Archive for the ‘Taipei’ Category

Day 365 and Epilogue (One Long Interminable Day)

In Hash Runs, Taipei, Traveling on August 23, 2011 at 2:20 am

What you can do is wake up in the morning and go to work without stopping at home, the hope that your boss will not say anything about your facial hair flashing in and out between pages on the train and steps outside it. You can teach. You can begin to understand that there will be very few minutes in which you be able to pack your things before you leave on your very long trip. You can eat teppanyaki with Inma and she can stay over and you can listen to Mano Negra while you organize items.

In the morning you can teach again.

After which you can hurry to the far west of the city and enjoy fresh tomatoes and basil in sauce on spaghetti and wine, and then beer, in the company of friends whose friendship you only now are getting at the depth of, another reason to regret you are leaving that you have to push out of your mind, positive feelings coming out as gratitude and giving and wine mix at the door at the end of the night.

In the morning you can teach again. For the last time.

Following which you can hurry to the train station and buy a ticket to the beach, and your train can get canceled, and you can sit reading The Savage Detectives fussily until it comes, and read fussily until you walk out into the night and down the boardwalk in the wrong direction, only to make a U-turn back to where the drinking is, and a plate of fried rice, and bottles of Taiwan beer. You can eat the rice and you can drink the beer and listen to the hash legends and when they turn off the air conditioning you can make your way into the night and sit under a useless awning on the north end of the boardwalk down from some kids barbecuing and look out on a moon that is yellow and half, tilted as if hung from a nail, huge above the ocean that is huge, too, and you can keep drinking in the shadow of the crash of the waves against the rocks until the beer runs out.

You can wake up in the morning in the white bed in your hotel to a sort of half-awareness that you should be helping Joe sort out the trail, which is probably what he is doing at this hour, and you can fall back asleep.

You can wake up again two hours later and Joe can tell you that he has done it and you can feel bad and he can tell you you don’t have to and you can all order Chinese breakfast, the four of you, with eggs and bacon and cheese and a square of peanut-buttered toast that you don’t know how it ended up there. You can go to the beach.

In the water you can play until the stern lifeguard tells you no swimming and to keep your area of body-surfing below the thigh, which you can heed only to a nominal extent, catching the waves with your momentum for nanoseconds that hardly seem authentic but yet exist, too, in some corner of your perception with which you are not well-acquainted. You can leave the water only when you and the rest of the swimmers seem to have arrived at the last reasonable moment and you can begin to sort out things for the run. You can buy hot dogs. You can get the flour ready and take a cab to the run start, flouring all the way, and put on your gear to run for the first time in a week.

You can do the run, with Joe, without Joe, conscious that possibly this is not the path you were supposed to take and then relieved and exhilarated when Joe tears around the corner behind you from his section and you are back on and taking care of business. It can occur to you that this is your last China Hash run for a long time. That you are here. That, ok.

You can slow as you get back to the run start and keep dropping flour, compulsively, until the run becomes beers and the beers become crackers and the crackers become sand and a frisbee and the sand becomes a line of people who were lost and more beer and your sunburn aches under the first intimations of dusk and you end up walking back from the rocks splashed by the ocean waves to Arthur’s truck, eating dinner in Toucheng, drinking beer, saying goodbye, trying to give Arthur’s shirt back to him and him giving it to you once again, saying goodbye again, and getting in Arthur’s truck again for the long ride home, during which you have to pee, you have to sleep, you have to push off the urge to want to vomit, twelve kilometers in the longest tunnel in the world, and he drops you off in Nangang and you get back home on the MRT which somehow, at this point in your life, operates, business as usual.

In the morning you can wake up early and start to pack your life into boxes and monetary transactions. You can feel not nearly as bad as you think you ought to feel. You can go to work, say goodbyes there as you pick up your paycheck. You can let the day’s sun disturb your sunburn. You can pack boxes, speak with bank personnel, ride the train, walk on sidewalks, go to Shida. As this series of events occurs you can feel physical withdraw from the alcohol you have been on the last three or however many days, your muscles inversely carbonated, energy sucked from them from the inside, and you can see the days drift together and present themselves as one long continuous one, and they can accordion for you, and you can see that all that is left for you before you leave the country is the continuation of this day, the steady stream of mental force into an investment in a clean cut with the universe you have created for yourself, or, what, the one you have walked into, and stood in for so long.


