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:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fengyuan bike ride with Thomas and Kevin

Some of my most rewarding experiences here in Taiwan are spent with a language-exchange I met through my roommate, Sunny. His name is Thomas Hu and we meet up at least once a week, one hour spent speaking Chinese and the other half speaking English. His wife cooks me an amazing meal as I sit there at his living room table struggling to say "I would like to go to Taichung via train" and similar sentences. This meal usually consists of a big bowl of soup + a huge mound of rice + tons of vegetables and a great piece of meat. This is what food comas are made of. Surrounding our meal, we talk about differences in our cultures and people. I send him English articles and he tries to make sense of them. We struggle together and learn together.

He is also able to show me around Taiwan on occasion. Just yesterday we went on a great bike ride in Fengyuan with his son Kevin (whom is in one of my classes). The city has great trails about 15 minutes from where I live via bike. It's a great escape from the exhaustion of the city streets. Here are some pictures exemplifying our journey and our growing relationship.

Thomas and I at the beginning of the bike ride. Cycling is one of the primary modes of recreation and exercise for the people of Taiwan. This bike path attracts hundreds of people daily, getting quite crowded on holidays.

Me along the trail overlooking the Dajia River below and the mountains to the East. The river bank is actually quite torn up because of yearly tsunamis plaguing the area of steady plant growth.

My student Kevin and I by a bridge along the bike trail. He is in my writing class on Wednesday and Friday evenings.

By the end of our bike ride, we found this great field of flowers "Hua hi" and Thomas insisted that I stop and take pictures. I am in awe of the beautiful flowers here and often see them dancing alongside the roads and sidewalks. Deep purples and pinks and white. We stopped among the flowers and snapped a shot.

I plucked a flower from its stem (after getting permission from Thomas) and stuck it in my journal. It's a great memento of an exuberant ride with incredible friends.

Ni Hao to the flowers! (Another insistent request by Thomas). He's such a joy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A walk among the orange trees

I hike higher up this trail. Unlike trails I'm used to, this ones destination-layed with slabs of stone. I follow the orange trees. The orange blossoms in full bloom. Leaves next to me are applauding. I see the oranges on the ground lying, decaying. The live ones in the trees sparkling. And those few in fantastic wonderland, the ones still about their perches, are the ones the leaves applaud. I wonder if the birds up ahead sing their song to warn me that the fruit is theirs or maybe they're saying "you're welcome to have a cup of juice". And they lay home in shacks about me as I walk along this dirty-leafed path.

The sun is glaring on the oranges and they are letting out their song. Green trees, green trunks, orange fruit, and the butterfly flies by. As I walk down the steps.

There is an abandoned house. I ventured into it. Find it eerie. The walls were cracked. The mirror was hanging unsteady against the soiled wall and I swear I could see a ghost, or at least a spirit.

The butterfly flies by.

I saw things in drawers and cubbies, rotting and sour, once belonging to someone.

The butterfly flies by.

The path, the path I just took was absolutely gorgeous. Like a picture book. Everything glows. Shrines and incense...strong visuals, strong smell, smoked-up library scent. Moss growing on large rocks.

This pathway is built for people willing to walk the road that has been walked before. Tree roots interlaced with stone carved by man. The magic is sort of taken away but the orange trees offer their brightness along the path.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 predictions

There is no denying that life is what you make it. While a new year's dawn has come and gone, I stand here thinking about what this year, 2010, will bring. This thought was heightened while listening to a recent edition of This American Life.

It's difficult to do, plan a year out like it can be scheduled with a red mark on this date and a deep tear on this date, rather it comes at me with striking, random proficiency. I am here ready to take what comes and can only hope to push it in a direction worth living, making life what I want to make it. I can assure myself that this year will bring happiness. I can guarantee it will bring disappointment. I can promise there will be good days and bad days and that the wind will blow when I least expect it to. That the butterflies will play in the field of flowers and I'll be the watcher. These things happen year in and year out. What I hope to make this year, a prediction of sorts, is a pathway made by general goals in which to strive closer to each dying day. I planned these out a while back, and each year I strive to make these structural platforms sturdy for a future foundation, the grout in which to lay the plaster and walls, and perhaps even a home someday. Pickled and postured these goals lie down, the ending uncertain. I'll find a way to accomplish what I know of them now, although I know they evolve and morph; through blood and sweat, running and cowering at times, I'll assure even you, the reader, that they stay within the crevices of my mind.

Goals for 2010. Goals for the future, for life.

- Walk a road and don't be unsure of its path. Just walk it and feel the pavement under your feet. Be okay with the destination. You're sure to make it.

