1. Meta-analysis (Taiwan Style, April 四月 2012)
Far be it from me to use this blog to talk shit about other blogs, or to belittle other foreigners in Taiwan. Lord knows I have plenty of faults myself, and this blog is far from perfect.
But I do often read other blogs, by other foreign people, presently or previously residing in Taiwan. I cannot help but read these other blogs with a critical eye, since I am always comparing my own blog to theirs. Sometimes I am depressed by how much more insightful other foreign residents are. Other times, I am surprised by their ignorance.
Whether insightful or ignorant, I am always thinking of what I can learn from other blogs, what I can use to make my own blog better, and what things I should avoid in my own blog-making. My ultimate goal has always been a blog that is informative, well-written, and not crushingly serious. Reading other blogs has brought me a lot closer to that goal, though I admit I still have some work to do.
With this in mind I will attempt to review five other blogs, about Taiwan, in this space. I entered the words "blog" and "Taiwan" into Google, and these were the first five results of my search. Having located these five blogs, I then asked myself what I liked, what I didn't like, and what was strange (bonus points!) about these blogs. If the authors of these blogs ever manage to read this entry, you are welcome to apply the same criteria to this blog. I'm sure that I would profit thereby.
1. The View from Taiwan
It might have been less pretentious to have called this blog "A View from Taiwan," but the author, Michael Turton, is not about appeasement. He lives in Taichung, and has been online for quite a while. He is decidedly American, and I have the feeling he has lived here since forever.
It's a great looking blog, and has a lot of interesting links to other sites. The author obviously spends a lot of time researching his subject(s) online, and this has led to a wealth of information. Those wanting a first glimpse of Taiwan would do well to visit this site, though it's not very enlightening when it comes to the everyday aspects of living here.
This blog is WAY too political for me. I have only a passing interest in what the newspapers say about President Ma or Taiwan/US relations, so a lot of this was well outside my zone of interest.
The author has written A Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, and has also created another blog, The Sword to discuss religious issues. If The View from Taiwan isn't heavy enough for you, I suggest perusing these. Q: Does God exist, and would he enjoy betel nut girls if He did?
2. David on Formosa
This blog was written by an Australian with an impressive resume. He has since returned to his country, and this blog has not been updated since 2011. During his time in Taiwan, he was a faculty member at Taichung's Providence University, and worked towards creating a Taiwan-centric blog community.
The writing here is very clear and concise. The author is quite selfless in his promotion of other blogs and Taiwan-related sites, and he seems well-informed when it comes to the subject of Taiwan.
This blog is very political, and I have almost no interest in politics. Some of the entries seem a bit too reliant on local newspapers, and one begins to wonder why one is reading this blog in the first place, and not the local newspaper!
This blog continues to be popular, despite the fact that it ceased functioning a year ago. I find this a reason to take note of "David on Formosa."
3. Neil Wade's Photography Blog
The photographs here are BEAUTIFUL. This site is also simple and easy to navigate. The author often berates himself for being disorganized, but this is one of the clearest, most interesting blogs about Taiwan that I have ever seen.
The pictures are too small, and the margins of the page should be widened. Yeah, you can click on the pictures for larger images, but I think it would present a better appearance if some of the images were larger in the articles.
This guy hikes a lot, and he has visited some truly interesting places. He is also NOT using this site to promote a photography business, which is a plus for me!
This is not really a blog, but rather a blog directory. From here I clicked on the link for Ah-Taiwan: Life in Formosa, which was the first blog listed. This blog is written by a Canadian man living in central Taiwan. The circumstances surrounding his arrival in Taiwan were surprisingly similar to my own.
The layout is not bad, but it's a bit empty. It is a solid, general-interest blog, and isn't trying too hard to be something it's not.
Too much advertising, and much of the content here seems commercially motivated. Some other entries seem to have been either cut-and-pasted from other sources or "borrowed" from other sites. Also, many of the entries could be researched more effectively on Wikipedia.
Nothing very strange here, and this lack of strangeness is a mark against it.
5. The Real Taiwan
This is a blog written by several people on the west coast. The guy who used to manage it is no longer living in Taiwan, and has handed the writing over to just about anyone who is interested. I am thinking this blog is probably defunct now, since the last entry was for January 19.
I like the layout. The slideshow at the top is cool. The range of topics would interest younger, single people, or even not-so-young, surprisingly single foreign residents on the west coast of the island. Articles such as "Confessions of a MILF Hunter" will never fail to draw an audience.
