Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Day 255 (And All That For Only Six Dollars)

In Taipei on April 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I know exactly what the doctor is seeing when he sticks that bright light into my mouth: big swollen glands coated with a fearsome white goo. Turns out it is pus.

He puts down his popsicle stick and light. He tells me I have tonsilitis. They are going to give me an injection and some oral medication. Then his nurse gives me two pieces of paper. I look around to make sure I’m not missing anything. Nope. That’s it. I get up and leave the room.

At the injection station, the nurse holds a needle in my arm for some time. She takes it out and holds up the second piece of paper, walking past me and motioning with her hand. She takes a right outside the sliding doors and walks me the few yards to the pharmacy.

The pharmacy, even the medicine part, is open-air and white and welcoming. I hand my paper to one of three clerks. She shuffles for a couple minutes and hands me three packets of pills. I listen to her explain how often I am to take them. Then she nods.

I look at her and the other clerks funny and rub my forefinger and thumb together. I want to know if I have to pay. They shake their heads no. I’m taken aback.

— What a great country! I exclaim.

Halfway to the crosswalk, I remember, and step back to the pharmacy.

Keyi he jiu ma? I ask.

The clerk looks at me with wide eyes.

Bu xing, she says.

I laugh and say thanks again. I walk back out. They must be antibiotics.


Day 254 (Sick Birds)

In Taipei on April 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm

There is bamboo scaffolding built in a square around the giant concrete pillar next to my work. Yesterday it wasn’t here. Today it is. Up in it, at the far edges of the scaffolding that stick out above the parking lot, are construction workers straddling sticks of bamboo.

They are strapped in. Lines with carabiners stretch from their harnesses to the metal criss-cross of the radio tower atop the pillar and to other sections of the bamboo. It is hard to figure out how the system of connection works. It looks that if they fell, they’d swing quite a ways before coming to a stop, perhaps even have to plant their boots on the roof of some poor commuter’s car.

The construction workers are tanned and stoic as they bind whatever they’re binding to whatever else they’re binding. Their orange hats have laughable miniature brims. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but at present I’m thinking I’d like to up there and give it a go, hours and hours of an ailing bird’s eye view of the tops of the scooters and shops and pedestrians I see and don’t see daily.

Day 253 (Another Five Hundred Another Five Hundred Miles)

In Taipei on April 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

From my bed it’s not too far to Indonesia. It gets a lot hotter and the humidity is insufferable and the bugs are profuse. But what takes the cake is the sight of the far-off rise of the valley over the fern-encircled pond. I rub my fingers on my conical hat and perch it atop my head before venturing into the sunlight to dig my hands into the soil and throw weeds aside. Breakfast was green and fibrous. My skin is sticky. It ought to be that way.

From there you can get to Malaysia in a few seconds, via the ferry and a hop and skip through Singapore. The highlands are nice, barren as they are of jungle and allowing a view of the surrounding country. You’re in direct sunlight up there. Heat has become a way of life. You ought to cut your hair. You ought to shave.

While you’re there, you may as well go through Thailand to Laos. A person can relax a little there. He can get a place on the beach or the plains and look out and think. Spending a little money is all right. He’s got a few days.

God, it’s nearly two in the morning. I need to shut my imagination down.

Day 252 (Another Reason to Pass Out in the English Classroom)

In Taipei on April 27, 2011 at 12:04 am

Imagine reading a text aloud where every other word is uttered by a monotone, off-rhythm chorus of students. Imagine the fragmentation of semantics, of intention, of the very stuff of language. Imagine trying to keep track of which word you are supposed to say, short ones, long ones, medium-sized ones, very short ones. It’s like trying to go down a 300-meter flight of stairs two at a time, which works for a while, but then your brain gets ahead of itself, and forgets whether you’re paying attention to the one you’re supposed to skip, or the one you’re supposed to step on, or the one you just stepped on, or something else altogether, a cohering mass of parallel lines and shadows that ceases to have any correlation with the real world until, inevitably, you trip on it and meet the mass with a now enhanced perception, at least for that instant of contact and repercussions.

One paragraph of this and you laugh it off and say,

— All right, all right, now I read a sentence and you read a sentence.

No. The class is adamant. They want to keep at it. You’re a go-with-the-flow teacher, but this proposition throws you off. They can see you squirm. Though you exaggerate your offness at the staggered reading, your act is grounded in reality. You’re ready to trip and fall on language. The class can see your investment in English and how you’re nearly head over heels. You’re ahead of yourself, your shoes behind, coming up behind your butt, booting you, turning you upside-down. You’re close to striking your head on the furls of the boring serif typeface.

Day 251 (Dumber and Dumber)

In Taipei on April 26, 2011 at 10:15 am

I am aware of the urgency of the situation. We need to get through as much grammar as possible in the next fifteen minutes, or else my homework is going to be quite tough. Ok. Let’s shift into high gear.

I shift and take my foot off of the clutch. My mind stalls.

Sica starts asking me questions. Easy questions, formulaic sentences that I should answer in seconds. I stare at them and I stare at them, and I cannot come up with an answer. It is like pulling teeth. It is like trying to read Chinese. It is Chinese.

My eyelids are drooping. I can feel my brain working at a slower rate than usual. I seem to have captured the exact moment where I am becoming dumber. Could it be drinking on the weekends? Could it be that this is what happens exactly eleven months and four days after you graduate from university? I swear, I’m reading books, I’m writing, I’m thinking! Is this what cultivation of an aesthetic sensibility gets me?

