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Posts published in June 2013

The Tastes of Taipei

By Angie Liang

Though Asia has a reputation for being inexpensive, the truth is that prices for most things in Taipei were not that different than other cities. The food, however, was phenomenal and a bargain.

For breakfast my mom and I typically went to a stall in the food market, where the line was constantly out the door. They served the traditional greasy carb breakfast: fried pork buns, vegetable onion buns, lots of different types of dumplings, fried breads, and beef “sandwiches.” Of course, as any Chinese person can attest, you must have doufu nao (soft tofu soup), but it’s your choice between salty (my pick!) or sweet. No matter what we selected, my mom and I always arrived hungry and left happy.

My grandmother’s housekeeper also shopped at the food market early each morning to buy groceries for our lunch or dinner. I trailed behind her with my camera to capture the daily produce, which included not just vegetables, but also lots of seafood: seaweed, clams, shrimp, sea bass, and more. As part of every meal, she would pick indigenous fruit that could not be purchased in the U.S., such as liuwen (known as wax apple) and bali (a native guava). With these fresh ingredients, she prepared feasts for our family, often using my grandmother’s recipes. One popular Taiwanese dish is a thinly-sliced braised beef shank, served cold. She made it everyday for us because it was a favored treat.

When visiting Taipei, eating at a night market is a must! The streets are packed, and you shuffle along the herd of people with no personal space. When you find a food stand you must try, you crowd around and order. My cousins and I went to Raohe Street Night Market, sampling the most infamous dish, stinky tofu. (I still am not a fan.) We washed down the tofu with corn that was prepared like a blacksmith molding iron, fried Japanese octopus balls, and Asian pastries with red bean or ice cream. However, we shied away from the grilled crustaceans. Everything at the night market is cheap, which makes for a filling “second dinner.”

Before leaving Taipei, I went by Chia Te Bakery to buy their famous pineapple and cranberry “cakes” to share with friends back in the U.S. The ones baked in Taiwan are much better than the packaged supermarket kind, and Chia Te is considered the best. Lucky for me, I could walk there from my grandmother’s home. Every mouthful of the buttery soft crust, and the sweet-and-tart combination filling, was heaven.

I’d like to think my puopuo is enjoying a few Chia Te cakes in heaven as well. While it look grief and sadness to bring our family all together again, we celebrated her life and our bonds during this short trip to Taiwan – smiling up to the sky.

METRO plans to use New Small Bus on 59 Route

NORTHEAST – METRO met with the East Aldine District at the beginning of June, and outlined planned changes for the Route 59 line which now transverses Aldine Mail Route hourly during weekdays.

A major change will be the use of smaller buses, allowing the cost of running this route to be reduced. Current buses are 47 passenger, more than needed to carry the daily boardings along this route. The new buses will be much smaller, carrying only 12 passengers plus 2 wheelchair positions, but will have the improvement of no internal steps. METRO will put these buses into service on Route 59 on August 25th, according to their spokesperson, Karen Marshall.

METRO now runs a fleet of 1230 full size buses, and will add 40 of these new smaller buses on various routes.

The East Aldine District has been providing a subsidy to METRO for the last year, of $30,000, to insure that this vital bus service continues for the community. Their 2013 budget includes a continuation of the subsidy, according to EAMD president David Hawes.

However, METRO has indicated that their goal for this route is 315 daily boardings, and to date the average boardings have been 242, according to METRO’s Jim Archer. When calculations for the new smaller buses are considered, it may be possible to reduce the required boardings, and eliminate the subsidy. The ridership trend is up, the working group noted, with 268 boardings in March and 259 in April of this year.

A bus line on Aldine Mail Route is not only a convenience for shoppers, students, and residents going to work, but is also a necessary component of future plans for developing a Town Center with a Lone Star campus, it was noted by the committee.

