2014年3月31日 星期一

Birth of a Nation?

Civil unrest is making headlines in Taiwan.  A couple of weeks ago, a group of student protesters began occupying the Taiwanese legislature, as a means of drawing attention to the China-Taiwan trade bill that was hurried through that part of the government.  The students are still there now, and many people are pointing their fingers at Ma Ying-Jeou 馬英九, current President of Taiwan, as the one responsible for the breakdown of the democratic process in this country.

The protesters are of course upset by the content of the trade bill, which would compromise many local industries, but their main concern is the fact that this bill was hurried through the legislature without having been reviewed in full.  At best, the representatives involved weren't concerned enough with the content of the bill, and just wanted to expedite its passage into law.  At worst, these representatives were attempting to pass this bill without the full cooperation of interested parties, and in order to do so they were willing to break the law.  Given that President Ma was a supporter of this bill, the whole thing reflects very badly on him.

Since the protests began, the protesters have clashed with police several times.  No one has been seriously injured as yet, but some of them have been bloodied, and water cannons have been deployed.  Whichever side of this argument one falls on, you have to admire the protesters' fortitude.  It is already the second week of their stay in the legislature, and there are few reasons to think that this demonstration will end any time soon.

For me, what this protest brings to mind is the future course of Taiwanese politics.  I'm not just talking about the trade imbalance with China, but also the larger issue of Taiwanese identity.  What does this protest portend for Taiwanese people and their idea of Taiwan?  What does it mean for their future?  Beyond the politics of party, what does this protest mean for the Taiwanese sense of self?

As anyone acquainted with Taiwanese history will tell you, this island has a long history of being caught between a rock and a hard place.  In the 1600s it was caught between Dutch colonizers and the Ming Dynasty.  Later on it was an object of dispute between the Ming loyalists and the Ching Dynasty.  Still later it was caught between Japan and imperial China, and up until now it has been disputed between the governments of China and Taiwan.  For all this time, Taiwan has never had a chance to be its own nation, its own people, and (in some ways) its own culture, defined against the national cultures of other regional powers.

Yes, there were brief moments of nationalist fervor in Taiwanese history.  Many of the Ming loyalists were fighting more for their home (Taiwan) than for any issues related to dynastic succession.  There was even the short-lived "Republic of Taiwan" 台灣民主國 that collapsed just as the Japanese were arriving.  One might even point to the election of Chen Shui-bien 陳水扁, a noted advocate of independence, and say that his election symbolized the Taiwanese desire for true sovereignty.  Of course we all know how it went with Chen Shui-bien, but that doesn't change the importance of the gesture.

What Taiwan has always lacked is a consensus.  What Taiwan has always lacked is a collective will, a group of people standing up and saying "We are Taiwan.  We are not China."  This has not happened because outdated, ridiculous claims to the Mainland still persist through the Taiwanese constitution, and forsaking such claims would involve a long, complicated political process.  It wouldn't be an easy thing for the people of Taiwan to stand up and say "We are Taiwan."  Such as statement would, in many respects, be as difficult as many English colonists standing up in the 1700s and saying "We are the United States of America."

Even so, I think such a statement would be worth making.  There are many problems in Taiwan that aren't going to be fixed until the people of Taiwan can make such a statement.  Until they can do so, the trade imbalances will continue to get worse, and Taiwan's economy will continue to slide into the Mainland vortex.  That is unless the Chinese government or economy undergo some kind of collapse, which doesn't seem likely in the near future.  Odds are that such a collapse might even make things worse for Taiwan, not better.

Just imagine, for a moment, what it might be like to see a Taiwanese delegate in the United Nations.  Just imagine what it might be like to see Taiwan as a true nation, in its own right.  Just imagine what it might be like to be Taiwanese, and not to have to explain or apologize for that fact.  Yes, it's a long way from here to there, but it is a definite possibility.  It is, moreover, a possibility that can become a reality in our lifetimes.

When I look at these protesters, I can't help but wonder if they are the beginning of this process.  Whatever their reasons for engaging in this demonstration, whatever their knowledge of what they're protesting and why, they have the world's attention right now, and they could be a good thing for Taiwan.  Perhaps, as it watches these brave students, the Taiwanese government might learn a lesson from them.  Perhaps the government might learn that there is a will to sovereignty alive in this place, and that people are ready to fight when their freedoms are taken away.

