Friday, January 7, 2011

Back on the Blog....

Wow. The blog has been kind of dry for awhile, so I'll try to get back to it. While this year has been going wonderfully, there is not the newness of last year and in some way it's felt like there is less to say since we've told most people about our adventure. That said, I will try to update you about our lives and get you up to speed on how the first half of the year has gone.....that's right. It's already half over.

First, in general, things are similar this year, but better. While the newness is gone, the freedom of familiarity has taken over. We seem to have less stress with discovering how to do things and this has allowed us to be a bit more adventurous in our explorations. We can find just about any place we need to in Kaohsiung just by looking at a map and are now quite adept at hopping on the MRT and heading into the city.

For me (Grant), my year is much less stressful in terms of preparation work (although I always want to try new things and this tends to suck up a lot of extra time). Having taught and basically organized it all last year, I'm really enjoying going through it again feeling I really know what I'm talking about, having already once investigated the questions that caught me off guard. This has given me more time to teach more effectively and to take on a few more things. I'm coaching more, leading a weekly chapel worship team, and probably most significantly, I'm putting together the yearbook for the school (along with a team of trusty students), which has forced me to finally spend a lot of time with photoshop, something I've wanted to do for a long time but never found the time. I'm also playing on a worship team at church and leading kids worship on the weeks I don't play in the main service. As well, I'm helping with an English club/bible study at the local university and am getting to know some students from around the world.

Janice is still working in the library but has branched out as well. She's leading a weekly English class and bible study with a group of women in town, tutors English with a college student and just recently, has started to write assessments for an English language proficiency organization. She also teaches Sunday school at our church. If that wasn't enough, she also heads to town occasionally to lead an English class for a group of students at a cram school. I'm not sure who is busier but we're both really enjoying the new adventures.

Isaac is really enjoying his year. Although he is in grade 10, he chose to stay and do class with the current grade 9 group, because he really felt close to the kids in that class and it didn't seem to make sense to make 3 transitions in 3 years (here, Taiching (boarding school) and then back home). He's taking classes with that group when there is new material to be learned, but is also doing online math from Canada, Planning 10 online and preparing for the English and Science finals when we get back in June. He's also turning into quite an athlete. He was MVP of his soccer team, is playing first string in basketball, will hopefully be my star hitter once volleyball season starts and is poised to set the alltime school record for the mile. He's also active in worship bands both at school and at youth and gets taller every day.

Makena is loving middle school. She's also on the worship team and also has a number of roles in our upcoming school play. She's hoping to take voice lessons in the near future (I've just been informed she starts next week) and is also doing a lot of babysitting. She's amazing with the little kids and does a great job taking care of them.

Probably the biggest new thing is that we're coming home for good at the end of the year. This was a tough decision for us. There are many things we like about Taiwan. The school is amazing and I'm really loving teaching science full time. Of course the weather is great....summer all year (although it seems freezing right now) but the trade off to that is the smog.....super bad pollution. Another thing we love about living here is that, despite the fact that we make missionary wages, there seems to be so much less financial pressure here. We seem to always have the money to buy stuff the kids need or go grab lunch. Maybe there's not the commercialism (or any we can understand) and of course, being a home owner is a money pit and we're not doing that (we sold our house by the way, in case you didn't hear....we'll buy again when we get home) and living on cash just seems to be an easier way to do things. Maybe we'll have to try to take some of that mentality home with us.

On the coming home side, we're all on board with the decision. Dad needs looking after (it's a really long drive for my sister Kelly to come out) and misses us (though I'm not sure how much he's remembering these days). Also, I'm on a leave but that would not be extended beyond 2 years so if we stayed, I would not have a job to come back this point, I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing at MEI. Hopefully that will be sorted out in the next few months. We also felt it would be best for Isaac to graduate from MEI and really have to do it this year in order for that to happen. Finally, we do miss our country and our family and friends and hope they'll be excited to see us. I also feel a daily longing for clean air, mountains and my kayak.

Anyway, that's an update. I will post about Christmas and our awesome visit from the Chapmans soon.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

26th Anniversary

A certain very hot place is getting lots of new roads as I "intend" to post fairly often. We're coming up to October break (first day of holidays) and I've been pitifully bad, but going to get better.

