February 11, 2005

Potlatch Up The YinYang

新年快樂! 雞年行大運!

banqiao IMG_1336
fuzzy slippers & firecrackers: Originally uploaded by dahongdou.

Here in Taiwan, with Chinese New Year come endless banquets and house visits. This means traditional new year foods, fancy restaurants, red envelope exchanges, cookies, candies, and lots and LOTS of booze (glasses of single malt you can park a jetski in). In smaller towns and traditional (pagan, non-christian)families like mine, there are also a lot of rituals. Most of it surrounds ancestor worship with offerings of food and enough incense and "paper gold" burning to cloud the skies.

On the downside is the commercialism and focus on material wealth (發大財!!). On the upside, there is the rare opportunity to sit down for shots with your great aunts, cousins you've never met, and uncles who are 5 years younger than you.

The banquet is one of many New Year customs attached to building and maintaining guanxi (關係--literally "relationships"). Along with the potlatch chinoise is the exchange of red envelopes (紅包-﹣hongbao) stuffed with cash (though only in even numbered totals, except for those containing "4," which is a homonym for "die"). There is a rich set of social etiquette associated with the hongbao, including all points on the spectrum between thank yous and bribery.

The second day of the new year is a traditional day for women to return to their homes. I spent the day doing some oldstyle house visits with my father and uncles. We went to the homes of all the women in the family to formally invite them to lunch on saturday. This kind of thing was more necessary in the past when wives lived very far away, were in farming families, and under the tyranny of mother-in-law's "open sky." In my family, these days, it is a ritual of gift giving and negotiation--how few drinks can we get away with before the next stop?[you're not ALL driving!] is it possible to NOT eat another meal? [you have to have SOMETHING to eat with your drink!]. The next day's potlatch ended with a drunken karaoke competition with the party on the other side of the dining room. my uncles won points for volume.

This year, the three day binge was followed, for many of us, by a three day purge. my guts still feel a little queasy. >yuck<

It's definitely the kind of holiday that leaves you needing a day off.

February 5, 2005

B*R*B, Taipei, reporting

news at 8
Originally uploaded by dahongdou.

watching the local news in taiwan can make you a very cynical person.
while half of the blather that is reported on the literally DOZENS of 24-hour tv news stations is transparently (a)propaganda, (b)gossip, or (c)lacking any professional standard of journalism whatsoever, of the remainder, half is (d)often of no news-worthiness, and the rest (e)just makes you sick to your stomach (and mind).

a few examples:
(a) like the best of their american counterparts, the taiwanese media likes to get into the business of MAKING the political news as much as reporting it. while the notion of an independent media came up as a topic of discussion during the last elections, a number of legislators and political party leaders continued to play public roles in various outlets. while the general public has long been aware of the political affiliations of media companies, people like to believe whatever serves their beliefs, and the news is very obligatory. in the aftermath of a less-than-one-percent-majority "victory" tainted by accusations of a set-up assassination attempt, several outlets reported that a supposed expert discovered evidence of the conspiracy. the expert turned out to be a hardcore partisan who had recorded news coverage on a vcr and had watched the sparse footage repeatedly for a week.
recently, the mayor of taipei, ma ying-jeou, and other government officials were publicly indicted for a local hospital's failure to admit a girl who was beaten unconscious by her father. no one mentioned the father's culpability for weeks as the media called for the mayor's resignation.

(b) there is no boundary between the major news sources and the papparazzi in taiwan. reporters regular stalk celebrities and stakeout ktv joints and hostess bars. a few months ago, the leading story for 4 days involved a well known tv host and his two dates, and their drunken run-in with the cops. this was followed by 5 days of video grabs of the two girls' revealing clothes and slinky figures. next, another few days of investigative reporting on the rising popularity of lowriders and showing a little bit of crack. the wearers of these fashions are known literally as "butt gutter babes" 〔股溝妹〕.

(c) too many examples to list. for a start, see (a),(b),(d). on the other hand, as an organizer, it is nice to have reporters take your press releases as the entire basis of their reports.

(d) one from my annals: a family notified the news media when the couple next door continued to have outrageously loud sex every single night. their children were losing sleep. their grades, reportedly, slipping. worse are the leering camera shots of girls in bikinis: at car shows, after plastic surgery, serving milk tea, whatever.

(e) a lot of the stories make you wonder about the direction of this society as a whole. i often feel very sad and angry. tonight's program showed hidden camera footage of unlicensed nurses working in an unlicensed hospital beating a comatose patient. they also turned off his oxygen. he first went into the "hospital" for an unrelated condition. this was their way of taking care of the lawsuits. naturally, this brings up all kinds of questions like: "how the fuck can there even be such a thing as an unlicensed hospital?" and, of course, "remind me again, why do i live here?"

February 2, 2005

Japanese Toys

Originally uploaded by dahongdou.
like Japanese children's songs
animate the objects
of everyday life:
the Shinkansen
the sorrow of a fallen chestnut
a block of tofu
in his tofu-box car
is this Shinto animism?
at least in part
where the Japanese child
learns to invest meaning,
that the object is mutable
and can be made to say


February 1, 2005

why must i blog?

after much harangue-ing from mei_nu (at livejournal.com), inconsistency in keeping in touch with friends overseas, and the ultimate failure of friendster as anything but novelty surfing, i have decided to BLOG! the medium seems ideal for burning off the little scraps of my creative energy that i have that don't generate anything else (for my exhaustion or laziness). plus--i hope--it's easy and available. much unlike my desk and worktable.

so i look forward to sharing some thoughts/art/culture/politics as i wind my way out of my third year in taipei and back to the US. and all that entails. i know you're all as scared (and hopeful) as i am.

about the title:
大紅豆 [this is in chinese--i'm not sure it will show up]
"bean" is a homonym for "struggle." later, i'll figure out how to upload mp3s and you'll get the soundtrack to this page.

much love