Thursday, December 28, 2006

Taiwan Quake: Fear of the 3.3 foot tsunami!

I know going to go to hell for this one but here it goes...

Run! Panic! A 3.3 foot high tsunami is coming your way! Initial reports were that some sand castles and a few pieces of driftwood were caught in the onslaught!

The news agencies have been making a big deal about these negligible tsunamis lately. I know this is serious stuff but honestly anything lower than 6 feet (my height) doesn't impress me.

I guess anything 'tsunami' gets people's attention and sells papers. Let's hope a real sizable one never happens in the region.

For the record, the Indonesian tsunami measured 10 times the amount at a whopping 33 feet high.

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Xmas Gift Idea: Japanese Comforts

"A new product on the Japanese market has been designed for the single girl in need of some manly comfort while she sleeps.

The “Boyfriend Arm’s Pillow” is shaped like a giant arm which will hold you all night without the need for the real thing. "

Not to be outdone...

"From the time people were kids, people have laid their heads on their mothers' laps to get their ears cleaned," he said. "This is made to be quite close to the real thing."
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Pack 'em on!

I think there's still space for the family dog at the front... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Another ridiculous cosplay

Here a mixture of East and West.

I wonder if it's a guy or a girl in the trooper armor.

Stormtroopers are apparently big in Japan: Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 18, 2006

Santa is coming to town but Borat still hasn't

Well it's almost Xmas here in Taiwan and things are really gearing up for the holiday with all the regular 'junk' on display (Xmas trees and Santas that is...).

One thing that hasn't arrived (and actually, I thought, might never arrive) is the Borat film. It's due to hit theaters sometime in January a full few months after its release elsewhere. An why is this?

Well first and foremost it is a translation thing. However, that can't account for such a lengthly delay. It quite possibly has to do with securing the rights to movies.

Two strange cases come to mind. The first is Gangs of New York which took almost a full year to arrive, went to the theater (literally the (1) theater) for a week or so and then disappeared. It had already been out so long that it had been released on video by the time it reached the island!

Another case was the Austin Powers series. Although they were released fairly promptly in Taiwan, they disappeared quite fast too. Why? Well because they weren't funny... to the Taiwanese. Word jokes are always hard to translate. I think the translations for those movies would have been a nightmare!

So it got me thinking of another possible reason that Borat is soooooooooo late in Taiwan. Could it possibly be that some panel screened it in advance and were waffling about if the Taiwanese audience would even find it entertaining or not. I would love to know the process by which films are chosen, rated and distributed in Taiwan. More later on this... maybe.

A final note to the approval committee or whatever: the longer you wait to get these movies here, the worse they will do at the box office. The demand for pirated copies of this flick is ferocious in the expat contingent in Taiwan. The 'sharing' rings of Borat bootlegs have been off to an early start for some time now! Good luck making money! Maybe try straight to DVD instead.Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 10, 2006

NOTE to readers

I've just reposted some articles that I had on my other blog site. is dead for now. Still trying to figure out what happened there.

The spirit of Islaformosa lives on here! Posted by Picasa

Olympics 2020: Chinese Taipei ?!?

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to the official name of Taiwan during international sports competitions or meetings it’s certainly a matter of concern. Deeply concerned is China, of course, which does not want to tolerate any name for the Taiwan delegations that might suppose some sort of independence. Taiwan, or the Republic of China I should say, can and does participate in several international organizations under it’s own title, usually Chinese Taipei. If you want to see a backgrounder on this messy naming business go here:

So why bring it up now? Well, with London winning its bid for the 2012 Olympics, the fever seems to have caught on here in Taiwan. Premier Hsieh took people off guard when he suggested openly that Taiwan be in the running for hosting the Olympics in 2020! Well good luck getting this past China my overly optimistic friend! (By the way, I was surprised to hear this coming from his mouth when the outspoken Vice-President Lu is known more for these kinds of pipe dreams.)

