Archive for April, 2007


On Poetry

It’s the end of April, and National Poetry Month. I’ve been reading from a number of books on Chinese poetry in translation– have to pick some up for Taiwanese poetry, too.

Here’s an opening excerpt from “Poetry Itself Is a Kind of Sunlight” by Yan Yi:

Believe me, poetry itself is a kind of sunlight
No substance has been found anywhere in the cosmos
That can break the wings of poetry.

The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry Since the Cultural Revolution, p. 36

My paternal grandfather and great-grandfather would write poetry with their friends. My mother took out a scroll for me once, and showed me the brushed character for moon. I think there was moonlight through a window in the poem. I wish I could read their work.

Here’s a rough unfinished excerpt from mine:

I am the rice paddy, green with life,
shoots tender and sharp through the water.

I am the white crane flying
through a row’s reflection on a quest
for the fish slipping through muddy lines.

And on that note, though there is more to say, I’m going to sleep.


Shampoo and a cut

I just got my hair cut for the first time since October.  I’m naturally uncomfortable with haircuts at salons.

My mother has always cut my hair with a few exceptions (generally with somewhat mixed results– having a cowlick on my forehead guaranteed bangs that were not straight after one comb out and that would diagonally edge up my forehead during our haircut sessions in the bathroom when I was a child.)   My first professional haircut was due to extremely grevious circumstances thanks to my younger brother, who would probably kill me if I related the entire tale here.  (Actually, I had to promise not to kill him when his guilt was revealed).  Suffice it to say, it was extremely necessary that I be seen to by a professional for the first time in my young life.  Though the tear-stains on my cheeks were barely dry, I was thrilled by the complimentary bubblegum ball and the feathering I got (It was the eighties, feathers were in.)

I ended up at an old-ladyish sort of salon right after college where they displayed a sufficient amount of horror at the chopping off of my mane which was probably down to the small of my back.   I didn’t dare to actually shave it all off as I intended, so I ended up looking as if I had a mushroom cap of hair.

Then I had a lovely session with all of the girls in our little area of town that summer who each got to take scissors to my head.  After chopping off the mushroom umbrella, and several inquiries to boys, I ended up on the stoop of our doorstep with the shaver that seemed to have been borrowed by half the boys in the group, with my roommate shaving my head into maybe a week’s length of stubble? (Not being a guy, I’m not exactly sure how much stubble there is by the end of a week…)  It was refreshingly liberating and actually made the cocktail party that night kind of fun for me.  I have a lot of cowlicks, so I had slightly darker patches every now and then.

My first Taiwanese haircut was when I joined my cousin to look presentable for my uncle’s funeral (a really depressing reason for a haircut).  I was in advanced neanderthal mode.  I have no memory of the resulting haircut, but I do remember feeling kind of uncomfortable with the rigorous thumping my head got during the shampoo.  My cousin treated me to shaved ice afterwards.

In October, I shadowed another one of my cousins for a day, and we ended up popping into a shop he frequents because we were in the area.  My hair was long, limp, heavy, and falling out in long strands onto my tile floor.  It was hot.  So, I got my hair snipped after he did, and I got something of a boyish cut.

Despite what this post may have you believe, I’m really not that vain about my hair….  Well, not anymore.  I used to mournfully regard it as my one beauty a la Jo March from Little Women.

However, it’s been getting in my eyes, and I’ve developed that one little curl in the middle of my forehead (which always makes me think of the nursery rhyme involving the little girl).  Also, as I let my kids take photographs for the up and coming yearbook, I saw some of their shots of me.  I had a Hermione reaction (though I cognitively know my hair is wonky and don’t really care, it’s another thing to see it and realize it may be preserved as the memorable image of me for my children into posterity) “Is that really what my hair looks like from the back?!”

So, after putting it off for months due to the fear of ending up looking like an eighties rocker (there is this definite eighties aesthetic amongst Taipei youth), and a certain debate about shaving it all off again for summer vacation, I finally went in with a bit of trepidation at my poor Chinese skills actually getting a cut that will allow me to grow my hair long again or not feel guilty for my ignorance of electric guitar.

