Archive for July, 2005

Saturday July 30, 2005

July 30, 2005 - 11:07 am 3 Comments

[Friday, July 29th 2005]

Work exhausted me today. After finishing my presentation on customer segmentation strategies, I decided to create more work for myself by demanding another topic and creating a 60-slide PowerPoint on operational CRM strategies for multi-channel management. Entering that state of complete concentration, I channeled all my energy into my work, discovering in the process that seven hours had passed unwittingly. On my dark days, I just desperately hope my life won’t be the same way – a mere catatonic dream that inevitably ends too quickly.

Everyone at work has been very impressed with my work speed, enthusiasm, and ability to pick up new skills. I’ve been told at least jokingly five times that they are so glad that I am an intern because if I were an actual employee, I would create more pressure in the department to turn-over results a lot faster. Partially because I treat everyday as an opportunity to develop new skills, my attitude to work is different – to me, it’s a creative channel, to them, it’s a forced way to subsist in a capitalist, materialist world.

At 4.00 PM, I met with Grace, my mentor, and Stacy, Grace’s project team head, to go over my presentation before the department-wide meeting next Thursday. In addition, I had a sneaking suspicion that they wanted to triple-check that their intern would not pull a “Sean” (not that I would ever).  While Grace is easy-going, Stacey is not. She asks a lot of really obvious questions in a somewhat belligerent manner, not really bothering to listen, occasionally shooting sideway glances that speak volumes. Only ten minutes later does she discover for herself that what I’ve been saying repetitively is true. Nevertheless, I tolerate her attitude because she generally has a few diamond-in-the-ruff insights that really help. (I’ve noticed that as a general principle, the team project heads are a lot more aggressive and demanding than normal employees. Is this just an isolated example or is it an industry-wide trend?)

The meeting with Grace and Stacey, though taxing, invigorated me, reminding why I really like this internship. I felt like an equal, though I differ by years of professional experience and two college degrees. The meeting lasted for nearly two hours – by the time I was done, I almost missed the company bus.

Then, for the first time in a long time, my Friday night felt like a Friday night rather than a mad erhu-scrambling session.

At the Nan-Jing East Road Station (Brown Line), I met up with Cousin Tony, Cousin Eric, Jason (the son of one of my mother’s friends), and Oliver. Since this was Oliver’s last day in Taipei and he wanted to experience the famous, uniquely Asian flavor of KTV, we all tried to fulfill that wish, simultaneously a pre-birthday wish.

[Insert note: Meeting Oliver has compelled me to resume studying the violin after a year-long hiatus. He’s really amazing – made me realize how much I missed playing. It seemed that in high school, I always worked around auditions, instead of auditions working around my interest in the violin. As Lauren may recall, even though I ended up in the American Youth Philharmonic, I knew I couldn’t match up to the others. (Similar story with the Apple Hill Chamber Music Festival experience.) Although it was good for me in the sense that I was able to play with highly sophisticated groups, it would have been better if I felt like an equal. But next year, I’m going to get private lessons and keep to the newfound discipline I’ve discovered with the erhu.

And gosh, if I can do two monotonous hours of practicing open strings then I know I can do at least thirty minutes on an interesting piece. End Note]

Returning to the main narrative…

Tony takes the role of the navigator and directs us to Hooters. Not only is this the first time that I’ve ever been to such an establishment, but the fact that I went to this archetypically American place in Taiwan made me feel somewhat odd. Instead of generally voluptuous women serving [Dad: Think Carrie from the Schrader days of ice hockey], stick-thin Asian women took orders, proudly displaying the motto “Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined”. The food was expensive and not really that good, but I suppose my four male companions found that the fringe benefits raised their overall utility to a point that balanced the price. (I figure, the price elasticity of demand is quite low.)

Afterwards, we walked around, trying to locate a KTV venue that had an open room, not an easy feat on a busy Friday evening with no foresight to call ahead. We ended up in Ximen Ding, a popular youth hang-out, and at this really fancy looking KTV place, complete with marble décor and a considerable chandelier. [Gosh, this is very different from my expectations of KTV…]

The lady who directed us to one of the few available rooms spoke to me in English, and then burst out in Spanish, to which I promptly replied in Spanish. But gosh, can someone please explain to me why she chose to start speaking Spanish to me in the first place?

