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When the trains hit the fan

My poor wife often has to work on Saturdays, sometimes for just the mornings, but all too often for the entire day. I must admit, however, that her loss is my gain, in that I get to spend some quality time with my daughter. Usually that means going to a park to play ball games together, or to let Amber ride her bike or frolic on the playground. This afternoon, however, we went on a short day trip, taking the train from Fengyuan (Fēng​yuán) 豐原 to Changhua (Zhāng​huà) 彰化 in order to check out the Fan-Shaped Train Garage (shàn​xíng chē​kù) 扇形車庫. Looking like something out of Thomas the Tank Engine, the garage is a sort of wheelhouse used for maintenance of train cars. Visiting the complex is free, with the only requirement being that visitors sign in at the entrance.

There were several permanently parked train engines at the garage. Amber insisted on clambering up all of them.

Amber poses in front of the turntable, which is used to direct the train cars into one of the 12 maintenance spaces in the background.

An observation deck provided an overlook of the garage:

We timed our visit well this afternoon as we had the chance to see the turntable being used to guide a couple of trains in and out of the large maintenance shed:

At one end of the fan-shaped garage were two vintage steam train engines:

Unless you're a trainspotter, the Fan-Shaped Train Garage is probably not worth a special trip (in our case, Amber likes trains, and Changhua isn't that far from where we live). However, it's free, fun for kids (especially if the turntable is in operation) and can be combined with the city's more well-known sites (such as the large Buddha statue 八卦山大佛像) to make Changhua an interesting daylong outing. All aboard!

Taking myself out to the ballgame

Last night I had the pleasurable experience of taking in Game 2 of the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series at the T'aichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium 臺中市洲際棒球場. I had hoped to bring my daughter along with me, but the high price I paid for one ticket, NT2800 ($93/¥7260), put, um, paid to that idea. Still, I don't regret having gone, for events like this one don't happen very often in Taiwan, especially here in T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中. The final score was 5-3 in favor of the Major League All-Stars over the regrettably-named Chinese T'aipei national baseball team 中華臺北棒球代表隊. The Taiwanese side, made up of amateurs, players from the North American minor leagues and several plying their trade in Japan, certainly showed a lot of the what the Japanese call "fighting spirit" 闘志, coming from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 lead, but in the end poor fielding and a wild pitch did the local boys in (though the MLB squad was the official "home team" for this game). The fans were solidly behind their team throughout the game, but they didn't seem disappointed with the outcome, and big cheers were given for Curtis Granderson (a Led Zeppelin fan, judging by his at bat song) and Robinson Cano, two of Chien-Ming Wang's 王建民 former teammates from his New York Yankees days. Speaking of "The Hero of Taiwan", though he didn't pitch in this contest, his visible presence in the dugout got a lot of people excited. The only low point of last night's game was the serious injury incurred by one of the Taiwanese players, Kuo-Hui Lo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuo_Hui_Lo#Kuo-Hui_Lo), a minor league player in the Seattle Mariners system. Lo dislocated his right ankle and fractured his right leg getting tagged out at home in the fifth inning, and had to carried off the field on a stretcher. It was obvious from the look on his face that he was in a lot of pain.

You can read a summary of Game 2 on the Major League Baseball homepage (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20111103&content_id=25881770&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb). Some video highlights can be seen by clicking on the FastCast link on the mlb.com main page (http://mlb.mlb.com/index.jsp).

A few photos from last night:

Approaching the stadium before the start of the game. Parking spaces for cars were at a premium, but having come by scooter, I was able to find a spot just a few blocks away. I was also able to avoid the traffic jam after the game by using a series of side streets behind the ballpark.

The view from my seat, just before the start of the game.

The opposing managers exchange lineup cards and go over the ground rules with the umpires. No. 16 is Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants, managing the MLB team on its tour of Taiwan.

The first pitch of the game. On the mound for the MLB team is Ross Detwiler of the Washington Nationals.

Speaking of the Nationals, Screech, the team's mascot (http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/community/mascot.jsp), paid a visit to our section during the later innings.

The scoreboard showing the final linescore.

Players from both sides shake hands after the game.



My daughter this morning in her devil costume for Halloween, the same one she wore last year. Amber likes this outfit so much she even kept it on when her mother took her to the clinic this evening to get somemedicine for a small cold she has recently come down with. Happy
Halloween to one and all!