I don't think older, married folks, or most Taiwanese people would find much in this blog to like. Chinese is nonexistent here, and the viewpoint is almost exclusively one of people who've just gotten here off the plane.
The diversity of authors who wrote for this blog made for a diversity of material. Had the proprietor found people who were more interested in keeping this blog alive, they might have actually lived up to their name.
2. Taiwan by Rail (Taiwan Style, May 五月 2012)
To make a long, long story short, Taiwan got its first railroad during the Ching Dynasty 清朝. It was a steam engine, and after it was retired from service it was placed in Taipei's 2-28 Peace Memorial Park 二二八和平公園, where it resided for many years.
Many of Taiwan's earliest railways were built to transport sugar, which was a major export during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese built many of Taiwan's train stations, lengthened existing or created new lines, and laid down the foundations of Taiwan's rail system. Many of the stations built by the Japanese are still in use today, and are noted for their distinctive architecture.
Much later, Taiwan's railways were modernized as part of the "Ten Big Projects" 十大建設 undertaken by the Kuomintang 國民黨 government in the 60s and 70s. Among these projects were the switching from coal-burning to electric trains, and the completion of the railroad all the way around the island. Only in 1991 was it finally possible to take the train all the way around Taiwan.
I used to ride the train much more when I lived on the west coast. This began my love/hate relationship with trains. I loved taking the train to see in-laws in Tainan 台南, but hated taking the train to Taipei 台北. The trains of Taiwan can be daunting for foreigners, and not only because of the language barrier.
Though language is certainly an issue. For the non-Chinese speaker, just figuring out what train and what platform you're supposed to go to can be a challenge. There is also the low English-language proficiency of many TRA employees, and the sheer mystification involved in their online ticket-ordering system. I could never blame any foreign resident for avoiding the trains, although they do have a certain charm.
We took the train to Kaohsiung 高雄 last weekend. From Taitung 台東, this was a three-hour trip on the fastest train. From Kaohsiung Station there are a many transportation options into the city. An MRT station occupies the same location, and there are a multitude of taxis and buses that leave from that place every minute. Stations like the one in Kaohsiung show the good side of Taiwan. Other stations, such as the one in Taichung 台中, aren't as convenient.
Despite the inconveniences, I am convinced that certain parts of Taiwan are best experienced by train. Southern Yilan County 宜蘭縣, for example, is really quite different when seen from a train window. One might say the same of Central Taiwan, and all the strange little towns that dot that rail line. The train between Taipei and Shu Lin 樹林 might not offer much of a view, but there's something undeniably romantic about the train ride through Hualien County 花蓮縣 when the weather's right.
Sometimes I grow nostalgic for trains. I have a lot of memories associated with them. There will always be a faster way to get where you are going, but taking a train can save you money, and it can also be a window into what Taiwan was, what Taiwan is, and what Taiwan might yet be. Taiwan has a long-lasting, and very personal relationship with its trains, and this relationship will undoubtedly endure for some time to come.
I'm sure for every good memory of Taiwan's trains, someone has an equally bad one. Many of us have found ourselves crammed into some suffocating Taipei train, or have been forced to stand all the way to Hsinchu 新竹. Even so, I prefer to be selective in my memories, and it's easy to blot out the odd unpleasantness between here and there.
So here's to Taiwan's trains. May they always be on time, and arrive safely at their destinations. May it be the same for you, my friend. Perhaps I will see you at the next stop.
3. Pizza in Taitung City 台東市的比薩 (Taitung Style, May 五月 2012)
Pizza-loving foreigner that I am, I have had more than enough time to investigate Taitung's pizza offerings. I'll start with the obvious choices, and work my way up to more exotic/expensive ones. There are a couple restaurants I am leaving off this list, either because they weren't good, or because it's been too long since I last had their pizza. 我超愛吃比薩. 所以我吃過大部分在台東的披薩. 先從大家比較熟悉的比薩開始, 後再介紹富有異國風味或是較昂貴的地方. 有些比薩餐廳不在介紹之列, 原因是我有一段時間沒去了或是我覺得沒那麼好吃.
1. The 50 NT Pizza Restaurant 50元披薩專賣店
There used to be two of these restaurants in Taitung City, but the one on Geng Sheng Road became a tea shop. This is the cheapest pizza you can buy, and as you'd imagine, it's not very good. I have friends who wonder why I eat at this place, and all I can say is that it's cheap and fast. 以前在台東市有兩家這樣的餐廳, 可是更生路的那一家現在變成一家茶館.50元披薩專賣店的披薩最便宜 . 當然也不好吃. 有朋友想不透我喜歡這家比薩的原因. 其實只是他們的披薩很便宜又很快.
