Friday, November 28, 2008

sending a chicken

yet another linguistic mixup. this past week Sara said to me, (in Chinese), "no one is going to 'songji' for us." not knowing the word 'songji,' i put to use my mighty imagination, and within a second or two figured it meant "to send a chicken." i imagined that sending a chicken was some sort of taiwanese wedding gift, symbolizing the hope that the recipient gives birth to dozens of children (hopefully sons).

sara explained that she had expected some people to "songji" -- or "see us off at the airport." see how concise chinese can be? a mere two syllables. which of course leads to some crazy misunderstandings.

it turns out a couple of relatives/family members will send us chickens off at the airport. or whatever.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nov. 29 to SF!

and it was a crazy week. Obama won. DPP activists and other protesters clashed with police while Chen wined and dined with Nationalist Party leaders inside hotels. and Sara got her interview -- an anticlimactic few minutes with each of the 3 interviewers. i think they looked at our case file and thought, "this is too absurd to be made up."

the following week was crazy too. we taught that friday night in Hsinchu. saturday sara and i took the 3 pm train to taipei to take in a dance performance with Brian U. and Louise. it was great, especially the abstract, slow-moving first performance. then we got the high speed train back to Hsinchu, and when we found all the trains had left for the south, Brian offered to let us sleep in a lounge of a friend's business. it was curious, sleeping on sofas with rain pelting the tin roof overhead (we were the top floor), but fun in a strange way. then we met sara's uncle and aunt, who were driving back to her grandparents' house in tonghsiao. we spent a lazy day there. monday we taught. tuesday ex president chen was detained, which the media was all over. wednesday we taught again. thursday was windy and clear: i rode with little skin (i riding a bike, she on paw) to a beautiful beach nearby and watched her scamper madly all over the sand dunes. then she continued following me all the way to grandma's house, where i met sara for dinner. she ran with me all the way home: marathon dog. last week we also bought plane tickets and extended my taiwan visa.

i wrote quite a bit that week too, since i was still in limbo dissertation-wise. my lazy advisor is still stringing me along. but this has been good for "Year Two of the Connecticut Republic." one day i wrote on a desolate riverside. another day i wrote out front of a small hospital in Yuanli. yet another day i sat in a pavilion next to an old neighborhood nearby. and last night in Hsinchu i wrote more good stuff in the Costco-like RT Mart food court.

today is Sara's birthday. she is 33. i bought her milk and tea for milk tea, and am still wondering what else to do. . .

maybe i will wait til we are in San Francisco to give her presents. we will land there November 29. then by bus to the east coast.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

what a week. . .

it will be a doozy. tuesday night here in taiwan will be the opening of polls in the US. it will be hard for me to sleep, knowing that CNN will be broadcasting on the election all night. i sent my ballot in weeks ago. i hope Obama wins, not because i think he will change everything or turn over the established order, but because he will carefully and pragmatically shepherd this very order. he will not lead us into war out of an egotistical belief that he is qualified to teach another country a lesson. he will make decisions based on cool reason, not a buddy-film emotion, the way Bush so wisely judged Putin. i wish he were further to the Left. but he does have a mainstream notion of fairness which will lead, if elected, to some modest rollbacks of the worst "soak the poor" policies of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush.

i harbor hopes that he will take seriously the need to address global warming and nuclear disarmament -- not just reduction -- for these are the biggest threats to global security. he has the wisdom of judgment. but will enough Americans be shaken out of complacent support of our current system to support radical, brave measures?

the day before, Monday, Chen Yun-lin, China's top Taiwan Affairs official, will arrive in Taipei for negotiations on a list of issues, such as direct shipping links and food inspection. a few weeks ago i was hearing word that the opposition DPP party had vowed to besiege the talks with protests, but since then i have heard little. it could be a chaotic scene.

and finally, on friday morning, Sara will finally get her interview at the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto embassy, in Taipei. Which means we could be on our way to the US this very month! Just as the weather begins to turn nice. . .

Jose Carreras in Miaoli

The Miaoli County government (in Taiwan, where I am living), invited the famous tenor Jose Carreras to perform last night at the Miaoli Stadium. I had never seen the man's face until it was all over the main roads on banners. "County Head Liu's name is almost as big as Carreras', commented my wife acidly when she saw the banners.

My father in law got some tickets for us from some nice subdistrict leaders he knows through his work in the town office. I drove my wife, mother-in-law, and cousin-in-law (is this a term?), and we met my friend Brian, who took the train down from Hsinchu. We had some laughs driving over. I practiced cursing out slow drivers in Taiwanese with the term "seh-gu," or dawdling turtle, which made everyone laugh. "You sound like you are selling turtles," said Sara.

The stadium was, as is usual in these affairs, set up for maximum inconvenience for all the 30,000 non-VIPs. One long, long line stretched out away from the stadium. After walking for 10 minutes to find the end, we gave up and sat near the entrance with a lot of other people. I went to fetch cheap corn-dogs for us, as well as some stinky tofu for mom -- without knowing she hates the stuff. Worse, I spilled the oily sauce all over my nice clean dress pants. The corn dogs were warm, sweet, soft -- like a fresh donut with a hot dog inside. Yum.

When Brian arrived he insisted we could enter anywhere we wanted without tickets, and showed us the trick. But I think the police just didn't want to speak English. We found another, unused, gate and walked through -- while the main gate was slowly processing all the second-level spectators. It was starting as we climbed up and found seats from which we could just see the very tip of the stage and a severely foreshortened screen. We could hear the massive voice but barely see anything.

Near the end we moved over another entrance to where we could see. The voices, of Carreras and the soprano, were amazing. Especially the woman's. It was too bad we were given no song titles, or notes on the story background for each song. How odd it was to be hearing this peculiar Italian invention, full of rolled "R"s, open air in Taiwan with thousands of rapt spectators. How odd too at this man's god-like status, cloistered from ordinary life, his voice a virtual global treasure or protected anatomical heritage site. He stood back from the front of the stage, movements spare, only a slight bow and a raised hand at the applause. He himself was slight, with a wattle under his chin which I could see working when he paused, swallowing.

But I was glad for this strange cloistering and worshipping, which he has used to good effect, husbanding his strength into his 60s or 70s. This cloister-effect of media superstardom brought him to Miaoli stadium, for us to see, bathing in his voice's rich tones.

The audience was a bit unsure, a bit reserved. A host had to come out at the end to lead them in a chant of "encore" for them to call out for more. And they did come out, to our delight. Even not knowing the words, hearing them sing was to soak in an alienness, a beautiful, distant strangeness.