Friday, November 28, 2008

I Wish We Were in a Depression

My predictions for today were right.

I went to Starbucks with some friends. I don't know if I contributed to the "Starbucks Goes (RED)" gig, because most of the menu and signs were in Chinese. The Toffee Nut Latte was good, though. I'll admit I missed the Pumpkin Spice, and I became keenly aware of the fact that this would be a Christmas without Egg Nog by the look on Jimmy's face when I asked him if he's heard of such a drink. But before all that, the first thing I noticed when I walked into Starbucks was Christmas Music.
That's when it hit me: The Holiday Season Has Begun.

My thoughts have been tuned to the "Black Friday" festivities all day long. I'm quite glad I escaped it this time round, considering my position at ground zero last year. If anyone participated in Buy Nothing Day, I applaud you. (I know of a few who did)

Though, if you'd heard of "Buy Nothing Day" and still chose to venture out to the malls and markets in search of a frugal deal, I understand. You are not unlike the rest of the country.

Earlier, I read a story on Yahoo! News that quotes shoppers saying that money's tight this year because of the failing economy. It would list how they were sticking to a budget, or focusing primarily on their kids.

Then it would say something like:
She bought a Dynax LCD 32-inch TV for $400, slashed from $500, along with an iPod and several DVDs.
I couldn't help but imagine the 28-inch TV in her family room.

Not long after I read that article, I read a different one.

This isn't a Depression. It's just Depressing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I knew it was bound to happen...

I've seen this game of "Tag" floating around the blogosphere, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened my way. I was tagged by a fellow southern California blogger Don, and feel obliged to comply.

Here's the skinny:
The game requires the one tagged to share six personal quirks, and then to tag three others to continue the game.

Personal Quirks, eh? I'm horrible at thinking of Personal Quirks... not that I don't have them. I have plenty. Ask my girlfriend Brittany, or any one of my family members, and they'll give you a list a mile long. I'm sure of it. For some reason, though, I have trouble coming up with them on my own. It's like those "What do you want to be when you grow up," or "What do you do for fun" questions. It's not that I don't have answers, or I'm not a fun person, I just have trouble verbalizing them.

Could that be a quirk? I hate those questions... that's quirky, right?! . . . yeah, I didn't think so either. Can't blame a guy for trying. Alright, I'll give it a go:

1. I recently switched my teeth-brushing hand (it worked, btw). No big deal, right? The quirky thing is that I switched it from my right hand to my left hand. I'm left handed, but do many things like use a fork, throw a ball, and brush my teeth with my right hand.

2. I've been told, by more than one or two people, that I use chop sticks better than native Taiwanese chopstick users. I use them with my Left hand only.

3. Due to one too many hits to the head, my jaw can pop on will. I've learned to pop it at different pitches. I can pop "Mary had a Little Lamb" about as well as I can sing it intune.

4. In my short years on this planet, I've spent entirely too much time working in retail. This has left me with a disease. I can't pass a stack of clothes in a store and leave it unstraightened. I also fix hangers and adjust mannequins.

5. I hate surprises. Especially surprise parties, unless of course I find out about it before the surprise happens. But if anyone successfully pulls off a surprise party on me -- though I'm appreciative -- my initial response is an overwhelming feeling of frustration as I instantly realize the amount of preparation and scheming that went on behind my back.

6. Though I don't have the chance to as often nowadays, I enjoy being barefoot. In highschool, I spent as much time as I could in my Rainbow Sandals, and a couple years ago I went most of the summer without shoes- including a roadtrip across the country. I'm sure this was the cause of my back pain that summer. I'm also sure my mother is cringing.

Okay, I'll admit it, that was easier than I thought it'd be once I got going.
Now to continue the game: Gabe, Jenny, Jordan ... You're It!

Oh yeah, and Quitsies, Double Stamp It, Touch Blue/Make it True.

A Big Mac, a Journal, and a Pocket-Sized Apple Pie: Notes on Ending Well or A Taiwanese Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.

