Flower Vase Rock in Xiao Liu Qiu, Taiwan
Flower Vase Rock in Xiao Liu Qiu

Xiao Liu Qiu (pronounced “shau-lee-oh-cho”, sometimes shortened to XLQ) is a pretty little island off the southwest coast of Taiwan. My husband and I spent a few days there during our recent spring break, and I think it just might be my new favorite place in Taiwan (which is saying a lot in a country so full of natural and cultural beauty)!

passion fruit flower growing wild by the beach in Xiao Liu Qiu, Taiwan
passion fruit flower growing wild by the beach in Xiao Liu Qiu

XLQ is famous for its beaches and snorkeling, and with good reason. We discovered a new (to us) beach this time, called Secret Beach – small but perfect! The reef comes right up to the shore on both sides, with an open space in the middle that’s perfect for swimming. I’ve snorkeled plenty of times before, and it’s hard to beat the beaches and reefs of Kenya and rural Indonesia. But XLQ comes closer than most other places I’ve been! Among other unfamiliar underwater sights, I met one skinny fish that was all nose and pointy tail, swimming head-down like a pencil standing on its tip and sharpened at both ends (it turned out to be a razorfish). A couple of smaller fish looked as though they were wearing puffy fairy dresses. Beautiful creatures just hanging out, giving glory to their creator simply by existing. (More about beautiful underwater creatures further down.)

Further down in this post, you’ll see a picture of Secret Beach from a nearby hill. We drove our rented scooters most of the way up to see a lighthouse and a famous tree (the “Old Banyan Tree”, featured in this short video), and then hiked a short way from the tree to the viewpoint.

Renting scooters was another really fun part of the vacation. We love driving around on the quiet little island roads where there’s almost no traffic most of the time, enjoying gorgeous coastal views and the salt breeze. I think we (well, I – the two of us split up a few times to do different things) must have made at least eight circuits of the island during the four days we were there, not to mention lots of shorter rides.

Another thing we love about XLQ are the bings! A bing is a well-known dessert in Taiwan. In its most basic form, it’s constructed of shaved ice with a topping of fruit or beans. Yes, you read that correctly! Beans (especially red beans and mung beans) quite often show up in desserts here, though never in savory dishes. Starbucks even offers a red bean Frappuccino. Sweetened beans are an acquired taste, and let’s just say that after almost fifteen years in Taiwan, I have yet to acquire it (and not for lack of trying!).

Floyd and Annie Enjoying Mango and Chocolate Bings

But I digress! Mango bings are the polar opposite of bean bings in their incredible out-of-this-world deliciousness, but they are only available in the summer, when mangoes are in season. The mango season was just starting in Taichung, where we live, but since XLQ is further south and thus warmer, the season was well underway when we arrived for our vacation. And that meant that all the many bing shops on the island were doing great business with their various versions of this nectar of heaven! (Seriously, I’m pretty sure mango bings feature prominently in the dessert section of heaven’s menus.)

Another Delicious Mango Bing

The fun thing about mango bings is that every bing shop makes them differently. Sometimes the shaved ice is just ice (kind of like a snow cone), but other times it’s made from frozen milk or mango juice or sweetened condensed milk, or a combination. And the mango topping is always a little different in terms of how it’s sweetened and/or what kind of sauce/syrup the mango pieces come in. Some bing shops add a scoop of ice cream, sprinkles, boba, bits of chopped candies, and/or other toppings/mix-ins to their bings. Buying a mango bing from somewhere new is always a fun discovery! And since XLQ specializes in them, and since we hadn’t had any in almost a year, and since the weather was warm while we were there … well, I’m not ashamed to admit that five mango bings found their way to me in the four days we were there! (And I’ve been going through mango bing withdrawals ever since we got back!)

Yet Another Delicious Mango Bing!

This time we discovered a new secret of XLQ that we didn’t know about on our last visit. One night some friends took us to a quiet little cove accessible only through a narrow gap in rocky walls in an out-of-the-way area by a marina where we would never have thought to explore on our own. When we waded in, our feet stirred up tiny bioluminescent creatures that drifted around like specks of light in the shallow water. In the darkness, it was like watching underwater fireflies flicker about, appearing and disappearing around our ankles. The more we walked around, the more sparkles spangled around us. It felt as though we had stepped into some magical world where the water was full of enchantment! (Yes, I’m a fantasy author. Why?)

