Thursday, June 29, 2006


I flew into Fiji Tuesday morning and since then have been getting adjusted to this new country that is now, technically, "home". Everybody has heard of Fiji, but I think that it is one country that is overshadowed by its image more than any other. Nobody knows anything about Fijian culture or Fijian language or even about Fiji as a nation: instead it is seen across the world as a symbol. So, coming into Fiji, I half expected to be immersed in the tropical palm tree paradise that is the symbol of the island. In reality the island is extremely poor and, obviously, much more nuanced. I won't be able to get to know Fiji half as well as I've gotten to know Taiwan but we'll see how it goes.
Above is a picture I took from the plane: sunrise as I came into Nadi airport, with clouds above and below.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Goodbye to Datong

Graduation. The Taiyal aboriginal culture is linked linguistically and culturally to cultures of the South Pacific (like Tonga and Fiji), although it also has Sino influences. One of the oldest peoples of Taiwan, they live in the mountains in the North and East of the island. There are still occasional old women who sport tattoos on their faces and remember the days of head-hunting. The main point of this graduation harks back to those days. Each of the sixth graders stood in line in order to be swatted 3 times on the butt with a palm frond by the dean of the school. Traditionally, all children were hit with a palm when they reached the age of 14, signifying their departure from childhood and entrance into a period of preparation in which they would study hunting and warfare (boys) and weaving (girls). This period of preparation would be over when a boy could kill a boar and brought back the head of an enemy, and when a girl could weave. After this period both males and females were ready to be tattooed and marry. Now the hunting and weaving just barely exists, the head-hunting and tattooing does not, and the hitting ceremony still serves its original purpose: slapping these students out of childhood.

Goodbye to Leshui

Yesterday I said goodbye to the coschool I have spent the most time at. They held a beautiful ceremony where the kids all gave me cards they had made and laid wreaths of flowers and leaves around my neck. I know, in the picture it looks like wreaths of weeds, but they were made by little kids!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

inspire me thursday: in good time

This week's Inspire Me Thursday was a challenge to make a piece of art in a limited time with no preconceptions. I wanted to do something fluid and spontaneous, so I set my time to be 5 minutes. This is some really quick (actually quicker than my time limit, but I liked the composition so I didn't touch it) brushwork with Sumi ink. I learned Chinese ink painting a few years ago in the South of Taiwan... I love the meditative, yet quick, nature of this kind of art.

my most recent exhibition

this was in a gallery in Yilan... its all of the work I have done since coming to Taiwan. 130 paintings total.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Illustration Friday: Dance

This Illustration Friday served as a way to force me into making another panel design for my elementary school's cafeteria wall before I leave. I already made one a little while ago by looking at videos of my kids doing aboriginal dance, and decided to kill two birds with one stone by designing another and attempting to catch the joy and vibrancy of Taiwanese children dancing in this illustration. The first design looks better, I think, but only because I messed with the saturation too much on this one with Photoshop... in reality the colors are similar. I especially like how the kids get all dressed up in their loincloths and bells and headbands, but still wear their little sneakers underneath it all. I included that in the design--just to show they are real children, not just symbols of aboriginal culture. Here are some of the real students and their sneakers:

Monday, June 19, 2006

today I rode my scooter to the top of a mountain...

and found a little bamboo hut in which I ate a solitary dinner of zhong zhi (rice triangles wrapped in banana leaves) and sushi. Actually it wasn't my scooter, it was the school's scooter, but since I am now in my last week of being here its imperitave that I get around. Partly for convenience but mostly so that I can enjoy the views one last time. I can't imagine when I will live in a 100 person village in the middle of the mountains where you frequently see monkeys and flying squirrels, wash your hair in the river, get candy through your window from little kids (today i got a cd and a pack of colored pencils), and eat freshly mashed snail off the ground (that happened yesterday), again. These pictures may not be amazing by grand canyon standards, but this is where I live! That far surpasses seeing the Grand Canyon as a tourist for 2 days.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

