8/28/2009

Taipei's New Bicycle Lanes


Here are a couple more shots of Taipei's new bike lanes running up and down Dunhua. For more info, there's a great post at "Biking in Taiwan":
http://bikingintaiwan.theforgetful.com/2009/08/kerb_your_enthusiasm.html

The rider at "Biking in Taiwan" thinks they're not working out, that they're not suited for Taipei. I agree with the former point but am hopeful about the latter, and would like to see more. The writer's main issue is with enforcement. It seems Taipei's motorists are already taking liberties. Taxi drivers are turning the strip between Nanking East Road and Bade into a queue. People are parking in them to do errands, like the guy in the above pic. He put on his emergency blinkers. What was the emergency? He needed cash from the ATM. "Biking in Taiwan" writes:
I don't see any of that happening in Taiwan. Ignoring the law is not punished, so the law is ignored.
That being said, enforcement of traffic laws would instantly improve life for everyone, with the possible exception of taxi drivers."
He or she has hit the nail on the head. The police need to get out and enforce these lanes, put up cameras, do something. During the morning rush hour, it's particularly bad. Scooters and motorcycles freely flow down the lanes and block the heads at lights. I've asked several cyclists at red lights how they feel about the lanes. The response is generally positive. But they complain about motorists entering the lanes and blocking them.

Another point "Biking..." makes is that it's like riding on cobblestone - the lanes are not smooth. I don't know what to say about that. They seem to be the same quality as the roads. I just hope this is not a gimmick. The Deaflympics are taking place at the new stadium on the corner of Dunhua and Bade. I want to see more, but am afraid they could return to normal streets once the Deaflympics and "foreigners" are gone.

8/27/2009

Sports Illustrated Confused over Geography?

This amuses me so much that I'll post it up here. It's from an article by Sports Illustrated's columnist Lee Jenkins entitled: "For Underrated Angels Outfielder Abreu, Patience Has Always Paid Off". Jenkins writes in the first sentence: "Bobby Abreu spends part of every offseason in Asia, hop-scotching from China to Japan, Hong Kong to Vietnam, Taiwan to Taipei."

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/lee_jenkins/08/25/angels.abreu/index.html

The article covers how Abreu turned down a piddly two-year offer from the Tampa Bay Rays for US$16,000,000. Then, when the credit-crunch set in, he stopped receiving offers altogether. Two months later, there was only one offer on the table, from the LA Angels for an insulting US$5,000,000 a year, which he had to take. This year, Abreu is hitting over 300 and has 80 RBIs. Man has he shown us, especially the cheapskate MLB owners!

8/25/2009

Security Guards in Taipei: What's the Use?

Teenagers take over the playground inside the courtyard of my apartment complex

When looking for an apartment in or around Taipei, I always check to see how close it is to a main street. My first apartment was over a big street in Yunghe, and it was never quiet - never. At three in the morning, big trucks rumbled by my window. The honking was simply 24/7. The one other issue that I care passionately about is whether or not the place has security. If I see a security guard lurking around the door when I'm apartment hunting, I don't even bother to go inside and have a look. Along with vicinity to busy streets, I learned that security guards make life miserable for building residents during my Yunghe experience. They snoop into your life, impose inane rules on residents, nag about silly stuff and do nothing to deal with outsiders that might cause the residents real grief. It's not like these security guards are trained in security either. They're not ex-cops or martial arts experts. They're usually tea-sipping old men, the kind that would be the first to hightail it out of there if any real trouble arose. Then there's this: you've got to pay them. Take my new apartment in Monga (艋舺) - yes, I have one with security guards again (was outvoted by the wife and in-laws). I pay NT$1700 (US$60) a month for nothing. They don't even deal with our garbage or come when the security alarm goes off in my apartment.

