Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The 90's

I'm listening to weezer right now because I still think it's good. Their first record I mean. In fact, a lot of music from the early 90's is regularly coursed through my brain. Nirvana is still a weekly listen for me as well. Crap I have class.

Monday, 23 November 2009

I'm Not Sayin He's an Oil Digger, but...

I read an article about China detaining Xue Feng, an American-Chinese geologist. Click the link for the article.

He's a U.S. citizen detained for spying but it seems a bit sketchy. The charges are murky and there doesn't seem to be any evidence. At least none provided to the U.S. embassy by Chinese authorities. He might be guilty but his former company is keeping their distance and China is operating under the usual vague and opaque prerogatives for dictatorships.

A similar case happened recently with Stern Hu, an Australian Chinese in charge of mining company Rio Tinto. He was jailed for charges of stealing state secrets that were changed to bribery and infringing on state secrets.

The article is pretty biased against China and assumes Xue Feng's innocence. None the less, it was an interesting read. It has some good info on the possibility of China manipulating laws about espionage and state secrets. But like I said, Mr. Feng could be guilty. His case is a bit different from Stern Hu's.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Have you been there?

Recently, China has been receiving a lot of attention in the media. Usually as the poster child for industrial and economic development or as a drab dictatorship filled with unhappy people. Too often, after reading or watching a piece about China I ask myself, "have you been there?"

Today I read two articles on China. One was on China's rise and the other was about heavy snow storms in northern China. The New York Times piece by David Barboza about "Rising China", a buzz word thrown around way too much, focused on Barack Obama's first trip to the country and about the changing dynamics in our relationship with China. In it, Barboza talks about China's growth and impressive modernization which no doubt is amazing. However, like most articles and books about China it doesn't really put China into perspective.

David Barboza talks about China having the fastest growing number of billionaires but doesn't mention most of those billionaires are party members and government officials. Thanks to the state owned corporation business model, the Chinese government can pretty much control the economy and who runs state companies. Ultimately, this amounts to a crippling amount of corruption and a source of unhappiness amongst the Chinese population. If you've ever been to Shanghai you can see how police and government take payoffs and allow "barbershops" that display young women in lingerie in front of their shop windows at night. Needless to say, I have never seen anyone getting a hair cut inside, only men waiting with hands full of breasts.

Barboza also mentions China having the most web surfers for a country at 338 million. CIA fact book states 298 million but it's a year old. Either way you look at it, China should have the most web surfers because it is the largest population in the world. Put it into perspective by looking at the percentages. What percentage of the population in China is using the Internet? Just over 25%, or 1/4 of the population. Then ask about its quality. Internet use in China is pretty slow, at least everywhere I went in 2005, 2006, and 2007. The internet is incredibly censored and monitored causing its turtle pace. Websites are blocked, searches are censored, and blogs and email accounts are hacked or monitored and that adds to the sluggishness. The turtle taught us that slow and steady wins the race but unfortunately for China that's not applicable to internet use.

Internet usage is low because China is still incredibly poor with a per capita income of $3200 U.S, as Barboza states, but also because China lacks so much infrastructure. Poor people lack the money to own a computer and the government lacks the man power to feed the internetpolice as well as build missing infrastructure to expand internet service. If you've ever been to China you have seen probably seen the state of infrastructure. Garbage is usually overflowing from a community waste site and piled up on the street being sifted through by either an employee or a person collecting recyclable materials to turn into money. It's hard to tell because there isn't a standard sanitation uniform. Water ways are obviously polluted and water is undrinkable. Sewage is not very good not to mention its ability to choke the air. Traffic is chaotic in cities. I don't even know if everybody ignores the traffic laws or if there are none. Once I was in a bad traffic accident in Chengdu, Sichuan and a police officer just drove by and gawked. If you haven't been to China then just remember the tainted food from a year or two ago. Poor fido.

The lack of infrastructure requires the question "where has the money gone?" to be asked? The answer, I can only guess, are things like health care, education, unsafe buildings, officials' pockets and of course the military.Health care and education have improved and the Chinese military has grown and modernized rapidly. However, to be fair, China is a huge country with a lot of people. Therefore, money doesn't go as far there. On the other hand, I don't think there has been enough development of public infrastructure and instead growth has only benefitted those in power and a few business folks who are party members. The two are usually connected.

When I read about the heavy snow storms on ABC's news page it pointed out all the problems with China's growth and the lack of infrastructure. 9,000 buildings collapsed because of snow. How do 9,000 buildings collapse? They were poorly built because they were built too fast for anyone to inspect them which means bribes were probably paid so no one had to inspect them. This is modernization; Big buildings. Transportation stood still, people became stranded for days and there was no plan for snow removal. 1.8 feet of snow was the heaviest accumulation from the storm. 1.8 feet is a lot of snow but should it cause such serious problems? I am relating it to Virginia, which may be unfair since it is in the industrialized U.S. But Virginia rarely sees that much snow and when it does buildings don't collapse and there is a plan for snow removal/road management albeit strained and seemingly inadequate when snow is so heavy.

The point is that although China has been claiming to grow at 10% for more than 25 years it has not managed it very well. They don't spend money on infrastructure, a huge amount of people have made a fortune from the boom and left poor, and corruption is a huge problem for China. Buildings are approved and built so fast that they could not have been checked properly to ensure safety standards were being met. Even still, the people of China are very nationalistic and proud of their country. The majority are also content with their government and are happy to have a chance to make money. This is the best it's been for them in a very long time.

If we are going to talk about China becoming a super-power and taking on more responsibilities in the world then China needs to start taking responsibility for itself by first acknowledging it has problems (corruption, black jails, poor safety standards, etc...) and second, spending the money trying to fix them. In addition, if the U.S. wants China to step onto the world power stage then the U.S. will have to let China run party of the show China's way according to China's political values and interests.


