08 December, 2005


last weekend saw me in Texas, where everything truly is bigger, or, as the new saying has it: "Texas is bigger than France." 'nuff said. things are a little strange out there for us non Texans, but with a bit of thought you can figure most things out, like what this place is for:

that's "laundromat" to the rest of us.

compounding the problem of such unfamiliar establishments is that they're usually referred to as "warshaterias", so sounding completely foreign. but when it's said in context, it can be really quite charming, as in: "we're fixin' to go to the warsheteria y'all". wonderful.

anyway, i was in Houston, where my closest friend, Taggert, and his family live. it's a huge, sprawling city, and the land round about is scarily flat, so a Rockies-dweller like me has a hard time ever knowing where he is, much less where he's going. good thing i was chauffeured around all weekend. Tag and Kara have just produced their third child, and since they named him after me (sort of), i couldn't resist going down there for his blessing and a grand tour.

me with my little namesake, Dean Thomas.

of course, my name isn't Dean, but my middle name, just like the little anklebiters', is Thomas. it was my maternal grandmother's maiden name. Tag and Kara seemed happy enough to have the name, but glad that Dean hadn't also inherited the noted "Thomas ear", which is like a normal one, but with a small notch cut out of its back edge.

the Mayfield kids and me. from left: Reagan Michelle, Dylan Michael and Dean Thomas.

i spent a great weekend hanging out with the family and playing with the children, and i came back with more photos and videos of the eldest, Reagan, dancing and playing than my memory card ever thought it could hold. above is one of the only pictures of the three kids and me which turned out at all well. what you can't tell is that i'm using about all the strength i have in my right arm to restrain Dylan from running off and going somewhere else. many shots were attempted before i thought of this strategy.

Dylan is the busiest little beaver i have ever met. he is always doing something or going somewhere, and is almost totally oblivious to anything you might say or do to him. i've never seen anyone quite so energetic or purposeful in my life, or with such a personality, which is why i must end with the following photo. from the pointing to the look on his face, it shows, in a way that could never have been posed, just what an entertaining little fella he is. enjoy:

who's the man? Dylan letting you know the exact answer to that question.

03 December, 2005


who'd have thought Taiwan was so multicultural? while there we made friends with many folks from faraway places, including, of all things, a wee Spanish fellow by the name of Paco. we came across him on one of our 'round island trips, soaked to the bone from the torrential summer rains, and bought him one of the $1 ponchos from a 7-11. then i gave him a lift--literally--to the train station in Tainan before saying farewell.

Taiwan was full of memories great and small, and Jill and i couldn't let our brief association with little Paco pass without a little photographic documentation. i hope you will enjoy this memory as much as we do.

Paco 'n me

23 November, 2005


Jill and i just got back from our ninth country together: Mexico! actually, in many respects Tijuana hardly counts as another country, but at least we saw a side that most Americanos don't bother to look for. we stayed well clear of Avenida Revolucion, and headed for the Centro Cultural Tijuana, in the newish downtownish area. this part of town has apparently seen a lot of work over the past few years, trying to turn it into a place that would lure turistas away from the Revolucion; they even put a huge statue of Abraham Lincoln in the middle of a roundabout:

Honest Abe and me, just hanging out in TJ.

like all Americans would (?), i just had to see it, even though Jill was none too thrilled about walking all the way down there. what kind of patriot is she anyway? besides, after i dragged her down there, threatening her with near death from a thousand crazy drivers, i took her to the cool IMAX theater inside the huge ball that gives the cultural center its distinctive look. we saw the National Geographic film "Fuerzas de la Naturaleza", or "Forces of Nature", which was narrated by Kevin Bacon. trouble was, he, or whoever was pretending to be him, was speaking Spanish, so we missed a bit of the meaning. but there were cool pictures of volcanoes exploding, and it only cost about US$2 each to get in. they even gave us a student discount with our American IDs.

Jill and me at the cultural center. that's her bag, promise.

next time we go, we're heading for the luxury movie theater at the Rio shopping center. comfy sofa seats, tickets still cheaper than you can get up here, and who knows, Kevin Bacon may have dubbed one of the movies. in any case, Tijuana proper is pretty cool. next time you go, get your cheap souvenir shopping done quick and head for the downtown; it's pretty nice, and Honest Abe will be waiting.

22 October, 2005


the last time Jill was here before she moved, i took her to the self-proclaimed "happiest place on Earth", Disneyland. it is my serious contention that if it weren't so expensive to get in, it just might be (the happiest place). but since Junior can't handle walking around for the full 12 hours that Dad has paid for, and Dad gets mad because Junior is an ungrateful, whiney little bugger, it actually ends up becoming about the most miserable place on Earth. seriously, have you ever seen so many annoyed-looking people in one place?

but Jill and i had a good time, even when she accused me of cheating on the Buzz Lightyear shoot-em-up game. she claims i was interfering with her shot, but as you can adjudge from the picture, i was simply protecting my girl from the dangers of Zurg's minions. see for yourself:

me doing my best to protect Jilluns from the evil space invaders.

sometimes conventional wisdom isn't so wise, and you have to think about what's really going on. if you'll pardon the indelicacy, might i suggest that Jill was just upset about losing (check out my score on the left)? and might not the Magic Kingdom benefit from my Marginal Hourly Pricing© scheme? let me know if you want the details of this genius plan for rescuing Mickey and pals, and once again thejayfather will give you the tools to decide for yourself.

