Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Some Thoughts on News Surrounding 228

There is a lot to say about the commemoration of this year's 228 Massacre - as can be expected given that it's the 70th anniversary of the tragedy - that I feel ought to be more broadly disseminated. So, while it's rare for me to do this, I've put together a summary of various 228-related news and thoughts.

My friends and I had planned to spend the morning at the Nylon Deng Liberty Museum near MRT Zhongshan Junior High School. I had wanted to go on April 7th, which will be the 28th anniversary of Nylon's self-immolation, but others were not available. 228 is also a suitable day, as much of Nylon's work revolved around appropriately recognizing and commemorating the 228 Massacre. Deng is almost a mythical figure and hero among activists and the socially and politically engaged, but remains somewhat unknown in mainstream society - I have many students who have never heard of him, and I had been in Taiwan for several years before I learned of his work and sacrifice.

It's a quieter sort of reflection, away from the speeches, music and even protests. I strongly recommend going - it's a small museum but a very emotional experience - I'll post a few photos later. The office where he set the fire, preserved in its charred state, is hard to look at straight on, to be honest. I also recommend watching the longer, 50-minute film (English subtitles available on request, and you can buy a DVD of the film for a reasonable price). Be warned: you will cry, especially if you care about Taiwan, but even if you are not so attached to this country.

Downtown, participants in the Gongsheng music festival (a 228 commemorative event) and members of one of the most conservative - and geriatric - factions of the KMT clashed before the two sides were separated by the police. A full piece will be out later on this (here it is!), but I'll go out on a limb and say the old folks started it.

I may be wrong, but it seems like these sort of scuffles are more common this year than in the past (perhaps in the past I didn't notice as much, but it really feels like an escalation). Skirmishes not only took place between the pro-KMT folks out waving their ROC flags - a few days ago pro-unificationists attacked a 228-related book signing.

If my impression is correct, all I can say is this: when a privileged minority with outdated views starts losing their privileged position in a society and with it their ability to dominate the cultural narrative of that society, they tend to react angrily. Finding that your views are not only no longer mainstream but that people are not letting you manipulate what your collective society stands for tends to cause people to lash out. Nobody likes having their power taken away, and nobody likes being faced with the cognitive dissonance of realizing society now believes that the party or ideology they've supported is not only outmoded but in fact morally wrong, or even requiring justice to rectify wrongs that you never thought were actually wrong. We've seen it recently in other countries - I mean, look at where I'm from - so it's no surprise that the Huang Fu-xing (a far-right chapter of the KMT consisting mostly of Nationalist veterans of advanced age) would be acting this way.

As we continue to strip them of their privilege and cultural power both in general society and through specific acts of transitional justice, expect them to lash out more. Be vigilant, as well: we know they are in the minority, and we know they are behind the times and reacting out of anger that they are no longer in control. However, if recent events in the country of my birth prove anything, it's that you can never be sure that they won't strike back hard enough to actually win even as it seems that their beliefs are (literally) dying out.

On the other side of the ideological divide, Chiang Kai-shek Dead Dictator Memorial Hall was closed for the day, which is the first year I remember that happening. The reason given by the Ministry of Culture was that it was out of respect and to 'memorialize the dead'. What many socially aware people are saying, however, is that it was closed to preemptively stop vandalism of the hall or the statue within it. Other statues have apparently been vandalized, and there has been renewed call to remove the statue altogether and repurpose the hall into something other than, well, a memorial to a brutal dictator and murderer.

Regardless of the reason, I would say that closing the hall even for a day is the right thing to do. It is an insult to the dead to have a large memorial complex celebrating the man who is ultimately responsible for their deaths. However, it doesn't go far enough. That statue ought to have been removed years ago (as I once said in a TV interview back when it was renamed Freedom Square, only to have my words purposely mistranslated into "everyone has their opinion, I think we should all be able to hold different views", which I never said). The entire place ought to be repurposed (I find it visually appealing enough, but really can't stand that it memorializes a deeply evil man). The memorial hall has said that they will stop selling CKS-related merchandise and other things that show him in a positive light, but until it is truly Freedom Square - or perhaps the new building for the Legislative Yuan - it still doesn't go far enough.

Honestly speaking, beyond 228 - for which Chiang was, in fact, responsible - when I look at Taiwanese history post-1945, at every turn (every fucking turn!) the person most responsible, almost singlehandedly responsible, for fucking over Taiwan. He completely fucked the whole country (fuck!), and yet there's a creepy-ass personality cult monument to him taking up prime real estate downtown. Fuck him - it's time for that to change.

Of course, not everyone understands the role that Chiang did play in 228.

Along those lines, a "revelation" (it wasn't really) of great interest was also made public this month: some scholars have long suspected that Chiang Kai-shek was ultimately responsible for the 228 Massacre, despite one of the accepted narratives being that he was in China at the time and could not have been responsible for the actions of Chen Yi. Now, we have proof that he was, in fact, responsible. Correspondence between Chen and Chiang in which the former asks for troops (which were granted) has been found and published, giving clear proof that Chiang was aware of the situation in Taiwan and authorized troops to be sent. It isn't hard, if you understand how the wheels of history work, to figure out that he must have known how those troops were going to be used.

In any case, an excellent run-down of the document and its significance (and a strong case for why it shows that Chiang is ultimately responsible for the massacre) can be found here. I won't repeat what has already been said so well.

Moving on from that into shallower waters, apparently there's some dumb kerfuffle over Pizza Hut offering promotions over the long weekend, because other countries commemorate tragedies in an appropriately solemn atmosphere. The example given is September 11 in the United States.

First, I do need to say that what Pizza Hut did was insensitive and stupid. My issue is not that the ad was fine; it wasn't. (I did not realize at first that they changed it from "Killer Deals!" to something less horrifying. "Killer deals!" is never okay.) I just think focusing on this takes up time and discourse over things of greater importance.

That said, regarding September 11, I can't speak for every public holiday surrounding a tragedy worldwide, but September 11 in the US is not a public holiday, whereas 228 in Taiwan is. The only closely analogous holidays that are actually days off (well, for some people) in the US are perhaps Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. And, let's be honest, in terms of how those are actually celebrated, we may as well rename them Mattress Discounters Day or Raymour & Flanagan Super Blowout Sale Day or whatever. Come on. Are people taking trips or visiting relatives rather than attending commemorative events? Some are, but given how little free time and how few holidays Taiwanese get, can you really blame them? I have no patience for this line of criticism.

Let me be clear - I do not think it is appropriate for Pizza Hut to offer promotions on 228, especially if they reference the massacre in particular. I just want to point out that plenty of public holidays are commodified or commercialized around the world, even the ostensibly solemn ones. This isn't some isolated incident of corporate apathy (Big Business is always apathetic, this is nothing new. That's why I don't get my moral code from Pizza Hut. Or my pizza...)

