a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...

she likes: making kites, dancing in the rain, adventures, little-while friends, letters, whole-leaf tea, crayons, bare feet, jumping in rivers/streams/creeks/waterfalls, language, catching the clock as it changes numbers, sleepovers, trains (big or small), cuddling & waking up before the sun rises, among other random things.

oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

transitions.

crazy how vital the state of the bathroom is to me concerning final living-arrangement decisions. i seriously would have moved all the way to the city just for this shower. seriously.

and it/s not even that it/s that incredible of a shower. besides the fact that it actually has hot water (and at times, scalding hot), i think it is mostly because in this case it is exactly that: a shower. the salle de bain at the house i rented a room in in vichy was not. it was a salle de bain. a room with a bathtub.

which normally i don/t mind. i like baths. i would even go as far as to say that i often LOVE baths. HOWEVER, this particular bathtub confused the hell out of me.

first of all, it was purple. which did not at all match the rest of the bathroom decor. second of all, it was situated next to one of those give-yourself-an-enema things. a bidet. according to wikipedia, a bidet is: a low-mounted plumbing fixture or type of sink intended for washing the genitalia and the anus. Originally a French word, in English bidet is pronounced /bɪˈdeɪ/ (US) or /ˈbiːdeɪ/ (UK). oh joy. do i really need my genitalia &/or anus washed that thoroughly? is bathing/showering just not enough? to some, apparently not. just seeing one of those things makes my ass pucker up like a shriveled california raisin. or, shit. i don/t even know. i get intimidated just being in the room with one. i have no idea how it works & i/m not exactly running door-to-door to find out. it just doesn/t really create a peaceful atmosphere for me, one in which taking a bath would be a calming experience. instead, every time i try to lay back & relax, forget about everything, the damn bidet takes over thoughts, making its purple presence known over in the corner.

bidet aside, the main reason this "bathtub" confused me, however, is that there was a showerhead attached. a hose with a showerhead. a nice one, too. good water pressure and all. the problem, though, is that there was no shower curtain. nor was there a shower door. nor was there anything to suggest that this showerhead should actually be used for taking showers. the cord was too short to reach higher than chest-height when standing, which also added to the mystery of it all. it was this teasing, taunting, evil shower head. and every time i got in that goddamn freezing purple tub, i always convinced myself that i had just miscalculated, that of course the showerhead reached long enough to actually wet my hair while standing, and that this time, for once, i would be able to take a real shower.

but sadly, no. i was defeated.

i dreaded bathing. not that french people do it that often. not that I do it that often back home. but seriously, i dreaded getting out of bed in the morning because i knew it meant sitting on freezing cold porcelain, leaning awkwardly until i could wet as much of my hair as possible, and trying desperately to ignore the damn bidet camped out in the corner.



i have solved my problem, however. no more evil-showerhead-bathtub. no more absolutely-nothing-to-do-ever anymore, either. no no no. the old-people-everywhere has been switched for young-people-everywhere, the small-town-france with the country in the backyard has been switched for small-city-france situated in the backyard of the mountains, with the country next door. i still work in the smallest town ever. i just live in a slightly bigger city. with room enough for more than just a bed. with an actual apartment i can call mine. with an address that is my own. with a kitchen & bathroom and living room that are my own. with no host "parents" sitting around doing nothing all day. no no no. with people my age. and things to do. and i get to take the train to work every morning. and i get to wake up next to someone i love every morning. someone who loves me.

and for all that you know how much i/m paying??? 200 euros less than i was for a tiny excuse for a room in a house that wasn/t mine.

i really appreciate everything jacques & danielle did for me, i truly do. but i can only sit around holed up in my room playing on the internet & watching episodes of 24 obsessively for so long. i needed space. my own space. space to breathe.



so yes. there you have it. i have moved to the city. moving in with rémy. going to start the new year in a new place.

please direct your post from hereon out to:
mlle chelsea elizabeth
11 petite rue du belloy
63000 clermont-ferrand france

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

i/d rather not.

so today on my way to work, i/m not sure why, i started thinking about worms. i was walking along, looking at the post-rain ground & thinking to myself "i haven/t seen a single worm since being in france...i wonder if they exist here?" which then became quite a silly question, but how should i know? they/ve never heard of chipmunks or cranberries, either, so it seemed like a valid thing to want to know.

"jeez, i can/t even remember the last time i saw a worm," i thought. "total lie. you remember. freshman year on the way to/from omega, that cement walkway up the hill. after a fresh rain it would be swarming with worms, half-dead, struggling to be somewhere other than the pavement." i would always try to move them from the sidewalk to the dirt, even the dead half-squashed ones. it was so so sad to see them squirming there, totally defenseless.


funny thing, life. i saw two worms after that, one on my way to work, one on my way home. both incredibly tiny. both incredibly dried out (despite the layer of wet on the ground). and both incredibly dead. after wanting so badly to see a worm, to pick it up & feel it wriggle between my fingers, to leave traces of slime & dirt deep under my nails, after seeing the two dead ones, i quickly changed my mind. i/d rather not have seen those two dried up corpses. i/d rather have gone on longing.

Monday, November 26, 2007

perspective

i sit here listening to the npr daily stream. it/s magazine editors, talking about the bests of the year, talking about the most influential people of the year, talking about what/s to come next year. & there/s this undertone of african-american perspective. voices from ebony. talking about the influence of obama. "what/s the future of the black family economy?" etc etc

today in class we talked about holidays. so we could talk about months & it would be a little more interesting. we did thanksgiving last week, so this week we/re going through the year, talking about all the different holidays.

december:
24- christmas eve (ca veut dire quoi, "eve"? le jour avant? la veille? ahhh! d'accord!)
25- christmas (oui ici on france tout le monde fete noel! pas comme vous, avec votre "thanksgiving" qui est la plus grande fete. ici, c'est noel.)
31- new years' eve (d'accord donc "eve" veut dire la veille, donc c'est le jour avant le nouvel ans?)

january:
1- new years' day. (ahhh oui!! la nouvelle annee! oui oui on fait ca ici, aussi!)
15- martin luther king jr. day (-grand silence-...

-can anyone tell me who martin luther king jr. was?
...silence...
-you can guess. go ahead...
-a king?
-a little king?
...more silence...

-no...not a king. he was a man. a black man. a very influential black man. who "had a dream"?
...silence...
-a dream, that one day his little black girl could play with little white girls? that we could all live together, with equal civil rights? he tried to fight racism? he/s very well known chez moi, really.
-oh! racism. ok. he didn/t like racism. cool. so what do you celebrate?
-well, we celebrate his birthday, actually, that/s what the 15th of january is. but it/s to commemorate him. because he was killed. assassinated, really.
-WHAT? WHY?
-well, he wanted to change things. some people had a problem with that. some people have a problem with change. he was black, and he wanted to end racism. so he was assassinated.
-hm. okay.
-seriously, though. you/ve never heard of him before this?
-no.
-really, though? are you sure?
-yes. this is the first we/ve heard. why?

umm... WHAT??? how is it that the youngest person to ever receive the nobel peace prize, recipient of the marcus garvey prize for human rights and the presidential medal of freedom, a man who has streets named after him in over 730 cities in the united states, and is considered to be the 6th most important person of the century by time magazine, the third greatest american of all time by the discovery channel, and the second most admired person in the 20th century according to the gallup poll is unheard of in this town? how is that possible?

i even tried part of his speech (as best as i could translate & remember it), to try to jog their memories. they HAD to know who he was. they just HAD to.

no use.

then again, they are in fifth grade, and they are french.

still, it took me a few minutes to pick my jaw up off the ground. looks like january will be a month where we are certainly not hard-up for material.


