Thursday, August 31, 2006


Recently, I reported that there is a restaurant in Shilin where everyone sits on toilet bowls. Well, now we are just getting a report in that in that restaurant the food is also served in toilet bowls, and anonymous sources are also saying that they serve curry. Go figure! You've heard it here first from the worlds leader in toilet bowl restaurant-related news.

Funny ad

I just saw an ad for an English school on a bus. It had a picture of a guy under which were the words:

I'm 15 now.
How old was I then?

Then, lower down, another picture, with the words:
That was me 10 years ago.

That's like that radio ad in the old days where the guy asks:
What time is the 10 o'clock news on?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What I love about poems

One thing I love about poems
Is how they just come to you,
Like falling snowflakes,
Or leaves on an autumnal day.
They seem to come from nowhere,
And yet, they're there.
Sometimes just a flavor,
Or a feeling--an inspiration,
With all its myriad nuances.
Other times, a beating of the heart,
A flash of brilliance from the unconsciousness.
The important thing is to stay tuned in;
Otherwise, you will lose the thread.
Better bring this to an end,
Else the magic will escape me--
In a flash.

Monday, August 28, 2006

On museum walls

There once was a time when I could see forever,
When I roamed the grasslands of my youth--
A shephard standing on the horizon
Gazing out at landscapes without end.
No frames could contain their proportions.
No contour lines led the eyes towards artificial depth.
Just multiple points,
Each with its own perspective,
In a vast and immeasurable expanse.
Horses once galloped in these wilds.

And then one day came a warrior
With a lasso twirling in his hand.
He rounded up the horses.
He put borders around the edge.
He tamed his environment
And installed those all-too-familiar lines.
The shephard who once peered out into infinity
Is now a figure in a painting on museum walls.
Occasionally a passerby comes along
And recognizes what the shephard saw.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Taiwan Dragon Well Beer

Some nights when I return home from work--usually about 9:30--I stop in the 7-Eleven below where I live and grab a beer. There is something very relaxing after a long day about collapsing on the couch with beer in hand and losing myself in one of those silly variety shows that are on the TV here.

The usual choice is Taiwan Beer or one of the Japanese beers, but I started to notice another one called Taiwan Dragon(龍泉)Beer. Maybe it was the name that resonated with my fascination for the anomalous; I also liked the flavor. Dragon Springs became my exclusive beer.

Dragon Springs is made by the Taiwan Tsing Company, which I had never heard of. Several times I told the guy at 7 how much I liked Dragon Springs--I think I even said I liked it better than Taiwan Beer.

Then one day the path to Dragon Springs had vanished. It wasn't there. Where was that landscape that I had so cherished?

I looked at the other beers in the refrigerator and selected a Qingdao, which everyone knows is a Chinese beer, originally brewed by Germans. I believe it is still a Chinese-German joint venture.

Sitting on my couch I perused the label. There again: Taiwan Tsing Company. So, Dragon Springs is made by Qingdao (Tsingtao). Taiwan Tsing is Qingdao brewed in Taiwan.

What is interesting is that nowhere on the label does it say it is a Chinese company. It just says it is an international brand brewed locally in Taiwan.

Interesting marketing strategy. I suppose international could refer to the fact that it is a joint venture or that it is sold all over the world, but it seems to me that they are trying to mask the fact that it is a Chinese company. For many people, that wouldn't be a problem. There might even be people who drink Qingdao specifically because it is Chinese. But there is another market of people who very proudly drink Taiwan Beer. They are Taike (台客)--people who love everything Taiwanese and they certainly would not drink Qingdao, knowing from where it comes. That is why I think the marketers disguised the provenance of Taiwan Dragon Springs. It is a strategy for reaching out to Taiwan [Beer] lovers.

Of course, everyone already knows Taiwan Tsing is Qingdao. As I placed my Taiwan Tsing beer down on the counter (click) The guy at 7 said: "I heard it is good beer." He doesn't drink beer. "Do you like it better than Taiwan Beer?" I replied: "Oh, I like both." Everyone present laughed. The next day I returned and bought a Taiwan Beer.

p.s. I strongly recommend clicking on the above link and reading the piece by Jerome Keating about taike. He is a long-time Taiwan observer and liver. You will learn something about the Taiwan spirit and about how many Taiwanese people perceive their history and present.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Taiwan Matters

I am now contributing to a new blog on Taiwan politics that Michael Turton has put together. It's called Taiwan Matters. Check it out!

