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Monday, May 22, 2017

First Graduation of the Season

I've not done a good job of keeping up with blogging lately, but moments are speeding past that I want to document for the years to come. One of those is a big monument in our lives. Our eldest child, Damon, graduated from college.

Chad and I left Elena behind to take her Sr. IB exams and flew the 24 hours across the ocean to celebrate with Damon this great moment.  Jet lagged and bleary eyed, we circled him in hugs. I couldn't believe I was able to be there for those moments, my mom's heart was bursting with pride at how my little boy was a grown man with the the world full of possibly before him.

Music has a way of sweeping my heart away and filling me with emotion. We hunted for Damon in the lines of green caps and gowns filing into the arena to Pomp and Circumstance. Our keen eyes found him standing taller than the masses, wearing black shoes. It's funny how the shoes were the give away identifier. Being a graduate of Michigan State University, I choked on tears when  the MSU Fight Song was played several times through out the commencement. Towards the end, the arena thundered with students and parents singing with pride. Then, after speeches and diplomas were handed out, the Michigan State Alma Mater song, MSU Shadows began. I sang with pride. We now have five members of our family with green flowing through our veins–my mom, Chad's mom, Chad, myself and Damon.

Three days passed too quickly. Soon I was back on the plane with Maddie next me to join us for the summer. This will be our first summer without five keeping the house full of warmth. I know, it's part of life–the kids growing up and all–it now just seems a bit quieter around here these days.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

End of Chinese New Year god Parade

Xuan-Xiao Jie is the lantern festival in Taiwan marking the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations.  Lanterns are lit and sent off in various villages around the island.  This year we were invited to visit a god parade in a small town just outside of Taipei.  Our small group were the only white faces present.  The parade followed a circular road on the edge of the mountains.  The beating of drums, whine of the traditional horns and banging cymbals helped us find our way off the mountain trail and into the village.  The celebration was just beginning.

We've stumbled across god parades in the city before.  Sometimes it's a group of 4 people carrying their god around with some loud music playing and other times the parade is large and long, full of music, people dressed as gods, firecrackers and drums.  This parade was the most intense gathering I've yet seen.  Single file, the vehicles snaked along the road while spectators walked alongside.


The mix of elements in this parade was wide.  There are four large plastic headed gods that often make appearances at god parades, they walked between the cars.  At the beginning of the parade, jeeps with speakers were blasting very, very loud music.  The dragon in important in Chinese symbolism for strength and power.  The dragon is typically a colorful ornamentation made of ceramic tiles on temples.  A group of boys wove the long fabric dragon back and forth.  It's fun to watch the boys holding the poles to the snaking body because they move in unison, yet each have their own movement to make the dragon flow.  Tables in front of homes were laden with fruit and other gifts as sacrifice to the god that would be coming.  People walked up to the offering tables, lit a handful of incense then passed it out to the crowd.

We were quite surprised when two jeeps came around the bend with a pole and dancer on top.  I'm not kidding.  It was shocking and baffling.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this, so I've done a lot of asking to try to understand.  The secretary in Chad's office was rather embarrassed.  She said the practice began in southern Taiwan.  She got quiet then sort of whispered in my ear that men like this sort of thing, therefore they have the girls in the parade.  Pole dancers are not uncommon in funeral processions here.  In January a politician died and the news reported 50 pole dancers as part of the funeral procession.  When I asked a co-worker of mine, she said men find pleasure in the dancers and want to share what pleases them with their god so the god can find pleasure too.  Apparently the jeeps stop at the homes of large financial donors to the local temple and the dancers go in and give the donor a private show.  

Taoism is an eastern religion with many gods.  Each temple has their own god.  This is what I've seen paraded around the city at various times.  Little parades to celebrate the god's birthday.  The god sits on this portable alter with 4 poles for transport.  The carriers rock the alter back and forth while they walk causing the flags on the back to flutter.  Each time the parade stopped, the god and alter were set in a central spot.  Firecrackers were lit (in this photo you see the paper from the firecrackers), people brought innocence and offerings to the god, dipping their head several times while praying.


Fireworks and firecrackers are a main part of the celebration.  I've never seen a fireworks display as large and crazy as this.  At home we arrive for the 4th of July fireworks an hour early, stake out our spot, put out a blanket and lay on our backs gazing at the stars while we wait for fireworks to begin.  After 10 minutes, 15 if we're lucky, the 5 minute grand finale begins.  We ohh and ahh, pleased with how beautiful and grand the display was this year, then fight traffic to get home.  