The one other major event that I failed to write about previously, which actually occurs before Penghu, is our 26th anniversary weekend getaway to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan's most popular and beloved tourist attraction. It's Taiwan's largest body of fresh water, and apparently is actually 2 joined lakes, one which looks like the moon and the other like......YES the Sun. Looked like one big lake to me though, especially when we rode 35 km around it, but more of that later.

We debated, before going, whether to book something or just go and hope to find something. We decided to be adventurous, and it paid off. We walked into a cute little place (Taiwan cute which is very different from BC cute), and they offered us a lakeview room with breakfast for 2800 NT (about 90 bucks) but then knocked it down to 2200 for not apparent reason, because we'd already said we'd take it. It was small but super nice and was on the 8th floor looking over the lake and the night promenade lighted walk thingy.

We walked around a bit and got our bearings and then decided to go for a little bike comes that music where you know something unplanned is going to happen. We rented bikes (went for the good ones, at 200 NT (6 bucks) instead of the cheapies, because we knew the lake was 35 km around and who knew how far we were going to go.

Now, two things about the road. First, there are about 10 temples around the lake and huge tour busses go round and round the lake taking interested visitors to each one. Fair enough as long as your little mountain bike doesn't get squashed by said huge bus. The second thing, however, is that, in order to be closer to the gods, the temples are all at the tops of hills, but the drive is a lakeshore drive, so the nice little road around the lake is an up and down grind like you've never seen. The third thing, even though I only said 2, is that Janice has a phobia about back tracking, so, no matter how tired we were after 10 km of hills, there was no way we were going to turn around.....we were going the whole way around.

One interesting detour we took was about halfway around. There is an aboriginal village on the other side of the lake from where we were staying, which we were going to take a boat to the next day. It was quite nice and the scenery was beautiful, but more than that, it had a huge gondola....that's right, I said gondola. Apparently, there's another aboriginal village and theme park (roller coasters etc) on the other side of this mountain, so they built a skyride to help get you there. The gondolas are brand new and remind me of the new peak to peak gondolas at Whistler, but maybe without the Canadian Safety Inspection stickers. But, we're in God's hands here so we jumped on for the ride. Holy smokes, it was super high. This one valley we went across was about 2/3 the peak to peak distance and pretty much as high but truly beautiful (and Janice would agree if she'd opened her eyes).

We were pretty well rested by the time we got back from the ride (we only took it over and back. We're saving the amusement park for when the Chapmans come) and then continued around the lake.

The one part we were really looking forward to getting to was this no cars, paved bike trail which was about 5 km long and apparently pretty nice. What it was in fact, was 5 km of stairs (up and down) and a dead end, with no apparent route out. As we looked around in desperation and exhaustion, we came across the one thing we had both hoped we might find....a group of teenaged olympic canoeists at a ramshackle training camp. The bad news was that they spoke no English. The good news was that, having fingers like us, they were able to point us towards town. Funny how the gesture for "that way" is the same in many's not, however, in German, but that's a story for another day.

We finally got back to the bike shop, tired but feeling accomplished, and after looking through the shop owner's photo album of his trip to Vancouver, we headed out to find some dinner. We adventurously tried a local Chinese place and it was fine, though not totally recognizable.

The next morning (sorry, not evening details) we went for the included breakfast and found the traditional Congee (rice porridge) with various pickled things and shredded spicy meat stuff, so turned around and ran for Starbucks. We then bought tickets for the tour boats that run on the lake (dozens of big, diesel boats that carry about 100 people each) and toured around for a bit, stopping longest back at the aboriginal village we had been to the day before. It was really pretty and had some really cool floating gardens, but there was also a bit of an obsession with carvings of male genitalia, some as big as lawn mowers (why lawnmowers???) I'm sure Karen will be anxious to see that....from a strictly medical perspective of course.

That was pretty much it. We had a great drive home and it was a perfect anniversary.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trip to Penghu, June 2010

Start of Summer at Penghu

Okay, so technically, we're back and have started the first day of school. I'm not sure what happened to summer, and my good intentions to catch up with the blog, but here I go. We'll back up to the end of school and try to catch up, now that I'm busy again.

