Archive for August, 2005

Thursday August 25, 2005

August 25, 2005 - 11:57 pm 3 Comments

[Federico García Lorca – Selected Poems from “Poem of the Deep Song” (1931)]

Lorca’s poems never fail to evoke a deep sense of longing. As a distinctly elegiac poet, he searches for everything that is absent – the impossible – in this world, yearning melancholically for the desires that elude human grasp. With his power of metaphor, he captures the meaning of mystery, enticing the reader with surreal shades of reality to share the incessant sense of loss. 

In reading his poetry, the details are obscured by richly sensorial metaphors, humbling us with the notion that language and logic fails to capture the intricacy of the human experience. It’s impossible for me to understand fully the precise meaning of each poem, but I nevertheless revel in the simple fact that his poetry reminds us of our most ineffable feelings and unattainable yearnings.

Lorca once wrote, “The poet is in a sad state of ‘wanting and not being able.’ He hears the flow of great rivers, passing by in silence, with no one else to hear their music. On his brow he feels the coolness of the reeds, swaying in their No Man’s Land. He wants to feel the dialogue of the winds that tremble in the moss…He wants to penetrate the music of the sap running in the dark silence of huge tree trunks…He wants to press his ear to the sleeping girl and understand the Morse code of her heart…He wants…But he cannot.”

Everyone universally experiences the undefined, undulating pain of unsatisfied longings, but Lorca is one of the few able to ensnare this elusive sensation in poems of uncanny sensitivity. Below are some short poems taken from the collection “Poem of the Deep Song” (1931). The translations are done by me, so I apologize for any resultant abuse. Translating poetry requires much more than simple control over vocabulary, and I admit, my current skills do not suffice. Any corrections or suggestions would be very welcome.
 

Después de pasar

Los niños miran
un punto lejano.

Los candiles se apagan.
Unas muchachas ciegas
preguntan a la luna,
y por el aire ascienden
espirales de llanto.

Los montañas miran
un punto lejano.

 

Afterwards

The children watch
a distant point.

The lamps are turned off.
some blind girls
ask the moon questions
and from the air rises
weeping spirals.

The mountains watch
a distant point.
 

Y después

Los laberintos
que crea el tiempo,
se desvanecen.

(Sólo queda
el desierto.)

El corazón
fuente del deseo,
se desvanece.

(Sólo queda
el desierto.)

La ilusión de la aurora
y los besos,
se desvanecen.

Sólo queda
el desierto.
Un ondadulado
desierto.
 

And Then

The labyrinths
that time creates,
vanish.

(Only the desert
remains.)

The heart,
fountain of desire,
vanishes.

(Only the desert
remains.)

The illusion of the dawn
and the kisses
vanish.

Only the desert
remains.

An undulating
desert.   

 

Monday August 22, 2005

August 22, 2005 - 7:46 pm 4 Comments

As a gesture of respect to my more common days, I am shifting the focus of my entries to personal commentary on readings that I have pursued in the slower days of my dwindling summer.

[The Divine Comedy – Inferno: Limbo (Canto IV)]
By no means do I profess to have an authoritative grasp on Dante’s greatest work – the below comments are a product of my own opinion, limited in nature and too aware of the fact that people dedicate their lives (and their college majors) to the study of classics. I am aware, however, of the historical context of this work, and the overwhelming religious piety of the time period.  

I was pleased to discover that in my own possessions, lay a decaying copy of the Divine Comedy, printed in 1925, brimming with the faded pencil markings of former owners, whom diligently made their notations with the zeal of a literary enthusiast.

Upon revisiting this familiar text, I felt oddly drawn to the notion of Limbo, the first circle of hell, which contains the spirits of those who lived without baptism and Christianity. Despite the more gruesome depictions of the other circles, particularly the ditches of Malebolge and the depths of Cocytus, the ninth and final circle, I found Limbo the most disconcerting, precisely because the permanent ensnarement is duly unmerited, inflicted upon the greatest intellectuals of western society.

Here there was no plaint, that could be heard, except of sighs, which caused the eternal air to tremble; and this arose from the sadness, without torment, of the crowds that were many and great, both of children, and of women and men.

Within Limbo, Dante encounters Homer, Aristotle, Socrates, Euclid, Ptolemy, Democritus, Averroes, Virgil himself, among many. With the exception of one instance of God liberating a few shades (Noah, Abel, Moses, Abraham, David, Israel, Rachel…), the rest remain trapped in a “natural suffering” resultant of their hopeless desire to see God. Granted, the most illustrious of souls reside in a Noble Castle, replete with symbolism alluding to the liberal virtues, but the permeating sadness – the audible lamentations of hopelessness – to me, constitutes an irrational travesty.