Press freedom in Taiwan

Levitator translates an article by Flora Chang (張錦華), director of National Taiwan University’s Graduate School of Journalism, that appeared in a Falun Gong-associated newspaper. Chang asks the question: Does Taiwan really have press freedom? Her answer:

So I analyzed four newspapers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait: the People’s Daily (人民日報), mainland China’s official media; the relatively more critical Sothern Metropolitan Daily (南方都市報); and Taiwan’s United Daily News (聯合報) and China Times (中國時報) (both of these newspapers have correspondents on the mainland). As a result, I found out that the numbers of reports on specific corruption cases (translator's note: as opposed to reports on corruption in general) in China were in the single digit for the entire 2005 -- four in the People’s Daily; five in the Southern Metropolitan Daily; three in the China Times; and only two in the United Daily News. Besides, each case is reported only once, even if it involves several billion renminbi and implicates several hundred people. Every report points out that the corrupt people have been arrested and convicted, but it rarely casts any doubt on or offers any critique of the corruption process and problems in the system.


Recently I saw a reader’s letter in a major newspaper saying that the chain of corruption cases in Taiwan depresses him very much and he is even thinking of immigrating to the mainland. I was shocked because the corruption of Communist China’s government officials are far worse than Taiwan’s. China is ranked No. 4 in the world and No. 2 in Asia for its level of corruption. China scores 0.59 on the Gini index for income gaps, far higher than the international safety standard of 0.35. China is already on the brink of high risk. Apparently the Taiwanese public is completely unaware of this.


It is worth noting for the Taiwanese public that our media is very free on the surface, but in fact Communist China’s media controls are also severely affecting Taiwan’s media. ……

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A metaphor for life

I was sitting there, outside, at the table,
Coffee cup in hand.
No I was not picking chrysanthemums.
Nor was I gazing at distant mountains.
Instead, my mind was fixated on the flow of traffic,
Raging on and on.
Somehow I think this was not what the hermit had in mind
When he lamented the clamor of horses and chariots.
Like him, my mind was unperturbed.
Because when the mind is far out
The earth--and all its rancor--is also remote.
There was a subtle breeze
And the leaves responded in kind.
A bird descended from the sky.
And in all of this, there was a metaphor for life.
What it is I do not know.
As hard as I try,
I cannot put my finger on it--anymore.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


No, I didn't get one, but I have noticed many people with them here--especially young women. Not too many skulls and crossbones, yin-yang symbols, satanic monster figures, scenes of Armageddon, roses, I love yous, names of loved-ones, etc., though I did see one woman with a hemp-leaf tattoed on her back. Hilary can attest to that. More common are small and unremarkable, though sophisticated, identifying marks, usually on the hand, wrist, or forearm, ornaments, like patterns on ancient vases, like jewelry but inscribed into the surface of the flesh. Is this an ancient tradition or a contemporary practice? Where do the two intermingle?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Girl takes pic of herself every day for three years

I'll put this back up since it seems to be available again. Like the Smoke-idea, but she took a picture of herself everyday for 3 years.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Someone should make a movie about this

"For most nomads, television remains an unimaginable luxury, while a motorcycle is a potentially life-altering possession."

That's from Jim Yardley's New York Times article, The 2-wheeled nomads of Tibet, which describes how many Tibetan nomads in Qinghai are exchanging their horses for motorcycles:

But an unexpected necessity here in the immense grasslands of the Tibetan plateau are the six motorcycles on display, including the Asiahero Alt 150-7 bought by a nomad named Trashi Dorjay. He had traveled almost 320 kilometers, or 200 miles, to the store from his tent because he wanted a bike to herd his sheep and yaks.

"I used to ride a horse," he explained. "A motorcycle is faster."

At altitudes of 4,300 meters, or 14,000 feet, or even higher, in the range of the immense, mountainous grasslands in Qinghai Province, in western China, have become motorcycle country.

