Here I am, at AWP 2012 in Chicago! After 3 years away from the AWP loop, it’s nice to be back. And some of my very accomplished friends and I are giving a panel on Friday afternoon called “Finding the Time–and Money!–to Write.” So I’ve been thinking a lot about the Fulbright Fellowship experience, and decided I should offer a sneak preview/hyperlinked version of the talk we’re going to give tomorrow.
By the way, if you’re in Chicago right now and curious about the talk, it’s on Friday, March 2nd, at the Palmer Hilton House at 4:30 pm in the State Ballroom. That’s right folks; they gave us a ballroom! (Eeeeeeeek. Why did I who secretly fear public speaking think this would be a good idea?)
So happy AWP, happy March, and without further ado, here’s how to get a Fulbright Grant in 10 Easy Steps: Continue reading →
I dearly wanted to ask this kid whether his choice of t-shirt was intentional or not; and also, whether his parents understood it!
Well, now that I’m finally back in good old New York and my last silly t-shirt gift has been posted to its recipient, it’s time to collate my best photos– of the best silly t-shirts with broken English (or, Chinglish) spotted in Taiwan.
Given to a friend and former roommate, we puzzled about what the intended meaning might have been. Perhaps, "Every setback is a hidden opportunity?" What do you think??
So although these shirts are not brought to you BY the Ministry of Silly Walks, they were photographed in the same gently-poking fun spirit. Other amazingly silly captions spotted over the year (but lacking in pics) are listed below, in order of remembered hilarity: Continue reading →
Happy week after Thanksgiving, everyone! Just a quick announcement to say that my writing has been published in the new issue of Fourth River, a literary magazine based in Pittsburgh. And it’s IN PRINT. Sure, I’ve seen my writing in print before, but it’s typically been short columns, with creative stuff going up on the web. So there is something very satisfying about being able to hold my work in a bound magazine, to flip through the pages of familiar words (oh, so, so familiar, after much revision), and toss the weight of the printed volume down onto a table with a light thud.
These are the moments when I feel like a real writer, not like someone in a delusional state who mistakenly pretends that anything they are scribbling down might actually ever be read by another human being.
Which brings me to a conversation I was having with my former roommate Bridget about writing, and discipline, and sticking to the work even when it’s so hard and lacking in external moments of gratification like this one. We both remembered reading this quote by Ira Glass, and feeling both heartened by it and also wishing that someone had said this to us sooner:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
And here’s a video with Glass elaborating just a bit on this theme:
So after that long preface, please click here to order a copy. Fourth River makes a great stocking stuffer! Thanks to friends and family for your support, and hopefully you’ll soon be seeing clips up here of published writing from my year in Taiwan…
And to writer friends and readers, let’s keep producing our large volume of work together! I have only recently realized that the key to writing well and someday being satisfied with the work is just to KEEP WRITING, write deeply, write freely, and just write my heart out. These few and fleeting moments of external recognition remind me that it’s worth it to keep working, to write the stuff that I want to someday read, because it’s worth it. Even if only one other person reads my words and maybe cares a tiny bit about them.
Just to whet your appetite, here’s a short excerpt:
“Cities are my favorite natural expanse–a jungle of people, a forest of culture, an ocean of opportunity. And for me, subways most approximate the kind of motion that Newton described. Sometimes when I ride the subways of New York, I think about our train’s swift movement through the dark tunnels, and wonder: could a train really continue on forever in a vacuum, unhampered by such inconveniences as friction, inertia, or dirt on the track? Such hypothetical motion seems perfect.
Occasionally, I can almost imagine what that kind of perpetual motion would feel like, when I stand on a Local train and hear the rumble of an Express gaining on us. The two trains thunder through the tunnel, until they meet and continue side by side, and for a second, I catch sigh of the passengers in the other car through the brightly lit oval windows. Then the Express roars by; our train seems to catapult backwards and for a moment, I feel myself suspended between time and space, floating.
Sometimes I wonder what forces of physics propelled me out of my hometown, across the country to go to college in California, across the ocean to Paris and back, to live in Boston, as I continue my search to find a city that is my own. Like my father, I see wanderlust embedded in my love of public transportation: the promise of potential, the wind on my face when a train pulls into the station.”
Everything looks familiar, but I feel like an alien. Like I’ve been turned inside out, so my lungs and nerves and liver and intestines are on the outside, and my skin on the inside is rendered a useless organ–sheltering nothing and sweating and goosebumping all over itself.
I sit in a cafe in the health food store in my hometown, that I have been frequenting with my mother since I was three years old. Before I could read, I used to walk around and smell the whole grains and fresh produce and no-sugar-added juices and spritzers. My favorite treats of all time with carob-covered rice cakes, because I didn’t even know chocolate existed. Then came honey sticks– little straw-like tubes full of flavored honey, and black and red “Panda” brand licorice. Later when I discovered chocolate, there were Tiger’s Milk Bars: a light chocolate coating over a nutritious, protein-filled peanut butter interior.
Now I sit at a booth, a recent addition to the cafe of 5 to 10 years ago, with a cup of coffee and a carob-covered rice cake. I used to have Proustian flashbacks of nostalgic childhood memories when I bit into these; today, it tastes slightly stale and waxy. The coffee is lukewarm.
Why does nothing measure up to my memory of it? The menu is in English, not Chinese, Japanese, Malay, or Vietnamese, but I don’t comprehend it. How is a small cup of soup $8.25 USD??
