2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

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February 6, 2013

I think the calendar is getting screwed up again, or my recollection of time passing is a lot more warped than I thought.

When I was much younger, growing up in London and in elementary school, we used to have something called winter vacation.  I’m sure that my friends and family back home can attest to the fact that indeed, this event still occurs each and every year.

I have clear images of my father, my two brothers and I, turning the back yard on Elias Street into a skating rink.  The hours of dragging that huge wooden beam around the yard. Then the countless hours of watering and freezing our noogies and hands to the bones.  Eventually, the time came when we actually had a bonafide skating rink!

If memory serves me correctly, all this snowfall and freezing temperatures occurred in perhaps late November until about the end of February.  By then, it was getting warmer, and watering the rink became more like watering the grass.

I can remember some Halloweens where it was very, very chilly going out trick-or-treating.  The weather was getting colder, and the first real snowfall that would last, usually came in November.

As time went on, and I got older and moved to Ottawa, there were a few years where the first snowfall would indeed occur before Halloween.  Granted, it wouldn’t last long, but the mere fact that Ottawa is a bit farther north than London, gave reason to realize that winter would seem to come earlier.

Towards my final years in Ottawa though, the old joke about Ottawa having 3 months of summer and 9 months of winter, no longer held true.  There were a couple of Christmases where there was just a smattering of wet snow on the ground.

When I was speaking with my family this Christmas from Taiwan, I was told that, being Christmas and New Year’s, there was hardly any snow on the ground.  My parents mentioned and uploaded pictures of a snowfall at their home.  My friend Gary on the east coast, mentioned that they got a ‘blizzard’ of sorts.  However, a week later, the grass was showing again.

Then I see a news article posted on Yahoo.ca, indicating that Southern Ontario could receive 5-10cm of snow, Central Ontario 10-15cm, and places like Kingston and Brockville could see upwards of 25cm of the white stuff.  Ottawa through Montreal, back to 5-10cm.

Last week I saw articles posted on Yahoo.ca about a huge pile-up of cars on the 401 in Southern Ontario – not too far north of London.

At the rate the weather seems to be heading, don’t be surprised if in a few more years, Canada will be having hot and humid ‘winters’, and snowy cold summers.

From what I kind of remember from my history lessons, whatever culture first developed the calendar, originally had it divided into 10 months.  September was originally the 7th month, October the 8th, November the 9th, and December the 10th.  Each of these being what, the Latin for 7, 8, 9, and 10?  If I’m wrong, someone please refresh my mind.

Over time, it was apparent that the rising and setting of the sun, the changing of the seasons, etc., was just not falling in line with the calendar.  Days needed to be added.  Two more months were then added – July (for Julius Caesar) and August (for Augustus Caesar).  Changes had to be made again and that was how we ended up with February having only 28 days.  Then, as technology was able to accommodate, it was again discovered that we needed a leap year.  So, every four years an extra day was added.  Then someone said that Earth revolves around the sun at about 365.24 days.  Now, every thousands or so, when it should be a leap year, there is no leap year.

Perhaps this is why the seasons and changes are seeming to be screwed up.  Then again, there are those on this planet who attribute the screwy weather to global warming, and the depletion of the ozone layer, and over-industrialization, and countless other reasons.

Whatever the reasons, having grown up in Southern Ontario, even though I’m not a big fan of snow and ice and all that crap, there is something ‘magical’ about living or having lived in a region of the planet where I could truly say, we experienced four distinct seasons.

I’m sure my parents and their parents could describe in more detail, what the four seasons were like for them growing up.  As a young person, I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  Reading her accounts of growing up in the prairies and the hardships, again, it just seems to have been a ‘magical’ time.

I can remember shovelling our walkways and driveway, and those of neighbours, to the point of having nowhere to put the snow.  I remember walking along the snowbanks along the side of the roads (much to the chagrin of our parents), to and from school.  I remember tobogganing down the hill across the street from St. Joseph’s Hospital in London.  I remember the white-outs and blizzards and power outages while living in Granton.  I remember my first Christmas in the Laurentien Mountains in Quebec, not far from Ottawa.

Although, as I said, I’m not one for snow and cold weather, these memories will last a long time.  Enjoy the snowfall, Ontario!  Soon, it will be hot and humid, and you’ll be wishing for a cold night snuggled up with your down comforter again!

