Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Queenie & Jerry's Big Day

Saturday night my friends Queenie and Jerry got married. Catherine and I were so happy to get a chance to celebrate with them. The party was a lot of fun. It also gave me a chance to see some folks from my old school...I miss them terribly. Queenie looked incredible, she is a beautiful woman. It was my first wedding here, so it was an opportunity to experience a wedding Taiwanese-style.

Jerry is my bosses brother and Queenie is a teacher at the Shulin school. Queenie has been teaching for Carol for quite a few years.

Unlike in the west, weddings are not formal occasions. Some folks were dressed to the hilt, others not so much.

The reception is, essentially, a dinner party. There isn't a DJ, band or dancing, just dinner music playing in the background. It is not the raucous affair that many western wedding receptions tend to be. There was alcohol, but not consumed at the level that I have seen folks drink at weddings in the U.S.

One aspect I found curious is the parade of dresses. The bride changes into different gowns 3 or 4 times throughout the evening. I guess it's an opportunity to take more photos.

My boss Carol and her cute-as-a-button daughter. I believe her daughter's name is Jeannie, but I'm not sure...I'm a guy, I forget those kinds of things!

The food was top-notch. Sadly, most of it was seafood. I don't eat fish so I was left twiddling my chopsticks for a good portion of the dinner. I did really enjoy the Haagen Dazs ice cream for dessert!

I managed to spend some time with a bunch of the teachers from Shulin, they are a great group. It was awesome to see them. The women in the Shulin school helped me become the teacher I am, really boosted my self-confidence.

Carrie & Catherine after the big affair. These two ladies can light up a room. We were mulling around waiting for everyone to finish up so we could head over to the KTV joint (more on KTV in a future post).

Big John and Gavin. Gavin is one of the coolest guys on the planet. He is Carol's husband.

The bride and groom with their parents. This is the part of the celebration where they make the marriage official. The parents make the pact official and sign the relevant documents...I guess this description doesn't exactly reek of romance...sorry, I am tired...lol.

Here they are playing one of the silly games that's part of a typical wedding here. The groom is blindfolded and he must find his bride by only touching the hands of all the folks on the stage...Jerry didn't do so well, he thought my friend Sandy was Queenie...oops!

Another silly game. This one involved the groom slinging his "hammer" into the brides "tambourine". Pretty saucy!

Finally, I couldn't resist added this photo to the group. Check out the guy on the left dashing for the bouquet! I'm certain he is destined to make a lovely bride in the near future...

The wedding proved to be another great cultural experience for me. It's really fun to get a chance to witness this stuff. I am a lucky guy...I love my work, have wonderful friends, live in a fascinating part of the world and have an extraordinary woman in my life. I am thankful every day for these things.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kiva.org - Baby Steps Towards Making a Difference

I recently started giving to a micro-finance/micro-loan organization known as Kiva.org. Essentially what it is is a non-profit group that facilitates small loans to entrepreneurs in the 3rd World. The loans are to folks that don't have any collateral to ensure a traditional bank loan. Also, the loan amounts are too small to attract legitimate financiers. Kiva makes it possible for people all over the world to provide some leverage to small business owners in struggling regions.

The default amount that sponsors give is $25 American. You have the choice of giving more but the system is setup to bring together several lenders in order to minimize the risk to the individual. As far as risk is concerned, Kiva has an impeccable record of repayment. The latest figures show a default rate of just 0.3% for $1,700,00 in loans...thats impressive!

Please visit the site at Kiva.org for more info and see how you can get involved.

My first loan went to Sok Ry, in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. Sok Ry sells traditional medicines and her husband is a farmer. Below is a picture of her and her husband along with the loan use description from the website.

Mrs. Sok Ry, aged 50, sells traditional Cambodian medicine to earn about $12 per day in revenue. Profits vary according to the type of medicines her clients request. Her husband grows vegetables to feed the family. They have one child who is a high school student. Mrs. Sok is requesting this loan of $1200 in order to increase her inventory of medicines to meet growing client demands. Part of the loan will also be used to purchase an electric water pump to irrigate the family’s farm and increase crop yield.

Sok Ry's loan was fully funded on October 23rd. She will be making monthly repayments for the next 18 months. I will monitor her progress and keep you all informed.

I am really excited about this and hope some of you out there will be too.

There is a widget on the sidebar of this blog to track the progress of various loans waiting to be fully funded.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Taiwan Blogger's Shindig in Hukou

On Saturday night, a bunch of the prominent Taiwan bloggers got together at MJ's place in Hukou. It was an excellent opportunity to get to know some the folks that have a knack for capturing life here on the island. MJ, (check out his blog here) was gracious enough to host this get-together of characters. His home is just a stones throw from an excellent Thai restaurant, where most of the action took place. The party was a lot of fun and went off without a hitch. The conversation and food were top-notch. Despite coming from all parts of the planet, it's remarkable how much the group has in common.

I will attempt to tell the story of the evening through the following photos:

Early in the evening the drinks were going fast. It was great to get a chance to pick the brains of my fellow bloggers.

Carrie (check out her blog: My Several Worlds) and MJ. I believe MJ was espousing the virtues of the Taiwanese rum that was the preferred drink of the evening.

The much anticipated barbecue. It didn't disappoint.

My cutie pie enjoyed the Thai-style barbecue. Shao-hui's cooking nearly brought tears to my eyes...great stuff.

A close-up of the various dishes that were served. The food didn't stand a chance in this group...we did some serious eating.

