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A Merry Macanese Christmas to All!

That's the Grand Lisboa Hotel & Casino in the background.

That’s the Grand Lisboa Hotel & Casino in the background.

Feliz NatalMerry Christmas, friends, or as they say in Macau:  Feliz Natal, amigos!  (I don’t know how to say it in Cantonese, sorry, Portuguese will have to do.)  Macau’s halls are all decked out in gay apparel, and there is sparkly, faux-snow all over, notwithstanding the 75 degree Fahrenheit weather.  I suppose we can just pretend that the fuzzy white air is full of snowflakes, instead of pollution particulates, and go on about our merrymaking.

Largo Senado

Largo Senado

Tinsel LaneIt’s ever so festive around these parts, in part, due to the Catholic Portuguese influence that is still very evident in this part of southern China.  Christmas definitely seems to be a much bigger deal here than it appeared to be in Taiwan, and not just for the shopping.

Video-equipped bathtub.  (Yes, those are my tootsies.)

Video-equipped bathtub. (Yes, those are my tootsies.)

I don’t do a lot of shopping, even when I’m home for the holidays, but I am treating myself a little bit this year.  For one, I decided to stay at the sumptuous Sofitel at Pointe 16, on the mainland side, near the historic center of town, instead of out on the island near all the casinos.

Macau from Pointe 16

Macau from my window.

Not only do I not give an airborne urban vermin’s posterior for casinos, but Santa apparently got my letter, and arranged for me to have a television installed over the bathtub in my room, so I can soak until my fingers are pruney and watch my soap operas at the same time.  Plus, get a load of that view from my window.

This is not a joke.

This is not a joke.

Although, I have to say, I’m tempted to buy myself this hilarious/disturbing cookbook, “Delicacies for Skin Whitening.”  It’s not a joke, it’s full of recipes designed to make you “white from the inside,” with step-by-step instructions on how “[t]o achieve total whiteness.”  whiteness soupsThe “Whiteness Soups” section alone is impressive.  I’m pretty darned white to start with, but I am a huge fan of peculiar cookbooks, and my collection doesn’t include anything quite like this yet.  The perfect gift for anyone dreaming of a White Christmas!

Lucky PiggyAlternatively, there’s a very fetching, 18 karat gold statement necklace that I’ve got my eye on, featuring a jolly post-partum sow suckling her dangling pendant piglets.  I’m just worried that someone else will have one just like it at the next party I wear it to, and you know how embarrassing that can be.  I guess I can wait until the after-Christmas sales and decide then.

Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral all done up for Christmas.

In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the lovely blend of Portuguese-Cantonese scenery, and stuff my face with traditional Macanese egg custard tarts.
God bless us, everyone!

Macanese Egg Tarts

Macanese Egg Tarts


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Qingshan Wang’s Birthday Bash

Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple is on the short list of sights to see in Taipei.  I saved it until a Sunday evening, because I had heard it’s very pretty at night, and there’s a big, famous night market right next to it.  So, two birds, one stone and all that.  What I didn’t realize was that I had picked the fourth day of a four-day religious festival honoring a deity named Qingshan Wang.

qingshan4I could hardly get near the temple.  Wriggling hordes of people crowded the square and entrance courtyard, pushing for a good place from which to see the dragon dances and parade.  I’m getting pretty good at elbowing my way through a crowd now, so I managed to get a decent spot to see the costumed dancers on stilts.  Amid firecrackers and a lot of high pitched, screechy music, they strode, one by one, into  the clearing in front of the temple, did their ceremonial dance, and turned and stalked out.

Part of the procession

Part of the procession

They were going around performing the ceremony in front of all the temples in the area–and that is a LOT of temples.  qingshan3I followed the procession from temple to temple for a while, swept up in the festive atmosphere.  My eardrums were not speaking to me for a few hours afterwards, though.  Such a racket, you can’t imagine.  I’d post a video, but I’d worry the sound would crack your computer screen and make your dog run away.

qingshan2Inside Longshan Temple, worshippers crowded the holy shrines, smouldering joss sticks raised in front of their faces as they silently prayed, eyes closed, bowing three times when they finished.  Monks and nuns tended the large candlestick holders, aflame with clusters of red candles that looked like cartoon bundles of dynamite.

Qingshan feastLong tables of offerings to the gods overflowed with sweet buns, cookies, flowers and the occasional package of storebought digestive biscuits.  Hey, even a god can get indigestion sometimes, especially after a throwdown like this.

