Wednesday, 22 December 2010

on all things floral (except perhaps flowers)

first piece for global times (

A child scans her bracelet in front of a sensor and a "flower" appears. It moves quickly onto a large screen, and is "planted" in a virtual "garden" with hundreds of others. Thus ends her visit to the Pavilion of Dreams, to the most popular exhibit at the Taipei International Flora Expo.

Set to use several million real plants (and countless such virtual ones) over its six-month run, the expo introduces visitors to the science, economics and aesthetics of various things botanical. Jointly sponsored by Taipei City and Taiwan's central government, it uses 91.8 hectares of public facilities - including the Dajia Riverside Park, the Children's Recreation Center, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (the city's top cultural body), the long-disused Zhongshan Soccer Stadium, and historic buildings such as the Lin An-tai Historical Residence.

Expected to draw nearly 8 million people, the expo is the biggest event ever organized by Taiwan, with a population of just 23 million.

Most visitors enter at the western Yuanshan Park, and first pass the Floral Rainbow in the outside grandstand of the transformed soccer stadium. Inside, there would be held a series of six one-month-long competitions between nations, counties and private companies. Across the road in the Fine Arts Park, 22 countries will keep their exhibitions on for the entire six months in the Global Garden Area.

"This is one of my favorite parts of the Expo," the man in charge, General Producer Ting His-yung, told the Global Times. "In a small space I can see the designs of different cultures and understand the different ways in which different people think."

Another favorite exhibit is located on the stairway between the first and second floors in the Pavilion of Future in the expo's third area, the Xinsheng Park. This starts with flora from the shores of the Penghu Islands, and leads visitors through the vegetation common at increasing altitudes, until one reaches Taiwan's highest mountain, Yushan, standing 3952 meters above sea level and sparsely covered with alpine plants.

Ting also spoke of Taiwan's changing climate during the expo's half-year run, when temperatures will rise from -15 C to around 25. Combined with Taiwan's humidity and spring rains, such weather conditions are good for growing a wide variety of plants, he said.

Opportunities to take boats in Taiwan are surprisingly few considering no place is far from the sea. So, the highlight of the Dajia Riverside Park, the expo's fourth and final area, for many visitors is a boat ride along the Keelung River. This - as well as the Monet exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum - is the only attraction not included in the NT$300 ($10) combined ticket to the expo; and, at NT$80-250, it is not cheap. The trick is to chat up others queuing for tickets, since group tickets start at NT$40 per person.

Another idea is to start one's visit here, the most easterly point of the expo, as visitors are fewer and the queues shorter, taking less than the 1-2 hours for getting into some of the more popular pavilions. Shuttle buses run to six points within the expo, while free buses ply the outside gates.

The most important "local knowledge," however, is that the expo operates a reservation-ticket system, by which ordinary ticket holders must re-apply to visit the five most popular attractions. These secondary tickets are limited to a total of about 25,000 per day, meaning that at least half of all visitors will see none of the key pavilions. Early media reports focused on complaints by disgruntled ticket holders who were denied access to various pavilions. Ting dismissed these as a case of his fellow Taiwanese not grasping the workings of a world-class event of this sort.

It is essential, therefore, to read up on the expo and plan one's visit in advance, arrive before the gates open at 9 am, and get in line for the one or two top priority sights.

The five reservation-required pavilions are the Taipei Story House, a mock-Tudor building dating from Taiwan's trade with the West in the late 19th century; the Celebrity's House, dedicated to singer Teresa Teng; the Pavilion of Regimen, with its collection of bonsai; the Expo Theater, which shows a short 3D animated film about human impact on Taiwan's fragile natural environment; and the Pavilion of Dreams, with its display of the latest innovations loosely linked to botanical themes.

The expo has almost 7,000 artistic performances, ranging from community troupes to some of Taiwan's leading international-standard dance and musical ensembles. If seeing one or more of these is on one's list, then finding their times and locations and getting a seat in advance will also be necessary.

Many of the pavilions have been designed using cutting-edge technology in keeping with the expo's commitment to "3G" (green buildings, green transportation and green technology) and "3R" (reduce, recycle and re-use).

The highpoint of this is perhaps the FE EcoARK, appearing at the expo as the Pavilion of Fashion, constructed largely of bamboo and recycled PET bottles, which its creator claims set seven world records, including as the first wide-span exhibition hall with a zero-carbon footprint.

It is the only pavilion that will not remain on site after the expo. The other 13 will all remain - though their future uses are yet undecided - in what Ting refers to as "the expo's legacy for the city of Taipei".

As for the reason for holding the event at all, Ting, an academic with a 25-year passion for expos, said it was designed to showcase four of Taiwan's strengths: "Our technological power, agricultural power - including horticultural - cultural power and environmental protection power."

Friday, 17 December 2010

change in the weather

When the seasons change, and I put on trousers and jackets I haven't worn since last year...

I keep finding old keys
and out-of-date coins
and banknotes for places I'll again never visit
and train and plane tickets for places I've seen
and write-ups for restaurants I'm sure I've not been to
and tissues for colds I thought I'd caught
and ointments and pills for aches I have suffered
and photos of women I once thought I loved

and unfinished novels I couldn't get into
and unstarted poems I can't understand
and bits of string and rubber bands
and rings for parts of my body once pierced
and scarves and hats for fashions once followed
and badges and buttons for isms once hallowed
and ball after ball of odd-smelling fluff
and oh, how heavy my pockets with all this stuff

Monday, 1 November 2010

new verse

and here's the second poem this week [first here]

the Muse(s) provided the last line;
the title derives from the passage in the Confucian “Analects”: 三人行必有我師 (“[when] three men are walking, there is sure to be my teacher”);
the optimist/pessimist bit came from a BBC report last week;
and the rest I got from the “heavenly” and “earthly” behaviour of my dog, Hutian/Hudi(胡天/胡地)

[title] When walking with my dogs,
There is always something new to learn:

From Hutian’s naïve gregariousness,
I’ve learnt to meet strangers with an open heart;
from Hudi’s incessant sniffing,
I’ve learnt not to stick my nose into strangers’ groins.

From Hutian’s adventurous spirit,
I’ve gained my own wanderlust;
from Hudi’s defense of the realm,
I’ve learnt that after a while away, it is always good to return home.

From Hutian,
I’ve learnt that every tree can be my toilet;
from Hudi,
I’ve learnt not to roll in other people’s shit,
and NEVER to eat it.

From Hutian the optimist,
I’ve learnt that my lover going out of the door
does not mean she is leaving me for ever;
from Hudi the pessimist,
I’ve learnt that it probably means she is.

From Hutian’s passion for the simple things in life,
I’ve learnt to enjoy driving a car with my head out the window
or running through knee-deep water after a storm;
from Hudi,
I now know I must not lick my balls when I meet a nice girl.

From Hutian,
I’ve learnt never to bite the hand that feeds me;
from Hudi,
I’ve realised there is a little Oedipus in all of us.

From Hutian,
I’ve learnt to be satisfied with what God puts on the table in front of me;
from Hudi,

from both Hutian and Hudi,
I’ve learnt that, within our hectic lives,
we should still take time to stop and smell the piss on the flowers.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

new verse

a two-poem week, big news in these parts

[ok, not a big deal for my mate MC (; read the Thursday postings for his poetry) who manages at least two per day]

here's the first (second started, first finished):
(the second is here)

[title] Twelve seconds from Las Vegas

If I'd shaved off all the hairs from my legs,
or not paused to enjoy the sunrise;
If only I’d swum a little bit faster,
I’d be on my way to Las Vegas.

