Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Taichung Voice, Probably February 2006

I guess this issue was something like "The Best of Taichung," but I don't really remember. I don't have a hard copy of the issue, only the long-lost .doc file reproduced below.  

===============================================

So how has the article aged? Well...

To this day, the hangover I got from drinking Dragon Phoenix liquor is one of the worst I've ever had. I don't even know if it's still made. I hope not. 

The anecdote about Kaoliang and my misunderstanding is true. 

Taizhong Park got a total redesign/rebuild 10 or 15 years ago, and there are no longer any dark hidden spaces for... shenanigans. I do not know the current status of the Tang Dynasty prostitutes next to the park.

Don't know if prawn fishing is still a thing. Haven't seen one of those places around for ages.

Pizza Hut totally put red bean (and much worse things) on a pizza. 

Fubar Taichung. God I miss that place,   

   ===============================================

The Cursed Worst

 What kind of boring issue is this? The best coffee. The best place to go for a visa run. The best place to hide from the Foreign Affairs Police when they raid your school or office*. Oh sure, I could write a fantastic article about the best computer game that involves robots and dinosaurs**, but (Taichung Voice editor) Lance says he’ll fire me if I ever me if I ever mention dinosaurs again.  

 In protest of this slavish devotion to the reporting of excellence, I am going to fill you in on what you really need to know, The Worst of Taichung and Taiwan. I have over ten years experience in blundering into some of the worst things this country has to offer. So take my advice, and avoid the following:  

 

The Worst Hangovers (are courtesy of):

1) Dragon Phoenix liquor 龍鳳酒 (Long Feng Jiu). With a shortage of actual dragons and phoenixes available to make this, the manufacturer is evidently using toxic waste and pure essence of evil. The hangover this stuff produces will cause the most hardened atheist to pray for relief to any and all gods who might be listening.

2) Kaoliang 高粱酒. I lived in Taiwan for many years under the impression that Kaoliang was a place name. It was a comforting belief - As long as all the world’s Kaoliang jiu came from one city, then there was always the possibility of some kind of natural disaster wiping that city off the map, thereby saving the world from this evil, 120-poof menace. As it turns out, Kaoliang means ‘Chinese sorghum’. So kaoliang jiu just means ‘sorghum liquor.’ A better name might be 高粱痛 kaoliang tong, or “sorghum pain.”

3) Rice wine and coke. A few years back I moved into an apartment, where the previous tenant had left a bunch of stuff. Among the items I inherited were four bottles of rice wine, used by Taiwanese mostly for cooking. So one night I was at home alone and felt like having a few drinks, but I was too lazy to go out and buy anything. All I had was this big bottle of Coke, and these bottles of rice wine… I’m telling you, the first one went down quite nicely, and I quickly found myself at the bottom of the fourth bottle. I would like to describe to you what the next day was like, but there are not words in any language to express that kind of agony. I’ve heard that rice wine and 維士 (Whisbih) are pretty good together, but to tell the truth I’m kind of gun shy at this point.

 

The Worst local foods

1) Cho dofu 臭豆腐 (Stinky tofu). The deep fried kind is pretty gross, but if you are hungry enough or drunk enough, you can probably put it away. The steamed kind is weapons-grade disgusting, inedible under any circumstances. An honorable mention goes to the chou dofu and fish soup, which I only found out existed a few weeks ago.

 2) Fried bee larvae. This local delicacy does not taste nearly as bad as the stinky tofu, but I think the fact that it is comprised of BEE LARVAE qualifies it as one of the worst. Bee larvae. That’s just nasty.

 3) Anything with red (adzuki) bean in it. I’m still waiting to see my first pizza with red bean on top of the cheese. It seems inevitable, because in Taiwan red bean seems to work its way into everything, and local pizzas are often the receptacle of every kind of vegetable imaginable. If corn and green peas are ok on pizza, then why not red bean? But it’s still gross.    

 

The Worst Park

1) Chung Shan Park (also called Taichung Park) on Gong Yuan Rd. downtown. Where to start? Wailing karaoke drifts across the park, as you survey the sad looking ‘lake’ and the decrepit boats that you can rent and row around in the filthy water. In late evening, the park becomes a cruising spot for gay men. If that doesn’t turn you off, the vintage Tang dynasty 唐代 prostitutes hanging out on Gong Yuan Rd. next to the park probably will. Worst. Park. Ever.  

 

The Worst Recreation

1) Prawn fishing. Or maybe it should be called “shrimp fishing” 釣蝦子 [diao xia zi]. I had never imagined that there could be anything more boring than fishing, but I was wrong. Prawn fishing has all traditional tedium of fishing, combined with the fact that when you get a bite and wrestle the thrashing beast to shore, you’ve caught… a prawn. After you have sat around what is basically a dirty swimming pool and caught your batch of prawns, they will usually cook them for you at the site. Then you get to peel your prawns and eat them. What an awful way to spend an afternoon. Now if anybody finds out about a place where you get to chase down and slaughter your own chickens, let me know. That might be interesting.

Those are the main Taichung worsts. Filling out the list are the things that are so self-evidentially awful, that they need to further explanation:

 

Worst Cigarette- Long Life Yellow.

Worst intersection- Chung Gang Rd vs. Mei Cun & Jian Xing Rds.

Worst place to live- There is some argument here. I have always said that the worst place to live was in one of those fifty year-old apartments around the train station. But in the extensive research I did for this article***, I got some argument on this point, with some parties insisting that a truly unpleasant place to live must have a contingent of barking dogs nearby, which the train station area does not have. So I’m still open on this one, send me an e-mail and tell me what is the worst location in Taichung to reside.

