Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Vacation and the Subsequent Diabetic Coma

Despite all of the difficulties and questionable logistics, Ariel managed to coordinate and orchestrate a massive Thanksgiving dinner, right down to those dishes that have to be served even though hardly anyone wants them i.e. cranberry sauce. Although there was the mild discomfort of lugging a turkey, potatoes and broccoli from Taibei to Luodong by means of bus, train and taxi, it was definately worth it. Needless to say, my body is still recovering and I am thankful that I have a notch less belt. After our Thanksgiving festivities that Ariel has already wonderfully chronicled and the subsequent gorging on leftovers [I justified my personal turkey consumption by the fact that there were two vegetarians at the dinner who weren't pulling their weight], I was ready to skip town and take advantage of my few days off before classes started again. Not willing to trust myself on a scooter, I decided to take a lovely walking tour of Hualian, one of eastern Taiwan's largest cities. Upon arriving in the city and seeing the hoard of passengers scampering off to the security of tour buses heading towards Taroko, I immediately headed off in the exact opposite direction of the hoard. Within moments I was struck with an eerie feeling that the city was largely abandoned. As I walked through alleyways and down various roads I only encountered a few individuals whose eyes all bore into me as I passed. I wasn't sure what to think amidst the abandoned cars and empty school I passed by. Thankfully, my feeling that I was about to take a lead role in the lesser known Taiwanese sequel to "The Omega Man" was shrugged off as I entered a park that was filled with people beginning their morning routines. After a quick hike up to the summit of the hill and a brief encounter with the Hualian regiment of the "Septuagenarian Mountain Climbing and Hula-Hooping Club," I headed out of the park through its amazingly creepy children's playground. The playground itself is not too strange but it is littered with terribly disproportionate fiberglass and concrete animals that are wonderful fodder for a whole future of nightmares. Needless to say, I was glad to get through that part of the park as quickly as possible. [As with the usual refrain, pictures to follow]. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the city, visiting temples and small markets trying in vain from not by the delicious local products that Hualian has to offer. [I'll talk about this idea more in a later post but for the time being let it be noted that Hualian has a monopoly on the better edible local products]. Though my visit to Hualian was very pleasant, from the moment I arrived, I couldn't escape the political propaganda and electioneering that was fill swing at the time. With only five days until the elections, the candidates felt it was essential to go all out with the loudspeaker trucks, pamphlets, posters and other assorted publicity stunts. My personal favorite was a candidate who was attempting to bolster his image as a friend of the agricultural sector by tying up two cows outside of his campaign headquarters. I'm really not too sure how effective this tactic will be. Anyway, after the delightful smattering of Taibei and Yilan politics I had been exposed to [ad nauseum] at that point, it was nice to see a new cast of characters even if I knew relatively little about their viewpoints. As the day wound down, I headed back towards the train station to wait for my train to arrive. Sitting in a nearby park, I opened my book and sat back, enjoying the dwindling sunlight. Now if there is anything that I have come to appreciate in my time in Taiwan it is the benefits of the public park. From my literary and socio-cultural studies about Taiwan, these areas have taken on countless layers of significance that would best be flushed out in an essay. Needless to say, I am rather fascinated by the social dynamics of this constructed space. Now, instead of boring you all with an extended discussion of this at this point I will strive to retain a modicum of relevance. So, being a public open space, public parks are often filled with a delightful mixture of individuals. They are also one of the major areas in which elderly people congregate to engage in any variety of activities. That being said, shortly after I sat down to read a congregation of elderly individuals along with two caretakers came to the park and sat down a few benches away. As I continued to page through "Mrs. Dalloway," I realized that one of the elderly gentlemen was approaching me. Without a word of introduction, he grabbed the book and said [mind you, all of this is in Chinese and he had no idea I could speak any], "Oh, English..... I can't read any of this." I invited him to share the bench and we engaged in an extended conversation about our respective families and experiences in Taiwan. It turns out he was eighty-two and had come over from northern China in 1949. We joked a little and he assured me that I had plenty of time ahead of me. After twenty minutes or so he got up without a word and headed back to the group a few benches away. As I picked up my book again I paused for a moment. I realized that the nice old gentleman had been the group's de facto ambassador because coming from the other bench in slightly muffled tones were the very details, or highlights thereof, of our conversation. "Is he married?" "No." "Oh, an American... why is he here? " "Just visiting." "You don't say..." Unable to control myself, I looked in their direction to see that with each further pronouncement their heads all turned and scrutinized me further. While at other times in my life I may have felt that this was an uncomfortable situation, I left the park that afternoon with the feeling that I made a whole group of people's day just a little bit more exciting. I can't say I do that too often.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

