Everything counts in small amounts

Sunday, November 20, 2005

pickle jar in deep space field

half-empty one-gallon pickle jar floating in deep space against mat black background starlight dots and the milky way and fat green pickles with green light-green barnacled whale-skin skin dill pickles stacked in a crisscross pattern and the starlight bends through the rough manufactured glass and the murky swamp-green pickle soup like a distant green beacon across the sound

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Father for Her Child

I stepped off the bus in front of city hall: a circular atrium fronted the building and the walls ran off at 45-degree angles like a triangle embedded in a tin can and covered with white granite.

I noticed her across the entry road to city hall. She was standing at the edge of the basketball court, pulling a little boy, her son off the backboard supports. He stumbled to the ground and she took his hand. "Come on," she said in Korean. "Come on."

She hoisted a blue and white toy truck with a handle, the kind with a plastic seat on top and four small wheels so kids can scoot themselves along. She rested it against her thigh. The arm supporting the truck strained, her elbow jutted above her shoulder at a sharp right angle. The truck banged against her thigh and the wheels rattled with each stride.

The boy's skin was milky white and his eyes were almost circular ovals. His forehead was large and curved in below his hairline, a widow's peak. He was mixed: Asian and Caucasian. The boy stumbled behind her. He strained to keep up, almost fell repeatedly. "You're in trouble," she told him. She stopped in front of a police car guarding the city hall, parked at the entrance.

The police officer stood behind the opened door. One arm rested on the top, one foot in the car. "Officer," she called. He saw her and straightened up: dropped his hands to his sides, placed his feet squarely on the ground, and turned to her. "This boy is very naughty," she said. "He does not listen to his mother. He needs to be punished. I would like you to arrest him and take him to jail."

She wore a short, heavily worn denim skirt with frayed fringes. Her smooth white thighs glowed obscenely underneath and she wore dirty white canvas sneakers with three-inch platforms. The once-new, glossy white plastic was scuffed with black streaks and motor grease. Her top was a tight white spandex blend and the outline of her bra lace and straps shown. As she bent over holding her son's hand, dragging him, her low cut top exposed her expansive cleavage. Her breasts were fake. They did not move when she bent over. They remained unnaturally firm, round, unsagging.

The police officer studied her and then her son. He looked down at the boy. "You've been bad, huh?" He studied the boy's blank expression. "Okay, come on, I'm going to have to take you in." He reached his hand out to the boy and gestured toward the car with his head. The mother squatted, sat on her heels to look in the boy’s eyes. I looked intently at her closed knees, strained to see up her skirt. "You go with the man and maybe you can come home later if you're good," she said to her son. He stared blankly back at her.

The policeman took his hand, helped him into the passenger seat, and gently closed the door behind the boy. The mom waved from outside. "Bye, bye." The boy swung his head around slowly, struggled to take in the objects swimming across his field of vision. He stopped at the police officer as he settled into the driver's seat, contemplated him. The boy’s empty expression never changed.

Out of the corner of her eye, the woman caught me staring. She stood up, left the police officer talking to the small boy inside the car, and took a step toward me. I looked away and continued walking. "Are you American?" she called at me in slightly accented American English. I glanced toward her and away. "Yes," I said without breaking stride. She took two more quick steps toward me. "Come here. I want to talk to you." She said. "Where are you going?" I was passed her and did not turn. I shouted back louder than intended: "Home!"

Friday, October 21, 2005

Happy Birthday Jerry!

Yesterday was Jerry's birthday. He turned 60.

A niece bought him a coffee walnut cake (above). It reportedly cost $60US. It was worth every cent.

Jerry's other niece's husband, Chi, also celebrated his birthday yesterday. Above they are cutting the cake. I call this photo "Two Winning Smiles."

Judy, Jerry's wife, gave him a this solid gold rooster figurine (above) for his birthday. It's a traditional Chinese gift for 60-year-olds. It signifies long life. I'm guessing it cost a little more than the cake.

Here's to your long life Jerry!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Wulai, Ewh-la-la

Jiyeoun and I took a day trip to Wulai (pronounced Ewh-lie) last weekend. We've been there twice before to visit a hot spring resort. The town is famous for them. But, this time we also spent some time looking around Wulai's main street.

The hot spring spa that brought us back to Wulai for the third time is high up on the side of a mountain overlooking the river. It's totally swank and unlike any place I have ever seen. The main, entry building is spectacular. It has a pink stucco facade, huge bay windows overlooking the valley below, high vaulted ceilings, and a wide winding oak staircase. But, what is most impressive about the place is the bathing area. The baths -- there are seven -- are scattered around an immaculate outdoor tropical garden populated with palm trees, flowering bushes, and plush lawns. The pools are covered by stained, wood gazebos capped with straw roofs and connected by inlaid brick and stone pathways. The only thing I've seen comparable is in travel brochures for five-star resorts in the Bahamas.

But, the best part is you can enjoy the whole calming, tropical atmosphere and the steaming, hot-spring pools in your birthday suit. The spa is separated by the sexes and hidden behind a high wood fence and dense vegetation. Visitors enter the bathing area through the locker rooms. They change out of their clothes, stow their valuables, and lockup. They are all assigned a bag containing two towels and a pair of bath slippers. When customers exit the locker room, they are confronted by a bay of showers. They are expected to wash up and then are free to wonder the outdoor bathing area naked as a jay bird.

