Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Blogging Roundtable at NCKU

Housing flats lit up in the setting sun.

Saturday, April 22, was the Blogger Roundtable at National Cheng Kung University, located right next to the train station in historic Tainan, for 300 years the capital and largest city of Taiwan. I had been looking forward to the Roundtable, for not only do I love visiting Tainan, but Scott Sommers, whom I've never met, was also going to be there, as was Schee of, one of Taiwan's most popular Chinese-language bloggers (15,000+ hits a day). I had been wanting to talk with him about ways of bringing the English-language and Chinese language blogospheres together since the conference last week (The Taiwanese Blogosphere: Cafe or Window?).

Like so many Taiwan trips, this one began with a train ticket, on the 5:55 am train out of Fengyuan. I was lucky to be able to distinguish north from south at that hour of the morning.

No better day could be asked for, with a swift sunrise and green fields spread out along both sides of the train.

And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

We disembarked in Tainan right on schedule, and I set out, camera in hand.

Morning: people on their way to work......

Eating breakfast......

..getting their transportation fixed...

...setting out lunch...

...delivering flowers....

...meeting friends for a quick morning meal....

...sorting recyclables claimed from garbage heaps...

...chatting under a tree as the mid-morning heat swelled...

...enjoying the silence of a back alley....

...decking out in the latest baubles....

....looking hot for that special photograph...

....pedaling down a side street....

....buying Chinese medicine...

....making lunch....

...planning the day in front of the local temple...

....and setting up for the morning foot traffic.

NCKU has one of the best campuses on the island.

I know. You've read Scott Sommers' blog and you thought. "Combover. Eats Alfalfa. Hypochondriac." Wrong! Scott Sommers has a head of sumptuous golden curls, craggy good looks, a chin that would make Kirk Douglas green with envy, and the build of a Roman gladiator. He competes in martial arts, and eats panzers for breakfast. Even worse, his blog gets more hits than mine. I covered my insane jealousy with my usual urbane wit and copious quantities of dark chocolate.

Gordon Graham of Broken Bulbs. Gordon is finishing up a masters whose thesis is innovation among Taiwan firms. I always thought Taiwan innovation was limited to techniques to avoid taxes and regulation, but Gordon assures me that there is more to it than that.

Schee of, one of the most popular Taiwan bloggers, at 15,000 hits per day. Easygoing, intelligent, understated, versed in both English and the language of computers, Schee is project manager for's blogs. Schee is so full of positive energy that standing next to him is like basking in the sun.

"Now if at any time during the presentation Michael gets too obnoxious, just press this button and he'll disappear."

Although the English blogosphere is blissfully unaware, this is one of the most famous computers in the world. Schee's laptop, which has been everywhere, abused, dropped, and cracked, is so well-known that as I was sitting there chatting with Schee after the roundtable, a student came up to take a picture of it.

The room prior to the beginning of the roundtable.

Schee was a font of useful information. Why did Google acquire Because the ease of inputting links in the blogging format was making a hash of Google's page ranking system. He also said that the Chinese-language blogosphere was overwhelmingly pro-Green. In answer to a question, Schee said that he stays away from political topics on his blog -- which is about motorcycling, and has a pic of him driving a cycle in Europe -- so that it can be read on the other side of the Great Firewall. He also confirmed to me that if it weren't for the ping server problem -- the Chinese-language and English-language blog servers don't talk to each other -- the most popular blogs in the world would probably be mostly or entirely Chinese.

Scott takes a question. Each of us presented our thoughts on blogging, how we went about building our blogs, and how we envisioned our roles and choices. Then we had a short break, and we took questions, I'll put my own thoughts in a separate post one of these days, but basically I see blogging as building community. That is what makes blogs so useful for marketing and businesses.

Students listen attentively to Scott's answer.

James Stanworth, Clyde Warden, Gordon Graham, me, Scott Sommers, Schee, and Nick Pazderic. Weather patterns were distorted for miles around as we all sucked in our stomachs for the shot.

Of course everyone went out for drinks afterwards...

After the roundtable I ran over to the train station to grab tickets back to Taichung. Would I get a seat?

Yes! Right next to my close friend Clyde Warden, whose ticket had been purchased in advance. I guess they group all the foreigners close together so we can be watched more efficiently, in case we spoke English or shed hair. So jubilant was I at getting a seat for the ride home that I forgot that while the ticket was to Taichung, my car was in Fengyuan kilometers away. Fortunately Clyde took me over on his motorcycle.

Waiting in back of the train station at rush hour on a Saturday proved mightily entertaining.

Public bathrooms in Taiwan are, well, public.

A traffic volunteer of the fair sex efficiently handled the traffic madness around the back of the train station.

Naturally, there was fender-bender.

Miles of taxis lined up to wait for passengers.

Taiwan: people mountain, people sea.

A common sight in Taiwan: mom with a helmet, kids without. Even after so many years here, it still appalls me.

Tainan is a large city and the train station itself is full of sound and motion.

The snack shop.

Yeah, I know you were thinking that I'd never be able to find a spider, but no -- the truth is that spiders find me now. As Clyde and I cleared the station in Taichung, this Mother of All Wolf Spiders was waiting for me on the sidewalk, kids in tow.

A fantastic time, and I'd like to thank Clyde for giving me the opportunity to come down and speak, meet other bloggers, and set down some of my own thoughts on blogging. Later this year I hope to start interacting more with the Chinese-language blogosphere and get some translations and summaries of Chinese-language posts up here in my blog.

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