When All Else Fails

As everyone has become aware over the course of his or her education, educators have tangible breaking points; this point being the moment when the grand illusion of seamlessly transmitting the collected knowledge of a topic to each of the students is abandoned for something far easier. In grade school this was typically the last month or so of each semester when the class began to strongly revolve around old "Nova" episodes or the deceivingly simplistic D.E.A.R [i.e. drop everything and read" time. These decisions are largely compromises based on the overall quality of the class and the materials they are working with. Honestly, I'm am still rather puzzled about exactly how my teachers managed to fill all of the time and exactly what materials I studied. Sadly, some of the stronger memories have a arisen from those times when my various teachers decided to throw in the towel. Sadly, I believe that I can probably recite the script of "Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land" more accurately than I can describe what I studied in Sixth-grade Social Studies. I still have hazy outlines of Pyramids, Ziggurats and a ill-fated attempt to teach us about bartering but the rest is a lost cause. Currently, I am comforting myself with the idea, however off-base, that my time spent in those various class rooms has helped me in some intangible formative sense. I genuinely hope this a result of human interaction and not the product of my multiple viewings of the horribly-dated yet wonderfully entertaining "Hemo the Magnificent." Yes, my junior high and high school still used a film [a reel-to-reel nonetheless] that my father viewed in high school; so, since, in my mind, my father was born somewhere between the Triassic and Mesozoic era, I feel my working knowledge of basic biology is cutting-edge.... Needless to say, over the course of my education, I have had the opportunity to watch numerous teachers battle into the late rounds and then decide to throw in the towel. This is a regrettable but inevitable end to many educational circumstances. Sometimes fatigue is the culprit, sometimes a decided lack of interest on the part of the students, sometimes the girl's field hockey team is practicing outside etc. So without a sexy topic (e.g. "Psychic Cannibalism in Twentieth-Century German Novel") and a committed body of students, it is likely that the teacher will break down at some point in the semester. Over this past quarter I have been privileged [probably not the best word for it, but it has been interesting to watch] to view my teacher embark on one of the largest and most intriguing breakdowns in my educational experience. Though there is no clear path that can be followed in the course of an individual finally giving up on the set period of time, it typically resembles erosion. As the semester winds down the teacher often feels the pressure of the semester and the overall accumulation of work before starting to let things slip. Whereas most teachers often start to let things slide (e.g. forgetting to return assignments, confusing various classes, deciding against having finals/midterms, etc.) as time goes on, my teacher sprinted off in the opposite direction. While routinely complaining about the sheer volume of materials that she had to correct every night, she simultaneously began adding new assignments and testing procedures that she was unable to justify in an rational manner. Upon arriving at class a few weeks ago, I was greeted with not only our chapter test but also an absurdly complex listening test and a grammar test to boot. Although I think that tests are an effective means of evaluating students' various levels, they should, largely, be based on the materials that are covered in the class you are taking. sadly, my teacher doesn't share my educational standpoint. Instead, we as a class listened to a tinny recording of a story for half an hour that was based largely on vocabulary, few if any of us, had a working knowledge of. True to form, the average grade on the test was somewhere in the low thirties, something that my teacher was dismayed by. Taking this cue in a rather baffling fashion, our inability to perform on this test was translated into a need for more varied and obscure evaluative measures. Thus, since that time we have been subject to a variety of tests of varying complexity that bear little or no relation to the texts we are covering. Though I see how this could be an interesting supplement to our text if addressed properly, my teacher stuck to her guns of the "test first, evaluate later." Thus, as my classmates and I began to question the overall usefulness of testing with little or no evaluation aside from the score we received on it, we were welcomed by a new battery of evaluate measures. Up to this point, I had never studied under a teacher that would ever say "I'm sorry, we really don't have time to review the last test if we want to have time for these other tests." Another delightful Catch-22. Anyway, as the volume of testing materials along with the everyday homework began piling up, the cracks became more apparent and my teacher began saying delightfully unhelpful things like, "You are very hard-working, but his vocabulary is larger than yours." or "The reason you don't know this is because..." Oh... thank you (?) I guess... I know it's criticism but I question just how constructive it is. As the seeming irrational behavior increased, we started taking bets on when the dam would burst. While I was expecting it to resemble a plane crashing in the Andes and the cannibalism that would inevitably follow, I was really thrown for a loop. Perhaps she engaged so extended self-reflection, or maybe she had just finished her last tape recording that makes the State of the Union address sound seem like a non sequitor; who knows? Though I don't know exactly what caused it, I think she realized that pressuring students in an increasingly irrational manner may not be reflected to highly in their semester-end evaluation of you. While I will admit that I have been swayed to look highly upon teachers who tempted me with cake-based goods or candy [but God help you if you try to grease me up with Mounds] right before an evaluation, I had never before been placed in the somewhat awkward position she put us in. As she came to class and opened up one of the twenty-some odd satchels she is always carrying, my years of D.A.R.E. came flooding back to me. Despite everything I had been taught by countless educators, law enforcement officers, and motivational speakers my teacher did not follow the mantra that "alcohol cannot solve your problems." Yes, she out of the blue she brought us the wonderful social lubricant, Taiwan Gold Medal Beer. I'm not sure exactly what she hoped to achieve with this but it made for an interesting, if awkward, class. Enjoy the photos.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Against All Odds: Pictures

