Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Triple Birth of Daniil Kharms



Daniil Kharms

If you are one who frequents some of the same Leningrad haunts I do, you may at one time or other have heard the strange rumors about my birth. I’m often asked if the story is actually true, and since I’m getting tired of talking about it, I’ve decided to clear things up once and for all. So here’s how it really happened.

As some of you know, my father at that time was working in geophysical science and was quite respected in his field. Though a man of science, he in fact was quite superstitious, and still held to a prediction about me that he’d learned from a gypsy fortune teller during his years in the navy.

“Your first son is destined to be a great man, a genius!” the blind old woman had told him. “He will be born on the first of the year.”

So after my father married my mother, in the fall of 1902, he was careful not to consummate the marriage right away. Rather, though he didn’t explain it to my mother, he decided to wait until April 1, 1903, in that way ensuring that I’d be born on the first of January, 1904 and so could fulfill the prophecy about my birth.

When April 1st finally came round, my father approached my mother and said: “I think it’s time we finally play that game, you know, that can cause a child to come about.”

My mother had been wondering for all the intervening months what her husband was waiting for, and so she said: “Okay, let’s.”

But my father had a sense of humor that sometimes got him in trouble, so he said “April Fool’s!”

Not surprisingly, my mother was very offended by this, and so, even after he explained to her that no, it wasn’t really an April Fool’s joke, that he actually intended that day to climb into bed with her, she angrily refused him.

“You are a moron!” she said, and wouldn’t let him touch her.

So my father had no choice but to wait until April 1st the following year.

But when the following April 1st came, my mother was still so angry about the previous April that she wouldn’t accede to his wishes and again called him a moron. All his pleading did him no good, she wouldn’t get into bed with him.

My father saw no hope but to wait and try again the following year.

And in fact after another year had passed, my mother had forgiven him his joke of 1903 and decided to accede to his wish. So it was that on April 1st, 1905, my parents’ marriage was finally consummated and I was conceived. Finally, my father thought, the prophecy would be fulfilled and he would go down in history as father of a great genius who benefited Russia with his brilliance and brought renown to the family name.

But things didn’t quite turn out that way. My mother went into labor prematurely, and I was delivered by an army surgeon who lived upstairs from us in mid-October, 1905.

The labor was a difficult one. The surgeon administered drugs to my mother which caused her to drift in and out of consciousness during the delivery. When I was finally born, according to those attending, I in fact showed signs of great genius by immediately upbraiding the attending doctor.

“What the hell is this all about?!” I’m told I said in perfect Russian. “I was in the middle of contemplating a very difficult problem in Kant.”

I then allegedly glared at the doctor with such withering contempt that that he didn’t know how to reply.

My father arrived home just after I uttered these words, and he was so angry to have missed my first utterance, and so upset besides that I had been born almost three months early, that he demanded I be put back into my mother’s womb until the New Year.

The army surgeon, and the midwife who was also there, claimed that it was impossible to do such a thing, but as my father threatened violence, the surgeon finally did his best and managed to get me back inside.

When my mother got over the effects of the drugs, she said: “Where is it? Where is my baby?”

But the surgeon and my father both claimed that she hadn’t actually given birth, that she was ill with fever, that the delivery was all a hallucination. She pointed to the blood and the obvious preparations for a birth, but they wouldn’t give in to her and finally, still cloudy from the drugs, she lay back her head and passed out.

The trick was no good, however, because a couple weeks later my mother went into labor once more. And this time no drugs were required and I was born premature, for the second time, on November 1st.

Again my father was so angry he started to demand I be put back in. But this time there was no fooling my mother, so he opted instead for the plan of keeping me in an incubator for the following two months until the New Year.

What’s more, the two births had apparently traumatized me so much that I’d forgotten everything I knew about philosophy and could no longer even speak.

I still remember the incubator well. It was very warm, very clean, and I lay on a soft bed of cotton until January 1st, 1906, when they took me out into the world. Thus it is that I was born for the third time. And this story also probably explains something about the nature of my somewhat broken genius which allows me to write these tales you all complain so much about.

* * *

Daniil Kharms was a Russian writer of the pre-World War II period whose hilarious absurdist short texts and theater pieces are among the most cherished remains of the short-lived avant-garde movement OBERIU (“Association for Real Art”). The best-known collection in English of Kharms’ work so far is Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms. The above piece is a very free adaptation of a Kharms text that can be found in “I Am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary”, a recent translation of Kharms’ surviving journals and letters. (I did this adaptation as a creative writing prompt for my students in Taiwan, where I teach English.) Like many writers of his generation, Kharms fell foul of the Soviet authorities. Arrested in 1941, he was confined to a psychiatric prison, where he eventually died, presumably of starvation, during the brutal Nazi siege of Leningrad. --E.M.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ah, Yes: the Open-Minded Liberal



“I appreciate people who are open-minded, who don’t judge others for their differences, who try to show openness and tolerance for other viewpoints. I don’t like dogmatic people, but see the world as woven of many different strands. We need to avoid dogmatism.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard these sentences, or sentences like them, from American liberals or self-described progressives. And the depressing thing is that the people who come out with such things actually take it as accurate self-description. They really seem to believe they are non-judgmental, or, as they repeat ad nauseum, “open-minded”.