A Waking Moment

This is my ordinary morning. I wake up to my cell phone's alarm clock. The noise is a thousand bouncing springs and one large, cartoon, dancing ostrich playing an equally absurd instrument directing the springs in a musical cacophony. When I turn the alarm off I begin making breakfast. This almost always is a banana, oatmeal with brown sugar, one protein shake and coffee.

By the time my oatmeal is ready, without fail I have a song in my head. I never know how the song got there only that I haven't heard it for a very long time. Sometimes I don't even know the name of the song only the lyrics and melody. For example, "Dr. my eyes have seen the years and the slow parade of fears..." who sings this? why am I singing this? Today's song was "born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen. Here are the problems: Not only do I not like these songs, I have no idea where they came from or the last time I heard them. This started a couple of months ago when I woke up, got out of bed, and started singing Journey's "don't stop believing". Luckily, I put this song on an ipod while I was in the U.S. when I went back for my sisters wedding and have been able to get it out of my head.

What I want to know is what does this mean? Am I secretly addicted to bad American "classics"? Will I become an overweight conservative who, while claiming to be a Christian, just finished a sentence that started with "Did you see that girl's ass?" Or does it simply mean I subconsciously miss the subtleties of American culture? Whatever the deeper meaning, if any, I know that when I wake up with 'Like a Virgin" in my head it's time to panic. (apologies to all those people wrapped up in the recent return of the 80's trend but I can't stand most pop-80's songs no matter how fun a dance party is.)

Is this a common phenomenon? Does anybody else have this problem? You probably do if you were"born! in the U.S.A"

Monday, 24 August 2009

Demons at The Gate

The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar is locally referred to as "ghost month". The gates of hell open for a month and ghosts escape to do their deeds, misadventures, or whatever it is ghosts do. Probably eat doughnuts and go swimming. I hear hell doesn't have any pools and their ocean dried up do to rising temperatures. Obviously, global warming is a universal problem.

Swimming is something that more than a few Taiwanese will tell you to avoid during this month. Ghosts like to come up into the sea and find people to drown. This is one of the most observed religious celebrations for the pious. Many families will "拜拜" (pronounced like "bye bye") or pay respects/worship by giving food and burning things for the ghosts. These offerings are usually paper things to appease the ghosts. Houses, money, cars, and food are the most popular things given to the ghosts.

The temple by my house organized a huge 中元普渡 "zhong yuan pu du". This is a "拜拜" festival for the ghost gate opening. See picture above. Its a gutted pig with blood dripping out of its nose into a bucket. Beware them demons in the mortar of ye homes.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Pride and Prejudice

On July 27, President Hu Jintao of The People Republic of China sent President Ma Ying Jiu of Taiwan a congratulatory telegram on his electoral success. Ma Ying Jiu has been elected as Chairman of the Kuomintang, the political party that the president belongs to. In the telegram, Mr. Jintao offered good wishes for the Chinese nation.

China has been claiming sovereignty over the independent nation of Taiwan for the past 60 years. In my mind, its seems demeaning that Hu Jintao, president of China and Chairman of the Communist Party, had just wished us a bright future for all Chinese citizens. Many Taiwanese, if not most, have a heritage and ancestry that is Chinese. A lot of whom came over as recent as 1949 with Chiang Kai Shek and the Kuomintang after being defeated by Mao and the Communist Party in a civil war . This 60 year separation has created two drastically different cultures in terms of just about everything. The language, religion, government, customs, and society are asymmetrical.

I suspect that the world is insensitive to the rhetoric of the Hu Jintao and the Communist Party and its implications for three reasons: One, there are not a lot of people in the west who do not understand Chinese do not pay much attention to China's publications for numerous reasons. Secondly, because of the world's business interests and investments in China they are willing to ignore the rhetoric of China and the predicament of the Taiwanese future. Many Taiwanese are also starting to not worry about China's policy toward Taiwan as they increasingly consider China a solution to their economic problems. Lastly, because China does not have a blue water navy which makes it less "imperialistic" than Western countries that have blue water navies. China, with the exception of Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, rarely interferes militarily or politically with other countries.

Imagine if Britain had sent George W. Bush a telegram congratulating him on his nomination as Republican presidential candidate with hopes of a bright future for the "English Speaking Nation". I think a lot of people would consider this imperial and incredibly prejudice if not racist.

Monday, 20 July 2009

What I have learned

This blog is not going to be about the great wisdom I have accumulated over the years nor about an epiphany I have had while living in the "orient" or talking to mountain "sages". No, I want to leave out the stereo-play and tell you about my findings at the Taipei City Zoo.

All over the zoo are toilets, for people. Around these restrooms or above the urinals are bilingual signs with information on poop. From these signs I have learned the following:

1. When Koalas are babies they eat their mom's poop for sustenance.

2. A long time ago, indigenous Taiwanese built their homes out of poop. Well, they used a mixture of poop and mud

3. Poop doesn't smell after it is sun-dried, so their homes did not stink. Dried poop also keeps bugs away. A natural bug repellent if you will.

4. In Tudor England (a time period I assume? not sure when) people also used a poop mixture to build their homes.

These signs always begin with a question. For example, "can you build a house out of poop?". Or "do Koalas eat poop?". And even, "how does a kangaroo poop?". Then these questions are followed by facts obviously as an answer to the question. In conclusion, I have learned a lot about poop and hope that I will learn a lot more on my next trip to the zoo.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Adventure 1

It was 3pm on Saturday and Ed's last class was about to be finished. We met at the school to drive to Fulong beach. We picked up two bottles of coke and two fifths of whisky for the drive. We weren't going to be in the driver's seat and figured there was no harm in starting a bit early after a long day of teaching zombies and the Saturday English warriors.

