Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Irreconcilable Differences

Irreconcilable Differences.

I often wondered if I would last the full year here in Taiwan. And if I didn't, what the circumstances would be for me to head back "early".

Well, after 7 long months, this is what it's come down to. I can't, well, shouldn't go into detail about what those differences are. This isn't the place to hash out dirty laundry. But it was sudden, mostly.

I'm writing from in the air. Ecstatic to see you all soon.

What a Journey it's been.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now...

Last weekend, I took a trip to the night market. After one bus and one taxi ride there, I ate way too much ice cream, personally added to my wardrobe for the first time in 6 and a half months, walked around for hours on end.

And I bought *these. New Glasses.

Night Markets are great because you can do things like knock $1000 bucks off the price of something right after the salesperson tells you they'll cut the ticket in half.

I've never had glasses before. Buying them here was a matter of cost efficiency. When I told someone here that I bought them because objects (mostly words) in the distance were beginning to become a bit more blurry, they asked if I was getting old. I chuckled. But then I thought, our culture really fears age, doesn't it? It's strange, but I think I'm looking forward to it.

I know this sounds crazy, but I am anticipating growing older. I can't yet imagine me or my life at 50 - or 70 - but I want to get there. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking forward to dementia or Alzheimer's that may follow in the years after that point, but last week I smiled into the mirror, and saw lines across my forehead. Then I smiled wider. It made me wonder what the next 30 years will bring. And then the 30 to follow.

In Taiwan, they still care about looking young and youthful, but it's different. People grow old gracefully here. I can't say the same about too many people I know in California. There's much less emphasis on de-aging procedures and operations and over the counter/under the jacket products. Beyond that, people value the aged. Youth are taught to respect and look up to and admire them. Though I don't plan to worship my ancestors by burning paper money, and offering a table of fruit that doesn't get eaten, I do hope to value the wisdom that comes with age while I have it around me.

If I live out all my years, I've only just rounded the first quarter. Some would say that these are the best years of my life, but that just feels dismal. Despite the blurriness of what's to come - dementia or sage wisdom - I hope to look back at any point and say "This [the then-"now"] is the best time of my life." I want my life to be like wine. I don't want to live perpetually backwards. Because Life is a Journey, but backwards is the only direction we can't go.

*Picture taken at Retro Mojo.

Withdrawing from Class, Classmate Withdrawls...

For the past 4 months, I had been studying Mandarin at a local university. We had a small class, but at 15 hours a week, we bonded quickly. Though there were two other Westerners, I was the only American. Using Chinese as our strongest common language, I communicated with my classmates the best we could. Nonetheless, they were an encouraging, enjoyable bunch. It's nice to have my mornings off, but I do miss them.

Thankfully for email and BabelFish, we're able to keep in touch, and hope to get together soon.

We had a lot of fun in our 4 short months together.

Here's a few pictures to glance back at the past.

Most of the Crew

Learning the Art of Tea Kung Fu
(no, really, that's what it's called)

Outside the Tea House

We like pictures.

We had the chance to learn how to paint "New Year's Pictures" with a group of other classes

We also were able to make little figurines out of rice flour.

He didn't survive the bus ride home.

Our Last Class Outing was on Taiwanese Opera
which somehow translated into learning how to use the Spear...

Doing what I do...

That's my Teacher (老師) lounging for the jugular
...I think he failed the last test. . .

It's a good crew, and I definitely miss seeing them on a daily basis

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Maybe, you should practice...

"Maybe, you should practice..."

It was a kind suggestion, meant to be encouraging and innovative, coming from the Trumpet player about my age who was leading the woodwind group. And I was in the back. Tinker-toys and tambourines surrounding me. If I knew what I was doing, I would look impressive. Cymbal, Gong, Mallet, other Mallets, Triangle (ah, the Triangle). At first glance, I'm almost convincing.

But then there's the new instrument, propped on the stand, between me and the other stand holding the pieces of paper that should be telling me what I should be doing.

Don't get me wrong. My Triangle nowadays isn't half bad, and my finger-cymbals are improving. But the bongos. I shouldn't touch the bongos with a ten-foot pole, least of all with my novice, unsteady palms. The nine year old on the xylophone to my right would school me for sure. For sure.

The score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon looked like the heart monitor for a recently-revived ER patient. I couldn't make sense of it at all. Some one resuscitate me; my hands aren't moving.

I mean this was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon! THE Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon! The same one I saw performed just two months earlier. The one with the big orchestra, and the rocks and THE GUY. He probably could hear me butcher his bongos.

