Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Last week recap

Last Friday the Aussie called us. Told us to drop everything and go to Xindian, or as our new friend Ravi calls it Ex-Indian. "there is music and food here!" So we went. Xindian (sheendian) is the last stop on one of the metro routes but it really didn't take long, maybe 3o minutes. Upon alighting the train I felt like I had traveled a great distance. There was none of the cement lego maze emblazoned with signs, none of the labyrinth streets folding in on themselves like intestines. There was a river and two bridges. Building spaced with room to breath. Along the river banks were cement promenades and shop stalls. An Asian Seine. There was a stage set up and what our Aussie friend had stumbled upon was the Migration Music Festival, which is a Worl Music festival. This year's theme was "South". The program included and Israeli band, who did one song in Hebrew, the other in French; Vietnamese group; a trio of Philipino girls, the lead reminded me of Ani Difranco, Ashley took offense to that. Let us just say they were a little folky. There was a man from Mali who played the guitar with the adroitness of a flamenco guitarist on the trapeze. For his first song he stepped off the stage and played among the crowd. His guitar was plugged into the speakers so it could be heard from far away but he left the microphone for sining into on the stage. This necessitated that you move in closer to him if you wanted to hear his voice. All of us who were sitting on the river bank swinging our legs got up to get near him. Ashley was front and center. He was very talented. Then came the headliners. A band called L'Occitan I think. They are French and sing in dying or extinct French dialects like the Troubadours. The only instruments these 5 men had were their voices, a tambourine and some hand held drum. The drums were of different sizes. They were shaped like tambourines, round and shallow, held in one hand and hit with the other. One was two feet in diameter, the other one foot diameter. Their Mediterranean rhythm had everyone clapping and stomping and dancing. All of the performers did two songs, but the final band had an encore. We did not stay for it, but walked back to the train along the river as the music trailed off.
We had an appointment with Wei-Wei and Cool Jeff, two new Taiwanese friends. We met Wei-wei through Adam and Cool Jeff at KTV during Wei-wei's birthday celebration. Adam is back in the states. We tried to go back to that place Chou-chan(playground). We walked up the stairs and inside were 4 empty tables. there are maybe only 7 tables in the place. The man in charge, I can't call him a maitre'd because it's a bar, but he told us all of the seats were reserved. I looked over at another booth and it was crowded with 6 foreign looking chaps so I think maybe they exceeded their Weigoren (foreigner) quota for the night, but that is not a nice thought to have. We went to another place and met a Taiwanese guy who got his English name "Jesse" from Jesse James. When he was young and visiting family in the States, his cousins could not say his Chinese name. They were watching a movie about Jessie James at the time. I liked him. He studies political science and German. There was a German with him who was studying political science as well. At one point in time Ashley was left alone at the table with the German, Jesse and Cool Jeff and did some informal ethnographic research which is very interesting about their views on western women. Anyone wishing to know the results of this informal study should contact her directly.
The rain began on our walk home.
It rained all day Saturday. It rained all day Sunday. In between the rain was a little earthquake. Saturday we met up with Irene.
She is a wonderful woman. She is so much fun and has such a beautiful spirit. We called her because we were considering going to a film that was out that day that all of us wanted to see, "Visage" or "Lien" or "Face". It is a film that was commissioned by the Louvre museum from a Taiwanese director, Ming Tsai ...and it was used to open the permanent contemporary art collections there. We called Irene, she said she was interested but she called back an hour later with a better plan. It was the moon festival. She generously offered to take us to a performance of some traditional Taiwanese puppetry and excerpts of Journey to the West performed in Peking Opera style and other celebratory manifestations of the Mid-Autumn festival. We accepted the invitation. We didn't really know what to expect. I had assumed it was a public affair and so didn't fret too much about what we were wearing. It was pretty posh. It was a very well run even. It was event that definitely catered to well offs but not only mandarin speakers, but English and Japanese speakers as well.
I learned so much about choreography watching the opera. The show of athletics, multiple twirling, back flips etc...were admirable, I couldn't do them, but what really enthralled me were the fight scenes, and the battles, and seductions. The body language and the stage placement and the symbolism of the movement was so different than any western ballet. I quite like it. I like the sound of the music and the voices too, though this show was definitely tailored to minimize the music and maximize the twirling bodies. The music was very fine I think. At the intermission we were offered cotton candy and wheel cakes (light sweet cakes filled with cream or redbean paste) and sweet milk tea with boba. After the show we were very hungry and feeling a little tweaked from the sugar. It was getting late, it was after 10. Irene suggested we go to a night market. She walked with us to one nearby. As we walked we could smell charcoal everywhere. People were pulling out their habachi and lining up their sausages and cuttlefish.