09 October, 2005


shortly after returning from Taiwan, i was having some pretty bad Jill withdrawals, not having been apart for more than about 15 minutes in the previous seven months. so i headed up to Utah to see her (and my family, of course) and the following pictures provide a mere glimpse of the fun times we continued to generate.

a little AR-15 action, and Jilly throwing a clay for me (or at least posing like she was going to).

first there was the obligatory "go out into the desert and shoot crap up" activity, that was made possible by the kind assistance and decent-sized arsenal of my brother Matt. i had planned this as a surprise activity for Jill, wanting to see how she did, but learned that she was quite an experienced, and an excellent, shot.

first time up, after only five tries.

fortunately, her activity for me, wakeboarding, proved me to be just about competent in spite of my lack of experience. with the excellent tutelage i received from Jill, her dad, and her brother Scott, i managed to get up--and stay up--after just five tries, which they all kindly assured me was not bad. staying up on the "Extreme HO" with Jill's dad driving the boat was another matter altogether however, and ensured that we left the lake and spent the next few days feeling very sore.

Jilluns and I on the ski boat, and me, her and Scott on the "Extreme HO". an interesting, strangely appropriate, name.

other than those fun times, we did get to see our families, and Jill got to meet mine for the first time. they didn't seem to scare her off, and we were even invited to my niece Caitlin's horse riding lesson, where her and her sister, Maren, took a liking not just to the animals but to Jill's lens as well.

Cait and Maren at Cait's riding lesson.

Cait is becoming quite the horsewoman, and Maren the consummate model. good thing Jill always has her camera close by.

05 October, 2005


a few weeks ago, Jill's parents were traveling through Northwest England and took a short detour to pass through a small but charming village called Tarvin. there they found the very jewel of the place: 4 Park Close, my childhood home. they brought back the following pictorial evidence of their visit, which i now share with you, faithful reader. in the 13 years since i've been there, not much has changed, though i do note the addition of a cheap satellite dish and a small extension to the left of the front door. looks like the new owners didn't much appreciate Mum's red garage door, either. oh, and the weather's a bit better than i remember.

the old family homestead, at 4 Park Close, Tarvin, Chester CH3 8DZ

15 September, 2005


a quick post for those of you who have been asking about what has been going on with my dad since his very irreverent sacking back in March. thefollowing is an excerpt of an email i received from him today and talks about hisongoing efforts to bring to light corruption in Utah government.

those of you unfamiliar with the story will find information in several of the posts housed in March's archives, and especially this one, thesack.

Finally, you may be interested to know that I will be on KCPW tomorrow (Friday, 16 Sept) morning. Common Cause of Utah, a group that promotes open and accountable government, has invited me to speak at a public meeting at the Salt Lake Main Library next week about the barriers to independent representation for residential utility customers in Utah, and what citizens may be able to do about them. KCPW has invited a representative of Common Cause and me to explain on their Midday Metro programme at 10:20am what the meeting will be about. You can find out about KCPW, and access streaming audio of the programme, at http://www.kcpw.org/. (From about 10:00pm to 5:00am Mountain Time, KCPW broadcasts the BBC World Service, so its a great way to hear Beeb quality news and get the hourly Greenwich Time Signal, too.) I see that KCPW also offers podcasts of its Midday Metro broadcasts, amongst other local programming. Those of us who live in the Salt Lake Valley can listen live on 88.3 or 105.3 FM.

enjoy listening, and let me know what you think.

14 September, 2005


this is what it feels like to be back on Western soil after spending seven months in the Orient.

my girl Jill and i at LAX, 21 July, 2005

31 August, 2005


something else i've been meaning to post for a while: one of the letters i received from my students before i left Taiwan. this one is undoubtedly the best, for reasons you will see for yourself. though i have done my best at recreating the feel of the actual letter, including the creative spelling and grammar, you will unfortunately miss much of the impact that the cute stationary and numerous little hand-drawn pictures bring to the piece.

Dear proffessor ball:

I'm Sherry Duo I'm Sandy Lu.

Can you don't tiggle us! We hate it! Can you give us your picture and e-mail and adress. When you go back to England we will miss you! really............ Don't be like girls.... we hate you like this! (this is a warning) Can you don't give us so many homeworks, please.... >:< (this is seriou)s, You are not very handsome! but we think you are a good teacher, (exapt when you make we mad). We are free to be mad, and don't make we laugh when we are mad! >:<.......,
  this letter didn't have using any grammer, sorry! We always shout to you! (sorry) Can you think more ""fun"" game for us. we like to play game with you, but your game always is bord! And can I ask you a question? why we always need to give you [picture of a hand] (5)! <- we didn't hate give you ""5""! we just what to ask!
  we think you are a good teacher! You teach we many thing. thank you. I'm glad you are my teacher in Berhan. You did your job great!

Don't --> forgot --> --> don't --> tiggle --> us !

This letter is give you some warning and we are sorry to you Don't always threaten us, like you need to do your thing finish or you can't have a break>. you are responsible teacher!

You are a good teacher

Your smart student =


Sherry Duo

Sandy Lu

thanks to Sherry and Sandy for providing this great memory, and a good insight into what i was listening to for six months.

