I recently went to the opening of Red Room’s current art exhibition in Taipei: Visual Dialogues XXVI (藝術對畫). The venue was filled pieces by rising artists based in Taipei, both international and local. The theme, of course, was red.
Some of my favorite works include paintings by Adam Dupois and Liya Un, the ‘radioactive’ socially-conscious print The time between the stones by Germain Canon, and the glass sculpture Suspended Scarlet Cosmos by Bronwen Shelwell. All curated by Sean Gaffney.
Red Room features its Visual Dialogues series on the first Sunday of each month. More information can be found on the website redroomtaipei.com.
This show runs until October 6th and the address is Jianguo S. Rd. Sec.1 #177/
Once again, my take on the main four types of expats —
Here’s a video of us driving around on a motorbike, an experience that much encapsulates living in Taiwan.
I cross a bridge, into the city, and enter the swarm…
It’s been a long while.
Once upon a time, as I’ve written about before, I liked to collect comic books. It’s pretty much my favorite storytelling medium, that mix of visual and verbal with so much dynamic imagination, it’s my first love and as much as I enjoy prose and film nothing will ever compare to flipping through a picture book…
Back in 2005, so long ago, I moved to California and left my collection in my dad’s closet. Guess that was growing up.
After years of subscribing and going to the comics shop every Wednesday, and a lot of digging around at comic conventions and used bookstores, my collection was about 5,000 issues strong. It took up a lot of space.
Flash-forward to early 2008. Even before I moved abroad that year, I knew I had to get it together. I decided to take a month off my west coast life to stay in Cincinnati and sort out about half of my collection. Ebay became my full-time job. I was constantly working on the computer and going back and forth from the post office. I sold all my Marvel, manga, independents, and even more than a few toys. That amounted to half of my stuff. If I remember correctly, I made about a thousand US dollars.
And that was the compromise. I was a big DC fan at the time, and hoped my knowledge of continuity might actually help me as an author one day, so I kept all of those. Then, as we all know, I moved all the way to China. It was a heck of a year.
I admit I didn’t have a good long-term plan. Some two dozen boxes stayed in my dad’s closet, until he eventually retired and moved and issued an ultimatum that I needed to find another storage solution. Luckily, I have friends. One was kind enough to curate them for a year, but then he went through some drama and had to move. Another good friend took them up and they remained in his grandma’s basement for another year or two. All while I lived thousands of miles away. I felt bad that these people went through so much trouble on my account, but what could I do other than say thanks and wire some gifts…
It has now been a full decade since I’ve left America, and it’s time to get it together. Let’s face facts and admit I’m not coming back any time soon. Owning two dozen heavy boxes of books simply isn’t so compatible with the expat lifestyle.
Last month, I went on my big trip to the United States. For almost the entirety of July, Bronwen and I traveled throughout my troubled country. For the first half we mostly stayed in Southern California, exploring Los Angeles and Orange County by way of Long Beach as homebase. It was a rather good trip.
For the second half of the journey, we stayed in my adopted hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Not quite as much tourist action, but she seemed to enjoy it. A good introduction to middle America, right?
It was where I grew up, where I could drive around the various neighborhoods and indulge in nostalgia, and a good middle ground where my relatives from Indiana and Florida and old friends from east coast could all come together to meet me once again… And, of course, where my comics were.
The family and friends and sight-seeing where all important parts of the trip. But this post is about the comics.
Suffice to say, it was not easy juggling so much in such a short time. Not to mention the workout of dragging all those boxes from house to house. My apologies to anyone who felt left out as I sorted out all that stuff.
Anyway, my little sister had agreed to help me sell some on Ebay (my own Ebay account had long since deactivated in the ensuing decade). I didn’t have time to organize the entire collection, but I did post a select few which I thought could get a good price.
