Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Story of my Life
(I wrote this in March 2001, a memory of something I had forgotten about years and years ago....)
When I was in the sixth grade, our Math teacher, Miss McCormack, called Mark Wheeler (another boy in our class) and me aside and read Plato with us a couple hours a week. This immediately became my favorite part of school, something I could really bite into (American schools are not challenging).

A day before seventh grade started, I happened across a translation of the Analects/論語. I was fascinated. I wanted to learn all about it, but had too little background. What was the big deal about the kingdom of Lu魯? I searched all of the school's encyclopedias, but found nothing. The translation was just that: the words put into English with no explanation or commentary. Delighted though I was, it was too far away for me to grasp. I could find no-one who even remotely cared, so my enthusiasm flagged and eventually went dormant.
(Have I ever mentioned how much I have learned from the Analects since I learned Chinese?)

In the sixth grade, I was working hard on art and writing then, but nothing I did pleased my teacher. I was enthralled by my discovery of noses and lips, and how to draw the face quarter view, but my work received at best tepid response. The only drawing that ever got hung up for display was a self-portrait – all lips and nose – but that was for Open House, and everybody's self-portrait was hung up. I tried especially hard on Composition. The grades I received were not encouraging. We were assigned to write up the Grand Canyon. This time I wrote what the teacher wanted to read, really horrible tripe. I almost gagged. I remember one particularly meretricious sentence about a spider climbing a Canyon wall in the rays of the setting sun. For this composition, I received a very large red A+. My composition was posted at the top of the Honor Board.

I have never really cared very much about good marks since.

maybe that is why I don't have a career... oh well.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A friend gave me a great new pillow, made of a solid log of 肖楠 Taiwan Incense Cedar. It smells fantastic.
My only regret is that I didn't have one of these
when I was a kid;
I would have been the king of all pillow fights!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Friday, December 26, 2008

Told to me by a taxi driver:
Yugan, did you ever hear about the NT$30,000 taxi ride?

No, what was that?

A while back, one of the drivers in our association picked up a drunk. When he stopped at a red light, the drunk gave him a thousand NT note and said, "Driver, let me give you this first, this is my fare, make change for me when we arrive." The driver said Okay and took the bill. note: A local taxi ride usually costs around one hundred NT. A thousand NT is about thirty dollars US.

He hit the next red light, too, and when he stopped, the drunk gave him another thousand NT note and said, "Driver, let me give you this first, this is my fare, make change for me when we arrive." The driver said Okay and took the bill.

When he hit the third light and got a third bill, he knew he was on to something good, so he started timing his pace to hit all the red lights he could. By the time he got the drunk to his destination, he had collected thirty thousand NT (about US$900). He let the drunk out of the taxi and roared out of there before the guy could come to his wits. Then he got on the phone and called all his friends, and they had a big feast on that thirty thousand. They ate and drank it all up, so everybody was happy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We got back from class around 11:30 tonight. Yumin and Byajing came rushing down to greet us, as usual. Tlahuy stayed at the top of the stairs and barked for us. When we got to the top of the stairs and were coming in, suddenly Yumin started barking at the side of the path.

"Funny," I told Sabiy, "That's his snake bark. It's a bit cool for a snake." I came in and got a light to go examine, and sure enough, Yumin was barking down the tail of a qimbahu / 龜殼花 / pointed-scaled pit viper / protobothrops mucrosquamatus. Although the qimbahu is poisonous and noted for being aggressive, we get along well with the ones around here – from a distance.

This one seemed to be most interested in finding some warm place to huddle up, away from that barking beagle. I checked the temperature; 11.5C, the coldest temperature I have ever seen a snake at. The previous record was 12C. Still quite cold for a snake.

Happy constitution day, Qimbahu!

If you look carefully, you can see the snake's tail, moving diagonally to the upper right of the photo. Yumin is easy to spot.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

overheard in 新店捷運站 the Taipei Subway


20 something lady: “I don’t know which stop to get off for Taipei Main Station.”

Hint: Taipei Main Station is – could you guess? – the main station for the subway and trains.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I get all the English as a Second Language teaching material I need from Overheard in New York:
Lesson 427. Repeat and memorize this conversation:

Like Totally Lucky or Just, Like, Lucky?
Blonde #1: Oh my god, how was your date last night?
Blonde #2: Like oh my god, we hooked up!
Blonde #1: Really?
Blonde #2: Like we totally hooked up...well, we didn't like hook up, hook up, but we definitely like hooked up!
Blonde #1 (in awe): Like oh my god, you're so lucky.

--Q17 Bus

Overheard by: My IQ lowered listening to this...
via Overheard in New York, Dec 15, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008




Friday, December 19, 2008

Heel to the Chief
My old friend 803 says, "I am taking up a collection of shoes to send to Iraq. Old shoes, new shoes, and especially construction boots with the steel sole plates. Anyone what to contribute?"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A couple of days ago, I found a nice large "River 7" fruit near some trees not far from here. That's a vine that grows a lot around here, since I planted them 12 years ago. (I have recently figured out the nomenclature: what in an earlier post I called 田七 is more properly 川七 or even 三七). The leaves and fruits are edible, and very good for you. I was a bit surprised to find this fruit, because there was no River 7 growing there, but I brought it back, and sliced it up for lunch today. The texture was firmer than usual, too, and the skin seemed a bit different.