METRO is currently re-examining their total system concept, and route structure, in an event termed “Re-Imagining.” They scheduled a work session in June for this topic. A previous session was held on May 29th for this plan. The goal is to write a new 3-Year plan that would reestablish goals, routes, and equipment solutions for the movement of people in the Greater Houston area. The Re-Imagining study starts with a “blank-slate” according to METRO, and will design a regional transit system from the ground up. Options to be explored include streetcars, commuter rail, light rail, improved bus service, bus rapid transit, and HOV/HOT lanes.

As part of their outreach program to the rider public, METRO will be appearing at local events such as the Back-to-School event August 10th at Greenspoint Mall, and a Fall Fest by East Aldine District, scheduled for October 17th at Crowley Park. The community outreach officer for METRO is now Meredith Alberto. You may also contact the East Aldine District for information.

HCC North Forest Campus moves to new location – Will remodel current North Forest admin. Building

Houston, TX [June 20, 2013] – In the fall, the current Houston Community College North Forest Campus located in Forest Brook Middle School at 7525 Tidwell Road will relocate to a newly renovated space at 6010 Little York Road. This new space is the former administration building for North Forest ISD which has been ordered by the state to annex to Houston ISD by July 1st of this year.

The new space increases HCC’s capacity to grow in North Forest and will provide more career program offerings, services and community activities. In Phase I of the renovation, a portion of the building is being remodeled to accommodate classrooms, study space, student services and a small business incubator. In the future, the remaining portion of the building will be remodeled to offer high demand training programs, adult education and student support services.

The move to the new location provides students with more parking and ease of access in an adult learning environment. Classes currently offered at the

Forest Brook Middle School location will end on July 6. Beginning July 8, the HCC North Forest Campus will close temporarily and relocate to its new location at Little York Road and Homestead Road.

Students interested in registering for fall classes offered at the new North Forest Campus location can register at any HCC campus while the North Forest campus is temporarily closed. On campus registration at the new North Forest Campus will be available beginning August 12, with classes starting on August 26.

As the HCC Northeast administration and staff persist in planning and implementing new programs and services, the College will continue to have open dialogue with the community through public forums and advisoryboard meetings.

The new campus will serve as an anchor for educational opportunities in the North Forest community.

The HCC North Forest Campus offers full-day services and provides the community with academic and workforce training during the day,evenings and on Saturdays.

For the latest information on the HCC North Forest Campus move, class offerings or registration requirements, call 713-718-8300 or visit northeast.hccs.edu.

The Sights of Taipei

By Angie Liang

Walking the streets of Taipei for the first time in ten years, I found myself chuckling. It was so much like New York, except the sidewalks were clean and the roads inundated with motorcycles. Exhaust was the perfume of the major boulevards, while the smaller streets were crowded with low-rise buildings hosting apartments on the top floors and retailers on the ground. For residents who preferred not to drive, the subway and bus system were both convenient and easily accessible – as long as you knew Chinese. And amidst all these people coming and going, the most amusing sight for me was that at any time of day, someone happily walked their little dog, usually unleashed.

During my time in Taipei, I made sure to visit the major tourist sites, including Taipei 101, the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and even Chiufen, a coastal tourist city.

On a clear day, it’s impossible to miss Taipei 101’s glistening green glass in the financial district. After all, the building is one of the tallest towers in the world. This art deco, modern pagoda-like structure is available for overpriced tours – unfortunately my visit occurred on an extremely foggy (or smoggy) day. Instead, like most tourists, I lingered around its adjacent shopping center. The mall is a multi-story galleria of luxury stores, where shop clerks eagerly follow your every move for a sale. It was quiet and eerily empty on a Friday evening as I admired the gleaming marble — an indicator that the Taiwanese were not spending here. The liveliest floor was the underground level, where you could find mainstream (i.e., affordable) retailers as well as the illustrious food court. This food court’s design and refreshments far surpassed those found in American malls — and even the food in U.S. chain restaurants.

The Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Halls are both beautiful to behold. They are very characteristic of Eastern-style architecture and feature an imposing main gate. Inside the Sun Yat-sen memorial, art galleries illustrate the story of his life and interpret the memorial through different artists’ perspectives. Just like Lincoln in Washington D.C., a large sculpture of Sun Yat-sen sits on his chair gazing out. He is protected by two guards who, like the Buckhingham guards in London, will not move or falter when approached. The outside of the hall is a vibrant orange, and a reflection pool and park border it. The scene is idyllic as many citizens gather here: a group of students practicing their dance routine, parents watching their children fly kites, photographers trying to capture the beauty of the Memorial, and friends chatting on park benches.

This time I only visited the outside of Chaing Kai-shek’s Memorial Hall, but despite being under construction, it is stunningly beautiful. The stark white stones are striking even against a gray sky, and the ocean blue tiles on the memorial and the entrance gate are one of the most vivid colors you see in the city. Though I was only able to spend a brief moment here, I found a sense of peace and stillness, a rarity in my life that I truly appreciated.

Court Dismisses North Forest TRO lawsuit, HISD votes to encompass NF district

NORTH FOREST – With only a few weeks remaining before the TEA ordered annexation of the beleagured North Forest school district into Houston ISD, the district lost one of its last appeal opportunities when the 126th District Court in Austin issued an order dismissing the case because it “lacks jurisdiction.” In effect this grants the TEA authority to continue with its plans to merge North Forest ISD with Houston ISD.

Immediately the NF attorneys, Ron Rainey and Chris Tritico, indicated to the Northeast News that they would appeal this court decision to the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin. In addition, North Forest is still waiting for a decision from the U.S. Department of Justice on whether the merger would be compliant with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

North Forest superintendent Edna Forté issued a statement that “we are disappointed that the state district court judge declined to stop the closure of North Forest ISD. We will continue to fight for our children and our community.”

In a meeting with the Northeast News, attorney Ron Rainey indicated that time may actually be on the district’s side, since the appelllate court and the DOJ may not make decisions by the July 1st deadline. In that case, he surmised that TEA might be forced legally to keep the district open.

Plea to Houston ISD

Supporters of the District appeared at an HISD board meeting on Thursday afternoon, and each made a plea for the board to delay their annexation vote. However, in two motions the board voted 8-0 to redraw the boundaries to include North Forest, and to assign portions of the district to HISD single person districts 2 and 8. These are represented by Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche.

Appearing and speaking at the meeting were NF advocates Rev. William Lawson, Millicent Edwards, Deidre Rasheed for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Nakima Brawns, Rev. Lawrence Woods, Ernestine Jones, Elliott Livingston, and Rev. Ken Campbell.

Rev. Lawson asked the board to give North Forest “some opportunity to have a voice. Don’t vote until the court has made a decision.”

Ernestine Jones and others pointed out that North Forest is delivering a quality education, and test scores are better than neighboring HISD schools.

Observers noted that HISD superintendent Terry Grier has visited all 8 North Forest schools, and held a “TeleTownHall” to garner opinions on the annexation.

Attorney Locke said that his office had drawn boundaries for the annexation, which should be considered temporary until a complete redistricting in Jan. 2014. However, HISD District 2 would get the major portion of North Forest (SEE MAP ABOVE) and this would be a predominantly African-American district. The other portion of the NFISD would go to HISD District 8, and be predominantly Hispanic. He said that he felt this would satisfy the Civil Right Act requirements.

Letter to Parents by HISD

An unsigned letter was issued to North Forest parents last week by HISD, informing the community of future plans for their schools and their children. This letter said an information center had been established at the Northeast Multi-Service Center, 9720 Spaulding. In addition two (now 3) public meetings will be held to give information and answer questions.

The letter said that Lakewood Elementary would be closed, but all others would remain open, and named new principals at each of the 7 remaining schools. The letter also included new attendance zone maps for remaining NFISD and HISD schools.

Public Information Meetings

June 18, 6:30 to 7:30 pm, Kashmere High School, 6900 Wileyvale.

June 25, 6:30 to 7:30 pm, Eden Event Center, 7540 N. Wayside.

June 27, 6:30 to 7:30 pm, Eden Event Center, 7540 N. Wayside.

