Thursday, May 31, 2007


At noon I happened to look out and saw a turtle walking across my front porch. I rushed to get my camera:: the advantage of photographing turtles is that you don’t have to rush too much. But this was a very speedy turtle. As turtles go.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Creativity, you want creativity? You want creativity, look what your average taxi driver in Taiwan can do with traffic laws. Or your average driver. Or anybody, for that matter. People in Taiwan express their creativity with traffic laws. Me, I’m into jaywalking. I mean, who needs a piddly video game when you can be standing out there in the middle of the street with trucks and motorcycles whooshing by a finger’s width away on either side of you?

A taxi driver once told me, “The first law in the books says, None of the below count if it’s after twelve midnight or you don’t see a policeman around / 中華民國交通法第一條是,半夜十二點以後或者看不到警察的時候,以下都不算數。” He could have said it another way: For reference only;僅供參考. But he forgot something. If you’re over 65, the police will leave you to your own devices. They figure, if you have survived to that age, you must have something going for you.

Strict laws mandate crash helmet use. Or at least, something on your head. Someone sent me these photos of an old lady riding a motorcycle. Ok, she didn’t feel like wearing a crash helmet. But the law says you have to…

That’s using your head!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Voluptuous thunder at noon was followed by hurling rain. The storm passed on, and a rainbow shone for a few minutes after four. The cicadas are coming out now. If you listen carefully, you can hear the stream.

Saturday, May 26, 2007





Deep in Taiwan’s mountains in the 1970s, you would find lunchboxes neatly placed by the side of the trail. Men working in the mountains placed them there in the morning when they left the trail to work, in case somebody happened by who was lost and starving. The rule was, you were welcome to eat, that’s why they were placed there, but you could eat only half of any one lunchbox, because the worker couldn’t go entirely without lunch.

Isn’t that beautiful?

Sometimes I used to peek inside to see what they were eating, but I never ate anything. Honest.

Friday, May 25, 2007






Thursday, May 24, 2007

When I was a boy, I dreamed of roaming the stars to see the wonders of faraway corners of the universe. After I grew up, I realized nothing could be more beautiful than a tree. What could sound more beautiful than running water?

As I recounted yesterday, it started to rain just as I finished planting my seedlings, and rained hard for a couple hours, but stopped before dark. When I was washing my vegetables for dinner, looking forward to an evening spent playing the recorder, I realized the water was dribbling to a halt.

Water in Wulai is DIY;
烏來的自來水是自己找來的水: lay your own pipes from spring to water tower to faucet. Ours stretch about a kilometer. The pipes pop apart from time to time, so some maintenance is required. From time to time we have to go figure out where the water isn’t coming through the pipes. I share water towers with two other households, but they eat early, so I figured I would go see to the pipes by myself. I strapped on my knife, put on my headlight, pocketed a spare flashlight, and headed out.

The water towers were empty, as were the pipes leading to them. I left the road and followed the pipes into the jungle. A few minutes after I entered the jungle, darkness fell: thump. I get along well with our local snakes, but still decided to let Yumin the Snake Barker take the lead, and followed the pipes up to the tank. In the darkness with my flashlight I was having trouble finding our pipes. I was having trouble finding the path, for that matter. Fortunately the mosquitoes were not out in force. This is when bare feet really prove useful, because the rocks were slick from the rain and I could hardly see them anyway, but your feet can find every little niche, you can smear your soles onto every little contour, and feel your way forward. I couldn’t have gone there in hiking boots. I really didn’t want to slip and break a leg.

There’s a spot on the trail that has always been murky and overgrown; I guess nobody has been up there for a while, so it’s even more overgrown, and a couple trees had fallen, further obscuring the route. That’s probably how I got lost.

Okay, let me spell this out for any beginning hikers reading this: don’t get lost in a jungle after dark. I try to keep my knife sheathed, but I had to hack through that overgrown part, and apparently I veered a bit to the right. I kept going uphill. I figured I was near the tank, so I listened for the sound of water, and headed that way. I found myself in a stream. Okay, I’ll go uphill and maybe find the tank this way, since there was a pipe in the stream. But then I came to a rock that I know I am not familiar with. I boosted the dogs over it and followed, thinking maybe I could find the tank anyway. When I came to another slippery boulder the dogs couldn’t get up unassisted, I decided that I had to turn back. Certainly I could survive a night in the open, but it wouldn’t be pleasant or comfortable.