(by the way, in doing a little research of my own on mlk jr. earlier this evening, did you know that king county, MY county, the county i spent my entire childhood in, the name of king county was rededicated to him, to MLK Jr. in his honor in 1986? probably not. i didn/t. but even more interesting, did you know that our beloved county changed its logo to his face this year? in 2007? no longer do we have that cute little crown we/ve all grown to love. instead it/s mlk jr./s face. weird.)

then: (1969-2007)
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now: (as of 2007)
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craziness. you learn something new every day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

stitches

exiled. exiled is what i thought i was.

i love wednesdays. so funny how we rate our weeks. how certain days carry more weight than others. in elementary school it was whatever day we had art or music. in middle school every day sucked. in high school it was (naturally) fridays. in college it was (bellingham-style) thursdays (though really it depended on course-load, quarter, & time of year). in taiwan it was saturdays; saturdays seemed oh so far away come mondays, but when they finally arrived, they could not have been more sweet.

now it/s wednesdays. or rather, wednesday is my favourite day of the week besides thursdays, which is the only weekday i don/t work. even though it/s my earliest (i have to meet isabelle at the train station at 8am so she can drive me the half hour to busset), it is my favourite. the children at this tiny school nestled between castle & countryside are so eager to learn. you can see it in their eyes, their desperate searching, and when they/ve found the words they were wanting they keep them safely guarded, precious treasure to be caressed & fondled & oohed & aahed over until next week when they pull it from the pretty little boxes children put their most prized possessions in. they show me their words, mouths over - ee nunn seee ayy teee ing, lip & tongue & teeth caught in messy tango over th/s & f/s & r/s and the endearing inconsistency of their ever-changing vowels.

i never thought hearing numbing repetition of words such as "pumpkin" and "strawberry" could tickle me such a shade of pink.

suffice it to say, i/m in love with this job.

of course, today is wednesday. most of the other days of the week i/m grumbling about this or that. grumbling that my schedule was once again adjusted. grumbling that i (literally) have to walk 3 miles uphill in the snow (well, that one day it snowed last week) just to get to school in the morning. grumbling that i never have enough time to teach what i want to teach. grumbling that i/m not prepared enough. grumbling that they didn/t prepare me. grumbling that i/m not making enough of a difference. grumble grumble grumble.

not always. i don/t grumble to myself. it seems only to be to other people, but that/s mostly because other people only seem to grumble to me, and sometimes it only seems fair to return the favor.

this is love, she thought, isn/t it? when you notice someone/s absence & hate that absence more than anything? more, even, than you love his presence?

i/ve been writing letters, lately. many. and because of this, i/ve not written much for myself. here. there. in my journals. they/re mostly blank. or more blank than i/d like them to be. but the letter-writing does the job for me. i write & i write & i write in furies & then i seal the envelope & it/s all gone. all the anxiety or joy or numbness. it all dissipates, washed out like jeans that have hung too long on that thin line in the sun, it leaves me silent & still. with no more anxiety or joy or numbness i am free to just be. to just exist. to just breathe. one of those moments between thoughts or after fully exhaling where there doesn/t seem to be any more than everything, everything that is just hanging still, hanging there ready to be plucked like a plum on a pear tree for no apparent purpose other than its perceivable ripeness.

sometimes, while writing someone i may or may not love dearly, i imagine centuries ahead. i imagine my letters bound & published, read by the warmth of some great hearth. letters loved enough to don coffee stains & smudges, fingerprints & tears. i hear their lips take the shape of the words, speaking without speaking. i see their eyes, a window-seat passenger on an afternoon train, scanning the text too quickly, skipping over words they deem too short to merit their attention: the, and, end, i, why, me, you. the not-quite-four-letter-words. words omit get important parts. i hear them exhale much too heavily once-too-much & i know they are moved.

sometimes i wish i had a copy of every letter i/ve ever written. to know which pieces of me i/ve left behind & where. to know how to know myself intimately. but then again, that/s poetry. showing others what you can/t see yourself.

poetry. like the heavy smell of sex & sweat & body & breath, not at all beautiful, & so much so that it just might be the most beautiful scent you/ve ever known. like damp autumn earth or cement in july. honest.

exiled. exiled is what i thought i was. alone on a god-forsaken island. left to repeat the one joke i remembered, over & over & over & over. each time exaggerating & embellishing a little more. [remember when i was happy? (forced, nervous laughter.) remember when i had friends? (forced, nervous laughter.) remember when i knew who i was? (nervous, nervous laughter.) hah. hah hah. heh heh. (pause.) remember? (silence.)] wondering why i never laughed at the punch line. turns out i had never told that stupid joke right, not once. funny how telling yourself something over & over & over & over somehow makes it true. [you are not sad. you are not sad. you are not sad.] & while i can tell one helluvah story, i/ve never been so good with the truth.

honest. honest is what he makes me want to be. not so much to other people. i haven/t been a pathological liar since my freshman year of college. but then again, with so much open road ahead, so much on the line, who isn/t? no. no. not again. honest. honest this time. not so much to them. not so much to them, but to myself. honest to myself. not honest in the way that i haven/t been truthful to myself, but in the way that i/ve been holding out. that i/ve "forgotten". honest in the way that i/m slowly relaxing, letting all the "forgetting" slowly come undone, a half-finished scarf that was unevenly stitched & much-too-tight anyway, stitch work that needed to come undone if it wanted to ever breathe properly, that needed to be re-examined & re-worked & re-loved.

honest. i needed to be re-loved. honestly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

eyes closed, i learned to see

it was then, at 3:56 in the afternoon, another saturday spent in bed, that she realized it. the people on her walls, the places she had been, the things she had seen. she closed her eyes & felt his lips on the back of her neck & wished that he was there.

it came all at once, a sudden rush of images.

panorama of zion/s peak, majestic cliffs & the clash of colour. kissing her baby sister/s smooth round cheek & the gentle scent of youth that hides itself deep in children/s mess of hair. the downpour that cold afternoon in d.c. the first time she saw the eiffel tower. the clatter of children/s laughter, of a foreign tongue, & the hot dusty streets of a summer day in rural tijuana. times square under three feet of snow. the excitement, waiting there in that dark corner between those two old couches in the house on indiana street, waiting to be found; it always smelled of earth in there, earth & anticipation. lying in a field of buttercups. walking down the cement walkway in front of the old house for the first time, holding her pregnant mother/s hand & entirely conscious of her sagging pink wool tights. the deep smell of wood that filled the yard when her father was hard at work in the garage. afternoons in her bathing suit & tennis shoes, mowing the back lawn & working on her tan. skinny dipping in a lightening storm, smiling because of friendship & freedom, but mostly because she was finally in waters she recognized from back home. lying, sprawled on her back, in her living room that summer afternoon, listening to the song on the stereo much too loud. chuckanut drive. cloves & red wine in the rain. his back porch on winter nights. watching the sun slip behind seattle from that perch behind the tennis courts. the feeling in her stomach right before she jumped, whether at whatcom falls or into the columbia or by herself in the mountains in taiwan. rice paddies. seeing the tears in his eyes as he whispered softly "te amo" and slowly pulled his hand away. the sand dunes at sunset. one foot in one ocean & one foot in the other, no matter which, she couldn/t tell you now or then, but the unexplainable joy of the first time she found herself in two places at once. her down comforter. the top of the peak there at 3am; covered in dirt & snow & sand & sweat, exhausted but satisfied, it felt like she had conquered so much more than just a mountain. the tree at lorel park in mid-october. slipping her hand into his unnoticed. tidepools. the pacific ocean. fields & fields of tulips. her grandmother/s fingers gentle in her hair. trains. coffeehouses & open mic nights in seattle back when she still had a dream. late night diners with an open journal & a cigarette. her open arms there at the finish line. waking up to her old cat curled up, a ball of warmth beside her, the rain in the gutters so close above her bed. road trips. her first train ride east to spokane, with her sister, winding slowly through the mountains. ribbons & bows & feathers in her father/s hair. fingers softly, slowly, gently tracing the treble clef on her upper back. the pots of colour in yellowstone, the river, the tent, the ruts still in the ground from the pioneers/ trek west. the lights of the night ferry across to nanaimo. butterflies in the mountains of taiwan. his half smile. waking to cliffs off the pacific. the open road. lying with her head in her mother/s lap, protected.

their faces beaming, they all came to kiss her forehead softly and gently squeeze her hand three times no need to even whisper those simple words because inherently she knew.

they all did.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday, October 5, 2007

vivante à vichy

a gust of wind and the shutters of my window against the wall catch my attention. the sunlight still rests softly on the red-tiled roofs across the quiet street below, and yet a light rain has begun to dance upon my awning. i can hardly contain myself. i let the tears flow freely.

