Sunday, November 30, 2008

Low-Tech Lifestyle

Our Roommate, Little Pan, Cooking in the Apartment Kitchen

The picture at the top of this post shows the kitchen in our apartment. As you can see, it was not stocked with amenities. We had a sink with cold water, an electric (not electronic) rice cooker, a cutting board, a cleaver, a paring knife, a wok, a soup pot, and a small gas stove with an exhaust fan overhead. We also had a small refrigerator with an even smaller ice box section. Kitchens in Taiwan today have much more in the way of hi-tech amenities, but in 1982, this was pretty modern. When it was our turn to help with meals, Lynne and I had to learn to cook all over again.

I mentioned in the last post that we had been ten days in Taiwan with its steamy August temperatures, but no one had told us what to do about our laundry. There were no washing machines at the student center or in our home. There was a strange contraption in one bathroom that looked like a laundry drum, but there was no way to fill it with water. Each bathroom had a ridged, wooden board on the back of the bath tub and several plastic buckets stacked beside the tub. There was also a brown cake of soft soap on the tub next to the board. But those items meant nothing to us.

We saw that our roommates all frequently hung their clothes out to dry on the balcony, but we were hoping for washers and dryers. I remember going to my grandma’s house as a young child and watching her hang the laundry up to dry in her backyard, but my parents had always had a dryer. Grandma even had a laundry sink with a roller wringer in her basement, and she would let me turn the crank on the wringer while she pulled the sheets through. Later, she got a dryer, too, and I don’t know what happened to the clothes wringer. That was the extent of my knowledge concerning washing without modern technology.

Lynne and I knew how to sort whites from colors, how to select water temperature, add fabric softener in the rinse cycle, and change the dials to select heavy or wash-n-wear or delicates, but that knowledge was useless without the appropriate machines. We had brought plenty of clothes because we were planning to stay for a year, but by the end of 10 days, we were just about out of clean clothes, especially since we were showering several times a day in the muggy heat.

Finally, we asked one of our English-speaking friends that last night before school started. It was an emergency because we needed clean clothes for school the next day. Boy, did we get an earful. The English speakers all descended on our apartment and all our roommates joined in the show. The whole female population of the student center apartments was going to teach the simple-minded Americans how to wash clothes.

I have to digress here, first, to describe Taiwanese bathrooms. Taiwanese buildings are made of brick and concrete. The bathrooms are tiled on all surfaces: floors, walls, even the ceilings, and they have a drain in the middle of the floor. There are no shower curtains, and I think that some of our roommates sprayed the whole room while taking their showers. The toilet paper is about the consistency of paper napkins in America, and it is stored in a covered, plastic box on the back of the toilet; you don’t flush it down the toilet, you put it into the garbage can behind the toilet. In our apartment, there was also a small bag of white powder stored inside the toilet paper box. That night we learned that the powder was laundry detergent. The ridged, wooden boards were washboards, and the strange contraption was a laundry spinner.

To do the laundry, you take a bucket and put a little bit of laundry detergent in it. Fill the bucket with water, and put your clothes to soak. Next you take a small plastic tub and fill it with water. You take a low stool and sit with your legs apart on either side of the tub. Now you set the washboard in the tub, resting it against your belly. Pick up the cake of soft soap. Spread one article of clothing on the board; rub the soap into it. Hold one end of the clothing at the top of the board with one hand while using the other hand to rub the cloth up and down against the board to work up a lather. (Don’t scrape your knuckles raw in the process.) Now splash some water on it. Rub some more. Put that article of clothing into another bucket of fresh water to rinse, and scrub your next article of clothing. Sniff the clothes frequently to be sure you have gotten them clean. Check for set-in sweat stains. Use a scrub brush on tough stains. When you have a full rinse bucket, take them out piece by piece and run fresh water over the clothes until the water runs clear. Check again for odors and stains. Repeat the processes over and over until the clothes are really clean. Then put the clothes into the spinner. Keep doing this until all ten days worth of clothes are clean. Put the plastic top on the spinner and close the lid. Turn the dial to 5 or 7. Stand back so you don’t get splashed as water pours out through the hose at the bottom. While your clothes are spinning, rinse the buckets, tub, washboard, and stool clean. Put the washboard, tub, soap, and stool away. When the timer on the spinner rings, wait for the drum to stop moving, transfer your clothes to the buckets and carry them to the balcony. Hang them out to dry on the bamboo rods suspended from the overhanging eaves. Pray that something is dry by morning so you aren’t going to school in damp clothes. Learn to make a daily habit of washing your clothes just after your shower, so you don’t have to do a whole week’s worth of laundry in front of an audience again. (We blew a fuse the next morning blow-drying our school clothes.)

