Read From the Beginning
Our first day in Taipei we went to the National Palace Museum where they house all the Chinese treasures that they rescued (or stole) from China when they fled the communist take over. Likely the communists would have destroyed everything, so it's probably for the best that they took it. But the fact that the best collection of Chinese artifacts is outside China (somewhat at least), must kind of annoy some Chinese.
The coolest thing we saw was this jade cabbage
I think maybe we were in Korea for too long.
Here we are outside the museum. Luckily we have rain coats.
The second best part of the museum was feeding the Koi.
They were starving.
Really, really starving.
Jordan was also starving when we discovered a food court near our hostel that has all the food you could want.
I was reminded of the importance of balancing context with immediacy today, as I observed a child observing Ranbir Kaleka's multimedia installation, "He Was a Good Man." The piece itself is a fascinating one, if a bit slow-paced: we see an oil painting of a man in the foreground, intently focused on threading a needle... gradually, the painting comes to life: the man's image takes on warm tones, and we see that he is breathing; likewise, the background starts to shift, and change, revealing images from the man's youth; wait long enough, and you see the scene become a painting once again... curtains are drawn back, and shadows of observers come and go; from the background, a voice: "he was a good man." It is a subtle piece, interesting precisely for its slow pace and quiet rhythm; for its self-awareness, and its multidimensional treatment of life and art and observation.
Anyway, this child in front of me lost interest in the work "proper" somewhere between the original painting and its coming to life... whether he would have been inspired by the final act with the shadow observers is anyone's guess (though I have my doubts). He watched the image for a while, then took from his pocket a piece of transparent plastic (a magnifying lens, supplied by the museum to help with reading their miniature brochures), and walked as close to the needle threading man as he could get... lifting the plastic, he turned it this way and that, so that it refracted the light from a distant ceiling and sent it scattering across the virtual painting. He smiled, gave the plastic a few more twists, then put it back in his pocket and went sidling off to the next exhibit. His experience of the piece was different than mine; for him, the context of the work was immaterial... even its content was largely irrelevant: it was his very individual interaction with it that mattered. For me, on the other hand, context is paramount... which, I suppose, is why I'm in Taiwan to begin with.
People ask me why I can't make games about distant places from the comfort of my living room... why I need to actually travel to make games about Taiwan, or Laos, or Vietnam. As I sit here in a cramped hostel room that looks more like a dungeon cell than a livable space, my few pieces of clothing hung up to dry after a spill in the mud, I'm asking myself the same question... certainly my living room (if I had one) would be more comfortable to inhabit... certainly a desktop computer and consistent access to an internet connection (to say nothing of power outlets) would be more practical and efficient for coding games... certainly a larger wardrobe (and washing machine) would be great for when I fall in the mud. But the enterprise would be lacking context. When I can look out the window and see Taiwan, I feel Taiwan. Which is not to say that I have any illusions of knowing the place in a deep kind of way--I'm a passerby, not a resident with roots and connection--but the sense of context I get from being here is still powerful for its ability to drive and and inspire me... in that way, I suppose, its completely subjective. I don't know if I could make good games about Taiwan from a living room in Korea or the USA, and I don't know if I will make good games about it while I'm here; what I do know is that I lacked the energy or desire to start in on creating anything about the place before I got here... and now that I've arrived, I'm engaged in a way that I wasn't before. Seeing the people, hearing the language, smelling the air, getting lost in back alleys... all of it makes Taiwan feel real and three-dimensional to me in a way that paper and celluloid alone cannot. I lust for context.
Which is why I was at Taipei's Museum of Contemporary Art today. And why this post is ironic. Because I went to the museum to see contemporary art by contemporary Taiwanese, only to find that it has no permanent collection, and is currently showcasing the work of contemporary Indian artists in a collection of exhibits called "Finding India." Which is where Ranbir Kaleka and my young light-scattering friend come in. I struggled at first to find meaning and connection as I wandered through rooms full of works by Anirban Mitra, Nalini Malani, and their peers... why was I here viewing Indian artwork on one of the five days I have to explore Taipei? How was this helping me to understand or appreciate Taiwan? It's one thing to view art from India when it comes to your homeland, but how does one process art from another country, while traveling in a third?
