Archive for January, 2007



 If you tried to post a comment and it was identified as spam.

I just discovered the manipulating comments section of my administrative powers here on WordPress, and was a bit distressed to realize that there were 12 comments marked as spam.  Of the four that hadn’t been deleted yet, two were attempts by ME to reply to a comment (duh, WordPress Akismet spam blocker!), and one was from a friend.  I’ll be more careful about keeping an eye on it from now on.

Tomorrow I’m hauling my class on a field trip no one is enthused about.  I love where we’re going, but am not sure I’m up to the task of inspiring excitement in my students…  especially as I’m supposed to have them write a report on it.  At this point, they’ve all told me they’d rather stay in school and have their quizzes and play games afterwards– the usual Friday routine.  Ungrateful brats…  They didn’t like poetry; when I cooked with my class of five, everyone had some a issue or other– no chocolate, no dairy products, not fond of bananas, etc.; when I fed them junk food, so and so got more, they wanted more flavors; no whole class ever truly agrees on what game to play on Fridays, etc….!  I really do love my students, but goodness, making them happy is difficult!  I just hope I don’t lose anyone, or wilt before we make it safely back.  And on that cheery note…  g’night.


The antecedent of The Princeton Review and Kaplan… Or nerdiness then and now.



Wu-edition Punctuated and Annotated Edition of the Book of Documents with Repeated and Similar Phrases
Traditionally ascribed to K’ung An-kuo (Han Dynasty) with explanations by Lu Teh-ming (T’ang Dynasty)
Southern Sung imprint This is a reference book that was used for preparing for the civil service examinations. The small size of the imprint made it convenient for traveling and sometimes was snuck into the examination hall by less scrupulous examinees, evidently for cheating. Since it was a book prepared when the demand appeared, very few have survived, making this quite precious. has the photo

Does this mean that my old test prep books could someday be “quite precious”? I suppose Asia is something of the mothership for nerdiness… It’s glorious, there is a 24-hr bookstore (Eslite!!! — TIME article: ), at least one bookstore per 1 mile radius as far as I can tell, and stationery stores 3 stories high (9×9– one floor of pens, one of notebooks and cards and little magnetic bookmarks, and one of DIY/art papers, etc.).

Apparently, Eslite is quite the pick-up place after clubbing or bar hopping (I would assume the flagship branch at Ren-Ai Circle would be much more prone to post-clubbers due to proximity than the Xinyi branch by Taipei 101). That hasn’t been my experience there, but it’s lovely to be surrounded by books. There are at least the languages of Japanese and English and Chinese on the shelves there.

Page 101 is an easier foreign language browsing experience, as all the English books are mostly together– and the art collection there kind of blows my mind– it’s not just the collection, it’s the way it’s shelved — covers facing out for display.

I loved the bookstore in Seoul too by Gangnam in another huge mall, if I recall correctly, but Eslite and Page 101 actually have atmosphere– not just a supermarket for books per se. There’s more friendly lighting than cold fluorescence all over the place (though it is there, depends on the section, for some reason in my mind, fiction tends to be less cold than the languages section of Eslite).

I still miss the Strand in NYC, but Barnes and Noble could learn a bit from Taiwan.

This bookstore is around Ren-Ai, but not Eslite (forget the name of it, but I had to shoot these just for the shelving categories).



Note how the “Male Authors” and “Female Authors” shelves face each other?  I’m wondering if that means the rest of the authors on the shelves fall elsewhere on the spectrum…  Seriously though, if it’s a marketing decision to get men to by the “Male Authors” books and women to buy the “Female Authors” books, how are they different?  Better study more zhongwen!



Red Dragonfruit

I’ve never had a fruit quite like a red dragonfruit.  It’s skin peels off somewhat like an orange without the porous threads of an orange peel.  The texture is soft with the black seeds throughout, and gently sweet.  Apparently it’s imported from Indonesia.  It’s really yummy– sliced as you would an orange, the flesh just peeled easily away from the thick red skin with its jutting green shoots, perhaps the scales that would make it dragon-like.

Apparently there’s a variety with red flesh as well that dyes your mouth red– haven’t come upon it yet.


Around the ‘hood

In the courtyard, we had Tyrannasaurous Rex standing guard…img_4913_1_1.JPGimg_4917_1_1.JPG

This was the rest of his entourage– a grandfather was washing up all the toys and spread them out to dry.


A stray cat that was peacefully napping until I intruded for her close-up.  Note that she’s chosen one of the ubiquitous scooters that line the sidewalks.


