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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sunday Walk

Following are pictures from my Sunday stroll down SongJiang Rd. The objective, I suppose, is to pass along an idea of what a Sunday stroll in this jumbled city entails. The pictures included are not all of them, and there will be more appearing on the City page in coming days.

I should add - as I was walking along on Sunday, I realized that though I am quite used to life here, and ready to move on, I am still fascinated by its appearance. I still get lost looking around me, and still feel a curiousity at the sight of a hidden lane, even though I have already been down most of them.
As I started taking pictures on Sunday, I realized I had not quite rid myself of the desire to take pictures of reflections. Posted by Hello
On any day besides Sunday, this picture would be crowded with people. Posted by Hello
I would have liked to get a closer picture of this building, as I really like the way the tree stands out against the faded, cracking paint. As it was, I had to walk into the middle of the road to get this close. Posted by Hello
I tihnk there is a scooter somewhere under all of this junk. Posted by Hello
Peeking out from underneath Civil Boulevard...this is one of the most confusing areas visually in Taipei, as there are expressways and roads and overpasses going every which way. Posted by Hello
Civil Boulevard cutting through the scene. I like the angle of the raised expressway here. Posted by Hello
Across the street from the electronics market - more electronics stores. And, of course, people. Posted by Hello
After SongJiang turns into XinSheng...looking south into Sunday congestion. The cranes are being used on the MRT line that is being built here. Posted by Hello
If you read the post I wrote awhile ago about palm fronds dropping down to the street and almost killing a woman, the frond fell from a tree like thess, one that reached above the neighboring buildings. The trees here line a school, and the building in the middle, just visible, is the second tallest building in Taipei. Posted by Hello
Were you to turn 360 degrees here, you would probably see a few thousand scooters parked on the sidewalks and under the overpass. I have always like the big trees down by the electronics market, especially the vines that hang down towards the street and make me think of rainy nights.  Posted by Hello
I wish I had time to frame this a little bit better, but I had a line cars coming at me and thought against seeing if they would stop. Posted by Hello
This was on a side street just off SongJiang. I am still trying to figure out how that building in the middle got wedged in there. These buildings are all about an inch apart. Posted by Hello
An ugly picture. But then, many of the caged in balconies in Taipei are ugly, too. Posted by Hello
And last but not least...Darth is everywhere. Even at Burger Kings across Taipei. Posted by Hello

Monday, May 30, 2005

Skies

A weekend not as I expected. No beach, too much food, too much to drink, and a lot of pictures.

The weather was not so nice on Saturday and so we decided to stay in Taipei. We went out that night with some friends, and I will write more about that in the next day or two.

Yesterday I slept a lot and then went for a walk (late afternoon, down SongJiang Rd as far as the electronics market under the overpass at Civil Rd). The sky was full of clouds, but broken by the occasional patch of soft blue - the shade of blue that reminds me of autumn and spring in Northwest Indiana, the shade that I refer to as Simpson's blue because it is the same color as the sky at the beginning of the show.

I took about 45 pictures while walking, and tomorrow I will try to recreate that walk here, to give an idea of what a Sunday stroll means in Taipei.

Upon my return we went to the grocery store to get, well, groceries. We also rented The Motorcycle Diaries (which is a very enjoyable movie and left me feeling very ready to start traveling and writing) (Oh, and it quite bolstered my desire to go the length of South America with Natalia one day).

When returning from the store, I was quite captivated by the changing sky above me. Dark gray clouds not much higher than the buildings blowing through like they were being swept away by a broom. Above those another level of gray clouds, not as dark but more substantial, moving noticeably but at a slower pace. And then white clouds and patches of blue and orange coming and going from behind the cloud cover.

While Natalia started dinner, I went up to the top of the apartment building to watch and take a few pictures. It seems that too often the sky here is a boring shade of partly cloudy, or just gray, so when we get interesting skies it is reason to stop and look up.

