Back.

November 26th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve returned safely and uneventfully to a Taiwan I dimly recognize as having lived in, ticking off, like the taxi meter and its miles, the landmarks between the airport and home: the signs to Taoyuan, the toll plaza, the freeway flanked by elevated routes, the buildings I remember being grey as warehouses hiding their grime in night and laying claim, with countless lighted windows, to the animation of newness. Be they wrecks in the day, patched with corrugated awnings and bristling with scaffolding whose ragged bamboo edges seem a frame exposed by rot or breach, by night they are freighters on a dark sea. We haven’t crossed the river yet, I bet myself, and when a few minutes later we do, the sight of Taipei 101 congratulates me. On a hill to the left, the Grand Hotel bright as the bathhouse in Spirited Away, and then we’re swerving southeast into town.

Yuánshan Dàfàndiàn by night.

Apartment Update

December 2nd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The shower water pressure’s good but the flush strength in both toilets is feeble.

I’m told I should shut the door to the kitchenette before taking a shower, thus ensuring any natural gas from the wall-mounted water heater there will go out the window and not insidiously into the apartment. I’d lend this precaution more credence if the shower weren’t two rooms and a hallway away, and if, every time I cranked the kitchen tap to warm to wash dishes, I weren’t standing right beside said water heater, close enough to see its pilot flare blue. Am I sucking in natural gas then? Not olfactibly. All the same, that window, the apartment’s only to face north, never gets closed, even though it would seem to provide the poorest ventilation, giving as it does on a building well. Curiously enough, this window has been getting the best breezes lately, whipping wildly the blue flames beneath the wok. It’s also the only one, naturally, without a sunshade; whatever wind drives down the hollow through the screen also brings in the rain. When I moved in, soot from the poor air had settled over floor and counter in a layer where the last rain could be read in spots. Overlapping tin awnings hide what’s below; across from me, the corrugated canopy to a neighbor’s window cage gives a green cast to his perennially drying shirts.

A Scourge of Fruit Flies

December 13th, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

Electric Mosquito Paddle

I am a God of Extermination with my electric mosquito paddle. This is a badminton racket-shaped swatter strung not with catgut but twin layers of wire that hum with menacing discharge at the press of a button on the handle, creating between them a crackling field (I exaggerate) that—and herein is genius—makes it impossible to miss. Because if you swat an insect, even a tiny one, it won’t make it through the field. In essence, you can miss, and still a blue spark (I exaggerate not) and a sharp snap will inform you of the target’s spiraling demise. Swish! Swish! No longer are surfaces needed! A swipe through the air, the merest contact, and death to pests. Fruit flies, had they brains great enough to know fear, would fear me.

Here it retails for around five Yankee dollars. I am told these are available in Chinese-dense areas of California. What are you waiting for? Run, ye mortal fools, and get one!

Uh…

December 16th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Goodbye, Oat Bran Pancake Mix

Weekends

January 1st, 2007 § 2 comments § permalink

Weekends in Taiwan are happening, in an old car, upon small towns where your uncle remembers some regional delicacy, sold by a man in an apron from a cart the only other time he’s ever passed through. He was probably in college then, but still favored the same Hawaiian shirts. The cart is now a storefront packed with people, on whom the man your uncle met looks down, from a framed photo on the wall, beside the copy of some certificate, recognition, or signed newspaper from the day the president passed through and had lunch—handshakes and beaming faces all around. This is at the one crossroads around which the town clusters, a graph of rooflines in all directions quickly nearing the zero of neatly furrowed fields or, below field level, concrete-bordered paddies in which float the somber distant mountains over clouds. Still, the center bustles; girls cross against the only light, between mopeds, in full view of the miniature precinct; kids bounce for fifty cents on snub-nosed planes or plastic motorcycle rides with scratched paint, while siblings try their luck at bubble toy vending and a lone eighth grader sinks hoop after sideshow hoop. His grandmother tends three trays of steamer buns from a pushcart; his cousin wraps betel nuts in a glass booth. Up and down the street, buildings thrust forth their signs of a shameless carnival air, here adorned with a trio of revolving lights, there fanning a neon rainbow. Your uncle passes by, remarking the crowds but not recognizing the place which only a farmer on the edge of town, straightened from his toil, tells him is the one he seeks: he hangs a U across the empty two-lane and in minutes the concrete houses shack up again, crowding out the fields between; there’s the fairground where fresh garlic, chives, dyed pussywillow boughs are being sold. Cars begin to clot the shoulder before storefronts where hang fruits, roast meats, and through a gap, by the brook behind town, the brilliant temple can be glimpsed. At that store, once a cart, now an institution, the large round tables are still full at a quarter to four downstairs and above, a level not immediately obvious and reached only by squeezing past the entrance to the kitchen. You watch a party of five file after a waitress there while the air buzzes with the hostess broadcasting names and orders. The canteen’s renown seems disguised in the total lack of décor, from the red plastic stools exactly like its emptier neighbors’ to the open storefront through which its cement floor flows indistinguishably into the sidewalk. People are still milling there, in and out of that range within which nearby vendors loose cries to buy or sample that hang in the air, invisible ripples around them. Five girlish secretaries hand a local man their tiny cameras and huddle in front of the famed eatery. The wait for take-out is forty minutes.

