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Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Day 287 (A Very Small Parade)

In Taipei on May 31, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Toward the intersection comes the noise of another Chinese deity’s birthday: a shrill, atonal skipping about of notes with no intelligible rhythm with a cymbal crashing together at random behind it. The notes are recorded, bursting from the speakers of the blue truck that pulls up at the stop light. The cymbal is live, wielded by a tanned man with wild gray hair and an apparent lack of teeth. The driver of the truck, like the cymbal player and the sound-system operator in the truck’s bed, is a far cry from the sanctity of a religious holiday. He drives casually, and they sit idly, as if they are transporting a bunch of chickens.

Behind the blue truck, the main visual event arrives. It is a float garlanded with flowers and greenery all the way around, with an idol in the back and a steering wheel sticking up from its front, where a driver is blithely mounted. He has more dignity than those in the blue truck, but one could still imagine his load as some simple sacks of potatoes.

Traffic doesn’t yield to them as they try to take a left. They squeeze through and then switch into the right hand lane for a right. The series of intersections is still suffocated by the blaring squeals and crashes. The envoy turns right. The noise fades. The blocks’ activities continue. Which is not to say they ever stopped.

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Day 286 (Little Otter)

In Taipei on May 30, 2011 at 11:48 pm

The woman is stopped in the middle of the street. She looks back to the cars parked along the left side, their side mirrors retraced. She calls out shrilly. Her look is impatient. A dachshund stands next to her, posed similarly, though much nearer to the ground. The woman calls out again. There is the jingle of a collar. From the dark comes a second dachshund, tottering along on its little legs, toward the woman. Its exploits have been completed, or at least set aside for the night. The woman yelps a satisfied syllable. The dog keeps tottering. The whole family is back together and on their way home. What little Otter was doing off beneath the cars is anyone’s guess. He’s just like a cat sometimes, aiya.

Day 285 (Daxi)

In Hash Runs on May 30, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Up up up up up up up up up up up up up up up.

The stairs seem like they don’t end, and they don’t, until the end, which hasn’t come, and which won’t come, in the foreseeable future, does future really exist, do meta-questions really exist, questions that don’t involve mud, grass, wood planks sunk into the ground to hold up the stairs of earth, tiny boulders sunk into the dirt, flat surfaces to step on, as if steps are easier than a plane incline, steps are the hardest thing there is, no, if you’ve ever been on a sheer incline this steep it is harder, can that even be, yes, it can, no, it can’t.

Up up up up up up up up up up up up up up up.

What is community? Community is hiking up endless sets of stairs together. Community is the strong and the less-strong going up the same stairs. Community is the strong encouraging the less-strong as they pass them on the stairs. Community is feeling the engagement of the rest of the community in the struggle even when the community has spread and and you are alone. Community is representing everyone when you get to the top. Community is not considering the top the top. Community is considering the struggle the top.

Up up up up up up up up up up up up up up up.

Day 284 (The Liminal Flash)

In Taipei on May 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm

There is a crowd of foreigners drunk outside the Mexican restaurant. They are like paisanos on the sierra, celebrating something by yelling English to one another and into the street. I sit off to the side, reading Margaret Atwood.

— Let’s line up for a picture, a picture, someone says.

They gather around the bench near the entrance. They tell the guy with the camera to back up, back up, ten more feet, trying in jest to get him to step into traffic.

— Try to get the random guy off to the side, somebody says.

— Hilarious picture, somebody else says.

I reimagine myself. I am the random guy off to the side, the kid reading a book feet away from the celebración. It’s fun to try to pinpoint my role in the carousing. Later they will look at the picture, a memoir of Antonio’s birthday, that night they can barely remember. They will see me. They will laugh at the juxtaposition. The picture might find itself in a frame. The frame might find itself sitting on a windowsill, then moving houses, then cast aside so the photo can be thrown into a box. Someone will take it out years later and fold back the whitish corners so they can get the full panorama. He will see his dad’s friends during those years he lived in Taipei, their reddish faces, their worryless smiles. It will be hard to believe that it could have ever been this way. And then there will be me, and the kid will wonder, who the hell is that, what is he doing there, and what is he reading. I wonder where he is now.

Day 283 (And All That for Only Twelve Dollars)

In Taipei on May 27, 2011 at 9:30 pm

The system is to pick up a small stack of receipts from the bigger stack of receipts and cycle through them looking to see if their last number is a 2, 3, 5, 8, or 9. If it is, my adrenaline climbs up a rung and I look more closely at the computer screen to see if the penultimate and pen-penultimate numbers line up, which would constitute a winning case.

