My tattoo evolution

30+ years ago, I lost a bet and, while stationed in Denver, CO, I had a small tattoo inked on my back: a butterfly. (I think I paid 35.00 for it) Over the years, I almost forgot about it (except when I was swimming and someone would tell me that I had a bug on my back). In Tacoma, decades later, I had it re-colorized. (65.00) Then, I began to wonder: is one enough? How many tattoos are too much? In New Orleans, I had a small black rose tattoo’d on my thigh. (~120.00 and it hurt like a ….well it hurt). No, I wasn’t drinking and yes, I would recommend getting a large tattoo to begin with! In 2005, I was in NYC with a friend and my youngest daughter for my birthday. As a present, they chipped in to purchase a “tramp stamp” tattoo for me: my star sign (200.00). Then, about 2 years ago, I realized that my original tattoo had “melted” and no longer looked recognizable. So….I decided to have it covered up. Next came a larger aqua chrysathemum which I just love! (200.00) Then…in July, my kidney donor died (of a heart attack, with my kidney still working). In memory, I had a Taiwanese artist create a red rose memorial to add to the flower already on my back. And finally, last December, Mom died suddenly. In her memory I had a lovely little hummingbird and heart added to my growing body art collection. See what you think of it….


“The hummingbird symbolizes many different concepts. Because of its speed, the hummingbird is known as a messenger and stopper of time. It is also a symbol of love, joy, and beauty. The hummingbird is also able to fly backwards, teaching us that we can look back on our past.”

Year of the Snake

It’s nearly Chinese New Year, that time of year when Taiwanese from all over the world return to their island home to celebrate the most important traditional holiday with their families. The decoration vendors are springing up all over the roadsides and alleys, their booths displaying bright red and gold items of every size and shape. CNY is supposed to mark the end of Winter but this year we’ve really had a super mild season. The sun’s been out for a couple of weeks now, with temperatures ranging from 16 to 23 degrees celsius. Last winter I had no cold-weather clothing and boy, was it cold! This year, I was prepared (hats, scarves, gloves, coats) so yeah, of course we have warm weather!

For the foreigners (and most everyone) CNY means a vacation – 9 days this year (Feb. 8 – 17), by government decree! And, it means food – lots of it – and money and gifts. The atmosphere is festive: my building lobby is all decorated up with red lanterns, lights, and golden snake images, and each floor still has its Christmas decorations out. Our annual Spring party will be held the week after CNY and folks are excited to see what sort of prizes (and cash) they could win.

I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for 2 weeks to tour the island and learn to cook some Sri Lankan foods. I have my own personal guide/chauffeur: The weather there is supposed to be HOT (34 degrees C); I’m hoping to come back with, at the very least, a tan and some amazing photos. I also want to shop for gems (spinel, sapphire, and zircon), batik cloth, and spices! My Asian adventure continues…Xin nian kuai le!

Yingge redux

One of my favorite little towns near Taipei City is the pottery town, Yingge. This time, instead of meeting up with friends at Taipei Main Station (it’s always a bit nervewracking to figure out where to go – there are at least 4 different levels with crowds of people scurrying to and fro on each), we decided to meet at Songshan TRA (train) station and ride the express train to Yingge. Ahhhh, so much easier. I took a taxi to the station and when I told the driver “Wo qu Songshan huochizhan” (I go Songshan train station) he just looked at me. I repeated the phrase several times, adding in the name of the street. Apparently my “accent” was off but eventually, after getting out Google maps he understood. Songshan wasn’t crowded on a Sunday morning. I bought my ticket, asked an attendant which track goes to Yingge and soon we had a nice seat and a quick, pleasant journey. At Yingge station, there are two exits, each leading to a different street. This time we took the street we thought lead to the Pottery Museum and after a few turns down narrow lanes, found ourselves in the middle of a field of giant pottery pieces that looked as if it had been dropped from the sky and had become embedded in the ground.

Look out for falling plates!

Look out for falling plates!

What a cool concept!

What a cool concept!

Cutting for Stone

I joined a book club earlier this year, through the Community Services Center (they meet in the evenings – yeah!), and this month we read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. It’s a semi-autobiographical account of a young man (a twin) growing up in Ethiopia, who later goes on to become a respected doctor (and professor at Stanford University!) in America. I won’t spoil it for you by giving away any details but it was definitely a fascinating look into another culture.

As a writer, I’m always interested in what inspires others to write. I decided to learn more about Dr. Verghese: and I sent the following note:

Dear Dr. Verghese, in preparation for a book club discussion of Cutting for Stone, I read with interest of your current research into bedside manner. Recently (20 months ago) I became a living kidney donor and, because you wrote so beautifully about the twins’ experience in your book, I thought you might be interested in hearing about my donor experience, as it relates to your current scientific focus. If this is the case, I’m happy to relate my story….

And, he wrote back!! How many bestselling authors would take the time to respond to a random note from a complete stranger? He truly must embody the best of humanity!

Taipei graffiti

when you think of graffiti, you probably think of young thug taggers doing their dirty deeds on freeway overpasses while no one is looking. well, think again! in Taipei, art is everywhere and graffiti takes a decidedly upbeat turn. check out what i saw recently on a boarded up street-level business:

Let’s all shine!

it made me smile when i realized that the positive message applies to us all!

