Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Monday, June 27, 2005

It's finals week!

It's the final stretch at the end of the semester and the time when I must go into hiding to do the dreaded deed- grading. That is the one thing I LOATHE about teaching.

Grading writing assignments can either trigger migranes or fits of laughter- depends on the calibre of errors.

I'm at the point where I'm ready to write it off if it gives me a headache and I have to read it more than twice to understand it. But, alas, my conscience dictates otherwise, and I have to follow the system I've devised to calculate my students grades.

I had promised myself that I wouldn't find excuses to procrastinate, but I think I just broke that promise. But from here on out I will be forcing myself to stay away from my blog and any distractions to get the dreaded deed done by the end of the week!

As I write this...

Paparazzi flashes of lighting and crashing waves, of roaring, crackling thunder unleash themselves just outside of my window. I hear the sound of pebbles rapping on my window. Raindrops have started beading up on the glass.

I thought that we'd finally seen an end to the unseasonable amounts of rainfall that we've been getting. In the past week there's been flooding in parts of southern Taiwan leaving people waist deep in flood water and with health complications. The government has not offered much assistance or alternate housing for individuals displaced by the flooding. Perhaps I'll write about that another day...

Sunday, June 26, 2005

She used to shrug off the opening of doors and courtesies of men; these were manners which were simply remnants of a bygone era. There was even a twinge of annoyance with each gesture. Such chivalry had risen from a time when women were considered the weaker sex, imprisoned by hooped skirts, suffocating corsets, and social expectations. Women helped in and out of horse carriages. Women in waiting, indolent, idle, confined to the walls of her home. Women toiling, exhausted, confined to the endless work of the household.

She didn’t expect doors to be opened for her; she didn’t wait for doors to be opened for her. She’d open her own doors before men had a chance to do so and if she got there first she’d hold the doors open for them.


He opened the door for her allowing her to enter first, and walked in behind her. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, he waited for her to follow the waiter up the stairs, to their table, taking her seat first, before him. This wasn’t chauvinism, it was elegant, new old-fashioned respect. The innuendos, associations and presumptions were no longer there.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A patch of trees swayed in slow soft waves
Fanned by a gentle breeze

Deep in the sea
Undulating tentacles of a sea anemone
The current's ebb and flow


Today I discovered a clever little way for Taiwanese all around the world to show their pride- from the Formosan Association of Public Affairs, Young Professional Group

Why wear this green wristband?

It’s got the wealth, an identity, and even a vibrant democracy envied by many. But Taiwan is a country with its rights and recognition being stripped away, a sovereign nation isolated by its hostile neighbor, China.

When the TAIWANATION wristband idea was pitched, the response from FAPA YPG was overwhelming. Many creative slogans were brought up and discussed, and nearly all YPG members lent their support.

In the following months, the enthusiasm continued to spread in the USA, and eventually the people of Taiwan responded.

Just the other day, Cindy Chen, one of the most prominent YPG Steering Committee members, received an email from a 12-year-old boy in Taiwan, requesting instructions on how to purchase the wristband. That is just one of many stories that have touched us.

Some may wonder how we came up with the slogan TAIWANATION.

The FAPA YPG Steering Committee first chose three candidates from a pool of 15 submissions. Then the YPG members selected TAIWANATION to be the final winner through a voting process. The slogan was created and submitted by YPG member John Fan.

In his own words, John said the juxtaposition of Taiwan and Nation invites questions and discussions of Taiwan’s statehood.

To some, the word may sound provocative. But to many of us, it’s just a statement of truth—Taiwan is an independent country, and there’s no doubt about it.

We believe that by wearing this wristband, you can help empower the Taiwanese people to stand up, dream big, and fight for Taiwan's de jure independence.

By wearing this wristband, you can also show the world that our pride is unanimous when it comes to the status of our nation.

We ask you to help Taiwan gain the international recognition it deserves. We hope one day that the 23 million people on the island can live in a world free of terrorist threats from China.


To order TAIWANATION wristbands click here.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I'm very excited about this latest attempt to study Mandarin.

My first formal attempt to learn Mandarin Chinese lasted for 2 semesters in college. Without consistent practice and use, 2 semesters quickly came undone.

Since I've been in Taiwan, I've had so many stops and starts. I started off overly ambitious, wanting to master speaking, reading and writing skills all at once. What made me think I could do all that at once when I hadn't even mastered the speaking part yet?