During these meetings, open to all NFISD and HISD parents, information will be presented by HISD on school attendance zones, new principals, and questions will be answered.

Texas Senate & House hold redistricting hearings in Houston

HOUSTON – Committees from the State Senate and House are holding hearings in Houston, to get public input on the interim maps now governing election districts in Texas for Congress and the Legislature.

Hearings are being held across the state, including Corpus Christi, Austin, and Houston, to solicit public input on the U.S. Congressional, Texas House, and Texas Senate maps being considered by the legislature.

As these interim maps do not properly reflect the rapidly changing demographics of Texas, “I encourage you to attend the following hearings and voice your concerns,” said Rep. Armando Walle.

Senator Garcia said “The population of Harris County grew from 3,400,590 in 2000 to 4,092,459 in 2010. From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population in Harris County grew by 691,881. Latinos constituted 79.75% of the total population growth in Harris County. …maps were proposed …that included an additional minority opportunity district in Harris County, that were not addressed in the interim map.”

Gov. Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott are rushing to get court-drawn temporary interim maps adopted during a special session before the courts have ruled on pending claims of intentional discrimination and Voting Rights Act violations.

The first meeting for the Texas Senate Select Committee on Redistricting took place last Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. at University of Houston – Main Campus, Michael J. Cemo Hall, 4800 Calhoun Rd., Houston, TX 77004.

The Texas House Select Committee on Redistricting will meet on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. at the University of Houston – Main Campus, Michael J. Cemo Hall, Room 100 D, 4800 Calhoun Rd., Houston, TX 77004. Representative Walle has urged interested voters to attend this meeting, and express their opinion on boundaries and make-up of the districts.

After the hearings, legislators will work together to consolidate comments and produce maps that are acceptable to both parties, Sen. Garcia said. A final vote may come in about two weeks. The legislators may also simply approve the existing interim maps. However, a court challenge is expected on these maps.

At the hearings on Saturday, which lasted about three hours, a variety of speakers expressed their concern about the current maps. Only a few spoke in their favor.

Most speakers said they felt the maps defined districts that were discriminatory, but surprisingly the reasons why varied greatly. Although Senator Garcia and others had voiced the need for a minority-majority opportunity district representing Hispanics, this was only one of the themes of the speakers. Many spoke about the extreme gerrymandering of the outlines, and how this was a disservice to voters of all backgrounds. Many wanted them redrawn in more compact, and therefore representative of a small geographic area.

William Drout and his wife felt that gerrymandering placed too much emphasis on race, and not the issues that the representatives should be dealing with. Drout also condemned the current representative, Sheila Jackson Lee, as dishonest and not representing his interests well.

Please contact Rep. Walle’s district office at (713) 694-8620 or Capitol office at (512) 463-0924 with any questions about the hearings.

Steve Brown, chair of the Fort Bend Democratic party, saw an opportunity to form a district with equity between four different races, something unique.

Dorothy Olmos spoke as an Hispanic Republican, saying this was an opportunity for both parties to work together to represent a minority.

In summary, Senator Garcia and chair Kel Seliger thanked everyone for the input, which will be considered when amendments are filed next week, and eventually voted on.

Returning to Our Family’s Homeland

By Angie Liang

A decade has passed since I last saw Taiwan, the island country where my parents are from. They spent their childhood until their early 20s there, before moving to the United States to advance their education and start a family. They have now lived here longer than they’ve lived in Taiwan, but as much as they love Texas and consider it home, I know how important their native country is to them.

Every few years when I was growing up, my parents would take my sister and I back to Taiwan to learn about their homeland and to know our family. We always stayed in the apartment of my puopuo (grandmother on my mom’s side), where she cooked with my aunts and spoke with a heavy accent. I often had to ask my mom to clarify her mother’s Chinese, but there was one thing I always understood: puopuo sweetly calling me by my middle name, Yen Tzu, and reminding me how good and wonderful I am.

