A Parental Visitation

snowbirds

The snowbirds have landed!

My parents flew all the way from snowy Wisconsin to visit me here in balmy Taiwan. I’ve been traveling around with them for the past week, leaving me little time to write or update my blog.

Before they arrived, I’d been making significant progress on TNC-related projects. I’ll post an update about everything that’s happening on that front soon.

Also, I hope to write a little bit about what my parents think of Taiwan. Sharing their thoughts about this lovely little island and its people should offer you a perspective that I, as a long term resident, am no longer able to give.

All this and more is on the way. Stay tuned!

Don’t Be Alive

Be Living

We spend a lot of time focusing on what we are. “I’m a doctor,” “I’m a father,” “I’m a teacher,” “I’m a brain-eating monkey from the Andromeda Galaxy,” and so on.

But when it comes right down to it, what we are is just an extension of what we do.

What do you do? What do I do? These days I’m trying not to be, but to do. While I expect your list will look very different, for me this means:

  • Don’t be a writer. Be writing.
  • Don’t be a reader. Be reading.
  • Don’t be a Chinese speaker. Be speaking Chinese.
  • Don’t be a blogger. Be blogging.
  • Don’t be a basketball player. Be playing basketball.
  • Don’t be alive. Be living.

Things I Learned Today

Today I’d like to share a couple of things I discovered while doing research for The Northland Chronicles. Maybe you’ll learn something interesting, or maybe you’ll be shocked to discover just how little this writer knows.

Dust Busters

If a home’s interior is reasonably well protected from the world outside, what will it look like after years of neglect? Will it accumulate a lot of dust and cobwebs, or will it remain relatively clean? As you can imagine, these questions are very relevant to the post-Desolation world of The Northland Chronicles.

I found the answers I was looking for in this blog post: Inside an Abandoned Belgian Farm House. Though I’m sure results differ on a case-by-case basis, it looks like at least some houses remain fairly cobweb-free even after years of lying abandoned.

This is not a podium

This is not a podium

I had always thought a podium and a lectern were the same thing, at least in the context of a speaker standing to give a speech. However, it turns out this isn’t the case.

What’s the difference, then?

A lectern is a tall stand with a slanted top that holds a speaker’s notes.

A podium is a raised platform that a speaker stands on.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a rant about the misconception, courtesy of The Huffington Post.

On the other hand, apparently in North American English, it’s acceptable to call a lectern a podium.

Podium Definition

Truth be told, I’m not much of a stickler for proper language use. Generally, I believe that if I understand you and you understand me, we’re doing well enough, and my experiences living abroad have only encouraged this attitude.

That said, oftentimes using the correct word can help others to better understand my meaning, especially when it comes to the written word. Thus, as a writer, I’m glad to have learned this little tidbit.

Photo Credit: Spencer Means

Warming Up for War and Peace

Having finished reading the collection of used books I recently picked up, on Thursday I cracked open Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants.

To show you just how thick the book is, I took a photo of it alongside the last book I read, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Fall of Giants
The difference is striking, to say the least. You don’t want to drop this book on your feet. In fact, even as I write this I’m wearing steel-toed boots to make sure I don’t lose a toe.

I’m about 150 pages in, and I’m happy to report that, so far, the story is brisk (despite the book’s length) and Follett’s prose is easy to digest.

Confession: Long books used to intimidate me. Now, however, I think I can handle this one without too much trouble, although it’ll probably take me a couple of weeks.

Watch out, War and Peace. I’m coming for you … just as soon as I decide which one of the dozens of English translations I want to read!

P.S. It’s November 1st, and NaNoWriMo is underway. Good luck to all those who are participating this year!

An Evening at Ruifeng Night Market

Ruifeng Night Market
After a long day of studying and writing, one of my favorite ways to relax is by paying a visit to one of the many night markets of Taiwan. Today I’d like to give you a glimpse of this special part of Taiwanese culture.

If you ever visit Taiwan, you’ll stumble upon night markets around nearly every corner. Kaohsiung alone has dozens of night markets, some large, others small. I think one reason that night markets are so popular in Taiwan because it’s very hot and humid here during the day, especially during the summer, and so people are only willing to go out for stroll well after dark.

Despite having to compete against other kinds of night entertainment, like movies, television, clubs, and bars, night markets remain a central part of Taiwanese night life thanks to their delicious food, fun games, and affordable clothing.

A few days ago, Carol and I paid a visit to Ruifeng (pronounced ray-fungus) Night Market, located in the heart of Kaohsiung. While it would be impossible to try every kind of food in one trip, we did manage to sample a few dishes.

Food

Below is a Korean pancake, known in Korean as “pajeon.” Filled with kimchi, its bursting with spicy and salty flavors.

Korean pancake

You may be wondering why we bought a Korean pancake in Taiwan. The simple answer is because it looked delicious! Having lived in Korea for a few years, I can say that this was a fair approximation of the real thing.

Our other main dish was “da-chang bao xiao-chang” (大腸包小腸); literally “small sausage in big sausage.” Usually the larger sausage is made of rice, while the smaller sausage is full of meat. This is one of my favorite night market foods, and I buy one nearly every trip.

Sausage in Sausage

Generally, the vendor will cut the large sausage open and stuff the smaller one inside. However, because we were sharing, we decided it’d be easier to eat if the sausages were cut into small chunks, which we then skewered with long toothpicks.

