Monday, November 21, 2016

Artists of the World, Unite!

I wanted to create a photo essay of our trip in Taiwan, but who wants to see a bunch of pictures of me? So I decided to walk around the streets of Taipei, looking for average people doing their jobs.

When we think of the people in the world who have the most influence and power, we normally think of political leaders, business tycoons, and pop culture icons. But where would any of them be without people like you and me who staff their factories, construct their buildings, grow their food, and, of course, provide their entertainment? In fact, where would any of us be without the workers of the world, who take pride in their craft and create the products we use, the houses we live in, and help bring a little pleasure to our lives.

So I hope you enjoy . . .

The Artists of Taipei

A performance artist doing his best to earn tips. He's actually a world-renouned yoyo artist who's traveled the world performing.

The dumpling artists work late in the evening while a line of hungry students wait outside the door.
A very important artist—the surgical oncologist. He spent eight hours in the operating room with this special patient—my nephew.

The Red-Nosed Acrobatic Artists, providing some hair-raising entertainment.

A humanitarian artist wants to find homes for abandoned animals.

The biscuit artist is trying to convince us how fresh the biscuits are.

All the artwork in this shop was made by this porcelain artist.

A food artist, chopping chicken for a hungry customer.

A quartet of construction artists.

Tearing down a building for a new tenant requires the hard work of a deconstruction artist.

A washing artist might not think of her work as art, but would you want to eat on dirty dishes?

This man's family makes artful dried fruit and vegetables, which he sells in the traditional market.

The garbage artist? Sure, unless you want garbage everywhere.

This artist created a yummy blueberry yogurt work of art that gave me a mild brain freeze, but tasted great!

Art on a keychain. This one is a Totoro.

Making art out of magnolia flowers, which he sells in front of the Buddhist temple.

Pork artist. This man told me he'll lose his livelihood next year when open markets like this are no longer allowed. The young whippersnappers all like to shop in supermarkets these days.

Creating and selling artistic pork song—a type of dried, feathery jerky—is tiring. 

The recycling artist works for the city to collect plastic. He doesn't sell this—his job is to keep the streets clean for the rest of us to enjoy.

The restaurant hostess skillfully finds any remaining seats at the Evergreen Vegetarian restaurant. They claim the food is very healthy, which I think is true because I saw a lady at one table who looked at least 130 years old.

Mechanical artist taking care of a Yamaha. This was taken late in the evening and he still had several more scooters to finish.

A window washing artist keeps the front of the department store shiny and clean.

This spray paint artist creates works of art in ten minutes that he sells for about US$6.

This artist keeps the street in front of his house clean.

And this artist works in the park to wash the amphitheater where performers come on weekends.

Two window dressing artists preparing a new restaurant.

An artist that takes colored wire and wraps it into all sorts of beautiful creations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Food Court City

Our family recently went looking for a well-known taco cart in Salt Lake City. Apparently the taco guy took a personal day, so we ended up at a food court downtown. It happened to be in a mall that's seen better days and is hard at work on its renaissance—but it's not quite there yet.

I've never really enjoyed American food court food, though an occasional gem can be found if one looks hard. And this particular food court is pretty bad. There are few food choices, the acoustics make it horribly noisy, and much of what we finally ordered that day turned out sub-par—except McDonald's and Subway, which basically tastes the same anywhere you go. I think the shrimp in my crispy sushi rolls were dredged out of the Great Salt Lake. The taste was reminiscent of the way our car smelled one time after we accidentally left a raw pot roast in it when parked in hundred-degree heat—for three days.

The day after our food court experience, Stephanie and I flew to Taiwan, though it wasn't because of the food court—or the recent election results. It was actually a planned trip to visit family. So here we are in Taipei, surrounded by wonderful-smelling food everywhere we go. It's like the entire city is a food court. Except this food is mostly good.

Fruits, vegetables, breads, treats, sweets, and meats surround us everywhere we turn.

We ran into a problem on our first day here, though, because we couldn't eat any of it—and it was by choice. We had a particular need to skip a few meals that day, and we soon discovered that you should NEVER walk around Taipei while fasting. The temptations are just too great. We basically lost all willpower. I'm happy (I guess) to say that we made it—we didn't eat until we got home that evening and had yummy homemade mother-in-law food.

I'm an inconsistent vegetarian and prefer spicy ethnic cuisine, or basically not the American food I grew up with. Stephanie is an omnivore that prefers the tastes of her East Asian homeland. So when in Utah, we often drive all over looking for something we both want to eat, then end up just going home and heating up leftovers. But here in cosmopolitan Taipei, we can both find anything we want.

It was worth skipping a couple meals—and flying thousands of miles—to get all of this.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 – Stuff We Should Always Remember

Fifteen years ago today, on September 11, 2001, I was on my way to my office when NPR reported that a small plane may have hit one of the World Trade Center towers. That struck my interest, but it was just one piece of news among many, so I didn’t give it too much thought. By the time I arrived at my office, however, the reports made it clear that something big had happened.