By the time Lynne and I had both gotten our mountains of laundry clean to the satisfaction of our audience and had gotten everything hung up to dry, our hopes for an early bed-time were long gone. We were so sore from using muscles we didn’t know we had; “washboard abs” took on an entirely different meaning that night. The low-tech lifestyle is physically exhausting.

I found out later that the washboards were a technical improvement in my generation. Four of my five sisters-in-law (the ones born before 1970) had to get up at 4:30 am on school days and go with their mother to the stream to beat the family washing on the rocks. Even after we got a washer and dryer, my mother-in-law still didn’t trust the new-fangled contraptions to get the dirtiest clothes clean. She had my father-in-law fashion a “rock” for her out of concrete, and when she felt that neither the washer nor the washboard could get a tough stain out, she would twist and slap the clothes against her cement “stone” to clean them. That primitive, gas “camp” stove was a recent improvement, too; Joshua’s main chore as a boy was splitting kindling and keeping the fire under the big pot of rice burning evenly so it would all get cooked and nothing would be scorched. When we married in 1986, their water heater was still wood-burning.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Clashing Cultures

Formal Photo with Lunch Hosts in their Home after Banquet (the photo shoot lasted an hour)

That first week or so before school started was truly overwhelming. Everywhere we looked, things were much different from home. I guess that even the first evening with its red-carpet welcome underscored just how different Eastern and Western concepts can be. When the Chinese want to show honor, they make things into an event. They invite lots of people, have lots of food, and insist that the guests of honor give speeches, even if no one understands them. They do photo shoots (with or without a professional photographer) of the hosts and honored guests. The Chinese grow up surrounded by people, and they tend to move in crowds. When an honored guest is invited to dinner, many other “accompanying guests” are invited to be sure that the honored guest feels welcome. Color, noise, and pageantry are the watchwords.

After we started classes, one teacher explained that the Chinese society was primitively agrarian even into the mid-twentieth century. Farmers worked from dawn to dusk seven days a week, so they loved any excuse they could have for a holiday. Farm families tended to be large, and working in the fields was often a solitary labor, so gathering the gang with food, noise, color, and a party was always a good thing. If a host failed to provide the festive ambience, it was a slight or a signal that the guest was somehow not in favor. Although Chinese have lots of parties, they do not necessarily like to get close to people easily. The party atmosphere keeps things at arms length while satisfying the need for camaraderie.

As Americans, we valued individual space, quiet, and one-on-one relationships. We wanted to sleep and have quiet time to adjust. It was very wearying for us to always be with people and always be jolly in a group. The first week was fun, and all that activity helped us get over our jet lag, but our overall feeling was one of exhaustion.

I think another great shock was that we did not understand anything. We had expected to see and hear more English. But the reality was we couldn’t even pick things out from an alphabet on signs. We were in our twenties, and we sometimes felt like we were in our terrible twos. We couldn’t do anything for ourselves. We couldn’t understand anything of what was said. After our English-speaking guides from the student center went home, we were left with our non-English-speaking housemates to smile and point and not know what to do. For example, it would have saved us much grief, if just one of our housemates knew how to explain what we should do about our laundry….

Monday, November 24, 2008

First Week Collage

From top to bottom: Two pictures of the National Palace Museum (a great place to visit), two pictures of nameless people (except Lynne) who took us to unknown parks, two pictures of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in Taipei (another great place to visit), kids from the student center playing ball (barefoot) at another unknown park, and finally a student from church and Teresa in front of some unknown building. Chinese people love to take pictures, especially with people in them, and then they give you copies of the pictures you were in. Unfortunately, we did not know enough Chinese to understand where we were or who we were with. So I have lots of pictures of Lynne and me from those early days in Taipei, and all I can do is post them as a collage. The picture added to the header is a formal family portrait from 2004: parents-in-law (seated in front), Liz, Joshua, Teresa, Phoebe, and Joanna standing behind. We have more photos of the descendants from Joshua's parents and their living spouses (34 people in all), and I will change the background of the banner from time to time, so you can see them. The bio pic is of me in my traditional red Chinese cheong-sam wedding dress. I'm sitting up in our bedroom while hordes of women and children file through to get their picture taken with me. Later, I go downstairs to the banquet tables in the living room and under awnings in the street outside the house to toast the guests with Joshua, his father, and his elder sister. We had a small wedding feast of 21 tables; it only took up the block in front of our house. When my younger brother-in-law got married, there were 150 tables of guests and the wedding feast tent went out and around the block. My brother-in-law married a woman from Taiwan, so more of her family and friends were able to come to the wedding.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Asian Hospitality