Finally, being the 70th anniversary of the massacre, and also a politically charged year as the "opposition" (they're not anymore) has control of both the legislature and the presidency for the first time in Taiwan's history, it is understandable that there are more media offerings on the legacy of the tragedy of 228. The Duty of 228 is a touching video, which feels more like flipping through an interactive scrapbook than a traditional 'video' and is worth a watch. The New York Times has a pretty solid article on the massacre, although I take exception to the assertion that, when the Nationalists arrived in Taiwan, that Taiwanese as a whole were overjoyed or particularly welcomed them.

That is, of course, the prevailing narrative and it is true that the streets were lined with "supporters" as the soldiers arrived. However, I question the degree to which they were really happy to be "liberated" from Japanese colonial rule (Japanese rule itself being a complex topic that I will not tackle here). Everything I've read on the topic - which admittedly isn't much - points out that many Taiwanese were disappointed to see how small and ragged these 'liberators' really were. One credible acquaintance points out that many of the "supporters" on the street were children who were told by their teachers to be there - if you're told to go outside and cheer, you don't count as a "supporter". I have also read that the crowd of "supporters" (scare quotes included) when Chiang and his wife appeared in the Presidential Office was, well, there - but it wasn't clear how much they really "supported" the KMT's taking over.

What's more, as much as anti-Taiwan, pro-China voices claim otherwise, there was in fact a Taiwanese autonomy/independence movement in existence at that time, and George Kerr even makes reference to Taiwanese who want autonomy. (I also have trouble believing that the ideologies and thought processes behind the formation of the Formosa League for Re-Emancipation, which was founded in 1948, were birthed in their entirety by the events of 228. I find it very hard to believe that there were no smaller groups around before that talking about Taiwanese independence. Furthermore, he and others were quite clear that plenty of political elites in China worried about how the ROC was going to approach the governance of an island full of people so different from the rest of China - in great part because most of them grew up under the Japanese. It is inconceivable to me that Taiwanese did not, to some extent, share similar worries.

In any case, the article is pretty good, the video is lovely, and although I haven't read it yet, I am sure Tsai's speech will be of interest (almost the least interesting thing to have happened surrounding 228 this year, although I would also like to hear what the first DPP president since Chen Shui-bian has to say).

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Events in Taiwan are bad and the planners should feel bad

So yesterday my husband, sister and some friends decided to go to that "Strasbourg Christmas Market in Taipei". We figured it'd be crowded on a weekend but didn't really have any time we were all free during the week to go together.

I bought tickets in advance at 7-11, having heard that sales were limited on-site (which seemed like a good idea when I thought you needed a ticket to get in - limiting numbers. Great.) Then I found out entrance was actually free, but you got the cost of the ticket (NT$500) turned into vouchers you could spend at the fair. Okaaaay, I get not wanting every stall to be handling tons of cash, but it seems a bit byzantine, and it wasn't very clearly announced. Then I saw a video panning the market, saying they did only sell 1,000 tickets per day at the site (whether or not that's true is still unclear).

So we are told that because we have pre-purchased tickets, we could not get the vouchers at the area near the fair with almost no line. We had to go to Taipei 101 Mall's B1 information counter and exchange them there. We got there and took a number (so we bought a ticket to get a ticket to wait in line to get more tickets that we could use as cash?) and waited a good 10 minutes to get our vouchers plus some worthless plastic crap 'gift'.

We get our vouchers and get about 10 meters into the market when Brendan decides to bail - he had had to leave in an hour anyway for work, and we wasted most of that getting those damn vouchers, and honestly it was just too crowded to be any fun. So I completely understood.

We passed a few stalls of unimpressive stuff you can buy in any store - Carrefour, Jason's etc. - and way overpriced Christmas decorations (hey, wanna spend NT$300 on a cutout wooden tree ornament that you paint yourself? Me neither!) and noticed that instead of Christmas music, the live band - which wasn't very good - was playing...Green Day?

Why?

Like, why Green Day? When I think Christmas I don't think "Dookie".

Would it have been so hard to hire a jazz band to play Christmas classics, or even have a cappella groups or brass or string mini-ensembles here and there playing Christmas music (no Green Day!) instead of a big stage? Why did there need to be a stage at all?

Way too much market space was allocated to seating for people wanting to listen to music that absolutely nobody wanted to listen to.

So we found the more European-looking wooden stalls down one edge of the market - there were maybe ten of them. Some had food or sweets, but everything we wanted to buy was sold out (gingerbread cookies, olives and cheese) and nothing available was particularly appetizing. Some sold wine, one sold beer. We got some beer, that was fine, but the wine was way too expensive by the bottle. We got mulled wine which was okay, and the one thing we didn't have to wait for. We got egg nog which said it was spiked (in Chinese) but...if it was I couldn't taste it, and it wasn't egg nog. It was milk with some vanilla in it and maybe fake rum flavoring. It was not good.

It was so crowded: those ten, maybe slightly more than ten, stalls in that long, narrow space meant there was no way to just walk around. Even if you wanted to, random areas were cordoned off, but the crush of people near the stalls was so bad you literally could not move. We ended up walking behind them. There were a few tables and chairs, all of them constantly full.

Evening came and everything lit up - that was nice enough, and we finally got a table that was covered in some other group's trash. My friends got food at McDonald's because nothing at the market was appealing and fairly priced (I am rather used to this and ate in advance). My sister said she spent her voucher money and wasn't sure what she got for it - some mulled wine and bad "egg nog"?

There were a few other things you could buy, like truffle salt and foie gras, to bring home, but all of it was very expensive. There were no mid-range goodies on offer that people could buy as small Christmas gifts, and nothing pricey was impossible to get elsewhere, in less crowded
stores.

When it came down to it, the whole thing was poorly planned. The ticketing system was ridiculous - clearly nobody who'd ever worked in event planning and understood Taiwanese crowds had planned it. There were not nearly enough stalls. I would not have minded that some of them were fairly humdrum, like Carrefour, if there had been more stalls selling anything at all unique or at least appealing.

Taiwan-style crowds are to be expected, and can't be avoided. The organizer's clearly did not understand that basic fact about this country. It's a densely packed place, and weekend events like this will draw numbers that you simply won't see in Western countries. The event space was far too small, with far too little to do, for the number of people who showed. They either needed to control numbers by making it voucher-entry only (and have more on offer for the cost of entry), or pick a bigger damn venue. Banqiao, despite being far from the city, would have been a good choice, as would Maji Maji square if they decorated well and used both the outside and inside areas. Cramming it behind Taipei 101 was probably decided because it would bring in the weekend Xinyi shopping crowd, but it was a very poor choice of space in every other respect.

At the end, I had several hundred NT worth of vouchers I hadn't spent on mulled wine or shitty egg nog, and used it to buy bottles of German beer to bring home. I still had NT$100 after that, which wouldn't buy another beer, and went for some mediocre-looking Carrefour chocolate only to find that, too, had sold out in the time we'd been there. I ended up with a carton of pumpkin soup...for some reason?

That was even sadder, because I was planning to spend quite a bit more, maybe get some new nice Christmas decorations, chocolate and other treats, alcohol and stocking stuffers. None of that was really available, so I had to search for something to spend my money on (to be fair I would have bought the beer regardless, but the selection should have been bigger - there could have been more beer stalls in general).