We're not even going to talk about my work on Under the Sea.

They haven't told me yet, but I have an inkling suspicion that in a matter of weeks, they will tell me I have another performance in a matter of weeks.

Maybe you should practice. I wanted to slap him across his trumpet blowing cheeks.

I didn't.

Want to slap him, that is. He was right. I would quite enjoy adding "bongo player for Crouching Tiger Score" to my expat-brewed Resume. We'll see. Changing Habits, right?

Anyways, I've had these videos for awhile. I guess now's as good a time as ever to post them. This is the result of my not-practicing (much) last semester. I think, at the time, my strategy was to play low-key-like and maybe no one would notice me. The 4-angle camera shoot proved me wrong there. Thanks guys. Pick on the big awkward white guy. Easy target.

Don't listen too hard... and try to look away some when you watch. kay, thanks.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Various Standard Disney Hits for any Youth Orchestra

And last but not least...

Blauen Donau featuring the Prima Ballerina from Orange County, California (AKA Little Sister)

At least the cameras made her look good.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where is your attention? (Where is your wealth?)

It doesn't matter where you are - the US, Europe, Taiwan - the bleak state of the international economy has everyone's attention.

In the face of Global Economic Depression, we First-World, Middle-Class Americans must keep a healthy perspective on our condition.

Social Intelligence is described as the ability to understand social situations and managing oneself successfully.

Through a conversation with a student here in Taiwan, I came to realize today just how fitting that definition is in our current fiscal fiasco.

What are we doing to manage ourselves successfully? Yes, this means Nationally, but when it's answered on a personal scale, it sheds clear light onto our priorities.

We feel as though our cozy way of life is threatened, but what about those around us?

According to *Global Rich List, I am the 773,071.647th richest person in the world.
That's in the top 13%.

That means 87% of the world is in a worse-off financial situation than I am. What am I doing with my wealth? What choices am I making to give a hand up to those within my reach. And let's be honest here. What is keeping me from answering these questions honestly?


How do you feel about that? A bit richer we hope. Richer and ready to give some of your newly found wealth to those who need it most. It not hard - just slip your hand in your pocket and pull out something special. Something that can help redress the balance - and also make you feel uncommonly good. Many peoples lives could be happier if you donated just one hour's salary (approx $6.41 - UK estimate).

All you have to do is make a choice.

What are the choices that we're making?

"But I don't know any poor people!"

That may be too true. Today, I heard someone challenge:

"Isn't most of your life people you like who like you? We rarely have space or margin for those who are different."

How many times do we pass the opportunity to create change, our margins held closely at our sides? Blinders over our eyes keep us from the expanse of the horrizons.

In response to a recent post a friend from a netherland (lame joke), Renée, pointed me towards a video that has served as a reminder to all of this. I love art that points us to a bigger picture. Art that is inspiring, challenging, and convicting all at the same time.

May we learn to expand our horizons.

May we keep the perspective of the great wealth we have by keeping our attention in the right place.

May we "be the change we hope to see in the world."


*I had come across this site before, but was brought to it this time by a Facebook Friend named Brandt Russo. Brandt's the type of guy you write books about, not blogposts. And if he doesn't get to writing a book soon, I'm flying to Louisiana to give him a good shaking. Brandt's an ordinary radical, as accurately as the term has been coined. Arrested for wanting to talk to a pastor about helping the homeless, Brandt is one of the few crazy-dangerous people in the world that take seriously what Jesus said about selling all your possessions to give to the poor and remembering the marginalized in society. Check out his website for more information on his on-the-road ministry/nonprofit "Can't Ignore the Poor".


Also, Thanks to those of you who helped reach the goal of purchasing 10 Mosquito Nets for 10 Families in Africa. You know who you are. Nothing But Nets
Now it's time for me to lower my own mosquito net, and drift off to sleep. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More Mojo, Please

Amongst an unassuming strip mall, besides a well trafficked Taichung street, less than 3 blocks away from a crowded Starbucks stands a two story coffee shop that most walker-by would not give more than a second look. However, those willing to take that second look, may be drawn into the throws of Retro Mojo Cafe by it's welcoming sign posted on its door: Push Yo!

It's Saturday night, and the Mojo is at capacity. When I followed the instructions on the door, I was greeted by a chic little barrista who asked me if I had a reservation. That's odd, I thought. But clearly, there was no room around the stage. She offered the staircase. It's her favorite place to watch the show. Firecodes need not apply.

