Wet, damp, cloudy: That’s Christmas time in Taipei.  Buying a dehumidifier was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made, right up there with my XL Ortlieb Panniers.  I saw the sun for an hour or so the other day, heavily blocked by the clouds.  My memories of my brothers staying inside for hours and hours playing video games while the sun shines brightly now make me especially nauseous.  Proof: 1) Too much or too little of anything isn’t healthy, 2) You can’t fully appreciate something until you don’t have it.  Ah, California..

There’s something rather strange about seeing inflatable plastic Santas, decorations, Christmas trees in and around businesses and the MRT, plus the natural frenzied rush of people buying lots of stuff (always nice to have an excuse for that)…yet the vast majority of people here don’t celebrate Christmas.  I asked my high school students, who were learning Christmas songs, decorating a giant tree in the lobby of their school, and participating in gift exchanges, if Christmas was any kind of officially recognized holiday, or if they got the day off, if it fell on a weekday.  Nope.  Do any of them celebrate it at home?  Nope.

I’m trying to think of a parallel.  True, Christmas in the US is closer to a commercial facade than anything resembling its original message and meaning, probably for most people; but the feeling still permeates the air.  Even if it’s not a particularly important day to you (and it hasn’t been for me, since I was a child), you still know it’s Christmas, and people are celebrating in some way, on a spectrum between champagne with friends to midnight sermons with their extended family.  And that’s one of the great things about America–that diversity and strange mix–that I can only fully appreciate by now living in a relatively homogenous environment.  We got the weird, the good, the bad, the crazy, the nice, the not so nice, the ugly, the beautiful, the surreal, the sinister, the irreverent, the pious.  In a place like Taiwan, it’s much more like: everyone’s going to do this, or not.  A more binary society, you could say.

This will be just the second Christmas I’ve been away from home.  The last time was in China, six years ago.  Some of my students took me out for dinner.  I don’t think that’s going to happen here, but then again, there wasn’t multiple parties going on in Dangyang, either.  They just didn’t exist, period.

Actually, I’ve barely thought about these sorts of things this year; I’ve just been too busy or stressed much of the time.  It’s been 4.5 months since I landed on this island and I just feel that things are starting to come together.  I have a new job now, which I’ll write about more in the future, and am about to move, so it’s a total reset.  People keep asking me if I’ve been to Taroko Gorge, Taroko Gorge, Final Floors, Kibbitz Bores, and I tell them I’ve yet to have both the time and the money.  If it’s not one, it’s the other–I’m not going to be able to fully relax until I have a new visa in hand, I’m sitting cozy with my new room mates, and I have my first paycheck in hand.  At the moment, I’m hoping that the visa will come before I need to leave the country again.  If governments were operated by the Department of Logic, there’d be no concern…and because I foolishly look at affairs through this window too often, it didn’t concern me until a few days ago, when I realized, yes, it is entirely possible, despite it being in transit, that I will be forced to leave the country again before the boxes are checked because my stamp says “30-days, no exemptions.”  I’ll talk to my employer today and see what they have to say.

What else?  Although I’ve so far been privileged to drink at some of the many fine tea shops in Taipei, which is literally drowning in them–something I am repeatedly thankful about through being here, and ironically, one of the features which is probably least appreciated by most foreigners–I revisited one the other day with a friend and drank one of the smoothest, most complex, and deepest oolongs of my life.  Keep in mind I’m in oolong paradise here.  I would say it is on a similar level to DayuLin (famous tea grown on Lishan) at about half the price.  I bought a bag, along with a red (black) tea what was naturally creamy and rich, the only red to be grown on Alishan, apparently.  Amazingly enough they’re also carrying a green which was was certainly one of the better greens I’ve tasted, anywhere, but I restrained myself from buying it, too. Next time.  In fact, perhaps the reason their teas are distinctive and fresh is that they grow it all on their farm on Alishan, pesticide free or close to it, and hand-picked, with care, naturally.  You can really taste the difference.  The everyman-varieties of wulong carried by any newspaper-stained store in identical bags, often labelled generically as 高山烏龍茶 (high mountain oolong tea), while better than anything most people will ever taste in a Western country, pale in comparison to more carefully processed tea, grown with minimal use of pesticides.  When I mentally compare most of these wulongs to the ones I prefer, they often carry an astringency and lack of complexity, hiding the full range of flavors and depth this plant is capable of producing.

So, right now the Latino film festival is going on in Taipei at the wonderful spot theater (光點, aptly named).  So far I’ve seen a realist/surrealist Uruguayan day-in-the-life-of biopic with plenty of sound, but no audible dialogue (Hiroshima), and last night watched one of those long dragging films about how lamely upper-middle-class in various countries slowly kill themselves in boring ways (The Swamp).  I plan to spend at least part of my Christmas day watching a couple more with a friend, and am particularly excited about Las Marimbas del Infierno.