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Saturday, August 5, 2006

Skewed Compass

I picked up the latest edition of Compass Magazine last night at work. Compass is a free monthly magazine that gives information on what's going on in Taichung each month. And for that reason, it serves a valuable purpose. Information in English about things happening outside of Taipei isn't easy to come across.

That being said, I still have a lot of problems when it comes to Compass. One peeve is its tendency to make things in Taichung and its surrounding area sound more attractive than they really are. In other words, they make the proverbial silk purse of the proverbial sow's ear. Case in point: this article about Highway 61 from a few years ago. The short paragraph about the Kaomei wetlands barely touches on the fact that there's a gravel-making plant right next to the wetlands, and completely forgets to mention the high concrete wall that blocks all views of, and severely limits access to, the ocean. Oh, and no word either about the stench that permeated the area, and which had nothing to do with birds (of which none could be seen that day). My wife (who is Taiwanese and therefore knows much better the reality of things here) kept telling me the effort to get to Kaomei would be all for nothing (and she had never even heard of the wetlands before), and had herself a good laugh at my expense afterwards.

Then there are the short blurbs on new "hot spots" and dining establishments. These aren't reviews, but merely PR pieces usually written in Chinese (probably with the help of the owners) and then translated into English. Sometimes they're unintentionally hilarious, as in this item ("Locally-raised goats are slaughtered and cut up every afternoon at the shop, guaranteeing the meat is both fresh and delicious." Yum, yum). At other times, they're offensive. Never mind that many Westerners might not enjoy eating an animal that could soon find its way onto the endangered species list. What's next? A story recommending a traditional Chinese medicine shop that sells tiger penis and rhino horn? And on occasion we come across items that could be dangerous. I certainly couldn't find any reference to Scientology, could you?

Another annoying aspect of Compass is its sycophantic sucking up to the current Taichung city government, in particular its mayor, Jason Hu. The American editor of Compass obviously values his connections to Hu, and so the city government is allowed a propaganda column in each month's issue. The latest spin is on the mayor's junket, er..."successful European visit". Supposedly, Harrods Department Store and a three-star Michelin-ranked restaurant "show interest in Taichung ventures". So did the Guggenheim Museum a little while back, and that certainly went nowhere fast.

I used to subscribe to Tokyo Journal back when I was living in Setagaya-ku 世田谷区 and Komae-shi 狛江市. Unlike Compass, Tokyo Journal would have reviews of restaurants which were sometimes critical, and each month would feature articles on Tokyo (or Japan in general) written by writers whose glasses were not rose-tinted. But then Tokyo Journal (and its counterpart in the Kyoto/Osaka area Kansai Time Out are not free. With Compass Magazine, you get what you pay for.

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