Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Listening (without your ears)

I come against a constant roadblock everyday. Everywhere I go. My problem? I'm illiterate... Taiwan, anyways. I don't speak or read or write Mandarin. Sure, I know some, but... not a lot. Not enough to know what's going on around me at all times. One friend likened it to the condition of a four year old.

But I'm not a four year old. Arguable, sure. But I'm not. And so, I've fought to keep myself aware of my surroundings, engaged in conversations.

One of the members of my Taiwan Family is the matriarchal Grandmother of the house. She doesn't speak any English, but we sit down during meals, often just her and I, and enjoy conversations at length. Other family members will butt into our conversations from time to time, doubting our ability to communicate. They'll ask me what she said, and more often than not, I can give them a fairly accurate answer to the gist of the conversation.

"Wow! Your Chinese is so good now!" is their common response. But I know that's not true.

A budding vocabulary helps, but I've learned to do this by heightening and engaging my other senses. Many become so accustomed to conversing with mouth and ears (and some, just with their mouth), that many have forgotten the other elements of conversation.

Conversation is about putting yourself in the place of that person. Knowing what they are thinking and feeling. Empathizing. Not so that you can get the next word in, but because you care.

I often fear we've stopped teaching how to care.

Or maybe it's our reliance on digital communication that's forced our mind into a 2D understanding of life.

But life isn't flat.

By no means am I claiming to be an expert on this. If anything at all, I'm simply an observer, firsthand, reporting my side of the Conversation. This year, I've intentionally focused on a handful of lessons I felt Taiwan could teach me: one being Communication.

And I have learned. And I'm still learning.

But I realized, Communication doesn't happen by accident. It takes two or more people who care enough to focus on each other.

When the focus is that intentional, spoken words become merely one set of tools in the box of communication.

Tools need to be used well to be effective, but the point is not the tool. The point is not the words. The point is the people. For me, it's always the people.


How do you communicate without words? Do you do so consciously or unconsciously? With intention, or by accident?

Reasons I Miss the States - Mexican Food

Recently, my family asked me what my first meal would be when I return to the States. For sure, they thought, I would choose In'n'Out. While it was a fair and worthy choice on their part, I frankly don't know if my stomach could handle that weighty of a meal after such a hiatus as mine. If you don't know what In'n'Out is, you are undoubtedly missing out on the best burger joint of your life. Ever.

Instead, I surprised them by requesting Mexican Food. In Taiwan, Mexican food is the one ethnic dish that is hard to find, and harder to find done well. Japanese? No problem. Thai? We've got that. But Mexican... well, let's just say there isn't a Taco Bell down the street.

There is, however, a Nightmarket. And in this particular Nightmarket there is a Turkish couple who have immigrated to Taiwan. This Turkish couple have a small stand with a banner that hangs above head. The banner reads Authentic Mexican Burritos. And it couldn't make me happier.

To begin with, they're great people, that couple. But then again, I tend to believe food tastes better when you enjoy the people involved in its creation. Heck, I believe life tastes better when you enjoy the people involved in creating life around you.

But, good queue-conversation aside, the burrito is consistently fantastic. Authentic or not, it's hard to take qualms with a chicken burrito with a tortilla rolled from dough.

Fajitas, Tacos, Quesadillas, and heck, Nacho Cheese Chalupas, are all foods I've involuntarily fasted from for the span of a year, but I've certainly been held over by the Wen Xin Nightmarket Authentic Mexican Burritos. 好吃!

Friday, July 17, 2009

On Future Travels, and Other Driftings

Oh, deer. I have a confession to make...

All this time, I've been telling everyone I would leave Taiwan on September 9th (9.9.09, Never Forget)... but I looked at my flight confirmation again today, and discovered I would have missed my plane by four days! Better now than then, yea?

So, my official departure is Saturday, September 5th, 2009. I haven't quite yet decided what to do with the Taiwan Drift when that time comes. I do know I don't want to stop writing... or stop traveling! This year abroad has sparked Wanderlust in me something unquenchable.

