Sunday, July 31, 2005

Unplanned pilgrimages

Although the goal of any trip is to, ultimately, arrive at a desired location, the journey, regardless of how planned out, is bound to be rife with unexpected encounters. These unplanned interactions are essential because they help you structure just how you anticipate interacting with the numerous environments you find yourself in. Although there are numerous resources that can help you structure any trip, they are, at best, a sketchy outline of what to expect. In preparation for our trip, Ariel printed out numerous maps and guides to assist our passage. Additional, she went to a great website that was recommended by numerous people that surveys roadside attractions. One major problem with this resource is that you find yourself saying "Oh, that 30 foot statue of a desiccated badger only adds two or three hundred miles." Yes, it is a dangerous resource but one that can add a great deal of pleasure, regardless of how hokey it is, to days of driving. Another problem that extends beyond the general attractions rubric is in determining exactly what rules will guide your various travels. The one example that sticks out for me is by Pete McCarthy, the author of McCarthy's Bar, who had the fundamental travel rule that you have to stop at any bar that has your name on it. Others can be as simple as stopping to photograph town names that can be related in some fashion to the process of incarceration to ones as complex as introducing diner patrons to the intricacies of napkin Kabuki theatre. Needless to say, goals, or really good afterthoughts, can take a large amount of tedium out of the journey e.g. making southern Idaho intriguing..... Anyway, we set out from Portland towards Eden, Utah by way of Bliss, Idaho. I am glad to say that Ariel actually planned this route. [No, stops at religious-named townships was not really a guiding force behind our planning, we just wanted to see concrete dinosaurs and her uncle] Unfortunately, our hopes were slightly diminished by the fact that the dinosaurs were underwhelming. They would not have been out of place on a miniature golf course but, alas, there was none to be found. So, after our requisite grease bombs at the local diner and a brief perusal through a genuine junk store (it was called a rock shop but I am still suspect) we headed deep into the Mormon stronghold.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

To the Windy City on a Two-Stroke

In mid-July, Ariel and I began our, somewhat, illogical exodus from Portland to Chicago via Utah and Colorado. After a week or so of packing/cleansing/purging/etc. of our room and house, we were ready to go. Desptite the ill-fated garage sale and numerous accuasations concerning the sheer volume of stuff, we managed to pack the mighty steed to the gills. Casting our cares of material comforts aside, we squeezed into the 4-cylinder Tacoma and headed out at some ungodly hour.

Though Ariel's truck is fairly spartan e.g. no cruise control, A/C that can keep popsicles solid on the dash in the direct sunlight, the inability to recline the seats..., it is incredibly reliable. This trip did not induce vivid dreams involving cruise control (as an earlier road trip had), I did think about it quite a bit through numerous stretches. In addition, the full load greatly taxed the already anemiac power of the engine. With most hills we found ourselves smiling and nodding at the numerous scowling drivers that sought to pass us. Such is life. We still made it in one piece without any complications, so I really can't complain.

Setting the Stage

Before chasing the sun blindly to Taipei, I feel that a brief synopsis of the past few months is in order. Shortly before graduation, I was approached by Doug Fix, a Chinese history professor at Reed, who offered me the opportunity to work on some translations that will eventually be a part of his incredibly useful digital archive about Taiwan. When presented with this challenge amidst my thesis haze I was not entirely sure what I was getting myself into. Despite my overall wariness towards my ability to complete the work, it turned out to be one of the best experiences during my time at Reed. The picture above is, perhaps, the best way to represent how I spent my summer. Strangely, this is the kind of situation I thought was taking a break from upon graduation; but I digress. Just like thesis crunch-time, I found myself squirreled away in my self-imposed library hovel. For better or worse, I was not returning to dictionary theory but instead nineteenth-century Taiwanese travelogues. [If, however, you are disappointed with this and are more interested in the theoretical construction of dictionaries with special emphasis on their potential application as a literary medium in Chinese, I highly recommend you pick up the riveting page-turner "A Personal Public : Form and Meaning in Han Shaogong's "Maqiao Cidian." Okay, so maybe" riveting" and "page-turner" are not the best adjectives but I still need to make it sound exciting] Enough of that extended aside, back to travelogues. From late May to early July, I headed down to the Hauser Fundome to translate various documents and attempt to render them into some passable form of English. Despite the unfamiliarity and difficulty of the texts (the majority were a delightful mixture of literary and nineteenth-century colloquial Chinese), I had a good time working through them and seeing what various individuals considered noteworthy. The only major downside of the project is that my current working knowledge of Taiwan's culture is muddled with fantastic pirate narratives and antiquated trade networks. I half-expect to run aground on some "iron-plate sands" and then be forced to navigate the treacherous inner mountain passes. I guess I have to see how it goes. Perhaps there are still a few untouched enclaves....

Friday, July 29, 2005

An Intro of Sorts

<> Instead of merely recounting my varied encounters at home and abroad, I have decided to structure, in part, my remembrances by using one of the most endearing figures in Chinese literature, the Monkey King. Although I don't intend to utilize his character as the standard for my own behavior or interactions (rampant gluttony, sacrilege, public defecation, etc. are not the standards I intend to live by at the present moment), I do believe that the fundamental curiosity associated with his character is essential to actively learning from new situations and environments. While Monkey's fundamental drive at the beginning of the Journey to the West (xiyou ji) is focused on the pursuit of power, it can be argued that it is rooted in his intense intellectual curiosity. Although his characterization relies strongly on the carnivalization of various aspects of existences, he is shown to have an acute awareness of his actions and their impact. He is a constant reminder of how life should not be governed by the fear of failure on any level. Due to this, his character is a great model for travelers or would-be travelers; with the uncertainty that abounds in each new interaction it is important to allow the curiosity to play a large part in pushing you forward. I'm not sure how things will turn out quite yet but after the requisite excesses and embarrassments I think that I will be ready to learn.

If you're so inclined, feel free to pick up a copy of Arthur Waley's truncated version of xiyou ji called Monkey: Folk Novel of China by Wu Ch'eng-en (pinyin Wu Cheng'en) which is a fairly nice introduction to the general story and characterization of the Monkey King.