Evidently, a fancy buffet-style was available for purchase along with a bunch of amenities to a point at which, I saw KTV as a conglomerate entertainment service rather than karaoke. Ah…the economic merits of product bundling!   

We got this sizeable room and a complicated looking ordering machine. If you picked a popular song, then the music video plays with the song, which I found really cool. Oliver was amazing at singing (I swear, everything music related…), Eric was quite good, and Tony and Jason had to be commended for their enthusiasm! As a general principle, I avoid singing as much as possible because I find it too excruciating for my own ears, let alone the ears of others. Oh well, maybe one day, I’ll find a way to not take myself so seriously all the time. I think it’s one of the life’s lessons that still elude me, despite my conscious knowledge of its existence. In simpler terms, I know what I ought to do, but doing it is just so hard, even though on appearance, it should be easy!

At 10:40 PM, we disbanded. (I think Cousin Tony and Cousin Eric were somewhat eager to get away from me. Jason was disappointed he didn’t see my mom too…there’ll be other opportunities in the future, though.) In addition, I don’t understand why Tony, Eric, and Jason exchange odd looks whenever I mention the National Palace Museum. If I lived in Taipei, I would always want to go there!

Is there a negative stigma attached to liking museums?  If so, what has the world become?

Saturday July 30, 2005

July 30, 2005 - 8:11 am No Comments

[Sunday, July 24, 2005]

My chronological grouping this week has been severely faulty; time did not seem to move linearly. Since so much has happened this week, I’m going to try and keep an immaculate record.

I woke up early after a sleepless night filled with the deafening snores of my dearest mother, who once awake, vehemently denied that she would ever demonstrate such a habit. After practicing some erhu, my mother and I decided to take a stroll around the Shi-lin MRT station.

We ate a delicious restaurant serving northern China specialties, such as steamed dumplings and scallion-beef pancakes. Afterwards, we went shopping, something that I had avoided all the time here in Taiwan, but figured, would be an innocuous way to kill off some time before my afternoon plans.

Around 2.30 pm, I went to the Jiantan MRT station to meet Oliver to go to the Taipei National History Museum, supposedly one of the largest in Taiwan, though paling in comparison to the National Palace Museum. A large botanical garden graced the adjacent area to the museum, teeming with plants famous in Chinese literature and history. In fact, the botanical garden was organized on literary significance. From lotus flowers to Taiwanese palm trees, I enjoyed wandering the garden, and perhaps for the first time, taking pictures of the picturesque surroundings. (It’s quite odd – owning a camera has changed my mindset on taking pictures. Before, I vindictively abhorred taking pictures, but now, my mind subconsciously searches for perfect picture angles and my index finger always itches to press a button…)

Afterwards, we went inside the museum. My mom was right in the sense that the artifacts on display were not as delicate or complicated as the one in the National Palace Museum. Nevertheless, I find a different historic value in more prosaic objects – a glimpse into the life of the middle to upper class. Whenever I visit the National Palace Museum, I always experience the temptation to declare, “Wow, ancient Chinese artisans must have been so sophisticated. What we own nowadays cannot compare.” Afterwards, I force myself to remember that the most admirable objects did not belong to the common man, instead, to the richest social class, giving us a distorted view on ancient life and art.

After browsing the museum’s three floors, I decided that the following exhibits were the most memorable:

  1. Tang Dynasty Tri-Color Pottery – Modern artisans have failed to completely replicate the sophisticated chemical composition and firing process. The renowned tri-color figures of war generals and protective beasts, generally reserved for funeral ornaments, captured my attention with their expressiveness of form and figure. In addition, I saw dramatic figures of Tang dynasty Polo players and horses, a sport diffused from Persia. To me, it’s enlightening to realize that although Polo is often associated with old English aristocratic society, the origins lie in the Middle East.
  1. Feature Exhibit on Cranes – Evidently, a former Taiwanese elementary school teacher, after suffering a work-related accident, quit his job and began pursuing his passion – the study of cranes around the world. (I was surprised to discover that there are only 15 crane species existent.) In this expansive exhibit, Oliver and I had a difficult time distinguishing the crane paintings from the crane photographs. From arctic cranes to the famous whooping crane, the artist/photographer/biologist used his precise skills in watercolor to recreate scenes and textures more real, if possible, than reality. Throughout the exhibit, I kept thinking back to the notion of simulacra, a fascinating philosophical concept. In a sense, his painting is an exact replica of a photograph, which attempts to reproduce a moment in time, but somehow, the tertiary copy ends up being more real than the original truth.

Afterwards, we went to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial and National Theatre / Concert Halls, an obligatory tourist attraction. Oddly enough, the day before, a comparable event to the X-Games were held in front of the Memorial Hall, in which mountains of artificial snow managed to survive the blistering heat of Taipei long enough to support the raucous activities of international thrill-seekers. (Oh…I’m certainly indulging in palaverous detail this entry…)

Inside the memorial, we saw an exhibit on the sand creations of Vajrayana Buddhist monks, exquisite in design, built only to be destroyed, exemplifying the nature of the cycle of rebirth and death. In the center, there was an elaborate shrine with a picture of a Tibetan monk who was not immediately recognizable to me. I’m quite glad that I didn’t cave into the temptation to ask because it was in fact the Dalai Lama, and being unable to recognize such an iconic figure, especially when sandwiched in a crowd of pious Buddhist practioners, would constitute a grave embarrassment. ([insert funny look]“It’s the Dalai Lama [omitted word: stupid].”)

The next day, I immediately searched for references on Buddhism to recapture my lost knowledge and to compensate for my lapse in memory. As a universal and non-exclusive religion, it’s one the most significant in the world, with three different schools and critical pedagogies. Considering that I once set a goal of acquainting myself with all the major belief systems (secular and non-secular) in the world, I re-memorized the 8-fold path, the 4 noble truths, and the 5 precepts. When I see Uncle George the next weekend, I will test him. =)  (Ah…an example of my mild tendency towards sadism.)

I browsed through a book written by the Dalai Lama on “Preparing for Death”. Unfortunately, it didn’t make me feel any more enlightened after reading a chapter of it! Reoccurring advice written in florid prose: Calm yourself.

After wandering the adjacent gardens, we went back to my place of residence. The day ended meaningfully and enjoyably with substantive discussions conducted in my native language. Oh, how I miss that! The people here are generally very nice, but coated with a veneer of commercialism, superficiality, and socially-imposed norms. To speak honestly about a variety of subjects without consideration of these immutable “rules of polite interaction” was very refreshing – a great way to begin a new week.

Thursday July 28, 2005

July 28, 2005 - 1:13 am 4 Comments

[Wednesday]

Thursday’s account is below this entry. My chronological grouping has been faulty.

 

I put the finishing touches on my segmentation presentation and underwent training with BU II, in charge of the cash card (non-existent in the US), home equity line of credit, various form of unsecured loans, and auto loans. Since Sean didn’t show up today, I was the only attendee. Leo, the presenter, shared a lot of fascinating insights, the most odd, I have listed below:

 

The government has forbidden banks to issue credit cards to college students. The reason being, students often accumulate up to 10 credit cards and spend up to $30,000US cumulatively, not knowing how to control themselves. Since familial relationships are a lot closer here than in the US, upset mothers and fathers bail out their sons and daughters. The interesting thing is…instead of parents speaking privately with their children about the importance of money management, they went to the government and complained about the evil capitalist bank exploiting their children. As a result, laws were passed.

 

After leaving work, I met up my mother and grandfather. We went to a more up-scale restaurant that served Beijing delicacies.

 

For the sake of Lauren and my dearest father who is left alone with nothing but his solitude and his salad, I will list out the foods that we consumed:

 

1.          Pot-stickers – Crisp on the bottom and filled with juicy pork, pot-stickers have been part of my staple diet even before I came to Taiwan. These pot-stickers looked somewhat similar to pigs in a blanket.