NTNU Mandarin Training Center Windows on 10th & 11th Floors

We had arrived in Taiwan about 10 days before our classes started, giving ourselves time to register for school and take our placement tests. With our bellies properly full of the vegetable dumpling stew, we set off with a few of the NTNU students to find the Mandarin Training Center on campus. It was on the 10th and 11th floors of the high-rise annex across the street from the main campus. We just had to walk to the end of our alley, turn right and walk a quarter of a block to the main door. The building was air conditioned and had elevators. It stood in stark contrast to the alley running beside it. We successfully registered, and all testing was waived when the school learned that we only knew two words of Chinese: xie xie (sheyay sheyay) or thank you and zai jian (dzeye geeyan) goodbye. That freed up a lot of time for us during the rest of the week before classes.

That day our guides helped us get name chops (wooden seals) with our Chinese names engraved in them so we could open bank accounts at the Post Office. Then half the guides took Lynne to the NTNU English Department to report for her teaching job while the other half took me to wander around the campus. It was really very pretty. The walls surrounding the main campus were of decorative red brick as were the paths leading from building to building. There was a lot of lush, green shrubbery along the paths, and the buildings were either of decorative red brick or the fronts were tiled and shiny. There was an alley running alongside the Campus called Shida Road, literally NTNU Road. It was jam-packed with push-cart vendors. Some sold fruit juices, some sold sausages, others stir-fried noodles right there in the street. You could buy just about any conceivable dish (even porridge or soup) and take it away in a little plastic bag to eat with skinny bamboo chopsticks. The bags were tied with a red plastic string loop that you held to keep from burning your fingers on the hot soup inside. My guides sternly warned me NOT to eat from the push-carts because the food was not always clean and some of them spread hepatitis B. About 6 months into our stay, the student center had to close its meal service because some of the boys got hepatitis from eating at Shida Road. Since the facility did not have a sterilizing dishwasher, the only way to prevent a hepatitis outbreak among the students was to stop us from eating together.

That first week someone notified the elderly people in the church that Lynne and I had free time now, because beginning that evening we were invited out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, and in between different people took us on a whirlwind tour of Taipei’s sights. We were still slightly jet-lagged, we understood less than 5% of what was said to us, and every time we went anywhere, an entourage from the student center had to accompany us. We never went any place with less than a jam-packed vanload of students. Sometimes the girls who spoke English were unavailable, and the person inviting us would grab students at random to “make us feel at home.” We went to several parks, but I don’t know their names; many museums, but I’m not sure what ones; and different restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Usually we were served 12 course feasts. It was nice to feel full, but it was truly overwhelming.

On the last Sunday before classes started the church gave a potluck in our honor at another hall in a remote district of Taipei. The church vans were in use picking up the elderly and the children on their usual Sunday routes, so our roommates took us by bus to the outskirts of Taipei. We went to church, and afterwards attended the potluck. All the ladies had made their prize dishes, and they kept bringing spoonfuls of their cooking and plopping it into our bowls. We were already at the end of a weeklong feasting spree, so we were not at all hungry, but to be polite we did our best to eat what was put on our plates. This only encouraged the ladies to give us more. We would say no, no, no, but they gave us still more. Anytime our bowls were finally empty, they would dish up more. One lady was particularly assiduous, and her dish contained tofu and pi dan. Pi dan are pickled eggs. They are black with green yolks. I learned later that the ancient recipe called for pickling them in horse urine. My husband loves them, but after my experience that day in Taiwan I cannot even look at a pi dan without feeling queasy. Because you see, I ate until I honestly could not take another bite. And then we had to ride on crowded buses without air conditioning, which jolted along, weaving erratically through the crazy Taipei traffic. I got horrifically sick. We would ride a few blocks, and I would get off to hurl. Then we would ride a few more blocks, and I would get off again. We did this for almost an hour before we ran into a friend of one of our guides who had enough money to lend us cabfare home. We cancelled that evening’s dinner invitation because we needed to do laundry, and we wanted to get a good night’s sleep before getting up early the next morning for an 8 am class in Mandarin Phonetics.

