Sunday, August 31, 2008

I wrote this years ago and neglected to post it.

Sunday morning I was walking down to catch the 7:15 bus to the city to give a lecture. Yata drove by and hailed me: “Yugan! I have something good to show you.” She pulled into the parking lot, hopped out of the car, opened the trunk, and drew back the rug in the trunk to reveal a beautiful, full size headhunting knife in a wooden scabbard with a woven carrying sash.

As heartily as I root for the aborigines, I do understand the government’s reticence in promoting Tayal religion and tradition, which are based squarely on headhunting, especially in recent days, with feelings running so high over Vice President Lu’s racist slurs. Technically, I suppose, the knife she was showing me is illegal, which is why she had it hidden under the rug. It is longer than my forearm, which is past legal length in Taiwan (I mean the knife is past legal length, not my forearm.)

A tribesman further south lately has fired up his smithy and forged small scale knives of traditional shapes. I have obtained two, complete with wooden sheathes, and apparently, this encouraged him to go ahead and produce this full scale knife to see if I was interested. Yata was giving me the first chance to buy it. I picked it up to examine. Of course this is For Display Only, but I wanted to make sure it has a good heft. It has a good heavy back and is sharp enough to do what it was designed for.

As I was giving it a few swings, a busybody sightseeing lady came up behind me and stuck her nose in our conversation: “What have you got there? What are you going to do with that?”

Without turning around, I said, "We're getting ready to come out of the grass." Everybody in Taiwan knows that "出草 coming out of the grass" means to hunt heads. I gave the knife a few more swipes and put it back in the scabbard, to test the fit. Then I turned around to give the busybody sightseer an engaging smile, but you know what? She was nowhere to be seen.

Saturday, August 30, 2008






Friday, August 29, 2008

When I was a little boy, my parents taught me:

Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning;

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.

To tell you the truth, it wasn’t very accurate in Illinois, and I assure you, it’s not much better in Taiwan. This morning at 5 the sky blazed a brilliant red for ten minutes or so, but the weather today was okay.

Just to be on the safe side, I take warning every time I see a red sky in the morning, just in case whoever invented that rhyme got it right. But so far so good.

Notice the moon in the upper left.

Thursday, August 28, 2008





Wednesday, August 27, 2008

study hard!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In the early 70s, we used to say that Mao Tsetung or Chou Enlai could walk down any street in Taiwan without anybody paying them any notice, because all photos, pictures, or representations of them were strictly forbidden. The Cultural Revolution was raging across the Strait, with Mao being elevated to divinity, and agitators, saboteurs, infiltrators, and frogmen were trying to bring the madness to Taiwan, so banning Mao made sense.

I never expected to see a picture of Mao in downtown Taipei, barring a change of flags. This bank on館前路 is advertising exchange for 人民幣RMB, the currency of the PRC. Times change!

Monday, August 25, 2008













Sunday, August 24, 2008

I am reading an excellent book, David W Anthony’s The Horse, The Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, an examination of the roots of the Indo-European languages. Discussing the early stage of copper use, he says, “At Floresti, on a tributary of the Seret River, the remains of a late Linear Pottery homestead, radiocarbon dated to about 5200-5100 BCE, consisted of a single house with associated garbage pits, set in a clearing in an oak-elm forest – tree pollen was 43% of all pollen.” One single sentence about a single site, a single house, seven thousand years old.

Think of that single homestead, alone in a clearing in a forest, that might have been home to a family for decades or even generations. In some ways they were similar to us; who of us is not a member of the homo sapiens family? But in other ways they were incomprehensibly different. Copper was new enough to be unknown to them; they lived with pottery vessels, implements of wood, stone, leather, and grass or cane. They must have been self-sufficient, with perhaps occasional meetings with other clans or tribes, but you can bet they didn’t have much in the way of social life. They would have had music and dance, and I conjecture the solstices were important days. For the most part, a familiar year round cycle of chores probably took up a lot of their time and energy, 如豳風七月所敘.

