Friday, March 31, 2006


I just found out that I got the job, right after making plans to go to Hong Kong for two days to renew my visa. My 30 days are almost up.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Power of Blogs

I don't know about you other bloggers out there, but I sometimes get to wondering who else out there is reading my blog, beyond the small circle of friends, and occasional commenters, who sometimes stop by for a glimpse into my virtual world. Lately, I have sensed traffic picking up a bit, and some new friends stopping by for a chat.

One thing that happened yesterday brought a smile to my face, and pointed to the global phenomenon that is the internets. Hanoimark
wrote the following comment in one of my earliest posts on this site:
Hi Wulingren,
I wonder if I could get your help. I purchased what appear to be 2 Yao sacred paintings in Hanoi last month and have posted pictures of them on my blog (Six Months in Hanoi: My readers have been helping me interpret them. If you get a chance I'd be very grateful to get your insight on them since you appear to be a scholar of the Yao.
I visited Mark's site yesterday and read his post on the Yao paintings and the comments, and was fascinated by the process in which he and his readers gradually made sense of the paintings. I started to fondly remember my own initial reactions when I saw Yao ceremonial art. Then, I noticed this comment:
Mark, the world is indeed getting smaller...

My chinese friend in HongKong pleaded ignorance on the subject. However he yielded us a surprising referral:

It seems that one of your "neighbor" may prove to be an authority on the subject of Yao anthropology.

Check out his writings at

under the title/heading
"The Role of Daoism in Yao/State Contacts"

perhaps we can solicit the author's insight on the paintings...

Yes, the world is indeed getting smaller......

Saturday, March 25, 2006

New Discovery: March 24, 2006/Taipei--Ximen Metro Station

Today, I woke up with an anxious feeling--my first one since coming to Taipei a few weeks ago--well, besides the anxiety I felt after taking the translation test: "What if my translation abilities didn't meet their expectations?" It is kind of funny that such feelings (the ones I felt this morning) should arise now, given that I am less than two days from opening a bank account into which my first paycheck will be deposted, and from hearing the final decision from RTI. Why now? Why today? More mysteries offered by life and my swirling consciousness.

So, after eating breakfast I went to the metro station, thinking I would go to 101 (still the tallest building in the world) to continue reading the new Murukami book in the lobby outside the Page One bookstore. But by accident...I got on the blue line of the Metro going in the opposited direction, towards Longshan Temple: "Oh, I guess I'll go hang out at Longshan for awhile. However, I never made it to my favorite temple.

Instead, I got off at the stop before--Ximen (West Gate), which I had always known as a hangout for high school students and as a place to see movies. I got off there and after walking around for a bit ("Wow, it's pretty cool here!"), I entered a Starbucks and ordered a coffee. Inside, on the second floor, there was a large window in front of which you could sit and look out at the scene of walking people enfolding before your eyes. I sat...and sat...and sat...and read my book.

Then, after some time, and finishing my drink, I walked outside--the sun was threatening to go into hiding behind the impetuous clouds--and explored the streets. Just as the thought to get back on the Metro and fulfill my (second) original plan to go to Lonshan Temple crept back into my mind, I happened upon another temple--the Palace of the Heavenly Empress--the wife of the Jade Emperor--the Saintly Mother of Heaven Above--Mazu. Of course, I entered.

One thing I like about Taipei, and I guess Taiwan in general, is the amount of seemingly random temples you can chance upon at the most unexpected moments. From large temples like Longshan to very small shrines used and maintained by locals. Enter any one of these temples and you are in a different reality, one governed by deities, and in which incense smoke reaches the highest heavens.

Well, I haven't gotten to my discovery. Eventually, I returned to the Ximen station, and was ready to renew my (first) original plan. As I was waiting for the Metro to arrive, I glanced upon an ad for iced tea. A girl, her upper body concealed from the viewer, apparently observed something, but you can't see what it is. The imagination must fill in the missing space.

Next to the girl are the following mysterious words:

which, after further inspection, I will tentatively translate as:
In an instant, while my vision was bedazzled, the grassy field transformed......It's better not to say anything about it. You wouldn't believe me anyway if I did.
Frankly, I don't know what these words mean, but they left me with a mysterious feeling (especially after spending time in the temple), and I was struck by their use in an iced tea advertisement. What is the connection to iced tea?

Were these words concocted by some advertising wizard? No! They were written by Xu Zhimo徐志摩; that was my discovery--Xu Zhimo. I had known about Xu Zhimo before, but had never before read his lines. It became my mission to discover what poem this was.

So, I got on the train to 101, now with a mission: What was the poem?

