My autobiographical comic 2020: A Year in Taiwan is now available for the Kindle app on Amazon:
Adrian Cone has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Soon after I moved to Cincinnati, we met at Princeton Junior High and became best friends immediately. Childhood can be a rough time, especially at middle school, and the joy that came with hanging out at his house playing video games and watching cartoons are among the best memories of my youth.
These memories will exist for as long as long as I still do, and a piece of Adrian’s spirit will live in this way. I will never forget the ups and downs we had, all over the world. It was the friendship of a lifetime. We were teenagers together dodging responsibility and testing the limits of what we could get away with, then we were twenty-somethings trying to figure out who we were. In our thirties, we were finally men.
He spent much of his life in military, in large part I believe because he wanted to see the world. It worked. He was well-traveled, racking up experiences all over this planet.
Adrian lived all over the United States, from coast to coast. I have the fondest memories of when he visited me in California and of when I visited him in Seattle. He also worked in Bahrain, learning about and appreciating Middle Eastern culture. He traveled to Australia, and visited me in China. I can still recall the joy of discovering the Hong Kong skyline together after we found each other at the airport. The years passed but we easily just picked up where we left off.
He was a passionate man. Whatever he did, he did it with 100% of his spirit. He may have changed his focus from time to time, going from one thing to the next, but what an honor it was while it lasted to be obsessed over by Adrian Cone.
If he got a job, he worked at that job as hard as he could. If he had a cause, he believed in that cause with all his heart. If he loved, he loved with every fiber of his being.
To be honest, I’ve always been envious of this ability. I have never met anyone like Adrian, and I never will again.
Over this past month, so many people have come together to remember our dear friend and family member. He will absolutely live on in all our memories.
He was so many things to so many people. He was a father. He was an artist. He was a brother.
I know he was in a lot of pain recently. But that wasn’t all he was. I hope he is at peace now.
I truly believe his spirit lives on, through the love of his children and through the love of all of us still here.
Let us never ever forget.
Turtle Burn, Taiwan’s spinoff of the avant-garde art festival Burning Man, will take place over the Tomb Sweeping holiday
In the mountains of Yilan, far from the confines of everyday life, people gather during the holidays to celebrate. Outlandish costumes are the norm. The fashion styles run from Mad Max-inspired outfits, to anime cosplay, along with colorful makeup and dresses for both men and women.
It’s time for the Turtle Burn, the official “regional Burn” of Taiwan. This is a spinoff of Burning Man, the world’s largest art and music festival held annually in Nevada. For one week a year, over 70,000 people camp out in Black Rock Desert to attend this seminal countercultural event. All over the world, there are also smaller regional Burns, and the Turtle Burn will be a more intimate affair, capping at 150 people.
Although the main Burning Man event was canceled last year due to COVID-19, the Turtle Burn did have a successful opening in 2019 and plans to continue annually. The latest will be from April 2 to April 5, over the Tomb-Sweeping Festival holiday weekend, at Shanlinciji campsite.
The site is filled with several “theme camps,” which groups organize in order to spend time with likeminded friends and to pool resources together. One is the Tavern of Truth, headed by Kate Panzica, which holds a free bar to give drinks to everyone who strolls by.
“Educating both foreigners and locals on the Ten Principles is a net positive,” Panzica says. “I think it’s great for folks to explore themselves and what they want to be in the ‘default world’ as well as a Burn.”
The Ten Principles of Burning Man, written by late founder Larry Harvey in 2004, are: Radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.
These guidelines help to make the event stay as ethical as possible, and people are encouraged to clean up after themselves and promote sustainable living. Radical self-reliance refers to how attendees must bring their own food, cookware, tents and other camping supplies. People are encouraged to contribute to the culture by building their own artistic creations, whether individually or as part of a group. And after the event is over, they must make sure to leave no trace by cleaning up all “MOOP” — matter out of place.
For four days the Turtle Burn will hold a variety of workshops and activities. The gifting principle doesn’t just refer to handing out free drinks or personalized jewelry, although that is also common. It can also be expressed by giving one’s time by hosting workshops.
