Saturday, December 27, 2008

This Taiwanese Childhood

For those of you who have noticed the absence of a real post over the past month or so (I know at least three people who actually read this regularly), I apologize.  There are, of course, the usual excuses--the holidays, field trips, and family visits--but in addition to all that fun, I have been hard at work.  I am in the midst of a frantic attempt to complete a graduate school application.  The biggest commitment siphoning away my time as of late, however, has been my stint coaching a team of students to compete in the Kaohsiung Rotary Storytelling Competition (from hereon referred to as The SC).

Like so many things in Taiwan (lunch dates that become daytrips, sports days that include discomfort-inducing bellydancing performances), The SC involves more than the name implies.   Groups of 1-5 students must recite a 7-minute story in English from memory on a given theme before a panel of judges.  This year's theme was "Making Your Dreams Come True!"  Oh! But there's more!  Costumes, props, songs, dances and background music are not prohibited, which means they're implicitly expected!  The absence of these elements will probably result in a score of 0 for "Creativity."  Other criteria include "Performance" and "Content," the latter of which accounts for a whopping 50% of the total score.  The enormous weight put on this final element means that teachers are also being graded in this competition, since few schools would risk "losing face" by allowing their students to write the story.  

Clearly, the whole affair thrills me to tears.  Taiwanese kids, after all, have so much free time on their hands.  Surely we wouldn't want the children here to twiddle their thumbs during those wide-open hours between the 7am-4pm schoolday and their afterschool+weekend cram school classes.  It disgusts me to see those lazy 8 year-olds leaving the Hess English School near my apartment at 10 pm.  How should we teach these kids better discipline?  I know!  By making them memorize 7 minute speeches in a foreign language!  That'll whip 'em into shape.  

Now, I'm not against academic competition.  I recognize that this is a good opportunity for these kids to practice speaking English.  Heck, some of the kids who performed their stories even looked like they were having fun!  At the same time, the kids here are already under so much pressure.  The star of my SC also happens to be the smartest kid in school and the point guard of our championship-winning basketball team.  The basketball coach tried to make her skip our morning practices so she could attend his.  "She's our point guard, and she only comes to 2/5 weekly practices since she has so much else going on," he argued.  

"We only have one more week," Shu-ting pleaded.  "You can have her back after Saturday."  He finally relented.

The most infuriating part of all this, however, is that Shu-ting and I were forced to particpate with only 2.5 weeks left before the competition.  We successfully managed to avoid the Reader's Theater (RT) competition held by the Bureau of Education only one month before.  Only a few weeks ago, I laughed at my stressed-out roommates as they wrote stories about hip-hop dancing  hippos and trash-picking pandas for their wealthy, uber-competitive downtwon schools.  Two weeks later, my Academic Dean called Shu-ting and I to inform us that the Bureau had specially requested us to participate.  Since most other schools already participated in RT only one month ago, few schools registered for The ST.  They were burned out from RT.  The contest was being organized by an outside group.  Worst of all, the prizes for winning were insignificat--a few book coupons and a stack of certificates of participation.  

I suspect were were chosen as the affirmative action candidate.  Xiaogang District, where my school is located, is the poorest district of Kaohsiung City.  Technically, it's not even in the city; it's an industrial suburb whose industries have mostly moved to Mainland China.  No other schools from our district signed up for the competition, making me believe that the Bureau just wanted some representation to balance out the rich schools from the downtown area and northern suburbs.  

So, with two weeks to go before showtime, I wrote a story (and made it rhyme since apparently I, too, would be graded), recorded practice CDs and constructed turtle signs out of scrap paper.  My kids gave up lunch breaks, study halls, basketball practices and precious free time to memorize the script, practice their pronunciation and learn to perform before an audience (the other schools already knew how to do this from participating in RT).  In the days leading up to the competition, I became increasingly nervous.  Winning didn't concern me, but I feared that my kids would see the other schools who had so many advantages--competition experience, more money for private English tutors, extra prep time, and even teammates who previously had lived in the US--and feel badly.

But our seven minutes came and went, and I couldn't be more proud.  True, there were forgotten lines here and there and I'm not sure how we looked compared to the team before us, who prepared full animal costumes, 2 songs, a dance, and confetti.  Needless to say, we didn't place.  Then again, I don't really care.  My kids worked hard and seemed satisfied with their overall performance.  And if that's not enough, at least we weren't the group that told "The Story of Helen Keller."  (They were being coached by a nun.  Are you surprised?)

