Thursday, November 27, 2008
I turned on CNN this morning, and the events taking place in Mumbai ムンバイ were receiving non-stop coverage. Curious, I flipped through the nine (count 'em, nine!) local news channels on the cable here several times during the morning (and evening, after I got home from work), and not a single one of them devoted any time to what was happening in India. Clearly, events that occur outside of the Taiwan Strait 台湾海峡 are of little interest to the average Taiwanese viewer, who would rather tune in to stories about jailed former presidents, car accidents and betel nut girls (hard to find fault with the last one). I often hear my adult students bemoan how little known Taiwan is to the outside world. However, the fact is that if you want the outside world to pay attention to you, you have to pay attention to what is going on in the outside world. Ignorance is a two-way street in this case.
Below is a picture I took today of a children's program on NHK 日本放送協会. Amber likes to watch this show during lunchtime on weekdays. What caught my attention was the shirt the woman was wearing - "Grateful Dead Forever":
She isn't what I imagine a female Japanese Deadhead to look like. And, no, the hosts weren't performing "St. Stephen" or "Truckin'", though the latter song does some up my time in Asia. What a long, strange trip it's been.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I got up early this morning to go for a walk in Shihgang (Shihkang/Sekigan) 石岡, and afterward I decided never again. The first part of the walk, from the Shihjhong Temple up to the "Divine Tree of Five Blessings" was relaxing enough, with nice views of the valley below, though it was hardly strenuous. It was the route back to the temple, along a specially-paved walking path, that was most unpleasant. The bane of walkers in Taiwan is dogs, and I had to run a gauntlet of chained and unchained, snarling, barking canines. Though I am a cat person, I have nothing against man's best friend, and I like playing with happy dogs as much as the next person. What I don't like is having to deal with aggressive beasts when I'm minding my own business. I was forced to aim a kick at one brazen beagle ビーグル who came charging out at me from a fruit orchard. The most annoying part is the majority of these mutts are cowards. Oh sure, when they're chained up, they put on a brave show of "scaring" me away. The unchained ones wait until I walk past, then try to snap at my heels, only to run away when I turn around to face them (not unlike some people I've encountered in Taiwan!). If the local authorities have gone to the trouble and expense of laying out a walking course through a rural neighborhood, they could also try to persuade the locals to do a better job of keeping their dogs in check (and on leashes). Having gone through this a couple of times now on this particular walk, I've come to the conclusion that the rewards are not enough to justify the stress, and so I won't bother coming this way again.
On the ride back home, I stopped to take a photograph of a Japanese-era granary 穀倉, or the "Rice Husking Barn of Shi-Kon-Shiang Farmers' Association", according to the sign in front. There seemed to be some confusion about dates, or a possible break in the space-time continuum, as it stated that the barn was "Established in 1942", yet "After Attacked by the big earthquake in 1935, the structure of the barn was reinforced". So in other words, it was repaired and strengthened seven years before it was built. The Chinese wording also included the same dates. Mysterious 不可解なあ...
Monday, November 17, 2008
"The Uni-President Lions 統一セブンイレブン・ライオンズ kept the Seibu Lions 埼玉西武ライオンズ caged for 8 2/3 innings. But with their backs against the wall, Tomoaki Satō 佐藤友亮 and the Japan Series champions roared loudest in the end. Satō lined a sayonara double into left-center field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Yoshihito Ishii 石井義人 beat the relay throw home as the Seibu Lions won the Asia Series アジアシリーズ title in dramatic fashion with a 1-0 win on Sunday at Tōkyō Dome 東京ドーム."
(Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ "Asia falls to mighty Lions" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/sb20081117j1.html)
For the fourth consecutive year, a Japanese team has clinched the Asia Series club championship, but the baseball gap between Japan and the rest of East Asia is narrowing. The next edition of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) ワールド・ベースボール・クラシック should be exciting to watch as well. The Uni-President Lions, however, return to Taiwan to face as uncertain future as the viability of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) 中華職業棒球大聯盟 is in doubt over yet another gambling scandal. Where is Taiwan's Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis ケネソー・マウンテン・ランディス?
