Thursday, September 2, 2010

Taiwanese Passport Photos


We had to attend to our 2-day overstayed visas today, which required a documentation of a document and at least 4 stamps on top of each other. We needed only 1 passport photo each, to be stapled to the document, to be filed in a cabinet, to be never seen...

How many people have last minute passport scrounging experiences to tell? I remember a few of mine. They're always annoying, that's how they get remembered forever.

We actually ended up paying $900NT for these the equivalent of 30 U.S.dollars! It made me so angry that I acted really fussy with the lady in the cheapo 80s era camera shop. I'm a little embarrassed about it now. I even told her that we needed only a couple and that they didn't have to be beautiful.

About Taiwanese passport photos:

If you ever find yourself in Taiwan and needing one (or one per document, more precisely) you will find that the picture they hand to you is grotesquely Photo-shopped. I paid for my first 30 dollar stack of passport photos a year ago, and was dismayed to see that my eyebrows had been straightened, my jowl v'd, and my skin whitened.

Micheal's wasn't nearly as enhanced as mine. That's because everyone here always tells him he's handsome.

I want to send out our eerie passport photos to folks as souvenirs. Michael's not so sure about parting with his.

If you want one of mine, email me.
hpiercecarlson AT

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The insidious channel

More paper money burning, more daily fireworks, more pole-dancer stages during Ghost Month, more sex-ed up Ghost Month performances, performances that are supposedly more true to those of 50 years ago, more prostitution, more old time religion and superstition: these are all the soft indictments tossed at Yunlin County by Michael’s private student A. who hails from up north in Hsinchu.

But my younger Yunlin-born coworkers beg to differ; and in fact, they were quite embarrassed to the point of giggles at the accusation that Huwei is any different than any other town in Taiwan. I tried to assuage their hesitancy to admit its southern eccentricity by telling them that I’ve lived in some unusually distinct places in the U.S. myself. There are parts of the U.S. that if a foreigner found him/herself I’d feel it’s my duty to tell them that, “Hey. This is strange place, I know. And not all towns are like this one. Those other towns are strange in their own ways.” Still they insist there is nothing special about Yunlin County.

This story’s been circulating in the local news:

It’s known that Yunlin County has the highest incidence of renal failure than in any other county in Taiwan. There are dialysis and treatment centers all over to account for this sad fact. As it’s come to be discovered, the renal failure is the result of one insidious channel.

There is an underground group that hands out small hand-radios to old people throughout the county. The radios are are tuned to only one station, which plays old variety shows, Taiwanese opera, and nostalgic music. And as expected the station airs just one commercial for a single product-- a potion that cures anything that ails you.

The treatment costs as much as $10,000 NT (approx. $300 ), which is a considerable price for any middle-class person, let alone the elderly. The treatment bears the additional cost of causing your kidneys to stop working.

The authorities can’t seem to interfere with and track down the underground operation because the group periodically changes their broadcasting locality, as well as the station’s channel itself. This scheme strikes me as particularly old-timey, particularly “snake-oil” (which exists here too!), and, of course, insidious.

This despicable crime points to a gullibility and nostalgia that in a county privy to old ways, to superstition and religious zeal, can easily be exploited. That the siren’s call of the old times as it statically escapes through a cheap piece of plastic can bring with it anything that is good. That despite this town having been long ago transformed by Taiwan’s economic boom, its streets now over-run with scooters and cars zooming past the old men and ladies in wide-brimmed straw hats crawling along on rusty decades-old bicycles, that there is still room enough for believing in a cure-all, in an otherwise cynical world.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Best Things That've Happened Here: #4

The times when I've realized that no matter how open-minded, sensitive, and tolerant of different cultural perspectives I try to be, that what I feel can still be opposed to whatever it is that is happening.

The lesson I've learned here is that no matter how eager I am to learn from other cultures, I am still fundamentally a product of my own culture. There are just some irreconcilable differences in perspectives and ways of expression between my own way of being and others. To know that they are simply irreconcilable brings me some peace. At least I can recognize as much and try to move on.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Best Things That've Happened Here: #3

Cumulatively, all of the rides on a hundred little roads around a county that's not mentioned even once in the Lonely Planet Taiwan:

For most of the year every weekend we spent our weekends on the bike exploring the bread basket of this island. So some of the the best things that've happened here were: all the times that we popped into musky little temples to use the bathroom and end up sitting on the steps for a while, all the times we've stopped in the dusty old cramped general stores for chips, Chinese cookies, and juice boxes and sat outside to watch the village go by, all the times we spent in cheap hotels looking out the window, after the ride, onto the cram-packed mid-sized cities, all the times we bucked the traffic and had a peaceful ride, all the times we filled ourselves with hot pot afterward, filling up on vegetables that were probably picked that day, on fields that are mere miles from us, and that we had spent the afternoon weaving through, and all those times on a bike that were really happy and quite simple.

