Saturday, November 10, 2007
In honor of the Taipei Poetry Festival, I offer up these bits of Saturday-morning verse. The first one inspired by a recently popular song that takes syllabic liberties with a paraplui.
Left at 7-Eleven
Others can use it
Sanzhimao (Three's a Crowd) 三隻貓
One cat on my lap
Two cats hiss menacingly
My peace disrupted
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Last week the story of a stinky tofu shop in Sinjhuang was picked up by the international media after the Taipei County EPA fined it NT$100,000 for being too stinky. Well, today the shop is back in the news. Business has improved since the fine as new customers have flocked to the shop to find out just how stinky their tofu is.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
Except the food in the picture isn't Chinese, it's a collection of typical Taiwanese dishes including (from left to right) Taiwanese-style sticky rice dumplings in lotus leaf, Tainan-style pole vendor noodles, braised pork on rice (practically Taiwan's national dish), Hakka Meatball soup (a Hsinchu specialty now found everywhere on the island), fried rice noodles, beef noodles (an invention of Sichuan soldiers exiled in Taiwan), and Taiwanese-style fried noodles.
The pairing of a review of a book about Chinese food with photos of typically Taiwanese dishes demonstrates beautifully how the significant Taiwanese presence in China is invisible to the West looking at China.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere in the English media, but you can now take your bicycle on the MRT on weekend and holiday evenings. This makes later afternoon riding in Xindian or Danshui much more practical. Remember, you can only take your bike on the Danshui-Xiandian or Beitou-Nanshijiao lines. Here's the official announcement.
Also, on returning from a ride on the Northern Cross Highway recently, I was able to take my disassembled bike in a bike bag on the MRT from the Yongning station in Tucheng back to Taipei on a Monday morning around 10am. The MRT regulations say that they can refuse passengers with oversize luggage, but they simply asked me to use the elevator. This is another option that makes all the great riding in the Sanxia area more accessible from Taipei.
Of course you can always ride out to Tucheng on the the bike path along the Dahan River.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
According to the lead story in the United Evening Express yesterday, Taiwan's bananas are so plentiful this year, the government is buying surplus and using it as pig feed . Coincidentally, the Taipei Times yesterday cautioned Taiwan against plans to gradually boost biofuel production. With Taiwan's recent fruit gluts, someone should look into biofuel production with the fruit of our orchards.
On another tack, I offer up my Taiwan-style recipe for a fruit smoothie to get you fueled up to start your day right:
RANK BEGINNER ALL-DAY BREAKFAST SMOOTHIE
1/2 mango (store the other half in a resealable container in the refrigerator and use it tomorrow)
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
=====ABOVE INGREDIENTS ARE 100% LOCAL=====
(optional) 2 heaping tbsp frozen berries purchased in 2kg bag at Costco
(optional) 1/2 ~ 1 kiwi
Mix in blender until uniform in texture
Monday, July 09, 2007
A great parody in today's Liberty Times singing the praises of the Taiwanese examiners who used literary Chinese to ask a math question in this year's university entrance exams. Taiwanese nationalists have been trying decrease the amount of literary Chinese used in high school textbooks while Chinese cultural conservatives lead by the poet Yu Kwang-chung have resisted fiercely. Yu, it should be noted, was a staunch enemy of the then-new Taiwanese literature of the 1970s and an excellent example of reactionary Chinese culturalism masquerading as liberal humanism.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Interesting map from Taiwanese blogger Richter's Maps Talk showing Taiwan's 2005 Total Fertility distribution. Jianshi Township, a heavily Atayal district in the Hsinchu mountains has Taiwan's highest total fertility rate of 2.61 births per woman. The map shows that relatively high fertility rates are clustered in Taiwan's mountain districts. White areas on the map show total fertility rates of < 1. Kaohsiung City's Cianjin District has the dubious distinction of having Taiwan's lowest total fertility rate--0.73. The Taipei basin also appears to have a lot of white areas.
These statistics corroborate my sense that Taiwan's First Nations are experiencing something of a renaissance--non-Han villages has noticeably more kids in them than the sad farming communities down on the western plains. It also underlines the very real cultural and social differences between the Han and indigenous Taiwanese that are surprisingly (to me anyway) strong despite decades of assimilationist policies.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
First a slide show...
Dennis Flood wrote up his ride a few years. His photos are much better.
We flew into Taidong airport on the 6:30AM flight from Taipei. We arrived at Songshan Airport at 6am, which have us plenty of time to 'pack' the bikes. For those who haven't flown with their bikes in Taiwan, this means cutting up cardboard boxes (provided by the airline) and taping the resulting pieces onto your bike so that you won't get other people's luggage dirty. You do not have to take your bike apart, and there is no extra charge. Pretty cool.
A note of warning though--not every airport in Taiwan is big enough for a plane that can take your bike this way. Kaohsiung, Chiayi, Hualien, and Taitung are all fine. Pingtung's old airport was not. Not sure about the new one.
A second word of warning is that this great service may soon be over. I suspect that the increasing popularity of biking is starting to cause problems. We had a bit of argument with the baggage handling people at Far Eastern about this although we eventually prevailed. In general EVA (Lirong) is the most helpful while Far Eastern is more and more reluctant.
We arrived in Taitung hungry and exhausted since we had only gotten a few hours of sleep the night before. So instead of getting on the road immediately, we headed across the street to the restaurant/gift shop across from the terminal and had a hearty breakfast. This included a carimoya milkshake (釋茄牛奶). The wonders of papaya milkshakes have long faded for me, but this was a delicious new surprise even if a bit expensive at NT$70.
Well fed, we hit the road at about 9:30am--just as it was starting to get intensely hot. We wanted to avoid Highway 9 (台９線) and keep to the smaller county roads in the Rift Valley, so we made for Route. 197 which runs more or less parallel to Route 9 up the Rift Valley through the foothills of the coastal mountain range on the east side of the valley.
To get to 197 from the airport, turn left on Minhang Rd. 民航路 when you reach the T instersection on the road leading out of the airport. Stay on Minhang to the left and pass the Naruwan Hotel. You will cross a bridge and then reach the junction with Highway 9. Cross Highway 9 and you will now be on Highway 11B (台11乙). It's 4.1 km from here to the junction with 197 on your left.
