Saturday, April 30, 2005

Lien Chan is back.

Lien Chan is back from dickering with Beijing. I expect that since the electorate has failed to make him President of the ROC twice, he imagines his last hope is that the Chinese army makes him ruler of Taiwan.

The spectacle of Lien Chan going to China brought out the tired old stereotyped riots, scripted by KMT-hired gangsters who mauled the DPP activists. The great thing about the KMT is that it never changes. Still playing the same games it played forty years ago.

I guess I'm just tired of it. I long for those people to stop hating Taiwan, to accept that they belong to this island, and to stop looking down on the Taiwanese, and to work together to build a bright future for the island.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Here comes the Judge: the English Contest

On Wednesday April 27 I went to act as a judge for the Taichung County Public School English Contest. This was my second year performing -- and I use the word advisedly -- as judge and already I have become a bit of a fixture.

The contest was held at the spanking new, spacious Shuangwen Junior High School in Tali, south of the city of Taichung.

Shuangwen Junior High, more like a small college than a junior high school.

The school was quite high, higher than any of the surrounding buildings for several kilometers in any direction (thanks to the island's insane land use laws), resulting in some surprisingly good views.

The view from the top.

The contest was held in the school classrooms, so things were a bit cramped.

Taking a break.

Contestants practice.

Contestants came accompanied by school officials or by their parents.

One of the most interesting problems that emerged during the judging was the divergent cultural expectations of the judges. The westerners all expected to see dynamic, interesting speakers who had a variety of facial expressions and hand movements, and who spoke their piece in a "natural" tone and manner. We downgraded students who stood stock still and delivered their speeches with stone faces and a high-pitched, jerky, overstylized intonation.

Judges shoot the breeze between events.

By contrast, the local judges interpreted this as the proper formal style, and gave low marks to students who did not perform as close as possible to the ideal of expressionless, artificial delivery. Those of you who have watched Chinese give speeches may now understand why they give them so poorly by our standards. The local speechmaking style is "serious" and "formal." The American style emphasizes the establishment of a warm inclusive relationship between speaker and spoken to, but in Chinese culture that is a boundary violation. Authority in Chinese culture must impose at least a moderate amount of distance between itself and the spoken to.

This was rather dramatically illustrated by a former student of mine, Ruby, whom I had the good fortune to run into at the contest. Ruby is a talented speaker herself who has won speech contests, and I had a hand in her training.

Teacher and Student pause for a pose.

Ruby told me the sad tale of her own student at the local junior high. This student had prepared a fantastic speech, complete with visual aids. The judges knocked her way down with comments like "all this movement and humor is for children, not junior high students," "too active," and so on. "I wish you had been one of our judges, Michael," she sighed as she reflected on how this cross-cultural problem had manifested itself in her case. I wish I had been too!

The County seems to be unaware of this significant disparity in judging. The woman in charge did, however, instruct us to give the students scores between 70 and 92 in all cases. She said it was very ma fan (a pain) to handle if the scores fell outside that range. These instructions I cheerfully disregarded, and so did many others. This problem of "predetermined" scores is a widespread one in Taiwan.

A second problem that had arisen was the incredible stereotyping of the speeches. No student ever takes risks. There were three speech topics:

My School Life
Seeing The Doctor
What Will I Be When I Grow Up

Those of you who have lived in Taiwan for a while know what happened. My School Life turned into a stereotyped hymn of praise to schools where the teachers were all warm and friendly and caring, the students supportive and fun, and the breakfast on the way to school memorable. There was no mention of the deadly mountains of homework, the cliques, the immense pressure on junior high school students, and so on. The second topic was even more sterotyped, if possible: each speech involved an initial hatred and fear of docs, getting a cold, going to the doc, getting a shot, and finding out that the doctor was really a warm, friendly, patient guy. Worse than the Synoptic Gospels. The final topic was picked by eight students out of 26 (topics were randomly drawn from among the three by each student) and sure enough, in five cases the person wanted to be a doctor. A writer and a pilot rounded out the lot. The eighth student, an attractive young woman named Lindsey, went to the local bilingual school nearby and spoke superb English. Since she had contact with foreigners, her speech was totally different, a musing on how she really wasn't old enough to think about the topic yet.

