Wednesday, June 30, 2010

binary states

The constant switch from sweltering heat and humidity to arctic cold a/c environs is starting to make my skin crawl.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Modern Chinese Riddle

Forever it seems that I am Lost in Translation- Taiwan style. I continue my travails in this modern Chinese riddle where nothing ever really makes sense. Case in point came tonight for my second Chinese class. I had two hours to kill before class so I walked around aimlessly and poached internet and space from Starbucks. As class approached, I wandered in to the building and passed one of my classmates- an Indonesian named Michel, having dinner in the school lobby. He reminded me that the class was in another room tonight, so I headed up to B207. I walked all over the second floor finding no 207B but only computer labs so I returned to find him. We both checked and found nothing so we returned to the main lobby to ask. They sent us up to the fourth floor to ask the Foreigner language desk.

There was a long line to take the even elevator (because why would an elevator go to all floors) so we waited to take the odd elevator up to the fifth floor so we could walk down. On the odd elevator door was a poem by one Robert Frost:
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Too apt, I said to my new Indonesian friend. We went up to the fifth, then down to the fourth only to be told that B207 was the BASEMENT. Of course. Not sure if negatives counted in the even/odd mix, we hopped a service elevator that hit all floors. Finally we broke through the confusion to find out classroom- only to enter a whole new world of confusion.

But I also found joy in the fun of attempting a whole new language with all new patterns and challenges. I smiled as I stumbled over the tonal mix of sounds. I may never truly understand this place but I am reminded that patience and acceptance are far more useful than understanding.

High vs. Low Politics

Over a very interesting series of discussions with my fellow fellows, a notion popped up on the nature of high politics versus low politics in a social sense related to what kind of issues NGOs in China could engage. The notion that local Chinese NGOs have a bit of freedom in dealing with environmental issues, womens rights issues but labor (see: Jude Howell) becomes a more difficult issue to organize around.

My friend Taru, who is an expert on Chinese NGOs, said that it is entirely not so exact. It is less the issue and more how you address the issue.

So to all my geeky PD friends, I throw out the question of whether we could create a classification of social high politics vs. low politics, or would that only apply to more closed socities?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pick up a substitute driver at 7-11

An interesting story in the Taipei Times about picking up a substitute driver as well as a cab for drunks at 7-11:

To access the service, customers must click on the substitute driver service icon on an ibon machine and enter their cellphone number. Within 10 minutes, Taiwan Taxi Co will send a cab and along with a substitute driver to the convenience store where the customer has placed the request. The substitute driver will drive and park the person’s car at an agreed-upon location.

The basic charge is NT$1,000 for a travel distance within 10km. Taiwan Taxi will calculate the additional cost for travel distances exceeding 10km. For customers in the latter category, the substitute driver will explain the additional cost first and will only provide the service when the service charge is agreed upon.
Great idea although I am a little skeptical about a drunk being able to plan out the steps involved.

New pics up from Kaohsiung

From Bullet train & Lotus Lake (Kaouhsiung)

From View from Cijin island and bullet back

From Kaohsiung above & nite


That "climategate" story was retracted. Morons. To paraphrase Rostenkowski, now where do we go to get our ice caps back?

First Contact

I was watching Star Trek First Contact this evening. As a crew member climbed into an airduct, she called out "保 羅" and I recognized my name. First contact indeed.

Primer on ECFA

Not sure how much coverage this event got on the other side of the Pacific but over here ECFA is the biggest news issue. Here is a good primer piece on the deal that creates closer economic linkage between Taiwan and China. A supreme bit of irony that the deal is being signed in Chongqing, the former capital of the KMT. The opposition DPP are supremely not happy and had a soaked rally yesterday through the capital. Differing reports claim 100k vs. 32k protesters, with the latter figure looking to be correct.

The PD implications are pretty vital. The deal represents China's realization that if it wants to deal with Taiwan in any meaningful way, threats of force are not the ticket. Rather this is a bit of political and economic PD from China to Taiwan in the form of a lot of trade concessions. For Taiwan, the deal offers economic access both to China and expectedly towards a free trade agreement with ASEAN. The Economist blog explains it all very well and notes:
While Taiwanese negotiators did not get everything they asked for—PVC and polyethylene, important Taiwanese exports, were left out after months of wrangling—the terms of the deal still seem remarkably sweet for Taiwan. The 539 categories of Taiwanese exports are worth $13.8 billion, while Taiwan in turn will reduce tariffs for only 267 categories of Chinese exports, worth $2.9 billion. What is more, China has gone beyond its World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirements by dropping tariffs on various Taiwanese agricultural and fishing products, and Chinese negotiators said they would never push Taiwan to return the favour.

Cherrypicking my PD interests, the deal and closer ties therein are expected to boost cross-strait tourism. The Bloomberg piece notes:
The trade deal is the latest sign of rapprochement between the two civil war foes. Since Ma took office, direct air, shipping and postal links have been established. In the first five months of this year, 70,445 Chinese visited Taiwan, 70 percent more than in the corresponding period a year earlier, according to Taiwan Tourism Bureau numbers.
Interestingly, the Shongshan airport in Taipei had been doing very poorly since the opening of the bullet train, but the opening of tourist flights between Shanghai-Taipei via Shongshan is helping stave off the airport from being grounded.

Meanwhile, the Economist notes that there is a component in the deal to strengthen intellectual property rights between Taiwan and the PRC, which is especially important for Taiwanese Mandarin-language entertainment. Taiwanese cultural entertainment and programming is big in the mainland and this helps protect it from piracy.

There are real soft power nuances and possible socialization effects that are rife in the deal. Many in Taiwan view this deal with apprehension in that it could squeeze the island too close into China's orbit; I take a contrary view it and see this more as a possible Trojan horse for Taiwan to help socialize privatization and liberalization in mainland. Don't underestimate Taiwan's private sector assets- the guerrilla capitalists behind the Taiwanese Tiger. I will return to this as it continues to unfold, and will be sure to write more about the PD implications of such a deal.