Sunday, November 16, 2008
A while back, my wife signed our daughter up for a learning program that is supposed to encourage a child's mental and physical development. We received some playthings, plus periodic classes and activity days were offered. One of those activities was held this morning in Taichung (T'aichung/Taichū) 台中. There were obstacle courses full of things for kids to climb up, walk across, crawl through and roll over, plus story-telling and dancing. Amber enjoyed doing the individual exercises but showed a worrisome reluctance to participate in the group activities (much like her father, unfortunately). Still, she said she had a lot of fun, and that's what matters the most. Here she is at the end, with the rubber tiger hat and box of cakes that all the children received for coming today:
The three of us were pretty hungry afterward, so we drove over to a nearby Géant hypermarket 総合スーパー to have lunch. Our first choice was a Japanese restaurant there called Gen Teishoku 元定食. I sat down and ordered the tonkatsu set meal 豚カツ定食, only to be told it was already sold out (before 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon?). As nothing else on the menu looked appetizing enough to justify the prices being charged, we moved on to a teppanyaki 鉄板焼き establishment across the food court to have a more reasonably priced lunch.
From Géant it was another short drive to the cleverly-named Children's Hall and Children's Park, located in the Beitun (Peit'un/Hokuton) District 北屯区 of Taichung. Unimaginative nomenclature aside, the park is a well-laid out expanse containing several playgrounds, a baseball field and tennis court, and a large fish pond, while the three-story hall provides a library, art and crafts rooms and a couple of indoor play spaces. Amber enjoyed herself playing on the slides and in the sandbox. She also made friends with a couple of girls. As the parent of an only child who has few opportunities to interact with other children, I worry about her ability to get along with others. If this afternoon was any indication, she should be fine once she's old enough to start school.
Either way, the Lions will win. As the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 reports (Seibu sweats it out / Rips Tianjin, then earns berth in final when Uni-President whips unbeaten Wyverns http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/20081116TDY24301.htm):
"The Saitama Seibu Lions 埼玉西武ライオンズ scored a tournament-record 16 runs Saturday afternoon and clinched a spot in today's Asia Series アジアシリーズ final, when Taiwan's Uni-President Lions 統一セブンイレブン・ライオンズ eliminated South Korea's SK Wyverns SKワイバーンズ in a furious final day of preliminary play...Seibu's Takeya Nakamura 中村剛也 hit a tie-breaking, three-run homer as the Japan champs whipped China's Tianjin Lions 天津ライオンズ 16-2, then awaited the outcome of the late game...Liu Fu-hao hit a pair of three-run home runs as Taiwan's Uni-President came from behind to beat the previosly unbeaten SK Wyverns...In today's final, Seibu will face Uni-President, which it beat 2-1 on Thursday."
It should be a good game.
One thing (among many) that I still can't fathom about Taiwan is the depth of antagonism felt towards Korea and Koreans. In sports like baseball, for example, when a Taiwanese team plays a Japanese team, Taiwanese fans expect their side to be defeated (which makes a victory that much sweeter). But when it comes to facing a Korean opponent, teeth are bared in a grudge match, and a loss can leave a very bitter feeling. I don't really know why. There isn't much of a historical rivalry between the two countries as far as I can tell, but saying the word "Korea" seems to generate some strong emotions among the Taiwanese. My wife says its because of the way Korean teams play, but I'm not sure what she means by that. It goes beyond sports, because in virtually all of my adult classes, there will be at least one student who will say that he/she would never even think of visiting Korea because they can't stand the people, for example. What makes things even more difficult to understand is that Korean TV dramas are very popular in Taiwan, and kimchi キムチ is eaten often as a side dish at meals. Japan, the former colonial master, is still held in high regard by many (non-mainlander) Taiwanese, both young and old, yet South Korea is apparently despised by many, despite the only sin I'm aware of is the breaking of diplomatic relations in 1992 (and the Koreans certainly aren't unique in that regard!). So what is it, then?
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Taiwan's Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions 統一セブンイレブン・ライオンズ went up against Japan's Saitama Seibu Lions 埼玉西武ライオンズ in yesterday's Asia Series アジアシリーズ baseball action. The Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 has the results (Kishi shines in inter-Lion duel http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/20081115TDY24103.htm):
"Takayuki Kishi 岸孝之 failed to go the distance but won a crucial pitchers' duel on Friday to keep the Saitama Seibu Lions' chances alive in the Asia Series at Tōkyō Dome 東京ドーム. Kishi allowed a run in eight innings to outduel Pan Wei-lun (P'an Wei-lun) 潘威倫 in Seibu's 2-1 victory over their Taiwanese namesakes, the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions. Kishi, who threw 120 pitches after tossing 238 over a four-day span during the recently completed Japan Series 日本選手権シリーズ, said overwork was not a concern."