Maybe a seed has been planted.  Maybe one day, not too far removed from now, that seed will grow into an independent Taiwan.  That would be a good thing, I think.  That would be a thing worth fighting for.

Related Entries:

Hengchun's "Old City" 恆春古城 (中)
Semicoherent Thoughts on China
Mandarin in Taiwanese Elementary Schools
Taiwan by the Numbers: People

2014年3月24日 星期一

Mixing Memories

For a while my main hobby was mixology.  Mixology, in case you didn't already know, is the practice of mixing alcoholic drinks.  This is what bartenders do for a living, and this is why many bartenders must attend - you guessed it - mixology school before they become bartenders.

I'm not really sure what got me interested in mixing drinks.  When I first came to Taiwan I wasn't a big consumer of liquor, though I have always been fond of gin.  I couldn't stand whiskey for the longest time, and it wasn't until I tried some of the single malt scotches that I developed an appreciation for it.

Whatever got me interested in mixology, I remember buying my first book about mixed drinks when I lived in Hsinchu 新竹.  From that point on I was visiting every liquor store I came across, in search of any brand of any liquor that I hadn't already tried.  I realize that this makes me sound like a major alcoholic, but I was really quite moderate in my consumption.  I was happy just to taste a new liquor, and I wasn't trying to get drunk.

After a few months of careful purchases, I had a pretty good selection of liquor in my house, all housed within a wooden shelf behind my living room TV.  I had two kinds of gin, several kinds of whiskey, tequila, two kinds of vodka, bottles of wine, and a considerable selection of other spirits such as triple sec, creme de menthe, midori, and so on.  The bottles looked very pretty in my living room, especially when we lit the candles.

I'd like to think I got pretty good at mixing drinks.  To this day I can make a bloody mary from memory, without resorting to a mix.  In my time as an freelance bartender, I probably made dozens of screwdrivers, old fashioneds, and margaritas for friends and acquaintances.  One of my favorite things was making a "new" drink for someone, and having them enjoy the results.

Sometimes my Taiwanese friends would grow very intimidated in the presence of my liquor cabinet, but once I made them a drink or two everything was understood.  It really wasn't about getting drunk for me.  I just enjoyed mixing drinks.  Mixing these drinks at home was also much cheaper, and I tended to enjoy a higher quality of liquor.  If you've ever looked at the labels used in most Taiwanese bars, you'll know that what they're offering is the cheapest option available.

After moving back to Taichung 台中, I carried my bar with me.  At one point my bottles covered an entire huge table in our little apartment, and when mixing drinks I actually had to think about what brand of liquor to use in a particular drink.  Friends, aware of my new hobby, started giving me bottles, and the whole thing got kind of crazy.  After a while I managed to pare down my collection, but it took a lot of willpower and polite refusals to do so.

Getting rid of all the liquor made my life less complicated, but I do miss my liquor cabinet at times.  It was a nice conversation starter, and a nice way to break the ice with new friends.  Perhaps one day I'll amass a similar collection, though nothing, I hope, so dauntingly large as what I had in Taichung.

Related Entries:

Nightlife in Taitung City 台東的夜生活 (中)
Not So Festive Lanterns
Keelung 基隆 and Uninterrupted Sunshine
American Football with Non-Americans 美式足球 (中)

2014年3月17日 星期一

Hengchun's "Old City" 恆春古城 (中)

Here are few pictures I took of Hengchun's Old City.  Hengchun is a municipality in Ping Tung County, and the Old City is just a few minutes' drive away from Kenting National Park. 這些照片是在恆春古城拍的.  恆春鎮位於屏東縣, 靠近墾丁國家公園.

Hengchun has a bit more history than most other parts of Taiwan.  It was fortified at the end of the Ching Dynasty, as part of their bid to "lay claim" to Taiwan.  The city walls were built after 1874, in response to the "Mu Dan Incident" involving an altercation between a group of Japanese nationals and local aborigines.  恆春相較於台灣其他地區來說有較久的歷史.  這座古城蓋於清朝末年, 在日本人跟原住民之間發生牡丹社事件後, 1874年以後完成城牆建設.