The festival also draws “spirit mediums” who flagellate themselves to a literal bloody pulp, and act in ways that would cause you to cross the street if you saw them in San Francisco.  I’ll spare you those photos.


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Thankful In Taiwan

Kenting National Park, Taiwan

Kenting National Park, Taiwan

Gobble, Gobble, everybody!  Happy Thanksgiving wishes coming to you from Taiwan!

This year has brought me a bounty of things to be thankful for.  Not the least of which happened yesterday.  I was strolling through Kenting Forest on the very southern tip of Taiwan.  It was quite hot and humid, and I was being feasted upon by the most ravenous mosquitoes.  I was not feeling grateful at all for the experience.  I felt like the mosquitoes’ Thanksgiving turkey.  butter2Then, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a stray Kleenex float by on a breeze.  When I focused on it, I realized it was a butterfly.  The biggest butterfly I had ever seen in real life, just drifting delicately through the air in slow motion.

She lighted on a nearby cluster of blossoms, and I crept silently toward her to get a closer look.  butter3Gossamer velvet of the purest white, calligraphed with inky black flourishes, upon lacquer spindle legs.  Achingly beautiful.

Then, her friend joined us.  He was an extrovert; he fluttered softly around my head for a few seconds, so closely, I thought for a moment he might land on my shoulder.  buttersAs I watched him fly about, so languidly and leisurely, I noticed three more of these big, lacy, white angels perched upon blooms in the foliage.  Every few moments, they would lift off and float slowly around for a bit, barely having to flap their broad wings at all to stay aloft.  butterI wanted to laugh out loud, but I didn’t dare utter a sound for fear of breaking the spell.  I had landed in the middle of a giant butterfly jamboree.  For once, too, I was keenly aware of the blessing it was as it was happening.

Giant Autumn Maple in Kenting Forest

Giant Autumn Maple in Kenting Forest

I read later, at the visitor center, that these beauties are “Milkweed Butterflies,” and that they fly slowly, because they are so big, they have no natural enemies, so they have the luxury of being pokey.  My kinda critters.

Finial on a bridge post in Taroko Gorge

Finial on a bridge post in Taroko Gorge

I have been getting back to nature quite a bit this week, actually.  I’ve been visiting some of Taiwan’s natural wonders in the southern and eastern parts of the island.  I am spending Thanksgiving this year in the marble mountains of Taroko National Park, named for the Taroko Gorge.

Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge

The Taroko Mountains are made of luminous, white marble, striated with ribbons of jade and green schist.  A milky river cut the gorge in a jagged pattern through the mountains, and the porous stone has erosion pockmarks throughout that make it look like a the cross-section of a bone.  taroko3It’s not the easiest place to get to, but the effort is generously rewarded.

Our American holiday of Thanksgiving obviously isn’t celebrated here in Taiwan, of course, but there is still a certain symmetry to being in Taroko Gorge on this holiday.  tarokoMuch of the eastern side of Taiwan, where Taroko Gorge is located, is still peopled by indigenous tribes, who were moved to reservations here after their ancestors’ lands were taken from them by Chinese colonialists hundreds of years ago.  Sound familiar?  Throw in a turkey and a pilgrim hat, and we’re almost there.  The few hotels and concessions in the park are operated by the local tribes.

Shrine of the Kind Mother in Taroko National Park

Shrine of the Kind Mother in Taroko National Park

So, even though there was no turkey on the buffet in the hotel tonight, my Thanksgiving feast was prepared and served by the local indigenous folks.  I may not sleep tonight.  Liberal white guilt is worse than heartburn.

Suspension Bridge Across Taroko Gorge

Suspension Bridge Across Taroko Gorge

Nevertheless, it is impossible not to be thankful for this place, and for the opportunity to be here to see it with my own eyes.

Happy Thanksgiving, gentle friends.


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My Mama Told Me….

My fabulous future mom in the fountain at her Spring Formal in 1957

My fabulous future mom in the fountain at her Spring Formal in 1957

Today is Mother’s Day here in the U.S. of A., and this year, I’m more grateful than usual to have had the mom that I did.  My mom was a hoot and a half.  She had spirit, and presence, and she sure knew how to have fun.  She was tirelessly curious, and never afraid to look foolish in the name of fun or adventure — which is why we had so much of both.

Mom knew how to party!

Mom knew how to party!

