Archive for March, 2009

Reading Boy

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Check out Zen reading from the storybook Danella gave him when he was 1 year old:

By the way, this is the BEST video clip in the world. Thanks again to Danella for pointing it out.

And this one’s not bad either: Indian Thriller!

Taiwan 2009

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Wow, we finally did it, we went to Tainan!! Awesome. Amazing!! It’s been seven years since the last time we went, almost to the day – that was March 17-26, 2002 when Zen was just over four months old, and this trip was March 13-20. I put some comparison pictures below to prove it.

Friday, March 13th – our flight was in the afternoon, in the morning there was a parent-teacher meeting at Zen’s school and we got to meet Zen’s home form teacher and his Chinese teacher. The home form teacher tells us that Zen is very kind, very well-behaved, and responds well to instructions. He also does his work well in class, which was a bit of a surprise to us – we thought that he would be a bit of a daydreamer, but maybe that was more the problem last year (when his teacher was a bit of a daydreamer herself) and he seems to be getting over it. The Chinese teacher reported that he’s one of the top kids in the class in terms of ability and attitude, such as volunteering answers. Of course, this is the low-end Chinese class for the foreign students and poor-performing Chinese students, so he should be able to excel here (rather than in the class with the kids who hear Chinese at home, where he’d be struggling to keep up). After that, we went home, packed a bit more, went to the airport, had Popeye’s fried chicken, then flew to Taiwan. I was reading Catch 22 and drinking beer, Naoko and Zen were sleeping or watching “Madagasgar 2″ on the little overhead screen. It was China Airlines, the food was very good, and the service very nice too. I think I like this airline. They didn’t have a malfunctioning movie system to distract and frustrate us, which was nice (pay attention, Singapore Airlines – I know some people think a personal video system is the minimum standard, but if it doesn’t work then it’s better not to have one). Got to Kaohsiung (that’s the official spelling of the city, but it’s easier if you say “Gaow Shoong”), Marcelo picked us up and drove us to Tainan city where we caught up with Yuki and Paul, and Yuki’s cousin who was visiting (it was her last night in town). We went to the night market together, the perfect thing to do on a Friday night, and a wonderful way to get some yummy local food into us after seven years away. Saw a stand where foreigners sold tortillas and things, lots of games for Zen to say “I want to play that,” some food, some clothing stands for Yuki and Aki to hang out, and crowds and crowds of people for our weary just-off-the-plane eyes to feast upon. We let Zen play a game, he won his first carnival toy prize, and then we went to Paul and Yuki’s home to chat and eventually go to sleep.

Saturday, March 14th, 2009 – Woke up, got some breakfast around the corner (fried gyoza and other stuff – yummy), then made some calls for the people we were supposed to be meeting up with. We have a Saturday night dinner invitation, a concert later that same night, and a Sunday night dinner invitation. Cool. Zen played his first round of Wii, then we went out, walked to Da Xue Lu, marveling at all the new construction, found a place to eat lunch – beef noodle and other yummy stuff. The day was seriously cold and we found that Zen was under-dressed for the weather, so we went to Net to buy him a warm jacket, and he was better. Walked into the University, found our old language centre, hung out in front of the lake and under the giant tree, then went along the north road over to the train station, bought our tickets to Chiayi (for the following Monday as the first leg of the Alishan trip Yuping had helped us plan). Phoned A-Hui and found out where his shop is, then walked down Kai Shun Lu past the shoe shops that sold Onizuka Tiger brand shoes, went along Zhong Zheng Lu, got to A-Hui’s shop and hung out a bit, met some of his young buddies, ate a few things, then headed along a bit further to the city hall to meet Bruce and his family. On the way we found the long socks that Zen had really wanted and bought some for him, also for Naoko. Were a bit late meeting Bruce, but then we had a nice dinner and went for some ice cream and things, then back to Paul and Yuki’s. Paul and I went our by bicycle to a live house and we got to see three bands. The first one, Crappy Hobo, were standard happy punk rock. No attitude, which may be a good thing, but they were also a bit too safe to really be punk rock (their ironic cover song is “Top of the World” by the Carpenters, although they played it more the way Shonen Knife did on “If I Were A Carpenter”). That’s okay. The next band, Cotton Field, were better, lots of highly competent, explosive blues rock in the vein of White Stripes and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, or maybe even Bob Log III. The third band, Bugs of Phonon were pretentious post-rock guys who played great, long songs in the vein of Mono, Pelican, Explosions in the Sky, maybe Godspeed You Black Emperor. Lots of effects. Great stuff. Made some new friends, got some CDs, and then went to Dirty Roger’s pub. Nothing has changed, except that he has hundreds more CDs. Talked to Roger for a while, he seems to remember me (although who really knows for sure). There were only two other people in the place. It smelled pretty bad of cat piss, not so great for attracting and keeping a steady clientele. Drove back to their road, and I popped into Cheers to say hi to Westin. “Hi, Westin!”