2. Domino's 達美樂
Taitung City's Domino's is on Geng Sheng Road. I usually like Domino's better than Pizza Hut, but not always. Domino's is less oily, but hey, it's still Domino's. 台東市的達美樂在更生路上. 我通常認為達美樂的比薩比必勝客的好吃. 比較不會那麼油, 可是也就這樣了.
3. Pizza Hut 必勝客
Pizza Hut is on Jong Shan Road, not far from the big market downtown. I almost never eat there, since it's farther from my house than Domino's. Occasionally I'll eat their pizza when some class at my school has a party. I like their sauce better than Domino's, but hey, it's still Pizza Hut. 必勝客位於中山路上, 靠近市區的中央市場. 它離我家比較遠. 我偶爾吃他們的披薩, 因為學校班級有時辦生日會訂他們的披薩, 我覺得他們的醬比達美樂的好吃.
4. The "I Love Taitung" Restaurant 愛上台東
I had their pizza once, long ago, but I can barely remember it. Noodles seem to be more their specialty, and this restaurant isn't cheap. It's on Chang Sha Street, not far from where I work. 我很久以前吃過他們的比薩, 可是記不得滋味了. 他們餐廳好像比較重視義大利麵, 而且價位不便宜. 它在長沙街上, 靠近我的學校.
This place is on Shin Sheng Road, right across from Shin Sheng Junior High School. It's an easy place to miss, since their sign is very small. Just look for the white building. Their pizza is probably my favorite, and the owner is very nice.它位於新生路上, 在新生國中對面. 他們的招牌不大, 很難看到他們的存在, 你找白色的餐廳就對了. 他們的比薩應該是我最喜歡的. 老闆也很親切.
6. Yummyz Cafe 亞米斯奎
This restaurant used to be on Ss Wei Road, and was named Pasadena, but has since moved to the other side of town, not far from the Industrial Area. It's hard to describe their location, since it's nestled inside a small alley. The owner speaks excellent English, and this restaurant does a lot of foreign business, but pizza isn't the best thing on their menu. Their Mexican dishes are better. 這家餐廳以前在四維路上, 叫Pasadena. 他們目前搬到工業區附近. 我不知道怎麼介紹他們的地點, 因為在小巷子裡. 老闆的英文很棒, 是很多外國人喜歡的餐廳. 比薩不是他們的強項. 他們的墨西哥菜比較好吃.
6. Uncle Pete's Pizza 披薩阿伯
This restaurant is run by a foreign guy named Pete. Pete likes to surf, and both he and his restaurant are well known around town. Many local foreigners are devoted to this place. My only complaint about Uncle Pete's Pizza is that it's nearly impossible to find. It's on Highway 11, not far from the Municipal Swimming Pool. The sign is very hard to see. 這家餐廳的老闆是從美國來的. 他叫Pete. Pete很喜歡衝浪. 很多台東市民認識他也知道他的餐廳. 附近的外國人士也超愛這邊的比薩. 問題是這家餐廳很難找. 它的招牌很小 , 地點在台11線上, 靠近台東市立游泳池.
4. The Taiwan Soya-Mixed Meat Museum 臺灣滷味博物館 (Taiwan Style, May 五月 2012)
The Taiwan Soya-Mixed Meat Museum 臺灣滷味博物館 is in Kaohsiung County 高雄縣, not far from Lu Jhu 鹿竹 Train Station. It's in Gang Shan District 剛山區, and it's hard to reach without a scooter or car. We found the place by accident this past Chinese New Year.
"Soya mixed-meat," better known in Mandarin as 滷味 or lu wei, is a staple of the Taiwanese diet. Those new to Taiwan may have noticed the cases full of seaweed, tofu, and various meats in many restaurants. This is what lu wei is.
I'd have to say that this is one of the strangest, most Taiwanese museums I have ever been to. It is right up there with Kaohsiung's Banana Museum, Tainan's 台南 Salt Museum, and Miao Li's 苗栗 Strawberry Museum.
Although it's mostly just a store attached to a factory in an industrial area, the second floor has several exhibits detailing how their products are made. Unlike Yilan County's 宜蘭縣 Cookie "Museums," you can't actually see them making their products here. Unlike Yilan's Cookie "Museums," I don't think you would want to. I don't really know how most lu wei is made, but I can't imagine that it's a very appetizing process.