The lights came on, and the stage was empty. My friend pointed out that the transition to evening before dinner was the perfect time for live music, but no music had been booked. A CD of generic Christmas songs played (at least it was seasonally themed and not, like, Weezer. But even Weezer has a Christmas album).

Because I got some German beer, and got to drink mulled wine, I refuse to call it a total wash. But, honestly, it was pretty bad. That is a shame, it could have been so much better.

So, organizers, if you are reading this:

Taiwanese events mean crowds. Plan for this accordingly. You did a bad job.
Fire whomever booked the music. Just kick 'em out.
Fix your ticket issues.
Consider what people really want at a "European Christmas market" and endeavor to offer that.
I don't need to feel like I'm in Europe. I'm not. That's fine. But I at least want to have an enjoyable time and not be stuck in a too-small space with too many people listening to fucking Green Day and drinking gross vanilla milk. Make it better next time. You totally could - Taiwanese clearly are eating up the idea of a European Christmas Market. Certainly you could get adequate food and goods vendors out to take advantage of that.

And that's just it - usually I am okay with crowds. Certain spots on the weekend (and some all week), certain public holidays, certain tourist sites, certain events? Crowds are to be expected in Taiwan. It's a part of living here - either you accept it and roll with it or you don't. If you go to the National Palace Museum, Jiufen, pretty much anywhere on a three-day weekend, or a night market on a nice weekend night, you know what to expect and you deal with it. But it's not too much to ask that the planners of these events freakin' take that into consideration and plan better events.

I might be so annoyed by this in particular because in the past, Christmas was the one thing I had. The one holiday where I could shop in peace because it wasn't a 'thing' locally. I didn't have to plan in October to get Christmas goodies because otherwise it'd be too crowded or sold out. Stores and offices decorated and department stores played seasonal music but that was about it. But it's a thing now - friends exchange gifts, people put up trees, people, well, go to Christmas markets. IKEA is already sold out of Glogg and the wrapping paper I liked, and it's not even December 5th! Christmas was the one time I could celebrate a holiday in Taiwan without having to plan for a guerilla offensive like a 5-star general, and it's gone.

Or maybe I'm so irritated because this is part of a trend of terrible events. A friend of mine was telling me that pretty much every Latin festival was so poorly planned that, for example, air conditioners wouldn't be turned on so people dancing would be about to pass out. I remember that kinda-terrible Taco Festival where lines for any given taco stand were 45 minutes long, and almost everything ran out by the time you got to the front, and how I had to leave and go eat pot stickers because I was so hungry. I remember friends of mine going to art exhibits at Huashan and saying it was, like, a few stalls of mediocre art and not much else. I honestly think the last expat-friendly or expat-planned events I've been to that were in any way well-planned were Dog Days in Drag 2014 (I couldn't make it this year and last year it felt like it ended well before midnight and well before all the raffles should have been done) and that British music thing by the river, which had to have been at least 3 years ago.

How is it not possible to do better?

I see one ray of hope: people are starting to complain about it. A lot of people bitched about how the Taco Festival virtually guaranteed by dint of poor planning that most people would not get tacos. Pretty much everyone is complaining about the "Strasbourg Christmas Market".

Do better.

Seriously...just...freakin' do better. There is no excuse for so many poorly-planned events. There is no reason why this market had to be so terrible. There have got to be locals or long-term expats here with backgrounds in event planning that you could hire.

Do.

Better.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fighting to keep Chiang Kai-shek's birthday holiday? Really?

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Just checking in - I'm still working quite hard collecting stories of immigration troubles, and a few of them are truly tragic. But, I've got to fact-check and figure out how I'm going to structure this post, so it's looking like it will be something of a longer-term project. Bear with me, and I'll keep people updated. I have a few more people to interview, some folks to call, some visits to make etc. before I even start writing. This is on top of preparing to go to grad school and doing a TEFL professional development project involving action research. Oh, and working too.

I also have a really nice long post on Yunlin County coming up, so keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime, I just have to say I'm not sure what to make of the whole 'seven holidays' snafu. It took awhile to even figure out which holidays are being cut (turns out it's the 7 extra days we randomly got this year and not some other holidays). This stands to reason, but was not immediately obvious and I needed to be sure before I commented.

So...I dunno. On one hand, I am all for more holidays. Taiwanese work far too long, and laws limiting employers from forcing them to work too much overtime are not very effective; at least, they are not enforced well at all. In such a pro-boss hierarchical culture I am not sure they ever will be, though Taiwan has surprised me before. And I certainly do not think the "one day off, one flexible rest day" is a good idea. Everybody knows they'll have to work on that day and probably get cheated out of overtime pay (even if they don't, some people would rather have that day off anyway). This is a country where bosses regularly force workers to ignore typhoon days to come in, which is deeply illegal! It's just window dressing on the real goal of re-instituting the six-day work week, and it's bullshit.

I honestly think we should have more holidays, and days off on Friday/Monday for holidays that fall on a weekend. But I can't really wrap my head around the protests to the cuts of these particular holidays.

Some of them are fine - Teacher's Day, Constitution Day (created so Chiang Kai-shek's wife, Soong Mei-ling, who was a Christian, could have Christmas off). But some of them are totally batshit - who in their right mind wants Retrocession Day or Chiang Kai-shek's birthday, or even Sun Yat-sen's birthday (less offensive but equally a KMT import rather than a reason for an authentic Taiwanese celebration)? It's really odd to see a bunch of Taiwan-identifying civic activists and labor rights protestors rallying around the Legislative Yuan - the same sort of people who fought against CSSTA and are generally strongly pro-Taiwan and pro-independence - to save the holiday reserved for a murderous dictator, the worst person Taiwan has ever known.

(Side note: I find it hilarious that Chiang Kai-shek's birthday falls on Halloween, because his ghost truly haunts Taiwan still).

All this means I'm not sure which side to take here. I want holidays but not those holidays - an angle I don't see reported in the press at all. I fear my views might be closest to those of the KMT and that is really terrifying and not okay.

I also want 5-day work weeks, and I want holiday make-up days for those that land on a weekend. Basically, I want the government to tell the Boss Class to shove it, that they have to give their workers adequate time off whether they like it or not.

So I think I'll abstain from this protest and instead rally quietly for, I dunno, Formosa Day (commemorating the Kaohsiung Incident), Nylon Cheng Day, Declaration of the Republic of Formosa Day (for the date in 1895 when Taiwan declared independence and held onto it for several months following the departure of the Qing), Sunflower Day (haha, probably not going to happen), White Lily Day, Democracy Day.

As much as I want more holidays for the working people of Taiwan, I just can't bring myself to insist that we should keep stupid buttclown Chiang Kai-shek's stupid birthday, and it will never stop being weird to me to see pro-Taiwan activists demanding it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I'll Actually Be Home For Christmas

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Stockings hanging on the fireplace at my parents' house












Several years on, a follow-up to an older post of mine about not feeling the holiday spirit in Taipei.

