Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006, Taiwan Blog Round Up

Rain...rain...rain...rain. The Cruelest month is now the soggiest one. I'm feeling a mite claustrophobic. I think everyone was affected, as there doesn't seem to have been much blogging this week. Here's hoping to lift you out of the rainy doldrums and expand your mind with another collection of great stuff from the Taiwan blogs...

Since so many of us here in Taiwan are teachers of English, I thought it would be appropriate to start off a retrospective of a week full of brown skies and sodden earth with a heart-wrenching discussion of what it really means to be an English teacher. Mark writes:

While surfing before work this morning, I stumbled upon a truly terrifying article about TEFL, called The Slavery of Teaching English.


When I was working as a programmer, I was always learning new things. The skills needed to do the job were constantly changing and expanding. I used advanced mathematics on a regular basis; I learned a great deal about the business world; and I was an integral part of creating things, things made out of pure ideas and logic, that made my employers millions of dollars. In short, I was challenged and stimulated. Spending eight to ten hours a day doing such work, had a clear effect on me. My mind was sharper. I could think more clearly, I could read faster, I could learn new things more easily.

Unfortunately, TEFL may be taking a toll. I’ve only been at it for about four years, and I can already feel the effects. Anything more I’ve learned about L2 acquisition and any progress I’ve made in learning Mandarin is more than out-weighed by what I’ve lost in other foreign language skills, math skills, and programming skills. Now, my urge to create has been confined to just a few JavaScript tools. Now, I can’t remember how to do Laplace transforms or how to talk about politics in Japanese. I just remember the names of my students, what their problems are, how to deal with their parents, and what they should work on next class.

Quite true, I think, for many foreign English teachers here. Patrick at the Nebulon Fry responded to Mark:

Yes, TEFL is mostly a dead-end job. So is waiting tables. So is working at a mortuary. If you are smart, ambitious and tend to validate your self-worth through your work, then perhaps TEFL is not an exceedingly good career choice. But it can be, if you want, as some commenters mentioned on EFL Geek. But really, how many of us started this gig as a career choice? I certainly didn’t. And I admit that Alain de Botton’s statement “You become a TEFL teacher when your life has gone wrong.” was entirely on the money for me. And although I still hold on to the thought that teaching English is not a life sentence, I, like Mark, feel that

Teaching is important work, good work that can affect lives. Somebody has to do it, and as long as I am doing it, I’ll put my whole heart into it and do it as well as I can.

I have to admit though, that sometimes I can’t even hang on to that. I felt like that after reading that damn article. But perhaps a healthy change in perspective and a dose in humility are required. Would I condemn the “sanitary technician” for doing demeaning work? Am I so warped into believing that others can find meaning and happiness outside of their bread and butter, but somehow I can’t because I am better? Absurd.

There was a time when I thought that because I held a job that required a college degree, it made me smart–hoity-toity. Then I realized how dumb and short-sighted that was. Although it is still difficult for me to let go of the pre-concieved notion that the ability to flex my cerebral cortex is directly proportional to my worth as a person, I am making some headway. (I have no choice really, considering the percentage of it I fried in my 20’s.) Working toward this end, as well as becoming less of a tax on my wife’s patience is worth more than an MA in Linguistics, or even a higher paying job. Perhaps if I were teaching in Italy, I would feel differently…

I think it is easy to fall into the language teaching trap and stay there. That is, it is easy to stop growing as a person merely because your job does not force you to. Fortunately teaching English, so easy, left me time to grow other aspects of my life -- writing two books, moderating and adminstrating several discussion lists on the internet, travel....teaching English is like anything else: it is what you make of it.

Jerome Keating writes on the perils facing Taiwan:

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty as is constant effort the price of economic development. This is what must be balanced and this is why today's Taiwanese and in particular the members of the Strawberry Generation will not have an easy life. The decisions and responsibilities of the above will not go away; they are part and parcel of democracy. This two-fold effort of developing economically and maintaining democracy must be the measure of evaluating the performance of Taiwan's politicians.

Observe the actions of Lien Chan recently returned from the People's Republic of China where he hobnobbed with Hu Jintao and its leaders. Lien has never won a democratic election in his life and may for that reason have an antipathy towards such an ideology. Lien does know prosperity, however, particularly from wealth acquired from privileged connections in a one-party state.

This creates the tremendous duplicitous irony that Taiwan experiences. Lien, past Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has lost twice to Chen Shui-bian in democratic presidential elections, but he still refuses to address him as President. Lien's party attempts to castigate Chen as another Hitler. Yet Lien has no problem in wining and dining with the leaders of the largest one-party state autocracy and one of the most flagrant violators of human rights. Like long lost brothers they talk freely of economy and connections but choke on the word democracy.

