31 December, 2008

What's a Walla Walla?

"This is Walla Walla kiddo," Mr. Sapolil Cellars winemaker said as he commented on the eastern Washington State town's lack of nightlife. I was originally keen on visiting Cayuse, but a big SOLD OUT sign at the winery's tasting room redirected me to its neighbor.

It has been a bittersweet Christmas, a week of celebrating mother's return to the States but also my goodbye as I leave in January 2009 for my adventures in Argentina.

* * * *

We collected our rental car amidst a dull Oregon rain. It was already mid-morning but it felt early. Although it's already December 28th, most of Portland still slumbered in its post-Saturnalia food coma.


Portland International Airport, NE 181st Street, Gresham, and Troutdale . . . . One by one, mother, the sister, and I counted as we sped past Portland's eastern suburbs and into the Columbia River Gorge. Anticipating the majestic views of the river valley, we were instead greeted by a steady and increasingly energetic rain. It was as if mother nature desired no visitors and did its best to turn back the city slickers.

At the end of the last ice age, the Missoula Floods angrily rushed millions of tons of ice down the Columbia, cutting through the volcanic Cascade Mountains and creating the 80-miles long Gorge. Jagged bluffs, sometimes up to 4,000 feet/1,200 meters, now flank the mighty river's northern and southern banks.

Multnomah Falls

But on this wintry day, Mt. Hood and her shy sisters hid behind a thick white veil.

I cannot say exactly when the landscape changed, perhaps at the Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail. The narrow and dramatic Gorge gave way to open sky and a high desert landscape befitting of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns.


* * * *

Although I am a Willamette Valley and Burgundy Pinot Noir man, my first bottle of L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Syrah filled my head with fanciful imagination. The Blue Mountains, the high deserts bordering Idaho, and very warm summer days and the cool nights welcome the migrants from the South of France to the new world. Merlot from Bordeaux and Syrah from the Rhône have found a happy home in Walla Walla.


Excitedly ejecting myself out of our rental car each time we pull up to a new winery, I sampled offerings from L'Ecole No. 41, Woodward Canyon, Bergevin Lane, and finally Sapolil Cellars. But while the Syrahs were definitely worth the four hours drive, what struck me the most is the contrast between the winemakers' connection to the land they farm*, and their commitment to produce creative and quality wines; some converted rocky family plots that were unsuitable for planting wheat or onions but are great for the vines, while others came from as far away as France because of Walla Walla's freewheeling wine making culture.

* * * *


Unlike our eastward drive two days ago, today's trip back to Portland was smooth and relatively free of nature's wrath. Although it was still cloudy, the sun occasionally came out to play.

Today, the Columbia River Gorge was a pensive grand old lady who cautiously permitted us into her realm.

* Many Walla Walla winemakers commented that they're 3rd or 5th generation Walla Walla residents.

For lodging we stayed at the Walla Walla Inns' downtown location.

23 December, 2008

Progress

I feel a bit like General John Burgoyne, the British commander who fought the Continental Army while refusing to part with his creature comforts. It's not like Buenos Aires is the wilderness of the Adirondacks, but . . .

Before

Attempt # 1 - Stuff everything in the rucksacks and hope they fit. It didn't work.

Attempt #2 - Tidy up the tarp, lay out the gears in a somewhat orderly fashion, then repack the rucksacks. It was better, but not there yet.

Attempt #3 - Remove 20% of my clothes, then repack. Almost there.

I'll have to have another go at it. All this packing worked up an appetite for dinner and a few pints.

I am willing to turn down some of my clothes but refuse to slim down on my wet/cold weather gears and my books (which adds at least 20 lbs to my pack). We all have to make sacrifices for the revolution.

After - ish

11 December, 2008

Are you local?

As Grizzly Adams steered the raft down the New River (actually we paddled up the river since the New River flows south to north), I struggled with getting my head on right. The previous night had been rough. Camped out along the Shenandoah River, out tents got washed out by the inbound hurricane and we spent the whole night shivering under our improvised tarp city. Short of sleep, knee deep in mud, and wet and cold, we did what any sensible weekend warrior would do - we drank our entire weekend's supply of alcohol in one night.

Actually Grizzly Adams isn't our guide's name. But since I can't remember what he called himself and he was one towering, bearded, jolly and loquacious fella', Grizzly Adams it is.

"In West Virginia, a non-native only becomes local when the last person who knew you when you moved into town dies," Grizzie imparted upon us. "I arrived over 20-years ago and I'm still not local."

As much as I adore trekking and camping on the Appalachian Trail and rafting and rock climbing in the New River Gorge, I have no desire to pick up and move to the Mountain State.

But just now when I was laboring away at the gym, I got to thinking. How long must one live in a place before one becomes local? I have spent most of my life in three cities: Taipei, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

In the self-styled entertainment capital of the world, one earns the privilege of being an Angeleno as soon as one moves into town, find a trustworthy barman, bagel shop, burger drive through, and sort out one's favorite beach and roach coach (Southern Californian lingo for taco truck).

In Washington, very few I associate with are natives. Except for some generations-old Chevy Chase or Fairfax County families (which are outside the city limits anyway), many Washington residents are from somewhere else and go somewhere else for Christmas and Thanksgiving. After 16 years living in Washington, I hold a Brooklyn driver's license and still call myself a Californian.

Even in Taipei, most are from elsewhere in Taiwan or China. As a Japanese city originally designed for 600,000 residents, the City of Azaleas still works off the same 1895 grid but is now bulging with 2.6 million residents. Do the math and it's fairly obvious that most Taipeiers are from somewhere else. Around the time of the last big war, gramps moves the family to Taipei from Miaoli County, a quiet farming community 142 km south of Taipei.

I'm going to Buenos Aires soon. What am I going to be? I'm quite sure I won't be a Porteño. But am I going to be a traveler visiting Argentina or am I going to be a Buenos Aires resident?

04 December, 2008

NOUS SOMMES TOUS AMÉRICAINS

“Mate, be back in a little while.”

We watched with our jaws to the floor as the kilted man hoisted his bagpipes and headed out the hostel. It was an unlikely gathering of strangers right before Christmas. The Argie, a Mexican, and I, all in our 20s, and then the 40-something Scot checked in. After playing his pipes for sometime in the cobblestone streets of altstadt Zürich, the Scotsman came back and we headed to a pub on Hauptbahnhof Straße to celebrate his earnings. Travelers make friends easily.

Street tag in Bern, Switzerland in December 2001

After my month-long sojourn in Chile and the south of Argentina, it was back to business on Capitol Hill. My unstructured and pleasurable life of a hobo was over.

“You gotta turn on CNN!” my friend screamed into the phone.

It was a perfect September morning in Washington. The day was sunny and warm and the sky was the bluest shade of blue. Having just returned from South America ten days ago, I was taking my time easing back to life in the rat race.

I watched in amazement as the news commentators debated about the gaping hole in the World Trade Center. Hours later, the Twin Towers tumbled to the ground and the Pentagon was ablaze. Mobile phones crashed and thousands of Capitol Hill staffers, members of Congress, lobbyists, police officers, and visitors wandered the grounds.

