Friday, October 31, 2008

When will it end?

"And they will know we are Christians by our hate."

I heard this quote used in reference to Christians reacting in politics. (I believe it was in reference to California's Prop 8, but that'd be for another blog.)

The quote came to mind again when I saw this.

Frankly, though I've immersed myself in the world of political blogs and in an attempt to stay up-to-date on the election, I've grown very very tired of all of it:
What is being done
What should be done
What I'm "supposed to" believe and think and act and vote

(I didn't vote, btw. Not that I'm proud or think I made some great subversive statement... I don't... I was mostly too lazy to bother with the absentee ballot, so it's hardly a fact I'm proud of.)

I just don't know if I can buy it. I don't feel like the best, or even most Christ-like, reaction to all of this is fear. "What if he does do this" or "..if he doesn't do that" or "what if she"

Are we, (and I'm primarily mean "as the church") asking the right questions?
More than that, are we living out the change we're dreaming our elected officials will bring?
Are we pursuing peace, love, service, and those other warm fuzzies Christ laid out as a blueprint to what we should look like?
What does our country see when they see us?

I heard Mother Teresa used to have a saying to the effect "You better not speak out against abortion until you're ready to adopt some babies and care for some mothers yourself." That made me think real hard.

All that's besides the point (or is it?). My hope is that Tuesday, the country (and the church inside the country) will accept that he was voted into office, and move forward as one unit.

I think we need to come to realize some things...

It's not about me. It's not about them versus us. It's just us. All of us.

And if you don't like it. Move to another country... like Taiwan or something. . .

Sorry for the rant. Happy Voting.

PS Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

And All that Jazz

This past week I've spent a good portion of time at the Taichung Jazz Festival.
It was a nine day Festival featuring Jazz (and it's offspring) from around the world.

The Festival kicked off with Taichung City trying to break a Guinness World Record for having the largest amount of Saxophone players playing the same three songs, in succession, at the same time. My Taiwanese Family's brother was one of the intricate coordinators and dreamers for the event. His Saxophone Students include some of the most prominent men in Taichung City (Doctors, CEO's, Government Officials, etc.).
They set the record at 917 Registered Sax Players.

One of the highlights of the first weekend was the Saskia Laroo band.
Saskia is a lady-trumpet player from the Netherlands. Her lively sound fuses acid-rock, doo-wop, and Jazz to create something totally unique.
Her showcase proved to be an essential performance for this year's festivities
The members of her band were enough to prove the efforts Taichung consciously put forth to globalize this event.

Her drummer and bass player were from and around the Netherlands, but her keyboardist was an African American doo-wop/scat artist from the States. And her Emcee was a black rapper under the moniker Firestorm who was from South America and migrated to Europe.

There performance was tight, despite constant feedback issues. But that first weekend led to smooth sailing for the rest of the event. In my experience, I'd say it's quite easy to mess up a festival, and I've been to a few that were below par. Taichung City came through with a top-notch show.

Other performances included:
  • "Jumbo" - the Taichung locals that put on quite a show for the bar scene (Buble, meets Santana, meets Mercury)
  • "Trio3"
  • A group from South Korea that could hold their own in any New Orleans Night Club
  • "Around Midnight" - A trio made up of an Australian, a Canadian, and a Taiwanese. Stellar Musicians.
  • And of course, an appearance by my friends in the Taichung City Symphony Orchastra -- Chamber Jazz Group.
The group is headed by my new friend Nick, an American who moved, with his Taiwanese bride, to Taichung about the same week I did. They met while studying at a conservatory in Europe.. Nick is, in a way a great comfort to be around. Mostly because I can understand him just fine, and he knows that every "hello" and "see you later" deserves at least a three-point hand shake. He is through and through a Jazz Trombone Player, but he fills into the Orchastra position just fine.
He was joined by his wife on french horn, a pianist, a violinist, and Brio on Cello (another friendly face whom I've mentioned here).