First, I find it difficult to believe that great intellectuals who, in their mortal lives, lived happily in the absence of God by their own ideals and philosophies would abandon or renounce their former ways. I find it pitiful to imagine Aristotle – the great naturalist and scientific thinker – locked subserviently in Limbo, desperately wishing for a chance to rise to the anthropomorphic Christian God, abandoning his empiricist principles and notion of God as “pure intellect” – immutable, eternal, the living embodiment of the profound Greek respect of rationality.

The opposition may point out that Aristotle’s conception of God interlaced human intellect with the mysterious divine intellect that endows man with creativity, insight, and imagination, and that Aristotle himself stated that man’s noblest impulse is to be drawn to God – the equivalent of divine unadulterated reason. Nevertheless, this fact alone barely equates with a longing for the Christian God. Certainly, though Aristotelian philosophy became inextricably linked with Christianity by most of the pious Scholastic thinkers, the reconciliation required a repudiation of a substantial amount of the original doctrine.

Second, it seems quite unjust that the most virtuous of minds would be condemned to Hell, rather than Purgatory or Paradise, with no chance of improvement. The reason for their condemnation, regrettably, is contingent on the simple fact that Christianity did not exist at that point in time. In my opinion, the fault lies not with the men who lacked the capacity to choose the epoch to which they are born, but instead, the design of the Creator, who dictated an unfortunate, immutable fate to some of the most worthy. Even in the worst circles of Hell, in direct contrast to Limbo, a sense of just retribution exists.  

Third, the separation of Limbo and Purgatory presents an interesting dilemma. Granted, Purgatory is a distinctively Catholic notion, not representative of all sects of Christianity. Nevertheless, if Purgatory allows some souls to absolve themselves from their human transgressions after a specific set of remedies, then categorically, mortal lives are not the only basis for judgment. If in the afterlife, some souls have the capacity to rationalize and correct their misled ways, then I don’t understand why forgiveness ought to be denied to the most worthy of souls in Limbo. The argument that the souls in Purgatory have repented for their sins, but had not expiated them fails as a significant distinction because if souls have the capacity, posthumanly, to repent as they would have done in mortal life if given the chance, and if the acts of the afterlife can be an additional qualifier for judgment, then the noble souls in Limbo are equally entitled to a second chance as the more villainous souls in Purgatory.   

Perhaps my remarks have strayed from their original purpose, stemming from the overwhelming feeling of injustice in the conception of Limbo. As a side note, although I find the fates of those in Limbo the most unjust, I am personally most bothered by the souls in the field within the entrance to the Gates of Hell, where a vast multitude of spirits run around in great haste and confusion, urged on by wasps and hornets.

=========================

Strange tongues, horrible outcries, words of pain, tones of anger, voices deep and hoarse, and sounds of hands amongst them,

Made a tumult, which turns itself unceasing in that air for every dyed, as sand when it eddies in a whirlwind.

And I, my head begirt with horror, said: “Master, what is that I hear? And who are these that seem so overcome with pain?”

And he said to me: “This miserable mode the dreary souls of those sustain, who lied without blame, and without praise…Heaven chased them forth to keep its beauty from impair, and the deep Hell receives them not, for the wicked would have glory over them.”

These unfortunates, who never were alive, were naked, and sorely goaded by hornets and by wasps that were there.

These made their faces stream with blood, which mixed with tears was gathered at their feet by loathsome worms.

=========================

Apathy results in the worst of fates – unhappy people who never were alive, never to make a choice in good or evil, or to care for anything but themselves and their interests.

This is the most common fate of the modern man.

Wednesday August 17, 2005

August 17, 2005 - 6:28 pm 3 Comments

[Sunday August 14, 2005]

Yes, there is a marked delay in this entry, but I’ve been so preoccupied with just settling, unpacking, and getting over the indefatigable fatigue (paradox right there) known as jet lag. Please send my sister an e-mail wishing her a happy belated birthday or post a comment that reflects your birthday wishes for her.

This entry is an ode to my dearest sister who on August 13th, gained the wisdom of seventeen years. Despite three months of separation and a year of college, we remain the closest of friends.