The best part of my day was going to McDonalds to celebrate after our performance.  We ate too much ice cream and stuffed french fries in our upper lips to imitate vampires.  I pretended to get mad at the who boy who trespassed into the McPlayplace, despite the fact that his height clearly surpassed the maximum limit.  They saw through my act and we laughed. A lot.  And for a brief moment, I almost believed that a Taiwanese childhood wasn't so different from my American childhood after all.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Distractions Part 2

This reminds me of many people--a former roommate, a current colleague, and so many more.  I'd write my own review, but Sasha Frere Jones, pop music critic for The New Yorker,  just does such a good job...


Watching this video, you will wonder, briefly, if Chris Dane Owens “means it.” This is an ungenerous thought—dismiss it. You may also wonder why “Shine On Me” is modelled on early ABC and Spandau Ballet and padded out with an unnecessary layer of loud guitars. Irrelevant. What you need to know is that Mr. Owens will live forever—until the dragons rule the earth again (or the first time, whatever)—and that you are going to watch this video more times than you can imagine. You may dream of this video, but the dream won’t be as good because it won’t be this video.


I've cleared my entire afternoon and evening in order to work on my personal statement.  It's currently 11 pm, and I have made negative progress--I've added nothing, but deleted plenty. 

I have, however, caught up on some reading, and then some.  I have also decided that this is my favorite piece of writing from this year:

From "Animal Tales" by Simon Rich. Published in the June 30 issue of The New Yorker:


“Hey, look, the truck’s stopping.”

“Did they take us to the park this time?”

“No—it’s a fire. Another horrible fire.”

“What the hell is wrong with these people?”

Here's to productivity!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

I hope it's not wrong for me to feel homesick on Christmas, because I do. I'm currently at work because Christmas isn't a real holiday in Taiwan. No one has commented on my ugly holiday sweater, which means they just think I have terrible taste. I mean, it's kind of true, but nobody's fashion sense is THIS TERRIBLE!

I just reread an email from a professor describing the huge pile of snow most of you can probably see from your window. Now I feel a little sad. Talking to Taiwanese people about snow seems pointless-most of them haven't experienced it and waste their puffy down jackets on 60 degree weather. It seems fitting that the version of "White Christmas" we play over the loudspeakers every morning replaces all the words with animal noises.

That being said, the upside to missing friends and family is that at least there are friends and family to miss. Merry Christmas to all of you! Have a happy new year!

Monday, December 22, 2008


Survived my first tremor today around 8:10 am. Have you ever seen the entire room shake before? It reminded me of that N*SYNC video where they're in a rotating box, except with more screaming children and the threat of lights dropping on my head. None of them got under desks or held up books or anything like that--they just held each other and screeched. Well, some of the little boys yelled, "Do it again! Do it again!"

Shouldn't they have drills for these things?

Cute or Cruel?

The best thing I've purchased all year...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The News in Taiwan!

Two newsworthy events from this week:

1. Direct daily flights between Mainland China and Taiwan began on Monday! (Take that, Chen Shui-bian, you old bastard!)

2. "Man Who Snatched Wig Will Have Toupee" (!!) Thanks to my roommate Katie for finding this one.

**BONUS ARTICLE: Did you know that adultery is illegal in South Korea?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Recommended Reading

I'm supposed to be writing a personal statement for graduate school, which means I won't allow myself to write the promised post about the Cape No. 7 Tour or read a real novel. Which means I've been reading a lot of magazines in order to pretend like I'm not procrastinating that much. This is my favorite thing I've read in a long time. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is....

subscriptions to monthly magazines. Lots and lots of subscriptions. Not that I actually expect anything since everyone who reads this blog is probably as poor as I am....

But for everyone else who requires a holiday gift of some sort, Roy Blount Jr., president of the Author's Guild, has a suggestion:

I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: "Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see...we're the Authors Guild."

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.
Authors Guild

The Guild's staff informs me that many of you are writing to ask whether you can forward and post my holiday message encouraging orgiastic book-buying. Yes! Forward! Yes! Post! Sound the clarion call to every corner of the Internet: Hang in there, bookstores! We're coming! And we're coming to buy! To buy what? To buy books! Gimme a B! B! Gimme an O! O! Gimme another O! Another O! Gimme a K! K! Gimme an S! F! No, not an F, an S. We're spelling BOOKS!

Stolen from James Fallows's blog. Now pick up your wallets and go!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vanity Vanity Tooth Insanity

I was born with beautiful teeth. They're white and they're straight without the help of braces. My dental hygiene regimen borders on neurotic--I floss daily, brush twice a day, use listerine every night, and even wear a nightguard to protect them against nighttime grinding.

The only flaw: they're deeply grooved and therefore prone to cavities. According to my dentist, it's not my fault--the bristles of my toothbrush simply can't fit in these narrow valleys.

Today I went to the dentist for the first time in Taiwan. Apparently I have not one, not two, not three, but SIX CAVITIES! SIX! They're small, and apparently "not [my] fault" but still, six!

