Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Taichung Voice, Probably August 2006

Another one where I don't have the physical magazine, just the text and picture files. 

Notes:

The Wenxin Road Jade Market is long gone. I think it moved to somewhere on Wuchuan West Road, near Liming Road. 

My wife has not gone to either jade market in over a decade, but she still has a nice collection of old cool stuff. 

Zhonggang Road is now "Taiwan Dadao."

I really wanted to buy a PDA back then. LOL. 

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Jaded

Over the last 5000 years, China has turned out some pretty impressive art. My problem is that except for comic books, I don’t know much about art, Chinese or otherwise. My only experience with any kind of art or culture or any of that stuff comes from the fact that for the past seven years, I have made approximately ten thousand weekend trips to the two jade markets in Taichung. Why do I spend so much time at the jade market? It’s simple. My wife makes me go with her. She is obsessed with old jade and old silver jewelry, and can spend hours browsing the tables and stalls at the jade market. To be fair, I can spend hours at Nova looking at new computer hardware that I can’t afford, so I guess we’re even.


There are two jade markets - the old one in that weird building on Gong Yuan Road across from the park, and the big one at the intersection of Wen Hsin Rd. and Zhonggang Road They are about the same to my barbarian eye, but I’ve heard that the Gong Yuan Rd. jade market is the ‘good one’. What would really make a jade market a ‘good one’ would be a jade market that had a place for husbands to sit down and have a beer while the wives browsed. But since there is no such jade market with a pub attached, I have, slowly and inevitably, been forcibly educated in the field of old Chinese silver. And these jade market trips are not just for looking- oh no. For over a decade, one week at a time, my wife has accumulated a chest of silver that would look at home on a pirate ship. I’ve got strange, foreign Chinese silver pieces all over the house and underfoot. Some day when my wife is out of town, I’m going to gather it all up, melt it down, and recast it into a huge silver Viking battleaxe. The I’ll take the battleaxe to the jade market and sell it.


Since we here at the Taichung Voice are all about sharing what we know, what follows are some pictures of sample pieces and some brief descriptions.  

 

Longevity Lock

It’s a lucky lock. Locket. Whatever.

The facts: Called 長命鎖 [Chángmìng suǒ] or 及命鎖  [Jí mìng suǒ] in Chinese, these originated in the Ming dynasty. They are in the shape of the locks used in that era, and were given to children in order to ward off danger and disasters, thereby ensuring a long life for the child. They are usually silver, but sometimes they are made from jade or wood. Often they will be inscribed with Chinese characters like “longevity” or “wealth”, to make it luckier, and the hanging beads will represent even more lucky stuff.

The comments: When I was a young child, a relative gave me a medallion of Saint Francis, which I was supposed to wear for protection. I lost it within the first week. I hope that the Chinese children who wore these longevity locks were more responsible than I was.

 

Silver rings

Amazing detail for a hand crafted piece


The facts: Also originating in the Ming dynasty, the impressed images on silver rings such as these refer to classical Chinese stories. Rings like this were custom ordered and engraved, though modern versions are mass produced. When the rings did not tell some classical story in the engraving, they would show an auspicious animal or character.

The problem: I have never been able to fit any rings I found at the jade market onto my fat fingers. And how many of these silver rings am I going to need to melt down in order to make a battleaxe?

 

Double Happiness Broach

Double Happiness


The facts: This decorative silver piece shows a doubled 喜 ‘xi’ character. ‘Xi’ means happy, but also gets used in Chinese to describe almost anything about a wedding. Pieces like were worn by a bride as a necklace or adorning a bridal headdress. It was also used as a decoration on boxes made from a tortoise shell.

The questions: A box made of a tortoise shell? And what is the deal with tortoises in Chinese culture? There are four important animals in Chinese cosmology and 風水 feng shui: dragon, tiger, bird and… tortoise?

 

Silver buttons

In case you can’t tell, that’s a frog on the left button


The facts: While made of silver, sometimes these antique buttons are painted with a colored enamel coating. Buttons like this were more than just functional articles, they could be worn anywhere as decoration and good luck totems. The actual painted images on the buttons shown are of a frog and a lotus seed. These are auspicious symbols that were thought to make it more likely for a couple to have a son, and were given as wedding gifts accordingly. The non-painted button shows a (male) child, and was thought to have the same lucky, son-bringing properties.  

The gripes: My wife spends our hard-earned money on antique silver buttons. Surely I should be allowed to buy a new PDA. And I’m not an expert on biology or anything, but what is the connection between frogs, lotus seeds and male children?

