Small steps...Taiwan journey

Small steps...Taiwan journey


This is the story of our lives, especially concerning adopting 3 siblings from Taiwan.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Regrouping in Hong Kong

Tom and Emma left Tuesday; Sam and I bought tickets to Hong Kong Wednesday….to leave on Thursday. We found tix $60 cheaper (each) than all of our previous searches thanks to John at Dada. Even better, at the beginning of the week, Erica in Anchorage reminded us that Bentleys, friends of hers had moved to Hong Kong, so we connected with them pronto. It fell into place beautifully and Thursday afternoon, we flew into Hong Kong. They are on Lantau Island, same as the airport, so easy to get to.
(above, view from Bentley's apartment) Heavenly Father must know I need these recharges periodically because this little diversion has been heaven sent. We heard nary a word all week re: court rulings even though judge has had unresponsive birth mom info for 2 weeks at least. We made all our decisions LAST MINUTE this whole week, hoping to hear something. In the end, we decided not to overstay the visa and get monetarily penalized, but to go to Hong Kong and start the 30 day clock over on our return to Taiwan.
So, to come here and stay with a wonderful family and be shown around....taking a break from all that pesky thinking and figuring things has been SO good.
We spent our first day at the science museum where the kids all shot through the place like pinballs in a machine. Sam spent a very long time at the Archimedes Screw exhibit moving pellets through from top to bottom.
Then we went to the Temple Street Night Market....that was mostly not there...because of the rain. No matter, still a fun outing wandering the streets, seeing the lights.
Church on Sunday was just down the road in a local school...small branch with a few American visitors from China, and a treat to listen in English. A good number of expats live in Discovery Bay, so they make up much of the branch.
The day before we left, I got a special treat...Maren and Audrey gave me a pedicure! Bright purple polish done by professionals...what's not to love about Hong Kong??
As a sidenote, this trip has been funny in a different way. We've read MANY books aloud to the kids all through the years and generally hope that they find their way to wanting to read.
While Sam LOVES to listen and learn in many ways, reading has decidedly NOT been one of those ways. He started reading Fablehaven before we left Anchorage and is on book 5 now. Those are literally his first 5 chapter books, so last week I asked what he would do once he finished them and he said, "Maybe I'll just start them again."
But once we got to the Bentleys, he saw lots of other options and from Friday to Monday has read through 6 volumes of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. So, all of these pictures only LOOK like the same book.
He is in the same location, mostly same clothes, but different books at different times of day in every picture. And, believe it or not, we really did get out quite a bit and did active things (there were some late nights of reading).
It has been hugely entertaining to me (nothing new for lots of you parents, I know). I admit that there were days I wasn't sure it would happen, but eventually, it has to, right??

Saturday, April 28, 2012

small miracles and the laundromat

(image from
One of the most interesting cultural experiences has centered around an unusual place here in JhongLi: the laundromat. When we got to the apartment, there was a broken part on the washing machine, and within 4 days of being here, Tom noticed a shiny new laundromat opening on the corner between our apartment and Dada school.
The grand opening included about 2 weeks of free wash; they line dry everything, everywhere. But, with the washing machines,literally daily, there were the greatest little tutorials going on between all the ladies (mostly older) in the neighborhood…pointing out which buttons to push, what coins to use and all in the chatter of Chinese. On the weekends, there were lines 4 deep at each washing machine, and it was an absolute flurry of activity. Unfortunately, it was such a seemingly mundane event that I didn’t take any pictures (and I was carrying backpacks full of dirty clothes).
A few days before the free washing was over, I headed over to do my laundry and met another lady there named Lily; she is Taiwanese but has just returned to Taiwan from living in the UK for 7 years. We chatted for quite awhile…I don’t even remember what we talked about, but when she got a call to come home, I followed her to her house (1 block from our apartment) and met her husband and kids. He was headed out, but mentioned something about church on Sunday. I asked which church they went to, and the answer floored me…the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I laughed out loud at the irony of meeting an LDS person in a country where 4% are Christian and much less than that Mormon. JhongLi is a city of 300,000, about the size of Anchorage. They have just 2 small wards and I met one of their members at……the laundromat. And, by the way, she wasn’t even there to do laundry, but to see what was going on with all the people and banners of the grand opening. So, since then, we’ve had dinner with Mark, Lily and their 3 kids,
walked to church together along the river (above), gotten HELPFUL travel advice, received great translation at church and just felt watched over. (Their son translated for Sam; when he wasn't sure about things, he just talked about plants v zombies.) It is just FUN to connect and have an immediate bond. I love that about the gospel wherever we have been. That very day, they took Sam swimming for a few hours, and I felt no worry about having just met them. It all felt heaven sent!
And, in the weeks since the free promotional, the laundromat has been virtually empty! That moment of meeting Lily was a small miracle just for me.
(above, Sam and I at the LDS church in JhongLi)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

