A day before we moved to Taiwan, my thoughtful neighbor dropped off an elegantly wrapped package tied with a shimmering gold bow, on my front porch along with a beautiful letter, expressing her best wishes to our family on the journey. What wonderful friends I am blessed with! The first impression of the box with the jewel-toned design print captivated my attention, and I was reluctant to unwrap it since I wanted to continue admiring the presentation, but the suspense was killing me. I slowly opened it, trying to memorize the detail of how to tie a bow like that, and inside was this golden pineapple trinket box that I just love. I'll always remember Adele's exquisite taste every time I look at this mini keepsake, that symbolizes hospitality and good luck.
Following my recent pity party, whining about the lack of accessible parking spaces in my new foreign hometown, and frustration over not being able to swiftly move into our apartment due to red-tape issues, and an overall bout of wo, I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. Lo and behold, that very time which I was complaining, some tender mercies were handed right to me, practically gift-wrapped with a golden bow. The kids and I were going to dinner without Kelly, who had a meeting that night. I drove down the congested, busy street of Guangfu Lu in search of the Japanese restaurant where we had eaten the day after our arrival, arranged by Selina from the HR department where my husband works. Lindsey had her heart set on this place and I instinctively knew that parking would be horrendous, if not impossible. I had joked to the kids that if there wasn't a place to park, we'd be dining at Costco.
The sign was either in Chinese or Japanese, I can't exactly tell the difference, and we spotted our destination. I flipped a U-turn right after passing it on the left-hand side of the road, with cars coming from all over the place, heading quickly toward us from various directions (as I uttered aloud in a somewhat joking way, yet serious as a heart attack, "I don't want to die, I don't want to die"). Being in this predicament seems to be the norm in these parts, and nobody appears to be bothered by these tactics. Driving here in Taiwan is nerve-wracking and intense, I can assure you, but people don't tend to get road rage like they often do in the US. Everyone simply does what they need to do, to get from point A to point B, however they can. It's a completely different approach to driving from what I am accustomed to. The chaos in my perspective is all rather civilized and it actually works fairly well.
Sorry for the tangent, I'll get back to my point. The tender mercy that I got was an ideal parking spot, almost directly in front of the restaurant. I couldn't believe it. There was a sign posted that could have said "no parking" or "tow away zone" or "only crazy Americans can park here," but since it was in Mandarin, I didn't really know. From what I have observed, it seemed legitimate. Who knows? I was hungry and tired and didn't really care at that point, so I did my parallel parking and enjoyed a lovely dinner. Doesn't this look delicious? It was indeed. The fuel tank was getting down to the final quarter on our Toyota Corolla, so the next day, I ventured my way toward discovering the Taiwanese process of pumping gas. It may sound like an ordinary thing, but it's yet another slightly different ordeal here. You don't have to do it yourself, which is a big plus. Here's how it works. There are several attendants in uniforms eagerly directing each car where to go. I pull in to the station, roll my window down, and the three who are congregating single out one guy in particular to assist me. I'm guessing that he's the one who can speak English. He asks me which grade I want...95 or 98. I sort of understand him, but am not positive. I see that there is a 92 level that's available, and I assume it's the cheapest, so that's what I request. He gives me a puzzled look then tells me that it's recommended that my type of car should get at least the 95. Okay, so 95 it is. I'll take it, I guess. There's an element of trust here. At home, I always go for the least expensive and my car seems to go just fine. I think we are almost done, but we are not.
Next he asks me how long I plan to stay in Taiwan. A year, I tell him. He then recommends that I get the V.I.P. card and then it will always be cheaper. Okay, I'll take that, I suppose. So then he asks me to fill out this form, all in Chinese, of course, and I hand it back to him untouched. He does a quick translation and it asks for my address. My address? I live in a hotel. Will that work? Apparently it will not. I tell him I will soon have an address, but do not have it with me. So I make a phone call to our real estate or apartment guru, Mr. Peng, and ask him to speak to the gas station attendant to tell him my future address. It all works out and I end up with a V.I.P. card and a full tank of gas.
I'm not sure what exactly transpires, but I think Mr. Peng ends up giving his own address or phone number, or somehow vouching for me, then Daniel, the sweet young man who is assisting, gives me his cell phone number and says to call him if there are any problems getting the discount the next time I return. What a gentleman! Does the niceness ever end? That's how it works here!
I really like these people. They are so sincere and so helpful. That was another tender mercy, since we had driven past gas stations multiple times and couldn't figure out how they work. It may sound trivial, but these little details that you might not think would be different, can be intimidating. I was proud to tell Kelly that I took that task on and got the job done. I asked Daniel if I could take his picture and it caught him off guard, but he kindly obliged and did the standard peace pose. The kids thought he was awesome.I saw a turquoise car, not something you see often in Texas, and asked Lindsey to grab my camera and take a picture of it quickly as we were approaching it. The instant she clicked it, a motorcycle drove right in front of it and distorted the view, but we actually liked the accidental action shot.
If I had been doubting whether or not that parking space I had found was a little gift just for me, the very next day, the exact same thing happened in front of the fish noodle restaurant we frequent. I smiled and took the one and only open space, right at the front door from there too. I feel lucky, or blessed, or loved, or something. I'm feelin' it! Gratitude. Oh, and do you remember my saying that I when I return home to the States, one of the first things I will do is eat a donut? It made my day when I spotted this, as you might imagine.
The donuts here aren't exactly what I'm used to, but will certainly do the trick.
One final expression of gratitude that I must share is that I didn't really think many people would notice or read my blog. I was really surprised to see that I'd had about 250 hits on my blog since my last post that I published three days ago, so THANK YOU to whom ever you are or where ever you may be. I'll take that as a gift too. How wonderful to be noticed--it's very encouraging. I appreciate all the kind remarks and compliments as I continue blogging my way through this 365-day cultural adventure. Xie Xie.