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China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Archive for July 2007

Taiwan Top 10

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My initial urge to jot down a Taiwan “likes” list was immediately self-vetoed. In lieu of this, I offered up a dislikes list. That wasn’t very fair. After years of being educated as a journalist, I should try to appease my inner-demons and balance the scales a bit. Without further ado, here is what I love about Taiwan:

1. The women. Probably a given in the no.1 slot on any list I could make, but this “country” has endeared itself to me. In all my travels, I am yet to find a place with so many make-you-look-three-times calibur ladies. I recently reaffirmed this after Taiwan blew Hong Kong out of the water. I was particularly pleased my Taiwanese girlfriend joined me on the trip– really made me look like The Man, ha.

2. Scooters. A double-edged sword here. The pollution is tops on my Dislikes list, but riding a goofy bike around this goofy island is quite the experience. Unable to attain a license (by law) and abiding by the common law of not respecting any road rules makes me feel a bit James Bondish every time– like I have a license to drive like a complete maniac. There is really something to be said about a world with lesser road rules.

3. The Ex-Pat population. Taiwan brings in a much less respectable ex-pat pool. Half of my time here is spent in shock and awe of schools which actually hire such unbelievable losers. I remember reading a blog before I came where the guy bitched about foreign teachers being wankers; in hindsight, he was spot on. If I had a dollar for every loser who thought he could come here and become the next world famous dj, while he and his entourage blow ketamine and pop low-grade ecstasy… ohh, what a world. This could have equally popped up on my Dislikes list, but hidden within the shitheap of foreigners here there are some gems. People with valid ambition, self-respect, and a perspective of the world only available to those who have seen and lived it.

4. The language. I love it.

5. The unbelievable sense of security. It is easy to see how people get wrapped up in a society that makes it so easy on foreigners (read “if you are white”). I paid my rent late almost every month, not because I didn’t have the money, but because I was lazy. The landlord always greeted me with a big grin, and I always left with a bag full of some random gifts. Half the time, it was some random item from his personal refrigerator. Local people are generous and overly complimentary once they know you a bit. Everyone can get used to that.

6. Ocean. Oh, how I have missed you my friend.

7. Location, location, location. Living in Taipei heightens your appreciation for getting out of this smog cloud. There are incredible natural phenomena all over this island: white sand beaches, cavernous gorges, high mountain ranges, unbelievable tropical rivers, oceanside cliffs, rice-paddy plains, etc. Per square mile, this is one of the most incredible little spots. Not to mention its value as a jump off point.

8. Political awareness. Though you can often run into the same social faux-pas when speaking about politics, the fact remains that people here do not have the option to be ignorant of their situation. China is lurking, and not in the same way it lurks over the US. There are nearly one thousand ballistic missiles pointed at this island ready to be launched at the slightest political mishap or misperception. The stakes are high. Taiwan is an emerging democracy, doing everything the Western world could ask for, and yet it still lacks recognition and must settle for back-alley deals. This is the part that disturbs me most.

9. Convenience. You can drink on the streets. Buy beer at all hours from any of the one trillion 7-11s on every corner. Pay bills at ATMs or convenient stores. Gas is cheap on scooter. Public transportation works. Taxis everywhere on the cheap. Entire streets dedicated to one item, like wedding gown street and bird street.

10. Dongxi shops. I thought about putting the night markets up here, but I’m not the biggest fan of feeling like cattle as the herd bumps through little alleys. Dongxi (thing in chinese) shops are run by old timers who have accumulated the most bizaree collection of junk like they raided a Walmart truck that broke down on the highway… in 1987. Then they jam all of this into a room no bigger than the average American bedroom, often times smaller. It is chaos! Still, I like supporting the local guys. I walked in looking for a light bulb to a custom lamp I bought on a trip down the eastern coast, I figured no way they had it. I wandered around for 10 minutes in the mess, then I just gave up. I went to the balding old woman at the front and showed her the bulb. O sure! They had it, in the aisle too cluttered to walk down, up a ladder, on the back of a shelf, under a box of old Oreos, wrapped in plastic, they happen to have two of the exact same bulb!!! Now, that is Top 10 material!

Honorable Mention: Artist tea-houses, metrosexualism, stereotypes being true.


Written by Miles

July 26, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Sniffing a Little Ass isn’t Always a Bad Thing

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I was out walking my dog yesterday in the patch of grass behind my apartment building.  I have found lately that I have plenty of time for dog walking since I quit my job.  My twelve pound furry friend Pancho is quite pleased with the new arrangement.

 Anyway, I get back to the fenced in green patch and let Pancho off his leash so that he can choose whatever spot he likes to do his business.  As I release him, a white and black mut of about 30 pounds trots over to him to say hello.  They walk through the normal dog pleasantries.  Each takes a turn sniffing each other’s private parts and rear ends.  While they are taking in each other’s odors, myself and the other owner exchange appropriate human pleasantries, asking each other how it’s going and commenting on how insanely hot it has been lately.  After a couple minutes the dogs seem satisfied, and we all part ways amicably.  The exchange, both canine and human, leave me satisfied.  It’s how the world can work when people are not guarded to the point of distrusting all others around them.

