From the Taipei Times, a new shopping mall in Kaohsiung (Gaosyong) 高雄（たかお）is getting ready to open http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/biz/archives/2007/03/31/2003354718. What caught my attention is the fact that the Dream Mall will include a Hankyu Department Store 阪急百貨店 and a Nitori ニトリ home-furnishings store. Our apartment in Yokkaichi 四日市 was largely stocked with items we purchased from the local Nitori. It's too bad Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原（とよはら）is several hours by car from Kaohsiung.
From the Japan Times, Kyoto 京都 is finally going to do something about regulating the rampant development that has eroded much of its old atmosphere http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070331f1.html. Actually, while I agree that the city hasn't done a very good job at preserving its ambiance, I think it's gotten a bad rap from its Western critics. Old wooden buildings don't lend themselves to modern retrofitting in the manner you often come across in European cities, where the local Citibank branch might be occupying a building dating back to the 17th century. And Kyoto is a modern commercial and industrial city of 1.5 million, so that is going to have an effect on appearances. Still, it would have been nice if Kyoto had followed Takayama's 高山 example, where newer buildings are designed to harmonize architecturally with the older, preserved wooden structures in the historic central part of the city (except for the monstrous NTT building). But I have to admit that I like Kyoto Station 京都駅. I don't think it's very modernity takes anything away from Kyoto's traditional charms. Would the alternative have been to build something like the main station in T'aipei (Taibei) 台北（たいほく）, which looks oppressive, but in a "traditional" way? The real crime against aesthetics in Kyoto is Kyoto Tower 京都タワー. THAT should never have been allowed!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Two online articles on the same topic this morning: "Top court rules China, not Taiwan, owns dorm" from the Daily Yomiuri http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20070328TDY01005.htm and "Top court nullifies rulings siding with Taiwan on dorm" from the Japan Times http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070328a2.html. Japan's Supreme Court 最高裁判所 has ruled in a 40-year-old case that, even though Taiwan purchased the dormitory for Chinese students in Kyoto 京都 in 1952, the ROC government cannot represent the Chinese nation in a lawsuit as Japan switched recognition to the government in Beijing back in 1972. By ruling that Taiwan cannot be a litigant in a lawsuit and that ownership of the dorm belongs to China, the Supreme Court has overturned four lower-court rulings. Here's the story in Japanese from the 読売新聞: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/national/news/20070327i211.htm
UPDATE: The Japan Times has an editorial today (Sunday, April 1) on the case http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ed20070401a2.html, wondering if political concerns played a part in the final decison. According to this column, the Supreme Court did not determine who actually has ownership of the dormitory, and Taiwan could file a new lawsuit seeking ownership confirmation. What's another forty years?
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I was able to complete a walk and do a bit of exploration in the Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中正公園 area of Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原（とよはら）before the rain started. After a short walk on one of the trails, I rode my scooter to the top of the hill, where the Fengyuan Country Club sits. Just before the entrance to the golf course is Fengyuan's Martyrs' Shrine (Tsunglitz'u / Zonglicih) 忠烈祠（ちゅうれっし）. There are martyr's shrines in many localities in Taiwan, honoring those who have died fighting for the Republic of China. The most famous one is in T'aibei (Taibei) 台北（といほく）, which I visited with my friend Louis a few years ago when he came to see me in Taiwan. We were fortunate to witness the changing of the guards, but unfortunately I don't have any pictures on the computer of our visit.
T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中（たいちゅう）has an attractive martyrs' shrine as well. I took this picture when we visited a couple of years ago
but the complex only seems to be open on Sundays and national holidays if I remember correctly. We've also been to a martyrs' shrine in Tachia (Dajia) 大甲. While not so well-known
it's located in a nice hilltop park area, and there's a lot of military hardware displayed on the grounds.