The two hour drive was fine. We had a detour in Jiufen, a scenic mountain side town that is half tourist trap and half overlook with a view of the port city kilong (jilong). I recommend stopping in "condom world" if your in the area. Its worth the embarrassment of walking into the alter-esque shop. After jiufen, we continued toward Fulong beach and the music festival that was on a beach. literally. When we got to the stage area there must have been a couple thousand people on a massive sandbar who all used one bridge to get back and fourth.

White eyes was the highlight of the night without a doubt. Their singer is great and lets herself go. They are very distinct among Taiwanese underground bands and have a good sound though they might look to the "yeah, yeah, yeahs" for too much guidance. We made it back to the car only after sand cartwheels, Ed out running a car and I leapfrogging to his back in celebration causing us to fall over in the street. On the way back is when we ran into trouble. Or perhaps, what didn't run.

On the way home we stopped by the store for some post music snack and beverage. When we got back to the car the engine wouldn't turnover. The car wouldn't even try to start. That was about the time my breakdown instincts kicked in. I have had my share of experiences with cars leaving me for dead and now was the time to put that past torture to use. Three of us pushed the car while the fourth started it. It worked! now we just had to get in a moving car. One by one we jumped in and after a scrap or two and losing some loose "baggage" we were on our way back home.

The car didn't like the idea of driving though and quit. Magically, after a cigarette, the car started again and we were back on the road only to breakdown for a final time on a nice, big hill next to the ocean. Ahhhhh....what a view. After some passersby and a few phone calls I was asleep in the back seat while we waited for an hour or so for the tow truck to arrive. When the truck finally showed up it was 3 in the morning and I wasn't in the mood to be awake. Our trip ended with Ed and Mei in the car that was being towed while Wei Wei and myself rode in the truck with the driver.

Better Than Your Morning Coffee

Coffee is a great way to wake up. When you can barely open yours eyes or if you had rager the night before it can do the trick to pull you into the world of the living. At least for a little while. Yesterday, I discovered coffee's rival. Something that can send a jolt of consciousness through your body and deliver immediate energy albeit an adrenaline fed panic.

I discovered it around 2am. I woke up to my boat rocking violently on stormy waves. The earthquake made my apartment bow like a Japanese hotel clerk to the Queen of England. Well, that's a bit exaggerated but the sound of things falling over, bending and creaking sent a panic through me heightened my sense of "awake" immediately. Henceforth sleeping like shit for the rest of the night. Earthquakes are common in Taiwan and I know I will have the pleasure of waking up again to the sway of this new friend. Good times and earthquakes, good times and earthquakes....

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

7 Month Overseer

For seven months I have been in Taiwan, which is the longest amount of time I have spent overseas away from good ole 'merica. One of the biggest differences is the night life of an average Taiwanese. When I ask students what they did over the weekend the most popular response is 'nothing special". Which leads to me coaxing them into talking by asking if they went out to eat with friends or watched a movie. If they do go out, a popular activity is to spend all night at a KTV.

A KTV is kind of like a hotel but for karaoke. Each room is equipped with a television, a couple of microphones, large couches, and a mega watt stereo. To maximize your karaoke enjoyment, food and drinks are served or can be brought in. In China, KTV's can also be undercover brothels. I once stayed in a Beijing hotel that had a KTV on the first floor. Two friends and myself walked in out of curiosity to see what a KTV was.

It was my first time in China and this was the first KTV I had walked into. We asked the host what people do here and he showed us a room and explained it to us. Our curiosity had been satisfied and we declined to rent a room. As we headed toward the exit he also informed us that they had a bar. We could just sit and have drinks if we liked. He then added that they had "very pretty girls" and waved his hand to point down a long, narrow corridor. One the right side of the hall was about 15 young women all put together very well and wearing evening dresses. In synchronicity, they all turned their head to look at us and most seemed a bit surprised to see that we were foreigners. Two white boys and one Iranian. My immediate reaction was, "ooohhhhhh, i gotta go" then thanked the gentleman for his time while we walked out the door with awkward chuckles. Curiosity sent us into the wrong KTV .

Monday, 8 June 2009

Mud Butt

Who doesn't love the weekend? If you have to work during the weekend then probably you. Also, those people who experience a bad case of mud butt. Mud butt will ruin any day off, holiday, or overall good times.

Mud butt is known by many synonymous terms. Hershey squirts, the runs, the shits, poocano, and Mao's revenge are all common names that we learned as children or through out our lives that we prefer to use rather than diarrhea. Why do we prefer to use these terms? probably because they mitigate an embarrassing situation by making it more humorous than shameful.

My craptastic weekend started Thursday night. I came home from the gym late and ate my last meal. As I was trying to sleep a pain came over my stomach. I thought it might be from eating under cooked asparagus and just let myself slip into the unconscious world of ninja turtles and llamas. Don't ask. Friday morning was like any other. I ate my usual breakfast followed by two cups of coffee at work. Then it started. I left my student to do some fill in the blanks while I supervised some demolition work that, well, just had to be taken care of.

This continued until Sunday. I never felt "sick" except for "the condition" and still hold that god damn asparagus responsible for my muddy weekend.

Monday, 1 June 2009

June Nights

I was six years old, enjoying kindergarten's world of wood blocks and pledges of indoctrination without a care except trying to avoid cooties and learning the lyrics to "Paradise City" by Guns and Roses. On the other side of the globe, one of the most memorable events of the 20th century was happening in the world's largest public, urban "square". The month and a half long demonstration in Tiananmen Square was coming to a savage end in the early hours of June 4th, 1989. When day broke, a man stepped in front of a tank to stop it in its path or be smashed into the asphalt. This is how we remember the Tiananmen movement of 1989. "Tank Man".