At least dental care is covered by our nationalized healthcare. My co-payment today was 100 NTD, or roughly $3 USD. Which is good because they only filled half of the cavities today.

3 down, 3 to go....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Under Construction

The official Cape No. 7 Post commemorating the official Cape No. 7 Tour is currently in progress. The event was so monumentally Taiwanese that I'll need a few more days to really capture it in words.

Until then, it's worth mentioning that the children who came along made the trip undeniably awesome. Check out this video. Check out those elephant pants!

On a related note, I'd like to point out that if I were a 10 year-old girl, I would totally have a crush on Roy, the oldest son of my school's Dean of Student Affairs (pictured below on the left). He has Gap model good looks and is well dressed to boot (thanks to his mother). He thinks metal is sweet and easy listening is boring. When he throws rocks into the ocean, they go really far. He's nice to his little brother. His handwriting is especially tidy. A veritable dreamboat for Taiwanese elementary school girls.

Monday, December 8, 2008

This would totally happen in Taiwan

Oh, Asia!

(also from the BBC)

Man killed for 'hogging karaoke'

A Malaysian man has been stabbed to death for refusing to stop singing and hand over the microphone at a karaoke bar, police say.

From the BBC: Getting High on HIV Drugs

Alka Marwaha
BBC News

A child with HIV takes her medicine
The drugs are being crushed and then smoked

Anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV/Aids are being bought and smoked by teenagers in South Africa to get high.

Reports suggest that the drugs are being sold by patients and even healthcare staff for money.

Schoolchildren have been spotted smoking the drugs, which are ground into powder and sometimes mixed with painkillers or marijuana.

Aids patients themselves have been found smoking the drugs instead of taking them as prescribed.
Didn't see that one coming...

Apple Bottom Jeanzzzzzz

At the night market near my apartment, something hideously fur-lined (including but not limited to BOOTS!) lurks around every corner.

When I return to the US, my suitcase will be full of poached stuffed animalz.

Photos to come. That's a guarantee!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Also found at Kansai International Airport (thank you, Ben Isaac!):

Look carefully at the corner of that shelf


Jesse Ventura + Adolf Hitler

**ok, he was actually seen in Switzerland. But imagine if these things came together in the Osaka airport...

"Pump Up The Volume" from Jock Jams would make like an appropriate soundtrack choice.


image from

My first trip to a hot spring (in Pingdong County, that's the southernmost part of Taiwan, folks) involved dipping my feet into a pool of goldfish and letting them nibble the dead skin off my feet. Being eaten alive by worms would probably produce the same tickling sensation. The man sitting next to me attracted no goldfish, while a great cloud of orange fins grew at my feet. Is there something wrong with me?

Hot springs are one of those things that you're supposed to love about Taiwan, but I think I'll pass in the future. I'm not sure how I imagined it would be, but it closely resembled a swimming pool minus the chlorine smell which would have assured me of its sanitariness.

On a related note, I also was not crazy about the:
-slimy tiles lining the inside of the pool (related to the sanitation issue)
-required swim cap rule (though I should probably appreciate this)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lost in Trasit

In the airport terminal, you're neither here nor there, held in some in-between land designed to disorient. Osaka, Japan's Kansai International Airport feels like a space station. All things within its curved ceilings come perfectly illuminated and uniformly cast in colored plastic.

The facility also contains many mini things like tiny hand dryers (for this small-handed nation) and astronaut-appropriate food sources.

On the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I stopped in the Detroit International Airport, where I have spent every Sunday after Thanksgiving for the past four years. The experience never changes from year to year--the same trilingual announcements (English, Japanese, Chinese), the same lazy people taking the tram to their departure gates, the same IN-HOUSE TIME WARP!

Except this year, my layover lasted for 3.5 hours, giving me enough time to walk past all 128 gates twice and buy $30 worth of American magazines, which seems extremely decadent when you realize that's about 1000 NTD. Esquire Magazine, I hope you're worth it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Excuse me for being sentimental

Dear Allison,

In my attempts to find photos of us together from childhood, I have happened upon what (I hope) were the most hideous moments of our adolescence. To make the experience all the more painful, it appears that either you or I were behind the camera every time we took photos-- I guess that's the 7th grade equivalent of holding back a friend's hair. Considering the many years of friendship we've shared together, it's shocking how few photos feature both of us at the same time. This is the best I could do.

The greatest fruit that resulted from our endurance through our *ahem* "awkward" phase was, of course, the beautiful friendship we have now. The second greatest fruit that emerged from that time, however, was this play inspired by our first viewing of Monty Python And The Holy Grail. While you gave your speech at the rehearsal dinner tonight, it struck me how ladylike you've become in the past 10 years--but, you should know that in my heart, you will always be Agent Jean Simmons. I hope you enjoy rereading this as much as I have.