What’s worse is that Vancouver’s mayor has backed the Premier up by saying Vancouver would endorse Taiwan’s future bid. Oh oh! I can just see the bans and boycotts Beijing has got planned for Vancouver! Ban that salmon! My guess is that the mayor was just being nice, grinning and nodding in agreement while really in doubt.

At the end of the Hsieh article it quotes a spokesperson as saying:
"Every city in Taiwan has the chance," the spokesman said. "I would encourage everybody to do their best to fight for the representation of Taiwan and go for the 2020 Olympic Games."
My money’s on poor JiaYi, identified as my students as perhaps the most boring place in Taiwan. God knows they could you use the tourism and infrastructure! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 9, 2006

COSPLAY = Costume Players!

Summer is here and so is COSPLAY! Every summer if you head out to parks in the Taipei area you’ll come across the regular sights of families going for walks amongst the flower gardens and shady trees as well as couples getting their wedding pictures done at places such as the Taipei Water Park, YangMing Mountain, ShiLin GuanDi or CKS and SYS Memorial. But if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the growing number of cosplayers sprouting in Taiwan.

Cosplay is a term and concept developed in Japan. It’s a kind of counter culture centered on dressing like cartoon/animation (anime in Japanese), comic (manga in Japanese), video game and movie characters.

It’s easy to dismiss this as childish antics but you could say it’s similar to feeling of Halloween, when we get to be the thing we’ve always wanted to be, or to the legions of Star Wars or Star Trek fans who dress up like their favorite characters.

Even former ROC President Lee DengHui got on the bandwagon by posing as as the fictional character Edajima Heihachi of the anime series Sakigake!! Otokojuku. It’s no secret that Lee is a pocket ‘Japanophile’. He was educated in Japan and can speak Japanese quite fluently (he was given a scholarship to Kyoto Imperial University). His cosplay was widely seen as a way to shore up support from young people for his Taiwan Solidarity Union party’s Taiwan independence platform.,13673,501041129-785423,00.html

Cosplay certainly does appeal to the kids. Lee is also in his eighties and eighty year olds are not often so in touch with the younger generation (his cosplay character is also in his eighties). The strange thing is, if Lee were really trying to cultivate a Taiwanese identity, then why did he dress up as a Japanese character??? It’s all a part of the murky Taiwanese-Japanese post-colonial relationship (Lee is Hakka Chinese but grew up under Japanese colonial rule).

But I’ll write something about ‘Japanophilia’ and the split in Taiwan society about the nature of Chinese-Japanese relations later. For now, get those cameras snapping! The cosplayers are out in numbers!

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Hazing… ‘Aluba Style!’

Truly one of the mysteries of the Chinese world is the fact that many people faithfully perform rituals often with no idea of their origins. As a foreigner wanting to learn more about Chinese culture this is very frustrating. Upon asking “Why?” we get the ubiquitous ‘There is no why!”, basically “Don’t be silly and ask!”
Among the most intriguing activities of young men in Taiwan (and Chinese East Asia) is ‘Aluba’.

I quote the Wikipedia:
“A male student is lifted up by several of his classmates and his groin is then rubbed against a hard object such as a pole, a tree, or even the edge of a door. In Taiwan, Aluba is usually performed by hitting the victim's groin on a tree trunk or a pole.”

I can’t imagine the original beginning of this activity. I thought it was stunning that so many people knew about it but most couldn’t remotely give me an idea of where it came from.

My first internet search turned up precious little. A few references here and there.

I was about to give up hope until I started fooling around with Wikipedia, a fantastic editable online encyclopedia. Not only did I find info and a picture but also links to footage. Moreover, I found out that Aluba has an English equivalent called ‘Happy Corner’.

Read the whole thing here! Posted by Picasa

Bad Ideas - Toilet resto

A couple of weeks back I got word of a restaurant concept here in Taiwan. It’s Taipei’s “Toilet Bowl” resto. Oyster Sauce Pork Loin, Curry Chicken, mixed beans, fresh fruit and slush ice! MMMMM! All served in a ceramic toilet from YingGe!

Well it seem like the concept is spreading (excuse the pun).

