Thursday, November 27, 2008

Blood on the streets

From Blogger
Imagine seeing this on your city street back home. This was one of the things I noticed about Taiwan when I first arrived. It's not a pretty picture is it?

At first, I thought street corners just had an inordinate amount of accidents. Bloody accidents.

I know better now as do most people after living in Taiwan for some time. 'Tis the mark of the cursed betelnut spittle.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ignorance (of the Law) is Bliss

I went out for hotpot the other night with some friends and was planning to have a few beers. The trouble is, you see, I wanted to have a few beers with the meal and then ride the scooter home. I know, I know, drinking and driving don't mix, blah, blah, blah. But I could drink under the legal limit and still drive, right? That is, of course, still legal.

However, what exactly is the legal limit in Taiwan? Most Taiwanese I asked just spouted off what the commercials against drunk driving say, "Jiou hou bu kai che," "After alcohol, don't drive." They basically were saying to me that there is a zero tolerance towards any driving after drinking (some countries do have zero tolerance laws). One local guy at work even went as far as saying if they stopped me and detected alcohol on the breath, one small wiff and you'd be busted.

[BTW, the drunk driving checks in Taipei amount to police road blocks, usually at night, in very typical spots around bridges or very heavily traveled roads. They are very predictable and often the police cars leave their lights on, warning vehicles in advance of the road blocks. The scientific drunk test amounts to an officer stopping a vehicle and asking for the driver to blow in his face so he can take a wiff. That's it! Hope he likes the smell of the stinky tofu I just ate! Some officers have also started to use flashlights to check pupil dilation. So much for robust checking....]

This brings me to a side point: Taiwanese are mostly pretty ignorant of their laws. In fact, Taiwanese just have impressions of their laws or know hear-say about the laws but do not know the fine letter of their laws. If you want to test this, ask someone about a law that you know a lot about back home and see if there is a Taiwanese equivalent. You'll understand what I mean.

So, Taiwanese, for the most part, live in ignorance of their laws. They go about their lives with a feeling for what is right or wrong for society but largely are unaware at the legal structures in place to settle legal matters. When I think about how people back home take no time to spout off their God-given rights and threaten to sue at the drop of a hat, you can immediately notice a difference in Taiwan which is much less of a litigation society. This is a kind of bliss.

Perhaps Taiwan is headed in the litigation society direction, though, with all the legal wrangling in the courts these days. It is important to note that previous presidents were technocrats with degrees in things like Agriculture Economics (Lee Deng-Hui). But now, we have had a lawyer by profession (President Chen who has landed himself in some legal troubles recently) and someone who studied Law (current President Ma). As in the West, lawyers and law-types seem to be rising here in Taiwan politics.

I digress. Back to the drunk driving law. Here is something more concrete and fairly up to date from the Taipei Times:

"Under the former regulations, the legal limit for a driver's blood-alcohol level was 0.25mg per liter. If a driver's blood-alcohol level exceeded 0.25mg per liter, he or she faced a fine of between NT$15,000 (US$460) and NT$60,000 -- depending on the type of vehicle driven and the blood alcohol content measured.

If a driver's blood alcohol content exceeded 0.55mg per liter, he or she would be charged with the inability to drive safely, which carried either a maximum one-year jail sentence or a maximum fine of NT$30,000.

The new regulations punish serious drunk drivers with both imprisonment and a fine, stipulating that if a driver's blood alcohol level exceeds 0.55mg per liter, he or she could face up to one-year in prison as well as a fine of up to NT$150,000.

As a result, should an offender receive a six-month sentence (the maximum length of sentence that can be commuted to a fine), and commutes the term to a fine, the offender would face paying a fine of up to NT$690,000."

Taipei Times

There are, in fact, 2 different standards for testing: BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) and mg/liter.

The definitive source is the TBAF or Taiwan Beverage Alcohol Forum a group sponsored by the major alcohol companies in Taiwan:

The current penalty listing below:

Alcohol Strength Automobile Payment
Alcohol breathalyzer test over 0.25mg/litre to 0.4mg/litre or BAC at 0.05% to 0.08%


Sedan 19500
Long & heavy vehicle 22500
The driver convicted with DUI twice in one year and one dose not have a driver license. 60000

Alcohol breathalyzer test over 0.4mg/litre to 0.55mg/litre or BAC at 0.08% to 0.11%


Sedan 34500
Long & heavy vehicle 37500
The driver convicted with DUI twice in one year and one dose not have a driver license. 60000
Alcohol breathalyzer test over 0.55mg/litre and above or BAC 0.11% and above

Long & heavy vehicle 52500
The driver convicted with DUI twice in one year and one dose not have a driver license. The drunk driver would be prosecuted if caused any car accident 60000

Information source: Taipei City Police Department Traffic Division.