The only way I know how to describe these fireworks are 3 hours (yes, hours) of straight grand finale.  There were large traditional fireworks lighting up the sky.  There were ground rockets that sent streams of fire high into the sky, and there were reels and reels of firecrackers.  Boxes of unused fireworks were haphazardly stacked on the side.  Needless to say, safety was not a major concern.  Men picked up ropes of firecrackers, threw them on the ground in front of the god, lit them and walked away.  About 10 canisters of the large fireworks were placed on a cement ledge then two guys with blow torches lit them and backed up.  After they went off, they knocked the empty canisters over the edge and ran to replace them with 10 more canisters which they immediately lit.  On and on the chaos continued.  We left after three hours, long before the boxes were empty.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance performances are popular in Taiwan on Chinese New Year's Day to celebrate the new year and symbolize good luck to the people.

Elena and I went to the Grand Hyatt to see their show.  We were not disappointed.  

It began with streamers of firecracker being lit off, then the drummers began.

A team of children danced with spools, tossing and catching them on string.

The dragon chases a spherical object that represents a pearl or wisdom.

The Dragon Dance is very acrobatic.  A team of boys hold the long dragon on poles.  What you see the boys doing under the dragon is just as interesting as the artistic flow of the dragon himself.  At times they stand on one another simply to create interest in their structure.  Every movement is beautiful to watch.

The Lion Dance is another traditional Chinese dance often performed during Chinese New Year.  Two dancers form each lion.  The first Lion Dance had two lions dancing with each other.  The dancers stand on their partner's shoulders to extend the lion.  I several of these performances outside businesses and malls over the holiday.

The second Lion Dance was unique.  The lion, manned by two people, danced atop small wooden platforms.  It jumped back and forth and spun around.  This lion ate the traditional greens, offered in a bowl, to represent wealth and fortune.  He was also fed a "hong bao" or red envelope which holds a gift of money which is a payment for the blessing of the lion.  At the end the lion threw candy into the audience for the kids.

A sprig of bamboo on this drum to bring good luck.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site.  Thousands of limestone isles rise out of the emerald green water.  To say this is a tourist destination is an understatement.  We did a three day, two night junk boat tour into the bay.  At most times, I could see 20 other tourist boats.  Despite this fact, it was incredibly peaceful and restful.  I left behind all devices on this trip, so there were no distractions.  I spent hours on the decks, with camera in hand, just watching life go by.  We did a few stops along the way, but for the most part we enjoyed the scenery, which I hope you do through this photo tour!

The fishing village you see in the background of this photo seemed like one of the most remote places on earth to me.  We talked about it and decided that they have easier access to society than some other places, but they live with generators on their floating, one room houses.  A radio tower is positioned atop a nearby islet to warn of incoming typhoons.  

A style of Asian shrimp fishing boat that we have here in Taiwan as well.  At night we could see the boats with the bright lights on to attract the shrimp into their nets.

It was typical to see men and women paddling their boats with their feet.

We stopped at Hang Sung Sot (Surprise Cave), one of the largest and most beautiful caves in Halong Bay.  We were truly surprised at the size and length of this cave.  A kazillion people were visiting.  We were headed along by our guide, so it was hard to get a good look.

Chad and Damon kayaked the fishing village while the girls and I opted for the rowboat option so we could take lots of photos!

 In the middle of Halong Bay floats a cultured pearl farm.  We stopped for a tour of how pearls are grown.  The process is interesting.  The basics are:  An "irritant" is carved from the shell of an oyster and implanted into an oyster of the correct age.  A piece of tissue from another oyster is added at the same time (I really didn't understand this part, but they do it none the less).  The oysters are put in cages and suspended in the sea so they can grow.  The oyster builds a pearl around this foreign substance.  Periodically they are taken out of the water for the buildup to be cleaned off the shells.  This farm grew the pearls  

rows for cages of oysters

Inserting the seed made from a shell
Finding the pearl
from 3-7 years depending on the type and desired size.  Around 40-50% of the oysters survive and grow a pearl and only about 10% produce a high value, round pearl.  The flawed pearls are sold to be ground into make-up.

We traveled with Legacy Cruise Halong and had a wonderful experience!