Grace, since the day you were born, I’ve been by your side – your elder sister, the one you loved the most, and perhaps, hated the most at times. I remember when we were young, mother dressed us up in the same clothes and did our hair the same way. Everyone thought we were twins. Wherever I went, you followed. Wherever you wanted to go, I’d take you there. At times, we’d fight over frivolous issues, but in just a few minutes, we’d be right back where we started. From the role-playing games I invented to the collective “patience-testing” of our parents, we were two peas in a pod.

As we got older, our personalities and interests began to separate. I wanted to be a lawyer. You wanted to be a neuroscientist. Nevertheless, we went to the same school and shared all of our extracurricular interests – ice hockey, Future Problem Solving, Destination Imagination, Anemos, and even debate. When you got into Asian music, I opened up my contacts to get you as much material as possible and watched the assorted medium with you. When I went to major debate tournaments, you followed me to all my rounds and gave me the confidence I needed to continue. I supported your academics and told you what to look out for in the teachers I used to have. You helped me keep track of my life and not mess up the details I’m so used to ignoring. In every way, we make a perfect team.

Mother is right to say that we’re often two extremes – the middle ground is somewhere in between, the result of our synergy.

You worry about matching up; I reassure you, you’ve done just as much as I have, perhaps even more. Next year, you’ll be captaining the debate team and leading your FPS team to an international victory. Whatever you decide on doing, you know that I’ll be there to support you the entire way, cheering and bragging about my wonderful little sister to everyone I know.

Junior year has been a challenge, but I know you will rise to the occasion and shine. Next year will be one of fulfillment and achievement without pressure.

Happy Birthday, Grace.

Tuesday August 16, 2005

August 16, 2005 - 1:54 pm 2 Comments

[August 13, 2005 – Saturday / Sunday]
My last day in Taiwan

My last erhu lesson went surprisingly well. In an attempt to stuff me with the basic fundamentals, the grand master went at warp speed, and was pleased to discover that I was able to handle it. We went through all the different solfeige scales and did some shifting exercises. As always, my mother watched. Later, she informed me that the grand master was chuckling in delight over the fact that I was able to get most of the techniques he told me to emulate. (I was too busy concentrating to even notice.) At the end of the lesson, I returned the erhu he lent me and gave him a thank-you card and a small gift.

[As a side-note: I never realized how spectacular the erhu I’ve been playing was until I returned home to my own erhu, no longer a complete neophyte after a few months of practicing. The tone quality, resonance, and overall feel of the instruments are completely incomparable. To be honest, the overall experience is analogous to taking beginning violin lessons on a Stradivarius, getting accustomed to its sound and feel, returning back to a common instrument, and then realizing belatedly the lost treasure.]

When sending us to the elevator, the grand master mumbled in a low voice the first compliment I’ve received since starting lessons. He said something to the effect of, “The little kid learns quickly because she is somewhat smart.” [Yes, he continually refers to me as the “little kid” despite the fact that I’m eighteen.]

At that moment, I think I beamed.

My grandmother is a special woman because nothing escapes her. Even now, she can rattle off phone numbers and keep immaculate records, completely by memory. Earlier, I mentioned in passing that I really like eating Thai food and didn’t get an opportunity to sample the illustrious Taiwanese renditions, and she immediately got my aunt to find the best Thai restaurants in Taipei.

We ended up at a Myanmar restaurant, supposedly one of the most critically-acclaimed and popular. Evidently, Myanmar delicacies parallel Thai dishes.

This meal turned out to be one of the most enjoyable I’ve had since coming to Taiwan.

Cousin Billy, Uncle SK, Aunt Grace, grandmother, grandfather, mother, and me ate our way through a set meal for six-people, consisting of the most famous Myanmar dishes. I’ve seriously never eaten anything more flavorful and delightful.

The tangy, fresh citrusy tastes of the steamed lemongrass fish complimented the heavier, red spicy ground beef that delightfully went down with the coconut rice. The crispy skin of the chicken contrasted sharply with the tender meat inside, basted with a light sauce made from citrus juices, fresh coriander, turmeric, and basil. The pork was sliced to paper-thin proportions, boiled, and then dipped into a very tantalizing lime-based sauce with Kaffir lime leafs and aromatic ginger, known as galangal. The dish of fresh green vegetables (literally known as “empty heart vegetable”), stir-fried with a flavorful shrimp-based sauce, delicately augmented the taste of the meats. There were at least a total of seven dishes, one soup, and a refreshing cold desert of sweet small pearls in rich coconut milk.

As I ate dinner, I realized how happy I was to be with my extended family – to treasure the time I have with my grandparents while they are still energetic and healthy. My aunt brought her wedding pictures and reminisced about the past with my mother. I took quite a few pictures of the complete Chiao family, thinking back to the old pictures my mom had shown me of her family when she was my age.

