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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fieldnotes From History (11)—Spitfire

[a] Deep breath RF
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 first 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.

[b] Exhausted RF
The only thing that bothers me about this note (other than the lame "Gremlin" reference) is the seeming lightheartedness of it. I knew, even at the time, that I was trying to cover real anger and even worry (for myself and for the fate of my brethren) with accurate, though gross, observations. I'll stick to that here. These observations are accurate. I just can't remember being very amused by any of this.

—"Long Life" cigarettes were distinguished by two Chinese characters that connote long (human) life (長壽). Of course, it was always meant to be a play on the long nicotine "life" of each cigarette. 
—The American Motors Corporation came out with the Gremlin in 1970. The last new ones rolled off the line in 1977 (1978 model year). By 1985, they were all used...and unmemorable. 
—The sign I refer to below read 請勿随地吐痰
—The Western custom (if we might call it that) of blowing one's nose in public is highly problematic in Japan and throughout much of Asia. I was thinking in particular of Japan when I wrote those lines.

17 May 1985

Another problem is spit. There is no way to make this pleasant reading, and I would be ignoring everything around me if I omitted it. Almost everyone in Taipei over forty hacks, coughs, and spits up. There is a sign on all the buses that reads: “Please keep your bus clean. Refrain from spitting phlegm on the floor.”  So out the windows it goes. Bus drivers, store clerks, the man on the street: they cough and spit like a used Gremlin. Lungs are full of stuff, and getting it out is both a physical and cultural necessity (not unlike Western nose-blowing, which is seen as distinctly rude in many societies).

Further, many people smoke unfiltered, high-tar cigarettes by the pack. These cigarettes’ name is, ironically, “Long Life Cigarettes.” Taiwan (the rest of Asia is close behind) has one of the fastest-growing rates of lung cancer deaths in the world. The buses and motorcycles here spray a steady stream of black, almost palpably powdery, smoke. Bus drivers carry little Styrofoam cups to wheeze into. If I shut my eyes and focus on sound, there is a drumming refrain of rising phlegm balls—that familiar nasal, throaty grunt common to smokers and emphysematics. Sitting on the bus a few weeks ago, I closed my window just in time, when the bus driver, passing up his cup, began spitting into the open air. There was a strong lateral breeze, increasing my danger of being slapped in the face by a mesotheleomic gum ball.
[c] Palpable RF

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