Archive for May, 2007


At the park

Very cool unidentified caterpillar.

Swirligigs on a kite string.



My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a short woman, round, keen, and street-smart. She had a boisterous laugh, and came from the countryside. She’d always wear loose flowered print button-up shirts and shorts or a skirt that would inevitably reveal the tell-tale roll of her knee-highs around her calves when she sat down.

One afternoon, she and I sat around the round dining room table eating long-yen (dragon eye)– a round fruit with a brown shell that cracks to reveal translucent white flesh wrapped around a smooth black pit. My grandfather would bring bunches of them, like huge bunches of grapes on stiff brown branches in from his walks. We had a long-yen tree in the garden as well.

She was cracking the shells (you kind of have to press the top together until it cracks open to release the fruit), and talking to me in Taiwanese. She didn’t understand Mandarin– though she used to read the Chinese subtitles of the television shows. She’d always be nudging someone around that round table to translate into Taiwanese what was being bandied about in Mandarin.

Of course, my understanding of Taiwanese was limited to words like “hurry” hakin! (often said by my father as we were flying out of the house to careen late somewhere in his Toyota), or potty-training baby words from when I was being potty trained (not useful at all in polite conversation).

Anyway, the usual practice of smiling and nodding didn’t wash with my great-grandmother, who was very kind to me. She gave us use of her tatami room, which had the smell of grass when we slept on the rectangles of tatami edged with embroidered ribbon, though I was never tempted to try her ceramic tile pillow (it was a wire frame with tiles strung across the top to form a flat cool surface with a slight give from the strings). She offered me a jeweled butterfly hairpin once, but I had the uncomfortable feeling that something that lovely, obviously old, and precious would be broken or lost by me (I’ve always been a bit of a stumbling disaster).

It was late summer, hot, and yet the cool (was it stone?) floors of the kitchen and blue-green walls made it a rather peaceful afternoon. I think the grown-ups had gone out. My mother was probably meeting childhood friends. I remember sitting with my great-grandmother and popping fresh, cool, long-yen into my mouth.

Jok dinh she said with her high, slightly shrill voice. (forgive my personal romanization). I smiled and nodded. And she repeated herself Jok dinh! She gestured to me with her wrinkled hand. So I repeated dinh! She shook her head, grinning, and for the rest of the afternoon, she patiently said dinh! to me, shaking her head when I murdered the word– not nasal enough this time, not the right tone that time. We did this the entire afternoon as the considerable bunch of long yen dwindled.

By evening, I could say it correctly. When I asked my mother what it meant, she laughed and said “sweet.” Jok dinh means “very sweet.”

And now, dinh is one of the only Taiwanese words that I have confidence in saying correctly. Out of all the gifts my great-grandmother could have given me, I think that word is pretty cool.


Hair– again…

So, my relatives told me yesterday that in Taiwan, long eyelashes are supposed to mean you’re feisty.

That, and I already knew curly hair is supposed to mean you have a bad temper (think the equivalent of red hair). My hair isn’t really that curly, except when it defies gravity and has been crunched in weird ways while I slept and sproings out in the morning. Well, that and if you count the way my cowlicks sort of makes it do odd things. My dad’s hair would get these sort of relaxed curls when he let his hair grow out. He does have a temper.

My temper doesn’t go blaring often, but when it does, it rattles the floor. Feisty? Hm. Perhaps.


In which the writer does not end up beautiful, but has a jolly good exhausting time

So, everything wants to happen on Sundays here. I had my pajama day on Saturday which entailed taking everything out of my drawers and trying to sanitize my dresser with catnip so that roaches would be properly afraid (finding a prickly brown leg mixed in with my turtlenecks, which I’d been meaning to put away, was highly distressing. It’s not my fault, really. I mean, I’m not the neatest person in the world, but there’s nothing in my turtlenecks that a roach should find enticing. My cousin tells me that we’re in a tropical climate, thus, roaches are an inevitability of life. The internet says that catnip deters the brown buggers while humanely [well, perhaps “roachely”] not killing them. So even if spreading catnip sachets into my clothes drawers causes stray cats in my path to go wild with joy [and who am I to deny stray cats their joy?] as I walk past, I am going to do my best to to avoid that particular tropical inevitability of life. The gauntlet has been tossed. The roaches have been warned.)

Unfortunately, my PJ Saturday didn’t mean finishing the process of cleaning and sanitizing EVERYTHING in one fell swoop, though the clothes were all re-washed and the wintery ones packed away. My room looks like something has exploded in it. And for ye who will smirk and mutter that it usually looks like that… well, fie upon ye.

