Thursday, May 31, 2007

Red Bean Danish Roll

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.
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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

Chinglish T-shirts and signs

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

Great Taiwan Bike Rides VI: The Northern Cross

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.

Galahe (嘎拉賀) hot springs

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.
So Long, President Chiang

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 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

More Evidence on Laowai

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

DogoftheSouth may not be howling much on Rank these days, but he did alertly point out this promotional video for the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung starring Wang Chien-ming.

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

Iron Horse Tour

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

Oops, we did it again!

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

Speedy Passport Processing

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.