Wednesday, 31 March 2010

new verse - the year the clocks stopped

another on-the-cludgy inspired poem
originally in Chinese
but the English translation came out much much better
shame, oh well

The year the clocks stopped

it’s five-to-two in the living room
I don’t know if it’s afternoon or after midnight
but it’s good to know
the clock is still right twice a day

it’s 6:36 when I go to the bathroom
Wang Chien-ming is a still Yankee
there are elections looming
but the toilet paper has run out

there is no clock in the kitchen
dishes pile ever higher in the sink
I make a pot of tea
but I don’t know why

it’s 8:05 on the motion-powered watch
beside the bed
beside the uncovered glass of water, reading glasses and unfinished novel
"do you still love me?” trapped inside the mosquito net

Monday, 29 March 2010

swimming on the roof - the pleasures of advertising

today's China Post editorial:

Advertisers really need to clean up their act

Hau Lung-bin's Taipei City Government clashed recently with councilors over its plans to charge outdoor advertisers an installation permission fee and a cityscape impact fee. Mayor Hau claimed the proposed act aimed to make Taipei a tidier, greener and more beautiful city, while some councilors claimed it was merely a stealth tax to raise revenues, and said that if advertisements really disfigured the city they should simply be removed.

That debate is still in its early stages and it remains to be seen what, if anything, Hau's administration can achieve in curbing excessive and ugly in-your-face marketing. Meanwhile, with regard to the content of advertisements, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) under the Executive Yuan continues its dogged pursuit of companies that make “false, untrue and misleading representation as to the quality of products” and thereby violate Article 21(1) of the Fair Trade Act.

This newspaper frequently reports the more egregious cases of such misrepresentation. Most recently, for example, the Post carried the news of Farglory Realty being fined for falsely claiming to be the only construction company in operation for 40 years, and of Chinatrust Commercial Bank, fined for encouraging credit-card use with prizes of high speed rail upgrades it was unable to provide.

The next day there was an item about a manufacturer and shopping channel that were both fined for a commercial claiming a detergent was the most popular in Japan.

Retailer Carrefour and supplier P&G were fined for stating that 95 percent of fathers considered Braun electric shavers their preferred gift for last year's Father's Day, seemingly having forgotten to mention that the companies' survey targeted customers who had already received free products worth NT$12,800.

These recent examples might seem trivial or even entertaining, but scrutiny of the FTC's monthly “decisions” shows that other false advertising endangers people's health, preys on consumers' insecurities about facial or bodily appearance, or targets people in financial difficulty.

For example, the FTC recently penalized one company for claiming its faucet “completely eliminated residual pesticides on fruits and vegetables,” another — as well as the TV channel running the ad — for alleging its charcoal underpants could help men regain fertility, and a third for suggesting 10 minutes spent using its exerciser was equivalent to a 60-minute sprint.
Most frequent transgressors of Article 21(1) appear to be realtors and construction companies. Typically, balconies are included as indoor space, and people signing up for homes with billiards, ping-pong, gym or exercise rooms sometimes find they are nothing more than motorcycle parking areas or administration offices. One company was fined for labeling a fire water tank on the roof as a top-floor swimming pool.

Modern life would be unimaginable without advertising, of course. Newspapers, magazines and television stations would disappear overnight, and the Internet would shrivel to its original military and academic applications. And there is nothing new in fraudulent advertising: more than a thousand years ago, Norseman Erik the Red is said to have sailed west from Iceland claiming he was leading settlers to a new utopian “green land.”

But this is not to excuse these construction companies' exaggerated claims -— after all, people's purchase of a new home is often the single largest expenditure they will make in their lifetime — nor those of other loose-mouthed advertisers. They do a disservice to their own profession, and undermining consumer confidence is in no one's interest, especially with the economy in its currently precarious state.

