Saturday, August 7, 2010

Oh the smell of Taiwan

I love the smell of Taiwan.

Taiwan is a country of faith. Incense are burned as a physical manifestation of prayers being sent to heaven on delicate wisps of smoke. In homes are alters set up for worship and prayer, outside doors have thin, hollow pockets holding incense which burn as greetings to dead ancestors. Each street, each store, in scattered temples there are incense burning.

Taiwan is an Island. With humidity and rain it is a constant human struggle to fight back the effects of nature. Greenery grows profusely wherever it wants, strings of green grow from gutters, mature plants grow from the sides of buildings, and trees from abandoned cars and roof tops. If it’s not growing it’s rotting. Before a twig falls to the ground it begins the quick process of decomposition. The smell of rotting wood steams up from the earth.

As I open my door each day a musky, thick smell embraces me…incense, wet earth, rotting wood. They say smell is the strongest link to memory. I sure hope so.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


We’ve been here two weeks. We are finding our way around quickly and move confidently out into the world knowing that we will proudly make it to our destination 85% of the time. The signs are in Chinese so we peruse our objectives by a vague sense of North and by asking for directions from people on the street. We have invented and are perfecting a communication technique that is a mixed art of animated hand gestures, loud one syllable words and interpretive dance. It usually starts something like this, I tap someone on the shoulder and ask if they speak English, to which they reply “little”, then I say “TRAIN” and they give me a questioning look, I say it again, this time slower and louder, T-R-A-I-N. Now the person I stopped is stopping someone else to see if they can help. “TRAIN”, I say again.  Both look at me and say something to each other, soon a crowd appears. “TRAIN” I say, now addressing the masses. “TRAIN” I say again and pull an imaginary engineers horn and say “TOOT-TOOT”. Ohhh, the crowd mumbles together and the word for train in Chinese rumbles from person to person. “Where” (I lift my shoulders and eyebrows in a questioning way) “is TOOT-TOOT” (I again make horn gesture). The group forms a huddle, discusses the quickest route and appoints a leader. The leader steps forward and draws a ruff map on a napkin. When I take the map and make hand gestures in the direction of the train the group mumbles in excitement. I bow again and again and thank them profusely both in Chinese and English. As I walk away I can hear the crowd chatting with excitement, I even hear several people clap like they just won a game of charades. As I turn the corner to walk out of site I hear one of them say “TOOT-TOOT”.

Monday, June 7, 2010 the begining....

We made it, we are now in Taiwan. From Billings to SLC was a two hour flight and then a three hour lay over, then from SLC to San Francisco was another two hours with a THREE hour lay over and finally the 12 hour flight from San Fran to Taiwan. The plan was packed tight, every seat was taken and even though we were tired beyond words we found it hard to sleep on the plane.

One fun thing about traveling was the people watching in the air ports. I loved it. I also loved the food on the flight to Taiwan. Weird little cups filled with odd food, a cup of sweet pickles as a side dish to pork on rice noodles and a roll with shredded carrots and a (that’s one) raisin for dessert. People complain about hospital food and airplane food but I love it, even if it doesn’t taste good I like the surprise of what’s going to show up. I also like not having to cook, I like that it’s presented to me and not the other way round.

Monday, May 31, 2010

One thing I love....

Textiles. I love to study Textiles. From the very first found twisted cord (18,000 – 15,000 BC) to the evaluation of the loom. The first needle dates back 25,000 years. It amazes me. Fabric is something so simple, so common place it’s barely a glitch on our thought radar and yet it once was one of the very basic keys to surviving. Whether it was felted wool in cold climates or braided grass walls to keep out the heat, fishing nets, feet coverings, to me studying textiles is studying human ingenuity at it’s finest. Textiles, fabric, was one of the first forms of currency. Wars were started, lands conquered, all for the love of fabric. If it was just this I would still love the study of textiles but it is also that from the very beginning we humans felt an innate need to not be satisfied with function, we needed beauty and meaning. Humans not only needed fabric to protect them from the natural elements we needed to believe that this protection extended to spiritual elements too. So of course the study of textiles has lead me to study amulets and talismans which go hand in hand with fabric because so many of the patterns that were woven into fabrics were symbolic or…what’s the word…. belief laden. Woven or embroidered patterns on a sleeve cuff or neck opening were put there to distract the evil eye from climbing through the garment opening and over taking the wearer. We needed to create for function but we have always longed for beauty. I’m getting myself all worked up just talking about it. I love it.