Out of habit, I refer to the USA as "home" and Taiwan as...well, as the place I live, I guess. But I've realized recently that referring to these two places in such ways is disingenuous. I used to think that 'being home for Christmas' meant being in the USA, and staying in Taiwan meant 'not going home for Christmas'.

But as much as there are forces keeping me from fully embracing this country as "home", namely because this country in many ways doesn't necessarily want me to call it home, I've realized that too is incorrect.

This Christmas I'll be in our apartment, with my husband and my sister, opening gifts under our tree, and unstuffing my stocking. These things are mine. Brendan is my primary family. I don't live in a house in upstate New York, or even an apartment in Washington DC or anywhere else: I live in an apartment in Taipei, and we are a little family of two with a sibling close by and two cats.

How is that not 'home'? And therefore, how can I say I won't be going 'home for Christmas'? I already am home.

Granted, Taipei isn't the most Christmassy of cities, though I do feel there has been a bit more decoration and music (most of it bad, to be honest - "Joy to the World" was never meant to be a polka) than in previous years, and the cold snap means it really does feel something like winter. It is hard to get into the Christmas spirit still because despite all of those trappings, locals don't celebrate it and everyone else will be going to work as usual on the 25th (although I am not religious, I insist on keeping one little island of Western culture firmly set in the stream of my life - I do not work on Christmas), but regardless, I am spending Christmas at home.

It may not be my home forever - in fact it likely won't be for reasons I've posted about before. But it's my home now. I'm not traveling for Christmas, but I will be home.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Stewed and Cubed Improvisation

I'm going to tell a story. Bear with me if you like, it does evolve into something. It's not just a rambling narrative of the events leading up to Christmas.

Two days before Christmas, my parents held a holiday party.

We arrived almost a week before that, loud and happy - as happy as you can be when your mother is sick - hugs at the airport, promises of a renovated bathroom (no more fighting over who gets to go first!), a prediction of snow, on our way to get a real tree, with real tree smell and pine needles and everything. We'd decorate! There'd be a party on Saturday at a friend's and a party on Sunday at ours, then Christmas.

Of course several issues threatened to bring the whole thing down like a cat latched to a flimsy curtain - some health issues in the immediate family that I won't disclose in full, but I can reveal that basically, my mother will soon be back in chemotherapy, on a different drug. That brought a lot of stress and uncertainty to the holidays. And with it...medical bills.

My parents are having the downstairs bathroom re-done, to make it usable for the first time in years. The work was almost not finished in time, and while it was going on, the well pump broke. We had to have that replaced along with paying the expected renovation bills.

Then, the furnace motor went. It started making an odd sound on Friday, and by Saturday morning it was dead. We found a tech who would come fix it, but the part had to be ordered and wouldn't be in before Christmas. That meant no heat up to and on Christmas Day. Whoopty-freakin'-do. Also, waiting for the tech (who was actually great, this wasn't his fault) on Saturday meant our planned Christmas shopping trip was cancelled. No, I did not get all of my Christmas shopping done, but in the end it didn't matter. At least we have a fireplace.

So...far less money than expected, no heat, medical problems, and the party was on Sunday. I was set to help clean and to cook a few dishes on the day itself, and I'll be honest, I didn't really want to do any of it in a cold house when I was already stressed. To be more honest, I wanted to cancel it.

But Mom, the one who was so insistent we would have a good holiday, was adamant that we had to soldier on. Intractable, even. I did not share her enthusiasm and, as a further confession, did not even try to pretend to. I did, however, agree to woman up and just do what needed to be done if she was so immovable on this. I figured I'd be cleaning in my coat, scarf and gloves (I was right, except for the gloves).

My husband said "this is like one of those Lifetime holiday specials in which the family is subject to trial after trial and problem after problem until the whole house goes up in a ball of flame" (which would have been warmer, anyway, and with all the blown fuses from our many space heaters, seemed to be a distinct possibility. I say: good riddance). "...and at the end, on the eve of the holiday, the family learns the true meaning of Christmas."

Me: "Fuck the true meaning of Christmas, I want heat."
Friend: "You know, Jenna, in those specials, the cynical one always has the biggest change of heart."
Me: "BAH HUMBUG."

For the record, I want Mom to be well more than I wanted heat, but "I want heat" was a funnier thing to say, and since there is no star in this chaotic entropy-verse I can wish upon, hoping it's the eye of a nonexistent God, that will make that happen without the help of modern science (and I do pray to modern science), I may as well say what I please.

So leading up to the party I busied myself helping - I managed to get out of the house to do Mom's Christmas shopping so she could clean. Win-win. Then I came home and started making my various dishes, cold hands and all. One dish - muhammara, which I make regularly - exploded in the far too small blender (no, the tiny food processor is not big enough, and I have no idea why anyone thought we could make hummus, babaghanoush and muhammara, three blended dips, in it in an hour or so). Someone else finished it. I admit I pulled the brat card - you want muhammara at this party, well, this is a disaster, you want it, you finish it, I'm done with it.

What I did make and finish was my beer-stewed beef cubes, which can be prepared as a stew, casserole, toothpick'd appetizer or something you eat with bread or over rice. It's a stew of herbs - mostly dill, but also rosemary, garlic and thyme - beef cubes, beer, grainy spicy mustard, shallots, some butter, and some additions (I'm fond of bell pepper, mushrooms and walnuts personally). Grumble bells, grumble bells, I grumbled all the way to the stove - which had to be lit with a lighter, the pilot was acting up - and started working. I cut the melting butter with olive oil to make the whole thing a tad healthier (ho ho ho, as though that's possible), gently toasted the herbs along with salt, pepper and paprika and added shallots into the fragrant, frothy pan. and browned the beef. Some people began to arrive. My junior high school music teacher was there, some family friends, some of my sister's friends (none of my friends live in the area anymore), a girl who commented that it smelled "gross" (whatever, girl, it's delicious). I dumped in the bottle of beer and mixed the whole thing together. I left briefly to set up some Christmas music on my iPhone. I added a generous dollop of hot, grainy apple cider vinegar mustard and mixed that in. I adjusted for flavor (good ways to improve top notes in this recipe while keeping it rounded is to add orange juice, orange zest or apple cider. For bottom notes, add some toasted nuts, beef boullion, well-toasted paprika or use a darker beer.

I stewed it all together and added the vegetables in order from longest-cooking to shortest (carrots first, then bell peppers, then mushrooms, like that). Really, you can add almost any vegetable. You could throw spinach, cauliflower, squash, potatoes, whatever into there. You might even be able to get away with lentils, Brussels sprouts or zucchini. You can add any herbs as long as you've got dill. You can change the type of mustard or beer. A pilsner and a light, hot English mustard will produce a very different dish from a winter lager with a mottled dijon. You don't even need to use beef, although I hold that a red meat is best. If you make it as a stew you can add butter squash late for chunkiness, or early so they'll disintegrate into the casserole and add more base flavor. In a casserole, I slather fat, soft breadsticks with mustard and place them on top at the very end - it's done when the tops crisp - but you don't have to.

