12/25/2007

TCR C2 Giant




I decided, with a little urging from my road-weanie friend Eric, to buy myself the TCR C2 Giant road bike for Christmas. With all the gear, it came to around NT$75,000 (US$2300). This is a seriously fast bike. Now, I just need to get myself into shape to make it go fast. It's the black bike (above), next to Eric's even more expensive Italian job atop Yangming Mountain. They're good bikes - the water in my two bottles weighs more than the bike itself.

I took Christmas off (it's not a holiday in Taiwan). I woke up at 5:45 a.m. to ease her out for a maiden voyage. We went up the back of Yangming Mountain, past Taiwan VP Annette Lu's home (see other picture) before coming down the front side and completing our 50 km jaunt along the Danshui River back to Taipei. It was raining, so I had to take it extra slow. Plus, I'm still not comfortable with how she functions. This bike only has 20 gears -- go figure -- I could use a few more to get up Taiwan's torturous mountains. The TCR C2 also came with slicks, meaning the tires don't have treads. This makes it even tougher when it's raining, like it was today at the top of the mountain. Eric and I descended past the site of my accident (see previous post). Eric says we were doing 70 km that time. Needless to say, we were (or least I was) reigning it in a bit for this pass. According to the TCR G2 literature: "High-speed downhill or competition riding can lead to serious accidents.... Even with state-of-the-art protective safety gear, you could be seriously injured or killed when riding downhill at speed or in competition." Don't I know it! The accident happened in September, and my leg still aches from time-to-time.

When I returned home, I retrieved my daughter from the babysitter's. Normally, she sleeps afternoons; this afternoon has been a different story. I guess she's pretty wound up to see her dad all afternoon. Dad could really use a nap.



I'm still getting used to my new riding cleats. I have to twist my foot to release them. Sometimes, I still forget, and brake first. This leads to a momentary sense of panic, as when the bike is stopped, I need to put a foot down.

12/23/2007

Japanese Dorm




I took these shots of a Japanese all-girls' dorm at Hualien (花蓮), Taiwan, across from the Hualien all-girls' HS. The school, together with local government, is rebuilding the dorm with a plan to open it as a museum. Built in the 1920s, it is another reminder of Japan's influence on Taiwan. (Taiwan was a colony of Japan for 50 years, from 1895 - 1945, after China abandoned the island following the Treaty of Shimonoseki.)

I'll quickly run through Japan's achievements here in Taiwan:

1. Stability. Taiwan suffered through 159 rebellions in 212 years under Chinese rule. The Ching government could do little about all of the unrest on the island, which was divided into fiefdoms under strongmen. The Japanese seemed to have little trouble knocking these strongmen down a few pegs.
2. Taiwan's first banks were established.
3. Malaria and cholera were eradicated. It is worth mentioning that both reappeared after 1945. In 1946, the UN discovered that sewage from cholera wards in Taiwan was actually being dumped into ponds that were commercially fished. T.S. King, the first director of health under the KMT, responded: "Only poor people are contracting the disease" (Denny Roy, A Political History, p. 63).
4. In terms of agriculture, Taiwan had become the second most productive country in Asia, after Japan. Taiwanese rice is said to have fed the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. Rice output was halved immediately after the KMT took over. Much of the rice that was harvested was siphoned off by corrupt officials and sold on the black market in Shanghai while Taiwan entered a period of famine. Chen Yi, Taiwan's first KMT governor, blamed this on private hoarding. Meanwhile, gangsters were imported from China to work the siphon gig. They were given the green light to enter the homes of Taiwanese and to seize "hoarded rice" stores.
5. Whole forests were cut down. The Taiwanese were told the wood disappeared during the Japanese era, and many believe it to this day. I've often been told: "The wood all went to build Japanese temples!" According to Western observers, a majority of the deforestation occurred (began to) in the late forties.
6. The train network, which was both built and maintained with modern efficiency rivaling any Western country, ground to a halt. Signals and rails were stripped and sold for scrap, once again, on the black markets of China.
7. Looting and home invasion became a part of life. The 30/70 principle that Chiang's army functioned on in China was upheld in Taiwan. 30 percent of a Chinese soldier's pay came from his salary. 70 percent was to be made up scavenging off the local population. This kind of behavior led the Taiwanese to protest in 1947 (see the 2-28 Massacre). It is said that 30,000 Taiwanese died during this episode.

The carpet-baggers from China soon gave rise to the popular refrain on the island: "Dogs [the Japanese] leave, pigs [the Chinese] rush in."

12/18/2007

Times are a Changin'





I visited a Hualien school (on the east coast of Taiwan) today to promote one of the magazines the company I work for publishes. I took some shots while I was making the rounds of the school, dropping in on classes and saying hello to the students. Of all the shots I took, I found the Chiang Kai-shek pics the most interesting. First, I couldn't help but think about the comment George, one of my blog readers recently made. According to George, it's illegal to hang portraits of anyone other than Sun Yat-sen and the current president on school walls. The schools in Hualien don't seem to haven't gotten the word yet, or they just don't care. I put up three of my favorites. Starting from the bottom, we have a pic that reads, in a tone obviously meant to echo more ominous times: "President Speak". In the middle, Chiang has been cleverly defaced with Wite-out. He now has bushy white eyebrows and a goatee. At the top, we have a Chiang portrait with a hole in it. For some strange reason, the holey Chiang has still been framed.

In one of the classes, when I asked the students about the Chiang portraits, I received a huge shock: its 16-year-old students didn't even know who Chiang was! I said Chiang's name in Chinese, but to no avail. The 16-year-olds were registering blanks. I even pointed at the illegal portrait of Chiang on the wall and said "Chaing!", but still they were oblivious. This got their teacher a bit excited, to say the least. Forgetting that the students should "speak English, in a sentence to practice grammar," she started to hammer away at them in Chinese about their knowledge of the Chiang episode in history, but she also came away with the same response: "Who's this Chiang guy anyway, and why all the fuss?"

Telling my wife about this with a chuckle, I received some unexpected feedback. (It's worth noting that my wife falls squarely into the pro-independence Taiwan-first camp.) She said that was annoyed to hear that the youngsters were now living in ignorant bliss: "This is not good at all. These guys shouldn't forget their history. That's why we have China-unifiers running around," she fumed. "Nobody in Taiwan should forget Chiang."

