Thursday, September 29, 2005

Still Kicking

So, it has been a while since my last post. Alas, things have been fairly routine here. Although I'm sure everyone wants to here the details of attempting to construct grammatically correct sentences, I'd rather not talk about it. Instead, I will talk about my brief trek into bizarro world courtesy of Dante's Coffee. In brief, Dante's Coffee is a fairly ubiquitous Starbucks-esque chain that offers a variety of drinks as well as "gourmet" hot dogs. no, I'm not kidding, the hot dog is in and there is no one blinks an eye when a high-power business man sits down to enjoy a latte and a five-dollar gourmet hot dog. Anyway, long story short, as stopped by one of there franchises yesterday morning to review for an upcoming test, I ordered my coffee and headed to the second floor seating area for a little privacy. I was shocked as I left the clean industrial edge of first floor to the second floor that look as if it hadn't been cleaned in a few weeks. As I sat down in one of the few open seats, the group of people sitting there gave me a suspicious look and then continued their heated discussion in Taiyu. While I started to go over my texts, I couldn't help noticing that none of the people sitting in the room had any foods or beverages from the cafe. On closer inspection, the majority of them were chewing betel nuts and pulling beers out of their hand bags. Looking back at my watch I noticed that it was barely 8:45 in the morning. As I continued to review, I noticed that in the span of the hour and a half I was there, each person, women included, had consumed roughly four beers. I really wasn't too sure what to think about this. Obviously there was some level of organization among the individuals there, I just have no idea how they chose the second-floor of a semi-upscale coffee shop. Who knows?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New Stuff/ Notes for the future

I'm running out of time so this may be a little fragmented.

It's been an exciting copule of days here on the far, far eastern front. Ariel visited once again and I actually got to spend a considerable amount of time with here. After a day of culture [i.e. lots of video art], we headed to the coast to gaze upon the rocks at Yeliu. Thousands of years of erosion have left this small limestone cape with numerous oddly shaped rocks. It's hard to describe. I imagine that it was once used as a set for a low-budget fifties sci-fi film. Despite having been turned into a tourist trap it is still quite beautiful.

Though I don't have photographic evidence of it, Ariel and I finally buckled down and bought a squid on a stick... Yes, this is one of the highlights of Taiwanese cuisine.

So I finally had my encounter with Taiwanese Scientologists. As I was rushing through a back alley trying to avoid the rain, two bright-eyed Taiwanese teenagers came bounding out of a building with their boxes filled with e-readers and a copy Dianetics.... More than anything else I'm confused.

Shortly before, taking Ariel to the train station this weekend, we made a quick stop at my landlord's to pay rent and possibly be told that I am going to be evicted. One of my hopes was that with Ariel there, was that I could tug at their heartstings and buy myself at least another month or two. As we were invited to sit down, I was informed numerous times not of my eviction, but of my pre-eviction notice. While we chatted, my landlord kept saying, "When you need to go, I will tell you and give you month." or "This month I may tell you you need to get out in a month," etc. This delightfuly redundant conversation continued for about 15 minutes before Ariel and managed to make a break for the door.

So, it might be out of jealousy, fear, or obsession that I have been increasingly fascinated by the motoscooters that swarm around the city. Not owning one and caring too much for my personal safety to consider ever driving in Taipei, I have still found myself increasingly envious of the poorly-made machines. In my fascination about them, I have been increasingly aware of the names given to each bike. Recognizing that the vast majority of the bikes are bought locally, they aren't as concerned about developing universally appealing names or slogans. Thus, many of the bikes seem to be given somewhat arbitrary classifications. A few more common ones are: Jog, Cabin, Attila, Duke, ChaCha, Jazz, Razz [not to be confused with the former], Jump, the highly ironic "Freeway" [most freeways prohibit scooters] etc. For those Reedies out there, there is also a bike named the Blitz with the slogan "Powered by the Awesome Power of Blitz" ... sigh. Anyway, a few of these bikes also have accompanying slogans that, at times, read like night market t-shirts. E.G. "Riding there Fastly for Life", "The More You Drive, the More You Life.", etc. As I have continued to scrutize the bikes and attempt to differentiate between them more easily, I have found on model that still makes me chuckly. I believe it is a Kymco bike, but I'm really not sure. All I know is that there are a number of people who get up everyday and straddle, the ManBoy. I'm still not too sure of what they were going for.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Danger of Patterns