In short, you can improvise. You can do whatever you want. The end product's just got to come out alright.

Finally, I made this dish for my in-laws (fresh dill, butter squash in a casserole with breadsticks), and it was quite different from the one I made for my parents (dried dill, no butter squash, mushrooms, in a stew). In the end, it was the same dish. It was still me. Each time, I improvised. I didn't know the squash would disintegrate, but it came out OK.

I realized as I was cooking it that that's really all we do - we improvise. Mom gets cancer, and we make do. We do what we can, we research, we plan, but in the end, we kinda make it up as we go along. We fight, we make up, and we know we always love each other, even though it's too easy to revert to adolescence when at home, and yes, parents can be just as annoying to adult offspring as those same offspring were as teenagers. The furnace breaks, and we improvise. I huddle under blankets and offer to go Christmas shopping for Mom so she won't have to (NICE WARM SHOPPING MALL), and Brendan does whatever he can, including shoveling snow with a garden spade, to help ease the stress on my chaotic and stressed-out family. Grandma L. calls every day, even though it accomplished nothing other than to stoke her worries.

As an expat, I improvise. As an expat with a parent battling cancer, I improvise. I do the best I can - even when "the best I can" basically means I decide to stay in Taiwan and visit from there, because I can make more money to enable me to visit there than I could doing the same thing at home (and yes, I am experienced and certified, it's not as though I teach kiddie English for $590/hour), and do something I enjoy rather than selling my soul for an office job. I save money as well as I can, I visit in the winter even though I hate the cold, and I try to be supportive even as I'm fighting the impulse to act like a teenager, slamming doors and proclaiming that I hate everyone and nobody loves me anyway waah waah. (I didn't do that, but I kinda wanted to. I don't hate everyone, though). It's cheaper and easier to visit in January, between Christmas and Chinese New Year when work is dead, but I visit at Christmas because it's important. I don't always make these decisions in advance. I want to cancel a party, but I don't 'cause Mom wants it to happen. So I improvise and dance around my bad mood and cold fingers. I made a dish I didn't even really want to make that night, in that cold kitchen.

Life as an expat is a life of improvisation - with an unknown audience, in an unfamiliar theater. Life as an expat whose mother has cancer is a life of improvisation, cubed. You stay abroad and you stew in it - I should be home, I should be there, but I can make the money I need to be supportive here, and anyway here is where I want to live. My life is also important, but I feel selfish for even thinking it. You come home and you stew in it - everyone's emotional, everyone's stressed, you love them but you really want to slam that door. You just want people to acknowledge that it sucks that it's so cold, but instead you get "it's not that cold", "it's fine", "the fire's warm", "the fire makes it pretty OK, don't you agree?" No, you don't agree, it is that cold, can we all please just stop pretending? So you improvise, you stew in it, and you go to the mall.

I even asked if we could just go to Grandma's for the whole deal. Nope...we had to have Christmas at home. That's fine, it's what Mom wanted, but deep down, I wanted heat, and no I did not think the fireplace would be sufficient. We stayed, we improvised. We woke up on Christmas morning, achy, just wanting it to be warm for Chrissakes.

We woke up to snow - a white Christmas, indeed. We started a fire, I made a hot coffee cocktail with cream and Irish Mist and dunked Christmas cookies into it. We opened gifts and it was fun. It was that cold, but we could basically ignore it. I'd like to say I dropped my cynicism and it was all lovely and Christmas special-y, with a soft-focus and white portrait filter, but it wasn't. It was fine, but mostly, we improvised. I was happy to be there, but no, it wasn't rose-tinged and perfect.

We did what we had to do, and for as long as I live abroad and my mother has cancer, we'll continue doing what we have to do, and we won't always know what that is until it happens.

Mustard Cubed Beef

I was going to include a recipe for my beef cubes, but anything I could put on here is something you can add your own flourishes to without much problem. Even I change it up. So...here's a rough outline of the recipe, but the scant information is deliberate:

Melt some butter in a pan with olive oil, on low, add lots of dill, some rosemary and some thyme along with chopped garlic, salt, a red chili if you like, maybe some orange zest, maybe some paprika. Add chopped shallots, and then beef. Brown. Add a can of beer - dark is great, but pilsner or ale would be fine. Mix and add a few dollops of mustard. Add other vegetables - carrots, chopped bell pepper, mushroom. Add walnuts if you like, or any other vegetable that you think would work. Cook, add cornstarch to thicken if needed. Or cook as a casserole with potatoes, squash etc. with mustard-slathered sliced bread at the bottom, and mustard-slathered breadsticks on top (add breadsticks 15 mins before it's done, it's done when they crisp and brown slightly on top). If you make as a casserole, still brown the beef in the herbed butter, but use more shallots.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving at 龍都酒樓



Sorry I haven't been blogging this week - on top of a crazy work schedule, I was still sick. Only now am I starting to feel somewhat better. Something had to go, and that something was blogging (and most of my free time activities, as all I had energy for in my free time was sleeping).

But yesterday was great - I was so impressed with 龍都酒樓 the first time I ate there that I was really excited to return for our Thanksgiving meal. It's something of a tradition with us to go out for Beijing Duck on Thanksgiving and put together a group of friends with whom to enjoy the meal. We could have gone to one of the hotels for the traditional spread, but from what everyone tells me, those meals are expensive, and not particularly good.



I never really warmed up to turkey anyway, and have always preferred duck or other birds. What's interesting about putting together Thanksgiving dinners in Taipei is that most of the time, the other guests aren't American! This time we had several Taiwanese friends, a Canadian and an Australian join us. It doesn't really matter - every culture and citizens of every country can understand the joys of a large group meal for tradition's sake.

龍都酒樓 is great not just for its duck, but for the rest of the menu, which is actually Cantonese (they do a mean dim sum) - so you can have your Beijing specialty and your BBQ pork buns all at once!


...and the pork pastries are fantastic. Say goodbye to the hard, lardy crust at Luckstar or Diamond Star Hong Kong Style restaurants, and say hello to flaky, buttery, savory heaven. They're so rich - I think that this is what angel meat must taste like.

And the duck is so juicy - other places have served us slightly dry meat. Not here. The fat practically runs down your chin, and the skin is lacquered to perfection.

How much meat can I shove in my face hole?? Also, I need a haircut.
                         

Add caption

Another thing I love about this place - which I learned of through local friends who took me there for 11am dim sum one weekend long ago - is the total '80s style amazingness. It looks like an old kung fu movie, maybe from '86, where the Good Guy Cops face off against the Triads and do martial arts while jumping over mezzanine balconies and generally destroying the place. If I had had a Taiwanese wedding, Id've wanted it here.



It helps that it's off Linsen N. Road - the "Japanese Businessman Entertainment Area". Old school foodies from across Taiwan (or even East Asia) come here to enjoy the throwback ambiance and amazing duck, and I sure intend to go back again. Too bad you have to make reservations about a month in advance.