That’s it. If I missed anything that you feel should be on the list, drop me an E-mail and let me know. And if you’ve got a blog or a website that relates to Taiwan, send me that too; Next month’s issue tackles the Internet, dinosaurs and all.     

 

* The roof.

** Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis

***I mentioned the topic one night at Fubar.


Friday, October 28, 2022

The Taichung Voice, April 2006

 "The Random Issue" 

===============================================

This events described in this article are not embellished at all. I really did have almost no idea what a biopsy was or what one entailed. 

The hospital was Lin Shin.  

Sixteen years later, and I still don't have skin cancer. I hope.  

   ===============================================

Spot Check


Years ago, before I discovered computers and X-box, I used to do a fair amount of stuff outside. Mostly biking and ultimate Frisbee, with the occasional hike up in Da-keng. Over time, exposure to the sun left me with a big brown freckle-looking thing on my arm. I never worried about it too much- it was there for many years, and while it slowly grew, it was still smaller than a NT$1 coin. 

About two years ago, the spot started to itch. It still wasn’t a big deal. I’d scratch it, it would get kind of flaky and weird looking. Then it would stop itching for a while. On a vacation in America, my uncle saw the spot on my arm and insisted that I see a dermatologist about it. “It might be malignant!” he said. “Not as malignant as me.” I retorted. Heh heh. I’m pretty funny, and old people worry too much. 

Then about two weeks ago, while I was vigorously scratching my spot, I noticed that the whole area was kind of swollen. Poking around it a bit, I could feel what felt like a tiny lump under the darkened skin. Uh oh. I don’t know much about healthy living or taking care of yourself or anything like that, but I was pretty sure I had read somewhere that lumps under brown spots on your skin is bad. Man, I hate it when my Uncle is right. 

It was time to go to the hospital. And I wanted a real hospital -- a big shiny clean place with beeping machines and preferably, some hot nurses to help out with whatever treatment was necessary. None of that moxibustion acupuncture herbal compress stuff. That kind of thing might be fine for a sore back, but nobody cures skin cancer with acupuncture. Luckily, there is a hospital down the street from my favorite bar, just in case… well, you know. Hospitals can make a guy nervous, and I might need to relax afterwards. I went in and registered to see the 皮膚科 pifuke  doctor, and after a short wait was sitting in a small office across from a doctor who looked like he had just graduated from med school. I was cool with having a young doctor. My reasoning was that while he may lack experience, being just out of school he’ll be knowledgeable in the latest medical developments, and less likely to prescribe leeches or bloodletting or something. Besides, I looked around and saw that the nurse assisting him was pretty hot, and it wasn’t just because I have a thing for those white uniforms. 

I showed him the dark blotch on my forearm, and told him its history. He replied in excellent English: “It would be best if we did a biopsy.” I said fine, and he gave me some papers to sign. The hot nurse then led me over to another room, and told me to sit in a chair and put my arm on a large rubber pad. She then started swabbing my entire forearm with iodine, while another nurse brought in a tray full of gleaming scalpels.

It was right about then that I realized that I didn’t exactly know what the English word ‘biopsy’ meant. I mean, I was pretty sure that it involved taking some kind of tissue sample and testing or analyzing it, but how exactly did they get the sample? And having already agreed to a biopsy, I’d have felt kind of stupid having to ask afterward “By the way, what IS a biopsy?” So instead, as the doctor walked in carrying a hypodermic needle, I asked him “By the way doctor, how do you say ‘biopsy’ in Chinese?”

As he jabbed the needle into the center of my arm, he said “The most common way to say it is 切片 qiepian. You probably won’t want to watch while I do this.” 

I thought about it for a few seconds as the doctor examined the tray of scalpels, all of which suddenly looked a lot bigger. To the best of my Chinese understanding, qiepian meant ‘cut a slice’. So I supposed that instead of taking a tiny bit out of the spot for testing, the doctor would slice a thin part off the top. Maybe it would be better if I didn’t watch. Fortunately, I had brought a copy of the March issue of The Taichung Voice, which had what looked like a really excellent article about blogging in Taiwan. I figured I’d just read the magazine while the doctor did his thing. Besides, I could already feel my arm getting numb from whatever had been injected, so there wouldn’t be any pain. 

I started to read, and the doctor started to work. I could fell this weird tugging sensation, but that was all. After a few minutes, I decided that I was going to watch the doctor while he finished up. I sure as hell couldn’t finish that Voice article -- it was totally boring. So I turned my head to see how the doctor was doing…

…and I almost threw up. Rivers of blood streamed from a gaping hole in my forearm, and the doctor meticulously dug deeply into my flesh with the knife to take out any tissue that was even remotely near the original spot. He only paused to wipe away the blood when he started having trouble seeing what he was doing. As one hand worked busily with the scalpel, the other held what looked like a pair of pliers and slowly pulled off my arm what I can only describe as a hairy meat pancake. 

(Note to self: In the future, when a doctor tells you “You probably won’t want to watch”, don’t watch.) 

I managed to watch without puking as the doctor sewed up the hole, and then staggered downstairs to pick up the prescribed medication. Maybe I should have informed the doctor that there is a problem with his language. Instead of saying qiepian for ‘biopsy’, the Chinese should be 挖一大塊肉 wa yi da kuai rou (gouge a big chunk of meat), just for accuracy’s sake. 

Two days later I got the results: not cancer. That’s good, but the next time I find some kind of odd spot on my body, I’m trying acupuncture. 




 




Friday, October 21, 2022

The Taichung Voice, December 2005

 "The Mayor Issue" 

===============================================

Another one that I had no memory of writing. Though my struggles with Sim City came back to me. Also, I found the original files for all of these Voice articles on an old USB drive, so I don't have to scan and OCR the print copy of the magazine. 