They also endanger the reputations of the media organizations in which they advertise. Readers do not buy newspapers for the advertisements but for their coverage of news, features, sports and so forth. Their reputations for truthfulness, accuracy and unbiased presentation of facts have been built issue by issue, report by report, over the preceding decades, but can be lost overnight through unprofessional reporting, political or commercial interference, or carelessness.
This extends to advertising. Thus media organizations must themselves be the first line of defense against fraudulent or misleading advertisements, and the FTC, backed by the Fair Trade Act, is right to penalize the media as well as advertisers for transgressions. But the Commission must be given more teeth, so that it can become proactive in pursuing wrong doers rather than responding to complaints — many of which come from rival companies — and the Act should be toughened so that meaningful penalties can be imposed. Carrefour's penalty in the above-mentioned case was just NT$100,000, and the fine of NT$50,000 levied on the “ozone germicidal faucet” company was similarly derisory.

One cable TV channel has even been known to intentionally court such paltry fines as a means of gaining name recognition that is cheaper than orthodox advertising.

While it is too late for those Icelanders lured to a barren wasteland, it is not for Taiwan's citizens. Media organizations and the FTC must work together to clean up the nation's advertising.

fish of the day

Spanish missionaries in 17th century Taiwan reported that the locals:

"convert more out of a particular intent to sell fish than out of their interest in religion itself ... for once these natives return to their own, they mock and deride the ceremonies of the holy catholic faith."

from "Spaniards in Taiwan - Vol.1 1582-1641" ed. Jose Eugenio Borao Mateo
(quoted in "Out of China" by Macabe Keliher)

Saturday, 27 March 2010

fish of the day

school mural, taipei

Friday, 26 March 2010

photo of taipei

the train is coming

fish of the day

shop door handles, taipei

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Monday, 22 March 2010

mea culpa

Today's China Post editorial:

Men's attitudes must change for birth rates to improve

Various media around the world reported last week's offer by Taiwan's Ministry of the Interior (MOI) of NT$1 million for a slogan most likely to make people want to have babies.

not realizing that NT$1 million is worth somewhat less than the U.S. version, Internet users have been particularly humorous and creative, with some making reference to the recent brouhaha over Taipei 101's “Taiwan UP” catchphrase, and others substituting bodily organs in the Tourism Bureau's “Taiwan Touch Your Heart” slogan.

But Taiwan's falling birth rate — which last year stood at 8.29 births per 1,000 people and compared to the global average of over 20 — is a serious issue as it could lead to challenging economic and social problems. Reversing it, finding other means to increase the work force, or developing strategies to deal with a graying population are, therefore, policies with which the MOI is right to be concerned. But governments around the world — with the exception of certain authoritarian regimes — have long found their influence over citizens' reproduction very limited at best.

The R.O.C. is no newcomer to this game. As Taiwan's birth rate rose during the 1950s post-war boom and its death rate declined due to medical improvements, the first calls sounded for birth control despite traditional Han Chinese thinking that “more sons and more grandsons” was life's greatest blessing, and that “of the three un-filial acts, leaving no descendant was the worst.” Nevertheless, the first birth-control policy went into practice in 1968 under the slogan of the “Five Threes” (bearing the first child three years after marriage; leaving a gap of three years before the second; having no more than three children; and completing one's family before the age of 33). This was succeeded by “Less Children; More Happiness”; then by “3-3-2-1” (in which two children were just right and it was equally good to have girls as boys); and then by “3-2-1” (with two children just right, but one not too few).

The government then turned to financial incentives, which included tax cuts, government subsidies, public day-care centers for working women and preferential health care for children.

judge from the MOI's latest announcement, these measures are having little effect, and over the last few days, in contrast to their more mischievous Internet colleagues, Taiwan's traditional media has undertaken a sober study of the underlying reasons and potential solutions.

Their interviews with officials, academics and people in the street identified a range of problems, some of which might be amenable to policy influence and others of a more intractable nature.