- Ensure a good wellness, both inside and out. Run up sidewalks, bike up mountains, and do whatever makes you happy. Jump for joy at midnight and kiss softly the reflection of the moon in your pillow.

- Make sweet the sound of your voice. Explore your mind through writing and speaking. Be comfortable with yourself and let your voice be heard. Try radio or create some sort of tangible object to encase your creativity.

- Build a story through words, spoken or written, and publish it!

- Build relationships. Expose yourself and others will do the same. Love and others will love. Don't be distracted by self-doubt or insecurity.

- Explore the world and listen to your heart. Don't be afraid of the unknown. Release your inhibitions and fly with the wind.

- Make small talk with someone you don't know. Try it everyday. Just bring up something worth talking about; the weather, their nice smile, that button that sparkles on their blouse, just do it and rewards will offer themselves, I'm sure.

- Don't be distracted by others. Ensure that people are on your side before investing further. Open yourself but keep the eyes on the prize.

- Explore the wooded places and swim in the lakes. Feel the tree bark rough against your hand. Let the stream water lull you to sleep. See the sunrise every morning and take the deepest breath you've ever had.

- Make a story for yourself and live that story. Improve on chapters lived and make the ending fantastic.

From Brandon Henry to Brandon Henry. Good night.

Friday, January 8, 2010

First week of school!

At the Berhan Language Institute, kids come and go like torpedoes through a war-torn sea. This way and that way. I'll be walking down the hallway and then one might shout, "Hello Mr. Brandon", I turn and gesture hello and they smile back. It's what makes my day. I have 5 classes this semester all held in the afternoon/evening.

This is my class schedule.

My first class is from 1:30-4:00 pm on M, W, Th, and F. They are my little 2nd graders...the cutest kids I've ever seen! Their nickname for me is Mr. Brae Brae. ha ha. There is Larson (the loudest one who blinks really hard and always wants tokens [which are incentives for them to know their vocab, sentence structures, etc]), William (always funny and crazy), Belinda (the smart girl), Emily (she always says, "thank you, bye bye" whenever she hands me an assignment and I say Ok, good. It's super cute. She's also my little helper in class and loves to erase the whiteboard and mark the calendar), and Jason (the cutest little asian you'll ever meet! I could really steal him right now and keep him forever. He always does this high pitched voice when he reads or when he laughs, he falls straight to the floor. It's darling). This is my favorite class because it allows me the chance to play like a kid. This week we've played mostly mother-may-I and the kids have thrown in things like, "eat Mr. Brandon" and everyone runs at me, mouths wide open, and pretend to eat me. Or they are like "Tickle Jason" and everyone runs and tickles Jason. It's always go-go-go in that class and wears me out real quick but every second is worth it.

My next class is from 4:40 - 6:40 pm on M, W, F. They are 6th graders and the ones I have to be most strict with. They are loud and obnoxious. The first day the girls and the guys were on opposite sides of the room, sticking tongues at each other, throwing napkins at each other, etc...and the head boss of the school eventually came in and scooted their desks together and insisted they behave. I've since arranged their desks differently and it's been better although at times I have to tell some of them to sit next to me or go to the corner. I'm surprised at how sexual these kids are at this age. Half the time they talk about "inviting a girl to blow trumpet with me" or "this guy has a long head". They always laugh at things like "sexy" or have this weird inside joke about Anne Frank. I just don't get them sometimes.

Another 6th grade class I have is from 4:40 - 6:40 on T, Th, Sat. They are the complete opposite of my other 6th grade class. They are well behaved and engaged with what I'm saying. Last class we had a complete discussion on superheroes and now we are doing an assignment in class where we are creating a superhero newspaper. It's quite fun, actually. A lot of them remind me of my little bro, Riley. They are all really into computer games and star wars/harry potter/twilight. They are lovable dorks. I really enjoy all of them. At breaks we go outside to play a bit of basketball. They are all really good. It's quite fun to watch and occasionally toss up the ball despite me sucking at it.

My other 2 classes are writing classes. One is on Tue from 6:50 - 9:00 pm and the other is W, F from 6:50 - 9:00 pm. The Tuesday one only had one girl in it. She was about 17 and we just chatted the whole time and played Guess Who. She was really nice and interesting. I hope other people show up to that class. I'd really like to do a project with a local radio station or something. The other class has 3 boys in it. They are fun just to chat around with and like games a lot. They actually created their own game last semester and we've been trying to learn it. They are just goofballs and easy to talk to.