Cotton Fields:

Bugs of Phonon:

Sunday, March 15th, 2009 – Woke up at 10:00, had some breakfast, then at 11:00 Judy came to drive us to Anping for another look around. Great! We got some Ee-mee soup, then drove on to the middle of Anping. Got out, looked at the German House (that we never knew was there when we lived there) that is nicely fixed up now and turned into a gallery and a cafe (what else could it be used for?), then along the Anping Gu Bao fort, then to the temple and the main street where we ate the same famous shrimp dumplings we always used to eat, but in the nice new fixed-up store rather than the crappy old low tables on the side of the street. Walked down the small lanes shopping and looking around. Boy, was it ever crowded! Walked along the streets, passed by a group of people who were taking a local temple god for a walk and burning things to bring good luck to the local households, then we went along to see the Anping Tree House, which is an ancient house that has been completely infested by some sort of a big banyan tree that has covered its walls and burst its ceiling. Very interesting. Went back to the wax museum to see another depiction of the Dutch surrendering to Koxinga, as well as the usual depictions of life in Taiwan during the Qing dynasty. The wax heads were bigger than scale, while the bodies were roughly scale, making things look pretty weird. Went back to the fort to let Zen play a carnival game, he won his second carnival toy: a bow and arrow with a scabbard. Good shooting, Zen. Drove on to Anping Do-hua, where we ate do-hua, a sort of tofu pudding. Very crowded, the shop is mostly like it was before, except they now have all sorts of other businesses inside selling meal sets, etc. Went on to where we used to live to look at the old house and also the jetty in front of it to watch boats come and go and to see how the waterfront has been fixed up. Drove down to the beach, but that hasn’t been fixed up enough yet. Drove back to meet up with Marcelo, who drove us to his family’s house in Yong Kang so that we could see his wife and two kids, also his mum was there. Then we all went out, sans mum and wife and newborn daughter, and ate yummy local food. Didn’t stay out so late, so we got home, hung out, did computer, talked, drank gin and tonic, then went to sleep late.