Fortunately the shop I went to was quiet without the extremely foul smell of hair products.  We discussed it in my marginal Chinese for a bit, and then finally I was in the chair with the little razor scissors pulling at the hair on the nape of my neck, a slight scritching sound from the hair being severed.

I got the shampoo afterwards.  I lay down in the black leather recliner making half-hearted buzzing vibrations.  The head massage wasn’t as vigorous as the first one I remembered, and after washing my hair, she annointed my head with something tingly and cool that may have smelled faintly of eucalyptus.  It was pretty darn fantastic.  After my head cooled nicely, she wrapped it in warm towels, which were very soothing.  I may just end up becoming a hair salon junkie.

I had douhua with tapioca beads afterwards.

The stylist left enough on the top to grow out, and for my cowlick to do its work…  Yup, there’s the return of that little curl.


Reminder to self:

Dear Me…

Do not try writing intelligent lovely post filled with poetry and quotes and links at almost three in the morning and then press the back arrow while tiddling about with the code.  WordPress doesn’t remind you that you really don’t want to navigate away from the posting page when you’re venturing backwards and not onward.

I have now joined the masses of people here that swear in English (though it was a mouthed utterance to myself in an empty room)…  sigh.

Go to bed.

There’s always tomorrow.



So this isn’t just a metablog sniff:

International Poetry Web

New Poems from China: a portfolio coordinated by Zhang Er (disclaimer: I’ve had the privilege of meeting Zhang Er and hearing her Verses on Bird read in English and Chinese– didn’t understand the Chinese, but it was interesting to hear the rhythm and flow of the original next to the translation.  I found this by the accidental grace of Google).

The Drunken Boat: Contemporary Chinese Poets


Reality is interfering with my aspirations…

I’ve got a couple of drafts going for posting, but haven’t been able to bring my head completely around any of them.

So, instead I’ve been trying to make things pretty around here. I now have a guest book of sorts where you’re free to request bloggery about whatever burning questions you may have (though I make no promises), tell me that I babble too much, wave at me, leave me presents, say you were here, etc.

I’ve changed the theme (again), and this one shows my whole photos instead of cutting them off or squishing them to fit. It has rather wussy custom header support, however, so I’m open to shifting it again. Any recommendations for something pretty with a custom header banner, widgets, and flexible width text blocks?

Oh, and here’s a link to what to do in an earthquake, just because. My first earthquake was when I was a kid in my grandfather’s living room. Everything shook. It was like watching a video held by someone with palsy shaking the camera, except we were shaking too. We sort of all just stood there looking at each other, the earth rocking us. It wasn’t a long or very heavy earthquake, though, just enough for my brother and I to shout “Cool!” after my mother told us what it was.

I think there’s been one earthquake since I’ve been here. It was at night, and I was in bed, and ever so briefly, it felt like I was being gently rocked to sleep. (The editor in me is shocked at how many clauses I crammed into one run-on sentence, but I’m too tired to fix it.)

So, hardened earthquake veterans, do you just duck when it really gets shaky? I don’t remember anyone dropping to the floor to cover their heads during that long-ago summer afternoon.

Going to bed– here’s hoping my latest unrequited lover is dead, or has buzzed off. Sleeping with the buzzing in your ear of an affectionate mosquito is really difficult. Ended up looking a bit like a drunken sailor meeting the parents last week– was stung on one eyelid and my pinky finger so that they both swelled pink, combined with the usual gravity-defiant hair. Getting a mosquito net this week in addition to the little plug-in poison diffuser.

Wan An (“good night,” though I think a more direct translation would be “night’s peace”).


Photoblogging Taichung Fine Arts Museum Area

We didn’t actually go inside the art museum, because, well, it was four in the afternoon and lovely outside.

Pretty sculpture in a wall.


Public Service Announcement, Re: Mister Donut

At last, the Mister Donut post. My defense is that it was such a traumatic incident that it took me a month to get over the sensation of nausea… However, upon remembering it, I am not over the sensation of nausea.