Pitchers in Japan ARE notoriously overworked, and many promising hurlers have had their careers cut short due to injury as a result. Kishi seems to realize this:
"Kishi, asked if he'd be ready for the final despite throwing 358 pitches over nine days, said: 'Forget about it.'"
The Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ also reported on the same game (Kishi, timely hits lift Seibu http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/sb20081115j1.html):
"The Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions proved that Seibu Lions pitcher Takayuki Kishi can be scored upon. Beating him, however, is still a work in progress. Kishi was in postseason form and Hiroyuki Ohshima 大島裕行 and Shōgo Akada 赤田将吾 provided the run support as Seibu won a tight battle of Lions 2-1 on Friday night at Tōkyō Dome. The Japan Series MVP allowed one run and struck out 10 over eight innings to earn the win."
The President Lions also had a tough time a couple of nights ago in their opening game in the Asia Series, beating China's Tianjin Lions 天津ライオンズ 7-4 on a three-run walk-off home run. Taiwanese teams have had trouble beating their Chinese opponents in recent competitions. I suspect the Taiwanese players fail to take the upstarts from China seriously enough, while the Chinese players must have a strong motivation to show the Taiwanese that they, too, can play what is still Taiwan's national game. Tianjin's 15-0 drubbing at the hands of South Korea's SK Wyverns SKワイバーンズ last night certainly haf all the hallmarks of a letdown following an exciting, pumped-up match the previous night.
Meanwhile, the top news story in Taiwan the past few days has been the arrest of former president Chen Shui-bian (Ch'en Shui-pien/Chin Suihen) 陳水扁. The Japan Times weighs in with an editorial in today's edition (Test for Taiwan's judiciary http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ed20081115a2.html):
"Mr. Chen Shui-bian, an advocate of pro-independence policies vis-a-vis China, symbolized the democratization of Taiwan by winning a presidential election in March 2000. His victory ended the monopoly rule of the Nationalist Party 中国国民党, which opposes any moves to formally declare Taiwan's independence. He served two terms as Taiwan's president until May 2008. His arrest this week on suspicion of corruption is a political blow to the Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党, which Mr. Chen had led. The DPP has been trying to recover lost ground since its rout in the legislative election of January 2008 and the presidential election of March 2008. But the arrest is not something to savor for the Nationalist Party since it could sharpen antagonisms between it and the opposition DPP...Mr. Chen was arrested on five counts of suspicions, including illegal use of the special presidential fund for diplomacy and irregularities in a land transaction. The Taipei District Court allowed the public prosecutors to arrest him since he potentially faces imprisonment of five years or more if convicted and he may destroy evidence."
Personally, I'm sick and tired of this story, but many Taiwanese can't seem to get enough of it. My wife, for example, was glued to the TV set for a couple of days, following all the developments. I tried changing the channel to CNN, to show her that there is actually a world out there beyond the courthouse in Taipei (T'aipei/Taihoku) 台北, and with stories of greater importance going on, but to no avail. When I lived in Japan, I used to complain about the narrow-minded focus of international news reporting, in which breaking news was seemingly only given coverage when it involved Japanese people. However, Taiwan's many news stations are even more parochial in their outlook. Virtually the only stories related to foreign countries on these news shows are those concerning things that are amusing, odd or ridiculous. No wonder why my otherwise intelligent, well-educated adult students (with a few exceptions) are shockingly ignorant about what is going on in the rest of the world. I guess when your culture considers itself the Middle Kingdom (i.e. the center), what happens in the rest of Planet Earth is, for the most part, inconsequential (except when stock markets are concerned!).
Returning to the subject of Chen, the JT concludes its piece by writing:
"When he was moved from the prosecutors' office to the Taipei District Court where a request was to be filed to detain him, Mr. Chen raised his cuffed hands and shouted: 'This is a political persecution, a false charge. Go Taiwan! Go Taiwan!' To prove that Taiwan's democratic foundations are solid, Taiwan's judiciary must ensure the investigation and trial are fair."