When I passed back through the undergrowth I had cut my way in, I very carefully examined my position, and realized quite happily that I was close to the tank. I found the tank, made sure our hose was sucking water, and continued uphill until I found the road there, and walked home.

Unfortunately, something was wrong, and there was still no water in the towers when I returned. I told Fu, who told me never to go into the mountains at night again, especially during the summer. Actually, in a way, it’s not too bad. I was filthy, wet, and tired by the time I got back, but it’s nice to be able to do that. Have you ever floundered through a steep mountain jungle at night? I have the requisite 3 S’s: skill, stamina, and stupidity.


Water, water everywhere, and not a drop running into my house. Other people’s pipes. I toted buckets of water from a source downhill from here so I could at least clean off some of the muck.


This morning Lin and I went off into the jungle. You know something? It’s a lot easier to find your way in daylight than in darkness. Duh ~~

From the tank we followed our pipes down. Leaves fall, trees grow, bamboo shoots, new pipes are laid, old pipes are abandoned, so to find your pipe among the mess requires two or three people to pull it up and track it step by step. Lin put his foot in the wrong place and rolled down the slope. He wanted my knife to hack some undergrowth; when I pulled it out, I very neatly sliced my left index finger. Good cut, clean and deep. Lin bound my finger with plumber’s tape, so tightly that my fingertip turned black. What, you think I’m a pipe? We got muddled in the undergrowth and followed the wrong pipe downhill. We realized our mistake and started over again. By the time we had got down to 雲景Cirrus Spa, it was almost lunchtime, I was starved, Lin was tired, and we decided to call it quits for the morning.

Lin went to Fu’s for lunch, and an hour later, Lin, Fu, and I set out again. Fu was incredulous. You spent the whole morning and you didn’t find the leak?

No, but I did slice my finger pretty good.

Did you check the gate at the spa?


How about inside the spa?

No. Our pipe runs through the spa’s grounds for about ten meters, a carefully weeded slope by the gate.

Let’s check the pipe joint at the gate first.

While Fu was checking the pipe joint at the gate, I glanced at the slope. My mouth dropped open, aghast. In clear view on that nicely weeded slope, gravity had pulled our pipe joints apart, and through our efforts their slope was enjoying a nice healthy irrigation.

In other words, if I had glanced in the gate last night, I could have fixed the whole problem in twenty minutes from kitchen and back again. Fu ridiculed us briskly as he taped the pipe joint together. Lin and I held our tongues. The spa groundkeeper wandered out, Oh, your pipe started leaking a week ago, I forgot to tell you.


Ok, so you can be sure of running water when you turn on your faucet. But what sense of accomplishment does that give you? (I’m a great one for comforting myself.) But do you know how beautiful the sound of running water is?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yumin never used to pay snakes much attention, but ever since Byajing came he has become very protective. When you see Yumin barking incessantly at the ground, you know he’s announcing a snake.

This afternoon I had a score of maqaw (山胡椒, Litsea cubeba ) seedlings I wanted to plant: Yugan style soil conservation. Just as I was preparing to step outside, I heard Yumin making a ruckus, so I grabbed my camera too. Yumin was facing down a nice fat 南蛇 (Dharman rat snake, Ptyas mucosus). I went to work with the camera, smile, say cheese, 1,2,3,4,5,6,! but all it did was stick out its tongue at me. The snake was getting more irritated by the moment.

Enough is enough. I put the camera in my pocket and picked up a bamboo pole. The snake held its ground, and I didn’t want to upset it, so I told Yumin to stand down. Two surprising things happened next. The more surprising event was, Yumin obeyed me, and stood down – right on top of a green snake (青蛇, cyclophiops major) none of us had noticed. He did a beautiful pirouette that sent his ears almost vertical, and started barking at the green snake. Dharman rat snakes eat other snakes, so I suspect the green snake was on its menu when we intruded. I prodded the green snake with my pole. It whirled around and at top speed zipped past my feet into the grass. Yumin returned his thoughts to the Dharman rat snake. Fu’s dog Andy came and contributed to the hubbub in his usual fashion, by sitting on my feet. This wasn’t getting us anywhere, so I dislodged Andy, picked up my trowel and seedlings, and went off to do my planting.

