September 28, 2008

The Winds of Change

I've never given money to a political campaign except for the time that I bought a George H. W. Bush T-shirt in high school for the purpose of spray painting rude things on it. That changed yesterday. I paid a bit more than I did for the shirt, and I got a tiny little button to show for it, but I also got to sit in a packed Mexican Restaurant (El Gallo in Tianmu...just opened last week and already awesome!) with people who not only think that Sarah Palin is as hilarious as she is horrifying, but that our guy represents a breath of much needed fresh air.

I took my son to see more foreigners than he has ever seen in his life. The Tianmu neighborhood in Taipei is nothing at all like anyplace in Taichung. You can't swing a cat without hitting a cracker. There were white folks, black folks, Asian folks, Latino folks, all hanging out together clapping and laughing and reminscing. Frank thought it was a little boring until the snacks arrived, though he enjoyed climbing under the table and playing with his dad's new friends.

The headlining speaker was Terry MacMillan. Not that one, but not at all disappointing. She's the field director for the campaign in East Asia, currently living in Japan, and was kind enough to come to Taiwan on the eve of the year's largest typhoon to add her enthusiasm to an event that was brimming with it. She made quite a splash.

The weather was beautiful as we set out from Taichung. Such beautiful blue skies are such a rare sight in Taichung that it's worth taking note of and oohing and ahhing. The wisps of what clouds there were spread themselves thinly across the sky in hopes perhaps for maximum coverage, but they failed spectacularly and instead produced an effect not at all unlike the Sydney Opera House.

We had just met a videographer with the Discovery Channel in Taiwan to shoot footage for a special on natural disasters. He was headed down to Kaoshuing, and hoped to find a place to stay in Taidong to get the footage he was looking for, though it was likely that he'd be getting mostly the storm's aftermath as it was forecast to hit at nighttime. As our train pulled out of Taichung HSR station headed north, we looked at the sky and couldn't help feeling that the poor guy had wasted his trip. How could there be a wallop-packing storm lurking off the East Coast with a sky as pleasant as this?
Living in the cement forests of Taichung, it's often easy to forget how beautiful Taiwan is. A ride on the rails is the quickest way to lift the shade. Zipping along at typhoon wind gust speed we passed rice paddies, taro fields, plots of pineapples, little villages, and then more hillsides with tufts of unruly bamboo sticking up here and there. From my seat on the train, twentysome meters above the ground, I couldn't see any beer cans, empty or otherwise, or discarded blue flip-flops, or 7-11 bags.

Nothing is permanent except change, so when we came out of one of the tunnels below Hsinchu we shouldn't have been all that shocked to see the dark and forboding grey clouds of Jangmi flying overhead like an Imperial Star Cruiser (seriously, check out this video...why is the liberal media hiding this???) By the time we got to the Zhishan MRT station, there was a mist that hung in the air. The storm had, at some point,taken a turn to the north and was not expected to hit near Kaoshuing, but more likely at Yilan, a little east of Taipei.

When Frank and I went out in search of El Gallo, it was sprinkling, and the weather didn't deteriorate for the trip back to our hotel, but a few hours later the wind picked up and whipped rain against the windows. At breakfast the next morning, water ran down the windows of the hotel breakfast nook--housed in a leaking illegal structure on the eighth floor--like in the rinse cycle at a car wash.

Our plans for a Sunday in Tamshui were washed out and we had to hot foot it over to the train station to get a seat on a train before the system was closed at three in the afternoon. The MRT was running at half speed, which perhaps meant a train every 12 minutes or so. The HSR started south at great guns, but somewhere in Hsinchu County we got hit with a wind gust and the train immediately slowed down, followed by announcements in Chinese, English, and Taiwanese that the train would be slowing down due to the wind.

The tall stands of bamboo that I had seen on the way up bent gracefully under the sustained high winds until they looked like their tops had been tied to tent stakes higher up the mountainside and gusts of wind raced each other across rice fields as if the crop was radio controlled.

Safe home in Taichung,we watched as signs and awnings around the neighborhood took leave of their moorings and hung awkwardly in front of the businesses they represent. Up and down the street were the sounds of metal against metal. On the teevee were images of snips of women being blown down the street, knocked over, and dragged a few more feet. Homes are flooded, people on scooters falling over, and bridges still standing.

School is cancelled on Monday. Another long weekend thanks to Dame Nature.Thank you, Baby.

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