Monday, March 31, 2008

This is an era of double standards. Imagine if somebody put out e-cards that said
There would be an uproar about sexism and disrespect for women. The cards would probably be funny and silly, with self-deprecating humor. Of course, you are not going to see such an e-card, because it is so fatuous.

But some websites now have very earnest ads to send e-cards to
celebrate women.
You can guess that the cards are oh so warm, oh so caring, and oh so pompous.

Celebrate women? I thought there were already millions of porn sites doing just that.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I saw a toddler wearing a hat that said

Assumedly his mother doesn’t know English.

Or maybe she does.

Saturday, March 29, 2008



Friday, March 28, 2008

A great problem for tea freaks is that most potters are not tea freaks. Potters make tea bowls that may be of very high esthetic value but are useless for making tea. The tea bowls of, for example, Peter Voulkos, are beautiful, but would be the death of any tea. I would as soon drink tea from a Dixie cup as from tea bowls made by Japanese master potters. Some 天目tenmoku bowls made by potters in Taiwan are okay; I have a cup made by 江有亭 that is good for 水仙, but I have yet to see a Japanese tenmoku bowl that you could drink tea out of. In my experience, black glaze, which Japanese potters adore, spells disaster for tea; the point to understand here is that the Japanese tea ceremony is a ceremony, the ceremony predominating over the tea. Frankly, the Japanese haven’t made progress in tea brewing for about a thousand years.

For that matter, allow me to express my astonishment. Online I found a wood-fired tea bowl by a Japanese potter in Kyoto. It was nice, but frankly, in terms of skill, artistic value, and so forth, it would be about average for Taiwan; here I would expect to see it priced around NT$2,000, or say a bit under US$80. I was somewhat surprised to see the price was US$210, but I thought, well, everything’s expensive in Japan. Imagine my surprise when I realized I had missed a zero: the correct price was US$2,100. Ridiculous. I don’t care how romantic or exotic a potter in Kyoto is, that kind of pricing makes no sense at all. And from the looks of it, I would say the bowl was not very good for tea. But Japanese care only about form, not content.

捨我其誰? Taking pottery lessons from 盧展能老師 Teacher Lu, I have been working for several years on making a better tea bowl. I used to drink tea out of small cups, but Teacher Lu showed me that big bowls actually concentrate the smell better. Since then, I have been working on making bowls that fill both hands. Only a bit of tea is poured into the bowl; it is by no means filled to the brim. The point of drinking tea is to enjoy the taste, smell, sound, feel, and look of the tea (ceremony be dammed).

Teacher Lu once asked me if I wanted to make teapots. No. The most important element of a teapot is the clay, and there is simply nothing that can compare with 宜興土 Yixing clay for pots; again, my pots are functional, not decorative. Why make a pot that is inferior to one from Yixing? ~~for the heathen among my readers, allow me to explain that the same tea made in different pots tastes totally different; the same tea made in the same pot tastes totally different in different cups or bowls. Thus the fuss.

I don’t have the clay to make pots, but bowls I can do. I do, I do. I have finally found a form and glaze that works consistently for 普洱 Pu-Erh. You can see more photos on flickr:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I can’t help myself. Here’s an article from Reuters:
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - The Florida Senate wants public school students to pull up their pants. Lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that could mean suspensions for students with droopy britches.
Florida could join several southern U.S. towns and cities that have passed "saggy pants" laws aimed at outlawing what some teenagers consider a fashion statement -- wearing pants half way down their buttocks, exposing flesh or underwear.
Supporters say schools sometimes don't properly police dress codes and parents are often "under aware" of what their kids are wearing to school.

Suspension is not what they need, they need suspenders. Parents are under aware that everybody is aware of their kids’ underwear.

Good to know the Florida Senate is keeping the world safe for democracy.

Tayal kids don’t wear droopy pants for a simple reason: the elders pants them. ~~ wherever, whenever, in public.

Yeah, wouldn’t you love to do that, too?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Have you ever heard of such a thing as this? On Saturday, a man wins a presidential election by a landslide. Monday morning, the president elect’s wife wakes up at the same time as usual, and, as she has every day for many years, takes the bus to work.

This is what happened this Monday in Taiwan, when President-elect Ma’s wife went to her job at a bank, where she works as a manager. She plans to keep her job, and is negotiating with her security detail about whether she can keep taking the bus. An unemployed Aborigine friend said, “She has held a job for years, she works for her salary, she always takes the bus, and look at how simply she dresses. What about the DPP? VP Lu made fun of us Aborigines when our houses were destroyed by a typhoon, and at the same time she was using tax money to have a luxurious house fixed up for her!”

