Monday, June 30, 2008

Decisons, decisions

One of the main things I want to achieve while in Taiwan is to work out what to do with myself when I decide to return to my own society. I was thinking about this last night and in trying to explain my philosophy to Andrea I think I laid out my reasoning in a new way, projecting my thoughts through a new lens and when I looked at the image I had created I wondered if I hadn't already made up my mind.

I really like psychology. I especially like developmental psychology because of my own childhood and my wonder at the influences that help to shape who we become. I see a lot of potential in having some power, as a qualified, practicing developmental psychologist or counsellor, in applying my knowledge and my own experience to help young people become better people. Perhaps I should say - to help young people on a course to growing up into "incomplete" people. Psychology provides me with intellectual fulfilment and challenges me. I like developmental psychology a lot.

Unfortunately I have a problem with psychology in that it is about helping people. And that's good right? Well, in the scheme of all things, do people really need any help? I think that people will persevere no matter the type of government, religion, beliefs, etcetera. Whatever society is and whatever shape society and culture take, humanity will be fine. I'm not sure that I will be very useful helping people.

However, whatever the shape of society, people have to be somewhere and without this somewhere you can't have human society of any kind. The land is forever. And we have the power to affect it for better or worse. The Roman empire came and went but the Italian landscape remained, albeit in a slightly altered condition. But badly mismanage the land and it may not matter whether the society depending on that land gets its directions from a communist manifesto or from the capitalist enterprise. If the place is ruined then all kinds of society suffer more or less the same. History and archaeology offer us many lessons in how mismanagement of your somewhere can leave you nowhere with nothing. My favourite example of this is Easter Island. However, other examples include the societies of Chaco Canyon, the medieval Greenlanders, and modern Haiti.

Human societies are very interesting but also seem to me to be ethereal things that change shape and blow about in the winds of providence and chance. But these unreal societies exist in a landscape that is very real and concrete and should be taken seriously. And that is why I am now thinking about a career in environmental science or land management of some kind. I have been considering this for a quite a while. I think I should start investigating this option seriously. I only have a year or so before returning to my world (or Canada). That may sound like a long time but with so many distractions and so many small desires to invest my time in, that time will be taken in the breeze and blow past me if I let it.

Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rainy Tuesday

It was fine and sunny this morning but it is now ten-to-six in the evening and we have had the first of many showers induced by Typhoon Fengshen. It sounds like Fengshen hit the Philippines pretty hard. The pictures I saw on the Internet were of people wading through water up to their heads. The wind and waves also capsized a ferry which should not have been out in that weather anyway, and 700 people are still missing from that disaster. A couple of four-hour-old weather updates inform me that the Fengshen has lost some of its strength and been downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical storm. I suppose that is a good thing. Apparently the atmospheric conditions are not conducive to a typhoon now. Still, I got pretty wet when it started to rain in the middle of my daily 25-minute ride home from work this afternoon. I detoured to pick up some grapefruit and apples (both imported from the US?!) and sat out (stood out rather) the worst of the rain before getting back on my bike and suffering a little more coldness and wetness. Weather forecasts are for heavy rain everyday for the next seven days which means riding the scooter to work and back, which means not listening to my mp3 player everyday which means not learning about something interesting everyday, unless that learning take place at another time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Skip this meaningless ramble

Seven hugger-muggers beat down the door of my flat on Penrith and stole my floor.
I owed it to the guvnor. I owed it to my son. I owed it to the Winny Will that lives under the gun.
Some might call it providence. Some might call it fate. Some might call it exercise but not for neonates.
There is clearly no clear message here, no code morse or runic, but if you look real close enough you just might find the tunic
that you thought you lost on Sunday and you looked for it in vain. It lingered in the shower stall and plugged the shower drain.
It hovered in the corner and wandered down the stair. It flew around the garbage bin and vanished in thin air.
In good we trust to conquer and in evil trust no one. If there be altogether good then I be number one.
I get a sense of senselessness, a poignant purposelessness. Try saying that when half-asleep. You'll end up a real mess.
I guess what I am trying to say, to enunciate forthwith, to avoid the beating round the bush and get straight to the pith
is that life is awful complicate (you may notice not the 'd') and randomness is so much simp (less 'l', 'e', 'r' and 'p').
There is no 'p' in 'simpler', this is gibberish it's true, but, "Gibber is as gibber does" is what I'll say to you.
The king is in his counting house counting out his money, The maid is in the garden eating bread and honey. This whole verse is so much worse than verse that is not funny.
Green eggs, eggs and ham, ham and eggs green eggs. The morale of this story is that morales have no legs.
Random, rare and thoughtfulness
Beauty rich and reaped.
All bow down before the crown
and in denial creaped.
In as much as matters
In as much as cares.
In as much as such and such and sudden unawares.
Spider Susy wefted web and loom'd a fabric stick
When all the children went to bed she made them all of sick.
The pauper prince has come of age and tootled all with vigour
the end of us has come at last with giggle and a snigger.
Hath thou had hated half his health how Harlan hated Heath.
I swim in blue seas happily and search the bed beneath.
This randomness must surely end, this senseless rant must fail, if life and limb and liberty will any chance prevail.
Here endeth the.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My marvellous miscellany

