Well, I've more or less finished my Taiwan scrapbook, so you can check it out:
A little interactive map of our Taiwan journey. Click on green circles to go to the corresponding photo album on flickr; blue circles will take you to their corresponding blog post.
If you find this interactive visualization interesting or helpful, please leave a comment, so that I can better decide whether or not to make similar maps for future countries--thanks!
I will remember many things about Taiwan.
I will remember being wet, a feeling that characterized much of the first half of our trip. Walking around Taipei in raincoats every day for a week. Waking up at Fulong Beach to the sound of rain on canvas, enjoying the sound, then slowly coming to realize that the reason my head was cool was because our tent's waterproofing had failed under the relentless downpour. Waiting for the rain to stop, only to have it start again as we hiked through the jungle; making covers for our packs out of garbage bags. Being happy to finally make it to a Buddhist temple where we could spend the night and take refuge under a solid roof.
I will remember Taiwan's beautiful and remote east coast. Hiking the historic Caoling Trail and not minding the rain, because the climb made us hot, and because our surroundings were gorgeous... being surprised at the drastic change in vegetation as we gained altitude. Seeing a truly giant spider outside a small trail-side shrine, dedicated to one of Taiwan's host of Taoist deities. Spending the night on the beach at a small lighthouse village; waking up to the sight of seaside cliffs, and our first sunny day. Hitching a ride later that day in the back of a pickup and thinking there was nothing better than the breeze in my hair, the sun on my face, and the ocean view beside me. Watching monkeys leap through the trees at Taroko, and being surprised that the famous gorge actually managed to live up to its hyped reputation.
I will remember the hot springs. The feeling of hiking around Taipei for days on end, then finally letting my body drop into the hot water of Beitou, an outdoor bath where we watched the sun set along with locals who went there every day. Sitting in the splendid wooden baths at Jiaoshi that exuded feng shui; baths which a Taiwanese man informed me were so nice "because the Japanese built them." Getting off the train at Rueisuei and walking for miles through farmland in an attempt to track down Taiwan's only naturally carbonated springs; thinking we were lost, then finally making it to the Rueisuei Hot Spring Hotel, where we were the only guests of an eclectic Taiwanese family that loves Harley Davidson. Showering in iron-rich spring water that turned our hair orange.
I will remember Taiwan's myriad temples and shrines, Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucius; the Taoist temples overflowing with color and ornamentation, gaudy yet earnest... their Confucian counterparts stark and simple by contrast, manifesting the teachings of old Master Kong. Everywhere we went, no matter how remote, or how busy, somewhere close by incense was burning, somewhere close by someone was bowing in prayer. On the hiking trail, next to a tree: there was a shrine; in Taroko under a bridge: there was a deity waiting; across from a farmer working the fields in Hualien county: there was Matsu, face black from decades of incense.
The temples are tactile places: rough wood pillars sprout up from rough stone floors, large iron pots for incense are cool to the touch, giant wax candles are smooth and shiny to look at; smoke rises in puffs, chants float on the wind, and inside a doorway, through the haze of the incense, you can make out the shapes of fruits and candies which gods like to eat. To your right a woman cleans cubic feet of wax from cubic feet of candles; to your left, a man gives incense to his three year old daughter and tries in vain to guide her in its use. And that is why I love the temples: they are so old, so alive, and there's so much going on; they are places where sitting and waiting, watching and listening, waiting and touching are greatly rewarded--there's nothing quite like running your hand across a stone that ten thousand people have stood on to pray, that served as ballast on a ship bringing immigrants from China 300 years ago, in a country that's made up of ethnic Chinese who don't consider themselves part of the Mainland.
I will remember so many "little" things (if one is heartless enough to give memories sizes): more scooters than I've ever seen before, more dogs per capita than I've ever seen before, more dogs on scooters per capita than I've ever seen before. More bubble tea, cheaper bubble tea, better bubble tea, and more kinds of bubble tea than I have ever drunk before. More monkeys jumping in my lap than have ever been in my lap before. More stinky tofu than I've ever smelled before. More helpings of chicken feet than I've ever eaten before, and also of New Zealand oatmeal (oatmeal making a cheap breakfast, being very popular in Taiwan, and much of it imported from New Zealand).
