Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Good job

It's rare that I say something nice about the Taipei Times -- actually, it's rare that anyone says something nice about the Taipei Times -- but I have to admit that they've been all over the Thai worker story in Kaohsiung. Especially yesterday. I wish I'd brought it up then.

I'm not sure that every article they've produced on the subject has been stellar journalism. But if English-language journalism can make a meaningful contribution in Taiwan, it's on stories like this.

While I'm on the subject, I've never seen a Taipei Times article as critical of the DPP as this one.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Tough times in Qingquan

This weekend, a few friends and I made an overnight trip to the mountains of Hsinchu. We all had a fine time up at altitude -- barbecuing under an overhang in the rain, walking the riverside paths at night. But not all of it was fun and games, because we couldn't help observing that the people of Qingquan and vicinity are suffering from some very serious social problems.

It's not news to anyone that Aboriginal communities often have big trouble adapting to their changed worlds. But for me... well, certain truths don't become real in my mind until confirmed by detail. In this case, pathetic detail.

On Sunday morning, my friend and I walked to the store to buy some instant noodles, which are about the only thing you can find to eat in Qingquan. On the way we passed a row of houses -- attached concrete huts, really -- where a bunch of shirtless men asked us if we'd like to share some Taiwan Beer with them. It was 10 AM. They looked as if they'd just rolled out of bed after a long, hard night, and were set for another long, hard day. Just down the pavement, ignored and isolated, was a gentleman whose head had gotten smashed pretty badly in some kind of chaos. He was dripping lots of blood and it was piling up in a puddle at his feet. Perhaps the men at the other end of the pavement had had enough of his wisecracks. They certainly weren't rushing to help him.

Later, somewhere up a mountain road from Qingquan, we parked the car to take a look at the view. A scooter zoomed past us, upward bound, and we noticed that the driver was a boy of roughly eight. His passenger, and presumably his brother, looked more in the range of four. Big brother rode pretty competently, taking turns with a deep professional tilt. Perhaps no one in the brothers' house was awake at that late hour of the morning, and the boys had taken matters into their own hands and driven off to the store for some instant noodles. For a long time after the scooter had gone past us, the little brother stared back in our direction. To this four-year-old, his morning scooter ride was normal as could be. The real freaks were the foreigners staring at mountains.

Later yet, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought a couple of sausages. Then we ambled a small distance away to a sort of platform and ate our snacks off sticks. One of my friends, female as it happens, sat down on the edge of the platform, facing back toward the sausage stand. This provided an opportunity to a little boy -- seven, maybe? -- to pipe up with loud obscene talk. He wanted to know if my female friend had a lot of pubic hair, for instance, or whether instead she shaved it. The boy was surrounded by adults but no one made a move to shush him or at least slap him across the mouth.

Our boy motorcyclists and our foul-mouthed sausage-stand lad -- they seem doomed to become the next generation of men with smashed faces on hungover Sunday mornings.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Volunteer environmental sleuths

Here's a worthwhile article from the Christian Science Monitor about the government's use of volunteers to snoop around looking for violations of environmental laws. It paints a grim and well-deserved picture of Taiwan's environmental mess, and it's a good idea for a story -- one I'm surprised could have been sold to an international publication.

Picky note: the editor in me couldn't help noticing the spot where the word "exasperated" was used when "exacerbated" was clearly intended. That's a pretty rotten mistake for a writer to make, and a worse mistake for an editor not to catch.

Perhaps I should start posting on Testy Copy Editors.

Great picture from today's China Times. Talk show host Little S puts the moves on an embarrassed Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. Shameless blue hussy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


This has nothing to do with Taiwan. It's a picture of the California coast near Santa Cruz.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

This story has it all

Blackmail. A jealous husband. Webcam masturbation. Osteogenesis imperfecta. Read it for yourself.

What's shocking about Taiwan is that nearly every day there's a story roughly as strange as this one.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Maybe it sounds more convincing in Mandarin

Opponents of the KMT often characterize the party as "alien" to Taiwan. A vile slander, of course -- and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou is sick and tired of it. To show just how unfair the stereotype is, Ma told a story the other day about Sun Yat-sen passing through Taipei in 1913 on his way to exile in Japan. Apparently a Taiwanese painter named Liao Chin-ping donated some money to Sun, and Sun reciprocated the gift with a bottle of whiskey. The whiskey was so meaningful to Liao, and indeed the entire Liao family, that Liao's son treasured and safeguarded it even after his father...

...was put to death by the KMT!

"Those who claimed that Kuomintang is an alien regime are just ignorant of the history," Ma said.

That's the kind of logic you can't argue with.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Fantastic innovation!

The rules for riding the MRT's escalators are simple: those who want to stand must stay to the right, enabling those who want to climb to move freely on the left. Signs explaining this policy are posted everywhere. Still, there's no shortage of oblivious knuckleheads who stand on the left and hold everyone up.

Well, I notice that at the main station they've come up with a new idea to reinforce the point -- they're painting bright yellow feet on the right side of the escalators! Two bright yellow feet -- clearly in a standing position -- on every other step!

