Sunday, January 27, 2008
Sunday is the traditional day of rest, and so it was for my wife today. In order to give Pamela some time for herself, I took Amber on her first train ride, going from Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原 to T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中. Actually, my daughter has been on the MRT 台北捷運 in T'aipei (Taibei) 台北, but today was still a first for her. We walked south from the station to the Taichung Central Mall, a shopping center that I hadn't been to since it first opened back in 2001. Father and daughter spent the afternoon checking out what was on each of the mall's floors, before heading down to the first basement level to have lunch. Afterwards, we met up with Steve and his family, and after spending some more time in the shopping center, the six of us walked back to the station. Steve wanted to give his kids a chance to take a train ride, so they rode with Amber and I back to Fengyuan, before returning to Taichung. Amber was pretty excited looking out of the train windows, so I'm looking forward to giving her more opportunities to ride the rails.
Amber on the platform at Taichung Station 娘は台中駅のホームにいる.
I was pleasantly surprised to find an outlet of Daisō ザ・ダイソー in the mall. Our apartment in Yokkaichi 四日市 was stocked to a large extent with things purchased from the local branch there of the 100-yen shop 100円ショップ chain, so seeing a Daisō here in Taichung brings back some memories. Instead of everything being 100 yen, however, in Taiwan Daisō is promoted as an NT39 store (39のSHOP). The photograph shows Amber happily polishing off a bowl of 茶碗蒸し ("savory egg custard") at the 回転寿司, or "conveyor-belt" sushi bar where we had lunch.
Amber had a great time with Zoey and Eli!
Saturday, January 26, 2008
There was yet another article on Taiwan in the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ today, and this one was a lot better than the tripe authored by Frank Ching. "Hope for pacifying the strait" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20080126a1.html is written by a former diplomat, Hisahiko Okazaki (and includes a lot of first-person references, as is common practice with Japanese commentaries). Okazaki finds optimism in a little-known remark that Chinese President Hu Jintao (Ko Kintō) 胡錦濤 made last fall in a report to the 17th National People's Congress 全国人民代表大会 of the Chinese Communist Party 中国共産党:
(Quote) "We would like to make a solemn appeal: On the basis of the one-China principle, let us discuss a formal end to the state of hostility between the two sides across the strait, reach a peace agreement, construct a framework for peaceful development of the two sides and thus usher in a new phase of peace and development in cross-strait relations." (End Quote)
I'm not sure I see what the excitement is about, but Okazaki writes:
"From the moment I learned of this passage, I have considered it an important proposal."
Unlike Ching, Okazaki actually explains the reasoning behind his feelings:
"Taiwan has previously called on China to abandon the option of using armed force, but China rejected Taiwan's call. If a peace agreement as stated in Hu's report means renouncing the use of armed force, it is a landmark proposal and meets the Japanese and American policy goals of seeking a peaceful solution to the Taiwan Strait issue. Neither the reunification of two Chinas nor Taiwan's acceptance of 'one country, two systems' 一国二制度 is made a condition. The basis for talks is the 'one-China principle 一つの中国.' 'One China' is indeed the very basis of the Taiwan issue; at the same time it is a flexible concept."
Okazaki then discusses the groundbreaking dialog held between China and Taiwan in 1993, and how each side disagreed over whether or not Taiwan accepted Beijing's definition of the phrase "One China". Following this, he makes a very interesting suggestion:
"My conclusion is that if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 民主進歩党 wins in the next presidential election, it would be good for Taiwan if it started negotiations with Beijing on the basis of Hu's proposal. Why the DPP? Negotiations with China over the question of 'one China' alone will be delicate, so I believe that those with strong principles about Taiwan's identity should engage in the negotiations. This does not mean I do not trust Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 of the Kuomintang (Guomindang) 中国国民党. In fact, Ma reportedly stated that he does not favor reunification and that it is no problem that China and Taiwan have their respective interpretations of 'one China.' What Ma said, however, is different from what the Kuomintang has asserted in the past. And I also can't ignore the worry that a Kuomintang-led government may follow the lead of China."
Take that, Frank Ching! Just as it took someone with the anti-communist credentials of Richard Nixon リチャード・ニクソン to bring about a breakthrough in relations between the United States and China, Okazaki feels a DPP president is better placed to do the same for Taiwan, as unlike Ma and the KMT, he would be less likely to sell out the island to the mainland. Okazaki then continues on in the same vein:
"Although Hu declared the principle on which China-Taiwan talks should be based, China has yet to spell out the details due to complex domestic circumstances. It will do so but only after talking with Taiwan in the future and coordinating the views at home. Until then, China and Taiwan can be expected to engage in tough, fierce negotiations. Given this, I think it is necessary for a person with a strong belief in Taiwan's identity to engage in such talks. If the DPP negotiates with China, I don't think it would be a bad idea for Taiwan to come to terms with China over the term 'one China.' Taiwan can concede that both sides share a common heritage, at least by virtue of the fact that both use Chinese characters."
By a person who has a strong conception of Taiwan's identity, Okazaki sure as hell isn't referring to Ma Ying-jeou!
"Specifically, the best policy is that Taiwan add the condition that China must agree to Taiwan's membership in the United Nations 国際連合 in return for Taiwan conceding on the 'one China principle.' If that is realized, a number of principles stated in the U.N. Charter, such as sovereign equality, noninterference in internal affairs and a peaceful resolution of disputes, would become applicable. If that condition is set as an absolute condition, I would not care if someone backed by the Kuomintang assumed the post of Taiwanese president. It would be good if unnecessary conditions such as 'neutrality' or 'future reunification' were not added. In the case of Hong Kong, 'one country, two systems' has been introduced. Yet, no popular election has taken place in the 10 years since Hong Kong's reversion to China. Moreover, there are only 40 years left in which Hong Kong can enjoy a 'free society.'"
I don't share Okazaki's optimism on this issue (it's highly unlikely China would concede on the question of UN membership), but I think his views on the topic of Taiwan-China relations are very refreshing. He concludes by writing:
"Hu may be seeking to settle the cross-strait issue in a couple of years, thinking that it is inevitable that the Taiwanese public will become more Taiwan-oriented each year. Thus Taiwan could have the upper hand. Taiwan will not have to compromise at all on the issue of obtaining U.N. membership. If Hu is so insightful and has enough political power to be flexible in his political approach, East Asia could realize the dream of peace in the region after a half century of hostility."
Get this man and his columns some worldwide syndication!
Friday, January 25, 2008
Wow, three articles related to Taiwan in Friday's online editions of the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 and the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ!