In all the time I've been in this area, I've never seen Fengyuan's martyrs' shrine being opened to visitors. I'd heard it had been badly damaged in the 921 quake, but everything looks OK now, so I don't know why it remains closed. Like Ise-jingu 伊勢神宮 in Japan
the best you can do is try to get a peek at the building over the walls. There was someone in the office there this morning, but this martyrs' shrine is still off-limits for now.
On the way home from the Martyrs' Shrine, I came across this sign at the entrance to a new housing development.
The name means "Sakura Street No. 1". However, the traditional Chinese character for sakura is used 櫻, and not the Japanese 桜. So instead of "Ouka no Michi No. 1" 桜花の道No.１", meaning "Cherry Blossom Street No. 1", we have "Ouka (or Sakura) no Michi No. 1" 櫻花の道No.１", or "Ouka's (or Sakura's) Street No. 1", which sounds like the road belongs to a woman.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Today was a pretty relaxing Sunday. We had some heavy rain on Saturday night, but while the skies looked threatening at times, it didn't rain today. So, after watching "World Trade Center" on DVD while Amber was taking her afternoon nap, we drove over to a local park in the late afternoon to let Amber stretch her legs. Following that, we walked over to a nearby night market to have dinner, and check out what was for sale. Not very exciting, but today was a lot better than the previous Sunday.
Across from the park is a recently-opened love hotel, Ch'unshuiyang (Chunshueiyang) 春水漾, or the Spring Water Flow Hotel. A number of upscale/upmarket love hotels have opened in Taiwan in recent years, with Chunshuiyang being a recent edition to the scene in Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原（とよはら）. This one has been advertising heavily on the local cable TV channels.公園の向こう側に「春水漾」というラブホテルがある。
Our dinner at the night market. For NT165 ($5 or ￥590) I had Taiwanese-style oden おでん (Japanese hodgepodge) and a side order of rice flour noodles or "Mifen" 米粉, while Pamela "enjoyed" Ch'outoufu (Choudoufu) 臭豆腐, Taiwan's notorious "stinky tofu". Many Taiwanese, my lovely wife included, swear by it. I, on the other hand, won't allow it to be brought into our apartment.
A stand at the night market selling takoyaki (octopus dumplings), with the words written in Japanese たこ焼.たこ焼きを売っている屋台
I came across a couple of Taiwan-related stories while checking the news online over breakfast this morning.
First up is an article from the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ, "Abe's LDP backers seek Taiwan-India China foil" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070325a5.html. A group of about 20 Liberal Democratic Party 自民党 lawmakers who see China as a threat are forming a parliamentary league to promote closer ties with Taiwan and Japan. This is being done to counter moves to form a similar grouping by pro-China factions within the LDP. The pro-Taiwan group's senior adviser will be Shoichi Nakagawa 中川昭一, chairman of the LDP's Policy Research Council 自民党政調会. Nakagawa has called China's military spending a "threat", and recently said that if Japan wasn't careful, it could wind up being a Chinese colony by 2020.
The other article is from the Daily Yomiuri (the English edition of 読売新聞), and is entitled "Taiwan squirrels raiding forests" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20070325TDY02006.htm. It seems cute but feral Taiwanese squirrels リス have been damaging an increasing number of trees in southern Yokohama 横浜 this year, probably due to the wild winter this year (they are apparently eating trees instead of nuts, which are scarce in winter). Classified as an "invasive species" 侵入生物（しんにゅうせいぶつ）, they have been reported to be living in Kanagawa 神奈川県, Shizuoka 静岡県, Gifu 岐阜県, Osaka 大阪府, Wakayama 和歌山県 and Nagasaki 長崎県 prefectures. While the article talks about some of the measures being taken in response to the squirrels, it doesn't say how they came to Japan from Taiwan in the first place. Here's a picture of one I found with a Google search:
Saturday, March 24, 2007
A Japanese restaurant here in Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原（とよはら）. The restaurant's name in Japanese is "Sano" 佐野. The characters to the right of the name are "Lamien (Lamian)" 拉麺, meaning "ramen"; and 食べ處. Ramen is usually written in either hiragana らーめん or katakana ラーメン in Japan, where it's thought of as being "Chinese-style noodles". In Taiwan, however, people think of Lamien as being a part of Japanese cuisine. The second set of characters are what caught my eye, however. 食べ處 could be read as "tabesho", and would literally translate as "eating place", so Sano is advertising itself as a ramen restaurant. The use of the kana べ is an obvious attempt to give the restaurant a more authentic, Japanese look to its name. However, the character 處 is rarely used in Japan, so you would be unlikely to see this word on a restaurant sign. A ramen restaurant would probably appear as ラーメン屋.
