Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Day 104 (The Hype)

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.


Day 103 (What is Likely Still Up There)

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.

Day 102 (Past Crates of Empty Beer Bottles)

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.

Day 101 (When Things Warble)

In Taipei on November 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Flipping through the fibers of a high-powered lawyer beginning to wander about the country unshaven and senseless, you too are unshaven, if only for three days, and estranged from your senses. The sights you can see from within your raised hood seem far-off. The crisp daily crackle of the station announcements sound today like a warble. The back of your throat itches with mucus. It’s not sickness, but an inability to focus.

As the lawyer falls asleep behind gas stations, loses fingers and toes, and thinks a Waffle House is his office, you gaze hazily downward lacking not sleep but something a lot like it sans the capacity to tighten the aperture that lets the universe in to you. Things happen though and you happen, and at the ephemeral present your little corner of that universe is chilly and uncarpeted and swaying like a yacht.

Day 100 (Gobble)

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.

Day 99 (Cumpleaños Improvisado)

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.

Day 98 (November)

In Taipei on November 23, 2010 at 10:42 pm

The banners are about five feet high, fluttering pieces of thin polyester on PVC pipes, emblazoned with the grinning face of such and such politician and Chinese mottos and red numbers with a circle around them indicating, it must be, where they are to be found on the ballot. They are posted every few inches along the railing of the concrete, intersection-spanning bridge I cross on the way to the wilderness, as if the massive quantity of identical pennants will win them a correspondingly massive number of votes. They obscure the facade of a store selling I don’t know what, because it is obscured, again identical and placed within inches of one another. A few even appear in the populist alley where I live, an unlikely place for the idealistic boasts of campaigners to root.

And the masterminds behind this shotgun method speak. Nay, they howl, through speakers strapped to the top of trucks whose sides are plastered with larger-than-life images of their leering candidates. Not in real time, as the candidates proper are likely sitting in their far-off or high-up homes undisturbed by the festive jabbering that wakes the rest of us up in the morning. Or, to give them a little credit, trotting about in front of grocery stores with a curiously devoted, swag-distributing entourage.

Still, you wonder if it’s right for so few people to exercise such influence over the city’s appearance for an entire month. We look like a boat, trying to sail away into the air on our feeble sails.

Day 97 (What One Does Not Do)

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.

Day 96 (Pinglin Again)

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.

Day 95 (The High All-Time Score)

In Taipei on November 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

Somehow, standing in front of the pop-a-shot in an American-style bar hurling basketballs into the strafing chained basket constitutes something more than simply itself. As we shoot, the American and the Brit and I, a series of Taiwanese women that we only vaguely know join the quest for points and make it a crowded four in the brick-walled corner off away from the pool table and the curving leather couch. American metal plays on the jukebox. We’re nearing the half-point of the high all-time score.

And the lack of balance, the mirthful unsureness, that characterizes life here ceases for ten minutes, allowing the kind of single-minded focus we must have tapped into daily wherever we grew up.