“A plane is heading for the Capitol!” some speculated.

Just then a sonic boom thundered across the southern sky. I dropped behind a metal file cabinet and thought it was my time - and I couldn’t even use the mobile to call mom. But it was an air force fighter climbing to intercept possible inbound airliners.

What followed was months of anger and confusion. The government had to act but anthrax chased us out of our Capitol Hill offices. We held meetings at cafes and I scribbled floor speeches and drafted legislation in hallways and on notebook paper. Those were uncertain times.

NOUS SOMMES TOUS AMÉRICAINS, declared France’s Le Monde.

We are all Americans indeed. Outside of my family, the first people to contact me about my safety were Marie and Xavier, a Parisian couple I met at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Travelers make friends easily.

“It’s time to stop being scared,” I thought to myself. “It’s time to travel again.”

Three months after that day of days, I bought the first cheap ticket to the first attractive location I saw. It was Zürich.

02 December, 2008

To where others have gone

I stared into the frigid waters of the Strait of Magellan. The August wind was angrily sweeping across Seno Última Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) and the temperature was well below freezing. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the desperation of the Portuguese sailors who passed through the same spot on All Saints' Day in 1520.

"I should have my head examined for visiting the Patagonia at the height of winter," I muttered to myself as my escaping breaths were exhaled into the frosty air.

Situated at the southern extreme of the Chilean Patagonia, I imagined Punta Arenas to be the bottom of the Earth. Antarctica expeditions depart from here and penguins waddle its shores. The British-found port city (originally named Sandy Point) has a rich history as a penal colony whose first governor was executed by revolting prisoners. The town subsequently earned its keeps as arriving Germans, Croatians, and English and Welshmen got rich raising sheep and drilling for gushing black gold. But nobody told me the same rampaging prisoners also captured two visiting ships, marooned their passengers, got piss drunk on looted cognac, and were quickly recaptured.

Later day travelers, like Bruce Chatwin, imagined Patagonia to be the perfect nuclear bomb shelter because it isn't near anything worth bombing. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came to the south of this continent to escape from pursuing sheriffs.


But overall, aside from visiting Austral Beer, the world's most southerly brewery, Punta Arenas in August is as Lady Florence Dixie said in 1881, "there may possibly be drearier places but I don't think it is probable."

Why do I travel?

Standing at the edge of where the famed Portuguese explorer once roamed, the same thoughts I had in Joshua Tree, Bangkok, Wadi Rum and Aqaba, and many other places raced through my mind. As Richard in Alex Garland's novel "The Beach" was motivated to have a go at the mysterious lagoon, I've been tempted as far as I can remember to strike out and travel to faraway places, where I would be free from guidebooks, gringo-priced cafes and pubs, and cheeky taxi drivers.

"Buscando una habitación?" the woman at the Puerto Natales bus station shouted at me.

Still groggy from the four hour bus ride from Punta Arenas and shocked by the icy Patagonian air, the only Spanish I can conjure up was a confused "permiso?"

"Oh you're American," she immediately switched to flawless English.

"Bugger! That obvious eh?" I thought to myself.

Pointing at the Chilean flag patch I used to repair my coat, "I thought you're South American," she said.

"Have a look at my place. No need to pay if you don't like it. I can organize tours to the Perito Moreno Glacier and the Torres del Paine National Park if you like."

So much for getting away from other gringos and Europeans.

Cecilia was a kind woman who ran a tight ship. Casa Cecelia in Puerto Natales was one of the best guesthouse I've stayed in. The shower pressure was strong, the water was hot, the kitchen and bedrooms were spotless (and heated!). She also sorted me out on treks to go on and rides to the parks.

The walk from where the bus let us off to the first warming hut with hot showers, food, and bunks was five hours. I made the hike with a Japanese girl on her gap year and a Maltese couple. The only way to get supplies in and out of Torres del Paine is on foot or mules. Fast-falling snow was a faithful companion during our whole trek to Refugio Pehoe.


We walked mostly in silence, each awed with the scenery and each with our own thoughts. Dampened by the wintry weather, not many trekkers are about the park. We've almost the entire mountain to ourselves, except for the hungry pumas.

26 November, 2008

Reading list

One issue I'm still sorting out for my Argentina journey is my reading list. Do I carry everything to Buenos Aires with me and deal with the weight? Or ferry a few down initially and have friends send my collection after I'm settled? I've heard some horror stories about the Argie postal service.

But here's my initial list. Anybody with further suggestions?

Into Thin Air - John Krakauer
L'élégance du Hérisson - Muriel Barbery
The Wings of the Dove - Henry James
Persian Fire - Tom Holland
Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
i, Lucifer - Glen Duncan
The Postman - Antonio Skámeta
On the Road - John Kerouac
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon - Jorge Amado
1491 - Charles G. Mann
The Lemon Tree - Sandy Toland
Writing New York - Phillip Lopate
The Peloponnesian War - Donald Kagan
Travels with Herodotus - Ryszard Kapuscinski
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon - Pablo Neruda
The Power and the Glory - Graham Green

20 November, 2008

Stepping off . . .

I sat across from my ex, my nose stuffed up and my head fuzzy from my cold. We were at the Lighthouse, a Korean tofu hot pot specialist in suburban Washington. It's one of my favorite meals during winter and I probably won't find it once I get to Buenos Aires. In a way, this is a farewell to an aspect of my life in DC.

I have been a bit flighty lately. As my shove off date to Argentina approaches, I am realizing all the tasks I need to accomplish prior to leaving. There are academic commitments to fulfill and office work to to finalize. There is the boxing up of my apartment and the packing and repacking of my two rucksacks. The list is endless and unforgiving. But I'll get them done.

But the real weight on my chest is the idea of moving on. Although I made that choice quite some time ago, the idea that I will soon step off the edge is truly giving me the butterflies. I've been on many solo trips before, from the sands of Arabia to almost the bottom of the Earth. But for the first time I am off on a journey not knowing if I will return. I feel like I am charting a course without a map.

Ever since I was a wee boy I've been told to follow a professional path - be a lawyer, a banker, etc. I read my parents' disappointment as I detoured time and again and eventually ended up working on Capitol Hill. But at least that was a professional field right? I was working and breathing the same air with decision makers who can change the world. But was I?

Friends came and went and I am still standing on the same spot. It's time to go.

As I personally said goodbye to friends, I am realizing that I'll be alone pretty soon, with nothing to bank on except my wits and my savings account. I know I've plans for graduate school in Europe, but I also need to have my head right before I get there.

Perhaps this was how my parents felt years ago when they forfeited the comfort of their homeland for the unknown promises of California.

12 November, 2008

Free music!

The weather in Washington is finally cooling down. During the last few days we went from sweater climate to coats and scarves weather. Walks to the Metro stations are getting more hurried.

One attractive aspect of autumn in Washington is the National Gallery of Art's Sunday evening concert series. Started as a service for returning war veterans, the shows are free of charge and I've spent many Sunday nights there.

