Monday, December 20, 2010

In Taiwan's Restaurants: Pineapple Shrimp Balls 鳳梨蝦球

Pineapple Shrimp Balls. This Taiwanese dish is delicious but may make you you take a step back when you first see it. Deep fried shrimp on a base of pineapple, covered in sweet mayonnaise and cupcake sprinkles - that's right, SPRINKLES!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How do you read 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 in Chinese?

This is for anyone who has taught large numbers to Taiwanese students.  As you may know, the Chinese way of saying numbers is extremely difficult.  When given a huge number, students will try and muddle it out for ages.  

This seeks to help out BUT it still looks complicated.  Can any Chinese speakers check it out and see?

In fact, I'm very interested to know how to say this in Chinese too:

Go for it!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ghosts: Who ya gonna believe?

Taiwanese are a superstitious bunch and no more so than in their strong belief in the existence of ghosts. Living here, one is struck by the widespread belief in ghosts across all parts of society. Modern, educated, city-living Taiwanese believe strongly in ghosts. It's a fact. So it might be good to take a look at numbers to make some sort of comparison between American and Taiwanese beliefs with regard to ghosts. What you will find, if accurate, is a little more surprising than you think.

"A recent survey of Taipei college students found that 87 percent were believers, and some say that could be on the low side."

I would have guessed just above 90% so my prediction was dead on about this. The article goes on to say that the belief is stoked "on numerous TV variety and ghost shows" where discussions and stories about ghosts are shared. This is not to mention the tons of Asian ghost movies that broadcast on a multitude of TV channels and that are shown regularly in movie theaters across the island.

Amazingly, even though Taiwan has emerged as a high-tech / scientific powerhouse, the belief in ghosts remain unabated:
"Although sociologists say Taiwan has seen some gradual weakening of traditional beliefs, given better education and wider use of technology, Taiwan’s ghost world has been surprisingly resistant to the erosive influence of globalization and MTV."

At any rate, maybe it's just a case of covering all your bases, just in case, similar to anti-religious people who miraculously get religion on their death beds:
"Many Taiwanese feel it’s best not to anger the ghosts, just in case they do exist."

Let's try to compare to the US situation. It won't be a pretty comparison since we are only comparing Taiwanese students to all Americans but it does offer a little insight.

In a 2007 poll a full 34% of US respondents said they believed in the existence of ghosts. I would have guessed more like 10% so I'm off here. However, this US 34% stands in sharp contrast to the 87% in Taiwan.

Compare this 2007 result though with an online survey done in 2003:
"A 2003 Harris Poll found through surveying 2,201 adults on-line that 51% of people believe in ghosts. In their survey, 58% of women believed in ghosts along with a whopping 65% of younger adults aged 25-29. Shockingly, only 27% of the people polled over age 65 believe in ghosts."

Well you can draw your own conclusions as to what the real numbers are. At any rate, even if you are a non-believer, it bears knowing that you are a strong minority in Taiwan so be mindful of the majority's beliefs in the existence of the afterlife.

I invite IslaFormosa readers to offer their ghost experiences in Taiwan or elsewhere and to share any other more accurate data about the belief in ghosts across countries.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It'll huff and it'll puff but it won't blow your house down...

Who's afraid of a big, bad typhoon?  Well not me and I live in Typhoon Alley (what I like to call the fact that most Pacific tropical cyclones seem to hit Taiwan square on).  However, I live in Taipei and being from a modern Taiwanese city of concrete and steel does have its advantages in a big typhoon.

As the countryside areas of Taiwan seem to be like crumbly sandcastles compared to the cities, typhoons there strike with devastation, bringing landslides and flooding and blowing down weak structures made of wood or the cheap aluminum and plastic siding (that lots of buildings have hammered on).  Wood and cheap siding just don't cut it in a typhoon but concrete does.

Just look at the devastation after Katrina in the US.  Taiwanese look to this kind of hurricane in America with amazement.  Not amazement about the typhoon force but about amazement about the destruction wrought in cities in their aftermath!  Well, there are a few reasons why cyclones don't bring the damage they do in America to homes.

First, homes are built with different materials.  Taiwanese city dwellings are built with concrete which stands a much better chance in the high winds.  What many Taiwanese don't know is that American homes are built with wooden structures.  Wood doesn't fare as well in the wind.  All it takes is for one small opening to let a strong wind take a whole house down.  If you want proof, watch this:

The second reason is better flood water management in the cities.  Big cities in Taiwan have got lots of flood water prevention systems, not the least being the flood water walls that you can find along the edge of rivers.  Remember the poorly built and maintained levees of New Orleans?  'Nuff said.