If I’d taken the spanner out of my bag,
or pumped more air in my tires;
If I’d crouched lower cycling into the wind,
I might be going to Las Vegas.

If I’d eaten just one more energy bar,
or maybe eaten one less;
If I’d tucked in tight behind runner seven twenty one,
I wouldn’t be twelve seconds short of Las Vegas.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

fish of the day

cartoon in the Taipei Times:

Thursday, 14 October 2010

new poem

(from poetry workshop in Didsbury Arts Festival)

Visitors must think you always wore trunks:
Pat's thin, young, athletic husband,
but you didn't of course, just on holiday,
and you weren't athletic and you weren't young
but you were thin,
so when the wasting disease came calling
you had nothing to give but yourself.

Married at 34 and a father at 37, 38 and 40,
you hardly played football with your sons
and never walked the Pennine Way
just swam from rocks once a year
your thin, white limbs dangling from the bright red trunks,
that elicit comments from Pat's fellow residents

She doesn't tell them these were working holidays:
one day of beach for six spent photographing
Northumberland churches
Welsh castles
or Ironbridge's iron bridge
black-and-white slides for your history students
who never saw the trunk-wearing you.

Photo after photo, coast after coast, year after year,
the same red trunks
the same black towel
with red, yellow and blue stripes
getting thinner and thinner
but never replaced.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Women in Taiwan Politics

sadly, my comment piece commissioned by Taiwan Today was heavily censored by GIO editors to become a fluff piece stating how good things are in taiwan and how well the ruling party is doing:

State of play: Women’s political representation in Taiwan
•Publication Date:09/24/2010
•Source: Taiwan Today
•By Mark Caltonhill

Taiwan’s upcoming year-end three-in-one municipal elections are poised to show the world that when it comes to integrating gender equality with democracy building, the country stands shoulder to shoulder with other progressive nations on this important issue.

With three female candidates having a strong chance of success in the contests, which are set to take place Nov. 27 in Taipei City and four other newly upgraded special municipalities—Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan and Xinbei— now is a good time to examine the political representation of women and, through that, to take a look at Taiwan’s overall democratic health.

Of the candidates, Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu of the Democratic Progressive Party is the most likely to succeed. Chen’s political career goes back to Taiwan’s martial law era and includes a six-year jail stint for participation in the Kaohsiung Incident.

In comparison, Tsai Ing-wen, DPP mayoral candidate for Xinbei City, is a relative newcomer. She only joined the party in 2004, having served in the DPP-led government since 2000 and advising the Kuomintang administration as early as 1993. Nevertheless, in 2008 she was elected as DPP chairperson, the first woman to lead a major political party. Previously, Tsai followed an academic career after studying law.

Former Vice President Annette Lu, Taiwan’s highest-ranking female politician to date, has a background that combines features of those of Chen and Tsai. The daughter of a small businessman, she progressed from an academic and legal background to found Taiwan’s modern feminist movement in the 1970s.

This accomplishment is noteworthy as Lu’s efforts came at a time when women’s organizations were largely a matter of patronage of former first lady Soong May-ling and the KMT. Not surprisingly, this brought her into conflict with the authorities, drew her into opposition politics, and put her in prison alongside Chen.

But of greater relevance to the current overview of Taiwan’s democratic health is that Chen, Tsai and Lu have risen to the top of the political heap, occupying positions of power and influence that are felt in many sections of society. Their achievements are a testament to the strength of Taiwanese culture that tends to acknowledge and reward competency and performance irrespective of gender.

But the success of women in Taiwan’s political circles is not limited to the DPP. Politicians from the KMT such as Christina Y. Liu, who joined the Cabinet in July as head of the Cabinet-level Council for Economic Planning and Development, and Janice Seh-jen Lai, director-general of the Tourism Brureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, have garnered headlines for all the right reasons while performing their duties both at home and abroad.

Huang Chao-shun, the KMT candidate in Kaohsiung, is said to be another star in the making, and like Liu, has politics in her blood. Huang is the daughter of Huang Tsun-chiu, a former Control Yuan president, while Liu is the daughter of Kuo Wan-jung, Taiwan’s first female minister of finance.

Another female KMT politician making headlines over the past year is Lee Yong-ping, who recently resigned as Taipei City Deputy Mayor. Her background is unusual in having been a member of the DPP, People First Party and KMT.

With a record number of women currently serving in the Cabinet, statistics reveal the ROC ahead of the international curve. Eight women, or 20 percent, currently serve in the Cabinet, and 34 female legislators, or 30 percent, were elected in 2008. This compares with the worldwide average of 16 percent and close to 17 percent and 22 percent for the U.S. Congress and U.K. Parliament, respectively.

This above-average performance is due in part to provision in the ROC Constitution for quotas of female representatives. Following an amendment in 2005, women are guaranteed at least 50 percent of each party’s legislator-at-large positions, of which there are 34 out of a total 113 seats.

Hopefully, as the 2012 legislative and presidential elections draw nearer, the KMT and DPP will broaden their nets to promote more female politicians. This will enrich the electoral process and continue transforming relations between men and women by promoting the equal distribution of power and influence between the sexes.

Finally, with regard to women’s participation, perhaps some initiatives for family-friendly practices in the Legislature—such as sitting during school semesters and office hours—will allow women to have political careers without sacrificing the right to marriage and children. Such a change will undoubtedly be a boon to Taiwan’s overall democratic health.

Mark Caltonhill is a U.K.-based freelance writer. These views are the author’s and not necessarily those of Taiwan Today. Copyright  2010 by Mark Caltonhill

new poem




[Chinese is 'original'; but here is an English version

On Being Fifty

I remember being ten
looking ten
acting ten
playing ten
relating to people as a ten year old.

I have carefully counted the years since then
which must make me 50 now.

Monday, 26 July 2010

religion vs wider society

China Post editorial:
(the last with a VftH connection for some time)

This Buddhist tradition does animals more harm than good

Earlier this month, some non-indigenous birds were discovered in Miaoli County and, after successful capture, were transferred to a local zoo. By coincidental timing, also this month, the Executive Yuan released for public discussion the pre-draft version of a proposed law covering the release of animals into Taiwan's aquatic environments.

Although this legislation will cover academic researchers and commercial enterprises, its primary target is without a doubt Buddhist practitioners, some of whom practice the “release of living beings.”

This religious activity started in earlier times as a benevolent deed by which devotees went to local markets, bought wild animals, fish and birds that had been caught and were destined for human consumption, and returned them to their forest, river or lake homes.

This is in line with Buddhists' belief that all animals, from the lowest bug to the smartest mammal, are part of the same cycle of endless life-death-rebirth, and therefore are capable of eventual enlightenment. Saving them from the pot was thus considered an act of compassion to another living creature and so, like vegetarianism, was said to earn its practitioner karmic merit.

Unfortunately, somewhere over the intervening centuries, the reason behind this well-intentioned act has become largely forgotten, and today's “release of life” is at best an ossified part of religious ritual. At worst, it is concerned more with seeking personal merit and enhanced karmic standing than with any benefit to the animals involved.

On the contrary, environmentalists and academics argue that such indiscriminate release is detrimental to animals. Many of the species used in such rituals today are captured for release and not for consumption, or are reared specifically for this purpose. Unavoidably, these processes result in the mistreatment and even the unintentional death of many creatures. Moreover, once for-profit commercial interests are involved, animals' living conditions become even less of a priority.

Most worryingly, species have been too-frequently released into alien or inappropriate environments in which they have little or no chance of survival, and even less chance of meeting their own kind for companionship and reproduction. (It should be noted, however, that there is no indication that the above-mentioned birds came to be in Miaoli as the result of Buddhists' actions.)