The day after the election, public opinion polls showed Ma’s popularity topping 80%. The overall mood in Taipei is jubilant. People are looking forward to the future with hope and confidence again. A taxi driver said, “Look at Hong Kong. They are doing good business because of all the tourists from mainland China. But President Chen would not allow tourists to come to Taiwan because he is too selfish. When they lift restrictions, we taxi drivers can make a living again.” (Not all taxi drivers are so optimistic. Before the election, some taxi drivers held a rally to support the DPP. They stressed over and over again for tv news, “We aren’t getting paid for this! We are volunteers!” It’s an open secret that most of the ‘demonstrators’ in DPP mob scenes are bussed in and paid: money, boxed meal, sometimes caps and T shirts.)

President Chen is apparently making plans for the transition. Facing charges of corruption, he has promised that he will go to court, and that he will not skedaddle. He is making plans for that, too. Today the President’s Office purchased….. 57 (fifty seven) paper shredders.

All in all, I would describe the mood in Taipei this way: a young woman mistakenly marries a man, only to discover that he is narcissistic, with love only for himself, none for her. After unhappy years of forbearance and suffering, she finally divorces him. He insists it is all her fault, and that he has done nothing wrong. She looks back and said, “I must have been blind! How could I have fallen for that creep? Now it’s time to grow and to get on with my life.”

But who’s getting custody of all those paper shredders?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Overheard on the bus to Wulai



Jr high school Tayal boy 1: Intelligent you are an aborigine… but your parents got divorced!

Jr high school Tayal boy 2: Intelligent you are an aborigine… but your mother gnaws dog bones!

Monday, March 24, 2008

People will increasingly interact with computers using speech or touch screens rather than keyboards, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said.

I’m not sure how good that is. I assume you are at a computer now.

Which is closer to your hands, your keyboard or your screen?

Typing has its advantages, and some day I may even get rid of my QWERTY keyboard. Speech includes a lot of hemming and hawing, which typing reduces. For me, I think it would be easier and quicker to revise a written sentence than to go back and say, OK, delete that mmm let’s see now.

I don’t want to hold my hands up to the screen for too long. What I would like to see is a foot mouse, or something practical so I can type and use my mouse without removing my hands from the keyboard.

(confession: before I wrote that, I paused for a moment to think, how do you spell QWERTY? …. Oh.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008





帥哥效應 馬當選 專拉婦女票



Saturday, March 22, 2008

It’s amazing what a difference a couple weeks can make. When I went to Boston on January 3, Taiwan was still afflicted by very untypical melancholy. The economy was down, horizons were down, expectations were down, hopes were down, spirits were down; very untypical of the Taiwan I know and love so well.

While I was in Boston, elections were held for the national legislature, and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of President Chen got slaughtered. When I returned at the end of the month, I was happy to see people returning to normal. I would say the difference was that once again people were looking forward to the future with hope and confidence.

During his eight years in office, Chen has worked hard to build strife, polarity, and confrontation. I have always felt that the DPP is a reaction against the modernization of Taiwan. People who are puzzled by the modern world and the changes brought about by leaving the farm flock to the DPP banner to fight against what they cannot change. They yearn to retreat to the simple days when Taiwan was agricultural, isolated, poor, and ruled by Japanese imperialists; no decisions or adaptations required, just do as your father did before you (or your husband orders you to do.)

Chen’s great failure was that he never tried to be President of all Taiwan; he wanted to be president only of his most loyal followers, and to chastise the rest. Example: many ROC citizens who live abroad came back to vote; the DPP said that anybody who returns from abroad to vote for the KMT ‘不是人, is not a human being,’ a very serious insult in Chinese. (aside: one of the DPP’s most acerbic supporters lives in Japan; she came back to vote for the DPP, which shows she ‘loves Taiwan’ and when the DPP lost the election, vowed to become a Japanese citizen; again, this proves that she ‘loves Taiwan.’ During the presidential campaign, rather than discuss issues concretely, the DPP made a huge fuss of the fact that the KMT candidate Ma, who earned a PhD in Law from Harvard, once had a Permanent Resident visa [green card] in the US even though it lapsed years ago; nobody mentioned that the first DPP candidate to run for president, Peng Mingmin, had a valid US green card visa while he ran.)

Because of these failings, the DPP has tried to isolate Taiwan from the rest of the world, and pretend that the world revolves around Taiwan. Everybody knows the economy of mainland China (PRC) is booming, right? So you would think clever Taiwan business people would be raking in more money than anybody else, since it’s the same country in all but politics; same people, same language, same customs, and so forth, with only minor differences. But Chen has placed restrictions on Taiwan investment in the PRC, and direct flights to mainland China are still forbidden. This has caused a massive movement of the best and brightest; there are a million Taiwan business people (out of a total population of 23 million) in the PRC.

The economy has suffered a great deal under Chen’s incompetence. I don’t understand economics, but someone who does explained to me that when Chen took office, the Treasury was fat and full; now the Treasury is deep in debt. Chen, who accomplished nothing for the people of Taiwan during his terms in office, faces a wide spectrum of charges of corruption once his Presidential immunity expires, but he has promised that he won’t run away. For what his promises are worth. He always called for reform while he was campaigning. A few years into his first term, headlines trumpeted, 陳:總統可以不做,一定要改革 Chen: I can give up the presidency, but we have to reform! A few weeks later, headlines announced, 陳:不需要改革 Chen: We don’t need reform. So take his promises for what they’re worth. Maybe a wooden nickel for eight years’ of promises?