17 years later, the parking situation here is much better. The advent of untended parking lots has made private for-pay parking a reasonable investment. I suspect there were also some rule/law changes to facilitate this. 

Taichung finally got an MRT. It is an above-ground system, and there is only one line, but it connects to the high speed rail and train station in Wuri. I take it twice a week when I come back from Taipei. 

The air pollution is either as bad or worse as it was when I wrote this article. 

I feel like there are much fewer illegal KTVs in Taichung now, but that may just be a result of the pandemic. 

   ===============================================

City Government. Hell Yeah I’ll write about city government. I have a great big stinking laundry bag of issues I’d like to take up with a representative of Taichung’s leaders. First, I demand to know what is the DEAL with the parking situation, and then the traffic congestion, and the pollution, and the… and the… OK, wait a minute. Truth be told, I have never actually managed a group larger than seven people, much less an urban area of close to a million. How am I going to start railing about issues that I don’t see as being properly addressed, when certain people might imply that, well, I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Can’t have that, can we? I’d better get some training on this city management stuff, demonstrate my organizational mastery or urban issues, and *then* start the bitching.


Enter Maxis Software’s Simcity Formosa. With this city simulator, I’ll just lay out and manage my own little world-class metropolis, using the actual geography of Taichung. Man, I wish they’d put little dots on this map so I can tell exactly where Taichung is supposed to be. Somewhere there near the coast should be close enough. The program installed without a hitch- there was an introduction and a tutorial, but I clicked right through it. I don’t need a tutorial, I mean, how hard can running a city possibly be? And when do I get to build a subway system?



It’s time to get started doing this city right. First, we are going to get this place efficiently and fairly zoned. None of these tiny factories in what should be some family’s living room or garage. No storefronts on residential buildings with cars triple parked on the street in front. Residential areas are for residents. Commercial districts are for shopping and businesses. And my industrial park is going to have ample road and… rail access! I might run the subway line up there as well, but I don’t have enough money to build a subway system yet.  

Hey. Nobody is moving in to my city. It’s not growing. Oh right! The entire area is without electricity and water. OK, let’s build a power plant and a water distribution network…. These water pipes are kind of a pain in the ass. Maybe some areas can just use less water for a while. 

All set. Now, add hospitals and schools, placed within a convenient distance from the suburban areas. Make sure police and fire stations are spread throughout the city. Set funding to the maximum for the police force- the very instant an illegal KTV or massage parlor opens in my Taichung, my highly-trained and very well paid police units are going to move in and shut ‘em down. I’ll max out funding for the fire department as well, to better safeguard my city’s infrastructure and protect the citizens. 

Wow. My budget is a mess. I’ll never be able to build a subway at this rate. How can I generate more income? I know! I’ll raise taxes and charge more for city services.

Whoa! Bad move! Businesses are fleeing Taichung in droves! Citizens are protesting in the streets! My *gasp* approval rating has plummeted into the abyss! Alright Taichungers, calm down. I’ll lower taxes, and just trim some funding from the city services budget. What are people going to do with all that education and health care anyway? Hmm. Budget is still in the red. Cut city services some more. There. A nice, balanced…. What is that commotion? A strike by civil servants for better wages? Fire them!



 

This game sucks. It won’t let you fire government workers. Fine, I’ll restore the funding for city services. What else can I do to generate income? Click. Click. Click. Aha! A corporation is willing to pay us to build a toxic waste dump in Taichung! Well, I guess we can all live with some toxic waste… I’ll make them build it out there by the power plant. That area is kind of yucky and polluted already. See? Budget is balanced, and I am even turning a small surplus each month. Now I can start planning the ultimate futuristic subway/light rail/moving walkway system that will put to shame that silly little Taipei MRT. Someday my city will not even need cars because my subway system is going to so totally rock. 

What is that screaming? And why is my city making booming sounds? What the hell? There is a GIANT ROBOT attacking my city! There go a couple of factories. And that neighborhood went downhill pretty quickly, what with a giant robot stomping on all of the houses and whatnot. No! Stay away from the business district! Noooo!

Evidently, Simcity generates its own disasters to make the game harder. I suppose a giant robot attack is still probably easier to deal with than a major earthquake or flood. I can fix the things that got knocked down in my alternate Taichung, but I’m pretty sure that now I will never, ever have the money to build a subway system. Taichungers, enjoy your cars and motorcycles. 



 

So, in light of this simulation, what do I say now about the Taichung city government and the job they are doing? In my Simcity Taichung trials, I got voted out of office five times. That approval rating thing is tougher than it looks, and when it comes to decisions regarding the future of a city, “good for the city” can be very far away from “popular”. How much of what we see and criticize here in Taichung is the result not of shortsighted leadership, but the fact that the city councilors and mayor have to run for re-election? Even with the best of intentions and great foresight, the allocation of limited resources in running a city is a lot more difficult than having a beer and complaining about the people who run the city. I know, because I am an expert on having a beer and complaining. My advice to people in charge at Taichung City Hall: When you finally do get around to building a subway system, make sure it is Giant Robot-proof.   



Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Taichung Voice, May 2006

   "24 Hours in Taichung" 

===============================================

A bunch of hilariously dated stuff in this one, more so than usual. 

I did have a portable CD player, but I did not buy an MP3 player with a whopping 256 megabytes of memory. Are MP3 players even a thing now in 2022? I would guess they've ben replaced by phones. 

I really miss having brunch at FM. But I'm much better now at remembering to buy eggs. 

Sweet popcorn is still disgusting and wrong. I will die on this hill. 

I still get actors and actresses wrong all the time. 