I found out another thing while I was at this Hualien school. Students don't have to go to shooting classes anymore. When my wife was a student, students had to shoot a gun once a semester as a part of their indoctrination - I mean so that they'd be ready to protect the ROC when the Chinese came, or to answer the call when it was time to regain the motherland. Shooting classes have been phased out.

My wife also informed me that when she was a student, they were forced to bow to the Chiang portrait everyday. When Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) passed in 1987, they were even required to kneel. It seems that's gone as well.





I noticed this language lesson on the chalkboard in one of the classes. From afar, I just assumed it was Japanese. When I took a closer look, and tried to read the sentences, however, I started to get excited, so I grabbed a passing student and asked: "what language is this?"

"It's Amis," she replied. "We have lessons in Amis now." Amis is one of the twelve officially recognized Aboriginal tribes in Taiwan.

In fact, lots of Amis (阿美), Bunan (布農) and Atayal (泰雅) Aborigines live in Hualien. My friends down in Hualien say this is a major reason why the city supports the KMT (Kuomintang) - they have 400 years of grievances and bad blood toward the Taiwanese, which they equate with the DPP, Taiwan's ruling party.

If I'm not a high school student in Hualien, where can I sign up for Amis language lessons?

12/16/2007

Fort Santo Domingo in 淡水 not Tamsui



One of the reasons that the Spanish established Fort Santo Domingo (紅毛城) was that they, from this place, could see for miles out on to the Taiwan Strait. Below is my wife and daughter.




My sister recently visited me here in Wenshan, Taiwan. One of our stops included Fort Santo Domingo (紅毛城), out in Danshui. A lot of Taiwanese will say it's Tamsui when they're talking to me, but I prefer to call it Danshui (淡水), like it's pronounced in Chinese. The Spanish built this fort in 1626, two years after the Dutch built their Zeelandia in Tainan. The story is as follows (I'm using John Robert Shepherd's Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier: 1600 - 1800, which I consider to be one of the best books ever written about Taiwan). M.G. Vries of Holland landed with a force in Danshui in September 1640, where he "found the Spanish garrison had already withdrawn" (Shepherd, 58). Vries and company then marched up to Keelung, but was met by 50 Spanish soldiers, 30 Pampangans, 200 slaves and 130 Chinese soldiers so they gave up and returned to the south. In 1641, Danshui natives along with the Dutch "foreigner" Thomas Pedel rallied the government in Tainan to do something about the Spanish problem. They claimed that several Danshui villages were already causing problems for the Spanish, who wished to leave Taiwan anyway as the only resource they found worthwhile was a bit of sulfur from Beitou. In August 1642, the Dutch landed a force that was strong enough to expel the Spanish. Of course, the Dutch themselves were given the boot 20 years later by the Ming loyalist Cheng Cheng-gong (鄭成功). Cheng hoped to use Taiwan as a staging ground for an invasion of China. After China had stamped out Cheng's grandson in 1683, they offered to sell Taiwan back to Holland. Holland declined the offer, leaving this single relic of a Dutch/Spanish presence in Taipei.

I like history; that's why I never tire of Fort Santo Domingo. According to my history prof at Chengchi University, the place has been done up pretty well. He even thinks the color of the paint is correct (although I have reservations about the huge Republic of Taiwan flag that flutters above the fort), but this is not really the point of this post. I think I'll discuss Mr. Wang (see above pic), the misguided soul who works the Fort Santo Domingo ticket booth.

The moment I appeared at the booth, even before I had opened my mouth, Mr. Wang was using a silly flat accent that is supposed to mimic "foreigners" who are able to speak Chinese. When I asked Mr. Wang about his strange accent, he said: "It's nothing. You're a foreigner." I told him that I was put off as it was a bit impolite, and that "foreigners" no matter if they were American, British, French, etc. would probably not appreciate it. But Mr. Wang continued on in the accent. My wife then asked him why he didn't just speak Chinese normally. Still he insisted. He even tried to put his arm around me, with a wink to his colleague (see above pic).

At this point, I asked his colleague: "What's this guy's problem? Is it because I have white skin?" She responded:

"We don't have racists in Taiwan," meaning, I guess, that it's only a Western problem.

"Does he talk to you like this?"

"Uh, no. But you have to understand his sense of humor," was the reply. She wasn't laughing though.

I'm really bored with this variety of individual in Taiwan. That he works at one of Taipei's major tourist attractions, a place that undoubtedly welcomes large numbers of "foreigners" is beyond me. I don't agree that racism is a Western problem, or that it has been imported from the West. Here are my suggestions to the Mr. Wangs of this island:

1. I'm not a foreigner. I'm an American.

2. If you want to know where I come from, it's Wenshan, Taiwan. If you want to know "Oh, no what about before that?" it's Wanhua, Taiwan

3. If you want to take a piss out of me, first you'd better know me. I'm a pretty easy target, so I'm used to it, if I know who the heck you are.

4. If you want to hug me, you'd better know me. Don't get me wrong. I like a hug as much as the next guy, but only not under the above circumstances.

5. If you think that I don't have a right to complain, that I must smile like I'm a monkey and put up with it because I'm a "foreigner", or that I can go back to the "foreign" land that I come from if I want to complain, well I've got news for you: There are around a half a million "foreigners" in Taiwan. One in five babies born have a "foreign" mom or dad. If you don't like to hear us complain, why don't you go back to China? Because, simply put, Taiwan is now a country of "foreigners".

6. If you still don't get it, here's a note in return for the hug:

Dear Mr. Wang,

Taiwan is a little country facing growing isolation and a declining population. It may soon discover that it needs the rest of the world in order to survive. Instead of burrowing further into the ground and pissing the rest of us off, Taiwan needs to find a way to be more open, less stubborn in accommodating out-groups.