The editorial in today's Taipei Times was entitled "Chinese tourists blur the focus" http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/03/24/2003353666. It basically criticizes the emphasis being put on attracting tourists from China to Taiwan, "apparently at the expense of the rest of the world's travelers". It goes on to call "Taiwan's tourism chiefs and entrepreneurs ...lazy and incompetent and have filled the country with substandard facilities and poorly trained, monolingual staff". And I couldn't agree more with this statement from the editorial:
"...Taiwan has so much to offer to tourists from the rest of the world -- but the message is not getting through".
It concludes by making several suggestions to improve the situation here, such as by making visas free, and expanding them to three months for most nationalities, and "...employ(ing) more fluent and competent speakers of English and Japanese to buttress (tourism authorities') multilingual resources. Here, here!
To put it simply, this island does a terrible job when it comes to promoting itself to the outside world, and to seeing to the needs of foreign visitors once they're here. While there are a number of excellent web sites devoted to individual localities, the official Welcome to Taiwan website http://184.108.40.206/jsp/Eng/html/search/index.jsp is dull and not very helpful (and not even working tonight when I tried the link). The English page for the Taiwan Railway Administration is difficult to navigate http://www.railway.gov.tw/index/index.aspx, while the page for the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation (台湾の新幹線) doesn't tell you how or where you can purchase tickets, or how to get from the THSRC stations (which in many cases are on the outskirts of major cities) into the centers of places like T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中（たいちゅう） and T'ainan (Tainan) 台南（たいなん）.
In Japan, many localities both big and small maintain tourist information offices, usually in or near a major train station. Even if you don't speak Japanese, these offices are very useful - they usually have plenty of free maps and pamphlets (often in foreign languages like English), and they can assist in finding accommodation. Leafing through the Lonely Planet Japan guide, for example, you can see how often local tourist offices are mentioned.
The situation in Taiwan, by contrast, isn't very good. I'll be the first to admit that Fengyuan isn't a major tourist attraction, but a first-time visitor here has only a map on a signboard in front of the station to let him/her know what to see and do in the area (and no information on how to get to these sites). Taichung has a TIC, but good luck trying to get there unless you have a car. It's not even remotely within walking distance from Taichung station 台中駅 (I have no idea if any bus lines serve the area where it's located), and is nowhere near any sightseeing spots or accommodation options. Except for T'aipei (Taibei) 台北（たいほく）, it isn't easy for the non-Chinese speaking visitor to get around Taiwan to see the sites.
Which is a shame, for Taiwan has a lot to offer the visitor from abroad. I'm not comfortable living here, but I really enjoy traveling in Taiwan (it helps that I'm married to a native who has her own car!), and I wish more foreign tourists could see what's here. And making Taiwan a popular Asian tourist destination would go a long way towards promoting Taiwan to the outside world and reducing its isolation. Unfortunately, as the Taipei Times wrote today, "...no one in government seems to think this is an issue of concern".
Thursday, March 22, 2007
There was a very interesting article in today's Japan Times by Gwynne Dyer entitled "Does religion do more harm than good?" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20070322gd.html. In it, Dyer writes about a study done a couple of years ago that examined 18 countries (including the USA and Japan) to see if religion makes people behave better. The results, like the evidence pointing to global warming, are not what a Bush Republican would want to hear:
"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, (venereal disease), teen pregnancy, and abortion," while "none of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction."
