Tuesday, 31 March 2009

this is (also) not my dog

When i first moved to Taiwan, i asked some Americans what the country was like.
One said:
A little boy wanted to stroke a dog, but was worried it might bite.
So he asked the man with the dog 'Does your dog bite?'
The man said no, his dog didn't bite.
So the boy stroked the dog, which promptly bit him.
'I thought you said your dog doesn't bite.'
'It doesn't,' the man answered, 'but this is not my dog.'

thanks to the few

And in another personal note, today i took down my "Double Dose of Malarkey" (雙口胡話) exhibition.

thanks to the many people (too many to list) who helped with this project, my first exhibition.

But special thanks go to the few people who bought my art.

It is weird to think of personal works hanging in other people's living rooms (hopefully not the bathroom), but why any more than them having copies of my poems, articles and books in their homes?

As usual, the remaining works can be bought via Jiyue Publications.

I agree with Kuo Kuan-ying

Finally Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) said one thing I agree with:
"What the hell is the GIO? What is the GIO? Tell me what the GIO is? What is the GIO? I don’t understand. Going to the GIO [today]? Why should I go to the GIO?”

"there are no Taiwnese in Taiwan"

i mean "really!"

Buddhist Master and founder of the Fo Kuang Shan monastery Hsing Yun (星雲) came under fire ... [for] ... a series of comments Hsing Yun made while in China ...
Hsing Yun said that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one family. There are no Taiwanese in Taiwan and Taiwanese are all Chinese.”
Which Taiwanese is not Chinese?” he asked. “They are Chinese just like you are. We are all brothers and sisters.”
Hsing Yun also said that ... “The more [cross-strait] exchange we have, the more mixed we will be. Then we won’t be able to distinguish who’s Mainland [Chinese] and who’s Taiwanese — and we will naturally become unified.”

these are reminiscent of comments by Formosa Group chairman Wang Yung-ching (王永慶) or was it Evergreen boss Chang Yung-fa (張榮發), whose outbursts were excused as "necessary to protect their investments in China".

so perhaps religion is just another business

(and interestingly, Chang has been moving into Hsing's territory too: he is currently in Singapore to "promote Morals Monthly Digest, a magazine he launched in January last year and distributes for free to promote traditional moral values.")

and it is a shame that news reports of Hsing's comments don't tell us a bit more context, so that it doesn't appear like this is the typical view of a Taiwan monk dedicated to an ascetic life away from the "dusty world". Just something like mention of his birth in China's Jiangsu Province and his long term political advocacy of Taiwan's "unification with" (annexation by) China.

fortunately Michael Turton is on the ball with this one:
he was born in China, fled to Taiwan, and has served the KMT and Chinese nationalism ever since, advocating the annexation of Taiwan to China. He's not advocating annexation of Tibet and Taiwan to China out of some weird Buddhist commitment. ... Hsing Yun, as this excellent overview of his political activities mentions, is a former KMT Central Standing Committee member.

Monday, 30 March 2009

open the doors and ... robbers will take over the house

--Please tell me this is a harmless story:

Kinmen to remove beach barricades for cross-strait swim

Kinmen authorities will remove spear-like anti-landing barricades from Shuangkou Beach on Little Kinmen (小金門) to facilitate a 5,900m cross-strait swimming event scheduled for August.
Kinmen County Commissioner Lee Chu-feng (李炷烽) said the barricades — aimed at blocking landing crafts — were built in shallow waters of the beach during the Cold War era to prevent an invasion from China. Since there have been no military battles since 1958, the barricades are no longer needed, he said.The barricades will be removed and destroyed to provide a safe beach for swimmers taking part in the first cross-strait mass swim between Little Kinmen and Xiamen in Fujian Province on Aug. 1.

--it feels more like 開門揖盜

Sunday, 29 March 2009

one country - four systems

and finally before leaving Suao, here are four road signs using (anticlockwise from top-left) Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin, TP(?) for Hoklo Taiwanese, and something (Wade-Giles, Post Office, bastardized HP?) CamelCased

confusion continues (The Stranger: I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself. )

and Ma Ying-jeou has no authority to impose central government unity on the issue having defied it himself when Taipei City mayor

fish of the day

I know octopus (or is it made with squid or cuttlefish?) is not fish, but it is in Chinese (章魚).
So even though i got lots more fish pics in Suao, I chose this one of takoyaki (章魚燒) at Doufujia (豆腐岬) because I'm trying to find the best takoyaki in Taiwan.
Any suggestions?
(It was definitely not this one
overpriced: NT$60 for 8 -- though i bargained to NT$50 for 10
and even with lots of octopus inside,
the dough was thick and tasteless
and the soft gooey part almost absent)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

who in heaven's name is this?