Ma, very sensibly, plans to deal with the PRC so our suffering economy may benefit. The DPP tried to work on people’s fears. They posted slogans saying that the Taiwan market will be flooded with mainland agricultural products. Great, said Taipei consumers, this will give us an even better variety of food, and allow Taiwan farmers to specialize and develop into high price bracket produce. But rural farmers were told their markets would be taken away, so in today’s presidential election, the DPP carried only the most rural, least educated areas.

Not that the DPP didn’t try. They plastered Taipei with the slogan, Five Million Engineers Will Come From the PRC! That cracked me up, the idea of a vast infestation of nerds with pocket protectors engineering in every nook and cranny of Taiwan. But I agree with the summation of Lian Chan (the KMT candidate in the previous, highly suspicious, presidential election): “長昌不提政策;欺騙、恐嚇臺灣人民;不講經濟,只恐嚇、污辱臺灣人民 the DPP candidates did not bring out any policies; they just cheated and threatened the people of Taiwan. They did not discuss the economy, they just threatened and insulted the people of Taiwan.”

The DPP fought desperately to agitate and play on fears. People here see that Hong Kong’s economy is booming because of tourism from the PRC, and Taiwan is a much better destination for tourists, so at the beginning of the campaign, the DPP cautioned, If PRC tourists come, their prostitutes will too, and they will put our prostitutes out of work! That didn’t go over so well.

Another DPP slogan displeased me: “We need solidarity; don’t let Taiwan become a second Tibet.” The DPP has constantly worked to destroy solidarity and to provoke the PRC. If Taiwan were to become a second Tibet, it would be the fault of the right-wing DPP.

Predictably, the election was a landslide for the KMT, with 58% of the vote (something I think I mentioned before is that Chen Shui Bian has never won a majority in any election; any time he won, it was because the KMT split its votes between candidates. His highest record was about 42% of the popular vote.)

The thugs are leaving office, and we are getting new slogans. When victory was assured, Ma’s people put up signs saying, 感恩之心, 從謙卑做作起; with our hearts full of gratitude, we begin with humility. Ma did not encourage his supporters to celebrate; he said, "We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Five million people voted against me, so I have to work hard to win their faith, because I am to be the president of all of the people of Taiwan." What a welcome change!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The presidential election in Taiwan is coming tomorrow, and I can guarantee that it will be won by a member of the KMT. That is because the DPP’s candidate Hsieh evidently still holds on to his membership in the KMT, even though he is Chairman of the right-wing Democratic Progressive Party, which may have been named by George Orwell.

Hsieh most recently got wiped out in his bid for Mayor of Taipei; his main plank in that race was to hold the Olympics in Taipei. Politics aside, I cannot imagine the Olympic Committee even considering a place that may get typhoons every week throughout the summer. But the idea was, voters were supposed to fall for that, or else be judged guilty of Not Loving Taiwan, the fate of all those who do not obey DPParty line. Sorry, that may work down in rural areas of the south, but not in Taipei; his opponent Hao won in a landslide. More recently, the DPP got slaughtered in the Legislature election in January, winning only 25 seats out of about 115. People are sick of DPP’s incompetence, divisiveness, and contrariness.

Hsieh is the disciple of an unsavory character called 7 Power Sung. In the 1990s, Hsieh’s wife arranged for the photography of a bunch of double exposure photos of Sung, which the gullible were shown as proof that Sung had supernatural powers and could project himself to several places at once, so donate while you have the chance! Hsieh had himself filmed kneeling down and kowtowing to Sung, swearing to be his loyal disciple. Sung eventually got charged with fraud, swindling, and so forth, but the charges haven’t stuck. Maybe once the DPP is out of power, that may change.

Journalists also dug up proof that twenty years ago, Hsieh was a paid informer for the Bureau of Investigation, spying on the DPP. But I suppose that just goes to show that he Loves Taiwan.

While the KMT candidate Ma is trying to discuss the economy, education, relations with the PRC, the environment, and other vital issues, Hsieh’s campaign is mudslinging with all the vigor they can muster. Much has been made of the fact that Ma once had a green card, the visa for permanent residence in the US. So what? That just shows that he gave up opportunities to work in the US to come back and work in Taiwan. The DPP is really desperate when after eight years in office, all they can campaign on is the guy’s expired visa. Actually, I think it’s too bad Ma let it expire; no high ROC officials can get visas to the US, but if Ma already had one, he could go and work very effectively for Taiwan. Ma’s command of English is better than a lot of Americans’; President Chen can barely speak comprehensible Mandarin.

