Saturday, March 29, 2008

Birthday Party - Medical Theme

My birthday was about three weeks ago, and I've neglected to post anything about it... I think (and, yes Bernard, I know I haven't posted anything about the election either--but that was boring).

Anyway, some friends threw a party for me at a place called Habana. It was pretty fun. the theme was injuries/hospital/medical emergency. It was a good theme because some lovely ladies came dressed as nurses (see photos below). I sang a few songs with the piano player (as did others), and I think a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


今年的寒假非常有意思。我參加了兩個特別的活動。 我第一活動是跟我朋友一起去參加神明繞出巡。她家有一間廟﹐所以他們帶他們的神到別的廟去。 我們去看了七間廟。 他們的廟在基隆市﹐可是我們到的那些廟在台灣南部。第一天我們去霧峰 天顯宮﹐埔里 寶湖宮﹐天地堂地母廟﹐跟 麥寮 鎮南宮。第二天我們去麥寮 鎮東宮﹐竹南中港 慈裕宮﹐跟 新豐 明濟壇。 我們坐游覽車。 車裡子有KTV﹐所以非常吵。



New Year In The Mountains, Videos of New Years In The Mountains.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008




Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Garden of Forking Paths

. . . Then I reflected that all things happen to oneself, and happen precisely, precisely now. Century follows century, yet events occur only in the present; countless men in the air, on the land and sea, yet everything that truly happens, happens to me. . . .

-Dr. Yu Tsun, reflecting on his imminent arrest and execution for spying for Germany during World War II in Jorge Luis Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths" (1941).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Ask Why? Don't Ask the Mustard Man.

There's a joke I learned from one of my students that goes, "What kind of animal says, 'Why?' all the time?"

The person you ask thinks about it for a while, maybe takes a guess, and then gives up. Then you say, "A pig."

The person thinks about it again, but doesn't understand, so asks, "Why?"

You point at the person and say, "Ha! You're a pig!"

This morning just before waking up I was having a dream. I don't remember what it was about, but at one point I was going through my refrigerator and I found that I had three almost-empty squeeze containers of yellow mustard, plus at least four half-empty jars of various other kinds of mustard.

The next thing I knew I was at school (not a real school) and one of the other teachers (not a real teacher) was bawling out some little kid for something he did. He was really angry, and he kept asking the kid, "Why? Why did you do that?"

I started talking to him and telling him that, just like there was no reason for me to have seven containers of mustard in my refrigerator--and yet there they were--there was likely no reason that the little kid did what he did. There was no why, and in life there often is no why. By searching for a reason that doesn't exist, we just cause ourselves anxiety, and even if we find the answer, it doesn't change the fact of the thing.

As the dream started to fade, I realized that, in the way only possible in dreams, I was the angry teacher as well as the mustard man. When I first woke up immediately after the dream, it seemed like I'd reached some kind of momentous realization about life. Now, about an hour later, it doesn't seem so profound.


Ha! You're a pig!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ice Cream or Garbage?

I just wrote this for another website called Wasai. It is a site sponsored by my university that has stories about culture shock written by foreigners living in Taiwan. They offer $700NT for an article, so I thought I might as well knock something out and make a few bucks. It is not my finest work, but I guess it was worth the money to write it. I have another post about garbage, in case you want to check it out.

Ice Cream or Garbage?

One of the first things that struck me as odd about Taiwan was the way that garbage is collected. The first time I heard the garbage truck music, I thought it was an ice cream truck. Where I come from, we have ice cream trucks that drive around playing music during the summer. When kids hear the music, they run out and buy ice cream. Little did I know the first time I heard it that the music meant garbage, not ice cream.

In Seattle, we have a different system for garbage collection. We put our garbage and recycling into big plastic bins. Then, once a week, we put the bins out on the sidewalk, and a truck comes through the neighborhood and the garbage men dump the bins into the truck. The trucks don’t play music, and you don’t have to be home when they come. In fact, unless you hear the sound of the truck’s engine as it approaches, you never even know it is there. Also, the truck goes through the neighborhood very quickly. It may only take a few minutes to pick up the trash from a whole block, because they don’t have to wait for all the people to come out of their houses and approach the truck one by one.

Taiwan’s system is very different, and when I first saw it, I was really surprised. When I heard the music, I asked the people I was with, “Is that the ice cream truck coming?” They looked at me like I was crazy, and explained that it was the garbage truck. It seemed strange to me that great classical music would be used for garbage collection. It seemed kind of disrespectful to me. I doubt that Beethoven or Mozart would approve. To make it worse, the sound quality was very mechanical and tinny. I wondered how the garbage men kept from going insane from having to listen to that same music over and over, day in and day out.

When I watched the garbage collection in action, I was also surprised. Instead of the garbage men going to get the trash, the people had to take the trash to the garbage men. I thought it was pretty inefficient. Instead of two or three workers picking up all the trash in a neighborhood, every household has to take part. Not only that, but the noise of the truck and its music as it slowly rolls through the neighborhood seemed like an unnecessary contribution to an already overly-noisy environment.