 

2.          Xiao2 mi3 xi1 fan4 – All right, so I really don’t like variations of gruel, even if instead of the customary rice, a rich yellow millet is used.

 

3.          Beef steamed dumplings – Fresh and juicy, the dumplings contained little pockets of flavorful meat broth inside.

 

4.          Beef Roll – A thin flour pancake is rolled with thinly sliced beef and large amounts of fresh scallion, topped with a dark sesame-oil based sauce. This is one of my favorite northern China specialties, especially since it is rarely made in the United States.

 

5.          Chinese “Hamburger” – A thin flour pancake encapsulates a succulent beef patty, trapping the juices inside as the outside is lightly basted with oil and fried. My mother, father, and grandfather have an affinity for this delicacy.

 

Afterwards, my mother and I went swimming. As much as I hated the pain of going through at least 4 years of swimming lessons, I figure it’s finally of use now. Ironically, my mother, the most vehement advocate of my swimming career, cannot swim anything else other than backstroke. I helped her swim for a bit, reveling in the sadistic power that my swim coaches inflicted upon me in the tender years of my innocent youth… (Somehow, my mother manages to go towards the direction of her feet when she does her backstroke. Can someone tell me how this is possible?)

 

I love my mother and want to make up for all the time we did not spend together this summer and this past year.

 

Thursday July 28, 2005

July 28, 2005 - 12:22 am No Comments

These past few days have been a whirlwind of activity and new discoveries – chances to get reacquainted with family and to gain a deeper appreciation of my summer. In many ways, living completely independently has changed my attitude; limitations I found binding no longer exist and I’m able to keep a more positive attitude, knowing that I am able to determine my own course of action. Although this condition can be compared to my first year at college, the fact that I was always surrounded by my equal-aged peers (some displaying the flamboyant side of freedom gone wrong), continually subject to the governing laws of test cycles, and as a general principle, too dependent still on the constants in my life, the major changes that I ought to have seen were masked.

 

Here in the professional world, dealing pragmatically with the issues of networking, presentation skills, and relationship building in general, I’ve forced myself to extend further – to analyze my actions strategically, rather than from a self-focused standpoint. Everyone at Taishin is kind to me, making the process a lot easier. When I do leave, I feel that I will miss some of my co-workers, though they generally best me in age by at least twelve years – too young to be compared to my parents and professors, but too old to be truly my peer.  

 

Unlike my other conglomerate entries, I’m going to start with the most recent day and move backwards:

 

[Thursday] A Tribute to Sean

 

Today was Sean’s official last day. Since Monday, Sean had stopped coming to the office, referencing the importance of “spending the last remaining weeks with his family”. In private, my co-workers scoffed at his half-hearted attempt at sincerity, too knowledgeable of his play-boy ways that compelled him to end his days drunk in a bar at 3.30 AM with a group of his raucous friends. Of course, the pseudo middle-aged males in our office envy Sean and his lifestyle, launching into a golden reminiscence of their “youthful indulgences”, eyes misting over into an unflattering gray.

 

[I must admit, the fruits of my labor on my writing style-development project (http://www.xanga.com/capturinginfinity) have blurred into my xanga daily entries. For those who are unfamiliar with the above link, please visit and leave a critical comment. We are always looking for more feedback. It’s not my style to ask explicitly for a comment, but I feel that for this project, feedback is essential.]

 

Sean had wanted to avoid giving a presentation in front of the department, but the department head and his mentor basically gave him an ultimatum. For the past few weeks, he’s been tracking fantasy sports more than his assigned topic on credit card fraud, and as a result, he was unprepared. Thus, for the presentation today, he adjusted the topic, which became…[insert drum roll]…Sean Cheng’s Internship Experience. This adjustment, most unfortunately, was foreign to both his mentor and the department head. As expected, there was a series of uncomfortable, terse questions at the start of Sean’s presentation, but nothing can deter Sean.

 

[Note: I’ve already done 2 thirty-minute presentations in front of the department, which consists of approximately fifty people.]