Ah, the universal sign for "Beware of Spitting Bison.

Yes, the elephant also her very own warning. I am dead serious that almost every animal gets a personalized warning. It makes me wonder if the animals develop an inflated perception of self as a result. In an attempt to shake the cutesy image and the damage done to them by "Madagascgar" I bet the lemurs have bought into this trumped up version of their ferocity.

Despite the overall hokie-ness of the insect compound, the butterfly part was fairly impressive.

And finally, the elusive Formosan Black Bear. Sadly, I didn't start photographing the warning signs until it was too late. Alas, I may have to go back.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Hilarious Underbelly of Cultural Appropriation

One of the more depressing aspects of majoring in an area of East Asian studies is having a heightened awareness to the conscious and unconscious othering that occurs between the varied interactions between cultures. While this is by no means exclusive to Asian countries, it is markedly pronounced with regard to the more recent history of the area. In this age of ever-increasing globalization, this phenomenon is even more visible. It's hard to find place in the United States where this cultural appropriation isn't occurring. Even amidst small town craft fairs its hard to avoid countless booths that aren't in some way influenced/themed by, in this case, Chinese culture. I am always a little shocked to see the number of random Chinese characters slapped onto whatever object is for sale. No really, there is nothing quite like having a hand made trivet with the character 和 on it. While this can mean "peace" it can also act as a connector between two nouns and is usually translated as "and." This example isn't too egregious but it is merely the tip of the iceberg. Think of the number of random Chinese character tattoos people have, personally, I don't think that the vast majority of tattoo artists in the States have a strong working knowledge of the Chinese language. E.G. a few years back I saw a fairly tough looking man with a large character tattooed on his bicep. Though I believe he intended it to be a new take on a stock tattoo, it went horribly wrong. Harking back to the old tattoos that read "Mom," I expect [though I do not know for certain, maybe he just has a penchant for the nuances of Chinese grammar] that he wanted to reduplicate the character 媽 [ma (1)]. Unfortunately, his rather large bicep was emblazoned with the character 嗎 [ma (neutral)] which is a grammatical particle indicating a question. Though this is an extreme example, it exemplifies the total lack of understanding that comes through the appropriation and reapplication of another culture's most fundamental aspects. While my sensibilities were always a little offended when I this rampant re-appropriation, I restrained myself from speaking out too strongly. It was only upon arriving in Taiwan that I have been given a much wider perspective on the numerous aspects of globalization that I realized that my liberal sensibilities, while well-intended, totally ignored the interactive aspects of cultural exchange. A few days ago, while riding the bus I found myself staring at a woman who made the crypt-keeper seem like he was in his prime. It was not her age or hunched-over posture that struck me, but that she proudly displayed a bedazzled t-shirt that read "Sex Goddess." If she has any idea what it means, I hope that I have a fraction of her self-esteem at my age. Similarly, looking through a pile of various night market t-shirts I was repeatedly struck by the sheer incomprehensible nature of many of them. E.G. "I live using noise for kitten flounder," "Expectededaintely wanted you," "All hive jazz bareing acoustic."... Surprisingly, a few of the articles of clothing actually attempt to form cogent sentences. To add to my overall confusion, many of these various manufactured goods are randomly covered in logos that bear no relation to the message on the shirt. My personal favorite was a photograph that my former classmate who taught in Taiwan for a year showed me in which a small child wore a shirt that was covered in Taco Bell logos and included text that read "All-Star with Autism." So maybe, there are a few shirt makers that are intentionally cruel but the vast majority merely mangle English in a manner similar to how we mangle Chinese. So everything does seem to come full circle in the end. Perhaps when I return to the states I won't feel so guilty when I go to Target.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Random Jottings on a Questionably Connected Basis

