Saturday, April 29, 2006

Neil Young's new album (Update)

You can listen to it here for free.

One of the songs is "Let's Impeach the President." The lyrics are here and you can read the album's blog here. Best of all, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young is reuniting for a tour. I'm listening to the album right now and I must say: the lyrics are amazing and the tunes quite good. Check it out.

(Update) Tristero adds:
Neil Young's Living With War. What a great album! And you can listen to the thing for free here. It's everything rocknroll should be: angry, beautiful, dirty, dangerous, lyrical, sloppy, emotional, coldly-calculated, and indispensable for sanity in a world gone mad.
Here are the lyrics to Impeach the President via STOP George:
Let's impeach the president for lying
And leading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door
He's the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
And bend the facts to fit with their new stories
Of why we have to send our men to war
Let's impeach the president for spying
On citizens inside their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
By tapping our computers and telephones
What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government's protection
Or was someone just not home that day?
Let's impeach the president
For hijacking our religion and using it to get elected
Dividing our country into colors
And still leaving black people neglected
Thank god he's racking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There's lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean
Thank God

Friday, April 28, 2006

For your memorization

Yes, another reference to Jack London, this one from one of his great short stories, "All Gold Canyon":
The motion of all things was a drifting in the heart of the canyon. Sunshine and butterflies drifted in and out among the trees. The hum of the bees and the whisper of the stream were a drifting of sound. And the drifting sound and the drifting color seemed to weave together in the making of a delicate and intangible fabric which was the spirit of the place. It was a spirit of peace that was not of death, but of smooth pulsing life, of quietude that was not silence, of movement that was not action, of repose that was quick with existence without being violent with struggle and travail. The spirit of the place was the spirit of the peace of the living, somnolent with the easement and content of prosperity, and undisturbed by rumors of far wars.
I also like this passage:
He was a sandy-complexioned man in whose face geniality and humor seemed the salient characteristics. It was a mobile face, quick-changing to inward mood and thought. Thinking was in him a visible process. Ideas chased across his face like wind-flaws across the surface of a lake. His hair, sparse and unkempt of growth, was as indeterminate and colorless as his complexion. It would seem that all the color of his frame had gone into his eyes, for they were startlingly blue. Also, they were laughing and merry eyes, within them much of the naivete and wonder of the child; and yet, in an unassertive way, they contained much of the calm self-reliance and strength of purpose founded upon self-experience and experience of the world.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


My work permit has finally been processed and is now in the mail. I should receive it by Monday, at which time, I will go to New York and apply for my employment visa. I fly back to Taipei next Thursday. It is another one of those 00:30 flights, so this time I realize that I have to go to the airport on the evening of May 4th even though my ticket is for May 5th. I made that mistake this past October when I missed a similar flight, which left at 02:00 on Tuesday. I woke up Tuesday morning and was lying on an air mattress in my friends' apartment in Los Angeles. Suddenly, for the first time since I had purchased the ticket, the thought crossed my mind that 02:00 was really the beginning of Tuesday. I didn't believe it, immediately, but my mind gradually built up into a panic, until I knew for certain that I had missed the flight.

Now, even though I have been back for such a short time, bustling Taipei seems like it is worlds away. It is so quiet here in NJ, almost peaceful. Yesterday evening, I stood outside with my father. The clouds gathered in the sky, prepared to rain, and joined us in audience of a single bird in a yogic stance on the very zenith of a tree across the street. The wind blew, but the bird never lost its balance. It merely swayed back and forth, its tail end gently rising gently falling--it had spent its entire life practicing for this moment, and there it was, surfing in the wind.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Iron Heel Strikes Again: Business culture in China (Updated)