Troops stormed in, shots were fired, and the protest was over. Just like that. The government had tried with less forceful, but still armed troops to retake the square before but were unsuccessful due to the students outsmarting them and the blockades of ordinary citizens. Its hard to say how many people died that night because the figures are debated but its most likely in the hundreds. It is also unknown how many people were arrested or executed for being "hooligans" who created "turmoil". However, China's government announced "the last" prisoner from the Tiananmen Square movement was released last month. I don't know if this is the last living, the last incarcerated or the last they will release but at least he's out.

Although China has changed a lot since 1989, many of the same problems that these protesters were addressing still exist. Mainly, rampant corruption and the lack of free speech. Why has no protest risen up since then? Because the opportunity to make money and the power of propaganda, or"education", is a powerful tool. Punishment is harsh for those who challenge the status quo of the political world and are made examples. They usually lose the opportunity to make money and travel abroad. These suffice as good deterants.
Information on June 4th, 1989 is censored in China if it is written in Chinese. Google and Yahoo have agreed to censor this information because apparently, money is more important than people's rights. Remember the tank man.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Chase the Rabbit

I haven't posted for a while because its pretty boring lately. I'm finally going out of town this weekend and that might give me something to write about. For now, you can read about my Saturday night. I warn you though, its not that exciting.

Drinking has diminished to once a week for me. Every Saturday I go to a great bar that I won't mention because I don't want to ruin the atmosphere by telling the lao wai world about it and I want it all to myself. I'm selfish. Its a little haven for the rockers, artists, for Taiwanese actors, and MTV vj's. They got those track bike scenie-weenies too. Why all these folks find themselves in one small, dark bar playing all the indie rock hits is beyond me but I happened to have been turned on to it and consider myself lucky. Feels a lot like home too. That is, if everyone back home looked "Asian" and spoke Chinese.

Last Saturday I had a usual night at the bar. However, as sometimes is the case, a beer can lead to a shot which leads to a war. And Whiskey always matter how much vodka and tequilla you think you like. Needless to say i fell asleep on my bathroom floor. It was nice to wake up in my bed though. Hmmmm. I never did chase the rabbit down the white hole. (Chase the rabbit is puke in Taiwanese)

Friday, 8 May 2009


Commuting can be a monotonous drudge. The daily routine of walk, wait, ride, transfer, ride, and finally work lays waste to days and years. Yesterday was no different. I walked to the place to wait for the dinosaur. Luckily, I found a seat. The dinosaur began roaring and vibrating its way through traffic to pick up and drop off the worker bees. Click.....Click.....Click. It started after some older passengers from the same stop sat down somewhere behind me. Click....A sound that was instantly familiar.

"Is someone really cutting their nails on the bus? in public?" I said to myself. One of my pet peeves since I can remember. I turned around to see an older Taiwanese, maybe middle aged, cutting her nails and talking to an equally aged, fellow dinosaur rider. While the country bumpkin clicked away with out a care as to who picked up her nail scrapings or if the noise bothers the holy shit out of fellow passengers, I pondered confessing these thoughts to her out loud. Releasing my righteous pet peeve onto the ignorant bitch poking my nerves. My stop comes up and off I go, departing happily.

I transfer to the roller coaster for the last leg of my commute. This time I am also lucky to find I seat. I sit. Across from me is a man giving a phone bill the once over. He takes of his glasses and, while squinting, brings his face closer to the paper. I guess he thought his bill would change if he took his glasses off.
"This bill Can't be right. They must have made a mistake. Let me rely on my poor eyesight to double check"
Perhaps he couldn't believe how expensive the bill was and thought that he should take his glasses off to blame the price on his misread? I got to work at 930.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Paranoid much?

I showed up at the building General Mills has chosen to be the base of office operations in Taipei. Walking past the doorman I went to the elevator and pushed the button. Up. I hop in with the water delivery man because I don't want to wait for another up and down cycle. When I arrive at the fifth floor I walk through the to the secretary's desk so they can give me their visitor's sticker. Instead, they hand me a translated notice that reads, "because of swine flu we require everyone to spray their hands with gasoline and submit to having their temperature taken through a minor invasive procedure before entry"

Ok, so it didn't say that exactly. After washing my hands with alcohol to kill any flu germs I moved on to the next stage of my examination by the secretaries. A horned device was waved over my forehead to determine if I had a fever based on surface temperature. It was hot out this morning and I was in a rush so the thermometer couldn't register my fever possibilities until I cooled down and stopped sweating. I had a sweet wait of about ten minutes before my temperature registered. I didn't mind though since I sat and waited on their time. I was marked at a cadaver average 34. Oh, that's Celsius. I was wondering why they let me in.

Since there has been no cases of swine flue (H1N1) in Taiwan its pretty safe to say that people are too paranoid on the island (was that a lost reference?). It's flu god damn it! not the bubonic plague. Yeah, some people die from flu, mostly old folks and babies, but it's still a flu. The news said our stockpile of drugs can deal with it. So can we please have confidence in drugs and deal with it minus the paranoia?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Charter 08

Here is a link to a translation of Charter 08 ( at The New York Times book review by Perry Link. I mentioned it in the last post and thought you might want to know more about it. I also added what the charter outlines below.

