Sanur, Bali

We decided to get out of the cold weather of Taiwan. After digging around for direct flights to tropical locales (my little daughter doesn't do airport stopovers very well), we came up with Bali. This was my third trip to Indonesia and my first to Bali since 1991. Instead of heading to Kuta Beach, the natural choice for visitors, we chose the quieter Sanur. I think this was a terrific move, especially after visiting Kuta, our original choice, for a couple of hours last Thursday. Kuta has really gone downhill in the last 17 years, sliding into as my colleague described it, a kind of Fort Lauderdale for Australians. Even though high season is not yet in full gear, the beach in Kuta was more packed than Waikiki (I've never been to Florida, but I can just imagine). It was wall-to-wall noise, filth and inanity.

I've posted a pic of the beach in front of our Sanur hotel (the Sagara Village Hotel) for a bit of contrast. Needless to say, we couldn't get out of Kuta fast enough - back to our nice quiet patch of sand.
The Bintang, Bali Hai Draft and regular Bali Hai were all waiting patiently for our return. The Bintang goes, on average, for $11,000 rupiah (about 90 cents US.) You can expect to save $500 rupiah on Bali Hai Draft and Bali Hai regular.
The Stone Pillar (above) is said to be the oldest artifact yet to be dated in Bali. The language on the stone could be an ancient version of Javanese that is not widely understood anymore. Located in Sanur, it's an obscure site, even to locals.

When I told the taxi driver the address - just down the street - he was perplexed. Taking the address out of my hand, he stared at it and rubbed his head. Then, about five minutes later, we were pulling up in front of an alley about a meter wide. The driver got out and checked around to make sure the address was right. Then he said "This is it. In there" before collecting a $20,000 rupiah fee (about US$1.60).

The pillar is, well, unimpressive. The temple next door, which is half in ruins, seemed a lot more intriguing. I googled Stone Pillar just a few minutes ago, and this is what I got: http://www.baliblog.com/places-to-go/in-search-of-prasasti-blanjong.html
The sentiment on baliblog is about the same. It's an interesting post, with an exact date.

I think the driver thought he had scammed us, because he was still hanging around when we came out. He said: "Come on. I take you back now." I told him we'd shop our way back, but struck a deal for transport to Ubud the following day.

On our way up to Ubud (we stayed there for a couple of days), we started up a bit of a conversation. The driver was from a village around 30 minutes away, but took lodging in Sanur and returned to his wife and little child on weekends. His wife also worked, in a shop at Denpassar, so child-rearing was left to his 50-year-old unemployed father. "It's very hard here," he explained. "Harder and harder, and I'm just 26-year-old guy to say this. We make about US$100 a month." After I had translated to my wife, he turned and asked "Chinese?"

"No, Taiwanese."

"Same," he affirmed.

Knowing a bit about Bali's rocky relationship with Indonesia (or Java, where the government is) and understanding my Taiwanese wife could become agitated, I jabbed back: "Bali and Indonesia same?" The Balinese are still very, very upset with the 2002 and 2005 bombings, which were carried out by nutcases from Java, and they will differentiate themselves strongly. These individuals made a huge dent on tourism and affected the lives of, it is safe to say, one in two people on the island. I think the driver got my point. His reply was emphatic:

"No, not same! All Indonesia people? Better can't come here in Bali. Better not come."
Returning from a visit to the rice terraces outside Ubud, we drove through into a "New Year" parade (Friday, November 28). There were about 100 revelers in the road, including women balancing loads on their heads and lots of kids. Our driver, Bayu, took a mysterious tone of voice and asked: "Do you want to see the 'white bird'?" I had an image of large statue of worship that was hauled out on special occasions, so I answered:

"Yes, we do."

Bayu turned the minivan off the main road and headed up a lovely, tree-lined lane. "There's 'white bird'," he announced finally, pointing up at the trees (see above pic). The trees were teeming with white birds. According to Bayu, these are the only trees in Ubud that they come to rest in. They do so at dusk.


Taiwan: Food, Finally!

I've never seen it as my duty as a good little "foreign" guest here in Taiwan to say that "everyone knows that Chinese food is the best food in the world". To tell the truth, I don't agree with this. You won't see me making top ten lists with Chinese food at number one. For me, Chinese food is too rich, too greasy, too (piping) hot and too hard to dig into. I'd much rather eat Greek, Italian, Cajun or Indian. I especially don't like expensive Chinese food, such as is served at feasts or wedding banquets. I simply nibble at these meals to be polite. And I absolutely detest anything with "herbal medicine" in it. I not only can't eat that stuff, but I can't even breathe it. There are exceptions of course like Szechuan food, which is spicy yet simple and Cantonese food, with its crunchy noodles and fun-to-eat dim sum offerings. Thus I am happy to see Taiwanese becoming more democratic in their tastes. Where I come from, it's more like "everyone knows Chinese food is quick and easy takeout. Make sure you have something to wash it down with." Nobody has it ranked number one.

My friend John was telling me the other day that the reason "foreign restaurants" are taking off in Taiwan is people here are afraid of Chinese ingredients, like everything has melamine in it. I don't see it that way. I think the population has become more worldly, more adventuresome and less susceptible to Sino-centric brainwashing. This bodes well for me, because boy do I like to eat. I threw some pics down below as further evidence of Taiwan's democratization.
Vietnamese spring rolls over noodles served at a the Pho Cafe, a nice little place near my office in Taipei. The owner, a friendly Cantonese fellow, comes from Vietnam.

I had this pita sandwich and spicy fries at a Middle Eastern restaurant called the Sababa Pita Bar www.sababapita.com, a restaurant in the newish Breeze Center, upstairs at the Taipei Train Station. I asked one of employees, I think his name was Eddie (an overseas Taiwanese from the Philippines) if they had a "foreign" cook hidden away in the back. He said "no", and that the owner was a Taiwanese woman. But he also told me that restaurant was a franchise. Sababa buys all of their sauces from the original branch, which is run by a Canadian. I'm guessing the Canadian, or his parents, come from some place cooler than Canada. This guy can really cook. Let's just hope the owner of this branch doesn't get it into her head that they don't really need to keep paying up, that she can do just as well on her own. When/if this happens, the Sababa Pita Bar can kiss its sales goodbye.
Moroccan eggplant, yogurt sauce, tomatoes, dill (I think), pita and drink for NT$180 (US$6).
Korean food in Hualien (花蓮), Taiwan: for the life of me, I couldn't remember eating this. It was in my Hualien pics file stored on my Mac, from the spring. I must've enjoyed it, because I love Korean food. Hualien has also started to go cosmopolitan. The tiny airport there serves international flights. And I do remember eating at a Chinese restaurant and having my order taken by a Russian in a chipao.
This jarred my memory. It was definitely Korean.


Tainan, Taiwan's Wa Gei

I had this traditional dish which is called Wa Gei in Taiwanese - no idea how to write that in Chinese - yesterday in Tainan. It's like a hard cream of wheat with salty shrimp mixed in. The concoction is topped off with a salty, tangy goo that is really delicious. Taiwanese people usually douse Wa Gei with a garlicky wine sauce that calls for a cold beer to wash it down. The dish, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (明朝), comes in a solid chunk that needs to be chopped up with a fork before it can be handled with chopsticks. Yesterday, I was in a bit of a predicament as I was on my way to a school to give a speech to some teachers. Inebriation and foul breath don't usually go down well at these moments.

Just as I was considering my options, a middle-aged woman pulled up on her bike and said: "Good. You gave 'the foreigner' a fork", noticing my chopping utensil, "because he can't [even though I have been in Taiwan since the nineties] use chopsticks." That's right. If there's no fork available, I just eat with my hands. I put ketchup on my dumplings too. And I simply talk louder when people don't respond to me. I know that everyone can speak English. But many people are hard of hearing.
I've blogged about this before, but I still can't get over the range of temperatures in this small country. When I left Taipei yesterday morning on the high speed rail, it was drizzling and cold. An hour and forty minutes later, 274 kilometers south of Taipei, I stepped off the train to a tide of warm air. I checked the baseball thermometer coming down the escalator in the Tainan High Speed Rail Station; it was registering 26 degrees Celsius - just another beautifully sunny day in Tainan without a strand of cloud in the sky. When I returned to Taipei seven hours later, the city was so cold and wet that my eyes watered and nose became red. Today, at three o'clock in Taipei, it was 15 degrees Celsius. We had a humidity of 67.5 percent.
The Taiwan HSR is running a promotion right now. If you ride during an orange hour, you save 35 percent on your ticket. If you go in a blue hour, it's 15 percent. Otherwise, you save nothing. When I purchased my ticket down, I was charged NT$875 (around US$25). "No," I explained, "I want reserved seating. It should come to NT$1080." I know this because I go down on an almost weekly basis. That's when I found out about the color-schemed savings. For my trip back, I, actually my company, was charged NT$1350. I'm figuring that costs are going up in general. The color times are a way to put sugar on this fact.


