Part 1: The Art of Chinese Compliments…

You know the expression – “You can take the girl out of Taiwan but you can’t take Taiwan out of the girl..”?

Well, for someone who has grown up and lived most of her life in “the West” – and who is considered pretty Westernised -  I’m still often surprised by little things that crop up in everyday life which remind me how “Chinese” I still am, underneath it all.

Like a few days ago, when I upset several readers because I happened to mention on my dog’s blog that I find it really embarrassing to sing her praises – to others – in public, and struggle even to accept compliments about her, without always rushing to counteract with a catalogue of her faults or to “belittle” her good behaviour with an excuse (whereas others usually find reasons to excuse their dogs’ bad behaviours! ;-) ).

For example, while out at a cafe a few weeks ago, with a friend who wistfully compared my dog’s calm, quiet presence by the table with her own dog’s inability to settle, I rushed to “brush away” Honey’s good behaviour by claiming that it’s simply because she is much older. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it – the words were out before I realised – and it was only later that I thought to myself, “Why did I say that? Actually, it’s true that my dog shows impressively good behaviour compared to many others. And it’s certainly not because of her age – she has been able to settle calmly like this since puppyhood and it’s something to be proudly acknowledged. Why am so I embarrassed to do so?”

It’s simply not the Chinese way – we’re raised from the cradle to consider “modesty” one of the most important qualities ever to aspire to – and modesty in Chinese culture means never talking about yourself or yours in a positive way, or accepting compliments from others, without trying to “dilute” the compliment first.

In fact, in Chinese circles, this determination to be “modest” can reach almost comical proportions. Anyone who has ever worked, lived or married into a Chinese community will probably be familiar with the following scene:

Mrs Lee :  “Ah, your daughter so beautiful! Make you so proud!”

Mrs Wang :  “Oh no! Not really. She actually very ugly – just using some good make-up – ha! ha! You are the one proud – your daughter so clever! Top of the class!”

Mrs. Lee :  “Aya, no! Not at all! She quite stupid but she has good teacher.”

Mrs. Wang :  “Oh – I am sure is also because she has good mother like you, look after her so well. Your cooking so good!”

Mrs Lee :  “No, no, my cooking very bad! Just make very basic dishes. Nothing special. I don’t have good skill with my hands…not like you! So clever! My husband say your cake best he ever tasted!”

Mrs Wang : “Ah no, that is just because your husband so easy-going. So good temper! Not like mine – so fussy! Always complaining!”

Mrs Lee : “Oh no, your husband work very hard. Has very important job. So successful! You so lucky! Your new house so beautiful. You have very good taste – decorate so nicely!”

Mrs. Wang : “Aya – no, no, just I find some lucky things in the shop. But I never get good discount like you! You have great skill with bargaining!”

Mrs Lee : “Oh, no…”

(…and so on.)

I know – to a Westerner reading this, it sounds like a lot of ridiculous false modesty and fishing for compliments. But it really isn’t that at all. Each one is genuinely trying to deflect the compliment by “talking it down” – and then hurrying to return the compliment in kind. But why, you wonder, is it necessary to go through all this?

Well, I guess it’s just what is considered “acceptable response” to a compliment in different cultures. In the West, if someone were to say “You’re beautiful!” – it’s OK to simply say “Thank you” but you would be considered terribly conceited if you’d smiled smugly and said “Yeah, I know”. So similarly, in Chinese culture, simply saying “Thank you” to a compliment is the equivalent of that smug smile and arrogant agreement. Even if it’s true and the compliment is completely justified, you’re never supposed to just accept it without protest. (Well, there’s one exception to this rule – which I’ll tell you about in Part 2! ;-) )

(Oh, by the way, while Googling around, I came across a lot of pop psychology about ‘the inability to accept compliments’ being a sure sign of low self-esteem. Well, I can’t speak for every Chinese person, but I can assure you that my struggle to accept compliments is definitely not due to low self-esteem! ;-) Sometimes the reason isn’t always psychological but cultural.)

Cross-cultural marriage problems? ;-)

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Don’t get me wrong – Chinese people enjoy & welcome compliments just as much as the next person and they lavish them on each other. But they just have different ways of “accepting” it. So if you do ever compliment a Chinese friend – don’t be taken aback if they contradict you – and don’t overdo it. ;-) One token repeat after their first protest might be nice, just to really flatter them – but if you keep insisting on praising them (“No, really, your cooking is amazing!” “Seriously, you’re the best cook ever!” “No, it’s not the cookbook, you are just such a great cook!”…) , you’re simply embarrassing them and forcing them to keep coming up with more and more excuses to deflect your praise! :P

Of course, the Chinese mutual complimenting ritual only works when everybody knows the system. You need two to play the game. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of cultural misunderstandings and conversations like this! ;-)

Mrs. Lee : “Ah, your daughter so beautiful! Make you proud!”

Mrs. Jackson : “Oh thanks – yeah, she’s pretty awesome, isn’t she? And she’s top of the class too! I’m so proud of my baby girl. She’s just the best daughter any mother can have. Well, see you next week…” (walks away)

Mrs. Lee : (to herself) ‘What a conceited, boastful woman with no social sensitivity!’

(ETA: Oh, before anybody takes offence – I just want to clarify that I’m not saying Mrs. Jackson actually IS conceited & boastful. She’s probably behaving perfectly appropriately for a Western society…just perhaps not for a Chinese one! ;-) That’s why I said that it’s only when the cultures mix that problems arise…)

Growing up, I stood by and listened to a lot of conversations like the first one above, between my mother and her cronies, talking about me right over my head. Every Chinese kid is probably well used to being put down by their parents in public. :D Ask any of my Chinese friends and they’ll tell you similar experiences. I suppose most Westerners reading this are horrified at the thought of all the psychological damage caused by hearing your own mother call you “stupid” and more – (but hey, since everyone’s mother calls them “stupid”, it doesn’t quite have the same impact – ha! ha! ;-) ) – and yeah, I agree, it probably isn’t best for one’s self-esteem to listen to your parents criticise you so harshly. I suppose a “sensitive” child could really take it to heart – and I do remember moments during hormonal teenagehood (when I was always hovering on the brink of taking offence anyway! ;-) ) – when I was angry and hurt at my mother for talking about me that way.

But overall, those moments were few and far between, and I quickly learnt that she didn’t really mean it. It was just a social ritual. She never sat me down and told me so but – just like the way children learn the rules of grammar by listening and absorbing and understanding in context – rather than being specifically told a set of rules – so too did I realise that Chinese social interactions had far more complex layers of meaning than what was just being said.

In fact, without ever being specifically taught, as I grew up and started joining adult conversation, I slowly began to respond in similar ways, when necessary. It’s not an easy skill, you know – the ability to always find a negative side and talk down any good thing! ;-)

So yeah – while I never doubted that my mother loved me and was very proud of me, I knew she would never say so directly to others in public :P To many Westerners, who believe in lavishing praise on their children in public, this seems almost like a crime. In the West, there is a lot of fuss now about children growing up in hyper-critical environments and the negative effect this can have on their emotional development and self-esteem. This can certainly be true… (although by this reckoning, every Chinese child probably needs to see a shrink! ;-) )

On the other hand, I’ve also heard a lot of disapproval about the modern (Western) phenomemon of “over-praising” children for doing very little, just for the sake of bolstering their self-confidence. The way that competitions & events now give every child those ridiculous “Certificates of Attendence” for doing nothing other than turning up…and everyone behaving as if every child’s self-esteem needs to be on constant life support!

