Friday, November 30, 2007

Some important news from Taiwan that I forgot to report.

There used to be gold and copper mining on the northern coast of Taiwan. You can still see some of the derelict works.

In the evening of September 22nd of this year, two thieves bored a hole through a chimney in one of the deserted factories, because they had heard that there were metals left over that could be sold. They worked for two hours with hammers, drills, and other tools to make a hole large enough for an adult to crawl through; there is some concern for their health, because the site is contaminated with heavy metals. They went to all this effort in order to steal two lead plates, each weighing over sixty kilograms; each plate is valued at around NT$1,000, so for all their effort, they would have netted a haul worth about US$62.00. Don’t forget that they not only had to bore that hole through the chimney to get in, but they also had to haul 120 kilograms of lead out and make their getaway. Just as well for them that they got caught in the act.

上述文依2007/09/24 00:09 記者:記者呂國寶、秦蕙蘭/基隆報導




Thursday, November 29, 2007

捷運詩 : 詠雲 :李敬邦





Tuesday, November 27, 2007





A few weeks ago, while I was walking through the jungle, I came across the dead body of an extraordinarily beautiful bird. It looked like it had just been killed by a snake, which my dogs and I probably scared away. I plucked a few tail feathers and deposited the bird into the grass where I figured the snake would be. Nobody but me ever goes into that part of the jungle, and there are no houses near. I cannot for the life of me figure out what that bird was doing there. I have asked around, but nobody raises such birds.

The noted bird watcher Bird Lai has identified this as a red golden pheasant, not native to Taiwan. To give you an idea of how beautiful the bird was, here is a photo of a red golden pheasant taken by Bobby Castlebury of Brookston, Texas. Many thanks to Bobby and Aileen Castlebury of for kindly allowing me to use this photo!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I wrote this on September 21, 2002.
I had forgotten about it,
but remembered it talking with Sabiy.
I thought I lost the file one of the times my computer crashed, but I was able to find a copy.

Earthquake Boy

Liquy is, in a word, a good boy. When he was grade school, his father died. Ever since, he has been a great comfort to his mother, and a hard worker who is always willing to help his grandparents with rough work on the mountainside.

When he graduated from junior high, his mother didn’t have enough money to send him to high school. Liquy worked to earn what money he could, and won a basketball scholarship to a school in central Taiwan for aborigines.

In the fall of 1999, four Tayal boys from our village went down to central Taiwan to begin their classes. Upperclassmen from the same tribe showed them all around the beautiful mountains surrounding their school, so by the time classes began, Liquy was familiar with all the paths nearby.

Just after 1 AM, September 21, 1999, the island was struck by powerful earthquakes, 7.3 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was practically right under Liquy’s school. The four Tayal boys from Wulai rushed out of their dormitory as it collapsed around them. They took to the hills. They ran through the shaking mountains all night. When the sun rose, they reached a Tayal village. The villagers told them, “Everything’s okay, stay here with us. We’ll take care of you. We’re all the same tribe, so don’t be shy.” The boys were spooked, though, and after a rest, kept running. They reached the ridge across from the village and stopped for a rest. Just then, without warning, an enormous landslide buried the entire village. If Liquy and his friends had stopped there, they would have been interred there too, with all the people in the village. They kept running. Eventually, an Army helicopter found them, still running through the mountains, and took them to safety.

Liquy returned to Wulai. After a rest, his mother told him he should go back to school. The aborigine school was destroyed, but they found a nice school for him further south, in Minhsiung, on the plain where few earthquakes hit.

Few, but not none. Several days after Liquy entered school in Minhsiung, the plain was wrenched by a 6.8 earthquake, and again, Liquy’s dormitory fell down around him.

No more school. He came back to Wulai. We didn’t see him. He never left the house. His mother said he slept all day, and would sit quietly all night long.

After a couple months of this, his grandmother came for him. “Liquy, I need to chop some bamboo to make runners for the bean vines in my vegetable patch, but your uncle Silan is off in the mountains hunting boar. I am too old to chop bamboo by myself. Will you come help me?” For the first time since he came back north, Liquy left his house. He came to the bamboo grove in back of my home with his grandmother, and they spent the morning chopping bamboo. I offered to help, but his grandmother told me very quietly, “Liquy and I can handle it today.” Liquy nodded to me in greeting, but kept working wordlessly. If he noticed that his grandmother was chopping bamboo just as fast as he was, he didn’t say anything.