Now that I’ve been here for a few years, the system doesn’t seem that strange. It works, and it gives neighbors a chance to meet and say hi. Still, for people like me who are away from home when the truck comes, it can be a problem. For example, I am never at home when the recycling truck comes. I’m still not sure what to do about that, and the bottles and cans are starting to pile up.

In the end, I really don’t care how the garbage is collected. Like anything else when you move to a new place, it seems strange at first and then you get used to it. The only thing I really worry about is those garbage men. It seems certain that eventually one of them will snap. Luckily, another difference between the U.S. and Taiwan is that there aren’t many firearms here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Door Handle

On Saturday I got home from work and unlocked the deadbolt on my door, and when I went to push the little button in the handle to release the latch, it just went in with no resistance and didn't come back out. I pulled on the door, but it wouldn't open. I got a little anxious about this, because I knew that I wasn't really "locked" out, but I was still stuck on the wrong side of my door.

After pushing and pulling for a while, I managed to get the door open. It was obvious what the problem was: the ancient mechanism inside the door handle had failed. I could open the door from the inside, but if I went outside and closed the door, it wouldn't open without a struggle, and maybe not at all.

Luckily I have a good landlord. I called him, and he came right over. He took a look at the door and then left. A few minutes later he came back with a locksmith who replaced the handle.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Taking Pictures of the Present

I was thinking about the whole living-in-the-present thing, and maybe I'm taking things too far, but if one really dedicates himself to living only in the now (other than to deal with practical issues), then why would that person ever take photographs?

Photos are just a moment in time captured in a visual image. The act of taking the photograph might be a "now" activity, but looking at photos is definitely looking into the past. I suppose for purely artistic photos it is a bit of a different story, but looking at old snapshots and portraits of family, friends, vacations, and so on, is just a way of trying to hold onto those past moments. Isn't it?

What about writing, and especially "journaling"? Isn't that also just a way of recording and holding onto the past?

Is that bad, or somehow harmful? Does looking at old photos or writing down one's thoughts and feelings block the path to enlightenment?

What about blogging?

Do I think about things too much?

Do I ask too many questions?

Am I thinking out loud and should I stop and write this in a notebook somewhere instead of putting my insane rambling out on the internet for all to see?

If you have answers to any or all of these questions, please leave a comment (even if it is just, "shut it, you lunatic!").

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Dirty Fingers

Last night I picked up my guitar for the first time in months. I strummed on it for a little while, and then I looked at my fingers. This is what I saw:

I want to blame the air pollution in Taiwan for this, but I think it is as much a case as me being lazy about playing the guitar.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New Button: Bookmark or Share

I added a new button to this blog. It is called "add this."

You can click on it to quickly bookmark the blog or any one of the posts, or you can share stuff from the blog on various social networking sites.

To be honest, I'm not sure how it works, so if you want, mess around with it and let me know.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Birthday Card From My Folks

As I mentioned in the last post, I'm turning 24 next Sunday. Oops! I mean 42! I keep getting that messed up.

Anyway, I just got a card in the mail from my parents. The front is just a picture of a jovial G.W. Bush (you've heard of him). Inside it says, "What's a birthday party without a clown?" Funny thing is I think my mom and dad both voted for him twice. It is nice to see that maybe they are beginning to see him for what he is (although "clown" is a little too innocuous a term for the bastard).

Also inside my mom wrote, "Dad wants you to have a little spending money for the next country you go to--to get your doctorate! He says it will be an incentive to leave Taiwan!"

Stuffed in the card was a bunch of money: a US five-dollar-bill, a ten-dollar-bill and a five-dollar-bill from El Banco de Ecuador, a five pound note from the Central Bank of Ireland, a five centavo note from the Central Bank of the Philippines, a bill from the Bank of Indonesia with a ten on it (it doesn't mention the name of the money), and a five pound note from the Bank of England. I have no idea where my parents got this money, what it is worth, or even if any of it (besides the $5 US) is legal tender anywhere in the world.

I kind of doubt that after accounting for exchange rates this money would buy me a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks of any of those countries, but it is the thought that counts, and I truly appreciate it.

Well, I can say right now that I have no interest in getting a PhD. Having that, or any other string of letters after your name doesn't mean much more than that you had the time and resources (whether or not you earned them yourself) to struggle through a course of study about a narrowly defined topic. Not to disparage my PhD friends, professors, and tormentors, but the value of a person comes from inside, not from his or her credentials.

Incentive to leave Taiwan? I don't really need that. What I need is an incentive to be happy staying in one place, no matter where that is.

I don't mean to be negative about the card; I thought it was funny and pretty cool. It's just that my dad seems to think I'm staying away from Seattle as part of some organized plan. Ha! I've never planned anything in my life!