Sincerely

12/08/2007

Taiwan's Transport More Civil


Jientan MRT Station

I received a call from a taxi company today, following up on a complaint my wife made to them about one of their drivers. My wife called for a taxi this morning. She was taking our daughter to visit her parents in Wanhua (萬華). When the taxi arrived at our apartment, my wife was waiting at the front door with a backpack full of baby gear, a stroller and our daughter in her arms. She asked the driver to pop the trunk and to give her a hand. According to my wife, he didn't budge from his seat. He told her to put the stroller in the front seat and then to climb in, to which my wife replied: "I only have two hands. Could you please help me?" The driver still did not move. Instead, he said:

"Put the baby on the ground. Then you'll be OK."

When the taxi rep. called, he sounded like business: "We're going to correct this," he told me. "The driver has already had a good talking to. We're suspending him for five days."

I called my wife, impressed that she had actually carried through with a threat to complain. Neither of us wanted to see the driver suspended, as he might have a family to support. On the other hand, we didn't want him to do this to the next person. We decided it was a necessary pain he'd have to bear in becoming a more productive part of a civil society. I pulled this quote off the Internet: "Civil societies are also civic societies, that is, we as citizens must take some responsibility for changing what we do not like." My wife was simply taking responsibility as any citizen would to make Taiwan a nicer place.

I can't help thinking about a story that surfaced a couple of years ago when another responsible citizen did his or her part. That person photographed a bus driver with his bare foot up on the dashboard of the bus. The driver, in his defense, said he had had an itchy foot that needed airing and scratching. The bus company was not having any part of it, and gave him some points (which would probably affect his yearly bonus). The driver promptly responded by committing suicide. It's a tough job driving a bus in Taipei. I wouldn't want it.

12/07/2007

Taiwan High Speed









I've been traveling around Taiwan a lot recently for work. Today, I visited Kaohsiung to give a three-hour speech to around 40 high school teachers on public speaking. It was stimulating - the teachers were receptive and I got lots of feedback. One of the best things about this recent flurry of travel activity is that I've been able to get out of Taipei, where the weather is cold and damp, and the people are, well, a bit rigid. It was misty cold when I left Taipei, 16 - 18 degrees Celsius. When I arrived at Kaohsiung's High Speed Rail Station 90 minutes later (above pics), it was a sunny 25 degrees.

I've included a shot of a "Kiss and Ride" sign. A couple of months ago, FTV interviewed me about "Kiss and Ride". I figured they were just looking for a usual angle - "Look, this foreigner can speak Chinese! How did he do it! Everybody knows that Chinese is the hardest language in the world [translation: only Chinese people are smart enough to speak Chinese]!" The reporter caught me off guard though by asking me about "Kiss and Ride" in the US. I had no idea what she was talking about so I assured her it was French.

Later, when I googled it, I found out it meant that wives should drop their husbands off at the train or MRT, so they could save part of the commute and on parking.

12/04/2007

The Zero





I noticed this Zero on somebody's roof on the road from Jioufen (九份) to Jinguashi (金瓜石). I'm guessing, based on the cockpit and nose, that it is specifically a Zero A6M5, Type 0 Model 52. The Japanese used these planes throughout WWII. For at least the first half the war, Zeros were considered the best planes in the Pacific Theater. They flew long distances and maneuvered extremely well.

WWII is well represented around Jinguashi. This plane is about one kilometer from the past location of the Kinkaseki POW Camp and the mines where American, English, Australian and Canadian prisoners labored for various minerals three-plus years, from 1942 to 45. Emperor Hirohito's vacation chalet is down the street as well, overlooking the valley and the Taiwan Strait.

12/01/2007

Old Military Housing Museum




The above shots are from the military housing museum in the shadow Taipei 101. 1.5 million refugees showed up in Taiwan in 1949 with Chiang Kai-shek after the fall of China to the communists. Many of them were soldiers. There are accounts of these soldiers squatting anywhere they could. They took over hospitals, where they burnt the banisters for wood, schools where they used the textbooks for toilet paper, in parks where they remained until the past decade, etc. Almost every old Taiwanese can tell the story of a home invasion in their own neighborhood. Some can even point out where the descendants of home invaders still live. The original occupants of these homes are pretty much erased from history.

I doubt this settlement was the result of a squat however. The neighborhood around 101 was rice paddies until 30 years ago. I'm guessing the soldiers were given the land during the land reorganization drive of the early fifties.

The museum is interesting. They've got lots of every day stuff on hand: old radios, books, kitchen pots and utensils, hat racks and so on. The apartments were pretty small too, about two-thirds the size of a single master bedroom in today's Taipei (maybe four pings).



The guides at the museum told me they grew up in this complex; their dads were soldiers from China. I asked one what these mounds were, but she said "we're trying to create the military houses as they were."

11/25/2007

Thanksgiving in Taiwan



I decided to get a turkey this year for Thanksgiving. I had originally invited a couple of friends over for dinner -- not even thinking about Thanksgiving -- and then promptly forgotten about it. On Tuesday, Craig called me up and asked if I was going to be serving turkey on Thursday?

"What are you talking about?" I asked, wondering why I would get a turkey and also why he cared about what I'd be eating.

"Well, to serve Doug and myself when we come over for a Thanksgiving dinner."

Getting a turkey in Taiwan isn't so easy. First of all, I don't have a car. So I need to borrow one or take it home in a cab. Second, I've only got a toaster oven. Stoves aren't that common here as Taiwanese prefer to fry their food. I decided to check out the restaurants, to see if I could order a whole, cooked turkey to go. But the ads usually said they needed three days or more advance notice. I googled: "Turkey, short notice Taiwan" and read through a Forumosa thread on the topic. Then, I noticed that Sampras and Federer would be playing tennis in Macau! I read the latest tennis rankings on tennis magazine online and wondered how Sampras would stack up against today's top twenty. I was starting to feel tired, so I went to bed.

On Wednesday, I was in Chiayi when my wife called. She said she could get a turkey from the Ambassador Hotel for NT$2800 (just under US$100). It would come fully-cooked, with stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, bread, Caesar salad and pumpkin pie. She said she could even pop by the hotel after work and pick it up. So, I invited a few more friends over at the last minute and we had a turkey dinner.

When my wife asked the Ambassador why they had last-minute turkeys, she was told that they weren't selling well this year because people were depressed about the economy. (They're predicting X'mas sales are going to be down in the US this year for the same reason.) Anyway, the turkey was delicious, not dry at all. The stuffing was nice and spicy, and the Caesar salad was really Caesar salad (in Taiwan, restaurants often substitute iceberg for romaine). My wife said her office had ordered one from the Lai Lai and that it cost NT$3000, no pumpkin pie, no salad and no stuffing. How does one bake a turkey without stuffing?