We started climbing on 197 in the brutal morning heat. It's another 3 or 4km to Fuyuan at an elevation of about 300 meters. Make sure you bring water because the few shops and restaurants up here are not reliably open and there is little shade.
We rode the next hilly 10 km to the Luanshan Bridge (巒山大橋), stopping off at a small local temple near Liji 利吉 for a muggy, buggy afternoon nap. Somehow we missed the Liji hot springs although it may have been too hot even for me to try them out.
After crossing the bridge to Luye (鹿野), we had a fairly dismal lunch in a cantina by the 711. The people were friendly even if their food was bad. By the time we finished, ominous looking storm clouds had gathered and we heard from a traveling salesman type that it was already raining in Guanshan, our intended destination.
Rather than pushing on, we decided to head up the hill to Longtian and knock off early. Longtian, it turns out, was a sort of Japanese settler community and has the oldest nursery school in Taitung along with lots of beautiful old trees and a generous sprinkling of buildings from the colonial era. And of course there are hotsprings, although the main hot spring hotel in town was being renovated. On their recommendation, we headed to the end of town and aftera short downhill, turned left onto Taidong Co. Rd. 33 where we found the colossal Zixi Hotel ( 紫熹山莊) built entirely out of wood. A huge clean double was NT$2,200 and we settled into enjoy clean beds and hot showers. The food was inexpensive but tasteless jiancan (microwaved stuff out of packages).
Day 2: Longtian to Lidao
Greatly refreshed, we were on the road by 5:30am the next morning. We headed back across the bridge and continued north on 197. The road climbed up sharply to about 400m over four or five km. For next 14km the road is unpaved gravel. Unfortunately, a new layer of gravel had just been put down and was therefore quite deep and loose in some spots. There were a few spills as a result, but I would guess that in a month or so, enough traffic will have gone over the road to pack things down better and make it a good but unchallenging off road ride. This side of the valley is noticeably more tropical than the west side--reminded me a lot of Palawan in parts. There is absolutely nothing out here--you will need water and food.
At Bauhuashan Monastary (寶華山慈惠堂) there is a rest spot and a road that goes down to the Baohua Bridge. We stayed on 197 (paved at this point) and enjoyed a lovely downhill stretch into the rice fields on the valley floor. After another 3 or 4km of flat, we crossed the Diangguang Bridge (電光大橋) into Guanshan.
Guanshan seemed like a big place after the solitude on the other side of the river. We had a couple of filling biandangs from the Yuanchang Biandang Shop just outside the train station. The biandangs use the fabulous local rice to create a perfect meal for starving cyclists. Bellies full it was time for a nap. The airy Sun Moon Belvedere (關山日月亭) is at the end of Minquan Rd. (民權路) on the west side of town, and we unrolled our air mat to sleep for an hour or so in afternoon heat.
When we woke up, the sky was overcast, meaning that we could ride earlier than usual (on summer days I try not to ride between 10am and 3:30pm to avoid sunstroke). We headed back into town on Minquan and had some excellent lattes at a very old-fashioned coffee shop (Royal Bakery and Cafe?) on the main drag. Deng Lijun played on the ancient boom box and there was an excellent selection of pictorial magazines from the late 1980s to complement.
We left Guanshan by riding parallel to the Route 9 on Sanmin Rd (三民路) out to 大同 where we took a left. Datong curves around and turns into Taidong County Road 5 but there is a confusing junction near Hongshi (紅石). Ask at the betel nut stand if you are not sure which way is the right way to Haiduan (海端). Haiduan is just a few km down the road and you will come out on the Southern Cross Highway (Route 20) at around km 208.
From Haiduan, it is about 35 km to Lidao at an elevation of about 1000m. The grade is pleasantly gradual all the way to Wulu, about 10km from Lidao. There is a good, inexpensive restaurant across the street from the Tianlong Hotel. Am early dinner for two was NT$300 and was far more than we could eat. If you have time, check out the suspension bridge on the other side of the parking lot hotel--one of Taiwan's highest.
After Wulu there is a long climb through a beautiful rugged canyon that will remind you of Taroko. In the past, I've always done this section in the late morning heat. It was much, much easier and more pleasant in the cool early evening as the mountainsides came alive with the roar of cicadas, chirping birds, and howling monkeys.
We arrived in Lidao (elevation 1000m) just as it got dark and stayed at the Xianfeng Hostel (賢鳳民宿) for NT$1000. Basic but very clean. Xianfeng is run by a very pleasant young teetotaling Bunong couple who are tea farmers by day. I bought a half catty (斤) of tea for NT$750--it's excellent. There are a few shops where you can stock up on snacks for the next day and Big Sister Chen's (陳大姐) as you come into town is a good place for a hearty lunch or dinner.
Day 3: Lidao to Baolai
We were on the road before 6am the next morning and we needed all that rest for the glorious but exhausting ride that faced us. From Lidao to Yakou (亞口) it's 28km and 1,700 meters to climb. The road is achingly beautiful and cool because of the altitude. You need to be well prepared on this section with sufficient food and water and ready to get wet and cold. The fog usually sets in by around 9am obscuring the magnificent views but we had relatively good luck in that the fig kept rolling in and then rolling out producing spectacular Chinese landscape types of views. We finally reached the Yakou Hotel (at around km. 150) at noon and stopped for instant noodles and a nap. The last 10km is especially difficult because of the altitude. Take it slow and steady.
At around 1:30pm we were on the road again. Somewhat disappointingly, there were two coffee trucks at the pass (elevation 2700m) but no one selling coffee. Visibility inside the tunnel was very poor even with our lights because of the thick fog streaming in from the Kaohsiung side. Coming out of the tunnel you could barely see the side of the road for the first five or six km. That was disappointing because this is one of the most spectacular sections of road in Taiwan, but you should expect this after 9am. Still, the fog lifted a few km down the road near the Cypress Valley (檜股) and there were great views of the Laonong River making its way out of the mighty canyons at the foot of the Yushan range.
Contrary to Dennis's description, the downhill from Yakou lasts for a good 50km all the way down to Taoyuan. There is a gentle climb for about 250 meters a few kilometers outside of Meishan and another climb of about 500 meters in length (not elevation) into Taoyuan itself. The rest is all glorious downhills.
