Saturday, 23 February 2008

Strangely paradoxical

Does your blogger underline your misspelled words as you type, or is that my firefox doing it? Either way, it doesn't recognize words like blog, blogger, or firefox, with a capital letter or otherwise. Funny, huh?

I've always thought that these things are really the boundaries of ideology - you know, like spell check and also predictive text. They define what can be articulated (the spell check just made me not use the word "sayable" - but my soul is full of defiance, aha!). For instance, my mobile phone (the second cheapest from the shop, an old Nokia which never dies) does not know how to predictively type "fuck" or "bitch" or "arsehole/asshole" - even though I do use them in the most predictable circumstances, and often. I feel like there's an invisible boundary trying to steer me onto the right road of expression. The same goes with Chinese predictive text (if you use 新注音), which tries to guess which character you want to use (each sound that I input in Chinese has a truckload of corresponding characters). I'm not sure how it builds its database of possibilities - but it recognizes some proper names and not others. For instance, it knows Frank Hsieh (謝長廷)... but not some other folk. However, it does pick up names as I go along - so if I entered my friend Ted's name, it will remember. Makes me wonder whether it started out with a list of names that the software developers reckon will always be often used, such as Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) perhaps.

An illustration of the ways in which our ideological framework is already carved out?

Who reckons I ought to go back to Uni?

My (soon to materialize) handmade life

You may know that I cherish a burning and not so secret desire to be a crafter. I used to enjoy making things when I was wee. It's nice making things when you are wee because the critical faculties are not yet well developed. Anything that comes out of anything is amusing and the process is always fun. I would roll up a ball of newspaper and tape it around and decide that it will become, er, an apple! Then I'd paint it and make a bit of a stem and a leaf etc. - eventually I'd have an apple that I had no idea what to do with. Sometimes I shoved them in my parents' face when they came home, sometimes I give it to them (and they stack it away carefully where they always keep things like that). Some time around junior high or high school I stopped making things just for the hell of it, because: A. I was busy studying and dating boys and getting into trouble, B. I began to be critical of what I made, and think "what's the use in it?"

Well, that's all about to change. I've decided to switch to working part-time (3 days a week), so I can make things again. Also so I don't have to commute 4 hours a day, six days a week, down into town from my mountainous abode. This would hopefully also allow me to read more medieval literature - which I've been intending to do since I graduated (tsk tsk). What will I make? Well, I'm not quite sure yet - but rest assured that when I do, you'll see it here.

I also intend to sell things on Etsy. If you want to support my handmade life, buy something when the time comes!

Friday, 8 February 2008

Chinese New Year in Jinshan 金山

The walls are almost all painted and we've had a few hearty meals at home. There's daffodils on the table, and we've even started our own hoose blog at

Our first guests will arrive on Sunday, the folks, and some of my uncles. The plan is to have a barbecue on the verandah - but its been pissing down for days and days and days. Who knows, we might go to a restaurant instead.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Taiwan Swing Dance Movement

Some of you may know that I am one of the organizers of the Taiwan Swing Dance Movement. It's composed of four dancers who have full time jobs - so sometimes organizational time is thin on the ground. I don't get to do as much for the scene as I'd like to. It's gotten to the point where I sometimes get together with one of the girls to plan a lesson a couple of hours before we are set to teach. In a way it's a shame, but in a another way it's just how I like it. I've come to the full realization that I have only a small amount of time allotted to myself (I work 6 days a week and spend on average 3 hours a day commuting in the big city), and I have to prioritize things. So, the priorities of my time are: work (I am the breadwinner), spending time with Toph, yoga, swing, and then the many other things I don't actually get to do much gets lumped in the misc. category (go to the flower market, shopping, crafting...) The one good thing about being on the bus is that I get a lot of time with my BBC podcasts - but that's beside the point.

