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Sunday, February 5, 2012


In between rice crops, the fields behind our apartment complex come alive with the unfortunately-named rapeseed plants.

It's been almost a week since we returned from Washington state in the USA, and I'm still in the throes of my post-trip depression. The usual culprits for my annual funk - the ugly architecture, the discourteous-bordering-on-dangerous motorists and scooter riders, the ensuing month of relative poverty from having missed work during half of the previous month - have been reinforced by ongoing worries combined with guilt over health problems in the family back home and the inevitably of aging while seemingly stuck in a foreign land that long ago lost its allure. Today's sky isn't the only thing that's blue around here.

Add to this downer cocktail a shot of auto trouble. Yesterday, our Nissan Cefiro sprung a massive oil leak that has the car out of action until at least Tuesday. The repair bill is likely to be in the area of NT30,000-40,000 ($1017-1356), which makes for extremely poor timing, financially speaking. The next thirty days or so are going to be a lot more quieter and uninteresting than usual, which is what happens when you can't afford to go out.

So what does one do with oneself on a pleasant sunny Sunday when one is sans automobile? We still have a 100cc scooter for getting around, but there's no way I'd let my daughter ride on one. Thus, the only option for getting out of the home and doing something is to hoof it. Unfortunately, Taiwanese cities and towns are not designed with foot traffic in mind. For example, the local Carrefour and an adjacent park are theoretically within easy walking distance of our apartment building. However, to get there on foot would involve having to negotiate a couple of narrow roads without the benefit of sidewalks, all the while brushing elbows with speeding cars and scooters passing by just inches away.

Which left us with one, and only one, option - the nearest elementary school, a 10-minute walk away on (thankfully) quiet neighborhood streets. In Taiwan's densely-packed urban areas, where greenery and park space are at a premium, school grounds often serve as substitute parks for the local residents, especially on the weekends. My daughter had a good time this afternoon playing with a couple of boys on the school playground, while all around us other kids were shooting hoops on the basketball courts, middle-aged men and women were walking laps around the school's track and families were engaged in, well, family activities.  Had the school not been so close to us, this would have been a pretty boring afternoon. Still, Taiwanese suburbia (like it's American counterpart) lives and dies by the automobile (and scooter), and I'm looking forward to getting our vehicle back as soon as possible.

Sporting her new, pink Seattle Mariners hoodie, which we picked up from the Seattle Team Shop in Silverdale, WA's Kitsap Mall, Amber clambers up the jungle gym. At six years of age, Amber isn't that much younger than the average age of the Mariners' projected starting lineup for Opening Day this year.

The elementary school apparently has some history to it. Here Amber is standing in the gǔbēi​tíng 古碑亭, the characters of which mean "old pavilion housing a stele (or steles, in this case)". The significance was lost on me, however.

Virtually every burg in Taiwan has a Zhōng​zhèng Road 中正路, and ours is no exception. Named in honor of the brutal and corrupt dictator Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, in this area the road is a busy thoroughfare connecting Fēng​yuán (railway) Station 豐原車站 with the No. 1 Freeway 中山高速公路.

Amber pauses outside a shop selling Buddhist and Taoist artifacts. The masks she's pointing to are frequently seen in Taoist temple festivals.

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