This year wife and I went to New Zealand. She told me about this company in Wanaka that would not only let you fly a plane, but would even let you take off and land after only a few minutes of instruction. I confidently bet her one million billion trillion dollars that they would not let someone with no experience land any kind of airplane. Well you'll never guess who was wrong. Thanks a lot, U-Fly.

 ===============================================


I am sure that upon hearing that the theme of this month's issue is “24 Hours in Taichung,” regular readers of this column (all seven of you) are waiting with bated breath to read about how I once played Diablo II for 24 hours straight, defeating all three levels of the game and achieving worldwide notoriety in the gaming community. 

Alas, it is not to be. It has been brought to my attention that many of the readers of this magazine are not only male, but also have girlfriends. Some are even considering... marriage.

So it's my duty to put aside the important issues that we usually deal with in this column, and take this opportunity to warn single men about what is often an unforeseen danger of marriage: arguments. You see, being married is a transformative process. The guy you are going into it with is not that same guy coming out. (Not that I’m suggesting your marriage won't work out or anything.) Specifically, when you are married, it is possible for a husband and wife to argue about the most ridiculously mundane things –often several times in one day. Or a dozen times in one day. But probably not more than one hundred times in one day. Not yet, anyway. And these arguments and fights scar, cut, and mold a man's personality, making him unrecognizable to those who knew him as a bachelor.

Now, I could go around and ask a bunch of married people questions about their marriage, and collect all the data, and report it. But I think it is safe to assume that all marriages are exactly like mine. My wife and have the ability to argue about anything and everything. All day long. To help single guys better prepare themselves for this part of being married, I present:

24 Hours of Karl’s Marriage

Sunday: 8:00AM (Bedroom) I don't know, what do *you* want for breakfast? No we cannot have breakfast at FM, because they don't open for brunch until 12:00. I'm hungry now. I’ll  go downstairs and start breakfast.

8:45 (Computer room) What do you mean what am I doing? I'm checking my E-maiL No, I didn’t make *all* the breakfast, but I made the coffee. That's the hardest part. Let me just check one more thing online and then I'll cook the eggs.

10:20 (Computer room) Why are you always nagging me? I said I'll cook the eggs and I’ll cook the eggs. Let me just finish this great post on my blog.

11:15 (Computer room) I'm going! Tm going! Why are you always yelling? How do you want your toast?

11:16 (Kitchen) Well How WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW we didn't have any eggs? Like this is my fault? Maybe if you spent more time in the kitchen and less time SHOPPING FOR CLOTHES then you could have TOLD me that we didn't have any eggs.

12:00 (at FM) It's not MY fault we never save any money, YOU'RE the one who always wants to eat out.

12:45 (In the car) Yes it IS legal to turn right at a red light. I do it all the time. Yes it is. Is so. Oh yeah, well at least I’VE never had a car accident. No, that one doesn't count. He hit me. No, it doesn't. Does not. Not not not not.

12:55 (Still in the car) It’s OK to park here. Yes it is. That line is only half-red. They don't tow cars on Sunday anyway. I know they do in Taipei, but this is Taichung. You worry too much.

1:00 (At Mitsukoshi Department Store.) You've got to be kidding me. You cannot possibly want to look at shoes. You have a million pairs of shoes already. Boots are the same as shoes. You don't have to yell about it. Why are you always yelling?

1:20 (Still at Mitsokoshi) That blouse? It makes you look pretty fat. OW! What did I say? Why are you always hitting me?

1:30 (Mitsukoshi) I need that MP3 player. Yes I do. I know I already have a portable CD player, but this MP3 player has 256 megabytes of memory. I need it to transfer computer files. For work. What kind of files? You know, like drivers and stuff. But ifs ON SALE. I am NOT being spoiled, I NEED it. Oh yeah? What about that time you crashed the car?

2:00 (Universal theater at Mitsokoshi, snack bar) Salty. No, salty. We are not discussing this. No. I said salty. Oh so it's like that. You won't even let me buy an MP3 player, and now I have to eat sweet popcorn? This is so unfair. Sweet popcorn is so gross.

2:10 (Sitting in theater seats) Who's that? Brad Pitt? He was Legolas in the Lord of the Rings, right? Yes he was, he was the guy with the bow. No, it's the same guy, I'm sure. You wanna bet? I’ll bet you a million dollars that Brad Pitt was in the Lord of the Rings. You are so stubborn.

4:00 (In Mitsukoshi bookstore, looking at the front of the DVD box set for the Lord of the Rings) Rupees! I said 111 bet you million Indonesian Rupees. Not dollars. No I didn't. Besides, Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom look almost exactly the same! How am I supposed to tell them apart? I am NOT blind.

4:20 (outside Mitsukoshi) Dammit all to hell where is our car?!?! I TOLD you we shouldn't park here! No, you didn't warn me at all.

6:00 (Home kitchen) Don't put so many hot peppers in the curry. No, that is still too many. You are going to kill me. I am NOT a big baby. Nobody eats food that spicy! Well do I LOOK Thai? Put that knife down.

8:00 (Living room, watching TV) Who is that actress? Angelina Jolie? She was in Lord of the Rings, wasn't she? Yes she was, she was the Elven Princess. Yes she was! I'll bet you ten million dollars that Angelina Jolie was in Lord of the Rings.

8:05 (Computer room, looking at Lord of the Rings web site) RUPEES! I said ten million RUPEES! What are you, DEAF?

11:30 (Bed) Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND? That's ridiculous! No man can do it more than once in one night. I don't care what you read in Cosmopolitan. Hey! Let go of that!

3:45AM (Computer Room) What does it look like I'm doing? I’m checking my E-mail!

7:55AM What do you want for breakfast? OK, I'll go make eggs...