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it/s the first time my tears haven/t been filled with pain, frustration or loneliness since my arrival. in retrospect, it/s only been a week since i/ve been in france, and yet it feels like it has been an eternity.

this has, no doubt, been the hardest thing i have ever done in my life.

i can/t really explain why. i can/t explain why i felt so empty for the first few days. i/m sure the fact that i was leaving an incredibly comfortable life back home, leaving behind everyone i know and love, leaving behind freedom & adventure & the vagabond life of a poor college student. leaving my language and my culture. leaving my life, a life that i was completely and utterly in love with.

but it was more than that. living in france has always been my dream. teaching in france has always been my dream. and i/ve worked incredibly hard, and i/ve deserved this, and now i have it. i think that/s it. for the past eight years, essentially, this is what i/ve worked for. i/ve gone through other phases, sure. journalism. environment. english. health/medicine. and eventually history. but french was always there. when nothing else wasn/t, when nothing else could fulfill me, french was there to comfort me. one might even go as far to say "france is my anti-drug"...

or perhaps that is pushing it a bit...

regardless, this has always been my dream, and now i/m living it. now i have it. and there is a lot of responsibility that comes with this job, for sure, but there is this sort of creeping emptiness about the whole situation. to the extent that, once i am done here, what else do i have to live for? not to be overdramatic, but that has basically been the subtext of my inner dialogue for the past few weeks. after this, what the hell do i do with myself? i left everything i know & everything i love to lose everything?

AND...gain everything. or so i have come to see these past few days.

i remember a few years ago, perhaps around high school graduation, perhaps even as far back as eighth grade graduation, my father making a comment haphazardly about the people i tend to associate myself with. "chels," he said, nonchalantly. "you really have the most amazing friends." it was sort of a wake up call. i stepped back & looked around and realized that he was absolutely correct. i may have drifted from crowd to crowd, i have gone through my phases and (as courtenay would say) changed as often (or moreso) as a a chameleon, but the friends i have kept, the people i surround myself with, are all incredibly beautiful people.

sometimes it/s too much. i can/t take it all. i can/t understand it. i mean, i kick a fair amount of ass myself, but compared to my friends? i am so honored. i am so so lucky to have people like them around.

and it was friends & family who truly helped open my eyes to the positive aspects of my séjour here in france. it was friends & family who helped me see that being radically emotional after such a drastic change is a natural & understandable & (gasp!) even healthy response. it was friends & family who calmed me when i needed it & let me cry when i needed it. & it was friends & family who told me that it would just take a little time for me to adjust. & voila! consider me adjusted! thank you so much, all of you, for being supportive. even if you think you had nothing to do with it, it probably means you most definitely did. i love you so much and think about you more often than you know.

but, enough of that sappiness. how about a little update on my life, shall we?

vichy is beautiful. a perfectly charming little town situated on the allier river.
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especially this time in autumn, where the leaves are just starting to catch fire, little flames aglow at all times on the cobblestone paths below.

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i/m living in a room at the top of a house owned by an adorable older couple, danielle & jacques. the street is quite quaint, and the view from my window is simply breathtaking.

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the streets are adorable...

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as are the people...

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i will be teaching at three different schools, nine classes total, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade. quite the spread, if you ask me. and it will be quite the challenge, but i/m looking forward to it. it will be very rewarding work, as these kids are simply adorable.

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all in all, things are going fairly well. i have yet to make a single friend that is not in my work place or at my home, and yet i see beauty in everything and am enjoying my days thoroughly. friends will come easily now that i am at ease with life itself.

i miss you everyone immensely and would love a visit or two, or perhaps a letter. please do not hesitate to write. i would simply love to be your penpal. you may reach me at:

mlle chelsea elizabeth
26 impasse Arnaud
03200 VICHY france

/tis time to return to the river for yet another cheap & delicious dinner.

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je vous aime tant!
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gros biz de vichy! ♥

Sunday, September 16, 2007

to whom it may concern:

she stood on the city streets & breathed deep the heavy scent of wet pavement we so often mistake for rain. the lights shone brightly (is it truly darker in the heart of a city at night?) in glints off the smooth blacktop & she shouted (without words) at the top of her lungs: i/m not ready to leave you yet!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

america the beautiful

i return. to the states. to "america" as we call our home. even though we are but one nation within two continents of americas. it/s okay. i let it slide. don/t correct myself when i hear it slip past my lips. it/s even more pompous because now i/m fully aware of our conceit but i let it happen anyway. so consciously closed-minded that it almost feels good.

i return. to this bizarre place. this strange land of single servings & privatized health care. to miles & miles of endless grocery aisles. to suburban sprawl & freeway expansion. i miss the rice paddies of taiwan. the tobacco fields. the ocean. i miss the way the rivers crawled. the constant buzz of the cicadas & the chatter of morning markets. i miss the miles & miles of open road. and me, ready & willing with nothing more to define me than my blinding youth.

i wish people would stop inviting concrete into our only open spaces.

bellevue happened too soon. culture shock. i should have waited longer before returning to this place. the outskirts of taiwan to the center of bellevue came much too quick. i feel lost here. confused. paralyzed. unsure of what move to make next.


my thoughts seem so scattered. when did i become this disorganized? or have i always been this way? i need to stop writing answers on loose-leaf paper. but i/ve never been a fan of binding. too much negative connotation.


so here/s where we get to the part where i/m supposed to be all grown up & ready to enter the real world but instead i feel like maybe the past seventeen years of education were slightly more than futile. i wish that instead of a degree from a university people would require real experience in the real world, experience with real customs & cultures. cultures other than our own. i wish that instead of spending an arm & a leg on an overpriced education i could have spent nickels & dimes on undervalued education through travel. i feel like my whole life i/ve learned so much more out of the classroom than within the confines of the walls we box ourselves in. but was it not underappreciated teachers who were the very ones that opened my mind?

shit. i want to be a teacher. but i/m sick of being spread so thin. i don/t understand money. why is it the most vital professions make the least amount of money? does that make any sense? why do football players make more than teachers & mentors? why is the cost of living so damn high? i am almost positive i will never own a house. it/s sad, but i/ve just sort of come to terms with it. there/s no real use in being upset about it because that/s kindof just the way it is.


i/m still on the fence about france. my mind changes every other other every minute. i mean, it/s always been my dream. to live in france. on my own. to teach. but now that i/ve been to taiwan i/m not so sure about this whole teaching english thing. i/d rather teach french. but i certainly can/t do that in france, now can i?

the problem is money. which i hate. i have no credit, so i can/t get any credit. i/ve managed to get through college debt free, right? no student loans to pay off, no serious debt i/ve dug myself into. so how is it that i can/t get a damn credit card? why is that? does that make any sense? if i had thousands and thousands of dollars to pay off i/m sure credit card companies would be jumping at the opportunity to have me as a client. but no credit seems to be worse than bad credit. the lesson for all you credit-free youngsters out there: jump on the bandwagon early if you want to avoid being left behind altogether.