Up first is one of two articles that appeared in the DY on the threat Taiwan faces from China. Entitled "Military balance tilting toward China" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080125TDY05305.htm, it begins by stating:
"The military balance between China and Taiwan is turning in China's favor due to its huge defense spending that showed double-digit growth for the nine consecutive years from 1989. Taiwan is said to have superiority over China in maritime and air force strength. But China has built up its naval force remarkably in recent years."
After giving some numerical examples of Chinese superiority in certain types of naval vessels, as well as advances in fighter plane technology, the piece points out the following:
"China has deployed 1,328 ballistic missiles targeted at Taiwan, about seven times more than in 2000, when the administration of President Chen Sui-bian (Chin Suihen) 陳水扁 was inaugurated in Taiwan. Taiwan, on the other hand, has deployed only three sets of Patriot surface-to-air guided missiles (PAC-2) in the suburbs of Taipei and elsewhere."
You would think the Kuomintang (Guomindang) 中国国民党 would be up in arms (no pun intended) about this threat to the sovereignty of their beloved Republic of China 中華民国. But as those who follow political developments here know all too well:
"As a counterbalance to China's military arsenal, Taiwan's military wants to possess PAC-3 missiles, P-3C antisubmarine patrol planes and diesel-powered submarines, which the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush decided to sell to Taiwan in 2001. But the deals did not make any progress because deliberations on budgetary appropriations made little headway in Taiwan's parliament due to dissent by opposition parties."
It's getting worse, as the US is refusing to sell modified F-16 fighters to Taiwan because Washington:
"...has grown increasingly distrustful of the Chen administration."
Still, Taiwan remains a force to be reckoned with:
"As a deterrent to China, Taiwan has secretly developed a Hsiung Feng [Brave Wind] 2-E cruise missile with a range that covers Shanghai and Hong Kong. But Taipei has refrained from disclosing its deployment 'probably due to the pressure from Washington, which does not want to provoke Beijing because it is an offensive-type weapon,'..."
It's hard to reconcile the fact that my government remains silent on a seven-fold increase over the past eight years in offensive missiles deployed by an authoritarian dictatorship against a small island with a democratically elected leadership, while it warns the latter not to "provoke" the former. Taiwan is just one more issue for the Bush Administration to get things wrong on, I suppose. The article closes with a little bit of optimism:
"With Taiwan's presidential election set for March, however, China has not shown any sign of military threats against Taiwan in recent months. This is because Beijing learned a lesson...that such a provocation will draw criticism from voters in Taiwan and backfire in the election."
Yes, but what will happen after the election?
The Yomiuri also ran an interview with Taiwan's Vice Defense Minister, Ko Chen-heng ("Chinese naval moves worry Taiwan" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080125TDY05306.htm), who:
"...expressed concern about China's recent expansion of submarine operations around Taiwan, a move that he said indicates China's apparent intention to make the strait an 'internal sea of China'...he also said China has been extending its maritime operations into the Pacific Ocean southeast of Taiwan. Ko stressed the need for Taiwan to deploy its self-developed cruise missiles to counter Chinese missiles."
On the military balance between China and Taiwan, Ko states:
"The balance is still in Taiwan's favor as far as our judgment is concerned. But it has become extremely difficult for us to procure arms because a number of countries have not sold us weapons due to Beijing's diplomatic pressure. Taiwan's fighter jets have become obsolete. Therefore, if the current situation continues, the military balance will turn in China's favor. The number of Chinese missiles deployed against Taiwan topped 1,300. Since China lacks capability to cruise across the Taiwan Strait 台湾海峡 for a landing operation, China intends to fire missiles in the political and economic nerve centers of Taiwan to cause social paralysis, thereby forcing us to surrender."
He also touches on the rationale behind the development of the Hsiung Feng IIE 雄風二E cruise missile:
"China has boosted its capabilities to prevent intervention by the U.S. military in times of emergency. Taiwan must wait for the arrival of U.S. troops to fight together. Therefore, it is essential to secure capabilities to make counterattacks on China's missile and radar bases as well as runways for military aircraft in order to buy time to delay China's invasion of Taiwan."
All in all, it's a short but frank discussion on the military security situation facing Taiwan.
The last article today comes from the Japan Times, and it's a bad one. "Kuomintang won't flaunt election win" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20080125fc.html is written by Frank Ching, a columnist based in Hong Kong whose writings also appear in the local, reactionary China Post newspaper. In true Ching fashion, he makes a bold statement, and then produces no evidence to back it up. On the recent legislative elections, he writes:
"The election transformed the situation from one where the opposition had a razor-thin majority in the Legislative Yuan 中華民国立法院, or Parliament, to where it has more than a two-thirds majority. Hence, as of Feb. 1, the opposition party can in theory pass whatever bills it desires. However, KMT party leaders are saying, wisely, that they will not abuse their power and will not seek to impeach President Chen Shui-bian, as they had repeatedly tried to do in the past."
And that's good enough for Frank. And why not? After all, the KMT has worked hard over the last half-century to become the democratic standard-bearer, untainted by corruption, that the party is today. The Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党, on the other hand, was trounced in the elections because of:
"...(President Chen's pushing) the envelope on Taiwan independence, by his defiance of both Beijing and Washington, and by his going so far as to remove the honor guards from the mausoleums of two late presidents, Chiang Kai-shek (Shō Kaiseki) 蒋介石 and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (Shō Keikoku) 蒋経国."
Ching has entered Gregory Clark territory with that last statement. I've read a lot of articles recently that tried to analyze why the DPP had a case of whupass opened on it in the elections, but none of them mentioned the removal of soldiers guarding the tombs of two dictators as one of the reasons. Ching then turns his attention to the presidential election:
"To be sure, Ma (Ying-jeou) (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 is substantially ahead in the public opinion polls. But it is not beyond the realm of possibility for Frank Hsieh (Sha Chōtei) 謝長廷 to catch up. Ironically, the lopsided KMT parliamentary victory may handicap Ma since voters may want to 'balance' the political situation by giving the presidency to the DPP. This may especially be the case if voters in the next two months see the KMT abusing its parliamentary majority. For that reason, Ma has emphasized that the KMT should maintain a low profile and not seek to impeach the president or amend the constitution, even though it can now do these things if it wants to."
