Saturday, August 29, 2009

Interview with a Former Expat

Just two weeks before my sister visited, I met an American Girl about my age who was on the Island for an internship. She was living with my pastor, another American, who introduced us and asked if I'd show her around for a bit while she was here. Of course, I agreed. The thought of having another Foreigner to show the sites around town was quite fun.

It turns out Gabrielle and I share more in common besides being temporary-expats to Taiwan; not in the least is the fact that she is also from California. Beyond that, though, we share both a passion for travel (admittedly, she's much better at it than I), and a desire to give voice and face to the faceless.

We discussed life, and plans, and family, and God, and social justice issues, and the art that brings our attention to it, like the movies Crash and Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda.

She traveled with me by bus to my Mandarin class, and by bike to the school I teach at. We wound through the streets of Taichung not just discussing, but living life in a foreign land. At one point, we both hit our brakes hard, as a car cut through lanes from the left to make a right hand turn – a common practice in Taiwan.

You get used to that sort of thing...” I said

Well, T.I.T.” came her reply.


...This is Taiwan” She smiled, and laughed a bit.

Oh.. right” I returned the smile, sheepishly, a step behind her “Blood Diamond” movie reference.

Recently, Gabby and I got back in touch, and I was once again reminded of her insight and love for life abroad. I wrote her and asked if I could “interview” her about her time here. To all our delight, she accepted.

So here it is:

Interview with
Gabrielle W.

Could you tell us what brought you to Taiwan? When were you there, and how long did you stay?

I came to Taiwan to do an internship for my last year of university. One of my professors recommended me to stay and intern with the Atkins, a missionary family on the island with an Adult English teaching ministry. I stayed for three weeks, between Western New Year and Chinese New Year.

Was the experience all that it promised to be? (How did you do on your internship project?)

Once I got there, I ended up doing a lot fewer actual work hours than I had originally thought. It all worked out, though. Overall, I was glad to be able to experience a variety of different EFL styles and settings. This included observing in a CRAM school, guest teaching an adult English class and attending a couple classes with…Chase Andre, who is an awesome EFL teacher and great at navigating bicycle routes through cut-throat, sidewalkless streets, by the way! In a nutshell, it was not what I expected, but it worked.

(You're too kind.) So, it's been half a year since you've been to Taiwan. What do you remember as being your biggest Cultural Surprise?

I’ve traveled to many places, but this was the first place I’ve been where I could not understand any of the signs or literature. It really is a shock to step into a world where reading is hardly an option. This really gave me a renewed empathy for ESL learners who come to the USA for the first time and are struggling to understand their environment. Also, for anyone with latino friends or family, the non-touchy-feeliness of Taiwanese culture can come as quite a surprise. I was expecting it to be this way, but I still found myself wanting to give people hugs and handshakes.

Wait—I take all that back—I experienced the highest form of culture shock, by far, in my mouth, when I tried the stinky tofu. I really wish I was super worldly and could say that I loved it, but my gag reflexes totally betrayed me on this one.

Briefly fill us in with what you've done since Taiwan, and what you plan to do next.

I graduated from university (yay!) and earned a TESOL/TEFL certificate. As soon as I save the funds, it’s Spain or bust! I’d like to do a lot of things in the long term, but next on the agenda is getting some TESOL experience.

You said you've traveled before. What countries have you been to? What was your favorite, and what felt the most "foreign"?

I’ve been to Mexico (just Baja CA), Panama, France (1 day layover), Israel, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and of course, Taiwan. It is way too hard to pick a favorite. The world is a beautiful place and I am always falling in love with new faces, food, languages, and landmarks. Most foreign—you know, when you’ve got the travel bug, you feel most foreign in your good ol’ hometown.

Your list is pretty diverse, but, what is one common thread you've found in each culture - including your own.

Love. Different cultures and individuals have different manners of expressing it, so you may have to look closely. All you have to do is open your eyes, be receptive and someone nearly everywhere you go is bound to light up your heart. I’m not talking about romantic love; I mean hospitality, sacrifice, appreciation—a gift given from the heart, helping those in need—these things represent love to me.

(Fantastic answer. Awesome)

Why do you go out of your way to learn about and experience other cultures?

I’m addicted! When you learn about other people and how they see the world, chances are your worldview is going to change, too. International addicts aren’t comfortable with one pair of bifocals.

(Amen! haha)
If you had one piece of advice to someone (like me) who wants to travel as much as you have, what would it be?

