Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Day in Tainan as Part of the Family


We came home from Taipei on Wed. afternoon. We had plans to go to Tainan with Jerry at 8:00am the next day. He called in the morning and changed the time to 9:00. Don told me he thought maybe Jerry's wife had decided to come along.

When Jerry came to pick us up we discovered that it was not just his wife who was coming along but a whole host of relatives that included, of course, Happy, but also Jerry’s mother, his aunt and uncle and their 2 granddaughters. We rode with Jerry and the two granddaughters. One was 17. The other was her 10-year-old sister. Even though the older sister didn’t offer us her name she told us her sister is Judy.  Jerry’s wife drove a second carload with the other relatives.

Tainan is a historic city about an hour away and is situated south of Dongshih, the oyster village, on the coast of the Strait of Taiwan. Crossing over this body of water is the shortest distance to the mainland of China, thus it is the location of the earliest settlements. We went to the historic district of An-ping and learned a lot about the progression of settlers. We spent a lot of time in a European-style house that was converted into a museum.

The converted old Dutch house that is now a museum.
In the upstairs of this house, each room had a display of the different people groups that occupied or ruled the area over centuries. The people in the dioramas were made of wax and were very realistic, like Madame Trouseau’s Wax Museum in the US. The first room, which was to the left, not right, as was instinctive to me to go to the right, had a display of the aboriginal tribal people with their bows and arrows for hunting animals and enemies. The documentation on the wall was very interesting trivia, including the fact that this tribe kept skulls as souvenirs of their conquests.

The next room displayed the role that the Chinese trade routes played in their history.  It said that their individual wealth was calculated by not only the quantity of fabric in their possession but also by the quality. The explanation on the wall also talked about how each different commodity had to be packed carefully in a specific way so as to get to its destination unharmed.

The last period display was that, again, of the Dutch … remembering that Dongshih is just up the coast and also was settled by the Dutch. Jerry was walking with me at this point, and I enjoyed his reaction to the Dutch display, which was the inside of a home. As we entered, he said in his broken English, “This is the special one…” and he directed me with the sweep of his hand (a common way of directing people, no doubt, but the Chinese do this often…very often…because they always want you to walk ahead of them, never behind). Then he walked over to the fireplace and said, “This (motioning with his hand the shape of the fireplace) I want some day.” He went on with pantomiming, “When it’s cold and raining, I want to sit by the fireplace and read a book.” He finished by using his hands to motion opening a book. I thought what a universal feeling “cozy” is and how “fire” creates that image for us…all of us. I also felt very privileged to have had fireplaces in our homes…even in our bedroom!

I enjoyed the description of the Dutch from old letters they had on display. One of them said, “They have only one wife!” Another was written by a Taiwanese woman who married a Dutchman.  She says  she learned how to clean house from the other Dutch women.  She also said that she had learned their art of cross stitch and was making her own patterns.

The Dutch were on the island for less than 40 years, but the Taiwanese claim them as founding their villages by the sea.

On the same property as the museum was "The An-ping Tree House."  This was not a house built in a tree but a house that was taken over by a banyan tree.  Banyan trees grow everywhere on Taiwan.  Until now, I had only seen them in Hawaii.  This is the tree where the roots grow from the branches and reach downward for the ground.  At a distance, this causes them to look like live oaks of the South hanging with Spanish Moss.  However, up close, the roots are thick and sometimes a tangled mess.  Look what this banyan tree did to this house once it was left to go wild:

These roots broke through the roof and the house began to come apart.  After many years, there are no complete walls and no roof.
There's actually a wall of the house behind all those roots!

By the time we finished touring the museum and the tree house, crowds had come to this historic area of Tainan for a holiday outing. The police were directing traffic, the fields were turned into parking lots and vendors had set up along main streets and side streets all over the village.

We walked a long while looking for a restaurant that could accommodate our big party. During this walk, we came upon the huge and beautiful Taoist temple of the town. We couldn’t tell it was there until we turned the corner and suddenly we could see the colorful dragons up on the roof against a rich blue sky.