There will always be a few stubborn photographs left over that refuse to lend themselves to inclusion in some kind of photo-narrative. This problem may be overcome with resort to bundling them together under the thematic umbrella of being random or miscellaneous leftovers. Now that an unnecessary and long-winded introduction has been constructed we can move on to a commentary on the images themselves. Wonderful.

Journey to Monkey Mountain
Taiwan is home to a single indigenous species of monkey, the Formosan Rock Macaque. There are about 250,000 of them on the island and they typically live at elevations between 500 and 1500 metres although they have been found living as high as 3,000 metres in the central mountain range. Some months ago we took a trip on our scooter towards the central mountain range. We just kept going until the incline got more dramatic and then we decided to pull over for a break. Just before we were about to stop we saw a monkey on the road and it hardly flinched as we putted past. We had found our way to what we think was the "Monkey Mountain" that we have heard others talk about. The monkeys seemed to be concentrated around a large, long shed containing a few makeshift shops and a crowd of tourists. It became clear that the tourists were here to see the monkeys which must have lost some of their fear of people as they would come and sit on the ground or the roof of the shed, or anywhere they liked, having learned that people would throw food at them. Once we got over the novelty of having wild monkeys wandering around semi-oblivious to us, it got pretty old quickly and we were soon ready to be on our way.

This here be scooter country
We can't afford to buy a car to get us around the province but who needs the four, impact-absorbing walls of a car when you can accelerate yourself along the street at high speeds on a motor scooter. For the majority of the population and certainly the majority of foreigners in Taiwan, the motor-scooter is the way to get around; From one city to another or from your apartment building to the 7-11 half-a-block down the street. Yes, it is common enough to see somebody mount their Jockey 125 and accelerate for all of five seconds before decelerating to a stop and dismounting having reached their destination. The motor scooter is such an integral part of Taiwanese traffic that there are often lanes reserved for scooters (as in the image above).

Golden Beach
Beach - yes; Golden - no. For a boy who grew up close to the unpopulated, clean, white, sandy beaches of the south-west coast of Australia, Tainan's premiere beach comes as something of a disappointment. I am sorry to say that the local authorities do help things by failing to organise some kind of beach-cleanup. The beach is littered with countless bamboo poles, the remnants of a gazillion bamboo pearl-bed rafts that are used in pearl farming of the freshwater mussel that produces the pearls. As a side note, until relatively recently these freshwater mussels were considered pests by fish farmers because they could invade a farm pond and compete with the fish for oxygen and nutrients. Golden Beach is also littered with all kinds of fishing-related garbage from large blocks of foam to fishing tackle. Then there are the take-away tea cups and other food packaging. Lastly (as if I just created definitive categories of Golden Beach garbage) there are the miscellaneous odds and sods that somehow find their way into the sea and are then washed onto the beach (toys, random bits of wood, tyres, etc) , or the others that never left the land but still ended up at the sea-side (more toys, more random bits of wood, and more tyres, for example). Besides the garbage, the beach is a medium-grey colour that just reminds me of... sorry... dirty beaches.

Cyclist calm in face of certain disaster
I'm sure that if this were me, having ridden my bike over the edge and about to plunge into the river, I would have let go of the handle bars and been flailing wildly in a vain attempt to put as much space between the bicycle and myself as possible. Thus I respect the mettle displayed by the silhouetted man on the cycle in the image. He must have been one tough hombre.

