I Opted for AZ Astra Zeneca

As an outsider biding his time in Taiwan, I am concerned about a pandemic spread out of China a year and a half ago and repercussions, the sloppy and hypocritical behavior of the government here, a virus that seems like it was designed in a lab, and so on. The first six days of the initial lockdown here in Taiwan, in mid May, 2021, the police visited my restaurant five days in a row. Government officials took an interest in my place -- they dropped by on the fourth day of that first lockdown, Tuesday, May 18. Officials did not pester the businesses around us. Not once. Both 7/11 and Family Mart were open and full of customers. We were the emptiest joint on the block; we were the only ones catching it from the cops. Since The Hammer has been open, almost nine years ago, we have been visited by the police four hundred times. No other establishment on our block has been visited, to my knowledge, three times. I talked to my wife. We know additional harassment is headed our way. We will deal as usual, because what else can we do?


I Opted for AZ

Shufang declared: "I have owned a business in Taiwan for close to a decade. This virus has yet to infect me, but it has crushed my business."

I signed up for the Astra Zeneca vaccine three weeks ago. I got my first jab on Wednesday. Shufang is next Wednesday. I got my jab because I was open to Astra Zeneca. Some of my friends signed up for Moderna. They regret their decision now. Taiwan lacks Moderna shots. I was lucky to get AZ. 

Thus, I went to Cardinal Tien Hospital in Yonghe last Wednesday to get my COVID-19 shot. The man working the door told me to head to the second floor. I found chaos up there on the second floor. A line spread down the corridor and spiraled down the stairs, into the road. There was no concept of social distancing. I asked the nurse for help. I went from nurse to nurse. None of them had any time. They said "hold on." I could see how much stress they were under. I finally figured out this was the Moderna station, not mine.

There is a convention hall (or maybe a church) outside the Cardinal Tien Hospital, to the back. They are practicing social distancing inside. I spent five minutes filling out the application, 1.5 meters from my fellow applicant. I got my jab a few minutes later. No jab recipient is allowed to leave for fifteen minutes. There is a feeling of peace and dreams in that room of socially-distanced people sitting on those carefully placed chairs. For those seeking Moderna, no chair seems to await. You get what you sign up for. We leaned back to stare at the ceiling in that tomb, contemplating "what God wrought when He made the world so sad."


Have I Got a Deal For You

Taiwan has been fairly locked down for around a month now. We can still go out, but the schools are online now and most offices are doing the same. On Monday, we were informed we could only go to market or a supermarket every second day. It depends on one's ID, you see? If the last digit of one's ID is odd, one can visit Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Even numbers get the other days. By law, people in Taiwan are not required to produce ID when asked. Most people I have talked are unaware of this law. While North America is opening up, we are going in the opposite direction. I think part of the problem is complacency; for example, people in America were getting the jab and we in Taiwan were busy patting ourselves on the back for managing to sidestep, relatively speaking that is, for more than a year. We complained and complained we did not get respect or congratulations on virus control. Now there is no herd immunity. Less than five percent of the population has been vaccinated.

The Hammer https://www.facebook.com/thehammertw, our restaurant, is still open. We can only do take out order. We have had to get more creative. We are offering new dishes and additional specials on drinks. My wife took this pic of one of the beers we are offering. The view is off our bedroom's balcony. The washed backdrop is the street that leads down to the Xindian River in Yonghe. 


Lalu Island

I noticed from a higher place that Lalu Island, in Sun Moon Lake, is actually moated. In Chinese, Lalu (拉魯) means "marinated," but it seems more likely the word comes out of the Thao Aboriginal (邵族) language and is along the lines of "do not forget this spirit-fested place." Most of the Thao homes and temples in the area collapsed on September 21, 1999, as a result of a 7.3 scale earthquake. Whatever structure(s) existed on Lalu Island then does not now. The Thao have also closed the island to visitors.


This Is Not Going to Fix Your Bike

This woman stood outside my restaurant for 20 minutes, revving the engine on her old scooter. Then she turned it off and walked off, our alley filled with exhaust. Shopkeepers were forced to close their doors and windows. Her behavior proved her oblivious to the well-being and concerns of those living in her midst. This is not the first time I have witnessed this tactic; elder people routinely do this kind of bike maintenance down by the Hsin Tien River in the River Park. The idea is akin to clearing the throat. I am curious about the tags though. The scooter looks like a 50 cc, which was phased out. The tags are greeen, but the stickers indicate insurance has been paid for the year.