This must be the most low-tech, cheaply made religious statue I've ever seen. But who is it?
The 王 on his/her forehead might indicate 王爺 Lord Wang, the deity whose boat is commonly burned. And that he/she is made of straw might make for easy burning. But this photograph comes from near Suao in Yilan, not a big Lord Wang locality as far as I know.
The flags at the back are similar to those in 五營 shrines, and this was a similar simple, roadside shrine.
Any ideas?

Mr. Su, Mr. Roo and Mr. National Surname

Suao (蘇澳) is an unusual example of a Taiwan place name that derives from a person, a Mr. Su (蘇) who brought a group of Han Chinese to this area of the east coast to cultivate land. So 蘇澳 is Su's Bay.

But there are few similar examples.

Even street names are rarely named for people, though Chaing Kai-shek gets a mention in pretty much every city, town and village with 中正 (ZhongZheng) Road, as does Sun Yat-sen with both 中山 (ZhongShan) and 逸仙 (YiXian) roads. In Taipei there are also Lin Sen (林森) and Yen Ping (延平; for Zheng Cheng-gong) roads.

Interestingly, a few foreigners also get a mention, such as 麥帥橋 (MacArthur Bridge) and 羅斯福路 (Roosevelt Road).

Unfortunately for this survey of people's-names-to-place-names, Luodong (羅東) up the road from Suao does not mean Mr. Luo's East, but is the transliteration into Taiwanese of the local Aboriginal word for monkey, perhaps because of a local rock that looked like a monkey [though that sounds very Han Chinese to me], or perhaps because many monkeys lived in this area.

Similarly, Guoxing (國姓) Township in Nantou County apparently has nothing to do with Koxinga (國姓爺; Lord of the National Surname, a.k.a. Zheng Cheng-gong), but was a corruption from Guosheng (國勝; "National Victory"), which may be even more homophonic in Taiwanese.

how was it for you?

I take it all back, Colonel McDonald, i enjoyed my hour very much, switched off all the electrical appliances (except the fridge) and took my dog, "Flounder", for a one-hour walk.

Flounder says: Let's have an Earth Hour every day.

I concur.

Flounder says: How about every hour?

He would; he's a dog. What does he know? His idea of a good environment is a dead-and-stinking fish to roll in.

This is not Flounder but a dog on a boat in Nanfang-ao Harbour this afternoon that barked at us but would not come off for a fight.

fish of the day

from the station wall at Suao, Yilan County.
The Shad says: Perhaps Joyce likes fish because her Chinese name 妤 Yu is homophonic with "fish" 魚.
Just as a woman working in FarEastone with the character 瑜 in her name has the English word "Fish" on her lapel badge.

hey johnny johnny

Johnny replies: At the risk of triggering an international incident, might I suggest you have a chat with some of your Maori friends and inform them that the Chicoms are threatening the very place that their ancestors came from?

I thought the idea that all Austronesian-speaking peoples have some ancestral connection to Taiwan is just one (Pacific People Spread From Taiwan, Language Evolution Study Shows) of many contending theories. Can someone enlighten me on this?

well that's alright then

The lights are going down ... today to mark the second worldwide Earth Hour.
McDonald’s will even soften the yellow glow from some Golden Arches as part of ... plan to dim nonessential lights between 8:30pm and 9:30pm to highlight global climate change.

Earth Hour makes a powerful statement that the world is going to solve this problem,” said Carter Roberts, chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which sponsors Earth Hour.
or people might think, "Great, I've done my bit till this time next year. Actually, that wasn't as difficult as i thought."

[my emphasis "soften" and "some". But seriously, how are only some golden arches "nonessential", is McD's now sponsoring anti-rape lighting in third world ghettos and lighthouses on rocky coastlines?]

