Restaurant Atop Incinerator

I had meant to have a meal in Beitou's (北投的) Star-plucking Restaurant for ages. The Star-plucking Restaurant, which opened thirteen years ago, appealed to me for a couple of reasons. First off, the view of Taipei promised magnificence. Nestled 120 meters in the sky, amongst the stars, the restaurant is based on a revolving concept. The Star-plucker does a complete revolution every ninety minutes. It is also built atop a garbage incinerator, which is amusing. Last Monday, my wife, daughter and self decided to give the place a try. We weren't disappointed. Although the food was on the pricey side, we figured it was tasty and we didn't leave feeling hungry. My wife had the chicken. I opted for sliced pork and pickles.

The best way to go is either by vehicle or MRT. If you do the latter, get off at Qilian Station out Beitou (北投) way and walk west for about fifteen minutes. That simply entails turning left and going straight. As the restaurant sits up in the sky, it's an easy point to gauge. 

I took this photo from the Star-plucking Restaurant after lunch. The nearer river is the Keelung whilst the one a little further off is the Tamsui. They will merge in about 100 meters, to flow out into the Taiwan Strait. 

There's a nice river walk behind the incinerator. It winds around for a while before letting out on a broken down and weedy path. You will have to talk to the locals to figure it out from this point on; or, you can simply walk back to the incinerator.

This was the gate to a private plantation. Not a lot in terms of cultivation going on inside, but it was still nice and green. The route is scenic to say the least.


White Sky Shaved Ice

This picture has been circulating through social media today thanks to Formosa Vintage Museum Cafe. I want to post it on my blog as it was taken in a corner of Wanhua (萬華). The picture dates to 1960, so if the seller is still around, he's in his early sixties. He's selling beef jerky (that's what he's holding), Snow White Bubble Gum and some kind of product with a maple leaf (next to the Snow White).

In the background, the signage moving from the left is 天白菓冰 (White Sky Shaved Ice) or 先白菓冰 (Mr. Shaved Ice), a popular summertime dessert here in Taiwan. I am not sure because the first character is slightly cut and either name would have been catchy. Next up is a shoe store followed by a tailor. Two signs in English. Hmm. The horizontal sign on the right is more difficult; I need to think about it or ask someone. It seems a service is being provided.

I googled Snow White Bubble Gum and came up with this: http://goo.gl/tHWvPb . I haven't seen Snow White Bubble Gum, which was "healthful" and "delicious," before. I wonder if the company that produced this treat is still in business. If they are, they probably heard from Disney's lawyers years ago.


One China Policy

My friend eyedoc, who runs a blog on Taiwan history and culture among other things, http://danshuihistory.blogspot.tw/, sent me this letter, which was used by then Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his lawyers as the basis for KMT illegitimacy as far as governing Taiwan after 1945.

The letter outlining the United States' commitment to this country does not speak for me, an American, especially when it comes to the one China policy because I think the one China policy would speak to and regard China, but I see it as somehow meant to encapsulate Taiwan. 


Taxi Talk

Taxi by Patrick Cowsill
Taxi, a photo by Patrick Cowsill on Flickr.

I took the above taxi yesterday. I asked the driver about the two American flags sticking out the back. He asked me if I knew about San Francisco. "Sure," I said. "I've been there many times."

"No, San Francisco 1952? The Treaty of San Francisco?"

The Treaty of San Francisco clarified that Japan did not have any claim over Taiwan after the Second World War. Chapter II, Article 2, (b) states the following: "Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores." This a bit redundant, especially since Japan agreed to give up all claims in the summer of 1945 when she agreed to the terms of the Potsdam Declaration in order to unconditionally surrender.

According to the taxi driver, Taiwan still belongs to the U.S. He asked me how I felt about that. "I'm not really into having colonies. And how does this serve Taiwan?" I asked. "If it is how you say, wouldn't it be better just to give Taiwan back to Taiwan?"

"You can't give Taiwan back to Taiwan because China will steal it every time," was the reply.