That’s it, that’s all… for now!

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February 5, 2013

To continue February 4th’s entry, there is another part of this entry regarding Taiwan’s new money.

Okay, so I woke up around 5am, got in line at the bank at 6am, waited until 10am when the bank opened, and finally got my one coin set about a half hour later.

At this point, I also didn’t know that the circulation currency for the new year is not issued until almost the end of that year.  As I was only able to purchase one proof set, I had an alternate idea.

2012 (August) marked my 10 years in Taiwan teaching English.  I had been to the Bank of Taiwan several times to purchase rolls of uncirculated 10nt pieces.  Each time I went there, I was told the coins were not available.  Again, it was a bit impossible to clearly state what I was wanting, and to get an answer, so I would just give up and go about my day.

This time, since the new coins were issued, I figured I would have a chance to get these coins on the day of issue.  The staff member seemed to understand what I wanted, and sold me two rolls of uncirculated 10nt coins.  I was ecstatic!  Considering I did have a sample roll from a previous year, he did seem to know what I was looking for.

Once I got home, I looked at the date on the rolled coins, and noticed that the date was for year 99 (this is year 102).  These rolls were from 3 years ago!  Here we go again…

The next day, I went back and tried (in vain) to explain once again what I was looking for.  He seemed to be upset with me, and decided to get another staff who spoke English.  It was then I was told about the delay in the issuance of coinage.  The only uncirculated 10nt coins in the bank were for year 101 (last year).  Perfect!!  Even better.

I purchased 250 coins.  50 coins I would keep for myself, and 200 to be given to my students and teachers.

Year 101 (2012) I celebrated my 50th birthday, but more importantly, it was my 10th year of teaching in Taiwan.  This was how I ended up at the coin shop.

I had searched around at stationary shops for coin holders.  As these coins were uncirculated, and had not been touched by bare hands, I wanted to put these 200 coins in holders, and give to all my students as a remembrance of my 10 years in Taiwan.  Okay, it’s only 10nt (about $0.33 CDN), but it’s more the reason behind the ‘gift’.

I gave out the coins about 2 or 3 weeks ago.  I explained the gift to my students and where the students may not have understood fully, the local teacher in the class explained it to the students in Chinese.

To my dismay though, at one particular school, I have now found 3 of these coin holders having been ripped, the coin removed, and the holder stuffed to the back of the desk.  Kids.  10nt is more important than the meaning behind being given a gift.  Thankfully, most of them understand the significance of the gesture.

I suppose to most people, coins and their intrinsic value, are meaningless.  Currency or money, is money.  Period.  To others, such as myself, certain pieces of currency have a lot more value than others, for more than just the currency value.  For example, these proof sets that are issued by the Bank of Taiwan or The Royal Canadian Mint each year, have more value for their rarity (total mintage), quality, and metals used, than for the ‘street value’.

My grandfather, probably without really realizing it, got me interested in coin collecting a long time ago.  I would enjoy the time I spent with him, looking through his coin sets, collections, going to coin shows, than he would ever have known.  I have a decent sized collection of coins and bills (mostly Canadian) in storage in Canada.  Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to sell some of the collection, or pass it on to someone who I know will treasure it as much as I do.

I’m also looking forward to completing the proof sets here in Taiwan.  There are only three sets remaining.  Hopefully, I will still be in Taiwan to be able to purchase these sets to complete the collection, or I may have to have someone purchase them for me.

That’s it, that’s all… for now!

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February 4, 2013

Monday morning…

I think I might be coming down with a bit of a cold.  I woke up this morning with a tickle in my throat.  No sniffles yet, but perhaps, if I don’t think about it, it may just go away.

Last month, January 17th I believe, the new money came out in Taiwan.  This may seem meaningless to some people, but to me, as well as countless Taiwan residents, this is something special.

At first, to the average person, this may mean that the new issue of coins and bills is issued.  However, this is not the case.  A bit of personal history on the topic.

Several years back, one of the staff at ONE of the banks I deal with in Tainan, gave me a souvenir coin set.  At the time, I was not only shocked, but very thankful to him.  The set was in commemoration of Year of the Rooster.  I had moved into my new home at the time, and he tried to explain to me that, the word for home or house and chicken or rooster or hen, are similar in sound.  Therefore, giving someone a gift of a chicken, was considered good luck.  Who am I to argue?  I took his word for it, and thanked him.