Colors and images, names and titles passed by, and none of it meant much to me--until I saw the light scatter from my young friend's magnifying lens, and saw the look of joy on his face as he reexamined the image in front of him: the old man threading his needle, now in a shower of light. It struck me then that my preoccupation with context was doing me a great disservice... that I might be in Taiwan, but here was my chance to learn something about India, about a few of the artists who live there and what they want to express. This boy with his plastic had been getting more out of the artworks than I had, until I was able to shelve my desire for context for a while, and take in the displays on their own terms. The context of the pieces was still more important to me than it was to that boy--in terms of their Indian origin, and the artists who created them--but I was able to set aside what was for me the incoherence of experiencing those pieces while traveling in Taipei.
At the end of the day Marisa and I ended up "finding India" for over three hours, and I'm very glad we did. Later we took a packed MRT to Shinlin Night Market in order to continue finding Taiwan...
So we bought this sweet thing the other day. In fact, Jordan had wanted to order it, but didn't, and then we magically found it in the one electronics store we went into. We took this as a sign (or at least, I took it as a sign and told Jordan) and bought it. I guess they make all the GPS devices in Taiwan, so that's why it's here.
Anyway, it's name is igot-u and it's a GPS tracker. This means that we velcro it to the backpack, walk around, and it sends a message to a satellite and tracks where we go. Then we go home and upload it to the internet, and you can watch us walk! Woohoo! I know you are very excited.
Here is a map I made. This is just a lame, small map. If you click on it it should take you to a new page. There you should click on the 3D view. Notice in the top left corner that you can push play, and also you can push the faster button, so it doesn't take too long.
Let us know how it works for you.
Here is another map, from another day.
(Note: this post is from 11/4... publication was delayed due to internet troubles).
Marisa and I arrived in Taipei eight days ago, and are leaving two days later than planned. I'll admit that one of those extra days was due to wisdom tooth complications and a resulting trip to the dentist... but as for the other day, well, we just didn't want to leave. Taipei is colorful and vibrant, and every day here has been a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds and smells and tastes and feelings.
Spending anything less than a month in a city like Taipei--with its combination of dense population, fascinating history, and unique political situation--could be seen as futile.What can anyone possibly learn or pick up or take away in such a short amount of time? Of course, that's the question that hounds this whole trip, and every trip for every traveler... so I'm glad to have launched into this endeavor with a large city: biting off what is obviously so much more than can be chewed forces me to step back, and let go; to regain perspective, and try and come to grips with what journeying is about, for me. Which is not to know everything, or see everything, or understand everything; but to see some things, to try to understand some things.
It's about finding myself in the National Palace Museum surrounded by the largest collection of mainland Chinese artifacts in the world (far more than can be displayed at any one time; the displays are on constant rotation), and reading a sign that says they were "transported here by the government"... and trying to comprehend what that means. The sign does not say the Chinese government, because Taiwan is creating, is searching for--has created, has found--its own identity apart from China; but neither does the sign say the Taiwanese government, because the artifacts were in fact brought to Taiwan by the very Chinese KMT, even if that group has since been absorbed into the Taiwanese nation. Neither does the sign explain why the artifacts were transported, or hint that they might be seen as stolen, or repatriated--though Beijing constantly hollers accusations from across the straight (despite Mao's Cultural Revolution, which likely would have seen most of NPM's treasures destroyed). We are left with, simply, "transported" by "the government."
It's about turning from that sign, with all of its underlying political nuance, to examine a jadeite cabbage, crafted during the Qing dynasty, that's stunning in its beauty and its creativity--the way the artist used imperfections in a piece of jade that might have been tossed out as useless, to complement and even enhance his vision: craft meets form and function in a brilliant display that I can appreciate a century later.
It's about leaving that museum, and walking for hours through night markets that overwhelm my senses with distilled life energy. Feeling people at the ends of all my limbs; smelling dripping fats and dripping sugars at the ends of all my nostrils; tasting things and separating the flavors out a little--green onions wrapped in barbecued pork strips, sugar donuts hot out of oil, corn roasted in a spicy sauce--before everything merges back into a primordial sea of smells and desires. A puppy looks out at me from under the arm of someone who's just purchased it.
It's about noticing Kimchi in the market, and seeing Korean flags advertise Korean restaurants, and wondering if I ever would have noticed those things two years ago, before living in Korea. Wondering how many times I walked by Kimchi in my life without recognizing what it was; realizing that that will never happen again.
It's about getting lost on a street, pulling out a map of Taipei, and instantly having a passerby stop and ask with a smile, "Can I help you? Are you lost?" How to explain that I am, but I'm not?