There was no Turkey-day for me, this year. Thanksgiving isn't exactly a Taiwanese holiday... though I had fun this past week recounting the history of our Nation's holiday -- and wondering if I look something akin to a Pilgrim to these Native Taiwanese.

In place of my Turkey (and gravy, and stuffing and...) dinner, I did the most American thing I could think of, and went to McDonald's.

It was the only Apple Pie I could so-loo (walk) to.

After ordering my Big Mac meal - and Apple Pie - I found a quiet booth on the second floor of Mickey D's. I was hoping to journal throughout my meal, but first, I practiced another American staple before I took my first bite; I prayed.

It wasn't very extensive, and I'll admit, I'm not exactly in the habit of praying before my meals, but it lead to a time of thoughtful writing. I'll likely end up posting what I wrote, but not now.

I don't want to say much now - though I'll likely wind up with a mouthful, as usual. I'll try to bite my tonuge before the post gets too long. Today should be a time of inward reflection, not lectures, rambles or rants.

I do want to say this: the holiday season has begun. There is a reason that Thanksgiving is the doorpost to this season. Thanksgiving should be a time where we re-orientate our lives. To remind ourselves who we are, what we value, and what we have -- before we are overwhelmed by "the Holiday Season."
Like the cleansing process of an Islamic man before evening prayer, Thanksgiving sets aside the monotonous filth of our day-to-day, and readies us for the rituals of the season.

Being away from said rituals, I think I'm beginning to value them more. I certainly miss them. I didn't know I would. The gingerbread houses, and the tinsel'd Trees. The silly things that set this time of year apart. But being away from them is also helping me process why we should go about any of this at all. What value there is outside the frivolous Balls of Holly we'll become so acquainted with.

The sun is setting on the evening of this year, and we have the distinct privilege, if not responsibility, to end it well. What does "ending well" look like to you? What is it in life that you value above all? What do you want dubbed as the central focus of your 2008?

These are the questions I mulled over while I consumed my Big Mac and pocket-sized Apple Pie. And I hope that you will take them into consideration tonight as you enjoy your turkey (and stuffing and cranberry sauce and yams and pumpkin pie and waldorf salad and...) Go about this Holiday Season with purpose. Don't let it flash by quicker than a light on a tree. Finish this year well.

Finally, whatever is True, whatever is Noble, whatever is Just, whatever is Pure, whatever is Love... Meditate on these things.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Haircuts as a Multi-Cultural Experience

For most people, it's a ritual that has to happen every month or so.

But for me, if it involves uncertainty, I try to avoid it like the plague. I really hate going to new stylists when it comes to my hair (Katie McDonald, I miss you!). I feel there's this road seperating me from the barber shop/salon. Like a busy street, where one wrong step means disaster. For some reason, I have these visions of botched haircuts, or bald spots (which I'm sure is inevitable, but I'm fully for putting it off as long as possible) everytime I think of finding a new stylist. It's happened before. I had a heck of a time getting a decent trim in Florida, back in the day. Apparently, Ft. Myers Mall had never heard of a Faux Hawk. Oh how edgy-California I was.

Taking my hair-cut-hesitations in mind, throwing the prospect of a language barrier just makes the process all the more terrifying.

But I've survived. And I think my fear is settling all together.
I'm nearing the 3 month mark here in Taiwan, and this morning, I had my second Taiwanese Haircut. Since I live in a community of convenience, my new Salon was picked for me. Right across the street, a stone's throw away, there's a large multi-chair salon that I think is named "Beauty." I don't know why it's so big - I've never seen more than three seats filled at a time. Room for growth, I suspect.

Greeted by two young boys at the counter, I was welcomed in, and told to sit at one of the open chairs. I saw the lady who cut my hair last time I was in. She's the owner, I think. And she doesn't speak English. Since "Ahma" (the grandmother I live with) paid for my last haircut, against my will, I wanted to be sure I was getting the same price. "San Bai, yea? er.. ma," which translates, "Three Hundred, yeah. er.. '?'"