But none of the beautiful sights on XLQ could compare with what we saw while snorkeling. Speaking of magical worlds! Sadly, my attempts to take pictures under the waves met with dismal failure. We had brought a waterproof case for Floyd’s phone (his is older than mine, so we were less nervous about taking it in the ocean). However, I found that what with the lighting and the additional layer of plastic, I could barely see the screen under the water. Several times, I pointed it at beautiful things and pressed where the button should have been, but nothing really turned out. I must have accidentally bumped other buttons, because at one point I saw enough to realize I was no longer in the camera app, but I couldn’t figure out where I was or how to get back there. (Floyd’s phone is pretty different than mine!) I even got out of the water a few times to try to deal with it, but to no avail. All we ended up with after several gorgeous snorkeling experiences was a few extremely unclear pictures that could just as easily have featured UFOs or the Loch Ness Monster, plus an unintended video of my leg. Yeah.

Secret Beach
Secret Beach

But here’s what it’s like:

You’re floundering out in the breakers under the barren sky, struggling because you can’t really swim while your hands are occupied with putting on your snorkel and mask properly, gulping salt water and trying not to panic as the waves tumble you around. Then you finally get everything in place and your face under the water, and the world instantly transforms.

You’ve been transported to a magical fairy kingdom of color and movement, where the only sounds are the faint, constant crackling of crabs in the coral. The waves ease you gently up and down; no more thrashing and crashing. You don’t even have to swim, though now it’s easy, if you want to. You just lie on the surface, face-down, while amazing creatures go wandering by about their business below. You float over the towers and turrets of coral castles, where narrow, probing tentacles protrude from crannies and spines bristle out of crevices. Tendrils wave from the windows as brightly-colored fish flit in and out, weaving around bastions and battlements.

Iridescent blue specks float over everything, glinting like daylight stars in the watery sky. A cloud of thousands of tiny fish billows about you, darting and jerking, always moving in exactly the same direction as though controlled by a single mind. Big turtles, blundering but graceful, soar around, sunlight dappling their shells as they tug up mouthfuls of the algae growing on the coral. They drift back and forth, and you drift back and forth, and all the little plants growing in the coral weave their fronds back and forth, everything drifting in sync to the waves.

turtle in Xiao Liu Qiu
Turtle in Xiao Liu Qiu (picture courtesy of Michael Joubert)

Way down below everything, you spot glimpses of the sandy ocean floor between pillars and protrusions of multicolored coral, some pieces sitting in solid chunks, some waving like graceful foliage in an undersea breeze. And you wonder how many millions upon millions of fantastic creatures, delicate and grotesque, live out the minuscule dramas of their lives, unseen, in the pores of the rainbow-hued reef all around you.

You twist your neck to look up and see the surface like a shimmering ceiling of undulating glass above you. But when the tip of your snorkel dips into the waves and your mouth and lungs fill with saltwater, you discover you twisted too far. You panic and stick your head up into the cold air, coughing and choking and spitting. And you realize you can’t touch the bottom, and you’re kicking and struggling as you yank off your snorkel and mask, which has somehow also managed to fill up, and dump about half the ocean out. Waves crash menacingly over your head and throw you around as you struggle to tread water and not inhale the other half of the ocean while wrestling with your mask and snorkel, and you think, Yikes, what am I doing way out here? You have no idea how the shore managed to swim that far away or how you’re ever going to make it back, surrounded on almost every side as you are by this endless heaving circle of blue under the endless upturned blue bowl of the sky.

And then you finally get your gear in place and your head under the water again, and the splashing and crashing turns off as though you flipped a switch. The waves are your friends again, drifting you gently up and down. You hear only the peaceful crackling of the crabs in the coral as the underwater kingdom surrounds you once more, its multi-hued denizens still going about their daily lives in their fantasy world. And a turtle glides by, soaring gracefully from one clump of coral to the next with its wing-like flippers, browsing from the buffet God has set out for it.