Long ago, decades ago in fact, I learned what most such people were all about. I learned that anyone who describes him- or herself like this will usually, within the next few sentences, prove just the opposite. And how could it not be so? Anyone who utters such trite intellectual gibberish is typically only doing it as prelude to an angry rejection of some different position that is judged to be not open-minded enough.

In fact the “open-minded”, “non-judgmental” American liberal is one of the most close-minded, judgmental species of folk you’re likely to meet. Like the religious fundamentalist, but more dishonest, the typical liberal goes about the day seeking to erase or censure anything that doesn’t fit his or her own “open-minded” sense of right and wrong.

The "open-minded" liberal believes she has already decided all fundamental questions of right and wrong, all ethical conundrums the philosophers might struggle over, all deep cultural conflicts. And the answer to all these conundrums is: “Progress.” And how do we define progress? Like this: “Those who differ from me must finally come around to my way of seeing things.”

Does it get more self-serving or hypocritical than this? "Open-mindedness" is good, it leads to "progress", and progress means: Eventually you must agree with me.

Paradigms that don’t mesh with the hedonistic self-worship of the American liberal are labelled “dogmatic”, “close-minded”, “outdated”. And once any of these three latter adjectives gets stuck onto a view, the liberal can safely treat it as socially anathema. Those who hold to any of the rejected views must then be shunned by the group of “open-minded” people. They can no longer be accepted into polite society.

So much for respecting differences. The liberal way is: “We will respect your difference as long as, in all fundamentals, you are the same as us.”

I could type up a list of some of the current dogmas of this depressingly dogmatic American mindset. I won’t bother. Suffice to say that many of the truths these people take to be obvious and established wouldn’t be recognized as such in most world cultures. But what of that? After all, one of the central dogmas of these “globally-minded” liberals is that world cultures that don’t agree with them now must eventually come around--they’ll come around either through force or the persuasive power of pop culture and Hollywood.

In short, American liberals pay lip service to cultural diversity, but they’re the most avid cultural imperialists you can find on the planet today.

“I don’t like close-minded people” thus means, in American English, “Unless you see things the way I do, you have a closed mind.”

Oh, well, you might say, every group has its propaganda. Why be so disgruntled about this one, why expect American liberals to be any different? Why not just accept that they have their propaganda too?

Perhaps it’s because, unlike with doctrinaire Marxists, unlike with religious fundamentalists, unlike with dyed-in-the-wool misanthropes and cynics, the American liberal’s propaganda is so utterly dishonest, so shallow and self-serving. They've founded it on little more than the half-pint Zeitgeist of their own little echo chamber. They’ve forged it from a pure self-congratulatory lie--that we, the smiling, credit-card wielding First World liberals, have the answers to everything. Naturally. Because we’ve learned to be “open-minded”, see? We’ve gone to university and have read, gee, almost ten books. And look: our friends are the cool people, so, well, we’re in the know. You others--time to get with the program!

Sounds a lot like the way high school kids talk, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that.

Compared to these trite narcissists, the devout religious person makes for a bracing conversation partner. At least there’s a tradition, a content behind his or her belief that must be referred to. At least the religious person is not all about patting himself on the back. He or she acknowledges his difference from others; he recognizes that this difference implies debate, substantive debate, and struggle. It’s not a matter of saying simply, “Hi, guys. Wow, we're so open-minded, hey?”

Put me at a table of hardcore Marxists, Hindu fanatics or Jesus freaks any day. Just please, keep me away from these "open-minded" consumerist morons now dominating America. God protect me from the droning self-worship of the American liberal.

Eric Mader

The Inverse World

The assignment this time was to begin with the sentence “On the other side of the mirror is an inverse world.” Students at the Zephyr English Institute (ZEI) had about twenty minutes to write out a description of this “inverse” world. Claire, as usual, wrote brilliantly (this time I had to edit her more, as some of her sentences weren’t clear) and Ryan was up to his usual ryanism. The other students couldn’t finish in time, so took the essay home. I’ll add more as I get them.

Oh, and I wrote my own too, at the bottom.

Oh, and though I wrote it while the students were writing, I cheated a bit, working it into a final draft at home.

Oh, and I’m kind of a ryanist too, aren’t I?

E.M.





Claire Fan-Chiang

The Mirror

On the other side of the mirror is an inverse world. In that world, people do not exist until you kill them. Living, continuing to survive, is what they most fear. Once they have been killed and enter that world, work is no longer necessary; they are dead. Finally they exist.

You are dead from the second you enter that world. It is upside down in relation to the world on this side. Once there, you float up towards the ground.

Killing and maiming are virtues there, but saving and healing are vices. Whenever one heals or saves, and the operation is a success, the saved one regains life and enters the world on this side of the mirror, where we stand now, the world of the earth.

Those who are unlucky enough to enter our world from that one are disgusted by the human race. They can’t accept that killing others is illegal, while saving people is seen as good. To live is seen as shameful on the other side of the mirror.

But if too many die and enter that inverse world, the number of corpses grows too large. Slowly, some of them begin to come loose from the ground and fall down into the sky, which has the special power to give them life. This falling causes a certain panic in the inverse world. The most decayed are the noblest, while the newly dead are of the lowest rank. Fighting to hold onto death, the newly dead work to heal or restore the more decayed bodies, or push them down toward the sky. They work day and night to resuscitate them, healing as many as they can until the inverse world gains balance again, and they can feel secure in their death.