In fact, I hope to take one more trip abroad before heading towards the States. I've had my fair share of Thailand, I do believe. Japan and Malaysia are still among the top of my list. I've also been leaning towards Indonesia for some time, but the recent travel warnings might make that difficult. Political protests (and you know, terrorism) aside, Jakarta and Bali both seem beautiful destinations.

Then again, in the wake of protest may be the best time to visit? I'll monitor my travel sites for another week or so to see where the best deals are before taking the plunge and committing to my last drift off the island before returning home.

Though I've found a few new sites in my travels, I still revert to tried and true for many of my flights. Recently, I was turned on to a new site, From my poking around, it has one of the most comprehensible layouts for travel sites out there. Does anyone else feel lost trying to navigate discount travel sites? Save you money?

Probably. Save you time? Maybe not...

That didn't seem the case with Hotels Combined, so I'm looking forward to giving them a shot.

Wherever I choose to travel, I'll be sure to keep everyone at The Drift updated. There is one post-Taiwan trip I have in mind, but I'll keep the suspense for a wee bit longer before I announce that one. I will also keep you all updated with the future of the Drift, for there certainly will be one.

As always, thanks for Drifting with me.

The Journey is the Destination.

[Photo: Champoo Wild Life Sanctuary, Thailand]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Escaping Pattaya - The Treetop Adventure, or Pattaya Part Tree

The Daylight Hours between
A Nightta Pattaya, Parts One and Two

The sun was up, and I knew I wanted to get my day moving, as it was my last in Thailand. Slightly disappointed in myself for sleeping in, I rushed down the elevator in search for breakfast.

Upon entering the lobby, I was greeted by the same receptionist from the night before.

"You're up early." she stated in disinterested surprise.
"Am I?" I answered, still half asleep.

She nodded towards the clock on the wall. 6:30?! I guess I was up early.

Taking advantage of my early hours, I left the lobby and jogged (/walked.) along the boardwalk for a couple kilometers. This would be the only time I saw Pattaya Beach in full daylight.

An hour or so later, I returned and was talked out of eating breakfast at my hotel, by my hotel's staff, and directed towards the buffet down the block at their sister hotel. Strange, I thought, but I did eat my fill before finishing my morning on the rooftop pool.

After deciding on a new hotel to stay in, and catching a motorbike taxi to get there, I found a travel agent, set on discovering some of the nearby islands.

Unfortunately, I was told, all organized trips had been booked at least a day prior and left before any of the agents were open in the morning. Renting a private charter to an island just wasn't worth the money as a single traveler. Neither came as a big surprise, though both were a slight disappointment.

I asked her if there was anything else, I could do. After the previous night's festivities, I wanted out of this city. She pointed at brouchers like "Zoo" and "Snake Show." My complete lack of interest clearly transcended the boundaries of bi-lingual communication.

"You don't seem like someone who wants the regular kinds of tourism..." I grinned and shook my head to confirm her thought.

It was around this time I allowed my attention to focus on a poster I had seen several in various locations.

"What about that?" I asked inquisitively. She smiled, knowing we found the one.

Flight of the Gibbon: Asia's Treetop Adventure.

I was sold. Completing the transaction, and dashing back to my hotel room to prepare, I met the small bus back in front of the travel agent's small office. Last to be picked up, I took my seat and turned to greet my companions-in-adventure: four young Israeli men, and their Thai girl friend.

Making brief introductions, we set off for our ride. Not long later, we found ourselves in the secluded Champoo Wildlife Sanctuary, not far outside Pattaya.

After the ritualistic signing our life away, promising we know we could die and it would be our fault if we did, the six of us strapped in our harnesses, grabbed our helmets, and met Mike and Don, our Tree Top guides.

The two guides were incredible, and fully knowledgeable of the surrounding forest and history of our expedition. The pack of eager adventurers hiked up hill before climbing the first platform. It was here we were told we stood on the first of 24 platforms with 16 zip lines, and several free-fall rappels looming ahead of us. Most of our group swallowed hard, and shifted nervously; some double checked their safety lines.