If you ever walk out of Taipei Main Station and into the Station Front Mall which runs underground towards the Shinkong Mitsokushi department store on your way to Guancian Road, you will enter the Station Front Mall by going down an escalator or set of stairs. You will descend into a heavy, sickly sweet buttery scent that engulfs your throat and tugs at your stomach.

That is Mister Donut.

I was in blissful ignorance of the source for months living here and going to dance class every week through that smell. It did prompt me to breathe through my sleeve a few times, but I’d be rushing off to class and miss its full gag-inducing impact.

Before I go further, I should note that I’m a bit sensitive to scents, not as much as my mother, since I’m generally congested and fighting off a cold (that would be the entirety of my first six months here, knocking on wood that the universe won’t seek to give me the hacking cough/flu that has been walking about lately), but cigarette smoke (no matter how much Marjane Satarapi seduces me with lovely descriptions of it, or Billy Collins rhapsodizes it) causes my eyes to burn and my throat to close up, and Starbucks is fairly gag-inducing too (my friend says it’s a good smell, it’s coffee, but I respectfully disagree, and upon learning from one on the inside, Starbucks is actually burnt coffee). On the plus-side, I stop in my tracks at the scent of jasmine at twilight, and glory in walking past a boulangerie in the morning.

(Another random aside: I am now going to impose an italics moratorium. No, I’m really not a teenage girl, thank you for asking.)

I did not learn the source of that smell, until I was stuck for something to give my ultra-fabulous cousins in Taichung (or Taizhong or Taijung– the various romanizations of Chinese get a bit nutty here). I’m a paranoid gift-giver too, perfectionistic in wanting to get the perfect thing and not a white elephant. Upon consultation with my suitemate, who practically pointed out that food is never amiss, and Mister Donut has not yet infiltrated Taichung, I learned that Mister Donut is a marvelous concoction very much in demand.

Soooo…. I thought I’d try to bring it. I was crunched for time to make it out of work and onto a bus before the hour got too indecent for my arrival that Friday night, and wasn’t sure if I could, but upon getting on the train and realizing I’d be missing the next bus anyway, I figured I might as well pop out at Taipei Main Station and pick up some donuts quickly before popping up the rest of the way to the bus stop.

Slipping through the floods of people, I dashed down the escalator to the Station Front Mall, and turned right into the golden light of Mister Donut. I ended up in a line at eight-o-clock on a Friday night that was around fifteen people long immersed in sickly sweet smell central.

You would think, at this juncture, that I would realize this was a bad idea.

However, being chronically sleep-deprived with impaired judgement and really wanting to do something for the amazingly awesome cousins that had looked after me and supplied me with bing bang (popsicles), Apple Sidra, and mangoes on my visits back to Grandpa’s house long ago, I stuck it out through the long line. After much contemplation, I got chocolate donuts, and round rings of puffs, and a donut braid, and nut-encrusted donuts, and cakey donuts and my favorite plain glazed donuts. I ended up with two big boxes of donuts for the cousins, the aunt and uncle, etc.

Then, after wandering around the dim streets by Shilin nightmarket, I finally found the little bus stop for the new City Express bus line with the promotion of a roundtrip for the price of one-way recommended to me. So I popped onto the bus and settled in for a nice three-hour ride past dark mountain sides.

There was only the bus driver and one other passenger, a fairly young guy with a duffel bag.

My apologies to them both.

A half-hour in, the sickly sweet heavy buttered stench began to rise, and I had to put down my scribbles, give up on my travel book, stuff away my knitting, and press my face against the sealed window. I tried to sleep. I shifted the bag from the seat next to me to the floor to no avail. I then concentrated on not throwing up for the rest of the ride.

