Monkeying Around in Wufeng

Just over a month ago, I checked out some of the walking trails in the Wufeng Ch'ingt'ung Lin Hiking Trail (Wùfēng qīngtóng lín bùdào) 霧峰青桐林步道 area, located in Wufeng (Wùfēng) 霧峰, naturally. At that time the Terminator in me said that I would be back, and it was right, for on Tuesday afternoon I paid a return visit to the area. This time I started out on a trail that looked easy at first, being a paved walkway that gently wound its way uphill. From time to time there were breaks in the tree cover that provided some views of the nearby mountains:

At one point, a spur trail broke off to right. I followed this up through the forest expecting to find a panoramic view from the top, but all that greeted me was a small stone marker engraved with the characters  三等三角點, denoting some kind of triangulation point, and a cluster of ribbons strung up by various hiking clubs:
It was after returning to the main trail that things became interesting. First, the path itself started narrowing while becoming progressively rougher, until I found myself following what seemed like a dry stream bed. There were plenty of ribbons along the way denoting the path to enlightenment, but it was obvious it had been a few days since the last hiker had come along, for I was constantly having to break up spider webs that had been strung across the trail. At one point I surprised a group of pheasants, which quickly run uphill to find safety, but the best animal encounter was soon to come: a troop of Formosan Macaques 台灣獼猴, which was busy foraging for food in the trees. The monkeys were wary, but made no attempt to run away. I spent a long time listening to them, for they were well-hidden in and among the branches, with only the occasional glimpse coming when they moved from one spot to another. Which makes for a pretty good excuse for my not getting any decent photos, and only these poor-quality videos:

After communing with the macaques, I continued along the trail, which reached a point that required the use of ropes to haul myself up:

At the top of this section, the trail joined up with the main route, which had I walked on my previous visit. However, off to my left I noticed the outlines of another path which was in somewhat rougher condition, and which seemed to run parallel to the regular trail. I opted for the "hidden" route, which turned out to be a section of trail that had been damaged by heavy rain in one section, which probably explained why when I reached the end and joined up with the main route, I had to cross over yellow crime-scene tape meant to keep hikers out! 
Covered in sweat and cobwebs, I returned to my parked scooter. Although I hadn't done much actual climbing on this day, I thoroughly enjoyed "roughing it" that afternoon, although I owe a number of spiders a lot of apologies for what I had done to their nests. The signboard by my scooter showed the routes I took this afternoon:

The red box indicating "You are here" (obvious even if you don't Chinese) was where I parked the bike. The red line is the route I started out on, with the short spur trail colored in yellow. The broken parts of the red line are where the route got rough (and where I saw the monkeys), while the first blue line (the one on the left) indicates the now-closed trail that I took to get back.
And, no, I didn't run into any giant rabbits while I was out there.

The week in Amber

The sun sets over a local park

It hasn't been an easy past couple of days. In addition to the usual stresses and difficulties sleeping, I took another Mandarin test on Friday evening, and failed it…again. For the third time. Three strikes and you're out, so I'm going to warm the bench from now on, language-wise. The thing is, by not being able to express clearly what I'd like to say in Mandarin (this time regarding the upcoming presidential election), the once-promising job opportunity in the U.S. that had come my way is now starting to recede further and further into the distance. Irony can be heartless – apparently, I'm never going to be able to get out of Taiwan because my Mandarin skills aren't good enough.

Then there was the simultaneous discovery that thanks to an oversight on my part, and the fact that my spouse is unable to grasp the importance of certain things, we are on the verge of having an application that had been approved pulled out from under us like the proverbial rug. So a great deal of time this past weekend has been spent on hurriedly putting everything together in the hope that a greater power will take pity on us. We'll just have to wait and see what transpires next week.

So it's in times like these that I turn toward my daughter to learn all over again that there are many more important things in life, like joining your father's students last Tuesday on a field trip to the Hsuëh-Pa National Park 雪霸國家公園…

…where you can make your own chocolate…

…and then run around outside looking for grasshoppers.

