4/29/2010

Camping in Taipei


Camping, originally uploaded by Patrick Cowsill.

Want to camp down by the Hsin Tien River? You can do so next to Huazhong Bridge. I don't know how comfortable it's going to be sleep on cement, but the view of the city down river at night is beautiful.

I Am Switching Things Up

I have had yet another troublesome park experience. Last night, a forty-something woman tried to kick my three-year old daughter in Youth Park, Monga (艋舺), the place I live in here in Taiwan.

My first response was to rub my eyes and tell myself I was just seeing things. But I know what I saw. We were sliding. Then my daughter said: "Daddy, I want to swing." As I was gathering up our stuff, Ahleena charged off to the swing area. She was about 20 feet in front of me, and as she ran by the swings, a woman who was on the swings purposely stuck out one of her legs so that it came close to connecting with my daughter's head. When I got there, I asked:

"What are you doing? I saw you try to kick my daughter." The woman simply ignored me and went on swinging. "Look, lady," I said. "You can't swing here. You see that sign? It says you have to be under 12 to swing. Get off." She still ignored me, so I got up so close she couldn't swing. This was enough to set her off:

"Who are you to talk to me like this?" she barked. "This is Taiwan! Who are you to bother Taiwanese people in Taiwan?"

"The sign says you can't swing if you're over 12 years old," I said. This led her into a torrent of abuse, including calling me several curse words. Now I knew my eyes hadn't deceived me, that she had indeed tried to kick my three-year-old. There were some teenagers, as usual, hanging out in the playground. She started to appeal to them, figuring this was an us and them issue, case closed. But they hadn't been paying attention. Some of them even knew me and didn't want to take her side. "I'll go get my wife," I offered. "Just wait until she finds out you tried to kick our daughter."

When I returned with my wife, the woman was sitting next to two teenagers I didn't know. They had also been swinging. "This is the [spinster] who took a kick at Ahleena," I said.

"Why did you try to kick our daughter?" asked my wife. Once again, a "foreigner" having the audacity to question her while standing in Taiwan (even if it happened to be through his Taiwanese wife) was enough to set her off. According to her, "foreigners" didn't respect Taiwan. Take me, for instance. I wasn't following the rules. If I was, I wouldn't be drinking a can of beer in the park. So I asked her, "Where is the rule that says I can't drink a can of beer in the park? I didn't litter it. Plus there are ten other people drinking a can of beer in the park, you old [spinster]."

This is what she told me: "They are Taiwanese. You are not." Did she ask me if I was Taiwanese? No.

"Do you see that sign? It says you have to be 12 or under to swing. What if the swings are calibrated for weight?" I asked.

Again she claimed I was a foreigner who didn't respect Taiwan. She called me an "asshole" in English and said I was "violent" in Chinese. Then, as she was leaving, she said: "I hope you and your family die in a car accident."

My wife has three theories for this kind of attitude:

1. My wife has met older people in Taiwan that simply dislike "mixed" children. They think that it is messing with the purity of the Han gene pool. Plus they figure that they are the offspring of soldiers and prostitutes.

2. There might be people in Taiwan who have stereotypes about "foreigners." These stereotypes lead them to believe negative things about every "foreigner" they come across. That they have not met these "foreigners," know nothing about who they are, their background or their character is of little concern. "Foreigners" are all the same to them.

3. My wife was doing some psychology. She asked me: "Did you see how she called you an 'asshole'"? She obviously understood what you said when you called her a [spinster]. I think she was jilted by a 'foreigner' and now she's taking revenge on our daughter. That could be why she wanted to kick her."

I have opened up this discussion before. People have told me that it comes down to the neighborhood I live in, Monga (艋舺). They say because of Monga's lower socio-economic position, it attracts and creates unsavory individuals. In other neighborhoods of Taipei, people are not trashy. In fact, people can be polite and engaging. And their kids, instead of hanging out in park playgrounds and harassing tax-paying, civic-minded individuals, do old-fashioned things like stay at home and study, learn how to play the piano or join constructive extra-curricular activities.