Friday, 27 March 2009

Chatting with the "Fifth Wang"

Chatting with the "Fifth Wang"
An Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy
By Mark Caltonhill
Photos / Fan Wen-zhen, Otto Huang

Song Dynasty calligraphy masterpieces were among the key exhibits shown when Taipei's National Palace Museum reopened after renovations last year. More than painting, more than sculpture, and certainly more than that modern upstart, photography, calligraphy represents the pinnacle of Chinese art. And Song Dynasty masters like Mi Fu and Su Dong-po, although they lived almost one thousand years ago, represent the pinnacle of that pinnacle.

Calligraphy is not a lost or ossified art form, however, as a visit to any county or city art gallery in Taiwan, or even to a summer night market or New Year spring-couplet writer's outdoor table, will testify. Calligraphy is alive, and it is everywhere. Nevertheless, it can be a difficult art for outsiders to understand.

Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of Wang Shih-I, one of Taiwan's top calligraphers, who recently had a rare retrospective exhibition of his work at the National Museum of History in Taipei.

In addition to learning calligraphy, initially from his father, Wang has studied Western literature at National Chengchi University, drama at Chinese Culture University's Graduate School of Art, drama in Greece, comparative drama and anthropology at Oxford, and East Asian art history in New York. He is now professor of drama at Chinese Culture University, where Travel in Taiwan met with him recently.

How might foreign visitors to Taiwan who know nothing about calligraphy gain an understanding of this art form?
In one sense, calligraphy is very abstract. It's just black ink on white paper, and the feeling that comes from the way the characters are written. But the calligrapher will find this feeling from the literal meaning of the words, so knowing what the words are and who wrote them is a good place to start. Even if the visitor doesn't read Chinese, he may gain such understanding through inquiry.

Speaking of these texts, do you write your own poems and inscriptions, or do they come from classical texts or elsewhere?
Both. If I write a poem, then I will certainly execute it in calligraphy. Sometimes I find inspiration in poems by other people, including classical, religious, or philosophical texts. Or I will see a work of calligraphy, such as the work of Mi Fu of the Song Dynasty, and maybe find it too weak, so I will do my version of it.

If you find the famous Mi Fu too weak, where would you say your style fits into the millennia-long tradition of Chinese calligraphy?
I started learning under my father as a child. By the time I was eight years old, my brush was vertical and my arm so horizontal you could balance a glass of water on it and I wouldn't spill a drop while writing. I had learned the two main traditions. The first emerged during the Han and Wei Dynasties, and was structurally proportionate and robust, like the national spirit of that time. It is characterized by "substance."

“By the time I was eight years old, my brush was vertical and my arm so horizontal you could
balance a glass of water on it”

During the later Tang Dynasty, this calligraphy was felt to be too pedantic, and under the influence of Wang Xi-zhi and his son Wang Xian-zhi, the "Two Wangs", a new style was developed, characterized by "elegance."

This was accepted as the pinnacle of calligraphy, imitated by the so-called great calligraphers of the Song Dynasty, such as Mi and Su, and there was almost zero innovation for the next millennium. Finally, in about 1790 during the Qing Dynasty, some calligraphers, including two more influential "Wangs," blamed the nation's deterioration on the "weakness" of the elegant Tang style and staged an artistic rebellion.

Rather than leading to innovation, however, this rebellion merely led to a reversion to the earlier Han-Wei style, and then to two centuries of competition between the two forms. Both were essentially imitations, attempts to copy earlier techniques.

I was the first to seek a combination of the two, rather than a fight between them. And by the age of twenty-seven, I had created a new style based on my own disposition and the age in which I lived. As they say, "No one is in discord with his own time." I became nicknamed the "Fifth Wang."

How was your father's calligraphy?
It was very good. My father lived during the early republican period when China was divided and weak, and so he favored the more robust Han style. From that period I particularly like the calligraphy of Sun Yat-sen. His was robust too, but it was also gentle.

How about the calligraphy of Mao Tse-tung?
He was a wildcat.

How would you describe your creative process, your creative impulses?
First, I don't watch television or movies, and I don't play cards, that kind of thing. I just read, write, and do calligraphy. Even if I'm tired or a little drunk, those are creative inputs too. Doing calligraphy gives me a mental happiness I cannot get elsewhere.