One of our guides strapped in, launched himself off the safety of the platform and rushed through the trees before landing several meters away on the other side.

"Your turn," the remaining guide smiled. It was at this point I knew we were in for a lot of fun. None the less, I couldn't help but look down...

Flight of the Gibbon was an incredible adventure for your atypical tourist, and a great break from standard Thailand fanfare. I found myself bonding with 7 strangers, to the point I was sad to see them go at the end of our tree hopping. The wildlife sanctuary was breathtaking: out of city smog, and in the grasp of nature, the setting offered as authentic an experience as possible.

And the zip lines, the free falls, they were by no means watered down. At the peak, we soared over one hundred meters above the ground. The longest line lasted over 300 meters, we glided like flying squirrel - or, well, gibbon - from perch to perch.

At first, it wasn't easy to trust the cables and harness that held us. But as time went on, it was encouraging to see how each member of the group became more and more willing to dive off the ledge and let go of their inhibitions... and their white-knuckle grip.

All-in-all, I'd say my unplanned Plan B was a soaring success. If I was to chalk up the score on this Rematch Trip to Thailand, I wouldn't hesitate to say I came out on top.

Treetop, that is.

A Nightta Pattaya - Part Two

This is a continuation post from A Nightta Pattaya - Part One

Showered, and now looking -- and smelling -- like a functioning member of society, I set out in hunt for some incredible Thai food.

The women of the Pattaya Beer Bars began to clamor for my attention near the moment I stepped outside.

"Come, come on, just one drink"
"I'm... I'm really hungry."
"Do you want some company? I come with you. You so lonely."

"I'm not lonely, but solitary.

"Really though, I just want some food. Is there anything good around here?"

The ladies pointed me in the direction of an outdoor eatery that was obnoxiously sponsored by Heineken. I took the suggestion, nonetheless, because of the stage and live music.

In my travels through Asia (Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong), I've found a common thread with non-native English speakers performing English songs: Mispronunciation and misinterpreted lyrics. I'm glad to say, however, this late-evening eatery with the band who looked straight out of Scott Stapp's fan club - Thailand branch, was a great exception to the rule. And boy, was it.

In fact, their performance was near flawless...

What drew me to the patio was not the flashing neon Heineken sign on the stage, but the serenade of my all time favorite Aerosmith ballad. Even from across the street, it was unmistakable. As I drew closer, the band moved to the chorus and I confirmed my excitement. The singer brushed back his hair and belted out, in great Steven Tyler fashion, "Don wan Messy Ting."

After ordering what I hoped would be the best coconut curry I've ever tasted, I sat back to listen to more music.

A female vocalist donned the stage and offered her rendition of Sarah Connor's "Bounce Baby On the Door."

At the time of my order, I requested from the menu what looked to be a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice (they didn't have Thai Iced Tea). During this song the waitress brought me a cup of Tang...

The vocalists teamed up for a slow ballad, certain to be a cross-platform crowd pleaser. Even in Thailand, a little Country goes a long way with an audience.

It was a touching affair, and the duo shared a strong sense of chemistry on stage as they seemingly sang to each other Shania Twain's "You Still the Why I Wan."

My food was served. And while the coconut broth of my soup was admittedly delicious, I couldn't for the life of me piece together the sticks and leaves floating next to my chicken. It wasn't until half a song later that I realized the foreign floating objects to be dry bamboo and stale basil (though I had seen a planter with remarkably similar leaves just outside the "kitchen tent").

As I continued to crunch away, and began opting for the meat-itarian version of my meal, the drummer and keyboardist hit the first note of the band's final number, which nearly made me choke on a rogue bamboo shoot the moment I heard it.

