Saturday, December 29, 2007

Welcome to Taiwan! Lets be friends!

So, this lady sitting next to me is screaming in Chinese like she just wet her pants and it's all the dude's fault at whom she's yelling. I doubt it's really his fault--he hasn't said a thing for the ten minutes since she came up to him raving mad. You lose face in Taiwan when you lose it in public--a good policy for anywhere--and this lady was losing face in a rather major way. I, on the other hand, was not losing face, though I had lost my luggage, which was the reason for me sitting at a desk next to a lady who was losing face. Somewhere between Delta and Chinese Airlines, my bags had fallen between cracks and though I had successfully made it through customs without anything but the hope for a charity landing visa, my bags had not. The prospect of not being able to brush my teeth that night made me ill, but all the pink, baby-blue, and violet decor of Taipei's international airport padded my illness with warm fuzzies, making me feel strangely happy about being there. It was like the reality of a Disney World facade, or the draw of an insect to bright lights, or the lure of a pink sign reading "Welcome to Taiwan! Lets be friends!" How could I help but feel a bit complacent about my lost baggage when I felt the semi-out-of-body experience of first-time Asian travel. I mean, the airport literally transitions between florescent colors as you look back at it from the parking lot. You almost feel like they hire people from the North Pole to work their off-season at Taiwan airports just so they can have someone throwing sparkles from the ceiling onto airport travelers. I felt great. You might think the discouraged china-woman would kind of mess up the mirage, but hey, every pearl deals well with sand, right? Her attitude was hardly revolutionary and no one else seemed the least inclined to follow her lead in detracting from the mild tempered atmosphere of pink and blue. Happy fuzzies saturated the air and I was high.

They delivered both pieces of luggage to my residence in Fongyuen just now, so all's well as "stuff" is concerned. I rode my bike all over the city today, ate Japanese cuisine, went to the night market, and bought a first round of sea-creature groceries. The weather is warm and humid. Everyone is in coats. I'm in short-sleeve. Flashing Chinese characters line the street venues and palm trees are a plenty. There are about ten billion scooters per square foot of asphalt and everyone has the right-of-way. Traffic police are spectators. I know why I went to Russia on my mission: experiencing Russia is like living inside the great complexity of a Dostoevskian novel. Experiencing Taiwan is like living inside a video game. I wasn't allowed to play video games on the mission.

visa trouble

Getting a visa is killer. The Taiwanese love Americans, but their bureaucratic maze prevents them from being as helpful as they would like. I applied twice at two different Taiwan offices in the states and never got it. I hopped a plane, walked up to an immigration officer in customs at the Taipei airport and received a visa in 30 seconds. It's a different kind of visa, but getting my residence visa and work permit will be 10 times easier from inside Taiwan than without. Kind of strange, considering the reasons for visas. I'm not breaking any laws, they tell me, I'm just working around them. Around is good because it's not as if they don't want me here. Taiwanese love Americans. Everyone stares and smiles back at me when I smile at them. I smile at them because they are staring at me. And they stare because I'm American . . . I wish I could say it's because I'm good looking, but they stare at Steve too and all Steve has going for him is his great personality . . . and now his nationality. Hi Steve. Thanks for reading. I think you're cool. Anyway, we're all celebrities. I was never a celebrity in Russia. I was only good looking, but that only made gangs want to jump me for cool ties and cash. Taiwanese never get past the "hey look, an American!" part to notice my cool tie.

I went to a Taoist temple today . . . twice. Once in the morning and once after dinner. It was a special day because they were rededicating a temple that was ruined by an earthquake a while ago and was now reopening. I have never seen so much food just sitting there with no one eating it. They had about a billion huge pigs up on racks with apples and incense stuffed in their mouths. Three king boars sat flayed astride great blocks of ice at the head of the rows of pigs. Baskets and baskets of grain and fruit lined the field and all sorts of other intricately displayed food offerings packed the area in front of the temple. The temple itself was highly decorated (and at night shown with lights all over it). Little theaters presented puppet shows of Taoist mythology and vendors packed the road way in and out of the grounds. Some people describe everything we've experienced these last couple days as sensory overload. I'm just drinking it in. This is exactly what I imagined China to be like and my dreams are coming true. My senses are alive again like they were at three years old when everything is mysteriously exciting and captivating. I can't get enough.