Or how on Thanksgiving Day, even though you're not in the United States, you can still enjoy a turkey dinner at an outdoor cafe run by an American expat on a cool, though not cold, evening:

And, finally, how there's often nothing better than going to the nearest park and running around until it gets too dark:

Priorities. Kids have got them in order.

Welcome back

I know of certain bloggers here in Taiwan who might like to eat and drink at this establishment 😉
From yesterday's (Sunday's) edition of the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ comes this Kyōdō News 共同通信社 news story:


A TransAsia Airways 復興航空 chartered flight with 180 tourists on board landed at Fukushima Airport 福島空港 Saturday morning, the first international flight to arrive since March 11, giving the region's badly-hit tourism industry a much needed lift.

The tourists are participating in a four-day tour organized by several travel agencies in Taiwan, and will visit sites mainly around the prefecture's scenic Aizu 会津 region.

The airport's regular services to Seoul and Shanghai remain suspended because of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant 福島第一原子力発電所.

To reverse the plunging number of foreign visitors to Fukushima 福島県, the prefecture has been running promotional campaigns in Taiwan, as well as in China and South Korea.

The chartered plane will carry Japanese tourists to Taiwan on its return flight.

Operations at the airport, about 50 km (30 miles) inland from the prefecture's coast, were not affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami 東日本大震災.

Taiwan's airlines have started operating chartered flights to Fukushima Prefecture in recent years.

It certainly is encouraging to see the Tōhoku region 東北地方 slowly getting back on its feet. It will take time, but eventually all the debris will be carted off, transportation links will be resumed (though some damaged train lines may be converted into exclusive bus lanes – see this Yomiuri Shimbun 読売新聞 article from today's Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 and, yes, the damaged nuclear reactors will be achieve cold shutdown. Visitors are gradually making their way back to the area, though for the residents who suffered through that terrible day and its aftermath, the emotional scars may never heal. Before March 11, I had been thinking about visiting Tōhoku at some point in 2012, and despite all that has happened, I see no reason for changing my plans. Sightseeing spots such as Hiraizumi 平泉 and the Tōno 遠野 Valley appear to have emerged relatively unscathed from the disaster, while I'm confident that Sendai 仙台, the region's hub, will quickly recover much as Kōbe 神戸 did in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin earthquake 阪神・淡路大震災. The one alteration to my plans would probably have to be Kinkazan 金華山. I haven't heard anything about the state of the island itself, but I do know that the city of Ishinomaki 石巻 and the town of Ayukawa 鮎川, the two main transportation points to Kinkazan, were devastated by the tsunami.

A new store in Fengyuan (Fēng​yuán) 豐原 selling old clothing for old women.

A sporting good time

Many foreign residents in Japan, especially those who have started families, are familiar with undōkai 運 動会, those school sporting competitions that sometimes see the parents get roped into the various activities. It turns out this phenomenon is thriving in Taiwan as well. My daughter's kindergarten held its first Sports Day beginning this morning at the ungodly-for-Sunday starting time of 8:50. Despite some initial misgivings on my part – being the only Western parent in attendance, not to mention being older than most of the other dads – it turned out to be pretty fun. Amber definitely had a good time – all that exertion from this morning knocked her out earlier than usual this evening.

Amber with one of her classmates and friends, "Carol". All of the kids in my daughter's class have English names, but Amber's is the only one that has any legal standing.

This being East Asia, there were lots of lining ups, wearing of uniforms and chants in unison, all propelled by the use of personal amplification systems.

Among the events in which mother and daughter paired up was this "grass curling" race involving Nerf balls.

Dad didn't shirk his athletic responsibilities, either.

Pamela and Amber after the main event, a four-person relay race. Due to the condition of my knees, my running days are long behind me, so my wife had to take up the baton (literally).

The elementary school where the sports day event was held still has a couple of statues of a certain dead dictator on its grounds, unfortunately.

In the afternoon, following a change of clothing at home, the three of us headed into T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中, where we spent the afternoon inside the local branch of the Mitsukoshi Department Store 新光三越.