 

So, after all of my forced visits to the jade market, I’ve finally got the silver stuff sort of figured out. Unfortunately, antique silver jewelry only represents about 10% of everything they sell there. There are also tons of things like jade (obviously), teapots, crystals, imported ethnic clothing, gemstones, and coins. At my current rate of learning, I’ll be knowledgeable about everything at the jade market in fifty more years. So I’d better start wearing about a dozen Longevity locks now.


Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Local Publisher says: I Find this to be Entirely Unacceptable

Lower, to the right…. Up a little… Ah, perfect! Right there. No, just use the regular hot oils. The refined ambrosia essence does leave the skin smoother, but I am afraid the residue will tarnish my Rolex.

 

What? Speak English, Helga. You know I had to fire the Swedish interpreter for not bowing low enough when I entered the room. Oh I see. Jeeves is delivering today’s missives. You may continue, Helga. Jeeves, I hope that is not a wrinkle I see in your suit. A shadow? OK then, hand me the correspondence.

 

This first item. Ah yes, my new Jaguars have arrived. Jeeves, have these cars stationed at each of my six mansions around the city. And make sure my drivers’ uniforms match the vehicle colors. Do not disappoint me Jeeves.

 

Second item: Corning Incorporated has refused my generous offer to purchase 51% of their outstanding shares! Tell me Jeeves, exactly with whom does this company think they are dealing? Do they not realize that I am a Publisher of an Expatriate-Oriented Magazine in Taichung? Do they take me for some common... manufacturer? Jeeves, have the acquisitions unit double our offer. I have to do something with these great bins of cash lying around. You know, sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to spend all this money generated from the publishing of a premier source of lifestyle, entertainment and reference information.     

 

The third and final item. Jeeves, why have you handed me this jumble of… newsprint? Ugh. Vile stuff. And what do these words on the front page mean: “The Pulse”? Is this some kind of…

 

Oh. My. Goodness. I simply can not believe this! ANOTHER local magazine?!?!

 

As if there is not enough so-called competition in this industry already! It seems like you can hardly order an authentic and flavorful tapas, or sit down for an economically-priced yet filling pizza, without being overwhelmed by a huge collection of English language magazines. How is the Taichung expatriate community going to have time to read all of these periodicals? And how does FM afford to buy advertising space in every single one? Jeeves! Bring me a tonic at once!

 

Leave us, Helga. It looks like I have work to do. Leave the hot oil though, I might need it later.

 

The Pulse. Do these upstarts have any idea what they are getting into? Does the publisher of this so-called “Pulse” know how difficult it is to publish ten years of local restaurant features without a single negative comment? Perhaps he or she does, since I do not see any featured restaurants here. And tell me Jeeves, where is the MAP in this magazine? You cannot foist upon the good citizens of this city a journal without a map! It is absurd! How would any reader ever know where to go without a handy map? You know Jeeves, it is said that key Chinese generals of the Peoples Liberation Army keep a copy of our magazine’s city map right next to their manuals on urban warfare. That reminds me – remove our office location from the map in the next issue. As I was saying, no magazine can be successful without a map. Nonetheless, the very size of this Pulse monstrosity could be a threat to our distribution.

           

Well, it looks like we’ve got work to do Jeeves. We’ve shut down competitors before, and we can do it again. Call the attorneys, the Foreign Affairs Police, the tax office, and Jack McDowell. Start some rumors that the Pulse is owned by a Danish firm. That will turn all the Canadians against them, and Canadians make up 97% percent of the foreign population in Taichung. Don’t ask me how I know that, I just read it somewhere. We’ll see to it that this Pulse thing never sees a second issue. I’ll not share my billions of NT$ in monthly advertising revenue with anyone!  

 

And Jeeves, send Helga back in. I’m getting tense. 

 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

January 2006. Taichung Voice? Taichung Pulse? I don't know

  S.A.D. Kings and Solstice Blues

 By: Chaon Automasaur

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Yeah, no idea about this. File date is January 2006, which is when I was writing for the Voice. But a line in the text says "we’ve pretty much got readers of The Pulse covered." I do not remember writing for the Taichung Pulse, if that's what is was called.

I miss Soundgarden and all the related shenanigans.  

We all now know that drinking is not a long-term solution for dealing with depression, seasonal or not. 

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

"Now is the winter of our discontent."

--From King Richard III (I, i, 1)


For the longest time, I thought that quote meant that winter had arrived and everyone was about to get real depressed. It seemed fitting- Things get all dark and cold (and in Taiwan, wet) as winter moves in, and people get grumpy, gain weight, and have trouble getting out of bed. The degree to which people celebrate the winter holidays with frantic, desperate, and affected cheer seems to clinch it. There’s even an official name for this: Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). Sad. Get it? Ha ha ha. I was pretty sure that this was the ‘Winter of Discontent’ that Shakes was talking about. 