small things with great love

Emma’s sunburn highlighted a true principle for us:
We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.   Mother Teresa  
(note: out of sensitivity for a teenaged girl, we will not post pictures of how bad it really looked) A few days after her burn, we went swimming with the Dada school kids and Emma came along. Her eye was swollen and she was blistered, so she was still in pretty bad shape. A Taiwanese woman came to me in the dressing room trying to communicate and gesturing toward Emma. She had no English, I had no Chinese, so a teenaged girl tried to help out. The woman wanted to go home and get us some aloe leaves to put on the burn. We had been given aloe leaves the day before at lunch by the owner of a restaurant in Kenting, so we already had some. But she was insistent and ran home on her scooter to get them and help a girl in need.
Sunny, the wonderful assistant at Dada school, bought us cucumber gel for Emma's burn and has given us other remedies for various issues and has been so kind and gracious. Her sincerity is moving and while they are small simple offerings, they are filled with love and kindness.
Last week, on our way home from Kenting, we were rushing to catch the train when I stopped to get some bread and then changed my mind because it seemed a little expensive. Moments later, we were on the train, getting ready to sit down when an older woman came onto our car and offered two mini loaves of bread, saying something about her daughter. That's all we could make out--no English/no Chinese barrier again. We had no idea what had happened; she was not an employee of the store and we couldn’t figure out why it had happened, but it felt magical.
Our hosts, John and Ching have lived this principle of small things done with love repeatedly. I can already see John taking special care of us now that Tom is gone. They are amazingly generous with their time and resources and exemplify goodness. (picture below is John and Sky, their daughter on a hike we all took in Yilan)
Since he came to Dada two days before us and speaks some Chinese, Eugene, pictured below, has been an awesome asset. From teaching Sam chess and patiently listening and then explaining any number of helping us get the right breakfast sandwich for Emma when she was miserable from her sunburn...he's been wonderful!
Finally, there have been numerous strangers who have translated to help us out of a jam or stopped us in the street to say that one of the kids is beautiful.
I remember reading Rachel Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom and thinking that I could never impact people the way she did, so continually and powerfully. But our experience here has been a reminder that it is not quantity of good deeds or people influenced that matters, but individual moments that we live higher and better than we have before.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bye Tom and Emma

So, there have been pending decisions about travel and such with these adoption delays. We fasted on Sunday and rehashed all of the details. There are factors like visas expiring after 30 days and kids passports 6 months from expiring (which is the deadline here) and do we leave Taiwan for a few days and go to Hong Kong, buying us 30 more days or will we end up having to pay penalties anyway if things don’t move along. Too much information, I know.
But, we also realized that youth conference for Emma is 3 weeks away, Tom is off payroll and maybe they should go on home instead of mucho dinero on change fees and penalties blah blah blah. Not having heard anything specific, we figure we’re at least 2-3 weeks out (and that’s being optimistic), so Tom and Emma go home today. It feels like the right thing to do based on the information we have at present. But…it was also sad.
I think I let it all out when Lucy left the school tonight. We know her well and she has just loved Emma. Because Emma and Tom went to Taipei today, she wasn’t there when Lucy left, meaning she wouldn’t get to say goodbye. We’ve seen her most days from 12:30 until dinnertime, gone swimming weekly and on the playground too. This afternoon, she gave us a little gift of porcelain shoes, not realizing that half the family was leaving tonight. I think I cried for more than just Lucy…it was for Emma and her goodness and for having our other half head home a little prematurely.
I count on Emma for stability and being agreeable and positive in practically every situation.
I count on Tom for lots of decision making-for splitting the labor-buying train tickets that get us to where we need to go, finding our way to hither and yon, taking pictures of everything so that we will always have a record of this story. What will we do without them?? Unfortunately, there's not too much time to belabor it since Sam and I are staying and need to deal with visa stuff.
The first thing we do is buy tickets to Hong Kong for a few days, so that we don’t overstay our visa. Leaving and coming back buys us another 30 days, and while people say the $$ penalties aren’t a big deal, it felt like maybe we’d want to err on the side of caution with immigration here.
I am laying my hope in a bigger picture…a perspective that maybe I can’t see right now, but Heavenly Father can. He knows our situation and what lies ahead. Can I trust that and remain calm and at peace? End of story: we stopped at Lucy’s home on the way to the airport and were able to say goodbye.

happy birthday tom!