Futbol v. Terrorism

The American Prospect has a good piece on terrorists battling futbol.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I am not even dust

A beautiful poem by Borges in the vein of Everything and Nothing:

I am not even dust by Jorge Luis Borges

I do not want to be who I am. Petty luck
Has offered me the seventeenth century,
The dust and constitution of Castile,
The things that come and come again, the morning
That, promising today, gives us the evening,
The patter of the barber and the priest,
The loneliness that time continues leaving
And one illiterate and idle niece.
I am a man of years. A casual page
Revealed the unused voices that had been
Pursuing me, Urganda and Amadis.
I sold my acres and procured the books
that recollect completely the campaigns:
The grail, which received the human blood
Poured out for our salvation by the Son,
The idol of Mohammed, made of gold,
The parapets, the battlements, the banners
And all the operations of the magic.
The knights of Christianity spilled over
The Kingdoms of the world, to vindicate
Insulted dignity, or to impose
Justice with the edges of a sword.
Please God, let one be sent to reinstate
That noble practice in our century.
My dreams anticipate it. I have felt it
At moments in my celibate, sad flesh.
I don't yet know his name. But I, Quijano,
Will be that champion. I will be my dream.
In the historic house there is a shield
Of long ago and a stainless blade of Toledo
And an authentic lance and the true books
That promise to my arm full victory.
To my arm? My visage (which I have not seen)
Has never cast its image in the mirror.
I am not even dust. I am a dream
That weaves itself in sleep and wakefulness.
My brother and my father, Captain Cervantes,
Fought nobly on the waters of Lepanto,
Learned Latin and a little Arabic...
That I might be allowed to dream the other
Whose fertile memory will be a part
Of all the days of man, I humbly pray:
My God, my dreamer, keep on dreaming me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I had a bit of an adventure trying to find mandarin classes. Since most classes are during the day, my options were limited. I found a tu-thurs night class that I was all set to sign up for. Then I found another that offered more hours for less money and started conveniently a week later. I was all set to sign up and pay for the classes, but the place told me they would let me know this week about when to come in and pay. By thurs, I was wondering and sent them another email. Sorry, they said, but not enough people to fill the class. Grrr...I wish they had been more forthcoming because the other program had started already this week. I headed over to the original class, signed up and paid a 300 NTD stupidity tax for not registering the previous week.

I went home, grabbed Nomi and we had some good Singaporean food for dinner before class. My han chicken rice was great, but her tofu veggie soup gave her a little surprise with clams at the bottom. Poor kosher girl has been hit with hidden pork floss and clam digs. We came back for the class, which she sat in as well. It was a riot. We spent two hours practicing the 4 different tones. First tone is a constant tone; second raises high; third dips and then goes up; fourth drops. It was hysterical, the class of gringos (Poles, Panamanians, Indonesians) desperately trying to hit the right tones, while the animated teacher made us try again and again. Nomi pointed out that all language teachers are similar in their animated style. It was something out of the SNL French class skit. I had to summon my inner kung fu chinese old man to hit the right tones via exaggerated mouthing of sounds, it looked pretty ridiculous.


Taking a riff on Diaz' famous quote, this one came up over dinner at General Pancho's. Pobre Formosa, tan lejos de Mexico y tan cerca de China.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Kaoshiung Incident

Blog title taken from one of the more formative events in Taiwanese democratic history. Nomi and I headed south on a morning bullet train to the Taiwanese second city of Kaohsiung. We hurtled southerly at 300km/h along the quadrangled agricultural plots and cardboard cutout cities of little distinction. We sped south and made the journey in roughly an hour and its half. We arrived to Gaoushung and wandered lost out of the train station and lost towards the lotus lake. A wrong turn out of the station led us astray but in the hot sweaty day we eventually found our way to the temple-lined lake thanks to a giant Buddha's head perched above the city. We dipped our feet in the lotus pond and walked around the lake, then made our way by mrt to the city center.

We made our way to the Love River that splits the city and headed toward the harbor to find a hostel. The hostel rented studio apartments and gave us a place on the seventh floor overlooking the "Rove River". Oh, Rove.

We wandered around the city, trying the popular betel nut, a mild stimulant nut wrapped in a leaf that is chewed, with the red juice spit out. It had a strong taste and made our tongues numb. The really strange part is that it made the chest and esophagus feel tight. After our nut adventure, we made our way to the 85 Sky Tower to watch the sunset. We took the ear-popping elevator to the top floor of Taiwan's former tallest building and watched the sun set and night lights come alive across the city.

The following day was Naomi's birthday. We wandered through the sweltering city past the banana pier and to the Gushan ferry. We took the little ferry ride to Cijin Island, a little sandbar of an island jutting off into the South China Seas. We walked along seafood alley until we got to the black sand beach for a swim. Taiwanese kids had water balloon fights as we swam in the warm beach waters. After drying off, we had a fresh fish lunch. We picked the sucker out from the ice and he was bbqed up for lunch. We ate him covered in garlic salt and the leftover garlic juice from some unnamed steamed greens. We moseyed slowly about the island, playing fierce invalids stranded in hot climates.

We returned to the isle and wandered around the Little Tokyo urban area filled with harajuku-esque girls before finding a decent Mexican place called General Pancho's, which satisfied a serious mex craving. Surprisingly good Mexican food a long way from Mexico. Probably the best Mexican food I have had away from the Americas.

We took the early morning bullet back to Taipei to return to the monsoon.

What the World Costs- Taiwan

Free: one betel nut to try
8 NTD: ($.24): ramen packet at 7-11 (surprisingly more expensive than US!)
10 NTD ($.30): grilled mushroom or tofu skewer on the street
15 NTF ($.45): gushan ferry to Cijin Island
16 NTD ($.48): metro ride on the MRT
18 NTD ($.55): bottle of water
20 NTD ($.61): ring of jasmine flowers
25 NTD ($.76): can of Mr. Brown's iced coffee; oodles of noodles
30 NTD ($.91): pearl milk (boba) tea
35 NTD ($1.06): medium Cafe Americano at 7-11; 1.5 kilos of rice
40 NTD ($1.21): order of stinky tofu; sea salt iced latte
45 NTD ($1.36): Noodle soup at a roadside noodle stand
46 NTD ($1.39): 500ml can of Taiwan Gold Medal beer
49 NTD ($1.48): 600ml bottle of Taiwan beer
50 NTD ($1.52): drycleaning for 1 dress shirt (gee, I pay that in the US)
70 NTD ($2.12): starting price for a cab
75 NTD ($2.27): medium Cafe Americano at Starbucks
80 NTD ($2.42): student entrance into the National Palace Museum
85 NTD ($2.58): 6 inch turkey sub at Subway; bowl of beef noodle soup
90 NTD ($2.73): bus from airport to Taipei
100 NTD ($3.03): bag of coffee; cake set at 85 sky tower
110 NTD ($3.33): Big Mac extra value meal at McDonalds (I couldn't eat any more noodles)
150 NTD ($4.55) pint of Warsteiner beer at Taipei Artists Village
180 NTD ($5.45): student ticket to Taipei Museum of Fine Arts; chicken burrito at Pancho's
200 NTD ($6.06): large Carlsburg at Tavern Premiere
280 NTD ($8.48): regular priced movie ticket for Prince of Persia (awful!)
315 NTD ($9.55): one night at Camels Island hostel
350 NTD ($10.61): shoe recobbling
400 NTD ($12.12): ride to the top of Taipei 101, the second-tallest building in the world
465 NTD ($14.09): whole fresh fish, bbq'ed in Cijin
500 NTD ($15.15): one month of Wifi around the city
885 NTD ($26.81): one night in studio apt in Kaohsiung 202 hostel
1,265 NTD ($38.33): Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) bullet train
6,400 NTD ($193.94): Beginners Mandarin, two days a week for 2 hrs.
7,500 NTD ($227.27): monthly rent for one room in a Taipei apartment
40,491 NTD (1,227): roundtrip, open-ended flight to Taiwan