Again, I never made it to that destination--I got off at the right stop, but I never entered 101, because the City Government Eslite (Chengpin誠品) bookstore was closer. I walked in and asked at the information desk where I might find Xu Zhimo's books. I said I saw an ad with a poem by him and really liked it. He took me to the place, led me to Xu Zhimo's, and told me about the famous litery genius and his beautiful prose which is like poetry.

I sat there for hours looking for the no avail. Do you know why I couldn't find it--because it wasn't a poem; it was a work of prose one of his sanwen散文. When I got back here, I did a google search and discovered that the lines of what I thought were a poem were the ending of his famous prose piece: "The Cambridge That I Know," about his experiences at Cambridge University.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

You just have to see this!

Via kos diarist, archibaldtuttle This was filmed during the 2000 election by Spike Jonze, the director of Being John Malkovich, and is basically a home video of the Gore family. It makes me sick that the media only allowed the public to see a caracature of Gore, while they have spent the last several years propping Bush up in the face of every scandal. Just think what could have been accomplished.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

His story

He was born out of wedlock. To protect his identity I will call him Ananda, and yes, he does have an Indian name, though he is not himself Indian, at least not his mother. The identity of his father is unknown, at least to himself. While still pregnant, his mother left Kaohsiung (Gaoxiong) in southern Taiwan, and traveled to Sydney, Australia, where he was born. A European couple who practiced the same Indian religion as his mother (though they have since abandoned that religion) adopted him, and then moved to northern New Zealand. That is where he grew up.

I met him in this very hostel, where he is currently residing. He is here to find his mom, at least to understand his own story, and to discover the identity of his father, whether he was Indian or Spanish.

Under the guidance of the proprietress here, he sent an email to the office of the president, which subsequently informed the various lower offices that comprise the government--central from one perspective, provincial from another. Now, scouts are searching the urban and rural landscape for any leads that might solve the puzzle, the enigma of his birth.

Yesterday, one piece was set in place. Earlier, he showed me his mother's name, romanized. I took a stab at it; it seemed fortunate, but I couldn't really know. I had imagined he would have to call every person by that name in the phonebook. However, yesterday he went to the office of foreign affairs, and lo and behold, they provided him with the name of his mother--I was correct about the personal name but wrong about the family name--and were able to call her sister, who said she was in India.

Then, today somehow the proprietress here was able to talk to a friend of his mother, who said she is in America. More clues leading to more mystery, and more discovery. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Apartment hunting

No, not yet, at least not officially, but I did take a look a couple of days ago at a website specializing in apartment ads. The range I would be looking at is: 13,000 to 15,000 NT Dollars a month (about $400).

Friday, March 17, 2006

Coming to a Theater Near You: The Translator

Well, I called "Paula" today and she said I passed the test, but doesn't yet know when the interview will be. She is waiting for word from her superiors, the high command (in Kafka-ian terms).

In the meantime, something else has happened--something which might have long term consequences, or perhaps only temporary ones. Last week, I went to the Center for Chinese Studies at the National Library, across the street from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, to inquire about post-doc fellowships. They were very nice there, though I wasn't yet aware how nice, that is, until I received an email the other day from Jane Liau, who told me about a freelance job opportunity at the library, translating some materials on the history, culture, and other tourist information about different townships in Taiwan.

I went there three days ago, and have been working full time every since on Heping Township, in Taichung County, on a computer in the library. It has been very interesting learning about different parts of the island, on a micro level, especially since the current area is the homeland of one of the aboriginal groups, the Atayal people. How life changes, in a flash!

I also like translation work. The proprietress here suggested that if the radio position doesn't work out, I could open my own translation company. All I would have to do is apply for a license and I would have my own company, and a visa.

But face it folks, those of you in the same field as me, one of the primary tools of our trade is the dictionary, and one of the things I have become proficient at is using a dictionary. So, there I am, with my pocket edition of the ABC Chinese-English dictionary in one holster and my new mini 迷你 Far East dictionary in the other. I am the translator, one of the most dangerous professions in the world. You don't want to be caught within ten yards of my mini. It's like the wild west.

Why do I like translating? It is very hard work--hard on the brain and very tiring, mentally. It demands complete concentration, not like reading a book in my own language--English--where my mind often wonders to other topics, creating parallel universes, one generated by the book and the other by synapses in my brain. That just doesn't happen when one is translating, at least not as often (Well, as of 3:00 yesterday I was planning to go to Subway). It reminds me somewhat of that Tibetan monk I saw yesterday thumbing his beads, I think as I was walking to Subway.