soaking my head

Today I dunked my head underwater in a massive school-wide (which means 19 people were involved) contest to see who could hold their breath the longest. Its break time at my smallest school, and the day is hot and beautiful. When the bell rings all the children run toward this thin sink attached to a wall outdoors where they usually wash their dishes after lunch. They find a piece of cloth, they find a large stone, and they plug the sink... then start filling it with water. And somehow, with much splashing, yelling, and fighting, they organize themselves into several teams and take turns competing to stick their heads in this sink as long as possible. I beat all the kids but lost to another teacher with a measely 40 seconds under water. But this episode illustrates what is amazing about these children in the middle of nowhere. I never imagined that one could have so much fun with a sink. Of course I went back to class soaking wet and feeling very insecure about my lung capacity but it was so, so worth it. If you find yourself on a hot day with nothing to do, I highly recommend soaking your head... and see if you can beat 40 seconds!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

my village

The days are beginning to count down, I am (thinking about) packing, preparing to leave, buying and making goodbye presents. But most of all I have been trying to take everything in so as to keep a mental picture of this place as long as possible. So this is a picture of my village. For the past 11 months I have lived in the aboriginal community of Lunpi, Taiwan, and my life has been defined by children and nature. The village has a couple hundred people in it, about half as many random dogs, a church, a convenience store, and a lot of insects and crying babies. When I look out one window of my room I see the street with some half naked child trying to get my attention. When I look out another I see nothing but a dense wall of greenery.

Sights I will remember: the gutters of muddy water flowing through each street, toddlers peeing on the walls of their houses, smashed snakes on the road, the frog I found in my shower, rows of squirrel tails and plastic bags of water hanging from roofs, bamboo sticks hung with drying laundry, all enclosed by beetlenut mountains.

Sounds I will remember: mostly children screaming and babies crying. But also Sundays when the church finishes its service and plays techno remix versions of aboriginal songs and everyone dances, my neighbors fighting as they play mah-jong next door, crickets and cicadas, and the absolute silence of the mountains.

Tastes I will remember: fried chicken from next door, lychees, watermelon eaten at the top of a cliff in a tent, bad ice-cubed beer, instant noodles while sitting on my washing machine outside in the night air.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Illustration Friday: Jungle

For Illustration Friday's challenge, "Jungle". This is one I couldn't pass up because, unlike most people, I actually do live in a jungle. So when I saw this week's challenge I took a walk in my jungle to excersise my knee and attempt to sear my home in my brain before I leave in 2 weeks. I want to remember the peace of this place, the coolness of the air, the utter silence, the giant spiders, the occasional snake. These are some pictures of the real jungle: both of these pictures are taken about a 10 minute walk away from my house. Since I'm leaving so soon I am now trying to walk in the mountains every day.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Inspire Me Thursday: Show and Tell

For Inspire me Thursday, this is another portrait of one of my students. This is a simple watercolor but it took a few steps to achieve the crisp lines. First I covered the paper with artist's tape, a type of tape that won't tear the paper underneath when taken off. I then drew the design of my student's face on the tape and took an exacto to it, cutting out the negative space (of the tape, but not of the paper underneath) which I knew I would later fill in with watercolor. Essentially, I made a stencil out of tape. When I finished cutting out my stencil I pulled off the tape in the sections I wanted color, leaving the naked paper underneath. I then filled in these openings with watercolor. This way I could just splash paint onto the paper to achieve a spontaneous looking effect but not worry about the edges... because when the watercolor dried I simply pulled the tape off, leaving the paint where the openings in the stencil had been. I drew over this with ink and splashed a light wash over certain sections of the painting to make it more than just a stencil. Then I put it in Photoshop and upped the levels so that it had a lot of contrast--this made the background white and the edges really pop. I like seeing the rich colors of the watercolor confined into crisp shapes, something that I could not do if I had not worked with a stencil. Because of the variety of methods I took to make this piece, it was a joy to create--from the detailed, meditative nature of cutting with an exacto to the free, painterly strokes of watercolor to the fun experimentation on Photoshop. I think it captures my subject very well too--she is another girl from the Taiyal trib, in second grade.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

following your dreams

Doodle: another watercolor portrait, of my neighbor and his son, a second grade boy. These are the people who are always feeding me the random animals they hunt. They are also the ones who have made me feel like a part of this community.