We're approaching Christmas and I've been feeling more unsettled as the year's end nears. For the first time I'll have no father to cheer. It's not that I even like Santa and his gang of helpers, but the thought that I can't even ring dad and wish him a good holiday. . . .

11 November, 2008

Saying grace

The man stopped me cold tonight as I walked from the gym back to my office. He was saying grace.

"Dear Lord, thank you for ....."

What does he have be thankful for? He doesn't even have a home. It is approaching winter and he is sitting outside in the cold, reduced to the kindness of strangers for his everyday sustenance. But there he is, giving thanks for the blessing of a meal.

I paused for a second but quickly moved past without acknowledging his moment of privacy. "Better get back to the office," I thought to myself.

10 November, 2008

The uni boys won!

My boys won the Potomac Rugby Union Div. III championship match yesterday!

Down 15 - 5 with 20 minutes left, American University ran in two tries and a conversion to finish the match 17 - 15 winners.


Tomo, our fullback and Japanese import, was the man of the match.

07 November, 2008

Early Friday morning thoughts

I hate to dwell on the Taiwanese protest issue, especially since I'm not in Taipei to personally witness it. But I had to skype my mom last night to see about her welfare. She was under the hot sun all day to protest police actions limiting public speech.

Some may ask what the big deal is. Why are the Taiwanese protesting a trade deal that will expand direct flights and shipping lanes between Taiwan and China? Perhaps they're not. Perhaps they are protesting against the rollback of hard-won civil rights. One has to remember that as recent as 1987, the island nation was governed by a dictator under marshal law.

To protect a visiting Chinese diplomat, the Taiwanese government deployed 7,000 - 9,000 police in riot gears, erected wired barricades and blocked off several square kilometers of downtown Taipei, detained individuals for expressing their political views about China, and shuttered an area business without properly served warrants. One does not engage in such actions without eliciting a response from a free people. Reminiscent of Beijing on June 4, 1989, the university students have started an around-the-clock sit-in and are being dragged away one-by-one by the police for their troubles.

Most English-language press gave awful coverage to what's going on in Taipei. The New York Times outlined the inked trade deal in an article, and added that the Chinese envoy was met with "a handful of protests." The best part - one of the contributing writers wrote the story from Paris. The South China Morning Post out of Hong Kong focused on police officers injured by the protesters and a quick scan of the Sydney Morning Herald produced nothing on the subject. All this nothingness about a demonstration that drew over 100,000 marchers. I know, Taiwan is not my country. But I have roots there and like to cheer for democracy advocates.

I've turned to on-the-ground bloggers who are providing primary accounts of what occurred in Taipei the last few days. The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato wrote an eloquent summary of what that writer saw at the Thursday protest. Emotions came to me when the writer wrote "Perhaps no scene touched me more than that of a middle-aged police officer crying as he surveyed what was going on, caught between his responsibility to his troops and the people he is supposed to be serving." Mucha Man, another blogger in Taiwan, took some fantastic photos of the protest.

Thanks to Baino's Friday Fuckwit, I had a smile this morning.

06 November, 2008

Fightin' Scots

Is Scotch a drink or a person from Scotland?

My friends from north of the Tweed would have a pretty firm answer about that question. But for some reason, when waves of immigrants came to the States from Northern Ireland, the Ulster Scots became the Scotch Irish. Many Americans can trace their ancestry back to the those who participated in the Plantations of Ireland.


In looking at things I want to do before the end of 2008, I hope I will be able to up myself to New York City for the Black Watch, a National Theatre of Scotland play about the Royal Highland Regiment's experience in Iraq.

Studio 360, a public radio show in the States, just ran a captivating interview with Gregory Burke, the play's writer.

Words

In passing last night my mother asked me the damndest thing. She asked me if the American people would willingly subject ourselves to be ruled by a black man. The question surprised me.

Does her question expose her own biases? Or does it just reflect what she thinks about racial relations in the United States? She didn't bring me up to judge on account of skin color.

Then there is the semantics of the question. Maybe I can't properly translate her words from Mandarin to English, but I just can't see a democratic nation being ruled by anyone. We're subjects to no monarchs or dictators. Democrats are governed, not ruled.

On another subject, for those interested in geeking about politics in East Asia, the Taipei rallies my mother and I talked about was adequately summed up by the View from Taiwan. If the cited sources are accurate, the abridgement of civil rights is quite breathtaking.

Siege in Taipei

I've been so wrapped up about the U.S. election I've been neglecting some of the news from across the big pond. Skyping my mother tonight she reminded me that we Americans were not the only ones struggling for democracy yesterday. The Taiwanese also have a wee donnybrook of their own in Taipei. As I previously blogged, an ongoing visit from a high-level Chinese envoy is attracting a bit of attention from Taiwanese democracy advocates.

Since my mother has been attending demonstrations in the Taiwanese capital, I've been quite worried about the escalated police presence and recent government detentions of opposition lawmakers and party officials. Denied permits to demonstrate against the Chinese diplomat, many Taiwanese have resorted to besieging government buildings hosting Beijing's top negotiator to Taiwan. According to my mother, who was at a Taipei protest yesterday, police efforts to break up demonstrations have resulted in scores of injuries to the civilians. Another rally is scheduled in Taipei today and organizers are expecting 100,000 to march.


I admire my mother for acting on her convictions. Democracy is a fine thing to stand up for. Since my father's passing in September my mother has been very keen to express herself on this issue. However, I also question if Taiwan and China's toxic history with each other is clouding the people's judgement. After all, the Chinese negotiator is only in town to sign accords to expand shipping and flights between the two countries.

Nonetheless, Taiwan has a special place in my heart. It's the land where my grandparents are buried and it is a fellow democracy. Go you good thing!

*Photos - Banner in the top photo declares "Taiwan is a country," referencing China's campaign to deny Taiwan de jure nationhood. Bottom photo - no explanation necessary.

05 November, 2008

The hangover

The streets were blocked and it became impossible for cars to move through U Street. Washington, DC was a town in celebration last night. Nonetheless, being the negative nelly that I am, I hesitate to think that a simple election will change the course of a country. We've had eight years of wars, partisanship, hurricanes, and economic meltdowns. Mr. Obama has the challenging task of quickly righting the American vessel.

It was an interesting night. Moving quickly after work, I met up with two American and three French friends. Amidst cheers for Obama and partisan hollers supporting McCain, we spent the night hoping for a favorable outcome and explaining to our Gallic friends the intricacies of the American presidential election system. The surprise of the night wasn't the strong Obama victory. But I was rather taken with how hopeful and exuberant people were in their celebration. It is Washington, where we treat politics like sports. But people were high-fiving each other like they just posted the winning score for the World Cup.

I wish words can capture the emotions of election night, but I haven't the skills to adequately express what I saw. Now the world has its expectations of what our new government ought to look like, I hope they won't be surprised when Obama does what Obama needs to do to win a second term at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

04 November, 2008

Facebooking on democracy

So many people are excited about the vote today. Personally I'm quite conflicted. I'll be happy when it's over and the proper result certified without another judicially-assisted banana republic episode. One just cannot imagine what Americans are capable of.