Chen is something of a windbag, and an egomaniac to boot, and I'm sure he's guilty of the things he is being charged with doing. But a number of high-level DPP officials have been investigated for corruption since Ma Ying-jeou (Ma Ying-chiu/Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 took over the presidency, and it smacks of political payback time. There are fewer political parties in the world more corrupt or riddled with gangster elements as the KMT, yet none of their politicians are being put on trial. Sad to say, but it's unlikely that Chen's trial will be "fair". Taiwan's young democracy is in trouble, and we appear to be headed towards darker days.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Here in Asia, the baseball season is still not over. The fourth edition of the Asia Series アジアシリーズ, a club competition pitting the champions of the professional leagues in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, gets underway this Thursday at Tōkyō Dome 東京ドーム. The Nippon Professional Baseball 日本プロ野球 champion is the Saitama Seibu Lions 埼玉西武ライオンズ. From the Korea Baseball Organization 韓国野球委員会 comes the SK Wyverns SKワイバーンズ, while the Uni-Presiden 7-Eleven Lions 統一セブンイレブン・ライオンズ will represent Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League 中華職業棒球大聯盟. In the past three tournaments, an all-star team from the China Baseball League 中国野球リーグ played in the series, but this time around, the Tianjin Lions 天津ライオンズ will appear as the league champion. The Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 has a preview of the Asia Series, focusing on Seibu manager Hisanobu Watanabe 渡辺久信, and his experiences playing in Taiwan ("Lions skipper savors Taiwanese ties" http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/20081112TDY24304.htm):
"When Hisanobu Watanabe leads his Japan champion Saitama Seibu Lions into the Asia Series 2008 this week, nostalgia will be in the air...Watanabe will be thinking about the old times. 'It's going to be fun...I was in Taiwan for three years. I learned a lot about the history, about the culture. It's really fascinating.' Although he said the experience enriched his life, his only goal for going to Taiwan in 1999 was work. 'I was just going to coach, to teach. It was a job,' said the first-year Seibu skipper, whose club wrapped up the Japan Series 日本選手権シリーズ title on Sunday. 'I doubt if I'll know anyone. It was a different league a different setup. So much has changed.' Although the Lions manager often speaks with right-handed reliever Hsu Ming-chieh 許銘傑 in Chinese, the skipper said his language skills are slipping. 'My Chinese is pretty bad now,' he said. 'In my lessons, I studied Mandarin 中国官話. But when people in Taiwan heard me speak, they thought I sounded like a native Cantonese 広東語 speaker with a heavy accent.'"
I don't have that problem. When people in Taiwan hear me speak, they can't understand what I'm saying at all!
The article also notes how the Asia Series has become more competitive in recent years:
"The Chiba Lotte Marines 千葉ロッテマリーンズ dominated the inaugural tourney in 2005 and the Hokkaidō Nippon Ham Fighters 北海道日本ハムファイターズ won in 2006. Last autumn, the Wyverns became the first club to beat the Japan champ, downing Chūnichi 6-3 in both clubs' opener--although the Chūnichi Dragons 中日ドラゴンズ bounced back to beat the South Korean club 6-5 in the final."
As for the Tianjin team, Watanabe notes:
"'The people in Taiwan must be happy the Chinese national team is not coming, after they beat Taiwan in the Olympics. You know they didn't take that well.'"
They didn't indeed!
In another Taiwan-related news item, the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ has a story on how the Taiwanese legislature is jumping on the comfort women 慰安婦 bandwagon ("Taipei demands redress, apology for sex slaves" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20081112a5.html):
"Taiwan's parliament on Tuesday adopted a resolution seeking an apology and compensation from Japan for forcing women into sexual slavery during the war. In a rare show of unity, the island's ruling and opposition parties passed by a unanimous vote the Taiwan Comfort Women Resolution, calling on Tōkyō to 'accept historical responsibility for its World War II sex slavery institution, and apologize to and compensate surviving victims.' The United States and European Union passed resolutions last year calling on Tōkyō to own up to its wartime military brothel program that forced thousands of women and girls to become prostitutes, euphemistically referred to as 'comfort women' in Japan...Taiwan's parliament, or Legislative Yuan 中華民国立法院, timed the resolution to roughly coincide with a similar resolution passed by South Korea's National Assembly 国会（大韓民国） last month...That resolution calls on Japan to compensate surviving comfort women in South Korea."