I know it has been a while since I updated but I was rather disinclined to regale everyone with tales of perfunctory exploits that don't even verge on mildly amusing. Needless to say, this week has, in large part, been incredibly routine. That being said, I can have given myself the chance to pause and consider some of the more general aspects language in all of its manifestation. Overall, I think that this is a noble activity in light of trying to learn a new and entirely befuddling language; or, maybe, that's how I am justifying my time here. Whatever the truth of the matter it has given me the chance to distance myself from the wonderful comforts of being able to easily express my most complex and fundamental desires. Additionally, living here has limited my ability to rely on the wonderful generalities and nuances that I have picked up from my everyday use of English. One aspect that still gets me is my inability to pick up on the quality of the speech of those around me. With this I am not referring to accents e.g. Tainan vs. Taibei or Taiwan vs. Beijing, but rather the generalities associated with individuals’ speech patterns. In English, I have no trouble distinguishing between the linguistic nuances of the Valley Girl, the Drill Sergeant, the average NPR guest speaker and the Jock. Interestingly, without a working knowledge of these subtleties (or lack thereof in some cases), I feel surprisingly lacking in my control of the language. Though I do have a working knowledge of some of the more social distinctions and speech patterns, I still feel markedly hobbled in my attempts to parse out the more general qualities of the person I am speaking to. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of my personal fear that my command of Mandarin will plateau at the Taiwanese equivalent of the mallrat. Though I promised myself I wouldn't focus on it in my blog, I feel compelled to briefly discuss one aspect of my class that has been a mild irritant over the course of this quarter. Over the course of every chapter covered in my class, I am asked to write an essay loosely related to the overall theme of the chapter. Sadly, both my textbook and my teacher lack a great deal of creativity when it comes to the various topics. Some of the stellar chapter titles are "Taiwan's Local Products." "The Big Game." "Vocabulary about Vacations" and "A Fleeting Attempt to Fill in the Student's Dearth of Vocabulary about Everyday Encounters." Following these delightfully simplistic and moralistic tales of a group of undergraduates my class is asked to write riveting essays about these various themes e.g. "An Unforgettable Show," "Three Good Habits," "My Favorite Friend," and "The Limits of Gramsci's Organic Intellectual in the Wake of Globalization." Well... I still am waiting for the last one. Anyway, in my opinion, these horribly generic topics reek of the fetid corpse of the ill-fated "Self-esteem movement" in which tangible examinations of one's abilities were largely exchanged for a variety of delightful stickers and awkward motivational speakers. Whereas my teacher could easily have said, "Okay, for each lesson you are all responsible for writing an essay that includes X number of the new vocabulary words and X number of the new grammar patterns." If this were the case, she could rapidly achieve her goal of getting us to try applying the new materials and implicitly force us to write with a direct reference to the given lesson. Instead, we are given topics that are so mind-numbingly grade school [quite possibly the extent of our linguistic abilities] that many of us look at the assignments, despite their usefulness, with mild distain. After the fourth or fifth essay that started "我最難忘的 (My most unforgettable [x]).....", I decided to take her the assumptions of her titles to task. When asked to write about my good habits, I responded with an expose of whether habits are truly products of my own choice or manifestations of the culture I was a part of. Yes, while my classmates wrote about how they didn't smoke or worked out on a regular basis, I rambled on a tangential reconsideration of the nature/nurture debate. Surprisisingly, I received little commentary on this and took that as a tacit sign of approval. Following this essay, I was given the delightful topic "Large differences between males and females." Unwilling to let this chance slip by, I proceeded to write an essay about the socio-cultural construction of gender and the implications towards individual's behaviors and attitudes. I'm still waiting to get this one back; we'll see how things go.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

