A trip to Taipei, some computer problems, being busy and a little tiredness made it more difficult to write my blog. A break from it occasionally, however, cannot be bad. On Thursday night, I stayed for probably the last time at our old apartment in Taipei. I have gradually become less and less attached to it over the last year and even before that when we were in Hawai'i, and am glad we are finally getting rid of it. However, we bought the place just over 20 years ago, and so in spite of some of the inconveniences of living there, there were many good times, too.
Perhaps my highlight on Friday, apart from a nice lunch with three ladies from a government institution that I occasionally do work for, was a brief visit to another government institution where I worked either part time or close to full time from 1992 to 1999, to the day before we left for Hawai'i. This institution has some 800 employees, and it is for the majority of them a place of lifetime employment. People who join the civil service here after graduating from college are assigned to a job or institution and are often still there when they retire more than 40 years later. So each time I visit (I last visited almost one year ago), I know exactly where to find most people - at the same desk locations and probably doing much the same work as before. Only one lady I wanted to visit was not there, and the person (another old friend) sitting at her desk told me she had already retired. Well, I guess that becomes more common as one gets older.
There are many people at this place that I used to see each day and chat with in the 1990s. Although I have since been living elsewhere, overseas and now in the south of Taiwan, each time I go there brings back many good memories. I again saw the policeman on duty there that always used to chat with me. In addition, I briefly spoke to several colleagues in the department in which I used to work over ten years ago, who still looked much the same but clearly showed some signs of having aged since then. There were people I saw that I attended a Bible study with in those days, as well as others who were concerned about me when I needed medical treatment at that time, one or two who helped me handle some of my financial paperwork when my family and I relocated to Hawaii, and others I worked with more directly in my job there.
We live in a world where people constantly come and go (including ourselves) and in which it is often difficult to make lasting friends, especially the older one gets. While I no longer have a regular job as such, through my work in Taiwan I am still in touch with a few people that I met over 20 years ago. While such relationships may be more professional than being purely based on friendship, the fact is that we have experienced life together at different points in time over a long period. A few of these long-term contacts are now in very high positions within society and to find out what they are doing, I usually only need to open the daily newspaper. Others are in the formative stages. For instance, any professor I am occasionally working with now may be a Cabinet member in the not-too-distant future.
While I cannot say I have very close friends (and I think that while family members are of course friends, they are not the same since I think friendships are largely voluntary and not based on blood lines or binding agreements), I have tended to have friends from diverse cultures and backgrounds. My interest in learning languages hasn't just been an academic interest or a search to better understand my own roots, but a way of making friends. Today at lunch at church my wife introduced me to a Chinese lady and her French husband who were visiting and it was a pleasure to talk with him in French. A good thing about talking with a native is that he can correct your mistakes as you go along, and so you can learn something, too. Certainly, languages are bridges between cultures, and I wouldn't have most of my Chinese friends without speaking to them in Mandarin or even Taiwanese in some cases. I don't think learning languages is that difficult. With the right environment, well prepared materials and some encouragement we can at least reach some degree of familiarity with a language. Perfection isn't necessary and to be honest there is still a lot more that we can learn about our own mother tongues.
Another interesting incident in Taipei on Friday was when a Chinese lady professor came up to me as I was picking up my medicine in the hospital and asked me: "Are you Bruce?" When she said her name I immediately knew who she was, and although I had known her through my work for several years we had never met. So how did she recognize me? "From looking at your blog!" she replied. She is one of a few people here in Taiwan I have told about my blog. I often wonder what is the relevance between articles about my swim workouts or with pictures of people dressed in Splish suits and my efforts to relate to people in government and academia in Taiwan. Well, I hope they don't think I am about to retire!
Which brings me back to the subject of writing this blog. I started this blog in March this year and it was through the encouragement of one or two friends at first, in particular Bree, that I persevered to keep writing even though I wondered whether anyone would look at anything I wrote. I see from many of my friends' blogs that Bree is a great encourager and you could say a great friend to many. As I write this she is probably on the bike in the Vancouver Half Ironman. I don't have many details of that race and maybe I will just have to check the news tomorrow to find out what happened. In closing, friendships are valuable, and while blogging is not necessarily the best way to try to make friends, it has in my own experience proved to be very useful. At least when I see some of your guys on a subsequent visit to Kona, we won't need to catch up on the past. It will just be necessary to get our goggles on and start swimming!
Pictures from top to bottom: (1) The 25-meter community pool I swam in the late 80's and 90's; (2) View from rooftop of Taipei apartment; (3) The study room, now lifeless and almost empty; (4) A nearby dog (with an owner). The trip back to our former neighborhood is worth it just to walk the hills and say hi to the dogs who will still remember me.