Make it a priority. You may have to make material sacrifices to make it possible. Don’t go for the most expensive vacation trips. Go with a volunteer experience, an excursion, a study/work abroad program, or something like that. It will make it more reasonable cost-wise and, in my opinion, give you a richer experience.

And one last question: In one paragraph (3-5 Sentences, for the readers who aren't teaching English...), what does "The Journey is the Destination" mean to you?

I suppose it means that though we may have an idea of what we are working toward, we can’t just focus on the future because we will miss out on the present. Our lives aren’t like movies where we reach that one goal and then the sappy music plays and credits start rolling. It goes on and there are always multiple destinations we are headed toward, whether we are aware of them or not.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Morakot Watch pt 3: Mud and Mess

Winding through the small Taiwanese town, the narrow streets showed some signs of poverty, but hardly a hint of disaster. I was almost disappointed. Other than a toppled palm here and there, I could see no sign of Typhoon Morakot.

At the entrance to a bridge, our small blue truck was halted, then waved through by the military personal directing traffic. My Taiwanese driver spoke in Mandarin Chinese: "Do you know why we were invited through?" Before I could respond, he pointed at the school-bus yellow safety vest ad matching rainboots I was issued back at the relief center.

Immediately upon crossing the bridge, the roads changed from dry and dusty to wet and muddy. We stopped once so a lady could pick up her fallen scooter out of the thick muck. As the truck rolled further down the road, water rose higher than our hubcaps.

But at a week and a half after Morakot made landfall, the water in the streets was not directly from the sky. This was one of the mudslide sites. And the murky water filling the road gushed out from inside the homes of the residents lining the street.

Armed with shovels, brooms, and any other tool that might do the trick, the relief teams filed into the houses and workplaces and began pushing, scooping and sweeping the mud and water out of the building. In some places, mud as high as four feet coated the entire first floor of each home.

As time went on, I could see on the tired, loss of hope grow on the victim's faces. It's as if their strength recedes with the water leaving their houses; what's left, a mud-covered shell and the realization that this won't be going away any time soon.

For me, that was the hardest part about being down there. Knowing they were still surrounded by mud and water in their broken home. CNN has long since considered this "Breaking News" but it'll be their reality for months to come.

I applaud, though, the CCRA for the helped they offered. What a well-oiled machine! To be able to mobilize 200-500 volunteers every day, truly remarkable. Five days in PingTung was a great choice for me. I met some great people down there, and got to get my hands dirty and hopefully give back to Taiwan some of what it's given me over the past year.

Keep the Morakot Victims in your mind and prayers. It's still a mess down there, and will be some time until all is well in their life again. And may we look at what we have and what we consider necessary, and remember what truly matters most to us along this Journey's trail.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Morakot Watch pt 2: Help Needed, Community Answers

Since my own personal run in with Nature's Forces, I've carried a special sympathy for Disaster Relief. Before I make my way to Morakot I wanted to update you all on where you can donate, if you feel so inclined.

Able to do this much better than I, Michael Turton, an expat-megablogger in Taiwan has compiled a thorough list of Global Aid and Taiwan Non-Profits determined to assist the displaced survivors of Morakot. You can find all of that information here.

A few Morakot Statistics:
Also, youtube footage of an incredible, devastating hotel collapse:


It's encouraging to me, though, to watch communities stand together in support of their neighbors-in-need. At the moment, I'm writing from Retro Coffeehouse. The Stackers, one of my favorite acts to play locally, are hosting a benefit show here. All profits from drinks and door donated to relief funds. The Refuge has also joined forces with Michael Turton to accept cash and goods donations to transport to afflicted areas.

In times like this, things like government initiatives and corporate infrastructure, even social or religious differences, tend to matter a lot less. We remember what we have, and what it is to give. We rally around and remember we're all human beings and we all have needs wanting to be met. We act within the Golden Rule.

In other words, we do what we should.

But, despite the tragedy, it's my joy to see people engaged with each other. As it's said at the Refuge, and as I believe: Community will Change the World.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Morakot Watch pt 1: The lasting effects of a Hurricane, 5 years ago

Five years ago, today, my family (mom, dad, two sisters, a brother, a gecko and a hamster) and I huddled in our laundry room as our house shook, roof tiles slaughtered our neighbors windows, and water began to forcibly enter our house in every way possible.