It is said, businessmen have no country. Certainly, those who have enjoyed economic privileged positions in an autocratic one-party state will have no problem or qualms in getting into bed with leaders of other autocratic one-party states. They jump in easily as long as they can maintain the same economic privileged positions they once had. This may be why Taiwan's democratic ideology is never discussed when pan-blue politicians visit China.

BB writes on Taiwan's vibrant cultural life:

There is something of a crisis of confidence in Taiwan at the moment. The economic and political developments of the 1990s have given way to disillusionment with the paralysis of the political process and dissatisfaction with the rather more ordinary rates of economic growth. China is the key factor. On one hand, China's military and political strength directly threaten Taiwan, while in contradistinction, as Taiwanese individuals and businesses relocate to mainland China to enjoy its boom, it is undermining the decades-long Taiwanese national project. The struggle and excitement of creating a new nation is ebbing away as Taiwanese follow the money across the straits. For Taiwan's post-colonial nation-builders, this is a source of sadness and disappointment in their fellow Taiwanese.

Yet, Taiwan's situation can be seen in context. China's boom is distorting politics throughout the region, and indeed the world. Japan is a good example. When the Chinese economy crunches, as it surely will post-Beijing Olympics, the global avarice and apologetics directed towards China will come in for some much-needed correction. This will be as strong in Taiwan as anywhere.

And despite the pessimism, Taiwan's cultural and urban life is flourishing as never before. Contemporary art, film, theatre, and design are, for those who take the time to look, quite simply some of the most interesting and innovative in the world right now. Observers seem to marvel over a million shoddy $40 DVD players shipping out of Shenzhen, when they might be intrigued about a country which produces tvs like this.

Taiwan is beset by the general ignorance of the rest of the world. “China” or “Japan” conjure strong opinions and impressions, while “Taiwan” invokes blank stares and perplexed indifference from one's fellow Westerners. The dynamism and complexity of Taiwan and its cultural and political life, invested with such self-awareness and meaning by Taiwanese people, is folded into the vulnerability and tenuousness of “Taiwan” itself as a viable identity. This dialectic makes Taiwan more intellectually, emotionally, and morally compelling than ever.

One commenter responded:

"The dynamism and complexity of Taiwan and its cultural and political life, invested with such self-awareness and meaning by Taiwanese people,"
Wow. You got it in a nutshell.
This also sums up why I hope the Communists don't succeed in taking over Taiwan.Because I think the cultural loss to Chinese civilization and to the world as a whole would be incalculable.

Yup. One of the great sadnesses of "Chinese Culture" is that Beijing uses it as a tool of authoritarian control -- which means that it is always seen as an idealized monocrop, instead of a jungle of cultural growth. Taiwan is building a new way to "be Chinese" as well as to "be Taiwanese." But the Taiwan/China dynamic, under the rubric of authoritarian cultural ideals, is such that the latter can never be included in the former, and can only be presented in opposition to it. What a shame! Taiwan is a wonderful opportunity to change the way people look at and understand "Chinese culture."

Jason reviews a recent film by an important Taiwan filmmaker:

My wife and I joined a couple of friends yesterday to check out Hou Hsiao-hsien's latest fast-paced buddy-cop shoot-'em-up "Three Times" (最好的時光) at the E Street Band Theater in D.C. I'm usually the last guy you want to get a movie review from because I tend to ignore the so-called "important" things--plot, acting, and cinematography--and instead focus on other things, like how many Apple computers the set designers managed to sneak in (in this case, three!), continuity errors, set locations, and of course the appearance of boobs.

But today I'm feeling in touch with my inner Roger Ebert (Favorite Ebert quote: "You will drink the black sperm of my vengence." Look it up.) and will try my best to make it look like I can tell the difference between a Gaffer and a Fluffer.

Daniel blogs on the widespread perception that Asians can westernize more easily than westerners can Asianize:

Something that everyone believes: It is easier for an Asian person to become Westernised than a Western person become Eastern-ised.

Conscientious backpackers in Laos ask if their presence is changing the local people, and question far less if they themselves are being changed. A Taiwanese twenty year old spends two years in California and comes back completely different; if an Australian guy spent one year in Asia, and came back saying that he was no longer a Westerner, people would laugh at him. Why are there lots of "Bananas" but fewer... I'm not sure what the term is - "Marshmallows"?

Why is this?

Is it just the media and McDonalds?

