Saturday Saturated: Taiwan

Actually, the entire trip through Hong Kong and Taiwan has been intense, full and fast-paced in the most wonderful of ways. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here for a week– it feels like I’ve done so much, and seen so many people, gone to so many locations, that this would count as three months of this kind of public and interactive work I would be experiencing in Vancouver. It’s so amazing to be able to share ideas and have conversations with people from different parts of the world. Meet other writers, thinkers, readers, dreamers.

Christine Van, Gabriela Kennedy, and Isabella Lim in Hong Kong were such wonderful hosts– the festival was so well-organized and the events were diverse and rich. So many writers from all across the world. I was so pleased to meet Sally Rippin from Australia and Wena Poon from the US. My fellow Canadian authors, Evelyn Lau, Vincent Lam and I were showcased and feted at the Consular General’s residence in Hong Kong. What an honour. The support of the Government of Canada (not “you-know-who’s Government” <slow wink>) is so greatly appreciated. When my father was alive, and I would receive a writing grant through Canada Council, my father would shake his head with dramatic effect and state: Canada is a Grrrreat Country! He was so impressed that a government would offer grants to artists and writers and support their work. I know there are many countries that do not value art, and/or does not have the means to support their artists. On the one hand, I think my father’s right– I am greatly appreciative of governmental support for the arts– at the same time, I do think of art as important labour, rather than something that’s frivolous or of little material value. Art is not just creative expression, but it’s also an aspect of the fabric and complextities of a nation. I also think that art work can serve as kinds of emissaries in the broader world. Art is social engagement, a communication, and about fostering relationships. These connections are not limited to the national arena, but can flow across cultures, languages, and ideologies. It’s pretty amazing. And I’m lucky to be able to be able to do this work that I do.

I adore Taiwan…. My love is very shallow, of course. This is only my second time, here, and both trips were not long ones. But I love it just the same. Later this afternoon I have my final engagement– I’ll be on a panel discussion with local lesbians and artists. We’ll be sharing personal stories about parenting, art practice and being queer. I’m very much looking forward to this cross-cultural conversation. I have no understanding of the realities of living in Taiwan as a queer-identified person. It’s good to speak with people, instead of just learning off of written information. Sometimes I rely too heavily upon this modality– learning through reading.

Guy Beauregard and Bennett Fu at National Taiwan University, Candace Aiani at Taipei American School, Kate Liu, Donna Tong, and Daphne at Fujen, and Rachel Hung and Clara at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung– such generous and kind hosts and such exciting interactions with students. I’m always humbled by the level of engagement and am filled with such hope and wonder at the next wave of critically engaged thinkers, blooming.

And not to forget the lovely and capable Toby Schwartz of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, who so effortlessly organized all of my travels in Taiwan! The epitome of competence and easy-going, I was so lucky as to have her accompany me to several of my presentations.

I got to travel by high speed rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung! I love train travel. It was dark when on the way over, but the return trip was midday, and I could see the countryside whip past me like a strip of film stock. The shock of a woman’s warm red shirt, against the verdant green of a rice paddy. Gorgeous. Thank you for wearing a red shirt yesterday, Ms. farmer. It was a gift to my eyes.

Can one travel and not talk about food? ~____~. Ohhhh, such delicious foods…. The vegetables and fruits have more intense flavour. Nuanced and distinct. Layers of flavour. You know how sometimes one can buy unripe watermelon in Canada, and it has less flavour than a cucumber–  as if the fruits and vegetables in our chain grocery stores are hyrdoponically grown clones of clones of fruits and vegetables from a long-ago time, and there’s only a faint whiff of flavour left, and then you time travel back to the place that orginally grew the plants in soil and the intensity of the flavour explodes inside your mouth and nasal passages and you have to close your eyes? That’s what it’s been like…. Ohhhhhhhhhh. My new favourite green vegetable is dragon’s beard. The texture! The slightest tinge of bitter atop of the sweet. The brilliant colour! Oh, lovely strawberries. Even humble cabbage, so flavourful and rich…. I would be gaining, easily, ten pounds this trip, but the fast work pace keeps me from further expansions! Hahahahahahaaa! So, bring it on, I say!

Throughout this work trip, the weight of the ongoing crisis in Japan. It is so difficult to wholly understand the number of lives lost, the number of people who are missing. It is too big, and the abstraction of the figure grows greater. And even as I try to understand how many people have died so very suddenly, the anxiety and fear about nuclear catastrophe continues to weigh heavily upon the psyche. For nuclear contanimation is a global fear. Fundraising efforts are on the ground throughout the world. And this is heartening.

Tonight will be my last night in Taipei. The long flights home begin on Sunday evening. Maybe I’ll fly pass Einstein in the ether. After he died he began exploring his theories without being confined to his earthly body. He’s having a lot of fun and likes to play tricks on travellers with insomnia….