One of the shop signs that fell down during typhoon Soudelor created a new tourist attraction (only 300m away from our home)! The sign fell on two mailboxes causing them both bending sideways in the same angle. It looks quite cute. When we passed by the first time, there was a big crowd, a barrier, two security people in uniform, and a team with a TV camera. We first thought that there might be a celebrity or there is some kind of TV series produced. But then we saw the mailboxes and that people were queuing to take pictures with these mailboxes. Since the typhoon there are always people queuing sometimes even until after midnight to take some fun pictures, which sometimes even causes traffic jams. The mailboxes are mentioned in the news, have their one facebook page and there are also souvenirs to buy and cupcakes with the crooked mailboxes on top…
Some of you may have heard of typhoon Soudelor that went over Taiwan last Friday and Saturday. It was our first real typhoon here in Taiwan and the people here say it was probably the most serious in the last 10 years. We have, however, survived without bigger trouble. It started on Friday night and many people already had “typhoon-vacation” that night as it was too dangerous to go to work. It was increasingly stormy and started to rain heavily. It was really noisy that night and Amy tried to cover her ears while sleeping. The typhoon reached its maximum somewhere in midst of the night. Fortunately Joe did not go to bed that early and so he noticed just in time that one of our balconies was flooded and water started to run into our apartment. As the drain was too small and a bit clogged, it was not able to drain the vast amounts of rain the typhoon pressed on the balcony. Joe quickly cleaned the drain, which left him completely wet within seconds, and then dried the already half flooded room. Then he went to bed, but he still had a bad feeling. So he once got up to see whether everything is OK. This time the same room was completely flooded and the water already started to make its way to the living room. As soon as Joe dried the room for the second time, the missionary has that lives in the 4th floor rang and asked Joe for help as her balcony that goes almost around the whole house was already flooded with a water height of about 1feet. So Joe got his swimming trunks and helped to draw part of the water from her balcony. It was not until 6.30am in the morning that the typhoon weakened and Joe finally went to bed. On Saturday still a lot of people had “typhoon-vacation,” throughout the day, however, wind and rain became weaker and weaker.
On the night of the typhoon some places in Taiwan got close to 50” of rain (which is about the same amount as the annual precipitation of New York City), which led to many flooded houses and balconies in Taipei. At many places in the city trees have been fallen down, branches were torn down, and some billboards and shop signs have fallen from the walls. Most of the damage, however, was cleaned up in a short time. Only in the south of Taipei, where the mountains begin, there were a few bad landslides. Overall we are thankful that we did not have too much trouble. As typhoons are announced pretty early, normally there is enough time left to prepare well. As the houses in Taiwan are built to endure earthquakes and typhoons, and if people stay at home during the typhoon, actually there is not too much danger in the city.
Lately we were invited to a Taiwanese wedding. First there was the wedding service in our church – similar to a wedding in Germany or in the US. Amy and another girl were flower girls and they had to wear a rented dress that was especially changed for them. We even had to go twice to the dress store to try on. The reception after the church service was on the 86th floor of Taipei 101 (the fourth highest building of the world) and more than 300 guests were invited. First we had to give the present at a reception table. There is a table for the guests of the bridegroom and one for the guests of the bride. If you are a guest of the bridegroom, you go to that table and hand over your gift (a red envelope with money). Before the wedding day it is already clear how much the food costs and so the envelope should contain the money for the food and some extra. At the reception it will be written in a list, who gave how much money. As a flower girl Amy also received a red envelope with money from the bride and groom. When all the guests sat at their tables, first the parents of the bride and groom came in to the hall and then the newly-weds entered, whereas the bride wore a different dress now. There was a delicious 10-course meal while the bride and groom and their parents went from table to table clinking glasses with the guests. Between the courses there was a little game for the bride and groom. After dinner, the party was over and the newly-weds stood at the entrance and sent their guests off with some sweets (the bride had changed her dress one more time). It was a great wedding day, which we still joyfully remember.