Of the former, potential parents complained that thresholds for financial support are set too high, costs of childcare are still prohibitive, and although legislation supports the right to take parental leave from work, in reality — particular for women in private companies — this could be detrimental to career promotion or even lead to unemployment.

As for the latter, there is only so much the government can do to improve the current economic climate — which was cited by many of the married women seeking abortions in one report over the weekend — and even less regarding citizens' falling confidence in their future prosperity.

Women's most common grievance, however, was that too many males still cling to antiquated attitudes of “prioritizing men and undervaluing women” and that “men are masters of the world while women rule the home.” Why, women ask, should they have children if it means increased household duties of cooking meals, helping with homework and cleaning up after children, while their husbands put their feet up? What value are their increased educational and occupational opportunities of the last few decades if men's attitudes have failed to keep up?

Seemingly in agreement, many media commentators lamented that, while young men of college age might be making some progress in this respect, those who should be fathering the nation's next generation are particularly entrenched in their traditional thinking. Perhaps these men's attitudes could be the focus of the MOI's slogan campaign.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

photo of the day - exploring taiwan

and while in Wulai, here's a snapshot of approach to the town:

fish of the day

in fact, four fish today, the "main protein source" of the Atayal aborigines of Wulai 烏來,
according to the Atayal Museum there
with Atayal language names

(apologies for the appalling photo quality: low light quality, through glass, with point-and-shoot camera)

and three traditional methods of catching fish:

fish of the day


stone fish sculpture at Sanxia's 三峽 (world renowned) Zu Shi Temple 祖師廟

Thursday, 18 March 2010

fish of the day

"Crowded" by Liu Mei-ying 劉美英
on display at the Yingge Ceramic Museum

(apologies if i have turned it upside-down)

Monday, 15 March 2010

playing at being green

China Post editorial:

Politicians shouldn't just play the green card

It was not so long ago that Taiwan's High Speed Rail was touted as a “green alternative” that would emit fewer global-warming gases than the packs of airplanes shuttling passengers between northern and southern Taiwan.

Politicians like to cite such examples when wishing to display their environmental credentials. But are they just playing at being green?

After all, successful operation of the HSR — combined with the current economic downturn — has significantly reduced the numbers of Taiwan's domestic flights. Given that flying, particularly the short-haul operations into which all Taiwan's flights fall, produces the most climate-change emissions of all forms of transportation; and since emissions higher in the atmosphere produce effects larger than those at ground level, politicians might be expected to be singing the praises of the recent reduction in air transport.

So why last week did Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu say that her administration would make every effort to increase the number of flights to and from the city's airport? Destinations, she said, would not only include the nation's major trading partners — the United States, Japan and China — but also the nation's capital, Taipei. Moreover, the city government would work to improve the airport's infrastructure, thus enhancing development of local industries and tourism, and raising the volume of passenger and freight traffic.

Presumably this was meant to signal good news to the local business community in advance of the year-end elections. Unfortunately this is bad news for the environment. The costs of building or improving an airport are, like those of buying or maintaining a car, large in comparison to day-to-day operational costs. This means that after the investment is made, it would be financially nonsensical not to make use them. Thus people use their cars for even short trips to the shops where buses would be more economical, and governments and airport authorities promote airplane use even for short domestic routes where trains make much more sense.

Until the environmental costs are somehow included in the price of a ticket, people will not make the right decisions. This is the ridiculous situation in Europe, which has some of the highest rail prices in the world and, due to decades of state support and tax-free fuel, some of the lowest air fares. Similarly even countries that signed up to national emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol are only required to take into account those emissions produced by domestic flights. Little is being done to limit emissions from international flights, which consequently have almost doubled in less than two decades despite aircraft manufacturers' claims of more efficient fuel consumption and lower emissions.

President Ma Ying-jeou was also in the news last week touting the contribution of five million tourists and cross-strait flights to Taiwan's economy. Unfortunately, given humankind's current understanding of climate change, simple economic calculations of tourists admitted and dollars earned do not tell the whole story.