My computer sits on the coffee table. I sit on the sticky black couch. I lean forward, my elbows propped on my thighs. I cycle through. I see a 3. I look more closely.

Is that? It is!

I throw my hands in the air. I pump them once or twice. I check the receipt again. I wield it in the face of the empty living room. I place it gingerly aside. I am elated. I am a ball of joy.

I grab the next handful. It seems like my odds have risen.

Day 282 (A Coincidence: Impossible!)

In Taipei on May 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Warning! Jack and Ari say neither the 7-Eleven nor the Family Mart have any sort of sports drink! They have gone up the street and then down and not only Super Supau but Pocari Sweat are absent from the shelves!

This on the heels of the conspicuous absence of sports drinks this morning near Elephant Mountain! Exercised pores hungering for replenishment denied their proper dose not twice but thrice!

We wonder! Is it some sort of national conspiracy!? Is it more than coincidence!? We workers need to be sustained! A conspicuous vacuousness inhabits the school like the dark table that crowds the alcove where we prepare for class! A question unanswered yet asked with utmost force! We trot off to teach! Our brains and pores are empty!

What impends?!?!?

Day 281 (Skipping)

In Hash Runs on May 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I am standing in my underwear on the border of the awning that hovers above the restaurant. I am soaking wet from the hose. My hair won’t dry for hours. On the textured steel platform between the restaurant and the road sit my shoes, socks, glasses, and a tiny beer glass.

I imagine I am a sight, somehow, picking up the latter and finishing it off, half-naked, dripping water.

Like I am in a remarkably similar parallel universe for a short time before I re-clothe myself and sit down on a plastic stool to be served intestine, blood, thousand-year-old egg, liver, frightful food that I eat because, anyway, what the hell. There are so many parallel universes.

Day 280 (Tax Day)

In Taipei on May 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

There is a series of tents erected outside the tax building. People mill around inside them, taking numbers and waiting patiently for their turn. A sign says foreigners, into the lobby.

Indoors the building has the cold granite decor of bureaucracy but it is humming with life. A long series of tables and chairs line the center of the lobby. There are many available helpers and to the first one I turn and say I want to do my taxes. She gives me a broad, glossy green sheet and indicates with a pencil which parts to fill out.

I sit and begin to puzzle. As I do, another helper sits in the chair next to me and watches me scribble in my answers. It seems she is looking on to make sure I, only I, am able to do it correctly. I come to a sticking point. I figure why make it more difficult for both of us: she knows what needs to be done and I do not. I hand her my cards, my papers, and the sheet. She fills them out for me. Then she goes and gets me a number and tells me to wait until it is called. The number is 92. We are on 88.

I sit on a soft black couch and wait to be called to one of the stations that line the room. People seem anxious. I think this is fantastic. The freedom of not knowing what to do met with sheer efficiency. There are flow charts on the wall. The helpers wear identical shirts. If it weren’t so far, I’d want to do my taxes every day.

Day 279 (A Telephone Call)

In Taipei on May 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Whenever my phone rings it is met with anger. The tone is a stupid jungle samba and too artificial to signify anything good, even human contact. I pluck it from my backpack and pick up.

N. is simply calling to tell me something, the romantic completion of an already nice story, a connection made via smiles on an airplane and consummated in a Facebook message minutes ago. You heard the first part of the story, and I just wanted to tell you the second part. That’s all. I’ll see you later.

Man. I wish all my phone calls were like that.

Day 278 (Bali Again)

In Hash Runs on May 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm

The hares are stationed at the peak of the hill, gazing out at the modest panorama of hills and a town below. Ben nearly runs by them. I yell,

— Ben, those are the hares!

It doesn’t make sense.We’ve caught them after less than twenty minutes. They don’t even try frantically to get away. We stop. We need to give them another head start.

Soon the throng, who has spread out over the last few kilometers, finds itself in a cluster again. It is disconcerting for your legs to abandon their cycle so soon after getting used to it. It is otherworldly to find the whole field of runners together again at the top of the hill, milling around during a time which would normally be one of in-touchness with the self, the dawning ache of calves, unbridled understanding of the fitness of your lungs.

Somehow this makes the camaraderie better. We’re all pissed at the hares for being so slow, and our endorphins are left undirected. We came here to run, yet we’re not running. We hurl phrases around. Everybody talks to everybody. The mid-run unadornedness is shared for once. It can’t always be this way. Today it is.