I'm looking at Potsdam right now. The terms state Japan would return to its pre-1895 status; it doesn't make mention of Taiwan returning to China. Why would it? The China of 1945 was a much different thing than the China of 1895. Plus, China signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki to get rid of Taiwan. In other words, China didn't want Taiwan.

I can't find anything in the San Francisco Treaty that says the Republic of China can set up here (I admit I should read it more closely). The Republic of China wasn't even invited to San Francisco to attend.

There is something in the Potsdam Declaration that could possibly validate China's presence: "the occupation of points of Japanese territory to designated to the Allies." Formosa isn't mentioned by name.

I can't help but to think of recent news in regard to the "occupation" word. The KMT government has set about to revise "history" textbooks once again. The plan is to call the Japanese colonial era an occupation and then have it taught to our kids, even though Japan signed a treaty in 1895 to receive and govern Taiwan. The revisers are not calling the KMT arrival an "occupation of points of Japanese territory," etc. They don't seem to think it's an occupation at all.

Business card 


Jinguashi Restaurant

Untitled by Patrick Cowsill
Untitled, a photo by Patrick Cowsill on Flickr.
I took this shot the last time I was in Jinguashi (金瓜石). The restaurant, which serves taro soup and ribbon fish, is above the POW Memorial. I wanted to put up a link to their website, but then realized I don't even know the restaurant's name. If anyone knows, please do tell. 


Poor Boys and Pilgrims: Paul Simon Visits Taipei

My friends are cynical about seeing the monuments of rock and pop in concert, and so am I. Usually the sound in the venues is awful, so you can't hear much of anything. Then there's the costly ticket prices (I paid NT$3800 to get in), short performances and having to sit through a bunch of new stuff that doesn't resonate. Still, when Paul Simon rolled into Taipei, I wanted to see him, to be in the presence of a singer that I've been listening to ever since I can remember and who has influenced me with his lyrics and melodies. This is some of what he played tonight; there were four or five songs I didn't recognize:

Boy in the Bubble
That Was Your Mother
Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover
Mother and Child Reunion
You Can Call Me Al
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
Slip Sliding Away
Me and Julio
Obvious Child
I Would not Give You False Hope
Here Comes the Sun (Beatles)

He also played five Simon and Garfunkel songs:

The Only Boy in New York
Sounds of Silence (just Paul on the acoustic guitar)
Homeward Bound
The Boxer

In all, it was a good concert. Nobody was leaving for the doors. The sound was fine. His band (all eight of them) were top notch too. I just kept thinking, this dude is 72! According to Simon, this was his first visit to Taiwan. He did the mandatory "thank you" in Chinese and several encore songs before leaving.

The Only Living Boy in New York was the first Simon and Garfunkel song, or "S and G stuff" as Simon referred to them, played. I'd listened to it the day before with a bunch of other stuff to get in the mood. When I heard this one, ironically, I thought he'd never play that one.


Yang San Lang Art Museum


Yang San Lang (楊三郎)

Shufang, Ahleena and I decided to check out the Yang San Lang Art Museum (楊三郎美書館) today: https://www.facebook.com/yangsanlangartmuseum. Nestled in the shadow of Zhongzheng (中正) Bridge, down European Lane in Yonghe (永和), it was a short trip from our restaurant. When we arrived, we were greeted by Christopher Young, the grandson of this great Taiwanese figure in Taiwanese painting, namely Yang San Lang.

The museum has five floors, all of which Christopher patiently walked us through. The first two hold some of the grandest paintings. As Christopher explained, it has to do with the dynamics of the museum. The upper floors have shallow ceilings; in other words, they're too small to hold larger works. Having said that, the paintings that made the deepest impression were on the third floor. They are of Tamsui boats. To tell the truth, I probably wouldn't have given them a second thought, especially after seeing the masterful stuff below. Chris filled me in on his grandpa's obsession with boats however and I came away with different point of view.

