Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Snow Falls, then Melting

Glamor the sky up,
make it sparkle and glitter.
Whisping energy that collapses and,
gives way to the forces of gravity.

Tongue out, palms placid,
introducing the waves of brisk folding.
Retinas wide,
trying to feel the coldness on the inside of the eyelids.

Placed and balanced,
a never ending snow fall.
Breathing in the moment,
flakes landing on lashes.

Melting upon impact,
getting lost in the condensation equilibrium.
Still hoping to have some liquid on my lips,
as the brisk cold is felt, eyes wide open.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sparkling Grasses

Sparkling grasses. I'm thankful for that thing that happens as the wind cascades through the unbroken grass blades like the wind a mother carries, calming her infant child. The small hairs moving, vibrating along with the shake shake shake of the Earth-child-crust. The leaves, yellow and changing to orange, acting as parasols for the eyelids and parachutes for the umbilical vein-stems of the leaves. The stream echoes on rocks as the jet engines roar overhead. There is a melody to the whole production, a slight easiness that makes the baby calmer and the pond heavy with water.

My body just an actor in a play filled with actors. All trying hard to act 'natural', to be 'a part' of the scene. I move as the sun moves and as the moon overlooks the sky. The spotlight doesn't shine on just one, but all, everyone and everything.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Simple Sanctuary

Stumbling. It happens. There are times where the body, mind and spirit hit a road where the perspective is that things aren't going according to plan. At least from my perspective, that's what happened. I became lost among the darkness, pathways winding this way and that. Then I remembered the younger days, the days of youth that made me happy, the answer seemed too simple. Go towards the brightness, the love exuding through early days of tears. I found it and the sun is shining bright.

I've found sanctuary in a simple place not far from civilization but far enough. It's Mount Pleasant, Utah and it's home. I'm living with my grandparents, one of which I was named after, Henry. When I arrived I immediately felt connected to the place. The changing colouring trees attracted every pore of my body, the fleshy yellows, oranges, reds beaming as if from a setting sun. The animals too seem to welcome me; white-tailed deer and small sparrows fluttering by and by. Tdwee-tdwweep. I'm amazed by the calmness it all eludes. Yes, I miss the sounds of streets and the go-go-go of city life. But for me, it's an escape from complexity and a focus on simplicity, a good thing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Escaping the sun

He was not always that something sitting and failing, tied by his hands and bound by one foot. Scratching to get away, biting himself to escape the sun. Looking through his catalogue of memories to find the one that fit best. The loss of entry, the ubiquity of the past and the ambiguity of the future, turning like a wheel together. The pain not even felt, an almost calm. Looking at the patterns of life, the cycle, and always returning to the red, then the pinks, then the yellow. The yellow is what saved his soul. The sun has yellow hue to it.

He tried to look into the monk's eyes. He couldn't, for the better. The shine of the helmet broke through the brightest, white and heroic like a great warrior's horse. Fighting within himself, trying to ignore religious dogmata and just getting to the basics. The buddhist lessons he's been learning and the locked up Mormon ones that pester.

Confrontation is the real story here, or rather the story forgotten, or even further rather the story failed to be recognized. It's all about confronting his fears and making it all real. He could of made so many other choices. He had that job there that would have grounded his place, he could of taken it easy, instead he had to splurge, to cycle; "live strong".

He's in a better place now, with friends and family. Learning from the past and developing a healthy core from which to grow. The seed close to his heart and the daily water replenishing, constant like a wheel.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Riding without training wheels

I've made it to my destination. From Saigon, Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand I rode. Going through jungle after jungle, grasslands and rice patties, seeing lotus flowers, water buffalo, countless field workers with their hats to protect them from the sun. I rode up Vietnam to the city of Hue, West towards Laos and the city of Savannakhet, South down Laos to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia and finally reaching the temples of Ankor and finishing in Bangkok. With old friends, meeting new friends, remembering the past, thinking about the future, a huge spiral of yes and no, a wheel of never ending thankfulness. I hurt sometimes, those long 7 hour treks over 150 kilometers, going all day, one time pulling over and letting the headache subside, but continuing soon after, grasping the white dot the hardest. I was met face-to-face with reality. The reality of the world, privilege and subsidy. Love and pure spirit. I met a girl and her friends, only 17, limited with opportunity themselves, they go above and beyond to help their community. They saw the child write a big zero on a piece of paper, he had nothing, nothing at all could help him, he didn't know what he could be, want to be, because he was infected at birth by his mother with HIV. It was boys like that, this girl said, that she wanted to give hope. Give people hope to survive and outlast their circumstances and reach their dreams.