I just don't want to give up on Monga. I have met a lot of nice people here. My neighbors are nice. Lots of people do line up for buses and do not push each other on the sidewalk. What I have concluded is my karma is bad. I am attracting nutcases like a light attracts flies. One other thing I've concluded is that, as a father, I've had to be extra attentive. In the past, I'd simply read a book or ride my bike, not paying attention to what's going on around me. I have to watch everything now, and sometimes I am not liking what I am seeing.

Tonight, I'm changing everything. We're taking a new route home. We're reading different books. And we're going to a new park and having some completely different for dinner. I'm doing this to change my karma.

4/27/2010

The Cowsills

I posted a response to the an annoying thread, hoping to have a calming influence on xenophobia that continues to occupy the imagination of my country, which is Taiwan. The moderator asked me if I was related to The Cowsills, the legendary musical band of the 1960s. I explained the connection, that all Cowsills are related, and went on to explain that Cowsills cared about Taiwanese solidarity: http://truthabouttaiwan.blogspot.com/2010/03/need-for-reason-in-taiwan.html.

I knew Billy Cowsill, lead singer of The Cowsills, for several years in Vancouver when I was a student at UBC because he rented a room out from my friend Alidor's dad, just three houses down. I remember that he drove a big boat of a car, and was sometimes obliging when we bugged him to fess up anecdotes about life on the road. He was a tall, skinny man, with an inquisitive nature. He always wore jeans, a white T-shirt and a jean jacket. I doubt he would've known the first thing about Taiwan, but would have, nevertheless, offered up a friendly opinion on it. This is my favorite Cowsills song. I think it went to number two on Billboard. The TV show The Partridge Family was also based on The Cowsills:

4/25/2010

228 Memorial in Badu (八堵), Taiwan

I took this shot the other day when I was in Badu (八堵). I noticed it as I was crossing the street, coming into the train station. This plaque was on the far side of memorial; you won't see in the picture for that reason: http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2010/04/badu-taiwan-to-boise-idaho.html.

I originally planned to translate the plaque and leave it at that. But I realized it's mostly dates and names. There's no background to fill out the story. So I went online to get some.

The story of what unfolded at the Badu Train Station won't be an unfamiliar one to those who have looked into the 228 Massacre that got underway February 28, 1947. After the US defeated Japan in 1945, it was decided that Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT forces would oversee the island for the time being. The people of Taiwan, after 50 years of colonization, welcomed the new regime. They anticipated an end to Japanifization policies, which rejected Taiwan's Chinese and Aboriginal heritage.

300,000 people came out to cheer on the incoming Chinese troops in October, 1945, who landed in Keelung. The honeymoon however was over on the day it began. Upon landing, a Chinese general grabbed the mic and asserted in a shrill voice: "Taiwan is beyond the passes, a degraded land of degraded people." At that time, Taiwan was probably the second most advanced country in Asia, after Japan.

The people who witnessed the landing were surprised by the state of the KMT army. They were a ragged bunch, comprised of teenagers and old men, nothing like the professional Japanese Imperial Army they had grown accustomed to. From the get-go, KMT soldiers began to loot. They seized bicycles from Taiwanese onlookers. Many of the KMT soldiers could not even ride a bike, but this did not deter them. They strapped the bikes to their backs and continued on their way. Over the next couple months, more and more Chinese soldiers arrived in Taiwan. Not having anywhere to go, they hunkered down in government buildings, hospitals and factories. For warmth, they burnt chairs, desks and bannisters. For food, they barged into shops and took what they wanted. Many home invasions occurred during this time, an issue that has not been settled to this day. Some of the relatives of home invaders still live in places illegally taken. Much of Taiwan's infrastructure, like her factories and trains, were packed up and carted off to China. Those in charge of such actions pocketed the profits. But their actions had the green light. Chiang Kai-shek's income system worked liked this: 30 percent of your salary comes from pay while 70 percent should come from what you can loot off a local population.

Things finally came to a head in 1947. The Chinese KMT, although they had, in their own eyes, "conquered" Taiwan, were still standing on the outside. They had little to show for it. Taiwanese individuals continued to occupy the positions of power, as bureaucrats, professors and business people.

The spark to change this reality of KMT invaders not getting all of the pie came on February, 28, 1947 when a woman selling cigarettes in Taipei talked back to two KMT police officers. The police, after checking her papers (and perhaps seeking but not getting a back hander), grew frustrated and pistol-whipped her. The onlooking crowd, feeling enough was enough, began to riot. 

