Monday, September 24, 2007

What's popular back home?

Fall is here and I need to catch up with what's going on in the English speaking world, especially with the Fall TV season just beginning.

Here are a few of my choices of links to keep up with what's going on if that's your thing:

Find out what most people are looking for in downloads on bittorrent networks. It's not a bad way to know what's hot since the greater searches are written in bolder type.

I usually use Mininova to find my favorite TV shows and use µTorrent to download since it is a small, easy-to-use client.

As part of Google trends, Google talk keeps track of what people are listening to. You can view by various musical styles.

What are the top box-office movies. Not a great indicator of quality though... You can also research movies by credits and see what movies are in production.
A summary of what critics are saying about movies that are out.
See the trailers before anyone else does for upcoming Xmas and summer movies.

Listen to radio all over the world with Winamp. Search by musical styles or even comedy and talk shows.

If you have any other ways to keep on top of what's going on back home in your country and care to share it, send the links in!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mid-Autumn Festival? No! BBQ Day!

Earlier, I ran a blog article that was about BBQ season opening and why Taiwanese don't like to use gas barbecues.

This time I've decided to delve into the BBQ/Mid-Autumn Festival linkage. I've always found it strange that people in Taiwan BBQ in the Moon Festival period (even in the heart of the city on the pavement or sidewalks outside their homes or businesses, the oddest thing seeing convenience store clerks BBQing outside their locations!). In China, no such BBQ custom exists for the Moon Festival. So how did barbecuing and Moon Festival become linked?

Although it has been hard to find the true roots of this modern Taiwanese tradition for the holiday, I do have a theory. It's basically the same reason Valentine's Day, Halloween and Christmas have become so important as well. Money! These holidays promote spending on chocolates, flowers, candies, decorations and gifts to say the least.

This way companies that are not supplying the enormous onslaught of moon cakes that occurs this time of year can also get a slice of the pie. My wife said that BBQ Sauce companies probably led the way and then the BBQ related product companies have since fueled the tradition.

This is evident at the hypermarkets. At Carrefour the other day was a wall of disposable BBQs with tons of chopsticks, tongs, plastic plates, bowls (not very environmentally friendly mind you, but we are in Taiwan!) and everything you could think of for a BBQ. We are talking big money here! Not to mention the BBQing food and charcoal!

Interestingly enough, Taiwan's EPA (environment protection) has been coming down hard on the BBQ custom this year due to carbon monoxide (CO) pollution:

Mid-Autumn Festival BBQ accused of being 'eco-hazard'

So what did the mayor of Taipei do? Just ignore the recommendation.

"Choosing not to follow central government's suggestion, Hau said
the Mid-Autumn barbecue is an important celebration for the public
because it creates opportunities for people to interact with
neighbors and friends."

Agreed! Why take away the fun? (Although going back to my original article, gas BBQs might be the solution as they burn cleaner) But will fireworks and firecrackers and incense burning for other festivals be spared in the future??? I'm not so sure.

Anyways, the Da-chia Riverside Park has been designated as an area that families can go to BBQ together, complete with city services to help them out.

Get involved. Have a BBQ with friends and try some homestyle Taiwanese BBQ cooking! Just remember to clean your trash afterwards or else the EPA will really be on your ass!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Myna bird's Taiwanese sounds

Meet Xiao Hei (Little Black). He's my father-in-law's bird. And a very special bird indeed.

First, he was found in the rafters of my parents-in-law's house under renovation.

Second, although a wild bird, he is quite fond of my father-in-law and, upon being released into the wild, will spend the afternoon in a tree with others like him only to return to his cage later on.

Third, Xiao Hei is a Myna bird. This kind of bird has a special mimicking ability. And this is where the real fun begins because Xiao Hei doesn't do the "Polly wants a cracker" routine. Xiao Hei does what birds in Taiwan usually hear. And that is cars and scooters!

He has two specialty sounds: scooters starting and car lock beeping. I have been fooled on many occasions as he truly does a smashing imitation of the real thing! I have even gone out into the street thinking someone was leaving or someone had just parked their car only to find that it was just Xiao Hei sitting lonely in his cage!