It is customary after the contest for the judges to give feedback. The other judges said that they remembered the great job I had done the year before and instantly nominated me for the job. Since my life is driven by ego, they had no trouble flattering me into the task and themselves out of it. After the speeches I gave a comical review of how to give a speech, in both Chinese and English. The windows and room were packed with listeners, whom I kept in stitches, no doubt sparked by the steady stream of grammatical and usage errors.

That was the morning. Lunchtime was a couple of hours chatting with foreigners, including a vivacious, delightfully cynical and acutely perceptive Filipino woman married to a Taiwanese, and a highly intelligent and thoughtful American teaching in a local high school. Enjoyed the company, guys! And don't forget! It's black pigs! Meeting people is one of the best reasons to go to these contests.

Bleary-eyed after seven hours: can I go home now?

The afternoon brought the reading contest, fifth graders. My daughter had originally been pressured by the school to do that for the third grade, and I was glad to see that she had declined. They sent the other half-n-half from my daughter's third grade class, and a fifth grade girl. Thirty-five readings later, the contest was over, and I was richer by some County government cash and several new friends. See ya next year!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

More on Iran

Michael Klare's article on the upcoming war with Iran, "Oil, Geopolitics, and the Coming War with Iran," was CommonDream's most forwarded article this week. I have already talked about the coming war with Iran and its possible effects on Taiwan, but Klare's article is good overview of some of the strategic issues. It does leave out one factor that some analysts consider an important driver of the illegal invasion of Iraq, Hussein's decision to switch from figuring oil prices in dollars to using Euros. Such a move would be a strike at the US standard of living that no Administration can ignore. Iran has been contemplating a similar move.

Kristoff on Interracial Marriages

Nicholas Kristoff has a great article on CommonDreams on the growth of interracial marriages in the US.

As of the 2000 census, 6 percent of married black men had a white wife, and 3 percent of married black women had a white husband - and the share is much higher among young couples. Huge majorities of both blacks and whites say they approve of interracial marriages, and the number of interracial marriages is doubling each decade. One survey found that 40 percent of Americans had dated someone of a different race.

But it's hard to argue that America is becoming more colorblind when one benchmark is still missing: When will Hollywood dare release a major movie in which Denzel Washington and Reese Witherspoon fall passionately in love?"

Speaking as a member of a cross-cultural marriage, I think it is great that interracial marriage is at last becoming a normal thing to do in the US. Now if only they would include Asians in this idea of "race." Too often, when you look at a movie, the token non-white is black, and Asians do not exist. And people from the Indian subcontinent, well, they are not even on the same planet.

Doubling every decade! Perhaps one day we'll all be brown, and this racism thing will have ended forever.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Hiking on the East Coast

Saturday we left Taipei on the 7:23 express to Suao and stopped in Fulong. This small summer beach town was our base for a hike over a historic local trail.

An ancient marker from the trail.

We went on the hike with a group of 40 or 50 people, all Taiwanese, except for my good friend Jeff and his daughter.

Up we go!

Although the trail was nothing special, there were occasionally beautiful views.

Taiwan's East Coast offers spectacular mountain scenery.

I've built a website on the trip here (same link as above). For more great pics of the East Coast, go here.

The weekend in Taipei was enlivened by the usual expenditures on food and fun. One shining moment was the old woman who hacked on my wife for being ugly. Locals frequently criticize my wife for her ugly freckles, dark skin, and generally inferior looks. We both usually just laugh, but this woman was really over the top. Another experience, this one great, was being stopped for a moment in the Dinghsi subway station. "Hey! You're famous! I've seen your website!" followed by a friendly thank-you. You guys make it all worthwhile.