I'm also amazed about the number of non-Americans who are keen on our election. I know they mean well but this is our election. I'm no supporter of the Grand Old Party but I don't need the world to tell me about the wisdom of an Obama presidency.

Some of my friends' facebook status today:

"is an active part of democracy. VOTE!"

"
is calling DC for Obama."

"
can't believe it's finally election day!"

"
is going to vote."

"
says go rock the vote! This country needs change!!!!"

"is basking in the warm glow of voting for the Dems!"

"Line to vote in col heights is only 3 blocks long."

"
is voting strategically instead of sincerely. Sad."

"
is everyone...please go and vote!"

"America, are you ready for some change ???"

"pfffff, you cannot even vote"

Here is to election-themed cocktails.

Picture of the day


Going up on DC Metro's escalator.

Proper toppers


It was a light crowd for the Melbourne Cup. But it was the night before and all the cool kids in DC are out geeking about the election.

I've never been interested much in the ponies. But a buddy who works at the Australian Embassy got a few of us on the guest list. Wagering and bottles of crownie and VB aside, I had a duty to humor all the ladies with large funny hats.

It was a mostly quiet affair. But the crowd got more animated as the Aussies bid up the horses under the "Calcutta" rule. Perhaps last night's gaming process is a down under method, but I was a bit confused.

Inspired by Paddy in Buenos Aires' post about Barrio Chino in BsAs, I had myself a bit of a walk around Washington, DC's Chinatown. Originally a German-speaking neighborhood around the turn of 20th century, Washington's Chinese quarter is Chinatown in name only. Priced out by costly condos and the city's insatiable appetite for more office space for lawyers and lobbyists, the Chinese have long moved on. Except for a few serviceable Asian restaurants, the area is mostly populated by yuppies.


In an effort to retain the neighborhood's history, the city government requires all businesses in Chinatown to display some form of Chinese characteristic. Interpreting the municipal ordinance loosely, area businesses satisfied the government mandate by opting for Chinese signs.


DC Chinatown also has a partisan tinge when it comes to politics - Chinese politics. Many of the family and provincial associations still maintain their loyalty to the Chinese Nationalist Party (AKA Kuomintang). One can still spy Republic of China flags during the lunar new year parade and the many still celebrate October 10th as the Chinese national holiday (rather than October 1st, which is the People's Republic of China's national holiday).

If I can have a wish right now I wish I can either get a few more hours of sleep, or be at Buenos Aires for the annual pillow fight.

02 November, 2008

Ocean to the west and mountains to the east

Growing up a Southern Californian meant around-the-year sunshine, beaches and tall mountains close by, and wineries. Aside from New York City, no other North American metropolitan area can match the Los Angeles region's culinary offerings. Growing up a Southern Californian meant playing beach volleyball one day and skiing in the mountains the next; it meant having dim sum for brunch and having fish tacos for dinner. While Los Angeles hasn't been my home for quite a number of years, I still fancy, in concept, what the city has to offer.

I've had the luxury of traveling to the Pacific Northwest from time-to-time. I used to have work in Portland, Oregon and still have family there. The region occupies a special place in my heart. For one, the geography of the Northwest is similar to that of Southern California's; the Pacific is to the west, and the mountains are to the east.


I was recently in Seattle, Washington for a few September days. Here are a couple photos I took.

01 November, 2008

Comings and goings


Unfortunately, because I have to turn in some work in the morning, I am desk-bound at home tonight instead of out chasing Marie Antoinette and Catwoman. But as I am taking a stretch from my work, I can't help but giggle about the collection I've amassed on my desk.

My buddy M. just returned from his around-the-world trek on Thursday. Typical of a DC population, I always have friends coming or going. We're just a nomadic people.

We traded war stories and brandished bottles collected on the road. M. has been working the vines at a Bordelais chateau and I was recently in Oregon and Washington. So we've a few bottles of French, Oregon, and Washington to top off in the next few days!

31 October, 2008

To keep the beer cold


We call these contraptions beer koozies and they're ubiquitous on California beaches or at Texas BBQs. Although I am partial to a bottle of Mendoza Malbec or a Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir, I don't travel without my koozies (at least not well). Useful for keeping the brew tip top under hot weather, koozies double as my camera case while on the road. Seen above pattering about beaches in Taiwan, this beauty is coming with me on my Argie walkabout.

30 October, 2008: morning and dusk in Washington


Looking out my office window with a view of the Navy Memorial. Most dry days one will find either a naval ceremony or kids trying to hop from one continent to another.


I felt like walking after work today so I crossed the grounds on the National Mall to get to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station. This is a view west looking at the sun setting behind the Washington Monument.

30 October, 2008

Small monuments and first class dining service

Washington, DC is a city full of monuments. Designed by a Frenchman in the Republic's early days and constructed mostly during America's years as an aspiring global power, it is an urban landscape fashioned to impress. With the U.S. Capitol, and major memorials in honor of Messrs. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Jefferson, the District of Columbia is dotted with majestic but predictable neo-classical edifices.

However, I prefer the small pleasures. Although it is far from being a neighborhood park, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden has been one of my favorites in DC. The grounds are populated by art that doesn't take itself too seriously and the summery water fountain transforms itself into an ice-skating rink during the colder months. No matter the weather, one can often find families enjoying the garden's offerings. I snapped this photo a few years ago while tripping over myself.


I've begun the process of packing up my apartment. Among years of possessions, I most prize my books and photos. Although it'll be sad to part with much of my library collection, I am slowly turning my pre-digital camera photos to electronic files. This was a picture I took at Hong Kong's Mid-Levels.

How about that for fine dining!

Latest news from the Swamp on the Potomac


Obama Undertakes Presidential Internship To Ease Concerns About His Lack Of Experience

29 October, 2008

Good times all the time

Avalancha de éxitos!

It's reported that the Obama campaign bought a 30-minute spot tonight on CBS, NBC, FOX, and Univision.

I know it's a crucial election, but a half-hour infomercial? How good is that! It's like selling kitchen knives on the tube. And I don't even have a television . . .

On top of that, whatever policy differences I may enjoy with the Republican nominee, I believe that he may be an honorable man. But charging Obama with delaying the Baseball World Series with an ad? Mr. McCain jumped into the infomercial fracas by saying “No one will delay the World Series game with an infomercial when I’m president.”

You're darn tootin'!

Delaying baseball for politics; that would be um . . . un-American. Whatever that may mean.

Super Bowl with El Jefe

As I prepare to ditch Washington, DC, things I remember from my 16 years living by the Potomac River.

2000 Super Bowl party at the White House. The former football fan-in-chief was walking around working the room:

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you son for coming to my Super Bowl party.
ME: Thank you sir it's great!
PRESIDENT CLINTON: How do you like it?
ME: [long pause due to brain freeze, stupidity, and confusion] Free suds and pizza, I love it!
PRESIDENT CLINTON: [Awkward silence and walks away]

28 October, 2008

Scary indeed

One of the benefits and downfall of being an insomniac is that I stay up until the wee hours, listening to BBC World Service and running weird thoughts through my head. It's almost All Saints' Day and the Halloween spirit is coming out to play.