We really should have stayed in Meishan, but we had hot springs on our mind, and foolishly decided to push onto Baolai some 30km away. Meishan to Baolai (c. 20km) is 90% downhill, but the last 10km from Taoyuan to Baolai was up and down through the hills in the dark. Fortunately, there was almost no traffic and lots of fireflies. I actually kind of enjoyed it, but by this point we had been riding for nearly 14 hours (including rests) for well over 100km. This meant that I was afr too tired to shop around for place to stay in Baolai, which is a rip-off tourist trap like Jiaosi or Jhiben. We ended up staying at the New Baolai Holiday Village (新寶來溫泉渡假村). NT$3,000 for a very mediocre double room and a scanty Chinese breakfast the next morning. All of this was forgotten though as we rooted the Yankees and Wang Chien-ming onto a glorious victory over the Mets.
From Baolai we rode down to Liugui (六龜) on Kaohsiung County Rd. 131 (note this is mislabeled as 113 on the Sun River maps) stopping at the waterfalls on the way. We would have taken 133 on the other side, but it is closed to repair a landslide, so we were forced onto Highway 24 (台24線). It's about 12km through rolling hills down from Baolai's elevation of 500m. to Liugui's 200m or so.
We took the bus from Liugui to the Kaohsiung high speed rail station in Zuoying the next morning. Note that the first bus (c.5:45am) does not go to the high speed rail station. The second bus at 6:45am does, and you can get there in time to catch the 8:30am train to Taipei. You will need to take the bikes apart and bag them to take them on THSR. We did this in Liugui the night before and put the bagged bikes in the bus's luggae compartment. I'm not sure you could get a full size bike in there without disassembling it.
A note on getting back. I strongly recommend putting your bike on the bus at Liugui or Meishan. The ride back to Tainan via Jiasian (甲仙) or Liugui/Meinung is hot, unpleasant, and hilly. The bus from Meishan goes through Zuoying, but I'm not sure it actually stops at the HSR station.
Monday, June 11, 2007
It's also encouraging to see China be taken up by a well-informed member of the left who is not a China watcher. I was disappointed by the absence of any comment on Taiwan as a democracy, but I believe that Perlstein represents a generation that has wholly rejected the old liberal fantasies about China (and nightmares about Taiwan) that have their roots in the McCarthy era. It's not just the right that is ignorant of the outside world.
Some money quotes:
This man, retired after many decades building a successful business in the Midwest, is a car nut who long ago became dismayed by, then resigned to, the slow decline of American industrial dominance. He didn't see any American cars on China's newly teeming roads; China, he pointed out, is "going to start exporting cars to the US in the next few years." He couldn't imagine America building a Three Gorges Dam. That was for the Chinas of the world--civilizations of destiny.
This capitalist sounded like the kind of pilgrim who used to visit Soviet steel mills, or cut sugar cane beside Cuban peasants, and returned singing panegyrics to a new, better world being born.
Note the lessons learned by the left about being taken in by regimes whose ideology you think you share. Good. Finally.
Those who return no better informed about this record than when they arrived include, it would appear, tourists who should know better. Nicholas Kristof dishonored the fifteenth anniversary of the massacre in 2004, Mann points out, with a column titled "The Tiananmen Victory." The democracy activists had won: "After the Chinese could watch Eddie Murphy, wear tight pink dresses and struggle over what to order at Starbucks, the revolution was finished. No middle class is content with more choices of coffees than of candidates on a ballot."
Here's one of the few places where I disagree. OK, so Kristof dishonored Tiananmen. But Kristof is probably right. Most of the leading dissidents from the Tiananmen era have made their peace with new China. The ones who haven't are the ones who can't go back. Democracy was just one of things Tiananmen was about. Most of what they wanted has come true beyond their wildest dreams.
This one's isolated from Jim Mann. Read it twice. It's important.
There haven't been any multiparty ballots for China's middle class to mark yet. And there won't be, Mann argues in an elegant formulation: The urban middle class is "a tiny proportion of the country's overall population," and in any election candidates representing their interests would be swamped by those of the peasantry; thus it is just as easy, or easier, to imagine them as "a driving force in opposition to democracy."
In Taiwan, the emergent middle classes firmly believed (or imagined) that their interests would dominate. That of course hasn't been the case, but the Taiwanese middle class wasn't afraid of anyone except the State. It's a big difference.
China has become rather like Israel: No matter the party, no matter the leader, certain de rigueur formulas must be uttered. Mann strips the hustle bare: "Every single American president since Nixon has, in one way or another, either ignored or quietly given up on the issue of Chinese democracy."
The review is a devastating critique of American foreign policy toward China from the left. It's a great start. If only they would take another look at Taiwan.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
A couple months ago, when I asked a business visitor what she wanted to see and what kinds of foods she wanted to try in her 2 days in Taipei, she said, "I know this sounds strange, but I want to go to Starbucks and McDonalds - I want to see what kinds of local tastes are represented there." I told her in that case McD's would be more satsifying than Starbucks. Now, I see that Starbucks' danishes have been adulterated with red bean. It's hard to say when this will stop. Starting today, I'll be inspecting all Starbucks pastries for evidence of mayonnaise.
While at Starbucks, I noticed this cute bearista with the "Taiwan" apron. I think the Seattle-based coffee imperialist is risking a run-in with China. Shouldn't that be Taiwan (Province of China)?
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I'm so impressed with Feiren's slideshow below that I thought I'd try one myself.
I took the following photos with my phone in the Gongguan area of Taipei a couple weeks ago. Once you start looking, you realize that decorative English is everywhere.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
We did this ride of medium difficulty at a leisurely pace by leaving Taipei on Friday evening. If you are an experienced rider in reasonable shape, you can do this ride in two days if you leave Taipei by 10am. Leave earlier in the summer to beat the heat.
We started off from Taipei at about 6pm on a gorgeous early May evening. We crossed the Zhongzheng Bridge 中正橋 over to the Taipei County side and rode on the bike paths out to Tucheng 土城 along the Xindian and Dahan 大漢 Rivers.