In 1947, Yang San Lang was already an important figure on the Taiwan art front. So important, it seems, it landed him on the KMT 228 kill lists. Luckily, a benevolent police officer tipped him off. This individual also pointed out if Yang showed up at an exit point from Taiwan, family in tow, the invaders wouldn't give a second thought on erasing the whole clan. Thus, it was decided that Yang's family would leave first. Yang himself was expected to make a rendezvous with a helpful party out in Tamsui, and from there board a ship and continue on to Japan. It was up to him to get there though. Being an imaginative and industrious fellow, Yang procured a small boat near his native Yonghe and proceeded to row himself down the the Hsin Tien (新店) River. This was no easy feat, as the soldiers from China were patrolling her shores. At the time of 228, the Hsin Tien was awash with debris, floating corpses, etc. and this certainly helped the cause because Yang's boat was able to blend. Whenever he saw movement on land, he ceased with his paddling and dropped to the bottom of the boat. Three days later, Yang managed to make his way to Tamsui and get on out. He then spent the next six years in Japan before landing in the West. Needless to say, there wouldn't be a museum today, stocked full of wonderful paintings of Taiwan, America and Europe, if Yang hadn't, with the help of a boat and nice cop, been so resourceful.

The museum is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in Taiwan's history and great art. And when you're finished, there's a cafe downstairs, run by Yang's grandson, that serves up strong coffee and tasty desserts. 

Christopher Young, grandson of Yang San Lang (楊三郎)


真男人: Taiwanese Marathoner

Three customers at my restaurant made this documentary about Chang Chia-che (張嘉哲), a marathoner from Taiwan. There's some really good stuff here, for example, Chang's insights into competition: he feels a sense of achievement just from running. It's not necessary to win medals, etc. Chang lives in Yonghe (永和), so you'll probably recognize some of the scenery if you're Taipei-based.

I asked the film-makers how they expected to make any money. The doc is, after all, posted on YouTube. They said they didn't make this documentary with an expectation of making money.


Taiwan's Climate, 1895

I've been reading up on Taiwan in 1895, just to get a feel for what was going on at the time China dumped the island on Japan as part of the Treaty of Shimoneseki. Just doing the math, it's now 118 years since China got rid of us. Anyway, I came across this report on the climate, which I found interesting. It was written by N. Perkins, an assistant to the British Consul in Tamsui. I've never seen anything else by him, which is a pity as he writes well. He also types, which makes things a lot easier. Most of the consular reports are in cursive, so they can be quite the slog: 

The Formosan seas are well known for their typhoons, chiefly occurring between June and October.

The velocity and violence of the winds during the height of these storms is almost incredible, and from their rotatory course they test to the utmost skill of the builder, whether of house or ship. 

The rain is swept in steam-like masses along the ground, and the rivers appear to be lifted bodily from their beds. 

These tremendous storms cause the want of harbours along the coast to be more severely felt. Tainan, however, seldom feels the force of typhoons, which usually break off east or west at South Cape.

Earthquakes are also of frequent occurrence, and it is always considered an ominous sign when a long period of time elapses without some shock being felt. There is a record of a severe shock in 1782, which is said to have effected [I checked the dictionary and this seems to be correct] a considerable change in the outline of the coast. A frightful convulsion occurred in 1862, and more recently violent shocks of 1881, 1882, and 1892. 

From what has been said above it will be seen that the island tends, however slowly, to reunite itself with the mainland, from which its severance at remote period was probably due to some volcanic convulsion.

Much has been written about Taiwan's ship-wreckers (bandits who looted and stripped ships in need of repair after storms and thus stranded off Taiwan). Their business was a lucrative one in the past due to the conditions Perkins describes: the violent storms and lack of good harbors for ships to escape from them. We shouldn't forget that Taiwan was a fairly lawless frontier prior to the arrival of the Japanese. I imagine the situation off Taiwan's shores resembled what is going on right now near Somalia. In addition to the law and order provided by Japan starting in 1895, it should be noted that technology and a better understanding of weather patterns also worked to put these groups out of business. I checked the records for the previous year and there were only two wrecks, a Norwegian schooner called the Sylphiden and an American barque called the Mary L. Stone. The Sylphiden, stranded just south of Tamsui, was towed into Tamsui's harbor. She was then dismantled and sold, I am guessing, by the owners. The Mary L. Stone washed ashore at Ilan. The cargo, kerosene bound for Shanghai, was a "total loss." Luckily, nobody died.