Even so, some of the exhibits are kind of interesting, though I would only recommend this place if you happen to be driving through Gang Shan. There's really nothing else of interest in that area, and the traffic along that highway can be intense. Our car battery died while we were touring the museum, making this trip even less fun.
We also bought some of their food while we were there. I thought the dried bonito was great, but the tofu we bought was somewhat disappointing. A lot of the stuff they sell there had nothing to do with what their company actually makes.
Going to this museum has me wondering what other strange museums are out there, waiting to be discovered. Is there a betel nut museum? A National Taiwan Museum of Bamboo Products? A Formosan Nuts and Bolts Museum? Right now Google Maps says no, but not every Taiwanese museum is to be found on Google Maps.
In the meantime I'll keep my eyes peeled. If I ever do come across a betel nut museum, I'd feel compelled to introduce it here.
5. Good Times? (2) (Taiwan Style, May 五月 2012)
Last Saturday I'm sitting at home, wondering what to do with myself. My daughters have gone to bed, and my wife is out having tea with a friend. My apartment is very quiet, and the silence is freaking me out.
Then my phone starts ringing. "Sam" on the other end, wondering if I want to go have beers with him and "Bob." I say no at first, claiming exhaustion, but I'm really just worried about trouble.
Five minutes later "Bob" sends me a text message, and I change my mind. I'm sick of my living room. I'm sick of being inside. I'm sick of waiting for my wife to come home, and I'm sick of feeling like I don't have anything better to do than wait.
So my wife gets home a little while later, and she is exhausted, and feverish, and before I can so much as say "Goodnight" she is asleep in our bedroom, still dressed. I voice excuses in case she isn't all the way asleep yet, and quietly leave the house. I'll just step out for some fresh air, I'm thinking. I'll have only one beer, and be on my way home after.
I meet "Sam" and "Bob" at that new pub on Jung Hua 中華 Road, the one that used to be a hot pot restaurant. "Bob" and "Sam" are inside playing pool, and "Sam" is already so drunk that he can barely stand up. "Bob", ever the cautious one, has probably been sipping the same Heineken the entire time.
We talk for a while, and I try not to grow depressed at how empty the pub is. "Nightlife" in Taitung 台東. Besides we three lao wai, there is a group of Taiwanese guys staring at us, and two women serving drinks. The more attractive of the two women, a very sexy lady in a very revealing skirt, is cold and distant. The other woman looks at us like we're half-tame dogs, ready to bite.
That's about when "Bob" packs it in. He says he needs to get up early to go surfing the next day, but I can see the worried look in his eyes every time "Sam" shambles up to the pool table. "Sam" is still in the "happy" phase of the night's debauch, but a single beer could turn "happy" into "loud asshole."
We say our goodbyes to "Bob" as he returns dutifully home. "Sam" and I talk about the sexy bartender for a bit, "Sam" commenting on how he'd like to bend her over the pool table, but both of us know he isn't going to get anywhere with that one. Several other Taiwanese dudes arrive, and we sit there for a few moments watching these people. Very few of them are speaking, and at least half of the guys there are playing games on their cellphones.
"Fuck this place," I say. "I'm paying 200 NT for this Taiwan beer, and I might as well be sitting in front of the Family Mart, paying 50."
"Sam" agrees that all the fun has left the room, and we start assessing other options as we pay our bill. Still incredulous at the 200 NT I'm paying for a single Taiwan beer, I ask the sexy bartender if she might be mistaken. Her expression tells me to go fuck myself, and I timidly pay up.
Outside, we still can't figure out where to go next. "Sam" smoked the last of his herbal medication the week before, so going back to his house is out. Family Mart presents itself as a depressing second option, but we both agree that we'd rather call it a night than go there.
Then "Sam" remembers this weird bar he saw on the coastal highway, on the other side of town. "That place looks so gangster," he says, "And I see hotties coming out of there all the time. You up for it?"
Feeling that it would be an opportunity missed if I say no, and also wanting to outcool "Bob", I agree that I am. I'll be damned if I know what weird bar he's talking about, but Taitung is full of weird bars. I follow "Sam", wobbling across the street to his car, and have to move several beer cans out of the way before I'm able to sit in the passenger seat. It is at this moment that I realize how completely wasted "Sam" must be, and that by sitting in his car I have placed my life in danger.
But it's too late. By the time I've realized my trouble, we're already careening out of the better-lit parts of Taitung, into the darker parts near the ocean. I drink another bottle of Taiwan beer to fortify myself. While he drives recklessly, we talk about Metallica, which is blaring out of his stereo. The guitars in the music make me think of cars crashing into very solid walls.