After finishing our food, we bought a drink to wash everything down. Here’s Carol, holding a hearty glass of fresh mango milk.

mango milk

One great thing about Taiwan is that it’s home to a wide variety of fresh fruit, with different fruits available in every seasons. We got to watch as the vendor put mangoes, milk, and a little sugar into a blender and spun them together. I can attest to you that the result was both delicious and nutritious.

Games

Once we finished our food and drink, it was time to move along to the night market games. Most of the games are simple, skill-based challenges that require you to hit an object.

Basketball

Above is a picture of night market basketball. Put enough balls into the hoops, and you can win a prize! Or, if you’re more of a marksman, you can give target shooting a try.

Fake Guns

Yes, those are pellet guns. In the United States I might worry that someone could mistake them for real pistols, but because real guns are so rare here in Taiwan, it’s immediately obvious that they’re fake.

Of course, if sports and sharpshooting aren’t for you, there are still other games you can try. One is Mahjong.

mahjong

I’m not much of a mahjong player yet, but it’s pretty popular here. Lots of times when I pass a park in the afternoon, I’ll see retired guys sitting around tables and playing together.

And a special contest!

pangge After touring the games, we made one final pass through the clothing section. Most of the clothes at the night market are really cheap, and quality varies. Still, if you look around for a while you might be able to find some cool t-shirts that you like.

I didn’t buy any clothes on this particular night, but I did make sure to get my photo taken near a clothes vendor.

What does this sign say? I’ll give an Amazon Kindle copy of Ramses’ Thunder to the first person who can tell me. To participate all you need is an Amazon account and a good eye for Chinese! An approximate translation (or guess) will be fine. Leave your answer in the comments!

 

Aristotle’s Poetics: 1st Draft Complete

Today I finished keying the first draft of “Aristotle’s Poetics” into my computer.

Although initially conceived as a 10,000 word short story, in the end Aristotle’s Poetics blossomed into a full-fledged, 67,370 word novel. Soon after I started writing, I realized that it would take a lot more than 10,000 words to tell the story as I envisioned it and sufficiently develop the characters, so I kept at it. The result was my longest work to date.

Aristotle's Poetics 1st Draft

As its working title suggests, Aristotle’s Poetics is a Northland Adventure that focuses on Aristotle. You may recall her giving Captain Griswold, the Police Chief of Toronto, a piece of her mind in the prologue of Spear Hunter. Aristotle’s Poetics shows exactly why the relationship between these two is so rocky, and in full Technicolor, no less!

(Breaking Update: Aristotle’s Poetics will not be told in Technicolor, and the assistant who suggested I write a story in Technicolor has been sacked.)

If you were to read Aristotle’s Poetics in its current form, you would probably find it enjoyable, but you would also stumble upon a few dangling story threads and unpatched plot holes. Fortunately, I’m aware of most of these issues (I made note of them as I was writing), and fully intend to go back and fix them up. There are important scenes yet to write, as well as dull scenes that I still need to cut. I also want to sprinkle a few more atmospheric details into scenes I’ve already completed.

Anyhow, I want to give this manuscript a few weeks to breathe before I take another look at it again. In the meantime, there are plenty of other projects to work on. The biggest one, of course, is The Northland Chronicles 3. Also on the backburner is World’s End, a Northland Adventure that I want to release before TNC3 because their plots tie together. Finally, I have one more Northland Adventure in mind that I’d like to write before too long. All I’ll say for now is that it’ll feature John Osborne himself.

What will I work on first? I’ll make a decision soon. As always, you can keep track of how I’m coming along by looking at the colorful progress bars.

 

What happens in the bookstore …

book haul

Sometimes, I go book shopping.

Although I’m actually a big fan of ebooks, I gave my Nook ereader to my sister and the Google Nexus tablet I replaced it with refuses to charge, leaving me without a functional device for reading. I plan to resolve the problem soon, either by repairing the Nexus or buying a new ereader, but in the meantime I’m stuck with only paper.

Fortunately, even in Taiwan, it’s possible to find cheap English books. Together, the four paperbacks above cost only 100NTD, or a little over three U.S. dollars.

The English selection at Taiwanese bookstores is often limited, but this hindrance is not without a silver lining. Notably, it makes me more likely to take a chance on books I otherwise wouldn’t have paid any mind to. In fact, each of these four books caught my eye for different reasons:

2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke): This was the most obvious pick of the bunch. It’s a sci-fi classic that I have yet to read. I snatched it up as soon as I saw it on the shelf.

The Indian in the Cupboard (Lynne Reid Banks): I think I read this when I was younger. Either that, or I remember having heard about it when I was younger. Either way, it looked like a fun and breezy read. I took it.

Timeline (Michael Crichton): I read and enjoyed Jurassic Park just a few short months ago, so I figured I’d take another chance with Crichton. This book isn’t as well known, and the reviews aren’t as strong, but it still looked entertaining. I figured, “Hey, why not?”

Wheel of the Infinite (Martha Wells): This was the wildcard. I had never heard of Wheel of the Infinite or Martha Wells, but the cover was attractive and the back cover blurb sounded interesting enough. I’m open to trying new things. I added it to the pile.

Will these books fulfill the promises of their covers? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling I’m in for a treat (or four). Wheel of the Infinite is up first. I welcome you to read along with me and discuss the books on Goodreads.