The part about the earthquakes reminds me of the 1999 "9/21" earthquake, when a 7.3 quake hit the island in the middle of the night. After that, Jade Mountain, Taiwan's highest peak, was said to have shrunk by several meters. There is a pretty good account of it on wiki. The wiki write-up for the 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung earthquake, Taiwan's deadliest earthquake on record, is solid as well. I want to mention the earthquake of 1654. WM Campbell covers it and others in Formosa Under the Dutch (page 7): 

On 14 December 1654, there happened a mighty one which with short intermissions, continued for seven weeks. Indeed, some have been so unusually violent that the valleys, mountains, and houses moved like a ship on the waves, as if the whole of the land were about to sink altogether. 

I know I am wandering now, but I'm going to close out by saying the 1650s weren't a good time for Taiwan when it came to Mother Nature. Writes Campbell: 

During 1655, [an] abundance of locusts spread themselves over the islands of Formosa and Tayouan [where the Dutch fort Zeelandia was located]. Their first appearance was in Tayouan, where they fell down from the sky like a great fall of snow, and covered all the ground. After two or three days they directed their way to Sakam [modern Yanshui 鹽水, I think] . . . and multiplied in such numbers that no place was free of them. The people of Sakam tried to destroy them, and in four or five days the bodies of those they collected weighed thirty thousand piculs [or shoulder loads]; but it proved in vain and efforts were given up, for the locust[s] continued to increase until all the sugar-cane and rice crops were utterly destroyed.  


The Hammer -- A Customer's Shots

One of our customers took these shots of The Hammer's vicinity. I asked him to send them to me as I liked the tone. I also enjoy these kinds of photographs of Taipei and Taipei Greater. I often take pictures of old, tacky buildings and the like.

Across the way from The Hammer.

Down the lane from The Hammer.

I've finally got the directions to The Hammer sorted out, I think. The main problem was customers would go to Google Maps to look for us and find the pin was way off. To get a proper pin, I had to apply to Google. They then sent a postcard to our restaurant with a password to input, to verify we exist. This took about three weeks. You can find us now if you go to Google Maps and type "The Hammer Taipei." 

Here are the directions I put up at www.facebook.com/thehammertw: The Hammer is a three-minute walk from Dingxi (頂溪佔) MRT Station, Exit Two. When you come out of the MRT, turn left on Yong He (永和) Road and immediately turn left again into the alley next to the station. The alley is a T: turn right into Lane 9  (9巷). You will see The Hammer forty meters down the way. 

I am hoping to have a website up for The Hammer around January 10; I will then return this blog to it's normal function: Taiwan history and culture, written to amuse the blog author. Special thanks to Doug http://www.thecyclingcanadian.com/, who calculated the distance down the lane (40 meters) by leaving his cosy bar stool to walk it out and count the strides.

Anne Wheeler -- A War Story

I received this email from Anne Wheeler. She's the daughter of Ben Wheeler, a Canadian doctor who was held at Kinkeseki (金瓜石), Taiwan during the Second World War. She is also a documentary film-maker:

"Hi Patrick. A War Story is a documentary film available for free on the National Film Board of Canada website. It is about my father and the men he was interned with during WW2. You might want to put it on your site so that others may watch the film -- which features Jack Edwards. Thank you for your interest and work regarding the history of your island."

Here's Anne Wheeler's link to A War Story: http://www.nfb.ca/film/war_story


I've posted many times about POWs interned here in Taiwan. I will give a quick rundown as I feel the topic is important:

3. And on Jack Edwards: http://goo.gl/xoBli