099: Sailmakers

Noun: sailmakers – Plural form of sailmaker

TODAY on flaglock: Julian discusses (in a megapost) more music and details angrily more tirades over an irresponsible god. He touches down in Taiwan and is promptly cured of jet lag. The first work week passes, and he experiences a painless episode on Saturday afternoon.

My technique has improved. Again. It took a huge bound yesterday days ago when I put myself “in place” – the impromptu (I swear I’ll learn the other three, someday) flowed like never before. I was playing leggiero properly, perhaps for the first time in my life.

It was intoxicating. Speedily I applied the same technique to the F-major etude (M.M. gees can’t spell his name) and found the same delightful results.

The Polonaise op. 53 has not improved substantially. Nonetheless, I think it’s more than ready for the competition in Chiayi.


Danny sat bolt upright. Neil glanced at his watch and frowned. “You didn’t want to be woken for another half-hour.”

“Never mind the nap, I’ve got an amazing idea for r/atheism.” Danny slid off the couch and slunk over to his laptop, calling up his web browser. “If they’re so bothered by the free expression of religious opinions on the web, then they should start a covert campaign to make web-browsing a sin!”

Neil took a sip of his tea (it really did taste better with milk and sugar, he found). “That’s a tall order. How do you plan…?”

“Simple, really.” Danny was already tapping away at manic speed, leaning heavily on autocorrect. “You make sure that you speak from authority – i.e. don’t let on that the campaign has its secret roots in atheism; pretend to be one of them. Once that’s set, you just cherry-pick the parts of the Bible – or whatever holy book you use – to suit your needs and compile them in a carefully written, rebuttals-anticipated paper and hawk it to the masses!” he hit the return key with flair.

“The best part, I’m sure, is that you think it’s guaranteed to work.” Neil dribbled some more milk into his cup.

“Well, it’s got to – it’s really the exact same concept many mainstream religions use to stay afloat.” A smug smile crinkled Danny’s eyes. “A huge crock-pot of steaming cow dung if I ever saw one.”

Lento Lugubre

Thus far I am unconvinced that there is a God (as Western culture expresses him). I won’t lay out any arguments; I’ll just appropriate their taglines and let the more experienced express the specifics.

– Firstly, the idea that God loves us but still willingly forces many to endure completely unjust suffering. (No, you aren’t allowed to spring, for example, the argument from karma-reincarnation. The threat of hell is all that scripture seems to give us.)

– The idea that God is all-knowing and still bothers with this drab, dull simulation of everything. That is, again, at odds with the idea that he loves us so. Then there’s the issue with free will: it’s rather cruel to dangle the prospect of heaven over sinners whom you know will never reach it.

– The fact that God appears to be a construct born of some very easily examined social forces. Cargo cults, desperation, wishful thinking – even I wish there were such thing as an afterlife. It seems so much more romantic than just turning your lights out forever and ever.

I wish to come back, however, and hammer home the first point – that God “loves” us and still subjects us to such cruelty. Inaction is not the same as malicious action – but where God is concerned, the rules change. Because you are ordinary, o mere human, you cannot possibly expect to save every single person who was ever in danger everywhere, anytime. But to be given all-powerful reign over the cosmos and all of existence, and to not exercise that power to make a more perfect world, verges on the irresponsible – and in modern context, some say malevolent.

The strongest, most stable-footed man in the world is next to the railroad tracks, within arm’s reach of a man trying to commit suicide by oncoming express train. The hulking beast knows it costs him nothing – nothing – to save the man’s life. In fact, it’s a very good idea to. Isn’t it the good and moral thing to do?

Splatter. Oops. Nope. Guess not.


There aren’t many good explanations. Few that can satisfy me, anyway. Least of all, the case with my uncle. God’s put a real chip on my shoulder now, with that. I was angry that day. Pretty angry. I should have been angry years ago, when we were at that water park in Taiwan, but I was too little to notice (much less understand).

I would like nothing better than to sit down one day and have a little talk with a person of religion (probably a Christian, since most people I know fall under that category). And I will, as the goal of the conversation, have them try to convince me to place faith and love in God. And if they can somehow make sense to me – I’ll sincerely and wholeheartedly convert to a religion of my choice (one of the “legitimate” ones, I mean – so Pastafarianism, for example, is out).

Until such time, I will live my life believing that there is either no God, or only a God who is nothing that he says he is. (I hope nobody will take offense to my assigning a male orientation to Jehovah.)

Work at ICP DAS has been okay. It can be unbelievably boring, but with nice coworkers and plenty of free rein, things can be bearable. Dinner talk has never been so fun – I’m eating at a different place every day, breaking a long-held monotonous tradition.

I’m also assuming a slightly more regular schedule. I haven’t used my alarm clock yet; I’ve always beaten it by at least a half-hour, giving me lots of time for breakfast and the commute.