Cousin Billy is now a rising sixth grader – a rotund child with a big smile and an amazingly good-natured temperament. As an only child, he really liked spending time with me – in fact, he hand-sewed me a little felt bag, something he’s never done before for anyone else. Despite the uneven stitches, I really appreciated the gesture, thinking back to my childhood in which I’d create many hand-crafted projects, hoping to get approval and additional affection from my parents. Through Cousin Billy, I got the opportunity to be the “big sister” again.

We left the restaurant and met up with Mr. Yen, my mother’s former student, who offered to take us to the airport later tonight. We managed to pack our gargantuan luggage into his car and drove around Taipei District for a while. As mentioned before, I really like Mr. Yen and his family – last time, I spent a delightful number of hours playing music with Maggie, his eldest daughter. Maggie is intelligent, genuine, and the type that would have fit nicely into TJ, somewhat rare in this society.

Around dinner time, Mr. Yen drove us to one of the most famous restaurants in Taipei district. A buffet of gigantic proportions greeted us without so many different options that it was impossible to sample everything in one meal!

From shrimp tempura and other fried specialties to sashimi of tuna, Arctic salmon, swordfish, among many and raw oysters the size of a dinner plate, the sheer number of seafood choices baffled me. In addition, there were a large number of refined Cantonese dim-sum specialties, dainty Japanese-style sushi and small cold dishes, soups, Chinese stir-fried dishes, sautéed meats cooked in front of you on a hot plate, and a monumental collection of deserts and fresh fruit. I’ve never seen a buffet this large before. Everyone seemed to laugh at my enthusiasm of making new discoveries and just prancing around, visually “eating” the additional items that my stomach could not contain.

Needless to say, I happily indulged in all sentiments.

In the middle area of the buffet, I found a tower created from large fish tanks. The bottom tank contained a large grouper which probably weighed around seventy pounds, spanning the length of my outstretched arms. Despite the disapproving glares of the restaurant servicemen, I stuck my hand into the tank and stroked the fish, which turned out to be scale-less and very slimy. Mr. Yen offered to take a picture of Maggie, me, and the grouper, to which I readily acquiesced.

We went back to Mr. Yen’s house, where I spent another hour with Maggie playing music. The time passed so quickly that it wasn’t until my mother informed me that we had to leave for the airport that I realized that my summer in Taiwan had already dwindled down to its last moments.

As my final comment, this summer has been life-changing in so many different ways. I finally feel a bit wiser with a bit of work and life experience under my belt and perhaps a little bit more socially adept after dealing with so many people at once. When I get back to UPenn, I know I’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle the new challenges of sophomore year. This summer has taught me the importance of keeping a positive attitude, looking ahead, being self-sufficient, realizing the meaning of family, and finding opportunities in places others overlook.

To everyone who made Taiwan forever galvanized in my memory as a place of wonder and delight, I sincerely thank you.

Tuesday August 16, 2005

August 16, 2005 - 12:50 pm 2 Comments

[Friday, August 12, 2005]

Once again, please take note that I arrived home on the 13th of August. I’m still catching up on my last few entries, however. Coming home feels great, other than the fact that I’ve just been attacked by a wave of killer allergies. It baffles me to think that Taiwan, despite its characteristic city pollution, did not leave me in nearly epileptic fits of sneezes and sniffles. Yet, back in Virginia with lush air and wide spaces, I’m reduced to a watery and red eyed zombie known formerly as Joyce Meng. The remaining Taiwan entries are going to be much shorter due to my interest in just moving on with my life and summer.

Early this morning, I went swimming with little Cousin Billy. Unfortunately, he’s a cowardly imbecile in the water – not very willing to take risks to learn the basic techniques, but at the same time, unwilling to take the initiative to leave the water. It made for a frustrating morning – as much as I like dislike large bodies of water, I admit that I know all the fundamental strokes and techniques necessary for effective movement and survival. Whether I am particularly speedy or harbor an affinity for swimming, however, remain separate issues.

I spent a comfortable day with my dearest grandmother and grandfather. We went to eat at my favorite Beijing-style restaurant. In general, I prefer flour-based delicacies (noodles, dumplings, beef rolls) to dishes requiring rice. In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten closer to my grandmother and helped reconcile some ideological barriers between her and my mother. Afterwards, I enjoyed a deliciously refreshing mango ice.