There was the New Teen Titans, from the 1980s and up:
The complete 2000s JSA/Justice Society by Geoff Johns, including his first work Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. and Hawkman and more:
Sadly, the entire 1980s-1990s Justice League International by Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis wasn’t more popular for some reason, though that fun-loving run is among the best to me:
One thing I did discover about Ebay is that it’s much easier to post graphic novels as books rather than organize hundreds of magazine issues. If you type in the ISBN, it not only gives you the stock photo but even suggests a price. Fine by me! I decided to sell the remaining dozen or so graphic novels that way, sold about half of them for five to ten dollars each, and it only took two trips to the post office.
Leaving a substantial percentage for my little sister’s PayPal as a gift, because I try to be a decent brother.
Meanwhile, mailing out full runs box-by-box just wasn’t feasible. So I decided to post a summary on both Craigslist, and that new Facebook Marketplace, pitching anyone to come by to my hotel and look through the entire lot and negotiate a price.
That wasn’t not weird, is it?
DC COMICS MEGA-COLLECTION FOR SALE, from the 80s and 90s and 2000s! Massive sets of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League International, Teen Titans, Legion – thousands of comics by such creators as Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and much more!
I am selling my entire comic collection consisting of several thousand which I have built up over many years. This is a great deal because I am moving and simply trying to pass them on quickly to a fan.
Please come by personally to check them out in Blue Ash, Cincinnati and then we can agree on an exact price. For example, if you want the entire set for a bulk purchase in the four-figures, that’s possible. Or, more specifically, I can sell some of these various bundles of hundreds per set for a two- to three-figure sum each:
All comics are in very fine to near mint condition unless otherwise stated. Please message me for more details and the whole inventory…
-Superman 90s and 90s: reboot by John Byrne starting from issue #1, Death and Rebirth of Superman era by Dan Jurgens, featuring many extra Supergirl and Superboy issues and even some Shazam!
-Superman 2000s: featuring the Y2K and Our Worlds at War/Imperiex War crossover, many issues by Geoff Johns and also Birthright by Waid
-Batman: bundle particularly with lots of spinoff issues of Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey written by Chuck Dixon; plus even old Outsiders
-Wonder Woman: massive bundle starting from issue #1 with the George Perez post-Crisis reboot, as well as John Byrne’s 90s run and Phil Jimenz in the 2000s and many more
-Complete 80s Justice League! This huge bundle features the entire run of the classic 80s Justice League International era by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMattis “Bawahaha” comedy era #1-60, plus many more with some Firestorm thrown in
-The New Teen Titans: huge bundle of the 80s Marv Wolfman and George Perez era of the Titans starting from #1 on to the Judas Contract with Slade/Deathstroke the Terminator, and lots of extras from latter decades…
-Geoff Johns MEGA bundle with complete Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. that started it all plus Teen Titans, and Flash Rebirth!
-Infinite Crisis 2005 crossover by Geoff Johns including Villains United and the Secret Six series by Gail Simone, Villains United
-Justice Society by Geoff Johns: The complete JSA by Geoff Johns, plus various Starman issues by James Robinson as well as Spectre and old 80s All-Star Squadron and Johns’ Hawkman plus more
-90s Young Justice by Peter David, and others by the acclaimed writer
-52 by Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison: complete set plus spinoffs from of the epic ‘real-time’ comic from the 2000s of the year skip
-Grant Morrison bundle featuring the complete Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Superman, Final Crisis, Batman and more from the mad genius DC writer
-Grant Morrison Vertigo bundle! Featuring complete runs of his hard-to-find brilliant miniseries such as the complete Flex Mentallo, We3, Sea Guy, Vimanarama, Joe the Barbarian, plus some Doom Patrol
-DC crossovers! Zero Hour, Invasion!, Millenium, Joker’s Last Laugh, Identity Crisis, and Tons of DC crossovers from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s featuring all the iconic superheroes saving the universe
-Legion of Superheroes from the 80s – and even some 70s and 60s – and 2000s: massive bundle of Legion issues by with a couple of valuable Silver Age ones, many Paul Levitz classics both pre-Crisis and post-Crisis, and also the first issues of the Mark Waid ‘threeboot’ in the 2000s
-Complete Legion of Superheroes 90s reboot: every single one of the post-Zero Hour reboot by Mark Waid & more. Giant set of Legion and Legionnaires and Legion Lost and more spinoffs!