(Hours before voting begins, Hsieh is still harping on that green card. He’s saying, “The visa lapsed, but he could renew it!” ….is it that important?)

The DPP’s latest attack was a fabricated allegation that forty years ago when Mrs Ma was a student at Harvard, she stole a newspaper from the school library. Oh horrors!

(Frumpy Mrs Hsieh appeared on TV news yesterday trying to high-5 supporters; she kept missing. But she did very well on the Thumbs Up. She got it right both times on the first try.)

Hsieh’s campaign is hampered also by the incumbent President Chen, who has held back progress for Taiwan in eight years of power. People are saying that Chen has 鎖國 locked off the country in isolation, as Japan did under the Shogun. Ministers (equivalent to American Secretaries) come and go so often and so ineffectually that people barely bother to keep track anymore of who is in office. The only Minister to keep power year after year is President Chen’s lightning rod, Professor Du, the widely detested Minister of Education. Among Du’s contributions to education have been the recommendation that all maps be turned 90 degrees counterclockwise, so that Taiwan is on top of mainland China. He is also noted for openly picking his nose during a hearing of the national legislature. It is said that he will be charged with corruption once he leaves office.

Du appointed Vice Minister of Education a certain Professor Chuang, who takes an infantile delight in saying dirty words in press conferences. You have to understand that the respect Chinese tradition pays educators also imposes high standards for conduct; the best analogy I can make is that people in Taiwan expect teachers to behave sort of like Americans expect Protestant ministers to behave. Chuang finally took his dirty words too far, slurring KMT candidate Ma; in the resulting firestorm, Chuang said he would rather resign than apologize. He has done both, and his old university has been inundated with demands from students, peers, and alumnae that they not let him back to his old position.

Even though the DPP are noted for the astringency and adamancy of their views, the little guy is hurting after eight years of DPP rule. A friend of mine, a very low income Tayal Aborigine, put it very well: “The DPP says the KMT was corrupt. I don’t know, but under the Blue (the KMT) we had jobs and pay was good. The Green (DPP) is rotten with corruption, and we don’t have any jobs or any pay.”

Signs indicate change. A year ago I went on an errand to the most deeply conservative area of Taipei (maybe the most solidly right wing area of central or northern Taiwan), on the West Side near the old Circle (大稻珵). The place I visited was festooned with DPP banners, photos and posters of President Chen, slogans, and so forth. But as I said, that area is noted as being the most reactionary part of Taipei, so I was not surprised. What surprised me was that this year, I went to the same place again, and all the banners, photos, and other paraphernalia had been taken down. Same people, same management, but the walls had been repainted in blue.

Be that as it may, I hope the KMT is aware that they are facing total defeat at the polls tomorrow. Why do I know that? Because DPP party faithful have assured me that Hsieh will win 80% of the popular vote tomorrow. What’s more, the DPP put a psychic on tv news, and she said Hsieh would win by a landslide, thereby “結束亂局: putting an end to chaos” (the chaos being eight years of DPP rule, I guess). But the psychic must be right, because on tv news she was wearing a rosary, so that proves that she can predict the future. What? You aren’t convinced? What’s the matter with you? You must Not Love Taiwan!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Last fall the Bean Regime of President Chen started a big push to hold a referendum to join the UN. Chen was boosted into power with help from the far-right wing, the reactionary Taiwan independence movement, and they seem to have pushed Chen to do something, so his plan is to use this referendum as a sneaky method to proclaim Taiwan independent; the right wing in Taiwan specializes in believing only what they wish to be true. As the UN does not want Taiwan to join, the referendum can serve no purpose, but Chen is big on referendums, especially when they can divide public opinion.

The referendum has exasperated the US State Department and provoked mainland China (the PRC), but it has not divided public opinion in Taiwan very well. Nobody but reactionary die-hards want the referendum.

Lavishly spending tax money, the regime printed thousands of banners to be placed outside all government offices, advertising a vote in favor of the DPP position in the referendum. Most of the signs are supposed to be in English, but the problem is, nobody can figure out what the signs actually say: UN FOR TAIWAN PEACE FOREVER. What does “UN for Taiwan” mean? Somebody’s giving the UN to Taiwan? English teachers seethe; “All they had to do before they spent all that money was pick up a phone and ask any English teacher!! Any junior high school English teacher could have told them it’s not a good slogan!” As if we don’t have enough trouble teaching English as it is!

Government delegations going abroad were ordered to festoon themselves with the slogan and related propaganda. The slogan also was stamped on envelopes, without consent. I protested, saying that A, it’s a lousy slogan, and B, the regime should not be marking private letters with their propaganda; if the chop had said, VOTE IN THE REFERENDUM, I would have given it my whole-hearted approval, but it is wrong to tell people how to vote. I wrote about this on this blog:
It worked, got a lot of coverage on television and all over the press, and the chops disappeared. I have been thanked many times by many strangers who recognized me from television, as recently as this afternoon. (What amazes me about the whole thing is that anybody actually reads my blog!)