I remember one of my first dreams, goals, as a boy. It was to ride without training wheels. I'd go all day and night trying to ride without my practically-ridden until the once wheels turned into teenage-mutant-ninja-turtle-stickered training spikes, the rubber wheels being rubbed down by the sidewalk until just the metal training part remained. I couldn't do it for the longest time, trust myself to ride without these training wheels. Just trying to be okay with trusting that balance, the balance between sidewalk and balancing on the bike, feeling that wind against my face, the smell of the swing set and the taste of clean air. The circumstance that finally got me up, out of my training wheels, was with my dad, Corey, he guided me past that scariness of the road, ran right beside me until I got control of the bike, could feel the wind and could taste the sweetness of air around me, gliding up through the old ponderosa trees, past my handlebars and into my nostrils. It was in a church parking lot by my house that it all happened. I was going downhill, fast, my dad running beside me, I thought he was still holding onto me, holding onto me tight, but then he let go, I didn't even realize it, but he let go and I went flying. I looked behind me and saw that he was gone...seconds later, I crashed, knowing he had left. He came running up to me, ensuring that I was okay. Blowing on my lacerated knees to ensure my sanity. I was okay with him by my side. He got me back up on my feet, told me to try again, not give up, and that's just what I did. I went again. I felt him giving me a push on my bicycle seat, feeling him letting go and allowing me to ride by myself. I was doing it. I looked behind myself again and found myself flying down the church parking lot. Faster and faster, soaring. No training wheels, no more being scared. It's just me and the road now and nothing to stop me. I rode every day after that, in the church parking lot. That night, my dad took off my training wheels and I never wanted them again. I learned to balance on my own and it truly felt like flying!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Confident and chaotic, Kuala Lumpur sits amid a soft hazy fog and sweet smelling air. I'm amazed by the multi-cultural aspects, the multi-phonetics on signs (Mandarin, Bahasa Melayu and English), the differences in language being spoken only meters apart from one another and the fragrance of food. While riding a bus, trying to find my place for the night, I catch conversations here and there, trying to hear for one I can understand. I soon find one among a woman living in Hong Kong and another from Iran. They talk about boyfriends and studies. Here, English becomes the connecting language, being spoken by both native Malaysians, and foreign visitors. I've met Filipino, Thai and others. I love the feeling of comradare here, the sense of being apart of something amidst a strong cohort of young people looking to succeed. I'm opening up, asking more questions and smiling more. I got invited to volunteer at a conference sponsored by the UN in just the morning after arrival. I can't take it due to my short time here, but it's reassuring to know how open this all is. The opportunities seem endless and I'm smiling. All the more reason to smile too, the world is opening its doors to me and I'm saying "lets go!".

Saturday, July 3, 2010

up next

Up next on This Brandon Life?

Well, I have recently moved to the southern city of Tainan. Here bodes a place to further invest in my Chinese learning. The plan is to teach/tutor part-time and study Chinese at the local university (National Cheng Kung University) part-time. I have a good set of friends here. Although I'm going to miss the easy small-town feeling of Fengyuan (and the mountains!), I think this place allows growth. My address is 701台南市力行三街5號 (4A, 5 hao, Shili Xing 3 Road, Tainan, Taiwan 701)

As I have not found work yet and am in need of an extension with my Visa, I must go to Bangkok, Thailand to figure it out. To Bangkok! I'm smiling a thousand smiles! On the way, I thought, WHY NOT MAKE THIS INTO AN ADVENTURE??? Thus, I'll be riding a bicycle from Saigon, Vietnam, up to Hoi An, then through to the Central Highlands of Laos, down to the ancient ruins of Ankor Wat, Cambodia, and finally to my destination in Thailand. This will be an approximate 1 month trip as I start school and work early-September. Keep track of my travels with the best travelling-cyclist blog archive around:

Changes by the Mouthful

A lot has happened over the last few weeks. So much so, that my mind feels like gravy, the kind I can't find anywhere here, the brown savory stuff I'd smother my potatoes and peas with. What was on the plate, you might ask? Well, there was a hefty portion of kids dancing mixed with a bit of Thriller-zombie-dancing teachers, there was a dash of lesson planning, an essence of job hunting, sprinkled with tear-filled goodbyes and for dessert, total body exhaustion!

So, the past week was the last week of school at the Berhan Language School. We had a final assembly, where teachers were treated to their students performances we've been working on for the past few months. My older group showcased movies, all based around the concept of a haunted cram school. They all wrote and performed their own stuff. They heavily preferred that over the other option, which was to sing and dance for their parents. In addition, the whole movie thing was really fun for me. I was able to dust off my editing skills and have really fun with the projects. The teachers also put on a rendition of MJ's Thriller for them and a hip-hop version of Clap Your Hands. We had too much fun and it seems like the kids enjoyed it too.

Last Sunday, I participated in my first olympic size triathlon. I've been training for it all semester long and went with a local friend of mine and his girlfriend. We woke up early morning, 5 o'clock, to head down to the race track which was in the northern city of Taoyuan. The day was beautiful, super sunny and hot, and I was pumped. I lined up with my fellow racers (class 20-25 year olds). There were about 28 in my age group, me being the only foreigner. The race started and I dived in, the water felt fine. In having grown up on Coeur d'Alene lake, I found myself regurgitating those adventurous memories of youth and compiled them into the swim, all the while remembering days of diving off docks with floaties on. I was comfortable in the water, zig-zagging a bit but ending up following a few racers to finish. Next, off to the bike portion. I was most confident with this portion of the race. While in Fengyuan, I've met a good group of cyclists who do twice weekly rides to beautiful scenes around the country roads of Taichung county, old train roads and friendly farmers abound. The leader of the group, a Taiwan professional racer who won a few races here, has taken me in and helped me, often times insisting I follow close behind him although he is quite a bit swifter than I am. While biking in the race, I found a good pack of fast cyclists and followed close behind, as I practiced with my dear old friend in Fengyuan. I made it out, 40 km worth, in first place in my age group. People were saying "You're the best! Keep going." and other Chinese-equivalent phrases. So my adrenaline kept on kicking and a-running I went. The day was hot and a loop around a track seemed like it took eternity. I ran full speed towards what I thought was the finish, but to my alarm, I needed to make another loop around the track (a 10-km run that seemed like a 50). I staggered a bit when I heard the news and kept on running. 8 km in I started feeling weak, dehydrated, lack of glucose and sun-baked, it seemed my body was insisting on rest, ready to end about 3 km back. I started walking and then...details hazy, I found myself in a medical vehicle. Body covered in sweat, pure exhaustion, my body reached a limit and was now waking up from it. I found myself defeated trying to muster up enough Mandarin to answer the questions being thrown at me. "What hurts?" "Are you a teacher or a student?" "Alergies?" "Needs?" The only thing I wanted to say was "Can I finish?", "What happened?". I stared outside the window, watching runners pass by, with a faint foreign language clatter above me, just lying weak against the bed, feeling dislodged from a race I was persistent on finishing. Bummed and weak, I was taken to a rest stop to get water and watermelon. It was hard to walk and my extremities were numb, constant tingling of fingers and toes, but I rested up and was given an incredible back message. In about an hour, I was ready to go and rest up some more, remembering next time to keep my pace steady.

