Monday, March 23, 2009

Fruitful discovery

Did you know that this is how pineapples grow? I always imagined they hung from trees!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lazy Sunday

Even if you've done nothing good today, never forget to dream big. To inspire you, here's Gizmodo on the death of a courageous spacebat:

On a cool spring eve, March 15th, 2009, a bat, crippled and wistful, clung to the Space Shuttle Discovery as it was thrust toward the great beyond. Goodbye and godspeed, my magnificent Spacebat.
Bereft of his ability to fly and with nowhere to go, a courageous bat climbed aboard our Discovery with stars in his weak little eyes. The launch commenced, and Spacebat trembled as his frail mammalian body was gently pushed skyward. For the last time, he felt the primal joy of flight; for the first, the indescribable feeling of ascending toward his dream—a place far away from piercing screeches and crowded caves, stretching forever into fathomless blackness.
Whether he was consumed in the exhaust flames or frozen solid in the stratosphere is of no concern. We know that Spacebat died, but his dream will live on in all of us.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today was nothing

Bathroom mosquito
Fat and heavy from feeding
Smack! Blood on the wall

Thursday, March 19, 2009

From the annals of absurdity: The Cape No. 7 Tour

When the movie Titanic came out in 1997, throngs of teenage (and adult) girls flocked to theaters to watch the ill-fated romance of Jack and Rose. To call it fanaticism would be an understatement. When I finally saw it 2 or 3 months after its release, the theater was so crowded I ended up sitting in the aisle surrounded by sobbing adolescents who recited every line with the movie. It was impossible to go anywhere (even to sleep) without hearing Celine Dion's biggest hit ever, "My Heart Will Go On." I never thought I'd witness anything like Titanic-mania again.

11 years later, however, I find myself in the midst of another pop culture phenomenon: Cape No. 7, the total body experience. Cape No. 7 is a Taiwanese movie that combines the three things Taiwanese people love most: love stories, pop music, and discussions of national identity. The plot involves two story lines--one between a Japanese man and a Taiwanese woman at the end of the Japanese colonization period, and a present-day love story between a Taiwanese postman and a Japanese concert organizer. Both take place in Hengchun Township, a provincial, beachy area at the southermost part of the island.

The local response to this movie has been nothing short of fanaticism. I have co-workers who have seen it at least four times. Earlier this year, the local news reported that the Hengchun County Post Office received thousands of love letters from movie fans sent to the fabled address, Cape No. 7. Discussing the movie is the equivalent of talking about food or the weather. Everyone likes it, no one argues, we all save face and go home happy. Singing either of the hit songs from the movie (if you're a foreigner, that is) is a guaranteed, no-fail recipe for making Taiwanese friends, especially if you sing it at a KTV (that's Karaoke TV, pan- Asia's favorite weekend hangout.)

Recipe for instant friendship with the southern Taiwanese population

Hengchun Township has tried (successfully) to capitalize on Cape No. 7 Fantacism by putting together a Cape No. 7 Tour, where crazed Taiwanese people of all ages drive around Hengchun taking photos at all the sites where the movie was filmed. Hengchun looks exactly like any other provincial area of Taiwan, except with a nicer beach. Just like everywhere else that's not Taipei or Kaohsiung, there are weather-worn houses, stray dogs, lots of scooters and the faint-but-ubiquitous stench of fish. Yet, in spite of its ordinariness, people flocked to Hengchun to take photos of themselves at what appear to be the most mundane sites on the island including but not limited to 7/11, a random house where the main character lived or a shabby old alley. All the postmen trying to deliver mail got mobbed by tourists demanding to get a photo with themselves and a real Hengchun postman.

The following slideshow is from my fellow Fulbrighter Billy and I's trip to Hengchun with his host family and a few of my co-workers. Do you see the mobs of teenagers? Do you understand why they're so excited? Do you see why I'm confused?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Daily Accomplishment

Three or four of the students in one of my third grade classes are apparently "mute," according to their classmates. Whenever I call on one of these little mimes, their classmates always shout "Teacher Vicky, So-and-so doesn't talk, even in Chinese!" Statistically, I find it unlikely that one third grade class at a small school has more than one child who physically cannot speak. The more probable explanation is that Taiwanese children are, on the whole, painfully shy and fearful of making mistakes; thus, they avoid speaking if at all possible, especially in English.