I noticed that after the first couple days of the campaign, at a large number of government offices the banners have been shunted off to one side and turned around backwards. So far, of all the people I have discussed this matter with, I have found only three people who strongly support Bean’s referendum. Of these, two are men from Taiwan who live in the US, and the third went to great lengths to explain to me that he has renounced his Taiwan citizenship and carries a US passport. It’s just wonderful how the people who shout their love of Taiwan the most loudly are those who do their best not to live here.

Even my far-right-wing friends skirt the issue, and change the topic when the UN comes up. Efforts are still being made to ram this through; apparently old people are being led to believe that if the referendum passes, Taiwan will automatically gain UN membership and they will no longer need visas for travel to any country in the world. But essentially it is a dead baby. If the referendum comes anywhere near passing, suspect that somebody has been up to something funny with the ballot boxes. The referendum has so little support that even President Bean is trying to get it off his hands. Only the extreme right wing wants anything to do with this.

Isn’t that funny? In the US, the far right wants out of the UN, but in Taiwan, the far right wants in.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Recently on this blog I have mentioned my neighbor, the 臺灣藍鵲 Taiwan Blue Magpie, or sibekay in Tayal, a shy, reclusive but beautiful bird that comes to our neighborhood mostly in cool weather. They are very difficult to photograph, but recently they have discovered that my dogs spill kibbles all over the place when they eat, so the birds have been frequenting my back door. Yesterday I spotted some birds slipping close to the food. I rushed to get my camera, inside the house. Just as I got to the window to photograph them, Byajing came charging up, and I almost got photographs of six sibekay fleeing from my beautiful doggie. Almost.
This afternoon shortly after two, as I was preparing to leave for the city to teach, I heard the blue magpies again, but they sounded anxious. Grabbing my camera, I went out to the balcony, to see a group of three in a tree to my northeast, and a larger group in another big tree straight south. Just as I prepared to photograph the trio, a large hawk, or kestrel, sailed south off my roof. Evidently it had been right on my roof. As it sailed south, the magpies scattered. The hawk perched in a tree. Two magpies flew over and perched in the same tree, but higher. They kept close to the hawk.

Magpies fly slowly, encumbered by their beautiful long tail feathers. These hawks fly so fast I rarely see them. Once one flew right by a guest and me; my guest was not even aware that a large hawk had flown right in front of us. You can understand, then, that hawks hunt magpies, which is why the flock was so nervous.

As those two magpies kept up the pressure on the hawk, most of the magpies flew off to the southwest. After several minutes, those two sentries followed the flock, and immediately, two more magpies, from the tree to my northeast flew over to take guard over the hawk. They flew closer and closer to it, squawking. Finally, about ten minutes after the confrontation began, the hawk called it quits, and flew away to the southeast. The magpies flew off to the southwest.

I had never seen such an encounter. I took a lot of photos, which I am posting on my Sibekay set on flickr:
My friend Bird Lai, a noted birder and superb photographer, says I should get a better camera. He has a point.

Bird’s photos and blog are at:

can you see the hawk? It is level with the lower magpie, which is looking at it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

前不久一封email很好笑:小叮噹臺灣政治板,臺灣政要配小叮噹人物:謝長廷=尖酸勢利奸詐的阿福,一語道破。而馬英久呢?=宜靜。這也十分貼切。我個人不喜歡漂亮男生,我同意Joyce Cary所說,「I never liked pretty boys. A man’s face should be for use in battering at the world, and show the scars for it.」可是起碼有個樣,國際上站出來不會太丟臉的。



Monday, March 17, 2008

Another rising politician’s career has ended because of S-E-X. I am referring, of course, to New York’s Governor Client9, who resigned because he had been cavorting with a prostitute.

Face it, it’s human nature, men who have strong drives for power and prominence also have trouble keeping their pants on.

My main complaint about Governor Client9 was the prostitution; paying for it was stupid all the way around the block. Now is not the time to ponder about any differences that may or may not exist between politicians and prostitutes; a public official who supports prostitution is as bad as one who plays golf; neither belong in office.

Clinton didn’t pay, but the Oval Office is not the place for that. In his case, I believe his worst offense was bad taste. Monica??

But ok, let’s grow up, man who hunger for political power also have trouble keeping their pants on. The stance should be, Don’t ask, don’t tell.

But if the US is so all-fired free and open about what the Marines call ‘dipping the wick,’ let’s just face human nature and add a harem to the White House. This progressive viewpoint was first presented on this very blog, on May 31, 2006:

But when all is said and done, the person I really feel sorry for is the governor’s wife.

And I can tell you one more thing: Clients 1 through 8 must be worried!



Sunday, March 16, 2008

In our enlightened age, toilets are separated by sex. We have come a long way from the Glory of Rome, when everybody squatted together and passed around the sponge.