After the tri, I met up with friends to go to our vacation spot in Green Island just off the northern city of Taitung. It was a perfect spot and I constantly was enamored by the scenes of turquoise ocean and emerald tropical forest. The essence of the island was free-spirited and full of life. We journeyed by scooter, venturing off side roads to lead us to beautiful scenes rarely viewed by the casual visitor. Up to the low hanging cliffs, up to the once-volcanic mountain, we saw plenty. Highlights were dips in the ocean, floating face-up and getting sunburns, dives to see tropical fish, schools biting the tips of my fingers, dramatic cave production that included a battle amongst frogs and lizards, star gazing, culture indulging, sunrise awing...it was all too wonderful.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rain rides

Into the rain, I venture. It's pouring and I know I'll get wet, but I'm in it now, I'm covered by it so I might as well stay. I decide I'm cycling to the reservoir over 20 km away. Sure, a little crazy in a sudden downpour, but I need the escape from being locked inside the fourth floor all day. Flooded streets and passerbys with large umbrellas, I'm soaked. Soaking up the rain in my hair, letting everything loose and pruning fingers, I make it to my destination, a large reservoir. Beautiful with the rain slowly falling, I rest beneath a tree branch. Taking in all the wetness, while it covers my face.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hospital bed

Lost in bed,
head against a pillow.
Wires and tubes and things.

Nothing but bread,
leaning against a white wall.
Foreign static tumbling ear-ward from an overhead TV.

Cards on sheets,
making the feeling run away for a moment.
A run of four and a set of four.

This has happened,
the hospital bed.
Flowers alongside, and greeting cards and notes.

I want this to end,
the hospital bed.
I won't lie against the cold no more.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

An unexpected cycling race

There was a preteen boy racing me on bicycle today. I passed him at first, steady as I go on my long morning rides, seeming no challenge would come from it. Out of nowhere he came whizzing past me, peddling as fast as his little legs could manage. As he did so, he couldn't help but have the biggest smile on his face. He was beating the "wei-guo-ren", the foreigner, and at his own game too. You see, I get all geared up for such rides, tight biking shorts, sleeveless cycling jersey and some dashing gloves and matching helmet...a real sight for the unexpecting local. To add to the thrill of the chase, he was riding probably his first bike, a beaten-up Giant, and with it, his heavy book bag, all the while I was riding a sleek road bike. He had some sort of spurt of energy, some spark in his brain that brought on such spontaneity. He was elated and exuberant in that moment. The sun met us perfectly up in the sky, softening the pores of skin producing sweat for our bodies. As I came creeping towards him, geared up, he kept his ground, quickening his peddle, all the while peeking back to see how close I was to him. The kickstand of his bike was down and shards from it were flying as he wobbled to gain momentum on his old bike. He about lost control once, but regained it haphazardly. I pushed forward and met up with him. Wheel to wheel, we battled to be the fastest. I would get ahead of him, then he would match my strength and pull ahead. All this excitement alongside laughing and smiling the whole way down the hill. I was a kid again, racing to the parking lot for a chance at bragging rights. We soon parted ways, neither of us sure which came out ahead, but we both came out winners with smiles on our faces.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

*Editors Note

Hey reader, I'm transitioning this blog over to a more visually appealing and structurally sound set up over at:

I'll be updating both blogs, but the tumblr one will have more on it. So check out the most recent stuff over there.

Hope all is well,

Falling off rocks

There are times where the body leaves itself and finds itself in a place unthinkable. This happened before jumping off the rock last weekend in Kenting (墾丁國家公園). Well, I’m exaggerating when saying I left my body, because part of me thinks I experienced the most realness I’ve felt in a good while. The hitting of flesh against surface. The fear caught up in my throat and the energy surrounding it all leaving me awed. The gentle floating ocean views as I wait for the waves to carry me to shore. It was real and it was bodiless all simultaneously.

The waves crashing on the rock, mist spraying the glance. I look up to see a side-walking crab. He’s dancing alongside the surf, enjoying the pious rock as I climb higher and higher, steady atop the igneous solidification, trying my own side-walk as I crawl up, my claws clambering to find the nearest hole. It’s windy up here and the sea foam is creeping up the walls. I see a pathway towards the top and I follow it. The ledge peaking out, waiting for an adventure seeking visitor.

I make my way up the rock and I’m atop it all. The blue of the sea is crust-covered and I almost lose my balance as I stare into the infinity of turquoise and topaz. I wonder if this could be it, if the sea could take me and I’d forever be trapped inside the waves. I wouldn’t really be upset, if I were to escape inside the rhythm of the waves. It seems calm there and that point where the blue and the white meet right before they crash into the sand and rock is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I could be among that beauty. Lost among the oxidation process and the moon’s eternal tide. I focus again, ready for my leap of faith, into the ocean below.

I creep towards the lip of the rock. I do this slowly, getting down low and maneuvering my body over. I make it to the spot and stand tall. It’s nothing but me and the waves now. I get a sense of their direction, of their movement and drive power. It seems a big wave could simply wipe me out completely. Therefore, I wait a little while to get a sense of the waves. I match the rhythm of the waves to the rhythm of my heart and take it all in. I think of moments past and moments present. Rushing silence enters my body. Releasing everything, I step forward, and float.