Take a look at that last remark. The KMT now has the power to "impeach the president or amend the constitution". It may lie low for the next two months, but what will happen after March 22, especially if Hsieh wins the presidency? Well, Ching does reassure us that the KMT won't flaunt its power, and besides:
"If a Hsieh presidency should emerge, Taiwan will once again be gridlocked, with the presidency in the hands of the DPP and the parliament controlled by the KMT. The situation may not be as bad as before, since a Hsieh administration is likely to be much more moderate than the Chen administration. But it would still be bad. It would be much better for Taiwan if there was a clean sweep, with the KMT being restored to executive power. And when a Ma administration is formed, as is likely, it should seek to depoliticize Taiwan. The Chen administration has gone much too far in politicizing everything, from ethnicity to textbooks, in its attempts to rid Taiwan of any connection with China. It is time for Taiwan to get back to business and let politics take the back seat. This is in the interest of all concerned — of the political parties, of Beijing, of Washington and, most of all, it is in the interest of the people of Taiwan."
I didn't think it was possible, but Frank Ching has managed to outdo Gregory Clark. It would be much better if the KMT controlled both the presidency and the legislature? The same party that, under the Chiangs, ruled Taiwan with an iron fist for decades, and sent tens of thousands of people on this island to early graves? And the Ma administration is likely to depoliticize Taiwan? Has Frank Ching ever visited Taiwan? If he has, did he ever notice how every town on this island has streets named after Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen (Son Bun) 孫文, for example? The KMT politicized most aspects of daily life in Taiwan during its long, single-party autocratic rule, right down to the choice of the plum blossom 梅 as the national flower http://thedailybubbletea.com/2008/01/07/the-plum-blossoms-of-fengguidou/#more-255. If anything, Chen has attempted to depoliticize things here, by removing some of the KMT's original heavy-handed measures that were aimed at eliminating any sense of a Taiwanese identity. But Ching isn't concerned with that. After all, he thinks it's in the best interests of everyone here to sit back and trust the KMT to run the whole show from March 22. I just hope the voters don't feel the same way.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I guess the bar for membership in the Pacific Forum CSIS, some kind of think tank based in Hawaii, must be set pretty low. At least that's how it seems, judging by the article that appeared in the Japan Times today ("How Ma's 'three nos' policy could impact cross-strait ties" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20080124rc.html), and authored by none other than the research institute's president, Ralph Cossa. For chrissake, I graduated from college 20 years ago with a political science degree, and have done nothing professionally with it since, yet I could have come up with a better analysis than Cossa's:
"Nationalist Party 中国国民党 (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 has proclaimed a 'three nos' policy — no unification, no independence, no use of force — in outlining his planned approach to cross-strait relations should he win the March 22 Taiwan presidential election. This is a clever take-off on China's long-standing 'three nos': no Taiwan independence; no 'two Chinas' or 'one China, one Taiwan'; and no Taiwan membership in organizations where statehood is required. Ma's construct is much more thoughtful and positively oriented; it appears aimed at reassuring three main audiences: the people of Taiwan, China, and the United States and international community in general."
No, Ralph, there's nothing at all "clever" about Ma's "policy". All he has done is to proclaim the status quo that has existed between China and Taiwan for several decades. It gets worse:
"Ma's first 'no'...serves several important purposes. It aims first to reassure those at home who fear that if Ma were elected, he would somehow 'hand over Taiwan's sovereignty' to China. Nothing Ma has ever said would lead one to believe this is his intention. Just as it has proven impossible for current President Chen Shui-bian (Chin Suihen) 陳水扁 to unilaterally make Taiwan officially 'independent,' absent support from the people and legislature, it would be equally impossible for Ma to officially and unilaterally turn Taiwan into a Chinese province, even if he wanted to. Nonetheless, fears and accusations persist, even among those who should know better. Hence the domestic importance of the 'no unification negotiations' pledge."
Apparently Ralph is unaware that legislative elections were recently held in Taiwan, and that the KMT won an overwhelming majority of seats. The Kuomintang (Guomindang), in fact, is only four votes short of commanding the two-thirds majority in the legislature needed to rewrite the constitution. Ralph also seems ignorant of that fact that, for 40 years, the KMT maintained martial law on Taiwan under an authoritarian regime that imprisoned, tortured and murdered tens of thousands of people, which might just explain why those "fears and accusations persist". Cossa then moves on to Ma's next pledge:
"His second pledge, 'no pursuit of de jure independence,' is aimed first and foremost at Beijing, although the message is equally welcomed in Washington and around the globe. Moves toward independence, like beauty, are clearly in the eye of the beholder, but few would argue that Chen has taken a long (and continuing) series of steps that seem aimed at stretching to the limit (if not beyond) his own 'no independence' pledge. Both China and the international community would welcome an end to what often appears to be a deliberately provocative game of chicken by the current Taiwan administration."
Here Ralph uses a fancy phrase like "de jure デ・ジュリ independence", but overlooks the fact that Taiwan has been in just such a state ever since the KMT fled to the island at the end of the Chinese Civil War 国共内戦 in 1949. There are still 23 nations at last count that recognize the Republic of China 中華民国 as an independent state, while much of the rest of the world allows the ROC to maintain unofficial embassies in their countries, and accepts ROC passports from Taiwanese visitors. Taiwan is also permitted to participate in a number of international organizations, even if it is under ridiculous monikers like "Chinese Taipei" チャイニーズタイペイ. If all this isn't "de jure", then I don't know what is. Of course, if Ma, the public face of a party that officially believes in "reunifying" Taiwan with China, also denies Taiwan's de facto nationhood, then Cossa's assertion that:
"...talk about reunification remains premature. In truth, nothing short of a remarkable complete political transformation on the mainland will ever make reunification attractive to the people of Taiwan."
isn't so reassuring after all. A political party with an authoritarian past that would control both the presidency and the legislature is a party that might not need concern itself with what the people think is attractive. Nonetheless, Ralph thinks he recognizes "reality":
"Let's be realistic: China will never give an unconditional 'no use of force' pledge. Beijing realizes that the primary deterrent to Taiwan moving toward de jure independence is fear of the possible consequences. It is unlikely to give up this important leverage. But it is not too much to challenge Beijing, after the Taiwan presidential election, to make a conditional no-use-of-force pledge; namely, that 'as long as the Taiwan authorities do not take steps toward de jure independence, China will remain completely committed to a peaceful resolution to the cross-strait issue.' This is, in fact, consistent with China's current stance and also with the (Anti-Secession Law 反分列国家法) . It would set a positive tone for the future development of cross-strait relations, especially if accompanied by a freeze or (preferably) reduction in the number of Chinese missiles currently pointed toward Taiwan. In keeping with the 'no use of force' pledge, the new Taiwan administration might also want to give serious consideration to scrapping its own offensive missile program."