I assume toilets are separated by sex for – let us not utter that scorned, forbidden word morality – but for the comfort of those involved, so bodily functions are not exposed to the scrutiny of those with different body parts, and to reduce sexual harassment.

All very well and good, but I do not like being ogled by homosexuals when I encounter them in public toilets. Distinctly uncomfortable to try to empty your bladder when the guy at the next urinal keeps leaning over trying to peek and make conversation.

If homosexuals have rights, don’t we? Oh great, I can see where this is going: all public buildings will be equipped with separate toilets for straight males, straight females, homosexual males, homosexual females, bisexuals (can they all go together?), transvestites, and the transgendered. Just as well the Imperial Eunuchs are all dead, or else we’d have to put in toilets for them too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008




Friday, March 14, 2008





Thursday, March 13, 2008

We have been playing merry games.

As I reported on March 7, the sibekay (臺灣藍鵲, or Taiwan Blue Magpie, Urocissa caerulea)is a very shy, very sensitive bird; so much as look at them and flit, they’re off. I once met some birdwatchers who had been coming to Wulai for ten years and had never seen the sibekay (although I should note that they are more plentiful than before. The sibekay, I mean, although there may be more birders. That I do not know.)

My dogs are sloppy eaters (甚麼樣的人養甚麼樣的狗) so there is frequently a scattering of kibbles out by the back door when they have finished eating. The sibekay have discovered this, so they sneak down to eat the kibbles after the dogs eat. Thus the game. The sibekay try to eat the dogfood without being detected, I try to take photos of the sibekay without being detected, and the dogs try to chase away the birds before I can take photos. I can hardly shout at the dogs, because that would scare the birds away immediately. 繼續努力吧!

Here you see Yumin glaring at the sibekay in the tree, which is coyly looking the other way.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun writes, “A well-known figure, Joseph Caillaux, had been the one statesman in France working for a good understanding with Germany; he had defused a grave crisis by yielding unimportant holdings in Africa. A newspaper violently opposed to his policy began to cast discredit on him as a man by publishing (stolen) love letters of his to his wife…. Without his knowledge, Mme Caillaux went to the newspaper office, spoke with the editor-in-chief demanding that the publication stop, and when he refused drew from her handbag a revolver and shot him dead. Incidentally, the editor she killed, Gaston Clamette, had been helping Proust to get his novel published.

“Mme Caillaux was acquitted, but the jury had a hard time.” If I had been on the jury, I would not have had a hard time at all: Clamette had been helping Proust get his novel published? Justifiable homicide, acquitted, next case please.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In the city to teach the other day, I saw a procession of Aborigines making their way along Park Street. Mostly young, mostly male, most of them were dressed in tribal outfits, and carried long knives, spears, bamboo pikes, and shields. I was glad to see that many were barefoot; Nike just doesn’t look right with tribal clothing. I saw Amis, Lukai, and Paiwan, maybe two hundred all told.

I fell in step with some young Lukai and asked where they were going. They told me they had marched all the way from their mountains in southern Taiwan, several hundred kilometers, and that they were marching for their dignity.

I said that’s pretty abstract, and asked if they could tell me anything more concrete. They gave me a long list of grievances, complaints about bad treatment at the hands of President Chen’s DPP regime. It’s no secret that the DPP manipulates the Aborigines with thinly veiled contempt, using them to ‘prove’ that Taiwan is not part of China. Aborigines all over Taiwan feel poorly used by the DPP, so I was not too surprised to hear what the Lukai were telling me.

But I told them, “You should march for something more concrete. Set goals, make demands.” I can just imagine some spokesman for the Chen regime telling them, Ok, you’ve got dignity, now go home. There weren’t even any policemen out to direct traffic for them, so part of our conversation took place on a street corner as we waited for the light to change. I was thinking, ‘We’ve got a couple dozen guys here with spears, why do we need to wait for a traffic light?’ but kept my thoughts to myself, rather than incite anything. Aborigines are patient and law-abiding. Best to keep it that way.

I walked with them as far as the entrance to the underpass to Taipei Main Station; they were holding a concert in the afternoon to air their grievances before going home, probably by train. I wished them well as they got on the escalator, and I headed off to teach.

The rear of the march was brought up by a group of Paiwan with swords, spears, shields, and maybe cowbells, because I could hear them clunking and crashing from a good distance. I called out, “Friends from the Paiwan tribe, do you make such a racket in the mountains?” They laughed and continued clinking and clonking to the escalator.

After my afternoon class, I went to the Train Station to see if the concert was still going on. There were no aborigines. A group of five or six people were carrying banners for the DPP’s doomed presidential candidate, Hsieh, but passersby were studiously ignoring them. I don’t think they carried their banners to the Aborigine concert; that would be like passing out KKK leaflets at an NAACP rally.