Day 364 (The Things You Forget About)

In Taipei on August 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Before I came to Taiwan I was nervous about how I would find books and I did some research into where I could find books and the internet reported that there was a book trade every Sunday at Grandma Nitti’s although it seemed debatable whether it still existed and it was never confirmed by anything associated with the place itself. When I arrived I found a few other places that sold books, Inma signed me up with the library, and I more or less forgot about it.

It is a year later. We search for a Greek place and we see the awning on a street in Shida that I do not recall ever having been down before, even though I have been to Shida countless times. It says: Grandma Nitti’s. On it is the bespectacled face of a grandma. This is it.

I think how one year ago I was trying to envision what this place looked like, what sort of street it was on, what its books were like, who Grandma Nitti was.

I thought it must be on a sidestreet somewhere have a yellow awning and be musty and closed-feeling inside, with a big table near the entrance where people would spread their books. I thought Grandma Nitti was a middle-aged man.

I know now that there are no sidestreets, that the awning is off-white, that it is open and Greek-feeling within, and that the books, at least now, are on a single set of shelves when you walk into the restaurant. Grandma Nitti is a Taiwanese woman named Rainbow.

They have Granta 90. It is NT$50. Needless to say, after we eat our nachos and spinach-eggplant lasagna and our breakfast burrito, I buy it.

Day 363 (The Uselessness of a Suit of Armor)

In Taipei on August 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Goodbyes are never representative of what you are saying goodbye to. They are never fitting. They are always trolling through a military paraphernalia shop eying the camouflage clothes and ninja swords while whoever you are saying goodbye to tries to find pepper spray for her mom so she can repel unwanted visitors while her daughter is away. Or suggesting that her mom could sleep in the suit of armor the shop has for sale and then she wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. Or poring over Craig’s List in order to confirm that she is using it correctly despite the inattention landlords have paid to her emails so far. Or walking down the street casually, anticipating your own rest after a long day of work.

In other words, goodbyes are tests of what came before. You can’t concentrate all the good intentions you had into the final few moments. Goodbyes are grasping this and looking back and seeing if you contributed what you meant to contribute. They are judging if you created the relational piece of art you would have liked to created. They are understanding that there is no such thing as a representative moment because the representative moment would have to encompass all the moments you had with a person and thereby looking back and judging for yourself, each of you, whether those moments were sufficient on their own.

So were they? Huh? Were they?

Day 361 (The Goats Leave for the Trans-Siberian Railroad)

In Taipei on August 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm

We sit on the curb and hanging in the air above us, only four vertical feet from the pavement of the street, is the ritual of the immediate future: the handshakes or hugs, the wishes for good travel, the expressions of gladness that one party met the other and of sadness that all good things must come to an end. These elements are like swollen rainclouds, and we are like goats whose physical ability to glance upward allows at best an intuition of the coming violent, if short, storm.

Dry goats for a little while longer.

The whole horizontal line of us trades words back and forth, a late-night homage to the words that won’t be spoken so much more when the first of a succession of goats trot achingly away from the prickly grass of the farm.

Then we rise and our heads are in the humid clouds.

We say the goodbyes that we have to say and then the goats that are staying and the goats that are leaving stand and look at one another while goats on down the line proceed in the au revoir. Somehow this second part, the silent staring after the goodbyes have been said, is the real goodbye. It is a sort of test, a trial separation, the seconds when the boat has set off from the harbor and unexpectedly, amazingly, visual contact can still be made, and both sets of goats feel they must wave until they settle into their seats for the emotional repercussions they expected to encounter alone.

Day 354 (Bagels: A Conversation In Reverse)

In Taipei on August 16, 2011 at 1:05 am

— What does it take to find some goddamn bagels in this goddamn city? Some high-density carbohydrates that don’t have to be cooked? Something for the camper in us? How much is it to ask?

— Yes.

— It is.

— Yes. I think NT$350 is still too much to pay.

— I doubt it though. These are lunch bagel places. Not bagel bagel places.

— You have to.

— You’ve got to be able to buy them in bulk. You’ve got to.

— Something like NT$35.

— And this Magic place for…what?

— NT$48 each.

— Well our options are then New York Bagels…for how much?

— Nope. They don’t have it. Even here. Just that sweet Taiwanese bread.