I will remember the food.
And I could go on. But of all the memories, the ones that I will recall most fondly are of all the times that people helped us; all the times that strangers were kind to us without reason. In Taipei, getting lost, and a woman offering to help us as soon as my map was halfway out of my pocket. In Nanao, a man giving us directions to the local hot springs, then coming after us half an hour later on his scooter, because he had remembered that the springs were closed for construction. Later, going down the wrong remote road on the way to a train station, and having a mother and daughter stop and offer to drive us wherever we needed to go; offer to take us to an alternate hot spring, to an alternate town, to an alternate train station (because the one we were headed to wouldn't take us Town X); offer to host us in their aboriginal village. In Hualien, stopping for dinner at a street-side restaurant where no-one spoke English, only to have a passerby stop his scooter to have a conversation and help us out (a Los Angeleno who was back in Taiwan for military service); turned out to be a Buddhist restaurant with excellent vegetarian cuisine.
The next day, waiting for a taxi to the train station, a passerby introducing himself, asking where we needed to go, and informing us that taxis were rare, but he'd be happy to drive us to the station (or the next town, if we wanted--they have a great beach there, he said). In Taroko, monks under a pagoda insisting on sharing their lunch with us, delicious honey-bread dessert included... they were returning to their monastery after visiting a friend, and had plenty, they said. Never having to wait for more than one or two vehicles to pass before getting picked up for a hitched ride. Having one older man who hitched us and spoke little English take us back to his home and his family, where he insisted on serving us lunch; "so young," he said, when we told him our age... how I wished I could ask him what he had been doing at twenty-five--what his dreams had been, what he laughed at, what he thought of how life had turned out... but all I could do was touch my beer can to his, and drink.
Then there were the Mao-Maos and the Changs, Taiwanese families who hosted us for three nights in Tainan and Taichung, respectively, and treated us like long-lost family members--despite knowing nothing about us except what I'd posted on CouchSurfing.org. For our arrival the Mao-Maos prepared a special meal of chicken-feet and ginger rice, and in the morning Mrs. Mao-Mao wouldn't let us leave the house until we had been properly filled with rice balls and milk tea. On our second night with them, Mr. Mao-Mao insisted on taking us to an area of Tainan which we hadn't managed to get to, treating us to "special food," and attempting to show us his favorite sights (despite the fact that it was unfortunately late on a weeknight, and most places were sadly closed). Two days later we stayed with the Changs, and despite having only twenty-four hours with them, they managed to take us to more than half a dozen locations in Taichung and Yanli and stuff us to overflowing with delicious Cantonese and Hakka foods and deserts--absolutely refusing to let us pay for anything, they went so far as to give us presents for Marisa's parents (whom we were soon to meet in Vietnam), and when we left wouldn't let us get on the train without a packed dinner--and hugs all around.
As our train chugged towards Taipei and I ate of my packed dinner bounty, my mind wouldn't stop spinning: who were these strangers, and why were they so kind to us? Who were these people who took us, sight unseen, into their homes, and treated us like family--who let us sleep next to their laptop computers and digital SLRs, and lavished food and gifts on us? As our train pulled into Taipei Station--a place that felt strangely like home, because we spent our first days in Taiwan there--I had no real answer. As I sit here at my parents-in-law's home, having just arrived in Vietnam, I still have no real answer. But what answer am I looking for? Part of me seems to believe that these kind folk we visited must have secret identities: that they are the Batmans and the X-Men of doing good--kind people who have planted themselves in wait for us, to achieve some special purpose. But I know that is not true--I have had too many encounters with too many kind people in too many countries, and I don't believe in Batman. No, these people are just ordinary people, and that reality is a large part of why I travel: because for every terrible story my grandmothers have related to me from newspapers or television, of physical violence, or kidnapping, or theft... for every one of those, there are two, or three, or four stories of someone in the world who's been unreasonably kind to a stranger... and it gives me hope to be part of those stories--now on the receiving side, but I hope, throughout my life, to be on the giving side as well.