Later I asked around. Nobody knew there was a concert, or even a march. A Yamei lady who works in the neighborhood knew they were passing nearby, but was surprised when I told her they had already passed. She wasn’t sure if any people from her tribe were in the march. I asked around Wulai, but our Tayal didn’t know about the march.

I felt kind of sad. Knowing Aborigines, I am sure they enjoyed their march, but they should have achieved more for all that effort.

I also wish I had thought to photograph the Paiwan spearmen riding the escalator down into the station. That's not a sight you see every day.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Once long ago when I was still teaching Conversation, I was telling my students about the Russian Civil War. I told them how the sailors on the battleship Potemkin discovered that their meat was covered with maggots, threw it overboard in outrage, and revolted.

My students, who had been listening carefully, erupted indignantly.


“Maggots on the meat?”

“Maggots on the meat and they threw the meat overboard?”

“What a waste!”

“What a waste! Maggots, yum yum, maggots!”

“Didn’t they know that you can cook maggots?”

A long, detailed, and very enthusiastic discussion ensued concerning various recipes for cooking maggots, what kind of dishes you can use maggots in, where to get maggots if you need them and your grocer has none, how to select your maggots, how they taste when properly prepared, and many fond memories of Maggots I Have Eaten.

Tyrants, take note: hire Chinese cooks for your navy and you won’t have any problems with maggoty meat.

Sunday, March 09, 2008




Saturday, March 08, 2008



中英語言結構迥異,學習困難。中文句子不一定需要主詞,英文句子主詞不可或缺。類「難穿衣服」,無恰當主詞,勉強用it來充當:it be 形容詞 to 動詞。

穿衣服,怎麼翻?這也是中英文不同之處;英文過程與結果/狀況分得非常清楚。用中文很難解釋。把衣服拿起來穿到身上來,叫作put on;指穿上的動作。Put on之後,衣服在身上,可說wear亦可說 have on。舉例。假設我一個小時前覺得冷,把黑色毛衣從櫃子裡拿出套在身上,說I put on my black sweater an hour ago;put是過去式,因為毛衣從櫃子加到身上動作業已完畢。這件衣服我還沒脫下的話,有幾種講法:I have on my black sweater; I have my black sweater on; I am wearing my black sweater。都一樣,但要注意的是,現在式;因為衣服現在在我身上。

至于get dressed呢,類似put on,指衣服加在身上的動作,但不及物,將全套衣服穿上身。

答案出來了嗎?很難穿衣服,英文怎麼說?It is hard to get dressed,對嘛!很好,這句文法100%正確,只有一個小問題:It is hard to get dressed在英文是nonsense,完全無法理解。何謂it is hard to get dressed?難道每次想穿衣服就有鱷魚跑出來咬你嗎?若不懂中文,真無法想像it is hard to get dressed是甚麼意思。

要命:中英文表達法迥異。英文如果要說「很難穿衣服」,英文表達與中文不太一樣,說It is hard to decide what to wear。圓滿。

這種問題如何解決?只有一個辦法:經驗。時常注意native speaker的用法、時常鬧笑話,久了就習慣了…久了就習慣每次開口讓人噴飯:臉皮不厚,不能學外語。

且記,問「很難穿衣服,英文怎麼說?」千萬千萬可說”How to say很難穿衣服in English?”這句不通!主詞在哪?這種情形也沒適當主詞,就用you,汎指「人」:”How do you say很難穿衣服in English?”


Friday, March 07, 2008

Sipekay is the Tayal for the 臺灣藍鵲, or Taiwan Blue Magpie, Urocissa caerulea, a beautiful bird with a dreadful squawk. With their long tail feathers, they don’t fly very well. They flit from tree to tree, perching in one tree screeching for a while, and then suddenly launching themselves to the next tree. Also, they are extremely sensitive. They can tell if your eyes are on them: they don’t like that, so they hide deeper in the foliage.

I have tried for years to get good photos of the Sipekay, but it is very difficult. This morning I was very lucky to get some satisfactory photos, so I have put a set on flickr. I’ll keep working on this!

This (below) is the kind of photo you usually get. Can you see the bird?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I shuffled onto the crowded subway train and found a space to stand. Three well-dressed young ladies were discussing English usage.

A: 有兩個字不能講,講了就很不雅。兩個都是 f開頭的。There are two words you cannot say. If you say them that is inelegant. They both begin with f.

B: 第一個是不是f-u-c-kIs the first one f-u-c-k?

A: 對,說 fuck 就不好聽。Yes, if you say fuck, it does not sound good. (note: in Taiwan this rhymes with dock rather than duck.)

C: 另外一個是甚麼?What’s the other one?

A: 我記不清楚,好像是 f-a-r-d,可是我不太清楚。I don’t remember clearly. I think it’s f-a-r-d, but I am not too clear on that.

B: 好像是 f-a-r-tI think it’s f-a-r-t.

C: 對,f-a-r-t好像對,我看過這個字,可是我忘了是甚麼意思。Right, I think f-a-r-t is right, I have seen that word, but I forget what it means.