With a motorcycle now sometimes cheaper than a horse, ethnic Tibetan nomads scattered across the region are buying them not just as necessity but also as status symbols. The dingy truck-stop towns along the highway are swarming with Tibetans on motorcycles. Read on...

What is at stake

Steve Soto has more good advice for Ned Lamont (and through extention, all Democrats running this fall) in has campaign against right wing sock puppet, Joe Lieberman:

Ned, do something that John Kerry never did: run this race as if you were running against Karl Rove. Counterpunch now and keep Joe against the wall, and on the defensive. If Joe wants to make Iraq and the war on terror the issue in this race, then tie Joe to Bush as a status-quo rubber stamper and run against them both.

Remind voters that after five years of Joe and Bush, we are apparently no safer now than we were on September 10th, 2001.

It's as simple as this

Liberal Oasis' Bill Scher, who has been one of my daily reads for a couple of years now, has the perfect anecdote to the GOP fear-mongering: the truth. Scher argues that British police were able to foil a terrorist plot through simple law enforcement measures without any color-coded alerts. He contrasts this with Bush foreign policy:

We are all too painfully aware that the threat of terrorism has worsened after six years of Dubya's foreign policy.

We know that by occupying Iraq, saber-rattling with Iran, and fanning the flames in the Middle East, Bush has facilitated the spread of Al Qaeda's ideology, strengthening militants and marginalizing moderates in the Arab/Muslim world.

Scher goes on as follows:

And being in Iraq didn't weaken their political will to strike again. It only gave them more oxygen.

Bush claims we are "fighting them over there" so we don't have to "fight them here."

But fighting the wrong people over there is making more people want to bring the fight over here.

If this plot is a reminder of anything, it's a reminder that our current foreign policy is destabilizing the world and making us less safe at home.

It's as simple as that. That's how Democrats should respond to Replican charges that they are weak on security.

Conspiracy-theories and the reality-based community

Booman23 writes an excellent post on the pervasive use of terms such as "conspiracy-theory" to close off legitimate avenues of questioning about the tactices of the Bush administration as well as those of other governments and organizations. This time, people are using the term to ridicule those who see something strange in the new security alert--the first time it has ever gone to red. Remember how it went back to normal right after the 2004 election. Listen to Booman23 speak:

Contrary to many in the blogosphere, I refuse to be a proud member of the reality based community. That phrase is probably the most misinterpreted statement in modern history. What the aide meant was that the neo-cons create history, while we merely study it.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

How do they create history? They give the Israelis the go ahead to invade Lebanon at the next provocation. They issue false terror warnings based on old intelligence or the the mad ravings of mental patients. They plant phony stories of terror and WMD in the New York Times. Perhaps they carry out false-flag operations. They act. We witness.

When you predict that something will happen because you have analyzed the enemy's intentions, and then they do pretty much exactly what you predicted at the time you predicted using the methods you predicted, then it is not a conspiracy theory.

We can either be a reality-based community that credulously ignores the past, including the history of 2002, or we can shout down conspiracy theorists for their lack of complete knowledge and corroboration...or we can admit that the administration has lied about terror in the past and are likely do the same, now.

There are real terrorists out there aiming to hurt us. Cheney's policies increases their numbers and passion every day. But we should not succumb to these tactics. We must stand up to them. Otherwise, we "will be left to just study what [they] do."

A fascinating societal phenomenon

I believe it originated in Japan but appears to be quite popular among high school-aged youth in Taipei. They dress up as comic book characters and take pictures of each other. I witnessed it once at the Yuanshan Metro station and today at the Taipei Story House.

From the Metro, approaching Sesame Hill

Some of my readers will appreciate this sign; to the rest--I've opened an air conditioner store called:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

It's about Dignity, stupid...

Breakingranks asks us to put ourselves in the out-there Other's shoes:

Despite splendid cross-cultural efforts like Mosaic, we tend to think about the problems of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, etc. as being "over there". The violence of war is something that happens on the other side of the TV screen. However, the issue of "dignity" is universal.

This is the key to getting past the "happening somewhere out there" mentality. The deprivation of dignity is happening right here in the U.S. The deliberate deprivation of dignity might be most prevalent in the "bad neighborhoods", but rest assure, rankist tactics are working their way up the social scale. When you see the Lebonese woman pleading for her dignity, imagine yourself making a similar plea to your boss. What would you do if your plea was ignored or met only with laughter? How far back do you draw the dignity line? I'm willing to bet that for most of us dignity is more important than any amount of pay, and people take their biggest risks in life to try to defend it.