But I was talking about Sunday, well, supposed to be talking about Sunday. I’m sorely sleep-deprived for (as usual) no really good reason, so I’m in babble mode. Forgive me.

The intelligent post on identity and its constructions will have to wait.

So Sunday… There was the scheduled make-over, then there was an invitation to see the British Museum exhibit at the National Palace Museum

(National Palace Museum view from hanging off a railing.)

from my aunt, then there was the photo gathering of friends. Saturday morning, when I was not quite sentient, I thought that I’d somehow join my relatives at 9 AM to see the show, leave them to strut in a show, and then skip off to shoot shots of pretty things (I know, the parallelism has broken, but I’m too tired to create a “show” sort of construction for this last bit that would be vaguely true. This is probably why I’m not a real writer, whatever a real writer would be– probably intelligent and wise and good at cocktail party conversation.)

So, the make-over modeling session was canceled since although it was my friend’s final class, she was called home to her unfortunately unwell parent’s house in Taichung.

So today I woke up to fall asleep on the subway and inhale paygun danbing (bacon in a kind of egg pancake with soy sauce which I’m almost certain my mother would disapprove of, but which is delicious) with my aunt and cousins. Then we plopped into a cab, which then U-turned out of the massive jam going to the National Palace Museum. We strolled through a lovely park with lots of water-lilies and lotuses (the Latin student in me feels obliged to say loti)

in the rain before seeing the umbrella parade. (Can I just say that real-life Lotus is so beautiful– I’d never seen them by daylight before or not in a painting).

Well, not really the umbrella parade.

More like umbrella queue that zig-zagged under the awning by the entrance, circled around the building, and U-turned in the parking-lot, and by the time we got to the awning by the entrance, went all the way up to U-turn on the mountain a bit too.

This was for all of us with tickets bought ahead of time. We started in the parking lot U-turn and had a 90 minute wait. (I ducked out of line and made a little very-bad-guide-to-the-umbrella-line video which proves I’m not meant to be a tour guide.)

Then we went through the exhibition, which was of course crammed with people, and by the end of it, my poor old-lady orthotic-needing feet were highly upset, as were my legs, and I was doing stretches in the corner before turning to see more art.

They directed us to go through the exhibit backwards– probably because it was simply too crowded in the front. I’ve been spoiled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in some ways, I think, because I doubt antiquities and the sheer variety of art from all over the world make it here to Taiwan much. Though I do remember visiting a little museum in Taiwan at some point that had Italian statues and a Stradivarius violin long ago.

It was not an optimal viewing experience– sort of pressed upon all sides by people and the museum had all the tags on the exhibits at the bottom of the cases– so a full set of Native American clothes had all these people crouched in front of it looking at the tag to see where it was made, etc.

Anyway, I saw engravings and drawings by Rembrandt, Durer, Raphael, da Vinci, Goya, etc. I have to say, seeing the drawings for me was quite exciting, because so often, one sees the polished paintings, and not the foundation of the art. The Raphael and the Goya made the most impression on me. The Goya composition was really neat– a split ring with bull-fighters on both sides. The Raphael was a portrait of a woman, and the softness in her face was just very tender.

The African carvings and sculptures were pretty cool. I haven’t seen that much African art, and I found myself wondering what the original context of the plaques were. The modern wooden sculpture from New Zealand had these lovely swirlies all over it. The Indian sculptures of goddesses had a smooth grace and a certain lushness of form. (Forget the wishes to be an octopus so I could hold all of the things I haul around, I want to be one of those goddesses with graceful hands arched all around them like a halo extending power.)

The art from Northern Iraq– especially the pen holder of silver and gold embedded in intricate designs with smooth curves– made me mourn for the work destroyed and looted during the invasion of Iraq. It’s such a loss. People devote huge chunks of their lives to make something beautiful and meaningful for others, and in the blinding stupidity of war, which is after all the destructive impulse counter to the creative one, wipe it out in a matter of minutes.

Of course, I think that, and then remember the carefully worked bronze shield, the glorious helmet engraved, and remember that perhaps there is an art in war also. But still…


Anyway, we passed by the mummies (and as beautiful as mummies are– they always inspire me to want to be an Egyptian, well, I suppose a dead Egyptian– it always strikes me as slightly spooky that the dead are on display for us), the ornamental eyes, and the golden Japanese screens.

I maintain that Eos (Cupid) had a rather large feminine derriere. My first glimpse of him from behind all the other people was from the waist down, and I thought he was a girl. Sorry, my art criticism does get better than this and wondering how long the Chinese terracotta warriors took to do their hair and their horses’ hair in the mornings.