We later learned that Chinese table manners run just about opposite to American manners, and that the whole thing could have been avoided if we had not been so polite in the American way. But that will be the topic for a whole ‘nother post.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Market

Vegetable Pushcart in the Alley near the Market

Taiwan now has supermarkets with neatly packaged food, and today there are a couple of Costco stores on the island, but when I first went there in 1982, the government had not even allowed the McDonald’s franchise to enter its borders. Very soon after our arrival, I was scheduled to cook breakfast for the 30 to 40 people living in student center housing. We had to have breakfast ready by 6:45 so that people with early morning classes could get to school on time. That meant we had to get up a little after 5 to go to the market.

In those days, when you wanted to buy food, you went before noon to the market. Even today, every neighborhood has its market. Some vendors drive their trucks in from the outlying farms, park along the alleys near the market entrance, and sell their wares out of the backs of their trucks. These are usually the fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, although I have seen butchers’ trucks with pig carcasses hanging from wire frames along the sides and a chopping block on the tail gate. Another truck had a nanny goat tethered in the back, and you could buy goat’s milk fresh from the source. The alleys near the market were even more crowded than the alley between our apartment and the student center. Once again, my Chinese guides and co-cooks grabbed my hand and led me along like a child. I was 21 years old, but I felt like a two year old. I couldn’t understand anything people were saying, and I couldn’t read a word on any of the signs. The alleys twisted and turned, and the trucks now became permanent stalls with awnings along one side of the street. Then there was a sharp turn into a dark alley that was jam-packed with women and totally roofed over. My guides led me into this alley.

As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, the thing that struck me most was the stench. The stench even overpowered the noise for a moment. It was all I could do to keep from retching. Up and down the aisles were fishmongers, pork butchers, chicken butchers, fruit and vegetable stands, booths that sold spices, and here and there a cloth merchant or a tailor thrown in. As my nose accustomed to the stench of blood from freshly slaughtered meat, my ears began buzzing with the constant drone of vendors hawking their wares, customers asking for help, and bartering and haggling going on everywhere.

One of my guides was an English-speaker from Hong Kong, and she had ascertained that Lynne and I did not eat well at all the day before because we were so slow using chopsticks the boys kept beating us to the food. My cohorts decided to make a pork, dumpling, and vegetable stew that would give us more in our bellies than watery rice, a peanut, and a bite of tofu. Later, I noticed that for the next month or so, even the congee had some meat and vegetables in it to give us a fighting chance at getting full, so I guess someone relayed the message that we had left the table hungry.

We had 300NT to spend for everybody’s breakfast. In those days the exchange rate was 40NT to 1USD; we were going to feed about 35 people on $9.50. The biggest expense was going to be the meat, so we first went up and down the aisle with butcher stalls. My friend from Hong Kong taught me how to look for stalls that washed down their cutting blocks after serving every customer and that had fans with swatters twirling around the meat to keep the flies from laying eggs in it. The butcher stall aisle had flies everywhere, and the floor was red and sticky with blood from the freshly butchered meat. We decided that we would spend 100NT on the meat and use the other 200NT to buy vegetables, flour, eggs, and herbs for flavoring. The kitchen provided oil, salt, soy sauce, and hot sauce, but we needed to buy things like garlic, ginger and green onions fresh each day.

We found a nice, clean piece of pork shoulder without too much fat, and the butcher sold us a 600 gram chunk for our 100NT. I remember thinking that it looked a little smaller than the pork roasts my mom made for our family of four; I thought, “Well we have enough for the girls at my table, but what are those hungry boys going to eat?” I soon found out that we would all fill up on veggies. For our 200NT we got 600 grams of flour, 5 potatoes, 3 cabbages, 4 monster-sized carrots, and several bags full of other vegetables that I had never seen before. By the time we were finished washing, chopping, and stirring, we had an industrial-sized pot full of stew. Everyone got full, and there was still some left over. I think that was when I realized that from now on, meat was going to be a condiment to give flavoring to dishes, and it would no longer be my main food source.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Impressions of Taipei, 1982

The Alley Outside our Apartment on a Winter Afternoon

In my last post, I left off my tale when we were awakened before six in the morning by music that sounded very much like an ice cream truck. We did not go chasing it that day, although the weather was hot enough to make us want something cold and frosty. We had been warned not to drink unboiled water, and we discovered that most Chinese people drank warm water even in the heat. There was a thermos bottle of hot water in our room, but we turned up our noses at it. In those days, most apartments were not air conditioned, so we had sweated a lot during that hot, muggy night. We showered again, and our roommates took us to the student center for breakfast.