It's about riding a gondola out of the city, to the hills of Maokong, where I sit and drink locally grown mountain tea in the shop of a woman with kinds eyes who offers a discount and tries to communicate with me in broken English and sign language. All I can give in return is "che che", and a bow, and a smile; somehow it feels like enough.
It's about going back to the city again, riding the metro, and playing an elaborate game of sign language with a boy across the way who's hat reads "YoYo King"; his mother smiles from where she's standing by the door. What game are we playing? Only the other one knows.
It's about exiting the metro and finding a temple that was built three hundred years before the metro was dreamed of, and is just as alive and active as ever, with people from all walks of life worshipping Buddhist, Taoist, and folk deities all together. Incense burns, wax melts, sweat drops on stones that once served as ballast on immigrant ships coming from Fujian Province in China. I touch the stones; they feel old. I watch a woman in a corner bowed over prayer beads, whose hands never stop moving; she's there when I come in, and there when I leave, two hours later. She was probably there before I was born.
It's about leaving that temple and seeing a man with three Great Danes, just walking down the street as if he were normal. Three Great Danes.
It's about finding the river, and walking for hours as the sun drops low over a city that feels far away across marshland... but really the city surrounds me. Watching bikers come and go; boys playing baseball under a bridge.
It's about joining Beitou locals in their daily or weekly visit to one of Taiwan's many hot springs (supposedly one of the primary reasons Japan lusted after the island)... letting the sweat evaporate and the miles of walking fade, as I descend into the water, lean my head back to watch Taiwanese clouds turn into Taiwanese sunset... then look down to notice a young girl smiling at me from across the pool. Isn't this great? her eyes say. Yes it is, I return, with my smile.
Yes, Taipei has been great, and I would like to stay longer. But I also want to get out. Because large cities, as interesting and exciting as they can be, tend to take on a life of their own, tied to but separate from the countries that contain them. I want to see more of Taiwan, as it was before Taipei, and is outside of Taipei. So tomorrow we leave the city behind for a trek down the country's east coast, the last region to be subdued by Taiwan's former colonizers, and the least developed region to this day.
After leaving Taipei Marisa and I headed for Taiwan's northeast coast, where we did some camping and hiking. I'll post more about our experiences when I have the time, but for now, I thought I'd upload a couple of videos we took from our tent. These won't show you much of Taiwan, but they'll give you a bit of an idea of what it's been like camping and trekking in the rain... monsoon season on the east coast is late summer, but the aftermath has been hanging around this year, so that we've only seen two dry days since we've been here (and sun only once).
First night out camping:
The following morning:
That day we hiked the historic Caolin Trail, in the drizzle (click here for more pictures):
And spent the night at a temple in Dali (click here for more pictures):
I've been having lots of writers block. I remember back in high school when I used to write everyday, but then that was the point. You have to write a lot to be able to write. Which is kind of a tricky circle to get started on. Especially when what I would rather do is watch CSI on the TV here in our room at the “Legitimate Home Stay.” Being able to flip through channels is such a novelty, and so while it's mostly useless, it's still fun. Kind of like watching commercials. But then a preview for HP7 comes on and I'm riveted and then have to send a note to Erica on Facebook to see if she's ready. I can guarantee that wherever we are, we will make it to HP7, maybe not on the opening day, but soon after.
But perhaps I'll wait to write about HP until it actually comes out. And since I can't always post pictures Jordan has taken about poo, I'll have to come up with yet something else to write about.
Since we left Taipei we've either been wet, walking, or both. Sometimes the wet has been good, like when we were at the hot springs. Hot springs are really nice. We're thinking of planning the rest of our trip so that we can stop at some more (well honestly, I had already planned our trip that way, but it tuns out it was an excellent idea).
Otherwise we've been wet because it hasn't stopped raining since we got here. Well today saw our first dry 24 hours since we landed. We spent most of it walking around trying to find a hot spring that, it turned out, was closed. Although we did get to experience first hand the generosity and kindness of the Taiwanese.
A few days earlier we hiked 10 miles up a mountain. Well, I guess it was really 5 miles up and then 5 miles down, but with a 20 pound pack, that's still quite a lot, since usually I prefer to walk on flat surfaces. It also rained the entire time. Jordan says the view was worth it, and I guess the feeling of accomplishment was worth it. One of the things we saw while hiking was this inscription, which translates to “Boldly Quell The Wild Mists.” So this is me “boldly quelling the wild mists.”
When we finally made it down the mountain we ended at a temple where we spent the night. I enjoyed walking around the temple in my pajamas.