                         

                         

Then some of us headed over to our place for pie and cookies, and my special Swiss hot wine, while we decorated the Christmas tree.



Hot wine is 2/3 dark, sweet wine (well, I use drier wine, but Dad uses sweeter wine), 1/3 Fire Water cinnamon schnapps, a shot or two of something like Goldschlager (depending on how many glasses you're making), a stick of cinnamon per glass, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom if you like, all heated to just-about-to-boil (turn it off when steam starts rising, but before bubbles start forming).

It gets you real toasty, real fast. I have to bring the two kinds of cinnamon schnapps from the USA - just try and find it in Taiwan (no seriously, try, and if you find it let me know because I've sure been unsuccessful).



We're going home for Christmas this year, so we only have a few weeks to enjoy our tree - but I'd rather go home, because while I love Taiwan, they don't do Christmas very well. This year I will be home for Christmas, and they better have snow, and mistletoe, and presents by the tree!




We still stuff stockings for each other despite being in our 30s.

 
                                                       The end of the hot wine









We fixed the wonky star later.









Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Day in the Tri-Service Hospital ER, and links

I've been sick and recently come around the bend after a week of getting sicker, so haven't had the energy or mental with-it-ness to devote to actual blogging. By "sick" I mean "I spent a day in the ER because I was puking up water, pooping my intestines out and still had a bronchial infection", not at home with the sniffles.

Which, hey, gotta say - once again I'd like to thank Taiwan National Health Insurance for being super awesome. You guys are great - I will never, ever return to the American system as it currently is, even under the ACA. I realize the government is worried that they won't have enough money to maintain the system - I say that a healthy populace requires an investment, and that the money comes back to you in other ways (a healthier populace is also a more productive populace, and one that needs to return less often for follow-up treatment or relapses), and that whatever it may cost, it can't possibly be more than the US currently wastes on those who need medical care and can't afford it (both in coverage of ER/hospital bills they can't pay, ER visits that could have been avoided with a trip to the doctor, which they also couldn't afford, and missed work due to illness you can't afford to treat, not to mention covering only the sick, old and veterans, meaning that you have no risk pool of generally healthy people to help offset the cost) in our "more efficient" (heh heh) mostly-privatized system. Taiwan is so much better, and is a true model for good socialized health insurance (although it is not perfect). Why so many people assume the problem-ridden European/Canadian/Australian systems - especially the British one - are the only way to do socialized coverage is beyond me. Take a look around the world, and see that a better world is possible.

Fortunately, even if we did leave Taiwan, we wouldn't have to return to the American system. Because...



TA-DAAA!

Guess who's Canadian now? That's right - my husband. Ah, Canada, where people are generally reasonable. If we ever left Taiwan for the West (and not another country farther away), I'd hit up Canada so fast that we'd be there before you could say "where's the Tim Horton's, ey?"

Otherwise, I haven't been doing much, having been sick and all. I've spent some time on Christmas gifts, because this year's crop is handmade - I'll post about that later. So on Taiwan, I have little to say as I haven't been truly engaged with the outside world for a few weeks, and have been feeling under the weather since Halloween.

Also, we got our invitation to our good friends' wedding:


My Taiwanese friends are all either single, not interested in marriage, can't marry right now (income/visa/long-distance issues), not ready for marriage or gay, it seems, so this is the first Taiwanese wedding we'll be attending, even after 6 years in Taiwan. You'd think wed've gone to one sooner, but no. I'm excited, and so happy for them!


So...a few links:

Woman denied abortion dies in Ireland - 唉!我歸懶趴火!!This just makes me so angry. Part of me wants to say "we need a national, no, a global dialogue about this", and part of me wants to say "if you're anti-choice, go eff yourself".

Also, another reminder that Ireland's got it wrong, as do the religious fundies in the USA (note: not all religious people are crazy fundies, let's not group them all together): one person's religion should not ever dictate the life and choices legally available to someone not of that religion. It should never, ever, not ever be the basis of a law, set of laws or a government - the only exception being if everyone in that country is a member of that religion (which is rarely true - maybe Saudi Arabia? But even they have foreign workers). This includes laws on abortion, contraception and gay marriage among others. It is not right and not ethical to create a law based on a religion and then expect people not of that religion to follow it, in a country where religious tolerance is supposed to be the norm. This is why I am so against the Catholic church arguing that they shouldn't have to provide contraception coverage to women employed and insured by them: their religion gives them no right - zero right whatsoever - to determine what is and is not a basic health benefit under a normal health plan. If I were a boss and my religion told me that cancer "didn't exist"or was a punishment by Satan and must be endured, or could be cured with rosewater or whatever, that wouldn't give me the right to only offer insurance that didn't cover cancer treatment. If I believed that people with allergies were liars, that wouldn't give me the right to only offer a plan that didn't cover allergy treatments. If they don't like it, they shouldn't be employers. Or better yet, let's take health care away from the purview of employers and make it available to all independent of their job.

What happens to women who are denied abortions? Well, some of them die (see above). Others fare...not so well. As a commenter on another site put it, they don't generally happily raise the baby and move to a nice suburb in Missouri where they become contented Republican voters.

Don't Google this. Just don't. Someone once told me that "women have been historically oppressed, but so have men. What women faced wasn't any worse than what society forced upon men". BULLSHIT.

Pink Science Kits From the 1950s

A much-needed primer on cultural appropriation - I don't agree with everything in this article. I really don't - some of it is dead-on and some of it is...well...not. I'll write more about it later.

Just for fun - The Hater's Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog. One funny comment:

Everyone go to your nearest Williams-Sonoma store and grab every catalog (do they call it a catalogue?) they have. Carry at least one around at all times, so the next time any person starts talking about repealing Obamacare and how the government has no place telling rich people how to spend their money, just hand them one of these.

I disagree with this, but...haha. I totally want to be that asshole.

Have a happy, sunny day!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Halloween!


Happy weekend before Halloween everyone.

On Wednesday I'm planning to wear devil horn barrettes and go around as a Foreign Devil (洋鬼子), but just for fun I made this mask from materials bought at Shengli General Goods Store (Heping/Fuxing intersection - love that place. They sell everything!). And, for now, I'm a 夜貓族 or "night cat" - the Chinese way of referring to a night owl.

Here's another cat for ya:

My stupid baby

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Taiwan Valentine

awwwwwwww
"My Taiwan Valentine" being different from "My Taiwanese Valentine", of course. If I had a Taiwanese valentine I think Brendan might be a leeeeeeettle upset.

First, enjoy this. Watch the video, too.

And enjoy this. I think next year Brendan is getting Easter candy and a bag of hammers.

So generally we're not big V-day celebrators. Not because I'm anti-Valentine's day, but rather that I'm anti-crappy chocolate (and most of what's sold on V-day is crap). I'm also, while not the sort who says "I don't want to feel pressured to express my feelings by marketing behemoths for their profit" (although there's some truth to that), I am the sort who has come to realize how unimportant the day really is when you're in a good relationship. I have found that stuff like this takes on outsized proportion when things are bad - like you need that planned expression of affection on the corporate-mandated day to prove to yourself that things really are OK. When things are good, you don't care as much about meeting these expectations.