I've realized that in the past couple of days, I've fallen into the trap of a routine. Cycling from my apartment, to the library, to school, to lunch, back to school, then home, then the park, then back home. While it sounds like it is fairly packed, I've been stretching things out a little too long and saying to myself, "Oh, I'll go to that part of the city on the weekend..." Last night, I became aware that I was saying this to myself as I was raptly watching the early-nineties remake of the invasion of the body snatchers.... Thus, the next morning I bolted out of the house to the nearest museum I had yet to go to. To my embarassment, I can't exactly remember the name of the place. It may have been the Museum of Natural History, or Museum of the History of Natural Things, etc. Many of the museums have incredibly similar names when translated so I'm still a little lost. While I wasn't sure what to expect, I was pleasently surprised by the current exhibitions. There were numerous collections of historical artifacts; one room threw me for a loop by the sheer quantity of dings piled near one another. In a strange twist of fate, I visited on the day of the opening of a new exhibition and was caught up in the tumultuous crowd that had come to listen to the curator talk. As I was being led to the seats for the speaker's talk I was scrutinized more carefully with a look that followed indicating "You're not one of our distinguished patrons, hell, your not even wearing a tie. Beat it!" Thankfully this was all done with a smile. As that room erupted into numerous rounds of clapping between what seemed to be every sentence, I headed dowstairs to the most interesting part of the exhibit. Though few people in the West know it, this year marks the 600th anniversary of Zheng He's expeditions. In brief, born in Yunnan, he was captured as a child and made a eunich who served the Yongle emperor. After years of service, he was made the head of numerous voyages through southeast asia, reaching all the way to the west coast of Africa. Anyway, I was fascinated by the collection of artifacts e.g. steles, models, nautical devices, and yes, maps. If you're really interested, try to get a copy of Ma Huan's Ying-yai Sheng-lan. All in all, it was refreshing to break out of my self imposed rut.
On a final side note, while most travel guides lament the fact that most museums lack English signage, I have been enjoying it since it has reduced my reliance on the curator's direction. Additionally, it has forced me to review the signage that is in English more closely. All in all, I am fairly impressed by that which is there. I would have no idea how to described obscure Tang Dynasty glazing techniques. While there are some mistakes, they are oftentimes unintention e.g. to, too, two mistakes. Occasionally, however, there are some that are just so close you have to pause for a moment and chuckle. In one exhibition of a modern artist's watercolors all of the signs had the original Mandarin title and a english translation. All but one of the thirty some-odd paintings did a fairly good job of translating the title. This painting by Zheng Xianglong, which showed a river scene with numerous houses on the waterfront was titled "Adobes on the Waterfront".... so close. Unfortunately, I'm painfully aware of the limitations of spell check.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Taibei is Lomorific

Around my apartment
Taibei is filled with numerous Logan's Run-esque hallways
You never know where you'll find temples
A Daoist temple amidst a historical trail that I already forgot the name of
Waiting at the bus station

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Being Honest with Myself

One of my goals for my time abroad has been to be increasingly honest and realistic with myself. Whether this is acknowledging my faults, limitations, personal failings, etc. I am trying to reduce that wonderfully glossy narrative I can easily apply to my experiences. Thus I have been forced to admit to some difficult parts. The following interaction caused me to level with myself.
Having received my last haircut in Portland, I had been looking increasingly like the unabomber and realized that I needed to got my hair cut. I have a hard enough time dragging out an apt description of what I want my hair to look like in the states, so, a similar interaction in Mandarin was not something I was looking forward to. Additionally, in the past, a number of barber shops were thinly-veiled fronts for prostitution. A number of barber shops had a waiting area filled with females that didn't seem dressed to cut any hair an numerous isolated rooms with fogged glass. Though most of these have been shut down, a few of them still exist and there is still a mild stigma that is attached to them. So a lack of vocabulary combined with the potential to find myself in a very awkward situation made me postpone my haircut for as long as possible.