It isn’t that I don’t believe in rewards – anyone who has seen me train my dog, or teach students in the past, will know that I use rewards lavishly – but I agree with those who think that this phenomemon of “over-praising” children simply:

a) encourages arrogance & laziness and the tendency to “settle” for mediocrity, since you have to do so little to get recognition, and

b) makes a mockery of the few children who really do work hard and make an effort  – and thus deserve unique recognition.

What’s more, many believe that this form of “constant praise” actually creates a generation of children more fragile and vulnerable to the inevitable criticisms, disappointments and failures that life will later throw at them. If you grow up with everyone always telling you how wonderful you are, you just can’t cope when you suddenly don’t get that constant accolade.

Real strength of character comes from the ability to continue believing in yourself, even when those around you are putting you down – and that’s something, perhaps, that I’ve learnt better from my “harsh” Chinese upbringing. My self-esteem is not based on what others say about me but what I know about myself.

My mother always used to tell me that she deflected compliments and put me down in public so that I wouldn’t “get a big head” – but also as a form of “vaccination” for any negativity I might have to deal with later in life. Hey, if you can cope with your own mother criticising you to others in public, you can pretty much cope with anything! ;-)

And don’t worry – us Chinese kids did get compliments. Just from everyone else, not our own parents. You never praise your own but you’re always quick to praise others – and so since everyone is avidly complimenting everyone else, it all evens out! ;-)

I guess the best thing is a balance. Perhaps the Chinese way is too harsh and it would be good if Chinese parents could acknowledge their childrens’ achievements in public sometimes. And perhaps the Western way is too indulgent and it would be good if Western parents could make their children work a little harder to earn praise and be less reliant on others for their self-esteem.

As for me, I’m slowly learning about balance too. I am much better about accepting compliments now and even manage to receive a few with nothing more than just an embarrassed “Thank you”. I’m still squirming inside, of course, but at least I manage to bite my tongue on the protests and excuses. It’s easier on paper/online somehow – I find that I cope better with compliments in text than in person. Somehow it’s less embarrassing (after all, you read it in private and it’s not said out loud in public! :P )  and it’s easier to control the urge to deny or deflect and instead just write ‘Thanks for your nice words!

So if the Chinese have such a hard time handling praise coming from others, you can imagine how impossible it is for them to actually praise themselves…my struggle with that has certainly led to some awkward moments, as I’ll tell you in Part 2! ;-)

Of Gods & Temples…

My suitcase was finally shut, all the shopping crammed in; my passport and ticket ready for my flight home to Australia the next day. Now I was just looking forward to enjoying one more delicious dinner with my mother in one of Taipei’s wonderful restaurants…

But my mother had other ideas.

“We go do bai-bai,” she announced, as we were leaving the hotel.

“What?” I turned back to her, struggling to open my umbrella against the gust of wind that whipped down the street. Summer in Taiwan was typhoon season and the news had been warning everyone for days to brace themselves for a whopper of a hurricane to come. Already, the sky was ominous with black clouds and the air heavy with moisture. “What for? It’s going to rain soon – shouldn’t we just get to the restaurant quickly?”

But my mother would not be swayed. She had an appointment with Tu Di Gong, that she was determined to keep. Which is how I found myself ducking raindrops and dodging puddles 20 mins later, as we negotiated a maze of back streets and alleyways, to the little temple in our local neighbourhood…

OK, so in case you’re totally confused about what’s happening, I’d better give you a bit of background: ;-)

People often ask me what religion Chinese people follow and I always find that a hard one to answer. (No, we’re not all Buddhists, as a lot of people seem to think! ;-) ). In fact, with China being Communist, and the way “religion” was attacked & banned by the Communist regime, I guess the majority of Chinese people in the world is officially “secular”.

Taiwan – where I come from – is probably a better example, since it is a politically-free country where people can make their own choices. Taiwan has always been a melting pot of religions, due to its multi-cultural history and its climate of religious freedom. The native aboriginals practised ‘nature worship’, before the Dutch settlers brought Protestant Christianity to the island, followed by the Spanish conquerors promoting Catholicism when they in turn tried to take over the island. Later, the Japanese insisted on their Shinto religion for the population during their colonial reign of Taiwan but mostly, the island was converted to Buddhism and Taoism by the Han Chinese immigrants who flooded the island from neighbouring China.

One of the nice things about Taiwan, though, is that rather than being divisive and causing hostility, religious diversity has always been embraced by the people of the island. It’s pretty much, “You believe what you like and do what you like – and let me do the same.” :P

The beautiful Seashell Temple in northern Taiwan – a tiny temple in the hillside made entirely of shells and known as an architectural wonder of the world. It’s built into the hills and the inside is a maze of caves & tunnels, all covered from floor to ceiling in seashells. Although I have to say, walking through it feels a bit like you’re under the sea and you almost expect Ariel & her family to pop out any minute! ;-)

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In fact, people are so relaxed about religious diversity in Taiwan that they embrace it on a personal level too – meaning, they’re quite happy to believe and follow the teachings of several different “religions” at the same time. Combine the good things from all.

I know that might sound weird to people from other parts of the world where being of a certain faith means swearing exclusive allegiance to that particular “God” and any involvement in other beliefs is considered sacrilege. But this isn’t the attitude in Taiwan (nor many other countries of East Asia). What people call themselves “officially” often has very little to do with what they actually practise.

The “labels” aren’t so important. The focus is on living a moral life and being a “good person” – and you are judged by your actions, rather than by official membership of any particular religion (clique).

So if you want to combine beliefs and rituals from different faiths and religions to help you live life in a more moral way and become a “better person” – why not? :P

Oh sure, there are groups of “pure” Christians/ Catholics, Muslims, even Jews etc – but for most Taiwanese – no matter what “religion” they might list themselves as officially – what they’re really doing is following a blend of beliefs, based on a mixture of  Buddhist, Taoist & Confucian principles, folk religion and ancestor worship. In fact, it’s not unusual to find Taoist & Buddhist temples side by side in Taiwan (can you imagine a Catholic church standing right next to a mosque??) and in some cases, even under the same roof – as in the famous LongShan Temple, in Taipei.

My mother is a typical Taiwanese this way, happy to live by Buddhist principles of karma, humility and compassion for others, together with Taoist principles of  ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ – while at the same time popping into traditional temples every now and then to burn some incense and offer a prayer to Tu Di Gong (Earth God) – who looks after the fortunes of the common people. Not to mention, of course, calling on her ancestors regularly to bless and protect her family. It’s not unusual – whenever she is stressed or worried – to find her “talking” to my deceased grandfather, grandmother or great-grandparents – and lately, even my (step)father who passed away 2 years ago – asking them to look after us.