I have noticed a few things about Taiwanese tats. First, given the once-popularity of chinese character tattoos in the US, some wondered if you could similarly find people in China with English words tattoed on their bodies. At least here on Taiwan, the trend I have seen is not words inked in English but rather in Sanskrit. Perhaps something related to the Buddhist culture here as well. Also, rather than trashy tramp-stamps, the inkerati femmes here prefer the locale of the meeting of the back of the neck to the shoulders as the home of permanent paint. My own two kwai is that the body is a work of art not a canvas.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

sunny days in Tapei

I was joined on my island adventure by one Ms. NomiLite. She had been adventuring in SE Asia, by way of Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand. She popped in on her way back to Lalaland and we have been playing touristy. She arrived wednesday night and we spent thursday at the immense National Palace Museum, which hosts the dragons' share of Chinese imperial art and artwork. It was either preserved or looted, depending who you ask, as the KMT left mainland. The collection was most impressive, even more considering that it was only a tenth of the amount of stuff the museum holds.

Through the museum, I was left wondering what the world would have been like if China had discovered the new world. I had all sorts of imaginations of the Middle Kingdom trading televisions jade and computers abacuses with the new world. Offering pottery to the Aztecs, sending envoys to the Inkas and forging ties with the Mayans. History changed completely, with the flow of the world heading east to west and the Chinese kicking off a very different age of discovery. Maybe that is what this new century is about.

After the palace museum, we found ourselves an 85C for a sea salt iced coffee. It was a normal coffee with a big dollop of sea salt heavy cream. At first it was a little peculiar, but once sugar syrup was added, it became an iced salted caramel coffee, yum. We continued to wander around the area, in the bustling Shilin night market before heading back.

The next day we went to the top of the Taipei 101 tower, formerly the largest tower in the world. It's funny, because it doesn't look that tall. We took the fastest-moving elevator up to the top and peered out over the sprawling city. The sun burnt pink and peach above and we took in the view. In the evening, we went to the Raohe Night Market, where we gorged on little snacks. We ate fun things like pizza cones, delicious fried duck neck and bbq tofu jerky.

Saturday was spent wandering around the city. We headed over to the Chang Kai-Shek memorial, which was a little more interesting with a big NBA day celebration out front. Courts with NBA signs and hoops along with plenty of pics of NBA players showing their height and wingspan. Great PD from the NBA, the thing that was missing was any connection to the US. Good pd opportunity, buy seemingly no partnership with its American parentage. The embassies (and AIT here) would be wise to partner and collaborate for good pd. The American pavilion got excoriated for partnering too heavily with corporate interests, but perhaps the problem is that it is partnering with the wrong corporations. Having a little presence at an NBA day works, letting Corporate America do your diplomatic heavylifting at the Shanghai Pavilion doesn't.

Anywho, we wandered in and out and off to Beitou, a hotspring area to the north. We went to the public baths for a little bizarre hot spring action as strangers in a strange land of Taiwanese water brotherhood. We dipped from bubbling bath going from hot to boiling, while the Taiwanese looked on in surprise at the farang about. The last pool was 42 degrees celsius, and I couldn't take it- I felt like a carrot in soup. The trip back down the pools gave a reminder of absolute versus relative, and a gandhi quote I am looking for.

We continued our trip north to Danshui to wander along the river for dinner. Barges shot fireworks into the purple night sky and we dined at the Red Castle, an old colonial British fort.

A slow moving day over to the Yongmingshan national park for a hike up a stone pathway up a mountain that was less interesting given its paved nature. We came back into town to find a place called Sababa for some welcome hummus. Amazing how the chick pea can be so comforting in a world of noodles. Off to the south tomorrow on a bullet train.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Gulf

The BP oil spill somehow seems sadly like the most perfect metaphor for America.

On another note Obama should send Al Gore to the Gulf and make him special envoy for the situation.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why did Constantinople get the works?

...That's nobody's business but the Turks. Tom Friedman has a very good piece talking Turkey.

So if we now have a tough Turkey who wants to play in the big leagues, then how about offering a little leadership for the Kyrgz crizis. If you want to be a regional powerhouse, that is your new backyard. Time to step up. Maybe you want to send a humanitarian flotilla to help out?

A Pakistani PS.

A stink too far

While I might have won round one against stinky tofu, it sure came back and knocked me on my ass for round two. It all begins last friday as I was killing time before shabbat services (of which I still need to write about for the Tales blog). I was wandering around the Front Mall at the Taipei Main Station. This is an underground mall area at the center of town. I was walking around, sipping boba when I smelled something that almost made me wretch up my tapioca balls. It smelled literally like boiling shit soup. Bobbing around in a brown broth were grey squares of stinky tofu that looked like ashy turds. I ran off amid the stink but knew that I would have to come back to do battle. I will return to the stinkiness.

Today I had the day off for the Dragon Boat Festival (explanation here). I tried to get to the actual Dragon Boat races, but they proved as elusive as actual dragons. I tried to go last saturday with my friend Taru but we got lost, found some interesting temples that synchronized Buddhism and Taoism, but never our way to the river or races. Today I rented a bike and biked my way to the river to see the elaborate races. They have a very interesting system of bike rentals that you can access through your MRT (metro) card. It costs 40NTD ($1.21) as base charge, then another 10 NTD per 15 minutes. It deducts it directly from your metro account. I biked down to the river and saw an amazing vista of pink, yellow and orange behind the city. It struck me as a Taipei version of Van Gogh's starry night.

From Taipei Days

I biked around the river path taking in a beautifully juxtaposed site of a cantilevered bridge in the foreground and ancient Chinese temple in the background.

From Taipei Days

I went to the race point but there was no one racing and nothing that indicated they would be. It was drizzling, so I gave up and went back.