School ended on the 4th of June. We were sad to see some friends leave and head back to the states, but I guess it's par for the course in missions. So, after a few days of organizing my class and thinking about packing for home, we headed off to Penghu, a group of islands off the west coast of Taiwan. Lonely Planet pegs it as pretty desolate but it's really quite the opposite. I had visited it earlier in the year with a bunch of science teachers from around Taiwan and thought it was a very interesting place to check out in more detail. Of course, when it's your idea, you always hope the rest of the family will agree. Fortunately, the verdict was unanimously thumbs up.

The options for getting to Penghu are plane or ferry. Seeing as how the ferry is about half the price, we opted for that. One thing Penghu is known for is super high winds in the winter, making ferry travel nearly impossible. For that reason, summer is the best time to go. Unfortunately, someone forgot to inform the weather that it was actually summer on the day we traveled, because the water was super rough, causing almost everyone on board to sit with their heads between their knees puking. Fortunately the Wardle constitution is a little tougher than that and Makena and I spend most of the trip out on deck laughing and getting sprayed. Janice and Isaac did quite well too, but much further and they weren't far away from joining the baggie users. The ferry was well equipped though, with plastic bags (unfortunately clear) within reach of all seats (about 200 in all).

We had tracked down a bed and breakfast online and were pleasantly surprised to find that the couple that ran it, despite being Taiwanese, spoke excellent English, a result of doing graduate degrees in the States. The lady picked us up at the ferry and took us back to the B and B, which was located about 20 minutes from the only town of any size on Penghu. It place itself was located in a little fishing village next to a tiny harbour, still in daily use by fishermen. The owner is an avid windsurfer and it's the main reason they have it. During the winter, when many people head to the city to escape the winds, wind surfers and kite boarders from all over the world come to this place to sample some of the best wind surfing in the world.

That, however, was not our goal. Penghu is made up of 4 main islands, linked by bridges and then about 7o other surrounding islands, which you need to take a boat to access. Our plan was to rent scooters and explore the main islands. Penghu has spectacular geology, some very decent beaches, dozens of tiny fishing villages and quiet roads to ride along. It's about an hour from one end to the other.

We spent 4 days there, mostly bombing around on scooters, exploring. We didn't spend a ton of time in the "city," where all the restaurants are, but relied fairly heavily on good ole 7-11. If we haven't mentioned it before, 7-11 is not what you see in North America. First, there's the distinct smell of tea eggs (and other tofuesque, stinky snacks). Second, you can and do pay everything there from parking fees to phone bills, to automobile registration. Thirdly, and bestly, you can get quite decent food there, really cheap. Great salads, pasta (yes, they microwave it), rice wraps, and it's all quite cheap, so it's always a good option on an outing, or if you can't decide which mystery restaurant to eat at.

Among the best things we did at Penghu were:
a) visiting a temple which had a stunning coral grotto with huge sea turtles in the basement
b) hanging out at 2 stellar and virtually deserted beaches
c) eating not once but twice at a pizza parlour/surf shop that could be right out of California
d) getting a photo of Janice and I with a cute Greek looking village in the background (in case we never get there)
e) finding Einstein park (who'd 'a thought)
f) walking around Magong at night, and discovering the rainbow bridge.

Actually, the trip to the city bears mentioning in more detail. After a day of scootering all over the island, we hit the main town around supper time and found a really cool, Italian restaurant (recommended by our hosts). By the time we got out, though, it was getting dark and we weren't really sure how to get out of town. We decided to venture down to the water, as we were there anyway, and found it to be a really pretty town with a huge saltwater, natural pool where many locals come to swim, lots of cool shops, and the rainbow bridge, a walking bridge with spectacular lights at night. Getting out of town was rather interesting though. Janice doesn't like driving in town at the best of times, but on a scooter, with a passenger, in a strange town, not knowing where you're going, was a little stressful, and involved threats to kick cars that got in her way. Fortunately, the Lord sent an English speaking guy who gave us a guided escort out of town and on our way.

All in all, Penghu was one of the coolest places we've visited and we'd all like to go back someday, Lord willing.