Such mistreatment of and disregard for the lives of animals are the inevitable results when religious rituals become divorced from the ideas behind them, or are exaggerated following social and economic changes over the centuries.

The proposed legislation will require all individuals and organizations, whether academic, commercial or religious, to apply for permission before releasing animals into the wild. They must state the species to be released, as well as the location and time.

Of course, progressive Buddhist organizations are among those taking a lead in this regard, and others are quick to respond to social and media criticism. Dharma Drum Mountain, whose late founder Master Sheng Yen put environmental protection at the core of his teachings and practice, initially instructed its followers to be careful only to release animals into their natural environments. More recently DDM further advanced its policy to recommend abandoning the practice of “releasing life” altogether.

Not all Buddhist groups are so forward-looking, however, and some go so far as to misrepresent environmentalists — criticisms including other issues such as pollution from burning incense and joss paper or noise pollution from religious parades and festivals at all hours of the day and night — as attacks on their religious traditions.

But this is to divorce religions from the societies that gave birth to and nurture them. Taiwan's religions thrive because they provide for a variety of social needs. Certainly, some of these are related to their rich traditions and claims to continuous transmission through countless generations of sacred teachings and ancient wisdoms.

But in fact, many so-called traditions are not actually very traditional. There is no mention of this current issue of “release of life” in the teachings and life of the historical Sakyamuni Buddha around 500 B.C., for example. In fact, the practice is an interpretation “in the spirit of the Buddha” which seems to have really taken off only in the Ming dynasty around two millennia later.

Appeals to traditional precedent without any attempt to take on board new knowledge sometimes merely represent a clinging to ignorance and even an attempt to use the name of religion to resist change.

But all Taiwan's main religious organizations have prospered because, in addition to meeting people's needs for tradition and ancient wisdom, they have also developed and adapted as social conditions have changed.

Indeed, like Dharma Drum Mountain, they are often at the forefront of change, and represent the ideal marriage of thousands of years of humankind's learning with the latest discoveries of science and humanitarian philosophy. And when it comes to “release of life,” science and humanitarianism clearly indicate it is now time to act.

does this work

another chapter heading photo
but is it too close

and a farmer watering her crop in Kinmen's afternoon heat:

jbb progress

another couple of county-by-county title pages for JBB

one small step forward; food-wise

well that's a whole week and what did i get?
frankly; not one photo per day for "Jia Ba Bwey"
here's a possible title page photo for Yunlin County

Monday, 19 July 2010

I will finish

back on bicycle tour ("of the hilly bits")
hoping for some (is one per day too much to ask?) photos for JBB book
(which i WILL finish next year; though i say this every year)
here's the best from today:
rice harvesting in Taoyuan County

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

fish of the day

and over at the taipei times:

Fish rallies when the chips are down to grab title

Mardy Fish captured the Hall of Fame Championship on Sunday, rallying for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over fourth-seeded Olivier Rochus of Belgium.

Fish overcame his frustration at a close line call at the end of the first set to win his fourth career title. The fifth-seeded American entered the week ranked 79th.

On the final point of the first set, Rochus hit a return to the back corner. Fish appeared ready to play the ball and let it go. The chair umpire said Rochus won the game and set. Fish argued and waved his racket to the chair.

Fish took control in the best game of the match, breaking in the ninth game of the third set to go up 5-4. He squandered three break-points, before closing it out with a forehand cross at the net.

“I wanted to play this match on my terms. I wanted to win it or lose it on my racket,” he said of the key game. “I’ve certainly lost a lot of heartbreak finals. It certainly feels great to win one.”

In the final game, Rochus failed on a pair of break-point chances. On the final point, Rochus lunged on a wide serve, barely getting a backhand over the net, before Fish put an easy forehand cross in to end it.

The 29-year old Rochus entered the week ranked 65th. He hadn’t lost a set this week until the final.

“I can’t say I did play a bad final, didn’t go for it,” Rochus said. “I went for it. The last two games were so close. Mardy was pushing hard at the end.”

read all about it

China Post editorial:

Enjoy the final soccer game and enjoy reading about it too

When this paper went to print last night, the outcome of the soccer World Cup Final between The Netherlands and Spain in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium was still not known. And given the contrasting styles of the two teams, predicting the result would be courageous for anyone with a brain larger than that of an octopus.

One thing that can be said with a fair measure of confidence, however, is that record numbers of television viewers in both countries — and in many non-partisan nations around the world — will have watched the game. In Taiwan, where the final kicked off at 2:30 a.m., this will have led to some bleary eyes at work this morning, or perhaps even higher-than-average rates of sick leave as soccer fans nurse their hangovers.

Holland's semifinal game against Uruguay already set television history in the low-lying country best known in Taiwan for its clogs, windmills, tulips and Heineken Beer. Around 12.3 million viewers, slightly more than three-quarters of the total Dutch population of 16.8 million people, are said to have tuned in. Indeed, the all-time 10 most viewed television programs in Holland all featured the national soccer team, so it is safe to say last night's game will have set yet another record.

While this is understandable, it is also slightly sad. Television is a great invention that, at least until emergence of the Internet, provided a unique blend of information, education, entertainment and leisure content.

Over the last decade, a wide range of news and current affairs could have stimulated mass interest from Dutch television viewers. These might have included social issues such as the 2001 world's first same-sex marriage, glamour-by-proxy issues such as the 2002 marriage of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander to Argentine Maxima Zorreguieta, international issues such as the 2003 establishment of the International Criminal Court in the Dutch capital of The Hague, domestic political issues such as the 2004 killing of director Theo van Gogh on an Amsterdam street after his making of a film critical of Muslims, or even odd items such as the televised 2005 world record of a 4,002,146-domino chain, though this event was upstaged by a sparrow which entered the studio and knocked down 23,000 dominos before being shot.

Probably Holland's biggest contribution to television history, however, was creation of the Big Brother reality TV show. This went on to be a big hit in more than 70 countries worldwide and made its original producer, John de Mol, into one of the 500 richest people in the world.

Taiwanese television watchers are among a minority that resisted the Big Brother bug. Indeed, the whole genre of reality TV, which is rapidly dumbing down programming in many Western nations, is largely eschewed here.

We should not be too complacent, however, for Taiwan's scheduling is mainly filled with its own many genres of lowest-common-denominator shows, and informational and educational content is becoming increasingly lowbrow.

This evidently gives people what they want, however, as audience figures are rising, as is the proportion of leisure time spent watching television. One recent survey found that Taiwanese watch an average of 17 hours of television each week. In addition they surf the Internet for another 7 hours 30 minutes, and spend just 2 hours 40 minutes per week reading.

The figures for young people were even more marked, with those aged between 18 and 24 spending around 19 hours 30 minutes watching television, 17 hours surfing, and 3 hours 30 minutes reading. That is more than 5 hours per day looking at a screen compared to about 30 minutes looking at printed words.

Perhaps this is not a cause for concern and merely evidences a historical shift in the sources from which people obtain their information and enjoy their leisure time. But perhaps we should be concerned. Research indicates that watching television tends to be a passive activity, while reading is more active. The latter thus stimulates imagination rather than providing visual gratification, and enables the readers to maintain, rather than surrender, their objectivity and critical judgment (hence advertisers' preference for TV slots). Reading requires more focus, but rewards by paying greater attention to detail and enriching readers' vocabularies.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which reading will never compete with television, and that is in the coverage of live sporting events. However good The China Post's coverage of the Holland-Spain game is, reading it on Tuesday morning will pale hugely compared to cheering one side or the other in a local bar or in one's living room in the small hours of last night.