 

Sean may look like a dangerous, smooth-talking guy, but as soon as he opens his mouth, the image dissipates. He speaks very slowly in a low monotone that qualifies more as a drone than a voice. Since he’s uncomfortable with presentations (though somehow perfectly able to sing hours of karaoke at a time, generally in a drunken stupor), Sean writes out his speech word for word, and reads the paper, avoiding eye contact as much possible. When other people give presentations during our training sessions, he usually is found asleep.

 

I felt kind of bad for him because the department head, trying to “save face” for Sean, asked his mentor what Sean has done or learned. The uncomfortable silence spoke volumes. I considered briefly filling in some things that we mutually did together, but Sean didn’t seem distressed, so I figured, I might as well let him be.

 

The thing is, I doubt Sean really needed to read off statements like the following: “I really like the internship. Thank you all.” He’s a nice guy, pleasant for the most part, so when he leaves, I’ll kind of miss having a person my age always around. (The fact that he smokes a lot and that I’m really sensitive to the stench of tobacco shall go unnoticed.)

 

I write about this issue because perception, especially in the corporate world, is very important. Once the department has pegged an individual’s personality, it becomes difficult, if not impossible to change. First impressions and keeping up an “image” becomes essential. As I was contemplating this notion, I happened to be filling my water bottle. Too deep in my thoughts, I left a really large puddle.

Monday July 25, 2005

July 25, 2005 - 1:35 am 3 Comments

Sometimes I feel like a chess piece in a never-ending family struggle.

 

As my grandmother ages, I keep thinking back to a time in which she young, full of vitality and optimism for the future. I remember my grandmother’s quick stride, her lovable quirky nature, her speedy speech that puts a debate spreader at shame, and fiery wit. I remember my grandmother’s presence at my aunt’s wedding, the impossibly delicious meals she cooked with very plain ingredients, and her unwavering adoration of my mom and her family. I remember comparing my grandmother to the Monkey King, playing in a children’s park with her, and holding her hand as we walked down market streets. I remember my grandmother telling me scary ghost stories that kept up for the entire night, watching a traditional Chinese opera with her, and asking her for her childhood memories. I remember going to her office, where she was treated with utmost veneration and admiration by her colleagues for her kindness and her sharp intellect. I remember her showing me the sticky paper traps that she built to catch large cockroaches, which I found horrifyingly enticing.

 

I remember always wanting to spend another day with my grandmother. I remember always asking my mother for more stories on grandmother and her childhood.

 

For as long as I can remember, she has always been the most important extended relative to me – the reason why I look forward to coming to Taiwan – and now, it pains me to watch her unravel. No longer do I see the brilliant, powerful woman, famous for her social dexterity and indomitable grace. No longer can I look forward to her energy that surpassed mine when I was young.

 

I see an old, shriveled woman who is suffering persistent health problems and doesn’t know where to look forward to in her life anymore. She tells me every few minutes, “I’m old now. I can’t do that.” I smile for her with all the reassurance I can muster, reciting, “For the young at heart, the superficial appearance of age is imperceptible and secondary.” (Of course, my Chinese is not quite as flowery)

 

Her face and heart to me is still the same – the limitless love and willingness to do anything for her granddaughter – but she is visibly struggling with no one sufficient to support her. I see a woman who is always surrounded by people, but is very alone. From my own past experience, I can relate very well. My grandmother needs a refreshing spirit in her life – someone who can awaken her, carrying her out of her self-made hell hole on a blazing chariot.

 

Perhaps it’s terrible to say, but I miss my old grandmother from my memory, the one that will forever remain galvanized as my role model and pride.

 

Whenever my mom argues with my grandmother, I feel very sad because I know both headstrong women want the best for each other, but can never find the common language to vocalize their desires in a way that the other can understand and accept.

 

My mom, the eldest daughter, is the apple of my grandmother’s eye – the beautiful, intelligent daughter who everyone idolized and praised. My mother fulfilled a role in my grandmother’s heart that my Aunt Grace could never even attempt. To my grandmother, my mother is the living embodiment of her laborious love to raise a family amidst a turbulent era of communist scares. My mother represents the future and reprieve she found in Taiwan after her escape from China, after losing every single thing dear to her.