I'm really liking this teaching thing. I'm reminded about how nice it feels to be called their teacher, whether it be the times when my kids eyes light up when they finally get something or when a kid says hello to me in the hall. I own a part of their minds now and it's my turn to make them all shining stars! ha ha...hokey, I know. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dealing with death a world apart

A million miles from anything, the pain feels the same. The heart skips a beat and then drops to the floor, the mind wondering 'But now? So soon? But I was just there a week ago and he looked okay'. The comfort of family lies oceans apart, the hugs turning into pantomiming I love yous via webcam, with a finger pointing towards the eye, then forming a heart with two cupped hands and then an outstretched finger towards the camera. All the while tears fall down faces, being caught by keyboards and faux-wooded desktops. It's all that can be done in replacement of the embrace one usually gets in cases of tragedy where one lives on the other side of the world. It feels okay, I guess, the pantomiming of love, it's better than nothing, I suppose; but the warmth of a good hug can't come across through a plastic computer monitor and sometimes that's all a person needs. The un-hugged traveling heart, outside of its home-boundaries, feels out of place. The heart has a responsibility to be home, beside the dying, the sick, the dead, because the legacy deserves the remembrance. If I could, I would be there, like I was for the holidays. Except it wouldn't be the same, because you, my great-grand Griffith, wouldn't be there. I wouldn't be helping you open your pocket knife as the presents fell from your lap. I wouldn't be admiring your quiet and gentle demeanor, how did you do it all these years? So maybe it's better that I stay here across the world, so I'll remember you as you were, instead of that shell lying in a box. A man lost is a man lost, his life gone from his bones. The spirit is somewhere beautiful, if only in the minds of those that loved him, cascading about through the spongey material like a ballerina's glissade atop cumulus clouds. I see those clouds everyday here. You're closer than I thought.

My Great-Grandpa Griffith passed away Monday evening. I gratefully spent the holidays in his company, knowing it very well might have been my last, and it was sadly. He was ready to go. Is that a heartless thing to say? But he was. He often times didn't want to upset my grandma, his caretaker, so he would often deal with the pain in preference to disturbing the peace. Now he has reached the ultimate peace, no more shoveling sidewalks despite his bad back or mowing lawns because it was always his job. It's his time to rest now, while others carry on the journey. Growing up, he has always been in my memory as that man in the background, laughing softly to himself as he sits in his chair, not saying much but always there. He was the omniscient character who saw everything and gave advice where needed. He was strong and committed, gentle and loving. The last thing I remember him saying to me was, "How great it is to have you here". How wonderful his hard-strained voice sounded saying those words. It was me, though, that was grateful to be in his presence. I always wished he would've told me more about himself and his journey through life. I suppose, though, that his journey is told through the loved ones surrounding me, through his living legacy in which I'm apart of. I'm thankful for that and for how long I've been able to be with him on this spinning blue-green speck in the universe.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Years Storybook

There are moments, moments when you know you are in the right place with the right people at the right moment in time. New Years in Taipei was one of these moments. It all happened like a storybook.


Chapter One.

Steady and with eyes wide-open like flying saucers, Henry walked into the crowded bus terminal. White-tiled and gray-walled, the terminal was simple and understandable, yet the place was as foreign to him as a forgotten yesterday. Numbers and people stood in heaps, orderly and with meaning, he understood the way groups had formed and individual outliers waited for their called destination. He understood the way people moved and the way the coin rolled upon the floor when dropped by the elderly woman. He understood the father holding his son's hand as they walked towards their bus, departing home after a long day. He understood the smiles and the laughter contained in the room. It was the other things that confused him, the undefinable slashes, dots, and curvy waved boxes of the written language on the walls, the tonal mess of random sounds coming from the mouths of everyone. He was in a place similar yet totally unlike anything he's ever experienced. Small and big, lost and discovered, he found himself, standing in the middle of the terminal. Waiting. Patiently. For who knows what, but the waiting felt good. So he did it. Finally, after moments of simply observing, he took a deep breath, his lungs filling with a belly-full of readiness, as if it was an element like oxygen and headed toward his destination. He was off towards Guting by way of metro, a college-aged portion of town where a Heather, friend of a friend, was ready to greet him and show him around Taipei.

The sky was deep shades of purple, lights and signs attempting to grab attention from it. It was a deep, cosmic battle, that between the sky and the signs. The sky would always claim victory, despite the efforts of chemically-infused neon lights and flashing LEDs. Henry continued in twilight over towards the train station. It was an easy venture, he saw it by way of bus as he entered the terminal. From one station to the next he ventured, mazed by the people that stood in his path.

Chapter Two.