Dionysius was magnificent, though a bit serious for a god of wine.

The Brits really did go forth and appropriate marvels from all over the world. There is the thing with museums– they expose tons of people to amazing art they would never otherwise see, but so often at a cost to whomever it belonged to first. I mean, I highly doubt there was an especially fair compensation granted to everyone whose wall is now missing a plaque of goddesses, or whose statue is now missing a Buddha’s head.

Anyway, by the end of the exhibition, which while it was wonderful and worth it, was definitely an endurance test of being on my legs for about six hours straight, I was ready to find a chair and live in it for quite a while, which we did at the cafe.

The National Palace Museum has pretty much all the major Chinese classical art, because the Communists destroyed most everything else during the Cultural Revolution. However, the cafe serves expensive western food. “Cindrella Beef “was delicious, but I’d have thought we’d get something a bit more, well… Chinese — you know, preferably served in a colorfully glazed bowl.

After I flung my corn on the cob on the floor (corn on the cob perched on a fork is difficult!) by accident, we polished our plates and headed to the main museum.

I really wish I’d had time and a sketchbook with me. I saw the pearl finnial of a king’s crown, the justly famous jade cabbage— one piece of jade encompasses all the colors, and the ornate stationery sets of kings, complete with carved brush holders (this one too), ink stones, etc.. There were also the tiny tiny miniatures, like this olive pit and the engraved ivory boxes complete with tea sets that are about the size of grape seeds.

We didn’t see all of the museum, but it is a wonderful collection, and if you go to Taipei without seeing it, you have to come back.

Of course, my legs were teetery tottery blobs of painful lead by the time we strolled to supper at a wedding banquet restaurant, which was mostly empty, though the chairs wore their silken covers proudly, the fabric still festooned the ceiling, and the pool sipped up the raindrops. We managed not to get stung by a hornet interested in our meal, and I managed to squirt shrimp brains all over my shirt.

By this point, I had to give up on meeting up with my fellow photographers, which was quite sad as next month promises to be frantically busy too.

However, hanging out with my relatives was relaxing and fun as usual. They have really gone out of their way to include me in their fun excursions, and I appreciate it so much.

Okay, I’m really going to sleep at a quasi-decent hour, and I’ve wittered on much too much. Forgive me. I meant to post about the dangers of excess echo in KTV, finding a place to be, and something about waiting in line and quirkiness…. That will have to wait, along with the explosion of drawers which is covering all horizontal surfaces of my room at the moment. I’ll just have to sleep thinking that the catnip will protect us (me and my explosion of stuff) from the roaches. I do believe in catnip… I do believe in catnip… I do, I do, I do, I do believe in catnip…

(Note: I’ve linked liberally to the National Palace Museum website here– there’s still more of course, that I’ve left out. If I’ve messed up any links due to my sleep-deprived wonkiness, sorry–just let me know.)



I have been tagged by the lovely paideia— so here are seven random things about me– though between the collective readership of this blog you probably know most of them, if not all….

  1. I arrived in Taiwan at 7 AM on August 25th. By dinnertime, my aunt and cousin helped me visit my school and look at five apartments.
  2. Though I love to dance, and have danced on a table, in the snow, under the moon, in the rain, by the beach, in studios, and many a wedding, my first ever experience dancing at a club was Halloween this year in Taipei, at Luxy. (I didn’t like the smoke, and of course, was somewhat inappropriately dressed– not up enough to be a legitimate witch, and not down enough to be… well, fashionable… I wasn’t all that excited by the music anyway.)
  3. I’m about to do my second appearance as a model at a fashion show ever, (if what I have in translation is correct) on Sunday. Like my first appearance, it’s a favor for a friend. I’m too prudish to be an exciting or even a passably interesting model (as the friend who needed me for the first fashion show found out), and gave up the idea of trying to be gorgeous a long time ago. I’m not into the girly-girl thing, can’t wear heels, wince at makeup (pulled out eyelashes trying to get mascara off after a play in summer camp), and quail at showing skin. (A certain contingent of family and friends want me on What Not to Wear.) For some reason, trying to be beautiful makes me feel ugly. My last turn on a runway was painful, too– learning to not trip or clunk overmuch in platform shoes was horrid. Of course, the one time I did get made-up and glorified for a photo shoot in Taiwan, I had a fun time– but that was around high school, and my family was there laughing with me when the photographer with the goatee tried to model with a mincing charm the poses he wanted me to do. There is incriminating video of me doing my imitation of Scarlett O’Hara in a poofy dress. Thankfully, I think my uncle’s probably lost it amongst his mounds of stuff.
  4. I majored in American Studies. Partially because it was the choice that felt the least restrictive (anything in the college with “American” in the title could count as an elective), perhaps partially because it was in the beginning of the book (European studies could have been fairly broad too, though there probably weren’t quite as many course-offerings I’d have had available at my school), and partially because I had fantastic professors in the department and liked the multi-disciplinary approach of analyzing my country’s culture, history, politics, etc. and learning more about myself in the process. I’ve been able to use the skills and background I developed then as I figure out Taiwan now. I miss being a college student. Trying to be useful in the real world is hard.
  5. My students started spontaneously humming Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” today and reminded me of why sometimes I’m in love with being a teacher.
  6. I have highly eligible single relatives and friends– varying in age from college-ish to forties and fifties (well, I’m not fixing up any of the high schoolers, sorry dears…). Anyone want to toss a hat in for consideration? They’re all lovely, interesting, fun, well-traveled, amazing people. I’m willing to make introductions which I think are suitable, though not willing to take any responsibility past that. Any of the aforementioned singletons want a feature on the blog? (For some odd reason, they’ve steadfastly declined my offer to help them write up personal ads…) Of course, no pressure or anything, I certainly appreciate that the simplification and freedom singleness entails can be a prudent lifestyle choice.
  7. I missed snow angels this year.