I can certainly say the thing I appreciated most about the Chamber's set was Nick's dillegence to recognize that Chamber music really isn't Jazz. I've seen it tried to be passed off that way before, and you can't help but feel cheated by this substitute. Jazz is about freedom. It's a living organism that comes alive at every change of hands. Chamber music is about structure. Being an indistiguishable part of a group -- with little to no deviance from what's on the sheet in front of you.

I'm sorry, but no matter how hard you try... violin is just not a jazz instrument.

But, to his saving grace, Nick recognized this, and called their experiment just one expression of the artform.
I'll give him that. Plus it sounded great, jazz or not.

There was only one other place that felt unnatural throughout the whole Jazz festival. That was the main stage.

Most of the performers were on smaller side stages, where even the furthest people watching would sit only meters from the stage. Where, if they listened hard, they could hear the sound of the plucks and slaps of an upright bass solo as its amplified frequency resonated in their chest.

But the main stage was different.
It was big.

And there were easily over a thousand gathered each night a performer stepped onto it. While listening to Slide Hampton's smooth and articulate trombone, I couldn't help but feel detatched. Distant. Apart of what was going on; the freedom song being sung on stage.

I think Jazz is like a story, and I've heard it called a language of the Soul.

Well stories are best told personally, and Souls must reach out and touch each other if they're ever going to make a change.

If you've followed my blog at all, you'll realize I have a tendency (healthy or not) of taking a mundane post that I've assumed has lost your interest by this point, and grow some depth.
That said, you didn't really expect me to write a whole blog about Jazz and not mention Donald Miller, or his book Blue Like Jazz, did you?

He cites a BET artist on the history of jazz:
He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper, it is so much more a language of the soul.

Jazz is meant to be seen and heard and played outside the realms of rules and regulations. That's why it was okay when the Chamber Trio performance edged towards going over the clock. Sometimes, in Jazz, that happens. Sure there's tension, and sometimes a song can slide through for ten minutes before you feel the resolving chord. But isn't that a lot more like life than a perfectly orchestrated symphony?
Life is hard to put down on paper.

Beyond that, Jazz was never intended to be impersonal. It was before the era of CDs, Cassettes, MP3s or DVD Concerts. It was a People's song of freedom. And they sang it together in close quarters. Through close bonds.

The more I step forward in my life, the more I realize that intimacy is essential to our existence. Sure, there's tension when dealing with people. Sometimes that solo is a little too loud, or a little too long-winded. And sometimes trading fours seems like trading punches. But without people, what do we have?
Jazz isn't a song that's sung alone.

It was birthed in post-slavery America, but now crosses the oceans of language and culture and style. And when it's played, I can't help but search for other conversations going on in the song. One that speaks to my humanity about the humanity in those around me.

This week helped open my eyes to what it means to communicate with people. To find the language that goes beyond words, and maybe even beyond music, but nevertheless, is spoken around the world.

Who knew all of that would come from a Jazz Music Festival in Taichung, Taiwan.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Music to My Ears

Maybe it's because I feel the need to surround myself with something uniquely American from time to time, but I've found Folk Rock creeping towards my ipod and through my computer speakers every chance it gets.

I'm sure the Jazz Festival jump-started this yearning for American Music (more on that soon to come)
And I know that ICRT (International Community Radio T.)'s lack of a decent representation of decent American music increased my awareness of the void. ("And that was Lindsay Lohan, up next is Metalica" ... I guess you can at least try to please everybody?)

Luckily for me, it's oozing in popularity. I'm so glad that I can identify myself as "hip" to the young pop american subculture here in taiwan. (insert other "oozing" sarcastic remarks here)
Though it's over-abundent State-side, no one here (so far) appreciates or enjoys this American Nostalgia. To their defense, I don't wave it wildly from the streets in search of support. It's a private matter...though you could say one of Independence.