I'm obviously no foreign policy "expert" like Ralph Cossa. I don't have his B.A. in international relations from Syracuse University, his M.B.A. from Pepperdine University, and his M.S. in strategic studies from the Defense Intelligence College. But how is it I have trouble reconciling China's so-called "commitment to a peaceful resolution to the cross-strait issue" with its deployment of over 900 ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan, (even though, as Ralph writes, "No one loses much sleep worrying about a Taiwan attack on the mainland.")? In fact, Ralph doesn't say much about Chinese missiles other than there should be a freeze or reduction, but somehow seems to feel that Taiwan is upsetting the balance here with its own missile program that, in all likelihood, is still in the development/testing phase. In fact, I recall reading a year or so ago that while the Chinese had deployed over 700 missiles (numbers vary), Taiwan had all of three prototypes aimed at China! Ralph is right - no one in Beijing is losing any sleep over that threat!
Cossa closes up by reminding himself just why he is such an "expert" on international affairs:
"Let me end with a bold (although some would say unrealistic or hopelessly naive) suggestion. Chen has said that his own 'four nos' policy will end with his administration — others will say it effectively ended months, if not years ago. Regardless, ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 民主進歩党 candidate (Frank) Hsieh (Sha Chōtei) 謝長廷...has a clean slate in proclaiming his own list of assurances. Why not state, in the interest of (finally) having a bipartisan cross-strait policy, that he is also willing to endorse and adopt a similar 'no reunification, no independence, no use of force' policy?"
There's a good reason why some people would say Ralph's suggestion is unrealistic and hopelessly naive. For the past eight years, the KMT has pursued an obstructionist line towards Chen, delaying legislation, freezing or drastically cutting budgets, threatening recalls and so on. "Bipartisan" isn't a word that one would associate with the KMT's performance as the political opposition. It certainly looks like Ralph hasn't been paying much attention to Taiwan's domestic political affairs. And why is it Hsieh would have to accept Ma's proposals for there to be bipartisanship? I thought politics was the art of compromise. Ralph soldiers on:
"Such a move would help depoliticize Taiwan's most important and sensitive national security issue. It would help assure Beijing and Washington that the 'new' DPP...is genuinely determined to set a more cooperative course. It would also reinforce the shared DPP/KMT goal of increasing Taiwan's 'international breathing space,' a goal that realistically can only be accomplished with Beijing's acquiescence. It would limit the impact of the Taiwan/U.N. referendum — separate KMT and DPP versions will be voted on during the presidential elections — and also help limit Chen's options if he is tempted to try to institutionalize his own more controversial and divisive approach toward cross-strait relations either before the election or during the post-(legislative) election, pre-May 20 inauguration period."
I'm not sure what it is Ralph is afraid Chen might do to "institutionalize" things here. Rename more companies? Remove more statues of dictators? Insist on using Tongyong Pinyin 通用拼音? Finally, he writes:
"In short, it (meaning Ralph's "bold" suggestion) would serve Taiwan's, Beijing's and Washington's national security interests and create a long overdue 'win, win, win' scenario. "
Everybody wins, except those who wish Taiwan could be an independent, democratic state welcomed into the family of nations. Next week Ralph Cossa will come up with fresh, daring proposals to end the Arab/Israeli stalemate! In the meantime, I'm left wondering why I'm finding it difficult to break out of my career rut, while so-called "experts" like Ralph Cossa phone-in their simplistic, one-sided "analyses" on complex international issues without bothering to do much background research. I suppose if I had a cushy egghead position in Honolulu, I would take it easy as well!
Monday, January 21, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Max Hirsch has an article in today's Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ on Taiwan's high speed train, "Taiwan's Japan-made bullet trains end first year in red - but on track" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20080116f1.html, a headline which says it all, as do the opening paragraphs:
"Taiwan's Japan-built high-speed trains have yet to become a cash-cow success, but neither are they the disaster critics had once predicted. As Taiwan marked the first year of the rail system on Jan. 5, bittersweet pride surely ranks high among its founders. The bitter sprouts from a fiscal shortfall as Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. 台湾高速鉄道 seeks to dramatically boost ridership from the current 43,000 passengers daily to at least the break-even point. But the sweet is just as palpable as Taiwan's first bullet trains, which traverse 345 km between Taipei 台北 and Kaohsiung 高雄 at the island's southern tip, run without a hitch."
There were a lot of doubts about the bullet train before, as well as soon after, it started service. I remember many of my students saying at the time that they were too scared to ride it, over fears about its safety. Hirsch recalls these sentiments:
"Over budget and 16 months behind schedule, the high-speed rail system opened for business amid intense, and often negative, media attention on Jan. 5, 2007. Multiple minor derailments in test runs two months prior to the opening supplied ammunition to critics, who conjured up images of a nightmarish pileup at 300 kph, the trains' top speed. Mixing European track technology with Japanese bullet trains, they warned, was a recipe for derailment...a troubled collaboration with Taiwan Shinkansen Engineering to forge the world's first Japanese-European bullet-train system in the world's biggest build-operate-transfer project ever. The final price tag was $15 billion. As delays and cost overruns mounted, critics panned the project as a doomed, extravagant bid to integrate incompatible technologies. But the detractors are falling silent as the system turns a corner in its first year."
And things are continuing to look up:
"Boasting an impeccable safety record so far, THSR plans to increase daily trips from 113 to 176 and post profits next year...Already, a new ticketing policy is boosting passenger traffic. In November, THSR added open seating, while reducing fares by 20 percent, for seats in three train cars, a policy that saw passenger traffic jump from 1.44 million passengers in October to 2 million in December. And so popular is the policy that THSR plans to extend it indefinitely..."
I still have my doubts about the long-term viability of the shinkansen here. I'm fascinated with the technology (I've ridden the shinkansen in Japan numerous times, from Hakata 博多 to Hachinohe 八戸, and many points in between), and I wish the project success, but I wonder if Taiwan is large enough to really need such an expensive transportation system. Could that $15 billion have been spent on something less glamorous, but more vital to daily life, such as improvements to infrastructure?
Hirsch, however, remains optimistic:
"...2 million riders monthly is a far cry from what...is the 3.6 million passengers, each paying at least 1,000 Taiwan dollars (¥3,350), that THSR needs to start settling its debts and making a profit. Nonetheless, 'THSR expects to break even in the latter half of this year,' (Ted) Chia (vice president of the THSR public affairs division) said, adding the network will run 176 daily trips by then. So even though THSR is running deep in the red, its future could be bright. This year's goals...include improving ticketing systems and inducing convenience stores to serve as ticket outlets. Local personnel are meanwhile increasing as THSR internalizes its Eastern and Western technologies...Another key goal this year...is to employ 100 Taiwanese drivers as foreign drivers dwindle. Long-term plans include developing about 92 hectares of land in five 'business districts' near the line, a business opportunity for THSR as its bullet trains drive up real estate near stations...THSR manages the land under government contract. Next year, THSR plans to break ground on a 12-km extension to the Nangang 南港 District in Taipei with operations starting in 2011. Construction of three more stations on the current line will follow..."
The Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売, by the way, has an article today on how Japan's shinkansen lines are financed ("Shinkansen plans face funding woes" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/business/20080116TDY04302.htm), which sheds light on the different approaches to building bullet train lines in Japan and Taiwan.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Why Compass Magazine continues to annoy me, even though it's free - in its January issue, there is an article on the hot spring resort of Kukuan (Guguan) 谷関, the opening paragraph of which states that:
"In the early 1900s, the Heiji Emperor was sight-seeing around Taiwan, visiting the island from Japan. When he came across the hot springs in Guguan, he hopped right in and sat for quite a while. After he returned to his home country, the emperor quickly fathered a son. Many people attributed this luck to the Guguan hot springs and the emperor's story spread like wildfire."
First of all, it's MEIJI 明治天皇 (Mutsuhito 睦仁), not "Heiji". And second of all, the story is just that, a story. Had the writer bothered to do a little research, they would have learned that the last of Emperor Meiji's 15 children was a daughter (not a son), who was born in 1897. Meiji's successor, Emperor Taishō 大正天皇 (Yoshihito 嘉仁) was scheduled to visit Taiwan in 1912 while he was still Crown Prince, but the trip was canceled when Meiji died. If I was able to find this out after just a few minutes of checking on Wikipedia and Google, then why couldn't have Compass' writer?
There's also a short article in the magazine about the experiences of a Japanese translator during the Asian Championship baseball tournament in T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中 a couple of months ago. It's all in English, except for the poor woman's name, which is written only in Chinese characters - 丸尾啓太. I went to the WWWJDIC website http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/wwwjdic.html, and came up with "Maruo Keita". Again, if I could do it...
No wonder Compass is given away free of charge.
In a change of pace from the recent depressing news, the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 has an article today on Taiwan’s notorious Ch’outoufu (Choudoufu) 臭豆腐, aka “Stinky Tofu” (“The sweet stink of success” http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080115TDY04305.htm).
The story introduces us to Peng Tian-rong, a stinky tofu seller in Hsinchuang (Sinjhuang) 新荘, a city in T’aipei (Taibei) County 台北県. Business is good, but:
“…the distinctive odor of his chodoufu has seen him fall afoul of the authorities, who have ordered him to pay a fine of 100,000 New Taiwan dollars (about 350,000 yen) for polluting the air. The fine, equivalent to two months' wages for an ordinary worker, is the first ever imposed on chodoufu deemed too stinky. But Peng remains unbowed. The flap over the chodoufu he makes with a special recipe that gives his curd its pungent punch has brought in more customers than ever, all keen for a taste, and a whiff, of his law-breaking delicacy. Chodoufu's smell is similar to that of fermented nattō 納豆 soybeans, but is stronger because it is fried before being served. It is a popular snack in southern China and Taiwan that, the locals say, is best washed down with a beer.”
I can say from personal experience that stinky tofu does have a distinct “aroma” to it. Not everyone in Taiwan, it seems, appreciates the bouquet:
“In Taiwan, this smell is part and parcel of bustling entertainment districts, and steamed chodoufu is often served at banquets…But while customers were lapping up (Peng’s) chodoufu, the neighbors were less enamored with the constant stench pervading their premises, and their nostrils. They complained to the environment bureau of the Taipei (county) government, which last autumn determined that Peng's eateries were polluting the air and fined him. The bureau, which is tasked with dealing with foul odors emanating from factories, used a ‘scientific’ device to measure the offensive odor and declared that the stench exceeded acceptable levels.”
The article’s author, Toshinao Ishii, decides to sample some of the stinky tofu, despite his stated dislike for the smell:
“I gingerly put a piece in my mouth. The chodoufu gave off an aroma and had a light sweetness, but steam with an (indescribable) smell spread through my mouth, a flavor chodoufu lovers cannot resist.”
This is a very Japanese way of saying he couldn’t stand it. The article concludes thusly:
“(Peng’s) fine has become a badge of honor that is drawing more customers, some of them traveling from afar to sample his wares. Some businessmen have sensed an opportunity to cash in on the stink by selling air freshener to chodoufu vendors, saying authorities might crack down on restaurants selling the curd. But not everything has come up smelling like roses for Peng. Strangers, he said, often ask him if he has stepped in some dog droppings because of the way he smells.”
This photo gives a good idea of what the dish looks like:
Stinky tofu is one of my wife’s favorite dishes, but it’s an acquired taste that I have been unable to obtain even after being in Taiwan for several years. I find it impossible to ignore the stench while trying to force it down my gullet. And what a stench it is! Just the other week at one of my workplaces, a staff member brought in a 臭豆腐弁当, and the smell permeated almost the entire floor of the building.
On a more serious note, the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ ran an editorial today on Saturday's elections for the Taiwanese legislature ("Taiwan votes for change" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ed20080115a1.html). The column starts out by looking at things optimistically:
"The results could be good for Taiwan if all parties recognize the message in this ballot and adjust their policies accordingly. If, however, it is seen as just another swing in the political pendulum and another excuse for settling scores, then the KMT (Kuomintang/Guomindang) 中国国民党 will face the very same humiliation the next time it goes to the polls."
The editorial then analyzes why the Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党, under the chairmanship of President Chen Shui-bian (Chin Suihen) 陳水扁 took such a drubbing:
"The elections are in many ways a referendum on Mr. Chen's administration...The KMT campaign focused on the island's economic troubles, arguing that Mr. Chen's agenda aggravated Taiwan's ills — erecting barriers to trade with (China) was thought to be particularly damaging — and diverted government attention from matters of real significance to voters. The DPP was also hurt by several corruption scandals that involved members of Mr. Chen's family, and undermined the party's longtime claim that it was clean, unlike the KMT."
Next, the article looks toward the upcoming presidential elections:
"The question now is whether the DPP candidate in the March ballot, Mr. Frank Hsieh (Sha Chōtei) 謝長廷, can correct the party's image and tack back toward the center by the vote. Hardliners worried that Mr. Hsieh was not a true believer and tried to lock in their pro-independence platform to ensure that Mr. Hsieh would not be able to move back to the center. Last weekend's vote suggests staying the course would be political suicide but ideologues prefer purity to victory and are ready to give other reasons for the DPP shellacking in the poll."