& if money is the only real obstacle then i should be able to get through this, right? i mean, if you really want something you work your ass off to get it. i just need to find a way to make a thousand bucks in two and a half weeks. or find someone who will give me a loan. or maybe i should try gambling. shit, i just don/t know what to do.


but i suppose i will just have to hold on to the hope that everything will work out in the end because it usually does. stress does crazy things to the body. i need to smile, relax, breathe & be thankful for the opportunities that lay open in front of me. i/m fortunate to have so many people that believe in me constantly reassuring my belief in myself.

of course i/m going to france, silly. i just need to remember to believe...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

towards sunny peaks & sandy beach, but still not alone

it was meant to be my adventure.

it isn/t usually. most often i find pleasure in sharing adventures with others. i like to watch their faces as they overcome physical obstacles. boulders. water in the creek that/s much too deep. the end of the trail.

but not this time. this time i needed to be alone.



i wish someone had told me exactly what it meant. typhoon. i wish someone had explained to me that typhoon = danger. because all it had meant thus far was an increase in rain & a (welcome) decrease in temperature. no one told me this one would be big. no one told me the north half of the philippines would be shut down as a result. that people would die. many people. that rivers would flood, dangerously so. that buildings would be ripped from their foundations & roads left tattered. i wish someone had told me exactly what it meant.



we left on tuesday. early. heading north on the 17. to taipei. we figured it was about 350 kilometers. maybe 400. it was warm when we left. overcast, with sun every now & then. but no rain. not yet. it came quickly. in torrents. cold, unwelcome. we put on our new raingear & gritted our teeth. it was bearable.

a few stops, a few more hours & a few hundred kilometers later we found ourselves in the outskirts of taipei. the city is vast. it sprawls on, spiraling out towards the ocean with seemingly calculated randomness. waves of skyscrapers, concrete arms reaching towards an endless blue. ugly beautiful.

we called snail. & howard. snail is an old teaching assistant. my first. and second. and the best. howard is an old student. one of the first. & one of the best. incredibly intelligent. wise beyond his years. we had had some of the most intellectual conversations of my entire trip. only eighteen. & yet i/m only twenty-two, he so pointedly pointed out. since danshui he had finally received his green card. he was leaving the country, moving to the states on thursday. i needed to say goodbye. to say thank you.

he was in danshui. he lived in beitou. we were south. far south. farther south than we knew. it didn/t work out. he had to taxi home. a long ride. i apologized, but it didn/t feel enough. i let him down. it was late. the mrt was closed. he was alone. past curfew. & here i was, his english teacher, keeping him awake in a dangerous city. i told him i would pay for his cab.

we found a park, a small park, a patch of green under the mrt tracks. a playground. a few benches. a nicer neighborhood. we set up camp. i in my sleeping bag & he in his sweatshirt. he wanted to share. again, i said no. he wanted someone to hold. again, i said no. i slept well.

the train always runs early. especially in a big city. in those early morning hours i dreamt of childhood & train tracks in spokane. the scent of my grandfather/s plaid flannel shirts, tobacco & vanilla & earth all mixed in with the rust & dirt of the tracks on a hot summer day. & the way the skin on my grandmother/s hands always looked so fragile, translucent almost, like tissue paper or the folds of a fresh sheet. i felt her comb gently through my hair, spun gold she used to say, on that ridiculous couch in their living room. & his hand firmly grasping mine as i walked along the rails, a balancing act just for him.

i awoke to sunlight & staring eyes. elderly men & women up for their early morning walk in the park. congregating around the two young whites asleep in a messy pile of clothes & backpacks & sleeping bags on the ground next to the slide. i found a patch of sunlight & grounded myself. yoga. with each breath i felt myself growing lighter. i was on the other end of the island. away from all the stress & drama of a chaotic work environment. the sun was out & i was free.

he befriended a young woman in the park. no surprise, all things considered. from the philippines. in taiwan as a nanny. at the park with the children before school. she asked if i was his wife. he laughed. just friends. she asked us (him) to breakfast. with the children. we accepted. we ate. we played with the kids. & we left, weary of outstaying our welcome.

we headed north, to yangmingshan national park. wound our way to the top & found hot springs. i spent the early afternoon naked with twenty-something women over fifty. at least. they chattered away in taiwanese. only one spoke any english & it was only a few words if that. they asked if i was married. if i had a boyfriend. if i was interested in taiwanese men. if this was my first experience with hot springs. when i left they asked if i knew how beautiful i was & told me i must come back. i smiled & left, weary of outstaying my welcome.

we found a trail & headed up. steps. hundreds. hundreds & hundreds of steps. at the top was a pagoda & the most magnificent view of taipei imaginable. beautiful. yet eery. it seemed so vast & yet so fragile from so high up. so far away. abandoned. void of all life. or at least human life, i suppose. i pondered the future of this great city. it/s face in a few hundred years. whether it will be worn. recognizable. or if everything will change.

we headed down the mountain & slowly wound our way back down into the city.

we were to meet with howard, calvin & snail at 3:30 in the afternoon at taipei main station. a movie & a meal later & it was time to part. too soon. much too soon. goodbyes always are.

we headed back to the mountains. hiked back up a thousand stairs & slept above the city but below the stars. i in my sleeping bag & he in his sweatshirt. he didn/t ask & i didn/t offer, though i knew he wanted to share. the wind howled through the wooden slats & up the spiral stairs. i slept well. dreamt of flying through the constellations, drawing lines between stars, bursts of light from blue circles & red squares, all the really important things that they never teach you about. the ones you have to find out on your own. lost myself in the arms of the milky way & my beautiful sisters. the warmth & grace of my mother. i woke, once again, to sunlight. i stretched. drank grapefruit juice & ate granola. i was ready.

we hiked up to the highest peak in the park. 七星山. xicingshan. seven star mountain. an extinct volcano. the highest volcano in taiwan, actually. 1120 meters. not the tallest mountain however. at 3952 yushan in alishan national park down south is the tallest actual peak. nonetheless, seven star is high up there. the view was indescribable. a 360 degree view of the park. of the whole northern part of the island, really. the ocean way out west. the taiwan strait. the east china sea to the north. the great pacific to the east. mountains, valleys, cities. the kind of view that, more than takes your breath away, restores it. brings you a certain peace. it was exactly what i needed.

our descent was quick. we wound our way out on a fresh road. east. towards the pacific. that great expanse of blue. diamonds strewn across a sea-blue blanket. aqua. deep. boundless. we drove until we found the ocean & we stopped. the sand burned my soles, but it hardly mattered. i was at the edge of the ocean. i could lose myself forever in a blue so deep.


at this point, however, i could hardly enjoy the beauty. i was so frustrated. this was my trip. this was my adventure. this was supposed to be my escape. i had already told simon no. i needed to be completely free. i was tired of being held back. of waiting for him to catch up. of guiding him. of playing babysitter & interpreter & driver & guide. i wanted to stop when i wanted to & go where i wanted to & not have to explain or answer to anyone. i needed desperately to breathe the ocean air on my own. but i had let him follow & i couldn/t very well abandon.


he knew. he could see the joy drain from my face every time he asked to stop. asked directions. asked where we were going. asked what time we would get where. asked what the plan was. asked what i wanted. so finally he asked if he was a burden. if i regretted his presence. as usual, i was brutally honest. he said he understood. he knew this trip was mine. knew he was intruding. knew i needed space. told me to take it when i needed it. if i needed a few hours of alone time, i just needed to ask. i explained my dilemma. that i felt responsible for him. that i felt he was incapable of handling this country on his own. of making his way back. across the country alone on a scooter. he can hardly make his way back to the office from the coffee shop down the street, let alone across a few mountain ranges & a lot of messy highway. in a language he hasn/t begun to understand. & yet, i was unhappy. & us staying together might mean the end of a friendship. if i needed a few hours, he repeated, he understood.
-i don/t just need a few hours, chandler. if we split, we split for good.

i couldn/t tell if his offer was genuine. if he wanted to part or if he was just offering. but at this point it honestly didn/t matter. i was next to the ocean, out of the oppressive smog of the city trying to breathe in the salty air & yet i felt suffocated still. there was no question. we parted quickly & formally. not much of a goodbye. i felt bad but i craved the freedom of being on my own. i needed to look in my rear view mirrors & see nothing but the open road layed out for miles behind me.

i headed south without looking back...