Now, you can all see a recurring theme through the 24 hours of arguments detailed above. That theme is simple: I was right in every single case. Guys, don't be misled by this. While it is true that women seldom understand logic or technology or who was the actor in any given movie, the truth is that at least once in your life you will have an argument with your wife and be wrong. That's what I've heard, anyway. Since I've never been wrong, Fm not real clear on what it feels like.

So enjoy your bachelor days, where the 24 hours in the day matches up quite nicely with the 24 beers in a case. Married days are... more exciting, and longer. Much longer.

Finally, does anyone have any Rupees they can sell me?



Thursday, October 06, 2022

The Taichung Voice, March 2006

  "The Internet Issue" 

===============================================

Another one found that I had 100% forgotten writing. 

This article has aged much better than a lot of the others. I have no idea where I got "Blogging is to publishing what assembling DIY furniture is to manufacturing," but I still like it almost 17 years later. 

 ===============================================


Let Sleeping Blogs Lie

by Karl Smith


II liked blogs better back in the day, when they were the province of the technical elite. Oh sure, you sometimes had to read about the painfully awkward and inept social lives of those computer nerds, but there was enough knowledge required to create and maintain blog that kept the level of the content fairly high.


Not any more. These days, any doofus with an internet connection can share his/her thoughts, feelings and beliefs with the digital world*, and the chafe to wheat ratio has skyrocketed. Blogs can be roughly divided into two types: the personal type, and the ‘big picture’ type. Personal blogs detail the minutiae of the bloggers life, and suffer from the fact that most peoples' lives are pretty damn boring The big picture blogs aspire to tackle major issues. Things like politics, religion, philosophy, and ninjas. There is some discussion that these blogs and online journals are  “The New Media,” or “Inherently more democratic than traditional publishing". These views are put forth by... yeah, you guessed it, bloggers. Read these words now and think about it later: Blogging is to publishing what assembling DIY furniture is to manufacturing. The difference between paper and electric media is that blogs allow readers to give instant feedback to stuff they read online. With newspapers and magazines, the best one can do is write a letter to the editor. But the choice to publish the letter remains with the publisher. (This has always been problematic here at The Taichung Voice, where our publisher is easily confused by long words. Words like "compensation”). But anyone can leave a comment in response to something written on a blog. On the surface, this would seem to be a good thing- lively, rational debate about politics, and respectful, interesting discussions about topics in which people share a common interest.


In practice, it is kind of like that, but remove the words “rational” and “respectful” from that last sentence. The culprits are anonymity and distance, and the result is the breakdown of civilized discourse online. Take this example- If I post in my blog the following statement: 


“James Soong is the greatest man to come forward in 5000 years of Chinese history.”


Do you know what the first comments would be like? Something like this:


'You are worthless and this blog is stupid. Do the world a favor and quit writing.”


And that comment would be from my mom! The comments left by people I don't know would get really nasty. Yeah sure, at some point some academic type would come along and try to refute my position with reason and examples from history, but then I'd make another blog post calling that person a retarded troll. I’d have to, because I sure as heck couldn’t refute a logical argument. My knowledge of history starts around May of last year.


If you think you can take the abuse that comes with an issues blog, or of you just feel compelled to tell the world about your favorite movie and what you had for lunch today, go ahead and start your own blog. I only ask that you follow this quick guide:

Avoiding Blog Mistakes and Suckage

  • -Remember that most blog interfaces include a timestamp showing when a blog post was made. This can be a problem when posting from work, or school, or when you are supposed to be doing something else.
  • -Don't post while drunk. If you have an alcohol-inspired idea that you are sure must be shared, type it up and save it for sober consideration before posting.
  • -Don't use myspace.com. Reason? Ten million angsty teenagers using a service bought by Rupert Murdoch. You're not that angsty, and Murdoch has got enough money already.
  • -Don't fill your blog with the results from internet quizzes, like: 'Which character from Lord of the Rings are you?' or 'What kind of candy would you be?' or 'What is your Anime self?1. If you are tempted to post the results from an internet quiz, instead just type this sentence: "I have nothing to say today.”
  • -Avoid leetspeak and netspeak. Nobody wants to try to sort through something like this:

7h3 741(hpn9 V01(3 $hOp£D p4¥ 17$ wrl73r$ m0r3


Or this:


i g2g to da stor 2day c ya 18er LOLZ


Leetspeak was cool for about one week back in the year 2000. Blogging in leet in 2006 is worse than wearing a mullet to a business meeting. And save the netspeak for instant messaging.


  • -Collaborate. If you want your blog readers to return to your blog, you need to have new content (new postings) at least every other day. This can be tough for a single person to keep up, and blogging can quickly turn into drudgery. Get a few friends who share your interests to work on the same blog, so when you are tired or hungover or tempted to post the results from internet quizzes, they can post while you recharge.


There are about 10 million blogs out there*, and while they do not represent a sea change in the way people get their news, they are a part of a fundamental change in which people interact with the world around them. I don't know if blogging will ever incorporate things such as "accountability" and "knowing what in the hell you are talking about", but until it does, feel free to jump in. It's easy, and it's fun for at least the first week.


Lastly, if you disagree with anything I’ve written so far, send me E-mail at karl@thetaichungvoice.com. Or, you could write a letter to the editor...



* I should know, I’ve been one of those doofuses since 2003 Or maybe more. I pretty much just made that number up.






Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Randy

Twenty years ago, it seemed like you couldn't do anything online without running into (and probably arguing with) Ayn Rand supporters, aka Objectivists. They were everywhere - forums, blogs, comment sections. But now can't even remember the last time I ran into a living breathing Randian. I was wondering where they all went, and I ran across this: 



Ah, I get. A schism, if you will. One that the Trumpists evidently won. 