Guting station provided a safe conclusion that Henry's navigation skills weren't completely shot. He called Heather upon exiting the platform, figuring out his next move. "Hey Heather" he said in a slow, understandable voice. "Hey Henry" Heather answered. "I'm here". "Oh okay, now go to the street behind the station and follow it until you reach the second intersection. Then wait for Michael to pick you up." "Oh, ok, great. Thanks Heather. See you later." he stammered, unsure who Michael was, or whether an intersection could be considered an intersection if the streets were made up of just alleyways. He walked with uncertainty for the first time tonight down TongAn Street. The street was conquered by gray, greens pouring themselves over cement fences and street signs, trying to get a piece of the sky. Henry reached the intersection and waited, observing the foreign place around him. A woman and her two-or-three year old son came within four meters of him. The boy stood there, looking up with huge crescent eyes, struck with a sort of disbelief. 'A foreigner!' he must be thinking, Henry thought. He gets this all the time. He feels almost stupid being the center of attention for no reason other than the untalentless form he had taken in life, but still, he supposes what's given is given, so he accepts the unwanted attention nonetheless. The mother shouted forcefully at the boy, then grabbed his hand and they moved on into the labyrinth of alley ways.

Henry was greeted by a man on scooter. "Hello my name is Michael, you must be Henry," he sputtered. "Hi MIchael" Henry replied with a shake of the hand. "Why don't you get on the back of my scooter and I'll give you a ride to the hostel". "Alright". And with that, Henry was off towards the hostel in which he would be staying. It wasn't a long ride, literally just a right and then a left turn and they were there, faced with a large gate with prayer flags and a small cardboard sign reading "The Eight Elephant Hostel".

Chapter Three.

Heather, the friend of a friend, was still on her way towards the Hostel to meet Henry. Currently she was with her grandmother, helping her from the dentist. Awaiting to meet up with her, Henry headed towards the direction of a local hangout, the Shida night market. The Hostel had become awkward as Michael, the boy who had helped him enter the facility, had brought over a lady friend that seemed to want Henry out, and ASAP. So, off Henry went, wandering aimlessly at first, trying to maneuver through the streets by himself, as if a GPS was hotwired into his temporal lobe. You see, Henry was a stubborn man, and had yet to realize the simplification of a situation when simple human-contact was handy. Instead, he enamored himself with attempting to memorize street names in order to ensure bypassing them only once, thinking if he wasn't going towards places visited, he'd have to be going in some sort of direction worthy of getting somewhere worth seeing. But alas, he found himself following his same footsteps, those street names memorized became secondly memorized as he marked his path on them once again. He finally had enough and asked a young lady on bicycle, "Uh...qǐng wèn (excuse me?), where?" as he pointed on a hand-drawn map towards the location marked 'Shida night market'. The woman pointed down the street, trying to explain in English the best she could, "go down this street and take a left, but there is two lefts". "...I'll just show you," she told him after giving up in the extensive effort to explain in a language not spoken in her home. She brought Henry towards the intersection and pointed to the second left and off Henry strolled, thanking the young women for the assistance.

Chapter Four.

The night market filled Henry's every five senses. If his body were a bowl and if five-senses was a liquid, Henry imagining it to be the consistency of liquid laundry soap, it would be spilling over his edges onto the asphalt, strings of liquid sticking to the sides. Henry was experiencing deep-entrenched smells, as if time itself had carried over the pungent (yet nutty!) smell of a dish called 'stinky tofu' from its frying dish and gingerly into his nostrils. He was crushed by the hoards of people present. Youthful college culture surrounded him. Shops of newly manufactured textiles and the merchants trying to sell them, different types of smoothie restaurants, people humming and hawing lined the streets. Henry made himself comfortable among the food stand marked 'Puff Pastries!' and stayed there a while, content with the temporary wait.

Henry received a phone call. "Henry, where are you?". It was Heather on the line. "Uh...I made my way over to the Shida Night Market." he responded. "Ok, cool, I'll be there in 5 minutes." "Great. See you soon." The call ended and Henry was stuck again, by the food stand marked for pastries. He decided to get a pastry. It was filled with a starchy, beige-colored cream, as if the batter was whisked for too long. The outer layer was flakey and good. He enjoyed the fulfillment it brought to him as he sat, watching the street. A girl maybe 16 or 17 was 10 meters away from him giving her possible boyfriend a kiss on the cheek. A couple beside him just ordered a similar shaped pastry, although this one was filled with red and pasty inside.

The sky was still purple. It was barely visible above the encroaching buildings bordering the streets. The buildings seemed to have already taken over the sidewalks and were now working their way into swallowing bits of street. Henry got another call, "Ok, I'll meet you by the Seven Eleven, do you see it?" Heather, again. "Yep, I'm on the way." Henry headed toward the Seven Eleven, which he technically couldn't see, but knew it was just around the corner from his point of view. Heather stood waiting, the adventure of the night finally taking form.

*PART TWO to be posted soon