Congratulations on your wedding, Allison! I love you.


Victoria Chao as Agent K. Robuskiali

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gettin' Hitched

I'm flying home over Thanksgiving weekend to attend a childhood friend's wedding. I probably won't blog, but that won't be any different than now, would it?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My only wish

If I could have just one wish, I would wish for Sudafed. Meth-lab quantities of it.

If I got a second wish, I would also want a truckload of lotion-saturated tissues.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Give me your money!

Would you really travel farther than a few miles to see this? --Photo Courtesy of Shiela Lee

Nothing says, "I'm desperate for your tourism dollars" like a good, old-fashioned, trolley-shaped tour bus in a city that traditionally has no trolleys. The naked grab for your expendable income seems especially transparent when you (as in I) can't imagine where that bus would take its passengers. I love this city, but a river decorated in Christmas lights (aka the Love River) and the island's second-largest Hello Kitty Ferris Wheel (yes, this almost-superlative appears on almost every travel brochure) hardly count as tourist destinations.

Not to put down the good people who have worked hard to revitalize Kaohsiung, but I'm tired of the "If we build it they will come" attitude that pervades every attempt to prepare for the 2009 World Games. It's simply not true, and I wish someone with decision-making power would figure that out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


If desire were to take solid form,

it would look like carnival food.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Oh, to be 75 again..."

If this ain't precious....

...then I don't know what is.

Today Taiping Elementary School held it's 89th Anniversary Celebration (or "Birthday Party," as the principal called it) which, at its core, meant that I had to work on a Saturday, but in the best way possible.

Seriously, why are they so cute?

If it seems like I'm enamored with Asian children in matching outfits, that's because I am. Each grade had a different costume theme. The costumes became increasingly bland as the students got older (Kindergarten students wore sparkly, rainbow outfits; 3rd graders wore bright yellow do-rags on their heads; 6th graders made paper crowns.) Obviously, I mostly took photos of the Kindergarten and First grade students.

Are they supposed to be birds? Native Americans? Mardi Gras revelers? Does it even matter?

Of course, the only thing I love more than Asian children in matching costumes is Asian children in matching costumes while dancing in unison. Pictured below are the kindergarteners doing a dance about being healthy and loving exercise. It reminded me of a Barbie aerobics video, but of course, much cuter. (The least adorable performance: belly-dancing 5th and 6th grade girls).

Like school-wide events in the US, the birthday celebration also included races of the three-legged, potato sack, and Teacher Vicky vs. Her Fulbright Adviser vs. Her Principal variety. There were also some relay races I'd never seen before. One race involved two children running together inside a hula hoop, kicking over some bottles, hula-hooping a few times, picking up the bottles, and giving the hoop to the next pair.

And I've definitely never seen these before in my life:

Apparently they're arm-powered and will only move in zig-zags, making even the very short distance of 6 feet take what feels like a lifetime. (Not recommended as a spectator sport)

One thing I didn't expect was for the event to trigger old memories. As a kid, I remember getting dragged to Taiwanese Association events, enjoying the first hour, and then fidgeting in my chair for another two hours while the Taiwanese Association board conducted what felt like the world's longest raffle. (Of note: the only thing my family ever won was a set of locker shelves that were way too wide for any of the lockers I had in my school days--and none of us had a locker at the time). Now I see that the Columbus Taiwanese Association is undeserving of this superlative--apparently all Taiwanese events include a raffle, and all of these raffles are long.

Playing the waiting game

Of course, there is always a reason to stay: THE ULTIMATE PRIZE! THE NEVER-ENDING DREAM!

One dean, the Dean of Discipline no less, was so excited when I pulled his name that he did a jig and almost cried. Imagine this: the man you're most afraid of seeing in the office, a very serious man, is jumping up and down in excitement. I think (I hope) he's giving the bike to his son.

***Bonus Photos*****

An imagined conversation between Dr. Phil and me as we enjoy massages after losing to Principal Tsai in the running race:

DP: I was impressed. The Principal had a huge head start and you caught up.
VC: Second place is first loser.

Can you see my official staff t-shirt? It has a koala and the word "Cute" on it. How very elementary school!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Black Pea

I've been on hiatus. You can tell because I haven't been posting, or because my posts haven't been very good. I'd tell you I've been busy, but really, I've developed an addiction to TV.