We celebrated Tom’s birthday two days in a row…once on the 13th in Taiwan and again the 14th since it was the 13th in Alaska. I've been waiting for a great clip Sunny recorded of the surprise part before I posted, so it's a bit late. And since Tom is my official photographer, on his day off, I did poorly at recording the day, so I'll post some of his favorite pictures instead.
Tom found interesting subject matter everywhere; he was always tailing the group because he was turning here and there finding photographs to take: dogs, flowers, food, landscape, people, buildings, signs. Makes for a great record of our trip.
The Taiwan celebration was a bit flurried…an instant chat with the social worker...
For Tom’s birthday treat, some of the school kids and I made sugar cookies. In my observation, ovens are rarely used and when I have seen them, they are more the size of a toaster oven, so I wasn’t sure how things would turn out. When I thought they were done, other helpers came along and put them back in the oven, so they were pretty crunchy by the time it was all over with.
We also made some cute birthday cards; in addition to Tom’s birthday, it was also Steven’s birthday, Sunny’s son (she is the wonderful assistant here).
The conversation about what to say on the cards was highly entertaining. We did it on the board and talked about what we liked about Tom and Steven. The first descriptor for Tom was “very strong.” We ended up with: strong, cool, tall, and handsome; on the cover the words: “You is a strong boy.”
Ching gathered about 20 kids and they all hid around the main room (the hiding build up was a dramatic as the surprise) and popped out when he came in the room. GOTOVIDEO It was a birthday COMPLETELY different than any other. Alaska salmon for dinner for the whole house.
Adoption update: we finally connected via MSN Messenger with the social worker who oversees Han, the youngest of the 3 siblings who is in foster care. We’ve tried at various times over the past week and been unsuccessful at connecting. She and I instant messaged for about an hour, and I got all kinds of information about Han-han from her, so it was a success even though we didn’t talk to him at all. That is a huge goal of mine…to get as much information as possible from anyone who has first hand experience with the kids. With the language barrier, it is all we will have about them for awhile, so every tidbit is important.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

the beach at Kenting

Kenting is a definite beach vacation playground in Taiwan. Millions visit yearly and we saw almost innumberable tour buses coming and going to sites throughout the southern tip of the island.
We awoke our first morning to a downpour, but Emma and Sam were insistent on going to the beach. They spent the morning in the rain and as the day passed, the rain diminished. As adults, our first thought with the rain, was what will we do on a beach vacation if it keeps raining, but that didn’t stop the kids in the least.
Sam, true to form, dug and swam, dug and swam and even made friends with Taiwanese teenagers in his tunneling exploits. He was noticeably happier the whole trip-he has always been our fish. We stayed in Nanwan (which means South Bay) a very small community a few miles from Kenting and were right across the street from the beach. The kids swam much of the day, and Tom relished taking pictures of the scene…the irony of a nuclear power plant pouring warm coolant discharge into the ocean at the edge of the beach where we swam.
In the evenings, we went to Kenting for the night market there…night markets have the feel of a really crowded county fair, complete with food stalls, vendors, games and performers.
We’ve been to quite a few in various towns and cities and they are lively spots, teeming with humanity. In Taipei last week, we experienced some kind of Buddhist/Taoist temple celebration complete with fireworks that never seemed to stop and billows of smoke that kept coming closer and closer to us . Kenting was very small scale just located on the main street and not too crowded since it was a weekday.
Our second day was the DAY of the SUNBURN. Too much time in the sun, sunscreen stolen, inside by lunchtime, but Sam and particularly Emma were both burned, so we stayed away from the beach for awhile. That evening we met Dutch tourists on the beach and found that Kenting has 2 beaches on either end that are open to the public, but a huge space in between that is closed for safety reasons.
Sam found a section of beach that bordered on an area where wild dogs supposedly roam. He was unnerved by that, but all the dogs we came across just looked like survivors.
Day three, we rented a scooter which turned out to be a great choice….easier to see the whole area quickly and get a better feel for the region. We had spent much time waiting for unreliable shuttle buses, so being in control of our transportation was better.
Tom carted us around to a national park and various coastal areas with landmarks and there were gorgeous views and charming spots.
Adoption Update: We were finally able to video chat with Han-han our first real day in Kenting. Considering language barriers and age limitations, it was relatively successful. Can you imagine a 3 year old being told that the faces on the computer screen will be his parents; he is in a foster home-he has a family in his own mind I’m sure. As a side note, we had been told that he hadn’t gotten our packages (sent in Feb and Apr), so we knew he didn’t have very much context about us since the missing package contained a picture album of our family. BUT, seeing that sweet face made it so much more real and was a moving experience for Tom and me.