A cut and shampoo for just under $10 US is not too bad of a price, if I do say so. (Mind you, ten bucks is ten bucks. Tax is always included in Taiwan, and tipping is never necessary or expected.)

It seemed that the owner would be the one handling my head today, so I was a little surpised when her daughter, I'd guess around 16, smocked and toweled me. At this point, I was still reassuring myself everything would be okay. Luckily, the smocking was the extent of her involvement in my grooming process.
Instead, the lady who was sitting in the corner, doing her makeup, took the helm. I had never seen her before. She was dressed entirely in purple. Skirt, shirt, jacket and shoes, completed with a purple cap which caused the look of the entire outfit to scream British Tea Party, in a way only the British can and would scream tea.

At this point, I was reacquainted with one of the two boys from the front desk. The owner spoke her first and only English words to me from across the room, "My son." She smiled brightly. Based on her reaction, and my prior experience with 13 year olds in Taiwan, I took it to mean he spoke English. And he did. Very well, even. We had a plesant chat about his going to school, my teaching; his speaking English, and my poor Chinese; his proximity in age with my brother back home; my having a girlfriend, him being without; the fact that he thinks I'm very handsome, the fact that I think the same of him. You know, the usual stuff.

Though I owe him much more than making the time pass quickly. It was his translation (and my hand motions) that guided Miss Plum through the waves of my hair. I don't think I could have done it without Tim.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out. I'm much less picky when it comes to my hair, then say a year or two ago. But for apperances sake, "Beauty" Salon trips are still necessary. Thanks to translators like Tim, and shearstrisses like the Lady in Purple, going across the street just got a little easier.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

For Once, I'm an Artist

For my fellow Bloggers, check out this site. They analyze your blog and spit out something like a personality profile. Pretty fun. Here's mine... is it Accurate?

ISFP - The Artists

The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Excuse me, sir? Your nerd is showing.

I'm really excited for this. It's sad, but it's true. If you know me well, you know it's true. And I'm sure you're thinking to yourself that, yeah, it's sad too. Oh well, that doesn't change the fact that this was pretty much one of the best movies ever filmed. Heath Ledger was brilliant. You and I both know that. So stop trying to find reasons to argue with me.

Thanks to my recent pre-Taiwan purchase of Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, along with the nice people over at, who recently did a whole PODcast on the depth of the Dark Knight, I've been able to merge my love for my childhood superhero and my semi-closeted status as an amature philosophy buff.

I really don't think there's another superhero that deals with the complexities that Bruce Wayne/Batman faces. There's the age-old debate that Superman is better. And I'm sure one of you Superfreaks are going to point out how Superman had Christ-like qualities in the newest movie, but here's my response. First off, the latest Superman movie kind of sucked. It was a bore. You think that if there was a guy who had super-human strength and calling, you'd make him a little more interesting. And secondly, I'm pretty sure that's just bad theology.

So don't go there. You still lose.

If any of you are as big a geek as I am when it comes to the Batman, check out the BoF website. Their already starting to track rumors of a followup Nolan/Bale flick. (I'm sure you've probably heard the murmurs about Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Penguin, or Johnny Depp as the Riddler... don't worry, they're just rumors)

Batman doesn't seem to have quite the fanfair here as it does back home. There's an occasional shirt (from the 90s or before), and doodads like this one (image: right). But nothing lining the streets or aisles at the department stores.

That's okay. I guess that's why I'm an educator.

Stop to Smell the Flowers

Stop to Smell the Flowers

This weekend, I went to the "Flower Festival" in the DaKen mountainside with my friends Jimmy, Mia, and Brio. It was nice to get out in the sunshine and (relatively) fresh air. I got sunburnt. Luck of the Irish. It wasn't too bad, though. Thankfully, I avoided all Lobster-like qualities.