Five minutes later, he has pulled up to this bar in the middle of the countryside, far from everything. The "weird bar" he was talking about is actually a KTV, across from a coast guard station. It's an aluminum shack without windows, painted black and covered in Christmas lights. When "Sam" said "weird bar" he wasn't kidding.
Inside it's even weirder. There is a bar, with a karaoke stage in the opposite corner. The walls are decorated with WWII Nazi paraphernalia, and between groups of drunken Taiwanese men scantily dressed girls are laughing and fetching beers. The rest of the bar staff seems to consist entirely of lesbians, gathered in loose groups around the bar.
"Sam" lurches over to the bar and is immediately assaulted with a barrage of questions in Mandarin. "Sam" doesn't speak any Mandarin, so I intervene. I am thinking of my wife at home, and how I really, really shouldn't be in this kind of place, but it's too late to turn back now.
"Do you speak Chinese?" the girl asks me.
"Yes," I say, "How much is a beer?"
"160," she says, and I am immediately relieved. At least no more 200 NT beers for me.
She directs us to a table near the stage, and we dutifully troop over. I leave "Sam" there in a search for the bathroom. Various people direct me to a place in the back, and as I am pissing into the urinal I notice a single red hand print on the wall, just about shoulder height. Blood? A mishap with some kind of sauce? Sauce, I'm hoping, it must be some kind of sauce. If it was blood they'd have washed it off, right? Right?
I come back to where "Sam" is sitting, and several others join us. One of these, I quickly find out, is the owner of the place. Another, a stunningly attractive girl with long, bare legs, is sitting next to me. A third person, a homosexual with long hair, is sitting next to "Sam."
And this is when I realize that "Sam" has just gone from "happy" to "loud asshole." No sooner have I started talking to the girl than "Sam" unleashes the longest, most profound string of swear words I have ever heard voiced in the English language. EVERYONE in the place turns to stare at us. The homosexual, uncomprehending, recoils in terror and sprints to the other side of the room. Several guys at the next table grow noticeably uncomfortable. Fearing violence from some unforeseen quarter, I begin apologizing profusely.
The girl next to me is on top of the situation, pouring the three of us beers and toasting "Sam" in broken English. He quiets down for a while, but every few minutes he reaches out towards one of the bar girls, trying to get them to sit with him. Unaware that his yelling has frightened them, he keeps asking me why the girls are so stuck-up.
"Just be cool man," I keep saying, "I'll see if I can get one to sit with you."
I start talking up the girl with the beautiful legs, asking her if she can get one of her coworkers to sit with "Sam" and calm him down. She herself is unwilling to do so, not because she's frightened, but because the homosexual was her friend.
Then she looks right at me and calls me by my first name. "Don't you remember me?" she says, "I'm Amanda! You were my teacher at the middle school!"
Frozen in horror for a moment, I realize that she's right. She is indeed Amanda, and I did teach her at the middle school, four years ago. Calculation comes slowly with all the beer I've had to drink, but I figure she must be 18. 18, I think, not so bad, but still not so good.
Amanda doesn't have any luck getting anyone to come sit with "Sam." "Sam" slowly goes from "loud asshole" to "sullen," and I begin to worry that the phase after "sullen" might be "let's start a fight." I look over at him and he's playfully grabbing one of the Taiwanese guys by the head. The Taiwanese guy laughs, but I wonder if he really finds it amusing.
A whole lotta beer is consumed on either side. I talk to Amanda, when Amanda leaves I talk to "Sam." Amanda talks about studying English at the vocational college. "Sam" talks about there being a "strange vibe" in the bar, and I say, "No kidding." I turn and notice a girl pole dancing in the middle of the room, and I'm not sure if it's her spinning, or the room.
"Sam" stands up and says, "Fuck this, man, I gotta take a piss and then we're out of here." Amanda has come back and I find one of my hands on her thigh. Did I do that? Did she? I have no idea, and I'm trying not to think about how much I suddenly want to vomit.
Swaying up out of my seat, I suddenly realize that it's time to go. Right now. Or else. I make my apologies to the lovely Amanda and stumble back to where the bathroom is, searching for "Sam." On the way I see a door open, into a room where a woman is completely nude. She is in the room with several men, who appear to be fully clothed.
Right across from this room I find "Sam" on a wooden bench, sleeping. Thankfully the phase after "sullen" was "sleep." At least for tonight.