She always said she was happiest when she was “eatin’ or goin’ somewhere, or, better yet, goin’ somewhere to eat.”  We definitely have that in common!  Mom and I had our mother-daughter issues, of course, like everyone else, mostly because we were so similar, but I can sincerely say that, the older I got, the better friends we became.  By the time she passed in 2006, my mom really was my best friend.

My sisters, Mom, and me in my legendary favorite frog shirt

My sisters, Mom, and me in my legendary favorite frog shirt

These days, as I clean out my house, getting ready to sell it so I can hit the road indefinitely, my mom is in my mind so much.  You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this.  One night, in 1976, when I was nine years old, my mom came into my room and woke me up and said “Hey Quinnie, how would you like to spend your birthday with the eskimos?”  I blinked at her in the dark and said “Okay,” and went back to sleep.  Shortly thereafter, there was a For Sale sign in our front yard.  My folks sold our house, got rid of all our junk, bought a big Dodge van and a travel trailer, took my sisters and me out of school, and the five of us–along with Ruby the dog–hit the open road and explored the whole North American continent for a year.  People said they were crazy.  An endless road trip in a gas guzzling van, when there’s a gas crisis on? Take your kids out of school?  Sell your house and leave your job, in this economy?  You can’t do that!  Well…Mom knew better.  And thank God she did.  That year was wonderfully life changing.  (Although, I didn’t get to spend my birthday with the eskimos — we spent it in a KOA campground in Del Rio, Texas.  I remember I was so intent on going swimming on my birthday–which is in January–that I insisted that my mom let me jump in the campground’s pool, which had a paper-thin sheet of ice on it at the time.  She knew me well enough to know it was easier to just let me do it, and learn my lesson.  Which I did.)

Somewhere in Greece Always leading the way

Somewhere in Greece
Always leading the way

Feeding giraffes in Kenya

Feeding giraffes in Kenya

There was no place my mom didn’t want to go.  No different culture she didn’t find fascinating.  No people she didn’t want to talk to.  No new cuisine she didn’t want to try.  No wild critters she didn’t want to see, pet and feed.  I inherited all of that from her.   She would start planning her next adventure before she even unpacked from the last one.  She dragged my poor dad all over the world, and her enthusiasm for discovery made even a cranky old homebody like him happy to accompany her anywhere she wanted to go.  It didn’t matter if it was a day trip from home, or a long-haul flight to the far corners of the earth, my mom was most happy and at peace when she was going someplace new and different.

Mom at Machu Pichu

Mom at Machu Pichu

Snorkeling in Tahiti

Snorkeling in Tahiti

Somehow, she just knew that a change of scenery, shaking things up a little, was the cure for most anything that could ail ya.  I was a pretty good kid, for the most part, but in my latter years of high school, I was bored, unchallenged, and ditching school a lot, hanging out with my boyfriend, but still getting good grades, so the school was sort of at a loss as to what to do with me.  My mom was so smart about the way she handled the situation.  Rather than engage me in a futile contest of wills, she packed my truant ass off to Germany as an exchange student for my senior year!  She even founded our local chapter of the American Field Service, so I could be eligible to go through that organization.  The day she put me on the plane to Frankfurt, when I was 17, was the first time I ever saw her cry.  But she knew what she was doing.  That year abroad was wonderfully life changing for me, as well.  Horizon broadening doesn’t even begin to cover it.  What a visionary she was, my mom.

Smooches from a river otter in Brazil

Smooches from a river otter in Brazil

I wish I could say she was trying to blend in with the kangaroos with that fanny pack, but no....

I wish I could say she was trying to blend in with the kangaroos with that fanny pack, but no….

I always said my mom’s house looked like the gift shop at the zoo.  The walls were covered with interesting masks and folk art that she collected in her travels.  She bought a  hand-embroidered Mola in Panama that had the city name–Colon–featured in the pattern.  She framed it in a shadow box and  hung it in…the bathroom.  Of course!  Where else would you hang Colon-related art?