Monday, March 16th, 2009 – Woke up early, got the taxi to the train station and jumped in our train for Chiayi. Got to Chiayi, met Yuping on the platform (she had come down from the Taipei direction), and then got some breakfast. We were going to take a bus from there to Alishan, but we met a local businessmen who was gathering people to fill up a van to drive up to Alishan. We paid a little less than we would have with the bus and got to leave a bit earlier. Also, the van might make Naoko a bit less car-sick than a big bus would have, and would get us there quicker. True enough, going uphill we were still there in less than two hours. The driver talked most of the way, giving some introductions to Chiayi and Alishan with a strange hybrid Chinese/Taiwanese chatter that was somehow rather charming and didn’t really grate the way I thought it might. Got there around 11:00, already very crowded with buses and people. We left our suitcases at the place we were going to be staying at, Blog Hostel. Zen was disappointed he couldn’t see the room, since his favourite thing in the world is a fresh hotel room. We went to get some food from 7-Eleven and also from a local shop, grabbed it, got on the local train, and then went alone one kilometer to the first uphill station where all the cherry blossoms are. Got out, had a nice picnic, then continued on into the forest. Saw lots of gnarled and deteriorated tree stumps, continued on up and up away from the regular tourist trail and found the old abandoned train line. Walked along that for a while, even though my shoes are pretty thin-soled. That got painful after a while, but the scenery was marvelous, and since it was a train route it was flat. The place we wanted to see – Monkey Rock – turned out to be really far away, so we re-traced our rout (approximately), went down to the hotel. Checked in, showered, drank some beer and ate some snacks and tried to watch some TV (video was so-so, but the sound was off), which frustrated Zen, since his second favourite thing to do in a hotel is to watch TV. Went out for dinner; upon inspecting the offerings, which were either over-priced or under-appealing, we opted for another meal of 7-Eleven offerings. It was pretty tasty. I went out for a walk after dinner, hoping to see a full sky of gorgeous stars, but somehow they weren’t really apparent. Went back to the room, and was asleep by 9:00.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 – Woke up at 7:30, the only day on this trip that I really got a lot of sleep, then went to get some breakfast, packed, checked out, and went to see the 10:00 aboriginal dance show. Only watched for 10 minutes, caught the 10:15 train to the same place we were the day before, got out, saw different cherry blossoms than the day before, then hiked along the Giant Tree Path, where we saw monsters that were 800, 1,100, 1,500, 1,800 or even 2,000 years old. The forest was serene and lovely. We passed the Sisters Lake, and the 3-in-1 and 4-in-1 trees. The whole forest was full of great tree trunks or carcasses, sculpted by nature into shapes that no human mind could conceive. It was amazing. Got to an open valley where all sorts of flowering trees were, as well as more thick trunks or decayed stumps, and then went on to another giant tree walk. Found a temple, bought some local snacks, then eventually made our way down the hill. Filmed the train passing by, and then watched the 2:00 aboriginal dance show from start to finish. Took the 3:10 bus, Naoko and I saw together in the middle, Yuping and Zen together in the back. Zen slept for half of the ride, Naoko a bit, and I read and listened to the walkman when I wasn’t looking out the window at the gorgeous scenery. Somehow it seemed nicer than the ride up, but maybe that is because we drove less through forests, we had a downhill view, and the romantic afternoon sun. Got to Chiayi, bought our tickets, and then had a bowl of famous Chiayi duck rice. It was okay. Said goodbye to Yuping, then went off to Tainan. Another 45-minute express train ride later, and there we were again. Got a taxi to Paul and Yuki’s, then off Paul and I went off by bicycle to see what was happening at Red Wolf and Armoury on St Patrick’s Day. In Red Wolf met Joe, who I used to run into at the vegetarian cafeteria, he’s still in Tainan after 22 years, doing all sorts of exciting things like working on a kite surfing company, teaching English, writing textbooks. Met a Taiwanese friend of Paul’s along with an cigarette-rolling, beer drinking Italian sailor. This lady struck me as a bit ideosyncratic – not only is she a cigarette-rolling sailor-woman (more Popeye than Olive Oyl), she’s also a beer-drinking Italian! Went to the Armory, and since it was a Tuesday we could actually get a table. Talked to the boss for a while, then went out to eat Teppanyaki, which Paul had a craving for. Got home pretty late, slept.

Alishan Aboriginal songs and dances:

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 – Great, a relatively mellow day, with an invitation to go out to Jia Li Zhen for dinner. First we got up, showered, then went to see Yuki’s workspace (called “Like Fun”), where she teaches Japanese, teaches cooking, deposits the pastries and wedding cakes and things made out of soap (?!?!) that Aki makes. She also rents it out to others who want to use it for their classes. Not a bad little business. Went for some local noodles for lunch, then to the Koxinga Temple across the way where we took pictures and hung out, admiring the fixed-up grounds, the refurbished temple with brightly-painted walls and columns, the dragon fountain, and the nearby fertility temple. After that we went down the road and took the path across from the Confucius Temple, which had been fixed up magnificently. Went into the Confucius Temple and looked around and took some pictures, then went to Narrow Gate (Zai Men) coffee shop, where Naoko and I had our first date in January, 1993. Naoko and I had coffees, Zen had cookies, and we drew in the guest book and left messages. I wrote “Peter and Naoko came here for their first ‘date’ in January 1993, and haven’t come back since – until today! Twelve happy years – and one child – later, we’re enjoying our coffee. Thank you, Dzai Men, for all the magic. Peter, Naoko, Zen, March 18th, 2009.” On the opposite page, there was a sketch of a kid that looked like Zen, so I wrote there also “…this looks like Zen Hoflich. He’s seven years old.”