The Flower Festival is basically a dozen or so Fields of Flowers (see above, and below...), some vendors, and a dirt parking lot.

The vendors feature a number of traditional Taiwanese food and trinkets. I tried Sugar Cane Juice. It's green.

There were also several Ice-Cream-Mans equipped with an ice chest on the back of their Scooter. Here, they're known as Baboos, for the sound their squeeze-horn makes when they ride through the neighborhood or sit and wait on the side of the road as busybodies pass by.

The trip was good for an hour or two, which is more than enough time to see everything at a snail's pace. Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile chance outside the city.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mixed Meat, Idolly Speaking

Yesterday, I ate a Pig's Gall Bladder.

It was meaty, with some fat. A little chewy.

I was told it had been dedicated to Buddha in a Temple Festival a day or so prior.
I thought about Paul when he talked about eating meat sacrificed to idols. I didn't remember all the ins and outs of what he had to say, so I just ate it anyways. I didn't want to be rude.
I asked them if it was going to give me magical powers or something. They said, no, it's just special. That made me feel better about eating it.

It wasn't bad, but I don't think I'm going to make Gall Bladder a dietary habit.

Later that night, I had chicken rump, and chicken stomach. It was from the nice lady at the mixed meat stand.

I made up for it, though. Finished my night with a big American Chili's burger, topped off with a White Chocolate Molten Cake... and some Carmel Popcorn while I watched the new 007 flick.

Worth it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

That's a Lotta Buddha

So, believe it or not, but there are Buddhist Temples all over Taiwan.

These temples range from small rooms, to huge centuries-old establishments.

I've been to a couple in the city, and a couple in LuKang - including one that was dedicated to the Emperor's Warriors, and one that has been standing for over 500 years! The intricacies in the architecture are breath taking.

There's a new temple being built. In fact, it wasn't quite 100% up-and-running when I happened in for a look. It's certainly an Ancient-meets-Modern-chic Temple. The outside is fairly indistinguishable, unlike the unmistakable appearance of its Ancestors.
But upon stepping inside, you're greeted by an elderly man in a lotus position towering over you, looking down from 30-40 feet above.

"Where do you get that," I wondered.

My question was answered on my way to Ikea last week (you really got to love Ikea), I passed what I could only describe as a Buddha-Surplus store. There were three, 30 foot Statues lined in a row, then a couple 15 footers. And around that? Smaller statues decorated the empty lot with all the tents, tables and fanfare to boot. It looked like a whole-sale warehouse that you could find off the 5-freeway along your way to La Mirada.

Though Taoism and even Christianity are prevelent over here on the Island, Buddhism seems to be the dominate practice.

I don't know much about this religion. I hope to know more.
Understanding someone's world view, especially their religion, will only help you understand them as a person more. Beyond that, I've found that understanding other people helps you to grow in a deeper knowledge of yourself and your worldview. It changes, shifts, and reaffirms the grounds you stand on.

From what I can tell, the Buddhist Culture puts a heavy emphasis on Ancestors and Ghosts. And when there's Ghosts, there's fear. In fact, there's a whole week called Ghost Week where the Taiwanese go to great lengths to keep themselves safe from angry spirits.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It changes peoples minds, shifts peoples perspectives and reaffirms their hesitations.
Effective, it may be. But I'm not conviced Fear is the wisest of persuasions.
Looking at this new culture has taught me to begin to evaluate my own.

What are the areas in my life that I operate out of Fear?
How can I change them to be more Affirming and Life-Giving?
How can I let Fear give way to Love?

That's my rant for this Blog. I'll leave you with a snap shots from the up-and-coming Temple.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What David Letterman and Jay Leno did NOT say about America

The Following Post is Edited from its Original Form. Guess I should Learn to Check my Sources Better. The following quote is NOT from David Letterman, or Jay Leno for that matter. Which makes sense to me. Though I do believe both of these night time TV personalities have some depth, the article contains some phrasing and ideas I'm fairly certain neither would choose to say. My apologies to the nice people at the Late Night Show [Tom] that had to take time out of their day to do my Homework for me.

