My friend the writer, artist, and sometime visitor to Taiwan Joel Haas dropped me a line to describe an encounter with Frank Hsieh several years ago….


True story. Frank Hsieh taught me the Mandarin word for “ocean.” When I was one of the artists at the Kaoshiung Steel Sculpture Festival, I made all the people who came to watch me for long teach me a word of their language (I was ignorant as hell and did not realize how many languages are spoken there and how political a statement it is/was which language you speak/prefer) I soon got all that straight and started asking people to just teach me a word of Mandarin.

After a week or so of my improvised study, I was ready to essay my first sentence. Just a trial run you understand. So at ten AM one day I stood before a crowd watching me, spread my arms oratorically, and announced “Wo yao he pejiu!” The effect was electric. The crowd before me dispersed as though I had suddenly screamed “Run for your lives! Penguins with machine guns are coming!” Over the next half hour more than a half dozen people came back bearing beer and four people brought me ice tea explaining beer was not allowed to be sold in the dock area.

Anyway, the last working day of the festival, a caravan of cops on motorcycles, large men in suits wearing sunglasses and concealed weapons, and long black cars came into the dock areas. It was explained the mayor had come for a visit. Now I know the mayor of Raleigh, Charles Meeker, and Charles does not travel that way. Anyhow, Mayor Hsieh was distinguishable by being the shortest guy in the most expensive suit with the fewest weapons. While he was at my area looking over my piece (a dementedly whimsical ensemble made of marine steel scrap called “A Walk Across the Bottom of the Harbor,” consisting of funny fish, octopi, etc.). I explained my request that all visitors teach me a word of Mandarin. He taught me “hai” and was delighted when I could construct a simple sentence about my sea creatures in the “ocean.”

Joel, who has my deepest thanks for passing along a number of stories to this blog over the last couple of years, also likes bad jokes nearly as much as I do….

….Chelsea gets back from a date.
“So,” Hillary asks, “did you have a good time?”
“Sure,” Chelsea answers. “It was great.”
“Did you have sex?” Hillary asks anxiously.
“Not according to Dad.”