I never thought I would care when somebody stood at the front of class and told me, but now I’m gleaning lots of relief from the new science that says brain cells can in fact regenerate.

Day 250 (Two Thousand)

In Hash Runs on April 25, 2011 at 12:18 am

By now I have given up.

We are forlorn as hell. The cab couldn’t find the start to the run, so we asked him to drop us off at the top of the mountain. We’ve been making our way down on our own. Either way, it’s a good run. Still, all the way out here to entirely miss the main event. Hell. Could be that we’ll catch sight of the 200 plus hashers peppering the tea fields. By now it doesn’t seem likely.

At the bottom of the present tea field, there is no path that leads to the road below. We’re down here already, so we try to find a way. Here it is. All you have to do is hang off of three different trees and then leap across an irrigation ditch onto the road. Goodness. Ben says,

— Flour.

No way. It’s impossible. This goofy road below a set of teafields, in the middle of our random course across the mountains, does not have flour.

It does.

The day goes from bad to brilliant.

On on.

Day 249 (God Wielding a Revolver)

In Taipei on April 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm

The first floor is the alcohol station, the loitering station, the place where Jamil the Honduran distributes affection like a bristly puppy.

The second floor is the dance floor, where people sway after the band has gone, the promise of funk and soul lingering in the air unfulfilled.

The third floor is the pool room, a square of couches near the stairs, lines of people leaning against the walls, and in the square, the members of the band, with two sets of bongos and a cajón, a mini-maraca and a paintbrush on an empty beer bottle, create a rhythm and jive off it in tempo that keeps going up, up, quicker hands on the bongos and the accelerating firmness of the clicks of the wood on the glass, the whole room beginning to channel into the energy that the rhythm is, conversations pacing themselves off it, then ceasing, in a fade into the enveloping height of a unity that keeps getting higher and higher, and higher, will it ever stop?

Day 248 (Brightness)

In Taipei on April 22, 2011 at 9:29 pm

At one of the rounded-off corners of the intersection there is a neon starburst happening, stationary, before the eyes of all the world. Motors chug and asphalt speckles, homeowners trot into and out of makeshift shack-like add-ons, yet this unearthly glow remains firmly rooted just out of the danger zone formed by the trucks and motorcycles passing by.

A pair of fluorescent green-yellow running shoes, their soles screaming silently for mud, atop a square manhole cover wreathed by a thick coat of nearly freshly painted school-bus yellow.

Such color concentrated in one place. The brightest thing in the vicinity atop the second-brightest thing in the vicinity by a mile. A conflagration noticed neither by the wearer of the shoes nor by the metal plate. Only the colors leap with joy, together, out of all the places in the city. Coincidence has never been so visually arresting.

Day 247 (Never Ceasing to Not Know What the Hell is Going On as a Valid Life Goal)

In Taipei on April 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm

The symphonic get-out-of-here-please music over the loudspeaker you didn’t know was there carries you downstairs with four books in your hand, only to find that the circulation desk is closed, damnit. You try the self check-out kiosk and it takes you through everything, then tells you at the end that you can’t check out the books. Biking all the way over here on weak legs, and then this.

Nobody who knows anything is around, so you walk over to the security guard wielding the four books. You just want to know where to put them so they’ll be re-shelved, but he misinterprets your intention and comes over to try to check them out again. There’s a boy and a father at the self-checkout kiosk too, and they look on while the guard helps you find out what you already know. You mention, in trash Chinese, that you have five checked out, two with you now. This is a glimmer. He tells you you can return them, and then come back and check out two of the four you’ve gotten. This is fantastic information. You can take it from here. You can’t communicate that, though.

He walks you outside and returns the books for you. Then he walks you inside and checks out the books for you, with the aid of the father near the kiosk. The receipt won’t print. He tries to get it out, though you know the process has gone through. A bit of struggle, and he gestures that, no problem, you’re checked out.

The Chinese word for help, bang, implies doing something for someone, rather than with them, English’s version. Language seeps into practice. It can be cumbersome sometimes, when people help you more than you need. People like me, though—even after all this time, I need all the help I can get.

Day 246 (Convenience Store Blues)

In Taipei on April 21, 2011 at 10:45 am

Cashiers here say something that sounds like Good morning whenever you enter or leave a store. It means something like Thanks for coming in, which is a difficult phrase to respond to with civility. I generally say Ni hao and be done with it.

The cashier in the Family Mart up the street, though, tends to provoke a little more anxiety. He is tall and pale. He looks adolescent even though he’s not, with greasy hair and red marks from time to time blotching his face. The register is located immediately at the entrance of the small convenience store, so when you walk in you get greeted at point-blank range. No one else is ever in the store, so there’s a lot of pressure.

Today I go in for an orange juice. I get greeted and nervously acknowledge him. I select my orange juice. I hand it to him and he rings it up. I give him exact change.

He hands my receipt back to me. That’s it. He’s just a dude. Just a lonely person manning a one-horse convenience store day in and day out. He’s bored as hell. He’s friendly to whoever walks in.

I try to be friendly back, though it’s always hard between customer and underpaid cashier. I walk out. He says Good morning. I nod toward the street and try to remind myself: he has to say that.