My biggest issue with the security guards right now is they're afraid of teenagers. Teenagers simply love the grounds around my complex, especially the playground, when it starts to get dark. We do have beautiful new ballpark lights. Unfortunately, the security is too cheap to turn them on. So, the place is dark, yet comfortable, with benches, trees, grass, etc. With the teenagers out in the playground in the evening, many parents are afraid to take their kids to play. This is quite clear to me. We have two playgrounds. The one with the slide, which has more natural light, is less popular with the teenagers. They gravitate to the darker one with the monkey bars. You can see families playing in one, but afraid to enter the other. The teenagers that like my complex also swear, smoke, drink and act, in general, like assholes. That people are intimidated by them obviously gives them a rush. They can't even bother to keep their trash off the ground. They just chuck butts and cans into the playground.

Last night, four male teenagers were getting particularly rambunctious. There was only one girl, so I guess they were all trying to outdo each other. When I asked them which one lived in the complex, they answered "No, we don't live here".

"Then what are you doing here?" I asked.

"What?"

The security guy was up out of his booth to enjoy the scene, so I asked him why he didn't take care of the problem. "They don't even live in the complex," I told him.

"I can't do anything about them. I can just ask them to be quiet and not to litter, appeal to their sense of morality. Sometimes, I pick up their cans and butts and show them how to throw them away." This is something I am quite curious about. Actually, I'm curious about lots of stuff: Why can't he kick them out? Is he just afraid of them or does Taiwan
not have laws for trespassing? Or, are the courtyard areas inside apartment complexes considered public space? Does Taiwan have laws about loitering? I can't find the word in my dictionary, so I am guessing not.

Last night was the second time I had to kick teenagers off the playground because the security guards in my building would not. Can you imagine being
that scared of a bunch of scrawny 14 and 15-year-olds? My grandpa used to say: "When I can't drive anymore, just shoot me."

I'll just say this: "When a bunch of 14-year-olds have me trembling in the knees, just shoot me." I'm going to the police station tonight to see if the cops will talk to the security guards in my building about getting the lights turned on and about doing their job.

8/24/2009

Panda on Bing Home Page for Taiwan

Bing, Microsoft's new search engine, is out. I am certain Bing is going to bug people, especially here in Taiwan: http://www.bing.com/ Why? There's a panda (Bing, the Panda, I guess) photo pasted to the home page.

Last year, China lent two pandas to Taiwan to keep in the Mucha Zoo. The pandas were called Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓). When we put the words together, we were surprised to get 團圓 or unification in English. For many here in Taiwan, the idea of unification with China is off-putting or absurd. After all, Taiwan was abandoned to the Japanese in 1895 by China. 1895 wasn't the first time China tried to dump Taiwan either. The great Emperor Kangshi, after trying to resell Taiwan to the Dutch in 1683, claimed
Taiwan was nothing more than a blob of mud floating in the sea, a blob that would never be worthy of inclusion within the Center Kingdom. There wasn't anything in his talk about unification.

I could keep going, adding new points, but I'd rather eat my lunch. I say take the panda down.

NZ Beer Taiwan

The word "organic" was blotted out with a marker by the store. I scratched it off to see what was under.

I found this Green Fern Beer from New Zealand at Jason's. It's a fairly good, crisp lager. I'm trying to think of a beer that tastes like it.

What interested me is the store had the word "organic" removed from the bottle. Actually, it's still there. Someone had drawn over it with a black marker; I scraped it off before I took the pic. They also crossed it out on the top label. Why would advertising organic beer be a no-no in Taiwan? I don't get this: we have organic food here.

8/17/2009

Huwei Fort in Danshui, Taiwan

My daughter playing around atop Huwei Fort (滬尾砲台).


My wife (right) outside the entrance to the Huwei Fort (滬尾砲台) in Danshui, Taiwan. The sign is said to have been inscribed by 1880's Taiwan Governor Liu Ming-chuan ( 劉銘傳). I don't understand it: the first two characters read "North Gate". The other two I'll have to look up some time.



We decided to visit Huwei Fort (滬尾砲台) in Danshui, Taiwan today. It's about 15 minutes down the street from Fort Santo Domingo. Huwei Fort is still obscure as Danshui sites go, I guess owing to the point it's an ongoing excavation project, and because not much is known about it. Excavation began in 1991, just 18 years ago.