Naw, I was wrong. As it turns out, the opening words of Richard III reflect the persona of Richard, a deformed angry man who loathes the world, and who believes the world hates him right back. 

But this works out either way. Whether we’re talking about those who undergo various mental breakdowns in this season, or twisted misanthropes who hate their environment, we’ve pretty much got readers of The Pulse covered. So with this in mind, let’s go straight to this season’s self-help guide: How to stay cheerful this Winter (in spite of it all).  

Tip #1: Drink

As the famous philosopher Albert Camus said: “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is whether or not to have another drink.” At least I think that’s what he said. I was drunk pretty much that whole semester where we studied Existentialism. Anyway, the benefits of drink are legend, especially when it comes to dealing with cold, crappy weather. Just bear in mind that while alcohol is excellent for keeping the winter doldrums away, use it too much and the world will indeed start to hate you, or at least not be willing to lend you money. Though if you find yourself drunk more often than you are sober, remember that you can probably get a job writing for 24/7 magazine. 

Tip #2: Keep Your Friends Close

Friends in Taiwan are something of a dichotomy to those of us in the advice-giving business. On one hand, you don’t want to be isolated and alone in the holiday season, and spending quality time with friends is a great way to beat that. Note that ‘quality time’ does not include taking your friend to the hospital, picking him/her up at the Foreign Affairs Police station, or wandering around outside Soundgarden at 4:00 in the morning wondering where he/she has disappeared to. If you often find yourself in any of those situations, then your friend might be crazy. Nothing piles on the stress and turmoil like a crazy friend. Also, remember that the person who happens to be sitting next to you at the bar is not necessarily your friend, but may be viewed as a friend-substitute. Kind of like a rented friend. Just modify your concept of “quality time” as appropriate. 

Tip #3: Newspapers

Ignore them. Do not read them. Same goes for news sites on the internet and television news programs. Bad news sells, and the last thing anybody needs in the bleakness of winter is more negativity. Remember that The Pulse is not, technically speaking, a newspaper, since we don’t actually publish any news. Read away and be happy.

Tip #4: Exercise

It may be cold and windy outside, but there are many activities available to us in Taiwan that take place indoors. These indoor sports can add to your mental and physical health, and for some of you out there, perhaps aid you with your specific repugnant deformity. Some examples of healthy indoor activities include… Um. The one where you… uh… Curling? Monopoly? Well, here at The Pulse, we’re not entirely sure what these indoor activities might be, but we suggest that you get off your ass and start doing them. Experts on depression say that if you enjoy a vigorous sex life, then you can pretty much skip all the exercise stuff. However, the editorial staff here at The Pulse has looked into this issue extensively, and we have concluded that nobody in Taichung actually has sex. There is really no other explanation for the 117 consecutive rejections we received on our generous offers of amour. 

Tip# 5: Lunar New Year

(We’ll start calling it the Chinese New Year when we move to China. Which we won’t)

Living in Taiwan, we are distanced from the main causes of winter depression back home: Christmas, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, whatever. Instead, we have to deal with the Lunar New Year, which is depressing enough in its own exotic way. Most businesses close, the weather still sucks, and if you are misfortunate enough to get to spend the holiday with Taiwanese friends or family, then somebody is inevitably going to try and get you to eat niangao (年糕), a disgustingly sweet goop that supposedly brings luck. Gross as it may be, cheer yourself up by remembering that it’s no worse than American fruitcake. To compound your misery, remember those friends we were talking about up in Tip #1? Well they’ve all gone to Thailand, where they are sitting on a beach catching some rays, ogling ladyboys, or doing something else that is pretty damn relaxing. Our advice is: Get out of Taiwan when the Lunar New Year comes. Take a vacation anywhere: Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, anywhere except America. Not that America isn’t a nice place or anything, but flying there these days means jumping through security hoops that would make Soviet-era Russians embarrassed. We’re looking for ways to reduce winter stress- and getting hassled by uniformed dorks that are simultaneously rent-a-cops AND bureaucrats turns out not to be the best way to do that. 

So, follow these five simple and helpful tips, and you can make sure that this season is not your Winter of Discontent. To recap- Drinking, friends & exercise, yes. Sex, impossible. News, no. Lunar New Year, run away. While you’re at it, you should probably lay off reading Shakespeare. Fills your head will all kinds of crazy thoughts.  


Friday, December 02, 2022

Now ya' see?

 This right here is an example of why I never endorse anyone for anything:




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" 

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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.

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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.