Our apartment building had a Christmas party a week and a half ago. It’s interesting: most people in Taiwan don’t really celebrate Christmas (public schools and offices are open on the 25th for business as usual), much less understand what it’s about. And yet they do see it as an excuse to have parties and decorate a little. The front entryway and lobby of our apartment are nicely decked out with ornaments and wreaths, and there’s a (constantly) singing Christmas tree surrounded by poinsettias and other decorations in the lobby. 

So anyway, our apartment’s party was a potluck dinner with some catered items as well. A huge tent had been set up down in the courtyard, with long tables full of food. We got there almost right on time with our fruit salad to share, and already the place was thronged with people. Someone we met who spoke English advised us not to try standing in line, but just to grab a plate, push our way toward whatever food we wanted, and to serve ourselves as fast as we could before all the good stuff was gone. After all, she said, this is Taiwan! 

Well, we were a little hesitant to do that, so we just tried to serve ourselves quickly without too much shoving. All around us people were elbowing their way in, loading their plates unrealistically high with whatever looked best, then hurrying to get out of the way of the crowd. Some people had even brought big bowls or containers and were quickly filling them with enough food to feed multiple families, then taking them back home to eat. It was amazing how fast the serving dishes emptied – there was no question of going back for seconds on much of anything except for corn soup or plain white rice. There were other events after the meal, like a free drawing for various prizes, but we hadn’t RSVPed in time to take part in that. (Last year we did, and we won a little lamp and a Kentucky Fried Chicken Christmas clock.) There was also a talent show, but it was cold down there and there weren’t enough seats anyway, so we ended up just going home to watch a Christmas movie. The PA system was so loud that we could hear the music blaring even up on the seventh floor with all doors and windows shut and our movie on. 

So, that was our memorable second Christmas in Taiwan! 

Our friends and co-workers, Dondi and Liana Peleo, invited us to their apartment building’s Christmas party last night. The party was in the form of a twelve-course Chinese banquet! The dishes were brought out one at a time – none was huge, but most were delicious, and several looked very fancy. I took pictures of most of them, so here they are.

This appetizer platter had a number of cold meats and fish, including sashimi. Floyd and I both tried some for the first time ever! It was better than I’d expected. The fish above was tasty too, although not much to go around for our table of eight. Oh well, when you have twelve courses, you don’t need more than a tiny serving of each!

This crab and rice dish was one of my favorites. See the little white things on the fake leaves around the edges of the plate? They’re sweet, glutinous globs with some kind of dark filling. I know that doesn’t sound very appetizing, but I really enjoyed them. We were surprised to have a hot pot burner on our table – partway through the meal, the waiter brought a cast iron pot full of whole crabs, mushrooms, veggies, and some other seafood in broth for us to cook ourselves.

What an impressive lobster! To his left are some little fried lobster cakes; to his right is a pile of lobster meat smothered with mayonnaise and candy sprinkles. (Not an uncommon way to eat seafood here in Taiwan.) In the foil was a very tasty pile of lamb ribs in a flavorful sauce. Another of my favorite dishes.

This dish definitely earned the prize for the most unusual food item of the evening. Can you guess? That’s right… it was snow pea and rooster testicle soup! As you can see, Floyd and Dondi and I each tried one… but only one. What was it like? Trust me, you don’t want to know.

 The final course of the evening was a typical Taiwanese dessert: a fresh fruit platter with oranges, grapes, and bellfruit. A tasty and refreshing way to end the meal.

It’s that time of year again. My 5th graders handed in their “Terabithia Projects” a few days ago. We just finished reading Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia in class, and they each had to create their own imaginary world and write up a report about it. One section of the report calls for them to make a list of rules or laws that must be followed in their world. There were plenty of the usual ones that you’d expect (don’t steal, don’t kill, etc.), but like last year, there were some pretty unusual ones. Here are a few of my favorites:

No advertising.

Never take down other people’s houses.

Never have more than one house in each family.

Do not argue.