signing the guest book in Dzai Men

After that, we went to meet Mr Lin, who picked us up and drove us to meet Bruce and his family in Ou Wang, near Jia Li Zhen. Nice ride up, Zen slept the whole way, and Mr Lin and Naoko and I talked. Gorgeous day, the weather on our trip to Taiwan had started off not so great – cold – but with each day just kept getting better and better. Perfect. We got to Ou Wang at 4:00 or so, met Judy and five of her college friends, and we went for a little walk around the village. We got to a carrot field and picked up a few, particularly the grotesque-shaped one that looked like parts of male and female anatomy. Walked along through an old neighbourhood of traditional Taiwanese homes, many of which were still inhabited. Wandered around Judy’s old school, then went back and hung out a bit until 6:30, when everybody was there and we started eating and eating and eating. And drinking beer, then whiskey, then oolong tea. Zen had a great time playing with the university kids, as well as the family’s 15-year-old boy that everyone has called Superman since he was just a little kid. Superman gave Zen a souvenir Batman watch that he’s had for many years, but the battery had run down so we drove off to a night market to buy a better, also socks, Zen played his third carnival game and won a spinning top game. Went back to the place, drank more tea, left at 10:30 and got back to Yuki and Paul’s place and slept.

Thyrsday, March 19th, 2009 – Woke up kind of late, got breakfast, I suddenly realised that I had a friend in Tainan that I had forgotten to get in touch with before coming. I sent him a message on his Facebook page, the only way I knew to get in touch with him, and he called back within an hour. Lucky – Zen and I met him for lunch while Naoko and Yuki went shopping for clothes. We had noodles with meat stew, a famous dish in Tainan, and then went for bubble tea. It was great to see him again after so many years – the last time I saw him was in Vancouver in 2000 – but we’ll stay in touch. He used to work for a bank, so we talked banking, which was interesting. He needed to go to Taipei, so he dropped Zen and I off at a shoe shop so that we could look for shoes, nothing to be found, so we went off to a CD shop, then to Tainan Park, then to Paul and Yuki’s place again. Called the travel agent and found out that we could change our return flight from Friday to Saturday, giving us an unscheduled extra day in Taiwan. Good stuff, since we needed a day to do nothing in, since most days were pretty hectic with meeting people. Met Naoko at 4:00, we waited around until after 6:00 for Yuki, then went to eat hot pot with her and Paul. The pot was half spicy soup and half regular soup, so I gorged on spicy things. It was near my old house on Fu Lian Lu, so I saw that, then we went off to sing Karaoke for two hours. Zen did a bit of singing – he sang “Are You Sleeping” (in Chinese), “Happy Birthday To You”, the theme songs to Doraemon and Chibi Maruko-chan, and accompanied me on “Crocodile Rock” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which was great fun. I sang three Chinese songs (“Fen Xiang,” “Huei Tou Tai Nan”, and “Tong Ku De Ren”). The selection for English songs was awful – they didn’t even stock “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”!! But I had good fun singing “Paradise City” and a few other tunes. Naoko sang Japanese songs, and gave “Dancing Queen” a try too. A few of the songs we selected turned out to be duds – I wanted to sing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, but it turned out to be the Britney Spears version, and the “We Will Rock You” turned out to be by Taiwanese boy band 5566!! I wanted to sing “One”, but it turns out that it was by the Bee Gees (not the U2 song of the same name, nor the Metallica song of the same name either). But we drank beer, ate some more, and had fun. Got home late, and slept.