Have you seen the movie Twister? Remember the scene at the very beginning where the storm rips open the storm shelter and pulls out the father of miniature Helen Hunt? There was a moment in that laundry room where that scene flashed across my mind, followed by a question:

Is this it? Is this what my life has come to?
...That was also the exact moment I knew I'd survive.

For two weeks following that storm, we lived without power or running water. Our refrigerator rotted, and our house never recovered from the musty stench of mold forming and growing in the rain-soggy walls. Mosquitoes began to find their way into our house through the holes in the roof and broken doors.

Once, our water spigot outside began to leak. The six of us danced and bathed in the drip for the first time in a week.

Before long, though, our nightmare ended. But for those two weeks, we relied entirely on the compassion of others, and FEMA, to eat and drink and survive.

This past weekend, Taiwan received over 80 inches of rainfall - more than its been known to get in a year. The regions of south Taiwan are now plagued by flash floods and mudslides that have wiped out entire villages.

What was once my greatest trial is only a speed bump on the road the survivors are facing. I know from first hand experience that the disaster is a reality long after media coverage fades (especially American Media coverage...).

Next week, I have plans to head down to the disaster sites in hopes to offer any help I can muster. I'll be sure to report here on The Drift with photos/videos and stories.

Also, I'll be keeping my feelers out for any grassroots (and scandal-free) organizations accepting donations. I do know World Vision is down there right now, providing relief, and if anyone feels like giving what they can, they would be a great avenue to look into.

Please keep the victims of Typhoon Morakot in your thoughts and prayers.
Stay with me. More updates soon...

[Photo Credit: Here and Here]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Eleven Resolutions to Seeing Wonder in the Ordinary

Author and professor, Clyde Kilby, left a legacy of eleven resolutions to
"overcoming our bent toward blindness for the wonders of the ordinary."

  1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
  2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek Drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death, when he said: "There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing."
  3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
  4. I shall not turn my life into a thin straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
  5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
  6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what C.S. Lewis calls their "divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic" existence.
  7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the "child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder."
  8. I shall follow Darwin's advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
  9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, "fulfill the moment as the moment." I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is just now.
  10. If for nothing more than the sake of change of view, I shall assume my ancestry to be from the heavens rather than from the caves.
  11. Even if I turn out wrong, I shall bet my life in the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who is called Alpha and Omega.
Exert from @JohnPiper's When I don't Desire God (pg 197-199).

Enjoy the Journey.


A few post-publish thoughts:
Whether you know it or not, this "seeing wonder in the ordinary" has been a theme, for me, on this blog. Sometimes, I feel like I've pulled a fast-one over on some of you, dear readers. From time to time your comments sound envious of me and my ventures, and I think to myself, "Do they know I'm just writing about sitting in the bus, or getting my hair cut?"

When I say "Life is a Journey" I don't add "when you're in another country." That's left out purposefully. It's left out because it's too limiting. No matter where we are, life is a journey. The question is, what are we doing with it? Maybe it did take me this year abroad to realize it, but status quo is never something I hope to reach. And by reach, I mean settle for. Life is bigger than the American Dream. It's bigger than my dreams.

Near that passage, Piper goes on to mention how quick we are to "Oooh and Ahh" at the special effects on a theater screen, but ignore the beauty of life we walk by every day. No longer will I simply be amazed at what I'm told to find amazing. I want to discover for myself where life can take me. And I know to do this, it will take a conscious effort, day by day. My sincere hope is that I've said something to spark in you the same desire. That maybe the lens in which you see the world is broadening, as mine has done in the last 11 months. One could only hope.

Carpe Diem, Friends.

Friday, August 7, 2009

28 Days and Counting...

Storms are vivid imagery for me. I assume this is the case for anyone that has experienced the raw, brute force of nature outside the Weather Channel.

Five years ago, nearly to the day, I sat inside my house in Florida huddled around the Weather Channel with the other 5 members of my family. In horror we listened as the newscaster announced that Hurricane Charley took a turn, and was headed straight for us.

"'ve got 5 minutes. Hunker Down.
Don't try to run."

When the storm's coming, there's not much else to do.

Storms bring out vivid emotions for me. Even today, five years later. When I hear winds howl, rattling the windows, my chest grows tight. The feeling of being trapped inside four walls that I frankly don't trust sets me on edge.

And so I'm on edge. It's the beginning of "Typhoon Season" today with the arrival of Typhoon Morakot, and I've been stuck in my house having to battle cabin fever as rain beats against my sliding glass doors. Once, in a gust, something fell on our roof while I was in the bathroom. I jumped.