 

Yet, in the same way that I find my grandmother now to be a shadow of the formidable woman in my memory, my grandmother finds my mom a disappointment – a stark contrast to the child she remembers.

 

Through my dad and her experience in “growing up” a second time with my sister and me, my mom has changed a great deal, discovering the limitations of her former mindset – the mindset that is common Taiwan, focused on self-abnegation, social manipulation, conformity, and the inescapable concept of “saving face”. My mother desperately wants to save my grandmother – to be the one driving the chariot and stimulating the awakening of my grandmother – but neither can communicate.

 

For this reason, I have become a trump card – my mother’s last defense. My words and secret thoughts have been used as a weapon to provoke my grandmother. Likewise, my interests have been twisted by my grandmother to retaliate to my mother. I am a weapon.

 

Self-righteousness. I loathe this word, yet on all sides of the conflict, this attitude prevails. From behind, my father fuels the conflict with biting barbs and caustic quips that I often find inappropriate, given that he is excessively critical of my mom’s family and too protective of his own. In fact, he refuses to tolerate my weak complaints on the Meng side of the family.  

 

The road to hell is littered with the skulls of those with good intentions.

 

Never have I found this to be truer.

Saturday July 23, 2005

July 23, 2005 - 11:09 am 2 Comments

I’ve neglected posting in my journal this entire week because my new project (www.xanga.com/capturinginfinity) has been a most persistent distraction. In addition, I finally got a digital camera (Olympus 5 megapixels, 12x zoom, and tons of really awesome features!). I expect that in the next few entries, I’ll trend towards photo essays. (If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I figure, I don’t need to work as hard in writing my entries.)

Work this week has been generally tame – they ran out of projects for me to complete so I was told to “do whatever I want”. As a result, I spent hours on Wikipedia, the New York Times, and various political blogs (I’m thinking of starting one of my own, considering I generally have an opinion on everything). Unfortunately, it seemed that nearly half of the sites that I intended to visit were screened out my Taishin’s filters. What a shame…

Nevertheless, I finished a major translation project that cost me sweat, blood, and tears as I forced my non-existent business Chinese reading skills to surface. In addition, I made refinements on my assigned campaign analysis, designed to test my SQL skills, and underwent training with Business Unit III, in charge of auto, house, and personal loans.

[Note: Taishin, already the second largest credit-card issuer in Taiwan, has recently acquired one of the principal government-owned banks. Overnight, the total number of branches and size of Taishin has more than doubled. Moreover, the department I’m working with will be undergoing a broad reorganization on August 15, two days after I leave. In fact, the department will cease to exist.]

Thursday, however, brought a magnificent change. Finally, my mother came to join me in Taiwan! Oh, how long I have waited! Experiencing Taiwan has always been a great joy, but sometimes, I feel that my elation would be exponentially larger if I had an understanding soul to share my little adventures. Unfortunately, carrying a gushing conversation about my daily discoveries with my lone stuff animal does not quite fulfill my need for human interaction. Since my mom has left Taiwan for so long, the tables have turned. Now, I know more about Taipei city than a woman who grew up in it, who once regaled me with stories of her city travels.

I will now attempt to capture my weekend. [To my poor lonely dad: Now you know the loneliness of having the three women in your life leave you. =) Please avoid contact with alcoholic beverages, though knowing you, you’ve probably swallowed half a large bottle of Merlot. Thus, I will be reasonable and command that you do not drink yourself into a stupor. I love you dad, and we all miss you!]

 
[Friday]

After a busy day at work (Project Gutenberg kept me quite industrious), I met up with my mom, Cousin Billy, and Aunt Grace outside the Shin Guan Mitsukoshi department store near the Taipei Main Station. The four of us went down to the bustling food court, where I relished a gigantic portion of sizzling Korean barbeque with various spicy vegetable side dishes. Afterwards, the four of us walked around the department store, reminiscing a bit about my mom’s past. [To Grace: There was this very scary looking guy at the make-up counter…he had on a ton of make-up that would have looked good on a girl’s face, but was quite shocking on him. I think you would be entertained by this fact. Also, this morning, as I flipped through the TV channels idly, I saw two minutes of a J-drama featuring a moody Tackey.]