And you remember exactly why you’re here.

Secret Beach, Xiao Liu Qiu
Secret Beach as seen from just above the Old Banyan Tree

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As I sit here in my mostly-packed-up room on my final evening of quarantine, my main emotion is thankfulness. I’m thankful to be getting out of here tomorrow, yes, but also thankful for so many blessings God gave me in this place. I love my wonderful city and sunset view up here on the 22nd floor, and the amazingly comfortable bed (it’s actually comfier than my bed at home!). I’m thankful that the room came with a desk and chair so I could easily use my laptop, and that the air conditioning works GREAT (I’m going to miss running the AC 24/7 at no extra cost!), and that there’s a fan and a mini-fridge, and enough cupboard/drawer space to put all my stuff away so I didn’t have to spend two weeks with it all over the place (those who know me well know how much that would have driven me crazy!). I’m thankful for the little luxuries I was able to bring or request from my apartment or that people sent as gifts: Dance Dance Revolution that’s been so perfect for exercise in a small space, an HDMI cable that’s let me use the hotel TV as an extra monitor, fresh fruit and fun snacks, coloring supplies, extra changes of clothes so I didn’t have to do (much) laundry in the sink, a coffee mug so I didn’t have to try to drink coffee out of tiny paper cups, even a baggie of salt to liven up the daily hard-boiled egg. I’m deeply grateful for the internet and the opportunities it brings to keep in touch with friends and family through email, Facebook, and video calls. And most of all, I’m thankful for all the ways in which God has shown me that I’m not alone. He’s been here with me in this little room all along, never abandoning me, constantly pouring out his love and grace and kindness and blessings upon blessings on me. THANK YOU, LORD. That’s all I can say. Thank you. I’m so grateful for the many gifts I’ve received from him and others these past two weeks. Thank you.

Breakfast: hard-boiled egg, slices of ham, greens, hash-brown patties, and a rice/pork/mushroom mixture wrapped in the banana-leaf packet.
Lunch: some kind of deep-fried, breaded patty on rice (I didn’t try it, so not sure, but I assume it was pork), soft squash, spinach, and stewed beef with broccoli, carrots, and turnips. I’m not sure what was in the center section, except that it was spongy and juicy and may have been a relative of tofu. I believe the drink is jasmine tea.
Dinner: chicken curry with onions and potatoes over rice. And of course greens, and a slab of breaded deep-fried something-or-other that I didn’t eat. (Seriously, TONS of breaded deep-fried something-or-others have gone to waste in my hotel room in the last two weeks! But at least they didn’t go to MY waist!)

And that’s it, ladies and gentlemen. This is my final night of quarantine. My luggage is mostly packed, my alarm is set for 5:00 a.m., and we check out at 6:00 tomorrow. In less than twelve hours, I’ll be home!

Over and OUT!

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Today I will give you a tour of my suite here at the HiOne Gallery Hotel! I bet you didn’t know it had so many rooms and facilities!

I hope you enjoyed the tour! In all seriousness, I’ve been pretty happy with my quarantine accommodations. Obviously, I’d rather be at home, but if you’ve got to be shut in a room somewhere else, this is a pretty comfortable room to be in. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Anyway, on to today’s meals.

Breakfast: it was a nice surprise to have dim sum for the first time here, not to mention the spring rolls, fried egg, and ham. Yum!
Lunch: fried noodles with bits of pork, topped by greens and a slab of breaded deep-fried pork. And more asparagus juice! That makes four cartons of it so far. I need to find someone who can stand the stuff to give it away to once I’m free. I’m certainly not going to drink it!
Dinner: pork with onions over rice, greens (bet you’re shocked!), tofu on green onions, a chicken leg on bamboo shoots, and … I have no idea whether the brown stuff at the top right is animal, vegetable, or mineral. Okay, probably not mineral, I guess. It was soft and slightly savory, slightly sweet, and slightly spicy. Turnips in the soup.

I’ll close with this picture from earlier today, when it was rainy and foggy. As much as I’m looking forward to going home the day after tomorrow, I have to say, I will definitely miss the view from my 22nd-story window!