I have, however, been checking my email and my friend Chloe sent me a blog that touches on many themes very near and dear to my heart. It's called My Mom Is A Fob. Here's a sample post:

Black men on TV
By mmiaf | November 12, 2008

[At the dinner table, speaking in Mandarin except for names]
Me: Ma, these steaks are amazing!
Bro: Mmmm, so good, wowww… thanks Ma!
Mom: Yes, and my grill is so great because it drips excess oil while it’s grilling the meat! Simple and easy to clean, and keeps us healthier. I bought one for your Aunt Jean in Taiwan, too since it’s so handy. I just love my Morgan Freeman Grill!
[Bro and I look at each other confused]
Bro: OMG… Ma… did you mean… your George Foreman Grill?
Mom: You two always like to pick at my English. Their names are similar okay, and they’re both nice black men I see on TV!!!!

And for those of you who got the Black Pea reference, I hope you're laughing. For those who didn't, I'm sure it'll come up later. It's probably my favorite mom story in recent memory.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Break Out Those Earmuffs...

Winter is finally here! And by winter, I mean it's finally dipped below 80 degrees Fahrenheit for three days in a row!

All of my students have been wearing fleece vests and heavy wool coats to school. I love this island....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Arrested Development

It's been an exciting week in politics, and no, I'm not talking about the recent U.S. election. I'm also not talking about Arrested Development, that most awesome of awesome sitcoms.

Chen Shui-bian, former president of Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was detained today for alleged corruption. Last week, DPP protesters stormed Taipei to express their displeasure over the arrival of the Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin, chairman of The Association for Relations Across the Straits. And for good measure, I should probably mention that protesters also mobbed the vice-chairman of this association at Tainan's Confucius Temple on October 21.

Here are the images I associate with each event (these are especially important since television news goes too quickly for my poor listening comprehension):

November 11: Chen Shui-bian holds his handcuffed arms up in victory as the police lead him away.
November 6: EMTs carry away a woman who has fainted in the midst of the angry, violent mob. It's night, and lots of people wear long, yellow ribbons that say "Taiwan is my country." The ribbons look like they're made of the same plastic as garbage bags or caution tape.
October 21: Daytime--a small crowd of people pushes down the vice-chairman. Then one of them (I think he's wearing green) jumps on top of the envoy's fancy black car. He stomps around, leaving wide, shallow dents on the roof.

I could have sworn that Chen was already found guilty of corruption, but since the media here is unabashedly partisan, I'm afraid that I've been swayed by my father's political persuasion in believing that he's embezzled 14.8 million NTD (that's $480,500 US). The BBC keeps saying "alleged charges," so I guess I'm wrong.

Here's where I get confused--the BBC has printed the following quotation from Chen:

"The KMT and the Chinese Communist Party see me as their number one prisoner as I am the biggest stone blocking their way to reunification," Mr Chen told reporters, according to the French news agency AFP.

He said the Chinese envoy, Chen Yunlin, "had a bad time in Taiwan... so Ma Ying-jeou wants to put me in jail as a sacrifice to appease China. I am very honoured and proud to play such a role."

Initially, I felt like Chen was just manipulating people's Sino-phobic emotions, but that was before I realized the charges were alleged and not proven. So what if he's not guilty? Is he really President Ma's sacrifice to appease China? To be honest, I still feel like Chen is playing the spin game, but is that my bias talking?

Only time will tell. Until then, I'll be in a perpetual state of second-guessing.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Why I Love NPR Reason No. 1: The NYTimes sucks at Podcasts

The host of The New York Times' Weekend Business podcast has a nice tenor to his voice, but sounds like he's reading off a cue card, or you know, talking to a Taiwanese elementary school student.

I know the major news outlets are taking their first wobbly steps in this new world of multimedia. In time, I'm sure they'll figure it out. But I probably won't listen to another NYtimes podcast until someone recommends it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On Michael Crichton (but not a eulogy)

Someone once told me (retold as I remember the conversation but most likely not verbatim):

After graduating from Harvard, my husband and I moved out to L.A. to try to make it as writers. My husband, in a bold move, decided to cold call Michael Crichton and ask him out to lunch. He actually accepted.

They went out to sushi later that week, and all Michael Crichton wanted to talk about for two hours was how much better L.A. was in the 60's because you could tear down the highways as fast as you wanted without worrying about getting caught and have sex with as many women as you wanted without getting AIDS. I mean, I know he probably wanted to tell the young buck about his glory days, but my husband is a skinny little Jewish guy who came this close *sticks out thumb and index finger till they almost touch, starts talking in nasal voice* to going to med school.

I've never read a Michael Crichton book or seen a Michael Crichton movie, not even Jurassic Park, so this is all I have to go on. I like to compare it to James Fallows' goodbye post.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Final Note on the Election

What fascinates my 5th and 6th graders most about the election is not the fact that Obama is black and McCain is old (though they find this interesting too), but that I could send my vote through the mail. During the 2004 Taiwanese presidential election, Taiwanese people living abroad flew back to the island in droves in order to vote. Can you imagine sitting on a plane for 24 hours (48 round-trip) just to cast a ballot?

