Saturday, March 27, 2004

Yesterday the protests escalated. The Election Committee was stormed and occupied. There was some violence, but nobody was injured. A big parade to protest the election was being held today. Nothing to do with me, I was going to the train station to meet a friend at 3.

On the way down to the bus stop, a neighbor gave me a ride, so I got an earlier bus in to the city, and arrived downtown before 2:30. I figured, I can walk the last two stops in 15 minutes normally, so rather than arrive early, I may as well go look at the parade, and sample the mood.

The mood was exuberant. Chungshan South Road was packed solid to East Gate. I made my way through the crowd pretty easily, although I was almost deafened by the freon horns people were blowing off. I was amused to hear that the crowd had appropriated the old DDP cheer, Stand up, People of Taiwan! and I was confused when I heard the cry, 徐信良萬歲! Long Life for Hsu Hsinliang! Huh? Hsu was one of the founders of the DDP, President Chen's party, the other guys. Later I found out that Hsu is so incensed by irregularities in this election that he has gone on a fast in protest, calling for a return to democracy.

People were in high spirits. Police were mingling among the crowd, very much at ease. (During the Street Movement when the DDP was building power, the police would never have dared to walk amongst the protestors.) An excellent sign in English: Don't make Democracy a deMOCKracy!

A man sang a beautiful, slow song in Minnanese. Another man gave a speech in English; I could recognize it was English because I discerned “of the” “and so” and a few other phrases. The rest was totally unintelligible to me. I wanted to go up and say, Hey, I offer courses in pronunciation, want to sign up? People cheered him anyway, but were palpably relieved when he switched into Chinese.

I made my way north with an eye on the time. A pretty solid mass of people at East Gate, but the lawn of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was pretty vacant, so I set out across it, partly because you don't usually get a chance to tromp there. I immediately found out why the lawn was pretty vacant: apparently so many other people took advantage of this opportunity to tromp across the lawn that the grass had all been trampled into sticky mud. A little mud never stopped a barbarian down from the mountains, so I set off bravely, but soon found that this was really extra-gluey gooey gooey glutinous mud. Halfway across, one of my flip-flops flopped, snapping its strap. I succeeded in making it the rest of the way across; by this time, the people in the immediate vicinity had stopped listening to the speaker to see if I would make it across without falling flat on my back. Fortunately, I managed to stay upright, but decided to just take off my flip-flops.

Three policemen were lounging against a van, chatting. I asked one if it would be possible to cross north. He suggested that if I was in a hurry, I should go back to the subway stop and take the subway to the train station. So I did, weaving through the crowd as quickly as I could, carrying the remains of my flip-flops.

I reached our meeting point at 3:10, and showed my friend my muddy, broken flip-flops: "I just want to show these to you to prove that when I left my home, I was NOT barefoot, I was shod. However, they snapped in the mud in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so before we go for tea, do you mind if we go around the corner and buy me a new pair?"

Thursday, March 25, 2004

People ask me if I'm blue or green. Actually, I'm sort of pinkish brown, though come summer I'll be darker brown. (In college, people in my class called me an egg: white on the outside and yellow on the inside.) Oh, you mean political affiliation? I try to steer clear of politics. Chad and the Supreme Court give you Dubya? On quiet nights, you can hear Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Andy Jackson moaning. Here in Taiwan, everything is too political. I feel freedom loving liberals everywhere should give all politicians, regardless of nationality or party, their due: inattention bordering on contempt. Doesn't anybody remember the old slogan? Power to the People! Since when did democracy become, power to the sly, the lawyers, and the fat cats?

The presidential election was held last Saturday, but it is hardly over. There is a matter about who actually won the election, and how. There have been accusations about sore losers, if you can't lose, don't play.

Sore losers are hardly new in Taiwan's elections. I'm too lazy to look up the dates, but the first time such poor sportsmanship came to my attention was about fifteen years ago, when the losing candidate in the mayoral race down south in Tainan called out the truckers to barricade the freeway. All traffic north and south was totally cut due to this sore loser's tantrum. I forget how long it lasted, you can look it up in the papers, but finally somebody assuaged the candidate's ego enough that he told the trucks to leave and permitted traffic to continue its normal flow. Hardly good sportsmanship, what?

