Friday, September 30, 2005

News roundup

Rank doesn't do this daily by any means, and thank God, but it's fun every once in a while to get into the nitty-gritty of the news and see what's noteworthy for ridiculousness...

Today we hear that, in order to lower the price of the diesel submarines that the Executive Yuan wants to buy from the US, Spain may be called on to manufacture the subs. This change comes after the price of the deal has already been slashed twice, and with some of the arms having been pushed out of the speial appropriations bill and into the regular military budget. Before all this is over, the US is going to sell Taiwan a pair of pop guns manufactured on an OEM basis in Lesotho. Tremble, ye Chinese invaders!

Spending 26 hours in a collapsed well is no fun: "...doctors said that he had inhaled a lot of dirt and was suffering from dehydration. As of press time, Liu was undergoing checkups for internal bleeding..."

Pan-blues think it's nice that the RMB and the NT will now be convertible in Kinmen and Matsu. But they'd like to go further. For example, we could all just exchange our NT for commie cash and call it a damn day!

Here's some sound advice from the weather bureau, considering that another typhoon is approaching: "The Central Weather Bureau (CWB) suggested yesterday that people in Taiwan come up with alternative recreational programs if they had mapped out outdoor plans for the weekend." Okay -- I just wish they'd provide a list of alternative recreational programs, because I'm not used to thinking of my weekends in quite that way. Suggestions, anyone?

I don't want to sound like a government-hating conservative, but this scares me: "The Executive Yuan is providing NTD 20 billion in subsidies from the Executive Yuan Development Fund over the next five years for the promotion of Taiwan's digital content, software and cultural/creative industries. In addition to these subsidies, the Industrial Development Bureau is also preparing to provide special financing for enterprises involved in the production of movies, television and digital content." It's not so much the money that frightens me -- it's more the idea of sitting through movies and TV shows that owe their existence to the braintrust of the Executive Yuan.

China's pronouncements on Uighurs in Xinjiang have a certain familiar tone, one that we in Taiwan have come to know and loathe. Same for Tibet, of course, and all the other places where the great glory of the Han is not automatically recognized as the world's civilizing light. I... oh, forget it.

Read it and weep: "A software company in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, has developed 'Anti-Japan War Online'... 'We aim to nurture a national spirit in young people,' said Hao Xianghong, 36, the union's Network Film and Television Center's vice minister." In the pipeline: Taiwan Nuked!

Where have you heard something like this before? " Shanghai's plan has been to turn itself from an industrial city into a services, finance and transport hub." I feel an attack of indigestion coming on.

Dioxin duck eggs, an ancient Taiwanese specialty, are delicious.

When I learned that Chen Shui-bian would be visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I had only one thing in mind: fabulous photos along the lines of those recently taken of him in Alaska. Alas, I've been disappointed so far. St. Kitts and Nevis was also a downer in the photo departmnt. I want A-bian looking at ice worms through a magnifying glass! I want him hugging a bear that's wearing pants! Those were the days!
Now we've gone to word-verification for comments...

in a further attempt to frustrate the big-penis crowd. This means that the roughly half a dozen people known to have ever commented on this blog, should they choose to comment again, will have to read and type a word that appears on the screen. Miniscus, say, or triturate. Perhaps bilious or gibbous. Concupiscence or dilatory.

Okay, I admit it, I'm an English major showing off.

Update: Horror! It's meniscus! What a fool am I!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

You MUST visit...

this site, which is evidently designed to encourage backpacking in Taiwan. I regret to report that it doesn't encourage me very much. Which is to say that the stamp of the Taiwanese government is all over it.

First, the site is called "Taiwan Trekking for Young Travellers," which at first leaves me unsure if it's aimed at college-age backpackers or at worried parents who want to make sure that Taiwan is a kid-friendly destination.

Next, the text for a section called "Transport - Choice, Convenience and Comfort," reads, in full, as follows: "On any world map Taiwan looks deceptively small, as it is dwarfed by mainland China. Most of the island is mountainous that travel times are not so short. From end to tip it may take up to eight hours, however most destinations are a short trip and there are numerous options for traveling to suit any budget."

Thanks, folks, for all that useful information on the convenient and comfortable transportation choices available to me.