So in the end, if there is a lesson to be learned from all this then it is that of the Three Little Pigs.  When the big, bad wolf comes knocking on your door during a typhoon, if your house is made of concrete and brick, you stand the best chance and, in fact, are quite safe.  Let's hope you aren't the pig caught in the house made of straw or sticks...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Telling Asians Apart

Ohhhh, I love these kinds of things: people thinking they can tell each other apart and categorize.

I've posted similar stuff about types of girls in Japan before ( but this one is far more interesting.

So what do you think of this take? Is it really so possible to differentiate and, if so, how many people could actually do it with any decent accuracy?

Weigh in folks! I'm thinking that determining differences is something akin to being a wine connoisseur; a lot of people think they can do it but the vast majority is pretty shit at it.

Watch this video and see how the whole differentiating process is so arbitrary:

It makes me wonder: what's the point in trying to tell each other apart anyhow? Could it have to do with the pecking order theory again? See

Will Taipei's MRT really look like this in 2020???

(Click on the image to see it full size)

Personally, I'm pessimistic and yet the designs have clearly been set and major pieces of the system are under construction.

This design goes well beyond what I've previously posted though.

What do you think?  Do you approve of the station locations?  What do you think should be done besides this system to improve public transportation?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Improv Everwhere Hit(s) Taipei

Improv Everwhere had their first event last weekend with moderate success. Catch the photos and videos here.

There will be a second Freeze activity held Sep 14 at 16:30 in front of the Taiwan Museum on the north side of 228 Park. Details here:
I assume it will be much like this:

More cool social experiments at:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

High Five - Taiwan Style

If you're familiar with the High Five guys and their work on Funny or Die then you'll get a kick out of this Taiwan version done by a couple of expats. Well done boys!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

幹!好熱 It's Freakin' Hot

Ok ok, it doesn't actually say those exact words but you get the idea. Popularized on Green Island, this slogan sure seems appropriate for these last few days with the mercury reaching up as high as 38C (100F) in Taipei City.

Thank god the convenience stores just started their summer beer sales events. Family mart offers 50% off any 3 beers while 7eleven has their regular selection plus several imports available. From now until July 27, buy 3 beers of any kind and get 21% off at 7eleven. They've kindly imported a few new beers 1664 Blanc from France (a fruity white beer), Longboard (lager) and Wailua (wheat with Passion Fruit) from Hawaii and Samuel Adams (bitter) from the Mainland US + a few others.

Stay frosty Taiwan!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Mascot for all Occasions

Whatever happened to recognizable animals for mascots?
Taiwan really goes all out with mascots. Teams have them. Products have them. Companies have them. The government agencies have them. Just about anything or anyone that wants to be something must have one.

I'm not sure it's always necessary to have mascots for every single thing but it does fit in line with making even the most boring or mundane things seem lively and/or cute be it Company XYZ's wingnut to the ROC's military. Amazingly though, a lot of mascots are very ambiguous looking such as the one in the picture for ShuLin City on a barren road in the middle of nowhere. What exactly is it supposed to be?

Feel free to send in your stories and pictures of the most ridiculous mascots you have seen in Taiwan or elsewhere.

UPDATE: I recently went to a Japanese cartoon culture exhibit that might share some light on why every organization is adopting mascots. See the last paragraph.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Soccer Hysteria soon coming to considerably Soccer-less Taiwan

World Cup 2010 is coming!  World Cup 2010 is coming!

Taiwanese will soon be going crazy with soccer madness with the Cup on the way.  The funny thing is, there is little to no general interest in soccer on the island (save for mostly expats who, I'm sure, love the sport to death).

So what are the most popular sports?  Well, baseball is still the most popular spectator sport.  I emphasize spectator sport as it is definitely not the sport that most people actually play.  That distinction belongs to basketball.  This is a statistical fact:
I've speculated in the past that, based on this trend of people actually playing a sport, basketball would eventually rise to the top of the sports heap in Taiwan.  This is not to mention the other factors that make basketball attractive, as opposed to baseball and soccer, such as the lower level of organization needed, the smaller playing area required and, very important in Taiwan's hot weather, the ability to play indoors.
And what about soccer you say?  Well, there are pockets of support across Taiwan but it doesn't show any signs of interest and expansion like basketball definitely does.  It exists, for the moment, due primarily to expat enthusiasm (as does ice hockey for that matter).

