Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ice Cream Garbage Truck

Haikus for the garbage man:

Ice cream garbage truck,
coming down the lane. Play your
song, the birds miss it.

Soft bags of plastic.
The melody strikes the ear,
rings true as the smell.

It is 3, ya know?
It is time to play your tune.
Yellow like the sun.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Buddhist serenity

The calm surrounds the visitor as he enters the paper lanterned sky. Humbled, he walks on the grounds with care, admiring the simple beauty of the Buddhist Temple.

Breath escapes the lungs as a view filled with trees of cedars, cypress and junipers splash out from the Taiwanese hillside.

The Chinese deity, decorated by lanterns, oversees the Feng Yuan valley, protecting its people.

The calm attracted by this place provides a needed escape from the buzzing of the city below.

Gifts to ancestors fill the table, cakes and fruits plentiful. The spirit of the gifts are eaten by the deceased. Once the spirit is taken, people (such as our English teaching group) get to enjoy the bounty of fruit.

Buddhist gods stand guard protecting the sacred shrines inside.

Incense lifts up through the rafters, prayers sent up to their owners from their loved ones below.

Such beauty and serenity. The mind centered and the body whole. Until we meet again.

Taiwan Night Market

Scootering down the streets of Fengyuan, zooming sideways and upways through obstacles with flashing lights hovering above and below me, I reach the majestic experience of the Taiwanese night market. The sights, sounds and smells lure the curious traveler. There are food stands in every which way. Smells a westerner can't even come to comprehend, rough and salted, sulfur and bile, but I find them intensely curious and interesting and smell everything that comes my way. The sounds constantly buzz in my ear, people laughing and playing, a woman talking into a speaker trying to get my attention. "He(y)o, He(y)o". My ear is trying to catch the tones used in the Chinese language as I have been practicing them all day today. Sights of carnival rides and state fair games distract me. Salted eels and fried squid fill the once empty lot. People of all ages come for the market, a definite family affair as well as youthful meeting spot. I see kids winning prizes and riding the dumbo-style ride. Teenagers are awkwardly gawking and flirting. The whole scene culminates to create a perfect scene for the must-experience Taiwanese cultural activity.

The food and company made the experience worth repeating. I came alongside my trusty new friend and roommate, Sunny and the local down to earth secretary of the school, Kelly. We also met up with a former English teacher, Lisa, who is leaving in less than a week to venture into Thailand. All four of us ventured the aisles of the market, veering in and out of the stalls until we saw something that interested us. There were toys and belts, watches and clothes. So many knick-nacks and trinkets. We then decided to head onto the best part of the market, THE FOOD! We started out our eating adventure with a bit of sugar-coated mango, that turned out to be a bit sour, reasons pointing to pre-seasonal premature pickings. We then moved on to the show item of the night, STINKY TOFU! This item has been of constant discussion while venturing into Taiwan. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the delicacy, some love it while others hate it. I've always been an adventurous eater and ready for the ride! Now, this tofu is not a pretty smelling delicacy (as the name implies) rather it smells a bit like horse stable and soiled laundry, but nonetheless the smell was not too overpowering and did also give off a nice bbq smell I felt quite familiar with. As many westerners turn their heads at such a unique smell, I dove right in excepting the smell as part of the experience of it all. Taiwan locals often claim it as their favorite dish. Sunny ordered me a portion (he has tried it twice and is still quite repulsed by it) and on I went to take my first bite. I suckered Lisa into it as well, as she has yet to try it despite living here for six months. In I went, down into the depths of smellville and upon biting....I actually quite enjoyed it. The texture was soft and delicate. It had a hint of the smell in the taste, yet the smokiness of it all fell softly upon the palette, exciting taste buds that have never been exposed to such taste. The sauce alongside was sweet and savory and perfectly complimented the smelly treat. I was quite proud of myself and also quite relieved at what a pleasant experience it all was. I continued walking with my comrades around the market as I dived into the remaining tofu dish now and again, welcoming the taste back into the crevices of my mouth. As the night progressed we continued eating. We tried a thick jelly like hot drink with boba and peanuts that was quite tasty. We finished the night with peppery beef, noodles and fried egg. Delicious. I felt stuffed. I am ready to burst open at the seams. Despite all the new tasting experience, my mind and soul was left thankful for the rollercoaster of a meal I had just endured. The four of us laughed and joked. The food providing a perfect setting for conversation for a great Taiwanese tradition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rhododendrons and reflected mirrors