I returned and went to Ximen, an area that struck me as a Taiwanese Harajuku. Finally, the sun came out! After what had been days and days, I finally got some blessed light and natural vitamin D. Perhaps a gift from a Ms. NomiLite who is on her way to Taipei. I wandered around town until I found myself near the stink spot. Deciding that if my quest to find the stinkiest of the stinky tofu was more than braggadocio, then I would have to try it.

From Taipei Days

Oh, I barely have the words to describe the unique stink that I faced. It was awful. Two logs of ashy tofuturd in brown soup with scallions on top. As if the scallions could save me. Unlike the twice-fried stinky tofu- which had a pungent character, this just foul grey spongy repugnance. Kinda like mushy fermented garbage in trash broth. It was an effort to get down and keep down.

From Taipei Days

I finished my bowl but still had the taste of vile lingering in my mouth. I quickly found myself a large heineken to wash it down. That didn't exactly help, and in some ways made it worse by contributing to trashy burps. I am not throwing in the towel, but I do concede that round two went to Stinky Tofu. I hope that my quest to find the stinkiest of the stinky tofu was completed early and from here it gets better, but somehow I doubt it.

From Taipei Days

New photos up:
Taipei Markets

Longshan Temple

Taipei Days

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's in a name

保 (Bao): to protect. You can kinda see that he looks like a centurion with a staff
羅 (Loa): a net to catch birds (and when we say "birds," we all know what that means ;)

Monday, June 14, 2010


"An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics"

On the rocks

Apparently, Taiwan is making good whiskey. Will have to have a dram.

Even old New York was once New Amersterdam

"Istanbul is not a city; she neither labors, nor thinks, nor creates; civilization beats at her gates and assaults her in her streets, but she dreams and slumbers on in the shadow of her mosques, and takes no heed."
-Edmondo de Amicis

Talkin' about my generation

and its long road to maturity. I know this comes as a complete surprise to all who read these meandering missives.


"Greenpeace has greater influence on world policy, than say, the government of Austria."
CF Hamish McCrae in The Independent

I had an interesting conversation yesterday evening at the tavern where I was watching the World Cup. I sat next to a fellow who was a Google exec for Asia.

We had a rather interesting chat about Google as a verb and on the power of Google in the world. We discussed that, similar to the quote above, Google is probably more important than 90 percent of the states in the UN. It has a budget that exceeds that of some countries.

Meanwhile, as previously noted in the Economist, if Facebook was a country it would be the world's fifth largest. So too, the number of Google-netizens would count as larger than most nations. I brought up the need for Google to carry out better public diplomacy. Microsoft has director of public diplomacy, Google would be wise to create something similar.

The reality is that Google does have its own foreign policy, something we saw on display as it sparred with China over censorship- the two "socialist" juggernauts battling it out. Just as it has its own fp, Google needs the mechanisms of pd.

Tae Bo Diplo

I was sitting in the office entryway, reading public diplomacy literature as the rain came pouring down, when the strangest of situations unfolded. As I was silently working, some of the office girls set up a projector and unfurled a screen. Curious, i asked if there was a lecture taking place. No, we are going to do Tae-Bo, they replied. Apparently the office used to gather at 3pm to do cardio-kickboxing everyday. How bizarre. As the girls began stretching and kicking, I had the wacky idea of making Billy Blanks a global fitness ambassador and sending him out as American cultural diplomat. This probably fits somewhere under my plans for Hogan Diplomacy (ie, wrestling diplomacy).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mercurial myths

Once upon a time when gas was really cheap and SUVs were all the rage, my mother had a Mercury Mountaineer. It was a fine car, a bit of a behemoth as most SUVs are, but ran pretty well. Recently the Mercury line was discontinued by Ford. There is a good piece on what the brand once meant.

This may seem a tad nonsequitur but I am also posting to other articles that discussed the mercurial.
a) Pakistan and Myths
b) Silicon Valley and Myths

Blessings on a rainy day

I spent the afternoon watching the blessings of Baraka

As Tom Robbins said, weather should either be celebrated or ignored. Unwilling and unable to ignore, I decided to celebrate and brave the monsoon. I doffed swim trunks and a thin soccer jersey and went wading out into the puddles. I wandered out into the wet streets, thoroughly soaking then acclimating to my wet state. I soaked in the drains and puddles, stopping for bubble tea to add to my splish-splash. I grabbed a snack of a dragon boat race special, some black glutinous rice treat steamed and wrapped in a banana leaf.

I celebrated my wet state as I trudged toward the Taipei 101 tower. In the west, there was hints of pink and orange light as the storms abated briefly and I had dreams of dry grandeur. The clouds returned and cloaked the tall tower and I swam, in and out of fantasy, all the way home.

On Relaxation and Panza

The incessant pitterpatter of rain on tin roofs are equal parts chinese water torture and form of relaxation. It forces me to slow down, to be a pd Buddha and to learn to be still. In some ways, relaxation is torture. Being still is not something I do well, but monsoon season is forcing me to learn. The rains leave me muddled and not quite me. But I am maintaining and I will use the time to reflect and read. Of recently read:

"Out of my way, gentleman, and let me return to my former freedom; let me go hunt for the life I used to lead, and resurrect myself out of this living death. I was not born to be a governor, nor to defend islands and cities from enemies who wish to attack them. I know a lot more about plowing and digging, about pruning and tending vines, than I do about making laws and defending provinces or kingdoms. Saint Peter belongs in Rome -- which means that each of us should do the work that we were born to do. A scythe fits in my hand better than a governor's scepter; I'd rather stuff myself with plain ordinary gazpacho than fall victim to the stinginess of an arrogant doctor who'd just as soon kill me with hunger, and I'd rather stretch in the shade of an oak tree, in the summer, and wrap myself in a coat made of two sheepskin hides, in the winter, but a free man, than lie down at night between Holland silk sheets, or dress myself all in sables, and be subject to any government's control."
-Sancho Panza

Follow ups

Some more information on a few previous points.

-Related to the faux eye biz, I mentioned this to my roomie Ken, and he had an interesting answer. He mentioned that a Taiwanese girl had once said to him that we Occidentalists have so many differing individual characteristics, ranging from different eye color to hair color, whereas those of the Orient are pretty commonly of black hair, dark eyes. Therefore, it takes stepping out a little more to express your individuality, such as very fake bleached hair, ostentatious lashes or faux contacts.

-related to the camera biz, I was out last night for dinner with a bunch of Kiwi and Canuck FSOs, I mentioned the ubiquity of the eye-in-the-sky, and someone laughed and explained that while the government had put in some 15,000 cameras, only 2% were actually working. Something to do with a disagreement with the Taipei power company over who should pay to turn them on. Apparently there was a case where a woman was in a hit-and-run accident and so she pressed to get the camera footage, only for the local government to sheepishly admit that the cameras weren't actually on. However, on a positive note, the mere presence of the cameras acts as a crime deterrent since no one actually knows which are on or idle.