Pictured above is the South Gate of the city.  This is in downtown Hengchun.  During the Ching Dynasty, this gate would have been connected to other gates by a wall that encircled the city.  There are similar gates in Hsinchu and Tainan.  上面是恆春的南門.  南門位於恆春市區.  清朝的時候這些城門都有城牆連接鞏固城內安全.  新竹市跟台南市也有這種城門.

This is a closer look at the South Gate.  I would have loved to walk up to the top, but there is no way to do this.  A small placard near the entrance explains the history of this gate in Chinese and English.  這張照片可以更近地看到它的樣貌.  我那時候很想爬到上面去, 可是沒辦法.  城門前面有中,英文牌子介紹這個城門的歷史.

The sections of the wall that once encircled the city are still intact on the other side of Hengchun.  Many tour buses stop through here, but it isn't that crowded.  The weather was very nice that day, and it was a good place for a walk. 恆春的另外一邊還可以看到部分城牆.  很多遊覽車會停在這裡, 只是人並不多.  那天天氣很好, 很適合散步.

This is in the same location, looking in the opposite direction. 同一個地點, 從不同的方向看過來.

A view of the mountains from the city wall.  I don't know of any trails in the area, but I'm sure there are a few.  It looks like a great area for hiking.  I've also heard of a triathlon that passes through here, though I have never joined it. 從城牆上看到的山景.  我不知道這附近有沒有步道, 看起來滿適合爬山的.  聽說恆春也舉辦鐵人三項賽, 可是我還沒參加過.

I knew what this thing was but now I have forgotten!  Don't go in there unless you like snakes!  我忘了這是做什麼用的了.  不喜歡蛇的人不要進去.

This thing with all the poles is used for a local festival.  Apparently they tie ropes to the metal girders, and everyone climbs to the top.   這個東西是當地盛典使用的.  看起來好像很多人會利用繩子爬到最上面.

Upper Left: Plaque Explaining the "Incident," Upper Right: Monument Erected by Japanese expeditionary force, Lower Left: Memorial for the "Incident," Lower Right: Mudan Train Station.

Oh, and if you visit Hengchun by car I would highly recommend driving into the mountains along highway 200 from Hengchun, or along highway 199 from Che Cheng.  You can even do a loop around both highways, and it's a pretty drive.  Near the Mudan Township Office, off highway 199, there is a memorial for the "Mudan Incident."  It isn't exactly awe-inspiring, but it's definitely historic.  你如果開車去恆春的話, 建議你從恆春開公路200線或從車城開公路199往山區,  你也可同時走這兩條路繞一大圈.  這附近的風景很漂亮.  在199上, 靠近牡丹公所有一個牡丹社事件的紀念牌.  它雖不是美的讓你目瞪口呆, 卻是實實在在的充滿歷史感.

Related Entries 相關的文章:

Semicoherent Thoughts on China
"The Belowground People" 地低下的人
Keelung 基隆 and Uninterrupted Sunshine
Shuang Liou Forest Recreation Area 雙流森林遊樂區


"Mu Dan Incident" 牡丹社事件 Taiwan Wikipedia 維基百科
Nature Campus 自然觀察/人文風景
台灣圖解歷史 "An Illustrated History of Taiwan" 王御風 Wang Yu-fung, author 晨星業群 Morning Star Group, publisher, 2012
台灣開發故事 (南部地區) "Stories of the Opening of Taiwan" 趙莒玲 Jhao Yu-ling, author 天衛文化圖書設份有限公司 Tien Wei Culture Library Company, Ltd., 2012

2014年3月10日 星期一

Semicoherent Thoughts on China

If you live in Taiwan, it's impossible not to think about China.  Taiwan was, after all, once part of China, and many people in Taiwan and China claim that Taiwan is still part of China, or that China is still part of Taiwan, or something like that.  It all gets very confusing, and when I think about it too hard I get a headache.

Taiwan's economy is heavily dependent on China's economy.  Many Taiwanese factories have relocated to the Mainland, and all Taiwanese banks now handle transactions in Renminbi, China's currency.  I think that Taiwan's businessmen are, on average, quite good at hedging their bets between China, Japan, and the US, so I'm not too worried about Taiwan's dependence on China.  In some ways, the US is even more dependent on China than Taiwan is.