Following are some of those pictures. I hope that they can convey at least a bit of what I saw. Also, I hope that they might express the way they sky in Taipei seems to crowd down on the city, as if it is offended by all the buildings that eat away at its space. If they nothing else, if I fail in these goals, I hope that you enjoy.
Looking out from the roof. Do you see all the slanted metal green roofs in the foreground? Those are all built on to the apartment buildings to provide extra housing. Though illegal they are everywhere in Taipei. Posted by Hello
Looking straight up at the neighboring building (I can almost touch it from my kitchen window).  Posted by Hello
I looked away from the sky for a moment to take a picture of a bus zipping by on the highway. Posted by Hello
Things looking a bit more intimidating now. Posted by Hello
A tiny patch of soft blue and a lot of gray clouds zipping across the sky.  Posted by Hello
Almost like the sky has been cut open.  Posted by Hello
Lots of color in this one. Posted by Hello
The last photo I took yesterday (I had to go inside to peel some potatoes). The dark black clouds blew through in moments. Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Nothing

This is a nothing post. A for the sake of posting post that, when I think about it, presumes a lot and has no real meaning. It presumes, for example, that there are readers who come every day and look forward to reading whatever little nugget I've written that morning, and it presumes that they will be thankful for this little heads-up:

I'm probably going to the beach later this morning and staying there overnight, so you can probably expect that I won't be putting anything up here until Monday morning.

Actually, but way of imparting some meaning, I will mention this. It was about 6 weeks after I came to Taiwan that a big group of us went to stay at the YMCA at Fulong Beach along the east coast. I went down on a Saturday afternoon after work. We drank a fair bit, sat out on the beach until well into the early morning hours, singing and listening to guitars and imprinting our clothes with the smell of campfire. The next day we were up early, soaking in sun, walking around, eating fresh seafood (including these adorable baby squid that I really felt bad about popping into my mouth), and generally being bums. I have a few pictures from that weekend somewhere around here.

Four weeks from the moment that I write this, I will be sitting at Chiang Kai Shek International Airport waiting for my flight home. Today, though, I'm going back to that YMCA. Of all the people who went that weekend, only two remain in Taiwan - myself and an American named Virginia who I have only run into once or twice in the last year. The rest of them have been dispersed across the globe. I suspect I will probably drink a silent toast to them tonight.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Another Year Gone

I realized last night, somewhat belatedly, that almost exactly four years have passed since I flew to London, the kickoff to my intended journey around the planet (http://outintheworld.blogspot.com/2005/05/ten-years.html). Though my girlfriend might debate this, I really don't sit around counting days and minutes that have passed since one major event, or that remain until another big event. What prompted me to realize this was the Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan. If you are anything of a sports fan, you will know that this was perhaps one of the greatest football (soccer) matches ever played (and more on that in just a few moments).

There has probably been a lot said about this game on blogs and sport sites and chat boards across the internet galaxy. I'm not going to say much of anything about it. What I will say is that as I watched it, I thought back to the three Champions League finals that preceeded it.

The first came the night I landed in London. It was a game that featured a stunning display by Zinedine Zidane, including his famous left footed volley that provided the game winner. I watched that game with Shawn (the same guy who has posted a few comments here and there) and a Canadian named Lee who in the ensuing years has done quite a bit of traveling himself.

The following year, the final came about two months after my arrival in Taipei, and I watched the final between Milan and Juventus (one of the most boring finals ever) with James Brown, a Brit with a party habit almost as legendary as his namesake's songs. We watched the game live (at 2:30 AM, and managed, almost despite ourselves, to make it all the way through to the penalty kicks, with Andrei Shevchenko providing the winner for Milan).

I don't remember what I did last year for the game, but I think I watched Porto win the trophy on replay the day after the game, much as I did last night.

And speaking of last night...I am a jackass. Liverpool fell behind 3-0 in the first half, a seemingly insurmountable lead. I had avoided all web pages and television channels that might have inadvertantly provided me with the final score throughout the day. By staying in to watch the game, I was risking Natalia's wrath, as I had originally planned to go to a bar with her and her friends (I told her this before remembering the final was on). Despite Liverpool's deficit, something told me that they came back. Call it intuition. Call it the unexpected commercial breaks, and the fact that after each break, ten extra minutes had disappeared from the clock. Whatever, I thought they might just do it. But I didn't listen to myself. I thought, hey, if this is going to be a blowout, I should just change and walk over to the bar to meet Natalia (thus getting myself into much better graces). I went to the computer and less than a minute later, the surprise of one of the greatest comebacks in football history was ruined.

And to make matters worse, I realized I could not in good conscious walk away from the game when so much was still to happen, and so the good intentions I had to go see my girlfriend were ruined as well.

If all is according to plan, I will be in Argentina next year for the final, living for the first time in a truly futbol mad nation. How exciting!

