Sometimes the most familiar of places can throw up unexpected surprises. While walking in the area above where Tak'eng trails 6, 7 and 8 meet, I decided to make a brief detour to see where a stretch of paved road led. Though I've walked in this area a number of occasions, it was the first time for me to use this road, and after just a few meters, I came across a footpath going off into the forest. Expecting a trail overgrown with brush that would lead to some orchards, I was surprised instead to find a well-maintained path that soon ended at a small road festooned with purple flags. Taking a left and following the flags, it wasn't long before I came across the temple pictured above. What made this temple stand out from the (literally) thousands you see in Taiwan was the attractive landscaping. This temple was clearly a relative newcomer to the scene, and encompassed several elements in its design and layout - a Taoist 道教-looking building, a large floral Buddhist swastika 卍, a statue of Kuan Yin (Kannon Bosatsu) 観音菩薩 and, on the roof, a Yin-Yang symbol 太極図. The next time I'm in the area, I hope to take a closer look with the video camera (provided no one else is around - I'm shy).
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Rain washed out (literally) my plan to take Amber (skinned knees and all) on an afternoon walk in the hills overlooking Chung-cheng Park. Instead of staying indoors, however, we opted for Plan B, otherwise known as Pamela's idea of Sunday fun, shopping at both the local Carrefour カルフール and a traditional market. Perhaps the weather will be better next weekend (or not).
The view out of the window from the fifth floor of Carrefour:
A rainbow seen on the way to the traditional market, and the sunset on the way back home:
Almost home, some of the neighborhood Taike, and a Taimei, hang out in front of the local Family Mart ファミリーマート:
Saturday, July 25, 2009
From Kyōdō News 共同通信社, via Japan Today ("Osaka 'maid cafe' waitresses fly to Taiwan to attract tourists" http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/osaka-maid-cafe-women-fly-to-taiwan-to-attract-tourists):
"A group of seven 'maid cafe' メイドカフェ waitresses wearing miniskirts and aprons left Ōsaka 大阪 for Taiwan on Friday in a bid to attract tourists to the largest business area in western Japan. 'We’ll sing and dance our best to promote Japanese pop culture,' Manae Miura, 18, told a send-off event at Kansai International Airport 関西国際空港 as representative of the eight-woman delegation. The 'maids' are from cafes in Ōsaka’s Nippombashi 日本橋 district, home of Japanese pop culture in the city. The delegation will take part in a big event featuring animated films and comics as well as an exchange event at a maid cafe in Taiwan, where maid cafes have recently become popular, during their stay through Sunday."
Two things are evident from this short article. One is that the Japanese have awoken to the possibilities of promoting their popular culture as a way of enticing visitors to the country. For far too long, Japanese tourist literature was all about geisha 芸妓, the tea ceremony 茶道, Mt. Fuji 富士山 and so on. Now efforts are being made to highlight what young people the world over have known for quite some time. Of course, things like manga 日本の漫画, anime アニメ and J-POP are no more indicative of the "Real Japan" than the traditional things such as Kabuki 歌舞伎, but mass-market tourism everywhere is based on stereotypical perceptions of places and people, so if it takes young women in maid outfits and short skirts to bring in some much-needed tourist yen, so be it.
The other thing about this story is that it highlights how things that are old news in Japan are still (or are just becoming) hot topics in Taiwan. A good example is cosplay コスプレ, which long ago receded from the mainstream in Japan (and in many instances, sank into the depths of "image clubs" イメージクラブ). In Taiwan, however, cosplay is still going strong, evidence of which can be easily found in enthusiastic entries on various blogs kept by resident Westerners. Is it the turn of maid cafes now?
Welcome to Taiwan, where yesterday's Japanese fashions will become popular here tomorrow!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The big story in Asia today was the eclipse, which was total over parts of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal. Here in Taiwan, we had a partial eclipse, with about 85% of the sun being blocked by the moon. Unfortunately, cloud cover obscured the views in many places, including Fengyuan (Hōgen) 豊原. Nevertheless, we were able to see parts of the eclipse at the kindergarten/cram school where I work in the mornings and afternoons, thanks to the welding masks that someone had gotten from somewhere. Through sheer good luck, I was also able to take this picture with my camera:
The cloud cover was thick enough to have acted as a filter, blocking the glare from the sun, but had not yet obscured the view. The next eclipse won't be seen in Taiwan until 2070, and I'm pretty sure I won't be around to see that one!