As an island, especially one that is relatively far from even its closest neighbors, Taiwan is in a difficult position: both visitors to Taiwan and Taiwanese going abroad really have only one transport option.

This is not to say that nothing can be done, however. With regard to air freight, consumers can reflect on the “true costs” of the items in their shopping baskets and buy locally manufactured goods with low carbon footprints and eschew out-of-season fresh produce flown in from overseas.

Domestic journeys taken by bus, train and even private car with multiple occupancy all produce lower emissions than flying. And companies that, out of environmental concerns, have experimented with reducing business flights through the use of video conferencing are reporting additional benefits in efficiency of workers not exhausted by travel. Similarly, individuals can use Web cams to contact distant family and friends.

When choosing a vacation, if five million tourists per year think Taiwan is worth a visit, Taiwanese might also look for destinations nearer home.

And if flights must be taken, more people per plane means that traveling in economy class produces fewer emissions, and flying in the daytime is better as night-time flights have greater impact on the environment. Purchasing so-called carbon offsets — that is, paying a few guilt-easing dollars for trees to be planted elsewhere in the world to soak up the carbon dioxide produced in more affluent countries — may prove to have some value down the line, but since these projects are calculated in terms of 40, 50 or even 60 years, they will be of little help during our own lifetimes.

No, the responsibility lies with the current generation. And since the climate impact of air transport is not adequately regulated under national and international laws, it means that at present the onus is on individuals and private companies to take the initiative and find more sustainable lifestyles and ways of doing business.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

fish of the day

and before we leave Sun Moon Lake (though actually I left on Wednesday, to tell the truth)
there's still the "president fish" (總統魚; actually曲腰魚 Erythroculter ilishaeformis), but better known by its nickname as Presidentissimo CKS is said to have been very fond of it (eating it i mean)

three poor photos (apologies as usual)
1. advertising a restaurant:
2. on a plate: (not mine, of course, not at NT$60 per 兩 as the photo shows, that is, about NT$1,600 per kilogram)
3. in a tank:

Saturday, 13 March 2010

fish of the day

of course, Sun Moon Lake is more famous for the "floating fields"
which were used to provide shelter to encourage fish to breed and grow

Friday, 12 March 2010

fish of the day

Chang Lien-kui (see yesterday) also made this fish using soft drink cans

Thursday, 11 March 2010

fish of the day

traditional "four hand hanging net" 四手吊網 fishing boat on Sun Moon Lake 日月潭, Nantou County

(though possibly/probably a full-scale model built for touristic purposes - because the house part looks too small for the family who would have lived here in former times)

and here is a not-full-scale model showing (badly - apology for the poor photo) a family living and working on the same kind of boat.
Mr. Chang (whose father Chang L-kui 張連桂 made the model) said that Han Chinese used this kind of boat since all the land around Sun Moon Lake was owned by Aborigines

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

fish of the day

more fish art in the FdC at SML
but is it a flying fish or a fish-rabbit hybrid?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

fish of the day

perfect work environment?

reception desk at the Fleur de Chine hotel at Sun Moon Lake
(not sure about the name, though)

Monday, 8 March 2010

fish of the day

Are fish sentient beings? Can invertebrates suffer pain? These are the questions that regularly exercise the world’s top animal lawyer, Antoine Goetschel

full article in today's Taipei Times

the power of vegetables to change lives

China Post editorial:

Taiwan was headline news throughout Asia Friday, when one local person was spotlighted from among the 48 announced by Forbes Asia on its list of “the region's most prominent altruists.”

Was this giver a beneficiary of Taiwan's earlier economic boom who, in old age, finding he has more money than he will ever spend, decided to give some of it away? Or was she the daughter of one of Taiwan's super-rich families who, bucking the trend, wanted to share her wealth with those from less fortunate backgrounds? Or a pop or film star, perhaps, who, growing tired of the endless round of parties, found real meaning in helping others? Or a gangster, even, who having damaged countless lives to feather his own nest, was filled with remorse or religiosity and so turned his back on his former self-serving habits?