Friday, March 20th, 2009 – Woke up, got ready, took a cab to Chikan Tower, the former fortress that Koxinga used when he came to Taiwan over 400 years ago. It’s a bit run down, but we had fun exploring it. Zen filmed one of his many video tours up on the top, and we enjoyed the rustic exhibits. Walked across the street to the Ma Dzu temple, then down more and more streets, checking out the walking tour of historic Tainan buildings and temples. Ended the tour at the meteorological museum, which Zen liked a lot. An old man was talking to Zen about the Earth, the moon, the sun, the planets, and because these are words that Zen has learned, I think that he understood quite a lot. Went back to the same shoe store, and I got myself a pair of Onizuka Tiger shoes, although it took a while for them to dig my size out of the store house. I left my beat-up pair of Onizuka Tiger shoes there, and walked away with the new pair. Went to see A-Hui for a while, walked around the streets and lanes, trying yummy things to eat, then went off by taxi to the same night market to rendezvous with Paul and Yuki. We ate a few things, got the famous aboriginal barbecue (after an unnecessarily long wait as the sausages sat cooling and the guy fiddled with the barbecue drumming up a queue with his show) and a few other things, then Zen played his fourth carnival game and got his fourth prize, this one took a long time to pick out since the pickin’s were pretty slim, but it turned out to be all right. It got really crowded after a while, so we went home and ate a bit more, drank some beer, and talked. Marcelo came over, and we chatted. Zen and Paul played Wii quite a lot, and then we got to sleep late.

Saturday, March 21st, 2009 – Our ride came to pick us up at 6:20, we said goodbye to Paul and Yuki and drove off. Zen slept most of the way, I looked out the window. Our driver wasn’t chatty, or especially friendly either, but that was okay. Got to the airport all right, checked in, and left the country. Bye bye Taiwan. The flight back home was as good as the flight over. I drank beer and read all morning – got a six-pack worth out of China Airlines – and we arrived at 2:30 in our apartment. I spent the rest of the day loading up the pics and editing the DVD, loading clips into YouTube, and updating my blog. Whew, that was a lot of work…

To see what it all looked like from Zen’s point of view, check out this video:

Well, how about some pictures?

Night Market

National Cheng Kung University
DSC00693 MikiZen.jpg

Same place, seven years earlier…

Crappy Hobo, Tainan band

Cotton Field, Tainan band

Zen modelling Apple Sidra

200-year old house in Anping

Zen and the loofah

Anping Tree House

Our old Anping house


Zen and the giant Wasabi

Hsiao, the character for filial piety”, at the Confucius Temple in Tainan. Now and seven years ago:
DSC00849 PeterZenHsiao.jpg

In Tainan county

In Tainan

Book Review:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Murakami Haruki – This is Murakami Haruki’s meditation on running, which seems to be an activity that is just as important to the acclaimed novelist as writing. It is written in his usual writing style, which is casual, comfortable and chatty, and he regularly uses some of his favourite repetition markers, such as “as I have already mentioned…” and others, phrases that would be a sign of a bad writer or quickly edited out if they weren’t coming from a writer as popular and critically-acclaimed as Murakami. The book is largely anecdotal, but also attempts to present big ideas about the meaning of running, the meaning of writing, and the meaning of life. It is as its most enjoyable when it is at its lightest and most shallow, when it describes the look and feel of things and the little patterns and routines of daily life. Ultimately, however, it is a dull and meandering mini-book that is coyly self-referential as it goes through a laundry list of running-related events without any apparent direction, and his attempts at giving some meaning to his running come off as a bit nonsensical. It is often clinical in its description of running, and Murakami actually describes his passion quite passionlessly. Certain passages are better than others, and his description of running on Kauai island in Hawaii makes me want to go there quite badly. He is at his finest when he ruminates on other runners that he admires greatly, and I can feel his frustration at describing the tragic loss of two young runners, newlyweds, in a traffic accident. His description of his life is also quite interesting; his youth as a jazz club owner, his memory of the moment he decided to write a novel and his years as an early writer, his extreme devotion to whatever it is that he is doing, and some aspects of his relatively cosmopolitan lifestyle. And just as much as any writer, you get a good sense from reading this book of how he controls his life-regimen: no more cigarettes, limited drinking, limited diet, in bed before 10 and up before sunrise in order to run and write while the day is still young. It seems like a dull, stoic lifestyle but, ironically, also one that I envy as a fellow writer who is still struggling to publish his first novel and who also counts running as an interest and a preferred activity. Admittedly, I haven’t finished reading this book – I read the first half or so while on vacation in Taiwan, staying in a house where someone had a copy of the book – and I might still finish reading it if I ever come across another copy. Like the rest of his books, there’s nothing that leads me to believe that anything in the second half will illuminate what is in the first half.

