Taiwan is sick.
Its summers liqueify humanity and its winters do a 180.
So I laughed when the Japanese kept asking me if thier country is humid.
“Buddy, you ain’t seen hot and humid til you’ve seen Taiwan,” I would say with a snorting laugh. People’s feelings were hurt. The Japanese were so sure they were top dogs in this department. I let them down big time.
Then, two years later, just to spite me, everyone turned up their air conditioners.
“See, goshfukkit,” they would say, “Japan is so hot and humid we have no choice but to crank up our air conditioners.”
The weather wasn’t hotter; the air conditioners cooled down rooms so much that outside, by contrast, the heat seemed to increase.
They also had rules for workwear. No shorts, no bare legs, no sleeveless shirts. Perverted students and teachers ruled out skirts. They also barred me from fanning myself at work – it looked unprofessional.
By the end of my Japanese period, my defenses broke down and I admitted that Japan was almost as hot and humid as Taiwan. Oddly enough, at that same time, there were whispers that just maybe, schools would get air conditioning.
In my day, Japanese schools had air conditioning (and heating) only in the staff room. Between classes, kids clustered inside happily mopping off their sweat in this refreshing arctic. Female students prospered in the summer, when their uniforms – skirts – prepared them to face the onslaught while male students drenched their polyester track suits. (The girls got their comeuppance in the winter when their skirts offer no protection against the cold.)
The argument for schools without air conditioners was that temperature extremes would toughen up the youth of the country. Yet, three years ago, when temperatures soared to brain-melting levels, parents, teachers and the government admitted that just maybe the kids might be too hot to pay attention in class. So just maybe schools might get air conditioners.
Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi is stepping up efforts to get people to turn down their air conditioners by not wearing jackets and ties this summer. If others see his example, they might start dressing down too.
Koizumi might also want to look to solutions from Japan’s past for ideas on keeping cool in the summer.
In Kyoto, there are still restaurants that have streamside patios, where diners can cool down by virtue of being near moving water. As Japanese women often flush just before letting off a stream of urine to mask their unladylike sounds, this almost-clean water does not have to be wasted; by diverting this stream of sewage water through offices, Japanese management can achieve the same effects felt in Kyoto restaurants.
Another traditional method of cooling down, is to listen to the tinkling of glass chime-bells, or fuurin. Entrepeneurs can create fuurin muzak for offices.
Then there are ghost stories: who in Japan doesn’t get the creeps and subsequent chills from hearing about vengeful female ghosts who’ve burned off half their faces at the exact moment they’ve been dumped? The Japanese claim that these stories scare them into coolness. Koizumi could well heed this traditional way of thinking and pass a law to make it legal – nay, required, if energy conservation is what he’s looking for – for employers to sneak up on their employees and spook the hell out of them.
Maktaaq’s revolutionary defense against the unbearable summer heat of Asia has been kit removal.
A low-cost option for small- to mid-size businesses, the combination of the Maktaaq method and the fright school of cooling might be the solution. Executives, in Japan almost exclusively middle-aged drunks, work in the nude.
A cornucopia of origami marvels:
I started off looking up the traditional samurai helmet origami pattern.
I found C3PO.
I went on a little further and found Dot and Spot, along with a cache of other origami films and below that, a section with origami conversation starters, fillers and enders.
This conversation starter “I made a special flower for you” reeks; the martini glass made from a dollar bill would better kill the two birds with one stone – a chance for the hapless male to display his paper-folding prowess as well as to show off a hundred-dollar bill.
(The martini glass doubles as the bird bath, giving the a sinister significance to the idea of “kill the two birds with one stone.”)
In my youth, someone told me not piss off men I meet in bars. You never know when some vengeful misogynist gets one rejection too many and decides to blow torch off the woman’s boobs. Therefore, I would respond by handing over the praying mantis to my erstwhile suitor.
