Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Seen this afternoon in T'aichung (Taichū) 台中:
For those Taiwanese who are illiterate when it comes to Chinese characters, but who are somehow proficient in the Japanese kana 仮名 syllabary, the restaurant in the photo on the left has come to their assistance. Perhaps such folks learned how at the cram school pictured on the right, which teaches English, Japanese and computers to high school students. Japanese is the second-most popular foreign language being studied in Taiwan, following English. Many older Taiwanese can still speak it, though it's much less common to find proficient speakers among the younger generations. The other sign in the photo features that ubiquitous の, aka your friend and mine, the possessive "no".
Friday, October 22, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Everyone in the Kaminoge family took the day off today in order to travel up to T'aipei (Taihoku) 台北, and the American Institute in Taiwan 米国在台湾協会. The purpose of our visit to the AIT was the renewal of Amber's US passport, but we also spent some time in Hsimenting (Seimonchō) 西門町 afterward before taking a bus from the relatively new (and nice) T'aipei Bus Station 台北転運駅 to Fengyuan (Hōgen/Toyohara). A long day, but a successful one (I hope).
T'aipei is...different, at least in comparison to the other cities, towns and villages in Taiwan. Obviously, it's more cosmopolitan, but I've also noticed that, unlike other major urban areas around the world, T'aipei actually seems like a better environment in which to raise my daughter than other burgs on this island. Usually, one takes for granted that rural areas and small towns are much better places to bring up children than a metropolis of 2.6 million people. In T'aipei's case, however, it appears there's a greater sense of order and respect at play in the capital city, from the way people stand to the right on the escalators in MRT 台北捷運 stations in order to let those in a hurry pass by on the left, to the vehicles that actually slow down (and even stop!) to allow pedestrians to cross the road when the latter have a green light. Contrast this with the rest of Taiwan, where everyone seems to be unaware of the presences of those around them, where I fear for my daughter's life every time we have to cross the street, and where every fourth person or so looks like they have some connection or other to a criminal gang.
Of course I'm exaggerating (it's more every fifth person is a gangster) - T'aipei is certainly no paradise. At the same time, however, the rest of Taiwan is hardly a bucolic idyll, not with all the polluting factories, ugly architecture, dangerous driving conditions and apparent lack of concern for the general welfare. Considering that T'aipei is remarkably quiet for a city of its size and population, at least in comparison with other great Asian mega-cities I've spent time in, such as Tōkyō 東京 and Ōsaka 大阪, and some serous thought needs to be given as to where would be best for my daughter to grow up should it become necessary to stay in Taiwan (though I fervently hope I don't have to make that decision).
Amber strikes a pose in Hsimenting (上), and checks out the scenery on the bus ride home (下):
Sunday, October 17, 2010
My wife and daughter attended a show for children this afternoon, and I, being one who doesn't understand any of the local languages very well, decided to sit this one out. Not wanting to let a beautiful sunny Sunday go to waste, however, I drove Pamela and Amber to the show's venue, found a parking space for the car, then killed the time waiting for the performance to end by walking the streets of downtown Fengyuan (Hōgen/Toyohara) 豊原, my Taiwanese home-away-from-home, at least until the end of this year. By then, Fengyuan will no longer be a defined city with a population of 165,000, and the seat of T'aichung County 台中県, but a mere administrative unit of a Greater T'aichung 大台中. Cue the 写真:
The central part of Fengyuan looks much any other downtown area of any mid-sized Taiwanese city. Most of the major chains/franchises (restaurants, clothing stores, pharmacies, tea stands etc.) are represented there. Though not very large, the central business district is packed on weekends. Fengyuan's position as a transportation hub for T'aichung County brings in the folks from the surrounding townships and villages, with the result being a tall barbarian like myself is the recipient of a lot of bug-eyed, open-mouthed reactions from the day-tripping hayseeds.