Gaoxiung, not to be left out, is getting on the ‘honey wagon’ ( . They’ve got one with the ingenious name of Marton Restaurant (get it??? Ma Tong??? ) Curry Hot Pot, Curry Chicken Rice and chocolate ice cream! YUM!

And Gaxiong’s already opening new branches!!!

I’ve yet to eat a meal in either city but am anxious to use their facilities. Just hope they don’t get the two mixed up!

Novelty or ‘run a business’? You be the judge!

Tip of the ‘rim’ to Gabrielle for this one!

Confucius says...

There it was again.

I was watching the movie “Disclosure” with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore and out it popped. Donald Sutherland, the boss in the movie, was making a speech and out it came:
“May you live in interesting times.”

You may have heard it before. You know, referred to as a Chinese curse. The truth is far from it!

Most expressions have some kind of translation into English from Chinese and I was wondering if my students could pick up on this one. I’ve boarded it more than once but always come up at a dead end.

An internet search provided the much needed answers. It turns out that Robert Kennedy uttered it in South Africa in the 60s and it has been picked up by the press ever since. Always attributed to the Chinese but, in fact, may have Scottish origins.

Follow these links for more.
A quick reference here:
Some crazy research here:

This is new Mar 20, 2008 Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 8, 2006

Saving the Environment

You’ve got to hand it to the Taiwanese, they’re on an environmental kick. Taiwan now has recycle bins everywhere, garbage is separated at fast food outlets, the plastic bags that used to be given out everywhere are now limited and must be purchased and the general amount of garbage produced has really gone down. On the bad side, they don’t want to give up their precious cars and other things that cause the terrible pollution.

Cities and citizens are planting trees and flowers and making parks and generally beautifying grungy old and run-down neighborhoods. People’s hearts seem to be in the right place if not somewhat let down sometimes, as the next story will show.

A teacher at a primary elementary school in Taipei found a natural spring on their school’s property. A environmentally minded teacher decided to take action:
“Taking it as an opportunity to teach students about nature and ecology, Chen in 2000 turned the "wetland" into an ecological park complete with a pond, a pavilion with solar-powered lamps, frogs, butterflies and egrets…. The school last year [2003] applied for and received from the Ministry of Education NT$8 million [roughly CAD $325 000] to expand the park.”

Unfortunately, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, the ‘spring’ turned out to be a leaky water pipe that had wasted 45 000 tonnes of water over 27 years!

Read it here: Posted by Picasa

Taiwan Endgame

Taiwan is a little island of the coast of China which a population of about 23 million. China is a large country of roughly the same size as the US with a population of 1.2 billion. We all like to make these kinds of comparisons. They give us perspective.

Also, Taiwan is fairly democratic while China is fairly not. It’s this clash of systems and history that has been brewing war clouds on the horizon for years. In this atmosphere of clear differences, Taiwan, seemingly, has been edging close and closer to declaring independence…

And now we’re approaching crunch time. The playing field is set. China will pass Taiwan in military strength sometime in this decade. And China keeps getting more and more powerful by the moment. Will there be peace or war is the question on a lot of people’s minds.

There is a window that is now open. Just take a look at the timeline of events.

2004 Taiwanese Presidential Election – DPP President (somewhat separatist) elected
2008 Proposed Taiwan constitutional changes
2008 Taiwanese Presidential Election – incumbent President cannot run again
2008 Beijing, China Olympics
2010 Shanghai, China World Fair

But will Beijing risk a war with a few opportunities to shine on the world stage coming so soon?
There are lots of good books and articles about scenarios of how cross-straight relations could play out. In this blog I’m going to take a look at two articles about military confrontations.

The first suggests that the strategy of China would be to decapitate the leadership in Taiwan. It proposes that China special forces, in place in advance of an invasion, would be able to wreak havoc in Taipei. Here’s a thought:
“Many could use taxis to move about the cityunnoticed. Mainland Chinese prostitutes, already in abundance in Taiwan,could be recruited by Chinese intelligence to serve as femme fatales,supplying critical intelligence on the locations of key government andmilitary leaders at odd hours of the night; death is the ultimateaphrodisiac.”

