Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tuesday was a Weird and Lonely Day

My son and daughter.

Tuesday was a very strange day.

On Tuesday I saw my children off at the airport, sending them to the US for five weeks to visit family and go sightseeing with my parents. They say parting is such sweet sorrow, but it is not, it is an agonizing rent in the heart, and nothing can fill it up. There's my son, taller than me -- when did that happen? And my sweet, soft spoken daughter. And they're leaving me.....

The new terminal at Taoyuan Airport.

It was a stunning day, clean and clear as a well-constructed syllogism, and the airport was crowded with early morning travelers.

My wife and my daughter relax before the Big Parting.

The airline came to collect my kids at 7 AM for the 7:45 flight. They were extremely kind, but a little ditsy -- the person in charge of my kids put their luggage on the local transfer trolley when they got to Detroit, and it was nearly lost. I guess it isn't really a Northwest flight unless the luggage goes astray.

Surprisingly, nobody cried until we were out of the airport.

They also had trouble at security, of course. I guess it isn't really an entry into the US unless you have hassles with security.

The beautiful interior of the new terminal.

But Tuesday had more in store. I had to run down to Tainan to pick up some test papers and attend class the next day. I boarded the train in Taichung, and sat down next to a Buddhist nun. She began talking to me in English, rusty but serviceable, and gently chided me for playing a computer game instead of doing something productive. "Isn't that a waste of time?" I bit my tongue to stop a tart remark about the uselessness of religious orders, but she soldiered on. It turned out that her job was telemarketing, selling Buddhism to the masses, by cold calls to random strangers inviting them to attend Buddhist meetings and activities. When she found out I could speak Chinese she switched to that, and then began to proselytize for her religion.

I'd never been the subject of a Buddhist conversion attempt before, but instead of finding it an amusing novelty, it make me uncomfortable and increasingly, angry. I have no trouble fending off Christians, since it is unlikely that any of the missionaries I encounter here knows more about the Bible than I do, and more often than not, I can turn the tables on them. Further, I always enjoy a good bout of wrangling about religion. But there I was, getting a lecture on past lives and the soul, and it peeved me that I couldn't get her to stop no matter how I hinted. I felt like she had violated some unspoken agreement between us (I didn't hit you up with a lecture about metaphysical naturalism, did I?).

A bright day, Taiwan's mountains clear in the distance.

But Tuesday had not yet exhausted its store of weirdnesses. When I arrived in Tainan a fellow student at the university drew me aside:

"Michael, do you know Dr. X?"
"Dr X. [description]"
"Nope, never met her. Why?"
"Well, she asked in the meeting last week why that American who stays in the fifth floor PHD office didn't smile at her when he saw her. Listen, you gotta be sure to smile at the teachers. It's really important."

Yup. Wrong-footed with someone important in the department, and without me even knowing it! Who knows what I was doing when she saw me.....Taiwanese university instructors, especially older ones, tend to think it really important that students should smile at them and greet them. Any Taiwanese in their 40s can tell you about how this was drilled into them in their childhood. At my own university the failure of students to do this has led to long discussions at meetings. Readers will have to divine for themselves what this desire to be greeted means....

My son and daughter.

I went to a friend's bar, had a few beers, and graded papers in my TA role, then stumbled home. And it was Tuesday night. My wife was in Taichung, and I was in Tainan, and my kids were on an airplane somewhere over Canada.

And I was lonely.


Jason said...

That last line there sounds like it's straight out of the pages of Penthouse Letters International.

Hang in there! And drink plenty of fermented liquids!

Anonymous said...

Well Michael sad to say, but I am a Christian and I am familiar with the Bible although I do not go to church. I am what you call "the real Christian".

I often turn the tables on people actually know more scripture than I do, simply because I actually follow what the Bible teaches such as living a Christian life with standards.

But since you apparently get irked, I will drop the subject. Sometimes it's just good to know where you're going AFTER you die or alone and so forth Michael.

By the way more people are reading your blogs as a result of my facebook discussions. The difference between me and you sometimes is that you offer factual analysis, but I often bring up that "the truth will eventually be revealed in such matters" and that it can not be surpressed forever and as a result it gives me a great opportunity to use Christian principles to assert such.

But anyway enough talk as you seem to not clearly want to go that way. Have a good day.