During my recent visit to Los Angeles, I dropped by the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in downtown. I highly recommend the experience, which is even conveniently located near an L.A. Metro station–a rare thing in the notoriously car-dependent city.
The current main exhibition was entitled, Real Worlds, featuring photography by Brassaï, Diane Arbus, and Nan Goldin.
Many other excellent pieces were on display, some installations even fully immersive as the audience walks through a forest of mechanical plants…
There was also an excellent full-on cave by the young artist Lauren Halsey which most impressed.
Lastly, the permanent exhibitions by legendary masters made for a true feeling of historicity. Real pop art by Lichtenstein, Dada by Max Ernst, a massive abstract work by Jackson Pollock, and those powerfully sized ones by Rothko.
For more information, please go to the official website MOCA.org.
Behold, I have created a new Tumblr account in order to share my comics:
I have started with an old one. “Shopping Spree” is a 12-page short from a defunct anthology experiment entitled Cupcake Dreamy. It is about Hollywood and street kids and photography and shoplifting and trains and ennui.
There’s a new Chinese novel, now translated to English, that has been getting a lot of buzz from Western media lately. I am proud to say that I was a part of the English-language editing process and helped bring this story into fruition:
Death Notice is by bestselling author Zhou Haohui–translated by Zac Haluza and published by Doubleday. It’s a thrilling mystery story about a vigilante-killer terrorizing the police in the city Chengdu. The twists and turns make for a great ride, and is an excellent read for any fans of Hong Kong police dramas (which is appropriate, as the upcoming film adaptation will actually take place in Hong Kong). Check it out via Amazon or your local bookstore.
I’m very honored that the translation company China Educational Publications Import & Export Corporation/CEPIEC, the same who brought famed science fiction trilogy The Three-Body Problem to the world, approached me so that I could add my take to the drafting process. Recently published by Doubleday, I hope that a new round of readers will experience what I did when I delved into the journey of Eumenides and his foes…
And, wait until you see what happens when the sequel is published next year!
Below are some links of articles about the series and the author. The New York Times being particularly impressive, also note NPR and China Daily for further perspectives.
Good readings to all–
I recently went to Hong Kong, and happened to be there during the June 4 protests commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre from 1989.
I admire the spirit of dissent in Hong Kong, one of the only places in China were it is possible, and the event was powerful. Over a hundred thousand attendees gathered in Victoria Park and it was an honor for me to be among them.
Here is a video from my humble perspective:
Hong Kong on the Brink is a memoir by an American diplomat who writes about Hong Kong in the 1960s during the tumultuous days of the Cultural Revolution. It’s a personal story with historical relevance.
The author, Syd Goldsmith, is not known as a particularly high-level diplomat. Yet his take as a Cantonese speaker at the American Consulate gives him a window into the inner workings of the time which makes this book about far more than just granting visas. With over fifty chapters, it covers a wide range showcasing both day-to-day life as well as complex international politics.
Goldsmith starts out with his backstory, explaining just how he became a Foreign Service Officer and found himself sent to Hong Kong in 1965. With an exceptional education, he decided to forego the business world and instead enter government service. He also delves into his personal life, his marriage and the birth of his first child, although those topics often seem to warrant less attention than the focus on his career (which he even admits in some critically self-reflective parts).
After a thorough screening process, he is sent to Hong Kong. It was not his first choice, but he soon starts to embrace it and studies Cantonese seriously. In the chapter entitled ‘The Tricks They Try,’ the book gets entertaining with an overview of the scams that immigrants utilized in the hopes of coming to the United States. Goldsmith always writes with no judgment. As a diplomat, he also gets to observe the high life of the rich and powerful. For the first third of the book all seems well even with the backdrop of Maoist China and the Vietnam War… Then, by chapter fifteen it is explained to him that “there was real trouble just below Hong Kong’s appearance of calm.”
The crux of the book is the communist riots of the year 1965, which is often foreshadowed until it finally explodes in the climax of the narrative.