Yang Chung-chou's Bridge

I often cross Zhongzheng Bridge on foot late at night, on my way home to Taipei after I shut down my restaurant, which is located in New Taipei City (Greater Taipei). The view down the Xindian River is nice and there aren't many cars, making for a peaceful crossing. I mentioned my habit to a friend, who remarked: "One of these days, that bridge is going to fall into the river." From a distance, it does seem to be riding a bit low. I'm not able to make out the sag people say is there; I'm no bridge engineer. Constant earthquakes and flooding have been working on the bridge's stability.  Now the Public Works Department is weighing in. They want to tear down the bridge before it collapses. The Department of Cultural Affairs stands in the way though. Zhongzheng Bridge is also the oldest out there on the Xindian.
According to the historical marker at the bridge's head, Zhongzheng Bridge'll be 80 next year, making it a relic of the Japanese era. Why it is named after Chiang Kai-shek, the dictator whose army invaded Taiwan a decade after construction, isn't a big mystery. The bridge used to have a Japanese name. That was lost in the sinification of Taiwan that occurred later on, when Chinese rulers were attempting to rewrite the country's history so that their Taiwanese subjects would look upon themselves as Chinese too. The historical marker also indicates that Yang Chung-chou, father of the famous painter Yang San-lang, was behind an effort to get the bridge built. As an important land owner and one of the mayors of Yonghe during the Japanese colonial era (1895 to 1945), Yang Chung-chuo stressed it would help commerce a lot once in place. I've been told by his great-grandson that, after years of wrangling, Yang donated the land at the bridge's head to jumpstart the project.  

I took this phone shot from the bridge, looking east. I don't think it's too hard to get a feeling for how much the bridge has sunk. Half a dozen suicides take place from her rails yearly. I brought this up with a beat cop, saying: "I would probably just swim away if I fell off."
"No you wouldn't," was the replay. "People don't die from hitting the water. They drown after getting stuck in the mud at the bottom of river."


Comedy at The Hammer

Local personality, Gary Patterson.

Gary Patterson is involved in the English-speaking comedy scene here in Taipei. Over the past few decades, Patterson and other comedic rovers have been making the rounds, meeting at venues to crack wise and laugh it up. I met up with the comedian for a chat. I wanted to know why he does this. That is covered below. Patterson also filled me in on the history of stand-up in Taipei. He talked about what they had to go through in the early years, when Taiwan was still under martial law (1949-1987). The assertion of Taiwan's constitution and, in particular, freedom of speech, breathed energy into the movement in nineties. I will cover that part of our talk in a future post.

Patterson and other rovers will be at The Hammer, www.thehammertaiwan.com, Monday night (April 20).


Me: You have been in Taiwan for a long time. What brought you here?
Patterson: I met my wife in college at KU. She is from Taiwan.

Me: Do you see yourself sticking around? If so, why? What would be some of the factors for you just packing it up and leaving Taiwan?
Patterson: I'd only stick around Taiwan if I started a business that I really enjoyed and had fun running and managing with local employees. I'd pack up and leave Taiwan ASAP if there was another intelligent job overseas.

Me: You have been active on the comedy front. What brings you to do it? Why do you persist in doing comedy in Taiwan?
Patterson: I used to live in Longtan (龍潭) with my in-laws and that got old after about three years. I love doing comedy. It was a great way to get away from my in-laws and family, and just have fun for myself. It is a form of therapy for most of us, including me. I had a rough childhood and adulthood.

Me: You are obviously motivated to do comedy. What inspires you to create an evening of comedy at The Hammer? Why are you interested in organizing this at a local venue?
Patterson: The Hammer is a special bar where us expats are able to feel like we are at home for a few hours while we get out our frustrations, love, and tell stories.

Me: Is it hard to round up comedians?
Patterson: It is very easy to round up comedians here in Taipei.  There used to be a very organized group of comics named ROCT (Republic of Comedy Taiwan); however, most of the event managers got busy with other work and the local cheese ball government was trying to crack down on people doing performances without the proper work permit(s). Even though we don't pay any one, we can only use people with APRCs and marriage ARCs, and local IDs of course.