So, I Guess I'm on Television Somewhere

The other day I was sitting in my school's computer lab trying to come up with a witty and insightful narrative to sum up my various encounters when a small Taiwanese woman came over and tugged on my shirt. Apparently she was affiliated with some kind of news program that was doing a story about the overall merits of various Chinese proficiency tests. She said that there was someone in the hallway who would like to ask me some questions so I agreed and wandered out. I don't know if it was a trick or just a communication breakdown but "questions" should have replaced with "pre-fabricated answers" and "someone" should have been replaced with "a disgruntled cameraman." Anyway, heading out into the hallway, I was accosted by a large camera with what appeared to be a tanning lamp attached to the end of it. While I foolishly maintained the hope that this would be a truly interactive interview, I was rapidly confronted with the reality that I was pre-cast as the foreign extra for their story. Instead of answering any questions, I was forced to do my best Vanna White impression and help up a copy of the test while expounding upon the relative merits of it. So... I was swiftly whored out for a Taiwanese news story. Without so much as telling me what station it was for or when I could potential hear about the rest of the story, the cameraman disappeared. In a strange, but it terms of my current life entirely expected, turn that afternoon a woman visited my class to ask for volunteers to be in a program about night market culture. Despite my apprehensions and foresight, I foolishly signed on for another cameo appearance. I really should have known better. Though we had been promised that were would merely be taped wandering around the night market eating our favorite night market fare as a delightful photogenic multi-ethnic group. The day of the filming proved to be anything but this. It really would have been better if they had just handed us scripts to read from but instead they led us along with the idea that we could say what we wanted. Much like the previous encounter, each individual was forced to stand alone and answer questions from a voice off-camera.
"What is your favorite night market food?"
"Oh.... well, I really like eating..."
"Cut. Let's try that again."
"What's your favorite night market food?"
"Well, I do enjoy eating pan-fried jiaozi..."
"Cut. Really? I'm not sure if that will work.."
Repeat ad infinatum. Though we were promised the whole process would take fifteen minutes and we would be treated to lunch; after two hours we all wanted to make a run for it. I'm really fearful that if I ever have any political ambitions that will rapidly be squashed by my brief stuttering, unclear performances on Taiwanese television. Though I got very little out of these two experiences, I hope I, at least, made some fragment of the intended audience laugh at my overall ineptitude to deliver the lines.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Running Story