Best Things That've Happened Here: #2

Moon Festival, 2009

The time when after we had scooter'd all day up into the banana-grove mountains and when we came down at night, we had passed people gathered in an empty lot, around a table piled with food, and a nearby hog on a spit, and we were invited into the festivities:

We got off our rental scooters and a bunch of well-bellied men and a few dotting women shuffled us up to their stools. We sat and shot-the-breeze and made the requisite ganbei toasts. Michael at random request was asked to meet some of the mens' bosses and/or brothers and/or "very good friend." They called Michael either "Michael Jackson", or alternatively, "Michael Jordan", with great amusement. They, as per requisite meeting of blond foreigners, told me I was beautiful and told Michael he was lucky because haha hoho we get to (sexual gesture) together.

Rounds of unfortunate ganbei's persisted, one immediately proceeding the other, one having been forgotten the instant it was consumed and before our glass could hit the table was being poured again.

Michael learned the expression for "half" yi ban, as he pleaded to be granted pardon from any more shots of brandy- shots of brandy! -and whiskey.

After ten minutes of constant shots, I did what I always do in these situations, I told the men forcing these drinks on us that I was (gesture for pregnant). Oh!!!! Hey! Michael Jackson is have baby! Ganbei-ah!

It went on and on and on, and just as I had stopped shooting Michael side-glances and stamping on his toes, I was tugged at from behind. She was a little chubby girl. She took my hand and led me away from the party toward the relative peace of the street.

In English, she told me her name (I've forgotten it!) and her age. And I gave her the whole English class Nice to meet you, too routine before she gave up and started a conversation in Chinese with me.

She took my hand and asked me to zou yi zou -"go on a little walk"- with her. She asked me if I liked those people (the drunks at the party). She told me that they are her neighbors; and she expressed a polite, but no-less obvious distaste for them.

She was oddly mature for a 9 year old. She asked about whether I was happy at the school I was working at and whether we liked living in Huwei. I gave her my really-true honest assessment and revealed that I think JiJi is the best town in Taiwan, which made her both happy and all the more insistent that I move to Jiji and be her English teacher right then.

She took me to her house where her mom, dad, and baby brother where crouched around a small barbecue. I shook their hands. They were a little reserved it seems out of lack of things say to me. I stood there smiling. She grabbed my hand again and we zou yi zou'd some more. She taught me how to say the words for various things we saw on the street. Street. Street lamp. Fireworks. Moon. (I already knew those words, but that was my secret.)

I told her she was a good teacher and somehow we parted.

I came back to the party to find Michael Jordan/Jackson being held up on either side and being pried with ever more celebratory rounds of shots. I remember whispering to Michael, "Say 'No' in English. It works better that way."

"No, no, no, no, no..." he drunkenly stammered to the group as he blocked chubby arms wielding whiskey bottles and shot glasses from being shoved into his face.

Finally, a firm English "No!" bought him a bit of reprieve between rounds. Getting away from those men was like fighting free from quicksand: the more you graciously resisted their hospitality the more they bore down.

Somehow- I'm fairly sure that it was stealthy and good-bye-less- we parted.

Best Things That've Happened Here: #1

The time when we walked into a pitch-dark, yet people'd ballroom in Taichung:

There was a musty breezeway at the end of which was a small booth, complete with smudgy plastic window with a hole cut out in which to speak through. The woman behind the glass made a hospitality service bow and a hand motion- not unlike revealing a Price Is Right grand prize- for us to go into the ballroom. I said to her kan yi kan, "just have a look." And she smiled and made the grand-eloquent hand-sweep again. We looked into the ballroom from whence upbeat jazz was emanating. It was a completely black void.

We walked only a few steps into the darkness before I could sense from clanking and chatter, and foot steps, that the place was actually full of people. I looked toward the music and my eyes adjusted to the dark. At which point I could make out the faint glints off the band's saxophone and drum set.

But there was not a light in the house except for the odd cell phones that seemed to levitate at waist-level. Michael said he saw a couple holding a cellphone up to their table as a woman was feeling around for her cocktail.

A maitre'd came up to us, I assume in order to seat us. We laughed. I said, "Mei you diandeng ma?" No lights? I think he laughed, but then again I couldn't exactly see him. I looked back in the bands direction where I could just make out the disco-ball over the dance-floor just barely and dimly reflecting what ever light there was.