The fight starts again every time a plague or disaster reaps lives on the earth. The dead crowd into the inverse world, they understand that death is to be cherished, and they fight for their death.

--Claire Fan-Chiang




Monsieur Ryan

The Mirror

On the other side of the mirror is an inverse world. In that world, everything is backwards.

Clerks give customers money to take their products away.

People use fire extinguishers to start fires in malls and public buildings.

At schools the students stand during the class and watch the seated teacher.

When lunch comes, everyone throws up their lunch boxes.

At dinner time, cows use steak knives to cut people into “peoples”.

People eat food with their navels.

People use parachutes to jump up into planes when they want to travel.

People say “Fuck you” to Fuckyou birds.

They use elevators as subways.

People are punched to death by punching bags.

--Ryan


The Mirror

On the other side of the mirror is an inverse world, where disasters bring joy and celebrations end with leaders promising “Never again.”

In that world the nations compete to see who can ruin their economy faster.

The superstitious wear amulets to attract bad luck, and the beautiful are shunned.

Population shrinks yearly, abandoned land filling in with forests and fields, polluted lakes clearing one by one, new species appearing out of nowhere.

Even the lives there are backward: everyone starting out crippled and old and regressing to childhood.

Youth is thought of as a sad inevitability.

Which is why women spend untold sums keeping their skin wrinkly, adding sags under their eyes; and self-conscious men, once they see their hair start to fill in, take to wearing wigs with artificial bald spots.

But in general the people do what they can to avoid being noticed.

They have their own version of Facebook. When you sign up, you start out with hundreds of friends, most of whom you hardly know; the number slowly whittles itself down to your real friends, who then disappear one by one, leaving you finally with only your profile picture, which you delete.

Their Facebook won’t last long, however, because every year exciting new technologies are forgotten. Dumps and vacant lots are stacked with equipment the people have forgotten how to use, devices they no longer comprehend.

Idealists can dream of the day writing will be uninvented, then agriculture.

At the edge of the park the bushes mark their territory on every passing dog.

Tombstone inscriptions are tattooed on your mother’s belly after you’ve entered the womb. Her pregnancy recedes, until you are forgotten; until there’s only lovemaking, then dates, then glances across a room.

I know this because for a time I was in that world myself. I even won the lottery. They came and took everything.

--Eric Mader

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gay Marriage and the Bigotry of American Liberals


I’m an American heterosexual man and fervent Catholic. Nonetheless, I have for some time believed there may be room in traditional Christian culture, even Catholic culture, for acceptance of same-sex marriage, and have been working through theological issues related to this question. I won’t go into it here, but plan to present my arguments when they’re better formulated. (I’m not sure how others, more learned in Catholic theology, will take my arguments, but the subject is for me an important one.)

In any case, I have no animus against LGBT people. For most of my adult life, which began in the 1980s, I’ve supported them in their struggles. My support, however, is starting to take a beating.

The thing is: I do have a strong animus against gay activists’ recent efforts to use the power of the state to effectively force people to agree with them on marriage. I would argue that such force is not the way to go. But gay activists and their supporters evidently disagree--because they’re moving that way like a freight train.

If a restaurant refused to serve food to a gay or lesbian couple simply because of their sexual orientation, I’d recognize that couple’s right to sue the restaurant for discrimination. Because eating in a restaurant, or staying in a hotel, or shopping--all these are neutral activities, and as a business owner one does not have the right to refuse customers because of who they are.

But the people of faith in America whose livelihoods are now threatened by lawsuits did not in fact “refuse to serve” gays or lesbians--as liberals claim. Nowhere did a baker refuse to make a birthday cake or a graduation cake. Nowhere did a florist refuse to arrange get-well flowers for a friend.

No, these recent cases over gay weddings are something else entirely. They are about people of faith declining to participate in weddings their religion teaches against. And here the more compelling right is clearly on the side of the devout religious business person. That is what American religious liberty means.

Consider the sad case of 70-year-old florist Barronelle Stutzman. Did gay marriage supporters really want their movement to lead to this kind of state persecution? Because persecution is exactly what it is. Go read the link if you’re not familiar with this case. It is sobering, and just one of a growing number of similar cases.

The State of Washington on its own initiative decided to raise suit against Stutzman. Understandably, the state has an interest in protecting LGBT people from discrimination. But there are ways to balance LGBT couples’ rights not to be discriminated against and the rights of people of faith to hold to their faith as they see fit. We might tailor laws to meet the needs of both sides in a reasonable compromise. It’s not impossible.

Louisiana is exploring a religious freedom statute at present that would protect religious people from suits raised in relation to marriage specifically. I support such laws in general. The problem is that whenever such laws are proposed, the now ascendant liberal fundamentalism screams out: “Bigotry!”

Sorry, but bigotry is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. I believe a strong argument can be made that in cases like Stutzman’s it’s the religious person who is the real victim of bigotry. She is one of a growing number of victims of the anti-Christian bigotry of liberal fundamentalists.