So if you watched, we hope you enjoyed the final match, will enjoy reading our analysis of the game tomorrow, and will think about picking up a novel or other book for more than 3 hours 30 minutes over the coming week.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

fish of the day

Want Daily's front cover:

Monday, 5 July 2010

not my blog

unlike those of most Mondays over the last year, today's China Post editorial: "The ECFA makes rapprochement irreversible" is not connected to this blog

(as might be clear from its content; or indeed verb use)-->

Cross-strait relations entered a new era last week with the signing of an economic cooperation pact that would liberalize trade and investment between the two erstwhile adversaries and would make the ongoing cross-strait rapprochement an irreversible process...

... Though controversial, the agreement is seen by many pundits at home and abroad as a plus for Taiwan, given the island's urgent need to break its economic isolation that has made it a regional pariah, like North Korea, which has been excluded from any free trade arrangements in the region...

... As if by a quirk of history, the signing of the historic document took place in Chongqing, ... the place where Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chairman Mao Zedong of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a historic meeting right after the war ended in 1945...

... The agreement was one of President Ma Ying-jeou's biggest achievements since he assumed office two years ago...

(and so forth)

Monday, 28 June 2010

i don't eat chicken, but if i did, it wouldn't be this chicken

China Post editorial:

Fast-food firms need to be pushed to help consumers

As of July 5, fast-food outlet KFC will no longer be giving away toys with children's meals, the corporation announced last week. This is to be commended, because parents, lawmakers, government agencies and NGOs have long been concerned about the way in which KFC, as well as its various competitors, intensively target children in the promotion of their products.

In addition to the small plastic toys typically included in the decorated, boxed meals, KFC, McDonald's and others spend around 50 percent of their advertising budgets targeting children, as well as placing their products in Hollywood films and cartoons made for young viewers.

In the United States, where NGOs and legislators are also locking horns with the big fast-food providers on a number of issues, the targeting of children through free toys has been described as undercutting parental authority and exploiting children's developmental immaturity to induce them to prefer foods that damage their health. One U.S. mother wrote to McDonald's CEO that his company's marketing had the effect of conscripting children into an “unpaid drone army of word-of-mouth marketers,” causing them to pester their parents to take them to its outlets. “I try my best to educate my kids about healthy eating,” she wrote, “but they always want to go to McDonald's because of the toys.”

This is something every parent in Taiwan can relate to. At the end of a hard day's work, or when tired after taking the kids out to the park, museum or shopping, the last thing anyone wants is a battle over steamed fish and green vegetables as opposed to a burger, fries and a carbonated, sugar-laden drink. The latter packs anything from one-third to more than one-half of a child's recommended daily caloric intake, and can easily contain more than half a day's salt allowance and more than a whole day's sugar allowance. Getting children habituated to eating such food is correlated to increased risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other disorders later in life, campaigners argue.

The good news, however, is that these companies are not impervious to public opinion. Trans fats, which are widely used because they are cheap and convenient but which are now known to increase the risk of heart disease, have largely been phased out of use in the fast-food industry due to pressure from NGOs and legislators in the United States, the home country of many of the fast-food corporations operating in Taiwan.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

this photo is a travesty of the truth

the joke of this photo is that the run section of today's race in Taoyuan let me down
or i should say i let myself down
"run"? i mean "walk"
must do better

(results here)

Thursday, 24 June 2010

oh, sunny days

it seems to have rained for the last three months
so i have hardly a photo for the guidebook i have been commissioned to contribute to
so i have to dig back in my own files
<--such as this sunny-day shot of Taipei (Dadaocheng) from Taipei County (Sanchong)

and here is the view back the other way -->

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

high-rent neighbourhood

people living in taipei city often say "you can see Taipei 101 from my house"
well, this was the view from my rooftop garden at dawn recently

new verse

Wasting Time

Yesterday was Tuesday
last week 1975
I seem to remember someone warning
that time would fly by
I want to warn someone too
but no one’s listening
I’m just wasting my time.

cycling for photos

Michelin needed some cycle photos AND Wulai photos,
so i needed no further excuse:

after a puncture-repair stop-->

<-- and another one for ices

then into the hills proper

(I rode my KHS fold-up today as the weather forecast was for afternoon showers and i wanted to be ready to jump on the bus/underground) (photo by Tonyshy)

past some Aboriginal art -->we finally made it up to Tonghou (桶后) for swim and watermelon (photo by 阿廣伯)-->

but still got caught in the rain coming down (photo by 蘇淇)

photo of the day

snake on a rock where i swam in river up from Wulai

fish of the day

fried shrimp and fish in Wulai (烏來), Taipei County

Monday, 21 June 2010

sport for all (III)

China Post editorial:

Taiwan's World Cup fans unfazed by lack of representation

The 2010 FIFA World Cup of soccer kicked off in South Africa just over a week ago, and by Saturday, roughly half of the first-round group-phase matches had been played. Although Taiwan's “Chinese Taipei” team has never qualified for the quadrennial competition, and although most people do not know whether the sweeper is a player or someone who cleans up after the match, nor that the off-side rule even exists never mind being able to define it, soccer is suddenly the hottest topic around the office hot water machine and evening meal table..

games scheduled for 7:30 p.m., 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., sports bars around the island are filled to overflowing and extra staff members are needed to keep fans supplied with food and drink. Punters debate the merits of the 4-3-3 formation as opposed to the 3-5-2 line up, or the attraction of South American individualism rather than Central European team ethic, while South Africa, the first country in the continent to host the event, is compared to Germany, which hosted in 2006, and Japan and South Korea, the joint-hosts of the 2002 event. Perhaps because it was held in East Asia, that year's cup also sparked especial interest in soccer in Taiwan.

Taiwanese fans are not handicapped by their lack of national representation, but in a strange form of nationalism-by-proxy, they enthusiastically dedicate themselves to supporting other countries' teams. In keeping with their “Chicago Bulls phenomenon” (which subsequently became the “L.A. Lakers phenomenon”), this support tends to focus on teams with a good chance of winning. Thus support for pre-tournament favorite Spain quickly waned following its 0-1 loss to Switzerland, then Germany's 4-0 win over Australia helped cement it as a good return on emotional investment, but this quickly fizzled after its 0-1 defeat by Serbia on Friday. Current favorites, at least among Taiwan's soccer-crazies, are Argentina, following its two wins out of two games played, and perennial-favorite Brazil.

Bars and other public venues remain the top choices to watch games in a sociable atmosphere. Moreover, since the 26 games to date have produced just 49 goals (in other words, one moment of sporting success every 48 minutes of viewing time), it is good to have friends around to stimulate other lines of conversation.

But the World Cup games are also being broadcast live on cable television. This means that the “beautiful game,” as soccer is affectionately known, is also gaining increased attention from Taiwan's youngsters.

Perhaps the only slight cause for concern is the types of products that advertise themselves in conjunction with such sporting events. Given that various Taiwanese doctors and health officials voiced concern over the consumption of high-calorie zongzi during last week's Duanwu Festival and the associated dragon boat races, they might want to make similar warnings in relation to Coca Cola's sugared and caffeinated drinks, McDonald's burgers and Budweiser's beer (which are all major sponsors of the FIFA world cup), not to mention all the alcoholic drinks and various fried foods typically provided at sports bars.

In fact, passion for soccer among Taiwan's youth will only be beneficial if it leads to increased sporting participation rather than sporting observation. In this respect, soccer can make a great contribution in building confidence and teaching leadership and team-membership skills in addition to the health benefits of improving bone and muscle development, decreasing weight-associated and cardiovascular illnesses, and encouraging better sleep patterns. Soccer offers a more strenuous physical workout than either basketball or baseball (two of Taiwan's more popular sports), and builds better team spirit and better teaches the concept of fair play than do individual sports such as running and swimming.