Over the next few months, Taiwan's ruling class would be liquidated in what looks to be today, an organized power grab. When the dust settled, some 30,000 Taiwanese and 1,000 Chinese were dead. The Chinese invaders, it seems, had targeted those with their hands on the levers of power, and were now running the show. Where they compiled their kill sheets remains a mystery. Some have said that "half mountain people," or those who left Taiwan when it was abandoned by China in 1895 only to return with the KMT, were instrumental in this effort.

The above plaque is an account of this massacre and how it affected Badu (八堵). On March 11, 1947, employees at the Badu Train Station cracked. They'd had enough of the bully tactics of the KMT soldiers riding the trains, in particular, of how they booted ticket-holding passengers out of their seats. Simply put, the soldiers didn't have tickets, but thought ticket holders should make way. The employees of the Badu Train Station saw it differently.

17 people in Badu were murdered as a result. The dead included the Badu station master, 李丹修, and his assistant, 許朝宗. Also murdered were two men simply going to work. I asked my wife what happened to these poor people. She thinks most of the victims had their feet bound together. They weren't shot, but rather dumped in the ocean.

4/24/2010

Taipei Drivers Not Yielding to Pedestrians

I was just mentioning to a colleague that I have been honked at what seems like an unusually high amount of times this week while trying to use Taipei's crosswalks. Yesterday, when I pointed to indicate that I was in fact using the crosswalk (and might actually have the right-of-way), the honking driver turned red and got really pissed. I could see him bouncing up and down in his car. Then I was almost hit by a DHL van as well, which came tearing around the corner at Dunhua and Civic Boulevard.

Anyway, I just googled "lack of driver respect for pedestrians in Taipei" or something like that and found an article from the Singapore Strait Timeshttp://meltwaternews.com/prerobot/sph.asp?pub=ST&sphurl=www.straitstimes.com//Asia/China/Story/STIStory_516245.html.  

I think the mayor of Taipei, Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), might have been shamed into doing something by Singapore's paper, because there are 25 cops now assigned to handing out fines at intersections to non-yielding drivers. The fines range from NT$1200 to NT$3600: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2010/04/14/2003470557. And 115 fines were indeed handed out in week two of April, 2010. It also didn't help the city's image when a retired diplomat from Guatemala was hit by cab and had his arm broken a few weeks back. 

Just as an aside, I'll mention an anecdote from about a month ago. A car, I think it was a BMW, pulled up at a red light at Dunhua and Chungshiao, completely blocking off the crosswalk. To get around it, my friends and I had to walk out into the intersection. The traffic cop saw this and scolded the driver. He said: "You're really making Taiwan look bad to 'foreigners'."

4/22/2010

Badu (八堵), Taiwan to Boise, Idaho


Badu (八堵), Taiwan, originally uploaded by Patrick Cowsill.

Today, I took this shot in Badu (八堵), Taiwan, which is around 30 kilometers north of Taipei, in the mountains that separate where I live from Taiwan's most northern port, Keelung (基隆). 

The 228 on the side of the arch is a memorial to those in Taiwan murdered on the orders of the dictator Chiang Kai-shek and his accomplices in government by lower positioned henchmen (many of whom live in Taiwan to this day - some of their descendants still handle the levers of power to protect them; others, or at least their offspring and grandkids, have carpetbagged off to the West). Witnesses of the 228 massacre (named after the date it started, February 28, 1947), which saw some 30,000 Taiwanese professors, bureaucrats and intellectuals die, claim it was done in a power grab. The Japanese, who were defeated by the Americans in WWII, suddenly vacated Taiwan in October, 1945, leaving so many plum assets that it became hard for the Chinese invaders filling the vacuum to refuse and / or to withstand murdering anyone perceived to be a hindrance to these goals or a possible threat down the road.