I spent the rest of the day with my coworkers, searching for websites and broadcasts to get accurate information about what really happened. Apparently, the rest of the world had the same idea, and the entire Internet came to a standstill. It was the day that broke the Internet.

I could see the Salt Lake City International Airport from my office window, and watched as plane after plane landed, with none taking off. All flights in the entire U.S. were grounded, and the tarmac quickly filled with parked planes.

We watched online—via a foreign website that still worked—as the twin towers and surrounding buildings collapsed, and another plane crashed into the Pentagon, then a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The events of that day are hard to forget, and it changed the world in big ways.

After listening to radio reports and attempting to watch online the whole day—and not getting any work done—I drove home thinking about what happened. At the time, my children were 10, 8, and 2-years old, and the youngest was only six months old. The older two were in school and had talked about what happened, but didn’t understand it. The younger two of course were too young to pay much attention. At dinner, I told my family what I knew about the events, then told them to always remember that day, because it would definitely signify a huge change in world affairs.

I explained to my family that nobody could predict the future, but that things would be very different from that time going forward. I thought we’d probably be going to war, and that our society would need to start getting used to constant surveillance and security checks. I thought there’d be a backlash against Muslims and encouraged my family to not give in to the hate we’d probably see others express. I went to bed that night, worried about the future my children would experience.

Several days later, after scenes of backlash against Muslims and others had already begun playing out nationwide, I had a sense of sadness for everything going on. I saw the hatred beginning to build and wondered why humans are so prone to lash out at an entire culture, based on the actions of a few. I even sent out a somewhat-self-righteous email to friends and family, reminding them of our commitment to not judge and condemn others. The initial terror attacks were nothing short of inexcusable evil, but what worried me most was the backlash we saw here in our own country. Otherwise reasonable people had become filled with loathing and hatred.

I was junior high age when the Iran Hostage Crisis played out, where Americans were taken hostage in Tehran by people supporting the Iranian Revolution. I was too young to understand the events, and I certainly didn’t know the history of America’s involvement in that part of the world. But I saw the hatred many in our country expressed toward the Iranians, such as teeshirts proclaiming “The Ayatollah in an a**ahollah.”

I’ve studied with interest the detainment of Japanese Americans during World War II. One of those internment camps—Topaz—is in western Utah and the scenes of American citizens locked up for no reason other than their ancestry has often haunted me.

During my college years, I occasionally volunteered to assist Amerasian refugees from Vietnam get settled in the U.S. These were children of American soldiers, fathered during the war and left in Vietnam after our country pulled out. Most of the children were post-high-school age by that time, but had little education or adequate heath care while growing up. They were forced into a marginalized existence in their own country, simply because of their heritage.

I’m not writing this to try and justify the horrific events of 9/11, or any terrorist activities before or since—and I should point out that I didn't lose any close loved ones during those events. Plus, I’m certainly not immune from the very things I’m writing about. Perhaps I’m just writing this to assuage my own societal guilt. In any case, having watched hatred play out in the wider world, and right in my own backyard, I guess I’m just worried that our future is even more tenuous when I see the same hate-filled rhetoric—from all sides—filling our screens with more of the same.

9/11 was supposed to be the day “we’d never forget.” But perhaps there are other things in the past and present that we should keep in mind as well.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Concert Report

One of my daughter Roro's more enjoyable homework assignments is to attend a symphony each school term. I often get to attend with her and since I love the symphony anyway, it's a great night out. She's required to turn in a short report of the concert for her grade, but even though I usually buy the tickets, I never get a grade. So I decided to write this report a couple years ago and I turned it in to  her teacher. I still didn't get a grade, but I'm pretty sure it was well received.

* * *

I attended a concert of the American West Symphony on October 11, 2013 at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. When we arrived, the music had already started and I thought I was really in for a long evening because the performance didn't seem up to professional standards. In fact, I thought the musicians were each playing a different song. Then I realized they were still warming up. Soon, the first chair violinist stood up to get everyone's attention and make them stop goofing round. Then the oboist played a long A, which is one of my favorite notes. It must take a lot of practice for oboists to hold their breath that long. The rest of the orchestra joined in with their own A's and not long after that, the concert began.

