The other day, Kaylen and I were sitting outside sipping iced milk teas, gazing at the flow of Lujou life passing before us. I think it was in the middle of the week-long flooding rains Taiwan was experiencing in the second week of June.  Watching the rain from the dry comfort of our al fresco table, we were inspired to write some poetry. We talked about the haiku form. I like the haiku form: it is easy to introduce, short in length, simple in structure (5-7-5 syllables in three lines), and typically written of light-hearted subjects. 

My haiku:

Black streets wet with rain

Smokers under the awnings

June day in Taipei.

Kaylen, thinking back to our day at the beach a few days before, wrote this one:

Big blue waves crash down

Hot sand under the big sky

I surf between them.


My Horse Essay

by Kaylen Isabella Hou

    I am Kaylen Isabella Hou. I love horses. That is what I want to talk about. Days and days the horses are hungry and no fresh water for the colts. Horses are pushed way up to the top of the mountain. Pretty soon no horses will be left. I think we shouldn’t just think about us we should think about the living creatures on the earth. The land that you are on is their land. It was and it is their land now.  


This is a photo of Icelandic ponies in Iceland. I got it off Flickr.




Last weekend we and our neighbors on 8th floor had a table at the Orphanage Flea Market at TAS. We  love shopping at this flea market together and always get a little crazy. It is always a fun day: Kaylen and Eevie always find treasures, there is pizza for sale and chocolate cookies, throngs of intent shoppers, and Hsiuchi is a champion bargain finder. We have always talked about having a table there some day. Well, this year we did it. We started talking about it back in January and both families had piles and piles of stuff when the day came. We had mostly kids clothes, books and toys. The Lin family had  a similar collection of stuff along with some bigger items like computer equipment, an espresso maker and a small refrigerator.

The idea was to let Kaylen and Eevie be in charge and learn about making money, and have the satisfaction of selling some their unwanted items. And, in fact, they had a great time. We got together the night before and started going through things and sorting a bit, and discussed our pricing strategy and our merchandizing strategy. We started pricing late that night.

Saturday morning, we got to TAS at 8:30 am to start setting up. We had barely started unpacking and I made our first sale to a TAS staff – a pair of shoes and a pair of shorts. Garbage bags and boxes of stuff that had been in storage for six months were unpacked and set out. There was a cascade of items from behind our table and flowing onto the floor in front.


The sale didn’t start until 10 am but at 9 am there was already plenty of activity from TYPA families and fellow flea marketers browsing the other stands. At 10 am the crowds really hit. We were frantically making sales, making change, explaining features and demonstrating products. It was tense: were the Bionicles overpriced? Dacheng had insisted at marking them at NT$150 each and we decided that if they hadn’t sold by 11:00 am we would mark them down. Were the English Early Readers priced too high? No one seemed to be interested in them.

Almost all the sales we made that day were within the first hour. The Bionicles sold – one for Nt$150 and two at NT$100 a piece. The Early Readers did eventually go at the prices marked (NT$20-NT$80 a piece).

At 11:00 when things slowed down Kaylen and Eevie took NT$100 each and went shopping. Kaylen is the worst bargain hunter in the world and is more likely to pay more than the offering price than less, but she has a very good eye for special treasures.  

Kaylen and Eevie would return every few minutes to help out. It was sad to part with some of Kaylen’s old things, but it was sadder not to see some things going to new homes. I happily packed up several workbooks, readers and toys for one grandma who was stocking up on things for her grandchildren, and one mom was very happy to get a collection of Kaylen’s wooden toys that she had when she was 2-3 years old. It was sad to see four sets of Kaylen’s long underwear in great condition just sit there. Those are the kinds of things I love to stock up on at flea markets – kids long underwear sets. Oh well, those went into our neighborhood recycling bin.

