Christmas Card Purveyors

Far from North American family members, friends and “mission supporters” for so many years in Taiwan, we came each year to the 12th month of the year with many Christmas cards to send. Over the decades the number of cards we sent remained fairly steady while the number we received declined, but we kept up the habit of greeting friends and relatives, and about 40 local churches, annually. One year we were just too busy, so promised ourselves that we’d send “Chinese New Year” cards instead, only to discover that there was no such thing a month later. Departing Taiwan in the summer of 2018, we did our final “thank you for your support” cards to churches at the end of last year. Our list shrank. 

Christmas cards are big business in Taiwan Most of them are really “cute”.  We generally shopped at a bookstore in Kaohsiung run by an order of Roman Catholic sisters. The nuns’ cards fit our faith and values. Even after moving to Tainan in 2007 we’d return to Kaohsiung in November to get cards. But, our next-door neighbor in Tainan was the Taiwan Church Press Bookstore, so it seemed strange not to shop there. But that was hard. Some of the cards were slightly religious, with a bible verse in Chinese or something, but they were generally equally as cute as the ones available at stationery stores.

Near the end of 2017, knowing we would be leaving the next year, we took a final look next door. It was worth the trouble. We found just one of the world’s most perfect Christmas card.  It depicted Jesus standing on a rooftop next to a chimney wishing everyone a jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 21.29.47Now we’re too far to visit the Kaohsiung nuns, and thankfully we’re too far from Tainan to get the Church Press Book Store’s offerings, we shop at a local thrift store, that puts out a mixed bunch of what had been in their back room. This year they had boxes of what once were expensive cards on sale for 50 cents a box. 16 high quality cards in each.  Such a deal! We did not have to concern ourselves with avoiding cute, just ugly.

The cards went out earlier in the week, most of them with Kwanzaa stamps in the corner, an item not available from the Taiwan post office. 

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Captain Caftan

I’m somewhat sympathetic with larger men in Taiwan. Several were among the students I taught over the years. Like them, I had trouble finding clothes that fit on the local market. I would use occasional trips to North America as buying runs in thrift stores and then wear clothes I basically hated for the next couple years until I could make another run. The shirts I wore were ugly and the pants rather worn out, but at least they fit. 

A recent humorous article in the New Yorker, about a guy trying on a Caftan and visiting different restaurants, banks and such places in Manhattan, came to mind when I donned a new shirt this morning.  The last time I purchased a new shirt (actually new, not at a thrift store) was a few years ago, and lately I’d found it to be a bit tight. A nearby store was having a sale on dress shirts so I got 3, and tried each of them on after getting home. They were all easy to put on, so we ran them through the wash and hung them in the closet. 

This morning I put one on. It felt rather large. I looked in the mirror and marveled at all of the fabric that was covering me. The cuffs are easy to fasten, as is the collar to button, but I think that’s because the thing is actually too big. Before heading off to church, I covered my new shirt with an old sweater.

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I was part of the bell choir today, which involved wearing a robe and a beautiful purple scapular. But it turned out to be warm. The robe looked like a real caftan, the sweater was a bit bulky, and I had my oversize shirt and a T-shirt under those. Following the postlude, when I finally “dis-robed”, it was with a great sigh of relief. It was almost pleasant to go out in the cold.

What I ought to do is go to a quality haberdasher’s shop and be properly measured and fitted for a shirt, then buy that size, and that size only. At least it should fit. Or, conversely and perhaps more easily, I should put on several kilos and grow into what I’ve recently purchased. 


David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.


I’ve been fighting “the creeping crud” for a few days. I guess it’s a chest cold, but a lot of it seems to be in my head.  When I stand or sit, gravity is my friend. The crud creeps downward. But when I recline, as for a nap or to spend the night, things congeal in ways that lead to coughing, deep coughing.