Their night skies were not dimmed by light pollution, their air was pure and fresh. They saw rivers such as we have never seen, full of fish, and forests full of wild beasts, to eat and be eaten by. No chocolate for them, no tea, no potatoes, not even wheat or rice. They knew no roads, probably no bridges, certainly no stores, no money, no writing, but daily they used a thousand skills and tricks for survival that our ancestors forgot dozens of generations ago.

What will people seven thousand years from now say about our modern life?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

All reasonable people must certainly agree that of all the creatures on this planet, for beauty, grace, dignity, and character, none can compare with the gorillas. Unfortunately, these most excellent creatures are endangered. The good news is that an unexpectedly large number of lowland gorillas has been discovered: click here::

News to warm our hearts!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pinbtwan originally means 堆積, to pile up, in Tayal (or Atayal, the Austronesian Taiwan aborigine language spoken in Wulai); it is similar to American wampum. Living in the mountains far from the sea, the Tayal valued seashells as a rare curiosity. Shell beads, called gaha, were made from蛼蟝 clam shells by coastal tribes such as the 葛麻蘭Kamalan, ground with stone tools.

The beads were collected, strung, and woven onto cloth backgrounds, and served as money, as wampum did among the Algonquian Amerindians. Of course the Aborigines did not have a money economy, but tangible wealth was useful on special occasions. For example, the pinbtwan were used as wergild, in other words, as compensation for injuries or injustices. As the Tayal were headhunters, from time to time they killed the wrong person – hey, nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes! The aggrieved party’s relatives would come seeking revenge, so the accused might hang a pinbtwan outside his village, as a sign of apology, responsibility, and compensation. If the pinbtwan was offered, the revenging party was obliged to accept it, at least as the start of negotiations, rather than rushing in and killing everybody they could.

When Japanese warlords occupied Taiwan (first half of the twentieth century), one day’s wages was a strand about 20 cm long. You can see that a pinbtwan such as this would take a long time to accumulate!

The pinbtwan was also made into skirts, called lugus gaha, but they were probably too heavy to wear. Or you would have needed a couple of pairs of suspenders.

Source: Watan Kahat/鄭光博

Thursday, August 21, 2008





Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Of all the misdoings of which former President Chen is accused, perhaps the one that has caused the greatest popular frustration is not even covered in the penal code: due to his ideological hangups, he refused to permit the Taipei Zoo to import some pandas that the PRC was offering us. (Apparently he felt this necessary to emphasize his independence. Or something. Dog knows.)

Now the oligarch is out of office, the pandas are coming, and the people are happy. Power to the panda…. uh, power to the people!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

overheard in the jungle

「我女兒到澳洲去學英語 自己去,不是跟團─我以為會失蹤。沒想到,她又回來了!」

“My daughter went to Australia to learn English – she went by herself, not with a group. I thought she would disappear for sure, but what do you know, she found her way home again!”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

An interesting, perhaps overlooked part of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics was the sign in the auditorium that said, in English: Welcome my friends. Innocuous enough, but the Chinese merits a closer look. It is actually the first line of Confucius’ Analects, 有朋自遠方來不亦樂乎(“When friends come from afar, is that not a joy?”), written in standard, not communist simplified characters. One performance on the opening program was 孔子弟子三千人 The Three Thousand Disciples of Confucius.
Does anybody remember the Cultural Revolution? 打倒孔家店、打倒孔老二, the communists had a huge campaign to eradicate Confucianism. You may as well try to eradicate human nature. It’s good to see that they are coming to their senses. More power!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Taiwan’s former President Chen Shuibian announced yesterday that he will ‘stop lying.’ Should we believe him?