Anyone who doesn't get the point now should have his yo-yo card revoked.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Today's prize for journalistic incoherence goes to...

... this Taipei Times article, which has something to do with infectious diseases from China. The reporter and the copy editor seem to have conspired to make sure that no reader, no matter how curious and diligent, could have any hope of figuring out what the article actually means. And the headline is the biggest problem of all -- downright deceptive.

I scanned the article once, which should have been sufficient for me to understand it, but wasn't; then I scanned it again, which didn't increase my understanding at all; then I actually read the goddamned thing, which made me curse my first-grade teacher. If Mrs. Wheelis hadn't taught me to read, I wouldn't be wasting my time on this kind of drivel.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Orange juice adventures

In the alley behind my office building, there's a small storefront selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. Actually, "storefront" is too grand a term -- it's just a home that happens to have street frontage, so they sell a little juice on the side.

The first time I bought juice there, the woman serving me was about a hundred and ten, and she didn't have change for my NT$100 -- which forced her to scoot down the alley at a very low velocity to get change from elsewhere. Today I risked going there again, only to be served by a man with a leg so bum that he had to bend down and support the knee with his hand as he tried to move around the "kitchen." He wasn't any faster than the old lady, though fortunately he didn't have to jog down the alley.

That's Taiwanese small enterprise in action. You never know what you're going to get, but finding out is half the fun.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Cloud Gate Dance Theater

Last night Cloud Gate Dance Theater gave a free outdoors performance of Dream of the Red Chamber. It was the sort of self-consciously beautiful balletic material that in all its manifestations puts me to sleep. Vast scale, sky-high production values, stunning costumes, rampant virtuosity but... ho hum. I've seen it before.

I'd have loved to love Cloud Gate. I gather that not all of their work is so staid, and I was hoping for something more daring.

The most remarkable thing was the size of the crowd -- thousands upon thousands of people, all assembled on a warm summer night to take in a bit of modern dance. Most people (me included) had to sit so far from the front that they were forced to watch the Jumbotrons instead of the stage. It was like going to a Rolling Stones concert, except the audience was sober and not so old.

I was shocked to learn today that Lin Hwai-min, Cloud Gate's founder, is not only an internationally acclaimed figure in dance but also a graduate of the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, with several published novels to his credit. Who ever heard of such a thing? I didn't like Dream of the Red Chamber very much but I have to say I'm impressed with Mr. Lin's achievements.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Getting it wrong. Again.

It's never a huge surprise when a reporter mischaracterizes the United States' policy on Taiwan. But this particular factual disaster, from a Reuters story on virtual war games in Taiwan, really distinguishes itself as idiotic:

"The United States recognizes the mainland as China's sole legitimate government -- the 'one-China' policy -- but in a deliberately ambiguous piece of foreign policy it is also obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself."

No. the "one China" policy, as professed to by the U.S., says that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of it. The ambiguity has to do with which government is the legitimate representative of that one China. The ambiguity has grown into an anachronism over the years, because Taiwan no longer claims (except in the R.O.C. Constitution) to be the rightful government of the land across the Strait. But still, ambiguity is the very essence of the United States' "one China" position. The fact that the U.S. is obligated under the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan provide for its defense doesn't particularly contribute to the ambiguity. The ambiguity is the policy itself.

Now, to hammer on a different section of the Reuters quote -- "The United States recognizes the mainland as China's sole legitimate government" -- what in the world is that even supposed to mean? Read naively, by a moron, it would seem to indicate that Taiwan just is a part of China, and that the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty isn't even in question. At least not by anyone in Washington.

Of course, Reuters has developed a real reputation over the years for generating this sort of pro-China claptrap. So the mistakes in this article probably represent more than just lazy journalism -- instead, they amount to deliberate and ideologically-driven misinformation.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Chen hangs Hsieh out to dry

Recently my Rank colleague Feiren wrote about Premier Frank Hsieh's occasional silliness. The premier managed to survive that mighty blow from Feiren's pen, but now he's receiving public criticism from a more worrisome source -- President Chen Shui-bian.

Chen, casting blame for the water-supply problems that Taoyuan has experienced in the aftermath of two recent typhoons, said yesterday that if a premier "cannot thoroughly resolve the water supply issue, people naturally will wonder what has he been doing," and that after the emergency is resolved "we'll see who should be responsible for this fiasco."

I'm not sure how Frank Hsieh is supposed to prevent typhoons from making reservoirs muddy, but apparently his failure to do so could result in his loss of the premiership. That's how it goes in Taiwanese politics -- if tomorrow a solar eclipse frightened small children and interrupted the growth cycle of mangoes, some politician would have to admit responsibility for it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Note to media: we already got the word on the Barbie museum

I see that there's a Reuters story on the wires today about the town of Taishan, its vanished Barbie industry, and its Barbie museum. I just knew I'd seem a similar story in the Taipei Times a long while back. And an AP story from a long time ago too.

