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.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I finally saw Lost In Translation for the first time. My friend "A" had seen it before but had fallen asleep watching it. So she thought that she'd like to watch it again just in case there was something she "didn't get" about the movie the first time around.

As I watched, I was reminded of how the interpretation of certain movies is greatly enlightened by an understanding of culture and cultural context. I can see how some people might not be able to completely relate to the feeling of alienness and wonder that the (main characters) Americans Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) felt in Japan. There's this feeling of disassociation upon becoming instantly illiterate in a foreign country, surrounded by a culture and language one doesn't understand.

This understanding of culture, in this case American culture specifically, can be so integral to appreciating certain movies. It was particularly evident to me when I watched Crash up in Taipei this summer, late one night with some friends. A few of them left to go to bed before the movie was even halfway through. I later found out that one of them, a young woman born and raised in Taiwan, now studying university in Japan, and unable to understand or speak English- left because she thought the movie was boring. It was then that I realized that it would be difficult, if not impossible for her to get much of the movie's significance or nuances, particularly without an understanding of American culture and the state of race relations.

I had heard mixed reviews of Lost In Translation, so I had no expectations. Two things about the movie have made me think.

First is the relationship between Bob and Charlotte that develops over the course of the movie. They are two lonely souls, each feeling in his and her own way, lost and sleepless in Japan. Both are married. Charlotte is at a breaking point in loneliness; she is there with her photographer husband who is contantly away on shoots. Unsurprisingly, she can't seem to talk to him about her feelings of isolation. Bob is a "has been" actor, there alone. He has been flown to Japan to appear in ads for Suntory Whiskey. Staying at the same hotel, these two finally meet in the hotel bar and with both spouses out of the picture, Bob and Charlotte begin their adventures together around Tokyo. They spend several consecutive days together and bond over their feeling of "alienness." Soon they become a source of comfort and familiarity to each other.

It makes me wonder how many people fall for someone (so unlikely) simply because they've been thrown together by circumstances or end up falling for someone due to proximity and/or familiarity. Put another way, it makes me think of that feeling you have when a platonic friendship is right on the cusp of becoming something more because there is a familiarity and trust established, and it could go either way... but then you don't know if it should. Or, there's someone who's always been around and there for you, to pick of the pieces of your life in times of need, whether there's been some major disappointment, or personal setback in your life. Perhaps you find yourself spending more and more time with this certain someone, and one day you look at him or her in a different light. Is it a relationship by default familiarity or proximity or a solid basis of friendship on which to build a relationship?

Throughout the movie I think most viewers will find themselves starting to take sides, rooting for or against Bob and Charlotte getting together.

The other thing I found intriguing was the final scene in which Bob is taking a taxi to the airport to return home. He stops the taxi because he has spotted Charlotte, walking in a crowd of people on the street, wearing a jacket that he lent her (the one she's forgotten to return to him before he left the hotel). He follows her and "says good bye"; while they embrace, Bob leans in and whispers something into Charlotte's ear before they share one final (and their only real) kiss.

"A" and I tried rewinding back to see if we could hear exactly what Bob said to Charlotte before they kiss, but his voice is so muffled that we concluded that this was done on purpose, as if it were a secret to be kept between these two characters. It leaves things up to the imagination of movie viewers. So what might have Bob said to Charlotte?:

"Keep the jacket so that a part of me never has to leave here and you'll never be alone."

"Keep the jacket. I'll miss you. We'll always have Tokyo."

"Just stand here for a moment, like we're the only two people here. Remember this moment and it'll be as if I'm always here with you."

"Nothing happened between me and the redhead, it was a set up to push you away because we were getting too close."

"Gonna make you see. There's nobody else here. No one like you. You're special so special."

Wonder what those of you who have seen the movie think Bob said? I guess I must be a diehard romantic since I didn't offer anything with cynical overtones or interpretations of what Bob might have said to Charlotte.

"A" asked if I ever felt as wide-eyed and curious as Bob appears to be in the opening scenes- as he looks out the taxi cab window at the bright neon lights and billboards of flashing unintelligible Chinese and Japanese characters.

Yes, I do recall feeling that way during the first few months I lived in Taiwan, especially in Taipei and the first time I visited Tokyo. I do believe that now I'm quite accustomed to my surroundings, here in Kaohsiung and Taiwan in general.

But on the way home in the taxi cab tonight, I found myself doing it- gawking and staring out the window at the bright signs and new places- as we drove through far flung parts of Kaohsiung that I'd never seen before.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I am so behind in my posts... but I'll keep pressing on as best I can and I'll get back to previous entries that still need to be posted in good time.

A few weeks ago, I was up in Taipei to attend the first in a series of lectures given by Su Beng , 87 year old lifelong Taiwan independence activist and author of Taiwan's 400 Years of History.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to make all of the lectures, but I'll definitely be there for the December 4th lecture on Taiwan history. He will be doing a series of lectures in Kaohsing at a later date.

This is rare opportunity to hear him speak publicly. Su Beng lectures primarily in Hoklo Taiwanese. Here's a poster with further details:

You can also click here for further details.

A Small Victory

I just remembered that sometime in August I had written an email to the Hudson's Bay Company (aka The Bay, a major Canadian department store) regarding their website.

I had gone online to make a purchase from a wedding registry, but when I got to the Billing Details page and went to enter the billing address for my Taiwan credit card, low and behold, I discovered that under the list of countries, Taiwan was listed as Taiwan, Province of China. Needless to say, I aborted the transaction and opted to simply give the happy couple cash. Later I drafted up an email to The Bay and asked other concerned family and friends to write The Bay about this too.

The other day I checked The Bay's website and I'd proud to say that the Billing Details page lists Taiwan as Taiwan. Now was that so difficult?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Taiwan is not a province

There's been an awful lot of brouhaha over Google listing Taiwan as a Province of China. This story made front page news in the Taipei Times yesterday.

And now my thoughts on this:

The Taiwan Solidarity Union's (TSU) recent protest of Google's listing of Taiwan as a province of China, is not an isolated case. This certainly isn't the first nor last time that Taiwan has or will be labeled a province of China. It is a reminder we must work to change any misrepresentations of Taiwan's status. But before pointing fingers at others, let's look no further than the back of our own cars at home. Has everyone forgotten that car license plates in Taiwan are labeled "Taiwan province"?

A typical Taiwan car license plate

The Chinese characters which appear on car license plates in Taiwan translate as: Taiwan province

If Taiwan persists in labeling itself a province, how can we expect others to throw off this label? So before the TSU demands an apology from Google, I say not only to the TSU, but to the people of Taiwan: How about launching a campaign to remove the word "province" from Taiwan's license plates?

A closer look for those of you who can't read Chinese:

These characters are pronounced: Taiwan (good characters to commit to memory)

This character is pronounced: sheng and means province (a character that should sooner be forgotten and removed from Taiwan's license plates)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Russian Philharmonia Symphony Orchestra of Moscow

As I listened to the plucking of violins, visions of dainty ballet dancers came to mind and I imagined someone tiptoeing across a dark empty room.

The plucking of the harp sounded like the ticking of a clock and the passage of time.

It was then that I realized how classical music has been popularized in the mainstream. It has been so widely used in film and television to tell a story, heighten drama and set the tone of a scene- that certain excerpts of classical music have come to be associated with specific dramatic situations.

I tried to go back to listening to the entire piece without such philistine interruptions- just for the sake of listening pleasure and appreciation of technical difficulty.