Also accentuated is the soldier apathy problem. Anyone living here who knows a soldier doing military service can understand:
“Taiwan's military is rife with lethargic and ineffectual troops just begging for their 20-month tour of duty to end so they can go back to their girlfriends and jobs. Many call Taiwan's youth, including its young soldiers, the 'strawberry generation' because they are soft and spoiled by the good life. US military officials visiting Taiwan often complain that the military's boot camps are too lax. The military appears more afraid of angering the parents of the conscripts than confronting a Chinese invasion, say visiting US soldiers.”

The second article focuses more on the American reaction to such an invasion. How would the Chinese prevent American intervention?:
“The Chinese might employ nuclear-armed anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, fired from submarines or surface ships, but I think her little surprise for us may be nastier. […] China 'may eventually be able to lob missiles accurately at moving ships in the Pacific' from deep in Chinese territory. […] [W]hat if a Chinese ballistic missile popped a nuke say, 100 miles from an advancing U.S. carrier battle group? No one gets hurt, but the message would be loud and clear: keep coming and you're toast.”

Read these sobering articles here:

Of course this is all speculation but it does make you wonder…
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Mosquito Tennis Anyone?

Looking for good Taiwan gifts to bring back for the folks back home is not an easy job. I’ve had a lot of misses over the years from ‘wasabi’ peanuts to Taiwan t-shirts. However, there are a handful of things that have gone over real well: ‘qipao’ wine bottle covers, pottery stands and pottery, peanut and almond brittle etc..

One of the all-time favorites is the electrified bug racquet.

It basically zaps mosquitoes on contact. There are batteries in the handle and they pack quite a whop!

An article on writes:
“A flip of the switch electrifies the inner mesh, zapping any unfortunate little brother, pledge bug it comes in contact with.”

[ASIDE: I thought it was quite funny considering that the writer didn’t know the Taiwan meaning of ‘little brother’ (just ask if you really need to know!).]
There’s another mention of the racquets here with some interesting comments:

One guy even writes a good description of the sizzle effect on bugs:
“a mosquito will often vaporize on contact! The explosive 'crack' & subsequent 'burnt hair odor' is immensely satisfying - even more so after enduring several itching mozy bites...”

I have to mention that when I first saw the racquets in Taiwan I didn’t understand why they were needed. Canadian variety mosquitoes were annoying ‘yes’ but had always been easy to hit. Taiwanese mosquitoes, on the other hand, must be described as the most agile and difficult to kill mosquitoes I have come across. They have often bitten my in my sleep in the strangest places like on fingers and cheekbones in skin that is over bones, not the fleshy parts! Also, I guess due to how filthy the mosquitoes are with soot from the air in Taiwan, when you are bitten these bites tend to swell up quite a bit and be super itchy!

No wonder Taiwan doesn’t mess around when it comes to mosquitoes (and other bugs like cockroaches). I have to admit to using my own racquet to finish off a large spider that looked suspiciously alive after several swattings with a broom. Geez I hate spiders!

When I sent the articles to my mom, she mentioned that these racquets are on sale in Giant Tiger in Canada. No luck in Australia where apparently they are illegal to import.

Funny, a few years back when I was bringing a few racquets back as gifts, I was wondering whether the authorities in Canada would confiscate them upon my visit home to Canada. Apparently not! And it appears that the mosquito killing concept is catching on back home… Posted by Picasa

OEM et al.

There’s a tech term that’s thrown around a lot in Taiwan called ‘OEM’. It basically means ‘original equipment manufacturer’.

It’s no secret that a lot of brand name companies come to Asia to get the innards of their computers or to wholesale manufacture their computers and gadgets only to slap their names on them when they are sold to the consumer.