That pretty much could sum up why the US struggles to be the kinder, gentler nation many people wish it could be. Here are some more interesting quotes from Dyer's article:
"Even within the U.S. ... 'the strongly theistic, anti-evolution South and Midwest' have 'markedly worse homicide, mortality, sexually transmitted disease, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the Northeast, where societal conditions, secularization and acceptance of evolution approach European norms.'
As the most religious country of the 18 surveyed, the U.S. also comes in with the highest rates for teen pregnancy and for gonorrhea and syphilis. (A sidelight: boys who participate in sexual abstinence programs are more likely to get their partners pregnant, presumably because they are in denial about what they are doing.)"
"...there may be a clue in the fact that the more religious a country is, the smaller the resources that it puts into social spending, perhaps on the assumption that God will provide.
There is a very strong linkage between how secular a country is and how much it spends on social welfare and income redistribution. There is an equally strong correlation between high levels of social spending and a good score in...(the) survey -- which makes sense, because all the ills..., from homicide to high infant mortality to teen pregnancy, are far more likely to affect the poor than the rich.
It's not that religious people choose to do bad things more often -- indeed, they are probably more likely to get involved in charitable activities. Maybe it's just that when they talk about transforming people's lives, they don't think in terms of big state-run systems -- and if you don't, lots of people fall through the cracks. Whereas the godless, all alone under the empty sky, decide that they must band together and help one another through large amounts of social spending, because nobody else is going to do it for them."
I couldn't have said it any better than that (which is why I'm not a regular contributor to the Japan Times, or any other newspaper for that matter). It goes to show that you can be godless, and yet just as moral (or even more moral) than those who claim to be living life according to the word of God.
Taiwan wasn't one of the countries studied in the above survey, but if it had been, this non-Christian society would do better than the US of A in most, if not all, of the categories. However, I do think there are a lot of teenage pregnancies here, which I suspect result from from the reluctance of traditional (read conservative) Chinese culture to address issues of sex.
I guess I was inspired by reading the JT article this morning, because before setting out on my walk this morning in the Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中正公園 area, I made a short detour past some religious sites.
The less-than-awe-inspiring Nankang Futetz'u (Nangang Fudecih) 南崗福徳祠 Taoist temple 道観
The even less-impressive Tz'uhoukung (Cihhougong) 慈后宮, or "Mercy Empress Temple".
All these signs of religion got me to thinking of the impermanence of life. Take this wasp in its final death throes 死んでいたスズメバチ...
On the way home I rode by a Taoist temple under construction. A statue was in the final stages of completion, with only the head waiting to be put in place.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Baseball season is just around the corner, and in Nagoya 名古屋, the Chunichi Dragons 中日ドラゴンズ are promoting their team by advertising on the Nagoya subway system. A former student of mine in Yokkaichi 四日市 sent me these photos:
Thanks, Sachiko! ありがとう。
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The post-Lunar New Year financial blues have finally set in. Due to the combination of the weeklong holiday break, reduced hours at one school while the children were on their winter vacation, and the closure of another class (in true Taiwanese fashion, I was informed the night before), my income for the month of February is about half what it has been up until now. What makes matters worse is that this comes at a time when our savings seem to be mysteriously decreasing. I say "mysteriously" because I really have no idea how it is we seem to be spending so much money each month. It certainly isn't reflected in the apartment we live in, or the food we eat, or the clothes we wear, or the car we drive. I know I am supporting three people on one income (four dependents if you include our blind cat), but my earnings are better than average for most Taiwanese, so where is it all going?