The sort who would fold paper to attract the opposite sex already has Very Naughty Origami and Pornogami on the nightstand table beside the kleenex. Imaginationless types. Yawn.
Yet, more imaginatively, the idea of kokigami, a “paper sculpture of an animal over [the man's] organ,” and the subsequent “unwrapping” reminds me of one of the uses of henna (or mehndi) applications on the hands of women: the bride, who often met her husband for the first time at her wedding, had her groom’s initials inscribed in her henna design, which the groom then had to locate on their wedding night – this custom allowed two people who met for the first time to get comfortable with each other. (For those of you still into book-buying, get a more detailed guidebook to kokigami here.)
Naughty as these origami designs are, would anyone really want to decorate the place with them? They’re assymetrical and clumsy, the paper obviously over-worked.
There are far better uses for origami than a lame ploy to get some action or to get over not getting any action.
In Japan, where cute little foreign English teachers get sack-fuls of origami what-nots, a colleague came up with a use for the choiciest of the bunch. She tied a string to the origami sculpture and taped the string from her ceiling. The more abstract designs add a modern flair to any room, but even a lone wasp might do the trick.
When your kids whine about wanting new toys, why not toss a few papers at them? You could yell, “Make your own goddamn toys!” I suggest a mobile of diplodoci, acrocanthosauruses and tyrannosauruses.
If the lucky bats look as good as they do in diagram, I am folding up a cluster of them and hanging them from my ceiling. They will go good with my spider and skeleton paraphernalia. Guess what kind of Halloween cards everyone is getting from me this year?
For those of you who collect teabags, you can make yourselves a herd of deer.
Origami, by the way, is the best way to make friends while on the road. In my travelling days, I made many preschooler friends by demonstrating and giving away origami animals. Once, when directions to a free beach led me to a Filipino slum village instead, I befriended the entire neighbourhood with folded paper frogs. As I was about to leave, someone ran up to me with a stool, made me sit down and demosntrate over and over again how to make the frogs, until every child had their very own. Just before I left, a lady barbecued some bananas for me. That’s the power of origami.
Unlike other origami sculpture, for which you need a perfectly square sheet, however, you can find the tea bags for these deer anywhere. Whether in China or in Ethiopia, tea bags come in a standard design and are no further than your continental breakfast.
For novices and for those of you who tend to shy away from following directions, the easiest origami project is the origami boulder. Even if you lack the time or patience, you can order online specimens today for your collection. Origami is for everyone!
We met by the river near the lightbulb factory.
Just Archibald and I.
Out of the infinite number of monkeys typing away in the lightbulb factory’s quality control department, only Archibald proved calm enough to accept the news.
I pulled my copy of Steinbeck’s The Pearl from my pocket. A lean little book, only 6 chapters, it might just pass for East of Eden.
We knew we were alone, yet I nevertheless whispered. “This might get you by. Management is too stupid to have read any of the classics.”
“I don’t know,” said Archibald looking at the book in my hand, reluctant to take it. “They’ve hired consultants and they say the East of Eden lightbulb testing program is foolproof.”
“Nonsense! These programs always have bugs in them!” I shoved The Pearl into Archibald’s hands. “Just type this out. They won’t know the difference.”
Archibald flipped through the book.
“Maybe. Just maybe. But this is only ninety pages – over five hundred pages less than East of Eden. They’ll figure it out for sure.”
“No, damn you,” I whisper-screamed. “All you need to do is type The Pearl over six times. It’s simple. Even a probiscus monkey can figure it out.”
Archibald did not take his eyes off the book in his paws. The book lay in his hands as if it were a swallow in a dead-faint after flying into a window.
“Look, it’s a simple story. Very few adjectives, mostly monosyllables. Can’t be harder than Hamlet.”
I grabbed the book and flipped to the end. “It hasn’t even got that bit about the font being Bembo type.”
I pulled the book to my face and peered over the top at Archibald. Despite his reputation as the most clear-headed of the monkeys, he wasn’t convinced.