In the past, these workshops have included improv comedy sessions, where participants learn to play and practice their comedic skills, yoga classes for keeping fit, lip-singing performances, fashion shows on a makeshift runway and even impromptu puppet shows. Some camps contribute at meal-times, cooking pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches to share with the entire community. At night, fire-dancers are a particular attraction of any Burn, dancing to the beat of electronic music and entertaining others as they express their craft.
“I was part of the Queen of Hearts camp,” said Michi Fu, sharing her experiences. “We had a shared costume closet with a full-length mirror to encourage radical self-expression through costuming. I sang with my furry, lavender bunny ears and turquoise silk robe and we all had hand-cranked ice cream.”
On the final night, tradition dictates that a wooden effigy is to burn. This started in 1986 at the very first Burning Man in San Francisco, as a symbol of how to keep the creative “fire” burning on even after the event concludes. At the Turtle Burn, a two-meter wide wooden turtle sculpture is scheduled to be set aflame. Dale Albanese, Taiwan’s official Burning Man contact, said of the installation: “There’s a sense of buildup and tension, and this sudden quietness and a collective shared spirit. You hear the oohs and the aahs at similar times. There’s a kind of shared attention. We’ve all been busy doing our own thing, and then there’s a pause. A reset. It’s also a moment to open up and say it wasn’t just about me.”
As 150 artists and performers gather their community together to continue the Turtle Burn tradition, they are also planning for next year and beyond. Tickets for this year’s event have already sold out but there is a waiting list. For more information, visit: turtleburn.com.
Traveling by motorbike from Chiayi city (嘉義) up to Alishan Mountain (阿里山) and surrounding villages in central Taiwan, during the Lunar New Year holiday
I don’t know how to feel about the rush of current events.
There is obviously some very good news. It was long dragged out, but seems to be coming to a close, and celebrations are indeed in order. That feeling of relief as a dead weight is assuredly going to go, sooner or later. Incredible times, especially after so much uncertainty.
But it’s still a lot to process. I’ll spare any readers from all my obnoxious political opinions, well-thought as I’d like to think them to be, and just express how this state of affairs still leaves me anxious.
I’m no pundit. I have my perspective, and I like to read and review and share my thoughts, but there’s not really any reason people should listen to me.
That said, I simply cannot escape this terrible sense that tens of millions of my fellow countrymen are undeniably bad people. I had no idea it could get this bad. It’s not worth it anymore debating and talking about fake news and racial bias and social hierarchies and brainwashing etc. It’s a fact and here we are. They are bad people and there so many of them.
What is my country and the world going to do?
Well, turns out in the end, the good guys (or at least the moderate-not-that-evil guys) have won/will win. The fight for so many issues goes on, for healthcare and peace and freedom, no doubt about it, and at the very least there’s still a chance now… perhaps state of the world can actually survive at this rate and progress…
I voted from afar. Funny thing, as a matter of fact, it’s the first time I have voted for the winning team. It seemed an emergency so I had to. But I remain an American abroad, a privileged expat, incredibly lucky to live in the only country on earth to have defeated the pandemic. I do have to wear a mask everywhere, slightly annoying, and there’s danger from the mainland, but above all I am in the greatest social democracy in Asia and I am grateful to be here.
Been weird staying on the island for an entire year. No travel, no airplanes. No visiting relatives, no exploring new cultures. And yet right now I am far luckier than the vast majority of the planet.
To feel hope for the environment of this world, for the climate, for the very air, and to have so much reason to worry at the same time. It’s all come to ahead, and 2020 isn’t even over. It looks like the danger to democracy isn’t going anywhere in the next couple of months, plenty of anxiety is going to continue. At the same time, hope exists. Humans may, believe it or not, make it through this.
Going back to ‘normal’ or not, there is a future. If we can survive the grueling present.
This damn year. Let’s try to make it through this, everyone.