Hiking with the locals on Saturday gave me time to reflect on how far Taiwan has come. Everything was volunteer. The guides were volunteer, and the local history guide was a local volunteer, retired. Taiwan is slowly growing a civil society and a volunteer ethos despite the fact that both must be imported, for local culture contains neither. Both augur well for the future despite the authoritarian political culture. Another pleasing thing was watching the locals carefully remove all their litter, along with litter others had thoughtlessly left behind. There's a lot of caring going on in Taiwan that is not obvious, and foreigners here should acknowledge and encourage it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

"You're too ugly to have had such cute kids"

Today me, my wife, and my two kids were waiting in front of Sogo in Taipei, in the heart of the once-great shopping district there. As we waited by the landmark clock, the friend we were waiting for strolled up. I wandered off to find a garbage can, and an old woman walked up to my wife.
"Are these your kids?"
"Yes," said my wife with her customary gracious smile.
"You and your husband are much too ugly to have had those kids," the woman bluntly informed my wife.
My wife's face froze and you could see that in her brain the infamous Blue Screen of Death had appeared. A quick internal systems diagnostic revealed nothing wrong with the Hardware: the ears were indeed working fine. Still, she stammered out a "Whaa-aat?"
"Ugly. How could you two have had such cute kids?"
The air throbbed with the sudden, violent expansion of my wife's shit list.
"Yes, you." The woman drove home her point by indicating with an extended finger. My wife was clearly suffering from a serious internal conflict: should she bite the finger off, or just break it in place? I stood there, trying to overcome my chubbiness, balding head, and general bedraggled Taiwan-has-worn-me-down air to look like the dashing potential father of two cute kids. I must have failed miserably, for the woman reiterated her point, in case we had missed it the first three times, and then wandered off.
Welcome to Taipei.

Off to Taipei and Points north...

....for the weekend. Hiking above Fulung beach, expensive food, metro system, good museums, women who know how to wear make-up and clothing. I LOOOOVVVEEEE Taipei!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dan Bloom's Great Letter, Atheism, and Taiwan

Except at Internet Infidels I am not what one would call a public atheist, so I do not plan to write about my religious beliefs in here very often. But I would like to comment about one of Taiwan's best features: its religious tolerance.

One of the really great things in life is finding out someone you have always liked is a fellow atheist. And so it was with Dan Bloom's excellent letter to the Taipei Times today. Referring to the nasty comments made by a local foreign priest, Bloom observes:

The Dutch clergyman and longtime Taiwan resident was invited to go to Rome with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to attend the Pope's funeral, and what does he do upon returning to these shores? After Chen lauds Father van Aert in public at a press conference as an "unknown hero who promotes the power of reconciliation and faith in peace," the clergyman a few days later tells a reporter, explaining his religious faith: "I pity people who do not know [Jesus]. They have little comfort in their sufferings."

So van Aert presumably "pities" Chen and most of the people in Taiwan -- about 90 percent of the 23 million people who live here who are Buddhists or Taoists -- because they do not know Jesus? And this comes from the mouth of a "hero who promotes the power of reconciliation and faith in peace?"

The incredible arrogance of the Christian faith was definitely on display with that one. Cardinal Ratzinger didn't help things one bit, with his announcement upon taking the Papal throne that he was going to unify all Christians. Just like Beijing wants to unify all Chinese, and for the same implacable, authoritarian reasons: the inability to stand even one place that might lie outside the Power and Control of the Authority. Everyone knows what Ratzinger means by "unify" -- he means place all Christians under the thumb of Rome. Now that corporate revenues falling and millions switching to exciting new brands like Evangelical Christianity, or even giving up the product all together, Rome is proposing a merger.....

Those of you wondering what kind of man Ratzinger is might enjoy this insight into the man's character from the well-known ANE scholar Greg Doudna. Ratzinger is not a conservative but a raving reactionary who argued in 1992 that the civil rights of homosexuals could be legitimately curtailed. He had predicted earlier that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the main enemy of Christianity. Earth to Ratzinger: Buddhism is not the enemy of anything, except hateful centralized authority beliefs. Buddhists have no trouble living with Christianity. It is Christianity that cannot abide other beliefs.

