Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Life Went On

Two weeks ago I went to Taiwan for 2 days. I had to renew my Taiwan ID in Kaoshiung and help my folks do some banking in Taipei. The last time I was in Taiwan was more than a decade ago. I don't even remember when was the last time I was in Kaoshiung, where I was born.

My mom met me at Tao Yuan Airport, which is an hour out of Taipei. We immediately hopped on a taxi and went to the railway to take a train to Kaoshiung. When we were settled in our seats, my mom takes out a bowl of washed and prepared "nien oo" or wax apple. I was immediately transported back to the days when we used to spend every summer in Taiwan. The first thing my late grandmother would offer us to eat there wax apples. As unappetizing as they may sound, they are one of my favorite fruits. You don't get them as sweet, crisp and refreshing than the ones from Taiwan. It was such an appropriate first thing to eat.

I ate all 3 wax apples my mom brought. YUM!

When we arrived at Kaoshiung, we went straight to the registry office to renew my Taiwan ID. Taiwan operates on a household registry type system. Every household is registered at their home town and whenever there is a marriage, new addition, death or someone moves away, it is registered. With this bit of paper, or at least the last time our household registry was still in this format, the government can keep track of its population, votes, free education, public health care, etc. The only way you can get a Taiwan ID or at least that is what I think, is through your household registry.

At the registry office, a family friend met us there and took out this very old bit of paper with the names of my grandparents, listing all their kids, spouses and grand children. It looked as if it was going to fall apart. With this piece of paper they were able to see when I moved out of Taiwan. I took out my Taiwan ID which still had a picture of me when I was 10, I think. They updated all my details, punched it into the computer and a few minutes later I had my new ID. Talk about efficiency! I would definitely like to do some more research about their system and write about it.

We were also met by 2 of my mom's highschool friends while we were there. It was really good seeing them. Although they were my mom's friends, I felt they were almost like relatives. Its as if someday in the far future, my kids would see one of my Thursday group ladies and feel like they were family. First order of business was to go check out where we spent every summer growing up. The flat is now owned by my uncle who lives in the States and is being rented out. Although it was pouring rain, and we got lost finding the place, when we finally got there we asked the taxi driver to wait while I ran out with my mom to take a few pictures. I stood there for a few minutes, taking it all in, remembering the endless summer days playing in front of the building, hot nights sleeping on the floor with my late grandmother and going to the wet market that used to be a short walking distance away.

38-17, that's our mailbox.

Woo Foo Shi Lu, where Hai Fu Photography is, please. I remember my mom saying that hundreds of times when I was a kid to the taxi driver. We always got dropped off on the main street, and walked through this tiny alleyway, between the photo studio and this crappy eatery. I remember my brother getting scolded one time because the eatery owner saw him pinch a straw through the window in the alley way. Ah, the memories. I could go on and on.

The infamous alley way.

I got teary eyed seeing our old place. It seems like lifetimes ago now!

After that walk through memory lane we did more hunting as we tried to find an old family friend who lives nearby. Grandpa Tsen was suffering from a chest infection so had a tube down his throat. They live in a tiny, old, worn out unit that is connected to a whole alley of similar sized units. Its a few steps up to enter their house, so its almost as if he's trapped in his house because he can't move much and those helping him don't have the space and strength to carry him down the steps. Although he can't speak clearly and can't move much, his mind is totally clear and functioning. I suggested to his son that they should set him up with a computer and learn how to surf the internet, so he's not staring into space the whole day. For some reason his son said no.

Grandpa Tsen, so happy to see us.

Since we had to catch the train back to Taipei, we couldn't stay long. I felt bad having to leave so quickly. I am sure having us visit him was the most exciting thing that has happened to him in a long time. My last memory of him was years and years ago when he was talking about his compulsiveness to stay away from germs when on public transportation. He was showing us how he would fold up a piece of newspaper strategically so as not to touch the side that was on the seat and be able to use it again when he got on the next mode of transport. He was also the guy my grandfather left all their important papers to so that he would do the running around when needed. I guess the years have not been good to him.

Visiting him also made me realize how lucky we are that my dad, who is Grandpa Tsen's age is doing amazingly well in comparison. My dad's refusal to wear a hearing aid drives us all MAD, but after our visit, I would take that any day compared to a dad who can't walk and talk. My mom also named a few other people that were close who is currently suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

During our 6 hours in Kaoshiung, I also found out a bit more about my mom's 2 friends. Aunt Liang recently lost her husband to a sudden heart attack. Whenever her husband is brought up, she still tears up and can't talk. Her husband was her highschool sweet heart and the only man she had ever been with. My mom told me about their love story and hearing how she lost him so suddenly is really heart breaking. To me, they are still so young. And to die so suddenly of a heart attack is just awful. Their daughter lives in Texas with her husband and their son lives in another city in Taiwan with his family. She mainly lives alone. I told her she should go visit her daughter and stay with her for a while. I also asked if she would think about doing some volunteer work to keep herself busy and occupied. But although she listened, I could tell she was still too heartbroken to get back into normal life.