The afternoon passed quietly with me horsing around with my mother as my cousin, grandmother, and grandfather slept quietly.

This night, my mother and I had planned to invite all my cousins out for dinner for one last meeting before our plane trip back. In the past three months, I’ve discovered that Taiwanese society does indeed revolve around food and company. Adhering to Tony’s suggestion of eating Japanese barbeque and David’s choice of restaurant, we went to a quaint restaurant.

Interactive dining is quite fun! The only relatively jarring fact was that the service was very slow and the entire dining experience cost a whopping $8000 NT for only seven people (equivalent of approximately $250 US). I think the high cost is attributed to the fact that eating Japanese barbeque should be treated as an opportunity to sample some very delicate cutlets of expensive meats rather than a chance to stuff oneself completely full. I suppose there was some bitterness that resulted, but my mother and I stand firm in the conviction that details such as this should be ruminated over and then let go.

My last day in Taiwan passed quietly in the company of my family. I’ve realized that in the past three months, I’ve gotten to know my cousins, my aunts, and my grandparents in a way I never had before.

We’re all growing up.

Monday August 15, 2005

August 15, 2005 - 3:04 pm 1 Comment

[Thursday, August 11, 2005]

On the 13th of August, I arrived home in Virginia. I am, however, going to spend a bit time recapping my last few days in Taiwan, filled with a lot of momentous events.

Early this morning, I woke up in preparation of going to the main headquarters of Taishin to meet Alice, Frank, and the CEO of Taishin, Chairman Wu. I vehemently profess that although I’m not the type to spend a while in front of the mirror, this event motivated me to pay special attention. Overall, this summer has been somewhat helpful in teaching me the basics of keeping a very professional, neat appearance with impeccable dress and just a tiny amount of make-up, which I used to avoid like the plague.

Upon arriving at Taishin, I met up with Alice, who asked me to sign some papers. She then invited me to have lunch with her and a friend from HR. We walked a short distance into this quaint little European café style restaurant with a comfortable, homely ambiance. As a side note, throughout my experience in Taiwan, I’ve been amazed at the impact of globalization – the spread of western cuisine, fashion, business practices, and culture. In some places, trying to find traditional Taiwanese food amidst the many European, Japanese, and Korean restaurants has become quite difficult. 

I ordered chicken cordon bleu, complete with a large bowl of chicken broth soup noodles, dragon fruit, and orange juice. Somehow, the restaurant reminded me strongly of Café Viva in Nei4 Hu3, where I work – the menus parallel each other, the ambiance is quite similar, and even more surprisingly, the waiters look almost exactly the same.

It turned out that the CEO was delayed in another meeting and would not be able to meet me until 5.00 PM. At 1.30 PM, we returned to the main Taishin branch, where I spent some time just lounging in the HR department, reading more chapters the ubiquitous book “Banking in Asia”, associated with McKinsey and Company. While I was reading, Alice suddenly interrupted me and pointed to a tall, thin American man rushing out of the office of the SVP of HR. Evidently, he was the main author.

With a few hours remaining, I went downstairs to meet my mother to see whether we could cash the checks. Unfortunately, we encountered some difficulties – easily surmountable, of course, but requiring another day’s delay.

The great thing about Taiwan is that everything is very convenient – with all the different commercial activities, it’s quite difficult to be bored, stuck at home with no where to explore. Attesting to this fundamental principle, my mother and I wandered the adjacent streets, browsing shops and street vendor displays and just chatting. We found this special sale at a relatively classy store, which sold clothing at 10% of the ticketed price. Since my original intentions included going to a movie with my cousins tonight and I had lacked the foresight to pack casual clothing, I bought an outfit, satisfied with the color and the style.

By now, enough time had elapsed; my mother and I separated at approximately 4.30 PM. I went back to Taishin, where Alice greeted me and took me to the CEO’s office.

Chairman Wu turned out to be a relatively old man, somewhat laconic and distant, though clearly intelligent (perhaps calculating). In comparison to Frank, a garrulous and jovial man, Chairman Wu is significantly more aloof, though at the same time, very accommodating. For the next forty minutes, we just talked about my academic and extracurricular interests, my family, and my experiences of coming to Taishin and the skills that I learned.

I did try my best to be charming, though of course, judging whether I sufficiently met expectations remains elusive. I think after a long day of meetings, Chairman Wu was kind of tired – he seemed more interested in listening than talking. Both he and Frank seemed to be impressed with my accomplishments, though they admitted that they thought I was a rising junior instead of sophomore. (What a mistake to make when hiring…I think for the most part, however, I sufficed in all of my duties.)