Second is my mother. We came from a poor background, and I liked to give my calligraphy to my mother as a gift, since it gave her great pleasure. Even though she is now deceased I still think of giving it to her. Even with the bad ones I don't keep, when I burn them I think of my mother's spirit seeing them.

“Doing calligraphy gives me a mental
happiness I cannot get elsewhere”

Do you paint too, and if so, how is the painting process different from that of calligraphy?
Painting is okay, but calligraphy gives me more pleasure. Each stroke is the creation of a second, less than a second, and cannot be changed. With painting one can go back and change it or add something; with calligraphy one has to let go of everything. It's like Zen; one has to ignore the world, find inner calm. It doesn't come from the hand but from the mind.

You mentioned Zen; is Buddhism an important influence in your work?
In my study I have just two figurines. One is of Confucius, because I am not a Buddhist or a Daoist. I belong to the Confucian school. The other is of Aristotle, whose writings I have studied my whole life and have translated into Chinese.

Nevertheless, Buddhism has taught me the importance of living in the moment, and I often use works by Daoists such as Laozi and Zhuangzi in my calligraphy. Of the poets, I use works by Li Bai, Du Fu, Tao Yuan-ming, Su Dong-po, and ... my own.

Some of your work seems humorous, if not outright cheeky. Is there humor in calligraphy?
WSI (grinning): No. None at all.

three fish-loving men

my first thought was "this boggle-eyed cartoon character
belittles Taiwan's Aborigines"

no actually, my first impulse was "oh, stop the bike, I want a photograph" (I collect fish photos)

then i saw his friend and i thought "I have to stop, even if I'm late for work"

so maybe they did their job, stopped me from passing, and maybe if I'd had more time, I would have gone inside the Naruwan Indigenous People's Market and bought a souvenir or a slab of "mountain pork" and maybe, next time I'm looking for presents I'll go back ..

but I still think ...

U-bike but not I-bike

good news for the environment- Taipei (as well as Kaohsiung) now has bikes for free or low-cost rental.

good news for the credit card companies - Taipei's U-bike system needs a credit card to use it.

i know not many people share my views on credit cards, but that aside, it seems a bad deal for young people who might be on the slippery slope of "bikes are for kids (and Vietnamese "guest workers") , scooters for youths, cars for REAL adults" that seems common in Taiwan.

come on, King Liu, think of a way round this.
it seems i might have been misinformed and a city travel card with NT$3,000 on it might work as well. But beware, prices are going up massively (see U-bike and Maybe I-bike)

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Shut the *@#! up

KMT legislators Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) and Lin Ming-chen (林明溱) said the bureau no longer has any grounds to charge motorists for using the freeways. The bureau has collected approximately NT$312 billion from users of Freeway No. 1 since the 1970s, which was about twice as much as it cost to build.

Just a shame that's not the only cost. In addition to damage to buildings and health through vehicular emission, not to mention climate change (or are we still pretending not to believe in that?), there is also my sanity to be considered.
I live several hundred metres from a highway, yet the noise of cars passing means i must shut all my windows and doors on that side of my house if i want to talk, listen, think, sleep ... stay sane.
That's at least another NT$312 billion worth. I vote to keep charging.
Shit, there i was dreaming i had a say in the matter.

ten steps back; one step forward

It isn't often there's something to cheer in the area of Taiwan's international relations, so let's give a quiet hip-hip-hooray to the U.S. Congress for resisting P.R.C. pressure to water down its support for Taiwan and the TRA.

When Beijing does not respond with biting sanctions on American companies, perhaps we will see some stiff upper lips from the Brits, firm backbones from the Germans, and ... ok, perhaps I'm getting carried away after just one piece of good news.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

one step forward; ten steps back

I wasn't planning to start until April 1st, but it seems the E(nergy companies) Protection Administration beat me to it:

The Environmental Protection Administration yesterday announced a campaign to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint — offering prizes including new cars in return for signing a pledge that includes taking public transportation ...

Asked whether it was contradictory to offer cars as a reward for participating in the campaign, Shen said: “We should consider that [the prize winner] will own the car, but will not necessarily use it every day. If a person owns a car, it can boost the economy ... While they can take public transportation as much as possible, they can also drive the car whenever necessary.”