Unlike my Sinophile colleague Ivan, I'm not about to whitewash the darker aspects of the country I'm deeply interested in. Unlike Germany, Japan has done a poor job in coming to terms with the atrocities its troops committed in the years leading up to and during the Second World War 第二次世界大戦, and that includes the comfort women issue. But why is that most articles on the subject fail to mention the Kono Statement 河野談話 or the Asia Women's Fund アジア女性基金?
The Kono Statement was issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yōhei Kōno 河野洋平 on August 4, 1993. It recognized that:
"'Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military of the day', that 'The Japanese military was directly or indirectly involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of the women', 'The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. (A) Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will through coaxing and coercion'. The government of Japan 'sincerely apologizes and [expresses its] remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable psychological wounds'. In the statement, the government of Japan expressed its 'firm determination never to repeat the same mistake and that they would engrave such issue through the study and teaching of history'."
It may not be the blanket apology demanded by so many, but it is still an acknowledgment of the existence of comfort women and an expression of remorse, yet it is almost never mentioned by the supporters of the women pressed into prostitution. Neither is the Asia Women's Fund. According to the Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfort_women#Asia_Women.27s_Fund):
"In 1995 Japan set up an 'Asia Women's Fund' for atonement in the form of material compensation and to provide each surviving comfort woman with a signed apology from the then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama 村山富市, stating 'As Prime Minister of Japan 内閣総理大臣, I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.' The fund is funded by private donations and not government money, and has been criticized as a way to avoid admitting government abuse. But because of the unofficial nature of the fund, many comfort women have rejected these payments and continue to seek an official apology and compensation."
If Murayama's statement is not an official expression of apology, then I don't know what is. As long as there is still no consensus on the war within Japanese society (as the recent furor over remarks by the now-sacked Air Self-Defense Force 航空自衛隊 Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami 田母神俊雄 revealed), the comfort women are unlikely to ever receive what they are seeking from the Japanese government, and their sufferings will continue to be used by their representatives in government to score political points at home. One more sad fact that rarely gets mentioned is how the Chinese and Korean governments waived the rights of their citizens to get individual compensation from the Japanese government when relations between the countries were normalized (in 1972 and 1965, respectively). Yet they still encourage victims to file lawsuits in Japanese courts, even though such legal action rarely meets with success.
If anyone is interested, I recommend reading "The Wages of Guilt" (http://www.amazon.com/Wages-Guilt-Memories-Germany-Japan/dp/0452011566/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226508750&sr=1-1), by Ian Buruma イアン・ブルマ. It's an excellent study of the memories of the war in both Germany and Japan, and goes a long way towards explaining why the Japanese still struggle today over what occurred all those years ago.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ can't understand why many people in Taiwan are less than happy about the growing rapprochement between this island and China, in its editorial "Historic visit to Taiwan" (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ed20081111a1.html):
"The Taiwan Strait 台湾海峡 continues to narrow. Last week witnessed the highest-level contacts between Taiwan and mainland China since the 1949 civil war 国共内戦. The visit of Mr. Chen Yunlin (Ch'en Yunlin) to Taipei (T'aipei/Taihoku) 台北 continues the bridge-building between the two sides and is a step forward in the eyes of all who seek peace and stability in the region. Remarkably, though, significant numbers of Taiwanese oppose reconciliation; their bitter opposition to talks with China is a troubling sign for cross-strait relations and Taiwan's own politics."