Next year, I’m going to encounter a very full plate of academic, extracurricular, and vocational obligations. I’m still trying to decide what to keep and what to give up. As of now, I have seven classes filled with the Wharton core, four jobs (three research assistant positions in addition to my work at the Global Interdependence Center), debate captaincy, panel director obligations in the Wharton China Business Forum, Destination Imagination to start, music involvement, a novel to write, and a business to keep afloat.

Nevertheless, I’m excited about starting a new year. Without doubt, my academic record is the most important to me – I intend to keep my 4.0 and to be actively involved in all my classes.

Since I had promised Kevin earlier, I gave a pitch about the Wharton China Business Forum and invited Chairman Wu to come in as a keynote speaker. He sounded interested, though discerning the line between polite protocol and genuine curiosity escapes me. Hopefully, I didn’t commit any faux pas, though of course, I’m not too sure. For the most part, I’m quite sure I appeared confident, very engaged in everything that I did, and at my maximum level of Chinglish articulation.

The CEO gave me this hand-crafted bowl. I gave him a small thank-you card written in my barely legible cursive. Although this “trade” barely qualifies as equal, I figure it was fine. If you have an opinion on today’s meeting, feel free to share it in the comments section.

I then took the metro to meet up with Cousin Tony, Cousin Eric, and my mom. I changed into some comfortable clothes and prepared to go to Nei4 Hu3’s Mei3 Li4 Hua2 – one of the largest department stores in Taiwan, incorporating Asia’s largest fairest wheel and a series of the most technologically advanced IMAX theatres. Upon arrival, I was astounded by the sheer number of people there, most of them couples.

Then, my mother informed me that today was Taiwan’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Figures.

Eric had free tickets to the premier of Herbie, of all movies. Although I went into the theatre with low expectations, I came out pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it, unlike my experience with the Fantastic Four, which turned out to be way less than fantastic, perhaps at most, plebian. Lindsey Lohan’s character, though not always the most likeable of protagonists, managed to enact the characteristically uplifting Disney plot.

And the car was just cute.

We went back to where I live, passing through the Shi-lin night market, packed once again with couples. With such a traffic jam of human bodies, fighting our way through was quite an adventure. Tony marveled at its size while I realized suddenly that somehow, I’ve gotten so familiar with all the different alleys in the past few months that I felt like a local.

Ah…quite an irony to discover that when I finally feel acquainted with my surroundings, I’m just about to leave.

Monday August 15, 2005

August 15, 2005 - 2:57 pm 1 Comment

[Wednesday, August 10, 2005]

As my first day of complete reprieve, I celebrated by waking up quite late. My mother and I planned to go to the National Palace Museum (again) this morning, though I warned her in advance that the exhibits have shrunk considerably due to serious renovation. After waiting for approximately thirty minutes, we boarded a direct bus to the museum, finding out in retrospect that we could have conceivably arrived earlier, if we had the taken the indirect bus lines.

As expected, the National Palace Museum, despite its truncated size, adequately impressed my mother and me. In a casual statement to my mother, I admitted that the famous jade cabbage probably cost more than our entire family’s lives put together. Considering that I have been to the National Palace Museum quite a few number of times, I strutted around like an expert, introducing my mother to the most impressive exhibits.

They say pride comes before a fall.

Despite the fact that my mother had not visited the museum in over a decade, she knew so much about the different styles of painting, pottery, calligraphy, and historical concepts that my recently acquired knowledge was dwarfed in comparison. We went through all the exhibits in approximately two and a half hours. After quickly picking up some large prints from the museum gift shop, we left.

By now, 3 pm had greeted us, and we had eaten neither breakfast nor lunch. To compensate for our mild form of self-denial, we went to Ding3 Tai4 Fung1 – one of the best ten restaurants in the world, according to the New York Times. Since we arrived so late, we didn’t have to wait before enjoying the steamed delicacies, ranging from the famous meat buns and fragrant dumplings to the delicate, little sweet bean steamed buns.  My mother and I worked ourselves through a really satisfying meal, complimented by friendly chatter. [To my dearest father, you are probably salivating over the fact that I’ve eaten at this critically-acclaimed restaurant not just once, but twice.]

After lunch, we browsed the busy adjacent streets (Yong3 Kang1 Jie1), which my mom was quite familiar with since she attended junior high school in the vicinity. We then ate a large mixed fruit ice (mango, strawberry, and kiwi) at supposedly the most expensive and renowned establishment. My mom then called her Mr. Sun, her college friend, who used to harbor quite a fixation. [My dearest father, former competition doesn’t make you feel challenged at all, does it?]