Previous: 2014 – 2015: Love and Publishing
2016 – 2019: Terrible politics, book tour, leaving China and coming to Taiwan! Various family trips from Israel to South Africa and California. Art and comics and Burning herein. At last, we catch up to now (so meta) and I reflect… Thus, an ending.
Thanks so much to you all for reading this, my humble life story!
2011 and 2012, beginning with my Guangzhou year. Didn’t work out well, so I returned to Shenzhen. Meanwhile so much travel, all over Southeast Asia and returns to Israel and Japan. Plus foreshadowing in Taiwan, and Hipster Pacific Northwest too. And I go to both my sister’s wedding and my best friend’s wedding. Growing up!
2009 and 2010, the beginnings of a new decade, as I become acclimated to life in Shenzhen/Hong Kong and have fun traveling in Southeast Asia (and America), and family stuff… plus I start dating somewhat regularly. Crazy, right?
Happy New Year!
So at this time of reflection, I think back on 2018 and all that’s happened. It was yet another great personal year, while the world around seemed to fall apart…
Obviously, if you’ve been paying attention, my own big news is that I’ve been working on my autobiographical comic Always Goodbye. Stay tuned for more. Eventually, a completed book. (Guess this is replacing my ‘career’ as a prose author, huh)
This past year I moved to the more central part of Taipei, and I’m continuing to enjoy living in Taiwan. As more and more news develops from the bamboo curtain–like that social credit score everyone is talking about but I’m not even going to get into–I’m quite glad to have escaped the People’s Republic.
I kind of did a ridiculous amount of travel in ’18. I started out last New Year’s in Japan, then went to Africa, and in the summer I returned to America to sadly sell my entire comics collection. For 2019, I plan to not get into an airplane even once.
As for the rest of the world. Well, politics. It was an exhausting year in which most things seem to have gotten worse, but there was also a bit of hope. Personally, I’m so very over it. Perhaps it’s all finally coming to a head. This chapter of history needs to close already, doesn’t it?
It’s been a while since I felt like writing an entire overt political post, and I’m sure you all know by now how I truly feel. American has learned some dark things about itself, and the time has come to get better. Consequences may be in the coming. And once it’s over with, I hope to never ever say the T-word for the rest of my life because that guy has gotten enough of my bloody attention and I’d just rather focus on other things.
Well, here’s hoping!
Please have yourselves a great 2019, everyone 😀
Video of my trip to South Africa last month, from Soweto to Cape Town. Featuring Two Oceans Aquarium, kite-surfing, penguins, lots of ducks, and I even drive…!
As some may know, I recently went to Japan with my lovely partner during the New Year holiday. It was a great opportunity to check out one of my favorite countries (and proximity is better than ever now living in Taiwan). Not to knock any other of the fascinating Eastern lands out there, but for my inner geek Japan will always be my first love…
It was my third time visiting, and Bronwen’s very first! In the month beforehand I brushed up on my old collegiate 日本語 studies, listening to audio lessons and dusting off the old phrasebooks. It turned out I can still surprisingly get by in survival Japanese at least, and I’ll never forget hiragana/katakana. Nowadays my Chinese is obviously much better, but I do know a lot of kanji even if I pronounce it wrong. Hence, I like to think I make for a decent Nihon guide.
In our planning stages we decided to forego the overwhelmingness of Tokyo, and instead opted for the more traditional city of Kyoto in the Kansai region. Sure enough it was a great place to explore, low-key and relaxed, and with a temple or shrine on every corner. Nijo Castle in particular stood out. And the Gion District was a cool place full of geisha stylings, and look how good she looks in a rented kimono!
(Note these Instagram links below are albums to flip through, so scroll all)
Later we went to Nara, which proved to be the first of our ‘animal friends’ series of photo ops. Nara is famous for it’s roaming deer, as you can see! Hundreds of them everywhere, what a sight. They are quite tame for the most part, except for a few selfish ones harassing tourists with bags of oranges, but basically one buys crackers from street vendors and all day they will safely feed from the humans. Lucky beasts.