[Sorry I just lost a lot of this post so it might be a little abbreviated]

After the initial look of terror on the barber's face, I calmed her down by reassuring her that I just wanted a simple haircut. My ability to speak some Mandarin encouraged her a little but made her boss shout for her to practice her english with me to which she responded "wo bu yao [I do not want to]" As the haircut began I realized that I was slightly problematic customer. The only electric clipper in the shop was a cordless rechargeable thing that whined under the strain of nearly any quality of hair. Thus, my shaggy, nutria-esque mane did not get along with it. Long story short, a small child with safety scissors might have cut my hair faster, but then it wouldn't have been as interesting.
So, time for the personal re-evaluation. As I returned home and gazed at my haircut in my apartment's awkwardly placed full-length mirror, I was shock. Amazingly, I have shrugged off a genetic predetermination and thus, am not balding. No, I am not balding by any means, no...my hair is just engaging in long-term migration away from my head. Hell, I may even be coming out ahead in net quantity. See, being honest with oneself pays off...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Assorted Meanderings

So this past weekend I visited Ariel. Though I was planning on just showing up and suprising her, I thought better of it since I didn't know if she was going to disappear for the weekend. The idea of wandering around Luodon for hours or attempting to break into her apartment were not at the top of my list for fun-filled weekend activities; thus, I called her and showed up Sat. evening. In a wonderful coincidence, Sat. was the day that Ariel was meeting her host family and it was the weekend of Zhongqiu [mid-Autumn festival]. So, upon arriving we hurried back to her family's house for an absurd amount of food and intersting conversation. As we ate dinner, with repeated urgings from the matriarch to "duo chi yidian(r)" [eat a little more], we talked with the younger members of the family. One of the first questions they asked us [in a wonderful mixture of Mandarin and English] was about the regional differences in American culture.... As we both tried to stumbled through the various differences, i erred on the side of over-simplification due to my limited vocabulary and desire to provide somewhat succinct answers. This led to some mild infighting between Ariel adn myself over teh nuances of American culture that was easily resolved by me turning the entire conversation towards regional accents. After a weak reproduction of a Bostonian accent, everything seemed to work out. Two/three hours later the photo albums were pulled out and Ace Ventura 2 was turned on. Recognizing that this is the universal sign for "you should leave immediately" we headed out.

The next day was filled with sun, sunburn, partially functioning waterparks and the one thing that can drastically improve the quality of life in any situation: warm chocolate chip cookies. Despite being cooked in Taiwan's answer to the E-Z Bake Over, they were still delicious.

Alas, now I'm back to more of a set routine. Class, cooking, rambling, long runs and bleeding nipples [yes, the painful unspoken aspects of distance running], etc. I'll see how things turn out this week; I've yet to be evicted but there's still time.

P.S. If anyone out there has experience with the business of international exporting or the resturaunt business, drop me a line.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Luodong Ho!

Yesterday, after a series of missed communications I got together with Grannie for a lunch date. It was nice to catch up with her and hear about her assorted rants on life, politics, her family, etc. Each time I visit there is the slight fear that I am rapidly becoming the surrogate child that she is proud of. The numerous comparisons to her grandchildren while flattering at times quickly become creepy. I chock most of this up to my our combined linguistic failings. Either way, we got together for lunch which was pleasant for the most part. After a nice noodle dish and some fish soup my stomach immediately sank as the next dish was brought out. I'm not sure if it was a cruel joke, a test or what not but a cold plate of "shrimp" was placed in front of me. I'm not entirely sure what ingredients were used in its preparation but I think I could replicate the recipe.

1. Boil 1- 2 pounds shelled shrimp
2. Chill
3. Dice a pineapple
4. Pour a Costco-sized container of Helman's Mayo over the shrimp and fruit
5. Add multi-colored sprinkles.... yes, sprinkles.
6. Stir......
7. Attempt to consume

I'm still a little horrified but I persevered. After lunch we headed to the local internet cafe where I became more firmly entrenched in the world senior citizens' infidelity. Amidst the hoard of pre-pubescent boys playing World of Warcraft with the hint of Longlife cigarette smoke still lingering in the air, I sat down to help Grannie write a letter to her German lover. While I felt like I was being used slightly, I really felt like it was my responsibility to help her after all the assistance she has provided me. It's just a little awkward writing things for someone else that include the phrases "Write me soon, and don't mention your wife again, it makes me upset." It's precarious being the interlocutor for a trans-continental affair, but interesting nonetheless.
Well, I am off to Luodong again. I'll get to see Ariel again and avoid the impending notice from my landlords of a "pleasant" eviction.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Culture, Tragedy, etc.