In fact, the honored altruist is none of these. She is 59-year-old Chen Shu-chu, a vegetable seller at the Central Market in Taitung, where she has worked since 1963, having left school at 13 to support her seven-member family following the death of her mother.

Despite her meager income, by living a simple life, over recent years she even managed to save some money. Rather than treating herself to something special after her years of toil, however, in 2004 she donated NT$1 million to a children's fund. In 2005, this was followed by NT$4.5 million to help build a library at the primary school she had attended, and in 2006 another NT$1 million for an orphanage. She has since continued to give annual aid to three children from this organization, but apparently her target is to establish a NT$10-million fund to “help the poor with food, education and healthcare.”

Chen's concerns were typical of the 48 donors, Forbes stated. Causes supported ranged from disaster recovery and health, to culture and science, but education was the most popular choice among the featured philanthropists. Moreover, going against the current of those who use the recent economic downturn as an excuse to cut back on charitable donations, the magazine said that the last year had been a good one for philanthropy, with tycoons and modest donors continuing to fund charitable projects.

Chen Shu-chu's story made headlines around Asia, from Singapore's Straits Times — despite that country having four of its own citizens on Forbes' list — to Australia, where 101-year-old Elisabeth Murdoch, mother of News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch, was also honored.

Chen was not among the largest donors, of course. But as Forbes Asia associate editor John Koppisch explained, the magazine aimed to highlight a varied group of generous people. In particular, inclusion of the name of 44-year-old Singaporean clothing retailer Elim Chew on the list - who Forbes says devotes most of her spare time to philanthropy - shows that the spirit of giving is not limited to a financial definition.

Not all those honored were humble donors or faceless tycoons, however. Among the more recognizable names were those of Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan and Chinese basketball player Yao Ming.

Nevertheless, it was Taiwan's Chen that journalists from around the region sought to interview as news broke on Friday. As usual, she was easy to find, being hard at work selling vegetables at Taitung's market.

She was also typically humble. “What I donated was a small sum; it's nothing,” she told the Straits Times, which also quoted her as saying, “Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it.”

When a China Times reporter interviewed her, Chen asked back, “What award is that?” She continued this theme when pressed by other local reporters. “Helping people is nothing. Anyone can do it,” she told them. “There isn't much to talk about.” She needed little money to live, she said, and would always have vegetables to eat.

Her philosophy is shared by the three other Taiwanese on this year's list — National Taipei University professor and entrepreneur Thomas Lin, San Francisco-based developer Pan Shu-yuen, and Cathay Financial Holding Chairman Tsai Hong-tu — who were even more reticent

Theirs is an honorable attitude that puts to shame some celebrities for whom charity is merely PR, or corporations for whom donations must be tax-deductible. Giving is natural for these people, a natural response when witnessing the plight of others, be it Tsai's donation to post-Typhoon Morakot relief efforts, Pan's donation to his Taiwan alma mater, or Lin's hundreds of millions donated over three decades.

Few people are too poor to have nothing spare to give, and all can learn something from Chen's simple lifestyle in which little of her income is spent on personal luxuries. In an age were too few people do something for nothing, and everyone focuses on what can be got and not on what can be given, Chen is a model for all.

Friday, 5 March 2010

fish of the day

"Administer a large nation as [you] would cook a small fish"

(from the Dao De Jing 道德經, attributed to the "Old Master(s)" 老子 of the 6th century BC; but more probably from the 4th or 3rd century)

Monday, 1 March 2010

cycling the latest "egg tart"?

Chian Post editorial:

When heads of state, city mayors or other public dignitaries visit each other, they are normally given a short tour of a famous landmark, prestigious museum or top-class eatery. When Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin visited Korea last week, he invited his Seoul counterpart, Mayor Oh Se Hoon, to attend the 2011 International Design Alliance World Congress in Taipei next year, and promised to take the Korean cycling along the Danshui River.