Today, however, one of my little mutes decided to say "I like cake!" during class today, making my heart take a little leap. This was, of course, tempered by the fact that another child cried for the entire class period after being asked to say the same thing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Another Reason to Go To China Next Year

Lifted from The Guardian:

China to bring Das Kapital to life on Beijing stage

Producers promise blend of Broadway and Vegas for all-dancing, all-singing adaptation of Marx's treatise

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Tuesday 17 March 2009 08.22 GMT

Karl Marx

Whether Karl Marx would approved of his work being turned into entertainment is a matter of speculation. Photo: Bettman/Corbis

You've read the book, attended the seminars and pondered the accumulation of surplus value – now see the musical.

Chinese producers are attempting to transform Das Kapital from a hefty treatise on political economy into a popular stage show, complete with catchy tunes and nifty footwork.

Whether Karl Marx would approve of his masterwork being served up as entertainment for China's new bourgeoisie is a matter of speculation. But the director He Nian – best known for his stage adaptation of a martial-arts spoof – has promised to unite elements from Broadway musicals and Las Vegas shows in a hip, interesting and educational play featuring a live band, singing and dancing.

You can't make this shit up. I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I accompanied my 70-year-old host parents to a luncheon celebrating the 90th birthday of their priest hoping something absurd would happen, like the birthday celebration actually turning into a secret Jews for Jesus concert. Instead, I got nothing.  No exorcisms, no conspiracy theories, not even weird outfits old people think they can get away with wearing but actually can't.  NOTHING.

It just goes to show that you never get exactly what you wish for.  Except for the fact that they just repeat "Happy birthday to you" over and over again instead of singing the "Happy birthday dear ___" line, there was nothing strange about the music.  I chatted with an American man named Father Chuck from California, and another man told me about his days at MIT.  Nothing extraordinary came out of these conversations.  

Even the food was normal--no pigs feet, no animal intestines, no coagulated pigs blood.  The only thing slightly weird was this green bean-filled rice bun shaped and dyed to look like a peach, and even then, food made to look like other foods is not uncommon (ex: veggie burgers, swedish fish).

How disappointing!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tchoukball Fans... GET READY!

Taiwan  in 2009 is the place to be for sports fans who happen to follow athletic activities nobody else cares much about.  Last year, Beijing had the Olympics.  This year, Taipei will host the 2009 Deaflympics (something about that name seems like it should be offensive even though it's not) and Kaohsiung, my current home, will host the 2009 World Games.   

"What do you mean by 'athletic activities nobody else cares much about?'" you may be asking.  Please raise your hand if you've heard of the following sports:

More ridiculous than the event itself is the city of Kaohsiung's attempts to build hype around a generally lackluster competition.   For starters, each elementary school must play host* to one competing country and we're supposed to teach our students about the guest country.  Maybe that's easy for my roommate Dan, whose school will host the USA.  My school will host Uzbekistan.  If I were to teach a lesson on Uzbekistan (which I won't because we barely have enough time to finish our curriculum) it would go something like this:

Me: Good morning class
Students: Good morning Teacher Vicky!
Me: Today we are going to learn about Uzbekistan.  Can you say UZ-BEK-I-STAN?
Students: UZ-BEK-I-STAN (repeat)!
Me: Very good!  Now, Uzbekistan is a very important country for illegal trade.  Does anyone know how to say illegal in Chinese?  (student answers) Very good!  Now, who knows how to say "guns and drugs" in Chinese?  (student answers).  Excellent! Uzbekistan is famous for selling illegal guns and drugs....

Then there is the theme song, as shown in the following music video.

I'm surprised I haven't memorized the words yet because it plays non-stop during commercial breaks, AND schools all around the city have to learn dances to the song.

Which brings me to my observation of the day: Some fellow ETAs and I were walking through the Cultural Center (the big park near my apartment) tonight when we saw a group of about 30 or 40 elementary school students performing a dance to the theme song. Most of them were dressed in normal clothes, but there were 3 randomly placed students wearing full animal costumes (dragon, unicorn, and lion).

And I thought I'd seen everything....

*I don't totally understand what "playing host" really means, but everyone I've asked makes it sound like they'll be using our schools as locker rooms.  This seems strange because the desks come up to MY knees and I'm only 5'2, yet most of the World Games athletes I've seen around here are comically tall.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Hell on Earth"

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against China. As you've probably read in the New York Times, the Dalai Lama has harshly condemned Chinese authorities for cracking down on Tibetans since a series of riots one year ago, saying that Tibetans have gone through "hell on earth."