Although, what am I supposed to do when the World Cup starts? I bloody hate Argentina's side. I guess I better start changing my allegiances or learn to be very very quiet.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Warning

Each summer brings an influx of new teachers and students to Taiwan. Recent college graduates come, ABC's (American Born Chinese) and teachers who know that the summer months bring the busiest schedules and best opportunities to make a quick buck (if you don't mind teaching forty or fifty hours a week). To those coming who stumble upon this page, I have a warning.

I should clarify that. If you are coming to Taiwan and enjoy playing basketball, I have a warning. If you don't play basketball, you can skip right past this and go on looking for more pertinent information about life in Taiwan.

I often annoy myself when I play basketball. When I was younger I would whine a lot when I played.

"How could you call that foul!?" with a scowl of disbelief on my face and a tone that prompted laughter from people watching.

"Come on, he's all over me. This isn't football. It certainly isn't sex . You've got to call something!"

I think only my patheticness saved me from countless technical fouls or ejections.

I also got frustrated at myself a lot. Which meant screaming at myself, hitting myself on the head, etc. when I missed a shot or made a turnover. If I wasn't playing up to my expectations for myself, I was pissed. Given that I expected myself to play on a level that I was no where close to, I was pissed just about every time I played.

Now, when I can't jump as high as I used to, and my shooting abilities are all but gone thanks to a two year stretch without touching a ball, I have lowered my expectations to an extent, and have lowered my voice as well. Now I suffer my frustrations silently. Well, usually.

One thing I can say about my time playing basketball when I was growing up - despite my whininess, I very rarely called cheap fouls. If we were playing a pick-up game I would only call a foul if I was really hit hard. Just about everyone I knew was like that. Calling ticky-tack fouls was the equivalent of getting down on your hands and knees and begging to be insulted.

The same, alas, can not be said of basketball in Taiwan. Take for example last night. The guy was about my height (6'2" give or take) and about twenty pounds heavier than me. If he got the ball and the ball was knocked away, he called a foul. If he took a shot and missed it, he called a foul. His teammate, of a similar mentality had a defining moment for the night. He had his shot blocked, and, after a long moment, smiled and - it seemed- despite himself called a foul.

Were this a rare occurance, I would not mention it. I would also not mention my hissy fit towards the end of one of the games when I called a foul on myself and told the big guy on the other team

"Well hey, if you are going to call all those other touchy fouls when you miss a shot, you better call this one before you made the shot." He looked at me then. Sure I was a baby, and sure, he did not understand what I was saying, but he knew my intent. And you know what? He did just what my students do whenever I "get mad" at them. He gave me a pitying smile and laughed.

However, this was not a one off event. There have been many other occasions where a series of non-existend fouls and fingernail nicks led to uncontrollable frustration. On one memorable Saturday at ShiDa University, it almost led to a fist fight (my teammates, also foreign, took the matter even more seriously than I). In fact, part of the reason I stopped playing basketball was that all my foreign friends left and I could not stand to play when every two minutes a foul was being called.

Perhaps I have mellowed out, or had until last night, but lately I have not had so much trouble while playing. I have to warn those coming, though. Culture shock takes many forms. There are many hurdles one must climb to get acclimated to a new society, a new country, a new life. Some are obvious, some are not. And you never know which one is going to eat at you the most. It might even be a bad national habit of not knowing when it is OK to call a foul.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ten Years?

I look back on the phone call as another of those little landmarks which play a large determinant factor in how and where we might end up. As a pivot point it is more innocuous than others perhaps, but a vital one nonetheless. It was a Thursday evening, I know, and I was sitting on the couch reading as my parents watched TV. When I answered the phone I was happy to hear Jeremy, my former roommate from Boulder on the other end.

“Hey, listen,” he said. “I’m wondering if you are curious. I’m going to work my ass off for the next few months, sell my truck and travel. I want to go all the way around the world. If it takes two years, five years, or ten, whatever. I want to do this. You’re the only person I know who might be interested in doing it with me.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “When do you want to leave?”

“By May,” he said.

“Sounds good.”

We talked for another half hour, thinking of places we could go, where we might want to stop and work for awhile, how we could split up for awhile if need be. I could see it in front of me, all of it. I knew it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to step foot on every continent on the planet, and hopefully by the time I was thirty. After the phone call, my mom asked me why I was so excited. I told her what Jeremy and I had talked about, and she knew I was serious.