A few days later, his grandfather came. “Liquy, I need to check the pipes that bring our water from the spring. Silan hurt his wrist when he was hunting boar. I need someone to help line up the pipes and join them together. Will you come help me?” I saw them out tracking the pipes. Liquy smiled weakly, but said little.

I asked Silan, “Did you get any boar when you hurt your wrist?” He smiled and showed me that both of his wrists were fine, and no, he had not been out poaching boar, but he admitted that he did go off to hide in the mountains when Liquy came to chop bamboo.

Several days after that, Silan went to his sister’s house with his right wrist wrapped in a huge bandage. “Liquy, I need to check my traps, but my wrist is hurt, so I can’t climb very well. Will you come help me?”

Tramping through the mountains, Liquy came back to himself. Now he races to and from work on the motorcycle his grandparents bought him, and his smile is back. We’ve had dozens of earthquakes this year, but now, they don’t shake him. But he has said nothing of going back to school.

2007,11,25 note: Liquy has a job in a bank now

and a beautiful girlfriend, a Tayal from the eastern coast.

But he still has no intention of going back to school.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Am I misunderstanding something again? I read a headline on Yahoo, Sex Offenders Have Higher Rate of Mental Illness: Men convicted of rape or other sexual offenses have a much higher-than-average rate of serious mental illness and history of psychiatric hospitalization, a new study suggests.

Excuse me? I thought rape and sexual offense was mental illness.

Thursday, November 22, 2007















Wednesday, November 21, 2007










Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Translation Exercise: Pearls of Chinese Wisdom


英譯In our hearts, we have a spiritual rhinoceros coming through at one o’clock.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Years ago, it was generally believed that the only reason a Westerner would come to Taiwan was an insatiable craving for Opera Masks, and that the Westerner would be incapable of procuring these unassisted, but had to have his craving satisfied by his local hosts, friends, and acquaintances.

If you have never seen opera masks, allow me to explain that roles in Chinese opera are depicted by brightly colored faces. Traditionally, artists have painted all the faces for the various roles on paper and circulated what are called Face Directories 臉譜. All well and good, until some miserable wretch got the idea of making little masks, about the size of a pigeon egg, and painting them like Face Directories, half a dozen mounted on a board and framed, suitable for hanging. Hanging is the word! Too good for the mutt who started this. 始作臉譜板者,其無後乎! If you’ve seen one, they’re ok, but when you’ve seen sixty or seventy, they start to look tacky, and by the time you’ve been presented with a hundred, you understand why I say hanging is too good for the mutt who first placed little opera masks on a board.

Those were the days when it was still okay to be proud of your Chinese cultural heritage, but even still, no local home I ever visited ever displayed these things.

Actually, though, the opera masks were not so bad, at least not before overkill. At least they were colorful. What really repulsed me was the bronzes. Two, three thousand years ago, China produced spectacular bronze ritual vessels, many of which now grace the Palace Art Museum, where they serve as a silent embarrassment to the Bean regime, as reminders of the glory of Chinese art. The bronzes are pieces of dignity, beauty, and endless attraction.

Some benighted soul got the idea of making one inch high copies in ugly green metal and pasting them on a board for the torment of unlucky foreigners. The ratio usually ran about 5:2. For every five Face Directories you got, you’d get about two sets of ugly little green plastic bronzes. I appreciate the generosity of kind hosts who wasted money on these monstrosities, but am quite happy that they have disappeared.

Well, not entirely. There are still sets lurking around various closets against the day that old Chen or Lin stops in for a visit. What can you do with them?

Mail them to Aunt Harriet in Iowa City hoping she might be able to raffle them off at a church benefit. That might work.

But please, allow us a little bit of dignity. First scrape off the part that says MADE IN TAIWAN.