It's also worth checking out Chinese coverage of the Dalai Lama's speech. Here's a teaser from Xinhua, China's main news agency: 

Commentary: For whom is Tibet a "hell on earth"? 2009-03-10 22:28:56 Print
By Xinhua Writer Zhou Yan

LHASA, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Tuesday is a special date for Tibetans. For the 2.8 million residents in the southwest China autonomous region, it marks 50 years since feudal serfdom was abolished; but for the 14th Dalai Lama and his "government-in-exile," it marks five decades of futile attempts at independence.


In a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of his exile, the Dalai Lama abruptly shook off his pacifist outlook and smiles to give some gibberish far below the intelligence of the "spiritual leader" himself, and poles apart from truth.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I take it back

Once upon a time, more specifically February 14, 2009, I wrote a slightly bitter Valentine's Day post on this here blog.

But I take back all the bile--thanks to Sexy Beijing for showing us all how sweet Valentine's Day is in China!


When my roommate Katie picked up our dog from getting neutered last week, the vet asked, "Would you like to keep or see his testicles?"

What if she had kept them? Would she keep them in the fridge? In the common room for everyone to enjoy? As a paperweight on her desk?

This episode puts a whole new spin on the "When in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese do" philosophy.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lucky Me!

Sesame paste is the Asian equivalent of cheese. It's high in fat and makes everything taste better.

Goes well with leafy, green vegetables and noodles. Haven't tried it with crackers, but I'm feeling optimistic.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"So, what are your plans for next year?"

Thinking about the next step has gotten this far:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

As Shitty as it Looked

Novelty restaurants always seem like a good idea at the time.  Here we are eating at The Modern Toilet, where you can eat poopy-looking food out of toilet-shaped containers while sitting on a glitter-blasted loo.

Dan and Liz are the All-American couple. They are both smart, attractive, athletic, tall and blonde. They also both hail from Southern California and bring that "Can-do!" attitude to the dinner table. It doesn't get more American than that!

Matt and I are neither a couple nor particularly American*. He might know more  Chinese than English, and I don't like sugar in my tea.  Also, look at my shirt.  No American adult in her right mind would ever wear something so silly.

I'm never eating out of a toilet ever again.

*This is a lie. If there's one thing I've learned about myself over the past few months, it's just how American I really am! 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

You Can't Take It With You

I thought of two ways to write about these photographs:

1.  The scooter is (as far as I can tell) the most popular mode of transportation in Kaohsiung, and it's amazing how much stuff they manage to fit onto one little vehicle.  It's not uncommon to see a family of four riding together--older child standing behind the steering column, dad in front, mom in back holding baby.  My roommate claims she once saw five dogs on one scooter--a small one in the front basket, a large one hanging over the streering column, one sitting on the (human) driver's lap, two in cages strapped to the back.  Since these spectacles tend to zoom by before I can dig my camera out of my purse, this elementary school student and his science project will have to do.  Plus, he's way cuter and seemingly less dangerous than some of the more outrageous scooter balancing acts seen around these parts.  

*Note: I hear that scooter-packing in India and Vietnam makes Taiwan look, well, safe.

2.  Taiwanese education experts constantly bemoan the state of "Creativity"
 on the island.   At least one of the schools that host Fulbright English Teaching Assistants has a "Creativity Center" (oh, the irony of building a center for creativity is not lost on me) where either a bunch of teachers plan events to encourage kids to be creative or kids go to be creative, though it's unclear which of these options is actually the purpose of the center.  One of my co-workers is apparently working towards a masters degree in "Creativity Studies," but his failure to explain what that actually means makes me suspect that Creativity is some sort of meaningless buzzword in the Taiwanese education field, sort of like "green" or "all-natural" in the United States.

Regardless of what Creativity actually means to a person living in Taiwan, perhaps educators who see this photo might breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their children are not actually robots.  Judging from our young hero's mother's expression pictured below (and her yelling, "This is much too big!  How can we possibly take it home!"), I assume that his project was unique among his classmates, at least in terms of size.  So worry not, Taiwanese Education Officials, your kids are not doomed to crunch numbers for the rest of human history!

3. In the spirit of creativity, I'd like to host a little contest--how would you write about these photos?  Leave all your ideas in the comment box.  I'll check them out at the end of the week.  Best entry gets a special postcard from Taiwan (and they're good ones, believe me!)  If you're timid about submitting, just think that if you're the only one who submits, you automatically win!