This is the Music I'm listening to:

Jon Foreman (
Derek Webb (
Janu and the Whalesharks (
J.R. Rund and the Hold Up (
Cold War Kids (
Amy Kuney (there's no reason she can't be on this list:
Cub Country (
Faulter (the post-breakup Acoustic Album) (
Pax217's Acoustic ENGAGEment Concert (don't worry about it)
And last-but-not-Folk, Copeland ( their new album worth it? let me know)

Without mentioning the obvious lack of names like Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan (i am anticipating the "I'm Not There" Taiwan DVD release)... Did I miss anything? Add to my list!

Viva la Americana

Honorable Mention: While writing this blog, I was listening to "Mike Dunn and the Kings of New England" They also supplied the lovely graphic at the top of the post which has been slightly alterted for the purpose of this conversation.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Su Fan!

Tonight's Dinner: Steamed Lettuce and Krill
Bamboo and Mushrooms
Green Onions and Ground Beef (my personal favorite)
Green Beans and Tuna

Carrot and Potato Stew

and Dragon Eyes

All on top of a bowl of White Rice

Oh, and a side of fresh sliced Pear -- which happens to be the size of a Mango, and has the texture of an Apple. For Dessert: an ice cube sized block of Black Potato-Flavored Ice (Popsicle w/o the stick)

Life is Good.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Manly Brand

I needed to buy some body and face wash since my travel packs ran out.

Found this brand.

Thought it was fitting.

PS... Yes, I bought them both.
The bottle says "Charcoal and Bamboo"
It comes out Black. And it is Awesome.

Friday, October 10, 2008


"Justice Travels Uphill... and this Train keeps climbing..."

This isn't something I've seen first hand, but I know it happens in Taiwan.
And I know it was happening under my nose in the States as well.

This is a global problem, and it's good to see someone doing something about it.
It's even better to know we can do something too.

The movie Call+Response came out in select theaters, and it's only running for one week.
If it's in a market near you, go see it.

Support this Movement.

Thought of the Day...

Even in the States, I took pride in my chopstick-ing ability.

So you could imagine how I feel when native chopstick users are impressed by my skills.
I guess they don't realize how big a deal Panda Express is in the U.S.

As many times I've had people comment on my chopstick use (like... 3?) I've had people here comment on me being left handed.

(yeah, so it's not really that often. I needed writing material. Just try to follow...)

The other day, one of the teachers at the school - Dr. Brio, who studied in America for 7 years and enjoys Grey's Anatomy and House - commented on my left-handedness.

She said that here in the Chinese culture of Taiwan, children who are prone to be left-handed are taught that it is wrong. That it's not good to stick out that way. They are forced to trade their natural tendency for an unnatural one. No matter how loud their mind tells them they're structured otherwise.

Even the ambidextrous are left without a choice.

In Western Culture, Left-handedness has its own culture. We even have books and websites that cry "Oppression!" and demand that we're treated equally and get our own Scissors and stuff like that.

It's mostly tongue-in-cheek, because in America, and the like, no one is actually out to get Left-handed people. We accept that
"Hand orientation is developed in unborn children, most commonly determined by observing which hand is predominantly licked or held close to the mouth." (cited here)

And that in 2007, Scientists found the gene linked to left-handed tendencies. (LRRTM1, to be exact.)
Here in America, it's more about people wanting something to rant about then it is actual oppression.

But for others, it's a reality.
Everything in their brain says, "reach for the chopsticks with your left hand"
Yet family, culture, pressure amongst peers all say "You're wrong."

I can't imagine the weight of having to choose between Socially Correctness and an Autonomous Orientation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It takes 28 Days to Form a Habit

It takes 28 Days to Form a Habit.

I lived by this Mantra for over a year, and it came back to me while I was brushing my teeth. "It takes 28 Days to Form a Habit." ...Here in Taiwan, I'm going on 35.

In this entirely new surrounding/culture/community/lifestyle, I wonder what habits I'm forming.

