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. 


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.


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.

Friday, July 01, 2022

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Friday, May 13, 2022

Foreign concessions in Tianjin

 What's a European style building like this doing in downtown Tianjin? Oh that's right, colonialism. 


Revolutionaries on the left...


... Surveillance camera on the right. That right there is what you call 'foreshadowing'. 

1988. I used to have a picture of Mao's mausoleum taken from inside the new Kentucky Fried Chicken, with Colonel Sanders' head at the forefront. But I can't find it.   


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Bigger Loads

 It is not that often that I say to my self: "Self, is the volume of our ejaculate sufficient?"

But when I do say that to myself, it is comforting to know that these guys got me covered. 

No Hadouken


Monday, April 25, 2022

The Attic, Tiburon, CA


The Attic was founded in 1976 by Chris Morrison on Tiburon’s Ark Row. I think it started as a coin and stamp shop, but by the time I first saw it Chris was bullying and selling all kinds of collectibles. Baseball cards, rocks, comic books… pretty much anything collectable. He had a whole bunch of precious artifacts that he just kept in the store for show. You might have to ask about three or four things before finding something he'd agree to sell you. 

There were several video games at the front of the store, and local kids would gather after school to play them and just hang out in the shop. The thing is, none of the games were ever the latest ones – all were at least 10 years old. I asked Chris about his vintage games, and he said that the latest games bring older teenagers, and older teenager brought cursing and smoking. So he didn’t want that kind of thing around the younger kids in the store.

This picture is probably from around 1990.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

I don't know what's going on here, but...


...I would straight-up follow that kid into battle, regardless of enemy or odds of winning.