The floating is immediately superseded by gravity’s need to pull me in fast, into the dark pool of salt. I hit the surface and raggedy-andy doll it into the disheveled sea, flipping round and losing myself for a second. My limbs detached and the saltwater feels fine. I gain consciousness and my lungs break the surface, taking in the rain-freshened air. I look up at the spot I conquered, a proud moment. Making my way back to the shore, I decided to wait a while and just let the waves push me back in. I am able to ride them sweetly and enjoy the rhythm of the white cap waves.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Scenes from a Storybook

Release that thought I had previously. Sit calmly in this spot and hear the buddhist chant. I'm tired, yes, and I'm sore, yes, but the blood is flowing rich with oxygen and the sun is glinting beyond the large-bark tree. I laugh when I see the lizard climbing on the rocks next to the lillypads. Why is it funny, you ask? I'm really uncertain, I think I'm just thinking about how lovely it is, the lillypads and the lizard. I imagine the lizard making a pitcher of the finest lemonade, grabbing some shades and resting alongside the lillypads, enjoying the hums and ahhs, and the sunlight barely cascading through the palm trees giving him a nice even tan.

As if a scene from a storybook.

It seems as if the visage here is constantly filled in my brain with pages hinted in stories told to children. Ones with talking animals and large-scenic landscapes. Simple and complex. Have I told you about the white crane birds? I'm almost certain that cranes don't exist here, but they certainly are the shape of what my mind recollects as a crane from picture books. White and beautiful in the sky. They fly in the early-morning glory and land on the green-white rice pastures. Yellowed underbellies and wingspans long. They eat frogs and poke at them first, as if discussing what pseudo-political babble the grasshopper just blurted out. The frog jumps, hind legs dextral, ready for his escape once the crane-like-bird can be distracted by the long-windedness of his one-sided conversation.

Then there's the koi fish and the turtles. Tall atop a hill nearby, the kois and the turtles congregate near a Daoist Temple. They lay within a pond, a plastered dragon spewing out a stream of water overhead. They are cloistered together, involuntarily, along with a random pink piggy bank in the corner of the pond. When I arrive, the koi hammer to get my attention, clobbering for air and for possible food, while the turtles just mosey around, heads poking out of the water, getting a peek of the ridiculousness ensuing next to them. It's true that I picture the turtles with canes when I retreat, smoking the finest Cuban cigar and sporting top hats. It's a childish thing to imagine, but fun especially when mixed with the vibrancy of the colour spectra. Wild oranges of the kois and deep forest greens from the turtles. They are just asking to be painted into a book, and maybe, for the turtles, the latest ironic cartoon from The New Yorker.

Finally, the clouds and the mountain tops. Long bike rides bring about many views of lonely cumulous clouds alongside their brethren, the mountaintop. I imagine the clouds teasing the mountains, shouting, "Just come up and play!" All the while, the mountain, wise and unmovable, just meditates softly taking in the air surrounding him, feeding his trees, his saplings, his little creatures and pretty things. "The clouds are just jealous of all of this," he thinks silently. It's true, the cloud is jealous of the mountain. "What if I could just be grounded for a day, with animals wildly romping upon me?" It's true also, that the mountain is jealous of the cloud. "What if I could fly for a day, just worry about the breeze behind me?" They lived in a silent wish to be the other. The only menial compromise being those silent moments on the mountain tops together.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A type of birthday song

The dark room lit with only candles, smiling faces beaming downwards, welcoming their sing-song voices cascading ear-ward, I look around, thankful for it all. It feels almost surreal, the birthday song. It's sort of daisical, I get shy. For the thought of personal attention, through a simple measure like being born, seems undeserving. The personal sublimity that I experience in that moment, the moment where the birthday song is being sung to no one but me, is impossible to reenact in daily non-birthday life. Every year I look forward to it and dread it at the same time. It's a sort of game where I'm happy that people like me and care enough for me to send me gifts and make me cake and surprise me, but at the same time, I feel insecure about whether or not I deserve such treatment. I'm just me, really nothing too special, nothing to make cake about (especially kinds with yummy peanut butter frosting!). But regardless of the inner-conflict, I let the singing commence and I love it, every second of it, despite feeling guilty for doing so.

Lets zero in on the birthday song, it's just beginning. Lets go back to the room. The darkness. The smiling faces. The candles. In this moment, this year, I am here, in Taiwan, beside loving individuals, looking around in wonder. The darkness acting as a safe-haven for the candles to burn, home to the candle two stuck beside the candle three on top of a homemade birthday cake, the setting. As the singing begins, I drift into a third-person narrative, a sort of story beyond self. He's 23 years old today. Feeling unsure as to what 23 should or shouldn't feel like, he sits awkwardly in his chair, one foot sort of leaning against the other, like teetering dominoes. His smile, big and brawny, like he's produced since age 8, perfecting it at Chucky Cheese or Discover Zone Kids, stealing it from his mom, his smile is pure and innocent. He's wearing a black shirt and many others in the room are wearing different shades of blue, then again it's dark, so these colors seem faded into the background. While the song sings on, his eyes start by looking down at his misplaced feet, then up, glancing undoubtedly towards the faces, in order to take it all in. He's in this place, fourth floor, a school, a township, a county, a country (far away from anything he has known before). He feels the love emulating like a sort of magic from the friends surrounding him. It's a good feeling. He's immensely fortunate and blessed. The song concludes, the procession claps heartily. The lights turn on and he's taken back to reality (and cake!).

For my birthday, I received phone calls from friends abroad and friends anew. E-mails and messages by the handfuls. Birthday messages of well wishes and good will. These are what birthdays are made of. Of caring friends sending packages with brimming faces. Of dancing in a club and taking plenty of pictures. Of laughing until the pain reaches the ribs. Of surprise german pancakes and 23-reasons. Of whiteboard messages and young voices saying, 'you deserve a good day'. Of hand-painted calligraphy. Of the flying white birds alongside the happy god. It seems today, I was given many blessings from this deity.