Living in the Present

In my last entry (which, by the way, I was a little apprehensive about posting, as my original intention when starting this blog was to avoid posting anything very personal, but judging by the feedback I've received, I guess it was a good decision to post it), I mentioned living in the present. I have heard about this idea many times in the past from all kinds of sources. Recently I've read a few books that talk about it in greater detail than I've seen before, and it has made me a little more aware of the concept. Now I'm starting to see all kinds of examples pop up in my life.

I just re-watched "Harold and Maude" a few nights ago, and it seemed like a great example. The old woman in the film lives constantly in the now, and only slips into memories of the past once or twice. She is happy and full of life, whereas the young man who is obsessed with death is unhappy and unable to connect with other people (until he meets the old woman, of course).

That's just one example, but there have been a lot more small things that have made me think about living in the "now." Maybe it is just because I'm thinking of it more, and so I'm interpreting things in a new way based on that.

Which brings me to the point (sorry it took so long!): I'm currently working on my MBA at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. Yes. I admit it. I am studying business. To find out why, go to my post from November 1, 2006 entitled "M.B.A.? Why?" Some of the reasons don't exist anymore, and most of the reasons were never real in the first place. Still, I don't regret going over to the dark side, at least academically. It has been interesting and I've learned a lot. One thing that has occurred to me recently, however, is that living in the present is not exactly compatible with the general way of thinking in the business world.

This occurred to me when I was sitting in the park near my home, soaking up the sunshine and studying Technology Forecasting (one of my classes this semester). The sun felt good after a long, cold winter. There were birds chirping, and people walking their dogs. It was really a lovely afternoon, a perfect time to just be. But there I sat, reading about how to make predictions of the future based on events of the past.

This is when it really struck me that much of education, research, business, and on and on is based only in the past and future, but never in the now. As children, we learn about the ideas that were developed in the past in order to prepare for our futures. When we go into higher education, it is just more of the same. We do research, gather data (about the past), and then analyze it to try to foresee the future. In business it is the same. And in business there is always the quest for competitive advantage, which is basically a manifestation of fear--something that is the antithesis of living in the present.

Sunday is my birthday. I'll be forty-two years old. Most of my life has been spent in fear, which is not to say I've been miserable, but like almost everyone else in the world, I've been living in the past while worrying about the future. I'm finally opening my eyes to this situation and trying to do something about it so the next forty-two years will be better, but I find myself in an environment that is not conducive to the way of thinking (or not-thinking) that might be able to eliminate that fear.

So... with one semester left to complete my MBA, I am starting to wonder if I shouldn't be sitting on top of a mountain instead. Of course, it could be that there is nothing incompatible between my current path and the road to enlightenment. It may be that I just need to find the balance.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Update on New Year's Resolution

A while ago I had the audacity to post my resolution for 2008 on this here blog. In a nutshell, I decided I was going to be a more forgiving person, specifically towards my ex-girlfriend.

Well, that didn't go as smoothly as I thought. And I've had my ups and downs over the whole mess since I made the resolution. There have been times when I felt like I was totally over it, and other times when I have felt like I'll never be over it. A low point was one night shortly after Chinese New Year when I sent some really mean-spirited text messages to the young woman's cell phone. I don't know if she ever got them, but the next morning I felt terrible about it, and I knew I had a long way to go before being straightened out over this thing.

Lately I've been reading some books about, and generally paying more attention to, the concepts regarding having a happy life. I'm not going into detail about the specific books, but there are a few principles that seem to be recurring in the different things I've read and seen.

One thing that seems universal is that it is important to live in the moment as much as is practically possible. Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future never did anyone any good. This is a surprisingly difficult thing to do, however. It must take some practice.

Another thing that keeps coming up is that most of what we think about and perceive about ourselves and others is just a mental construct. It is impossible to really know anyone beyond the projections they make of themselves and the images we create in our minds about them. If you're lucky and you work at it, you might get to know the real you eventually.

Fear. This is also present everywhere I look. Fear causes all the problems. It's opposite, according to some sources, is love. Practice love and you can eliminate fear from your life.

Forgiveness is a big thing, too. Since most of the grudges we hold against others are based in the past, they really have no meaning in the present. Holding a grudge doesn't do anything to help you get back at the person who offended you, but it fills your own life with poison. Forgiving someone who did you wrong is not for them, it is for you. By the way, seems you have to forgive yourself first before you can do a very good job of forgiving others.

I've always been a pretty strong believer in grudge holding. I call it the "Hyman Roth Method." Basically it follows the ideas that revenge is a dish best served cold, and that you should keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Since I practiced this way of thinking for so long, it is not easy to re-learn how to think, but I'm working on it.

So, it seems that the big trick is to learn to live more in the present, and thereby release all the emotional poison that is based on the past. By doing so, you can reach the place where the events of the past no longer have a hold on you (so you can forgive). Also by doing so, you don't have anxiety about the things in the future over which you have no control.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?