As we walked out into the streets by the light of day, it really sank in that we were in a totally different world. Taipei is divided into grids by large thoroughfares, and in 1982 the superblocks formed by those thoroughfares were a rabbit warren of cement and brick apartment buildings set on narrow alleys. (Even today the alleys do not always run in straight lines.) Most of the buildings were surrounded by high cement walls topped with broken glass or barbed wire. Every building had a steel entry door, usually painted red, with an intercom and rack of mail slots beside it. Interspersed among the buildings were patches of what the Chinese call “short houses”, one-story shanties of brick or wood, usually roofed with corrugated plastic or steel. These “short houses” were often linked together, and foot paths off the alleys ran among them to houses that were otherwise inaccessible from the larger streets. Many of the “short houses” that directly abutted a larger alley had a store in the front and living quarters in the back.

Every morning the alleys were alive with people. Some families who lived in the “short houses” did their laundry in tubs with washboards right there in the gutter beside their front doors. In other families, the kids got ready for school by brushing their teeth outside and spitting into the gutter. A husband and wife in one of the “short houses” across the alley from our apartment were always yelling at each other at the top of their lungs right there in the middle of the street. There was a corner where a retaining wall intersected a “short house” across the alley from us, and old men would always stop there to urinate. And through it all, there were street vendors on bicycles or motorized tricycle carts wending their way through the teeming humanity screaming or playing scratchy recordings to announce their wares.

Our roommates grabbed us by the arms and pulled us along like children. We had to thread our way through the people in the alley to get to the student center for breakfast. On the first floor of the student center there was a large kitchen and dining area. Breakfast and dinner were included in our rent. Our Malaysian friend quickly ran over to help us, and she explained that everyone living in the student center was expected to help cook breakfast at least once a week. My name was on the schedule for the following day. She led us to a table where we filled three of the eight chairs. Our roommates brought us steaming bowls of plain congee (a fancy word for rice gruel or rice soup). The student center had no forks and knives. We had to learn how to use chopsticks and to grab our food from the plates in the center of the table. Each table had four plates of food. One plate had tofu and soy sauce, one plate had scrambled eggs, a third plate had peanuts, and the fourth plate had some kind of pickled cabbage. By the time we had managed to pick up one peanut and one bite of tofu with our chopsticks, the rest of the food had been scarfed down by the hungry male students at our table. Student center rules said that each table should seat 4 men and 4 women. Now we knew why; there wasn’t enough food to feed a table of 8 men. After washing our own bowls and chopsticks in cold water only, we went with our roommates back to our apartment to take another shower before unpacking and settling in.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Red-Carpet Welcome

Lynne's Bed in Taipei

My friend Lynne and I experienced many delays on our flight from Seattle to Taipei. We had been traveling for 20 hours without sleep when we were greeted at the airport by a group of cheering students from the place where we would be living. The vans transporting us seemed quite decrepit and had absolutely NO air conditioning. We were given the best seats in each van: the front passenger seats. These seats were directly under the small metal fans that had been bolted to the steel frame above the windshield in each vehicle. The fans moved the air, but it was so hot and muggy, they did not really cool anything.

Both vans pulled up in an alley beside a cement wall with broken glass embedded along the top. One of the girls pushed an intercom button next to a red metal door, and we were all buzzed in. The girls pulled us upstairs while our luggage was driven away with the vans. We were herded up three flights of narrow stairs to an apartment. All we wanted was a bed; we could even wait until morning for a shower, but no, there were even more people crowded into the living room of this apartment at 12:30 am, singing a special welcome song to us and plying us with tea, fruit, cookies, and cakes. We would later learn that we were being given the red-carpet welcome as honored guests, but all we really wanted to do was get some sleep.