In preparation for December's half-marathon, despite Taiwan's lovely air quality, I have been running almost every day in a variety of different locations. One of the few perks of my apartment is that I live fairly close to a series of parks that are on the riverside. So rather than risking life and limb attempting to be a truly urban athlete, I typically head towards the fairly extensive bike path. Due to the heat and lack of shade in many parts of the trail system, I tend to go out in the evenings and get a delightful sampling of the various park activities. Over the course of an average run I typically see a number of people jogging or biking, some practicing taiji, some engaged in ballroom themed aerobics, etc. Interestingly, there is one somewhat clandestine activity that goes on in a specific section of the park system. Sadly, I have not been able to upload photos onto my blog lately so I need to provide a little side note. The combination of a bird flu scare and the visit to the zoo has finally convinced me to comment on this aspect of Taiwanese culture. In my humble opinion, Taiwan has the world's best assortment of warning notices and prohibitions. Nearly everywhere you go you are confronted by an amazingly specific or terribly general expectation for behavior. In every bathroom at the Mandarin Training Center there is the important reminder to "Not Waste Resources." Sadly, I still find that I can't live up to this overarching standard. At the other end of the spectrum are the incredibly specific warnings of prohibited activities. Currently, every MRT [Taiwan's light rail] station there are paragraph-long prohibitions towards the transport of live poultry on the MRT. While this seems like a good warning, I have yet to see poultry in any format living/dead/fried/braised/etc. on any one of the trains. With this in mind we can head back to the park. Over the course of my various runs I noticed that each one of the parks [each park is a few kilometers long] had a slightly different set of prohibitions. While the majority had the same fundamental set [with pictures to boot], e.g. No camping, No Peddlers, No Parking, No Loud Noises, No Sandals, etc. There is one section of one park that has a prohibition unto itself, "No Karaoke." The first time that I saw this notice I couldn't help but giggle a little. As I ran along I wondered how this could be such a problem that required the posting of a notice. It was only after another kilometer or so that I realized that there was a dark underside to afterhour’s park life. As I rounded the corner of an underpass, over the dull drone of cars passing overhead, I could make out the faint sounds of a tinny electronic backbeat. Unable to determine exactly where the sound was coming from, I pressed on only to get closer to the epicenter. After a few minute I was confronted by the baffling reality of illegal outdoor karaoke parties. Scattered throughout the park were a number of vehicles with enormous televisions set up in the trunks projecting the lyrics as well as images or videos to match the music. Around each car were 7-10 people anxiously waiting for their turn to belt out a tune while keeping an open eye for the police. I doubt that the police would ever stop this activity but it is wonderful to think about how it is apparently enough of a problem to have a post that explicitly restricts it in certain areas. Coming from a culture were karaoke is relegated to dive bars, teenage birthdays and cast parties, the presence of karaoke in such a public forum is both baffling and disturbing. So... after that incredibly long tangent, I will get back to my intended story. It is very difficult to be a 6'2 white male in Taiwan and blend into the crowd. Hence, I am a wonderful object of interest/amazement/confusion for many people throughout my daily interactions. When I arrived in Taibei, I was a little self-conscious about the staring but now I rarely notice when a teenager that is standing two feet away from me on the bus stares for the duration of our trip. That being said, there are some times when you can't help noticing. One such instance was a few days ago when I was running by the waterfront. As I hit a straight away, I saw an older man riding a bicycle in front of me. From the moment he caught sight of me his eyes were fixed, boring holes into me. As we got closer and closer, I realized that he hadn't taken his eyes off me and true to form, his lack of focus caused him to careen into a ditch. Running over to help him up I asked if he was alright, an action that only increased the level of horror that was already on his face. Waving me off with his hand and repeatedly mumbling "It's nothing..." he quickly saddled his bike and peeled out, trying to get as far away from the scene of the accident as possible. So the lesson I took away from that slightly embarrassing encounter was that my mere physical appearance can result in accidents and bodily harm to others. Comforting isn't it?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Taroko-fest 2005

