It’s Chinese New Year in Taiwan, after getting stuffed on steamed fish, broiled pork and ginger chicken soup, we handed each other red envelopes stuffed with cash, then went to the temple to get blessed.
I wanted to share the magic, so I set up some giveaways for Chinese New Year:
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“I recently read the Falling Kingdom Series and Vampire Deception and was so overwhelmed by a feeling of “where has this been all my life?!” that I felt I had to say something. Hopefully encouraging and nice without sounding patronising. It’s genuinely fun young adult urban fantasy. Basically I love what you and your talented co-authors have created and wanted to thank you all for bringing some light into a life… even if it means spending some of it staring longingly at The Changeling Rebellion on my Kindle because I really need to read it but I’m scared of forgetting everything before book 3 drops (alas for the sieve-brained; Urban Epics stories are incredibly binge-worthy.) You sir, and your Urban Epics comrades, are awesome.”
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When I was much younger, I always thought I’d move to Japan – instead, stuck in Oregon and frustrated with living at my parents house (after spending years in Malta and Italy studying philosophy and fine art) I got a job offer to teach English in Taiwan and took it. It was rough at first; I’m terrible at teaching English, especially kids, but did it for years anyway, until I got into a MA then PHD program and got a government scholarship to read all day.
But I also met my wife, which means – even though we no longer have a home base in Taiwan, we go back once a year, usually for Chinese New Year. Last year, we went home for Christmas and I returned with two boxes of my favorite cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I was also horribly depressed – we stayed in a small apartment in Taipei, I slept all day and never saw the sun. It wasn’t until that summer, when I was back in Oregon and bought another box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, that I realized it was (for some weird reason!) making me depressed.
And not like, a little sad – as in, there is no purpose to living.
Things were much better when we returned this year, sans cereal.
We stayed in Taipei again but splurged for a cozy rooftop apartment near National Taiwan University. And it was fine. I don’t love Taiwan, because there aren’t many digital nomads or fiction writers, and I don’t have much to talk about with all the English teachers or expats. Plus Taipei is BIG so we never see anyone anyway.
We did go down to Tainan for a while, Tainan has much better weather and more art and culture, plus I have some friends down there still (we’ll probably skip Taipei altogether in the future.)
While I was there, I had a bit of an identity crisis… so I made this video about “Joyful Author Branding” and bought some useless crap on ebay. I also bought a new sapphire at the Jade Market to replace the one I lost (I have kind of an obsession with vintage gold gemstone rings… I usually wear a Freemason’s ring from my great great uncle but it’s a pink sapphire, and I really want a big blue one.)
I also got a bag for my new “Razer Stealth Blade” laptop – which kicked off this whole lifestyle rebranding thing, and decided to throw away all my printed Tshirts and just wear simple black Tshirts, jean jackets and fingerless gloves all the time – kind of “Dieselpunk”.
During Chinese New Year, we also went to the temple. I’m a fan of the local religion, which (I think) is a blend of Buddhism, Confucianism and Shinto. I like it because, there are multiple gods to petition and you need to pay for favors.
I found the “god of money” and bought snacks and incense for him; he blessed my wallet (three times around the incense) and I got basically a prayer card to put in my wallet as a receipt of the transaction. I do believe physical anchors can be potent reminders to practice positive intention and thinking (filling yourself with a state of hopeful expectation, rather than worry, because you went to the temple and paid your dues). I should use practical magic more often than I do.
When I was younger, I read all the big heavy magic books from 18th century alchemists about summoning demons, etc. I’ve since learned they were mostly quacks, but I do think witchcraft/magic can have a practical use – the ritual, repetition and action is kind of a mindful meditation. You aren’t changing the world, you are changing yourself, and then you act, perceive and receive in a way that brings you the results you seek. As such it can be very powerful.
Even if all it’s doing is giving you the illusion of control, which in turn makes you happier and more confident – those are real benefits!
We spent over two months in Chiang Mai Thailand at the end of 2018. I spent most of that time at cat cafes, eating mermaid donuts, and working on books. I edited a huge 19th century treatise on the Genius of Solitude I’ve been obsessed with since finishing my PhD thesis. We celebrated both Halloween and New Year’s… and also the local Lantern Festival (which took place around the same time as Thanksgiving. It’s about letting go of misfortune, turning hopeful thoughts towards next year.
Epicurus wrote, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
And this is true: we should always be grateful for being where we are. But that doesn’t mean we should not ask for more, because to imagine, to dream of what is not, is the central gift of human genius.
(I also spend some time working on a nonfiction book on creative confidence… which I will write eventually).
Here’s a video I made during Lantern Festival and some pictures… we also spent a weekend in Pai, which is up near the Burmese border. Lots of happy shakes and fire dancing and jungle vibes.
The other really interesting I did was a jungle survival trek: our guides caught and cooked our food. We slept on the ground in a homemade shelter. The others at bamboo worms (yuck) and when we packed up our sleeping bags we saw several large tarantulas under the leaves, probably using our body warmth (AAAH! – I hate spiders, but actually proximity to them made me slightly less terrified.