First up - The British Beer and Pub Association reported yesterday that Britons are drinking fewer pints. Outrageous! What is Old Blighty without copious quantity of bitter on draught? What's next, Aussie publicans stand in bars with no beer and Mexico dry out of margaritas?

Since I live in Washington, DC, Halloween has traditionally meant one thing - political campaigns. This is when campaign workers and junkies conjure up their last ounce of energy and make their final push to advocate for their candidates.

Campaign signs are everywhere and even sporting events provide no escape. Tune into the Major League Baseball championship series and one is likely to receive a blast of Barack Obama or John McCain ads, each accusing his opponent of being unpatriotic, bad for the American economy, socialistic, or a George W. Bush clone.

Yesterday Uncle Ted's trial ended. Otherwise known as Senator Ted Stevens, the gentleman from Alaska was found guilty of failing to report US$250,000 of free gifts. Fondly known as the feisty and Incredible Hulk tie-wearing guardian of federal earmarks, Mr. Stevens based his trial defense on the following points:
  • He didn't know US$160,000 wouldn't be enough to pay for the transformation of his rustic one-level Alaska cabin into a two-story house with two decks, a new garage and amenities like a whirlpool and a steam room.
  • He did not ask for the gifts, such as a sled dog, gas BBQ grill, massage chair.
  • When he received the unwanted gifts, he did not enjoy them, especially the massage chair he frequently used at his Washington, DC home.
The best part is - Mr. Stevens does not lose his job. As a member of the self-styled "most deliberative body in the world," Stevens cannot be expelled from the U.S. Senate without the consent of 2/3 of his colleagues. So, should he stand for election and win his seat on November 4th, it is possible Mr. Stevens can serve both his prison sentence and his 6-year Senate term at the same time.

So much for the ideals of Senatus Populusque Americanus.

Scary indeed.

27 October, 2008

Confidence man

Bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, scam, scheme, or swindle. It's all the same.

I haven't been across this man while traveling in South America, but had a similar experience years ago when I ran into a woman who told me a similar sob story in Santa Monica, California and on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Bugger your Chinese Taipei!

Mr. T., one of my dad's friends from prep school days sent me this photo early this morning. Both Mr. T. and my mother are in Taipei participating in demonstrations against Chen Yunlin's (陳雲林) upcoming visit. As the chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, Mr. Chen is in Taipei to talk about China - Taiwan relations (to many Taiwanese that translates into Chen is in town to force Taiwan to become part of China).

The Taiwanese are passionate about their politics and they use all their democratic rights to express themselves. I suppose I would be a bit upset too if the most populous nation on Earth has a few thousand missiles pointed at my backyard.

If one were to politely translate the sign into English, it'd be something like "I bugger your Chinese Taipei!"

Because China claims Taiwan as part of the People's Republic, Taiwan can only participate in international athletic competitions under Chinese Taipei, not under the island's actual name. Taiwan also participates in other international fora under the Beijing-imposed name, and is not permitted to be involved in international organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization, where de jure nationhood is a requirement for membership (however the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Knights of Malta, both non-state actors, enjoy WHO observer membership). As some may know, although Taipei is Taiwan's capital and its largest municipality, Taipeiers are only 2.6 million out of the nation's 26 million inhabitants.

26 October, 2008

The view from my office

Unlike yesterday's monsoon-like weather, today is perfect. The temperature is a mild 60F/15C and the sun is shining brilliantly. But it's also the kind of autumn day that makes it challenging to dress. Sit in the sun and it's too warm to have a sweater or a coat on. Walk in the shade and it's too chilly to be in a short sleeve shirt. Ah how I want everything to be just perfect!


This is a view from my office looking out. It's not a very good quality photo because I only have the webcam on my laptop. But since I spent so many years in Washington, I owe it to posterity to capture my experience here. This is one of them.

But how I have learned to dislike my profession (politics and lobbying)! I know democracy is suppose to be messy and it's still the best form of governance humankind can devise. But Buckley v. Valeo or not, must America spend so much money on the process, especially when such givings are directly linked to political and policy decisions? I cannot imaging that James Madison, author of Federalist #10, would be very happy about the divisiveness of today's American government.

Ten years in Washington, DC and I feel like I have lost my way. As my friends from Down Under say to me, time to go on a walkabout.

But it is a lovely view.

The simple pleasures!

Despite my massive hangover this morning, I joined the American University boys for their rugby match. It was driving down rain, the wind was blowing hard, and I was soaked to the bone. But how satisfying it was to watch the boys play creatively and win 53 - 0 under the worst condition.

While far from perfect (they could be more patient and better organized), they played as we coached them - they thought for themselves on the pitch instead of playing like pre-programmed gridiron footballers; and they played for their mates rather than as fifteen individuals. It was basic rugby and the boys did most things right. They took care of the fundamentals - the scrummaging, tackling, rucking, mauling, and passing - and the score spoke for their efforts. The joy of seeing good footy unfold in front of one's eyes ....

Rugby has always been a steadying influence on my life. Although because of it I might have hit the sauce a little too hard or strayed from my studies during my university days, the sport also gives me great pleasure and saw me through both good and bad times. For that reason I go out to support the AU boys.

24 October, 2008

Vous être ou vous être pas?

"You Taiwanese (in Mandarin)?"

Without giving me a chance to reply, the neighborhood Chinese buffet owner was quick to launch into her thoughts about former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bien's corruption scandals. For 99.9% of the world who aren't keen on Taiwanese political news, the former head of the island's Democratic Progressive Party has been accused of all sorts of bad behavior while he served in office (like lining his own pockets and money laundering).

I'm getting off message here. What I'm trying to say is I'm confused.

When I'm in the United States and I speak with Chinese speakers, they hear my accent and assume that I'm from Taiwan. But in reality, I only have the accent because my parents speak Taiwanese Mandarin with me at home.

But when I am in Taiwan, I stick out like a sore thumb. I look like an American; I dress like an American; and I wait in line for services like I'm an American. I say my "thank yous" to shopkeepers and even acknowledge street vendors promoting their wares like I'm a polite gringo. Although my accent may disguise my nationality for a little while, locals find me out very quickly. For one I don't parler the newest cool street slangs like the local kids.

Sometimes the Taiwanese also accuse me to be a Singaporean. I guess it makes sense; I speak both English and Mandarin well enough and Singapore is one of the few places on Earth that considers both tongues their official language.

When I'm in Europe people assume I'm American because of my accent. I was once mistaken to be Japanese Peruvian when I was in the Chilean Patagonian town of Puerto Natales.

I don't know what I'm saying anymore. I just remember starting this entry because I'm really confused. Now I'm more confused.

A displaced Californian

I have lived in Washington, DC for 16 years, but it's not home. I was born in Taipei and went to grammar school there, but didn't have a say when the family moved to Los Angeles. I travel the world with my pack, but I have a California Republic flag on it instead of Old Glory. My first language is English, but sometimes my thoughts come out in Chinese or French (or a few words of bad Spanish if I'm really confused). The only place I ever felt like home is when I'm on the move.

