8/28/2011

Wouldn't You Know It but It's Derrick Rose in Taipei

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls 

This afternoon, my family was taking refuge from Typhoon Nanadol in the Alley Cats Pizza Parlor across from Taipei Main Station. This particular Alley Cats is in the northeast corner of K-Mall AKA the Taipei Digital Mart, a scuzzy labyrinth of cell phone shops and booths. We had originally planned to feed all of our old bread to the ducks in 2-28 Park (my daughter's idea), but were, like pretty much anyone in Taiwan with outdoor plans, rained out. 

I was in the midst of tweet photo-ing a pic of the papery pizza being passed off as a meal (for NT$480 a plate too) http://lockerz.com/s/133592055 in this establishment to Doug, a Canadian food connoisseur I have the pleasure of knowing, when my wife started pointing at a commotion going on behind my back. "It's so exaggerated," she complained. "Why does that guy need all those bodyguards to buy a cell phone?"

"It's a media stunt," I guessed, putting the final touches on my tweet photo comment to Doug. "Watch. The evening news will be making a big deal out of this too. It's probably a buy-two-get-one-free deal that the 'media' deems newsworthy."

"He's got four or five security guards. I think he must be a diplomat," she said, ignoring my observation.

"That's funny. Since when do diplomats in Taiwan have bodyguards?" I asked, turning. The first thing I noticed was indeed four or five men with earpieces. They were all in suits, hands thrust in pockets, heads down, brows furrowed, trying to appear intimidating. Then I saw Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, last year's MVP of the NBA, bargaining at a Far-East Telephone booth for a cell phone. 

"That's not a diplomat," I exclaimed. "That's Derrick Rose, last year's MVP!"

"What's the MVP?" she wanted to know. "Is it comparable to the NBA?" My wife is actually pretty familiar with the NBA. We used to go to NBA games when we lived in Cleveland. She knows names such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. I wasn't explaining anymore though. I was already over at the phone booth, taking pictures on my iPhone and picking the bodyguard I was standing next to's brain. He told me that Rose doesn't like people getting too close; that's why he was personally getting the security-guard overtime bucks. Then my wife brought my camera over and I took the shots above and below.

I've seen American athletes on show in Taiwan before -- Dwight Howard and Frank Thomas, to be precise. Neither seemed to have need of bodyguards. I ran into Dwight Howard playing on the basketball court inside the Eslite (誠品) Bookstore Mall in Ximending (西門町). He was not only bodyguard free, but even mingled in the crowd, hugging people for photo-ops and yucking it up. Howard is a pretty big boy though. Plus this kind of affable hands-on approach suited his larger-than-life personality. I saw The Big Hurt in Kiss Disco. Seated at a table across the room, he was introduced to the crowd by Huang Xiao-hu (黃小虎), the singer performing that night. 

I guess it shouldn't strike me as too weird that Derrick Rose had bodyguards in tow. Sponsors and handlers have been pulling their hair out ever since he entered the NBA as he regularly ducks interviews and has trouble performing in advertisements. His shyness has been making it hard for them to cash in. He's only 22 though. He'll probably come around and become every bit the shill for big corporations that the last great Chicago Bull, Michael Jordan, was. And I'm sure he isn't in Taiwan strictly as a tourist right now, during Typhoon Nanadol.


8/22/2011

British Consul Reports at the Hand Over


I've been reading through the reports of the British consuls Perkins, Hopkins, Layard and Bonar covering 1895 and 1896. As you probably already know, 1895 was the year the Chinese government washed its hands of Taiwan, abandoning the island to Japan as one of the conditions of the Treaty of Shimoneseki. 

I'm going to put up a few points that amused me. No argument is being developed here; the items are random.

1. Japan pretty much introduced beer to Taiwan. Considering how ingrained beer is in Taiwanese culture (I guarantee it's the most consumed alcoholic beverage in Taiwan), you'd think it would have had a longer history. Writes B. Layard, the acting British Consul of 1895, to the Marquis of Salisbury: "The amount of beer imported reaches the value of 2,023 l., and that of wine and spirits, which may properly be mentioned here, to 2,921 l. [One hundred] l. of the former, and 226 l. worth of the latter only having been imported before June, 1895."

Henry Bonar, who took over for Layard, brings up beer again in a statistical run-down of shipping for the following year: "Taking the articles alphabetically, the import of beer has quadrupled itself, and is a large item at 9,597 l. Nearly all of it is German brewed beer. Japanese brewed-beers find no favor in this climate, and the light beers of German manufacture evidently are quite harmless."

To this day, light or yellow-colored beers are the most popular beer in Taiwan. Taiwan Beer, easily the top-selling beer in Taiwan, used to have an ale. Nobody bought it though. I've been told the reason for this was it reminded consumers of medicine. To me, Bonar's explanation seems more likely. BTW, the spike in beer sales in 1895 and 1896 can be attributed to the large influx of Japanese immigrants and not a sudden demand amongst Taiwanese people. Writes Layard:

"The Japanese population, whether from insufficiency of good spring water, or as a supposed antidote to the ill effects of the malarial climate, is consuming great quantities of alcoholic beverages, the average per head being, I am informed, three times as much as Japan proper."