The title of the chapter ‘The Labor Strife Boils Over’ shows an example of how economics caused much unrest in the British colony. In the following chapters it is noted how many of Mao’s infamous Little Red Books have taken over the streets. At first it may not be judged as a serious threat, but the reader can feel the rising tension.
Meanwhile, various chapters jump from one topic to another, from briefly meeting Richard Nixon to an expose of Macau. Eventually, the author becomes a sort of CIA analyst as he meets with Cold War agents to discuss what may come. Not to mention a source for journalists as the resident expert.
Goldsmith can be downright poetic at times. “It strikes me that fright can sear memory, etching it deeply into grooves,” he muses. “A needle will play it like a 33-rpm record, over and over for a lifetime. But the trauma can also reduce memory to ashes.”
I learned a lot in reading this book. There were many complicated factors that tied colonial Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China even during the heights of the Cold War. For example, even under the threat of a possible military attack they still hoped to be able to trade for water with officials across the border. But the book is still from the subjective perspective of one man, and not meant to be a complete history of all things Hong Kong during that decade. Still, a very informative perspective indeed.
Fortunately, cooler heads did prevail in the end although the city went through very challenging times. Syd Goldsmith made it. The extremism of the Cultural Revolution, as we all know, never did fully overtake Hong Kong. The cost of freedom was, however, rather high as the British ultimately seized control.
“By early 1968 Hong Kong’s emergency was pretty much behind me,” the author writers at the end of the book, as he reflects upon what he witnessed and survived.
Hong Kong on the Brink (appropriately subtitled An American diplomat relives 1967’s darkest days) is not introductory and is only recommended for those already familiar with Hong Kong and modern Chinese history. Hong Kong expats particularly curious would be most interested. For a certain kind of reader, this an excellent read.
Published by Blacksmith Books, the book is available on Amazon and at bookstores within the former colony and current special administrative region.
Mao’s Town by Xie Hong is the first English-language novel from Chinese author Xie Hong, and showcases the author’s unique voice in exploring the Revolutionary era of recent Chinese history. Told in short, pointed sentences, Mao’s Town expresses something that only an author who lived through the terrible era could truly understand. Nonetheless, this book gives an excellent introduction to so many horrors of the time–from the hunger pains of the Great Leap Forward to the abusive madness of the Red Guards circa the Cultural Revolution. It was a time that hopefully will never be repeated, but needs to be remembered.
Mao’s Town is told from a childhood point of view, full of memories and written in direct language that always seems appropriate. The central theme is the concept of family as well finding one’s place in a small town which represents the enormous nation of China, and furthermore the narrative explores how the edicts that came down from the dictatorship of Chairman Mao can affect everything for one small boy.
There are the little things that one remembers, details like enjoying food in the early days. Though then the lack of it later when the hardships begin. The protagonist of the story spends his days watching propaganda “Red” films about fighting landlords, celebrates Chinese New Year, and plays with his friends Sun and Ahn as all of the families are eventually torn apart culminating in his brother’s and father’s sagas.
Some of the memories can be very intense, like when a teacher must be chosen as the “rightist” of the school for public punishment. Others seem so innocently naïve, such as when the family gives up their pots and pans out of faith to the Party’s now known horrific steelworks projects. They townspeople kill sparrows, and more, yet never know the full impact even while the path leads to starvation. All the while, the children don’t even know what the word “capitalist” means…
Mao’s Town is a quick read about both Chinese history and about how young minds process tragedy. Recommended for historians of all ages.
Mao’s Town by Xie Hong is published by Whyte Tracks and is available on Amazon.
Almost goes without saying, massive spoilers herein forewarned.
Do not read ahead unless you’ve already seen.
So here are some funny English-language things I’ve seen, that are not Chinglish strictly speaking. It’s just not as easy to find in Taiwan but I hope they’re still enjoyable:
First, this sex toy egg spotted around Shilin market. I did buy the cheapest 100 NT one, which was just some cheap jewelry, but I can’t help wondering what other masturbegg products there could be…
Next up, at the Urban Nomad music festival in Taipei. a fellow wore this T-shirt and was kind enough to let me photography him. It wasn’t one of those silly T-shirts that people wear without knowing what it means, he was fully into the message. And an important peaceful message it is these days, seriously.
