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.