Monday, October 17, 2005

Men's Talk

I talk to Gustav a lot. He seems to understand the important stuff.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Yes, it has been another absence of months from my blog. I hope nobody has been abating their breath in anticipation of my next entry! Vanessa and I have been busy as heck with our buxiban - as you may or may not know, we sold our old school and bought a bigger one - bigger in terms of students, at least. We are now running our butts off trying to edumacate 130 students from the elementary school level right up to university. At the same time, I'm working at an almost full-time job (mornings and some afternoons) at the World Trade Centre, teaching bidness English and presentation skills to 60+ young adults every day. The morning job is pretty cool on several levels: I've already spent years teaching those kinds of subjects, so I don't have to spend too much time getting my classes ready, the students, mostly in their twenties and mainly female, are enthusiastic and a lot of fun, the extra money comes in handy, and I get to eat lunch in the World's Tallest Building every day. (Taipei 101 is connected to the WTC by an elevated walkway.)

To be honest, I feel a little stressed. Everything's great when I'm in the classroom (buxiban or morning gig), but at the times in between I've been feeling pretty tense. I'm easily irritated, and my patience (never one of my strong points) has been wearing thin. Oh well. The morning gig won't last forever, I'm guessing. There are constant rumours about making it into a full-time position, which means I'd have to give it up in order to preserve my sanity.

Hmm, so what besides the dreary details of my insignificant life could possibly interest my many readers? (Ha!) Well, this updated version of The Shining made me laugh (thanks Flicka).

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Just got back from a long weekend of camping with a lot of good people.

Gustav had a great time as always, and has discovered the joys of river swimming. The water was quite rapid, and I was really amazed at his fearlessness. Actually, it wasn't just his fearlessness that amazed me, it was his obvious joy at being able to fetch sticks from the swift waters over and over again. Add his ability to use his tail in the water as a rudder, and his webbed paws, and it is very evident that this dog has the love of water in his genes!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Little Outhouse in the Woods

I think this is a nifty picture. Vanessa took it while I was busy answering nature's call - I left the door open so as to have more light for reading. Anyway, the outhouse was far enough away that I could hear any potential visitors tramping through the woods long before they got close.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Balder thru the Door

I love this picture of Balder. Unfortunately, Balder died of cancer at 7 months. We still have great memories of him.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Chinese New Year 2005

Playing frisbee was an important part of our daily routine. I blame my failure to catch the frisbee on a poor throw. Anyone who knows me knows that I move with the grace and stealth of a jungle cat. A frisbee thrown with even middling accuracy would never have eluded me.

The tent on the left is the one we slept in - the one on the right is the one we stored stuff in.

I liked this rock formation. It really looked like a cobblestone path into the sea.

Vanessa had fun on one of Kending's many go-kart tracks.

Here's Gustav at Eluanbi, Taiwan's southern-most tip. Keep going straight and you hit the Philippines.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Gustav: Lost and Found...

Two days ago, Vanessa and I had a bit of a scare. Monday night at about 9:30, we had just finished closing up the school and were heading towards our car. Vanessa was waiting for Gustav to pee on his usual patch of grass by the intersection, and I went on ahead as I had no umbrella and it was raining hard. We usually unleash him so he can pee in relative privacy, and after he had finished his "business", Gustav for some reason thought he should hang out with me, and he darted after me before V could clip his leash on him. I turned to tell him to stay put, just in time to see a garbage truck roll over him. I can't describe what I was feeling when I saw that - I was horrified, to say the least. I was worried that Gustav was trapped underneath, so I jumped up on the truck and screamed at the drivers to stay put. They didn't understand, so I had to explain that they had just run over my dog. I then looked under the truck - no Gustav.

In the meantime, V saw him take off like a bat out of hell. She ran after him, but lost him after running a couple of blocks. I had no idea where either of them were, until I saw V's dropped umbrella halfway down the street. We finally met up, and looked around, with no success. I was wearing glasses which were of very little use in the pouring rain and I had no rain jacket, so I got wet and cold pretty fast. I called my good friend Sandy, and he put out the call to arms on the Internet. (God bless you Sandy!) Within minutes, calls came pouring in with offers of assistance. Vanessa drove back home to get raingear, flashlights, batteries for my phone and contact lenses. By the time she was back, we had almost twenty volunteers out looking. What an incredible thing! I was amazed, and moved.