Specific demands are:

Amending the Constitution
Separation of Powers
Legislative democracy
An Independent Judiciary
Public control of public servants
Guarantee of Human Rights
Election of public officials
Rural–urban equality
Freedom of Association
Freedom of Assembly
Freedom of Expression
Freedom of Religion
Civic Education
Protection of Private Property
Financial and tax reform
Social Security
Protection of the Environment
A federated republic
Truth in Reconciliation

Lackey Chan

Nothing is more infuriating than high society defending a defunct status quo. The rich telling everyone else to toughen up and those in power telling the rest of the country to stop their whining and complaining. Jacky Chan is known in the west as a kung fu comic but in Asia he is the most recent example of movie star gone politicing in a dead pond.

While in Hong Kong, Mr. Chan made some comments about Chinese people that reflected the Communist Party's interest but rejected by an increasing number of Chinese. Playing on the stereotype that there is something fundamentally different and exotic about Chinese (or Asians) he said, "gradually, I think we Chinese people need to be controlled. If were not, we'll just do what we want". He also spoke of Taiwan and Hong Kong as being "too chaotic" because they are too free. Obviously, as a rich actor probably living in America he is going to be seen as a hypocrite. I'll see him as naive for being the lackey spokesman of the Chinese government or not seeing how much more chaotic China is than Taiwan.

Take the prevalence of fake Chinese products and their consequences. Perhaps that isn't chaotic enough for Mr. Chan. How about arresting people with out charges who write or get together and talk about some of China's problems and how to fix them. Chinese like Charter 08 drafter Liu Xiaobo, Tibetan blogger Woeser, or Bao Tong. Still not chaos? I got it. How about passing laws and then ignoring them like those in the constitution or that protect their land. Then, while on the way to address their grievance and ask for help from Beijing local governments detain them or kick the shit out of them before they can file their petition at some obscure office they can't find anyway. Now, their pissed and are prevented from redress so they riot and strike. Now that's chaos!

I know Jackie Chan will release some PR spiel and that he may have even catered to the predominantly Chinese official crowd, possibly for some reciprocity. A lackey for hero status relationsip? He knows he's fighting for the machine. I also realize cultural values vary and create different systems of government but you would have to be dictator to argue that any group of people "need to be controlled" or do not desire basic human rights. Democracy may be a western thing but the basic freedoms are universal. If you need proof that human rights are a Chinese thing just read charter 08 or the last 40 years of Chinese history.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Happy Birthday Old Dude! (a Bill and Ted quote?)

Ma Zu (spelling?) is one of the most popular gods worshiped in Taiwan, if not the most. Her birthday was this past Saturday and Taiwan celebrated as her followers passed her image from South to North on a week long journey. Behind my apartment is a temple dedicated to Ma Zu. The performances and rituals I saw Saturday night were raw and unrefined but inundated with enthusiasm. The dances got out of sync, at times the dancers themselves wore faces lost in confusion, music would lose time and become choppy at moments, but damn were these people into it.

All the performers were men, albeit Ma Zu is female. The only Women I saw carried the food offerings on plates or sang on a small stage, sometimes in underwear, that was drowned out by percussion heavy Chinese "temple" music. An interesting note of observation from my eyes. A lot of male participants and on lookers chewed beetle nut which looks similar to a green Acorn and is chewed for a particular sensation and makes your teeth a blood red color for an affect of fresh fist fight or an attempt at imitating an Andrew W.K. record cover. Some of the dancers seemed to be heavily tattooed, a stereotype of working class, gangster class, or maybe masculinity that carries the label "Tai Ke". Still a fairly vague term that escapes an exact definition for me, but don't worry I am working on that. The first dance group I saw starting getting really excited when they noticed I had tattoos and began showing off their friends Chuckie portrait (the horror movie series) on his left calf and Chuckie's bride on his right. Other participants were inviting and welcomed me to watch. A few would inform me of what I was watching and when I didn't understand my friend Wei Wei would translate. One participant asked me my opinion about how good the performance was and then told me I should go down to southern Taiwan next year because the celebration is bigger there.

I think the most perplexing aspect of all this was the musical dual. There was a huge bass drum on wheels that was larger than a grown man. Attached to the sides were two smaller drums each played by a college aged looking male whom pumped a pulse into the percussion heavy Chinese music. Behind this drum wagon followed various cymbal players. In stark contrast and competition with this was a stage performance of some kind of live music that filled in the gaps when the drum wagon lulled. They were losing the contest. The band had a drummer and various other unknown instruments with. I could not make out their sound because like I said, the stage was losing the competition. The singers were women who took turns singing songs. For some reason, one performed in her underwear or bikini. Which it was I'm not too sure. I was confused why she had this on. On the other hand, it could be obvious. Sex appeal is an m.o.

Overall, it was a display of something very Taiwanese. The dancers who were costumed as the 8 protectors of Ma Zu were pretty cool and dressed a little terrifying as they performed their dance that symbolized scouting for ghosts or people who may want to harm Ma. At least, I think that's what I was watching.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Milk It

Every Monday I ask people how their weekend was. My co-workers, my students, anyone who looks for a conversation. It's shooting the shit and inconsequential but its necessary to social existence. I know this, so does everybody else. The question is often taken for granted and ignores the fact that someone may one day blow your mind all over the office wall with their retelling of their shenanigans.

This Monday for example, I asked my manager "What did you do this weekend"? He casually with, "I milked a rat".
......Milk a rat? is that possible? How the fuck do you milk a rat?
I of course asked him two questions. First, "are you serious" to which he said, "yes". The inquiring child inside me of course followed up with the ultimate "How"?

To make his story short, I will sum it up with this. Capture a rat who recently birthed vermin somewhere in your house, restrain with a vet cone (one your dog/cat wore when you took his balls) and then proceed to milk it.