Layard also talks about the connection of beer to the weather: "The favorite beers are of the lighter kinds, chiefly German, Lager, and Pilsener, imported from Hong Kong, the beer of Japanese manufacture, although cheaper to import, commanding little sale, as it will not keep in this climate." 

2. A lot has been made of how European powers used opium to gain control in China. Layard's 1896 report seems to suggest it was Chinese traders, not Europeans, who facilitated wide-scale abuse in Taiwan:

"The import of Persian opium [by European traders] has fallen from 1,880 cwts. in 1894 to 860 cwts. in 1895. It is not possible to give an estimate of the Chinese opium which has reached this island in junks, as it does not appear in the customs returns, but great quantities have without doubt been landed all along the coast.

Of late years the consumption of the foreign drug has been considerably curtailed [halved within a year of take over if we are to believe Japanese statistics], owing largely to the increased import of the native drug, which is much cheaper and is largely used for mixing with the foreign article. This trade has been steadily passing into the hands of the Chinese, and sales by foreign houses of late years have been of a much smaller extent than formerly."

To their credit, the Japanese did not criminalize drugs. Instead, they took a more practical approach, issuing licenses to the addicts they inherited but not to new applicants. They also created a monopoly which was, as monopolies tend to be, highly restrictive and yes, profitable. 

3. Getting away from merry-making, here's N. Perkins on the Paiwan, one of Taiwan's 23 aboriginal groups: "The former of these groups is scattered in small villages along the east coast of Formosa [the old name for Taiwan] from Pailam to South Cape [I'm guessing Pailam is Puli while South Cape could be Kenting]. Tradition describes them as descended from a ship-wrecked crew of white men who were allowed to intermarry with the tribe on the condition of their descendants becoming 'hewers of wood and drawers of water' for ever." 

This doesn't sound so outrageous to me. First of all, the coast of Taiwan was notorious for shipwrecks. There were few good harbors and the weather was stormy. Second, the Paiwan were (are?) a highly stratified society, with royalty, commoners and even, I think, slaves. Archeological discoveries in recent years are lending credence to aboriginal myths. Thus, many of us are less likely to roll our eyes when we hear something like this. 

8/14/2011

New 228 Museum in Taipei

Taiwan Culture Hall, Japanese Colonial Era

White Terror Era (1949 -1987)

228 Museum, August 14, 2011

I finally found time to check out the new 228 museum, which is about a 15-minute walk from my place in Wanhua (萬華), Taiwan. The building it is in previously housed AIT offices, so I have actually been there many times. I used to make use of the library when I lived in Yonghe (永和), just over Chung Cheng (中正) Bridge. The door to library was in the back and fed right into the stacks. Thus, I never really appreciated the beauty of the building's interior. They've also pulled down the fence in the rear. Now that it's an open space, more of the exterior is visible from the street.

The museum has been roundly criticized for providing scant information on 228, for doing a gloss over. I think this will be evident to anyone who enters the main gallery on the ground floor. It dons paintings of fish, bamboo and the like. There is a mock vintage theater. The film playing on a loop highlights a Western-looking female circa the sixties spinning a couple of hula hoops whilst playing the trumpet. There is also a warning in the documents' room that cameras won't be tolerated. When I went upstairs, a volunteer usher dipped and weaved through the viewers to single me out and tell me, for some reason (like I couldn't figure out a "no cameras" sign as well as anyone else), that I could not take shots. I still don't really get why I, of all the people in the museum, suddenly became the focus of her attention.

There are some pretty cheesy hands-on exhibits too. You can sign your name on a ribbon and say something like "Go Taiwan!" (加油台彎!), and hang it up on a pole if you like, for example. The information on the history of the building is interesting though. During the Japanese era, it was the Taiwan Culture Hall, a place people could take in displays of local art. After the Japanese surrendered to the Americans to close out World War Two, the building became home to Taiwan's first provincial senate. This is the English take on what occurred, which I did photograph. The bracketed words are my comments: 

"On May 1, 1946, the First Senate of the Taiwan Province [no insight into how Taiwan came about to be a province or the legality of the process is brought forth] held its inauguration ceremony in this building. The chamber was located in the 2nd floor auditorium in the right (North) wing; it was a significant palace of democracy [oxymoron] in postwar Taiwan.

Shouldering the expectations of six million Taiwanese people, the Provincial Senators responded to the many problems that arose after the National Government's take over of Taiwan in a way that not only pointed to the core of the issues, but in a way that always [probably an overstatement -- let's go with "usually" here] accurately reflected public opinion and rigorously criticized the government. The eagerness reflected in their political reform touched the people's hearts [ a.) I wonder what this political reform entailed because I have never heard of it b.) I bet there were a lot of people simply asking, "what the f*&^ is going on?"]. After the 228 Incident [do you mean "massacre"], most of the Provincial Senators stood on the front line of reform [source?]. Consequently, they were arrested or killed, and this left the impression that Taiwan's talent was being destroyed by governmental violence. That was why the building was chosen as the 228 Incident National Memorial Hall."

I think the last sentiment is pretty much accepted by anyone who has looked into 228. It was a power grab. The incoming KMT bureaucracy needed Taiwanese professors, doctors and politicians whacked so they could fill these positions. Calling the killing of some 30,000 people an "Incident" is a downplaying of what happened. It reads like an act of whitewashing something horrific and a dereliction of a proper accounting of history.