And speaking of which, the following comment appeared on Facebook the other day:

"With all the party signs, decorations and costumes I've seen today, I think Halloween must be celebrated more in Taiwan than anywhere."

The person who wrote the above isn't American or Canadian, so it's likely that he/she has never experienced a genuine Halloween. But the
comment did remind me of something unrelated to ghosts, goblins and pumpkins - the Bubble phenomenon. I blogged about this in a previous (http://kaminoge.livejournal.com/208952.html) a couple of months ago - namely, the tendency for some Western residents on this island to assume that what they're doing, feeling, hearing and seeing in Taiwan must somehow be uniquely...um, unique. In fact, much of this so-called uniqueness can be found elsewhere in East and Southeast Asia, but ignorance is often bliss in the case of the Bubble People. There's no harm, and thus no foul, in any of this, but it does get annoying after a while reading about the same ad nauseum testimonials on how special Taiwan and the Taiwanese are. 

What I forgot to point out back in that August diatribe is that there exists a sub-species of the Bubble People who reside in T'aipei, the
capital and largest city on Ilha Formosa. These folks tend to assume that what they're doing, feeling, hearing and seeing in T'aipei (Tái​běi) 台北 isn't unique, but actually representative of the island of Taiwan of a whole. Therefore, when one sees colorful Halloween decorations and costumes on the streets of the metropolis, it must mean the country as a whole is doing the exact same thing. The only problem is that out here in the hinterlands, aka The Real Taiwan, or the place where 90% of the Taiwanese population resides, you would be hard-pressed to find any signs of Halloween other than at some kindergartens and cram schools. 

On social websites such as Facebook, or in discussion forums such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree or Forumosa, one can read countless comments and postings describing a cosmopolitan, fashionable and thoroughly modern land known as "Taiwan" that sounds almost completely alien to the provincialism and sheer ugliness that I encounter on an almost daily basis out in the Taiwan where I reside (which happens to be in the suburbs of the third-largest city on this island). Replace the word "Taiwan" in these descriptions with "T'aipei", and things immediately become clear. Yes, T'aipei can be a very appealing city, and certainly a very comfortable one for Western ex-pats, with all mod cons and many of the familiar trappings of home, but with just enough exoticism to impress the folks and friends back home (or when they come to visit). And it should be, for T'aipei:
  • receives a disproportionate share of cash from the central government in comparison with other cities, resulting in plenty of funds to be spent on parks, bike-ways, mass transportation and urban beautification projects;
  • and by hosting the best schools, and benefiting from its location as the headquarters for many domestic as well as international companies, attracts the best and the brightest - people who have had more dealings with non-Taiwanese and are thus more open to different things, as well as being more likely to have spent time abroad and therefore more demanding in their expectations of what a capital city should (or shouldn't) be.
Out here in the rest of Taiwan, the situation is a wee bit different. Things are not as well-planned, the architecture is more hideous to look at and it's more difficult to track down things from home. The area where I live has hundreds of eateries to choose from, but other than
watered-down offerings of Japanese or Italian cuisine or the ubiquitous fast-food outlets, trying to find food that isn't Chinese or Taiwanese
in origin can be a major undertaking. 

T'aipei is T'aipei, and Taiwan is Taiwan, and quite often the twain doesn't meet. I just wish some of my fellow ex-pats can remember that
the next time they marvel in how wonderful life is in the big city.

Some good news for those folks in Taiwan who are obsessed with beating the Koreans: according to this Kyōdō News 共同通信社 article, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nb20111031a1.html, from today's Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ:

"Sony Corp. ソニー株式会社 is in talks to terminate its joint venture with South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. for the production of liquid crystal displays for televisions...Sony has decided to increase procurement of cheap displays from Taiwanese and other manufacturers rather than focusing on the joint venture."

In the zero sum game of relations between the southern half of the divided Korean peninsula and the renegade province of China, South
Korea's loss is Taiwan's gain.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night

My daughter rides her bike at night on that tree-lined paved strip that lies between the National Museum of Natural Science (guó​lì zì​rán kē​xué bó​wù​guǎn) 國立自然科學博物館 and Chungkang Road (Zhōnggǎnglù) 中港路:

A small temple located just outside the museum grounds. If you look closely on the far-left side of the photo, you will see a zebra standing there. Zebras play a very important role in the traditional folk religions of Tai...OK, actually I haven't a clue as to why the model was placed there:

A fairly typical nighttime street scene of T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中:


Scratching my head in wonder

A not-too-successful attempt at carving our very own Halloween Jack-o'-lantern. Will till next year, which is something I hope the
Texas Rangers won't be saying after tomorrow's Game 7.

