Hello from Taiwan! We've been back about a week and a half, and a full week and a half it's been! We didn't expect to be greeted by a typhoon and a kidney stone, but I'm getting ahead of myself....
Floyd and I arrived last week on Wednesday morning, and spent most of the day cleaning our new apartment and getting ready to move in. Apart from a large number of tiny millipedes (or some such invertebrate) (which even now continue to appear out of nowhere in every room as often as we squish them), it was in good condition.
We spent Wednesday night in our old apartment as guests of our friend and coworker Rhoni, who has moved in (and was no doubt eager for us to move all our furniture and boxes out of her extra bedrooms, though she was very gracious about it). Early Thursday morning, just a couple of hours before the moving company was due to arrive, Floyd woke up with severe abdominal pain. It soon became obvious that not only would he not be able to help with the move, but he was in fact in urgent need of medical assistance. Remember, we have no car in Taiwan (and no drivers' licenses there anyway), and in spite of his pain Floyd refused to cancel the move. Rhoni was still asleep (and she needed to be home to communicate with the moving company anyway), so I hurried down to the third floor where some of our other coworkers from the school live. I knocked and woke them up to ask for help, and John kindly agreed to drive Floyd to the hospital.
So the two of them left, and I stayed behind to help coordinate the move. The moving company was half an hour late, but they finally got everything into their two little trucks by the end of the morning. They had so many questions that I knew I could never have managed without Rhoni to translate, so I was really thankful she was able to be there. (The only English they understood was "no" and "okay".) I went along to show them where to put things in the new apartment, and on the way I met Floyd, who had just returned from the hospital with the news that he had an impacted kidney stone. (Some of you may remember that he had a similar experience two years ago, when we were new in Taiwan. We were so grateful for the many friends back then who stepped up to help with transportation, translation, meals, etc. But we never thought it would happen a second time!) Because Floyd had eaten breakfast that morning, they were unable to operate, so they gave him some basic painkillers and told him to come back on Saturday. As you could imagine, he wasn't very happy about the prospect of living with it for another two days, but what else could he do? At least the painkillers had kicked in and he was no longer in excruciating pain.
We spent Thursday afternoon and most of Friday unpacking and arranging our new apartment. We love how spacious it is! Though it's only got two bedrooms, it's still bigger than anywhere else we've ever lived. This is partly because of the huge kitchen (at least three times the size of our last one, with quintuple the cupboard and drawer space - no exaggeration); and also because of the the "breakfast nook" that we're using as a dining room, big dining room that we've set up as a living room, and extra living room that we haven't quite decided what to do with yet. (We're open to ideas - the best one we've heard so far is to use it as a dance floor!) Plus, we have our own laundry room, coat closet, linen closet, storage closet off the balcony, and a walk-in closet in each bedroom. Chinese apartments are not known for their storage space (you usually have to buy wardrobes and portable cupboards because they don't come with any built-in closets at all), so we're exulting in all the unaccustomed storage in this custom-designed-by-and-for-foreigners apartment.
Last year we were hoping that this year we could have a high schooler living with us. A lot of staff members do that; there are often more Morrison students who want to board than there is space in the school's dorms, and we wanted to be one of the ones to open our home to some teenager whose parents live in another part of the island or even another country. Toward the end of last year, we were contacted by a family whose son would be attending Morrison and needed a place to stay, and we thought we had all the details worked out, but then he changed his mind and backed out unexpectedly. A little later another family contacted us, and this time we really thought it would work (to the point where we went and got a desk for the boy and everything), but they too changed their minds. So now we have a furnished guest room and no one to live in it. We were disappointed that our boarder arrangements fell through, but we know God knew what he was doing. We are just praying that this room will be a blessing to somebody, somehow this year.