“Ten years? We won’t see you for ten years?” I remember her saying that, and I remember the tone in her voice – disbelief, sadness, resignation.

“How are you going to pay for this?” my dad asked. Always the one to raise questions of financial feasibility, my dad sat in his recliner as he asked this, a book open across his lap. “We’ll work,” I said. I don’t remember what he said next, but I am sure it contained some grain of doubt.

It did not matter, though. I knew that I was going to make this journey, wherever it might take me and whatever it might take. The knowledge of this coming trip also changed the way in which I viewed my days working downtown and the way I approached the books I was reading. Now that I knew I was going to be traveling again, I could spend my time at work tracing lines across the map in my head. As for the way I approached my books, I realized that with so much time on my hands, I would be able to write as much as I wanted to, and I would have an endless amount of stimuli providing me with the energy and inspiration to do the writing. I began, for the first time since my time in Prague to really contemplating a new novel. I searched novels I was reading for themes and characters that resonated in me, for voices that leapt of the page, for striking styles. Everything I left in my head to simmer.

I talked with Jeremy a few more times in February and March, to get an idea of how he was progressing towards his goal of saving money. We also agreed that the best thing to do would be to start in Europe (Jeremy had never been overseas and wanted to ease into things, and there was still much of Europe I wanted to see). We also agreed that the best time to leave would be in late April or early May, which was, though it did not seem it, fast approaching. By the end of March, I felt comfortable with the money I had saved. I had enough to start traveling with, and I felt that I was physically and mentally ready as well. It was around that time that I went up to visit my college roommate in northern Ohio. At the time, he was having some difficulties in his marriage, and as we talked about his problems over drinks, all of the separate strands of different stories I had been thinking about began to weave themselves together. The following night, we went out again, this time with a large group. The night was a lot like a college night out, with drinking games, wild dancing, and desperate flirtations. As we returned home, I felt depressed by the whole thing, and a book appeared before my eyes. As soon as I returned to Cincinnati, I started writing a long short story that I knew would have a place in a larger setting. I wanted to leave, though. I wanted to travel and I wanted to write.

In April, I talked to Jeremy again, and found out that he was not planning on leaving anymore. He said he did not have enough money yet, and that he wanted still to meet me at some point along the way. He asked me if I was mad at him, and I said no. He had been the one to plant the seed of an idea in my head, a seed that would lead me to incredible places. He asked me when I was going to leave.

"As soon as possible."

The following day, I went on to an auction sight looking for flights into Europe…I was not very concerned about where I would land. In the end, I found a flight into London for less than $400. My departure date was set for May 14.

The last month in Cincinnati, I felt as if I was already removed from those around me. I could think of little else than what was soon to come. WhenI went to work downtown, I was often asked questions about where I planned to go and what I planned to do. I heard then what I had heard before and have heard many times since – a variation of “What you are doing is amazing.” These comments struck me, and continue to strike me, as being absurd in the sense that while what I am doing may be different from the norm it is far from being in any way a fantastic deed. Someone working in the Ukraine, or in Uzbekistan, two hundred miles of dirt road away from the nearest English-speaker is pretty amazing. Someone working in Africa to teach people how to prevent AIDS or how to become self-sufficient, that is pretty amazing. Someone working in Sierra Leone to try and re-socialize teenage kids who have murdered and raped their families and neighbors – that is amazing. Traveling in Europe or Asia as a way of avoiding the responsibilities of a home life or a job in the U.S. is not. And the truth is, as May began and the trip came ever closer, I realized that while I did want to write and I did want to see the world, a large motivating factor was that I did not want to settle down. I just wanted to drift through my days with as little responsibility as possible.

I stopped working downtown a few days before it was time to leave. I had lunch with some of the people I had grown attached to there, and they wished me the best. I had lunches or dinners or drinks with a few other groups of people as well, but generally I stayed to myself, anticipating the freedom that was soon to come. I took care of the few preparations I needed to make: packing, buying last minute necessities, and tearing out pages from my old Lonely Planet book to make it as slim as possible. I then prepared myself for the hardest good-byes.