Shame on me.

I'm quite glad the election is done, and have no desire to focus any more current energy on politics, but after a bit of deliberation, I decided this was worth posting.

When I first read the transcript, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a student one of the first weeks I arrived in Taiwan. Though his accent was heavy, he had a surprisingly extensive vocabulary, and was quite well versed -- from what I could tell -- in Politics (foreign and domestic), current events, literature..

Jeff-the-student, Alex-his-teacher, and I (the floater, that popped in on the classroom conversation and refused to leave) were discussing the state of America and it's current fiscal fiasco. Alex was pointing out that so much of America's media and education pointed inward, rather than looking outward. It's focus was the US of A. The news was even narrower than that, focusing on California. And even narrower than that, focusing on Los Angeles.
I was reluctant to tell him that the depth of the conversation we had just finished on current events... I probably couldn't have with most University Students his age.
Alex agreed.
Jeff was hurt. Offended even. He couldn't understand. "Why? But you are my heroes. America is a place where you can be anything you want to!"

It was hard to hear that from him.

...the world loves the U.S., yet has a great disdain for its citizens...
(Cited from below)

Maybe it's not a coincidence that such a seismic event as our election happens in the same month we as Americans stop and remind ourselves where we come from, what we have, and what we're thankful for...

"As most of you know I am not a President Bush fan, nor have I ever been, but this is not about Bush, it is about us, as Americans, and it seems to hit the mark. The other day I was reading Newsweek magazine and came across some Poll data I found rather hard to believe. It must be true given the source, right? The Newsweek poll alleges that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is headed and 69 percent of the country is unhappy with the performance of the President. In essence 2/3 of the citizenry just ain't happy and want a change. So being the knuckle dragger I am, I started thinking, 'What are we so unhappy a bout?''
A.. Is it that we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 Days a week?
B.. Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter?
C.. Could it be that 95.4 percent of these unhappy folks have a job?
D.. Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time and see more food in moments than Darfur has seen in the last year?
E.. Maybe it is the ability to drive our cars and trucks from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without having to present identification papers as we move through each state?
F.. Or possibly the hundreds of clean and safe motels we would find along the way that can provide temporary shelter?
G.. I guess having thousands of restaurants with varying cuisine from around the world is just not good enough either.
H. Or could it be that when we wreck our car, emergency workers show up and provide services to help all and even send a helicopter to take you to the hospital.
I.. Perhaps you are one of the 70 percent of Americans who own a home.
J.. You may be upset with knowing that in the unfortunate case of a fire, a group of trained firefighters will appear in moments and use top notch equipment to extinguish the flames, thus saving you, your family, and your belongings.
K.. Or if, while at home watching one of your many flat screen TVs, a burglar or prowler intrudes, an officer equipped with a gun and a bullet-proof vest will come to defend you and your family against attack or loss .
L.. This all in the backdrop of a neighborhood free of bombs or militias raping and pillaging the residents. Neighborhoods where 90% of teenagers own cell phones and computers.
M.. How about the complete religious, social and political freedoms we enjoy that are the envy of everyone in the world?

Maybe that is what has 67% of you folks unhappy.

Fact is, we are the largest group of ungrateful, spoiled brats the world has ever seen. No wonder the world loves the U.S. , yet has a great disdain for its citizens. They see us for what we are. The most blessed people in the world who do nothing but complain about what we don't have, and what we hate about the country instead of thanking the good Lord we live here.

I know, I know. What about the president who took us into war and has no plan to get us out? The president who has a measly 31 percent approval rating? Is this the same president who guided the nation in the dark days after 9/11? The president that cut taxes to bring an economy out of recession? Could this be the same guy who has been called every name in the book for succeeding in keeping all the spoiled ungrateful brats safe from terrorist attacks? The commander in chief of an all-volunteer army that is out there defending you and me?

