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Wow, I haven't written anything since the summer.

Right now I'm posting as a way to keep myself awake. If I keep reading books ands magazines I'll doze off and then jet lag will have the best of me. At the Newark Airport I bought a couple Will Shortz puzzle books so I've also been working on some KenKen.

It's been a couple of years since I last visited Taiwan, and this time I haven't been keeping up with the news, so I'm feeling a bit out of the loop. Usually there's media on the plane ride over that would help me feel mentally (culturally?) switched over. But instead I opted to watch some fluff. A long plane ride is not a bad way to finally see Avatar and Desperately Seeking Susan. I also discovered that I'm no longer averse to Arrested Development since I've seen other recent shows that are similarly short on attention span.

I'd forgotten that since red is a lucky color, stock tickers here use red to indicate gains and green to show losses.
ilai: (Default)
This week was much less exciting. My gums behind my lower left second molar were inflamed and somewhat tender to the touch, so on Monday I went back to my cousin for a brief checkup, who applied some topical medication and told me it should be better within the week. Afterwards I paid a visit to my Aunt #5, who talked to W and I for an hour, mostly about how I can apply to med school (with the underlying assumption being, of course, that I am continuing my studies....).

The next day we drove up to my grandmother's grave, cleaned up her tombstone a bit, and sealed it to the wall with some silicon caulk.... wait a minute, I guess I have some explaining to do. So in Taiwan, graves are shaped like the top of an armchair. The tombstone is affixed what would be the back of the seat, the coffin itself on top of the seat cushion with one end touching the back, a little shrine to the Earth God just inside one arm, and a miniature furnace inside the opposite arm. The entire gravesite is tiled over (including the coffin). So if the seal between the tombstone and the back is damaged by water, gravity takes over and you can imagine the mess it would make.

Late Tuesday afternoon I was watching TV, and W came into the living room asking me if I had noticed the earthquake. I said, "uh, what earthquake?" and then noticed that a power cable dangling nearby was swinging in the air. Apparently I was just unobservant because my parents also noticed the ground shaking downstairs. Only later did we find out that there was in fact a quake of magnitude 6.7 down south in Hengchun, which killed 2 people when a three-story furniture store collapsed and wounded some 42 people in various other collapses and fires. Luckily up in Taipei it only felt like a quake of magnitude 2....

The last full day we were in Taiwan, my parents wanted to take us out to lunch, so we dropped by a restaurant serving cuisine from Xinjiang for a special treat. It wasn't exactly an experience to write home about, but I rather enjoyed my leg of lamb and noodles. And all of us tasted the three different soups they had to offer, which were all meaty broths with generous helpings of julienned ginger. While I was eating I looked around and noticed the hangings on the wall--a traditional Uyghur tapestry, a large poster explaining Uyghur cuisine, and a map of the Silk Road. I didn't get a chance to get a good look up close, but I did manage to take a few snapshots on my camera phone.
ilai: (Default)
After much talk about what W and I could do with our remaining time, we decided that on Sunday we were going to see Juming Museum. Located north of Taipei in the Jinshan area, the outdoor museum occupies a large chunk of mountain and was originally conceived as a lot where the artist Ju Ming (Zhu Ming) could store all his sculptures. Naturally any such large collection of art could be retooled into a tourist attraction, so that's exactly what Mr. Ju did.

Getting there involved a pleasant drive through Tamshui, along the northern coastline of Taiwan (where the sea was beautiful), then snaking up Jinbao Mountain. Once we got there we got a fantastic view of the valley below, toward the town of Jinshan. We managed to find a tour group that was one short of the group discount (score!). By that point it was already noon, so we had lunch in the cafeteria before entering the museum grounds.

Mr. Ju's art is organized into several series: there's the Living World series of everyday people, the Tai Chi series of various rock sculptures inspired by his experience practicing the martial art, and the military series of soldiers from the army, navy, and air force. The media range from bronze cast sculptures (often showing the twine-wrapped foam that he used to create larger pieces), bent steel tubing, large rock carvings, and wood carvings. In all of his art the lines are simple, yet somehow he manages to convey lifelike expression in the faces and postures. The giant rock arches (which must be some two stories tall) in the Tai Chi series come to life, even with the human element so thoroughly abstracted away that at first glance they seem to be inanimate.