ME: "Why"?
MGR: "I had never milked a rat before and I always wanted to try"

That's a weekend in a life.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Been a Long Time Comin'

Taiwan hangs in the balance of it's distance from China. The farther away Taipei can place itself from Beijing the closer it gets to international recognition as a sovereign state. A confrontation over their opposing interests is not a desired option for Taiwan but neither is reunification. The later has Taiwanese and some westerners asking questions about some of the current administrations perplexing decisions.

The most recent piece of legislation is the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, or CECA, with China. It would allow the free flow of services, capital, and goods across the strait that separates these two neighbors in a time of economic crisis. Ultimately, the CECA would make Taiwan rely more heavily on China for commerce and trade. In other words, more economically dependent. In the modern age, economic dependence is the new imperialism. If independence is a main objective for Taiwanese politics then increased economic dependence on the country that refers to you as a "rogue province of separatists and rebels that needs to be liberated from feudal traditions" might be a, how to say it?, bad Idea. I don't know how India and the Philippines did it, but I seem to recall the U.S. into their economic relationship with England in their quest for independence, right? (really, is this right?). Then again, that did result in a war.
In the 21st century China hasn't changed their view on Taiwan too much. One comrade on the mainland referred to the CECA as "a start toward full cross-straits economic integration and a necessary condition for marching forward toward final unification." (Washington post, Beijing 2/23/2009) You have to love the rhetoric, or imperial edicts if you prefer, of Chinese propaganda.

Too many Taiwanese youth are apathetic to this issue. They don't see it as a problem because they don't believe Taiwan has a chance of returning to China with a grand reunification ceremony. Nor do they think China is that different from Taiwan in terms of freedom. Man, is that one thing they couldn't be more wrong about? Some adults here are also interested in discussing the possibility of reunification with the mainland for economic purposes. "Screw human rights, we can sell it". It's amazing what some people are willing to sacrifice for a quick buck, or just the prospect of a quick buck. I would guess, yes guess, reality would be a fast metamorphosis to regret. There is no definite relationship between joining China and making more money, Hong Kong is a good case in point. The fact that some of my students have expressed the above opinions is disheartening. Taiwan just gotta stay Taiwan.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

"From the head to the expression"---> What does that mean?....vol 1

I opened my eyes and lifted my head up. I looked across the train and saw a girl asleep. Her head was resting against the plastic divider between her seat and the car's door. In front of her was shopping bag that read:

Is Marijuana really so bad for me?

this was written around the iconic image of a pot leaf. Most Taiwanese do not know what this leaf is. They like it because they see it inc American culture. It's hilarious to see grandmas wearing a shirt with a giant pot leaf and rasta colored stripes.

This morning I was able to find a seat on the bus. Quite easily too. At the next stop a girl climbed onto the bus and stood with her back towards me. On her T-shirts was written:

Bus trip (the brand of her t-shirt)

Around "bus trip" were the words:

from the head to the expression

The first and only thing I thought was, "what does that mean?". Is it a metaphor? an innuendo? Just incorrect English? what could "from the head to the expression" possibly mean?


Living abroad can be stressful. Blending in can be impossible and flowing with the grain can be difficult . If you happen to be living in Taipei, here are some tips to help you become a little more Taiwanese.

1. Never sit next to foreigners on public transportation. No matter how far you have to go, you would rather stand than sit next to a Lao Wai. When she/he gets up to get off the train or bus wait three seconds and then rush the vacant seat in a no holds bar grudge match with all the other passengers.

2. Walk with a stagger and constantly veer side to side. In other words, never walk in a straight line. Use the space around you.

3. Develop a taste for food that smells like the toilet. The stinkier the food the better. Stinky Tofu should be your favorite. Also, delight in seeing foreigners grow pale and wrinkle nosed when they try this rotten smelling dish.

4. Use idioms to disguise gross body functions . For example"Chasing the rabbit", this means to vomit. Or "playing with my gun", masturbating. I agree, that last one is obvious but I wanted to use it.

5. Oil and water shake hands. "Fashion" means taking two diametrically opposite styles and attempting to be the ambassador that bridges the two with peace talks. For example, 80's hair metal and thugged out rap are commonly wed. Hair styles that were stolen relics from tombs for the 80's, bright neon color clashes worn with new Nike's, baggy jeans with bizarre back pocket design and a "hip hop" t-shirt. Dress to impress and look like your on you way to the club. are commandment in your Bible. Look terribly self conscious by fixing your hair by in window reflections and always carry a shiny shoulder bag. If your a girl, one last word...Boots.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Dirty Eyes and One Treacherous Finger

The train car rocked back and forth as it rolled over the track towards it's various destinations. At every stop, one group of spent financial invalids were returned to their hives and exchanged for the tomb sweepers of the economy. It was the ten o'clock hour and a day of work had been exhausting. My eyes were closed and my body was in tune with the sway of the train. When the train arrived at my station I stepped off and began walking toward the escalator. Four steps before my foot would find the platform that would soon become a stair, I looked up from the ground and found the first pair of glaring eyes. They were slighting and prejudiced. Each one was an open book that was being written by the shaky hand of a pretentious fraud. The title: Confessions of the wanna-be thug. Behind this lanky, giant, glass body walked two others.

At the top of the escalator an inclination to turn around came over me. I found all three young men doing the same. They were going in the opposite direction toward the train. There was some nudging about them until one gave me the finger. My body became hot and my legs uncontrollably hurried up the remaining stairs. I took my headphones off and wrapped them around my ipod then put it in my pocket. By now I was already down the first escalator and was taking my sweater off as I descended the second toward the boys on the platform where people would be waiting for the train to take them back to their hives.

I stood behind the giant and waited. None of them looked long but all took notice of the familiar eyes standing uncomfortably close and now rabid. I noticed a co-worker in front of the line waiting for his train. "Shit, I can't just hit this guy in front of a work mate", I say to myself. " What will he think? How would I explain this at work? Wait... what am I doing? "Did I just say mate?"