While I’m at it, here are some photos and a video of the music festival because why not!
Taiwanese ghosts abound in the second edition of ‘Taiwan Tales’ by the Taipei Writers Group, but the writers don’t stop there, digging deep into the nuances and fine details of life in Taiwan
By Han Cheung / Staff Reporter
One might expect a collection of short stories written by expats in Taiwan to largely tell of the experiences of, well, expats in Taiwan, but the first three stories of Taiwan Tales Volume Two feature a Taiwanese businesswoman, a well-read and verbose red poodle (a popular breed) and a shy Taiwanese old computer game shop vendor in the underground malls of Taipei Main Station.
Such a book wouldn’t be as rich, however, if it there were no foreigners involved at all — after all, they have unique experiences that are usually not featured in mainstream Taiwanese media or literature. Out of the seven stories, three of them speak from the quintessential “expat experience” in Taiwan, making this collection a bit more rounded given that the majority of writers hail from the US.
Representation is always tricky with anthologies like these because there’s always something to nitpick, but it’s understandable that there’s not a large pool of English fiction writers living in Taiwan to solicit quality stories from. For what this book is, it’s an enjoyable and well-edited read that anyone who has spent significant time in Taiwan can identify with and chuckle at the “only in Taiwan” references sprinkled throughout the book.
From the very first story, Room 602 by Pat Woods, it’s clear that the authors are deliberately writing from a Taiwanese perspective, or at least consciously featuring local nuances and elements that only someone who has lived here for a while will catch. Woods speaks of the freezing air conditioning that makes you bring a coat to work in the sweltering summer, the feel of shame, or “losing face,” after losing one’s cool in a public setting and giving very specific details, such as exact dates, when speaking to ghosts.
The plot for Woods’ story follows a pretty standard ghost story formula, but it is perhaps the most ambitious out of this collection, as he tries to write from the first-person perspective of a Taiwanese woman — and pulls it off fairly well. This is what makes the stories fun to read. While they are all well-crafted and the prose is lively and well-edited, the creative use of Taiwanese elements is what sets them apart.
In the same vein, the second tale, Mark Will’s Notes From the Underfoot, written from the perspective of a slightly snobby but very well-read and pensive toy poodle, is a rambling monologue that hits many points spot on to the Taiwanese dog experience — from the practice of dressing one’s canine in baby clothes and wheeling it around in a stroller to people who abandon dogs after they stop being cute.
Will also comments on Taiwanese politics through the dog’s perspective — Lulu the corgi feels that it’s linguistically oppressive to refer to Taiwan as “Formosa,” while Baobao the poodle is fine with the term but not okay with “Chinese Taipei.”
The remainder of the book is just as entertaining, including a trippy ghost adventure, an urban fantasy that features all kinds of strange creatures from the folklore of various countries, and a hilarious account of an obsessive expat on Tinder, hoping for a last hurrah before he leaves Taiwan while things go completely awry.
Taiwanese (and other Asian) folk religion and beliefs, especially the belief in evil spirits, feature prominently in the book, since, after all, that’s the most easily recognizable element of Taiwanese culture that completely differs from Western beliefs. But that’s just scratching the surface, and the writers do a good job in digging deeper.
As a result of this fascination with the occult, only three of the tales are completely rooted in reality. These provide the reader with temporary relief (otherwise the would have to be called “Taiwan Ghost Tales”), from Taipei Underground’s sketch of an ordinary man looking for love while working for his demanding cousin, to an unexpected friendship between two expat English teachers running away from their origins and eventually facing their demons.
Also worth looking at is the vastly different “expat experience” between male and female Western residents of Taipei. The two female writers almost exclusively focus on expat characters in their stories, as Bob, the Unfriendly Ghost vs The Mother Plant by Laurel Bucholz features an expat teacher and the only Taiwanese characters are the children she teaches (who discuss with her how to get rid of the unfriendly ghost).