One thing about atheists: there are quite a lot of us here in Taiwan. Taiwan is a place where there is a high level of tolerance for religion, and people take a very practical attitude toward its benefits. Hence many have nothing to do with it, and nobody, believer or skeptic, seems to mind what anyone else thinks. The only missionaries I have met here have been Mormons and JWs. For an atheist used to the West, where people actually take seriously the ideas like angelic intervention, the Virgin Birth and the Trinity, and where the culture is absolutely saturated with Christianity, life in easygoing Taiwan will be a welcome relief.

Many times I have heard my fellow foreigner atheists express their joy at living in a place where religion is a private affair and not a public club to force others to align with oneself. Someday I hope that the US returns to the level of tolerance and sanity on religious issues displayed by the islanders here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Draft is it good-bye Taiwan?

Project Censored, gathering reports from Buzzflash and elsewhere, notes that the major media has ignored the impending draft.
The Selective Service System, the Bush Administration, and the Pentagon have been quietly moving to fill draft board vacancies nationwide in order to prepare for a military draft that could start as early as June 15, 2005. In preparation several million dollars have been added to the 2004 Selective Service System (SSS) budget. The SSS Administration must report to Bush on March 31, 2005 that the system, which has lain dormant for decades, is ready for activation. The Pentagon has quietly begun a public campaign to fill all 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board slots nationwide. An unpopular election year topic, military experts and influential members of Congress are suggesting that if Rumsfeld’s prediction of a “long, hard slog” in Iraq and Afghanistan (and a permanent state of war on “terrorism”) proves accurate, the U.S. may have no choice but to draft.[emphasis mine]
The Administration is looking at war with Iran: after Poland, Russia is the usual historical progression. Seymour Hersh reported last year that US had already put special forces into Iran to prepare the way, check out targets, etc. What will such a war hold for the US and Taiwan?

Unlike Iraq, where the terrain was congenial and supply lines short and anchored on our ally, Kuwait, Iran is a whole 'nother ball of wax. Take a look at this size comparison:

Iran vs US:

In addition to the vastly greater size of Iran, its terrain is utterly unlike Iraq's.

Iran: real deserts, real mountains, real winters.

Iran is not going to be a pushover like the Iraqis. The country is poor and its GNP one-fourth of what it was in the Shah's day, but the population is fully one-quarter the size of the United States. Occupation of hostile territory requires 20 soliders for every thousand population, or 20,000 per million; this suggests that occupation of 70 million people will require 1.4 million troops merely for occupation duties alone. Our ongoing defeat in Iraq, where we failed to put in the 400,000 required to police Iraq, makes occupation of Iran a fantasy.

There's a good map here that shows both terrain and roads. Iran has fewer decent ports for its long coastline. Note also that the railroads do not run in ways useful to the US, unless we invade from Afghanistan. The roads also run north-south through mountain valleys that will make it easy for local guerillas to cut off supply trains. When Hussein invaded Iran in the first Gulf War in 1980, he made swift progress until the base of the mountains. After that, defeat. Iran's army is not well armed and it lacks heavy equipment. Yet the Iranians showed tactical imagination, tenacity, and resourcefulness in turning back Hussein's forces in that war.

The US is not risking mission failure like Iraq. It is risking military defeat. A full-scale invasion will almost certainly result in military defeat for the US, unless the population completely goes over to the US, or the Army refuses to fight, or the government collapses.

What this means for Taiwan is clear. An invasion of Iran will likely bring about military defeat that will bankrupt the United States and permanently harm its power and prestige. We are not now in a strong position to oppose China; with the military busy in Iran, we will only be less so. If the US invades Iran, Taiwan is finished.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I ran across this old post on the ESWN blog on the Yakasuni Shrine visit

After discussing the comfort women dragooned by the Japanese in Taiwan, the recent visit by a TSU member to the Yakusuni Shrine, and other matters, the writer points out that the KMT ran virtually the same system to staff its brothels in the offshore islands, forcing prostitutes arrested in police raids to work in them or go to jail. The legislator that ended this system? Chen Shui-bian, in 1992.