BTW, my friend Ben "Ben Goes to Taiwan, not Thailand" came by. He's says he has updated his blog, finally: http://taiwanben.wordpress.com/ Igor http://www.igorsitnikov.blogspot.com/ was also there. Igor told me an interesting story. About a week ago he was sitting in a park by Taipei Train Station (I forgot to ask him which one, but I'm assuming it was 2-28 Park). A police officer was making the rounds, asking people who were obviously Filipino or Indonesian to show their ID. The cop came over and asked a couple of Filipinas sitting next to Igor on the bench for their ID, but ignored Igor. Igor thinks it was because he's white. The police didn't ask people who looked Taiwanese for theirs either. I'm bringing this up because I think it's important. If I'd been sitting on the bench, I would've shown my ID. I might've also asked why he didn't look at everybody's ID. I'm also bringing this up because about a week ago, I was told this on Michael Turton's blog by a fellow named Thomas: "I spent in Taiwan were the most comfortable I have spent in Asia. I never once felt any xenophobia."

11/21/2007

Chiayi, Taiwan



I went down to Chiayi, Taiwan today to give a speech at a vocational school about the magazines my company publishes. I was in the teachers' room when I noticed this portrait of Chiang Kai-shek on the wall and took a picture of it on my cell phone (I need to start carrying a camera with me). Anyway, one of the teachers expressed that she was surprised to see a "foreigner" taking a picture of Chiang Kai-shek because "foreigners" think he's a dictator. In my opinion, Chiang is a favorite topic of "foreigners", both here in Taiwan and elsewhere. Some "foreigners" even think that if Chiang Kai-shek hadn't come to Taiwan, it would be Communist today:

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/05/22/2003361989

I'm not so sure about this however. The US, frustrated by KMT corruption and ineptitude, was ready to throw in the towel on the Chiangs in early 1950. Truman seems to have changed his mind after Mao invaded Korea later that year. In January 1950, the US was giving Chiang about four months to fall, and had all but left him to his own devices. It was the US, and the 7th Fleet in particular, that probably saved Taiwan. I think they would've gotten behind any government here at this time.

I had a nice visit to this school, my second in a week. While there, I met Martin, an English teacher with a degree from Fresno State. Martin's dad served in the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII - a topic that feeds into the thesis I might actually write some day (if I can ever get up off my butt and get to work). I'm looking forward to meeting him soon. I am particularly curious about the topic of the draft. I've read that Taiwanese were not drafted into the army, but rather chose to join as they were promised land afterward. This point has been questioned by readers of my blog in the past. Martin was an interesting individual. He's up on both Taiwanese and Chiayi history, and is easy to chat with.

I wonder what the teachers make of this picture. One teacher told me that it wasn't Chiang Kai-shek, but rather "the father of our nation", Sun Yat-sen.



I took this photo from the platform of the Chiayi High Speed Rail Station. Parking doesn't seem to be an issue down there. Neither is driving - the roads seem empty, people stay in their lanes and go along at a reasonable speed.

BTW, I'm always surprised by Taiwan's weather. To me, Taiwan is a small country. It amazes me that a city like Chiayi, 200 km. south of Taipei, can be balmy T-shirt weather. Then I return and it's cold misty smog, and I'm freezing to death. Brr.

11/14/2007

BMW Taxi



I snapped this shot of a BMW taxi on my way to work a few days ago at the corner of Dunhua and Nanking in Taipei. My friend Jeff says that a lot of car-loving Taiwanese are being forced to turn their babies into taxis just to make the payments. To me, it seems like a steep price to pay. If Taiwan's motorists are being forced to such tactics, it makes me wonder about how they get the financing in the first place.

Cycling Taiwan's Northwest Coast Highway



The monstrosity that Eric has pulled up in front of (above pic) is a failed real estate development from the nineties. Located on the northeast coast highway to Keelung, more than half the apartments seem deserted and the place has an air of abandonment about it. The gardens are overflowing. The fountains are clogged with weeds. The balcony railings are rusted and coming off their moorings. When it first opened, it was a hot property. Movie stars and millionaires snapped up parcels of it, which I suppose they still own, but the complex could hardly be described as a bustling center of power, media and boozy parties these days. I did notice, however, a couple of snazzy European cars making their way down the winding driveway as I got off shots of the dilapidated grounds on my cell phone camera.




I met up with my friend Eric at Hongshulin (紅樹林) MRT Station early last Sunday morning for a ride up the east coast of Taiwan. This station seems to be a launching point for cyclists. As we sipped our horrible convenience store coffee and chatted, we watched at least half a dozen groups embark. These were serious riders; they looked fit and had good bikes. The clams (pictured above), were the first of many strange sites we happened across. Built some thirty years ago, they are deserted hotels. My colleague Doug figures they look Soviet, but I think they're right out of "Clockwork Orange". According to the locals, they're haunted. The ghosts show up if you photograph them - just look closely and you'll see the shadows of ghosts in your pics. These ones are more preserved. Others are shedding siding and beginning to crumble. Eric says they're a favorited rendezvous point for Danshui gays, but I guess they could serve in that capacity for any couple, regardless of sexual inclination.

10/28/2007

Rock the Dream




I took these two shots on my cell phone last Monday in Hualien (花蓮), Taiwan at the the 2007 Hualien International Stone Sculpture Festival. One pic is a work in the making, the other a winner from a previous year.

The festival "Rock the Dream" is held every two years at the Hualien County Cultural Affairs Bureau Campus. This year it lasts from October 1 to November 4, involving 12 artists from nine different countries, which are the States, U.K., Philippines, Japan, China, France, Italy, Spain and Taiwan. The artists are given slabs of stone which they go to work on in little outdoor booths that are yellow and have flags to identify their nationalities (see above shot). At the end of the competition, the sculptures will be carted off to different locations around the city (the Bureau provides a map to the locations of previous works).

The Cultural Affairs Bureau Campus is near the ocean, so it's a nice place to sit for an afternoon, watching the artists. If they, in their grinding and chipping away at jagged stone, become too intense, there is always the long stretching deep blue to balance your thoughts.