President Chen, Come Out!

This has been going on outside my friend Celia's apartment, which is across the street from President Chen's apartment, for the past couple of months (I grabbed these shots on my cell phone yesterday at around two p.m.).

When it first came out, thanks to Swiss authorities, that Chen & Family had been laundering the millions of dollars it ripped off from everyday Taiwanese people, the press was out in droves. They waited all day just to grab a pic of Chen or his wife, or perhaps a family member, shielding their face(s) as they drove out from the underground parking complex that is part of the ex-president's luxurious new pad in East Taipei, about a five-minute walk from Taipei 101 and in one of the cities swankiest neighborhoods. Since then, the amount of press stalking Chen directly outside his apartment dwindled, to where it has just been one or two student-ish individuals timidly crouching in the shadows of Celia's apartment, enough away from the secret service not to catch it, with their cameras, looking lonely, miserable and kind of cold. According to Celia, there has been one or two photographers under her eaves 24/7. With Chen's arrest last week, the mayhem has returned big time.
President Chen's lawyers (bald guy in the middle) gives a press conference right in the middle of the street out front of Chen and my friend Celia's apartment, oblivious of the traffic.

Reporters and photographers taking over Celia's apartment even brought their own chairs and playing cards. Instead of shooing them off, the security simply slept through it all with both doors to the building flung wide open.


Neili (內壢), Taiwan

Urban farming in Neili (內壢), Taiwan.

I visited Neili (內壢), Taiwan for the first time on Tuesday. Neili is one stop on the line, not reached by any of Taiwan's express trains, north of Chungli (中壢). I had to take a local train from Taipei, meaning no assigned seating and that we'd stop at every station along the way. This is my favorite kind of trip, to somewhere obscure - somewhere off the map. Once on the ground, I began to ask people about the demographics, but couldn't get exact figures except that "we're mostly Hakka people". I'm guessing I took in a town of around 50,000.

Usually when I travel Taiwan, I take the High Speed Rail. Moving at 300 km/hr, it's a sanitized ride. We don't get to see the grassroots and grub of Taiwan in the same way we do on a slow train that chugs along, removing big chunks out of the morning. A ride on a local train includes stops at every single one of the Japanese-era stations. The views of shacks and farming along the tracks, in every crack of free space along the way, are magnificent.

I googled Neili when I got back to Taipei and came up with stats for Chungli, which Neili is kind of a satellite of. Chungli has a population of 355,707 (as of 2006). I also came up with this: "Ethnically, it is considered a kind of capital city for the [Hakka] people who live in great numbers here and in surrounding areas. In recent years a large number of foreign workers (mainly from the [Philippines] and [Thailand] ) have also settled in and around the city, making it a center for foreign laborers". This much is true. The place is bustling with a cheery-faced cosmopolitan community. There's a certain energetic street-life thanks to the inhabitants that is missing from other places.

Jiou Chong Flowers at the Hsinchu (新竹) Train Station in Northern Taiwan.

I bugged several people waiting on the platform in Hsinchu, which I traveled to today, before I could get a name for these flowers. Finally, I found a woman that squinted and then, after walking part-way down the platform to get a closer look, informed me they were jiou chong flowers. I still have no idea how to write this in Chinese or how it translates either, so I grabbed a shot (above) on my cell phone to get help later. "When they bloom, we know winter is here," she said. It ended up that she was sitting next to me on the train back to Taipei, and then on to Keelung. She's a high school social studies' teacher who commutes back and forth on a daily basis. With Taiwan's low birthrate - .91 and second-lowest to Italy in the world - we'll see a lot more of this teacher-chasing-the-student-around scenario here in Taiwan. Thankfully, we've got "foreigners", people "settled in and around the [cities]" now. One in five babies born in Taiwan has a parent born in a different country. 

As write this post, there is a Taiwanese newscast buzzing in my ear. It's about 老外 or "honkies" from France enjoying oyster omelets. I think I'll go watch them being disparaged now.


Obama Wins

Answering an invite from the Democrats Abroad Taiwan, I hurried over to the Brass Monkey Pub in Taipei with a colleague on my lunch break for beers and a bit of celebration. The place was fairly full and everyone was soaking up Obama's victory speech: "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America." He said we should also be inclusive of gays and disabled individuals at that time.

McCain gave a nice concession speech. Some of the people were anxious about taking Arizona, but I figured "let McCain have it". He got stuck with a lot anger that should have been directed at Bush. I'm happy Obama won; I was thinking about something I heard an African-American scholar say on the radio this morning. This guy is one hundred years old and was reminiscing about what an adviser had told him in the early 1930s: "America will never be a democratic country until a 'negro' is president". I'm not one to stand in the way of history; and I know that Obama's victory will probably take a long time to sink in because it is, simply put, so wonderful. But McCain has honorable qualities. It's too bad he's getting lumped together with Bush.

Here I'm just linking: Undergoing MyBlogLog Verification


You Really Want to Say this Stuff Still?

You ever wonder why little kids in Taiwan point at you and say "foreigner"? I came across these pages in book I guess I bought - for NT$350 - called Baby's Body. Here's a translation, starting with the line across the top: "We are yellow-skinned, but there are also white-skinned, black-skinned and brown-skinned people". The bottom follows: "Wearing a swimsuit, you can see every different kind of skin color." Then "Skin can be cold, hot, soft or rough and give you every different kind of feeling!" The book, put out by http://www.windmill.com.tw/, was not published in 1920 but rather December, 2007.

Over the past few years, Taiwan is, like any place on the globe, becoming more multicultural. According to recent stats, one in five babies born in our country has at least one parent from somewhere else (I'm not sure these stats even consider kids with two "foreign" parents as citizenship in Taiwan is still conferred by the parents instead of place of birth - meaning you can be born here but still not be able to obtain rights based simply on your race). So what on earth is up with this book? Right now, I'm trying to figure out which picture/color/texture my daughter, with her Taiwanese mom and American dad, gets slotted into. I'm already steeling myself for conversations that I'll inevitably have to take part in. Will my Taiwanese daughter see herself, as my sociology professor at National Chengchi University put it, a "problematic child in this new generation of Taiwanese"?

Where does this continued emphasis on skin color lead us?


First Time Swimming

I took my little daughter swimming for the first time, at a wave pool down south in Taiwan. At first, she didn't like it at all; she shivered and said "hug hug". My wife got this floating car, so she said: "Duck!" She also point into the water and say "Fish!" in Chinese.

After that, she was crazy about the water. We would take her out to get a rest from the sun, and she pick up the duck and head back to the water. The swimming cap was mandatory. She threw her's in the sand.


All-Taiwan Presentation Contest

I ran over to Danshui (淡水) this afternoon to act as a judge for the Cross Taiwan University Presentation Contest. I was to judge the nine finalists on presentation skills; the four categories for breaking down the presentations were content, skill and effects (for PowerPoint and public speaking), English and flair. I do these contests from time-to-time, and often find myself pinching a leg to stay awake. For today's show, I thought I should have been paying admission. They were that good. The nine presentations included:

1. The History of George Leslie Mackay
2. I Love Taiwan: How to Promote Taiwan to the World
3. Taiwan Dance
4. Pepper Beef Pies
5. The Flag of Taiwan Should Not Be Chinese Taipei
6. Bananas: Taiwan's Wonder Crop
7. Chinese Education: Why Chinese Kids Are Better than American Kids
8. Taimali (太馬里): Why Isn't This a Famous Tourist Destination?
9. Betel Nut and the Beauties that Sell It

Group number five won it hands down. All of the judges had them ranked number one. They started out by doing a little PowerPoint on the history of the Taiwanese flag. Then they moved on to how it has been pushed aside by international organizations in favor of China, and their Chinese Taipei flag. The presenters told us, as if answering the second group who had stated: "The way to promote Taiwan internationally is through TV", that Taiwan could only find a place by action, the kind we see in the individuals or groups in the international arena. They were having nothing to do with TV ads or the like. Instead, they focused Kevin Lin, the Taiwanese iron man, and the Tzu Chi (慈濟) charity organization here in Taiwan http://www.tzuchi.org/ to underline their point.