I wake him up and we pay our bill. "Sam" isn't making much sense at that point, but I manage to steer him towards his car. Metallica again. And "Sam" driving drunk. But all I can think about is Amanda's gloriously white legs, and that dress she was wearing. Then I think about my wife, sleeping at home, and how easily word gets around Taitung. If I had gone a little bit further, I think, I would have....
But I didn't. Thank God. I think. I make it home somehow, and like my wife, I fall asleep with all my clothes still on.
This morning I get a phone call from "Sam." He is asking me when I'd be up for going back there again. I have no idea why he wants to go, since he had a miserable time there. Still, he seems very enthusiastic about the place, and he keeps asking me why I am so ambivalent about returning.
"I just don't know," I say, "Those kind of places can become a habit. I'm married, man, and I can't be seen hanging around those kind of bars too often. I am too visible here."
And this is true. Any foreigner living in Taitung is bound to be seen, somewhere, by someone he or she knows. You have to be careful about it, though it's not always something you can control. This, I think, is a valid excuse, but it isn't the real reason I don't want to go back there.
The real reason is the memory of that girl, who was very sweet, and who remembered me. Thinking of her, I realize that in the right situation anyone can do just about anything, especially if it's Saturday night, they're a few beers in, and they're on the weird side of town. Some places are fun, but you've got to know your limit. "Bob" knows his limit, and that's why he left early. I'm learning my limit, and that's why I wound up in that bar. "Sam", he might have a little farther to go.
Ah, but when I think of that beautiful girl, and her shining eyes, nothing is certain. Not even my limits.
6. Mothers Are Like No Others 母親節快樂! (Taitung Style, May 五月 2012)
Today is May 13, 2012, otherwise known as Mother's Day. I want to wish all mothers a happy Mother's Day, and if you haven't passed good wishes on to your mom yet, here's a reminder.今天是母親節, 2012年的五月十三日. 祝所有的媽媽們母親節快樂, 還沒獻上你的祝福的朋友, 也在這裡提醒你這個節日.
My mom-in-law has come out from Kaohsiung, and she will stay with us until tomorrow. I also spoke with my own mom on the phone yesterday morning, and I look forward to seeing her again in 2013. There's a lot of ocean between here and there, but we'll see you soon, mom. 我岳母要從高雄來玩, 我也和我媽媽通過電話了, 我很期待明年回去看她, 雖然我們之間隔著廣大的海洋, 但是媽媽, 我們很快就會見面的.
Also a happy Mother's Day to my wife of (almost) 12 years. She has given me two beautiful daughters, and because of her I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Happy Mother's Day, Jean!!也祝我結婚12年的太太母親節快樂, 她給了我兩個美麗的女兒, 因為她, 我覺得自己是個最幸運的男人, 母親節快樂Jean!
To all mothers - Happy Mother's Day! You might not live nearby, you might not even be with us any longer, but we carry you in our hearts, and remember you in our doings. We owe you everything, and it is a debt we can never pay back.祝所有的媽媽母親節快樂! 對於已經不在的長者, 您一直在我們的心中, 也在這特別的一天感念您的慈愛.
7. Jade Mountain National Park 玉山國家公園 (Taiwan Style, May 五月 2012)
I am by no means an expert on Jade Mountain National Park. I am not one of those White Men Who Challenge the Peaks of Taiwan, and my camping experience is limited to North America. I've never joined one of those groups that hike to the top of Jade Mountain, and every time I've been to this area I have had children in tow - either my own or someone else's.
So take anything I have to say about Jade Mountain with a grain of salt. I've been there many times, always entering the park via the Nan-an 南安 entrance in Hualien County 花蓮縣, and I've always been limited to short hikes into the park.
|This is what a 6 year old looks like after 10 KM. NOT happy!|
I can tell you that the Nan-an Visitor's Center is not interesting, and you should skip it and go straight to the end of the road instead. After the Visitors Center, the road continues on for a few kilometers and then stops. This is where the path into Jade Mountain National Park begins.
|A huge toad, not far from the entrance.|
I've only ever made it about an hour into the park. After an hour, one or both of my daughters start complaining about how tired they are, and how far it is, and when can we go back, and I'm really, really tired, and I'm hungry, and please can we go back, and there might be snakes around here, and so forth. You can imagine how fun a hike is under such conditions.
I'd advise you to leave your kids ANYWHERE ELSE if possible. My daughters never seemed to mind hikes in American national parks, but Jade Mountain is nothing but whining.