Monday, August 6, 2007

home

the farther away from home i travel, the less i understand what that concept means. home to me is more a state of mind than a concept. it is fluid. it changes with the tide.

this weekend i escaped. i had to get away.

i scootered out to the country. down south, through kaohsiung. then east. inland.

foguangshan. the biggest buddhist temple in all of taiwan. a 50m gold buddha. the largest drum & bell on the island. this is the temple the world looks to for examples. i meditated for an hour with monks in the buddhist meditation room. i thought i was alone until i looked up & saw one lone monk hidden in the shadows of the corner. he nodded & smiled. i blushed, ashamed. sometimes i feel so fake in this country. i try to embrace the culture, but i feel so counterfeit.

one floor up, siddhartha/s bones rest. he was incinerated upon his death, or so the story goes. but four of his teeth remained after his flesh was turned to ash. foguangshan guards one of these teeth. i entered, humbled. the room is locked. i met a monk. a woman. no english. but she asked me if i knew buddhism, and showed me how to pray. she unlocked the door & let me in.

i knelt before his remains & prayed. we bowed in turn. she stepped back, aware of the significance of the moment. i couldn/t stop the tears. they seemed so natural. so pure. so real.

when i left, she handed me a book of buddhist prayers. i cried once more. she invited me to stay the night in the temple. it was too much to handle. i thanked her for her hospitality, but was weary of outstaying my welcome. i watched a lightening storm brew behind the golden buddha. watched the energy materialize behind his stony gaze. in awe. unable to speak.

the countryside changed as i headed further inland, towards the mountains. maolin nature preserve. mountains. jungle. rivers. forest of a kind i have never before seen. i spent saturday night in the house of a stranger, on the top of the world. dona. dona, taiwan. a village of perhaps 200. on a mountaintop. near natural hotsprings.

i found a river sunday morning & i played. after a long hike by myself. call it a morning walk. i saw the largest snake i have ever seen. a red-winged hawk. butterflies. more plentiful & beautiful than i have ever seen. after my descent i played in a cool, clear river, and i knew everything would be okay. i stumbled upon a family eating lunch by a waterfall. they beckoned. i came. they fed me. i swam in a crystal clear pond with their son. brightly coloured fish & butterflies surrounding us. i played under a waterfall this weekend. & i knew everything would be okay.

i drove along the river north. past mountains that jut like dinosaurs out of a dusty sea. they say the spirits of turtle gods inhabit these mountains. the japanese dug tunnels through them to help with the transportation of lumber. i blazed through them. conscious of the damp coolness, the drop in temperature so deep within the earth. bats. mud. the smell of earth.

i drove through mooncrater world. the most bizarre natural phenomena i have ever seen. i still can/t really explain or describe it. it was...exactly how it sounds. suddenly and abruptly the landscape changed. from rice patties & tobacco fields to what appeared to be craters on the moon. oddly shaped mountainous structures. hills & valleys. dried up creek beds. little life. lightening.

approaching tainan, the sky opened up. sheets, torrents, rivers of rain fell from the heavens. this happens almost on a daily basis now. we are preparing for a series of typhoons. it is typhoon season, after all.

a typhoon is set to hit the east coast tomorrow. ilan. up north. while ilan is northeast and we are southwest, we still must be weary. taiwan is quite small. we will not escape the repurcussions. typhoons can be dangerous. as of now, the storm that will hit tomorrow is not too huge, but it is growing. there is a second typhoon approaching, as well. approximate arrival time: friday.

and yet i remained unphased. i am aware of the dangers. but taiwan seems home to me now. typhoons are common. blazing sun one second, torrential downpours the next. this is a typical summer day here. i will most likely still teach. life will most likely go on as normal, just with a little more rain & a lot less heat. when it/s put that way, a typhoon seems almost welcome.

i watched a lightening storm on the beach last night. we brought plastic lawn chairs down onto the sand & watched the storm brew far out across the ocean. captivating. the energy was almost too much to take in all at once.

sometimes i feel this life is passing by too quickly. i find myself in places & am almost unsure of how i got there. brief moments of lucidity within a dream. but this is my dream. and i am living it. last night i watched a lightening storm across the pacific. next month perhaps across the atlantic. i am a wanderer. a weary lone traveler. i carry my home with me on my back. but i wouldn/t have it any other way.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

circles

we leave shortly after school. with nothing we can/t fit in the compartment under the scooter/s seat. it/s hot. not unbearable, but still slightly uncomfortable. i apply sunscreen liberally. we head west, toward the ocean.

past golden beach, i can feel it. i can feel the scenery changing around me. i, too, begin to change. or maybe i/ve been changing all along. no matter. we/ve driven past the city limits & i smile, conscious of the fact that i am in a place i have never, ever visited before. the air, no longer choking, feels cooler than the stagnant smog of tainan city. i watch the sun stuck stagnant in the sky.

i see an old bicycle parked next to a wall decorated with children/s drawings. a set of concrete stairs leads to the sea. i pull out my canon and we stop. i like to play photographer in this country. it all seems so much more beautiful from behind the lense. or maybe it/s the distance. the separation. between art & artist. between their world & mine. i feel so different here. so out of place. -at least here it makes sense, he says. here, we/re not supposed to fit in.

two men are examining a fishing net. one dons snorkeling gear. they are perched on the edge of stone structures designed to prevent typhoons from breaking off portions of the island. giants/ playthings. like a game of jacks that was abandoned at suppertime & has since been forgotten. i scramble down to the water, still wearing my helmet. the sun is getting tired & preparing to set. i don/t have time to miss this.

***

we/ve reached the end of the road. the eternal question: which way to turn. we choose left & find a fish market. i walk the harbor, capturing lives of aging seamen in 5x7 glossy colour. my eye theory stands. even in this place, devoid of the greens & blues i drown in back home, these eyes smolder.

we head back & follow the road right. we find a small beach. the sun is hesitating above the horizon. i watch my feet as they mark the sand. i can see the grains between my toes, but i struggle to feel. it/s all too perfect. i might be dreaming.

i walk barefoot across gravel & glass to the end of the pier. old men watch, chattering, fishing line in hand. i sit at the edge of the ocean as the horizon pulls night closer. to meet with the edge of the sea. i search for the dipper. it/s too early. circles. i feel connected.