So enjoy the momentary soccer euphoria coming to Taiwan come the World Cup.  It will be quite short-lived

For more background information about Taiwan sport:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New DaAn Sports Center

A new BOT sports facility has opened in the DaAn District.  The gym costs only NT$50 an hour but the fee is only $25/hr until the end of the month for the new opening. No membership necessary much like the other facilities (see

The facilities are great and the building is sparkling clean.  Check it out!

Kill Pig Day and MORE

Marc Scott is a budding video maker based in Taiwan.  Catch his latest work entitled "Kill Pig Day" at the link below:

Marc's Taipei Film Network has plenty more video links.  Check them out: facebook

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Taiwanese Ladies Flock to Bangkok

Admittedly, I got suckered into it. I spent almost a week of my 20 days in Thailand in Bangkok - shopping!

Westerners typically think of Thailand as a beach resort destination (think Phuket and Phi Phi Island) for fun in the sun and sea, not to mention getting a tan. It soon became clear for me that there was only so much sand, sun and sea that my Taiwanese wife could take. You see, Taiwan's upwardly mobile city girls mostly aspire to have lily white skin (there is a reason for this since having a tan, historically, meant that you came from a poor, working class background, much like having a farmer's tan, hence the Chinese expression that stems from this: 一百遮十丑 yi bai zhe shi chou (one white covers up ten uglinesses)).

If you didn't know already, however, THE hot destination for young Taiwanese ladies is Bangkok. It's due mainly to the impact of one book:
女王i曼谷 ("i" as in 愛) - The Queen Loves Bangkok

Who is the Queen (her nickname) you say? Well it's a young lady named Chen Yi-li. She is a celebrity among the single ladies crowd. Read this interesting WSJ article to find out more:
It turns out she is an icon of single Taiwanese ladies. The article covers the single lady phenomena and also talks about the low birth rate and, of course, Yi-li herself and the success of her books.

On a side note, all this breaking the female market into categories stuff reminds me of a cartoon I saw in TIME magazine years ago:
Accordingly, the single Taiwanese girls described in the article seem to be a blend, kind of like career girl with little princess mixed in and the troubled with men and passion aspect of desperate housewife and bad girl thrown in.

Back to the shopping in Bangkok part. What I didn't know before the trip was that Taiwanese girls were reading Yi-li's book like a bible, much as Westerners hang on to their Lonely Planets when traveling, except that Yi-li's book is focused on (clean) fashionable hotel accommodation, sometimes fancy eating joints and all the shopping you can shake a stick at. It even has advice on how to soothe those sore shop-a-holic legs and feet with creams, stretches and prodigious Thai massage.

Well, the secret is out. The book has inspired scores of Taiwanese girls (and the girl's shopping bag touting boy-toy suckers, if any) to flock to Bangkok. There is ample evidence for this based on the cheap flights to Bangkok (our AirAsia flight was NT$6000/person round trip Taipei-Bangkok), hotels in Yi-li's book full of chatty Taiwanese and the shopping malls and markets where Mandarin speaking is definitely on the rise (to be fair, the cat is out of the bag for other Chinese in the Chinese speaking world as well like Hong Kong, Singapore and Mainland China). Many shoppers openly carry Yi-li's book while shopping.

They are also cutting out the middle (wo)men. While visiting the markets, especially the wholesale goods market near Siam Center (Taipei has one called Wu Fen Pu but I have to say that Bangkok's blow that one out of the water!), it became clear that Taiwanese merchants were buying up stuff in Bangkok by the truck loads. Now that I'm back in Taiwan, I recognize the styles and patterns of many of the items I saw in the Bangkok markets. Of course, the prices of the same items in Taipei are several times the price in Bangkok. As the ladies travel there in large numbers, 3 or more of many items nets you a wholesale price at a fraction of the Taiwanese cost.

One super popular non-wholesale destination is the largest NaRaYa store. NaRaYa cloth handbags etc. are sold in locations in Taiwan as well at a considerable markup. In the Bangkok store, Taiwanese were snatching them up at really cheap prices like there was no tomorrow. The shop was swarming (see pic)!

We'll see how the political situation in Bangkok impacts on this Taiwanese lady travel shopping trend but from the looks of it, girls have continued to travel there right through this current school break. With the protests recently taking a turn to the violent (AirAsia has even offered to convert tickets to go to other destinations as a result), Bangkok's good shopping thing may have some rough days ahead.