Saturday, November 17, 2007




A group of cheerful ten year old boys walking near the Taipei Main Station, playing Paper Scissors Stone and chanting:

Tomorrow ‧morning‧ eat‧ a lot of ~~~ cowshit!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Today I came across the tiniest snail I have ever seen.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sraran ga, musa mgaga na Tayal, lukus toyah:

In the old days, when Tayal went headhunting, they wore a special toyah / stomacher, or rather, chest bib. They were brightly colored and decorated with buttons and beads.

On July 23, 2007, I posted a photo of the obeja charm. To quote myself, I said, “Inside the gourd on the top of the obeja was secured a small version of a tokan/pack, woven out of cloth instead of naku (ggi/ramie thread), with pom-poms and locks of hair on each corner.” I think the small pack inside the gourd could be the same thing as this ceremonial toyah, partly because they look alike, partly because in Uta/南澳, the toyah is called obeja.

Much as the Tayal culture interests me, much as I wish the Tayal thrive, I have to confess that I consider it just as well that headhunting is a thing of the past. In the 70s, I saw a lot of old Tayal men with tattooed faces, but it has been a couple years since I last saw one. As the Old Time Religion fades into the past, details are forgotten. I cannot say with surety that the headhunting toyah were stored in the obeja, but to me it seems likely.

The two photos above are taken from old photographs.

The other one is me with Meilu the weaver, modeling a toyah she made.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007



Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Taiwan doesn’t have much in the way of cold weather, and since it’s an island, the temperature bobs up and down like a cork on waves.

This may be why I have seen snakes every month of the year, and down to 12 degrees centigrade. This morning my careful calculations about whether I should get out of bed or sleep a bit longer were disturbed, as usual, by Yumin’s barking. However, it quickly became apparent that he was barking at a snake, so I grabbed my camera and rushed down for the photo op.

This is a 青蛇, smooth green snake, cyclophiops major, non-venomous. Yumin barked at it, Tlahuy glowered at it, and Byajing stayed by my side to protect me from it. After I got some shots, I took a stick and prodded it off into the grass. It disappeared instantly.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mormons are good people. Two of the men I esteem most highly – my teachers Mr Ed Parker and Mr Tom Garriga – are Mormons. That said, when I spy Mormon missionaries, I bend my head and rush my way, lest I be entangled in the dread dull Book of Mormon.

All due respect, you can’t help wondering how anybody can believe that gobbledygook, if indeed anybody reads it. Mark Twain did, and Roughing It has a hilarious account of his trip to visit the Mormons on the way to the silver mines.

And it came to pass that Twain discussed The Book of Mormon, which he called ‘chloroform in print.’ And it came to pass that I noticed something in his quotation from The Book of Nephi, out on the ocean in the middle of a mutiny:

And it came to pass that after they had bound me, insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work…. And it came to pass that after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass and it did work whither I desired it.

Now everybody knows the compass was invented by the Chinese, and certainly not used at sea much before 1000AD. Behold, is it not miraculous that Nephi, supposedly crossing the ocean thousands of years before that, did have a compass?

No wonder it did come to pass: compass…

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It's hardly surprising to see Bush using his veto powers to protect the tobacco industry. He may feel he hasn't killed enough people in Iraq, so he needs help from cigarets.

Congress’s plan to raise the tax on cigarets to discourage smoking is being thwarted by moneyed interests. The Philip Morris website says, “Taxing smokers in unfair.” I disagree. Taxing normal people to support smokers is unfair. Everybody knows smoking causes heart disease, lung cancer, bad teeth, bad breath, and too many other diseases to go into, without providing a single benefit. Normal people even have to help pay for the 12kg of litter the average smoker produces annually!

Every single smoker burdens the public health care system. There is a problem with taxing cigarets, because if cigarets are expensive, smokers smoke way down to the filter, where all the carcinogens are, thereby removing themselves from polite society even more quickly. Whether or not this is a bad thing, I do see the point that taxing cigarets more heavily may not be ideal.

I have a better solution. I propose that all smokers forfeit their public health care benefits. If you smoke, you lose all your rights to any health care supported by taxes. Why should the rest of us have to pay to keep them alive when they’re working daily to trash their own bodies?

this showed up on shortly after I posted the above:
Customer: I need cigarettes.
Cashier, pleasantly: How would you like to kill yourself?
Customer, expressionless: Newports.
Cashier: Here you go.