What makes this even more difficult to accept is that the reason we left Yokkaichi 四日市 in Japan was that we were saving very little there as well. As my dependent, Pamela didn't have permission to work in Japan, and when she became pregnant with Amber, we came to the decision that it would be best to return to Taiwan where, in theory, we should be able to better live within our means. While I don't regret coming back here for Amber's sake (I felt much better knowing Pamela could communicate with the doctors in her native language, and the cost of childbirth is much cheaper in Taiwan than in Japan), given the choice between being relatively poor in a place I felt comfortable living in (Japan), and being relatively poor in a place which I feel clashes with the very nature of my being (guess where), why am I back here then?
Don't get me wrong. I have met a lot of wonderful people in Taiwan, and I have enjoyed travelling around the island. Had Taiwan been my first experience of life in Asia, and were I twenty years younger, I would no doubt be a lot happier here now. But I have experienced life elsewhere in this part of the world, and I know fully well that Taiwan doesn't have to be the way it is. And now that I'm in my mid-40s (and a parent), those things that I might've accepted as the quirks of life in Taiwan are becoming more and more intolerable. Things like the inconsideration of the effects one's actions have on those around one, or the general ugliness of the daily surroundings, are starting to grate. Throw in other factors like the lack of career options for foreigners and the stagnant incomes of those in my profession, and I find myself stuck - stuck in my situation, and stuck for solutions for breaking out.
I suppose if I had both the confidence (or chutzpah) and the Chinese language skills, I could go over to the Fengyuan city hall or the county government building and try to convince them to set up an office to assist foreign residents of Fengyuan with daily life here. Most localities in Japan have such sections in their city halls, providing information on things like hospitals, garbage collection, health insurance, local attractions and festivals and so on. Many even offer free language lessons taught by volunteer teachers. I'd really like to get involved in something like that here as the amount of information availabe to non-Taiwanese is very limited. However, when one takes into account the fact that "foreign affairs" are run out of the local police departments in Taiwan (in contrast to Japan, where the city/town/village government handles such matters), I doubt very much that any progress can be made.
And so I sit here wondering both what the hell I'm doing here, and what the hell I'm going to do here...
Saturday, March 10, 2007
The Lantern Festival is the last event of the Lunar New Year celebrations. In Taiwan's major urban centers, hundreds of lanterns are put on display in public spaces, and thousands of people converge to see the spectacle. Here in Fengyuan (Fongyuan/とよはら) 豊原, however, it's a surprisingly simple, low-key affair, probably because T'aichung's (Taijhong/たいちゅう) 台中 Lantern Festival festivities are so close by. Tonight, Amber, Pamela and I drove over to T'ienhsin (Tiansin) Park 田心公園, opposite Fengyuan City Hall 豊原市役所 to see the pig-themed lanterns on display (this being the Year of the Boar 亥年, after all). While the lanterns themselves couldn't hold a candle (so to speak) to those in, say, T'aipei (Taibei/たいほく) 台北, they were colorful in a subdued sort of way, and combined with the comfortable temperature and the small number of families on hand to see them, made for a relaxing atmosphere that is usually sadly lacking at public events in Taiwan.
After leaving Tienhsin Park, we stopped at a roadside food cart 屋台 to pick up some kushiage 串揚げ. Kushiage is fried meat and vegetables on skewers. While the kushiage at this place wasn't as good as what you'd find in Japan (もちろん！), it was popular with the punters. The name written on the 暖簾 and the signboard is "Kushiyaki", in both kanji 串焼 and hiragana くしやき. According to Jim Breen's WWWJDIC Server http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/wwwjdic.cgi?9U, "kushiyaki" means "persimmons dried on skewers". At the top of the signboard are the characters 串串・串焼. Next to the character 串 they've written "kusu" くす in hiragana, when it should be "kushi" くし (as they have done with くしやき next to 串焼). Be it "Kusukusu kushiyaki" or "Kushikushi kushiyaki", either way it's still kind of strange. 台湾だから...(The Chinese, by the way, means "Japanese original taste, food cart prices")
On the way home, I snapped this picture of another food cart, not open for business on this evening. This one sells sushi. I know because it's written in Japanese on the curtain above - 寿し. At least they got it right.
