Saturday, October 22, 2005

Taiwan Takes on Hawthorne

Before I get to Hawthorne, I want everyone to know that I read Kate's play a few days ago and I could not stop laughing! It is wonderfully funny, as Batman confirmed when he told me about the evening he and others spent reading it. I'm so sorry I didn't get to be there to read one of the parts; I saw several I thought I could do very well. If you want to laugh out loud, read the play; here's the address:

May Wong from AIT on the left, and the manager of the local American corner on the right.

My presentation on Hawthorne at The American Corner was yesterday and it was quite the adventure. I had prepared everything in power point, as they asked, and spent quite a bit of time on the internet finding illustrations of things because I was told the audience would not be very scholarly and would like a lot of picrures. I finished it last Sunday, a week ago, and sent it to the American Corner people. The woman in charge, May Chang, wrote me soon after, saying she couldn’t open the images and would I bring my laptop to the presentation so we could use it for the presentation, so of course I did. Then yesterday I went early in case of problems and there were plenty of those, as well. They didn’t have a cable to connect my imac laptop to the projection equipment, so I had to burn a new disc that would play on their pc. They were astonished that I could do that with my laptop, but that solved the projection problem except the images were less than wonderful. But they were at least visible.

We begin the presentation: me left, Ann right, Hawthorne far left

Then we started, actually pretty close to starting time, unusual for Asian events, only to find out the microphones they had provided for me and the interpreter (did I mention we had an interpreter?) made lots of electrical noise if we stood close together, so we fooled around with that for a while before deciding that I would use a mike and the interpreter would not. My voice has been very blinky because of the pollution in the air which makes me cough and then lose my voice in very short order, so I am still using lots of cough drops. (And I though Houston was polluted! But this is better than Taipei.)

See, the room is full!

When we were on the second or third slide, with me speaking, her translating, and then eventually the person in the back changing the slide, suddenly I noticed a woman, sitting near the front on the same side where the interpreter and I were standing, gasp and lift her legs into the air and something run past her. I thought it would be a cockroach, but much to my horror, it was a mouse. Coming right for us! Then the mouse realized people were in front of it and ran to the side under a bookcase. I was relieved and thought we were out of trouble, but alas, I was overly optimistic. A few seconds later the mouse reappeared and was about to run over Ann’s foot (the interpreter) so I stomped my foot to scare it away and touched her arm and pointed down to show her the mouse. I had visions of it running over her foot and her screaming and fainting. Or that the same thing would happen to me! ( Intellectually I am not afraid of mice, but I think I would be very upset if I had to touch a live one or it ran over my foot.) She was calm, though, and the mouse continued to run in and out of the room during the remainder of the presentation. People noticed it but didn’t seem to be horrified, so I stopped worrying about a mass panic and focused on keeping myself out of its path. It was later joined by another mouse, I’m told, though also happy to report I didn’t see the pair together. Also at one point May took a small box and chased it around trying to catch it in the box, a tactic I thought unlikely to meet with any success.

The mouse was running back and forth along the wall below the map.

What with all the excitement and the late start, I did not talk as much during the presentation as I had planned and consequently only spoke for about 35 or 40 minutes instead of an hour. I asked for questions, not really expecting anyone much to say anything because Chinese people don’t ask questions. They just don’t. It would be like asking Americans to spit on the floor or eat fried chicken with a fork—it just isn’t done. Much to my surprise, after an admittedly slow start we had questions one after another for about 45 minutes, at which point I was again losing my voice. And they were thoughtful questions about the period, Hawthorne’s religious beliefs (about which I know nothing), transcendentalism, why Hawthorne liked women, whether he was a feminist, why he wrote those scary stories and the scientists were evil, and similar things. One woman apparently didn’t like Hawthorne and kept asking why I didn’t like Emerson better. You all would have been proud of me; I didn’t say “because Emerson is an idiot,” I said "because Hawthorne writes good stories and Emerson writes sermons and I prefer stories to sermons." During this time the mouse (mice?) continued to run around dodging various ineffective attempts to either capture or scare it.

Now that I have been to several presentations and formal meetings I have learned an important rule about such gatherings in Asia: if you offer a microphone to an Asian male he will gladly take it and talk for as long as he can, in good face, keep going, So if you need to fill some time, as I thought I did on the first question from an older man in the audience, give them the mike. He talked for about five minutes, maybe more, in broken English and by the time he finished I couldn’t find the question. He had sort of made a long statement about Hawthorne’s use of psychology in his character development. But that was easy to talk about, and a good beginning, and the questions came quickly after that. Quite a few students from Providence had come (although none from my class!) and students from other colleges, as well, so the audience was more academic than I had been led to expect. Also the place was crowded, another surprise. I had thought that E-Chou, my boss, and Anna Chen, my colleague and friend, and the AIT staff and I would be most of the crowd but that was not true.