What did I learn from walking around the floors of Mitsukoshi? Well, I found out that Tōkyū Hands 東急ハンズ, a well-known Japanese department store that specializes in hardware and do-it-yourself materials, is called "Hands T'ailung" 台隆手創館 here in Taiwan.

The 10th floor of Mitsukoshi was the site of a special promotion featuring Taiwanese snack foods. I walked away with a box of traditional sweets, a parting gift for my long-suffering Mandarin teacher.

Amber poses with a leaf on one of Taiwan's numerous and little-used pedestrian bridges. Many locals, it seems, would rather take their chances crossing a busy road (like T'aichung's Chungkang Road 中港路) at street-level instead of actually having to climb, *gasp*, stairs.

The Orientalist in me just has to post this photo of a roadside duck meat stand in Fengyuan (Fēng​yuán) 豐原.

Autumn almanac

Fall is here in Taiwan, all two weeks' of it (according to one well-known local blogger), and the weather has been very nice (with the exception of a few days' worth of rain). Today was especially pleasant, and I made good use of the sunshine by going for a walk in the area around the Kuanyin (Guān​yīn) 觀音 temple atop the hill behind the Central Taiwan University of Science and Technology 中台科技大學. The walk up to the temple is a short and easy one, but fortunately there is a network of trails in the area behind the temple, and I was able to make a two-hour loop around the hills.

The two little kissing duck figurines were complemented by recorded quacks being played on a continuous loop. Tres Buddhist, non?

Whatever the structure in the photo is, its position atop a small hillock made it look like an island fortress

This lizard was quite literally hanging around

One thing I sometimes wonder while stomping around in the hills and mountains of central Taiwan is what would I do in the event a large earthquake suddenly struck the area (probably scream like a baby). According to this AFP article from Japan Today, I'll now a few seconds warning before the trails collapse from under my feet:

"Taiwan said Monday it had put into service its first undersea seismic observation system, giving the island life-saving extra seconds or even minutes to brace for earthquakes and tsunamis.

The NT420-million ($14 million/¥1.07 billion) system, built by NEC Corp 日本電気株式会社, consists of equipment ranging from ocean-bottom seismographs to tsunami pressure gauges and even underwater microphones.

'The system gives a much clearer picture of what’s happening. We can even hear the sounds of dolphins swimming by,' Kuo Kai-wen, director of the Seismology Center 地震測報中心, told AFP.

'With the help of this system, we’ll be able to attain an average of 10 seconds’ extra warning if earthquakes hit off the east coast, and an extra 10 minutes to issue tsunami warnings,” he said.

Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes, as it lies near the junction of two tectonic plates. In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude tremor killed around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s recent history.

The new alert system is centered around a submarine cable beginning at the township of T'ouch'eng (Tóu​chéng) 頭城 in the northeast of Taiwan and stretching for 45 kilometers (28 miles) into the ocean in a roughly easterly direction.

Nearly 70% of the earthquakes that strike Taiwan hit this area, according to the seismology center.

The system is deployed at a depth of around 300 meters (980 feet), sending real-time digital information to land via submarine optical fiber cable 24 hours a day, NEC said in a statement.

Taiwan began considering an undersea alert system after the Indian Ocean tsunami in late 2004 killed almost a quarter of a million people.

Another undersea earthquake, as powerful as that which caused the 2004 disaster, triggered a tsunami that struck Japan in March, leaving about 22,000 dead or missing.

'The power of the two quakes was pretty much the same, but the much lower toll figure in Japan shows that early warning systems are very effective in the battle against unexpected natural disasters,' Kuo said.

Now the workers at those three nuclear power plants on Taiwan's northeast coast (two in operation, the other nearing completion) will have a few more minutes to run for their lives before a massive tsunami 津波 swamps the facilities, already badly damaged from the earlier earthquake, leading to catastrophic meltdowns and the irradiation of the entire island. Time to head to the local いざかや (izakaya, or Japanese-style pub) for a round or two before it all comes to an end, On the Beach-style.

