And, as a bonus, I even got to see the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie with them. God, but it’s cathartic to laugh so hard that you nearly end up on the floor! And that’s kind of embarrassing in a movie theater, but I was with Rodger, and he didn’t care. I’m still loyal to the first movie in that series, but I do recommend the second one for some good laughs.
Coming home from the train station at midnight on Sunday, I came upon the horrifying scene of an apartment on fire, which I learned the next day had killed an elderly couple. I walked through a maze of fire trucks and people clustered in the street, staring up at the blazing second-floor windows. Now there is a funeral underway in the store beneath their window, which I assumed is run by their family. The store is not open for business, and instead there is a great memorial set up, with hundreds of brightly colored flowers, candles and incense, and two large photographs of the deceased above it all. A funeral is handmade by the family and takes weeks to make. I learned this when Clara and I moved into the Liu Ming Chuan apartment, because our downstairs neighbors went through the same thing. There were always people outside, making paper flowers or floats or a dozen other things, and a constant stream of family members coming by. I really wanted to take pictures of that process because I thought it was a good way to honor someone, but photographing someone’s grief is intrusive to say the least. So you’ll just have settle for my words.
The moment I returned to Keelung I hit the ground running - literally. I spent one insane Monday at school, and then on Tuesday, my day off, I went to Taipei and took the first half of the GRE exam. I’ve decided to apply for graduate school in the States, and the GRE is part of that package. But, luckily, I don’t have to fly home to do it. In Taiwan, you take the GRE in two parts; due to a lot of past cheating, the law requires that you pass the analytical portion of the exam (writing essays) first before you can take the second half. So at 10:30 in the morning I was at National Taiwan University analyzing arguments for or against a public issue. That really took me back to Mr. Mason’s class in high school! I think I did okay. Now for the second half, which won’t be until October, giving me plenty of time to relearn all those math formulas and several hundred new vocabulary words. Yippee.
And then after I wrote the GRE essay, I spent the rest of Tuesday moving house. Living together hadn’t quite worked out for Clara and me, and so for the sake of our friendship and our professional relationship at school, I’d decided to move back into my old apartment on Ai San Road. Moving was the last thing I wanted to do, both because I'd only just moved in, and because I had so many other things going on. And in this heat and humidity, it was nearly suicidal, even with the help of Keelung’s aggressive taxi population. I hauled luggage down four flights of stairs from the old place and up four more to the new one – or old one, depending on how you look at it. And then suddenly all those yellow cars, which I’d come to loathe for their constant honking at me, taking me for a lost tourist, suddenly became my allies, if only for a mile each. Moving then became kind of fun. All but one of the cabbies were eager to ask me questions, either in Chinese or to practice their English a bit. One of them even gave me a Chinese lesson. So while we skirted the night market he drilled me on “left,” “right,” and “stop here.” When he dropped me off he said my pronunciation was fairly good, though I can’t say that I truly retained it.
Although I wasn’t ready to move out of the Liu Ming Chuan apartment three short months after moving in, it has been good to come back to Ai San Road. Since Rodger moved to Taichung, my landlord’s family hasn’t had anyone living in that apartment except for their son and daughter-in-law. Kojen, across the street, hasn’t hired anyone new, and neither has Jennifer. So I was welcomed back with open arms and a lot of food. The floor in my room had been waxed, and everything was spotless. Another daughter-in-law brought down a plate of what they were having for dinner upstairs, the landlord himself brought down a basket of sweets (most of which I don’t really care for, honestly) and I had to push my rent and deposit into his hands because he’d completely forgotten about it. The cockroaches are still here, one big drawback to this place, but as long as the night market endures they never will go away. And, well, there are prices that even I will pay for good air-conditioning and high-speed Internet.
I do believe that’s all, for now. Thanks for sticking with me through all that wordage. Drop me a line if you feel like it, let me know what’s going on in your corner of the world.
As the Taiwanese say, bye-bye!
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
- Robert Louis Stevenson