After correctly noting that China refused to have anything to do with the previous administration of Chen Shui-bian (Ch'en Shui-pien/Chin Suihen) 陳水扁 (and thankfully refraining from calling Chen "provocative", as so many other Western news media outlets have done) "for fear of legitimizing him, his party and their agenda", the editorial goes on to say:
"The victory of Mr. Ma Ying-jeou (Ma Ying-chiu/Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 in presidential elections earlier this year shifted the cross-strait dynamic. Mr. Ma is a member of the Kuomintang 中国国民党, which has a more moderate agenda and seeks a stable relationship with China. Mr. Ma took office pledging to rejuvenate the sputtering Taiwanese economy, rebuild relations with the United States, which had suffered during Mr. Chen's time in office, and stabilize relations with China, primarily to help boost the economy. China reciprocated to Mr. Ma's olive branch. Within weeks of his taking office, the two sides agreed to regular charter flights that expanded the number of flights and destinations and let more mainland tourists come to Taiwan. The atmosphere changed: There has been a sense that the cross-strait relationship is on the right path and that additional stabilizing and mutually beneficial steps are possible. Mr. Chen's visit was intended to realize those opportunities."
As anyone who has been following the story knows by now, the promised hordes of Chinese tourists (up to 3000 per day, we were told, roughly the current number of daily visitors from Japan and Korea) have failed to materialize yet. In all the hoopla, it was somehow overlooked that many Chinese tourists might not want to join pricey package tours to Taiwan just to see the same things (lakes, mountains, temples etc.) that they can see back home. Nevertheless, the editorial goes on to point out the agreements reached during Chen's visit to Taiwan - more direct charter flights, increased postal and shipping links, cooperation on food safety - and how they will benefit the Taiwanese business community:
"They (Taiwanese businesspeople) see their future interlinked with the mainland market. The new flights should help cut the costs of cross-strait business: Changes in routing, permitting more direct flights, will reduce travel time by as much as an hour and could halve fuel costs. Increasing traffic across the strait will require subsidiary cost-cutting measures: expedited travel procedures, insurance, easier ways to exchange money. And a relationship that has been drained of much of its tension and is more stable is more conducive for business as well as a net plus for the entire region."
Those who have read a few economics books while at Rocky Mountain colleges might not agree, but how can making Taiwan even more dependent on the Chinese market than it already is (and further increasing the hollowing out of Taiwanese industry) be for the overall good of the 23 million people on this island? The JT doesn't see it this way either, however:
"Incredibly, thousands, if not millions, of Taiwanese do not agree. Independence supporters deeply oppose Mr. Ma and any improvement in relations. They fear he will compromise Taiwan's (de facto) independence and give up many of the island's gains. For his part, Mr. Ma has insisted that he will safeguard Taiwan's sovereignty: He has said the two sides must meet in an atmosphere of mutual respect and not 'mutually deny' the other's existence. He pledged that there will be no discussions of reunification during his term in office."
George W. Bush ジョージ・W・ブッシュ, upon assuming the presidency in 2001, promised a more compassionate conservatism, an end to bi-partisanship and greater multi-lateralism in foreign relations. Instead, his administration will leave behind a legacy of ideology-driven policies, a unilateralist foreign policy that has isolated the U.S., and a divided nation. Many here in Taiwan are afraid that Ma's promises will amount to nothing, and that this country is heading down to a path that will eventually lead to a surrender of sovereignty and the assumption of a status similar to that of Hong Kong 香港 or Macau マカオ.
Towards the end of the editorial, the Times' writers inadvertently point out a problem that bedevils Taiwan's opposition:
"A reported half million Taiwanese demonstrated against Mr. Ma late last month. When Mr. Chen's deputy visited Taiwan more than a week ago, he was physically assaulted by protesters. Thousands of protesters provided a steady cacophony throughout Mr. Chen's visit, throwing eggs and bottles, confronting police and disrupting his schedule by virtually trapping him in a hotel where he was having dinner. He has been mocked on television and dogged in the streets. Protest is one thing; disrespect for visitors is another. These images sent across the world do not help Taiwan's cause."
What would help Taiwan's cause is an effort at greater public relations with regard to the international media. The pro-independence forces here have legitimate concerns with the direction in which Taiwan is headed, and the broken promises and backtracking of the Ma administration is a major cause of the violence. Yet little of that gets reported in the Western media. The Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党 and its allies need to break out of their insular mindset, and look beyond to the outside world to find sympathy and understanding for their opposition to what the KMT is doing. There is a propaganda war going on, and the Chinese/Nationalist camp is clearly winning.
My daughter makes cute in front of a bank of machines that dispense plastic balls containing various types of toys inside. The machines are from Japan, and the writing on the front is almost entirely in 日本語. It should come as no surprise, however, that Taiwanese kids have no problem figuring out what is inside the dispenser.