The conductor, Joel Rosenberg, did a great job keeping all the musicians on task even though he wasn't wearing one of those tuxedos with long coat tails. At first, I had trouble taking him seriously because he bears a strong resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld's Uncle Leo. Then I remembered Uncle Leo had already died, so it couldn't have been him and I was better able to pay attention to the music. Mr. Rosenberg gave interesting background before each piece, which I really enjoyed. For example, he described how Hector Berlioz once dressed up as a woman, got some guns, and planned to murder his ex-fiancee, ex-fiancee's new suitor, and ex-future-mother-in-law. Thankfully, Berlioz didn't go through with it, or we wouldn't have been able to enjoy the Roman Carnival Overture, op. 9. This overture was a fun piece—not bad for a cross-dressing murderer wannabe—and really did have a carnival-like quality. It would be good background music to a Bugs Bunny cartoon. ("Kill the wabbit, kill the WAbbit . . .")

The Assembly Hall has interesting acoustics that made it sound like the horns were coming from the left side, even though they were on the right. Some of the music actually sounded like it was coming from behind us, which would have been difficult since we were in the back of the rear balcony. Maybe the acoustics were to blame for the violins sounding slightly out of tune during Franz Schubert's Overture to Rosamunde. Or perhaps it was because more people were sitting on the left side of the hall than the right which put everything out of balance. In any case, I still enjoyed Schubert's piece. I always thought he was a more relaxed piano playing type of composer. But this piece was actually pretty rockin' and kept me from getting too relaxed. Of course the relaxation issue might be due to the fact that the benches in the hall were designed for hobbits, or perhaps orangutans.

The musicians were all very well dressed and I have to compliment the tuba and the triangle players for remaining so patient while waiting their turn to perform. The third chair violinist was especially animated throughout the performance. Even when he only had one note to play, I thought he was going to fall off his chair. Fortunately, the chair survived, and he managed to avoid poking out the eye of the violist sitting next to him. The principal percussionist had several sets of drumsticks that all looked the same to me, but apparently they each had a separate purpose because he kept swapping them. He also had an awesome ponytail that complimented his high forehead and made it appear like his hair had all slipped backwards.

One of the more mesmerizing parts of the performance occurred when a large moth began flying around the hall. At times it seemed to be dancing to the beat of the music. I got real nervous when it flew dangerously close to the cymbals during Tchaikovsky's "Little Russian" Symphony no. 2 in C Minor, op. 17. At that point, all three percussionists AND the tuba player were going full speed. But despite all that racket, an older lady on the third row of the balcony still managed to fall asleep. I think if Tchaikovsky were still around today he'd be quite old, but more importantly he'd probably compose music similar to the progressive rock group Dream Theater: very technical and difficult to perform, but with lots of noises throughout each piece to keep listeners on their toes.

I really enjoyed this concert—it was very well received. I've always wanted to say something was "well received" because it makes me sound like a snooty frequenter of the fine arts. It's my goal in life to have people say that something I did was "well received."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I moved a rock . . . and a project happened

One day I went into my backyard and decided to move a rock to a new spot.

In order to do that, I needed to move a whole row of rocks that had migrated into my neighbor’s yard.

In order to do that, I needed to find a new place for a stand of bamboo that I’d put in a temporary location.

In order to do that, I needed to remove several small trees and bushes that I no longer wanted.

In order to do that, I needed to transplant several large lilac bushes.

In order to do that, I needed to take the swing set apart and move it.

In order to do that, I needed to realign my sprinkler pipes and decided to reroute all the sprinklers in the whole backyard.

In order to do that, I needed to change the configuration of all the sprinklers in the front and side yards.

In order to do that, I needed to move a fence in the side yard to a new location.

In order to do that, I needed to set up a new pad to park my trailer on.

Then, with the yard completely dug up and trenched and piled, the spring monsoons hit and we had about a month of rain while all the holes and trenches filled with water.

When everything dried out, I set up the trailer pad, moved the fence, configured the front and side sprinklers, realigned the back sprinklers, rebuilt the swing set, transplanted the lilacs, removed the trees and bushes, replanted the bamboo, and moved the row of rocks.

Finally done, I stood on my deck and admired three months of hard work, and I noticed that the rock I first wanted to move . . . was still in its original location.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My Dog is Cuter Than Yours

Everyone thinks their own dog is the cutest in the world, but I have actual proof that Autumn is the cutest.

Autumn is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a very long name for a small dog. This breed is a little less common in the U.S., especially compared to all the Labs that everyone has. When we visited France last fall, we saw one in the port town of Honfleur and got really excited and took a picture of it—even though it was kind of a scraggly, unkempt specimen. Then we found out that they're all over the place there. You'd think King Charles was the king of France, not England.

Autumn's Epic Haircut
Autumn is a good house dog, despite all her shedding. She's quiet and trains well, but tends to snore while sleeping on the floor next to our bed. She's small enough to not be too annoying in the house, and just big enough to go running with me—as long as we don't go too far. It's amazing how loyal she is when jogging up to Elephant Rock, a popular mountain trail near our house. It's a steep 3.5 mile (5.6 km) climb to the rock that starts at about 5,200 feet (1,600 m) elevation. With her short legs, she struggles a little, especially on the fast run back down. But she never gives up, and loves to wade in the stream at the bottom.