There you have it but if you blinked or fell asleep you may have missed an important distinction about Taiwan's drunk driving law. Countries like the US and some parts of Canada have BAC legal tolerance up to 0.08 but Taiwan's is 0.05 which is quite a bit lower.

According to the Wikipedia, that means for a 82kg man, anything more that 2 cans of beer would put you over 0.05 (subtract approximately .01% for every 40 minutes after drinking), theoretically speaking. [I am not responsible for any faulty math or reading of the charts]

So, scooter and car drivers beware! Only 1 can of beer for me before I hit the road... just to be sure. Ignorance of Taiwan's drunk driving law is not bliss. It could be quite costly.

TBAF faq page

TBAF drunk driving statistics Seems like mid-Taiwan has, by far, the most incidents. That is, if all police forces are equally diligent in enforcing and reporting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stimulate This!

Well not exactly this kind of stimulation package but it enticed you to read this entry, did it not?

As you may well be aware, early next year every Taiwan citizen will be receiving a $3600 voucher from the government to stimulate spending. This is really in line with what a lot of nations are doing in order to keep their economies afloat through this financial crisis.

And I guess I am happy that something is being done instead of only hand wringing and hesitation. The medicine is bad any way you approach the issue but in many ways this crisis is aggravated by psychological factors. Even if this package is merely a placebo for the ills (I concede that it may just be), the psychological good it does will inevitably be positive. Believe me, people in Taiwan need more placebos like this in their dark economic hour to stay thinking positive even though it might be illusory.

Once again, it's psychology. Even if the package is just a drip in the bucket, it gives the perception that something is being done and this is important to people. I think the general consensus is that eventually the situation will improve but that it will take time. That's why it's a positive thing to relieve a little of the people's worries so that things (hopefully) don't sink so deep. Of course, the government has to nurture things in these dark times.

It's interesting to know that, even though many people are making the case that the package will do little or nothing, the voucher system instead of a tax break or cash back is more of a sound decision than it may seem. An economist makes this point...

"The standard stimulus package doesn't change incentives. It's a check from the government. The hope is that the receiver will spend it. But when you just send out checks from the government, whoever gets stimulated is likely to be offset by someone who gets unstimulated.


And even the people who get the money often save more of it than they spend.

That's why stimulus schemes based on giving people money have a poor track record of energizing the economy. Usually, the only thing that gets stimulated is a politician's approval rating."


What's interesting to note, though, is that Taiwan's government isn't just giving out cash or giving a tax break (which people can convert into cash and just save away without helping to stimulate the economy). People have to use the vouchers to buy products at businesses that issue receipts for purchases (which the tax department obviously likes since people pay their taxes (incidentally, this is the reason why the have the lottery on those receipts: it tries to keep businesses more honest about their books)).

Also, as implied in the report, some people have argued that the vouchers are just to buy voters since only citizens can receive them (that rules out us foreign paying taxpayers since we definitely cannot vote). However if that is the case, then why would a country like China also launch a stimulus package? It's not like they need to cater to their voters. However, they do need to keep its economy rolling to keep its citizens happy and that's purely psychological.

So there you have it. By me, the package seems reasonable as real stimulus or as a placebo or both. In the end, my Taiwanese wife for one will be spending her voucher with pleasure as will, I am sure, most of the people who receive one. Happy and positive spending!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Golden Horse Rides Again

From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen

I never see this festival coming but thanks to my Japanese friend, Koizumi, we managed to catch it this year.

Saw a great film called 'Shine a Light' starring the Rolling Stones and directed by Martin Scorsese. It ran about 122min and had the Stones in concert in New York in a small auditorium for a Bill Clinton organization event. It was great. Pure escapism and the energy of the concert really started me up. Get it?

From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen
Taking a cue from the posters outside, Koizumi and I drank a cold beer in the theater while watching. A perfect match for a rock concert and testament to the openness of living in Taiwan (drinking virtually anywhere, even in cars as long as you are not the driver!).