--CVS, 25th & 6th

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Did you hear about the stuffed cat somebody made? The seams were flawed so the stuffings leaked, until finally the cat was empty, nothing inside.

This is the origin

of the


Hollow Kitty.

Friday, November 09, 2007

我常跟學生講,寫作be concrete, be specific。任何敘述該如斯。




Thursday, November 08, 2007

On his latest tape, Osama bin Laden said, “A happy man is one who dies for his religion.” Jay Leno said, “Do you ever notice the one who is giving the advice is never the one blowing himself up?”

In my understanding of these matters, anybody who dies violently for his religion, kills for his religion, or exhorts others to do so, places himself directly in hell. However, saying or thinking bad things about other religions is a very serious wrongdoing in Buddhism, so I wish to state my very sincere wish that Osama makes himself a happy man! The sooner the better.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Have you smiled today?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It has long been my belief that every one of us has the duty to reduce our waste and pollution. Reducing pollution means not only actively choosing a bus over a car, or a non-polluting car over a polluting car, but other less obvious ways. Reduce your use of products that are produced in environmentally harmful ways. In other words, if Product A is made in a factory which pollutes and Product B is made in a clean factory, of course you should support Product B.

By the same token, you cannot say you are serious about protecting the environment if you eat meat or fish, because the production of meat or the catching of fish are the among the most environmentally destructive acts there are, short of nuclear explosions. As the Mad Cowboy, Howard Lyman said, “To be an environmentalist who happens to eat meat is like being a philanthropist who doesn’t happen to give to charity.” Any serious environmentalist is a vegetarian. Period.

But what else can be done? Recently Taipei garbage trucks are collecting clean plastic bags for recycling. Unfortunately, this hasn’t reached Wulai yet, but I have been trying to cut down my use of plastic bags. Aside from reusing them, what else can be done?

I hit upon a great solution: abaw ngayaw /芋頭葉/ taro leaves. These grow wild all around Taiwan; years ago, before the cheap production of plastic bags, produce in markets was wrapped in taro leaves. Unrefrigerated, they last five or six days; refrigerated, well over a week. My groceries are delivered weekly in big canvas bags. I wrap them in taro leaves, bind them with rubber bands (still working on that), and pop them in the fridge.

As far as I can see, the only drawback to this is that taro leaves are inedible, so you don’t want to mix any scraps in with your vegetables.

Taro grows like crazy, at least in this climate. Dream: rooftops all over Taiwan covered with pots of taro growing for the residents to use. The taro on the rooftops would lower the temperature indoors, and the need for air conditioning, as well as providing fresh air. Possible?

If anyone would like a starter taro plant, please let me know.

PS: I have been using 月桃葉、筋 various vines and natural strings instead of rubber bands. It’s working pretty well.

Ask not what the planet can do for you; ask rather what you can do for the planet.

Monday, November 05, 2007

One of those fascinating observations that take up so much of my attention:

In The Crow Indians (1935), Robert H Lowie notes When a person died from natural causes …members of his family cut their hair, chopped off finger joints, and gashed themselves…. In 1907, many of the old and middle-aged Crow lacked a finger joint….. Old women… had lost the tip of each finger, and some even had cut off farther; the men were careful to spare the two first fingers of the right hand, which were used in bending the bow.”

Under the Mountain Wall by Peter Matthiessen is a record of first observations, in 1961, of a previously unknown mountain tribe deep in New Guinea.

After the funeral of a tribesman named Ekitamalek, “there took place a mutilation. Though a few older men cut fingers in time of grief, it is usually the smallest girls who are selected for this ceremony, and a woman in the valley whose left hand is not a stump is very rare. On this same day the first two joints of the outside fingers were hacked from the left hands of Ekitamalek’s small sisters, in sign of mourning.”

Strange that societies so widely removed as the inland Crow and the island Dani, on the other side of the world, should both mourn by the same method, of chopping off finger joints.

Isn’t that fascinating?