I often wonder if and when China will implode.  I have the feeling that China's government is attempting to maintain itself through economic growth alone, without considering the individual rights and freedoms that make countries such as Taiwan more attractive to live in.  I cannot help but think that China's less privileged classes are going to make their voices heard soon, and they are going to want the rights denied them.

If the result of economic "progress" is that everyone in China gets to live a Western lifestyle, what does that mean for the rest of the world?  The environmental repercussions of this drive towards a Western lifestyle are already making themselves felt.  Air pollution is an increasingly large problem there, with correspondingly negative effects on public health.  Food safety is another issue of mounting importance, as Chinese producers turn to factory farming to supply a population hungry for beef, pork, and chicken. 

Some foreign commentators are very satisfied over this development, but let us remember that smog does not just remain in China - it goes wherever the wind carries it.  The same could be said of whatever pollution China is creating in the oceans, whatever diseases may be incubating there, and whatever political unrest might be fermenting because of bad government and bad living conditions.  Sorry to welcome these foreign commentators to our global village, but a problem for China today will be a problem for everyone tomorrow.

I've been to China proper for about 5 seconds altogether.  I've been to Hong Kong a few times, and of course I live in Taiwan, but I've gone into the "real" China exactly once.  I took the train from Hong Kong north into the Mainland, to Shenzen, which is a big industrial center.  It was hot, it was dusty, and I was understandably unimpressed by what I saw.

The only Mainlanders I tend to see are at the Family Mart near my house, where the tour buses stop on their way around the island.  They spend a lot of time milling around the Family Mart, many of them amazed by the most commonplace items.  I feel sorry for the lady that works in the Family Mart, because they often try to argue down the price on items that are already very cheap.  "How much are these cigarettes?" a man from China says, "50 NT?  Do you have any cigarettes for less?"  "No," says the Family Mart lady for the hundredth time, "These are the cheapest cigarettes we have..."

It's hard to blame people in China for being ignorant.  Their media is heavily censored, and their government does everything it can to skew their picture of the outside world.  Hopefully the kind of economic progress embraced by the Chinese government will have a corrosive effect on all this censorship.  The people of China need to be better informed.  For that matter, so do most Americans.

I would like to go to Yunnan in China, but yesterday I was reading about these people that ran into the Kunming Train Station and stabbed 29 people to death.  Not in a big hurry to go to Yunnan now!

China has sent two probes to the moon.  Neither of these probes has accomplished much, but it's good to see people bothering with space exploration.  The US seems very threatened by the Chinese space program, but this might be a good thing.   Given the rate at which we are exhausting many of the Earth's resources, looking beyond the Earth for some of these resources might become more practical in the future.

I think a strong Japan is better for Taiwan.  Japan has no military ambitions with regard to Taiwan, and a strong Japan distracts China from other territorial disputes.  Right now the Chinese are threatening Japan over China's newly declared "no-fly zone," which covers much of the waters between Japan, China, and Taiwan.  Taiwan has wisely stayed out of this argument, which might otherwise threaten more concrete Taiwanese interests.

Many Westerners like to point their finger at China and say something like: "You people are destroying your environment, and you people are oppressors, and you people are all just bad, bad, BAD!"  But let us not forget that many of the companies doing the polluting in China are exporting to Western countries, and that much of the oppression goes hand-in-hand with the Chinese "economic miracle" that has made goods in places such as Wal-Mart so cheap.  China bears much of the political and environmental cost of Western economic activity, and those living in Chinese houses shouldn't throw stones.

Especially if those stones were also made in China.

Related Entries:

Mandarin in Taiwanese Elementary Schools
Taiwan by the Numbers: People
Racism in Taiwan
Foreign Relations

2014年3月4日 星期二

"The Belowground People" 地低下的人

Here is a story from the A-mei tribe.  It is here because I thought it was cute.  I have translated it from "Taiwanese Folk Stories," 台灣民間故事 a collection that appeared in 1996.  The Chinese text was written by 洪淑英, 區世皓, and 謝桂芳, the English (of course) was written by me.

A-mei gathering in Taipei.

