“Never Forgotten” – 70 years today

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Taiwan POW Memorial Park

 

Today marks the 70th anniversary for many WWII soldiers around the world. It wasn’t headline news worthy at the time because no one knew about it. In fact, it isn’t well known about even today. The war in Asia hadn’t ended yet that fateful day in 1945 – but it was a day that some of the POWs of long ago look back as a day to remember. For some that day, they did not shuffle through deep tunnels with their hammers and chunkels to mine ore and copper. No, this day they filed out of the Kinkaseki POW camp for the last time. The rest of the POWs would follow on May 30th.

It was a march away from the mines towards the train station where they were transported to Xindian. From there they walked up the mountain 6 miles with supplies to what became known as Kukutsu POW camp. This march was really the start of the march back home, as a few months later the war would be over.

Yesterday I had the privilege to go to the Taiwan POW Memorial Park in JingGuaShi with some students. Our tour guide, Mr. Michael Hurst, has spent many years gathering information and artifacts about the POW camps that dot this little island of Taiwan. His determination to keep the stories of the POW’s alive, has brought honor to the many men who fought and became prisoners.

As I took the photo from behind the sculpture, I was struck with the stark contrast of beauty and ugliness of this world. The surrounding mountains and ocean view would be perfect settings for artists to capture natural beauty. It was just breathtaking, but this sculpture made my heart drop – the ugliness of war, the brutal treatment that these men endured 70+ years ago, all that I had just saw and heard – it was enough to make one sick. Yet, other emotions welled up inside me – that of gratitude. Grateful to those brave men who fought so long ago, grateful for those who are still fighting for freedom.

I thought about going back up today to spend some time remembering and reflecting; to place a rose at the memorial, but instead I decided to write this post in honor of those brave men from long ago. To tell a part of their story, so that others will know – and so that we may never forget….

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The original gate post is all that is left from the No. 1 Japanese POW camp.

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“Taiwan POW Memorial Tree” stands as a living memorial to the 4300 Allied prisoners of war who were held in the 15 camps in Taiwan by the Japanese during WWII.

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“Eternal Flame of Peace and Remembrance”

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“Mates” – Designed by Michael Hurst MBE and Sculpted by Wu, Jung-Fu “Without a mate, no Prisoner of War could survive.”

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The Wall of Remembrance – the names of those who were held as POWs on the island of Taiwan.

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The memorial reads: “In memory of the more than 4000 gallant men of the British Commonwealth and Allied Forces, who suffered brutal and savage treatment here and in the nearby copper mine, and other places in Taiwan as Prisoners of War of the Japanese from 1942-1945. Their souls remain here forever.” “None of us should forget.”

 

“We will never forget!”

If you would like to know more about the POW camps in Taiwan, please go to the POW Taiwan website here.

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An Expat Kind of Lantern Festival

Last week I went to the Lantern Festival with my youngest daughter. We saw many intricate designs. What interested me more than the historical pieces of the festival, were the poetic journey of a man traveling away from home – away from his home country. They seemed to reflect what many of us, as expats, could possibly feel at different seasons in our lives overseas.

I’ve written out the translated poem from Chinese to English (don’t get excited, it was there on a sign and I had taken pictures). They also provided what they called a “Poem Appreciation,” but was like brief summary of the meaning of the poem. I’ve also written that below the two poems.

So, enjoy the pictures of the life-sized lanterns and the poems that describe the scene of each picture.

 

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Za Shi “Poem”

by Wang Wei

You, who have come from my homeland,

Ought to know well the happenings back home.

On the day of your departure,

Pray tell – Have the plum blossoms outside your window bloomed?

Meaning:

Such is the joy of the man in a foreign land to meet a fellow countryman. Yet knowing not where to begin his enquiries. He starts off by asking after the smallest of things, subtly revealing his deep love for his homeland.

 

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Hui Hsiang Ou Shu “Returning Home – A Random Musing” by He Zhi-Zhang

I left home a kid and returned an old man,

My accent is unchanged yet my hair has turned white;

A child who meets but does not recognize me,

Laughingly asks “Where do you come from?”

Meaning:

People age easily, yet their homeland remains unchanged. Returning to one’s homeland after decades abroad, one cannot help but feel familiar yet distant at the same time. An innocent remark from a guiltless child draws attention to the poet’s complicated feelings in a poignant yet humorous manner, leaving readers with a lasting and profound impression.