According to group number five, Lin, a world-famous endurance runner, was taking part in an event in France when he noticed the Taiwanese flag hanging upside down. When he pointed this out to the officials, he was brushed aside. From that moment, he swore to promote this issue and other Taiwan points as well. Lin has come to prominence after finishing ultra-marathons across the Sahara and Antarctica: http://www.gio.gov.tw/taiwan-website/5-gp/yearbook/21sports.html I like this picture of him waving the flag in front of the pyramids, at: http://www.gio.gov.tw/taiwan-website/5-gp/yearbook/21sports.html

For me, the Tzu Chi segment was just as interesting. These kids explained that the foundation was able to support Burma with meaningful donations and assistance after this year's cyclone ravaged the country even though everyone else in Taiwan was simply pouring money into China to help out with the earthquake. That Tzu Chi was able to see this humanitarian cause not along racial lines - we can help these people even though they are not Han Chinese - was quite an achievement; it also sent a special message to the world.

After the contest was over, I had a chance to talk to Group Number 5. They seemed to see me as responsible for their win...

Kids: We were really happy to see a "foreigner" on the panel of judges.
Me: I'm not a foreigner - I'm American.
Kids: Oh yeah? Where do you come from?
Me: These days I just say Taiwan. Let's talk about your presentation. Good stuff.
Kids: Thanks. It's like what we said. We were happy to see you.
Me: What do you mean?
Kids: Well, we thought we'd have a chance to win.
Me; What are you talking about?
Kids: Our topic is pretty controversial. It was political, so we didn't know if the judges would agree or disagree.
Me: I simply marked you on your presentation. I liked your politics, but even if I had hated them, you still would've won. It's not about what I believe - that's irrelevant. BTW, good job.
Kids: We were afraid we'd piss the judges off. Actually, we had a Taiwan flag, but we decided to leave it behind for this reason. We wanted to wave it around and wrap ourselves in it.
Me: You should just think about giving a good presentation, and expressing yourselves as well as you can. You can only do that if you are honest. I don't think that finishing first or finishing sixth is the point. Just say what you think, and be satisfied with that.
Kids: [one student clenching his fists and agreeing] That's what I told them!

I've seen a lot of these contests. I put this one in the top two of all time. These kids were go-getters, the best and the brightest, and I consider myself fortunate to have been a participant.


The Crap Stops Here

Could this be the panda pen at the Taipei Zoo? The sign says something like "Glimmering New Exhibition Hall".

It does appear the Taipei Zoo is readying a cell for some animal or another. When I looked in the front door of the hall, I noticed bamboo stalks stacked on the floor.

Comment: When I was living in Vancouver, Canada during the early nineties, a debate on whether people should have the right to have zoos was underway. At the center of the conversation was Stanley Park, or rather, the zoo and aquarium in the middle of the park. On the one hand, people claimed it served an educational purpose. After all, one could take one's kids there on a weekend to throw stuff at the polar bear or get a family portrait in front of the killer whale tank. On the other hand, it was argued keeping animals in cages had no educational value at all. Visitors were simply looking at animals, with no clue about what it meant or even who these animals really were. The bears, elephants, deer and emu weren't in their natural habitat, hunting (being hunted) or doing anything like that. It just seemed they were on hand to make money for the city of Vancouver and vendors on the side. In 1996, Vancouver held a referendum and voters decided to close the zoo. I don't remember about the aquarium. Maybe that one had to go too.

Now, the Taipei Zoo has also become controversial, but for different reasons. Nobody is arguing that exploiting animals to sell T-shirts, baseball caps, stuffed animals and junk food is a bad thing. I mean McDonald's just opened inside the main gate and it's a huge success. Besides, people seem to think the zoo itself is lovely; and it is, but that's because it's located on the base of the Maokong Mountains. The big argument here is over the two pandas, to be on loan from China, as a token of a Chinese unification with Taiwan. I'm not kidding on this one either: one panda is named Tuan Tuan (團團) and the other Yuan Yuan (圓圓). When you put the words together, you get 團圓 or reunification in English. The reason this annoys people is it is untrue. Taiwan and the PRC were never unified; where does the re- come from? The PRC came into being in 1911, some 26 years after Ching Dynasty abandoned Taiwan to Japan, or 228 years after the Emperor Kangshi called Taiwan "a blob of mud floating in the water, a blob that had never had anything to do with China" before unsuccessfully trying to resell the blob to the Netherlands.

In fact, there's a long list of complaints about receiving these bears, but I'll just go with getting the historical record straight for now.

I don't think I've ever seen as much attention paid by a zoo to poop. These are but two of the many signs I noticed today on the topic. The bottom one was over a urinal I used while the top one was part of a poop wall exhibition of sort. The chocolate drops around the sign, in different colors and patterns, are actually piles of poop. There is even a huge playground apparatus for kids to climb over and into, which is supposed to look like a pile of crap. So, when people say "what a pile of crap" after leaving the panda pen, they might be talking about poop and nothing else.


John McCain's Statement on Taiwan

I came across this recent statement (October 7) from John McCain, the Republican candidate for US President. In it, I find strong support for the Taiwan Relations Act, weapon sales and Taiwan's democracy. McCain refers to this island as Taiwan and not the Republic of China. China is simply China, not the mainland or PRC:

"ARLINGTON, VA — I welcome reports indicating that the sale of defensive arms to Taiwan — a package that has been on hold for too long — will now move forward. By notifying Congress of its intent to provide weapons aimed at bolstering Taiwan’s self defense, the administration is taking a step in the right direction. I have long supported such sales in order to strengthen deterrence in the Taiwan Strait and to help preserve the peace. American interests in Asia are well-served through faithful implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act, and if I am fortunate enough to be elected President, I will continue the longstanding and close ties between our peoples.

In that spirit, however, I note that the administration has refrained from providing all of the elements requested by Taiwan for its legitimate security requirements. For example, the package will not include submarines or new F-16 aircraft. I urge the administration to reconsider this decision, in light of its previous commitment to provide submarines and America’s previous sales of F-16s. These sales — which could translate into tens of thousands of jobs here at home — would help retain America’s edge in the production of advanced weaponry and represent a positive sign in these difficult economic times.

We should seek cooperative and productive relations with China that proceed in a spirit of confidence, and we should promote the improvement of cross-strait relations. As we do, however, we should understand that the possibility of productive ties between Taiwan and China are enhanced, not diminished, when Taipei speaks from a position of strength. I believe that America should continue to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan in the future, in accordance with its security requirements, and stand by this remarkable free and democratic people.”

Actually, I was reading through an account of Sarah Palin's foreign policy experience by Mother Jones, which led me to the above statement. Under Alaska's Open Records Act, the magazine has obtained 562 pages tracking the Governor's daily meetings. The records show that she has had 20 meetings totaling 12 hours with foreign officials, and one of those hours goes to Taiwan: "April 16, 2007 -- Palin and a few aides meet with Taiwanese officials for an hour." From what I can tell, it's her second longest meeting: http://www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/archives/2008/10/10162_palin_calendars_foreign_policy_experience.html Why Palin did not mention this hour when Katie Couric was cleaning her clock is beyond me.

Going back to the McCain statement, I don't find any reference to upholding the "status quo". Instead, cross strait relations should be improved. For me, this is good news because I see the "status quo" as including over a 1000 ballistic missiles pointed this way.

Here's Barack Obama addressing the "status quo" to Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi on the floor of the senate, May 23, 2007:

"China's rise offers great opportunity but also poses serious challenges ... This means maintaining our military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening our alliances, and making clear to both Beijing and Taipei that a unilateral change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is unacceptable." Does that mean the missiles should stay where they are?


McCain Is Better for Taiwan?

I received an invite in my office email box on Thursday from the Republican Party of the US:

"Dear Friend, we are pulling together Americans from across Asia to show support for Senator McCain and help him raise the funds he needs. Can you please pass this message to an American who might be interested? I hope you can join us. We are a bit behind in the polls right now, but still have a very good chance to win the presidency in the upcoming election."