Hsinchu is a nice place. I appreciated this deeply tonight when I locked up my room and went for a short walk to the nearest convenience store. Fields, cicadas, a few lights – it was very peaceful. Now I sit here, sipping lemon tea, looking back on Computex Taipei (it was fun!) and wondering what I’ll do tomorrow.

As the picture shows, Computex Taipei features the cutting edge of the latest and greatest Taiwanese technology (and much else besides). My take-away was that Computex Taipei was the closest I’ll ever get to a strip club. I am not familiar with Taiwanese girls exposing so much skin. Being a straight male, I’m not complaining. It was not, however, very pleasant: you had a bunch of middle-aged men, many rather inattentive to their appearance, snapping photos up and down of girls with brand names fake-tattooed up their quadriceps. And then you had girls hawking said brand names at audiences in the kawaii style that weaboos die for.

Most of the time, I looked away. I didn’t snap any photos, not even when I might have had a reason to (e.g. actual products in their hands). It wasn’t some courageous and noble act, but it wasn’t just out of shyness. Somehow, I felt impending defeat whenever I even glanced their way. It was as though I was being suckered into something. And so I averted my eyes.

Of all the inappropriate times to develop a brain wave, a consuming desire struck me as I strolled through the Taipei Exhibition Hall. I NEEDED to write a free and open source MMORPG with a karma system, freely licensed music, quests galore, and lots of other fireworks that I could totally implement with the right knowledge. Imagine the gorgeous world of “Ni no Kuni” and make it bigger, scalable, mod-able (though I really don’t need people hacking everything to pieces), even FORK-able – and most of all, free.

A few things are obvious: there would be start-up costs (perhaps one of the popular crowdsourced funding methods would work?), there would be costs put into maintaining the whole shebang, and there would be an enormous amount of work to be done to get it off the ground. All in all I would say this is a project not worth falling in love with. As a surrogate, I should consider just writing the music for it – if only as a pure exercise in program music.

I’ve been here almost a week and I guess things have swung upward (only slightly). Today (Saturday) was pretty good; Martin took me along with his family out to the northeast end of the island. I got up at half-past six and was on the train by eight. Two hours later we were making our way down a crowded street and in another half-hour the sea was in view.

I have seen many a beach, and even seen the Taiwanese coast several times. But today I was a hitherto landlocked kid again. Wow.

None of my pictures are adequate. Be there. And it was teeming with energy and fun times and gosh wow. I’m not going to make a bikini joke here. I’ve got better.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND. LOOK AT IT. It was one among at least one or two others that displayed everybody’s favorite forest spirit. And all those were among many, many other sculptures made from sand. This is what Martin had meant by taking me to see sand sculptures – they were all part of the Taiwan International Sand Sculpting Championship. There was actually pretty decent foreign participation; it wasn’t some full-on Taiwanese circlejerk.

We visited a nearby exhibit that showcased some carvings made from driftwood – another brilliant come-through of the Cultural Ministry. About 8/10 of the way through the gallery I was told by a placid-looking ojiisan that pictures weren’t allowed. No, I was not using flash. I usually have it off in the daytime.

Well, ojiisan, here’s looking at you:

ALL made of priceless driftwood, Martin tells me. Chunks that big are probably worth fortunes for their composition alone. Carved into beautiful things like this, goodness knows how much they’d fetch – especially that melon one, it’s wonderfully detailed.

We went to the New Taipei City Gold Museum for the express purpose of molesting a 220 kg gold block.

That’s … a lot of money. No surprise that almost every hand that went in there gave a hefty try at lifting it off its stand (no luck).

Episode way below comes in here, when we went to 九份. I think I wet my pants a little when I thought of Spirited Away:

I’m not entirely sure it was coincidence that I heard so much Japanese spoken on that particular street.

My takeaway from today (aside from my worsening farmer’s tan, complemented by my lovely watch tan – also, you can see a delightful demonstration of a gradient by turning my arm round and round – tan, light, tan, light – continuously changing)  is that I will never forget that particular shade of blue. At the bus stop, red-framed sunglasses, at the gold museum, on the bus again – linkage – by some freak chance, and one last time going off down the street of 九份.

Greetings from Taiwan – and boy, is it hot out here.


EDIT 20130613: We had dinner at a pretty good place today; I had a scrambled-egg soup and a beef noodle soup. Delicious. (“Amazing,” said Allen. “Amazing.”) To supplement the dinner we went to the one Family Mart in Hsinchu that currently offers ice cream.

Famimart looks nice now – at least that big one there did. And the ice cream was pretty good for 30 NT. (“Nah,” said the others. “Go to McDonald’s and see how it matches up per NTD.”)

I wish I’d taken a picture. Even the cashiers’ uniforms (ties and all) looked nice. I thought to myself, slurping down noisily, Novelty is the opiate of the masses. And another guy walked out of the shop accompanied by the Famimart jingle and a long slurp.



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