 

Monday, October 03, 2022

The Taichung Voice, June 2006

 "The Men's Issue" 

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16+ years ago. Yeah, looking back, a lot has changed. 'Men's Rights' is a thing again, except that now instead of calling its adherents "pantywaists," I would call them "incels" or "fukbois."

Should I have laughed then about "male reproductive rights?" Maybe not. I don't know. Not sorry, yet. I'll assert that nothing in the article is as problematic as that magazine cover (see bottom of post). 

I now get an annual PSA test. Turns out like every guy in my family ends up with prostate cancer.

I think that everyone now knows about that Nordic naming convention, on account of hearing "I am Thor, son of Odin" a hundred times in all those Marvel movies. 

I didn't remember writing this article until I saw it in the hard copy of the magazine I found. It reads/feels like I got tired of writing it 2/3 of the way through it. 

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Myths, Dads, and Photon Torpedoes

by Karl Smith


If you are a guy reading this, let me ask you something: How much do you know about feminism? Ever read any books about it? Given it a good thinking over? Discussed it with other guys? If you answered 'no' to these questions, then good; there are many more important issues that us men need to spend our intellectual power resolving.*


Also, if you answered no, I'm going to take a guess that you didn't know that back in the late eighties, there arose in the United States and Canada a splinter movement from the mainstream men’s movement of the time. I hear your questions. You're asking, “What mainstream men's movement?" Ah. That would be the men's movement that arose in response to ascension of feminism in the seventies.

The early proponents of "masculism" and "men's rights" were, and there is no nice way to say this – a big bunch of pantywaists. They were so concerned with the rise of feminism and feminist identity, that nobody would pay attention to the poor oppressed men-folk. Here are some of the injustices they were worried about:


• Portrayal of violence against women as more consequential than other forms of violence

• Men sometimes get charged with rape and sexual harassment when there is only the word of the victim against that of the accused

• Since conscription was only applied to males, they were the ones forced to risk their lives in military service

• Medical research funding for breast cancer is consistently higher than that for prostate cancer, yet the fatality rate is roughly the same for both types

• Male reproductive rights


Just so we are all clear on the above points, yes, these guys got upset that only men were drafted and killed in wars, even though it's men who have all the political power and start all the damn wars in the first place! And prostate cancer? Not only should men not be concerned with this, but I don't think guys have any business knowing what or where a prostate is. I sure don't.** And male reproductive rights? Ha ha ha.


So, while we can ignore the mainstream men's movement as being comprised of clueless goons, lets get back to that splinter movement. It was called the Mythopoetic Men's Movement, and was based largely on the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell and poet Robert Bly. If you are not familiar with the word "mythopoetic", don’t worry. It is a made-up word coined in the eighties. It relates to the creating and maintaining of living myths, and how myths influence identity.


What kind of myths? Let's kick a couple of examples around: Warrior. Father. Leader. Husband. I hear your protests. You are most likely saying that these are not myths, they are simply roles that men play. But more than that, they are the original models of identity (some people would call them “archetypes,” but we won't because that's a snobby sounding word), and the concepts they represent come with fifty thousand years of psychological and social baggage. Baggage that we as men do not always deal with real well, because introspection and self-awareness are not integral of any of these myths.


The Mythopoetic Men's Movement asked some pretty serious questions about male roles, took them apart, and put them back together again with some unexpected additions. Male bonding was a primary feature, and it involved a lot more than hanging out with other guys, getting drunk, and watching football. This bonding included storytelling and rituals, and re-established what it meant to be a man in the modern world. An important ritual it tried to bring back was the rite of passage. Many cultures have such rites, such as the Bar-Mitzvah or the confirmation. These religious rites signified a coming of age in ancient times, but nobody today considers a thirteen year-old a man. So, what other ceremonies do we have today that do signify achieving manhood? High-school graduation? Joining the military? To fill this disjunction, the mythopoetic man borrowed from ancient European and Native American mythology, and new rituals and ceremonies were created to mark and celebrate the coming of age.


Another key issue for these new men was what they called 'reclaiming fathers’. At meetings and get-togethers, participants would introduce themselves like, "I am _____ , son of _____.” Although this sounds kind of archaic and Viking-like (in fact all of those Scandinavian surnames like Ericson, Robertson, etc. are derived from exactly this kind of naming tradition), the idea in bringing back this convention was to tie men's identity more strongly to that of their male ancestors. Who you are was not to be decided by jobs, nationality or religion, but by the credo that you are your father's son, and the father to your children. I think this would be seen as unnecessary in a lot of cultures, where there is a strong tribal or clan identity, or even here in Taiwan, where the veneration of ancestors is a daily part of life. Surely those ancestor-altars in people's homes do a pretty good job of reminding men here of their patriarchal lineage and their place in it.

So far, nothing in this new men's movement seems particularly bizarre. For men to get together and re-define the roles and definitions of what it means to be a man is perfectly reasonable. But there is a good example of why we are talking about this movement in the (mostly) past tense: Drumming. Part-therapy, part male bonding, and part "releasing the wild man within," bands of men took to the forests, removed their shirts, and started pounding away their aggressions together. And what was essentially a support group, turned into something distinctly weirder.


Robert Bly wrote: "The Wild Man encourages a trust of the lower half of our body, our genitals, our legs and ankles, our inadequacies, the "soles" of our feet, the animal ancestors, the earth itself…" Now I don't know about the rest of you guys, but trusting my genitals has not usually turned out in my favor. And though drumming may indeed have a therapeutic and cathartic affect, common sense tells me that doing it shirtless and in the company of other men could also have its flaws. Besides, when women hear talk of 'releasing the wild man', their reaction is almost always going to be negative. Most women have seen enough of the 'Wild Man’ in their lives. And so, the Mythopoetic Men's Movement faded away to the fringe.