10/10/2007

Double Ten Day in Taiwan



This is a clip of Aborigines being indoctrinated in Taiwan during the 1920s. Twenty years later, 30,000 of the 200,000 Taiwanese that served in Japanese Imperial Army would be Aboriginal. Aboriginal soldiers were considered among the finest in the Japanese army, and were admired for their abilities in guerilla warfare - setting traps and ambushes, finding food to eat in the jungle, path-finding and nighttime fighting.

The Takasago Volunteer Units (高砂義勇隊) are probably the most well-known. They served in the Philippines, and were instrumental in the Japanese victory at Bataan, which led to the infamous Bataan Death March.

I found this article on 李光輝, an Amis Aborigine (阿美) from Taitong, Taiwan, who served in the Japanese Imperial Army and fought in Indonesia. Li, who didn't realize the end of World War II, carried on in Indonesia until 1974:

日文名中村輝夫,出生於臺東縣成功鎮信義里都歷部落。8歲就讀都歷公學校,不但品學兼優,且擅長相撲和棒球,曾代表臺東廳遠徵臺北,戰績輝煌,被譽為最佳捕手。1943年10月奉召入營,編入「高砂義勇隊」,接受短期訓練後,被調往印尼參戰。在某次戰役中與隊友失散後,隻身逃至深山匿跡,其後採食野果充飢,進而自力種植果菜、飼養雉雞、捕捉獵物,數度被蟲蛇咬傷,染患瘧疾,險些命喪黃泉。他所以能生存下來,完全憑藉在野外求生的技能,強烈求生意念與堅毅不拔的勇氣,抱持強烈期望與家人團圓的心願,才能度過30 年長期的艱苦生活。1974年11月印尼駐摩祿島空軍中尉蘇巴迪據報,深山有不明身分者,乃於次月16日率隊前往搜捕,於18日在崇山峻嶺處發現一間約2 公尺見方之簡陋草房,屋外有裸體男人正持刀劈柴,遂將其捉捕。透過翻譯,才知此人為中村輝夫(李光輝),原住臺灣。李光輝被發現之消息傳出後,經國內外媒體報導,遂成為全世界新聞焦點。透過政府與熱心人士斡旋,終於1975年1月8日順利回國。但他重返文明生活不到5年,便於1979年6月以肺癌病故。

This is what the article basically says:

Li was born in Taitong County, Taiwan. When he was eight years old, he went to study at an all boys' school. He was an able student and athlete, good at sumo wrestling and baseball. Li even represented Taitong in Taipei in a sumo wrestling competition.

In 1943, Li volunteered [like many young Taiwanese] for the Japanese Army and was sent to Indonesia. During a battle, he was separated from his squad and deserted (I think). Li escaped to the mountains, where he lived on wild pheasants and game, fruit and roots. Li was bitten by snakes several times and almost died from malaria. A strong desire to see his family once again gave him the strength to proceed.

In November 1974, the Indonesian air force was running some routine exercises when they discovered a two-meter square hut with a thatched roof high in the mountains. A naked "barbaric-looking" man holding firewood and a knife was standing nearby. Upon trying to communicate with the man, the Indonesians realized something was up. Later, they realized they had located perhaps the last participant of World War II - a Taiwanese Aborigine from the Ami tribe.

The story was reported extensively in the international media. Li died in January 8, 1975, Li returned to Taiwan. Four years later, he died of lung cancer. He was 60 years old.

10/05/2007

Amnesty International Taiwan



Ada and Evelyn


Ada and Evelyn were running a table for Amnesty International today, just around the corner from my office. I was lined up for a bank machine when they put a flyer in my hand. I had been trying to block them out because I figured they were signing people up for credit cards.

If you're interested in writing the government of Myanmar to complain about the arrests and murders of peaceful protesters, you can do so at "Foreign Minister Nyan Win, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Naypyitaw, Union of Myanmar".

Ada and Evelyn also gave me a poster introducing the "2nd Murder by Numbers Film Festival", which takes place in Taipei October 12th to 14th at the Taipei Youth Activity Center (6F, No. 17, Sec. 1, Jen-ai Rd.) and Kaohsiung October 19th to 21st at the Kaohsiung Flim Archive (No. 10, Hesi Rd., Yancheng District). Sponsored by the Taiwan Alliance to end the Death Penalty (TAEDP), the program looks promising. Here's the billing: "When the death penalty is mentioned, what comes to your mind? A scaffold, a hangman's noose, stoning, an electric chair, lethal injection, or bullets? When death row inmates are mentioned, what comes to your mind? A devil, a monster, or an ill-fated person? What steps do you think are involved in the death penalty? Prosecution, judgment, execution, and finally justice? The 2nd Murder by Numbers Film Festival will bring you the truth behind the death penalty." They give some Web site addresses for the festival: www.deathpenalty.org.tw and taedp-film.blogspot.com

I mentioned that Amnesty was out on the street, even though a typhoon is bearing down on Taiwan, to my colleague. He seems to think that Myanmar is the trendy place to be indignant about right now. (I guess that's because they're firing on crowds of peaceful protesters and arresting monks and it's on CNN.) He also pointed out that most countries are, in one way or another, up to no good. Who can argue with that? But I'm glancing at the literature right now and Amnesty seems pretty clear in calling "on the authorities to ensure that all people in Myanmar are able to peacefully exercise the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly without fear of harassment, intimidation or arbitrary detentionn, in line with international human rights standards".

9/24/2007

Accident in Kaohsiung & Still Hoppin' Mad



Over the past few weeks, this clip has been making its way around the Internet. Luckily, the poor guy wasn't hurt too badly. The reason it appeals to me is that, even after eight days, I am still seething about my own accident (see my "Riding to Yangming" post below).

My friends keep asking me why I didn't sue the guy that rammed me off the road and into a tree. My wife is at this moment shaking her head, saying "you used to have such a healthy body." But it's like the police officer said, "C'mon, this is Taiwan." What good is suing the guy going to do? Even if I win, I know I can't collect.

When I say that I can't collect, I'm thinking of two instances in particular. First, my ex successfully sued her boss for not paying her salary. After she'd won, however, the police told her she'd need to provide them with the bank account number(s) and the address of her employer (I am not shitting) before they could collect.