Kaylen rescued some of her stuffed animals and toys that I had sorted to sell. There was a ball yoyo that she decided she didn’t want to sell.  This toy that she had ignored for months was suddenly her favorite toy. She was playing with it and a little boy saw it. He begged her to sell it to him and he finally bargained her up to NT$100. Oh, the bitter taste of regret as she watched him happily walk away with that ball! Earlier in the day she bought a lovely stuffed bear from another table for NT$100. At the end of the day when we were packing up another little girl wanted to buy it from her. Kaylen told her very definitively that it was not for sale!


We took in about NT$4,000 that day, so cleared NT$3,400 after accounting for the cost of renting the table. 

I think the main lessons learned that day were that 1) it is fun to do almost anything when you plan it with your good friends, 2) that it is more fun to get things set up and then leave the underlings (the parents, in this case) in charge of the store while you go off and shop, and 3) that some things are not for sale at any price.

The Lujou Culture Appreciation Group (current members comprise Kaylen, Eevie, Julie and Hsiuchi) went to see the If Group performance of 1234567, as promised. The four of us have been to many art events and music, dance and theatrical performances.  1234567 did not disappoint. They did some surprising and amazing things on the stage – towering structures, people swinging from ropes, layers and layers of gauze screens giving a depth to the scenery. However, there were not as many catchy show tunes as in Freeze! or Who is Santa Claus? and in it sometimes devolved into bad Taiwanese (experimental?) theatre. There was one section that used a blue sceen and real time video taping to clever and humrous effect. It was a long show, and nearing 10 pm, when most of the audience was wont to be nodding off, the cast took to the audience with an interactive composition of a melody and lyrics.

Kaylen having a chocolate egg at intermission, Eevie looking at her mom down in the lobby buying souvenirs and registering for free drawings:


The beloved Shuiguo Nainai made her appearance at the beginning and end of the show, and was around after the show for exactly 15 pictures. We were not quick enough to get in on that.

We had great seats in the second level, front row. But, all the audience interaction took place on the first level. Maybe we will try to sit there next time. 

Kaylen with ChiChi, the lead character in the show:


Friday playgroup this week found us at a new (for us) indoor recreational spot in Taipei – the exclusive Beitou Resort.

 Located at the Fuxinggang MRT stop on the Red Line, this resort was originally created for MRT staffers to use. It is one of those weird government projects that you encounter occasionally inTaiwan. A big cavernous, lonely, wind-blown place for which a lot of money was spent to build, but which was never planned to be used, a slush-fund project. It takes me back to communist China and all the cavernous, lonely, pointless, wind-blown structures there…

 The first surprise we had is that we must enter the Resort from the MRT station. Then we walked across a bridge over the train yard to get to it. Since it is cleverly disguised as a either a train depot or a prison, we weren’t at all sure we were in the right place. We found the expansive steps leading up to the main door, but the main door was locked. There was not a soul around. The only sound was that of the weed whippers at work mowing the grass between the tracks in the train yard. We found a stairway leading downstairs and headed that way. Luckily, there was someone filling an ATM and he was able to give us general directions to the main desk. We pressed on down wide hallways, past huge banquet and meeting rooms. Finally we found someone at a desk in the exercise room.

Seeing all the benefits of this place we quickly bought ourselves a NT$200 membership in the club. One mom took the wiser approach of getting a guest pass to check it out before committing.

 Membership lets you use the facilities for a small extra charge: NT$60 for the kids’ playroom, NT$90 for the pool. The pool looked nice – a lap pool, a kiddie pool and a diving pool.

The kids had a great time in the playroom, and we definitely plan to go swimming there at some point. It is a nice place to add to our (short) list of good indoor places to go for playgroup.

So, if you want to go, just get off at the Fuxinggang exit and ask for directions. You will need two ID photos and some picture ID to get a membership card made. Children also need cards so bring photos and all for them as well. Children need socks in the playroom!

Places in Taiwan are funny: they are either super crowded or super dead.