When we sat down to eat our noodles, at my first bite, my tongue felt like it had been pierced by needles, and my throat burned. I told Chao, and she said, "Me too." I told her to spit out her food, and we raced to the sink to wash out our mouths and gargle with salt water. Our tongues, mouths, and throats burned very painfully. Guess what? That strange River 7 fruit was not a River 7 fruit. No wonder it seemed strange. I had picked up something else. Ooops. We were lucky that it hurt immediately, rather than poisoning us after it reached our stomachs. Also, aside from a bit of constricted breathing, we were okay. But that spoiled our lunch.

Yeah, poisoning yourself will spoil your lunch, won't it?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Our roof needs work, so today we had bamboo scaffolding put up for the protection of the roofers. Three workmen came and very efficiently constructed it.
It's always interesting to watch people doing something they do well.
So interesting, in fact, that Yumin lay down in the doghouse to watch from there.

Monday, December 15, 2008

If there are any people out there who can't reconcile yourselves to the idea of a President whose ancestry does not hail from the British Isles, here is a way to console yourself. Tell yourself that Barack is an alternative pronunciation of Patrick, and that the election was won by an Irishman, Paddy O'Bama.

Then try to join the human race.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Today marked the largest gathering of Serbs ever held in Wulai. Every known person of Serbian blood in Taiwan attended:
both of us.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Today we preach equality of the sexes. All very well and good, but how far should that go?

Equal pay for equal work is a no-brainer. But something that makes no sense to me is equal toilets. There are always long lines for the women's toilets, and room to spare in the men's. If women need toilets more often than men, larger facilities should be provided for them. I don't understand why men's and women's toilets are always made the same size. Equality need go only so far.

Isn't it wonderful, the things I find to occupy my time thinking about?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sound thinking
"I've left messages," Ebie answered, "but you never called back."

"Probably had nothing to say," said Mrs Vane. "I see no reason for using a telephone just because there's one handy."
~ Dawn Powell, Angels on Toast (1940)

Monday, December 08, 2008

On August 23, 1958, the Communist Chinese opened fire on a small island off 廈門 Hsiamen / Xiamen / Amoy called the Golden Gate 金門 Chinmen / Kinmen / Jinmen / Quemoy in an effort to dislodge the KMT / Nationalist soldiers holding the island. The bombardment continued for 44 days and caused global hysterics. The PRC fired around 450,000 shells at the island, where local blacksmiths industriously picked up the spent shells and set to work making knives. Their kitchen cleavers became famous. My kitchen knife is made of bombshell steel by Maestro Wu, and is an excellent knife, IMHO, better than Japanese or German knives. The folding knife I daily wear clipped to my waist was also made by Wu, also out of bombshell steel. What is more unusual is that I was lucky enough to buy a hatchet he made, the head of bombshell steel attached to a length of rebar. Wu has made only a few of these. This is a very good hatchet, so I use it a lot / frequently / a great deal.

Or rather, used it a lot. Some time back it inexplicably disappeared. I searched high and low, but couldn't find my bombshell hatchet. Until last week when, taking advantage of good weather, I went out to trim some trees, and found the hatchet lodged in a tree where I had forgotten it when I was working out there earlier this year. The hatchet has been outdoors for the better part of a year in our rainy climate, and withstood all the typhoons the season brought, but although it is a bit rusty, it is still sharp.

Every cloud has a silver lining, or maybe you could say, even some good can come of a bombardment.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

This building, located in downtown Taipei 徐州路靠近中山南路, now houses the National Taiwan University Medical Center’s School of Nursing. Previously it was the Language Center: 語言中心,今語言訓練測驗中心; I worked in this building for five years, beginning in 1976.

In those days, before the hospital had been expanded, there was a pleasant lawn in back of the building, with trees and walkways. On the roof was a restaurant of appalling hygiene, even for the standards of the day. In your soup you might find a cockroach neatly cut in half. Hamburgers were guaranteed to cause heartburn in anyone who dared to try one. Ah, the memories!

What makes this building noteworthy is, it is one of the last buildings still standing in Taipei that was put up by USAID美援. If I remember correctly, it was built in the 1960s.

During the regime of President Chen, apparently efforts were made to erase evidence of USAID, perhaps because Taiwan was able to develop in large part because of the assistance given by USAID, and the credit for securing that help lies mostly with Madame Chiang Kai Shek.

It is good to see that although the rest of the hospital has been expanded and rebuilt beyond recognition, this building is still standing and in daily use.

Friday, December 05, 2008




Monday, December 01, 2008

somebody up there likes us
When Chao and I came out of the 臺大醫院subway station,
we saw that the heavens were smiling down on us.