Tags: taiwan (台灣)

[ domo ]

Conflict in East Asia

If you've been following the news recently you've no doubt heard about North Korea's artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on the afternoon of 23 November. If, by some chance, you aren't aware of what's happened you can get a quick summary of events from any number of sources -- such as Yahoo News and BusinessWeek. Before the start of classes today one third grade boy got my attention to talk about events:

"Teacher, did you watch the news?"
"I didn't watch the news, but I heard about North Korea."
"Yes. There was a big 폭팔 (explosion)."
"That's right. 무서워? (Is it scary?)"
"No ... it's exciting!"

I have to admit though that the scariest thing (in my mind) to come out of North Korea over the past week has been their synchronized swimming team at the 16th Asian Games. But that's probably because I'm not a big fan of plastic smiles and nose clips.

In addition to affairs between North and South Korea, there also appears to be some tension developing between South Korea and Taiwan due to the disqualification of a Taiwanese athlete from the Taekwondo competition. While checking out Asian Games photos on DayLife (which I highly recommend) I came across the following:

South Korean students and a woman go into a Korean school in Taipei on November 23, 2010 which was hit with eggs several times the past few days as anti-Korean sentiment increased after a taekwondo row at the Asian Games. Taiwan's taekwondo star Yang Shu-chun was disqualified from the Asian Games in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou last week, setting off a wave of anti-Korean ire across the island where irate fans have blamed South Korean judges for kicking her out of the competition. Organisers of a Taiwanese film festival said on November 23 that South Korean pop groups would not be invited to perform.

Doing a quick web search shed some additional light on the situation, with the BBC reporting on the incident that led to her disqualification and China Post offering information on the aftermath in Taiwan with this article. The general idea from the latter source is that some Taiwanese internet users believe Yang Shu-chun's disqualification was an attempt to make the quarterfinal easier for Korean competitors by removing one of the stronger competitors in the sport.

The technical committee member who disqualified Yang is Hong Sung Chon, an ethnic Korean from the Philippines, while the World Taekwondo Federation's Secretary-General, Yang Jin-suk of South Korea, has reportedly been unable to give a consistent explanation for why the Taiwanese athlete was disqualified. From the China Post article:

The egg-throwing incident was the latest of a series of anti-Korea moves launched by angry Taiwanese, who have called for a boycott of South Korean goods, foods, television programs and entertainers.

Dozens of posts from Taiwanese users were also posted late Friday and early Saturday on the Facebook page of Cheongwadae, South Korea's presidential office, before being removed, with most users blasting the country for its unfair treatment of taekwondo star Yang Shu-chun.

And for those wondering, later news articles (for example, this one from Taiwan News) indicate that the man responsible for the school eggings has been caught by police. Apparently it didn't take much work, as he was standing outside of the school on Monday morning, once again throwing eggs past the main gate.
[ waldo ]

Buddha Carving

Relaxing Buddha (?) on display at Taoyuan International Airport

I love traveling somewhere and finding hidden treasures that one wouldn't otherwise see. Sure, museums are generally a good place to find examples like the wood carving featured above, but to find one at the arrival hall of an airport was a treat and rather refreshing.
[ psych » pineapple ]

Taiwan Trip » Surprise Meetings

You know those shirts that people make: "I went to ______ and all I got was this lousy shirt"? Well, I went to Taiwan last week and came back with a lot. As is always the case when I visit Taipei I came back with quite a few CDs - 15 this time around - and also managed to take a little over 600 photos before the battery in my camera died. This was a real shame, as my friend had taken me to an out of the way folk village in the mountains of central Taiwan that may not be serviced by local buses any more, stopped carrying English brochures several years ago (the woman selling tickets found one for me after digging around an old filing cabinet), and had closed down a few of their features. We did eventually find a disposable camera at a souvenir shop - the last one they had - though I still need to get the film developed. Not surprisingly I also picked up quite a few souvenirs for friends and students throughout my trip.

Perhaps the most unusual 'thing' I came back with is my very own stalker.

