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Author's Note: This story features numerous rapid jumps forward in chronology, leaping from plot point to plot point. The stories of the intermediary journeying is left as an exercise for the reader. This was for the painfully necessary sake of brevity--I unfortunately do not have the time to entirely rewrite a trilogy during exams week. As such, readers unfamiliar with His Dark Materials may find themselves rather lost. A familiarity with Keats' Hyperion would also help considerably. Also note that this does contain extensive spoilers for Pullman's trilogy--if you haven't read them, what the devil are you doing here!? Go read them! Now! Go on, shoo!
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We were picked up first thing in the morning by Jennifer and Julien, who have been our near-constant hosts throughout our Taipei adventures. Between the two of them they speak enough english that they can have brief conversations with me, but for the most part A.Lee has been serving as general-purpose interpreter.
We drove to a different city within the Taipei sprawl, Banqiao, one of the old city-centers. There we spent a few hours exploring the Lin Family Gardens, a beautiful old set of Chinese gardens. The Lin Family was the richest in Taiwan for several generations, and the gardens stood as a testament to their love of arts and culture. We wandered through beautiful corridors and courtyards, explored studies and floating stages, and even wove our way through a tiny cave. All of it was perfectly designed for maximum fang shui, and every piece had its art. Even the smallest wooden sidings on buildings had beautiful paintings or carvings on them.
From there we went to a "European Cuisine" restaurant, which was a lot of fun. For the most part it was about what one might expect from an upscale restaurant in America, but with a few interesting Taiwanese touches. The drinking water was warm, for example--it's winter, after all. Orange juice was served as a dessert all its own, and came in a tall champagne flute.
In the afternoon, we drove out of the city in a different direction, and A.Lee and I were dropped off at the National Palace Museum. The National Palace Museum contains most of the artifacts brought over during the Chinese Civil War. As such, it has a vast and sprawling set of collections, which were delightfully fun to explore. There were beautiful scrolls, elegant jade carvings, ancient bronze daggers, and so on. Also, thousands of Japanese tourists. The place was packed with them, and A.Lee and I spent a fair bit of time dodging and ducking between dense tour groups.
We took the MRT back to the room and relaxed for a little bit, as we were both feeling fairly jet-lagged, and then we struck out for the night market. Taiwan is known for its exciting and fun night markets, and this certainly did not let down. It took us a little bit of finding, as it was tucked away amongst the myriad side-streets near one of Taipei's main universities, but we did eventually stumble across it.
It was very different from what I had been expecting. It was nothing like the indoor markets from the day before--this was upscale and classy. Part of that was probably the clientele, who were clearly mostly students from the university. The narrow streets were jam-packed with Taiwanese hipsters, chatting amiably on their cell phones, buying clothes at the trendy boutique stands, and munching on sweet bao and steamed vegetables. There were also quite a few foreigners, so I didn't attract much attention.
For dinner we stopped into a little restaurant and had some fun trying to decipher the menu (A.Lee's character-reading skills are a bit spotty, which is understandable given the vast library of Chinese characters). After ordering some noodles and fried rice, A.Lee realized it was a place specializing in hand-shaved noodles, which turned out to be quite delicious. My beef fried rice was probably the best fried rice I've ever had.
Dessert came in the form of some street xiao long bao, served from a tiny cart. I watched them make and roll the tiny buns, churning them out one every second or two. They were thrown in one of two giant pans, covered with a bit of water, and steamed fresh. We were handed two for 16NT$, about fifty cents. They were, of course, extremely delicious. (We later discovered that we had accidentally stumbled upon an extremely famous stand, that often has a long line, purely by chance.)
Satisfied with our day's adventures and culinary delights, we retreated to the room to pass out for the night.
The first leg of the flight was simple enough. Long, but simple. We tried to sleep, and succeeded here and there.
When we arrived at Narita, we were greeted with some awkward news: our flight to Taipei was cancelled. Tricky, that. As we learned later, it had had mechanical troubles with the landing gear, and had turned back to Taiwan halfway to Japan. Yikes. So we waited patiently and joked about the possibility of sudden adventures in Japan. Eventually they came and told us they had found us a new flight, on JAL, and we were good to go again.