Saturday night is music night here at Retro Mojo. And the Taichung Hipsters apparently have come out of the wood work to fill the bottom floor of this vintage-themed cafe. Chucks and Boots, Leather Jackets, V-Neck Shirts, Tight Jeans, and even multi-colored hair. How have I been here 6 months and not known about this?

I opted out of crowding the walkway. The barrista ushered me up the staircase lined with books, magazines, and vintage vinyl to claim the last empty spot at the laptop bar. An aspiring photographer took aim at frames hanging on the walls. Emphasis on art is a clear trademark of this establishment.

There might be nothing better to prove this than Retro's support of Taichung's local Musicians, and its cultivation of a local scene. As I type, the floorboards are vibrating to the sound of an acoustic funk-blues duo. The jean-clad American with his Scott Stap locks and matching lead vocals leads the group with sure-strummed guitar; his Taiwanese Companion provides rhythmic support with Cajon-based percussion. The duo are rarely out of sync. If I had one critique, though, it would be simply: "Less talk, more rock." As most competant-fish-in-small-pond beatnics are, this group's frontman is quite contemptious of the intricacies of his art.

"If you're having trouble clapping to this next song, it's because it starts out in 9, then goes to 4, but it's also in 11, 19, and 17."

(I'm not kidding. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.)

Time-signatures aside, the group has been great company, thus far. Live, home-grown originals beats out Karaoke and regurgitated pop-songs any day. And despite what you may think, flange is necessary on every acoustic song played. (Ok, there I was kidding.)

Complementing the artful decor, Mojo sets out to be intentional in keeping this place running. Earth, that is. Menues are fashioned from twine and recycled cardboard, and slipped into an egg-carton cover. Even the flush-free urinal is green-friendly. Fluent in Mandarin? Check out the section on their website addressing Sustainability.

If the ambience of Retro Mojo Cafe isn't enough to draw you in, the espresso menue is quite extensive. And If you're not one to enjoy your music served with a roast, there is even a cafe-sized Beer and Wine list. If you're hungry, I'd suggest the paninis. But if you're planning on joining us for Saturday Night's tunes, get here early: music starts (promptly) at 8, and the seats fill up fast.

The wait-staff are not only professional, but competent. Fluent in both Mandarin and English, their ready and equipped to cheerfully welcome all who step through Mojo's doors. But expect more than a friendly smile, they're each knowledgeable about the contents of their menue, and - coming from a seasoned Barrista - quite capable behind the counter. Case-in-point: the ability to craft a perfect Creme-heart with every flavo

I hope "Retro" is a trend in the making here in Taichung. With an emphasis on intentional sustainability, and cultivated art, Mojo Cafe is a city attraction worth writing home about.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Journey is [Still] the Destination, or "And Here We Go" Again

The passing of this week marks the passing of the 6-month sign post here in Taiwan. This is a big one for me, as it marks the half way point of my overseas journey (if everything goes according to plan, but I've learned to not put much stock in "plans". More on learning in a moment).

I commemorated this evening by spending time browsing through all my previous entries on this blog. It was fun to see where I'd come from. Electronic-pages of a well-loved journal, the posts brought back memories of when the look and feel and smell of this place was new. Earlier, I passed by the cafe where I ate my first breakfast in Taiwan, and I was instantaneously transposed to that bright September morn when the streets and faces were so foreign - and not familiar as they've become.

It's different now. Though I dare not call it home, this place is comfortable. Familiar. It struck me that I'll find it odd not to see street signs full of over-sized Chinese Characters when I return back to the States.

One of my Taiwanese family members commented to me today over our lunch of rice, rice soup, seaweed, and some sauteed veggies. She said "Before, everyone asked you 'Are you adjusting alright? What do you think of Taiwan so far?' But now, they will start asking you, 'Are you ready to go home? What will you do when you get back to the States?'"

She's right. That has started to happen. And you know what? I am ready to go home. But I'm prepared to stay, too. I committed to myself one year, and I think there's some amount of honor sticking with that. I hope there is.

Some things still feel the same here. I still feel perpetually on display (though, my suspicion was right, I am growing tired of it). And being on the road still scares me witless.

But things are changing, too. For the first time since I've been here, people are telling me I'm losing weight (See #s 4 and 5). More than one person even! Today, a different member of my Taiwanese family told me "You are very handsome! Before, no. Too," (her hands made a wide spread motion in front of her cheeks) "too fat. But now [*thumbs up*] good." I haven't lost more than 2 kilos, but it hasn't been on accident.