Thought: On following your dreams. I just finished reading the book, "The Alchemist". Its supposed to be a life changing book--an inspiration that forces the reader to follow his dreams. Books like this annoy me because they emphasize the concept of destiny above all else. Their whole point is to follow your heart in order to achieve a destiny that God has laid out for you in advance...which is abhorrent to me not because I want to believe that I control my future but because I don't believe God decides in advance what kind of life is best for you. If I don't become a famous artist someday it will not be because I have not been strong enough to follow my heart in order to achieve my destiny. It will be because I have made decisions and, for some reason that I can't comprehend now and seriously doubt will ever happen, decided that other things are more important. Or, in a worse case scenario, because I have slipped into some routine that doesn't include art and lack the gumption to try to continue. People drift through life and if that makes them miserable it is the curse of one of those two things--either their particular priorities or the onset of inertia. The closest I come to believing in pursuing destiny is my need to never give in to that kind of lethargy.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

a mural for my elementary school's cafeteria

if everything goes to plan this will be transformed into a mural on the school's cafeteria walls. I videotaped some of my students performing a traditional aboriginal Taiyal dance and then froze the frame every couple of seconds to sketch their figures. This is just pen and colored pencil. I'm realizing as I look at this blog that almost every post (every post?) is about children. I suppose that is expected, as they are my companions in every way here. Yesterday they taught me how to bead a bracelet. A week ago they taught me an aboriginal dance--to be danced to the tune of "Age of Innocence". (Remember that 80s song? The tune is actually a Taiwanese aboriginal tune and the band was sued because of it. The song writers were of a different tribe than mine but I'm proud to say they won... however everybody here still loves the song! Perhaps because it is one of the only examples of Taiwanese aboriginal traditions infiltrating mass/pop/Western culture. Sad that the only time that should happen is with some Eurotrash band stealing their music. But at least now I know an awesome dance to the song.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

what I've learned from the children in Taiwan

Of all the things in taiwan that have made this time special for me--the friends i've made, the beautiful place where i live, the amazing food i've eaten--the thing that i will miss the most when i leave is the children. Hands down. If I didn't have these children who make me laugh every day and have made me cry on more than one occasion my time here would lack color. What have I learned from these crazy little kids that climb over my body like monkeys on a tree, rap on my windowpane several times a day, storm me with hugs so that i trip and fall? That:

there can never be too many hugs in this world, its best to ration them out in such quantities that your victim's health is compromised.
you can never ask too many questions. Or even make too many demands.
bodily contact is the heart of life.
the more dramatic bravura you can pull off while remaining tongue in cheek the more interesting you are.
the more random facial distortions you can pull off and cool hand gestures you know, the more rich your life and relationships.

Basically, life is simple. And simple things, like making faces, are what make life good. This, at least, is my interpretation of that indellible mark they've left on me.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Illustration Friday

Portrait: this is a portrait of two of the girls I used to teach in Song Luo elementary school. They are both in 3rd grade, members of the Taiyal tribe, and despite their calm in this portrait, actually a hurricane of groping hands and eager demands. They speak minimal English thanks to me, minimal Taiyal thanks to the erosion of the language, and, i think, are so beautiful.

my scooter is gone!

