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.