A few come to mind:
I say "Thank you" in Chinese with out thinking about it.
I say "Hello" in Chinese about 50% of the time.
I drink more tea than coffee
I don't drink soda
I enjoy walking (20 minutes) to the school
I'm starting to wake up earlier

There's also a few habits in the making:
I'm starting to go to bed earlier (it helps with the waking up part, I've found)
I remember to grab tissues to use in the public restroom before I get there
I'm figuring out a routine of when and where to take off my shoes in the house
I'm starting to not go back to sleep after I wake up early...

But I wonder what habits will come with out knowing.

I want to remember to form new and life-giving habits.

I haven't shared this picture yet, but now seems a good time. It's a picture I took in LuGang when I was there. It's called a half-well. And that is exactly what it is. In an older age, townsmen with money would build their wells on their property line so that they would have half the well inside their estate, and the other was open to the poor and the passerby. If water was such a valuable life source for these people, it seems that open access to their well sets their capacity for giving much higher than 10%.

I've already been blessed by the kindness and endless generosity of the people around me. The family who has welcomed me into their home, and their friends and neighbors around them. I hope to see my capacity for giving grow exponentially in the next year.

I was brushing my teeth again tonight, like I normally do. And once again, I was reminded of that mantra. I was reminded because I had told myself I would switch my teeth-brushing hand to help remind me, at the beginning of the day and the end, to focus on my habits.

I promptly switched hands.

It's beginning to dawn on me that it won't be easy work. But if I was to think anything in life is worthwhile work, this would be it.

Remembering what's been given to me,

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Hello, you are very handsome."

For the past two hours, I've been journaling at what I thought would be a quiet park - that's been far from the case. Apparently, there's some sort of Concert/Festival going on. Just as I settled down on a hillside patch of very-unpleasant-grass, the stage in front of me lit up. For about an hour, teens and twenty-somethings dressed in outlandish garb paraded across the stage only to pause for a brief moment to sing, or twirl an umbrella, or wave a fan. Then off they went, to give room to the next contestant

Safe to say, I had no idea what was going on.

After that ended, and a few people cleared away, I spied an empty stone table at the top of the hill. This improved my writing conditions drastically. For the better part of the second hour, I was the table's sole occupant. There was a young Western couple who sat down near the spot where I'd left. I wanted to save them from the grass, but I never caught their eye.

It seems taboo for westerners-who-are-strangers to talk to each other. Rarely do we get much past "Hi, how are you." A knowing smile and a nod usually suffice upon eye contact. Last night, I tried to ask an American family-of-four how their dinner at Chili's had fared. For the typical "hellohow'sitgoin" salutation, they seemed pleasant. But their tone morphed into a short and flat "Fine" to answer the second question. Then they rushed away. I'm not kidding. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

Later, I was joined by a man with a cigarette and cut-off jeans much shorter than the pair I was wearing.
For a brief period following, a family sat down across from the man and me. After about two minutes, the father stuck his face between mine and my notebook and asked "American?" in Chinese. He then attempted to force his young teenage daughter to practice her English with me, much against her will. It didn't get very far, but I think her name was Selina.

This happens a lot. There are some perks. Two days ago, I was given two apples for speaking to a five year old boy in English. But still, I can't fully decide if I enjoy it or find the attention irritating.

Oh! Look at that, the costume kids are back. Instruments in tow, this time. It looks like the playboy-esque bunny is going to perform an air guitar/karaoke rendition of Sixpence's "Kiss Me"

No, wait, make that Moby.

No, it's British Parliament music.

Wow, okay, I don't know what's going on, again. Someone needs to learn how to use an ipod.

Maybe just a photo-op?
I need to walk around. This stone bench is a pain in my

...Ah, maybe I'll stay. Short-shorts and his wife just offered me a bottle of Green-Tea. Add that to the perks-list of being the only Westerner within sight.


Between the time of typing and posting the above entry, I went back to the Festival (by myself, again) for the Concert portion. There were plenty of happenings in Round:Two, so I thought I'd add a second portion. Sorry in advance for the length. And it starts... riiiight...nnnnn

So I went back to the festival.