Even still, their whining hasn't kept us entirely away from the place. Jade Mountain National Park is still BEAUTIFUL, and quiet, once you hike far enough away from the entrance. Most visitors don't make it more than twenty minutes in, and beyond that you're likely have the whole place to yourself. The pictures in this blog entry really don't do the place justice. When the weather's clear, and not too hot, the place is impressive.
I would dearly love to hike to the top of Jade Mountain, but without adequate baby-sitters I haven't been able to attempt it yet. A coworker just hiked up to Shuei (Snow) Mountain 雪山 last week, and he still raves about it. I can only imagine how much more impressive the top of Jade Mountain must be.
8. Coral (Taiwan Style, May 五月 2012)
Much of the information presented here was gathered from Wikipedia's article on coral. I also referred to the Smithsonian's coral reef portal and Stanford's microdocs group. Anyone interested in learning more about coral is hereby directed to those three sites.
Coral reefs are built by coral polyps, which are the tiny animals illustrated below. These animals are little more than tiny stomachs, attached to tiny mouths, which sport stinging tentacles. The coral polyps build calcium carbonate skeletons for protection, and it is these skeletons which make up coral reefs. While the coral grow, they are assisted by zooanthellae algae, an organism more closely related to bacteria than to plants. It is these algae which give coral their distinctive color. The "bleaching" of coral reefs is the result of these algae dying off as water temperature increases.
In Taiwan, coral isn't exactly big business, but it plays a role in the economy of several counties. Tourists are drawn to coral reefs in places like Green Island, and the government has taken some steps to educate these tourists about "not taking the coral."
Coral, and the varieties of fish it nurtures, is also important to local fishing. Both commercial and sport fishermen are inevitably drawn to the nearest coral reef, and again, the government has taken some steps - a few, anyway - with regard to sustainable fishing practices. The big-dollar fishing tends to occur in deeper waters, since big-dollar fish are usually caught in open water. But it's a hard industry to regulate, and coast guard officials can only monitor the catch as it is brought to port. Who knows what is waiting in the holds of these boats, or whether fishermen are adhering to government regulations.
A third economic category would be coral as jewelry. This is an activity on the rise in many areas. Mainland Chinese tourism has generated a high demand for coral jewelry. Many Taiwanese businessmen are eager to respond to this demand, with little regard for how or where their coral is acquired.
In Taitung 台東, there are many large stores selling coral, and doing so almost exclusively to tourists from Mainland China. The people in the stores will tell you where the coral is harvested, they will speak of quotas, and they will speak of coral harvesting as a sustainable activity. Sometimes they will even tell you that the coral isn't from Taiwan at all, but originates in places as far away as Indonesia.
I am very skeptical of coral quotas. I doubt there is much oversight with regard to this trade, and I doubt that the coral market on the island is large enough to attract the sort of attention it deserves. Are the entities harvesting coral really honoring these quotas? Because all I see is a bunch of guys with dollar signs in their eyes, and little concern for how they make their money. Making the excuse that "most of this doesn't even come from Taiwan" doesn't wash either. If it's true, it's merely passing off the environmental cost to another country.
Coral grows really, really slowly, and there's not as much of it as some people think. Coral is threatened by pollution, overfishing, ocean acidification, and most of all - greed and stupidity. 10% of the world's coral reefs are dead, with another 60% at risk from human activities. Taiwan might not be hurting these reefs as much as some other countries, but it is clear that something has to be done. More than anything, people have to be educated on this issue, and changes in governmental policy should follow.
I fail to comprehend why someone would want to take something as beautiful as a living, growing coral, and turn it into a piece of jewelry. I fail, moreover, to understand so many people's failure to care about this issue. Our Earth, after all, isn't just something we take from, but something that gives back, and the more coral we are taking, the less we get back in the future. Coral isn't just a dead rock in the sea. It is a living thing, and like all living things, it is connected to every other living thing. This spells consequences, not only for those harvesting coral, but for the rest of us as well.
9. Things to Do in Taitung When It's HOT 天氣熱的時候可以做什麼呢? (Taitung Style, May 五月 2012)
This said, below is a list of things that I think are fun to do on a hot day in Taitung. You may agree with my list, you may not, but whatever it is you do like to do on a hot day, try to make every day a happy one. 話說回來, 以下是台東的大熱天中可以做的事情. 可能你會同意這些提議, 也可能你不同意. 但無論如何, 我們要讓自己每天都開開心心.