After a leisurely stroll the train station on that Saturday morning, Ariel and I were off towards the gorge. Things did not go off without a hitch however. The night before, with an air of uncanny similarity, the ticket salesman in Luodong assured us that we could not get tickets to our destination and would have to instead travel past our intended stop then pray for some outer worldly force to swoop us back to Xincheng station. Amazingly, the tickets he sold to us stopped exactly where we wanted to go... I won't pretend that I understand. Anyway, we made it to the train station along with a number of other individuals and immediately were ushered onto coaches that were waiting to take us to the festival. Within moments, were wearing heading towards the gorge. As soon as we entered the major thoroughfare of the national park, a tiny Taiwanese woman began to provide us with the briefest overview of the gorge. Crammed in the back of the bus with two people on either side of me I was left to speculate what many of the oohs and aahs were triggered by. The brief bus-ride was an eerie sampling of what a senior bus tour in Taiwan was probably like. While I have repeatedly joked about joining one of these as the token foreigner, I believe my craving has been more than satisfied. After fifteen minutes or so, we pulled into the parking lot of a visitor's center a few miles within the gorge. Upon disembarking, we wandered around the small area before finding a comfortable, if wet, patch of grass. The first group was an ensemble playing fairly upbeat traditional Chinese music. As we reclined in the grass, the music provided a wonderful background to the people watching that ensued. All around us there were families with children trying to catch bugs and build makeshift habitats for them out of plastic bottles. I recall, fondly strangely enough, sending countless small critters to meet their make pursuing this same activity. The sight of this also triggered the discussion about trying to take sand crabs home from the beach in a plastic bucket. Apparently every child of a certain age that grows up in California this is an important developmental step; I guess it teaches us how to cope with death, or just be sadistic. An hour or so later, the concert ended and we were struck by how quickly people made a run for the buses that had just pulled up. We both quickly dismissed this as a product of Taiwan's unique weekend culture. Sadly, I don't know when the change was made [I think the late eighties but I'm not sure], but Taiwan has relatively recently changed from a six-day work week to a five-day work week. While this did not lead to the total dissolution of Taiwanese society as some had predicted, it did create an interesting phenomenon. Many Taiwanese citizens give new meaning to the phrase weekend warrior. It is not uncommon for people living in Taibei to travel to Hualian [about 4-5 hours] on a Friday evening before engaging in countless activities. There have been a number of occasions when I have asked someone what they did over the weekend and left the conversation with the feeling that I am leading an unexamined life. Needless to say, I thought the beeline to the buses was a merely a product of this aspect of Taiwanese culture. Taking the break between performances, Ariel and I went on a brief walk towards some of the more scenic vistas. Coming back to the visitor's center we were struck by how empty it was. Upon closer examination, it was not only empty but those few individuals that were still around were frantically breaking down the sound equipment and the temporary shelters. When we finally asked where the next performance was we were told that it was "Down a few kilometers, and then to the right a few kilometers." Trying to find a way down to the next site, we first banked our hopes on a park worker to take pity on two lost foreigners, then were pointed in the direction of a taxi that was sitting idle in the parking lot. Approaching the taxi driver, he sadly informed us that he already had a group he was scheduled to take but agree to make a call for us. After a fairly terse conversation he told me that a bus would be up in a few minutes that could give us a ride back. Relieved at the news, we briefly chatted with his to-be passengers, a group of middle-aged Japanese women that were in Taiwan for a quick vacation, before sending them off. Standing in the parking lot, it became apparent that we had probably just been abandoned and that the promise of a bus was merely a way for the cabbie to exit the situation without feeling too responsible. Despite this feeling, we waited for a few minutes and low and behold, a bus arrived. Approaching the driver like the crazed foreigners we probably seemed like, we were quickly informed that he was not going to be able to take us anywhere and assured us that walking was a viable if not ideal alternative. Taking this cue, we started heading down the numerous switchbacks to get towards the main road through the gorge. Seeing that there is no reason to wander aimlessly through the precarious roads of the gorge, we were shocked by the number of people that blew past us without a passing glance. Through a stroke of good luck we hitched a ride with a man who happened to be on his way to pick up a group of people at the site of the second concert. Unfortunately, the second concert was by far the most idea setting. With the backdrop of the amazing backdrop of a waterfall pouring through the center of a temple there was a pairing of a piano and cello. When we were arrived at the scene, we quickly rushed to the buses wantonly ignoring the scenery, merely trying to secure our passage to the next site. Once on the bus we were finally able to take in the scenery that we had just blown by. Alas, we were not meant to see that part of the concert series. The next interaction requires a little background. Taiwanese buses, both long distance and public, almost always have TVs that are on through the duration of the trip no matter how short. Though it is a little eerie, you get used to it after a while. Hence, when Ariel and I jumped onto the empty bus and grabbed two seats, the bus driver [actually a trainee], immediately jumped up and turned on the television. After, my initial dismissive shake of the head, I found myself suddenly drawn towards the tiny glowing box with tinny sound. Instead of merely flipping on the first thing that came up e.g. a bizarre variety show, one of the countless soap operas... we found ourselves following the trials and tribulations of Maverick and Goose. Yes, in this modern area, there is absolutely nothing out of place about watching "Top Gun" in one of the most beautiful areas of Taiwan. Sadly, our brief viewing came to an end when we were shuffled onto another bus and headed off to the last portion of the concert which Ariel has already described in far better detail than I can. Therefore, I put an end to this fairly bloated post.