Nevertheless, given that Taiwan currently languishes at 167th out of 207 teams on the FIFA/Coca Cola world rankings, even with massively increased organization of soccer events, it might be sometime before the country makes it to the top flight of this sport.

At least in a competitive sense, that is. In commercial, environmental and innovative-technological senses, Taiwan is already represented in South Africa. Nine of the 32 national teams participating are kitted out in “100-percent made-in-Taiwan” uniforms. This might be contribution enough, but better still, the outfits have been made using state-of-the-art recycling technology. A total of 13 million polyethylene terphthalate (PET) bottles were collected and melted down, the polyester fibers were woven into fabric, dyed and constructed into the national uniforms for use by the teams. About another 1.5 million outfits were manufactured for sale to supporters around the world.

So maybe Taiwanese soccer fans have an extra reason to cheer the Brazilian national team. Or Germany-defeating Serbia. Or the United States, the Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal or Slovenia, all of which play in M-I-T shirts.

Now if only consumers can be weaned off their bottled-drink habit, Taiwan can go even further in its contribution to improving the environment. That's something everyone can cheer on.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

photo of last month

after lunch read at a Hakka restaurant in Sanyi (三義), Miaoli Co.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

soon back on my own book

"pounding tea" in Hakka restaurant, Shengxing (勝興) in Miaoli County

Friday, 18 June 2010

fish of the day

unloading jianyu (鰹魚) at Nanfang-ao (南方澳), Yilan Co.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

fish of the day

article in China Post:

Temple operator chooses industry over 'Matsu's fish'

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Despite calls to save Chinese white dolphins living in the water off Taiwan's west coast, several lawmakers from the region asked environmental protection activists yesterday not to interfere with economic development.

“Although environmental protection is crucial, it is more important to carry out a policy that helps local development,” Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator Yen Ching-piao said.

Yen — who doubles as president of Dajia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung County, one of the most important Matsu temples in Taiwan — voiced support for the construction of the Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Park on the mouth of the Jhuoshuei River in Changhua County, central Taiwan. Ignoring activists who say the over NT$400-billion (US$12.4-billion) project will destroy the habitat of the white dolphins — locally called “Matsu's fish,” Yen criticized an Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) plan to build a marine “ecological corridor” for the endangered species.

Rather than spending NT$20 billion to NT$30 billion on the corridor, Yen said the money should be used to help underprivileged people, he said.

The dolphins, also known as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, were listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” in 2008 after their number was estimated to have fallen below 100 off Taiwan's western coast. Local fishermen call them “Matsu's fish” because they are seen most frequently between March and April, when the birthday of Matsu — the widely worshipped goddess of the sea — is celebrated.

In addition to Yen, legislators from Changhua County, including Cheng Ru-fen, Hsiao Ching-tien and Lin Tsang min, have also said that local economic development should be the priority.

Knowing the project could create 20,000 to 30,000 jobs, 98 percent of residents in coastal Dacheng Township support the construction of the industrial park, Cheng said.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

read the book first, Malarkey

China Post editorial:

Warnings of war diminished but still relevant 3 years on

Former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush arrived in Taipei last week with fellow author and Brookings Institution scholar Michael O'Hanlan to promote the Chinese-language version of their 2007 book “A War Like No Other — The Truth About China's Challenge to America.”

That they received relatively little coverage by local media was perhaps not due to a perception that their findings are no longer pertinent since cross-Strait relations thawed significantly since Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008. More likely it was because their key conclusion — that war in the Taiwan Strait, although unlikely, would be so costly to all concerned that specific precautions needed to be taken — was so serious, that every politician, academic, pundit and concerned citizen, whether in Taipei, Beijing, Washington or elsewhere around the world, would have long ago read the English original or had it translated for their personal use.

When introducing the book, Bush had said they reached an “optimistic conclusion with a pessimistic sub-conclusion.” In most areas, he said, the relationship between the United States and China — which the book characterized as “close cooperation and friendly rivalry”— was pretty good. The one place where the U.S. and China might come into conflict, they had predicted, was over the issue of Taiwan.

If war did erupt across the Taiwan Strait, Bush and O'Hanlan thought armed invasion of Taiwan would be too costly in terms of losses to the People's Liberation Army. Rather, they envisaged a military-backed blockade coupled with missile and cyber attacks. These, they said, would be far harder for Taipei and Washington to deal with than a conventional attack. Moreover, Taiwan's increased economic dependence on China would make a blockade that much easier to enforce.

Whether the United States came to Taiwan's aid would depend on various factors, they said, but hinged on interpretation of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, and which side was deemed to have provoked the conflict. In their absolute worst-of-the-worst scenario, the authors imagined China might attack U.S. Navy ships to inflict a few thousand casualties in the hope of deterring further U.S. participation. Bush and O'Hanlan imagined this having a contrary effect, however, with Washington launching military strikes against Chinese territories, including pre-emptive attacks on nuclear installations. This might then be followed by Beijing using its nuclear weapons before they were wiped out.

Fortunately this “unlikely but extremely costly” war has not erupted. Indeed, three years on, and China's patient cold-shouldering of Chen Shui-bian through the two terms of his Democratic Progressive Party administration has finally paid off. Even before Ma's election, the Chinese Communist Party was entertaining members of his Kuomintang, its erstwhile enemy, at functions in China in preparation for regime change in Taiwan.

In fact, it is U.S.-Chinese relations which have deteriorated during this period. Rather than “close cooperation,” they are now more frequently characterized by rivalry, and rivalry of a decreasingly “friendly” nature.

This is hardly unexpected, of course, and the Brookings authors' were long ago criticized by some as being too optimistic, if not naive, in imagining that relations between China, as it metamorphoses into a major power on the world stage, and the United States, as it struggles to maintain its position as the only remaining superpower, could ever be anything other than fractious.

China's scramble for resources to feed the appetite of its developing manufacturing sector (and its concomitant neo-colonial economic and diplomatic endeavors) set it on collision course with similar needs in the already developed nations. Though these conflicts have been temporarily eased due to the global economic downturn, the downturn has also brought into focus other areas of contention, such as the sizable amount of U.S. national debt held by China and China's intransigence with regard to revaluing the yuan.

In former times, such a cooling in U.S.-China relations would have been to Taiwan's advantage. Perhaps due to President Ma's cross-Strait initiatives, however, or perhaps because Washington needs Beijing's help in dealing with North Korea, or perhaps in line with previous Democrat pro-China policies during Bill Clinton's administration, U.S. President Obama is choosing to play a waiting game with China.

So publication of a Chinese-language edition of Bush and O'Hanlan's book is timely and relevant after all. Certainly, their key concern — the improved management of interactions between the U.S. and China during the latter's rise on the world stage — is as pertinent as ever.

Similarly, their key observations about Taiwan's role in that broader scenario — that the PRC's lack of substantial experience of democracy could easily lead it to misinterpret political developments in Taiwan, in particular its leaders' inability to distinguish actions and words that Taiwan's politicians make for political gain rather than those that truly reflect policy intentions — are things that politicians on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should constantly bear in mind.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

if we can ...

WEDNESDAY 09 June 2010Went cycling in Yilan County with the Yu-feng cycling group

Michael worked on his gears in Sanxing (三星) -->

<-- met up with more members in Tuchang (土場)

and finally made it up to Taipingshan (太平山) at around 2000m elevation in mid-afternoon

Monday, 7 June 2010

what can we learn from anybody?