The monkeys exhausted all possibilities. Their union backed out on talks, leaving them to muddle into modern American literature after they spent years building seniority in Elizabethan drama. An infinite amount of time spent trying to type up Hamlet proved worthless. They were back at square one. Even the Workers’ Compensation Board gave up on them.
Some monkeys were in the middle of mortgages, others had car payments, many had no idea how they were going to put their kids through college.
Strikes were impossible. Hanging over their heads was always the threat of outsourcing to Singhalese toads.
I took a big risk too. I spent hours scouring the black market for Steinbeck’s works. Tortilla Flat was over one hundred pages, The Moon is Down was almost right but blacklisted in corporate circles for its sympathy towards terrorists, Of Mice and Men too familiar to any high school twit and thus too dangerous for the monkeys to employ: even if senior management must have read that one. And, I learned, the rival lightbulb company was using the Of Mice and Men software. It was either The Pearl or a copy of Travels with Charley with half the pages torn out.
“Archibald,” I said, finally, “What other options have you got?”
He didn’t answer.
I handed him the book and he took it.
“It’s our only hope,” he said.
My father kept hinting about burning my library. Making a funeral pyre and torching them.
My mother keeps sneaking references, in conversation, to throwing them all away when I am not home.
I have four bookshelves filled with books, some of the shelves doubled up. So many books, that I divided them up by genre and/or language:
- Romanian Language Books
- Chinese Language Books
- Japanese Language Books
- Books in English on Taiwan/China/Hong Kong
- Books in English on Japan
- Books in English on Romania
- Art Catalogues
- Craft How-to Books
- Travel Guides
- Fiction (alphabetized by author’s last name)
- Language Books
- General Comicbooks
- Carl Barks Comicbooks
- Non-Fiction General
- Art Magazines
- Italian, Spanish, German and French Books (as well as a few books in Tagalog, Dutch, Finnish, Slovak, Hungarian – for god knows what reason)
- General Magazines
For years, I just went to library book sales and got myself stacks of classics at 25 cents each. Then, when I moved to Taiwan, I bought no reading material. A few months of that borrowed copy of Ulysses and I went mad. Eslite, in particular, pushed me over the edge.
Later, lonely and bored in a rice town too far from Tokyo, I succumbed to the Japanese daftness of mail order goods. Aside from joining the Underwear of the Month Club and the Wine of the Month Club, I ordered books along with crustaceans and tea ceremony candies.
To be extra safe from boredom, I augmented my collection from Munro’s Books and the Elliott Bay Book Company.
Once I moved back to Canada and reunited my far-flung collection, even I was astounded at its size.
In Vienna, apartments have even more bookshelves than mine, filled with even more books than I have. That’s normal over there.
Here in Canada – and on the sporty West Coast – no one has as many books as I do. Even my most literate friends have either culled their collections down to a coffee table or never bought more than would fill one bookshelf. My only heavily booked friend just reduced her collection to ten books as she prepares to move to the other side of Canada.
That leaves me.
A lone dissident in the face of the non-book-collecting masses.
My resolve is cracking. Two years ago I declared a moratorium on any book-buying, unless the book happened to be an art catalogue. I boxed some of the language books for more opportune times. I culled all bestsellers from my collection (from well-meaning relatives who think I like just any book). I will re-gift the crappy pudding-simple re-tellings of classics to a new generation of children.
I fear that even more has to be done. The rare books that cannot be borrowed from a library are staying, as are the books I paid full price for, the foreign language books, the classics and the art books.
The left over books, however, plead to be kept: “What if you have a quoting emergency?”
Yes, what would I do if a troll is about to crush me to a pulp unless I come up with a witty remark on the death of Socrates? Or, if a herd of rhinoceri threaten to trample me into the dust of the earth unless I bedazzle them with a sonnet on modernist architecture?
