Friday, October 30, 2009

Random Encounters with Baseball and other things

A cabbage farm above Lishan in the central mountains, an area famous for its cabbages.

Last week I stopped by our favorite local tea shop to pick up our customary supply of cheap drinks. The counter girl there and I have formed a little conspiracy to swap jokes -- like this one she fed me:
A pregnant woman gets on an incredibly crowded bus. She looks around but she can find no seat, and no one will give one up for her. Finally she glares at a young man sitting there. "Why don't you give up your seat?" she asks. "It's not my baby," he replies.
I think there must be a pun there I missed because it just isn't funny to me....

...but anyway since she is comfortable with me, she asked me, sort of furtively, glancing around as if in fear of being overheard: "Are the Christians (I suspect she actually meant Mormons specifically) here just to get our money?" Being a militant atheist, I answered in the affirmative, hoping for a chance to elaborate on that simplistic response, but she nodded, firmly, as if I'd given the right answer. "That's what the other foreigner said too," she said after a moment. As I was making a mental note to buy this fellow a beer, she asked me what religion I was, and I told her I was an atheist. She thought about that for a minute, and then asked, her faced screwed up in confusion: "So how do you pray?"

My friend Drew poses for my favorite pic of him, far above Taroko Gorge. Despite a robust and raucous sense of humor, Drew always looks like he is about to ram his head through a brick wall in my pictures, but the truth is that brick walls part in fear before his energy and intelligence.

Talking about hobbies and status the other day in class with some older students. One observed that Taiwan kids can't participate in risky hobbies because their parents make them focus on studying. Several others offered some variant of the experience of having a grade school teacher explain to them that the adventurous hobbies of Americans are useless and should not be emulated since they bring no face to the family.

A concrete mixer on Hwy 8 testifies to the constant need for concrete to keep the road open.

Jonathon Adams recent article in the NY Times outlines the latest of the interminable scandals to hit Taiwan baseball, which saw eight players indicted for gambling. I dropped by the local high school tournament today because my son and I both enjoy watching local baseball. There I heard the sad tale of the local league's woes: with eight players from one team out, that team is essentially decimated, reducing the tiny four-team league to an unsustainable three, though officials are adamant the league won't fold. Time for a pan-Asian baseball league! The gambling ring was also described to me by a local fan -- the whole thing was run as a BBS/forum that required a personal visit to one of the ring's operators to obtain the password, after which one could join the forum, obtain odds, make bets, and so on.

Meanwhile in class today, there were only two stories: US beef and the baseball. The students were deeply upset about the baseball fiasco, since many players are local heroes. The constant association of Taiwan baseball with gambling appears to be something that each generation must discover anew....

Fruit processing machinery rests by the road above Lishan town.

The US beef issue appears to have hurt the Ma government pretty hard (AP report, Taipei Times editorial). AIT Director William Stanton's ill-advised remarks comparing eating beef to scooter deaths in Taiwan provoked much media discussion (for example) about the local traffic death rates, with the Ministry of Transportation out there attempting to rebut local newspaper claims. My students and I discussed the issue in and out of class, and while there was resentment at the US, the main focus of anger seemed to be what was perceived as the Taiwan government not looking out for the safety of its people. The DPP carried out a filibuster today in the legislature as a protest against the opening to US beef, saying its polls showed 80% of the public was against it. That's consistent with my experience.

Lots of Americans have discussed this issue with me, shelling me with stats or claiming that the beef oversight system is safe. Suspending all discussion of numbers for the moment, let's imagine you're a foreigner listening to these claims that the US has the best oversight system in the world or the beef supply is safe, etc. Against what background? Oh yeah -- the US claim that the financial system in the US was safe and well regulated. Given that background, why on earth should anyone believe anything that comes out of the Feds intended for overseas consumption? Maybe the US needs to get to work on that image problem...
Daily Links:
  • Colleges mull group to lobby for permission to bring students over from the PRC
  • Canadian English teacher arrested with 136 kilograms of cocaine. Google coke's street value; that dude's got over a million bucks worth if that report is correct.
  • The Mainland Affairs Council -- you know, the agency that's supposed to know what's what with China -- doesn't know why financial MOUs were delayed, and was surprised to learn that the FSC said they should have been signed in July. Left hand, meet right hand.
  • Jerome Cohen says Taiwan's constitutional court could be a model for Beijing.
  • Michael K and I go riding and encounter hordes of females. Taking pictures with the over-50 crowd was a blast, they all insisted on getting in the trike.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

Except of course that certain people hate the idea of baseball being an international sport, it wouldn't be unreasonable to have Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea form a league. The distances are reasonable enough (only two hours and change to Seoul!), and Taiwan and S. Korea could be at a similar level of play to Japan with fewer teams. Japan would probably be most resistant to this, but the market potential of this is just huge.

An alternative to this of course is an expanded cup, with multiple entrants from Taiwan, Japan, and S. Korea. Sounds like hella fun to me.

Terry said...

I must admit that I didn't get the bit about the pregnant woman, but I did have a chuckle at the comment about praying.
As an athiest myself I had to wonder who or what I prey to haha.

Anonymous said...