We're nearing the 5 year anniversary of Hurricane Charley, the 4 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Ike. Do you remember Ike? It landed in Texas just 11 months ago, claiming 195 lives and estimated to be the third costliest Hurricane to make landfall in the US. Long since over, the news coverage has quit headlining the nightmare in Galveston, but I guarantee you, for the people in that area, it's still a daily reality.

Whether or not we've seen the travesty of weather, life promises to bring storms. It's part of what gives life its rhythm. Like breathing. In. Out.

I arrived in Taiwan at the tail end of Typhoon season '08. Winds, Rain and Restlessness are my earliest memories of this island. But, memories I haven't revisited in nearly a year.

Yet here I am again, brought back to where I began. Cycles.

Except, I'll be leaving soon. I won't experience the tail end of Typhoon Season. September 5th is one year, to the day, in Taiwan; and September 5th, I will be boarding a plane aimed for California.

My one year cycle in Taiwan is nearly over. It's strange for me, with the date approaching, to think that I won't experience another winter here, or Chinese New Year, or LUVStock, or any of the other highlights of this year.

Admittedly, there's mixed feelings. That kind of surprised me when I realized it. Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked to come home, and will most certainly be on that plane, but I'm starting to feel the weight of what I'm leaving.

And at the moment, I'm starting to realize the weight of the limited time I have. As I type this, I'm rounding past the 28 Days mark of my countdown.

It takes 28 Days to form a habit: which means the habits I form today, I'll take with me to America.

Last time I wrote on Habits, I said I was purposely switching my teeth-brushing hand. Well, ten months later, it stuck.

Also, I listed habits I was forming and ones I was seeking to form:

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...

I still avoid soda and lean towards tea. I purposely walk places. And I even fight responding in Mandarin when I'm with my native-English-speaking friends.

We won't talk about my sleeping habits, but, those other "routines" have become second nature.

With one month left, I've began thinking about what kind of person I want to be when I'm back in the States. What sort of lifestyle I want to lead. I'm starting to focus on my eating habits and exercise routines, and hoping to cultivate something better than the daily fast-food and once-every-six-month gym trip life I left 11 months ago.

If I was to list one fear, it would be that I return home the same person to the same life I left. The very thought of it makes my chest grow tight. I get antsy; set on edge. My biggest fear is that this trip was just a year-long pause button, rather than the life-altering experience it feels like now.

To be honest, I know this is a rash fear. Nonetheless, it is a fear. One that will hopefully keep me conscious of the changes I'll need to make.

I know this trip has changed me, and I am excited to go home and find out how.

28 days and counting...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Taking Refuge

Making my way to the Refuge was a long time coming. Distinctly, I remember a friend telling me of its infamy in the first month I arrived.

"Just ask any foreigner in Taichung. Everyone in the music scene here knows 'Boston Paul'. Everyone."

I knew this was a guy I needed to meet. But for this reason or that, it took 8 months before I bumped into the local legend. It was at the "International Food & Music Festival" - an excuse for foreigners to get together in a park, eat Burgers or German Sausages and listen to other foreigners on stage, sponsored by Taiwan Beer.

I was there for the food and music; Paul, because his band, Militant Hippie, played. Now, Militant Hippie happens to be the perfect description for Boston Paul. A former serviceman in the Armed Forces, Paul left his life of war in the States and became an expat to Taiwan. Now, he devotes himself to promoting world-change through Community.

At the Food Festival, Paul was sure we'd met before; I was sure we hadn't. That didn't keep us from talking like we had, though. Some friendships are just like that. After only a quick conversation, we promised to keep in touch, and he invited me to his home.

Just over a month later, I finally trekked my way to the Refuge. A Facebook invite beckoned me to LUVStock -- a full weekend music festival in celebration of the Refuge Community of musicians and artists. I knew I found the excuse I needed to make my first trip.

Over the span of two days, it's safe to say I fell in love with what I found. Totally unique to any where else I've ever experienced, the Refuge prides itself on being a safe haven for artists, musicians and thinkers.

It boasts a bar, library, graffiti/art wall, demo-recording studio, stage w/ full PA and a room full of instruments ready to be brought out for anyone to join in on whatever fun is being had.

As Paul explains, the Refuge acquired its name naturally. Home to him, his wife, and their 3 year old son, the Refuge was once just a place where he would invite friends and fellow musicians for an escape from the city smog to a slightly higher elevation in the hills just outside the city. Overtime, his house and its open-door policy began to take on its now familiar title. When the realized there was something organic birthing and taking life, the hosts began to create an intentional space as their vision of what their home could become grew.