Rhododendrons, their purple-pinkness, blanket the sidewalk next to the primary school. They cover the air near them with smells of deep beauty. My nose reaches in close to get a good wiff, juxtaposed with another smell near by my mind recognizes as putrid. The flowers offering a place of refuge for my nose.

Fellow teacher Whit and I after a good day of hustle and bustling. We started the day off biking to a fancy little pool/self-operated spa and this was our moment to shine after our visit with the physical examiner.

My mind takes in each moment like a needed dose of drug. Characters and colours out to grab me. Caught in the reflection, these eyes staring back into these eyes, I realize I'm here, not there. The mirror tells the truth and it's telling me to go and seek adventure. Enjoy this moment, dear boy, for it lasts just a glimmer.

The streets next to our apartment seem connected. If I wasn't careful, being sure to careful hawk-eye every establishment, I could get lost in a quick second. Every street can mesh together with a mind unable to read the street signs. Lets fix that, shall we?

Markets of meat and veggies, candies and courses, can be found on a corner by our apartment. My senses are filled to the brim. Smells new and interesting. Many stares of the locals at an interested foreigner. "Ni hoa, ni hoa" is what I say. They smile and continue on their day. I'm tempted to try the pigs feet...maybe next time as my stomach is still adjusting to the different food tastes and textures.

The pleasantries of biking

As I race through the streets of Fengyuan on bicycle, my mind seeks refuge, a sort of calm among the madness of the streets. It seems I'm transfixed by the racing scooters, the mixes of green and yellow and dirt, the coughing and spitting, or maybe it's just the piles of smoggy air filling my lungs, the chemicals forming a substance my body finds to be addictive and poisonous. I release great smiles from my face, the wholeness of it all, despite hectic and all together maddening, fills my heart with joy. It's the little things and the big things that my mind eats up. Time is stopping to take it all in. The woman is about to eat pomelo, juice soon to be dripping down her chin. Hundreds of birds cramped inside their cages in a corner pet store licking their tail feathers. The man on his scooter with a worn down cigarette butt resting between his fingers while reaching in his pocket to answer his cell phone. The rice plants next to the freeway, sprucing and polished like they're meant to be photographed. The signs, yellows and blues, reds and whites, rusted, jut out from the building, trying to escape the grey wall. The planted rhododendrons planted in the island separating traffic lanes. All is moving yet nothing inches forward. In cartoon form, everything has two squiggly dashes behind it. The bike and I are frozen in time too. I'm stuck in second gear and my helmet is on too tight. The sounds echo in my ears, the horns and whistles and endless knocking and grinding of metal against metal. My calf muscle is about to take another turn of the peddle. It's a picture worth saving if only I had a camera, so I try to store it mentally, inviting the next second's picture to cram alongside the last.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welcome to Taiwan

Ni Hao Taiwan.

What wonderful people your country holds, friendly to the tee.
Everything full of busy here, and still I'm all at ease.
I'm thankful for the rain you provide. It's cleansing. I feel free.

Characters of Chinese, I wish I understood.
The jungle of colour and strokes, you'd think would be self-defined by intent.
But no, it's all so strange to me. My English seems so crude.

The bus ride, plane and walk took nothing short of forever,
But to cut any part short would leave me ill-experienced.
Each leg a journey I endure, to fast forward, I'd say never.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring, people asking me if I'm lost?
I'm lost, yes, I'm okay with that. I'm finding my true self within the cracks.
New friends, new adventures, new experiences and for what, so little cost.


