Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Taibei Proper and Other Famous Swimming Pools

After peeling myself off of the leather love seat in my living room, I realized that my sporadic updates/insights are becoming just that, so I thought I should give it another go.

As my time in Taiwan is winding down [only 40ish odd days before we leave], I realize that I should try to crystallize some of my thoughts of summer in Taiwan. The first and most logical of course would be to put into writing that mantra I keep repeating to myself on a fairly regular basis. "My god. I'm going to die from this heat. Just a few more blocks and there's a soft patch of grass to collapse in." Of course there are a number of variations to this but they share a common theme. Needless to say it is a little on the warm and slightly uncomfortable side here. To aid in your understanding, slightly uncomfortable indicates that from the moment you get dressed your underwear becoming permanently affixed to your nether regions until such time as you can undress once again. Aside from that small detail, summer has been fairly nice.

Last week, like so many Taiwanese citizens, Ariel and I got prepared, and just a little bit excited, about the year's first typhoon. Interestingly, though typhoons are tragic natural disasters that cause untold amounts of damage to the island, the vast majority of people [barring those on the east coast directly facing the onslaught] look forward to these days of work. It is initially rather difficult to wrap your head around the idea that people can be eagerly anticipating a natural disaster but after enduring two-three typhoons in one of Taiwan's bunker-style apartments; it becomes increasingly easy to look forward to the wind and rains. Alas, despite all the predictions of the weather bureaus of Taiwan, Korea and Japan [yes, I became one of those people that checks the weather every 25 minutes], the typhoon missed Taibei and class went on as scheduled. Needless to say, those that did come were a gloomy bunch.

Aside from near misses from inclement weather, cockroaches the size of badgers that are becoming increasingly bold, and mangos by the truckload, things are surprisingly relaxed for the two of us here. Although Ariel and I have our major travel plans [and tickets to actually get us to some of those places], and this whole wedding in Italy event looming overhead, we haven't been feeling as much pressure about the whole situation as either of us feel we should be. Every few days we receive cursory emails from our illusory wedding planner "Bonnie" but by in large, we know just as little about the wedding details as our families do. In one sense that's fairly relieving, in another it's a little scary. In either a deep fear or perverse desire, I see the idyllic setting of the Spoleto countryside marred by a Brown's Chicken-style buffet with a DJ pumping out "Le Freak" over and over. We'll have to wait and see how it all comes together.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Saying Hello to the Colonel

So, back to Luodong's delightful wedding photo industry.

As mentioned earlier, I was a giant among men, sadly for nothing but genetic factors. While Ariel's selection of dresses was narrowed down to 20 or so potentials [if you counted the variety of princess dresses that would be gaudy in whatever context they were in], my choices were even slimmer. While Ariel got to narrow down choices and make the best selections of a less than ideal grouping, I was inevitably forced to choose the lesser of two evils. It's very rare that I've had the opportunity to select clothing on the basis of what is the least ugly but it certainly is an experience. Adding to hilarity of the wardrobe situation was the photographer's assistant who was made my de facto fashion consultant. While this young woman was very sweet and well intentioned, she should stay clear of work in anything related to fashion in the future. Despite my pleas of "No, I will under no circumstances wear a hot plum suit." She, without fail, would come bounding down to the dressing area carrying an outfit that the greater portion of pimps in the Chicago metro land area would blush at. Only after some minor grappling and repetitions of the mantra, "No, these things do not go together. In fact, they don't match at all." I was usually able to construct a passable outfit from my limited offerings. One thing that struck me about their offerings was the total lack of bowties. Despite having countless offerings of tuxedos, there was nary a bow tie to be found to put on the shirts. Although my helper continuously insisted that a traditional western necktie was suitable for that style of shirt, I was never convinced. Despite this lack of bowties, they did have accessories that can be generally classified into two categories: the first, the D'Artagnan (or Errol Flynn), a delightfully poofy neck covering that resembled a pile of carefully wadded up tissues that only elicited my desire to accentuated my "Arrrrrr" sounds. The second option was the Colonel Sanders, a delightful short tie that had a tasteful stud in the middle and, once on, made me crave mint juleps. In a delightful coincidence our lunch that afternoon included fried chicken, I took it as a sign and did my best to emulate Foghorn Leghorn with a smattering of "I do say sir"(s).

