More on Canada trip

After Seattle I flew to Toronto and was met by a good friend who took me to her house where I stayed for a few days before setting off on a trip. Joanne and Paul made me very welcome, I stayed with them because Christina’s studio apartment is very small and doesn’t even have a couch, only a double bed. It was great to catch up with Christina and see her appartment. which is lovely in a great building with lots of facilities but is very expensive as it is in the heart of downtown Toronto.
We arranged to go on a trip to montreal and Ottawa.
After enjoying the Freers hospitality we set off forMontreal.

Marisa and Rufus in “New Kitchen”

Joanne and Marisa showing the “New Kitchen”

Typhoon Sinlaku and Koh Lanta

I am sitting at my computer while the wind and rain lash at the bedroom window, we are in the midst of a slow moving typhoon, the eye of which is forecast to arrive over Taipei this evening. It is a category 3 (Katrina was a 3) which may change to a 4. It is our first experience of a really BIG typhoon and being on the 17th floor it is interesting to watch what happens to the rain with the wind gusts; sometimes it is flying sideways sometimes even upwards but eventually it lands on the ground and the games park opposite is rapidly becoming a lake.
The wind has been blowing all night, it makes whistling, howling sounds which make one want to curl up in a ball somewhere, I suspect an innate trait probably handed down through evolution in order to stay safe during big storms. The government declared a shut down of all city run agencies as of last night and the weather bureau issued a typhoon warning, all this means we should stay home unless it is an emergency. Everyone was preparing yesterday, shopping and making sure they had candles, water and food that doesn’t’ need cooking, in case the electricity goes out. Taipei is usually very good and all buildings are typhoon and earthquake safe but we shall wait and see.

We had another trip to Bangkok the last week of August. Dave had to work on the Monday and Tuesday, then we went off to an island in the Andaman sea, Koh Lanta, off the coast of Krabi.
It is the rainy season down there which means the ocean is quite rough so we didn’t get to go in the sea too much and we were the only ones in our hotel one of the nights (it is the low season for tourists) but this is how we like it, very relaxing.

view of our hotel from outside our room

the Bike
We hired a motor bike for a couple of days and travelled around most of the island except for the very end, the road was a dirt track and very hilly and Dave didn’t feel safe navigating it with me on the back so we didn’t go.
We met some interesting people, a couple of Dr. from France who go there every year for 2 weeks just to unwind. They had travelled by road along Route One in Viet Nam in the mid 1980’s and had also gone into Cambodia in the early ’80’s to be doctors there. They know the Dali Lama and usually go to Tibet every year but didn’t go this year as it was difficult for them to get visas with all the trouble going on there. They had some good stories to tell.
We also met a foursome who go to Lanta every year, they were Liverpudlians, a brother and sister, with their respective partners. They wondered about the political trouble in Bangkok but I told them not to worry. The upheaval had started while we were in Bangkok (it is still ongoing at the moment) and the airport at Krabi was closed on Fri. and Sat., we were due to fly out at 10:am Sunday morning. Luckily for us they reopened it in time for our flight to be the first one out and we had no trouble after that. I know everyone is being warned not to go to Thailand but I am sure it is OK and they really need tourists as a lot of stuff has been cancelled. Most of what is going on is happening in a small area of downtown Bangkok and need not interfere with tourist activities, the rest of Thailand is fine.
A little girl in a shop in Lanta old town
A street in Lanta old town


Dave about to watch sunset

The sunset as seen from our hotel room veranda

The last of Seattle

Here are a few more pictures from Seattle.
I had a wonderful visit, it was good to see everyone, my only regret was not being able to visit my other cousin who lives in the Chicago area. Another time!
Christine with her parents taken in their
living room

Bernadette and Joseph with Patricia
This is a view across Puget Sound from Bernadette and Joseph’s front balcony of Seattle and a rainbow.