Which is to say, I take back all my griping about the hassles of voting absentee from two days ago. I guess it's the little things that make me proud to be an American.

Well, that and the fact that Franklin County finally voted my way. Way to go, Ohio!

Monday, November 3, 2008

On a non-election-related note...

This is my new favorite blog. Possibly the best blog ever made:

The Election From Abroad

Biggest roadblocks to voting from Taiwan:

1. Deciphering the first question on the Federal Voting Registration and Absentee Ballot Request: Asking yourself, "am I living abroad temporarily or indefinitely" inevitably leads to an existential crisis about the future.

2. Making 2 trips to the post office (once to mail off absentee ballot request, once to mail off the completed ballot).
***Correlated challenge: locating the nearest post office, hoping its office hours don't conflict with your work schedule.

3. Knowing your address

The moral of the story: please enjoy the relative ease of your voting experience tomorrow. The lines may be long, but at least you don't have to translate your contact information into English.

Please, please, please don't forget to vote (especially if it's for Barack Obama)

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Monster Mash

For the first time in eight years, I did not wear my Pokemon costume for Halloween. I thought about bringing it as I was packing for the summer. It was all folded up at the bottom of my suitcase, but since I only had 2 suitcases for the upcoming year, it just didn't make the cut. Considering everything that has changed for me in the past 6 months, it seems strange that leaving Jigglypuff behind would feel like the worst part about growing up.

The way to get over sadness is, of course, to impose American culture on a country that doesn't celebrate Halloween! Shuting and I planned Halloween activities for the entire week--that's around 20 hours of mummy-wrapping, donut-eating, costume-making and mask parading in 5 days! And that doesn't include the throngs of children banging down our door to beg for candy between classes.

And here's photographic proof:

Favorite costumes include: the pork-jerky monster (aka the girl with wads of newspaper taped to her face) and the transformer (made of a box). More than anything, I'm proud to have such creative students--we didn't let them buy the materials for the costumes and I think they turned out quite nicely!

Basically, my week went a lot like this:

Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not all candy is created equal. Dum-dums, for example, are not as good as Snickers bars. Don't try to convince me otherwise.

The Taiwanese have taken candy inequality to a whole new level. Here's a sampling of the stuff we've been giving our kids:

Center: Cola flavor
Bottom center, white color: Milk flavor
Green candy: Creamy Sour Apple
Blue candy: Mystery blue flavor
Pink and yellow wrapper: Yogurt flavor
Top, green and yellow wrapper: Creamy lime
Gold wrapper: Honey Flavor

and my all-time favorite

Right side, orange-red wrapper: Wax Gourd Flavor

Maybe I should hand out toothbrushes. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The US Treasury Department Tries to Have Fun

I just spent my last half hour before bedtime hanging out at the Bad Credit Hotel, a 3D, interactive computer game aimed at teaching 18-20-something youngsters like myself about building and maintaining credit, keeping a budget, etc etc etc.

Looks like the US Treasury Department, with the help of the Ad Council, has taken on my teaching style--that is, tricking students into learning boring stuff like personal finances (or you know, the alphabet) by making it a game!

The Bad Credit Hotel has a 1930's feel to it, and a Morgan Freeman-esque "worldly gentleman" leads you around the hotel as you try to unlock the secrets to getting into Room 850, the only room in the hotel that isn't cockroach-infested and dim.

It's tacky, but thoroughly enjoyable. It's like a grown-up version of Midnight Rescue or Math Mountain. I'm a little bitter that I spent an entire 30 minutes on the site and still only found 8/10 secrets, but that's the nerdy part of me that also loves National Treasure shining through.

Or if you want the Cliffnotes version of the game, you could check out this video from SNL posted on my roommate Katie's blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Word of the Day

Main Entry:
New Latin, from Greek myōpia, from myōp-, myōps
circa 1752
1 : a condition in which the visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects
2 : a lack of foresight or discernment : a narrow view of something
my·o·pic \-ˈō-pik, -ˈä-\ adjective
my·o·pi·cal·ly \-pi-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

I had to look it up when I was reading this article in the NYTimes, but it seems like a fitting word for those of us well entrenched in our quarter-life crises.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Mosquitoes beware:
I know you're out there and I won't go down without a fight.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Japanese Cowboy

I haven't enjoyed a movie like this in a long time. And, I've never seen a movie quite like Sukiyaki Western Django. If I could, I would give a review of the movie, but I've never seen a spaghetti western, my knowledge of cult films and Japanese films is minimal--therefore I am unqualified. I leave it to