(The Chinese believe that your ancestors and departed members of your family are always watching over you and have influence over what happens to you. They can speak to the gods on your behalf and help you. It is very comforting for the Chinese to feel that there is always someone there, who has a vested interest in your well-being and who is always ready to listen to you whenever you need help or comfort. Sort of like a spiritual “Phone-A-Friend”…or in this case, “Phone-An-Ancestor”! ;-) )

Anyway, so when I was in Taiwan with my mother back in July, she was determined to take me to her little local temple the night before I flew back to Australia. Not only did she want to ask the gods’ protection for my safe flight home but she also knew that my husband was about to sit an important exam, as the last stage of his Fellowship training, and she wanted to ask the gods for their help in ensuring him a good result.

While there are many big, famous “official” temples around Taiwan – the ones on tourist checklists – owned and maintained by the government or various religious organisations, there are also many tiny little temples such as this one, wedged in amongst the residential blocks or even office buildings.

They’re actually privately owned (anyone can build & set up a temple, to worship the various Chinese gods) – and are open all the time, to provide a place where the local community can come and worship, medidate, pray, find peace, whatever – whenever they need to.

Each ‘little temple’ is usually owned and maintained by some local family wealthy enough to afford it, as a sort of “free community service” – because there is a strong tradition in Taiwan that if you are lucky enough to be blessed with wealth and prosperity, you should “give back” to others in the community. People may make annual pilgrimages to the bigger temples for the main festivals of the year but it is often at these little local private temples that they do most of their worshipping.

And a lot of the time, they’re praying to the “little gods” too, which goes totally against Western expectations. I mean, if you wanted help with something – you’d think that you’d apply to the big guy, right? Go to the biggest boss at the top, the one with the most power? But it doesn’t work like that.

The Chinese pantheon is very much modelled on the system of government in traditional Chinese society, with each god acting as a sort of bureaucrat responsible for certain aspects of life – and all of them reporting back to Tien Gong (God of the Sky/Heavens), also known as the Jade Emperor, who is the supreme ruler and oversees the administration of all the god-bureaucrats and their domains. (And in case you’re thinking of Zeus and his lightening bolts…in Chinese culture, a god’s strength comes not from his “magic” or some other fancy super-power – but rather from his “unending wisdom & benelovence.” The wiser and more benelovent the god, the more powerful he is.)

Some of the MANY gods in the Chinese pantheon…

So just as there is no point you writing to the Minister of Defence, if you wanted your local sewage system sorted – you wouldn’t bother praying to the Jade Emperor if you were worried about your kids fighting all the time. That’s the domain of the Kitchen God, who oversees all matters of home and family.

It’s ironic because it means that many of the lesser-ranking gods are far more important to the Chinese people and worshipped far more diligently, because they are more relevant to their every day lives. I guess it’s a bit like you spending more time befriending the IT guy in your office, rather than the CEO, because the former can do a lot more to smooth out troubles in your every day life! ;-)

The other thing about Chinese gods – especially the ones worshipped in everyday life – is that most of them used to be just like you and me once. See, in Chinese culture, gods are often not born into holiness – they are “made”. Through their own efforts of “gaining wisdom, helping others and practising benelovence”, they achieve the status of a “god”.

For example, the Kitchen God was once a man called Zhang Lang who was a bit of a jerk and left his lovely wife to run off with a younger model. As punishment for his adultery, he was struck blind and his young girlfriend ditched him,  leaving him to wander around as a beggar. Years later, while begging, he ended up back at his old house. Since he was blind, he didn’t realise that it was his wife who opened the door – but she took pity on him anyway, invited him in, cooked him a wonderful meal and looked after him lovingly (the woman deserves a medal…) – all this wonderful care made him start blubbing out his tragic story. When she heard how much he regretted what he’d done, the wife told him to open his eyes – and he found that wow, he could see again! But when he saw his wife sitting in front of him, he was so overcome with shame & remorse that he threw himself into the kitchen fire. (Hey, this is a Chinese story – you weren’t expecting a happy ending, were you? ;-) ) Well, actually, it does have a happy ending. The Jade Emperor took pity on the guy and forgave him, reuniting him with his wife and making him the Kitchen God – also known as the “Stove God”, because traditionally Chinese homes were all centred round the kitchen stove. His job is to protect the home and family – and once a year, on Chinese New Year, he returns to the Jade Emperor to make a report on each family.

I think the fact that a lot of their “gods” used to be human once and made mistakes and weren’t perfect and all-knowing & wise, etc…helps Chinese people have much more of a “personal” relationship with them – because they feel that these gods are much more willing to listen and not so quick to judge; that they really understand.

Anyway, so back to that little temple on a rainy evening in Taipei…

…well, we stopped at a corner shop on the way to pick up some biscuits – because, as my mother said, you never turn up at a temple without an offering of some sort. These are often fruit – but the gods like snacks and biscuits too. ;-) If you’re really keen, you can cook up a chicken or some other home gourmet meal to show your appreciation.

And if you’re wondering what happens to all this food…some of it is left there to be collected by the temple owners as a sort of “donation” (possibly redistributed to the needy) but sometimes it’s also taken home again to be eaten by the family, once it has been left there for a decent amount of time and the gods have had a chance to “eat” their fill. Well, it’s only symbolic after all and the Chinese are first & foremost a practical people – why waste good food? :P

(I supose to many Westerners and people from other cultures, the whole concept of an “offering” to the gods seems repulsive – almost like giving a bribe. But as I said, the Chinese are a very practical people and to them, their relationship with their gods is not one of being a servant or devoted follower who never questions “God’s will” – it’s a much more equal relationship of mutual respect and cooperation. Like I said, they see their gods much more like bureaucrats, each with responsibilities to fulfil. They worship and pay respect to their gods – but they also expect their gods to do their jobs. It’s a two-way street. A bit like you voting for your local MP or Senator and supporting their campaigns – but then expecting them to do their jobs, fulfil their promises and look after your interests, in return.)

Once the offering was placed on the altar, my mother lit a few sticks of incense and went outside first, where she could see the sky. There she bowed three times to pay her respects to Tien Gong (God of the Heavens). Although he wasn’t the guy she really came to see – he’s far too busy & high up & important to be dealing with small domestic matters – she still needed to acknowledge him first…

‘Tu Di Gong’

Then she went into the temple for her audience with Tu Di Gong – the Earth God – who is probably one of the most worshipped gods in Taiwan. He’s an old, white-haired guy, affectionately called “Grandpa” by a lot of Taiwanese, who looks after the well-being of the common people.

Traditionally, he looked after agriculure and since so much of Taiwan was a farming community, he was really important to the welfare of the villages. Nowadays, he is still worshipped and prayed to by most families – although he’s more likely to be dealing with problems of commuter stress and mortgages than drought and famine! ;-)

People often talk about going to temples to “pray” -  the Taiwanese call it “bai-bai” – but I don’t feel it’s really praying in the Western sense of the word because people aren’t usually reciting specific prayers, the way they might do in a church, say. My mother simply bowed with the sticks of incense and said quietly:

Tu Di Gong – have a look at my daughter. Her name is Hsin-Yi. She is 38 years old. She lives in Sydney, Australia. Please look after her and give her happiness, good health and prosperity. She is flying home tomorrow so please keep her safe. Thank you.”

The gods won’t hold it against you if you don’t use any formal phrasing or offer any proper prayers. It is ultimately your private “talk”  with them and there aren’t snobby judgements on “better” ways to communicate. She then repeated her request, this time giving all my husband’s details and asking about his exam.

By the way, there IS a specific ‘God of Students, Scholars and Examinations’ – with a dedicated temple of his own – and during the big college entrance exams every year, his temple is flooded with high school students asking for his blessing…so I suppose if we were doing things properly, we should have made a pilgrimage there, but since we were short on time, it was fine to ask Tu Di Gong instead. According to my mother, he could still take care of things. ;-)

Underneath the altar to Tu Di Gong, there was also a tiny little shrine to the Tiger God – a guardian god who wards off evil. So before we left the temple, my mother urged me to light a few sticks of incense for the Tiger God too, to ask for his protection during my upcoming travels…

I have to say, I wasn’t quite convinced the whole temple visit had paid off when I was sitting in the taxi on the way to the airport the next day and got a call from the airline to say that all flights had been cancelled because of the impending typhoon! So much for ensuring my safe journey home! I ended up stuck in Taiwan for an extra couple of days, waiting out the hurricane (which, OK, was not much of a hardship! ;-) – well, except for my poor husband who had been eagerly awaiting my return after several weeks alone).

My mother, however, was more than convinced that Tu Di Gong had done his job. He had kept me safe, which was all she had asked for. And I had to admit – as I watched news coverage of Typhoon Vincente from the safety of my hotel room – that maybe she was right. Labelled the Highest Tropical Cyclone Level 10, Typhoon Vincente had luckily missed Taiwan but bombarded Hong Kong, where I would have had to make a stopover on my way back to Australia. All transport had been suspended; shops & offices (and even the Stock Exchange) closed and thousands of trees uprooted as the typhoon tore its way across the island. People were literally blown off their feet as they struggled down the streets looking for shelter, clutching railings and lamp posts in desperation. Even if I had managed to leave Taiwan, I would have been stranded in Hong Kong Airport, for days, in the middle of a very dangerous hurricane…

And funnily enough, when I did finally get home (via a change of airline, to stopover in Singapore instead) – I heard that on that same day, Sydney had been enveloped by a freak fog, forcing all arriving flights to be diverted to Brisbane – three hours up the coast! So even if I had made it to Down Under, I would not have been able to come home – I would still have had a tortuous roundabout journey, waiting in Brisbane until the fog lifted, then finding a seat on a domestic flight to bring me back to Sydney…instead of which, I spent a nice couple of extra days in Taiwan, stuffing my face with more delicious food…not a bad exchange!

Oh – and by the way – my husband passed his exam with flying colours. So I guess Tu Di Gong came through on that front as well! :P

Hey, I wonder if there is a Chinese ‘God of Excess Baggage’? That would sure be a handy god to have on your side! ;-)

The mother, the cardboard box and the loot

So I’ve been telling you lots about my mother’s obsession with shopping. What I haven’t told you is that most of the time, she isn’t buying stuff for herself. What she really enjoys is buying things for others, specifically her children.

Now, it was easy to indulge her when we were all still living at home…but then we became independent and flew the nest to set up our own homes – in some cases, halfway across the world (moi! )…but that didn’t faze her. Oh no, my mother wasn’t going to let a little thing like me being married, earning my own income and living in different time zones, stop her from personally restocking my underwear collection.

Therefore, no matter where I am in the world (and I have lived in a fair number of places!), I will periodically receive a large cardboard box featuring the latest from my mother’s shopping expeditions. These include such wondrous items as:

  • one large drain plug for the kitchen sink (bloody hell, how big does she think my kitchen sink is? Does she think I live on a farm?)
  • a “super-absorbent” towel turban for my hair, together with a note full of complicated instructions on how to wrap my head after shampooing (er…ever heard of a hair-dryer?)
  • two mini-umbrellas (Sigh. These will have to join the other 8 she’s already sent me. Somebody please tell her it doesn’t rain that much in Australia?)
  • 6 cotton vests (cool, I needed some new vests)
  • two packets of instant noodles (yay, instant noodles! Oh, but yuck – I hate kimchi flavour; why can’t she ever choose something normal like beef or chicken?)
  • a weird ladle that has both holes and jagged sides (what do I do with this??)
  • one silk scarf with a note saying she got it on sale from a shop that was closing down (mm, nice colour)
  • a packet of green tea peanut candy (ooh, I like those!)
  • four pairs of “guaranteed anti-sweat socks” for my husband (hmm, wonder what’s a diplomatic way to present these to him?)
  • a stripey, pink polo-shirt for my husband (OK, this one I’m not even going to try)
  • strange, cushiony insoles with freaky “reflexology bumps” all over them (*cringe*)
  • several pairs of neon leggings with scary patterns (no way am I ever going to be seen dead wearing those)
  • a stack of “nice plastic bags” she’s saved, which I can re-use (Gah! Doesn’t she know I’ve got my own stack??)
  • some weird outfit which looks like a cross between an apron and a prom dress, in my size (huh??)
  • two giant mugs with camel heads instead of handles, which were on a ‘Buy-1-Get-1-Free’ promotion during the Dubai Shopping Festival (please, no more camel mugs…)
  • 10 huge, high-waisted panties à la Bridget Jones, with a note on how they will keep my stomach warm (*faint away*)

It was worst when she tried to buy clothes for me. As you can imagine, given our different personalities, my mother & I also have very different tastes in clothes (I don’t do weird, neon or anything resembling an apron). Which meant that her offerings usually resulted in conversations like this:

Mother: “Did you see that green dress I got for you? Do you like it?”

Me: “Er…um…well, sort of…uh…actually, no.”

Mother: “Why? But is very beautiful!”

Me: “Ma-Ma, it’s really…um…weird.”

Mother: “What weird? I see many girls wearing like this on the street.”

Me: “That’s different. This is…the wrong shape…and that colour…it’s like -”

Mother: “Aya! You are too fussy! You tell me you like green so I choose the green one. Very beautiful colour -”

Me: “Ma-Ma, that’s not green! That’s like vomit colour or something!”

Mother (continuing unperturbed): “- and nearly half-price! The girl told me 20% off but I bargain down to 40%. I got for your sisters also. Very good quality. 100% cotton. You never find like this anymore.”

Me (muttering): “Yeah, I wonder why…”

So. After several years of (weird) unwanted clothing being given up for adoption at local charity stores, I finally found the solution. I convinced my mother to stop buying clothes for me on her own and instead to “save up” her generosity until we were in the same country and could go shopping together. This way, I get to choose clothes I would actually wear and she isn’t denied the pleasure of buying things for me. Everyone’s happy.

OK, I admit it’s taken some effort and there have been some setbacks (the occasional cardboard box still arrives on our doorstep) but overall, it seems to be working.

The strain of holding herself back must be showing, though, because when we finally get together, like recently, in a shopping heaven like Taiwan, my mother is practically manic, tearing clothes off racks and shoving them at me, yelling “Buy this! Buy this!”

What doesn’t help is my slow, pedantic way of shopping – totally unlike her “grab-on-impulse, don’t-bother-to-try-it-on, buy-two-more-to-get-the-free-gift” technique.

Instead, I will ponder an outfit for ages, holding it up in front of the mirror and debating whether it will match anything else in my wardrobe, then trying it on carefully in the changing rooms (yes, I will queue) and inspecting my reflection from several angles, before finally putting it back on the rack and telling the shop assistant “I’ll think about it.”

(By this time, my mother is hopping around on one foot, frothing at the mouth and yelling, “Aya! Is nice! Just buy it! BUY IT!”)

I almost never buy anything on impulse and often return to inspect something several times before making the final decision. My motto is: “Put it back on the rack. Sleep on it. If you still love it tomorrow, then you might think about getting it…Or wait until the sale.”

It can drive my husband – who is much more a disciple of my mother’s school of shopping (“Get it now! It looks great on you! What if they run out of stock?”) – absolutely crazy as we return to that shop again on yet another weekend, “just one more time to check out that dress I’m thinking of buying…”. Hey, I don’t like to be rushed into decisions, you know. ;-)

But anyway, I’m pleased to announce that I broke with tradition this time in Taiwan and did buy a few things “on impluse” (meaning I only tried them on twice and bought them on the same day I first saw them)…and my mother was blissfully happy at finally being able to buy some clothes for me (that I would wear).

Aside from the dark navy dress you see me trying on in that picture above, here are some other things I got – what do you think of the new additions to my wardrobe? :P

…a floral, 1950′s style tea dress…

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…a pale blue top with pretty, ruffled sleeves…

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…several pairs of cropped jeans, combat chinos for walking the dog, tank tops and a few stripey T-shirts (oh, and one large pink hat)

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…a cute “baby-doll”, peasant-style top…

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…a pair of super-comfy, Croc flip-flops (again for walking the dog)…

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…and my favourite buy – another floral, vintage style dress complete with poufy skirt – which I’m calling my “Ming Vase” dress since the blue-on-white pattern reminds me of a Chinese Ming vase!

*and for the sharp-eyed among you, yes, I have finally caved and gone over to the Dark Side and gotten myself a ‘smartphone’! ;-) But that’s another story for another day…!

Surviving a Mother Marathon & back to Earth with a thump!

You know, whenever you come back from travelling overseas – even if it was not really for a “holiday” – there is always that moment when you thump back down to earth.

It’s true what they say about “a change being as good as a break” and even just being away from your usual mundane routines and in a “different” place tends to give everything a more – er – “exotic glow” ;-)  Maybe part of it is that you behave a bit differently, when away from home. I don’t know about you but I make much more effort when I’m “away” – I paint my toenails, put on make-up every day, actually wear dresses (as opposed to drool-covered trackpants and comfy, old sweatshirts) and even wear jewellery! I feel like a much more glam version of myself – doing much more glam things! ;-)

But maybe more of it is having to put everything – all your usual everyday stresses and duties – on hold for a while when you are away, whether you like it or not, and that in itself is so refreshing, even if you haven’t been lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in a tropical resort! :P

I certainly wasn’t expecting my recent trip back to Taiwan to be a holiday, especially as I would be spending most of the time in hospital looking after my mother, but I actually had a great time and enjoyed the ‘quality time’ I got to spend with my mother, in spite of the unholiday-like environment & circumstances.

OK, I have to be honest – living in the same room with your mother, is not for the faint-hearted a big challenge at times – especially as my mother & I are such different people, with completely different personalities, attitudes and habits.

I’m a lazy slob, happy to leave the unwashed dinner dishes till morning whereas she is a neat freak who can write a manual on the number of times you need to flush vegetables with water to get them really clean.

I’m a cynical, cold-fish who analyses and plans everything with logical precision whereas she is an emotional drama-queen with a soft heart who always loves first and asks questions later.

I like quiet, alone time and express myself best through writing – whereas she is a social butterfly who is happiest chattering to an audience.

She thinks tearful family sagas and cheesy romantic comedies are the ultimate in entertainment whereas I groan at the thought of having to endure another “selfless-mother-dying-of-cancer-whose-ungrateful-son-finally-realises-his-wrongs-and-cries-buckets-while-also finally-proposing-to-the-cute-neighbour-girl-who-has-been-patiently-waiting-for-him-all-this-time…” (GAG ) :-? . Give me a serial killer thriller or X-files monster mystery any day.

So, put all this together in a room, 24/7, for a few weeks and you’ve got a pretty explosive combination! ;-)  Plus it doesn’t help that even though you’re just 2 years short of 40, mothers still always treat you like you’re 14 and constantly lecture you give you ‘suggestions’ on how to live your life.

And since we’re both strong personalities, we’re not afraid to have a yelling matcher, express our opinions! :D Especially in Taiwan, which can still be very traditional in its attitudes at times, I think many of the nurses were shocked at my “unfilial” behaviour – for daring to even disagree with my mother, never mind argue with her passionately!

But in my family, we’ve always believed in “better out than in” – if you want peace & quiet and polite, restrained behaviour, you don’t come and stay at our house! ;-) We yell a lot, get very loud, wave our arms around and then it’s all over and forgotten :P

Me: “What do you mean? I never said that -”

Mother: “Aya! You never listen what I say -”

Me: (gasp) “ME? YOU are the one who -”

Mother: “I DID NOT. YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME -”

Me: “NO! YOU NEVER LISTEN ME!”

Silence.

Mother: (noticing the hotel directory) “Oh! You see they have Shanghai restaurant here? Do you want to try for dinner?”

Me: “Really? I love the cucumber pickles! And do you think they have those crispy frog leg things I really like…?”

Well, at least we can usually agree on food! ;-) No, seriously, it may sound nasty and awful but actually, my mother and I have a very good relationship. In fact, all my brother & sisters, family members love each other and are one big warm, happy family…but that doesn’t mean that we don’t argue and fight and yell at each other a lot!! :lol:

So yeah, all in all, I had a good time and really enjoyed myself, especially as my mother’s early discharge from hospital and rapid recovery meant that I had an unexepected few extra days in Taipei, at the end, to do some “fun stuff” (and my poor mother could finally get her shopping fix! A bit of double knee surgery was not going to stand in her way when there’s a good sale on! ;-) Actually, a lot of our “fights” stemmed from me trying to get her to slow down and be sensible & careful – a tough ask for someone who has always been very independent & full of energy, easily able to do tons…getting her to learn to “take it easy” (at least for a few months post-surgery) was a big feat!)

But all the fun & good times did mean that it was even harder making the transition back…!

From this…

…to this!

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From this…

…to this!

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From this…

…to this!

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From this…

…to this!

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From this…

…to this!

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But of course, there are some things that make it wonderful to come back home.

Such as this…

…and this…

…and this!

Scooters & Shopping in Taipei…!

There are a few things that always tell me I’m back in Asia: that wall of humid heat which smacks you in the face like a warm, wet hand;  the general hubub of noise that fills the air beneath the jungle of flashing neon signs; the tantalising aromas of exotic dishes wafting out from street hawker stands and restaurant doorways, and the sheer number of bodies crowding the streets – what the Chinese call “people mountain, people sea”…this is definitely not the place for those with “personal space” or claustrophobia issues! ;-)

Oh, don’t get me wrong – Chinese people do value & respect personal space. But the Asian concept of personal space can be very different from a Western one. You might think that’s an odd thing to say after just hearing me rant – a few posts ago – about the Asian aversion to hugging, etc. – but that’s a bit different. That’s to do with physical demonstration of affection. Standing really close to someone in a queue or a lift is not the same as hugging & kissing someone in public – although funnily enough (to us!) most Westerners find they’re more comfortable doing the latter than the former! ;-)

In Taipei, (the capital of Taiwan) it isn’t just the number of people you have to contend with but also the number of motorbikes & scooters! Swerving round corners, darting through traffic, roaring past you in small alleyways… (and yes, also polluting the air with fumes…)

A typical sight at Taipei road intersections…waiting for the green light!

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…or neatly lining the roadsides in rows, like an army of silent drones…

People love them for their convenience, low petrol consumption, their ability to squeeze down narrow alleyways, their easy parking and their speed weaving through traffic jams – you often see whole families perched haphazardly on the back of one scooter. Even Taiwanese dogs have learnt to get around on 2 wheels! :P

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The other thing about Asian cities is the plethora of shops spilling out of every street corner, subway tunnel, train station, back alley, memorial park, temple, doghouse, toilet…(ok, I’m exaggerating a bit but you get my drift – they can find a way to squeeze a shop in just about anywhere) – all to cater to that great Asian obsession: Shopping.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? Everyone goes shopping.” Nuh-uh. Not like this. We’re not talking about shopping as an occasional leisure activity – oh no. Shopping in Asia is practically a religion and is practised with the fervour of an Olympic sport. And my mother is a multiple Gold Medalist.

I don’t know about you but I’m a bit of a “mood shopper” – in that I have to be in the right mood to feel like shopping. Otherwise, I can walk past racks of beautiful clothing and shoes with barely a flicker of interest. My mother, on the other hand, would probably stop her hearse and climb out of her coffin if she passed a shop with the letters ‘S-A-L-E’, on the way to her own funeral.

Her appetite for shopping is insatiable and her ability to get a discount legendary. Watching her negotiate, with a purse and a smile, is like watching a skilled predator at work. I wish I had even a quarter of her bargaining skills but – like a typical “banana” – I carry too much Western awkwardness and embarrassment about bargaining to ever do more than hesitantly ask if there might be the possibility of a discount…perhaps…please? They see me coming a mile away and give me the same treatment that all naïve Westerners deserve, ( ie. they fleece me ). ;-) Any time I’ve been let out to wander the shops of Taipei on my own results in my mother inspecting my purchases upon my return, glowering and saying incredulously, “You paid what??”

Of course, anyone who has been to Taiwan knows that often the best buys are not found in the swanky department stores and shopping malls but right on the side of the street. Known as “Lu Bian Tan“, these are little temporary “shops” that spring up along the roadside, especially in the evenings. After all the official department stores have shut their doors, hard-core shoppers can get another couple of hours in patrolling the little blankets laid out on the sides of the pavements, selling everything from shoes to kitchen knives, ballgowns to home-made rice buns…

Setting up shop on the side of the street is officially illegal and most “shop keepers” have their wares laid out on blankets, so that they can easily grab the corners to bundle up their goods and make a quick getaway if a policeman is sighted. But to be honest, this has been going on for so long and is so much part of the everyday culture of Taiwan that most policemen turn a blind eye (and probably have a browse themselves when they go off-duty! ;-) )

I love Lu Bian Tan. Everything is CHEAP, the variety is enormous and I’ve gotten some pretty amazing things – things that people have admired and asked me where I got it from, only to be disappointed when I explain that it’s one-of-a-kind and not available in stores.

Here’s a dress I got a couple of years ago when out roaming the streets with my mother late at night…and everyone who has seen me wear it thinks it’s from some expensive, designer store! ;-)

It isn’t just the goods on offer that makes shopping in Taiwan so amazing – it’s the service too. Asia is renowned for its service culture – and Taiwan, with its heavy Japanese influence from 50 years of colonization, excels at “(thoughtful) service with a (beaming) smile”

They really fall over backwards to make things easy for you. If they don’t stock your size or preferred colour, no problem – they’ll find it from another branch in the country and courier the items over for you the next day, free of charge. Trousers too long? Dress too big? No problem, many stores come with an in-house tailor who will do alterations on the spot, again free of charge.

As for discounts…I laugh when I walk around Western shopping malls making a song & dance about “20% off”. That wouldn’t even get you in the door in Taiwan. When serious sales start here, we’re talking 50% off or sometimes even more. My mother would consider anything less an insult. And if there really are no official promotions running, most shop girls will use their employees card to at least get you a 5% or 10% discount, if you ask nicely. You should never have to pay full price, if you “know the ropes”! ;-)

Admittedly, sometimes the “service”  in Asia can come across a bit overwhelming to those used to the Western style of shopping.

I used to be terrified of walking into a clothes shop in Taiwan because you could never say “I’m just browsing” to a bored shop assistant who’s more interested in their next coffee break than in helping you (a common scenario in the West)….

Oh no. You would be instantly accosted by a beaming shop girl the minute you stepped in the door and followed around the store, inundated with suggestions of what to try and what to buy. Some shop girls could be downright aggressive and if you dared try something on and not buy it, they would act like you’d killed their first-born child. It used to really put me off.

But I’m happy to say that in recent years, Taiwan has changed a lot in this respect – perhaps it is due to increasing Westernisation (although Taiwan remains one of the least Westernised countries in Asia: it is modern and cosmopolitan but not “Westernised” the way Singapore or even Hong Kong is) - or perhaps it is simply the change in attitudes with the younger generation but you can usually walk into most stores now and be left alone to browse if you wish. When you do need help, you will still get that wonderful service.

Of course, there’s a downside to all this awesome shopping…how on earth am I going to carry everything home without paying excess baggage?? ;-)

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Meanwhile back at the hospital…

My mother’s continuing to make great progress with her recovery (to be honest, I think the hardest thing about being in hospital for her is not being able to SHOP! ;-) ) but to stop myself writing HUGE, long posts again, I’ll give you all a proper update in the next post!

ps. Unlike some other parts of Asia (eg. Singapore), Taiwan does have 4 seasons so it doesn’t always have to feel like you’re stepping into a sauna. In fact, the northern parts of the island (like the capital, Taipei) can get distinctly chilly in winter, with temperatures dropping down to 2°C (35° F) and snow up in the mountains. So the best times to visit are Spring & Autumn and avoid the hot, humid summer months of Jul/Aug if you can! :P

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s my mother…

Hospitals are creepy places at night. All those long, empty corridors and eerily-lit wards; the faint murmur of unseen conversations and the occasional squeak of footsteps hurrying down the linoleum…it’s little wonder that anyone with an over-active imagination can churn out a host of medical thrillers and dramas for books & TV…

As you can probably guess, am sitting writing this in hospital. Thanks for all your lovely good wishes for my mother – her surgery went very smoothly yesterday and she’s recovering well now.