The coin set contained a proof 20nt, 50nt, and commemorative 100nt coin in a polished wooden box.  There is also a card, written in box Chinese and English, giving dimensions and metal contents of each coin, as well a paragraph or two regarding the reverse and obverse sides of the 100nt piece.

It wasn’t until a few years had gone by, and working at Giraffe, one of the staff happened to be talking about the new money being released that year.  My ears perked up, and unfortunately, I had missed the day of release.

Around the corner from Giraffe, there is a coin shop.  In my broken Chinese and the owner’s broken English, she soon understood what I was inquiring about.  That was when I discovered that the new issue of money, were in fact, these coin sets.  Now came a decision.  Do I start to collect these sets or not?

As it turned out, she had all the sets issued since Year of the Rooster.  However, she didn’t have that particular set.  That was fine.  After having looked at each of the sets, I knew that I wanted to continue the collection – somehow.  Each month, I would go in around payday and purchase one or two of these sets from her.

For those unfamiliar with the Chinese Zodiac, there are 12 years dedicated to 12 different animals.  Only one, in my opinion and I hope others agree, is a mythical creature – dragon.  The first year is in honour of the Rat.  However, since these coin sets started with Year of the Rooster, the order of the release of coins is:  Rooster (2005), Dog (2006), Pig (2007), Rat (2008), Ox (2009), Tiger (2010), Rabbit (2011), Dragon (2012), Snake (2013), Horse (2014), Sheep (2015), and Monkey (2016).

As you will notice, the sets for Horse, Sheep, and Monkey have not been released yet.  One of my students asked why I didn’t have these three sets yet!  I just sort of shook my head and figured he did not understand the concept of space and time.

Last year, 2012, was Year of the Dragon.  Apparently, someone said that it was Year of the GOLDEN Dragon, and so the line-ups at the Bank of Taiwan the day of issue, was apparently insane.  And of course, I was unable to purchase a set.  This year however, I decided to get up early, and wait in line like any insane person would do!

I was at the bank at about 6am in the morning.  You’d think that no one would be up at that time, but, upon arrival, there were already over 200 people in the line-up!  How do I know?  I counted.  At about 200, I stopped counting and just got into place.  The bank didn’t open until 10am.  So, approximately 5 hours of waiting time.  Good thing I had two thermos’s of hot coffee (and a large bladder!).

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Once the bank opened for business, it seemed the line went really fast.  Everyone was given a ticket.  My ticket number was 0054.  After having counted over 200 people in line, I was a bit surprised.  The lady in front of me had 0053, and in front of her, 0052.  A bit of deduction meant that, since everyone was given one ticket, that meant there were only 53 people in front of me.  Cool!

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There are only 150,000 of these sets issued for all of Taiwan.  Of that, 2,800 are given to the Tainan branch.  That got me wondering then, what was the big rush and why the long wait and line-up?

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When I finally got to the counter to obtain my set, the lady who had ticket number 0052 bought 20 sets of these coins!  She gave the bank staff a stack of 1000nt bills, and one ticket!  From what I was told, the ticket entitled the holder to ONE (1) set only?  So how was she able to purchase 20 sets?  I had also noticed while waiting, that others were walking away with multiple sets.  I actually wanted to get two sets – one for me, and one for a gift.

Then, the lady in front of me with ticket 0053, bought 6 sets.  When it was my turn, I asked for two.  The staff almost went crazy and kept yelling (seriously), “ONE ONLY!”  I tried to point out that both people in front of me had a lot more than one, but they just kept saying over and over, “ONE ONLY… ONE ONLY!”

Okay, after having very little sleep, and sitting on the sidewalk for 5 hours, I wasn’t about to get into an argument.  I was tired, and just wanted to get back home, and get a couple of hours of sleep before classes began.  I did get my ONE set, and for that, I was happy.

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Later that evening, during a break in my classes at Giraffe, I went over to the coin shop to purchase something else.  We chatted about that morning, and she informed me that she purchased four sets, but couldn’t really explain how she was able to do it!  Then I asked about the set from last year, Year of the Dragon.