24 August, 2005


i've been meaning to write this post for ages: it documents what is pretty much the first major event i attended while in Taiwan. indeed, many of you will be shocked to know that i paid a full $800 for the ticket to this event, but i thought it well worth the price.

having only been in-country for a few days, someone who was to become a great friend, Leah Schwenke, asked the newbie teachers if we were interested in attending a flamenco show in Taichung. partly because i was interested in flamenco, but maybe more because it seemed, even in those early days, like such a strange event to be having in Taiwan, i decided to go. it was a show named Los Tarantos performed by the Jose Greco II dance troupe. Jose Greco II is, surprisingly enough, the son of Jose Greco, who was apparently quite legendary as a flamenco dancer. by all accounts Junior has acquitted himself quite well over the years too.

i'll leave the interested reader to check out the particulars of the show in this fairly comprehensive article from the Taipei Times, one of Taiwan's English-language dailies, while i tell you the more entertaining story from that night. it was the first of many, many times that i employed the now-signature strategy that involves a shrug and a apologetic look that says "i don't speak, read or otherwise understand any Chinese, so i'm pretty much going to ignore you and do whatever i want." it's a wonderful strategy if you happen to be in China, by the way, and you want to do something that doesn't seem like it would be allowed. they don't seem to know what to do with people who won't do as they're told.

anyway, the show was good, but i felt we needed more; like an audience with the master, for example. so upon descending to the lobby i began to look for a way backstage. seeing a staircase with a velvet rope and a sign that said something like "employees only" across it, i felt like we had a good candidate. you may say that the rope and English sign were pretty good indicators that we weren't supposed to go down that staircase, but the others agreed with me that because we didn't speak Chinese, it was okay. and since the Chinese friend that was with us hadn't quite achieved native level English, she could hardly be blamed for ignoring the sign. so we went, and given our conspicuous appearance, we felt justified in our course of action when nobody even attempted to stop us.

we finally got down into a garage which appeared to be directly beneath the stage, and in which the tour buses were sitting, inert and silent. none of the drivers seemed to mind that we were wandering around, so we searched until we found a staircase on the far side which led us up four or five flights, until we heard noise. we had found the dressing rooms. so far unhindered by any discernible security, we now began to wonder if this was all a little invasive, given that several performers seemed to be dashing about in various states of semi-dress. any ideas of turning back were squelched, however, when one of the performers approached us from behind and asked, in quite good English, what we were doing. our struggles for a good answer were thankfully aborted when the man himself showed up just seconds later, seeming so happy to be able to entertain some fans for a moment that all the tension vanished.

we talked with him for 10 or 15 minutes, during which time we learned he actually lives in Texas, though he is a native of Spain. after snapping a few pictures with him (the one below is courtesy of Ginger, a fellow teacher), we let him take his leave and went outside, where we met some of the other performers as they were getting on their now-running bus.

so it was a pretty good evening after all, and well worth the $800, like i said. that language doesn't have to be a barrier, but can even be a distinct stepping-stone, is a lesson at least that valuable.

a few of the English(ish) folks backstage at the flamenco show of Jose Greco II in Taichung. from left: a friend of Leah's; Leah; Greco, the man himself; Ginger; me; Melissa and in front, a very tired-looking dancer from Jose's show.

ps: 800 New Taiwan Dollars is around 25 of the ol' American ones.

24 July, 2005


since returning to the United States, thejayfather has been busy inroducing Americanos to Taiwan's ubiquitous phenomenon of "Chinglish", the best attempts of the Chinese to translate their language into English. one fine example is on the cover of a small notebook i have, which reads: "It's nice, this shop. Located in your town. We inform only the important shopping information. The key to shopping is gentless and quality. Have more wonderful time here to keep your mind calm." huh?

but that's not nearly the worst of it, the best Chinglish tends to be on clothing. in a special treat for you, faithful reader, thejayfather brings you a picture of just such a garment; ask yourself, who would let their child come to school wearing this:

possibly the best Chinglish ever, though i'm not even sure what this was supposed to say.

19 July, 2005


wild weather has had a habit of following me around, but now it just
may be getting ahead of itself. we are due to fly back to Taipei from
Hong Kong in a couple of hours, and are hoping that the airport there
is open again after Typhoon Haitang passed through. we have been
keeping close track of the storm's progress, since our flights back to
the US are in just a couple of days, and i really don't want to be in
Asia anymore. but it looks like Haitang will make landfall on the
mainland of the Middle Kingdom today, so we are told everything is
open and operating again in Taipei. and to think we almost scheduled
our vacation to end yesterday.

part of me, however, was wishing that it had ended yesterday. having
covered five countries in just under two weeks, i was getting to be an
avid collector of stamps in my passports. this avarice drove me to
make the trip across the Pearl River Delta to China's other "Special
Administrative Region", Macau. big mistake. no matter how badly you
want a stamp in your passport, don't go there. i had been given this
advice before, but it went unheeded as i undertook the costly trip
anyway. in contrast to Hong Kong, Macau is a dirty hole with perhaps
one-and-a-half mildly interesting sights, but certainly nothing worth
having to spend part of your life there. about the only cool part of
the trip was the mode of transportation: the jetfoil boat. this is a
large, Boeing-made boat which is indeed powered by a jet engine, and
rides up out of the water on a pair of aircraft wing-like foils.
needless to say it was a fast, and very smooth way to travel across
the South China Sea.

but i'm still looking forward to travelling across it even faster back
to Taiwan.