And talk about animus. Going to a Facebook page in support of Barronelle Stutzman as I prepared this article, here were the two visitor comments that appeared first:


This is what bigotry looks like. And these kinds of attitudes and this kind of language are ever more widespread among American liberals. Remember: These are posts aimed at a 70-year-old grandmother who’d never said anything hateful against gays and whose only crime was politely refusing to make flowers for a gay wedding.

Because Stutzman sincerely believes such a wedding offends against her faith, she should not be forced to offer her services toward celebration of that wedding. It’s simple as that. Whether she’s willing to do so or not is a matter of her own conscience.

I strongly believe every American has the right to live their life the way they choose. The success of the gay marriage movement in legalizing their marriages vis-a-vis the state does not however give them the right to force other Americans, who have their own traditional ideas of marriage, to participate in their weddings.

Many Americans who like myself have long felt solidarity with gays and lesbians in their struggles are now starting to recoil at what the LGBT movement has turned into. There’s a growing disgust at the arrogance, the cultural narrowness, the assumption that the public arena now belongs to them. To hear them say it in their own words, any dissenters against their agenda should shut up or expect to lose their jobs.

I believe most Americans support a kind of classical liberalism, which envisions a public sphere where groups with widely divergent goals and ideals can coexist, and in which the rights of different groups are protected in a balanced way. Writing in relation to the marriage debate last year, Damon Linker sagely summed up his own support for such a vision, while underlining how the gay marriage movement had started to betray this vision. Sadly, things have only gotten worse since then. (See also Linker’s follow-up piece.)

One of my literary heroes, the satirist George Saunders, describes a healthy America as follows: “America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.”

I agree. Sadly, our current liberal elites are precisely what Saunders warns against: droning and glamorous and, in their own narrow minds, reasonable.

Liberal fundamentalism, now most strongly in the same-sex marriage movement, is becoming a threat to American pluralism.

I call them “lib-fundies”. Perhaps a definition is in order.

Lib-fundie (liberal fundamentalist): A person who absurdly believes that American separation of church and state entails that individuals cannot express religious convictions in public. The lib-fundie thus thinks a student expressing thanks to God in a graduation address is out of line, or that a street corner preacher, standing on a public sidewalk, should be shut up by the police.

Lib-fundies favor ever-increasing legal encroachments on expression of religious beliefs. They assume that truth and belief in God are mutually contradictory notions, and that right law is a matter of ensuring their own views become obligatory.

Lib-fundies pay lip service to religious freedom to the extent that they often say things like: “If you want to teach your children Bible stories at home, that’s your right” or “You can go to your church or temple and worship any way you want”.

With such statements they reveal their intentions: To prevent religious Americans from teaching or expressing their faith anywhere outside of private homes or churches.

The lib-fundie says: “Please close your windows and doors tightly before you talk about God. And please talk in hushed voices. Because for the public arena, only we know what’s best.”

Lib-fundies identify progress with eradicating religion from Western culture. Contrary to the clear evidence of 20th century history, they believe the eradication of religion will usher in a Golden Age of peace and human flourishing. (Those golden ages brought on by Stalin and Mao are conveniently forgotten.)

Here, then, are the salient characteristics of the lib-fundie in relation to questions of religious liberty. In terms of the gay marriage movement, heterosexual lib-fundies see in it a great base from which to launch attacks against religious Americans. In fact, one might surmise that with many of these people their solidarity with the gay marriage movement is based not so much on a concern for LGBT rights as it is on a deep-seated yearning to find new ways to stick knives into Christians.

As a Catholic, I have to fight these people. That I share some of the goals of the American left in terms of the earth’s environment, workers’ rights, the struggle against corporate power--it makes my fight more conflicted. But fight them I will.

Though I’ve voted Democrat for the past thirty years, I’ve already decided to refrain from voting for them in coming elections. It’s bad enough that their accomplishments in terms of my political goals just listed (environment, rampant corporatism, etc.) have been virtually nil. But that’s not what finally decided me. If the Democrats have finally lost my support, it’s because they aid and abet liberal fundamentalists.

So congratulations, you lib-fundies out there. It’s always been difficult to be a religious person on the left. But you guys, in our American so-called left, have made it impossible.

Eric Mader

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Return of the Rabbit-Lobster




Short compositions from my teen students here in Taipei--some of them brilliant, some of them chafing at the bit. The assignment was to pick any person, then imagine them waking confused from a dream in which they dreamt some part of their body had morphed into something else. Students had twenty minutes to write, but some cheated.

Some of these compositions, placed at the end, are unsuitable for kids. Heck, some, which I couldn’t even bring myself to type, were unsuitable for adults too.


Eric Mader

Eric’s Elbow


by Claire Fan-Chiang (at ZEI)

Eric woke from a strange dream this morning. In the dream he was in a small, dusty park. He was sitting under a tree chewing his elbow passionately. He suddenly realized that his elbow was a hippo’s head.

Eric was amazed. He couldn’t believe he had accomplished such an incredible thing. His elbow was now a wonder of nature! Reporters from around the world would come and interview him, while biologists would simply sit and stare in admiration, unsure how to begin. On the Internet people would discuss him day and night, and fans would gather round him for autographs and selfies.

“Hey, you! What are you doing!”

A rock hit Eric on the head and he turned to see who’d thrown it. He couldn’t believe anyone could be so rude to him. He was now the World’s Most Special Person!

Finally he realized the rock had been thrown by a soldier dressed in traditional English armor with a bucket-like helmet on his head. As the soldier approached, he raised his sword, pointing it directly at Eric’s elbow.

“What the--?” Eric swore. Was this some stupid cosplayer that wanted to rule the world? But before Eric could say any more, the hippo on his elbow devoured the soldier.

Eric gaped at the empty space where the soldier had just stood. His elbow--had he perhaps grown it to save the world from all kinds of stupidity that may cause sickly seasons and the extinction of many races?

It had to be so!

Eric decided that from now on his mission was to make the world a better place. He would create a world of order and peace. Women would admire him and men would simply be jealous of him. Yes!

In fact his hippo-elbow companion ate anything near it, Eric’s teaching plans, his car keys, his cell phone, his comfortable sofa, and more. It also ate a very bitter old lady who stole kids’ candy, a rabbit-lobster that was peacefully crossing the road, and a short Godzilla hairdresser known for tending people’s hair with exquisite care. It swallowed all the plague samples in the laboratory and the paper bags containing a few cockroaches and a piece of stale bread. Eric was convinced that through all this he was creating order for the world: setting a new balance for the ecosystem and cleaning up the streets besides. He’d never been this happy before!

However, Eric soon met a French guy whose knees were two pythons. Eric felt envious because he only had one hippo while the French guy had two pythons. Angrily, he demanded the stranger’s name, only to discover that the stranger’s name was Eric too.

Oh, Eric couldn’t bear it that this French Eric had accomplished more than himself! French Eric saved beautiful ladies from frightening monsters and had won the lottery ten times in a row.

Furious, Eric challenged Eric to a duel. But just when the duel was to begin, Eric woke up because he had to pee.

Eric now sat on his bed, sulking. He had absolute confidence that he could have beaten the French Eric. But now he’d never find out, since he was already awake and his dreams were different every night.

So he drew a hippo on his elbow and two pythons on his knees. He is now extremely satisfied with himself.


Yes, Claire Fan-Chiang is brilliant. Just . . . brilliant.


Tom Hanks’ Thumb


by Anthony (at ZEI)

Tom Hanks woke from a strange dream this morning. In the dream he was on the set for the movie version of Dan Brown’s new brainchild Inferno. He was washing his hands at a small sink and he suddenly realized his left thumb was a man: Wow! It was Dan Brown!

He stared at Dan Brown for a moment, not knowing what to say. Finally, Dan started to shout: “What the hell are you doing, idiot? Concentrate on your acting!”

Tom Hanks glanced around the room. Nobody had noticed his thumb yelling.at him. So he came down closer to Dan and whispered: “What’s going on?”

“F—k!” Dan roared. “You giant oaf, why are you asking me! Just Be Your Langdon!”

Tom looked over at the actress preparing, the one they’d chosen to play Sienna.

“Nice girl again. But what about Sophia, Vittoria, and . . .”

“C’mon, Hanks, forget them!” Dan snapped. “Focus! This is Inferno, so of course the female lead will change.”

“But what does that say about my character, that he keeps--”

“Oh, Jesus, Hanks! I don’t give a damn about things like feminism or what. Just FOCUS!!!”

Frank’s Legs


by Tommy (at ELT)

This morning Frank woke from a very strange dream. He was in his bedroom, and he started touching his legs. He realized that his legs were really incense sticks. He didn’t pay much attention to them at first. However, when he got out of bed and started walking around, he realized his incense legs were burning. With the smoke now floating around him, Frank had no idea how to stop it.

Suddenly he remembered the film 127 Hours, in which a man had to cut off his hand to save himself from dying in the wild. Frank was in the same situation as the character: he had to take action immediately, or he would burn to death.

He started looking around the house for something to cut off his legs, but there was nothing. The smoke was getting thicker, and he could start to feel the burning. Frank rushed outside as quickly as he could; he made great effort to reach the railway crossing near his house. Once there, he put his burning incense legs on the rail. The train was already coming. He started counting down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . RIIIINNNGGG!

Frank woke up with sweat all over his body. He reached over and turned off the alarm.

“What a strange start for a day!” he thought, and reached down to check if he had his normal legs.


Tommy and Serena


My Chill Belly


by Jenny (at ELT)

This morning I woke from a very strange dream. I was on my bed, and I started touching my belly. I realized that it was really a refrigerator. Confused and surprised, I slapped myself to check if I was still dreaming. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a dream.

“What happened? Where will the food I consumed go to?”

Dozens of questions sprang up. However, not wanting to distress my family, I decided to conceal the secret. I got up from the bed, trying to reassure myself: Maybe it wasn’t so bad. With such a special belly, I could store food inside instead of preparing a lunch box.

Thinking this way, I felt more relieved. And besides--a new day was beginning, perhaps a brand new life.

But then I felt my head getting colder and colder. I realized it was changing slowly. It was becoming a freezer!

The Party in My Hair


by Tatiana (at ELT)

This morning I woke up from a very strange dream. I was in the bathroom, and I wanted to comb my hair. But I realized my hair was really a swimming pool. I saw all my friends were in the pool. I wanted to go in too, but couldn’t, because I had to take a shower to get ready for school.

Suddenly Angela, who was also in the pool, held up a water gun and started to shoot me. I was angry, so I picked her up and stared at her. Angela is so tiny! Ha ha ha! I thought. And I started to shake her around violently while singing a K-pop song from a band I knew she hated.

After a while, when Angela was screaming and almost crying, I remembered again I had to take a bath or I’d be late. So I put Angela on the toilet and went to take the shower head. But as I held it I had a thought: Wait! I’m totally naked! Everyone in the pool just saw my body!”

I quickly turned on the shower, and began to spray myself, but at the same time I started to wake up. Interesting, my hair was all wet.


Tatiana and classmates.


My Electronic Eyes


by Frank (at ELT)

This morning Frank woke from a very strange dream. He was in the park, and he reached up to rub his eyes. He realized that his eyes weren’t natural: they’d become electronic eyes. When he touched them, they turned on, and he saw a screen light up in his field of vision, similar to a smart phone screen.

The screen had several options: X-ray eyes, games, instantaneous movement from place to place, normal eyes. He chose the third option, instantaneous movement, to get back to his house, and it actually worked! Then he chose some of the other options, just for fun. But not long after, he felt they were really pretty boring, and didn’t help him much either. So he chose normal and his electric eyes turned off. When he tried to turn them on again, however, just to see if they still worked, he couldn’t.

He was thinking about this, still trying to turn them back on, when he woke up.

Jay Chou's Screenface


by Lulu (at ELT)

This morning Jay Chou woke from a very strange dream. He was in a closet, and he he reached up to scratch his face. He realized that his face was really a TV screen. He still could see clearly from his eyes, but he started to feel very nervous.

Then he noticed his wife was next to him in the closet--For God’s sake, why are we in a closet! She was watching his “face” and laughing. He felt awful because he knew she was watching Sponge Bob. He told her he hated the stupid plots in that cartoon. How dare she watch Sponge Bob on his face!--but she ignored him. He tried to turn off his face, but couldn’t, and she kept watching and laughing.

Jay got angrier and angrier and was trying to grab for the controller from his wife’s hand when he woke up. His wife was in bed next to him watching him nervously. -

Ted


by David (at ELT)

This morning Eric woke from a very strange dream. He was in bed, and started feeling around his right shoulder. He realized that his right shoulder was Ted.

“I’m still dreaming,” Eric thought.

But when he tried to go back to sleep, Ted slapped Eric’s face with his paw.

“Get up!” Ted yelled at him. “It’s time to save the world! It’s our responsibility to save the lonely women of planet earth!” the bear yelled at him.

Eric started to wake up.

Simon’s Remote-Control Arm


by Christine (at ELT)

This morning Simon woke up from a strange dream. The dream was really long, like a movie. He’d never had such a dream before.

In the dream Simon was lying on a sofa in a house with many chandeliers. He started to scratch his left arm and realized that his arm was really a remote control. Pressing different buttons, he quickly learned that he could control the light in the chandeliers, the air conditioner, the TV, everything.

Soon a woman came into the room wearing a silk evening gown.

“Oh, Simon, my love--here you are!” she said to him and sat down.

Simon felt the woman was kind of strange: he didn’t recognize her. But when he looked at his arm again, it was no longer a remote control, but a kind of screen, like an iPad screen. And words started to appear on it: KISS HER, FOOL, the words said.

Simon looked at the woman. She was smiling, waiting for him to kiss her. But then a man came into the room and stepped quickly up to Simon.

“Your arm: you must use it to help me,” the man said.

“What?” Simon said.

“Through that screen you have the power to discover the passwords of all the world’s major CEOs,” the man said. “I want those passwords. Using them, I can become fabulously wealthy.”

“What will I get?” Simon said.

“I will give you some of the money, and you can marry my daughter.”

The woman on the sofa next to Simon was angry to hear this, and she made a noise in protest.

“I will do it,” Simon said.

Then, while the woman was still there pouting, Simon and the man found Bill Gates’ password. The man took out a laptop and quickly used the password to get into Bill Gates’ email. But within a minute police rushed in and, seeing the screen on Simon’s arm, they arrested him.

In the next part of the dream Simon was in jail. The man’s daughter, now his fiancee, was there visiting him. She was fat and ugly. Simon didn’t mind being in jail if he could avoid marrying her.

NOTE: The following dreams, from the students in ELT class 005, are unsuitable for child reading. In fact I couldn’t even type out most of them. The class has a serious perv to it. I do my best. If they don’t write what’s on their mind, they really can hardly write at all, since by the time I get them (8:30 p.m.) they’ve already literally been in classes for more than ten hours. They only wake up when they get a chance to make up unsavory stories about the class hero: Simon. (The above composition is by the one girl in the class at present, who bravely puts up with the atmosphere of grim juvenile hormonics.)

Keith’s Shifty Nipples


by Simon (at ELT)

This morning Keith woke from a strange dream. In the dream he was lying on a bed in a motel and he started to touch his nipples. But he realized his nipples were really a girl’s nipples. They were his girlfriend Judy’s nipples.