Afterwards Anna and E-Chou and and Ann, the interpreter, and Melanie Flanders (a friend from Houston who came in from Taipei to spend the evening before she returned to her job in Nanjing, China) and I went to dinner at an absolutely wonderful restaurant Anna chose. Shanghai is its name and cuisine, and the food was really good. Six of us had dinner with many many dishes and a bottle of wine and it was about $2000 NT (less than $10 US each, including tip).

So another hurdle is behind me and I need to get ready for tomorrow's classes. See you on down the road . . .

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ten-Ten Day in Taipei

Emma Steiner with one of Jane's maps

Jane at the opening of her show

Sculpture decorated with Jane's art

Early Friday morning I got a taxi to the train station in Taichung where I met Tim and Jane to go to her show in Taipei that afternoon. Her show was called "Made in Taiwan" and consisted of hand-made paper "maps" of many Taiwan counties. The paper was made by Jane from plants indigenous to those areas and then she made the sheets of paper into maps of the areas and either included in the paper or painted on it to show some of the characteristics of the flora and fauna of the areas. They are beautiful, beautiful, and difficult to describe. My photos will give you some idea but are not really like the experience of seeing the work. It's like trying to tell someone about the Grand Canyon in Arizona, or showing photos of it. Just not like being there at all.

Later that evening we found a good Thai restaurant and had a really enjoyable dinner with lots of laughing and funny stories. Lee Steiner, also an artist and paper maker, and Julie Hu, who makes things work in the Fulbright office, joined us for the evening. Lee and Julie went with me to check into the Jade Garden hotel and then we met the others at the restaurant. Here's a picuture of Julie and Lee on the street before we got to the restaurant.

This is Lee on the street with lights and cars and lots of evening action . . .

And here we all are at dinner.

The Ten-ten celebration, which is Taiwan's national birthday, like July 4 for us, was on Monday evening. I went to the celebration with the Regans, Peter and Arlene, who live in Yilan, over on the east coast of Taiwan. The event was a reception given by the foreign minister in the Taiwan Guest House, and all I can say is I would love to be a guest in that house! It was beautifully decorated inside and out with lights and Chinese gates and many kinds of ethnic food, as well as Haagen-Daz (my ethnic group, in case you didn't know. . .). I'm including some photos of that here to give you an idea; the whole area was like Disneyland at night, or being in the middle of fairyland.

Me above, and Arlene and Peter below, at the street entrance to the celebration.

Entrance to the guest house

A map of Taiwan made of native fruit

A taiwanese pumpkin carved decoratively

The reflection pool behind the house, part of the feng shui of any important Taiwanese or Chinese edifice

The back of the house seen from in front of the pool

And at last, the Chinese characters say Taiwan Go!

After an hour or so I had to run like Cinderella to catch my train back to Shalu so I could teach today, and the train got in late and I was locked out of my house and didn't get in it until about one a.m. For which I was not a very happy camper. But now I'm going to catch up on my sleep, and all will be well tomorrow!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Odds and Ends

Last week I had dinner with 2 other expats and 2 Tiawanese, all faculty here. I'm afraid the Meigoaren (Americans) dominated the conversation since the Taigoaren tend to be much quieter. We went to a new Mongolian barbecue restaurant that was truly amazing. More food stations that a shindig catered by Jackson somebody, that guy from Austin who was everywhere catering for those who are anyone, and now I realize I haven't heard of him for years. They had "barbecue" which is really meat and vegetables cooked on a teppan (sp?) to your order. They had a seafood station with every variety of piscine pleasure raw to be cooked or made into sushi or sashimi. They had ice cream and pastries. They had salads. Vegetables, cooked and raw. Soups. Eggs. Lamb, chicken, pork, beef, ham. Asian fajitas, but what I thought might be guacamole turned out to be a huge bowl of wasabi (go figure). They even had good wine, which I discovered unfortunately on our way out, but I'm probably the only one who would have wanted any. I would go back there, as the lamb was particularly good. All you can eat and drink (except for the wine) for about $500 NT, which is $15.00 US. And this is a VER"Y expensive place. It's very cheap to eat out in Taiwan.

The food was good and the company was fun and I had a really good time. I was not expecting to have so much fun, and it was a pleasant surprise. We talked and laughed for about an hour and they told me stories about Providence misadventures. Just like back home, only different faces. My friend Frances, who invited me that night, is going to make an appointment for me to get a haircut. This humidity means I have to do something to my hair fairly often, like a couple of times a week. Since Rob the man is not here, I am going to lose some of this hair. Frances has a very good haircut, so I think it will be safe. Of course, Frances has a lot better hair than I do . . . But I can't stand this mess any more. I'll cut it and then it will get cold and I'll wish I had it back, no doubt.

