Friday, Oct. 23, 2009
I'm now writing from my uncle's home in the town where my mother grew up in, Lumbay, close to the city of Yuinin. None of the Taiwanese people who ask me seem to know where Lumbay is, since it's a small town.
I arrived in Taipei on Saturday afternoon and stayed at my dad's best friend's house for one night until my mom came Sunday evening. We then moved to a hotel that was provided by the tour my mom booked us on. I have to say that parts of the tour were amazing. We went to a place called Chiao Hsi overlooking the city and the mountains. (Almost half of Taiwan is mountainous, so you get a lot of beautiful views.) The hotel had an amazing spa -- so many different types of baths and aroma rooms. There was a pool where there were little fish that would eat the dead skin off your feet. Apparently I have a lot of dead skin! Yep, disgusting.
That day, before we went to the resort, we went up into the mountains and walked for a total of about three hours. When we got to the hotel, I went for a run (to try to maintain my fitness while in the off season), but I think the combination of my body being run down, the amount of exercise I did (also the previous two days I went hiking up the mountain, once with the tour and once with my dad's best friend), and that my mom was sick, I got sick.
At first I didn't think anything of it -- it was just a little cough -- but we had such a strenuous tour schedule (wake up at 6am, traveling on the bus through twisted mountain roads for at least three or more hours per day and my previous exhaustion) that I quickly got worse. I had a fever the third night, although the next morning I woke up feeling miles better, and a deep cough the fourth. The headaches and weakness I also attribute to homesickness, as well, since I've had headaches, tiredness and mild depression (nothing major, just so tired that even being in a place you love isn't happy for you; you just want to go home) before when I was homesick.
On the fourth day, the tour stopped in Hualien, the city where my father was born. I went to visit my grandpa there and my aunts and uncles on my father's side. We stayed in a hotel on the top of the mountain next to the city with beautiful city views. We took my uncle and two of my aunts there when they helped to drive us back, and they said they had never been to such a nice hotel.
One thing coming to Taiwan has helped me realize is that most people are not as lucky as Americans, or the social status that I am at, although I am nowhere near a high status. The public safety is much lower than in the States... you see construction workers hanging on buildings with a wooden platform and a rope or over a bridge 200 ft. high with no securing. All around, I can see evidence of the lack of public safety, people with severely burned faces, arms cut, faces bashed in, limbs missing. It makes me appreciate living in the States!
The other things I also appreciate:
Cleanliness. Yes, I know LA is not an ideal place to claim cleanliness, but at least I think in Long Beach, trees line the streets, the ocean breeze sweeps away some of the pollution, and people do make an effort to keep their homes clean. All around the cities here, wherever there are buildings clustered together, you see filth. Raised toilets: anyone who has been to Asia has seen those toilets that are basically holes in the ground. I can't stand them. And how do you expect to do some serious business in that thing??
Openness: some of my Russian friends complain that Americans are polite but not friendly, like we will say, "Hi, how are you?" without waiting for a response. However, I think that we may not be wanting to stay for an extended chat, but we do inquire through our genuine concern for others. We hug and kiss when we see people we care about. It's tough in the Chinese culture, where they don't touch each other, and even when seeing people that you haven't seen in years, they register no great emotion.
The last and final thing that makes me appreciate the U.S.: Appearances. First of all, I've noticed that most Taiwanese people are very small. I'm taller than many men here. It kind of sucks. And Chinese people have peculiar ways of defining what is beautiful. Very pale, very skinny, demure. Pluses would be to dress well, be from a good family, etc., etc. Well, the three main factors I fail at. I'm very tan, I am at times skinny, but nowhere near what the Chinese standard is (girls who are 50 kilos want to be 45 kilos; that's like 80 lbs to 72 lbs), and the last, well, I'm not even going to go there.
So I can't wait to go home! I don't need any reasons, actually. I just have had a long season and am ready to take a break.
So yesterday we took the high-speed train from Hualien to Taipei and stayed the night at my father's best friend (Uncle Lin)'s house, and today took the train from Taipei to the city near Lumbay. My uncle and grandparents picked us up from the train station. We drove back to my uncle's house, where my grandparents continuously show their love by offering food. We took a short trip to my grandparent's farm -- they used to own farmland but now just have a smaller plot of land where they grow a variety of fruits and vegetables and have chickens, as well. They used to own the large chickens that didn't fly, but they were quickly eaten by stray dogs. Now they have a smaller variety that can fly.
My grandpa is over 90 and still goes to the farm every day to check on the plants and feed the chickens. My uncle said that my grandpa and grandma love to sit in the barn and watch the chickens eat. What a simple life! All the food we ate was hand grown and fresh. It made me feel bad taking out my cookies and candies out of my purse (unfortunately, during travel, it's a staple in my purse).
I had some questions asked, which I'll answer now.
Herlindo asks: Who taught you to step in [the 2nd serve return] like that?
My father was the one who coached me up until three years ago, so all the basics I owe to him. I remember I must have been around 10 years old, and we would practice with a woman at the local courts, and my dad made us stand halfway between the service and the baseline to return her serve. It was so scary because she had a kick serve, so we never knew where it would go. From that time on, my dad would make us stand there to return all second serves, and sometimes first serves, as well.
Kimberly writes: Hi Vania, my name is Kimberly. I am 10 years old and am training to be a tennis player. When I read your blog on USTA.com, it seemed interesting! I want to know... Did you overcome any hard challenges that you don't know if you should do it or not?
Hi Kimberly! There was some difficult times, but this is normal for everyone. There is no perfect way to play and become a great tennis player. At times I did want to quit because there are sacrifices to be made, but ultimately I made the decision to continue, and I enjoy my life and my job (which is tennis) now. If you love tennis, keep playing; do something you enjoy! But stay in school
I was in public school until 10th grade, and then I went into homeschooling, but I think that an education is necessary no matter what.
The next time I write will probably be when I'm home, so be warned, the usage of CAPS and !!!!! may be prevalent.