I came across an article http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2011/10/28/2003516881 this morning in the Taipei Times about the push to have Yushan 玉山, the highest mountain in both Taiwan and East Asia, declared...well, I'll let the opening two paragraphs speak for themselves:

"Local non-governmental organizations (NGO) were lobbying yesterday for the public to vote for Yushan to become one of the world’s 'New 7 Wonders of Nature.'

The organizations urged the public to cast their vote, asking people to treat the finals of the competition even
more seriously than the upcoming presidential election."

Yushan as one of the "New 7 Wonders of Nature"? I realize that many Taiwanese are only dimly aware of what lies outside the confines of the Chinese-speaking universe, but this is being carried to ridiculous extremes. Yes, at 3,952 m (12,966 ft), Yushan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yushan_%28mountain%29 is an impressive piece of geologic uplift for this corner of the planet, but there are innumerable mountains the world over of much greater stature and grandeur (and as the Wikipedia entry points out, Yushan is only the fourth highest mountain on an island). Even in relation to East Asia, Taiwan's mightiest peak can't match the aesthetic beauty or iconic status of Japan's Mount Fuji 富士山, which has been venerated both spiritually and aesthetically for centuries. But Fuji-san, for some odd reason, isn't on the list of finalists. What is going up against Yushan is...well, to quote the Taipei Times article again:

"Wang [Chun-hsiu 王俊秀, who organized the Vote-for-Yushan campaign] said that the last thing Taiwanese would want to see is Yushan losing the contest to South Korea’s Jeju Island - the only other natural landmark in northeast Asia that has made it as far as the finals.

'Yushan is and will be the president of the Republic of China 中華民國 - forever,' Wang said.

'Winning or losing in this race matters much more than the upcoming presidential election,' he said.

Wang, in collaboration with the Central Taiwan Sustainable Development Alliance, urged Taiwanese both at home and abroad, and all Chinese people, to go online and cast their vote for the breathtaking landmark."

Jeju Island, a Natural World Heritage Site that has the gall to be under Korean administration. Many Taiwanese are obsessed with South Korea. As with many Japanese, South Korean TV dramas, pop stars and fashion are popular, but for people here, South Korea is a hated rival, one that has to bested in any and all competitions, whether it be sports, economics or, as in this case, a pointless public relations contest. And if it takes overly emotive appeals to pan-Chinese nationalism to put those former vassals back in their rightful places, then so be it.

In all fairness, Koreans are hardly known for their pragmatic responses in matters of national pride - Dokdo Island and the "East Sea" are just two issues in which South Korean "patriots" frequently make fools out of themselves. But for most people in South Korea, Japan is the object of obsession, and the rival that must be beat, not Taiwan. While many here work themselves up in a lather over those dastardly Koreans, the latter most likely don't pay that much attention to how they're viewed by the Taiwanese. For those in Taiwan who fret over how this island is "losing out" to South Korea, I'd just like to say that the rest of the world really couldn't give a rat's ass care less about how the R.O.C. ranks in relation to the R.O.K. It's time to get over this asinine fixation.

As for the "New 7 Wonders of Nature", rather than leaving things up to online voting (with all the ugly nationalism and attempts at ballot
box-stuffing that will inevitably result), why not just appoint an international committee of experts to settle the issue? Fill it up with
scientists who can analyze the geologic and physical facets, and artists, poets and writers who can provide an emotional perspective on
the different sites, and let them come to a consensus.

Or better yet, just drop the whole damn thing so that Mr. Wang can apply
all that energy of his towards something that's actually useful.

Happy Halloween!

Blown calls

My daughter poses outside of Chungshan Hall (Zhōng​shān táng) 中山堂 in T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中on Tuesday night. We had just seen the Moscow City Ballet perform Swan Lake. The dancing was incredible, and though the ballerinas received the greatest applause, I was most impressed with the man playing the role of Prince Siegfried. His combination of grace and strength was the envy of this clumsy clod.