16 July, 2005


so Hong Kong is pretty much the perfect way to cap off this whirlwind
'round Asia trip. it is just about as clean as Singapore, but without
all the ridiculous rules and fines for everything (it really is true
that chewing gum is banned in Singapore). Hong Kong is also about
twice the size of Singapore, with many more than twice the number of
attractions. for instance, yesterday we rode up the famous tram to
Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island and beheld one of the most
spectacular sights i've ever seen. the well known Central Skyline,
including the perfect geometry of the Bank of China building, appeared
to our right as we neared the upper tram terminus, with what seemed
like the whole of Hong Kong spread out beyond that. what made it
almost perfect was that we went up shortly before sunset and watched
the billions of neon lights come on all over town as the natural light
receded. it was truly spectacular.

on the way back to Kowloon we took the also-famed Star Ferry (we rode
on the "Twinkling Star"), and browsed some of the hundreds of shops
lining Nathan Road, on which i think is the "Golden Mile". i imagine
we'll get to check that out today, along with yet more Chinese night
markets. hopefully this is the last shopping i'll have to do for a
while, and hopefully you put in your gift requests already.

15 July, 2005


well folks, i'm using a free internet terminal inside the
gate/boarding area at the Changi airport in Singapore. i only have a
couple of minutes before i have to get on the plane, but this was so
cool i had to use it.

we just got back from a short stop in Indonesia, at this little resort
in the middle of nowhere on this paradise white sand island. it was
one of the high points of the trip so far. now only Hong Kong to go,
then back to Taiwan for a couple of days to finalize business there,
and then home to the States.

see you then.

09 July, 2005


that's right, the elephants. among many other things we did in
Thailand, a couple of days into the trip we took off on a tour into
the jungles of the country and rode some very large Indian elephants.
pretty much only the pictures do that experience any justice, but it
will be a while before i can get those up here, so you'll have to
imagine. the people are all pretty relaxed about stuff out here, so
we even got to ride on the necks of the creatures, which is really
weird since you can feel their haunches going up and down right
underneath your buttocks, which makes you feel like you'll be thrown a
long way every time they step. then we fed them bananas--boy can they
eat a lot! long story short: it was pretty cool--the best of

then on Friday we boarded a train for our 22 hour overnight journey to
Northern Malaysia, where we waited and looked around a little in what
felt like hot fiery hell for our next train down to Kuala Lumpur.
that one was only 10 hours overnight, putting us here just a few hours
ago, but take a look at a map and try to figure out how the journey
from Butterworth to KL could possibly take so long. i think they
waited till we were all asleep and then stopped the train and took a
nap themselves. honestly.

in general and so far, i have found Malaysia to be much dirtier both
than Thailand and than i had expected it to be. KL is pretty nice,
and we are currently just outside the Petronas Towers, which are a
much more amazing sight in person than in pictures, but the whole trip
is quite different than i had imagined. out of Bangkok, Thailand was
quite beautiful and looked something like i imagine the plains of
Africa to look like. unexpectedly, i quite liked Thailand, but
Malaysia has yet to win me over completely. perhaps it will soon; we
are on our way out of KL to a small resort that specializes in short
cruises to watch fireflies. check out www.fireflypark.com if you want
to see what thejayfather is in for.

05 July, 2005


well this is it, the first email post from "the road". we had a
pretty uneventful, though very late trip from Taipei to Bangkok, and
woke up around noon to find an enormous city teeming with people from
all over the world. i've been surprised so far by the large numbers
of Europeans, Middle Easterners and Africans who are here, all
probably chasing the same supposed bargains (or ladies of the night)
that bring Americans here. many of the prices are actually fairly
comparable to elsewhere, though there are some deals to be had, if you
don't get hustled by the tuk-tuk drivers. apparently, this week is a
very special week, with the "Thai Center" buying gasoline for the
insane drivers of the ubiquitous three-wheeled taxis, allowing special
fares to be had by all passengers. that is, as long as the driver
gets to take you to the shops of each of his friends along the way.
not that thejayfather would know about this from firsthand experience

so we've seen markets galore, and more gaudy golden palaces and
temples than you could shake a very large stick at, and we've only
been awake here for about seven hours. i imagine that tomorrow there
will be a bit more of the same, but we plan to work in some Thai
boxing and an elephant ride. if we can get one of those tuk-tuks to
take us out of the city, that is.

03 July, 2005


behold the test of the new email blog entry system. i'm trying to see
if i will be able to keep up on the blogging during my tour of
Southeast Asia, by using this special email address to make posts. if
this works, you just might get one or two updates from the road,
though they'll have to wait until i get back to be formatted and have
pictures added.

stay tuned; i leave tomorrow night.

23 June, 2005


so it happened. just over two weeks ago i let the little hooligans in my Basic Reading class do the unthinkable to my beautiful locks. there's not much to say about it, except i'm enjoying a whole new level of air conditioning about my cranium. enjoy the pictures:

in the beginning there was some hair, but tiny Tina (who was recently cropped herself) wanted to change all that. so Miss Jill generously volunteered her services to help the class members, like Mr King Li here:

please note that this was all very educational: in the first picture you will see a book entitled "How To Give a Haircut" that our class had recently made. this education is becoming a habit; though we made no book i did allow the little dears to wash my motorcycle the other day...

here you can just about see Miss Nancy Chang in the mirror, enjoying herself very much, though perhaps not as much as Miss Jill, who apparently has a thing for mullets, and made the class cut me one before they got to the real business.

speaking of business, we see here again that language learning was incorporated. how many Chinese kids do you think know what a mullet is, even though half of their countrymen sport one? and how else do you talk about "business" with eight year-olds, if not to explain to them that a mullet is "business in the front, party in the back"?

this is Gloria Yo, the head secretary, evidently getting into the mullet thing a bit too much.

soon though, we come to the final product:

witness the sheer volume of hair in that not-at-all-trivially sized garbage can, and above all, the smiles on those kids' faces.