According to the brochure and sign literature, it was designed by a German lieutenant Max E. Hecht in 1885, following the French-Chinese battle for northern Taiwan. Construction got underway in 1886 and took three years to complete. The excavators are finding that Huwei is in pretty good shape; the fort never saw action, so it was never pounded down by artillery. Like Fort Santiago, Huwei Fort boasts a magnificent view of the mouth of the Danshui River and Guan Yin Mountain in Bali on the other side. For more information, check out eyedoc's interesting blog and this post among others at 漁人碼頭的戰爭 - THE BATTLE OF FISHERMAN'S WHARF: http://danshuihistory.blogspot.com/2009/06/defense-buil-up-in-danshui-1884.html

Our guide told us Liu Ming-chuan built Huwei Fort, but I doubt this. I doubt he lifted not a single brick in its construction. Some Taiwanese like to get romantic about Liu, as he might have not been as entirely incompetent as others who held his office during the Ching Dynasty, and I suspect this was going on today. In recent years, both the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, and once inner-KMT Party rival James Soong (宋楚瑜) have claimed Liu to be their spiritual father: http://rank.blogspot.com/2007/02/rereading-of-liu-ming-chuan-following.html

Ma and Soong often point to Liu's achievements, namely 40 kilometers of railroad track laid and the moving of Taiwan's capital from Tainan in the south of Taiwan to Taipei. There's an obvious irony here. Liu was a Chinese bureaucrat. He came to Taiwan and dutifully served the government in Beijing for less than a decade before returning home.

Next to Fort Wuwei is Taiwan's first golf course, built under the supervision of the Japanese in 1919 (Taiwan was a colony of Japan from 1895, when it was deserted by China to Japan until 1945, when the Japanese surrendered to the United States closing out the Second World War). If you're interested in Taiwan's history, put this stop on your itinerary.

8/15/2009

Fishing in Storm Drains




I noticed this guy fishing in downtown Taipei the other day as I was walking to the bank on my lunch hour. He was scooping minnow-sized fish out of a storm drain on Bade Road (八德路) and putting them into a shallow red bucket (see pic). I asked him if all of the storm drains had fish in them and he replied "no". When I asked how he knew this one had fish, he shrugged and replied: "I've just known for a long time."

It didn't occur to me to ask what he's going to do with the fish. They're way too small to eat. I should have asked him what "a long time" is too. I wonder if he means since he was a little boy. I'm sure the area (this was around section three) would have looked drastically different then. But Bade (八德) itself has been around in road form for centuries. I've been been told it's the original north-south highway of Taiwan.

8/09/2009

Taiwanese Father's Day


Yesterday was Father's Day in Taiwan. The occasion comes from a play on the Chinese for a date on the Western calendar, August 8th, or 8/8. In Chinese, the numbers in the date 8/8 are pronounced "ba-ba", which sounds like the word for dad. We had a long weekend in Taiwan, courtesy of Typhoon Morakot, which hit the island on Friday. There's a great pic at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Typhoon_Morakot_2003.jpg My daughter also made me the above happy face at her pre-school. It's me, wearing a tie.

My family spent the evening at my in-laws. My wife picked up a tiramisu from Cafe 85 Degrees. I also received chocolates and a Gouden Carolus, a tasty Belgian beer, 8.5 percent alcohol. The label read "Mechelen Sinds 1369". I'm guessing they've been producing it for a while (see pic below).


8/02/2009

1.5 Years Later and "Foreigners" Still Can't Buy Train Tickets Online for Taiwan

I get people emailing from time to time, asking about buying train tickets online in Taiwan. Without exception, they're frustrated because they have planned to visit Taiwan and are trying to plan out an itinerary first. They're worried they could be stranded in Taipei, with no tickets to go anywhere, especially down the east coast, which is not serviced by the HSR. The reason I get the inquiries is I posted last year on how the Taiwan Train Administration was no longer allowing people with "foreign"-issued credit cards to make reservations online. Starting in February 2008, only those with Taiwan-issued credit cards have been allowed to make purchases online http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2008/02/foreigners-cant-buy-train-tickets-on.html Before that, no problem: anyone with a credit card could book train tickets, much the same way they'd reserve a hotel, buy some books, order a live action baseball streamer, get plane tickets or make any other transaction online.