One thing you can be sure of about Taiwan is that when it comes to its relationships with the outside world, this society often manages to squander the few opportunities that come its way (and I should know - missed chances have always been the dominant storyline of my life). In this case, I'm referring to the upcoming visit to this island by a team of Major League Baseball players who will play a series of exhibition games next week against the Chinese T'aipei 中華台北 national team http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/2011/10/27/321123/Wang-joins.htm. One of the stops on the tour will be next Thursday at the T'aichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium 臺中市洲際棒球場. Tickets are pricey - the one my wife bought for me at 7-Eleven this evening cost NT2800 ($93/¥7060), but I'll treat it as an early Xmas present. I remember seeing Sammy Sosa and company play as part of an MLB All-Star team vs. a squad of Japanese stars many moons ago (well, 1998 to be exact) at the Tōkyō Dome 東京ドーム (Sosa hit a long home run as the major leaguers came from behind to win 9-8), and I'm hoping this upcoming contest will also be a fun one to watch.

So what's the problem? Among the players from the American and National Leagues who will be taking part in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series are none other than Chien-Ming Wang 王建民 of the Washington Nationals, and his fellow countryman on the Detroit Tigers, Fu-Te Ni 倪福德. The catch is that Wang and Ni, despite honing their professions in the baseball world's equivalent of the Premier League, will not be playing with their peers from North America. Instead, Wang and Ni will be throwing the ball for Taiwan...I mean Chinese T'aipei. And what's wrong with that, you might ask? Where do I begin...

Let's start by making a comparison with what happened on recent MLB all-star tours of Japan. During the past decade, both Ichirō Suzuki 鈴木一朗 of the Seattle Mariners and Hideki Matsui 松井秀喜 (then of the New York Yankees) played in Japan, in front of their countrymen, as members of the MLB squad, and not on the team made of up of stars from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) プロ野球. The tours were promoted as contests pitting a team of MLB players against a squad made up of local heroes, and very few Japanese seemed to mind that Ichirō and Godzilla were playing with Americans (of both the North and Latin persuasions) and not against them. In fact, most fans looked forward to seeing the local boys who had made good overseas sharing the field as equals...teammates...with some of the best baseball players in the world. The fact that they were on the winning sides (the MLB teams won most of the games against the Japanese all-stars) seemed to please the Japanese specatators all the more.

Cue Taiwan. Wang, and to a lesser extent Ni, have shown that they belong on a Major League playing field. Wang, especially, had a couple of stellar seasons with the (hated) Yankees, and this year he made a successful return from the disabled list with the Nats. Ni has struggled in recent years, spending the past couple of season with the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens, but he still has the potential to return to the big leagues. These two players (a third Taiwanese from MLB, Hong-Chih Kuo 郭泓志, seems to have given up on the game) deserve to be on the same team as their peers from the AL and NL, and not reduced to serving as ringers for the local side, which unfortunately seems to be the case here. It's as if the San Francisco Giants were to play the University of Washington in an exhibition game, with Giants standout pitcher (and Cy Young Award winner) Tim Lincecum suiting up for the Huskies, his alma mater.

I'm left to wonder if Taiwanese fans are not ready to allow Wang to have his moment, basking in the adulation of the hometown (home country?) crowd in the presence of his fellow teammates from the majors. No, Wang and Ni have to switch sides, and carry the banner for the natives against the foreign horde. For in all likelihood, this series won't be viewed here as a contest between a group of baseball players who ply their trade in the American and National Leagues (made up of 30 teams based in the USA and Canada), vs. a team of players representing the local Chinese Professional Baseball League 中華職業棒球大聯盟 (with perhaps a couple of players who are based in Japan). Rather, I have the feeling Taiwanese fans will think of these exhibition contests as battles between Americans and Taiwanese, despite the fact that in any given baseball season, between 25-30% of players on Major League rosters were born outside of the United States, with Taiwan included on that list (and a quick perusal of the lineup for the MLB team coming to Taiwan reveals several players from the Dominican Republic, along with a couple of Venezuelans). And you can't have the Pride of Taiwan siding with the barbarians now, can you?

沒關係. Parochialism may rule, and chances to broaden the international outlook of the local populace are in danger of being squandered, but I'm still looking forward to next week's game. Play ball!