I couldn’t help myself...I just said right out loud, “Wow!” We all stopped and looked at it. The relatives were so proud. Then Jerry’s aunt asked through Jerry's wife who was acting as interpreter, “Do they have these temples in America?” I just blurted out, “No. No, they don’t.” (To be totally accurate, I know you could find one in LA…but I was thinking generally, no.) She looked curiously at me and said, “No?” So I replied, “No. We have only one God in America,” and I held up one finger, only one. (Ditto the previous parenthesis.) Her next question was direct and preciously sincere, “What is his name?” I said, “Jesus!” The whole family was crowded around trying to figure out who Jesus was. Finally, someone said something about, “His mother?” I said, “Yes, He had a mother…Mary.” They nodded. Obviously they had heard something of a Catholic ilk because they related more to Mary than Jesus. However, that doesn’t take away the visceral reaction to the idea that there could be ONE God. If this were true, they wanted to know his name!

After eating at the restaurant Jerry was looking for when we came upon the temple, we went to an old Dutch Fort, Ft. Zeelandia.  It had fortified walls with cannon mounts on them and a look-out tower that had a fabulous view of the harbor going out to sea.

We continued to wander about the area.  We bought a few souvenirs from booths, and we walked on a boardwalk along the sea as the sun was setting. Finally, we called it a day…so we thought…and headed for the cars. Then Jerry told us that his aunt and uncle live in another part of the town and had made restaurant reservations for us to have dinner together…because "now it is late and you need to eat!"

So off to the restaurant we went. Poor little Happy was so tired that she was sleeping next to me in the car within minutes of leaving An-ping. Jerry needed to park the car, so Don had to gather her up on his shoulder to get her into the restaurant when we arrived. (Notice the children had traded places among each other when we got back in the car. It was just like when we'd go somewhere with more than one vehicle...the kids would all jockey as to who they'd ride with and in what vehicle. So it was when we repacked ourselves to go to the restaurant...there were a few switcheroos before it was determined who was going with who!)

Then we were in another lazy Susan restaurant eating full-bodied fish, giant prawns, soup, rice…need I go on! We were at a huge table surrounded by 11 family members that didn’t speak English. Jerry’s wife was making good use of her English dictionary on her iPhone! Then, the aunt who had hosted this gathering at the restaurant invited us all to her house just down the road from the restaurant.

So it was back in the car, minus one child because she hopped on the back of her auntie’s scooter, and into another Taiwanese brownstone. The auntie fixed us a cup of Chinese tea. “I’m not a professional, though,” she confessed as she was pouring it. Don was so tired he forgot where he was and that these people really were total strangers. He took a sip of the tea and pretended that he was poisoned! They laughed and laughed! He’s really lucky they got the joke!

When we left, she gave us, and all the families represented, a box of “milk apples,” a common fruit in Taiwan. They are green, a size smaller than a Granny Smith and taste more like a pear than an apple.
In fact, they are probably not from the apple family at all because they have a pit inside instead of seeds. Anyway, she gave us instructions to go home and put them in the refrigerator and eat them every day. Then the whole bunch of us went out to the street to get in our cars, but not before everyone shook hands with each one, bowed to each one, and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” It was so fun!

We really enjoyed the sights and history of the day, but more we enjoyed being part of a family! It was so fun…and funny…to see that people and families are the same everywhere. In this family there was the eldest boy, Jerry, who quietly directed the day; the graceful momma who smiled at everyone; the aunt who wanted to talk and the uncle who was very quiet; the teenage granddaughter who had ear plugs in her iTunes most of the day; the daughter-in-law who was the glue between the generations; the “baby” who everyone doted on; the preteen who warmed up to the whole situation and leaned against me as she slept in the car on the way home; and the charismatic aunt who was loud and entertaining.  I wish I had gotten a picture of the whole family at the restaurant but my phone ran out of battery. However, without a photo, you can imagine almost any American family...put a diverse bunch of Asian faces on them...and you'd recognize the group we spent the day with!

I also couldn’t help thinking how the “shoe was on the other foot.” That we were now the foreigner blindly being taken from house to house or activity to activity. I thought, “We deserve this!” I hope all those that we put through this process in our home had as much fun as we did!

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