From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fieldnotes From History (1)—Taiwan Arrival

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Fieldnotes From History."

Part of an occasional “Round and Square” series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987 (some nicely-stated and some embarrassing). I will allow myself an occasional comment when something makes me wince after a quarter century.

1 May 1985
The flight to Taiwan was long and uncomfortable. Plane food was plain food; chipped beef on toast at thirty thousand feet. I saw the world’s major cities through their airports. I didn’t see Chicago, New York, Anchorage (not really a major city anyway), or Seoul. I saw O’Hare, JFK, Anchorage International, and Seoul International. Anchorage’s airport, an important stop only because it lies halfway between New York and Seoul, was interesting. The Korean passengers wolfed down Styrofoam cups of noodles and soup, while the rest of us drank stale coffee and looked at imitation Eskimo carvings that sold for $47.50 a shot.

The other airports were dull, but I began to feel myself an expert on “airport culture”—perhaps a future subfield of anthropology— by the time I arrived in Taipei. One gets a very skewed perception of a society through its airports. They are, above all, little outposts of mercenary capitalism. I paid $1.25 for a cup of coffee at JFK, and $2.50 for a bottle of Perrier (they didn’t have tap water), the purchase of which allowed me to watch a hockey game on the restaurant’s television while I waited six hours for my plane. Even the 747s themselves, with their “duty-free” stores, are little capitalistic outposts in the sky—jewelry, cigarettes, and cognac, all of which can be resold for four times their value by globetrotting usurers.

As we descended toward Taipei I could see that every spare piece of land had been converted into a rice field, and was submerged under a few inches of water. The humidity hit me as soon as I got off the plane, and has stuck with (and to) me since. On the bus ride toward Taipei—looking into the lush mountains that wind their way like a Chinese dragon through the center of the island—I felt like I was vacationing in a greenhouse. The highlight of my first afternoon in Taipei was crossing Kuan-ch’ien Road in heavy traffic, followed by two attendants clad in hotel white, two silver trunks, a typewriter, and five pieces of hand luggage. I felt dirty and greasy from the flight; I had tried to shave and wash my hair in a restroom in Seoul International, but to no avail. I carried the material history of the flight beneath my fingernails and behind my ears. I slept for the next fourteen hours and took three baths. I had no perspective on Taiwan. Groggy and greasy, I lay in the hotel wondering what I was doing here. I was, quintessentially, disoriented.

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