Now, I am no exhibitionist, hedonistnist, or nudist. But, there is nothing as freeing as wondering around a jungle garden bare-assed and dangling. Very primal. My favorite thing to do is stew in the hottest pool until I'm cooked and jump into the ice-cold pool. Goose bumps run along my flesh and my skin turns as tough as leather. My heart speeds up and a cool breeze runs through my brain. I sit in the cold water as long as I can stand it, return to the hottest pool, and repeat the process. I can sit in the ice-cold water much longer than the hot. There's something deeply invigorating about the cold -- becoming one with a still block of ice. Nice. (Sorry, there are no pictures of the inside of the spa for obvious reasons.)

After the hot spring, we went to downtown Wulai -- the whole 300 yards of it (pictured above). Wulai was originally an small aboriginal village. The original name for the town, Kirofu-Ulai, comes from Atayal. Hence, Wulai is famous for is native food or, as Taiwanese call it, mountain food. Surprisingly, sitting in a steaming hot tub of water works up an appetite in a man. So we took full advantage of the opportunity the combination of our empty stomachs and Wulai's wonderful food provided.

We started our aboriginal, gastronomic tour at the wine and sweets shop. Apparently, the native Taiwanese people make damn good fruit wines. But, no one except me wanted to down a bottle of wine in the middle of main street before dinner. Instead, we sampled some fresh made rice cake balls. They didn't seem particularly "native" but I wasn't complaining. They tasted excellent. The sweets come in trays of 15-20. Customers could mix and match flavors including green tea, cinnamon, brown sugar, and sweet potato. The ladies in the picture below made the rice cakes to order and the four of us -- mostly Jerry -- polished off a full tray.

From the wine and sweet shop, we moved on to the grill stand (picture below). For 100 Taiwan Dollars ($3 US) customers could pick from a menu that included chicken, shrimp, sausage, breaded anchovys, fish balls, beef, tuna, pork, and mushroom skewers. The lady threw our selections on the grill and 4-5 minutes later we had steaming kebobs.

There was a table next to the stand with a wide assortment of sauces: green salsa, barbecue, spicy mustard, wasabi, garlic etc. (picture below). Customers were invited to slather their order in the sauce of their choice and chow down on the street. My favorite kebobs were the shrimp and mushroom. The shrimp were whole and unshelled with antennae and all. The lady dowsed them in black pepper before handing them over, steaming hot. They had the consistency I imagine roasted locus have coming off the grill: crunchy with a soft, juicy meat filling. The spice bit the sides of my mouth. The mushrooms were fresh, fat, and wet. Juices ran off the skewers when she handed them over. We slathered them in garlic sauce so strong we could taste it in our mouths when we woke up the next morning and gulped them down one fat mushroom head at a time.

Lastly, we went to a native restaurant. (The picture below is a picturesque version of the one we patronized.) The fair was very simple: steamed and flavored with garlic and salt. The vegetables sat outside the restaurant and dinners selected the greens they wanted steamed like people pick fish at a market. The cook threw it into a pot and slid it onto your table minutes later. The steamed vegetables did little for me. The all tasted similar after the heavy seasoning.

But, what was awesome was the steamed, rice-stuffed bamboo (foreground ground of picture below). The dish is made by chopping bamboo into cylinders. The bottom is closed and the top is open. The bamboo is filled with flavored (nuts and brown grain, maybe) rice and steamed. Dinners crack open the bamboo along the scored side and eat out the sticky rice. The bamboo membrane comes with it. Yummy!

From there, we dragged our blotted bellies and blissful smiles back to the car. Kings don't live this well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Settled in to Our New Apartment

So Jiyeoun and I have finally settled in to our new apartment. As I wrote in a previous post, Jiyeoun worked long and hard to find our place. We were very close to signing a contract for another apartment, but we pulled out after reading the contract. The terms were extremely disadvantageous for the renter. We contemplated living with the Lus for a little while. They offered to put us up and it seemed like a good opportunity to experience Taiwan with the natives. But, we eventually decided against that as well.

Then, two long weeks into the apartment search, Jiyeoun stumbled across the place we are in now. It’s a 10-minute walk from the Yongan Market MRT station, about a 45 minute commute to work. It takes Jiyeoun 30 minutes to get to school.

The apartment is a fully furnished, one-bedroom with a separate living room, kitchen and bath. The landlord, an engaged, professional woman, lived in the apartment before we moved in so the place is clean and the furniture is quality. We’ve got leather sofas, a matching cherry furniture set, a laundry machine, and a fully equipped kitchen. She left tones of useful knickknacks: an umbrella, cleaning supplies, hangers, matches, power strips, etc. The only things we had to buy were a coffee maker, iron, and corkscrew.

But, the best part is that there is a huge park a two-minute-walk away. The park has a fountain, wading pool, theater, gazebo, and ample open space. The central library is also located there. I have been told that foreigners can make a library card and check out books at any library in Taiwan as long as they bring their passport. I plan to put this claim to the test soon.

I’ve taken to running in the park in the evenings after work for exercise. I run around the park three times. I guess it’s about a mile and a half, maybe. I’m happy to be exercising after all these years.

Jiyeoun did a good job.