9th May: Tax Shock
In Taiwan, income taxes are reported, filed and paid in May. Most people with simple returns can do the entire thing online. Because our income is mainly from overseas (we’re paid for our work here by the Reformed Church in America), one of us has take all of our paperwork (passports, ID cards, local income reports, letters from the Reformed Church about foreign income, etc.) to the tax office and report in person. Someone there computes everything for us. Many people put this off until the end of the month, when the lines are long. I learned decades ago to go before the middle of the month.
In 2017, we report and pay taxes on 2016 income. During 2016 we were in the USA on home assignment for a few weeks more than 6 months. Those were expensive weeks. Had we returned to Taiwan on July 30th (rather than August 20th), our tax rate would have been about 8%, and deductions would have been allowed. But because we were 21 days short of 183 days in residence, we were assessed a flat tax of 18% on the income received during our 163 days here. No deductions either. Without guessing the amount, I expected a difference. Now I understand what new car shoppers experience with sticker shock.
10th May: Expected Unwelcome News
During community worship on the afternoon of May 10th, our friend and colleague Ong Cheng-bun died. She was 52 years old and had been on sick-leave while undergoing cancer treatment for most of the past 3 years. She still participated in some college activities, still advised senior thesis papers, and still smiled every time one met her, but her battle finally ended. Later that evening about 30 people went to the municipal mortuary to meet her family members and say our goodbyes. Cheng-bun’s twin testified that her sister had smiled all the way to the end, and that’s how we like to think of her now…smiling, dancing and creating art eternally.
14th May: Mothers Day
That it was the 5th Sunday in the season of Easter was not even noticed in churches around Taiwan on the 14th, because Mother outranks all other considerations. This year, Char and all the other mothers in church received gift certificates amounting to about $10 for a local supermarket (better than the bottle of laundry detergent she came home with one year or the big package of toilet paper another year.) The church’s combined recorder groups (kids, youth and old folks) played the prelude and postlude at worship.
The longer we live here, the more it becomes apparent that a church can neglect things like Lent, Ascension, Pentecost and Advent, but had better not forget Mother (and I don’t mean Mary)!
19th May: Taxes Paid!
After the shock of reporting and computing income taxes on the 9th, it took a while to gather the cash, some of which we already had here, the rest of which had to come from overseas. Making our payments at the bank, even the teller was amazed at the amount. I told him that it’s worth that much to be able to live in Taiwan. When I went back to the tax counter to file the forms, there was a couple there doing their computation. I had a trip down memory lane. They had two little kids with them. I remember how, before our own kids went off to all-day school, I’d take one of them with me every year to the tax office. A cute blonde kid at one’s side makes everyone feel better.
20th May: Sweaty Bodies
National Cheng-Kung University which has about 40,000 students, is here in Tainan. It is home to Medical, Engineering, Business and Arts & Sciences colleges. However, there is no music department.
Students solved that problem themselves, organizing a university chorus and hiring a director. Every year they present a concert. This year it was first presented at the University’s Assembly hall on May 13th and a week later at a church around the corner from where we live. We went to the second concert. The men wore black, and the women wore long white gowns. The number of people on the risers varied depending on the mix required for what was being sung. People walked in or out the side doors of the church so that only those involved in making music were required to stand at any particular time.
For one song, the risers were filled with men in black, and things started in a lower register. Then, from the back of the church came the sound of sopranos and altos, who were entering through the door and singing their way up the aisles. This kind of thing excites me, and as the women made their way nearer the front, I was excited by the music. Then reality struck. These women had been outside the air conditioned hall, waiting to come in. Beside that, they had already been performing, off and on, for an hour. The beauty of their music was accompanied with a particular olfactory sensation, generally experienced in locker rooms.
22nd May: Repeat
The student who preached to the community at Tainan Theological College on May 10th didn’t pass. Her sermon was a hodgepodge of poor work and the service she led had no liturgical integrity. The prayers of intercession, for instance, were a train wreck. Not passing can mean waiting another complete year to graduate. BUT, she was given a reprieve. Using the same text, she reworked the sermon and shortened it to fit the format of morning prayers (only 20 minutes long). This time she passed. She still has a lot to learn, but will have to do that in the context of a local church, which may, or may not, be as forgiving as the college.
22nd May: Sewing Day
There’s a central staircase in the library at Tainan Theological College that has a giant blank wall. It’s been that way for 50 years. All that’s ever been up there is paint, the current coat of which is oxidized and peeling. I volunteered to make a fabric art piece for it, and was given tentative approval late in April. A few weeks later I was asked how things were going, and the truth was that they hadn’t moved past my concept. So I spent Monday at my sewing machine and ironing board, doing “Applied Theology”. The piece is now pinned up against a wall outside my office, waiting for approval before I actually assemble it, iron everything well, and do the installation.
One student who saw it asked, “What does it mean?” She wanted an explanation that would sound theological or biblical. In reality, the meaning of this thing is already in her, she just has to listen to her heart. Now having been prompted to entitle my artwork, I’m pondering, “Meaning Comes From You”.
24th May: Failure to Connect
The class in Platform Skills and Creative Preaching that I lead uses a lot of internet materials and videos. I’ve found TED talks produced in Taipei in Chinese, and wanted to use several this week. Instead of downloading them to re-show, I thought we’d connect directly to the internet in the classroom. FAILED. Because most people here go to the internet from their smart phones, the wires that serve the classroom are not well maintained. Insofar as this involved the TED talks it was no great loss. But I also wanted to demonstrate some software for dealing with audio but couldn’t get online to show it. Now I’ll have to create a screencast and send it to everyone, but the skill to do that is a little beyond me at this moment.
24th May: Loud!
A few weeks ago someone mis-adjusted the soundboard in the college chapel, and the entire service sounded bad. Students have begun to use a hand-held microphone, which sounds better but presents speaking technique problems. On the 17th the guy had the mike in his right hand, so never looked at the people seated on the right side of the chapel. The guy on the 24th was just flat too loud! One evaluator even got a headache. I’m pretty sure that the grade suffered.
26th May: Questioning the Implications
Living in Taiwan, one learns not to present certain items as gifts, because they have implications. A gift of an umbrella, for instance, implies that the giver wants her friendship with the receiver to end. Even worse is the gift of a clock, which means one is considering the recipient’s death. When Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, made a visit to Texas in January of 2017, Greg Abbott, the state’s governor, gave her a Texas shaped clock. NOT the right item for one hoping to develop a trade relationship!
With all that in mind, we come to May 26th, upon which the students who are up to graduating from Tainan Theological College next month held a meal in honor of their teachers. The seniors in the social work bachelors’ degree program, whom I had taught for 5 semesters at the beginning of their time here, presented me with a small token of their esteem. It is appropriate in Taiwan for a gift to be received, then taken home and opened later, after which thanks are given. When I opened the package, it held a bar of soap! I wonder what they’re trying to tell me.