Thursday, October 8, 2009

October in Kaohsiung

"I wonder if I'll end up like Bernie in his dream... a displaced person in some foreign border town? Waiting for a train, part hope, part myth, while the station changes hands... Or sitting at home, growing tenser with the times, like that guy in "the Seventh Seal" watching the newly dead dance across the hills..."
Bruce Cockburn, "How I Spent My Fall Vacation", album "Humans"...
(top of my playlist at the moment, along with Steve Vai "where the wild things are").

Well, it's early October in Kaohsiung. For the first time tonight I felt the hint of desire to wear a jacket while riding my scooter at night. I do wear rain gear at times, of course, but not to stay warm. Generally, so far, I haven't been able to sleep without the air conditioning on... It also is not possible to teach without air con, as I learned very clearly when the air con broke down in one of the classrooms where I work...

My Mandarin is getting much better. That feels good to me. I am very motivated to learn more at the moment, having moved out of my recent stagnation. It comes partly from a desire to increase my income, of course. I also want to be good at the services that I offer here. Part of my function is to be a bridge between cultures. If I can help Taiwanese people, young and old, to anchor concepts of English language and culture, or of music, by communicating the corresponding ideas in their native language(s), I am more than happy.

I also love the culture. It is affecting me in ways which I cannot describe very easily in English...

Many people here speak Taiwanese as much as Mandarin. 50 years of Japanese occupation has also left a huge impact on the culture. There are traces of Japanese in the language here and there, and certainly in the cuisine. Rice triangles (like sushi, wrapped in plastic) from 7/11 are a staple of my diet when I am in a hurry.

Of course, 7/11 in Taiwan (there are apparently about 7,000 of them in this country of 23 million people) is significantly different than it is in North America. It is actually possible to get real food at 7/11 here, not just junk food. They also offer a selection of good quality nutritional supplements, in handy zip locked doses... One of my closeted desires is to post an album on facebook of different
7/11s I have known. How weird is that??? David Byrne would love it, of course...

Indeed, sometimes there are two 7/11s a block apart from each other. It is a standing joke here to offer somebody 7/11 as a landmark when they are trying to get somewhere... "Yes, just go to the 7/11 and turn left..."

For a while it was very confusing trying to locate things here. The gradual increase in fluency of language, as well as familiarity with the city, has made a big difference. Of course, having a scooter has made an even bigger difference... :)
As soon as I got the scooter, I was free to navigate all over the place, experimenting with directions, and learning the city by getting lost in it.

Although the city is a maze, and there is a lot of it (2 million people live here), the parks are a great blessing. They are everywhere, beautiful oases of greenery. The feng shui (literally wind water, referring to the deliberate alignment of human constructs with natural forces) is very good in the parks here. In other words, they have good energy. And they are kept very clean. A pleasure to visit, and a great place to meet people.

Well, I am feeling motivated, so hopefully I will post again in a day or two.

Possible upcoming topics include:

Compare and Contrast English and Chinese languages and their effects on our thinking and learning processes.

Traffic in Taiwanese cities.

Chinese Medicine in Taiwan.

Martial Arts as a Path to Healing.

What would you like to hear about?