Unintentional as the naming might be, it was no accident. Author of the (hopefully) soon-to-be released book, The Tao of Community: A Manifesto, Boston Paul has set his entire life around the pursuit of love and Truth in community.

Inside the communities of expats looking for a breath of fresh air, musicians looking to fiddle with other artists, and wandering Taiwanese hoping to meet a few foreigners, there's a nucleus group of like-minded people, willing to stare culture in the face and say "There's another way to live."

This was the glimmer I saw when I first met Paul back at the Food and Music Festival, and this is what drew me, like a magnet, to the Refuge.

I've met incredible people and had amazing conversations in my short few trips to the Refuge; people and conversations that have both challenged, inspired, and broadened the lens I use to see the world.

People like an incredible family from South Africa, whose young sons pick up percussion instruments and microphones to join their father in singing Beatles, Dylan, and Cash; who have adopted a little girl named Asia-Faith, and are fostering a Taiwanese infant awaiting departure to a loving family in the States.

Or the young married couple who met at the Refuge just a few short years ago: he, also hailing from South Africa; she, the East Coast of the US.

As she and I were once admiring the Taiwanese foster child (mentioned above) - engrossed in amazement over the infant's tiny, wiggling fingers and toes - she remarked,
"I couldn't imagine being a mother in Africa or in India somewhere and holding a baby like this and having to watch it starve. But that happens, every day. What are we doing about it? We can do something about it!"
This is an international community that genuinely cares about the world and the people around them. They breathe compassion. They truly believe, as Boston Paul's mantra goes,
"Community will Change the World."
...and I have to agree with them.

Whether or not Boston Paul and the others know it, they have taught me through simply living their lives. Though my time with "the Refuge Crew" is waning, I know I will take with me the treasured examples and memories of this true Community wherever life brings me to drift.

[Photo found on "The Refuge, Taichung, Taiwan" Facebook Group, Taken by Brendan Dempster - a much better photographer than I am.]

Monday, August 3, 2009

An Evening [or 3] with Faye Blais

It was my trip to LUVStock that I first heard the name Faye Blais.

The Refuge & LUVStock visionary, Boston Paul, announced rather ecstatically that the community's beloved Faye was returning from Australia for a weekend after nearly two years of absence. I then learned that Miss Blais once was an intricate part of the Taichung Music Community, but had left to tour Australia and New Zealand. Faye was now on her way home to Canada, and, Paul was happy to say, would be spending a weekend in Taichung.

Her tour schedule:
Friday: 89k
Saturday: Retro Coffee
Sunday: The Refuge

...likely my three favorite and most frequented music centers in the city. Checking my schedule, I decided that if this Faye was worth the hype Paul was putting into her, then I may as well fill my weekend at the three venues I otherwise enjoy.

As routine, I did my homework on the new artist and instantly liked what I heard -- only further solidifying my weekend plans. A smooth, soulful voice and intriguing acoustics came through my speakers as a refreshing change from many of the industry's regurgitated pop-sounds.

Upon arriving at 89k, I near immediately picked Faye out of the sparse crowd. What surprised me, though, was that her bright smile luminated in the crowd more than the signature locks I'd seen on her myspace photo.

Escaping the drone of an opening act, I moved my way to the balcony of 89k. After a minute or two, Faye navigated her conversation with her friend across the balcony to include me, as we were the only ones above the main floor. After the three of us made introductions, I listened and occasionally chimed in to the discussion already in motion.

"Our generation is at an age where we're bursting with creativity, and we're all beginning to sacrifice and collaborate to make life and dreams happen." Faye spoke with passion.

I knew instantly there was more to this girl than just another traveling rock star.

Just as I expected, her live show lived up to her recordings and even further alluded to the depth surrounding her music and persona.

89k was just the beginning, though. At Retro, Faye proved capable of the transition between commanding a packed-crowd barroom stage to the intimate setting of a cramped-yet-cozy coffee house. Retro seemed to transform into her living room, as she shared songs from her heart with old friends.

While her peers may write about the most recent melancholy heart break, Faye rejoices in the love of her closest family and friends. Evident is her intentional pursuit of community.

Her concerts reiterated this. Though it has been over a year and a half since her last Taichung appearance, Faye's shows were guaranteed to not only be full of familiar faces, but fellow musicians standing nearby ready to pick up their instrument and join Faye in on the fun. Spontaneity. The kind that comes only from cultivated and welcoming community.