Don’t you just love that no matter what country some one is from, they understand some of the same feelings you may have towards “homesickness” and missing friends and family?

 

 

Hiking….with kids

Hiking with kids requires a different set of goals and guidelines. I recently took the girls out by myself. We were out to conquer the little mountain that overlooks our apartment building. Please note that hiking here is steps, lots of steps.

Jie Jie has almost mastered the stairwell using one hand on the railing. This mountain is just steps leading and winding up the side of the cliff with no railing. Let’s just say, we all got a workout and I learned a few things along the way.

If you want to read more about what I learned and how you can plan a nice hike with your children read the article I wrote for Multicultural Kids Blog here.

Chinese New Year – Lantern Festival

I’ve been quiet these few weeks due to working on my other writing projects and enjoying Chinese New Year. A few nights ago I took Mei Mei to the Lantern Festival in Taipei. They did a fabulous job with such details. I really loved how they had a walk through history. Enjoy!

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“Hua Mulan Takes Her Father’s Place in Battle”

"Zheng He's Expedition"

“Zheng He’s Expedition”

He’s known in this part of the world, and in other parts as well, as the “pioneer of the Age of Discovery.” He made his expeditions starting in 1405.

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“Qin Shi Huang’s Dedication to Politics and Economics”

Qin Shi Huang Di is famous for the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, as well as unifying the country of China.

"Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch"

“Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch”

And a bit of history of the island of Taiwan.

They also had some that Mei Mei enjoyed more than others…

20150306_18522320150306_184205Later this week I’ll post a few more that resonated with me as an expat raising TCKs. I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

 

Joy…sometimes you just have to choose it

Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy – time with family, gifts, laughter, food – oh, the food, and the time when many celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yes, Christmas is the time for joy, but sometimes it’s just not all that joyful or peaceful. I find that can be true for the expat. Like…

It is hard to be a single living in a foreign country during this holiday. I remember…

It is hard living in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday. December 25th is just another workday, just like all the rest.

Some years the entire family is sick… (I’m sure we are not the only family that can relate.)

You grew up in a place where “White Christmas” was not just on a postcard, but now you live in the tropics where it is warm all four seasons. Or you grew up where Christmas was spent celebrating on the beach and now you need to wear three layers in the house because the radiators just don’t kick out enough heat to your liking.

And the family Christmas picture. To take one that has everyone smiling and looking at the camera is next to impossible. My photographer friend posted on Facebook their “other Christmas pictures that didn’t make the photo for the Christmas card” to show all the drama behind the perfect shot that did. (We haven’t even really tried this year yet…that is on my list to do this week.)

This year we went “home” for the holidays…home to my husband – well sort of “home” since he’s a TCK. Honestly, we’ve all had some culture shock moments at one time or another. We’ve been upset or frustrated sometime during this holiday of peace and joy. Yet, at each of those times for me (yes, I’ve had multiple) I have found myself having to make a choice…to choose frustration, anger, or to find and choose JOY. Let me give you an example.

Germany is known for their Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets). They are beautiful, full of food and crafty trinkets to buy. It was on my list to do while we were here. Oma found one that was nearby. Perfect! Except, we had also planned for that day a visit to an aunt and a little shopping to kill time before the market opened. All this, and our kids were still on jetlag! We had taken the train, so we were bound by the train schedule. We had given ourselves less than an hour to eat and roam around the lit-up booths. I was disappointed, but decided not to say anything.  Instead chose joy and thankfulness as I grabbed my mug of gluehwein (spiced wine, or what I call Christmas in a mug) and marveled at the scene around me. I was surrounded by beauty – white lights outlining the buildings, the market stands, the trees; Christmas music playing; people laughing and smiling; and my kids enjoying their second round of warm waffles because you know bribery helps during those times of jetlag. Yes, I could have stood there angry at the less-than-perfect situation, but instead I wanted to make a memory that I could look back on and smile.

We did end up catching the later train, so we could have time to eat in a relaxed manner and enjoy wandering around and looking at each booth.

Here are some pics of that magical evening:

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Life-size nativity set up on a staged area.

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Can you see the remains of a castle on top of the hill? One of the many things I love about Europe in general…all the history!

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Kids with Oma finishing up the first round of waffles. Notice my cup of gluewein on the table?

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*This post was inspired by Velvet Ashes’s The Grove and their theme of Joy.

 

Making Change

Change

photo by spcbrass via flickr

I was standing in the check-out lane and opened my wallet to see that I had about two handfuls of change. I am headed back overseas in a few weeks, so I want start getting rid of the excess change. As the cashier began to ring up my items I noticed that the there were a few people standing in line behind me waiting patiently.

