1/20/2008

3:45 a.m. and I'm Off


I don't like to do signs on this blog because I think it's a tired topic. (Most of us have already seen a million posts on mangled English). Nonetheless, this one caught my eye when I crossed a bridge from Danshui (淡水). I mean, who the heck is going to ride down that?

A view of Hsin Tien (新店), Taipei from the river. A haze has been hanging over Taiwan recently. Pollution is six-fold higher than regular levels, due to a lack of wind and weird weather patterns.
My street at 3:45 in the morning.

Today was the first sunny Sunday in Taipei in ages. People were even calling me up to tell me the weather was finally going to be good. Needless to say, I was excited about this latest development, so much so that I took off on my ride at 3:45 in the morning. Normally, I ride with my road-weanie friend Eric. But it seems he's sneaked off to Vietnam for a little R&R, so I was on my own.

I think I was the first cyclist on the road today. (There were a few old guys riding girls' bikes with baskets, but nothing serious going on.) It was pitch-dark, so I had to slow down just because I couldn't see a thing. I decided to follow the river out to Danshui and then head north. On the highway, I managed to catch up with a Formosan riding team, so I rode with them for a while. Then, I took the river route back to my home, putting in a 100 plus km in all. It was a great ride, and I was back for breakfast too.

Coming down the homestretch, I realized that I hadn't had any close calls with cars. Just as I was having the thought, a taxi driver decided to make a right, cutting me off and sending me for a tumble. No sooner had I picked myself up than I heard a terrible screeching sound followed by a scooter driver doing a 10-foot slide brought on by a sports utility car driver trying to make a left when he absolutely did not have the right-of-way.

I was very hungry, so I decided to stop for fried turnips, Formosan omelets and soy milk. "I'll be right back," I told them at the restaurant. "I want to pick up some chewing gum and a newspaper at the convenience store next door." When I returned, a woman was demanding the restaurant fork my omelets over to her because "she had waited longer than the 'foreigner!'" So, the cook gave her my breakfast and told her how sorry he was. Instead of getting a gracious

"That's OK," the woman scowled at him, hunched her shoulders and stormed off. This brought up a furious debate among the restaurant staff and goers, who concluded that I had placed my order first.

"Don't worry about it," said the lau-ban niang (老闆娘, meaning owner's wife). "She's a spinster (老處女, which literally means old virgin in Mandarin). What are you gonna do?"

"Not much," we shrugged, and went back to waiting for our grub.


According to my Cat Eye bike computer, I was hitting speeds of over 40 km on this ride for the flats and 30 plus for descents. I'm still a bit nervous coming downhill. There are two reasons for this. First, my bike is really fast. I'm afraid if I let her go, I won't be able to regain control. Second, I still feel nervous because of my accident five months ago. I took the above pic today to contrast with an earlier one; the wounds still haven't healed. Sometimes, my leg aches. And it's been feeling really itchy recently.

1/16/2008

Massive Sunfish Sighting in Hualien


Hualien's Sunfish Restaurant

My friend Emily took me to this man bo fish (曼波魚), or "massive sunfish" in English (it took me a while to figure this one out), restaurant in Hualien, Taiwan last week. According to this post, massive sunfish have a tiny range, from Taiwan to Australia, and are often mistaken for sharks on the account of the fin: http://blogs.sunherald.com.au/danieldasey/archives/2007/03/massive_sunfish.html

Actually, I didn't have massive sunfish for lunch but rather a delicious batch of deep-fried pork chops. I didn't realize massive sunfish were such a big deal at the time. Emily kept trying to explain, and I kept answering: "They're called flounder, I tell you." My fish vocab is quite limited; in my opinion, your average Taiwanese is a lot more fish-literate than your average American. We know salmon, trout and cod, and that's about it. Emily informs me that besides scaring the *&^% out of surfers, sunfish are also known for their habit of sunbathing. They come to the surface and sleep on one side, hence the sunfish tag.

1/08/2008

Press Through Turbulent Times: 20 Years After Lifting of Newspaper Publishing Restriction




The Taiwanese have really done a number on Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (previously known as Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall). This clutter of stuff is part of the human rights exhibition going on right now at the park, in front of the giant Chiang statue. I've heard they will engrave the names of all of the victims of the 2-28 Massacre inside.


At first glance, this Jack o' Lantern may seem odd. But Chiang Kai-shek's birthday was on October 31. It used to be a national holiday in Taiwan.



The cops were on hand (there are four in this shot) and I counted nine in total. I asked one of them why there were out in numbers and he explained: "Because there are a lot of people here today."

But I found this a bit unsatisfactory. I'd been through the day before and hadn't seen a single officer. "Are you expecting protests today?" I pressed him.

"Uh, maybe," was the reply.



"End the involvement of soldiers in politics"



This exhibition on the development of the media in Taiwan is going on downstairs at the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. I think it's pretty lame, especially with what's going on upstairs in with Chiang's statue. The exhibition jumbles together the last fifty years of this and that, explaining about how reporters had to report to the Taiwan Garrison command and how "the president's office" was "off limits". There's some stuff about the explosion of new publications after the lifting of martial law in 1987, on how many of the newspapers went under and the many journalists who were left unemployed in the nineties. There's also something on "UN for Taiwan".

The exhibit then flips into Chinese only mode. This is where it gets really screwy. For some reason, it covers the two periods of colonialism Taiwan has supposedly undergone, namely 1624 to 1661, when Taiwan was under the Dutch and again from 1895 to 1945, under the Japanese. There is no mention, however, of Taiwan under Koxinga, 1661 to 1683. There is no mention of Taiwan under the Ching Dynasty, from 1683 to 1895. There is no mention of Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek, his son, Lee Tung-hui or Chen Shui-bien. There is, stunningly, no mention of Taiwan's Aborigines under any of these governments.

The Chinese explanation reads something like this: "When the Dutch came here to our Taiwan in 1624, they colonized we Chinese." It doesn't say: When the Dutch were told by the Ming rulers in Beijing that they could have Taiwan in exchange for the Pescadores (澎湖), they found around 1,000 Chinese pirates and the like, another 500 Japanese and 100,000 Aborigines living in Taiwan. In order to develop Taiwan, the Dutch invited guest workers from China to come over to the island. These individuals along with the Aboriginal women they married are the ancestors of people living in Taiwan now. To expedite their goal of developing Taiwan, Dutch ships regularly landed in Fuchien province to move guest workers from China to Taiwan.

This is how Taiwan's population progressed throughout the 17th century:
1,000 Chinese in 1624
20,000 in 1648 (sex ratio – 20 guys for every woman)
30,000-40,000 in 1661 (sex ratio – 35:1), Koxinga’s 25,000 soldiers increase Taiwan’s population
1683 100,000 - Beijing tries to sell Taiwan back to Holland then, when this fails, seriously considers bringing back the entire population to China and abandoning the island, which the Emperor Kangsi calls "a blob of mud floating in the ocean".

I would think Taiwan was populated with "Han" Chinese with the assistance of the Dutch, but hardly colonized. You need people in order to colonize. Taiwan's Aborigines were colonized by:
1. The Dutch
2. Ming Loyalists (Koxinga)
3. The Ching Dynasty
4. The Japanese
5. The KMT
6. The DPP
An account of these undeniable phases of colonization is completely overlooked by this exhibition.