"Kindness begets kindness, trust begets trust, hope begets hope"; It's one thing to see that as a nice, clichéd sentiment, but another thing entirely to experience the reality personally in a way that I can't deny. Have I experienced kindness from strangers before? Have I offered it to them? Certainly. But one forgets, I forget. Not that it happened, but the way it felt, the way it changed me... and so the sentiment becomes a sentiment once again, becomes cliché once again, and I distance myself from the most important things in life. The vulnerability of extended travel, and the encounters that come out of it, force me back to the center.
Taiwan's official tourism motto is ridiculous, but after our experience there I can't help but like it, can't help but feel that it's exactly what it should be.
For the last couple of weeks Marisa and I have been staying with my friend Simon Braunstein in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city, located on its southern coast. After trekking around continuously for two weeks, rarely spending the night in the same place twice, Kaohsiung has served as a kind of stable island, where I've been able to put together the shells of two small computer games. Of course, we've also taken the time to get out a bit, and see some of Kaohsiung's sites. Highlights include:
A visit to Monkey Mountain, right in the middle of Kaohsiung, along the coast, which, true to its name, is home to many, many monkeys... many of whom have grown accustomed to using the stairs built for hikers, and some of whom have grown accustomed to stealing food from visitors and eating it themselves. The monkey in the photo below actually jumped on my lap on his way to steal Simon's mangoes, which he proceeded to flaunt, and then devour in mouthfuls as other, larger monkeys drew closer:
A long walk around Lotus Lake (or "Lotus Pond," depending, I guess, on how large you require a lake to be--the university I attended insisted on calling the puddle of water to the west of campus a "lake", so I won't insult Lotus' 3-mile circumference), home to myriad pagodas and temples, some of the former requiring that you walk in the mouth of a dragon to enter (and leave via a tiger's backside):
...and some of the latter in the shape of the gods they celebrate:
An afternoon spent enjoying the view from the 150-year-old former British consulate at Dagou (which sits on a hill overlooking Kaohsiung's substantial harbor--4th or 5th largest in the world), while having proper British tea (as in the small meal) complete with Taiwan's addition of tapioca pearls:
...I do love old colonial architecture:
Walking most of the length of the nicely decorated Love River, and also taking a ride on a boat (yes, a Love Boat):
And of course, hanging out with Simon and Tina, who helped us properly enjoy the city. In terms of the games... well, hopefully you'll hear about those soon :).
Yesterday, we spent a happy afternoon at the old British Consulate in Kaohsiung. It has a great view of the harbor, watching the boats come in and out, and since it used to be British, you can have afternoon tea. Although since we're in Taiwan you can have bubble tea, which is a nice improvement. Did you know that the Taiwanese invented bubble tea. It's a true fact (at least that's what Jordan told me).
The following pictures I blame on our extended habitation in Asia. We are true posers.
Also, sometimes I get bored of taking pictures of myself or Jordan. Especially when I have the world's coolest can. Can you believe this can? It's made from see-through metal!
If you want to see the full photo shoot, go ahead!
(Disclaimer: I'm usually a calm blogger, but I fear the in all the excitement I may have used caps lock. I apologize for the shouting, but sometimes there's not much you can do about it.)
There are two things I consider to be the glue that holds my life together. Two experiences that unite everywhere I've been. And whenever I re-experience them, it takes me back to everywhere and everytime. I wrote about one of them the other day, so it's only fair that I write about the second. Especially since this one still has a few new experiences to add to the list. Of course I am talking about Harry Potter.