The second instance came when my friend Eric (the Eric of my riding team who wasn't maimed - also see "Riding to Yangming" post) was hit on his big bike by an oncoming truck, which happened to be driving in the wrong lane coming around the corner on a narrow mountain road. Eric was actually launched over the truck. He landed standing up on the other side while his NT$200,000 bike was smashed into bits. The cops told the driver of the truck that he'd have to pay for it, and even worked out a monthly payment schedule of NT$20,000 for him to follow. Eric only received his first payment. When he made later enquiries at the police station, everyone had amnesia.

Tomorrow is Mid-Autumn Festival, Taiwan's national holiday celebrating BBQing. I'll be getting out of Dodge for some much needed cooling off. Luckily, today is my last day of antibiotics because I can really use a drink.

9/19/2007

Secret Garden Restaurant




My friend Eric introduced me to this restaurant, which is a bit down the northern slope of Yangming Mountain (Taipei, Taiwan). The food is pretty standard Taiwanese cafe grub: dried out club sandwiches, Caesar salad with sweet Ranch-like dressing and Parmesan powder, NT$200 teacups of Blue Mountain, etc. But with its cool Mediterranean colors and lush garden, it's one of the most beautiful restaurants I've seen here.



This was the view from the front gate of Secret Garden Restaurant. There were I think three of the "satellite" dishes.

9/16/2007

Riding to Yangming



I was coming down Yangming Mountain on my bike and moving into the shoulder as the cars in front of me were slowing. Suddenly, a scooter tried to pass me to get to the shoulder first. This was the second time he had tried to do this; the first time was back a ways but I'd managed to close the gap before he get to it. This time he made it, by ramming me off the road and into a tree (I have no idea how he would have proceeded as my friends were in front of me in the shoulder and the cars very tight on the road). Anyway, I was going fast, around 50 km when this happened, and am lucky that I had my helmet on. At the exact moment that I was bouncing off the tree and landing in a bush, my friend Eric was going head over heals as a car in front had cut into the shoulder and forced him into the curb.

I was dusting myself off when my wife called and asked me what I was up to. She said to call the cops immediately. When the cops arrived, the driver of the scooter had the gall to explain that I had rear-ended him, which didn't really account for me doing a header into a tree or the smashed-in front part of his scooter (which he showed to be photographed as evidence). I still won because I had blood and was the loudest, and the police officer judged that it was scooter driver who would pay my hospital bills. When the police officer asked me if I was "satisfied" I explained that I was not because the driver was lying. Then I asked if it was legal to lie to the police at accident/crime scenes, but was told: "Come on, this is Taiwan."

All told, I have torn tendons in my shoulder (so I can't lift up my arm), scrapes on my face and legs (see pictures) and cuts on my arms. I didn't need a tetanus shot because I just had one last year after I cut my finger off. Some nice kids at ER let me go in front of them because they said my accident was more serious. For me, this cancels out the asshole on the scooter. He had to write an apology which I signed with a recommendation that he learn to drive. Plus, he had to listen to his mom berate him on the phone for being dumb enough to stick around after hitting someone instead of high-tailing it out of there. Eric had a few bruises and a torn riding shirt. His last words were: "this was fun, looking forward to next time."



Back Home

9/09/2007

Fulong (福隆)


Fulong (福隆), Taiwan


I noticed this sign in Fulong (福隆), Taiwan. I'm wondering if the Yanliao Bikeway hooks up with (or is) the Tsaoling Trail (草嶺古道). According to the locals, Tsaoling was built in 1807 during the Yang Ting Li (楊廷理) era from Mongchia (艋舺) to Ilan (Yilan or 宜蘭). The trail is probably a lot older though, predating the Chinese by hundreds of years. There are several reasons I'm supposing this. First, the Dutch penetrated the Fulong/Ilan area in the 1640s. By the 1650s, 45 regional Kavalan (瑪蘭族) Aboriginal villages answered to Dutch administration. It's highly unlikely that Dutch sailed around the northern tip of Taiwan to get to the Ilan plain as it was a bitch to land on the northeastern Taiwan shore. Secondly, the ineptitude of the Ching Dynasty Chinese in road, rail and harbor engineering is well-documented. I mean it took them ten years to build 42 km of railroad in Taiwan before the Japanese took over.


Mother and daughter pretend to sleep after conning my wife and five-month-old baby out of seat

My wife and I decided to take our daughter to see the ocean for the first time. This was also her first trip out of Taipei. Even though I've been in Taiwan for a decade, it was still a learning experience.

My first lesson came when I went to buy a bottle of water. It was my turn to pay when someone butted in front of me, waving a NT$100-bill. When I asked him to line up, he answered: "I'm just getting change."

"I'm just getting a bottle of water. The woman behind me is just getting a steamed pork bun," I replied, realizing that all you need to do to be excused from acting like a total prick (and that goes for even if someone from your group sees you) is act like your situation is urgent or unique.

My second encounter came on the train to Fulong (福隆) twenty minutes later. We didn't have seats and we didn't care - Fulong is just an hour and change from Taipei. We would just put our five-month-old daughter in her stroller and hang on for the ride, no big deal. After we boarded the train, my wife sat down in an empty seat to change her grip on our daughter while I unfolded the stroller. No sooner had she done so than another passenger (pictured above) produced a ticket and told my wife and daughter to get out of her seat. The passenger and someone I'm assuming to be her daughter sat down. The train pulled out of Taipei Train Station and we were on our way.

At the next stop, however, another passenger boarded, showed a ticket and promptly booted the woman's daughter out of the seat that my wife had been occupying. So I realized that this woman conned a mother with a five-month-old baby out of a seat so that her own twenty-something daughter could have it.

The trip back to Taipei was even more discouraging. My daughter started to cry, so I had to pick her up and hold her in one arm, grabbing on to a window nook with my free hand to balance. Still, nobody in that carriage offered us a seat. 30 minutes later, an elderly man finally tried to make me take his. The guy had walked from the other side of the carriage, past 50 indifferent faces, to do so.