From Tucheng, there is a nasty 5 km or so along Highway 3. I'd recommend spending the night in Sanxia if you are on a budget. We headed up 7B (7乙 aka 北橫公路) over to Chajiao 插角 on the opposite side of the Dabao River 大豹溪, but the few B&Bs up there are quite expensive (c. NT$2,000/night) although nice. We stayed at Green Light about 2km up the road from the school and big hotel.
The next morning we were on the road by 7am. After getting back on Highway 7, we had breakfast in Sanmin 三民. Sanxia to Sanmin doesn't have too much traffic, but Sanmin to Fusing has a bit more than one would like. This section can be a real mess with traffic heading back to Taoyuan on Sunday afternoons. Sanmin to Fusing is a long steady climb with a 2km downhill just before Sanmin.
If you are coming straight from Taipei, one pleasant lunch option just before Fusing is the Swiss Village --nice views and (not bad) Taiwanese-style western food.
The traffic thins out on the long downhill to the Luofu Bridge 羅浮橋. You begin the real ride after Luofu. We stopped mid-morning for some overpriced coffee in the garden at Star of the Northern Cross (北橫之星 Beiheng zhi xing). A bit later we lunched on down home Atayal food at a pleasant semi-outdoor roadside cafe in Gaopo 高波. Good food, friendly people. We narrowly averted being drawn into what undoubtedly would have turned into an afternoon-long drinking session with an extended family visiting relatives in the village. This place is right on corner as you cross the river that plunges down the mountain and through the village.
After resting for a few hours in the afternoon heat, we slowly cycled our way up the vast river canyon that forms the headwaters of Fusing Reservoir. There is a coffee truck about 10km out of Baling at Ronghua 榮華 with excellent coffees. You may want to ask them not to add sugar. Great views of the dam below.
As usual, we stayed at the Beiheng Hot Spring Hotel (北橫溫泉山莊), which is about NT$1,500 for a double. We had originally planned to cycle up to the Galahe (嘎拉賀) hot springs about 10km up the road in Xinxing (新興) village. This is an undeveloped hot spring in a beautiful gorge, but it involves about a 500 meter climb up from Baling and a steep hike down into the gorge so we passed this time.
The next morning we cycled 20 glorious kilometers between Baling and Mingchi 明池. This is one of the prettiest sections of road you will see in Taiwan. The climb up to Siling 四陵 takes you up about 600 meters from Baling over 10 km or so. It's a bit of a slog but so beautiful you may not notice. There is another undeveloped hot spring in the river below Siling.
If you can make it to Mingchi by 9:30am, you can score a buffet breakfast in the cafe until 9:30am for NT$150 including brewed coffee. Make sure you bring enough food and water for the 20km between Baling and Mingchi. There is nothing but glorious nature on this section of the road.
There is a gentle climb of 2 or 3 km after Mingchi followed by a long downhill into Cilan 棲蘭 where you join the Yilan branch of the Central Cross Highway. It's about 25 km mostly downhill and flat after a few riverside rolling hills into Luodong 羅東. We put the bikes on the train at Luodong and caught the train back to the city.
Someone had told me that most of the CKS display (including the two limos) at the CKS Memorial Hall (sorry, Democracy Memorial Hall) remained after last weekend's unveiling of the new name. So I was surprised to discover yesterday that an exhibit has been hastily arranged and the Caddies removed. It's entitled "再見 蔣總統 - 反共．民主．台灣路" [Bye President Chiang - Fight Communism ... Democracy ... Taiwan Road].
I went in and was looking at one of the first exhibits [a reading primer opened to the page that describes CKS as a child observing fish swim upstream; the exhibit uses this as evidence of brainwashing of Taiwanese students] when I was approached by one of the docents. She was very aggressively trying to impress me with the truth of Chiang's evilness. I'm not sure whether this approach is going to be very effective with most laowai (can I use this mildly pejorative word about myself and others of my ilk in the same way African-Americans use the N-word?). It felt like she was on a tirade. And, hey, why not speak out against Peanut-Head? Still, I think it might be better to have English signage in the display and for docents/volunteers to first ask visitors if they'd like to hear the rant before launching into it.
The display is on until June 17 if you'd care to check it out. It moves on to Pingtung, Kaohsiung, and Yunlin for a few weeks in each venue through the summer.
I also stopped in at the souvenir shop, where they're still selling CKS memorabilia. I asked if they had any democracy memorabilia and they shook their heads. Maybe next time.
Update: It turns out my fellow Memorial visitor was not snapping pictures, but I see that SINA.com has lots of photos from the exhibition. There are lots of examples of gongwen (official documents) with suggested prison sentences for gongfei (Communist bandits) that CKS marked up with "make it an execution."
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Last month saw another outbreak of the venerable laowai debate over on H-Net Asia. Andrew Field, one of the editors, summarizes. And here is one of the many debates on Forumosa more specific to the Taiwan context. I take the view that laowai is mildly offensive when used in your presence because it is an insider term directed at other insiders.
A comment by Ma Ying-jeou using a related term I think provides additional support for my view. Bruce Herschensohn, a conservative US academic has been widely reported in the Taiwanese media as saying that if elected, Ma Ying-jeou would move toward a "One country two systems" solution for Taiwan. Ma, who has consistently opposed this type of proposal because it is ballot-box poison in Taiwan, was understandably annoyed and described Herschensohn as a "laomei 老美 who doesn't understand what is going on."
I don't think there can be much question that an exasperated Ma reached for a dismissive and even pejorative term to frame Herschensohn's comments for Ma's constituency. The key I would argue is the prefix lao which, at least in this context, has overtones of contemptuous over-familiarity with the pathetically misinformed outsider American. Laowai works in similar ways.
Ma's characterization of Herschensohn is of course in itself exasperating because it shows Ma abusing that familiar trope of "those foreigners who are incapable of understanding us Chinese." Yet more evidence, in my view, that despite his jogging and excellent English, Ma is not the friendly internationalizing 'just like us' kind of guy that much of the foreign community thinks he is.
Monday, May 21, 2007
This has to be seen to be believed. As DOS put it, they couldn't have made Wang (and Taiwan) look more ridiculous if they tried. You may have thought Taiwan wouldn't be able to surpass the international success it enjoyed with past promotional videos such as the classics You Are Not Alone, Ilha Formosa: Taiwan will Touch Your Heart, and Can You Feel It Coming On, but you would have thought wrong. I think this time Taiwan's publicity geniuses have truly outdone themselves. Among many highlights, I will have to point out the dock worker tango sequence in the "A Culture the World Hasn't Seen" segment (around second 31) as my personal favorite.