1. Go swimming. The Flowing Lake in the Forest Park, or Shan Yuan Beach are good choices. Yes, there are signs at the Flowing Lake telling you not to swim, but just about everyone ignores those anyway. Just be sure you can really swim, because people often drown in this area! 游泳. 森林公園裡的活水湖和杉源是很好的選擇. 活水湖旁有牌子說禁止游泳, 可是沒有人在乎那個. 但是如果你泳技不好不要在那邊玩水. 很多人在活水湖發生意外.
2. Find a place to have a cool drink. My personal favorite is the "Little Fish's House" on Shan Yuan Beach. Great view of the ocean there. 喝杯冷飲的地方. 我最喜歡的是杉源的"小魚兒的家". 那裡的海景很棒.
3. Ride a bike. If you leave early in the morning, it's not as bad as some people think. I would avoid riding in the middle of the day, however. 騎單車. 早一點出發比較好. 不要中午的時候出發.
4. Visit a bookstore. Yes, even I have to resort to air-conditioning on occasion. Bookstores are a good place for this. 去書店. 我有時候也想找有冷氣的地方. 書店是滿涼的.
5. Go up in the mountains. The temperature at higher elevations, even in the middle of summer, isn't that bad. Parts of Hai Duan Township are quite nice this time of year. 爬山. 高山區的海拔高, 就算是盛暑, 也不會那麼炎熱. 海端鄉有些地方很舒服.
6. Have some tua bing. There are many restaurants that serve this crushed-ice dessert. 吃ㄘㄨㄚˋ冰. 台東到處都可以買得到.
7. Go get some ice cream in Mei Nong. If you live in Taitung City, this could also be combined with a bike ride. Their ice cream is good, they are nice, and their new location has a nice breeze. 去美濃吃冰淇淋. 住台東市的人可以騎單車去. 他們的冰淇淋很好吃. 人也很熱心. 他們的新地點也很空曠涼爽.
8. Learn how to surf. I have yet to really do this, but there are plenty of people in Taitung who are willing to teach you. 學衝浪. 這個我也沒學過. 台東有很多衝浪教練可以教你.
9. Leave the country and go to Iceland. That should be cold enough. 搬家到冰島去. 這樣子夠涼吧.
10. Go take a really big, really difficult, really important test. I promise that you'll be so worried about this test that you'll forget how hot it is! Good luck? 去考很難,很長,很重要的考試. 為了這個考試緊張, 你就不會想到溫度的問題了. 加油!
And that's it for my list. Teachers, remember that summer vacation isn't so far away now. Students, remember the same. Others? Well... the weekend is always around the corner, isn't it? 我就說到這裡. 老師們 ! 記得暑假快來了. 學生們也要加油. 其他人呢? 沒關係, 我們的週末快到了.
10.The Three-Character Poem 三字經 (Taiwan Style, May 五月 2012)
The "Three-Character Poem" or "Three-Character Classic," known in Chinese as the 三字經 (san dz jing) has been around for hundreds of years. It is part epic poem, part primer.
The Wikipedia entry on this topic is about the version of this poem studied in China, and does not mention the revisions and additions made after the founding of the Republic of China in 1911. This later, modified version is what children study in Taiwan.
Any foreigner with a year or more of Chinese study under their belt should be able to study the Three-Character Poem. It is available everywhere, and most versions include the phonetic renderings of the Chinese characters. I have never seen a pinyin version in Taiwan.
The translation below is a loose one. I referred to the edition of this poem published by 世一 for young children. This version includes explanations of the more difficult/unfamiliar words, and also features stories related to particular "episodes" within the text. This is the first 12th of the Three-Character Poem. Later sections are more historical, cosmological, or even alchemical in nature.
When people are born,
Their personalities are good.
Their personalities are similar,
And only diverge through study [or the lack thereof].
If you do not teach them,
These personalities change.
[But] the method of education,
Can improve one's heart and mind.
Before, when the mother of Mencius,
Selected a neighborhood.
The child [Mencius] did not study,
[So his mother] cut the cloth [which represented tradition].
Dou Yan Shan,
Had a good method [of teaching].
He taught his five children,
And their names live on through posterity.
If one raises [a child] without teaching it,
It is the parents' fault.
If they do not teach up to their responsibility,
The teachers are lazy.
If the child does not study,
This is not what should happen.
The youths who do not study,
What can they become in later years?
The jade that is not polished,
Cannot become a useful object.
Those people who do not study,
Do not acquire wisdom.
To be a human being,
You must exercise your youth.
Family, teachers, and friends,
Must study the ways of propriety.
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