Thursday, March 8, 2007
After a long stretch of unseasonably warm weather, things have suddenly gotten cold and wet since Monday. Temperatures in central Taiwan have dropped as low as 13C or 55F. While that may not seem as cold as in other parts in Northeast Asia, when you take into account the fact that few places in Taiwan have heating, and most homes have concrete walls and tile walls, it starts to feel colder than what the thermometer reads. And even when bundled up, riding around on a scooter in this weather can be a bone-chilling experience.
The worst part about this weather is having nowhere to go (other than to work, of course). Even on sunny days, our apartment can be dark and gloomy (the architect never heard of southern exposures from the looks of things), so in this weather it can be depressing. This morning, however, brought a brief respite from the rain, and while the sun never appeared, the sky was brighter for a short spell. Not wanting to let the opportunity go to waste, I headed out to Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中正公園 for a chance to stretch my legs and (thanks to the rain) breathe some fresh air. The nice thing about going for a walk on a day like today is that everything looked so green and lush after all the rain. The less than optimal conditions also ensured that I had the hills to myself this morning.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Tonight as I sat down at the computer to upload some photos and update the blog, it was sounding like a war zone outside. Taiwanese don't need many excuses to set off firecrackers and shoot off fireworks, and this weekend is the Lantern Festival 元宵節/元宵 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lantern_festival. Amber got an early start last night
and tonight we went up to the roof of our apartment building to watch all the pyrotechnics going on around us. But instead of going into T'aichung (Taijhong) たいちゅう 台中 to witness the celebrations, we spent a quiet afternoon in the Taichung County town of Wufeng (Wufong) 霧峰.
Upon arriving in Wufeng, we stopped for a quick lunch of goosemeat ガチョウ肉 over rice, beef noodles, a side dish of pork and ginger しょうが焼き and a bowl of oyster soupカキスープ.
As the rain had started coming down just as we were finishing lunch, we decided an indoor activity would be preferable, so we drove over to the 921 Earthquake Museum. This museum commemorates the Chi-Chi (Jiji) Earthquake 集集大地震, which struck central Taiwan on September 21, 1999, and resulted in the deaths of 2415 people. I actually arrived in Taiwan about three weeks after the quake, so I was fortunate in not having to experience the terror that Pamela, Steve and many other people I know had to go through that night (but I did feel a lot of the aftershocks).
The museum is located on the grounds of Kuangfu (Guangfu) High School, which was directly on the fault line and suffered extensive damage. Pictures of the school's running track which was uplifted as a result of the tremor are some of the most well-known images of the 921 quake.
The museum has preserved the track
The 921 museum is located in a quiet section of Wufeng, in a neighborhood of old homes, and surrounded by forested hills. Here's a picture of Amber outside the museum, and a photo of a cemetery 墓地 behind the parking lot.
The rain had let up somewhat, so after the museum we went to the grounds of the Taiwan Provincial Consultative Commission. Because in theory the government of the Republic of China is the government of the whole of China, it is only temporarily residing on the island of Taiwan, and Taiwan is a merely a province of China. That was the theory, according to the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party, which ruled Taiwan from 1949 (the end of the Chinese Civil War) to 2000 (when they lost the presidential election to Chen Shui-bian of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party). The reality, of course, is that Taiwan is a de facto sovereign state, and most people now identify themselves as "Taiwanese" instead of "Chinese". But while the KMT was in power, it maintained a separate provincial government to maintain the illusion that Taiwan was a just a province, and not a state. What this government did is a mystery, and it was basically abolished in 1998. Today, the attractive grounds in Wufeng make for a nice morning or afternoon stroll.
Like with many other relics of the KMT's rule, there's a statue of Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石 in front of the provincial government building. While the KMT and DPP argue over the legacy of Chiang's rule
the local birds seemed to have passed their own judgement.