The letter goes on to invite me a US$1,000-a-plate dinner here in Taipei (not gonna happen, not even for NT$1,000-a-plate) to raise funds for McCain. When I wrote back and explained that I'm undecided (actually, I'm pulling for Nader, but see this as pretty much doomed), would be voting in the battleground state of Ohio and would appreciate hearing McCain's stance on the Taiwan Relations Act, meaning the "consideration of 'any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States' but does not mandate that the United States intervene in these situations" (see Wikipedia et al), I received a link to the Washington Post: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/10/07/mccain_urges_more_weapons_for.html

In it, McCain urges that the US also kick in F-16s and submarines. By coincidence, I was just this evening listening to Keith Olberman mock McCain for this stance. According to Olberman, McCain is only doing so because he has an advisor on the payroll of a Taiwan lobbying firm. I enjoy Olberman (he's kind of a Rush Limbaugh for the middle) and usually prefer the Democrats to the Republicans for the few issues I can tell them apart on. But when it comes to Taiwan, I don't. Instead, I wonder how the Dems can be so soft on China. Another thing that interests me is how "foreigners" here in Taiwan who are generally supportive of Taiwan can also support this party. I know what the argument is:

1. As fanatics go, Sarah Palin is as scary as they come
2. Iraq
3. Bush
4. International Relations (this party actually scoffs at the UN)
5. National Healthcare
6. And so forth

But I can't help feeling that "foreigners" in Taiwan who back the Dems are saying this: what is going on in the US still trumps anything I feel about Taiwan. I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about with Michael Turton and something he posted on his lively and informative blog. This is a very good Taiwan blogger: http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/2008/05/obamas-letter-to-ma.html

Normally, Turton rips anything anti-Taiwan. When the speaker is Obama, however, he is uncharacteristically mum. Let's just run over a few of the points from the Obama letter to Taiwan's President Ma or, as he prefers to be called, Mr. Ma, that Turton posted. I want to talk about them for a moment because when it comes to Obama and his Taiwan policy, the candidate gives me pause:

a.) "Your inauguration also holds promise for more peaceful and stable relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, in no small measure because you have extended the hand of peace and cooperation to Beijing."
Does Obama mean "cooperation" or "collaberation"?

b.) "Your election is the latest step in consolidating a democracy that has advanced over the last two decades."
This is true, but Obama should remember that democracy is the last thing Beijing is interested in.

c.) "It is important for Beijing to demonstrate to the people of Taiwan that the practical and non-confrontational approach that you have taken towards the Mainland can achieve positive results."
Bullshit. Beijing will have Taiwan one way or another, and at the end of the day will have its democratization dismantled. Then there's that old argument, namely, by referring to China as the "Mainland" there is another China off the "Mainland".

d.) "I support the "one China" policy of the United States." I can name a lot of people here in Taiwan who do not. If you love it so much, Mr. Obama, then why not support a "one China policy" that includes the US. There are, after all, a lot of Americans of Chinese descent. Simply put, you just don't have the right to force something like that down the throat of a sovereign nation.

e.) "We should continue to provide the arms necessary for Taiwan to deter possible aggression." Give us our F-16s and subs then.

I still haven't decided who I'm going to vote for. I know that McCain, with his cold war mentality though not good for the world, is good for Taiwan. If I do vote for Obama, I'll have to rethink how I pose my support for Taiwan. I'll probably have to say that a more peaceful world, with an America that doesn't aggravate but rather respects its different countries with their different points of view is good for everyone. I'll need to say violence like what we're seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan never solves anything. Then I will have to agree that I am a hypocrite.


Making the Rounds

When I get sick, I'd rather stick it out at home. The last thing I fancy is being propped up in an ER, waiting for a doctor to tell me something that I already know - that I'm really sick and that I need to rest at home - and then to prescribe a party bag of colorful med-candy that will do little more than get me woozy. I only hit the hospital circuit when my back goes out, when I have a biking accident or lose parts of limbs. Needless to say, when my daughter gets sick, all bets are off. This last weekend, I visited eight doctors at three different locations. My daughter was burning up with a fever peaking at 40+ degrees Celsius. And I was having a hard time finding help.

When she first hit 40+, I was just leaving my office last Friday night. My wife called me and asked that I meet them at the Taipei Women and Childrens' Hospital. Ahleena actually managed to get up to 40.2 C. Luckily for us, the doctor was competent. He gave Ahleena a suppository which brought her temperature down immediately. Then he took time to explain babies are capable of getting a little hotter than big beings, but that we should also come back if she reached 40 again. The next day, I was running errands when my wife called to tell me that Ahleena was again at 40. When I arrived at the Taipei Women and Childrens' Hospital, I found my wife and sick daughter impatiently waiting for me in ER. My daughter was burning up, and immediately demanded a "hug hug".

"What's going on?" I asked, picking her up.

"The doctor has just looked at her," my wife explained. He had simply prescribed a second bag of medicine, one day after our initial visit and bag, after looking at her for 30 seconds.

"What tests did he run?" I asked.

"Are you kidding me?" my wife responded. "He says we will have to check her in if we want tests run." My wife also explained that there were no more insurance rooms (meaning three babes to a room but covered). We'd have to rent a room for NT$2,000 a night to get the tests.

"Are you telling me that we have to rent a room to get medical service?"

"Yep," she answered.

When I complained to the ER nurses (who obviously thought this "doctor" was not holding up to his responsibility), they phoned him so that I could complain directly. "No, no, that's okay," I answered, feeling the usual fatigue.

"No, you must," they insisted. When the "doctor" showed up, they seemed to enjoy my asking him if he were a medicine salesman or a doctor? I also inquired about when the real doctor from Friday night would be back. I asked this "doctor" if he could speak English, but quickly decided to keep this conversation in Chinese for the enjoyment of all.

My brother-in-law then materialized and suggested we go to a "famous" baby clinic in Wanhua, my old stomping grounds. We were there for about two minutes when the "famous" doctor, after a stab/glance at her throat, prescribed yet another bag of medicine. When I asked him if his clinic had a real doctor, he said: "Go to the hospital." Now we had three bags to sift through, and were genuinely confused.

Knowing not what to do or which meds to choose from, we proceeded to Tai-da University Hospital. Here's where the good part kicks in: Tai-da provided us with four doctors. They spent about a half an hour on my daughter, with a battle-axe nurse riding shot-gun. In Taiwan, I advise you to do the following: find an intern or two. They are much less jaded; they don't realize the business of selling medicine yet. When the young doctors asked me about the previous doctor, I explained we had only seen medicine salesmen. They found my comments amusing and we were able to chuckle together.

Actually, Taiwan's universal medical insurance is wonderful by anyone's standards. I say only this: find a doctor you can stand, like the very kind and able Dr. Lee who delivered my child 1.5 years ago, and stick to him (or her). Don't be duped by all the businessmen masquerading as doctors. If you bump into one, demand that your medical insurance card is un-swiped and that the charges aren't made. Or do as my wife says and take their name down. "They don't do any action but try to check you into the hospital!" she tells me.


High Speed in Taiwan

These are the trial runs for the Taiwan High Speed, from a couple years back. One thing that I found interesting was the driver appeared to be Taiwanese (I can only see that back of his head and his hand in the clip). I take the High Speed Rail quite a bit, and I have never noticed a Taiwanese driver. I have noticed lots of "foreign" drivers. Naturally, I was curious about the figures. This is what I found online: "At the start of operations, nearly all train operators were foreign. Of the current 89 train operators, however, 54 are Taiwanese; the remaining 35 are mostly French..." http://thirstyghosts2.blogspot.com/2008/01/on-right-track.html

I wonder what the exact totals were at the start. "Nearly all" sounds a bit weird (fishy) to me. Anyway, if all, or even nearly all, the drivers were "foreign", why not show a "foreign" driver in this promotional clip?


Landlady From Hell

"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made." - Groucho Marx. I think my landlady has this perfected to a tee.

I've been renting from her for two years. I pay NT$20,000 for a place that's a bit on the small side - two bedrooms and a Japanese waste-of-space room, but only one bathroom. The view's pretty good and we're in Wenshan (文山), near the mountains. Anyway, I don't really consider myself a problem tenant. I'm never late on paying the rent. I don't claim it for tax purposes on my tax returns. That means that my landlady doesn't need to report any of this income on her taxes. It's worth mentioning that we never agreed to this when we moved in. Why would I agree to something that illegal? We're just unable to get receipts out of her. And in all of my time here, I've asked her to fix two things, a leaky faucet and a leaky air conditioner, which was pouring down the wall and messing up her property. Other things, I've let go. This includes a gaping crack in the floor that runs down a fifth of the living room. The crack appeared after the December 2006 earthquake. Many of tiles were broken at the time, and now more are in the process of crumbling up. Since we have an infant crawling around the place, we've covered everything up with soft Formosan floor pads. But we're forever retrieving little jagged pieces of floor tile. My wife says "forget about it. The landlady'll never properly fix the floor or anything else until we're out and she's found someone idiotic enough to buy such a structurally unsound place."

All the fun started on our second complaint on the place - the aforementioned air conditioner. A couple of weeks ago, I called the landlady and told her it was leaking. She said she'd send someone over. After a half-an-hour's work, I was presented a bill for NT$1,500. The landlady was in our home too, watching with an embarrassed smile on her face. She uses moments like this to gain access, to make mental notes on how we're wrecking the place. So I told the repairman, "The landlady's right there. Give her the bill." Man, did the landlady ever put up a stink, but I told her "my wallet's not coming open for this one."