14 June, 2005


for some time, we had been planning a visit to the famous Sun Moon Lake, one of Taiwan's major tourist attractions. it is the largest body of fresh water in Taiwan, and rests among the mountaintops just South of Puli, near the geographical center of the island. the last two or three weekend trips chronicled here were backup activities when the weather foiled our plans for visiting thelake.

this day, however, proved to have glorious weather, allowing us to ride up, as planned, rather than taking another awful bus. it was quite a long day in the saddle, which got rather uncomfortable over the course of about 250Km, but it gave us plenty of time to work on our tans. actually, after that amount of time spent riding, all i can say is thank goodness for sunscreen or i'd still be in pain three weeks later.

there's not really that much to say about 日月潭, Ji Yue Tan (say Zhuh Yuay Tan); it's pretty much as you'd expect for a lake. it would be quite picturesque if it weren't for all the crappy Taiwanese buildings all around it. for some reason the actual attraction for the Taiwanese people at any tourist spot seems to be food, so the couple of villages around the edge of the lake are littered with food places, convenience stores and a few hotels--all with restaurants, of course.

okay, there are other buildings; the temples that are ubiquitous in Taiwan have made it to the shores of Sun Moon Lake too. frankly though, Chinese temples have long been old news--they all look roughly the same, they all indulge in architectural and decorative excess, and they all stink. that's because they're full of burning incense, by the way. even though these structures are getting a little tiresome, along with the pagodas that sometimes accompany them, Sun Moon Lake is home to one of the most impressive pagodas on the island, if not for the structure itself, then for its grounds.

the Ci En (say Tsi Ahn) Pagoda, and the same pagoda with a drum that was being violently beaten by this monk only seconds before this picture was taken.

the Ci En Pagoda was built by Chiang Kai-shek to honor his mother, Madam Wang. it reaches 48 meters from the summit of Sha Ba Lan Mountain to hit 1000m above sea level at its peak. inside it felt a lot more solidly built than the one we had climbed in Taroko Gorge, but it was the grounds that made this one really impressive. we ascended the 570m staircase that leads to the temple just as the sun was vanishing behind rapidly descending clouds. reaching the top of the stairs there was an eerie quiet that was reinforced by the fog and numerous tall cypresses, and we were greeted by a thick carpet of tiny white stones. it was quite like something out of a Chinese Kung-Fu movie like Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. hopefully the pictures will give you some sense of this spectacle, but you will unfortunately not be able to experience the tranquility of those moments we enjoyed before loud Chinese tourists arrived and shattered the silence. even the bell-ringing, chanting and drum-beating of the monks somehow added to the peaceful atmosphere.

before we had scaled the heights of Ci An, we had participated in a more traditional type of lake entertainment: rowing. there are powerboats, lots of them, that will take you around the lake or to the tiny island in the middle, but we favored the old school approach. there were several Taiwanese people who had gone this route as well, though frankly they all looked as though they were struggling with the rowing action. in the hour we had the boat we went about eight times faster and further than any of the other folks that rented at the same time as us. i guess the Taiwanese suffer in many of their watersports for only having one decent lake, but it is an small island surrounded by water; what's the deal folks? how come you don't know how to row?

a Taiwanese man doing his best rowing impression, with a temple in the background, and then a purely gratuitous shot of me rowing. enjoy that one.

so it wasn't the best equipment, but it was fun. in the hour we got almost all the way to the aforementioned island and back, and got to enjoy the cool emerald green water of the lake. unlike most things in Taiwan, it seemed fairly clean, if not clear, and we reasoned that this was because they don't let people swim in the lake. There is apparently one day in September, i think, that there is an officially sanctioned cross-lake swim, which is supposed to draw quite large crowds, but for a few moments i was pretty tempted to hop over the side of our boat and have an illicit dip.

so if you come to Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is one of those obligatory sights that you have to see, and on balance i would say it is worth it. it's a bit of a pain to get to, and it's really not the most spectacular thing i've ever seen by any stretch, but it is one of Taiwan's nicer spots. Like much of rural Taiwan, it is surrounded by what feels like unmitigated tropical rainforest. climbing up to the pagoda we were almost deafened by the otherworldly screams of numerous tropical animals that, though they sounded only inches away, remained undetectable. though it's not difficult to have this kind of experience in Taiwan, having it at Sun Moon Lake is the total package: the sights, the sounds, and the wind, water, earth and sky that are so important to the Chinese.

the striking effect of the famous Sun Moon Lake sun, which only adds to the ambiance of this beautiful place.