Similarly, a section called "Survival Guide" addresses your worries about communicating by explaining that you might, under certain circumstances, be able to find someone in Taiwan who speaks English. But in any case, though hitchiking isn't recommended, you can always hitchike. Meaning that, even if you can't figure out how to buy a train ticket because you can't find an English-speaker, you can always get from point A to point B by sticking out your thumb. Even though it isn't recommended.

I could go on. But all you really need to do is go to the link and look at the PHOTO. I wish I could post the photo itself. It's too good to be true.

I can't wait to travel in Taiwan!
Women in the men's room

Here's a typical Taiwan experience that I never get over -- ambling into a public bathroom and discovering that a cleaning lady is mopping the floor while a long line of men does what must be done at the urinals. It's just... odd. It invariably surprises and puzzles me.

The cleaning ladies certainly exhibit no obscene interest in the men, so maybe I'm just prudish for feeling that a cleaning man would be more appropriate, or even that the bathroom could be briefly cordoned off while the cleaning lady works.

By way of comparison, I recall trying to use a restaurant men's room in Mexico and being turned away by a cleaning lady. I innocently asked her if it would be okay for me to use the women's room -- a single-person unit, then unoccupied -- and she looked at me as if I'd grown a second head, with a third one sprouting out of it. Now there's prudish for you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Turton on weapons purchase

Rank does not have time to join the fray today, but hats off to Michael Turton over at The View from Taiwan where he destroys a recent commentary in the Washington Times by one Jeff Logan about Taiwan's supposed unwilligness to buy weapons from the US. As Michael pithily explains:

The Pan-Blues oppose the weapons purchase not because they have faith in the US to defend Taiwan, but because they support Beijing and not Taiwan -- they oppose it because because it helps Taiwan defend itself.

People in Washington seem to be incapable of understanding that the KMT-PFP alliance represents a serious threat to US interests in the region. If the US is not careful and Ma Ying-jeou becomes president, Taiwan may go the way of South Korea--a supposed ally that in reality is doing everything it can to realize its nationalist goals at the expense of US interests.

One disturbing note that Logan also hits is criticism of Taiwan for 'excessive' social spending. While Taiwan probably should spend more on defense, there are still significant segments of Taiwan's population that need help and don't get it. Just because Taiwan's government doesn't want to reduce have-nots in Taiwan to the kind of desperate poverty we saw in New Orleans doesn't mean that Taiwan isn't serious about its defense.

So Mr. Logan, in between those sips of wine that is older than you are, have a heart and think for a minute about the old people who would go hungry or the aboriginal kids who couldn't go to school if you got your way and Taiwan scaled back on social spending.

Monday, September 26, 2005

We've gone to registration-only comments...

....because the site has been getting hammered by the day-trade and big-penis people, with their blogspam.

Now watch how many hits we get from people who type "big penis" into google.
Trial by Taiwanese Media

See Taiwanese entertainer Peng Qiaqia taking a popular brand of stomach medicine at a tearful press conference where he revealed that a much-rumored sex CD was actually just Peng masturbating. Peng has been in big trouble with the mob for a year or so since he allegedly made a pass at a gangster's girlfriend. Peng's problems have apparently gotten worse in the last few weeks and he had been in communicado for the last week until yesterday's press conference. Peng claims the VCD was secretly taken while he was high on a quarter tab of FM2 and he doesn't remember what happened. With his weeping wife by his side, Peng described the video as " a 48-year old man with a big belly naked just like a white pig jacking off on his bed."

I can't upload the picture (of the press conference of course. What is the matter with you people!) for some reason, but check out the shirt the guy on Peng's right is wearing. If you still not sure what taike means, this guy has got it down.
Bold Predictions

I loved the headline in today's China Times. Roughly translated it read:

Global Experts Make Bold Prediction: Huge Changes in the Next 35 Years

No, really? I thought everything was going to stay the same. Where can Rank get one of them thar global expert jobs.

I'm about 99 percent sure that the editors at the China Times were forced to run that story by management who is undoubtedly trying to burnish the paper's credentials as a serious newspaper. The story is an obvious plant--it refers to some kind of feature in Foreign Affairs that I can't find on the their site. The fairly new editorial blogs at the China Times are a much better indication of the intelligence of the people over at Rank's favorite Chinese-language paper.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Don't play dead!
If you go to Yushan National Park, you may see stickers like this posted by Park Headquarters. The rangers want to warn you not to play dead if you run into a Formosan Black Bear. The white words under the drawing say "Playing Dead is Prohibited." The smaller lettering says "Playing dead is wrong . Don't do it for the sake of your personal safety." So don't say Rank didn't warn you...