Could it be? A chart topping smash hit by a Southern California band from my own backyard? The first line confirmed it: "I holdin on yo rocks got me ten feet on the ground." Yes, this was the work of none other than One Republic -- made famous by Timbaland. Unabashedly, I sung along with the chorus: "Is too late to Paw-jiz-eyes!"

Despite my disappointing meal, I left the cantina thoroughly... entertained... by the stage show.

After a quick trip around the block, it became clear to me that I would not find anything to top that entertainment in this part of town. So, decidedly, I returned to my room and retired for the evening.

My next night in Pattaya, at a different hotel and different part of town, I found the cuisine to fit my fancy - and a tall, frosty glass of Thai Ice Tea to boot. If you've never had Thai Ice Tea, search out your local Thai food joint, and ask for some there. Now. My blog will be here when you get back.

When the last of my meal hit the bottom of my stomach, I thought to myself, "Where's the one place I can go where I know I'll find other travelers and won't be hassled by the working girls... and boys."

(Did I mention Thailand has one of the largest populations of openly transgendered people? "Lady boys," as they're known, are simply considered a part of Thailand's tourist culture. Sometimes it's blatant, sometimes... you'd never guess it. I'm no anthropologist, but I have a thoughts as to why they're so affluent here.)

I digress.

Only one place came to mind, but I knew it was all that I needed. Walking along the street with determination, I stopped only when the neon lights illuminated my view. I arrived.

The bar/venue at the Hard Rock Cafe and Resort, Pattaya was quite less than packed, but the Thai-filled house-band was about to hit the stage, and promised to be an improvement on the previous nights affairs.

They did not disappoint. And I was right about my hunch. As soon as it became painfully obvious that I was there by myself, a guy/girl duo of Australian friends bounced over to me and told me of their pact with each other not to let anyone in the bar that night sit alone. Not one to cause others break pacts, I was obliged to join them.

Hard Rock closed early for a nightlife-driven town, so my new friends Lyndon and Cassie, and I hit the streets. I was surprised to find the working class of Pattaya were much less persistent - or even noticeable - when traveling in a group.

We walked the streets and the beach, and even popped into McDonald's (or Mackers, as they called it) for a late snack; they had not yet eaten dinner and it was open all night.

Having to catch an early bus to the airport the next morning, I retired to my room with very little time for any sense of a good night's rest.

Though I enjoyed my time, and though my second night proved a great advance over the first, I never did have the chance to relax on the beach for long hours during the day.

Why, you ask? Well for that answer, you'll simply have to wait until the next post.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Nightta Pattaya - Part One

I blame the man on the plane for sending me to Pattaya.

He was certainly an interesting fellow, quite eccentric. A Singapore national living in Bangkok, by way of Taiwan and Australia, he signed divorce papers, packed up, and backpacked the US for an entire year, drifting wherever the wind and free rides took him.

To his credit, I don't actually believe he meant to be malicious. In fact, he probably would have done the average joe-backpacker a favor by suggesting Pattaya. Then again, maybe I should have been warned when his "Ride the skytrain to the last stop, and you'll find the best 100 baht buffet, and the only $100 baht/hr Thai Massage in the city" advice turned up void - which put me out an hour's time and about $20 baht on the above-ground subway and left me riding the bus on an empty stomach.

But maybe I just didn't look hard enough. And maybe when I said "I want out of Bangkok and would love to see the beach" he genuinely thought "Pattaya" to be the best and closest option. And maybe it was.

Yet, if you're a single white male traveling alone with absolutely zero interest in hiring a prostitute, Pattaya is about the worst choice on the planet for "Beach City Vacation." It's like saying, "I really want to see the rich culture of Amsterdam, and heard there are cheap rooms in the Red Light District... I'll stay there."

Live and learn, right?

In haste, I hopped on my bus leaving Bangkok for the beach city, and assumed I would find a currency exchange there. I began to panic and take note of all the 24 hr McDonald's along the way, as it quickly became 8pm before I arrived. But the open-aired taxi driver assured me I would be alright, and persuaded me to let him take me there. I'm proud to say I brought his price down from $150 baht (about $5 US) to $50 baht (about a buck fifty). It wasn't so much a negotiation as it was a "You've got to be kidding me" response to his first quote.