NEVER eat plants or other unhealthy things. Only eat ice cream and fish.

Make sure to throw anyone who litters or breaks a law in the garbage can.

No kidnapping.

Kid’s can’t go out of the castle themselves.

You have to take good care of your garden.

Do not go without clothes to other places.

At war times, every male 18 and 40 must report to the army.

Defend enemies.

Don’t drink wine while you drive.

No killing animals except for dairy products.

Kids can’t do work (like at a restaurant) until they’re 12 years old.

Look both ways before crossing the street.

Say hello to people you know.

If you are a dragon, no breathing fire for no reason.

Do not free the people in jail.

No going to the king’s palace for no good reason.

You can’t make too much noise.

Take discipline responsibly. e.g. If you get sent to jail that’s what discipline you get so don’t be whiney about it.

Want to read more unusual laws?  Click on the links below to read my posts about students’ imaginary world projects from other years:








I just got back from a 4-day trip to Hong Kong to attend a teachers’ conference. The conference was great, but Hong Kong was even better. It was my first time there, and I had decided I was going to squeeze in all the sightseeing and fun I possibly could in whatever spare time I could scrounge after and between conference sessions. Fortunately, Hong Kong has an efficient subway system, and almost everything is in English as well as Cantonese, so it was easy for me to get around. My favorite thing to see was the waterfront (see the picture above). It was more gorgeous than any picture can show – you just have to be there to see the amazing buildings with their multicolored lights, many of which flash and swirl and change colors like a Christmas light show. Everything I’ve seen in my travels has confirmed that big Asian cities are the best in the world when it comes to making buildings works of art, and I think Hong Kong has most of the rest of them beat hands down.

Speaking of Christmas, it was fun seeing all the decorations in malls, subway stations, and the airport, and hearing soft instrumental Christmas music in public places. Because of Hong Kong’s British heritage, Christmas is celebrated as a big event there – unlike Taiwan, which puts up gaudy singing Christmas trees in some public places but doesn’t do much else to acknowledge the season. Hong Kong had large life-size displays of various kinds all over the place.

Another thing I enjoyed was a brief visit to the Nan Lian Garden (picture at right). It was almost funny to have such a beautiful, tranquil setting located right in the middle of a bustling metropolis. (If you look to the left of the pagoda, you can see skyscrapers trying to hide behind the trees.) I spent an enjoyable hour or so walking around the garden on little paved paths, enjoying the flowers and ponds and trees, before I had to hurry and catch the subway to get back in time for the last session of the conference.

On my own one evening, I decided to visit Hong Kong’s Heritage Museum. It was okay – not nearly as elaborate as most of the museums I’ve been to in Taiwan, but interesting none the less. I especially enjoyed the exhibit on Cantonese opera. (Note the life-size costumed figures on the stage behind me.) Yes, picture-taking was allowed inside the museum – the security guard herself took this picture for me!

One of my last little adventures was to find and ride the world’s longest escalator. At least, the Guiness Book of World Records supposedly calls it that, but it isn’t continuous, so I don’t know if it really counts. But it’s a covered escalator that goes up and up right through the city streets in a hilly part of town. There were some interesting views looking down, though my camera stinks at night shots, so I couldn’t capture most of them. But here you can see one segment of the escalator (at the front right of the picture), and then another segment beginning below it. There was nothing in particular at the top, which was a bit disappointing, but it was fun to ride anyway. But the escalator only goes up, so at the end I had to take the stairs all the way down.

My last dinner in the country was in a wonderful little Chinese restaurant. I have no idea what most of the dishes were called, but every one was delicious, and the style was a little different from the Chinese food we get in Taiwan. The shrimp in the big dish at the front were wonderful, but my favorite was Peking duck. (It was the last item to arrive, so it didn’t make it into this picture.) The waiter cut off little tender bits of meat and sizzling skin, and we wrapped them in things that looked like extra-thin tortillas. Add some slices of cucumber and green onions, and a dab of plum sauce, and it was just heavenly.