The above picture was taken at the general hospital in Fengyuan (Hōgen) 豊原. I went there this afternoon as I've been suffering from vertigo 空間識失調 for the past week or so. After conducting several tests (including one where I had to face the wall with my eyes closed, and march in place for sixty steps. When I opened my eyes, I had somehow turned my body to the right), the doctor diagnosed that I had a viral infection in my left ear, and told me I needed to get more sleep and avoid alcohol. Both are going to be difficult to do :) but I'm relieved the problem wasn't something more serious.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
As of today, Barack Obama バラック・オバマ is the President-elect of the United States, and I couldn't be happier, or prouder to be an American. I had made up my mind long ago to vote for Obama. The choice was an easy one, as eight years of George W. Bush ジョージ・W・ブッシュ has been an unmitigated disaster for my country, and Bush will go down with James Buchanan and Warren Harding as one of the worst occupants ever to sit in the Oval Office (without any future Trumanesque reevaluations, either). But the main reason for my choice was the fact that it was time, finally, for someone like Obama. American society is becoming increasingly multi-cultural, and now the White House is going to represent what is the greatest asset of the USA.
As for John McCain ジョン・マケイン, he had the misfortune of being the wrong man at the right time in history. I never seriously considered voting for him, and while I thought his concession speech was a gracious one, the boos and jeers from his supporters when he mentioned Obama's name was a reminder of how the uglier side of American society was so firmly in the Republicans' 共和党 camp. I was fed up with the questioning of Obama's patriotism (I guess pin wearing isn't restricted to North Korea), the "socialist" labeling (this after the Bush administration nationalized much of the financial services sector!) and, most of all, the ugly accusations of Obama being a closet Muslim. McCain may not have said such a thing himself, but he certainly didn't do much to stop others from doing so. And as Colin Powell コリン・パウエル pointed out, why couldn't a Muslim run for the presidency? Isn't that what the United States is supposed to be all about?
And then there was Sarah Palin サラ・ペイリン, and not just because she was spectacularly unqualified to be a potential president. When Palin talked about how her vision of America was different than that of Obama's, and, especially, when she told a crowd of white people in rural Pennsylvania that she was standing in the "real America", it was obvious to me that there would be no place for a child like my Amber in Sarah Palin's conception of what the United States should be as a country and as a society.
And so history has been made today, and for the first time in a long time, I'm optimistic about the future of the US. Eventually, the hoopla will die down, and President Obama will have to make some hard decisions that will displease a great many people, both in America and around the world. But for now, at least, this is a moment to be enjoyed.
While the United States has taken a big step forward, Taiwan continues to slowly move in the opposite direction. Do I want my multi-cultural daughter to live in a country where creeping authoritarianism is gradually leading to a future special administrative regional status? Or should she grow up in a nation where someone like herself has just been elected (and by a wide margin) to the highest office in the land?
Yes, it could be time to go home again.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I rode out to Houli (Kōri) 后里 on Tuesday morning to do some walking, but it took much longer than I had anticipated to get there. I had been under the impression that the Houfeng Bicycle Trail was open to scooters in the aftermath of the collapse of the Houfeng Bridge, but that didn't seem to be the case this morning. Lots of scooters were on the road, but none of them were on the cycling path. There were, however, quite a few bicyclists out, no doubt due to the pleasant weather. I therefore decided not to take the bicycle route, and so had to travel up the Tajia (Daikō) River 大甲渓 to get to a bridge across to the other side. The road then led up through the hills, and down to the town of Houli. I turned off before then, however, to reach an area of short hiking trails at the Fenghuang Mountain Farm, in the hills behind the Houli Race Course. The walks there aren't very strenuous, taking only about an hour to make a circuit, but on this clear day, the view from the top (of the Taichung Science Park, and beyond towards the sea) was nice:
Next, I rode past the horse ranch to what the road signs called "Pilu Temple", but which a local guidebook I have refers to as "Kunlu Temple":
"The western style building with a high rising ceiling is a Baroque pattern, which is very uncommon among temple architectures (sic)."
It is certainly different from most temples in Taiwan. There are stone steps that go up into the hill behind the building. It doesn't take long to reach the top, and there is little to see in the distance through the foliage, but the path is shaded.