The problem with the undercurrent of destruction that plagues my dreams is that, even if all my current books were to be burned out of my life, more would sneak in to take their place.
A couple of months ago, the already well-travelled Linda of Broadsheet wrote about all the festivals she planned on attending before the inevitable.
I was thrilled with her list. Yet her interest in my list left me a little perturbed. No festivals immediately flew to mind. Sure, I have plans for the Day of the Dead, but not in Mexico City.
My Day of the Dead plans start a month before: I will review my Spanish at a school in Oaxaca, all the while charming my way into a local family’s heart. Once November rolls around, they’ll invite me to celebrate with their family and I’ll be the surrogate child.
And that’s the problem with all my plans. I don’t really have destinations in mind. Yes, I want to go to Egypt someday too. I’m certain the pyramids will be nice but I can’t wait to bellydance in a sleazy Cairo nightclub on amateur night Ã la Geraldine Brooks in Nine Parts of Desire. I’ve even taken a year of bellydance lessons in preparation and I am determined to make a fool of myself in yet another country.
I never had any interest in visiting the GalÃ¡pagos. I always figured the animals there need some privacy. But now that I know about the magic barrel, it’s shot up on my list from 123,749th place to third place. Porn Movie High graduate Kyle MacDonald announced he is going to that magic barrel next week to deliver our letters and take out others that he in turn will hand deliver. One day I’ll be doing that too; until then I’ll live through MacDonald’s travels.
(He extended his deadline to April 5 if you want to send him postcards to be placed in the barrel. More details here. I’m sending mine off tomorrow.)
I’ve also had plans to walk across Europe, just like Constantin BrÃ¢ncuÅŸi. And, now that plans for my honeymoon in Antarctica fell through, I am going back to my original wedding plans where bridal party et al ride camels to that seven-day-away oasis in the Tunisian Sahara and back again to the Mediterranean. I’ll be heading back to Ethiopia one year before my Yellow Fever vaccination expires and I’ll learn Amharic and shoulder dancing.
My magum opus will be Peripatetic Pancakes. Like Garvin Heath and the Tasmanians before him, I too shall wander into the wilderness with 50 pounds of pancake mix and treat out passing hikers.
PS This post ended early because I am being nagged. I can’t think of what to write and pretend to listen to the nagging at the same time, as I am not a multitasker. I am going to concentrate on being nagged now. Thank you for reading and good night.
The Passing of the Stick
From Litblitz, I’ve got a meme thingie:
You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be? (Assuming this is the question about burning a book…)
If I were a book to be burned, I think Bookbinding for Beginners. Published in the 60s, it was seriously the most boring book I have ever read and I hated every page of its incredibly difficult instructions with its impossible tools. Who the hell has one of those ten-ton book-pressing gadgets in their kitchens? They talked about whipping up books like it’s doing the chicken dance. Yeah, I could have stopped reading but I once felt a need to finish every book I ever read.
If the question is, which of those book-memorizing sages would I be, why I would be the guy that memorizes archy and mehitabel, one of the greatest books of the Twentieth Century. (I do need to bow low at the feet of Karen, for buying me that vintage copy years ago and introducing me to this wonder. I also need to mention that I was thinking of Fahrenheit 451 for the last two days. Odd how this meme came at the right time.)
Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Huckleberry Finn. Was that ever a painful crush! Not only was the book written a century before me – if Huckleberry Finn was based on a real boy, no way I could ever find the muse – the book was also fictional! Even if I had a time machine to travel back in time, stalk Mark Twain and force him to point me in the direction of his inspiration, I would still be no closer to hooking up with Huckleberry.
But, boy, was he ever sweet! An orphan and a rebel – swoon!
The last book you bought is:
Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope.
The last book you read:
The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel. Nope, didn’t like it.
What are you currently reading?
See “Currently Reading” at right. I am trying to finish the Susan Orlean book first as that needs to go back to the library in two weeks.