Eventually Yumin followed. I praised him as I tried to plant the seedlings; Andy contributed by sitting on my feet every time I tried to do anything. We gradually worked our way farther and farther from the house.

Just as I planted the last couple saplings, rain started falling. I wrapped the camera in a taro leaf and came on home.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Talk at a dinner table

T: “A Russian noble, who spoke English well, said one morning to an English guest, ‘I’ve shot two peasants this morning.’ – ‘Pardon me, you mean pheasants.’ ‘No, indeed, two men – they were insolent and I shot them.’”

WA: “In Ireland it’s the other way.”

From Journals, William Allingham, 1880

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The National Theater at the Chiang Kaishek Memorial in downtown Taipei.

A series of carefully orchestrated (and paid for) street demonstrations helped bring the current regime to power. Whenever possible, the demonstrators would gather in the CKS Memorial and cut down the flagstaff (
hey, the taxpayers will always buy a new one, you think these demonstrations are supposed to benefit the people? Get real!). Tell me how phallic that is.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Thursday, May 17, 2007





Wednesday, May 16, 2007

By the back fence I discovered this田七 fruit, the largest I have ever seen. If you are not gasping, you don’t know田七, so please look at the second photo. The two on the left are merely large. This one, and its secondary fruit third from the left, is an aircraft carrier.

田七 is an herb, I have no idea what the English is, Field 7? It was brought into Taiwan about twenty years ago, and I was lucky to be one of the first to grow it here. It grows a climbing vine; most people are familiar with the leaves, because they are delicious. They are also excellent bloodstoppers. Once and I were playing with a knife. He thrust just as I put my hand out for the knife, and he almost took off my left index finger. A farmer standing by immediately grabbed a bunch of田七 leaves, chewed them, applied them to my finger, and the bleeding stopped at once. It didn’t even leave a scar.

Some people mistakenly call田七 川七, but that is a misnomer.

But, to reiterate, this is by far the biggest single田七 fruit I have ever seen. Maybe I will sell it on Ebay. What am I bid?

Hot dog, the amazing, edifying posts you read on this blog! Can’t find this sort of thing anywhere else on the Net.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I have been asked why I write, for example, dog knows, rather than god knows. After all, I am not Christian, and according to Buddhism, gods, devils, ghosts, and other demons are still encapsulated in reincarnation. So what’s the big deal?

The flip answer is, I’m not dyslexic (ma I?), but my computer is.

First, Confucius said,
敬鬼神而遠之 : respects demons and gods, and keep a distance from them. A god may be no great shakes, but still deserves respect, because after all he some day will become a buddha. All creatures deserve respect.

My main point is my second, because if a god and a dog will both become buddhas, why bother to turn over god to become dog? (Roll over! Good god!) Mainly because profanity bores me. What shock value is left? Am I so unimaginative that I cannot think of anything more startling than some tired words that have been utterly worn clean by overuse? If I have to use those worn-out overused clichés to try to shock people, I may as well quit writing this blog (stop cheering, please). I feel that were I to resort to using words like guck you or spit, I would have little respect left for my craft. That would also show contempt for my readers (both of you) if I thought you could be titillated by some adolescent expletives (oooh, titillated!).

My motive for writing this blog is not to shock but to annoy….. oops, that slipped right out. Try again. My motive for writing this blog is not to shock but. but. but. Hey, I don’t know, what’s my motive? Certainly not fame or fortune. So what is my motive? Dog knows.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Did you hear the Post Office tried to put out a Dubya stamp? They had to recall it, because on the trial runs, no matter where you addressed the envelope, the letter always went to Iraq.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Traditionally a Tayal father did not name his children; the grandfather would observe the child and decide who that reminded him of, who the grandchild looked like or acted like, and give the child that person’s name.

Traditionally the Tayal do not have family names (, surnames). The father’s name is added to the first name, although a woman may use her husband’s name instead once she is married. For example, Yasa Temu, our local artist, is Yasa the son of Temu. (Yasa means Enough. Maybe his mother was getting tired of all those kids.)

In Wulai now it is popular for grandfather to give his own name to grandson. For example, my friend Yulaw is the son of Yugan, his son is named Yugan, and he plans to name his grandson Yulaw, so that Yulaw Yugan is followed by Yugan Yulaw and then some day Yulaw Yugan.