I wanted to sit, to be a part of this strangeness. But Michael, for whatever reason, wanted to leave. We left through the breezeway. We were laughing. I asked astonishingly again why there were no lights, only to be met with another vacantly-pleasant hospitality bow.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

As of 4:30 on a Sunday, what's currently eating at me..

Yesterday, I walked into our apartment's make shift gym-slash-pool room to find a shirtless, sun-charred young guy in a strange and disconcerting posture. With his upper body bent at the waist, back straight, he had his face planted flush in the green fuzz of the pool table. He'd gathered about twenty red snooker balls up around his head and he was clutching firmly one in each hand, the tendons popping up in his forearms. He didn't seem to be breathing at first, but then after 10 seconds or so he heaved and blubbered a bit into the table fuzz.

I stood a couple feet behind him, silent, and in tri-limbo. I could: go up stairs to get my camera, walk past him and do a few sets of chest presses, or go to the front desk to tell on him.

I walked around to watch him from another angle. He didn't move but he seemed to be either dry-sobbing or forcing his face with increasing pressure into the table fuzz. I tip-toed back past him and apparently made my lame decision. How could I work out comfortably with him doing that? How can I just let this bizarre behavior continue indefinitely in a public area that I needed to use? I went to the front desk and asked my landlady to look at the security TV panel. She said, "Yi ge ren." One person/alone. I told her he was strange. And she got up and took care of it for me.

I neither took a picture, which dammit could have been amazing, nor did I just leave him alone. Nor did I even work out. I went on a jog outside.

An hour later I came back to the pool room. There in the pool table green fuzz encircled with a halo of billiard balls was a mouth-sized wet spot.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

These are not my flowers, but this picture of them is for you, Mom

Mom, this is a little sundries drugstore shop place, you would definitely like it. It's opposite the sugar cane refinery whose smokestacks billow out sugar cane vapor. For real, our town is gently misted by sugar cane juice.

Happy Mother's Day!


I love you!

Another day like the last



songs from "The Story of Taiwan"

Happy Times: Popsicle
Your Cold Hands
A Visit to Spring
Look at Me! Look at Me!
Let's Go Watch the Clouds
A Happy Little Girl
Final Wishes
Keep the Sunshine
Snail and Oriole
Your Song
Scenes in the Rain
A Lovely Boat
Attached to You Even When Apart
Rain in March
My Words to Clouds
Haha Song

but this is my favorite song

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

A strand of hair on the very back most reaches of the tongue.

A strand of hair on the very back most reaches of the tongue.

As the kids outside with tape-wrapped foam swords,
In 21st century factory-permissible-hot-pink colors,
Lob blows at their Monkey King heroes imaginary foes
As my week old anniversary rose in the jar dims to pink and
Bows its head across the lip of the rim

More unprovoked screams from the kids outside in an
Unwrittable language that looks like
Englishes in a mixed-drink Sudoku newspaper back page,
Under a sticky coffee-stain, no one attempts.

As my one-year old husband lays in a sweat under an air conditioner,
Growling and drooling at x decibels.
Most times I can't sleep in that room,
On that foreshortened bed with our too small expensive comforters,
Ludicrously aligning the hypotenuse of the blanket across me diamond-wise,
To ensure its covering the furthermost reaches of my Foreigner Length.

As the level I tension, classroom instigated, headache lingers
Into the weekend at home at the View Sonic Panel,
Hovering over the Pleomax pad.
Online to no one, statusing these very lines,
To like-minds, with unlike-cares that give no-shit for
Mundane moments. Give a shit's for pics and thumbs-up,
Pink Stars, and re-tweets.

Who are my people now, but fonts and thumbnails with senses of humors,
Or aggravating non-filtered blabbing, ready-for ridicule,
At no doubt a safe secret-gossip distance
Myself readily included,
The overseas cliche dilemma, excluded by a language chasm
While standing in the outside world, at a noodle stand, ETC.
The butt of pre-teen snickers and
The pixel-y Foreign blob in phone jpegs.

But I'm virtually delivered from standing
Goofy on the lip of another canyon, called Google Translate,
Called Berlitz Compact Mandarin Dictionary, called
Deploying charades every time your mouth moves now, in
The Indiana of Asia, my dewy husband once when nondewy dubbed.

Level I tension headache meet level I scratchy throat,
as if, best described, a hair sits at just under the point
On the tongue over which the uvula dangles.

Culminating in all of this,
Like a TV snow background hum of a long, long, long division of
small, small, small unpinpointable deprivations
while living here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This cat is alive.