Ever since the phone call from Jeremy, the one which had given me the broadest outline for a ten-year plan, the fact of time had been drifting in and around the edges of my thoughts. One or two or five or ten years, to say it like that, with a careless, flippant tone makes it seem as if five or ten years of life is a somewhat negligible chunk of time. It ignores the fact that in such a period of time there will be countless events – weddings, births, and deaths in the lives of those one is acquainted with or close to. I did my best to avoid thinking about these things, but after a point it was impossible. I had already missed the weddings of a few of my friends due to my time in Boulder, and I knew that by leaving for Europe when I did I would miss two more. In the time that has elapsed since my departure for Europe almost three years ago, I have also missed the births of several children and two or three more marriages. I made a resolution, though, for better or worse, to live my life the way I wanted and needed to. I resolved not to stick around waiting for eventualities when I knew how unhappy that would make me.

The problem with this sort of reasoning, though, it that it discounts the finality of death. My maternal grandfather, one of the most important influences on my life, had by that time already reached ninety, and my paternal grandfather, while younger, was becoming gradually weaker. My mom and dad reminded me more than once that they would not be around forever (and they have reminded me since). For their part, my grandparents have differing opinions of what I have chosen to do. My mom’s father has been very supportive and upon my returns home has always been the most excited about seeing pictures and hearing stories. I have spent many evenings his house, sitting around the kitchen table with my grandma and grandpa discussing travel and looking at maps. I have listened to my grandfather’s tales of his youth and how he came to marry my grandmother in his early thirties.

“There is no need to hurry and get married,” he told me. “Look at me. I have seven grown kids, a large number of grandchildren, and have been married for more than fifty years.”

My father’s parents are also supportive in their way, although they tend to observe a more traditional viewpoint that one should settle down and marry a nice hometown girl and live a nice suburban life. We disagree on a number of things to be sure, but they have always been supportive of me in many ways. My grandmother, for one, has always encouraged me to write, as she herself is a fine poet. When I took my first trip to Europe, they were eager to talk about a trip they had taken many years ago and to compare notes. Now, as I teach children in Taiwan, they are always curious about what the children are like and how they are doing. If anything, it is a source of amusement for me when my grandma asks about girls in my life, and suggests that they do not mind so much if I marry a girl from abroad, as long as we live close by after any grandchildren enter the picture.

Three years later, all four of my grandparents are still alive, although lately both of my grandfathers have had some scares. I have one month until I see them again (by which time it will have been almost a year and a half without seeing them), and then I will be leaving again. Perhaps this time it will be the final good-bye. And there it is, the scariest thought related to travel for me – that each time I leave, it will be the final time I see someone close to me. I know that it will happen, and perhaps I have braced myself for it in some ways, but how will I deal with it when it comes? What I find particularly scary is the thought of me being somewhere in a remote part of China or Burma or Laos when it happens, and I don’t even know about it until two days after the funeral. In some ways this seems unforgivable. On the other hand it would seem unforgivable to make choices in life that would lead to unhappiness and regret.

Anybody have any answers for this?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Tale of the Midwest

This is another little one hour story that I wrote a month or two ago (and changed a bit for those of you who read it already).


Peter loved the summer sun that seemed to stay in the sky until forever. He knew, of course, that it went down at night, just like in spring and winter and fall. In summer, though, with no school and endless things to do during the day, it might as well have stayed up forever. It was almost six now. Mom had been calling him home for ten minutes. When he walked inside he knew she would say something to him, “You come when I call you. It’s enough that I cook dinner, I shouldn’t have to set the table, too.” And he would say sorry (even though he wasn't), and she would say “Try to be home on time next time, okay?” He would say okay, his dad would grunt, and they would all sit down to eat.

That was how the summer time passed. The spring and fall and winter, too. All of Peter’s life it had been this way. The only thing that changed was that, now that Peter was in fourth grade, maybe he would have to stay inside to do homework if it was fall or spring, and in winter, he would stay in anyway because it was too cold. The television shows his parents watched changed, too, because sometimes there were new shows, and sometimes there were re-runs that they turned off to watch other things. None of it really meant anything, though, Peter thought.

Peter rode his bike into the driveway and braked to a stop just as he reached the garage. His bike slid sideways as he brought it to a halt and hopped off. As he walked it into the garage he thought he could hear the sounds of his mom putting dishes onto the table. He thought he could hear the TV on as well, probably showing the news since his dad was already home. He walked into the house and went to the table. His mom said what she was supposed to say, and she reminded him to wash his hands. Peter looked down at his hands and thought about what he had done with them. He didn’t need his mom to say that little boys get into all sorts of dirty things.