Dogs are named after some fierce animal, as encouragement, or according to their attributes. Northern Tayal sometimes name their dogs after people, but I understand that further south this is frowned upon. A dog that is very aggressive and brave may be named Thoran, which means aggressive and brave. (note: the pronunciation does not remotely resemble the Scandinavian thunder god. It is like duh-hoe-RAHN.) A dog that charges is Hamut, charge. A sturdy dog with firm muscles is Tunux, stone (note: tunux is our dialect of Tayal; Central Taiwan Tayal say yamay for stone).

Traditionally a jumping dog was named Mstoput, from toput, jump. Young Tayal further south now name a jumping dog Cyawtun.

Allow me to explain that Cyawtun is the Tayal pronunciation of Jordan, as in Michael Jordan ~~

So they do name dogs after people after all!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Contrary to the exhortations of Outside magazine, I have never gone out seeking adventure. Nonetheless, I am living, breathing proof of the old adage, God protects fools. Sometimes when I look back at some of the things that seemed like a good idea at the time, I wonder, what could have been going on in my head?

Some other time I will write about Kissinger’s Ceasefire in 1973. Suffice it to say that I arrived in Saigon a few days after the Ceasefire began, on winter vacation from my freshman year at Taiwan Normal U (師大) to visit my mother. The pizza business had closed, but she stayed on.

Viet Namese soon renamed the Ceasefire the Ceaseless Fire. The UN inspectors who were supposed to oversee the ceasefire did not even arrive in country until a few days after the scheduled starting time, and rushed straight to the whorehouses on Tu Do, whence they did not reappear until they were addled. (The Canadians were the worst, and the most sanctimonious, too.)

Anyway. The Viet Cong
had wanted Tay Ninh as their provisional capital, but when the “ceasefire” began, Tay Ninh was in RVN hands. Tay Ninh is out near Cambodia, near the Parrot’s Beak. Rumors floated about Saigon that the VC were going to have Tay Ninh as their capital, Kissinger and Nixon be damned: well, I’ll agree with the second part of the proposition.

But nobody knew for sure. Rumors, rumors, and no solid evidence either way. I happened to run into a reporter from the Boston Globe – I will simply call him Globe, because he may not want this episode of his past revisited. He was an up and coming young reporter, about 30, say ten years older than me, maybe less. We discussed the rumors. Nobody knows for sure, noooooboooody knooooooows. We suddenly got a great idea: let’s go see!

So we hopped in his car, and headed out for Tay Ninh to see for ourselves whether or not the VC were breaking the Ceasefire. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and obviously I came through all right, but now I suspect it was not such a bright idea. Things could have gone wrong, you know?

The problem is, neither of us had been out in that area. If there had been US Army bases there before, they hadn’t ordered pizzas, at least not while I was delivering. I had been in Ben Cat but no further. That’s probably how we got lost.

We spent a good part of the morning wandering around trying to figure out where Tay Ninh was. I come from a healthy line of Nixon Haters, but I supported the war once I got to Viet Nam, and on the drive, I could see why Nixon attacked Cambodia. You simply had no idea where the border was. We figured Cambodia was to our left and Viet Nam to our right, but just where, how close how far, we never figured out. We spent some time discussing whether Cambodian houses really are different from Viet Namese houses, which is said to be an infallible indication of which country you are in. To this day, I have no idea where we were; all I know is, it was either Viet Nam or Cambodia.

We heard explosions, not too far away, but I didn’t bother to mention it: Globe had ears too. Then I saw smoke, off to my right. I didn’t like that, because the trouble, whatever it was, was between us and Saigon. Something I learned early on the pizza routes was, if I was between Saigon and the trouble, forget it, especially if I was headed back for Saigon. But if the trouble was between me and Saigon, it bore watching. Fortunately, we outran whatever fighting was going on there just then.

Looking back on it, I realize we were blissfully unaware of the possibility of running out of gas. Dog knows what we would have done had we run out of gas, but we had enough. Fortunately. And fortunately, somewhere we turned correctly and found ourselves on the outskirts of Tay Ninh.

Lo and behold, we found the police station! We cheerfully parked in front of the police station and Globe began reporting, his first chance all day. We marched into the police station and Globe presented his credentials to the startled officer on duty. The officer quickly called his superior, who spoke some English and French. I could speak enough Viet Namese to pass in those days (nobody in the police station spoke Chinese), and with Globe’s and my junior high school French, the three of us managed to patch together a conversation.