Hangin' with the locals in Beijing

Hangin’ with the locals in Beijing

My mom had a lifelong fascination with China, and was very disappointed when she planned a trip there in 1989 that had to be cancelled as a result of the June Fourth Incident in Tiananmen Square.  She was so upset about what happened there, but never stopped wanting to go.  So, she and I planned a trip to China together in 2006, just the two of us.  We had the best time, planning our itinerary…Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin, Hong Kong….it was going to be epic.  We were both so excited.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Then, not long before we were supposed to leave, we found out she had terminal lung cancer, and the doctors said she might not last through the trip.  She told me she still wanted to go, but she didn’t feel right about putting that kind of pressure on me, under the circumstances.  I didn’t even hesitate.  “Mom, we’re going, and that’s that.”  It was unthinkable to me to deny her this last wish out of fear.  “Are you sure?” she asked, knowing very well that she might not make it back, and I would be the one to have to deal with anything bad that went down while we were there.  “Of course,” I said.  “I can manage having to get your body home from China if you drop dead on me during the trip, but I can’t handle living my life knowing I could have made this happen for you and didn’t because it was too scary.”  And she totally understood.  So, off we went.

With school kids in China

With school kids in China

It was a phenomenal trip.  We had a pretty ambitious itinerary, and she was getting kind of weak, but her spirit never flagged.  We walked our behinds off, all over every city we visited, up the steps of countless temples, down the Great Wall, into the rainy canyons of the panda refuge, and up and down the aisles of every supermarket we encountered (exploring foreign supermarkets is my travel obsession), and she never complained.  Her joints and bones were affected by the cancer at that point, and she had trouble walking, so I found her an acupuncturist in every place we stopped, and it kept her on her feet and on the go.

At the acupuncturist's office in Kowloon

At the acupuncturist’s office in Kowloon

I remember, once, outside of Hong Kong, the doctor was so sweet, he was concerned about me sitting in the waiting room for so long while my mom was being treated, that he brought out a VHS copy of The Sound of Music and put it on the TV in the waiting room for me to watch!  It was dubbed in Mandarin and subtitled in Cantonese, but the songs were in English.

Mom on the Great Wall

Mom on the Great Wall

It was such a poignant time to spend with her, and I’m so grateful for it.  I could see her soaking in every detail, registering in her mind that this was her last trip, savoring it like a last meal.  It was sad, but beautiful, too.  She didn’t waste a moment of her life feeling sorry for its impermanence.  I hope I am fortunate enough to have that kind of wisdom when it’s my turn.

This is the last picture I ever took of my mom. In my living room, with the bestest kitty that ever was, my boy 'Tila a.k.a. Mr. Flufferpants

This is the last picture I ever took of my mom.
In my living room, when we got back from China, with the bestest kitty that ever was, my boy ‘Tila a.k.a. Mr. Flufferpants

When the wheels of our flight home touched down at SFO, we both exhaled loudly, tired from the trip, relieved to have made it back in one piece, and bracing ourselves for what we both knew was ahead.  And it wasn’t long before she left us.  But I feel her presence all the time, especially, like now, when I’m embarking on a travel adventure.  That day a few months ago, when I was notified that I was being laid off from my firm, instead of the wave of panicked nausea that I expected to experience, I felt like an angel flew through my head–in one ear and out the other–and sprinkled across my brain the glittery idea that I could use this change in circumstance as the opportunity it is, and do what I have been dreaming about doing for so long:  travel the world.  I don’t have to think too hard about who that angel might have been.  I know it was my mom.  I feel her approval in every step I take toward this upcoming grand adventure, and it gives me comfort and certainty that I am doing the right thing.  I expect it to be wonderfully life changing, just like every adventure she created for me in the past.  And, I know she can’t wait to go with me, in spirit, in my heart, everywhere I may go.


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Happy National Corndog Day!

Yee Haw!  It's National Corndog Day!

Yee Haw! It’s National Corndog Day!

It’s  National Corndog Day!  A high holy holiday here at Quin’s Progress!

I am not sure I endorse the official connection between Corndog Day and the beginning of March Madness basketball stuff, but, as usual, they didn’t consult me.  Not that I have anything against it, but I never associated corndogs with basketball, myself.  To me, corndogs mean summertime, flip flops, county fairs, lemonade and the occasional trip to the drive-in movies in the back of the wood paneled station wagon in your jammies!  And today, anytime I have worked really hard, or done something especially good, or I just feel I deserve a reward or a treat, I say I deserve a corndog!  So, today’s the day to treat yourself, and go find an A-Frame Wienerschnitzel or a Hot Dog On A Stick in your local mall, watch those silly girls in the goofy 60s-era polyesther uniforms jump up and down on the lemonade presser, and have yourself an honest to goodness corndog!  You deserve it!respect_the_corn_dog_card-p137005163895831423b21fb_400