21 October, 2008

Kissy people

I did not come from a family of kissy people. When we greet each other or bid farewell, a simple "hello" or "bye" will do. It is simply not our way (or is it just me?) to passionately express ourselves. I can't even remember the first hug my mother gave me. Maybe it was when I left for college?

Since I moved to the United States in my youth, I've had to climatize myself to a whole host of new embraces. Women squeal with delight when hugging each other; men bump chests, high five each other, or slap each other's gluteus maximus after scoring an especially thrilling touchdown or hitting a home run.

Because I've made a number of French friends in the past few years, I've had to get use to kissing. Don't get me wrong, it is lovely to receive kisses from French girls. We've kept it simple with just a small peck on each cheek. But I'm also told that in France, it could upgrade to three or even four kisses depending on the region. I look forward to sorting out that mystery when I get there.

My most awkward moment - dinner with a group of South Asian Muslims at their home in Portland, Oregon.

It started out as a business meeting because they disagreed with the Israel policy of a certain Congressman I worked for. After being on the receiving end of their anger for over an hour, they rolled out a luxurious dinner and invited me to stay. During the meal they were warm, kind, and wanted to know everything about my interests, my background, and my family's health. However, when they introduced their wives and daughters to me before the meal started, I idiotically extended my hand to greet them.

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

At least they invited me to return to join them in the annual Intel vs. Microsoft cricket match - mind you with tea and not pints (there's another questions - how does one sit through a cricket match without a few pints or a flask?).

Argentina is constantly on my mind now. As I struggle to stay awake at the office or do my school work, I remind myself the freedom I have to gain next year.

I wonder what new cultural adventures I'll have next year?

20 October, 2008

There's no crying in baseball

Saturday night I was at the bar having a few drinks and catching the Red Sox/Tampa Bay ALCS game. Out of no where I teared up thinking about dad. This is the first time in my life I can't ring him to talk baseball.

Dad and I never had much to discuss. But we were always able to talk sports. Dad and I both played rugby and baseball is a close second favorite. Even in our roughest hours we can always talk about how the All Blacks are doing or the bums at Chavez Ravine.

I need to stop feeling so down. I've been blogging a lot about dad's passing and need to start getting on with life.

27 September, 2008

Willamette Dammit!

McMinnville, Oregon - I ran west for twenty minutes. The problem with running with an iPod is that one cannot hear one's own breathing and footsteps. I like hearing my own rhythms when I run. But I also like time to fly by faster while conducting an activity I consider torturous. Music helps. On my return trip, I was rewarded with a glorious Oregon sunrise.

I'm burying dad this afternoon in Portland. I have been thinking for quite some time, without any success, about what to say at the service. While it's just going to be family, something should be said about pops (or perhaps nothing at all should be said).

The overnight excursion into the Willamette Valley gave me space to think about my past, my relationship with my dad, and about what I face in the immediate future. However, after spending yesterday afternoon amongst the vines and the evening at Hotel Oregon, I still haven't the foggiest the path my heart will take this afternoon.

On a more pleasant subject, I visited a few Yamhill County wineries yesterday and this morning. One shall remain nameless because their pinots tasted like a oafy Newfoundland who went for a swim in an oak barrel full of muddy water. However, Chehalem's just-released 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir was a lovely lass! She is young, cheerful, but mysterious enough to go for a second date. Unfortunately, at $60 per bottle she is also a spendy date. But I did get a very tasty bottle of 2006 Chehalem Corral Creek, who is feistier than my usual preference for pinots. This is a bottle to pop open and enjoy soon rather than sit in the cave (or under my bed).

26 September, 2008

Arriving in America with an extra large Stetson and cowboy boots

Portland, Oregon - The slurring Englishman and I discussed the virtues of a six-pack of Scrumpy Jack at Bridgeport Brewing Company. It's not everyday that one gets to debate the fine points of a Hereford cider over a piss, but the rant distracted me from the business of dad's burial arrangements and the USC Trojans' loss to Oregon State University tonight. Who loses to a football team called the Beavers?!

I arrived at Seattle - Tacoma International Airport at 18:40 on September 24, 2008. It's only the second time I traveled internationally with my dad; the first time was in 1980, when my family of four last took a vacation together.

It's difficult to imagine that my mother, sister, and I arrived in the United States in Spring of 1983, without ten words of English, and me with a fancy for cowboy get-ups and Wild West movies. I would soon fall under the spell of David Hasselhoff and Knight Rider (little did I know at the time that the program's producer labeled the show a "sci-fi thing, with the soul of a western"). Quelle horreur!

I had friends and poor grades at my elementary school in Taipei. I was happy. Moving to the States was my parents' choice. Since becoming a Californian, I have spent most of my energy fighting my parents' dreams, and have wasted their efforts to provide me with a proper education.

But the last two weeks of reflection with my mother was nice. While it wasn't entirely pleasurable, it is good that I had one of the unusually frank exchanges with one of my parents. I told her that I want to leave the U.S. for graduate schools in Europe, I'm not getting a MBA, and that I am not entirely happy that I didn't have a say in our family's move to North America in the early '80's.

24 September, 2008

So they won't rent a gringo a motorbike

Hualien, Taiwan (written on paper on 09/22/2008) - I took the 13:15 train out of the Stalinist-styled Taipei Main Station on September 20th, the day after dad's wake. I questioned if it is appropriate or if I'm emotionally ready to strike out on my own so soon after dad's service, but c'est la vie. I need to get away from people.

The train glided smoothly past crowded Taipei suburbs, polluted industrial parks, and emerald green rice paddies. As the conductor announced Ilan, a coastal town with an especially heavy aborigine influence, the scenery suddenly opened up, with the sky and the turquoise sea becoming one.

I don't know how, but I found myself a surfer hostel in Hualien; I wasn't even aware that the Taiwanese are keen on riding the waves! With the past twelve days consumed by death and family, it's great to not have to answer questions. Travelers at the hostel only cared about where I'm from, what I'm planning to do on the coast, and if I'm ready for another tall boy of Taiwan Beer (a brew that rivals a biggin' serving of Miller High Life, the champagne of beer) - and a Swedish couple was happy that a bilingual American was able to help them arrange a rafting tour for the next morning.

Hualien is endowed with an abundance of natural beauty. Sandwiched between 3,700 meters-tall peaks and the Pacific Ocean, the town made me happy. Unlike Taipei, the sky is blue, the air clean, and the beaches are absolutely empty!

I was in the mood to move on my own and explore up and down Highway 9 and Highway 11, two coastal roads hugging the Pacific. While I originally fancied a Sanyang Wild Wolf 125cc, the local rental agencies wouldn't oblige me since I'm without a Taiwanese bike endorsement. So I resorted to dodgey tactics and found a dodgeyer agency to rent me the dodgeyiest of all scooters, a Kymco 125cc without a functional speedometer or fuel gauge. I just had to sign a lengthy Chinese-language consent form waiving the agency of all responsibilities for my well-being (they didn't think I can read Chinese), and promise that in the event of an encounter with local flics, I would plead ignorance in English and do whatever the Taiwanese 5-0 desires.

