OCTOBER 2001: BANGALORE TO JUI FANG
|Jami Mosque, in Delhi|
|Michael made his peace with his father . . .
Michael (email 1 Oct 01): Maybe I was over reacting a wee bit! I'n not planning to leave India for a while yet anyway . . . at the time I replied to your email I had spent the day battling with sleazy rickshaw drivers, dishonest hoteliers and horrendously incompetent and bureaucratic government officials in the congested bowels of Bangalore. Large Indian cities are full of pompous little men telling you what to do and how to do it, and you really have to assert yourself sometimes or you wind up in the shit. I think I was all the more frustrated because I had spent the previous 2 weeks doing nothing but yoga and relaxing in a beautiful ashram in the mountains of Kerala and had thought myself able to rise above all the crap! Anyhoo . . . I'm back in Bangalore again after visiting another ashram that is kinda the sister centre of the Vivekenandra ashram in Kanniyakumari that Vidya recommended. (I went and saw that one too but sadly it seemed a bit run-down and disorganized, and I didn't see anyone there devoted to serious yoga practice . . . how can you concentrate when awful Hindi music is blared from loudspeakers at 4 am in the morning?). The one here in Bangalore is an amazing place that is more a yoga therapy centre for sick people than an ashram, and they have a mindblowing success rate for treating a wide range of ailments that range from asthma to back pain to obesity. Dad, I think you would especially like this place as it was founded by a Dr Nagendra, a former NASA physicist, seeking to demystify the effects of the higher practices of yoga and integrate them with western medicine. Something we need much more of in the west. Having said all this, I was a bit disappointed with the casual and sloppy teaching methods and poor asana techniques and would never go there to learn for this reason! I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to yoga practice, you may have noticed!
I'll be around Bangalore for a couple more days before I head to Mysore to hopefully learn some techniques from an Astanga yoga master there. I've sent Pete and Krissy a package for their birthday but I forgot to enclose a letter to you two as well! There are some photos in there that you should claim for yourself. I hope you are both well and life is good! Love, Mike.
(Click here to view Michael's photos of South India).
Not everything in Michael's life concerned ashrams and yoga, although that was his main focus at this time. There was another matter which troubled him deeply. He wrote about this in an email to his brother Peter . . .
Michael (email 9 Oct 01): I feel like I've come full circle in my trip. I have this strange desire to revisit the Harijan shanty town that I first saw on my second day in India, and I think I now know why. I'm now often amazed at the lack of emotion I feel when confronted with some of the most horrendous sights of human misery. I've acquired a high degree of emotional detachment when it comes to observing poverty, and till now have thought the only alternatives were to either give away everything you can or to try and justify your lack of generosity in various ways. Unfortunately (as with everything) the truth has an awful habit of creeping up on you, in this case usually in the form of a legless man tugging at your shirt . . . and you find yourself unable to convince yourself that this man shouldn't get any of your money. Nevertheless, old habits persist and, after a pathetic and unsuccessful attempt to find some small change in your pocket, you walk away without a second glance and a little voice inside your head mocking your stinginess. I still don't know what to do half the time . . . the only philosophy I have really is not to give money to able bodied kids!
In the meantime Michael, having said a few days earlier that he was not planning to leave India for a while yet, then made a typically impulsive decision to go to Taiwan and become an English teacher. The email to his parents announcing this has gone missing. The next recorded correspondence is from Delhi . . .
Michael (email 9 Oct 01): If all goes well I'll be on a flight by Friday night and in Taiwan early Sat morning. I have a friend who'll help me set up and I'll let you know soon how it's all going. Love, Mike.
This friend was, of course, Jimmy Goodrich, the Canadian that he had met in Rishikesh. While in Delhi, Michael visited and took some photos of the Jami Mosque. Then the date of departure duly arrived . . .
Michael (email 12 Oct 01): Yep, I'll be leaving the clear brown skies of Delhi at midnight tonight and should be in Taipei about 10 hours later. Everything's organised and all systems go! I'll be in touch as soon as I'm settled. Love, Mike.
The next day . . .
