Monday, March 22, 2010

Middle, bottom, top, middle...

[HT to the last verse of this Roots jam for this post's title.]

I live in central Taiwan. Have for nearly the last seven years. Last weekend I went to Kenting, which is in the far south of Taiwan and this weekend (yesterday only, in fact) I went to Taipei, the capital, in northern Taiwan. I'll be in Taipei again this Tuesday for some teacher training and then again, God willing, two weekends from now for a little meeting and maybe some free Japanese tutoring. Even aside from these social and semi-social excursions south and north, I'm a bit of a pinball these days, as I teach at three schools in both Taichung and Changhua (about 15km south of Taichung). As I wrote last week, my visit to Kenting was wonderful, even though, perhaps as a result of the trip, I had a hoarse voice and nagging fatigue last week. My visit to Taipei was just as invigorating, albeit in different ways, and I seem to be mostly over my hoarse throat and am feeling more energy again.

I tutor on Saturday mornings, so I can only make it to Taipei in the late afternoon or early evening, and then I'd have to also pay for a room Saturday night. I find it better, by and large, just to take the high-speed rail (HSR) early on Sunday (the 6:30AM train is 35% off!), go to Mass at Holy Family in Guting, then see whom I need to see and ride a late HSR back and (the worst part of all) drive my scooter all the way back to Beitun from Wuri. It's definitely a "full" day, believe me, but I'm a busy guy and I figure covering so much distance (social and geographical!) in one day is worth the effort sometimes.

So, yesterday morning I took the 6:30 HSR and got to the Main Station at 7:30, whereupon I took the MRT (ahh, how I love the MRT!) to Guting and had a nice fifteen-minute walk to Holy Family. It was much cooler and windier in Taipei than in Taichung and it turns out yesterday morning was the national postal service recruitment exam, so dozens of people were cramming, poring over obscure sheets of data and multiple-choice questions on the HSR and MRT. Vendors were selling snacks, pens, rulers, pencils, etc. outside NTNU (National Taiwan Normal University), and I assume there were other testing areas throughout Taipei. Despite the wind, trash seemed to be frozen in place, like leftover props from the previous night, or as if the trash hadn't yet woken up. A sandstorm clogged much of the air yesterday, another meteorological gift from northern China. I went to confession at Holy Family--with an 81-year-old very jocular and pastoral priest from mainland China--and the Mass was "dead on" as far as my soul and the readings went. I prayed the Rosary, finishing just as the next Mass began. I then made my way by foot to the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station and rode a couple stops to Andong St., whereupon I walked to Bade Rd. in search of Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles. I was scheduled to meet good ol' Mr. Liu, "my Taipei friend," whom I hadn't seen for many months. Indeed, I had not been in Taipei since August 23 last year, just shy of my first brother's birthday. Fateful day? Methinks aye.

Since I got to Lin Dong Fang much earlier than I had expected, I had an hour to kill while Mr. Liu made his way there for lunch, so I strolled to a Dante Coffee shop to do some lesson planning and maybe even reading. I ordered a blueberry-apple vinegar drink and a small tuna burger. Seated next to me was an older, business-man-looking man reading a Japanese magazine. We kept sort of glancing towards each other, he curious about my English books, I curious about his Japanese articles. As I mentioned, I have begun learning Japanese and I had finished lesson 15 of Pimsleur's Essential Japanese I on the way from Holy Family to Ba De Rd. The man noticed I watched certain stories on the news more intently than others, so he asked me in Mandarin, "Do you understand?" I answered, "Yes. Do you speak Japanese?" He said he did and then we had a nice conversation. He was from Taipei but, until about 15 months ago, had not been in Taiwan for over twenty years. Sometime after college he went to Arizona for graduate school and then lived and worked in Silicon Valley as a software engineer for over twenty years. He had also been doing business in Japan every few weeks for the past five or six years. His girlfriend is Japanese, and a teacher of nearly seven years at Global Village in Taipei. He taught me some Japanese, mostly tweaking my pronunciation on small points, and warning me that Japanese always has "new phrases," even after years and years of study. Certainly not a little depressing, but he congratulated me both for having an ear sensitive to pitch and accent and for being able to read and write hiragana and katakana. We exchanged "biodata" and are looking to meet again in a couple weeks. (That's where--when I meet him and his girlfriend--the possible free Japanese lesson comes in!)

Enough time had passed so I made my way back to Lin Dong Fang, bought some flash cards on the way, and waited for Mr. Liu outside a Lin Dong Fang that did not open that day. So Mr. Liu rode me on his scooter in search of other grub. Finally we settled on Han Ji Noodles, a new place that had replaced a Lao Dong Beef Noodle shop he recalled was there before. (Suffice to say that I and Lao Dong have a long and humorously frustrating history...!) We enjoyed some clear broth beef noodles and caught up after nearly a year apart. The usual: Taiwan, China, history, occasional politics, cultural developments, etc. Then he drove me to the Xinyi area and we chatted more. We swapped English and Chinese notes and caught up yet more on other fronts. I was supposed to see a movie with some friends later at the Xinyi Vieshow theater, so we had a couple hours to kill. We walked--or leaned, against some gusts of wind--to Taipei 101 and I went to the Page One bookstore, an old haunt I hadn't visited in probably two years. I found some very appealing Japanese materials, about the fate of which I shall say nothing, and then we headed back to Vieshow. He walked on to drive home and I did yet more waiting--reading and doing some light gong fu, this time, amidst the shopping clatter--until my friends arrived. We had some snacks and made small talk and then got into the theater. The film was Nodame Cantabile, the penultimate "episode" in a popular Japanese mange-made-TV-series. I fell in love with Nodame Cantabile, despite myself, two or three years ago when a dear friend introduced it to me. Nodame Cantabile is about idiosyncratic music students and teachers in Japan. The main plot arc is actually about the tortuous growth of love between the tender, quirky Megumi Noda, or "Nodame," and the brilliant, fiery Shinichi Chiaki. (Secret confession: I tend to associate very strongly with Shinichi. Someone else I once knew reminds me all too much of Nodame haha.) The show is appealing on many levels: it is weird and humane and deceptively touching, peppered with arch slapstick comedy, and bursting with great music. The movie did not disappoint (even though I watched it in Japanese with Chinese subtitles, which wasn't so bad, I guess, since that's how I had watched the TV series!), and, truth be told, it moved me powerfully, even to tears. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and personal memories (from childhood, from Taiwan, etc.) will do that to a sentimental wolverine like me. Grin, shurg.

After the movie, I took the MRT back to the Main Station and caught the 10:30PM HSR to Wuri. The ride home, all the way up Huanzhong Rd., felt annoyingly and bizarrely long and was actually pretty chilly by the time I reached home. But home I did reach. And I slept, in my nicely cleaned room (thanks to a cleaning frenzy the day before). Thanks for reading this far. Stay tuned for more actio-adventures!

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