-related to travel. I have often compared water to life, especially in regard to travel. My take is that when water is moving and free-flowing it is full of life and energy. When it is still, it grows stagnant. However, the point was made to me that still water runs deep and there can be life found at greater depths amid still water.

Marking my two weeks since leaving Lalaland, I will list what is missed and not:

6 Things I don't miss about LA:
1) Hipsters
2) Crazy angelinos of all stripes and varieties
3) sprawl
4) $10 drinks
5) the freeways
6) skateboarders

5 Things I miss about LA:
1) eternal sunshine- esp as it rains for 11 of 14 days I have been here, that really is missed:(
2) Trojanland
3) brown people
4) diverse foods
5) In-and-Out burger

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thailand's Tienanmen

My friend Taru made a very astute point that the recent unrest in Bangkok was Thailand's Tienanmen. She also questioned if it had been the yellow-shirts who were protesting as such if the government would have dared act in such a brutal fashion. Far easier to send the tanks in against the poor and downtrodden.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cultural misdirection

Related to my previous "things noticed" post about the fake color contacts, faux lashes and lens-less glasses, I mentioned this phenomenon to my colleague Ben and he noted that it was probably some variation on Japanese kawaii cute culture. He also mentioned that Taiwan is heavily influenced by Japanese culture. Here is where is gets interesting. To varying degrees Chinese culture is influenced by Taiwanese culture; Taiwanese culture is influenced by Japanese culture; Japanese culture is influenced by Korean culture. To be sure, this pop anthropology is very loose, but it is still interesting.

Monsoon season

The rain poured down so hard on Taipei's tin roofs that it woke me in the middle of the night with the echo of thunder.

85C and Sea Salt Lattes

Sea salt lattes and squid buns! Not just in Taiwan but in Irvine too. Real Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy and really popular:
"Peng says that when the store first opened, most of their customers were Asian. Now, almost 50 percent are non-Asian. Catalina Jiménez, originally from Spain, works in finance. She says she spends a disproportionate amount of time waiting in 85C's regularly long lunch line.

"It's horrible," Jiménez says. "When [85C] first opened, I would see the crowds outside and say, 'Oh my god,' and I would say, 'Losers!' — and now here I am. I do the line every day." Jiménez is partial to the chain's blueberry brioche. Another 85C regular is Abraham Walker, a South African native who never expected to enjoy Taiwanese coffee and cake in the United States.

"Quite honestly, I wouldn't mind having a share in this business," he says, "because it's busy all the time." Walker may get his chance. 85C goes public in Hong Kong later this year, timed to coincide with the planned opening of its second U.S. store, in Hacienda Heights, Calif."

Xiexie Abba for sending this my way.

Monsoon season

The day turned black as night and the heavens opened up. So begins the monsoon season.

On memory and power

"the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting".
-Milan Kundera (thanks Timothy Garton Ash)

During my travels in China some years back, I wrote, "I am in a land of spitters, inveterate nose pickers and unrepentant belchers." From across the straits, it seems that the former two don't apply but the latter sure seems to hold firm. The character above means "gross," and apparently pronounced 'mao', answering a question I asked in the original blog post some years prior of how do you say "gross" in Chinese.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Things noticed, take three

-the loveliness of leaving my apartment and being greeted with the smell of burning incense wafting up from the apartment below. The downstairs neighbors keep it burning outside their door for luck. Meanwhile as I leave my apartment building, someone else has incense burning at the main entry door.

-the fakeness surrounding eyes. I have noticed many girls wearing color contacts. Blue and green contacts that look as fake as expected. Meanwhile, I have also seen many girls wearing fake glasses. Just the glass frames with no actual lens. Often protruding out of these faux frames are ridiculously long lashes. I'm sure there is some deeper significance to eye insecurity, I'm just not sure what quite yet.

Mea culpa

Sorry Israel, I admit I rushed to judgement on the floatilla business. While I still do think Israel could have handled things differently and engaged in better nonlethal measures or not acting in a rather cavalier fashion and I still think the Gaza policy is wrong, I do admit I jumped to conclusions when I saw the headlines "attack on humanitarian ship" and the numbers of dead "activists". Sorry Israel, I apologize for not being initially more supportive on this one.

Two in the pink

Just finished my first bout with the stink. I survived round one of the stinky tofu battle. But it does indeed live up to its name. The fermented, twice-fried tofu squares are Taiwan's delicacy love. It is pungent to say the least. It is kinda crunchy on the outside owing to its deep-fried nature, but spongy on the inside. It doesn't actually smell that bad, it just tastes stinky. I ate it with some brownish sauce, pickled cabbage and chili-garlic sauce. Buddha bless that chili-garlic sauce. The funny thing is that the stinky taste just lingers in your mouth. I had a Taiwan Gold beer to wash away the stink but it did nothing to dent the leftover stinkyness. In any case, the quest for the stinkiest of the stinky tofu shall continue. Stink on.

Blowback from the Gates of Brussels to Anatolia to Capitol Hill

A NYTimes piece on Turkey's thorniness got me curious how much of Turkey's recent drang nach osten policy of outreach to its Arab and Persian neighbors to be a regional player is due to the Turks being kept out of the gates of Brussels. You can only knock at the door for so long until you realize you won't be let in. I wonder if this is Ankara's way of exploring other options other than facing West. I can't imagine a Turkey that was earnestly being integrated into Europe acting in such a fashion.

But on a different but semi-related note, as Israel and Turkey are downgrading their friendship, can Israel and prominent Jewish organizations like the ADL begin speaking frankly the Armenian genocide? Some had the courage but were often hushed over fears of upsetting Israel's regional ally in Ankara. Bollocks to that, I always found it rather shameful that politics dictated who could and couldn't be subject to the public charges that everyone believed in private. Now maybe we can hear Israel and Jewish orgs finally speak freely and openly about Turkey's role in the Armenian genocide without politics and the specter of the Israeli-Turkish alliance getting in the way.

As I checked my morning updates, I got my answer.Politics and interests sure make for feckless bedfellows.

PS: Apparently, I wasn't the only one thinking that Turkey's belligerence is partially a product of EU reticence.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Things Noticed cont.

-No one talking to themself. There are no schizophrenic homeles people babbling to themselves on streetcorners or in the middle of traffic ala Lalaland. It appears the only one talking to themself is moi.

-The phonetic pronunciation for pork is "jew." Too funny.