Since then we have seen many such examples of sore losers, mostly among the green (the DDP, now ruling): when they win an election, it is the triumph of democracy, and when they lose an election, it's only because the blues (KMT) have cheated, so they hit the streets. And I do mean hit.

The DDP came to power on the streets, so before this election, they had an advertising campaign that I personally found disingenuous: they drilled in the message, go cast your vote (for us) and stay off the streets!! Don't march, don't protest, just give us your vote, because democracy is in the polls, not on the streets. Hardly the tune they sang way back when.

So recently the blues have been out, protesting certain oddities about this election. For example, friends in the armed forces have told me that surprise, surprise, military commands were quietly changed not long ago, so that if an alert of a certain stage is called, a certain proportion of servicemen cannot leave their bases. Most servicemen prefer the blue, so the ruling greens called a pretty high alert for election day, sealing all those votes far from the ballot boxes.

In this election were an unprecedented number of invalid ballots, and people are asking why. There was a high greater proportion of invalid ballots than ever before; so high that the invalid ballots outnumbered Chen Shuibian's winning margin by ten times. All you have to do is have someone surreptitiously smudge a ballot with a pen and it's invalid.

When you're talking about a margin of 29,500 votes out of 13 million, these things add up, and call for explanation.

Also, people have great doubts about the “assassination attempt, if it was an assassination attempt.” A growing scandal about campaign donations was drawing votes away from president Chen Shuibian in the week before the election, and then the day before the election there was this miraculous shooting. Amazing magical bullets, that could turn and stop: after turning 90 degrees to lightly scratching his tummy, one ended up sitting demurely in the president's coat pocket, probably all tuckered out by its acrobatic exertions in bringing in the sympathy vote.

There are allegations that the hospital (private Chimei Hospital, strong green supporters) to which the president was sent was prepared for the emergency days before it actually happened; that the Chimei hospital was not listed in the protocol of hospitals to which the president should be taken in case of emergency; that in any event, the alleged assassination attempt took place a dozen kilometers from Chimei hospital, so people wonder why they didn't take the president to National ChengKung University Medical Hospital, only two kilometers away.

People are unhappy. Crowds are protesting in front of the President's Office, which is just around the corner from Merica, where I teach. Wednesday (the 24th), I got to town early, so I decided to get off the subway a stop early and take a look.

I lived down in that area during the era of street demonstrations (by which the DDP built power). The only demonstration I missed entirely was 5/20 (more on that later), because I happened to be abroad. All of the other demonstrations I saw and heard; not by choice, but because I lived in the neighborhood for almost twenty years, and passed the Legislature on my way to work.

Those demonstrations were not happy affairs. You passed by as quickly as you could, averting your eyes for your own protection. The protestors would usually yell and scream insults at people passing by. On occasion they attacked passersby.

Lines of police in riot gear tensely waited to get assaulted (Taiwan is probably the only place in the world where demonstrators beat up the police, rather than the other way around).

Demonstrators would turn over trash cans, smash phone booths, spray paint everything in sight, vandalize business’ signs, litter everywhere, push over parked motorcycles, sometimes even turn over parked cars. You wanted to stay away from them when they started throwing rocks. Taipei's streets are well maintained, so you do not just pick up a rock. If you have a rock to throw, you have brought it with you, 'with malice aforethought.' Later it became popular to throw eggs. In one way that's an improvement, but I always felt sorry for the hens.

The one demonstration I missed was the May 20 (5/20) affair, when the greens rioted during the inauguration of Lee Tenghui. Sometime around 1990, I forget what year, look it up yourself. As I was not an eye-witness, allow me to cite one: hapless Eban was driving his bus by, doing his job, minding his own business, when the participants started throwing bricks at his bus. As if he had elected Lee Tenghui all by himself! Sore losers?

