phew! back in taipei again after a good week in the field. it seems like a lot has happened since i put the picture of lane86 up... some really good, and some sad.
i learned upon my return that two people i grew up around had passed away. Fathers of friends and friends of my father both, i have vivid memories of cross country skiing through hemlock woods and over open fields with them, sun shining down through sparkling spindrift as dogs run back and forth through the snow. Alan and Steve, you are missed by many.
on a lighter note, lots of good things happened too... first off i managed to find a really nice apartment to rent. this is a huge (unfathomably enormous) improvement over the foreign student dormitory here on the ntu campus. my new place is in tian-mu, which is sort of like the hoboken of taipei. it's pretty far from campus, about a half an hour via public transit, and probably more like 45 minutes by car, since you'd have to drive directly through the middle of the city, from south to north. i'm up on a hill, on the third floor of the building... with my own bathroom and my own balcony. ...not to mention wireless internet, laundry (with a dryer!) and, oh yeah, hot water (unlike the dorm).
i also got to visit my field site! puli basin is located in central western taiwan, tucked up in the foothills of the central range. the area is anomalously low, topographically, when compared to the surrounding areas, and no one seems to really know why. structurally, it is also somewhat complex, with several different modes of deformation occuring at different times throughout its history. the kinematics are very poorly understood, and have really just been guessed at thus far, which means i get to spend the next several years trying to wrap my head around it in order to come up with some passable hypothesis for why puli exists. i look forward to it. puli itself (the "city") is an interesting phenomenon... surrounded by rice paddies and areca-nut palms (which people here refer to as betel-nut palms, even though betel is a vine and has no nuts to speak of. i guess this is because the areca nut is wrapped in a betel leaf and chewed like tobacco, a particularly disgusting combination which turns your saliva bright red... evidenced by the omnipresent red splotches of spit on the ground everywhere in taiwan). the town is sort of the gateway to the central range, where one can find beautiful mountain resorts with stunning vistas and hot springs. puli has also exploded in the last 20 years or so, from a quiet, peaceful agricultural hamlet into the loudly cacophonous and dusty quasi-urban center it is today. mom-and-pop hardware stores and humble buddhist temples compete with kentucky fried chicken and the north face for attention. in fact, puli is the site of the largest new buddhist temple in all of taiwan, chung-tai temple, a 45 story creation of glass and stone with an impossibly large golden spire. i'm not sure if i'll go to hell for this (or maybe be reincarnated as a cockroach), but i guess, "bigger is buddhist" could be an appropriate slogan for the temple.
as for soaking in sake... that is in reference to last night. as an end-of-the-year gesture, prof yue-gau chen took all of his students, past present and foreign, to dinner at a japanese resaurant and hot spring north of taipei city. the hot springs were hot (so i'm told, since i still have this stupid patch of nasty road-rash on my hip... which is slowly but surely getting better thank-you-very-much), and the food was plentiful. sushi here is just way better than anything in the states for some reason. rich soups and sushi and roasted ribs and lobsters galore. fresh fruit and hot tea flowed almost as freely as the hot sake. small decanters of hot sake were replenished as fast as they were drained, and there was always an extra cup around. toasts were made constantly through the meal to exclamations of "gam-bai!" (dry-cup), and we all got to witness yue-gau's wonderful singing voice (really!) during multiple karaoke performances. the night ended when we ran over our reserved time slot, and one of the students (these are all graduate students mind you...) passed out from indulging a little too much. that was a scene. cabs were called, and a limp body was literally carried out of the restaurant by two people... he was manuevered into a cab, taken back out (that cabbie refused to take him), and positioned in a different one. it must have been obvious that both brian and i were somewhat shocked, since more than one person explained to us that this was perfectly normal, and par for the course. well, that dinner marks the end of the semester, and the end of the chinese lunar year.
anyway, i think it's time for me to get back to work since this post has become incredibly long. i'll add a couple of pictures here at the end, of spiders and palms in puli, and street-butchers and subway cars here in taipei.