I'd like to make a recording of it if I get the chance and upload it. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Damn! More Engrish!

Anyway you read this one it's bizarre.

No idea what the 'online' part means since this is a street stall. But you know, everything is online these days so I guess tofu online is not so far-fetched.
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Flying over Taipei with Google Earth

Imagine flying over Taipei. For free!

Now you can with Google Earth's latest version. While you've been sleeping, that application that was initially intriguing and then lost it's appeal just became the coolest thing again.

It was leaked a few weeks back that Google had hidden a flight simulator in the new Google Earth update.


Well it's official. The simulator is now easily accessible from the menu. By adding the Sketch Up mock ups of 3D buildings to your view, you can add even more realism.

I'm starting to use it to scope out some potential hikes as well. For now, I'll scout them out in my F-16 (just so you know you have the choice of an F-16 or the considerably slower SR22).

Happy flying everyone! Tell me if you make any new and great finds! Click on the picture to see the view of 101 from above Elephant Mountain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Around the World Pub Crawl 2pm to 10pm

It started out as a regular pub crawl but developed into something more. My friend John laid down the rules. Every new Taipei bar we went to had to have different international flavor. At each new bar we would have to drink a different country's drink.

So when the day came we all met up at JB's, a British pub/restaurant on ShiDa Road to the south of Roosevelt Road. At 2pm our crawlers came in, one after the other. John, Noel, Alicia, Paula, Graeme, Anita, Peter, Raquel and I. It had begun.

We started with lunch, a (terrible) hamburg because we hadn't eaten and we had a lot of drinking to do. We accompanied our lunch with some great Abbot ale. Very fresh tasting. JB, the owner of the pub, must have dipped into the good stuff for us. Some of us also enjoyed beans and fries and onion rings, standard pub fare. The end of the meal and this stage was signaled by the tasty but bizarre birthday custard bread pudding. Not the most flavorful but, like I said, we needed something in our stomachs for the journey we were about to take.

Next step was The Bastille in the ShiDa area for the Belgian stage at around 3:30pm. Peter, a non-drinker, sensing he was out of his league, bid us farewell. We eventually found our way to the Bastille by going through the various alleys of ShiDa which all look alike. Once at the Bastille we took over the VIP room, a nook in the back, and we stuffed the whole load of us in there. We then proceeded to drink Belgian beer which is usually on the strong side. I chose Chimay Blue, a 9% one with just the right taste. It came recommended by John who was already on his second beer by the time my first came!

And onwards we went, losing Graeme and Anita along the way. It was about 5pm by this point. We walked out to HoPing Road and caught taxis to Salt and Bread, a Russian resto on DunHua South Road. There we commandeered a table and got a round of Russian beers at happy hour prices that I'd like to tell you about if only I could read the Russian on the labels. I got a wheat beer, which had an odd taste; others got lagers. This was served with finger food... bread and sauce.

The decor is dark in Salt and Bread but it was sparkling clean. The walls were red and fringed with those Russian wooden dolls that open to reveal another and another.

And it was here that we entered the notorious "Ice Room". The Ice Room is a freezer room with windows that houses a vodka bar, an ice bar complete with packed ice around the edges. The less tolerant of our group (the girls) wore heavy North Face parkas, supplied by the restaurant. The more daring went in as is but this didn't last long.

Upon entering, we came face to face with the bartender behind a wall of vodka, 140 types to be precise. On the bar, was a thermometer. It read -15C. Once we came in, it heated up to a balmy -12C. John wasted no time and quickly ordered 80% vodka shots. Being the burly (and hairy) Canadian boys we were, we took off our t-shirts and downed the vodka bare chested for show! The shot burned the mucosa off my uvula. Immediately I had a scratchy throat and craved another beer. We took our pictures and I picked up the tab, a reward for my loyal crawlers!

Shit! Almost 6:30pm. Only 30 minutes to get the happy hour at the Australian Outback Steakhouse above the IKEA on Nanjing. It's an odd shaped place, not unlike a boomerang itself. Making our way to the very far side we sat down in our regular spots and ordered our buy-one-get-one-free Ozzie VB beers.

