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.

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