And well he might, because perhaps as much as anything else, the thousands of kilometers of bike paths constructed around Taiwan over the last few years have contributed to improving the quality of life for countless citizens. This is something of which Hau, his fellow city and county magistrates, as well as their predecessors, can be duly proud.

Cycling is not merely an enjoyable hobby by which hardworking citizens can occupy their leisure time. Along with swimming and walking, it is a low-stress sport suitable for people of all ages to begin the journey from couch potato to active health, and along with walking and jogging it is a pollutant-and-emissions-free form of transportation beneficial to the nation's environmental health.

Just a few years ago, when cycling was largely the preserve of schoolchildren, the elderly and foreign laborers, it took vision for governments to invest in the planning and realization of what, within a year or two at most, will be an interconnected system of paths circling the island.

It must have been hard to predict the passion with which Taiwanese would embrace “self-powered vehicles.” By two years ago, possession of ready cash did not guarantee one would own a popular Giant, KHS or Dahon folding bicycle without a three-month wait. And the scenes at Taipei's Dadaocheng wharf, anywhere along the Danshui, Keelung, and Dahan rivers, and at numerous other places around Taiwan — where every evening and on weekends one can now barely move for two-wheelers — are evidence that this has been another quiet Taiwan miracle.

But media reports last week were more ominous. First, the Giant Manufacturing Company, which made headlines just twelve months ago for the large size of New-Year bonuses paid to its employees, announced that bicycle sales had fallen to pre-2008 levels.

Other reports quickly echoed this, warning that sales of bicycles had fallen by 50 percent or more since August last year, that there are no longer waiting lists for bicycles, indeed shops are full of unsold merchandise, and that some traders who had “sprouted like bamboo shoots” have even closed up shop. In short, the media suggested, bicycling had merely been a fad with Taiwanese people and was now suffering from the “egg-tart effect.”

But this reference to citizens' short-lived craze for Portuguese-style egg tarts in the late 1990s — when queues formed, bakeries proliferated and ready cash didn't ensure possession of sweet desserts by the end of one's lunch break — while grabbing headlines is surely not correct.

For one thing, “use” of an egg tart lasts for just a few minutes, while a well-made and properly maintained bicycle will last for decades. So comparison of sales figures, while accurate for tarts, is less relevant to bicycles, especially during the current economic downturn. Use, rather than sales, therefore, is the key measure with which to assess Taiwan's bicycling craze, and the ever-increasing numbers of cyclists on the nation's bike paths is what the media should pay attention to.

Nevertheless, Mayor Hau and his colleagues should not rest on their laurels. Cycling is still seen as an evening and weekend pastime rather than a means of transportation. Yet most of the country's population—particularly the almost one-third residing in the combined Taipei City and soon-to-be Xinbei City—commute over distances of just a few kilometers of flat terrain.

More designated bike paths are needed in downtown areas and not just along the banks of the island's rivers, and those paths need policing efficiently so that, unlike Taipei's new bike-only lanes on Dunhua Road, they are not just used as additional car-parking spaces.

Moreover, excellent as the riverside paths are in bringing cyclists in from the suburbs, more access ramps to bridges must be constructed to facilitate efficient commuting. Similarly, bosses need educating in the need to encourage workers to cycle to the office and to provide shower rooms and secure bike-parking facilities. Even Hau's Taipei City Hall currently has no covered, secure area for employees to park their bicycles.

Most of all, there needs to be a revolution in attitude, a newly found respect for cyclists by other road users, and, of course, similarly by cyclists for pedestrians. The most common reason people give for not cycling is lack of safety, by which they do not mean colliding with other bicycles or falling off, but being hit by careless or aggressive motorists. This change in mindset is something that no government can legislate, but must come about from the people's own volition.