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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


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


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.
-no way.
-no way, he continued.
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.