Formulating Formal Feelings of the Former Formosa

I have a flight booked to return to England on the 19th of next month, due in Manchester on the 20th.  I hear it’s pretty cold over there at the moment.

I think this is my 6th visit to Taiwan, but it’s the first time I have been cold out here (unless it’s been with the assistance of the ubiquitous air conditioner).  Frankly, the weather here during this visit has been really unexpected (by me, if not the locals).  In fact, here in Zhubei, some 170 miles north of Kaohsiung, it has been pretty bizarre.  It has changed from several days of cold drizzle, when I’ve clothed myself in all four of my jerseys and my cycling gilet just to keep warm – indoors – to a solitary day of clear blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, then back again to uncomfortably cold and windy for another few days.  Then a few days of shorts and T-shirts; then back to every-layer-out-of-the-wardrobe for a while.  As I write, we’re reaching the end of three days of sun-hat-advisable weather on the bounce.  Yes, I know it’s winter, but I hadn’t appreciated just how cold it can be.  I should’ve packed a decent coat.

Taiwan continues to surprise and fascinate me.  A few days ago I experienced two firsts.  A bloke in the park taking his pig for a walk.  This would have been slightly less noteworthy had it not been in a city centre, largely concrete with a bit of water in the middle type of park.  Later, I was in our flat taking a leak when we were struck by a minor earthquake.  I thought at first that I’d stood up too quickly and was just a little dizzy, then I looked to my right to see the shower door wobbling.  Again, this would have been slightly less noteworthy had I not been on the 12th floor.  I dread to think what a major quake would feel like up here.

Taiwan also continues to irritate me.  If you’ve read much of my other stuff, it’ll come as no surprise that it’s the road behaviour of your average Taiwanese driver which causes me most grief.  Undoubtedly the rules of the road here – such as they exist at all – take some getting used to, but things seem to work.  My main gripe is that nobody will WAIT; not even for a few seconds.  If there’s a gap, someone will fill it, even if it brings no advantage and by filling it someone else’s progress is impeded.  I can be walking along, pushing the boy in the Stokke, and I need to pass a car by walking into the road; said car’s driver suddenly decides it’s time to move off, but he can’t move into the road as there’s a constant stream of cars.  He’ll still edge forward, blocking my passage (ooh, err missus) and I’ll be exposed to greater risk for longer than if he’d just waited for all of five seconds to allow me to walk by.  Furthermore, while cycling, it’s pretty much guaranteed that cars will pass me and immediately turn right across my path instead of simply backing off for a few seconds and allow me to proceed across the junction.  Bearing in mind that cities here are invariably on a grid system, this is a very real problem on the corner of every block.  I need to remember that everyone here seems to drive on the wrong side of the road.

I’ve yet to have a conversation with another westerner since I’ve been in Zhubei, while in Kaohsiung I only spoke with Kevin and Paul, two British artists who’d come out to work with Ming.  There are a few white faces around, but I rather like being in the minority.  One of the real wonders of Taiwan (for me) is that there is a great deal of written English to be seen – on road signs, on vehicles, on clothing and on business premises.  More often than one might imagine, the words found on shops and clothing don’t really make sense and it’s as if the use of some form of English is an essential element of any business idea, whether on a shirt-front or shop-front.  At this stage, I really should have some examples, photographic or otherwise.  Stick with me and check back soon.

I spend all day, every day, with my son, Christopher.  He’s nearly two years old.  The other day, my morning consisted of a couple of hours playing with the boy and his friend in and around the lobby of our apartment block.  Here they are posing:


Again, perhaps nothing so unusual there, but I should point out that the boy’s friend is cared for by his grandmother because both parents work (ridiculously) long hours.  Granny is (proper) Chinese, in the sense that she is from Shanghai.  I have been told that granny is 70 years old.  Granny speaks no English.  I speak no Chinese.  You can imagine that our time together, each chaperoning our respective charges, is fraught with difficulties.  Here’s all four of them:


In fact, we seem to do just fine, as long as I remember that the universal sign language for eating – i.e. miming of knife and fork (think Basil Fawlty…I forget which episode) – is NOT the universal sign language for eating.  Chopsticks are held in one hand and rice is scooped from the bowl, stupid!  I could not have imagined that at 50 years and 7 months I would be babysitting a child in a country where I cannot speak the language, but I just about get by.  It’s difficult at times, but what else can I do?

The cakes here are something else.  Bakeries are dotted around the cities and fresh pastries and breads are available virtually around the clock.  I’m never quite sure what I’m going to find in my chosen bun – the varieties are infinite and the filling may be sweet or savoury, whether the ‘outer’ is sweet or not.  I could get fat.  I’ll keep riding the bike.

I think there are some pretty wealthy people here in Zhubei.  I’d hazard a guess that most of them will be involved in the construction industry in some way.  Everywhere you look in Zhubei there is another building going up.  Immediately opposite our apartment block, another new building is just rising above ground level – there are probably already three basement levels hidden form view.  Work goes on every day, but nightfall brings peace and quiet.  Concrete mixers almost outnumber the scooters.

Oh bugger, it’s another digger!  When I was a lad, I used to say bugger rather a lot.  I don’t remember, but I think my mum may have told me so, maybe once or twice.  Bugger.

Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.

Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.

Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.

Christopher is obsessed with all varieties of digger.  Digger.

Digger.  Digger.  Digger.  Digger.

Digger.  Digger.  Digger.  Digger.

Digger.  Digger.  Digger.  Digger.

What is it with Turners and ‘gger?  This city is full of bloody diggers.

I dunno about buggers.

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