"But your contract has expired," she countered. Good point. Why hadn't I pushed her for a lower rate, especially considering Taiwan's high vacancy rates, which have got to be worse than two years ago when we took this place on after it had sat unrented for a year? End of story? Well, no. Last night, I was coming home with my daughter when I noticed a fellow with a shaved head, in combat fatigues, holding guard over our front door. "How's it going?" I asked him.

"Ugh!" was the reply.

Five minutes later, the phone was ringing in my apartment: "It's the landlady. Mr Cheng, can I come up?"

"Sure, I've got this month's rent ready," I answered. She picks it up personally because, I think, she wants to avoid any trail that could link her to this rental income. A couple minutes later, the landlady, her husband and the guy with the shaved head were in my apartment, presenting me with an unusual proposition. I could stay in the apartment on these conditions:

1. The rent would be bumped to NT$25,000 per month in six months. That's a 25 percent increase.
2. The rent would be bumped to NT$25,000 in three months if I didn't sign immediately. Why? Because they needed NT$5,000 a month extra (their words) to pay for repairing the apartment when things came up.
3. I could NOT go to the tax office and claim that I had paid rent to them (Taiwan has a fairly reasonable rental tax break to catch, I suppose, tax evaders). The landlady had actually written this condition into the text of the contract (see above pic)!
4. If I moved out early, I'd be penalized one months' rent. I've already been here for two years.

When I told them that I would need time to sleep on it, the guy with no hair went livid. It turns out he's their eldest son. "I could rent this apartment for NT$30,000!" he yelled. "It has an elevator!" Every time I tried to speak, he cut me off. What I wanted to say was:

"First, I need to talk to my wife. She would kill me if I signed anything without first consulting her. This is how it works in normal marriages. Also, your gestapo tactics won't work here, even if you can bounce off all four walls like the Incredible Hulk. Besides, I can't sign anything, period. My father-in-law has my ID and chop right now. He's picking up a package for me from the post office." For the next half an hour, I had him going at me, badgering me to sign right now or else.... Talk about a nice way to spend a Friday night. Finally, I opened the door and said "Thanks, but no thanks. Out."

"We'll be back tomorrow," he informed me. "That will be your last chance. How's about 4:30?"

"Why don't you come over on Monday?" I asked. "I have stuff to do tomorrow. It's Saturday, after all. Besides, I won't be able to get my ID back by Saturday afternoon. My father-in-law works Saturdays."

Today, I was kicking back at my friend Celia's when it occurred to me that the crazy bugger would be on his way to my home in an hour. So, I decided to call him: "You'll have to come over Monday, guy. I'm out right now." This really pissed him off. He started to shout so loud that my cell phone vibrated. I put it down on the table to give my ear a break. I guess I was tuning out, because all I heard was "Zzzz, shhhhh, You...." I don't know if Celia could make out what was coming through all of that or if she just found the anger upsetting, because she began to cry. After I had hung up, my phone rang several more times. I put it on "busy" at first. Then I shut it off. About an hour later, when I had turned it on again, my wife was on the other end of the line:

"That crazy nut just called me eight times! He says we have to move out by September 30 or accept the wrath of the law. He'll give us one last chance. He says he'll drop off a paper for us to sign, agreeing to eviction in three weeks, or there will be big trouble! I think he's trying to intimidate us. BTW, he says you have no manners because you hung up on him."

This should be interesting. I've always been curious to see just how the legal system works here first-hand.


New Hampshire Cookout in Taiwan

I took the train down to Miaoli (苗栗) and ventured into Hakka country to visit MJ Klein and his wife, Hui-chen: http://www.thenhbushman.com/2008/09/01/saturday-in-miaoli/ plus friends last Saturday. We met up at Andres: http://dreintaiwan.blogspot.com/ uncle's cabin for a KTV cookout in the mountains. MJ broke out his Dutch oven (see above pic) and cooked some really delicious grub, a kind of thick beef stew that was one of the best meals I've had in a long time. According to MJ, the Dutch oven was used to feed New England lumberjacks in the 19th century. They obviously ate really well. The Dutch oven is a weird and wonderful cast iron contraption where heat is directed down on the ingredients over an extended period of time.

Andres' uncle was also cooking. He'd fished a pile of river shrimp, which he barbecued in a beer can. I've come to the conclusion that I don't eat as well as other people. Life in Taipei means an endless stream of fried or boiled slop for people on the go, with the occasional Subway sub to break up the monotony. MJ seems to have it figured out. You get other people to do work for you, and then just focus on what's important - eating, kicking back to discussions on the future punctuated with listening to or making music.


I'm Calling It Aboriginal Taipei

Every time my wife hears Chinese Taipei, I think she's going throw the TV out the window. Since when is Taipei Chinese and what about the rest of the country?

I noticed a trend today when I was getting my Internet sports fix. CNN/Sports Illustrated ran with this headline: "US softball shuts out Taiwan 7-0". No Chinese Taipei stuff. And Yahoo put it like this: "US shuts out Taiwan 7-0". At ESPN, the medal counter is also calling Taiwan, uh, well...Taiwan, with Chinese Taipei in parentheses: http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/summer08/medals
If you go to the official Website of the Olympics out of Beijing, Taiwan is not listed at all. There is a place, however, called Chinese Taipei.

The blog In Claudia Jean's Eyes has brought up an interesting point in a post called: "China's Olympic dirty trick against Taiwan" (she's also not using Chinese Taipei). According to this writer, Taiwan was set up to lose. On Thursday, Taiwan had to play in the last time slot against Japan, a very tough opponent. The next day, they were scheduled in the earliest slot, against China. This is the only time a team has had back-to-backers like this, and look who benefits: http://claudiajean.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/taiwan-baseball-olympics/

I don't know how sympathetic I am though. Actually, I don't really like this Taiwan baseball team. Why? I don't think they've displayed very good sportsmanship; they are ungracious when they lose, and full of excuses. They complained about the strike zone in the China game. The umpire was from Panama, not China. Then, they bitched about their own second baseman making mistakes and their own relief pitcher being "too cautious". What does that mean anyway? He doesn't throw enough balls or wild pitches? They complained about the new, extra innings rule, where runners are automatically inserted at first and second base to start the inning, claiming, "we weren't used to it". Do they mean that half an inning later the Chinese were, and that's how they won? Or, are they admitting they did not practice for this scenario. They've also complained that their best players are in America. Every team except Cuba, China and the Netherlands is facing this problem.

This is the same team that got into a brawl a little while back with the Canadian Olympic team in Douliu (斗六), Taiwan. The brawl, which cleared both benches, was sparked by the fallout from a home plate collision between Canadian base runner James VanOnstrand and Taiwanese catcher Yeh Chen-chang. As VanOnstrand was walking away, the catcher threw the ball at him, hitting him in the back. The Taiwan Journal reports Yeh flipped it at the Canadian, but my colleague who was watching the game says it was an overhand throw:
http://taiwanjournal.nat.gov.tw/ct.asp?xItem=30686&CtNode=122 My colleague also says that fans at the game started throwing garbage at the Canadians. Later, when the Taiwanese TV media picked up the story, it was neither flip nor throw. They simply showed the Canadian bullies pounding on their Taiwanese hosts.

This is how the piece in the Taiwan Journal ends: "Even though Taiwan enjoyed home-field advantage, many supporters were not optimistic about the team's chances, especially when Hung announced his final lineup composed of many young and inexperienced players. But equipped with burning ambition and guided by Hung's astute tactics, the team of unproven youngsters eventually obtained respect both at home and abroad by making the public's wish of going to the upcoming Olympics come true."

Hung's astute tactics? Hung is the manager; the guy that blames his players, by name, in the media for losing games. He is the guy that was badly out-managed in the China game. He's the guy that did not prepare his team for the new rules, and who did not notice the glitch in the schedule until it was way too late to do anything about it.

The Canadian media doesn't really sing Hung's praises. But they do say the brawl galvanized the Canadians in a tight game, one which they came from behind to win.

Final comments: I don't think that the Taiwan team should be using scheduling as an excuse for losing. I mean, come on, baseball isn't that tiring (unless you're a pitcher). Players sit or stand around for 95 percent of the game. That is why Major League teams are able to play 162 games a season, averaging six a week. The players should go look at Michael Phelps if they want to understand tiring. This guy Mao from Keelung that was in the Taipei Times today summed it up beautifully: "It's just like in history. Last night we lost to [former colonial power] Japan and today we lost to the communist bandits."