My mom with her highschool barkada.

I felt bad again when we all had to part ways at the subway station. She accompanied us until our train came. And again, I could see in her face that she hoped we could have stayed longer. When my mom said she didn't have to accompany us all this way, she said what else is there for her to day anyway, and it was true.

Although it seems like my Kaoshiung trip was a bit depressing, it made me think a lot about life. It seems like Kaoshiung, or where we used to live came to a stand still as life went on for us elsewhere. The photo studio where we used to get off was out of business, the street that used to be bustling was dead, the subway station was like a ghost town. We all went on with our lives, and people like Grandpa Tsen were left behind.

The subway station at 4pm!

I told my mom I would definitely want to come back again and show my kids where I used to spend all my summers. My mom said they still have a whole basement full of stuff from way back and that my uncle is thinking of coming back next year to renovate the old apartment. I told my mom I would love to come back and help her sort through all her things. I am sure there will be treasures of all sorts to discover.

I also want to go back and spend more time there because this trip did not give justice to Kaoshiung. I left with a feeling of sadness when I know there is still so much to my city of birth. It is the second largest city in Taiwan after all. I am sure the next time I go there, I will be able to find where life has moved on to and that our old place isn't far at all from it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Perfect Poseidon

For the past few evenings, whenever I walk past Poseidon's bedroom door, I can hear him softly talking to himself. Just a few minutes ago when I was changing, I heard him again and noticed it had already been more than 30 minutes since I put him down for bedtime. It is one of these evenings when I kiss the ground of the people who introduced sleep training.

When we were in the States back in July on holidays, all 3 kids had their biological clocks messed up. For the first 2 weeks of our one month holiday, Poseidon wouldn't go to bed before 9pm and couldn't get up before 8am. Since I was totally jet lagged as well, I couldn't drag myself out of bed early enough in the mornings to set the kids' internal clocks right. So in the end, I didn't have any alone time until 10pm. By the time I could sit down for my nightly cup of herbal tea, I was too tired to enjoy it in front of the tv. It was because of this that I almost cried of happiness after we came back to HK and all the kids were in bed again before 8pm.

I am an advocate of sleep training not just because my kids learned how to sleep by themselves at an early age, but mainly for my sanity. I try to imagine Hubby and my life if our kids were up with us until we were ready to bed and I shudder. If your kids are up with you, when do you get alone time with just you and your spouse? Every evening, I count the minutes when its time to get the kids ready for bed. It gives me a goal and something to look forward to the end of every day. Don't get me wrong, its not that I don't like spending time with my kids, but at the end of the day, you just need to relax and switch off. You don't want to be keeping an eye on your child, playing with them, doing stuff for them non stop right up until its time for everyone to go to bed.

Many evenings, when Hubby isn't on a business trip, we savor the peace and quiet. We get to watch a non PG movie on TV or get to discuss things without the kids asking us non stop questions. I get to do things I want to do. I am not using my precious minutes of even hour, rocking or patting my baby to sleep or sitting by the child's bedside, waiting for them to fall asleep. I simply count off the minutes to let them know bedtime is approaching, tuck them in, say good night and leave the room. I admit there are nights when the kids are rowdy and they need to be told off a few times, but there is never more drama than that.

In Hong Kong, many of the locals have their kids up with them till midnight! We often see kids walking around outside our building and we wonder how they get enough sleep for school the next day. And I also wonder how the helpers get enough sleep since they are up with them! I think that is one aspect of HK I will never get used to. I remember dying of sleepiness back in school in the Philippines because we didn't have a set bedtime either.

I am proud of the fact that although it gets chaotic towards it, bedtime is a time of day that we can relay on. No matter how good or bad the day was, I know that by 8pm, all my kids are in bed. They may still be awake, but they know they need to be IN bed. Boy Wonder and Nachos are allowed to chat with each other until they fall asleep, but they know to stay in their beds. And my goodness, even Poseidon who is now 16 months, know that resistance is futile and happily talks to himself in his crib until he falls asleep. This makes me love them even more, even though I know it was through our hard work that got them like this. I love you Ferber.