As Pancho continues his search for the perfect spot to relieve himself another dog and owner pair approach.  This time, however, they are on the other side of the black fence that separates the green patch from the sidewalk and the street.  Pancho reacts immediately, except this time he doesn’t saunter over to the other dog for the normal ritualistic exchange.  Instead, he sprints at the dog on the other side of the fence, a labrador mix of some sort.  The physical boundary between them creates a situation where no circling and sniffing can go on.  They bear their teeth and begin growling and barking.  The owner of the other canine glares at me as if to say, “how dare you allow your dog to be off a leash and run up to mine.”  I run up and grab Panch by the collar; the woman opposite the fence drags her dog away as I get ahold of mine.  No words are exchanged. 

Admittedly, the experience was trivial, but illustrative at the same time.  The first interaction was completely positive.  The second experience was tense.  The only difference was a fence in between the dogs and their owners.  Interesting, that all it takes to induce enough fear for dogs to be ready to battle is a fence between them.  I submit that humans are much the same way.

US/Mexican relations strained due to fence building on the border and US/Russian relations blow up at the first mention of a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

Fences beget separation, separation begets fear, fear begets violence, violence begets hatred which only fuels the violence which increases the fear which also increases the violence.  Anyone who doesn’t believe me is welcome to stop by and take Pancho for a walk or you could just read the newspaper.

Written by bianj

July 25, 2007 at 4:38 pm

The Silence is Deafening

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My apartment is a shell of what it once was.  I have been sitting on the bare floor staring at my dinky tv, also sitting on the floor.  No internet.  Utility bills piling up.  I feel very transient.

My ticket to Shanghai has me aboard EVA Air August 2nd, to Hong Kong, where I will have to run down a Chinese tourist visa in my layover.  Then I am off.

Once again, I will be landing in Asia, without knowing anyone or anything about my new home.  I have been networking a bit, found a CU alum who is helping me out a bit, but I have been bracing for the inevitable moments of solitude in a city of millions.  I’ll have a month to branch out, get rooted, before school starts.  Find an apartment.  Learn how to transport myself.  Buy a phone.  Find a friend.  Learning to walk all over again. 

Written by Miles

July 25, 2007 at 1:15 am

The Utter Failure of American Politics

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China has sentenced another high-ranking politician to death for corruption and accepting bribes while in office.   Oh, Scooter Libby, you lucky bastard!  How does an administration which boasts about bullshit like “homeland security” and “fighting terror” pardon someone who committed treason?

Blaming George Bush is like believing in God.  It takes away personal responsibility, that’s why people choose to be sheep.  People believe in God because they are scared of the fact that every action they take in life has immediate and urgent ramifications.  People blame Bush because they cannot muster the energy to take the country in a new direction themselves.  This isn’t Bush’s fault.  Millions of people elected him TWICE.  We impeached Clinton for a blowjob.  And yet, now, this, this absolutely farce of a government, this tyrannical apocalyptic authoritarianism we have in place now?  The American political system is another false religion.  We believe our government is omnipotent and omniscent, all-loving… how?  How can so many people be so complacent when humanity has reached its most climactic, urgent point?

Written by Miles

July 16, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Back from Hong Kong

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So this is it.  The crescendo of my time in Taiwan.  I am back from HK after barely grinning my way through customs for one last 30 day visa.

It was nice to go on vacation for once, and not on an adventure.  My last “vacation” was to Cambodia.  Cambodia and Hong Kong are about as alike as Michael Moore and Ann Coulter.  HK is a city of the future, it is shocking.  Each building is its own modern masterpiece, jutting into the sky like a shuttle launch pad.  Taipei is no comparison.  Whereas I felt I was re-entering the first world coming home from Phnom Penh, it was vice versa with this return.

HK reaffirmed that Asian cities have the potential to develop into post-modern communities.  Too often I find myself sallowed by the symptoms of development.  While I enjoy living in the atmosphere of societies in transition, it can be disheartening.  My time here has opened my eyes to the directions human beings pursue in progress.  It’s a bumpy road, often crude and unrefined, puzzling, trashy, troubling and hopefully in some spots triumphant.

Written by Miles

July 16, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Response to my Uncle: Taiwanese Education

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Uncle Tim,

Taiwanese students are bred to excell in math.  They excell at math because of a very crafty nationalist agenda which promotes success in three areas:  math, science, and English.  I have 12-year-old students who cannot point out Taiwan on a map.  I have 14 year olds who can’t name their president.  History, geography, social studies, and art are null and void.

Personally, I think this stems from a governmental policy which reinforces the rapid economic boom that made Taiwan one of the first Asian Tigers.  This is a tiny island.  The infrastructure and the economy center around exporting manufactured goods, particularly technological goods.  Thus, Taiwanese schools have become an assembly-line of ready-made workers– and it has worked brilliantly.