Now, nearly two decades later, the questions that this movement asked remain largely unanswered. When do we become men? How do we connect as males without the crutches of sports and alcohol? When and how can we show vulnerability? And what the heck is the concept of 'warrior’ supposed to mean to men today?


I can't answer these questions, but I am pretty sure of one thing. If Kirk was the captain, then the Enterprise would win.

 

* Like who would win in a battle between an Imperial Battle Cruiser and the U.S.S. Enterprise?

** The legal department of the Taichung Voice would like to recommend that all readers aged 50 and above talk to your doctor about prostate cancer screening.




 

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Taichung Voice, July 2006

A stuff I wrote for that thing way back then. 

Things that have changed since then: 

1) Besides dogs, I have now seen all manner of pets being paraded at People's Park on Sundays, including snakes, iguanas, turtles, and even a hawk of some kind. 

2) There was a Transformers movie that actually had robot dinosaurs, but it kind of sucked. 

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Heavy Petting

So I was on my way to Nova last week, and as I passed through People’s Square I saw the weekly canine convention that is held there every Sunday afternoon. If you have never seen this, stop by and check it out some Sunday- it’s pretty cool. A large number of Taichung’s dog owners bring their dogs to run around and play and have peeing contests with all the other dogs. There are a few incessant barkers, but mostly the dogs are pretty well behaved. Seeing so many happy animals got me to thinking: I should get a pet. Taichung is now blessed with some huge pet stores that have just opened in the last couple of years, so my pet options should be pretty varied. With this in mind, I headed over to the section of Wu-Chuan West Road between Dong Xing and Wen Hsin Roads, where four or five of these large stores are located. Here are my pet candidates:


Fish. Not a pet so much as a decoration. An expensive decoration. Fresh-water fish tanks are boring, saltwater tanks are difficult to maintain. Yes some people believe that certain species of fish will bring prosperity to their owners, but that is just a superstition. It is a scientific fact that luck only comes from horseshoes and ladybugs. Forget the fish.


A dog. The obvious choice. Everyone loves dogs. “Man’s best friend,” they say. Well it’s true, dogs are loving and loyal, but they also tend to be as dumb as a box of hair. All dogs ever think about is eating and sleeping and licking their private parts. For that kind of companionship, I could just as easily hang out with the writers of 24 * seven magazine. Ha ha! A little cross-publication humor there. But seriously, even if I’m going to get a dog, what kind to get? Huskies are hugely popular in Taiwan now, but I just wouldn’t feel right owning a dog that was bred for arctic temperatures in a tropical environment. And the thing about any large breed of dog is that I’m sure they feel cramped, stuck in an apartment all day. Dogs should have a yard or garden or something to run around in and my 1-1/2 ping balcony is not going to cut it. So how about a small dog, like a Chihuahua? I could dress my Chihuahua up in a little sweater, carry him around in my purse, and take him to coffee shops and comb his hair when I. . .. Whoa! Wait a minute. Let's just forget the dog idea entirely.


So maybe a cat. Quieter, smarter and less smelly than a dog. Small enough so that living in an apartment is not a problem. Cats clean themselves. Granted, cats are more aloof and not as loving as dogs, but there is a good reason for that. In ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped as holy, and the killing of cats was illegal. I guess modern cats remember this fact, and that’s why they still act like spoiled little furry gods. We’ll put the cat down as a ‘maybe’.


 How about an unusual, edgy pet... like a snake! Snakes are cleaner than both cats and dogs. Watching a snake eat stuff (like a Chihuahua) is fun and entertaining, whereas watching a cat or dog eat stuff is pretty boring. And just imagine how cool it would be to show up at People’ Park on a Sunday afternoon with a two-meter python on a leash. On the downside, snakes are even less affectionate than cats. And do I really need a cold-blooded predator living in my apartment? After all, I’m already married. No snakes, then. But there are other reptiles for sale at the pet stores, like iguanas and horned lizards. At least, I think they are horned lizards –they don’t really have horns. Neither of these are good pets though. Iguanas are master escape artists, and it would just be a matter of time before my pet iguana escaped and made a dash for Dakeng. And the lizard things are nocturnal, which means nightmare-inducing scratching from its cage all night long as it tries to forage. No, no reptiles.


 A hedgehog? Don’t laugh. Hedgehogs are becoming increasingly popular as pets in Taiwan. No, I don’t know anyone that has actually bought one. I’m not sure what the advantage is to having a hedgehog as a pet. Do they play? Can they kick ass like Sonic the Hedgehog does in those Sega games? I doubt it. Real life animals are never as interesting as their digital counterparts.


But looking at these different kinds of pets, I thought that surely there was something out there that would match my own... proclivities. So I left the pet stores, and went back to Nova, where I am most comfortable. Besides, those pet stores don’t smell so good. And it was at Nova that I found the perfect pet: THE ROBORAPTOR


That’s right. Not only is the Roboraptor a ROBOT, but it is also a DINOSAUR! If you do not agree that this is the coolest thing in the whole universe, then... you need to go watch more movies about robots and dinosaurs or something. I got so excited when I saw the Roboraptor in the store that I peed in my pants a little bit.

 


The advantages of a robot pet over a live pet are countless. No poo, ever. No food except batteries, and batteries can be re-charged and re-used these days. You can’t re-use cat food. The Roboraptor costs around NT$3500, which is cheaper than a fancy iguana or a purebred dog. And the Roboraptor's artificial intelligence comes with three distinct moods, which is two more than you’ll ever see in a snake. I’m not sure if the Roboraptor will protect your home in the same way a dog might, but I am working on it. Now, if I can just figure out how to dress him up like a ninja. . .




Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Taichung Voice, May 2005

 This is my article in that issue. While I think it was accurate for the time, some things have certainly changed: 

  • Traffic mayhem. Not so much any more. Taiwanese driving skills have improved 1000% since I first got here in 1990. 
  • Betel nut is not nearly as ubiquitous as it used to be. 
  • Very few "random acts of violence and brutality by scooter gangs and gangsters" these days.
  • The national identity crisis has been resolved. Taiwanese are Taiwanese.

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Stranger in a Strange Land

Strangers are as Strangers Do

A long time ago, in an airport not so far away, I got off a plane knowing only two things about Taiwan: 1) People here spoke Chinese, and 2) It had to be better than China was in the late eighties. Well, those facts were generally correct, but not particularly important. And like all of us who arrived here looking forward to learning a new culture, nothing could have prepared me for the bizarre stuff: 

Thousand year eggs. Election time sound trucks. Traffic mayhem. More superstitions than you can shake a stick at. Streets speckled with red liquid so that it looks like there has been a knife fight on every corner. Stinky tofu (some guide books will refer to 'pungent tofu'. 1 say stink is stink). A national identity crisis that is no closer to resolving itself now than it was in 1 990. Pole shrimp fishing.

But after a while, the oddities of life in Taiwan lost their effect. It turns out that 皮蛋豆腐 (Century egg) is pretty good, if you can get over the brain-like appearance and consistency. Even if betel
nut is not yet a fixture at the poker or chess game, it is probably accepted, and the 檳榔一百塊 (Betel nut $100) guy is a mainstay of expat hangouts. When checking out an apartment, you find yourself noting that the river facing the property is pretty good feng shui. The concepts of 'law' and 'traffic' move farther and farther apart mentally, so that they hardly ever converge in your mind. Stinky tofu is still a culinary abomination, but you've already figured out how to pass upwind of the night market.

But this is still a fairly odd place, right? Things are generally much more sensible back home, aren't they? I don't want to sound like the professor in your freshman year sociology class, but there may be a certain amount of (ahem) relativism involved with the concept and use of the word 'strange'. Let's do a quick and unresearched comparison of cultural weirdness:

In Taiwan, people believe in ghosts. In America, 73% of the population believes in angels. Not some kind of angelic force, actual angels.

In Taiwan, there are random acts of violence and brutality by scooter gangs and gangsters. In Europe, hardcore football fans get together to participate in organized acts of violence and brutality on people who have the audacity to support a different football team.

In Taiwan, people eat chicken feet. And like it. In Scotland, they eat haggis. In America, some people eat deep-fried Hostess Twinkies. In England, they eat English food, and in Australia they like to put pickled beets on hamburgers.

Taiwanese people can spend hours playing Mahjong. Canadians can spend hours watching hockey. And talking about hockey.

The government of Taiwan is hopelessly compromised to business interests and organized crime figures! And so are the governments of Florida, Canada and Italy.

Move along, nothing to see here.

So, the weirdness in Taiwan is not some kind of universal peculiarity. It's just the differences that we deal with when we arrive. After a time, we adjust to the new culture, and note thankfully that at least nobody here is trying to put pickled beets on our damn hamburgers. And the quirks and oddities become a kind of subtext for your interactions with other expatriates, while they are edited out of your relationships with locals. And it is those interactions and relationships that lead us to:

Comments on 'Stranger’.

Most people when they arrived here knew either nobody, or had only a few friends and colleagues. But this is a situation that should be easily rectified. There aren't that many foreigners here, so surely there is a fairly cohesive expatriate community. One that you can slide into as you adjust to life in this new country. Right? Not in Taichung. Not anymore. I'm not going to bore you with how things were back in 'the day', suffice to say that that the expat community here used to be... sort of a community. There were English teachers, and there were defense contractors, and everyone pretty much went to the same places and did the same things anyway. Only difference was that the defense guys drove nice cars and the English teachers rode beater motorcycles to get there. There were no cliques or factions; groups were not separated by industry or nationality or musical preference.

But today, Taichung has more cliques than a suburban U.S. high school, and a rumor mill that would generate power equal to that of a nuke plant, if some way were found to harness the energy. I don't think there is any point in trying to lay blame for this fact, and it may well be just the result of a critical mass of foreigners in one place. Too many people and the cohesiveness, the community, start to bleed away. (Though as a stodgy middle-aged man, I am always willing to reproach young people, so maybe it's all their fault). The thing that seems to defy explanation is the one-upmanship on how long you have been here. I have heard people say with some smugness that they have been here a full 6 months longer than the person they are talking to, as if some kind of victory had been achieved regarding social status. By what rules do you win by having been in Taiwan longer than the other guy? Whatever happened to the traditional benchmarks of how tall you are, how many credit cards you have, or how long your penis is? Damn young people.

What this means to us and the topic of this month's issue: people can still feel like a stranger here, even after being here a while and making an effort to meet people. When making Taiwanese friends, you find that it can be difficult to truly connect unless your Chinese is really good. When making expat friends, you need to be careful that you don't stumble into one of the 'uncool' crowds, like those geeky chess players at Salut on Sunday nights. Still, fragmented as our social scene may be, everyone can pretty much find their communal place here eventually. With the growth in the expatriate population, there has been corresponding growth in sports and social activities, cultural stuff, and people to meet and hook up with. So the next time you see a stranger in this town, especially one who hasn't been here as long as you, ask them out for an evening of chicken feet and shrimp fishing.