Synopsis: SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is prolific Japanese cult director Takashi Miike's samurai tribute to the Spaghetti Western genre. With an irreverent style and an obvious knowledge of the oater canon, Miike sets out to celebrate the factory line artistry of films such as Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and Sergio Carbucci's DJANGO, while fully embracing the dazzling, post-modern aesthetic of movies such as KILL BILL and DESPERADO. And while homage and cinematic genre mash-ups can both be high on genuine artistic vision, it's clear from the supremely stylized opening prologue--with its transparent set pieces, outrageous kill shots, and cameo from that anointer of cult films himself, Quentin Tarantino--that Miike is out to have fun above all. The story follows a Man With No Name gunfighter brought to a small village in Nevada to protect the townspeople from two rival gangs at war over a treasure hidden in the nearby hills. Themes of honor, tradition, loyalty, and family give the film some dramatic weight, but SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO primarily works as a high-octane action flick, albeit one made by a director with style and smarts. The samurai sword lust, kung-fu bar brawls, and John Woo-style operatic gun play remain completely gripping regardless of plot. Yet though the basic story has been told by everyone from Dashiell Hammett to the Coen Brothers to Akira Kurosawa, it's one that has clearly worked its way into the pantheon of contemporary myth and makes for solid dramatic ground on which an entertaining spectacle can unfurl.
Next stop at the Kaohsiung Film Festival: some movie about a Michael Jackson impersonator meeting a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, moving to an impersonation colony with her and throwing a ball? I hope you're as pumped as I am.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Favorite Article, A Sad Story

I'd write about my sweet, sweet Saturday, but discussing the Kaohsiung National Games Opening Ceremony properly requires me to get some multimedia from my roommates. You can look forward to that in the next few days.

I was going through some papers earlier this week and I stumbled upon a photocopy of this article about being on the last plane out of Burma before Cyclone Nargis hit from the August edition of Outdoor magazine by Patrick Symmes. I'm keeping it because I like his writing style and the way he ends the piece (no spoilers here). It also reminds me of the most important lesson I learned while working at NPR this summer: no one will run a story on Burma (aka Myanmar) unless something changes. Since change seems unlikely at this time, the only news we'll see comes when someone from the western media manages to get inside.

If there is no change, there will be no news. If there is no news, will we forget?

**The answer is yes. In June when all the Zimbabwe stuff was fresh, Peter Maas of Slate Magazine wrote an article on why we don't hear more about Equatorial Guinea. He writes:
The reality of the regime's brutishness nearly hit me over the head as I was being expelled from the country while researching a book on oil in 2004. I had already been chilled by the docility of the people—unlike other countries in the Third World, no one approached me as I walked the streets. (The only place where I had felt a similar pattern of fear was North Korea.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Too Gross for Photos

Cockroaches invaded the streets of Kaohsiung today. That's right--hundreds of large, shiny, mahogany-colored cockroaches. I spent most of my morning staring down at my feet trying to avoid the world's most disgusting creatures as local shopkeepers attempted to sweep them off the sidewalks and into the street. Every once in a while, however, I would look up from my feet and see the terrifying litter of insect corpses ahead. It was like looking at a minefield.

Taiwan generally has a lot of cockroaches, but today was truly an infestation. The whole situation left my roommates and me wondering: Are they simultaneously hatching? Is there a storm coming? Has the apocalypse arrived?

It ends up that the powers that be in the local government put some sort of toxin into the sewer system to kill the cockroaches. Once the they came into contact with the poison, they emerged from the sewers in droves. On the street, they convulsed until they flipped onto their backs while desperately trying to right themselves by wiggling their spindly appendages in the air. Eventually, the poison got the best of them--their struggle for survival slowly came to an end as their legs shriveled tightly across their abdomens. By 2pm, all of them were dead.

And tonight, millions of ants will feed greedily upon the bodies of the fallen. I've seen it with my own eyes--little black dotted lines converging into a solid mass around each cockroach shell. Should I be grossed out or relieved?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All the Small Things

The little things that make me smile can be categorized in two ways:

I. Hand-held:

4th Grade Boy: "Teacher Vicky, I made this for you!"

I nearly stepped on you! You are rare indeed!

My host mom: "Vicky! This seashell looks like a button! You must keep it!"


Dear Taiwan,
In spite of all the problems we've had, your love of uniformity can be (at times) quite adorable. Especially when it entails wearing matching caps screen-printed with koala bears.

Shenqiao is in 5th grade. He insists on waving both hands vigorously when he says hello to me in the hallways. He is also at least a head shorter than everyone else in his class, which just makes him absurdly cute. It's really unbearable.
Justify Full
I hope he never hits puberty

Monday, October 20, 2008

Taiwan's Favorite Pastime

Comparative Cheering: The Kaohsiung La New Bears had cheerleaders and a large band. The Taipei Brother Elephants had an overweight man donning a plastic bag twisted into Princess Leia buns on his head (pictured above, center).