The Swiss Ministry of Justice has formally requested the ROC (Taiwan) government to investigate the legality of a deposit Chen made to a Swiss bank of US$30 million; it seems that they may wish to extradite him to stand trial for charges of criminal conduct. Chen says that the money was left over from his last campaign, and that his wife deposited it without his knowledge. It’s all her fault, he says, I didn’t know anything about it. True love always makes me sort of makes me feel all mushy, how about you?

Referring to another corruption scandal in which he is implicated (one of dozens, can’t keep track of them all without a score card), Chen announced, “I did not get a share of the money.” I guess that clears him entirely.

In the meantime, the rest of his party (the Democratic Progress Party) is saying they wish he would die. Friendship and loyalty always make me feel sort of mushy.

In the long run, Chen’s lasting legacy may be a renewed social emphasis on good taste, ethics, and virtue. After the eight years of studied crassness, thuggerry, and intentional boorishness in Chen’s regime, people in Taiwan now are calling for better 品德 literally taste-virtue, good conduct and morals, in all facets of public and private life. Power to the people!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

星期一我正式成為一個現代人,因為我手機掉了。手機通常一兩個禮拜才用一次,幸虧半小時內發現了、停話了。昨天買新機,順便查,停話前有沒有電話?有,電話09*6510564;新電話才開機,這個號碼的人打電話問我是誰,然後馬上掛斷。好吧,我今天撥09*6510564,響了很久,昨天那男子終于接了,說,Hello?我說,請問,星期一下午四點四十六分有人用這支號碼打電話給你,你知道是誰嗎?他回答,聽不懂。我接下去, Somebody phoned you from this number at 4:36 on Monday afternoon. If you know who that is, please tell him to return the phone immediately, because it is stolen property and I am reporting this to the police 對方沒聲音,接著我說,如果不還我這支電話,我把手機的序號報中華電信他們就可以察是誰在用,所以趕快還。突然,對方聽懂國語,說了幾聲「我知道我知道…」


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Restaurant sign, below the Chinese language name:

tsafkaerb efac iniugnil nailati

Somebody should inform the sign painter that traditionally, English words are arranged from left to right, ton thgir ot tfel.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Today I officially became a modern person: for the very first time, I lost my cell phone.

Note: I got the cell phone for Mayoko when she stayed in Taiwan, and inherited it when she left. I use it, on the average, maybe once every two weeks. Don’t worry.

Sunday, August 10, 2008









Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Beijing Olympics have gotten off to a great start, I hear. The planning, architecture, and opening ceremony of the Olympics have shown that China is once again a major player on the world stage. People in Taiwan are waking up to this, and taking pride in the accomplishments of cousins across the Strait. Of course we all piously preach that we keep politics out of sports, but let’s be realistic. With all those bigwigs in Beijing, isn’t this a great opportunity for some informal negotiating and posturing? Everybody can get together, get to know each other, compare outlooks, sketch out plans and positions, and find common grounds for discussion. Sure beats shooting at each other, if you ask me.

A squabble about the name of the team from Taiwan was solved amicably. In the 1980s, when both the PRC and the ROC wanted to compete and claim sovereignty, a compromise was reached: the Taiwan team would be called 中華台北 Chinese Taipei. However, the press in the mainland have already referred to the team as 中國台北, so that had to ironed out. The PRC authorities have promised that they will call our team中華台北, but what are you going to do if you have tens of thousands of fans rooting for the中國台北 baseball team?

President Ma would have gone but for the delicacy of his position. The PRC would hardly call him the President of the ROC, and he could hardly allow himself to be called The Leader of Renegade Taiwan or something. Several senior KMT have accompanied the team to Beijing, where they were given seats of honor by President Hu of the PRC, above all the other heads of state and diplomats. President Hu wished the Chinese Taipei team well, “Your strong athletes will certainly perform well, with the advantage of playing on the home field.” He assured the Taiwan delegates that the people of the mainland would be rooting for our teams.