Another great A-bian photo from Alaska!

Also, don't fail to go here to see a photo whose caption begins "While attempting to throw an apple at the Bureau of Civil Affairs' Ho Hung-jung, DPP Taipei City Councilor Lo Tsung-sheng..."

And if you haven't already heard about it, you can go here to read about Taiwan's last production line for notebook computers shutting down and getting shipped across the Strait. It's the end of an era, as the cliche goes, even if the era was actually rather brief. As to whether Taiwan's economy can continue to prosper despite the "hollowing out," I can't decide anymore. Lots of smart people make convincing cases for both "yes" and "no." In any case, bye-bye laptops, it was nice to know you.
Wait -- who's running this show anyway?

After two US defense officials in two days warned Taiwan that it must stand up for its own defense if it wants US assistance with its defense [translation: Taiwan must buy expensive weaponry from US companies], a Taiwanese general has claimed that Taiwan has always planned to fight on its own, and has never included in its combat plans the idea of US military assistance.

General Hu Chen-pu is obviously lying -- and he'd damn well better be. Imagine if US forces arrived in Taiwan to help fend off a Chinese attack only to discover that the Taiwanese had never given a thought to the logistics of such an operation.

Why am I even taking pot shots at such an idiotic statement?

The point is, I thought that the Ministry of National Defense was supposed to be advocating for the arms purchase from the US, not undermining the purchase by suggesting that Taiwan could be capable of defeating China on its own. In fact, I was under the impression that, according to MND computer simulations, Taiwan is only capable of holding off a Chinese attack for three and a half seconds. I thought that, according to the MND, the Legislative Yuan must approve the purchase quickly, before Taiwan's goose is cooked entirely. But now I hear a high-ranking general telling us that Taiwan doesn't need the US anyway. Or its weapons, for that matter?

Either I'm confused about something, or President Chen is having the usual hard time keeping his generals in line. If I were commander-in-chief, I might get a bit upset if my top soldiers were pursuing their own political agendas... especially if their agendas appeared to be deep blue and pro-China...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Better than fiction

Update: the photo has unfortunately disappeared... It was great while it lasted.

"After the luncheon, Chen and his entourage toured a glacier area in Portage and visited a local tourist center, where the president viewed with fascination live ice worms on display."

Read about it here.

Update: It occurs to me now that A-bian was probably trying to comprehend the heart of Hu Jintao.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The nickel drops

This may be news to no one but me, but I've just realized, while standing on a 15th-floor balcony on a hillside over Xindian, that the Taipei metropolitan area is spread out primarily on an east-west axis, rather than the north-south axis that I'd always, intuitively and incorrectly, believed was more important.

It's easy to see why I went wrong -- points of foreigner interest from Gongguan to Taipei Main Station to Tianmu to Yangmingshan to Danshui are laid out north-south (or south-north, if you want to nitpick). But the bulk of the settlement, starting from Neihu/Nankang and running to Banquiao and points beyond, goes east-west.

This is the sort of post that will not get linked by high-profile blogs from abroad, which was the honor bestowed on Feiren when he brought to our attention the majesty of Ma Ying-jeou's naked ass.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Get your cut-rate pomelos here!

If you asked me to write a schoolboy essay on the theme "What Moon Festival Means to Me," I'd write something lovely and lyrical about the annual pomelo sale that takes place on Xiamen Jie in early fall.

You can set your calendar by it -- just after the last moon cake has been eaten, and right when the average person's annual pomelo quota has been exceeded, such that no one wishes to see more of that inferior grapefruit till the following year -- that is the precise moment when a great tub of half-dessicated pomelos is rolled out for display on the sidewalk near my apartment building. The tub comes to a stop next to a formica table where a crew of alcoholic furniture-movers encamp themselves nightly for binlang spitting and rude talk, and there it remains, untouched, for weeks.

Last year I caught the fruit-sellers removing pomelos from gift boxes and tossing them into the bin -- repackaging these gifts that nobody wanted as goodness fresh from the tree. But is anybody fooled? Once I saw a woman buy a pomelo from the bin, but this was a major aberration.

One day in October the pomelos mysteriously disappear, and my block is ridded of stale-dated fruit until the next Moon Festival has come and gone.