Along the way, the driver slowed to roll around a turn. At the corner, a group of girls in their late twenties let out a whoop from their beer-bar seats. Puzzled, I turned to my Middle Eastern cab mates, intending to ask if the ladies were acquaintances of theirs, but the two stared back at me with a look that told me this trip to Pattaya might be more than I bargained for.

After passing 3 or four, the taxi dropped me off in front of an illuminated teller window. Completing my transaction, I began to walk towards where I presumed there would be a hotel. A large, gaudy looking building with an illuminated sign that said "Inn" or "Lodge" or both, I really don't remember. I do remember a few bellhop looking young men and something of a well dressed host. I assumed this all added up to Hotel.

My bad.

Approaching the entrance, backpack in tow, I began to form the sentence "Do you have any rooms?" directed at the host who appeared in charge of the front door. As the last few words were escaping my lips, the dual sliding glass doors hummed open, revealing a wide expanse of a lobby and glass window at the far end. Behind the Plexiglas perched a score of beautiful Thai women in pretty pink outfits.

My feet skidded to a stop, and a single eyebrow arched towards the ceiling.

The glorified Bellhop must have seen the expression on my face as I slowly backed away from the door and turned to leave. "No, sir, we no have, but down the road have Excellent Hotel." I blinked, and nodded in thanks.

Along the route to this excellent hotel, I passed another beer-bar. And another. And... wow, there's a lot of these here.

A Pattaya beer bar is a bare-bones, no walls, bar, stools, and a couple tables establishment. It's a bar that would like to pretend that it looks out across a flat sea, where the open atmosphere beckons in fresh, salty air, but it's actually two blocks and two hundred identical beer-bars away from that setting.

And at the corner table, closest to the entrance, sit a half dozen ladies pining for someone's attention. At every. single. bar. Unbeknown to me, I fit their M.O.

Lucky me.

Excellent Hotel now in sight, I bee-lined for the real bellhops, who ushered me inside. (I would say something to the effect of "with eager women diving for my heels," but that would be superfluous.)

Even with the 50% discount they were offering, the hotel was more than I cared to spend, and more luxury than I required. I told the nice lady behind the counter that I would search around the city, and come back if nothing else fit my needs. She snickered.

Immediately upon stepping outside, backpack still in tow, it began to rain. It felt like a scene from a Jim Carey movie. Not the blockbusters, but one of the ones his fans try to sweep under the rug and pretend not to associate with him.

I sighed. Turning on my heel decisively, I set off in the general direction of "different hotel." Equally decisive, the rain poured down harder. After a quick weigh of options -- A. hunch-back panch-clad soggy street drifter; B. risking taxi scam in a hotel hunt; C. A night of undue luxury -- I decided to humble myself and return through the doors of the Excellent Hotel.

In an attempt to preserve my pride, or something, I paused before entering and looked at the bellhop:

"Is there wireless internet in the room?" I asked through inquisitive eyes.
"Certainly sir."
"Sold, I'll take the room."

Once, I heard that travel writers are treated well in these types of establishments, so I tried to slyly drop that bit of (stretched) information at the desk. It did me no good. Instead, I believe the staff took pity on me - the soggy drifter who stumbled in like a wet dog. They likely made a joke or two at my expense in Thai, though the waitress from the bar was kind enough to walk over a cup of cold grape juice while I was signing paperwork. Yeah, grape juice.

After I finished there, I spun towards the elevator - my soaked sneakers squeaking on the expensive floor - and made my way up to the 6th floor shelter that would be my home for the 13 hours to follow.

After a shower, and a bit of lounging, I decided to set off into the city in search for an authentic Thai meal.

But what I found instead... well, that, you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Adventures in the Back of the Bus

This Adventure runs the route of my mantra "The Journey is the Destination."