It's strange to think of a birthday abroad. Childhood birthdays of home and family always conquer my idea of what it means to have a birthday. From my early days at Chucky Cheeses, standing alongside the mechanical monster band and playing in the plastic balls, I've been enthralled with the self-righteousness that birthdays create. Americana is all about such luxurious affairs, the power behind the ME of American attitude. My birthday with My friends and My presents. In Taiwan, things are the opposite. Most people celebrate their birthday on Chinese New Year, some children don't even know when their birthday is. Since growing older, and especially in coming into a culture that discourages the individuality of birthdays, I've come to realize that birthdays are less about me and more about them. About the family, the friends, the connections that build me up and tear me down, that hold me up and keep me going. It connects me to the greater understanding of being thankful for those that show unrequited love on a regular basis. That despite the opportunity to reward a person based on the date given to them by some outward force, I am able to be in constant gratitude for people so wonderful around me. And it's not that I don't love birthdays, because I definitely do, its just that, I want to ensure I don't rely too heavily on the expectations that a birthday can create. That I take the year older as a signifier towards living a new day, another day, among great things, and ensure that I'm thanking those around me. I can withdraw the self and implore the valley within and be thankful for those around me for building me up. So for this birthday, my biggest wish is to say to you, rather than you to me, Happy Birthday. You deserve everything.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Giving the moon breakfast

Yuèliang zǒu, wǒ yě zǒu, (Moon moves, I also move,)

wǒ hé yuèliang jiāo péngyou, (I and moon make friends,)

dài lǐ zhuāngzhe liǎng zhī dàn, (pocket in filled+with 2 M eggs,)

sònggěi yuèliang dàng zǎofàn. (to present to moon as breakfast.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

drumming in the mist

Drumming like a steam train, the youthful Taiwanese rock their drums with prowess. I stand, throat practically drinking the surrounding mist, my lips, teeth and tongue acting as a natural filter for the water to dissipate into my ever-expanding jaw. Little nine year olds playing alongside their brothers. In sync, in beat, they yell and shout and the sticks pound and pound together, a rhythm so ingrained it seems programmed. The little one looks left at the drum leader, then confident, continues on, yelling louder than before. Left, right, pound, pound, pound. The rocking takes hold of me, shakes me like a rattle's tail, and I'm here in the moment, in the beating, the synchrony.

Alongside me, two greats, my roommate Sunny and my great friend and mentor, sir Thomas. Sandwiched among two incredible people. I often have silent moments to myself of thankfulness for falling among these caretakers, or guides that I somehow found, or rather somehow found me. It was with a permanent smile on my face that I knew this was a moment. I looked left and saw Sunny recording the greatness, giving me a look like we
both know just how awesome this is, and then I looked right to see Thomas letting me hold his umbrella, while he takes it all in. They don't know their importance on this journey, but each has me brimming with thanks.

We were here to celebrate a hakka (aboriginal cultural festival) tradition of observing the white falling May flowers. It's a place that Thomas has taken his children to, and now it was time for Sunny and I to take part in the traditional affair. There was a dragon dance and parade, a miniature train ride and a tunnel that when looked into, seemed like looking into a straw. The whole mountain was covered in a blanket of mist. They were gently caressing the sides of boulders, sitting alongside the white flowers of May, and all the while I was breathing them deep. Walking into the mist, out of the mist, looking up into the sky. This is real and this is a journey remembered.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Triathlon and regular excursions

A triathlon has been a constant goal of mine for the past several years and I've finally committed to one here in Taiwan! I'm doing it with my pal and fellow teacher, Whit Smith. She's a great trainee and keeps me on track. Check out our training facilities by reading this article from her blog. Who knew the convenience that my little town of Fengyuan would have provided us for training, eh? Pretty sweet.

In other news, I found some of my favorite places around! Whether to chill with some tea, take deep breaths of fresh air on mountain tops or simply read a good mag, this place has got everything I need!

Chill/Tea/Relax: Gudu (古都) Tea House.
This place is my regular spot for quiet study or a rewarding place to bring friends. I'm a regular here (at least once weekly) and people know my name. Most everyone speaks Chinese and the menu is in Chinese so it's a great escape from the English World I'm surrounded in. The drink maker, Roy, always gives me a good wave when I come in, shouting "huanying" ("welcome" in Chinese). I recommend the fried tofu, shrimp fried rice and do do yogurt drink or taro milk tea. YUM!

Fresh air: Bike rides to the top of surrounding mountains
The land here is filled with lush green and escapes the vastness that is Taiwan pollution. The views humble my limited understanding of where I am at. On some trails, I can see the dam on the Han River and the city of Fengyuan below. The ride uncovers plants of guava, hard-working field workers and lots of scary stray dogs. I'm constantly venturing to take in deep breaths on these rides, hoping to stock up on the fresh oxygen.

Fruit fix: corner fruit stand by 85ºc
As I have become fixated with having morning fruit smoothies, going to this place bi-weekly has become a must. The aroma is confident and the fruit selection fantastic. I usually pick up a few bananas and guavas, adding in the occasional pineapple, bell fruit or other seasonal fruit. The lady who works the counter has grown to talking to me more and I to her. "Yes, I'd like it sliced in half." I was excited when I figured that one out.

Work out spot/stress reliever: Rock climbing wall in Taichung
I've found an attraction to this outside rock climbing playground and find myself going more and more often. Nothing builds up a better sweat than this place. It was also a relief finding it because I brought my rock climbing shoes in hopes of finding a nearby rock facility...and I have! The first time I made it here, a local kicked my butt at climbing a few routes. Since then, I've been practicing those same routes and when I see him again, I'll be ready for him!

Current events reading: Sogo department store
The bookstore in Sogo provides a great environment for reading up on the current events I miss while stocked up on lesson planning and Chinese language learning. The bookstore, located on the basement floor, provides me with a gallery of great magazines to read including The Economist, Time, and others. I try to make it here every Sunday for the latest edition. Bookstores here in general are great places to spend hours in, whether it be looking at adorable birthday cards or browsing the extensive cookbook selection. Ah, bliss!