So here’s my proof that she’s cuter than your dog. Last month, she and I went on a short jog around the University of Utah campus. As we came around the basketball arena, the entire Red Rocks gymnastics team had just emerged from a bus. This is a group of very nice-looking and very athletic young ladies that are currently ranked one of the top teams in the U.S.—and Autumn and I inadvertently ended up right in the middle of them.

They immediately went bonkers for Autumn.


“How cute!”



They couldn’t get enough of her. Autumn and I eventually emerged from our adoring fans and another college-aged guy happened to be standing there. He turned around to see what the girls were fawning over and only saw me—a skinny, middle-aged, balding dude.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I always have this affect on the ladies.”

Can you find Autumn?
Autumn at Bryce Canyon National Park

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Bunny Under the Mattress

Sometimes we do our best to take care of our children, but the worst of the world still seems to seep into our lives. Not unlike a Miley Cyrus song getting stuck in our heads.

During one summer a number of years ago, my wife babysat two young neighbor kids while their parents worked each day. Nick and Jenna were close to the same age as our own two children and the four kids enjoyed running around the house, water fights, jumping on the trampoline, and generally tormenting each other.

One evening, their father came over as I stood in the driveway. I offered a friendly greeting but he didn’t seem so happy to greet me back. I soon understood why.

He showed me a crayon drawing. “Your daughter Miara gave this to Jenna today.”

I looked at the cute picture of a lamb with a bunny family under the watchful care of a giant sun wearing sunglasses, and commented on Miara’s artistry.

“Turn it over and read what’s on the back,” he said to me.

I flipped it around and started reading a story that only took a few lines before I realized it was disgusting, x-rated erotica. As my face turned red, Miara happened to walk up from behind me.

I asked if she drew the picture.

“Yeah, I gave it to Jenna,” came the proud response. She couldn’t have been more happy that two dads were discussing her artful project.

I asked where she got the paper.

“From under your mattress!”

Well, that was awkward.

Our neighbor gave me an icy stare and said he preferred his kids not have access to that type of material. I certainly couldn’t blame him. I wished my own kids didn’t either. In fact, it would probably be better if adults didn’t.

Completely flummoxed about the paper’s origin, I muttered something about getting back with him. He left and I immediately retreated inside and headed to the small pile of used scratch paper under our bed that the kids used for their drawings. On the pile sat the rest of the story, printed out in fine, salacious detail.

At that point, I became really confused. And embarrassed. Where had it come from? I asked my wife who said she’d found the story in the garbage can in my brother’s room. Without reading it, she figured it would make good scratch paper for the kids. And apparently Miara felt the same.

So Jeremy—a recently returned Mormon missionary—was the culprit. He lived with us at the time while attending school. I waited in the living room for him to return home and immediately confronted him. That’s when we finally learned who the real pervert was. As it turned out, Jeremy got it from a fellow classmate in his creative writing class. He’d been assigned to read and critique it, but upon seeing the contents, thought it made better kindling than reading, and so threw it away, where Stephanie later found it.

And that’s how Miara’s cute bunny family became part of a porn novel and our neighbors totally lost respect for us. I wonder if Jenna’s dad ever really believed the whole explanation.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Honey Do’s

A few months after my wife and I were married, we discovered she was pregnant with our first child. We were still fairly young and newly married, but it was an exciting occasion. At the time, I worked a very early shift, so I usually went to bed early. After I’d already retired one night, she woke me up and made an announcement.

“I need a cantaloup,” she said.

“Right now?”

“Yes.” And she would probably die if she didn’t get it.

I glanced at the clock and reminded her it was January and there was a blizzard outside.

That didn’t matter, she needed a cantaloup.

So I got up, put my coat, hat, boots, and gloves on over my pajamas and trudged outside. I cleaned the snow off the car and drove to the nearest supermarket. I sloshed through the unplowed snow, into the store, to the produce section, and found a not-very-fresh cantaloup that was probably shipped from Mexico. And it cost $6 a pound.

But she needed that cantaloup.

I carried it up to the register and plopped it onto the scale. The check-out lady looked at me with squinty eyes.

“My wife’s pregnant,” I explained.

She nodded. “Aaah, you’re a good husband.”

Probably not, but she needed the cantaloup anyway.

I grumbled and carried my $12 cantaloup outside into the storm, dusted the snow off the car, and slid through the ice back home. I removed all my snow-covered clothes and found my way to the kitchen. I cut the precious fruit open, cleaned it out, carved it into small squares, and carefully arranged them onto a plate. I even included a small fork.

Finally ready, I walked into the bedroom and presented my culinary art piece.

She smiled and thanked me, then got a strange look on her face. “Oh wait, I meant honeydew, not cantaloup. You know, the green kind.”

By then, I’d already fallen back asleep.