City in the Mist

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My fun activity for the day was decorating my eggs. Yep, with hard-boiled eggs showing up in almost every breakfast, I haven’t always been able to bring myself to eat them. These two had been living in the fridge for a while and needed a new purpose in life. I don’t claim to be particularly artistic, but I enjoyed turning them into art. Now if only I had somewhere to display them!

The next big event that happened today was the field trip! We’d been told the taxi would arrive at 10:00 this morning to take Floyd and me to get our PCR tests. At 11:30, right after lunch was delivered, someone from the front desk finally called my room to say the taxi was there. I stuck my uneaten lunch in the fridge, put on my shoes, picked up my purse, put on my mask and face shield, remembered at the last minute to grab the key card to my room, and stepped out into the hallway. Wow, what a weird feeling. I found my way down the hall to the elevator and made it down to the lobby after just one mixup where I temporarily got out on the wrong floor when someone else got in (you forget how these transportation devices work when your only transportation device for twelve days has been your feet in a pretty small area). There were about four people manning the front desk, which seemed weird in a hotel where no one goes in or out except after twelve days, and then again after fourteen days. They had me leave my key card with them and pointed me to the taxi waiting just outside. And there was Floyd! I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see him in person again!

The taxi took us to a little hospital about 5 minutes’ drive away, where we had to wait outside the front door. Then a pink-clad nurse came out and filled out paperwork, asked us medical questions, took our blood pressure, and checked the oxygen levels in our blood (all outside the hospital door). She took our passports and health insurance cards inside, along with our payment (150 NT each; about 5 U.S. dollars). I got a kick out of the fact that she sprayed our money, passports, and cards down with disinfectant before she took them.Then we got directed to a tent set up in the parking lot where the scary man you see below was waiting to do scary things to us from the other side of a window. I will spare you the details except to say that it was more painful and lasted longer than the PCR test we had to take before we could fly to California at the beginning of the summer, and this time they stabbed us in BOTH nostrils.

Then we stepped back into the waiting taxi, which brought us back to the hotel. I wished he would drive more slowly or take a detour. We would gladly have paid for a VERY LONG detour, if the driver been willing to spend the afternoon driving around the city! Alas, no, he was under strict orders to bring us right back to our hotel. It was really hard to say goodbye to Floyd as we trudged back to our separate rooms. Harder than when we parted ways at the beginning of quarantine. Stepping back into my empty room alone was more difficult than I had expected, too. My quarantine experience really hasn’t been all that bad, especially compared to some people’s. But leaving Floyd behind and shutting the door behind myself hurt. At least I only have two and a half days to go!

Here are today’s meals:

Breakfast, hard-boiled egg, steamed bun with pork inside (tasty!), two sausagey sort of things (probably purposely designed to be completely taste-free), garlicky bok choi, and fruit and veggie juice.

Lunch was mostly cold by the time I ate it, since the field trip taxi arrived just as I was about to dig in. I did manage to scarf down a few bites of the scrambled eggs with tomatoes (bottom right) while they were still warm; they were delicious! Later I enjoyed the greens and pieces of stir-fried pork with some of the soft squash from the middle, along with some rice. Didn’t eat the deep-fried, breaded pork slab. It isn’t worth the calories even when it’s hot, let alone cold. And the barley drink is never worth it either, in my opinion.
Dinner: ham strips on rice; sour bamboo shoots; the usual greens; a stewed mixture of pork, carrots, broccoli, and turnips; and green beans. I believe the soup had bits of soft turnip in it.

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I decided to try a little pre-breakfast experiment: one packet hazelnut instant coffee (sadly, it doesn’t include creamer – I didn’t realize that when I ordered it online to bring with me to quarantine), one packet “3in1” instant coffee (with creamer and sugar) provided by the hotel, and two large squares of extra dark chocolate, all stirred together in hot water in my mug showing my awesome niece and nephews.

The elements in my experiment.

Verdict: the niece and nephews are still pretty awesome, but the coffee mixture, not so much. The dark chocolate is a little too extra (bitter). I’ll stick with the two types of coffee from now on. Oh well, it was worth a try!