And one of those reasons seems to be my homeland:
"One ready scapegoat is the United States. Pro-independence activists denounce U.S. President George W. Bush ジョージ・Ｗ．ブッシュ as ready to do China's bidding to ensure Beijing's support on other international issues, such as the denuclearization talks with North Korea or dealing with Iran. Washington's failure to back Taiwan's independence agenda is seen as a failure of will and a readiness to sell out an ally. In short they argue, Mr. Chen, the DPP and Taiwan as a whole have been the victims of U.S. perfidy."
The JT's editorial staff, however, is buying none of this:
"Many Taiwanese were unnerved by the negative U.S. reaction to Mr. Chen and his agenda. The downturn in relations between the island and its most important backer turned many voters against the DPP. But Mr. Chen only has himself to blame. He has pushed his pro-independence program knowing full well that it was alienating his biggest supporter. The backlash has now alienated voters as well."
The editorial concludes by saying:
"While the KMT was expected to best the DPP, the size of the victory was a surprise and represents a repudiation of the party...Indeed, the most important lesson from this election is the need to focus on governing, not politics. Had Mr. Chen made good on promises to improve the lives of Taiwanese and not been distracted by the virulence of politics as usual in Taipei, he would have left a far more positive legacy — for Taiwan and his party. Last weekend's vote is a warning to all of Taiwan's politicians to put their people first."
Even with a new, revamped legislature, I don't think this is going to happen anytime soon.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Monday’s online edition of the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 has two articles on the outcome of Saturday’s legislative elections in Taiwan. The first, “DPP facing daunting task/Taiwan party must rebuild for March presidential poll after defeat” http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080114TDY04310.htm, begins by stating:
“The landslide victory scored by Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang (Guomindang) 中国国民党 in a legislative election Saturday has dealt a stunning blow to President Chen Shui-bian's (Chin Suihen) 陳水扁 ruling Democratic Progress(ive) Party 民主進歩党, which is seeking to win the March 22 presidential election. Chen, who completes his second and final four-year term in May, announced his resignation as DPP chairman to take responsibility for the crushing defeat. The onus is now on DPP presidential candidate Hsieh Chang-ting (Sha Chōtei) 謝長廷, a former premier, to rebuild the party in the run-up to the presidential poll.”
The article also highlights the dangers Taiwan’s electorate has created for itself by concentrating so much power in the hands of a single political party, especially one with a long, anti-democratic history like that of the KMT:
“The Nationalist Party now has more than the 76 seats--two-thirds of the total--required to call a motion to dismiss a president. The party is therefore expected to dominate the legislature for the next four years. Furthermore, if the Kuomintang can persuade just four legislators from other parties to cooperate, it will have more than three-quarters of the seats, a position that will enable it to amend the Constitution.”
Welcome to a brave new world, Taiwan. The article itself is not written very well. For example, it refers to Kaohsiung (Gaosyong) 高雄県 and Yunlin 雲林県 counties as “prefectures”, and includes a paragraph about how Chen may do something to “provoke” China in a desperate attempt to turn the tables in time for the March 22 presidential election.
The other Taiwan-related piece in the Yomiuri is much better. “Taiwan opposition win bears close watching” http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/editorial/20080114TDY04312.htm is the headline of Monday’s editorial. Unlike the first article, this column is more optimistic about the DPP’s chances in the race for president:
“...we doubt this major victory (in the legislative elections) will be reflected in the presidential election. In Taiwan, a pendulum effect has been observed for years as the victorious party switches from election to election...The key to victory in the presidential election for the DPP is how much momentum the party can regain under the leadership of former Premier Hsieh Chang-ting, the party's presidential candidate, with party members and supporters' sense of crisis as leverage.”
The editorial also points out the risks, however, of the KMT having such a large legislative majority:
“...even if the DPP manages to maintain its hold on the presidency with a come-from-behind victory by Hsieh, its handling of the government will be unsure in the face of opposition control of the legislature. The Nationalist Party now has the right to propose a motion to remove the president as it obtained more than two-thirds of the legislative seats. If the party succeeds in winning the support of independents and controlling more than three-fourths of the seats, it would be possible to change the Constitution. If Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九, the Nationalists' presidential candidate and former party leader, wins the presidential race, the ruling party will totally dominate the administration, bringing back memories of the era when Taiwan was ruled by a Nationalist Party dictatorship.”
The Yomiuri, naturally, looks at all this from a Japanese perspective:
“We wonder what effects the election results will have on the future of Taiwan and the situation in East Asia, where China-Taiwan relations play a vital role. As such developments affect the area's security and economic matters, Japan needs to keep a close eye on the situation as it progresses...At the time of the presidential election, a referendum also will be held on whether the island should join the United Nations 国際連合 as Taiwan, an idea espoused by Chen. China has heightened its readiness against Taiwan as it sees the move as a step toward independence. As the United States and France also oppose the idea, the issue is gaining international attention. Japan declared it may not support the move if it changes the status quo in the relations between China and Taiwan. Given this, Japan should persuade Taiwan not to damage the area's stability.”
It’s interesting how the Yomiuri refers to Hsieh by his Chinese name, and not “Frank”, as most English-language media identify him.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
As it turned out, the Kuomintang's (Guomindang) 中国国民党 victory in yesterday's legislative elections was even bigger than expected - the KMT came away with 81 of the 113 seats. Could this herald the first step in the march toward the creation of a Taiwan Special Administrative Region 台湾特別行政区? God, let's hope not.
I'm not a believer in omens, but it somehow seemed appropriate that the warm, sunny weather we had been having up until yesterday, became overcast, with rain at times, from this morning. Nevertheless, the Kaminoge family pressed ahead with our plan to visit the small town of Erhshui (Ershuei) 二水, in the southeastern corner of Changhua (Jhanghua) County 彰化県. Both "The Rough Guide to Taiwan" and "Lonely Planet Taiwan" recommend Erhshui as a destination due to its cycling course, and its position as the starting point for the scenic Chichi (Jiji) Line 集集線 branch railway. Our original plan was to have taken a train from Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原 to Erhshui, and then rent some kind of tandem bike to use on the bicycle trail. In the end, however, logistical problems (namely, finding a parking spot in downtown Fengyuan for the day, and carrying a stroller on and off a train) led us to drive to Erhshui, and then walk a portion of the bikeway, rather than rent something that could be dangerous for Amber to ride on.
We began by parking our car near Erhshui Station. Following lunch in town, we walked to the start of the sightseeing bicycle route, passing a small train museum along the way.
The route is very easy to follow, and is well-signposted in English. However, it wasn't quite as beautiful as I had imagined it to be, judging by what I had read in both Taiwan guidebooks. The scenery did start to improve, though, the further on we walked. The trail parallels the train tracks for virtually its entire length, and trains were constantly going by at close range. Unfortunately, both my camera and my fingers were too slow to get any really good shots.