I'm getting rid of my drivers license....

I wanted to tell this story....

My Taiwanese neighbor, a woman in her late 40s, reported a while back:

"I'm driving down the road on my motorcycle and a policeman stops me."
"What happened?"
"I went through a red light."
"Oh yes, I always do."
"I see. And then?"
"He asked for my license. So I told him I had no license. He told me that I was lucky I didn't have a license. If I had possessed a license, he would have had to fine me NT$6,000."
*sound of jaw hitting the floor* "So what happened?"
"Nothing. He said that without a license, there was nothing he could do. So he sent me on my way."


Monday, April 18, 2005

Weird questions....

My site just attracts the damndest questions....

Good Morning-

I was wondering if you could help me with a question I have. I work for a Travel Agency and I was looking threw a magazine on Taiwan. And a question actually came up to me. There is a picture of some Taiwanese Food. One of which we find interesting, but we can't figure out what it is. It's round. Looks like a Wax coating with a stamp. Almost like a wax seal. It's Bright red, and looks to be sitting on a corn husk or sorts. The contents tend to look like a bean or something of the sorts. So I was justwondering if you could maybe help figure out what this mystery food is. I'm very well verse in the Japanese Culture and Language, but Even I couldn't find out this mystery here at our office ; )

Any help you could provide would be great.

Hsinchu Reprise

I have a close friend, one of the most perceptive observers of the Taiwan scene I know, who often beefs about how Taiwanese businesses seem unwilling to sell consumers things, even though the consumer is in front of them, cash in hand.... I had my own 'Moment' of marketing cluelessness in Hsinchu this weekend that brought my friend to mind....

We went to some fancy organic restaurant in Hsinchu called the Orange something-or-other.

Eating at the fancy place...

It was delicious, and the end of the meal was made perfect by a wonderful chocolate mousse delicacy that made my palate sit up and beg. Everyone agreed to go downstairs to the restaurant's supermarket and buy a whole cake to take home.

The expensive supermarket...

The supermarket was a well-presented place done up in Ikea-style wood shelves and full of expensive western food. I was tempted by the parmesan cheese, until I realized it was worth more than my computer. My sister in law strolled over to the bakery counter, preparing to take a mousse cake captive. Naturally, since the bakery is shared between the restaurant and the supermarket, it should be no problem, right?

Wrong! The nice lady helpfully informed us in her best "It's the Policy Ma'am" voice, that what was served upstairs was not sold in the bakery downstairs. Another brilliant triumph of administration genius over marketing common sense!

But that was the only bad spot of a pleasant day of waking up and smelling the flowers. Here's some for you!

In Hsinchu we went swimming, and I stayed home to watch the kids on Sunday afternoon. My nieces were sick, a commonplace among Taiwanese kids, so we couldn't go out. The newspapers and the chattering class typically explain the widespread coughs among children as due to the foul pollution in the atmosphere, but I often wonder if it is because kids in Taiwan simply don't get enough sleep. Most Taiwanese kids I know are up well past eleven regardless of age, and it is not uncommon to see toddlers running around night markets in the wee hours of the morning. When my nieces come stay with us they go to bed at 8-8:30 instead of 11, and their coughs magically disappear, and their appetites pick up too.

Of course, it's not like the locals are stupid. For many families the parents would never see the kids if they put them to bed at 8 like we do. Long working hours mean that parents often do not get home until after 7.

To a Mormon missionary

I just sent the following to the Taipei Times:


On Saturday around 12:45 on Kwangfu Rd. in Hsinchu I saw you. You and your fellow Mormon missionary were accosting Taiwanese on the sidewalk in front of the Post Office, one more annoying impediment to foot traffic in an area already overcrowded with parked motorcycles, people struggling to carry on their postal and banking business, ATM customers, and pedestrians threading their way through the crush. At that point your presence was already obnoxious but at least it wasn't life-threatening.