Bring Out Your Dead

January 2nd, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

The garbage truck pipes its pied tune up and down the streets of town, quarter by quarter, all nights except Sunday and Wednesday. Nine at night is when I’m likeliest to see my neighbors, few of whom I recognize, all lined up in the fluorescence of the corner Family Mart’s sign, their blue municipal trash bags in hand, neatly knotted or blithely bulging and taped over at the top. We’re all in sandals for the five minutes we’ll have to stand and wait, a community of purpose, watching the yellow truck get caught in its sidewalk crawl by the nearest red light. Meanwhile, the recycling vanguard has arrived and set out its barrels for paper, plastic, and pig slop. That’s spoiled leftovers, but nothing too peel, rind, or compost-like for swine to down. For this, many Taiwanese families have dedicated buckets they dump, rush home, and rinse, but with my fruit fly issues I’m loathe to keep rotting food around, even covered. » Read the rest of this entry «

寒流 (Hán Líu)

January 7th, 2007 § 2 comments § permalink

A chilly day in Taipei, though more perhaps indoors than out, in heaterless apartments whose tile and concrete hoard the cold and return it with sullen stony glower, pervading house and dweller with icy damp. Outside: mid-fifties and several shades darker than overcast, though mercifully dry. Today, the good people of Taipei hug themselves and hide their hands while hurrying home to shed their coats and, with grateful sigh, unwind scarves loop after woolen loop onto the wooden backs of chairs. I should be drinking tea somewhere, wearing a cable knit sweater several sizes large, replete with belly rumple—smug, behind my table with spread paper, as a landlord, and lifting my gaze only rarely to peer over my glasses, through the steam from my mug, at passersby.

Qui fut et qui n'est plus

January 9th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

Le Hong Kong qui m’a ébloui, dès que je suis descendu de l’avion pour me retrouver dans l’humidité étouffante de 99%, a disparu, cédant sa place à une ville désormais familière, connue de tous ces films que me poussait à voir cette fascination initiale, née de ma visite en été ‘97, lors de sa remise à la Chine. J’ai beau le chercher, il n’existe plus. De temps en temps me viennent des tours de la ville présente, en vision fugitive, les contours de cette autre, alors terriblement exotique, dont l’étrangeté m’avait englouti, et je me rappelle que dans cette ville des gratte-ciels, ne resplendissant que d’argent boursier, se mire quelque chose comme le monde de l’avenir tel que le concevrait un garçon de cinq ans, où se lancent, des grands boulevards, les escaliers évidemment mécaniques dans une course aux passerelles élancées, tapissées de transporteurs, qui sillonnent la métropole des tours étincelants. Une légèreté presque utopienne, comme la bénédiction du soleil, surgirait de cette ville dont les résidents, pour la traverser, n’avait nullement besoin de mettre pied sur terre.

The Future Will Be Wholesome

January 24th, 2007 § 3 comments § permalink

The first Dunkin’ Donuts in all Taiwan opened here, a week ago, in Taipei, not far from one of the arthouses, giving Nippon’s Mister Donut, hitherto the market giant, a run for its year-old monopoly. I await some titanic battle of the corporate mascots that will lay waste to the metropolis with cheesy effects; blows will be traded and sprinkles rained on streets thronged with screaming Asians. Two versions, with alternate endings, will be shot and released in the appropriate countries. The Taipei Times, organ of finely edited English prose that it is, featured a picture of six comely and miniskirted hostesses in company colors showing off trays of the famous treats glazed, powdered, and otherwise pampered. “Product localization”, the result as ever of discerning “market research”, has, so say rumors, resulted in sweets not quite as cloying as the American originals. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s only Krispy Kreme, a sleek art deco mart of brushed silvers and grays in the heart of ritzy Causeway, continues to pack them in with its HOT! light, a beacon to all lonely wayfarers whom only a life ring of fried and sugared dough will save from drowning. I stumbled on it once, in a light fog, dazed from hours of pointless browsing; its spruce logo and mirrored lettering came to me from that twilight zone of collective cultural memory where still reigns, with all its sweetheart hopes, a peculiarly American sham Shangri-La: the fifties of checkered floors and busboys in paper caps. Inside, I was sure, the help would say “please” and “thank you” and Buddy Holly would be singing of a fool’s paradise. There Father hunkers lovingly over cream fillings that murmur futures, just around the corner past the Joneses’, full of flying station wagons, and breathe not a word to him of impending coronaries. » Read the rest of this entry «

En voyage (d'affaires)

February 20th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

A short stateside tour: popping up at, among other places, NY Comic Con. Forgive the absence–too luddite, or is it lazy? to post from the road. Happy Lunar New Year, best wishes to all believers for the pig days ahead. Snow country, here I come.

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