Taipei Signs

One of my colleagues asked me why I was taking a picture of this sign. "Because I enjoy the irony - it's an invitation to suicide," I answered. Right of way means nothing in Taiwan. There isn't even an expression in Chinese to capture the essence of its meaning. But I know that this sign is simply a PR stunt. The local government figures it makes Taipei look international so they waste money putting it up. I already know what they're going to say when some tourist takes it at face value and gets creamed crossing the street: "My god, those foreigners are pushy. This is NOT America!"

I showed it to a few distant family members over a father's day dinner and they insisted that the city is cracking down. My sister-in-law has even seen a police officer on the news threatening that he'll be writing drivers up in Hsih Men Ting (西門町) if they drive around like nutcases without any regard for pedestrians. In particular, he's had it with weaving.

I have never, personally speaking, seen a driver get a ticket for crashing through a crosswalk, not once. I've never seen a driver in Taiwan catch it from the cops for endangering pedestrians. Nope. But it has been explained to me why drivers disregard people outside their vehicles. This is the first explanation, "look around, guy, and see you're in Taiwan. We change when we drive overseas". Second, "car owners in Taiwan are aristocrats. Cyclists and scooterists are proletariat. Commuters are peasants." Simply get out of the way or get crushed beneath my wheels.
ओने ऑफ़ माय coll

This ad would probably be for tzong tze, an oily rice wrapped up in different sorts of leaves. Tzong-tze's a staple during Dragon Boat Festival, although a lot of Taiwanese people like to eat them year-round. The restaurant has been written up in a lot of Taiwan's 'round town mags and papers. I'm not a big tzong tze eater (although they do sometimes hit the spot, especially if they're caked with hot sauce and you've got a couple of cold beers to wash them down). But this sign works/is working on me. I want tzong-tse.


Li Ao's Cell

Above is Li Ao's Cell, I think maybe from the early 1980s

We went to visit the Calaboose Jail for political prisoners in Jing Mei (or, depending on who you're talking to, Hsin Tien), Taiwan last week. Originally a school for military law, Calaboose was taken over by the Taiwan Garrison Command (Taiwan's secret police during martial law) in the 1960s.

The jail has housed many well-known political prisoners, including writers such as Bo Yang (柏楊), The Ugly Chinaman (醜陋的中國人), and Li Ao (李敖). It had two courthouses, an execution ground and profitable laundry. (Political prisoners were rewarded for their hard work in the laundry by being allowed to watch a communal TV at dinner. They washed everything from police uniforms to Chiang Ching-kuo's underwear.)

Calaboose - My daughter's down the hall checking it out

The sign above reads "fair and not corrupt" and was on the side of the Military Court, established by the Garrison Command in 1967. The courthouse was built by the Garrison's engineering unit, which was made up of political prisoners, and financed by the sale of property confiscated from these same individuals. Trials at the Military Court were said to have been conducted swiftly, with verdicts that were often based on the word of the accuser. Appeals were possible, but also risky as lighter sentences could be stiffened or even turned into the death penalty at the whim of a single judge. Before-and-after shots of the political prisoners executed by order of this court are now shown inside as part of a video display. Needless to say, it just goes on and on.

The First Court, built in 1977, is parallel to the Military Court. The eight individuals blamed for Kaohsiung Incident (高雄事件), when Taiwanese took to the streets to protest martial law, were also tried and convicted inside. They were Huang Hsin-chien (黃信介), Shih Ming-teh (施明德), Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文), Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄), Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Chen Chu (陳菊) and Lin Hung-shen (李勝雄). These guys, and their lawyers, including Chen Shui-bien (陳水扁), Su tseng-cheng (蘇貞昌) and Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), became the who's who for the democratization movement in Taiwan and later the DPP government, the first non-KMT government in 55 years.

BTW, the jail also housed Wang Shi-ling (汪希苓), the person Taiwan pinned the murder of the writer Henry Liu on. The museum claims Liu was an American, but I remember reading that he had a green card. Anyway, this was enough for the US to put some heat on the Chiang. Liu, who lived in Sacramento, California, was just finishing off a book on Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). When Liu couldn't be enticed by bribery, Chiang's youngest son Alex ordered the hit through his gangster buddies in the Bamboo Union. I think it's fair to say that the son was operating on his own initiative, though, even if he did receive help later on in covering it up. Alex had his hands in all kinds of unsavory business. He died young; and people have written that it probably had something to with drugs.

Instead of getting a cell, Wang got his own place, a kind of Taiwanese villa with several rooms, a front yard, kitchen, etc. from which his wife could come and go. A few years later, he was transferred to more scenic place on Yangming Mtn. I don't know how the story ends. I think maybe he was pardoned for health reasons.

We went on a Sunday and were the only visitors. My wife figures either people are not interested right now in the general mood of denial that has slipped over the island or they're afraid of it. Anyway, here is address: 台灣人權景美園區 地址: 台北縣新店市復興路131號 or Taiwan Human Rights Memorial (Taiwanese People's Empowerment Jingmei Garden) at 131 Fuhsing Road, Hsin Tien, Taipei. Phone: (02) 2218-2436: http://www.thrm.org.tw/en/


Bali, Taiwan

I've been to Bali (八里) several times in past couple of months. I rode out there twice on my bicycle and then visited with my wife, daughter and wife's cousin. The main attraction in Bali is the Shihsanhang Museum of Archaeology (十三行博物館), which focuses on the local Aboriginal people and has a Paiwan Aboriginal (排灣) exhibit running right now. As much as I enjoyed getting the history of the Shihsanhang people and also a rundown of more recent developments, after contact with the first the Chinese (contact seems to go back 2,000 years - there are some Warring-states coins being displayed to back this up) and later the Spanish and Dutch, I think I'm most impressed by the spectacular architecture of the building itself: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_cowsill/2663744108/
I took down a dateline of the area while I was in the museum. It is as follows:
1712 The Ching establishes a military outpost in Bali.
1731 The Bali Prefecture is established, making the port the first governmental, economic, military and sea transport area in Taiwan.
(Actually, the Spanish established Fort Santiago just across the Danshui River in 1626. The Dutch took this over in 1641. I guess this doesn't count though because they're not Chinese. I was also interested by the date, which comes right on the heels of the Zhu Yi-gui revolt, when the Taiwanese managed to kick Ching soldiers out of Taiwan for six months.)
1790 The Ching designates Bali as the official port link to Fuzhou. "With Bali a stepping-stone between China and Taiwan, Bali town becomes a bustling center."
1840 The Bali harbor, which like so many other harbors in Taiwan, begins to silt up. (I'm not sure how they specifically come up with 1840, but there it is.)
1858 Danshui and not Bali is named as one of the treaty ports in the Tianjin Treaty. Bali becomes more and more obscure over the next 150 years.

I took this shot on the ferry from Danshui to Bali. If you get there early enough, you won't have trouble loading your bike on board. You can also swipe your Taipei MRT Go Card to cover the fee. We had to pay for our 1.3 year-old-daughter though. The fare-taker told me it was for insurance reasons.

Cycling has been exploding in popularity in Taiwan. There are so many people out that one cannot ride the river routes on the weekends without encountering traffic jams like this one, especially at the far western ends, near Danshui and here in Bali. I've heard that if you want to buy a bike right now, especially a good fold-up one or something tier II and above you'll be waiting at least six months. Demand is that great. People looking to unload one of those editions can get pretty much full value for what they paid. My friend Eric, for instance, sold this one the first day he put it on Yahoo Auctions. He recovered 95 percent of the original cost: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericdiep/467982730/in/set-72157600106691045/

On another note, there has been a lot of speculation on whether Vince Weiguang Li is of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. He's the person from Edmonton, Canada that murdered that poor kid riding the bus in Manitoba, Canada. The name gives us a pretty good clue that he is, as do the photos. Forumosa is featuring a nasty thread right now on this topic: http://forumosa.com/taiwan/viewtopic.php?p=883263&sid=eb86674914ab68c26b02155671ba183d
For example, one guy says: "Oh good, he's not white. That means the CBC et al can't blame the systemic racism of mainstream (read white) Canadian society. It's probably all America's doing anyway, damn you George Bush!" I wonder what this means. Or: "OK, just saw a bigger photo, and noted the name. He's definitely Asian. What a relief!" Where's the relief? Somebody was brutally murdered. Try to explain it this way - the murderer looks and sounds Asian - to the people that cared about the victim.

I've spent a lot of time in Canada. People who come from out-groups will hear it on a daily basis in Canada.


Safety First

I took this shot on my cell phone last Friday. The workers are removing an air conditioner from a fourth floor apartment in Taipei. Notice that they are not wearing safety harnesses.

I cropped another shot for a closer look.