If you think I am smoking crack, you might want to look at the statistics from this era. Even though the Chinese invaders occupied only eight percent of Taiwan’s civilian population, they managed to procure almost all of the top positions of the bureaucracy and enterprise leadership created by the Japanese. In fact, 68 percent of all Chinese living in Taiwan were employed in tertiary industries. These individuals found their positions not because they were possessing of, as it has been pointed out, “professional and administrative abilities and energies” but rather “[b]ecause these personal were loyal to the Nationalist government, having largely worked for the Nationalists on the mainland” and so it felt “obliged to take care of them” (I am quoting Jacoby and Wang, see sources below). Wang provides statistics on senior administration positions in 1946, to bring home a point on this trend: 

No. of Posts, Ratios of Chinese to Taiwanese . . .
Dept. Director: 8 or 100:0
VP Dept. Director: 3 or 67:33
Group Director: 42 or 90:10
Sec. Dir. (Central Gov.): 36 or 100:0
Sec. Dir. (Loc. Gov.): 96 or 97:3
Specialists: 87 or 87:13

Wang continues, quoting a Western observer: “the government’s policy is to arrange for as many [Chinese] as possible to work in the government . . . Those who were from [China] want to go back, but at the moment they have to get a job to survive, so it is almost impossible to lay off the redundant staff.” In Wang’s assertion, we can see the possibility that Taiwan did not have the prerequisite highly trained and motivated bureaucracy necessary for developing a public sector or infrastructure, but rather many hangers-on, individuals not interested in developing Taiwan but rather in making a bee-line back to China at the first opportunity. Interestingly, factional in-fighting within the KMT hindered Taiwan from the outset before hinting that the true reason for Taiwan’s epic economic launch was a large pool of labor and the successful establishment of small and medium-sized manufacturing, which occured despite the efforts of the government, not because of its policies.

1. Jacoby, Neil H. (1966). U.S. Aid to Taiwan. Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

2. Wang, Hong-zen. (2002). “Class Structures and Social Mobility in Taiwan in the 
Initial Post-War Period.” The China Journal. Contemporary China Center, Australian National University, No. 48, pp. 55-68.


*****

On a different note, I received a long and informative letter from the city historian of Boise. She told me, among other things, Boise's Chinatown was razed by an urban renewal project in the 1970s. Three buildings are all that remain today, two of them are on Front Street, just east of Capitol Boulevard. The other is around the corner on 6th street (this one is now a tattoo parlor). 

I think I may have also discovered, in talking to her, a problem with the U.S. census. It seems it does not distinguish between Chinese and Taiwanese individuals. The Chinese population for the state of Idaho in 2000 was 2,224. That would undoubtedly include some people hailing from Taiwan. For some reason, our government sees Chinese and Taiwanese as the same.

4/21/2010

Taoyuan Wishing Well


Taoyuan Wishing Well, originally uploaded by Patrick Cowsill.

I was in Taoyuan (桃園) for something work related today. I grabbed this shot at the train station just before I left. I think it's an unusual if not cool fountain. 

Shooting the breeze, I asked our sales representative what one does for fun in Taoyuan. He answered, "Go to Dashi." Dashi (大溪) was in the news over the weekend. The papers were charging its vendors with serving up tainted dried tofu, the place's signature dish. According to news reports, two people died  eating it. Another individual grew sick, but pulled through. When I put this to our sales rep, Mark, he became animated. "That's just sensational b.s.," he sputtered. "I eat Dashi dried tofu all the time and look at me, the picture of health!" My wife backed this up. It appears several newspapers ran with the story without bothering for a second to double-check the facts. Now they're apologizing, saying it could have been the clams. 

I want to come back to Dashi on a later post. I have blogged about it before. It was here, in the markets, that Aboriginal flesh was being sold 110 years ago (see Owen Ritter). During WWII, my grandpa was sent out on a mission to bomb it. They couldn't see the town due to cloud cover, so they turned back. His squadron, the Jolly Rogers 90th Bombardment Unit, completed the mission by hitting the military airport in Gangshan (岡山), just outside of Kaohsiung, on July 9, 1945. 

The ashes of Chiang Kai-shek and his son are kept in a mausoleum just outside of Dashi. This place is well worth the visit if you're interested in recent Taiwan history or if you just want to appreciate beautiful scenery.