My heartbeat picked up.

My hands started sweating.

My eyes darted into the wallet trying to make out what kind of change I had, so I could quickly pull out what I would need.

A few seconds later, the cashier told me how much I needed. What? I didn’t hear him. I frantically looked at the register to get a read and asked again for the price. He told me.

I handed the bills and began to dig for the coins I needed. My fingers were not working. The coins kept slipping from them. Finally, what seemed like five minutes, I got the exact change and handed it to him. I know I heard a sigh from the person behind me.

The cashier handed me the receipt. I apologized and quickly made my exit.

I’m in the country I grew up in, yet counting change causes me to stress. What in the world? Here is what I think it is…

1. The money is foreign. As expats, we live outside the country for at least 11 months or longer ~for me it’s been 2.5 years. The money has become foreign. We are used to our RMB, Yen, Euro, or Pounds and have forgotten what “home” country money feels like. If you’re a TCK, it may all feel foreign and familiar at the same time…

2. Identity problems. I’ve lived in Asia for over a decade and there is so much grace when I don’t get it right because I don’t look Asian. As for going to Germany, I look the same, but as soon as I open my mouth the people there understand and have shown me grace. Being in the US, I look and sound “American”, so they are so confused that I can’t count change, don’t understand the debit card scan, or whatever the “new-to-me” procedure is in public places. If you’re a TCK, is this how you feel all the time?

So, how to beat this? I guess I could “play” with the money before I get back to just get a feel for it. Instead, I just keep shopping and using cash OR I skip the cash part and use the debit card. As for the identity problem, I’ve thought about putting on an accent at the checkout, but mine is terrible and I’d probably start laughing at myself and blow it. So, instead I just take a deep breath and remember that it’s okay and normal ~ my friends all have the same problem and we will sit with our tea/coffee at the end of the summer laughing about the “trauma at the grocery stores” and how we “survived the cereal aisle”. 

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The All Time Hated Aisle

Cereal Aisle

photo by Rex Roof via flickr

Can you guess what the all time hated aisle for any expat is? Okay, the photo gave it away if you were wondering.

I don’t have solid research on this, but I believe this has to be one of the top 5 places expats hate to visit in the US. I have this theory because, having lived overseas for a-hem several years now, every expat I have talked to gets the same look and pretty much says the same thing, Oh, I just stand there for hours looking at all the choices not knowing what to put in the over-sized cart.

What is it about that aisle? I like lists if you haven’t noticed, so here are my lists of why cereal aisles make us tense up.

1. The aisle is a mile. Have you noticed this? I mean it is the entire length of the aisle and at least 4 shelves high. The pure size of it overwhelms me.

2. The number of choices. So, the aisle is a mile long and each shelf has rows upon rows of every kind of cereal you can imagine. Take for instance a simple flaky type cereal. You can get it bran, frosted, fruity, low-fat, and, and, and. And if you know what type of flake you want, then you have 4+ brands to choose from. I’ve gotten used to only have, at the most, five choices to choose from. Period.

3. The shouting of words. I’m a writer, so words tend to jump out at me. The cereal boxes are no different. I feel like the boxes are shouting their greatness, their newness. “Low-fat!” “Low-carb!” “Healthy Eating!” “Great for the Heart!” And that doesn’t even cover the “prizes” that are inside ~ which my kids have now figured out. I think having lived overseas I can’t always read what the boxes are shouting, so it is like they are on mute. You think?

So, what to do about this “problem”? I haven’t totally figured it out. My plan thus far has worked out fine. I tell my mother what kinds of cereal we “like” and let her bring them home. Then when we need to buy more, I search for the exact same box ~ if the kids liked it that is.

Your Turn: Do you like the cereal aisle? How do you tackle it when you are back in the US? Please share in the comments below.

If you want to read more, please know that you can get the posts delivered to you inbox. You can subscribe at the top right of this post. Thanks!

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Changes in America…European Championship

Yes, it is the big week for my guys…The European Championship and Germany is our top pick, of course.

For the past month my husband has been on edge. He’s been watching to see which group Germany was in, which teams they would play first, the dates of the games, and more important which channel would be airing the games. This past week, our lives have been scheduled around the games.