On the left side of the wall, even the First Aid for Choking sign has been re-vamped, refurbished. Now the people choking and saving one another are rendered in full color, and the instructions for how to save lives are more detailed. But it is illegible from more than 10 feet away, whereas the old CPR signs that were required in restaurants in the 1990s were full of huge line drawings of the intricacies of the Heimlich maneuver. I used to study them as a child, preparing myself for the inevitable moment when I would be called upon to save a life. As a 10-year-old. Of course this was perfectly logical to me back then.
Being back in America, from a year living in Asia, is weird. But being back in my small and beautiful but cloyingly intimate seaside resort hometown is unimaginably stifling. I had no idea it would be like this. I feel smothered by the 25 years of memories tucked into every crevice of this place, by the heartache and resentment and despair and fear and desperation I used to feel here as a teenager. My mantra from ages 13-18 was “Get Me Out of Here.” So to be back, with only sketchy plans to go to NYC, only flimsy job leads, little to no savings to speak of and no immediate employment prospects (in the middle of a recession) is TERRIFYING.
But then I think: it was all worth it for the amazing year I’ve just had. Continue reading →
Can you imagine why? Below, some views from along the winding and often surprising journey through this beautiful place…
This was my first gong spotted in a Japanese temple, but by no means my last. Temples abound! This one in Ueno Park in Tokyo.
Did I mention that there are lots of temples? This one in Kamakura overlooks the ocean.
Big Buddha.... (Kamakura)
.... little Buddhas! (Kamakura)
Kanji: Chinese characters imported into Japanese language, usually with different pronunciation and often with different character pairings or even some different strokes. Result: I can almost read.... sometimes. This is something something flavor room, I think....
Leaving on a jet plane, a photo by Fields of View, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.
Greetings, dear readers! My apologies for the long delay in posting, but it’s because I was packing and leaving Taipei. (cue sad music, movie credits, etc) However! All is not lost! Chin up, disconsolate selves who wish the girl would stay in Formosa (including me!), and consider this: I have much more to write about and reflect upon from my last few months. And then, once I get back to the States, the blog has many possible future lives in its, well, future…
All of these things to be determined and executed, but for now, I am spending a transitional month traveling in Japan and in California, as I finish up research on my grandfather Liao Wen-Yi’s life (15 years of which was in Japan, SCORE! and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution has a whole Taiwan KMT/independence archive– double SCORE!) and wind my way back towards home.
So I will try to stay connected to all of you via the blog, and continue to consider the nature of travel and transience and research and writing, and TAIWAN (as I get nostalgic for foods and drinks and places I will wax even more poetically about them, right?)….. but in the meantime, I turn my eyes to you, dear readers.
What else do you want to hear about Formosa? Please weigh in NOW, in the comments section, so I can make sure in upcoming posts that I answer your questions, tell you no lies, and strive to entertain and inform on this topic in this format, for just a tiny (or very long) bit longer.
So please please please tell me: What else do you want to hear about? Give me some topics and I will write a post inspired by YOU!!!
Some possible topics include but are not limited to: more food and travel around Taiwan posts/advice, on the traveling life, on writing, on research, Taiwanese history findings, how to travel to Tokyo on a shoestring, top 5 (or 10 or 100) things you should do in Taipei while you’re there, the unbearable lightness of being… (the feeling, not the book, ha), cooking in Taiwan, beaches, hikes, and so forth.
Also to everyone in New York, Cali, England (and elsewhere) and in Taiwan: I miss you. My heart is now being pulled towards the east and the west and every which way, so I hope I will see you all soon. And to some of you in the SF area, that soon is going to be now…. before you know it! Now please, help me out and ask some questions!
A few weeks ago, my friend and I went out to Cihu Mausoleum Park, in Taoyuan County, to see Chiang Kai-Shek’s preserved remains and the garden of abandoned Chiangs. I would say, without exaggeration, that this is the most surreal place in Taiwan that I’ve been to all year.
I had wanted to go see the Generalissimo’s former summer home after my professor at Zheng Da explained to me that Chiang Kai-Shek has never been buried. Instead, his preserved body waits in his former home for the day that the “Republic of China” reclaims the China mainland from the “Communist rebels,” at which point it will be given a traditional burial in his hometown. However, the “Republic of China” retreated to Taiwan in 1949, more than 60 years ago, and Taiwan has not had a seat in the United Nations for 40 years. So the pickled body of Chiang may be waiting for quite a while. Continue reading →
Yesterday morning, I returned to a familiar spot to witness environmental awareness in action: Fuyang Eco Park, for a Scavenger Hunt organized by Ideal Day. It was 11 am, and the heat was just beginning to rise, but it was moist and shady until the umbrella of trees enveloping the entrance to the park. Participants in the scavenger hunt gathered in loose groups– the teams that they brought or formed on the spot– and Taiwanese and foreigners, students and professionals and families, all mingled together happily. Excited anticipation hung in the air.
“I’m so afraid to speak Chinese, afraid that people will laugh at me,” said an American student to a Taiwanese girl. “Don’t worry, we feel that way about speaking English!” her new friend replied. “We won’t laugh,” they all agreed. “Let’s practice both languages today.”
My new friend Dan is part of Ideal Day, a group for social action, philosophical discussions, and the promotion of social change through raising money and awareness about various causes. In May, they had their first event to raise money for a few different charities– and this weekend, the cause was the environment. Continue reading →
Friends + Cast after the show. Pippi is the one with the orange braids, of course!
Do you remember Pippi Longstocking, the beloved Swedish books (and movies) from your youth? Well, apparently Pippi has gone from the “south seas” all the way to Taipei, and our friend Bryan told us about a wonderful Swedish director’s version at a Taipei theater on Guling Street.
So we trooped down, for a live show in Chinese with Pippi, wiping the floors with towels strapped to her feet, dancing and singing with her friends, the white horse and the monkey Mr. Nilsson…. as well as a few human children too.