Archive for April, 2008


At the park on the weekend

Little kids learning to rollerblade really remind me of baby ducklings waddling and vaguely silly, balancing on their feet while they uneasily teeter in a crooked line.

Is it just me, or do these helmets resemble ping-pong balls missing some holes and a half?

Mothers are marvelous for picking you up when you’re down and steadying you once you’re back up on your feet… or blades, as the case may be.

(Thanks for everything Mom!)

I love the glimmer of dusty electric blue on this butterfly’s wings.

I don’t know what flower this is– does anyone else know? It’s kind of bushy.

One of those instances where it’s hard to tell who’s walking whom…

Hand-decorated kite out for a flight…



is the color of luck and happiness, weddings, and Chinese New Year.

So I was rather surprised when my tutee told me that it’s also the color for suicides. I discovered this because I was wearing all red one day and waiting to meet him by the dry well that would be a fountain if someone turned it on instead of just a little depression with rocks and lights in it. Sipping from my little boxed juice, I was accosted by a greying gentleman who began to flatter me and ask for my contact information. He does get the metaphorical points for the ability to try to pick me up in English. He was bespectacled and apparently lounging about during the afternoon at the park since he is a retiree with heart difficulties. When my tutee arrived, the poor fellow was interrogated as to whether he was my boyfriend (I’m sure my face was red to match the rest of me at that point), and I bid the farewell as we carefully casually made our way out of the park.

According to my tutee, perhaps a reason for the gentleman’s odd attempt at romance was due to the tradition that women who wanted to create strong vengeful ghosts would don red before their suicides. (An extensive google search found this interesting article which has a paragraph way down about red-dressed suicides). So in an odd logical leap, perhaps he was only chatting me up because he was worried about me dunking myself in the not deep, not watered well and doing some mean haunting.

Personally, I wear red as a pick-me up. I decided it was my favorite color after being undecided (evading the favorite color question in middle school with “iridescence”– why, yes, I’m a dork!) for a very long time.

But although it is the adopted color of Republicans (it is also the adopted color of Communists, so there’s always a flip-side), I love red.

Red roses stood for love triumphant in Victorian flower symbolism as Anne’s House of Dreams tells me. (This rose is from my grandmother’s garden).

I got into trouble for the predominance of red in my wardrobe (which isn’t really completely my fault, as a chunk of my clothes were thoughtful gifts from aunts with good taste who early on realized my cousin liked blue, so I got the red stuff) when I came to Taiwan for a brief visit once. We were headed to my uncle’s funeral, and I had a black dress for the funeral itself, but had no idea that there was mourning clothing involved outside of it for family visits that required pale or dark clothes. Traditional funeral wear is pure white, but I guess western influence having bleached brides white from the traditional red, has darkened mourners into black for funerals. So I ended up on an emergency visit to a boutique before visiting the rest of the family, after sending the bit of it I was staying with into slight shock when I trotted into breakfast with a red shirt on. Fortunately, this being Taiwan, I was able to get a white shirt off the rack that fit instead of tented on me in five minutes.

Anyway, I only mention red because I was once again wearing complete red trying to liven myself up after a mosquito-disturbed slumber the other night. My class was discussing a dream Buck the dog has in Call of the Wild, when one of the boys (teaching middle school age children has reminded me why I was so happy to grow out of middle school) started joking about it. I, in my over-tired trying-too-much state, said something like it was certainly NOT that sort of a dream, going into a literary comparison with the boy’s dream in The Giver. Then there was laughter all around because all the boys remembered that particular incident in the book, and none of the girls did. I ended up hiding behind a book laughing in spite of myself, and asking if I was red. One of my students said, “Yup, your shirt certainly is!”

This article has more info about red and Chinese culture.


Another sunset from the train

And a slightly bigger version of the one that Z requested:


Popular place by An-Ping

We parked our car around here. Apparently lots of people choose it for their eternal rest. It’s out of the city a bit, and perhaps it has good feng shui being close to the water…


Sunsets from the train


Dragons in An Ping

These were at the best-tasting shrimp chip shop in An Ping.

They’re made of paper.

Whenever I travel with my cousin, we are very scientific about souvenir food specialties.  There is generally copious tasting involved until the very best sample is selected.  If you’re ever in An-Ping, I recommend this shop– the spicy and the crab-flavored shrimp chips are really good too and they’re not really oily in spite of being deep-fried.  It’s right across from the fort.


Bong-Tzu on Ching Ming Jie

We had Friday off this weekend, because it was Ching Ming Jie, the grave-sweeping day when people traditionally feed up their ancestors and clean their graves. My family doesn’t seem to be particularly observant of this holiday, perhaps due to a generally Christian orientation. We made a speedy visit to our bong tzu (ETA:  My mother tells me bong tzu basically means house of the dead in Taiwanese– for the longest time I thought it was the name of the area our little house of the dead resides in, but it’s a generic term that can apply to graves, tombs, etc.) right before I was spirited back to Taipei.

This is where the ashes rest. There are also old graves next to this little house of the dead that are over a hundred years old of our first family member who came to Taiwan from China long long ago.

My family’s bong-tzu is by a couple of rivers and we used to have to get off by the highway and climb a rusty, falling-apart skeleton of a train bridge across the first river. I distinctly remember visiting on one of our first visits to Taiwan, seeing the rainbow scum of oil on the water, a dead fish floating by all in-between the railroad ties that I gingerly stepped on, wishing there was at least something of a railing to hold onto. The heavy scent of decay that clung to the oozing water. My mother told me they used to fish in it.

Since then, the bridge has been torn down, and we have crossed through a different way from a new road, past the fiercely barking dog of the local farmer, following the leftover rails from the trains that used to take sugarcane from the fields to the factory. When my cousin visited last summer, he had to carefully make his way over a floating bridge made of styrofoam tied together. Then there is the walk through the high grasses with their seeds all a-stickle, clinging to our pant legs.

We always return though. Inside the ashes of our ancestors lie on step-shelves– the kind that people display awards or trophies on. They are lined up inside sealed wooden boxes with their names burned into the side facing us. We sign the little book with the date to show we were there, and then bow three times and remember them. My grandfather filled the corridors of the house with the sound of his wooden slippers clacking on the mottled stone floors. My grandmother spraying an arc of water from an orange hose to tend her flowers. My great-grandfather prized his orchids. My great-grandmother’s voice slightly shrill as she repeated dinh, “sweet” over and over for me as we popped long-yen (dragon’s eye or longan) into our mouths. My fourth uncle, soft-spoken, who gave me a dress with a white mouse on it, and a red frilly dress when I was four and horribly vain.

For a few moments in that tiny house of the dead, we keep them company, offering them our flowers and that bittersweet mix of love and sadness at the spaces they left outside of their small wooden boxes and that silent little house.

Free Rice

April 2008
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