Since the department stood in the magnetic force-field of my favorite stationary store, I basically dragged my shopping compatriots into the store, where I quickly picked out my most favorite items. Mom had trouble staying awake; she nodded off on a stool and did a great impression of “zombie” for the entire night. I then went to a nearby record store, hassling a poor, unsuspecting store attendant with a long list, provided by my darling, demanding little sister.

Mom and I went back to my place of residence. Somehow after her shower, my mom woke up suddenly and became very garrulous, translating to a restless night for me. Oh well, I love her too much to complain…at least too persistently.
 

[Saturday]
 

Waking up to an imminent erhu lesson engenders an odd mix of anticipation and concentrated fear. I’ve certainly put in the hours, especially on my cooped up typhoon day, but with the grand master’s temperament, I am just not sure of myself. At 9.30 AM, after thirty minutes of frantic warm-up exercises, Uncle SK and grandma came to pick my mom and me up.

Upon seeing my mom, the mood of the grand master and his family immediately brightened. My mother’s uncle (by affection, not by blood) smiled very widely and spoke a few words, an amazing feat considering he has serious Alzheimer’s disease. In the two weeks that I’ve seen him, he’s always been brooding silently in a corner, as still as a statue. I think that mom has always had some sort of positive effect on people because of her loving nature.

After assessing the developments with my right bow arm, the lesson progressed to left-hand fingering technique. Since the erhu has no fingerboard and the strings are very thin, I have to admit, the lesson hurt. In order to make a crisp note, the finger has to be curled very tightly with a very high amount of pressure. Coupled with an open wrist and loose thumb, the position is not too unlike the technique required for violin, though slightly more difficult. All in all, the grand master seemed to be relatively impressed. My bow arm, however, remains a disaster as I’m trying to unlearn some of my muscle memory acquired through violin. My only redeeming bow arm skill is the wrist release at the start of each down bow (he was surprised I could do it so easily), but everything else remains a struggle. The grand master, perhaps pacified by my mother’s presence, assured me that if I keep at it patiently, I will leave Taiwan with a solid foundation in the secrets of erhu.

Mom, grandmother, and I then left the studio to visit the grand master’s family. They all were very surprised to see her, but adored her nevertheless. (Mom has a really positive effect on people!) The old woman seriously freaks me out, however. She looks like a withered old skeletal tree with an inhuman face, moving stiffly like an atrophied zombie. She’s cruel to her second son who has a lower IQ and money pinches despite her enormous wealth.

Afterwards, we all went to eat a nearby Hunan-style restaurant that Aunt Grace heard was pretty good. With a series of small dishes such as lion’s head, Chinese-style smoked meats with Chinese celery, ti2 pang2 meat with soybeans, and Chinese style pao4 tsai4 with beef, I enjoyed the delicacies thoroughly. (Once again, Uncle SK spent a long time looking for a parking space. By the time he found a spot, we had already eaten and called him back to pick us up. Poor guy, but I think he’s a bit too stupid to realize how many sacrifices he’s already given.)

Mom and I hopped on a random bus, thinking that it would take us to Shaung-lian station. Ten minutes into the ride, the driver informed us that the bus would not go there. Thankfully, however, the bus passed my Ming Chuan Xi Lu – the station that I go to everyday to take the company bus to work. We got off and I introduced my mom to the famous bakery that I frequent every morning. Seriously, the bread and pastries are just magnificent – delicate, very complicated, beautifully arranged, bursting with a variety of rich flavors, and probably very unhealthy for me! I bought mom two of her favorite breads and we took the MRT to Jiantan station, which is very close to my place of residence.