It’s even advertised that they are polite and bow, but later I looked it up and they only “bow” because they think humans are about the head-butt them. Interesting facts.
The other main animal friends adventure consisted of going to the central shopping district of Kyoto for an amazing time at the hedgehog cafe!! Yes, the latest of the cafe trends is to play with super-cute hedgehogs. It was very popular and we had to reserve to get a seat.
I felt a bit bad, because our hedgehog was rather not into it. The workers there explained well how to treat the animals right, and it wasn’t uncomfortably exploitative or anything. Just slightly problematic what with the way the little guy kept wanting to run away into corners.
There was also an owl cafe in the area, but I can only handle so much cuteness.
New Year’s Eve was had partying, as it should be, at the rocker nightclub known as Metro. It was an excellent showing rotating live bands and DJs, with an almost retro 80s vibe to it. One band blew us away, they were dressed like boy scouts and absolutely insane. Made for a long night of ringing in 2018, and I hope I can maintain some optimism for the year…
I shouted out many a times: “明けましておめでとうございます!”
After going to the famous and beautiful Inari Shrine, and then the Toei Studios Park–which was somewhat of a lame tourist attraction and the anime section was pitiful but the samurai village was kind of cool and had horses–on the last day we were off to the nation’s second-biggest city of Osaka to absorb the whole futuristic Japan thing. Which is what I ultimately love about it there the most, though it did get very crowded. A city I visited over ten years previous, so nostalgic.
The bathhouses, the pretty light snow and the cold weather, the majestic mountains in the distance, calculating yen, the bullet trains, the heated seats, the soba noodles, the tempura, the lux toilets, the manga figurines, and the epic video game arcades. Experienced so much on this all too brief eight-day trip. And, she seemed to like it.
Until next time, Rising Sun land…
In my latest interview series, I’d like to introduce Taiwan-based bloggers. Since coming here, I’ve already met many promising writers and it is my pleasure to share some of the greats I have come across.
She even happens to live in the same region of the ROC as myself, Hsinchu.
Well, she can introduce herself best in her own words. Interview begins here:
First off, how would you best introduce your website?
My blog getupandgetlost.com is about our life as a travelling family, currently based out of Taiwan. It’s about our family experiences here as we navigate this new culture and discover the beauty of this diverse country. It’s about the ups and downs and funnies of everyday life for us. It’s also veering towards becoming a guide for other families wanting to live or travel in Taiwan.
What originally brought you to Taiwan?
The answer to that is more complicated than one might expect. The simple answer is that my husband accepted a position as a high school math and art teacher in Taiwan. It was in our plans for a long time that after baby number three, that we would embark on a yearlong adventure abroad. In Canada, one parent receives a maternity/parental leave salary for the first year after the birth of a child. This factored greatly into our timing. We chose Taiwan, in part because of it’s proximity to Beijing. Our oldest child is my husband’s daughter from his previous marriage. My husband’s ex wife was eager to move to Beijing, but we were no so inclined. Taiwan’s proximity to Beijing means that our daughter can live with one family while still visiting the other family frequently.
You write about raising a family while living in Taiwan, how would you rate the country when it comes to kids and families?
From this expat’s point of view, I would probably give it an overall pretty good or 7/10. For us, we don’t speak Mandarin, and we have found it very hard to find things to do for our kids. Luckily, I made local friends soon after our arrival here, so they have helped me navigate the language barrier.SAFETY: For the most part, Taiwan feels very safe. I send my 10-year old to run errands for me in the community. I don’t have to worry about my kids walking on drug needles at the park. Community members generally keep an eye out on each other’s children. Streets safety is basically our only issue here. Cars and scooters are not very pedestrian friendly.
COMMUNITY: If you put some effort into connecting with people here, both locals and expats, you will become part of a great community. People here are very welcoming and supportive of each other. From my experience, the locals are incredibly kind to foreigners.