Despite these less than ideal clothing options, the experience was definitely worth it. Probably the best way to describe is bizarre. In some ways, the whole experience reeks of those "Ole' West" photo shoots but in others, its a great deal more personal than a number of traditional western wedding photographs. Whereas the focus of traditional wedding photography in the states closely elides the ceremony with the individual participants, this series, through the highly artificial dress-up nature of it, really places the focus on the couple. The experience is not about the fairy tale aspect of the settings or the clothing [in fact, I consistently found myself trying to imagine ways out of the clothing] but rather on the playful nature of the couple themselves. This is not to say that I'm rearing to set up another appointment, just that I'm glad I got over my initial dismissive attitude towards the seemingly plastic nature of many of the photos.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Signs of Life

So after a numerous visits by several esteemed family members and friends, my already questionable blogging patterns were thrown into a bit of a tizzy. I apologize to all of those that have still try to follow the narrative thread of my time here without any information from this end. It's my hope that rather than worry or be dismayed by my lack of contact, you spun whimsical tales that related my involvement fantastic creatures like Griffins and epic quests that determined the fate of the known universe. If you'd like to think that I was occupied with that for the past month and a half... feel free to, it may provide a bit more cohesion to that seemingly lost time. Looking back at my last post I realize that quite a lot occurred in the past month or so. To begin:

-Family members and future in-laws [ yes, it does feel a little strange to write that, I personally prefer the Chinese while implies that they are the family that I am preparing to join] are wonderful people who should be thanked profusely for a number of reasons. One, taking the time an effort to raise you instead of abandoning you on any one of the number of suitable hillsides throughout the USA. Two, consistently supporting your efforts despite harboring reservations about your varied life decisions. [Ariel and I still wonder about how we ever ended up on the ship, the Quest, with pseudo-missionaries.] Three, willingly coming to Taiwan, in summer no less, to see us and try to get a better understanding of what it is we're doing here. In short, thanks, I do not tell you all that enough.

-In an attempt to maintain narrative cohesion with the last post, I will briefly turn back to the Dragon Boat results. After our weeks of training, Shida managed to get 4th in the men's division of the Taibei International Invitational Tournament. On our high from winning that tournament, and the karaoke party in celebration from which I will be forever cemented into my team members minds for my affinity for A-ha, we headed off to the next tournament, the Xindian Speaker Cup. After a few short races over two days primarily composed of waiting, we emerged as the mixed division champions. Not too shabby for a team that started as a truly multi-cultural Dirty Dozen.

-Wedding photos... I can say definitively that this is an entirely different industry here. While Ariel has gone at length about her experiences on that day, mine were markedly different. First, by Taiwan's standards, I am a very large person. Now I am by no means a giant but I will be the first one to point out that this country was not designed with persons of my stature in mind. While this is just a mild inconvenience at most times, I must admit that I felt like Gulliver among the Lilliputians while I was at the wedding gallery.....

More to come soon.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Absences Explained

Well, it has been a tumultuous couple of weeks so keeping a running commentary on my blog has been festering in the back like some of the vegtable matter routinely dumped outside of my former residence under the cover of darkness. So, to get you all up to date on the current state of the Isle Formosa, I try to pack as much as I can into a few short paragraphs.

To begin, this month has been a series of mitigated disasters from all across the board. Actually, the interesting news started on April 29th...

After foolhardedly signing up for the Yangmingshan half-marathon, I gave little thought to the notion that mountains are typically made up of a series of inclines that one must either go up or down. Willfully ignoring this reality, I headed to the race with Ariel, who had signed up to run a 10k, and began to realize the true nature of Yangming Mountain National Park's topographical realities. It was up, followed by up, then a few turns, and some more inclines. Needless to say, I felt like death and got to hear a wide variety of Mandarin and Taiwanese curses. Upon completing the course and catching a bus back to the Taipei main station [which itself was an adventure in that Ariel and I were were the only runners on the packed public bus that was bedecked with floral pattern seats and curtains.], we headed back to my apartment. Being a creature of habit, that at times may border on obsessive-compulsove behavior, I was dismayed and confused to find my door open. Entering the apartment, I was greeted by the better half of my landlord monstrosity who was sitting with a contractor and discussing plans for remodleing the place. It was at this moment, with the assistance of the physical reality of a contractor, that I had one month to move out of the apartment. Now, although I had decried many of the place's failings in public and private quarters on numerous occasions and had openly expressed my desire to find a more suitable place, inertia had gotten the best of me. So, despite the rewards that I could reap from this new change, I was taken aback by the suddeness of the situation. Before I really had a chance to come to terms with the reality, "Sunny", the better half, proceeded to inform me that in the coming days there would be a number of people coming around the apartment at unspecified times for uspecified lengths of time. While I could digress into a tangent about "Renter's Rights Facts and Fantasy," I will merely encourage those in the future to move into pre-existing housing with long-term leases or utilize agencies like Cuima. In the end, I only had myself to blame for the conumdrum, so po-tee-weet.
After going through number of positive leads and being rejected at the last minute by every one for a variey of legitimate or bizarre reasons, I finally secured a place in Yonghe, a delightful little suburb of Taibei. Before achieving this however, I was forced into several interactions with Taiwanese contractors who pleasently ashed their cigarettes on the floor and flicked their butts into the corner. Sadly, they were just mimicing the worse half of my landlord. But now I'm officially free....joy.
This whole saga has many other parts and interesting plot twists, but for the sake of my own sanity and time, I'll move on.