Monday, June 07, 2010

An Israeli response

BFF Yael, who is currently in Israel, had this piece up on Facebook from the Telegraph, "Israel must defend itself with moves towards peace." The crux is:

But that’s not the picture that the world has, because every time Hamas sets a trap, the Israelis walk straight into it. The only voices from the ships that are heard on the Western media are those of the kind, decent, well-meaning charity workers, who only want to bring wheelchairs to the people of Gaza, and who were attacked by the unprincipled Israelis.

Hamas has certainly played its PR to perfection: Israel is universally seen as the bully. The Israeli state has to break this pattern or it will end up as isolated as North Korea. There is a justification for each step Israel takes to defend its security – but the cumulative effect is to leave the country increasingly exposed. Hamas’ “twin track” campaign of terrorism and persuasion can only be defeated if Israel makes unilateral concessions to achieve peace. That involves taking colossal risks. But the alternative is that Israel will find itself slowly bled to death by Hamas’ “soft power”.

Things noticed

A few observations from a week in Taiwan (geez, it has been only a week):

-bagels! The Taiwanese apparently love bagels, they are all over. And strange bagels too. Like cranberry bagels. I have yet to try one, but I shall. Also, surprisingly good bread. The bread is really soft and fresh, and they have all sorts of grainy varieties too. I have seen a bunch of German-style bakeries.

-masks. It is quite common to see the gauzy masks draped over people's mouths- however, it defeats the purpose to wear a mask, only to remove it to your chin to smoke a cigarette.

-the ubiquity of 7-11. I almost wonder if there are more per capita here than Japan. If not, then they definitely put up a good fight. I can count two on my block maybe 400m apart, plus a third not far away.

-the sublime smell of the cooking night air. Like a million boiling noodle pots and woks frying and sending their deliciousness wafting in the dinner air. It is surprisingly hard to place the exact smell. Something akin to ginger and garlic on the wind. It is a sultry and sweet aroma, and mixes with the early summer jasmine and lavender to make an intoxicating delicious evening aroma.

-the preponderance of video cameras. 'O the eye in the sky. I'm not sure who is watching them, but there sure seem to be a lot of video cameras about, and in random places. Seems that every alley and hutong has them spying down.

-a bit of a lack of smiles. It just doesn't seem to be people's natural inclination to grin. Some stoic Confucianist trait, perhaps. They crack grins pretty easily, but it takes just a tad of work to get there.

-the adorableness of Taiwanese babies. They are sooo cute, I kinda wanna eat them. Harry, you were right all along.

-the Taipei International Flora Expo. Taiwan sure is trying hard. See also: Africa Week. Gonna integrate the need to be original and imaginative in the recommendations for my project.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

the floatilla gorilla

Former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer has a spot-on piece about the Israeli narrative in wake of the flotilla incident. I'm not sure who said it but a while back a commentor noted that the thing that bothered Israelis most about the Obama administration is that it didn't buy the Israeli narrative. The Bush administration accepted the Israeli narrative with seemingly few questions asked amid its manichean world view. The Obama adminstration's more-nuanced approach to the world and I-P conflict is the antithesis and Israel hasn't adapted otherwise. Jeremey Ben-Ami notes this in a good piece in the NYTimes on how such differences have been leading to strains in the relationship:

“The prior administration’s worldview lined up more with the Israeli government,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group. “Now we’re seeing a reflection of a different worldview, that gives you a completely different set of policies and priorities.”

All of this plays into the Israeli self-narrative of isolation and the "world is against us" mentality in that Israel is essentially a Jewish ghetto in the international community. This notion fails Zionism's most basic goal of making the Jews a normal people. Policy becomes self-fufilling prophecy along the lines of the Bibi, Liebermand and the Israeli Right's world view of Israeli isolation. Not healthy, to say the least. There is a Palestinian saying related to their own unhealthy self-narrative of suffering that can also apply to the Israeli narrative of isolation: "when you are already wet, you don't care if it is raining."

Checkpoint Charlie; the office sukkah

There is a piece of the Berlin Wall in my office courtyard. I discovered it last week. Just a giant slab of the wall that once divided worlds, sitting plainly in the courtyard. I think I may pick at it on a daily basis until I can bring it down.

Something about being in an office makes me feel like a rat trapped in a cage so in typical Pablo fashion, I have left the confines of my cubicle to work on the roof of the office. There are tables and chairs and it is kept shady by sukkah-like awnings. The wifi connects me to the world as I set up my office outdoors.

Baseball and imperfection

A nice piece in the NYTimes about baseball, imperfection and ambiguity:

That reality, in fact, should tell us something about the nature of baseball, which is the least programmatic, the least technological of games. It doesn’t even have a clock. The fields have widely varying shapes and sizes, and the primary battleground between offense and defense — i.e., the strike zone — is a box of air with dimensions that have proven impossible to specify. There is a lot less science in baseball, a lot more art, than in any other sport you can name. (Golf and soccer nuts, just pipe down.) It’s an irony that only in baseball do there exist perfect games.

This is the main reason that so many baseball fans are so gaga over statistics, because the game’s ambiguities create a hunger for measurement, for exactitude where it doesn’t exist, and it’s the main reason that baseball is the most written about, most discussed, most intellectually parsed game there is.

Web for brains

There seems to be a bit of a debate on whether the internet makes you smarter or dumber. I am of the former camp, which Clay Shirky defends well:
First, the rosy past of the pessimists was not, on closer examination, so rosy. The decade the pessimists want to return us to is the 1980s, the last period before society had any significant digital freedoms. Despite frequent genuflection to European novels, we actually spent a lot more time watching "Diff'rent Strokes" than reading Proust, prior to the Internet's spread. The Net, in fact, restores reading and writing as central activities in our culture.

The present is, as noted, characterized by lots of throwaway cultural artifacts, but the nice thing about throwaway material is that it gets thrown away. This issue isn't whether there's lots of dumb stuff online—there is, just as there is lots of dumb stuff in bookstores. The issue is whether there are any ideas so good today that they will survive into the future. Several early uses of our cognitive surplus, like open source software, look like they will pass that test.

The past was not as golden, nor is the present as tawdry, as the pessimists suggest, but the only thing really worth arguing about is the future. It is our misfortune, as a historical generation, to live through the largest expansion in expressive capability in human history, a misfortune because abundance breaks more things than scarcity. We are now witnessing the rapid stress of older institutions accompanied by the slow and fitful development of cultural alternatives. Just as required education was a response to print, using the Internet well will require new cultural institutions as well, not just new technologies.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Grey works as a negative force multiplier. It stifles the positive while multiplying the negative. I tried to make the most of the day and wandered around town. I found a series of artisan, flower and jade markets under the freeway. Paintings of peasants in golden fields and carved buddhas; rows of orchids and tables of the precious stone amid traffic above and below.