8/18/2007

To a God Unknown


Michael gets ready to do Jimi (pictured above)


I went down to see my friends playing in a "To a God Unknown" gig last week.
http://www.myspace.com/godunknown
The band played at the Wall, which is a venue in Gong Guan 公館 (about a fifteen minute walk from my place in Mucha 木柵). The band has definitely evolved since I saw them play last. They used to stick to three guitars and the drums. On Wednesday, they were one guitar (bass), drums, a singer-sampler (an idea the band adamantly rejected in the past) and a guy on a Mac. Rafe, the boyish and jocular leader of To a God Unknown, was absent as he was stranded on Lanyu Island 蘭嶼 (also called by some Orchid Island). Actually, he was stranded there for ten days on account of all flights in and out of the island being suspended because of the string of typhoons passing through the region. His parents, here for a vacation from the U.K., were stranded alongside Rafe, his wife and son. They made their escape on Thursday, which is a good thing because a category five typhoon is laying waste to Taiwan as I write. I just saw on the local news at lunch time that most of the transportation around the island has been shut down. That surely must go for Lanyu.



***
BTW, Michael Turton has pointed out a missionary blog:
http://amanda47.blogs.com/following_an_unknown_path/2007/08/please-pray.html
This is a fascinating example of how some missionaries, in all their excitement, can misread a local culture. In Taiwan, people do not normally get involved in other people's families or business this way.

8/09/2007

Activists Rappel down Great Wall

Six "foreign" activists from "Students for Free Tibet" rappelled the Great Wall and unfurled the banner "One World One Dream Free Tibet 2008" yesterday:

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=32e_1186475766

According to the clip, posted yesterday, the activists' whereabouts are unknown. Today, they popped up in H.K. (probably deported), which is lucky for them as the hundreds of protesters that were rounded up in Tibet last week are still in jail.

I picked up this quote off NPR, from the Vice President of the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee Jiang Xiaoyu: "We welcome the international media to report objectively and fairly on our preparations, and to offer constructive criticism of our shortcomings," Jiang said. "But we oppose politicizing the games, as that is not in keeping with the Olympic spirit."

This is pretty interesting, considering China's controversial positioning of Taiwan on the Olympic torch route (the torch goes from Japan to Vietnam and then back to Taiwan before entering Hong Kong) has pissed people off here in Taiwan. Many Tibetans are upset about how the torch route is being used to reinforce a notion that Tibet is part of China. The torch will actually go to the top of Mt. Everest sometime during all the madness.

8/08/2007

Happy Father's Day



In Taiwan, Father's Day is every year on August 8th. In Chinese, both "the number eight" and "father" are pronounced "ba". I'm not sure how long the holiday has been around here. Taiwan has imported several Western holidays, and I'm guessing this is one of them.

I wonder if I'm getting anything material for Father's Day.

Chiayi's High Speed Rail Station



Besides the Taipei and Panchiao (板橋) stops, I think all of Taiwan's high speed rail (HSR) stations must be situated in the countryside. In Chiayi (嘉義), the station is about a 25-minute drive from the city. A lot of people have complained how "inconvenient" this is. I don't know how they would've ever put in these big stations, with the massive parking lots (by Taiwan's terms) and great views, in the cities.

8/07/2007

I Took the HSR to Chiayi



The high speed rail station in Chiayi, Taiwan. Tickets from Taipei to Chiayi (which is toward the south of Taiwan, cost NT$1080 (about US$35). The trip takes a bit over an hour.



The the high speed rail rolls into the station at Chiayi, Taiwan. High speed is just under 300 km/hr. I have heard that it was originally quite a bit faster. It was then realized that faster speeds could actually blow the windows out at the fabulously beautiful stations. (Perhaps it's an urban myth - the trains are decelerating or accelerating when they're anywhere close to a station.)

8/05/2007

Scott Sommers Censors Me on Blog - Talk about Hogging the Last Word

The weirdest thing happened to me tonight - I was censored on Scott Sommer's Taiwan Weblog. I was questioning whether or not "trained teachers" were actually doing a better job than, as he put it, "untrained native-speaker teachers that are ubiquitous in Taiwan's commercial language market".

http://scottsommers.blogs.com/taiwanweblog/2007/08/the-taipei-time.html


This is what Scott wrote about me: "Patrick in all honesty, this is not forumosa.com or Dave's ESL Cafe. Ranting about your prejudices against teachers and then saying 'I spent my life in school, and I know..." may cut it at the Brass Monkey. But here on a blog devoted to education, it's...well...a little inappropriate. So please, if don't have anything more than a variation on the theme of 'teachers are all bums', there are places to post where this appears to be more than trolling.'

Thinking I should have a right to respond, I put up this response on his blog: "I'm not calling all teachers bums. In fact, I'm standing up for them, especially 'untrained teachers' as they might hold an academic degree that is more meaningful than the kind of degree a 'trained teacher' holds.

I am offering a different point of view. Where you see 'trained teacher', many of us see 'someone willing to waste a couple of years writing a thesis that isn't really academic or because they don't understand that they have other options'.

You're the one that is ranting. Once you peel the soft science clutter off your writing, it isn't more than just a little common sense."

I thought wrong, because Scott deleted the darned thing. He says I'm trolling and that I'm prejudiced, but he won't let me respond. Since he's censoring my response on his blog, I'll make one here.

8/04/2007

Taiwan, China?

I received an invite to UBC's Alumni organization here in Taiwan. They asked me if I'd be willing to attend their function in Taiwan. As they were offering free food and entertainment, I said "sure, count on me." Then I tried to fill out the registration. When I scrolled down to give my country as part of my address, they only offered Taiwan, China. I tried to correct it, but was unsuccessful. I sent a letter to the President of Taiwan's office. This was the response I received:

Dear Mr. Cowsill,

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your July 19, 2007 emails, addressed to President Chen and Vice President Lu respectively, kindly informing us that Taiwan was mistakenly referred to as “Taiwan, China” by the University of British Columbia (UBC) Alumni Association.

In spite of Taiwan’s de facto status as an independent and sovereign nation, many in the world have downgraded us as a part of China in the face of Chinese hegemony. Because of this, as President Chen said recently, it is right that we forthrightly apply for WHO and UN membership under the name of “Taiwan,” which is certain to win the unanimous support from our 23 million people.