Daniel has a long list of questions....go and read.

Cold Goat Eyes is on the move! From The recon footsoldiers of the Taiwanese summer hav...:

I managed to get most of moving done before the rain started, and on Wednesday I had cable TV connected. It is the first time I have had such a thing in Taiwan and Wednesday was the first time I watched television in over a year and a half. I see that nothing much has changed. BBC news is still good, CNN is still bad and movie channels still show low budget straight-to-video Hollywood trash and air them 5 times a day for a month. Yesterday the guy from Chunghua came and put in an ADSL line and I felt like a hopless addict who just shot-up into a big fat vein for the first time in a week. It was all quite painless and, even though I have a few more things to do -like buy some chairs for the dining room and to sort the bedroom out, I feel I can enjoy it now. The apartment is on the fourth floor (the death floor; the words four and death have a similar sound in Chinese) of a small block located on a wonky alley that intersects with one of the best streets of the city. Part of the ancient original temple grounds, it runs East from the main entrance of Confucious Temple, along to Kaishan at the other end. By day it is a lazy alley full of a mix of traditional Taiwanese street kitchens and trendy pasta houses and coffeeshops. Many places double as florists, so the whole alley is decorated with plants and flowers, lanterns hang from the roofs and the trees are wrapped in a kind of neon-lit cord wound around the trunk and branches that illuminate the jewellry and trinkets sold at the stalls at night (just at weekends I think).

Can't wait for the novel about the old woman, CGE!

Anarchy in Taiwan posts on a visit to a squat and some really great graffiti:

Yesterday we decided to check out a squat near Ximen where a group of about twenty young artists have recently taken up residence.

I was really excited to see something positive and creative going on in the city, since its been years since the "renaissance" of underground music and art that took hold in Taipei during the post-martial law 90s. I've often heard kids lament that they hadn't come of age during that time when the local art scene was young and exciting (now it's still young and about as exciting as a turnip). It was during the 90's that the first livehouses opened (and were shortly shut-down) and art bands like LTK and Clippers first started playing wild shows filled with lovely displays of destructive performance art. One show which has become a sort of legend in the indie scene was the "Broken Life" festival held out at a condemned Taiwan Beer brewery in Banchiao back in 1995. As the story goes, LTK set fire to the stage during their set before tossing their instruments on the blaze. The noise band, Zero and the Sound Liberty Organization, ended their set with a spectacular finale - throwing a vial concoction of what was reported to be vomit, spit and piss, on the audience. The appalled crowd promptly attacked the band with chairs....

A thick description, this post is, full of pictures and commentary....

What's raising a kid like when Dad-in-law is a fortune-teller? Paul Batt knows:

Because my father in law is a fortune teller, our home is protected by several yellow pieces of paper, called Fu, taped to the front door, above the back door, and above the bedroom door. We also have Fu in the headboard of our bed, and taped to Franklin's crib. I think that there may be other Feng Shui protections in the house that I'm not aware of. Actually, there's also a water jug that I collect pocket change in. It stays in the corner of the house furthest from the front door and is meant to help us keep our money in the house. Exactly.

Every once in awhile, sometimes after something happens, sometimes completely without noticeable provocation, but always before 11:00 p.m., a bowl of water with the charred remains of two strips of God Money is handed to me with the instruction "Take three small sips." This happened again last night. Sometimes I'm asked to take the sips and then to flick the water into the four corners of each room in our house and then close each door behind me, finally dumping the remainder of the solution over the balcony. Last night, it was to be put in Franklin's bathwater. "No soap."

I do all of this without batting an eye. I do it for peace of mind, peace in the family, and because I can imagine my actions really getting under the skin of the Baptist Student Union.

Tea Masters writes about assymetric information in the tea industry, advising us to Be very cautious in the pu-erh world.

But let me first explain how the asymmetric information theory works in the tea business. The producers and the big merchants have all the information about their teas (what leafs, production technique, exact date...) but the consumers are pretty much in the dark about it. All they know is what they're being told. According to economic theory, this situation typically creates markets where poor product offerings dominate (a good example is the used car business), or even a collapse of the market (the .com bubble comes to mind). To fight against that problem, the economists recommend that the information be better shared with consumers. (I think this is exactly what my blog intended to do! I had no idea my behavior was Nobel prize material!)