BTW, we had a great trip in the end, thank you! Enjoy the pics:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nurturing Kinmen's Trees

Here's a cool little story that I heard from my father-in-law about his days on JinMen island, just off the coast of Xiamen, as a soldier in the 1950s.  At that time there was serious fighting and the island was armed to the teeth with soldiers and weapons. 

He recounts that one officer had the common sense of realizing that to stay indefinitely on the island wouldn't be feasible without trees.  Without trees, he argued, keeping people on the island wasn't sustainable.  Apparently JinMen was a little barer than it looks today. 

So he made it mandatory that all soldiers planted a tree upon their tour of duty.  But that's not all.  The officer tied the well being of the soldier to the survival of the tree.  If the soldier didn't take care of and nurture his tree, he would face the consequences. I think that's a novel idea.  It's funny how enlightened (under military rule of course) thinking like this can have a positive effect for the long term of the island. 

This follows exactly with what Jared Diamond warns about in his book Collapse when describing how the culture on Easter Island collapsed after all the trees on the island were chopped down (among other things).  He also cites the case of Dominican Republic which instituted their national forest program under a dictatorship.  The Dominican Republic now has a very healthy forest system while Haiti on the other side of the shared island suffers with most of its trees chopped down.

Questions of Mixed Race and the Birth Rate

Catching up on my article material, I've been meaning on writing up this one for some time. A while ago there was a great story in TIME about a contestant for the Chinese equivalent of American Idol:,8599,1925589,00.html

In it, we are introduced to Lou Jing "Born to a Chinese mother and an African-American father whom she has never met.",8599,1945937,00.html

So there you have it. Taiwan's societal makeup is changing in ways never imagined. The question of what is Taiwanese may in fact be a moot point in a matter of years when a large portion of the population is actually a combination and well on its way to becoming quite a mixed society.

Poor Lou Jing had the unfortunate fate of facing the xenophobia that occurs in the Chinese world, especially towards people of darker skin (even in Taiwan). Here's hope that seemingly homogeneous societies like Taiwan can come to terms with a more heterogeneous future.

With that, I leave you with Liu Xin Mei (pictured). She's 4'10" and she's African/Chinese. And smokin'. What a combination!

Lessons from Taiwan's Public Health System

 I have marveled at Taiwan's Health Care System since I have lived here on the island.  It costs so little but provides so much, even, to my surprise, dental.

Basically everyone pays into the system on a monthly basis and, if you need to visit a doctor, then there is a deductible of NT$50 (unless you get one of those doctors who extra-bills).  There are some annoying things about it such as making multiple trips to the doctor (one filling at a time) and the overdoing it in the pill area (giving you massive amounts of individually packaged pills).

If you are wondering how the system came to be, read this great article that looks at the genesis of the system that exists today and its good and bad points.

"William Hsiao is a professor of economics at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of the 2004 book “Getting Health Reform Right.” He served as a health care adviser to the Taiwan government in the 1990s, when officials decided to reform that country’s health care system and to introduce universal coverage."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Have white guys got it all wrong?

"[I]s it possible that Westerners, on average, have thinking styles that make them ill-suited for the problems of the future while Asians have styles that make them better suited?"

I put this out there.  Are we doomed?  It's an interesting little debate.

Orchids are Big Business

 Orchids are quite commonplace in Taiwan.  These parasitic plants are sold in flower markets across the island.  They can be found potted in wood waste rather than the traditional soil that grows other plants.

They are also big business in Taiwan with Taiwanese businesses working to cut the cost of the flowers down and make big bucks in the process.  In fact you can find huge nurseries like the one in the pictures below run by JinChe (Gold Cart), makers of Mr. Brown Coffee and Kavalan whisky in YiLan and elsewhere.

My father would be jealous to know that our orchids at home flourish without much attention in the moist and relatively warm weather of Taiwan.

Most Expensive Fallow Fields on Earth

Found this great article about the vacant property found right facing the 101 tower that many visitors pass by and wonder about.

"Insulated from modern Taipei by a thin wall of knotweed, a gingham-shirted farmer adjusts his wellies and sprays insecticide on what, at an estimated $1.2 million (£725,000) each, are probably the most expensive cabbages on Earth."

>> Watch the video

CNY English Fail

Spot that Flag?

The Simpsons 2010 Winter Olympics episode featured a flag in the background that we all recognize if only for a few fleeting instances. Was it on purpose to piss off China? Was it a jab? Who knows?

Did Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) have anyone representing them in the Winter Olympics anyhow?
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