地低下的人 "The Belowground People"

大家都知道, 天上住著神仙, 地上住著人, 那麼地低下, 住著什麼呢?  小朋友絕對想不到, 地低下也住著人呢!  這是流傳在台灣阿美族的一個故事.  As everyone knows, the spirits dwell in heaven and people dwell on the earth.  But what about below the ground?  What lives there?  Children will certainly not realize that people also live below the ground!  This is a story passed down through Taiwan's A-mei tribe.

很久很久以前, 地上和地下都住著人.  地上的人地下的人很好, 有時候, 地上的人就到地下去玩, 地下的人也經常到地上頭來玩兒.  A very long time ago, the aboveground people and the belowground people got along very well.  Sometimes the aboveground people would go below the ground to play, and sometimes the belowground people would come up to play.

有一天, 有一個地下的人到地上頭來買東西.  地上的人惡作劇, 裝了一袋子的蜜蜂, 騙地下的人說袋子裡有希罕的寶貝, 回到家才能打開來看.  地下的人聽了, 高高興興的把袋子背回家去了.  On one day, a belowground person came up out of the earth to buy things.  The aboveground people played a trick on him, and filled a bag full of bees.  They told the belowground person that there was a great treasure inside the bag, but that he should wait until he got home to open it.  After the belowground person heard this, he happily shouldered the bag home.

地下的人回到家, 興匆匆的把袋子打開.  啊, 不得了了!  袋子裡飛出黑壓壓的一群蜜蜂!  蜜蜂用屁股上的針, 螫地下人的眼睛, 鼻子... 地下的人全身腫起一個一個大包, 痛得拼命的跳.  這些腫起來的包, 後來變成一個一個的疔, 有時候痛, 有時候不痛.  After the belowground person arrived home he hurriedly opened the bag.  Ah!  This was too much!  A dense swarm of bees flew out of the bag!  The bees used the stingers on their bums to sting the belowground people in their eyes and noses... until the belowground people were covered from head to toe in boils.  It hurt so much that they jumped as if their lives depended on it.  Sometimes afterward the boils would hurt, and sometimes they would stop hurting.

痛起來的時候, 可真要命, 地下的人忍不住痛, 用力的跳.  轟隆!  轟隆!  地上就開始搖搖晃晃起來.  從此, 地上就有了地震.  When the boils started hurting it was almost too much for the belowground people to take, and they could not stand it.  They would jump with all their strength.  Boom!  Boom!  The land above them would begin to shake and shudder, and from this time there were earthquakes on the land.

2014年3月1日 星期六

Nightlife in Taitung City 台東的夜生活 (中)

Take what I say below with a healthy dose of skepticism.  I go "out" maybe once a month, and when I do I'm not looking for girls, drugs, or even a particularly awesome time.  If I was looking for those things, I suppose I'd find Taitung very frustrating.    我以下說的話不必太當真. 我差不多一個月一次酒吧, 我去那種地方不是為了找美女, 毒品, 或是期待特別棒的時刻發生.  如果我是那種尋找那種事的人, 我會覺得台東是個蠻無聊的地方.

Taitung City is developing, but it's still a very rural place.  There aren't many foreigners living here.  There aren't even that many Taiwanese people, so I guess the lack of foreigners isn't that surprising.  台東市正在發展, 但是這裡仍是一個很鄉下的地方.  這裡的台灣人不多, 而這裡的外國人也不多.   所以這裡的外國人數少是可以理解的.

Taitung City is also very small.  I live near the city limits, and I can ride my bike from my house to the city center in about ten minutes.  In a city this small, your options after 11 PM are limited.  台東市也很小.  我家靠近卑南, 可是我騎腳踏車到市區只要10分鐘.  在這麼小的城市裡, 超過晚上11點營業的地方不多.

Pete's Pizza
If you're looking for places where foreigners hang out, there are a few points of interest.  A lot of people like Uncle Pete's Pizza, though the "crowds" in this place - like anywhere else in Taitung - are pretty subdued on the weekdays.  你如果想找外國人常去的地點的話, 這裡有些地方給你參考:   很多人喜歡Uncle Pete's Pizza(披薩阿伯), 只是這家餐廳跟台東大多數的餐廳一樣.  周一到周四來的客人並不多.