My initial plan had been to explore the area around Taipei for all but a single day of my trip -- with January 1st set aside to visit a friend in Houli (后里), central Taiwan, for lunch and an afternoon of socializing. However, the New Year holiday made finding a room for December 31st somewhat challenging. After a phone call to my friend she suggested I spend the night at her family's home rather than wasting my vacation time trying to find a new place to stay. Since she had to work until 10pm and would be attending a church event after that for several hours we decided that the best option would be for me to take an 11pm train from Taipei that would arrive in Houli at 2am.

My neighbor on the train was a 25 year old Taiwanese girl who had just broken up with her boyfriend and was traveling to visit a friend of hers that didn't live that far from Houli. After 45 minutes of conversation I gave her my name card and not long after that she asked to hold hands. She was still visibly upset over a fight with her boyfriend - she started crying once or twice during our chat - and I thought doing so might make her feel a little better. At midnight she asked me to kiss her. I asked her thrice if she was sure she wanted to do that, and each time she said yes. Surprised that my questioning hadn't broken the mood I leaned over and kissed her. Probably not what she had in mind at the start of the day, but maybe that was a decent way to salvage the evening?

Taipei Railway Station at night

However, after our kiss(es), my train companion said that, because we had held hands and I had kissed her, we were now boyfriend and girlfriend. Talk about cultural misunderstandings. I tried to apologize and explain that our actions didn't carry the same connotations in an American context - or at least the American context that I'm accustomed to - but she wasn't budging. But wait, that's not all. This girl wanted to ditch her friend to stay with me at my friend's house in Houli. There was absolutely no way that I was going to impose on my friend even further by bringing an extra guest with me (ignoring the fact that I didn't particularly relish spending the night with a girl I had just met who was claiming we were already in a relationship), which prompted the girl to change her request to us sharing a motel room together in Taichung, a large city nearby.

That meant bailing on my friend and I wasn't going to do that, either. Which caused the girl to start crying and proclaiming her love for me. She seemed genuinely shocked that I hadn't fallen in love with her as well. I pointed out that I was leaving the country that Saturday - in the hope that would make her lose interest - but she seemed fine with that, so long as I was willing to promise her that I would "never fall in love with another girl". After reaching Houli I thought that would be the end of things, but she was waiting at the airport for me on Saturday afternoon!

From the sound of things she had been there for three or four hours before I showed up, which would be endearing if it wasn't so creepy. The girl wanted to kiss me, hold hands, and carry my bags at the airport but I refused all of her requests / offers. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. While taking care of affairs at the check-in counter she hung back a little before finally coming up and exchanging a few sentences with the man helping me. Afterward she commented on how much she hates airports and when I asked why - plus what she had said to the check-in employee in Chinese - the girl said that she had asked for my personal information and the employee had refused to give it to her. (Thank you, anonymous Eva Airlines employee!)

She wants to visit me in Korea now and the name card I gave her does include my academy's phone number and address. I sincerely hope that the price and distance are great enough to dissuade her from actually making the trip here ...

[ msn: it's cold ]

Breaking My Camera the Week Before Vacation ...

Our academy's winter vacation is coming up next week, and as part of my time off I will be spending four days in Taiwan before returning to Korea for a meeting with Amanda during her trip to Korea. So naturally, while taking photos in my apartment on Tuesday, I went and accidentally dropped my camera -- rendering it inoperable. Granted, it's a Canon point-and-shoot that I've had for the better part of five years now and already had a piece rattling around inside, but I've been pleased with its performance so far and it's been a nice camera to use while progressing from factory settings to playing around with some of the manual functions. Now I have four days to find a replacement if I'm to take any photos from my journey to Ilha Formosa.

I've considered buying a DSLR camera since the summer but kept putting it off. Now might be a good time to make the transition, though I'm not overly fond of spending that much money without carefully weighing my options. While it sounds like Namdaemun and Yongsan are the two main destinations for camera shopping in Seoul, getting a decent price from a reputable seller and with a decent A/S (warranty) could be challenges if I go on my own and shop to a deadline. (Just as an aside, I had been thinking about a Canon EOS 5D, EOS Rebel XS, or Nikon D3000.)