A shot of a different sun, taken on my work this morning:
I'd bet my life savings (what little I have) that you would never see a tour bus like this one in China or South Korea. It just goes to show how attitudes towards Imperial Japan 大日本帝国 differ in Taiwan from the rest of Asia.
After this morning's solar eclipse, I spent a couple of hours walking up and down the No. 10 and 9 Trails in the Dakeng area. Not only can you enjoy getting close to nature out there, you can also savor the fine taste of Japanese sweet potatoes サツマイモ prepared in industrial drums:
On the way home in the middle of the afternoon, perhaps feeling that my life was nearing completion after witnessing the celestial show (and ignoring MJ Klein's common sense imploring), I once again recorded parts of my ride using my soon-to-be-patented technique of holding the camera in my left hand, while operating the scooter with my right:
In case you're wondering, Taiwanese roads were not built by the same person who designed the sets for "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" カリガリ博士.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
On a day when only relatives had any physical contact with my daughter, we visited my wife's side of the family in her hometown of Xiluo (Seira) 西螺 in Yunlin (Unrin) County 雲林県. On the way we stopped off in the nearby township of Linnei (Rinnai) 林内 to visit one of the few remaining Shintō shrines 神社 in Taiwan (or what's left of it, anyway). The shrine isn't too hard to find - just follow the signs pointing to Linnei Park, and you will soon come across a large torii 鳥居 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torii) spanning the road:
A Chinese-style roof has been added to the top, and it now bears the name of the park in Chinese characters, but there is no mistaking the familiar shape of a shrine gate.
Up the road from the large torii is a small set of stairs leading to a smaller torii, and flanked by two stone lanterns:
Beyond the second torii is another pair of large stone lanterns. Close by is Lin Chung Elementary School, which has a display with some interesting photographs of the shrine during its brief existence:
Rinnai-jinja was built in 1940 in what was then the Toroku District 斗六郡 of Tainan Prefecture 台南州. It enshrined Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa 北白川宮能久親王, the tutelary deity 鎮護の神 of Taiwan; the Three Kami Deities of Cultivation 開拓三神, Ōkunitama no Mikoto 大国魂命, Ōnamuchi no Mikoto 大己貴命 and Sukunahikona no Mikoto 少彦名命; and Toyōke no Ōmikami 豊受大神 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Shinto_shrines_in_Taiwan#Tainan_Prefecture). Don't worry, this won't be on the test.
Past the second set of lanterns and the elementary school is a long staircase, at the top of which stands a Taoist temple where the main shrine building once looked out over the plains below:
While Pamela took one look at the stairs and decided to stay with my mother-in-law by the car, Amber didn't flinch. Not only did she make it to the top without running out of steam, she even continued for a bit along one of the walking trails that continue up past the temple:
The views from the top were limited by the rainy conditions, but the park appears to be well laid-out, and a good place for a stroll. On the way down, I noticed a building that seemed to incorporate a torii into its design:
Once back in the car, we left Linnei Park and drove on to Xiluo, where we spent the rest of the afternoon with Pamela's two sisters and their families. On the way home, we drove across the Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋 http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%A5%BF%E8%9E%BA%E5%A4%A7%E6%A9%8B, another relic from the Japanese period. Construction initially began in 1937, had to be suspended with the onset of World War II, and was ultimately finished after the war in 1952 with the help of American foreign aid:
Traffic was moving pretty slowly on the freeway, but at least we had a great sunset to compensate:
Unless you're friend or family, hands off!
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Found this locust イチゴ-like insect on the balcony this morning.
I went to the Taichung (Taichū) 台中 Costco コストコ branch this afternoon, and came away feeling unimpressed. I had heard great things about the store from several people, and when Pamela was invited to go there by our downstairs neighbor, whose friend has a membership, I jumped at the chance to see what all the fuss was about. Well, I don't think we'll be climbing up on this particular bandwagon anytime soon, for the following reasons:
1.) The sizes
Not of the store, which is big, but of the goods on sale there. Yes, I was aware Costco sells things in bulk, but the Kaminoge family isn't large enough (nor do we have the fridge and shelf space) to store items in sizes that big. And let's face it - I like Eggos as much as the next guy, but do I really want to eat one every morning for the next two months?