Carrie and Micheal (Michael's blog can be found here: The Taiwan Chronicles). Michael & I spent a good bit of time comparing war stories. He is also a former Peace Corps Volunteer and was born in Cleveland...small world. He gave me some excellent advice regarding higher education here in Taiwan. Essentially, he said I would be crazy not to get my Master's degree from one of the universities in Taipei...more on that in future posts.

That's Andres, of the one-and-only Andres in Taiwan blog, on the left. In the foreground, with his back to the camera, is David. David has a great blog, check it out at David on Formosa.

John, Carrie's future husband and good buddy of mine. He is damn near 7 feet tall so you can imagine what kinda of looks he gets here in the land of short people.

Later in the evening we made our way inside to take part in some karaoke.

Todd, sitting to the left of Catherine, also has an excellent blog...his photos are killer. Check his blog out at The Daily Bubble Tea.

Michael was making the moves on my girl!...lol I had to step in and put an end to that! After we got home, Catherine told me that Michael was a very interesting guy and his Chinese was impeccable...what a lady killer!...lol.

What a great time. Again, thank you MJ. I certainly hope we can do this again in the near future. I know that Catherine and I will be heading back that way to visit MJ. It would be worth the trip just to dine at Shao-hui's.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Evidence of Patriotism

The following are a few photos of Renai Rd. adorned with Taiwanese flags. The banners are left over from the 10/10 Day celebration. 10/10, or October 10th, is Independence Day here on the island.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

That's Some Good Chicken

Every Monday & Thursday night Catherine and I head over to Xinsheng Rd., where our favorite chicken place happens to be. They serve up chicken and fried yams encased in a sinful batter. The chicken is cut up into bite-sized pieces. I eat/buy so much that the husband and wife that own the place throw in free food & tea every time we go!...lol. Here are a few photos of where the chicken magic happens:

These folks are great. The wife always has an ear-to-ear smile when she sees us. Catherine usually chats with them, leaving me in the dark...lol. You can see their very pretty daughter in the background of the photo.

I always get two large orders of chicken and a large order of yams. They know how much I love this stuff so they always cram as much as will fit in the bags...an incredible bargain. We usually don't go until about 10p.m., so Catherine only nibbles on a piece or two. She has this thing where she doesn't eat after 7p.m., probably a good idea. This great little place is located in an alley just off of Xinsheng Rd, about 3 minutes from the MRT.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Visit to Yingge - Pottery Heaven

It was another get outta Taipei Sunday afternoon. We jumped on a train and headed to Yingge, a small town about 30 minutes south of Taipei. It's the hub of pottery-making in northern Taiwan. It was a beautiful fall afternoon. We were on a mission to get our hands dirty and explore an unfamiliar area. Check out the photos for details of our adventure.

The entrance to "Old Street", the touristy area of the Yingge. I was surprised how many people were there, it was packed.

Some cute kids mugging for photos in front of a typical shop.

An endless supply of hand-made goods.

Tea pots are big sellers.

This monkey-like man sculpture is incredibly detailed.

Catherine and a beautiful vase.

Yours truly. I love these carvings.

Catherine managed to find a really cute pair of shoes in one of the markets. I was happy to buy them for her.

Zamfir has come to Taiwan! This guy spent the afternoon jamming out on the pan flute while his partner marketed CD's containing his efforts.

This is Frank. He has set up shop on Old Street selling German sausage...excellent German sausage! This is the real stuff, Frank is from Germany. I ate 3 of them. If you decide to visit Yingge, ya gotta dine with Frank!

Catherine trying to decide on how to tackle our pottery-making mission. The guy on the left made some beautiful pieces. Check out the pot he is working on, it was awesome.

Molding our gunk. Neither one of us had a clue how to do it. It was fun.

We made matching flower pots. It was pretty funny because a few minutes after this photo was taken, about 30 people crowded behind us. I think they thought we knew what we were doing.

Catherine putting the finishing touches on her pot. She is such a cutie.

She had a difficult time etching the Chinese characters. We will be picking the finished products up in about a month.

I found this sculpture very odd. I guess the rotary club is a world-wide thing. I thought that it was something that only existed in small-town America.

Yingge was a lot of fun. We will be going back in a month or so. I was surprised at how nice the shops were. The shopping is not limited to pottery. Catherine found some great shoes and we found a lot of other stuff we would like, but didn't want to spend the money right then.

Take a Sunday afternoon and mosey on over to Yingge.

The Nobel Peace Prize

The republicans/conservatives are not dealing well with Al Gore's win. Come on, the guy has done lots of good stuff regarding climate change. He has helped bring the issue to the forefront. He seems committed to leading the charge for change.

Check out the reaction from this woman...she is clueless. She states that no one knows the names of any of the past winners except Jimmy Carter and Yasser Arafat. Is she familiar with Desmond Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Aung San Suu Kyi, The Dalai Lama and Elie Wiesel? The republicans have spent years dismantling the educational system in the U.S., this is a product of their efforts.

**Only 463 days until Bush returns to his ranch!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Broken Escalator Challenge

I ride escalators and walk up and down countless flights of stairs as part of my daily life here in Taipei. Yet I can't seem to walk on to a broken escalator without nearly falling on my face! Why is that? It's not like I can't see that the escalator is motionless. No matter how I prepare myself for taking more than one step, I can't make the smooth transition.

It happened again today. After I took my first step, it felt like I was falling off of a skateboard. It is the strangest feeling.

I am not alone here. Here is an article written in England's Daily Mail newspaper pertaining to this very issue. It is one of those odd things in our daily lives.

Anyone else out there willing to swallow their pride and admit to this silly behavior?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Post-Storm Photos

I decided to snap a few pics from my balcony after the recent typhoon. The sky is always at its best after a storm.