Chinese food craving fix: Leechee's Restaurant
This place is no more than a 3-minute walk from my school and home. The pork dumplings are mouth-watering, the fried noodles divine, and the soup selection plentiful. It can definitely be named a favorite among many teachers here in Fengyuan. I find myself craving it weekly and either grabbing it for a quick lunch or for a sit-down dinner with my roommate Sunny. I think I've died and gone to Chinese food heaven whenever I eat here. I think I'll go back tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The fireflies

While lost among the fireflies buzzing and blinking, I took a deep breath. It all feels surreal, this place. I was lost in the Dongshi Forest (東勢林場) with friends. I stayed behind the pack, hoping to actually lose them. It's sort of a horrible thing to say, but I felt like it was just me and the fireflies that night. An accompanying prince among a group of sirens on my maiden voyage in deep uncharted (blinking) territory. The others would gather speed and I would slow methodically down. There was an almost obligatory air surrounding the whole set. It was as if I was there to look after them as long as they were sending signals back, a true Odysseyan encounter. Some would come right up and blink alongside my skin, playing a game of kissing tag. I would enact selfishly and trap them within my palmed hands, looking into the palms like a child finding his first beetle. The whole act of me catching it was a sort of childish game; picture a young boy jumping in the air to catch that one so close, missing the first time then going back for a successful second attempt, so excited to finally score the awaited one. In the hands, bore his prize. Oh the greatness bestowed within those hands! Some sort of chemical magic I can only pretend to understand. It was green and glowing. Hard to feel but definitely present. I held the warmth for a while, letting others peek in, giving them just a glimmer of the gold, only to set my prize free and watch the blinking fly up, up higher into the sky. The firefly joined his enemies, his friends, the sea of black beyond. I looked at a field of them and they all blinked in an almost choreographed set. First the ones far in the back, then the blinking in the front. I'd like to say they were putting on a show just for me. A beautiful masquerade of dirty antennae and glowing appendages. But that would be just selfish of me to say. So instead, I took it for what it was, the fireflies buzzing by.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A photograph says a thousand words...but to whom?

Greatness is thrust into the open world for all to see, but only at times, can the perspective eye appreciate such awesome wonders. I've spent a good time looking through past photos of my venturings here in Taiwan and while they are great to look at and bring back memories of old, I think I am left with a stumped feeling. For I think, why am I looking at these pictures of experiences that were rather than experiencing the now. I think photographs do an okay job at taking in the experience and sharing it with others. People who want to know that I'm safe, that I'm having fun, that I'm still Brandon can look at these pictures as proof of relying on such introspective ideas. In a broader scope though, the photograph really doesn't explain a whole lot, the photo leaves the viewer with only a glimmer of the true experience.

A single image can say a thousand words, but to whom? These words are meant for the one experiencing them, not for the viewer to decide. That's what I find most haunting about a photograph, is that it can be the most mesmerizing thing, yet at the same time, be the most deceivable. It is impossible for a photograph to take on the job of representing the day-to-day depth of being in the moment and living up to the breadth of that moment, the intricacies behind the smells of cedar, the layers of mountain tops, the feeling of sunken grass beneath the feet, or the still-subtle taste of milk tea on my lips. And while I'm smiling in this photo expressing happiness, maybe I'm really lonely. Or while I'm making a goofy face in that photo, maybe I'm just aiming to be excepted by this new and different culture by the only means in which I know how. Then again, maybe it's all what the viewer sees, that I'm smiling because I'm happier than I've ever been or I'm making a goofy face just because I'm a goofy kid.

I find that while living here, I try to avoid the stigma behind a guy trapped behind a camera and try to open myself up to the experiences of the now. While in places unknown, I observe and try to the best of my ability to match my observations, become a mirror in which to imitate the life surrounding me. Being in this new environment, with fresh views to explore, a new language to develop, and new rules and laws, allows me in some ways to be a kid again, to take it all in and live it like it was my first and last day. To breathe in the orange fragrance ('hen xiang') as I try to fit as naturally into the space I have found myself in. I try the things that were once unusual in hopes of gaining a further understanding of the people I surround myself with. That instead of capturing them with a lens, a photo that welts inside a memory bank, I am rather able to take in the behavior of the people, really try to understand their movements and their way of life, in order to capture them individually as a whole. I was once told that I was the type in which "while in Rome, does as the Romans do". It's hard for me to disagree with this statement because I am wanting the life awaiting behind the curtain after I step onto a new stage of experience. And as I balance the individual self with that of a new discovery of being, I step into a place of understanding and learning. I acknowledge that it is through self trial and sacrifice that great things form.

I'll continue the picture postings and the sensical data in hopes of creating a picture worthy of a thousand words whispered softly into the ears of the ones I love in hopes that they catch a glimmer of a moment here. But know that it's just a moment.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Seeking color in Color Village

I'm left in a village of color. The signs of fruitfulness fall upon my lap. For I'm here among the colors and the colors are smiling back. I'm matched with the sky above and the ground below. Walking among the painted ceilings and mismatched palette of a brush upon the cement mass of walls. It's among the peace signs and the poses that I recall the greatness of color. The way it soothes the colorless pupil. The way it exposes the normalcy of a grey wash-can or a rust-stained sink.

I wonder if the artist behind the color knew where to start
the color and where to end it. Without the color, is life dull? Does the artist find himself in a muted world full of greys and whites? Does the color brings attention to the muted, the solemn, in hopes of greater sense of illusioned happiness? Maybe he wants to bring attention to the color escaping the paintbrush and dripping into the air around him, as I pictured it. That color can follow me to the most unexpected places. I'll allow the green to chase me from the fields of grass or the orange to eat up my skin and make it brown. I'll let the red pour from my lacerated elbow as the purple replaces the body's punctured spots. The blues can play among the whites in that big place up there and I'll watch on, wishing I was a part of the party. The clear of the rain can splash upon the peach of my brow while I sing songs of yellow. I'll dance among the leaves of pink and wash myself in the turquoise. Ah the turquoise! I could go on and on forever like this.