This and that

Saturday night Dave and I decided we would do something different as Dave was flying to Sweden the next day we wanted a quiet night. Looking in the English language paper I saw that “Jack”, one of the dancers from the dance production Dave and I were in last year, was performing in a modern dance presentation at the same theater we had played in. We took ourselves off to that event and thoroughly enjoyed the 4 separate dances, jack’s being one of them. After it was over we went backstage to see him and he was really pleased. he was representing his dance company, he had just got back from a 5 month trip to France (sponsored by the Taiwan Government so he could experience other dance cultures, he won the trip). We will probably get together with him again. His American girlfriend is still here she went to France too. The dances were all modern and when i was young I hated modern dance but now i see it as another form artistic expression and i actually “get” it more than I do modern painting or music. funny how tastes change.

It is still hot in the low 90’s most of the time, today it has been cloudy and rain is forecast but we didn’t get the latest Typhoon, that affected northern Vietnam quite badly.

Anyone watch the Olympics? I saw some of the opening ceremony and have been wondering what others thought of the goose stepping solders who took the Olympic flag from the older athletes, who carried it around the stadium, and then hoisted it up the flag pole? I have been trying to talk about my feelings on different forums but my comments have not been accepted. I wonder why?!!!! It does make me wonder about the 1936 (34) Olympics. I keep hearing snippets of news from the BBC world news or the local paper here. All i know is a lot of ordinary people have had to give up a lot so China can host these games.

My other problem is Burma (Myanmar), they are still suffering terribly after the Typhoon that hit 3 months ago now. Still a lot of devastation and many people without proper food supplies.
I just read Secret Histories Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin ISBN 0 7195 5695 3. I highly recommend it as it is easy to read and is very informative about Burma today (before the typhoon)

Seattle area visit.

My first stop on my North American odyssey was in Seattle, or to be more precise, a little place across Peugot sound from Seattle. My Aunt and Uncle have lived there since early in the 1990’s when they retired and moved from Chicargo. They have a wonderful view of Seattle across the water and sometimes you can see mount Rainier from their bedroom window. The last time I had seen them was for their 50th wedding anniversary celebrations when Mum and Christina came also. That was in 2003 so it was time I visited them again. We had a great time reminising and visitng my two cousins who live in the area.
My cousin and my aunt, taken in the back yard of a fabulous log home he shares with his wife.

The side of the log home.

A view of Mount Rainier from the log house front


This is a bit dark taken inside the house Lto R
Joseph, Abigail, Andrew, Charlotte
Bernadette and Hannah

Reflections on Airlines in NA and Asia

Dave got worried I had not written about my North American trip and decided to do something for me, bless him!!! This is my version!

At the end of April I finally got to use my first class ticket to NA that I had claimed,with points, almost a year previously when I thought I needed to get to Canada quickly. Needless to say when I tried to redeem the ticket I was only offered Business class which is all Air Canada provides these days. apparently it is a combination of first and business, the seats are wonderful, individual, and allow you to fully recline hence I was able to sleep for a good 6 of the 15 or so hrs. flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. However that was the best part. I appear to have become spoilt, while living in Asia, and traveling mostly with Thai Airways, their flight attendants are always young looking and very attentive, helpful and polite. On air Canada the opposite appeared! My explanation for this, in part, when two airlines merged years ago the longest serving staff were kept on from both and women no longer need to retire when they marry or have babies. Thus we end up with the situation were the flight attendants in business class on the long haul flights are just plain old and grumpy and don’t cope well with the odd hours any better than I do. Hence the service is terrible, I would not want to do their job at my age and it is obvious most of them don’t want to do it either but they love the benefits. Free air travel, visits to exotic locations and long layovers, all this at the expense of the passengers comfort. My advice to the aging flight attendants working for western airlines is retire, you know it isn’t‘ for you when you find it hard to smile at grumpy passengers who keep calling for more water etc. You should try a trip on an Asian airline and take note of the service which, on Thai at least, is second to none. I wasn’t the only person who felt like this I spoke to a male traveller about it and he agreed with the age thing, next thing you know they will be coming down the isle with a walking frame!!!!!

Here’s a collection of pictures from my trip to North America in April and May of 2008. These are what were 1/2 decent pictures from my camera (thankfully some turned out OK) and show my very best friends and family (I consider all of these both) from that trip.

Thanks to Sue and Brian for letting us you as a base for such a busy agenda.


Thanks to everyone for such a fabulous time.
. . . and finally to “meine hoste(ess)” for the majority of the 3 weeks in Canada – thanks Joanne, for putting up with me . . .
PS: Sorry if I missed anyone – it’s just what worked from my Camera , but I will keep you all in my memory for sure.

weddings and things

Yesterday Dave and I attended a Chinese wedding, the third one for me and Dave’s fifth. Now I understand a little of what goes on (they are all in Chinese) I will try and describe the event. A lot of our friends have experienced their children’s weddings lately and thus this blog may be of interest, not only in pointing out the differences but also in describing the similarities between Chinese and western weddings.

We arrived at the wedding hall on the dot of noon. Dave had been told what time as the invitation was all in Mandarin, even the taxi driver had trouble reading it and we ended up asking a pedestrian to explain it for him.
Their are many wedding halls scattered about Taipei, the wedding reception is planned by them in consultation with the bride and groom, hotel ballrooms are also available for the same service. In the old days and even today in the countryside, these receptions are held in the street under a a big tent awning.

On entering the huge room, filled with round tables and a large stage at one end, we were greeted by the parents of the groom, as his guests. We then handed over our “Hang Bao” or red envelope; filled with a set amount of money depending upon the relationship of the giver to the bride or groom: to a receptionist seated at an entrance table and Dave signed his name on a large sheet of paper which included all the guest signatures. At our table were people of similar rank to Dave, or English speakers, or people who worked with him. A young couple sat with us with a 7 month old baby girl whose English name was Doris. She was beautiful with a rosebud mouth and big dark eyes, Doris helped to amuse us while the speeches went on, she was fascinated by our strange language and looks as this was here first meeting of “westerners”, so long as she could see her mum she was happy to sit on our knees. Eventually she fell asleep but she was not alone quite a few children came with their parents. Most parents work and as the wedding was on a Saturday afternoon this is family time so children are included.

Although the tables were laid for 10 we had only 8 at ours,(not counting Doris) however most had their full quota leaving a guest count of about 200 people, this is average for weddings of this kind, one we went to recently had almost 400 people. The invitation of guests to help celebrate at Chinese wedding receptions is not only for friends and family but also for people that make up the general community surrounding both families. This was shown clearly in the choice of the two people who gave speeches. One was the brides boss the other the grooms boss.

At about 12:30p.m. the proceedings began with the bride and groom entering the hall and walking toward the stage accompanied by the strains of the wedding march, they were attired in a beautiful long white dress and dress suit. Arriving on the stage they exchanged red cords and placed them on each others white gloved fingers, all the while a presenter was explaining and introducing them and their parents who joined them on stage. While all this was taking place the food was being served. Each table was equipped with a central lazy Susan upon which the dishes were placed, usually two at a time, for us to help ourselves.
Everyone was encouraged to take the leftovers home with them as all the dishes were considered expensive and rare and taking food home is normal in this case. The wedding hall provided containers to use.
Twelve dishes were served during the three hours of the reception, they were auspicious dishes usually served at weddings and include; though not in this order, Sharks fin soup (unfortunately still considered an important dish), lobster with various delicious sausages, dish of prawns in sauce, sweet rice balls, dish of various hard shellfish, pig in the form of large chunks of pork with fat and skin attached (once you remove the fat and skin this is delicious), chicken, chicken soup, plate of fresh fruit, chocolate cake. While we were enjoying the food the wedding party were touring around the tables each time receiving a toast, they were drinking red fruit juice we had red wine or fruit juice.