The officer seemed quite worried about something. Globe asked how the UN Ceasefire Commission inspectors were handling the vital but touchy situation in Tay Ninh, where they were lodged, and whether we could visit them. The officer said, No, we have not seen anybody from the UN, you are the first foreigners to visit Tay Ninh for weeks. How could that be? Globe asked. The Ceasefire began ten days ago, and the UN commissioners arrived a week ago; everybody knew the VC had long before demanded Tay Ninh be turned over to them. How could the UN commissioners possibly have neglected to rush to this vital spot? Well, I guess they were busy investigating other vital spots, on Tu Do, so they didn’t have time: make love, not war. Globe questioned the police officer closely, but he was positive, no foreigners had been in Tay Ninh for weeks, and certainly nobody in any official capacity, much less the UN. We were the first foreigners in Tay Ninh since before the Ceasefire, the police officer was positive about that. He was sure of his statements, but he seemed awfully worried about something. He was very polite and helpful, but he had something on his mind.

Globe continued asking questions, and the police officer continued to get more and more nervous. Globe asked, Has the VC respected the Ceasefire? Have any Viet Cong come to Tay Ninh? The officer assured us that no, no, No VC, tres bien, tres bien, no sweat, Tay Ninh everything ok, no VC. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a firefight erupted a few hundred meters away, in the center of town. It was small arms fire, the most deadly kind for a non-combatant on the ground, with grenades and mortars. Globe and I did not choose to hear the fighting, and neither did the officer. We all smiled, and the officer repeated no, no sweat, no have VC in Tay Ninh, rat-tat-tat-tat-tat boom bang slam rat-tat-tat-tat-tat thunder thunder roar boom bang BANG rumble, everything ok, you go back Saigon is ok, roar boom bang, maybe now you go back Saigon, rumble thunder bang! bang! bang! bang! bang!

The police officer very politely saw us to our car. We all steadfastly tried not to glance towards the battle. We all smiled at each other. We must have looked like seasick travelers trying to put on a brave face. Whoom! Bing bang blong! WHAM! WHAM! Globe and I got in the car very leisurely. The officer said, Tay Ninh all ok, no problem, blam! blam! you no go downtown Tay Ninh everything ok WHAM! you go back Saigon is better BANG BANG BANG!! He waved in the direction of Saigon. Globe had stopped reporting. The weight of our situation sank in on us, a little bit. We did a nice U turn, to the relief of our friendly police officer, and headed back towards Saigon, slowly, without our tails between our legs. We could smell the explosions.

Globe and I did not exchange a word about the intriguing noises we heard during our tête-à-tête with the friendly police officer. We had driven all the way out, and for our efforts were rewarded with a pleasant conversation; the weather was nice and we were in no hurry as we enjoyed the drive back to Saigon. It was a very pleasant drive, although we had to slow down for several funerals trudging along the roadside.

About a half hour out of Tay Ninh, we saw people sifting through destroyed houses. Globe was thrilled: a chance to journalize! The peasants’ houses were shot to pieces. The residents mournfully told us that the Viet Cong had attacked during the night, several nights before, and the local peasants had been caught between the invaders and the ARVN defenders of Tay Ninh. I was translating for Globe, but we were careful to get that: the Viet Cong attack had taken place well after the supposed Ceasefire began. We took lots of photos. The peasants wanted us to see everything, to see how their homes had been ruined. I wouldn’t say they were happy we came, because how happy can you be in a situation like that? But we were outsiders, foreigners, we had cameras, we were paying attention to their suffering and listening to their grief. We were sympathetic and we witnessed the loss of their homes. That counted for something.

A couple prosperous peasants had put up brick houses, which the VC had brought down. The lady of the house invited us in to see; just walk through any wall, no need to bother with doors. A week before, the house would have been comfortable, and this day we stepped on the shattered roof tiles scattered across the floor. The back wall was on the ground. Trees around the house were scarred and chopped by the rake of fire. Behind us, on the highway, passed an endless convoy, trucks without number carrying munitions towards Tay Ninh.

Another lady showed us her home. She was not one of the prosperous peasants. She and her family had lived in grass huts with tin roofs. Nothing survived Liberation by the Viet Cong. Where several homes had stood, flat ground remained, packed earth and nothing more.

Even the ashes were going, blown away by the gentle breezes that sweep the paddies. The families were trying to salvage some shot-up pieces of tin to sell for scrap.