I pulled up to the light and a motorcycle pulled into the space in front of me. And then you decided you had to confront that man on the motorcycle. And so you ran out into the street.

I've been in Taiwan for over a decade and have met many missionaries. On the whole, they are no more savvy or ignorant than any other group of foreigners, with one exception: Mormons. All newbies to Taiwan are virgins, but Mormon missionaries arrive here in a state that can only be described as pre-pubescent. This is not the place to discuss the Leninist political and social structure of the Mormon Church, but it is appropriate to highlight the fact that the tight controls on the minds and bodies of Mormon victims/believers have serious ramifications for their health and safety, and the health and safety of others whom they interact with. Your behavior that day was a perfect illustration.

You did manage to look both ways on your way out into the road but I doubt you or your partner has really taken the heart to fact that the post office faced a T-intersection, and such intersections are notoriousfor red-light running. You probably didn't even notice the motorcycle that shot out from behind you, or the one driving onto the sidewalk in the wrong direction. Or the cars inching out into the zebra stripes. It probably never occurred to you that you could get hit by someone driving the wrong way, and die too. You don't have the right reflexes yet. Obviously.

Once you were out in the street I shouted at you to get out of there and quit hassling the motorists. Ofcourse, in your self-absorbed little universe, it probably never occurred to you that the foreigner in the van behind the motorcycle might actually know a thing or two about Taiwanese streets. How, for example, four-lane roads are apt to turn into seven or eight lane roads on crowded Saturday afternoons, andnow the motorcycles even then driving illegally between the waiting cars might emerge suddenly to hit you and kill you, seeing you too late because my van blocked their vision. And how rude you were being to a passing motorist who never would have shoved his religion down your throat in the same way.

I doubt you realized that Taiwan is not the US. No, not in your bones. Otherwise you might have thought about what happens to people who hit pedestrians in Taiwan. The way the Taiwanese customarily assess "fault" the driver of the vehicle is almost always at fault, and if the pedestrian struck dies, then the driver goes to jail. Had myself or any other driver hit you, even though it would have been your fault ethically, we still would have gone to jail. When you strode out into that street, you threatened the safetyof every motorist in it, including that of my wife and children. But that didn't occur to you, did it? Instead of human beings, each with their own lives, you saw nothing but possible recruits -- objects,instead of people. When you ran out onto Kwangfu Rd, you objectified and dehumanized everyone in it.

Not content to be rude merely to one passing motorist, you then made the entire line of cars behind me wait for you while you walked over to my van attempting to say something to me. It is true that I answered your rudeness with a four-letter comment of my own, for which I was totally wrong and thus must beg your forgiveness. But it is also true that you had no business making the world wait on our private conversation. Aware of waiting vehicles, I did not stop. But because I had to allow for your threatening presence on a busy road, I had to slow down, abusing the patience of everyone behind me, and swerve, endangering other drivers.

Your behavior raises another issue. I have been here since you were in kindergarten, and I will probably still be here many years from now. You may leave after a year, but it is we here who have to live in the stink that you leave behind. Each time a foreigner like you abuses the patience and politeness that Taiwanese offer to foreigners, it impinges on the well-being of every foreigner in Taiwan. We long-termers are fortunate that Taiwanese are generally able to make the separation between Mormons and other foreigners and continue to offer the deference and hospitality for which Taiwan is famous. But someday even that seemingly inexhaustible well might run dry.

I didn't look back to see what had happened to you, as I had other things to concentrate on. But I suppose that it shouldn't really be surprising that an adherent of LDS Church, a Church that is enthusiastically committing slow-motion political suicide by voting in each election for candidates from a Christian Right determined to destroy the Mormon heretics when it gains real power, doesn't even know enough to stay out of the road.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

BlogSphere Claims My Son!