This spilt over into post-show activities, like a song-share under the canopy of trees and a midnight sky. Faye passed round her guitar as I and another sat back and listened to two songstresses trade off tunes. Retiring at a modest 12:30, the 4 of us parted, promising to reconvene the following day.

And reconvene we did. All day Sunday was spent at the Refuge, a music-house inherently focused on birthing community. Boston Paul set up a full-day festival (FayeFest?) in honor of Faye's return.

Favorites of mine, Avery Day and the Deng Yi Xias (translated: "Wait a Minutes") and the Stackers, were there to make the festival ever-more complete. We ignored the heat (best we could), and focused on the people, music, and food around us.

I spent the afternoon in a puddle of my own sweat behind the soundboard with Paul, and Faye drifted between familiar face and new friends. Occasionally, in full Refuge-fashion, an organic jam session would break out during someone's set, and friends would grab microphones and fill the stage with their instruments. As I reveled in this new community I found, both Paul and Faye entered a state of near ecstasy while witnessing the fruit of their cultivation: a truly international community coming together in one purpose. Stylistic differences, musical pedigree, ethnicity, culture, gender and age all cast aside as people picked up instruments and began harmonizing in the same language.

All-in-all over 200 people came through the refuge to celebrate Faye's return. And once again, she proved her versatility during her set. Backed by a completely impromptu band, Faye serenaded the crowd in a mellow, down-tempo set that matched the mood of the sun-setting day.

My final evening with Faye ended much the same as the first began. As the last piece of equipment was torn down, I set out in search for the hammock I spied earlier, tucked away from lights and crowd. Not-at-all disappointed was I to discover it was already occupied by Faye. (OK, only slightly disappointed. I'll admit it looked better than the ground, but I'm certainly not complaining. And was glad she put it to use.) She, too, had once again sought refuge away from the crowd, and we once again ended up in the same place.

By this time, the last bus had long since past. I was beginning to realize my ride-options back into the city were limited, seeing as most had left the night's affair, but wasn't yet ready to give up the evening.

Faye and I began to chat, recapping the weekend's festivities and enjoying our new-formed friendship. We shared stories and dreams of the future; not surprisingly, neither revolved around money and fame but friends and community. There are some people you meet in life that, from the moment you meet them, you know you share a bond that goes beyond words of quick conversation.

Before we could blink, a couple hours passed, the Refuge cleared out, and as tthey were released from entertaining their guests, Boston Paul and his wife drifted over to me and Faye. The four of us recounted the day and I listened to the stories and history of the Refuge. Time slipped away as the birds and air began to awaken. The sky grew light as our faces began to shine once again. Morning broke, but our conversation hadn't.

Around 5, though, it was time to head home. Faye couldn't manage 2 guitars, a bag and a suitcase alone on her scooter, so I hitched a ride with her and carried my weight in a guitar case. We parted, reluctantly, at breakfast just before seven. An unexpected weekend spilt out to Monday morning.

As an artist, Faye's professionalism on stage, color-filled lyrics, enchanting voice and authentic melodies put her in a class of musicianship that I reserve for very few.

As a person, Faye lives what she sings. She embodies life-as-community and attracts and creates it wherever she goes. Undoubted are the lengths she would go for an old friend, but in my weekend around her, I never once saw Faye miss an opportunity to make a new friend, too. For that, I am grateful and blessed.

She brought her lyrics to life, in my time with her. And it's clear to me that she will do this for all who take the time to reach back towards her, whether it be in song or conversation; for an hour, a day, or a lifetime.

Life is a Journey, and it's the people we meet along the way that make it all worth while.


the people i meet are fantastic
they teach me things i never knew
some happy, some sad
each, a perspective to be had
they share with me while I'm on my way
-Faye Blais, "Canvas"

Photo Reel

Attention LA/OC Friends and Readers:
Faye will be playing two shows in Hollywood, and if we can pull together for her, a few more. If you're an artist with a show in the next two weeks that she could open for, that would be great. Otherwise, any leads to venues would be much appreciated. I'll post updates as I can.

Besides that, though, anyone in the area should check out her shows and tell her hi. You'll never know where one conversation will lead.
Aug 6, 2009 9:00 PM @ The Cat Club Hollywood, CA
Aug 11, 2009 9:00 PM @ Room 5 Hollywood, CA

More on Faye Blais:
Faye's Blog