For me anyway. Some folks are in great relationships and still place importance on days like this, and that's fine too.

But, Brendan and I still like to spend time together, and figure there's no harm in having some of that time be around Valentine's Day. This year, however, we're both working in the evening. In a few short hours I'll be back on the HSR to Hsinchu to teach in the Science Park. Since the day itself is not that important, we had our Valentine's Day Love Fest on Sunday - and took advantage of the gorgeous weather.

We took the Maokong Gondola   - I know a lot of people worry about its safety but I personally think it's fine. I've been on it many times and do not fear that something will go wrong. They should change the name, though. "Gondola" is a dumb name for a cable car, and it's doubly annoying to have to teach students what a "gondola" is and then shrug my shoulders when they ask why that was the name chosen for the cable car.

As you can see, we shared a car with a group of women from SE Asia. At first I thought they were Filipina (I thought they were speaking Tagalog) but now I'm not sure - they didn't say much. They could have been Thai. I know they weren't Vietnamese by the language spoken. They spent most of the time taking glamour shots of themselves, though, not chatting - so it's hard to say.

This is a tough time of year to take the Gondola - with the cherry blossoms on Maokong in bloom, if the weather is even remotely decent and it's a weekend, the thing is packed. We were blessed with a lovely, clear day on Sunday, so we had to wait about an hour to board. They were handing out required "reservation" tickets with boarding times. We arrived at 1:37pm and were handed a ticket for 2:30-2:45. We expected this, though.

There aren't as many cherry blossoms on Maokong as on Yangming Mountain, but enough that the easier task of taking the gondola - vs. driving or taking a bus up Yangmingshan - is a good alternative. They also bloom much earlier in Taiwan than elsewhere (esp. Japan) due to the warmer weather.




It's fairly common in every country where Valentine's Day has made some inroads - it's certainly known in Taiwan - for people to celebrate it when they're young and in love and forget about it when they're old fuddy-duddy marrieds (like me!). I kind of understand that: as I said, if your relationship is good, then Valentine's Day, birthdays, other holidays etc. stop becoming a barometer of your relationship status or "goodness", because you don't need them.

What I've noticed in Taiwan, though, is a different sort of not celebrating Valentine's - in the US you'll get the V-day haters, and the ones who are romantic but not on that day, or the ones who are fine without romance but don't really announce that. You get those who say "oh, we don't bother" but they rarely explain it with "because we've been married for so long". Usually there's an implication that there's romance elsewhere or at other times.

I think this couple had a similar idea
for how to spend the day
In Taiwan, you get the older married folks who not only admit to not celebrating Valentine's, but  say that it really is because they're older and married, and, you know, everyone knows that old married folks don't have romance (that last part isn't actually spoken, but it's implied heavily in the tone), that's for crazy young kids. Not that I ask, but I get the strong sense that there is an acceptance of less romance in these relationships overall. Not so much that they don't bother with Valentine's Day, but that they don't bother with that kind of romantic expression at all.


I can't be sure of this, of course - many American couples wouldn't necessarily cop to having a romance-free marriage, and I could be reading the tone wrong in Taiwan, and be adding an implication that wasn't intended: perhaps the tone used merely conveys a deeper sense of privacy about such  things.

But, you know, while divorce - at least in Taipei - is reaching numbers that rival the US's divorce rate, the whole concept of divorce being acceptable, or no-fault divorce, or even "wow, it's not the woman's fault, we can't automatically blame the wife for not being pliant or dutiful enough" divorce, is fairly new in Taiwan. The idea of remaining single by choice or because you  have high standards is new, too - especially for women. It's a more recent change, which means that old feelings of "you marry because it's socially expected, you have kids because you should and you stay in that marriage even if you're not happy, and even if that can't be fixed, even if your husband as a mistress" still linger. I could see how that would bring about a feeling of "eh, people who have been married for awhile don't have, don't need and shouldn't expect romance or love" which might be echoed in the comments I hear.




But enough dreariness. The weather was so balmy and rejuvenating that, between soft pink sakura and bright blue sky, who can help but feel that love is a beautiful thing?



After walking around - and dodging traffic - we settled in at Mountain Tea House, a short walk from the gondola station but beyond most of the crowds. We go there often, because the view is good and the food is tasty. I especially recommend the Lemon Diced Chicken (檸檬雞丁).

As per my blog's namesake, I brewed lao ren cha and we talked, chatted, ate snacks, and quietly read or studied Chinese. I don't consider retreating behind a book to be unromantic (retreating behind a computer or iPod is more unromantic to me, not sure why) - part of what makes our relationship so great is that we can both be quiet and doing our own thing, and still feel a vibrant connection. That's important - because who can talk all day and all night to one person? Even if you have that early chemistry that makes you want to just spill your guts and talk for hours, it eventually fades (not completely, but it does) and something needs to be there to replace it. A connection that transcends conversation.


We also spent a little time taking glamour shots of ourselves.  Here's my frank admission: while I'm fine with being curvy and average looking in real life, there are two things I know are true about my looks:

1.) I am really not photogenic. At all. Even if I look fine in real life, I look terrible in most photos. I'm OK with that, too, until I actually see the photos, which I quickly delete or de-tag.

2.) I have one really great feature. One thing that, when I look in the mirror, I think "wow, that's just great. That looks good". One thing that helps me be totally OK with being otherwise completely average-looking. I won't tell you what it is. I think I've mentioned it before, and anyway it should be pretty clear. 

So, when good photos of me come along - which happens about once a year, if that - I milk those babies for all they're worth, because it'll be awhile before more good ones are taken.


But first, some glamour shots of my super handsome, I mean really handsome, I mean "da-yum how did I land me such a hottie" husband.


I *heart* the green eyes
I mean I love him regardless, I'd love him even if his face got all messed up or he gained 200 pounds. I'd love him if he was not so good-looking...but you gotta admit, I lucked out in the Hot Husband department.

Then, Brendan took some shots of me, when the sun was providing good light:




We stuck around past sunset, because I love the night view from Maokong. I also have a camera now that has a timer, so I can set it on a flat rail and take decently focused night shots, as though I had a tripod.


Then we ventured down to Nanjing E. Road for dinner at Ali Baba's Indian Kitchen, but that's not terribly exciting - just tasty!


Sunday, January 22, 2012

So Far Adrift



迢遞三巴路, 羈危萬里身。 

亂山殘雪夜, 孤獨異鄉春。 

漸與骨肉遠, 轉於僮僕親。 

那堪正飄泊, 明日歲華新。


Farther and farther from the three Ba Roads, 
I have come three thousand miles, anxious and watchful, 
Through pale snow-patches in the jagged nightmountains -- 
A stranger with a lonely lantern shaken in the wind. 
...Separation from my kin 
Binds me closer to my servants -- 
Yet how I dread, so far adrift, 
New Year's Day, tomorrow morning!