4/17/2010

Taiwanese in Boise

I've been digging around for information on the history of Boise, Idaho as it relates to Taiwan. As usual, getting early statistics is difficult as they are mingled with Chinese figures. In 1862, the first Chinese (and maybe Taiwanese) arrived in Boise after gold was discovered outside of Idaho City and on Kit and Stacy Waller's farm in Thompson Falls. None of the original Boise Chinese settlement remains. I did, however, unearth this shot on the Internet. It's of 7th Street, which was recently renamed Capitol Street (after Capitol Records): http://ow.ly/1zFia

As it stands, less than 2,000 people in Boise speak of a Chinese heritage. I don't have the figures for what part of this group is Taiwanese. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 curbed Chinese immigration to the United States and restricted growth of this community until the late 1960s.

This is a work in progress. I'll be updating it soon.

How to Train Your Dragon


Ahleena, originally uploaded by Patrick Cowsill.
My wife and I took last Tuesday off work to celebrate our daughter's third birthday. We had already delivered her to Liu Fu Chen Amusement Park (where the above shot was taken), but we were both itching to do something more. We decided to see the 3D How to Train Your Dragon. This would our daughter's first trip to a theater.

I'll just start by saying this film was much better than the other 3D film we saw this year, Avatar, which was pure crap. Let's get that out of the way right now. First, How to Train Your Dragon didn't have any corny speeches and it was not littered with corny dialogue. It didn't have the usual plot cliches, like the bad guy who just doesn't know how to die and wants to kill right up to the end. It didn't have good-old-boy caricatures, the usual twits trying to pull off a rustic American charm of let's-get-this-done-even-though-we're-really-not-that-bright because being dull and smiling all the time wins out. Why do filmmakers fantasize about this stuff?

Instead, the protagonist, Hiccup, doubts himself. He knows he doesn't fit in with his Viking clan, a point that's stressed by his lack of a Scottish accent, which separates him even further from everyone else in town. What does Hiccup do about it? Does he overcome? Does he simper that nobody understands him? Nah, he goes off with a dragon and does his own thing, fretting all the while that he's gonna catch it if anyone finds out.

My family saw How to Train Your Dragon at the Ambassador Theater in Hsimingting (西門町), Taipei, which is renowned for sound quality, a good thing if you have noisy kids because no matter how loud they are, it gets drowned out. Just a couple of points on the Ambassador Theater (國賓影城). Even though How to Train Your Dragon is a childrens' movie, an animated film no less, the Ambassador Theater does not provide child-sized 3D glasses. Child-sized glasses exist and are out there. Miramar, for example, was offering three different sizes when my colleague took his son. Such stinginess and lack of foresight on the part of the Ambassador did, however, cost them in our case as we had to exchange our daughter's pair several times. After around 20 minutes of pushing them up on her face, again and again, with butter-smeared fingers from eating popcorn, she simply wasn't able to see the screen anymore. And I couldn't eat any popcorn (and thus want to buy more) because I was occupied securing them on her face.

My daughter's third pair of 3D glasses, which also totally engulfed her face, suddenly slipped off her tiny nose and smashed to the floor, taking out a lens. I'm told they're US$40 too. When I went to get a fourth pair, I was greeted with the Grand Inquisition. "I'd be happy to answer your questions," I told my interlocutor. "Are you going to pause the film?" A few minutes after returning to my seat, an Ambassador employee was also inside, with a flashlight six rows down, looking for the lens. I mean really. You're playing a kiddie movie and charging NT$350 a ticket, but you don't have any kiddie-sized glasses. What do you expect?

It's still a great movie. If you are a kid-holder, which I'm guessing most people plainning to see How to Train Your Dragon are, avoid the Ambassador Theater in Taipei's Hsimingting (西門町) district.  Call the place you're headed to. See what's what in terms of 3D eye wear. Then go and have fun.

4/13/2010

Iguana Pen in Hsinchu (新竹) Zoo


Iguana Pen in Hsinchu Zoo, originally uploaded by Patrick Cowsill.
I took this shot in Hsinchu (新竹), Taiwan. According to the sign, the cage was put in over 70 years ago, in 1936, making it a relic of the Japanese colonial era. I'm not, unlike my little daughter, a big fan of zoos generally speaking. But this zoo contained some history. I think it's over 100 years old - the oldest in Taiwan. And the Hsinchu Zoo is unusual as zoos go because it's downtown. There are streets running by all of it's borders, hemming it in. Tiny and old, it only costs NT$10 to get in. That's like 30 cents US.