But the blasted thing got me around the coast for two days.

19 September, 2008

Am I weird?

Is it strange for me to want some time to reflect, to relax, and to get away from people? I sent dad away today. Is it wrong to want space to sort myself out?

In challenging times I tend to turn inward - to internalize my feelings to try to make sense of all that's happening around me. Mother understands, I think. She vocalizes no judgement on my trip south tomorrow.

But all my relatives seem to think I'm strange for traveling to Hualien on my own. I mean - it's just a three hour train ride in a country where I speak the local language. Are people really that uncomfortable with solitude or just not adventurous enough to strike out on their own?

17 September, 2008

Bones, trains, and ghouls

Taipei, Taiwan - I visited grandma this morning. Although I didn't think much of it before, it was important for me to pay my respects to my maternal grandmother; she did raised me in my youth while my parents were frequently away.

Grandma's remains were cremated upon her passing last year and now reside in a Buddhist temple in Xindian, a Taipei suburb. I said bones because unlike the American cremation system, the Taiwanese cremation service incinerates the flesh but leaves the bones intact. Since the location isn't serviced by the Taipei Metro, mother and I bumbled about the Taipei city bus system until we found the correct service that got us to the temple.

After dad's wake and cremation on September 19th, I plan to leave the next day for Hualien, a seaside city on Taiwan's east coast. The city is famed for its scenic coastal highways (I plan to hire a motorcycle when I get to Hualien), big wave surfing, and Taroko Gorge, a park that has been compared to Zion Canyon. I desperately need to get away from people. I know my family and my parents' friends mean well, but I just want to get through this process alone. Is that so wrong?

It is nice to visit a country with a proper rail system. Unfortunately, since Hualien is on the east instead of the west of the island, it's not serviced by the Taiwan High Speed Rail (台灣高速鐵路). The east coast, which faces the Pacific, is rocky, mountainous, and highly unsuitable for trains to travel at a high speed. But I've got the regular service, provided by the Taiwan Railway Administration. Trains leave Taipei Main Station every 30-40 minutes and the ride will take three hours. The roundtrip ticket is US$26 - not bad! I just bought the tickets this afternoon.

I am doing all these blogging from the Taipei Brewery, a former producer of Taiwanese suds during the early part of the 20th Century. It is now a non-profit modern/performing art complex that is host to art exhibits, black box theaters, and fashion shows. For some reason there is a Hong Kong group here this afternoon and they are throwing a Halloween in September party; so I seem to be the only person who isn't dressed like Mardi Gras in this café.

13 September, 2008

Two things

I'm still not sure about the differences between an hurricane and a typhoon; they're both windy, rainy, and angry.

While on the subject of things I'm still confused about, L. and I scribbled down questions during our drive through the Jordanian desert. While visiting Wadi Rum, we both wondered about the meaning of "rum." We know "wadi" means valley. What is rum? Maybe reason enough to make a return visit to Jordan.

11 September, 2008

It has been raining for three days

Taipei, Taiwan - Sinlaku is making its way ashore on Taiwan's east coast today (this entry was started and marked 9/11/2008 but I actually wrote and published it 9/13/2008 Taipei time). The "super typhoon" packs a punch of over 110 miles per hour wind speed and is forecast to bring approximately 1,000 mm of rain over the course of its brief sojourn on the island.

Although the typhoon brings a moody quality to Taipei's concrete jungle, I've been finding it refreshing to have once-crowded streets all to myself. So I've been just walking. I'm not sure if it's part of the healing process or if I am seeking escape from the reality of dad's death. But I walked ....

On September 11th I turned in dad's passport to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). For those who are not familiar with the absurdities of the Sino-Taiwan-American relations, the United States government doesn't recognize the government of Taiwan as the island's legitimate authority. But realizing the importance of trade, commerce, and perhaps common decency, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 and established AIT as a non-profit organization to provide American representation and consular services in Taiwan. There is no Old Glory hanging over the front door of our unofficial embassy in Taipei and no Marine guards. Just a low key institution on No.7, Lane 134, Sec. 3, HsinYi Rd., Da-an District, Taipei City (106-59 台北市大安區信義路三段134巷7號) that focuses on "people-to-people relationship" between the United States and Taiwan.

Alors - I turned in dad's very official passport to a non-official organization to obtain an official U.S. Department of State Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad, a document that is necessary to apply for and transfer all of dad's social security benefits to mother.

I still have the wake and the cremation ceremony to organize for September 19th. The way it is conducted in Taiwan, I'm not sure if the services are for dad, or for the elders who rule over the clan. As my father's only son, I have been mindful to personally hand-deliver the invitations to the right family members, and to appropriately confirm their status as my senior.

I will be very happy to finish the Taiwanese chapter of dad's life and look forward to finally putting him to rest amongst the Cascades.

Dad's passing

09:25 on September 10, 2008 at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Dansui, Taiwan

06 September, 2008

A few moments of clarity

My dad told me he's afraid this afternoon; he opened his eyes, looked at me, and expressed himself to me in a way he's never done in my life. My dad never admits his feelings to anyone.

I wish I have my journal. In my haste to leave for Taipei I left it back in Washington. Damn it!

05 September, 2008

To the subtropics via the arctic

This is much harder than I ever imagine it to be. For a son to see a dying father . . .

As of last weekend, it seemed as if my trip to Québec would never end. The drive through the Poconos, across the Catskills and up the Adirondacks was lovely and relaxing. Aside from sneaking into the Boy Scouts’ Ten Mile Run campground to bunk down on Thursday night, I didn’t have a care in the world outside of taking in whatever comes my way. I was happy.

I felt like I was alive again! I simply let my curiosity navigate my course and enjoyed the journey. Originally planning to gun straight up the New York Thruway to get to Montréal as quickly as I can, I ended up finding the fife and drum band at Fort Ticonderoga (but missing Fort William Henry, a place I’ve always wanted to visit since I read the Last of the Mohicans years ago), taking a ferry boat across the Champlain, and striking north through the upper half of Vermont to get to Québec. It was a fantastic detour!

Pacing around Anchorage International Airport at 03:30 yesterday was torturous. Since I got mother’s call on Wednesday morning, I caught the first flight I could get a seat on that night and flew out to Taipei for perhaps the last time in my life. I’m not sure how long I have to be here; I suppose as long as it takes to see dad through. While I hope that the stay will be a while, I’m not sure if that is the best thing for my father.

Here’s to hoping.

25 July, 2008

La Fête du Travail: Labor Day Weekend in Québec

Originally started in July for an AT trek but redrafted during and for travels made during Labor Day Weekend 2008 - I think I am a relatively stable and calm person. But recently I find myself to be short-tempered and have been generally grumpy to anyone I come in contact with. I've been trying to figure out the source of my anger and can't really pin my frustrating behavior on anything specific. I think I really need some time off.