China Post editorial:
What can Taiwan learn from the Inuit?

Taiwan's 40 death row inmates will not be executed simultaneously in a mass display of public wrath and vengeance, Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu said on Friday, in response to just such a request by some victims' families at a meeting in his office. Nevertheless, he reiterated that even though his ministry had the eventual goal of abolishing the death penalty, those who had already been sentenced to death would be executed as required by the law.

The question of abolition has caused heated debate nationwide following the ending by President Ma Ying-jeou's administration of a five year moratorium on executions earlier this year. Unlike Taiwan's number-one divisive issue — the question of unification with or independence from China — this topic cuts across party lines, and has already taken its first political scalp, that of Tseng's predecessor, Wang Ching-feng.

And it is a subject that will resurface again and again over coming months, as either alone or in small groups, the remaining 40 criminals meet their fates. Those demanding an end to what they see as barbaric vengeance will claim the moral high ground and mount increasingly vitriolic attacks on their ideological opponents and the state officials charged with carrying out these unpalatable acts. Meanwhile, those supporting the death penalty will continue to claim a popular mandate, and argue for implementation of tough laws in the face of liberal ideology and soul-searching. There is even talk of holding a national referendum to decide the issue, if not once and for all then at least for the foreseeable future.

But the issue is immensely complex and should not be decided by emotions or political considerations. It hinges on the fundamental relationship between a society and the laws it draws up to promote its good functioning.

Underlining his resolve to carry out the death penalties, Tseng also said Friday that “Law is meant to bring justice to the world.” But law and laws are designed to do much more than that. They are promulgated to persuade wrongdoers to mend their ways, to persuade would-be wrongdoers not to go down that path, to remove offenders from society and thus prevent them causing any more trouble (either temporarily or permanently), to provide victims or their families with a feeling of retribution, to provide society with a feeling of retribution, to protect people's basic rights but prevent them from infringing on other's rights and interests, to codify social and religious taboos, but above all, they are designed to continue the smooth running of society.

And different societies at different times need different sets of laws. Just about as far removed as possible from Taiwan's subtropical and largely urban and industrial environment is the arctic, nomadic, fishing and hunting culture of the Inuit. It is hard to imagine a more hostile environment for human beings to eke out an existence, and the Inuit traditionally formed communities that were strongly interdependent.

This reliance on each other was represented in their legal customs, which prioritized peace and social order, and made sure that responses to an offence would not cause further problems for the community. First violations or minor infractions were often seen as society's failure to take care of the offender, either materially or socially, and so went unpunished. Transgressors' behavior was simply ignored, in the hope that it would stop.

Repeat offenders or those committing more serious crimes became the subject of gossip, public ridicule and social criticism intended to curb greedy, selfish or unconstructive habits. Beyond this, disputes could be settled by song duels (which sound like an ancient form of rapping, with antagonists singing about each other's faults), fist fights and wrestling matches.

If these less subtle pressures were ineffective, social ostracism was used and, in extreme cases, physical ostracism from the community. In such a harsh environment where mutual aid was imperative, this latter punishment was equivalent to a death sentence. If all else failed, Inuit communities might occasionally resort to killing a repeat murderer or similar offender in order to ensure the survival of the group.

In all these measures, the needs of the community were paramount, and punishments were designed to impact material and social well-being as little as possible. Moreover, in a culture that traditionally had little excess wealth to spend individually on fines or collectively on imprisonment, social pressures and ostracism were cheap as well as effective.

Quite clearly, traditional Inuit legal practices are not suited to Taiwan in the 21st century (indeed, as the Inuit have moved from nomadic lifestyle to semi-permanent settlements, they are no longer entirely suited to contemporary Inuit communities). Their emphasis on maintaining peace, order and social harmony are worth bearing in mind, however, as Taiwan struggles to balance its conscience and utilitarian needs and re-assess its criminal code over the coming months and years.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

new vese

The Wine is Red
(or Love’s Four Seasons)

The wine was red
in the glass you gave me
beneath the Chinese lantern
that leap spring
fish on Japanese breast in candle-flicker
as steak’s open wound silently bled.

The summer sunset’s red
hung eternally
over Mrs. Williams’ strawberries
kept alive by your single-handed green-fingering
the bike I bought you propped against the shed.

The wall is red
where Ms. Mosquito, having pricked me, paused
too long
within my vengeful palm-reach
peony-patterned bed

The snow-covered earth is red
colour draining from your face
dripping from five iron
my hands
my shoes
across my wintry lips a smile slowly spreads.

[apologies to Astrid Tollefsen whose poem "Toulouse Lautrec" (in translation) set this in motion]

Friday, 4 June 2010

hard cheese (the Taoyuan way)

Visit to a hard ("dried"?) beancurd (豆干) factory in Daxi (大溪), Taoyuan County,
where they hand make "soft" hard beancurd,
<--wrapping it in cheese cloth
then later marinating it

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

sport for all (II)

"My First Triathlon"

(article in June's Amcham magazine: Taiwan Business Topics)

Two years ago I weighed 106 kilograms (about 233 pounds). The nearest I came to any sporting activity was when one friend cruelly asked if I had a basketball hidden under my shirt. Though I was athletic in my youth, over the years I’d spent too much time behind a desk, and consumed too many bottles of beer and bags of chips.

Still, high on my “bucket list” (things I want to do before kicking the bucket) was to compete in a triathlon – 1.5 kilometers of swimming and 40km of cycling, followed by 10km of running. Now I can check off that item, and while I haven’t won a race, I’ve lost weight, improved my fitness, and met a lot of friendly triathletes, many of them AmCham members.

Getting started was the biggest challenge, since for the life of me I couldn’t find where to sign up for a triathlon. Finally I found the Taiwan Racing website ( ), subtitled “Follow Craig Johns & friends as they compete in triathlon, cycle and multisport events in Taiwan and around the world” and showing a picture of a blond curly-haired man standing beside a bike.

I fired off an email asking if Taiwan had any triathlons, and if so, were there any suitable for fatties like myself, and did he know of any ex-fatties with whom I could train. Johns replied that I would be welcome at any of the events listed at (Chinese only). He said that some Taiwanese athletes participated, even though they couldn’t even swim, paddling around using a flotation device. He also recommended contacting a chap named Bill Bryson who helps organize regular training runs leaving the Taipei American School (TAS) campus at around 5 a.m. three times a week.

The next triathlon was in Kaohsiung in December, but I was too late to sign up. There was nothing then until April. Disappointed but excited, I signed up for two smaller events: Miaoli on April 11 and Hualien on May 29. I also signed up for a half-marathon in March, and then, since I’d already run that distance in training, changed my mind: “Heck, I might be ready for the full 42 kilometers,” I thought.

I emailed Bryson. He was very friendly, and invited me to any of the 30-kilometer Tuesday, 60-km Thursday, or 100-km Saturday runs.

“Just how fast do you go?” I inquired.

“22-23kph for the hills, 28-29kph for the others – sometimes a little over 30kph.”

Gee, I thought, that’s fast. Just how ex-fat was he? Bryson, a lawyer with Jones Day, said that having lost about 45 kilograms, he weighed in around 100. He quickly added that he was now a top-5 triathlete in his age-group in Taiwan, and had qualified for the world half-Ironman championship (1.9-km swimming, 90-km cycling, 21-km running) held in Clearwater, Florida last year. Unfortunately he’d injured himself while training and missed the event. As compensation, he’d crossed a different item of his bucket list by entering and finishing the Taipei marathon in December last year.

I decided to put in a month or two of hard cycling, then see about joining Bryson’s group.