"Paint me and I'll paint back" I'll say.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Familiar travels and new discoveries

Hello world, It's been a while, hasn't it? I'm finally reached a place here of familiarity. Where things have become routine and the newness has worn down. I'm comfortable with the eateries I find most fulfilling, the daily Chinese lessons and the teaching. The newness will never be gone completely because I'm still discovering it every day, whether it be the whistling of an unidentified bird or the hidden alleyways which maze the streets. I guess it's just becoming more routine...which all and all is a pretty cool thing in a place once considered so far away.

I travelled to the township of Ershui (二水鄉, meaning two waters) to hike among the monkeys. They came right up to me while gorging in the food among the treetops. A sign clearly labels that food should not be thrown to the animals, although some Taiwanese did it anyways.

I was left with an amazing view, as I often find myself in while wandering Taiwan. The trees outgrow each other here. I climb higher and higher just to see the tops of them all.

A few teachers and I found ourselves among a festival. There were god-uniformed puppets and sound-making pulling carts. A local told me that it was a festival for a particular god of that mountain. The sights and sounds of the festival were an unexpected surprise.

Smaller puppets were also there to greet us at the festival. All of them resembling a god of Chinese ancestry.

The black smoke bellows out of the furnace. The paper money and goods are combusted by fire and rise to the heavens. I was talking to my friend Thomas about this practice and was told that the government is asking for fewer people to burn such things in hopes of preserving the air quality, yet, with the traditional symbolism behind it there seems to be many oppose to the new suggestions. It's an interesting balance act between new and old thought.

The Formosan Rock Macaque Monkeys pry attention away from everything else on the hiking trail. They are most definitely an attraction of the area.

This little restaurant in Taichung, Taiwan called Modern Toilet brings a whole new meaning to the term "potty humor". Everything in the place is inspired by nothing less than the bathroom. I ate a delicious curry via toilet bowl while my friend Ray ate out of a miniature tub. The chairs are actual toilet bowls as well. It's an interesting novelty idea and actually not as gross as it seems. The Taiwanese are a lot more open about their bowel movements.

To finish up the meal, my friend Ray and I had some ice cream from some urinals. Yum!

These are two of my friends in which spend a day with me every week (Mondays) to practice my Chinese language. On this day we ventured to a temple in the downtown area of Fengyuan to "bie bie" or pray to the gods. We also had some lunch and window shopped.

No week is complete without a bike ride with Thomas. On this week it was up an old village trail to these awesome tunnels that were carved a half century ago by the Japanese in hopes of hiding from the American bombings.
It ran alongside the Han River (I think that's the name of it) although it was more like a stream. Crane-like birds inhabit the area by the river. A beautiful sight for the exhausted.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Chinese new year

I was able to spend the Chinese New Year holiday in the beautiful East Coast region of Taiwan. We travelled to Hualien (花蓮市, the city by the sea and Taroko Gorge National Park). It was the perfect scene for an enamoring vacation and spouted more meaning for why the Portuguese originally named the island "Formosa".

The sea came to my feet. I let it soak into my flesh and felt the sand gravitate between my toes. There is nothing quite like the feeling of sand engulfing my feet while the waves roar beside them, hugging them like a mama to her little ones.

I had yet to discover a sea like this. It was endless. I knew I was on an island, but in living so far away from the shore, I felt grounded on mainland, this evidence proved me otherwise. The sea is my home, bodies of water seem to welcome my heart gracefully. I grew up on a lake in Coeur d'Alene, ID, and swam almost everyday. My days were filled with jumping off docks with just floaties on. On this body of water, I viewed with great admiration as fishermen stand alongside their gear for a long day with their friend, the sea. Their floaties removed long ago but their dock still with them loyally.

As the beach welcomed me, my feet wanted to say something back. The only thing that came to mind was the great place in which I found my self in, "Taiwan".

The teaching crew from Berhan on the sands of Taiwan. We all danced upon the shore that day. Jumped high into the sky. We travelled by scooter, banking narrow turns downhills and uphills, all the while the sea breeze played alongside us. It was magical.

Cliffs mangled heroically beside the beach to entice further investigation. The edges of landmass amazed this watchful traveller. I climbed a rope to get here and the mist of the crashing waves welcomed me full-heartedly. I gladly could of stayed here for weeks. If I would have, as night fell, the crashing waves would've retold old bedtime stories while the mist tucked me into my cliffside bed.

My mind can get lost among the sounds of the waves. This is a moment like that, where the mind functions with the rhythm of the sea, each overturning concave deepening the trance.

The next day, a red bridge welcomed me on a small canyon highway outside the city, near Liyu Lake. The sun was singing to the mountaintops.

A road was carved from the listening monster of a mountainside. It came alive here as the pillars clung to the mountain making makeshift teeth for the beast.

Eventually the monster ate me up. I had a small spill among a wet spot on the road seen and got a good scrape on my right elbow and some damage to the foot. I brushed it off, everything intact, the journey continued.

I was eventually led to a great spot near a dam. The view stole the show.

Later that day, a monastery was the show-stealer. It lay hidden inside Taroko Gorge, the buddhist chanting luring us towards its discovery.

A good time to think deeply...or maybe just a good time to take a picture of me pretending to think deeply...yeah, I think it's the latter. But regardless, thinking did happen among these mountains, about how small I am and how big the masses of the Earth can shoot straight out trying to reach the limits of the atmosphere. So yeah, maybe deep thinking did happen...ha ha.

Day three brought hiking towards a blue wonder of river water. Miscommunication got the best of our navigation skills and we were led past the blue river to the hills of aboriginal viallages (a two-hour hike turned into close to six hours).

The land was rich with history. Life sprung out of every crack in the side of the mountain. The land is still used by living relatives of the aboriginal people, one of the few remaining sanctuaries for them.