But that story will have to wait until later…

That’s it, that’s all… for now!

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February 3, 2013

You know, for me Sundays are a ‘non-day’.

Sundays are the only day of the week that I do NOT have any classes.  Generally, I wake up a little later (providing the kids don’t run all over me at 6am!).  I get up around 10am or so, feed them, make my coffee, and after an hour or so, things seem to be clear again.  That’s when the realization sets in, that it’s now going on 1pm!

Yet, I haven’t done anything.  Well, anything constructive.  Every week I vow to clean up the apartment, do the laundry, get some more painting or touch-ups done on the apartment… but do I do it?  No.  I end up watching some mindless program on Justin.tv, or playing my inane games on Facebook, or catching up on the weeks dribble that others have posted.

Then, something comes over me… hunger.  Throughout the week, I only eat one meal a day – dinner.  On most evenings, that means my food intake happens around 10pm.  But for some reason, on Sundays, those hunger pangs happen around 5pm.  So, out I go for a jaunt around the neighbourhood to see what delicacies I’m going to consume.  Today was McDonalds.  Ugh.

I’m not a big fan of McDonalds in Taiwan.  Unlike North American outlets, they only prepare your order when you actually order it.  Which means, in my opinion, it is far from being ‘fast food’.  You want a Big Mac, fries and a drink, they will make that ONE Mac, fry up ONE order of fries, and get your drink ready.  Average time spent in McD’s in Tainan – about 10-15 minutes… depending on how many orders are ahead me.

This time, there were about 20 kids waiting, and only one cashier.  Typical.  I watched each of these orders leaving the counter – French fries.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  All they really want, is a place to sit, chat, play on their phones and pads and laptops for the next 3 or 4 hours.  Personally, I couldn’t sit in McD’s that long.  Actually, it’s rare to even be able to find a seat because of all the kids eating fries.

Later on, the kids will post their plethora of fries on Facebook to show the world how many orders of fries can fit on a serving tray.  Oh to be young and have absolutely nothing to do and have everything given to me.

So, grab my 20 nuggets and drink, and head home.  Easier that way.

As you all know, I have six cats.  This is definitely not a record, but having six ‘kids’ around all the time – well, any of you who have ‘kids’ or the real thing, can understand.

Two of these kids, seem to like to eat what I eat.  It’s difficult finding cat food in Taiwan that isn’t mostly fish.  It seems the pet food producers in Asia are under the delusion that cats only eat fish.  Have they never heard of cats eating mice?  How about birds?

Now, I’m not about to condone cat food made of mice or birds, but why not beef or chicken?  There is one brand of cat food I have found that has cheese and chicken.  My cats seem to enjoy the dietary change.  However, both of these have mostly tuna.

Back to McD’s.  Ignatius seems to be the one cat who is almost willing to try anything I’m eating – no matter what it is.  Again, he’s quite similar in attitude as Mhoram was.  Mhoram, a cat I had in Canada for 19 years prior to my coming to Taiwan, would eat almost anything that I would.  I used to call him my biological vacuum cleaner!

I’ve discovered over the past couple of years, that Ignatius has this penchant for chicken.  So, on the rare occasions that I do end up at McD’s, I pick up nuggets.  I usually get to eat 15 and Ignatius will eat 5.  The same as when I get deep fry.  I will always pick up a small amount of chicken just for him.  No seasoning, just plain deep-fried chicken chunks.  The others just sort of sniff it, and walk away, leaving Ignatius to enjoy his own special meal.

After finishing up my dinner, watched a couple more episodes of “Shameless (UK)”, caught up all my lesson planning for the week, and before I knew it – 11pm.

What a life.  I’ve got to get out more…!

That’s it, that’s all… for now!

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February 2, 2013

Saturday morning, and the second month of the year has already begun.

It seems like only yesterday that it was New Years and a week ago was Christmas, and a few days prior, Halloween.  Time flies when you’re having fun… or lack thereof!  For me, 2011 was a crappy year, 2012 was a lot better, and so far, this year is looking better still.

On Saturdays, I generally have two classes – one ‘private’ class (a brother and sister), and another class of five students.  Today however, I canceled the five students’ class due to a prior commitment.