Friday, May 18, 2007
It's surprising that Feiren hasn't done a daily blog cataloguing Citizen Ma Ying-jeou's current bike journey. The former Taipei mayor and KMT presidential candidate is on a tour of Taiwan on a bike. [In Chinese, it's dubbed "Iron Horse Tour" (鐵馬行). Bikes are known colloquially as iron horses and Ma's name means "horse". I could explain more, but I don't want to be accused of flogging an indicted horse.]
I haven't really followed it, but Feiren was saying the other day that Ma is getting flack for riding a 35,000NT (US$1,100) Merida bike. So when I was at a popular Taipei bike store yesterday admiring the latest -- including Merida -- carbon fiber models, I asked the portly proprietor which one Ma Ying-jeou was riding. He said something like, "I don't give a flying fuck about Ma Ying-jeou." It seems that what really offends him is that Ma is using a bike trip as a way to generate PR instead of actually just doing it for the love of riding. "If he wants to take that bike trip, then fine -- start pedalling today and you'll be finished the day after tomorrow. Why's he taking 10 days? He just wants to put on a show, that's why!" said the gregarious bike store owner.
I guess this is one of the things I love about Taiwan. In my cynical world view, any bike shop owner/salesman -- regardless of political stripes -- would have replied to me, "Oh, Ma is riding the Merida T45XCT. It's a pretty good model, but you could save lots of money with this sweet ride ..." But politics suffuses life so much here that the man was too offended by Ma and his PR to make a sales pitch.
It could be this is not political at all, of course. This could be like Jerry Seinfeld being mortally offended as a comedian that his dentist had converted to Judaism so that he could make Jewish jokes. Beware, Citizen Ma, you're pedalling into someone else's territory!
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Perhaps the swellest thing about being members of Taiwan's media is that we all know there's lots of room for improvement. It should go without saying that we are all committed to being the best darned, most thoroughly ethical journalists anywhere. The problem is that we all get on our high horses to kick the one that's down -- really hard -- whenever one goes down; then we seem to forget about ethics for a few weeks or months until the newest media-related scandal breaks out.
Last time, it was a TVBS reporter filming a gangster brandishing his plastic weapons and threatening his old boss -- and then claiming the footage was sent in by the gangster.
This time, it's SET (Sanli; 三立) TV airing a documentary (it produced on contract to the government; more on that later) on the 228 massacre and showing footage of KMT soldiers shooting captured Communists in Shanghai while a person describes the shooting of civilians by KMT soldiers in Keelung (Jilong; 基隆), in northern Taiwan.
KMT members are predictably upset about this. Now that they've discovered the outrage -- the documentary was aired two months ago -- they're saying it's another example of stirring up ethnic hatred against so-called Mainlanders. SET TV claims ignorance. Their argument seems to be: Well, this museum honoring one of the 228 victims sent us the footage and we thought it looked pretty good behind the execution narrative. It's not like we put up caption saying, "KMT soldier killing innocent civilian in Keelung.
News channels in Taiwan love to report on the lapses of their peers. They especially love it when that peer is highly rated - and SET and TVBS are both very popular. So this gives all the other channels a chance to play and replay lots of SET footage to score higher ratings for themselves. Meanwhile, one could imagine SET is losing ratings at this moment since viewers reason that you can't trust an interested party to report objectively. In any case, you can watch the key SET clips on any news channel now just as you could watch TVBS clips on any channel several weeks ago.
This could be a very good time to beef up ethics guidelines. But who has the time to think about that when there's ratings to grab? And next week, another story will take precedence and everyone, including SET, will forget about ethics again. It's hard to say if anything will change.
The government is not really of much use in establishing a better environment. Right now, the GIO (till recently the agency in charge of media regulation) is back on its heels since it commissioned the documentary. The GIO doesn't have much of an argument against opposition critics who say it's a lapdog of the DPP administration. The NCC (National Communications Commission) is the current regulator (at least until its legitimacy is revoked). Members of the NCC (appointees were all nominated by opposition parties by proportional representation; there are no DPP nominees sitting on the NCC as the ruling party disputes the legitimacy of the commission) are no doubt looking forward to heaping scorn on the GIO, SET and anyone else involved in the documentary.
KMT lawmakers say there was no proper tender announcement. This is surprising, since if the GIO were to indiscriminately hand out pork, you'd think they'd just shove it FTV's way, since FTV (Formosa TV 民視) has the right political stripes.The only substantive change this sorry episode is likely to engender is that SET will probably think twice before it accepts contracts from the GIO.
So basically, the KMT gets an opportunity to go on the offensive regarding a media project that documents its deplorable actions 60 years ago. The GIO demonstrates its incompetence. SET TV claims it's innocent of an ethics lapse since it too is incompetent. And the circus continues to proceed we know not where.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Kudus to the Canadian government in general and the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT) in particular for speedy handling of my passport renewal. I was somewhat chagrined last week when I discovered it would take 15 working days post-application for my new passport to arrive from Canada.
I filed last Thursday and I got a phone message yesterday (Tuesday) morning saying my passport was ready. This is the third passport renewal I've had processed from Taipei and it's the first time my passport has been machine readable. (I think that's good.) However, I'm more impressed with the fact that it took only three working days for the passport application to be processed in Canada and sent back to Taipei. Or maybe they just say it's processed in Canada.
I still wonder why the Canadian authorities have such strict requirements for passport renewal applications, though. In addition to turning in my old passport, I was also required to submit an original birth certificate and a second form of photo ID with my English signature. Fortunately, I keep the birth certificate in Taipei and I have also maintained a Canadian drivers' license (none of my Taiwan photo ID cards have my English signature). Also, I was required to find a guarantor (a professional who has known me for more than two years) to vouch for my identity by signing my application form and a photograph (thanks R). My American friends say they only need to provide their current (expiring) passport as proof of identity. That's, like, so relaxed eh? Can't we do that too, Canada?