Hard work paying off

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

I knew that Thursday the 12th was going to be a special day, although I knew it would also be a long one – lots of stuff to do on my last day of work before six days off in Taiwan. The reason why I thought it would be special was because as I was walking towards the exit gate from the complex where I live a squirrel bounded across my path, hopping from one cluster of bushes on my left across the lane to another cluster of bushes on my right. This might not seem so unusual, but on Tuesday the exact same thing happened at almost the exact same time of the day. Weird, right? Like something out of a Murakami Haruki novel. And so… what significance might it have?

As it turns out, later that day a registered letter arrived with my first-ever royalty cheque! Yee haw!!! It’s not for a fortune, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

And to prove it, here’s a picture of the cheque and the letter that came with it (the happy guy in the middle is me).  Awesome. Amazing!!

Softball party

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Today was a good day – we woke up near 9:00, then we had breakfast and did homework and work and tidying, and Naoko and Zen went to the art class. I stayed home and did work. Later we chilled out at home, and late in the afternoon we left for our appointment at the Japanese Association. It was an event for the kids’ softball league, but actually it was also an opportunity to get all of the kids and the families together and eat and have a fun time. Maybe other families have this opportunity quite often, but for me it was a first and rare opportunity and I had a great time. There was lots of food and lots of beer and great conversation. I was seated next to an interesting guy from Japan and a guy from the UK. The conversation was in English, although I also spoke Japanese a bit.

First there were drinks, then there was food, then speeches, then there were thank-yous from the kids and parents who were going. There were then speeches from the families who were joining the group, which included us. I said hi to the gang, and said that I was looking forward to the experience so that Zen could become a strong athlete. Then there was a paper scissors rock competition that I lost to one of my new friends (actually, Naoko lost to his wife, and Zen lost to his daughter too), but I made up for it by winning the arm wrestling competition. Yay!

Funny how one of the waiters looked like former prime minister of Japan Fukuda.

Got home late, did some work, Naoko and Zen went to sleep…

The Group:
group of softball families

Hina matsuri set-up:
Zen Naoko hina
Hina 2

Sweet Zen o’ Mine

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Sometimes I can’t get over the sweet things that Zen says.

Today as he was going to his friend’s house, he said “Papa, I love you. Papa, I will love you forever, even if we die.”

He also often tells me “Papa, I wish you would never die.”

Maybe the way he expresses it may seem a bit morbid, but he is still only seven years old and it is still quite innocent. His unconditional love just takes my breath away. What do you say to people that are convinced that they’ll never want kids? The wonderful feeling of parenthood is really indescribable.


My 15 minutes of fame

Friday, March 6th, 2009

What a busy week – I left every morning for work at 7:00, often coming home after 9:00. Just too busy. Yuping was here since last Thursday, it was nice to have her come visit again, and Zen even spoke a little Chinese with her. Funny – we will see her again next week when we go to Taiwan!
I got mentioned in a magazine recently, that was quite interesting.  Check out the link here.

Peggy came to see us again tonight, we haven’t seen her in ages.  She’s a big girl now.

How nice!

Zen is almost as tall as Peggy


Recently I had a lot of fun uploading my old Osaka concert videos to YouTube. Check out these playlists:

Dave Wesson:

Half Japanese:

Kansai Bangladesh Charity Concert:

Nagisa Ni te:

TEEM (two shows):

Tripod Jimmy:

Ultra Bide:

Ultra Fuckers (three shows):



A few more stray clips, such as Love Or Die, are up at My Videos, go to Surferofromantica at YouTube.