Our friends, the Lumpenlogocrats, have a fascinating series on mobocracy in contemporary China. See here, here, and here. Ambivalent Maybe writes:
The Chinese are struggling to maintain an image of their economy as open and accessible, a place where entrepreneurs--foriegn and Chinese--can strike it rich as China transitions from a socialist to a market economy. It is at the moment, however, something like a 'Mobocracy,' where profitable businesses can be built, but on a constantly shifting semi-legal basis, always vulnerable to poaching by government officials, by people with better government connections, or some security guards with bailing wire.
...Near where we live in Beijing, for example, is an oddly shaped concrete plaza surrounded by an abandoned warehouse and a small strip of down-market restaurants. Our favorite grocery store--the High Honesty Supermarket--was here too, but closed down at the beginning of winter. But we continued to visit the plaza, to go to our usual restaurant there, and to buy vegetables from the farmers' market set up in the abandoned warehouse. Yesterday, though, we found that the gate leading from our apartment complex to the plaza had been wired shut. We had to walk all the way around the block to use another entrance.
According to employees at the restaurant, and sellers at the vegetable market, the owners of the plaza want the businesses to shut down and move away so that the plaza can be redeveloped into a housing high-rise. By closing the gates off, foot traffic through the plaza has been dramatically reduced, and by slowly strangling the businesses around the plaza, the landowners don't have to pay them any compensation to move them elsewhere. We'll make a point of walking the long way 'round from now on, but the toll on the businesses seems evident already. Some have already closed or are putting their merchandise on sale. Our favorite restaurant is usually packed at lunch times, but yesterday we were the only customers.
(Update) Third Party Dreamer adds:
So far the situation has not brought out the most typical and dramatic feature of China’s mobocracy, namely stick-wielding thugs. But it may only be a matter of time. I have read plenty of newspaper articles that begin with a dispute such as this one– developers want a family or a small business to get off of profitable land so it can be made into housing for rich people– and end with a gang of stick-wielding thugs (sometimes in the hundreds) scaring the little people off if they prove insufficiently malleable.

When we first arrived in Beijing there was an article about a family-run pheasant farm outside of Beijing that developers desperately wanted to remake. They offered the family some paltry compensation, but not nearly enough to pay for them to move the entire farm to a new location. The family refused, and the developer refused to offer more compensation. Both sides dug in their heels. Then one October midnight, out of nowhere 100 guys with lead pipes showed up at the pheasant farm. They broke in to the yard, bludgeoned every last one of the pheasants to death, and left. No one claimed responsibility, and no one seemed to know where the thugs had come from or who they were, but conveniently, they family no longer had a pheasant farm that would require extra compensation.

Anyway, fortunately this hasn’t devolved to that level yet, but it certainly has the makings of an ugly and all-too-typical conflict between small business owners and big companies backed (or entirely owned) by the state.

Foundation's Edge

Billmon has yet another brilliant post (it's good to see him back in business) part of which discusses Isaac Asimov's Foundation series as a backdrop to the current US (yes, that's us) misadventures in the Middle East, and the transformation of American foreign policy into mere protection of the oil flow. His short term prognostication:
What this implies, of course, is a terrible case of imperial overstretch, one which technology, firepower and Special Forces mojo may not be able to cure, no matter how much money gets thrown at the Pentagon. When the objective is to protect vital economic infrastructures, rather than blow them up, the U.S. military machine clearly lacks many of the right tools — like an adequate number of combat boots with soldiers' feet inside them.

For those who fear above all else the threat of hostile Middle Eastern regimes armed with WMD, this is potentially very bad news, at least in the long run. Unless stopping the (insert nationality here) Hitler can be done in a way that doesn't jack up the price of a gallon of regular, future U.S. administrations may be unwilling, or politically unable, to risk it.

Unfortunately, in the short run this could be even worse news for those of us who fear a wider war in the Middle East more than the future possibility of a nuclear Iran. Having seen what high gas prices have done to his popularity ratings, Bush may feel confirmed in his reported conviction that no future president will have the guts to take down Tehran. And having fallen into Jimmy Carter territory, he may also feel he has nothing left to lose, at least politically, by doing it himself.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The One Tin Soldier

A big influence of my early years was the movie Billy Jack, especially its theme song, "The One Tin Soldier," written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter in 1969, the same year I was born. The theme of the song seems to be very similar to me dissertation--very Yao-like. Yes, it harkens back to the sunshine daydreams of the hippy days of yore, but it is also very pertinent to what is taking place in contemporary America. Here are the lyrics:
Listen children to a story that was written long ago
'bout a kingdom on a mountain and the valley folk below.
On the mountain was a treasure buried deep beneath a stone,
and the valley people swore they'd have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven, justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowin' come the judgment day
on the bloody morning after one tin soldier rides away.

So the people of the valley sent a message up the hill
asking for the buried treasure, tons of gold for which they'd kill.
Came an answer from the kingdom: "With our brothers we will share
all the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there."

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven, justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowin' come the judgment day
on the bloody morning after one tin soldier rides away.