According to, OEM is the following,
“an OEM is a company that supplied equipment to other companies to resell or incorporate into another product using the reseller's brand name”

Basically it just makes financial sense. The brand name companies like IBM, HP and Apple want a cheap product so they design what they want at home and have it manufactured in Asia. Taiwan, for instance, makes wildly successful things like iPod shuffles for Apple.
An interesting article that explains the whole process in terms of another growing market, laptops, is in The Wall Street Journal:,,SB111825761813954442-d4x_lQnm5A2GOO1NR6Wi_DBAyys_20050709,00.html?mod=blogs

It turns out that the world’s largest laptop maker is not any of the biggies but is a Taiwanese company called Quanta. The article also talks about the growing relationship between Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers for making the laptops for Quanta. Quanta, it shows, already has major stake in operations in China.

This movement to the Mainland is becoming more and more commonplace for Taiwanese high tech companies. It is also a major worry for the current Taiwan government, ever worried about losing the competitive edge and jobs to China. The process seems inevitable barring any major military confrontation (the article also covers cross-straights relations). Posted by Picasa

The Amazing Exploding Moby Dick of Taiwan

Perhaps one of the strangest, and definitely one of the funniest moments, on the island was the day when the exploding whale of Tainan story came hit the news services. I don’t mean just the local news services here! This story was big!

Many world news services covered this story:

It was a sperm whale found on the coastline, alive at first however it later died. Some researchers decided to bring it in to examine it. In the heat of the southern Taiwan sun, the whale’s decomposing innards built up combustible gas. And then, in one instant, the whale exploded in downtown Tainan, scattering entrails all over the place.

This incident is not the only case of exploding whales, either naturally or artificially. To my surprise, Wikipedia had a lot of info devoted to this very topic.

Make sure to view the exploding Oregon whale video. Very funny too!
This on its own was quite funny. Imagine trying to dig your scooter out of that slime! And the stench! What made this story even funnier was a report about what drew people to see the whale. I quote the Taipei Times:
"More than 100 Tainan city residents, mostly men, have reportedly gone to see the corpse to 'experience' the size of its penis.”

Well I guess Tainan is entitled to a little bit of excitement if the YanShui fireworks festival
is not enough! Posted by Picasa

Sexy Wedding and Funeral Dancers … Countryside-Style!

I think most Chinese would agree that the further from the center of political life the better. People living in capital cities have always been under more scrutiny so they tend to be more conservative when it comes to behavior. Living in some of the bigger cities, they also tend to see themselves as more modern and less superstitious.

So it’s no wonder that when the topic of wedding and funeral dancers (read strippers) comes up, big city people roll their eyes in disgust (they don’t actually roll their eyes but instead let out a kind of a nervous ‘How did you learn about that?” laugh). As I have mentioned before, people perform rituals and, a lot of the time, have forgotten why. I figure most city dwellers hearing about these countryside rituals just assume they are some new degrading and perverted custom of country-bumpkins (known as ‘SPP’ or ‘LKK’ in Taiwan).

I, on the other hand, am not so sure. I think it’s really easy to dismiss these kinds of customs as rude or vulgar but even Western society has linked naked women to fertility (the purpose of marriage in a lot of people's minds). Also, we know from Chinese custom that various paper household items such as cars, washing machines etc. are burnt at funerals (mostly of rich people now I am told since this practice is very expensive) for use in the afterlife. So why is it so improbable that the dancer custom could represent a final farewell to earthly pleasures.

These ideas are ‘fleshed’ out by funeral research:

Another mention and stripper theory is here: farfromfrostburg (see: What to wear to a Taiwanese funeral)

We, the Chinese included, tend to associate funerals with quiet and somber moods. But we also know of upbeat customs such as New Orleans style funerals. So I don’t think the researchers’ assumptions are so far-fetched.

What I would really like to know is how far back these customs go. Are they just a recent development or are there ancient precedents?

On a more upbeat note, I was able to experience some ‘electric flower cart’ dancers recently at a wedding of one of my ‘relative-in-laws’ in PingDong county in the south of Taiwan. People genuinely had fun at the performance, even the kids! Posted by Picasa

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