We managed to navigate ourselves to my mother’s friend’s “math club”. My mother told me that she’s only met two extraordinarily smart men – my father and Mr. Sun – though they express their intelligence is very different ways. In the past twenty years, Mr. Sun gained fame for his ability to train young students for the mathematics Olympiad and other international math competitions. Instead of developing his business as a “cram school”, he instead focuses on building math interest. With a very successful daughter who gained undergraduate admission to Beijing University and graduate admission to Yale’s mathematics department, he’s become quite respected.

When we went into the small establishment, I was astounded by the huge number of interesting books and puzzles. My dearest father, some of the advanced mathematics books in his very large collection rival many of your own. Trophies and photos lined the wall, tantalizing the people who passed by. Mr. Sun, however, is a small and unassuming man with heavy glasses, a low voice, and minimal facial expression. I had a chance to meet his daughter, named “Whale Jean” after a literal phonetic translation. On the contrary, however, she was beyond stick thin. She was quite friendly, familiar with her parents in a rare fashion unheard of in Taiwan, and witty. Actually, she would have fit quite nicely into my high school.

Anyway, Mr. Sun mentioned how my mom used to be such a hard-working student, taking notes of mathematics lectures she didn’t understand. Mr. Sun, on the other hand, always skipped class, borrowed my mother’s notes for a quick glance, and managed to understand the concepts really quickly. Like my father, he was quite lazy, yet unlike my father, Mr. Sun dropped out of college. (My father tried to drop out of college, but didn’t succeed once he discovered that the “real world” didn’t meet his expectations)

Two smart men that my mother knew…two mathematics majors in the same college…two completely different lives

We left near dinner time and went to browse Sogo, yet another trendy department store in Taiwan. I didn’t really see anything worth buying, just kind of enjoyed the sensation of walking up and down escalators and talking to my mom. In the book store on the top floor, my mother bought the Da Vinci code and Cien Años de Soledad in Chinese.

Now, for a long time, I had wanted to get a hair cut because I’ve been losing hair due to its length and weight. We found a suitable place near Sogo – the hairdresser managed to survive my mother’s matriarchal cross-examination and impress her long enough for her to acquiesce. His main complaints – he didn’t like the amount of hair I had, the fact that it was quite plain, and the fact that my hair was black. On the last issue, I passionately declared that I would not tolerate color. [To Grace: The hairdresser looked like an older version of Ryuichi from w-inds, especially the pony-tail hair style with framing bangs.]

Okay… I admit I was somewhat petrified of what could have possibly happened. I’m not used to having someone touch my hair – the young lady who washed my hair kept laughing at my uncontrollable facial expressions. I found it rather ticklish and irksome. She asked me if I was from the United States, I admitted I was, and then requested her to put a towel over my face so I would not embarrass myself.

The guy then cuts my hair, using a series of tools in addition to the normal scissor that I had not yet seen in my eighteen years of life. My hair ended up not being just layered, but super layered. I can barely gather it into a ponytail, despite the fact that the length has not changed. I think the Chinese word he used was bao3 – their attempt to make thick hair appear thinner. The hairdresser at first thought he was finished, then assessed that my hair was still too thick in different places, and soon afterwards, inflicted this other tool on me, creating even more layers of different lengths.

On first appraisal, I hated it. When the hairdresser asked me how I liked it, I thought I was going to cry. I blubbered out a morose “I don’t know”. My mother, on the other hand, really liked it and gave an apology for my behavior. (Actually, she cackled madly over the fact that I would no longer utilize the pony-tail.)

Two hours later, I decided it was okay. Four hours later, I finally determined it was somewhat flattering.

[If you want pictures, please contact me.]

Thursday August 11, 2005

August 11, 2005 - 12:51 pm 1 Comment

[Tuesday, August 9, 2005]

Today was my last official day of work, a time I both dreaded and looked forward to. The morning passed quietly as I packed up my belongings and returned my key and computer, thinking about all the experiences I had gained in a short two months, that upon reflection, felt more like ten years. As much as I strongly loathe cubicles, I admit that I look upon my workspace with a sense of peace – certainly, sitting for long periods of time did not bode well with my character, but it taught me a new form of patience and persistence that I once thought impossible to achieve. This summer has been a time of discovery and wonder. Despite the long work hours, I really enjoyed everything I did, finding daily opportunities to gleam skills from my co-workers, who supported me in every fashion possible.