I wandered off for lunch and realized that I am a little kosher fishy swimming in a vast unkosher sea. Probably expected when I point randomly at a menu of characters. I don't think that is chicken, nor could I pick which animal it was from in a lineup. I simply swim towards what is known and try to guess on the unknown. Meanwhile, as the tv blared in the restaurant, girls gave pole dances on the metro. With big eyes, I asked the fellow next to me if that was Taipei; he simply replied it was China. I would have given Babel's vistascape to understand that newscast.

Off to the Taipei Museum of Fine Art for an appreciation of things that communicate across boundaries. For someone who loves to communicate, it is daunting to be muted. But I found an aleph and an oracle of confusion. Also a brilliant yoga-capoeira ballet in the desert. The beauty of good fine art is that it transports you. Good modern art alone can take you to places you can't ordinarily find. Transportation is the goal of every artist; to take the audience to places unknown and unseen. But also sometimes it misses. Like random ladders or movies with convoluted, drawn out scenes of freudian dreams of fathers slowly smoking cigarettes and grandmothers eating pears (? wtf) Some of it hits, and some of it misses.

I am simply lost in the metro with Borges rolled up in one hand and a grey umbrella walking stick in the other. Clicking noises and unknown punctuated words hurl past me in the subaltern tunnel of my own dreamscape.

De esta ciuadad de libros hizo duenos
A unos ojos sin luz, que solo pueden
Leer en las bibliotecas de los suenos
Los insensator parrafos que ceden

-Borges, "Poema de los dones" (Poem of the gifts)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Knockoff Power; We Con the World

There is a fascinating piece in the NYTimes on Knockoff Power, ie the underside of softpower when no one remembers the provenance of your ideas, goods etc because they have been copied like fake designer handbags and sold on the global street corner. On a semi-similar note, an npr story on how English became "globish." (Ty Abba)

Finally, a humorous take on the Flotilla incident.

If only all the Israeli responses could be so witty and clever, they wouldn't constantly be wading in the pd muck.

Skype Shabbat

For years, my family has been conducting shabbat services via telecom. I would call in from Bumfuckistan and we would conference-in to do the weekly sabbath services. I can remember standing in a phone booth in Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego thinking that the only way Shabbat gets any more southern is if I find a penguin rabbi in Antarctica. We have occasionally connected across multiple countries and hemispheres.

This week, we did our first skype shabbat. Across a 12 hour divide, my parents set up the web cam and grabbed the puppy and did shabbat services. My mom lit the candles, my dad did the blessings and the dog ate challah. When off as a stranger in a strange land, it is the little things that seems so poignant and special. May the L-rd connect you and keep you, shine his VOIP down upon you and grant you skypeace.


I wouldn't keep describing what I ate for lunch if it wasn't so interesting. Only in the Asia Pacific region can convenience store lunch be so much fun. I went to Family Mart (Famima! for those in LA) and grabbed some sushi triangles and some seaweed in garlic sauce. The sushi triangles are so much fun because you have a three-step process to disrobe them from their cellophane package to unveil a triangle of rice and sushi wrapped in a seaweed jacket that has to be folded over the corners. Meanwhile, the seaweed in garlic sauce was tied up like little bowties and had a chewy, bouncy consistency that was like bean shoots only softer. Yum.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The view across the straits

Amid the grey and rain, I was a bit adrift like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. However, the sun returned and I rallied and am now enjoying my new environs. I am also beginning to aprreciate the intricacies of my new home.

I had a fascinating discussion with a chap who left mainland China to come here. We had a frank discusssion on his views of the relationship across the straits. The fellow got curious about Tianamen, so he turned to some underground organizations to find info about what took place. That brought some questions from some "friends," so he left for Taiwan and is trying to get a passport here. He considered this to be "Free China" but was not in favor of Taiwan's independence. He said he wouldn't be here if Taiwan declared its independence. He considered Taiwan to be part of China, but should not have to be ruled by the Communist dictatorship, so until there is political freedom in the mainland, Taiwan should be on its own. He also said that in the past, it was easy for people leaving mainland to get Taiwanese passports. Now, because Taiwan is trying to show its unique identity and not just as a refuge from mainland, it is harder to get Taiwanese citizenship.

This all got me thinking on the nature of Taiwanese statehood, especially related to Israel and Pakistan and the nature of statehood (see my piece "Dancing in the Dark"). Is Taiwan a refuge for "Free China"? A haven for democratic China and a model? Or is it "the Taiwanese state" with its own unique cultural identity and social model?

This discussion got kicked up a notch with a fascinating piece I found in Foreign Affairs called "Not so dire straits" by Prof. Bruce Gilley. The article discusses the "Finlandization" of Taiwan as a means of accomodating a neighboring superpower to gain its own autonomy. The provocative article is quite good, I will try to post it in its entirety. It understandbly kicked up considerable controversy and some heated responses. I gave the article to a fellow Fellow named Taru from Finland and we discussed the issue further. At some point we tacked back to the Middle Eastern notion of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and how it related to Taiwan, Israel and the US. Taru said that this is an alien notion to Finland and perhaps to Europe. In Finlandization, my enemy is "my friend" if only to coexist and survive.

All fascinating and marking an interesting start to day II. I am going to enjoy this.

The First Days

It was the Dead that said the first days are the hardest days but don't you worry anymore. Since it has been raining and grey for two out of three days here, I can't objectively comment on the content of my stay in Taipei. I had my first day of work today, and it went smoothly. There is only so much that can be done on a first day beyond introductions and settling in. It appears that if I so desire, I can stay for up to a year here. We shall see.

In the meantime, this is a foodie paradise. I am definitely going to make gastrodiplo part of my proyecto. I wandered around the night market of Shida, walking past stalls of food, various jewelry and clothes. I have been noodling out and loving it. Big fat udon noodles with broccoli, slivers of tofu and cabbage cooked up in some sort soup strainer. It is hard to describe the smells, but it is sweet and sultry. Like a sweet cilantro smell. The food here has no resemblance to "Chinese" food in the US. Much lighter and tastier, with more soup/noodle dishes.

But on a different token, there is a bit of a beef over beef here. Precisely over USDA. I first noticed a sign in the window with a character that resembled a mad cow with an American flag x'ed out. I noticed a few such signs around town, so i asked Ben of TFD about it over our lunch of cow stomach and tofu in spicy chili sauce. He said that there is a bit of controversy about the import of US offal and other parts that Americans don't often eat. The Taiwanese are pissed that they seemed to be getting sold what leftovers we don't want. Apparently, the US "Ambassador" Stanton made a comment that didn't help the situation to the effect that US beef is safer than driving around Taipei on a moto. Ah, the diplomacy of dining.