Leading expats

Johns, it turned out, wasn’t just a guy with a blog. Not only is he the top triathlete in Taiwan, but he’s also a coach of the Kaohsiung-based national triathlon team. Previously he had been aquatics director at TAS, and before that a member of the New Zealand national triathlon squad.

Bryson met Johns at TAS about six years ago while getting back to swimming after a long lay-off. He had done a few triathlons in the United States after graduating law school in 1984, as well as the 28-km round-Manhattan swim. But since arriving in Taiwan in 1988, his weight had steadily increased. “Taiwan’s work ethic didn’t help, nor the country’s good food,” he says. Then two of his friends – both younger than him – had heart attacks, and Bryson knew it was time to get back in shape. Swimming and a Nordic trainer were the first steps, then cycling and eventually running. With Johns’ encouragement, he signed up for his first triathlon, Hualien in 2005, in which he came in around 16th in his age group, having taken more than an hour for the run.

Now in the 50-55 age bracket, Bryson has his own twist on the Taiwan work ethic, getting up at 4 a.m. for three sessions each week of cycling, three of swimming, and a number of runs. His bucket list now includes again qualifying for but this time making it to Clearwater, and doing a full Ironman. “Only one,” he stresses, “unless I qualify for Kona [the Hawaii site of the Ironman world championship]. In that case I’ll do two.”

Meanwhile, I pressed on with my preparations: 2,000 kilometers of cycling in January and another 1,250 in February, by which time I was down to a tidy 78.5 kilograms. But it didn’t last, as I spent the next three weeks bouncing between illnesses, only managing 196 kilometers for the whole of March. On March 21, I could complete only the first 21-km lap of the freeway marathon. I didn’t get an official time or even a souvenir towel; what I did get was sore and bleeding nipples for the next few days.

With a week to go before the Miaoli event, I called a few of Taiwan’s expatriate triathletes for some advice. Revital Golan, managing director of consulting firm Anemone Ventures, has herself only recently started to compete in cycle events and triathlons. “Don’t worry about your physical ability, just believe you can do it,” she told me. “It’s about your mental strength and will.”

Nor should I worry about the gear, she said. “All you really need is a reasonable bike, running shoes, and a swim suit and goggles. After your first race, you'll probably want to upgrade your bike and buy a tri-suit.” Also, although it was too late for this event, she recommended finding a training partner of similar ability or stronger, to encourage me to push harder.

“You won’t be first and you won’t be last, I can guarantee that,” said Simon Moore, a business manager with Air Products who has competed in triathlons throughout his six years in Taiwan and in the United States before that. “And hey, since it’s your first event, you’re guaranteed a personal best time.” He forgot to add: “If you finish.”

Acknowledging his growing passion for the sport, Moore finally bought a specialist time-trial bike last year after almost 20 seasons of competing on a regular road bike with clip-on TT bars. He took that to Hainan Island for the China half-Ironman, where he qualified for this year’s Clearwater event. But he emphasizes that the sport is about participating, not winning.

I called Bryson, apologized for not having made it to his pre-dawn rides despite his warm invitation, and asked for some last-minute advice. It was too late for any physical improvement, he said, but there was lots I could do in terms of nutritional preparation and race-day tactics.

Although for a “short” event like Miaoli, I wouldn’t be “hitting the wall” (marathon runners’ term for when the body runs out of available sugars after about 30 kilometers), he nevertheless recommended “carbo-loading” – that is, eating plenty of carbohydrates in the several days before a race. He also tries to avoid fresh fruit and vegetables over the last three days, since “you don’t want to be carrying all that roughage and be looking for a toilet as soon as you get going.”

“A couple of days before the race, check all your equipment, and go through your T1 and T2 procedures,” Bryson suggested, referring to the two transitions – from swim to cycle, and cycle to run.

“On the morning, three hours before the race, I drink some water and eat some salted rice crackers to replace calories lost during the night,” he continued. “One to two hours before the race is the ‘black-out period’ when you shouldn’t take any sugars. Your blood-sugar level rises, so your body produces insulin, which actually leads to a lower blood-sugar level and a feeling of drowsiness. In the last hour, I drink some more and take an FRS [free radical scrounger] gel. Before the race, I put on Body Glide.”

“Body Glide?”

“To stop chaffing, especially in the groin and nipples. You’ve heard of runner’s nipple?”

Unfortunately, I had not only heard of it, I’d experienced it. “I wish I’d called you a month ago,” I said.

“I put my towel on the ground to stand on, and put my helmet on the handlebars, and my sunglasses and race belt in the helmet. My spare tube, patch kit, and CO2 capsule are on the bike. I clip the bike shoes to the pedals. I have bike shoes that don’t need socks; getting socks over wet feet takes a lot of time. My running shoes don’t need socks either. For T2 I also have a water-bottle belt in which I put two bottles of water and two of sport drink, and it has a pocket for salt capsules and gels.”


“Energy gels. But you need to train with them beforehand to get used to them. And drink water before and after you swallow them. Drink lots of water anyway. You have to stay ahead of dehydration. Drink small amounts, but don’t wait till you’re thirsty.”

“T2 is the toughest part of the triathlon. For 90 minutes during the swim and bike, your legs have been doing no weight bearing. Now you suddenly expect your legs to carry you. Not surprisingly, they object. The first kilometer of the run always sucks. One trick is to match your cycling cadence with your running cadence just before transition. And never stop for cramps.”

“Sockless shoes, race belt, drinks belt, gels, body glide, FRS…it sounds like a lot of equipment,” I said.

“Go see Howard,” Bryson answered.

Howard, I learned, is Howard Chen, a leading triathlete and cyclist, and owner of Howard’s Bike Co. (No. 27, Lane 22, Guangfu S. Rd.). I headed over to the store, and Howard turned up in person about 20 minutes after his assistant called to tell him there was an English-speaking person in the shop. I asked him what I needed to get started.

Entry-level aluminum time-trial bikes start at around NT$50,000, he said, and go as high as you want. NT$150,000-$200,000 would get me something nice – lightweight and aerodynamically fast, and equipped with carbon-fiber frame, forks, and wheels. Eighty percent of triathletes in Taiwan use road bikes, however, and entry level for one of those could be as low as NT$30,000.

What else would I need? Howard went through the list: helmet NT$1,500-$7,000; one-piece tri-suit NT$4,000 and up; shoes NT$2,500 and up; race belt NT$350; water/supply belt NT$1,500; and those mysterious gels at NT$60-$80. “Take one ten minutes before the swim, one before the bike, and then a couple more during the run,” he advised.

Howard also organizes Saturday morning training sessions leaving his shop around 7 a.m., permitting considerably more sleep than “work-ethic” Bryson up in Tianmu.

Also worth checking out is iRun (31 Minchuan W. Rd., Sec 3), run by Bruce Lee. He stocks a few bikes, but is better for clothing, shoes, accessories, and good honest advice. Off-the-shelf or customized TT and road bikes are available in all price brackets from many local stores such as Giant, Merida, Fuji, Kuota, and Louis Garneau.

Race day

I don’t know if it helped my energy level during the race, but my attempt at carbo-loading put on a kilogram or two and I weighed a pudgy 83kg on race morning. Similarly my attempt to avoid Bryson’s “black-out period” went awry when our 50-55 age group set off 38 minutes after the official start time. The delay was partly to allow the elite athletes to complete the first lap of the lake without any slow-moving obstructions. Another part, we were told, was because someone in the 45-50 group had caught his leg in the steps to the water and almost drowned.