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Lunch on this pleasant flatland Sunday was at a small restaurant by the name of Peifang Hand-Cut Noodles (běi​fāngguǎn) 北方館, located just to the north of Chungcheng Park (Zhōng​zhèng gōng​yuán) 中正公園 in beautiful downtown T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中:

Beef noodles are one of the more popular dishes in Taiwan, and when you think of this island, one of the things that comes to mind...well, it probably isn't beef noodles, let alone any of the other so-called "famous" things of Taiwan. But I digress. I'm not a big fan of anything Taiwanese beef noodles, as the beef is often too fatty for my liking, and the noodles frequently leave a peculiar aftertaste. But as my wife explained, the noodles at Peifang Hand-Cut Noodles are sliced by knife and hand (as opposed to a machine in many establishments), resulting in a thicker version than you would normally find. The meat was also chunkier, with very little fat. All in all, well worth the NT100 ($3.30/¥250) cost for one bowl:

Also worth the investment, in this case NT219 (/$7.20¥550), was this box of Cap'N Crunch cereal, which Amber and I discovered at Jasons Market Place http://www.jasons.com.tw/jasons/jasons.jspx, an upscale supermarket selling a number of food and drink items from Japan, the U.S. and other Western countries. Their T'aichung branch can be found on one of the basement floors in the Chungyu Department Store (Zhōngyǒu bǎi​huò​gōng​sī) 中友百貨公司:

Anticipating future sugar rushes, Amber strikes a pose outside Chungshan Hall (Zhōng​shān táng) 中山堂. We're going there this coming Tuesday to see the Moscow City Ballet perform "Swan Lake" because this family is really into all that culture and stuff:

At Pamela's strong urging, I volunteered to donate blood this afternoon. I felt really good about myself for doing so, and I look forward to doing it again. As for my wife, she'll do anything for an hour's worth of free parking, especially if it means having her husband drained of some of his vital life essence. My daughter, meanwhile, managed to capture the exact moment the needle was stuck into my arm:

Chungcheng Park appears to have a serious rodent problem. As the afternoon sunlight began to fade, the park's resident rats started to appear, emerging from their well-placed hiding spots:

波ちゃん and the Asian urban park experience:


Rounding up myself オムニバス

I haven't blogged on this site in a while as I've been trying out my new blog, A Curmudgeon Abroad (http://kaminoge.blogspot.com/2011/10/things-i-tend-to-notice.html). LiveJournal has been suffering from a spate of technical problems (like the current trouble with aligning text and images), and I'm constantly having to delete spam messages disguised as comments, which have led me to explore other blogging platforms. Still, I'm not prepared to abandon Sponge Bear just yet (five years in the making now), so while I'm still pondering which site to go with (Blogger or LiveJournal), I'm going to maintain both blogs. Following is a collection of posts on A Curmudgeon Abroad that have appeared on that site over the past couple of weeks.

THINGS I TEND TO NOTICE (Thursday, October 13)

...because other people have more important things to do with their lives.

The above chicken restaurant in K'enting (Kěn​dīng) 墾丁 has a Japanese name. This in itself isn't all that unusual in Taiwan, as anyone who has read my other blog, Sponge Bear could wearily tell you. What's different here is that the name isn't really Japanese. Kamban かんばん is merely the phonetic rendering of the establishment's Mandarin Chinese moniker K'angpang (kángbàng) 扛棒, which means "Carry the stick" (at least according to Google Translate). The actual Japanese rendering of the characters doesn't compute, as my main reference sources can't recognize the first one, 扛.

I was walking down the street somewhere in the northern area of T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中 this evening when I came upon this site. Is there anyone who could explain to me why a piece of heavy construction equipment in a central Taiwanese city would be emblazoned (boldly, proudly) with the name of a Japanese professional baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers 阪神タイガーズ?

RINKY DINK (Saturday, October 15)

Shopping for something as mundane as milk at a hypermarket in Taiwan like Carrefour or A-Mart 愛買 can be an ordeal that brings out some of the worst traits in the Taiwanese national character. As soon as you approach the dairy section, a horde of middle-aged female milk touts will descend upon you. Small plastic cups filled with samples of milk or a yogurt drink will be shoved in your face and/or hands, and the women will aggressively vie with one another to deliver their sales pitches in an attempt to get you to purchase their particular product. Some of the more annoying aspects of this competition include placing milk jugs in the hands of young children, knowing that the kids won’t refuse an adult, and rudely interrupting the conversation I’m trying to have with my daughter. But, hey, it’s English, after all, and not Mandarin or Taiwanese, so it’s perfectly acceptable to butt in.