136 kilos is actually around 2 million bucks

Stefan said...

Food is always a touchy issue. We all like to be picky about what we eat. I think American's can relate quite well to that - check the supermarket shelves, and you'll find fat-free, gluten-free, kosher, vegan etc.

Food is also intensely personal - people are willing to put up with all sorts of external influence, but when it comes to someone else forcing food down your throat - that's where people draw the line. I think the DPP is probably doing the right thing there - it should be up to the people to make this decision. Even if the decision isn't necessarily rational.

jack said...

thanks for sharing your thoughts.

David said...

About the Canadian coke dealer, I wonder if he was really such a big time dealer or if he was just set up to take the fall for some big bosses. It seems strange that someone who has 136kg of coke has to teach English. I know the guy was probably involved in drug dealing in some way, but the question is exactly what was his level of involvement.

And as you mentioned the Mormons check out this article from the NY Times: All I Wanted Was a Hug

les said...

I predict the beef thing will go like the turkey parts fight so many years ago. The market will open, the meat will come in, no-one will buy it. /problem.
You would have thought that the Americans would have learned the lesson, but I guess they have forgotten already.

The bus lady joke is great btw.

Aoede said...

Dammit. Are you going to do much faithbashing? Cause I don't feel like finding a new blog.

Red A said...

Couldn't Taiwan simply pass a law that all beef sold in Taiwan (regardless of origin) had to pass a mad cow test, or be so young, or what not? This would be fine by WTO rules, because it applies to all parties.

Thus, America could export intestines as long as they did the testing. (Not that I think it is necessary, the odds of getting mad cow are lower than many other preventable diseases in Taiwan.)

Mainly I think this issue is being used as a cudgel by the opposition to hit Ma. They exploit the fear of people on the food issue and free trade which are cheap shots. Melamine in milk is one thing - mad cow with extremely low incidence rates is another.

The pregnant joke was funny - why should he give up his seat for a pregnant woman if the kid isn't his...LOL.

Michael Turton said...

Red A, I think you need to test the brain of the cow.

Michael Turton said...

I don't do any "faithbashing" as there is no such thing. From time to time I am publicly critical of supernatural belief. Hard not to be.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I was surprised by your stereotyped comment about Christians in Taiwan. Surely you must know that many Taiwanese can't even tell the difference between a Mormon, born-again and Greek Orthodox. What really surprised me is that you didn't exclude the Presbyterians, whose contributions and commitment to Taiwan democracy and independence is well documented.

Anonymous said...

"Couldn't Taiwan simply pass a law that all beef sold in Taiwan (regardless of origin) had to pass a mad cow test, or be so young, or what not? This would be fine by WTO rules, because it applies to all parties."

They could say any areas that have not been mad cow free for at least 5 years cannot export beef that is 1) not tested and 2) over 30 months. And no bone, brain, or internal organs.

This properly places the burden on the exporting country and is fair in that it's not singling out the US.

Michael Turton said...

I have a lot of respect for the Presbyterians, and you may have noticed that after Morakot it was their donation page I recommended (though I doubt you noticed; when I praise Christians I get no kudos, but when I observe their authoritarianism, hatred and contempt for other religions, and drive for cash, status, and power, they react right away). Did you notice, though, which side they were on in the anti-gay pride march?


David said...

Michael, members of the Presbyterian Church may have participated in the anti-gay march in Taipei on 24 October. However, the march was not officially endorsed by the PCT. Members of the Tong-Kwang Light House Presbyterian Church participated in the LGBT Pride event on 31 October. They were handing out postcards with a message that the church accepts everyone no matter what their sexual preference.

Red A said...

Yes, test the brains...hah. Brains, intestines, they are all the same to me: GUTS.

About the drug dealer. Yes, that's a lot of coke worth a lot of money, but if its his business, he has to sell it to realize the profit, plus he has to go buy more from his supplier. I also agree it was probably not all his.

Oh, and he has to teach to get the ARC, of course.

Anonymous said...

Presbyterians are so much a force for good in Taiwan that hardline deep Blues hate them, even when they are Christian.

Michael Turton said...


I'm glad that the Presbyterians didn't endorse the anti-gay march.


Marc said...

FYI, taken from the Internet:

Question: What is the Presbyterian Church's Postition on Homosexuality?

The Presbyterian Church (USA) continues to debate the issue of homosexuality. Currently the church takes the stance that homosexuality is a sin, but maintains a concern for homosexual believers. However, the Presbyterian Church (USA) does not necessarily take a stance on whether or not the sexual orientation is chosen or changeable. The "Definitive Guidance" warns members to be sensitive when rejecting the sin so they do not reject the person.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) also calls for the elimination of laws that govern private sexual behavior between adults and laws that would discriminate based upon sexual orientation. However, the church does not sanction homosexual marriage in the church, and a Presbyterian minister cannot perform a same sex union ceremony like the marriage ceremony.

Other, smaller, Presbyterian church groups like the Presbyterian Church in America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church all state that homosexuality goes against Biblical teachings, but they do believe homosexuals can repent of their "lifestyle" choice.

(It should be noted that many openly gay clergy serve in the Presbyterian Church USA).