Day 353 (Grandma/Cathy)

In Taipei on August 5, 2011 at 11:49 pm

It is ten in the morning and here is this young Taiwanese woman with whom I teach. She is a good presence because she isn’t yet entirely jaded by the job. She likes kids at their best and hates them at their worst, like me. We are sort of on the same page, even if it is not the same book.

She brushes by me as we sort out the beginning of the cramped class. The lesson has not started yet and I am still perceiving elements with some clarity. What I sense as she has passed is a distinct, amber cloud that follows her. Do you know what that cloud is? My grandma’s perfume.

I want to tell her this, but I don’t know if she will think of it as a compliment. Even though I would tell her how much she should.

Day 352 (The Customer is Always Right)

In Taipei on August 5, 2011 at 11:13 pm

The song plays where they are saying in Chinese to politely get the hell out of the store. There is even a bye-bye mixed in for us foreign shoppers.

On our way out vendors of specialized goods stand at their registers and say a consistent, rote phrase in Chinese and bow so deferentially that we both want to be sick. If it were not so demeaning it would be incredibly funny. Or—wait—is it the other way around?

We are in this mood after crossing a gauntlet of at least twenty of these employees, spread evenly throughout our multi-level exit from the store. When we approach the automatic doors from the department store into the humid, exhausty air. When we see the line of employees between which we will have to pass to go through that door. There must be eight of them.

Will they? is what we are both wondering.

We accelerate toward the outdoors and the two lines do it in lusty unison: the rote Chinese phrase, almost piercing coming from so many mouths, and the low bow, reminiscent of some strange fascist time when the consumer was the emperor of the whole universe.

Our eyes widen before we have even crossed the threshold. We can barely save our laughs for when we are a respectful distance away.

Day 351 (Frank Becky the Fat Pig by Daniel, Sunny, Loverine, Grace, Nina, and Teacher Dennis)

In Taipei on August 4, 2011 at 10:57 pm

The pig is small. He likes water. His name is Frank Becky. He also likes rainbows. He goes to play with water. He eats some fruit. He throws the fruit in the water, and he plays basketball. He catches the ball and eats the apple in the water while he swims. There is a big fish in the water. Frank Becky eats the big fish! Then he eats the ball. After that, he plays with a robot. The robot plays with the big fat pig. The pig drinks water.


Day 350 (And All That For Only Five Dollars)

In Taipei on August 2, 2011 at 11:11 pm

— Hao le.

No way. Hao le? Meaning finished? The nurse folds the armrest out so I can stand up. The dentist retreats back into his cave. The two nurses speak with animation. I can understand a tiny bit. I think it’s got to be about me.

But that was only five minutes. Ten minutes maximum. A scraper where the teeth meet the gums and a vacuum sucker for the blood. A fountain that knows when it has refilled the cup to the proper level because the cup sits on a miniature scale. Two young nurses that chat with the slightly older dentist as he works. Vacant chairs in transparent cubicles. The rub of the twisting whatever-it-is applier on the surface of my teeth. The gray cat slinking about somewhere.

Then freedom. You may go. That is all.

Welcome to the dentist.

Day 349 (Wang Born in Bookstore)

In Taipei on August 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

I am sitting in the bookstore up against one of the shelves because the seats are taken. I am one of a sizable culture of people who do this, retreat to a universe of books to conduct themselves among happiness for a few hours: sitting on the floor, sitting on a bench, it’s all the same to them.

My legs are straight in front of me trying to be out of the way and I have to pee. It happens every time. When you know there is no bathroom, your bladder starts to poke you from the inside. It is like a little monster bent on keeping you on your toes.

In my lap is my notebook that says on the front, We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are. It is open and inside it on the lines I am still getting used to a character named Wang is coming to life, getting married and having good intentions and letting his good intentions slip into bad actions. The guy is blameless really. I thought of him at first as this sycophant-become-tycoon, a meritless man who grows fat and loses all touch with his wife in a spot-on concordance with stereotypes of the rich and powerful.  Then in the bookstore I start writing him and his intentions are different, they aren’t so malicious or blind, they are complicated and trying to be sensible and still leave life fulfilled. Wang ends up at a love motel with a hooker and I end up with this entity in my hands, this character who I didn’t want to create but created himself.

There are books in the store all around and I am sure their authors would talk of themselves being led by the characters, their set plans for them thrown out when the contingencies of living ink began to pop on the paper like tiny springs.