Michael Turton said...

Hi Walter --

I don't know what a "real Christian" is, they all seem real to me. It doesn't usually irk me to be missionized, it mostly just makes me laugh. But for some reason she just pissed me off -- I think because of the underlying assumption that I had never thought about such things as souls or past lives. As if I were five years old or something.

But don't worry, it doesn't peeve me to discuss religion. I usually rather enjoy it. But the discussion must be private, don't you think?


Scott said...

You are right about Northwest Airlines... my gosh they are bad.


If Jesus was your friend, you wouldn't ever have to be lonely Michael.
:-) lol

That was a really nice post. That stuff about your kids was great and the pics were perfect... the Buddhist encounter described how I feel when that happens to me too... I hope you will revisit the "Smiling Scandal" in future posts... maybe an expose? :-)

With the recent post about eating in the wrong place and sleeping in the wrong place and now not smiling at the right time... I just keep wondering... what will "The Ugly American" do next?

I appreciate the personal stuff along with the political... as Jason said, "Hang in there!"

Michael Turton said...

LOL. Probably I'll get even uglier. It's funny how you bump up against these cultural things so...unwittingly. *sigh* Wait til my tell-all book on getting a PHD here comes out.


Jonathan Benda said...

I got chided once (by a colleague!) about not greeting people with a smile every time I walk into a room. Now I just walk around with an insane grin on my face all the time, just in case. No one seems to bother me now... :)

Anonymous said...

I'd almost bet that nun was from the Zhongtai Shan order (中台山). I've has some not so satisfactory experiences with them; they strike me as a bit pushy. I've found Taiwanese Buddhism somewhat disappointing in this regard. I thnik that's why Theravadan appeals to me so much more, especially that of Sri Lanka.

As far as wearing a loony grin, I've taken the opposite tack, something I gleaned from George Costanza. I try to walk around with an annoyed scowl on my face. That way everyone thinks I'm really busy, and they pay me almost deferential concern.

maoman said...

Lonely? I feel your pain - I'm a family kind of guy too...

Funny about the pushy nun. You're much gentler than I am, however. I have little patience for evangelicals of any denomination. They can go save someone else's soul.

Anonymous said...

I sense some divine karma at work here Michael.
I think you should introduce that nun to some of your Mormon and 7th Day Adventist friends.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I agree Michael and what I meant by "real Christian" is that there are people out there who will say they are Christian, but they don't really live the life of what it dictates or whatever and they place God on the backburner rather than putting him first in all things. The whole purpose of Christianity was to bring people closer to God because God desires a closer relationship, which I'm sure you already know.

At any rate we could speak of this in private.

Right now though I'm in school and I usually check your blogs early in the morning so that I can post sections on to other young people. They really get a kick out of it.

Some people say that you should establish your own media or newspaper company or whatever because it rings very accurate and your arguments or discussions are persuasive because it is full of facts. I agree.

Have a good day Michael :)

Maybe when I go to Japan and be an English teacher I can have a blog like yours. The URL would be:


Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Walter! Those are very kind words.


Unknown said...

Hey Michael, greetings from Berkeley California. It's great here, and immensely beautiful and spacious. However, it's damn expensive (11 USD for a round-trip on the BART from SF Airport to Downtown Berkeley. As you know, in HK and Taipei that kind of trip was cost 50 NT dollars (actually in HK it's less, from what I remember when I was there last year).
Anyway, you mentioned the hassles with U.S. security.

I didn't have any hassles whatsoever. Actually, the SF airport security were the damned fastest I've ever seen anywhere. I didn't even see any x-ray machines on my way out. The man at immigration quickly asked my business and that was it! Nuts.

Actually, my experience, despite what these damned media and conservative types will tell you, is that Canadian immigration and security are much more likely to give you a rundown, rubdown, and otherwise a serious look-me-over. I've always found the U.S. people just LOOK tought, with their beefy bodies, moustaches, etc., but their bark is worse than their bite.

As soon as I got off the plane, it took me all of fifteen or twenty minutes to get my suitcase and then go throught immigration and voila, I was in front of the shuttle bus. Incredible. I've never experienced such a smooth landing!

Michael Turton said...

Thoth! Good to see you are alive and well and living in the USA!

Thanks for the commments! Keep me posted and let me know if you come back.