Since "foreigners" are discriminated against in Taiwan when it comes to getting local credit cards (they can't get them), "foreigners" have now gone one year and six months without being able to purchase train tickets online. "Foreigners" coming from other countries as tourists are likewise unable to buy train tickets online. What I'm worried about is this: some of them will simply throw up their hands and go somewhere more sane.

The reason I originally posted on this topic was I don't accept the hypocrisy and/or incompetence behind the decision to no longer allow "foreigners" to buy train tickets online. It came less than a week after the government decided to dump $US30 million into promoting tourism abroad (and made sure every newspaper knew it). I remember writing to complain, but not getting a response other than they would look into it to make "my foreigner experience a lovely one in Taiwan".

I did eventually receive a couple of letters, but enthusiasm for fixing the problem seems to have petered out:

Letter One:
Dear Mr. Cowsill,

This is to acknowledge receipt of your February 25, 2008 email to President Chen Shui-bian, complaining of being unable to purchase train tickets online here with a foreign issued credit card.

We thank you for your interest in touring Taiwan and feel sorry for your unpleasant experience. As this office is not competent for matters of this kind, a copy of your email has been forwarded to our Executive Yuan, which is supposed to refer your case to related agencies for their attention. Your understanding is appreciated.

With best regards,
Sincerely yours,
Office of the President

Letter Two:
Dear Mr. Cowsill,

Thank you for your E-mail to President Chen Shui-bian, complaining about unable purchasing train tickets online here with a foreign issued credit card. Your letter has been forwarded to Transportation Department of Taiwan Railway Administration . Our department is cooperating with the online system contractor to make it improving. We apologize for your inconvenience.

Yours Sincerely,
Jeng-De Yang
Director of Transportation Department
Taiwan Railway Administration
March 20, 2008

Since March 20, 2008, nothing has been done to sort this out. I still can't use my credit card to buy tickets online.

****

As far as I know, there is only one way a "foreigner" can book tickets for a train now. He or she must go to this Web site and find the train number:
http://163.29.3.96/TWRail_en//index.aspx

Then, he or she must plug it in here:
http://railway.hinet.net/etno1.htm He or she can use either a passport or an ARC. I just tried, and they both work. Here's the kicker. You only have two days to pick them up. What I do is print out the information and then go to the post office to get my tickets. I need to translate the details, as the printed copy is only in English. Plus I need to pay an extra NT$10 (about 40 cents US). I'm sure these advance tickets could also be picked up at any one of the train stations.

The reason I'm back on this topic is I just received an email from a prospective tourist to Taiwan. Here's his itinerary:

1. Airport-Keelung
2. Keelung-Badu-Rueifang-Shihfen-Jingtong-Rueifang-Hualien (day trip on Pingshi line)
3. Hualien-Taroko-Hualien-Taitung
4. Taitung-Chiayi
5. Chiayi-Alishan-Chiayi-Taipei (day trip on Alishan line)
6. Taipei-Airport

He also asked me this: "I have all the trains (numbers and arrival/departure times) figured out (I think), but can't seem to make reservations. Are reservations necessary?" I think some are definitely necessary. For example, if he goes from Taipei to Hualien directly. Or for when he wants to return to Taipei from Taitung. If I were him, I'd then grab the HSR to Chiayi. Which brings up another point: does the toy train up to Alishan have assigned seating? I can't remember.

When he called the Taipei Train Administration, they had nobody on that could speak English, so he didn't receive any help. This is never going to work if Taiwan is actually serious about promoting tourism. US$30,000,000 - you'd think someone would have gotten an English class.