2.) The selection
Costco is packed from floor to ceiling with stuff, but there wasn't as much of the kind of stuff I was looking for. To put it another way, while there were a lot of goodies from home, the range and selection wasn't anywhere as extensive as the impression I'd gotten from talking with friends and acquaintances who shop there regularly. The bakery, for example, had a lot of bread, but no English muffins or donuts. The cereal section was a disappointment - while they had Raisin Bran, I didn't see any Frosted Mini-Wheats or Cap'n Crunch. And the choice of beers was appalling, even worse than what you can find at most local supermarkets and convenience stores...with one notable exception:
Le ble d'or, one of a handful of Taiwanese microbreweries, with a couple of brewpubs in Taipei (Taihoku) 台北 and Taichung, had a stand selling two one-liter bottles in a cool-looking carrying bag for NT349 ($10.60/￥1000), an opportunity that could not be passed by. But for the most part, the selection at Costco isn't much different from what your neighborhood hypermarket has on its shelves.
3. The crowds
I'm sure it's quiet on weekdays, but today (Saturday) the store was shopping cart-to-shopping cart gridlock. If you like rubbing elbows with your fellow shoppers, go to Costco on a weekend.
So there you have it. If there is something I'm dying for, and I hear Costco has it, I'll ask someone with a membership to either bring me along with them the next time they go, or kindly ask them to buy it for me on their next shopping excursion. Otherwise, I'll stick with the local Carrefour カルフォール, or the Capita'n supermarket on Chengde Road in Taichung.
Something else happened this afternoon at the store, although it certainly wasn't the fault of Costco. I was pushing Amber in the shopping cart, when she started to stand up. As I was telling her to sit down, the friend of our neighbor downstairs (whose card had allowed us to get inside) came over and picked my daughter up. I told her it was OK, and began putting Amber in a sitting position in the cart when the woman said "Mei guanxi" 沒關係 ("It doesn't matter"), and took my daughter away (to get some kind of free food sample, as it turned out)! The requirements of being a well-behaved hairy barbarian meant I couldn't really do anything, but my poor wife had to listen to a four-letter word-laced tirade when she returned to the cart a few moments later. This isn't the first time this has happened, and it gets more irritating every time it occurs. At the risk of getting a comment or two from some anonymous person in clear need of psychological counseling, accusing me of hating Taiwan and its people, is it normal in this country to pick up someone else's child, even when the parent of that child is telling you not to, and then tell the parent not to worry about it, and walk away with the kid? Or is it only applicable to cute little foreign tykes? Call me a Taiwan-hater, and tell me to get the hell out of this country, but I really think the woman today (whom I had never met until this afternoon), not to mention some of her fellow citizens in the past, crossed some boundaries that she shouldn't have.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
As everyone who knows me can attest, I am an alcoholic idiot who loathes Taiwan and its people, and I judge entire nations solely on the qualities of their beers. At least according to an anonymous commenter who I've determined is an expatriate Taiwanese living in Australia, and who some serious issues vis a vis his homeland that he needs to deal with. Anyway, the photo at left above shows a bottle of Apple Hop アップルホップ Minamishinsyu Beer, from the Komagatake Brewery http://www.ms-beer.co.jp/ in Komagane 駒ヶ根, Nagano Prefecture 長野県 in Japan, which I purchased this afternoon from the lifesaving Capita'n supermarket on Chengde Road in Taichung (Taichū) 台中. The label says it's made with Fuji apples ふじリンゴ, but I can't detect much of an apple flavor. However, it does taste good, and with an alcohol content of 6.5%, leaves one with quite a pleasant feeling. After I'm done, as Taike in Oz suggests, I will be a terrible father, wake up my sleeping daughter and tell her how bad a place Taiwan is, just to give her an identity crisis when she gets older.
