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.


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."


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?


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.



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.


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.


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.


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."