It has been refreshing to be on the road again. I left Washington early yesterday evening for Labor Day Weekend and progressed northward in the dark. I found my mood lighter the farther I got away from people - co-workers, friends - anybody. I've been so charged up lately I would even blow up at people I care for.

I drove through a rainy Pennsylvania and arrived in the Catskills at half past midnight. It was extremely late to make camp, but I managed to put up my tent and crawled in to rest my body. But tried as I did, I could not fall asleep. I don't know if it's my life, my dying father, or the hard rocks I neglected to clear under my tent, but I laid wide-awake until a little past 03:00.

16 July, 2008

14 July

On Bastille Day I found myself a delightful voyeur at the French Embassy in Washington, DC. Although I was with a large group of friends, I was rather detached and busied myself with absorbing all the colors; there were so much to take in, the history of 14 July, La Marseillaise, and all the cheese, pâté, wine, champagne, music, and dancing!

On events like this I often find myself conflicted; do I let go, have fun, and be with friends or focus on taking photos? Not that I take great pictures, but to document my experiences, I often find myself stepping back and removing myself from the event and location. It is as if I am looking at what is happening through a frame or a television rather than experiencing it myself. I didn't have a camera on Bastille Day, but I wanted to record everything in my head.

02 July, 2008

Changes in my South America plan: maybe/probably

Dad's condition is getting worse and he is now in the hospital to receive further treatment. I can't imagine how much physical and mental stress mother is going through taking care of a man who haven't quite cared for her during the past 10-15 years.

I feel very selfish about thinking about revising my plans for South American travels while my parents are going through the toughest challenge of their lives. But the reality of the matter is forcing me to delay my departure and probably changed the entire nature of my planned stay in Argentina. Rather than basing myself in Buenos Aires, enrolling in a Spanish language school, and traveling a week or two out of each month, I will have a much shorter time in South America and will have to decide how to reformat my travels. Perhaps I will content myself with two, maybe three months and simply travel by bus to see the continent. Also - an invitation from my new-found friend Eduardo from Medellín is tempting me to visit Colombia.

On another note, I heard this poem on the Writer's Almanac podcast and couldn't help but giggle the whole way home while stumbling from the bar the other night.

25 June, 2008

H2O

What is the difference between club soda and seltzer water?

20 June, 2008

A small victory and the white elephant

I was elated when I emerged from a nearby bookstore last night. I picked up a copy of Writing New York for half price!

On the other hand, I had the most difficult conversation of my life with dad. Knowing that I would eventually have to discuss with him his pending departure, I made my way home in fear the oncoming conversation. It took a great deal of strength just for me to power up the PC and dial dad on Skype. While he was happy to see me on video conference, I sensed that dad hadn't the stomach to discuss his final options. My attempts to engage him on the matter resulted in failure.

The conversation everybody knows we must have remains unsaid.

10 June, 2008

Dancing with a butterfly

It was a weekend of fear management.

As I woke up on a warm Sunday morning on the Appalachian Trail (AT), I faced 14 miles of walking in 98F heat, and blisters the size of small grapes on both my feet. I was not looking forward to hiking my way out of the mountains. But the weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains was difficult in more ways than my physical challenges.

Although I have expected the eventual end to dad’s predicament, my Friday night call with mother filled me with fear. More than my fear of dad’s expected passing, I fear for his comfort during his last days. But most of all (perhaps selfishly), I fear for my ability to make the right decisions. As he nears his end, we are faced with a most difficult final question; should we shorten the process and let dad go peacefully, or prolong the inevitable and spend limited resources for medical procedures that will briefly extend his life without addressing the core issue? What is a son to do when faced with these questions? These thoughts stayed on my mind all weekend.

We started our walk at VA-605 Saturday morning and planned on arriving at Harpers Ferry Sunday afternoon. By all measures, it was an ambitious goal. The portion of the AT we targeted is known as the “rollercoaster.” During our first 11 miles, the pace was slow as we fought the heat, the hills, our 50 lbs rucksacks, and ourselves. The landscape was a constant 1,000 ft up, and 1,000 ft down. Each step forward and upward was about conquering the fear of pain. It wasn’t so much the hurt that bothered me, but the anticipation of it. It was quite intimidating to descend 1,000 ft knowing that another 1,000 ft steep ascend was already staring me right in the face. It was a long day’s work and I enjoyed and hated every second of it.

However, rather than driving the demon out of my mind, the more I tried to focus on the trail, the more I thought about mother and dad. As I struggled to find the strength to fight that mountain, I could not but think about what the right decision is for dad.

The 2.5 miles downhill hike on the Ridge to River Trail was the longest walk in my memory. Looking at the topo map, we assumed that it would be well-worth the effort to get off the AT and camp by the Shenandoah River. Images of jumping into the water to cool off drove us forward. However, the mountain and the heat took a great deal of our energy and left our legs and hearts weak. While the S. River site was already taken when we got there, I could not have been happier to make camp by Sand Spring, dunk myself in the ice cold water, and enjoy the simple pleasures of food and relaxation before quickly falling asleep.

Day two was tougher than day one. With my blistering feet, I could no longer move quickly. Advising my hiking partner to move ahead to meet our ride without me, I was left to walk at my own pace. Having gained my solitude, I also earned the pleasure of monopolizing my own pains. Somewhere along the way at approximately 3 miles from our predetermined meeting spot, a butterfly with black and teal wings playfully danced around me, willing me forward for the next few miles home.

The AT always does wonders for me. It is a beautiful and challenging place that always gives me space to reflect and come away a different and hopefully better person. While I still question myself about my decision, I have my answer.

21 May, 2008

Thoughts about home: if there is one

Reading Ahmad Fadam's blog entry on leaving Baghdad in the New York Times made me pause in the middle of the work day. While I will never know (I hope) the feeling of being forced out of my homeland, I read Fadam's words carefully and contemplated what it means to leave the land where your father and mother are buried. Recently, as my father's condition worsens and I face the reality that he will soon be gone, I am awashed with feelings for this man I never really knew. What would it be like to share those moments of joy with a father who was a father? Dad tried. But the most he did was he showered me with gifts. I suppose that was the only way he knew how to be a father.

But to get back to Fadam's blog, the reason it made me think is because I've been considering how best to take care of dad after his passing. Dad would probably want to remain in Taiwan and rest with grandpa and grandma. But how can I leave dad in a land I will probably never go back to? Thus, the answer is to bring him back to the States even though I am considering leaving the U.S. not to return to live again.

As I prepare to leave for Argentina next January, I know I will return to the States to visit family and friends. But I ask myself repeatedly if I really want to return to live in the U.S. again.? Aside from friends I would trust my life with, joys of lazy summer days watching baseball, being an insomniac in New York City, I don't feel very American. Although I am happy I'm here rather than Taiwan, part of me regret my forced migration to Los Angeles during my youth. Whoever asked me if I wanted to come? Certainly not my parents.

In America, I have so many demons I prefer not to face. Who knows? Maybe being a stranger in a foreign land will change my mind.