We took the bus to the next terminal over, and stopped off at a conbini for some quick ramen. It was, of course, delicious, and made me miss spending time in Japan rather profoundly. I need to get back there for more than a few-hour layover one of these days…
At any rate, the flight to Taipei was similarly uneventful, once we got on it. The highlight was getting to practice my Japanese a bit more; for whatever reason, the stewardess assumed I spoke Japanese before I ever opened my mouth. Fortunately, I'm not as rusty as I thought I was, so I was perfectly able to keep up with her talk of immigration forms and delicious airplane bento boxes.
In Taipei we were met by A.Lee's aunts, Jennifer and Julien, as well as one of his (very shy) cousins. The three of them gave us a ride from the airport to our hotel, a good hour away. I promptly passed out, and slept for the duration of the car ride. We arrived, dropped our things, and proceeded to sleep very, very well.
This morning we woke up and wandered downstairs in time to catch the complimentary breakfast. It was a curious mix of eastern and western delights--cereals and congees, coffee and rice noodles. We ate well enough, though it was nothing spectacular.
Then we began our epic city-sprawling ten-hour wander through the streets. A.Lee quickly established himself as an experienced, knowledgeable, and quite obliging guide. Our first stop was in a little local grocery store, where we found my beloved choco koalas, as well as some good Kinder chocolate. Why don't they have Kinder in the states? Silly.
From there we spent a good long while exploring the various side streets of Taipei. Periodically we'd stop into a shop and pick up a pastry, or admire a particularly lovely banyan tree. It was a foggy day, and rained lightly off and on, but we were unbothered. If anything, it kept us awake and invigorated.
Taipei is a beautiful city. Its buildings form a dense tangle, with no sidewalks to speak of, a maze of alleyways and secret parks. Greenery is everywhere--trees peek out from concrete boxes, banyans line even the smallest streets, and creepers and vines spill from every balcony. This verdant life is mixed with the omnipresent signs of urban decay, as shingles crumble and tiles crack, and pipes spill brown leaks down the sides of fading buildings. The resultant effect is one of worlds colliding, an effect only heightened by the periodic traditional wooden homes tucked in amongst the many-story apartment buildings.
We eventually ducked into a particularly interesting-looking alleyway, off of a main street. This quickly opened into one of Taipei's myriad covered markets. It was full of dozens of stalls, each hawking some strange and unique ware. Meats, dried fruits, clothes, magazines, herbs, custom tailoring, whatever. There were squids, cages stuffed full of live chickens, melons I couldn't name, and all manner of fascinating scents.
Our next stop was the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. The main building was a vast white marble building, with iron doors two feet thick. Inside was a colossal bronze statue of Chiang himself. The scale felt very reminiscent of the Forbidden City in Beijing--a running theme, perhaps? We walked back out, past the mannequins of soldiers by the door.
We made our way downstairs, into the inner parts of the building, only to be told to head back upstairs for the changing of the guard. We headed back up via an inside staircase, and to our surprise found the mannequins had come to life--and were being replaced. There followed an elaborate and precisely-choreographed routine involving much flipping and spinning of bayoneted rifles, saluting, and loud clicking of boots on marble.
We spent another hour exploring the inside of the memorial--some lovely art and some curious artifacts of Chiang's life and rule--before moving on. We hopped on the MRT and rode to a different part of town, where we found the clothing store that Jennifer and Julien own and run. As it was a busy day, they shepherded us off to a favorite restaurant of theirs. A.Lee and I luncheoned on gloriously delicious food (including rice so good it was once featured on NHK, apparently), then headed back to the store, where we were gifted with some boba tea. So warmed against the rain, we headed back out.
From there we mostly wandered some expansive malls, including one masquerading as a bookstore. We explored the lower levels of Taipei 101, admiring the architecture, and stopped off in a MUJI store, as A.Lee had never seen one. This part of the city felt distinctly westernized, in no small part due to the prevalence of Gucci and Tommy Hilfiger and Chanel. The basement food court in Taipei 101 was a little more interesting, but in general still felt like it could've been anywhere in the world.
