Sunday, August 10, 2008

Starting our Second Year in Taiwan: Flooding, Night Market, and the Joys of Home

I can't even express how wonderful it is to be back in Taiwan. As much as we enjoyed our summer in the States, Floyd and I both are just thrilled to be home again!

Our flight went smoothly, with no hassles about our luggage in either LAX or Taipei.
We landed on Thursday early morning, and took the "Freego" bus from the Taipei airport to Taichung, the city where we live, which was about a two hour drive. Then from the bus stop we took a taxi (actually two taxis, because of our four big boxes) to our apartment. The gate guard and cleaning lady were out front, and both seemed very happy to see us again, though we couldn't understand what they were saying except for the words for "you return".

I'm glad to report that our apartment suffered no water or mold damage in our absence. Yay! And there was only one live cockroach to be found, which Floyd was glad to dispatch for me. We did see three gigantic, hideously ugly unidentified insects on our living room balcony, but thankfully they were all deceased. (You would have heard me scream otherwise.) We still need to dispose of their corpses.

We did pretty much all of our unpacking Thursday morning, and ate at one of our favorite local restaurants for lunch. I wasn't going to go on campus until the next day, but because we'd gotten so much done at home, we decided to go check out my classroom.

You may remember me talking about the construction on campus. We had seen pictures, but the real thing was still quite startling. The high school area looks just the same, but across the courtyard, everything is different. My classroom and everything in the whole elementary/middle school area is gone, and the new buildings (or at least their skeletons) are starting to rise in their place. The temporary elementary classrooms that we'll use most or all of this year are on the other end of campus, in smaller "portable" buildings.

A few weeks ago there was a whopper of a tropical storm that hit Taiwan with some pretty bad flooding. Well, we found out that our particular neighborhood in Taichung received the most rain of anywhere on the entire island, and that this was the worst flooding seen in over 120 years. Apparently the storm drains were so full that they were actually spewing water back into the rivers - er, I mean streets - in the form of small geysers.

Well, guess what. The temporary classrooms are located in a low part of campus. So, you can probably guess what happened. Yep, the flood came in under the doors, filling rooms with ankle-deep muddy water. Now this would be bad enough under ordinary circumstances, but bear in mind that we had just moved out of our old classrooms when school got out in June, and most teachers were gone for the summer so we hadn't unpacked in the new classrooms yet. We had just boxed up all our books, posters, computers, and other classroom supplies, and left them for the moving company to take care of. And the moving people had brought the boxes, along with furniture and everything else, into the new rooms... and set everything on the floor.

That's right, the floor. Cardboard boxes.

Well, some rooms were harder-hit than others. Before I even got to my classroom, I talked to the second-grade teacher, who lamented that she had had to throw out six entire boxes of books and supplies. You can see the markings on the inside walls of her room, showing how high the water level reached. My good friend, the first-grade teacher, had it worst of all. Almost half of her classroom supplies were a total loss, including all of her posters, many textbooks and classroom library books, and some computer parts. If anyone had been able to go in right after the flood and open all the boxes to air things out, some of it might have been salvageable. But everything has been sitting in damp soggy boxes for the last few weeks, and what the wet hadn't ruined, the mold had.  The entire first grade classroom smelled like mold. Imagine how discouraging it would be for a teacher to come and find all that just over a week before school begins! Morrison is scrambling to order new books and supplies for all the classes who lost them, but they won't be here before the start of school, so we may have to make copies from some of the other campuses in the meantime.

Well, I'm sure you're wondering how bad the damage was in my classroom. That's the strange thing. There isn't any! I can't believe it, and I don't know why God would single me out for this blessing when (as far as I know) every other elementary room got at least some flooding. But there are no water marks on my walls, and not a single item is wet or moldy. Praise the Lord! I spent Thursday afternoon, plus all day Friday and Saturday, in my classroom, unpacking boxes and arranging furniture. There are no built-in cabinets or other storage here, so it's all movable cupboards and shelves.

I don't know how I would have managed on my own, but Floyd was there helping me much of that time. When he wasn't helping me, he was assisting other teachers with the same things, along with setting up computers and other electronics. What a blessing to have a husband so willing to serve! We're both a little stiff and sore now from all the moving and lifting, but the heavy work is all done. Now there's just bulletin boards to put up, plus all the other usual back-to-school jobs. I should have time for that next week in between meetings and in-services and things, and then school starts the week after that (August 18th).

Today (Sunday) we attended our church, House of Blessing, which we have missed for the last two months. It was wonderful to worship in both English and Chinese alongside Taiwanese and American friends.  Church was emptier than usual because most of the students who attend haven't come back for the school year yet. But at the same time there were extra people there who usually attend a church that meets on campus, which is still out for the summer.

This evening, Floyd and I walked a few blocks over to the night market for dinner. It was great! We kept thinking it was about to rain on us, so we had our umbrellas handy, but we never felt more than a few drops. The night market was full of the usual entertainment (picture most of the games you'd be likely to see at a carnival), tables full of clothes and jewelry and toys for sale, and a food section full of all kinds of tantalizing culinary options. Floyd says emphatically that not all of them are tantalizing, and I have to admit that the smell from the stinky tofu booth is enough to knock you out cold at twenty yards, but I'm still determined to try it sometime. I wasn't quite brave enough tonight, though. Floyd ordered his food from a Mongolian Barbecue booth, where you pile raw vegetables and meat into a bowl in whatever proportions you want, and then they grill it for you. After walking back and forth down the row a couple of times (I always have a hard time choosing), I stopped in front of a place where the man was cooking little pieces of tender-looking meat in broth on a sort of hot plate. There was also a basin of little doughy finger-shaped things that looked interesting, though I have no idea what they were. I wanted to ask for a few of them along with some of the meat, but I wasn't sure how to, especially since the things you order at these booths often come with other side dishes, and I didn't want to end up with two full meals. Well, I won't go into detail about the awkward non-communication that followed as I tried to express what I wanted and the man tried to ask me clarifying questions in Chinese that I couldn't understand. Suffice to say that by the end I had a bowl of rice, meat, and three or four kinds of veggie-like things, and he had the right amount of money, and we both parted a little embarrassed but more or less satisfied with the transaction. And Floyd and I both quite enjoyed our respective dinners, even though I'm still not sure exactly what mine was.

Well, tomorrow is the beginning of "Teacher Prep Week" at Morrison. In addition to the required meetings and events, Floyd and I are hoping to join the new staff members in the "Survival Chinese" classes first thing every morning. We really need the review! Besides, returning staff can sit in on the classes for free, so we figured, why not? It will be a good way to meet the new teachers, too. Then we'll have to figure out exactly what kind of approach we want to take to language-learning this year. Preferably more than the one hour a week we had last year, but we'll see what works out and what our schedules allow.

That's all for now.  More later as we continue to get re-settled in!

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