Decongestants have helped, what my kids learned to call “orange medicine” in the daytime and “green medicine” at night. But a dose wears off after 4 hours. Last night I resorted to the couch, not as something to swallow, but as an alternative sleeping venue.  I’d drifted off at about 10:30 in bed, but awoke unable to breathe well soon after 2 AM. Standing got things moved around (gravity being my friend) and another dose of green stuff helped me breathe, but then the coughing started. By 3 I gave up, grabbed my pillow and an extra blanket and went down to the couch, where an hour later I managed to get to sleep again and stay that way until 7.

couch in Tainan

Sleeping on the couch was not uncommon for me in Taiwan, but the couch there, though a bit ratty after 20 years of use, was a bit longer and wider than what we currently enjoy. I’d been exiled to the “downstairs sleeping quarters” occasionally for reasons like deep snoring or redolent flatulence. But now in retirement, with a different couch upon which I’d not yet spent a night, I had a new experience. It’s more confining than the one in Taiwan, and December is colder here than in Tainan. The local version of the creeping crud is also harder to deal with. 

But, having slumbered on this one, though, I’m ready to try napping here eventually. But I’ll wait ‘til the weather gets warmer, and until the crud isn’t at me. 

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Easy Treesy

Growing used to living as a foreigner in Taiwan over our nearly 40 years there, we “crossed a line” with the culture around us. In the 17s and 80s we were more oriented toward having an American-style holiday celebration, an aim that diminished over the years, even as Taiwan seemed to move more in the direction of Santa Claus and fancy trees put up earlier and earlier, then forgotten and left up until about February.

During the early 80s we’d buy a potted live tree and try to keep it alive in the house or on the balcony. Few, if any, of these trees saw a second year of holiday use. When our kids were little we shifted to that which was decidedly artificial, and in our final decade had a tree in a box that got taped back around it and hid in a closet. After our final Christmas in Tainan (2017) that tree was one of the first things thrown onto the garbage truck.


These thoughts come back because we bought a house in Holland Michigan in 2018. The realtor has sent cards two years in a row now, entitling us to claim a free “real” (chopped down) tree at a one-day event on the edge of town. The event was today (December 7) and I went alone. I met kind and helpful people who gave clear directions and helped me get the tree partially stuffed into the trunk of the car. Now it lies on the front lawn, awaiting installation and decoration on the unheated porch (for indoors we have a more elaborate artificial one). 

Kind and helpful people carried us through the many Christmasses we marked in Taiwan. Whether they, or we, understood what we were attempting to celebrate, kindness and help are always welcome.

The porch will hold a tree. Noel!

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Windy Windows

Except for the years from 1982 to 1986, our time in Taiwan was spent in “vintage housing”. In 1987 we moved into a “once luxury” place in Kaohsiung, but its “luxury” days were long past by then. We stayed there until 2007, then moved onto the campus of Tainan Theological College, where the housing stock was late 50s to mid-60s. So long as things are kept reasonably clean, painted and leak free, older houses in Taiwan can be rather pleasant. They have character lacking in many of the things built in the 21st Century. BUT window technology has improved considerably over the years.

Our 20 years in the same building in Kaohsiung included a lot of window-rattles and leaks during typhoons. And THOSE windows had aluminum frames. When we moved to Tainan, the house’s windows were large, heavy, and wood-framed. Frequently in windy seasons I had to fold up newspaper to stick between the places where frames slid across frames.  The problem was noise. Whether wind blew in or not was a minor thing.

Not so where we now reside.  It’s winter here. The temperatures this week hovering around 1 degree C. When wind blows it finds the cracks.  Last Spring we had the other major cracks in the house sealed up, but replacing windows is an expensive deal, so we’ve foregone it. Our bedroom faces north. The upstairs bathroom faces south. A few weeks ago we purchased some shrink-wrap plastic film to tape up over them. That required purchase of a hair dryer (to shrink the wrap) and then we were busy with this and that.  Yesterday we began installing in the bedroom. We covered 3 of the 4 windows there. This morning the storm windows furthest out from the plastic were clear. On the one set we hadn’t covered there was condensation inside. 