Amitabha, bye for now,

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Martial Arts in Taiwan

Hey Qi Buddies,
I'm in Kaohsiung, teaching English at a cram school, tutoring, and studying Chinese culture. I'm also playing music when I can, and hopefully once I get my work permit sorted out (soon!), I'll be able to get some paying gigs.
As for martial arts... I'm primarily learning from two people right now, two different styles, although it took me a while to figure that out, as they train together, neither of them speak much English, and my Chinese is limited at this point. One of them does Tai Chi Chuan. (Since the original writing, she's introduced me to her teacher, and I've been to one class with him already. Then the typhoon came, and Friday night class was unattainable.) She's been studying with Teacher Su for six years.
She trains for 3-4 hours most days in the park, has been doing it for 6 years. She is smaller than me, but can move me around very easily. She is in her early fifties. I'll call her Teacher Huang. Although she says that she is not qualified to teach, she has taught me a lot, and has been endlessly persistent, kind and generous in correcting my stance, showing me her Tai Chi form, and various applications.
Central Park in Kaohsiung hosts a loose knit circle of various styles from 10 am until lunch every day. The elder fellow in the park (Teacher Yang?, in his mid sixties, told me that what he does is Ha Chi Do (aikido in Japanese). His energy is like a very big tree, and he can move me around very easily. He laughs at me a lot, and says: "no power, no power". I've gathered that he is telling me "don't try to use force", just use the force... (or is trying to tell me that my hara/dantien is so disconnected from the ground that I have none... :) It is partly an admonition not to use upper body strength. They both tell me that I am getting better. Among other things, he has been showing me wrist locks and throws. They both guide my Qi Gong a lot.
A few interesting experiences: there is a small man who looks like a monkey to me... he is friendly, as they all are, although some welcome foreigners more easily than others. He shows me his kung fu form, very monkey like, does push hands with me for a while, then invites me to punch him. I hit him fairly hard in the solar plexus. (If someone hit me like that, I would double over.) My punch bounces off of him, like I just punched a thick rubber wall.
Another time, Teacher Yang and one of his senior students, a man, invite me to drive my knee into the back of their knees (sequentially). Again, if this was me, I would at least be feeling it. With a one inch movement of hip and knee (from each of them), again, i am moving back... I love this stuff.
Another time, a more elderly woman, whom Teacher Yang informs me also teaches martial arts, throws punches my way. I find I am spontaneously meeting her punches with my blocks. I never would have been able to do this without my Ving Tsun training of the last few years. :)
Today, Teacher Su was explaining that the Qi movement must expand in 360 degrees, not just in the direction where I am wanting to move. He also directs me to relax my pectoral muscles downwards, making the front of my body like a bowl, or a ball of Qi. This fits in with the wheel of five elements idea that the Lung Qi grounds into the Kidney Qi. This is very strengthening for me, and has an immediate relaxing effect. My stance is deeper and more grounded.
This fits in with Teacher Yang's statement that first there are two people, than, when the technique is being applied, the two merge, and there is only one person, or one energy. Teacher Huang stress connection with Yong Quan, Bubbling Springs, or Kidney 1 on the soles of the feet. Breathe from there into Dantien. Fill like a bowl... Relax, relax, relax. Fengsong, fengsong, fensong. :)
I've also got to try push hands and other drills with various men and women.
I continue to train Ving Tsun on my own. It is the most centering thing before and after teaching rowdy, beautiful Taiwanese kids.
There is more...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

La Vie de Mlle B.

Today we went to the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts. We missed the Andy Warhol exhibit, which ended last week, but were surprised instead to enjoy the Barbie Doll exhibit. Seriously...
I have never collected nor owned Barbie Dolls. I grew up in West Coast North America feminist hippie culture, and Barbie and Ken were not hip. Sure, they were around, but I never would have considered the possibility of avant garde artists using Barbie as a vehicle for social commentary. Goth Barbies, Barbies surrounded by hundreds of origami cranes, Back to Eden Barbie and Ken... there was a lot more there than I can begin to describe, much of it thoroughly surreal.
This show features artists from Paris, and a few from Taiwan as well. David Byrne (Talking Heads) will love this, if he hasn't seen it already. If you're unfamiliar with his work in film, check out True Stories, the fashion show will give you some idea of some of the flavor of this Barbie exhibit.

Next, we explored the other floors of the museum, where I learned a lot more about Taiwan history and culture, and got to check out some truly delightful and bizarre drawings and paintings by Taiwanese artists.

Then we went outside, where the monsoon rains resumed with a passion. We sweat all the time here, and when it is raining as well, sometimes it takes me over the edge... at least, when I have to travel in it. Between that, negotiating directions with the cab driver, and hunger, by the time we found dinner, we were all a little overwhelmed.

Our friend Mark told us this evening that after 21 years here, he no longer gets upset. (He is fluent in Mandarin, which definitely helps.) In the short term, I've experienced a tendency to oscillate between delight with my experience here, and overwhelm. I have moments in which I hate the place:) Bigger challenges are ahead, we'll probably be starting work soon.

Mark also helped us buy cell phones... that is empowering for us. Negotiating red tape in Chinese is interesting to say the least... I am leaving a lot unsaid here, in the interest of being polite.

Disclaimer: Taiwan is one of the most civilized places I've ever been. People generally get along very well with each other here, and I feel much safer than I do in North America. This is generally a very well regulated society where people care about each other a lot.
23 million people live on an island the size of Vancouver Island. A lot of them ride scooters.
There are lots of stray dogs here. I have not felt anger from any of the dogs here.
There are language and cultural barriers, lots of them, although a lot less than there were twenty years ago, when, my friend tells me, people would cross the street to avoid speaking English to him. Now that he speaks Mandarin, people often will only speak English, because they want to practise, to improve their position in the world among other reasons.
Some of the electricity here is generated by nuclear power plants. The Taiwanese relationship with the environment is interesting...
The garbage trucks play music like ice cream trucks in Canada. This lets people know that it is time to run out with there garbage.

Over and out for now...