1. Waking up with a feeling of dread, not wanting to go to work.  I do yoga, and retain the moment, then lose it again.  I have to eat quickly.

2. No time to make tea.  I buy some on the go at a random stand; of course, they add sickly sweet syrup to it and wrap it in plastic before I think to say anything.  I kick myself.  Sometimes it’s worth it to sleep a little less.

3. An overworked, overbearing teacher burying her face in her hands.  I see her do this daily.

4. After my classes, I walk past my worst student eating dinner with his dad at a stall outside.  They take on a new human-ness to me, as in characters in a movie simply going about their lives.  I wonder what kind of family they have.  For the nth time, I feel that I am both watching and creating new films by Tsai-Ming Liang, Edward Yang, and me.

5. Sitting in Starbucks in 公館, writing in my journal, and studying Chinese.  Looking out the window at an in-progress New Brutalist building,  I remember David Byrne’s comment about the One Designer, one of the world’s most popular, both loved and reviled, who has placed His Stamp everywhere through imposing uniformity.  Compared to the USA, the people inside are dressed similarly, the “Starbucks landscape,” is the same, the world over, and they assume more or less the same postures: in conversation, reading, slumped over.  A difference here is that Starbucks carries pretty decent loose leaf tea, including a couple kinds of oolong, which you would never, ever see at a Starbucks in the USA.

Why am I here, of all places?  Well, the local cafe options are typically 1) generic coffeehouse chains (not interested), and 2) vaguely hip/hipster-SF/Pacific Northwest imitating cafes, of which there are a great number of around the Shida/Gongguan area–I have been to some of these places, and the ambience in some is not bad; in others, the presence of moody Taiwanese youth dressed in plaid is just too over the top, too strange, and I can’t really dig it.  The other thing is that these places, too, are de facto coffee joints, as proper tea is seen as something for old people, according to some old-hand expats I know.  The youth always wants to separate itself from the past and join the modern global culture, which, now more than ever, is becoming more the same, more influential.  Ironically enough, on this island full of fabulous, high-quality tea, the only tea offerings at these places are usually an assortment of lame fruit/herb teas, or, bizzarely enough, bagged green/oolong tea of lackluster quality.  At Cafe Mezone, my favorite and least pretentious of these offerings, the closest you can get to the real thing is a peach oolong (it’s ok).  Aside from these places, there are also a handful of beautiful, ornate teahouses, which is fantastic!  I’ve been to three already–but they’re not for the casual, after-work goer–tea at these places is elaborate and expensive.  A special event.

6. Towards the end of Wing Chun practice (more on that in the future), John launches into story-mode, and tells us a tale of two officers in a certain prison, somewhere, he was privy to: A female officer was hit in the face with a metal food tray by a sneaky inmate.  She falls to the floor, bleeding, “and her partner, a guy, freezes and pisses his pants,” to quote John.  Apparently, during such an event, there’s a mandatory lockdown.  So now these two officers are in this locked room full of a couple hundred hungry prisoners, and the sadistic guy who hit the female officer with the tray is still there.  Her male officer is still frozen in place, and the offending inmate continues to hit her, and is starting to choke her, with the intention of rape.  Through the desperation of dim consciousness, because the male officer has still not taken any action, the female officer literally rips the bastard’s testicles off with her hand.  That ends it.  No one ever bothers her again  That guy never tries anything again.  No repercussions for the female officer; but the male officer is in serious trouble.  John ties this all back into the ongoing saga of living with his Taiwanese girlfriend and her teenage son, and taking plenty of crap from both.  Moral of the story: some people don’t understand, “No,” and they only respond to pain.  John’s been around.  He tells some pretty scary/crazy stories, but is a nice guy, although his level of expletive-use could be a little intimidating for the uninitiated.  We have some real characters out here.

7. 11:25 PM: Two girls on the bus are laughing and smiling in conversation.  I notice it because it’s such an anomaly, especially at this hour.  Most people just look tired.  They don’t smile, they don’t look at each other, they just wait for their stop.

8. Cooking dinner at midnight.  By the time I sit down, it’s almost 1.  A vegetable and mushroom medley, something which I’ve practiced and reinvented ad infinitum in my San Francisco and Berkeley kitchens over the past few years.  It’s familiar and nourishing.  Everything comes out well.  The snap peas are still crisp, the leafy vegetable (I don’t know what variety it is) is soft, but not overdone, as are the mushrooms.  The level of spices is perfect, accentuated by the smooth tasting organic soy sauce I recently bought, and the aged rice vinegar.  This is better than most meals I’ve eaten under 200 NT.  Satisfaction.  I round the meal off with a few squares of a surprisingly decent local dark chocolate, 80%, which is (purportedly) sourced from Ivory Coast.  It’s 50 NT for a medium sized bar–not a bad deal at all.  On the other hand, I saw an Equal Exchange bar in one of the organic stores down the street from my apartment the other day going for almost 300 NT!  Yikes.  I wonder who would pay for one?  A fastidious person can eat on that for a day.