It may have taken me 5 months, but my notion to form conscious habits began to take off. In the past month, it's been as though a dam has broken in my life. I'm purposeful about how I live and think. Long gone is that $9 Beverly Hills Light-up Pen, but the lesson I learned even then has remained (you better believe I never leave the house with out a pen). Finally, I'm learning to remember the little things. And I think I was right: tending to the little things makes the "big problems" of life seem a bit more manageable.

I've learned a lot here. A lot about myself, and those around me. A lot about my culture, and this new one that is less and less foreign to me by the day.

I've met people that have inspire me towards greatness, and people that have exemplified what I don't hope to become.

I've met some great friends,
and have already had to say goodbye to a few.

Throughout this whole journey,
I've been shocked to find who goes the extra mile to show they miss me - and who doesn't...

It's been surprising, also, finding who I myself miss, and what I don't miss much at all.

Life has a way of whipping around a bend when you least expect it to. I've made and strengthened some great friendships while I've been abroad. But I've lost a great deal as well.

I have 6 months to go. And all of this has happened only in the first half of the trip. I know that I will have plenty more lessons, and losses, and strange foods to try (think: Squid-on-a-Stick), multi-cultural haircuts, and Adventures in the Back of the Bus.

I am sure that my dedication to the "little things" will bring even further depth to the next leg of my journey; be it physical, mental, spiritual, relational or functional.

I have learned one thing here in Taiwan, and that's the value of Community. Their whole lives are structured around it. I now see the fallacy of our grandiouse idea of American Independence. Sure, it has it's strengths, too. But we need people. "No man is an island."

In reference to life as a jazz piece, I once wrote:

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?
[Life] isn't a song that's sung alone.

I also noted, "Life is hard to put down on paper."
But this blog has been my attempt to do just that. It's also been a key to my survival here: a link back home; a portal of communication; a sacred space to hash out my thoughts, muses, frustrations, and perturbations. It's even led me to finding ways to live beyond myself - and remind me to do so when I forget. I have found an amazing community here, and I'm thankful for each of you. Our interactions really have helped me through dark days.

Nonetheless, I catch myself being lonely here. Or maybe just lonely in general. I haven't fostered many great friendships here in Taiwan (and the one's I have fostered up and move to places like Australia...). I fight a feeling of loneliness fairly often here. But I am in Taiwan for reasons greater than finding people to be with on a daily basis. I find ways to remind myself of that.

One such reminder came when my sister and I visited the local art museum. These photos are of the entrance exhibit.

My initial reaction was "Yeah, that's what you think!" But the more I allowed myself to dwell on the words, the more it became true. The point of this season isn't loneliness. And though Community is essential, it's the times when we're confined to Solitude that opens our eyes and ears to what we normally have within our grasp. In these moments, art comes alive like we'd never known and we find life in the most unexpected of places.

The Journey is the Destination. This phrase that I've chosen to live by for the past 6 months (if not the past 3 years) has taken on new depths in recent times. I have found the worth in dedicating myself to the moment. Living life to the fullest. Tending to the "little things" and watching the "big problems" manage themselves. My life isn't some distant event in the future. It's the very experiences that are happening right now. It's my staying up til 3am to blog, and my getting up at 6am to study. The adventuresome and the mundane. And the life that springs up everywhere in between.

I've only been in Taiwan 6 months. That's only half the amount of time I've planned on being here. I am stepping into the last stretch of my expat-adventure with a refined vision and a passion for living life the best I can. I know I will fill these electronic-pages with more loved memories, more muses, more head-scratching and tears to shed. Each tear dropped, smile cracked and letter typed is another day lived in this Journey.

For those of you who have made it with me this far - and to the ones I've picked up along the way - thank you for joining me. It's been a treasure to have you along. I am honored you have chosen to join me, and I hope you'll allow me to do the same with you and your story.

I find it only fitting to end the same way I ended my first entry after arriving in Taiwan:
This is my journey, and I am honored that you're the least bit interested in joining me. I thank you, maybe in advance, for reading. My humblest hope is that it in some way may encourage you in your journey.

Here's to feeling life is more than a Destination.

Here's to finding the most out of the Little.

Here's to knowing this journey is meant to be spent with Fellow Journeyers.

And Here We Go...

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Count 'em. Go ahead.
And when you're finished there,
count the number of helmets you see...

Welcome to the Streets of Taiwan.