My Destination: LUVStock '09 - which is a blog post in and of itself.

My Journey: Discovering the route out of the city and to the base of Dakeng Mountainside for a weekend of music, art, food and friends.

Having vague directions off the Internet, and trusting the promise of signs, I set off on the first of the three buses to approach my stop. First excitement of the ride: I was the only one aboard.

Every now and again, the bus driver will ask you where you are going after you scan your card. I tossed out a couple of words and he told me I was on the wrong bus. I knew that. Really. I showed him the Chinese characters I scribbled down from the Internet -- in hopes that I was writing down an accurate address -- and he said that I would have to switch buses to get to where I wanted to go. I knew that as well.

What I didn't know, however, was which bus I would switch to. This bus was a free bus though. So I wasn't out anything to start. In an effort to raise commuter-count on the public transport system, the Taichung Mayor instated several "free" lines a few months back.

I'm all for it, Mayor Hu. I'll even forgive you for those awful advertisements plastered along the side.

By no means did I expect the bus I was on to be the one to take me as far as I wanted to go. Turns out, though, that this line traveled a lot further along route than I previously expected.

Seeing I was the only one on board, I sat in the Rosa Parks Reserved section and struck up a conversation with the friendly bus driver. A gem in its own weight.

Not uncommonly, he was excited to talk to an "American man" and did speak a fair amount of English, which came in handy when the odd word ventured outside my minuscule vocabulary. He asked me about my family in America and life in Taiwan; joked about "Ah-nold" in California, and spoke kind words of Obama. He asked if I knew of the American School in the city, which was ironic because that school is a Missionary Kid's School, and I was invited to visit just two nights before by my friends running a camp there. Had that not been the case, I'd have never of recognized the Chinese name.

After twenty minutes or so, still no one to join the driver and I, the bus pulled over and my momentary companion drew back the door to let me out. I left the free ride with a good bilingual conversation and a clear sense of where I was going.

Another bus pulled up and a young teenage Taiwanese boy stepped off. Although the seashells in our ears kept us from attempting to converse, we exchanged a few awkward smiles, waves, and glances. I waited about as long as the first leg of my journey before spying my new bus from a perch above the road. Flagging down the driver, I boarded and set off for Dakeng.

Twenty minutes passed again, and I saw the first of the signs: A blue heart, lined with red, and an arrow pointing in a general direction of forward. Unfortunately, it was at the beginning of a roundabout, and the bus decided to change course. Luckily, however, the button had been pushed, and I exited along side a young mother and her daughter. Glancing around, venue and taxis no where in sight, I decided that if there were signs, it must be close, so I set off on foot.

Sign after sign, and no festival insight. By my estimation at the time, I felt nearly 3 km away. If I'm to be honest, I'd say maybe 1.5 to 2km. Decidedly, I changed my pace to a slow jog, not caring that I was in my three year old Rainbow flip flops, or that the humidity had me sweating out of my eyelids and dripping off my chin.

A few more signs and I grew more and more tempted to stick out my thumb. To my relief, I didn't have to. I noticed a vehicle slow to a stop about ten meters ahead of me, and (since I'd switched to walking by this point) I picked up my pace to discover who my fellow traveler could be. Roger, the keyboardist I recognized from 9/10ths of the influential bands who have keyboardists here in Taichung asked if we were headed to the same place and offered me a ride.

By his speculation and mine, we were there within about 500 meters, but I was no less than grateful. I earned my fare by loading half his gear into the venue to ease his setup.

After about two hours, and several modes of transportation, I made it. The trip spared me no sense of adventure and led me to a destination of great community. My day included a global spectrum of music, authentic all-American food (like a burger, marinated in a Vinaigrette, and a pulled pork BBQ sandwich), Dad's Root beer, a dip in the creek, exploring an abandoned amusement park, and fantastic conversation with doubly fantastic new friends.

Even the trip home proved an adventure, as I found a ride with fellow vagabonds headed back to the city after LUVStock simmered and long after the buses retired for the evening.