As of the last 2 days, a dog, which seems to have some kind of intestinal dilemma, has wandered to the front entry of my school and has decided to start its slow trudge to death. It's weak, but it's alert to our movements. It sits in a ball and watches us beneath its down-turned dog eyebrows. It, every so often, howls and coughs in agony and we're left without much to do for it, except give it water and food. We've called the authorities, but there are no authorities. So it is that we have a stage for which all the children at school can watch this dog slowly slip away. They gather in a small crowd and peep through our front windows. Some kids laugh, some kids just stare blankly, some of the smallest kids need us grown-ups to whisper in their ear what is happening to it, and that even though they want to they shouldn't touch him, as even the youngest minds know there is something not right.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another day following our whims in paradise

Michael and I spend a fair amount of time getting off our bicycles and sitting in places; typical places, like on park benches, steps on the river embankment, on small chairs outside of country stores. Usually a dog saunters into view. We talk about the dog, we watch the dog go about his duty of following its whims. An old man shows up with a funny way about him, and old lady comes around smiling at the sight of us. We're handed juice boxes, we're given snacks. We sit and listen to birds, swat a few flies, we watch random convoys of temple-bound tour buses go by, each with its own clamoring oriental soundtrack, blowing through the small village, past bare-foot, hunched over old persons, past middle aged women riding slowly on bicycles like they were kids riding circles in the driveway, past kids actually riding in circles with play swords and play guns.

We get back on our bikes and in another 10 minutes of meandering through tunnels of orange groves, on narrow scooter roads through rice fields, we find an abandoned something or other to explore, we find forlorn treasures inside which we selfishly pillage.



We pillage our way through the countryside, pillaging smells and views, rampaging directionless on currents of whimsy, toward a cluster of funny trees, toward a what's-that-over-there, toward the possibility that the next village might have ice-cream. What is there to say really about our paradise; other than, we've come to know this little green county quite well. My motto is "deep not far" when it comes to exploring. Following no maps, no signs, but only whims I think we end up coming to know so much more about a place.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I missed a picture.


Michael and I were rounding the corner on this grove near the mountains in Gukeng when 5-6 of these farm ladies started calling to us. I turned and saw the lot of them in this nook of the orange grove, arranged like a family portrait, like a bouquet of sunflowers, each whose face was bonnet-ed by their floral scarf wrapped hats and smiling, all them holding big sized 7-11 Slurpees under a diffuse and sparkling tropical light.

They held the Slurpees up to me and said that they tasted good. I bet they did in this humidity and under those layers of flower prints, and with those fumaroles of respiration rolling off those fragrant groves. But as I got off my bike and fumbled for my camera, trying to chat with them at my back, trying to keep them in their positions, I turned around and they bashfully didn't want their picture taken. They wanted to take ours. Of course. We were their sight for sore eyes as much as they were ours.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Three Sequential translations from English to Chinese, back to English, again to Chinese

Third Translation back to English

This week, the Lunar New Year, we do not work, the weather has been our experience, because most have not yet transferred to Taiwan. We have to hide in our apartment, it is not our usual. We usually need time to ride a bike trip. We are really beginning to see the number of installments exasperatingly loss. Our own surprise, in their beliefs, pause TV is still fresh in my memory, but only one season in the twists and turns. You know, this is not good.

I think I need an excuse not to spend lazy, stay at home. In the past few months, both with each other's feelings have emerged. One is, we look forward to leaving Taiwan. Another reason is that we have just started to make friends, solve the unit. This is very interesting. We hope that the results of an agent. He said that usually, people spend a few months to close the pop-up an interesting point, but then at the end of this period, they become the wait to save money to leave their daily settlement. This is us. We have our ideas of China. But I am equally, I have this huge overseas organizations, including access to thank all of Taiwan in the diplomatic ambiguity tributaries view.

Silly me, I will not lose an island, and we do the same.

Second Translation back to English

This week, the Lunar New Year, we do not work, the weather has been our experience, because most have not yet transferred to Taiwan. We have to hide in our apartment, it is not our usual. We usually take the time to ride a bike trip. We are really beginning to see the number of installments exasperatingly loss. Our own surprise, in their beliefs to suspend television was still fresh in my memory, but only one season in the twists and turns. You know, it is not good.