***

we wander. we take side streets back & end up at the feet of a temple. magnificent. regal. beautiful in the way zion is beautiful. in the way that, -it doesn/t take your breath away so much as restore it. on our way back towards the city we see a group of people beginning to congregate in a dirt plot next to an arm of the winding canals. we stop, curious. men & women dressed all in white. they are positioning themselves in a large ring. they hold white rope or twine. circles. i feel connected.

a pile of stones & sticks & flowers (dried) & paper lanterns (red) & prayers (calligraphied) fills the center. about the size of a small bedroom. four men carry an altar on their shoulders. incense burns. they stumble, intoxicated with the word of their god. he is guiding them, directing them. they move through him & he through them. they chew beetlenut & drink sasparilla soda. a monk chants. drums. bells. music. fire. i close my eyes & watch the light from the flames dance pink & white through my eyelids. the music feels foreign, even for this place. i picture a man in arabia, sitting on a satin pillow in the heat of the day, charming snakes with his song.

eyes open & it/s no more familiar a scene. it reminds me of ceremonies in africa i/ve only ever seen on film. tall, lanky men drunk off rice wine, stumbling through cleared fields. piles of dried grasses waiting to be burned. the language seems just as strange. i don/t recognize a single word. it must be taiwanese. it/s all the same, really. taiwanese, cantonese, mandarin, hakka. eastern languages in general. chinese has always seemed somewhat strange & discomforting to me. as if a language from the desert. violent tongues.

we watch as they burn an intricate temple made of wood, almost half the size of the fire itself. as the flames envelop the details of the roof, flowers (dried) & prayers (calligraphied) are thrown on top. thousands upon thousands upon thousands. some spill over & hover in the bursts of heat. so close to the dusty ground, fluttering, they look like burning butterflies.

as suddenly as it started, it stops. they drop their twine, they gather their chairs & they file onto the steet. the fire, now alone, still burns fiercely. we quickly rush towards the flames, greedy to find something, anything, that might help us to understand. we find shreds of black prayers written carefully on rolls of yellowing paper. we observe. we document. we listen. we, too, flee.

***

the night air feels right against my skin. i let my feet slip down to hover close above the ground moving so quickly beneath us. arms outstretched, i breathe. the ocean to my left. west. it feels like home. i watch inland rice patties fly past. i, too, am flying. i see the moon. i close my eyes. circles. i feel connected.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

the age old question

most of the crew has left on vacation. taipei. kenting. hong kong. bangkok. with little time & less money i/ve decided to stay in taiwan. my original plan was to take my two weeks off consecutively. to bike down the east coast. i didn/t care if i did it alone. it needed to be done.

my plans have since changed. with val in thailand and simon physically impaired, it/s more me alone on this island. i have the urge to explore, but hardly the motivation. i feel like i move so slowly here. maybe it/s the heat or humidity, or maybe it/s that everything around me moves so fast (we are in an incredibly large city, it must be noted) - the cars, the scooters, the bicycles, the horns & bells, the sudden downpours, the sunset - all of it comes much too quickly. i find myself endlessly tired.

it comes down to a question of the truth of a man (or woman) on an island. can you tell the truth when you are talking only to yourself?

there are moments in taiwan i feel incredibly awkward & out of place, as if i unexpectedly barged in on this way of life. their reaction is to stare blankly back, startled. i see clothes hanging from wire on crumbling balconies & old men in their rain ponchos & peasant hats bicycle by with worn stone faces & i realize i/m invading their space. i ignorantly sauntered in with no permission & expect to be understood & fed & sheltered & more than tolerated. i expect to be accepted, nay, revered. beause of the colour of my skin? my language? the land in which i was born (no choice of my own, i might add)?

what a bizarre, twisted time we live in.

the worst part is, i am revered. people stare, in awe. they gawk. they gossip. they chatter. they offer quiet prayers of thanks for our presence. they offer gifts: cigarettes, lotus juice, beetlenut. & it would be too rude to not accept. so we quietly accept, we contemplate the half-chewed beetlenut against our gums, let them pour a second cup of juice & suck down yet another cigarette because the smog here is bad enough anyway. but that/s how things work in the world i guess. it never truly is give & take. i come from the land of unjust wars & displaced blame. life will forever remain take & take i suppose.

i may follow along, i may save face with an empty smile. but this guilt that hangs in the air, this guilt that coats me like the incessant layer of sweat that separates me from my clothes, this guilt will stay with me always. i need to find a way to give back.

Monday, July 16, 2007

so let me clarify...

i/m not injured. i was not in a scooter accident. i am fine.

for simon & brian, however, the story/s slightly different.

everyone/s fine now. they left the hospital today. we/re about to go out for some egyptian deliciousness. i would explain more but i/m really exhausted & it/s all over now so there/s no real point anyway.


i/m going to do some traveling this week. i have a week/s vacation. going to explore the east coast with simon by train. apparently it/s beautiful. i/m anxious to get out of this busy town. i need some countryside. some rice patties & the ocean. some fresh ocean air. the smog is getting to my lungs. i can feel it in my morning cough.

i understand why people age the way they do here, now. it/s a wonder by the time they reach forty their faces haven/t completely melted off. however...i couldn/t raise a family here. i couldn/t spend my prime here. i couldn/t work a nine-to-five full time here. but i could spend a year or two. the people here are too kind for words.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

it/s 83, feels like 97

says the weather report. as of 5am in t'ainan city. & all i want to do is sleep. for a few days. but it/s friday. which means the biggest day of the camp. with presentations & closing ceremonies. with certificates & awards. i just need to make it through & then i can go chill at the hospital for a few hours.

there was a scooter accident a few days ago. i/m not at liberty to discuss the incident right now (the police report is still open...or something sketch like that) but suffice it to say everyone is okay. well, a few surgeries later & everyone/s okay.

alright. duty calls. it/s not even 9am & already i/m exhausted. blah. more later.



p.s. i love & miss you all.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

home

i asked you never to contact me again. i haven/t had any problems until this dream you orchestrated. i woke up & felt. i felt. anything. for the first time in a long long time.

i feel numb. or maybe numb isn/t the right word. motionless. emotionless. life has been this blurred dream for the past three or four months. like a watercolour i spent years creating. layer upon layer upon layer. & then i hung it on the wall to dry & all the colours bled. & now it/s just a mess of runny blues and greens intermixed with purples and reds, all rust & mud in streaks down the wall.

like trying to run in a dream. that/s how i feel in taiwan. my limbs too heavy to move. the air too heavy to breathe in. stuck. just trying to stay alive is exhausting.


we wake. the sun rises so early here, the streets fill so quickly with sound. until mid-afternoon, when the heat gets too unbearable, it/s difficult to distinguish the time. i assume it/s early, but it/s not. eleven thirty. it/s been months since i/ve slept in that late. granted, i probably fell asleep around four a.m., so it/s somewhat excuseable. this is my first day off in what feels like a very long time. it feels good to be home. in tainan. to sleep on my own mat. funny how quickly our definition of "home" changes.

taipei. how to describe my past week... there/s something about taipei that just makes you want to steal. something in the air, perhaps. the smog. the incessant buzz of scooters & honking of horns, the swerving of taxis & the begging. or the heat. maybe it/s the heat. the humidity.



in taiwan, you sweat more than you thought humanly possible.


danshui was pleasant. the most beautiful campus i/ve ever seen. we stayed in "the white house." upstairs. downstairs was an overpriced cafe that sold mediocre food. i know this because we were to have dinner with the principal of our school on thursday. he had missed the opening ceremony so it was to be his treat. he didn/t show.

my first day teaching was the most challenging day of my life. i cried. a lot. dance teacher. i/m the peppy american dance teacher. i spent hours choreographing a dance. they love cheer & they love pop music. so i made a cheery, poppy dance to a britney song. day one. first period after lunch. i do the dance. blank stares. deer in headlights. not to mention the first half of the day was pulling teeth & saving face until almost all of me had disintigrated.

i hate the education system here. they desensitize & deindividualize each class until almost nothing distinguishable remains. they all wear plain, oversized, cheaply made, probably overpriced uniforms. the girls wear pleated skirts & grey shirts. the boys slacks & polos. all the girls have knee-socks & side-swept bangs. a student said it best. he was trying to guess my age.
-twenty-five, he guessed.
-lower.
-no way.
-way.
-twenty-four.
-lower.
-no way, he continued.
-way.
-twenty....two?
-yup.
a look of genuine astonishment. so you/re only four years older than me? he asked.
-looks like it.
-but... he paused. but you seem so much older. his tone changed. anger. frustration. he raised his voice, drawing attention. everyone here, he continued, everyone here looks so young. even adults! even adults here get mistaken for kids sometimes! but everyone in america looks so... here everyone looks the same. everyone. all the girls look like... like little dolls! but you, you look... so mature. like an adult. each person is their own beautiful person. not like here. where everyone looks so much alike there is no beautiful anymore.
-why? why do you think that is?
-because that/s what they teach us here! they teach us to all be the same! they force us to! i mean, look, even what we wear has to be the same! they make us all wear the same plain drab uniforms. & eventually we lose our individuality. if we even ever had it.