She was lucky in that it wasn’t “major” surgery – because her knees hadn’t deteriorated into a really bad state yet. But she was getting chronic pain every time she bent them – such as climbing stairs or kneeling or squatting down (although walking around was OK) – and the orthopaedic surgeon explained that if she left things, she would be heading for complete artificial knee replacements in a year or two.

Whereas with this lesser procedure now, they could “repair” some of the damage caused by osteoarthritis and hopefully enable some of the cartilage to regenerate and heal – and therefore hopefully avoid the replacements altogether as well. Fingers crossed!

Getting to this hospital was quite an adventure in itself. After a hectic weekend in Taipei (with my mother intent on making the most of every last moment of mobility before the surgery!) – which I’ll tell you all about soon (and yes, I promise lots of pictures of “yummies”! ;-) ) – we boarded the Taiwan High Speed Rail to head down south to Chiayi…

My only other experience of high speed trains was taking the TGV in France last year and I was even more impressed this time. We covered about 300km in 1.5hrs and the journey was whisper-quiet, with comfy, roomy seats and slick, modern toilets similar to those on big airplanes.

In fact, I think the Taiwan trains are better than the French ones as they are all on one level – whereas the French TGV trains we took were double-decker. This meant that if you hadn’t known in advance to specify a seat on the lower level (like us!) you had to struggle up a narrow flight of stairs to get into your compartment, which is a nightmare if you’re carrying several pieces of big, heavy luggage (and you only have a few minutes to get off or on at each stop!).

I did get a good chuckle, though, when I noticed the “in-train magazines” similar to the inflight magaines on airplanes selling duty-free goods. Trust the Chinese not to pass up a chance to do some shopping! ;-)

Although it was certainly not your usual array of duty-free goods on offer…

…yup, you saw right. Apparently, Taiwanese travelers have greater ambitions than simply lugging home a few bottles of perfume or whiskey – why not throw in some chicken feet or a whole roast duck while you’re at it? ;-)

We arrived at the Buddhist Tzu-Chi General Hospital early afternoon and I was really impressed – not only by the elegant building and surrounding gardens (more reminiscent of a grand museum!)  but also by the warm welcome and efficient organisation of the Buddhist volunteers that met us at the front entrance.

My mother was whisked off for her pre-op checks & tests and then we were shown to our room, which is far more lovely & spacious than I expected.

Her surgery was booked for early yesterday morning and I was directed to wait in a special “Relatives Waiting Area” outside the Operating Theatre during her operation…a slightly surreal experience, especially as it seems to be common practice in Taiwan to wear “hygiene masks” in public places, so I sat surrounded by strangers all looking like extras from ER! ;-)

The whole concept of a “Relatives Waiting Area”‘  outside the Operating Theatre seemed quite odd to me too. I had never encountered it before – do you have it in your countries?

In Australia & NZ (and the UK too), relatives are usually notified on their phones that the patient is out of surgery & in recovery, and usually meet them on the wards, I think…(in fact, my husband assures me that relatives would normally never be allowed anywhere near the operating theatres, unless there was a good reason, such as parents of a young child or the need for an interpreter)

…whereas here we all sat in rows of seats outside the OR doors, waiting for each patient to be finished and wheeled out on their gurneys, with a nurse yelling: “Mr Lee’s relatives!” – whereupon Mr Lee’s family members would rush forward to claim him and walk with his gurney through the hospital, up to his room/ward.

Perhaps it speaks of a culture where ‘family‘ is still so dominant and prevalent – that they make that assumption when calling out – because I would imagine in the West, you would be just as likely to be accompanied by friends as family…

Anyway, my mother sailed through it all with flying colours. If you ever met my mother, you would know that she is a great character. She is absolutely irrepressible and can usually be found talking at 100mph to total strangers, whilst manically feeding her HUGE appetite for shopping. (The night before her surgery, she was wandering around the hospital lobby, looking for any hospital shops she could check out…!)

So I wasn’t surprised to hear that she apparently chattered to the surgeon non-stop throughout the whole procedure (bet he wished he’d put her under instead of just giving her an epidural! ) and was wheeled out of surgery bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, by a nurse who looked more traumatised than she did! ;-)

She did come down to earth a bit when the anaesthetic wore off and she could feel her legs again – and the pain!

But you know my mother: she is a powerhouse. Nothing stops her. Within a few hours, she was trying to get to her feet and hobbling around with her walker, determined to get to the toilet herself, refusing painkillers and tackling all the physio exercises with gusto. And of course – (hey, this is MY family you’re talking about ;-) ) – demanding food!

When the surgeon came in to check on her that evening, he could barely get a word in edgewise as she proceeded to tell him how well the operation went! ;-)

Today, she has been charging around with her walker like a senior citizen on speed (at this rate, she’ll be trying to join the London Olympics by next week) – I actually think the biggest problem is going to be holding her back in the next few months, to allow her wounds to have a chance to heal properly!

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ps. for Melanie and all those who were wondering what I was eating in my last post, it was a Mos Burger – a sort of Asian version of McDonalds, where the ‘rice burger” buns are made of rice pressed together and the fillings are things like thinly-sliced, yakiniku beef and Hainan chicken (you can get normal bread bun versions too or – for the really calorie-conscious – burgers wrapped in nothing but lettuce!) – and the best thing is that the burgers are always cooked to order. So they’re always fresh and piping hot.

It’s a Japanese company and sadly, most of the outlets are across Asia in places like Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong…they’ve just opened one store in Australia – which happened to be in Brisbane the year we moved away! :roll:

* ETA: For all those following Honey’s blog – I’m sorry but the website seems to be down at the moment! :-( Has been down for almost 4 days now! Have put a message on our Facebook page but I know some of our blog friends are not on FB so thought I’d put a note here too.

Honey’s blog is self-hosted (unlike this one, which is a free blog hosted with WordPress) and we’re with Dreamhost, which seems to be having a problem with their server. They’ve sent me notifications & updates but so far, seem to still be unable to fix things. Very frustrating. I haven’t been able to get into Honey’s blog myself either for days! Just hope they fix it soon...

ALL FIXED NOW! :D

Overwhelmed, overseas and unplugged!

Well, I’m currently about 38,000 feet above ground as I’m writing this – according to the inflight flight tracker screen in front of me – halfway between Australia and Hong Kong, where I’ll change planes before heading on to Taiwan.

Yup, I’m heading back to the “mother country” – to be with my own mother, actually. Those of you who follow Honey’s blog will know that my mother needs to have double knee surgery and has opted to have it at a hospital specialising in the procedure, which happens to be in south Taiwan, in a little town called Chiayi.

My mother actually lives in Dubai most of the time but when it comes to “important stuff” like her health, she prefers to go back to where they speak her first language and where she feels more secure & in control. And the little island of Taiwan doesn’t just make lots of plastic products, soup dumplings and laptops, you know – it also boasts some of the top medical experts and advanced equipment in the world. ;-)

So she’ll be in good hands. But she would have also been alone in hospital for a while and then recovering in a hotel in Chiayi…so I’m on my way to join her, to deliver a bit of company & TLC.