In fact during the dream Keith actually was in a motel lying next to his girlfriend Judy. He had fallen asleep because he drank too much. Judy, however, was still awake. When she saw Keith touching his nipples like that, she thought, “What the hell! He’s touching himself like he’s a girl!”

But while typing out this dream, Eric realized it was too yellow to include here. Sorry, Simon.

Simon’s Flashlights


by Kris (at ELT)

This morning Simon woke from a strange dream. In the dream he was in a dark room, he didn’t know where. He reached down to touch his penis and discovered his testicles were really two little flashlights. As he was shining them around the room, a man appeared behind him.

“Your testicles are so beautiful,” the man said.

“They are my favorite part of my body,” Simon said. “You can’t take them away.”

Then Simon turned up the light on one of his testicle flashlights and shined it into the man’s eyes to blind him. And he tried to run away. But since the light was shining on the man, Simon didn’t see what was in front of him and he crashed headfirst into a wall. The blow knocked him unconscious.

When Simon woke up, both his penis and his flashlights were gone. Simon was very sad. Then he noticed a window on one side of the dark room and went to look outside to find out where he was.

Down below, on the street, he saw the man riding away on a bicycle, using Simon’s testicles as a bicycle light.

“Mama!” Simon yelled. “Mammmmmaaaaaa!”

Simon’s Chin


by Bill (at ELT)

This morning Simon woke from a strange dream. In the dream, he was on the street. He reached up to scratch his chin and realized that his chin was really a pair of testicles.

But this dream was too yellow to type. Eric needs to keep his job.

Simon’s Fingers


by Ken (at ELT)

This morning Simon woke from a strange dream. In the dream, he was at a motel with Victor. They were playing on the bed when Simon realized his ten fingers were really ten . . . . But what his fingers were really and what happened next cannot be included here. Eric can’t believe how yellow this class is.

Ken Becomes a Father


by Eric (sometimes I just do my own composition while they’re writing)

This morning Ken woke from a strange dream. In the dream he was riding the Taipei subway. The train had just stopped at a station. Ken was watching people come in through the open doors when suddenly he heard a loud “DING”.

Ken looked down and realized that his belly was really a microwave oven, and that it had just finished cooking something. Before Ken knew what to do, a hunched old woman came up to him and poked his left nipple. The door on his belly opened and she reached to take something out. Ken tried to block her reach, but she swatted his hand away. She took out a large red bowl with clear plastic wrap on top.

“Hey! You can’t--” Ken started to say, reaching for the bowl, but the old woman raised her hand like she was going to hit him, so he stopped.

The old woman slowly lifted the plastic wrap off the bowl. Steam began to rise from it. She blew into the bowl and looked.

Ken felt very embarrassed because everyone in the subway car was now watching.

“It’s ready,” the old woman said to Ken, and held the bowl up toward him.

Then Ken saw a little Simon head slowly coming up out of the bowl. The little Simon head looked at him with wide innocent eyes.

“Dad!” the little Simon said to him.

All the people in the subway cheered and began to applaud, but Ken screamed out in terror.

He awoke covered in sweat.

Thanks to AgelessAndEvergreen for making the digital version of the rabbit-lobster above. --E.M.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

American Police Departments: Implement Officer Body Cameras NOW


An unarmed, fleeing man murdered in cold blood. What would have happened had there been no bystander filming?

Body-worn cameras for police officers should become standard in American police departments. It’s as simple as that. This is the most immediate and effective way to curtail the sick epidemic of unwarranted police violence that plagues our country.

I’ve seen no compelling arguments against body cameras. The advantages for all, both citizens and police, far outweigh the disadvantages.

The recent murder of Walter Scott (see article with video) in South Carolina reminds us again of how necessary video evidence can be. Where would this case have gone had there been no bystander there to film what really happened?

Sadly, the offending officer, Michael Slager, would very likely have walked.

And that’s not only a grave injustice to his victim, shot in cold blood from behind, but an injustice to all good police officers, who are put at ever greater risk because of the breakdown of trust between police and black communities.

A breakdown of trust that is due to systemic racism in far too many American police departments.

Racism is a deeply ingrained evil in our country. The battle against it must be fought on many fronts simultaneously. Body cameras won’t solve the problem of racism, but they will certainly help.

The evidence is clear that body-worn cameras reduce the likelihood of resort to force. And they reduce citizen complaints against police departments.

But most of all: body cameras will almost certainly stop this epidemic that has now resulted in far too many lives being cut short by trigger-happy officers.

We need to implement body cameras now.

Eric Mader
Taipei

(Yes, I’m an American expat in Taiwan, where I’ve lived since the 1990s. And this continued injustice against black Americans, fellow citizens of mine, aside from being deeply depressing in itself, makes me depressed in an additional way because I see how it makes my country look internationally. There are a handful of fronts on which America has gone seriously off the rails this past decade and a half. I sometimes think that if more of my compatriots could see how this makes our country look in the eyes of the world, they’d be more earnest about bringing about the changes that need to happen. We make great strides, but continue to mire ourselves in many of our worst vices. In a globalized world, we should be implementing domestic policies that make our country one we can be proud of, rather than one that gives the international community reasons to be taken aback, if not on occasion actually horrified.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Grass Eating (啃老族)



Shawn Chuang’s name was Shawn Chuang, but everyone called him Steve Chuang. He lived with his mother in a large flat above a bowling alley in the Shih Lin district of Taipei. The flat was large and the sofa in the flat was large and Shawn Chuang spent a lot of time on the sofa.