Kasa, a bar located downtown, is another place frequented by local expats.  I tend to visit Kasa more than Uncle Pete's, only because it's a more convenient location for me.  A lot of the crowd from Pete's pizza usually moves over to Kasa during the later hours, so you're likely to see many of the same people in both places.  台東的外國住民也喜歡Kasa.  Kasa是在台東市區的酒吧.  我常常去Kasa, 因為它的地點對我來說比較方便. 通常比較晚的時候, 在Uncle Pete's的外國客人會過去Kasa.  這兩個地點有很多共同的客人.

Texas Jo's, a new bar next to the Tai Ping River, is just off Jung Hua Road.  They serve food as well, but I've never eaten there.  The owner of that place is very nice, and it's a more outdoor kind of bar, more like something you'd see in Kenting.  Some foreign friends of mine play cards there once in a while, but the clientele tends to be more Taiwanese.  Texas Jo's是在太平溪旁邊的酒吧.  它也靠近中華路.  他們也做德州式料理, 可是我還沒有在那裡吃過飯.  老闆很親切.  這家酒吧很像墾丁那裡的酒吧.  我有些外國朋友喜歡去那邊玩牌, 它大部分的客人是台灣人.

The Railway Art Village 鐵花村
There's also the Railway Art Village, which most local foreigners refer to as "Tie Hua."  This place is near the Starbucks/Eslite complex, and features live music.  It's a bit pricey, and I'd have to really like the band to pay the cover charge.  In the summer the mosquitoes are formidable.  還有鐵花村.  這裡的外國住民都叫他"Tie Hua."  它靠近星巴克咖啡跟誠品書局, 這裡也有現場的音樂表演.  我覺得有點貴.  我一定要好喜歡那個樂團才會買門票進場.  夏天時那附近的蚊子很可怕.

If you're gay or bi you'd probably like Red House, a bar not far from the Carrefour.  I know hetero guys who also like that place, but the downside to Red House is that they're always wondering if the "hot women" they meet in Red House are really men.  同性戀或是雙性戀的人應該喜歡Red House這個酒吧.  它靠近市區的家樂福.  我知道有些喜歡女人的男人也喜歡去那裡, 可是風險是他們在那裏遇到的美女到底是女的還是男的!

There are of course many other small bars and KTVs around town, but nowhere that's as consistently popular as the places mentioned above.  Some friends and I used to visit this super weird KTV near the Seashore Park,  but I haven't been to that place in over a year now.  I've seen a couple other places that look interesting - a bar with German beer and a sports bar - but I have yet to visit those places.  當然還有其他的酒吧跟卡拉OK, 可是其他的地方沒有那麼熱鬧. 之前我跟一些朋友喜歡去一家海濱公園附近的卡拉OK, 可是我已經一年多沒去了.  我也看過些市區的酒吧.  一間賣德國啤酒, 還有一間很像美國的那種運動酒吧, 只是我還沒進去過這二家.

The Dulan Cafe, inside the sugar factory.

If you have a car or a decent scooter, Dulan is a second option.  On weekends the bar inside the Dulan sugar factory can be lively.  WaGaLiGong, a bar up the highway from there, is a nice place to hang out.  I was there a couple weeks ago, and had a great time.  有摩托車或是汽車的人也可以去都蘭.  有時都蘭糖廠裡的酒吧在周末的時候很熱鬧.  靠近那裡的WaGaLiGong也是一個很好的酒吧.  我兩個禮拜前去過.  我那時候玩得很開心.

If you are new in town, don't be surprised if you find some or all of these places nearly empty.  Nightlife in Taitung City is sparse in the best of times, and you can be satisfied if you walk into a bar and see more than three customers present.  If a given bar is too depressing, you can always do what I do, and head to the nearest 7-11 or Family Mart.  In Taitung City, this often the most sensible option.  如果你是第一次來到台東, 很可能你到這些地方會發現客人不多, 那不用太驚訝. 因為台東的夜生活連假日時也不是很熱鬧. 在酒吧裡看不到超過三個客人是平常的事.  如果酒吧太無聊, 你可以跟我一樣去7-11或是全家.  有時候在台東這個是最好的選擇.

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