As a result, the morning seemed to blur by. Yesterday, I had delivered all the personalized thank you cards that I wrote, accompanied by a small Virginia trinket. Today in return, I received a lot of meaningful gifts from my coworkers, including a box of rare tea from Anny (her family owns a tea farm and every year, she is privy to the season’s best, which is not sold in stores), a cute little tiger paperweight and card from Grace Yu, a bottle of expensive French hand lotion from Sanny, and pair of stone persimmons from Alex, representing auspicious prosperity.

Yesterday, I had a farewell luncheon with Grace Yu, Ariel, and Cathy, the three co-workers I felt closest to. Today, I had a farewell luncheon planned with Grace, my mentor, Stacey, my mentor’s boss, and Alex, the head of the data mining team. Since they went to Taishin’s headquarters for a meeting this morning, I took a taxi to meet them at around 12 PM.

Stacey chose a nearby Cantonese dim sum restaurant, serving delicate snacks that tempted the palette. From crispy, juicy shrimp roles to fragrant shu-mai and lightly sweet guo1 bing3, I enjoyed my lunch thoroughly. We chatted about a variety of topics, though mostly concentrated on food. Alex, head of data mining, is not always a great person to talk to – he’s a little too preoccupied with money, indulges in frivolity, critical of others, often excessively abrupt, and downright rude. Despite the fact that he’s mildly well-to-do and decent looking, he has a hard time finding a potential suitable wife, which is a familiar topic of office gossip and speculation. Stacey is a little spacey and too preoccupied with the superficial, but overall, she’s decent.

After lunch, my mentor took a few hours off to show me to a special center in promotion of Taiwanese cultural crafts. Once we arrived, we spent a few hours browsing the three floors, admiring the delicate handiwork and sharing our opinions on Chinese culture. I found an absolutely gorgeous deep blue gazed and gold-dusted tea set made of “living clay”, which supposedly emanates a wavelength that suits that of water. [Lauren, you and I can have a little discussion on whether this is true.] There were also really cute carved figurines of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, numerous mao2 bi3 landscape paintings and calligraphy, intricate cloisonné vases, stunning jade jewelry, among many other tantalizing treasures.  

My mentor bought me a dizi as a parting gift, which I accepted quite happily. When I get back to the United States, I’m going to try and find an informal teacher who can help me over the barrier of making a sustained noise. Considering that my darling little sister dabbled into the flute, perhaps she would make a likely candidate for a teacher (nudge).

At around 3 pm, we returned to the office. Upon arrival, Mr. Cong presented me with a burned disk of all the work that I’ve done. I picked up the loose ends, took some additional pictures, and gave my good-byes.

After work, I went to Uncle George’s house for dinner. Uncle George is quite an impatient man who was unwilling to spend time on the phone to clearly state the directions to his house – as a result, he gave me quite misleading directions that cost me a lot of time and more importantly, made me very anxious and worried as I found myself completely lost during rush hour. By the time I arrived, I was in a rather vindictive mood. Thankfully, however, pleasant company soothed my initial irritation.

Nearly everyone in the direct Meng family was there other than Eric’s brother, Tony’s brother, and Jessica’s brother – Aunt Man4 Shi3, her husband, Cousin Jessica, Aunt Alice, Uncle John, Cousin Eric, Aunt Jennifer, Uncle David, Cousin Tony, Uncle George, and Cousin David were all present, arriving at different times. We had a home-cooked dinner complimented by Pizza Hut pizza, featuring a lot of flavors unheard of in the United States (Seafood pizza with scallops, crab, and shrimp; black pepper steak pizza). My mother is somewhat disappointed that as the final send-off, she didn’t have a chance to sample the famously gigantic North Sea seafood restaurant that my father and I had experienced, but nevertheless, she also appreciates a home-cooked meal.

After dinner, despite the fact that I was nearly falling asleep, I made it through a few rounds of cards (old maid, 99, heart attack) and one round of Chinese chess, which I learned with relish. I still have a long way to go – since I’m so unfamiliar with some of the moving patterns and can’t distinguish the pieces easily because of the Chinese characters, it takes a while for me to spot the strategically best move, which comes so much easier in western style chess. I remember Apple Hill and challenging Lauren and my fellow chamber music aficionados constantly. Before I collapsed, David drove my mother and me home.   

I went to sleep thinking of my last day.

Taishin, you’ve certainly given me a lot of memories. This summer has been exciting, epiphanical, and eye-opening – a chance for me to glance into a future of international business.