By this point we definitely had the munchies. John, de rigeur, ordered his favorite steak. We ordered fried calamari, which was delicious (or were we just very drunk?) and Noel got a plate of fries with salad dressing for a dip, not bad either.

Looking up on the walls we could see boomerangs everywhere nailed on. Even a bar stool table beside ours was shaped like a boomerang. Tacky but fun!

But this was to be topped in tackiness by Hooters which was our next stop, now nearing 8pm. We walked from IKEA to Hooters down NanJing Road and got in just as their famous and worthwhile hula hoop show was starting (I've blogged about this before). We got a round table and ordered our next international drink. And it was Miller Time baby! And what goes great with Miller? Well, chicken wings and shrimp, that's what! We ordered a platter and proceeded to demolish it.

The performance kicked off with the hostesses doing their regular hula hoop throwing and dancing act. Some girls with their tiny frames can really pack them on, twirling up tp 10 hoops at a time. I repeat, although the food is mediocre at Hooters, this show is good and should not be missed. The Hooter girls elsewhere are not nearly half as talented ("What? ME? Hula hoop?").

Later, they pulled some victims out of the audience to have a hula hoop showdown. We chose our usual whipping boy, Noel! Noel made his best effort, winning a valuable sticky notes pad for his effort and almost getting his shorts pulled off by John at the end of his performance to the cry of one of the hostesses saying "There are children here." I guess shortless Noel would have been way worse than those hot shorts and tops the hostesses had on!

Time for the last leg as it was nearing the 9:30pm mark. We hightailed it to the nearest 7eleven to have the taste of home, Taiwan Beer on the cheap. We snagged some Snickers ice cream bars for good measure to top off the evening and sat like Jay and Silent Bob in front of the store, basking in our accomplishment.

We had gone to 6 locations and had obeyed the rules of getting different international booze at each place. This was truly deserving of "Mission Accomplished".

As we later whizzed away towards home in our cab, we had some final reflections on the whole odyssey. If you are going to undertake such an endeavor, make sure you have the following:
a) a motivated, passionate leader (like John: we couldn't have done it without you man!)
b) a clear idea of where you want to be and at what time (Once again, John had an agenda and kept it!)
c) respect of the rules (Don't break them or face aLuBa by John!)

If you want to see all the pics in their glory, check them out here:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If NTU only knew...

This is sitting very close to the NTU campus entrance on Roosevelt.

I doubt it's sanctioned.

It has certainly caught a lot of people's attention though...
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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Big Brother's Graffiti

More of my pics here :

To find out more about the artist, Big Brother, read on:

Graffiti art takes hold in downtown Taipei

Graffiti tames the savage beasts

BBrother Wretch


I'm going to start posting graffiti art that I spot around Taipei.

I encourage other people to send in interesting ones they find. Don't forget to tell me where you found it.

This one is along the east side of the YongFu Bridge. It depicts ROC soldiers in training.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jesus, I don't make this stuff up...

I've been using Google Reader and Google News Alerts to find information about past articles I've written to follow up on them.

To my surprise (and disgust) I found this about the National Socialism Association of Taiwan, a Nazi "political organization founded [...] in September 2006 by 許娜琦, a 22-year-old political science graduate of Soochow University" (I have to say I was surprised to know that the founder was a she not a he but I guess I shouldn't be!)

The membership apparently includes people of high educational background and is growing as it seeks more members in universities, colleges and high schools.

'The organization views Adolf Hitler as its "leader" and often proclaims "live long Hitler" as one of their slogans.' (Ouch!)

The party seems to be a reaction to indecision at the national level with the parties struggling against each other and getting little meaningful done.

As one member interviewed by a journalist said:
'he thinks Nazism is a "good idea about enriching the country and stengthening the military" '


Previous blog entries about this topic are here:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Taiwan's War on Betel-nut and Betel Palms

I'm starting to wonder if the people who are attacking betel nut usage and betel palm growing have a hidden agenda. Here's an issue that is being attacked from every possible angle.