The black cat in the other picture is Happy. He will be two at the end of July (his birthday coincides with my wedding anniversary), and has been living with us for about 18 months now. I wanted to call him "Neko" 猫, but my wife, who found him online and brought him home, insisted on his present moniker, which comes from the Chinese words "hei" 黑 meaning "black", and "pi" 皮, which means "skin". I didn't really like the choice of name (though my suggestion wasn't much better, I admit), but I guess the last laugh is on me. Happy, it seems, will have nothing to do with my wife (or my daughter, though it's understandable why a cat would want to avoid a three and a half year-old child), and allows only me to come near him. I guess he knows something that certain anonymous hypocrites don't.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
(Apologies to Canned Heat)
Inspired my MJ Klein and his Helmet Hero camera (http://www.thenhbushman.com/2009/07/02/new-video-camera/), on the home this afternoon from my weekly hike in the Dakeng area, I tried to record parts of the scooter ride. However, while the Bushman had the sense to pay for a good-quality camera that could be mounted on his bicycle helmet, I opted for the stupid and dangerous technique of holding my digital camera in my left hand and filming, while using my other hand to accelerate and brake the scooter. The results below speak for themselves. If the camerawork in movies like "The Blair Witch Project" ブレア・ウィッチ・プロジェクト and "Cloverfield" クローバーフィールド/HAKAISHA made you feel uncomfortable, don't watch the following two clips:
Monday, July 6, 2009
Back in the early 1990's, when I was living in Tōkyō 東京, I had an interview with NOVA. At that time, NOVA had yet to become the Eikaiwa 英会話 industry behemoth that would eventually go down in flames in October 2007. The interview was held in an open room at the school's branch in Shibuya 渋谷, and the person who interviewed me was a 40-something American named Al Lopez (no, not the former catcher and Cleveland Indians manager). Mr. Lopez chain-smoked throughout the entire interview, but that isn't what I remember most about the experience. I was still working for a small school called FIES (the Friendly International English School, with branches in Shibyua, Shimokitazawa 下北沢 and Yokohama 横浜, and now long since defunct), and Mr. Lopez asked me why I wanted to change jobs. When I told him that the main reason was the below-industry standard salary of ￥230,000 a month I was making there (this was before the collapse of the "bubble economy" バブル景気), he proceeded to give me a long lecture as to how, in his opinion, I was earning a "fair wage", and that if a school was sponsoring an employee's working visa (as was the case with FIES), said employee should remain "loyal" to his employer and not seek a higher paying job elsewhere. I said nothing during the dressing down (it was a job interview, after all, and I was looking for a better income), but then a few moments later, Mr. Lopez let it slip that NOVA was the fifth (that's right, the FIFTH, as in the number "five") school that he worked for in Japan! So much for "loyalty to one's employer". I didn't get the job with NOVA, thank goodness, and over the years I met a number of former NOVA employees who remembered Mr. Lopez with something less than affection. In short, not a single person had anything nice to say about the man.
I was reminded of good ol' Al today as I checked my blog and found several nasty comments from an anonymous writer (they always are in these situations), poorly written, with atrocious spelling, punctuation and grammar errors (people who have mastered the not-too-difficult skill of writing in English usually don't leave abusive hit-and-run comments on other people's blogs). It seems he/she/it was greatly offended that I didn't find the Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai 蔡依林 attractive enough, and that I wasn't a fan of the great taste of Taiwan Beer. Over the course of three postings, Mr./Ms. Anon raked me over the coals for "hating" Taiwan and its people, as well as for being an alcoholic, a lousy father to my daughter and an all-around sad case of a human being in need of some psychiatric counseling. Then I came to the very final sentence, which I quote in its mistake-filled entirety:
"i left TW for OZ many a moon ago because OZ rocks and Taiwan sucks."
It seems the spirit of Al Lopez lives on in the land Down Under! (at least in the rantings of one netizen there)
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Another Sunday, another shopping trip to the Fengyuan branch of Carrefour カルフォール, where I added to my North Coast Brewing Company (Fort Bragg, CA) beer collection by picking up bottles of Blue Star Wheat Beer and Scrimshaw, a Pilsner-style brew. Today I also discovered that there is a balcony on the 5th floor of the hypermarket where it is possible to go outside and take in the views of Ilha Formosa:
On the way home, we paid a quick visit to my in-laws, where I tried to photograph the sunset from their fourth-floor balcony:
The house on the right looks like it belongs to a wealthy family. When they first built the home, the area was mostly vacant lots. Unfortunately for them, a traditional market opened next door a couple of years ago, bringing with it traffic, noise and odors (the long, low structure between the market and the house houses the market's toilets!). To make matters worse, a night market has recently started up on the other side! It's this lack of zoning ordinances (or the lax enforcement of them) that makes up one of the reasons why I'm hesitant, despite the urging of my wife, to invest what little savings we have in buying a home in Taiwan. I'm sure the people who live across the street from my parents-in-law could probably do with a case of the bottle of Old No. 38 Stout (alcohol content: 5.5%) that I've just finished off!