Have you all been seeing all the stuff about avian flu on CNN? That's the only channel I tend to watch and it sucks, so I don't watch much tv here, either. But what I have seen is mass hysteria, interviewing over and over some American doctor who says we will have an epidemic like unto the black plague that devastated London until the great fire killed the rats. (There's a message here but I'm afraid to decipher it.)

On the subject of restaurants in Taiwan, I could speak at length. A few are really good. Well, one, so far. Several are okay. And all serve edible, healthy food but it tends to taste the same. For example, before Peter left we were taken by some faculty to a snazzy place for dinner called Rosy. The names alone are worth a research paper. They had several ethnic dishes on the menu and Peter ordered Hungarian goulash, which turned out to be Chinese fried rice. Then a few nights ago I went with Anna Chen, a faculty member, to an Italian place named Annie's Cafe where I had a seafood dish that was chinese food served over noodles instead of rice, with a heavy coating of tasteless but very stringy cheese. It was filled with whole shrimp, complete with heads, tails, arms and legs--you get the idea. It was interesting but not Italian and not really very good. I went to that place again and, forewarned, had roast chicken and that was pretty good. I think roast chicken is a dish one can order almost anywhere and be safe, actually.

Got to get to bed; I've been up til two the last two nights studying and preparing for class. Chinese is a very difficult language to write. Make that impossible.

By the way, I got my hair cut short and I love it. According to my students I look younger, and you know students won't exaggerate . . .

Monday, October 03, 2005

the end of the (Rita) story . . .

Just So You Know . . .

One of the sets of steps leading to my classrooms.

The second set . . .

and the third . . .

and at the top of these is my classroom building. If you want to come to my office, another four flights are waiting . . .

The steps up to my apartment buildling.

Remember my friend who evacuated her husband, cat, and herself to Austin? I thought you might like to hear the followup . . .
As you know, we evacuated Wednesday night, amid my rising panic and a surreal atmosphere of pending anarchy...

During the following four exhausting days, I learned several important things about my relationship with my husband. I’ll not bore you, gentle reader, with the more tawdry details, but I will tell you this: my husband does not like to sleep on the floor. He can tolerate children, dogs, politicians and televangelists, but he does not camp. Carpet, foam or air mattress matter not, he does not like the floor.

And, because fish and houseguests both stink after three days, we left my sister's lovely home and moved to the Four Seasons in Austin.

Now my sister was very kind to shelter us in her lovely home, but my cat and her dog . . . after four days, it just wasn’t funny anymore.

As for that bottle of Dom I brought to keep from the looters, I kept it cold and cracked it the moment the bellman slammed the door shut behind him. In fact, almost all of the costly wine was enjoyed last week, between arguing over which source was more accurate, CNN or BBC. Turns out, neither was.

We finally drove home after a restful couple of days of luxurious dining and reclining. The road was open and easy.

I hate to admit it, but after such a thorough evacuation and return, my house, desk closet and pantry are much more organized than they have been since I moved into this old house. Perhaps I should do this once every three months.

Given that our friends lost three of their family’s four homes in the NO area, I have no regrets about the scramble, the drama, the pain in the ass, and the denouement. Pooh-pooh it if you like, but I am glad we left, I am glad we came home to safety, and I am greatful our losses are nominal. We will evacuate again, but next time, I want to go to the Volcano Lodge on the Big Island.

Our property loss is limited to landscaping and some minor fence damage. My parents were not so lucky. Part of their roof will have to be replaced, and though the shingles were all over the street, the house took no water damage. They are still on rolling blackouts, which will continue for up to a month. My dad, who is eighty, was unhappy about the blackouts until I pointed out that it really isn’t bad. After all, he isn’t on a respirator.

It could have been so much worse. A friend of mine has had her in-laws move from Beaumont to live with her indefinitely. A tree crushed their car. The walls of their house blew out. They have lost everything.

Finally, we are all able to laugh in spite of the fact that Kroger has steak
in their sale flier, but they haven't received a shipment in 12 days. It's
the first time I have been this happy since the first hurricane hit. Next
time we evacuate, we have come up with many more desirable locations than my
sister's floor:

Any island in Hawaii, the more exotic the hotel the better
Photo safari Kenya National Game Reserve
Diamond mine tours in South Africa
Best shoe store in London
The original Morton's, Chicago
Any pizza joint north of the Mason Dixon line
Denali - it's cool there, you know
Any Museum in Boston
You get the idea . . .