With that in mind, picking up a replacement point-and-shoot doesn't sound like a bad idea. The idea of buying something that runs off a pair of AA batteries is also appealing, as they're not exactly a hard item to find in urban areas. Plus, if I'm underwhelmed with how the new point-and-shoot works I'll only be out a couple hundred dollars. After spending the last two days looking up reviews of point-and-shoot models though, it's hard to make a choice. There are a number of different functions that look appealing -- zoom is nice if I'm stuck at the back of a crowd for a cultural event and macro settings are great for entomological photos, while easy access to different settings, portability, and the aforementioned AA battery usage all come into play as well.

The models I read about come from Canon, Fujifilm, Samsung, and Panasonic. What's a consumer with time constraints to do -- roll a d20 and hope for the best?

Returning to the topic of my trip to Taiwan, I'll be visiting one of my Flickr contacts who I have never met before. When I proposed visiting Danshui (淡水) during my stay he replied with:

On the 29th, I will be in the office. So maybe we can visit some spots not far from Danshui. Not sure about if you like hot spring, and it's odd to meet with you totally naked for the first time......hahaha But there's a good vegetarian restaurant in "Beitou".

The transition is humorous to me, anyway. And while I know a vacation is meant to be a time to relax and enjoy oneself, I've always been kind of uncomfortable with the idea of spending time at a hot spring or getting a massage when I could be out doing other things. On one of my earlier trips I had two female friends suggest getting a massage and I voted to visit a night market instead. Then again, when it comes to activities in Taiwan, eating will almost always win.

[ statuary ]

Buddha's Palm

There's a great description of the Sino-Korean expression "부처님 손바닥 안에 있다" / "You are on Buddha's palm" going on at Amanda Takes Off that's well worth checking out. For background I'll tell you that it involves Sun Wukong (孫悟空; known as Monkey King in the West) from the tale 'Journey to the West' (西遊記) -- but to learn the rest you'll have to follow the link to Amanda's site.

My interest was caught by the discussion on account of not only having read 'Journey to the West' but also making the trip to Hsuan Tsang Temple (玄奘寺) - which claims to house the Sarira of Master Hsuan Tsang (or Xuán Zàng in Pinyin) - while visiting central Taiwan this past summer. To be honest I was a little surprised to see it described as 'almost required reading' for children given that none of my coworkers have even read the Korean historical accounts presented in the Samgak Yusa, but then I do have to admit that 'Journey to the West' is probably the more interesting story. (Plus, some creative license would likely need to take place with the Samguk Yusa in order to change the rape from Cheoyong's story into something more acceptable for young audiences.)

Sandy (사오정), Monkey (손오공), Xuanzang (삼장법사), and Pigsy (저팔계) from this site

'Journey to the West' has been used in a variety of contexts - a Wikipedia list of media adaptations covers everything from video games to science fiction novels and 19th century Japanese prints - but some of my favorite have been recent shorts aimed at hipper, urban audiences. The first example is a commercial created by Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn (from Gorillaz) for BBC Sport to advertise their 2008 Olympics coverage; the other two clips are the work of designer Ryosuke Tei for MTV Asia/China

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[ hong lou meng ]

Zhishan Neighborhood, Taipei

While in Taiwan last February I made a trip out to see the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines (順益台灣原住民博物館) but was foiled in my attempt on account of an ill-timed bout of construction. Not wanting to waste my time spent on the bus - and having already seen the jade cabbage and meat-shaped stone in the National Palace Museum - I wandered around Indigenous People's Park and the surrounding area. Exploring one of the side streets between the two museums led me to a bridge and stream with egrets and herons that was a pleasant place to relax on a hot day. Perhaps the most interesting find in the neighborhood was a shrine located on a street corner near the Shung Ye Museum. The shrine wasn't associated with any buildings - just standing on its own - but any time a pedestrian passed by they made sure to stop and bow before continuing on their way.

To reach the National Palace Museum and Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines take the MRT to Shilin Station (Red Line), exit to Zhongzheng Rd (north exit), and catch Bus 304, 255, Red 30, Minibus 18 or 19, or Culture Bus 101.
(Directions courtesy of Lonely Planet: Taiwan, 7th edition)

Edit: The deity in the center of the shrine appears to be 'The Great Spirit of the Earth' (福德正神) according to this site. The white beard, facial expression, gold ingots, and ru yi (如意) all seem to match, anyway.