02 June, 2005


going to Tainan had actually been a backup plan for going to Sun Moon Lake, one of the great natural wonders of Taiwan. the weather had been so bad on that morning that we opted for plan B instead, only to find it turn into a nice day halfway down to Tainan. pretty much the same happened the next weekend, when plan B was to go to Taipei, only this time the weather never did really clear up.

which wasn't such a bad thing, as it turned out, as we were able to get these rather nifty contrast photos of the Taipei 101 building at a distance. it gives you a better sense of the size of the thing, and knowing that the shots were taken only five minutes apart helps you realize how variable the weather is here.

the world's tallest building, the Taipei 101, in the dead center of the picture above. these shots were taken about five minutes apart, which shows how fast the weather changes here, and they give a good sense of just how tall the building is, dwarfing everything else in sight.

just to the left of the 101 in these pictures is Taipei's city park, which looks to be quite big, running along the South bank of the Keelung (say Gee-long, with a hard g) River. the more impressive sight though, rising from the flats of this nice refrain from urban sprawl, is the Keelung bridge, pictured below. there are a lot of rivers in Taipei, and so a lot of bridges, many of which approximate this design. a couple are even lit up at night, but this is the largest and most impressive of the genre--that i've seen at least.

the reasonably elegant Keelung bridge. the supporting arch's reflection in the river below looks almost like it could be a rainbow.

these pictures were taken from one of Taipei's most famous buildings, a very impressive example of Chinese-style architecture. our objective in going to Taipei had been to finish up all the souvenir shopping for folks back home like you, which we did, and to see the few remaining unmissable sights of the capital. one of them is the Grand Hotel, so named for obvious reasons. it really is quite big, if a little boxy, but the inside is quite plush, as i hope the picture of the grand staircase will demonstrate.

the aptly named Grand Hotel, and its equally grand staircase.

and it was here, in one of the Grand's many souvenir shops, that i finally found the holy grail of gifts: the thimble for mother. most ornamental thimbles are made of china, which might lead you to believe they originated in China. if they did, i'm here to tell you that they don't live here anymore. i've looked exhaustively in every place i've ever been over here for those crazy thimbles, and they had just about driven me crazy when i heeded the siren song of a knick-knack lady and entered her souvenir mecca. i was so happy to find the thimbles, which are metal, by the way, that i bought two, and a soapstone dragon sculpture to boot. so rest easy mother, your gifts are assured.

the next thing that happened to us was almost equally sublime. you may remember that it's a little difficult to get Chinese people to understand what you say (see thecircumnavigation), should you venture to use their vaunted tongue. the day we went to Taipei marked the first time i had ever been understood saying something more important than ordering an ice cream cone. we were on a tight schedule to get the the famous Martyr's Shrine, which is just down the street from the Grand, and we decided to take a taxi. getting in i confidently told the man: "Zhong-lie Ci" (say Jhong-lieh Tsuh, obviously), and then began searching for the Chinese characters written in my guidebook as the driver started to say "Wha...?" but he paused halfway through his interrogatory, the light switches just turned on, and said "Zhong-lie Ci?" with a certain air of triumph that i had felt belonged to me. "Dway," i said, concurring heartily in my new language, "dway dway dway."

the Taipei Martyr's Shrine, or Zhong-lie Ci, and its rather dramatic surroundings.

anyway the Martyr's Shrine, or Zhong-lie Ci, if you, like me, prefer, was pretty much as we'd expected after having seen the one in Taichung, though a bit more impressive. the great thing was that we got there just minutes before they began their changing of the guard ceremony, which is kind of interesting, if absurd. i believe i have detailed my impressions of the Taiwanese military in ceremony before; this was pretty much the same scene, if a little longer. as you can see from the picture, there are three lines etched into the concrete of the courtyard area; they got there from the many years of soldiers marching (very slowly) the entire length of the courtyard, two times for each of the hourly guard-changing ceremonies. the whole thing takes about fifteen minutes.

thejayfather as a Taiwanese soldier. in case you're busy revising your notions about the height of Chinese men, at least consider that these men each have about a three inch lift in their boots to hide their jingly metal bits. but these guys were taller than average, and also walked in a manner not easily imitated.

as you can see, they don't seem to mind others getting in on the act. the walk they do is kind of interesting, and quite difficult to do right; all very drill team. they even have these little metal rings on the bottom of their boots, which jingle together every time they stomp their feet down, and which are probably responsible for most of the concrete discoloration.

steadily standing guard. mostly.

finally, before taking off to get the remaining souvenirs, we took a little pic with one of the newly situated guards. before they get settled on their boxes, they have a guy that comes around and ensures their pants are still properly creased, their jackets are sitting prettily, and the tassels on their guns are falling just so. i have to say that the guards do a fairly good job of remaining stock-still for a long time, and it's not something i would ever care to have to do, but i found it kind of funny that our guy visible leaned away from Jill when she walked into position for this shot. i've seen the guards at Buckingham Palace, and i sort of felt that this flawed attempt at BP re-creation epitomizes why Taiwan is not considered one of the world's cultural hubs. but their soldiers sure do dance better.

24 May, 2005


thejayfather knows that at least one person back in theStates has been keeping very close tabs on the hair situation. it's been about six months since my last cut, and it's really showing; i had thought that i might be able to get longer hair to do something cool eventually, but it's just not happening. and now it's just annoying. but not one to let language teaching opportunities slip away, i have turned this problem into an activity for my students: thehaircut contest.

of course there is a selfish side. with the end of the semester rapidly approaching, and the warm weather here to stay, the natives are getting restless and thejayfather is getting sick of their crap. so basically it's a behavior contest between three of my classes, with the best behaved class--determined on a strictly subjective basis, of course--getting to use my clippers to shave all my hair off in a couple of weeks. the other classes will have to make do with the photos.

and so, unfortunately, will you, dear reader. below is a rather fitting pic to clue you in to the extent of my hair problem, and to keep you going until the results of thecontest are announced.

and non't do nothing else we nouldn't like, neither.