Well, this time around it's going to be different. Yes I'm aiming to master all 3 skills, or at least the first 2 of 3 this time around. Now, 3 years later, I have basic conversational and listening skills so, I'm confident that I can approach my study of Chinese in a more whole way. In other words, I'll be focusing on connecting and committing to memory the specific tone placed on the phonetic sound for a particular Chinese character. This is easier said than done because speaking Mandarin is mastered through the use of a phonetic system (Zhuyin or Hanyu Pinyin), so to speak Mandarin, one need not learn how to read Chinese characters. As a result, I've experienced a disconnect between knowing the pronounciation and meaning of a word, yet not being able to recognize the corresponding written Chinese character, and vice versa. This is complicated by the fact that a single sound, such as "ma" has at least 4 different meanings depending on the tone pronounciation and therefore 4 different corresponding written Chinese characters.

At It Again

I'm taking yet another stab at learning Mandarin Chinese. Over the years, I've made several well-intentioned attempts but I was never able to stick with it.

When I first moved to Taiwan, I thought:

Don't ever let me be one of those people who's lived in Taiwan for 2 years and still can't speak Chinese fluently or at least read a menu!

Well, it's been over 3 years and the state of my Mandarin Chinese proficiency has become a personal sore point.

After living here for 2 years, insecurity set in as I started to question what I had accomplished by moving to Taiwan. One moment I thought I should stay, the next I felt resolved to leave. SARS paranoia had gotten to me and I missed my friends. I missed the opportunities and familiarity that life back in the U.S. seemed to promise. I felt that my life had always somehow been on hold all the while I had lived in Taiwan. During those first 2 years, I returned to the U.S. and Canada four times. My life seemed to revolve around the next visit.

Oddly, I had a nagging feeling that I needed to find my "purpose" or "calling" here, so I started concocting excuses to stay, but they were empty and false; aberrations enabling avoidance of fear and challenge. My thoughts would shift back and forth between the options and I'd play out the possible scenarios.

After the second year here, I got a glimpse of what it was, my reason for being here, but I didn't know it yet. I had been living like this- from year to year- in a kind of holding pattern and I felt absolutely resolved to return to Canada or the U.S. by the end of 2003 and no later than mid-2004. It's difficult to make plans and pursue long term goals when one's life is lived a year at a time!

Are you buying any of this as a reason for my poor track record where studying Chinese is concerned?

The other reason, which I have long known, is a deeply seated subconsciuos rejection of and refusal to learn Mandarin Chinese.

You think I'm kidding about this?!

Growing up, we spoke a mixture of English and Hoklo Taiwanese at home. Though I do have vague recollections of speaking Mandarin Chinese to my parents, in my preschool days, that all went out the window once I went to kindergarten.

I never went to weekend Chinese school classes; it wasn't until later that I understood the reason why my parents deemed those classes unacceptable.

One thing that I always knew was that I was Taiwanese, not Chinese. I remember watching a documentary with my family about the Chinese immigrants who built the US Transcontinental Railroad. I could see that my mother was very moved by the hardship and discrimination endured by the first Chinese in America, but she succintly explained to my sister and I that their immigration experience was not the same as ours. Though we were ethnically Chinese, my parents' personal experiences bore no resemblance to that of the Chinese from China.

I heard stories of how, as school children, my parents were fined and punished for speaking Hoklo Taiwanese at school. Mandarin Chinese was harshly enforced through tightly controlled media channels, education propaganda, and cultural censorship. It was declared the official language in Taiwan after the Chinese Nationalists fled to Taiwan in the late 1940's. Such practices in the schools continued until the late 1970s to 80s. When I was in college, a friend, not much older than me told me that as an elementary student in Taiwan, he had been asked by the teacher to report classmates who spoke Hoklo, Hakka or otherwise deviated from speaking Mandarin.

My parents chose not to send me to Chinese classes on the weekends to spare me from the Communist brainwashing that would have so surely have resulted after hours of repeating the phrase "Hello comrade" with a Beijing accent.

Speaking Hoklo Taiwanese has always been such an integral part of my personal identity. Knowing how past generations were suppressed and even shamed from speaking their mother language, has instilled in me a sense of pride and entitlement in speaking Hoklo over Mandarin Chinese. It will always be my preferred language over Mandarin Chinese.