“I didn’t ‘almost drown,’” Lee Wood insisted later, since he was the person involved. “But it was pretty nasty, with everyone clambering over me. I had to wait till they’d all gone, then pull myself out.” Wood, who heads HSBC Life Insurance, has been doing triathlons since the 1980s, and was in Miaoli because his 14-year-old daughter had signed up for her first competition, the half-distance event the day before.

Finally, after months of preparation, I was set to go. Seventy swimmers all leapt for the same four square meters of water, and the result was “people soup.” For the next 30 minutes I was hit, kicked, and mauled around the pond. Who in his right mind would ever do this twice, I thought. Some cheeky fellow decided to “draft” me [referring to a situation where one competitor benefits by being shielded by another from the wind or water] and save his energy for the bike, and for 10 minutes he hit my feet with every stroke.

“Drafting is illegal on bikes, though it is rarely enforced in Taiwan,” Bryson told me later, “but quite legal in the water. He shouldn’t have been touching you, though. Give him a good up-kick next time, and he’ll back off.”

T1 was okay, though I was disappointed to see so few bikes remaining after what I though was a reasonable swim. Also I couldn’t find my Vaseline, which I’d left in my bag.

The cycle section wove through a village and then onto the highway, half of which was closed to cars. We hurtled downhill, with even my 20-inch wheeler exceeding 50kph. After a 180-degree turn at the bottom, we climbed back the way we came. Another down, another climb, and it was suddenly time for T2. My odometer showed just 28.5 kilometers.

Bill’s comment that the first kilometer of the run is particularly difficult was probably the most helpful advice I received. Without that knowledge, I might well have given up right then. That the run did get worse was due only to the course design: after about two kilometers the path turned sharply uphill as we passed among rows of tea bushes where tea-leaf pickers were busy at work. One part of my mind (the part not dealing with the various pains and stresses my body was suffering, resisting the urge to stop and lie down) observed that this was quite picturesque.

I ran the first third of the hill, then walked – as fast as I could. The hill was so steep that everyone around me was walking as well. I resumed running after the sponge/drink tables at the top of the hill. Then, after four more hills and four more walks, the race was abruptly over.

I felt more anticlimax than sense of achievement. After all those early mornings and long days of training, it had been too easy. All my life waiting to tick this off my bucket list and it wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d feared.

Packing my things and heading away from the course, I caught sight of a big head of curly hair. It was Johns. I asked him later whether he had been in the race.

“No, I retired in February. I have severe osteoarthritis and bone-on-bone phenomenon in my right hip. I’ve been in pain on every run and cycle for the past two years. It was at a point where I couldn't sleep or walk properly, and the doctors finally said we have to do surgery now.

“I wish I had been racing – that’s probably the toughest run course I’ve ever seen,” he added, which made me feel a bit prouder of my achievement. I asked how the triathlon scene in Taiwan compares to overseas.

“Triathlon in Taiwan is evolving at a very quick rate. The number of events has doubled to 10 in 2009, though this is well behind countries such as New Zealand and the U.S. The number of competitors is growing at a faster rate than most sports in Taiwan, the quality of events is improving, and the level of the top competitors is getting a lot faster, but there’s still a gap to world-class level. There aren't enough females, events, funding, and most importantly coaches in Taiwan.

“Triathlon is a very expensive sport and the demographics tend to wealthy middle-aged people. Race organizers are focused on making money rather than providing events. This means that a large percentage of the population can’t afford to do these races, which really affects the development of the sport.”

He mentioned that Taiwan will have its first ever ITU- [International Triathlon Union] sanctioned race in September in Yilan, and its first official “half-Ironman” 70.3-km event on October 30 in Kenting. The country will also host the 2012 World University Champs.

I asked Johns to let me know when registration starts for the Kenting event. I have a new item on my bucket list – if I can keep my weight down for another five months.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Many middle-class people in Taiwan can and often do take a relaxed attitude towards short periods without work

China Post editorial:

Jobless rate fall is welcome but caution is still needed

Last week the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) released the unemployment figures for the previous month showing that April had the biggest single-month fall in 15 years. At a press conference held to announce the good news, the Cabinet-level directorate attributed the 0.28-percentage-point decline to the nation's growing economic recovery which caused local companies to take on additional workers.

And although 5.39 percent, around 593,000 people, of Taiwan's workforce is still officially out of work, this ongoing trend — April represents the eighth consecutive month of decline in the jobless rate — is good news indeed.

Two particularly sensitive markers — the numbers of unemployed people aged 45-60 and of people unemployed for over one year — both showed good downward movement, falling around 10,000 to 129,000 and around 1,000 to 114,000 respectively.

The government, as well as both public and private employers, should not rest on their laurels, however, and it is these last two DGBAS statistics that should be a focus of their attention. That just 1 percent of Taiwan's workforce have failed to find jobs for over 12 months might be relatively insignificant to the nation's macro-economic agenda, particularly as President Ma Ying-jeou's administration seeks to finalize a cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement that it hopes will bring long-term prosperity to the majority of citizens. But on the micro-economic scale, in human terms, the day-by-day effects on the 114,000 people who have been without jobs for a year or more, and on their families, can be heartbreaking.

Many middle-class people in Taiwan can and often do take a relaxed attitude towards short periods without work, usually relying on extended-family support or helping out around the home. But for poorer people and over longer periods, unemployment can lead to health problems and malnutrition, is correlated to reduced life expectancy, causes lowered self-esteem and depression, as well as other mental-health issues and even suicide. It can also result in the accumulation of debt and the erosion of professional skills.

For society at large, it can lead to the deskilling of the workforce, to xenophobia towards foreign workers and protectionism in international trade, to the loss of taxation revenues and reduced consumption precipitating a cycle of yet more layoffs and further economic downturn, to a shift in the balance of power between employers and employees, thus negatively affecting workers' salaries and conditions, and even to social and political unrest.

Politicians and public officials neglect this phenomenon at their peril. Thus in the United States, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke went on record last month specifically expressing his concern that more than 40 percent of the unemployed have now been out of work for six months or longer, nearly double the share of a year ago. Similarly in Europe, as their economies move toward full employment, governments expect general post-recession improvements to take care of the majority of would-be workers. It is with regard to the long-term unemployed that they pursue policy solutions. But such solutions are often seen as expensive and, due to often being branded as socialist or “a tax on success,” as politically sensitive.

But such rhetoric is unhelpful, and having a large pool of decreasingly employable people is not just a blemish on the face of any civilized society but also hinders its efficient functioning, perhaps even becoming a factor hindering the nation's recovery from the current downturn or even causing future recession.

Unfortunately certain sectors of the workforce are particularly susceptible to long-term unemployment, and getting them back into work will take efforts by the government and open-mindedness among employers.

Especially at risk are less-educated and lower-skilled workers, the middle-aged, single parents, disabled people and those in rural areas, all of who are represented by higher percentages of long-term unemployed than of unemployed in general.

So employers need to overcome their bias towards youth, and opt equally for experience instead. They should also consider investing in the retraining and the provision of facilities that assist people with special needs in re-entering the workforce. But this is primarily the role of government agencies, led by executive policy and legislative initiative.

Thus the government has subsidized firms taking on newly graduated students, which targets the most inexperienced members of the workforce. There are also payments made to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

But these are usually viewed as temporary measures — band-aid policies to help the worst off. The most dangerous attitude, with the economy improving, unemployment figures falling, and the carrot of increased cross-strait trade dangling, is complacency. It is precisely at this time, with a major shift in the nation's balance of trade expected, that susceptible sectors of the workforce — as well as employers — will become excluded from the macro-economic benefits.

So while celebrating the latest DGBAS figures, let a close eye be kept on those key indicators, and let preparations be made for the inevitable changes ahead.