Well, if you ask me, I think it proves that aliens from outer space made the pyramids.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

After afternoon class yesterday I took the subway to the 南門市場South Market to see if the long overdue shipment of Middle Eastern figs had arrived. No figs for me, so I bought dates instead, and had dinner at a nearby vegetarian cafeteria.

I had time before my evening class and the weather was nice, so I decided to walk back by way of the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. As usual, there were a lot of people enjoying the early evening: a large number of students, lovers, young parents with their kids, old folks out for a walk. A large, happy crowd gathered on the steps of the theater and on the plaza to watch a slapstick skit. Two masked costume actors pretended to be video game heroes while their movements were ‘controlled’ by two guys sitting on the side lines. Even though it was blatantly advertising a video game joystick, and they were really hamming it up, the skit was very well done. Everybody laughed and clapped and shouted replies to the MC. There was some noise coming from outside the Memorial, but nobody paid it any attention.

I couldn’t stay too long. On leaving the Memorial, I saw a long line of tour buses on 中山南路 the street. The Regime is doing a hard sell on a referendum for Taiwan Independence, thinly disguised as a question whether Taiwan should join the UN: as if the UN would allow Taiwan to join. The street in front of the President’s Office was blocked off, and performers on a temporary stage were blasting out a heavy metal version of 燒肉粽/Hot Rice Balls. It’s always either Hot Rice Balls or The Ragpicker; you’d think Taiwan had only two songs. Let me tell you, a maudlin song is not improved by being blasted out heavy metal.

As usual with the DPP’s spontaneous demonstrations, the demonstrators were all old folks bussed in from the country by the Party. Aside from the singers onstage and a couple young people pedaling Taiwan tee shirts, I was the youngest person around, and I’m over 50. (not counting the police directing traffic.) I observed that all of the “demonstrators” I saw were the typical old folks of the most extreme conservative bent, the kind who are still resisting assimilating to the 20th century. They are lost in the big city, so they rarely come, and at home they don’t have anything better to do with their time: if you come to a demonstration, you get a free ride to the city in a nice tour bus, a free boxed dinner, caps, and flags to wave, you can take those flags home and stick them in the field to use as scarecrows.

The people onstage were working hard to try to get the audience to sing along or to shout slogans, but the old-timers were all busy shoveling down their boxed dinners. Nobody sang along, nobody shouted slogans. The mood among the demonstrators was grim. I saw no smiles, no happy chatter, just old folks determined to get the demonstration done with and go home. They didn’t even seem to be enjoying their free dinners.

I saw a line of old folks marching down the street with their flags and banners held askew. It looked more like a funeral procession. Dour looks on every aged face as they trudged along in silence, following a party regular shouting through a megaphone like relatives following a professional mourner.

When I got to work, I asked arriving students if there were crowds on the MRT (subway). The students seemed surprised at my question; they didn’t even know there was a demonstration going on overhead as they came to class. I think this goes to show that, as usual, the demonstrators did not come from Greater Taipei, but were bussed in on those busses lined up outside.

The demonstration was a great contrast to the buoyant crowd watching the video skit, and not much larger. It was depressing, to say the least. Somebody I work with, who has studied in the US, said, “I wish the government would stop pressuring us about this stupid referendum. Also, they should stop torturing those old folks!(不要再折磨阿公阿媽!).”

Saturday, November 03, 2007









Thursday, November 01, 2007

Remember that old song, Give me that old time religion? Yeah! Let’s hear it for Old Time Religion!

The Old Time Religion had spunk and spirit! No whimpering or whining, but real brass knuckle sermons! Take Jonathan Edwards, the famous Massachusetts revivalist in the 18th century. Let’s hark back to the preaching of this renowned pastor. Here’s a sample of the REAL old time religion, quoted from a typical sermon:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over a fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; His wrath towards you burns like fire: He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours…. You sit here in the house of God, provoking His pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending His solemn worship.

Amen! That’s real preaching, now! Okay, everybody, sing along with me!!

Give me that old time religion it's good enough for me,
Well it was good enough for mother, it was good enough for papa,
It was good enough for sister, and it's good enough for me
Give me that old time religion...