We walked among the clouds. The white wisps I mostly peer to from below marked their wet droplets against my brow. An abandoned rigging system seemed endless, escaping deep into the hazy conglomeration of the hollowed water particles.

A journey unexplainable through words or even pictures. A living experience worthy of savoring as life continues onwards, beyond a Chinese new year and towards the rituals of a life known.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A moment in the park

This place is not seen, mostly, I guess. The places here are quiet, if you can find them. I ventured outwards, biking around a circle road in the Taiwan city of Fengyuan, my home, for now.

I find this place. It's the cherry blossoms that grabbed my attention. That and the shiny white bridge, decaying at its railings, making it still more beautiful. I found it and turned my bicycle around. "Here lies something new and undiscovered" I thought to myself. It's the butterflies that greeted me first along the path. I knew I was in the right place.

I walked onwards. The grass here seems hollow because it moves so softly along with my encroaching steps forward, even the wind acts as an accomplice, slowly blowing the grass petals, moving like millions of maestros conducting their symphonies. I'm amazed by the movement of it all, how nature can act according to no set plan and wow the viewer. Such beauty lies in it. The butterflies and the grass and the blacking of the bridge decay. I'm questioning how the beauty belongs here, it exists with such evasive luster, a universal glimmer to the eyes of many. From Dostoevsky "The terrible thing is that beauty is not only frightening but a mystery as well. That's where God and the devil join battle and their battlefield is the heart of man."

Beauty a battle. It rests in my head and quakes the inner-cogs. Beauty surrounding a young man, as it has surrounded many a-young men and how that beauty can be deemed an inner-struggle. A struggle for survival. An instant-pushing at a middle until something explodes. Perhaps the butterfly sipping the nectar from the flower. Or perhaps the bee collecting the nectar for his queen. I wonder if it all explodes like the Big Bang Theory explains the beginning of the universe. And if one of these moments, the beautiful ones, can be a universe within themselves. A sort of cosmic showdown within a cosmic showdown. That the planets are the same as the petals on the flower. And that it can all be formed by the God and the Devil, or the black and the white, or the good and the bad. That these two opposing forces, the ones that are constant in all things, force each other so hard, that something beautiful arises from the battle. I'm standing there among the battles and they are beautiful.

My mind says these things and when I verbalize them, they sound structured and constrained (and I wonder if I'm even making sense!). My mind says words and spurts them out anyways. I wonder, can the world can be explained by mere words? Can beautiful really describe this around me? But this is all more than that. Words are constraining the true value of the experience. I'm caught wondering if I could just live this moment without words, live among the battling and battle myself too.
In the field, the field with the flowers. The butterflies call to the petals and the flowers hark back. They sing to each other and bring each other liveliness. I read that somewhere. I think. I pass a huge log and the log stands before a simple message. I can't read it. No. Just etchings on a wall. The purple cherry blossomings are here and the faded white bridge. The sky seems so high and the flowers close and the butterflies closer. Everything can be made so simple. The trees can sprout from seeds. The babes can be made into warriors. I'm saying too much. The words are skewing it all. I'll just sit and escape into beautiful surroundings in the park.

My kiddos

Some of my kiddos (Larson, William and Jason) from my second grade class at the Berhan Language Institute. Such silly-nillys.

As the weeks grow so does my relationships with these kiddos. Each one is unique and precious and awesome and makes me want to be a better teacher/person. Not saying that they're not a lot to handle, they are, but each minute is worth it. A few things I've figured out as one month has now gone by as "Mr. Bray Bray", as my little second graders call me.

1. Grow acutely aware of the random touch of arm, leg or facial hair. Sometimes you may lean over them to see how their sentences are progressing and they'll simply just reach up and rub your chin with their palm, either that or sit close to you for reading time and just carefully caress leg hairs.

2. For punishment, offer the corner. If corner doesn't work, it's wall-sits.

3. One push-up for each minute a student is late. Yeah, I'm cruel.

4. One push-up for each minute the teacher is late. Yeah, they're cruel.

4. When going outside for break, realize they'll play basketball, and realize that they've figured out that you suck at basketball. You're now designated the benched player/head cheerleader. Go team!

5. For spelling tests, always check the whiteboard first for the words that are on the spelling test.

6. Seating charts should always be made boy/girl/boy/girl.

7. Avoid the words "long", "trumpet", "bird", "mosquito island", and "shoot" with sixth-grade adolescence.

8. Kids love playing popcorn reading for class, and choose to say another student's name in the middle of a sentence, so it reads something like "Then Galen got out his sword and killed...Hogerth!" Laughing quickly ensues, teacher quieting everyone down.

9. Magic card tricks will excite any kid at ANY AGE!

10. Some will want you to come to their grandmother's house to play wii. Those same ones might say "I love you, Mr. Brandon" when class is over. Oh these kids kill me.

Now to get back to my lesson planning.... :P

Monday, January 25, 2010

Biking into the tunnel

I biked with Thomas again on Sunday. We sprang forth in mid-afternoon towards Taiwan's longest tunnel (Caoling suìdào) and ventured on through to Fulong. It was an awarding bike ride that eventually led us to a Hakka (Taiwanese aboriginal culture) festival with a bridge called "Lover's Bridge".

After that we ventured further onwards towards a huge Mango Tree that has been around for 100+ years. Waiting for us was this darling elderly woman who had a good conversation with Thomas about how she loves to pick the mangoes up in May and eat them up after the mighty wind hurls them towards the green Earth. She also told us that it is okay to climb to get the fruit. I'll definitely be back here for prime Mango season.

To end our journey, we went back to the flower field so I could make a quick sketch of the scenery (I've been trying to draw a quick something every Sunday). I spotted this sign which reads: "You need to cherish me because the flowers are smiling at you." I smiled back at them gratefully.

Here is a vid: