NOVEMBER 2001: JUI FANG TO HONG KONG
|Michael's parents made a trip to Jui Fang in December 2002. It is a 40 minute train trip from Taipei Main Station. The man in the ticket booth was less than welcoming: "You not want to go there . . . only for Chinese," he said. Certainly, it does not cater for western tourists, and there are no signs in English, unlike Taipei. Nevertheless, there was nothing but friendliness to white strangers. There is a thriving market in the short street opposite the station. Michael's school (the GRAM English school) is at the other end of this street, and it is only a short walk from there to the four-storey building housing the kindergarten, where his spacious flat was on the top floor. Across the road from this building a wide, sluggish river with concrete embankments wnds its way to the sea. There is a cluster of apartment blocks across the river. It is not a picture postcard view from his balcony despite an impressive backdrop of mountains to the south. But nonetheless Michael was comfortable in Jui Fang, if lonely at times . . .
Michael (email 1 Nov 01): Hello my sweeties. Hope life is treating you goodly. Things here are going great and life in my new apartment is starting to take shape, although it's a wee bit noisy, being on the main route to Taipei city. It's not too bad though and I perceive this noise to be not a distraction to my morning yoga practice, but rather an exercise in developing concentration!
Despite being the only whitey in this little town the folks here show me nothing but smiles. I have discovered to my intense joy that although my new job involves working from 4pm to 9pm it is only an average 2 hours of actual class teaching per day, the rest is spent at the front desk chatting with the kids and the office girls . . . 'tis a pity they speak no English. They still manage to teach it though which is a feat I take my hat off to. My boss is cool and she is also my landlady, running the kindergarten underneath my apartment. My school is but a 5 minute walk from home. I have discovered (again to my great joy!) that there is a piano downstairs and I am starting to play again. So I was wondering if you could perhaps mail to me my piano books that should be in a cardboard box with my other paper stuff. There should also be some CDs that accompany 3 or so of these books . . . you might have to search your collection but they should be there somewhere! I'll get you send them to the guest house where my friend Jimmy is staying (the Birdhouse Guesthouse in Taipei) as my address is too weird to be put into English.
Thanks guys, there aint much to do here in the evenings so this'll really mean a lot to me. Maybe you could also include a photo or 2 or even make a tape telling me what's happening! Love, Mike.
A parcel was made up and despatched to Michael . . .
Michael (email 6 Nov 01): Thanks guys, I look forward to what you've sent me. Work is fantastic and tomorrow I also start working in the kindergarten below my apartment. I know most of the little tackers already, as they all mob me as I leave each day, giggling and squealing as they try to pull me to the ground. Usually I can fend them off with the Tae Kwon Do moves that I learnt a few years back, but today they succeeded in their objective, and it was only thanks to my superior skill, wit and strength that I made it to the front gate alive, albeit bruised and battered.
I am the only person in this town who can really speak any good English, so it can be a bit frustrating at times, but nothing compared to mother India, I can tell you. Last weekend I went into Taipei for a night and then brought back Jimmy and his new girlfriend on Sunday, and we spent half the day wandering through the surrounding countryside, visiting a little Buddhist temple among other things.
The parcel arrived for Michael.
Michael (email 13 Nov 01): Got your package today. Can't tell you how much I loved the photos . . . and they make me realise how much has happened since I left 4 months ago. I'm kinda glad I'm not in Oz though, having to watch little Johnny's smarmy little victory smile would be too much to bear I think. So you went to Sculpture By The Sea, huh? I went for the two previous years and was blown away by some of the exhibits . . . it's one of the few times a year that Bondi actually demonstrates a true sense of style and originality other than it's usual pretentiousness. Tell me what you saw there and what you thought of it.
I'm discovering more and more of the surrounding countryside, with funny little semi-deserted temples hidden among the hills and some lovely scenery. Work here is going pretty well, although today really has been "one of those days" I'm afraid.
Thanks again for the package. Mike.
In the meantime Michael's friend in Taipei, Jimmy Goodrich, had been joined by his then partner, Rachel, from England. This is her account of her first meetings with Michael . . .
Rachel (email 3 Nov 04): I first met Michael a year to the day before he died. I arrived in Taiwan to be with Jimmy....and we all spent the weekend together, walking about Taipei.
One time you (his parents) had sent a package for him, to my guest house in Taipei....and he came over especially to collect it...opened it immediately...it had some piano sheet music...and some photos of you guys, which he pored over. He showed me the photos and talked all about you...........
Michael's social life, initially based around his friends in Taipei, now branched out in a different direction. It was about this time that a local girl, Michelle, came into Michael's life. She was to become his girlfriend during his time in Taiwan. She has provided her account of their time together. This is how they first met . . .
Michelle (email 8 Nov 03): It was in October, 2001 in Ruifang (another spelling for Jui Fang) when I first met Michael. He was having lunch at the vegetarian cafeteria which my parents own. It isn't often to see a foreigner in such a small town. Even though there are a lot of tourists on weekend. We had a small talk. After that, I saw him having a meal there from time to time. We didn't get to talk more. The first time we got to go out together was on the day which was my father's birthday. I invited him to have dinner with all my relatives and my parent's friends. I know it might be bored him. But there'll be many delicious and professional vegetarian dishes. He must try. He nodded his head without thinking at all as I finished asking. He did eat a lot. After dinner, we went to Keelung where is a port and it's about 15 minutes away from Ruifang. Then I started to know more about him . . .
Michelle has provided links to web sites describing the places that she and Michael visited. This is the one for Keelung
In the meantime, Michael's parents had not heard from him for a couple of weeks. In response to their email headed "Where are you?" he finally replied . . .
Michael (email 27 Nov 01): Where am I? Well, I'm right here where I've always been. Perhaps the one constant in this ephemeral existence we call life. Still working hard, still being mobbed by happy little tackers every day, also swimming most days at the local pool and doing my yoga every morning as well as playing the piano as often as I can, so my days are pretty full. My Chinese is coming along and today I was even given a Chinese name by my boss: "Chen Long". Probably means foolish westerner or something like that. Hope that you are all well, give my love to all the smelly rellees. Mike.
Michael then discovered that his visa needed to be renewed . . .
Michael (email 28 Nov 01): Hey Ma and Pa, I have a wee small favour to ask. Actually about 6000 wee small favours. I have to go to Hong Kong this weekend to renew my visa and to do that I need to have about $6000 Aussie dollars in my bank account, just for show. Can you put this in my account for me? You can take it out again in a couple of days. Also, could you email me the statement page showing this amount in it? I know of others who have used this as evidence and I will try and do the same. I will be eternally grateful if you do this for me! Love and kisses, M.
The requested funds were duly transferred.
Michael (email 29 Nov 01): Thanks old timer. I'll be flying in to the great megapolis of HK tomorrow night for 4 days. I'll let you know when you can have your cash back.
Photos Michael's photographs of Taiwan
December 2001 Hong Kong to Jui Fang