While I'm at it, I would like to offer restrained praise for the new (Taiwan) National Immigration Agency. This was my first visit to their office since they began operations in January (if you're not in the know, be advised that Taipei residents don't complete residency-related procedures at the Foreign Police office anymore; now this type of thing is handled down Yan Ping Street, at the corner with Guangzhou Street). I had to get my Entry & Exit Permit transferred from my old passport to my new passport. It all went down quite smoothly. The CTOT gave me a slip of paper with the English-language help line run by the NIA (0800-024-111). I called and found after a hesitating start in English that it was much more expeditious to speak Mandarin, but the operator was very friendly and she provided the correct information.
So this was a good Taiwan day for me. I had absolutely no inclination to yell at anyone, unlike the unfortunate Japanese man who is the subject of Feiren's item posted earlier today.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Just after an American woman in Hualien gets fined NT$6,000 for swearing at someone, a Japanese man married to a Taiwanese woman gets convicted of a similar offense--publicly insulting an official during the course of his official duties. This offense, defined in Article 140 of the Criminal Code) carries a prison term of up to six months. Prison terms of less than six months are routinely suspended as in this case where the man was sentenced to a reasonable 30 days for his hissy fit.
A Japanese man was given a suspended sentence of 30 days' detention and barred from the country for five years for cursing immigration officials at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in September 2005, aviation police sources said yesterday.
The man, who is married to a Taiwanese woman, often travels between Taiwan and Japan. He became so enraged by what he called the snail-paced immigration inspection at the airport that he burst into a volley of curses when an immigration officer checked his travel documents.
His banning from Taiwan for five years though is arbitrary, unreasonable, and disproportional to his offense especially in view of the fact that he is married to a Taiwanese national. Unlike the 30 - day suspended sentence, the decision to ban him from reentering Taiwan is a purely administrative decision. Since I don't have all the facts, I'm not going to speculate on which agency made the ruling and what their legal basis is but it should suffice to observe that nowhere in Article 140 is it provided that one can be banned from re entering Taiwan because of this offense.
In other words, this individual was meted out an additional and far more serious punishment in addition to the punishment for which the law provides. And he was of course denied due process since there was no hearing by an independent immigration tribunal--the Immigration Bureau simply tacked his five-year ban on out of spite and without any outside supervision using their sweeping administrative powers to deport and bar foreigners.
While it is somehow comforting to learn that at least some Japanese are susceptible to fits of 'Taiwan rage' and inappropriate behavior and that this behavior is no limited to westerners, the cumulative and extra-judicial punishment did not fit the crime at all. And then the Immigration Bureau had the nerve to complain that the man did not express 'remorse' for his crime and further had the audacity to file appeals--presumably appeals against his unjust banning from Taiwan.
Immigration officials said they felt compelled to file the lawsuit to defend the government's "prestige" and "authority." They expressed regret that the man had not shown any remorse and has fought the charges by filing petitions with several agencies.
Surely the appropriate course of action (if the man was causing a disturbance that was affecting other travelers) would have been to detain him at the airport until he cooled off. If he was foolish enough to strike an officer or destroy property, he could have been duly charged on those grounds. No doubt when he came to his senses he would have felt remorse and apologized.
But instead the Immigration Bureau, which we just learned today is riddled with officials colluding with human traffickers, takes refuge behind a outdated and authoritarian law to protect its questionable dignity and then abuses its administrative powers to bar someone from Taiwan. Talk about petty!
Rank thinks it's the Immigration Bureau that owes someone an apology. Fat chance he'll ever get it.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
"Don't think that Taiwanese judges don't understand English" crows this Libery Times article about an American woman in Hualien who was fined NT$6,000 for telling her former coworker to fuck off in front of Tzu Chi Hospital.
She was fined for publicly insulting the woman in small claims court. This follows a similar conviction a year or so ago in Taoyuan where a Taiwanese woman was fine for saying 'shit' to another Taiwanese woman.
But the great part of this story is that in their decision, the panel of judges rejected the American woman's defense that she had in fact said 'Forget you' on the grounds that the correct English usage is 'Forget it!'
The accompanying story explains that the defendant had had the misfortune of running into Judge Zheng Guang-ting who "studies English assiduously with a private foreign tutor and plans to do graduate work in the US." Zheng, whose English was "excellent" in school, had her doubts about the usage and asked her undoubtedly illegal private tutor whether the usage 'Forget you' was correct. Her tutor confirmed that 'forget you' is not a valid English construction.
The broad-minded judge, however, concedes that someone somewhere in the English-speaking world might use the phrase 'forget it', but ultimately rejected the defense on the grounds that the pronunciation of 'fuck' and 'forget' are too far apart.
So don't think you can fool a Taiwanese judge about English.
A related piece on the same page in the print edition tells the story of how the owner of a gold shop in Chiayi County managed to use the same defense successfully when she was charged with cussing out another woman with 'gan li niang' [Yo Mamma in Taiwanese]. Her defense, corroborated by a witness, was that she had actually said 'ga li niang'--a less offensive phrase. But she was also able to argue that she didn't use the phrase 'gan li niang' because it is 'inappropriate' for a woman to say to another woman and because it was ungrammatical in context.
So the moral of these two stories is that if you must tell someone to fuck off in Taiwan, you'd probably better doing it in Taiwanese.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
One of my favorite Taiwanese bloggers Tseng Wei-chen has just finished his 17 months of alternative military service. During that time he made 160 posts to his blog, 108 of which were published as op-ed pieces in Chinese-language media. He says he earned more than NT$117,000 for his efforts.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
In case you haven't figured it out from my earlier routes, some of Taiwan's best cycling is in the Chiayi area.
For a weekend trip, I recommend getting down to Chiayi on Friday night because you'll want to be off to a dawn start the next day--it can very hot down here at any time of year. Whether you're coming down by train, high speed rail, or plane, there are a host of reasonably priced hotels (c NT$800/double) in the small streets opposite the rain station.
The easiest way out of town is east on Minzu Rd, which eventually turns in to Daya Rd. before finally morphing into Chiayi Route 159A. Let all the tour buses and SUVs get their kicks on Highway 18 (the Alishan Highway) while you cycle in peace on 159A.