Every year, just before Chinese New Year, Giraffe treats all the teachers and staff to a dinner.  Most of us attend, but there are always a few that, for one reason or another, don’t participate.  This year, we also had a gift exchange.  I was trying to organize a Christmas gift exchange, as in other years, but with all the other things going on, it was decided to postpone this event until the end-of-year party.

The gift exchange is much like “Secret Santa” that I used to participate in when I worked in Canada.  I realize that the places I worked were not the only businesses that would do this, but I can say that I introduced this concept to Giraffe a few years back.  And every year, we try to continue the ‘tradition’.

For those unaware of this “Secret Santa” concept, those who wish to participate, have their names put on slips of paper, and all the slips are put into a ‘hat’.  Then, each of the participants pull one slip of paper from the ‘hat’.  The only thing left to do, is purchase a gift for the person whose name is on the slip.  It is also generally accepted that, should someone pull their own name, that slip gets put back in the ‘hat’, and another slip is drawn.

There is usually a limit set on the gift.  The upper and lower limits are to make it fair for everyone.  If anyone chooses to go over the limit, then that is their prerogative.  And I must admit, I am usually one of those people who go over the limit… especially for someone I am happy to have chosen their name.

This year, I was the final person to chose the slip.  Well, it wasn’t so much chosen, as it was given to me.  The choosing of names happened before I arrived at school.  The name given me was Sabrina.

A little bit about Sabrina.

Sabrina has been teaching at Giraffe for as long as, or perhaps longer, than me.  I always enjoy seeing her.  She’s always got a great smile, easy to talk to, and in my own opinion, an all round beautiful human being.  A few years back, she married a wonderful man, Grant Chiang.  Although Grant doesn’t speak a lot of English, he too, is a wonderful guy.  Personally, I think they are a perfect couple.

Last year, Sabrina had a little boy.  Until today, at dinner, I have never seen her boy.  Well, pictures on Facebook, but that’s about it.  And what a cute little guy he is!  Not quite a year old, and he’s already running around.  I hope Sabrina teaches him English at the same time as he’s learning Chinese.

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Anyway, I was, so say the least, thrilled that I got her name.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get her.  After a couple of days, and not really giving it much thought, I found something.  I bought a couple of little jackets for her son.  I knew that the gift really should be for Sabrina, and not her son.  But the jackets were just too cute.

Then I asked my friend Ian, if his mother had any ‘antiques’ that she would consider selling to me as a gift.  His mother showed me something, and wanted to give it to me – no charge.  I didn’t feel right about that.  To me, it felt like Ian’s mom was giving the present to Sabrina, and not me.  I did finally pay for the item.  It was an antique teapot, 2 cups, and a creamer.  Although Chinese people don’t usually put cream in their tea, it was part of the set.  His mom said there was also a sugar bowl, but she couldn’t find it.  No problem.

A week or so goes by, and I happened to be in a new bakery in the university area.  They had some boxes of different cakes, that I know, Chinese people really like.  So I chose 4 different boxes.  Then a couple of days later, there was a market of sorts, set up around the baseball stadium.  I went for a little walk and saw a couple of things I thought would be great items to give.  A box of mixed nougat, and a box of interlocking toy pieces, obviously something for Sabrina’s son.

The box contained three different styles of pieces, and some wheels.  Similar to Lego, the various pieces can be put together to make various ‘toys’.  I figured this would be something that dad and son could have a lot of fun with together – once little one is old enough.

With that, I figured I had spent enough.  Also, it was going to be a big box to give as a gift!  I used some red wrapping paper, sprinkles, and a bow.  If I say so myself, it looked nice.  And yes, it was the largest gift anyone at the dinner received.  It seemed that Sabrina was not only surprised, but was very happy with her gift.  To me and my belief in giving in gifts, as the saying goes, it’s better to give, than to receive.

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I got a bottle of wine, a thermos, a couple of coupons for ‘something’ (it’s all in Chinese, so I’ll have to get a translation), and a jar with the restaurant’s logo on it.  The meal was fantastic, and I had a great time.  It would have been fun to go to KTV afterwards, but no one seemed too eager to do that.  Oh well, maybe next year!

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Thanks to Janice and Simon, the management of Giraffe Nanmen, for another wonderful year-end dinner.  One more week of work, then off for 9 days for Chinese New Year.

That’s it, that’s all… for now!

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