Screenshot 2019-12-03 at 19.38.09

The bathroom on the south-facing side changed more dramatically. While putting up the sheeting, with top and sides taped down, the amount of air coming out where the bottom wasn’t yet sealed was amazing.  Now that everything on that end is “tight as a drum”, midnight runs to the toilet won’t be as chilling.

We’re certain that shrink wrap plastic sheeting is used all over Taiwan, for products in stores, but not for windows. Maybe there’s money to be made.

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Train Noises

When I resided in Pingtung from mid-1977 to mid-1978 my room faced the rail line several kilometers south of the main station. There was a little country station, Guilai, not far from where I dwelt. Often at night, a local train had stopped there, I could hear the whistle blow before it started again. If the wind was in my direction, I could even hear the chug of the steam locomotive pulling out.

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I left Taiwan in 1978 and spent over three years in North America before returning. I didn’t go back to Pingtung, but took up residence in Kaohsiung, where other noises drowned out the trains. I sometimes imagine that I saw some steam locomotives in use after 1982, but can’t imagine if that was fact or dream. Still, though, even a diesel or electric train leaving a station was accompanied by particular noise. A man on the platform flipped a switch that rang a bell indicating that the doors would soon close, and after they did, the train driver would toot the horn before letting loose the brakes (with a whoosh of air) and opening the throttle on the diesel. 

Not so any more. Especially if one rides Taiwan’s high speed train. And not so if one rides Amtrak in America, at least, if last week’s experience can be used as a guide.  We boarded in Chicago for a ride that would cross two state lines and take us home. With just a little shake the whole thing started moving, right on time. Something slowed it down during the first hour of the ride, and the hour was late. We’d been away for 4 days and wanted to be home. As it made its first stop, we wanted it to “go again already”. And when it did, again, no alarm or sound. 

There’s enough noise in this world, and trains are not all that quiet when rolling down the line, whether slowly or fast, but I still think back to those trains stopping and starting in Guilai, and how their sound, especially in the middle of the night, made me imagine going somewhere.  Now, far from Taiwan, I imagine them taking me home. 

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Thanksgiving Collection 

During some of the years that we lived in Taiwan we were included in what could be called “affinity group” Thanksgiving meals. On year when at our home we invited just a few people to join us on that Thursday night. Among those invited was a friend 20 years our senior She had seen her 3 offspring leave Taiwan after high school, and her husband was out of Taiwan on business that week. Upon arrival she was taken aback that we were serving spaghetti. At our house, we didn’t do turkey.  When in the USA every few years and resident during November, we’d gather with family members around the extended table at Char’s parents’ place. The number of people around THAT table expanded as grandchildren “acquired” spouses, children, and significant others. 

One hears of noble people in every state and town who plan Thanksgiving dinners paying attention to who might otherwise be alone on the day. They invite diverse groups of friends and acquaintances to feast. This year we found ourselves in one of those categories, (hint, not the “noble people” one). We were guests at “the Young family Thanksgiving feast.”  Bob and Shaomay Young are Chinese. They came to the USA in the late 1960s, met in graduate school, married and settled. They had two children. Bob did well in business, working with Motorola during the early years of the “cell phone” thing. Their home is on the north side of Chicago, just over the county line. They had a son and a daughter. We became part of their extended household when our daughter, Kate, married their son, Gene. 


We’d heard about their parties at Thanksgiving and Chinese New Year, but had never been present for one. After they “received “ Kate into their clan, they “adopted” our son, Grant, when he chose a college near their home for his undergraduate studies.  When Grant married Katelyn, SHE became part of the family, too. Bob and Shaomay have a wide network of friends. Thanksgiving this year included 21 people. Long term friends, those friends’ children, those children’s spouses, and those spouses parents. Illinois, Michigan, Maine, Virginia and one guy who was in town from China for a week. 

We’ve now got a different “affinity group”, and hope to be included in it during future years. Noble people come from many places. It is wonderful that they extend invitations to such as ourselves.  We’re going to have to pass this kind of favor along.

