Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Day 13 (The Mountain of Four Animals)

In Taipei on August 31, 2010 at 7:53 pm

You run one pouring day between the streets’ appalling motorists to the base of a mountain that begins precisely where the city ends. Within moments, you are engulfed in subtropical foliage and only corrugated steel shacks down overgrown mud paths belie the presence of any people at all nearby. Stairs are built into the mountain, with tablets of Chinese characters filling in every few steps, and a platform a half-mile into the mountain bears a cement table and chairs topped with decorative tile. But the tile is chipped and the stools are askance, and the rain donates to the scene a sense that few people frequent this place.

You are soaked, your glasses have fogged. Without knowing it, you seem to have come to some sort of look-out. You look out. There is the second tallest building in the world, shrouded in mist. To linger would almost be too much.

On the way back, two purple and neon-orange bugs drag a limp spider across the path. These are mammoth insects. You flee when one of them seems to make a sound.


Day 12 (Willy Fish)

In Taipei on August 30, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Today God saw a classroom of first graders elect the gender of a goldfish.

The walls are yellowish. The classroom is cramped. In the front of the room stands a British bloke with socks on, teaching the English language. One student is cornered into finding a pronoun for the class fish. He uses one of the briefest.

— You think Willy fish is a boy?

— Yes!

— What about you, Stella, do you think Willy fish is a boy or girl?

— Girl!

— Well—let’s take a vote. Raise your hand if you think Willy fish is a boy.

After some consideration, four students raise their hands. There are seven students in the class.

— It looks like Willy is a boy. Well—raise your hand if you think Willy fish is a girl.

Three students raise theirs. He nods.

— Looks like Willy fish is a boy.

Day 11 (Stripped Track and Field at Elementary School)

In Taipei on August 29, 2010 at 9:50 pm

You are running your first lap around what looks like it used to be the track, now a concrete red circle flecked with spray paint swirls. Is the track off limits? You see three men with a wheel barrow at the turn. They are working on it. Will it be done soon?

You continue in their direction as they look up, and you know you will have to run back the way you came after a series of hand gestures. They have dark skin, like most of the workers you see outside during the day. This is an indication of class, as it was at one time for Anglos. Paleness was, and, here, is, considered beautiful.

When you open your mouth to ask what is going on, you know you are not going to get an answer. So few speak English here. Those who do have done so with the help of money, which these three probably do not have much of. You ask your question, gesturing in a circle then pointing to the exit.

— Is it closed?

— Yes, says the foremost worker. His eyes are bright. You are shocked.

— Do you know when it will be open again?

— In a week. He nods.

— Do you know if there will be grass here? You point to the center of the field and plant imaginary grass with a waving hand.

The worker looks around, confused. You seem to have gotten to the limits of his ability with English. He looks at you and shrugs.

— I don’t know, he says.

He simply doesn’t know. He understood you, but he simply doesn’t know!

Day 10 (A Game of Inches)

In Taipei on August 29, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Clunk. Clunk clunk.

That’s the sound of our back wheel well hitting scooters on both sides as we eke through the narrow street.

Holy shit holy shit holy shit.

That’s the sound my brain is making as we come close to toppling them, and it’s the sound it made when a truck merged toward us on the expressway and we squeezed between two cars into the next lane only just in time, and when a car turned right without looking as we flew straight through the intersection and almost, almost in the closest sense, were hit.

Where I come from, driving is concerned primarily with miles. Here, driving is a game of inches.

Day 9 (Jorge Luis Borges Does Taiwan)

In Taoyuan on August 27, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I have lived an entire day. I saw and spoke to people I know, I went to the store, I noticed that one person had mascara on her right eye and none on her left. It is now the evening, and I am wondering, How did I get here? I don’t remember the flight, though I may well have taken it. But when do I return? And for a second before I open my eyes, I understand that something here is illusory. Either the memories behind my day or the day itself has been a dream.

I awake, anticipating the alarm. The covers are white. I am here. These nine days have not been imagined.

Day 8 (The Second Tallest Building in the World)

In Taipei on August 26, 2010 at 8:48 pm

The second tallest building in the world is shaped like a stick of bamboo. Attached to each side there is a circle, stories and stories high, with a square cut out of it, to look like ancient Chinese currency. From the building’s corners poke flourishes, of good luck.

Down below, in the people-sized world, a phalanx of women draws their hands above them, and outward, and to their chests behind a set of yellow signs. Their exercise and the people who practiced it were expelled from China because of the anti-Communist ideology underlying the movements.

In the building’s adjoining mall, there is an Emporio Armani store. In one display is a giant, disembodied, floating velvet hand between the fingers of which is a purse.

Day 7 (In the Carrefour)

In Taoyuan on August 25, 2010 at 8:08 pm

The orange Tide trades stares with the waiguoren leaning against the fluffy bags of dryer sheets across from him. A 64-wash bottle, strung with his compadres above the 111-wash. Less bulky than them, he is, but more gracile. A swifter product, lacking in the drawn-out repetition of the 111, the inevitable crusty habituation of pour, pour, pour. The 64-wash has resigned himself, triumphantly, to an early disposal.

But the foreigner’s gaze is unsettling. It glances over the Tide’s ideographs. It searches in the gaps between the 64-wash and the others beside him on the self. It emanates from above something like a sneer. Contempt! The Tide’s seen it before. Consumerist dogma, the shackles of name brand and the illusion of choice. Puh. A hackneyed response to the rows and rows of gleaming colors. The interloper should feel what it is to be a capsule for the blue goo of product.

Day 6 (Moment While Walking on the Way Back to Taoyuan)

In Taoyuan on August 25, 2010 at 1:32 am

A foot hovers above the train station’s tile, weary in shoes flouting the point of shoes, its numb nerves connected to a system that recalls, just seconds ago, a broad pink floor decal reading, “Area for women to wait for train at night.” Connected to a system, too, that is just beginning to sense the tremendous vibrations of Sylvester Stallone’s movement to rescue a lacerated woman.

A nation and a man, separated by time and quality of spectacle. An action hero echoes the subdued, bureaucratic efforts of a nation to protect women from violence. Or a nation echoes an action hero’s explosive surge against unrestrained misogyny. Under the toes, there are these reverberations.

Day 5 (Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers Do Taiwan)

In Taoyuan on August 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm

From below builds slowly a synthesized sing-song tone. It layers upon itself repeatedly. It becomes discordant. Nearer, and louder. It sounds like an ice cream truck, come outside the community’s track to tempt exercisers. Except its recording is discombobulated, producing a melody both sickly sweet and deranged. The tune reaches an irritating crescendo.

—What the hell is that? It sounds like the ice cream man.

—It’s the garbage truck. So that people know it’s coming. Everybody runs downstairs and brings their trash.

—Are you kidding?

—No. It sounds like I am.

Day 4 (One Hundred Milliliters of Tea)

In Taoyuan on August 23, 2010 at 4:16 am

Imagine five folks just off the street of Taiwan, where scooters fly past recklessly and to which corrugated steel grates close at night. In they sit, on finished stumps, before the cross section of a much grander tree. Behind them, Taipei loudly beats the stuffing out of Saudi Arabia in baseball. In front of them, a man explains that when making tea, he prefers the old way of cooking the leaves, on charcoal, rather than electrically, for the full month. He rolls each tea leaf into a dried, compressed ball by hand.

To get to the bathroom, you have to climb something of a ladder past the shop’s desk, and walk through a living room past a silver, state of the art karaoke set. The man conducting the tea ceremony pours a few of the leaves out from their tiny pot, into a Space Jam mug, to show you how profoundly they expand when they again become wet.