Though Shawn had been out of university for two years, he still hadn’t found gainful employment.

Shawn’s mother nagged him daily to find a job, any job. It wasn’t that Shawn hadn’t tried. In the two years since graduating, he had applied at three different companies for jobs. But finding work was basically impossible.

It hadn’t always been like this. As a kid Shawn had shown great signs of intelligence. Sooner than other kids, he yawned, he ate, he daydreamed. He could turn on devices with his fingers.

And Shawn was braver than other kids. He launched a rocket under his bed. He fired a cannonball at his navel. He swallowed gum--at a time when other kids still believed their mothers who said gum must be spat out. He combed a stray dog’s fur with his own comb. He put a cockroach in his shirt in math class. And left it there.

The girls admired Shawn for this bravery, showing their admiration by saying “Gross!”

In all these ways Shawn showed great promise as a child. It looked as if he would have a brilliant future. But now what?

Shawn lay on the large sofa in the large flat and considered his prospects. His major had been chemical engineering, but what could one do with that?

Just the day before Shawn had seen a TV show about Taipei young people who had learned to turn their hobbies into small businesses. The lesson of the show was “Do what you love, and you will be successful!” The host suggested the first thing for a young person to do was make a list of things they loved doing, then consider which one might be turned to profit.

Shawn took a piece of scrap paper from the coffee table and started to write his list. After fifteen minutes he had a handful of items to consider. He went through the list one by one.

Item 1: “Getting up after 11.”

It would be great, Shawn thought, but I don’t see a way to make money from getting up after 11:00 a.m. Too bad.

He crossed out item 1 on his list.

Item 2: “Putting feet up on the coffee table.”

It was true Shawn loved doing this, and he could get away with it when his mother was out, but he couldn’t see any way to make money from it. Could he maybe charge old people to help them put their feet up on their coffee tables?

He didn’t cross out number 2, but kept it open for further thought.

Item 3: “Scratch back on door frame.”

After graduating from university, Shawn discovered a great way to scratch his back on the door frame between his bedroom and the hallway. Could he maybe teach other people to scratch their backs this way? He could go to houses and say: “Hey, I know a secret way to scratch your back that is awesome, and if you pay me 250NT I will teach you.”

At first Shawn liked the idea. But then: Not everybody has itchy backs, he thought. And what if their door frames aren’t good for scratching?

He scratched out item 3.

Item 4: “Computer games.”

He crossed out item 4. If you want to make money from games, you have to be a game designer, and he didn’t know how to use the software.

Without even thinking about items 5 and 6, Shawn tossed his list on the floor.

If I could only make money somehow without leaving the house, that would be the best, he thought. Or if I could make money by staying in the neighborhood. I have to think of something I can do right near here.

Shawn considered it a great rule of life not to leave the house if he could avoid it and not to use any kind of transportation to go to other parts of the city. It had already been three months since he’d left the city block where his mother’s flat was.

Hm. There was that one time Mom bent that fork and I used my teeth to bend it back. Maybe I could open a small silverware repair shop and do pretty well for myself. Shawn’s Silverware Rebend. Maybe I could start to put some money aside.

Or how about hide and seek? Everyone likes hide and seek. If people gave me their things before they went to work I could hide the stuff in the neighborhood during the day and when they came home they could try to find it. I could charge 50NT for every fifteen minutes of seeking, which would be fun for the people after a boring day at the office and would besides encourage them to move faster, getting some exercise, because they'd know the longer it took to find their stuff the more expensive the game would be. I bet I could turn a pretty penny with the city’s first Hide and Seek company.

Or I could help the police with crime investigation by working with hair evidence. Whenever there's a bunch of hair on the ground or the stairs I can always tell which hairs come from which persons. Just by holding them up in the light. The police could call me in to help solve crimes.

Shawn imagined a scene in a crime documentary where the police detective is carefully examining the surface of a sofa. “Get Shawn here,” the detective says gravely to his assistant.

Shawn was imagining more scenes from the same documentary when his mother entered the living room.

“Hey, I told you to bring in the laundry!” she snapped. “Get off that sofa already! It’s almost 2:00 p.m.”

“I’m thinking about possible jobs,” Shawn said.

And he explained to his mother his idea for the Hide and Seek company, and after he was done explaining it the strangest thing happened: his mother removed the slipper from her left foot and came over to the sofa and started beating Shawn's head with it.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Shawn protested as the dusty slipper whacked repeatedly against his head and other parts of his body.

“If you don’t get off your ass and find a job this summer, I’m going to throw away your iPad!” his mother yelled. “I’ve already thought about doing it. I’ve had it in my hand and was this far from junking it. I swear I’ll do it next time too if you don’t get out and find a goddamn job!”

Shawn felt a wave of nervousness wash over him. Throw away his iPad? Things were getting serious.

After his mother had stormed back into the kitchen, Shawn reached down and picked his list up off the floor. He wrote down a number 7 for item 7. He set himself to thinking.

by Eric, Ryan, Claire (范姜詠欣) and Anthony (黃聖翔) at ZEI