I was mad with the idea of barbecue by the time we got to the night market.
Many food carts specialize in one thing or the other, dumplings, buns, stinky tofu etc.. but there are also food carts at every night market and most streets that were a mystery to me. These have food of all sorts sitting in them. They have baskets along side. A customer is to take a basket and load it up with the par-cooked or raw items that are offered. Then the proprietor takes these and cooks them up. The ingredients are pretty much the same at each of these stalls but the method of cooking is different for each. One will dump your basket into a boiling seasoned broth to cook it,then put it in a plastic bag for you to take home. Another will dump it all into a vat of hot oil and fry it all, then put it in a bag for you. Another will grill it all up, then put it in a plastic bag for you. Irene being the great host identified a lot of the foods at the cart, Chicken intestine, duck heart, chicken heart, little sausages (like vienna sausage), white sausages stuffed with rice, glutinous fish cakes, fish balls, squid, chicken testes, duck neck, congealed blood, pork intestines, bok choi. I took a basket from the stall that grills things. In it I placed a skewer of thinly sliced beef wrapped around a bundle of enoki mushrooms. I placed a skewer of bacon wrapped around a bundle of green onions. I grabbed a bundle of green beans, A skewer of button mushrooms, a glutinous fishcake, and a long sausage that was sweet and savory. The line was long and we waited an hour before ours were prepared but it was a royal feast. To stem the hunger we ate some noodles and some fried rice. We'd gotten a box of mooncakes filled with pineapple to give to Irene. For desert we all ate one. They may not have been of the best quality but she was very polite and said they were fine.
Sunday we didn't move much but great decisions were being made. Megan has decided to go home when November comes. She is off tomorrow to explore the rest of the island.
Today the three of us went to Beitou. It is a section of Taipei not very far from where we are staying, maybe 20 minutes on the MRT. It is a place where we could access one of the many public hotsprings. It was gorgeous. It is nestled into the mountains, it was a quiet place by Taipei standards. They sky was overcast and the mountains were black and veiled in mist and a stream ran down the center of the down filled with cloudy sulfered water. We were too late to enter the hotsprings and still make our dinner appointment with Dennis so we wet our feet in the warm water of the stream and then paid a visit to the Beitou Public library. The library has earned a Diamond award for being a green building. Almost no carbon footprint. I don't know what it was made of but it smelled of cedar wood and it was shaped like a resort lodge in Maine. It was lined with tinted windows and on the second floor you could sit on the deck that wrapped around it and read your book glancing up once in a while to inspect the lilly pond underneath, or the hot springs, or the mountains. Ashley was approached by a man in the library. He asked her if she liked Beitou. She said she did very much. Then he offered her a job teaching english at a cram school in town! She's going to call him tomorrow.
Through our Aussie friend we met a Taiwanese guy named Dennis. He promised to take us to the best, cheapest beef noodles in town. We met him in Shilin(where the huge night market we went to in our first week is located). We walked for some time through the streets that wind around and in on each other and reached the place. They were very good. Large chunks of beef with gelatinous veins running through, stewed in a Chinese 5 spice broth for a very long time. We walked back to the train through the night market. In total, we were 6. Ashley and Myself, Megan, Zach the Aussi, Laura the Argentine, and Dennis. The market was bustling but not as it had been that first night. We walked two by two switching up conversation partners every so often. As we neared the mouth of the market, where the streets opened up and we could attempt standing still with out being trampled I was paired up with Dennis, he was helping me with some chinese. I looked back and I could make out Zach and Megan coming through the crowd. The four of us stood looking at the mass of people trying to make out Ashley's familiar form. Nothing. "I bet they're shopping" said Zach. "Who has the cell phone?" I asked Megan. Well, we had it, so it was no use trying to call Ashley on it. "Let's go back in". We went back in, not knowing where we lost them, or which tiny alley way to venture into to find them. Hopeless we walked back to the train and waited. Still no Ashley. Maybe she went back to the hostel.
I got back to the hostel, up the elevator, into my room to put my bag down and grab my computer and then ashley comes in. We just missed her. She must have been on the very next train.
If this taught me anything it is that I have to always look back when traveling in a group. It is no fun loosing people. Megan ain't gotta worry about that much longer. She's off to the south tomorrow. She's accepted the mantle of the tourist and will wear it well. Ashley can't go with her because it is a long trip and she has to work.
I can't go with her because I may have gotten a job.
The Hess organization sent me an email offering me a position. I sent them an email accepting it. The first volley in the badmiton game called job search has been completed successfully.

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