At the end of April our mission’s home for disabled children and adults, called Bethesda, in Hualien celebrated its 60th birthday. We also wanted to participate and so on Saturday we drove to Hualien. It’s about a 4 hour drive along the beautiful East coast of Taiwan. When we were about one hour away from Hualien we met a big truck loaded with stones. When he was right next to us a boulder dropped down and bumped under our car. But thanks to God it did not fall on the car, because then it might have penetrated the windshield, which would have been very dangerous. We immediately stopped at the next parking lot in the middle of nowhere to see whether there is any damage. We then saw a trickle of oil coming from beneath and so our car slowly “bled to death” in the parking lot. Our colleagues who drove little later the same route took Simone and the kids to Hualien and I (Joe) had to take care of the rest.
First, I had to call the police, and when the officer came, he took me to the police station in the next town to process my case. After everything was ready the police officer gave me the in Chinese characters written report and told me to check it! Well, I tried my best with the help of the characters I already know and a dictionary to understand the report. Then I had to confirm the report and some other forms by putting my signature and a red fingerprint on them. After an hour, the officer took me back to the car and I had to call the insurance company to get a tow truck. The tow truck came after another two hours and took me and our car to Hualien. While I waited for the tow truck, I tried to find a workshop in Hualien, which can repair the car (yes, now I also know what sump is called in Chinese!). But it didn’t look good: They told me spare parts cannot be ordered before Monday, and until they are delivered from Taipei and installed, I need to wait until at least Tuesday! In the tow truck I talked with the driver and found out that he is also very familiar with cars. So I asked him whether he might know a workshop that maybe can get me the spare part at the same day. The driver then called a friend and he was really able to get it. Then the tow truck brought our car right away to the workshop of his friend and when we got there the spare parts were already prepared and our car came directly from the tow truck on the lift. The tow truck driver was so nice and even brought me to Bethesda for the anniversary, so I could also be part of it – at least a bit. After three hours our car was already repaired and we could drive home at the same evening.
We are very thankful to God’s for his protection and that we were able to take care of everything in Chinese, from police and insurance, to tow truck and repair. What a good thing I just learned the week before in language school in our “everyday Chinese book” exactly the words for accidents, repairs and road traffic… And in addition we also have a surveillance camera in the car now. The night before the accident I told a Taiwanese friend that we Germans do not like surveillance cameras. Well, if we would have had one then the insurance of the truck would have had to pay for the repairs but unfortunately he will never be found and so we have to pay by ourselves.
Last Sunday we celebrated Anna’s first birthday together with some friends. In the afternoon we invited our two neighbor families over for a German style coffee and cake birthday party. In the evening some of the students that live in our fifth floor came and we had pizza together.
Unbelievable that already a full year passed since we first held Anna in our arms. She already grew so much, learned so much, and we are so grateful that God gave us such a wonderful gift.
In April we had Simone’s family visiting us. First Simone’s brother Andy and his wife Ulla came and one week later Simone’s parents also arrived. In their first week Andy and Ulla explored Taipei and we enjoyed a lot having this time together. When Simone’s parents came, we wanted to pick them up at the airport and then all together right away drive to the South for a few days of vacation. But unfortunately a few days before Anna got sick. So we first had to stay in Taipei. Andy and Ulla first by themselves went to the South by train and fortunately we were able to follow two days later. We were very happy that it finally worked out that we could spend some time together in Kenting in the South of Taiwan. We enjoyed this family time very much and went hiking, swimming in the sea, looked for shells – all in wonderful warm weather…. Andy and Ulla finally took the train back to the airport and with Simone’s parents we spent three more days driving back to Taipei along the East coast. Beautiful nature, a hotel with hot springs and a night in the Taroko Gorge were on our schedule. Back in Taipei we had another week with Simone’s parents. Simone’s mother was already in Taipei last year when Anna was born. But now also Simone’s father was able get to know our live here in Taipei. It was really nice to have our family here and especially Amy and Anna enjoyed having this time with grandparents and family.