In a few hours I will hopefully be seeing the first installment of the seventh Harry Potter movie. Hopefully in Imax. I've been a little over excited for a few day anticipating the viewing. Well, really since I first saw the trailer, whenever that was, and started quoting it to Jordan all the time, “the movie event of a generation.” And at least for me, this movie and it's finale in July probably will be the most anticipated movie event of my lifetime. I can't imagine anything surpassing it. Because Harry Potter is the glue that holds the disconnected parts of my life together.
Getting ready for a book party for the release of the last book.
I first read Harry Potter in Bolivia. My mom somehow got the first three books from the elementary librarian before they went on the shelves and told me I had to read them before they went into general circulation because there was a big waiting list. I had never heard of the books, not surprising really since there was no internet then (how did anyone know anything?) but read them anyway because reading is what I did. And they were magical. Every time I reread the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone I remember wondering the first time what a “muggle” was and what could possibly be so special about an 11 year-old boy. And so me the middle school girl was linked to me the old married woman by waiting and wondering.
When the fourth book finally came out, I remember saving it to read on the plane back to La Paz after summer vacation. I got to read it in style too because we got bumped up to first class that flight. Books five and six also came out over the summer vacation, and I read them in the townhouse, except for parts of book five, which despite having pre-ordered the book months in advance, still arrived with PAGES MISSING! I still can't believe that they sent out misprinted books, but I got one, and it was a desperate moment when I realized the book was repeating itself. To solve my problem, I went over to my friend's house and read 50 pages of her book, until I got to the place where my book was back on track. Good thing I didn't save that one to read on the plane.
Perhaps the biggest sacrifice of my married life was waiting over a year to read the final book. Jordan wanted to read it with me, but of course, he hadn't read A SINGLE BOOK yet. So we had to read them all, and then finally read the last one. Why I waited to experience the ultimate excitement with a fair-weather fan is beyond me. I guess that's love. I remember listening to the audiobooks of the earlier books in the car on the way back from North Carolina. And finally, finally, reading the last one when we got to Korea.
Reading Prisoner of Azkaban in Jordan on the way to Petra.
The movies have also helped link my life together. I saw the first one with my family at the birthday party of one of my mom's students. It was an early screening of the movie, so somehow my mom got us invited to that. The third movie I saw when I was traveling in England with my grandmother. I was thrilled to be able to see it in the actual country of the story's birth. Also, everywhere we went the buses had giant pictures of Ron's face looking a little ridiculous.
The fourth movie came out during my second year at Bethel, and I went to see it with a roommate who is also a big fan. Although she was a little nervous to go with me alone because I can be a little noisy during movies when I'm surprised. She talked another one of our roommates to come along and help keep me inline.
The fifth movie came out right before my wedding, as did the seventh book. Luckily, unlike the book, I saw the movie in theaters a few times. I think that movie is what actually convinced Jordan that the books were worth reading because they didn't seem to be so light and fluffy anymore. Perhaps it should have worried me more that Jordan liked the crazy, hormonal Harry better than nice, normal Harry. It didn't surprise me though.
The sixth movie we saw in Korea, twice. I can't think of any other movies I've watched in the theater more than once. But I've definitely seen many of the Harry Potter movies more than once, while still in theaters, and countless more times on DVD.
And so in a few hours, I will be embarking on the end of an experience that has united bits of my life for over ten years. Once the movies are done, there's only Harry Potter World left to visit. I wonder if Jordan can make a game about that?
After a week of exploring Taipei, and another week spent trekking down Taiwan's east coast, Marisa and I are now holed up in Taiwan's 2nd largest city of Kaohsiung, where I'm working with my friend Simon (who's generously hosting us) to make a super cool game about rice farming! I'll be posting an overview of our trip down the east coast shortly, but for now, here's a look at one day in the process (Nov. 11), complete with trekking, hitching, lunch with our ride providers, hot springs, and beautiful views.