Yes! It's true! The BlogSphere assimilated my son today. Here's a picture of the BlogSphere as it approached our house:

The BlogSphere approaches our house.

My son struggled, but the assimilation took place quickly. The results were not pretty.

Sebastian, assimilated to the BlogSphere.

Next, he'll have to learn how to be a proper member of the BlogSphere, managed his Template and keeping up with the Bloggers next door. Right now he plans to do a daily newspaper as his contribution to the BlogSphere.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Tainan ho!

Clyde Warden, a close and much-loved friend, invited me down to talk to his grad class at NCKU in Tainan on Saturday, April 8th. A good time was had by all.

Warden considers how to make mincemeat of your trusty author's latest bad idea.

Clyde's class was composed of grad students from many different countries, united only by the same mixture of dubiousness, jaundice, cynicism and sleeplessness found among students everywhere in Taiwan. I think the concrete used in institutions here must exude a lethal mixture of paralytic and soporific gases....

The grad class looks on in stunned disbelief.

Prior to rendering his class hors de combat, Clyde loaned me his bicycle and I tooled around Tainan all morning. I left the tree-lined campus of NCKU about 9:45 for the old port of Anping on the other side of Tainan.

Early morning martial arts practice on the campus of NCKU.

Tainan, the old administrative center of the island under the Dutch, Chen Cheng-kung, and the Ching Dynasty, has a different feel than most cities on the west side of the island. The city is crowded with old temples, a few forts, and other historical sites, and is compact enough to bike across in a half an hour.

A Tainan street scene.

I stopped by a famous Confucius temple to sneak a few shots.

Worshippers and offerings crowd an ancient temple.

Anping soon hove into view. the old town is crammed with interesting buildings, including gun positions and forts.

Now high and dry, Anping fort guarded the harbor of Anping for three different
colonial regimes

One thing that struck me about the historical site was how it was regarded by the locals. On an island where history is hotly contested, representing history is usual left to entreprenuers, individuals who do it on a volunteer basis in topics they are interested in. Often this involves techniques or industrial processes which might otherwise be lost (porecelain, hand production of tofu, and so on). There isn't any system whereby people volunteer to act out historical roles on historical sites. It might be interesting to speculate on why this is so....

Anyway, it was a great time, ending up with dinner and beer at a restaurant near the university.

Hot pot and beer.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Daughter wins Behavior Award

Sheridan won a county wide award for good behavior. Clearly none of her genetic potential for that came from me! The other students voted for her, which was great.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Everything in our house is baaaaaad!

How pathetic is life? I was looking around my house the other day, and realized that the falling price of electronics had left our Golden Retriever as the most valuable thing in our house....

Monday, April 04, 2005

Making face for the local School...

A couple of weeks ago one of the assistant principals at my daughter's school approached my wife at school. Seems that Taichung county is having an English reading contest for elementary schools. The school wants my daughter to enroll in that on behalf of the school.

My wife nixed that immediately. She pointed out that it was inherently unfair for my daughter, a native speaker of the language, to compete against second language speakers. Second, the contest was intended to provide incentives for locals to learn English. Third, she wants my daughter to earn her victories, not develop a taste for hollow triumphs. When I found out later I backed her 100%.

My daughter was standing there, so the AssPrin asked her if she wanted to participate in the contest. She said "sure." "See?" continued the AssPrin. "She wants to." My wife, who has a charter membership in Those Not Born Yesterday, asked Sheridan what the AssPrin had just asked. Dan-dan replied had no idea; she was just politely agreeing to what had been said in Chinese that she couldn't follow, she sheepishly admitted. When mom explained to Sheridan what was wanted, Sheridan immediately responded that her participation would not be fair. It's gratifying to have hard evidence that kids have been raised right.

