Friday, April 11, 2008

taiwanese puppet drama

once a popular folk entertainment, performed at temple fairs and other celebrations, and then in the last decade turned into a television program, budaixi is now rarely seen. i caught a rerun today on tv; it is all in taiwanese, so i can only try following the chinese subtitles. the stunts and special effects are low-tech but delightfully creative. a few weeks ago i saw a puppet stage on a truck on the night of presidential elections. the puppets were propagandistically celebrating the victory of Ma Yingjiu for president, shouting slogans to fast pop music, as fireworks went off nearby.

disintegrating houses

all around my parents' in law's home in yuanli, taiwan, are ghostly reminders of an agricultural past: disintegrating, mud-brick farm houses. everyone, nearly, now lives in concrete houses.

taiwan night markets

these night markets are like a county fair every week, or in some places, every night. the top picture is of a custom-made kitchen truck in Chudong, near Hsinchu. the bottom picture is of a "luwei" stand at the Yuanli night market. my wife is intently waiting among the customers; the owner's son is helping out at his elbow, literally. besides the food, there are games and retail stands.

Thomas Harriot

Harriot wrote an essay on his experience in the new colonies of Virginia in 1588. It was a propaganda piece, intended to persuade people to emigrate. Near the end he goes to great length to prove that the native people are too afraid of the Europeans to mess with them. It is infinitely sad to read this. . .they were dying of diseases brought by the English and looking for explanations of why. And this Harriot is quite pleased at the state of affairs.

"Some therefore were of the opinion that we were not born of women, and therefore not mortal, but that we were men of an old generation many years past, then risen again to immortality.
Some would likewise seem to prophecy that there were more of our generation yet to come to this land to kill theirs and take their places, as some thought the purpose was, judging by that which was already done. Those that were immediately to come after us they imagined to be in the air, yet invisible and without bodies, and imagined that they by our entreaty and for the love of us, did make the people to die in the way that they did, by shooting invisible bullets into them.
. . . Some also thought that that we shot them ourselves out of our pieces, from the place where we had dwelled, and killed the people in any such town that had offended us, as we listed, how far distant from us soever it was. And others said that it was the special work of God for our sakes, as we ourselves have cause in some sort to think no less. The opinions I have set down the more at large, that it may appear unto you that there is good hope they may be brought through discreet dealing and government to the embracing of the truth, and consequently to honor, obey, fear, and love us."

Really? To both fear and love? I think they had achieved the fear side pretty well.

What makes reading such things even sadder is that not all English people were blood-thirsty and greedy. But those gentle souls were not on the boats across the Atlantic. And if they were they were not in charge. And if they were in charge, on rare occasion, like the quakers in Pennsylvania, their rule was undercut eventually by greedy, cruel men. Look how even a relatively sensitive and thoughtful observer like Harriot was more or less signed up as an apologist for even the cruel acts and deceptions of his countrymen.

Monday, April 7, 2008

wild dogs: taiwan

In our headlights on the way home
dogs circled swirling slowly, gathering,
giving chase -- they barked, daring
the tires. My father-in-law
braked; they drifted to a --
to a stop. When we began moving
again a string pulled them back
to life, vicious life.

He opened a window
and barked back. Three
dogs crumpled under the brunt
of his voice – worn sacks --
six eyes gazing mournfully back
at us. Again they bundled together

My wife hissed, cutting the zombie
string of two dogs
who shrank away –
for a floating moment – until yanked
upright, teeth bared.

At a single master’s voice
they cower. When we morph
into a machine they
surge at us with a vigor
made of hate – skinny
wisps of slave meat.

Working states shelter
humans from the
baying – from the IEDs of two-legged beasts
who range -- beyond. But behold the magic
moment: a person emerges from
the hated space ship
with lordly speech
and golden laws! Behold those mobs
as they shatter into
waifs desolate -- tear-streaked --

each quivering with a desperate, loyal love!

chaotic sleep

My wife and I bought a mosquito net, finally. We are living at her parents' place in Taiwan, waiting for her US visa to come through. Until a few days ago, we would get up grumblingly every time we heard a mosquito, turn on the flourescent light, and move about the room, searching. My eyes are better than hers; her hand is quicker than mine. We were a good killing team. But a few nights ago was insane. We killed one; then another; then another. After we had killed 5 or 6, we lay down, senses still straining for messages of trouble, only to hear new buzzings in our ears. I killed a couple more on my face (waiting for their beaks to sink into my skin) before succumbing to sleep.

The net is blue, and hangs like a wispy room within the room. We sleep on thick quilts on the floor, so the net hangs down around the quilts. The first few nights I tried to stay within the rectangular confines of the net, feeling my leg or head press up against it, well aware of where Yi-qian is lying to my right, on a big pillow. I am pillowless now. But last night we had some crazy sex, which threw our already habitual sleeping arrangements into chaos. I was lying cross-wise, which meant my feet were pressing against the net. I attempted to lie length-wise, but Qian was crosswise also, and was not moving. So I sort of angled my body partly across her legs until I was straight.

Across the piles of blankets I was only vaguely aware where she was. We rolled and shifted about, pulling on the net. But it was more resilient than I had thought. Our gauzy blue room-within-a-room only shook and fell still each time. Waking was so much funnier than usual, with each of us figuring out where the other was. Her mass of blankets moved petulantly and counter-productivly against the net until her head finally emerged with its mass of black hair. We have been married since August, but it is our first real taste of married life, since I have only returned to Taiwan a few weeks ago. And how real is it, anyway, with her mother cooking us splendid dishes every meal? Only last night did she allow me to wash the dinner dishes, standing restlessly behind me.