Energized by the night I enjoyed and encouraged by the ease of my new-found bus route, I trekked up to LUVStock: Day Two at The Refuge- a music and art community I've been plotting to visit for some time. Had I known there was a bus route from literally my door to the welcoming arch of the Refuge, I would have visited a long time ago. But now I know. Traveling there will by no means require a taxi or long strolls through a foreign mountainside town or thumbing towards strangers and hoping for the best.

I was quite satisfied with my decision to return for Day Two, and would attribute it to my new friendships and conversations beckoning me with their love for life in community. Truth be told, though, what really brought me back to the second round of LUVStock wasn't what or who I found at the destination at all: it was the bus driver at the beginning of my journey the day before, willing to break the barrier between foreign passenger and public chauffeur. It was our willingness to look past the awkwardness of bilingual communication, and the time we took to share our travels with the other.

Do not pass up the scenery and opportunities around you in search for wherever it is you're sure you're headed. Know that life happens at every moment, not just at the "big ones." It's after you recognize this that you will begin to experience life more fully.

Because Life is a Journey, friends,
and the Journey is the Destination.

[Photo Credit. Photo 1: The back of a Taichung City Bus. Photo 2: Along the foot path to LUVStock: Day One. A sign to guide me which simply reads "LOVE" ... there's a message here, I'm sure of it.]

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Afternoon in the Orchestra, or The Art of the Triangle - Take 2

So I did some practicing. Not nearly enough, simply because I didn't think they'd actually put me on stage again, but I did practice a bit. And it paid off. Imagine that. I now can successfully add "bongo player for the 'Crouching Tiger' score" to my expat brewed resume.

If you don't know what I'm referring to, you could go back and read here. In short though, my Taiwanese family runs the Taichung City Symphony Orchestra, as well as the city's Youth Orchestra. Throughout my time here, I've had the pleasure of attending numerous orchestra and chamber engagements, but this past Sunday marked my second performance playing in the symphony.

Now, let's just get something straight... I'm not a musician. I've been around music my whole life, and I've taken a few piano lessons and such growing up, but I haven't played/read sheet music in years. Long ago, I decided this was for everyone's best interest. That said, I love music. So much so, I've continually found ways to surround myself with people who have made music their life. Apparently, my life in Taiwan is no exception.

No worry though, musicianship isn't a requirement for me to join the youth orchestra. In fact, upon participating, I became known as Teacher Chase. This position was further solidified when introductions were being made during the performance. The emcee had each of the adult performers stand as she announced who they are, what they play, who they teach, and where their various degrees and doctorates in music are from. As she circled her way towards the back, I wondered what she'd say about me. Pointing in my direction, she announced, "Chase 老师 (lao shu, meaning teacher)..." She paused, as did I, waiting for what I knew was bound to come: "uh, he's a foreigner." Politely, the audience applauded. Obviously, the term teacher doesn't so much imply adequate knowledge of music able to impart upon eager students, but rather "Slightly older than the shorter ones, and wearing a blue shirt."

All that aside, I really did have a good time with this one. We performed at the Taichung City's Science Museum. Not in their auditorium, but instead in the middle of the walk way. Admittedly, this was a bit strange to me, but we were able to pick up an audience of foot traffic to add to the mothers, fathers and camera-clad grandparents.

Prior to our performance, we spent 5 days in the south of Taiwan at a resort that ran itself like a campground facility. (Orchestra Band Camp? Never thought I'd be there.) It was a great time with the kids, and I developed as many highfives and secret handshakes as I could, which as you know, solidifies two people as friends forever. It's strange knowing that my time with this group is over, as I'll be returning home before their next semester begins again. I hope that my presence made some sort of impact on them that goes beyond "Silly foreigner can't play on beat."

All together, I played on about 7 or so pieces. At a later date, I hope to compile a medley of all the different instruments and percussion pieces I used, but in the meantime, here are the full length performances of highlights from both the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" score, and the "Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian" score.