An experienced protest observer, I thought I would see how things were faring this week. The protest was totally unlike any of the earlier ones. They were confined to Katagalan Street between Park and Chungshan Streets. I approached from Chungshan South Road, which was lined with people waving flags and cheering the traffic on Chungshan. Police were directing traffic, which was flowing as well as could be expected. The police were dressed in their everyday uniforms, relaxed, and walking through the crowds unmolested. There were rows of tents for the people staying overnight, people passing out food and flags (I turned down both), rows and rows of people sitting and standing as they listened to the speakers.

A highly emotional young lady was giving a practically incoherent speech over the loudspeaker, but people cheered her anyway. She gave up after a few minutes, and a man came on: “We are here because we love Taiwan!” Cheers. “We are not here to make trouble.” Cheers. “We want democracy.” Cheers. “We will demonstrate peacefully, but we want our rights!” Cheers. And so forth. The crowd was very high spirited, but directed their energies into cheering and waving their flags. Overall, it was a very orderly crowd, and the general spirit was merry, not hateful.

My point in writing this is not to take sides or say who is right or who is wrong. I personally do not care that much which side wins: just stay out of my hair. What I would like to say, though, is that protests over election results are nothing new in Taiwan, and that this is the most genteel demonstration I have ever seen. May it continue in like manner.

Oh yes, and the name of that losing candidate years ago who, in his tantrum, had the freeway blocked? Chen Shuibian.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

談及Baroque建築,小法國說: “Baroque為了藝術而不擇手段。”

Monday, March 22, 2004


屋前櫻花這幾天開,皚皚白花三四十朵。 下午捧著一盞陳年鐵觀音在玄關賞櫻,不由自主地心中忖度,這個櫻花嘛,到底是用煎的好,或者用炒的‧‧‧



Sunday, March 21, 2004

晉書阮籍傳: "籍本有濟世志、屬魏晉之際、天下多故、名士少有全者、籍由是不與世事、遂酣飲為常。"



Saturday, March 20, 2004

公投廣告,眼神含情脈脈的少女說: 『我的第一次,世界都在看』
"No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched."
George Jean Nathan (1882-1958)

Thursday, March 11, 2004

"No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office."
- Covert Bailey

Monday, March 08, 2004


One of the seminal events of my life was watching Mifune Toshiro 三船敏郎play 宮本武藏Miyamoto Musashi in Samurai. I was in the eighth grade, a beginner in the martial arts, learning Kenpo under Ed Parker. My mother was game, and took me down to the Toho La Brea (at the time, one of LA's two Japanese movie theaters) to watch all three movies in the series. We were the only two roundeyes in the place, probably the only two members of the audience who had to rely on the subtitles. I was enthralled by the power of the story, the strength of Mifune's performance, the sheer authority of Japanese aesthetics. At a time when Japan was largely ignored, or at most regarded as a defeated enemy flooding the American market with junk, I was swept by the surging images of the movies. The scenes were beautiful and memorable in a totally new mode, the language and music strange to my ears, the pace and plot were novel, and the costumes and customs portrayed opened a new world to me. I could never get the Orient out of my blood after seeing Miyamoto Musashi.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad for some DVD, and just happened to think, Gawd, wouldn't it be great if I could find Samurai on DVD or VCD? Yeah, good luck, forget it. That was years ago, and in another country, and besides, Mifune is dead.

On the way to class Saturday, on the spur of the moment I decided to eat lunch in the cafeteria on Wuchang Street instead of the one on Hsinsheng. When I got out of the subway, the exit I wanted to leave by was blocked off because the museum was damaged in the March 31 earthquake, and they're having trouble restoring the structure. From the signs and fences, seems like the whole building may keel over at any moment, so stay away! Okay, no sweat, I can go around the long way, and while we're at it, I decided to go the even longer way since I hadn't been up that section of bookstore street for so long. Sure enough, a new bookstore opened, selling lots of cut-rate books, probably nothing to interest me, but since I was early anyway, I strolled in, and practically the first thing to meet my eye was a DVD of the first episode of Samurai, starring Mifune Toshiro as Miyamoto Musashi. I got the whole set for NT$200 (less than six bucks).