You'll cycle pass the Lantan Reservoir the Formosa Freeway, the Renyitan Reservoir, and Highway 3 through some hills. Note the junction with Highway 3--this is the way you will be coming back.
After Highway 3, we knock about 8km in the nondescript countryside of Fanlu ('Aboriginal Road') Township. The fun begins just after the impoverished village of Kezhuang where you climb a few km up to the temple complex at Bantianyan. There is a nice outside cafe on the right just before the temples and some shops where you can stock up on food and water.
The riding gets really good here. 159A is a wild one lane country road rising from betel nut country up into tea farm country. Almost zero traffic even on holiday weekends. You'll probably need a good four hours or so to reach Shizhuo (石桌) at the junction of 159A and the Alishan Highway.
Shizhuo is a good spot for a late lunch at the restaurant on your left at the junction. There is also a breakfast shop on the right and across the parking on the second floor is a cheap hostel (Minsu) where a double usually goes for about NT$500.
You may well see other cyclists in Shizhuo. That's because you have so many route options from here. You can turn right and head down the Alishan highway to Longmei where you can continue on with the Chiayi-Pingtung ride Rank wrote up in Great Taiwan Bike Rides III. Or turn left ride 55km up to Tatajia, the Yushan trail head. Neither of these routes is recommended on holiday weekends although you might not have such a horrible time with the traffic if you stay in Shizhuo and get off to a pre-dawn start. Whatever you do, stay far away from the town of Alishan, one Taiwan's most horrid tourist hell holes.
Another area to explore from Shizhuo is the Dabang/Jiali area accessible on Route 169 heading east from Shizhuo. SatelliteTV of Forumosa fame lives up in Dabang.
But this loop takes the other way on 169 back toward the tourist town of Fenqihu, a much smaller and tolerable version of Alishan. At Shizhuo, you can stay at the large hostel attached to the Catholic Church and managed by a Polish priest. About NT$700/night.
A tradition on Rank bikes rides especially in the summer is to while away hot afternoon by a waterfall or swimming hole. If you have the time in Fenqihu, head down the steep access road toward Zhonghe Village (中和村). This road is a left after the Catholic Church but before you get into Fenqihu proper. The road heads down steeply for two or three km. When you hit some tea fields look for a private access road on your left near a farming shack. If you see signage for an old trail just before a big construction site you have come about 300 meters too far.
Head down the private access road (very steep) to the Yima River (譯馬溪) for some swimming in the cool waters. Be careful though because you are just upstream from the thunderous Xiaocaishen Watererfall (小財神瀑布) and the rocks are very slippery. There is a dangerous path to a lookout point above. Alas we have been unable to discover a route down to the bottom of the falls. I'm sure you could ask in Zhonghe Village. Incidentally, the outside access road connects Zhonghe Village to Fenqihu from 159A if you want to do a brutal climb up to Fenqihu and skip the longer way through Shizhuo.
There is a long descent into Daxiagu (大峽谷) on the Shengmaoshu River (生毛樹溪). Some beautiful water down here. Cross the river and begin the long climb on switchbacks up into Bihu Village (碧湖村). As you can see here, we crossed a landslide that should be fixed by now.
Eventually you will make it to Taiping Village (太平) after a good six hours of riding from Fenqihu. This is the only reliable place for lunch after Fenqihu although snacks and water are available along the way. From Taiping, enjoy the breathtaking descent into Meishan Township on the plains. There are 36 hairpin turns on the way down.
Day 2 is a full day of riding that assumes you leave Fenqihu early in the morning.
According to a review of Laura Tyson Li's biography of Madame Chiang Kai-shek,
Taiwanese taxpayers footed the bill for Madame well after Nationalist rule ended.
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek spent her final years in New York in a palatial Upper East Side apartment she regularly described as "modest." A bevy of loyal retainers insulated her from the outside world, ferrying her to shopping trips at Saks Fifth Avenue or shows at Radio City Music Hall. Madame's lavish lifestyle, Li suggests persuasively, was funded in large part by money gleaned from Nationalist-controlled government accounts and decades of business cronyism. In her twilight years she was a living anachronism, feminism and communism having undermined her particular style of faux-naif politics.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
The China Times and other media outlets are now reporting that Zhou Zhengbao's video-taped threats were in fact filmed by Shi Zhen-kang, a TVBS reporter from the station's Nantou bureau. TVBS has issued a public apology and fired Shih along with another reporter from the station's central Taiwan department. TVBS broke the story of the videotape a few days ago as an exclusive.
The station is claiming that Shi concealed the origin of the videotape. But officials from the National Communications Council aren't buying the station's story. They say that the station could be fined between NT$200,000 and NT$2 million and ordered to stop broadcasting for up to three months.
Earlier this year, TVBS caused consumer panic after it ran sensationalist reports of consumers who bought ducks with traces of tar in their beaks. Those reports were later discredited by government testing at slaughterhouses but caused financial losses for duck farmers.
Monday, February 12, 2007
The following is a translation of a post on Tseng Wei-chen's always substantive blog that appeared several months ago. My comments and notes appear in square brackets .
Liu Ming-chuan has enjoyed a recent wave of popularity in Taipei political circles. Mayor Ma says he is following is Liu's footsteps and has written several essays linking himself directly to Liu's legacy. And now James Soong has come out with a book called I'd Rather Be Liu Ming-chuan that he used to announce his intention to run for mayor. But Liu is overrated by later generations and has become, with the exception of Koxinga, one of the few historical figures who is highly regarded in both Taiwan and China. Was Liu really such a great man? This view is worth contesting.
At Liu's request, the fleet's commander Ding Ruchang despatched the fleet's [German built] warships the Zhiyuan and the Jingyuan to Taiwan. Land and sea-based artillery were then used to almost completely flatten Rikavon. This kind of brutal military campaign or betrayal and massacre of aborigines continued relentlessly. Those who were not exterminated fled from their traditional lands to the deep mountains. Liu then moved Han settlers onto aboriginal land, taking away the places the aborgines depended on for their livelihood and raising tensions between the Han Chinese and the aborigines. Hu Shih's father Hu Chuan harshly criticized Liu's aboriginal policies:
It has been 18 years since opening up Taiwan's mountains was discussed. Force has not brought victory while bribery has not been effective. Not one foot of cultivated land has been registered as taxable. Our defenses are do nothing but protect shacks on tea farms, rice paddies, and camphor plantations belonging to wealthy gentry. They do not stop the fierce aborigines from attacking. Every year monies for defense are wasted and vast sums are used to pay off the aborigines to allow farming. It clearly does absolutely no good and the same policies are repeated this year, next year, the following year, and the year after that without anyone waking up or feeling remorse. Isn't this completely ridiculous?