By this point we were fairly sleepy, as jet lag was setting, so we once more hopped aboard the MRT, and skipped back to our hotel.
Day one: done. Tomorrow promises further exploration, temples, and hopefully one of Taipei's famous night markets!
2011 is dedicated to progress.
Today is an impossibly lovely day.
This is alternate reality week. It's fascinating.
“Already, ladies and gentlemen, the name of the game is Gaga Ball.”
We always start each session by getting our groups of kids together and running simple get-to-know-you games and teambuilding exercises.
The sky splits, violent red streaking through the paling pink, dawn’s fingers smashed as the curtain of night is ripped open yet again.
September - December:
... so yeah, I barely used LJ this year! Whoops. In summary: fuck tumblr.
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In sum, a fantastic year. 2011 was one of my best years ever, and I think 2012 could be even better. I know who I am, I know where I'm going, and I've got a good idea of how to get there. At midnight last year, I dedicated 2011 to progress, and progress there was. I feel like I made lots of progress, on many fronts, and am very satisfied.
2012 I dedicate to learning. To exploring new things, to self-discovery, to education of all kinds.
I think it's going to be a very good 2012.
I run a finger gently through her flame-streaked hair, and ask her why.
“I want to run away,” she tells me. There is a look in her eyes that I know well, a look of longing and desperate boredom, a look that tells me more than her words.
I run my finger down her cheek, tracing the edge of her sad smile, and ask her if she is ready to leave. I feel her stiffen, her neck and back tensing. I can see her eyes darting from side to side, suddenly unsure.
“I don’t know,” she tells me. “Everywhere I want to go isn’t here, but I can’t get there yet.” She curls herself tighter against my chest.
I run my finger across her lips, feeling the cold of each piercing, and ask her if she still remembers how to dream.
“I don’t know,” she tells me, taking my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine. “I left my dreams by the shore, years ago.”
I press my lips gently against her forehead, and tell her that it is time to remember them. It is time for her to close her eyes, and to let the world fall away.
I tell her again how to find castles in clouds, how to seek doorways in forests, how to breathe in the sea. I teach her again how to weave stories from air, how to paint adventures from words, how to draw life from snow. I whisper to her again how to live as she has dreamed, how to dream as she has sung, how to sing as she has lived.
And then I watch, as she stands, then steps up, bare feet resting gently on the air. Her clothes fall away, and then her skin, and then her blood and bones, until she is just her spirit, her dream. I watch, as her wings unfurl from her back, and she takes to the skies.
Now, she is free to travel wherever she dreams.
Lily slips inside and closes the door gently behind her. She hasn’t noticed Alice. Her hair is wild, and her unzipped leather jacket hangs loosely around her thin shoulders. She reaches a hand down to unlace her combat boots, then tugs them off. Freed from the heavy boots, her toes wiggle visibly beneath striped socks. Slowly Lily begins to turn towards the bedroom, but is interrupted by the sight of Alice in her bathrobe at the kitchen table.
Alice’s red-rimmed eyes meet Lily’s bloodshot ones as an icy silence settles over the kitchen. The contact is held only for a moment before Lily’s gaze drops to the floor. She lets the boots fall from her hand, and the sound of them hitting the wood hangs loud in the air.
Not raising her head, Lily takes a step towards the table and opens her mouth to speak. Alice flinches back in her chair, pulling her robe tighter with one hand, and the thin squeak of the chair legs against the kitchen linoleum is enough to silence Lily before she can start. Now that they’re closer, Alice can smell the smoke on Lily.
Lily lets out a frustrated breath, and her shoulders drop, the tension gone from them. The feel of the room shifts subtly. Gone is the chill. No longer does Alice feel that cold tingle at the back of her neck. Now the air is cloying, and her heartbeat is loud in her ears.
With a jerking start, Lily returns to her previous motion, and turns to the bedroom door. Stiff steps carry her to it, and she exits the small room as quiet as she came in.
She leaves behind the spark of anger that fell out of her with the breath, and Alice feels herself breathing that rage in. And just as they did the night before, her lonely eyes now fill with tears.
She lets her attention drift back to her coffee, now the only cold thing in a room too hot.