I've never been much of a baseball fan. My family isn't a sports family, and having grown up in a town without a professional baseball team, I've never bothered to "get it." I've done my best to understand football--Columbus is buckeye country, and though I'll never be a true 'Bucks fan, it's hard not to sympathize when the whole town is hungover the day after a big loss.

Here in Taiwan, they're nuts about baseball. When Chinese Taipei played China in the Olympics, the taxi driver who took me home (much to my horror) kept his eyes glued to his mini TV as he drove. I often find New York Yankees paraphernalia at the local street stands; the Taiwanese go nuts over the Yankees because they have a Taiwanese player.

So when in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese do.

Left to right: Dani, Kate, Shiela, and I in front of the baseball stadium

The basketball coach from Huashan Elementary School invited us to watch the Kaohsiung vs. Taipei pro baseball game with him. The game was a big deal. There's a huge rivalry between the two urban areas--they're the two biggest cities in Taiwan and Kaohsiung is like Cleveland to Taipei's glittering New York. It's post-industrial, mostly blue-collar, recovering from pretty serious pollution issues, and most of all, kind of fed up with Taipei's disdain for the philistines down South.

Despite the fact that I've never been able to focus for more than 2 innings of a baseball game, I saw it as an opportunity to both assimilate and stick it to the big shots up north!

We all assumed that Coach Pao would root for Kaohsiung--after all, we live in Kaohsiung. So imagine our surprise when we, all dressed in green for the Kaohsiung La New Bears, saw Coach Pao get out of his car wearing yellow for the Taipei Brother Elephants. He was a fan of both teams, he said, but he could get better seats for the Taipei side of the stadium. So he wore his yellow shirt and we sat in front of these people:

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em (plus yellow is my favorite color).

And that's how I became a Taipei Brother Elephants fan.

*The only things I understand about baseball: food and retail opportunities.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dudes for Sarah

I was about to write an entry about my sweet weekend--watching the Taipei vs. Kaohsiung baseball game and going to Kending, a beach resort at the southernmost tip of Taiwan--when my friend Jing sent me this article from the New York Times:

Among Fans of Palin, Dudes Rule

Published: October 18, 2008


1. The part where NYT has to explain what Carhartts are:

“I feel like I’m at home,” Ms. Palin said, looking out at a boisterous crowd of about 6,000. “I see the Carhartts and the steel-toed boots,” she said, the first reference being to a clothing brand favored by construction workers and the burly types who make up much of the “Sarah Dude” population.

2. The parts where the crowds objectify Palin:
Mr. McLain wore a “Proud to be voting for a hot chick” button and was joined by his wife, Shannan (“Read my lipstick” button on lapel), and his 6-week-old son, Jaxon (“Nobama” button on beanie).

The dudes tend to make themselves noticed. “You tell ’em baby,” a man yelled out at a rally Wednesday night on a high school football field in Salem, N.H.

“I came here to look at her,” [a man wearing a John Deere T-shirt in Weirs Beach] said, and his admiration for Ms. Palin’s appearance became more and more animated.

3. The part where the NYT calls someone a dude:

“Marry me, Sarah,” a man implored in Weirs Beach, N.H., while Ms. Palin held up a tow-headed toddler and patted his little chest. She ignored, or didn’t hear, the proposal, but signed the dude’s ratty baseball cap.

From far away, this election feels more like a comedy routine than a pivotal moment that will determine (at least) the next four years of global, well, everything. And as much as I enjoy watching these Tina Fey as Sarah Palin skits on SNL, for the love of god, please don't forget to vote.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Damn, it feels good to be a Fulbright

Once upon a time (as in, last year), I was invited to a "fahn-cy" party--except my phone kept cutting out when I was invited and all I could hear was my friend Vanessa describing the 80's prom dress she was going to wear. Naturally, I assumed it was a costume party and dressed like this:

but everyone else was in formal attire. Shit.

This year, we were invited to the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affair's Double 10 Festival, which celebrates the founding of the Republic of China. The party is a big deal--the equivalent would be watching the 4th of July at the White House. Even President Ma Ying-Jeou was there!
Thankfully, I got the dresscode right this time. And look, they even rolled out a red carpet for us!
As a show of their opulence, the Taiwanese government had ice sculptures everywhere they could fit:
They even served all the food that wouldn't get soggy off of ice sculptures:
Yup... that's a lot of shrimp spread out on an ice sculpture.

The event took place at the Taiwan Guest House, where I guess foreign dignitaries stay when they visit Taiwan. The garden was beautifully lit, though this photo doesn't do it justice:

I'm pretty sure I'll never be invited to a party like this ever again. I love being a "VIP."