Under the radar

Lunch at a Korean-style restaurant in Fengyuan (Fēng​yuán) 豐原. The bibimbap (lower left) 비빔밥 (石鍋拌飯) was very spicy, but also really good.

Everybody and their grandmother in Taiwan knows of Wang Chien-Ming 王建民. His recent appearance playing for the national team against a group of players from the major leagues generated a good deal of publicity. Wang made a successful comeback this past season after having spent a couple of years on the disabled list, and many Taiwanese are looking forward to him returning to his past form (and past glories) in 2012 with the Washington Nationals. However, while Wang is considered the "Pride of Taiwan", only the more serious baseball fans here are aware of another Taiwanese player who has considerably more success than Wang in recent years. The person I'm referring to is Chen Wei-yin 陳偉殷, of the Chūnichi Dragons 中日ドラゴンズ of the Central League セントラル・リーグ in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball 日本野球機構『プロ野球』. Chen has been a dominant pitcher with the Dragons since 2008, and though his record this year was only 8-10, his ERA was an excellent 2.68. Chūnichi won the CL pennant in 2011, and is facing the Pacific League パシフィック・リーグ champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks 福岡ソフトバンクホークス in the Japan Series 日本選手権シリーズ. Chen was given the honor of starting the first game yesterday for the Dragons, and the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 had this to say about his

Deep impact / Chen goes 8 solid innings as Dragons win opener on solo homers

"Chunichi starter Chen Wei-yin チェン・ウェイン went deep into the game, while Kazuhiro Wada 和田一浩 and Masaaki Koike 小池正晃 went deep over the wall, lifting the Dragons to victory in Saturday's Japan Series opener in Fukuoka 福岡.

Koike homered with two outs in the top of the 10th inning, lifting the Central League champions to a 2-1 victory over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Game 1…

Chen, who allowed a run in eight innings, was holding the short end of the stick until Wada homered to tie it in the top of the seventh against Hawks lefty Tsuyoshi Wada 和田毅. It was the Dragons' first hit of the game.

'We didn't even have one hit. As many times as I've seen [Wada], I wonder if I've ever seen him throw his fastball harder,' said Kazuhiro Wada, who battled the Hawks lefty for years in the PL.

'But in that inning, I felt he was tiring and I hit a fat pitch. It's a big park, so I didn't think it would get out. It's a good thing it did.

'Chen did such a great job under pressure, holding them to a run. The guys knew we had to get him a run somehow.'

The homer was Wada's sixth in Japan Series play, while Chen's 11 strikeouts were the most in a Series game by a Dragon since 1954, when Shigeru Sugishita 杉下茂 struck out 12 in Game 1…

Hawks cleanup hitter Nobuhiro Matsuda 松田宣浩 and Yūya Hasegawa 長谷川勇也 cracked open a scoreless pitching duel in the bottom of the fourth inning off Chen, who allowed four hits and two walks.

Matsuda singled with one out and stole second. With one out and runners on first and second, Hasegawa lined a pitch to center to easily score Matsuda."

Thanks in large part to Chen's efforts, the Dragons are off to a good start in the series. I'm pulling for Chūnichi to go all the way this
year, in large part because they are my favorite Japanese baseball team. When I first traveled to Japan back in 1989, I immediately identified with the Dragons as they were wearing uniforms virtually identical to those of the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of my two favorite teams from childhood (the other being the then-California Angels). The team changed its uniform style later on, but I moved closer to Chūnichi in later years – literally. Studying Japanese at a school in Okazaki 岡崎 in Aichi Prefecture 愛知県, and then later managing a small English school in Yokkaichi 四日市 in Mie Prefecture 三重県 meant that I was close enough to the Dragons' home city of Nagoya 名古屋 to see a couple of games at their home stadium, Nagoya Dome ナゴヤドーム.