We started the day at our beach-side campsite on Highway 11:
From there, we walked a little bit, enjoying the clear skies (it was our first truly sunny day in Taiwan), then hitched a ride further down the coast in the back of a pickup:
We had a snack in the small town of Fongbin, walked a bit more, then hitched another ride inland a little ways, to Taiwan's Guangfu, in Taiwan's East Rift Valley (once again, try to ignore my eczema, which makes my face look gross):
The man who took us to Guangfu was kind enough to invite us in for a home-cooked meal with his family, in their house which also served as a store-front for every kind of hardware supply (and a talking bird):
At Guangfu we caught the train further down the Rift Valley...
... in search of Taiwan's only naturally carbonated hot springs, in the town of Rueisuei. The hot springs weren't quite as easy to find as we expected, but after walking several miles through farmland, and asking numerous people for directions, we finally got there!
Here's a little map of the ground we covered that day (click on it to get an interactive view, with pictures):
You can also check out more photos on Flickr.
I really love to do nothing. I also really love to scrapbook. Luckily I can scrapbook while we're traveling. However, it's a bit difficult to do nothing when I have to walk ten miles with my heavy pack. I mean, we don't have a goal, or a deadline, or somewhere we have to be, so in that way walking is like nothing. But, I also have to carry 25 pounds on my back and keep moving my feet. This is say, more difficult than taking a snooze on the couch. Luckily, I have a walking stick. When I was carrying it around at the beginning and it kept poking things from its attached place on my backpack, I thought it was pretty annoying and I used to say insulting things to it. However, it turns out that people don't carry them around to be stylish, and they are in fact helpful if you are walking far distances, even if the ground is flat. So I've apologized to it for the mean things I've said, and we've become friends. I've also given one of them away to Jordan, even if he is a camera hog*.
*For the good of everyone who reads this blog, I will keep saying less than nice things about Jordan in hopes that it tempts him to write his own blog posts. Perhaps if you would like to hear from him you should also leave inspiring comments.
After arriving in Taipei and spending a few days looking around, it became apparent that we really aren't a one camera family anymore. Often I'm happy to let Jordan take the pictures, but after a while of standing around while he takes lots, and lots, of pictures, I decided I would really rather have my own camera. So Jordan got to buy a new fancy one, and now I get the old one all to myself. I'm excited to try and remember all those things I learned in photography class back in high school. But the scary thing is that when I had that class, we learned on actual film. We spent half the class learning to develop our own photos. I remember thinking it was unlikely I would ever use that skill because, really, who has their own darkroom? Well it turns out I do, and it's called Photoshop.
Perhaps the best part of this deal was that I no longer have to process the hundreds of photos Jordan takes; he's in charge of them himself. Leaving me more time to do fun things like scrapbook and post on the blog.
Home wherever you love
This is my new motto. I tried to get Jordan to change the tagline on our website, but he doesn't seem that interested. In any case, this is my new tagline. You can imagine it at the top of the website when you read my blogs.
You may be tempted to ask where I love. And while I love many places, and I really can't claim to have one favorite, it turns out that really I can.
I love McDonald's. Because it is always there. It always has been there. And hopefully always will be there. Where else can I turn when I'm in the middle of nowhere Taiwan and really need to eat something that's not Chinese? Or the middle of nowhere Korea? Or the middle of nowhere Bolivia?
A cheeseburger always tastes the same and so do french fries. Maybe I used to only like my burger with ketchup, while these days I can eat all the fixings. But there is nothing that says home quite like McDonald's. Not because their food is so great, but because it's always the same, and more importantly, always there.
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.
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):
(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.
Jordan is too busy to post these pictures that he took. So I will post them for you. We were at the zoo and we saw this sign:
Jordan stops to examine the sign.
Family takes time to stop and touch the poo for the photo.
Jordan goes into the bathroom and finds these trivia:
This next one made me a little nervous to visit the hippos.
This last one is not true. I know this for a fact because Farah out-pooped both Jordan and I combined.
If only my students were around to really enjoy these poo facts. The middle schoolers really love poo. This post is in their honor.
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.
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...