First, just how strong is the link between cancer and the actual betel nut (just the nut)?

"Although a substantial proportion of the cancers are caused by the tobacco rather than the betel nut and leaves in the quid, according to WHO, betel chewing without tobacco also leads to cancer of the mouth. A British study reported in 2004 has tried to establish that there is a genetic aspect to this. Betel-nut chewers with faulty gene have higher risk of mouth cancer."

"When done regularly, betel chewing is considered likely to have harmful effects on health including cancers of the stomach and mouth and damage to gums. Whether this is due to, or exacerbated by, lime being used in betel preparations and the addition of tobacco (in the case of gutka) or other impurities is open to question. It is well known in betel consuming countries that various items, such as opiates and tobacco, can be added to betel preparations to increase the addictive properties, and thus to bolster sales."

"Very few studies exist of the use of a "pure" paan preparation: betel nut, betel leaf, and lime, and fewer studies exist of betel nut alone."

"Medical literature at this stage (even though highly anecdotal) seems to indicate that regular, addiction-driven use (for example, eight pinches a day) of betel nut in the preparations popular in India, Pakistan, New Guinea, and Taiwan can be harmful. Regarding the preparation methods used in Vietnam and Guam, and regarding occasional usage, there seems to be no strong indication one way or another." (WIKI)

So what's going on here? How strong is the evidence? Is what we're seeing here just a campaign to try and wipe out what some Taiwanese feel is an embarrassment to Taiwan or a real, full-blown medical problem here? Remember, "Betel chewing is a tradition which dates back thousands of years". Why wipe it out all of a sudden? Have the civilized and the professional had enough with this embarrassing, backward 1000 year old tradition.

As Chang Ming-hsien, chairman of the Kaohsiung Betel Nut Processing and Packaging Association feels...
'...there are too many moral judgments flying around. "People who use betel nut stands as a front for prostitution or drugs make up only a small proportion of us," he maintains. "If you say betel nuts cause cancer, make it clear which part of the nut actually does it. We can improve on that [by processing the nuts or changing the lime-paste formula]. Actually, I know a lot of old folk who love to chew betel nut and who've lived to be ninety years old, quite healthy. When their teeth fall out, they even grind betel nuts into powder. How do you explain that? If you say betel palms threaten the environment, what have you got to say about those massive golf courses built on slope land? Are they legal because golf players are all rich people and political VIPs, while betel nut chewers are blue-collar?" '

Some consider it an attack on being Taiwanese:
' "Chewing betel nut is now considered a distinctly Taiwan custom, which means mainlanders don't do it. For the educated middle class, chewing betel nut, like speaking the Taiwanese dialect, helps create a sense of identity. "It's a Taiwanese tradition, part of our cultural heritage," says Wang Ming-teh, a computer salesman. '

There is also the often repeated link between betelnut palm's and their shallow roots and horrific landslides that occur in Taiwan. But is this actually so?

"Health advocates have it in for the betel nut, and so do the greens. Environmentalists say that when the trees are planted too close together (as they often are), the dense canopy of foliage makes it hard for other plants to flourish. That in turn means the land is prone to erosion and, in typhoon season, landslides. And some growers illegally plant the trees on slopes, where the potential for trouble is even greater."

Or could it be that Taiwan is just a crumbly place with landslides happening all the times for a variety of reasons, not excluding over development on a massive scale. Note, most of the landslides shown on TV remarkably show mostly rock and rubble and little or no trees. Why is that?

Legislator Su Chia-chuan,
[...]believes that the government's campaign against the betel nut is "part of their cultural inferiority complex. Taiwanese do it, but Westerners don't, so it must be low-class and disreputable." Betel-nut chewers would say just the opposite."

Could it be that 'high-class' Taiwanese consider betel-nut culture something for poor countries in South East Asia to have but not their high tech, modern silicon island nation?

It is also interesting to note that these comments were made in 1997 when the KMT government was still in power. We know that the current pro-Taiwan government has maintained the anti-betel policy.