I discovered her on a long walk after our New Year’s hot pot gorge.  We were heavy with noodles and all the goodies you can stuff in a hot pot, yet quested onwards for the famous tea shop.  It was a lazy afternoon, most stores shuttered, and slightly warm.  This cat looked so cosy and comfortable in her sunny spot.  I’ve seen dogs on scooters before, tails curled securely behind them as their owners drive them about.  I’ve seen an entirely family of four on a scooter, which made my teeth clench in anxiety for them.  I’ve also seen a baby worn on a sling being chauffeured about on one, which also made me anxious for them.  But I hadn’t seen a cat nap luxuriously on one until New Year’s.


Slight visual retrospective on my time in Taiwan


Dragonfly.  Photo credit: My cousin S. who can, unlike me, take non-blurry photos.


Jasmine, my favorite flower here.


Jiofen– a mountain town that overlooks the harbor of Keelung.


Pink or white?  An oft-repeated scene at the department store.


National Taiwan University

My first rock concert by accident– CKS Memorial Hall concert with Jolin.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Gate

Concert at CKS

Also the Jolin Rock concert.

Mount Fuji

Aerial view of Mt. Fuji from the plane as we passed over Japan.

These are rather out of order, because I haven’t quite figured out how the uploading photos, formatting, and such on WordPress works.   More to come.


Hop on a bus…

So, today, with cold in throat, and bag on back, I went to Taipei Main Station. I’ve been there before, of course, wandering through the subterranean mall on my way to dance class. I hadn’t been up to the train station above the subway this time, however, and today, on the quest for a bus, I had the deja vu that I have every now and then in Taiwan, realizing that this is a place I’ve been to before with my family in the time when the streets were a parking lot, at least one of my grandparents was alive, and my hair was long and probably braided.

The skylight ceiling and the big echoing space where the big board still flips through places and times with the same sort of rhythm trains on the track would have called me back.

The last time I remember Taipei Main Station, it was when the MRT was still being built, and the toilets didn’t work because the construction for the MRT had disrupted the water lines. My mother said there was some rather naughty graffiti on the signs apologizing. The space was dark with shadows, and we were hot and tired, and there were people all around us in waves.

This time around in Taiwan, I’ve realized that some of the foreignness of Taiwan to me was just the strangeness of staying in urban spaces for the first time in my life. Tiny apartments on top of each other instead of a house. Busy traffic outside. It was all so different from keeping company with the cherry trees and the grass on our hill in the suburbs.

Anyway, today I was brave and went to Hsinchu to try out a writing group that I’d kind of nudged into existence and then didn’t join as soon as it started. I wandered around Taipei Main Station for about half an hour, realizing that I only had $1000 NT on me, which isn’t bad, $30 US can go a ways here, but seemed skimpy to leave town on, and that I’d left my phrasebook at home. My mangled Chinese was enough to get me to get lost enough to find the bus station and catch a $140 NT (about $4-5 US) bus to Hsinchu. So I sat in the green lazyboy-ish recliner chair with my personal little TV, unraveled my gauge swatch and looked at the lights flickering out of the window as we passed shadows of mountains and rice paddies. Buses in Taiwan can be quite plush.

I managed to not need to call for further directions. Hsinchu is called the windy city, though it didn’t feel too dreadful to me. I had kumquat tea, which was bright orange and hot and slightly tart. We wrote and read and wrote and read and I met some lovely creative people.

Was escorted to the bus stop and ushered onto the bus by my newfound writing colleagues, and mused the whole way back in the dim light of the fluorescent illumination. I love that space to just sit and go.


New Year’s Eve

img_4939_2_1.JPGAs the New Year is a time for new beginnings, I figured it might be good to actually enact (resurrect would imply that it had life at some point) this blog.

After virtuously doing laundry, and donning a blue knit embroidered dress older than I am, shorter and clingier than I generally wear (this is an unfortunate sort of discovery when one really needs to wear SOMETHING, but my aunt, the former owner, was a bit smaller than I am, the only reason the thing fit was because it stretches), I hopped into the subway in my slightly dressyish red clogs not approved for cranky ankles. Was stared at in the subway by a lounging (albeit somewhat aesthetically appealing, albeit amusingly so) fellow with his cap on sideways, and promptly hid behind masses of people getting on the train. (Note to people who stare at me– I’m already self-conscious. Be subtle if you must gawk at how odd I look.) (Note to guys on the train– Sitting as if you’re about to fall off the seat with your legs wide open as a frog’s is more funny than cool, and in a large press of people, when kids and elderly people get on the train, be a gentleman.) /snarky notes.

I went to my aunt’s for a general large family gathering, where we ate lots of yummy food, teased my cousinlet (2-yr-old son of my cousin) with wine (he was fascinated with the little glasses, and kept sticking his tongue in it to lap up the edges of the left-over red liquid), and saw my grandfather’s love-letter to my grandmother in Japanese. Back then, after contact had been made with my grandmother’s father by the matchmaker, my grandfather sent a love-letter to her workplace, a kindergarten. They weren’t supposed to see each other before the wedding, though he managed to steal a peek at her (this was apparently a somewhat common practice for men to be able to see their intended prior to the wedding).