We appreciate your friendship and thoughtfulness in bringing this matter to our attention. On behalf of President Chen and Vice President Lu, we send you our best wishes.


Sincerely yours,



Office of the President



After Tiananmen, UBC erected a "Goddess of Democracy" outside of its Student Union Building to commemorate the thousands killed in June, 1989. This point seems to be lost on UBC's Alumni Organization. If anyone wishes to contact them, please write: Mari Takeda at mtakeda@exchange.ubc.ca


The organization is www.alumni.ubc.ca/events/ubcbound

7/31/2007

Who Gives These Assholes Licenses?




We were riding on a biking trail down by the Danshui River when this rumbling old taxi turned and then pulled out right in front of us! It's illegal to drive on hiking and biking trails in Taiwan, so I grabbed my cell phone from my shorts' pocket with my free hand to take a picture.

My first comment was: "Is he lost?" Actually, this route is far from any street and quite tricky to get to by car, which suggests to me that he knows his way around, meaning he's done this lots of times. The driver had to drive on a series of trails to get to this one closer to the river.

My friend Ben said: "Nah, he's probably dropping someone off." In retrospect, I imagine he was headed down to the river's banks to do some Sunday morning fishing. I should've gotten a bit closer to get the license plate number.

Danshui, Taiwan 淡水



Patrick, Eric and Ben at Danshui, Taiwan. Behind us, it looks a little like Thailand.

7/30/2007

Cycling the Historic Danshui 淡水


Ben, Eric and Eric (above picture)



My friend George has been bugging me to blog more. I just haven't been able to find the time. Yesterday, I got together with some old friends, Eric and Ben of "Ben Goes to Taiwan (Not Thailand)" at http://taiwanben.wordpress.com/ and another Eric I hadn't met before for a 3.5 hour ride along the Danshui River 淡水 to the Danshui Wharf.

I've blogged about some of the spots along the way (Treasure Hill, the 2-28 Execution Grounds, etc.). This time, I'll mention Guangdu Temple 關渡宮, which is reportedly the oldest Matsu Temple 媽祖廟 in Taiwan (above photos). Built in 1661, Guangdu is 77 years older than Lungshan Temple 龍山寺, Taipei's most well-known temple. Guangdu's construction also coincides with the arrival of Koxinga 鄭成功, though I'm not sure if Koxinga had any hand in its construction. (Koxinga is a favorite of local historians, who write of how his 25,000-50,000 Ming Loyalists "liberated" Taiwan after driving just 1,000 Dutch colonists to their boats. It took a year of combat for these brave many to wear down the Dutch.)

After stopping for a quick beer in Danshui, I took the MRT back to Taipei for a lunch appointment. (It's okay to take bikes on the MRT on Sundays before 4:00.) Eric, Eric and Ben stayed to eat by the water.

7/24/2007

Eighty Five Thousand Dollar Calculator



I don't have much to say. Fatherhood has temporarily taken away my bark and my bite. In the meantime, my Taiwanese friend Jennifer has broken down and bought an NT$85,000 calculator. The reason it costs so much is that it is plastered full of Swarovski crystals. Plus, you can't get one in Taiwan - you need to go to Italy to pick one up.

For NT$85,000, I could spend a summer in Greece.

7/05/2007

My Lousy Googling Skills

I've been noticing recently that I am not a very good googler. For example, the guy behind me in the office can locate any topic in five seconds flat. Me? I'll start out looking for how many homers Griffey hit in 1991 and end up at pics of apples and bananas in the Pike Street Market.

Anyway, I heard on ICRT (kind of - I was half asleep) that there were some problems with the bags of rice that Taiwan just donated to Haiti. When the Haitians opened them up, much of rice was moldy. Other bags had jelatin instead of rice, even though they were stamped "rice - inspected". Taiwan's gov., which is pretty pissed, traced the jelatin back to the supplier, who blamed it on "the many foreign laborers" he had "working in his plant". Can you imagine how saavy these "foreign laborers" must be, to be able to bribe local officials? I wonder what they did with the good rice?

I tried to google the story, but alas, was unsuccessful. I couldn't even find it in the Taipei Times. My search words were "Taiwan tainted bad rice Haiti". I did come up with this great link on lousy production standards in China:

http://chinadigitaltimes.net/tag/food+safety

It seems that one in five products produced in China are sub-standard (although officials in Beijing are saying this is American propoganda - it's a plot to discredit China to protect its own market, and because the US is ashamed about the trade deficit, you see).

6/13/2007

Ilan (Yilan or 宜蘭)



This is a picture of the Ilan (宜蘭) Train Station and also the street that runs in front of it (top). Built in 1918 during the Japanese colonial period, it is another example of Japan's lasting influence on the island. During fifty years of colonization, Japan hoisted Taiwan up from a rebellious and superstitious backwater to become Asia's second most modernized country (after Japan herself). Besides bringing peace and stability, Japan also built the first (with the exception of 42 km of track) railroads, banks, modern hospitals, universities and police force on the island. Taiwan was a world-leader in sugar and camphor production and it is said that Taiwanese rice fed the entire Imperial Army during WWII. Japan also rid the country of malaria and cholera (both came back when the KMT retook the island in 1945).

About the only place to find a cab in Ilan is in front of the train station. It must be hard to get passengers in Ilan. Once I had walked to the train station (no cabs anywhere else), two drivers offered me rides back to Taipei for NT $300 (the train is NT $223). It's an hour drive (1.5 hours on the train). NT $300 is less than US $10.

A rugged mountain range separates Ilan (northwestern Taiwan) from Taipei; much of the train ride goes through tunnels. The mountains made this part of the country fairly inaccessible to both the Dutch and the Ching. Dutch control over the area (1624-61) has been described as weak and the Ching Dynasty, like it did with most of Taiwan, had fits keeping Ilan's restless population, both Hoklo and Kuvalan (one of Taiwan's many Aboriginal groups), in check. In the end, isolation probably hurt the Kuvalan as the Ching Government was unable to regulate Hoklo expansion into the area. In the early 1800s, the Hoklo burst into the area. Within the next few years, some 40,000 settlers had cheated and robbed the Kuvalan out of most of their territory, pushing them down to Hualien (花莲).