Just after midnight, I was out walking along the side of Heping East Road, next to a parking lot, and I called out for the thousandth time that evening, "Gustav - come!" He answered with a short bark. He was inside the fenced-in lot, and there was no way for him to get out. I hopped the chain link fence, and was welcomed by a wet, slightly cut, somewhat bruised, and very messed up Labrador Retriever. His tail was wagging like crazy, and despite the cut on his face, he was licking mine. Pure elation, let me tell you! I called Vanessa first, and she was on the scene in a flash. Then the others got notified, and my good friend Michael Botti, who drove in to Taipei all the way from Yangmei, helped me lift Gustav back over the fence. V took him to the animal hospital where it was determined that he had no serious injuries. ~whew~

While V was doing that, I was back in my buxiban with the volunteer searchers. What a great bunch of folks! It goes without saying that I'm thankful almost beyond words for their help and concern. We drank hot coffee/cocoa and tea and dried off a bit, and then everyone headed home, heartened by the happy ending.

The value of the expat community here has again risen considerably in my estimation, which is saying something, because I have always felt it to be a great community. Last night proved it to me beyond any measure of doubt.

Today Gustav is sore - he's walking around like he got hit by a garbage truck, but he'll be ok. Vanessa has a sore knee - she ran so hard after him that she pulled something, and her knee is quite swollen today... Gustav also suffered the indiginity of a good shearing, as a lot of his fur was matted with tar and axle grease. That's ok, fur grows back. The important thing is he's safe and sound. He's going to have to get used to peeing while being leashed, however. I've learned my lesson!

It's already two days after the even, and I'm still feeling relieved. I'm a little shocked to realize how much I love that dog, and how much a part of the family he is. I know Vanessa feels the same way. She would have been inconsolable if the worst had happened. Thank God, we got off lightly.

From "Stray Dog", a regular poster and a good friend:
I was at home with three ladies last night when I got the call: The Seek is On! Like a surfer hearing that the surf is up, I abandoned my activities, grabbed my equipment, and headed out to the hunt. This was the night I had been training for my whole life.

I grew up playing hide-n-seek. Growing up as I did, the only grammar school boy on a council estate, it was a skill honed out of necessity—a means to survive. The watered-down version you see played around the world today is a faint echo of the tough version I was forced to play as a kid. In my neighborhood, it was called Run-away-N-Beat-‘I'm-Up. You had to hide. If you didn’t know how, you had to learn fast. Pain was a great teacher.

Memories of those days streamed through my mind like a bitter-sweet highlight video as I drove through the night to meet my fellow seekers. As I approached, the other competitors sized me up. They knew they were dealing with a pro. I said nothing, just giving a cursory nod before heading to H-N-S HQ for a briefing.

The rules were familiar: we were playing pro-H-N-S—just the way I like it. My poker face gave nothing away, but this was gonna be my night. The game was explained to all present: The hider, Gustav, a wily, dark-chocolate Lab, had already gone to ground with a considerable head start, cunningly propelling himself with the aid of a speeding garbage truck. A map was drawn on a whiteboard, showing point of impact and trajectory.

Several X’s marked potential hiding places—an aid I immediately despised, as this would only serve to help the less experiences seekers. I began sizing up my fellow competitors: as is the way in any Pro-H-N-S event, different seekers bring different tools for the job in hand. Some—traditionalists like myself—brought only a raincoat, a flashlight, and a passion to win; others brought trucks equipped with high-powered searchlights; ex-military types wore camouflage jackets and chose night-vision goggles as their weapons; those from more rural areas, strangely, came carrying pitchforks and roman candles—as the game began, they soon formed a mob and roamed the streets shouting “Burn him! Burn him!” Amateurs. They were never going to win. Some came carrying strange contraptions with flashing lights and buzzers. A few came with dogs. Some, obviously jocks, came sporting lycra shorts and wife-beater vests. One came driving what looked like a junk heap. It was like a scene from Wacky Racers.