I think I need an excuse not to spend money, lazy, stay at home. In the past few months, the two converge feelings have surfaced. One is, we look forward to leaving Taiwan. Another is that we just started making friends, solving unit. This is very interesting. We hope that the results of the agent. He said that usually, people spend a few months to close the pop-up an interesting point, but then at the end of this period, they become a wait and save money to leave their daily settlement. This is us. We have our thoughts China. But I am equally, I have this huge overseas organizations, including the tributaries of the insights obtained to thank all of Taiwan in the diplomatic ambiguity.

Silly me, I will not lose an island, we do too.

First Translation back to English

This week, the Lunar New Year, we have no work, the weather has been our experience since most have not yet transferred to Taiwan. We have to hide in our apartment, it is not our usual. We usually spend their time cycling tour. We have really started to see a number of installments exasperatingly loss. Our own surprise to pause in their beliefs TV still fresh, but only one season in its twists and turns. You know, it has not been good.

I think I need an excuse, lazy, stay at home, at no cost. In the past few months, two convergent feelings have surfaced. One is, we look forward to leaving Taiwan. The other is that we are only just beginning to make friends, solve the unit. This is very interesting. Our agents expect this outcome. He said that typically, people spend a few months to close the pop-up a variety of interesting points, but then after the end of this period, they become a wait and save the money necessary to leave the routine of their settlement. This is us. We have our minds China. But I am equally, I have this huge overseas Chinese, including one of the tributaries of the insights gained from across the island thanked diplomatic ambiguity.

I was silly, I will not do for that lost on an island, we are too.

Original Post

This week, Chinese New Year, we haven't had to work and the weather has been the worst we've yet to experience since moving to Taiwan. We've holed up in our apartment, which is not usual for us. We typically spend the day biking around. We've actually started watching the exasperatingly numerous installments of Lost. Our surprise in ourselves for giving in to its TV suspension of belief is still fresh, being only one season in to its twists and turns. And you know, it's not been bad at all.

I think I needed an excuse to be lazy, to stay home, and to not spend money. In the past few months two convergent feelings have surfaced. One is that we look forward to leaving Taiwan. The other is that we are now just starting to make friends and settle in. It's funny. Our agent predicted this very denouement. He said it's typical that people spend the first several months popping off to various fun spots, but then, after this period ends, they settle into a routine of hunkering down and saving money for their inevitable departure. That's us. We've got China on our minds again. But I am no less thankful for the insights that I've gained about this vast Chinese diaspora, one of whose tributaries cut across this small diplomatically ambiguous island.

I'm silly for relishing that LOST is on an island and so are we.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

First Day of the Tiger Year

We biked randomly again today, following the sun, following quiet small roads where no one stirred, save for a wiggling Cobra that came within feet of Michael's wheels. Apparently startled, it opened its flaps at Michael. I'm glad I didn't see it.


Then it was us that was startled as we turned a corner in a crumbly village to find a lounging water buffalo. (That's me talking to it.)

We were headed to the temple with the huge seated man, but we found ourselves diverted. We were called out from the street and then ushered into an airplane hanger into the depths of a small complex to a prayer hall. A small female monk with a shaved head gave us incense and walked us up to a middle aged woman sitting in a chair in front of a kneeling congregation. She was "Mama" we we're told. We bowed twice. Then we were separated. Michael sat on the men's side and I was beckoned by the women to sit amongst them. We sat on our knees for 30 minutes with our hands held out in prayer. The woman began to chant and gently sob, which moved the women around me to cry as well. A scruffy black dog with a red envelope around its neck walked around between the congregation until one of the old female monks placed a small pillow down in front of it. The dog nestled down as if it knew it was time to be respectful. Meanwhile, a white fur ball with a bell around its neck lapped the entire room, jumping up randomly and gleefully like a baby running on its tip toes. I closed my eyes and listened to the mixture of sniffling women, chanting, pattering puppy paws on tile with its accompanying jangling bells, and the indecipherable Taiwanese wisdom coming from this old mother.

My Bicycle


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Arbitrary goals


One of the joys of cycling is the arbitrary, but necessary goal that is invented to get you from one point to the next. Small achievable goals make you forget that you are really randomly careening in a space that you've decided to make sense of in your mind. I often wonder what non-cyclists/joggers, or otherwise non-explorers, have as a topography in their heads. Outside of the 2-mile radius from one's front door is there a blurry, pixelated no-man's land? What a scary thought.

To stay off two-lane roads.
To not go under the bullet train.
To keep the bullet train on our right.
To not meet with the same road twice.
To ride west.
To try to stay in the patches of sunlight.
To take this scooter road all the way to its end.
To meet with the river and the 20 foot high embankment without looking for it.
To get on top of the embankment and ride for 25 km.
To take this sky-way motor-free bicycle path all the way to its end.


About Me