This made me cooler but I was still hot, I was up, I wanted blood and I didn't know why. Where are the middle fingers now, you gutless shits? The first train arrived and neither of the three boys got on. The giant skeleton, only a year or two out of high school, moves aside and makes a more than polite gesture that signals this is not their train and for me to board in front of them.

"I'm good right here, fuck tard".

He turns around and joins his friends in silent fear. I could smell it. We could all smell it. They had watched to many movies they didn't understand and I had pent up frustration waiting for release. The second train came and I watched them board. As the doors closed the three boys all took out their cell phones and looked up find relief in my presence not on the train. I let my eyes meet theirs for one last time. No middle fingers, no nudging, no words. I went back up the escalator to hot to sleep. I walked down the street to the bar and had a beer.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Sideburns and teeth

I cut my chops too short yesterday. They are a bit itchy and have a resemblance to dirt streaks running down my face. Also, My hair is short now and the sideburns look outta place. Ill keep 'em for the time being.

Two weeks ago, prior to haircuts, I was eating beef jerky after a night of drinking and wandering Taipei's seedy districts. While chewing, I started to hear a crunch. "I wonder what that is?" Swallowing the mush, my tongue made a discovery on the right side of my mouth. I stand up and walk into the bathroom to peer in the mirror. A large chunk of a tooth had broken off leaving a rotten core exposed. The broken piece resides in the bowels of my stomach. I hope I crap it out so that my stomach doesn't get a cavity.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Can Asians be White Supremacists?

It was a glorious, sunny afternoon in Taipei that accompanied me on an aimless wandering when a particularly odd object caught my eye. At a "punk rock" shop among the stickers and patches was a small Nazi flag. The sky ominously darkened as I began pondering the white supremacist movement's supreme accomplishment of successfully indoctrinating Asians to believe in the superiority of the white race.

Obviously, Taiwanese are not race - confused proponents of white supremacy who fly Nazi flags from every awning. Swastikas can be spotted in Buddhist temples and used to identify food that is vegetarian. In Asia, no other symbol can be as perplexing to Westerners. Those who went to college should have learned that Hitler and his national socialists were not the inventors of the symbol but perhaps the hijackers. Once the swastika became the major identifying symbol for the Nazi's it was destined to become the quintessential badge of white supremacy and racial cleansing. Although the swastika has a completely different meaning in Asia and should not be considered offensive on its own in Taiwan ( or China) , a Nazi flag is more than just a swastika. Its a flag that will forever be a symbol for fascism and white supremacy. I find its presence in Taipei bizarre. History has sealed the fate of this symbol for westerners and will most likely never take on a positive meaning for a long time to come.

On the second thought...McDonalds, KFC, Nazi flags, Linkin Park, belly button rings...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Special Treatment

Middle fingers, spitting, and hand gestures do not always carry the same meaning in different countries. One hand gesture that does have the same meaning in Taiwan and China as it has in the United States is the signal for "Jerk off". If you don't know what that means then you were probably the home schooled child of a religious bigot (and closet homo).

One night while at an "entertainment club", a gentleman approached my friend and I and said something in Chinese that was spoken with a thick Taiwanese accent. I didn't understand what he had said and looked at my friend for a little translation help,
"He asked if we want the special treatment".
The man then asked again and made the gesture for hand job.
I sat there a little drunk and a little bewildered why this man was asking me this. Neither of us replied so the man began talking and doing the gesture again. Without looking at the stranger I said out loud, "yeah I get it. I understand what this means (doing gesture). No, I don't need the special treatment."

We translated simply with "we don't want" and proceeded to be entertained without the special treatment.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A Light in the Sky

During the new year holiday I took a day trip to Ping Shi with a couple of friends. From Taipei, it takes the train about an hour or so to arrive in the mountainous town. Ping Shi is famous for tian dun, sky lanterns, and is a popular destination for the lantern festival.

The four of us arrived in Ping Shi on a rainy afternoon. We ate and then headed toward one of the shops that specializes in sky lanterns. We bought one that was white, appropriate for a rainy night so we could watch it as it ascends the sky. Traditionally, the belief is that the lantern takes the wishes (and curses) to the gods. I hope the gods are bilingual because there are few traditional wish related phrases that I can write in Chinese. If they aren't, some gods they turned out to be! In the least, I'm sure they will enjoy my picture of a serpent monster eating the Chinese characters for peace.

When we finished decorating the tian dun, we walked to the bridge that crosses the river and lit the special paper inside the lantern. The lantern fills up with gas or smoke emitted from the paper and then lifts off into the sky like a helium balloon. After about ten minutes we saw our lantern become brighter as it began descending in the far off distance. Occasionally, an unfortunate local finds themselves under a curse or on the wrong end of a wish when their house is set on fire by a plummeting lantern from the sky.

On ordinary clear nights, the sky lanterns can travel out of sight. In the rain however, it will still go an extensive distance, but will not disappear from sight. Perhaps it is better to go in the rain because you get to watch you lantern fall out of the sky as it disintegrates. Hopefully, you won't curse any of the locals.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

This is for the fashionistas

Taiwan is a great place to live. Most people are polite, always willing to help, and are warm to foreign travellers. The food here is amazing and ranges from traditional Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine and international fast food notables all the way to the bizarre and sometimes a disgusting possibility to foreign taste buds like pigs blood, pigs brain, and snake bile shots. Just like the food, fashion in Taipei can be just as broad.