Michael (email 13 Oct 01): Hello munchkins. Landed in Taipei after OK flight and already settled and reunited with my good buddy Jimmy. I think I'll like this place . . . people friendly despite their complete inability to understand a word I say. Now for some sleep I think . . .
His next email is more expansive . . .
Michael (email 16 Oct 01): Hello boys and girls, my name is Mr Danckwerts . . . can you say that?
No, I'm not working yet but there are so many jobs going here its almost a matter of choosing which one. I'm staying in a guest house in central Taipei with my friend Jimmy and some tribesmen from the local village. This afternoon we were blessed with the charming, graceful presence of cyclone Taixaxjhyauluhchinhauminhau (or something like that) who had the sheer audacity to throw me off my feet and slide me on my ass several metres as I was walking home today . . . I made it home with a bruised, wet sphincter, and shook my fist at God for being such a bastard.
The Taipei I have seen is a grim, grey, fast-paced Bladerunner-esque sprawl of neon and high tech gadgetry. I have come to discover that the people here seem to be completely devoid of the normal aggressive tendencies of the human condition . . . that is. except for the middle aged fat housewives who demonstrate a level of hostility towards their poor husbands that is unrivalled in my experience. They bark their commands in sharp yells as hubby stares at the ground in shame. The teenagers I have met display an almost naive, inane friendliness and seem to be incapable of rebellion. It is not naivity, however, but it is surprising given the exposure to and idolization of Western pop culture. Sadly, "individual style" is a phrase missing from the Chinese vocabulary. The games the teenies play are performed in large outdoor squares . . . strange forms of Chinese line-dancing, human pyramids and marching games . . . they all seem to emphasise and reinforce a large degree of trust, participation and team spirit (let's get this country moving!!) from your fellow man. It naturally follows that asserting your individuality in a spontaneous or humourous way is almost alien to this nation of conformists. If I was given the task of representing or capturing the essence of the Taiwanese people with only one symbol or idea, without a doubt I would choose one of the cute, cuddly kitschy animation figures ("Hello Kitty, you must die") that ubiquitiously adorn billboards, shopfronts and clothing, inanely smiling and waving from everywhere you look. I have discovered these emasculating little turds to be the very source of the nauseating banality that oozes from every pore of this country. This emasculation is no doubt their intended purpose, they are the foundation of all Asian conformist culture . . . and as such it is my new mission in life to destroy each and every one of the little bastards . . . I welcome all suggestions. Love and kisses, Mike.
This email, just three days after his arrival in Taipei, shows Michael's wonderful, insightful ability to very quickly get to the essence of any new situation that he found himself in. As a kid, he was always the nonconforming individualist who hated regimentation. He was the enemy of all forms of authority. What he wrote here shows how he very much remained this way in later life. However, he soon found some things to like about Taiwan . . .
Michael (email 27 Oct 01): Hey Guys, hows things. Just finished my first week of teaching and I'm completely buggered! I've had all the energy completely sucked from the marrow of my bones . . . I can't believe I'm a teacher! ha! ha!! How did this happen? I'm really loving the work though and the kids are great to work with. Chinese kids are such cuties and sometimes hilariously mischievous. Tomorrow I move out to a little seaside town town about an hour north east of Taipei where I've landed a full time teaching position. The town is called Rayfong (sounds like a sleazy triad member in a bad Chinese movie) and it sure is a nice little place. I believe the pay is a bit too much for the work I'm doing, but who am I to rock the boat. They've given me a very nice little furnished apartment all to myself (free of charge, no rent!) that's close to where I work. At the moment it's all too good to be true, even the other western English teachers who have been in Taipei for years are quite amazed at my good luck, so I'm just waiting for the catch. Maybe the kids are all psychotic little terrors! I don't think so though as I met many of them last week and we got along well. I'm taking a shine to these people (almost reluctantly!), they have a wonderful spirit and are unfailingly cheerful, respectful and courteous . . . I can see myself staying here a while.
And stay a while he did - for seven months. "Rayfong" is the phonetic pronunciation for Jui Fang, a provincial town on the north coast of Taiwan, which became the home base for the next chapter of Michael's life story.
|Street market in Jui Fang|
November 2001 Jui Fang to Hong Kong
Photos Michael's photographs of Taiwan