Also saw the family tree, which I couldn’t fully appreciate, being that it was entirely in Chinese (I could only recognize our surname and parts of names here and there), and being that it included no women. Somehow we’ve managed to have a family without any women (documented, of course. As illustrious as my father’s family is, they have yet to accomplish the asexual reproduction of males). I find this ludicrous. Lest you think that this is only an old artifact of my ancestors, I will only point out that the aforementioned cousinlet was added by his mother since his father is a son of a son of a son of a….! I’m not there, though my brother is. My cousins and their children are not there, though their brother (though not his daughter) is.

Maybe this year, I’ll come up with a more complete family tree… grrr.

My New Year’s Eve was spent with the apparently 500,000 other people in Taipei watching Taipei 101 (ee-ling-ee) count down its levels to midnight and then erupt in fireworks. I was under the stoplight at Xinyi Road and Keelung Road with a bajillion people. There were waiguoren (foreigners) cooing at an adorable little girl held aloft by her father, couples with their cell-phones poised to catch photos of the fireworks, all of us pressed together in a mass focused on the fireworks. They actually shoot fireworks out of the different levels of ee-ling-ee, and the entire building at some points gets obscured with smoke. As a former New Yorker, it was a bit odd seeing a tower engulfed by smoke, but kind of nice to see that it could actually be a good thing.


I also learned why fireworks tend to be shot out over water in the US, as ash floated through the air, pelting us slightly (found little black specks on my coat), and several of us got ash in the eye (me, included). I watched part of the display through my hand with one eye squinted shut, which sort of ruined the effect.


I fumbled through the crowd past the line-up of blue port-o-potties (tsoh stinky), Jolin’s rousing performance (for some reason in Taiwan, whenever I’m passing a random free display of pop music, I seem to be present for Jolin) bands of teenagers tossing cards at each other, or drinking smirnoffs, and finally joined the mass of people pressing for the Taipei City Hall subway station.

I was encased with people on all sides of me (a particularly irritating ajumma, which is Korean for an older, pushy, strong woman, was pushing through the crowd and made it impossible for me to actually stand up straight at one point). We could smell each other, and feel the heat of our bodies pressed together into a very large human variety of meatloaf. Thankfully there was a cool breeze that would find our faces every now and then. The most frustrating aspect was that the crowd did not really move. By the time several people around me had given up on getting into the station, there was no way out of the huge mass of people pressed against each other.

I couldn’t help wishing that the Taipei police would do what the Koreans did when I saw the most incredible display of fireworks in the island in the Han river in Seoul (which I can’t remember the name of at the moment), which was to actually shut down the station for safety reasons, and just let people linger there for an hour as the crowds thinned. Of course, that display of fireworks wasn’t at midnight, since it was for a contest, but still, at least the crowd there (which was also giganormous) moved, even if all one did to move was lift one’s legs up and down, the forward motion being supplied by the huge press of people walking together.

At one point, outside the subway station, a car came through, escorted by a policemen, and distraught friends of the woman who was obviously passed out within. There was less than a foot of space between the slowly moving car and the people on the sides of it. As it passed by, people crowded behind it, hoping to move forward in its wake.

I realized that Taiwanese people can be rather competitive when people were rushing in line at Newark Airport for a flight departure that was two hours away and would be delayed perhaps an hour or two more, just to get to the check-in counter.

However, the press to get into the subway station was truly ridiculous. Upon reflection, I figured that as bad as it felt to be outside in the press of people, inside would probably be worse, so when a little train of three people started making their way away from the station, a bunch of people, including me, joined them.

I walked past Sun-Yat-Sen Memorial Station in a large press of people that overflowed the sidewalk, even though there was traffic back on the street. Walked away from Zhongxiao road which wasn’t as full than the subway station mass, but still too crammed, into a little lane and passed bars of partiers and finally descended into the Zhongxiao Dunhua station into a not-so-crammed end subway car (General Rule of the Subway: the cars at the end will generally be emptier than the cars of the middle) to Taipei Main Station.

The crowd (a fairly decent rush-hour-type crowd) changed lines there, and the train swept through empty stations at 2:30 AM (the subway generally closes after midnight– the last trains leaving their starting stations at midnight and finishing their run past midnight).

People were still shooting fireworks off in the park for fun when I got home– these were fairly respectable fireworks too, that spangled and swirled in different directions, multiplying the way a kaleidoscope’s images bloom with a twist. It’s kind of cool that people can do that here. So the year began with a lot of bangs, which will hopefully keep the bad spirits away.

Free Rice

January 2007
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