he continued. about how everyone is scared to act out in any way. to be different. to be isolated. to be recognized. to be distinguished. which is why when the teacher asks a question no one raises their hand. no one will volunteer for activities or for responses. asking them to write down one interesting thing about themselves for an icebreaker activity is like pulling teeth & at the end you have twenty-three scraps of paper with "i/m seventeen" and the occasional "i like music." in the end you have to prostrate yourself in front of them for eight hours a day and your reward is when one student kindof almost maybe half-smiles.

which is why on the first day, during dance period, i couldn/t handle it. no one would even move. deer in headlights. insecure, shit-scared. more awkwardness saran wrapped into one moment than thought possible. and after i had unsuccessfully attempted to teach a dance, a cheer, part of a dance, a dance move & a chant, i figured we could just have a dance party to kill the rest of the time. until we looked at the clock and realized we still had thirty minutes left. thirty. meaning i had only used up twenty minutes. i was sweating profusely, i had just prostrated myself in front of twenty-eight hormone-ridden pubescent taiwanese teens, and i was out of ideas. & that/s when one little realization made everything clear as crystal: i was in hell.



it was one of those inevitabilities. eventually it would be evening & i would be in my makeshift bedroom, sweating buckets & dreaming of things we take for granted in the states, like breatheable air & unmelted chocolate & otter pops. but the worst part was that even after this painful painful period was finished, i had another one to go. a second hour of dance. and i had no idea how getting through another hour of dance was humanly possible. so i did the best thing i could do in the situation: i went to the bathroom & cried uncontrollably.


the rest of the week. progressively better. each day became the most challenging day, but also the most rewarding. by the end of the week it was clear that i was the favourite teacher. that i was the best teacher. & that my students had learned the most. granted, the students had been divided up by language level. i didn/t have the worst. i didn/t have the ones who didn/t speak a word of english. but i didn/t have the best, either. i had the intermediate kids. & i was damn proud of the progress they made.



i/m so tired. this heat exhausts me. more later, i promise. but for now i would give my right hand for a cold beer & air conditioning. this is my mission for the night.

i leave again tomorrow. for a homestay. for a new school. i will miss my first class. they were something else.



i miss sleeping next to you. i miss having someone to touch. i can/t read anyone/s eyes here. & it makes me nervous. & the light from the city keep me from seeing the night sky. i/ve lost my bearings. i need your little dipper to ground me.

Friday, June 29, 2007

morning in tainan

i wake to the noise of the city street below. it/s early. the six other girls are still sleeping on their bamboo mats. no one stirs. i remain motionless. the window is closed, but i can feel the air outside, pregnant with noise, a foreign film turned up too loud.

[the room i share with 6 other girls. this is my bamboo mat, covered in my bags.]

[as you can imagine, personal space is limited.]

chinese is a language that fits its speakers. the way most dogs seem to fit their owners. what you say doesn/t matter so much as the way you say it. just like what you do doesn/t matter so much as the way you do it. intonation is key, just like presentation. unfortunately, of those who speak mandarin in tainan, those who speak it with an accent that sounds anything like standard mainland chinese are slim to none. as if i can hear a difference. but it makes even attempting to understand basically impossible.

from behind our closed curtains & with eyes closed i imagine faces to match the voices on the streets below. i picture the old weathered man who rides his bicycle in slow-motion down chongdao late at night & nods each time he sees me. so slowly it/s hard to understand how his bike remains upright. but he only comes out when the streets are quiet. i/ve never heard him speak & for some reason can/t picture him even owning a voice. if he did it would be soft, like the opening of morning lilies or a cloud passing unnoticed in front of the sunrise. his face slowly withers & i try to picture others but i can/t. for some reason duras/s insane beggar is all that comes to mind. yelling in tongues barefoot in the hot streets of saigon. incoherant. crazed & almost violent.

i open my eyes & shift. my feet peek out from under the blanket. it can/t be past seven and already i can feel the heat of the day coming. i quietly gather my things & tiptoe past the others. before i reach the bottom of the stairs to the second floor i/m sweating.

the heat in taiwan is an exhausting heat. the air so full, so heavy. everything sweats. the people, the streets, the walls. everything constantly glowing. the air is so thick with humidity, it/s a wonder i can/t reach out & grab hold. the kind of humid where you don/t feel the need to drink because breathing the air seems enough to stay hydrated. mid-day it/s unbearable. but it/s still early morning. i won/t need shade for a few more hours.

by now my route to the park is fairly routine. i round chongdao to chongde. pass the man with his pineapple stand. he says hello every time, but it/s the only word of english he knows. i smile. i walk past the empty market square with its abandoned stalls. it doesn/t open until afternoon, but the smells of yesterday hang rife in the heavy air. follow the street as it curves west. take my choice of lefts past various mom & pop shops & wander through residential taiwan. the doorways, the alleys, the colours, they all fascinate me. i meander. i dally. i mozy on through the streets of tainan.


[walking along chongde.]

[the pineapple stand man. well, one of them.]


[the market, open.]

[chandler & live chickens at the market.]

[these chickens are a little less live.]

[meat.]

the park is buzzing as usual. groups of tai chi practice, focused. walkers zip by. men sit on marble benches by the stream that winds lazy next to the pathways until reaching the lily ponds. i smile. everyone is so happy here. so connected. so alive. i can feel their joy pulsing through the air. i find a patch of grass that seems flat enough & lay out my mat. this is my time. my time to become one with taiwan. my time to observe. to listen. to breathe. my alone time.

[the park by the convention center.]

[these pictures were obviously not taken in the morning.]

[because usually it is buzzing with people.]

[the lily ponds.]

i finish with breathing & meditation. i miss home, but not enough to crave familiar land. i remind myself where i am. it still doesn/t feel real. but really it/s no different than the past few months. the line between dream & reality has somewhere been confused. i keep trying to think about staying grounded, but i/m so high up i can/t even see the earth below me. & then i remember it reality is as much an illusion as travel or fiction or love. maybe not so much illusion as concept. concept requiring interpretation. if i interpret my reality as dreamlike, who are they to try to alter that? i see beauty everywhere these days.

[after an intense, fulfilling yoga session.]

besides, i/m just a hopeless romantic. or so they say...


video
[my morning yoga routine in the park was interrupted this morning by songs sung by children in a nearby school. they were playing on loudspeakers that echoed throughout the entire park. it was beautiful but slightly haunting. check it out.]

Monday, June 25, 2007

little boxes

-you/re a hopeless romantic, aren/t you? he said.
i didn/t respond. i smiled wider & moved closer to the night sky.

little boxes. in the states, we put ourselves in these little boxes. whether categories or cliches or interest groups. we go to college to study, we try to fit square concepts into round holes, but we all come out the same. we box our clutter, our knicks & knacks, our identities & we move to the confines of four more walls.

i stepped onto a box this morning. an oblong box with oblong windows. i held her hand as the ground beneath us shook & we breathed in deeper with the realization that we all share the same sky.

we crossed the pacific, chasing the sun. watched him rise for three hours straight. i was scared the beauty would fade, that after staring so long i/d become colourblind to the bleeding of the horizon. but then i remembered. i/m a hopeless romantic & my love for an honest sunrise will never fade.