So it has been a little while since I have posted anything. The main reason for this lack of contact has been the desire to include as little as possible about the routine (i.e uniteresting) aspects of my time here. Though my classes provide so nice structure to the day, they provide little useful blogging fodder. Reviewing vocabulary for three hours or writing the equivilent of a grade school essay are two things I don't feel that I should focus on in my reflections. Thus, I'll do my best to fill in the highs and lows of the past week or so in no particular order.
1. Ariel visited Taibei last weekend. In a flurry of Fulbright meetings/orientation part two, I didn't get to see her that much. Hen nanguo (very sad).
2. Since Ariel was in a variety of meetings, I went out and got myself cultured. First stop, Taiwan's postal museum. Yes, six floors filled with postal history... for a mere 30 cents you can get a nice overivew of the history of the development of postal systems throughout Asia. While I can imagine that some of you would prefer unnecessary surgery in a backwoods hospital, I have to tell you that it really is very fascinating. [Bear in mind, I am probably not the best judge of how most people will react to things]. The fact that I probably spent 3 hours wandering through the exhibits and trying ask questions about some of the items seemed to perturb the people working there.....
3. After some more wandering through small temples and a visit to Taiwan's oldest coffee shop (Fa Dong in the Ximen Area), I headed over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Overall, I was pleasently surprised by the qualities of the exhibits but was struck by the ambitious goals of the curator. 7+ shows a year seems like a death march but I don't know to much about Taiwan's modern art scene.
4. Without warning my landlord came over the other night with two potential roomates. One was a very pleasent Taiwanese professional who works in an educational capacity. The other was a middle-aged American that I can only describe as being most similar to the BTK killer. It was rather eeire to have a middle-aged man with such a strong resebmlence to a serial killer trying to force small talk. To my credit, I did my best to highlight the problems of the apartment in the best possible light e.g. "Washing machine? Who needs one, the laundromat's only fifteen minutes away..." I doubt they'll be moving in.
5. On the housing note, my landlord gave me a notice that she may or may not be planning of evicting me... Though I am still a little confused, I have yet to receive my month's notice, so I am planning on holding out as long as posible.
6. A few nights ago I had my first formal language with a Taiwanese twenty-something. Linguistically fumbling for a few hours was a nice change of pace.
7. There's nothing quite sadder than a dead kitten...... oh wait, there is. A pair of dead kittens. Thankfully they weren't my neighbor's.
8. During the second typhoon (Nalim(sp?)), I was tired of waiting around for the winds to die down so I went out for a run. I have to say there is nothing quite like a city preparing for a typhoon/hurricane. No one was outside, cars were sporadic at best. As I ran through various alleys in the torrential rains, I kept having images of Charleton Heston in "The Omega Man" running around an empty New York. [Without the zombies or awkward racial tensions of the movie]

Well that's probably enough for now; I'll see what kind of wild or innocuous encounters I can get into this weekend.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pictures sans Extraneous Commentary

Waiting at beautiful O'Hare. F.Y.I. the late Dougals Adams once wrote that 'there is no language that utilizes the phrase as pretty as an airport.'
In the courtyard of the Chiang Kai-shek memorial.
My partner in arms/crime Clara at the Longshan Temple at the
height of celebrations for ghost month.
The Joys of Socialized Medicine
Chiang Kai-shek himself, beckoning me to relax, kick back and come in for a little while.
Another few of the Chiang Kai-shek memorial looking from the National Central Library. I promise there will be more pictures soon.... I just have to find a scanner.......

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sometimes I Just Have to Nod and Smile

As the last few minutes of my bopomofo (the Taiwanese phonetic alphabet) class were widning down, the instructor informed us that she had a video to help of review the various materials we had already covered. Once the lights dimmed, we were accosted by the tinny synth-pop bopomofo themesong with accompanying early eighties imagery. After this song, which is merely a single woman wailing each individual syllable over a synthesizer that may very well be set to the "Majestic Calypso" beat, the scene changes dramatically to an empty stage. Suddenly, the silence is broken by the frantic drumming of Beijing opera and who else, than the mokey king erupts onto the stage to for a few minutes of gongfu. After his acrobatic display, he procedes to cartwheel over a few blocks, turning them over in the process thus revelaing the day's lesson. All in all, I'm not entirely sure how the editor made some of the decisions for teh transitions but nevertheless it stuck out for me.