This summer has been different then years past when we’ve been in the US for major soccer tournaments. The last time we were in the US and wanted to watch soccer championships –I can’t remember if it was the World Cup or the Euro Championship- it was difficult. Not because my parents didn’t have cable. Not because my family refused him this one desire. No, it was all due to the fact that soccer was not a popular enough sport for stations to broadcast the games. As he flipped through station after station ~don’t get me started on the culture shock of American cable and trying to figure out what to watch. It is almost worst than the cereal aisle, no joke ~ he finally came across a Mexican station. He doesn’t speak Spanish, but who cared, he had a channel showing his game. So, you can imagine the excitement when he found out that ESPN was broadcasting live games.

The other difference…our son has joined in the excitement. They were both wearing their uniforms and cheers could be heard as Gomez scored twice for the win Wednesday. And today? My mother has even joined in the fun. Although she is now sleeping in her chair, but isn’t that what you are suppose to do on a Sunday afternoon? I’m fighting the urge to take a nap, but the score is too close and I can understand the commentating.

Some changes in the US can be hard to swallow, but not this one. This has been a sweet change for my entire family.

Your Turn: Are you watching the Euro Championship? What team are you rooting for? 

A TCK kind of ad…

Maybe you’ve seen this commercial from HSBC, but I just watched it today while waiting in the lobby at the American Institute of Taiwan. It made me giggle. I thought: This has TCK written all over it. Watch and see what you think…

I could totally see my kids doing this, couldn’t you?

新年快樂! (Happy Chinese New Year!)

Today is Day 3 of 15 of the Chinese New Year. As an expat in Asia, it just means another vacation day with the kids, but to my Chinese neighbors it is another day of celebrating with family…usually the wife’s family.

I’ve been more nostalgic this year. Maybe it is an age thing. Maybe it is because we moved again this year. Maybe it is just because I have time right now as I sit here and write. Whatever the reason, my first experience was wild.

I remember walking from my third floor apartment over to my friend’s apartment, which was just the next building over. Not far. I could hear the explosion of firecrackers booming and others popping like an automatic gun. I stepped out of the exit-way, only to jump back inside the stairwell. A flaming rocket had just flew by within inches of my head. I peeked out cautiously and wide-eyed. The quiet little neighborhood had turned into a free for all war-zone of a party. I covered my ears and ran towards the safety zone, heart beating as I ran up the stairs to the fifth floor apartment.

I’ve not experienced that kind of celebration for a few years now. Reasons?

A few years after I was married with babies, we’d hide out in hotels on the 19+ floor where we couldn’t hear a thing, except the TV episodes of “Friends” showing on Star World. Who wants to deal with crying scared babies at midnight? We didn’t.

Other years, Christmas and Chinese New Year’s vacations were linked together and we left the country to visit family for the longer vacation time. Christmas with extended family is always GREAT!

The past few years we have lived in Taipei. Most of the people that live in Taipei, especially in the area we had lived in, were not from Taipei. That meant they left for their parent’s home, leaving that part of the city very quiet, a bit on the eerie side. Our move has put us in an area of Taipei where people stay and celebrate. They are really from here.

This year we have experienced more of what we remember of CNY. Our neighbors have all decorated their doors with various banners.

One of the gods of CNY on neighbor's door.

Another neighbor with a banner.

We have decorated our door with the traditional red signs that some Christian friends gave us. If you want to read more about why this is traditionally done by the Chinese, you can read about it here.

Our door decoration.

We experienced the fireworks, though NOTHING like my first experience. Uwe and I stood on our balcony and watched a beautiful display of fireworks on the river for about 15 minutes or so. It was too cold for me to stay out longer.

As we stood and watched the green and red glows, an automatic gun sound blasted in the other direction. I looked up and saw the silhouette of a bamboo pole swaying over the building with about 2-meters worth of firecrackers popping it’s way up to the end. These loud firecrackers are to scare the evil spirits to not come into their home. I’m not so sure how much of this is still believed vs. tradition. I’m thinking a little of both.

So, what does tomorrow look like for us? Maybe we will go and let the kids spend some of the red envelop money. Close friends and family give children red envelops with money inside. Maybe we’ll watch more movies. Maybe we’ll go swimming in the local indoor pool. We are going to grill with some friends that evening. I am loving this break!

Your Turn: If you have experienced CNY, what is your most memorable one? If you haven’t, what aspect of this holiday intrigues you the most? Please share in the comments below.

And if you want to read more about this holiday, here is an informative blog post by Culture-4-travel about the 15-days of CNY/Spring Festival. Click here to read it.