Exhausted and worn I lay here on this new bed under a new sky listening to some Bob Dylan as I collect my thoughts. It's good for me to listen to something familiar while I lay in this foreign place, trying to bring it all together. The harmonica sounds the same wherever I go. Today, I traveled a long while over seas, only braver men than me venture, in order to get to the land formerly known as Fermosa (named by the Portuguese meaning "beautiful island"). Hello Taiwan I said as I exited the plane.

The airport seemed to sparkle as I collapsed my bags onto the ground. The air seems different here. It's hard to place. I find it a little like sand, gritty and natural. I could bottle it up and put a lid on top, if I wasn't afraid of being thought of as weird by these wonderful Taiwan citizens.

Evidence of the people's generosity exists everywhere. As fellow participants of the teaching program and I exited the bus in our new hometown, we were immediately asked if we knew where we were going. We answered no, and someone was quick to point us in the right direction. And mind you, this is done not with our asking, but with people insisting that they help us. I've never seen such kindness! Once we were pointed in the right direction, we became stranded at our supposed meeting point at the Fengyuan Train Station. Unable to reach our contact we stood dumbfounded and wondering what to do next. A young gentleman, maybe in his early 20s, came over after minutes of us standing around looking like forgotten rabbits and helped us to a cab. That cab was off-duty, so the man called his mother who called the cab company to come pick us up. (Have I mentioned this was at 1:00 in the morning here???) The cab picked us up and the man who helped us talked to him insisting we get there and get a fair cab fare. We headed onward towards our living quarters about 7-minutes away. When we arrived we saw the man and a girl, perhaps his sister, riding a scooter behind our cab to ensure we made it safely to the right location. I thought, who does this with random strangers? I was thankful for this man. He helped us find our safe haven. The people here are truly amazing.

I'm excited to see this place in daylight. I'm sure the streets will shine and the sandy air will lift me awake from my slumber. For now, I'm sleeping. I'm tired. Night. Wan Shang Hoa, Taiwan.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The next chapter: Taiwan

As I spent the holidays cascading the Mountain West to spend time with family and friends, I'm reminded of all the love that I have surrounding me in my life. The good times I wish I could record from my vision, re-playing back the laughter and tears, as if being viewed from a High-Definition television. I spent long days shopping with best friends and short hours spent with loved ones seldom seen. I exchanged gifts and pictures, love so abound I could swim in it. Now, as I remember the greatness of people so dear to me, I move on towards something new. It's strange to move on but it's something I feel I must do. I'm moving towards the sun. A new horizon, literally. I move towards the Far East, the Orient, the "beautiful island" known as Taiwan.

I will be teaching in the city of Fengyuan in the county of Taichung (Central Taiwan). I'll be working at the Behran Institute there. The grade of the students I will teach has yet to be determined, but I am excited for the opportunity to share my cultural background while gaining a great deal more from them. I taught English in SuĊĦice, Czech Republic in the summer of 2007. I adored standing in front of these great minds, nervously exploring the English language with them. It's a feeling unlike any other to finally connect with these students and help them learn. I'm excited to experience it again.

Taiwan will be a cultural shock, there is no sense in denying it, but I'm excited for it. I think it'll be good for me. I enjoy being outside my comfort zone and find myself growing because of it. There will be plenty of reminders of home as I have been told, such as the Cosco just 10 minutes from my apartment. But the times I'm most excited for will be far-reaching abnormalities I'm not used to such as the cuisine (have you ever heard of stinky tofu?). I'm prepared for these differences. I'm ready to face a place dispelled with myth and legend and come up with my own first-hand experience of it all. I'm excited to learn a new language, to gain new friends and to live a life with new scenery. Who knows what's around the next corner? Only one thing to do, find out!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mount Vernon