The AssPrin was infuriated -- getting an ethical rebuke from an eight-year old must have been tough to swallow! -- and has begun a campaign to get Sheridan into the contest. She had the grandma of the other half-n-half in Dan-dan's class, Rebecca, put pressure on us, as well as Dan-dan's teacher. Grandma told us that we didn't raise our kids with real freedom, and Rebecca makes all such decisions (Rebecca agreed to enter).

Why did AssPrin want us to enter? Face for the school! The school doesn't actually get anything....but being small and unnoticed is not good, apparently. Our PTA parents constantly pressure the school to get bigger. My wife and a few other enlightened ones always argue. How would it help the school to get bigger?

Another fascinating topic of institutional face was alumni day. The school wanted make sure it had plenty of tables for the big feast, so it hired a caterer at great cost to provide a large number of tables and serve expensive food. Suggestions that we get a cheap caterer and serve buffet and spend the cash on computers and equipment and building upgrades that we need were scorned. Just like with American football, the face tail is wagging the school needs dog.....

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Our weekend in Hsinchu...

We swung up to Hsinchu, the center of the island's electronics industries and arguably, the second most important conglomeration of electronics firms in the world outside of Silicon Valley. My brother-in-law Peter works for the semiconductor giant TSMC there, while my sister-in-law Jessie works at the international airport as a ground manager for Japan Asia Airlines. Here's a shot of the Science Park:

Jessie got some tickets for the health of club of UMC, another gigantic semiconductor maker.

So we spent two pleasant days hanging out at the swim club. Here's mom enjoying the spa.

Dan-dan also had some fun in it.

In addition to good swimming, we of course went out to eat. We went to a small bistro that served "Italian spaghetti" which was as about as Italian as Chairman Mao, and seemed to have been in a crypt just as long. Here's Zeb boning up on the world:

Our other eating experience left a doubly bad taste in the mouth, for it offered an experience I hadn't had in quite a while. Here's some Twice Cooked Pork:

Looks delicious, eh? The boss of the place had lived in the US, and spoke pretty good English. She asked me if I spoke Mandarin, and then blew off the answer and continued to speak in English. Despite the fact that everyone at the table assured her my mandarin was fine, she continued to "advise me." I think she thought she was being polite, but the effect was patronizing instead. The high point was when I read off the menu choices in Mandarin, and then ordered a dish that wasn't on the menu but is typical of such restaurants, Twice-Cooked Pork. "That's very spicy!" she said, warning me. Hello! As if I didn't know? Didn't I just read the menu off in front of you? Didn't I just tell you I'd been here since 1989? Didn't your stay in the US make you understand that the categories by which you construct and understand the world are not adequate?

Another interesting thing was the comment that Twice Cooked Pork is "spicy." Someday I'd like to take Taiwanese restaurant owners to India for experience with real spicy food, of which there is none on the whole island (there is no race of eaters more timid than the Chinese when it comes to heat). I assured her in both languages that spicy was great and the spicier the better, but the dish we got was sweet. And disgusting. Looks nice in the picture, though. She probably only thought she was being nice....but she suffered from the inability to see the foreigner in front of her as a real human being. A salutary lesson to us all.

Another great thing that happened was finding out my talented father in law is developing a bit of a name in the world. Here's one of the pics he held out of the exhibition he's having in Hsinchu.

and another.

At the frame shops in Taipei and Hsinchu his paintings were much in demand. He's very excited about it, and may start painting again. The guy in Taipei asked my aunt if he was back from the States yet. "I heard he'd gone there" the owner explained.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Feedback on the Ta-Ken pics....

Hi Michael,

One-time Taichung resident and longtime visitor to your site.
Man, those pictures make me miss hiking Ta Ken.
I remember before and after the finally looks
like they put the park back together. It looks like a
lot has changed even in the
three years since I last hiked up there...
Anyway, keep up the great site!


Washington DC

PS: MASSIVE props to your wife and son for their choice in headgear! If
you're interested i got pics of the 326 rally here in DC last weekend
up on my site:

Michael adds:

The pics are really great! Brings back memories of the days when I was working for a Taidu org on the Hill....