There is also much to be criticized in Liu's much-praised self-strengthening new administration. First of all, his policies heavily favored the north to the expense of the south. In an extension of the rivalry between the Hunan and Anhui factions, Liu used his official position to purge Taiwan Circuit Intendant Liu Ao, who enjoyed widespread support among the gentry in southern Taiwan, by making false accusations. This made it impossible for the southern gentry to trust Liu Mingchuan's leadership. This combined with the many deficiencies in Taiwan's cadastral caused unfair tax assessments and unrest and resulted in the uprising led by the peasant farmer Shi Jiuduan. Shi, who enjoyed significant popular support, was hidden by the people and never captured. Liu's reforms, which were centered in Taipei and intentionally neglected the south, were the beginning of the tradition of favoring the north at the expense of the south that has now lasted for more than 100 years. Poor administration also seriously eroded the effectiveness of Liu's programs.
Liu Mingchuan also ignored Taiwan's poor finances. When Taiwan Province was established, Fujian assisted Taiwan with massive funding. But Liu's reforms were extremely expensive, and Liu did not open up new sources of funding. Since his reforms did not benefit Fujian, Fujian began to reduce its funding for Taiwan. Liu's reforms became a great burden on Taiwan's public finances and created budget deficits.
Even Liu's railroad building, which has been glorified by later generations, is overrated. Liu advocated having the private sector build the railroad supervised by the government and planned to have Li Tongen raise one million taels of silver in southeast Asia to construct a railway from Keelung to Changhua. But the project was enormously expensive, so investors stayed on the sidelines and shares were under subscribed. In the end, the government had to take over the project.
Construction was difficult and building the section between Keelung and Hsinchu alone cost more than one million taels and construction quality was poor. James W. Davidson's The Island of Formosa Past and Present (1903) has vivid descriptions of the many deficiencies in the construction and operation of the Taiwan railroad. After Japan took over, they abandoned Liu's railway and built a new one.
Liu Mingchuan's excessive severity as an official is always overlooked. For example, Liu set strict standards to maintain the efficiency of his modern postal system and did not allow the soldiers who delivered mail to be late. In the Danshui/Hsinchu archives, there is the case of a soldier named Wu Ruiqi who lost a letter he was delivering. A furious Liu had the unfortunate Wu beheaded and stuck his head on a pole to set an example. Liu's cruel administration of his reforms made them unpopular with the people.
After Liu left office, his successor Shao Youlian adopted more moderate policies after a review of the realities at the time and halted a number of Liu's less successful programs. Although Shao also thought that operating a rail system was important, he reluctantly stopped maintaining the Danshui-Hsinchu line. He also reformed the civil service, created new sources of revenue, and improved Taiwan's relations with the outside world. His many contributions to Taiwan also included reforming the soldiery and defenses and he fixed many of the problems left over from the Liu era. The shallow and formulaic condemnations of him by later generations is unfortunate.
Given Taipei's present environment and development, we would be better off with a pragmatic, moderate mayor like Shao rather than one like Liu who developed extravagantly. If we want to discuss who has contributed the most to Taipei's development, both Goto Shimpei during the Japanese era and Kao Yu-shu in the post-war era both had far greater influences on Taipei than Liu did. There's really not much use in trying turn Liu into a myth or trying to get mileage out of him.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
The China Times had some fascinating statistics in a story today about how the number of new HIV infections in Taiwan has dropped for the first time ever.
Number of new reported infections in 2006: 2,942
Number of new reported infections in 2005: c. 3,300
Total reported infections (Taiwanese): 13, 103
Percentage of new infections from intravenous drug use in 2006: 60%
Percentage of from intravenous drug use in 2005: 73%
Estimated number of heroin addicts in Taiwan: 60,000 to 100,000
Number of needle distribution centers: 730
Number of clean needles distributed by government so far: more than 450,000
Average monthly cost of a heroin habit: NT$40,000
Average doses per week: 7
Hospitals with methadone programs: 19
Number of people imprisoned in Taiwan: 60,000
Number of people imprisoned on drug charges: 40,000
Number of HIV positive inmates: c. 6,000
The Liberty Times ran a similar story with a little partisan sniping at the end. The Center for Disease Control, a national agency, complained that Taipei City was not doing its part in the CDC's nationwide HIV harm reduction program that distributes the needles.
The Taipei City Health Department agreed that Taipei isn't distributing enough needles. They said that the Taipei police are rigorously enforcing regulations requiring that suspected users have their urine tested. This makes heroin users afraid of being identified if they go to needle distribution points in Taipei.
Incredibly, Tainan County intends to launch a pilot program to sell hypodermic needles in convenience stores. Way to go Tainan!
On the negative side, the incredibly high number of people locked up for drug offenses shows that Taiwan is yet another country losing the war on drugs and wasting taxpayer money by incarcerating people who are sick.
[All links point to Chinese-language sites]
Tseng Wei-chen is blogging and TV station ETToday is reporting on Jane, a physically male teacher at Concordia Middle School in Minsyong, Chiayi County who has been taking female hormones for the past 19 years and is now planning to have sex reassignment surgery. Tseng criticizes the conservative Lutheran school for firing Jane and "acting like the spokesman of God with a Pharisee sneer on its face." Tseng, who attended Concordia although he did not have Jane as a teacher, notes that the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church is the only liberal church in Taiwan.
In a story filed earlier today, ETToday reported that the school asked Jane to resign, and when she refused ordered her to dress as a man at school. When reporters tried to cover the story, the school called the cops.
ETToday is now reporting that according to the school, Jane has not been fired and notes that by law any decision to fire a teacher must be made by the school's Faculty Evaluation Committee, not the school administration.
Somewhat salaciously, ETToday mentions that Jane is married and has four children. CTS puts a much more positive spin on the story, saying that Jane's family--including her wife and mother--support her decision.