Did you hear how bad the President is on the news or talk show? Did this news affect you so much, make you so unhappy you couldn't take a look around for yourself and see all the good things and be glad? Think about it......are you upset at the President because he actually caused you personal pain OR is it because the 'Media' told you he was failing to kiss your sorry ungrateful behind every day.

Make no mistake about it.

The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have volunteered to serve, and in many cases may have died for your freedom. There is currently no draft in this country. They didn't have to go. They are able to refuse to go and end up with either a ''general'' discharge, ''other than honorable'' discharge or, worst case scenario, a ''dishonorable'' discharge after a few days in the brig.

So why then the flat-out discontentment in the minds of 69 percent of Americans?

Say what you want but I blame it on the media. If it bleeds it leads and they specialize in bad news. Everybody will watch a car crash with blood and guts How many will watch kids selling lemonade at the corner? The media knows this and media outlets are for-profit corporations. They offer what sells, and when criticized, try to defend their actions by 'justifying' them in one way or another Just ask why they tried to allow a murderer like OJ Simpson to write a book about how he didn't kill his wife, but if he did he would have done it this way......Insane!

Turn off the TV, burn Newsweek, and use the New York Times for the bottom of your bird cage. Then start being grateful for all we have as country. There is exponentially more good than bad. We are among the most blessed people on Earth and should thank God several times a day, or at least be thankful and appreciative. With hurricanes, tornados, fires out of control, mud slides, flooding, severe thunderstorms tearing up the country from one end to another, and with the threat of bird flu and terrorist attacks, are we sure this is a good time to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance?"

-Anonymous, who likes to pretend he runs a Late Night talk show.

(Hat Tip: John Wilson, for posting the note; Facebook, for it's Mini-Feed, Andrew Sullivan for showing me how to Hat Tip in a blog [though he'd be horrified at rookie quoting error I made]; Tom, for pointing out my error; and Alex, for letting me share in that conversation with Jeff.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Photo of the Day

Taken before a Taichung City Orchestra Performance at a local Elementary School

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Thai Work

I visited the most lavish Thai Restaurant tonight.
The decor was phenomenal. The food was fantastic.

If any of you Westerners venture this way, I'm pretty sure it's one place you'll have to visit.

Mixed Meat Politics

So on the home stretch of my nightly stroll around the block, I was stopped by 5 kind faces, two of them my neighbors. They offered me a plate of fruit. I knew from experience that they don't take refusal well, so I had a seat.
The neighbors run a mixed meat stand out of the store front of their home. I've been bought and offered a couple plates, and it has to be some of the strangest varieties of "meat" I've ever seen in one place. Thankfully, I think they realize that Americans do not enjoy charred Chicken Head or Feet. Though I know now what the heart tastes like, and I'm pretty sure I ate an authentic chicken nugget...
I regress.
After the fruit, my neighbor -- a kind hearted old lady who gives away more meat than she actually sells -- got up to get me a skewer full of meat that could compete against any cafeteria mystery food. Again, I accepted the UFD (Unidentifiable Foreign Delicacy). It was surprisingly tasty.
Her kind-eyed husband and the other gentleman seated offered me cigarettes. This time, I denied. The gentleman spoke, through broken but stable English, that he was from Hong Kong, where everyone smoked, but knew that in America it was not popular.

The conversation shifted back into Chinese.
I had another grape.

He looked at me and I thought I heard "residential location," but then he said "Obama and McCain?" He asked if I thought it mattered that Obama was "a negro." I told him that I thought it would be healthy for America to see a bi-racial man in Office. The conversation had already shifted back into Chinese, and I don't think they heard me.

Nevertheless, it left me thinking...
First, I thought "Does Hong Kong have a President?" but that was overtaken by another thought:
Tuesday's a big deal.
From 10 hour line at strip malls in Atlanta, to the quiet benchside of a Taiwanese Mixed Meat Stand... the world is waiting to see what will come.