There is, of course, a reason for this. The Western female role is made clear in the beginning of the story, when the author writes that “white girls in Asia, living in obscure towns, get very little love. They are bottom of the list for the pickings,” and the protagonist is companionless until she returns to the US to snag a guy to bring back to Taiwan. As a result they are less integrated into Taiwanese society, whereas the men tend to date and marry local woman.
While this is largely a stereotype of female expats in Asia, stereotypes are based on truths, and again it’s a good thing that the author doesn’t shy away from tackling the issue directly. It only paints a more complete picture of expat life in Taiwan, and makes this book a more complete anthology.
There aren’t that many English-language books about Taiwan, especially fiction. This is a pity because despite being wedged between much larger neighbors such as China, Japan and the Philippines, there is a lot to Taiwan that often gets overlooked. There are many good stories that are still waiting to be told and the Taiwan Writers Group, a collective of local and expat writers, tries to tell a few in their latest collection.
This second volume of Taiwan Tales is compact, but its seven short stories are diverse, ranging from ghost stories to mystery. As the writers are all expats, most of the stories feature expats as protagonists. This obviously presents mostly an outsider’s view, but their fondness for and knowledge of Taiwan is evident in their descriptions of contemporary Taiwan life and culture. But there are also local protagonists, including that is an animal.
In what might be the story with the most Taiwanese twist, “Room 602” by Pat Woods sees a local woman face unusual problems in her hotel room during a business trip in Kaohsiung, falling back on childhood memories involving superstition and the appeasing of ghosts.
Mark Will’s “Notes from Underfoot” is an amusing story of Taipei life from a dog’s perspective. Baobao, a literate poodle owned by an expat and his local girlfriend, provides a witty narrative that includes cross-strait politics, the frequent neglect of pet dogs by Taiwanese, and buxibans or local tutoring centers for students. In Laurel Bucholz’s “Bob the Unfriendly Ghost vs The Mother Plant”, an expat finds herself under assault from a tormented ghost in her apartment right after taking Ayahuasca, a medicinal herb from South America. The combination of local superstition and hallucinatory visions from the herb produces a potent tale.In what might be the story with the most Taiwanese twist, “Room 602” by Pat Woods sees a local woman face unusual problems in her hotel room during a business trip in Kaohsiung, falling back on childhood memories involving superstition and the appeasing of ghosts.
JJ Goodwin’s “Underground” takes readers on a wild ride through an underground universe populated with deities and creatures from Taiwanese and other Asian folklore. This Taiwanese Odyssey features an unsuspecting hero who must complete quests and brave dangerous creatures to find his way back to the real world. Connor Bixby’s “A Completely Normal Male Expat”, the most humorous story in the collection, pokes fun at a stereotypical randy male expat while also parodying online dating. The story sees an American expat who becomes fixated on a local Tinder match, only to become increasingly neurotic as things go awry with the ensuing date.
Ray Hecht’s “The Taipei Underground” features a blossoming romance between two Taiwanese youngsters working in an underground electronics goods arcade in Taipei. It is a good take on work and social anxieties faced by young Taiwanese, in a setting that might not be well-known but is one of Taipei’s many distinctive facets.
Last but certainly not least, “Onus” by Ellyna Ford Phelps is an intriguing story about two female English teachers who form a close bond, but whose backgrounds suggest mysterious, tragic pasts. The story takes a dark turn midway but it blends expat friendship tale and mystery thriller in a poignant and suspenseful way that works very well.
It is no coincidence that there are two stories in the collection that feature ghosts, for Taiwanese society has a strong superstitious nature due to the influence of traditional religion. Ghosts do feature regularly in modern Taiwanese life. For example, “Ghost Month” in the lunar calendar is widely observed by many Taiwanese who worship the ghosts of their ancestors by burning paper in urns outside their homes or businesses.
The anthology is a good reflection of Taiwan: small, calm on the surface but belying a fascinating, quirky, and pulsating character.