A recent discovery of mine that has become one of my favorite shopping districts in Taipei is the Zhongxiao Dunhua area. Along the side streets is where some of the best stores are for clothing and general fashion. Shops cater those in the market for uniforms and trademarks of culture movements that happened in the last 30 years. This is where you can find the brands and styles associated with any subculture. Your cheap mondays are here as is your insight and stussy. Paul frank can be found next to one of the Taiwanese mimics of American Apparel. Supreme, the hundreds, and hip hop label LRG can be found in shops here too. And those of you obsessed with your damn shoes and aren't sure if you can live without your twenty pairs of dunks or alife can be appeased at a shop or two here as well. Make sure you check out the skate shops too, they have some of the best clothing I have seen at any skate shop even in the states.

Leather Jackets, carhartt and dickies can be found at a place called "Country Store". Where the sound of rockabilly provides a shopping soundtrack while the stores decor and two classic motorcycles outside are relics of an obsolete albeit classic American stereotype.

The Place you want to start your walk about is from Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT exit number two. Take a left at the first street you come to. It will be on the corner of California fitness, which will be on your left after you come out of exit two. Then proceed to walk up and down the streets and buy what thou wishes to obtain and desire.

Overall the area is great for the 20 - 40 crowd or whoever classifies themselves as fitting into some subculture. Zhongxiao Dunhua might be compared to Williamsburg in Brooklyn in an attempt to give familiarity, but the area definitely has a Taiwanese identity with unique boutiques and frequented by Taipei's own underground. Worth checking out if your living in Taiwan, visiting Taiwan for more than two weeks, or just need to find something you want.

soon to be added: notable shops in this area. Ill make an edit soon.

Happy 牛 Year

Chinese New Year started on Sunday, January 25th to usher in the year of the ox. For New Years Eve, the 25th, it is tradition for sons to return to their parents house with their families. Taipei was left significantly more quiet than usual but certainly not dead. A majority of the shops were open around Zhongxiao Dunhua, Taipei's best fashion district, where some people spent the day browsing the boutiques or sitting in cafes with relatives.

I was fortunate to spend the later part of the evening at Chelsea's home with her relatives to take part in the Taiwan's most international past time: Gambling. We played a dice game that Taiwanese call "Xi Ba La". The "dealer" roles the dice and then faces off with the other players one at a time. If the dealer wins they receive the opponents wager, but if the dealer loses then they must pay the opponent the amount of their bet. At the end of the game, in testimony to the generosity of Taiwanese towards strangers, everyone made sure no one had lost too much money.

Chinese New Year is traditionally 15 days long and ends with something foreigners call the Lantern Festival. However, the vacation for most Taiwanese is only one work week. The word for ox, 牛 (pronounced niu), is also translated as cow. This year can be said as the year of the bull or ox.

Happy 牛 Year!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

More Panda

Taxi Driver: "Are you French?"

Me: "Do I look like a panda?"

Monday, 12 January 2009

What do I look like, a Panda?

Levi's are everywhere. On every continent and probably in every city there is a Levi's store.

"What is the biggest waist size you have in Taiwan" I inquired walking around the megalopolis department store known as Sogo.
"some 34 and some 36." The clerk was referring to different styles.
I picked up a pair and asked, "how about this style?"
She told me "34" but that in another color she had a 36, then held up the other color unfolded for me to see. This monstrosity of denim, fade washed, white-lined and shiny looked like an old sky blue leisure suit that had been worn to Tony Montoya's last coke party and woke up in a ditch.
"What do I look like, a panda?" I asked.

Sometimes, I feel eyes upon me. "Observed in a natural setting, the creature interacts with his world instinctively". I look around, but no one is staring. Occasionally, I'll catch somebody in the eyes and we both just look away as usually done when two strangers meet eyes. I may speak the tongue, walk the gait and wear the clothes, but I will never blend in because of the color of my skin. A blonde panda.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Man Won't Annoy Ya...If He Can't Git Ya

In every country, immigrants have to go through a bureaucratic obstacle course to be considered legal and Taiwan is no different. No obstacle was particularly difficult in my experience but all required processing which usually means waiting around like a fat kid at the candy store. I figured if I am in process, why wait to work? Welcome greyland! population: You and every other not legal to work - worker. Every citizen of greyland is in a legal limbo or flat out working illegally under the table. Most are students working a couple hours a week, not the necessary amount to work legally. Besides, they work only for tax free spending money and not out of necessity. The other are either illegal immigrants usually from other Asian countries or those like myself in process and waiting for residency.

The Immigration and Labor Department practice the art of random check at English schools in Taipei. It makes sense since the schools employ a lot of foreigners. I was at work one ordinary Wednesday when the Immigration Department sent in their masters to do the art they do so well. Usually, these checks happen once or twice a year, so it happened that on this particular Wednesday my school's card was pulled.

While I was preparing for a class, one of the secretaries walked into the room and tapped my shoulder. I looked up to find a worrisome face. She said nothing, turned around and asked another teacher "do you have your resident card? Immigration is here and they are checking for them." Another secretary walked in and told me that "Immigration is here" and since I was not legal I should "try to leave immediately" before they saw me. About this time my boss entered the room and just says "maybe we can go out back and figure something out? maybe for a smoke." I followed him out the back door.

We began walking down the stairs from the third floor while my boss informs me about the trap door in the wall on the ground floor. He went back up to the office while I arrived at the secret door in the wall, open it and exit to the ally successfully giving immigration the age old slip. Not much wandering later I received a phone call saying that it was safe to come back.

Foreigners who get caught working illegally has its risks and number one is deportation. Worse, Taiwan may prohibit you from returning. Stories like this are familiar in Taipei. I once heard a tale of an American who jumped out of the second story window while teaching a kindergarten class and ran away to avoid getting caught. I bet the kids never forgot that lesson.

I have since left greyland and am now a legal resident of Taiwan.