Roughly a month ago, in a fit of genius or idiacy, time will tell, I signed up to participate on the Mandarin Training Center's Dragon Boat Team(http://taiwan-link.com/mtc_dragon/2006/). So in a brief 6-8 weeks of training I have gone from having a runner's body, to having runner's body with very sore shoulders. Joking aside, the training has been an interesting process that has brought together an unlikely grouping of individuals. Despite the relative shortcomings in our coach's methods e.g. repeatedly shouting "No power!" in English and Chinese before breaking off onto a ten-minute tangent about the problems of having "no power," we are still coming together as a team. Although it is highly likely that the men's team who starts off the Taibei City Competition against one of the perennial competitors won't see too much action, it should be fun. Additionally, the training allows me to get a better idea of what Taibei is like on 5:20 on Tuesday mornings.....

Anyway, things on the whole are looking better for the coming weeks; my parents are coming out so perhaps I can finally convince them that cases of white slavery are few and far between. Also, Ariel's parents are coming in rapid succession so live so get more interesting every day. That coupled with the promise of new classes, strange Taiwanese wedding photos, and a visit to a Gamera-esque island are making this future look increasingly bright.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Belated Announcement

Despite my earlier reservations about potentially cheapening the inherent value of the whole event by wrapping it into a blog entry, I have finally succumbed to the pressure and am willing to go through with it. Though most of you already know, with the exception of those people who are randomly searching for the phrase "Taiwan+Club+Foot+Wrestling" and happen to run across this page,

Ariel and I are engaged.

Admittedly, it's a little strange to put that in print like this but what can you do. So really all that's left to for us to do is work out the little matter of planning a wedding in Italy. Needless to say, the next few months will be interesting.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Colin vs. Xinguang's Stairwell

So, I've deceided to make this post interactive. In order to give you an idea of what it's like to run up the second tallest building in Taibei without actually having to go up. To achieve this, you need to gather a few things: a plastic bag, a rubber band, and a copy of Jane Fonda's workout record.

All set?

Okay, first thing, put the plastic bag over your head and secure it with the rubber band. It is essential to this process that you allow as little air into your bady as possible. Good. Once the bag is secure, starting spinning around and around. The desire effect should be acheived in 3-4 minutes. Now you're ready to begin. Have a friend start the record on 78 and keep tempo with the chimpmunk-esque squeeking coming from the speakers. Upon completing, Side A remove bag and collapse.

Needless to say, I do not have a future as a professional, or semi-professional, stair runner.

The Xinguang Stair Climb was a reminder that sometimes, random impulse is not the best way to inform decisions. I guess it serves me right.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Best of March

Okay..... a month's a bit long. Sorry for being a negligent blogger. To atone for this, I going to give you all a brief synopsis of the highs and lows of March.

1. Ran in the Nike expressway Half-Marathon. Yes, I got up at 3:30 to run 10.5 Km out to a cone and then back on an empty road. I think I may have been the fastest male foreigner in my age group [there were four of us]. The race in two words: Bleeding nipples.

2. I almost got evicted for standing up for my academic ethics. Apparently my landlord's conceptions of editing and willful disregard for academic intergrity are closely aligned.

3. With each passing day I have become increasingly enamored with the furry lobster.

4. It was Carambola [Starfruit] season, I have probably eaten enough to kill a Shetland Pony.

5. Signed up for a race up the Xinguang Department Building before genuinely considering what I was getting myself into. 46 floors doesn't seem like too much on paper.... We'll see how I fair after Saturday.

6. Started my new class with the highly innocuous title "News and Views." Thus far, the text [which is still in its trial phase] has yet to establish a clear pattern. To highlight this lack of cohesion, Chapter 4 "The Charm of Television Shopping" seamlessly elides into Chapter 5 "Euthanasia." Well... perhaps there is some connection.

7. It's finally T-shirt season at the night markets and true to form, many of them are delightfully unintelligible. Those that are coherent still have a certain charm. Last weekend, Ariel and I came across a shirt with a monkey holding a guitar. At the bottom of the shirt was a brief description of this monkey. [The first two lines are a paraphrase but the last one is word for word]
This monkey has certain powers.
Helping you achieve the goal.
Secret Function.
Yes, we all covet monkeys with secret functions.
So, that's the gist of March, I'll see what I can do to keep up with April.