There was also a side exhibit of photographs by Laurent La Gamba called "Urban Camo". In what he called "Pro-cryptic installations", the French artist got his friends and family to wear white jumpsuits and painted their clothing to match the background behind them. A series of photos showed these people in supermarket aisles, and another merged human and appliance (fridges and washers) together in many different colors reminiscent of Andy Warhol's silkscreened prints. La Gamba also convinced swimming pool owners to pose in front of their pools with a fridge nearby, and even photographed "cosmonauts" inside a model of the Mir Space Station.
ilai: (Default)
Thursday we drove up to Lingde Temple to visit my grandfather's ashes and to pray to our ancestors. The drizzle prevented us from going further up the mountain to visit my grandmother's grave, so we turned back and spent the rest of the evening rather uneventfully.

Friday W and I met up with the esteemed Professor Jao and his fiancee G at Taipei 101, the world's tallest skyscraper (for now). We had lunch at Jiuru (九如), a restaurant serving Shanghaiese cuisine, and headed up to the 89th floor observatory in an elevator traveling 1010 meters per second. It's amazing the amount of city you can see from the 89th floor--we all grabbed our audio guides and toured the perimeter of the floor, taking in the meandering rivers to the northwest and the lush green mountains to the southeast. Further up on the 91st floor was an outdoor observatory with high walls and guard rails. Standing on my toes I could see the entire city, but the strong winds and lower temperature compelled us back inside. We had some ice cream and parted ways, as Prof Jao had much work to do to prepare for the upcoming semester.

My mother's side of the family lives in Hsinchu, so we made our way down south on Saturday. After about two hours on the highway, we made a brief stop at my aunt's house and toured her art collection before going off to lunch together. My aunt treated us to a banquet, and my uncle kept pouring us whiskey until W and I had about five or six shots each. In between the food and the alcohol I managed to sneak in some small talk with my cousin's husband, who doesn't speak Mandarin or Taiwanese and was probably glad someone else was speaking English. Afterwards, we retreated to my grandmother's house and lingered a bit before going home.
ilai: (Default)
I knew I had it coming: my nose is now running non-stop. Dust allergies aren't terribly fun, especially in a city in surrounded by mountains that fence in the smog. I'm nuking a bowl of peanut soup (花生仁湯) to see if the steam would help some. Luckily one of my gifts to my parents this Christmas is an air purifier, so they're running it as well.

My brother W has got it worse though, I admit. Ever since he stepped off the plane he's had severe gastric distress. I blame the airline food aboard United, because my stomach wasn't terribly happy either, but I did not eat as much as W so my pain was short-lived. I suspect W's also becoming lactose intolerant--it seemed like he was getting better, but he had some pound cake and some flan and now he's suffering for it.
ilai: (Default)
So far my trip to Taiwan has been mostly relaxing. The flight over was delayed by a merciless head wind, so my brother W and I watched some six or seven movies and arrived in Taiwan about an hour or so late. I haven't had any problems with jet lag, but I've been only getting 6 or so hours of sleep a night because I can't fall back asleep after I've woken up in the morning for some reason. Oh well, there's always tomorrow :)

The first order of business upon arrival was the requisite dental checkup. W and I paid a visit to my cousin's clinic to get our teeth cleaned, and unfortunately W had a large cavity that required a second trip. I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite having large deposits of calculus, my teeth were mostly in good shape, and the cleaning only took about 15 minutes. Also, did you know that using mouthwash too frequently can stain your teeth? Guess I'll have to lay off the citrus Listerine for a while.

Yesterday we drove over to Banqiao to get our eyes checked. W had complained that his prescription wasn't strong enough, so we made sure that his new pair of glasses would work for him. I relayed my sob story of how [livejournal.com profile] lokiect had destroyed my previous pair, and so I'll be getting another spare! As well as a bag of extra pads, since apparently they're not really completely washable, and they somehow accrue dirt and grime from my otherwise perfectly clean nose.

The highlight of today was the exhibit of religious Italian paintings from the 14th through 17th centuries at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial. The paintings ranged from medieval egg tempera to Baroque works in oil, and even included stuff from the private collection of the Vatican that were not available to the general public before. The tour guide led us from the gallery of Christ's life through the images of saints and apostles and explained every picture in great detail. My lesson for the day was that the symbol for the virgin Mary differed in the competing cultural centers of Siena and Florence--the former used the olive branch, while the latter used the lily.

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Ian

July 2014

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