Saturday, August 23, 2008


the top photo is sara's grandmother getting her hair permed by two sisters. the second photo is a mahjong game played for prizes at the local night market in yuanli, taiwan. and the bottom photo is a picnic we took with her sister and father at a nearby elementary school. that was our one year anniversary!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

subtle air

in the last week, roughly from august 7th on, i have detected a tiny change in the air here in yuanli, taiwan. the days measured by temperature are just as hot as they were in july. but even within that heat, occasional breezes now blow coolly, especially at night. its amazing. and it comes right after the lunar day called "great heat," one of 24 divisions to the chinese lunar calendar. i felt the difference the very first night. the next night i was sure the change was real. and i am right -- since then, there has been no return to the brutal heat of before. i still sweat into the bed at night. but the side of me not touching the bed is cool, swept by cool breezes.

curious words

the taiwanese word for "magnet" translates as "greedy iron."

a polite term in chinese ("fafu") for "getting fat" translates as "getting prosperous," or more literally, "emanating/giving off prosperity." prosperous in fat, i guess. or prosperous enough to get fat. . . which no longer means being rich, except in very poor countries.

the taiwanese word for "mantis" is "caogao," translating as "grass monkey."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Gravity fades – out – people
float off the face of the watching earth.
Feet stretch down – scuffing – nothing.

Velocity silent and fierce
escorts us – memory to memory,
place to place – hurtling –
tourists lost in our own – lives –
raising not one puff of dust
of feet – grown delicate – as fruit
on the stem. Place names peel
away – recollate. A drive down
the Peninsula on 101 –
merges – with 3 out of
Taipei. The noise walls –
tan, rust, grey – are one.
The warehouses, the logos
alit, agleam – one, one.
Your breath tight – ens and –
your mind rivets: which
place is this? Which Toyota? Which

Nature is no better. A North China
mountain bucks – balloons up
underfoot – you cling –
quaking to it – deep breath – ant on the skirts
of an impatient queen.


strong and weak

The weak are the hardest of souls:
Hearts compressed – and valves turned – to stone.
Futures – clamped shut, then -- rusted -- desires detained –
trifling pleasures held up – at checkpoints –
with the gauze and chlorine tablets –
mosquito dreams – millipede calms.

For soft folk – look to the strong.
Hearts spacious – dreams Dolby -- ventricles plush.
Futures gushing – desires ushered through –
every whimsy feted by – doormen –
adoring and slim – and discreet –
walk-in closets full of tulle flattery and –
ethics of brushed sateen –
the strong gasp to hear
the killer – said Hello -- Excuse me – and drank coffee –
or the minister’s plain wife –
humbly drowned -- babies – or the jocular
President guy – raped regions
with good reasons.

Grasping and shaken, the strong – reboot --
with sentimental news – one Iraqi mutt –
adopted; one burned child -- among millions -- awarded
surgery from the space age; a leader of iron –
wears Mother’s holy icon.
They indulge a pretty hobby of hoping -- that
the forbidding building -- Power – is
not really run from the top floor:
for soft folk look to the strong.

The meek shall -- inherit the earth.
Hard words of a weak man –
for weak folk. Words of uprooting – deshouke –
toppling – taking – battering --
the weak are the hardest of people.

Yuanli, May 20, 2008

with gram to the vegetable patch

clouds, dogs

the top photo is taken from near sara's parents' house, in yuanli, taiwan. the view is looking toward the downtown. the bottom photo shows a pack of stray dogs poaching on the air conditioning of a clothing store. "pack" sounds too wild. i should say it is a school or a bunch of dogs.

bitter melon

who knew the kugua could be so colorful? this is a popular vegetable in taiwan and china in the summer, due to properties related to chinese medical theory which i do not understand. sara's family fries it with salty egg, and it is delicious.

two pictures from a taiwan town

these pictures come from yuanli, taiwan. to look across the rooftops near the downtown is to think that you are in a city. but in such a densely populated country, one needs to look down to see the truth: even with so many buildings, there are still fields, and farmers tilling them.

today driving home from a camping trip, i saw two automated carts, the kind for old people, sitting by the roadside. they were empty. not far away, in bare feet in the mud, was an old man tending to his crops. that is some kind of retirement: you are practically unable to walk, but around your beloved crops you are filled with energy.

the other picture came when i was riding my bike in the evening on a road between fields. rounding a corner, i encountered a pudgy young boy on a bike with a look of utmost unhappiness. i soon knew the reason. just behind him, his mother rode a scooter, with her daughter behind her. the boy was being dragooned into exercising, made all the worse by the fact that those monitoring him would not deign to join in! instead, they would chug along behind him as he pedalled. at least they did not ride in front of him.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

little skin

i have adopted a stray dog. it looked so awful when i first came here, to yuanli, taiwan. her skin was red and oozing, hair falling out. i got some medicines from a vet, and put them in canned food. she is better now, though still not great. i am unable to bathe her because she is scared, even though she wags her tail and looks overjoyed anytime i appear. she is adorable.

i pluck fat ticks off her and feed her once a day. i am aware that when i leave, she will suffer. but i cannot simply watch her die.

she will not cross metal grates or grills over water drainage ditches. this is a mysetry to sara and i, that points to some trauma in her past. she follows us happily when we walk at night, but she won't cross those grates. she shows other signs of her previous life: when i bring out food, and she rouses from her dead-dog state around noon, she stands like a good dog, trying to contain her excitement. her previous owners must have taught her. where is their conscience?

little skin (xiao pi) has taught me about dogs loveability.

day of no divorces

The Taiwan media is absurd and entertaining. My favorite story today was this: the Beijing Municipal Government decreed that on 8/8/08, the first day of the Olympics, citizens would be allowed to marry, but no one would be allowed to divorce!

Would one divorce really be inauspicious enough to ruin a rising superpower's Olympics?

The news coming out of Beijing makes the whole scene sound like a nightmare. The paranoia is unpleasant, and the privileged with their special passes even worse.