As the rules meeting came to a close, some of the competitors began to form pairs or teams. I’m a purist; I was going alone. I jumped into my racing-green Opel Corsa and headed off to the far end of the playing field. The hunt was on, and my nostrils began to flare. I knew the game. I knew the hider. I knew his psychology. I headed to where he would have gone to ground, windows open to pick up a scent or a giveaway pant—and also to stop my windscreen fogging up for lack of air-con.

Reports were coming over the cell phone of other seekers’ progress. I laughed a knowing laugh as we were informed that some of the greener seekers, obviously out of practice since high school, had immediately begun searching in kitchen cupboards and laundry baskets. I maintained radio silence. I was giving nothing away. I parked the car at the east end of the hiding zone, and pulled out the flashlight from under the seat. I paused, momentarily running my fingers over the engraving at the base of the handle: “British Hide-N-Seek Champion 1999”. The best hide of my life. But now I was the seeker, and there would be no empathy for my prey. As I drove toward my quarry, I could hear the other seekers crying out the dog’s name. I was among peers; I had to respect the fact that some of my fellow finders had made the same assumptions as I.

I parked by the roadside, the car quietly ticking over. I closed the door and shone the light into the zone. A cat ran across the path; an owl hooted. On bended knee, I ran my fingers across the ground before putting them to my nose. It was a familiar smell. I ran a finger across my tongue. Cat piss! It means nothing to a non-seeker, but to me, this feline expulsion told a telling tale. The cat must have been disturbed by the dark-choc Lab. I was surely on the right track.

The smell of the dank night reminded me of the 1994 U.S. Open World H-N-S finals. The weather refused to let up, hampering my attempts to locate my prey. But a seeker never gives up until he corners his quarry. That’s what my father taught me. I returned to the UK as world champion. I had tried to put the trophy with all the others, but, as usual, I couldn’t find where I’d put them.

Some way in the distance, a fenced-off car park emerged from the darkness. I’m a dog, I’m hurt, and I’m cunning—if I’m gonna go to ground, this would be the place. My nostrils flared. I pawed the ground with my foot. I sensed fear. Crouching, I approached the chain-link fence and shone my light into the compound. “Gustav! Gustav!” Nothing. Nothing? How come? I knew this game better than anyone. This was certainly the place. The rules dictate that a light shone in the hider's general direction, accompanied by an announcement of his or her name, compels that hider to show himself to his captor—the victor of the game. But nothing came out of the shadows.

I knelt and surveyed the ground. The light from my torch lit up the glistening, telltale droplets of saliva laying tracks into the corner of the car park. It was Gustav. I was certain. But this was a clear violation of the rules. Could I be wrong? That was out of the question. I was born to Hide-N-Seek. He was here; I knew it. I began to smell a rat.

“Hey, there!”

It was one of the guys with a dog. I pulled away from my quarry.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Find anything?” he asked.

“Nothin’.” I looked him straight in the eyes.

“Well, good luck.” His statement lacked sincerity.

“You too.” His dog began to sniff at my legs. I backed off, pushing the dog’s muzzle away from my crotch.

Like a bobwhite quail feigning injury when the hidden nest is threatened, I drew the seeker away from the lot. I walked back to the car, my blood boiling at such a violation of tradition and gamesmanship. The dog was in there. I knew it. The dog knew I knew it. I knew the dog knew I knew it knew. And it certainly knew that I knew it knew I knew. I had no other recourse than to return to headquarters and file a report.

As I entered HQ, Penelope Pitstop and Rufus Ruffcut were analyzing the board, sporting hot mugs of coffees. I asked who was in charge, but they were giving nothing away. I looked around for an office, but only found a room with tiny toilets and pictures of Hello Kitty washing her hands. I decided to break one of my own rules. I called a fellow seeker.

“Hey, 914. Where’s the organizer?” I asked, not wanting to waste time with idle chitchat.

“He’s out here somewhere,” she responded, guardedly. “I think he . . . oh, wait! He's been found! The dog's been found! Gustav’s here!”