City Express takes you around quite a bit of Taichung, and, as luck would have it, I was at the last stop. The young man got out at the first stop, and I moved up to the front so as not to miss mine. The poor bus driver buried his head in his arms and groaned at a stop light at one point. I felt dreadful, and wasn’t good enough at Chinese to apologize properly. My face was buried in my sleeves too. After half an hour of meandering Taichung, I finally got out into the dark night by a little stream, and embraced the fresh air with a few dry heaves. Thankfully, by the time my cousin was able to pick me up at the handy 7/11 nearby, I was better, if still somewhat queasy. We stuffed the donuts in the trunk. I got to my other cousin’s apartment, and we popped the donuts in the refrigerator. I was certain that I never ever wanted to see or smell another donut again. Instead we had some yummy dohua (sort of a custardy sweet tofu) to fortify our catching up into the wee hours.

When the next afternoon woke us, we popped into the car with two plastic baggies of donuts, broke them apart to share, and in spite of my earlier misgivings, I actually had some.

Mister Donut was actually almost as good as its hype. Not worth that amount of nausea for, per se, but the fact that I was able to eat it and enjoy it was really incredibly remarkable. The Pon de Ring has this lovely spongy consistency that isn’t melt-in-the mouth, but slightly chewy, sweet, and really quite yummy and unique. And yes, I’ve had Krispy Kreme before. The strawberry-glazed donut was really very strawberry-ish, and not actually sickly sweet-ish. And the chocolate was quite satisfyingly chocolate. Thankfully, my cousins enjoyed them, and though they were no longer fresh enough (apparently they have a freshness life of one day) for me to feel good giving them to my uncle that Sunday, I suspect they had a fulfilling end anyway.

However, I highly doubt I will ever haul Mister Donut on a three-hour bus ride again… At least, not without some sort of vacuum seal or means of hanging them out of a window or sealed away in a luggage bin .

But if you can stand the stench of waiting in line, and are not worried about cholesterol or fat– I do highly recommend the Pon de Ring.



Just because it’s about two in the morning, and I should be asleep, but, as usual, am not.  It is suddenly pouring rain here, as if the heavens have lost a favorite child, thrashing with winds swirling.  There was a very loud bang that made everything shake, and my suitemate had me join her in her room to make sure there was nothing scary there.  I’ve promised to sleep with my door open, just in case.  I had my window open three inches, and walking to my dresser, slipped on the wet tile floor five feet away from the window.  My heart character (amongst other random brushings) has lost the battle with the rainy wind from the window and is sitting in a puddle now.

I should take my brushes out again.

I filed my US tax extension (though I technically didn’t have to, since I’m automatically extended until June, and perhaps filed the wrong one, since I discovered after filing it that I perhaps should have filed the one for foreigners seeking bona fide residence…), which is unfortunately my modus operandi since I started filing as an independent.

The AIT website was a bit less-than helpful in figuring out how to go about filing my taxes, since they referred me to the page with the same broken link twice (the second time after I e-mailed them to point it out…).  I feel bad for the American Institute in Taiwan people, though.  After all, since Taiwan is not acknowledged as a country, they don’t get to write off their income the way they would if they were part of an official embassy (this was specifically mentioned by the IRS in their taxes for foreign residents section).

I kind of miss the mad dash to make it to the Penn Station post office where people hand out free hot dogs and dress up to protest things like the unequal tax burden distribution as the clock ticks to midnight.

I was going to e-file, but then realized that the program I was using wouldn’t let me check the foreign resident box.  Luckily my roommate had an operational printer and I finally dropped it off to the post office before work.

The rush of rain-cleaned air and the rhythm make me want to go to the park and dance in the puddles.  However, I’m tired, and should be in bed, and alive and perky tomorrow morning for parental approval.

Hm.  I’ve got a backlog of possible blog posts in my head that possibly include: bras, love, and hair (in no particular order), but I’m still behind on things like Mister Donut, and would probably turn too red in the process of writing the former (after all, I am a Victorian priss who still often refers to bras as “unmentionables”), though the scribbler in me tends to be bolder than the me in real life.   So anyway, after this post on the weather and taxes (two constants perhaps?), I’ll have to see what strikes my fancy…  Preferably before midnight some other night.

Free Rice

April 2007
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