I also like working with the languages, and you learn a lot about both--the origin language and the target one--in my case, Chinese and English. So, on one level translating isn't a very creative process, since you are really just copying what someone else writes, and yet it is, because you have to create sentences in your own language, ones that are equivalent to those you witness in the other. This requires both lexical and syntaxical imagination. In this way, the translator is like a medium through which culture flows.

Today, as I walked out of the library, there was a strange light emanating from the sky, created by the clouds that had accumulated since the morning. I gazed across the street and caught a glimpse of the memorial, the entire complex, and I said to myself, "That's cool!"

Monday, March 13, 2006

All kinds of folk

As I sit on the Metro and gaze at the faces and different modes of dress, I think to myself: "There are all kinds of folk." There are hip people. There are shy people. There are affluent people. There are those of modest means. There are funny people. There are really silly people. There are very serious people. There are those about to go out on the town. There are those prepared for hearty endeavors. There are intelligent people, and well, those who are not so intelligent. There are attractive people, a lot of them. There are people with thoughtfullness exuding from their eyes, and some with blankness as their guise. There was a guy who fell at my feet and said: "Dui bu qi, dui bu qi." I think he had a wee bit too much to drink. There are people full of chit chat gossip and some who quietly sit and read a book. There are people of all ages--little children, adolescents, adults, and senior citizens. There are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, sisters and brothers. There are lovers, friends, and I suppose, even some enemies. Yes, there I sit on the Metro and think to myself: "There are all kinds of folk."

Cultural Note

Every cat in Taiwan is named Mimi. Every dog is named Niuniu.

Interesting people passing through

There have been some very interesting people passing through this guesthouse, the Taiwanmex: First, there was the guy from New Zealand who moved to Australia when he was 16 and then to Singapore when he was 18 and to Vietnam during the war, for a construction job. I asked him if he was scared to be there then: "No, I come to life in those kinds of places." He has worked in Bangladesh and Indonesia and most recently, in Afghanistan, right after the fall of the Taliban. It was very interesting talking to him. Man, did he have opinions. A tragedy brought him to Taipei, about which I will remain silent, for the moment.

Then, there was the Algerian merchant from Canada. He began his life journey in Algeria, then moved to Spain, then to Florida, to Queens, and finally to Montreal, where he owns a store that sells jewelry from Asia. That is what brought him to Taipei; he came to buy jewelry, but he also liked to watch HBO movies and enjoyed the flan at 7/11. He even got me eating it.

Then, there were the young Swedish ladies who, before arriving in Taipei, crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express, and then descended from Beijing, and by now, are probably in Vietnam.

Last night, I walked from here to the Grand Hotel with a Finnish student who is doing an internship in Taiwan and gave me my first lesson in the language of his country (he said: "We bend words"), and a Computer Science Ph.D. student from Leipzig Germany.

Then, there was the Korean woman who screamed when the little cat, exploring the hallway, passed by her room. Then she screamed again when the cat passed by, only moments later.

Then, there was Romeo from Hong Kong. What brought him to Taipei? He arranged five dates with Taiwanese women over the internet. His name really was Romeo.

Then, there was the woman from Minnesota who speaks like she is from Beijing even though she has only studied Chinese for two years. About her, the proprietress of this place always says, "Ta hen lihai!"

There have been many more and, no doubt, will be many more. Who will be next?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My tour of the radio station

Yesterday, I had a tour of the radio station--Radio Taiwan International--at which I might soon be working. I was supposed to arrive between 4 and 5, but didn't realize how far a walk it was from the Grand Hotel MRT station. Yes, RTI is right next to the famous Grand Hotel. The moment I entered the building at abot 4:35 I remembered what it was that attracted me to working there 7 years ago.

At the time, after receiving several rejection letters from graduate programs, I was considering trying my luck as a journalist, writing about Chinese societies, as I am now. However, I didn't have any journalistic experience, and I was told at an informational interview at Reuters that I could gain this experience by working for a local media company in Taiwan.

Then, I discovered RTI (then known as Central Broadcasting System--CBS). Beyond gaining the requisite experience, it was also a chance to remain in Taipei, a city which was starting to grow on me. And yes, the proximity to the Grand Hotel also attracted me, as did the idea of being in a Taiwanese work environment.