This was magnanimous, crafty, clever, thoughtful, conciliatory, whatever you call it, but people in Taiwan are moved. The right wing DPP, which chose not to go to the Olympics and preferred not to take this golden chance to parley with the PRC, is making sour noises, but that was to be expected, and nobody pays them much attention.

Friday, August 08, 2008

I hope you noticed that eight minutes after eight this morning was 080808:08.08, 發發發發發!

Yes, I am aware that I got all worked up about this on July 7 last year and on June 6 the year before. You can count on equally fascinating observations all the way through December 12, 2012, 121212.
After that, I am not sure what I will do for jollies.

That, of course, may be a moot point, because the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, the date the solstice sun aligns with the center of the Milky Way, an event that takes place once every 25,800 years. After that, another cycle of the Mayan calendar may be calculated, but some say that the world will end on that day. I am pessimistic enough to believe that we will have no such luck, but if the world does end on that date, you will finally have an end to this blog. Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Overheard on the Wulai Bus

泰雅司機: 阿伯要在這站下車嗎?

老先生: 對,我到這一站,我要去看牙齒。

泰雅司機: 怎麼了?

老先生: 我要拔牙齒,你相信不相信,我八十二歲,還要拔牙齒!

泰雅司機: 要拔就多拔幾顆嘛!

老先生: 不行,不行,假牙很貴!

泰雅司機: 乾脆裝豬牙!

老先生: 豬牙?





Bus driver (Tayal tribesman): Sir, do you want to get off at this stop?

Old man: Yes, I want off at this stop, I am going to the dentist’s.

Bus driver: What’s wrong?

Old man: I have to have a tooth pulled. Can you believe that? I’m 82 but I still have to have a tooth pulled.

Bus driver: If you’re going to have one pulled, you may as well have a bunch taken out.

Old man: That won’t do, false teeth are expensive.

Bus driver: Then have boar’s tusks put in.

Old man: Boar’s tusks?

Bus driver (very earnestly): Yes, you can have two tusks put in on the lower jaw, and when they grow, they’ll look great! (using his fingers to demonstrate how the tusks would look growing out of his mouth)

Old man (laughing): It would take a long time for them to grow.

Bus driver: Not long! You’re an old boar, but I’m just a young boar, so yours would grow much faster than mine!

Exit old man, laughing cheerfully.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Television is the thief of time.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

小祖宗回家了!As I reported earlier on this blog, my little 臺灣土狗Taiwan Mountain Dog, Byajing, was in the hospital. As it happened, the day Denise the Vet came for the dogs’ annual shots, Byajing had a fever. Her condition was not stable, so she went to Denise’s veterinary hospital (三重佳佳獸醫院), where her condition confounded the best and most experienced veterinarians in Taiwan. She had a fever but no diarrhea, low red blood count, this, that, and a dozen other problems that nobody could figure out a cause for. However, she was slowly mending, but she was also pining. Byajing is, after all, a mountain dog, and she needs dirt, grass, wind, and sunshine. She also needs Tlahuy and Yumin, so today we went to fetch her. She came back, Tlahuy and Yumin were very happy to see her, they had a happy reunion, but she is still weak.

We are especially grateful to Denise for all her care, skill, concern, and love for our befuddling little Byajing, as well as to all the veterinarians, doctors, and professors who worked so hard to bring her back to health. What she needs now is a rest at home with her brothers.
We still don’t know just what happened to her. I recalled that the night before Denise came, there was a small qimbahu 龜殼花 poisonous snake by the front door. I prodded it it on its way with a cane of bamboo as Yumin barked. When it slipped away into the grass, Yumin and Byajing went to take a closer sniff. I speculate that the snake, a small one, may have nicked Byajing, not enough to alarm her, but enough to put a drop or two of poison into her system. The vets say there is a 60% chance that this is what happened, but we may never know for sure.

Just so she recovers!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Many people claim they are thinking when actually all they are doing is searching for excuses to protect their preconceptions and fixed ideas.