[ can you hear me now? ]

Migrant Work and Language Barriers

Following my trip to Taiwan I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the role that language plays in the life of immigrants and migrant workers -- not least because I am now a part of that very demographic. With that in mind, my discovery of the following L.A. Times piece was particularly well-timed. The whole article - two pages long - is definitely worth reading, but here's an excerpt from the beginning:

American justice in a foreign language

L.A. is known as a mecca for court interpreters, but when a defendant or witness speaks a rare dialect, officials may resort to unusual remedies.

The international phone line connecting a downtown Los Angeles courtroom to a cellphone 1,500 miles away in Texcoco, Mexico, was repeatedly disconnected and difficult to hear at times.

But on that line hung the constitutional rights of Candido Ortiz, accused of drunkenly stabbing a man with a broken beer bottle and charged with attempted murder. Ortiz, 20, spoke only a variant of Mixe, a language used by about 7,000 people in the mountains of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

In a case that is unusual even for Los Angeles, a place that some call the mecca of court interpreters, officials were unable to find anyone in the United States who could translate for Ortiz. A three-month search eventually led officials to Eduardo Diaz, a university student in Mexico.

Due to events during and after World War Two and the Cold War English has become an important, global lingua franca, so if an accident were to happen to me here in Korea - of either a medical or criminal nature - it would not take long before someone was found to interpret on my behalf. While the same probably holds true for my Korean classmates from China, Japan, and Russia, I also wonder how easy it is to find a Nepalese, Igbo, or Khmer speaker in areas outside the national capital. (That last one is particularly relevant in association with this news report from last month. And the comments here suggest that finding English-speaking staff may be a little more hit-or-miss than I first imagined.)

Menu Today by 愛攝影的史奴比(Snoopy Photographer)

One of the things that immediately stood out during my evening strolls through downtown Taipei was the relative lack of English-language signs for street vendors. There's absolutely no reason why these stalls should have signs in anything other than Chinese - after all, English has no official status in the Republic of China - but at the same time it did make the process of getting a late-night snack a much more difficult endeavor. (Trust me, I would have been a very happy man were I able to spend the whole night munching on assorted goodies.) I recognize a couple of the characters in the photo above, and know how to pronounce them, but for the most part my ordering strategy would need to rely on point-and-hope.

The composition of Chinese characters involves the use of radicals that can often provide clues to an underlying property or semantic category of a word. For example, the radical 山 (mountain) is used for 屴 (lofty), 嵠 (gorge or, more literally, 'a valley with a stream in it'), and even 峰 (which can mean 'peak', 'summit', or 'the hump of a camel'). Knowing that the final character from those three contains the mountain radical by no means makes it possible to guess at the meaning 'camel's hump', but it does aid in remembering previously-learned characters. Great if you've already learned it somewhere before, not so great if you're looking at a menu and trying to figure out what to order or how to pronounce the name of a random dish. I studied Mandarin for a year in university, but the more I study Korean the harder it is for me to remember anything from class.

Unforgettable Food of Korea by |__ianno__|

Meanwhile, since Korean is written with an alphabet (한글; Hangul), it's possible to enter a restaurant and order something even if you have no idea what you just said. This is especially helpful, since despite attending class for two hours every day for the past four and a half months my Korean is far from fluent. I've had a few people tell me that I speak better than the other foreigners they've met, but it doesn't come anywhere close to what I've heard used by the Central Asian migrant workers in my neighborhood, or some of the other English teachers I'm in contact with. And it's nowhere near good enough to understand court proceedings or describe various health problems. Thinking about it now, my medical vocabulary only extends far enough to talk about sore limbs and illnesses of the stomach, head, and throat -- which usually don't require a trip to the doctor. (Alright, 수술 / surgery is another word I know ...)

I've been toying with the idea of moving to Taiwan after my current contract finishes. I've been there before - just as I'd been to Korea before I started working here - and I have friends in the country, but one thing that still terrifies me is the prospect of moving to a place where I will be, in essence, completely illiterate. The other week I was at a department store asking an employee - in Korean - if she thought it was possible to use a different blade for my razor since they no longer carry the ones I need. To go from something approaching basic competence (okay, not really, but a guy can dream, can't he?) to complete ignorance is ... well, scary. And this is without considering the possibility of my legal rights being on the line.