And then there is Hiromitsu Ochiai 落合博満, the current manager of the Dragons. He was my favorite player back when he was still active, not only due to his considerable talent, but also because of his individualistic approach to the game, as Robert Whiting illustrated in his classic book comparing American and Japanese cultures through the shared medium of baseball, You Gotta Have Wa. When his playing days ended, Ochiai was hired to manage Chūnichi, and has been just as successful in his new role as field manager, guiding the team to five pennants (including this year) and a Japan Series championship in 2007 (the Dragons' first since 1954). For reasons that are still not entirely clear, a couple of months ago Chūnichi's ownership announced that Ochiai was going to step down at the end of the season. It would be great to see one of the legends of Japanese baseball go out in style.


That’s what Edward said

In this age of globalization, Japanese tourists apparently will fly to Taiwan in order to have Thai-style massages. Or is just the spelling of "Tai" that is confusing them?

Life isn’t easy on the mean streets of T'aipei (Tái​běi) 台北. Fortunately, there are several easy steps that can be taken to help you cope with your difficult living environment:

First of all, forget the fact that in T’aipei all you have to do is ride the subway for a few minutes (a convenience unavailable elsewhere in Taiwan, with the possible exception of Kaohsiung [Gāo​xióng] 高雄) before finding yourself in a world teeming with upscale department stores, ritzy boutiques, fusion restaurants, cafés serving imported beers, hopping nightclubs and specialist stores stocking many of the familiar comforts of home. Focus instead on your immediate environment and on the need to integrate into your new surroundings…or at least as much as any foreign barbarian can in these circumstances. This can be done by making an attempt to learn the local lingo and trying some of the more “exotic” dishes (don’t eat anything familiar, even if your neighbors seem to enjoy do so.) Later, when talking to fellow expats, you will be able to toss in local words and phrases into your conversation, and identify things like food items only by their local name, without any accompanying definitions. This will force your foreign friends and acquaintances to ask for clarifications and explanations, thus giving you “street cred”.

Second, try not to think of the people around you as flesh-and-blood human beings who share many of the same likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, and fears and worries as you. Instead, always remember that they are stock characters, Exotic Others in your Asian (Taiwanese) Experience. This will help to enhance the excitement of your life abroad, and impress the folks and friends back home who will marvel at your descriptions of life in T’aipei/Taiwan, and marvel at photographs such as this one:

Once you have located your local comfort zone, be sure to stress how much better life in T’aipei/Taiwan is compared to your country of birth and/or nationality. This can be done by deliberately overlooking the more unpleasant or seamier sides of life in Taiwan, and ignoring the fact that on such a compact island everything will be much closer than in vast, continent-wide countries such as Australia, Canada or the United States. All that personal space and freedom in the latter is vastly overrated anyway.

Now you are ready to assume your role as an interpreter of all things Taiwanese to the outside world. This can be done in conversation, blog entries and postings on Internet forums. Remember while explaining Taiwan to those on the outside to always stress the differences, not the similarities, and of how much you understand and have adapted to these cultural shocks. Be careful of boasting, but do try to pepper your conversation with local words, and try to bring up as often as you can the exotic dishes you enjoy eating (and, if necessary, force yourself to drink Taiwan Beer on a regular basis), as well as the “incredibly beautiful” places you have visited. Always keep your focus on the “unique” aspects of Taiwan, and don’t concern yourself with context. Most importantly, never forget that every experience with a local, especially when conducted in the local language, is an experience worth not only treasuring, but sharing with others.

Finally, always keep in mind that you are the sole interpreter of Taiwan. It’s a heavy responsibility – there are plenty of people in the West who rely on you to define Taiwan for them. Do not try to accommodate differing opinions and/or observations, even though they may be the result of an individual’s experience that could be very different from your own. Explaining the Exotic Other of Taiwan is a zero/sum game, and you need to be adamant when standing your ground. Giving even an inch could mean ceding your turf to another barbarian observer.

Oh, and should you ever come across a book called Orientalism, don’t pick it up and start reading. It’s heavy-going and humorless, and, besides, you might not like what is written inside.

A colorful native tries to work out the meaning of しょくえいぼう (shokueibō)…or not.

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