Just then C turned around and saw me standing in back of them. Her mouth dropped open. I mouthed “放屁” ~~ you can figure out what that means. She turned back to her friends, whispered something to them, and all three of them started laughing hysterically, but silently.

She got off at the next station.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Mswa, Yugan?」



Balay balay bi?







「由紺,鄉運重要的項目,都靠蠻力不靠技巧;摔角,也不是在比技巧,你把對方推倒就贏了。負重啊、拔河啊,都靠力氣。可是最重要的比賽就是nibun gwaw(喝酒),一定要酒量好!」




I told Qalux, “I want to talk to mlhuw Shawye.”

“What’s up, Yugan?”

“I’m thinking of playing in the Township Games, in archery. Mangan always takes first place. I probably can’t beat them, but I’d like to shoot in the Games, you know, represent Wulai Village.”

“Aw, Yugan, being there is the main thing! If you want to shoot in the Games, I’m the man for you! The year before last, I represented Wulai Village in the javelin event.”


“Aw, Shawye asked me, so I went. Every person got five javelins. The target was about a bus-length away.

“There was a television reporter looking for someone to interview. He saw me getting ready for my event, so he asked me, ‘Are you an Aborigine?’”

“That’s a stupid question, you can tell at a glance.”

“Aw! I said, ‘Of course I am an Aborigine, I am a member of the Tayal tribe. Tossing javelins comes naturally to us Aborigines. We don’t even have to practice, and we can hurl the javelins, because our ancestors relied on this for their livelihood!’

“When it was my turn, the television camera was on me. I aimed, and hurled my javelin, and it sailed off and landed about five or six meters to the left of the target! I told the photographer, ‘Don’t use that scene, I’ll hurl another one and you’ll see!’ So I took the second javelin. Yugan, those javelins are funny, if you hold them in the center, the ends feel funny. So the camera was shooting me, and I hurled my second javelin, and this one went way off to the right of the target! I told the photographer, ‘Don’t use that scene, I’ll hurl another one and you’ll see!’ I picked up my third javelin, and I saw my wife standing on the sidelines laughing so hard the tears were rolling down her face. Yugan, it was strange, the third javelin went straight up in the air and just missed me when it came down! I told the photographer, ‘Don’t use that scene, ok?’ The reporter asked me, ‘Do you know how to hurl a javelin?’ I said, ‘The problem is, the target just sits there and doesn’t move. When we’re in the mountains hunting wild boar, the boar run back and forth, they don’t just stand there. But this target just sits there, and I’m not used to that!’ The fourth and fifth javelins, hey Yugan, they didn’t even reach the target, they just stuck there in the earth. I thought that was really weird. How could that happen? These old guys were really accurate, but all five of my javelins missed the target. Shawye stood on the sidelines shaking his head. My wife could barely stand up.”

“Aw, Qalux, you’re giving me confidence to shoot in the archery competition!”

“Yugan, in the Township Games, strength is more important than skill. In the wrestling, it doesn’t matter if you have any skill, just put the other guy on the ground and you win. Carrying heavy loads, tug of war, it’s all about strength. But the most important contest is drinking. You’ve got to be able to put away a lot of liquor!”

“The competition is fierce on that one.”

“It’s not a real event, but every time, Wulai village takes first place!”

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

When they are well led, the people of Taiwan are capable of amazing efforts. When they are well led. Fortunately, we are nearing the end of the Bean Regime. During his eight years in office, President Chen has never worked to build a consensus, and he has done nothing constructive. Rather, he goes out of his way to stir up trouble. IMHO, a leader should smooth over differences and get everybody pulling together; Chen has done his best to exacerbate differences and divide the people. He has succeeded in uniting most of the people on one issue: everybody will be glad to see him gone, and with him his widely detested Minister of Education, Professor Du.

Probably because the move was opposed by a majority of the people, President Chen changed the name of the Republic of China Post Office to the Taiwan Post Office. Now, instead of the Republic of China, stamps say Taiwan. These are probably worth collecting, because they won’t be around long.

This stamp supposedly shows a tkra’, the 樹鵲/ Himalayan Tree Pie, Dendrocitta formosae. Chen and Du probably like them because they are bossy, aggressive, noisy, and very territorial. There are a lot of them around here, so you can compare with this photo of one in a tree out front. If you ask me, they got the colors all wrong.

Aside: tkra’ is the Tayal word for this bird, the subject of the strangest grammar shift I have ever heard of. Subject, object, whatever, they are tkra’, but if you shoot one, the word becomes kra’. This sort of shift does not occur for any other noun that I know of in Tayal, and it only shifts if you shoot one; if you kick it, beat if, or bite it, it is still tkra’, but you are a beast for picking on a poor little bird. As far as I know, the bird does not play any particular role in Tayal mythology or tradition; nobody can explain why there is this strange noun conjugation for the tkra', that’s just the way it is.