Tuesday, April 26, 2011

After the Quake...

March 1st, Miki and I moved from our mountain home in Tesuque to the extreme southern edge of Santa Fe, the desert mere steps off our back door. Then, a week and a half later, Japan was in turmoil. I was unable to write anything, or barely even think. I stayed in the realm of feeling for a while. Then the words returned. I had a piece ready to post here, but chose instead to publish it in #quakebook. I'll eventually post the original, but for now you can read it in a shorter, less acerbic form here:


I also wrote a piece for the Write for Tohoku project, available here:


These two digital books cost $9.95 each, which will provide you to with a good read while simultaneously supporting the survivors in Tohoku.

On the turntable: Jefferson Airplane: "The Volunteers Sessions"

Friday, April 08, 2011

Chungli notes, Dec. 2009

It was our 4th day in Taiwan. Our new friend Olimpia had picked up up at the airport and brought us back to their spacious flat in Chungli. After a quick tea, we had Teppenyaki at a small Japanese place around the corner, mere hours after leaving Japan itself. Later, we took the dog to run around the beautiful banyan trees lining the roads. One in particular had a root system which pushed it a meter above the ground. Slawek finished work and we went out to the night market to look around. the stalls ran down both sides of the street, many converted to food shops, various smells intermingling. Snakes tangled together in cages were also considered potential edibles. The scent that stood out most was "stinky tofu," pungent and strong like Nuc Mam. Nearby, Slawek's Polish friend was doing the best business, selling his "Polish cakes." A group of about 20 people, mostly young, was completely surrounding his table. He spoke to us entirely in Polish, which according to Slawek is his wont. He started this business two years ago; after a party, he told a couple of friends to try to sell the cakes that remained at the end of the night. This they did in less than 20 minutes. Now, he makes more money in a night than Slawek does at the University in a month.

Next was dinner at a Hakka restaurant. Over a table with the obligatory lazy-susan at the center, we shared various things, including a complimentary cold, sliced duck, downed with a weak Taiwanese beer. The food was good, except for the shrimp, covered in vanilla icing and sprinkles.
Later red wine until late...

...coming back from Taipei the next night, Miki and I completely forgot about rush hour until we were crushed into the last train car. Chungli Station was equally manic, with an election truck howling away in full force, fireworks shooting horizontally in every direction, and a procession of at least 200 supporters waving and smiling inanely. For a full 10 minutes, they blocked the entrance to the station, preventing all traffic, buses, and taxis from coming in or out. The loudspeakers on Japanese election trucks may be annoying, but these clowns had brought the whole city to a stop. Unreal.

We took a bus to campus, had a uninspired dinner, and waited for Slawek to finish his soccer practice. We sat on the grass and talked with a couple exchange students. One, from Guatemala, absolutely loved it here, and planned to stay on longer once his program finished. The other had the opposite opinion, badly missing his wife and two daughters and was counting the days until graduation in May.

While waiting for Olimpia to pick us up, we sat on the campus' open lawn beneath a huge banyan tree. As dogs frolicked around us (dogs in Taiwan always seem to be merrily running somewhere), Slawek told us about a Canadian gone missing. A couple of friends went to visit a woman with certain spiritual gifts, who said that the Canadian was currently in a deep trance, essentially made the pet of a group of aborigines deep in the mountains of the south. On a follow up visit to the woman, she revealed that he had suddenly snapped out of the trance, so the villagers had been forced to killed him. We continued in this vein, talking of things unexplainable, until Olimpia came and rescued us from the encroaching darkness...

...the next day, we barely left the house except for a few hours in the afternoon. We'd finished our long 1600 km walks only a few weeks before, and welcomed the chance to lay low to recoup. Slawek had told us of a restaurant near the University which intrigued him, but had never visited. It was one of those places of classic Chinese design, with moon windows framed with lattice-work, and walkways zigzagging over ponds brimming with carp. We thought it a wonderful place to sit and linger with our books, but the prices scared us off, and we rushed out past an obviously angry waitress.

We found a cheaper, modern coffee joint back in the city proper, where we read until our massage. This was the fourth massage I'd had since finishing the Shikoku Henro, but was the only one that had wrenched those last bits of tension out. I paid a serious price in pain. Miki and I were both silent as we ate dinner, the beef noodle soup that I'd been seeking for days.

Slawek and Olympia were up in Taipei for a party, and we had the place to ourselves, in exchange for dogsitting Maya. We took her for a walk, her behaving well despite being off leash on these narrow, well-trafficked streets, obeying all the commands I issued in a bad Polish accent. But at one point, she suddenly stopped and turned back toward the house. I ran to catch her and carried her to the park, her shivering violently as we sat on a bench. We thought that it was the sound of one of those election trucks that set her off, and that we'd wait until it passed. But 20 minutes later, we gave up. When I set her down, she turned and literally sprinted all the way home, Miki and I trying to catch up, yet failing despite running on legs strengthened by 10 weeks of walking. The city polls had closed and they were apparently celebrating the election with a full-on fireworks display, well visible from the 11th-story flat. They continued for 2 hours, with Maya cowering on the sofa the entire time...

On the turntable: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Liverpool"
On the nighttable: Miyamoto Tsuneichi, "The Forgotten Japanese"