In Taipei on November 29, 2010 at 11:31 pm
Those who say have said justly about the people in this country. They are nice.
I lurk on the ground floor of the sports center, in my overused pink shirt and black shorts, near the shelf of Mizunos that forms one makeshift wall of the modest equipment depot. I wear a backpack with gray straps that hang like tails. I am dripping sweat and surely the more respectable clientele are repulsed.
The clerk comes over to me and discourses on what I am looking at. My face mimes utter confusion, the way I tell people now that I don’t speak Chinese.
— Wo yao, I say, which means I want.
She shuffles her arms back and forth to ask if I want the shoes to run. I say yes and shuffle my arms back and forth too.
— Jintian, wo meiyou, I say, which means today I don’t have, and then rub my fingers together to show money.
She points to the shoes and says something authoritative and cheery. It seems like it means, check them out, try them on if you like, have a lovely time in this little corner of the building, and live strong while you’re at it.
Remember, I know nothing of what she is saying. But I’m floating in the air. How friendly. How lightening.
In Traveling on November 28, 2010 at 10:28 pm
On the pedestrian bridge that cars like to drive across, a Frenchman, an American, two Taiwanese, and a Spaniard hold the corners of a three-foot high cylinder of red paper, its bottom cut out and framed with wire. Beneath it, ghost money burns, and within it, heated air gathers. Soon, the lantern begins to tend upward. The holders let go. Its inaugural flight is like that of a newborn bird, timid but persistent.
The fire lights the red from within, and as it is twenty feet in the air, it turns and reveals the things scrawled across it in black paint. A sentence in Spanish. Two lists of names. A sketch of Ohio that looks like a fox. Then the lantern darkens and flees.
It drifts knowingly toward a greasy tile apartment building and the holders hasp. Yet when near to striking it, the lantern tends again upward and flies over. Then it turns right behind another edifice. The holders, having lost sight of it, sigh and turn away.
Long seconds later, somebody spots it. It is back in the sky, higher than ever. Its ascent will not be curtailed. Its glow recedes imperceptibly, allowing the holders to operate under the illusion that it never really disappeared at all.
In Taipei on November 28, 2010 at 10:09 pm
Yes, leather-clad, long-haired, middle-aged Taiwanese rockers are playing Justin Bieber in a warehouse at the factory where Taiwan beer, an entire island’s dive beer, is made. Yes, that elderly man in a burgundy sweater vest is standing on his bench and gleefully waving a rainbow-colored glowstick. Yes, a server is delivering a can of Coke to the singer on a paper plate as a gift from an anonymous spectator.
Yes, yes, yes. It’s all true.
In Taipei on November 26, 2010 at 10:45 am
It’s not quite the same when you eat a salad beforehand, or when you don’t get up and get the food yourself, or when you’re drinking a mug of Orion with it, or when the lighting’s a little too low to see what part of the turkey you’re eating, or when you’re at a table of four, or when the stuffing is cut in a square shape, or when the apple pie is piquant and subtle, or when you’re in a high-end restaurant set back from the alley by a tiny courtyard, or when your legs ache only slightly, or when a long-sleeved button-up suffices to keep you warm, but the thing is, it’s something, it’s not about what’s the same, even today, and there’s fellowship, and food, and heartiness, and a tranquil glow pervading it that seems somehow to tap into the spirit of the thing without regard for the present distance from its origins, into that unnameable, transcendent spirit, which you can nearly fool yourself into thinking is an illusion, nearly, but not quite.
In Taipei on November 26, 2010 at 10:22 am
The cake is Seven-11 chiffon cake. The dish is a little plastic tub. The candles are wooden pegs, like pronged toothpicks. The lighter is borrowed from a bloke in a jean jacket. The attendees are the throng that comes to Seven-11 for the cheap beer, lingers drinking outside, and returns to the bar.
The flames have disappeared from the swoosh of cars and people. Still, the embers at the end of the wooden pegs glimmer as she blows at them. The oxygen from each of her breaths makes them glow brighter, delaying their procedure toward smoldering blackness with sporadic, soon-ending boosts.
In Taipei on November 23, 2010 at 12:24 am
When I write the winners’ names on the board in observance of one of the many improvised contracts you’re compelled to set as a teacher of youths, I’m met with cries shriller than I’m used to.
— You wrote them in red! You wrote them in red! the front row protests.
Their exacerbation is half-whimsical, like the usual protests I hear against quizzes and learning of any sort. But it’s half-serious too, and I can tell that despite it all these kids have absorbed that little superstitious something that leads older Taiwanese to tell me, without revealing the extent to which they take stock in the tradition, which things are simply not done.
In Hash Runs on November 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm
People note their unease at barreling down slippery tea-field hills into the finish. Others hold ice-cold beer to their bone bruises and sport stoically their knee gashes.
There must be something wrong with me, I think, tromping like a gibbon down the muddy, gravelly slopes, slipping with my leg splayed under me, splashing through the deep finishing stream, cracking my shin on slippery rocks as I emerge, and slamming my tibiae onto the pavement on the way on in.
I scarf raisins and crackers and peanuts and Pringles without restraint. Whatever makes me consume like an unregulated animal is likely the same thing that spurs the downhill lunacy. Some kind of dissociation from that which is to come.