Monday, November 28, 2005

Ian's Adventures: The Hidden Caligrapher Pt. 2

More adventures from the life of Ian... soooo jealous: "My roommate Warren and I have been frequenting our neighbor's restaurant, and I have a few words to say about him. Aside from the fact that the beef noodle he cooks has to be some of the best in all Taiwan (apparently he studied and worked to perfect the recipe for three years) Mr. Xu has lead quite an interesting life. His father was a colonel in the nationalist Chinese Army under Generalissimo Chiang kai-shek, and fought in Manchuria (northern china) which saw some of the worst fighting in both World War Two and the Chinese civil war that followed. (note: I don't mention this to him, but from my reading of history the nationalists in Manchuria were nasty, brutal and corrupt to the core, so Mr. Xu's dad was probably someone whose hand you wouldn't care to shake without gloves on). The the first years of Mr. Xu's life were dominated by the constant upheaval and warfare that China suffered all throughout that time. At age six the entire family moved to Taiwan to escape the communists who had taken over all of China by the fall of 1949. Mr. Xu was raised in fairly luxurious circumstances, due to his father's rank, and after recieving a university degree in engineering, Mr. Xu served his compuslory two year military stint in President Chiang kai-shek's personal guard unit. He proudly showed me a picture of himself in a handsome uniform standing guard at the Presidential Offices, and told me stories about how beautiful and intelligent Lady Chiang was, and about how she was the one who really took care of Taiwan's domestic and diplomatic affairs because Chiang kai-shek was too "simple minded" and only could focus on military matters. He explained that at the time everyone knew of the political purges that were going on, but his unit had nothing to do with it and didn't talk about the things that they saw on pain of death. He also told me about the luxurious villas that Chaing Kai-shek built for himself all around the island, and about how he was constantly moving from one to the other, obsessed by the military and his dreams of recapturing China from Mao. After the Army, Mr. Xu opened up a factory making aluminium ladders and window frames for houses. He also was a dedicated calligrapher, as well as an avid reader of history, and an electrician. He had a family, with two children (now one grandchild), and it seems became a widower some time later. Then, twenty-five years ago, he began cooking beef-noodle. When I asked him why he recently moved his restaurant to our sleepy little alley, he smiled conspiratorially as told me he was getting too well-known after being on the nightly news and in the newspaper all the time, and he wanted to escape to a more relaxed venue so he could read and work on his calligraphy. I think its also because a lady friend of his lives nearby as well. Now days when he's not working on calligraphy, he spends much of his free time studying classic american pop music lyrics and having singing contests with his friends, which is beyond hilarious, because none of them can speak a word of english. The day before yesterday he sang a couple lines of "you are my sunshine" and i had to squeeze back tears of laugher. (It should be noted that i am more than sympathetic to how hard foreign languages are to speak, and at times my chinese probably sounds terribly silly, but this was truly truly funny to listen to. Just imagine what would come out of your mouth if you tried to sing in a foreign language you couldn't speak a word of and you will know what I mean). Sometimes, my buddy and I will sit in Mr. Xu's restaurant after closing time and drink tea and talk politics. For him its a big party, and sometimes the stories get pretty wild (I think the caffine in green tea affects the older generation of chinese like alcohol does us). There's nothing more fun after along day than watching a reserved, dignified ex-soldier/calligrapher turned restuaranteer gestulating wildly and running around his resturant panomiming out a story, as he downs tea like its shots of whiskey. I should also mention that Mr. Xu is a great lover of conspiracy theories, and some of the stuff that he postulates on the political condition of Taiwan is pretty extreme, but who knows? maybe he's right. And like many Taiwanese, Mr. Xu is more than sympathetic to the plight of abondoned animals (of which Taiwan has millions) and it is not uncommon to be sitting eatting and have a friendly neighborhood dog or cat wonder in for a sniff. One time the neighbors cat came in and meowed so cutely that Mr. Xu gave it some beef and a tour of his place, backroom, basement and all, talking to it the whole time like it was a human "oh, you want to visit this room? well go right in and take a look..." I wonder if he tells the cats and dogs about his conspiracy theories too when Warren and I are not there to listen? Probably just sticks to history lessons, and teaches them Tai Qi."

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