It's Chinese New Year next week, and in Taiwan, this is our equivalent of Christmas. It's the first time I'm spending new year at home since moving abroad 15 years ago. We're calling a 2 week hiatus to swing (we usually meet once a week on Sundays), as most folk will have family things to do. Besides, I'm going to be moving house (I've sent Toph to buy various household appliances/items and we even looked at paint swatches on line together) - so it's a pretty busy time.

I have to say that I am glad to get sometime away from swing. I've found that it's too much give give give. I am, I have to admit, a selfish dancer. What I mean is that I give very little back to the scene. For instance, in Edinburgh, I probably would have been perceived by newcomers as one of the cliquey dancers - because I don't spend my time trying to bring them into the fold, and dancing with them. The truth is that usually I can't be fucked. It's hardly ever fun dancing with beginners (there are some exceptions). When I go out to dance, I'm usually after that one or two (or three if I am lucky) good dances where I don't have to think - when I'm a mechanism of response to the lead and the music. I suppose this won't make much sense if you are not a dancer. It's like when I am climbing - the physical aspect of it is the same to me. Climbing is dancing with a very large, unmoving partner, with a very far away rhythm. The good thing about both (dancing and climbing) is that moment when the little voices in my head switches off entirely (I imagine them crowding together and hushing each other "Shhh... she's trying to concentrate!"). Do you know what I mean? Normally it's think think think all day. There's always a voice saying "don't forget the keys," "that's the 257 bus, I want the blue 2," "the pan-green party policy toward China-bound investment," "no sugar," blah blah blah. It's especially intense when reading, writing, or listening to words. Surely you know what I mean. Well, some activities bring total silence in my head, and those things are relaxing: climbing, dancing, yoga, cooking, crafting... That's that kind of experience I am after when I go out dancing.

So I don't make a lot of effort to chat. I talk to the people I have gotten to know and love (little by little over a long time), and I dance with the people I know can give me that hit. The rest of the time I am roaming around waiting to either have another dance or go home.

Starting my own scene has kind of changed all of that. Now I need to be present and on all the time - especially when teaching. I have to be patient and nice and I have to be encouraging - not all of these things come naturally to me (especially the patience). I suppose in a way it's good for my character. Though I have to admit sometimes it feels like I started a scene because I feel like I should, not because I actually enjoy it (though that's only my very low and tired nights).

There's also the added problem that I know I am not an exceptional dancer. I dance passably well, and enough to enjoy myself. I am also not a natural teacher. So the whole teaching thing is even more of a struggle - having to explain to people how it's done all the while knowing that if only someone like Bill Borgida were here, they'd learn so much better and faster.

Still, they will have to make do with what they can get, and so do I - that's where the all giving thing comes in. If only there were already a scene here, I could teach (give) and dance (get). But here, the number of experienced leaders can be counted on one hand (Uh, one, to be precise). As much as I like dancing with him, it's not ultimately fulfilling in the same way. So I find that going to PlanB on Sundays is sometimes exhausting, and has little pay-off in the way of fulfilment.

But the other day I got an unexpected email which brought me fulfilment of an entirely different form. One of my students (also salsa dancer) wrote about a lesson on his blog. He talked about what he thought of the lessons, about how we teach the lindy-turn alot (it's for your own good, because it is the fundamental basic), about how with such a small number of students it's almost a private class. He talked about how he learned to overcome his salsa habits (good), and how he learned to use the follower's momentum to move (even better). He appreciated these classes and recognized our efforts (give give give). I can't say I was moved to tears - but it is nice, to know that someone has learned something. Even better is the fact that I (and Maria also) taught him that something - and it was mine to give for free (yes! free! we only charge to cover costs).

It felt good.

So I guess when our next PlanB lindy lesson comes round I'll try to wipe the weariness off my face, put my impatience in the closet, and try to do the things that I really can't be fucked doing. Why? I'm not sure. I guess I enjoy it - or rather, I know that this is necessary so that I will be able to enjoy it one day - in the future, when Taiwan has its own scene. I guess it's the same reason why I go to classes (very rarely) - because if I didn't, I couldn't enjoy dancing. But honest to God, I hate classes.