I haven’t seen my mother for nearly a year – which is actually pretty good going, considering that usually, I probably don’t see her for 2-3yrs at a time. One of the sad realities of having family scattered across the globe and in particular, of emigrating Down Under…You really are at the end of the world out here and tickets back to anywhere are EXPENSIVE and journeys are LONG. Which adds up to fewer family reunions, more Skype chats and a greater appreciation for “family time”.

Having said that, I’m going to be sharing a room with my mother for the next 2 weeks – first at the hospital, then at the hotel, and much as I love my mother, I think spending two weeks with her 24/7 is going to really test my “appreciation for family time”! ;-)

Anyway, I’m sorry this isn’t much of a witty, literary post with cute photos and funny stories – I just wanted to check in & say hello to all the wonderful, loyal readers on this poor, neglected blog who still come here to support me – despite me being such a lousy, unreliable, sporadic blogger here.

I do have a decent excuse for my long silence here, though – what with the chaos of the last few weeks and preparing for my trip…it’s great having lots of exciting things happen but why do they always have to all come at the same time?!  Children’s writing course, blogging conference, sponsorship on Honey’s blog, starting a novel, website problems, rental agent woes, exasperating pet mischief (details to come on Honey’s blog!) and emergency power cuts, to name a few – plus keeping on top of the 6,712,485 daily messages from friends, fans & social media – not to mention trying to stock our freezer with home-made “ready-meals” so that I feel less guilty about leaving husband to fend for himself just before a big exam…

I keep thinking of so many things I want to blog about here – little stories I want to tell or thoughts I want to share – but just never get the time. But hopefully things are going to change because I’ve sorted out Honey’s blog for the next couple of weeks with some pre-written “advance posts”, to keep thing ticking over while I’m away (another reason I’ve been madly busy – it takes a lot to say “Here’s one I made earlier”!)…which means that I’ll be free to moonlight here while I’m away! ;-) So look out for (hopefully more frequent!) updates here on my adventures in Taiwan…

And I’ll finish by saying that my flight’s going pretty well so far. I’ve had a great inflight meal, spent 2 hours with Sean Connery & Nicolas Cage reliving their escapades in ‘The Rock’ (great film! One of my all-time favourites! And phwaoor! That Sean Connery makes “senior citizen” seem like a sexy ambition…) and another hour with my nose buried in the latest trashy mag, devouring all the sordid little details of Tom & Katie’s divorce.

I picked an aisle seat in the middle block and am really lucky that the plane is fairly empty and the 3 seats next to me have remained unclaimed…which means I’ve had the luxury of stretching out.

The real luxury, though, in a way is not having access to the internet. For the first time in weeks – months – I’ve had to *stop* and get off the wheel. I can’t get online; I can’t tackle my ‘To Do’ list; I can’t get on my mobile; I can’t take photos…I have literally been forced to “check out” for the duration of this 9hr flight – and it feels wonderful. To finally slow down and take a bit of “me-time” where I’m doing things just because I want to and not because I ought to. No work. No blogging. (Well, OK, I’m writing this post now on my netbook but hey, you can’t expect a girl to go completely cold turkey, right? ;-) )

You know, I was always horrified at the idea of those eco-resorts where they don’t let you have access to phone, email, internet, etc – no gadgets or technology for your stay. The thought would make me break out in a cold sweat. But now I’m beginning to think that being forced to “unplug” yourself for a while might be a good thing after all.

And on that note, I’m off to get another bag of roasted peanuts and sample some more inflight entertainment…see you in Taiwan!

ps. in case you’re wondering, I published this post after we landed and I got online again!

Your mother’s daughter…

You thought that picture was me, didn’t you? ;-)

Actually, that was my mother over 40 years ago, when she was about 20yrs old. Yes, we look scarily alike. All my life, I’ve had people tell me that I look exactly like my mother…which was fine with me, as long as they didn’t tell me I WAS exactly like my mother!

Especially as a teenager keen to establish my definitely-unique-absolutely-original self, I was determined to be a completely different person from my mother. I swore I would never do any of those frustrating, embarrasing things she does – like ask the grocer to bring out his box of fresher cherries from the back of the store so she could pick out the best ones or make you pose for cheesy family photos on holiday or insist that I wipe my face with a hot towel when I’m tired, to “perk me up”…

I spent most of my 20′s manically proving to everybody (and myself) how different from my mother I was. And I thought I succeeded. But recently, I’ve started noticing some disturbing things…

Like the way I never throw away a plastic bag…

(Echo: “Aya! Why wasting money buy plastic bag? Just keep all free one nicely“)

…but always fold it along its seams and add it to a carefully cultivated collection, sorted into Plastic (big & small), Paper, Fancy (for use when visiting people and giving them gifts) and Supermarket (for use as bin liners).

Ah, life may throw me many challenges but I will never be without a plastic bag perfect for any occasion. ;-)

Then there’s the way I can’t fall asleep, even in blisteringly hot weather, unless I have some kind of covering over my stomach…

(Echo: “Aya! Cover stomach! Otherwise cold air go inside belly button – get sick!”)

…and now, after 15 years of marriage, I’ve got my husband panicking as well if his stomach isn’t covered by a sheet or blanket when the lights turn out. ;-)

Then there’s the way I carefully unwrap every present, so as to save the wrapping paper & ribbons for re-use (Echo: “Aya! Don’t waste money buy wrapping paper! Just keep nicely and use again!”) and cut up scrap paper into neat piles to use by the telephone as a DIY notepad (Echo: “What for buy notepad from shop? Don’t waste money! Can make yourself!”) and of course, the way I cut open tubes of face cream & hand cream so that I can scrape out every last drop (Echo: “Aya! So much still inside! Don’t wasting money buy new one”)…

(You’ve probably figured out by now that in Chinese culture, ‘Wasting Money’ is the No. 1 cardinal crime :P )

The day I found myself chasing my tired husband around our house with a steaming towel in my hand, pleading with him that it would help him feel better…I realised I had to face the truth. Oh my God. I have turned into my mother.

In fact, it gets worse. One thing that drives my husband nuts is my – ahem, “relaxed” attitude to expiry dates. Every so often, he will perform a strip search through our pantry, fridge and freezer, holding up old cans and boxes in horror, with me protesting, “Oh, but the expiry’s only 2008 – that’s like only – well, 4 years ago…”

…but I never thought much of it until recently when I remembered my mother telling me a story about my grandmother who loved to hoard and “keep” things, regardless of their expiry dates. As long as they were in the fridge, she thought they would be OK. (She even kept a pair of my dead grandfather’s shoes in the fridge.)

And the awful realisation dawned on me. Not only was I turning into my mother but I was even turning into my grandmother.

Well, I guess that’s it. There’s no hope for me now. Good thing my husband gets on so well with my mother and likes her so much – ‘coz it looks like in another 10 years, he’s going to find himself married to her.

So tell me – are you your mother’s daughter? Do you catch yourself (despite all your efforts) doing & saying things now that your mother always used to say? ;-)