22 May, 2005


thejayfather has been a bit busy lately and the sweet bloggy blog has suffered somewhat. apologies. but there's a lot of catching up to do, what with three weekends and a speech contest unaccounted for, so we'd better get started rather than crying over spilt milk.

a couple of weeks ago we went to Tainan, the city whose name literally means "Taiwan South". it is South of here, and i would say it's in the southern half of the island, but it's not the southern-most city by a long shot. it is the fourth-largest however, and certainly one of the oldest. Tainan is known for it's historic places and for having more temples than just about anywhere else. at this point however, i'm about templed out. when i say these things are everywhere, i really mean everywhere; i try to appreciate their cultural value but they're all much the same anymore.

about a third of the Shengmu Temple in Tainan, and the main, middle section

good thing Tainan does it better. apparently, there are a few warring factions down there who all seek to build the largest temple. i have read that there are three which tend to swap the title depending on which group can raise the most cash. the one currently in the lead, and so the one we visited, was the Shengmu Temple, in the Luerhmen district North of town. having said what i did about temples, i can't let on to being too impressed by this one, but it was rather amazing, if for no other reason than it didn't seem to serve a purpose. at least not a purpose a much smaller building couldn't have served. it's size did allow me to ride through almost the entire thing without ever getting off my rented scooter, and i think you'll agree that there's a lot to be said for drive-through worshipping.

and the last third of the Shengmu Temple in Tainan, with a billboard depicting yet further building plans for the future. it looks like they will wall in and gate the temple

the thing was so large we couldn't fit it in one picture, so above are three. below you'll find a shot of one of the large lagoons separating the sections of the shrine, and one of the many marble etchings on the outer walls; owing to the newness and lavishness of much of this building, it has many features other temples have let lapse into decay or have simply gone without.

a view of one of the lagoons at the Shengmu Temple in Tainan, and one of the many ornate marble friezes on its side

Tainan really does have some history. it was the capital of Taiwan from 1624, when the Dutch invaded and set up their headquarters there, to 1661, at which time they were expelled by a Ming dynasty loyalist known to the West as Koxinga. on our way back towards town from the monolithic temple area, we swung by the old Anping Fort, or Fort Zeelandia as the Dutch called it. since it was only a few minutes to closing and they wouldn't cut us a discount on the admission, we decided to forego the formal tour, but it looked pretty much like a fort, on a little hill and all that. then we stopped by the whimsically named Eternal Castle, which was built by French engineers in 1875. all that remains of this castle is a small gate, a moat, and some cannons; whether this is because it was built by the French or because it was so presumptuously named is not clear, however.

the castle had nothing to do with Koxinga, of course, but the good people of Tainan have adopted him as a sort of patron saint. way North of town is said to be a memorial site marking his landing to expel the Dutch, and right in the center of town is a large shrine to him in the mould of most temples erected to deities. though it was well after closing when we got there, the whole place was well kept up and enjoyed some nice grounds.

entrance to the Koxinga shrine in Tainan and me, Jill, Jacquie and Michelle on a bridge on the grounds

all in all Tainan seemed to be the quintessential Taiwanese city, without being so Taiwanese (read filthy) as to be offputting. returning to the train station late Saturday night we passed through a large park with a huge pavilion set in the middle of a lake. the pavilion, as well as the walkways to it on either side, were held up on stilts, and the whole scene was very picturesque. it appeared to be very much typical of what people imagine China and Taiwan to be like, though this was the first time we'd even seen a structure like that.

i'm sure that if i had seen it earlier in my stay i wouldn't be able to say that Tainan is the best Taiwanese city, but since i've seen all the big ones i feel qualified to make that call. as we were riding back along the nice new highway that connects the historical district to town, the sun shining brightly on a skyline that is neither to busy nor too empty, passing the ocean and somewhat normal looking homes, it seemed like the most Western of all the places we've been so far, vaguely reminiscent of San Diego. Tainan is even rumored to have a Chinatown, and if i can confirm that on my next trip there, then its exalted status will be confirmed. a Chinatown in China. perfect.

15 May, 2005


welcome to the rainy season. though it rains quite a bit in Taiwan, the last few weeks have given us more precipitation than we have had the rest of our time here put together. i'm told that most summer rains come in the afternoon, in short-lived thunderstorms, but on Thursday night we experienced the exception to that rule.


the sky was clouded over, and the lightning diffused in amber-pink hues across it, often in flashes so bright as to be temporarily blinding; this around midnight. i threw open the large window in my room and watched entranced, even as rain dripped onto the floor--the frosted glass would have distorted my view, and it was a nice way to cool things down. the storm lasted until well after i had fallen asleep a few hours later, and with thunderclaps as booming and earthshaking as came with it, it goes down as the second most intense weather-related experience of my life.

the first, of course, was the hurricane which caused us to be stuck in Samoa and which provided me with a free trip to New Zealand at the beginning of last year. known as Tropical Cyclone Heta, it battered the Samoan islands along with several others in the South Pacific, and caused near-famine conditions for about the first six months of 2004. the satellite image taken by NASA shows the storm on January 6, after it had passed Samoa and just before it was to collide head-on with Niue. compare the size of the storm's eye to that of the island, which is about one and a half times the size of Washington, DC, and you get some idea of the tremendous power nature possesses.

weather i am glad not to have experienced was the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, which hit much of Southeast Asia and claimed the lives of thousands. this website contains an interesting graphic, near the top of the page, showing the path of the tsunami; near the bottom of the page are some amazing satellite photographs of the northern tip of Indonesia's Aceh province, probably the worst hit area anywhere, both before and after the wave. the contrast is hard to fathom; all that destruction looks more like what you'd imagine a bomb would do, rather than a wave. once again, however, the natural world helps to keep us humble.