I'd like to know what the pomelo people's angle is, who's their connection, who gets what kind of cut. Any scam as hare-brained as this one must have a wonderful story behind it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Koizumi: You can't touch this!

A painting of KMT Chaiman and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou now hanging in an art gallery on the fifth floor of KMT headquarters in Taipei. The caption in the China Times explains that this photo has been popular with female visitors (I guess only straight people go to KMT headquarters?).

The portrait actually evokes a campaign ad from the KMT chairman election in July showed a brooding, windswept Ma staring into the pounding surf on Taiwan's coast. Maybe he's thinking of getting direct links with China going by swimming across the Taiwan Strait in the buff?

Rank will be visiting KMT headquarters on Wednesday. Fear not art lovers and faithful readers--Rank will not miss this golden opportunity to find out what other treasures lurk in the KMT art gallery.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Hong Kong Model

Whenever the subject of One Country, Two Systems comes up, I sometimes hear the argument that since China has not substantively diluted Hong Kong's freedoms, Taiwan should accept the same deal from China. Now this is simply wrong because completely different sets of historial circumstances govern Hong Kong and Taiwan's contemporary political realities. Under the British, the people of Hong Kong did not have basic political rights. So Chinese rule has not diminished political freedoms in Hong Kong because there weren't any in the first place. But China has not kept its promises either. Hong Kong was promised an independent legal system, and that promise has been abrogated. And in the Basic Law, China committed itself to future political freedoms such as free elections. Those commitments have been deferred indefintely.

But Taiwan has a full set of political freedoms in place on the ground right now. China would have to be trusted to respect those freedoms, which given China's track record in Hong Kong vis a vis the Hong Kong legal system there is little reason to believe that it would.

Still, it's nice to have a concrete example on hand of what kind of place Hong Kong is turning into. Here's a great Traveller's Tale from FEER about how Yahoo! Hong Kong ratted out a Chinese journalist and got him sent to jail for ten years. The bigger issue in the case is of course how major multinational high tech companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Google, and now Yahoo! are cravenly cooperating with China's police state to enforce its reign of terror, but the Yahoo! Hong Kong case is notable because it shows how what you say in Hong Kong privately can be held against you in China.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Honored Guests

The China Times reports that Four Seas gang leader Chen Yong-he celebrated his 26 year old son's marriage at the AsiaWorld Hotel Tuesday evening. Guests at the 83 table reception included legislators Zhong Rong-ji (PFP, Legislator at large and Vice Speaker), Cai Hao (independent, Pingtung), and Luo Ming-cai (KMT, Taipei County. Son of notorious but now retired gangster-legislator Luo Fu-zhu.) Variety show host Jackie Wu also graced the event.

The groom, whose Chinese means 'the likeness of goodness', has recently completed his studies in the US and will work in the high tech industry. The bride is a saleswoman at a department store boutique. Her name was left unmentioned in the article.

And all this just a week after what has to be one of the great quotes of the year. Ke Jun-xiong (KMT, Hsinchu) and TSU caucus leader He Min-hao took advantage of their taxpayer-funded junket to Japan to visit a notorious Yakuza leader there. Ke defended the visit by telling reporters that "I'm sure that most of the men sitting in this room have friends in the mob." Ke and He are both members of the legislature's defense committee.
Score one for the good guys

It's rare that Taiwan wins a diplomatic or even a quasi-diplomatic battle with China, but it happens now and then.

The short version of the story is that Beijing, hoping to scuttle Taipei's bid to host this year's meeting of the Asian Network of Major Cities, decided to bid for hosting privileges itself. Beijing won, but only at the price of helping Taipei secure hosting rights for next year. This caused China to throw one of its patented hissy fits and drop out of the group entirely -- meaning that Taipei might end up hosting the event this year after all.

Way to shoot yourselves in the foot, you miserable lizard-hearted infant-brained communists.

China makes me mad sometimes.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Needed: the right kind of pork

Taiwan's government, on both the legislative side and the executive side, loves to deal out the bacon. Who cares if the tax structure is leaky and the national debt is approaching legal limits -- roads to nowhere must be built! Artificial lakes must be constructed! Cable cars must run to the tops of the highest mountains!

You'll note that useless roads, destructive lakes, and moronic cable cars are all projects that create adverse environmental consequences. Now, I don't suspect the government of fouling the environment just for the fun of it, but they sure don't let nature stand in their way as they rush to spend public money on construction projects that make their cronies fat and happy.

