.She then attempts to light any debris on the ground. I join in and grab a bundle, light it and set the ground, ants, anything that burns on fire. We are soon joined by Bachir, a friend of the family who was just happening by.
Several minutes later finds us all standing on the porch, about 10 feet above the ground.
“They’re coming up! Don’t let them in the house,” shrieks Tanti.
The image of defenders of a medieval castle comes to my mind. As I look on the ground and the base of the walls to the house, the ground is blackened by the teeming ants starting to climb up the walls. The ants have laid siege to us. Running down the stairs to grab a bundle of straw, I am brushed by the heat of Bachir’s burning bundle as he races up the stairs. He reaches over the wall and uses the flame to repel ants coming up. One of the girls drops salt over the edge into the masses of ants while the other pours kerosene onto the ground to be followed by a flaming mass of straw. We are able to stop the upward progression of ants into the house and return to the ground to get the ants away from the building. Running around with bundles of flaming straw, each person is busy setting small fires while also trying to keep their feet moving constantly. These ants are not friendly. I pause for a second and my feet are instantly covered with biting ants.I drop my flaming bundle, retreat to safe ground and beat the ants off of my feet and legs. Some have crawled up my legs and are biting my back. I get the ants off and look at the scene around me.
The full moon has illuminated the area and the light is amplified by multiple fires burning red around the house. After almost an hour of battle, the ants finally disappear back into the earth. Who knows when they will reappear?
Post script: A few days later, I was told that the ants did reappear at another house and killed 5 chickens and were working on a few sheep that were saved. Mean little things...

Reposted from Guinea!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

to Mom in the trenches

Happy Mother's Day! I know, I know, today should be a rest day.  It should be a celebration of how great of a Mom you are, but that's not quite your style. Instead, you're hanging out in the hospital playing with one of your daughters to keep her spirit up. You are helping her color all over the books you thought to bring. You are reading to her about the Something-a-saur. You are again digging into the sticker pile to find more stickers for her to place who knows where. You are singing, what the 200th rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star - I think Xian has the "Up above the sky so high" part down. And you are laughing your beautiful laugh with the wee one to keep her laughing.

Doing what you do best - making the little monkeys laugh.
This week has been a challenge - with emergency room trips and two girls in the hospital, there has been little room for relaxing and the rest of us thank you for all your work. But, Mother's Day is also about thinking of all those times when you are here for your little ones. We appreciate how you stay up late working because you are completing an intensive Master's program on top of teaching, living internationally and moving our family to Beijing. We appreciate your insistence that the girls learn languages - Chinese at school, English with you, and getting me, a reluctant French speaker, to only speak French to the girls. We appreciate the projects you always include the girls on...

We appreciate your commitment to family - it is truly amazing how you build upon the girls' extended family and do the extra bit to keep connections strong.

So, on this day, we think about all that you do for us and we smile because above all you make us happy. Thanks for being so amazing! We love you!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Bronchial Pneumonia Saga

Several days passed with Sage stuck in grumpy mode. She simply was not feeling well so on a Tuesday night, Krista decided to take Sage to the hospital to get her checked out. Hours later I get the message - yep, in our let's leave Taiwan brilliance we have already canceled one phone - that Sage waded through an emergency room full of H7 N9 panickers to find out that she managed to catch a case of bronchial pneumonia.

Yikes! She was being admitted to the hospital.

Sage needed a special IV machine because the original kept falling out
Home with a sleeping Xian, I suddenly had several challenges to overcome:

  1. We live in Dakeng - translation --> "scenic" area far, far away from anywhere
  2. Krista left with the Freeca (our car)
  3. My wallet is in the Freeca and no spare cash was hanging around home.
  4. Krista didn't anticipate Sage's admission to the hospital and has no clothes for either of them, no diapers, no formula, no toys, no books, no food, aaah!!
  5. I need to get to the hospital with a care bag, drop Xian off at school and get to work in time for my elementary before-school duty.
  6. Did I mention that I no longer have a phone?
  7. Oh yeah, the new guard of our community speaks not a lick of English.
Waking to find a house empty of both Mom and little sister, Xian acted as a rock star - it seems like she knew that we had a few hurdles to jump. She gulped her bottle as I changed her and then helped me walk Audrey and laughed at my attempt to communicate with the guard (I can't wait until she speaks Chinese as well as she understands!) Success - the taxi was on its way and a big thanks to Asa for leaving me some cash in his sporty red car.

10 hours later, Xian and I find ourself in a doctor's office. The visit quickly turned from being a good idea to Xian moving in with Sage. The four of us were reunited in room 707.

Double drip - both girls hooked up to IVs
The girls are amazing little beings! They quickly settled in to the confined life of an IV line. With little to do, they were introduced to the television as a time-wasting drug (here is to hoping they remember its effects on the 13-hour flight to Portland in a month!). We also napped, sang, read books and ate. Once, upon waking from a nap, Sage and I discovered that our clothing was covered in blood. Her IV popped out. Yuck!

The next morning, a rested and restless Sage got great news - she was heading home! It took most of the day to process paperwork but we eventually made it out. Kissing Krista and Xian goodbye, we headed home to a hot shower and warm bath. Unfortunately, XO had a rough night and instead of being released on Friday, she received an oxygen box.

Later that day (Friday) Sage and I came to visit. This time, Krista left with Sage to take a well-earned hot shower and nap. A bit later, Xian's principal and teacher showed up to visit. Then, just before bed time, a few kind volunteers stopped by to read and book / give a puppet show to little XinXin. She was left with a balloon flower.

Friday night featured a high fever for Xian. An xray in the morning indicated that some improvement had take place in her lungs. The big question for us is why isn't XO getting the same treatment as Sage? Is it a case of different doctors and different philosophies? Whatever the case, we wonder if Xian is not getting important antibiotics. 

Sage brought her smile in for an afternoon visit and the two girls enjoyed romping around on the bed.

Unfortunately, Sage and I left a little while later and Krista and Xian remained. This is the longest spell that we have had without each other and it's a bummer. Here's to hoping that Xian has a great night and soon finds her way to the hospital's exit.

Update: The next day Xian woke up full of energy. The tiny bed was no longer a big enough place for this moving machine. Fortunately, the doctor gave her the go-home clearance and by Sunday afternoon we were all back home. Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Playing despite/in the Rain

It's been raining. A lot. Since Spring Break, we've had rain almost every day which has been great for the jungle scenery but has kept us penned up a bit. Rainy day photo action follows.

Sage hiding under the Singer table

Xian in piggies

Up close

Fun with the big blue ball

The girls like opportunities to splash in puddles...

With all the rain, a few goldfish managed to swim their way into our home.

Picnics have been inside rather than out - bring on the bagels!