Aside from that, things are fairly routine overall. The one major exception to this was the other night as I was coming home from a run around the youth sports park, I turned the corner back to my apartment when I ran smack dab into a group of senior citizens. While this in itself is not necessarily a strange sight at 9:45 at night, the fact that there were roughly fourty of them wearing matching outfits and doing the electric slide in unison was. Also, they weren't slouching either, they were in perfect unison and could probably put most Travis Tritt video extras to shame. There was a small part of me that wanted to join in on it but I felt that I would be detrimental to the overall harmony.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Brief Notes, a Weekend Getaway and Another Tour of Taiwan's Service Sector

Okay, so I started classes in a fairly depressing manner. Due to the mix-up with the paperwork, schedule, etc. I was sent to a grossly inapproriate class. The positive side of this was that I was the class's superstar for roughly an hour before I changed classes. Anyway, my new class is much more fitting even if it is lacking Cluade the french-Canadian former clown.... Yes, one of my former classmates was touring with the circus for the past five years before deciding to come to Taiwan. I guess they come from all walks of life. The only other new classmate that sticks out is Weide [I still don't now his real name] from Holland, who actually studied with one of my personal heroes Mark Leenhouts and has read Maqiao Cidian. I guess I feel validated in some small way. Besides that, I went to visit Ariel in Luodong this weekend. It was a nice break from the fast-paced, loud, and smoggy atmosphere of Taibei. After a two days of meandering, hiking, and a few delightful conversations with local hikers, I was back on the train to Taibei for another day of class. Getting back to my apartment, I became more painfully aware of the differences between Ariel and my own living situations. With a little work, her apartment wouldn't look out of place as the set of a sitcom [friends comes to mind], mine wouldn't look out of place in a meth bust. Well, I don't spend that much time there anyway... In a stroke of luck upon returning to my apartment, as I finished washing my dishes I noticed that my faucet would not shut off. Yes, after the police station, hospital, bank, locksmith, etc. I was getting the chance to interact with a plumber. I guess I have a compulsive need to get all the bad karma out early on. So, the next morning bright and early I had a nice tete-e-tete with the plumber who gave me the sage insight that my faucet was broken. After fifteen minutes of banging and cursing, the water stopped and I was back in business. So for roughly ten dollars, I had my plumbing fixed without developing any further problems. I have to say that I am thankful that I don't own an automobile because, with my luck, I would already have been to the shop numerous times.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Typhoon and an Act of Stupidity

So typhoon Taum made landfall yesterday. Thankfully, the hardest hit areas were in the south of the island; Taibei was merely hit with winds gusting to 220 km per hour and about a foot of rainfall. If anything, I would describe it as tedious. Sitting inside listening to the whirling of the wind and the crashing of various tiles, pots, small motorcylces, etc. gets old fairly quickly. Being a little bored with sitting indoors, I took it upon myself to run a number of errands since there were almost no lines anywhere and traffic was fairly non-existent. All was going well until I came back from doing my laundry at the automat. Upon arriving at the apartment, I decided that I should try to get into my mailbox which as of that time I had been unable to open. Dropping off my laundary, I went back down the four flights of stairs to the mailboxes. After a little prying I popped one open, gleefully gathering up the contents and taking them upstairs. I was only after I got back into the apartment that I realized that I had accidentally stolen my neighbor's mail. Embarrassed, I rushed back downstairs to replace the mail and open the other mailbox. Again, a little prying did the trick and I obtained countless discounts for beauty products and pizzas. Heading back upstairs I realized that I was screwed.
Before the end of my last semester at Reed, Ken Brashier had informed my Chinese classical texts class to always carry a slip of paper in our wallets that read "I'm sorry, I have lost lost my keys and am locked out of my apartment." This is wonderful advice that only applies if you have your wallet with you or have some reliable neighbors. Before I had left for the laundromat I had changed, leaving my wallet, which contained my landlord's phone number, on the dresser. As I was going up and down the stairs I realized that I had left my keys inside of the apartment. Now in most cases this sort of thing wouldn't be a problem, unless you have a lock like mine which automatically locks upon being closed. So, there I was locked out of my apartmet amidst a typhoon, wearing an undershit and sandals, with about five dollars in assorted change in my pockets. Though I was frustrated I realized that I needed to get into my apartment somehow. Climbing in was out of the question due to the cages around my balconies so I had to find a way to pop the lock. For the first time during my stay in the apartment, I was appreciative of my loandlords' messiness. Going to the rooftop I procured a piece of lumber about three-quarters of an inch wide and three feet long. Delicately sliding it through the gaps in the outer door, I slowly maneuvered it towards the lock eventually bumping against the bolt I needed to pull. After ten minutes of assorted twisting I finally notched the tiny bolt and the door swung open. I was in.
So, though the typhoon was fairly uneventful, I still managed to find a way to scare myself through an extrordianry display of idiocy.