While we're at it, here's another Taiwan Barbie piece that I think is from the Taiwan Journal. On this site, there's a link to a Taiwan Barbie article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph (though I can't be sure if it's a story from yet another wire, or what). For good measure, here's something in Spanish from the GIO website, and here are two essays singing the praises of globalization vis-a-vis Taiwan Barbie. Maybe if I had Lexis/Nexis, I could find even more Taiwan Barbie stories.

I understand how hard it can be to generate story ideas. Still, any reporter now contemplating a Taiwan Barbie story should write instead about a wad of gum stuck to the sole of somebody's shoe.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Things are tough in the civil service

Through e-mail I've received from a Taiwanese acquaintance who is employed by the government, I've learned that "age old and senior in seniority is a sin now. We, these senior ones, should work more and more no matter the load is over and unreasonable."

That sounds like a bad situation. But even worse, "Every month there are three colleagues vaporized."

My heart goes out to this very nice woman and her unjustly vaporized colleagues.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Bad, bad music

Last night I found myself in a Ximending pool hall that's popular with teenagers. It was a great place to play pool, with level tables and plenty of room to move around in and not too much smoke. The only problem is that they were playing Taiwanese pop music way too loud. And so I was forced to pay closer attention to this style of music than I've ever been forced to before.

The songs fell into two categories -- overproduced love songs full of over-protesting vocal mechanics, and teenybopper rap songs with herky-jerky beats that were supposed to be funky but weren't. I couldn't understand a word that was sung, of course, but I'll wager that all the song titles could be roughly translated as "I'll Love You till the End of Time, Longer if I Retain Consciousness after Death" and "Ooh, Girl, You So Fine, I Can't Wait to Get wit' You, Baby."

Two modalities. Two possible nodes of human emotion. Life's great banquet reduced to a greasy cheeseburger and a butterscotch ice cream sundae.

The Taiwanese pop music industry is just mimicking the state of affairs in the States, of course. The only thing you can blame the Taiwanese industry for is recruiting no one to sing on record who doesn't sound exactly like the Backstreet Boys or some female equivalent. Here, even the rappers sound like the Backstreet Boys. At least in the States you hire a thug to do a thug's job.

Given a choice, I'll listen to Taiwanese taxi music, that cheesetastic Casio-generated genre of yesteryear. Taiwanese taxi music occasionally provides you a melody worth listening to, and it makes no pretense of rhythm, which is better than promising rhythm but not providing it. Broken promises of rhythm are all you get from current Taiwanese pop and, for that matter, most American hip-hop and R&B.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Read the whole thing

It turns out that the article I referred to in the post below showed up in yesterday's Taipei Times.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Well stated

This bit of very effective rhetoric came my way today:

"They say you can judge people by the company they keep. The same can be said about countries. So what does it say about China when its foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, skips the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meeting to go visit Myanmar (Burma), at the same time that Chinese President Hu Jintao is welcoming Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe to Beijing with full honors – the same Hu who responded to the carnage in Uzbekistan by inviting its president, Islam Karimov, to Beijing for a 21-gun salute in May, within two weeks of the Andijan massacre. The same China, one might add, that has systematically blocked stronger United Nations Security Council (UNSC) action against the genocidal government in Sudan and prevented the UNSC from discussing North Korea’s flagrant violation of international nuclear and human rights norms. As one surveys the globe’s pariah regimes, it seems the one thing they all have in common is the same best friend: China!"

This is the first paragraph of an essay by Ralph Costa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a Hawaii outfit that does foreign policy research. There's not much to add to what Costa says, because he says it so well. But this is the sort of article I'd like to show to certain Westerners who take a naive, rosy-colored view of China -- the ones who take it as an article of faith that the future runs through the PRC, and that this is probably as it should be, because the Chinese are such peacable, spiritual people who have 5,000 years of wisdom acquisition on their side.

The article came to me via an e-mailed newsletter, and it isn't up on the web yet, but I believe you'll be able to read the whole thing on the group's website eventually.
Bits and pieces

Today's post calls your attention to various odd details buried deep in the Taiwanese news.

This article about a new free-trade agreement between Taiwan and Guatemala is dull as dust. But it's worth slogging through just to learn that the pact allows Taiwanese and Guatemalan airlines to fly on to third countries from one another's airports. All I can say is, the first time you see a Guatemalan airplane in Taiwanese airspace, please e-mail me. Can you picture the trade representatives from the two governments wasting their time hammering this out?

Here is an article about a lotto winner who gave NT$20 million to a charity that cares for "comatose people from low-income families." I just didn't know such a charity existed. [This story is actually from a few weeks ago. Today we learn that another lotto winner has given NT$50 million to charity, but I'm not linking to that story because the guy picked dull charities.]

And from this story we learn that "a leading plastic surgeon and his colleagues in the southern port city of Kaohsiung will offer their services to 100 fathers who wish to have wrinkles and age marks removed to give them a 'new' face." Hey, surgeons -- try offering your services to 100 burn victims. The average dad has the face he deserves.

Finally, this article tells us that "Many readers have often shied away from government publications because of their stilted language and policy propaganda." Well, "shied away" doesn't quite describe the panic in which readers flee these publications. But oh the money they've paid me.