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.