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Squirrel Feeding Festival

We resided in Kaohsiung from 1982 to 2007. For 20 of those years, in Manhattan terms,  we were only “a block off of Central Park West”. Kaohsiung’s Central Park was nothing particular to write home about for most of those years. It included a rather run-down stadium (suitalbe for track meets), a run-down covered arena (suitable for basketball), a run-down decorative garden with monument to the Rotary Club and bronze statue of Taiwan’s once military dictator, Chiang Kai-shek, and a run-down antiaircraft battery with 50 calibre machine guns. All of that run-down stuff is long-gone. What the park always had, though, was a lot of trees. Once I even saw a squirrel there. I’ve no idea what it ate.

When we moved to Tainan in 2007 our residence was on the campus of Tainan Theological College, a parklike oasis in the middle of the city. The place was OVERRUN with squirrels, who ate fruit from the many neglected mango, dragon eye, carambola and other fruit trees that fill the campus. 

squirrel and pumpkin

In retirement, we’ve relocated to Holland, MI, another place overrun with squirrels, but which don’t “chatter” like their Taiwan relatives. These eat walnuts, acorns and other things that grow on trees, and, in the autumn, seeds from pumpkins that are displayed on front porches.  We had a stack of pumpkins on our front steps. Orange on the bottom, green in the middle, and white on top. We’d put them there around the 20th of October, when they looked quite festive. By the middle of November, the one on the bottom was looking rather flatter than it had when “Fresh”.  But not one of them had been approached by a squirrel. We wondered what was wrong. Gnawed pumpkins are such a common sight that I’d begun to think of the annual decoration as “squirrel feeding festival”. 

It turns out that the squirrels at our end of the block are only interested in the pumpkin seeds and the placenta they grow in. They didn’t want to bother chewing their way through the pumpkin shell to get to the goodies. It took breaking the treasures open to get anyone attracted.  A few days after the “opening”, I went out to move the remainders onto the compost heap. In one place I found pumpkin mash surrounded by “opened” pumpkin seeds. Even the hulls had been rejected.

We’ve got some very picky rodents out there.

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.



Snatched from Blind Ignorance

We’re going home to Taiwan to vote in January. We blithely assumed that it was just a matter of showing up at the polls with our ID cards on the 1/11. It turns out that we were wrong, but we’ve been “saved in the nick of time” by a word from someone concerned that we not travel Trans-Pacific in vain.

Search of election regulations on government websites related elections and to “Overseas Chinese” (the category within which we now fall) voting in elections turned up very detailed information, including the fact that certain documents have to be filed at a particular office in Tainan City no later than close of business on December 2nd.  OK, we’ve got a week, and we can scan those documents to a friend who lives there and will be able to make the application for us. BUT, the rules mentioned a particular application form. We we couldn’t find that ANYWHERE on the various websites that we consulted.  



茲委託      (國民身分證統一編號:          。戶籍地址:

    省(市)   縣(市) 鄉(鎮市區)   村(里)

鄰            路(街) 段 巷 弄  號 樓

電話:         )代辦第15任總統副總統選舉返國行使選舉權選舉人登記之申請。

We called the Taiwan consulate in Chicago. The nice lady there sent the forms by e-mail.  So, we’d ordinarily be set, BUT, we’re out of town. Our passports and household registration certificate are on the other side of Lake Michigan, where we’ll not “be” until late on Friday night. We’ll send everything to our “agent” in Tainan well in time, and will hope that papers can be filed on the 2nd. Problem solved.

Had it not been solved as it was, we’d probably have gone to Taiwan anyway, just to be in the tropics and miss two weeks of Michigan winter, and to see many friends. It would’ve been OK, just not “super”. 

So, on the cusp of Thanksgiving day here in America’s heartland, we are grateful to and for those friends near and far who care enough to help and to inform. There are not white canes and guide dogs for our kind of blindness, but there are kind people.

Thank God for that!

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

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