Look, I'm not advocating that betel-nut is completely healthy or that betel palms growing just anywhere is fine. I'm just suggesting that there quite likely are underlying reasons for eliminating betel-nut culture that are not completely obvious. This impression becomes even clearer when you consider the addition of the campaign against the morality of betel-nut girls, which officials are up in arms about, into the overall anti betel war.

In the end, the reason for getting rid of the drug of preference of the 'red-lipped people' (this term even seems pejorative!) may have more to do with prudish culture than with health or the environment or morality. So don't be fooled by all the popular media issues (that sell papers and keep viewers glued) and government propaganda.

Some other good reads:
A very detailed account of chewing or sucking the juice of betel-nut plus its effects, its appeal and health concerns related to it.!7BFCA5FB6183509D!688.entry
In defence of the betel-nut, kind of.

PS. BTW, not every issue is as one-sided as it may seem. I strongly recommend to stop always being spoon fed by the news media and the government. If you are interested in how this can happen, download this... mininova It's another very one-sided issue (which I believe something should still be done about) but the documentary will make you think about what you are being told and how it is packaged.

Communist Party of Taiwan Comes Back to Haunt Us!

It's funny how things on the Web repeat themselves, are recycled and are renewed.

Here's the story I ran a while back about Communism in Taiwan:

Here are some worthwhile points in a recent article published:

"President Lee Teng-Hui was forced to admit that he had been a communist in the late 1940's." (also mentioned in my blog)

"Mao Zedong initially supported Taiwan Independence." (believable)

"In recent years I've seen the "Communistmobile," a red car painted with hammers, sickles, yellow stars and various workers slogans, around Taipei. It also has big speakers mounted on the roof which blast "The East is Red" on a continuous loop. Other Communist cars have been sighted in Kaoshiung and Tainan." (never seen it but want to!)

All in all a great article. Read it here:

Don't forget all of you wanna be communists wanting to support Dai, organizations and activities from promoting communism are forbidden by law in Taiwan. As I have previously noted in my blog, if Taiwan is so democratic, then why don't its laws allow people to start a communist party? Doesn't that smack against free speech?

We don't seriously think these guys will get anywhere but it does make political life colorful. Besides, we need a good counter-weight for the Nazi Party of Taiwan.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Aluba rides again!

In case you missed it, 'aluba' has hit the newspapers. It happened on Sunday...

FEATURE: `Aluba' stirs fond memories for some
taipei times

Interestingly enough, the article has dug even deeper into the sketchy 'aluba' history:

'Although various theories can be found on the Internet about how aluba first got started, former gender studies researcher Kuo Yi-ling (郭怡伶) said she has found no conclusive answer during her research into the ritual for her master's thesis.

"What we can say for sure is, the game itself pre-dates the name aluba," Kuo said. "My oldest interview subject, who recalls playing the same game, was born in 1948. Back then the game had no name or was called something crudely descriptive such as `nailing the knob.'" '

Nailing it indeed! My previous entry about 'aluba' or Happy Corner as a kind of hazing is here:
There are several videos of it on youtube as well. Here is one:

The article has some other great parts:

'Those who are not popular might not get off as easily.

"We aluba'ed our annoying supervisor in the military service for real on the last day of our service," Alex said, "on a tree with spiky bark." '

Ouch! Court-martial anyone?


' "The person being aluba'ed is male, but forced into a female role by the crowd, using a giant phallic object to make contact with the genitals," she said. "It's hard not to see the homoerotic subtext, coupled with violence." '

Young Taiwanese men and homoerotic. No way!

And finally:

' "[Urologist Hung Chun-tse has] always warned young men that it's a dangerous game with potential for permanent damage," Hung said. "Aluba is rightly banned by the authorities, and they should work to better enforce that ban."

"The penis itself is very, very vulnerable. If the corpus cavernosum in the penis breaks, that could cause massive internal bleeding. The urethra itself could be broken," he said.

He said the testicles are even more fragile and damage could result in testicular atrophy and infertility.'

Excuse me while I take a moment to contemplate my dream of becoming a father one day...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Freak show dog and some squid drying while hanging from a clothes rack for socks. Drumming up publicity for the customers. P.T. Barnum would be pleased.
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