Dad grunted when he sat down, and he grunted again when mom asked how the day went. This was what mom called making conversation, and what dad called annoying. Dad split his attention between the newspaper and the television, and mom split her attention between her food and Peter. Peter knew from the way she was moving food around her plate with her fork that she was going to ask him about his day. It always surprised Peter how the quiet sounds of the kitchen could seem so loud even with the TV on. The sound of knife and fork on plate, of spoons serving food, of chewed meat or slurped milk – how could those small actions produce so much noise?

“So what did you do today?” mom asked. Peter gave his own form of grunt, something less certain than that of dad. Mom asked again.

“I played with Ricky.”

“What did you boys do?” mom asked. Peter thought about her question. It was what she always asked. He knew she was just doing what mom’s are supposed to do, but it felt so – second-hand. She sought the attention of her husband by asking him first. It was only upon rejection that she turned to Peter. That it was the same thing every night made it even worse. It made her interest in his life seem false. It was as if she had read some books that told her she should ask him these questions, or seen them asked on a thousand TV shows, and it was because of this that she asked, not because she cared. Or perhaps she wanted to submerge those kitchen sounds that seemed so loud. Peter thought about her question, and he thought about answering her.

Should he tell her about the cat he and Ricky had come across, the one walking along the side of the road? The cat had been hurt somehow, and as it walked along the road, its right hip raised and turned and fell again. Each step was a process. The cat was young, not much older than a kitten. When Ricky lifted it off the ground, it gave a slight meow, as if wanting to believe it had been rescued. As the boys looked at it and wondered what to do, the cat looked from Ricky to Peter. When it looked at him, Peter saw the cat did not trust them. It wanted to, he thought, but it couldn’t. Peter reached out, as if to touch the cat’s head, to give it some reassurance. Perhaps if he had, the rest would not have happened. The rest? Peter was not sure how they had come to be in the woods behind Ricky’s house, holding the cat’s head under the water in the small creek. He was not sure how he came to hold the cat in his hands after it was dead, the body stiff and going cold in his hands. He had looked at the cat and its lifeless eyes. He felt sad, yes, but detached. There was a reality to the dead cat. A reality accepted, though without enjoyment. Is this why he felt so grown up now?

Peter heard the sound of meat being chewed in his mouth. He looked at his mother, watching him, waiting for an answer. He grunted. His mom turned her attention back to her plate, and dinner continued as normal.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Day at the Beach

Baishawan is one of the closest beaches to Taipei. The words bai sha mean white sand, and Baishawan used to have just that. On Saturday, however, the white sand was half gone, replaced by a grainy black sand that gave the whole beach the appearance of being dirty. The water was kind of murky as well, but pleasant, and all in all it was a good day for the beach.

I was at the beach with Natalia and a couple of foreign teachers, an American girl and a Canadian guy. We all fell asleep for awhile, and when we woke up we sat watching the people walking and playing in front of us. A sample:

"Now that is typical Taiwanese, there!"
"Why would you come to the beach wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt?"
"She has to be careful, she has a little leg showing - she might get some sun!"
"Oh - now that is classic. A girl with her handbag draped over one arm, holding up her dress in the other so she can walk in the water. What is this?"
"Jeez - even the guys go in the water with their shirts on."
"Not that guy - Look at that speedo. And in white!"

I will admit that it is easy to shake your head at Taiwanese beach habits. It is rare to see a Taiwanese girl in a one piece bathing suit, let alone a bikini. Girls and boys alike normally wear long shorts and a T-shirt when going out into the water. While sitting on the beach, they tend to sit under cover, and some Taiwanese women will, when walking on the beach, hide under an umbrella (this is very common on the city streets).

"She must be a foreigner."
"Oh, has to be. She's wearing a bikini."
"Yeah, look - foreigner."
"A Taiwanese girl would never wear something like that."
"Or have boobs that big."
"True."

A brief exchange between Natalia and our American companion led me to start thinking about all of this from a different point of view. I began to think as a Taiwanese might. What might they say, for example, about someone like me who on Thursday visited a doctor to have some moles looked at for skin cancer and whose face, according to some, looks older than its years due to time spent out in the sun? Would they laugh at the girl all but naked in a bikini in the morning, barely able to sit down for the sun burn at night? Or perhaps in their minds and in their whispered conversations they say "Someone with a body like that should not be wearing something like that."