The words hit me like a bad bout of the flu. My head dizzying, I demanded to know: “Where was he? WHERE?”

“In a fenced-off car park.”

I slumped to the ground, numb at the news. All thoughts of proudly raising the H-N-S trophy began to evaporate from my mind.

“Who found him,” I muttered in a dejected whisper.


My eyes widened. My nostrils flared. The dog was out of the compound, but the cat was also out of the bag”

“That’s impossible! He can’t have found the dog!” I exclaimed.

“Why not?” 914, a newbie to the game, was oblivious to article 9.12 of the rules.

“Because Maoman is the organizer. It’s HIS dog!” I yelled.

Penelope and Rufus stared at me in seeming disbelief. They didn’t understand. They just seemed glad that the dog was found. They would never make it on the tough streets where I grew up.

Soon the room was filled with elated searchers. Moments later the dog was carried in, like a hunted deer hanging from a pole. Maoman entered, elated. I pushed past him, but not before spitting at his feet. I turned before I left.

“The H-N-S Association will be getting a full report from me about this.” I declared angrily. “You know the rules Maoman. We’ve met in competition before. Back in Paris, for the 1996 ‘Ide ‘n’ Sick All-Star Championships. You never forgave me for beating you then, did you? Yeah, you got the trophy today, but I’ll see to it you never seek in this town again!”

He smiled knowingly, and was obviously enjoying the moment. He said nothing. I turned to the other competitors.

“You know nothing. You’re all losers! How are we going to make Hide-n-Seek an Olympic sport when you condone this kind of . . . malpractice! We’ll never draw big H-N-S names to Taiwan if this is how you want to play the game. Do you think Lord Lucan would want anything to do with this appalling staining of the beautiful game?”

The crowd stood silent, except for Gustav who was now romping happily with Muttley.

“Well, one thing’s for sure, hide-n-seekers: You’ve lost me!” I waved my hand in a dramatic, salutary good-bye. “You will never see me again! This world seeking champion wants no part of this! Farewell.”

I turned and tried to slam the door behind me. How was I to know it was a sliding door? I stormed defiantly down the street. Then I stopped. I looked left. I looked right. I raised my torch to my ear and shone it all around. I repeated the action more frantically.

I had no choice. I returned and knocked quietly on the HQ door.

I cast my eyes to the ground. “Can you guys help me?” I asked in a hushed voice. “I can’t seem to find my car.”

Stray Dog
1999 British Hiding Champion—six years and still unfound

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Being and Becoming Family

Last summer I got married officially. (I was married legally at a notary public the summer before, but until you exchange vows and rings, it's not really official, in my book.) My folks flew over from Canada, along with my sister's kid, Justin, and my brother flew in from the the US where he and his fiancee live. It was a great time. One of the things that I've always wanted to post was my dad's message to us at the church. (He was the one who married us.) Here it is, in English and Chinese:


A Wedding Meditation for Anthony and Vanessa

AUGUST 7, 2004, Taipei, Taiwan

This is a wonderful day, especially for you, Anthony and Vanessa, but also for your friends and families who are here to celebrate your love and the fact of the establishment of another family.

Anthony, your mother and I have known since you were a child just how important family is to you. Vanessa, we have known you for only a couple of years, but in that short time we have been delighted by your eagerness to enter into our family circle. We sense that the idea of family is very important to you as well, and we welcome you into our family with open arms and hearts.

Today you are publicly declaring to each other, to God, and to your families and friends that you wish to establish a new and a true family. It is most assuredly one of the most important things you will ever do.

The idea of family is a common one, and the term is often used rather easily and flippantly. We hear about the need to recover family values. Often this is nothing more than a narrow partisan or political agenda, and has nothing to do with what we're celebrating today.

But a genuine concern for the value of the family and all those values which contribute to strong families is of surpassing importance.

We don't have to look far to see the ravages wrought by weak families. Husbands and wives are diminished, children are devastated, communities are weakened. Far too many people don't value the family enough and are not prepared to commit themselves to the demands and discipline of being family.