Jon Benda reviews A Pail of Oysters, a book that takes place in the dark years of Nationalist rule on Taiwan:

In the end, Precious Jade's brother rejects both his Japanese names and his Chinese names, settling first for the label "Didi", then also for an English name that is given to him by an American. Did Sneider mean this to be symbolic of the ideal American relationship with Taiwan--one in which the Americans would help the Taiwanese people establish an identity for themselves that would not only reject the oppressive identities forced upon them by the Chinese but also be friendly to the American people?

Another narrative thread in the book suggests that this conclusion might not be too far off. Barton also becomes involved with a Mr. Chou, the head of an architectural firm who arranges secret meetings with the American to tell him about the plans some Formosans have to try to reform the Nationalist government by getting rid of the "Communistic-technique" faction of the KMT. (Here Sneider alludes to Chiang Ching-kuo, not by name, but as a member of the "Communistic-technique" faction who "has lived almost half his life" in Russia [177]). Chou wants Barton to write articles about Formosa in order to let Americans know about the problems there so that the "Democratic-technique" faction can overcome the Communistic-technique faction. He also describes the Formosans' plans to build Formosa's democracy through economic development, specifically via "free enterprise," and their hopes that the Americans will help with this. Chou assures Barton that their plan to "build Formosa" will also "be helping to build all of Asia" (180). He argues that building a strong capitalist economy on Taiwan that breaks up government monopolies and allows for the participation of Formosans will help build a better society and more appealing alternative than that of Red China. Chou implies, then, that a democratic and capitalistic Taiwan would help further the U.S.'s fight against Communism in Asia.

Be sure to follow the links to part 1!

HUMOR: Brace yourself, courtesy of Karl:

Steven Spielberg was discussing his new project - an action docudrama about famous composers.

Nicholas Cage, Steven Segal, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were all present. Spielberg strongly desired the box office oomph of these superstars, so he was prepared to allow them to
select whatever composers they would portray, as long as they were very famous.

"Well," started Cage, "I've always admired Mozart. I would love to play him."

"Beethoven has always been my favorite, and my image would improve if people saw me playing the piano" said Willis. "I'll play him."

"I've always been partial to Strauss and his waltzes," said Segal. "I'd like to play him."

Spielberg was very pleased with these choices. "Sounds splendid." Then, looking at Schwarzenegger, he asked, "Who do you want to be, Arnold?"

So Arnold says........

"I'll be Bach."

SHORTS: Catherine does pottery-making inYingge.Peow Liung Taiwan heads for Kinmen and brings back tons of photos. I forgot to pick up this piece on the Hushan Dam plan at Wild At Heart. Don't miss the podcasting at Getting a Leg Up, The Bluesman's Killing Floor, Misadventures in Taiwan, Ugly Expat, The Formosa Diaries, and What's Up in Taiwan. As always, great photos at 35togo, Unplugged, the forgetful's photo gallery, the forgetful's photo gallery, amateur commune, andres, Clarke vs Matt, Cat Piano, T_C at Fotolog, battphotos, Fotologging Taiwan, Photoactionboy, leftmind, MaMaHuHu, Everything Visible is Empty, Roger in Taiwan, Love Songs (Are for Losers), Photoblogging Taiwan, Eight Diagrams, Tagging Taichung, Finding the Rabbit, and The New Hampshire Bushman in Taiwan and The World. Also, Waiguoren Project wants your stories.

Brian David Phillips alerts us to his Taipei Hypnosis Workshop, May 14

Brian is also offering a course on stage performance hypnotism, in June.

Jerome Keating sent around another reminder about the May 6 Swenson's Meet Up. The speaker is retired AIT official Syd Goldsmith. Lots of interesting people will be there.

The Third Peace Fest, a gathering of bands for charity, is on in Taoyuan June 9-11.

The UN-sponsored March Against Hunger is on for May 21, with hundreds of thousands of marchers from 75 countries participating.

Sorry! I didn't have time to mess with my sidebar this week. Got a list of about 20 I want to add....

Lappin' up the miles

I like to see it lap the miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop - docile and omnipotent
At its own stable door.

On Friday I had occasion to go to Tainan again, and with a fresh set of batteries and a clean 1 gig card, decided to fill the blog with pictures.

If you are headed for points south, take the mountain line. It doesn't go through the mountains -- what a trip that would be! -- but it does go through some great rice-field-and-factory country, what I always think of as The Real Taiwan.

It was a dark, overcast day, rainy, but green and very clean.

Seated next to me was a brainy soil environment major from Chunghsing University.

An abundance of old San He Yuan houses can be seen.

The train was moving too fast to get a good shot of the supernaturally straight roads that criss-cross the area.

A pigeon coop, probably containing thousands of dollars worth of the valuable racing birds.

Tainan Train Station.