I traversed the wooded outerlands of Virginia to reach Mount Vernon by bike on Sunday. My sturdy stead (a bianchi-brava road bicycle) and I headed outward with much excitement. I've been wanting to do this ride for at least a month now and finally caught wind of an opportunity to ride despite the frigid cold. It had snowed the day before but Sunday let the sun roar its shiny head and out washed away much of the snowy pavement. I departed from Dupont Circle, my bike's parking place at work, and found the Mount Vernon trail (route below) after crossing the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

Off I went, quicker than expected but not tiring because of the exhilaration aspiring from my extremities. My legs were machine-powered, the cogs working fluently in motion with the bicycle spokes. My fingers, snug tightly in their gloves, gripped the handlebars. I was flying and couldn't be happier. My heart played along with the beat of Arcade Fire and Radiohead, my "get-hyped-because-I'm-riding-a-bike-in-frickin'-Washington-D.C" music. The visuals were stunning. I would stare at the Capitol Building, just stare as I ride down the paved pathway. It took me a moment to wrap my head around the idea that I was in an environment enthralled with history. I seem to forget that I'm here sometimes, or maybe just get comfortable with it all and need constant reminders or a pinch to ensure it's not a dream. Moments like this remind me that I'm here, exploring Washington D.C. and exploring my self, reminiscent of that in which I encountered on my first long bike ride in Washington. Everything looks slightly similar yet vividly different. The monuments I've grown to adore, stuck out and seemed to say "hello. You are in a wonderful place, enjoy this for the short time you have left."

The sky was a wonderful hue of pink, softly sparkling from the shining sun off the melted snow puddles. I would bike through woods of oak, holly, and laurel trees. In and out, weaving like a mad man. The path took me under highways, over wooden bridges, into muddied swamps, and rumbling on cobbled streets in Alexandria. Sure, the path isn't always glamorous, early on I met the greyness of the Reagan National Airport. I remember thinking what a big extravagant mess it was. Airplanes scraping through the sky, nearly reachable if my hand were a hundred-foot crane. It was loud and ugly, I felt comfort in finding the calm in the wood.

Birds echoed my name as I entered the forests. Birds I've only seen from encyclopedias and picture books. A bright red cardinal lie on the low-hanging tree branch ahead of me. I screeched to a halt in order to get a longer-lasting view of it. The bird sparkled and sang a sweet whistle. I tried whistling alongside it but found it shied away the more I continued. So I halted my melody and decided to just observe the sweetness the cardinal evoked. It felt great to be in that present state, just me and the beauty that exists in nature. The joys of birdwatching finally became apparent.

After a 2-hour venture, I arrived at my destination, Mount Vernon. The estate encompassed a true sense of American spirit and past. The sheep lay grazing the grasses as I entered. Washington's Mansion lie in the heart of the estate and stuck out against the pink-hued backdrop. The exterior was white, with forest-colored shutters and a Merlot-stained roof. I remember thinking how the colors resembled my home in West Jordan, Utah. The one where I have lived consecutively for the longest period of time, evoking an immediate sense of home for me with the place. I can see why Washington loved it here. There was a beautiful view of the Potomac River, glimmering with hope and rain water. I wandered the grounds, looked into the frost-bitten gardens and onto the harbor and Washington's grave site. The stories told here seemed endless and the history of the place pulsated from the floorboards. I remember seeing Washington's prized black chair in his workroom and thought about the greatness that this chair has bestowed. He used the chair as the first President of the United States and then brought it back home to work from it. The birth of our nation lies threaded with the brass and leather from that single piece of furniture. I was in awe.

As I biked back the same way I had come, I thought about many things. Scrolls of questions and pondering rants lie inside my mind. I thought about the sacrifice. I thought about democracy. I thought about the journey of life. As my body grew tired of the travel, I found my mind growing more acute, continuing onwards towards the monument erected for the man which I just regained a new found love for. I thought about the choice he made to give up his power in order to let this country be for the people, by the people. I lie there in Washington's shadow taking it all in and as I cross back over the Arlington Memorial Bridge, I acknowledge the journey I had just taken and the one that lie ahead.