So Much Taiwan. So Much Awesome.

When I was 20, I spent six months in a vortex. (Not a polar vortex.) It jumbled me up and made me see the world and relationships and food in a whole different (and more appreciative) way. That vortex was one of the world’s best food cities and just an endlessly fun, urban place — Taipei. Friendships from the vortex lasted, so any time I’m back — even if many of us have children now — we make it out to see each other, reuniting over bowls of Taiwan’s religion (beef noodle soup), partying it up in the smoke-filled clubs and lounges (no smoking ban), and wandering the gritty alleys which are naturally full of food vendors selling buns and soups and Taiwan’s second most popular religion, bubble tea. The only key Taipei activity that we didn’t do this trip was karaoke until 5am and then hit the all-you-can-eat congee bars, but I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. And with Mandopop stars, naturally.

After five years in Holland, my parents just moved to Taipei. Mom bought a place up near Tamsui, which is a beach town with a boardwalk where women sing karaoke covers of Alanis Morrisette’s mid-nineties hits. So we spent Christmas and rang in the New Year with lots of family — many of my forty or so cousins made the trek for a big family reunion trip. Hadn’t been back since the halcyon days of 2011, before I went to NPR and the CEO quit two days after I started. (Correlation is not causation.)

Getting there and back is the worst. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s a 14 hour flight plus another three hours after a layover in Tokyo. Or it’s broken up differently and also horrendous. The plane goes from fresh and full of promise to a filthy, lived in, farted-in trash tube. (The flight back, which included our toddler, head colds and an inhuman experience at Dulles in which the agriculture cops busted us for bringing back grapes in Eva’s food bag and not declaring it, was hands down one of my most difficult days.)

Instead of family photos, I’ll show you some of the atmospherics that make Taipei so much fun for us. Like WHITEMEN toothpaste, guardian of tooth:

DSC07646 

Taiwanese signs are accompanied by great images. I love the bump on the armless woman:

DSC07714

And hey, don’t fail at speaking:

photo

My cousin got my grandma 3D printed. She said her fake head fell off after a recent earthquake and one of her aides found the head had jumped and landed on a table. She rushed her 3D-printed self to a jeweler to get her head re-attached. You can’t even tell it was missing:

DSC07655

What the F. Doctor Drill ‘N Fill is the scariest toy I’ve ever seen:

DSC07660

This traffic warning guy had moving arms. Amazing:

DSC07747

Why was there a baby with a scary perm on the side of a building? These are the mysteries one encounters when one can’t read Chinese.

DSC07748

And I discovered a great new party game/app through my old roommate (Joe) and his buddy Mike (at right, with phone on his head). Don’t know the name of it, but it’s the electronic version of the board game Taboo or Catchphrase, where your team has to give you clues for the item shown on your forehead, without actually saying the item. Great fun. Let me know if you know what the app is called.

DSC07802

Y’all know how important I think Taiwanese news animations are. So naturally I set up a visit for an upcoming piece. And naturally I found a bunch of motion capture actors just sitting around in leotards, waiting for an assignment:

DSC07763

Thanks for the memories (again), Taiwan. I’m a huge fan.

Ai Wei Wei Poses A Question I’ve Been Pondering About Journalism

The Ai WeiWei exhibit continues here in Washington through next month, so if you are going to be in town in the coming weeks, I really encourage you to see it. My artist-turned-diplomat Mom and I went over the holidays and we both found it riveting. The two of us have been going to art museums together since I could walk, and we really zip through when exhibits are boring. But at the Hirshhorn, we found ourselves lingering over each piece, studying Ai’s work from various perspectives, coming back around again, getting inspired by his agency and taking photos to remember what we saw.

Curators chose a few Ai WeiWei quotes to display alongside the art. This one in particular seemed to get at the very question we were tossing around at #NewsFoo in December, in our case, regarding those crazy Taiwanese news animations:

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Washington.
From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Washington.

 

Obviously a lot of the Taiwanese news animations are totally full of made-up and sometimes bombastic details. This traditionally makes for poor journalism. But just as photo illustrations go, you can communicate a truth even though the mashup is fake, right? Or is that outside the realm of journalism? I think it’s an interesting question as we continue trying to do “something new,” toy with non-traditional story forms, etc. Given what we saw of his art, it seems Ai WeiWei’s answer to his own question is yes.

Deadline? Some Reading to Help You Procrastinate

Like any self-respecting journalist, I spend 90% of the run-up to a deadline either procrastinating or scouring the internet for ways to procrastinate. These are the aids in my deadline avoidance this weekend:

Esquire’s Guide to Marriage (complete with a quiz!)
Writers take on the beginning, middle and end stages of marriage with short essays. I love the “middle” essay, about fighting. As for the quiz, my husband-of-nearly-one-year Matty scored in the “she’s probably not going to leave you anytime soon” range, which is respectable. He did lose 100 points somewhere in the middle for saying “guy time” within the last six months.

Jimmy Lai Animates the News
My first exposure to Taiwan’s NextGen Animation was after the Tiger Woods scandal, when an avatar for Elin Nordegren chased the cartoon Woods with a golf club and bashed in the front window of his Suburban. By 2010, I was fully obsessed and went to NextGen’s YouTube page after any major news event, to see how the animators imagined things going down. The man behind the cross-cultural meme tells the NYT, “I could make a big business out of recreating the amazing images of the news, because what we get on TV is always the last bit of image. What happened before that image is always missing.” The interview gets really funny when he starts talking about the inspiration for his Asian clothing line, Giordano.

The Queen Pop Needs Her to Be

The Times runs a piece similar to a NY Mag cover feature of a year ago, about the workaholism and artistry and post-modern brilliance of Lady Gaga. Fun fact: Even with all the costuming and elaborate stagecraft and dancing, Gaga never lip syncs at her shows. I really gotta go see her live sometime.

What the Frack is Going On?
If you haven’t seen it yet, you gotta check out The Fracking Song, which is both an educational and entertaining explainer of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. No, really.