One of the traditions at the Chinese wedding reception is for the bride to wear 3 different dresses, all long. In this case the first was a traditional white wedding gown as worn by westerners, the second was a lovely pale grayish/pink. The introduction of this gown was made by the happy couple arriving in the banquet hall from the second level by an open lift with wrought iron railings around it. It was after this arrival that the speeches were made. Later the third dress made its appearance, emerald green, and again the lift was brought into service only this time it stayed at the first level while the bride’s posy took the spot light. Four men and four women, all single, were called up and each was given the end of a ribbon the other end of which was attached to the posy in the brides hand, at the appointed time they pulled on their end of the ribbon to find which two remained attached to the brides posy. These lucky two were given cinema tickets to use on a date with each other, both parties were strangers until this event. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this date. Yes we know the man, he is very eligible!

By now we had all eaten our fill and the time was up, it being 3pm so everyone got up to leave, it always surprises me how quickly everyone exits, no one hangs around as they all go off to do other things later in the day.

At the beginning of the reception and before it began as well as during, the bride and groom were featured in their own video shown on a large screen hung above the stage. It consisted of still photos taken of the couple in various poses and outfits as well as photos of each when they were younger, the whole accompanied by a sound track of love music.

I must explain the above is a Chinese wedding reception, the actual wedding ceremony, whether civil or religious, is usually attended only by close family and is taken care of earlier in the day.
An interesting way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

While visiting Viet Nam, I was reading “The House on Dream Street” by an American author who spent a few years living in Ha noi , learning the language etc. in the early part of the ’90’s. The name of the St. was chosen as the title of Dana Sachs book because at the time most of the bikes were Honda Dreams and the street she lived on had a lot of bike mechanics working on it. I started to look at the makes of bikes and was rewarded by finding a lot of Honda Dreams still being driven.

Here is a “Dream”

We had organised our trip through a travel agent here in Taiwan which meant we had a car and driver available to us while we were traveling around. He drove us to Tam Coc and one of the towns we passed through on the 11/2hr journey was obviously a coal mining town as everywhere was black, the soil at the road side was black, the people were black, even the greenery was black.We saw people with piles of coal bricks in wheelbarrows and their were what appeared to be slag heaps. it was very sobering to drive through this place which looked like it had just stepped out of a Margaret Gaskel novel (she wrote about workers in Manchester and the surrounding areas in the early to mid 1800’s.) in the year 2008! The north of Viet Nam is an industrial area as it has natural resources, mainly coal, this is what the French wanted to get their hands on when they were in Viet Nam or Tonkin as the north was then known.
The trip on the river at tam Coc was beautiful but you certainly need a sense of humour and endurance to sit on a small rowing boat for 2 hours. You are rowed by a man or more usually a woman who quite often will row with their feet. See picture.
Once you have gone through all the caves (3)and reached the end of the journey their are floating “shops”waiting to offer you refreshments for your selves and the rower, at your expense. On the return journey an attempt will be made to sell you embroidered items. Our boat picked up a woman en route and she proceeded to show me pictures of her family engaged in embroidering the items she then implored me to buy. I found the whole thing charming and of course bought something, it is never enough but living in Asia I am used to always being asked to buy more so I just say “no more money” and smile and that causes a laugh but usually they stop badgering. I can see that some people may get annoyed at the creativeness of the enterprise but you truly can always say no. You just have to be hard. One thing is sure they will not starve here.
Talking of starving, one thing we observed while on this boat trip were these strange red things clinging to rice stalks and boats just above the water line. Turns out they are the eggs of the Apple Snail and have been posing an ever increasing threat to rice field yield over the last two decades after being introduced from South America by snail farmers in the ’80’s. although snail farming was banned in Viet Nam in 1992 they have been increasing in spite of every effort to stop them. If you are interested in finding out more check out
These are the eggs of the apple snail

The Local Garden centre at Tam Coc!

This is the embroidery lady

This guy is plowing before planting his rice

We visited Viet Nam over Easter, I see Dave has already covered this trip but I shall add to it. We stayed in a fabulous hotel (Apparently George Bush stayed here during an APEC summit) in Ha Noi which only makes the contrast between the place we stayed and the street life all the more interesting. The hotel was built on reclaimed land around Ho Tay or West Lake, more and more building is going on around Ha Noi now, it sure seems to be booming. However it still retains that south Asian charm.