I've had a bad week for noticing accidents in Taiwan. Last Thursday, I was even part of one. I was riding a bus from the Wanfang Hospital MRT station to my place in Wenshan when a taxi suddenly cut in front of us and braked to pick up a pedestrian. The bus driver had no choice but slam on the brakes, sending one elderly woman over his shoulder so that her face planted hard in the metallic dashboard. Another passenger fell on the coin drop. The bus driver immediately ordered everyone off the bus, but it was pandemonium, and no one was going anywhere. The first woman's face was split open and gushing blood. The latter's arm was also bleeding pretty badly.

We were surprised to see the taxi driver appear at the bus window, yelling threats and pretending he had no hand in the matter. When he saw all of the blood, I guess he had second thoughts. He high-tailed it back his cab and, with his passenger already inside, tried to make an escape. The light in front was red and he pulled up next to a police car.

After a decade in Taiwan, I still can't believe something isn't being done about the carnage on the roads. Everything else seems to improve. There is now national health. We have new parks popping up all over the place. The MRT is making life for commuters easier. People have protested nuclear power in the tens of thousands. Anyone, no matter how silly, can get a university education. Yet people can't figure out how to drive. This just does not make sense to me. I don't understand how individuals who are so well educated can drive so badly, like they do here in Taiwan.

Once again, it's really been an awful week for me when it comes to seeing accidents. I've seen two scooter crashes first hand, one aftermath of scooter accident (see below pic) and freeway pile up. To top it all off, I heard this story over lunch last Thursday. It took place 15 years ago and starts with my friend's future husband droppng her off at home. They were still in college at the time.

After leaving her place, the fiance was crossing a bridge in a for-scooters-only lane when a speeding car nailed him, sending him for a good tumble. Instead of doing the courteous thing and stopping to help, the driver simply sped off. It was dark, so, as my friend explained, her fiance who was out cold could have been there all night, laying in the middle of the road. It was dark out, so the driver figured nobody had seen him. But he wasn't so lucky either. After making a note of the license plate, another driver took my friend's fiance to the hospital.

Later, when the cops dragged the driver who had caused the accident in, he claimed: "I was scared. That's why I didn't stop. Besides, I thought you were dead."

After relating the story, my friend asked me: "Can you imagine that? If that guy hadn't stopped, I wouldn't have had a father for my two sons. Yet that nice man refused to even see my husband, let alone hear his thanks." She didn't say: "Can you imagine that - there are people out there that are this immoral!" She never said: "I wanted to kick his ass!"

"What about the driver?" I replied, "I hope you guys put him away for a long time." [In Taiwan, hit and run, even when it leads to death, is a civil and not criminal case.]

"No, but he looked pretty sorry when the police brought him in. Plus he paid NT$20,000 in compensation. That was enough to buy a new scooter back in those days." When I asked her if she/they didn't feel they were also responsible - responsible because they hadn't removed a maniac like this from the streets when they could have, I received this: "It's not like that in Taiwan. You don't understand it yet. Besides, he would've only gone to jail for a year."

I don't even know what to say to something like that. I believe that people who hit and run should receive stiff sentences. Once more, I don't think that these cases should be in the hands of the victims. But I do know I should keep as far away from the streets and driving as is possible here in Taiwan.

I'm lucky I didn't see this accident, at the corner of Fuhsing and Nanking, across from the MRT entrance. When I got there, they had put pylons around the scooter, debris and personal effects. I took this shot two days later. These items, a raincoat, shoes, etc., were then brushed up to the curb. The crunched motorcycle was also there. It was sandwiched between two waiting taxis.


Cycling in Taipei? Yeah, Right

I was just about run over by a cyclist yesterday as I crossed the street near my office (Dunhua and Bade) because I hadn't noticed this new bicycle lane had been put in. As a person who's worried about pollution, which is intolerable in Taipei, and an interested cyclist, I'm all for the promotion of bikes as an alternative mode of transportation. But I can't help feeling this is lame. Actually it pisses me off. If Ma (Taiwan's president) is going to advocate we use bikes because they are not: "fuel consuming vehicles" or that we can "help protect the Earth" by riding them, then he should back it up with bicycle lanes that thread along the city's streets, with cops on every corner to ensure the maniacal drivers of Taipei stay out of them. I mean, what the heck are we supposed to do once we cross the street? Should we get up on the sidewalk and weave through the pedestrians, ringing our little bike bells? In the papers, there have been lots of shots of Ma on his bike, but these are obviously for PR, because if he's ever ridden in Taipei he'd know how useless his ideas, or these new crossings, are. Cyclists are NOT worried about dealing with pedestrians on the streets. They're afraid they'll get creamed by one of the many drivers who have no clue how to drive. Here's something on Ma in the China Times: "The [president] said he was happy to see more and more bike lanes being built in every county and city in Taiwan to promote biking as an alternative means of transportation, and he expressed the hope that local governments will introduce sound and more comprehensive biking-related laws to protect the safety of cyclists" http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national%20news/2008/05/05/154911/Ma-touts.htm


My colleague asked me where "Manka" was in Taipei. When I read the Chinese underneath, I discovered that it referred to Wanhua (萬華), also the name of my blog. I thought this was pretty amusing, as Manka, or Monga (艋舺) is a transliteration of Taiwanese. The rest of the map has transliterations of Chinese (Mandarin). This map is part of the Periplus Editions series out of Singapore, which seem to be highly regarded.

Coincidentally, I had just explained to another colleague (the map's owner) that I am one who usually stays out of the ongoing pinyin debate - Wade-Giles (威妥瑪拼音) is better than Hanyu Pinyin (漢語拼音) or whatever - as a.) I don't give a crap and b.) I first learned Chinese using the bopomofu (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) or the Chinese phonetics symbol system, the only one offered to students in Taiwan back in the nineties when I started out. My colleague was in blogland, viddying the intense arguments on the subject, and trying to figure out why anyone cared. Most of the Taiwanese I know speak pretty good Mandarin, and they understand neither Wade-Giles nor Hanyu Pinyin.


Yangmei, Taiwan

On Monday, I took this shot in the Yang Mei (楊梅) Train Station, which is a couple stops south of Chung Li (中壢). I looked up Yang Mei on Wikipedia: "Yangmei is one of the three largest towns in Taoyuan. The center is only 40 minutes from the west coast of Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait". Yes, I could see it coming in on the local train. "To the north it borders Pingzhen city; to the south it borders Hsinchu County. To the east, Yangmei borders Longtan Township. There were lots of Yangmei Trees [Japanese Bayberry] when Chinese immigrants entered this place, so that's how this town got its name." For a city of 143,00, Yang Mei's pretty obscure. An old commuter train rumbles in and stops here every hour (each direction).

I grabbed this shot while killing time on the Yang Mei platform ( I had a 40-minute wait for my train back to Taipei). I really like these benches. Notice how they're mixed in with the baby-blue plastic benches. I wanted to post the following shot up on Blogspot, but could not, as I am unable to upload vertical pictures. I think somebody might've abandoned this Formosan wheel barrow shortly after the Second World War: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_cowsill/2608230582/ I think Flickr and Apple might also have issues, as I can't upload pics via Safari.


Taiwan Hospice Headline: Nurse Makes a Difference

I've been serving as the editor for the Taiwan Hospice Headline for the last couple of years. I just asked the Chinese editor-in-chief, Yi-rung Chen 陳怡蓉, if we were posting the articles online (I wanted to provide a link to my blog). She answered: "We didn't set up these hospice issues online. But we will be post it on our foundation's Web site in the future." She encouraged me to put up some of the articles on my blog, which I think I will do, as they are meaningful. The address of the Taiwan Hospice Headline is: No. 45, Min-sheng Rd., Tamsui, Taipei, 251, Taiwan. The Web site is www.hospice.org.tw. The phone number is 886-2-2808-1130. The fax is 886-2-2808-1137. Their Email is hospice@ms1.mmh.org.tw


The Story of Cancer Fighter - Chien-hao
Jia-Rung Wu, Nurse, Liou-ying Branch of Chi Mei Medical Center

Preface: The Beginning of the Story
I had known Chien-hao for almost a year. As his nurse, I took care of his wounds and watched his young body ravaged by cancer. He had a strong spirit and the will to keep going, and I admired him. In the beginning, Chien-hao refused to go to the hospice ward, even though he knew his body could not stand additional rounds of progressive chemotherapy. His reluctance to be transferred to the hospice ward meant he needed to accept the fact he was in a hopeless situation, that he was waiting to die. But he seemed to prefer it that way.

The hospice team of the hospital continued to reach out to him, trying to clarify the meaning of hospice care. After a while, his outlook seemed to change. He chose to be transferred, and to receive hospice care in the hospice ward. When he arrived, the nurses could spend more time addressing his wounds according to his needs. No matter whether he was enjoying a comfortable bath or looking at scenery outside the window from his bed, he seemed satisfied with the hospice care he was receiving.

