Quick! Call PETA!

Chou-chou here.

The big cats have gone to bed. I overheard them snickering and laughing a few minutes ago. When I got into their computer, I found… THIS!

I’m not sure whether to laugh, or cry, or go throw up now. In any case, I’ll be on my best behaviour for the next few days!

Same planet, different worlds

Everyone lives a combination of stories. We embody these “world-stories” to various degrees through the way we navigate life as individuals-together. We are being written into these stories, and in/with/through them we interpret our existence: our identity, place, and meaning in the world. We shape and are shaped by the world-stories in which we live.

What you’re seeing in this picture from our hike on our day off is a family in Taiwan burning spirit money to a deity on top of a mountain in Taipei county. Bundles of money are wrapped in colourful paper that looks like it came from a child’s birthday party (cute dinosaurs and that kind of thing). Their shiny SUV was parked close by. The stack of packages in the foreground was one of two that this family was offering. Given how fast they were burning it, we assume this was an all-day affair. Were it not for the smoke and the haze in the distance, you’d see Jhonghe and Yonghe cities forming the distant horizon in the background. The yellow sign on the left does not say “Please do not swim in the baptistry,” but rather something about if you want to drink the water you have to say a certain prayer three times. We don’t have enough Mandarin or cultural savvy to ask about their business politely, but we assume something big was happening in their lives (crucial business deal? grave illness?). We hope one day to have the language and culture skills to hear, understand, and enter the stories of people like this.

On the Air, a feast, and more pictures

Busy day off. First to the radio station, where we recorded the latest PEI radio ad for the English Summer Camp in Vancouver. We originally had kids from the school doing parts, but the clips we recorded at school weren’t good enough for the radio station people. So Mingdaw and Zhi-ling pretended to be kids and we re-recorded at the studio. It’s a little… well, you can hear it for yourself on the video page.

After that, Mingdaw and Charles took us all to Taipei 101. It was raining. But there are still some interesting, if not foggy, pictures from the top of the world’s tallest building. I’ll get those uploaded soon (it’s too late tonight).

After Taipei 101 it they took us all to a fantastic restaurant serving dishes from Shanxi province in China. We met up with Angel there (Charles’ wife) and had some of the best food we’ve had yet.

There are a ton more pictures on the photos page. We added some new galleries and updated others (see the dates by each one). Among them, a labelled satellite map of our neighbourhood showing the places we frequent, shots from the park, and more (including an audio recording of the infernal musical garbage trucks). Next up will be some profiles of local characters we’re getting know, and the Taipei 101 photos.

Free drinks & a night on the town

jessicalaozhaosmall.JPGWe’re trying to become “regulars” on our street, where we know the people we see everyday by name and can stop for a visits whenever we’re coming or going . And now we have time. Saturday we went in to work early and left at 5pm. That gave us the whole evening to run around. (We’ll have pictures up soon of all this stuff, except Old Zhao’s drunk friends).

We stopped in at the Ling Family fish soup place to visit Lao Zhao. He had three rich friends visiting. They were apparently in the mood to (loudly) bless Old Zhao and anyone else with the evidence of their wealth, which in this instance means sharing some bites of the “most expensive fish in Taiwan – from Thailand” (our chopstick proficiency exceeded their expectations… which must not be that high), admiring a diamond-encrusted Rolex (“cost ten-thousand one-hundreds”), a couple dixie cups of red wine (to which we’re attributing some of their extra-good mood), and a question about something to do with any sisters I might have. A good time was had by all, largely owing to the fact that the particulars regarding the question about my sisters were entirely lost in translation. It’s nice to have locals we can drop in on and hang-out with.

localtemplesmall.JPGAfter that we took off for the local night market, which we hadn’t visited yet. It’s smaller than the Shilin and Keelung, but only about three blocks off the opposite corner of the park. To get there we practically walked right through a temple – the same one that Old Zhao and I sat outside when we were looking for someone who would cut a waiguoren’s hair for $200NT. Pictures will be up soon. We had dinner at the night market, which this night was corn on the cob roasted in sticky spicy sauce, sushi, bao-zi (steamed stuffed bun), fruit juice blender drinks (kiwi, starfruit, watermelon), and fruit-on-a-stick that you pass under a chocolate waterfall.

Taught our first Sunday morning English class (part of our contract), which is our only adult English class. We used The Message for part of the text, and that seemed to go over really well. We’re contemplating eventually joining the choir as a means of extra Chinese exposure… it would only mean an extra hour or so on Sunday, and we already stay for the choir lunch anyway.

Pictures are back-logged severely. If you haven’t checked out the photos page in the last week or so, then there are a bunch of new pictures, and I will have a ton more probably Monday night (your time).

Photo offensive

(Not to be confused with offensive photos.) People have started complaining that we don’t have enough photos up. A giant pile of photos is coming soon; I’ve launched a picture-taking offensive, carrying the camera everywhere and taking pictures of everything. The plan is to take a gazjillion photos of everyday life around here and the people we see everyday, and create some representative galleries of what public life in our neighbourhood looks like.

Jessica and some students headed to the park

But I have issues. Somewhere in past international travels I developed this hang-up with taking pictures of people. It just seemed wrong to invade their personal space; I’m afraid of being the obnoxious tourist. Plus, being the relatively super-tall white guy with a camera in an over-populated public place tends to increase one’s self-consciousness. I accidentally took a picture of our boss the other day – he was walking through a crowd that I was shooting, and I didn’t notice until that night when I downloaded them off the camera. Some days you feel whiter than others.

But I’ve reached a compromise. It’s much easier to take someone’s picture if you’ve talked with them for a while, and you ask. People are more interesting than anything else about a place; photo albums with no people are boring. So, I’m going to take tons of pictures… and just be nice about it.

Kicking Mr. Tumnus

We read chapter 2 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe this morning – that’s the part where Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus and he feels guilty for kidnapping her, asks for her forgiveness, and then sneaks her to safety at great risk to his own life. We asked the students what they would have done if they were Lucy. Everyone said they would forgive Tumnus like Lucy did, except for the class clown who said he’d fight, but not before our stereotypically-cute-7-year-old-Asian-girl said, “I would kick him!”

Welcome to the City

This guy’s sign says, “I’m looking for a women to marry” and “Please come talk.”

His sign, the cobble stones, and his clothes and appearance compared to that of the people around him suggest that he’s a peasant from the countryside who has migrated to the city. In this picture he’s in some downtown shopping area surrounded by middle-class urbanites, looking for a wife.

Every year in China, migrant workers equivalent in number to the entire population of Canada move from the countryside to the city seeking work and escape from rural poverty. Collectively they are referred to as “China’s floating population.”

If this guy manages to marry an urban resident he’ll likely be able to legally stay in the city. Otherwise he won’t have legal residency when his work (usually unskilled labour on building projects) is done. Without legal residency, he’ll have to maintain an illegal, impoverished existence on the fringes of urban society or go back to the rural poverty from which he came.

Rapid urbanization is a global trend, and in our lifetime we’ll have – for the first time ever in human history – more people on the planet living in cities than in the country.