[the sunrise from the plane]


[valerie watching the sun rise]


[again, the sun rising.]

children. sometimes i envision my life, a giant oak standing majestically at the top of a rolling hill. each twisted branch a possibility. i can see a lot of lives of mine, but none of them are without the laughter of children. two boys, fascinated by tennis balls. i watch their eyes light up as she shows them the secret of what/s inside. just rocks & beads, but to them, it/s magic. they sit in the row behind us on the plane. the little one runs carefree throughout the cabin, giggling secrets to himself. he has only one sock. his older brother is missing teeth. they both smile with their eyes.


[val befriended some kids in the airport who were fascinated with the rock-and-bead-filled tennis balls we use for juggling. the were amused for hours.]

[the same kids were near us on the flight & came to entertain us a few times.]





we start our descent. the clouds are the cotton balls & marshmallows my mother described as i drifted off to sleep as a child.


i miss her touch. i can see the change on the cusp of the wing outside our window. i reach to touch it, to feel it mold me, melt me, transform me. but there/s steel & glass between us. i/ve put myself into yet another box & it/s hard to believe what i can make out through the scratched panes is real.

for some reason i thought it would feel different. more visceral. more real. we land with no problems. we snap hurried shots of the flight attendants in their emerald suits, their spring-tight buns, their pasted smiles.
[me with the flight attendants]

their kindness seems genuine but in this foreign air it/s hard not to confuse with formality. they teach us how to count to three. we repeat, broken whispers & then it/s gone. language is such a fickle thing.

it/s early here. not quite yet six when we file through yet another security check. what is this obsession with the illusion of safety? we remove our shoes, we risk dehydration, we follow each proposterous rule & regulation. is it really to keep us free? with our thirst for freedom are we not imprisoning ourselves? boxes. circles. trains. a bowl of smooth brown wood.


waiting. we sit & wait. to file like sheep into yet another oblong box.

[the first oblong box. seattle to taipei.]

to search for comfort within four more walls indistinguishable from the ones we attempted to escape back home. i/m not sure whether to laugh or cry. i think about how far away from everyone i love i am & i lean towards the latter. but everyone here around me seems so happy. is it just a formality? instead i sit, unsure & uneasy & wait with the others. still young. still unwhole. still imperfect & still ready to be changed. i close my eyes & breathe deep. the hopeless romantic in me finds peace. no matter the distance or the differences, i know that when our eyes close we are all the same.

[the world passport gang, seattle division, waiting in the airport in taipei for our connecting flight to kaohsiung.]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

it/s men like these

he calls himself shamrock.

he was a kennedy kid. started on the berlin wall, but ended up in 'nam. the sun has long since dropped behind the bay & his hood obscures his face. all that is visible is a long white beard. if there is a god among the shadows, i believe he shows himself through figures like this. worn & tattered. always there in the background, but no one cares enough to pay him any attention.

i can/t see his eyes but i can feel the burn of his regard. it/s too dark to tell, but i/m blushing.

the night started simple. a few friends. wine. a loaf of bread & a loaf of cheese. bellingham bay. a blanket. the closeness of the night sky & the comfort of intimate conversation. we hadn/t been there long when we saw him approach. he paused in front of our blanket, mumbled something about the grace of god & something to eat. his back to the ocean, his face was shadowed. by his silhouette we could see the hook that had replaced his left hand, the limp of his right leg, the hunch of his back from long years sleeping on the hard ground.

the wind stopped in that awkward moment, the hesitation & apprehension. should we respond? do we want to acknowledge him? should we give him some food? of course we will. of course we always do. just like being stopped at a red light next to a corner where a dirty old man holds a worn sign with a few simple words. we try so hard not to look, or at least not to meet his eyes. we/re willing to look just enough to see what his sign says. to see if his cause seems valid. if it/s too close of a call, we won/t do it. we won/t risk taking that glance because if your eyes meet his you/re doomed. you/re locked in. held responsible. you can/t pretend you didn/t see him, you can/t pretend you were so occupied with your own thoughts that you didn/t even notice his shame so near to your locked passenger door.

i wanted to talk to him, i wanted to listen. i needed to listen. to hear his stories. but there/s always that awkward hesitation.

we offered him some food. broke off some bread & cheese & wrapped it in a plastic grocery sack so he could enjoy it later. alone. we offered him a beer & a place on our blanket. he propped himself on top of his rolled up sleeping bag & you could hear his body sigh as it settled. he was ugly beautiful, so worn, so broken that it somehow made him more whole than the rest of us. what was perfectly clear was that this man had lived. i felt humbled in his presence. i wanted to listen.

by now he/s discussing the details of the situation in the early sixties. how vietnam had this plan to eradicate hunger in all of asia & most of africa. how they needed technology to do this. how the states offered financial support. offered the technology. offered help from young men like shamrock, to provide political & military stability. how the first post-independence years were years of peace. but then kennedy died. kennedy was killed & it all went to hell. johnson & nixon & ford. they were supposed to withdraw. but instead they sent more troops & imposed taxes. conflict arose. "jesus christ may forgive those sons of bitches, but i never will." you can hear the rage in his voice. you can hear that he can/t control it.

he tells us how he hasn/t slept a day in a bed since. how he hasn/t carried a piece of paper with his name on it since.
-it/s not worth it, he says. there/s no point.
-what is your name? someone asks.
-shamrock.
he smiles. we can/t see in the darkness, but we all imagine that it/s toothless. he/s already missing so much. he lost his hand in the war. his left hand. his right is crippled, the tendons permanently damaged from vietnamese bayonets. he lost toes to gangrene from cold nights in hiding in the jungles, from the cold & damp of the mekong as she winds lazy through the rice fields of the asian countryside.
-shamrock, he repeats. he smiles deeper. it/s irish.

he/s on his way to alaska. he started in massachusetts. in the valleys of the green mountains where fish don open cancer sores and rabbits are born with missing limbs. the pollution is too much, even in the mountains. he had to get out. he tells us about the earthquake. the big one that/s coming, and coming soon.
-alaska will split off from the mainland, he tells us. but don/t tell no one.

we give him the rest of the bread & cheese. wrap it up neatly & tuck it away.
-looks like you need it more than we do, someone says.
he laughs, deep in his chest, an honest laugh. from the gut.
-that/s for damn sure, he chuckles.

we pack up our blanket, put away the wine. check our cell phones for the time, make sure our car keys are handy. i hesitate. my heart is racing, but i have to know.
-do you believe in god? i manage.
there is a long pause. he recoils into himself. his voice softens, almost a whisper. he quotes james joyce. something about every part of the world, every place he/s been, every person he/s met, all somehow a part of him. he composes himself. draws his coat in tighter, wrapping himself in his own awkward arms. he starts to hum, to whine, to whimper. a lullaby his mother used to sing when he was young. he rocks back & forth, melodically.

we get up to leave. i can feel that something has shifted, something has changed within me, or has been awoken, aroused. i can/t tell what. i feel like i/ve been numb for so long & my limbs are just waking, the excited pins & needles that we both love & hate. i shake his crippled hand. his twisted fingers are unnaturally & unexpectedly warm in the frigid air. almost too warm. for a man from this world.
-it was an honor to meet you, he says.
i can feel his eyes burning into me & i know he/s being honest.
-likewise, i whisper. it/s all i can manage.




i am tempted by this man. by his stories. by the notion of his freedom. i want to travel the world like he has traveled this country. i want to explore, to play, to hitchhike every road & visit every village. but the temptation passes. because i know that he is no more free than i am. that while he may be free in spirit, he is trapped within the systems, the confines of reality within any political system. within the chains of modernity. within the constructs of his own withering body."my skeleton is exacting revenge."

i know that we all must choose to be free in our own way, & that his vagrancy is his own. i must find my own inner vagabond. i must embrace this wanderlust alone.