We were glad to find out last weekend that our new apartment is almost entirely typhoon-proof. That's right, on Friday Typhoon Morakot welcomed us back home by hitting the island with a vengeance, but the worst damage we suffered was a few drops of water that made it through one window as far as the sill (not even to the floor). Outside our window we could see a shed whose roof had blown off, and there were some broken tree branches around, but that's about as hard as it hit our neighborhood. The biggest inconvenience was that even if it had been safe to go out in the wind and rain, nothing would have been open. Our church was cancelled on Sunday, and we soon felt as though we were going stir-crazy. Being stuck at home for several days isn't such a big deal unless you consider that we were newly-arrived in the country and had not yet had a chance to do much grocery shopping. Fortunately we did have a few things in our fridge, but we were definitely ready for a change in diet by the time the storm let up enough for us to go shopping again.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Taiwan made it through Morakot's wrath as well as we did. From our perspective, it was no worse than any other typhoon we've experienced in the last two years (actually a lot better, now that we were out of our leaky old apartment). However, other parts of the island - especially the southern regions - experienced the worst flooding in fifty years. We watched news clips on the internet and were horrified to see images of bridges collapsing, houses being torn from their foundations and spinning down raging torrents, and an entire hotel toppling into an ugly swollen river. Whole villages were buried in mudslides, millions of dollars' worth of crops were destroyed, and though the official death toll stands at a few dozen, hundreds more are still missing and presumed dead. Taiwan doesn't experience such catastrophes very often and so was not very prepared to deal with the situation. The government's rescue and relief efforts have been criticized as too little and too slow, and though other relief organizations are starting to step in, many of the hardest-hit areas are practically inaccessible except by helicopter. It has been a tragic time for Taiwan. (If anyone is interested in helping out, World Vision is working in Taiwan and is providing shelter, food, and clean water for the needy. You can contribute online to their Morakot disaster relief at http://www.worldvision.org/.)
On Saturday Floyd braved the storm and was able to take a taxi to the hospital for his kidney stone appointment. The doctor located the stone and did something ultrasonically to break it up and make it easier to pass. He sent Floyd home with instructions to drink lots of water and return in a week for a checkup. Floyd was in a lot of pain that evening, but for the next several days he only hurt a little here and there. He drank as instructed, but nothing much seemed to happen. Yesterday he went back for the checkup, and was not very pleased when the doctor did an X-ray and announced that the stone had moved no more than two centimeters since the week before. Now he has an appointment to go back next weekend for more invasive surgery to remove it for real this time... unless it removes itself before then.
This past week has been a busy one for me, as I've been getting my classroom ready for school to start. I had been told at the end of last year that I would have 29 students this year, and because that's four more than the usual limit, I would get a paid aide four hours a day. I had been looking forward to that all summer, but on Monday morning another teacher told me she had heard there were now only 28 registered for 5th grade. I went to the school secretary to find out for sure, and she told me that actually there were only 27, and apparently there never had been more! One student on the list I had previously been given had left unexpectedly at the end of 4th grade, and another had apparently never existed in the first place.
I was confused and disappointed, but I went to work preparing my classroom, including writing students' names and numbers on various items. Then the next day I was told that one of the 27 (an incoming new student) was probably not coming to Morrison after all, so I would be down to 26. The next morning I was informed that actually she WOULD be here. On Thursday morning I got an email that another family was withdrawing their two sons (one of whom was supposed to be in my class) from the school for financial reasons, so I was down to 26 again. Later the same day I got another email saying that a new student had just enrolled in 5th grade - and surprise surprise, he was the same one I had originally been told had never existed. So, as things stand now, I'm at 27 students, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if that changes again before school starts tomorrow!
In a little while Floyd and I are planning to leave for the night market, where we can buy all kinds of strange and interesting delicacies for dinner (most of which come grilled on a stick). It's so good to be back in Taiwan, millipedes, typhoons, kidney stones, and all! I'm looking forward to meeting my new class and beginning a brand-new school year tomorrow. Floyd is looking forward to starting his Chinese studies in earnest tomorrow (he will be joining the high school Beginning Chinese class this year) and to starting up his Bible study again in a few weeks. We thank the Lord for bringing us back here, and trust that this year of serving Him at Morrison Academy will be even better than the last two.
P.S. Sure enough, I was down to 25 students by the time school started. So, no aide! :-(