The attractions of downtown Fengyuan are few, but they do bring in the hordes. There is the local Matsu (Maso) 媽祖 temple, and the adjacent Miaotung 廟東 market street, lined with food stands:
For shopping, the Pacific Department Store acts as a magnet, while the few tourists the city lures in usually pick up a box of "Snow Flower Cakes" to bring back home:
(Back in January of this year, I made a short video of a walk from the Matsu Temple, through Miaotung and to the rear entrance of the department store, before looping back to the temple:)
Here and there, some old wooden buildings dating from the Japanese era can be seen. This one near the train station looks like its days are numbered, however:
Though teenagers rule the streets of downtown Fengyuan on Sunday afternoons, adult needs are also met. The narrow street in the photo on the left is lined with brothels, a fact which becomes more obvious in the evenings when the pink neon is turned on:
As I mentioned earlier, Fengyuan serves as the transportation center for the county. Virtually all express trains running along the Western Line 西部幹線 stop at the train station 豊原駅:
From where I parked our car, it was possible to cross over the train tracks via a pedestrian bridge lined with "love padlocks". According to the Wikipedia entry on the subject:
"In Fengyuan, Taiwan, young people affix padlocks engraved with wishes (often of love or success) to an overpass at the city's train station. These locks are known as 'wish locks'; a common practice is for lovers to affix two padlocks close to each other or padlocked together ('heart locks'). Local legend holds that the magnetic field generated by trains passing underneath will cause energy to accumulate in the locks and fulfill the wishes." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_padlocks#Fengyuan.2C_Taiwan)
Back in June of 2009, the Taipei Times had an article on the phenomenon (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2009/06/08/2003445646). This is what all the fuss is about:
In addition to trains, Fengyuan is served by two bus stations, one operated by the Fengyuan Bus Company, and the other by U-Bus. The No. 1 中山高速道路 and No. 4 国道４号 freeways connect the city with the rest of the western half of the island, making Fengyuan a very convenient travel base (especially if you have your own car). Public transportation within the city, however, is a different kettle of fish:
Like any Taiwanese burg, there are the odd signs that catch one's eye, like this gangster duck chomping on a cigar (good luck using that as a restaurant mascot in the USA!):
And, of course, there are plenty of examples of Japanese being used to bring in business, showing how, more than sixty years after the end of the colonial era, the Japanese influence remains as strong as ever in Taiwan, and a welcome counterweight to the attempts by the ruling Kuomintang 中国国民党 to push this island ever closer to being incorporated into a Greater China 中華圏. I've posted numerous examples on this blog (yawn), but here are a couple more (zzz):
Speaking of the KMT, I parked the car across the street from their local HQ:
Eventually, the call came from the wife, informing me that the show was over. My walk ended at the culture center, where the obligatory bad taste in public art was shielding its eyes from the late afternoon sun. I arrived there just in time to take a picture of Amber with the performers:
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I didn't see any monkeys on my walk this afternoon on Trails 1 and 2 in the Tak'eng 大抗 area, but I did come across this toad doing its best not to be noticed. Its skin was a near-perfect match with the log upon which it sat immobile:
An American I know here in Taiwan once tried to stand up for Taiwan Beer 台湾ビール by saying it was "suitable for the climate". Never mind the fact his justification sounded like something a Taiwanese bureaucrat would've said in the pre-WTO days (in defense of restrictions on the importation of beer), he obviously has never enjoyed the sweet taste of Okinawa's 沖縄 own Orion Beer オリオンビール. Heaven after a sweaty hike:
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Of the many things that leave me scratching my head about both Japan and Taiwan, few are as perplexing as the this scene I came across today in T'aichung (Taichū) 台中:
In front of a steak restaurant is this sculpture of a cow digging into a slab of...one of his own kind. I find the implications profoundly disturbing, yet in this part of the world, restaurants often display images (usually cartoons) of animals enjoying the taste of their own as a come-on for potential diners. Why? Does the sight of a pig licking its lips in anticipation of eating some pork suggest the food is so good it drives animals into engaging in cannibalism? It's almost enough to make one swear off meat forever, but I'm sure that somewhere out there is a vegetarian restaurant with a billboard showing a head of lettuce with fork in hand, getting ready to gleefully dig into a bowl of fresh, green salad.
Amber salutes the great taste of Calpis Soda カルピスソーダ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calpis following the end of her swimming lesson.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Hurry up and see 'em before they're all gone, folks - the cities and towns of T'aichung (Taichū) County 台中県. In December, the city and county of T'aichung will merge to create a single direct-controlled municipality 直轄市 called Greater T'aichung 大台中 (you can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-controlled_municipality#Taiwan). What this means is that I will no longer be living in a town called Shenkang (Shinkō/Kamioka) 神岡, but rather in a district of T'aichung bearing the same name. As long as mail still reaches me, I'll be fine with the change.