At Jiantan station, I spoiled by mom further by buying her a delicious taro-flavored bubble tea. We then took the shuttle back to my place of residence. As we rested in the cool air conditioning during the hottest hours of the day, mom regaled me with so many interesting stories about the extended and informal family of mine. I laughed so hard that I think my sides split. (Yes, we do have a heroin trafficker in the extended informal family who unknowingly smuggled items between Japan and Taiwan. She did serve a few years in prison, but she viewed it more as a relief rather than a punishment because she was able to divorce her abusive Japanese husband. We also have a few tragic deaths and some quite fortunate unfortunate accidents.) After all the stories, from my grandmother’s past to my mom’s childhood, I felt that I had acquired enough material to write a very dramatic, touching family tale. At the same time, I keep wondering, why is my life not as interesting?

In the early evening, my mom and I headed out to visit Yan2 Ming2 Middle School, where my mom taught mathematics when she was 22 to 25 as part of her graduation requirement from Taiwan’s national teacher’s college. In Taiwan, teaching is a highly coveted profession and teachers are treated with much respect, a legacy of Confucian thought. With my new camera, I took a lot of pictures of my mother. She told me a lot of stories about her past, and I laughed so hard!

Evidently, mom was placed in the male teachers’ office because of her field (mathematics) and the bossy demands of a pushy, well-liked female teacher. Since she was one of the youngest teachers there, the administration assigned her the “problem class”, considered hopeless and too unruly. The direct translation is “let them go as cows” class, meaning, “they won’t get into college anyway so don’t really bother with them”. [To Grace: Mom was placed in a situation not too unlike Gokusen. She made a large impact on some of her students, who remembered her for a very long time.] She also told me stories of how she and my dad met, crediting dad for extreme forwardness in comparison to other more subtle pursuers. In fact, whenever he came to her school, he announced his visit so openly that he fueled the gossip mill.

Dinner time rolled around and mom and I went to the Shi-lin night market to taste some of the special Taiwanese “small eats”. On a Saturday night, the crowds were so thick that it was almost impossible to walk at more than a snail’s place. Fighting through the infinite sea of limbs constituted a grave struggle. Since I’ve been in this area for so long, I made sure my mom ate the most famous and delicious items.

Here is a list of the food that we ate:

  1. The famous Shi-lin fried chicken steak – Approximately the size of a football, the aromatic chicken steak has a tangy, spicy taste and costs less than $1.50 US. In order to obtain the juicy steak, we waited behind a staggeringly long line.
  1. Shen1 Jian1 Bao1 – At approximately 30 US cents, I am able to eat a delicious, juicy meat bun that has a crispy bottom and a soft top. This delicacy has a subtle flavor and a rich taste.
  1. Hu2 Jiao1 Bin3 – My favorite! This delicacy is very difficult to prepare and famous. We had to wait behind a very long line for almost twenty minutes in order to emerge victorious, clutching two flavor-packed crispy baked black-pepper meat buns. The meat is very spicy and complimented by a large amount of scallion. The bread on the outside is very crispy, like the outside of a French baguette. Generally, I have little patience to wait, although I dream about this food a lot.
  1. Stinky Tofu – Alright, so this is my mom’s favorite and not necessarily my preferred culinary choice. Nevertheless, stinky tofu has a really terrible smell, but a very delicious taste. (Yes, I have to admit defeat. My protests fell silent as I finally sampled, albeit reluctantly, the famous Taiwanese dish.)
  1. Milk Tea with Xi Mi Lu (Small white soft pearls) – Very delicious tea! The tantalizing green tea undertones and rich milk, combined with the delightfully squishy xi mi lu resulted in a luscious dessert that cost me approximately 70 US cents.

Today’s meal cost less than a Big Mac meal, but left me far more satisfied. [Jealous, are you, dad, as you stare at your plateful of bland mystery soup that you prepared with little concern of the flavor?]

Mom and I then went to the local grocery store to buy some fruit. We then walked back to my place of residence, satisfied.

Wednesday July 20, 2005

July 20, 2005 - 2:20 am 3 Comments

I’ve started a new project. Recognized for my academic writing style, I decided to lazily dabble into fiction as a challenge. At the following link, you will be linked to some of Lauren’s and my short works.

www.xanga.com/capturinginfinity

Please tell us what you think. We really would like some constructive feedback on our style