An old man plucked my sleeve and motioned me to follow him. He led me to an unexploded mortar. I hope he didn’t want me to pick it up for him! I photographed it, and Globe identified it as Chinese made: “Maybe you’ll find someone you can speak Chinese with.”

“I hope not!” I fervently replied.

The peasants were happy they had run away in time and escaped Liberation. They were cooking on a makeshift stove, and invited us to eat. We simply couldn’t. We were deeply sobered on our way back to Saigon.

Globe filed a report on what we had seen, but as far as I know, it was never published. On the eve of the ceasefire, a reporter from a superduper wire service heard from his source that Tay Ninh was certain to be taken by the communists that very night, in time for the ceasefire. Without bothering to verify, the wire service ran the story for a fact. When it became glaringly evident that Tay Ninh not only still lay in government hands, but also had never been taken by the communists, instead of acknowledging their error, the wire service simply reported that the ARVN had recaptured the city – in violation of the ceasefire. That was published, because the American public did not wish to hear that the communists were capable of breaking a ceasefire. Any treachery in Southeast Asia must be solely American responsibility, anybody knew that. That’s why the righteous American people were out protesting.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Thursday, May 10, 2007

"In the 60s, hippies became the people their parents had warned them against. A generation later, ‘hip’ – like ‘hippie’—has become a consumer product, its manifestations of nonconformity charted and sold by advertisers."

--Herbert Gold

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Translation is always difficult. What voice sounds right? People who translate religious writing into English under the influence of the KJV thou and thee you into a corner, because verily, verily I say unto you, thou and thee sound biblical. This leads to unfortunate English such as the Book of Mormon or this example quoting Epiphanius, from the Gospel of Eve: (from GRS Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, 1900)

From whencesoever thou willest thou gatherest Me, and gathering me thou gatherest Thyself.

Certainly one of the most turgid sentences ever written in English.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Yesterday in the late afternoon Yumin announced that he had come across a snake (see earlier post, below). After the snake left, Yumin was very proud of himself, as he had done his duty. Later all three of them tried to get some rodent near the front door, but it was hiding in a pile of drying bamboo I had trimmed, and I knew they wouldn’t get it.

This morning Yumin again announced the presence of a snake. Apparently yesterday’s guest had gone home and gotten Big Brother, because this one was much thicker and longer, about two meters. Big Brother and Yumin glared at each other until the snake whished off into the undergrowth. These snakes are very fast and beautiful to watch.

I thanked Yumin for his effort and turned back to the house. A few paces later I almost stepped on a crushed field mouse (臺灣森鼠, Apodemus semotus). The dogs were unaware of the dead field mouse, and there were no bites or blood on it. Evidently the snake, called a rat snake in English, was living up to its name. A pile of drying bamboo is ideal hunting grounds for a snake, so it could finish what the dogs started. But then loudmouth Yumin probably came along before Big Brother could enjoy his meal.

Picking up the field mouse by the tail with two large leaves, I told it, Amitabha, try not to come back as a rodent next time, and launched it off into the undergrowth the snake had slid into.

Yumin pesters a 過山刀 in the front yard until it strikes, a feint to give it time to make its exit.

This guest was about 170cm long, not one of the big ones. English name, Big-eye rat snake; Latin, Zaocys dhumnades. That means it’s fast. For sure! These can really move.

Monday, May 07, 2007

誠品今年記事本主題是說文解字,我最愛。可是有一個我不懂。介紹六書:象形,說,「文字源自圖畫,作家魯迅曾言:『漢字的基礎是象形。』」沒錯,可是我不懂的是,一、魯迅在文字學上完全沒地位,這是我第一次知道他曾討論文字,那麼為甚麼引他的說詞?二,這句早已有人說,不是魯迅首創,為甚麼須要他的嘴巴才能講?三、我坐在電腦前與記事本過意不去,是不是太無聊 ?四、如果寶貝讀者看到第三頻頻點頭,算不算比我還嚴重?


Sunday, May 06, 2007

The other day I said that grammar is not always essential to communication. There is no denying that it helps, though. How’s this for a model of clarity?

Visayan is the name of the language family In the central islands of the Philippines. It is also know as Bisaya, as technically there is no "C" in the alphabet.


I think the problem is that V is next to C on the keyboard.