Saturday, July 4, 2009
As you can tell from the subject heading, today is Independence Day, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Taichung (Taichū) 台中 held an event to celebrate the occasion at a large park next to the Taichung Costco コストコ branch. I normally wouldn't bother much with such things, but Amber is reaching the age where she needs to made aware that she has an American side to her as well as her Taiwanese heritage. Unfortunately, today's celebration of the USA's most enjoyable holiday wasn't anywhere near as "American" as I was expecting. There were hardly any flags flying, and instead of introducing Amber to summertime fare like hamburgers and hot dogs cooking on the grill, the food on offer could be safely summed up as Taiwan Generic for the most part. In fact, the event itself differed little from any of the small community gatherings held in local parks that you can see on most weekends in Taiwan. What saved the day for me, however, was the Gordon Biersch booth. Gordon Biersch is an American brewery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Biersch) that operates a brewery/restaurant in Taichung. Their Golden Export went down very well on this very humid afternoon. I guess Taiwan Beer was too afraid to show up!
"No problem, honey. I'll watch the kid (burp!)"
Hopefully, Amber will one day get to experience a Fourth of July that involves going to baseball games, watching parades, having BBQ's in the park and seeing fireworks shows at night.
On the way home, we stopped at one of Taichung's Carrefour カルフォール outlets, where a limited range of American goods were being featured as part of an "America Week" promotion. To my great joy, several craft beers from the North Coast Brewing Company of Fort Bragg, California (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Coast_Brewing_Company) were among the products being highlighted, and I ended up purchasing the Red Seal Ale, the Old No. 38 Stout and the Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale. Leave it to the French to better celebrate the Fourth of July than Amcham!
Oh, and have I ever mentioned that Taiwan Beer sucks?
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I am sometimes told that I complain too much about being in Taiwan, and in all honesty, there is no doubt a lot of truth to that. I'm sure if I had come here just after college, when I was in my early to mid twenties, I would've probably fallen in love with the country. Instead, the circumstances that brought me here (and have kept me here, despite a couple of attempts to break away) were less than favorable, and thus color my perceptions. There are many things I, in fact, like about Taiwan, such as the mountains (hiking in Dakeng has probably done more than anything else, with the possible exception of my wife, to keep me sane here), historical places such as Tainan (Tainan) 台南 and Tamsui (Tansui) 淡水 and, of course, the relics from the Japanese colonial past. I know I should try to focus more on the positive, but...
For one thing, I don't want my blog to end up being one of those Proustian プルースト descriptions of all things mundane and ordinary. Here is a picture of a road, this is a shot of a bridge, I often go to this convenience store, you can see the town from the hilltop, this is me eating (and enjoying!) something "strange" from a local market etc. etc. There are roads, bridges, convenience stores, hills with views and even unusual dishes back in the homeland, but somehow it all seems so much more interesting when you are writing about "Taiwanese" roads, bridges, convenience stores, hills with views and dishes. I admit there was a time when going to a Japanese bank to withdraw some money was an exciting adventure in an exotic land, but back then blogs didn't exist to record such experiences (am I that old?).
For another, I wouldn't want to always write about how "friendly" or "nice" everyone is to the foreigner. I have met some great and wonderful Taiwanese people (I even married one of them!), but at the same time, some of the biggest, boorish jerks I've had the misfortune of encountering have carried ROC citizenship (and I don't just mean car drivers and scooter riders), the point being the good, the bad and the ugly are in rough balance with each other. To hear some bloggers tell it, however, you would think the Taiwanese in the collective sense are the nicest, most friendliest bunch of warm-heated folks on the planet. To which I reply: is there anywhere on earth where people are not friendly to visitors? Pick up any Lonely Planet guide to virtually any destination, and the locals will probably be described as "friendly", or some variation of the word thereof. An example of the wondrous complexity of human beings is that we exhibit both xenophobia and warm hospitality to those from other places. Taiwan is a very human place, just like everywhere else (the cynic inside would probably say all that friendliness is just a subtle reminder that one will always be a 外人).
So my blog entries will probably still exhibit a tendency to lean towards what some will call (with probable cause, I know) "whinging" or "whining" (though I might prefer "keen observation"!). Why? A Canadian colleague in Japan once said it was just more fun to complain than compliment. The truth is there are many things here that I don't agree with, or that I can't understand the reasons why they are done (or not done), and I don't always feel like being the good, little waiguoren. So forgive me, please, if (IMHO) I think the beer is bland, the food from the street stalls and small restaurants is oilier than anything McDonald's or KFC sells, or that if you placed Jolin Tsai 蔡依林 in the heart of the Dōtombori 道頓堀 area of Ōsaka 大阪, you wouldn't even notice her. I will try, however, to focus more on those things that make Taiwan so uniquely Taiwanese...like all the Japanese you see on signage.