Creatively Yours

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Taiwanese people on the surface are interested in logical and most importantly high-profit, low-risk solutions to life’s problems. Safety and income are prioritised as more important than happiness and relaxation, especially for young people who are expected to work 60 hour weeks to show their vigilance in supporting their family.

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In my random sampling of friends and acquaintances I regularly make suggestions that I hope they will take time for themselves to relax and enjoy being young. Of course we all have different things that make us happy, but I have a diverse portfolio of interests that make me happy and I try to share some of these with them.

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I am a patron of the arts, a poor patron, but a patron just the same. I like music events, films, biking, running, hiking, photography, reading, writing, baking, cooking, traveling and more recently painting. It’s easy to find a mutual interest, but it is a little difficult to find a way we can both enjoy that interest in execution. They usually want to be orderly and well-planned in advanced, and I want to do things on the fly.

Last Sunday, one of my Taiwanese friends organized an art in the park event. The premise is pretty simple, he went to the museum and was inspired to have a group painting in the park…with feet. He went and bought canvas, paint trays and some kind of latex-based paints. When my Taiwanese friends start a new hobby the start  by going shopping to buy all the “necessary” equipment.

They don’t do things halfway with a litmus test to see if they like it or not. No, instead they will find some online list of “MUST HAVES” and then buy all the things. On the other hand I would probably improvise a cheaper option or wait to buy it later. For example my friend organizing the painting event, I thought he would buy paint and thicker paper and then we could run around on some long streamers.

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He chose to buy the canvas which it turns out was even better because damp feet would probably break through paper. But he was really stressing about having buckets for rinsing feet, and holding paint and I suggested we use some old shoe boxes. Improvisation, it isn’t always pretty or well-thought out or endorsed by websites.

Improvisation and creativity are not really encouraged or taught in Taiwan. My students at school are downright confused when I ask questions that aren’t in the book. But that doesn’t mean some Taiwanese don’t naturally gravitate towards the crazy foreigners that can show them a more laissez faire approach to enjoying art.

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The creativity is there, just under all the controlled actions and procedure driven behavior. Once and a while I am lucky enough to watch a friend or student really exhibit their creativity, without shame or worrying about the time. That’s the good stuff. Witnessing creativity at work is almost as good as participating in it first-hand. It isn’t planned, it’s a little crazy and there is a chance of failure and also the chance to make something entirely new and wonderful.

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Dongxi of Taiwan or things I don’t understand

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There are some social trends that seem to be based in Taiwanese culture that cannot really be explained. The same way you might find yourself explaining why a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the most popular sandwich at lunch amongst American school children. Sometimes the things we do, and repeat so often they become traditions, don’t really make sense to an outsider looking in.

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The modest collection of mothballs at a store down the street from my apartment.

 

1. Old Taiwanese people smell like mothballs, probably because they buy a lot of mothballs. I have only seen a few moths while I was camping here in Taiwan, but perhaps that is because they have already been eradicated. The bathroom at my Chinese school has a mothball hanging in a little mesh baggie from each toilet.

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Arm guards and gloves in assorted hideous prints to protect your delicate skin.

2. Ladies wear arm guards, gloves and special scooter skirts in the summer to avoid getting tan or flashing anyone at stoplights. Modesty to the point of looking like a weird scarecrow version of yourself in 100 degree Fahrenheit weather with 75 percent humidity. As you might imagine I chose the less modest, sunburnt approach.

3. Almost everyone wears face masks on their scooters and bicycles, or medical masks to work when they get sick. Granted the air quality is very poor in winter, but the masks mostly just make your face sweat. This facial anomaly is coupled with “whitening” face creams to help avoid getting tan, or “black” as my English tutor students said.

4. Every Taiwanese woman is your mother. This mothering is present in your everyday  interactions with coworkers, friends and teachers. ‘Oh, you think you can go running at night? But that is very dangerous.’ I know, life is dangerous and sometimes you have to accept the risk and live without fear.

5. Big ass snails. During the rainy summer months these things take over, they crawl on the steps leading up the mountain. They attach to the tiled walls of apartment buildings and even this one at a bus stop shelter.

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The African giant snail (Achatina fulica) it is an invasive species according to Wikipedia, so from now on I will start stepping on them.

6. Posing for photos, everyday. Selfies, attractive and unattractive posted to Facebook, LINE, Twitter, Instagram etc.

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Teaching my Taiwanese tutoring students about taking a selfie during our photography discussion.

7. Creepy caucasian mannequins in night markets and storefronts, for some reason they always seem to be caucasian instead of asian. *See header

8. Squeaky children’s shoes for toddlers. I imagine these have some practical uses, like sonar for grandmothers watching over grandchildren. When the squeaking gets too far away, you have to go see what they are up to. On the other hand I think my own dear relatives would have taken them off my feet and thrown them in the nearest bonfire because of the noise.

9. Healthy tea and other foods, every locale has a famous “Get healthy quick” or “It tastes so bad it must be good for you” remedy. I have had several discussions with Taiwanese people about food, because I care about things that taste good and make me feel good at the same time. There is an overwhelming belief that things that taste bad for you, must be good for you. Bitter tea, bitter melon, bitter medicine as one Taiwanese hiker said to me, “Medicine is bitter.” But I thought bitterness was your natural survival instincts telling you not to eat something because it was poisonous? I ran this idea by a few friends and they said I was imagining things, but  check out these citations to back me up. Sometimes things are disgusting and really don’t help your health at all. Sometimes people live longer because of a genetic lottery, and not conservative lifestyles. After all I defend my lifestyle by reiterating this headline, teetotalers don’t live as long as moderate drinkers. And yes, I could stand to be more moderate but it is about finding a happy medium not running yourself ragged trying to be the top or bottom 15 percent.

10. Saving money is more important than enjoying life, and family is more important than anything else even if they make your life miserable. There seems to be this overwhelming deferral of enjoyment, and maybe it isn’t relegated just to Taiwan. An understanding that you should sacrifice your present happiness to the gods of tomorrow in exchange for more time. But I am asking: what is the point of having more time if you don’t enjoy the time you have already had? The argument for travel and hedonism I will make is: there are experiences I can have now in my young adult life, that I cannot have when I am older. The general trend is as you get older you become more conservative, your health, mobility and overall quality of life degenerates and it doesn’t have to be sad. After all you have life experiences and all the people you have met to enrich your life, your creature comforts become even more soothing. However, the mind, the ever restless mind will not let me rest until I have seen all I can while I am able. I haven’t earned that rest, that time in the rocking chair to reminisce is still distant, so far away it might never happen.