I think it is a habit of westerners in Taiwan to shake our heads and laugh at the habits of the Taiwanese that just don't make sense. Even now that I have become used to so many things here, I find myself baffled by the emotional immaturity of so many twenty-somethings, or the fact that chlidren spend so much time at school. Though I enjoy eating with chopsticks, I wonder how much wood must be used each year in order to supply all of the restaurants with chopsticks, and if perhaps it might not be a better idea to just use silverwear. This is besides the point, though.

It is easy when you go to new places not just to notice habits that differ from yours but to somehow dismiss those habits as being strange or ridiculous. This is not just something that Americans or Canadians might do. I've heard plenty of folks from England say some downright awful things about different places I have visited. Australians as well. I suppose it is easy to see, then, why these western, first world countries might come off as being arrogant.

Let's talk about food for a moment. People across Asia eat some strange things (to a western mind, here). They eat brains from still-living monkeys, dogs, rodents, snake, and insects among other things. It is easy to be disgusted. I wonder, though, as fast food chains have spread across the globe, what people from other places would say if they knew what goes into the dishes avaiable at McDonalds or Burger King (I'm re-reading Fast Food Nation right now). There is also the matter of portions. I have heard plenty of people (myself included) complain about the smaller portions served abroad. But then, I have also heard Taiwanese returning from America say, "How can you eat so much?"

When I started writing this, I had plans to bring it smoothly around to the recent Newsweek / Koran-abuse/ torture scandals that have made news across the world. I am quite distracted though, and I haven't been able to do it. I'm just going to kind of force it in here. Of all the news surrounding Newsweek's story about Koran-abuse at Guantanamo, and of stories about the depth of abuse in Afghanistan, what disturbed me most was that most of the American public (I'm just going by news reports here, so I don't know if this is true or not) did not initially think much of the fact that these actions had taken place. It was only after violent protests across the Muslim world took place that the public took notice.

This is obviously a much larger scale case of not trying to understand something from another point of view, I know. The fact of the matter is, though, that a greater effort needs to be made to consider the reasons behind the actions of another culture instead of dismissing the actions out of hand. That might help some of us foreigners (and Americans) to understand why those in other cultures shake their heads at the things we do - and perhaps take steps to better explain ourselves and to find a more common understanding about things.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Reflections

It is not a good idea to play basketball in the middle of the afternoon when the temperature is 33 (more than 90 F). A rather exhausting endeavor to say the least. Perhaps I should have done today what I did yesterday - head off to the beach. Oh well. I guess on both days I was soaking wet and tasted like salt.

Yesterday as we were leaving the beach, I thought back to the first time I had gone to Baishawan. Actually, I think it was a conglomeration of memories. At any rate, I remembered drinking 70NT bottles of Heineken on the patio of the restaurant connected to the building where people shower and change their clothes that sits at one entrance to the beach. I remembered standing far out in the sea, the water as calm as a swimming pool, and warm, the sun coming down as a few of us threw a ball back and forth. And while we were doing this there was a Japanese porn star doing a photo shoot on the beach, surrounded by lustful (and young) Taiwanese guys. She was clothed, and she wasn't all that great looking, but, hey...she was a porn star. (I should say that I can not confirm that she has actually appeared in pornographic movies, but my friend swore he had seen an article about her in the paper, in town to do promotions of some sort). (Which leads to a second parenthetical thought - what kind of promotional work is done for porn movies?)

As I thought back to those days, I mentioned to my friend Lars that I find myself doing this a lot lately - shuffling back through the memories accumulated in two years in Taipei, and drawing connections between them. I suppose you could call it reflection.

Perhaps it was in the spirit of reflection that the pictures I took today seemed focused on the reflections found in the many glass buildings in Taipei. The buildings are all near my apartment (it was already late in the afternoon, and I really was exhausted from playing basketball).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the few that I have posted today.
This is looking across the street on SongJiang Rd, just south of JinZhou St. I will be posting another, better view of this on my cities page tomorrow (5.23.05). Posted by Hello
There was a very narrow gap between these two buildings, just enough for the sun to get through. Posted by Hello
This is looking at a building on MinSheng Road, reflecting several buildings from across the street.  Posted by Hello