Finally, a gentleman named Peter, who spoke intelligible English, entered the room. Peter informed us that we were in the church student center of which he was the manager. He lived in the apartment where we were sitting. The students living in that building were day students at NTNU and all spoke some English. We would not be staying in the student center; we would live in an apartment around the corner with the Yeh family and 8 night-school students, who didn’t speak any English at all. The church leaders were enthusiastic about helping us learn Chinese, so they took great pains to give us an environment of total immersion. Peter droned on for quite awhile, and then he invited us to give speeches. He suggested that we encourage the Chinese students to study English with same dedication that we were giving to our study of Chinese. Lynne and I looked at each other and then at Peter; we told him we really just wanted to get some sleep. Peter’s wife then pressed us to eat a cookie before we left so we wouldn’t wake up hungry. As we nibbled on the cookies and pretended to drink the tea, the students sang their welcome song to us again. Finally, we were dismissed to go home with our new housemates.

We learned that we would be sharing a small bedroom furnished with a metal bunk bed, two small wooden desks with folding chairs, two arm chairs, and an end table with a fan on it. Lynne took the bottom bunk, leaving me the top. When we opened our suitcases to get out our pajamas, there was no place in the room to walk. The beds were just boards covered with a straw mat, a pillow, and a towel in lieu of blankets. An English-speaking Malaysian girl from the student center came to help us settle in; she told us that since no one used sheets in the summer, we needed to shower every night before sleeping or the ants and cockroaches would be attracted to our sweat and infest the beds. The jolt of adrenalin produced by that statement woke us up enough to shower before we tumbled into bed. We had been going for a full 24 hours without sleep, but the board bed was hard and my rear was sore. Despite my fatigue, I did not sleep very well. All too early, it was morning, and we were awakened by music that sounded like an ice cream truck at a little before 6 am.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Transpacific Marathon Flight

Laurie, Teresa & Lynne in Colorado the week before Lynne and Teresa leave for Taiwan (August, 1982).

Lynne and I were so excited. The Office of International Students at Georgetown had gotten us into the Fall term of Chinese classes at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei. National Taiwan Normal University had agreed to give Lynne a one-year ESL teaching contract. We had our passports and our visas. Our friends from church had arranged for us to live with a Chinese family in church-sponsored student housing. We were able to afford plane tickets from DC to Taiwan with week-long stops in Denver and Seattle, so we could visit our families before leaving the country. And we had the logistics down for getting the gamma globulin shots that were strongly recommended for travelers to Third World countries.

Lynne got her gamma globulin shot on our last day in Denver. She said it wasn’t too bad. I waited until we were in Seattle because it would be free for me there. I don’t know if the nurse in Seattle was less skilled at giving shots than the nurse in Denver or what, but that gamma globulin shot was the most painful shot I have ever received. I got it 48 hours before we were scheduled to fly, and my rear was still sore when we boarded the plane. Maybe that was a warning that the adventure upon which we were embarking was not going to be what we were expecting, but I was 21 and na├»ve. I just wanted to fly.

We flew on Northwest Airlines from Sea-Tac to Taipei via Seoul. The plane took a polar route and for some reason, we had to stop in Alaska. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep on the plane, but I didn’t care. Even with the extra landing our flight wasn’t supposed to be that long. Then when we got to Seoul, our plane was late and violated some military taboo. All passengers had to deplane with their carry-on luggage while the South Korean army searched the plane. Then we had to go through a strict security check before being allowed to re-board. We spent an hour in a stark waiting room furnished with hard plastic chairs. They were designed to prevent lounging, and they rubbed against my sore rump. We finally made it into Taipei more than two hours late. By this time we were walking zombies (and my rear was still sore). We sleepily got our luggage, went through customs, and exited to the waiting area to find our hosts. As we walked out of the air conditioned customs area, we were enveloped in a steam bath of hot, muggy air. We could see the drops of moisture suspended in mid-air. To our surprise more than 10 people were waiting to pick us up even though it was already midnight. They began to cheer wildly when they saw us, and several of them started waving signs with our names on them.

We were dead on our feet, our minds were rapidly melting in the heat and humidity, yet we were hugged exuberantly by strange women, while the men wrested our luggage from us. The women dragged us outside where it was even hotter and muggier than inside, and they separated us so that each one got the front passenger seat in one of two old, beat-up white vans. They were chattering away, but we didn’t understand anything that was said. This did not phase them; they split the luggage between the two vans, divided themselves among the back seats, and we went careening off down the highway from the airport to Taipei. Fortunately, it was so late at night that there was very little traffic.