I heard some exciting news today. I found out that I get to go out on my field trip tomorrow! I wasn’t expecting it till day 13 or 14 of my quarantine, but my quarantine officer called and said the taxi will come and pick us up at 10:00 tomorrow morning. Yes, you heard me right: I said US! That’s right, Floyd and I will get to ride in the taxi TOGETHER! It will take us to a local hospital, where a doctor will administer PCR tests as one final check for COVID. Then the same quarantine taxi will take us back to the hotel for the rest of our stay (which has not been shortened, unfortunately, just because our field trip got moved up – Floyd asked!). I’m so excited, both to leave my quarantine tomorrow and to see my husband face to face! Maybe we can even (gasp!) hold hands in the taxi!

Here are today’s meals.

Breakfast was different again today – still no greens, and no hard-boiled egg, either! Hooray! Sweet potatoes, chicken nuggets, a fried egg, and rolls with sweetened red bean paste inside. Normally I’m not a fan of sweet red beans, but in this case, it worked. Oh, and lemon tea.
Lunch: a folded slab of pork on rice, soft squash, bok choi, a different kind of (breaded) pork slab on a different kind of green, slightly sweet fish paste in the middle, and white gourd tea.
Today’s dinner was one of my favorites so far! It was sort of like a stew, but with only the tiniest bit of broth, just enough to make everything juicy and moist. There was a layer of rice at the bottom, topped my mushrooms, greens, and other veggies, plus a bit of seafood, I guess? (I don’t actually remember.) In any case, it was delicious. This was one of the few times I’ve eaten everything they served in a meal here (well, everything except the asparagus juice).

Now I’m watching Taiwan play China in men’s badminton for the gold! See you tomorrow! GO, TAIWAN!!!

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Today got off to an exciting start. When I heard the thrice-daily squeak of the meal trolley starting down the hall, I peered through the peephole in my door and saw three Real Live Human beings out there delivering breakfasts! Just to clarify, for anyone in doubt: yes, there really were three of them together! I saw all three of them all at once right outside my door!!!

As if that wasn’t enough, breakfast was exciting too. To my shock, it contained NO BOK CHOI! Not only that, but there were no green leafy vegetables involved at all! That was the first time that has happened in any meal here. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Did it even count as a meal without bitter stir-fried greens?? Oh well, at least there was some form of pork, a mysterious translucent glutinous glob, and two fried items (not to mention the boiled egg that has shown up at every breakfast except yesterday’s so far – in this case, it was stuck to the glutinous glob), so I suppose it could still qualify as a not-too-abnormal quarantine meal after all.

A most unusual breakfast! See the explanation above.
A close-up of the glutinous glob and its contents (pork and bamboo shoots), for anyone interested.
Lunch: some form of hot pot take-out, plus jasmine tea, I think. I was excited about the hot pot at first, till I dug in and realized it was very different from the hot pot take-out I know and love in the afternoon market near Morrison’s campus. This one contained greens, shrimp, pork, fish paste, a bunch of things I couldn’t identify, and lots and lots of rice noodles. And more rice noodles. And after that, more rice noodles at the bottom. (I didn’t eat most of the rice noodles.)
Dinner. Clockwise from top left: flavorful and delicious pork fat (with small amounts of actual pork meat) on rice, pieces of fried fish paste with green pepper, some of the best leafy greens I’ve had here yet (these ones were kong shin tsai, which literally means “hollow heart vegetable” – they were full of flavor tonight), slices of a different kind of fish paste with pieces of tofu so juicy that the one I bit into squirted all over, and in the center section, delicious eggplant. I think the soup had pieces of turnip in it.

Since this was the tenth full day of my quarantine, it was time for me to take the COVID self-test they gave me at the airport. I had never done anything like it before, and I was quite nervous, but with the help of an instructional video (that I watched twice), I managed to get through it. Later, my quarantine officer called to ask me if I had administered the test to myself and what my results were. I offered to send her the picture I had taken (below) as proof, but she said she was happy to hear I was negative, and that was all she needed.

Negative! (Not that I’m surprised!)