Which brings me to the subject of English, for the most annoying thing about the above dairy shills is the tendency of some of them to speak in broken, horrible English to Amber. I’m probably overly sensitive on this subject, but I’m careful to ensure that my daughter is exposed to correct, natural English while she’s living in Taiwan, and I don’t appreciate less-than-fluent natives trying to undo all my hard work. This afternoon at the local A-Mart I actually had to tell one saleswoman to speak in Mandarin to Amber because her English was too poor.

My daughter is a citizen of the Republic of China (Zhōng​huá​ Mín​guó) 中華民國, and a holder of an R.O.C. passport. She speaks Mandarin as fluently as any 5½ year-old child can. But she looks a lot more like me than she does her mother (sorry, Amber), and when the two of us are outside, many people will insist on using English to talk to her (or at her, in some cases). Unfortunately, the English language skills of many of these folks are worse than my Mandarin ability. Funnily enough, though, when Amber is out with just her mother, almost everyone will speak to my daughter in Mandarin, despite the fact her appearance hasn’t changed one bit just by being with the other parent.

What really irritates me are those parents who try speaking to their children in English when they are in our presence. They’re not talking to us, but the fact that we are close by triggers an urge in some Moms and Dads to get their kids using the international lingua franca. Of course, in most of these situations, the sentences the parents are using are riddled with strange constructions and poor usage of grammar, and spoken in peculiar accents and intonations. If the intent is to impress me with how cosmopolitan their offspring are, the results are usually mediocre at best. You can color me unimpressed.

Finally, there are the weird hybrid sentences, such as this one I heard today on the streets of downtown Fengyuan (Fēng​yuán) 豐原: as Amber and I were getting ready to go into a bookseller’s, we passed by a mother and her young son. Mom saw us, then asked her boy:

“你要去 bookstore 嗎?”

Amber and I might have some fun in the event we encounter some Taiwanese tourists on our next visit back to the States.

It's hard to read the words in the above photograph, but I found them to be of interest. Not the name of the business, although it's kind of cute: Taiwan Boo-Boo. No, I'm referring to the descriptive sentence underneath: Taiwan Dinkey Railway Bento. I have no idea what "dinkey" means, but my attention was drawn to the word "bentō" 弁当 (I've anally retentively added the macron), which is Japanese for "single-portion takeout or home-packed meal(s) common in Japanese cuisine" (according to the Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bento). Bentos were introduced in Taiwan during the Japanese period 台灣日治時期『日本統治時代』, and have been popular ever since. In Mandarin they are called "Pientang" (biàn​dāng) 便當, while the Taiwanese word for them, Bendong, was derived directly from the Japanese. Boo-Boo specializes in a popular variant known in Japanese as ekiben 駅弁 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekiben), which can be found in train stations all over Japan. In Taiwan, the most well-known ekiben are those which are sold in Fench'ihu (Fèn​qǐ​hú) 奮起湖, a midpoint outpost along the Alishan Forest Railway 阿里山森林鐵路.


Tired of never having an answer when my wife asks what I would like to eat, I've decided I'm going to try and broaden my limited culinary horizons by checking out some recommended eateries here in T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中. Which is why early this afternoon the three of us rode the train to T'aichung Station 台中車站, exited the building and began walking up Chungcheng Road (Zhōng​zhènglù) 中正路. Following lunch at an unremarkable steak restaurant, we made our way to Malulien (Mǎlùlián) 瑪露連:

The specialty here is shaved ice - we ordered the "three toppings bowl" 三種冰:

Pamela chose pineapple as one topping, Amber went for some kind of jelly concoction and I opted for sweet red beans (aka azuki beans, from the Japanese アズキ). The verdict: not too shabby, and the covered outdoor eating area was surprisingly comfortable (though I think in the midst of a hot, sticky summer I would probably appreciate an indoor, air-conditioned room).

My wife, however, didn't think Malulien's chua bing (a Taiwanese word) was anything out of the ordinary. She's like that.

The view of Chungcheng Road from the steak restaurant. On Sunday afternoons, the streets are filled with Taiwanese teenagers and Southeast Asian workers, the latter enjoying their day off.