Well, I've got an idea. Why doesn't the government, since it's so eager to divert taxpayers' money to contractors, finally invest in sewage treatment for every household, every place of business, every public facility on the entire island?

I don't have the figures in front of me, but Taiwan's sewage connection rate comes in at something like 30%. Surely, surely, correcting that national disgrace would cost just as much money as do these idiotic roads that create landslides, artificial lakes that only destroy habitat, and cable cars that would allow ramshackle Disneylands to be built on top of Yushan.

Fixing the sewage problem once and for all seems like a win-win situation. It would produce great public benefit while running through enough money to satisfy even the most corrupt member of the Legislative Yuan. The opportunity for kickbacks would be vast. The rivers would be so much cleaner.

Can anyone explain how I'm looking at this wrong?
Infant mortality

Nicholas Kristof writes:

If it's shameful that we have bloated corpses on New Orleans streets, it's even more disgraceful that the infant mortality rate in America's capital is twice as high as in China's capital. That's right - the number of babies who died before their first birthdays amounted to 11.5 per thousand live births in 2002 in Washington, compared with 4.6 in Beijing.

While I share Kristof's outrage at the Bush Administration's disgraceful response to the disaster in New Orleans and his concern about the poor in America, I wonder about this figure. I suspect that when health authorities in Beijing calculate infant mortality rates, they are looking at infants born to registered residents of Beijing. I believe there are something like 3 million migrant workers in Beijing whose childern are not counted. Since these workers basically have no access to health care, the real infant mortality rate is likely to be much higher.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rice King 2005

Li Xian-long, an Amis from Chihshang, was named Taiwan's rice king last week for his Hegeng No. 2 organic rice. Chihshang is in the Eastern Rift Valley, and has won the competition three years in a row.

When Li was named the winner, he strode to the stage with both arms raised in the air shouting 'I'm an Amis! I am an Amis!' The Amis are the largest of Taiwan's officially recognized indigenous peoples and live primarily on the eastern coast. 100 kilos of Li's rice was auctioned off for 1.1 million NT$ although the China Times reports that Li will only receive about 30 percent of that. The rest goes to the local Farmer's Association.

A picture in the print version of the ChinaTimes showed Premier Frank Hsieh scarfing down a bowl of Li's rice. If my memory serves me correctly, the paper says that works out to be about NT$800 for one bowl of rice.

Chihshang itself is a kind of humdrum market town, but the surrounding countryside is beautiful. If you find yourself there you might want to visit the Chihshang Lunch Box Museum. This is in fact a moderately interesting musuem devoted to the history of Chihshang. There are some nice photographs of what Chihshang looked like 60 years ago--tree-lined streets with hundreds of people out shopping. A far cry from the barren, hot main street that runs through the town now. All the trees were cut down long ago, and the streets are empty.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Here's a strange one that didn't make the English papers

Ms. Wang, a 38 year old woman who says she is a virgin, goes to Cathay General Hospital with her mother, where Dr. Lin Hui-lin, a minor celebrity herself, gives Ms. Wang a pelvic exam without getting Ms. Wang's permission first.

During the examination Ms. Wang's hymen was ruptured. Ms. Wang then filed a complaint with the Consumer Foundation. After mediation by the Consumer Foundattion, Cathay General Hospital said that it would repair Ms. Wang's hymen free of charge or give her NT$100,000.

The Wangs, however, were not satisfied. Ms. Wang's father, one Wang Xian-ji, held a news conference where, brandishing his daughter's bloody panties (the print version of the Apple Daily story actually had a picture of this), he demanded NT$5 million in compensation and an apology from Dr. Lin or he would take her to court for medical malpractice. In the China Times verion of the story Mr. Wang said that although his daughter had had boyfriends, she had protected her virginity like a treasure. Now her ill-fated doctor's visit had destroyed a woman's most valuable possession-her hymen.

Mr. Wang, it turns out, is a Taiwanese independence activist who started something called the 8 Sept. Taiwan National Day Movement. The Movement wants to establish Sept. 8 as Taiwan's national day to commemorate the date in 1951 on which Japan relinquished sovereignty over Taiwan in the Treaty of San Francisco.

Dr. Lin has appeared in shampoo commercials and Mandopop music videos. Apparently this is not the first time this issue has come up. A Taipei prosecutor asked a judge to sentence a Dr. Huang to six months in prison for the same crime in late 2004.