Beginning February 18th to March 5th we celebrated Chinese New Year and this year we welcomed the “Year of the Sheep”. Chinese New Year is the biggest family event here in Taiwan (like Christmas for us). The date is based on the lunar calendar and therefore every year it is celebrated at a different time in January or February. The first six days are official holidays. A lot of people go to visit their families back home. For married people it is exactly determined which days are celebrated with the husband’s family and which ones with the wife’s family. Children receive “Hong Baos”, which are red envelopes with money, from their parents, relatives or friends of the parents. Parents of already grown up children also receive “Hong Baos” from their children. These six holidays are especially filled with ancestor worship, eating and going on short trips. Many Taiwanese people also use this time to play Mahjong (a traditional Chinese game).
Our neighbors and friends invited us several times to delicious Chinese food during these days. It’s great to see that our relationships with some people have grown in the last year so much that they are inviting us to their family celebrations. After these six holidays everyday life started again. On the first working day everywhere was the sound of firecrackers. All the shops and businesses put firecrackers to welcome the new business year and to drive away evil spirits.
The end of the Chinese New Year time is on the 15th day of the New Year, which is the Lantern Festival. Around this time children receive little paper lanterns everywhere, which first have to be assembled by their parents, and at night children can be seen outside for a stroll with their lanterns. Since we do not have German autumn tradition here, which is doing lantern parades with handmade lanterns, we have crafted own lantern for the Lantern Festival this year. Yesterday night we went to a big park here in Taipei to celebrate the “Lantern Festival” with seemingly a million other people. Throughout the park everywhere big lanterns were on display – people, animals, dragons, houses … It was really beautiful.
So we wish you all a blessed year of the sheep, or as the Taiwanese people say “Gongxi Facai! Shenti Jiankang!”(Congratulations, wealth and health!).
Beginning of February Joe’s parents came to visit us for ten days. First we showed them how our everyday life in Taipei looks like – where we buy our food, where Amy goes to preschool, our church… Although the weather was not that good, we had a lot of wonderful experiences, like a traditional Chinese tea ceremony or watching the cherry blossom in the surrounding mountains. After a few days we went to Kenting in the South of Taiwan. There we enjoyed the wonderful warm weather, swam in the sea, played on the beach, and did some sightseeing in the area. We visited, for example, a place where natural gas is coming out of the ground that ignites itself. On this “natural bonfire” we even made our own popcorn :). On our way back to Taipei we drove along the beautiful east coast. We learned how to plant rice, saw monkeys playing beside the street and a lot more. Last but not least we visited the Taroko Gorge with its several hundred meter high marble walls. All in all it was a great time and we enjoyed showing Joe’s parents how our life in Taiwan looks like. Amy and Anna also enjoyed the time with their grandparents a lot.
In Amy’s preschool they also celebrated Christmas. The whole preschool was decorated.
December 22nd Amy’s preschool came to our church to hear and see what Christmas is about. First our pastor’s wife told them the Christmas story, then they looked at the manger and afterwards Simone showed them how to make German Christmas cookies. Every child could make a few by themselves.
The Saturday after Christmas, there was a Christmas party in Amy’s preschool. We had a potluck, the kids did a performance and then all the kids got their presents – there was even a Santa Claus :).
Christmas here in Taiwan is very different from Christmas in Germany or the US…
Our church had a Christmas party on the Saturday before Christmas. Some people sang a song, some people did a little performance and there was a sermon. On Christmas itself there was no service in our church.
Christmas Eve we and some of our Marburg Mission colleges organized a German Christmas Service for German’s who work or study here in Taipei or who are just here for vacation. About 50 people came. We really enjoyed it having a little bit of “German Christmas” here in Taipei (here you can listen to a Christmas Song that Amy sang in the German Christmas Service). Afterwards we had our colleges at our home to celebrate Christmas Eve together. Christmas Day we took a day off. In the morning we celebrated as a family – sang songs together, read the Christmas story and unpacked our presents. In the afternoon we went with a short term missionary who stayed with us for Christmas to the hot springs and enjoyed Christmas there. The next day we already went to school and preschool again. The Sunday after Christmas we invited two of our neighbor families over to celebrate Christmas with us and to show them what Christmas is about. Amy’s preschool also had a Christmas party. We will tell you about that soon.
Even if Christmas is very different here in Taiwan, it still has the same reason: we celebrate Jesus’ birthday who came as a little baby into our world, because he wants to be close to us.