Me: What are things you respect in your peers?
Patterson: I admire every one for whatever they love to do and if they find real meaning and happiness in it. There is nothing wrong with what we do in this lifetime. We are all connected and find our own path(s) sooner or later.

Me: What gives you grief in rounding up comedians for a show?
Patterson: I wouldn't call it grief, but sometimes you get the comics that go over their scheduled time, or are too drunk to perform professionally. I'm guilty of this too, but we all learn from our mistakes. Well, most of us do. I know I did. 

Me: You must have some misgivings about what's happening on the local comedic scene. What are they and how do you deal with them?
Patterson: It is just the local jealous people seeing us expats do something fun. We don't worry about the money. Actually, I haven't had to deal with anything bad yet, but I have a plan and I will execute it when needed.

Me: What pisses you off in terms of comedic themes? Do you ever think "This guy is full of shit?"
Patterson: Come on. Every one is full of shit to some extent. It is just a way of hiding feelings, or getting needed attention from peers. Yes, I do think that many people are full of shit, but we are all guilty of this, so this is an even playing field for comics and people in general.

Me: Besides getting laughs and being the center of attention in an act, what else brings satisfaction in doing this?
Patterson: I was always a funny guy around my friends and knew some day I could do this professionally. I used to teach way too much. With my smoked meat business, I rarely have time for myself and my family. My family doesn't really understand me at times, but I'm not perfect either. I married too young and often have thoughts of leaving and starting over.

Me: When you are performing, what do you do if you feel an act isn't working? Do you simply proceed or do you change gears?
Patterson: Yes, I do switch gears, but most of my comedic routines are just out of my head and I feed off the audience cues and movements.

Me: Is there a joke or idea you have heard too much on the circuit?
Patterson: No. It all comes down to being just a joke or idea. 

Me: I just have a comment. Then I want to do a Q & A quickie. Foreigners have said they are uncomfortable with other foreigners misbehaving in Taiwan. They say it reflects upon all foreigners. In other words, the bad behavior of people they have never met somehow still reflects on them. I may come from a similar culture or have the same skin color as one of these troublemakers, but that does not mean I have to be included in a tribe. I was talking to a comedian. He was preparing his act on this theme. I felt like popping this idea inside our chat.
Patterson: OK. Sure.

Me: Which comedian has had the most impact on you?
Patterson: There have been many, but Ralphie May has been my favorite. I saw him live in Kansas City one time when I owned my own tea house in Lawrence, Kansas.

Me: What is the funniest movie you have ever seen?
Patterson: Rush Hour.

Me: Who is the most daring comic you have seen?
Patterson: Bob Saget. The comic that played the father in "Full House."

Me: Have you ever caught the popular Yonghe (永和) comedians, Chris R 'n' R and Mattie www.? They have a two-man show called "It's Not an Act. It's Just Us."
Patterson: Not yet.

Me: Short Fuse?
Patterson: Some people think he's too coarse and loud -- too bombastic when it comes to politics, especially Thai politics. I don't agree. I think he's very good at improv. He doesn't reside in Taipei now. That's too bad.

Me: Thanks Gary for your time. We will catch up with you soon.
Patterson: My pleasure.


Check out Gary's meat smoking business, KC BBQ Taiwan, at http://goo.gl/ujqQKl. Special thanks to JTH for his work on the film production. JTH filmed our chat, which lasted for a couple hours. 


Movie Night at the Museum

Chris is showing Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Schneider, this Thursday (Jan. 15) at the museum: http://goo.gl/dnM2lU   I've been attending these screenings regularly because he keeps coming up with interesting viewing choices. I like sitting in the big gallery among all those paintings and watching a movie on the big screen. Plus it's free.

We've already seen Klute, Wild Strawberries, Magnolias and Badlands among others. I'll put a link up to Jeremy Olivier's (who is by coincidence a distant relative of Laurence Olivier) write up of Badlands, which he did after that showing. Jeremy's piece speaks to the idea that something good is coming out of the movie nights -- they are not just an excuse to drink. On that note, Chris will have NT$100 sangrias and NT$300 corned beef and cabbage plates available. http://goo.gl/wgH4FF

Things will get under way at around 7:30.

I Opted for AZ Astra Zeneca

As an outsider biding his time in Taiwan, I am concerned about a pandemic spread out of China a year and a half ago and repercussions, the s...