Like hiking. A few weeks, Amber, Pamela and I visited the Wufeng Ch'ingt'ung Lin Hiking Trail (Wùfēng qīngtóng lín bùdào) 霧峰青桐林步道, located in the former township of Wufeng (Wùfēng) 霧峰, of course. I posted about our trip here http://kaminoge.livejournal.com/213851.html. At that time, we were only able to walk a small part of the trails in the area, owing to the fact that we arrived there somewhat late in the afternoon, and that my wife isn't used to walking and my daughter can only go as far as her pre-elementary school legs can carry her. So following my morning classes today, I took the family car and made the 90-minute drive into the hills of Wufeng to see what more the trails had to offer.

What was on offer were some clearly laid out and well-maintained paths that didn't offer much of a challenge...until I wandered off-track, not once, but twice. Though the trail was well-signposted in most places, the maps were difficult to figure out (with north pointing somewhere other than north, as is often the case with trail maps in Taiwan) and...oh, did I mention something just now about the route being well-marked? It was until I reached one key junction, where I followed the arrow leading downhill, expecting it to close the loop I was planning to walk. Instead, I found myself following a path that grew narrower and steeper until the use of ropes was required. At that point, it became obvious that I had gone the wrong way, so I turned around and headed back uphill to the junction. There, I followed another arrow pointing in a different direction. This trail took me up one ridge to a large rest area, then down and up another ridge, before continuing along a rapidly shrinking path. There were some pretty good views of the surrounding hillsides, but it was obvious I was heading the wrong way again. Returning to the original junction, I finally found the path I needed, which was unmarked, of course.

If all this sounds like an exercise in frustration, it wasn't. The errant paths described above were fun to walk, and beg further exploration, which I intend on doing. In all, I spent nearly 2½ hours traversing the trails in this part of Wufeng, working up a decent sweat and relishing the fact that most of the time I had the mountain to myself. I'll be back.

My apologies for the quality of some of the following photos. Lighting conditions were less-than-ideal in many places on the trails:

Check here http://www.taiwanfun.com/central/taichung/articles/1103/1103coverstory.htm for directions on how to get to the Wufeng Ch'ingt'ung Lin Hiking Trail.

再見 LiveJournal?

I'm seriously considering it. About a year ago, several hundred pictures I'd taken of Japanese-language signs in various locations around Taiwan just vanished from my scrapbook in a seemingly random, sudden purge. There have been several technical problems in recent months. And worst of all, Sponge Bear is under a constant barrage of spam masquerading as comments. The final straw came a couple of days ago, when my blog entry about our weekend visit to K'enting just disappeared from the blog after being visible for about nine hours. Though it was eventually restored after I contacted the site administrators (yet another technical glitch, though to their credit they did fix the problem very quickly), it was yet another needless exercise in frustration. Considering my renewal will be coming up soon, I'm left wondering if this host and the service it provides is worth paying for.

I've now started another blog over on Blogger. Called A Curmudgeon Abroad, it's very similar in vein to this one. The address is http://kaminoge.blogspot.com/, and if you could take a moment to check it out and make any suggestions or comments, I would be most appreciative.

In the meantime, I'm going to play around the new blog and see if I prefer it to Sponge Bear. If possible, I'll try to move some of my entries from here over to there. Hopefully Blogger won't give me the same headaches as LiveJournal, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Dance for me, Monkey Boy

I went for a hike on the No. 1 Trail in the Tak'eng (Dà​kēng) 大坑 area on Tuesday, and had the pleasure of seeing at least three Formosan Rock Macaques (Tái​wān mí​hóu) 台灣獼猴 cavorting among the treetops. They were too far away for me to get any decent photos or videos, but I did give it a try:

I also came across a couple of magnificent snakes. One was a very long brown beauty that was slithering off into the underbrush as I was making my way up the mountain. Unfortunately, it moved too quickly for me to get a picture. The other one wasn't as impressive physically, but was more cooperative when it came to photographing and filming:

Something that wasn't as pleasurable was having to read this article in the Taipei Times on Saturday. As Michael Turton points out in The View from Taiwan:

"The yammerhead who got in a pissing contest over a 25 NT towel (for pete's sake) may end up causing trouble for other foreigners. Foreigners need to remember: you might not think you're part of a community, but the Taiwanese will treat you that way."