Now the valley cried with anger; mount your horses, draw your sword,
and they killed the mountain people, so they won their just reward.
Now they stood beside the treasure on the mountain, dark and red,
turned the stone and looked beneath it. "Peace on earth" was all it said.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven, justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowin' come the judgment day
on the bloody morning after one tin soldier rides away.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Inside the Jilong Temple, in front of which is a bustling night market

The Night Market in front of the temple

Gazing afar at 101 (still the tallest building in the world)

This is what I saw as I walked from the Taipei Zoo (no, I didn't go in) in Mucha to Chih-nan (zhinan) Palace 指南宮 in the hills:

Architectural Wonders

A friend of mine who is an architect brought my attention to these construction photos of the new Olympic stadium in Beijing, which is designed by a Swiss architecture firm, Hertzog and Demuron. Check them out.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The tea connoisseur

Yesterday--April 14, 2006--before catching my flight I stopped by the Taiwanmex. After talking with Magos for awhile I met the owner of Benjowski, a tea shop in Berlin. We had a very interesting chat, and he seems to have lived a fascinating life. He told me that before the Berlin Wall came down, he had lived in the same neighborhood where Bertolt Brecht--and over a century earlier, Hegel--had lived.

That is the same neighborhood where I had another remarkable encounter. I was walking the streets not far from Humboldt University with my Lonely Planet in hand, waiting to meet with Poul Andersen, a Danish scholar of Daoist ritual (now in Hawai'i). I must have been looking at my tour book, attempting to locate one or another site on a map, when an elderly woman approached me. I forget her name, but her life was also like a story. I didn't understand what she said when she first approached me; she spoke to me in a mixture of French, German, and English. However, after some time, she honed it to a mode I could comprehend.

She said, "I always see people walking around with these tour books. I have lived in this neighborhood all my life and know more about it than any of those books (Direct quotation from memory)." She than proceeded to show me around and to tell me her story. She took me to the cemetary where Brecht and his wife, Hegel, a famous architect, and many other brilliant souls, were buried.

She had lived in this neighborhood throughout the Nazi and Communist eras. Her father was Jewish (taken to a concentration camp) and her mother Protestant. Both parents taught her to respect both religions and gave her the freedom to choose which to practice, or not, when she was ready to decide. She told me much else, though much of it is forgotten, this being the first time I have tried to write it down.

She also wrote down on a piece of paper a quote by Martin Buber, one which, despite all I have forgotten, has remained forever fixed in my mind:
Alles wirkliche Leben ist Bewegnung
(Her translation: "All real life is encounter.")

Back to Benjowski. Frank Benjowski (I hope he doesn't mind me repeating his story here) left that neighborhood and traveled to Hungary and then to Bulgaria and finally to West Germany, rather than risk being shot trying to get over the wall. I don't know how long it was after the wall came down that he opened up his tea shop on Danziger Strasse 3, Berlin 10435, nor do I possess the details about how he became interested in tea (I guess that is also an encounter).

Frank travels around the world to buy tea for his shop, and to learn how different cultures view, grow, and drink tea. He has traveled a lot in China, especially in the Southwest, and among different minority groups (including Yao), looking for tea, and has learned from tea connoisseurs who have shared their wisdom with him.

Although Frank doesn't speak Chinese, he travels in China with an interpreter from Hangzhou (Her family is from Hainan Island) who he met in Kunming. He was trying to order Tie Guanyin tea at a shop, but nobody understood what he was trying to say. Then, she helped him out, and the two of them soon discovered each others' interest in tea. Yes, another encounter. Life is all about them.

Frank also told me about an experience in Xishuangbanna (Sipsongpanna), in which he walked up to a bulletin board and saw a little note that said: "If you want to see the real Xishuangbanna, call [this number]." Frank called that number and, I assure you, had an interesting experience. If someone offers you the opportunity to discover the real or authentic place where you are, it would be wise, though risky, to take them up on the offer. That is a person who recognizes the importance of the place, who has lived there all his/her life, who grasps its essence, and who wishes to transmit.

I had a similar experience on the southeast coast of Taiwan in the summer of 1996. I traveled down there, planning to sojourn around the entire island, though for three weeks, I didn't leave the Taidong area.

The night before the particular experience in question I was sitting at a table outside a restaurant, eating my dinner. About four or five middle aged women sat at a table next to me. Within a short interval after sitting down, they noticed my presence (Many more people approached me in Taidong than ever had in Taipei. I was a curiosity there--in Taipei a mere fixture of everyday life) and offered me food and toasted me with plenty of liquor. One of the women said: "All within the four seas are brothers" (sihai zhi nei, jie xiongdi四海之内皆兄弟).

The next day, after buying a plane ticket to Lanyu Island, I went to another restaurant and ordered water dumplings. After eating but a few dumplings, another group noticed me sitting there alone, and of course started to offer me food and drink, and ask me loads of questions.