Another piece of excitement happened on this eventful day – this was actually the most exciting of all (and not in a good way). I was sitting in my cell minding my own business like a good little inmate (okay, fine, I was jumping on the bed. Hey, I needed exercise!) when all of a sudden an announcement blared through the hallway speakers in Chinese. It was the first time I’d heard anything from those speakers (I didn’t even know there were speakers there), and I couldn’t understand anything the person was saying. The message repeated several times, sounding insistent and urgent.

Of course the first thing I thought of was the news article from a month ago, about a fire that broke out in a different quarantine hotel here in Taiwan. (Okay, to be honest, the FIRST thing I thought was that it was some sort of announcement that guests shouldn’t jump on their beds, but it only took me a second to realize how unlikely that was! Yeah, I guess I was feeling a bit guilty….) Anyway, not everyone in that other hotel was able to evacuate in time; there were a number of injuries, and three people died trapped in their rooms (plus a firefighter).

So I sniffed worriedly around my door but didn’t smell any smoke. Should I open it? What if the announcement was about something totally different, and I left my room inappropriately and got served a huge fine? I remembered another news item about a quarantined man who stepped out of his hotel room and walked back and forth in the hallway for EIGHT SECONDS, and was fined $3500 for breaking quarantine! Just in case, I put on my mask so at least I wouldn’t get in trouble for going out without one, pulled my laptop bag out of the drawer where I keep it, and started scrambling around for important items to pack in case I did have to rush to safety. Meanwhile, the announcement kept repeating intermittently, sending my pulse racing faster each time.

Fortunately, a friend quarantining in a different part of my hotel correctly guessed that I would be freaking out and called me to tell me what was going on. It was just an announcement that we should all stay in our rooms as they tested the fire alarm system! Sure enough, then an alarm started to sound, so I’m really glad she got ahold of me before I heard it, or I would truly have freaked out! Of course, it was at that point that someone from the front desk sent out a text on the Line app in English and Chinese: “Hello,sorry to bother you, we’re now testing the Fire security. if you hear the alarm,please stay calm,thank you”

Once the scare was over and the alarm stopped, I knew I was back to normal because I wanted nothing more than to proofread their message and send it back with the errors fixed (and perhaps an offer to let them hire me to proofread any other hotel materials). And to ask them to please send us a warning in English next time BEFORE the Chinese announcement and the fire alarm, thank you very much!

Anyway, I’ll close with this nice, calm picture of my view this evening. If you’re reading this on a large enough screen, you may notice the building reminding people to stay home!

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Today was a pretty uneventful day. There isn’t much new to talk about, so here’s a picture of my evening tradition.

Long before we left California, Floyd bought me this special package of coffee nut M&Ms as a quarantine treat. I was very disciplined and did not open the package early! Once we got here and I unpacked my luggage in my room, I put it in the little fridge. Every evening in between dinner and bed-time, I take it out and empty eight M&Ms onto a tissue on the little table where I eat my meals. (I checked the serving size and number of servings on the package and did the math. That’s how many I get per day in order to have the same amount each day of my quarantine.) Then, as I’m working on my daily blog post or other things, every time I get up for a stretch break, I walk over and eat an M&M. I almost always have them one at a time, drawing out my dessert over the course of the evening. Today, though, I actually combined them with a little package of mixed nuts, seeds, and raisins that I had, and I must say, it made quite a delicious trail mix!

Anyway, on to my meals. As you can see, breakfast involved a surprise again today!

Breakfast: a fried egg (oh my goodness! Not hard-boiled?! I could hardly believe it!), along with salad, French fries, and turnip cake with sauce, and barley tea. It hardly seemed like breakfast without any stir-fried bok choi (ha!), but since there was lettuce, I can still say we’ve had green leafy vegetables for every single meal so far.
Lunch: soft squash, bok choi (they had to make up for not serving it to us at breakfast, obviously!), chicken on a bed of green onions and tofu strips, spring rolls over rice (YUMMY!), and I believe those little thingamajigs in the center were made of deep-fried slightly sweet fish paste (you think I’m kidding!).
Dinner: fried noodles with bits of pork (it’s only the second time we haven’t had rice for a lunch or dinner) with very very fibrous greens (the kind you keep chewing and chewing and chewing …), along with a separate slab of breaded deep-fried pork and bitter melon (the bumpy things). I believe the item in the other dish was squash blossom soup.