Well, the tour didn't last long. Paula introduced me to different people in the English department, showed me the broadcasting rooms, and demonstrated the software they use. On Saturday, I will take a translation and mike test, which I took 7 years ago. Paula jokingly said (I think it was a joke) they would have to make the test harder for me because of my training--passages from the Shiji?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Thoughts while trying to shake off the jet lag

My motivations for studying Chinese--as I understand them--were different I think than many in academia, though not all. It was never simply about being an academic, nor was it about my research alone. Neither was it about my career, though I figured there would be some way of applying what I was to learn. At the time, I felt stuck, and was searching for a way to get on with my life. But there was something more. Since my youth, I had been intrigued by China, as a concept, something magical, far away, a dream. I dreamt about going there. Did I wish to become Chinese? I don't know. But somewhere in my gut I believed a transformation was possible, desirable. That is what it was, a transformative yearning, to be something different, somewhere else, like the frog in a well desperately attempting to hop out and experience the vastness of the world. My desires have changed, somewhat. Now, I am much more content with who I am; my vision is also more focused on what is in front of me, as I strive to put into practice what I have learned.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Freshman

There will probably be an uproar during the next few weeks about why a former member of the Taliban is now studying at Yale. I have already witnessed the insipient signs of the attack, the fear-inducing questioning, the playing to ignorance and close-mindedness, the following him around with cameras, and terrorizing his life. No, I don't believe his desire to get an education and learn about the world beyond his village is by any means the same as our government turning over control of our ports to a foreign government owned company from the Middle East or anywhere. I am convinced that any open-minded souls willing to take the time to read his extraordinary story will empathize and recognize the distinction. Please read this story.

UPDATE: I know there are those who will think I am crazy just for posting this. I cross-posted it as a diary on and so far the only reactions are that this guy is bad; he represented the Taliban; he is not someone progressives can support. But what good are progressives if they can't take in new evidence. None of those comments were presented by people willing to read or even look at the article.

UPDATE: Here is my post over at dailykos. It is pretty much the same as here but with comments from some within the kos community. In the end, there was some diversity of views about this issue, but clearly the most vocal commenter, Ronald X, would not budge. He approached the issue with a fixed viewpoint, and nothing would shake him. The Taliban was bad. I agree. This guy represented the Taliban. He is bad.
Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi was a "roving ambassador" for the Taliban and toured America justifing their actions.

Maybe he is right. How can I be certain about anything (except that Bush and Cheney deserve to be impeached)? Perhaps I err on the side of uncertainty, or in accepting this Rahmatullah Hashemi's story, but I am also concerned about people who always feel they are right, and approach every issue with their own pre-conceptions and certitudes. No need to investigate. No need to listen to the experts or the people on the ground. That is one of my issues with Bush and Cheney, the likes of Sean Hannity, and with the Taliban.
As Laozi (Lao-tzu) says through Mair's translation:
To realize that you do not understand is a virtue;
Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.

The Mysteries of the Great Wall Revealed (with update)

A new commercial from Staples finally explains the mysteries of the Great Wall. Who could have known? The nomadic forces ride from the north towards the Chinese army poised for the attack. The focalizor--that is, the object doing the focalizing and being focalized--shifts back and forth between the two armies. Then, the lens focuses on a Chinese leader, presumably the First Emperor, and an easy button magically appears. He presses it and the Great Wall descends from the heavens in one piece, dividing the two armies. Wow!

UPDATE: Here is a better descriptions of the commercial. I was working on memory.
The 30-second "The Wall" commercial created by McCann Erickson, opens on an Emperor in ancient China, standing on a grassy rolling hill, staring off into the distance with a small group of consorts behind him. Galloping towards the Emperor is a large army of fierce warriors. As they approach, a consort pulls out an ornate lacquer box. One of the Emperor's men opens it and inside is an Easy Button. With the warriors dangerously close, the Emperor steps forward with his arms crossed and his has one of his warriors confidently pushes the Easy Button.

Suddenly, the ground rumbles dramatically. A cloud of dust appears and we see a wall quickly rise from the ground behind the Emperor. The commercial cuts to reveal it's none other than the Great Wall of China that has sprung up out of the earth. Unfortunately for the Emperor, the Great Wall has sprung up behind him, separating him from his consorts. He wears a deadpan expression as he stands before the opposing army, completely alone and says "dang."

See it here. Apparently the commercial was "...shot in Mexico with Mexicans playing the Chinese parts. There's a cost cutting joke in there somewhere but we'll leave that one alone." Tian doesn't seem to like the ad, and is also disturb the Mexicans are playing some--not all--of the parts. He/she adds:
Plus, the emperor was not speaking Mandarin Chinese when the commercial showed English caption “dang”. What he said was "sei laa" (死啦), which is "death" in Cantonese.
However, as one of his commenters points out:
In Cantonese, if you say, "sei la", it could also mean "damn/darn" or whatever.. depending on context, if I'm not mistaken.

I remember in many movies I've seen, characters would say "sei la" meaning "oh shit!" or something equivalent.
Moreover, contemporary Mandarin is no more similar--probably less so--to how the First Emperor spoke than is Cantonese.

He walks on water