The end of the movie featured an acoustic version of 'Wild Horses'... Wild Golden Horses indeed!

You still have time to catch other films. The festival ends Nov. 21.

McDonalds Goes Psychedelic

From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen
I wonder what item on the menu caused me to trip like this?

In the Navy

From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen
Is it just me or is this advertisement for joining the ROC military just a little gay (happy if you wish)?  Aren't military types supposed to be silent and disciplined killers? 

Put it this way, would a bunch of shaved head guys piled on top of each other and smiling like a batch of giddy school boys make you want to join?  It just reinforces the cute image that Taiwan tries to put on everything with mixed results...

The irony is that the morale in the army is very poor.  Lots of suicide.  Superiors drinking on the job.  Initiation involving women of ill-repute.  Not to mention the poor training and sometimes inadequate equipment (Humvees for the narrow alleys of Taiwan?  Give me a break!  The war would be over before they got those things out of the traffic jams!).

Don't believe me about the initiation?  See for yourself.  As most boys who have done their military service will tell you, you'll come out a man whether you want to or not.

The Dink Rides Again

From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen

And there it was.  Right in front of me.  Someone's Dink.
Yes, it's a real scooter model.  

Click on the pic for a closer look and read the label on the side.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Recycle This

From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen

In case you are wondering what types of things are recyclable in Taiwan, here is a good brochure that we received from our neighborhood leader to help us sort it all out.


From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen

A photo I snapped on my cell of a jet sitting outside a machine tool shop on the TaiDa campus.  I assume it's for students to take apart in order to study engineering.

Fittingly, one side of it was plastered in grafitti.  If I'm bold enough, I'll try climbing on it one day to take a look in the cockpit.

Bike Paths of the Taipei Area

From 2008_11_16 Good Citizen

I've written a little about the bike boom recently.  On a recent stop at Carrefour, I picked this brochure up in their bike section.  It's a pretty good overview of the bike system in place in the Taipei area, most of it running alongside the rivers withing the flood wall system.

I wonder if Taiwan will ever get around to having something like the Cross Canada bike path we have back home.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Diner: Truly Comfort on a Plate

From 2008_11_02 The Diner

Ahhhh, The Diner.  I only have good things to say about this place.

Started by Taiwanese Amy and her boyfriend, the place does amazing business and rightfully so.  The Diner is home to the tastiest hamburger of them all in Taipei.  Grilled to perfection, greasy like it's supposed to be.  Crispy, firm fries.  And this is not mentioning the all-day breakfast menu also available to you.

And the service?  Well, I've been to a lot of places and to my knowledge it is unsurpassed.  Amy the hostess must have a great memory as she has remembered our names every time we have gone and has gone out of her way to make us feel welcome.  And the waitresses are also very accomodating too!  Keep up the good work everyone!

Like I said, the business there justifiedly rocks, so much so that the Diner does not take reservations.  So, be prepared to wait long waits at feeding time on the weekends.  However, fear not.  The Diner has opened a second location on Dunhua I you will.  

Check out their hamburger selection.  Two of our favorites, the bacon and cheese and the swiss cheese and mushroom go for $200 (served as in the picture).  

One more recommendation: the chocolate brownie with ice cream ($150).  A large warm brownie with two scoops of ice cream towering over it.  Enough to feed 2 people.  Exceptional value all around.

From 2008_11_02 The Diner

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

What a Butt!

From 2008_11_01

Taipei Times had another great Johny Neihu piece today (Nov 1, 2008):

Poontang in the peddling of Taiwan

"A publication called Taiwanese Businessman Weekly
, published in China to promote tourism in Taipei, had the following lines: “Girls who go clubbing in Taipei are all dressed in sexy outfits, showing half of their breasts and wearing mini skirts.”

The mag described our capital city’s clubbing girls as “chicks who dress hot and act wild.”

Good one, guys. Why not just call the article “We’ve got poontang”?"

I have to agree with him. I know of another very strange promotional article for Taiwan that appeared in a tourism magazine here several years back. As you can see, 'What a butt!' is conveniently written in Chinese, Japanese and English for all the pervs (sorry for the clarity as I only have it in photocopy form now... click on the pictures for closeups) and seems to echo the the opinions of Taiwanese Businessman Weekly...

From 2008_11_01
Jesus, who writes this stuff?

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