Yes, he really did learn to walk while I was away, just like in the Harry Chapin song. Okay, little Johnny can't quite walk--it's more a stumble, lasting anywhere from four to fourteen wobbly paces taken with arms outstretched--but still, I hear "Cats in the Cradle."
But the travel's been worthwhile. SXSW was wonderful on balance, though admittedly I didn't have the best of luck in my last night at SXSW, and ended up guessing poorly based on advice of various half-drunk indie-music geeks. I've noticed that indie music geeks can't describe bands without reference to the Velvet Underground, which I suppose is the archetypal indie band anyway. The very last band I saw was the biggest downer: soundtrack to a suicide, I thought, plagued by the poor musicianship and odd combo of narcissism and excess self-pity that's so common among post-rock bands.
Bad luck with luggage, too: I spent much of last weekend fretting about a suitcase containing dozens of irreplaceable photos lost somewhere in the vast expanse of the American Midwest. It turned up intact, at last, in Madison, and wasn't enough to ruin things. Had some fun jams in Madison with my two best friends, including some with me playing banjo however ineptly. I find I enjoy playing old time/bluegrass stuff, I've found. Ate hearty German food, attended a Tequila tasting, threw an impromptu dinner party where I cooked seven or eight Chinese dishes, went out and threw a frisbee, and had a generally terrific time. To cap it off, Drew--not that this surprised me given how happily and profoundly in love he's been--informed me that he popped the question and got a "yes" from his lovely girlfriend Rachel.
Home to Beijing for a day, long enough to install WIndows Vista and play around with it for a bit. (I'll write something up on my Vista experience at some point).
Then it was off to Taipei for--I know, it's inexcusable--the very first time. I've been living in this part of the world for this long, and for some reason I've just never gotten over there until Thursday. I suppose what I'm struck most by is the similarity to the more developed (especially Southern) Chinese cities: I somehow thought it would feel more different. Just felt, well, like a fantizi version of Shanghai, but with mountains ringing it and slightly older roads. They even use reasonably standard Hanyu Pinyin on road signs: I saw few vestiges of Wade-Giles. My Ogilvy and ERA colleagues were most gracious hosts, and packed my schedule full of very productive meetings and delicious meals. Head of PR Dr. Joseph Pai even accompanied me to the Academia Sinica at Nangang, where I visited the library named in honor of my paternal grandfather, Kuo Ting-yee, who was head of the Academia's modern history bureau. There's a memorial room in an adjacent building (picture by David Spindler), where I spent a good hour reading about a life I knew so little about. (He died in New York when I was just 9, but I saw him often as a boy and my memories of him are very clear).
Fathers and sons. Growing up, somehow I was considered to tilt toward the distaff side, probably owing to stronger expression of Liu family genes in me. But I've grown very close to my father in the last ten years, what with him living in Beijing (and, especially since I quit Tang Chao and found something like professional direction in life). The man we once knew as "Old D&T" (Old Dour-and-Taciturn") has become downright cuddly as a septogenarian. He probably won't have a memorial room or a library named after him, but he'll be my model for fathering, that's for sure. Something he once told me about his own father haunts me: that until his funeral in 1975, he never remembers having touched him.