12 May, 2005


three Sundays ago we had Stake Conference in the morning, and so the afternoon was free for once. not that i'm complaining about getting to sleep in on Sundays. it seemed as if we'd done a bunch of exploring over the whole island, but not much right here in our own backyard, so we set out to rectify that situation.

putting theYammy to work, we headed from Feng Yuan towards Taichung on a country road that runs along the foothills of the nearby mountains. we took a promising-looking road off toward the mountains and were not disappointed by the knowledge we eventually gained up there. at first we took a road that became a lane, that became a path, that became dirt the farther up we went, and the strange looks we received increased in frequency commensurate with the altitude. when an old lady took the time to jabber at us in the language of the Middle Kingdom, despite my pleas for "ing wen", we decided to turn back and find less forbidding trails.

i guess they ran out of money?

what we found was this strange creature, which looks like it was intended to be a fairly impressive temple. in what i assume was the absence of funds, they appear to have settled for a single room of templeness; no matter, there was only one guy anywhere near it. they haven't seemed to embrace the maxim of location, location, location when it comes to building temples here. but the austerity of the place will likely go largely unnoticed: taking a ride northwards the other night i came across the trappings of a temple housed in a sheet metal shack with a billboard painting of a temple roof above it.

the next temple we came to was a bit more impressive, especially for its rather liberal attitude toward creeds and beliefs. most people here tend to follow a queer sort of folk religion, which is a mix of Taoist and Buddhist thought with a healthy dose of Confucianism underpinning the whole system. they worship when they want, and at any one of a bewildering array of temples, which often have a Buddhist section and a Taoist section. many have the idol deities from the different religions side by side, as was the case at the temple pictured below, though this one went a little beyond the traditional norm.

Jesus even gets into the Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian temples

with the abundance of temples, one is quickly inured to the profusion of icons in them, but i admit to being more than a little surprised to see that even Jesus had infiltrated the Far East folk-religious consciousness too. not that Jesus isn't big here; he is, and getting bigger. as you might imagine though, the hard part of converting Chinese to Christianity is not the getting them to accept Christ, but the getting them to abandon other practices that Christianity often requires.

Woo-Hoo (five lakes) Pagoda (crematorium)

one of the next places we went was right next to this fairly magnificent building, the Woo-Hoo (say Oo-Who, five lakes) Pagoda. both buildings are actually repositories for the cremated remains of the faithful departed who are, in the case of the building not pictured (their architecture is much less attractive), Catholics, and Buddhists in the pagoda.

where they keep what's left of Buddhists

it's a seven storey building and though we turned up about five minutes before they were supposed to close, we met a Chinese-American man who took us on a fairly grand tour. i was surprised to learn from Mr Moon Chen that to have your remains kept at Woo-Hoo, you need only pay a one-time fee, which at something like NT$24,000 (US$800) seemed like a bit of a steal. the economist in me wondered how this business model could be made to sustain itself, but it seemed like a question more appropriate to leave unasked.

Mr Moon Chen giving me the skinny, and the view from the top

still, Mr Chen did a wonderful job of answering questions and providing interesting information on both Woo-Hoo and Taiwan, even though he himself was only visiting. he took us up to the seventh floor where we got out onto the balcony and admired the 360-degree view, which even with Taiwan's permasmog was fairly impressive. and it was nice to see the geographical relationship between our city, Feng Yuan, and our much larger neighbour, Taichung.

we also spied our next bit of adventure from the top of Woo-Hoo: the local cemetery. since Sunday is a day of rest, i suppose it's appropriate that the theme of the day became permanent resting, though it was unintentional. among all the other figures the Chinese worship are the ancestors, so burial is very important. there is even a yearly national holiday known as Tomb Sweeping Day, which fell in early April, during thecircumnavigation.

some typical burial plots

though this holiday had been not three weeks earlier, most of the tombs we visited looked like they could have used a good sweeping, though many also looked to be inaccessible other than by climbing numerous walls and other tombs. some of the newer tombs look very nice, and their landscaping makes them vaguely reminiscent of sand traps on a golf course, but i'm sure in time they'll succumb to the ravages of overactive flora in such a humid place. many of the tombs are so overgrown that the only tool sufficient to clean them is fire, rather than a feeble broom. its not unusual to see parts of the hillside on fire, but then what's a little more smoke in a country where they'll burn stacks of paper "ghost money" in the streets outside temples?

in all, the local trip was very valuable for gaining a little perspective on what the Taiwanese find important. issues of life and death are very close to them, as you'd expect with a group so preoccupied with their ancestors. but while we find the Taiwanese very backward about coming forward in everyday affairs, it's a bit funny that the one subject we try so hard to avoid is on ever-present display here.