Beitou Resort is the blue and grey building off to left, next to the depot:


Inmates, er, “members” this way:


Landscaping crew at the Resort:


Last week we went on a daytime outing to Yingge with another homeschooling family. We met there at 11:00 am on a Thursday morning, so there were not many people there – we noticed a couple groups of school children and a tour group from Hong Kong. 

 It was a nice little adventure for Kaylen and me. Dacheng usually drives when we go outside of Taipei but since he was working we decided to take the train.

 The train was great! So fast and so cheap. Adult tickets to Yingge are NT$31 and a child’s ticket is only NT$16. If you buy a round trip ticket it is even cheaper. Trains that go through Yingge leave about every 15 minutes from the main train station. Almost all the trains heading south from the main station go through Yingge. The trip takes just under 30 minutes.

You can just show up and buy tickets the day you want to travel. If you know what you are doing at the train station, you only need to allow yourself about 10 minutes to get tickets and get down to the platform.

Check the train schedule to Yingge:

 Once you get to the Yingge train station the Lao Jie (old street) is about a 10 minute walk. Or there are plenty of cabs waiting to take you there.

There are lots of DIY places on theLao Jie where kids and adults can try their hand at throwing pots or doing pinch pots. One place we found seemed to be a bit more reasonably priced. It was NT$150 to make one piece on the pottery wheel which includes adding some decorative touches after you have made the pot, another NT$150 for firing and glazing (sorry, you can’t pick the glaze color), and another NT$100 for shipping the piece to you. It is only NT$150 to ship 3-10 pieces so if you ship as a group you can all save some money. We spent NT$330 per child to make one piece, but it was a whole afternoon of playing. The teacher was really good with the kids and helped them a lot on the wheel and rescued their pots if they got out of control.

This place is at 55 Chongqing Street 2F, near the intersection of Lao Jie and Chongqing Street. Their phone number is 02-8677-2547. They also have a tea shop/restaurant.  And a website: http://www.ccv.org.tw/yingge/

Kaylen wearing her train floor-green pants, reading the paper on her commute to Yingge:




Hanging around on the Old Street: Kaylen, Sharon, Mark, Charlotte, Matthew and Timothy in the front.


 The whole gang at work at the wheels:


Kaylen and Charlotte decorating their pots:


I have found 三桐花 variously translated as paulownia, the phoenix tree or the tung tree.  It may be the tree that in Japan is called kiri. Kiri is often used in furniture in Japan and there is a romantic story as to why it is: when someone had a baby girl, they would plant one of these trees in the yard. By the time the girl had grown up and was about to be married, the tree was big enough to make most of the furniture for the newlyweds, which is what the father of the bride would do. 

Daddy and Kaylen with Tung trees in the background:


The tall straight trees grow in the mountains in Taiwan around Hsinchu, and Sanhsia and Tucheng, among other places. In the spring the tree tops are full of white blossoms that look a little like apple blossoms, only bigger. You can see the flowers as you drive past the wooded hillsides, but once you get into the forest you can’t really see the flowers until they fall down. Then the ground and stream beds are covered with white blossoms. People here call this phenomenon “Spring Snow”.

We went with some friends to see the Spring Snow a couple weeks ago. We found a trail to walk on in Da-hsi. The blossoms weren’t at their peak but it was still a nice outing. The trees themselves are really nice – towering straight, smooth trunks that are pale green. As I said, I am not sure if this is the same tree, but the tung tree is where tung oil comes from, the oil that my mom used to use when she was refinishing some piece of furniture she found at a garage sale. (You rub in several coats and it protects the wood and gives it a bit of a shine, but not as shiny as varnish.)


It was a hot, humid day on the trail, and not a breath of wind – plenty more of that ahead of us! The girls had a great time collecting blossoms, putting them in their hair, arranging them on the ground.

Kaylen with 三桐花 and a cute yellow something:

Kaylen and flowers 

Kaylen and Eevie collecting blossoms:


A floral arrangement:


Next Page »