With the passage of time, one of them uttered a question which had the effect of delineating that moment as a break with previous moments in my life. He said: "Do you want to see the real Taiwan, the Taiwan of the mountain folk," the people known in Taipei as aboriginals (yuanzhumin原住民). He said his friend, a taxi driver, would take me into the hills. I was a little worried because in America I was taught as a child not to speak with strangers, and all those present had been drinking. After thousands of milliseconds of consternation, I accepted and embarked on an adventure.

We drove on winding, mountainous roads. At one point, we stopped at a house, within which we drank Taiwan beer and ate sushi. No, it was not wise to go on this journey, but I seemed to have lost the capacities of judgement, so intent was I on discovery.

We got back in the car and drove on. Alas, after passing a statue of a baseball player with a bat, we arrived at what I soon discovered was the Bunun Tribal Area. The car stopped and a beautiful woman, dressed in traditional aboriginal clothing including a hat, approached the car. She spoke with the driver; then, in perfect English, she said to me: "This man is drunk; you'd better get out of the car." I did, and after a brief stint on Lanyu Island (since I had already bought the plane ticket) I returned to the Bunun Tribal Area, where I stayed for three weeks, volunteered in their cafe, helped them pick weeds, watched and listened several nights to their aboriginal song and dance show, went to their church, became friends with them, hiked up into the mountains to take pictures of a traditional Bunun home where there were still people living.

During that period in my life I was reading a lot of Tao Yuanming; I brought along with me a book of translations of all of Tao Yuanmings writings. Ever since I had read the Peach Blossom Spring during the second semester of classical Chinese, I had been intrigued, and as I sat there in that place, I couldn't help but liken my own experience there to that of the fisherman who entered a grotto at the fountainhead of the spring. Coming out the other side of a dark passageway at the base of the mountain, he discovered a community of people who had left the world after the first emperor rose to power.

On another occasion, I was sitting there in the aboriginal village reading my Tao Yuanming poems with the mountains in the background. I felt a movement in my sandals under my feet and I spastically kicked my foot out and a praying mantis went flying several feet. Then, the staring contest began. It started to walk towards me and I retreated some, afraid it might bite me. When it stopped, however, I started to approach it, and it would retreat. We were both curious and afraid of each other. I had never before nor have I since had this kind of experience with an insect. But, you can say, that was one more encounter in my life.

Isn't that what so many stories in ancient and medieval China centering on the Mandate of Heaven are about--encounters? Encounters with anomalous creatures and divine beings by riversides and holy texts in mountain grottoes and landscapes hidden from conventional eyes. Yes, life is all about encounters.

Sunset at Danshui (Tamsui)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Riding the Wind Home--Friday, April 14, 2006

Tomorrow evening I fly back home again, and will be in the states until April 26th, so I can wrap up my affairs and pick up my Mac which I stupidly left behind. Well, it will be strange hopping back and forth like this. I'll be talking to some of you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What I love about Taipei (written on an empty page at the end of my Xu Zhimo book)

It's the rythym of the streets and the life underground, the flooding of the masses into the tick tock (really a clicking sound) of the metro about to depart, or the vroom vroom of the eager motor scooters framed in about to explode motion at the traffic lights, or the incense bearers with sincere and purposeful intent at any temple, or the rushing crowds (me among them like the blue heron I used to see peering into the canal depths, so intent on eating) pouring through the seas of delicacies at the night markets.

There is a different feel to this city than in Beijing--that other northern capital--and I don't mean politically. There is a different pulse to life, as Jack London would say (some day I will have to write about that)--a different vibe. Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat! Of course, when I envision Beijing, I am working from memory. Here, it is fresh in my head. It is all around me.

I still remember that first time I walked the streets of Beijing, more than ten years ago, and the murmuring of the cicadas. It was constant and perpetual. Slow, soft, whirring. I remember the bicyclers; everyone rode in tune with that drone, slowly slowly did they go.

Well, there are cicadas in Taipei as well, not now, for now they slumber, but they will come. However, I assure you, they will conduct a different show.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Just a note about where I will live

Last night I signed a lease for an apartment in Xinbeitou, an area in Taipei, right along the Danshui MRT line, which is known for its hotsprings (there is one valve in my shower for hotspring water); it is also quite close to Yangming Mountain. Well, it lacks the convenience of the area where I've been staying--at least some of it--but I figured it would be a little healthier to live in Beitou, where I can go hiking or biking when I have time. Actually, with the MRT, it is still pretty close to the more urban areas and is not far from Shilin, the largest night market in Taipei, and pretty close to Danshui in the other direction, as well. The place I will be working is also right on the Danshui line. I signed a yearlong lease, but thanks to my friend, I can break it after 6 months if I decide Beitou isn't for me.