A three-word reply

Ian Welsh says:
For years whenever you'd bring up the Christian Right and the Republican party people would sneer, "oh, they never get anything from the Republicans. They're just getting used."

I still hear that sometimes and I turn to the person and I reply with three words, "Alito and Roberts."

If they're smart, that's the end of the conversation. Read on...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sound familiar?

Herald Tribune:
Pro-Beijing lawmakers approved legislation here [Hong Kong] Sunday giving broad authority to the police to conduct covert surveillance, including wiretapping phones, bugging homes and offices, and monitoring e-mail.

The bill was passed by the 60-member Legislative Council in a vote of 32 to 0 soon after pro-democracy lawmakers walked out of the chamber in protest Sunday morning. The Democratic Party and its allies had tried to introduce nearly 200 amendments through four days of marathon debates, but all were defeated or ruled out of order.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Finally, the toilet bowl restaurant

Taiwanese heavy metal

The Levitator--a solidly good blog from Taiwan--has a fascinating post on the Taiwanese heavy metal band, Chthonic:
There is a reason why Chthonic is more than just another bunch of head-banging noisemakers. To their growing fan base, their songs have become part of Taiwan’s creation myth—like myths at the heart of every other nation’s collective psyche. They are architects consciously shaping the Taiwanese ethos in pop culture, and an important force in Taiwan’s long-running tug-of-war between different identities.

And they’ve done it with little help from the big media-entertainment-culture establishment.

Chthonic’s themes are not limited to the Han Chinese experience. Their first album includes songs that invoke Aboriginal gods. Their second album Ninth Empyrean deals with conflicts between Han and Aboriginal gods. Relentless Recurrence deals with a female ghost who follows her rapist-murderer to China for revenge.

The gradual expansion and consolidation of the Taiwanese identity is clearly evident in the band’s decade-long success—nowhere as big as Andy Lau but big enough to sustain the band under their independent TRA label. They are also big enough to get concert tours in quite a few countries, recording tours in Denmark, and US releases of their albums. No mean feat for a “symphonic black metal” band in a country where the demand for this genre is generally low.

"We are tired of fighting"

Ariana Huffington has a very good post on Ehud Olmert, whom she had praised earlier this year for "his ability to change course when staying the course has proven to be the wrong path." Now, she sees a different man (below is quoted material):
When I first met Olmert, he was singing a very different tune. Indeed, I was impressed by his willingness to stand up to the hard-liners in his country who were resisting his plans for withdrawal from Gaza and push for a difficult solution that he believed was the only way for Israel to achieve a lasting peace.

Here's what he said at a dinner I MCed in New York in June 2005: "We are tired of fighting. We are tired of being courageous. We are tired of winning. We are tired of defeating our enemies. We want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors. And I believe that is not impossible."

Olmert, the man who was "tired of fighting... tired of defeating our enemies," now sees the battle with Hezbollah as "a unique opportunity to change the rules in Lebanon." Shades of George Bush invading Iraq to change the rules in the Middle East.

So now that he's talking like Bush, is Olmert also starting to think like him?

Let's hope not. With the fighting in the Middle East threatening to spill over into Syria and Iran (much to the delight of the neocons inside the White House), this is the time for Olmert to do a gut check and a conscience check... and realize that while he may be winning individual battles, he's losing the war to make Israel safer. This is the time for him to course-correct -- avoiding the Bush model of fanatically staying the course while driving the car over the cliff. The last thing we need is an Israeli Thelma to go with our American Louise.

When championing the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Olmert recognized that it was going to be both really painful and really necessary in order to create a lasting peace.

And just because it didn't immediately result in greater security for Israel doesn't mean it was the wrong approach. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in his column on the lessons Israel could learn from Spain's battles with Basque separatists and Britain's struggles with the IRA, "restraint and conciliation can seem maddeningly ineffective -- but they are still the last, best hope for peace."