I've written before about how I tend to get a bit brooding and maudlin around the holidays - especially leading up to Christmas. I do consider this a good thing, or a sign of a good thing: I wouldn't feel this way if holidays with family were not not happy memories for me. I don't feel this as strongly around Chinese New Year, because it's not my holiday, but there is something to be said for being in a country celebrating  a major family holiday, when everything is closed, and you don't have many ways to celebrate (although I try to find a few). I have my husband, who is my most immediate family now, and my sister also lives in Taiwan. She's younger, though, and has her own friends and while we hang out often,  she's definitely in a younger expat contingent than her fuddy-duddy boring old married sister. This doesn't bother me: it's normal. I was that age, too. Once. Years ago! I don't have a big family dinner to attend. As I said, this doesn't bother me as much as it does on Christmas, but it does cause me to brood a bit.


Here's the thing. I've written about how the common misconception that expats move abroad because they can't make it back home is not true. People often believe that there's something wrong with folks that run off to Asia or wherever, there's something about those people that makes it hard for them to fit in back home, that they're too weird for their own countries. This is not true for me: I have a lot of close friends back home and I make an effort to see them at last once a year. One has visited me (two if you count Brendan, who subsequently moved here and became my husband) and two others have indicated their intention to. We keep in fairly close touch even as our lives take different paths. I left an active and happy social life. I left a crap job that nevertheless had the potential to be an, ahem, "real" career (whatever that means). I left a large, loving family and a brilliant townhouse rental in a pretty cool city. I left dating prospects, all to be abroad just because I wanted to study Chinese and I wanted an adventure. I'd never intended to stay, or to get married and continue staying, abroad - but stay I did.


Well. All of that is still true. And yet, while I can say that I did fit in well enough back home, that I never quite fit in - but then who among us has not felt that way at some point, especially the more adventurous, intellectual or creative types?


Despite having a large and diverse group of friends, and making new friends fairly easily and quickly wherever I am, I've always felt as though I exist in a liminal space. I was not quite of mainstream life back home and I am clearly not quite of mainstream life in Taiwan - as evidenced by the fact that I'm not celebrating Chinese New Year the way most people do here. I recently said on Facebook that I have this loneliness: I never felt that I fully fit into American culture -  I'm not interested in living a life that requires car ownership or extensive driving, for one, but there are other things, too. I don't fully fit into Taiwanese or expat culture either, so who am I?  Then I attended a company year-end banquet at the invitation of a student and as I was watching the craziness go down, I thought to myself: I have my friends, I have my family, and I may not really be able to settle into any group or culture but I'm me and that's OK.


I'm not sure which came first - did I start to feel like I existed on edges and thresholds before I started living abroad, all the way back in 2000 when I went to India for a semester, or  did I start living abroad because I fundamentally feel this way? I have to admit it is a lot easier to give leeway to this part of myself while abroad, because people generally expect that you won't quite fit in. It's easy to "not fit in" when you're not living in your native culture or ethnicity (and are not married into it, either). It's very different indeed to "not fit in" when you live where you came from.


These two ideas might seem to be contradictory, but I don't think they are. Neil Stephenson said something in The Diamond Age (brilliant book right up until the end, when it got all "what the hell" and had a thoroughly unsatisfying and  not-thought-through ending) that resonated with me. In my own words to summarize Stephenson: there are some people who will fully embrace a system and refuse to see fault in it, who will rationalize away contradictions and problems. There are those who will see the faults inherent in a system - any given system, including a cultural structure in which they are born or raised - and use those to tear down the entire thing, rebel, run away, renounce everything about that system. Finally, there are those who will see shades of color in a monochrome, who can accept seeming contradictions, who can understand how one thing and its opposite can both be true, who can accept subtlety and and complexity.  These are truly intelligent people.


I don't want to go off and be all "haha, I am one of the intelligent people!" because that's not my point.


My point is that this issue, for me, falls into the last category. Having a great social and family life back home and fitting in insofar as living well, loving and being loved by many can co-exist with a feeling of liminality, a feeling of not quite "matching" what's around you, a feeling of constant weirdness or eccentricity. One can feel comfortable and settled in a new country, have friends, participate in events, sometimes stumble and sometimes swim like a sleek fish in that context - and still feel like they live life on the sidelines of that culture. One can have and be both.


Never is this contradiction more clear to me than around the holidays.






雲母屏風燭影深, 長河漸落曉星沈。 

嫦娥應悔偷靈藥, 碧海青天夜夜心。



Now that a candle-shadow stands on the screen of carven marble 
And the River of Heaven slants and the morning stars are low, 
Are you sorry for having stolen the potion that has set you 
Over purple seas and blue skies, to brood through the long nights?





This poem is supposed to be about regret at doing something one was not supposed to do -  such as Chang-yi, who was left to be lonely after stealing an immortality potion not meant for her and subsequently floating up to the moon and ending up trapped there for eternity.

To me, it reads as what happens to a person when they live for a period abroad, especially if they like and allow themselves to be affected by their new surroundings (to be true, plenty of expats, especially the corporate types, are sent abroad, preserve as much of life at home as they can, and return happily unaffected). As a friend of mine once said, once you live abroad, you can't really say you belong to any one place. You don't feel the same way about where you came from and probably never will again, because you've changed. You've become bigger and you no longer fit the mold you were raised in. And yet, you don't really feel totally at home in any new place. You feel like just you - the way I felt during that annual party - and a little bit apart from wherever you are, even if you are home. 

It's just as though you, like Chang-yi, were handed a potion when you got on that plane. You drank it, and now you have floated off to some other place and can't go back again. You're left to brood. You, to steal a cliched Matrix analogy, swallowed the red pill. I will not go so far as to say that you ate the forbidden apple, but you get the point. 

Expat Women: Confessions deals with this feeling, answering a question from an adult who had a childhood that included moves to foreign countries. The question  poser asks where and how to live - she doesn't feel at home in her "native country", the country of her passport, but neither is she fully of any other country. The book wisely dubs this the "international citizen" condition, and people who feel this way often feel most at home among others like them - other long-term expats or adults with a lot of life experience abroad - no matter what country they find themselves in. Find other "international citizens" and you'll be most at home.

And yes, I did drink the potion. I'm left to brood beyond purple seas and blue skies. I can go home but I'm still off somewhere - I can't really go home ever again. I also can't really be Taiwanese or be of any other country where I choose to live. I am most at home among others like me, and let other aspects of my personality out through local friends or friends back home. Home is where Brendan and I live, wherever that might be, and that's really true for us because it can't be any other way. I can form attachments but I can't be of any given place. Not anymore.

I am still working my way through this realization, but I think it's OK. The poem says that Chang-yi must regret her choice, but do I regret mine? If I had known that this would happen, would I have done what I have done with my life? Would I have drunk that potion?

Yes.

I would have.

I never felt quite 'in place' anyway, so why not? I'm me, and that's OK.