One size fits all average-sized people
This disposable, plastic raincoat cost me NT$30 (about AU$1) and gave me the appearance of a man for whom fashion remained an enigma rolled up tightly inside a mystery. I had been riding my bicycle to work for months with barely a raindrop falling on me and was long-overdue for a severe drenching. I was finally forced to purchase some kind of plastic to protect me from the rain.

Style versus Content
While the smaller canals in Tainan may not be the kind of waterways that inspire reminiscences of Venice or Amsterdam, their utility inspires the movement of fishermen to, from and along the canals and the culturing of pearls. I have a feeling that the bamboo racks in this picture might not be active. There is a sense in Taiwan of an increasing awareness of the state of the environment. I saw an article recently that said that 24-hour convenience stores in Taipei would no longer be able to give away disposable, wooden chopsticks with food as of this week. On the other hand I read another article that summarised the result of a survey of indicators of environmentally-sustainable behaviours with the observation that in the past two years Taiwan had moved AWAY from environmental sustainability. That's a shame because this is, on the whole, an interesting and beautiful island.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Annual Dragon Boat Festival

Last weekend we went with our friends, Tim and Lei, to the local Dragon Boat Festival. This festival is celebrated all over south-east Asia and to a lesser extent all over the world. To us it seemed to be all about eating great snacks and watching the dragon boat races. But in an article published recently in the China Post (an English-language newspaper) some knowledgeable person explained that this festival had originally been created as a vehicle for public health education about certain health issues arising at the beginning of the warmer seasons. I personally think it's really interesting to learn about the functional meaning behind cultural practices like this that are otherwise remain veiled behind a mysterious wall of alien-culture-ness. What I mean is that for somebody witnessing the rituals or traditional practices of another culture that we don't understand, the functional meaning of the activity grounds the practice in a reality that we do understand and this has the effect of making the whole thing appear so much less superstitious and more sensible.

Anyway, here's the link for that article:
China Post article - meaning of Dragon Boat Festival

I have to apologise here to the author of the Alimu blog on Blogger. I copied an image from their blog because all the photos I took of the Dragon Boats were worthless swirls and blurs of colour on black backgrounds. I still can't take a good night shot with my camera.

Alright! The best part of the Dragon Boat Festival? Ice-creams, Chinese sausages, shaved ice with almond milk and red beans, fruit shakes, sweet-spicy fried sweet-potato wedges, so many things on sticks. A plethora of snacks and drinks, a cornucopia of gustatory delights, thy cup runneth over with good things to eat and drink. Drink and be merry my friends for tomorrow we may wake up with severe gastrointestinal trouble.

Now, I can proudly say that THIS shot WAS taken with my camera. Well, I didn't take the photo but it was taken by the person closest to me so that must count for something. You can see Lei's head, half of Tim's head, the top bit of Andrea, and the top bit of me. You can also see in the canal one of the boats used in managing the other boats in the canal during the festival. I wonder if they got a bucket of almond milk shaved ice?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Just another day

Friday. I am so glad that Friday has arrived. The day to day work in my classroom is not too bad but the ongoing process of making preparations for the graduation show in August is like a nightmare, albeit a barely scary nightmare that lasts all night. A single footfall upon a flagstone will make no perceptible difference but, of course, the footfalls of generations of pedestrians will wear that same stone to a shale wafer. By the same token the ongoing, undeflected stress of the graduation show wears on me and slowly abrades my peace and calm. I do not think that I like graduation shows. In the graduation show, my students will have to perform on stage for about ten minutes. This performance will include two songs. Props must be made. My script must be made to fit between the other class scripts to create an ongoing narrative with a linch-pin theme. I don't mean that the show is about linch-pins. I mean that the theme is a linch-pin. Who would have thought that teaching kindergarten would require such a performance?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More people eating kangaroo meat

Based on a survey of 1600 people around Australia kangaroo, researchers at the University of New South Wales found that kangaroo comsumption has increased from 51% to 58.5% in the last 10 years. But you will have to check out the article on the UNSW web-page for the finer details of that research. Of course, I say yay! It makes so much sense in so many ways.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Trail in the Bush Somewhere

Another long, hot, dry summer
Twigs crack perfectly under a hiking boot
Eucalyptus leaves likewise
Snakes are out, silent and invisible

Sit under a tree
The leaves stop the sun but not the heat
Dry creek beds of sweat through the dust and grime
My country for better or worse