Being able to speak Mandarin Chinese need not conflict with my personal concept of Taiwanese identity. After all, the facts and history remain; they are indisputable.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Back with a vengeance

The latest downpours which started on Sunday, have been truly relentless. Fortunately, Sunday was the day after the dragon boat races on the Love River in Kaohsiung had stopped.

I've been through my share of typhoons in Taiwan now and I'm no stranger to heavy rainfall, which I've experienced in various parts of North America. Come to think of it, when I was in LA in February, I also experienced an uncharacteristic week of downpours!

Today we were taunted twice by a few hours of reprieve; the rains returned again by noon and night.

The persistent rain now seems insistent
Implacable, punishing tyrant
Like a great flood
Landslides threaten mountain villages
Farm-raised ducks drown
Mudslide buries a woman alive
A farmer out to pick his litchi fruit
Lost in the heavy rain
Another body washed away

Monday, June 13, 2005

I've never been squeemish when it comes to needles, getting blood drawn, going to the doctor or dentist. The sight of blood has never really phased me, at least not the sight of my blood. And I've always managed to remain quite calm in those unfortunate circumstances in which I sustained a major injury i.e. one in which a trip to the hospital was required.

But recently I was put in a situation which made me realize I'd be very squeemish when it comes to the poking and prodding of someone else's skin.

Monday, June 06, 2005

We shall never be able to speak of that time
You and I
All that matters is that you see me now

You made me your world
And I believed it too
Living for you
I lost myself

Living for me
Was a new beginning

What you needed
Wasn't me
Being respectable, acceptable
At all

What you needed
Was to live for you

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth the
ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: the moment
one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of
things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A
whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor
all manner of unforseen incidents and meetings and material assistance
which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can
do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic
in it. Begin it now.

--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Now you see it, now you don't

Phenomenal how things faded out of view as the rain came down, then a few minutes later all was back into view when the rain stopped momentarily.

As this was happening this morning, I rushed out to the balcony with my camera more than a few times, to snap these before and after photos.

Here are 3 photos of the view taken as the rain came down at 10:51 am:

...and after the rain let up momentarily 2 minutes later at 10:53am:

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I used to think that people stuck in abusive relationships were weak, vulnerable victims. But as time goes by and a person chooses to stay, to stay in a situation that requires so much energy to manage day in, day out, tottering in the delicate balance of every moment in which there is a potentially explosive outcome... one has to ask if such a person really is so weak and helpless afterall. Afterall, it takes strength to endure such an unyielding, oppressive existence.

This is not meant to oversimplify the issue of abuse, or to say that such a person is no longer a victim. But perhaps that they need to find a way to turn around the strength that they have within.

Plum Rain Season

We've been getting a steady course of rainfall over here for the past few days. What started as light sprinklings during the day and steady rainfall at night took on typhoon-like proportions Wednesday night. The rain began to pour and the wind blew in causing me to bolt out of bed half awake, and frantically fling myself towards the window slamming it shut. Fortunately not too much damage had been done; the area outside my window was just a little damp.

Today the rains turned torrential. Morning downpours continued intermittently into the evening.

One of my Taiwanese colleagues told me that it's the "plum rain season*."

I imagined "plum rains" being lovely, warm, soft, spring rain drops falling in the afternoon sun, a mist that lingers in the air- not the grey, overcast skies outside my window today, not the relentlessly pounding downpour, nor the thick, impermeable air that leaves one feeling depleted.

Well, I suppose it was plum rain, as in: "It plum rained all day!"

*The plum rain season is a term that originated in China. It occurs from May to June, and is so named because of plum fruit which is harvested at this time of year.

Networking at its best

This morning I found out that someone (B) who I've never actually met in person, but have been working with on "this" project is not only visiting his folks in Kaohsiung, but that his folks actually live in the same building as I do- just three floors up! What are the odds of that?!

Stranger still is that B used to live with Christine in the same room of the same apartment that I later lived in, in Taipei!

As the emails went back and forth, I wrote to Christine:

How odd to think that we've been in the same circle somewhat, tracing similar paths... but that's what happens when you network and build connections. When you're in the business of networking you'll find, more and more, that you are connected to in some way to many of the people you meet...