Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Free as a what?

A while back, when I was regaling you with tales of Nora's new underwear, I made the observation that, in Taiwan, any printed surface should be approached with caution. This is not quite true. Foreigners love to read the English on clothing, bags, scooters, panel trucks – we share our "best Chinglish" stories and laugh at how mangled English can be and still convey some meaning (maybe not the intended meaning, but still). I have never detected a sense of superiority in these stories – most of us have very limited Chinese skills, and we appreciate any effort to put things in our language – but we can't help but read anything romanized, and the results are strangely rewarding. There is no caution, only delight.

Some of us (well, at least one of us, ahem) actually buy things simply for their English content. I have a collection of canned drinks – several coffees ("let's be black," "let's be bitter," and the one everybody's searching for, "God"), a Snoopy chocolate milk and a matching milk tea (both with histories of their respective drinks), and a very Parisian-looking coffee with a poem by the great beverage connoisseur and caffeinated thinker Gertrude Stein. My favorite, however, has to be a tinned white fungus drink, which, quite appropriately, goes by the brand name "KKK."

All of this comes to mind because I've finally used up the last of a not-very-good shampoo that I bought last fall. We needed something other than baby shampoo in the guest bath since we had company coming, but Pantene or Dove or Prell wouldn't do. Oh, no. It had to be:

Sakura Moisturizing Shampoo

In such a crowed & nervous city,
I refuse to be the same,
In my own way,with my own style,
I want to be myself,
as free as a fish, walking along the
free my own pace,
as I wish..

I am as free as a fish, walking along this city. If only the shampoo were better – I'd buy it every time. Now that I've run out, though, I'll just have to find something else to amuse the guests.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The birds and the beads

A Japanese White-eye slammed into our window this week. He was alive, breathing really hard, but otherwise totally still. I was afraid he'd broken his neck, but after 20 minutes or so he flew off, so I guess he was just shaken up. They're very pretty birds, quite small, and they do have a lovely song.

Speaking of song, we were awakened at 6:30 this morning by a temple parade: gongs, horns, drums, wailing voices – all of it being broadcast from the back of a truck so we wouldn't miss a note. Firecrackers punctuated the music. Big ones. This month has been unusually active for the local temple – they've strung up red lanterns, a couple miles' worth, all along our road, to mark which areas fall under their jurisdiction. This is for the benefit of roaming spirits, I believe, not just for us foreigners in the neighborhood. The next nearest temple had something going on today, too, so it could be a Taoist, island-wide thing, or something local. I wish I had more insight into those goings-on. I will have to ask my Chinese teacher to shed some light on it.

We had an outing today to the aboriginal (Paiwan tribe) village of Santimen (pronounced "san-DEE-mun"). This is my fourth trip to visit the bead shop there, but every time I go there's something new to look at, and the drive into the hills is refreshing in its own right. There are beautiful pieces of jewelry to buy, which I did, but the main reason we went was for the DIY beadmaking craft. It's a bargain: for NT$200 (about $6.00 US) you get to make your own large glass bead, then choose accent beads and have it made into a bracelet or necklace right before your eyes. The kids both made necklaces; Nora's is a gift for someone (I won't ruin the surprise), and Cole made a "pearl of great bravery" for himself. The beads all carry meaning within the tribe, and were worn like badges, proof of someone's experience or character. They were originally made from clay, but have been translated into glass. I'm sure we'll go again soon. Tim hasn't been yet, and just this evening a friend said, "Oh, let me know next time you go...." Maybe next weekend. Let me know if you want to tag along.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Now that I have my camera back, I've added some more pictures to Formosa Fix. The funny thing is, I've only uploaded photos taken the day before my camera broke, back in January. But I will get snapping and post some new ones soon, too.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Odds 'n ends

Time for a little loose-end trimming. With summer travel just around the corner, I sense the need to start wrapping things up – not that I can't blog from home, but my mind is already halfway across the ocean and I don't want to leave a bunch of unfinished Taiwan stories lying about while I chase after it.

First, the MV Doulos. We did get a tour the night I took doubles to Roopa; she was leading her team in drama practice, but her friend Hannah graciously led us around. We covered the whole of the ship, from engine room to laundry room, and then had dinner in the mess with both of them. (Roopa happily skipped the chow line and just nibbled on her doubles.) My camera was broken at the time, but the picture I would put here for you if I could is the view from the darkened ship's deck, looking into the brightly lit laundry: giant, bright yellow commercial washers line the walls, clean shirts on hangers hang from the pipes that traverse the ceiling, and in the foreground, hanging in the doorway, a dozen clown wigs – hot pink, lime green, rainbow-striped – dangle from the drying rack they're clipped to. It startled me and made me laugh. (And curse my broken camera.)

A few days later I did pick up Roopa for her Big Day Out, and Hannah joined us, too. They were in need of a day of rest, so we picked up some steak and potatoes at Dollar's and came back to our house for dinner. They were thrilled to sit in a room that wasn't moving, on a real couch, and just have the time to catch up with each other. Their duties on board keep them running in different directions, which is harder on them as their time to leave the Doulos approaches. Hannah will leave this month, and Roopa has to decide if she will leave in September and return to Trinidad, or remain on board one more year before marrying and moving to Australia. It was a pleasure to get to know both of them better, and to learn about the inner workings of such a venture. The protocal for courtship on a boat full of young men and women was particularly fascinating.

Next, the bread. My rosemary-sea salt loaf had good flavor, but I was surprised to see that the salt which I sprinkled on top blackened. It didn't burn so much as smoke, so the flavor was actually fine, but aesthetically, black salt was not what I was looking for. I will dig around to see what solutions I can find. In the meantime, I have another loaf going today, cinnamon raisin this time. It'll go in the oven in another couple hours.

And I recently added another book to my reading list, Peter Hessler's Oracle Bones. I got it for Christmas, blazed through it, but then forgot to mention it here. Highly recommended reading, especially if you read his first book, River Town. (It stands alone, so read it either way.) Hessler has a real talent for finding the hidden threads that connect seemingly disparate ideas and events, and his general love of China comes through, even as he struggles, frustrated, to understand her.

I, on the other hand, have no brilliant thread running through these lines, other than the relief of getting these lingering details out of my head and into print. I feel a bit freer now to move forward, but I will try to stay in the present long enough to give you a few more stories about happenings here.