I was told music started at 7, so I rushed to eat my 6 o'clock dinner, change, and walk back to Statue Park. As I neared the entrance at 6:55, sweat dripping from my brow (nothing I'm not used to here) I realized I was going to a concert. And concerts never ever start on time (Save concerts @ theVault, which always started on time...always...).

Needless to say, I didn't hear music til 8.

I didn't know what was going on most of the time, but it did prove to be an interesting night.

There were a few groups. Mostly pop, with one rapper and one pop-punk group.
The rapper sang three songs.
The first was called "Taichung Taichung" (I think)
The second was about MSN messenger (it featured the "Send Message" sound as part of the beat)
And the third... well, the only two words I picked up were "Taichung" and "MSN" (besides "yeah" "alright" and "peace out")

Before him, I heard the best rendition of "The Power of Love" ever sung by a Chinese man. (Okay, to be fair, it was the best I'd ever heard, save Celine)

The punk rock group was fun, and its guy/girl lead vocal team did a fine job pumping up the crowd. She did a half-decent rendition of Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" (to her defense, look at the song she had to work with.) He decided to hold the microphone up to my mouth so I could sing. It was awkward, though, because he seemed to only put it up to my mouth when she said "Girlfriend" so I tried not to sing too loudly. Being that I was, again, one of the only Westerners around, the two photographers covering the event instantly swarmed me and the rockstar.
He posed. I smiled much too childishly-wide.

More than once, I heard "you are very handsome."
My favorite was from the same male-popstar who held the mic to my mouth so I was forced to sing "I don't like your girlfriend?" to 1000 people.
Before any of that happened, he made his first pass through the crowd. We caught eyes, and I nodded to him to say I was enjoying the show. He came over to me, and we shook hands. And while his female-counterpart was singing a lead, he brought the microphone to his lips and let those little words ring out over the loud-speaker.

"Hello. You are very handsome."

I assured him that he was too.

I swear though, this has got to be one of the first phrases they teach in English class. Somewhere between "Hello, nice to meet you!" and "Where is the toilet?" In my month of being here, it's been tossed around more times than I can count, and I'm convinced it's not because so many Taiwanese people are enamored with my looks and poor-Chinese charm.

Story to prove my point:
Sometime last week, I was at a restaurant, when the waitress used this phrase on me. I smiled, nodded awkwardly, and said "Thank you" in Chinese. Then she said, "You have a very good smile." "Your eyes are very beautiful." I was starting to become fairly flattered, until she turned to David and told him that was all the English she knew. When David translated, I looked at her and said "You can practice your English on me anytime."

Actually I didn't say that. I'm usually not that witty in the moment.

I just grinned, suddenly realizing the compliments were only to rehash the little English she knew.

But at the same time, maybe they do mean some of what they say. And again, I don't feel its because of my personal complexion.

I had someone tell me I reminded them of Enrique Iglesias (Side Note: Thank God for Google Search. The web-based spell-check suggested that I was trying to spell "Ecclesiastes").

Now, other than our un-kept 5 o'clock stubble, and maybe some chest hair, the two of us bare no resemblance, I assure you this much. Their point-of-reference and personal, face-to-face contact with Westerners is so little that they just draw lines wherever they can.

I feel like to them "Western" = "attractive"

This started to make sense when I began to pay attention to the billboards and posters that line the streets. No, not all, but the vast majority of the models either appear to be very Western-looking Asians, or slightly Asian-looking Westerners.

It's bizarre. And I wonder if they allow that Western image to define "beauty" here in Taiwan. I think it's safe to say what's on our billboards and advertisements back home has vastly shaped our cognitive understanding of "beautiful."
It's a shame, really. Especially when we consider what's on our billboards.

But I digress. And retire. I have nothing left for you this evening. And if you made it this far, I applaud you and thank you for putting up with me.

I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday. My Monday is off to a rocky start, since I had no intention on seeing 1 am (and it's now nearing 2, thank you Blogger.)

I'd love to hear from you all. Hope you are well.