Teenagers in Our Taipei Parks

Today was my daughter's third birthday. We couldn't really celebrate it in an ideal sense, as both my wife and I had work commitments. We did, however, take Ahleena to an amusement park yesterday in Hsinchu, called Liu Fu Chun. It had a lot of kiddie rides, an African safari and junk food which she enjoyed. We've both got tomorrow off work as well; we'll take her to her first movie. 

Tonight, on her actual birthday, I took her over to the Taipei Youth Park (青年公園), which is five minutes from my apartment in Monga (艋舺), Taipei. It should have been just like any other evening - we go there every night that it is not raining. When we arrived however we faced a certain turn of events. After putting Ahleena on the swing, which she loves, I noticed an old bike laying in the playground. Worried that she, or one of the other children, could get hurt on it, I picked it up and propped it against a tree. A couple minutes later, I was confronted by a scowling teenager in a black muscle T-shirt. He asked me if "I wanted to die," pointing at the bike, which I quickly understood was his. Feeling an old twinge, I said, recognizing something familiar building up inside and my own muscles tightening:

"OK, sure. Is it you that's doing the killing? Let's go." Pulling back, he said he was only joking and patted me on the arm with a calculated grin. Then he went scurrying back to his friends. But I could hear him saying things. Actually, I just thought he was playing around, so I shot back, taking a piss but in a friendly way, like what on earth did five young guys want to hang out in the park for, with no women, etc. Soon he was over in my face again, with his bike, kind of jammed up against the swing set so that we couldn't swing comfortably. He said: "Do you and your 'son' want to die" in English. And then, for some reason, "Here's my bike. Fix it!" My daughter was crying, so I pulled her off the swing and we left the park. As we were going by, he reissued the threats about killing us. In all honesty, I wanted to rip his snotty self some new holes, but decided to let it go. But not really. If I had been on my own, I would have gotten in his face directly. It really got under my skin, but I opted for the police station around the corner. 

When I explained the situation to the police, they said, "Do you have anyone to vouch for you?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked. "They're just teenagers. Just go over there and give them the boot."

"OK, sure. But next time you have to tape it." A friendly officer pulled out his iPhone and showed me how to record. 

Five minutes later, a different cop, pulled in off scooter duty, my daughter and I were back in the park. When we located the teenagers who had threatened my daughter, the officer went after the first black-shirted one he could find. The actual culprit was hanging low, so the officer wrongly charged pretty much the whole gang before landing on the right guy. When I did manage to point him out, the teenager became belligerent. Not that he was arguing my accusations, but rather because he didn't think the cops should be questioning him. He paced around the playground and refused to stand still or make eye contact. He even swatted at them and grew agitated. But the policeman was having no part of his crap, and got right in his face. "Why do you harrass people?" he wanted to know. "What are you doing here? Are you simply bored? Look at you, five teenagers and all."

"He's a 'foreigner,'" was the reply. "I just wanted to know him." 

At this point, I came in. "Just take it easy. And don't threaten my daughter. That's all I care about. I came here to play with her, not you. I don't care about you. That's the truth."

Why on earth would I give a f*&^ about them? Why would they imagine that I had come to the park for other reasons? 

What a sad joke of mess it is when I have got dicks like this threatening my daughter, on her birthday, or otherwise. And for what? 

4/06/2010

New Blog and More on Monga (艋舺)


My friend James has a new blog on different items, including Taiwan, called The Writing Baron. The blog has an interesting piece on Taiwan skimping on aid to Haiti, one of our few diplomatic partners. I'll put up a link here: http://thewritingbaron.com/ 

James is also going to write about Taiwan tennis, or so he says. Supposedly, Taiwan has the 71st-ranked player in the world, Lu Yen-hsun (盧彥勳), who's beaten Nalbandian, Hewitt, Coria and Murray in the past (you can wiki him for more). Last year, he gave Federer a bit of a run at Wimbledon, but lost 7-5, 6-3 and 6-2: http://ow.ly/1v0xb. Lu has also won the Israel Open.

I have a new story for Culture Taiwan, on Monga again, called Monga's Chest of Fortunes: http://ow.ly/1v0yB