Pamela isn't much into walking or rainy weather, so she soon decided to retreat back to the car, leaving me to push Amber along in her stroller. Our daughter, on the other hand, really seemed to enjoy all the scenery.
And the scenery did pick up as we moved along. There were fields of cosmos コスモス and rapeseed アブラナ, and a number of well-preserved traditional houses. Still, I think the views are probably better appreciated from the seat of a moving bicycle than from a slow-moving gait.
The natural scenery was also nice. Amber was especially interested in some of the local insect life.
In the end, Amber and I walked/strolled for about 2 hours, going past the next stop on the Chichi Line, Yuanch'uan (Yuancyuan) 源泉 Station, and almost to the end of the route. It was getting late, however, and rather than walk all the way back to Erhshui, I called Pamela and asked her to pick us up at Yuanchuan. From there, we drove back home to Fengyuan.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
It's election day in Taiwan. Voting was held between 8am and 4pm for seats in the newly-revamped legislature 立法府, and ballot counting is already underway as I write this. My wife did her civic duty this afternoon at a local elementary school 小学校 in Shenkang (Shengang) 神岡, while my daughter and I took a walk through the school grounds. Today's online edition of the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 has an article on the elections depressingly entitled "Pro-China party leading Taiwan poll/Opposition Kuomintang may gain single-party majority in Saturday's election" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080112TDY05309.htm. The story begins by saying:
"Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party 中国国民党...has maintained a lead over the ruling Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党 in the run-up to Saturday's legislative election, raising the possibility it could scoop a single-party majority in the 113-seat parliament. The poll is viewed as an indication of the mood of the electorate just ahead of the island's presidential election scheduled for March. By criticizing the government's economic policy missteps and corruption, the KMT (Kuomintang/Guomindang) tapped into voter discontent with DPP President Chen Shui-bian's (Chin Suihen) 陳水扁 eight-year rule. The DPP is facing a tough campaign even in its traditional strongholds in the southern part of the island."
The article also provides an explanation of the new look in this round of balloting:
"For this election, (Taiwan) has introduced a system that combines single-seat constituencies with proportional representation, with the number of seats to be contested almost halved to 113 from the previous 225. The DPP set its victory or defeat bar at 45 seats, a number that represents about half of the 89 seats won by the party in the previous legislative election in 2004. However, some observers expect the party will not even reach 40 seats."
The KMT, smelling blood, has:
"...intensified its campaign in the central and southern parts of the island, where the so-called Taiwan natives, who commonly vote for the DPP, hold a majority, in an attempt to win the 57 seats needed to achieve a single-party majority."
In all likelihood, the KMT will gain an overwhelming majority in the new-look legislature, and the momentum may carry its presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九, to victory in the presidential polls in March. If the voters of Taiwan want to put in power an authoritarian party with strong ties to gangsters 暴力団 that will work to end Taiwan's existence as an independent political entity, that's their business, and they can live with the consequences of their collective decision. However, at the first sign of a rollback in Taiwan's hard-earned democracy, and/or its deliverance into the clutches of the Chinese government (as long as the latter remains an authoritarian one-party dictatorship), I will take my family and get the hell out of Dodge.
Looking on the bright side of things, though, I did have the day off from work because of the election. In addition to going out to vote, we also stopped off at my in-laws' 姻せき home, where I took my daughter Amber to play at a nearby park. Here are some photographs I took while we were outside today:
I'm in love with this (what I'm guessing is an) old Japanese-era 日本統治時代 building. It sits on the property of a large supermarket called Mega that shut its doors a few months ago, so the fate of this building is probably doomed. I wish I could somehow raise the money to buy the structure and the land it sits on, and then restore it to its former glory, but unless I get lucky and win the lottery, that ain't gonna happen.
Amber sees what my Los Angeles Angels ロサンゼレス・エンゼルス cap looks like on her grandmother おばあさん, and enjoys herself on a slide 滑り台 in the park.
I wrote about this building a long time ago http://kaminoge.livejournal.com/11062.html, and received one of those cowardly anonymous comments that those who are not as confident in their views as they believe themselves to be like to leave on other people's blogs. In this case, it's a local outpost of Soka Gakkai International 創価学会. Back in October 2006 there was only one SG flag flying from the rooftop. Now there are about 11. It seems that both the political party and so-called "Buddhist" group I've really grown to despise over the years are unfortunately flourishing in Taiwan.
Finally, though, some good news. We have found a cat!
Pamela brought him home yesterday from a veterinarian 獣医 in T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中. He's six months old, and by coincidence, his birthday is the same date as our wedding anniversary. He's still feeling nervous about his new surroundings, and Amber has been a little too enthusiastic about the newest member of our family, but I'm sure he will quickly adjust. One thing we haven't settled on yet is his name. Pamela is calling him "Happy", from the Mandarin 中国語 words "Heip'i (Heipi)" 黒皮, or "Black skin". I, on the other hand, want to name him "Neko", which is the Japanese word for "cat" 猫. Amber, meanwhile, has been calling him "Cleo", because in her eyes, he looks like one of my parents' cats. Any suggestions are welcome!
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
It's been one year since Taiwan's high speed rail network began operating, and the Daily Yomiuri has an article today on the milestone http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/world/20080109TDY05301.htm:
"The Taiwan High Speed Rail train, which started operating Jan. 5, 2007, connects Taipei 台北 in the north to Kaohsiung 高雄 in the south, and by the end of last year passenger numbers had exceeded 15.55 million."
Taiwan's venture into bullet trains has attracted some attention in Japan as this is the first time that Japan's shinkansen technology has been put into use outside the country (Japan also has its fair share of trainspotters). The article points out both the successes:
"...contrary to critics' expectations, there have been no major safety errors over the last year."
and the failures:
"...on a financial level, business is bad. Passenger numbers are about half the 110,000 to 120,000 customers needed each day to generate a profit. Potential patrons complain that the train's stations are too far from the city center and that fares are too high."