I’m not tagging anyone, but you, reader, I’d love to hear at least one random thing about you. (Though more would be groovy!)


Peach Picking this past weekend

Green tea growing on the mountain. They were going to be picked the next morning. Only the newest and tender leaves are picked in the moist mountain mist. Then they’re dried for tea. They harvest once per season with the spring season being the best.

Peaches wrapped and ready for sale. Each is individually wrapped by hand, the point pointing upwards, resting on their sides. I know, because I tried to help by wrapping a box, felt incredibly proud until they smiled and redid them all to make them look prettier. Boxes supposedly sell for about 800NT (over $20 US) in Taipei. The farmer gets 250NT per box.

Cutting the paper bags off of the peaches. They use the bags to keep insects away and then after taking the peaches out of them, will use the emptied bags as stuffing to cushion each box.

One of the few unbagged peaches ripening on the tree.

A thistle.

Bamboo in the sun.

So my room smells of peaches ripening in a cardboard box, thanks to the generosity of my aunt, her sister, her sister’s friend, and her sister’s friend’s cousin who owns a peach farm on a mountain called the “sound of jade” or something like that in translation.

The peaches we picked were small, blushing through their white paper bags, even if they weren’t all completely ripe yet. There were also large ones that solidly fit in the palm. They told me those weren’t as sweet, but they were sweet indeed.

Peaches in Chinese are tao tze and my mother’s familiar with the green crispy kind that I buy off the side of the street soaked in saltwater which somehow brings their sweetness into relief. The sort we picked, warm from the sun, some of them so soft that a touch would bruise them or leave their skin peeling, were more like the kind I am used to from the US. People here tend to eat them with the skin peeled. I didn’t.

I love picking fruit.

We also picked long chu tsai, dragon’s beard vegetables which grow like a vine along the ground, shoots curling. Those require much more bending over, while the peaches were more of a stretch. The vegetables were very good at my aunt’s mother’s dinner where their clan of six families bought out the main area of a karaoke restaurant and worked the over-echoing speakers enthusiastically. When the echo is turned up that substantially, it is… shall we say, rather unforgiving.

In order to get to the farm, we drove past groves of mangoes still green but blushing, and blue plastic bagged banana bunches hanging from the trees. We also did a quick stop in at a religious Christian sect’s “Mount Zion” which sells organic beauty care and jewelry.

I had fun with my cousin, fighting over the comforters, pillow fighting, and teaching her the tradition of gargling “The Star Spangled Banner” which my other cousin and I used to do in our PJs when she still wore braces, and I still had bangs.


Passing through Matzu’s birthday festivities

Matzu is the goddess of the sea and she’s a major goddess here in Taiwan, since she’s said to have watched over many a boat through the Taiwan Strait.

When we were driving around Chiayi, we passed through major festivities for her birthday– streets covered with the red firecracker wrappers, swept into piles taller than people.

Trucks playing shrill wind instruments with gongs and drums sounding through the streets.  People dressed up in costumes of the gods that rise above their heads with flags sprouting out of their back.  Organized groups of people in the same color T-shirts marching or dancing together down the street.

Apparently people from all over Taiwan go to bai bai on that special day in that area’s famous temple.

Kids holding boxes of firecrackers that leap into the air with shrieking whistles and no boom.

Marching the dragon down the street.

Free Rice

May 2007
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