Although I don't know what the situation is here in Taiwan, Statistics Canada reports that almost half of all Canadian marriages will end in divorce. Think of that! All those nervous grooms, all those radiant brides, standing side by side just as you are today, making their promises to each other, feeling that nothing can ever come between them. Almost half of them will some day stand alone in a lawyer's office or a divorce court, their hopes and expectations and plans and dreams shattered.

But there are also those others whose marriages continue happily year after year, growing and developing, weathering crises of illness, finances, employment, and sometimes, children! Anthony, 6 days ago your mother and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. During our engagement period, I often thought about how wonderful it would be to spend my whole life with her, to raise a family, eventually to welcome grandchildren into our circle, and to grow old with a person whom I love deeply, whom I trust completely and from whom I don't have to hide anything. I can tell you that being married to your mother has always been a wonderful experience, but never more so than right now, and both of us wish that same joy and fulfillment for the two of you.

Today you are saying yes to becoming and being a family, and all of us here are committing ourselves to supporting you in this great project.

Establishing a family is a huge responsibility, and we all do well to accept whatever wisdom we can from whatever source available. Dr. Maurice Boyd, senior minister for many years at Metropolitan United Church in London, Canada, has written a book of sermons entitled "A Lover's Quarrel with the World". In one chapter, a wedding sermon, he offers some suggestions for happiness at home.

The first thing is to realize that the happiness of at least two people is in your hands, you and your spouse. W. B. Yeats put it this way, "I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams". Look at each other often and think... that person, that life, is in my hands.

The second ingredient is to understand what Jesus meant when He said that when people marry they become one flesh. It means far more than just sexual union, although that is most certainly part of it. It means that your lives are completely intertwined; the well-being of one is inextricably bound up with that of the other. You are partners, not competitors.

A third ingredient is shared values. It doesn't mean that you will necessarily always be interested in the same things, but it does mean that you share the same basic ideas and ideals about life and our world and how we should live in it. Because the two of you come from vastly different cultural backgrounds, this may from time to time be a challenge in your relationship. This is where your friends are very important. Our social circle can be very helpful. This is how we test different ideas and how they work among the people whom we know and love. Certain truths you know, but they bear repeating. Relationships are more important than money; living modestly is better than wasting our planet's finite resources; old, time-honoured values have more durability than the trendy solutions offered by our sadly devalued 21st century.

Anthony and Vanessa, between the two of you, you represent two vast and ancient cultures and historical traditions. Search out the best in both of them, be critical of both of them, weigh carefully what both have to say, and make your life together a beautiful amalgam of two contrasting and yet complementary world views.

Finally, remember that where friends are concerned, we say "the more the merrier". But where a marriage is concerned, we say "two is company, three is a crowd". The great 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russell was a longtime champion of free love. But in his autobiography we discover a man who was consumed by anguish and jealousy and grief because neither he nor his partners could cope with the pain of the other's unfaithfulness.

One of the greatest gifts that a husband can offer to his wife, or a wife to her husband, is the gift of faithfulness.

In just a couple of minutes, when you are making your marriage vows to each other, you will speak the words "to love and to cherish". The Oxford Dictionary defines "cherish" as "to hold in one's heart". This is real intimacy, and is not to be taken lightly.

Earlier this afternoon, Maggie read St. Paul's description of love in his first letter to the Corinthians. That inspired poetry suggests that love is a passion, one of the most deeply-felt passions, and it leads always to compassion and empathy. Those too are important characteristics in a successful marriage.

I believe that when the most important things in life need to be expressed, poetry and music are better than prose. And so I want to conclude with a short excerpt from a book which Jeremy gave me for my birthday almost three years ago. Its title is "The Prophet". Kahlil Gibran, the 19th and 20th century Lebanese poet, philosopher and artist is the author. On the subject of love, he writes:

"Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love...

Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love; and to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving; to rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy; to return home at eventide with gratitude; and then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips."

Anthony and Vanessa, you are founding a new family. You are doing God's will. May your love grow ever deeper and stronger. And may you be surrounded by a community which cares for you as you care for them.

May God bless you richly as you build your new family together. Amen.