“I will just take the water Buffalo for a walk dear!”

Where is the grave sight? Seen on a Ha Noi side street.

The neo Gothic cathedral of St. Joseph’s were we celebrated Easter service. It dates to 1886.

One of the highlights of our stay in ha Noi was a trip to the Temple of Literature. The guide book says it is a welcome retreat from the noisy street. I had forgotten how noisy Viet Nam is. Everyone uses their horns almost all the time apparently to warn others of ones approach but because everyone honks their horns most people ignore them all thus it gets even noisier!!! If you are not deaf when you go you will soon become either crazy or hard of hearing!
This temple is very large and thus has quite areas. It was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong who dedicated it to Confucius. Viet Nam’s first university was established here in 1076 to educate the sons of mandarins and in 1484 stelae were first erected to record names, places of birth and accomplishments of men who received doctorates from 1442 until 1778 when this practice was stopped. The university was transferred in 1802 to the new capitol of Hue.

a musical ensemble performing in one of the buildings at the temple of Literature.

Some of the stelae, they are carried on the back of a tortoise

Part of one of the gardens.

Statue of Confucius

Working and learning.

I have had a very interesting week! Dave went to Bangkok on Monday so the mouse played a little!!!

Monday started normally with me going to Pilate’s, I keep slogging away at the weight/fitness but seem to be getting nowhere!

Tuesday it had been arranged that Siow Ping would pick Sylvia and I up and take us up Yangminshan, the mountain close to Tianmu where I live. It is the flower festival here at the moment although it has been very cold lately so the flowers are still in tight buds. Very cold here of course is relative but still it was about 10C on Tues. which was quite chilly when you don’t have winter clothes (only fall and spring ones) and when most places don’t’ have heating. We went anyway and had a lovely time chatting and getting to know each other I had never met Sylvia before and only met Siow Ping once. Sylvia is originally from Belgium and speaks, Dutch, French, (she lives in Switzerland now) Flemish and English and she is learning Mandarin. It never ceases to amaze me the interesting people I am always meeting. Siow Ping is from Singapore and of course speaks English, as well as Cantonese and Mandarin but she says although she looks oriental as soon as she opens her mouth the Taiwanese know she isn’t a native Mandarin speaker.
We ended up eating in a wonderful Thai restaurant on a quite road (very busy on the weekends and nice days) up the mountain. We later moved to a tea house for tea and coffee, this was a group of garden shed type shelters clustered on the bank of a babbling brook, because it was a cool damp day it was rather wet and chilly but we switched the heater on and closed the plastic door curtain and spent an hour chatting about life as you do on a mountain side in Taiwan in February!

On Wednesday I had another adventure with the “Lunch group” we went up a different side of the mountain, on the cable car to eat in a “Tea House” we had a a very pleasant meal each sharing our entrees and of course drinking lots of tea. The downside to it was that it was even colder than the day before and this restaurant was not heated.

While I was on this adventure I had a phone call asking if I would be interested in modeling? A photographer was looking for westerners over age 50 (darn I knew their must be a catch!) to pose on electric scooters for seniors. A lot of photos were needed by the manufacturer to use in their advertising. I agreed, the remuneration helped me decide, thus spending Thursday and Friday in the company of two very interesting people. They are both living and working here; one in high school and the other in a university, one teaches English as a second language the other English Literature. Faye comes from New Zealand but has lived and worked in a lot of other countries. Josh was born in the US but lived in Israel for 22 years. Faye has been in Taiwan more than 5 years while Josh has been here for 6 months. We covered many topics while we waited patiently for the sets to be prepared for our different”shoots”. The whole episode was a massive learning experience for me, watching how photographers shoot pictures both outside and inside as well as listening and contributing to the conversations with Faye and Josh. All in all a very interesting week here in Taipei.