The last thing I did before heading home for lunch (not to mention a shower) was to park myself next to the train tracks in the hope of getting a decent picture of a train going by. The best I could do was this shot of an express passing by on its way north:
It's the camera's fault, of course.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
My wife wanted a day off this Sunday, meaning a chance to stay in and catch up on her sleep. My daughter, on the other hand, wanted to go outside, preferably to a park with a playground. I, however, did not fancy being surrounded on a park bench by a sea of Taiwanese parents and their offspring, some of whom would no doubt have some trouble coming to grips with the "foreign" child in their midst. So when I suggested taking the train to see some dinosaurs in Taichung (T'aichung/Taichū) 台中, I was quite relieved that Amber responded enthusiastically to the suggestion. And that is how we found ourselves on the 11:37am local train out of Fengyuan (Hōgen) 豊原, which was on time, for once:
After getting off at Taichung Station, we headed for the Visitor Information Center, located inside the station. For years, I've been grumbling about the inept efforts at providing tourist information in Taiwan, especially in comparison to Japan, where such information centers are in plentiful supply. When I first moved to Taichung (an undisclosed number) of years ago, the closest tourist information office was a very long walk from the train station. In fact, I used to go there on a scooter to pick up brochures and maps. Then it moved even further away, to an area of government buildings off of Linsen Road, which couldn't have been any more inconvenient for new arrivals and visitors to the city. So it's great to see there is finally an information counter in the train station, with English-speaking staff to boot. Well done...except for the fact the woman in the office didn't make it clear (OK, maybe I failed to clarify) on which side of the street Amber and I should wait to catch a bus for our destination, the National Museum of Natural Science 国立自然科学博物館. We caught the right bus (the No. 88), but in the wrong direction, and had to get off at the stop across from the Chungyou Department Store in order to catch another No. 88 bus going the right way.
Not only was this my daughter's first bus ride in Taichung, it was mine as well. For Taichung Bus Company buses at least, those passengers (like us) who don't already have an IC/prepaid card, simply pick up a card upon boarding, have it read by a scanner, and then upon reaching their destination, scan the card a second time, and pay the fare showing on the screen. In our case, it was NT20 (￥60 or 60 cents). After a lunch of chicken rice, pickled cucumbers and miso soup 味噌汁 (where I overheard two Western gentlemen and a Taiwanese woman wondering about the origin of the word "cosplay" コスプレ; I resisted the urge), we entered the science museum.
Amber can use chopsticks better than some adult Westerners 娘ははしを使うことがうまい!
Once inside the museum, we headed straight for the main attraction, the dinosaur exhibit. On display are some life-size skeletons and animatronic models. The latter, however, especially the moving Tyrannosaurus ティラノサウルス parent-child pair, proved to be a little intimidating to my 2-year 10 month-old child, who didn't want to get too close. She didn't mind the stationary kind at all, though.
Amber is still too young to appreciate what museums are trying to do. She enjoyed touching all the buttons, dials and knobs, but at her age, the point(s) behind the displays is not of any importance. Which was a good thing for me, because most of the writing at the National Museum of Natural Science is in Chinese, and I would not have been able to explain the more detailed exhibits to her. For Amber, it was enough just to marvel at the models and pictures of animals she's already familiar with. She also tried her hand at taking some photographs, which resulted in this unintended artistic shot of a large beetle 甲虫:
Amber was starting to get tired (read cranky), so we left the museum and crossed the street to an ice cream shop. I let Amber choose, and she settled on mocha モカ, much to our mutual satisfaction:
After an obligatory stop at Mister Donut ミスタードーナツ, we caught a bus back to Taichung Station. For some reason, the fare was NT2 higher for the return - same company, same route, but a different number bus (106) if that had anything to do with it.
The gods of punctuality were once again looking down favorably upon us, for our train was on time. And so it was back to Fengyuan, where my wife, suitably rested, met us at the station and drove us home. A father-daughter outing on a nice day, and with a reduced carbon footprint to boot (no pun intended). Not a bad Sunday, I'd say.
This is what happens when trying to take a picture from a moving train in diminishing sunlight, using the landscape photo function on a digital camera, but forgetting to turn off the flash. Amber isn't the only unintentional avant-garde photographer in the family.