Five books you would take to a deserted island:
1. The Collected Works of Tove Jansson, or, if there is no such thing by the time I am a castaway, Moominpappa at Sea.
2. Provided I could bring a dictionary with me, San Mao’s Sahara Story, so I could practice my Chinese. But maybe I should be practicing my Romanian, maybe I should bring something by Liviu Rebreanu?
3. The Ambassadors by Henry James.
4. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter HÃ¸eg.
5. The Complete Steinbeck. I bet I’ll still be slogging through East of Eden after I’m marooned on my desert island.
Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Charles/Frank (because, acting in unison, they can come up with something weird)
MaikoPunk (because she’s a writer and reader, too)
Raspberry (because she’s an academic type)
I always knew crows and pigeons were party types.
A pigeon intelligence researcher I once met, told us that pigeons were far smarter than chimps. We already know they are quite the art connoisseurs: any pigeon could beat out the best of our laymen at distinguishing between a Monet and a Picasso. The pigeon researcher’s pigeons got their own keyboards and learned how to type. “Get me food, slave,” and things like that.
Crows, yup, they’re tool users and an altruistic bunch. Crows squawk when they find a big chunk of roadkill to alert others in the community that they have a huge meal and they can’t possibly finish it off on their own so they might as well share and not let anything go to waste.
So, they eat garbage. But don’t we eat hot dogs and hamburgers?
Jen sent me the soundtrack of her life and I decided to attempt my own.
It was hard. I can never remember song names. I turned on the radio and waited for songs I liked. I went through my CDs and cassettes. I used up all my skips and am banished from my own radio station on Launch. I am reduced to listening to the generic 80s hits free station now – ooh, Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer! (Boy, am I glad nobody knows that I had a Bon Jovi poster in my bedroom as a teenager.)
I know there are half a dozen Abba songs out there that I like. But all the songs that super-duper resonate with me seem to have morphed into hidden tracks. This is why I can never – it’s my Achilles’ heel! – get all the music questions in Trivia Pursuit.
Some songs I like, I only have the titles in foreign languages. The first time I went to Africa, I charmed everyone with my love for Arabic music and shopclerks were thrilled to introduce me to the most amazing singers. I came home with eight tapes that I make sure to always return to their cases; I navigate my North African music by the faces in the liner notes and when I want to listen to Old Man with a Moustache, I don’t really want to accidentally pull out Middle Aged Fat Woman There’s also a dreamy reggae singer from Ethiopia I hunted to and fro for – and I’ll never hear him again.
Then there was the fact that some of my favourite bands didn’t fit in any where. My poor fun punk bands from Germany! And my very favourite Yugoslavian orchestra! They’ll have to wait for the sequel.
Nor did I want to profess my childish love for embarrassing music here. I even made fun of Type O Negative in front of my coworker to throw her off. Plus, is there any way I can say I actually like a couple of Eminem songs? Or that, due to sentimental memories of long-ago romance, I actually like the Titanic theme? Or that Prodigy’s Fat of the Land album always brings back some of my happiest memories ever, from when I was in Manila six years ago.
Even worse was trying to come up with a theme. My soundtrack is more confused than Judgment Night with its Aerosmith and its rap. Plus it squirms between four languages. I could have gone with an all Depeche Mode soundtrack: there’s a Depeche Mode song for every occasion!
A bargain bin find, that’s what it is:
Opening Credits: Take On Me – Aha
Waking Up: Space Manoevres – Sasha & Digweed
Average Day: Darth Vader Music
First Date: Rendezvous – Alpha Blondy
Falling In Love: The Look of Love – ABC?