“Uncle” Stone

outside Eslite (the 24-hour one, on Dunhua) there are always vendors (unofficial and ones that are licensed), their wares spread out on blankets. usually it’s just umbrellas and sunglasses (probably from China) and clothing only a tiny person could fit into. this one time though, i saw something that made me stop and look. rocks. painted rocks to be more precise, a wizened old man selling them. several people stood around looking at them (and i was tired and wanted to buy book 2 in the Hunger Games series) so i hurried on past, thinking he’d still be there when i came out. (he wasn’t.) darn!

then, to my great surprise and joy – he was there again this week (when a co-worker and i came out of Eslite after getting some vegetarian dinner at the downstairs buffet).

after a brief conversation we learned that the artist had once been a social worker and teacher and, while looking for something to paint that couldn’t be crushed by little hands, came up with the idea of painting rocks with icons and patterns that have special meanings. I chose white dandelions on a white background signifying hope (and who can’t use that these days?). So enchanted with my little purchase, I went back a few days later and found “Uncle” Stone again and this time selected a classic design of rice, which is intended to mean “having plenty”. (well we’ve sure had plenty of earthquakes this week!)

Plenty of Hope

Tomb Sweeping Day

Today, in Taiwan (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in China) is reserved for families to clean and spruce up their family’s tomb. Everyone looks forward to the time off, but interestingly, most of the young people I spoke with were not looking forward to the manual labor in the rising heat. They do acknowlege that the day is for remembering ancestors and seemed surprised  that we don’t have anything similar in the States. Does Grandparents Day count? <smile>

CNY 2012

Xin nian kuai le (shin knee-en coo-eye luh) Happy New Year!

You gotta love it when an entire country literally takes a week off to celebrate the lunar new year. Festivities abound and firecrackers are in the air! The color red (one of my favorites for any occasion) and dragons are seen EVERYWHERE!  Everyone is in a good mood: the people who have time off are happy and those that don’t are typically in service industries (transportation, food, retail) – they’re happy too ’cause they know they’ll make a ton of money. Stores are having HUGE sales and despite the chilly weather, a warm, inviting atmosphere prevails.

I was invited to Yingge to spend an evening with the family of my Melaleuca upline. She told me the “rules” for observing CNY with your family. Unmarried children go to their parent’s home for at least the first 3 days (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) of CNY. Married children, spend the first few days with the wife’s family and the next few days with the husband’s. Parents give their small children hong bao (red envelopes) filled with money. Sometimes, the older children give their parents hong bao (I haven’t figured that one out yet….). It’s a sign of respect and, as far as I can tell, more of a symbolic gesture than a means to pad ones bank account. I think I shocked the nice people in the Temple below my apartment by handing them a red envelope. It wasn’t much; just a way to say “thanks” and to help towards the cost of updating their interior, which looks amazing.

Lots of people take  extra time off in conjunction with the national holiday so I’m sure the party feeling will continue…

Preparing for CNY 2012

It’s the “Year of the Dragon”, y’all! In preparation for the Chinese New Year, red, black, nd gold decorations are being hawked in nearly every store and street corner. The selection is mind-boggling: dragons in every size, “blessings” and wishes for health, wealth, and happiness. Red velvet and brocade “firecrackers” on a string. Hong bao (red envelopes) waiting to hold gifts of money to share with loved ones.

Chinese New Year decorations

At work, they hired three members of a local calligraphy club to create personalized red banners for each of us, to be placed above and next to our apartment doors. The ancient ones labored for many hours to share their “gift” with us. We had 60 different sentiments to choose from. Mine are in place – I’m really not sure what they say or even that I placed them correctly (for all I know they could be upside down!). A local business placed a wish for “heavenly blessing and protection” in our mailboxes.

The Temple downstairs has been busy renovating half of it’s interior with incredible bas relief tableaus carved out of stone, statuary, and other architectural elements I don’t the names of! Everyone is preparing for a week of celebrations with family and friends. My Chinese teacher is headed to Shanghai to visit her parents. Wellcome has aisles and aisles of specialty foods. I’ve been invited to several parties which I’m guessing are mainly about eating but I’ll find out soon enough…

Yingge take 2

I met up with 3 friends at Taipei Main train station, headed to Yingge. I have been wanting to see the Ceramics Museum; Yingge is famous for it’s pottery. One 30 minutes train ride later, we were walking with our hostess (my Melaleuca upline) to the museum. NOTE: despite the fact that rain was predicted, it was a balmy day. Not a cloud in sight, slight breeze, mildly warm. The museum is a gorgeous, modern glass-and-cement building housing a beautiful display of Asian celedon ware.

Admission is FREE, as are the guided tour headsets. We started on the top (3rd) floor and made our way down the sloping ramp, looking at gorgeous and amazing anatique vessels in every shape and size glazed in colors ranging from a delicate robin’s egg blue to a deep jade green.

Old Street map painted on ceramic

No trip to Yingge would be complete without a visit to Old Street, a pottery buyer’s dream come true! On the way from the museum to Old Street, we passed a street merchant selling his paintings. (Hadn’t we seen the old white man with the long beard on the train from Taipei?)  After looking through his art work, I selected three modern-style paintings – and began bargaining! I ended up with all three  for 1500NT (50USD). I asked to have them signed by the artist (who had gone walkabout) and was asked to come back for the signed paintings “later”. Okay, so here’s one big difference between Taiwan and the US: in the States, the artist and his helper would have been long gone (with the art AND my money) by the time I returned a few hours later. Not here. My art was signed and rolled up, ready for me to take home, have framed, and hang!

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…