Or another one, a product description on ebay:

It is a thing after the fourth generation, and it is not understood "Sousa" of what generation it is. I think that I am a thing of the 11th generation and the time of the 12th generation.

Saturday, May 05, 2007



Friday, May 04, 2007

When I came to Taiwan, in September 1971, I stayed first in the long-gone I House (International House 國際學舍) on the corner of 信義路新生南路口, now the site of the Da An Park 大安森林公園. On my very first day here, I met Roger, who was working on his doctorate in modern Chinese history, digging through the files of the 國史館/National Archives, which at that time were a long ride from Taipei; now it is on the outskirts of the city. His specialty was warlords. Just mention some obscure figure, and Roger would rattle off the person’s biography and details about the background and ramifications of his actions.

I have always admired Roger for his level head and cool thinking. As his research progressed, he developed a taste for 蚵仔麵線/oyster noodles, and coldly appraised his situation: how would life be better? Toiling away in academia with NO oyster noodles? Or staying in Taipei where he could get not ONLY oyster noodles but ALSO 蚵仔煎 oyster omelets? When a taxi drove off with his briefcase full of notes on the backseat, Roger decided fate had cast the die for him, and kissed academia goodbye, although I always suspected it was not entirely accidental, even though I have never told him so. As I say, I have always admired his level head.

After we had had enough of the I House, we found an apartment nearby (新生南路一段). Eventually we moved out, but off and on we shared various apartments here and there for some years. (On January 23 of this year, I posted a piece about our adventures with The Professor, on Chaochou Street, where we moved from Hoping Street.) I entered the salt mines (English teaching) and Roger took a job with the 外貿協會External Trade Development Council, where he stayed until retirement. Then he moved to the thriving metropolis of Rushville, Missouri (population 238), and opened an import shop with his wife.

The other day he phoned to say he was back in Taipei on his way to Thailand to import goods for the shop. We had a pleasant dinner together on 永康街, and stuffed ourselves into a taxi to take us to the Guting古亭 subway station. Roger asked, “Didn’t we used to live around here?”

“You’re right, Wango’s place is right near the station.”

“Let’s go take a look, see what’s there now.” We were not surprised to see the old wooden house we rented rooms in had been torn down and replaced with an apartment building. From there we made our way through the alleys to the apartment on Chaochou Street (潮州街小巷內). As a light rain began to fall, we stood in the alley and looked up at the balcony of the second floor apartment we inhabited around 1978. After a while, Roger said, “It looks old.”

I replied, “So do we, Roger, so do we.”

Roger in the summer of 1972, Taipei, photo by GBT

Thursday, May 03, 2007

full circle



photo taken on a Taipei bus, September 1972


an abandoned house on the outskirts of Taipei, October 1972. I mentioned this in my post for April 16 this year, but had forgotten I had a photo of it until I was rummaging around for the old bus photo.

Recently I found a boxful of old photos I took with my beloved Pentax SLR, in the early 1970s. Most are photos of Taiwan, but I also have Hong Kong and Viet Nam. If my scanner cooperates, I plan to scan these and post them on flickr.
Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

One reason languages are so fascinating is that each language looks at the world in its own way. English is closely related to German and has been heavily influenced by French, but English is sexless. German and French ascribe genders to books, tables, and other items that English does not consider living, much less male or female.

Consider those other people your father and mother gave birth to (ok, it may be hard, but think about them for a moment). English, German, French, and other European languages call them either brother/ Bruder/ frere / hermano / fratello / brat or sister/ Schwester/ souer / hermana / sorella / sestra, dividing them by sex, either male or female. Chinese has 兄弟姐妹 separate words for big brother little brother big sister, and little sister, in other words, dividing them according to both sex and age. Tayal has only two words, suyen and sswey; suyen is a big brother or big sister, sswey is a little brother or little sister.

So for the same people, European languages distinguish them by sex but not age, Austronesian Tayal by age but not sex, and Sino-Tibetan Chinese by both age and sex.

And that’s just the words at face value. Calling something a brother in Chinese is different from calling him a brother (or bro) in English. Which are also different from the use in Tayal, where a cousin is often called suyen or sswey, but never a close friend (We are a band of brothers? Not here.)

Language instruction often bogs down into grammar lessons, which is really sad, because even though the grammar is important, that’s just the bones of a language, very often the least interesting part, and not always even essential for communication.