MEDICAL: The medical system here is efficient and inexpensive, but it feels very transactional. You can easily access things here that would take months to access back home, such as an MRI. From our experience, however, we find most clinics to be very busy, and doctors tend to treat the symptoms first (and quickly! – five minutes would be a long visit), rather than look for the root of the problem.
EDUCATION: I think education varies from city to city, and I don’t know enough yet to really comment much on it. It seems like many schools here are very focused on rote learning. Outdoors time, brain breaks, inquiry-based learning, and other current trends of learning are less common here. I have seen some schools, however, that are implementing very impressive and contemporary methods of learning.
AMENITIES: These seem far and few between. As an expat parent who doesn’t speak Mandarin, it’s been tough to find kid-centric centres that are free or low cost. I’ve found one free government run play centre for kids in my city. Pools, for the most part (in my city at least) are very dull and not that exciting for kids. I feel like there are pockets of great things for kids to do, but it’s not consistent within cities or in the country. It would be great to see the government take a bigger initiative here.
OUTDOORS: Taiwan has amazing natural diversity. If you are committed to the outdoors, you can definitely go out and find things to do as a family. There are natural water holes and lovely walks. Again, as an expat, I often struggle to easily explore outdoors because I am simply not aware of where to go.
What are some of your favorite places you’ve been to in the world?
One of the favorite places I’ve been to was a small town in the Sacred Valley of Peru called Ollantaytambo. Our time there was very chilled out. The town is built on ruins, and there are hundreds of ruins surrounding it. It’s a great place to chill, hike, explore and enjoy work by local artisans.
British Columbia, Canada:
I may be biased, but my home province is such an amazing place! For anyone wanting to visit, you won’t go wrong visiting any one or more of the following places: Vancouver, Victoria, The Okanagan, The sunshine Coast, Tofino/Uclulet and the Rockies.
This is just such a cool town. I lived there for a year during a university exchange. The old city is beautiful and the history is super cool.
What were some of your best experiences living in Taiwan?
The first would honestly have to be becoming part of my community. Most of my friends here are locals who live within a block of me. Connecting with locals and making friends has given me such an insight into the culture here. It’s been awesome! The second would be a 200-kilometer cycling trip we did along the East Coast. We tugged our two younger kids in the trailer and the older one rode her own bike. We joined another family and cycled from Hualien down to Taitung, camping along the way. It was amazing!
How would you compare life in Taiwan with Canada?
DIFFERENT! Life here is less expensive than back home. We can kind of manage on one salary in Taiwan. In Canada this isn’t remotely possible. Life here is simpler and runs at a slower pace, or so it feels. Taiwanese people here are extremely friendly, more so than Canadians on the whole. I know there are different aboriginal groups in Taiwan as well as people who have immigrated here, yet I feel like in Taiwan, there is a firm cultural identity and set of rules or normative values which dictate how we behave towards one another. In Canada, it’s less set in stone as people have so many different beliefs and backgrounds. As a family, life is a bit harder for us, but that could be due to the language barrier. I feel like many families spend a lot of time inside. We struggle with this as we love to be outside with the kids, but the weather makes that challenging at times.
Would you recommend Taiwan more as a place to visit or a place to live?
It depends on your purpose I suppose. You could easily spend a week or two in Taipei, eating great food, strolling the streets and exploring the nearby hikes and hot springs. I think you would come out of that having had a meaningful trip. That said, Taiwan is so diverse and the people so kind and interesting… I really believe that you only truly experience and understand this when you’ve lived in Taiwan (or maybe slow traveled).
Do you think you will be inspired by travel writing in Taiwan for the long-term?
Lastly, do you have any advice for other travel writers passing through Asia/Taiwan?
I can only really speak to Taiwan, but I would advise: 1.) Learn as much Mandarin as possible, starting with numbers (buying things). 2.) Get to know the locals. This is how you truly get to know Taiwan. When a stranger starts to talk to you, engage with them for a few minutes. Taiwan is very much about who you know. Connections get you very far here!
Thanks, Marisol! Look forward to reading more of your adventures in the future…