Two articles to help you understand Bushism

And you should understand it, because it affects all of us, no matter where we are. It is a curse, a regression back to the time when kings (now: corporate Christian plutocracy?)--unaccountable to any law-- ruled the land, and normal people had no say. That is what they want: to restore the authority and legitimacy of the president (king), and an ignorant public that never questions. If you question or oppose Bush policy, you are deemed a traitor; your words and deeds only serve to help the terrorists and hurt the troops. Therefore, the president can break the law and monitor what you say, and there is nothing wrong with exposing your identity if you are an undercover CIA agent and your husband criticizes the president's lies.

In response to Karl Rove's claim that liberals and Democrats have a pre-911 mentality, Senator Feingold--now a hero among many for demanding the censure of the president--said Bush has a pre-1776 mentality. How right were those words!

Here are two articles to help you understand what has been happening since Bush entered office, though Bush is really the culmination of a long term plan. The first is by Gary Hart, a former senator from Colorado who once ran for president; the second is by Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist for Nixon who has seen the light.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Welcome Angelica

You know, it's always nice to meet fellow progressive bloggers in person. A fond memory of mine is when I was canvassing for MoveOn prior to the 2004 election, and I happened upon the apartment of Chris Bowers of My Due Dilligence fame. I said, "Are you the Chris Bowers who blogs for" Well, yesterday, as I was sitting in the Taiwanmex 1 waiting for pizza with the owners, Raul and Magos, Angelica of Battlepanda walked in. She is building the website for Taiwanmex. I noticed a progressive site on her iBook and we got to talking, and realized each other had blogs and were familiar with the same on-line authors. Great site! Now, it's just a shame I will have to miss yearly kos. That's gonna be a blast!

Monday, April 03, 2006

My apologies

Sorry to anyone who tried to comment here over the past few days; I was experimenting with a new comment moderating feature and didn't realize I had to click "accept." This was not a move towards exclusivity. I just hate spam, some of which I am willing to overlook, but some I just can't accept. Who are you people who hoard peoples' mailboxes with inappropriate, unthoughtful, disrespectful nonsense? Who are you people who terrorize and infantalize, disrupting quality discourse? Please...hands off! Some day I will write about my feelings concerning being considerate! Capiche???


I stayed with some friends in Hong Kong over the weekend, both of whom work for media companies. The company of one of them rented out part of the most exclusive club in Hong Kong--Dragon Eye. That is the place people like Mick Jagger and David Beckham hang out when they are in town. I had never been to such a place before; the closest I had come is the documentary about Studio 54. I really do hate the idea of such places--people trying to convince the woman with the list that they have the right connection. What's the point?

Anyway, we went because of my friend's company, and nobody seemed to like it there. What I did find interesting was meeting journalists and other media types. Afterwards, we stood in a crowd on a very steep street outside a bar. Weird scene, but better than that exclusive place. There, I talked with a guy who worked for CNN for 6 years--3 in Beijing and 3 in Atlanta--and we discussed the problems with CNN and the rest of the American media after 911, especially the issue of access. It reminds me of that exclusive club and the lady with the list.

Career Change?

Chaotica (Luan...) asks in an email if I will go back to research in the future. My first answer is: I don't know. My second answer is: Have I really left it? Our understanding of research need not be restricted to in the university, at least the way I see it. In my view, what I am doing now is a form of research; you could call it participant-observation or my sociological phase, an immersion in one specific Chinese medium, and the media is something in which I have been interested for a long time--from bronze vessels to silk manuscripts spit out of the mouths of anamolous creatures to Daoist talismanic script to paintings of cranes hovering over the palace to the Complete Books of the Four Repositories (Siku Quanshu四庫全書)-->from uttered words to strange symbols to calligraphic forms and manuscripts to printed texts--from the newspaper to radio to television to the internet. So, the way I see it, I am simply following through, for right or wrong, in that Benjaminian pattern. And...I'm speaking and reading Chinese in a Taiwanese work environment. I start May 1st.

Progressive Wisdom

Eyvi says it:
sometimes you have to take a risk. be bold and daring. change isn't such a terrible thing, is it? it's like winter air in your lungs--makes you feel alive.

New Discovery--April 2, 2006

The Chinese word for cactus, at least in Taiwan, is: "Palm of the Immortal" (xianrenzhang仙人掌).