Friday, August 04, 2006

My apartment viewed from one angle

Butterfly dreaming

More pictures of ghosts

Interesting letter about pan-green academics' calls for President Chen to step down

I was reading this letter in Taipei Times and liking it, and then I realized it was written by Michael Turton. For those of you who aren't following Taiwan politics, there was a failed pan-blue (KMT and PFP) attempt to recall President Chen. The said reasons for the recall were that some of Chen's family members, including his son-in-law were implicated in a corruption scandal.

Then, some pro-DPP (Chen's party) academics called for Chen to step down. They presented a petition with 20,000 names, which was viewed in Taiwan as news. I don't know how many petitions I've signed in America--petitions that attracted many more signatures than the academics could muster--and they never made the news. Interesting.

Michael calls these academics naive and explains why (indented material is quoted from letter):
While claiming that morality should be a concrete concept that pervades daily political life, Lin says: "However, in trying to ascertain how responsible Chen is for the scandals, we've become stuck in the quagmire of partisan politics." In essence, Lin argues that Chen should step down whether he is guilty or not.

Convicting people by rumor and social pressure is not ethics as it is generally practiced in democratic countries. In democratic countries, when the family of the chief executive runs afoul of the law, he doesn't resign. Neil Bush's numerous escapades have not made his brother US President George W. Bush the target of calls to resign, nor did Billy Carter's influence-peddling lead to calls for brother Jimmy to resign.

In developed democracies people are assumed to be responsible for their own actions; family members are not held accountable as that point of view is considered backward and unfair. We who think Chen should remain in office also have an ethical standard, one that refrains from crucifying people for the crimes of others. It's weird, but there it is.

Lin never addresses the underlying absurdity of "resigning to take responsibility." Taking responsibility means cleaning up the mess you made, not leaving the stink behind for others to swim in. Lin also fails to note that useless resignations are the bane of the Taiwanese government. It is routine for officials to resign to "take responsibility" and disappear from public view for a while -- meanwhile the practices go on and no meaningful change occurs.

Do Lin or any of his cohorts imagine that if Chen resigns, things will actually change for the better in Taiwan? The system of influence peddling and incestuous government-business relations will, if anything, worsen and only confirm that the least palatable components of the political order are capable of bringing down the president.

Lin calls for dialogue, but does not seem to realize that if Chen steps down it will demonstrate that partisan rhetoric, not dialogue, is effective in achieving the goals of political parties in Taiwan. He asks that institutions be reformed, but thinks that damaging the presidency and a party committed to institutional and constitutional reform is a good way to do that.

It should also be noted that getting rid of Chen has been a pan-blue goal from the first day of his presidency -- it seems Lin has forgotten that when Chen killed the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant back in the early days of his administration, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators threatened to impeach him. The assaults on Chen are part of a larger and long-term pan-blue strategy to destabilize the government and denigrate self-rule. The movement did not suddenly spring into being overnight when the Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) scandal broke.

Going back further, the pan-blue assault on the president dates to the struggles between conservative mainlander Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) and independence supporter Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) over whether Taiwan should have a presidential or parliamentary system. This was essentially a debate that masked a struggle for control of the government between the mainlander-run power structure and the emerging democratic forces. We are still living in that struggle, and a Chen resignation would have a profound impact on the institutional development of the government. Lin simply ignores all this history.
I know this must be an extremely difficult situation for DPP politicians. My only reference point is the Clinton impeachment attempt of the late nineties. I don't know what would have happened if Clinton had stepped down and allowed Gore early-on to rise from his shadow. But, Clinton witheld the storm and the Republicans have been dominent ever since. Would Gore have been in a better position to win the 2000 presidential elections if Clinton had bowed out in a strategic way? I sincerely do not know the answer to this. Does everyone agree that Annette Lu would be incapable of taking the reins of power?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My view of China

When I conceptualize China, I picture a vast and overflowing vessel--the map of China. What is overflowing? Chinese culture, which already an amalgam, has continuously poured out from every side. The vessel simply could not contain it. At the same time, the vessel is dotted with myriad holes through which other cultures--Thai, Tibetan, Altaic--have flowed in. Throughout history, the liquids have splashed together, combined, and dissipated in unique and fascinating ways, yielding new transformations that, strangely enough, conformed to expected patterns.