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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Not the best of times

My daughter tucks into a hot dog at Narita International Airport 成田国際空港 as we kill time waiting for our flight to Seattle

Back to the grind. Our once-a-year visit to see my family in the Pacific Northwest came to an end yesterday as we returned to Taiwan from the U.S. I wish I could say it was a great visit, but I can't this time. My mother is not in the best of health these days, and she has been staying in hospital rooms and nursing homes since the start of the new year. My father is coping well under the circumstances, but he understandably feels the strain at times. My sister has been doing her best to help out, but it isn't easy for her considering the distance between her home and my parents' house. I wish I could be there to do what I can, but I feel helpless being so far away. 

It didn't help matters that I arrived in Washington with a raging case of the flu, which combined with the jet lag to knock me out for the first 20 hours or so I was back at my parents' place (I went to bed shortly after noon on a Friday, and didn't wake up until 8am the following morning). Being sick prevented me from seeing my mother at the nursing home for the first few days I was back in Bremerton, and then, just as I was recovering, we got snowed in for a couple of days. It was a full week before I finally got a chance to see how Mom was doing.

The end of our visit wasn't much better than the beginning. My mother had a setback that necessitated her being moved out of the nursing care facility and back into the hospital, while Amber spent most of the long flight back to Taiwan throwing up in the airsickness bags...and on her father. Still, despite the circumstances, it was wonderful being back home and with family again. My dad appreciated having his granddaughter around the house, and Amber's presence also cheered my mother up a lot. Pamela was a great help with the household chores, which also did a lot to lift Dad's spirits. Hopefully, my mother can return home soon and bring a sense of normalcy back to everyday life. I only wish I could've been able to stay at least a few more days longer.

Some scenes from our two-week visit:

The Pacific Northwest was hit by a large snowstorm during the latter half of our first week back. Our area received six inches (15 centimeters), and we were housebound for a couple of days. The temperature outside when these photos were taken was 27°F (-2.8°C).

Mother and (especially) daughter enjoy the white stuff. They probably saw more snow on this trip than most Taiwanese will ever see in their entire lifetimes.

While some people had fun making snowmen and snow angels, and throwing snowballs, others had to work. This was the first time in my life that I ever had to shovel snow from the driveway (I grew up in Southern California and Sacramento).

The scene in the backyard...

...and down the road.

Amber explores the backyard in the evening.

We also went out into the snow at night, when the temperature had risen to a balmy 30°F (-1.1°C).

It wasn't all snow on this trip. On January 21, Amber turned six years old. We had a small party for her at home, which included cake and presents. Here Amber shows off her new Ken doll to her grandad:

The green-icing white cake in the shape of a pig was personally selected by my daughter at the local Safeway:

Amber did pretty well on this visit home. The day after her birthday was the eve of the Lunar New Year, and she received a red envelope filled with cash. Note the satisfied smile:

The weather improved significantly during the second week of our trip back, and we were finally able to get out and do some things. Here's Amber by the waterfront in Poulsbo:

Amber also asked to be taken to the Kids Discovery Museum on Bainbridge Island. Her favorite part was getting to be the cashier at the grocery store, but she also had fun being a dentist:

Mother and daughter pose on the streets of downtown Bainbridge:

I was hoping to get outside and do a lot of walking on this visit, but the weather and my mother's condition precluded much of that. Still, I did take Amber out for a short stroll along the Cedar Creek Trail in Silverdale:

Some family shots:

My sister Karen, Pamela, Amber, my nephew James and my father

Dad has been a pillar of strength during these trying times.

Being back in the States also means being able to (over)indulge in the comfort foods. For me, these include Cap'n Crunch cereal, maple bars, Hostess cupcakes and fruit pies, Reese's peanut butter cups, two tacos for 99¢ from Jack-in-the-Box...and craft beer. My daughter, however, was insistent that I only drink amber ales:

I could use a Fat Tire Amber Ale now, for as I write this, I'm in the throes of the post-visit blues. Only the depression has been made much worse by my mother's situation. Why the hell am I still here in Taiwan? I don't belong here, I've never felt comfortable in this society and I'm just wasting my time and talents going nowhere fast in an ugly part of the center of an ugly island (the urban areas, anyway), yet I can't seem to break free and get out. I'm most definitely not looking forward to returning to work tomorrow and falling back into the same stifling rut. 

My belated New Year's resolution is to avoid reading those "golly gee whiz, this sure is a beautiful, swell place with lots of friendly folks. I'm so happy to be here" blogs for fear of aggravating my already sensitive stomach.

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