One time I left my beloved teddy bear in her bed and flew back to Texas without it, crying. She assured me over the phone, “Yen Tzu, do not worry. I will watch him closely and take care of him until you return.”

I did return to see puopuo and collect my bear, but years later as an adult, I slowly started turning away from Asia and what I knew. When I first tasted the freedom of traveling on my own, I choose to explore the unfamiliar – such as Europe – wanting to create new, amazing personal experiences.

Over the years, my family has visited Taiwan several times without me. While I always wished I could go too, I never felt too much urgency, assuming there would be other opportunities. It was not until the beginning of this year, when my mom called me to say that puopuo had a stroke, that the need to return filled my entire being.

Unfortunately Puopuo passed away a few weeks before we arrived. (Fortunately my cousin had recently given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl, and puopuo had been smiling about this news before she passed.) So I was finally back in Taiwan, heavy with mixed emotions, missing the one person I wanted to see most. There was grief for my beloved grandmother, guilt for having waited so long to return, and curiosity to rediscover a part of me, to see where my parents grew up and how it had changed.

In the next JBU columns, I will share some of my thoughts and experiences in Taiwan. This beautiful country is full of wonderful sights, food and, for me, family. I know puopuo was proud as she watched all of us return, pay our respects, and explore our family’s homeland.

North Forest wins 2 week stay – State TEA must stop annexation until June 13 hearing

North Forest ISD continued its battle last week to remain open and not be annexed by Houston ISD, as ordered by the state Education Agency. In the latest round of events, Judge Jon Wisser of the state district court in Travis County issued a TRO, or Temporary Restraining Order, against Education Commissioner Michael Williams and his deputy, Lizzette Reynolds. This TRO said that the TEA must cease all annexation actions until a court hearing in 14 days, on June 13.

In previous actions, NFISD attorney Chris Tritico lost one round of arguments with the SOAH, or State Office of Administrative Hearings, who issued a ruling on Friday, May 24 affirming the actions of the TEA, or Texas Education Agency, in ordering closure of the North Forest District and annexation by the Houston ISD.

North Forest responded to this ruling with a statement from the Superintendent Edna Forté’s office, saying “although the district was unsuccessful, …we continue to hope for a positive outcome. We have filed an appeal with the U.S. Department of Justice.”

However, Tritico is known for his willingness to fight for a cause, and by Tuesday of last week, he had received word that the federal Department of Justice, which must rule on the TEA actions in conformity to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, wanted additional information from TEA on how HISD would redraw its boundaries to encompass North Forest students. Tritico and North Forest ISD interpreted this as a positive sign in their battle to remain open. HISD, through its attorney David Thompson, could not give a definitive answer, saying the drawing of boundaries was premature.

In an interview at the beginning of the week, Commissioner Williams indicated that the annexation was proceeding toward the scheduled closure and merger on July 1st. Now it remains to be seen, whether the TRO will have an effect on this date. TEA spokesperson Debra Ratcliffe indicated that the agency was surprised at the request from DOJ, indicating that in previous cases where they closed a district, no additional information was requested.

It seems that the Houston ISD is proceeding with preparations for the annexation. In a prepared statement, spokesperson Jason Spencer said “The Houston ISD is not a party to the litigation involving the North Forest ISD and the Texas Education Agency. HISD will continue to plan and prepare to implement Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ order to annex North Forest effective July 1, unless that decision is reversed by a court of law.”

In fact, HISD has been holding job fairs and information meetings, in preparation for hiring and staffing the schools it will use to serve North Forest. However, HISD superintendent Terry Grier has only promised to keep open North Forest High School, and has not given any indication what other plans he has for existing schools.

Commenting on the TRO, attorney Tritico said “There have been illegal actions by the Commissioner and his appointees throughout this process. The law does not permit the government to manipulate the law to accomplish its own ends. Today is a major step in ensuring the continuation of the North Forest School District.”

Tritico pointed out that North Forest is a small community of 250,000 and merging it into Houston’s 3 million would dilute the voting strength of it’s minorities. It is this type of argument he feels will convince the DOJ to disallow the annexation.