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Today I got to enjoy video calls with a total of six different friends and family members (some of them together on one call). It was awesome to connect with so many special people! And another blessing that came later was that I received another care package today. Yippee! One thing I have learned is that the little things can be big blessings in quarantine!

Items from home that I’d specifically requested: my khanga, house shoes to replace the duct-taped hotel slippers, a bottle of drinkable yogurt (YUM!!), and non-disposable chopsticks so I don’t have to keep thinking of how I’m harming the environment going through three pairs of disposable ones a day.
Delicious treats: my neighbor sent me a fresh mango smoothie and some Korean kimbap! They arrived at my door about 15 minutes before dinner. Needless to say, I didn’t have much appetite for dinner!

Okay, now for today’s meals. Not many surprises there, unfortunately … except with breakfast!

Breakfast: the usual stir-fried bok choi and hard-boiled egg, plus fingers of meat that couldn’t make up their minds if they were trying to be hot dogs or sausages (but failed at both and somehow left all flavor behind in the process), plus chicken nuggets and apple juice. And an interesting something-or-other that I can’t remember the name for. See the picture below.
When I unwound the banana-leaf wrapping, there was a tasty little squashed pyramid of fried rice with mushrooms, pork, and a few other miscellaneous foodly things inside. Floyd didn’t care for his (we ate breakfast “together” on a video call, as usual), but it was my favorite hotel meal item in the last few days, mostly because it was something NEW!
Lunch: ground pork on rice, chicken on stir-fried green pepper strips, the ever-present bok choi, and the frequently recurring soft squash. I believe the item in the center was squid with stir-fried celery, and the drink is lemon tea.
Dinner. It was a pity I wasn’t hungrier, since I like the hotel’s curry! I mixed the greens in with the curry and rice, which made them a lot better, but the deep-fried breaded pork slab and chunks of tofu were easy to pass up.

Well, one more day is just about over. Eight down, six to go! It’s all downhill now that I’ve passed the halfway point, right? Right??

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Something amazing happened today. For the first time in a week, I made direct contact with a Real Live Human Being! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can confirm that the fabled species really does exist. I opened the door of my room to pick up my lunch, and lo and behold, a Real Live Human Being was out there! He was only about twenty feet away when I spotted him, placing food outside another door down the hall. He was dressed in a hospital gown, gloves, and a mask, because what else would someone wear when walking past the closed doors of people who might be bringing COVID-19 into the country, even though they’ve all had at least two negative COVID tests in order to get there? Anyway, he saw me, probably gaping at him like an idiot from my doorway (good thing I was wearing my mask). Almost to my surprise, he didn’t turn to flee. In fact, he actually said hello! And I found my voice and said hello back, and I thanked him for lunch, and he said you’re welcome! (All in Chinese.) And as he turned to go, I shut myself back in my room feeling moved and grateful that he was willing to make eye contact and communicate, instead of shying away and treating me like a walking, talking virus. Believe it or not, the encounter actually brought tears to my eyes. (Hey, if you think I’m pathetic, you try spending a week without any direct contact with a single Real Live Human Being!)

This morning I did a little surgery on my slippers. The hotel had provided three pairs of disposable slippers in the room, and all of them are now completely worn out. But fortunately I have some useful mending supplies with me!

I was reminded today of how much God has blessed me here. The song “Count Your Blessings” made it into my short but growing quarantine playlist. The picture below shows a collection of some of the items he has used to bless me in this room. Most were gifts from family or that friends sent over in care packages, or items they gathered from my apartment for me. I have it so good here – I really can’t complain! (Even though I still sometimes do.)

I’m so grateful for the eleven blessings represented here!

Anyway, here are today’s meals. Guess what? There was a real winner today! (I mean that literally, not sarcastically!)