My scooter has been stolen!!! I loved my scooter! It should have given it a name, but I never did, instead just thinking of it as a proper noun, "Scooter". There are a very few certain inanimate objects in my life that have witnessed so much of it that I imagine they have special views on what my life is like. Certain shirts have seen me as cool and sexy, my bike has seen me as wimpy yet intrepid, and this scooter saw me as independent and brave. Perhaps the inanimate object that sees all sides of me is my computer, but I use these other objects as mirrors for certain facets of myself. Gone with my scooter is my independence--really! I live in a tiny aboriginal village! There are 100 people in the town! Its a 40 minute drive to the nearest city... you need a scooter to pay a bill, to buy an egg, to basically do anything. Fortunately this happened when my time here is drawing to a close, but I'm still left angry and feeling betrayed by this seemingly idyllic, peaceful place nestled in a mountainside, where everyone treats me so nicely, where the air is so clean, where the people are so neighborly. of course, one stupid scooter theft changes nothing of this, but i'm allowed to be bitter for a bit.

thoughts on a weekend of dancing and massages

Friday was the Fulbright goodbye dinner, which means that all the Fulbrighters in Taiwan, from the English teachers to the University professors, the 22 year olds to the 50 or 60 somethings, get together one final time... making our total number of all-inclusive meetings something like 3. Even though we don't see each other, though, there is a more subtle bond that links us, even if it is just mutual respect and mutual mother language. It will be a sad day when I can no longer call myself part of that group, and rather accept the status of alumni... that sort of half-member of a community, a member only in memory, and usually only in your own memory at that, as the group itself has gone on.

But the weekend itself. I usually find huge dinners with old people rebarbative but the simple bittersweetness of this one and the fact that everyone is at turns interesting and inspiring made it a good dinner. Then dancing afterwards with my broken knee, suprisingly sucessful, then sleep at 4 in the morning, then reading romance novels in the bookstore, then the train back to yilan, then dinner and a massage.

Dancing: breathless and stiff-legged, that strange combination of exhileration and loneliness I feel when I visit clubs where hormones permeate the air and I drink in that desire yet am, at the same time, so far from the one that I love.

Massage: painful on a swollen knee but otherwise awesome. Chinese massages are the best.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

inspire me thursday

both a thought and a doodle. I seem to always be at a new address, and likewise always seem to be waiting to be discovered.

beginning of the end

A sad title for my first real post, but very true to describe today, a beautiful and sad day. I teach at 6 schools, 3 main schools and 3 coschools--the coschools alternate every thursday. So today was my last day at one of my coschools. I have only taught at this school about 5 times tops, but for some reason the kids adore me. I guess I have rock-star appeal because I go so rarely. (When I first came, for example, they suffocated me in a giant mass asking for autographs..) So tears when I finally left today. I doubt I will ever see them again. They are such beautiful kids--living in an isolated village in the most beautiful in area in the world might do that to you, I guess. Then this evening the 6th graders at my main main school, Datong, had a graduation party that began with lipsyncing to ridiculous Mandarin pop songs and finished with the entire class (basically) bawling, hugging each other, me, and sending out tributes to their teachers and parents. I cried too, of course.


I'm an artist and teacher now in my last month of a fulbright scholarship in taiwan. Of course, 10 months into it, I only now get the idea to share my experience in a blog... But this blog is devoted to the idea that, as amazing as the last 10 months have been, the ones in the future will be even more exciting and blogworthy.

Introductory descriptions:

I'm an American living in Yilan county as an ETA (English Teaching Assistant), one of the branches and forms a Junior Fulbright Scholarship can take. I'm half Taiwanese and half white, and I'm currently living in a tiny aboriginal village populated by members of the Taiyal tribe, one of 11 (13?) recognized aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. I'm 23, I love and hate teaching, I love art, I have adopted a dog, I have a long term boyfriend in Japan, I've had two exhibitions here so far, I just had a knee surgery, I have eaten the weirdest things here.

Things I have eaten at my next door neighbor's house:

flying squirrel
fish steeped in vinegar
beer with ice cubes
wild boar
wild goat
wild deerlike mountain creature of Taiwan