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.