Breakfast. I opened the boxes and thought, “Wow, this looks familiar.” The egg went into my little fridge along with the one from yesterday. I can only eat hard-boiled eggs so many days in a row!
This time I got a close-up picture of the swirly thing. Trust me, it wasn’t as exciting as it looks! I believe the ingredients were glutinous rice flour, water, and food coloring. If there was anything else involved, I couldn’t taste it. Actually, I really couldn’t taste much of anything in the one bite I took.
Lunch. To be honest, my first impression when I saw the pork patty on the rice was that it looked as though a cow had passed that way and left something behind. But it ended up being tender and flavorful! As you can see, there were also the usual greens, a sour bamboo shoot dish that was surprisingly tasty, some whole shrimp on cabbage, and in the center, cooked cucumbers with pork pieces. I believe the boxed drink is oolong tea. (It joined my collection of unwanted boxed drinks that I’ll bring back with me when I leave to offer to anyone who wants them. If you live at Morrison, YOU could be the lucky recipient of many boxes of oolong tea, barley tea, green tea, and asparagus juice!!)
Dinner: pork carnitas enchiladas! Oh my goodness, was this EVER delicious!! Wait, you say, that doesn’t look like one of those quarantine hotel meals. Well, it wasn’t! Floyd and I decided to celebrate making it halfway through our #luxuryincarceration by ordering from Uber Eats. This is from the wonderful Aztec Mexican Restaurant conveniently located not far from our hotel.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. We are officially halfway through our quarantine! Sometimes I can hardly believe we’ve been here only a week. But knowing that we’ve made it to the halfway point makes the rest of it seem more doable. I’ve survived this long. With God’s help, this long again won’t be too bad. But boy am I looking forward to going home sweet home!

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Today was both good and bad. I enjoyed the chance to participate in an online Zumba class with some friends. That was followed by two separate enjoyable conversations with fellow authors who are just starting out on their careers and needed some help with the publishing process. (Shameless plug: take a look at the services I offer authors here.) But after that I had a headache and felt really stiff and uncomfortable from sitting so long (about four hours altogether!). Normally, I’m really good about getting up and taking stretch breaks. I have an app that reminds me to do it every ten minutes, so then I get up and walk from the door to the window (nine steps), turn the corner around the bed, and walk to the wall beside the little table (three steps), then back to the door again, for a total of 24 steps round-trip. I normally do this five times in a row before I sit back down at my computer again. As you can probably imagine, there was a very noticeable difference in my overall sense of physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing after skipping most of my regular walking for four hours! I did feel better after some Dance Dance Revolution, a shower, and a banana.

Well, here are today’s meals. I have to confess that it’s gotten to the point where, as soon as I open the containers, I inevitably sigh and say, “Oh, it’s you again.”

Breakfast: a glutinous blob with meat inside, French fries with ketchup, amazingly flavorless sausages, and – surprise, surprise! – a hard-boiled egg and green leafy veggies. With green tea.
Lunch: some kind of deep-fried patty (Floyd says he thinks it involved shrimp) on greens, pork with black pepper and onions over rice (that was actually my favorite of our at-least-twice-daily pork dishes so far – it was really flavorful!), sour bamboo shoots (no thanks), soft squash with carrot (also flavorful), and cabbage with (my favorite!) tofu skins. (I’m not being sarcastic – I love tofu skins! They’re so fun and nubbly!) And asparagus juice … also a no thanks.
Dinner: yet more green leafy veggies, cabbage with sausage slices, chicken leg over rice, stir-fried celery with bits of carrot and I’m not sure what else, and some eggplant that was quite delicious once I added a little salt. (I really enjoy eggplant – I wish they could substitute that for the greens at least one meal a day!)

I’ll close with one final picture for the day – not of the sunset this time. This is the label on the outside of the door of my cell, er, hotel room. When I open the door to pick up my meals from the chair outside, or to set my daily bag of trash out, I see notes like this on all the doors up and down the hallway. They are the constant reminders of the dates each prisoner, er, guest, came in and will be allowed to come out. And yes, it’s technically a little more than two weeks, since we’re required to stay for fourteen FULL days. The partial day when we arrived doesn’t count; neither does the few hours after midnight that we’ll probably stay on the final partial day. (I do know some fellow quarantinees who are planning to leave at 12:01 a.m. on the day their sentence, er, stay is up, but I imagine Floyd and I will stay for the rest of the night, since we have to pay for it anyway, and check out the next morning.)

Six days down.

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