Taiwan’s education system is a hybrid of public schools and a privatized “cram” industry.  If a student comes from a moderately wealthy family, he will attend both.  This starts at age three or four and never stops.  There is no summer vacation here.  School is a year-round experience.  Children are at school for as long as 12 hours each day, 350 days a year.  At my kindergarten, students arrive at 7am and some don’t go home until well after 7 in the evening.  All the talk of Asian families being a tighter social unit than other cultures is a joke.  Students wake up and go to sleep at home, between those times they are in someone else’s care.

And the results are sketchy.  Kids burn out, fast.  The suicide rate is high.  Creativity, free time, personal expression, are all frowned upon.  Everything is one big test with set answers.  The goal is to westernize, to be more American, and to keep afloat a static economic complex.  High math scores are exactly what Taiwanese families want:  a numerical representation of success, regardless of what that veneer belies.

Written by Miles

July 6, 2007 at 8:36 am


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We were standing on the roof, cold beers in hand.  Meat was on the grill.  Each cluster of people, each conversation pod carrying on while the dark afternoon shower clouds began to creep over the horizon like a dog peering atop the dinner table.

The sun was wallowing in a puddle of pale yellow, unfettered–for once– by the sunset-killing smog.  Reds and purples painted the rim of the sun splatter like one of Dad’s old tie-dyes.  It was cool, everything was cool; and not in the temperate sense.  Chilling with my friend Carlo, laughing, talking about his baby girl and raising a child, it was all logical.  It followed the path.  And here I was catching a sneak peak, a preview of things to come.

In the midst of some high jibberish, Carlo lost focus.  He glanced out at the looming darkness, the clouds coming like clockwork toward the thirsting afternoon Earth.  He looked like someone who just remembered he left the door unlocked at home.  He looked troubled.  “By the way,” he said, “I have to tell you something.”

“Yeah, sure.  Shoot, whatever it is, brother.”

“I had a dream the other night.  I meant to call you,” he paused.  “Look, man, I have some pretty powerful dreams.  Did I tell you about the dream I had of Jessie being pregnant?”  I shook my head, he had not.  “Man, right before Caitlin was born, I dreamed that I was in a pool swimming with a baby girl.  I remember being incredibly happy– overjoyed by the child’s presence.  Then, the little face turned to me– I’ll never forget– and said, ‘Daddy.’  I woke up immediately, in a panic.  I turned to Jessie and said, ‘Wake up! Wake up!  We have to go get you tested!  I think you’re pregnant!’  Man, she thought I was nuts.  But the next day I went to the store, still haunted by that little face in the dream.  I bought her a pregnancy test, and I asked her to take it.  She thought I was losin’ it, but I implored her.  Turns out, I was right.  And now here we are.  Two years later.  I am living in that same house, with the same pool downstairs.  And I tell you this– no shit, no lies– that little face I saw that night is the exact same face of my daughter today.  It was her, man, she was telling me she was coming.”

“Wow, Carlo.  Crazy story,” I said as I nursed another sip out of my warming beer.  Sure, lots of people, I thought, have these dreams or claim to.  But then, on second thought, Carlo had never planned for this child.  The pregnancy was a mistake.  Not now; just then, at that time.  He wasn’t some proud father looking back on his moment of glory with a highlighter.  This would have been a nightmare for him.  As I looked at the seriousness of his mannerisms, in contrast to all the bullshitting expressionism of the last two hours, I wanted to believe him.  “And so, what was it you wanted to tell me?”

“Miles, man.  I dreamed you died.”  Oooof, not what I was hoping for.  Win the lottery, that would have been a good one.  Death?  Not so hot.  “Yeah man,” he continued with a look of grim concern, “I was sitting in your apartment with Thomas and the police just barged in.  They were carrying your lifeless, mangled body by the arms and legs.  They dropped you in a heap on the floor and explained that we must find a way to get the body out of the country.”

Two days later, I am sitting on my couch, alive.  For now.  Prophecy is a funny game.  I’d like to believe Carlo in some sense, that he has powerful dreams.  I recall having moments of intense deja-vu at a very young age– as if I had seen that exact moment in time frozen in my dreams the night before.  Years this lasted, until finally I cast the dreams aside with the other cogs to my lunacy machine.  Dreams can be a powerful thing, I believe that.

Do I believe I am going to die?  Well, no.  It reminds me of a great book I read here which explored the balance of prophecy and chance.  I will die.  Shouldn’t really come as a shocker, should it?  Yet, it is the first time I have been told my death is imminent.  Though even that word has lost some of its edginess.  I mean, ‘Iraq is an imminent threat to America,’ wasn’t that the rhetoric a few years back?  And honestly, of all the stupid and dangerous events in my life, how could I escape them all only to fall like some Achillean hero halfway across the world?

I have found a rather moribund curiousity in all of this, in pondering a more immediate Lights Out.  I assure you, at my last look toward eternity, I would stretch a dry smile across my pallid face.  For in that last moment, I would chuckle to myself, “Shit, Carlo, you were right…”

Written by Miles

July 2, 2007 at 4:59 am