When I saw the general call “The first cancer fighter selection”, the name “Chien-hao” jumped to mind. Now, he would have a chance to tell his story. When I handed him the regulations, however, he hesitated, worrying about his writing style. With the encouragement of both Huis-hsia, an attendant auntie, and myself, he finally agreed to give it a try. Huis-hsia recorded all of the interviews conducted by Wei-chun Lin, the psychologist of hospice ward, putting down his words in the following report: “The Story of Chien-hao”.

Content: The Story of Chien-hao
As far as I can remember, perhaps from the age of four, I have had a strange disease called “hand dermatitis keratodermia tylodes palmaris progressiva”. My four limbs looked different. The keratin on my hands and feet kept on growing, forming a callus. As a result, my nails could not grow normally. My fingers looked like they could be ET’s. Being just a child, I could not understand why this was happening. When I entered elementary school, many of my classmates treated me disdainfully. A feeling of inferiority was firmly implanted in my mind.

Though I was looked down on at school, my mother and brother always treated me well at home. My father, on the other hand, wondered what he had done to be stuck with a disabled child. He held me in contempt and often scolded me. When relatives and friends came to my home, I had to stay upstairs, so the guests wouldn’t see me. In a normal family, members have meals together, but that was not the case in mine. My father detested me so much that I was only allowed to eat the leftovers after the family was finished. My parents earned a living by farming. They had an orchard. When it came to work, my father suddenly disregarded my disability. He insisted that I go up the hill and harvest mangos with him. I could only hang the basket on my arm and slowly pick the mangos. The baskets that I harvested were usually too heavy for me carry. 

Physical inconvenience was a bitter pill to swallow, but I gritted my teeth and endured the pain. I didn’t hate my father. I just wanted to show him I was trying. I longed for his approval and love.
To me, the most terrible pain was not the contempt I received from others. Depreciations were a common occurrence in my life. It was the burning pain that resulted from keratodermia. The itching was more unbearable than the pain. It itched so much that I couldn’t help but chafe my limbs against the cement floor or the edge of the stairs. Even when I was bleeding, the itching still wouldn’t subside. I rubbed up against things so often that the legs of tables and chairs in my home became worn. Thick calluses formed on my hands and feet. I tried to cut them off with a knife, but had trouble with this as I had couldn’t hold it in my stiff deformed hands. Bleeding was routine in my life. Nights were what I dreaded the most. The pain, itchiness and loneliness corroded both my mind and body. It was too painful to sleep. The only thing I could do was to hit my head on the wall. And I would literally do this, until I reached a state of dizziness that allowed me to fall asleep. If I woke up late in the night, I simply chafed my suffering limbs and hit my head on the wall, until I fell asleep again.

During the first 20-odd years of my life, I had no friends. I had neither the courage to make friends nor the conditioning to keep up with other youngsters. So I spent all of my time with my mother, brother and a younger cousin, who was over ten years younger than me. Sometimes I wished I had a friend to talk to; I was sick of facing problems alone. I lived without dignity. I fought against the disease around the clock. 

My brother got married and had his kids of his own. I envied him so much. I remember I would sneak off on the family motorcycle to an Internet café. The Internet allowed me to mask my deformities, so that I was able to make “friends”. I could pretend to be a healthy and active person, even if I was really suffering.

Something changed two years ago. There was an ulcerated wound on my right ankle, exuding a foul odor. I put on socks and stayed in my room. I didn’t want my parents to know about it. One day, my brother came into my room. He smelled the foul odor and saw me resting, with my right foot set in an awkward position. He called mother, and she sent me to the Youn-kang branch of the Chi Mei Medical Center. When my socks were taken off, all doctors and nurses were stunned.

My right foot fell off my leg along with the sock, with only a few strands of flesh keeping it from being completely severed. Blood and pus flowed all over the floor. One doctor told my mother that I would have to undergo an amputation. It hurt so much that I had no choice but to accept. It had never occurred to me that the amputation would be made at the knee. Not long after that, my knee was also ulcerated. The wound was so deep that it made a hole, which the nurse could pour normal-saline-solution through when she helped me to change the dressing. I could see my bone in the hole, and the fungus that was infecting the bone. Soon, my other foot was also festering and in need of amputation. The doctors transferred me to the hematology department of the Liou-ying branch of the Chi Mei Medical Center. The hematologist told me that the biopsy read “malignancy melanoma” and that I would be receiving chemotherapy. My wound became infected during the treatment course, resulting in yet another amputation. My legs had been cut down in size three times. But the real pain was only beginning.

In February or March, an ulcerative hole emerged in my groin. It was three centimeters in depth and six to seven centimeters in width, and exhaled a foul smell. Every time the nurse changed the dressing, pus oozed out. I sometimes had a fever, and was covered in a cold sweat. I wondered why God wouldn’t just let me go, why He kept my agony instead.

The hole grew bigger and bigger, so that it stretched almost to the femoral artery. The nurse helped to clean the wound, again and again. She tried different ways to care for it, hoping to slow its growth. Nothing seemed to work. I was constantly in and out of the hospital. My mother was so exhausted that she called upon an attendant nurse to share in the burden. The attendant auntie helped to change my clothes several times a day, which was necessary as the thick gauze would become sopping wet after a few hours.

One day, I was eating dinner with the attendant auntie. I was leaning against the table on my bed when I felt something warm on my bottom. “Auntie,” I cried, “I’m bleeding!” When she removed the table, both of us were at a loss. Auntie rushed to the nurse station, shouting that I was bleeding heavily. Several nurses rushed into my room and pressed upon my wound. I was very weak and sweating, and my blood pressure had declined. I was immediately sent to the intensive care unit for emergent treatment. Auntie asked my mother and brother to come to the hospital. I didn’t know that I was about to die. I was still conscious, crying for them to stop the bleeding. I was then sent to the department of medical imaging to find the exact spot of the bleeding; and an artery embolism was performed to stop it. But the wound continued to grow. Soon, it was larger than an octavo, and my iliac (or loin) bone was eroded to the point of breaking. The surgeon removed my testicles because they were in a state of necrosis. No one could have imagined how terrible the wound was going to get. The skin was torn and the flesh was gaping open, filling the air with a heavy putrid odor. At the beginning of August, the tumor began to eat my intestines, and stool flooded out from the wound. “Oh God,” I protested, “what more can you do to me?” I had once been 180 centimeters tall. Now, after repeated amputations and ulcerations, I weighed only 30 kilograms. My stature was less than half a bed length.

The wound had to be cleaned every four hours. Unfortunately, stool continued to flow into it. The wound, a mixture of blood and flesh, became even worse due to an infection. Three days later, my doctor consulted a surgeon, Dr. Tsai, and it was determined that he would perform an enterostomy on my left abdomen. By this time, the stool could only be relieved via a plastic bag attached to my stomach. Beneath the ulcerated flesh on my right side was an artery that could burst at any moment. A 16-stitch suture separated the wound and the plastic bag. I wondered why God had provided me with such a fate. Why was it me that should pass through the crucible? Hadn’t I been through enough?

But I was still alive. Resting on my bed, staring at the clouds on the other side of the window, I wondered if I would ever see the sun rise again. The next day arrived, and I understood that I had once again met the challenge. Though physically handicapped, I felt my mind strong; and I knew I had the ability to be stronger than those around me.

Postscript: The End of Story
The day Chien-hao left, I was at his side. I saw a change in his breathing pattern, and that his body temperature had dropped. He waved both of his hands and looked unresponsive even though his eyes were open. The room was filled with a wired atmosphere and everything was quiet. In the final moments, Chien-hao’s mother held me and cried. She said “Thank you for taking care of him”. My heart pounded, and I tried to hold back the tears. She held on to his thin deformed hand: “You have now recovered from the sickness. At last you can rest in peace. Do not concern yourself with me. I was so sad about what you were going through. Thank God, I was able to be with you when you embarked on you final journey. You were not alone.”

Chien-hao’s story was late for the first cancer fighter selection. After discussing it with Wei-chun, we decided we needed to share it, and members of his family agreed. We hope other terminally ill cancer patients will be inspired by Chien-hao. The life ahead of us may not always follow a smooth path. Most of the patients we take care of are not in good shape. During the treatment process, they will feel pain and uneasiness, and face both obstacles and dismay. They will be forced to look at the frailty of the human condition close-up, and to realize there are things none of us can control.

Chien-hao has also inspired me – I have learned much from him. My job has also taught me to respect and cherish life. I hope that those who lead lives limited in time can find the maximum value. I am fortifying myself, so that I can do more to provide quality care to those that are suffering. I will do the best I can for their families as well.