That's Asia for you. You're constantly being reminded of how different you are...until a problem arises, and then you're part of the team (of course, nobody remembered to inform you of the rules of the game beforehand).

However, there are several things about this story that bother me other than the fact that some idiot blew a gasket over something trivial as a towel, and forget the old adage about being an ambassador abroad. Namely, that:

1.) Why is this even a media story in the first place? Would any news outlets have covered this if a foreigner hadn't been involved? I once saw a (Taiwanese) woman going ballistic over NT20 at a bus station, yelling at the top of her lungs and threatening to sue the bus company, before finally getting her way, yet I never saw anything about it in the papers or on TV. Of course, she wasn't allegedly moonlighting as a stripper. At least, not that I know of. Good god, I hope she wasn't, judging from the way she looked;

2.) Why are local politicians getting involved? Elected officials in Taiwan are notorious for fighting and grandstanding, and it's clear in this case that Councilor Hung was relishing the opportunity to get some quality time in the media spotlight. There's a tendency in Taiwan for people to drag local politicians into the smallest of disputes, as I know from personal experience (more on that later);

3.) Hung's involvement in the matter highlights the darker side of the Democratic Progressive Party (Mín​jìn​dǎng) 民進黨. The DPP may be the morally right party on the issue of Taiwan's identity, but it's also the political organization of choice for the betel-nut chewing, blue truck-driving yahoos of not-so-cosmopolitan Taiwan (every country has its Bubbas). Xenophobia goes down well with this voting bloc;

4.) In all the hubbub over Towelgate, where is "Mr. Eric's" side of the story? Certainly, Councilor Hung didn't bother ascertaining what "Mr. Eric" had to say, but that's understandable as foreigners can't vote (but "Mr. Wu" can). What's harder to digest is why the reporter, Mo Yan-chih, didn't attempt to track down "Mr. Eric" in order to find out what he had to say about the altercation. The Taipei Times may be superior to the China Post, but it has shown a serious lack of professionalism in this case. Assuming the local is right and going to print with the story isn't good journalism;

5.) Finally, there's that line about "not allow(ing)...any acts of disrespect toward Taiwanese". What exactly constitutes "disrespect"? Does that mean that we as foreigners are not supposed to get into any arguments or disputes with locals, lest we cause the latter to "lose face"? I guess we're just supposed to put up and shut up in these situations, otherwise the outraged native will contact his/her local politician, and the whole affair will risk turning into a media circus. It's "dance for me, monkey boy" as parents point out the foreigner to their children as if we were attractions in a zoo. "Disrespect" is a one-way street here.

A few months ago, I was riding on my scooter through a green light at an intersection, when a woman came flying through her red light and hit me. Neither of us was hurt, and both our bikes were undamaged, but I did lose my temper and let loose a few obscenities at the stupid bitch traffic law violator. I thought that was that, but the next thing I knew, I was being summoned to the local police station, and watched helplessly as various relatives (mine and hers) argued over what had happened, while a (you guessed it) local politician tried to settle everyone down.

Things got worse. We ended up in court, as she tried to sue me for damages to her and her scooter, but not before the woman and her gangster-looking fiance tried to shake down my brother-in-law for cash (no dice). Before an arbitrator, the woman tried to claim that I was the one who went through a red light, and not her. Unbeknownst to our heroine, I had a copy of the police report stating that she was the one who had failed to stop at a red traffic signal, and the surveillance camera video footage clearly showing the woman riding past stopped scooters and through the red light, into the intersection and then into me (my light was clearly green in the video). She got nothing.

But here's the kicker. One of her complaints was that I needed to apologize to her for having "failed to respect Taiwanese women". I refused to agree to any settlement until that part of the complaint was removed. I pointed out to the arbitrator that this was a minor traffic accident between two individuals and not an international incident involving overbearing barbarians and helpless Taiwanese virgins. The arbitrator agreed with me and lectured the woman on this matter before she reluctantly agreed to withdraw that part of her complaint.

It was a long, needless hassle over a mere fender bender, but the look on that woman's face as she walked out of the courtroom with nothing to show for her stupidity was almost worth all the trouble.

And for those of you whose reading comprehension skills need polishing, I'm not denying that "Mr. Eric" was a total jerk.



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