With some free time this afternoon, I paid a visit to one of those towns, Ch'ingshui (Seisui/Kiyomizu) 清水, population 86,000. The town's name means "clear water", and apparently was so designated in 1920 after a natural spring burst out of the ground. Ch'ingshui is about a half-hour or so by scooter from my apartment, and on the way there, I paid a visit to T'aichung Airport 台中空港. Unlike most airports I have driven to, which are reached only after long drives from freeway off-ramps, the terminal for RMQ is located right on Route 10. Although the Wikipedia article says the passenger facilities were constructed in 2003, the terminal building looks pretty modern...if it had been built in, say, 1969. Since the construction of Taiwan's high-speed train system 台湾高速鉄道, domestic flight services have been reduced, and the only such flights out of T'aichung Airport are to the offshore islands of P'enghu (Hōko) 澎湖, Chinmen (Kimmon) 金門 and Matsu (Baso) 馬祖. RMQ is an international airport, however, with regularly-scheduled services to China, Hong Kong and Vietnam. The small terminal was busy this afternoon, though I was disappointed at not being able to find any sort of observation deck (I did get to see a few fighters land at the adjacent Ch'ing Ch'uan Kang Air Base, though, while riding along the perimeter of the base):
Ch'ingshui sits roughly at sea level, at the foot of Aofeng Mountain 鰲峰山, which means that on clear days, the views looking out over the town, and toward the East China Sea 東シナ海, are pretty good. Here are a few samples:
In the photo on the left, you can make out a row of massive wind turbines in the distance. In the picture on the right, the circular structure in the middle is a revolving restaurant, which sits atop a public hospital!:
The views going in and out of Ch'ingshui are the best things about the town. In all other respects, it's a pretty ordinary Taiwanese urban township. There are some mildly interesting "sights", such as this pair of temples sitting on opposite sides of the street (and including the gate spanning the road leading to them):
Ch'ingshui Station 清水駅 dates from 1935:
I took a walk along Chungshan Road 中山路 in the heart of Ch'ingshui's "downtown" area. It was a pretty ordinary stretch of road, with many of the same chain and franchise stores you see in other cities and towns. Compared to Fengyuan's (Hōgen/Toyohara) 豊原 smaller, but livelier, central business district, Ch'ingshui seemed fairly dull...er, quiet. At least the town isn't opposed to wisdom:
Sunday, October 3, 2010
The quest for a new pair of shoes for my daughter took us to the streets behind Tunghai (Tōkai) University 東海大学 in T'aichung (Taichū) 台中. It wasn't my first choice to hunt for footwear, especially in sizes for young children, but my wife hadn't been there in quite a while, and so that was that. Here's Amber at a tea stand on the way out there:
The narrow streets of Tunghai were a mad jumble of stores, signs, people, cars, scooters, odors, power lines and noise - in other words, a typical Taiwanese street scene. Amber was feeding off the energy generated by all of this, but I spent a lot of time worrying about the motorized vehicles that were brushing by us on the sidewalk-less road. Apparently, it would be too much to ask that a popular shopping area like this one be turned into a pedestrian-only zone on Sundays - that would only make things less 熱鬧. Safety is a such a bore:
At one point, the Kaminoge family detoured into the nearby university in search of a restroom:
It took some searching, but we were finally able to find a pair of shoes that met my daughter's exacting specifications. It helped that the new clodhoppers had a picture of Dora the Explorer on them, and, for bonus points, lights that flash when the wearer runs or stomps her feet:
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Snapshots from a Saturday:
An egret fishing for its breakfast.
Amber had a modeling session this morning that lasted for about three hours. Even after it was over, she was still striking poses on the street.
A betel nut beauty plies her trade.
The following picture was taken in the vicinity of the swimming pool where Amber has lessons every Saturday afternoon:
Next to the pool is the Aiko 愛子 (あいこ) Kindergarten, which describes itself as being "Japanese-style". They have the stone garden to prove it.
The day concluded with a show for the kiddies at the local cultural center. The story had something to do with three cows, a dog, a witch and something of indeterminate taxonomy. I couldn't follow it very well, but the children (Amber included) had a blast with all the call-and-response bits. Afterward, the cast (still in costume) posed for pictures with the kids outside the hall, which I thought was a nice touch.