I would like to ride the shinkansen one of these days, but as the story indicates, the stations are not very convenient. The closest bullet train stop to Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原, for example, is in the small town of Wujih (Wurih) 烏日, outside the T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中 city limits. For us to go to T'aipei (Taibei), we would first have to take a train south to Wujih from Fengyuan, then transfer to a high-speed train for the trip north. There are shinkansen stations in Japan that are located out in the boonies, but for the most part, the connections by regular train and bus from such stops into the cities is smooth. This is most likely due to the fact that the bullet trains are part of the overall Japan Railways Group (JR). In Taiwan, the regular train service and the high speed rail are operated by separate companies in competition with each other: the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) 台湾鉄路管理局 for the former, and Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) 台湾高速鉄道 the latter. There is also the possibility that Taiwan just may be too compact for a shinkansen system to be profitable. Only time will tell.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Things have warmed up again after last week's cold snap. This, plus the continuing clear weather, and the fact that Amber has resumed her Monday water familiarization classes, led me to get out of the apartment this afternoon and go for a walk before my evening classes. Instead of heading to the familiar trails of Chung-cheng (Jhong-jheng) Park 中正公園, I opted to go for a stroll along the Houfeng Bikeway. Last October, Amber, Pamela and I rented a bicycle (if you could call it that!), and rode the 9-kilometer (5.6-mile) round-trip route in about 90 minutes http://kaminoge.livejournal.com/50023.html. Today, on foot, it took me about 2 hours to go from Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原 to Houli 后里, and back to Fengyuan again. I was surprised at the number of cyclists out on a Monday afternoon, but it felt good to be out in the sunshine.
The start of the route is clearly signposted in English.
The "Iron Bridge Over Da-Jia Greek". I tried to make sense of the English wording on the sign, but you could say it was all Greek to me (rim shot).
Walking through Tunnel No. 9 wasn't as bad as I had expected. The lighting was decent, and I had the foresight to bring a flashlight along. It took about 20 minutes to walk from the tunnel entrance (just past the bridge) to the other end in Houli. Inside the tunnel are several pictures related to the train line that used to operate on this route. A couple of the displays had been taken from Japanese-language publications, and still had the Japanese captions beneath the photographs:
The wording under the photo on the left reads セメント注入の準備（第九號隧道）or "Semento chūnyū no jumbi (Daikyūgō suidō)", which means "Preparation for cement injection (No. 9 Tunnel)", while the Japanese under the picture on the right says 抗門コンクリート施工中の第九號隧道北口 or "Kōmon konkuriito sekōchū no daikyūgō suidō kitaguchi", which can be translated into English as something like "Anti-gate concrete operations being carried out at the north entrance to the No. 9 Tunnel".
Emerging on the Houli side, I walked to the end of the trail. After a fruitless attempt at photographing trains going by on the newer west coast rail line, I retraced my steps back to Fengyuan, passing through the tunnel again, and crossing over the "Da-Jia Greek" via the iron bridge.
A paper mill 製糸工場 in the distant haze.
After returning to my scooter, I headed for home. On the way, I paused to take a couple of pictures of this Taoist temple 道観 called Taming Kung (Daming Gong) 大明宮. The only thing of note about this temple is that my mother-in-law 義理の母 often helps out here on auspicious days.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Miaodong video 1
Miaodong video 2
Miaodong video 2
I took these videos a few months ago, but only now just got around to posting them on my page at Veoh http://www.veoh.com/users/Solons. Miaotung is a narrow street adjacent to Fengyuan's (Fongyuan) 豊原 main Matsu (Mazu) 媽祖 temple, and is full of small food stands. On weekday evenings and weekends, the street can be packed with people (Miaotung is probably Fengyuan's one and only claim to fame among the Taiwanese populace). The film quality isn't that good, and the images are shaky at times (I was holding the digital camera in the palm of my hand in a feeble attempt at surreptitious filming), but they do give you an idea of how crowded and noisy things can get in a small Taiwanese city (and this was taken before the evening dinner rush).
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Eventually I reached the terminus of the bike path. Here, a section of the old track has been left in place. On the platform marking the site of the old Taya station, someone was drying something that appeared to be daikon ダイコン, though I couldn't be too sure. I guess some people take "public property" literally.
I'm normally busy on Thursday mornings, but the student I usually teach during that time was occupied this week. So I used the unexpected free time that I had (not to mention the clear skies and relatively warmer temperatures today) to complete my walk of the Tanyashen Bikeway.
I began by riding my scooter direct to the old Shenkang (Shengang) 神岡 train station, a 15-minute drive from my apartment. After parking the scooter, I began by walking towards T'antzu (Tanzih) 潭子, and the temple where I turned back on my previous walk on this trail. It felt good to be out in the crisp, winter morning air.
Along the way, I passed by a new-looking house that seemed to hark back to Japanese colonial-era architectural styles, and a small enclosure that contained a sleeping pig and two ostriches ガチョウ. I also walked under the tracks to Taiwan's High Speed Rail 台湾高速鉄道 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan_High_Speed_Rail, the local version of the Shinkansen 新幹線. Several trains passed by in both directions during the 2 hours I was out walking this morning. It took only 15 minutes to reach the temple, whereupon I then turned around and headed back to Shenkang. From there, I started the walk towards the end of Tanyashen Bikeway, the old rail station in Taya (Daya) 大雅, 3.6 kilometers (2.2 miles) from Shenkang .
There were a few cyclists and walkers out on the trail in the middle of the morning, but the road was empty most of the time. The rapeseed アブラナ fields were a pleasant site, especially with all the butterflies flitting about.
At one point in the town of Taya, the bikeway crosses a busy street and then enters an old neighborhood. Here, bicycles have to share the narrow road with cars, scooters and residents. Fortunately, things were very quiet this morning, with the exception of the air force jets coming in for landings overhead. The noise was deafening. I tried to get some pictures of the low-flying planes, but my camera was just too slow. On the other hand, I did get a shot of a cat that wasn't going anywhere fast, just sunning itself on the seat of a scooter. Cats have been a bone of contention recently in the Kaminoge household. Ever since our old friend Chiou-chiou passed away last November, I have been wanting to get a new cat. In fact, I was hoping we could find one as soon as we got back from the States, but one month after our return, we are still a feline-less home. I had a line a couple of weeks ago on what I thought was an adorable black kitten with white paws, but my wife put the kabosh on that at the last minute, saying she wanted an all-black cat. I suspect superstition was involved, as cats and dogs with black bodies and white feet are considered unlucky in Taiwan, but Pamela denies that was the reason for her rejection of the kitten. In any event, she who must be obeyed has decided that we must wait until after the Lunar New Year 旧正月 before getting another cat.
Eventually I reached the terminus of the bike path. Here, a section of the old track has been left in place. On the platform marking the site of the old Taya station, someone was drying something that appeared to be daikon ダイコン, though I couldn't be too sure. I guess some people take "public property" literally.
On the way back to Shenkang and my scooter, I made a brief detour to walk through an adjacent cemetery. Some bemused obasans rode by, campaigning for a local Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党 candidate.
Back at the old Shenkang station, I managed to get a picture of a bullet train speeding by (look closely and you can see it), before getting on my scooter and going home. I can now scratch another bike trail off my list of routes to explore on foot.