On an unrelated note, I am noticing the subtle similarities between Taiwan and Japan. Little things here remind me of Japan that I didn't see in mainland. Not too unsurprising since this was once part of Nipon.

Boffing the blockade

Fred Kaplan of Slate has a very good look at the operational failures in Israel's botched blockade effort.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Day one

I had hoped to sleep a little more, but still awoke at 4:30am. I tried to get back to sleep but to no avail. With ample time, I shaved and got ready for the first day. A little tricky to do in the darkness of a shared hostel room, but prior preparation made it easier. I grabbed an egg pancake, steamed bun and hot soy milk for breakfast and made my way through the rain and morning commute. I crammed in like a Taipei sardine into the morning cars, going red to blue to brown. It took me a few tries to get on the crammed brown car, but eventually I was able to get on the packed train.

I got to my station Da'an but got lost trying to find my way. I walked up and back, up and back in the rainy, grey morning. Nothing made sense as I paced back and forth on the rainy boulevard. Eventually, I gave up and tried to ask for directions- no easy feat when there are no communication connections. Luckily I had saved a googlemap of the location and was able to figure out my wet way. I crossed a few alleys until I finally reached my new office. The doors swung open and I was greeted with golden carp swimming in the moat of the finely-manicured lawn. I was greeted and taken to my work station, and so begins day one.

Lost at sea

I have little I want to add to the flotilla debacle. There is a spoof site that is sadly spot on, visit Global Israel PR. Harold Myerson of the Washington Post has a very good article on the deeper meaning of the currents at play.

The Generalissimo; Longshan

After finding my way back yesterday afternoon, I attempted to get myself lost again. I ventured in the opposite direction, walking past furniture stores and on to the Chang Kai-Shek Memorial area. I stared at the grandiose national theater and walked over past a nice pond to the grandiose memorial to the generalissimo.

From Chang Kai Shek Memorial

The giant white structure reminded me of the sun temple in Beijing and also the memorial to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in Nanjing.

From Chang Kai Shek Memorial

I climbed the white stairs into the white marble hall with the giant statue of CSK. Soldiers were doing an elaborate changing of the guards. They stomped with real pomp and twirled riffles about.

From Chang Kai Shek Memorial

I wandered down to exhibition halls with really magnificent traditional paintings of the rushing yellow sea. I made my way to the exhibition hall chronicling the life of Chang Kai-Shek. I read through his life in a giant old school Apple I-pad-like device. The story got rather sparse around 1949-1950, with absolutely no mention of events then miraculously picks up in Taiwan. It reminded me of the Nixon Library and its dancing around Watergate. The meticulousness stops and turns into "nothing to see here, please move on!" I walked through the effects of Chang Kai-Shek, past old portraits and uniform adornments. His old cars were on display as were pics of CSK being visited in Taiwan by Eisenhower and others.

I fought a losing battle to the lag of jets as I struggled to stay awake until 9pm, and then awoke in the wee hours. I had a slow, semi-confusing morning exasperated by grey. I made my way underground on the metro to the Longshan Temple. Red to blue along the morning commute. The blue lit up the darkness in neon azure. On to the Longshan temple, where pilgrims prostrated and dropped moon-like crescents on the ground to gain the attention of the gods, only to retrieve them where they lay. I do not grok, but I am just an egg. The grey incense smoked and filled the grey air. It wafted to the heavens of similar hue. Small, pious bald monks walked about slowly and the faithful waved sticks of incense horizontal in a vertical motion or vertical in a horizontal motion. We all sat stoic in our silence.

Taipei Day 1

Chang Kai Shek Memorial

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Branding Korea

I have a front page piece on Korean Tacos and Kimchi Diplomacy for Branding Korea- a hybrid public/private initiative to promote Korean nation branding:

Real public diplomacy towards America doesn’t exist solely on the coasts but also very much in America’s heartland. Korea would be wise to send forth legions of taco trucks to introduce Korean tacos across the hills and plains of America. Send taco trucks to Texas, to introduce Korean barbecue to Texas cowboys and Korean tacos to the land of Tex-Mex. Send the trucks to Kansas City, to Memphis and the Carolinas to challenge for the global barbecue crown. Perhaps even send one truck headed south of the border to introduce Mexico to Korea’s take on their traditional fare.

For the wide swathes of Americans who don’t travel abroad, it is through culinary experiences that Americans often discover other parts of the world. The delicious beauty of the Korean taco is that it takes something somewhat foreign to the American palate and introduces it through a more familiar entrée. The Korean taco offers a tasty first image of Korea and serve as an initial culinary travel experience.

Rost in Transration- Taiwan style

I was admiring the lack of chinglish until I stumbled upon a fancy bakery that offered up the "grory of Taiwan."  Grory indeed.

My life as study abroad

I wandered out into my new home.  Off to get lost in a new city; there are precious few things I enjoy more than that.  I ventured out into the mid-morning and just wandered about.  I am already percolating plans for Taiwan PD.  They are paying me to think so I am taking my job seriously ;)  Already I have designs on taking over.  Pity the small island, they will never know what hit 'em.  Harry suggested starting a new opium war, but my idea was a boba battle.  Ready, take aim at mainland and fire!  Actually, I had more in mind an International Day of Boba, with the world's largest boba battle.  Fill the streets with those gelatinous balls of goo and fire away.  Once I take over the isle, boba will be the official currency.  All kidding aside, they drink boba in their orange juice.  That was a straw too far for me.

I wandered, passing through parks and over stone paths designed to massage tired feet.   I sat in the park shade, plotting my Taiwan PD plans, partners and outlets.  This is going to be fascinating and fun.  I continued my meander until I stopped for an afternoon meal with the lunch noodle crowd.  In the side alley, I sat under canopy, slurping noodles that made angel hair seem fat, alongside beansprouts cooked in boiling broth and firm tofu sliced into slivers and covered with scallions and sauce so hot I coughed.  I am going to slurp my way through Asia, and I will probably blog about every meal.

Initial impressions from the first day: a slightly different feel than China.  Less hectic, more affluent.  Not the same frenetic pace- for better and for worse.  It is devoid of the crush that China always seems to have, and that is fine- more livable it seems.

Somehow miraculously, in all my efforts to get myself lost, I returned to the street I started.  Rather uncanny because a series of random turns brought me back to the one street I know: Roosevelt Road.  The last time I saw Calle Roosevelt, I was in Guate City.

Last note for now:
"People in Arkansas talk like they have an egg in their mouth."

Well said.  Bao-lao, signing off.