Love Scene: Strangelove – Depeche Mode
Fight Scene: A vÃ³i tÃ³r marÃ¬ – Fiamma Fumana
Breaking Up: She’s Got You – Patsy Cline
Secret Love: Love Calling – Billy Idol
Life’s Okay: De MÃ¢ine – Voltaj
Mental Breakdown: The Beautiful People – Marilyn Manson
Driving: Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz
Learning A Lesson: Bale Washintu – Gigi or Key – YMO
Flashback: Frozen – Madonna (I don’t really like Madonna but I do like this song & the video even more)
Partying: CiobÄƒnaÈ™ la oi m-aÈ™ duce – Radu Ille
Happy Dance: Rasputin song?
Regretting: Figurehead – The Covenant
Long Night Alone: Walking After Midnight â€“ Patsy Cline
Death Scene: Nation Writer – Unrest
Closing Credits: Blood (?!! My tape recorder broke and I have no idea if this is the song) – Faith No More
There. Now I can go on with my life.
Imogene, the Mental Office Girl, has come up with her own soundtrack.
I keep telling myself, I’ve hit rock bottom. I am as low as a worm crushed under the hoof of a diplodicus. I cannot go any lower.
But then, the little angels that are in charge of misery dig the earth from underneath me and I drop in further down.
Silly me. I forgot that I could keep falling down to the hot molten lava at the centre of the earth.
There I was yesterday morning, happy that things seemed slightly sparklier than the day before. Then I get a phone call with the almost the worst news possible. Yes, it can get worse and I don’t want to jinx it.
People should be more like sheep and stop the hell trying to be so damn unique. When one of them leaves forever, how are you supposed to replace them? Where in the world can you find an exact carbon copy with whom you can strike up a friendship and carry on as if nothing happened, as if no one died or no one moves away forever and ever?
I officially decree that tomorrow, March 20, will be Copycat Day. No more showing those interesting quirks of personality, no more original witticisms that cry for being writ down, no more special treatment for anyone. Tomorrow, the inauguration of Copycat Day, everyone must be decent to each other, because treating someone badly is also out of the ordinary and we’re looking for generalizations here.
Instead of flowers or chocolates, celebrate the people in your life by doing exactly what they are doing. Go to sleep with the person(s) you want to copy tomorrow (you want to start the day off right in the morning). Crowd into the shower with your friends, share a toothbrush, cook breakfast together, sit on each other’s laps, wash the dishes side by side with all pairs of hands in one sink, read articles from the weekend paper to each other or silently read the same page and, if you read faster, wait for the other person to catch up. Then do what everyone wants to do: an hour at the mall for the shopping obsessed, an hour sipping coffee at the shop down the road, an hour driving aimlessly – only have a motorcycle? In many third world countries, you can see entire families on one bike. At the end of the day, make one giant serving of spaghetti and feed each other.
Whatever the other people in your life would do on a Sunday, you do it too. That way, at least every March 20th, everyone will have someone with the same hobbies and interests and personalities, and if something were to ever happen to that someone, you could look forward to the next March 20th, and have someone exactly like you.
Some of the most unhappy news in the world comes from the Congo, but I couldn’t help but notice this:
‘”Several witnesses reported cases of mutilation followed by death or decapitation,” the report said.’
I don’t know which I would take if I had the choice, death or decapitation.
Or maybe there are ways to kill someone twice: ‘”Again! Kill him again!” people shouted as Mohammad Bijeh’s body swayed above the main square of the town of Pakdasht.’
‘Mr. Bijeh was sentenced to one death sentence for each murder he confessed and 100 lashes of the whip for the rapes.’ But did he die sixteen times?
Who came to see the “Desert Vampire” Mohammad Bijeh hang? ‘Bunches of young boys dangled from trees and lamp posts.’ Treebling, in other words.
Now, if you can truly die sixteen times, can you get sixteen of these coffins?
I knew about Ghananese coffins long ago and this is the main reason I want to visit Ghana. But I now know I am in the wrong profession:
“To my untrained eye, I had no idea how you would get a body into an enormous snail that would not have looked out of place on the film set of “Dr Dolittle”. Isaac gently explained that the shell came off. And I felt even more foolish when I had to ask who it was for. A snail seller, of course.”